Monday, September 26, 2011

masala-laced carrot macaroons

baked spicy carrot meringues
i've probably told this story before,
but i can't find it anywhere on this blog,
so i'll just write about it and apologize
if you've heard this 3-second tale before.

it was senior year of college and i was
sitting in the living room of my college apartment,
talking about how i'm always looking for something
that's different, something that you don't see
coming and going, just something. (to be honest,
i remember that part, but i have no idea what i
was talking about.) my friend turned to me and said,
brooke, sometimes there's nothing wrong
with a plain potato chip. (note: i know we weren't
talking about food.)

i know what he was saying.
sometimes life is not about being different.
sometimes it's about the familiar.
it's about the classics.

the thing is, i never want a plain potato chip.
it's plain. i've seen it before. it offers me very little.
i always want the chip that's coated with

and so when i buy a cookbook,
i want one that offers me something new.
yes, i want to one day make
chocolate chip cookies
brownies that are classic,
but so good that my kids constantly wish
they're eating mine when snacking on someone
else's (am i nuts? yes.).
but, for now, i want the crazy. i want the recipes
that make me look at food and ingredients
differently, while resulting in desserts that are
surprising and unforgettable
(they should taste good, too).

this, it should be noted, is my philosophy
when finding a restaurant, too, which is why
it takes so long for us to find a place to
eat dinner and why it takes me hours
to research places to eat while on vacation.

surprisingly, when i decided to take home
alice medrich's newish book,
it was for both reasons:
this book is full of the classics
and it offers really interesting twists
on recognizable recipes.
almonds, carrots, eggs, garam masala, coconut
still, the first one that i decided i had to make,
spicy carrot masala meringues, fell into the second
category. they looked pretty simple, but
provided several things that i love:
carrots (reminiscent of my favorite cake, carrot),
garam masala (a new love)
and shredded coconut.
beaten egg white, sugar, garam masala
carrots, coconut, ground almonds
i think - if you are glancing quickly and in a rush -
you might look past this recipe.
it involves grinding almonds,
shredding carrots,
giving the recipe 10 minutes to hydrate,
stirring while set in simmering water,
and ultimately, baking.
but, thanks to my food processor and
a decent mise en place,
i think it took me less than 30 minutes
to get these cookies in the oven.
stirred together
not yet baked
and, then, i let them be,
worrying about the next thing that
i was making, when really, i should
have focused on making sure these
teeny bundles didn't burn their
bottoms in the oven.

so of course, they got a little too
dark underneath. and i got a little
angry. but then i calmed down and
tried one. and here's what i learned
from these cookies:

1) the carrots really taste like carrots.
while that might sound like a charlie
and the chocolate factory rip off,
i was really surprised to find that i could
taste the strands of carrots in a very different
way than you can when the veggies are
baked into a cake. i'm not a huge carrot lover,
so my first bite worried me, but i persevered.

2) you really can taste the garam masala.
i - someone who wants to jam pack everything
she eats with spice and flavor - worried that
1 teaspoon wouldn't be enough to make an
impression, but i was wrong. the spice comes
after and lingers, slightly spicy, cinnamon-laced
and faintly indian-influenced. (i would say the spice
was most pronounced on the second day and decreased
in intensity on each day forward.)

3) they were a little bit sticky, which is something
i'm not crazy about. i did find that the ones that were
closer to burnt on the bottoms were slightly less
sticky, which made me think that my oven might
need to be adjusted. but, i digress.

