Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cook the Books 2013: Salty Sweet Seaweed Butter Cookies and more from Around My French Table

After doing both Cook It! 2012 and a Cooking The Breakfast Book collaboration last year, I was thrilled to see a new communal cooking project emerge for 2013. Dreamed up by Grow and Resist and Oh, Briggsy..., Cook the Books! A Cookbook Challenge is a creative and fun way to get people to use the cookbooks they own, or try out new ones, together.

First up for January was Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. This is a delightful and inspiring cookbook. I was immediately struck by her clear, no-nonsense tone, making French cooking feel very accessible. My first pass through the book also left me feeling like I wanted to make a good 20 or so dishes immediately. A lot appeals, and I also like her approach of including dishes that may not be French in origin, but that have become part of the culinary and cultural fabric of the country.

While I did make a number of recipes from the book (more on that below), I decided to highlight the magical butter cookies known as sablés here, because they are both fun to make and fun to eat. After you've tasted these flavor grenades it'll come as no surprise to hear they are très populaire in France.

Instead of the toasted nori suggested in the book, I happened to be at Trader Joe's and thought a package of their Roasted Seaweed would be perfect. Lo and behold, they have a new seaweed snack on their shelves that was destined for these cookies. Their Sweet Sesame Seaweed doesn't come in sheets, but instead in a mass of crispy, crinkly blades (yup, that's what the leaves of seaweed are called...don't ask me how I know or recall that bit of trivia...), that at first proved themselves difficult to chop, but excellent for making a mess. After a couple tries resulting in flying seaweed bits, I turned to a technique I use for grinding whole allspice, and happily it was very effective. Place ingredient (in this case seaweed bunches) between two sheets of parchment paper and using a rolling pin, run it over the contents until broken down to desired grain/consistency.

Don't kid yourself. These are called butter cookies, because that's their main ingredient. Get over it and get creative with how you flavor them.

I made three different flavors, and brought them as slice-and-bake logs to our most recent food swapwhere they were hit!

The Cheez-it-ish Crackers Greenspan features are basically like more delicious Cheez-its, with more butter. I used a raw Emmenthal and it was perfect. The lemon ones (not included in this book, but a variation suggested in her master sablé recipe) were made with fruit from my mom's tree. This made them just that much more special. And the seaweed ones were all that I imagined.


Salty Sweet Seaweed Butter Cookies
Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick), unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons finely chopped toasted nori, or other seaweed of choice (see above)
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Optional: flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

This dough is easy to make by hand using a rubber spatula if your butter is really soft. In a large bowl, mix the butter, salt and chopped seaweed together until smooth and creamy in texture. 

Stir in the remaining ingredients following this sequence, but avoid overmixing or overworking the dough: sugar, egg yolk, olive oil, and flour. 

When it is smooth, divide into half (or thirds) and roll each piece into a slender log based on the size you want your finished cookies.

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour, and up to 5 days. You may also keep in the freezer for 2 months.

When you are ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Slice each log into cookies "on the scant side of 1/4 inch" (description courtesy of David Lebovitz, who gave Greenspan this recipe). Place them on your baking sheet, cooking only one batch at a time on a rack centered in your oven.

Sprinkle the optional sea salt on top of each cookie at this stage if using.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes. They are done when they are slightly firm but not colored.

Transfer to a rack to cool, and cook remaining batches as and when needed.

Cooking Note: The flavor of the Sweet Sesame Seaweed was perfectly suited to use in this recipe. That said, I definitely plan to experiment a bit and will try the toasted nori method to compare. I also wonder if furikake might be a transformative addition?

Other dishes I cooked from this book include:

Orange-Scented Lentil Soup - I love lentils so am always looking out for new ways to prepare them. This recipe immediately tempted my taste buds, and being citrus season, how could I refuse them? My favorite way to pimp this soup out? Top it with a dollop of yogurt, some fresh dill, smoked sea salt, and a bit of hot sauce. (PS It is very hard to make a pureed lentil soup look good).

Lime and Honey Beet Salad - Nice, bright and simple. They way beets should be served in my humble opinion. I added a bit more lime juice than the recipe called for, and used some lime, cilantro and gingergrass flavored salt I had on hand.

