FacebookTwitter

cherries are more patriotic

By on Jul 7, 2013 in baking, dessert, fruit | 1 comment

I needed to make a pie. The farmer’s market was in full swing.  The 4th of July was upon us. If I followed the saying “as American as apple pie,” well… I would be out of luck. You see, this is the Midwest. Apples are still tiny little hard things dangling from craggy branches. Cherries. Cherries are in season. And yes, I could go to the grocery store and find some sad apples that were trucked in from thousands of miles away, but I would rather support my local farmer, and notably cherries are red, and the word “red” is even in our national anthem. Need I say more? Why yes, yes I do. There once was a time in our history where the government actually encouraged people to grow their own food for the greater good of the whole country. Victory Gardens from WWI and WWII. Yes, of course, agribusiness was made very nervous by these, and reportedly they did actually produce as much as the commercial farms when they were in full swing, so they were nervous with good reason. But not so much today. Today agribusiness is definitely at the fore, and it’s not all bad, but I am always disturbed by the lack of variety that is presented to us. Nature is far more a cacophony of choice than the local produce section would have us believe. How many of you knew there are multiple types of strawberries? The only place I have ever seen a differentiation in strawberries is at the farmer’s market, where they are more than happy to tell me about the different varieties and flavor differences. In the produce section? Not so much. Which brings me back to cherries. American cherries, in season, from local farms. Sweet, delicious cherries, which have come into season. They sit, glistening in the sunlight, tempting you in with the promise of their succulent juices. Pale yellow Rainiers, with faint blushes hugging their curves. Deep succulent Bings, winking from their piles, coyly suggesting that you to come and spend a little time on the dark side. And then… the sour cherries. There they sit, radiant and unapologetic, the harlots of the cherry table (if their color is any indication.) If you try one, your eyes will open wide as it grabs your tongue and smacks the inside of your mouth with it. A flavor as aggressive as the stereotypical American tourist, marching loudly into a foreign country, bedecked in socks and sandals, asking in a loud, slow voice “Where are the bathrooms?” Sour cherries are something generally only found at farmer’s markets. You might be able to find them frozen in some supermarkets, or you could always find a can of those gloopy sad things labeled “cherry pie filling.” But you would be doing a disservice to the sour cherry. This definitely takes work, hard work and determination. Having made many an apple pie, I can tell you that prepping for a cherry pie definitely takes more work. But that is what makes it great. And how many of those phrases have you heard when hearing about the American spirit? So go find those sour cherries. Spend the time pitting them (although if you can, I would suggest finding multiple cherry pitters and luring a few people in to help. It should be easy, just tell them there will be pie.) Take the few extra minutes to make your own dough, which is always more delicious, and free of bizarre chemicals and preservatives, and never as terrifying as people seem to think. Add some cornmeal to it, a very American food. Assemble this glorious pie, being thankful we live in a country where there is access to such a thing as these sour cherries, and raise a fork to all the pies that have come before.   Cherries Are More Patriotic Than Apples Pie   The crust (based on the Michael Ruhlman ratio idea, so it is weight-based. If you do not have a kitchen scale, the cup measurements are approximated.)   10 oz. (a scant 2 1/2 c.) Unbleached all-purpose flour 2 oz. (a scant 1/2 c.) medium grind cornmeal 1 tsp. salt 1 Tbsp. sugar 8 oz. (2 sticks, you know you love it) of cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks 4 oz. ice water   Combine flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add in the butter. Using two knives or a pastry blender (or your hands, but remember you need to keep this as cold as possible), cut in the butter until it is in about pea-sized chunks. I usually like to stick the bowl in the freezer for ten minutes after this to make sure the butter stays super cold. That is the key to a flaky crust. Add in almost all of the ice water, tossing with a fork. Dough can be somewhat temperamental in how much water goes in, and it’s usually based on the humidity of that particular day. When the dough holds together when you squish it in your hands, you are pretty much good to go. Form it into one mass, adding a hair more water if it’s too dry, or flour if it’s too wet, until you have a cohesive ball of dough. Do this as quickly as possible. Next comes the fun part, because you get to sound all fancy and French, because...

