Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread

When I found a Williams Sonoma cookbook: Food Made Fast: Baking, I had to pick it up. Not only have I have had so much success with all of my Williams Sonoma recipes, but I thought it would be interesting to see how they speed up the process. (From the same book as the Chocolate Roll Out Cookies). I was somewhat skeptical that I would have the same results-I feel like no matter the recipe's projected active time, I take double its prescription to accomplish the same tasks. The shortcuts we take for baked goods always seem to be very obvious: the slice and bake cookies with their uniform center emblem, store-bought cookies with their perfectly symmetrical shapes, and those cupcakes with the piled-on-swirly frosting: Gorgeous, but not always delicious. At this point in the holiday season, most of us have had so much pie and so much cake that we're honestly looking forward to the cleansing of the palette that gives way to and becomes our new year resolutions. If you're looking for a recipe that gets in the oven quickly and is not overly sweet, this one is for you.
In case the piles of snow shoved to the side of the road have not yet alerted you to the season's status, it is winter. Cold, snowy, dry winter. There aren’t many fruits available at reasonable prices. The ones that are, well, to say they aren’t even very tasty is an understatement. Don't let the citrus pass you by! It keeps the winter bright. What we have here will give you a very flaky shortbread that lends itself to your predilection. Add dried fruit or finely chopped nuts. Freeze it for later use; it will defrost overnight in your fridge. And seriously, it only takes about ten or fifteen minutes to get in the oven. No excuses.
Lemon-Poppyseed Shortbread
Adapted from Williams Sonoma
½ cup (4oz/125g) + 3 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup powdered sugar
Zest of one lemon, finely grated (about 2 tsp)
1 ½ cup flour
2 tbsp poppyseeds
½ tsp salt
Yield: 36 1.5” round cookies
Preheat oven to 325F.
In heavy duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy.

Add in all remaining ingredients, mixing on medium speed until smooth. Form into ball.
Flour work surface and pat dough into a round. Use rolling pin flatten until dough is ¼” thick.
Using a 1.5” round cookie cutter, cut into rounds and place 1” apart on greased cookie sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are just slightly browned. Let cool on wire rack.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Holy Christmas Chicken Wings

Ah, Christmas.  A time for family and friends to gather together.  A time for "crabbies" (as in FOOD, as in CRAB, get your mind out of the gutter).  A time for antipasti platters piled so high they nearly fall over, a time for the Holy Christmas Chicken Wings, mussels and lobster.  A time for salt-crusted beef tenderloin and absurdly cheesily delicious scalloped potatoes, a time for pumpkin pie and apple fig crostada with HAND-WHIPPED whipped cream.  And loads and loads of drinks.
What, that's not what you typically eat at Christmas? KFTF* and I celebrated with his Restaurant Family - when you manage an Irish pub it's not as if you just get to take vacation willy nilly, now can you?  The people, they need their pints!  We also celebrated a birthday this Christmas - I mean, an actual living person's birthday, not just that of Jebus.  Oh that is going to get me into trouble (sorry, Mama Fierce), but really, it was a friend's birthday.  
Anyway, The Restaurant Family, as restaurant families are wont to do, split up cooking duties.  KFTF, who happens to be quite the chef himself, took on the Holy Christmas Chicken Wings and the salt-crusted beef tenderloin, along with a trio of sauces, at which point I was too stuffed with lobster to actually photograph ... oops.  Just to tease you: a roasted red pepper tomato reduction, a horseradish sour cream sauce and a red wine mushroom reduction.  Yes, the man CAN cook.  There are no recipes for the sauces because he "doesn't USE recipes, that's for BAKERS" which is a total lie because where did you just come up with the Holy Christmas Chicken Wings in a dream?  No, it was Holy Alton Brown, thankyouverymuch.  

Check out the step-by-steps (look at me, I'm like ... Pioneer Woman ... except ... not).
Get out your stovetop smoker and pour an inch or so of water in the pan, let it come to a boil and then put your thawed-and-dried-off chicken wings on the tray.  Steam, covered, for 30 minutes.   You can use a steamer basket, like Alton Brown suggests, but we did this a few times and it was really hard to keep the wings from sticking together.  Voila, the stovetop smoker!  (Check out some of the fat already in the pan, yum, right? Sike - that's what you aren't eating - so these are totally healthy!)

