Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Sweet Valentine

Valentine's Day was a few days ago, but thankfully pleasant memories have no expiration date. To be honest, the past few weeks have been pretty unromantic, so a sweet and easy time-out from the tension was very much appreciated. Weird that I spent the better part of the month preparing for Valentines Day, crafting new flavors and constucting special Valentine's themed boxes, but it didn't occur to me to arrange anything with Hub.
Valentine's Day is really a ploy thought up by Hallmark, Interflora, and, yes, Hershey's- the cynical interpretation of Feb 14th.
Valentine's is a day to acknowledge and celebrate romantic relationships and your partner in them. It's a brief return to the courtship phase of the relationship- the sentimental approach to Valentines Day.
I started out cynical but ended up sentimental. Sometime over the weekend Hub suggested we meet in the City on Monday, Valentines Day, for dinner and some form of entertainment. My initial impulse was "No" because of outstanding chocolate orders and a Hamantaschen article. All that, and low-grade frustration and irritation was throwing shade over everything. Just as I was about to spit out " Sorry, can't do it", my brain interceded. A night out in the City, my brother can babysit, maybe I can even extend it to an afternoon of clothes shopping and bakery hopping before meeting Hub for dinner. The article is due on Wednesday in the morning, the truffle order on wednesday evening...I did some hasty calculations in time management and shuffled around some lesser responsibilities, rescheduled a playdate, and out came: "Sure, let's do it." Instantly a gladness streamed through me, and feather-light anticipation puffed up my weekend ever so slightly.
I was charging through the subway station by 3:30. Oh the possibilities! The fact that museums are closed on mondays, went a long way in alleviating any guilt I felt about spending a totally frivolous afternoon in NYC. I strode into Loehmann's and picked up a black bag with a leopard print that I knew was perfect for everyday. Also a pair of black glitter Keds, that were necessary since my high heel wedges were already killing me and I couldn't concieve of trudging around in them a second longer. To complete the triumvirate of shiny black purchases I grabbed a black and silver leopard print scarf. I thought about hitting some other places- but instead went to Pinkberry ordered a cone, and then got down to business and made my way uptown.
Momofuko Milk Bar. Being a regular Bon Appetit, Saveur, Gourmet (now defunct), Food and Wine subscriber, and a Top Chef wannabe, I am privy to the buzz that Momofuko emits in the NY food stratosphere. I heard about this Crack Pie that they make at the Milk Bar, and knew I would have to make the voyage out. The midtown location is in the Chambers Hotel, which is very slick, well lit, and modern. I collected a whole assortment of treats: blueberry and cream cookie, peanut butter cookie, marshmallow cornflake cookie, corn cookie, a slice of the famous crack pie, and for good measure, a slice of the candy bar pie. In retrospect I should've also gotten a compost cookie- what's the point of restraint and thrift when you're already lugging around a shopping bag of goodies?
I window shopped in mid-town, peering dreamily at the confection of pink froth in the Henri Bendel's window. I noted with a blip of bitterness, the lines at Godiva... "Don't be fooled"" I wanted to yell out "They use vanillin in their chocolate, isn't your Valentine worth real vanilla!?"
I met Hub in the lobby of his building, and was glad that I got him a card. We walked to our 7:45 reservation at Gabriel's on 60th Street. The best thing about dinner was that Hub and I
enjoyed being with each other, we laughed, clinked glasses, chatted easily, flirted slightly, gently teased each other. The food? Standard upscale Italian fare, nothing earthshaking, totally decent food. The dessert menu didn't motivate me even a little, but really how could I justify ordering dessert while sitting next to a brown bag full of the kind of goodies that make bakery enthusiasts into junkies.
We finished dinner and decided to catch a movie at the artsy movie house on 64th St. It was a choice between Barney's Version and the King's Speech. I chose Barney's Version because I think Paul Giamatti is a great actor, but, also, sitting through a movie about someone's stuttering problem seems excrutiating to me. The movie, like the meal was unexceptional. It was nice to share a super-sized tub of popcorn with Hub, and to laugh and enjoy being together like we were on a date. Getting a break from the irritation, impatience, and disagreement was like taking in a lungfull of fresh, clean air, after being in a small stuffy room.

