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Friday, September 12, 2014

Lavender Shortbread, Rose-Lemon-Thyme Tuiles






When my turn to host book club was approaching (three falls ago, I am really behind in my posts!), I finally got to try a few recipes I'd had my eye on for some time. We often try to go with the theme of the book. This time it was Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, which featured a character who works a little magic on townspeople with dishes using edible flowers and herbs from her garden.



I baked lavender shortbread from the great little cookbook Shortbread by Jann Johnson (this book is a must for shortbread fans), adding sparkling sugar to the top. The other recipe, for the curved, crisp French cookie called a tuile (pronounced something like tweel), was adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice MedrichI added lemon zest, petals from my mother's favorite rose, Double Delight, and thyme from my own garden.

Tuiles often get their shape by being draped over a rolling pin to cool, but my rolling pin would hold only three or four cookies. So I used a tip from the recipe: Bake the cookies on buttered foil, then when done, quickly grasp one end of the foil and gently roll it into a tube with the cookies curving inside. Let it cool and gently unroll, slowly peeling cookies from foil. Much faster than waiting for three cookies to cool on a rolling pin before continuing, and much cheaper than buying more rolling pins! I am thinking now that empty wine bottles draped with foil might work. . .

I absolutely love shortbread; It's easy and buttery and has that addictive melt-in-your-mouth texture. And these were delicious. But the tuiles, flecked with pink rose petals and bits of fresh thyme and fragrant with lemon, were beautiful, tasty and looked impressive.

I also tried a recipe for Rose Petal Iced Tea; Most of us thought it was at least "interesting," but only one of us really liked it. Fortunately, it was my house guest Maria who made sure it didn't go to waste. I don't remember now what recipe I used, but I found it online. I remember only that the rose petals were steeped in hot simple sugar syrup. It was very pretty in a glass pitcher.


Lavender Shortbread

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. dried culinary lavender
Sparkling white sugar for top

Preheat the oven to 300. Lightly butter an 8-inch round pan with a removable bottom, or use an ungreased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, beat butter till light in color with an electric mixer on low speed or a wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Mix in the confectioners' sugar salt and rose or vanilla extract and continue beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually mix in flour until just combined.

Press the dough evenly into the pan, using the back of  a soup spoon to smooth the surface. Or,  pat the dough into a rectangle or square on the baking sheet. Decoratively score or flute the edges and prick the dough in an attractive design with a fork. Sprinkle top with sparkling sugar.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes (start checking at 30, sooner if you patted it into a thinnish form on the baking sheet) or until set and firm to a light touch. Don't leave it in long enough to brown. Place pan on a wire rack and let cool completely. Transfer the shortbread from the pan to a cutting board. Cut into wedges or squares with a thin, sharp knife.

Rose-Lemon-Thyme Tuiles

3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and still warm, plus extra for greasing baking sheet liners
3/4 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped if leaves aren't tiny
Zest of one lemon

2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 CAP (of bottle) rose water (probably about 1/2 tsp.)
10 to 12 rose petals, diced

Place oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven, Preheat oven to 300.

 In medium bowl, whisk together the 3 tbsp. very warm melted butter with the thyme and lemon zest, cover and let infuse for 5 minutes. Add sugar, egg whites, vanilla, rose water, rose petals, flour and salt and whisk until blended. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days before proceeding.

Place heavy foil on baking sheets dull side up, and grease with remaining melted butter. I used a pastry brush. Make sure foil is smooth or the cookies may be distorted.

Drop level teaspoons of the batter 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon and a circular motion, spread the batter evenly in 2 1/2-inch rounds or ovals about 1/16 inch thick.

If you want curved tuiles, have your rolling pin(s) (or wine bottles) ready unless you are using the foil trick.

 Bake, watching carefully, for 10 to 15 minutes (mine took 10), until the tuiles are a light golden brown nearly halfway to the center but still pale in the middle. Rotate the pans from top to bottom racks and front to back halfway through baking time to ensure even baking. If they aren't baked long enough, they won't be crispy when they cool.

For curved tuiles: As soon as you can slide a thin metal spatula under the cookies without tearing them, transfer to drape over rolling pin to cool, or grasp the edges of the foil when sheet comes out of the oven  and roll into a fat cylinder, gently curving the cookies like potato chips. Secure the foil roll with a paper clip or clothespin. When cool, gently unroll the foil and remove cookies.
Repeat until all the tuiles are baked.

