Monthly Archives: December 2009

Harira Soup

**We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming of sugar, sugar, and more sugar to bring you an actual dinner item.**

I love making soup. You just throw all this stuff in a pot and let it simmer, then it’s done and delicious. And it’s an excuse to have hearty, starchy bread. I embarked on my latest soup experiment because I had a bunch of leftover chicken from Christmas dinner, and I had actually made the effort to boil the chicken carcass to make stock. It was my first time making chicken stock, and it was super easy.

(Here’s how: Just throw the chicken carcass* into a pot with a couple of quarts of water, chop up an onion, a carrot, and a stick of celery and add them to the pot, then season with a bunch of salt and pepper. Bring it all to a boil and then let it simmer for 2 hours, uncovered. Strain the broth into a large bowl and let it cool, then refrigerate it overnight and skim off the fat in the morning. You’ll see that the stock has turned into a gel, which is kind of strange if you’re not expecting it. (Fortunately, I had recently seen Terwilliger’s mom make some chicken stock, so I wasn’t horrified when my chilled stock turned into gel. It’s still pretty weird to see, though.) *If you don’t like the term “carcass,” feel free to call it the chicken muffin or something.)

For the resulting soup, I mainly followed a recipe from Enlightened Soups for harira, a Moroccan stew with chickpeas and spices, but I varied the amount of ingredients and threw in a handful of leftover cooked kale at the end. The recipe below is my adapted version.

Ingredients:

5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 & 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes with juice
1 14-oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 c. lentils
1/4 c. long grain rice
1 – 2 cups cooked chicken, coarsely chopped/shredded
1/2 – 1 cup cooked kale
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped
2 T. fresh cilantro, chopped

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, season with salt and pepper, and saute for 5 minutes. Add cumin and ginger and stir for 1 minute more.

Add stock, broth, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, lentils, and rice, and bring to a boil. Immediately lower the heat to a simmer, cover the saucepan, and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until rice is cooked and lentils are soft.

Stir in chicken and kale and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in parsley and cilantro just before serving.

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Snowball Cookies for Christmas

Oh, hi! Yes, I am still blogging. Yes, I have a backlog of recipes and photos all clamoring to be posted. And no, I haven’t really been that busy. Well, actually, I was; I was a little crazy-busy this month frankly, but then Saturday, December 19 arrived and marked the beginning of a glorious two weeks off from work. Two whole weeks! For cooking and baking and going to the market every day for ingredients for dinner. For working my way through a pile of books and watching movies with Terwilliger and going for runs and taking the dog for walks.

I’m really quite sad that I’m already almost through my first week of freedom.

I’m also quite sad that T and I will not be seeing our families for the holidays this year. We’re staying in our own little house in SoCal, with the three pets who seem to whirl around in every room at once, and enjoying our first married Christmas together, as a two-person three-pet family. But I’ll miss baking dozens of cookies with my mom. And I’ll miss having homemade blackberry pie at Terwilliger’s parents’ house. And I’ll miss opening gifts with my parents, Christmas music in the background, A Christmas Story on the television on mute.

It is indeed different this year.

But Terwilliger and I have blue skies and sunshine and a two-foot tree in a glazed pot. And each other. And lots of giggling. And also, presents.

And these, my favorite Christmas cookies

Snowball Cookies:

1 cup butter, softened*
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
Extra powdered sugar

*If you’re using unsalted butter, I would encourage you to add 1/2 – 1 tsp. salt to the batter when you add the flour. I think these cookies need a little salt or they taste just the slightest bit anemic. Maybe you should just use salted butter. That’s probably what I’ll do next time.

Preheat oven to 350. In the bowl of an electric mixer or by hand, cream butter until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and mix until combined, then add vanilla. Stir in flour, then mix in pecans.

Roll dough into skimpy 1-inch balls, then place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are light golden.

Remove cookies to wire rack. When cool, roll in powdered sugar. (I just dump a scoop of powdered sugar on a plate, then roll the cookies on the plate.)

Happy holiday eating, everyone!

