April 2, 2009

My Addictions

I’ve been obsessed with these cookies for 3 weeks. I’ve made something like 8 batches. I mean, as long as I have milk and a Stress Tab with them, what's wrong with this for dinner??

The flavor of butterscotch, pine nuts, crunchy sea salt, and a bit of black pepper…well, it’s just wonderful. I don’t know what else to say about them, without going all Jeffrey Steingarten on y'all. The pepper may a bit over the top for some (i.e. wimps), but I’ve tried it 4 times and it was just the bite these cookies needed. These are officially my favorite cookies. I do need to find a better quality of butterscotch chips then the usual grocery stuff. I’m taking suggestions or sources, please!

This is an addiction that Mama don’t want no rehab for! No, no, no.

Cracked Black Pepper and Chunky Sea Salt Butterscotch and Pine Nut Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen (not counting the raw cookie dough you eat off the spoon)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks unsalted butter PLUS 1 tablespoon, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 bag butterscotch chips
1 big handful pine nuts
1 tablespoon French grey sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and table salt. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, with an electric beater, cream together the butter, sugars and vanilla. If too stiff (you want the consistency of butter cream frosting!), place bowl in microwave (well, I hope to hell you didn’t use a metal bowl!) for 20 seconds. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each egg.
3. Beat in flour, in three additions. Stir in butterscotch chips.
4. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small skillet – add pine nuts and toast until fragrant and lightly brown. Remove from heat and stir in the sea salt and pepper. Let cool for a few minutes, and then stir nuts into cookie dough.
5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place scant tablespoonfuls of dough onto paper, spacing about 1 inch apart….cookies will spread. Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes. Remove and let cool on sheets for 3-4 minutes, then continue cooling cookies on racks until completely cool.

I have no idea what these guys are doing here....

March 9, 2009

"One Potato, Two Potato...."

Everything old is new again.

(At least that’s what I keep sayin’ to the mirror!)

My maternal grandmother, a world-class baker and pincher of ears, used to make a version of this Sweet Potato Crisp years ago. I thought it was weird. Sweet potatoes were for Thanksgiving! With a pile of marshmallows and swimming in syrup! So I ran out the door when it came out of the oven because there was NO WAY I was going to eat SWEET POTATOES like that! I was an 8 year old with very specific ideas about how food was supposed to be. Bologna sandwiches ONLY with chocolate milk! Fish sticks on the LEFT side of the plate, not touching anything else! Fried eggs, cooked so long you could bounce them off the pink Formica! I was a picky little brat, and it’s a wonder I’m not deaf or even have any ears at all after all the pinching they endured when I was a kid.

I have an old wooden box full of old family recipes, mostly from my grandmother (my Mom mainly just tried to make sure we all didn’t die of rickets and wasn’t too concerned about recipes...she approached cooking much like a zoo keeper approaches feeding the monkeys) that I rummage around in from time to time. Every time I make the chocolate chip cookie recipe, the lasagna, the chipped beef and gravy, I am amazed how quickly I am transported back to my Grandma’s tiny kitchen and how she never gave up trying to teach me to cook and bake.

(This is not quite what it looked like....)

“Now, listen to me…and quit fidgeting! This is how you dissolve yeast! Stop eating your braid! Look at this dough, now, isn’t it just lovely….what did I tell you about crossing your eyes?? Do you want them to stay that way?? In order for bread to rise, it has to…if you don’t stop cutting the cat’s fur, I’m telling your Mother, the poor soul. Why did she marry your father anyway???”

(No, my father wasn't Paul Newman, but that pose looks awfully familiar...)

Thank goodness I grew up (everybody quit laughing!) and figured out that food and the process of baking and cooking is a marvelous, enjoyable creative thing. Thank goodness some of my grandmother’s wisdom somehow penetrated my preoccupation of trying to teach her parakeets to talk. Thank goodness she knew that some day I would want her recipe for Sweet Potato Crisp.

There has been some tinkering with the recipe (the addition of candied ginger, etc.), but mostly it’s hers. The sauce is mine – yes, thank you very much, it is fabulous isn't it? Try not to slurp it all up before you get a chance to pour it over the crisp, ok?

