Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chocolate and PEPPER Cookies

My roommate’s last name is Pepper. In honor of his birthday, I made “chocolate and pepper” cookies.

Yes, that is right, pepper. Black pepper—as in the thing you usually associate with salt. Pepper, as in cayenne pepper, the red spice where a little goes a long way. Yes, pepper, as in chocolate and pepper, together, baked in a cookie.

This particular cookie recipe comes from a darling little cookbook that I bought for $5 at a half-price bookstore. Great find. It is called Cookies: Irresistible recipes for cookies, bars, squares, and slices by Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Cameron Wilson. I got sucked into buying the book due to the pictures and cuteness of all the cookies.

There is really something about a good, crumbly butter cookie that just falls apart on your tongue, slowly melting, the flavor lingering in your mouth, clinging to your taste buds.

These chocolate and pepper cookies only call for a touch of black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. When you first take a bite, you can really taste the chocolaty buttery goodness; it reminds me a bit of chocolate mousse, only in cookie form…Swallow. Wait a second. Ok, right there. Whew. Spicy. As JoytheBaker always says, “Hot Dang! These are good!”

Paired with some milky Mexican hot chocolate or coffee, mmm mmm mmm! ¡Ay, caramba!

Now I will leave you with a great quote that sums up my weekend pretty nicely:
“Good conversation is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.”
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Chocolate and Pepper Cookies
Adapted from Cookies

Makes about 20-30 (depending on how thick you slice them and how much batter you eat!!)

**Note: scant means that you do not have to be super exact. No need to level off with a knife; you want it to slightly overflow over the top of the cup measurer.


1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
¾ cup confectioners (aka powdered) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
scant 2 cups all purpose flour
scant ½ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

optional: 2-3 Tbsp demerara sugar, for rolling (I opted out of doing this step but it would have added a nice yummy texture…)


• Cream the butter and confectioners sugar for 3-4 minutes, until light and fluffy. (I just used a fork to mix it all up). Add the vanilla extract and beat until smooth.

• Sift the flour, cocoa powder, black pepper, and cayenne together. Add to the butter mixture and stir until smooth.

• Tip the dough onto a work surface and shape into a log (they suggested a 6 inch long log, mine was much long, it just depends on your preference—bigger thinner cookies or smaller fatter ones…).

• Roll the log in demerara sugar, if using, pressing gently so the sugar will adhere. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 1 hour. **Alternatively, tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost in the refrigerator before slicing and baking.

• Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease.

• Slice the log into ¼ inch thick slices (mine were more like ½ inch slices...). Place on the baking sheets and bake for 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Homemade English Muffins

I did it! I made English muffins from scratch!

They were even poofy and had the little holes in the center, just like the store-bought kind—but better of course! I think that I exclaimed, “Oh! These are soooo cute!” at least 10 times while I was making them.

I remember when I was in Elementary School, my mom would toast me an English muffin spread with butter before school. Oh memories...

What’s not to love about puffy, light, and fluffy English muffins?! Split in half, perfectly toasted, and spread with the topping of your choice (butter, jam, cheese, honey, peanut butter, lemon curd…), these griddle-cooked buns are just a dream!

One of the many perks of living in a house with sixty people is that we have access to a huge industrial kitchen complete with two ovens, six stovetop burners, and a large griddle. When I was ready to cook these little guys I just plopped them onto the hot griddle and bam! Done in just minutes!

Simple, on-hand ingredients and no kneading necessary! What more could I ask for?!

Check out the foamy yeast, water, sugar mixture! It's aliiiivvvvvveeee!

And here is the dough after the 40 minute rise!

Very sticky!

I made two versions of these English muffins—in one I used nonfat milk and the other batch I made vegan and used soymilk (both tasted great, I could barely tell the difference). If you want to get fancy you could mix in cinnamon and raisins, or maybe you are feeling festive and want to toss is some pumpkin puree!

As a nice finishing touch, you could dust the muffins with some cornmeal for added texture!