Next, put the steamed wings on a plate or tray. Cover them with paper towels to remove excess moisture.  Put the tray in the fridge for at least an hour.  Trust me, it is worth waiting.  And while you are waiting I'm sure you can find something else to do or eat.  Preheat the oven to 425 F.
After the wings have gotten nice and chilled in the fridge, take them out.  Blot off the remaining excess moisture with paper towels.  Put the wings directly on baking sheets - make sure they don't touch.  It's important to note that you do not need to use foil - you don't even need to grease the pans.  The chicken skin will stick to the foil, and everyone knows that is the best part of wings.  FRIED CHICKEN SKIN.
Roast the wings for about 20 minutes.  Make up your favorite bbq sauce (we use a combination of hot sauce, Sriracha, garlic, honey, more hot sauce, and then a little dash of hot sauce to top it off) and get that nice and warm on the stove.  Brush the wings generously, then pop them back in the oven to finish them off for about 15-20 more minutes.

And then, when you think you just can't take it anymore, because those wings smell so darn good (stop peeking in the oven!), take them out.  Brush them with a little more sauce, put 'em on a nice pretty plate and devour. 
Here's the original Alton Brown recipe (why yes, someone DID purchase the 27 DVD set while someone else was out of town! Hm, I wonder who that could be).  Feel free to adjust to your tastes - if I am coming over for dinner, though, you better have some blue cheese dressing on hand if you know what's good for you. 

I am not even going to go into the Saga of The Tenderloin because who gives up all their good material at once?  Let's just say that it involved a 24-hour dough, a last minute request for flour -- thanks, Birthday Boy and Wife's neighbors! You were totally freaked out when I knocked on your door at ten pm on Christmas needing flour, because doesn't that only happen on tv?  But really, thanks for the flour because without it we might not have even been able to get The Tenderloin into the oven and at that point we wouldn't have even noticed that the oven was actually off for half of the baking time but HEY.  It was amazing, and you should totally try it.  (Just ... be a little more ... together? Be more sober.  Yes, that's it, just be more sober.  Probably fully 100% sober would be best.)
Stay tuned this week for some Dispatches from The Road - watch out, Los Angeles, C Fierce and Grandma Fierce will be invading along with another trillion Buckeye fans.  Follow me on Twitter to read all the crazy things Grandma Fierce says - - as well as Things I Eat On Vacation.  

*KFTF = K&#@ From The Future = The Poor Man Who Lives In My Apartment and Puts Up With My Shenanigans.  There's a long story behind this name, one that has no time nor place on this blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting

When I began writing about these cookies the day before Christmas, I had a pretty high opinion of them; versatile and yummy, they are great to make in advance. What I hadn’t counted on, because I didn’t know yet, was just how amazing they would turn out.

It began as another adventure from the “fast” baking book. Simple, yes. Fast? I would not go that far. Think of these cookies as a long distance run, not a sprint. If you try to get it done quickly you'll pull a baking muscle, so just let it develop over the course of a day or so. I can only think of one thing worse than being up until 2am piping cream cheese onto cookies as you can barely hold your eyes open: waking up to all the dishes the next morning. So take your time: Make the batter in one night. The dough has to chill for at least an hour, so just pop the dough, bowl and all, in the fridge overnight. Otherwise you'll have to do like I did, which is soak the bowl in soap and water to prevent yourself from eating all of it without any utensils. Bake the cookies the next day.
If you’re like me, you'll wake up the next morning with just one thing on your mind: peppermint cream cheese filling. People, this last step is absolutely necessary. It raises the bar from “just another chocolate cookie” to “oh my god you can’t leave those here with me by myself.”

The fine folks at Williams Sonoma recommend dividing the dough into three disks and saving one or more for later use. This speaks to me: there is no reason to avoid admitting that I love my freezer. Yes, it is loud and a horrible puke yellow color, but it does a good job keeping my perishables from perishing. You’d be hard pressed to open it and not find a Tupperware full of soup, a pint of ice cream or two or four, and some pizza dough for those days when I just can’t do anything more than preheat the oven and swirl some tomato sauce and cheese around.
Now, you'll find some chocolate roll out cookie dough, too. As I was putting it away I noticed I had leftover cream cheese frosting-one in a Tupperware and another in a Ziploc. I didn’t have anything particular in mind when I grabbed those two to defrost - I wasn’t even sure if they were the same flavor. I know now my subconscious was one step ahead of me, planning for the awesomeness to come. The cookies by themselves are good, yes. But they are phenomenal with a little extra love and attention.