Sweet Potato and Candied Ginger Crisp with Coconut Caramel Sauce
Serves 6 (or just me with a big spoon)

For Crisp:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup oats
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
5 cups peeled and thinly sliced North Carolina Sweet Potatoes
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger

For Sauce
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk

To prepare Crisp:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position rack to middle of oven.
2. Combine the flour, oats, sugar, nutmeg, allspice, and 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Using the large holes of a cheese grater, grate the chilled butter into the bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly mix until butter and dry ingredients start to come together, being careful not to over mix.
3. In another large bowl, toss the sweet potato slices with the lemon juice, the chopped ginger, and the remaining cinnamon
4. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a non-stick 8” X 8” baking pan. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the sweet potatoes.
5. Bake, uncovered in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until topping is bubbly and brown and sweet potatoes are fork tender.

To prepare Sauce:
1. While crisp is baking, place the sugar into a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Heat, over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is melted and golden brown. Slowly add the coconut milk, stirring vigorously. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

To serve,
Scoop warm crisp into bowl and spoon warm sauce over top

March 6, 2009

I'll Never Tell

I’m not supposed to write about this. Strict orders from the spousal unit. But you KNOW I’m going to. By now you should know I’m a trouble maker.

So promise you won’t tell a soul. I’d hate to kill anyone with my super powers.

We found native Indian relics (pot shards, etc) on our property where we are building our home. Quite of lot of them. In Arizona that could mean stopping the process of building our home and dealing with graduate anthropology students from Yale pitching damn tents all over the place, smoking sage joints, and dragging out their drums for crazy ass ceremonies honoring the dead Indians. Right on the spot where my Thermador is going!!! I’m as National Geographic as the next person, but, hell-to-the-NO to a dig on our property….I’m building my kitchen!

(I will never tell where our property is...but it's somewhere on that map...go ahead, send me to Gitmo and those weak sister water boards. I'll never talk.)

And just so you know that I am culturally sensitive (I’ve waved a few sage sticks around in my time) - we DID check around covertly about what to do about it, but generally we were told, “yeah, there’s a lot of the stuff all over the place out there”, and no one seemed particularly concerned or excited. The area is a deeply researched and cataloged area of the Sinagua people that migrated down from northern Arizona (Flagstaff area) and settled all over central Arizona (our land). And we ARE being super careful about anything we do find and respectful of the general idea we aren’t the first to think our property is pretty damn great. But it is pretty cool to look down and find pieces of someone’s cookery right there, lying on the ground, from some several hundred years ago. And it looks nothing like All-Clad.

I like wandering around, picking up shards and thinking about what it must have been like to cook back then. Well, first of all, evidently, you had to make your own pot. No running down to Williams Sonoma for a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, that’s for sure!!

First Native American: “I’m hungry”

Second NA: “Good grief, you just ate 3 days ago!”

First NA: “Woman! Go get me some meat!”

Second NA, sighs…picks up her spear, heads out. Stops to make a clay pot, and have a baby. Runs cross country about 8 miles to water hole, then crawls in the brush to ambush a big elk. Takes a breather and makes a pot. Throws her spear, then jumps on the elk’s back, wrestling it to the ground. Butchers 800 pound elk, making 12 pairs of shoes with the hide. Takes a break and nurses the baby. Packs the meat back to camp. Digs a fire pit to smoke the elk. Runs down to the crops planted by the creek and harvests corn, squash, and beans. Makes a couple more pots. Starts making dinner. Rattlesnake tries to bite the baby and she ties it in a knot. Makes some more pots.

First NA: “Isn’t dinner ready yet, woman?”

Second NA: “Pipe down, will you? It’s almost done!”

Second NA makes a set of 12 pottery plates (with artistic black squiggles) and fills one with smoked elk tenderloin with a juniper berry sauce and a medley of fresh corn and squash. Complemented by bean cakes, topped with fresh dandelion greens.

First NA: “Oh brother…elk again?”

I think that’s when the pots got smashed.

This recipe has nothing to do with anything I just wrote about. But it’s very good. And I took a picture of them perched on a big pot shard. I hope it was the one she used to bop her spousal unit on the head with.