English Muffins
Adapted from BakingBites

Makes 10-12 muffins

1/3 cup water, warm (110F)
1 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup nonfat milk (or soymilk), slightly warm (100-110F)
3/4 tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour

  • In a large bowl, whisk together water, sugar and yeast and let mixture stand for 10 minutes, until slightly foamy (my mixture got super foamy; it was totally awesome!).
  • Using a wooden spoon, stir in remaining ingredients and mix until smooth (At this point, if you want, you can add in whatever mix-ins your heart desires--raisins, pumpkin puree, chocolate chips...).
  • Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 40 minutes.

  • Heat a griddle/nonstick frying pan over medium/medium-high heat (water dropped on the griddle evaporates very quickly). Lightly grease with cooking spray.
  • Drop dough by scant 1/4 cupfuls onto greased surface and cook until medium brown on the bottom. The top with look set and the sides will appear somewhat dry. The exact time depends on the temperature of your griddle and the size of your muffins, but expect this to take several minutes. Flip over and cook 2nd side until brown.
  • Cool on wire rack for at least 15 minutes or until completely cool.
  • When ready to serve, split muffins with a fork and toast. Serve with butter, jam, or any topping of your choice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Luscious Lemon Curd

I think I discovered my new favorite breakfast/dessert condiment.

Fruit curd is similar to fruit custard, except it is made without milk or cream. Lemon curd is a classic spread for toast, muffins, scones, or pancakes. It can also be poured into a sweet tart or pie shell and baked (add some meringue and you’ve got lemon meringue pie!). You can use lemon curd for filling cookies, cakes, and pastries, or you can swirl it into a frosting or even into freshly churned ice cream.

I can eat it this stuff by the spoonful! It is just so darn good. It slips down smoothly and I love the sweet and sour combination of lemons and sugar mixed with the creaminess of good ol’ butter.

I have wanted to make lemon curd since the beginning of summer. I finally got around to it last Friday, and it was so easy and yummy that I made it again on Sunday!

These pancakes were off the hook! Really hearty and oaty, topped with a triple threat of spreads—maple syrup (duh!), lingonberry jam (similar to a cranberry), and homemade lemon curd!!!!!! Oh, and we mixed walnuts and bananas into the batter…YUM-O!

Four great friends and a lovely Sunday morning breakfast (well, it was noon by the time we actually ate)…Kelly made the pancakes. Sara cut up the fruit and made the mimosas (mmm mimosas are key)! I threw together some lemon curd. Sam got to eat with us in exchange for helping Sara with her physics homework and plunging the toilet. Perfect. Let’s do it again. And again. And again.

Luscious Lemon Curd
Adapted from Kiri, head pastry chef at Pizzaiolo Restaurant

This recipe is almost too easy! I memorized it immediately after the first time I made it! You do not have to be super exact with all of the measuring. Just go with the flow.

Makes about 1 ½ to 2 cups


½ cup of sugar
lemon zest
2 eggs
¼ cup of fresh lemon juice (about 2-4 lemons)
4 Tablespoons of butter


1. Place the sugar and the lemon zest in a heatproof metal bowl (the zest will infuse the sugar with lemony goodness!).

2. Crack your eggs in a separate bowl.

3. Measure out the lemon juice and set aside.

4. Place your bowl of sugar over a small pot of simmering water. Add the eggs and the lemon juice.

5. Whisk the mixture over the simmering water until it thickens, about 10-12 minutes.

6. When thickened, take the bowl away from the heat and add the butter, stirring until melted.

7. Optional: strain your lemon curd through a fine mesh strainer or chinois. (Straining is mostly for aesthetics).

8. Let it cool slightly and enjoy!

Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mexican Wedding Cookies

It's raining. No, really. Raining. Pouring. Windy. Wet. The power went out.

I just want to snuggle and hold a mug filled with hot, steamy...tea, hot chocolate, coffee...

I want to be lazy and curl up on the couch, read a book, listen to the crackle of a fireplace, watch sappy television (Grey's Anatomy is my guilty pleasure)...

And yet I want to dance naked in the rain. I want to be swept off my feet, twirled around, and have him pop a big wet kiss on my shivering lips.

