Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cookie Madness Mexican (Chipotle) Brownies

I'm immersing myself in Mexican brownies. Well, if two recipes within two days qualifies as immersion. The recipe for these brownies come courtesy of one of my favorite bloggers, Anna of Cookie Madness.

I don't recall ever eating Tex-Mex or Mexican-American food at home. The first time I ever had tacos was at the birthday pool party of a friend of mine in grammar school. Back then, everyone (and I do mean everyone) served either pizza or burgers and hot dogs at parties.  Instead, Carla served ground, simmering taco meat complete with a 'toppings bar.'  I was blown away by the fact that I could actually 'make my meal' by slipping the ground beef crumbles into the crispy yellow shell and top it with as much shredded cheese as I liked.

When I asked to go to Casa Comida, the local Mexican 'fine dining' restaurant in my area as a result of my mind-blowing Goya oh, boya experience, my mother obliged, ordered a plain steak and averted her eyes to gaze at the pinatas hanging on the ceiling as I ordered burritos.

She also agreed to dine 'in Mexico' (as they say at Epcot Center) when we visited Disney World when I was twelve but that was because I had strategically worn her down. I had visions of chicken enchiladas draped in Monterey Jack dancing in my head as I made her traipse through ALL the other nations in the 90F temperatures with 100 percent humidity that didn't bother me.


I know that I'm turning into my mother because I'm 'over' the type of Mexican-American cuisine that is really more like glorified Sloppy Joes than the Frontera Grill.  Truthfully, I can't stomach that much tomato-based acidity, fat, and spice in one fell swoop any more, much less jump into the pool afterward and top it all off with some Carvel ice cream cake.

However, I often find that a little bit of chili powder goes a long way to adding complexity of flavor to a dish.

Anna is from Texas, so her 'Tex-Mex' brownies are the 'real deal.'  Spicy and cinnamon-y.

No pinatas were harmed during the making of this recipe.

 Here is a link to her original creation.

I made a few small changes.  I used semisweet chocolate rather than unsweetened chocolate squares and semisweet chips rather than bittersweet chocolate chips, so I reduced the sugar overall. I used some dark brown sugar as well as granulated sugar.  I increased the cinnamon a teeny bit, and left out the nutmeg and pecans. These changes were based more on what I had on hand so please check out the original, check your pantry for what ingredient combo works for you, and start baking.  Arriba!  Er, or something like that.

 Cookie Madness Mexican (Chipotle) Brownies (my version)


1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chipotle
1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter 
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used this brand)
2 tablespoons brewed coffee (rather than make a pot, I used two tablespoons of LIQUID instant coffee--not granulated coffee) 

2 large, beaten eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (cold)

Topping

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375F.  Line an 8X8 pan with foil, enough so that the sides are overlapping.

2. Sift flour, spices, and salt together.

3. Melt butter and chocolate over a double boiler, remove to cool.  Add coffee.

4. Incorporate eggs, sugar, and vanilla in another bowl.  Add to butter-chocolate mixture.  Slowly fold in flour-spice mixture, stirring just enough so there are no streaks of flour.

5. Fold in chips.

Note: Rather than bringing all the ingredients to room temperature, I kept the chips in the refrigerator so they didn't 'melt' fully when baking. 



6. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

7. Top with cinnamon-sugar mixture.

8. Cool and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before cutting.


Note: Anna suggested baking for 30 minutes and then using a 'ice-water bath' for the pan to prevent the brownies from over-baking due to residual heat.  I didn't use the ice-water bath  (I made these late at night and my energy had faded).  When I make them again, I think I will probably just take them out a few minutes earlier, since the ends were a bit crispy at the corners, as you can see from the photo below.  However, some people like crispy brownie ends!  Still, depending on your oven, if you don't feel like performing the extra step, I'd keep an eye on them after 25 minutes or so.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mexican Brownies: Grin and bear the spice

Some parents have to cattle-prod their children into a bunk and pry their children's fingers off of the rear bumper of the car before they can leave Camp Fake-Indian-Name-In-The-Woods, but I begged to go to camp when I was nine.

I was envious of my cool friend Amy, a raw-boned, athletic little girl who went to church camp annually. My mother was the type of mom who watched the local news every night, just in case there were potential hazards that could threaten my life if I rode my bike to McDonald's. She waited at the bus stop with me in curlers, even though none of the other moms did. She was not keen about camp, but I persisted and was sent away by my own free will.

Of course, I was miserable.   I had no idea how to interact with the other little girls, since I was raised an only child. I was assigned to a bunk with a wiry, tiny mean-mouthed girl from upstate New York that needed a project to make fun of the way most little girls need My Little Pony. She resembled Tatum O'Neal from Little Darlings, only rather than lusting to lose her virginity, she lusted for control over all she could see from her top bunk. My total incompetence at the athletic activities at which she excelled (diving, tennis) and the unwitting contempt I expressed on the first day for her favorite song, "Almost Paradise," combined with my frizzy pigtails and Pretty Plus shorts bought from Sears made me such a sitting duck I'm surprised she found it to be a challenge.  "Almost paradise/ How could we ask for more."  Indeed.