Butterscotch and Salted Pine Nut Cookies
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 bag butterscotch chips
Handful of pine nuts
2 big pinches sea salt
1. Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs, beating well after each egg. Add vanilla.
2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter mixture.
3. Stir in butterscotch chips.
4. Toast pine nuts in small skillet until barely turning brown and fragrant…toss with sea salt. Stir into cookie dough.
5. Bake for 9-10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool on racks.

February 25, 2009

Is Fabio on Facebook?

My muse has blown a fuse.

I continue to choose to play 12 games of Spider Solitaire in a row over cooking delights like, say, quail leg confit with lemon and basil marmalade. My food mojo has gone to hell in a hand basket. Straight to Suduku hell. No, actually my WRITING mojo has done a Fabio face plant – and it doesn’t even have a charming Italian accent to fall back on.

The FOOD part of my life continues at breakneck and gluttonous speed….I still eat and think about food all the time. It's just that I’ve just lost some of my…interest….in taking pictures of it and writing about it all the live long day. Maybe it’s this process I’m in of designing and building a house. I’m a very busy, artistic, angsty person with all the design and building books I’ve ordered from Amazon….used, of course. I mean, you can get the most gorgeous design book measuring about about 3 feet by 5 feet, weighing 78 pounds, for something like 42 cents. I have dozens!!! So many ideas!!! This is will be either the most beautifully unique house ever built in the entire world or it will look like the monkey tree house at Disney World. Yes, I am very busy with this house business. Then, of course, I have to do Facebook….I have to send people cool applications! And pokes! Hugs! And raise money for blind hamsters in Azbakistan by sending roses and lollipops and little green trolls over and over and over to all my FB friends! All this creative activity takes a lot of time!

No wonder I am having trouble writing.

The Spousal Unit was badgering me (yes, SU, sir, you ARE a badger and a mighty fine looking one at that!) about my blog yesterday. “Why aren’t you writing? I can’t believe you aren’t writing! Didn’t you just fix your blog up? What did that cost? What’s for dinner? Can I eat that cheese? Aren't you writing anymore? Are you making dessert? Where are all these books coming from?? Are those grandma panties??? Are you turning into your mother?”
So I thought I’d give it a feeble shot today. No samples of exotic wood or appliance brochures came in the mail today, so I wandered into the kitchen with an old ratty copy of a recipe yanked from some magazine somewhere…coconut cupcakes. Yes, I can do this! These are very good things to eat. We’ll start there, I guess. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes

Makes 30 regular sized cupcakes
2 3/4 cups butter, room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon each of baking soda, baking powder, and salt
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
8 oz cream cheese, room temp
2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream together 2 cups butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons each of the vanilla and almond extracts.
2. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the tip of sharp knife, scrap the vanilla seeds from the split vanilla bean into the cup of coconut milk and stir. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternating with coconut milk. Stir 1 cup of the coconut into the batter.
3. Fill 30 paper-lined muffin cups in two or more muffin pans about 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden and springy to touch. Cool for 10 minutes before removing cupcakes from pans. Cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, toast remaining 1/2 cup coconut in small skillet until toasty brown. Cool. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, 3/4 cup butter, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon each vanilla and almond extract until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Frost cup cakes and sprinkle with remaining coconut.
Note: Sprinkle - oh, hell to the no sprinkles. I put the cupcake upside down into the coconut and give a twist.

January 29, 2009

Caffeine, Sugar, and Butter - Yessiree!

Is this a coffee cake? Why, yes it is.

I won a California Almond contest with this recipe and with the gift certificate I won, I got a new burr coffee grinder I have been coveting AND a new drip coffee maker. Because I just have to face the facts. I am sick to death of cleaning a French press. I love the taste, but the damn grounds….so annoying to clean every day! They get on my last nerve! Oh…hell, no….! And I have a pathetic little Braun grinder that whirls coffee beans round and round without any kind of specific grinding goal, screaming the whole time like Amy Winehouse running down the street naked. I open it up and a big coffee cloud of caffeine dust wafts up in the air, way up into my nose, and there we are…back in the 80’s, damn it.

I researched burr grinders very extensively….and given the amount I could spend, this
Kitchen Aid Model came out on top. It works beautifully, and looks gratifyingly studly too. And it’s not too loud! More like Eric Ripert sharpening his knife while melodiously asking me what I want for dinner. In French.