Just this weekend, I really felt the turn from summer to fall. Last week I was wearing summer dresses and sandals. Today I'm sporting a warm coat and rain boots.

It's the middle of October. The "holidays" are just around the corner. After the Halloween craze, we will start seeing websites, magazines, and newspapers advertising the trendiest way to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey, and before we know it we will hear Christmas carols until our ears fall off.

If you plan to attend a dinner party and are looking for a nice little somethin' somethin' to bring over to wow your hosts, I definitely recommend making these precious little cookies. These beaming balls of buttery dough have many names--butterballs, Mexican wedding cookies, Russian teacakes, snowballs...

I guarantee that whatever you decide to call these nutty, powdered-sugar-y delights, you will make friends fast if you share.

Whenever I go to a potluck or simply want to make a nice little cookie to bring over to a friend's house, these Mexican wedding cookies immediately come to mind. With just a few ingredients, these cookies are easy and just plain good! I like to plate them with a pretty doily underneath.

Usually when I think of a cookie I envision a big, chewy chocolate chip cookie or a fat cookie filled with oatmeal raisins and sweet spices. These Mexican wedding cookies, however, bring to mind an entirely different realm of cookie—the second they hit your tongue, you will understand why. They just melt in your mouth! Mmmmmm you can really taste the warm, comforting, buttery, nutty goodness.

One of the key factors of the instant melt-in-your-mouth texture and flavor of the cookie is the use of honey instead of sugar. The honey just adds to the smoothness and you can taste it ever so subtly. I have even experimented with using flavored honey (lavender honey is my favorite!), which adds a fun twist to the mix.

Store these in a tin or airtight container and they will keep for several weeks. At least among my family and friends, we have trouble keeping these cookies around for more than a day or two. They somehow all end up in our bellies ; -)

**Note: These pictures were taken a few weeks ago when it was still sunny outside.

Mexican Wedding Cookies
Adapted from The Silver Palate

Makes about 36 cookies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the cookie sheets
• 3 Tablespoons honey (feel free to use flavored honey such as lavender, orange blossom…)
• 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 cup shelled pecans, chopped moderately fine (I usually use walnuts; almonds work, too)
• ¾ cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease one or two cookie sheets.

2. Cream the butter (I usually use a fork or a whisk). Beat in the honey. Gradually mix in the flour and salt, then the vanilla. Add the nuts. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for 1 hour (I will sometimes make the dough the night before and take it out of the fridge the next day about 30-40 minutes before I want to use it).

3. Form the balls by hand, the size of quarters. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake until lightly golden brown, about 35-40 minutes.

4. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven’ as soon as the cookies are cool enough to touch, roll in the confectioners’/powdered sugar. Allow to cool and roll again in the sugar.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lamb Roasted with Garlic, Fresh Herbs, and Red Wine

“I’d rather make something and blow your mind than make something and blow my mind.”
–Michael Wild, Baywolf Restaurant

My mom is a funny woman. Whenever I make her taste something out of her normal eating pattern she will say, “I don’t usually like ____, but this is great!” or “I don’t usually eat ____, but wow is this good!”

Like mother like daughter, today I will say, “I don’t usually eat lamb, but wowza this is mmm mmm good!” Super tender. Marinated overnight with fresh mint and rosemary, garlic, cumin, red wine, and vinegar. Slow roasted in the oven. Butchered to perfection.

Back in the day I used to say that I would never cook meat because I did not like to touch, smell, or look at the raw meat. Let’s just say I conquered that fear. Actually, I quite enjoy rubbing my hands all over a piece of raw meat. It is really soft and almost therapeutic?! Sometimes I even feel like a doctor preparing for surgery. Okay, that may be taking it too far…

Anyway, this was my first attempt at making lamb, and I successfully did it for a house of 60 people! I wish I could have captured a more decent picture of the lamb, sliced and plated and garnished with fresh herbs; however it was devoured before I had the chance.

So here you go, a picture of the huge hunk of meat just before we sliced it.

