A Pie for Mikey (and Jennifer)

If you read food blogs, you’ve probably already heard the sad news: Jennifer Perillo‘s husband passed away unexpectedly last week. I’ve never met Jennifer, but she’s very much at the core of the NYC food blogger community– as well as a good bit of the community beyond. I first learned of her loss on Twitter, and I was surprised at just how much my heart could break for someone I’d never met in person, who I just knew through her words. Turns out, it’s not just me– in a recent post, Jennifer asked all of us to

“make a peanut butter pie this Friday and
share it with someone you love.
Then hug them like there’s no tomorrow
because today is the only guarantee we can count on.”

And so I did– and so did what seem like hundreds of other bloggers who have been touched by Jennifer’s writing and the family (and food) she writes about.

I used the recipe she shared here– and hope that you, too, make a pie to share with those you love this weekend.

Wishing all of you who’ve lost someone dear the healing you need.

Black Sesame Shortbread Cookies

I volunteered to bake cookies as a prize for beloved blog DaMomma’s Messy Car Contest. The lovely Stephanie Cozzens of the Mount Laundry News was the winner (see her car photos here), and she requested something exotic– something that would be hard to come by in Wyoming. Always happy to be creative, I baked ginger-lime and black sesame shortbread cookies.

I’ll let her photography and words describe the results:

"They're like Percocet without the c-section."

Yeah, Stephanie is smart, funny, *and* manages near-daily updates despite looking after 5 kids. I have no excuses. I do, however, have recipes.

Sesame Shortbread:

-2 cups flour
-14 tbs unslatedbutter, softened
-1/2 cup powdered sugar
-3 tbs black sesame seeds, half of them ground if you can be bothered
-1 tsp pure vanilla extract
-1/2 t salt
-1-2 drops of orange extract or 1t of orange zest (optional– I used the extract)
-sugar for rolling (I like demerara because it’s extra crunchy. It’s a little pricey though, and granulated will do.)

Beat the butter until soft and creamy. Add the vanilla extract, beat. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix enough that you can’t see streaks, but not much past.

Split the dough in half and roll each half into a log. Refrigerate for half an hourish if it’s super sticky. Take clingwrap or foil, cover liberally with sugar, and roll the log over the sugar until the entire rim is coated. Then chill for a few more hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 350.

Grease or line your cookie sheets. Slice cookies off your roll to your desired thickness (I like ~1/4-1/3 inch).

Bake for ~15 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

A Family Recipe- Rugelah

By the end of the winter, all but the most stalwart of cold-and-dark lovers have started to get tired, sad, and sniffly. Luckily for me and my free Sunday, that makes it the best time to be inside baking AND the best time to get a cookie care package.

I had a rather long list of loves who needed a bit of extra caring– not to mention a cookie monster husband– so I decided to make 5 batches of cookies. 4 of them– yes, 80%– came from Smitten Kitchen. Is there a support group for SK addicts? The other batch is a family recipe for rugelah, one that came from my mother’s childhood best friend’s grandmother. Luckily, we’re all sharers, so you, too can benefit from this delicious, tender-crisp, not-too sweet cookie recipe. Unluckily for you, my picture of it came out too awful for even me to share.

Luckily for you, now you know where to get the ultimate oatmeal raisin cookie recipe.

Unluckily for you, there are no pictures of the beautiful shortbread-ish cookies with glaceed cherries and candied orange peel.

Luckily for you, peanut butter cookies are still an option.

Erm. I could go on for a while. But instead of that, I’ll tell you that these brownie roll-out cookies were a big hit– but that even my chocolate-loving sister finished the rugelah first.

Rugelah

    Dough:

    1 package cream cheese (full-fat only)
    2 sticks butter
    3 c flour
    1/4-1/2 c water (1/4 if you make it in the food processor, 1/2 in a stand mixer. Why? It’s a mystery.)