Chewy Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes: About 2.5 – 3 dozen, depending on the size you make them

Every year for Christmas, I love to make Mexican wedding cookies. Powdered sugar, butter, flour, and pecans: you really can’t go wrong with that. I’ll certainly be making those sometime soon. But I think I have a new holiday cookie tradition in these chocolate toffee cookies. I made them for the first time last year around Thanksgiving, and I’ve made two batches in the last week alone.

So, these cookies are good. These cookies are very, very good. Let me tell you why:

1. The dough tastes like actual fudge.
2. There is half a pound of chocolate in one batch. And you know how I feel about chocolate.
3. There are big, crunchy, buttery chunks of Heath bar in almost every bite.
4. There is a marvelous contrast between the chewy, brownie-like cookies and the crunch from the candy and the nuts.
5. While they are chewy, they’re not excessively so, and as you chew the chocolate flavor just blooms in your mouth.
6. The sea salt sprinkled on top cuts the chocolate in just the right way so that you’re not completely assaulted with richness.
7. They make your kitchen smell like a chocolate factory as they bake.
8. They keep really well, if you can resist eating them all in one day.
9. They won me “Best in Dough” in a cookie competition at work.
10. Seriously, the dough tastes like fudge.

For the chocolate, I used half Ghirardelli bittersweet chips, and half Scharffen Berger semisweet chipped from a bar. I wouldn’t recommend Nestle for these babies — no, they deserve the splurge of nicer, smoother, fancier chocolate. Try to think of these as the first date of cookies. You wouldn’t wear your comfy flannel pj pants on a first date, would you? Flannel pjs are great and all for sitting around the house while you eat peanut butter out of the jar and watch reruns of The Office (I mean, not that I do that or anything), but special occasions call for special pants. That’s all I’m saying.

(Um, better photos forthcoming…)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
generous 1/4 tsp. salt
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 T. unsalted butter
1/2 cup + 6 T. brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 & 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 1.4-ounce Heath bars coarsely chopped*
scant 1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped**
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling (I use Maldon brand, but fine-grain sea salt will work too)

In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a small, metal bowl, combine chocolate and butter. Place over a pan of simmering water and melt chocolate mixture, stirring frequently. Make sure you don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the simmering water — you essentially want to melt your chocolate by steaming it.

(You can also melt the chocolate in the microwave (in a non-metal bowl, of course); zap it at 15-second intervals, stirring each time.)

Once chocolate is melted, set bowl aside and cool mixture to lukewarm.

In an electric mixer, beat eggs and brown sugar until thick, about five minutes. Beat in vanilla and chocolate. On low speed, add flour mixture. By hand, stir in toffee pieces and nuts.

The dough will be very soft — now it’s time to chill it for 45 minutes. Don’t skimp on the chilling time!

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. I would encourage you to invest in parchment paper for these cookies if you don’t already have it on hand. It makes dealing with them so much easier once they’re baked. You’ll see.

Now, this next part deserves a little elaboration: I use a regular spoon to scoop the dough into rounded balls, about 1.5 inches in size. I also keep a little dish of water nearby to dampen my thumb and forefinger, so I can more easily push the dough off the spoon and onto the cookie sheet. It’s a strange dough, both sticky and dry, but if you use the water technique, you shouldn’t have a problem with the scooping. Once scooped, give the cookies about an inch-and-a-half between them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle dough with sea salt and lightly press salt into dough with your fingertip.

Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, until cookies appear cracked and dry on top, but are still soft to the touch. Cool cookies on baking sheet for one minute. Then — this is important — slide the parchment paper with cookies still on it onto a cooling surface. Now let the cookies cool completely on the parchment. Be sure not to take them off the paper until they’re completely cool, otherwise you will tear out their sweet, soft middles.

Now, if you can, wait a few hours to eat them. They really get better once they’ve had time to cool and rally their molecules to awesomeness.

*I’ve only used Heath bars with this recipe, but I imagine Skor bars would work as well. I’ve upped the amount of Heath bars from the original recipe, so if you’d prefer fewer fantastic toffee bites, cut it down to 2 or 3 Heath bars.

