Thursday, August 4, 2011

cucumber water

Note: I originally published this last August. This week, it has been so ridiculously hot, I felt it was appropriate to re-post. Maybe this will become an annual August beat-the-heat note? :)

I made this recently in the midst of an awful heat wave. Okay, so it was less of a heat wave and more of just what we call summer, but I do not think that makes me accept or love it any more. I felt a bit like those crazy sand people characters from Star Wars, only I was hiding in an air conditioned cave all day. I emerged in the morning and evening to water my garden. Every day, when I gave my tomato plants a good soaking, I'd wish them good luck and Godspeed.
When it is so hot, I crave simple, refreshing, pared down flavors. Enter cucumber water. It is delicate and lovely and seems somehow very refined. This also helps with the crankiness from the heat.
I first made this cucumber water for a trio of girlfriends, when we met together in my living room for a weekly writing club. They are all so clever and creative, I felt inspired to share something a little bit quirky and intriguing for a refreshment. It was very informal but wonderfully encouraging experience. We are now scattered all about the country and whenever I make this I think of those talented ladies and toast to them.

This idea is from Martha Stewart Living Magazine.

Cucumber Water

To flavor drinking water, add subtly aromatic slices of English cucumber (which are virtually seedless), instead of the usual lemon wedges. Float the thin rounds in a pitcher of chilled water. Garnish each glass with cucumber, too.

(even reading the recipe is somehow cooling, isn't it?)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Alaska, the beautiful

Friends, in a few days I will be in this lovely place. I am so excited I could scream! I hope to share a couple of notes while I am there.

Monday, August 1, 2011

jam thumbprint cookies

These little cookies would be perfect in a late summer picnic basket or first day of school lunch box.
Jeweled buttons of sweet jam (the ones pictured are raspberry and apricot) encased in hazelnut crusted shortbread.

The hazelnut is my addition. The recipe below calls for blanched almonds to be finely ground. I use hazelnuts. I wish I could say that they are used for some superior culinary purpose, but in truth, it was what I had available when I first went to make these cookies and it has stuck. Also, I achieve the "finely ground" texture of the hazelnuts by blitzing them in the food processor. The sound is similar to what I imagine it would be like if I put marbles in there. Somehow it is a very satisfying ruckus.

One of the things I love about this recipe is that the jam center actually does not bake in the oven. I have had versions of this cookie where the jam was baked in the oven and to me the resulting texture is too rubbery. If you have good friends who keep you in supply of homemade jams (my dear friend made the apricot jam pictured) this is a wonderful way to present it and celebrate the summer's bounty well into fall.

This recipe is from a fabulous special edition Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies issue from 2001. I have no qualms about referring to it all year long.

jam thumbprint cookies

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, finely ground (here's where I sub in the hazelnuts)
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup jam or preserves

1) Preheat oven to 325. Have ready two parchment-lined baking sheets.

2) In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and 1/2 cup sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolk and vanilla; beat well. Whisk together flour and salt, and add to mixture, beating on low until combined.

3) Combine almonds with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Form dough into 1-inch balls, and dip in egg white, then in almond and sugar mixture. Make a deep indentation in the center of each ball with your finger or bottom of a thick wooden spoon. Transfer to a prepared baking sheet.

3) Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, and press down the centers again. Rotate sheets, and bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes more. Remove from oven, and place on a wire rack to cool slightly. Fill centers with about 1 teaspoon of jam.

Note: Have a bowl of ice water ready. When reshaping the thumbprint after the cookie has baked for ten minutes, dip your finger in the ice water for several seconds and dry before reshaping; this will keep your finger cool.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies