Sunday, October 28, 2007

constellation cookies

Ever since these cookies stole my heart and failed to steal KS’s, I’ve been on a mission to find a cookie that we could both fall in love with and never let go. Aside from the fact that I just. Plain. Don’t. Get. It. How do you not love a cookie so deep, dark and chocolatey? Well, apparently, this cookie might come close to finding heaven on earth for some people(me), but others will still be looking. So I gave myself a goal – find that cookie that makes KS as weak in the knees that the world peace cookies made me and make sure that cookie has the same knee-weakening effect on me. After all, since I am making them, shouldn’t I enjoy them just as much?

All this talk of not having a sweet tooth has been put to rest. I do (have a sweet tooth). And I can tell you that while discriminating (red velvet cake from Billy’s – yes, please; Magnolia cupcake – no, thanks) – it’s very firmly present, refuses to go away, and lets me know of its existence every afternoon after my healthy lunch. To which I, at times, succumb. But all those cravings aside, there’s nothing more comforting and seductive than walking into an apartment that smells of freshly-baked cookies. It says “home” and “relax” and “good food can be found here”. And as I come home these days when it’s late, dark, cold, and often wet outside, walking into a house with the fresh cookie smell is like reaching my own idyll every night after work.

I found this recipe on the never-bored-when-I’m-looking-at-it Martha Stewart website – and it took all strength and dedication not to make these cookies the night I found the recipes. And a smart move that was, for here’s the rub: these cookies take awhile to make. Heed my warning when I say this to you, make these on a weekend, when you have time, as coming and going from your house, or make the dough one day, freeze it, and then make the cookies on another night. The cookie dough comes out very fudgy and sticky, and as you are going to be wrapping it in plastic and chilling it for a few hours, do not despair if you think it’s too sticky and gooey and you are having a hard time making it go into the plastic encasing. It’s supposed to be like that and you will be on the right track. I recommend chilling the dough for the amount of time advised in the recipe – it makes the job easier later on. But the end result – oh my! These are seductive and chewy, full of dark chocolate and hints of smokey molasses. A truly grown up cookie with layers and layers of flavors! Indeed, these cookies are worth the trouble they put you through!

After you make the cookie dough, you have a few more steps to follow before you can place them in the oven. There’s the additional step of creating ball of dough and chilling them for 20 minutes afterwards. And then, only after you chilled these chocolate balls of goodness, you roll them in granulated sugar (yes, we have white sugar on hand for this kind of stuff, we’re not completely white sugar free, I was mistaken) – and only after that step you stick the sparkly, sugary cookie dough balls in the oven.

If you don’t care to have shimmery cookies, you can skip the sugar rolling step, but look at how pretty and magical they look! Don’t you want cookies that look like the dark skies with all the stars upon them? That’s what KS saw when he was eating his fourth of fifth cookie of the night suggesting that I call them “Constellation Cookies”. And I think I will do just that. Martha, I hope you forgive me.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

roasted acorn squash with a wine reduction sauce

roasted acorn squash stuffed with spiced couscous in a wine reduction sauce

It never ceases to shock me that KS and I will disagree on food likes and dislikes. I naturally assume that we’re so well-suited that it’s simply impossible for me to like, nay love tomatoes, and for him to be tolerant of them. As a child, I would eat ripe tomatoes like one would eat apples, biting into them hungrily and devouring them with but a sprinkling of salt. KS looks at tomatoes as good and sometimes delicious even (when we find a good heirloom variety in season), but he would hardly trip over himself running to the market to find the best tomatoes available. Same with deep, dark chocolate desserts. I look at molten chocolate cake and I can’t help myself (kind of like last night at the New York Chapter MS Society Dinner of Champions where I devoured a cake in no time). A spoonful of it in my mouth is one of the closest heaven-on-earth moments I’ve experience. KS, on the other hand, can have a bite and push the plate over to me. How can one be so calm and composed about chocolate I will never, ever know. I suppose there’s always more of it left for me!