The next day I wore my sparkly sneakers, wrapped my scarf glibly around my neck, and transferred my daily items to my new black bag. I took a coffee break from the hamantschen article, and laid out the Milk Bar cookies alongside my steaming mug. The Peanut Butter was the best, soft, chewy, full of big peanut butter flavor. The cornflake marshmallow was a chewy-crunchy chocolate chip cookie. The corn cookie, tasted like sweet, crunchy cornbread. That night Hub and I tried the slices of pie. The Crack pie was very delicious, but the Candy Bar Pie topped it. It is sweet and salty, it is smooth and crunchy- it is amaaazing. And all the while I thought I'd be a Crack Pie Whore, but instead discovered I was a Candy Bar Slut.

Vegan Wholewheat Nut Hamantaschen

2 c. wholewheat flour
2 c. all-purpose flour
4 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. smart balance buttery spread
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2-3/4 c. water

In large bowl mix all ingredients together at medium speed. Add additional water if necessary to smooth out dough. Divide dough into two portions and wrap wach in plastic and chill in fridge overnight.
Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle counter with flour and roll out dough to 1/4" thickness. With a round cookie cutter or the rim of a large drinking glass cut out cookie dough rounds. Place a spoon full of nut mixture in center and fold over intro taditional triangular shape.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges turn golden.

Cinnamon Nut Filling
2 tbsp. smart balance buttery spread
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4- 1 c. chopped walnuts

In saucepan melt buttery spread, mix in brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kitchen Addiction

I feel like Charlie Sheen of the kitchen. I'm in the midst of a full blown bitchin' kitchen bender, and I'm kind of loving it. It was triggered by the Just Desserts night last Monday, and then kept on going with a good sized Valentine's truffle order during which I came up with another flavor that I'm heretofore referrring to as "Coconut Spice". It's a white chocolate truffle made with salted browned butter and infused with Saigon cinnamon and Tahitian vanilla, and then rolled in a layer of toasted coconut flakes. It's kind of like a cookie that melts in your mouth.
To temper the raging sweetness that I was lolling about in, I made a hearty Blue Plate Special style Friday night dinner. I revamped my standard meatloaf to favorable reviews, and served it alongside homefries with my spice du-jour smoked paprika. By adding a much needed snap, Chinese restaurant style green beans rounded out the meal. Because I just can't ditch the sweet toothed monkey who lives on my back, for dessert I tried out a recipe for a slow cooker brownie pudding cake. Chocolate euphoria, hot fudge frenzy. The smooth and gooey texture was ineluctable, the depth of the chocolate was unending. It was bleepin' rad! The only improvement would be to include the option of a tart and bright raspberry coulis.
The Superbowl which was on the flip side of the weekend ensured that my kitchen binge would stretch out even further. Because Samwich is a football zombie, the past couple of Superbowl's have doubled as his birthday party. I let loose on the menu, restraint and moderation shoved aside with my excercise routine. There was a spicy slow cooker sausage dip with garlic bread. DIY deli sandwiches with a rouille sauce. A romaine salad with hard boiled egg, avocado, tomatoes, a homemade dressing of roasted garlic, horseradish, mayo, and the ubiquitous smoked paprika. Three kinds of wings: shwarma spice, sriracha honey, and Mojo. A Chinese cole slaw. A yellow cake with fudge frosting in the shape of a football and corresponding XLV cupcakes.
There is no time for post-party languishing, this cooking jag goes on with a few more Valentine's Day orders and an article on Hamantaschen due apres VD. I'm working on a vegan whole wheat hamantaschen, and also a lemon blueberry one enfolded in a cream cheese cookie crust. There will be a quickie version of this three cornered cookie that is the culinary hallmark of the Jewish holiday of Purim. And finally a traditional recipe complete with instructions on how to make apricot lekvar, which is a kind of Eastern European fruit spread. Four in all, hope they work. This kitchen spree will eventually consume itself. I'll blow out my desire to experiment and conjure and create. Dinner will come out of a box or from a restaurant for a while. I'll focus on getting back into shape. I'm always a little nervous that one day I'll use up all my ardor. That I'll go on a tear and spend every last cooking urge, dry myself out, and then exile myself from the kitchen forever after.

