Wednesday, October 21, 2009

brown sugar and pecan shortbread

baked shortbread
there are two types of people:
those who went to camp and
those who not only didn't,
but don't understand how the
people who did, can recite
a camp song at a moment's notice.

from the age of 6
until the age of 18
i spent my summers
at camp.

some of those years,
i was working,
first as a waitress
(yes, we had waitresses at camp)
and then as a counselor.
most importantly,
the last 10 years were
spent all at the same camp,
making the collection of summers
a huge chunk of my childhood memories.

it was, thank goodness, a former
sleep-away camp that had been
converted into a day camp.
i don't think i was the kind of
kid who could have handled
eight weeks away from my own house.
but we had tennis teams and ceramics,
jewelry-making and nature,
two swims a day, s'mores,
talent shows, counselor shows,
ultimate frisbee and color war.
on good days we had ice cream sandwiches
or watermelon at snack time.
on bad days? ice pops. usually orange.
when it rained,
we went bowling or roller skating
or stayed in our bunks listening
to a group leader tell us
the same scary story year after year.
and when the last day of camp came,
preciously close to my birthday each year,
we sobbed.

because, above all else,
camp for us was about friends.
friends who lived just far enough
away, that we rarely saw each
other throughout the school year.
who we would send letters to -
when you are young, 20 to 30
minute distances might as
well be the other side of the country -
in efforts to keep in touch during
the winter. friends who somehow
felt like your best friends in
the world, who knew the most
about you, who knew
who kissed who
on the picnic tables
during free swim and knew
who always got the shaft
when the poor waitress
set a tray of nine pizzas down to
a table of 10 girls.

when we were 9, we made lanyards
and crossed our fingers that we would
all get our blue tags so that we
could swim and dive together
in the deepest end of the pool.
by 11, we hosted sleepovers,
trying to stay awake and succeeding,
thanks to the peanut butter cups, twizzlers
and store-bought chocolate chip cookies
we insisted our moms' bought.
at 15 we were waitresses.
we snuck frozen pb&j sandwiches,
from the walk-in every day before we left,
fought over boys
and at the end of the summer,
sang a song about camp
that a couple of girls had written
to the tune of sunshine day from the brady bunch
and hard-knock life from annie
in the counselor show.
and at 16, we planned nights to
have parties at each other's homes,
see tom petty, the cranberries
and once, montel jordan, in concert.
eight weeks at camp is
a year in the real world.

my last day of camp
was a thursday, one day before
the official last day of season.
and one day before i left for college.
non-camp people cannot understand
that. but 12 years later, i still am not ashamed.
pine grove played a big role in my life.
and gave me some of my closest friends.
lauren is from camp - we bonded at 10
after learning that we both had the same
pink towel that boasted ballet slippers
and our names, respectively, in embroidery.
and, my freshmen and sophomore year
college roommate was from camp.

by the end of college,
i had lost touch with almost
everyone, save for lauren.
a few years later, the two of us
got back in touch with one,
another lauren (there were actually
five of them altogether). and a year
after that, we decided to look up
and then find, our friend, alexis.
the first time we went out to dinner -
a group of four 25-year-olds,
not the group of 11-14 teenagers
we once were - i looked around the table
and saw us as 16. sure, now we had
college degrees, jobs, boyfriends (and,
for one, a husband), but it was obvious
that we fell right back into place,
in a way that you can only do with
certain people.

none of us live very close to the others,
but we've stayed in each other's lives
for the past five years: meeting for
dinner, going to each other's weddings
and most recently, alexis' baby shower in june.
alexis' daughter, riley was born in august,
and this past weekend
lauren and i finally met her.
i wanted to bring them something
nice, but let's face it,
i am not crafty.
so, i baked.