Oddly enough, there was a frail, first-time camper also in the bunk--named Abigail--with waist-length red hair in a long, thick braid. She looked like Anne of Green Gables and cried every night for her parents. But she found friends because she was as fragile and beautiful as an old-fashioned doll.

The camp counselor lived with us.  She was from England and had a charming accent. She hardly took notice of the children and was usually absorbed in a trashy romance novel. So long as we didn't touch The Flame and the Flower, we could have set one another on fire and she wouldn't have flinched.

On Sunday, a curious thing happened--every girl except myself and the one Jewish girl in camp got on a bus and went to church. My parents didn't raise me with a religion and I had no clue which bus to choose. The Jewish girl seemed ashamed to have been left behind with me, the camp pariah.  Tatum look-alike told everyone that I was going to hell because I didn't have a religion.  Even the Jewish girl said: "I'm not going to hell because I don't believe in hell, but if I were you, I'd be worried."

This was ironic, given that I prayed every night so hard that things would get better and that I would get better, suddenly become normal overnight.

The kids followed me around, imitating me, calling me fat and ugly, and made pig noises while I ate.

I lost a lot of (much-needed, at the time) weight. The other campers used to pour so much sugar in their cornflakes and Rice Krispies they made small, mountain-shaped pyramids in the middle of the bowl but I could barely choke down even a few bites of my favorite foods, like the center part of maple syrup-soaked pancakes slathered in butter.

As bad as I felt the entire three-week session of camp, though (and I had to stick it out that year, because my parents would never forget it if I didn't) I do recall that on several occasions the camp directors served buttered noodles for dinner.  I was always revolted by pasta and still don't like it, but this was particularly awful because the girls from upstate New York would slather the noodles with ketchup and happily slurp them down.  I lived in an area with many Italian-Americans, and had never even eaten Kraft Mac n' Cheese or Spaghetti-Os.

"What rubes," I thought, my only moral triumph that entire summer.  It was, although I didn't realize it at the time, my first exposure to the different food cultures of America.

More would soon come, especially after I became a food blogger and was exposed to pimento cheese, red velvet cake, tortilla soup, and barbeque sauces not made by Kraft.

A more pleasant encounter with a regional food-ism were these spicy Mexican brownies. I made two versions--one via Baked, and the other via Cookie Madness.  The recipe from Baked follows, but stay tuned for the next version and a comparison!



The 'Baked' Spicy Brownie--My Adaptation

--makes approximately 20 small, bite-sized brownies--

For the original, click here.

Ingredients


5 ounces semisweet chocolate (I used 52 percent cacao)
1 stick unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
 
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 large, beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

1. Melt chocolate and butter on a double boiler at low-to-medium heat.  Turn off heat,  add sugars, and cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line an 8X8 square pan with foil. Sift flour, salt, cocoa, chili and cinnamon together.

3. Add eggs to cooled chocolate-butter mixture, incorporate vanilla.  Add dry, sifted mixture, folding in but being careful not to over-mix.

4. Pour batter in pan.  Bake from 27-30 minutes. Brownies should still look moist upon their removal from the oven.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012



Flickr: Chris and Jenni
When I was a child, I played at war. I had clear red and green water guns. I had realistic-looking old-fashioned guns because my tomboy mother adored playing Cowboys and Indians when she was a girl. My cousin had a replica of the Star Wars lair of Jabba the Hut and light sabers; the brothers of my friends had superhero action figures and GI Joes that would go on adventures with our Barbies.  My parents gave me Diary of a Young Girl; I read Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself; I watched Casablanca on the TV so I learned some wars were necessary. I read about Troy in my Greek mythology books and learned some wars were not.

Flickr: dalazzarato
My parents met when my father was serving in the military and my mother was working as an administrative assistant on-base. But my consciousness about real war came slowly.  Praying nothing bad would happen when we bombed Libya; getting totally freaked out by The Day After on TV.  When we invaded Iraq in the 1990s, I remember overhearing a conversation between two guys at my high school.  One of the guys was like, "yeah, baby."  And the other guy was like, "thankyouverymuch, it's easy for you to gloat because you can't be drafted because of your asthma, but I'm looking down the barrel my eighteenth birthday soon so shut the fuck up."

