Fig & Walnut Biscotti

I didn’t know she’d died. But then again, I did. I just hadn’t remembered until I began researching the creator of these delicious biscotti. Gina DePalma, a James Beard Award-winning Pastry Chef at Babbo in New York City (Chef Mario Battali’s place) and cookbook author, died of ovarian cancer at 49–a year ago this past December. These are hers.

I recently found her on the Smitten Kitchen website and only then had I remembered reading a touching tribute about her on Adam Roberts’ food blog a year ago.  He had written about the lentil soup with sausage and swiss chard she made for him–the same soup her mother made for her while she was recovering post-surgery. More on this soup in an upcoming post–because I can’t stop thinking about it and as soon as the current snowfall subsides, will be on my way to the market for the ingredients.

But back to these biscotti…they are made for dunking in your mid-afternoon cup of tea or coffee. Crunchy from the walnuts, soft and chewy because of those sweet dried figs, this traditional Tuscan dolce carries in every bite the essence of winter flavors: orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. They’ll last in an airtight container for two weeks, however I truly believe they’ll be enjoyed long before that.

I’m sorry Ms. DePalma is gone. I would’ve liked to have written her. To tell her that she’s inspired me to remain true to my heart which says to always keep desserts simple and to allow the flavor of whole ingredients to come through–without getting all fussy about it. We know this to be true for cooking, but yes, it should be true for baking as well.

She says, You might look at one of my plates and think, ‘Wow, she really just slaps it on there.’  But when there isn’t all that busyness to distract the eye, the beauty of the actual food itself has to shine through.

and…I feel very strongly and quite personally that desserts should not be an object of whimsy or nonsense.

*Both quotes are from her obituary in The New York Times.

And now, Ms. DePalma’s Fig & Walnut Biscotti (Makes approximately 24 biscotti, although I didn’t count before eating them and giving some away; also, I followed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as author, Deb Perelman, cut the recipe in half and that was enough for me.)

  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 1 cup dried Black Mission figs, quartered (original recipe calls for Turkish or Calimyrna figs–for a guide to figs, check out Martha Stewart’s website)
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1/2 a large orange
  • 1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with a fork to a froth

Take out the butter to soften. First grate the nutmeg and set aside (that way your microplane will be easy to wipe clean before zesting the orange). On a baking pan (the same one you’ll use to bake the biscotti) toast walnut pieces until fragrant–about 5-7 minutes. In the meantime, quarter the figs. When the walnuts are completely cooled (I removed them from the pan and placed them on a dish to speed up the wait time) finely chop them in a food processor along with the figs (if you put the walnuts in first, it may help the figs not stick to the bottom and the blade).

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, first beat the butter for 30 seconds or so, then add the sugars until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, beat the eggs gently with a fork and add to the butter and sugar mixture one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated.  Scrape down the sides, then beat in the vanilla and orange zest.

In a medium bowl, gently whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. In three parts, add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture beating each time until just combined. Take the bowl off the mixer and stir in the walnuts and figs by hand, again until just combined.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator until firm–2 hours or overnight.

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 325° and lightly butter a baking sheet. Sprinkle flour onto your kitchen table or other work space and using your palms roll the piece of dough gently back and forth until it becomes a log slightly shorter than the length of your pan (it will expand as it bakes in the oven). Place the log on the baking sheet.

Brush with the frothy egg white and sprinkle generously with sugar (I used about 2 tablespoons). Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.

Allow the log to cool on the cookie sheet until cool to the touch, about 40 minutes. Here’s the tricky part, carefully, using two spatulas, move the log to a cutting board. Mine broke in half, which really wasn’t a problem. Using a serrated knife, slice into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheet in a single layer; return biscotti to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes until toasted and crisp. Centers will continue to be soft.

 

 

Advertisements

Peanut Butter Cookies-The Sugar Season Has Begun

 

I have many random things to tell you and somehow my meandering thoughts have to lead you to this amazing peanut butter cookie recipe.  Where to begin…well for one, I’ve been reading so many tips and strategies for making this blog kick ass.  Reading, reading, snore, reading some advice, like “allow your readers to enter into your life…make them feel as if they know you…maybe share a little more…”  The take-away, tell your story–throw your family and friends under the bus in your writing.

“What is your niche? Define your niche.  Now define your niche even more.   Good, now shrink it down even more…”

“Post more frequently, include stellar photos, comment on other blogs.  Before hitting ‘publish’ ask yourself if your readers will answer ‘Yes!’ to the following: Is this post relevant to me?  Is this valuable to me?  Can I trust this?”