    Fillings:

    ~3/4 c of jam; my mom uses strawberry or apricot; I prefer raspberry
    1/2 c sugar
    1 T cinnamon- or a little more, as you like
    3/4 c walnuts, chopped fine
    3/4 c raisins
    1 egg yolk (for glazing)

    For dough:

    Beat butter and cream cheese together. Add flour, then water until it feels smooth and pliable– like a sticky pie crust dough. (Yes, the dough is sugar-free.)

    Let dough chill thoroughly in the refrigerator– at least 2 hours, but overnight is better.

    For cookies:

    Preheat your oven to 350.

    Cut the dough ball in half.  Put the half you’re not working with in the fridge. Flour a surface well, then place your dough on it and, with a heavily floured rolling pin, roll out a rectangle that’s around 1/8″ thick and 8″ on its shorter side (the length should take care of itself).

    Spread 1/2 the jam on the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border clear. The coating should be relatively thick, so if you need more, don’t be shy. These cookies are hard to make soggy.

    Mix the cinnamon and sugar together– it should be a dark sandy color– and sprinkle half of it over the jam. You should be able to see it even after the jam absorbs some,  but it doesn’t need to  be thick. Scatter over half of the walnuts and raisins.

    Beginning with the end closest to you, fold the first 3/4 inch of the dough over onto the roll. Continue to roll from there, as tight as you can, pressing down between layers to make sure no air gets caught. Press to seal at the end, then turn the roll so that the seam is facing down.

    Using a pastry brush, glaze the roll with an egg yolk, then refrigerate while you work on the other half.

    When the second log is done, put it in the refrigerator and remove the first log. Slice the log into 1″ segments, then bake on a foil-lined cookie sheet (they tend to erupt a little bit, and burnt jam is a pain to clean) for 12-14 minutes, or until the top turns a dark golden brown. By the time those are done, the second log should be cold enough to cut.

    These are best served with a glass of cold milk or hot coffee.

    Fast, Easy Homemade Pizza– for weeknights

    Warning: this is not the kind of pizza that you would get if you had  a pizza stone (no one-use objects around here) or had hours to spend making an awesome from-starter crust or built yourself a special pizza oven. However, it is a) fast b) delicious c) cheap d) easily adaptable and e) mostly make-ahead-able. Did I mention delicious? I made it last week, and my husband jumped up from the table after his first bite and went to take a picture, because he thought you *needed* to know about it. And make it right now. And preferably invite him. (Please note: he did not take pictures of the accompanying cucumber salad. I thought it was good. Man has some high standards.

    The key to making this, for me, is making a double batch of the dough each time. That yields 1 pizza for now– and 3 dough rounds to freeze for later! It’s roughly an hour and a half (15 min of hands on time, 1hr15 of rise and bake time) from starting to make the dough until pizza coming out of the oven, so having extra dough ready to go speeds things up dramatically, making this a 15 minute dinner (conveniently, just enough time to make a salad to go with it.)

    Bonus: you can top this with pretty much anything you have around. Sauce or no sauce. Any kind of cheese. Whatever odds and ends you have around, so long as you like the tastes together. Only one warning– when it comes to toppings, overloading is not a good thing. The crust is pretty thin, so gobs and gobs of sauce make it soggy and too dense over-cheese toppings make it hard to taste everything properly. Easy does it. This pizza has ~1oz turkey breast, 1/2 a small onion, and 5 leaves of basil on it. That’s it.

    Homemade Pizza
    Serves 2 very hungry adults

    Dough (makes enough for 2 pizzas):
    1 cup warm water
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    1 packet of active dry yeast (2 1/4 t if you get it from a jar, like I do)
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    3 cups flour
    1 teaspoon salt

    Sauce:
    ~1/2 cup/ pizza. I generally have some homemade frozen lying around, but good jarred sauce is fine. Or no sauce. Whatever you want.

    Cheese:
    ~1/2 lb/ pizza. I like to buy mozzarella deli slices because I generally make this on days when I’m in a rush, but you can get great results with shredded or fresh.