Chocolate Roll Out Cookies from William Sonoma’s Food Made Fast: Baking

1 ½ C (12 oz) unsalted butter at room temp
3 C Light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 Eggs
1 T vanilla extract
3 ½ C flour
1 C plus 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ t baking soda
1 ½ t cream of tartar
¾ t salt
coarse sugar for sprinkling

In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter & sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. In another bowl, stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix on low speed until blended. Turn out dough onto a floured work surface, dividing into three equal portions. Pat each portion into a flat disk, and wrap separately in plastic warp. Chill for at least one hour or up to two days. You can freeze for later use.

Put the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (if you don’t have this, DO NOT substitute wax paper. Grease the cookie sheets instead). On a work surface, place disk between 2 sheets of wax paper and roll out about 1/8” thick. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out. Transfer to prepared sheets, spacing 1 ½” apart. Gather scraps, reroll, and cut out more cookies. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake cookies until edges are crisp, 8-10minutes. Let cool briefly on sheets, then transfer to rack to cool completely.

For cream cheese frosting:

2-8oz packages cream cheese at room temperature
2-3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1 t vanilla extract
1 t peppermint extract

whip cream cheese with sugar until spreadable consistency, adding more confectioner’s sugar if necessary. Add vanilla. Add peppermint to taste.

I used a #10 wilton tip inside a Ziploc-type bag to pipe dollops onto cookies, then pressed another cookie on top to spread the frosting. You can use whatever works-a knife (Editor's Note from C Fierce: originally J Fierce had this spelled as "knive" ... no, sister, plural knives does not a singular "knive" make. Guess which one of the Sisters Fierce is a Two Time Spelling Bee Champion.), a spatula, etc.

The cream cheese will slightly soften the cookies over the course of the day, don’t worry if they are crispy initially.

***As soon as I unearth my camera-to-computer-cord from the debris of the holiday season, I will post some beautiful images that will knock your socks off.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chocolate Hazelnut Spice Cookies

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone! I  hope you did not run around like a chicken with your head cut off this morning like I did - it seems like everything piles up in those last few minutes before the holidays. 

The past few days, I haven't been getting much sleep. Not by regular standards, but my own normal 9.5 hours a night normal.  Most people do not abhor the mornings like I do.  Instead of just lying there like I usually would, I got up and began to bake.  I am not hosting tomorrow's festivities, which means I must come bearing baked goods. But 7am is early for me… painfully early. I only get up before 9 if I have a good reason.  In general, baking is not a good reason. In general, sleep comes before baking. And before All Other Things, Too.  But baking for Christmas? Well, it will slide this year.
The recipe I’m sharing today is my, well, Gourmet’s CLASSIC.  I follow it verbatim. It works so perfectly there is no need to tweak. I can’t imagine what I would change anyway, everything is in perfect harmony here. The best thing about these cookies besides their very adult flavors of chocolate, hazelnut, cloves, and orange? It is that they improve with age.  Go ahead and bake them up to four days ahead of time and let the flavors mingle.  If you can have cookies sitting in your house that long, I mean.
Third best thing about these little gems: they freeze fantastically well. I like to bake them when I just “feel like baking” and then I always have something in my freezer for the events that cut really close to a work day or a day when I would rather paint my nails than get butter underneath them. Not that butter doesn’t do great things for your cuticles. Sometimes I put butter on them at night before I go to bed to help with the dry winter air.  Not really. But today I got a little butter on my fingertips and used it as chap stickCocoa butter, butter butterwhats the diff?
Ahem. Back to the cookies. So. Get out the foody. Get those hazelnuts toasted. Get started.
yield: Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies
active time: 45 min
total time: 2 1/2 hr
For cookies:
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts (9 ounces), toasted, loose skins rubbed off in a kitchen towel while still warm, and nuts cooled completely (this is my least favorite part of the whole thing because I am a total perfectionist. If you’re like me and you wont stop until all the skin is rubbed off… Just buy them without the hull. Your thumbs will thank you)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon hazelnut-flavored liqueur (Gourmet prefers Frangelico, I got the cheaper one and it has served me well)
For icing:
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon hazelnut-flavored liqueur
Make cookies: Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in middle. Butter a large baking sheet.
Pulse hazelnuts, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves in a food processor until nuts are finely chopped, then add butter and zest and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Add juice and liqueur and pulse until dough comes together into a ball but is still crumbly. Form level tablespoons of dough into balls and flatten to about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, arranging 1 inch apart on baking sheet.
Bake cookies until puffed and slightly cracked, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Make icing while cookies cool: Whisk together all icing ingredients until smooth.
Dip tops of cooled cookies into icing and transfer to a wax-paper-lined baking sheet. Let stand until icing is set.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wherein C Fierce is Shamed Into A Non-Photo Post.

Ladies and germs, I hope you've been enjoying the bloggy stylings of J Fierce as we figure out "how this blogging thing works."  As with much of our projects, we tend to dive in head-first and then realize we forgot our noseplugs.  (KIDDING we were never that lame to use NOSEPLUGS, are you serious?  Only weirdos used noseplugs at the pool, and the Sisters Fierce were waaaay too cool for that during our heady youthful days at the Olympic Swim & Racquet Club.  Yes, they spelled racket like that.  What can I say, we led a charmed childhood.  BUT!  I digest!  Back to the blog!)
J Fierce, due to her non-nine-to-five schedule, has been shaming me to no end that I have yet to post a "baking post."  I know, I know, you have been waiting, breathlessly, for your Google reader to alert you to a new C Fierce posting.  I am eagerly anticipating regaling you, dear Internets, with tales of my baking glories.  However, what is a food blog without food porn photos?  I broke my camera over a year ago, and have decided that it is HIGH TIME to get a new one.  I know, a year without a camera?  Oops.  The new camera arrives today (thank you, UPS tracking, I love you so much) and I cannot wait to take photos of food and then put them on the internet for you to see.  Until then, I leave you with a list.  I love lists.  Making lists is one of my hobbies and skills.  There is nothing better than crossing something off a list.  What a sense of accomplishment, of purpose.  To list is divine.  Without further ado!
12 Foods to Tackle in 2010 
1. Carrot juice.  I don't own a juicer nor do I have plans to purchase one as those badboys are not cheap, but I have recently become obsessed with carrot juice.  So why not try to make my own?
2. A whole fish all by myself, with the bones and everything, terrifies me to no end.  I don't think I really have to explain how scary this is.
3. Croissants.
4. Bagels.
5. Challah.  CHALLAH BACK Y'ALL.  What, I listen to Matisyahu.  Mazel tov!
6. Handground hamburgers ...
7 & 8. ... with homemade ketchup, mayo, and mustard (this only counts for two items as I have already made mustard before, it just wasn't very good).
9. ... and homemade french fries.  Again ... these have been attempted.  Note to readers: don't use olive oil when frying potatoes, it's just dumb, not that I would know anything about that.
10. ... and brioche buns to accompany numbers six through nine.
11. Swedish kanellbullar, which are a lot like cinnamon rolls but with cardamom, which is something like $13 a jar and the first time I tried to make these ... let's just say I had to get J Fierce on the line for an hour before we realized the reason that they did.not.rise. was due to the fact that C Fierce is an idiot and bought the wrong yeast.  This all occurred during the excruciating timeframe of December 2007 to January 2009, in which every attempt to make a baked good involving yeast was met with certain disaster.  It's still a little rough for me to talk about.  I am in therapy, yes, thanks for asking, it is free and called This Blog.
12. Real gingerbread cake.  Not that nasty gingerbread house stuff, I'm talking about needing to purchase liters of unsulphured molasses.  I always see this in recipes from "healthy" or "natural" websites and it kind of scares me, but more than that, it excites me.  It sounds like something from a Saudi Arabian oilfield, and I am looking forward to cooking with it.
13. BONUS ITEM!!!  Homemade pasta.  J Fierce has done this before (I am beginning to think she doesn't even HAVE a job, she just goes to grocery stores and wanders around looking for ways to shame me), and I may need to break down a wall or two in my apartment to make my kitchen big enough to make pasta, but goshdarnit I am going to try.  Even if it's just gnocchi. 
So, dear readers, that is my list for the year.  What terrifies you in the kitchen?  What are you tackling in 2010?  Leave us a note in the comments, please!  It will make us feel like we're a Real Blog!
Be on the lookout for details of Christmas feasting yet to come.  Let's just say that the menu is ... rather eclectic this year.  What, you don't have chicken wings on Christmas?  What are you, UNAMERICAN???
Happy eating and I will see you SOON with FOOD PHOTOS GALORE. 
C Fierce

