Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crescent Cheese Cookies

Although I bought The Gourmet Cookie Book exclusively for the bourbon balls, I ended up bookmarking pretty much the whole book. It looked a little silly bristling with a million little post-its, not to mention the fact that it's not very helpful to bookmark every page. So I separated the bookmarks into vertically-facing ones that signified 'must make,' and horizontally-facing ones that meant, 'must make really soon.'

These little beauties were on a 'must make really soon' page, and I suggest that you make them really soon as well. They're really more like little tiny pastries because of their flaky, flaky dough, but that's not in any way a bad thing. In fact, it's pretty amazing that a dough that literally comes together in about 2 minutes can be so flaky and light--it's the kind of thing one would think must be labored over for hours.

The dough contains no sugar, but the jam and powdered sugar make the cookie sweet enough. In fact, it becomes a perfectly balanced kind of sweetness that would appeal to adults and children alike. They actually kind of remind me of some of the cookies my Italian grandmother used to make.

I used black cherry jam, which I thought worked perfectly. And don't be scared off by the mention of farmer's cheese--it's a cheese that is similar to cottage cheese, and because I didn't feel like going to the store, I used plain old cottage cheese and thought that it worked perfectly well.

My best piece of advice, though, is to carefully check for doneness before pulling these little guys out of the oven. My oven temperature might have been a bit too high, or the suggested temperature might be too hot, or maybe I was just deceived by the effect the milk has on the browning of the cookies, because the outsides were beautifully golden while the insides were still half raw. Even undercooked, these cookies were amazingly flaky, so properly cooked, they must be simply dreamy.

I apologize for just showing you pictures of the cookies broken in half, rather than the whole cookie. I didn't like the way I styled the shoot when I photographed the whole cookies, and they didn't look all that awesome, anyway. My crescent-rolling skills aren't quite up to par, and a lot of my cookies looked like something the cookie fairy would have pooped out.

Crescent Cheese Cookies
From The Gourmet Cookie Book

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

  • About 6 ounces farmer cheese, or low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • About 10 ounces of your favorite jam or jelly
  • Milk for brushing the cookies
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (About 1/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Force enough cheese through a sieve into a dish to measure 1 cup. In a bowl, cream the butter until it's smooth. Stir in the cheese, the sour cream, and the vanilla, and mix until well combined.

In another bowl, sift together the flour and the salt. Gradually blend the flour mixture into the cheese mixture. Wrap the dough in parchment paper and chill for at least 3 hours.

Roll one fourth of the dough out very thinly (about 1/8 inch) on a lightly floured surface and chill the remaining dough until it is to be used. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares and put about 1/2 teaspoon jam or preserves in the center of each. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Fold the squares tightly into triangles and roll them into crescents, starting at the wide end. Arrange the crescents on a baking sheet, brushing them lightly with milk, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and dust them with sifted confectioners' sugar. (I actually just dumped some sugar into a sifter and used the sifter to dust the cookies.)

These cookies don't keep very well, and are best on the day they're made.

Pita Bread

When I was making a recipe based on the New York Times' Greek Nachos, I decided that I was going to be all super-motivated and make my own pita bread. Now, when I'm looking for a recipe, I might look on Epicurious or another recipe website, or I might look in my cookbooks, or I might look to another blogger for inspiration. In a case like this, when I don't want to wade through a million recipes and attempt to figure out which one is going to work, I turn to another blogger.

I suspected that Deb from Smitten Kitchen could provide me with a reliable pita recipe, and I was right. Her website is really worth checking out, so I won't reprint the recipe, I'll just direct you here so you can check it out for yourself. And I just want to mention that my pitas really were beautifully puffed when I first made them, before I smashed them all by piling them together. Really. They were.

Parsley Walnut Pesto

Is there anything better than the smell of fresh basil in the summertime? My porch becomes a little piece of heaven when it overflows with flowers and smells of basil. Unfortunately, there comes a time when my lush, leafy basil stalks turn to brown woody ones that smell of decaying basil, so into the dumpster they go. The circle of life.

But then there comes a time when I want some pasta but I'm sick of tomato sauce and can't afford the calories packed into a cream sauce. I could of course go to the grocery store and pay an obscene amount of money for enough fresh basil to make some pesto, but looking back upon the abundance of the summer makes such a prospect just too painful.

So how about some parsley walnut pesto? It's just as delicious as basil pesto, but won't make you yearn for a summer season that's months away. And because parsley is cheaper than basil and walnuts are cheaper than pine nuts, it's economical, too!

Parsley Walnut Pesto
  • 2 cups loosely-packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 3/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place parsley, walnuts, cheese, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until well combined.

With the food processor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream. You may need as little as half a cup, so go slowly, and stop when the pesto reaches a consistency that works for you. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt, pepper, and lemon juice as needed.

This pesto doesn't discolor as easily as basil pesto does, but it's still best to use it within a couple days. Of course, you can always divide it into small portions, place those portions in little plastic bags, and freeze it all for a few months. As needed, remove a bag of pesto from the freezer; it will defrost very quickly.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pita Pockets

For dinner the other night, I decided that I wanted to make the New York Times' recipe for Greek Nachos, because it sounded like the kind of dinner that could be relatively light yet satisfying, and I love the kind of meals that you can assemble and then pick at gradually.

