lemony bitchet cookies

By on Jan 8, 2013 in baking, dessert, experimenting, fail... or not | 0 comments

I know, I know… “lemony bitchet cookies? What the heck do you mean?” Well, obviously there is some reference to the delightful children’s books by the fictional Lemony Snicket wherein an unfortunate batch of orphaned siblings battle and endless string of disappointments, but still I know you are thinking, “yes, yes, but isn’t that a rather lame name for a cookie? Isn’t that a little bit much of a stretch?” And I would agree. Except it was catchy sounding and more, shall we say, ‘family-friendly’ than the alternative title I gave them. Which was “When life gives you lemons… well fuck you” cookies. Uncensored. Because who are those three asterisks after the ‘f’ really going to fool? And why, you ask? Well therein lies the story. We all know the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Which is all well and good, but sometimes it seems that life is more content to fling sacks and sacks of lemons at you all at once, and even the most optimistic people at some point just want to start flinging the lemons back, because frankly that much lemonade is just bad for your dental work. And sometimes those of us who are more on the more cynical/realistic end of things want to yell out obscenities in the face of flying citrus, since all that lemonade was starting to cause cavities. And they made me think of a couple of friends of mine, who shall remain nameless, but suffice to say they had a horrible year in 2012. Flaming lemons aplenty came pouring out of the sky. A series of unfortunate events, if you will. And they are definitely of the ilk to yell obscenities back at the flaming lemons while grabbing them out of the sky and winging them back at high velocity. Yes, this does relate to the cookies, just bear with me. The cookies begat their name on a sort of cold winter’s night (sorry, Mother Nature, but this Wisconsin girl thinks you are cheating Chicago out of another winter.) I needed to make cookies that evoked lady-like airs, or at least what I imagine lady-like airs to be, as I was going to a viewing of Downton Abbey (sidebar: I beg of anyone who has already downloaded and watched the 3rd season, do NOT tell me what goes on. I prefer the mystery.) I had plans for a light and delicate shortbread, laced with lemon zest and a hint of orange blossom liqueur. I would pull out the prettily patterned Swedish cookie stamps I had and imprint them all with a pretty little floral motif. It would be grand. Butter and sugar were whipped together, a hit of vanilla here, another hit of a fancy orange blossom liqueur I had on hand (Koval Orange Blossom Liqueur, it is a fantastic local distillery on the north side of Chicago), a bit of flour, and voila! A simple, succulent little log of cookie dough that was swiftly wrapped and set in the refrigerator to chill. And then I poured myself a glass of wine. This is where things went wrong. Not the wine part. The cookie part. I pulled the log of dough out, and it sliced up just fine and dandy. But then came the stamps. I stamped one into the waiting cookie as it laid innocently on the baking sheet. It smooshed out into an irregular oval, and then decided to exact its revenge upon the cookie stamp by refusing to let go and embed raw dough into the crevices. A small bit of oil was poured out, and a pastry brush deployed to delicately oil the surface of another stamp in an attempt to thwart the clinging phenomenon. Again the oval, and this time a small oil slick, pooling in some vague indentations. Ew. I rummaged around and eventually found the original instructions, which claim you are supposed to warm the damned things first in the oven as it pre-heated. Of course at that very moment the oven dinged, signalling it had finished pre-heating. I took a long, slow pull off of my wine glass and squinted at the cookies. I decided that a more simple form was ultimately more appealing, sponged the offending pooling oil off of the few experimental stampings gone wrong, and shoved the tray in the oven, deciding that the cookie stamps were more lemony than I suspected. I wrote it off to having a Norwegian heritage, and somehow, somewhere, the cookie stamps, which are from Sweden, knew this and decided to mess with me as a part of that age old Scandinavian rivalry. Yes, that’s right, the cookie stamps are sentient. Let’s move on. But of course in the spirit of making lemonade of a lemony situation, I still felt compelled to try something else. Maybe a lovely light icing would do, made with the lemon juice of the very lemon I had just zested to put in the cookie dough. I pulled out some organic powdered sugar, and I will stop right here to say… never buy organic powdered sugar. Maybe it was the brand, maybe it was my distrust of it from the beginning, but seriously? So bad for the icing I was attempting to make, and so unbelievably clumpy and every so slightly pale grey. I dutifully sifted the powdered sugar, and squeezed the lemon in. It turned…...

