Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keeping it simple: weekend eating and watermelon with mint and lime

Thursdays get me thinking about the weekend. Some weekends I love nothing more than parking myself in the kitchen, netflix on my laptop, and losing myself in a complicated and involved recipe.

Other weekends, I want simple meal solutions that require minimum last-minute effort, so that when lunch rolls around, and we return home from running errands, the dog park etc., a meal is quickly assembled. Sometimes the easiest thing to have in my fridge is veggies and dip plus a little fruit salad. In my mind, the fruit salad helps tip the veggies and dip from the snack category to the meal category.

This watermelon can hardly be called a salad, but it is also much more than just cubed up watermelon. I love to keep a container in the fridge and, for as long as it lasts, we will eat it at pretty much every meal. The sweet watermelon pairs nicely with the pervasive flavor of refreshing mint and the tang of both lime zest and lime juice. It can be served as soon as it is made, but I prefer when it's had a few hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld.

This is based off a salad recipe from long ago in Everyday Foods magazine. The first time I made this dish was during my first weeklong camping trip in Yosemite valley. We have a great group of friends who regularly spend a week in the valley around labor day. It was my first experience car camping for that length of time and I recall I did quite a bit of advanced meal planning. Our friends all love food too and we enjoy happy hours that extend into relaxed dinners around the campfire, with cooking and conversation. When I eat this salad I think of how much fun that initial trip was and the joy of discovering Yosemite for myself. I have the same nostalgia for camping in Yosemite as other people must have of memories of summer camp. (I went to summer camp twice growing up- the first experience was so hellacious that to this day, around childhood friends, if you mention the name of the camp bully "Buck", it sends a shudder through us all. The second experience was lovely, but by the time I was old enough to look forward to returning to camp, I was also old enough to work in the family restaurant, for which I have my own special memories and nostalgia.)

I resurrected this recipe a year ago when my husband and I were completing a Whole30. If you're curious about Whole30 you can read more about it here.
The original recipe also included making a slurry with sugar and rum. In favor of regular consumption, I abandoned the alcohol, but would certainly be fun for a party.

Watermelon salad with mint and lime

1 large seedless watermelon
2 limes
1 handful of fresh mint leaves, minced

1) Chop watermelon into slightly large cubes. I recommend large cubes because as this sits in the fridge, the edges of the watermelon cubes start to breakdown a little bit and if the pieces are on the smallish side, they can kind of fall apart.

2) Add to the watermelon the zest and juice from two limes and the minced mint leaves. Give it all a big stir to incorporate and stow, covered, in the fridge for at least 3 hours. This salad keeps for about three days.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A tale of three cookies: my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes

Over the past couple of years, I have made a conscious effort to try out new chocolate chip cookie recipes. It is one of my all-time favorite things to eat and I realized that I did not have a go-to recipe.

I am definitely of the "cakey-chewy" chocolate chip cookie camp rather than the "thin-crispy" camp, but I have respect for both. While trying out recipes, I found along the way a 3rd category: the rather grown-up salted dark chocolate chip cookie. 

I was introduced to this cookie over dinner at Delancey restaurant in Seattle. At dessert time, we (my sister, my brother-in-law and myself), each ordered a different dessert. My brother -in-law selected the fresh baked chocolate chip cookie with gray salt. I was intrigued. He said it was a very good cookie.

Fast forward four months later and I looked up on Molly's blog, Orangette, to see if the cookie recipe was shared there. Molly and her husband own Delancey and she details the experience opening the restaurant in her book Delancey. It is a beautiful read. As the daughter of former owners of a pizza restaurant, she captures the elation and anxiety of restaurant life perfectly. I found that yes (!) the recipe is on the blog. It was a bit fiddly, but I was happy to persevere. It was a very good cookie, but did not ring all the bells for me. (I suspect this to be user error on my part. As it was the first salted chocolate chip cookie I attempted, my skills may have been a bit off. I plan to revisit the recipe in the future.)

I kept making cookies. Somehow in the chocolate chip cookie internet universe, I stumbled into the cookie recipes by bon appetit and the chewy chocolate chip cookie by Alton Brown. The 3rd recipe is by Ashley Rodriguez of the blog Not Without Salt and the (wonderful- can't recommend enough) cookbook "Date Night". If you've heard of this 3rd recipe before, it is because I think it would be difficult not to. A few months back the internet fairly blew up about it, and unlike so many other things breaking the internet, this one is well worth it's fame.

Entering my chocolate chip cookie experiment, I expected to emerge with one clear winner, but instead I fell in love with all three recipes. A highlight from this summer is when I made all three cookies and brought them into work for a tasting, with my colleagues voting on their favorite. That was  a really fun Friday. Below I provide a description of each cookie and a link to the recipes. These are my absolute all-time favorite recipes and I have made each of them multiple times. If you try them out, I'd love to hear which is your winner! Or, feel free to comment with your favorite recipe too. 

Salty chocolate chunk cookies- Bon Appetit

This cookie reminds me very much of strachiatella ice cream. It is a thinner cookie but still has enough chewiness to it. The recipe title says "chunk" but, using a serrated knife, I almost shave the chocolate off the chocolate bar and achieve a dough that is splintered through with dark chocolate ribbons. If you're looking for a chocolate chip cookie to make ice cream sandwiches with, I think this cookie would be the best one. Recipe here

Chewy chocolate chip cookie- Alton Brown, Food Network

This recipe was the (close) winner of the chocolate chip cookie tasting at work. It is the one that I crave and is the little black dress of chocolate chip cookies, a real recipe book staple. It achieves heights of chewy greatness by dialing up the gluten content using bread flour. Clearly genius, clearly Alton Brown. Recipe here. Of the three cookies, this cookie has the best shelf life. So, if you're looking to make a cookie for a weeks worth of lunch box packing, I'd recommend this recipe. (Please note: the written online recipe uses weighted measurement, but if you watch the accompanying video segment, it will provide standard measurements.)

