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Paella Sneak Peak and Giveaway Winner

Just looking at this picture makes me happy.  My husband can put together a  mean paella.  When our friend José, one of the pickiest eaters we know, goes for seconds you get this feeling you did something right.

The chef and I are still going over our notes on how to describe the process, so I will get back to you on this one.  What I want to definitely share with you is the winner of the $25.00 Amazon.com gift card! Read More…

Béarnaise Sauce

Ever since we came back from Paris, I have been dreaming of Béarnaise sauce.  I grew up with the Knorr mix version (which is hard to find these days around these parts) and thought that it was pretty fantastic, but of course my encounter with the real thing ruined me for life.  I even had a taste of a restaurant version and it screamed Hollandaise at me – a very good Hollandaise – but lacking the shallots, tarragon and tang of the white wine vinegar signature of the Béarnaise.  Our early attempts at making this sauce from scratch were laughable, but every year we added it to our ‘to cook’ list and chose to ignore it. It felt too daunting to pull off.

I visited my parents this weekend, with the intention of picking up my newly arrived copy of the French Culinary Institute’s “The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine” and borrowing an old Mexican food cookbook I knew my mother had around somewhere.  I stepped on a stool and stood before the row of dusty cookbooks and came across this pleasant surprise – a 1961 edition of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ that belonged to my Grandmother.  Yes, she is still very much alive, but that book is MINE now!  Having recently seen Julie and Julia on cable tv, I cooed like Meryl Streep at the discovery of this family heirloom. OOOOH!!!!!

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Armed with these two veritable references, suddenly my quest for Béarnaise sauce didn’t seem that daunting!  Out of the freezer came out the remaining ‘fishtail’ (el moñon, as my family calls it) of a seven pound beef tenderloin I purchased for the holidays. The beef was be seared and finished in the oven until medium rare.  We decided to roast some red-skinned potatoes in the oven too, in order to make the most of the indulgence.  Eduardo and I made a deal that could elevate this meal: if the sauce turned out well, we’d take out one of those bottles of wine we’ve been collecting from our trips. If it didn’t, a $10 bottle would have to do. I stretched my arms and back, took a deep breath, and began to work. The first step was to review both recipes as to proportions and tips to facilitate success, as the method for preparing the sauce is really that classic piece. Based on that comparison, this is what we did:
  • Take out two eggs and separate them, allowing the yolks to reach room temperature. Store the whites in the back of the fridge for macarons. 😉
  • Melt 14 tablespoons (yes, 1 3/4 bars!) of butter in a small saucepan and separate the milk solids to obtain clarified butter. Once it is ready, set aside on a low burner to keep warm.
  • In another small saucepan, combine: two tablespoons minced shallot, 2 1/2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup plus one tablespoon of water, and 1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon (1 tablespoon if you have access to fresh), and five peppercorns or about 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Set to medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until reduced by 80%. In the meantime, prepare a double boiler by setting a larger saucepan filled with about an inch of water. A heatproof bowl should be able to sit in the saucepan without touching the water.
  • In the a heatproof bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 tablespoons of water, the reduced vinegar/shallot/tarragon mixture, and the two egg yolks until frothy. Place over the saucepan with water and whisk for about three minutes. After whisking for three minutes, the mixture will be airy but should start to thicken.
Making Béarnaise Sauce

DH pinch hits and continues whisking while I take a picture. It felt safe at that point! I’m not taking any chances after that burned roux!

  • While I continued to whisk the yolks, DH slowly and steadily streamed the warm clarified butter into the heatproof bowl. If you feel the mixture is getting too hot, take it out of the larger saucepan and continue whisking until cools off. It is better to be safe and remove it if you have doubts as to the temperature because once it curdles… you loose the sauce. It might take a little longer, but it is completely worth it.  After ten minutes of stirring, you should have a silky emulsion you’ll want to lick of the plate
  • >Adjust the seasonings to your taste: 1 teaspoon or 2 of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Strain it if you like smooth sauces, or if you enjoy a bit of shallot here and there forego that step.

Could you guess that we made it? At one point I thought my arm would fall off, but it didn’t! We achieved the velvety, buttery sauce we wanted. It was only fitting to serve it in my Gradmother’s gravy boat.