I also played at being an anti-war protester during my adolescence.  I loved Hair, so I'd wear tie-dyed T-shirts and sandals and say things like "peace." But it's easy to protest the Vietnam War when the Vietnam is over. I read Hemingway and All Quiet on the Western Front and the poetry of  Wilfred Owen. During the 1990s, there was even talk amongst rational adults about the End of History and a bit of contempt directed towards college students who got a 'free' education because they were members of ROTC.  Because with the USSR gone, there would never be real war, ever again.

For some of my friends and their families, of course, war is not an academic, theoretical, or literary subject. It's about absence--the absence of someone they love who is deployed and at risk. And Memorial Day is, of course, about the ultimate kind of absence.

I know some people find food blogs trivial and decadent and flinch when people post recipes for flag cakes on Memorial Day. 

From what I've read of people who have served, though, many have dreamed of favorite foods when hungry, lost, and alone.

No recipe today, though. I'm not really sure what would be the right thing to make since the subject brings up so many contradictions--I hate war, yet I'm not an utter pacifist because I think it is necessary to prepare for war to preserve peace. I hate the utter annihilation of identity that fighting for a nation or an ideal implies, yet I've loved many books and poetry inspired by the individual souls who have lived through war...and most importantly, I am utterly awed by the sacrifice of those who give up their lives in the name of something larger than the self, whether they fought in a 'good' war--or not.  I don't find war glorious, noble, or admirable, yet I have met many people have embodied those qualities while wearing a uniform. 

Today is about absence, but I don't want to leave you with an image of absence.  Instead, think about a kind of absence that creates some sense of presence...the hole that makes the doughnut...






Friday, May 25, 2012

Parmesan Corn Muffins With Fresh Thyme

Even before I wrote an article on grilling for a newspaper, I knew that outdoor dining had changed a great deal since the 1970s, when I used to eat outside frequently with my family.  My house had a patio with a built-in grill, and despite the fact that my father liked to act confused when confronted with a coffee maker, he would sacrifice his masculinity to grill outdoors.

Flickr: Editor B
Although other areas of the country were throwing whiskey and chocolate in barbeque sauce even back then, in the suburbs of New Jersey where I lived there was a standard menu of foods expected when dining out.  The menu was as formulaic as that of a nursery rhyme, the accoutrements as unchanging as ritual implements in a primitive rite.

First, my mother would make the salad.  Iceberg lettuce with tomatoes in July and August, from the tomato plants we grew in the garden; the rest of the year the orange ping-pong balls from the supermarket.  Sliced cucumbers, because my father loved them, and if I was lucky, bacon bits.  Bottled French dressing for me and my mother (although every green bite I took was forced, never willed); oil and vinegar for my father. We'd put the salad on the lazy Susan (how I loved to say lazy Susan) of the outdoor table.  I'd spin the wheel in the center and eat the extra bacon bits and croutons that were put out next to the ketchup and mustard. I adored the brown wooden bowls in which the salad was served.
Flickr: clotho98

If feeling fancy, my father would grill steaks.  I didn't like steak and after my mother cut up my meat, I would have probably two tablespoons of ketchup for every bite of steak. Other days, we'd have hot dogs and hamburgers.  We never grilled chicken, certainly not beer can chicken or marinated chicken.  Hamburgers were too big for me to bite properly so I would only eat McDonald's hamburgers. I'd ask for a nice charred hot dog, never a burger.  When we began buying Grey Poupon rather than yellow mustard we felt quite fancy, so I suppose that was the beginning of my life as a cultural elitist.  Of course, we had those white puffy rolls on which to eat the burgers and dogs and not even I, who longed for peanut butter sandwiches on Wonder Bread but always got rye, liked those rolls.

I drank Country Time or Minute Maid Lemon or Limeade, freshly stirred from a pitcher. I didn't know that you could make those drinks without a mix until well into my teens.  Mom never bought Kool-Aid, for the same reasons she never bought Spaghetti-Os, Wonder Bread, or Kraft Mac n' Cheese. 

Flickr: Keturah Stickann


My very favorite thing to cook was the biscuits served with the main meal and salad--I loved WHACKING the Pillsbury dough biscuit container against the kitchen counter and watching it split.  The rolls were served in a little brown basket, accompanied by a checkered napkin.  I liked them with butter and liked their flakiness, but most of all I loved opening that can.  Dinner would be ruined without being allowed to WHACK the can.  And if a VERY special occasion, we'd sprinkle them with Parmesan cheese.
Flickr: abbyladybug

In the spirit of outdoor side dishes for summer grilling, I made these muffins. The recipe was cobbled together from one on the cornmeal container .  I left out the sugar and added Parmesan cheese to create a savory, rather than sweet muffin.  While they are smaller than I expected, and not the 'tricked out' bakeshop corn muffins you'd like for breakfast, I think they'd be great for outdoor dining with a nice, fatty main course when you don't want an enormous, filling muffin.