PS:My sweet lord! the Vegan Whole Wheat Hamantaschen are good!

Brownie Pudding Cake

1 package brownie mix
1/2 c. butter or margarine, melted
2 eggs
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. cocoa powder
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 c. boiling water

Lightly spray a 3 1/2 qt. slow cooker with cooking spray. In a medium bowl stir together brownie mix, melted brownie/marg, eggs, chopped nuts, vanilla, and 1/4 c. water until batter is smooth. Spread brownie batter in the bottom of slow cooker.
In another bowl, mix together sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon. Stir in 3 c. boiling water into sugar-cocoa mixture. Pour over batter in slow cooker.
Cover and cook on high-heat for 2 hrs. Turn off slow cooker. Cool, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow Way It's Another Snow Day!

Welcome to another snow day. I would be wholly pissed and utterly embittered if it wasn't for last night's sweet interlude. We hosted a Dessert Night for the PTA. Expecting snow, people turned out to dig in.

I began this baking project with a Buttermilk Pound Cake. You can never go wrong with a sweet, simple, and sturdy pound cake. It holds a special place in the hearts (and palates) of vanilla enthusiasts. With a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a few ripe berries it is a study in simple culinary joy.

It's never a question of whether there'll be chocolate at a dessert party, rather, it's what form/s the chocolate will take? Again I turned to an old standard, my Truffle Tart. I toyed with the possibilities of a couple of interesting chocolate cake recipes, but in the end I went back to Trufullar Tart. With it's oreo crust and dense, dark, rich chocolate filling, it's a reason for chocoholics to assemble and share in the glory of chocolate.

I love making cheesecakes. I feel like I'll never have enough time to try out all the cool variations out there. I was considering trying out a 5 Spice Cheesecake, and then thought about a Pina Colada version made from cream of coconut and carmelized pineapple. In the end I decided to be practical and make my Caffe Latte Cheescake in order to work out some details and add some finishing touches. It was light and fluffy, and was topped with a foamy layer of sweetened whipped sour cream and a sprinkling of cocoa powder. It was very good. My mother would love it, I have to remember to make it for her next time she visits.

I've had a recipe for lemon cream blueberry crumb bars for a while now. Why not? I decided the morning of the dessert gathering. So glad I did. It was buttery, crumbly, juicy sweet, with the slight suggestion of lemon due to the lemon cream layer mixed in with the fresh blueberries. I was left with only 2 measly little bars this morning, which is probably a good thing. Due to all the snow days and bake days , I am getting soft.

I put out a couple experiments last night, which were pretty well recieved. An apple-pear cinnamon nut puff pastry which shows some promise. And then some chocolate toffee nut brittle that was scarfed down by a self avowed toffee fiend.

I lost track of the accumulated snow days some time last week. I was told by someone that all this snow has something to do with global warming, which, seems counter-intuitive to say the least. I wouldn't mind a few days of global warming right now, short sleeves, bare legs, hot sun, cold drinks, out doors.

Blueberry Crumb Bars with Lemon-Cream Filling

1 c. unsalted butter, softened
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
1 1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg, separated
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. fresh blueberries

Place rack in center of the oven and heat to 350F. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with foil or parchment paper and be sure to leave an overhang on the ends. Grease bottom and sides of foil.
In a large bowl combine flour, oats, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder. With your fingers blend the butter into the flour mixture. Reserve 2 cups of crumb mixture in another bowl. Blend egg white into remaining crumbs and press mixture into the bottom of the pan to form an even crust. Bake crust until it forms a dry top 10-12 minutes.
In medium bowl whisk together the condensed milk, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and egg yolk. Let stand for 5 minutes to thicken.
Sprinkle blueberries over the hot crust and drop spoonfuls of the lemon cream over blueberries. Spread gently with spatula. Bake until the lemon mixture becomes shiny (8-9 mins). Sprinkle reserved topping over lemon-blueberry layer, making sure to press the streusel between your fingers to make small clumps as you sprinkle. Bake until dilling is bubbling and the crumb layer is golden brown (30 minutes). Remove from oven, let cool and cut into squares.