Dilled Gravlax with Mustard Sauce - I left this to cure for 72 hours, which concluded this evening...but I didn't tackle the job until after dinner, and was too full to try it. I'm betting it won't disappoint.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sweet Treats Galore: October Swap Recap

Since we're gearing up for the next swap a week from today, it's high time to have a recap of the last swap!

Falling about a week before Halloween definitely influenced people's choices, and we ended up with lots of chocolately treats and seasonally selected ingredients.

From sprinkles to brownies, and pizza sauce to pesto, it didn't all fall on the sweet end of the flavor spectrum...here's the full list of goodies we had on hand:

Sour Cherry and Pistachio Granola, Za'atar, Sprinkles, Tortillas, Meyer Lemons, Herbs, Honey, Apple Pudding with Cashew Creme, Vanilla Bean Pot de Crème, Flavored Brownie Trio, Plum Sauce, Plum Sauce with Chipotle, Brandy Apple Butter, Apple Chutney, Salted White Chocolate Brownies, Bacon Caramel Corn, Olallieberry Syrup, Blackberry Jam, Carrot Bread with Almonds, Dilly Beans, Orange Bitters, Grape Ketchup, Pecan Pralines, Merengue Cookies, Spicy Pickled Carrots, Garlic Confit, No Knead Pizza Dough with Roasted Tomato Pizza Sauce, Green Sauce/Kelp Salad, Persinnamon Chips, Arugula Pesto, Roasted Red Pepper Puree, Sunflower Seed Ranch Dressing, Chocolate Covered Marshmallows, Mellowcreme Pumpkins, San Marazano Tomatoes, Brandied Cherries, Salt-Preserved Meyer Lemons, Pear Cinnamon Jam, Cherry Jam, Dark Chocolate Toffee with Cashews, Drunked Pepita Butter, Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps, Fig Jam with Fennel and Vanilla, Lemon, Fig and Thyme Preserves, Vanilla Quince Preserves, Fig Jam with Candied Bergamot, Persimmon Thyme Jam.

As usual the potluck table also overflowed with an incredible array of dishes like lamb tagine with wild rice and chicken tacos, plus homemade snacks, desserts and agua frescas too. 

In addition to a full house of swappers, film student Haley was there capturing all the action.

Here's her excellent video:

Shout outs to our event venue hosts, Sports Basement, who not only provide us the space to meet for free, but throw in some beer, wine and other libations too; to Haley for her interest and capturing of the swap fun; and to Vanessa for sharing her superior photos (most, but not all of above).

Hope to see you at a swap soon!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Finale of Cooking The Breakfast Book, Chapter 12: Soft Gingerbread

With the close of a year, so too ends my Cook the Book adventure. Thank you so much to my fellow chefs and blog pals: EmilyNatashaRachel and Claudie and Sammy. Through a chance meeting at an event, we continued to bond over German sausage, Spanish tapas, drinks, lots of recipes and a love of breakfast! It's wonderful to count five new friends through a shared experience, even if we have yet to cook together. I still want to have a group gathering where we each cook or bring our favorite recipe from the book and indulge together. Who knows, 2013 is a brand new year and full of promise...

Appropriately, I feel like I am going out with a bang on this project. The Soft Gingerbread is perhaps my favorite recipe so far; mouth-watering and wholly satisfying. This dark, spicy, perfumed deliciousness is dense but airy, nicely sticky and not-too-sweet.

I know this will become a go-to recipe for me and have already touted its worth to multiple friends.

The key ingredient

Spices + molasses = magic

Bubbles begin to emerge from the start

After blending

Mixing in the dry ingredients

Air pockets galore

Freshly baked gingerbread smells really really good
Show me your best side
A born crowd pleaser

Soft Gingerbread
Makes one eight-inch square gingerbread (and then some)
Adapted from from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham  

1 cup sugar

1 cup dark molasses
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and lightly flour your baking pan. I actually ended up with enough batter for an eight-inch square plus a small loaf, so be prepared for extra.

Add the sugar, molasses, oil, and eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. From the start you will notice a lot of bubbling, which makes this project extra fun in my book.

In another bowl, combine the salt, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, flour, and baking soda and stir with a fork until well mixed. Stir into the first mixture and add boiling water. Beat briskly until smooth. Note this is a thin batter and will rise.

Pour into the pan(s) and bake 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm. For the record, it also pairs magnificently with ice cream (I suggest mint chip).

Lastly, in my opinion this is a recipe for all seasons, and many occasions. Enjoy it!