    Other:
    Any toppings you like. (1/2-1 c-ish/ pizza. Try not to go overboard)
    cornmeal for dusting

    For the dough:

    Combine all the ingredients together. Mix thoroughly and knead the dough for 5 minutes (or until it’s elastic) if you haven’t made it in a stand mixer. Oil the bowl it’s to rise in, put the dough ball in, put the bowl in a warm place (when my apartment is chilly, I turn the oven on the lowest setting for  minute, turn it off, and let the dough rise in there) and walk away for an hour.

    Punch the dough down and knead briefly. Wait at least another 10 minutes (though 1-2 hours is better if you have it.

    10 minutes before you want to make the pizza, preheat your oven to 500F.

    For Assembly:

    Take your pizza pan (I use a 12″ round, but you can do whatever it takes to get you roughly the same area), grease it with olive oil or spray, and dust it lightly with cornmeal.

    Roll the pizza dough out on a floured surface. I like to make it a little bit bigger and then fold the edges in, both because that gives more crust and because I have a hard time rolling things out in nice perfect shapes. Whatever floats your boat.

    Top however pleases you.

    Put the pizza in the oven and REDUCE THE HEAT to 450. Bake ~9 minutes, until the cheese is as melty as you like it to be.

    Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars

    I have a confession to make… Are you ready?

    I don’t like red velvet cake.

    I know, I know. I also kill puppies and laugh at funerals. Really, though, it’s that it isn’t chocolaty enough to be chocolate cake or vanilla-y to be vanilla. It’s tastes to me like…. sweet nothing. With cream cheese frosting, which is always delicious. However, it does seem to be the favorite cake of nearly everyone I know, so I know that I’m the exception. With one quick flash of red,  you can make best friends and devoted fans for life– so I was intrigued when I saw a recipe at Baking Bites for Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies. Faster and easier than making a multi-layer cake, super-pretty, and all the flair of red velvet– without such a wishy-washy taste– and cheesecake is a perfect riff on cream cheese frosting.

    Ok, I admit it, I’m still not in love. But I’m the only one! My husband’s coworkers have requested them twice since I sent them in 2 weeks ago, his boss went out of his way to mention how much he liked them, and I feel like a rock star every time I pull something so effortlessly pretty out of the oven– after 15 minutes of work. So if you like red velvet cake– or want hordes of adoring fans– get to it.

    Brooklyn Sourced: Oatmeal with Pear-Walnut Compote

    The McCarren Park Greenmarket, as you may know, is not exactly a destination farmers market. It’s got a handful of regular vendors and it runs all year, but by the middle of winter, things are small enough that if one vendor misses a week, suddenly there are no onions to be had.  It was one of *those* days yesterday, which meant that I had a little extra time and money to play around with. I’ve been noticing the Cayuga Organics stand for several months now, but with the “eat down the pantry” challenge and the siren call of fresh produce, never looked too closely. I’m glad that I didn’t look before, because then I never would have  eaten down my pantry, but am also glad that I checked now.


    They’ve got the biggest variety of grains and beans that I’ve seen on the east coast, including some I’d never heard of (freekeh? eh?), and though they’re a bit more expensive for their flours than I’d like to be paying ($10 for a 5-lb bag of all-purpose, as compared to $7.50 at Wades Mill, my DC supplier and $5 for King Arthur at my local supermarket), their grain prices seem more reasonable, especially for polenta. I bought barley and “live” (sproutable) oat groats. The lovely woman who sold me the oats told me that she likes them ground up and made into a porridge, and since I’m already a steel-cut oats fan, I figured that would be a good starting place.

    Indeed, I was correct! I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to go back to McCanns. I’m not sure if it was the quality of the oats themselves, or the fact that when I pulsed the oats in my mini-cuisinart, it created some oat powder, but these were the creamiest, smoothest oats I’ve ever had– while retaining enough chew, even after slow-cooking. Also, delicious: I made 5 servings and had to squirrel away the other 4 (two in the fridge, two in the freezer) in order to make sure they made it to breakfast this week. It took 5 minutes of hands-on time, but about 45 minutes of simmer time; good thing you can make it ahead (though the first day *is* slightly better.) I topped it with a pear-walnut compote to make good use of the pears I had sitting around from last weeks’ farmers market run and to add a little protein.


    Oatmeal with Pear-Walnut Compote
    5 servings (to get you through the week), but easily scalable

    Oatmeal:
    4 c water
    1 c nonfat milk (can substitute water)
    1.25 c steel cut oats or coarsely ground oat groats
    5 t honey or 10 t brown sugar (you may like more or less)
    pinch salt

    Walnut-Pear Compote
    1 T butter
    1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts (substitute freely)
    2-3 fully ripe diced pears (apples work well too)
    1/4 t cardamom or other baking spice– you can add more, but taste as you go

    Bring water and milk to a boil, then stir in the oats. Keep stirring until they start to thicken, then turn the heat down until it’s merely simmering. Cook ~45 minutes, until it forms a very thick porridge but still has a little bite, then take off the heat and mix in the honey/ sugar and salt.

    Divide the oats into your serving / storing containers, then wipe out the pot.

    In the same pot, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Toast the walnuts in the butter for 1-2 minutes until you can smell the goodness. Add in pears and spices and cook until the pears have softened and begun to form a syrup. Remove from heat.

    If serving immediately, put the compote on a bowl and let diners help themselves. If not, divide the compote evenly among your containers and store them as appropriate; it tastes best if eaten within 2 days from the fridge. If you need to hold it longer, feel free to freeze it.

    Pasta with Prosciutto and Asparagus (Carbonara-style)– for 1, 2, or more

    One of the many lucky things that came with being raised in my family is a love for cooking paired with a healthy disregard for recipes and tradition. My mother made me what she called pasta carbonara for lunch often when I was a child; it was my favorite, as well as being fast and easy. It wasn’t until I was on my own that I realized that not only was her version of this cheesy, bacon-y delight nontraditional, it was…. well nigh heretical. You see, my mother used cheddar in place of most of the Parmesan or Romano cheese– and it was delicious. I made the traditional version using recipes from blogs several times before I finally called her in despair to admit defeat. Because of the dish’s most obvious admirable characteristics– it’s cheap, fast, healthy and delicious– I’ve made it enough times to have a preferred version of my own… it’s all veggied up, of course!


    Pasta with Prosciutto and Asparagus
    A riff on Pasta Carbonara
    Serves one, but easily scalable

    3 oz dried pasta (I like shells or other small, asparagus-bite sized pieces)
    1 t neutral oil
    Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
    1 oz prosciutto, cut or torn into small pieces
    1/4 medium onion, diced
    3/4 c asparagus cut into small pieces (though peas and green beans are good substitutes, and red pepper subs in nicely for half)
    1/2 egg (I mix mine in a container with a lid, use half for the recipe, and store half for next time)
    1/4 c cheese (I prefer Romano, but any or a mix will do)
    Minced fresh parsley, optional
    Pepper, freshly cracked if possible

    Bring a pot of salted water up to boil while you prep your vegetables. When it comes to a boil, add your pasta.
    In a medium saute pan, “toast” your prosciutto on medium heat until slightly crispy, then remove to your bowl.

    Add oil to the pan and cook the onions and red pepper flakes for ~ 1 minute or until fragrant. Add asparagus and cook until asparagus is at your preferred temperature. Remove to your bowl.

    When the pasta is just a bit firmer than you’d like it to be, reserve 1/4 c of your cooking water. Drain the pasta and add it to your saute pan over medium heat immediately. Add in the egg, cheese, and half of the cooking water, stirring constantly until it forms a creamy sauce. Add the contents of your bowl, parsley, and as much pepper as you enjoy and stir another 30 seconds. Add the rest of the water if it isn’t saucy enough for you.

    Toss back into your bowl and eat ASAP.

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