salt of the caramel earth

By on May 1, 2013 in dessert | 0 comments

    I like bourbon. Good bourbon. The velvet smooth kind with a woody subtle sweetness that glides down the throat and makes you wish you were sitting in an overstuffed red leather wingback chair. I try to find reasons to sneak it into cooking, because good bourbon adds a splash of 80-proof joy to whatever you are making. And one grey spring day, when the rain lashing against the windows, begging you to stare balefully out the window while sipping a small splash of distilled rye, I decided it was time to try one more time. There is a small grocery store in my neighborhood that caters to primarily locally sourced food. This does not mean farmer’s market. This is a place chock full of custom made frilly flavored nuts, marshmallows, candies, kombucha, anything you can think of, all for a pretty penny. And I would argue deservedly so, given what goes into making these things. But being who I am, I troll the aisles, pick up items randomly and think… “I can figure that out.” And so it went when my eyes lit upon a small package of bourbon sea salt caramels. I had just ventured into the finicky temperature world of caramels. I had bourbon. I could do this. You could do this. You assemble the Five Deadly Sins of caramel making: butter, sugar, cream, sea salt and bourbon. OK, fine, technically there is also brown rice syrup, but that doesn’t sound nearly as sexy when listed under “Deadly Sins,” now, does it? Butter, cream and bourbon are gently heated together, coaxing a delicious boozy and warmly, well, buttery scent. A splash of vanilla is added in, just to make the mixture a touch more wholesome. Sugar, a bit of water, and brown rice syrup are heated in the bottom of a high-sided saucepan, tantalizingly bubbling, begging to be stirred, but no… no… you can not so much as bump the pan. It has to be left alone for the magic of heat to alter the chemistry until you have a golden-hued syrupy mass. You watch, impatiently, as bit by bit the thermometer crawls its way up to 350 degrees. It feels like an eternity. After a long wait, you get to swiftly stir in the buttery bourbon cream mixture, and the mixture swells with joy and exudes clouds of the most divinely scented steam you have ever laid a nostril on. You want so desperately to stick a finger in and taste it, but you remember that thermometer and how it said 350 degrees. You would taste the burning of your own tongue. And fingertip. Not nearly as enticing. You wait patiently for one more round of temperature change. Carefully, oh so carefully, you pour the sweet magma into a waiting pan. A bit of fancy grey sea salt is sprinkled over the top, a bit of sharp and sassy counterpoint to the sweet goo below. And now you must wait again. Hours later, after you have paced back and forth in front of the refrigerator, waiting, that glorious moment arrives when you get to pull the set slab of caramel out of the pan and slice into small rectangles of perfection. They would be squares, but then the perfection might be too much to take. Working quickly, you wrap each individual one in waxed paper, tasting every so often to gauge the recipe. You chew, slowly and thoughtfully, eyes closed, taking it all in. You decide that while your hippy dippy reasons for eschewing regular corn syrup for brown rice syrup were pure, in this case it detracts from that bourbon taste you were so craving in here. 12 caramels later, you decide they are still pretty tasty. You put half in a bag to give away. You reopen the bag and take a few back out. And then you give the bag away. Sea Salt Bourbon Caramels Makes way more than you realize. 1 cup heavy cream (do NOT cheat and try to use skim milk… if you’re going to make caramels, make them for real) 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ dice 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 Tbsp. good bourbon 1 tsp. fancy sea salt (fleur de sel is the most common variety, I use a Celtic Grey sea salt I picked up at a food coop), plus more for sprinkling. 1/4 c. water 1 1/3 c.  sugar 1/4 c. brown rice syrup (in retrospect, I would have used light corn syrup so as not to drown the bourbon… it’s not high fructose corn syrup, calm down) Line an 8″ or 9″ square baking pan with parchment paper (two pieces crossing over each other, with stuff hanging over the edge.) 8″ will give you fatter caramels. I only own a 9″ pan. So there you go. Grease the parchment paper. In a small saucepan, heat the cream, butter, bourbon, vanilla, and salt just until the butter has melted. Cover, remove from heat, and set aside. In a tall sided saucepan (you will need it, regardless of what it looks like when you start… as soon as you add the cream mixture it will foam up like an angry, sugary sea creature,) pour the water, brown rice syrup, and sugar, taking care to not let any of the sugar hit the sides of the pan. Stick in a candy thermometer. You have one,...

