Sunday, September 28, 2008

Seeking Variety

I never set out to make a name for myself in the cookie baking department. In fact, looking at my recipe index, it would appear I have a ways to go until that title is truly earned. But ask my coworkers what they expect to find in the break room on Wednesdays, and they'll quickly answer back with "Lael's cookies."

A particular recipe I made a while ago launched me into being a weekly cookie baker in my office and I have stuck faithfully to that recipe since. The wonderful thing about it is that within the same dough you can replace or add any number of things and get something new and different, yet still with a melt-in-your-mouth sensation.

However, I am not always the best example of a creature of habit because while I like consistency in some senses, I can get incredibly bored with it. For one, I'm not the kind of person who eats the same thing for breakfast every single morning. And, while I love to give myself an extra half or full hour to exercise in the morning, the activity may range between walking, running, or any number of yoga sessions.

All that to say, I can't help mixing things up on Cookie Day sometimes. I try to stick to a similar type of cookie, at least, and last week's variation was subtle but still special in its own way. Instead of using powdered sugar, I used unrefined cane sugar and cut the amount of all purpose flour in half, replacing the rest with whole wheat. The eggs were left in the fridge, and a coarsely chopped chocolate bar was mixed in.

I cannot claim this adaptation as an invention of my own brilliance. In fact, it's an entirely different recipe. One from the mind of Dorie Greenspan, and the other from the equally admirable Alice Medrich. Both produce a cookie with similar proportions of ingredients and delicate flavor that spaciously fits in the palm of your hand.

I can't remember where I first saw this recipe, but when Googling it, I found that The Wednesday Chef had made it, and it's quite possible I first read about it there.

Whole Wheat Sables*

*Alice's recipe calls for cocoa nibs or chopped hazelnuts, both of which sound lovely, but I had an Endangered Species dark chocolate bar with espresso beans on hand, so I used part of that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Anise & Me

Being that it is Wednesday evening, I think we should all settle down with a drink of choice in the crook of a cushy couch and let out a good, long sigh. Maybe gaze out a window at the people moving about in the dim light of an ending day, at the rain drops collecting on your window screen, or turn your attention back toward the warmth of the room you're in and give thanks for the people also living under your roof (if not applicable, give thanks for this roof you are fortunate to possess). At least that's what I'm trying to do today. I find that it's the best way to find energy for the last two days of a weary week.

I'm also trying to figure out what to tell you about the soup I made myself for dinner tonight. It falls somewhere between heavenly and ho-hum. Within this wide spectrum, I'd probably place it at "disappointing." Maybe my hopes were too high, but when I read the words star anise, red wine, and gruyere, I immediately filed this variation on french onion soup into the forefront of my mind, determine to collect the necessary ingredients over the course of the next week.

The attractive little red onions at the farmer's market motivated me further (bordering the white ones).

So, today was the day for my eagerly anticipated, first ever, french onion soup. The entire process was simple and brief (about half an hour), though a little too much time in front of the stove for a warm September night like this, but I was determined (and too exasperated with Texas's relentless heat to care).

The disappointment came with the lack of wow factor in this dish. Without the bubbly gruyere and thick slice of rustic bread, it would have been barely tolerable. The dominating flavor in the broth was the anise, and, while I gravitated toward this recipe because of the anise-touch, I found myself resenting it once the soup was made. I seem to have a vague memory of eating or drinking something with too much anise in it, and that memory was awakened during my supper.

I so want to like anise. In fact, I refuse to state that I don't. We're just in the midst of an uncomfortable relationship right now. Maybe if it was a more subtle flavor in my long-dreamed-of french red onion soup, I wouldn't find it so disagreeable.

If there is a next time for this soup, I will be using only one whole star anise. Between now and then, I do expect to be trying more french onion soups. I want to go back to the classic and learn what that tastes like. I want to bake up more whole wheat country bread and cut the leftovers into big slices to go in the freezer until it's time to grate a pile of soft, pungent gruyere, and generously sprinkle the stringy cheese on top of the wedge of bread, already soaking up the heat and juices of sweet, oniony broth. Broiled and bubbly, this makes any soup weigh toward the side of heavenly, even if anise and I do not like each other.

Let me know what you think:
French Red Onion Soup Recipe

I am also interested in your favorite french onion soup recipe!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Attention: We have a Recipe Index

This past week I have been putting together a long-overdue recipe index for One Hungry Soul. There is a link to it on the sidebar that will always be there, but in I wanted to call it to your attention with a little post.

So, hop on over to One Hungry Soul's Recipes to find links to posts relating to the above images. While not all my baking and cooking endeavors have recipes directly posted on my site, there is always at least a link to where I got it from.

Bon appétit!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

You Said Farmer's Market?

Hello there. I know it has almost been a week since I last posted and that certainly defies my latest posting average of every one to two days, so thanks for coming back. My blogging frequency will be slowing down a bit as I get deeper into the semester, but I promise at least one post a week of something delicious. Just hang in there. I love sharing this little bit of cyberspace with you.

Today's deliciousness comes in the form of a quiche that I have been slowly nibbling away on since midweek. Considering that one of my roommates is a vegan and another doesn't eat eggs or meat, it was left to me and "roomie #4" to enjoy making this pretty little thing disappear.

I took two of the last three slices over to a friend's house this morning, and our forks dug into the cold, creamy filling as we chatted and tried not to get too excited for the farmer's market we were about to go explore.

Farmer's market? Don't you live in Abilene, Texas? Well, yes I do, and thank you so much for reminding me. But I will respond with the comment that once again I have been pleasantly surprised by this quiet little town.

So, we went with low expectations to a covered parking lot downtown and were greeted by friendly "good mornings" and beautiful produce (albeit a modest amount of it).

I bought red onions and assorted squashes and am looking forward to going back next week with a little more cash to buy a jar of honey. I think I'll be keeping in mind the filling I want to make for my next quiche, too, because I still have things to learn about this dish, and only time and practice will teach me.

For one, this was my first ever pie crust. I think a dread of them was instilled in me because my mom rarely ever took the time to make them. I assumed her lack of interest was because of their difficulty, and if my talented mother finds something difficult, well, I'm kind of, sort of doomed.

However, Tuesday afternoon I fearlessly set out to make my first pâte brisée, and it wasn't all that terrible. I had thorough instructions, thanks to WCS, but had to gradually grate the frozen butter in because I don't have a food processor. I may have been a bit conservative with the amount of water I added as well (erring on the side of too little than too much). It simply ended up a bit tough.

As for the filling, I modified Cook's Illustrated's Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche, using their measurements for heavy whipping cream, milk, eggs, egg yolks, salt, and nutmeg. Instead of the leeks, I sauteed baby portobello mushrooms in a bit of butter, snipped up some chives, and grated pecorino romano into the egg mixture. The flavor was fresh and the texture perfectly smooth, but next time I think I'll try a different filling because the 3/4 cup of whipped cream made for a heaviness and richness almost more appropriate for a dessert than a breakfast dish.

Too bad there aren't farm fresh eggs at the farmer's market...oh well. I'm grateful for something cheerful to get me outside before ten on Saturdays, until the winter closes in.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Rainy Evening

When it rains here my university campus turns into one giant pond. Water comes so infrequently that the ground doesn't know what to do with it, so it flows along the surface of the dirt and pools in every dip of sidewalk and road.

This means that on days like today, when low dark storm clouds move in, and I find myself halfway across campus, the best thing is to wait out the worst of the giant raindrops. Then I roll up my pants, take off my flip flops, and tiptoe through the cold water all the way home.

Today's pond rose above my ankles and splashed water up the back of my pants, making me feel like both a little kid in a giant puddle and like someone quite ready for fall to close in and soup days to begin. In fact, I would have come right home and put on some soup if I had been prepared for this urging, but when the daily high temperature is in the 90s, one does not stock the cupboards for such things.

So, I'll be patient for soup season to fully close in and then, surely, be enjoying it on a daily basis. For now, I'll keep enjoying the rain because despite the way it flattens my hair and ruins the hem of my jeans. I have a fondness for wet weather. Being from the Northwest, I just can't help it.

A good rain shower feels oh so cozy.

And, so, I apologize that I do not have a recipe for you tonight, but my studies are calling my name and those darn slow-roasted tomatoes were supposed to make up a (successful) post of their own. Instead, I give you one of my other loves. Apart from food, I do love rainy weather and have spent some time back home in Bellingham and here in Abilene capturing the world after it has received a generous drink of water from above.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Recovering Quite Well

My Saturday took a turn for the worst when I pulled a baking sheet of crisp, blackened grape tomatoes out of the oven. I had patiently waited almost three hours and had been enjoying the garlic-y smell filling my apartment, when I decided to take a peek in the oven, just ten minutes before the timer was set to go off and, to my horror, encountered the scene described above. Crisp. Black. Pathetic looking charred bits of tomato and garlic sat in pools of olive oil.

