Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Everyone can recognize a sugar cookie -- paler than a snickerdoodle and usually sparkling with some colored sugar or decorated with frosting. Most of us have been eating the storebought kind since we were kids; I was having a craving but given my aversion to shortening and lord knows what else they put in those things I decided to give rolled sugar cookies a try for myself.

I was out of waxed paper, so I just used plastic wrap and I don't think it made too much of a difference. The waxed paper is surely easier to handle though, so I recommend that. Not paying attention to the proportions, this recipe made a LOT of cookies. I wound up having to take the majority of them to my classes to share; the plus side is that I got a lot of feedback, and all of it was great. People really like these cute little cookies.

You can decorate these any way you want, I just used colored sugar. For something like sugar or sprinkles you brush a bit of water over the cookie and sprinkle it before you put them in the oven. For frosting, wait until they've cooked and cooled to decorate.


3 sticks salted butter (1.5c)
2c vanilla sugar
5c bread flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
colored sugar for decorating

Whip the butter and sugar together, once it's creamy add the vanilla and eggs. This recipe is so large that you'll want to add the dry ingredients gradually, otherwise it will be impossible to mix (and a total mess if you're using a countertop mixer!) Once the dough is blended, spoon it onto a piece of waxed paper and roll to about "3-"4 in diameter. Freeze for around an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and cut the cookies into 1/2 inch rounds with a sharp knife. Bake for 6-10 minutes. My oven is notoriously slow, but for these the time on the original recipe was correct so don't overbake! If the bottoms of the cookies are getting brown, they're done. The bottoms will remain pale after they're fully cooked...just trust me on this one :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rasta's Famous Cookies

After some unexpected praise for my "magic cookies" from my sisters at Allure, I figured posting the recipe would be the ONLY fair way to compensate :) Truthfully, most cookie recipes do follow a certain formula so the differences tend to lie in how the batter is prepared. If you like chewier cookies, try using bread flour and refridgerating the dough for about an hour before you spoon it out and bake it. If you like thinner, crispier cookies, you can use cake flour and melted butter. I really could go on and on about the mechanical differences between cookie recipes...point is, every batch can be a little bit different even with the exact same ingredients. This is a great basic recipe with a can't-go-wrong twist (chocolate toffee) so feel free to experiment. I've added dried cherries to this recipe, macadamia nuts, even cocoa powder. The toffee ones seem to be the favorites of all these.

One last note -- I've started using salted butter in my baking mainly because of its versatility and the fact that it tends to last a bit longer. It's an economic decision but if you prefer to use unsalted butter, about a teaspoon of kosher salt will do the trick for this recipe. Whatever you do, don't add salt AND salted butter! It only took me one try for that lesson to hit home ;)


2 1/4c flour
2 sticks (one cup) salted butter
3/4c granulated white sugar
3/4c light brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
12 oz milk chocolate chips
1c toffee bits

Preheat the oven to 375. Combine your butter and sugars until uniform and creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix well. Add your dry ingredients and once those are mixed in, add the chocolate chips and toffee. Spoon onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven.

Pomegranate Flan

I've already extolled on my love of pomegranates; now it's time to wax about the wonders of flan. It's a traditional custard dish like creme brulee, except in the Spanish version there's a layer of liquid caramel instead of a caramel crust. It's one of those dishes that seems like it should be difficult to prepare, but I actually only spent around 20 minutes assembling the ingredients. The only special thing you would want to buy would be pomegranate juice, aside from that all ingredients should be found in any basically stocked kitchen.

There's a little trick I like to use with my sugar, and this seems the appropriate time to share it. I got the idea from Alton Brown, bless him. I had some sealed madagascar vanilla beans chillin' around my kitchen for several months; I wasn't quite sure what I could do with them, but I do appreciate the smell. If you keep your sugar in an airtight container (which I think everyone should do) you can add the beans and voila -- within 48 hours, you will have vanilla sugar. It doesn't make a huge difference in the taste of any dish I've made but it smells lovely and can't hurt :)

Back to the flan. The original recipe, from the POM website, lists several unitaskers in its instructions and seems to make the process more complicated than it actually is. So I'm going ahead and posting my method with a few notes from the original recipe.

Pomegranate syrup:

1c pomegranate juice
3/4c sugar

Put these in a saucepan over medium heat and simmer for around 20 minutes, or until you're left with about 2/3c of syrup. Set aside for later.

4 eggs
2 1/4c whole milk
1/2c sugar
2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 325, and place a large cake pan with about an inch of water in to preheat as well. I used a cupcake pan for my flans, so make sure that the pan can fit into the water-holding one. You want the water to be very hot when the flans go in the oven.

