Girl Scout cookies year round

November 19, 2008

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Even before my daughter became a Brownie, I would stalk local grocery stores and malls for girls sporting bemedaled green sashes sitting behind a table piled high with those familiar colorful boxes.  I loved them all – Shortbread, Thin Mints, Tagalongs and of course, my particular favorite, Samoas (which is also known as Caramel De-lites).  Alas, these cookies are only available during late winter and early spring in my area, so by November,  my stockpile of frozen cookies has long been depleted. 

Samoas consist of a cookie base, caramel, toasted coconut and chocolate stripes on top.  I had some extra homemade caramel and decided to make my own stash of Samoas.  I bought sugar free shortbread cookies, mainly because I liked the shape and size, not because it was sugar free.  The caramel is very sweet, so I thought all the better.  You might want to avoid any cookies with a hole since the caramel will drip through, unless you coat the bottom of the cookie in chocolate (like the original).

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Samoas

one container round shortbread or butter cookies (or make your own if you feel ambitious)
one recipe of homemade caramel
8 oz. sweetened coconut
8 oz. semisweet chocolate

Set oven on low broil.  Toast coconut on a baking sheet on the lowest rack for 3 minutes or so.  Mix coconut to toast evenly and broil for 3 minutes more, being careful to not burn.

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Cut out 1/2″ tall nickle-size circles of caramel and flatten on top of the cookie.  Top with toasted cococut.

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Melt chocolate in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occassionally until smooth.  (or use a super fancy chocolate tempering machine like me).  Holding the coconut-topped cookie carefully, drizzle chocolate on top of the coconut.   Place cookies on wax or parchment paper to set.

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My husband and I had a wonderful dinner at Xochitl on the Day of the Dead after a hard day of getting out the vote two weeks ago.  We ordered from the special Day of the Dead menu, but had to try the guacamole they prepare at the table.  We settled on guacamole with blue cheese and pomegranate, and after the first bite, I knew I had a new party favorite. 

The blue cheese added a rich saltiness to the creamy avocados and the juicy sweet burst of pomegrante seeds finished the experience perfectly.  The color is an added plus:  the red jewel-like seeds atop the green guacamole – I don’t think you can get any more festive than that for Christmas.  I hope you try this at your next party – your guests will thank you.

Guacamole with Blue Cheese and Pomegranate
(serves 6-8)

 3 ripe avocados, halved, pitted and taken out of skin
4 oz. soft blue cheese (gorgonzola or blue cheese) at room temperature
1-2 finely diced jalepeño chiles (to taste)
1/4 medium red onion, finely diced
3 Tbs. chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
¼ C. pomegranate seeds

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Mash avocados mortar and pestle (if you are so lucky to own one, use your stone molcajete since those avocados are slippery little buggers). 

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Add the blue cheese and mash into avocados.

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 Add onions, jalepeño chiles, cilantro and incorporate well.   Salt and pepper to taste.

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Place in serving bowl and sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top.  Serve with tortilla chips and watch them disappear.

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It was been raining steadily all day and I’ve been in the mood for risotto.  Done properly, risotto can be stick-to-your-ribs good and perfect for a dreary day like today.  I came across this recipe in the RSVP restaurant recipe section of the November 2008 Bon Appétit (one of my favorite features in the magazine).  The recipe calls for fairly basic ingredients, all of which make for a classic risotto.  I liked the idea of pairing it with fish since fish always seems like a good idea to me. 

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I used oyster and shiitake mushrooms for this recipe.

Striped Bass with Mushroom Risotto (adapted from San Diego’s Quarter Kitchen’s recipe in Bon Appétit)
yields 4

Mushroom Risotto
6 C. low salt chicken broth
1/2 C. (1 stick) butter, divided in half
3 + 3 Tbs. shallots
1 clove garlic, minced
12 oz. assorted wild mushrooms (chanterelle, crimini, or shiitake)
1 3/4 C. arborio rice
1 C. dry white wine
1/3 C. chopped Italian parsley
1/3 C. Parmesan cheese (plus more to taste)

Fish
3 Tbs. olive oil
4 5 oz. striped bass fillets

Simmer broth in medium saucepan and keep warm.  Melt 1/4 C. (1/2 stick) of butter in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 3 Tbs. shallots, garlic, and the mushrooms.  Sauté until mushrooms are soft (about 10 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper.

