Macaron Party

About a year ago, a friend and I decided to make macarons in preface to a group dinner party.  After reading through the recipe when she showed up, it was one of those moments where I realized exactly how much of a production macaron making could be.   The macarons turned out… okay — I mean, they were pink and tasted good, but if we’re being perfectionists, the shells had started to crack and they weren’t exactly sized very evenly.

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A year later, in my own kitchen, we decided to celebrate that same friend’s birthday by doing macarons part deux.  This time I assiduously studied allll the steps, read them a few times through, printed out the directions and made notes.  It was like prepping for finals.

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I aged the whites, made sure we had all the pastry bags and tips and even made an extra filling (chocolate ganache) instead of the one that was in the recipe I’d read.  Food Nouveau has a wonderful recipe that has step by step instructions on how to make the perfect macaron.

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I basically used this one but added some vanilla extract, and then used both buttercream and dark chocolate ganache fillings.

I didn’t quite manage to capture all the steps since I was rather nervous about making sure the eggs white peaks did not collapse and that the shells didn’t crack while baking.

But the rest of the baking went well and the macarons were so good that we couldn’t stop eating them!

Ingredients

3 egg whites (from large eggs), separated at least 24 hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator
210 g powdered sugar
125 g almond meal
30 g regular granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Measure the powdered sugar and almond meal and put them in the bowl of your food processor. Finely grind the two together for a minute or two. Stop the processor, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and process again for a minute.
  2. Put the egg whites in a cold stainless steel bowl. Start beating them at medium/high speed with your mixer. Once they start to get bubbly and white and you see the whisk is lightly leaving marks, add a tablespoon of the granulated sugar.
  3. Continue beating and add the remaining sugar slowly over the next minute or two. The eggs will now be white and fluff but not stiff enough. Continue beating at high speed until peaks form.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites, slowly a bit at a time.
  5. Transfer the batter into a pastry bag with a 1/2″ tip, and pipe into 1″ circles on a parchment sheet covered baking sheet.  Let them rest for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Once the maracons have rested for 20 minutes, bake for 14 minutes.
  7. Let the macarons rest for at least 10-15 minutes out of the oven, and then fill with whichever filling you would like!

Adapted from Food Nouveau.

Lamb Tagine with Chickpeas and Cilantro

One day I will buy myself a fancy tagine (or even not so fancy tagine).  But realistically speaking that’s not going to happen until my kitchen doubles, and for now I’ve been content to make braises and slow cook the heck out of meat in my Staub Dutch oven.  lamboncouscous2

I had a hankering for cooking something that wasn’t just chicken or beef, and so Matt suggested lamb, which of course triggered a rabbit hole search on some of my favorite recipe sources — Food52 and Epicurious.

Lamb browning

Since I trust Epicurious ratings, it was pretty easy to narrow it down to this delicious looking tagine.  Slow cooked all day and with some cilantro thrown on top, it was so good that I was only sad that we hadn’t doubled the recipe.  The original recipe called for a spice blend that I did not have on hand, but I had a Baharat mixture that I made a while ago and just stored for all my Moroccan recipes and so I tossed that in instead.  I also did not have quite enough dried apricots (time for a Nuts.com order!) but I did have a bunch of golden raisins on hand and threw those in.  The result?  Fantastic.

cilantro

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dried chickpeas
  • 5 garlic cloves (2 whole, 3 chopped)
  • 1 large cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pounds 1″ cubes lamb shoulder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 teaspoons Baharat spice blend
  • 1 tablespoon chopped peeled ginger
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes with juices
  • 2 1/2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup halved dried apricots (or golden raisins)
  • Steamed couscous
  • Chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. Place chickpeas in a medium saucepan. Add water to cover by 2″. Let soak overnight.
  2. Drain chickpeas; return to same saucepan. Add 2 whole garlic cloves and cinnamon stick. Add water to cover by 2″. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until chickpeas are tender, about 45 minutes. Drain; set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Season lamb with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown lamb on all sides, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to a medium bowl. Add onion to pot; reduce heat to medium, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until soft and beginning to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add chopped garlic, Baharat , and ginger. Stir for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and lamb with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil. Add 2 1/2 cups stock. Return to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lamb is tender, about 1 hour 30 minutes.
  4. Stir in chickpeas; simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes. Stir in apricots; simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Spoon couscous onto a large, shallow platter, forming a large well in center. Spoon tagine into center. Sprinkle cilantro over.