Parmesan Corn Muffins With Fresh Thyme

--yields 12 small muffins--

Ingredients

1 cup white corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1 beaten, large egg

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Parmesan-Romano blend (freshly grated is preferred)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line 12 muffin tins with liners.

2. Sift corn meal, flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Mix oil, egg, and milk.  Incorporate wet and dry mixtures slowly to avoid over-mixing.  Fold in cheese and thyme.

4. Pour in muffin  liners. Bake for 15-27 minutes. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A link to an article I published on grilling

No recipe today, but instead I offer you a link to an article I published as the 'lead' story in the Asbury Park Press. The Press is one of New Jersey's major newspapers of record. It's all about the best steak cuts for grilling, and is chock full of quotes and tips from local butchers.   Enjoy!


Flickr:marksweb
I'm including this image to tantalize you, although the butchers I interviewed would cry if they saw the ketchup.  I am going to give the photographer the benefit of the doubt and assume it was for the fries.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dark brown sugar swirl cinnamon muffins


I had a very slender, weight-conscious friend in high school who loved those large-as-a-baby, sticky rolls
 sold by Cinnabon in malls across America. "They are like, five hundred calories, but totally WORTH IT. Even if you eat nothing else for the rest of the day."

I've never had a Cinnabon and the few times I've had cinnamon rolls I wasn't blown away--the flavor profile of the pastry just isn't complex enough for me.  There is too much whiteness, not enough spice. Too much nothingness to counteract the sweetness.
Flickr: revrev (I do believe there is a bun somewhere beneath the icing)

I used to love cinnamon raisin bagels slathered in strawberry cream cheese, but even they are too sweet for me now.

As a kid, when I came home from school I could barely restrain myself from plowing through more than my fair share of a Pepperidge Farm cinnamon raisin loaf, toasted, with slabs of butter, peanut butter, jam, cream cheese, or honey...alternating different combinations on different slices.  A cinnamon sandwich artist for myself...

Flickr: B Tal

Besides the sweetness, I think one reason I don't long for cinnamon raisin bagels with strawberry cream cheese is the same reason I don't long for sugary cereals. The context in which I ate them has long gone away, as has the desire for the food.  Without Saturday morning cartoons on the television to watch, Lucky Charms are now incomplete.  Without Nickelodeon playing You Can't Do that On Television on the TV, I no longer need to slather butter and orange marmalade on cinnamon raisin toast. Without early morning high school activities to attend, I no longer need to steel myself with bagels...




These muffins are a very modest treat compared with Cinnabons.  They are quick and easy and great for a cinnamon 'fix' when you can't afford a several-hours carbohydrate and fat coma afterward.

 I think you should make them this weekend, particularly if you have a long and leisurely holiday weekend.

Do kids still watch Saturday morning cartoons?  I think they would pair well with them, too...just as much as Captain Crunch paired nicely with Dungeons and Dragons, Frankenberry with Tom & Jerry, and Lucky Charms with the Smurfs.  The evil cat Azreal was always my favorite character and I deeply resented the fact that the 'bad' Smurfette had short brown hair, while the 'good' one had long, blonde hair.  I felt sorry for Azreal and the bad Smurfette, just like I felt sorry for Tom the Cat and the Wild E. Coyote of Warner Brothers fame. I felt they couldn't help being bad and had been arbitrarily assigned that status by unkind fate.  They had their own stories, we just never knew them.




Dark Brown Sugar Swirl Cinnamon Muffins

--yields 12 muffins--



Ingredients (muffins)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 beaten, large egg
6 ounces of plain lowfat yogurt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt


Swirl

1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon

Topping (optional)

1/4 cup chocolate chips (any kind of chip would work well)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper.

2. Mix the oil, sugar, egg, and yogurt together. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together, and incorporate the wet into the dry.

3. Sift together sugar and cinnamon for the swirl.

3. Spoon half of the muffin batter into muffin liners.  Top with half of sugar-cinnamon mixture.  Add the rest of the batter, then top each muffin with the remaining swirl mixture.  Garnish with chips, if desired.

4. Bake for approximately 17-20 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted clean.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chocolate chip pistachio cookies: While it is true that everyone must eat, must you also all shop as well?



The great French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once said: "hell is other people."  It is also said that the French go grocery shopping much more frequently than Americans, so I think it is fairly obvious that the darker side of existentialism springs both from postwar angst and also from observing humanity while shopping for food.

That being said, since I don't have small children and I am chronically indecisive, I do go grocery shopping quite often, if only to pick up fresh produce.  However, I have also observed that grocery shopping, is one area of life, much like airports, where people enjoy wearing their neuroses proudly, almost as if they will never see anyone they meet in the store again, even though all shoppers live in the same general area.