4) my family, when offered slightly weird cookies -
with carrots and indian spices woven throughout -
at the same time as brownies, will eat an equal
amount of both. and, i'm pretty sure that at least
some of them, if given a choice,
would reach for a plain potato chip.
garam masala meringues
masala-laced carrot macaroons
adapted from chewy gooey crispy crunchy by alice medrich
this is how i tackled the recipe: i ground the almonds in the food processor, then transferred them to a bowl. next, i used the shredder attachment on the food processor to shred the carrots into the bowl, which i did not bother wiping clean of almonds, since they were ultimately going into the same bowl anyway. the only thing i struggled with with these cookies was how long i really needed to stir the mixture over boiling water. the recipe said 5-7 minutes, or until the mixture had thickened slightly. i went for the full 7 and the mixture did seem thicker, but when it came time to scoop them into the cookie sheet, the ingredients did not hold together, instead, functioning like separates, coated in something wet. i placed the bowl back over the simmering water and stirred until the mixture was scoopable and was able to form something closer to a batter that kept its shape.

ok, i will tell you this. i read this recipe about 10 times before and while making it. and just now, when i went to type it out, i realized it says, "set the bowl directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water." that's not what i did. instead, i read "set the bowl directly in" as "place the bowl over a double boiler." most likely, that was where i went wrong. below, i'll write as intended.

also, the recipe called for (a generous 1/4 teaspoon of) lemon zest, but i'm never crazy about lemon in baked goods - save for lemon bars - so i omitted it.

3/4 cup whole almonds
2-3 carrots, peeled
2 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon garam masala (alice also offers that you could use cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened dried coconut

position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. heat oven to 325˚f.

in food processor, pulse almonds 10 times, or until chopped (you're looking for almonds that are both large chopped and finely chopped). set aside.

on box grater or using shredder attachment on your food processor, grate carrots. measure 1 1/3 cups lightly packed carrot (reserve remaining for another use).

in medium stainless steel bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy. stir in sugar, garam masala and salt. stir in carrots, coconut and almonds. set aside 10 minutes, to hydrate the mixture.

bring a large wide skillet of water to a very low simmer; place bowl in skillet. cook 5-7 minutes, or until the mixture is very hot and the liquid turns from opaque to translucent, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom.

use 1 heaping teaspoon measure to drop cookies on two parchment-lined baking sheets. bake 20-25 minutes, or until the cookies are deep golden on the bottom (check by turning up the corner of the parchment paper), rotating the pans top to bottom and left to right midway through baking.

place pans on cooling racks and cool completely. remove from parchment paper and store cookies, loosely covered, 3-4 days.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

green smoothie

green smoothie
while we all hold on
(for dear life, sometimes)
to who we are,
i think it's fair to say we become products
of our environment. for me, that means a lot
of things - like lately, my (slight)
obsession with green smoothies.

i had never heard of green smoothies -
much less imagined myself drinking, craving
and researching twists on them - before about
a year and a half ago. one of my coworkers brought
in a smoothie everyday, filled with lots of visible
kale. other people started drinking them. a lot
of people started talking about them. and i kept
thinking, one day, i'll get up the nerve to make one.

i kept it in my head for over a year.
people still drank them, but they didn't talk about
them quite as much. then, in april, i switched jobs
and boom: green smoothies. in my face. all the time.
again. ok, i will make them.
but, i didn't.

until one day, in the middle of may,
i realized that i had almost all of the ingredients
in the house for this one, the smoothie i'm
most commonly faced with. i prepped everything
the night before - i chopped kale, measured spinach,
diced strawberries and sliced dates, even sprinkling
some flax seed in for good measure. the next morning,
i blended the whole thing with a ripe banana and
coconut water, the only acceptable beverage in the house,
and blended. the results were faintly flecked, but overall,
smooth. the mixture, like everyone said,
tasted like bananas. it was pretty good.

for the next few weeks, we set up shop every night.
after dinner, larry would try to clean the kitchen,
and i, as i am apt to do -
stemming kale, hulling strawberries - would
recreate a mess next to him.
the next morning, when larry got up for work,
he would pour a couple cups of coconut milk
(which we found we liked better than the coconut
water when not using a crazy ripe banana) into
the container, add a banana and blend for 2 minutes
before dividing amongst our shiny new smoothie cups.
(mine's the orange!)
his would leave with him. mine would go in the fridge,
ready and waiting for me to fly downstairs, always one
minute later than my 7:20 deadline, and grab it out
of the fridge. it was great - i loved my breakfast,
i felt good about my breakfast and larry was into it, too.