I decided to use cumin in my marinade because I was making some other dishes that incorporated the spice. Feel free to experiment and add whatever you like to your marinade. You could go for a more Asian style and add chili paste and orange juice, or you could go Italian and add artichoke hearts, olives, and oregano.

This was my menu:
• Cubed melon, cucumber, and red onion salad dressed with balsamic
• Lamb Roasted with Garlic, Herbs, and Red Wine
• Cumin and Turmeric mashed sweet potatoes with spinach, onions, and chickpeas, topped with a peanut-sauce
• Roasted Kale “chips”
• Roasted Parsnips and Beets

Some key tips that I found helped me throughout the process:
(thanks to Alice Waters and her book The Art of Simple Food)

-Cut slats into the meat and shove crushed garlic and herbs in between the slats.

-Make sure that you marinate the lamb for at least a few hours, best if overnight.

-Let the meat come to room temperature before placing in the oven; otherwise it will cook unevenly (aka the outside will be fully cooked before the inside has even had a chance to warm up). Take the meat out at least 1-2 hours ahead of time.

-Keep basting and turning so as to ensure juicy meat.

-The lamb will be done when a meat thermometer reads 128°F.

-After you take the meat out of the oven and before slicing it, you should let the meat rest for about 20 minutes to let the internal temperature stabilize. This is so all of the juices do not leak out, leaving you with unevenly cooked and overly dry pieces.

Roast Lamb with Garlic, Fresh Herbs, and Red Wine
Adapted from The Silver Palate

serves 6-10

*Fresh rosemary, about a tablespoon or so
*Fresh mint leaves, about ½ a cup
*5 garlic cloves, crushed
*½ cup of vinegar (I used half balsamic and half red wine vinegar)
*¼ cup of soy sauce
*½ cup of dry red wine (I used “Two-buck Chuck,” half Cabernet and half Merlot)
*1 Tablespoon of cumin
*black pepper
*1 big hunk of lamb (I think I used the thigh?), about 5 pounds or so

*2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

1. Cut slats in the lamb. In other words, use a sharp knife to make a few slits (about 3-5) in your hunk of lamb.
2. Combine herbs, garlic, vinegars, soy sauce, red wine, cumin, and black pepper in a bowl. Add the lamb and turn to coat with the marinade. Shove some of the garlic and herb-y pieces in the slits.
3. Marinate the lamb, covered, in the refrigerator, overnight.
4. The next day, take the lamb out of the refrigerator and place it in a shallow roasting pan with all of the marinade. Let it come to room temperature.
5. Preheat oven to 350°F.
6. Spread the mustard over the meat.
7. Bake for 1 ½ hours, or 18 minutes per pound, basting occasionally. The roast will be medium rare (Bake for another 10-15 minutes for well-done meat).
8. Let the roast stand 20 minutes before carving. Serve with the pan juices.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Lindsey Shere's "Chez Panisse Almond Tart," Tasted at Pizzaiolo Restaurant

I should be studying. Biochemistry.

Instead I sit, fantasizing about this almond tart.

I have been thinking about making this tart for a long time, using Chez Panisse co-founder and former executive pastry chef Lindsey Shere's recipe. Many restaurants have used her recipe--Oliveto and Pizzaiolo (both in Oakland, CA) to name a few.

You can make this as a tart or turn the recipe into a Christmas bar cookie and add dried cherries, chocolate chips, ... you name it!

I tasted this tart for the first time today at Pizzaiolo and have not stopped thinking about it since. The texture of slivered almonds is so wonderful! The flavor of the tart takes the almond-y-ness and enhances it with a caramel-like mixture of cream and sugar. Yes! Life is good. I take a bite and just let the magical pastry lie on my tongue. Everything stops for this fleeting moment of pure bliss.

Did I mention how much I LOOOVEE slivered almonds? Arranged in layers all atop the buttery crust, I like to pick off each nut sliver one by one. Ahhh, don't you just want to reach for the computer screen pick off an almond sliver?! Gah!

To find the recipe for Lindsey Shere's Almond Tart, purchase Chez Panisse Desserts or check out David Lebovitz's blog.