It may simply be that because everyone really does have to eat, there is no de facto screening device to keep out people who have no compunction about eating an entire container of grapes in the produce section "just to see if the bag was sour."  There are no bouncers, dress requirements, admissions fees, or even sense of social shame about not being dressed correctly at the grocery stores. Even people who rarely leave the house, and certainly do not drive anywhere else anymore, somehow think that they can just about manage food shopping.

Because I know that youth is not eternal, I try to be compassionate towards the little, old grape-eating ladies and men with hats and very thick sunglasses who hold up lines of traffic as they painfully pull into a parking spot.

I am less compassionate towards people in my own age range who seem to act as though they are going grocery shopping for the very first time.  I realize there is a first time for everything, but if you are in your thirties and can't manage a grocery store list without consulting with people loudly on a cell phone, it's time to move back home with mom and dad and start a lucrative Internet company so you can hire someone to do the shopping for you.

The people who have two carts, park them in front of the yogurt section, and read every single label on every yogurt and barricade me from my Fage DO annoy me.  They always end up getting the crappy yogurt, the kind with the fake probotics and fiber and artificial sweetener that is supposed to taste like Boston Creme Pie, anyway, so I don't know why they bother to read all the labels every time.

Fortunately, I don't really eat cereal anymore, so I am now spared that aisle, which is even worse. People with blank expressions on their faces reading every box of high-fiber cereal clog the aisles, even though all of the cereal boxes have the same ingredients.  Pair that with Pop Tart and sweet sugar cereal-longing meltdowns by grade school students. Soon, like me, you will be driven to eat eggs for breakfast instead even though it's totally lame that eggs don't come with cheap, plastic prizes as a reward for finishing the box. For some reason, there is never a holdup in the egg or milk section.  I would have thought that some egg and dairy labels could be confusing as well (cage free, free range, organic and so forth) but most of the really chronic label-readers prefer vanilla-flavored soy milk or almond milk at present, so that I am spared.

I suppose I should vent about poorly behaved children, but to be honest, unless they bump into my legs, I'm really not that freaked out by kids.  I think it's cool that parents take their kids shopping and I have lots of nice memories going grocery shopping with my mom.  I was never a big crier in the grocery store, but then again my mom would usually buy me candy and a Snoopy book and quarters to buy stickers and fake tattoos in those curious little plastic bubbles dispersed from the vending machines that exist exclusively in supermarkets.

I have to say, though, I do find it rather amusing to see the mothers who have grocery carts stuffed with pricey all-natural kids' juice, cereal bars, cereal, kid-sized bottled water with fluoride, gluten-free waffles, and organic lollypops...and no fresh produce whatsoever. Sometimes no meat, either, just lots of frozen organic dinners. And if they do, it's always pre-sliced apples.  I mean, I guess they could be getting their vitamins and protein somewhere else...but I have a feeling that somewhere, an experiment is going on to see if a toddler can live solely on cereal bars with cute little cartoons of wildlife on the box...the all-natural kids always have a haunted look about them, and stare longingly at the containers of sugary peanut butter and the Oreo section. There is also a subset of this kind of mom--the mom that has lots of healthy food for herself and her husband, but then has boxes and boxes of Kraft Mac n' Cheese and doughnuts for the kids, and Flintstones vitamins so they don't get scurvy. They have given up (often they are a Natural Mom in a later stage of development).

The people who always amuse me the most though, because I'm such a food crank myself, are those with the really obvious food neuroses. Like 'stuck in time' woman, buying skinless chicken breasts, fat-free milk, fat-free Dannon yogurt, and celery like it's still the early 80s.  Or the guy buying nothing but protein shakes and grass-fed steaks and a fitness magazine. Although I always feel it's sort of sweet when I see people with carts full of yellow mustard, hot dogs, Hi-C, regular milk, Combos, and all of the other junk that as a kid I thought I would stack my refrigerator with when I was a grown-up.

Of course, there is always one elderly person who pays by check and has multiple expired coupons, won't start writing the check until the cashier packs all of her items in a certain special way, and then won't hand the check over until she's entered the amount and subtracted it in her checkbook.  But  you have to plan for 'her' because she is everywhere.

Grocery shopping is a weird, exposing activity.  You can tell so much about a person's aspirations, hang-ups, and lifestyle from a grocery cart in a manner you just can't when they're shopping at T.J. Maxx or even a drugstore. You can tell if they're healthy or sick, if they have kids or pets, if they're having sex, if they like their body or not, if they're poor or rich, or they're satisfied with life in general. No one who is happy with her life buys an entire box of fudge-frosted doughnuts for dinner.

I've gotten in some interesting conversations with real foodies, though (including a little Italian grandmother who was the spitting image of Lydia, with a cart filled with unpeeled shrimp and Parmesan rinds) so I suppose on a hierarchy of chores, I consider grocery shopping 'fun' in a manner I don't find scrubbing the tub fun at all.  Around Thanksgiving, I even find myself explaining the difference between light and dark brown sugar to some people clutching lists and printed recipes, so I can delude myself into thinking I actually know what I am doing in the kitchen.