Béarnaise Sauce
Beef tenderloin with Béarnaise Sauce

As for the wine, we pulled out the last bottle from our 2004 trip to Napa, a 2004 Joseph Phelps ‘Le Mistral’. The Le Mistral is a blend, reminiscent of the Côtes du Rhône region of France, of Syrah, Grenache, Petit Syrah and Alicante. It was delicious and assertive enough to stand to the steak and the rich sauce. What a way to close the weekend!

 

Béarnaise Sauce Wine Pairing

 

Bernáise Sauce

Tzatkiki

I love falafel.  I usually go to a little hole-in-the-wall Turkish place that serves the best falafel sandwiches, but they have become very popular and now I only go just for takeout. After reading a couple of recipes, I set off to make my own oven-baked falafel.   

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I wasn’t crazy about the way the recipe turned out.  It called for a lot of breadcrumbs, and that was most of what I could taste.  The falafel patties tasted just okay – not fantastic.  There’s still leftover mix still in the fridge, and I’ll try actually frying it to see if that helps too.  

While we work on Falafel Take 2, I’ll leave you with an easy version of a tzatkiki yogurt sauce.  

  • 3/4 cup of plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp mayo
  • Half a cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • About a tablespoon of your choice of herbs – I worked with basil, parsley, spearmint, and oregano, but dill is pretty classic.
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Combine well all the ingredients and allow them to chill in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour.  The longer it sits, the better the flavors will meld.  

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Go away, tzatkiki butterfly and find me a great recipe!

  True Tzatziki

Proud member of FoodBlogs

 

Cardamom Macarons with Guava Filling

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Recipe courtesy of Helen Dujardin, via Desserts Magazine

One of my biggest regrets related to my trip to France was that I did not bring back with me a box of macarons, the pretty almond meringue sandwich cookies that come in as many colors and flavors as you could think of.  Over the holidays, while my best friend was here in Puerto Rico, I bonded with Binbin, her SIL, over our love for baking and how we should tackle this elusive treat.  Unlike Binbin, though, I am not one of those people with the talent for making dainty, pretty things. I mix, drop, bake, and eat.  I was still curious as to whether I could pull off the macarons, and combed through the Internet for every tip and hint I could. Luckily, I found what seems to be the definite source for macarons as to recipe and methodology.  Tartelette’s Helen Dujardin walks through the process with such detail in her article Demystifying Macarons that I knew I could do it. I had the hardware (mixer, food processor, food scale)!

The basic French meringue macaron consists of:

The Meringue – beaten to a point where the whites are glossy and you can turn the mixer bowl over and everything stays in place
  • 100 grams of day-old egg whites. Letting them rest in the fridge for at least a day helps break down the proteins.
  • 50 grams of granulated sugar
The Almond Meal – ground almonds or almond flour mixed with confectioners’ sugar.
  • 110 grams of ground almonds
  • 200 grams powdered sugar

To the almond meal, I added a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom for flavor.  I really like the warmth it imparts, which creates a nice contrast with the tart guava jam I was going to use for filling. 

The two components are then mixed by hand in about fifty quick strokes, until the mixture is well incorporated.  With a pastry bag, using a plain tip, pipe in circles of 1.5 inches in diameter on a parchment or silplat lined cookie sheet.  This part of the process was where I struggled – the pastry bag I have is a cheap one and it didn’t come with any plain tips.  I also overfilled the bag and the mixture was being squeezed out of the bottom and top part.  Don’t overfill your bags!    At the end I was so exasperated by the pastry bag and took out my small cookie drop!  The recipe made enough macarons for two cookie sheets.  I baked the first sheet for 11 minutes, and the second one for 12.  

After the macs cooled down, I spread some guava jam I had purchased at the farmers’ market and voila!  It wasn’t as difficult as I thought, but then again, I had some casualties in both batches in the form of cracked tops and undercooked meringue.  I’ll definitely try these again – but not before I buy a decent pastry bag!

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Macarons

Red Bagging It – Quinoa Salad

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As I anticipated last week, work has been very demanding for the last two weeks for both DH and me.  When my last meal of the day for these last two evenings has been a bowl of cereal, you can tell that I’m more than physically tired to take on dinner.  What an irony for a food blogger!  Lunch yesterday wasn’t anything overly nourishing either, so this morning when I woke up, my body was hungry for some real food to help me recharge batteries.  Enter the quinoa!  I put together this lunch in under twenty minutes and while multitasking around the house, so it is one of those ‘no excuses’ dinners as well.  It should be quite tasty now after sitting for a while!

