Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Whether snickerdoodles got their name from German or are a result of New England whimsy, they are a popular cookie in the United States.  Traditional snickerdoodles are a variety of sugar cookie that are rolled in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon before they are baked.  My mother makes some that are excellent, perhaps not as popular in the family as her sugar cookies, but still mighty tasty.  They are chewy and buttery and bursting with taste of cinnamon.  As much as I like those traditional snickerdoodles, I wanted something a little different, something a splash of port or a dram of whiskey might accompany.

Mexican hot chocolate, for those who haven't had the pleasure of tasting it, is made with chocolate and cinnamon.  That being the case, chocolate snickerdoodles seemed a logical mash-up.  For anyone who has nibbled on a block of Ibbarra, these snickerdoodles will remind you of that moment of stolen pleasure.  Crisp, deep chocolate flavor with a hint of heat and spice, these are a cookie for adults.  Kids would probably love them as well, but it may lead them down a dark path.  I'm not suggesting it will lead to heroin or stumbling out of midtown bars at 9 in the morning, but it will change them.  They will suddenly find Barney and Rachel Ray too perky and upbeat.  After eating these, they won't want those overly sweet, insipid store-bought cookies that they beg for like mutant dogs happy for some post-industrial chemical scrap made by indentured orphans in a pollutant spewing factory in a smog blackened city in northeast China.  So it's up to you whether or not you share these with your children.

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Cookie Dough
1 3/4 cups (8.75 oz) all-purpose flour
1 stick (4 oz) butter, at room temperature
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 egg, room temperature
1  cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cloves, finely ground
1/4 tsp salt

Sugar Coating
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat your oven to 400º F.

To make the cookie dough, melt the chocolate and allow to cool.  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the cooled chocolate and the egg and use the mixer to get a homogenous blend.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and the remaining dry ingredients.  Add this to the chocolate mixture in two or three stages, mixing well to make sure all the flour is incorporated into the batter.
Scoop out pieces of the dough and form approximately 1" balls.  

In a small bowl, stir together the 1/3 cup sugar, the cinnamon, and the cayenne pepper.  Make sure you mix these together well.  Roll each ball of cookie dough in the sugar mix and place on parchment lined cookie sheets, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart from each other.  Using the bottom of a glass, a bottle of scotch, a saucer, or some other handy object with a flat plane, press down lightly on each ball of dough.

Place the cookie sheets in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes.  Slide the baked cookies onto racks to cool.  

Pour a splash of port, a dram of Scotch, or even a glass of hazlenut flavored soy milk and realize how lucky you are and how grateful you should be for this moment, no matter how shitty the rest of your life may or may not be.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Saffron Pistachio Shortbread

Shortbread is one of those simple, yet satisfying treats.  It is one of those elemental baked goods, taking flour, butter, and sugar and transforming them through the heat of an oven.  This is a recipe that hints of Spain's past.  It is lightly scented and tinted with a healthy pinch of saffron.  It also includes some toasted pistachios.  Like all good shortbread, it is rich and hard to resist, but takes little effort or time to prepare.  I prepared it in the morning before going to class.

The recipe comes from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen, a cookbook that is full of a great number of good recipes.  She credits Melissa Clark for creating the recipe.  The original recipe calls for toasting raw, shelled, unsalted pistachios.  I simply used dry roasted unsalted ones that I got at Trader Joe's. 

Saffron Pistachio Shortbread
adapted from The New Spanish Table

3/4 cup shelled, unsalted, dry-roasted pistachios
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on the baked shortbread
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 cup (8 oz--2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 large pinch of saffron, ground in a mortar, steeped in 2 tablespoons of warm water and cooled
1 TBS full-flavored honey

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Position a rack in the center of the oven.

In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugars, and salt until mixed.  Add in butter, honey, cooled saffron water, and honey, and pulse until the dough just begins to come together.  Place in 9-inch square baking pan.  Press down to fill the pan with an even level of dough.  I find placing a sheet of parchment paper on top and pressing the dough down is the easiest way to quickly fill the pan.  Remove the parchment paper before baking.

Place the pan on the center rack of the preheated oven.  Bake for 35--40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.  Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes before attempting to remove the shortbread.  While the shortbread is still warm, cut it into squares by cutting 6 strips lengthwise and 6 strips crosswise.  This will give you 36 1 1/2-inch squares.

