Tuesday, April 29, 2008

PB Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Several months ago, I fell in love with Peanut Butter & Co.'s Cinnamon Raisin Swirl. I can't fully explain it, but the combination of warm cinnamon, sweet raisins and savory peanut butter drove my taste buds delirious with happiness. For many a breakfast, I'd spread some on a slice of toasted wheat bread, drizzle it with a bit of local honey, and munch away.

When I came back from London, I brought back a few tins of Harrods biscuits, among them the Honey & Oat variety. One afternoon around 3pm (my daily sugar craving time) I went into the kitchen, opened the cupboard and saw the Harrods biscuits sitting next to the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl PB.

A match made in kitchen heaven. The peanut butter paired with the sweet oat biscuit beautifully. So beautifully that I knew I had to create a cookie that had it all.

I finally did. And they're delicious, either with a glass of cold milk or a cup of hot tea.

PB Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

8 Tbsp. (one stick) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt

Set oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and peanut butter and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add dry ingredients EXCEPT raisins; blend. Fold in raisins by hand. Using a cookie dough scoop, form dough into tablespoon sized balls. Flatten dough balls to 1/4-inch thickness using the bottom of a drinking glass.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool cookies on a cooling rack; store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Edible Finger Lakes Debuts!

It showed up in my mailbox today.

The debut issue of Edible Finger Lakes! Jam packed with Finger Lakes foodie goodness: Wine family at MacGregor Vineyard! Farming at Red Tail Farm! Professional Sausage Making! Cooking and Eating Locally! And ... an article by yours truly on local CSAs!

The magazine looks fabulous; I can't wait to see what future issues hold. Congratulations to everyone involved, especially Zoe Becker and Michael Welch, editor and publisher of EFL!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sugar Plums Dancing in My Head, Ed. #2

A recurring (maybe) compendium of serious and frivolous thoughts bouncing through my brain at any given moment.

The Serious: SweetMachine at Shapely Prose points to this link featuring a portfolio of celebrity pictures before and after retouching. She points out how ridiculous, unhealthy, and unrealistic Mass Media’s beauty standards are, both for women and men. She writes:

That portfolio is a glorious example of the impossible beauty standard: Kelly Clarkson has been shrunk, while Julia Stiles has been filled in; Beyonce’s hips have been redrawn to erase a muffintop, while Eva Longoria’s hips have been curved up and out. Looking through all these photos, I get the eerie feeling that they’ve stolen flesh from one woman only to add it to another.

This is the quintessential operation of the beauty “ideal”: it is just that, an idea, sold to us as something to strive for not despite but because it is impossible.
Even the women who look like that don’t look like that! The outrage of this is not only that people who are not models or actors are held to a standard that constantly moves to something less real, but also that models themselves are forced to maintain unfeasible weights (often via verbal abuse and threats of unemployment) and then are demonized for it, making the fashion industry even more exploitative than it already was. You must be skinny and curvy at once, tiny and voluptuous, recognizably yourself but without the the lines and planes and wrinkles of your own body.

Take a look at the portfolio, and then think about how this sort of artifice affects you and everyone around you. (On a lighter note, if they’re doing this for regular magazine pics, imagine how they’re manipulating pornographic images…)

The Frivolous: Last week, I pulled out all my spring & summer clothes and organized them into “keep” and “toss” piles. This is not always easy as I have an emotional attachment to some things (like the navy blue J. Crew polo dress I bought probably 10 years ago that’s faded, and baggy, and even has a couple of bleach spots and still got another 11th hour call from the governor and went back into my drawer) but by and large the effort was successful.

The toss pile is going to a local consignment shop on Thursday and hopefully, I’ll get a few bucks . Everything is in great or excellent condition, but they’re items that are too big on me, or don’t really work with my body type, or fall into the “what was I thinking when I bought that?” category.

(I did put an item on eBay – a dress of Sadie’s she outgrew – but as virtually no one has viewed the damn thing, much less bid on it, I think I’ll be more successful at the consignment shop.)

As for the items that I’m keeping, I’m trying to figure out where the gaps in my wardrobe are and fill those holes with good stuff. In the past I’ve just bought things that I liked, which resulted in a lot of nice pieces that don’t work together; it’s a habit I’m trying to break.

I was able to pick up a versatile pair of white Banana Republic pants last week at the outlet mall (only $36!) and they’re now at the tailor’s being hemmed to fit my dauchshound-short legs (an additional $9, but completely worth it).

