Depression Cookies

Sugar cookies

Yes, I could imagine a cookie just like this being created during the Great Depression.  The nutmeg lends itself to the past and makes the cookie feel like something a grandmother would make for her grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon.  She might also make it when she notices her grandchildren are a little sad.  Whatever the reason they are a cure for depression.  They will bring you out of your funk with a heavy dose of the warm and fuzzies.

MAKES 2 DOZEN

1 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoons nutmeg

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt; if you sub table salt cut it to 1/4 teaspoon

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1 tablespoon honey, something with citrus notes is good

1 large egg

1/2 cup sugar for rolling the cookies

1. Make sure you have an oven rack placed dead in the middle of your oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir it with the measuring spoon to mix.

2. Place the sugar, nutmeg and vanilla seeds into the bowl of a mixer and mix for two minutes to distibute. Turn off the mixer and add the butter and shortening. I use cold, when I squeeze it it just gives, butter because I personally think it creams better. You do not want this to look granular and you don’t want the fat to break out and look similar to cottage cheese either. It should look like ice cream just scooped from the container. Start out on low speed and when the butter starts to cream gradually increase the speed to medium and cream for about 2 minutes total.

3. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the egg and mix to combine. Add the honey and mix briefly.

4. Adding the flour in thirds, to keep it from flying out of the mixing bowl, mix at low speed and mix until all is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.

5. Place the remaining half cup of sugar into a seperate bowl. Line two 12 x 17 baking sheet pans with parchment paper.

6. Using a tablespoon or a number 40 scoop, scoop out some dough. Using your hands roll it into a ball and then roll it around in the sugar until coated. Place it onto the baking sheet. Repeat until you have 12 cookies on the tray. Using a fork, flatten the cookies to about a 1/2 inch thickness.

7. Place tray into the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. While they are cooking roll and coat the remaining twelve cookies. When the timer goes off check the cookies. They should be browning at the edges but still light in the middle. If they’re not, leave them in the oven for another few minutes. Remove them and let them cool for 3-5 minutes before changing them to a cooling rack to finish cooling. Place the other tray of cookies into the oven and repeat this step.

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Madeira Tart

Madeira Tart

This is a tart with an agenda. Its roots are old fashioned and small town but don’t let that fool you. It is as luscious and silky as Scarlett Johansson sauntering the red carpet. It is as lascivious as True Blood and as beaten-up as Mickey Rourke on a bad day.

There are tarts and then there are tarts. The best are the kind that even your mama would like. Never suspecting or questioning what makes up its character but just enjoying it for what it is because it is so good. All the while, later, you know you are going to lick your fork like…well, lets just say it is a tart that likes to please and it will.

Truly, it is like fine champagne on a Sunday afternoon. The basis of this tart has been around for a long time, the old fashioned egg custard pie, you know the one with nutmeg that has shown up at every family reunion since people started having reunions.

Well, take that base and an idea from Alice Waters and her Marsala cream pots, add in the videos on the FOOD52 site from Shuna Lydon about cooling your custard and then use duck eggs(again Waters idea) which make for an even silkier tart and what you come up with is nothing less than sexy. Never fear, I have written the recipe to use chicken eggs but if you ever come across fresh duck eggs by all means use them to make a custard.

SERVES 8

For the crust::

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 finger pinch of salt

For the custard::

1 1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons madeira

4 large eggs, or 3 duck eggs

For the custard:

1. Place the milk into a sauce pan and scald it over medium high heat. Remove the pan from the burner. In a mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, madeira and salt. Temper the eggs by whisking in a 1/2 cup of warm milk and then add the rest while whisking. Cover the bowl and place the custard base into the fridge. You want it to be cold. It can sit in the fridge overnight which is probably best but at least let it get to 35 or so degrees. You could do this in an ice bath if you are in a hurry.

To finish the tart:

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl and using a large wooden spoon mix all the crust ingredients smashing the butter into the mixture with the back of the spoon until you have a cornmeal and cous cous looking crumble. You can use your hands rubbing them together with the mixture between them to make some of the bigger chunks smaller.

2. Place an 8 inch tart pan onto a sheet tray. This will make it easier to move around and get out of the oven. Dump the crumbles into the tart pan. Press the dough up the sides, packing it tightly as you go, and then work toward the center until you have a crust. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

3. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees. Strain the chilled custard through a fine mesh strainer to remove any albumen pieces. Pour the custard into the tart till it is half full. Place the tart into the oven and then finish filling the tart. You will probably have about a 1/2 cup of base left. I made a little extra so you wouldn’t come up short in case your tart pan was a little bigger.

4. Back the tart for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake it for another 20 to 30 minutes or until set. Depending on how cold you custard is will lengthen or shorten the baking time. If you give the sheet tray a gentle but sharp shake the tart should jiggle like jello if it is done. If it creates waves that look like you dropped a pebble into still water continue cooking.

5. When the tart is done remove it from the oven and let it cool completely. Cut and serve.

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Dover Sole with Herb Oil and Zucchini

The delicate flavor of white fleshed fish, for me, is best when cooked simply.  In fact the most important thing is seasoning the fish properly and making sure not to overcook it, which is a good reason to salt it an hour before you want to eat and why it makes sense to finish cooking or re-warming the fish in the oven.

This dish is a great recipe for entertaining because you can brown the fish without cooking it completely and then when you are ready, you can finish it up in minutes in the oven.  I also find it is a great dish for date night at home or a special occasion dinner for two, such as an anniversary.

Finally, the fish you use is up to you.  I love Dover sole but it is hard to find, you are going to have to skin it, and then bone it too.  Flounder is an excellent alternative as is halibut.

Serves 2

1 large whole Dover Sole, skinned, or other flat fish

5 fresh basil leaves

1 sprig of thyme or savory

extra virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking the fish

3 baby multi colored carrots

1 or 2 zucchini depending on their size

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350˚ F. Salt and pepper the fish on both sides.

2. Place the herbs into a mortar. Using the pestle grind and bruise the herbs into a coarse paste. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of fresh ground pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and mix to combine. Set the oil aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet(non-stick if you are more comfortable with it) large enough to hold the fish easily and comfortably. When the oil is very hot but not smoking add the fish. Brown the fish on both sides it doesn’t matter if it is cooked through or not, then remove it to an oven proof tray.

4. Clean out the skillet and place it back onto the stove. Slide the fish, and two oven proof plates, into the oven to finish cooking or warming it. Add a glug or two of oil to the saute pan, add the crushed clove of garlic then add and sear the zucchini. Season it with salt and pepper then turn it and do the same to the other side.

5. Plate the fish, put the zucchini on the plate attractively and using a mandolin or by slicing the carrots thin, garnish with the carrots. Drizzle some herb oil over the fish filets.

6. Serve.

Bona Fide Black Skillet Cornbread

The only thing that might make this cornbread more Southern is using white cornmeal instead of yellow. Most certainly the cornbread debate has set off more feuds than history has recorded. Should it contain sugar or not is usually the big question but why should you have to make a choice. That is not to say this is one of those recipes that is going to combine the best of both worlds because it is not. You shouldn’t mix cornbreads just like you shouldn’t mix liquor. Flat out, it is always a bad idea. You should have two great cornbread recipes, one Northern sweet version and one Southern.

With that in mind you can pretty much bet when the words black skillet come before the word cornbread it is going to be Southern. The title here holds true to that theory. Actually most recipes, such as this one, vary only slightly in ingredients but usually find a fork in the road when they reach the part of the recipe that reads  “technique”.

I use stoneground corn flour because, one, it tastes great and two I like the quality of the crumb in the final product. Some people use cornmeal and let sit overnight in what is called a soaker, meaning the liquid and the meal are mixed and allowed to rest overnight and then you add the soda and baking powder before baking. Kind of defeats the purpose of quick bread which is what cornbread really is. With that in mind, what seems to work well is to let the corn flour soak for twenty minutes while the pan is in the oven heating.

Heating the pan is paramount to getting the full cornbread experience.  Without heating it you will never get the crisp crust that tastes like a cross between deep fried catfish tails and bacon.  What you have never eaten the crispy tails off of deep fat fried catfish?  Why lucky you, you still have some living to do.

To be completely stubborn if you can’t bring yourself to use either  bacon grease or butter you should probably make some other bread because, really, you will be missing the point.  If you sub out the bacon grease for real butter cut down the pan warming time to twelve minutes or the butter will burn.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

4 tablespoons bacon grease

2 cups stone ground yellow corn flour

1 teaspoon sea salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 large egg

2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the bacon grease in a 10 inch cast iron pan.

2. Mix the corn flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.

3. Beat egg and add it to the buttermilk and then add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix quickly to combine the batter.

4. Place the cast iron pan into the oven and set a time for twenty minutes.

5. Using a dry towel or oven mit remove the pan from the oven and set it on a heat proof surface. Mix the batter with one or two quick spins and gently scrap it into the pan. You may need to use the whisk to pat it down and around so it reaches the edges of the pan. Grind some fresh ground pepper over the top.

6. Place the bread into the oven for 20 minutes or until it just starts to brown. Remove from the oven and cover it with a towel for 5 minutes. Slice and serve with lots of butter.

Oven Roasted Plum Tomatoes in Olive Oil

I make these tomatoes often, mostly at the end of garden season,  and have done so ever since I opened the cover of the French Laundry cookbook and found Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe.  You can use a recipe other than Keller’s recipe but at least do as Keller does and make sure you season the tomatoes with salt and pepper before roasting them and make sure you cook them over a long period of time in a low heat oven.

I say this for a simple reason.  If they aren’t seasoned before you cook them they just aren’t very good and why go to the trouble if they aren’t going to be good, you won’t eat them and they will just sit in the fridge taking up space.  Season them agressively and you will be happy.

One thing to make note of.  I don’t peel the tomatoes until I use them.  The skin, I think, holds them together while in the jar but is really easy to peel off before you use them.

If you try them on a thin crust homemade pizza some Friday night don’t blame me when pizza is never again the same.

20110915-DSCF2320Recipe adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook

Makes 1 quart

30 to 36 Roma or San Marzano tomatoes, perfectly ripe, stemmed and halved

kosher or sea salt

fresh ground black pepper

a handful of fresh savory or thyme sprigs

extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 275˚F. 

2. Spread to tomato halves out onto a half sheet tray lined with foil.  Season the tomatoes evenly with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Spread the savory or thyme out over the tomatoes.  Place the sheet tray into the oven.

3. Bake the tomatoes for 3 hours or until they have shrunk but still tender.  It may take longer then three hours depending on how juicy the tomatoes are to begin with.

4.  Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool.

5. Once they have cooled pack them into a 1 quart jar, or a smaller jar if need be, and then use a spatula to get all the oil, accumulated juices and herbs off the tray and into the jar.  Top the jar off with olive oil to cover.

6. Store in the fridge but remember pull them out about an hour before you need them so the oil warms and you can easily remove the tomatoes without breaking them.