Monday, October 28, 2013

stewed lentils with yogurt and cucumber

Woke up this morning to the most beautiful gray sky and evidence of an early morning rain. These are the transitional So Cal mornings I live for- when the heat of our late late summer is on it's way out and fall/winter (or our version of it) is on it's way in.

So, I present this dish as also a nice transitional meal: warm spiced lentils (cozy and comforting) with a cooling topping of cucumber and greek yogurt (bright and sharp). It is a perfect marriage of contrasting flavors and textures but still all at once a great fall meal. Plus, it all comes together quickly for a weeknight supper.

This recipe is from the Martha Stewart cookbook "Meatless".

stewed lentils with yogurt and cucumber

stewed lentils:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups dried red lentils, picked over and rinsed
5 cups chicken stock or water
coarse salt

cucumber salsa-ish topping:
2 scallions, sliced on bias
1 cup diced english cucumber
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon white vinegar
coarse salt

for serving:
plain greek yogurt
basmati rice

1) For the lentils: Heat a medium sized dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil and once it is hot, add onion and cook, until just starting to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Then add garlic and ginger and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in turmeric and cumin and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. At this point you'll have a wonderful gingery garlic fragrance wafting in the kitchen. Be sure to watch the heat so that the garlic doesn't scorch.

2) Add the 5 cups chicken stock (or water) and add it slowly, stirring the whole time to scrap up the bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the lentils, bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a nice simmer and partially cover. Cook until the lentils are tender and mixture thickens up (about 15-20 minutes). Once mixture is cooked, taste, and add salt if needed.

3) While the lentils simmer away, start work on the salsa. Scrub the english cucumber and, if you prefer, remove the peel. (I actually like the skin on for english cucumbers. Gives it a bit more of a snap). You're welcome to use a regular cucumber, but would recommend peeling and de-seeding. To the cucumber, add the scallions, cilantro, and vinegar. Season with salt and give it a big stir.

4) To serve, scoop a little rice into each bowl and top with a generous ladle of lentils. Top with a dollop of yogurt and helping of the cucumber salsa-ish topping. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

soft pumpkin cookies with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

This is the second cookie from this past weekends Fall cookie-palooza. It is almost less cookie and more the top off of a pumpkin cupcake. Soft, tender pumpkin cookie topped with a creamy cinnamon spiked frosting? Pumpkin perfection, please. It is one of those recipes that make you glad to not be using your oven for storing sweaters.

We made this cookie at my dear friends recommendation- she said it was one of her husbands favorites. Well, now it is one of my husbands favorites too.

The recipe is from the blog, The Baker Chick (here.) This the first recipe I have made from this blog, but it turned out so wonderfully, I am pretty sure I'll be bookmarking this one for future inspiration. 

soft pumpkin cookies with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

soft pumpkin cookies:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh ground if you can swing it)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

cinnamon cream cheese frosting: 
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cookies:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt; set aside.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then, to the butter/sugar mixture, add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix until creamy. Slowly add in the dry ingredients.

3) This is a very soft dough (almost reminded me of soft serve ice cream). I found it easiest to use my small ice cream scoop to portion the dough out on parchment lined baking sheets.

4) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cookie rack to cool. 

For the frosting: 

5) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and cream cheese together. (It is very important both the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature. Otherwise, good luck.)

6) Slowly add powdered sugar and mix until frosting is thick and smooth. Add vanilla and cinnamon.

7) Once cookies have cooled, spread with frosting. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

in celebration of Fall (and a truly outstanding sugar cookie recipe)

As our calendars now claim it is Fall and So Cal temperatures are just starting to dip in the evening (and by dip, I mean that it is no longer 100 degrees), I have decided to shift into full Fall embrace.

The arrival of pumpkins at my local trader joes is one of my Fall cues as is the incessant PSL (return of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks) chatter. Every Fall I want to put stacks of pumpkins around my house and decorate it like the set of You've Got Mail.

This past weekend I collaborated with a friend of mine and her daughter on a few Fall cookies. I know people (including myself) tend to think of decorating sugar cookies as a Christmas activity, but these darling little owls pretty much insist on being their own event.

It was such a nice afternoon of decorating, mixing, chatting and laughing. I think our hearts need those times of play and creativity with friends. It is restorative.

I tried a new sugar cookie recipe this time (it calls for 8 egg yolks!) and it really is the best sugar cookie I have ever made. The dough is tender and vanilla scented; the perfect amount of buttery-ness and crisp. The edges also hold their shape well, which I think is important quality when making shaped cookies.

The recipe is from Tom Douglas', The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. The Dahlia Bakery is in Seattle and I had the pleasure of visiting it this past March. It was spectacular and easily the best bakery I've been to in the US. It is that wonderful mix of classic, cozy bakery items elevated by the perfection of execution and unique details. For example, their doughnuts are served with a vanilla bean mascarpone icing. Ridiculous. Add to this the use of Northwest ingredients (tarts with Rhubarb) and, well, it took everything in me not to buy out the store. My sister gave me the cookbook last year for my birthday and I highly recommend it for your consideration of holiday gifts.

Sugar Cookies

2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (yeah, I had to read that one twice too. Seems like a lot, but it is not overpowering)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Next, add the egg yolks, vanilla, and salt. Continue to mix until well combined.

2) Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add in the flour- about 3 additions. Feel free to pause the mixer a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. At the very end, be sure to check for the last bits of unmixed flour at the bottom of the mixer bowl, and incorporate. The dough will be gorgeously yellow and very soft.

3) Take the dough from the mixer bowl and quickly shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer.

4) Preheat the oven to 350 and remove the dough from the fridge.

5) Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. I found it easiest to split the chilled dough mass in half, return one half to the fridge and roll the other half on a lightly floured surface. (I am also a recent devotee to using a pastry mat, but it certainly isn't essential). Once the dough is rolled out, use a 3 inch cookie cutter (or whatever size you like, you'll just need to adjust baking time accordingly) to cut as many cookies as you can. Place the cut cookie shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then, gather together the remaining dough scraps and reroll the dough one more time. Cut more cookies but this time, discard the scraps. It seems terribly wasteful, but by this point, the amount of leftover dough scraps is very minimal. Also, the rerolling of the dough makes it very tough. As you're cutting cookie shapes, I found myself filling up the cookie sheets quite quickly. While one sheet was in the oven, I put the others to chill in the fridge. This helps ensure the dough does not get too soft while waiting for it's turn in the oven and will keep better shape when baking.

6) Bake the cookies until very lightly browned at the edges, about 15 to 18 minutes. Be sure to rotate the baking sheet about halfway through the baking time. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cookies cool, still on the sheet, for about 10 minutes. Gently transfer the cookies to a cookie rack to cool completely before decorating.