30 January 2011

~Counting on Cointreau~

I never knew this, but apparently winter is citrus season.  Yay!  I lovelovelove oranges, clementines, tangerines, lemons and fat juicy limes.  Strange then, that I'm not a great fan Marmalades.  Now let me preface that by saying, I've never been a fan of commercially produced marmalade.  I've yet to try a homemade one, so I will definitely reserve final judgement until the day comes when I do (and I'm really hoping it will be my friend Shae's
Meyer Lemon Pamalade!).

Saying that, I still wanted a way to preserve the memory of the beautiful Spanish oranges that are so inexpensive right now.  After reading the fantastic citrus post over at The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking, I had an idea.  Cointreau!  Oh yes, the sweet sticky awesomeness that is the orange liqueur no self-respecting margarita or cosmopolitan would go without.  It just so happens I had quite a bit of the most important ingredient:

The leavings from my batch of homemade orange pectin.  It pleases me no end to be able to use so much of something.  So little left behind, it makes me almost giddy.

For those who know me well, you'll be shocked at the next bit.  I have to wait for the zest to mingle with the booze.  For FOUR WEEKS.  Ready to be really shocked?  At the four week mark, it's time to add a simple syrup.  Then...wait for it....put it back in the dark cupboard for ANOTHER four weeks.  Yep, you would be well within your rights to think that this is not the kind of project for those of us cursed with the need for instant gratification.   However, I'm going to do my best to look at it as a, what does Oprah call it?  A 'teaching moment'.  I need to learn patience, and what a tasty way to reward myself for~~ at least this once~~not taking a short cut.

See ya in a month, my Cointreau-esque friend....

22 January 2011

I would rather roast in hell than boil in heaven....

When I was in Spain this past summer, I made a remarkable discovery.

Olive oil is supposed to taste like....olives.  This should be obvious, I know~~but unless you have tasted truly authentic cold-pressed Italian or Spanish olive oil you could go your entire life thinking that Don Carlos was truly the king of this ancient and noble culinary accoutrement.  Due to this discovery, I've become a vegetable roasting convert.  Now, don't misunderstand ~~ I've never been a fan of boiling veg, I always preferred mine steamed to just barely al dentè ~~ but if you want to bring out the truly intense flavour, roasting is the only way to go.

The best example of this I've come across so far is sweet potato.  Another shocking discovery for me, as I had been under the impression for years that I didn't like sweet potato.  'Why', you ask?  I couldn't honestly tell you...in truth, I wouldn't even be able to tell you when I had last even tasted it.  It was just one of those things lodged in my brain.

Thankfully, there must have been some sweet potato dissident sympathisers up there in the old grey matter, for when I came across a recipe for gnocchi made not from your typical white stem tuber but rather it's vivid orange cousin~~I was intrigued and couldn't wait to try it.

The recipe directed me to peel and cut up the sweet potato and boil it.  Sorry, no can do.  From my research~~and what I learned from my mammy~~most of a potato's goodness and nutrients are found in the skin, so it had to stay.  If I wasn't going to like how it tasted, it would at least be good for me.

So I gave it them a gentle scrub (these healthy skins are also very delicate) and cubed them up and gave them a good toss in my favourite Spanish olive oil, Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  They went into a 200°c (400° f) oven until  they were crispy and golden.  When they looked 'right', as is my habit, I popped one into my mouth....and then another one, and then just one more.   How shocked was I that not only were they edible, but downright delicious?  Truly, as I was almost as stunned as the day I realised I love brussel sprouts.

I had to pull myself up short here, and proceed on with the gnocchi (honestly, I would have been happy to empty that roasting tin onto a plate and just finished off those golden nuggets of loveliness on their own).  I used the same 'recipe' that my lovely neighbour Monika explained to me in making Polish Kopytka.  Mash up the potato, add an egg and a bit of salt and proceed to add flour until you get a manageable dough.  It was a bit different in the handling, needing more flour than I was accustomed to, but I think it was just down to the olive oil used in the roasting.  In the end, it came together....not a pretty dough, but I knew the secret that it held.

The next bit, I'm sure, will get easier with time.  You divide the dough into portions that are easy to handle.  If you are used to working with pastry/bread dough, you could probably divide the dough into eight pieces.  For me and my two hands made up of thumbs, I divided it into about 16 parts.  You roll each of these into 'snakes' and then cut them into nuggets about an inch long.  At this point, you need to give 'em sauce catchers...yep, that is exactly what it sounds like.  By rolling each of the nuggets under the tines of a fork, you get four little channels in the dough that 'catches' the sauce/oil/butter you dress them with.  It's a bit fiddly, but you will be so glad you did it when you sit down to pasta bowl of these babies dancing in a browned butter and roasted garlic sauce.