To keep them crisp, store in airtight container as soon as they are cool. They will keep that way for up to a month.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Picnic Sandwiches in Hollowed Bread






There is still time for a few picnics before colder fall weather arrives. These are great, versatile, make-ahead sandwiches for a picnic or potluck and are easy to assemble and impressive to serve . . . and there is no dish to drag home! Bonus.

I've used various kinds of bread and all have worked well. Just consider your diners; lots of kids won't eat seeds and nuts and many vegetables. For children and  pickier eaters, the large, round Hawaiian bread is perfect.

The first time I made this I followed the recipe for Layered Torte in Hollowed-Out Bread from The Joy of Cocktails and Hors d'Oeurvres by Bev Bennett and Kim Upton. It involves a layer of frozen, thawed spinach, squeezed dry and mixed with other ingredients. It was good, but I prefer the simpler way I have done it since then.

It is easy to pile on whatever favorite ingredients are desired. You can go with a pizza theme by using provolone, mozzarella, pepperoni, salami and tomatoes; brush the inside of the bread with Italian dressing. Go vegetarian with cheese and vegetables. Mediterranean? Southwestern? A Greek version just popped into my head: spinach, eggplant, peppers, Feta and Kasseri cheeses, hummus, gyro loaf. For kids, you might stick to ham, turkey and milder cheeses . . . though the grownups liked that version, too.

Picnic Sandwiches in Hollowed Bread

General ingredients:

Large, round or oval bread, unsliced (Sourdough, Italian, Hawaiian, pumpernickel, artisan style)
Deli meats or thinly sliced roast chicken or pork
Sliced or crumbled cheeses
Sliced vegetables
Lettuce or spinach leaves, optional
Salad dressing of choice
Olive oil 

 Slice off the top of  bread evenly, about 3/4- to 1-inch thick, and set aside, Hollow out the loaf, leaving the bottom about 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick. Brush inside of loaf and bottom of top with salad dressing. 

Layer desired elements, varying the colors so it is pretty when sliced. However, be sure to have cheese on the bottom, in  the middle and as the last layer before top is placed back on. When you bake it, the cheese melts and it all stays together better when you slice it.

Layer until almost to the top and replace the bread lid. Brush outside of bread with olive oil, wrap in foil and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Refrigerate until cooled. I usually make these the day ahead.

When cold, slice into wedges, place back in foil and transport that way. Serve cold or tepid. Note: It is easier to slice when cold.

 I do recommend that you roast, grill or otherwise cook peppers, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms and eggplant before layering. It is easier to layer and augments the flavor.

Serves 6 to 8





Friday, September 5, 2014

Summer "Crab" Salad




One of the best things about summer, once you hit July and complaints about the heat start, is sweet corn. The local stuff, not the kind trucked from who-knows-where days before you see it at the grocery store in late spring. No thanks, I will wait. Eagerly, even anxiously. I am the same way with peaches.

 Garrison Keillor has been quoted as saying, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”

 No comment.

This salad makes a great, light summer meal that highlights fresh sweet corn and tomatoes. I appreciate that there is no added fat.

Once the corn is cooked, which can be done in the cool of the evening the day night before or in the early morning, you and your kitchen stay cool. I like using the imitation crab products (brands include Trans-Ocean and Louis Kemp) made from pollock. It doesn't taste exactly like crab, but it is easy to use in recipes -- you don't have to feel around to remove cartilage and shell -- and is quite affordable.

This dish was adapted from a Pinterest recipe from joyphenix.com for a pseudo ceviche that she used as a dip with tortilla or pita chips. I changed it up a bit, adding fresh sweet corn and substituting the red onion with green onion, because that was what I had. I used chopped parsley instead of cilantro out of personal preference.

This salad is best at its freshest, but it will keep several days. Just be sure to add avocado only to the part you will consume that day. Brown is not a color you want in this.


                                                     Aren't the colors beautiful?





SUMMER 'CRAB' SALAD

2 8-oz. packages imitation crab in flakes or chunks
4 ears cooked sweet corn, kernels scraped off
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
Handful fresh parsley (I like Italian, or flat leaf), minced
1 large or 2 small bunches green onions, minced, including some of green
Juice of 2 or 3 limes, to taste
1 to 2 tsp. kosher salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 avocados, chopped (add last, shortly before serving)

Open seafood packages and drain out any liquid. Separate chunks or flakes into bowl. Toss with corn kernels, tomatoes, parsley and green onion. Squeeze the juice from two limes over the salad, add salt and toss. Taste. Adjust with more lime  juice or salt and pepper as desired. Chill.
Add avocado just before serving and toss salad again. If you like, sprinkle with a little Tapatio or other hot sauce.