On an impulse, while waiting in the checkout line, I got a bag of shelled, salted pistachios. Inspired by Cookie Madness' oil-based chocolate chip recipe, I decided to create my own version, because oil seems to pair just 'right' with pistachio (perhaps some vague Mediterranean inspiration).  Anna was concerned about the cookies being too dry, so I decided to use dark brown sugar for moisture and added flavor.  I also added rosemary, which worked well with the saltiness of the pistachios.



Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cookies (made with oil)

--yields 24 cookies--

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large,beaten egg
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 cup dark chocolate chips (the darker the better)
1 cup salted, shelled pistachios

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

2. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. Combine sugar, oil, and the egg. Incorporate wet into dry. Add the rosemary to the batter, then fold in the chips and pistachios.

4. Scoop onto sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Mine were done at exactly 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheets, then remove.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day: Roast Turkey Wings



I remember seeing John Mortimer's A Voyage 'Round My Father when I lived in England, and the TV production ends with Mortimer saying in a voice-over. "How did I feel when my father died? Sad." The implication was: "don't invest all of these complicated meanings into your relationships with your parents--fundamentally the loss of the people who love you is just...sad."

I wonder if any woman could write that about her mother.

If my mother was still alive, I doubt I would have a food blog.  My mother supported me in all of my writing endeavors, even when no one else would do so.  I lived with her for the last few years of her life, before she passed away from lung cancer.

She never would have gotten rid of the oven that set off the smoke alarm every time we cooked. The oven was as old as the house, which was built in the 1950s. Several of the knobs were attached by scotch tape. Nothing remotely resembling real food had emerged from that oven since 1990, including a oddly puffy batch of Martha Stewart chocolate chip cookies I attempted, a year after my mother died. It was the first time I baked from scratch.  They resembled oyster crackers with chocolate chips . I got a new oven several months later.

After her divorce my mother took to microwaving her meat. Her chicken soup was boiled chicken, a carrot, celery, and no spices at all. "I like my food plain," she'd say.

Yet in so many ways my mother was right about food. She told me I'd function better if I ate lots of green vegetables and plain meats, rather than the sweets and processed foods I favored as a child, then embraced in their vegetarian incarnations in my late adolescence and 20s.  She told me that steak was best medium rare, as I chronicled in an earlier essay about her food habits here.  She knew how to pick out a great restaurant although she said that, more and more, it wasn't worth going out to eat because the quality of food was going downhill all over. She'd buy me ice cream as a kid even though it went against her beliefs because she loved me.

She did love pizza, and threw fabulous birthday parties with me when I was small, all of which featured pizza or McDonald's and Carvel ice cream cakes in some form.

She worked full-time, often overtime, while caring for my chronically ill grandmother. For the last five years of my grandmother's life, my mother slept about four hours a night, roused frequently by my grandmother's cries.  She fed my grandmother what my grandmother would eat, the cravings of an old woman: Dum-Dum Lollypops, Entenmann's raspberry strudel, coffee, tiny sandwiches.

Caring for others formed the structure of my mother's life. My mother went to work at sixteen to support her mother and two younger siblings, and had to get her GED rather than graduate with her class.  She got her associates degree from a local community college in her early 60s. She did everything around the house for my grandmother, including many stereotypically male tasks like cleaning the gutters. Fearless on a ladder, the was also nervous and anxious, and would freak out if I rode my bike outside of the driveway. She often caused me to fear more things, rather than to be more reckless, and I would take risks, hear her voice in my head, and then pull back.

She listened to my phone conversations and went through my garbage.  She painted everything white, including my room when I wanted it another color. She drove me to various crazy summer programs I wanted to attend and helped me financially through college. She wanted me to be the great, famous writer/actress/director I wanted to become but she was also jealous of the life and friends away from her. She couldn't understand why I wasn't more social, even though she chose to work at an office job where she could come in early and get her work done with minimal supervision and interaction with co-workers. She judged myself and herself by different standards--some of which were higher for me, others of which were not.

She bought me many, many toys, stuffed animals, and above all books to fuel my imagination. She helped me carry my computer many places. She never threw even her oldest computers out, and I do admit feeling good about throwing out the three full-sized monitors that she had dusted and kept pristine for years "just in case they come in handy." She never threw me out every time I came back to the house in my teens, no matter how much we fought.  I wanted independence, but it felt so hard-won because she did not fully desire that, subconsciously. Both she and I wanted my independence and dependence at the same time and that was confusing in my adolescence.