I also picked up a layering piece to put under a low cut green dress. (It's this top but redesigned as a dress with a knee length hem. I got it for $39 when it retailed for $188 - whoo!) I hate using tanks or camis as a layer so I ordered a bandeau (fine, tube top) in white from American Apparel with the hopes that it will give me the coverage I’m looking for without extra layers. We’ll see how it fits…

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sweet Soy-Grilled Short Ribs

Check out my step-by-step instructions for this recipe (with lots of pictures) on Instructables.com.

The weather was so beautiful here on Saturday: bright sunny skies, warm weather (80-degrees in APRIL!), trees and flowers blooming, so we had our neighbors, Chris & Shelly, over for a little barbecue.

How could we not grill up some ribs? Mmm ... ribs.

These guys are sweet and tangy, with Oyster and soy sauces in the glaze helped along by fresh garlic, ginger, and scallions. Everything is enhanced by the grill -- flame-broiled goodness!

Sweet Soy-Grilled Short Ribs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup Chinese oyster sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sake (Japanese rice wine), Chinese rice wine, or dry sherry
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece (1 inch) peeled fresh ginger, minced
2 scallions, white parts minced, green parts thinly sliced
About 3 pounds beef short ribs

Slice the short ribs into 1/2-inch pieces. If you can find bone-in short ribs, use them. But if you can only get the boneless variety (which is what happened to me) buy them anyway! Once you've cut the ribs into 1/2-inch portions, place them in a Tupperware container with a tight fitting lid. (This will help with marinating later on.)

In a small mixing bowl, add sugar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sake (or wine or sherry), garlic, and the whites of the scallions. Whisk or stir with a fork until well blended. Pour the marinade over the ribs, seal container tightly with its lid, and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Halfway through your marinating time, flip the container upside down to allow the marinade to penetrate all of the meat. (If you don't have a Tupperware container, simply place the meat in a bowl with the marinade and cover with plastic wrap. Halfway through the marinating time, re-adjust the ribs, moving them around in the marinade for even coverage.)

When ready to cook, preheat your grill to high. Check the heat using the "Mississippi test" -- hold your hand about three inches above the grill grate; when the fire is at the right heat, you should only be able to count two or three Mississippis before you have to pull your hand away. Oil the grill grate (use long tongs to hold an oil-dipped cloth) and place ribs on grill. Cook until the ribs are done to your preference (about 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium) and nicely browned. Your ribs could cook more quickly, or take more time. So KEEP AN EYE ON THEM, especially if you're using the boneless variety of short ribs. When ready, move ribs from the grill to a bowl, platter or plates, sprinkle the scallion greens, serve and enjoy!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Carrot Soufflé

You know what's delicious?

Carrot soufflé.

To be honest, it's not a real souffle, but it does have a light and airy mouth feel similar to its namesake. It's also sweet, colorful, packed with vitamins and --most importantly-- flavor.

If you're not a sweet side-dish kind of person --you shun candied yams at Thanksgiving, for instance --this recipe will not float your boat. (I wonder, though, if you could simply remove the sugar and come up with a more savory result that maintains the texture ... If anyone gives that a try, let me know!)
But if you do love sweet sides, run to the store (or, is your local the farmers' market open yet?) and stock up on ingredients. It's that good.

Carrot Soufflé (adapted)

2 pounds of carrots, chopped
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. fat-free sour cream
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish or a 10-inch pie plate; set aside.

Boil carrots for 15 minutes or until very tender; drain. Place carrots in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse to combine.

Spoon mixture into prepared dish and bake for 40 minutes or until puffed and set. Serve warm.

Serves 8.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sugar Plums Dancing in My Head, Ed. #1

So pretty! Read on to find out who made it and how to make one, too.

I have no idea how this is going to turn out in the long run, or how frequently this will appear, but I thought it might be fun to do a round up of things I’ve spotted online; things that have got me thinking, making, wanting, and occasionally, lusting after. True to (my) form, these ideas range from very serious to extremely frivolous. Here we go:

Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries discusses the many ways corporate restaurants waste food:
Most corporate chain restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and the like have a very strict policy of dumping this perfectly good food out into the dumpster, which is often locked and behind enclosures in order to keep enterprising individuals from “harvesting” or saving this food. (If these enclosed or locked bins tampered with, even by a hungry person, they can then be arrested and charged not with just vandalism for breaking the locks, but for breaking and entering and theft. Imagine being charged with stealing garbage–the whole point of garbage is that the former owner of it no longer wants it, so why is it illegal for someone else to take it before it is heaped into a landfill?) Employees who are caught taking food of this kind home or eating it, or donating it are treated as thieves and are often fired.
Barbara's analysis is thoughtful, lucidly-written, and illuminating.