bork bork bork

By on Jan 3, 2013 in dinner, love | 0 comments

Some place wealth, power, and fast cars upon altars of worship, bowing to the cold and sleek shiny lines I imagine such things to have. Well, fast cars have those lines literally, so that didn’t take much imagination. I digress. I’m sure these things make some people swoon, but I’m fairly sure those people who swoon at this have hired other people to swoon for them in a very fashionable style while they sit back and sip impossibly expensive martinis, unable to smile due to their recent botox injection. Or is that too judgmental? Likely. I, too, have altars of worship, which I’m sure can be just as harshly judged. But ask yourself… who would harshly judge a Muppet? You heard me. A Muppet. A fuzzy denizen of crazy hope and imagination. And then you glance at the picture above and ask yourself… and what the hell does this have to do with food? Well give me a moment, and in a long stretchy way, I will get to it. So here it is. I love the Muppets dearly, and have since childhood. I love their zaniness and effervescent hopes with that twinge of nihilism you just know Kermit the Frog has. And I love the lessons of experimental “cooking” from the most incomprehensible of Muppets, the Swedish Chef. He who always approaches his cooking with joy and singing, even when it is trying to run away from him. Is this starting to make sense? What if I told you that the object of my lens you see above was… Swedish Meatballs? Does that help? Let me erect the next altar right next to this one. America’s Test Kitchen. I love the bow-tied surliness of Christopher Kimball, and was forever enamored of him when he declared boxed cake mix to be a sign of the downfall of Western civilization. And so enters the next part of the story… the science of the meatball. I stumbled upon a recipe for their spaghetti and meatballs for a crowd, that of course laid out the science of glutamates and the plumping effect of gelatin, had a trick for not spending hours frying meatballs in a pan, and of course after making their recipe faithfully, I had to try and adapt it to a childhood favorite, Swedish meatballs. What followed was a round or two of rashly mashing up concepts of a few recipes, and veering a little to the less beige side of the Scandinavian traditions I know of (but I am telling you now, I will never ever experiment with the pallid quivering palette that is lutefisk, since it is just not right… sorry, Aunt Linda.) What resulted was a giant pot of plump, gently spiced meatballs swimming in a succulent earthy sauce, each bite deeply satisfying and warming, taunting the cold snowy outdoors. Swedish Meatballs, a variation Serves… a lot, roughly 12. Less if you have 25 year old cousins eating them, insisting that more taste testing needs to be done. The meatballs: 1 1/2 lb. ground beef 1 1/2 lb. ground pork 3 thick slices bacon, chopped fine (it helps to freeze slightly first, you want this to be a fairly small dice) 2 1/4 c. panko bread crumbs 1 1/2 c. buttermilk 1 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin powder 3 Tbsp. cold water 3 eggs, lightly beaten 1 tsp. salt 1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom 1 1/2 tsp. allspice 1 tsp. cloves, ground a quantity of fresh ground black pepper (I like a lot, some people do not, I leave it to you) 1/2 c. chopped parsley Combine buttermilk and panko bread crumbs in a medium bowl, combine thoroughly, and set aside for 15 minutes until the buttermilk has fully soaked through all the bread crumbs. It will be like a dense paste. In a small dish, sprinkle the gelatin powder over the water (do not stir it) and set aside for 10-15 minutes, until the gelatin has fully bloomed (for those unfamiliar with this process, it is basically the powder absorbing all the water, creating what looks like a translucent version of non-colored jello… this is the thing that helps the meatballs feel a little plumper and happier, because who does not love a plump happy meatball?). Preheat the oven to 450. Line two jelly roll pans with tin foil. If you have wire cooling racks for cookies with absolutely zero plastic or rubber on them, lightly grease them and place them on top of the sheets. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, including the now fully soaked bread crumbs and gelatin. Mix thoroughly. I just like to dig my hands in (freshly washed, of course) and just mash the whole thing up, letting it squish between my fingers, pretending for a second that I am a kid playing with Play-do. You know you wish you still did that on a regular basis. Once everything is completely and evenly mixed, grab up chunks of it and roll between your hands to form 1 1/2″ diameter balls. They do not have to be perfect, but they should be relatively even to ensure even cooking. As you form them, place them on your prepped baking sheets (or on the racks on the sheets, if you have them). Slide the racks into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, rotating and flipping trays halfway through. On...