The pricier models are very cool, but for a less expensive grinder, this is greatly made. Die cast heavy metal body and a glass hopper, which is supposed to cut down on the static…which it appears to do. It doesn’t take a ton of room on a counter, and looks very industrial and capable. And while I was ordering that, I saw the
Professional Line Kitchen Aid 12 cup Coffeemaker was on sale, so after briefly researching that (ok…I read just one review, from a guy who said he was a “professional barista” and this was the model he used at home), decided to pull the trigger on a new coffeemaker, thereby sending the French Press to “Catherine’s Ass Hat Appliance Abyss”. It’s not the “professional barista” European model I would have loved, but I just haven’t won any multi-thousand dollar contests lately. Ok…I’ve never won one, but J.H.C. on a half-shell, I’m working on it! When I do, I’m SURE that Eric Ripert will THEN return my calls.

My little coffee robots look very Germanic, shiny, and sensible, sitting side by side, ready to do my caffeine bidding!

Ok…about the cake. You need to have a 10” X 3” cake pan. It’s a dense, rich (1/2 pound butter!) cake…a little goes a long way. It’s sometimes hard to find (for me….in the culinary wasteland that I call the local grocery store) unsweetened ginger, so I’ve used the crystallized type and it works just fine, just cut the amount a bit.

It’s a pretty cake, all bakery looking, and it’s awesome for dessert when you have a spicy Asian dish for dinner. Switch out the cranberries for something else, if you prefer….I have done this with blueberries, cherries, and once, incorporating the ginger in the cake too.

It’s great with coffee.

Cranberry-Almond Butter Cake with Almond-Ginger Glaze

(KitchenAid Style)

Serves 8-10

For Cake:
A little butter and flour for preparing cake pan

1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks
2 cups PLUS 1 tablespoon (divided) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup buttermilk

For Glaze:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoon milk (or more to reach desired consistency)
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons finely chopped dried, unsweetened ginger
4 tablespoons slivered almonds (not chopped)

To Make Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10” X 3” round cake pan. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl and using an electric beater, beat together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl. Mix in the vanilla extract. Add the egg yolk, one at a time, beating for 15 seconds after each egg. Scrape down sides of bowl.
3. In a small mixing bowl, place the 2 cups of flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir with fork until well incorporated.
4. Alternating with the buttermilk, add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, blending well after each addition. Fold in the almonds and cranberries.
5. Turn batter into prepared cake pan and level with spatula. Place in preheated oven and bake for 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into middle of cake comes out clean.
6. Cool the cake for 10-15 minutes, and then run a knife along the edge to loosen. Flip pan over onto rack, and then flip back over (and place on serving plate) so rounded surface is ready to glaze.

To Make Glaze:

1. Pour the melted butter into a medium sized mixing bowl.
2. Add the sugar, milk, almond extract and mix well. Add more milk to reach desired consistency if needed. Blend in the slivered almonds and chopped ginger.

To Glaze Cake:
1. Prick warm cake with fork all over.
2. Drizzle glaze over top of cake, letting glaze run down sides of cake.

January 28, 2009

Here Comes the Sun, Little Darlin'

I’m trying to talk the Spousal Unit into building our house off the grid, but he’s resisting. He’s old school (really old school) and still refers to email as “internet letters”. He can’t use the DVD without calling one of the kids for help, and he thought my IPod was a new remote control for the television.
I have to use all my super powers to try to talk him into anything that’s 21st century. Or the 20th century for that matter.

So I just bring out the bacon. A nice piece of crispy bacon calms the SU right down to the point he gets a glazed look on his face and will finally listen to reason about solar tax credits, advances in solar systems that have happened in, oh, the last century, how we won’t turn into hippies with goats eating grass on the roof, and we can actually have back-up electric tied in and have the meter run backwards. He liked that idea. And he liked this pasta.

"Peace out! Here comes the sun! And the bacon!"

Nothing complicated or innovative, but comforting, delicious, rich, and…convincing.
The pint of Guinness didn’t hurt, either.