(but, um, lauren brought an adorable
onsie - why didn't that cross my mind?)

i turned to one of my favorite books
to rely on: alice medrich's pure dessert
i have many one-day-i-will-make recipes
mentally marked off in that book
and i was glad to finally bake the
brown sugar and pecan shortbread,
made from raw sugars.

even though i love baking,
when it comes to cookies,
i'm a huge fan of the bar variety.
you mix, press, pat and bake -
no dropping spoonfuls of dough
on cookie sheet after cookie sheet,
cooling the pans, rotating and
spending hours at the oven in
11 minute increments.

these cookies worked out for
me this time, but normally
they might have a step too
many to be considered
a simple bar cookie.
chopped pecans
you make the dough,
which couldn't be simpler:
melted butter
vanilla extract
muscovado sugar
press it into the foil-lined pan
and then wait several hours.
shortbread dough
i got this far and then realized
something: i had no desire to
be in my apartment any more.
larry had been away for work
for several days already and
suddenly, everything seemed
very quiet. so instead of
sucking it up and staying,
i piled
everything -
the pan filled with dough,
the cookbook,
extra pecans for pressing,
demerara sugar for sprinkling
two large knives for cutting,
and a tin for giving - into
a bag and headed to my mom's,
an hour away.

i was a sight,
showing up with
my large pocketbook,
camera bag,
overnight bag,
cookie bag
and no coat,
all for one evening.
and after a few tries,
i was able to explain
to my mom that yes,
i brought unbaked dough
to her house and yes, it
was going to sit on her
counter for a few hours
longer before i have to
bake them,
cut them into squares,
place them on a baking sheet
and bake again.
shortbread (baked once) with pecans and demera sugar
nothing about this recipe
was hard. at all. i even
cut something resembling
squares without
traumatizing myself.
but, this nutty shortbread
is not especially fast.

it is however bursting
with two types of
raw brown sugar,
toasted pecans,
a rich butteryness
and a slight crunch,
thanks to the second
bake in the oven.
and they're more than
worth it for an old friend.
especially one, that you used to
eat lorna doones with at snacktime,
something i remembered
as i pulled them out of the oven.
shortbread squares, ready for their second baking
i loved these cookies because, yes,
they'll crumble in your mouth,
but they survived a rainy trip to
staten island without breaking.
for me, they were the perfect thing
to bring to alexis and her family.
they ate them, one hand on the cookie,
the other on riley,
just as i hoped it would be.

(oh, and while i was busy baking,
my sister was at a wedding. one of
her camp friends was getting married.)
alexis and riley
brown sugar and pecan shortbread
adapted from alice medrich's pure dessert
the original recipe was to be baked in a 8" pan, but i used a 9" so i multiplied everything by one-quarter. i have no idea if that's the correct conversion, but it worked well for me. the other change i made was that i only had dark muscovado sugar and the store did not have any, so i used something called golden bakers, which when eaten out of hand reminded me a bit of dried pineapples. once baked in, it just tasted like a lovely, rich brown sugar. oh, and one last thing: this dough looked kind of funky and overly buttery when i first pressed it into the pan, but by the time i baked it, it looked much more normal, like a real dough.

15 tablespoons (1 stick, 7 tablespoons), unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/2 cup, plus 2 1/2 tablespoons firmly packed light muscovado or golden bakers sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
1 1/3ish teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups, plus 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
heaping 2/3 cup pecans, chopped
demerara, turbinado or granulated sugar for sprinkling (i used demera)

line bottom and sides of 9" baking pan with aluminum foil. in bowl, stir together melted butter, sugar, rum, vanilla extract and salt. add the flour and half the pecans; mix just until combined. transfer to prepared pan. pat in evenly. let stand 2 hours or overnight (no need to refrigerate).

position a rack in the lower third of the oven. heat oven to 300˚f.

sprinkle remaining pecans over the dough; gently press into surface. bake 45 minutes. remove pan from oven (leave the oven on). sprinkle the shortbread with demerara sugar. let cool 10 minutes.

using foil, carefully remove cookies from pan and transfer to cutting board, making sure not to break them. using a sharp, thin, long knife, cut into squares (i made 25). place pieces slightly apart on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. bake 15 minutes; let sit on pan 2 minutes.

using spatula, transfer to cooling rack; let cool completely. transfer to an airtight container.