Adapted from Epicurious

Who doesn’t LOVE cookies?

sugar cookies

My mother was terrific baker and as children, we were fortunate to come home from school with a plate of homemade cookies always on hand with a glass of milk. The first thing I ever recall really baking on my own were walnut nut balls that I sent to my brother at college. They were essentially all butter, some sugar and walnuts. I’m sure there were other ingredients but I have long since lost the recipe. I do recall however, that all of his roommates looked forward to his packages from home.

I find that I don’t bake cookies as often as I used to, but the other day I had a yen for a really nice sugar cookie. Not the bendy, squishy kind and not the totally crispy kind. Well my recipe fits the bill and no matter how inexperienced you are or how small your kitchen, these cookies can be whipped up in less than an hour. You bring the milk – I’ve got the cookies!

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Yields: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup of granulated sugar (I always store my sugar in a glass jar with a few whole vanilla beans tucked in it)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

zest of one large lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2.5 cups of all purpose unbleached flour

1 egg yolk and 1 Tablespoon of cream or milk, lightly beaten

Sanding sugar (Large grain sugar)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. While you can make this by hand, they will have a better texture if you use a standing mixer. Cream the butter and sugar and then add the vanilla, egg, and lemon zest. Mix well.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients together and slowly add them to the butter mixture, until well blended.
  4. On a cookie sheet covered with parchment or a Silpat, scoop out 1 large Tablespoon of dough. A cookie scoop is really handy to own and works great at getting your cookies even in size.  sugar cookies1
  5. Press the dough flat with your fingers or the heel of your hand. You can also use a glass but dip it in sugar so it won’t stick.
  6. Brush the tops with the egg/cream mixture and generously sprinkle the sanding sugar on top. IMAG0620You could use colored sugar or granulated sugar if you don’t want to buy sanding sugar. Bake for 14-15 minutes – just until golden.
  7. Leave on the pan for 2 minutes so everything sets up before removing to a cooling rack.

Chana Dal Kichadi

I love making the Chicken with Spices recipe, and to be honest, I’ve only ever served it over this delicious mix of chana dal and short grain rice.

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But then again, it’s so good, so why change up a good thing when you’ve got it!  It’s to the point that we refer to the entire meal as just “Chicken and Chana Dal” and we know that it means making these two recipes.

completedchana dal

This would also pair nicely with any other roasted chicken or white fish dish with some roasted vegetables.

Ingredients

¼ cup chana dal (can be ordered from Lisa and my favorite purveyor of dried goods, nuts.com)
¾ cup short grain brown rice
1 tablespoon oil or butter
4 whole cloves
1 clove chopped garlic
1 fresh green chili, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cups water

1. Mix the dal and rice together in a bowl and thoroughly wash under running water

2. Drain the rice and dal and put aside.

3. In a medium-to-large pot heat the oil or butter over a low temperature.

4. Add the whole cloves, chopped garlic and the optional green pepper (for added

zest)

5. After 2 minutes or so, the cloves will begin to swell and release a sweet fragrance.

6. Immediately add the washed and rained rice and dal mixture.

7. Stir with a fork for 5 minutes and hten add the salt and turmeric

8. Tir for another 3 minutes to mix in all the salt and turmeric

9. Now add the water and cook covered over a low temperature for 45-50 minutes
until both grains are quite soft.

From Lisa!

Chicken Curry with Spices

One of the meals that I ate at Lisa’s that has now made it into our regular rotation has been this chicken with spices recipe.  I love finding new ways to eat chicken and this curried version with spices and coconut milk really hits the spot for when you’re in the mood for a comforting dish with a flavor kick.

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While the original recipe calls for fresh spices, I must confess that I have yet to find fresh coriander at my local grocery store, so I’ve instead just stocked up on a bunch of spices (dried). (Update: Lisa tells me that fresh coriander is just cilantro.  Never too late to learn!) It’s funny because when I first started cooking, I’d look at recipes and think, 1 tsp of turmeric, that’s it? Or 1/4 tsp of all spice? When will I ever use it again?

