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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Butter cookies...good for the heart!




Everyone tends to have their own specialty dish. I have written previous posts about my mom's Almond Crescents, my Aunt Anne's mini-cheesecakes, my Grandmom's fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches...well, 2 dishes that my Aunt Janet is known for are pineapple stuffing (which I will post closer to Easter) and her amazing butter cookies. She makes these cookies every Christmas. They are crisp buttery goodness. At first glance, one might assume it's just another sugar cookie, but once you take a bite and that buttery flavor melts in your mouth, you know there's a little something special going on....

There are two notable things about this recipe: one, you mix everything with your hands! This means perfectly mixed batter and not a lot of clean up (I am not a big fan of recipes that require a ton of gadgets, bowls, etc). Two, the recipe makes a TON of cookies (11-12 dozen). So, it's a great cookie to make at the holidays, along with your other family favorites, to round out the packages you are sending to friends and loved ones.

I made these cookies for a Valentine's Day treat using my Wilton cookie gun. Anyone that has used the cookie gun can tell you that it's a great concept but all batters do not work well in the gun....this butter cookie batter, however, worked perfectly.

Butter Cookies
1 lb Butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs beaten
4 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar with hands. Add eggs, flour, vanilla and baking powder. Continue to mix with hands. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet approximately 2 inches apart.
Bake 15 - 20 minutes or until edges start to brown.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mo's Smoked Gouda Dip


The El Segundo Whole Foods has this fabulous product called Mo's Smoked Gouda Dip. Victor and I think it's limited to that store as we have looked for it at other Whole Foods to no avail. The package pictured above is the Mild but they also produce a spicy version as well (which I prefer...I didn't know that I had picked up the mild until I got home). The dip is made up of chopped gouda, mayo, cream cheese, green onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers and black pepper. Smoked gouda itself has an interesting flavor. I would describe as a mild to semi-sharp cheese with a smoked flavor and creamy texture. The green onions, jalapenos and black pepper add some kick while the the cream cheese and mayo provide a hint of sourness in addition to acting as a binding agent to make it a proper dip. Since the dip has a lot of flavors going on, we serve it with plain crackers or homemade tostadas (which is sticking out of the dip in the top picture). At $10.99 a pound, this is not something we buy every week...but it is a good weekend treat. I am going to try to make my own version in a few weeks....

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Science of the scone

Before I went to work, I decided to make scones with left over sour cream I had on hand. I settled on cranberry orange scones since I also had some cranberries in the freezer from Thanksgiving. I let the cranberries thaw overnight which was mistake #1: they were very moist and some were soggy (I should also mention, the majority of the recipes that I saw called for dried fruit, but I was sure fresh fruit would add better flavor). The cranberries were also super tart and somewhat large. I couldn't see how biting into one of these things in my scones would be a pleasant experience. I considered throwing the cranberries in the food processor and then allowing them to drain for a bit, but frankly, I didn't have that kind of time since I need to be at work around 9ish. At the last minute, I decided to switch from cranberries to blueberries since they were smaller and sweeter. The blueberries were also frozen, so I took them out of the freezer, ran them under cold water and let them drain until I was ready to throw them into the mix....but apparently I did not drain them enough (mistake #2). As soon as I added them, my mixture went from the right consistency to a wet doughy mess. I added a little more flour which helped a bit but there was no way I could get the dough rolled out to cut into triangles...hence the mini-blob loaves you see above.

My results were tasty: a nice tang from the orange zest and sour cream balanced with the sweetness from the blueberries and cinnamon sugar. I doubt my creation qualified as a scone...they were too moist. They were like some sort of mini sour cream breakfast bread. So, apparently the science of the perfect scone has to do with keeping the dough on the dry side...more experimentation at a later date!

Sour Cream Blueberry Orange Breakfast Sweet Bread (poorly adapted from a Sour Cream Cranberry Orange Scone recipe on Big Oven)

1/2 cup frozen blueberries (they recommended coating the fruit in a mixture of flour and sugar...a step I sadly skipped)
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 cups flour
6 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoon cold butter
1 cup sour cream (I used light sour cream)
1 egg

Topping
Little bit of milk to brush on top
Cinnamon Sugar

Preheat oven to 400
Mix all dry ingredients together. Cut butter into the flour mixture until crumbly (I used my fingertips a bit to sort of work the butter in).
Stir in the orange zest and blueberries (again, this is where things fell apart for me...I would try dried blueberries next time).
Turn out on to floured board. Form into 6 round mini-loaves or, if dry enough, roll out and cut into triangles.