*i'm not going to lie. in that picture of alexis and riley, she is actually opening lauren's gift. not eating a cookie.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

green shrimp and scallop posole

shrimp and scallop posole
you know those recipes that you
see, pull and stash for months
or even years, waiting for the
right night or occasion?
(we all know i've done that
once or, ok, many times.)

well, what happens if
before you get around to
making it, someone else unknowingly
makes it for you? and what happens
if that someone happens to be
your husband and it is more
delicious than you had imagined?

well, then you are lucky.
as lucky as i was wednesday night,
when i was asked to pick up
a can of hominy and then was
greeted by this show-stopping
mise en place
perfect mise en place.
i actually clapped with joy
at the sight -
vegetables, chopped
and separated into
i had to take a picture.
then, i did something that
i regret.

i left the room.
i had things to do and
clearly, he had everything
under control (see: picture).
i knew he was making a posole,
but that was it, information-wise.

i did not walk back in until
he was ladling the lovely-smelling
soup into bowls and sprinkling
them with freshly chopped cilantro.
i grabbed another picture.

i wish i had stayed in the kitchen
the whole time, taking pictures
and watching the meal
come to life, because
let me tell you:
the end result was unbelievable.

slightly spicy and briny,
thanks to the clam juice
and tomatillo salsa base,
textured with earthy hominy
and onions
and brimming with
shrimp and sea scallops.
one bite in, i realized two things:
this was the posole recipe i pulled
from bon appetit years ago and
this is probably my favorite thing
larry has ever made.

he's made good things before.
and great things, too.
but, this? this i would go back
to a restaurant for and order again
on the repeat visit.
next time,
i would just
take more pictures.
garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, onions
green shrimp and scallop posole
adapted from bon appetit magazine
larry followed the recipe very closely - he only modified two things. first, he used sun-dried tomatoes that were not packed in oil, they plumped up just the same once heated and simmered. (although, for me, the sun-dried tomatoes at all, are optional.) second, he reduced the scallops - which he cooked perfectly, i will add - to only 1/2 pound without adverse results. i've incorporated his changes, below.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (if i did this, i would probably just use all of a medium-to-large onion)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 cups (or more) bottled clam juice
1 can (15 ounces) white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 cup salsa verde (tomatillo salsa), medium or mild
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
1 pound uncooked large shrimp (they looked to me 18-22 count), peeled and deveined
1/2 pound large sea scallops, halved horizontally
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided (i think he may have used more)

in large deep skillet over medium-high heat, warm oil. add onion; cook 5 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally. add garlic and cook 30 seconds more, stirring constantly. add 3 cups clam juice, hominy, salsa verde, sun-dried tomatoes and lime peel to the skillet. bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes.

add shrimp, scallops and cilantro to the broth, adding more clam juice to thin, if necessary. simmer 3 minutes, or just until seafood is just opaque in the center. season with salt and pepper, if desired. divide amongst bowls; sprinkle with remaining chopped cilantro.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

roasted baby brussels sprouts with lemon and almonds

roasted baby brussels sprouts with lemon, garlic and almonds
i guess i can say that growing up,
my sisters and i were pretty lucky
when it came to vegetables.

none of us were especially picky
eaters. sure, one of us went through
a stage where nothing leafy and green
(read: parsley) could be on her food,
and for one, my mom had to lie and
say we were not eating brown rice
with dinner, but 'special rice' and maybe,
one of us decided for no real reason
to give up meat, chicken and turkey
at the age of twelve. and, yes, none
of us enjoyed indian food. but still,
we were relatively agreeable for kids,
not only willing, but excited to eat
calamari, lobster, clams and mussels,
avocados and pine nuts,
gefilte fish, chopped liver and lox.

maybe it was because we were
generally so willing to try things -
when it came to vegetables,
my mom let us be.
they were always on the table,
always offered to us,
and sometimes heavily encouraged,
but never insisted upon.

i remember eating dinner
at friend's houses, and later, babysitting,
for people, who would not let
their children leave the table until
every piece of
was consumed.
and i always felt for them.

i think my mom
(who please understand, still
had her demands, like making
us drink a glass of milk
with. every. single. meal.
regardless of whether it was
peanut butter & jelly or chicken or pizza
and instated a one-sweet-a-week rule)
wanted us to come to the vegetables
on our own, learn to love them
as she did, instead of looking
at them as something negative.

and we did.
it would be impossible
to enjoy
or appreciate

and, fortunately, in finding
my inner vegetable lover,
i found brussels sprouts.
it is an old story that
boiled sprouts gave these
green rounds their bad name,
but i'd rather focus on the already
old-news new story:
when roasted, sauteed, blanched,
slivered, separated and shaved
they are amazing.

my favorite way is,
of course roasted:
halved and tossed with
olive oil, then cooked at
a high heat until they
are browned
and slightly crisp
and almost sweet.
baby brussels sprouts bundle
when i found baby brussels sprouts
on sunday, so tiny that they
looked too cute not to buy
(yes, i am a sucker),
i brought them home.
this was not the time to thinly slice,
or pull apart into tiny leaves.
instead, i wanted to keep them whole,
roast them and enjoy them like popcorn
(on the side of a sensible meal, of course).
tiny brussels sprouts
once trimmed
(which oh goodness, reminds me:
there are a ton of brussels sprouts
in a 1 pound bag of minis -
this took a while),
tossed with olive oil
and sprinkled with salt,
i got to work toasting almonds
and garlic together, zesting
and juicing a lemon and waiting.
slivered almonds, toasting
i didn't have to wait long.
they were browned and sizzling
in 12 minutes. as soon as they came
out of the oven, i emptied the pan
into a bowl with everything else,
shook until it was combined
and, well, that was it.
this recipe is not winning
an award for longest,
trickiest or
most ingredients.

because they cook so fast
and are so small,
you're able to get a relatively
well-rounded brown,
which is great for me -
i like my veggies ultra dark.
extra caramelization =
extra delicious.
and that's what these were,
tiny temptations so good,
i think any kid would have
trouble resisting them.
bowl of brussels sprouts
roasted baby brussels sprouts with lemon and almonds
if these were missing anything, i think it may have been a sprinkling of grated parm, but we were eating them as a side dish for fish. next time, i would add the cheese. normally i'm pretty strict about my mise en place, but this was so no-frill that i was able to stick the brussels sprouts in the oven and have everything ready to toss by the time they came out. and, i know that it's odd to cook the garlic in a dry pan - i was actually skeptical when i decided to do it - but the process worked. they didn't get brown, they just softened enough to lose their strong bite and they cooked a bit more when tossed with the steaming hot sprouts.

1 pound baby brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1/4 cup slivered almonds
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 lemon, zested and halved

heat oven to 400˚f. place brussels sprouts on rimmed aluminum foil-lined baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil. sprinkle generously with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. bake 12 minutes, or until spotted with golden deep brown spots, shaking pan twice during cooking to rotate vegetables.

meanwhile, place almonds in small skillet. toast over medium-low heat until just starting to color. add garlic slivers and cook 1 or 2 minutes more, or until garlic is no longer raw and almonds are nicely browned, but not burnt.
place vegetables in bowl; add garlic-almond mixture. squeeze 1/2 lemon over brussels sprouts, catching seeds. add 1 teaspoon lemon zest. toss to combine. season with kosher salt and pepper. transfer to serving bowl. top with strips of lemon peel, if desired.