but, then, as i am also apt to do, i got bored.
i wanted to try new things.
so i played around - trying almond milk,
blueberries, mixed berries, no kale, no spinach,
adding ice cubes and more.
i learned this: mixed berries have never been my thing.
but, also, this: i love green smoothies. love 'em.

there aren't many i haven't liked.
but, there's one that has stood out as my favorite.
the one that i wish i could drink every day.
but, i don't because, for many reasons,
it's more of a special
occasion green smoothie.
i can't believe i just wrote that.
apple, cubed
this one
doesn't have kale or bananas.
it sometimes uses dates, sometimes agave.
when they're in the house, i add blueberries.
lately, i've been tossing in cubes of melon.
here's what it always features:
baby spinach
an apple or a pear
a couple splashes of almond milk
ice cubes
and a generous half of an avocado.
melon, spinach
i haven't been able to decide if i like
apples better than pears. i'm sad that i
discovered the delicious addition of melon
so close to the end of melon season. i'm
very happy that i realized i only need a small
amount of almond milk - just enough to blend
the mess into a cohesive frosty drink - to make
me happy. but, i've made one decision, that i haven't
wavered from since beginning.

i don't measure.
i can't.
early in the morning,
when i need to leave for work and i've
sacrificed my hair time for smoothie time,
the last thing i want to deal with
are measuring cups. honestly,
it annoys me that i have to deal with
a knife and a cutting board. and, by now, i've
gotten pretty good at making a smoothie
that tastes pretty much the same every day.
almond milk, spinach, apple, melon, avocado, ice
so, here's what i do. approximately.
i start by placing a huge handful of
baby spinach in the container.
this fills up about half the blender.
then, i large chop an unpeeled apple* or pear,
using all of a small piece of fruit,
or three-quarters of a large piece.
that goes into the blender, too,
pressing down on the spinach.
then, i add about ten cubes of melon,
or a small handful of blueberries.
i spoon in a generous half of ripe avocado**
(and, by this i mean, that when i "halve" the fruit,
i make sure to cut a bigger section for the smoothie)
then, i drizzle in a squeeze or two of agave
(or three chopped pitted dates).
i add two or three splashes of almond milk,
just enough so that i can see about 1/3-inch
of milk on the bottom of the blender.
and, then, before setting the blender to puree,
i top everything with two small
handfuls of large ice cubes.

usually it takes a good 20-30 seconds for
the mixture to start blending. if things don't start
to take shape at that point, i turn the blender off and shake
the container a couple times. if that still doesn't
help everything mix together, i add a little bit
more almond milk. and once everything is combining,
i let the blender run for at least a minute or two, or until
everything is cohesive and smooth.
on the rare days that i've gotten it together
to make my smoothie before i start getting ready,
i've learned that, surprisingly, this mixture
keeps - covered and in the fridge - for at least
a couple hours.

and that's it.
it's green.
it's satisfying.
it makes people ask questions.
(what are you drinking? why are you drinking that?
spinach? avocado? did you lose a bet?)
but, mostly. it makes me immensely happy.***

*you may notice that the apple i used on the day i took pictures was a granny smith. they looked really shiny and beautiful in the store, but i don't recommend using them. they make the smoothies more tart that i like and it would take quite a bit of sweetener to balance it all out.

**don't get me wrong. a fair half of an avocado makes a really good smoothie. but, using a little more than half ensures that the entire thing tastes faintly of avocado. and in my opinion, what's the point of using a good, but expensive and fatty fruit if you're not going to be able to taste it?

***on friday, i made three smoothies - one for me and one for each of my sisters - as a road trip "treat" to drink on the way to our grandmother's house. they drank theirs, but i'm not sure they'd be able to say that these smoothies made them immensely happy. one of my sisters said it took her three sips to realize she liked it, but she came around. i do think they'd say they like them just fine.