She told me I should cook rather than eat so much processed food, and she was right, although she didn't really cook herself.  My mother, even when married to my father, had completely different tastes from both of us. She liked cottage cheese, green beans, steak.  She put her own preferences second.  Dad liked half a box of pasta, red sauce, half a can of Parmesan cheese on top of that, a brick of Munster cheese and several apples for dessert.  Me, I would have been happy to eat birthday cake, McDonald's fries and chunks of pepperoni. 

But I've changed mother, since then, I've changed.  I would like to meet you again as the newly responsible me.  But if I did, would I fall back into bad, old habits?  You would look at the lawn and complain that I had gotten an electric mower, which, no matter how reliable, you would see as inferior to your thirty-year-old Lawn-Boy that often took the assistance of two men to start.  You would hate the new oven because it worked. You would be proud of some of the things I have done, though.


I did weed yesterday, mom, not nearly as well as you used to, but I did. I am trying new things, which both you and my father never liked to do. Although I'm on the record as not liking turkey, I saw these turkey wings on sale at Wegmans--antibiotic free and organic--and I couldn't resist the bargain.  I roasted them for an hour and twenty minutes (about 1.5 pounds) with thyme sprigs, oregano, sea salt, and paprika.  Covered them, took off the cover only the last ten minutes to minimize the fat splattering around. I'll give them a try today.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Joy the Baker's Chocolate Avocado Cake: With a peanut butter option



These muffins have a secret ingredient.

Okay, it's not that secret. Joy the Baker's avocado cake has been making the blogging 'rounds for quite a while. And I've baked with avocado before. For some reason, though, I feel avocado still qualifies as a secret ingredient.

These muffins are a great option for omnivores cooking for vegan friends, as well as vegans. Unlike other vegan muffins, they don't require any special ingredients unlikely to be in a non-vegan's  pantry, like almond or soy milk, or Earth Balance margarine. And unlike substituting applesauce, banana, or pumpkin, the avocado contains some fat which gives the muffins additional heft. Avocado is also mild enough in taste to not impart too much additional fruity flavor.

But despite making these muffins, I've never liked secrets. I hate surprise parties. I hate most unexpected visitors. But most of all, I hated the secret, surprise, unexpected thing I had to deal with when I was involved in the Sandy Hook gifted and talented program when I was eleven.

The program itself was way cool. Members of my school's Academically Talented program (known as A.T., to make us seem less obnoxious) got to ride down to the Hook every week to conduct science experiments and learn about the wildlife there firsthand. I'm ashamed to say I remember little of what we studied--tides, salinity, wave patterns--and only the more tactile aspects of the experience remain emblazoned on my brain. Getting close to the gulls, who were lulled into friendliness in hopes of nabbing a slow kid's sandwich. Going fishing off of a boat and touching a live catch's slimy scales (we threw it back, incidentally). Touching a hermit crab, a butterfly.

I admit I am not one of those people's whose heart is only content when she lives near the sea, although I was brought up near the Jersey Shore.
Flickr: Temari 09

I firmly believe that every heart has a single, interior palette of landscape to which it cleaves: for some, it is the blueness of the sea and the white and brown of driftwood and sand. For me it is green--I remember when I caught my first sight of England, through a train window at thirteen and being struck dumb by the beauty of the greenness and the grazing animals on the small farms we passed. For others it is the hot-baked red and gold of the desert or the prairie; for still others it is the white of snow and ice. 

But although I have a green-loving, murky Irish soul at my core, I like the ocean, and I liked feeling free, running around on the sand, rather than strapped to a chair in the classroom.

There was only one problem--we frequently had to wear our bathing suits for the activities, and I did not want to on some weeks.  Not because I didn't love to swim--I did. And I had no fear of the water.  No, there was another reason.

For women, something changes when you leave middle school and become an adolescent. At sixteen, I had no problem talking about my period.  I'd talk about how it was okay to have a chocolate chocolate muffin for breakfast in study hall in mixed company, because you know, once a month...But at eleven, I felt not only like the only girl in my class who had her period, but probably the only girl in the world.  On the days I had my period and was scheduled to go to Sandy Hook, I wore shorts and a big shirt to cover up those shorts, which made some of the activities difficult, and made me feel incredibly awkward. 

I was terrified that someone would see--something, what with all of the water, splashing, and bending down.  I was terrified with the intensity of an adult with a legitimate fear about being discovered cheating on a spouse.



The final day of the program was a fun day--the group was to go to a swimming pool, I believe, climb up a lighthouse, and then go to the Clam Hut to eat.  The Clam Hut is now a rather dreadful, dingy place where university students go to get wasted on beers, but back then it was a lovely family restaurant that served masses of fried clams with ice cream for dessert.  How I loved the Clam Hut!  It was like eating the essence of fried things, without the pesky nutritional protein to slow you down.

Flickr: herzogbr


But of course I couldn't go, I realized a day or two before.  Bathing suit.  Swimming. Danger.