Nice with a crusty bread.
I think we got four or five servings out of this.









Thursday, August 28, 2014

Best Lemon Sugar Cookies




I am so far behind in my blog posts. Witness the   snow outside in the picture! My initial sentence on this,when I first uploaded the picture, was, "For some reason, lemons give me hope for spring." Then I typed in the recipe and that was all she wrote, so to speak.

And now I already see leaves falling, and it's still August, though barely. This gives me a bad feeling about winter! My husband  always heaves a big sigh in July as soon as days start growing shorter and says, "winter's almost here."  He is an Eeyore, like his Dad. ("Oooh, Pooooh, I might as well crawl under the covers until Aaapril. There's noo point in getting up.")

These are my favorite lemon cookies. They are one of the things I want to make when spring is around the corner, as in fall when I want to make Chocolate Chip Gingerbread. I stumbled onto this wonderful cookie recipe on the Baker's Rack blog and have been making them for a few years. They have that wonderful sugar cookie texture and a bright lemon flavor from both the cookie and glaze. Divine. I sent them to my nephew the Marine for his birthday because they are one of his favorites and he is one of mine.

My minor changes are in parentheses.


Lemon Sugar Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
(scant) 2 tsp. vanilla (plus 1 tsp. lemon extract)
1 tbsp. grated lemon peel
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Glaze
1 cup (or more*) powdered sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel

1. Heat oven to 375. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper (this is worth the time and expense for perfect cookies).

2. In medium bowl, whisk together butter, sugar and brown sugar. (I do this in the pan I used to melt the butter.) Whisk in eggs, vanilla (lemon extract) and the 1 tbsp. lemon peel until well-blended. In another medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into butter mixture.

3. In small bowl, whisk together all glaze ingredients. You will glaze cookies while they are warm.

4. Use #16 cookie scoop or 1/4 cup measure to scoop dough; place on baking sheets, leaving at least 3 inches between cookies. Flatten gently into 3-inch rounds. (I make them smaller and haven't found it necessary to flatten them, leaving about 2 inches between each.)

5. Bake 10 to 12 minutes (start checking at 9 minutes, and at 7 if smaller) or until just barely  golden brown around the edges but still pale in center and slightly soft. Remove from oven; immediately slide parchment paper onto wire rack or counter. Cool for 5 or so minutes. Brush glaze over cookies (just use a teaspoon if you don't have a pastry brush or hate trying to clean them). Cool completely.

18 (4-inch) cookie (30 to 36 3-inch cookies)

*I admit I never measure for the icing, so I end up making extra as I even out the consistency. A little more lemon juice, a little more powdered sugar, etc. If I don't have more lemon juice to add, I use a little milk. It works. It all goes on the cookies, which doesn't hurt anything.

Found on Baker's Rack blog. . . her source: Cooking Pleasures Magazine October/November 2005

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cauliflower Marranca

This standby is from Moosewood Cookbook by Molly Katzen.
It is simple but hearty and flavorful and the leftovers are just as good.

I turned to it when a friend was visiting with her teenagers, one of whom was skipping meat for a month for a science project. 

I have altered it to suit our tastes. Instead of the brown rice, the original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups raw millet to be simmered in 2 1/2 cups water for 15 to 20 minutes, then fluffed. It also calls for only 2 cups of cheese and says it is optional. Not at our house!


CAULIFLOWER MARRANCA

3 to 4 cups cooked brown rice (still moist)
2 tbsp. butter or oil, or a mix
2 cups chopped onion
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
Black pepper  to taste
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 large cauliflower,  in 1-inch pieces or smaller
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 tbsp. lemon juice
3 cups or more grated cheese of your choice (I use a cheddar mix)
Paprika

Preheat oven to 350. Oil a 13- by 9-inch pan.
Melt butter or heat oil in large skillet. Add onion, mushrooms and seasonings and saute about 5 minutes, till onions soften. Add cauliflower and garlic and saute about 10 minutes more, until cauliflower is tender. Add lemon juice.

Stir mixture into the rice along with most of the cheese and mix well. Spread into the prepared pan, sprinkle with remaining cheese, dust with paprika, and bake for 30 minutes.