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Melt 1/4 C. (1/2 stick) in another heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add 3 Tbs. shallots, sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.  Add rice and stir for 1 minute. 

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Add wine and stir until almost dry, about 4 minutes.  Add 1 C. warm broth and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 2 C. broth and simmer 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 2 C. broth, mushroom mixture, parsley, and 1/3 C. cheese.  Simmer until creamy and rice is tender, but still firm to bite, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Meanwhile, set oven on broil.  Add oil to ovenproof skillet on high heat.  Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down until skin is crisp (about 4 mintues). 

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Transfer skillet to oven and broil about 6 inches from heat for about 4-6 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Serve risotto with more parmesan cheese to taste and top with fish.  I drizzled with risotto with a truffle olive oil – mmmm.

Victory Brownies

November 9, 2008

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The campaign field office has been cleaned out, the lawn signs have been taken down, and I’ve had a few days to reflect on the extraordinary occurrences of the past week.  I suppose when you dive head first into a cause that you believe in with your entire being, the effects of its successes are magnified.  The surfeit of joy was matched by the exuberant pride I felt in my country, my countrymen and the democratic process.  It was truly an honor to participate in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and those election night memories will stay with me forever.

One thing I was happy to turn the page on was the glut of convience and junk foods that are a hallmark of any campaign, from those ubiquitous boxes of Entenmenn’s doughnuts to the countless hoagies from Wawa.   Food was calories in the most basic sense, something to fuel you as you knocked on hundreds of doors.  But that part is over for me, thankfully, and I can get back to making food the way I like it.

I decided to make these brownies since I received the recipe on a card at Le Pain Quiotidien in Manhattan, where I lunched with my mother and sister-in-law on Friday.  There were only 5 ingredients, all of which I had in my pantry.  (One exception – I did not have pastry flour, but it can easily be made with a 1 : 2 ratio of all-purpose flour to cake flour). 

These need to baked in cupcake papers since they are extremely crumbly and will fall apart when cut if you try to bake them in a traditional baking dish.  They are rich and chocolaty, yet paradoxically light and airy.  If you love a heavy dense brownie, you might not like these as much.  However, if you simply love chocolate, you should give this recipe a try.  It has a wonderful crunchy top and is very moist in the middle.  We had this with a tall glass of organic milk (classically delicious), but I think it would be amazing warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

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Brownies (from Le Pain Quiotidien)
yields 20 brownies

9 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60-64% cacao)
1 C. + 2 Tbs. butter, cut into small pieces
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/3 C. superfine sugar
3 Tbs. pastry flour

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Roughly chop the chocolate into pieces.  Transfer to a medium bowl and add the butter.  Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until the two ingredients have melted.  Mix well and transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325º.  Sift the sugar and flour together, then stir into the chocolate.  Add the eggs and mix well.  Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.  The batter will thicken as it stands.

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Line a muffin tin with cupcakes papers.  Spoon 1/4 C. of the batter into the paper-lined cups.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes.  The brownies will still be moist when done.  They will puff up and fall slightly as they cool.

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This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge was a pleasure to complete and eat – pizza is always welcome in our house.  Having to complete two kinds of pizza, I decided to make a family favorite, pesto and shrimp, and something new for me, a gorgonzola and grape pizza.  As I have mentioned before, I have been intensely involved in a political campaign, so time has been a very precious commodity.  Homemade pizza, while seemingly daunting, is actually a wonderful option for busy cooks since total prep and cooking time is about a half hour.

