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Archive for December, 2014

nibbles and bubbles

So, about that little birthday shindig.

Muhammara

It was a totally last minute thing. I sent out an email to a whole bunch of friends and bought several bottles of bubbly – prosecco, franciacorta, and champagne – from the restaurant the day before my birthday. I spent the morning of the big day scrambling to get everything together.

I gathered a selection of cheese and then paired each one – aged cheddar with pear slices, brie with spicy schug, and manchego with tart cherry and apricot jam. I’m partial to the thin crackers these days, particularly those from Waterwheel34º, and Finn Crisp.

And then, to keep things healthy, I sliced some peppers and pulled apart a bunch of endive leaves for dipping.

As far as the dips, I made two.

The first is muhammara, If you haven’t yet met, let me get you properly acquainted. Muhamarra is a Syrian red pepper spread, thickened with walnuts and bread crumbs. It’s tangy with pomegranate molasses and has a smoky heat that builds bite by bite. I add a little silan – date honey – for sweetness. It’s one of those throw-everything-in-the-food-processor-and-push-a-button recipes. It’s a nice alternative to hummus

And speaking of hummus, twenty minutes before my guests were slated to arrive, I decided I didn’t have enough food, so I rinsed out my food processor and threw together a quick batch.

It was nice having an open house rather than a full-out dinner. People popped in for some nibbles and a glass (or two) of bubbles; some stayed, others rushed home to relieve babysitters, and friends from different parts of my life had a chance to meet.

Even after making a care package for my sister to take home, I had enough leftover muhammara for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I spread it on toast and topped it with egg. I slathered it on a baguette with grilled chicken breast. I tossed it with pasta. And once I exhausted my supply, I made a batch to bring to the restaurant to share with my team. So, Cat, this recipe is for you, but please bring back my bowl!

Muhammara

This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden‘s The Book of Jewish Food, Gourmet, and Sweet Amandine. I like my muhammara smooth and the consistency of hummus, but I typically see it more coarsely ground. Depending on the consistency that you’d like, you can thicken with extra walnuts and breadcrumbs or thin with olive oil. Bear in mind that the muhammara will thicken in the refrigerator and as the breadcrumbs absorb liquid. 

Muhammara is not the prettiest of spreads, so I like to swirl it into a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of pomegranate arils and parsley.

Makes 2 1/2 cups

– 1 16-oz roasted peppers in jar, drained

– 1 1/2 C walnuts, toasted

– 1/2 C panko breadcrumbs

– 3 T pomegranate molasses

– 2 T lemon juice

– 2 t silan (date honey) or honey

– 1 1/2 t cumin

– 1/2 t cayenne

– 1/2 t sweet paprika

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– 1/2 t salt (to taste)

– 2 – 4 T olive oil

– chopped parsley and pomegranate arils for garnish

Mix. In a food processor, blend together the peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, silan, spices, garlic, and salt until smooth. With the motor running, pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a steady stream until creamy. Tweak the consistency – if too thick, add more oil; if too thin, add more nuts and/or breadcrumbs.

Serve. Garnish with olive oil, pomegranate arils, and parsley.

Store. Muhammara keeps in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and it freezes beautifully.

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One year, for my birthday, I bought myself a suit. It was the first designer anything I had ever purchased and, with its lovely pattern, its boucle texture, its leather trim, it made me feel very special. Every time I wore it, I told people I was wearing my birthday suit.

This year, on my birthday (December 8th, in case you want to mark your calendar for next year) there was no designer suit, but there were cookies. Whole wheat chocolate chunk cookies.

whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

Now, there are two types of cookie people: the chewys and the crispys. (Or is that the chewies and the crispies?) I am squarely on team crispy and that’s where the cookies pictured above fall. If, however, you root for team chewy, stop reading right now and head over to the original recipe. According to Jess, who introduced me to this recipe, the cookies have an interior that is “soft, even borderline flakey.”

The first time I baked them up, I followed the recipe to a T and, well, I didn’t like the cookies very much. They were big – three tablespoons of dough big – and puffy and, if you can imagine this, sort of fluffy in the center. And yet, flawed as their texture was, the nutty-without-nuts taste was intriguing, and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

One year went by, two years, then three, the cookies almost forgotten, until a big bag of whole wheat flour called to me from the cupboard. I played around with the recipe, making batch after batch and tweaking flours (2:1:1 whole wheat to graham to white makes a nice combo but is too fussy), sugars (less brown sugar equals less chewy), cookies size (I like them small), and baking temperature and time (lower the temp and bake for longer). Finally, finally, five batches in, I nailed the recipe.

I send to few dozen cookies to a few friends, including Meira and Caroline, as a hey-I’m-just-thinking-about-you kind of surprise. Two days before my birthday, their mother Monica emailed me: “Did you send Meira cookies because it was your birthday?” I hadn’t, but I liked that she thought of me as someone who takes care of other people as a way to celebrate.

So I baked another batch of cookies and invited friends over for an impromptu evening of birthday nibbles and bubbles. More on what I cooked in a bit, but for now, the cookies.

Whole wheat chocolate chunk cookies

Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain, as published on Food 52. I made a few changes to keep the cookies crisp, and in case you’re curious, here’s what I did, using using The Food Lab: The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies article to guide my experimentation.

1) Most importantly, I replaced half of the brown sugar with Demerara sugar. Using a crystalized sugar instead of brown helps the cookies crisp, and Demerara retains some of the molasses and toffee flavor of brown sugar. You could also use white sugar, so 1 1/2 cups white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar. 

2) I increased the amount of chocolate by 50%. Because, chocolate.

3) Rather than three tablespoons of dough per cookie, I used one tablespoon. After scooping the dough onto the cookie sheet, I smushed them with the palm of my hand so they would bake more evenly, eliminating that chewy center. The consistency ends up on the denser side, almost shortbread-like.

4) I lowered the temperature and increased the baking time to encourage the cookies to spread as much as possible, which isn’t very much.

5) I only bake one sheet of cookies at a time. I don’t like to fuss with rotating trays from top to bottom, front to back. 

6) The original recipe has you cool the cookies on parchment, which I assume encourages them to retain a bit of moisture – not what I want at all. Instead, when the cookies are cool enough to touch, I transfer them straight to a cooling rack.

Makes 7-8 dozen small cookies

– 12 oz bittersweet chocolate

– 1 C (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

– 1 C white sugar

– 1/2 C Demerara sugar (or turbinado or sugar in the raw)

– 1/2 C brown sugar

– 2 eggs

– 1 T vanilla extract

– 3 C whole wheat flour

– 1 1/2 t baking powder

– 1 t baking soda

– 2 t kosher salt

Prep. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Chop the chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks.

Mix. Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. The batter might look curdled at this point, but don’t worry.

Keep mixing. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add this mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. You’ll probably find some extra flour lurking at the bottom of the bowl, so scrape down the sides and bottom.

Keep mixing. Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to again scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients, kneading lightly.

Scoop. Scoop dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, using a 1-tablespoon ice cream scoop, at 2-inch intervals.

Press. With the palm of your hand or a wooden spoon, press the cookie dough until it’s about 1/4-inch thick.

Bake. Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes until the cookies are evenly dark brown and dry to the touch. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes until you can pick them up and transfer them to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough – you can re-use the parchment.

Store. While for many cookies, I like to scoop out the entire batch and then freeze the scooplets so that I can bake up a half-dozen or so when the mood strikes, it doesn’t work as well for these cookies because of their crumbly dough. So, just bake all of the cookies and store them in an airtight tin or in the freezer. If you’re afraid you’ll eat them all … well, that’s when you give them away as gifts.

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