roasted acorn squash stuffed with spiced couscous in a wine reduction sauce

And so when we went to the market and I picked up a butternut squash, impatiently imagining all the amazing things I could do with it, KS gave me a bored look and pointed to the acorn squash. I shot the look right back and pointed to the butternut. He – to the acorn. And thus we repeated the process a few times, until I gave in and picked up the acorn squash, making him promise me that our next squash will be a butternut one. Compromise, after all, is one of the magical things that makes cohabitation possible.

that cute yellow spot made me smile couscous spiced with prunes, walnuts, cinnamon, cumin and sambar powder

After our pact to practice equal opportunity squash treatment, this little, cute acorn squash came home with us and lived on our counter for a few days while I devised a plan for its demise. I didn’t want to just roast it. And we’ve already steamed our fair share of acorn squash (we put our steamer to some good use). I would look at the squash, tilting my head from side to side, thinking, “What am I going to do with you?” And this idea came to mind, plus we had some leftover couscous that I didn’t want to go to waste. All in all, I love the idea of stuffed squash – it’s easy, delicious and it looks gorgeous on a plate. And while acorn squash is tasty and almost meaty-tasting when you roast it, I cannot wait to make the butternut this week. Maybe I’ll get KS to switch sides of this squash disparity and join the butternuts. I am always so hopeful.

Continue reading roasted acorn squash with a wine reduction sauce.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

pumpkin bread with cranberries

i could have eaten the whole thing in one sitting...

If I told you I’ve been waiting half a year to bake pumpkin bread, would you think me pathetic? Entire two seasons passed and not a week went by that I didn’t think of pumpkin bread and how delicious the house will smell when it’s baking in the oven. Of course, pumpkin/cinnamon/clove scents aren’t quite summery, so I had to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Until the days got shorter, nights grew longer and there was a distinct chill in the air. I would eat my berry crumbles and they would make me weak in my knees, but I was committing baked-good adultery – and thinking, longingly of the pumpkin bread.

The can of pumpkin puree that has found itself in our cupboards somehow (don’t look at me, I didn’t buy it) had to be used for something glorious and celebratory of my favorite season. I had a few ideas for it, but pumpkin bread was the first and foremost project. I’ll be making KS’s favorite pumpkin treat soon enough – this time, I just had to be selfish.

that spatula had the time of her life

If you haven’t figured this out by now, I’m a huge fan of something tart in my otherwise sweet baked goods. A little bright pop of cranberry, in my opinion, brightens up pumpkin or banana bread and punches up their smoky, caramel flavors. And if you are wondering how on earth I managed to find cranberries before Thanksgiving season, I am going to let you in on a little secret. I buy a few bags of fresh cranberries every November and then I stick them in the freezer – and believe it or not, those bags last for months and months – allowing me always to have fresh cranberries on hand. I’ve even managed to make fresh cranberry sauce in April once!

i couldn't resist with the frozen cranberries again so perfectly warm and fragrant

As with many types of baked bread like this, you can pretty much add a combination or all of the spices listed below. I didn’t have allspice on hand this time, so I skipped it and the results weren’t too shabby. And some people dislike cloves so they skip it altogether. When I make this next time, I’ll most likely omit the walnuts – I decided to try them this time, but I am just not a nuts-in-my-banana-or-pumpkin-bread kinda girl. The recipe was inspired by Elise, yet again, who posted her pumpkin muffin recipe and since I was lacking those little paper cup things you pour muffin batter in, I decided to do a solid loaf instead.

green egg, no ham

Oh and before I forget, this has nothing to do with pumpkin bread, but everything to do with green eggs. Apparently, there is such a thing as a green egg and no, it’s not rotten and it’s perfectly good for consumption! At last Saturday’s farmer’s market, the young man who sells me eggs, as well as pasture-raised meat (and the most heavenly chorizo I’ve had to date!), opened up an egg carton to check for cracks and breaks and informed me with glee that there was a green egg in my carton. A green egg, I asked? Can I eat it? Is it rotten? Was Dr. Seuss onto something? Yes, no, and yes, were the farmer’s responses, after which he explained to me that a green egg is produced by some special hens and the egg doesn’t look white, per se, it looks rather a bit blue-green. Some folks even think them more nutritious and so request only green eggs from the farmer. I couldn’t wait to try our first green egg so we soft-boiled it and shared it that very morning. It was delicious – and unless I’m imagining things, tasted a bit more eggy – the yolk seemed a bit more orange and almost buttery in flavor. And so you have it, green egg sans ham – delicious and something new! And while I’m sorry to have rambled thus about something that has nothing to do with pumpkin bread (unless you count the two eggs that went into the batter) – I wanted to tell you about it nonetheless and if you know anything about green eggs, let me know – I’d love to learn!