Whisk the eggs together and add your additional ingredients. Scoop the flan liquid into the cups, about 2/3 full. Very carefully place the cupcake pan in the water-holding pan; this lets a more gentle, even heat cook the bottom of the flans similar to a double boiler method.

The original recipe dictates 30-35 minutes of cooking time; mine took well over an hour. They're done when you insert a knife near the center and it emerges clean. Fortunately this isn't a dish you have to worry about "falling", so check frequently if your oven is as slow as mine!

Once the flans are done, remove them and let them cool for at least half an hour before putting them in the fridge. Refridgerate for 3 hours. I cheated, and I only chilled mine for an hour because I had to see how they tasted. Spoon about 1tbsp of the pomegranate syrup over the tops of the flans and put them back in the fridge for up to 24 hours. You can garnish with pomegranate seeds or orange slices; I used raspberries. Once the flans are fully chilled, loosen them from the cups with a butter knife and gently scoop them out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pomegranate-Ginger Muffins

One of my favorite, favorite FAVORITE items of the season is the pomegranate. Some people snack on popcorn or trail mix, I prefer to nom on pomegranate seeds. Not only does it taste delicious but it packs a huge antioxidant punch. I remember the first time I tried one...I was on a hike with my parents, around age 7, and they brought out this weird fruit with pretty little red berries. After my first try I knew this was a fruit I could truly love. Sadly, I didn't taste pomegranates again until the antioxidant craze kicked in during my first years of college. I suppose I got a bad apple (or pom, if you will) because it was tart, pale pink and nothing like the food I remembered loving so much that day. For the next few years I forgot about them.

While at my health food store a few weeks ago I noticed poms had just come into season. I was running low on fruit with the season's harvest ebbing away, so I decided to give them one more chance. Cracking open the fist-sized red fruit was a mess but worthwhile. The arils (seeds) were bright red, juicy and sweet. I was reunited and my passion for pommies was reawakened.

I'm normally an all-natural kinda gal and would never snub organic produce, but I've found that the giant poms from the POM company at my local Kroger are actually better than the ones for over twice the price at the health food store. They're bigger, redder and sweeter -- never bad things! So for this recipe I used those. Anywho. Enough about my love of's how to make them so everyone in the family will enjoy. I got the idea for this recipe from the POM website, but I made several alterations given what I had on hand. I'm sure they're just as good either way -- I especially love these muffins with honey.


1/2c arils from 1 large pomegranate, approximately
2c flour
2/3c sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
~2 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp orange zest
1c milk
1 egg
1/3 c melted salted butter

Score the pomegranate with one cut, just breaking through the skin. Run a sink of cold water and submerge the pomegranate. Using both hands break it open and free the seeds -- they will sink while the extra stuff will float to the top of the water. Refridgerate any leftovers.

Preheat the oven to 400 and prepare 12 muffin cups.

Mix your dry ingredients and add the arils, orange zest and ginger. Make a well in the center of the bowl.

Whisk together the wet ingredients and pour them into the bowl. Whisk until batter is moist and there are no flourey lumps left. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, top with sugar if you like. Bake for 15-20 minutes (my oven always takes longer), let them cool for about 10 before serving.

Roasted Veggies in Asiago Pepper Sauce

Although I'm working hard at obtaining my degree in Russian and International Relations, it doesn't mean I don't have time for some down home classics. I was going through my pantry trying to find a mix of ingredients that went well together when inspiration struck.

For my birthday a few weeks ago a friend and I visited a tapas bar downtown, Europa. Of the many delicious (!) things we ordered, the roasted asparagus in manchego sauce was one of the favorites (don't worry spicy eggplant Parmesan, you're next!) I found a block of asiago in the fridge along with several seasonal vegetables and got to work.

Any veggies will work, I used dutch fingerling potatoes, sweet corn, edamame and broccoli. If you don't have a cast iron skillet on hand, roast these babies in a large cake pan.


for the veggies:

3-4 fingerling potatoes
1 bunch (~ 1c) fresh broccoli
1c frozen corn
3/4c frozen edamame
1 tbsp dried onion
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried basil
2 tsp oregano
pinch of garlic powder
2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
dash of tamari sauce

For the sauce:

1c milk
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2c finely shredded asiago cheese
dash of black pepper
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the vegetables, oil and spices together in a large cast iron skillet. When all pieces are thoroughly coated, put in the oven for around 30 minutes, tossing the veggies once midway through. Take them out of the oven but do not turn it off!

While the roasting is going on, put the milk and butter over medium heat. When it gets hot whisk in the flour until all the lumps are gone. Proceed with 1/2c of cheese, pepper, and salt, and turn down the heat. Whisk until the sauce cools and thickens.

Pour the sauce over the veggies and top with the rest of the cheese. Put it back into the oven and bake until it begins to bubble and brown slightly. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes and serve.