Saturday, December 12, 2009

208. Honey-Glazed Wax Beans (p, 523)

This summer's CSA was a non-stop parade of fresh vegetables, and my (and my wife's) challenge was to find interesting ways to use all of the vegetables that Farmer Dave could cram into the weekly box. Every day this summer was like an episode of Chopped. Just try to make a menu using beets, dandelion greens and purslane.

Sure, we could have just steamed, grilled and sauteed the vegetables. But that would have gotten old pretty quick.

So, that's why I was glad to find this recipe for an easy, but somewhat unusual treatment for the one-pound bag of yellow wax beans that I found in the box one week. There's not much to it. Just boil the beans for a few minutes until tender, and then immediately toss with a tablespoon of honey, and a little bit of lemon zest and salt.

Now, my prior experience with wax beans is limited to memories of bland, wiggly yellow-gray wax beans from the lunch line at St. Monica's grammar school. These beans are nothing like those cafeteria beans of yore. They are crisp and sweet (but not too sweet) with a bright zip from the lemon zest. Well done!

Date Cooked: September 12, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A-

Friday, December 11, 2009

207. Shrimp and Corn with Basil (p. 322)

There are some meals that you remember for your whole life. (Dinners at Morimoto, Prune and the White Barn Inn come to mind.) And then there are the meals that, while perfectly fine meals, are forgettable. This recipe, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.

That's the real problem with the backlog of cooked recipes that I've amassed in the last couple of months of less-than-active blogging.

By all objective measures, this is an excellent recipe. It's got only five ingredients, and there are only three steps: 1) melt butter; 2) cook corn and shrimp; and 3) stir in scallions, basil and salt and pepper. And just look at that picture! Looks pretty tasty, no? The problem is that I have absolutely no memory whatsoever of eating it. I can only assume that means it didn't make a big impression one way or the other ... not terrible, but not amazingly good either.

Date Cooked: September 12, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: I honestly don't remember

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top Chef Finale Tonight!

My little sous chef can hardly contain his excitement!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

206. Stained-Glass Teardrops (p. 681) (Gourmet, unbound, December 2002)

This post is my first contribution to what I think is a really wonderful project. In the wake of the shuttering of Gourmet Magazine a couple of months ago, a few food bloggers--Olga from Sassy Radish, Maggie from Pithy and Cleaver, and Jennifer from In Jennie's Kitchen--decided to launch a collaborative project to keep Gourmet's spirit alive. It's called Gourmet, unbound, and the concept is pretty simple: each month they will publish a roundup of posts from food blogs about recipes that appeared in an issue of Gourmet from that month in any of the six decades of the magazine's run. So, the inaugural roundup this month will feature recipes that were published in any of the magazine's sixty or so December issues.

For my first Gourmet, unbound post, I chose this recipe for Stained-Glass Teardrops that appeared in the December 2002 issue. Actually, these cookies are doing double duty as my contribution to Gourmet, unbound, as well as my contribution to the bakery table at my church's Christmas fair. I chose them because they are festive, seasonal and attractive, all traits that I hope will make them good sellers.

The idea of these cookies is to roll out the dough nice and thin and cut out shapes -- as indicated by the title of this recipe, The Book intends for teardrop shapes -- and then to cut out a smaller shape in the center of the cookie and fill it with crushed hard candy. As the cookies bake, the candy melts and liquefies. As it cools, the candy hardens and forms a colored "stained-glass" window in the center of the cookie. It's a neat little bit of kitchen alchemy.

I made the cookie dough a day in advance. First, I whisked together some all-purpose flour and salt in a bowl. Then I put a stick-and-a-half of softened butter and some granulated sugar in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I beat it until it was light and fluffy and then beat in an egg and some vanilla extract. I slowed the mixer and added the flour and salt bit by bit. Interestingly, there's no leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda in this recipe, so, the resulting cookie is very flat and dense. There's also not a whole lot of moisture in this dough, and it gave the Kitchen Aid a real workout. No way a handheld mixer could manage this dough. Once the dough was all mixed, I divided it into three pieces, flattened them into five-inch disks, wrapped them in plastic and put them in the refrigerator to chill overnight (The Book says to chill for at least two hours.)

The next morning, I got ready to make the cookies. First, I unwrapped some sour balls and divided them by color (red, green, yellow and orange) into small zip-top bags. Then, I got some of my frustrations out by smashing the candy to bits with a rolling pin. I put my candy dust aside and moved on to cookie making in earnest.

I took one of the dough disks out of the refrigerator and put it between two pieces of wax paper and rolled it out to about a ten-inch circle. I couldn't find any teardrop cookie cutters like the ones called for in The Book, so I used a three-inch circle cookie cutter to make the outer cut. I placed the round cookies on a Silpat-lined cookie sheet and made the smaller cutouts in the centers of the cookies. I found some Christmas-themed mini cookie cutters at the grocery store, so I used them to cut a Christmas tree, candy cane, gingerbred man or bell out of each cookie. I filled each cutout with some of the candy dust: green for the Christmas trees (duh!), red for the candy canes (ditto), yellow for the bells and orange for the gingerbread men (close enough, right?).

While these cookies were easy enough to make, they were still very time consuming because of equipment limitations. You absolutely have to make these cookies on a silicone baking sheet liner like a Silpat, otherwise, you'd never get the melted candy off the baking sheet. You also have to allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the Silpat to allow the melted candy to harden. I only have one Silpat (those things are expensive!), so between cooking and cooling, it took about a half-hour per batch, and with four batches, that's a half a day right there.

The finished cookies were really very pretty, or at least most of them were. Some of the cookies browed too quickly and were a little more "golden" than I would have liked. I also put a little bit too much crushed candy in some of the cookies and it either bubbled over the top of the cookie or seeped underneath, giving less-than-attractive results. But the ones that came out right really did look like little stained glass windows. The Book suggests that these cookies would make lovely Christmas tree ornaments, and I'm sure that they would, but, we've been down that road before, and I'm not going there again. The flavor of the cookies, though, was just ... meh. The sugar-cookie base was tasty enough, but nothing to write home about, and the cookie and hard candy tastes and textures don't really compliment each other all that well. In all, I'm glad I made them to have learned a new technique, but I don't think that I'll make them again any time soon.

Date Cooked: November 28 & 29, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Medium (time consuming without two Silpats)
Rating: Appearance A-; Flavor B-