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But in the course of cooking meals from a similar genre, I’ve ended up using all those spices up in due time and feeling quite satisfied with my bursting spice cabinet (by which I mean my shelf in my cabinet that can barely hold all my spices!)

spices

In any event, this recipe is quite straightforward and delicious, and pairs nicely over some Chana Dal Kichadi with some dry Rosé, or surprisingly, a Pinot Noir.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons corn oil
3 medium onions, sliced thinly (1 ½ cups)
3 garlic cloves, put through a press
1 inch of fresh gingerroot (or I use pre-chopped ginger that you can get in a jar in the store)
3-4 fresh hot red chilies to taste, seeded but whole
2 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced thin or an equal amount canned (1 cup)
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 chicken, 3 lbs cut into 8 serving pieces
¼ cup chopped fresh coriander (or 2 tbsp ground coriander)
14 oz. can coconut milk
Juice of 1 lemon, 2-3 tablespoons

1. Heat the oil in a pan add the onions and sitr-fry over moderate heat until they are golden brown. Add the garlic, ginger, chilies, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and salt. Continue to stir-fry for 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and mix well for 2 minutes.

2. Add the chicken and fresh coriander and stir for 3 minutes until the chicken changes color. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring
occasionally, until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened. Stir in the lemon juice.

This curry does have ample sauce.

Serve hot with rice, salad and cooked vegetables. Serves 6 (or 4 very hungry people).

Adapted from Lisa!

Greek Red Lentil Soup

finished red lentil soupThe days are so changeable now. One day its 90 and humid and the next it’s in the 60s. Soup is the perfect meal for days like that and this simple, and very flavorful Greek red lentil soup is vegan and totally satisfying. However, if you wish to add some sausage to it or a dollop of Greek yogurt when serving it, I certainly won’t complain. All this needs is good bread and a simple green salad. This soup is so quick and delicious, I have even made it before leaving the house for work! What’s not to love? Afterall, Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of these delicious lentils.

Greek Red Lentil Soup adapted from soup served at George’s Restaurant in Astoria, NY

Yield: 6 -8 first course servings or 4 dinner servings

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

2 carrots diced or cut into rounds about 1/8 inch thick (about 1 cup)

2 stalks celery, sliced thinly or diced (about 1 cup)

4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 cup water

2 bay leaves

1.5 cups dried red lentils, picked through and rinsed (try to buy the really small red lentils, although either large or small will work) dried red lentils

1 28 ounce can or 1 large box of Pomi chopped tomatoes, with the liquid

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

Fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent – about 3 minutes
  2. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally (How much salt you use will depend on several factors: tomatoes and celery are high in natural sodium and I use unsalted stock. I don’t like things heavily salted becasue I want to taste the food not the salt. However, your tastes may be different and you may use stock that is already salted. You can always add salt later.)
  3. Add the celery and carrot and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. lentil soup stage 1
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot partially and simmer for 35 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

NOTE: The soup is ready to go at this point, but if you are serving it as a first course to company and you want it to be a bit more elegant, take an immersion blender (thank you Matthew and Frances for that wonderful GIFT!) and puree the soup to the desired consistency. You can do this in a blender but make certain that the soup is cool and you do this in batches. I learned the hard way about the mess that blending hot soup can make. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme if you have it.

Peach, Tomato and Mint Salad

When I first started cooking, I was enchanted by the idea of “Oh! It’s rhubarb season” or “Oh! It’s butternut squash season!”  Having grown up in California, also known as the land of plenty, it was so strange to start cooking on the East Coast where there was one time of year that butternut squash “made sense” to cook.  A few years snowy winters and melting summers, the whole food and season connection finally makes sense to me.

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For example, I spent the last couple of months waiting for rhubarb season, only to go on vacation for much of June and coming back to find that the rhubarbs had moved on (without me!).  So when I started reading that “it’s the last of peach season” I hurriedly ran out to the store and stocked up on peaches.  I’m already dreaming up peach cobblers and peach cakes but for today, I thought a simple peach and tomato salad with some fresh mint leaves would be a nice starter for a steak dinner.

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It’s so easy to throw together, and the blue cheese and mint add some nice flavor.

Ingredients

3 tomatoes
2 peaches
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tbsp sliced mint leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
pepper to taste

Slice tomatoes and peaches into wedges.  Add the blue cheese, mint leaves and toss with olive oil.  Add pepper to taste.

Serves 2 for starters