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BASIC PIZZA DOUGH
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

yield 3 large pizzas

Ingredients:
4 1/2 Cups Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (Olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups  Water, ice cold
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE

Method:
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

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6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

DAY TWO

8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F).

10. Generously sprinkle a pizza peel with semolina or durum flour.   Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

       

Sadly, the evidence of my fabulous tossing was mostly cut off.  The resulting stretched out dough, however, is caught on film.

11. When the dough has the shape you want, place it on a floured pizza peel, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the peel.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven.  Close the door and bake for about 5 minutes.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

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I chose to make this grape pizza since it’s very similar to a favorite hors d’oeuvre I make often for parties (roquefort grapes).  This recipe is more an appetizer than a main course, but very delicious.  I love the combination of the strong salty gorgonzola combined with the carmelized sweetness of the grapes.  The pizza dough recipe is a definite keeper – crispy yet soft and chewy.  Perfection!

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Gorgonzola and Grape Pizza (from Epicurious)

Pizza dough

1/3 cup Vin Santo
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes (9 oz), halved lengthwise
5 oz Italian Fontina, rind discarded and cheese cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
2 oz Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Bring Vin Santo with sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil, uncovered, until reduced to about 1 tablespoon, about 5 minutes. Add grapes to saucepan and stir gently to coat with syrup, then transfer to a bowl. Add cheeses and pepper to bowl, then stir to combine.  Spread on pizza dough and bake for about 5 minutes.
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The second pizza was a pesto, mozzarella and grilled shrimp pizza that lasted about 3 minutes before my children inhaled it.  Pesto is staple in our house and I make variations of pesto pizza regularly.

Thanks to our host Rosa for an excellent challenge. It was wonderful to take time to refocus on food and cooking after a couple of months of focusing on everything but.

Just a little note

September 18, 2008

If you haven’t already noticed, I’ve slowed down quite a bit here at A Beautiful Mosaic.  I’ve decided to become very active in a political campaign and as a result, I won’t be blogging here as much.  I plan to participate in the September and October Daring Bakers Challenges and perhaps a few other entries here and there.  I promise I’ll be back in full force after November 4th!

Chicken Cassoulet

September 9, 2008

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 The recent onslaught of hurricanes and tropical storms have left its mark all along the Gulf Coast and Eastern seaboard.  Dark skies and heavy rains make for a perfect day for a cassoulet, a French stew made of white beans, vegetables, and meat.  Just add a salad and some crusty bread, and you have yourself the perfect meal to chase away gray skies.

Chicken Cassoulet with Panko Topping (adapted from Martha Stewart)

5 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
6 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
19 oz. cannellini beans
3 C. chicken stock
3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into B-inch pieces
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 dried bay leaf
1 tsp. coarse salt 
1+ 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 C. panko breadcrumbs

Marinate the chicken: In a bowl large enough to hold chicken thighs, combine 2 garlic cloves, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and vinegar. Add chicken; toss to coat. Cover; refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in upper third.  In a large stockpot bring chicken stock with carrots, celery, onion, remaining 3 garlic cloves, bay leaf, sage, and remaining teaspoon thyme to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low until vegetables are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.  In the last 5 minutes, add the drained beans.

Transfer bean mixture to a colander set over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid; let cool slightly. Puree half the mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. With the motor running, pour in about 1 cup reserved cooking liquid until thick and smooth. Return to pot with remaining bean mixture. Add the salt; stir to combine.

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Brush an 8-by-2 1/2-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon the oil. Remove chicken from marinade, and arrange in a single layer in prepared dish. Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Remove dish from oven; pour bean mixture over chicken.  Combine the remaining olive olive with the breadcrumb, then sprinkle over the bean mixture.   Set dish on a baking sheet; return to oven, and bake until breadcrumbs are golden brown and beans are bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven; serve hot.

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The fresh herbs is the key to making this bean stew so savory and delicious.  The kids love to dip bread into the bean mixture and so do we.