It’s a lot to think about, too much to analyze and leaves me with the question, What if my blog is average?  Could I be happy with that?  Fuck NO! Can I swear on my own blog?  I don’t even know!

My husband and three kids are my world and they are the reason for this blog.  Those of you who have been with me since my first post (April, 2012) know that I am living with four really picky and unreasonable eaters (my middle son, of whom from this day forth shall be known to all as “Fritz,” is open to new recipes and unfamiliar flavors with the exception of bananas and Indian food–he won’t even try it…yet).

IMG_6943

My oldest son, my teenager–we’ll call him “Augie,”  won’t try a single new food.  But wait!  A few months ago, he tried, for the first time, brisket!  Of all things!  And, it was at a friend’s house.  Did you hear my voice get low and deep with indignation just now?!

Like all good mothers, I blame myself.  He was my first and everything I fed him was organic and sterilized and didn’t contain any GMOs or pesticides or high-fructose corn syrup.  I didn’t allow him to put Heinz ketchup on his mini grass-fed burgers that I shaped using only my thumb and index finger.

The girl.  The baby of the family.  The one I’ve renamed for this blog, Harriet.  I believe I still have a chance with this one.  “What’s that smell?”she’ll ask in a way that makes me think my turkey meatloaf baking in the oven isn’t triggering her gag reflex.  Will she taste it though? Nope.  She’ll stick to her bowl of plain pasta (no butter, no sauce, no cheese, everything that says I love you, Harriet she denies night after night).

Some of you know him.  Some of you love him, despite knowing him.  He’s the Hubbas.  And sometimes he can be a giant pain in the kid when it comes to trying new foods.  We’ve been together for twenty-three years now and you know, he really had me duped in those first years–taking me on dates to schwanky restaurants in NYC, telling me things like, “I’ve tried alligator.”  Blah. Whatever.  Now I say things like, Why won’t you try this hummus I made for Pete’s sake?!  Honestly, he’ll try pigeon and a gray spoonful of rabbit pate at a fancy restaurant on the rare occasion that we dine to that fancy extent, but he’ll sit there at our kitchen table and pick out every little teensy tiny piece of onion or garlic or tomato from my tomato sauce.

IMG_6934

Of course, he has good qualities.  We’ve been married for sixteen years and I haven’t been in a coma for any of them. He’s crazy.  He thinks I need prescription drugs or at the very least, a therapist, and yet, this is our glue.  Together we make a pretty great life for us and for our kids.  I told him the other day, “You know, I appreciate that every day you keep showing up…just wanted you to know that I notice these things.”  We are a dysfunctional combo at times, but after all these years, we keep showing up every day.  So we’ve got that.

I’m letting loose, dear readers.  You want some pretty great recipes?  You will have them.  I will do all the research for you, I will blow things up in my kitchen so you don’t have to.  But I promise you, it will come with a tale or two of chaos.

How can I get to that peanut butter cookie recipe from here?  I know!  Sometimes, just before dinner is ready, pots are bubbling on the stove, the table is set, the Hubbas will eat a spoon of peanut butter from the jar which says to me, “Maybe I shouldn’t eat what you’re making for dinner on an empty stomach.”  Hmph!

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate

I gleaned this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, of which Deb, the author based on NYC’s Magnolia Bakery.  Not only does this recipe have peanut butter in it but it also has those addictive peanut butter chips.  Double peanut and if that’s not crazy enough, there are chocolate chips as well.  And, if you happen to have any peanut butter cups leftover from Halloween (I know, who am I kidding?) chop up a handful and toss them in.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup peanut butter (commercial brand only–no natural, organic…)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter chips
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I chopped bittersweet chocolate–Ghirardelli 60 % instead of using chips for more even distribution)
  • For sprinkling: 1 tablespoon sugar, regular or superfine

Preheat the oven to 350 °

In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Grab another large bowl into which you will beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy.  Add the sugars and beat until smooth.  Add the egg and make sure it’s mixed in well.  Add the milk and the vanilla extract.  Then the flour mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, and with a wooden spoon stir in the peanut butter chips and the chocolate chips/pieces.

Place the tablespoon of sugar on a dinner plate, then using an ice cream scoop, drop rounded spoonfuls of cookie dough onto the plate of sugar.  Roll them around and space apart by several inches onto an ungreased (parchment-lined is even better) cookie sheet.  Using a fork or the back of an offset spatula and gently press down.  Do not smush the cookies.  We don’t want pancakes.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Do not over bake.  In my opinion, a slightly, chewy, under baked cookie is way better than a dry, over done one.