Let the shortbread cool completely before dusting with the reserved powdered sugar.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Grilled Pineapple and Shrimp Salad with Fennel Flower Crystals and Vanilla Coconut Dressing

Yes, that title is a mouthful.  Fortunately, it's a pretty tasty mouthful.  Although I've been slack in posting lately, I was intrigued by a challenge from  They are having a contest for bloggers to produce a savory dish from items they market that would more commonly be found in desserts.  Actually, I don't know that the fennel flower crystals even find their way into many desserts.
Besides the flower crystals and vanilla beans, the other two ingredients that were included were coconut sugar (drier and more granular than traditional gula jawa) and granulated honey, which is about ten percent honey together with sugar.  The granulated honey is said to provide the convenience of sugar, but with the richer taste of honey.  That is the one ingredient that I did not use in this challenge.

This salad has Asian flavors with a fennel kick.  I had thought the fennel flower crystals were just going to be fennel pollen, something I've tried before.  When I got the packet of flower crystals, I was stumped.  These are extremely fragrant and sweet, tasting like licorice-infused sugar.  How the hell was I going to use these in a savory dish?  Somehow I thought of salt and pepper shrimp, the Szechuan dish, which I have made with kumquats in the past.  Kumquats have a slight fennel taste, so I thought if I balanced the flower crystals with some salt, the fennel crystals might work with shrimp.

The rules for the challenge say only two ingredients need to be used in the recipe, and I knew I'd have no trouble using the coconut sugar, an ingredient common to many Indonesian and southeast Asian dishes, sweet and savory.  I've had some Thai dressings that used coconut milk along with lime and fish sauce, so I thought I'd see what adding a vanilla bean to some coconut milk together with lemongrass would do.  In as much vanilla complements pineapple, it seemed a good idea to add some grilled pineapple to the mix.  The sweetness of the grilled pineapple and shrimp called for some bitterness to keep things in balance.  Arugula seemed a good choice.

Finally, I thought some fried rice vermicelli (bihun) would provide a crispy accent to the salad and absorb some of the dressing.  When I was at the market, I noticed some banh uot kho, dried rice flakes, which I've never known to be fried.  I didn't know if they would fry up well, but thought that if they did, they might be a more interesting and attractive addition than the vermicelli.  They worked wonderfully, frying up like thin shrimp chips in a flash in hot oil.  I dusted them with a sprinkling of the fennel flower crystals ground together with some sea salt as soon as they came out of the fryer.

It should be noted that Marx Foods provided me with the samples used in creating this recipe.  Although they did not give me any money, the winner of the challenge will get a $100 gift certificate from Marx Foods.

Grilled Pineapple and Shrimp Salad with Fennel Flower Crystals and Vanilla Coconut Dressing

1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup water
3 stalks of lemongrass, sliced and pounded
1 Tahitian vanilla bean, split, the seeds scraped into the coconut milk along with the pod
1 TBS fish sauce
3 TBS coconut sugar

1/2 cup of the infused coconut milk
2 tsp lime juice
2 tsp coconut sugar
1 tsp fish sauce

To make the dressing, simmer the coconut milk and water with the lemongrass, vanilla, fish sauce and coconut sugar for about 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and let steep another 30 minutes or more.

Strain through a coarse sieve, allowing the vanilla seeds through but keeping out the lemongrass.  Mix 1/2 cup of the strained mixture with the lime juice, coconut sugar, and fish sauce.  Keep until ready to dress the salad.  (The remaining coconut milk infusion can be refrigerated--or frozen--for another time.)

1 pineapple, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices
20 shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups arugula, washed and dried
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 to 3 TBS mint, julienned
1 red jalapeno or other pepper with some heat
1 cup of dried rice flakes or rice vermicelli, fried in 350º F oil until crisp and puffed
1 tsp fennel flower crystals ground with 1 tsp kosher salt, for dusting the fried rice flakes
1 tsp fennel flower crystals for sprinkling on the shrimp just before serving the salad

Grill the pineapple slices on a hot grill for about 3 minutes a side until cooked.  Remove and cut each slice into eight pieces, removing the fibrous central core.  Thread the shrimp onto skewers, season lightly with salt and quickly grill them.  Be careful that you don't overcook them.

To assemble the salad, place the arugula on a deep platter.  Top with the grilled pineapple pieces, followed by the fried rice flakes.  Top with the grilled shrimp sprinkled with the fennel flower crystals.  Scatter the sliced shallots, mint, and red chili pepper.  Pour the dressing over and serve.

Don't add the rice flakes until you are ready to serve the salad.  If you add them beforehand, they will become soft and unappetizing.

I was afraid the fennel flower crystals might be overpowering, as they are quite strong when tasted by themselves.  However, I found that in the salad they were quite subtle.  It's possible that you might want more than one teaspoon's worth sprinkled on the shrimp when serving the salad.