  • Cook half a cup of quinoa in one cup of water and salt to taste, bringing it to a boil and then reducing the heat to low for fifteen minutes.  If you have a bamboo steamer or a basket insert, double-duty and steam some frozen edamame simultaneously.  You may use already cooked chicken or tuna instead of the edamame. That’s part of the beauty of salads – they can be readily adapted to whatever you want and have on hand.
  • Gather enough lettuce to create a bed for your quinoa and chop, along with a little bit of red onion, and one heart of palm.
  • After the quinoa is fully cooked and the water evaporated, mix in the edamame, fresh herbs (I used parsley, basil, mint and oregano) and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Add some balsamic vinegar and extra oil to the cold salad components, sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes (not the ones packed in oil), and spoon in about two thirds of the quinoa/edamame mixture.
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This quinoa salad may sound overly fancy or expensive, but most of the ingredients I already had on hand from my pantry or growing in the balcony herb garden.  The quinoa, hearts of palm and sundried tomatoes were good values from the warehouse club when compared to the cost in the regular supermarket (let alone any specialty food store!).  I also like spoiling myself a little with tasty and nutritious food especially since the rest of the day is filled with more work…

 

Quinoa

Shrimp Etouffée

“Etouffée” means “smothered,” and that’s the idea. It’s not a long-cooked stew. – Tom Fitzmorris

Recipe Adapted from John Besh’s My New Orleans

I think I finally got over the Saints losing in the playoffs this weekend, and let go of my delusions of being able to influence the outcome of a game through my culinary ‘offerings’.  With this baggage off my shoulders, I can finally share with you my shrimp etouffée recipe and lessons learned.  This was my first foray into etouffée and into NOLA style seafood, after making over the last year a couple of chicken and sausage gumbos and jambalayas.  Etouffée is the French word for stew (and Spanish’s estofado, although I like guiso better).   Depending on the recipe/school of thought you may have a thickened up seafood gumbo or a very rich butter and spice based sauteed dish.  The most popular etouffees are crawfish, but shrimp and crab are widely used as well.

Etouffée, like gumbo, starts with a roux made of equal parts fat and butter, cooked to a dark brown color. Getting the roux to the color of milk chocolate should take somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes over medium heat.

The Roux

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Once the roux is ready, reduce the heat to medium-low and add one small diced onion. The onion should be cooked until soft. It is very important to hold out on adding any other ingredient until the onion is translucent, as the moisture from the other vegetables would halt the caramelization of the process. The roux will get a little darker.

When the onions are ready, add the following ingredients and cook for about five minutes.

  • 1 diced celery stalk
  • 1/2 bell pepper – whichever color you may have on hand
  • 3 cloves of garlic – depending on the size
  • Leaves from three sprigs of thyme
  • 1.5 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
 

At this time, you are ready to add 2 1/2 cups of liquid into your pot and a small peeled and chopped tomato. This is the only point in the recipe where I disagree with Mr. Besh. His original recipe calls for one quart of shellfish stock. My secondary source, Emeril Lagasse’s recipe calls for one quart of stock as well – for double the amount of roux and thrice the seafood. Etouffée is supposed to be like a gravy. By following the recipe ‘to a T’ the first time, I got a pretty tasty shrimp gumbo. Ideally, you would have shrimp or seafood stock on hand, but since my freezer bag of shrimp tails is nowhere near full at this point I bought a seafood base to create a broth. Clam juice is an acceptable substitute too.

After the sauce has come to a boil, reduce and simmer for five to seven minutes, making sure that nothing sticks (and burns!) to the bottom of your pan. Reduce the heat to low and add:

  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 to 1.5 pounds of cleaned, deveined shrimp (save the tails and shells for stock)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes of Louisiana-style hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Once the shrimp are cooked thoroughly, serve with long grain white rice. The recipe yields at least four generous portions, and the leftovers are awesome.