I feigned illness and cried.  I was ashamed of having my period. I was ashamed of being ashamed of having my period.  But most of all, I was bitter about missing swimming and eating fried clams and ice cream, which, when I was eleven was right up there with My Little Pony, snow days, and Snoopy holiday specials on TV in my pantheon of Favorite Things.

I've actually made these muffins twice (lots of overripe avocados), once with oil, and once with peanut butter. They worked both times and you couldn't taste the avocado. Using peanut butter conveys a pleasantly nutty flavor, and is a relatively 'healthy' peanut butter chocolate muffin, as peanut butter chocolate muffins go...

While they aren't going to replace my regular chocolate muffins, they garnered good reviews from my friends. One caveat--make sure to mash the avocado well.  I am less self-conscious than I was at eleven, and failed to pulverize the avocado sufficiently, and one person I served this to found a chunk of green in his muffin.  He survived and said he still liked the muffin, which just goes to prove that acting without concern about what others may think is always best and the surer prescription for happiness.

Joy the Baker's Vegan Chocolate Avocado Cake (as muffins)


Ingredients 

 --yields 12 muffins--


3 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Dark)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar  (Joy used two, I reduced it slightly)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (for vegan chocolate peanut butter muffins, substitute 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter instead)
1 mashed Hass avocado
2 cups water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup of dark chocolate chips (vegan, if making muffins for vegans)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease the muffin tins.
2.  Sift flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar together.
3.  Mash oil (or peanut butter) and avocado. Mix vinegar and water, add to avocado mixture. Add vanilla.
4.  Incorporate dry ingredients into the wet. Fold in the chocolate chips, pour into the liners.
5. Bake for 20-22 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted 'clean.'

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Gorgonzola Cheese Cornbread

I made these corn muffins for a friend of mine who loves cheese.


I was inspired by a recipe for blue cheese cornbread, but I elected to use blue's Italian cousin of Gorgonzola.  My friend thanked me and mentioned how when he was still with his ex-girlfriend, he used to go to a cheese shop in Hoboken, located in a pretty bad, un-gentrified section of the city. But cheese was wonderful and they'd buy fresh bread, slather it with butter, and layer the bread with cheese, honey, and fig paste.  The relationship ended more than a year ago, but he still remembered the cheese sandwiches with great fondness. You might lose your longing for a person, but it's hard to lose your longing for cheese

Cheese and bread is one of the oldest and simplest of meals. We think of pizza, cheeseburgers, tacos, grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese fries as always being there for us, as somehow natural as grass, but they're relatively recent inventions. Perhaps it's because cheese, bread, figs, and honey is a meal as old as the Roman Empire and those later incarnations are the cousins of those primal, elemental feasts of the ancient world.

I have always been fascinated by old things, including the classics. I took Latin for a year in high school, and a year in college. People say to do so is pointless, but comparing Latin with the study of French and Spanish isn't really fair--it's more like a study of logic, the origins of language, history and culture combined. I was never very good at reading it, but I loved the history.

I also loved how even at the most basic level, in the Cambridge Latin Series, the stories were always sort of exciting. I actually still have the books. In the first pages of the Cambridge, there is a picture of Quintus the 'filius' (son) 'in triclino bibit.'  I also took Spanish, and seeing underage Quintus booze it up in his father's house was way better than Juan and Maria navigating their way through 'el aeropuerto.' And don't even get me started on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. 

The first story in my Latin book is about how the cook Grumio is looking at a slave girl and ends with the words: 'ancilla Grumionem delectat. Grumio ancillam delectat.' In other words, 'the slave girl pleases Grumio.  Grumio pleases the slave girl.'  This really broke me in for reading Catullus' poetry in college. Then, at the end of the first book, almost the entire Roman family gets incinerated by the eruption of Pompeii. The reader knows this is going to happen from the first pages onward, which makes learning how to conjugate the verbs for the characters somewhat poignant, since you know they are living on borrowed time.

This bread isn't very pretty, unlike Grumio's hot date of a slave girl, but it tastes amazing.  I had to give it away before I ate it all.

Ingredients

 --yields 12 muffins--

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 cup rye flour (you could use whole wheat, or all-purpose for a more classic cornbread taste, but I like the nuttiness of the rye)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large beaten eggs
6 ounces of lowfat yogurt
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
4 ounces of chopped Gorgonzola cheese

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin tins.
2. Sift cornmeal, flour, baking soda, salt together. Mix oil, eggs, and yogurt. Combine wet and dry.  Add rosemary, then carefully fold in Gorgonzola. Don't over-mix after adding cheese--you don't want to pulverize the Gorgonzola.  The cheese should remain chunky.
3. Pour into liners, bake for approximately 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick can be extracted clean.