Smitten Kitchen offers, “Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.”

Cool on the sheets for 1 minute, then move the cookies over to a cooling rack and watch them be devoured by your family (and you) before they have cooled completely.

** I doubled the recipe.  Then dropped ice-cream-scoop-size portions onto a cookie sheet.  Froze them like that, uncovered, then placed them in a Zip-loc baggie.  I can now bake a couple at a time any time I want.  Baking time will take longer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Girl’s Gotta Have a Theme Song & A Great Recipe for Pie Crust

 

I’ve been baking pies since the nineties, as well as sweating over making my own pie crust.  But I am here today to tell you how silly it is to fear something that is so simple to make.  I’m writing this post not just for you, but for me as well.  Because even though I finally feel like I can do it — make my own darn good pie crust, I’m telling you, that the very next time I decide to bake a pie, I’m going to sweat a little.

What is it that has so many home bakers so nervous?   I can’t tell you how often I hear, especially at this time of year, “I can’t make pie crust.”  You can.  And so can I, make really great pie crust that’s flaky and tasty.  Now let’s get on with our flaky, tasty bad selves and get over our pie crust making fears once and for all!

Let’s begin with vodka and the genius’ behind the Cooks’ Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough that appeared in the November 2007 issue.  Now, full disclosure here…I never actually saw this issue, but I did hear about it around the foodie water cooler.

It seems that a little vodka added when mixing the pie crust will boost the crust’s flakiness, and that good pie crust can really use the extra liquid when bringing the dough together.  Unlike water, however, vodka will evaporate when baking, leaving behind a very tender and flaky crust.  Important Note!! Remember that even though the finished baked pie crust will have no trace of alcohol in it, the raw crust is very boozy.  Keep this in mind if your kids, like mine, like to take a nibble at the pie dough scraps left behind on the table.

I’ve got to credit Smitten Kitchen  http://smittenkitchen.com/ again for this one.  I found the Cooks Illustrated recipe on her site, because, much to my disappointment you cannot get recipes off the Cooks Illustrated website unless you pay for an online subscription, which, by the way, doesn’t just come along with the magazine subscription, of which I pay for and look forward to finding in my mailbox every month.  I’m just saying I think it’s a disservice to home bakers, but we do have our ways of getting the recipes we need.

Time to break this down.  This pie crust recipe has only seven ingredients, one of which is water.  Easy right?  And you probably have all of these in your kitchen right now: all-purpose flour, salt, sugar, unsalted butter, vegetable shortening, vodka (Go, check your freezer.  I’m sure it’s still there from that last party you threw.  I’ll wait….).

A food processor is great, if you have one, but an even better appliance to have that will make this pie crust the best ever and make you a culinary sorceress among friends?  A refrigerator/freezer!  We’ve all got one.  See that!

And away we go!

Foolproof Pie Dough — Cooks Illustrated, November 2007 as it appears on http://smittenkitchen.com/.

Makes enough for a one 9-inch double-crust pie

  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (I keep mine in the freezer and use it straight from there.), cut into small bits
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup water ( I took my water from my Brita and kept it in the measuring cup in the fridge until I needed it.)

First, slice the butter and cut up the shortening into small bits, then put it all back in the fridge until you need it.  Mix the flour salt and sugar in a large bowl until combined.

Add butter and shortening and blend using a hand-held pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.

IMG_4442

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture.  With a rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.  Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

To freeze: Triple wrap each disk and place in the freezer.

You have just made pie crust!  All your ingredients were icy-cold and you barely touched it at all with your warm hands.  It is going to be great.

IMG_4445

So, let’s get rolling!  Take only one disk out of the fridge at a time.  The best method I’ve learned and the one that works well for me is rolling each disk out between two sheets of clear wrap.  If your clear wrap isn’t wide enough, you might want to overlap two sheets on the bottom as well as two sheets on the top.  Give your dough a couple of good whacks with your rolling pin then begin to roll back and forth a couple of times to get it going.  Then, and this is from Julia Child, lay your pin about 1/4 way from the bottom of the dough and roll up, stopping about an inch from the top, give your dough a 1/4 turn clockwise and repeat with one smooth motion toward the top.  Repeat, always a 1/4 turn and always clockwise until you have a pretty nice looking circle about 12 inches in diameter.