My Orleans: The Cookbook on Foodista

Mustard Vinaigrette

After the deluge of sweets and big dinners of the last few weeks, I’ve made a point to tie my running shoes and start training for my first ‘big’ race of the year, the World’s Best 10K (really humble, those organizers!). This would be the third year I participate and I’m aiming for a personal record this time around.  In addition to the start of the running season, DH and I are also beginning our respective work busy seasons.  For the next couple of months, actually enjoying the kitchen becomes more of a weekend activity.  The upside is that this is the time of the year when I experiment most with soups, salad dressings, sandwich fixings, and freeze-and-reheat dishes.  
  
I’ve reduced my pre-made salad dressings purchases considerably over the last year or so, preferring to douse my greens in olive oil and any of the vinegars in the cupboard.  Sometimes, that just wouldn’t do and I crave a creamy dressing.  For the last few family dinners, I have prepared a mustard vinaigrette inspired partly by our trip to France.  When I don’t feel like measuring oil and vinegar parts, I turn to the classic Good Seasons cruet and ‘cheat’ my way into getting the right proportions.
 

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Vive le mise en place!  I actually used the amounts of herbs you see here.
 

Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette
  • One shallot – roughly chopped.  That  would be one of the neatly packed bulbs from nature’s handy two-pack, or half a shallot, if you see it as a whole.  (I do not mean to be a smarty, I am genuinely confused as to whether each half is one shallot or… half).  
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
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Take all these for a spin in the food processor with one tablespoon of Dijon-style mustard and one tablespoon of water, until you get a pretty, aromatic puree.  It’s almost like a French pesto!

In your cruet or dressing jar, combine:
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1.5  tablespoons of Dijon-style mustard
  • A squirt of honey (more if you want a sweeter dressing)
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil.  You can reduce this if you want a tarter dressing.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Add your shallot/herb mix to the jar, close it tight, and give yourself an arm workout until well-combined.  The dressing is even tastier after the flavors have had a chance to meld.

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I love playing “spot the shallot”. Can you see the little purple speckles?

  Mustard Herb Vinaigrette

Farmer’s Market Shopping

Husband plays photographer while I peruse the tables.  He was more into the gorgeous day than the produce!

Sofrito

Sofrito
Sofrito is probably one of the most misunderstood ingredients you may encounter in a recipe.  The word itself means many things to different people, as Wikipedia helpfully sorts through in its entry on the subject. The frito in the name should clue you into that you will be pan-frying something to obtain a flavor base.  Sofrito is not a pesto or chimichurri – it must be cooked with at least oil for the flavor to truly come through.  Where do you want the flavor to come through?  Soups, rices, beans, stews, picadillos (seasoned ground meat)… the list goes on. Sofrito and Spanish-style tomato sauce (the one in the small 8 ounce cans) are my secret weapon to make food that tastes like home.

 

Sofrito Mise en Place Ingredients
 
Every sofrito is different – but most include peppers (cubanelle or green bell, and ajicitos – tiny non-spicy peppers), onion, garlic, cilantro and a saw-edge herb known as culantro or recao.  Some people add tomato, others add oil directly to the mixture, or even cooking ham (smoked picnic ham).  Traditionally, these aromatics are pureéd, but they can also be finely chopped like in a mirepoix/trinity and I just learned that other islands make liquid versions.  That makes me feel slightly less remorseful about yelling to the TV in the No Reservations Puerto Rico episode.  Anthony Bourdain’s companion, a New Yorker from Puerto Rican descent, showed him a bottle of homemade hot sauce at a lechonera and said that was sofrito.  I was livid!  Thankfully, local master chef Alfredo Ayala set the record straight on the classic preparation before the end of the show.
 
If you couldn’t tell by now, I am a sofrito snob.  Up until a few years ago, I would only use my mother’s and recently I discovered a very good version at the organic farmers’ market that even she approved of.  Most commercially available sofrito has a sour/vinegary aftertaste from preservatives, so it is best to make your own or to find someone to make it for you from scratch.  I have been running low and with my parents enjoying a deserved vacation over New Year’s, I knew it was time to step up and make my own.  To this day I am not entirely sure I got my proportions completely right because you cannot taste it and just tell, but by tasting while cooking you might be able to tweak and add extra herbs or aromatics if you deem so.  
 