They flash freeze well, and it's great to have a ziplok bag of these in the freezer to toss into a pan of boiling water.  Just let them drip dry a bit after the boiling on some parchment paper and then fry them in a hot pan with your choice of oil until they get nice and crispy.  You could top them with sauce, but they also stand quite well on their own.

Sweet potatoes, who woulda thought?

05 December 2010

An almond cookie...deconstructed

It never ceases to amaze me how something can be so good in theory, and yet so bad in practice.

I came across a lovely recipe for raspberry almond cookies here, and couldn't wait to try them.  It would also afford me the chance to brush up on my jam making skills, as I haven't been able to bring myself to buy store-bought jam since I learned how easy it is to make.  Add to that my life long affair with almonds (doesn't the word 'marzipan' even just sound beautiful?) and it was a no-brainer.

I added a bit of orange essence to the raspberry jam as it was happily bubbling away -- so it made sense to add a bit of freshly grated orange zest to the cookie recipe.  Not too scary, just a little extra zing....and since I had already deviated from said recipe, why not take it one step further and add a good scoop of ground almonds as well?  As I said, I've never met an almond I didn't like,  so it seemed only natural.  That, my lovelies, is when it started to go pear-shaped.

Now, maybe if I had stopped my fiddling there I would have been ok -- but I had come across some misplaced confidence.  I decided I would substitute half the flour with ground almonds.  Oh my.
This just would not do.  As is so common in circumstances such as this, the flavour was heavenly -- if you didn't mind scraping your 'cookie' off a flat surface with a butter knife.  And while I do have an affinity for ugly vegetables, this affinity does not expand into baked goods.  I like my cookies pretty, like jam.  They should be as easy on the eyes as they are on the taste buds.

Fortunately it didn't take too much tinkering to come right again with the proper flour/ground almond/sugar ratios and they turned out to be, if not pretty & delicious--at the very least--cute & tasty.  With a dusting of green coloured sugar crystals they will make the perfect plate of cookies to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve.....

Orasamond Cookies

    * 1 cup Butter
    * 2/3 cups Granulated Sugar
    * 2 cups Flour
    * 1/2 cup Ground Almonds
    * ½ teaspoons Almond Extract Or Vanilla Extract
    * 1 tsp finely grated orange zest
    * Raspberry Jam (of course your own favourite fruit jam would also work!)
    * 1 cup Powdered Sugar
    * 1 Tablespoon Water

Cream together 1 cup butter with 2/3 cup granulated sugar. Mix in flour, ground almond, orange zest
and extract.  Scoop out a spoonful of the mixture and shape into balls. (The mixture will just barely come together)
Put each ball onto cookie sheet and press thumb into each one to make an indention.
Put as much jam as you can put into each thumbprint.
Bake 14-18 minutes at 350°f/180°c/Gas Mark 4.
Once cookies are cooled mix together powdered sugar
and water and drizzle onto the cookies.

24 November 2010

Vanilla Bean Coffee Liqueur & Boozy Cookies

Finally found a way to get photos off my phone and on to my blog.  It's been an all day affair...whew!  But now the fun can really begin...and I didn't even need to take any sneaky sips of this sinisterly beautiful concoction, though I'm dying to.  Coffee, vanilla bean and Stoli ~ how can you go wrong?

Sweet Potato Cookies with Molasses and Rum Soaked Raisins

Today's endeavour was truly a labour of love, and will no doubt require thinking outside the box when it comes to the combination of ingredients.  It doesn't often does it take me over a week to bake a batch of cookies, but it was well worth it.   The time invested was mainly for the complete and utter maceration of raisins and dried cranberries in Bacardi Dark Rum....after they had soaked up as much as physics would allow *yes, really* it was time to add them to the mix.   I came across the recipe for these little lovelies here after one of my late evening link crawls (more about THAT obsession later).

  Fresh orange zest and ginger adds lightness to, what can often be, over-powering molasses--while the grated sweet potato added a delicate sweetness and chewiness.  And the rum....YUM.  It adds a perfect kind of warmth that is usually only found at the bottom of a glass.

  I'll be honest, it's not a cookie for just any Joe Q.  Public -- after tasting it, The Man's reaction was "...hmm, very strong taste off that".  But if you're a fan of molasses, or even spice cake for that matter, I think it would do just fine with a tall glass of cold milk in front of a good old fashioned coal fire.

Speaking of which...the fire grate calls, those ashes won't clean themselves...just call me Cindyrella....

23 November 2010

The adventure begins....

My first go, and no food to be had!   I have to start off this journey by saying thank you to all who encouraged me to give this a go.  Shae, Jamie, Billy, Jess, Aza, PoohBear, Michawn, Claire, Lorraine and Olivia ~~ let's hope ya'll don't regret giving me the thumbs up for this undertaking...;-)  And Shae, I hope you don't mind giving me pointers where you see shortcomings!

All right, lads...let's do this thing....xox