Gently peel back and remove the top piece of plastic wrap.  Begin to roll it up onto your pin while removing the bottom piece of plastic wrap.  Gently, unwind it from your pin laying it down into your pie plate.  Carefully lift up the edges of the pie crust while lightly pressing the crust down into the bottom edges of the pan.  Easy does it.

Now back into the refrigerator until you’re ready to fill it with something delicious.  Repeat for the top crust.  Don’t forget to vent.  I used a small leaf-shaped cookie cutter to let the steam out of this apple pie.

IMG_4447

IMG_4451

Voilà!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Banana Bread — A Spoon and Some Bourbon

IMG_4440

Oh Friends, I am writing to you in a state of pure olfactory pleasure — as my kitchen still carries the scent of perfectly baked banana bread from one heck of a winner of a recipe.  Thank you!  Thank you!, Deb Perelman of the absolutely delightful website titled: Smitten Kitchen and author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

The recipe I gleaned from Perelman’s site did not disappoint.  The banana bread was moist, tender — not heavy at all, nor overly sweet and most deliciously seasoned with the spices of autumn — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves.  Ohhhhhhh yummmmm.

Banana bread is one of those desserts? breakfast treats? quick breads?  all of the above, Darlings, that we’ve all grown up with, right?  Who has not taken a bite of banana bread, better yet, who hasn’t smelled it baking?  It’s warm, it’s comforting, it is forgiveness itself when one, let’s say, has a rough morning getting the little beasts to school.  Please interpret “beasts” as my beautiful children, of whom I adore.  I do.  I adore them.

But this morning, I’m not gonna lie.  It just wasn’t perfect.  It was pretty much ugly and awful.  The kind of send-off that deserves some kind of recovery, some rehabilitation, gentle reflection — all in the form of baking banana bread in the aftermath of the tornado that was this morning’s drama-filled preparation for an otherwise ordinary school day.  Yes, banana bread was the drink (alas, no, I could not find any bourbon in the house, so this time, this. Time. I left it out.), it was the Valium, it was the long run for some.  Baking this little something sweet was how I worked it all out.  It quite literally calmed my nerves while keeping my mind focused and my hands busy.

Ahhhh…..banana bread, which now that I think about it, begins by taking a few ugly, over-ripened bananas that seem to deserve no better than a dip in the garbage can.  And yet, even in all their brown-spottiness, these bananas when mixed with some butter, some sugar, flour and spices bloom into something of joy and peace.  Something deliciously soothing.

IMG_4436

So, if you’re not as of yet acquainted with Ms. Perelman, I urge you to go, now, and take a little stroll through the lively streets of her website.  This woman, out of her tiny Manhattan apartment, works on recipes from reputable sources such as Cooks Illustrated.  Perelman then gives you her version of which recipe works best as tweaked by her, our culinary curious friend.  She pretty much does all the work for us — takes away the guess-work as to whether or not the glossy recipe sitting in front of us will really work in our humble home kitchen.

Oooh, I think I’m going to change this blog’s byline to: With Love From Your Curiously Culinary Friend or Dame.  I like the word, Dame… from my humble home kitchen to yours.

Here’s the recipe that worked very well for me as of this very morning:

Jacked-Up Banana Bread as it appears on the website: http://smittenkitchen.com/

  • 3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup (75 grams) melted salted butter
  • 3/4 to 1 cup (145 to 190 grams) light brown sugar (I agree with Perelman and used the lesser amount.  I also packed the sugar, but next time, for kicks I’ll weigh it out and see what the difference is.)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) bourbon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon (3 grams) cinnamon
  • Up to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg ( I grated a fresh one, I’m sure ground is fine.)
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups (190 grams) flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.  Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices.  Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in.  Add the flour last, mix.  Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan ( I used two mini loaf pans instead).  Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool on a rack.  Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Note:  It took just 35 minutes in my oven to bake the two mini loaves.  After 20 minutes my home smelled divine.  Stay around as your banana bread bakes, check after 30 minutes by inserting a toothpick in the center.  If it comes out clean, it’s done.  Be careful that you don’t get a false, too moist reading by spearing a banana.  Use your nose to guide you.  When it smells like banana bread baking in your kitchen, it’s soon to be done.

Voilà!

mashed bananas mixed with melted butter
mashed bananas mixed with melted butter

 

weighing ingredients rather than measuring is a game changer
weighing ingredients rather than measuring is a game changer

“You carry all the ingredients to turn your existence into joy.  Mix them, Mix them!” — from Hafiz, To Build a Swing