Sofrito ready for pureeing
The most artful whirl this food processor has seen to date!
These are my mother’s suggested proportions.  According to her, the greener, the better!  Make sure to wash all your herbs thoroughly before pureeing everything in a food processor.
  • One medium cubanelle pepper (the one in the picture is actually large)
  • One medium onion (white or yellow)
  • About four ajicitos
  • Two large cloves of garlic (or three smaller ones)
  • About a cup of cilantro, including tender stems
  • About  8 recao leaves if you can find them.  Otherwise, double up on cilantro.  
  • I also added about three brujo oregano leaves, mostly because I have an overgrown plant in my balcony garden.
Sofrito keeps in the refrigerator for about a week, however, you may freeze it in ice cube trays to extend its useful life.  Some clever woman came up with that trick years ago, and like all good old wive tales and tips, it spread wide and fast!
Sofrito Ice Cubes
Arroz con pollo… habichuelas… corned beef guisado… mmmmh…
This blog post was modified on January 13, 2011. Mother does know best! The original proportions called for one large clove of garlic and turns out that we needed to add two large cloves of garlic or three smaller ones.

Sofrito on Foodista

Holiday Entertaining Roundup

We are a a few days away from the end of the holiday season, but I have already hung my apron. For our January 6th family lunch, my sister and I decided to buy lechón, the famous Puerto Rican style roast pork and morcillas (blood and rice sausage) from a nearby stand. I am slacking off in the kitchen and bringing a salad with a homemade vinaigrette.

From the well-documented Thanksgiving turkey to the various gatherings of friends in our home, I’ve had a great time entertaining during the 2010-2011 holidays.  Here is a brief recap of those dishes that DH and I have especially loved this time around, in addition to the sweets featured all through December:
  • Mama’s Spinach Dip
This appetizer recipe was one of my mother’s contributions to our school’s fundraising cookbook back in the day.  For the fifth edition of the Medtrullo, one of the unofficial office holiday parties, I put together this quick dip of equal parts of room temperature cream cheese and mayonnaise, 2 cloves of garlic, crumbled bacon, wilted spinach, and freshly ground black pepper.  We served it with pita chips but would make an excellent crudité dip as well.  It’s very easy to make and a great alternative to the commercially available spinach dips.

  • Betty Crocker’s Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
I made these to rave reviews to the compadres dinner, after photocopying the recipe off of my Mom’s decades old cookbook.  Although the recipe shares a name with the boxed variety found at supermarkets, we’re talking about the real deal here: Yukon golds sliced on a mandolin layered with a half-and-half based béchamel sauce (taking it a step up in the richness scale) and finely chopped onions, baked for about an hour fifteen minutes.  We served them with beef tenderloin with a cremini mushroom steak sauce, and a simple salad.

  • Rustic Italian Bread

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One of my FoodBuzz fellow foodies, Tony T, posted this recipe for an Italian loaf.  I decided to bake my own bread to a later dinner party.  The simple recipe, paired with these guidelines, resulted in a loaf with a chewy crust and soft middle.  There will be a lot more bread baking in 2011!

  • Pork Tenderloin en Croute

 
For the dinner with our Parisian friends, we really wanted to pull out all the stops because they went out of their way to help us enjoy our brief stay in the city during September.  We had also stuck to classics for our previous hosted dinner in, so we broke out of the mold by making an alternative to the Beef Wellington – Pork Tenderloin en Croute.  This recipe takes from the traditional Beef Wellington the puff pastry crust and a ‘paté’ made out of white button and rehydrated wild dried mushrooms, parmesan cheese, herbs, and breadcrumbs. The pork is also generously slathered with whole grain mustard.  My creole mustard supply is running dangerously low now! We served the tenderloin with a wild mushroom risotto, a green salad with homemade vinaigrette, and Tony T’s bread.

  • Warm Chocolate Mousse
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I’ll get you my pretty… sometime in 2011!
This one’s the dishonorable mention, the one that didn’t work out, the one that made me forget I had made caramel sauce to draw squiggly garnish lines earlier in the morning. What were meant to be cute little flour-less chocolate cakes, thanks to the resourcefulness of my friend Olivier, became delicious warm chocolate mousses. I should have let them in the oven for a little longer than what the recipe called for, but hey – now I know better. We served them with a small scoop of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream and laughed the kitchen faux pas off.