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…...

blackberries and basil

By on Jul 29, 2012 in baking, dessert, dinner, experimenting, fruit | 0 comments

I am deeply suspicious of anyone who claims to know exactly what they want. Is it what they want right then? What they think they are supposed to want? What they wanted ten years ago but never got and are still telling themselves they want it? Does it take into account the myriad situations life throws at you that might make you reconsider everything you know? And if you achieve exactly what you want… what next? And what do you do if you can’t get what you want? Do you listen to the Rolling Stones, who sing that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need? In the fluidity of our everyday existence, there is always uncertainty. And uncertainty is an excellent pairing for food. Yesterday morning I found myself finally with the time and means to go to the farmer’s market proper (a big one with multiple vendors, not the single farmer that shows up on Sunday mornings a few blocks away who is always appreciated but somewhat lacking). This is my candy store, and I have sorely missed it this summer. I wandered slowly through the aisles, drinking in the sight of piles of fruits and vegetables, hunks of cheese, the giant paint buckets filled with brilliant flowers. I made a lap, even being so lucky as to encounter a dear friend I had not seen in a while, and we made another lap, chatting and soaking in the rarely beautiful summer morning. I had come in search of peaches, one of my favorite summertime finds. I craved the soft orange fruit, the fresh ones off the tree so juicy you have to eat them leaning over a sink. And then my eyes lit upon the darkly glistening rows of blackberries, softly sleeping in their little boxes. At the urging of the farmer, I tried one. You know those moments where something dramatic happens in a movie and there is a quick cut or zoom in to the eye where you see the pupil contract in this act of awe and wonder? It was like that. One bite through the subtly sweet and tart pillow of juiciness that was that blackberry, and I was done. I close my eyes briefly to enjoy and raised up two fingers. “I’ll take two boxes of those, please.” I had recently read this article on NPR and was intrigued. The idea of a foccacia with these coquettish berries was appealing. But of course I couldn’t follow the recipe exactly. So I wandered around the market until I found a few flavors I thought would work with it, and excitedly went home. Sadly, after a triumphant return from the market, laden with summer-warm fruit, that day was still filled with more work, frustration with technology surrounding work, and the nagging sensation of nauseating uncertainty that has been a part of my daily existence as of late. I sat down and perused the NPR recipe again. The dough had to be made the day before. I almost called it off. It almost never happened. But good things can arise from patience, and the part of my brain that is made giddy by the sight of rising dough kicked through the rubble of angst and demanded that I give it a try. And so at 11 o’clock at night, I made the simple slack dough, exactly as prescribed, and shut it away to slowly rise and ferment in the refrigerator. Then the morning came. There were other distractions to be had, like a glorious french press of coffee, and the making of a large quantity of dill pickles (another consequence of wild abandon at the market and a markedly good stress reliever), but eventually it returned to the foccacia. It was made during a time of day that doesn’t know if it should be early or late afternoon, it was uncertain of whether or not it was lunch or a substantial afternoon snack. And then there were the ingredients in question. The article had called for blackberries and rosemary, creating a dish that was neither sweet nor savory. I wanted more. I wanted something that couldn’t decide if it was sweet or savory, and demanded that you listen to its conundrum. Out went the rosemary. In went the basil and goat cheese. It made no sense. Fruit and herbs are not a foreign combination, and that article even had a gin drink using blackberries and basil, but goat cheese? I will eat it on anything, but blackberries? Really? I shut my eyes, breathed in the imagined flavors, and there was a flicker of “well maybe…” and so I tried it. Foccacia born of uncertainty. If worse came to worse, I could pick the toppings off and devour the airy dough. And there it was, a savory golden pillow of foccacia dough pocked with air pockets, gently laiden with fruity olive oil, the sweet yet tart blackberries, heady basil, and gently salty goat cheese. Salt and sugar topped the whole bit off. It was delightful. I sat quietly, enjoying the quiet sourness of a dough risen long and slow, the complex fruity song of the blackberry, the hit of basil that always seems to sneak up into my sinuses, and the welcome creamy salt of the goat cheese. I tried to listen to it, but I...