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lemon Bar Fail

I have to start out by thanking C Fierce for that wonderful introduction. I can’t remember beating her up because I wore her shirt, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It sure sounds like me.

So the goal here over at The Sisters Fierce is to write about cooking and baking adventures. I hate to do this, but I have no choice: I’m going to begin with a failure.
Here’s the thing. I can tell you why this happened. I was on a roll. I mean, a real roll. I was turning out perfectly moist pumpkin cake, ginger sandwich cookies with a lemon cream cheese filling, those flavors sang together. I made pizza dough that cooked up crisp like a cracker. I was on FIRE. This is why it happened: it was my turn to fail.
I should have known with the way my day began: I bid on a piece of art online and I lost, bummer. Once I got to work I realized I left my cell phone at home-that always makes me feel a little bit anxious, a little bit stranded. My growling stomach reminded me that I also left my English muffin in the toaster. The day dragged on.
What tricked me into thinking I was together enough to bake that evening? What led me to think that after 8 hours of My Job that I would have energy left for Ye Olde Kitchen Aide and oven?
It was the lemons that called to me, “J Fierce, we’re on sale, a whole bag of us for $1.99. We’re not regular lemons, we’re meyer lemons… don’t leave us here all alone …” and then my mind starts reeling. What should I make with those gorgeous things, the color of a baby chick, bright and cheery? The fragrance is nothing like your typical lemon, they’re almost floraly. Already made a pie, made some ice cream, made scones… It was their request, really. How could I resist?
“We’d be so good in a classic lemon bars recipe, just try it.” The little golden eggs kept stepping up their game, reminding me of their status as the love child of a lemon and a mandarin orange, sweeter and so fragrant. “You probably won’t have this chance next week,” they told me, playing on their notoriously short season. As if they had to do all that work -I would have taken them home with me anyway.
There was a recipe online I had been eying - an update on Ina Garten’s classic lemon bars. It was beautiful. But of course what isn’t beautiful from the Smitten Kitchen? In between commercials (because it was a good tv night) I beat the butter, then I separate the eggs, I make and bake the shortcake crust.
But I should know better. I do know better. I just didn’t listen to myself. The part of me that said, man, this bowl is really full. The filling is too runny. And there is too much of it. Just take some out. I can’t take some out. I followed the recipe to a T. See how it overflows in the pan? You should take some out. No, there’s no leavening, it’ll be fine. I even measured the pan.
It was already late when I realized there was no way I would get my (please don’t hate me) normal 9 1/2 hours of sleep (C Fierce is convinced I’ve had mono since age 13). I figured, eh, what’s wrong with an 11pm bedtime… I can hack it.
I didn’t do myself any favors by painting my left hand’s nails (OPI’s Miami Beet) in between those commercial breaks, either. It turned me into a one-armed baker trying to make a masterpiece on my first showing. After 35 minutes in the oven, I put tinfoil on top to stop the scabby mess from getting any darker. But the curd was still jiggly. I’m not talking “mildly set,” I’m talking “this is questionable for those who have compromised immune systems as I’m sure they shouldn’t be eating raw egg.” That sucker sat in the oven for over two hours before I finally gave up and went to bed.
Of course I sampled the outer edge before I turned in. And once you got underneath the scab top and past the burnt shortbread crust… my god that thing was gorgeous. Canary yellow. Flavor like magic.
And you know what I did when I got off work the next day? Bought another bag of those beauts. I’m going to try this with a different pan this time and see how far it will take me.
Original recipe here (and I won’t even make notes because mine was such a disaster):