Continue reading pumpkin bread with cranberries.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

turkey chili

onions instead of sour cream

Ever since I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” I’ve been rather preoccupied with eliminating high-fructose corn syrup from my diet, and trying to get my hands on grass fed meat and true free range chicken. Yes, I’ll eat whatever meat is being sold in Whole Foods from time to time, but when I can, I will try to get the stuff from small family farms, and by small, I mean small.

welcome, fall!

In general though, we’ve been trying to decrease the red meat consumption – for health reasons more than anything. And as temperatures suddenly dropped last week and we all felt a fall chill, my mind turned to chili. Everyone marks fall in their own way and for me, nothing signals the change of seasons more than crisp, fall apples (preferably Cortlands) and a steaming bowl of chili. And yes, chili con carne is the traditional way to go, but I’m making a few alterations.

dried poblanos
without planning and in a hurry, canned beans will do turkey for me, turkey for you

And if anything, seeing King Corn this afternoon with KS and his younger sister made me feel a lot more vindicated for abandoning the classic oldie-but-goodie and sticking with something slightly healthier (nevermind the whole Topps debacle). For the record, the film is great and I was (for the most part) engaged and entertained. I’ve learned little new as Michael Pollan has obliged in educating me in this matter, but it did drive the point home yet again – we are what we eat and for the most part, Americans are children of the corn.

oh the goodness!

I have to confess that eating this batch of chili made me realize that I actually prefer the turkey version to its original “con carne” one. I suppose that “chili con gobble” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as “chili con carne” does, but I’ll get used to it – my palate has already.

Since we’re decreasing/limiting dairy consumption in our household, we chose to top our chili off with some chopped onions and added some hot sauce (when do we not). But I think that the most preferred way is to give your generous bowl some sour cream, sprinkle with cheddar cheese and green onions and award yourself with a heaping spoonful!

Continue reading turkey chili.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

peanut butter cookies

Baking - PB Cookies - 10-7-07 (5)

All right, I’ve been a hypocrite enough! I’ve said I’ll be eating healthy. I’ve banished white sugar and white rice from the household, but I let white flour linger and it’s not budging. I won’t let it go! I’ve tried eating grains that are on the low glycemic scale – perfect for breakfast right before your arduous 45 minute spin class. I’ve been cutting out red meat, eating my chicken thigh skinless, drinking more water. And what of that? All to make cookies, right?

I’ve long boasted that I didn’t have a sweet tooth. A year ago, you could have put a plate of cookies right in front of me and I wouldn’t have touched a single crumb. And now, I’m all “Oh, maybe I’ll just sample the flavor, have a little bite” and before you know it, I’m pouring myself a glass of milk, while the second or third cookie is firmly clenched between my teeth. I mean, really, we can’t even walk past Billy’s anymore without a little treat! I think the gods are finally having their revenge on me – I shouldn’t have boasted so!

awesome and ingenious! 15 minutes away from being a cookie

So when KS and I finished dinner on Sunday and I looked at him ever-so-demurely and said “Mmm… we SO need dessert,” he shot me a coy look and said, “Cookies!”
“But baby, Billy’s is a long walk away,” I disagreed, at which point, my darling, lovely, sweet man, poked me squarely in the arm and said “Cookies!” with even more conviction.

What, now? Cookies? At this bewitching Sunday night hour, when all I wanted to do was read the travails of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and wait for the new episode of “Curb”? But, KS knows, and you should also know, that I cannot deny him anything. Not when he makes that sweet, innocent face – that face I cannot resist, and so at 9pm, on a Sunday night, I resolved to make peanut butter cookies. The recipe for which I did not have.