I had been anticipating the process of slow roasting tomatoes all week long. It was so disheartening seeing my sheet of parchment paper slide off my baking sheet and into the trash carrying every last tomato and garlic clove, that I immediately felt restless, like I needed to go on a good, long walk or something. Well, given that it was mid afternoon, and these days that means it is 90-something degrees outside, I chose to remain in my nicely air conditioned apartment and redeem the situation with my next tomato project.

I watched these tomatoes faithfully as they slowly baked in a bath of olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Even though they ended up taking longer than the other tomatoes, with the time set aside for them to cool at room temperature, and I wasn't able to get around to eating them, they were well worth the wait.

Molly suggests these tomatoes be eaten on toasted baguette slices with Bûcheron, or another aged goat cheese, which I agree sounds divine (though there's no chance of me finding Bûcheron in Abilene, Texas). Tonight, however, I just needed something quick and filling, so I spooned a bit of the saved oil into a skillet and poured two beaten eggs over it to make a thin, simple omelette flavored with salt and pepper. Folding the omelette into a bowl, I dished out two tomatoes on top and lightly grated Pecorino Romano over it all. Oh yum.

All that to say, my Saturday was thoroughly recovered. With the richly flavored olive oil and slowly baked tomatoes tucked away in my fridge, I forgot (almost) entirely about the $3.20 of tomatoes and garlic in my trash.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Pomodori al Forno (baked tomato dish)

*I am still posting this recipe because I will be the first to admit that my oven is to blame, not the recipe. Last semester we had problems guessing the correct temperature based on what we were cooking versus what the dial said...I just forgot about that when I moved back in, and it took this incident to remind me.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Happy Compromise

Being that today is Saturday, I took full advantage of the fact that I had nowhere in particular to be until I was good and ready to wake up and start my day. Ah, such a wonderful feeling.

I woke up just after ten, and by the time I got around to eating, it was going on noon. I hate to give up my breakfast food because I love the excuse of eating something sweet first thing in the morning...nothing insanely sweet but plenty of fruit and toast with peanut butter always hit the spot (okay, toast and peanut butter are not necessarily sweet but still oh so good).

So, the grapefruit I had on hand was insistently calling my name, but so was the haunting voice of the arugula in my fridge, only willing to stay green and crisp for a little longer. That's when I remembered a delicious grapefruit salad recipe my mom had emailed to me several months ago. It was the perfect combination of both items.

That is about all I have for you today. It is another late night and tomorrow is a full day, so I present you with a salad you really must try and then wish you a good night.

Gingery Grapefruit Salad

salad components:
Baby Spinach*
Grapefruit Segments
Sliced Almonds, toasted

3 Tbs. grapefruit juice (squeeze grapefruit juice from the grapefruit halves after removing sections for salad.)
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp.)
drizzle of agave nectar
salt to taste

Arrange spinach, grapefruit, and almonds in individual bowl(s). Combine dressing separately and pour over salad.

*Yes, I did talk about arugula at the top of this post and it worked just fine, but thinking back on the first time I made this, I do think spinach would be more appropriate. It's flavor is more subtle, and this dressing tastes so good that you don't want to overpower it.

Also, I added diced avocado to this salad the first time around, and it worked wonderfully. Try it!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Deprived of a Loaf of Garlicy Bread

There is a very good reason the average college student strategically avoids eight o'clock classes and continuously grumbles about those their schedule and graduation date force upon them. If any of us were morning people before entering freshman year, it's likely that we've become quite acclimated to hitting the snooze button. All night cram sessions, projects that have been put off and put off some more, and parties keep students awake far too long for them to function shortly after the break of dawn. Stop me now if these stereotypes simply don't fit, and I'll admit I'm just talking about myself.

Yesterday I found myself yawning excessively during class because my body was dreaming of that bed I had left sooner than I wanted to, the bed I didn't get to curl up and fall asleep in until 2:30am.

The pathetic part is that a loaf of bread kept me up.

You would think I'd have learned my lesson by now, but when I set about kneading my biga into the rest of my dough it was 8pm, and I couldn't imagine the entire process of making a rustic country loaf of bread would keep me up past midnight. Oh, was I wrong.