A few weeks ago, Shane and I had a little debate on whether money could buy happiness; my thought was "no" and Shane's was, "I've never been rich; how could I possibly know?" The theory of money not buying happiness was supported in a mid-1970's study by Richard Easterlin, then an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, although to be fully truthful, Easterlin argued the more subtle point that economic growth doesn’t necessarily lead to more satisfaction.

A new paper rebuts Easterlin's argument. In it, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers (economists who are also from the University of Pennsylvania) argue that money does tend to bring happiness, if not guarantee it. To quote the New York Times' article:

If anything, Ms. Stevenson and Mr. Wolfers say, absolute income seems to matter more than relative income. In the United States, about 90 percent of people in households making at least $250,000 a year called themselves “very happy” in a recent Gallup Poll. In households with income below $30,000, only 42 percent of people gave that answer. But the international polling data suggests that the under-$30,000 crowd might not be happier if they lived in a poorer country.

I think it's pretty obvious that humans have needs that must be met and, in our current economic and governmental system, you need money to be able to meet those needs. But we also live in a society that values consumerism -- so it doesn't surprise me that people who make $250,000+ annually say they are happy; they've got lots of money, so they can buy lots of stuff (in fact, they have to buy lots of stuff to follow the norms of their socio-economic group) and consumerism teaching us that buying and having is what makes us happy (and maybe even worthy). If we weren't so obsessed with buying, buying, buying, and what that represented, would we view money as so important?

As for the statement that "the international polling data suggests that the under-$30,000 crowd might not be happier if they lived in a poorer country" I wish there was more clarification. Which poorer country are we talking about? What sort of social benefits to citizens get? What are the social norms of this country? Etc., etc.

These ideas, and many, many others, are being debated in the NYT's comment section; please take a look. (If you're not a registered member, head over to Bug Me Not for a username and password.)

I'm not a Chris Matthews fan (I saw him in person once while covering a local news story) but reading this piece (another NYTimes piece, this time in its Sunday magazine) just made me feel bad for him. He was on The Colbert Report Monday night and it's clear that this is a man with a desperate need to be thought well of. Consequently, he marinates in flop sweat constantly.

On a lighter note, maybe it’s spring – I don’t know -- but I suddenly have a massive urge to be crafty (in the let’s-paint-a-picture way, not the Machiavellian sense.) Unfortunately, many of the craft projects I’m initially attracted to don’t even get started because I think, “what am I going to do with this thing when it’s done?” Do I need a cross-stitched pillow, even an alternative one? Where would I wear jewelry made from poultry products?

Still, I am in search of the great creative project that will be ultimately functional. I don’t really need another USB drive but taking one apart to put it into a Lego brick casing, or turn on into a tromp l'oeil eraser is very appealing. (I spent way too much time on Instructables yesterday, and I think it’s going t happen again today. They even have a food section!)

I love Angie’s project on The {New New} York Etsy Street Team to turn aluminum cans into jewelry (pictured at the top of this post.) If you didn’t know the origin, you’d never have guessed what it was made from; it just looks lovely, minimalist, and modern. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get my hands on an eyelette setter and disc/stamping... In case I can't, though, I can just pick one up at Angie's Brooklynsoul Etsy store.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chicken Picadillo

First al fresco dining opportunity of the season!

I love cinnamon. It's warm, rich and spicy; I'm absolutely obsessed with it when baked in sweets. Cinnamon and sugar is a natural, but the depth it adds to chocolate (or chocolate and dark coffee; mmm...) or mixed in with the fruity notes from cardamom -- I just love it all.

But I rarely cook with it; that is, I don't often add it to savory dishes. But it's delicious here in Chicken Picadillo. The peppery spice from the salsa pairs beautifully with the cinnamon. The raisins in the dish hint at cinnamon's sweet uses but those notes don't overwhelm the other flavors but play off them nicely.

I paired this with rice and beans (sauteed some garlic and onions in a pan, added two cans of black beans and mixed it in with a cup or two of cooked rice) but you can use it with tortillas for a twist on tacos.