Baking - PB Cookies - 10-7-07 (3) Baking - PB Cookies - 10-7-07 (4)

And after looking all around to many a good reputable recipe site, I simply typed “peanut butter cookies” into Google search and got a recipe right from Elise’s fantastic site! Which is the recipe I made and the cookies turned out to be SO good, I had to write her a personal thank you note, because let’s face it, 10 years ago before a first recipe was posted by a food blogger, I would have had to wait til Monday when I would have to go to a physical bookstore (and you know I heart Amazon) and find a book with a peanut butter cookie recipe. How internet has satisfied the instant gratification in all our hearts! I added some white chocolate chips to the dough – and created a sublimely delicious cookie worthy of seconds and thirds and accompanied by a tall, cold glass of milk.

I suppose there’s always a back-to-back double spin class session on Sundays I can attend to make up for the gluttony of the week!

Continue reading peanut butter cookies.

Friday, October 5, 2007

peppers stuffed with chicken and eggplant

green zebra tomatoes really are the best

A small confession here: this write-up, from start to finish took me a week. It’s pretty sad and shameful that I couldn’t muster enough time to get this out earlier, but this week has been out of control with work, events and last-minute outings. While it’s been fun eating out and traipsing around town, I’ve neglected to post. I’ve cooked absolutely nothing this week, sadly enough as last night took KS and me to Pio Pio on the UES (incredible chicken!), Wednesday night to the Soho House for a special viewing of Michael Clayton (I heart Tilda Swinton!), Tuesday night to a local Sushi joint and Monday was our leftovers and snacks night! So there you have it. No time spent in the kitchen and we’re at Friday. Am I cooking tonight? Highly unlikely! But anyway, the pictures from the dish above were inspired by watching Top Chef that afternoon (I’m so so hooked now!) and so after I made the peppers, I fancied myself a skilled plater – and as you see above, I failed miserably, as I’m certainly lacking a certain je me sais quoi when it should come to plating food well. That and it looks too deliberately arranged, which now that I think about it, drives me crazy. But I regress – onward with the recipe…

dill makes everything better

I don’t know about you, but green markets make me go gaga. It’s like I have to buy everything and KS has to remind me that I can’t have everything at the market, I have to select a few ingredients and commit to them. And I have to agree with him – working long hours leaves little time for elaborate meals with lots of perishables.

IMG_0330 IMG_0328

And so I have to go with a game plan and if I don’t, I wade around aimlessly and KS has to set me straight. Last Saturday was no exception, except, we were in a rush to get to the Cloisters and I discovered on top of rushing and disarray that my trusty Nikon D70s was not cooperating! I fantasized all week about doing some fall photography on the weekend, and, alas, we had to make do with a point-n-shoot, which really delivers disappointing results compared to the SLR version. But the camera is working again (there’s some weird fluke about having to reinsert the image card again) so that is a good thing!

hello, gorgeous! greenmarket booty

While wandering about the market, I spied these beautiful peppers in a big, colorful pile. And it wasn’t so much their look as it was the aroma that wafted through the air, flowery and woodsy at the same time – the smell of fresh, ripe peppers – I had to grab a few. We had already purchased a few items here and there – a few apples, some chorizo from a grass-fed animal farm, a bunch of dill, which inevitably we always wind up throwing out a portion of because we can never eat it quickly enough. [And now – a suggestion and plea to herb vendors – for the love of the green guys you’re growing, please make these bunches smaller! I’d rather pick up several different bunches through the week, but have them be fresh, then throw out a portion of the wilted bunch, because the herbs, as you probably know, do not, at all, keep well!]

mmm... falafel glowing with promise
hot sauce on top gyro & pita

The next day, after our culture-infused trip, a sighting of scary squirrel, and some damn good falafel from West Village, I got to work on the peppers. There was little doubt what I was going to do with them, and while you can make lots of different dishes with peppers, I longed for the ones of the stuffed variety. In Russia, we used to mix ground chicken and seasoned rice together for the stuffing and finish off the dish with a dollop or sour cream (what Russian dish can do without it?) But I wanted something slightly different than the traditional recipe of my childhood – and used bulgur wheat, ground chicken, carrots, onions, tomatoes and pretty long eggplant. I have to say that with this recipe, I may not miss my childhood stuffed pepper dish for awhile.

Continue reading peppers stuffed with chicken and eggplant.