**To toast almonds: preheat oven to 350. Spread almonds in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 5 – 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

From Smart Cookie
Makes: 4 dozen smallish cookies

Are you looking for the consummate chewy oatmeal cookie? Look no further, friends, because I gotcher recipe right here.

First, a little meander into my opinion on raisins:

I am not a fan. Particularly not a fan of standard dark brown raisins. They taste like the smell of a tobacco field. (Full disclosure: I might have OD’d on raisins as a snack when I was in high school. That might be why I hate them.) But golden raisins? They are good. The flavor is much more mild, in my opinion, and they’re moist and plump. Not dry and withered and weird.

So when I used golden raisins in this oatmeal cookie recipe, I expected them to be pretty tasty in their reliable, chewy way. I did not expect them to turn into soft, honeyed nuggets of bliss. I’m sure the result is because of this bizarre method: you soak the raisins for an hour. In eggs. I had never even heard of doing such a thing, but apparently it allows the raisins to remain soft and plump instead of getting dried out and hard while they bake. I dunno about the science, but I can tell you the result was excellent.

For those of you may not like chewy cookies, well, these will not be your cup of tea. They are seriously chewy. Bordering-on-bubble-gum chewy. I think that’s a good thing. You’ll just have to make them for yourself to see what you think.

Ingredients:

3 large eggs
1 generous tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup golden raisins
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 generous tsp. cinnamon
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped*

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla together. Stir in the raisins. Let this mixture sit for an hour. (I started preparing the rest of the ingredients after about 40 minutes, so by the time I needed the eggs and raisins, they had been sitting for an hour.)

Beat the butter and the sugars together until light and fluffy. In another bowl whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Gradually add dry ingredients to the butter and sugars. The dough will seem dry. Stir in the egg-raisin-vanilla mixture, then stir in the oats and toasted walnuts.

Drop by tablespoons onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 10 – 13 minutes in a 350-degree oven, until the cookies are very golden brown. Let them cool for one minute on the tray, and then transfer cookies to wire rack.

*To toast the pecans, spread unchopped pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in 350-degree oven for 5 – 10 minutes, or until slightly darkened and fragrant. Shake pan occasionally. Watch carefully; they scorch easily. Cool, then chop with a knife.

Nibby Buckwheat Cookies

So, one word to describe these little suckers: disappointing.

Yeah. They tasted like plants.

I kept returning to them to taste little bites again, to see if they had improved. But they hadn’t. Not even two days later, when apparently they’re supposed to get better with age, and they keep for one remarkable month. Nope. They never got good.

You might wonder why I would bother blogging about something that didn’t delight my taste buds, so I’ll tell you why: cacao nibs are not cheap, and I want to save you from wasting your money like I did.

Actually, I’m not sure I should blame the nibs. Maybe it was the buckwheat. I have no idea what buckwheat is supposed to taste like. So, if it’s supposed to taste the way a gardening center smells, then I guess there’s nothing to blame for the unappealingness of these cookies. But Terwilliger grew up on buckwheat pancakes, and he didn’t like these cookies either, so… I dunno.

I had bookmarked these cookies ages ago, and on my recent cookie-baking binge, I decided to give them a shot. I mean, what good is having a food blog if I can’t buy expensive specialty ingredients I would usually ignore? The cookies looked tasty, and the recipe seemed slightly wholesome, what with the use of the buckwheat flour. And they sure smelled good while baking. They are essentially buckwheat shortbread cookies, with plenty of butter, minimal sugar, and some cacao nibs to give it a little crunchy zing.

They were all those things, but with the flavor of plants.

So I just wanted to warn you.

Here they are…

From Orangette

1 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
1 & 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk flours together in a medium bowl. In a mixer, beat the butter with the sugar and salt until smooth and creamy but not fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the nibs and vanilla and mix together, scraping down sides of bowl if needed. Add the flours all at once mix until just incorporated. The mixture will seem dry and coarse at first, but as you keep beating, it will slowly come together. The dough will be very thick and pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Divide the dough in half, and form each half into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. (Overnight is fine, but you’ll need to let the dough rest on the counter for an hour or so before baking in order to slice it without it crumbling.)