crispy sweet childhood

By on Dec 6, 2011 in baking, dessert, love | 0 comments

Crispy, buttery sweet dough cradles the dense chew and subtle grassiness of whole oats. Chocolate chips hide coquettishly amongst the oats, batting creamy eyelashes at the small warm bits of pecan that lie sleepily in the nooks and crannies. Joy has already been found in the slicking of the dough from beaters and fingers as haphazard piles of dough, made spiky with the whole oats, get dropped onto a waiting cookie sheet. The joy compounds when the cookies emerge, freshly baked and smelling of happiness, from the oven. There are those who swear by a chewy cookie, those who swear by a crispy, and who am I to argue with either? This is not an adherence to a strict line of cookie ethos. This is an attempt to return to the beloved cookies of my youth, the ones from before I knew about (rudimentary) baking chemistry, real butter, and parchment paper, when all that mattered was that Mom handed over the beaters to slick, and the constant sneaking of bits of raw dough as the cookies got dropped onto the cookie sheet. In my world there are still no better chocolate chip cookies than those. Recently I was reunited with the sacred vessel that held those cookies, a simple ceramic jar that had been on the counter my entire living memory. Even the simple sound of the lifting of the lid (because trust me, that ceramic always scrapes just a little bit… just enough to make it hard to sneak a cookie…) makes me feel like I am eight. There is only one cookie fit enough to be the first batch I stash in here. Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (this is only a half recipe of the one we made when I was a kid, and it makes a little over 2 dozen, give or take how much you eat raw) 3/4 c. flour 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 c (1 stick) butter at room temperature (you do not need fancy pants European cultured butter, but please… it is such a strong flavor, get a good butter, not generic. Good old fashioned Land O’ Lakes is delightful.) 1/2 c. brown sugar 1/4 c. white sugar (small note here… the original recipe calls for a dead even mix of brown and white sugar. I happen to prefer brown, so I tipped the scale and added more brown. Do what you will, just add it up to 3/4 c.) 1 egg 1/2 tsp. vanilla 1 c. oatmeal (NOT the quick-cooking kind… technically you could use it, but they won’t have the same chew. If you live near a food co-op or a Whole Foods, get the regular rolled oats from the bulk bins, which will be cheaper than you think, and OH so very tasty) 1/4 – 1/2 c. chopped pecans (the original recipe had walnuts, I had pecans on hand, or you could dispense with the nuts altogether) 3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips   Preheat oven to 350°. Grease or parchment line two baking sheets. Cream butter until fluffy. Add sugars, cream well (until they begin to lighten in color.) Add egg, beat well. Add vanilla, beat well. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. For any who scoff at sifting, likely because you do not have a sifter, I ask you to sift a bit of flour and set it next to unsifted flour. If you don’t see the difference, go turn on the lights or get your eyes checked or something. This DOES make a difference. If you don’t have a sifter, put the ingredients in a mesh sieve over a bowl and tap the sieve until all the stuff has worked through. Then go buy a sifter. With the mixer on low, thoroughly blend in the flour. Remove beaters, give to the person you like best at that moment to slick. This may be you, and that is perfectly all right. Return to the bowl. Add in oats, chips, and nuts (if using) and fold in thoroughly with a spatula. Make sure you get everything mixed in from the bottom of the bowl so you have a fairly even distribution of oats and chips throughout. Drop the dough by tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 2″ between them. Bake for 5 minutes, rotate the pans top to bottom, bake for 5-6 more minutes until beautiful and golden brown. Remove immediately to a cooling rack. If you are me and greased the sheets out of some weird irrational childhood nostalgia, curse yourself a thousand times over because you know perfectly damned well your weeny kitchen sink can’t properly fit one of those in to clean it. And now you have two filthy ones. Awesome. Grab a warm cookie and a cold glass of milk. Decide the dishes can wait.  ...