Spaghetti with Smoked Bacon, Arugula, and Black Pepper Cream Sauce

1 pound dried spaghetti
1/2 onion, finely chopped
8 pieces smoked bacon
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 cups baby arugula, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions or just until al dente (about 9-11 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, in medium-sized sautĂ© pan, cook bacon until crispy – drain on stack of paper towels. When cool, crumble, discarding any big fatty parts.
3. Pour off all but about one tablespoon of bacon fat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and soft. Add 2/3’s of the crumbled bacon, the cream, and the pepper. Continue cooking until reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Turn mixture into blender or food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.
3. When pasta is cooked, drain, and turn into a large serving bowl. Toss in the lemon zest and arugula. Pour in the sauce and blend well. Sprinkle with remaining bacon crumbles and parm. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sir Francis Bacon - patron saint of off the grid solar systems

January 27, 2009

The Spousal Unit Dedication Post

Hey. How do you like this new look? I'm still tweaking and re-arranging, but I'm liking it! (Thanks, Becky!)

Since he has been abused, misused, talked about and generally mistreated here at 'The Dish', I thought I'd dedicate this post to...The Spousal Unit. He's a pretty cool dude. He eats what I cook, mostly likes it, and puts up with quite a bit of derangement, noise, and confusion coming from the kitchen. He works very hard, is a wonderful Dad to our 4 kids, a great brother, son, friend, blah, blah, blah, but mostly is the best Spousal Unit I could have ever talked into marrying me. Thanks, Spousal Unit...couldn't have done anything without you. Now, would you please take out the garbage...smells like tuna cans!

January 22, 2009

Now, for an important update!!!

Lack of posting exquisitely clever vignettes from my life is due to technical changes and squirrely life stuff. The good thing is I’m getting my blog re-designed by someone who knows more about this stuff than I. Once that’s done, I’m moving to Wordpress.

On the negativity side, I’ve been pretty distracted by the issues that the Universe keeps throwing at me - damn that Stephen Hawking!

My Mom is so diminished by Alzheimer’s, well, maybe I’m doing some sympathy neuron firing, cause I just can’t think straight! Ok, not that….maybe it’s my diminishing hormones…that have been known to whack a person out at a certain age. Not that I’m saying I’m a menopausal mess with a propensity to warm up my coffee in the dryer and tell the clerk at Target they are a douche nozzle! Yes. Soon I’ll be shuffling around in a bathrobe from Sears, have 8 cats and write letters to the local newspaper editor complaining about how the population sign outside of town is WRONG.

We weighed my Mom yesterday and she’s down to 75 pounds. This from a woman who was an incredible baker. If she knew what was going on, she’d be so pissed off. She was such a great baker. I can’t even touch her talent. Her lemon meringue pies were THE BEST EVER…period. Don’t even mess with that legend. I've tried to make it and well, let's just say there are certain things meringue can do that reminds me of pictures from "Travel and Tropical Medicine Manual".

Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease, and the Spousal Unit has standing orders to shoot me and drag me out to the coyote cafĂ©, if this ever happens to me.

But some stuff continues to amuse me. A few thoughts….

1. That English judge from Top Chef is bad. If you try to do snark, at least be funny. He’s not. And he has a pinhead. BTW…Tom C. saved some woman’s life at an Inaugural dinner…he did the Heimlich on her! I tell ya…a guy with a bald head just has something special.

2. Leah is an idiot. Seriously, is she in junior high?? And she whacked that fish!!! What was that sauce??? Why do I watch this show? Well, besides watching Tom’s facial expressions when Carla said she’s sending “love” out of the kitchen! Seriously, Tom gives the best face!!!! Padma…not so much. She’s annoying.

3. I won a nice little contest for the California Almond Board…$500 at Cooking.com! Hormone booster! I don’t know yet what to buy…probably just random stuff that needs to be replaced, like the melted spatulas, bent cookie sheets, and burnt wooden spoons. And a cheese grater from l983. Any ideas??


4. I’m leaving a little tune here….so fun! Crank up the speakers and just leave the link open for a while…sitemeter is running!!

5. I'm going to be a grandma. Our daughter who got married in October, well, I guess she had sex with her husband. I can't believe it. Kids these days! Don't they know those things are loaded???

See you cute little bloggers very soon. Seriously, I’ll be back. I’ll be so sleek and sexy and all design-y and there will be truffles and caramelized pork belly, and pictures of Eric Ripert naked, if I can find them.

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"The Dish" by Catherine Wilkinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.