Friday, December 24, 2010

Out with the old...

...and in with the new!  Hope you're all having a wonderful holiday week with family and friends.  I'm already thinking ahead to the New Year, and looking back on 2010 fondly.  I just wanted to share with you a new tradition (hello, oxymoron) in our home: Christmas shakshuka!  After I made a batch of mint pesto yesterday, and discovered I had a nearly full box of tomatoes in my fridge, I realized I had the makings of a very hearty, festive dish.  Enjoy and happy merry everything!

Christmas Shakshuka
(printable recipe)
(serves 2-3)
For the pesto:
2 cups fresh mint leaves
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup toasted pistachios
1/4 cup olive oil (plus more as needed)

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and mix well, scraping down the sides as needed.  If the pesto seems too thick, drizzle in more olive oil with the motor running.  Remove to a bowl and salt to taste.

For the shakshuka:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chopped tomatoes (I like the Italian brand Pomi)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 eggs
crumbled feta (optional)

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and paprika and stir to coat well with the oil.  Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the onions are lightly caramelized.  Turn heat to medium-high and add the white wine, scraping the browned onion up from the pan and stirring until almost completely evaporated.  Add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes, stir to combine, turn heat the medium-low, and cook covered for 15 minutes to allow the tomatoes to break down into a sauce.  Uncover and carefully crack each egg into a different spot on top of the tomato sauce.  Cover again and cook until the whites are completely set and the yolks are cooked to your liking (I like my yolks pretty set, so I let them go about 8 minutes).  Serve the eggs together with the thickened tomato sauce underneath, drizzled with the mint pesto and topped with feta, if using.  Eat with a thick slice of toast to soak up all the juices.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas is a cookie

I'm not a huge cookie person, nor am I much of a holiday enthusiast, but these soft and chewy molasses cookies, reminiscent of gingerbread house disasters of yore, really hit the spot!  I used a modified version of a recipe found in the recent NY Times holiday cookie feature, substituting butter for the called-for shortening, because I'm that kinda girl.  These are especially delicious warm out of the oven, with a glass of cold milk, and some requisite Christmas Sinatra crooning in the background.

Holiday Molasses Crinkles (printable recipe)
(makes about 30 cookies)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat, if you have one.
With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl.  Next mix in the egg and molasses.   In a separate bowl, sift together the remaining dry ingredients and blend well.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the molasses-butter mixture, mixing with a spatula until entirely uniform.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon measure, lay out small balls of cookie dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.  Dip the scoop or spoon into hot water in between scoops to make it easier.  You should be able to fit about a dozen cookies on the sheet at a time, meaning you'll do 3 batches (or use 3 separate baking sheets).

Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, remove from the oven, and allow to settle on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  Enjoy immediately, or store in an airtight container for later enjoyment!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Homemade nooks & crannies!

Last night I got antsy, couldn't sit still, couldn't just enjoy the night off and curl up on the sofa with a good book, so what did I do?  Well, what I always do: I made some food!  The ants-in-the-pants cure ended up being whole wheat bread dough, which this morning became beautifully light and fluffy English muffins!

If you have a food processor, making bread dough is a simple and magical undertaking.  If not, it's no big deal, it will just require some patience as you knead the ingredients together by hand.  I like Mark Bittman's recipe for Sandwich Bread, from his classic tome, How to Cook Everything.  

Whole Wheat English Muffins (printable recipe)
yield: 12 muffins
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the bowl
1 and 1/2 cups cool milk

Place the flour in the bowl of your food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Add salt and yeast and process for a few seconds.  While machine is running, add the honey, butter, and most of the milk through the feed tube.  Process about 30 seconds, then remove cover to see if the dough is a well-defined, barely sticky, and easy-to-handle ball.  If it's too dry, add milk a tablespoon at a time and process for another 5 to 10 seconds.  Remove dough from the food processor bowl and knead by hand for a minute or so on a well-floured surface. (I do my kneading on a baking sheet so as to minimize the mess!)

Grease a large bowl and shape the dough into a rough ball.  Place in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rise for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, until it's almost doubled in size.  Deflate the ball and shape it again into a nice round.  Let it rest on a lightly floured surface (baking sheet) for about 15 minutes, covered.

Next, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces with a bench scraper or a knife.  Dust your hands with flour and shape each piece of dough into a 3- to 4-inch disk.  Dust with flour and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes, until puffed up.

Preheat a griddle or large skillet over low heat for 10 minutes; do not oil it.  Sprinkle it with cornmeal and "bake" the muffins, a few at a time, on both sides, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, for a total of 15 minutes.  Cool on a rack and split with a fork before toasting.  Serve with a liberal smear of butter and perhaps a scant dusting of sea salt.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm (almost) famous

And now for a quick commercial break: follow this link to check out a CBS piece about Astor Bake Shop, where I'm the part-time cook.  Look closely and you'll see yours truly (just my hands, mostly), and all the yummy food I made for Chef George McKirdy's interview.  The desserts displayed were not my creations, but they are also delicious and well worth a trip out to Astor Bake Shop, if you're ever in my lovely neighborhood of Astoria!