To save you the mundane details of watching the clock tick away necessary intervals of rising, I will just say that my efforts were not in vain. I pulled a beautiful loaf out of the oven, chuckling at what I was going to do with such a massive amount of bread. (It was huge.)

But it was also delicious. I sliced the thing in half the next morning and brought one portion over to a house full of guys, and my roommates and I are still picking away at what's left.

It was an almost foolproof recipe, thanks to the details and specifics that can be depended on from Cook's Illustrated. It would have been even more perfect, if I would buckle down and save enough money for a baking thermometer, spray bottle, and bench scraper (I know these can probably come incredibly cheap, but, hey, I'm a student).

Oh, one last note! I made this recipe my own by roasting a head of garlic beforehand and distributing the cloves on the flattened rectangle of dough just before shaping it into a loaf. It was a delicious touch, but if you choose to do this, I would definitely advise using two heads, to make sure there are at least two cloves in every slice.

Whole Wheat Rustic Italian Bread Recipe

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Enough Sense to Know Good Food

We all go through those finicky years of youth when we have a passionate hate for certain foods, right? Some people are more vocal about it than others, but there's always that one kid who makes his opinion known with a dramatic, puckered faced "eewwwww." (Actually, such a vision brings back memories of opening up my lunchbox in elementary school, and my classmates reacting to the sight or smell of some incredibly healthy concoction my Jif-and-Oreo-hating mother had packed.)

Fortunately, my mom never stuck hummus in my noontime meal. Back then, I would have revolted as much as the students around me. There was just something about its grainy texture and beige color that got to me, and for many years I (foolishly) declined hummus, avocados, zucchini, and mushrooms.

Thank goodness I came around, and, by junior high, enough sense had been knocked into me that I was eating all four of these items gleefully. This new found wisdom opened up a whole new array of foods to me, and, though never a skeptic, I became a wholehearted lover of Greek food.

I think it's fair to say that my entire family loves the flavors of Greece. Just take a look at the recipe book my mom put together for us, and you will find three variations on its most common salad. The easiest way I know to satisfy my "Greecey" (an endearing term my friends and I used while visiting Athens and Naxos) cravings is homemade hummus, soft pita bread, and a fresh salad. This time around I attempted to make the pitas myself, and it turned out quite well. The bread wasn't perfectly round and didn't puff up entirely in the middle, but none of these things affected the flavor. Bonus: they are easy (just allow for rising time -- something I always underestimate).

My go-to hummus recipe is a Gourmet classic from 1988. I love the parsley oil drizzled on top (though sometimes I'm lazy and just toss the parsley in with the hummus) and the simplicity of garlic, tahini, chick peas, and lemon juice.

For the sake of variety, I would love to get some recommendations for less conventional hummus recipes. Roasted red pepper? Cumin? What do you put in yours?

Recipe Links:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ingenious: Watermelon, Feta, and Olive Salad

Now, I'm almost always an advocate for gathering people together around an informal table -- cloth napkins are nice but so are elbows on the table -- and sharing meals that not only center around fine food but also funny remarks, good stories, and deep connections. However, tonight was not one of those nights.

I found myself hurriedly throwing together this salad because my last chance for a daylight photo shoot was swiftly sinking below the horizon in the west. By the time I had my fork in hand and enough space cleared on the counter top that doubles as our table to sit down, my last roommate had waved goodbye, and I was sitting in our apartment by myself.

There is no need to start feeling sorry for me; that's not why I'm telling you this. You see, from there I got up, flicked off the fluorescent light overhead, and moved over to the corner of the couch. Balancing my plate on the armrest and tucking my knees close, I looked out the window at the disappearing light and manicured lawn below and slowly began to lift forkfuls of my dinner into my mouth.

Such a pleasant mix of flavors met my tongue that I became grateful for the silence around me. I was able to concentrate on the flavors of the mint mixed with the jalapeno, combined with the watermelon pooling juice into the olives, contrasted with the crunch of the onion matching the bite of the arugula, and richly mellowed by the feta and olive oil. By all means, eat this salad with a friend, but set aside a few moments to focus on what is going into your mouth because this salad is ingeniously constructed.

I wish I could take credit for it, but I'm going to pass you over to Saveur's site for the recipe...

Watermelon, Feta, and Olive Salad

If your day has brought you silence, I hope you find peace there as well.