I’m really happy when I cook and I have especially loved seeing my family and friends enjoy some of these meals. I am already working on the list of places to visit and dishes to cook during 2011, so stick around!

Closing in on Salted Caramel

We are halfway through the peak of the holiday season – which goes through at least the weekend after Epiphany (January 6th – quite a big deal around these parts).  For the last few weeks I’ve been baking and cooking a lot – usually while hosting – which has slowed down the blogging and food picture-taking.  I completely forget about taking pictures of food when my adorable godsons are around.

I have been working lately with one of those flavors that just stuck with me after this year’s trip: salted caramel.   I love caramel and its relatives butterscotch and dulce de leche in pretty much any form, from the Brach’s butterscotch disk, to the crépes… For dinner with a group of friends, I made a pecan-crusted cheesecake and instead of going with the raved caramel sauce in the recipe, I made a salted caramel sauce from another site.  It was too salty on its own (two teaspoons for about cup and a half worth of caramel), but worked pretty well with the Epi cheesecake recipe.  The recipe yielded a lot of sauce – not that I had any restraint when pouring it over the cake. Everybody thought I was serving flan rather than cheesecake.

Given that I was not completely satisfied with the outcome of my first caramel sauce, I continued the search for the recipe.  I found a blog post that combined the pursuit for the salted caramel with a new thumbprint cookie – providing a shortcut recipe I was not aware of.  Turns out that if you melt soft caramel candies with cream/milk, you get sauce!  I was stoked enough to find those Kraft caramels while grocery shopping yesterday that now I have a squeeze bottle half-filled with caramel sauce sitting in my fridge.

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And a happy new year to you too!

This is based in the Baking Royale recipe – which in turn is a take on the recipe on the back of the bag of caramels.

  • 20 unwrapped Kraft caramels
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (added after the caramels were halfway melted)
  • A pinch of sea salt – as small as a pinch can be – added at the very end

As shortcuts go, this one is awesome.  Tastewise, it is as good as caramel gets when the first ingredient in the candy’s list is corn syrup, which is why I doctored it with extra vanilla and salt.  That didn’t stop me from scraping every last bit I could out of the saucepan. However, the sauce should be warmed before using or thinned if you want to use it for fancy squiggly lines. I would use this again as an accent or for personal caramel emergencies, but am still in the lookout for a great recipe.  We’re closing in, but not there yet.

Coquito

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Tengo en mi escritorio una botella de coquito
que me mira como diciendo ‘anda tomate un poquito!’

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We are approaching the end of the work week, and slowly but surely sweets, gifts, and decorations have cut down a little of the office productivity.  Tomorrow I’ll be bringing the aftermath of weeks of experimenting, in the shape of tins and bags of cookies to share with my friends.  Marisol, my cubicle neighbor, gave us bottles of coquito.  It’s sitting in my desk right now, and I’m trying really hard to be good and not even smell it.   You’ll see why in a minute. 

Coquito is a Puerto Rican coconut flavored eggnog-type drink that can probably be found at every household during the November-January holidays.  While I don’t make it myself, I would know who to ask for some!  Coquito recipes are very varied – some may include eggs, some might be alcohol-free, but most of them include coconut milk or cream to impart that signature taste.

If you are intrigued, here are some places where you could find recipes:

  • Karma Free Cooking has two alcohol and egg free versions, original and super creamy.
  • Here is a version with tempered egg yolks, for food safety purposes
  • An easier, no frills version without eggs

More Cookies out of “One Basic Dough…”

Today I got out a cheap cookie press I bought last year but never got around using, and played a little with the vanilla dough I had in my fridge and the tree stencil/press.  It totally brought me back to the days of my ‘Snack Shop’ Play-Doh sets! 

‘Healthified’ Everychip Cookies

For the last two years, my every-chip cookies have been one of those things my co-workers expect come mid-December.  I found a great chocolate chip cookie recipe in Allrecipes.com that I usually halve and change the mix-ins to include dried cranberries, pecans and pistachios in addition to semi-sweet and white chocolate chips. This year, I have been reworking my recipe using whole wheat pastry flour in order to sneak in more whole grains and fiber.