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350. Slice the cookies into 1/4-inch coins and place them on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, or until cookies just begin to color around the edges. Cool on wire racks.

And cool completely before eating. They’re especially plant-like when they’re warm.

Cinnamon Bun Cookies

Source: Adapted from Recipe Girl
Makes: 2 dozen cookies*

Wow, I’m pretty sure I could have eaten a dozen of these in a row. I stopped at five, but I also ate several spoonfuls of the glaze. Because I am powerless against sugar.

These smell amazing while they’re cooking, like actual cinnamon buns. When cooked, they have a classic buttery sugar cookie flavor, but the cinnamon sugar swirl is caramelized and wonderfully crunchy-chewy. Terwilliger thought they tasted like Christmas sugar cookies. I thought they tasted like little slivers of cinnamon butter heaven.

I took one (only one… sigh) to work the next day, and it was amazing. These cookies are really satisfyingly crunchy. So, so good. And, bonus!, you can make the dough ahead of time and leave it in your freezer so that you can slice and bake at will. Go to it, guys.

But first, I will warn you that rolling out the dough and shaping it into a rectangle was kind of a pain in the ass. But it was a fleeting pain in the ass, because it didn’t really take that long, and the end result was completely worth it. I will definitely be making these again.

Ingredients:

For the cookie dough:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 & 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 & 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 & 1/2 cups flour

For the cinnamon filling:
1 large egg white
1 T. water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 & 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

For the glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 T. half & half or milk

Make the dough: In a large bowl beat together powdered sugar and butter until smooth. Beat in salt and vanilla extract. Stir in flour. Gather mixture into a ball then flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. (Dough keeps in fridge for at least five days, I discovered.)

After it’s chilled, roll out sugar cookie dough onto a lightly floured surface. (I used floured wax paper.) Roll dough into a 9 x 12-inch rectangle. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white and water until foamy. In another small bowl, mix together cinnamon and sugar. Brush egg white onto dough and sprinkle liberally and evenly with cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Now comes the tricky part: Starting with the long edge, roll dough tightly into a log. Use the wax paper to coax the dough into a long roll. Once fully rolled, wrap the log in wax paper or plastic wrap and freeze for one hour, or until firm. (Dough will keep in freezer for up to two months.)

To bake the cookies: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (or just lightly grease them). Unwrap the dough log. Using a sharp knife, cut the cookies into 1/2-inch slices. Lay flat on cookie sheets and bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the cookies are a light golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

Make the frosting: Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl. Add half & half and stir until smooth. Drizzle icing onto cooled cookies.

*1/2-inch slices should yield 2 dozen cookies. I sliced mine a little thinner and ended up with closer to 3.5 dozen.

Cardamom Cookies

Source: Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes: 4 dozen small cookies

A couple of months ago, I bought some cardamom for a cake. I got home, opened the cardamom to see what it smelled like, then read over the recipe and realized the ingredient I actually needed was coriander. So I kept the cardamom which I had so hastily opened and bought some coriander for the cake. So… what do with the cardamom?

These cookies caught my eye not only because they called for my unused spice to take a starring role, but also because they had relatively few ingredients and looked incredibly easy to whip up.

There’s really not that much to say about them — they’re just simple and really good. Reminiscent of snickerdoodles, they’re not soft, but not crunchy, and they have a gentle hit of spice from the cardamom. If you like Chai tea, you’ll like the flavor of these little goodies. In fact, they’d be an excellent mid-afternoon snack with a cup of tea. They’re sophisticated that way.

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup butter, at room temp
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
Granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 350. Sift together flour and cream of tartar in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, cardamom, baking soda and salt. (Yes, it’s an unusual order of adding ingredients, but it works.) Add brown sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually stir in flour mixture.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and flatten the cookie slightly with the palm of your hand.

Bake for 10 minutes, until cookies are a light, golden brown. Let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before removing them a wire rack to finish cooling.