Brush a little milk on each scone and sprinkle some cinnamon sugar.
Bake for 16-20 minutes or until golden brown on top.



Saturday, February 5, 2011

Malbec the wine, not the band

A friend of ours gave us a bottle of McKenzie-Mueller Malbec over the holidays which we just consumed the other night. Let me say, I enjoy wine, but I am not very knowledgeable in the wine department....I get very excited when I meet someone who knows what they are talking about and can make good recommendations as I am interested in expanding my understanding of wine. I had never had Malbec before. Apparently Malbec is a specific variety of purple grape and is one of the six types of grapes allowed in red Bordeaux wine. It is frequently used in blends due to the deep, inky red color and intense flavor the grape produces. While originally grown in France, it was introduced to Argentina in 1868. While the acreage of Malbec appears to be decreasing in France currently, it is increasing in Argentina and the US (mainly California but also a number of other states).

The McKenzie-Mueller winery is located in Napa Valley. The (empty) 2006 Malbec pictured above had a rich color and an accessible, full bodied flavor with hints of berries and spice and a smooth finish. Priced at about $30-35 a bottle, I felt the wine delivered quality for the price.

How did I come up with this assessment being the novice wine drinker that I am? Well, I could tell this was a nice wine from the first sip. In my limited experience, the more expensive the wine, the smoother the finish but I could never articulate that until my research today. Thank you Wikipedia Glossary of Wine Terms and Zerbrafish.

Oh, there is an LA based band called Malbec as well. Seems they have had some songs on various soundtracks (One Tree Hill, My Best Friend's Girl). Not bad either....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The family business



When I was a kid and my world was very small, I knew of 2 bakeries: Eiselen's and Roma's. Since we never shopped at Roma's, I thought Eiselen's was the best bakery in the world. Just walking through the front door, my mouth started to water at the sight of the cookies and danish in the cases combined with the smell of the cakes baking in the kitchen. Even if we weren't buying anything, I stopped in to soak up the environment. I wanted to work there. I wasn't concerned at that point in my life about how much bakers pulled in annually, or how much time they spent on their feet...the sweet smells and beautiful colored baked goods was all I was concerned about.

I never did end up working there at Eiselen's. I learned early on that waitressing was a bit more lucrative than working retail. I moved away from the area, so despite the fond memories, I haven't been in the shop for years. My sister forwarded me an article today written by Dana Eiselen, daughter of the owner. It seems the future of the shop is uncertain as the owner's kids are looking at careers outside of baking. It's a good read. I think the owner spoke very eloquently about how people love the flavors that have become familiar to them over the years.

Philly has a fair amount of family run bakeries, probably more than most cities these days. The cookies pictured above, which we picked up over the holidays, are from Isgro's bakery in South Philly. These family businesses provide you with a little slice of local flavor...you might love their stuff from the first bite, you might grow to love it or maybe just you eat it because it reminds you of home. My point is, when you are about to buy that Cinnamon Chip scone at Starbucks or drive to Krispy Kreme, take a second to see if there are any mom and pop shops around and sample their goods instead. You might just discover something wonderful!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Easy but satisfying weeknight soup

Soup rocks no matter what time of year it is but when the temps are low, a steaming bowl of soup is the order of the day. This is a great homemade (sort of) soup that can easily be made on a weeknight.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of chopped garlic
3/4 cup chopped onions
1 - 20 oz can of College Inn Chicken Broth
2 carrots peeled and sliced
1 bag of frozen cheese tortellinis
1 cup of fresh or frozen chopped spinach
1 can cannellini (white kidney) beans
Fresh shredded Parmesan

In a soup pot, saute garlic and onions until onions are translucent. Add chicken broth and chopped carrots.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer about 20 minutes or until the carrots are cooked.
Add cheese tortellinis and spinach and bring back to a boil.
Reduce to medium heat, add cannellini beans and cook for 5 minutes longer.
Garnish each bowl some fresh shredded Parmesan.

This is also good with some hot pepper flakes added....

Snowballs

While the Mid-West and East Coast get pounded with snow and ice, it's been relatively calm here in LA with temps in the mid to upper 60s. The only snowball I have encountered recently is the UK version pictured above.

Burns' Day was last week so a Scottish co-worker brought in a few UK treats to help us celebrate. January 25th is Scottish poet Robert Burns' birthday. To mark the occasion, the Scots have a "Burns Supper" of haggis, mashed potatoes and mashed turnips. Given that haggis is currently banned in the US, my co-worker brought in some slightly sweeter treats to share. Tunnock's Snowballs are soft marshmallows dipped in chocolate and then covered in coconut. They are insanely sweet and literally melt in your mouth. Brilliant!