Chicken Picadillo (adapted)

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs (or 1 pound ground chicken)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup bottled salsa
1/3 cup raisins (regular or golden)

If using chicken thighs, place in a food processor and pulse until ground.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken, cumin, salt, cinnamon, and garlic, and cook for 3 minutes or until chicken is done, stirring frequently. Stir in salsa and raisins, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer until thoroughly heated (about 5 minutes).

Serves 4.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Salmon with Agrodolce sauce

This is a very impressive, delicious dish -- if you like salmon, that is -- that takes very little effort. I was especially in love with the look and texture of the crust; it's a gorgeous deep-gold color and lends the fish an appealing crunch. I served this along with piselli con asparagi e basilico .

Note: be sure to finish the sauce with a pat of butter, or risk an overly acidic sauce.

Salmon with Agrodolce sauce (adapted)

3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (1 inch thick) with skin
2 medium red or sweet yellow onions (about 1 pound total), cut into wedges
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pat salmon dry and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place salmon skin side up into the hot pan and cook until undersides form a golden crust, about 12 to 15 minutes. Turn fish over and cook until just cooked through, about 3 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a separate skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Sauté onions until golden brown and crisp-tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in vinegar, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until sauce is syrupy, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter.

Spoon onions with sauce onto plates and top with salmon, skin side down.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Piselli con Asparagi e Basilico (asparagus, peas, and basil)

It might actually be Spring.

I'm not totally committed to that idea yet, because I live in Upstate New York and we had several inches of snow on the ground about two weeks ago, but I am hopeful. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it's supposed to get up to 68-degrees tomorrow.

My hope is further pushed along by fresh asparagus, tender peas, and hand torn basil. So simple, so green, so delicious.

Piselli con Asparagi e Basilico (asparagus, peas, and basil -- adapted)

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 bunches of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 pound shelled fresh peas (2 1/2 cups; 1 3/4 pound in pods) or 1 (10-ounce) package thawed frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Handful of torn basil leaves (about 3/4 cup)

In a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, cook onions in butter, stirring frequently until just tender, about 4 minutes.

Stir in asparagus, peas, sea salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then seal skillet with foil. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender but still slightly al dente, about 8 minutes. Stir in basil and sea salt to taste.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

New York Style Crumb Cake

When I was very little, I would ride with my parents from Long Island to NYC; my parents would go to work, and I would stay at my grandma's house until they returned. We'd usually stop at a coffee truck pulled over on the side of the road and grab breakfast: for me, a carton of chocolate milk and a slab of crumb cake. I would ignore the cake's base (more of a sweet bread than a cake anyway) in favor of the sugary crumbs.

It's something I hadn't thought about in years until watching Cooks Illustrated's podcast on New York Style crumb cake -- and then I had to make it.

The result is a moist, dense (but not heavy) cake base topped by heaps -- and I mean heaps -- of brown sugar crumbs. This recipe does not skimp on the crumb topping; even after you slice the cake into pieces and chunks of topping fall onto the platter, your piece of cake still has a generous crumb cover.

The one thing I would change is the amount of cinnamon used in the crumb. Although the cinnamon flavor intensified the next day (and the day after that) I still would have liked a greater cinnamon punch. Next time, I'd probably add three tablespoons to the crumbs, taste them, and adjust accordingly.

Overall, however, a nice tribute to the NY Style Crumb Cake.

New York-Style Crumb Cake (adapted)

Crumb Topping
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or way more -- 3 Tbsp. -- to taste)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), melted and still warm
3 1/2 cups cake flour

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), cut into 12 pieces, softened)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

For the crumb topping, mix together sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in medium bowl to combine. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

For the cake, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat to 325-degrees F. Line a 13x9 pan with a parchment paper sling (spray the pan with cooking spray, lay in a sheet of parchment, pushing it into corners and up sides, allowing excess to overhang edges of dish.

In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed to combine. With mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping once if necessary.

Transfer batter to baking pan; using rubber spatula, spread batter into even layer. Form crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread in even layer over batter, beginning with outer edges and then working toward center. Bake until crumbs are golden and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan by lifting parchment overhang. Dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Spaghetti Harvest

Happy April Fool's Day.

More info on the Spaghetti tree.

PS: I know this is another Google joke, but wouldn't it be great if it were real?