a little tipple of cookie

By on Nov 7, 2011 in baking, dessert | 2 comments

Chocolate. Cookies. Does this bring to mind treacly sweet sandwich cookies of youth? Patently flatly sweet delights meant to be dunked and eaten with great haste before someone took them away? Likely. Or maybe it is a reminder of the cookie so often found even at bakeries, with sugar content so high as to make the teeth ache at the mere thought of them, no longer hold any great appeal. Or maybe… just maybe… there should be a cookie just for grown-ups. One not to be dunked in milk and slurped down in haste, but to be savored. A cookie that gives cause to linger over each bite, delicately plucking up the bits that have crumbled off, leaving no crumb behind. A cookie that is soft, dark, chewy without being dense, yet teases at the edges with the subtle crunch of turbinado sugar. A cookie that sinks down into the chocolate, rolls around with deep round sugary notes just to take the bitter edge off and let the other flavors sing. A cookie that is made moist with the rich accent of a good bourbon. A cookie that makes the home smell like a bakery fronting for a speakeasy. Go ahead. Have one. Eat them responsibly.   Chocolatey Bourbon Cookies Makes about 16, depending on how generous you are with the dough balls 4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 2  oz. (app. 1/4 cup… I use a scale, the conversions can vary) dark brown sugar (it can also be light brown, or regular ol’ sugar, this batch was made with this due to a temporary shortage of raw sugar, my usual go to. After this recipe… I may convert solely to dark brown… that subtle hit of molasses adds a lovely depth) 1 large egg 1/2 tsp. sea salt 1 tsp. vanilla extract 1 Tbsp. Bourbon (Let us pause here to appreciate the quality of the ingredients. Butter makes a difference in cookies like this, it really does. You do not need butter from singing cows milked by virgins on the slopes of the Alps, but if you can, do buy something more than the generic store brand. As for the hooch, this does seem like a small amount of bourbon, and it is, but it is quite large when you look at the whole cookie, and the flavor will not fall into the background, it will march right up and tango with the chocolate, so do not skimp and buy Uncle Jim-Bob’s Kwality Moonshine Style Bourbon. Splurge and buy a good one. In this case I used Buffalo Trace, which is a splurge, but has wonderful sugary undertones that just work with this. I am sure Maker’s Mark would also work. Someone go test that and report back. Now has everyone got it? Have you bought your nice bourbon? Good. Let us move on.) 6 oz. (app. 1 1/4 cup) unbleached all purpose flour 1 oz. (app 3-4 Tbsp.) unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli… again I used weight, it might be more by measure…) 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. baking soda 3-4 Tbsp. turbinado sugar Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, salt, vanilla, and bourbon. Stop to pour a small tipple of bourbon in a glass. Take a long, slow, delicious sip. Return to the cookies. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda. If you do not have a sifter, at least shake it through a sieve. The idea is to get it well blended together, get the inevitable clumps out of the cocoa powder, and make it all nice and airy. Add into the mixing bowl with the butter mix. Take another sip of bourbon. Use a large spatula (the better to scrape the bowl with) and combine. This will seem like an impossible amount of flour at first. Have patience and keep stirring. Do not cave under pressure and use the beaters again. We want these cookies to be cakey and tender. Once the dough has been thoroughly combined and is a lovely rich deep brown, pause to take another tipple of bourbon, sniffing it slightly, then bending over the bowl to inhale the lovely fragrance held therein. Now do you see why good bourbon is such a key? Pour the turbinado sugar (I like it for the crunch and depth of sweetness, you can use regular ol’ sugar if that is what you have, but I would not recommend using brown) onto a small plate. Gather the dough up and roll into approximately 1″ balls, rolling them in the turbinado and squashing ever so slightly before placing on the prepared baking sheet, approximately 1 1/2″ apart. These will not spread out, but you do not want to pack them in. Realize that you are quickly losing patience when you see that the balls have grown from 1″ to 1 1/2″ in diameter. Keep soldiering on. Once all the cookies have been formed, slide into the oven for 10-12 minutes, just until a toothpick comes out clean in the center. They will not seem done, but trust me. Pull them out and let them rest for at least ten minutes before attacking. They are actually better if you wait a little. But waiting should not be so...