Monday, September 26, 2011

Gigi's giant cookie

We have a bit of a birthday tradition in my family, and of course, it involves chocolate.  Growing up, I always had a giant chocolate chip cookie for my birthdays and now my nieces do, too!  I made this cookie for Gianna's 2nd birthday and she was pretty excited about it (though she's equally excited by wearing shoes to bed and wearing necklaces like every day is Mardi Gras).  I thought I'd share the recipe we always use, partly so you can be a part of this family tradition of mine, and partly so I'll have it here to find anytime I have a hankering for a Texas-sized cookie.  It's wonderfully simple to make.

You'll need some of these little drops of joy (about a third of a package).  Notice my dog's longing "give me chocolate" look.  Fear not, as amazing as chocolate is, I won't poison my dog with it.  And a bit like Gigi, he's excited easily, and makes this same face while I'm trimming brussels sprouts.  No, he doesn't get a nibble of those either.

Here's the recipe.  You can see how well-loved it is.  It continues onto the back of the card as well, but I'll explain it all step-by-step-like here. I think our old neighbor Mrs. Whetten is responsible for this divine dessert.

You'll need about 1/2 cup of pecans.  Chop em up and toast them in a 300ºF/149ºC oven for ten minutes.  It's always a good idea to toast any nuts you're putting in something.  It brings out the natural oils and flavor and makes them nice and crunchy.  After you're done toasting the pecans, go ahead and preheat the oven to 375ºF/185ºC.

Take one stick of softened butter and put in your mixing bowl.

Add 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar (I used light, but I'm not sure it matters a great deal).  The only sugar in this cookie is brown sugar and it gives it a heavenly rich flavor and deep color.  Beat sugar and butter together for a few minutes until light and fluffy.

Then, add one room temperature egg...

...and one teaspoon of vanilla.  If I were Ina Garten I'd say "good" vanilla, but I don't live in the Hamptons, have an all-white kitchen or wear only black button up shirts. So I say use any old vanilla you have (and I'll let you know that I prefer Mexican vanilla).

In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour plus 2 tablespoons...

with 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda...

and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Salt's essential to baking.  You know, like chocolate.

Stir flour mixture into wet mixture in two batches.

Add in those fabulous chocolate chips and pecans.

Now it gets serious, y'all.  Is anyone else amused that the Crisco container is emblazoned with "No Trans Fat"?  I'm pretty sure no one is under the illusion that this tub of who-knows-what is healthy.  But sometimes, it is necessary.  You need to lightly coat your round cookie sheet/pizza pan with it.  Otherwise, that heavenly cookie will cling on for dear life and will only become cookie crumbles.

Put a little flour in the middle of your crisco-coated pan and (over the sink) gently knock the edges of the pan to get it evenly coated with flour.  Once coated, turn it over in the sink (floured side down) and give it a little tap to get rid of excess flour.

(It'll look like this.)

Put dough in the center of the pan and gently spread it almost to the edges of the pan.  This takes a little time (perhaps because I used the back of a spoon).  If you have one of those fancy skinny spatula dealies, that would probably make quicker work of it.

Bake for 15 minutes.  It will be golden brown when it's done (thank you, brown sugar!)

And here's mine all decorated for Gigi.  I ran out of icing, so it just says "Gigi 2."  I joked with my brother-in-law that I should've made it say "Gigi 2.0."

I think she liked it.  You can see more pictures of the festivities here.

Bon appetit!

Friday, September 16, 2011

one last taste of summer

Spring Pea Risotto with Poached Egg and Basil
Summertime is blissful: long lazy nights, dips in the ocean, guilt-free monstrous consumption of Blue Bell ice cream, air conditioning.  But don't tell summer, fall's my favorite season: cooler temperatures that make walks outside bearable, hearty food, cinnamon in my coffee, that scent in the air, curling up with a wee cuppa.  Before that autumnal elation begins, I thought I'd have one last hurrah to summer with this risotto.  I adore risotto (and once butternut squash starts appearing, you'll have my favorite risotto recipe).  Risotto tends to intimidate folks, but it's really not difficult.  And there's something cathartic about the process of making it, stirring it gently until it turns creamy and tossing in whatever strikes your fancy.  
Finely chop one onion and two cloves of garlic.  Risotto always begins with onion and garlic, sauteed in olive oil and butter (just 1 tablespoon) in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan.  As always, season the onions and garlic with a little s&p.

You can't make risotto with any old rice: you'll need Arborio rice.  You can find it in any grocery store.  It's Italian short-grained rice (because short things are wonderful).  Something about that growth-challenged grain becomes creamy and decadent when stirred with warm chicken stock.  You'll love it.  I used one cup of arborio rice: it makes four servings.

Take one carton (16 oz. I think) of chicken stock and heat in a deep saucepan until gently simmering.  You'll want it to keep simmering while making risotto, so it's nice and warm when you add it a bit at a time.  I recommend low-sodium so you can control how salty it is.

After cooking the onions and garlic for a few minutes, add the rice and cook on medium-low for a few minutes until the rice turns translucent.  At this point you can add 1/3 cup of white wine and let it reduce for a couple of minutes.  All I had was red wine, and though it would taste good, I didn't fancy pink risotto so I didn't add any.  

 Add chicken stock by the ladleful (or using a measuring cup like I did) and stir until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.

It'll look like this when it's ready for more stock.  Keep adding stock and stirring so it doesn't stick, until the rice is al dente and creamy, about 20 minutes.  I know this seems like a long time to stand by a pot stirring it, but in our non-stop society, a bit of a slowdown isn't a bad thing.  Risotto as counter-cultural act!  (Okay, perhaps not, but it's just delicious.)

Here's how it looks when it's done.  Now you get to add all sorts of wonderful things:

I added fresh basil,

frozen petite garden peas (note that taking a picture while pouring in peas leads to a proliferous pea situation, which I don't mind),

freshly grated parmesan, one tablespoon of butter and the zest of one lemon.  Stir together and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Now onto that delicate little poached egg to top your summery risotto.  Fill a deep pan with water, add a splash of vinegar and bring to a boil.

 Crack an egg into a cup (or that handy cup measure of mine)...

...and place it in the boiling water by quickly turning the cup measure over with a flick of your wrist.  The quick motion of the egg hitting the water will help the whites envelop the yolk and the vinegar (which you won't taste) will keep it from falling apart.  For a soft-poached egg, cook for 4 minutes.

 Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.

Top that resplendent risotto with the egg and a little cracked pepper.

Break open the yolk and enjoy a creamy, fresh taste of summer.  Fall's on its way!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Made a wee bit of banoffee, so I did!

If you're not from that lovely, brilliant, verdant place called Norn Iron (pronounced Northern Ireland by those of us not lucky enough to be from there), then you probably have no idea what the title of this post means.  

But this picture should give you (& your stomach) a healthy curiosity!  Banoffee is the sublime pairing of bananas and toffee, layered on a crunchy biscuit (graham cracker for us Americans) crust, topped with fluffy whipped cream and chocolate.  It's a very popular pudding (dessert for us Americans) that I was fortunate enough to have several times while living in Belfast.  And it's really very easy to make.   

Take one can of sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk) and peel the label off of it.  Resist the urge to open the can, grab a spoon and go to town...if you wait 'til later, it gets even better.  I promise.

Place the unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a large pan covered with water and boil gently for 2 hours.  I know it's a long time, but you could use that time to clean your closet.  Or watch back to back episodes of NCIS.  (I'll let you guess which I prefer.)  You do need to be sure that water is always covering the top of the can, though.

During a NCIS commercial break, ahem, I mean a break from cleaning your closet of course, you can make the simple graham cracker/biscuit crust.  Across the pond, they don't tend to bake theirs, but just let it chill well to firm up.  I like mine really crispy, so I bake it.  Preheat the oven to 350ºF/176ºC.  Take one sleeve of graham crackers (or one sleeve of biscuits I suppose)...

 ...break into pieces, put in a food processor...

 ...and pulse until finely ground.

Add 1 T of sugar. (Because clearly there's not enough sugar in this recipe.)

Melt about 5 T of butter in a microwave for 20 seconds or so and mix well into the crumbs.

I'm making mini banoffee pies, so I used a non-stick (mmm'll see later) muffin tin and used about 2T of the crumb mixture for each pie base.  I also used an old rubber wine cork to press the bottom and sides into place.  That is, of course, the only reason I happen to have wine corks around.

I made nine mini pies in total, but if you wanted to make one large one, just press the crumbs into a large pie tin.  Bake for 10 minutes, then let cool.

Has it been two hours yet?  Got that closet looking resplendent?  Time to check out that terrific toffee.  Take your pan of water and pour out the hot water and then let cold water flow over the toffee can to cool it down.  Open carefully, and you'll see that golden, sweet caramelized toffee.  (If you need to grab a spoon at this point, I won't judge.)

Take one large banana and put three slices of banana in each little pie crust.  (If making a large pie, just put one even layer of banana on the crust.)  I like to put the bananas down first because the toffee covers them completely and they don't turn brown.

Spoon that amazing toffee into each little pie.

I had a small amount of toffee left over...which of course I saved in the fridge to become phenomenal ice cream topping or fruit dip when I need it (and I imagine, at some point, I will!).  Put the little pies, still in the muffin tin, in the fridge and cool for 45 minutes to an hour.  The longer you chill it, the more they will stay together.

 Once they're chilled, whip some cream and add a bit of sugar (because again...not enough sugar going on.)

Use a butter knife to loosen the pies from the tin and ease them out.  No pretension here, folks.  This did not go so well for me.  But, as they say in Belfast, no worries, love.  (I just wondered why I didn't use paper muffin liners.  That would be a great idea.)  I added a generous dollop of whipped cream on top and topped that with shavings from a bonafide Cadbury bar from my mates Neil and Ruth who keep me well supplied with proper tea and chocolate.  I only add the whipped cream and chocolate right before I'm going to eat it, so any leftover pies (and no, I did not eat all 9 myself) can be put in the fridge without the cream and chocolate on them.

Gooey, decadent, sweet, crunchy, creamy.

Well moreish, so it was.