When I prepared the first batch, I substituted the 1 ¼ cups of all purpose flour the recipe calls for the same amount of whole wheat pastry flour.  After combining the ingredients in my stand mixer per the directions, I noticed that the dough was not as cohesive as it would have been had I used the regular A/P flour, so I added an extra quarter cup of the whole wheat pastry flour.  It seemed to do the trick; the cookies from that first batch turned up chewy, and moist.  I took them to a party, and they disappeared off the tin fairly quickly, with enough compliments for me to decide to keep working with the ‘healthified’ version (in quotes, because – who are we kidding here – it’s still one cup of sugar and a stick of butter).

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They don’t look that healthy, but I’d like to pretend otherwise.

This weekend, I prepared a batch of dough and baked half of it, omitting the decisive ¼ cup of whole wheat pastry flour and using the suggested amounts of chips instead of going crazy and throwing in chocolate and nuts without restraint.  The mix this time around did not seem as thin/runny as it had the week before, so I just went with it ‘as is’.  The cookies turned out flatter, but not necessarily crisper.  This time around, DH asked if they had coconut in them, which led me to believe that the nuttiness of the whole grains, paired with the white chocolate, brought out that flavor.  I still have cookie dough in my freezer from this recipe and really need to see if these are acceptable enough for gifts or if I should attempt to add extra flour to get something closer to the original cookies.

And that’s where my objective taste-testers come in.

I work with engineers, and two of them are probably the most vocal fans of my cookies.  Girl engineer suggested I baked mice shaped cookies when we adopted a kitten.  Boy engineer always asks for cookies for his birthday.  Given that they love the original version, and yet can appreciate anything I put in front of them, I gave each two cookies and a photocopy of this very scientific poll:

Cookie_survey

Poor use of office supplies?

The jury was split on texture, with Girl Engineer stating that the cookie had structural defects (what?!) because it was very crumbly/brittle.  Girl engineer also thought that the prior versions of the cookie had more chips and cranberries going in.  Boy engineer found the texture and chip/stuff ratio adequate, and both of them thought they were good, but not as tasty as their predecessors.  They were even called too sweet, which leads me to believe the semi-sweet chocolate plays off the sweetness of the cookie and white chips.  A third impromptu/non-survey taking participant issued a ‘who cares, they are good’ opinion and agreed with DH as to the coconut aftertaste. 

Given that these are holiday treats and not everyday – heck – every month indulgences, the general consensus is to keep the less healthy incarnation of the recipe with all-purpose flour.  The minute they become a recurring obsession, I would revert to the whole wheat flour and try to find the right proportion of agave nectar to substitute the processed white sugar. In the meantime, I’ll sneak in an extra half cup of chips/cranberries/nuts to the half batch in my fridge and will increase the baking time to get a thinner but crunchier cookie.

Adam’s Latkes

On Saturday, I had to moderate comments on my post on the marbled thumbprint cookies, courtesy of my friend Adam (aka Pie).  Since I could not come up with a snappy reply immediately, I’ll let this post speak for itself.  Latkes are potato pancakes made out of shredded potatoes, onions, and other seasonings.  They are typical Hannukah fare, as the oil where they are fried symbolizes the miracle of the cruse of oil in The Temple which lasted for eight days instead of one.  Traditionally, they are served with sour cream and applesauce, but I didn’t have any on hand.  Did that stop me?  Saturday’s dinner was an excellent ice cream cone from Maggie Moo’s (key lime ice cream with crushed Teddy Grahams), so I was craving real food when I woke up on Sunday.  Those three lone Yukon golds I had in the produce bin were begging to be grated.

I made the recipe by the directions, using two cloves of garlic and generous amounts of salt and pepper. In retrospective should have tried squeezing out even more moisture out of the potatoes before adding the eggs and flour.  I should have also been a little bit more liberal with the use of oil to crisp up the potatoes, especially now that I know that part of the lore!  They were super tasty!  I served them with poached eggs, and a new brunch recipe was born.  The next step will be to come up with a sauce to make them fully into Latke’s Benedict (not that they really needed it).

Latkes

Tradition?  Maybe not.  Delicious?  Oh yes!

So yes, Adam, I’ll be mailing you out some cookies this week.  Just let me figure out how to pack them to make sure they arrive fresh.

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