Salted dark chocolate chip cookie- Ashley Rodriguez

This is the cookie that caused my non-chocolate chip cookie eating husband to say "I really love this cookie". It is a recipe involving three kinds of sugar and you need to let it rest in the fridge overnight. No matter that hassle, there is very little that I wouldn't do for this cookie. Yes, it is that good. It has this wonderful slightly shatter-y bite on the outside (I suspect from all the sugar) and yet is bound together with just enough dough to give it some chewy heft. Swoon. I think this is the cookie that I should make a batch of dough up, pre-portion into individual cookie dough balls, and freeze so that at any one time I could bake off a couple of cookies for a Friday night or a half dozen for dinner guests. The problem is, I don't have that kind of self-control. Just google this recipe and you will find many others across this great internet of ours as equally besotted. Recipe here and here. (I have provided links to Ashley Rodriguez post but also Deb at Smitten Kitchen because Deb's writing is just so darn good.) 

Monday, August 17, 2015

peach crostada

It is hot here. 107 degrees hot. Forest fire season is underway and on weekend afternoons we hide inside with shades drawn, our books and music to keep us company. (I have also been re-watching episodes of The Mindy Project. I love the witty writing and, when the new season is out, it may finally convert me to a Hulu user.)

Every year it is like this- while the rest of America is seemingly marching towards back-to-school season and hints of fall, in Southern California temperatures are at their hottest and I have months to go before anything corduroy is appropriate.

You would think after enduring 15 plus years of blazing Augusts that I would be used to this, that it would be part of my new rhythm of seasons, but it isn't. Good thing I handle it with such grace, yes? :) (Here and here you can find my past years seasonal complaint.)

There are still plenty of things to love about life in Southern California. In February, when everyone else is lamenting the slump of winter and onslaught of yet more sleet, I may very well be walking the dogs in the morning without a jacket and ending the day with glasses of rose on the patio. (Apparently, this documented LA winter behavior on instagram has contributed to a recent migration of folks from Brooklyn to Downtown LA. Read about it here.)

Meanwhile, back in August, we started Sunday off with a morning stand up paddle board class at our local water reservoir. My friend was our gracious and gifted instructor and it was crazy fun. I am pretty much terrible at it but it was so beautiful and quiet out on the water. I was thrilled that I was actually able to get myself into stand-up position, less thrilled (but not surprised) that paddling myself in a straight path seemed like an impossibility.

With this adventure behind us, we came home to read and nap and, in lieu of dinner, I baked a peach crostada. The peaches I had were just one day over being ripe and in need of being used up. The crostada turned out perfectly: flaky crust, tart sweet peaches, and a rubble of nutmeg scented buttery topping. To me, a crostada is more simple than a pie- the fruit is minimally dressed. Unlike pie that is perfectly wonderful the next day, this crostada is best eaten same day and even better, while still warm. Therefore, we felt it was our responsibility to polish the whole thing off.

This is based on Ina Garten's recipe for apple crostada. I started making this a few summers back with peaches and so that is how I present the recipe below. In Ina's recipe, the crumble topping for apples includes cinnamon and allspice but when I make this with peaches, I only use a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg.

peach crostada

For the pastry (makes 2 tarts- use one now, freeze one for later)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 pound very cold unsalted butter, medium diced.
1/4 cup ice water

For the filling (1 tart)
1 1/2 pounds ripe peaches (about 5-6)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

Make the pastry:
1) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.

2) Using a pastry cutter (or two butter knives) cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is coated with the flour and about the size of peas.

3) Slowly start to add in the ice water, tossing lightly to incorporate, and you should start to see the dough come together. Be careful not to over mix (it will get tough). I find it is helpful to use my hands to identify that moment when the dough has just enough moisture in it that it will come together in a ball.

4) Divide the ball in half and shape each portion into a round flat disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. You will only need one portion of dough for the crostada. I usually freeze the other for a future dessert date.

Make the crostada:
5) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

6) On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry into roughly an 11-inch circle. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and put in the refrigerator while you peel the peaches.

7) I hear there is a method for peeling peaches that involves dipping them in boiling water, then plunging in an ice bath. This is far too fiddly for me. I just go at them with a vegetable peeler. I realize that this means I remove a little more peach with the peel than is ideal (ha!) but it is the method that is most likely to get me in the kitchen and actually cooking. This is my own theory on peach peeling- free free to adopt as your own or judge away.

8) Once the peaches are peeled, cut in half, remove the pit, and cut each half into 4 slices. Set the sliced peaches aside in a bowl.

9) In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and nutmeg. Add in the diced cold butter and, using your fingers, begin to work the butter pieces into the flour mixture until it starts to hold together and crumbles form. Put this small bowl in the fridge for a few minutes to chill the butter and help hold the crumbles together.

10) Remove the baking sheet with the pastry crust from the fridge. Pile the sliced peaches onto the crust, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border. Take the bowl of crumble topping from the fridge and sprinkle it evenly over the peaches. Gently fold the pastry dough border over the peaches, pleating around as you go, to make a circle. This is a rustic free-form pie, so enjoy the general wobbliness of the shape.

11) Bake the crostada for 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is golden and the peach juices bubbling. Remove the crostada from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes- it will be molten hot and needs some time for all the peachy goodness to settle back into the crust.

12) I use a pizza cutter to slice into mine. It can be served plain or with ice cream, creme fraiche, or a puddle of heavy cream. I don't think I would say no to any one of those options. It is up to you whether or not you want to eat dinner first.