But then I decided that I didn't want to use lamb, I wanted to use turkey; I loved the cumin in the meat part of the recipe, but thought that some more spices were called for. And I didn't want to make the sauce with that much oil and feta, so I cut back on those two ingredients. And I definitely didn't want my sauce to contain any fresh mint because the very idea made me want to vomit, so I used the fresh oregano growing on my windowsill. 

Finally, after having made my own pita bread, I had run out of motivation and no longer felt like cutting the pita pieces into wedges, toasting them, and making a nacho-like sort of thing. So I cut the pitas in half and stuffed all the ingredients inside. The end result was still a dinner I could assemble and pick at, but it no longer resembled my originally intended meal. Nonetheless, it was delicious, and I highly recommend that you try making your own pita pocket dinner. It's relatively healthy, and endlessly adaptable. If anyone out there has a way that they particularly like to make pita pockets, let me know about it in the comments.

Pita Pockets
(Inspired by the New York Times)
Serves 4
  • Feta Yogurt Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped, divided
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 pound ground turkey (preferably dark meat or a combination of dark and light meat)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup water or beer
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon (You'll already have this if you're making the feta yogurt sauce. One lemon is sufficient for the whole recipe.)
  • 4 pieces pita bread, homemade if you like
  • 2 or 3 medium ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, roughly peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Calamata olives, pitted and halved (optional)
Make feta yogurt sauce.

Put two tablespoons of canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook all but 1/4 cup of the onions until soft (set that 1/4 cup aside-you'll use it later.) Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add turkey, ground cumin, and cayenne, and sprinkle with salt. While the meat cooks, use a spatula or other kitchen utensil to break it up into fine chunks; cook until meat is cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. 

If the meat is exceedingly dry when you add it to the pan, add 1/4 cup water or beer. The turkey will later release juices as it cooks--continue to cook meat until almost all liquid has evaporated. Add red pepper flakes if you like spicy food. Add a few grinds of fresh black pepper, and the juice of a 1/4 of a lemon. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, or lemon juice as needed.

Break each pita in half and using your finger, separate the two sides of each half so that you're left with pockets. Stuff each pocket with the turkey meat, yogurt sauce, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives. Eat.

Feta Yogurt Sauce

This sauce was originally made for a pita pocket dinner, but I found it to be so delicious that I began using it as a dip for bread, a dip for vegetables, a salad dressing, and the cream base for creamed spinach. 

Creamy and tangy, this sauce can be used to accompany anything from vegetables to fish, and you could probably even use it as a pizza topping. It's bright with herbs and lemon, and the richness imparted by the feta and olive oil make this a perfectly balanced condiment. If anyone out there tries this, let me know how you used it, and how you liked it.

Feta Yogurt Sauce
(Adapted from the New York Times)

  • 3 ounces feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk
  • 1/8 cup very good olive oil
  • Teaspoon loosely packed oregano leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
In a blender or food processor, combine feta, yogurt, 1/8 cup olive oil, oregano, and the juice of a quarter of a lemon. Blend or process until smooth. You can also mash mixture by hand, with a fork. If you do it that way, chop up the oregano leaves before adding. I actually used a measuring cup and a hand-held stick blender, which worked beautifully. Add a lot of freshly ground black pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon juice or pepper if needed. You probably won't need salt since the feta is salty.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Black Bean Tacos with Radish Slaw

Here's an example of how throwing together a few simple, inexpensive ingredients can make a meal that's more than the sum of its parts. These tacos don't require much effort at all, and in the end you have a meal that's light yet satisfying, healthy and indulgent. (The taco shells aren't the healthiest thing in the world--that's the indulgent part, but everything else is relatively low in fat and high in fiber--the healthy part.)

Depending on how much hot sauce you use, these tacos can be spicy and fiery, or they can be cool, crisp, and refreshing. In my opinion, a lot of hot sauce and a good bit of the radish slaw makes for the best of both worlds.

Black Bean and Radish Slaw Tacos
(Adapted from Epicurious)
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 bunch radishes
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 6 taco shells
  • 1/3 cup cheddar or 'Mexican' cheese blend, or cojita
  • Bottled chipotle hot sauce or other hot sauce
In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil until shimmering. Add beans, coriander, cumin, and cayenne and heat through while mixing all of the ingredients together and partially mashing the beans. Add salt and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Taste for seasoning and add more spices and/or lime juice as needed. 

Mix 2 teaspoons olive oil and lime juice in medium bowl. Using a mandolin, make matchsticks out of the radishes, and add them to the bowl along with the green onions and cilantro. Add a pinch of salt and toss to coat. Taste for seasoning.

In a toaster oven, toast the taco shells until they're warm and slightly crispy. Fill tacos with beans, cheese, and slaw. Pass hot sauce alongside.

I got a new camera for Christmas/my birthday! I took these pictures when I was just starting to mess around with it: