Monday, October 28, 2013

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Peanut Butter Blossoms
Makes 12 large

Peanut Butter Blossoms
I loooove peanut butter cookies.  I have shared this recipe for years – and continue to get requests. It dawned on me to post it on my blog for ALL to have and share. It is worth shouting about on rooftops.  Yes, that good. There are really very few potentially controversial ingredients in the basic peanut butter cookie formula.

Your source of fat should be butter, not shortening. Butter will make your cookies taste, em, duh….buttery! Shortening will make them taste suspiciously vacant, flavorless in fact. Yes, shortening yields chewier cookies than butter does, because butter contains water and shortening does not. But you can make up for butter’s crisping tendencies by using brown sugar instead of white. (In the dough, that is; you will coat your cookies in white sugar). The moisture content of brown sugar results in soft, chewy, doughy cookies every time. Plus, its dark molasses flavor nicely complements the roasted notes of the peanut butter.
All you need for Peanut Butter Blossoms
Before baking you will dip your lumps of dough in sugar before baking.  This should really be SOP for more cookie recipes: It adds a pleasant sheen and a delicate crunch to the surface of the finished cookie – not to mention the sweet wallop for the taste buds. However, it is especially nice counterpoint to this dough, which is mellow rather than aggressively sweet on its own.
  • 1¾ C all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ C butter
  • ½ C creamy peanut butter
  • ½ C light brown sugar
  • ½ C granulated sugar + more for rolling
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
  • Small Reese’s peanut butter cups, chocolate kisses – optional (but my husband says required!)
Heat oven to 350 degree F. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Cream butter in mixer, slowly add peanut butter and both sugars. Mix well.  Add 1 egg and vanilla.  Beat well. Blend in dry ingredients gradually.
Mmmm....nice and creamy
Shape the dough into balls. Roll balls in granulated sugar and place on greased, or parchment lined, cookie sheet.  Put in oven and bake until lightly browned: approximately 8 minutes for small cookies, 10 minutes for larger.
Dough balls coated in sugar
The traditional peanut butter cookie has a crosshatched appearance….the indenting the top of each ball of cookie dough with the bottom side of a fork’s tines right after you pull them from the oven. Sometime in the 1930’s such marks became the international sign for “This is a Peanut Butter Cookie”. It is not required if you want to scoff at tradition and blaze your own path.  Personally, we think more goodliness is even better. 

How to add – is where the diversion lies.  Some prefer more peanut butter taste and squish in a small Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – others prefer the Hershey kiss variety.  In either case, bake the cookie rounds, immediately after baking, press a Hershey’s kiss (or Reese’s) into the center of each one and gently flatten it slightly thereby creating a seal between chocolate and cookie. I return them to the oven for 2-3 minutes.

Such Hershey’s-kissed confections are known as “Peanut Butter Blossoms”. Now who knew that!

Love, love these treasures….


Monday, October 21, 2013

Puy Lentils & Burnt Eggplant

Puy Lentils & Burnt Eggplant 
Serves: 4
Puy Lentils & Burnt Eggplant
Imagine that….burning eggplants on purpose!  I have a collection of Middle Eastern cookbooks as well an abundance of eggplants in my garden. Burnt eggplants just kept popping up wherever I looked. I now know why. They are amazing. And how can you go wrong and overcook if it must be burnt to get where you want!

It turns out that a charred eggplant behaves much the same as a charred pepper: after collapsing, it releases an astonishing amount of liquid and its flesh gently pulls from its blistered skin. And peeling a charred eggplant is no different than peeling a charred pepper — if you are patient with both the blackening and the cooling, the process is easy. This technique produces creaminess without the help of oil, and the charring imparts a nice smokiness to the eggplant’s flesh. Burning the eggplant makes a huge difference in the flavor.
Eggplant from our garden
Lentils, like other legumes, are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly. They have a mild, often earthy flavor. The best, most delicate varieties are the peppery French green lentils. Their unique flavor is attributed to the volcanic soil where they grow, sans fertilizer, which gives them their fine, mineral-rich taste. The climate in the Auvergne also contributes to their unique texture: a lack of humidity and abundant sunshine, courtesy of the surrounding mountains and volcanic deposits, ensures that the lentils dry on the plant all by themselves. Consequently, they have less starch so do not get all mushy and muddy when cooked.
Some of the good stuff going in this dish!
This recipe combines these two main ingredients in a new, exciting and flavorful way. It works as an entrée or a robust, healthy side dish.
  • 2 medium globe eggplants
  • 2 Tb high quality red wine vinegar (divided)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 C small dark lentils such as du Puy or Castelluccio, rinsed
  • 2 carrots, peeled
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • ½ white onion
  • 3-4 Tb extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for finish
  • 15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ tsp brown sugar
  • 1½ Tb chopped parsley
  • ½ Tb chopped dill
  • 1½ Tb chopped cilantro
  • 2-3 Tb crème fraiche or plain Greek yogurt 

And now the fun begins: burning the eggplants. After testing this three different ways, rather than give just one – I thought options would be best as they all have their pros and cons. In all cases, pierce the eggplants with a sharp knife before beginning in order to avoid a potential eggplant explosion as it heats! :-)

The quickest, and messiest, is to cook the eggplants on a gas stovetop. Start by lining the area around the selected burner with foil to protect and ease cleanup. Put the eggplants directly on two moderate flames and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the skin is burnt all over. The flesh will be soft and smoky. Alternatively, one could put the eggplants on a foil-lined container and under a hot broiler. Be certain to watch carefully and turn them a few times. This will take longer – up to an hour. Lastly, one could put the eggplants directly over a flame at the BBQ in a fashion similar to gas stovetop. Try all three or choose your favorite.

Burnt eggplant

Remove the eggplants from the heat. Cut a slit down the center and scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the black skin. Leave to drain for 15-30 minutes. After draining, season with salt, pepper and ½ Tb red wine vinegar.

Eggplant guts!

While eggplants are broiling, place the rinsed lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut 1 carrot and ½ celery stalk into large chunks adding them to lentils. Add bay leaf, thyme and onion half, cover with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat for up to 25 min, or until the lentils are tender, skimming away froth from the surface sporadically. Drain lentils and remove carrot, celery, onion, bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Transfer to serving bowl. Add rest of vinegar, 2 Tb olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper; stir and set aside to keep warm.

Draining the lentils

Heat oven to 275 degree F. Cut remaining carrot and celery into ½” dice and mix with tomatoes, 1-2 Tb olive oil, sugar and salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until carrot is tender but still firm.

The great veggies that go into the final dish
How it looks when mixed together
Add cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs: parsley, dill and cilantro, and stir gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, spoon the lentils onto serving plates. Pile some eggplant in the center of each portion and top it with a scoop of crème fraiche or yogurt. Finish with a drizzle of your best olive oil. 
Now sit back and enjoy! This is both exceedingly healthy, was a new way to cook my wonderful garden eggplants and unique both in presentation and flavor. Give it a try. I did. Three times! Both the lentils and the burnt eggplant freeze beautifully if you get over exuberant in your cooking....


If looking for other options for your eggplants, see the additional recipes on my blog:

Sept. 23, 2013

Adapted from “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi

Monday, October 14, 2013

Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Serves 8
Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables 
I previously posted a terrific salad featuring farro and promised to follow with more recipes featuring this amazing grain (see link below). Farro is literally the first grain – the grain from which all grains descended. It is not a wheat, but a grain with low gluten content.  Farro is sold whole, semi-pearled or pearled, all of which can be used interchangeably. Pearling removes the inedible hull that surrounds the grain but the process also removes the nutritious germ and bran. It is difficult to find whole farro. While the pearled is easier and quicker to cook, the nutrients vanish with the husk along with a good bit of the flavor.  Hence, I prefer the compromising semi-pearled farro. It has a complex, nutty taste with undertones of oats and barley. Please see previous post “Farro with Roasted Squash, Hazelnuts, Watercress and Goat Cheese” posted March 25, 2013.
Semi-pearled farro
  • 2 C farro, rinsed – semi-pearled recommended
  • 3 yellow zucchini, halved lengthwise & deseeded
  • 2 green zucchini – halved lengthwise & deseeded
  • 2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and thickly sliced, herby tops reserved for garnish
  • 1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 2 red bell peppers, halved, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 2 eggplants cut into chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ¼ C + 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tb white wine vinegar, or more to taste
  • Lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • Mix of fresh herbs chopped: parsley, mint, basil, and oregano
  • 4 C chicken or vegetable stock
  • 4 C water

Soak the semi-pearled farro 20-30 minutes covered amply with cold water. If using whole farro, soak overnight. Pearled farro requires no soaking.

Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Slice zucchini across into chunky half-moons and put them into a large roasting tray. Add the remaining vegetables, including fennel, red onion, red peppers, eggplant and garlic, and toss together with 2 Tb olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper
Veggies before cooking
Spread the vegetables out in one layer, using two trays if necessary. Roast in a preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, removing trays and carefully shaking them occasionally, until vegetables are cooked through and crisp around the edges. Sprinkle all vegetables with 2 Tb white wine vinegar as soon as they come out of the oven and then set aside to cool. When cool, add fresh herbs and chop all.
Veggies post-cooking....ready to add to the farro
To cook farro: Start with 4 C of vegetable or chicken stock and 4 C water. Add pre-soaked drained farro and season the liquid liberally with salt. Bring farro to a boil from cold and cook at a steady simmer for 30-40 minutes until it is slightly al dente. Cooking times will vary depending on the age of the semi-pearled farro. If using pearled farro, you can expect to cook in half the time. Taste often as it is cooking, you want it to be toothsome and retain structure. Drain and add to a large bowl. Meanwhile, make vinaigrette by mixing ¼ C olive oil with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add the vinaigrette to the warm cooked farro and mix thoroughly.

Cooked farro
Add roasted chopped vegetables and herbs to warm cooked farro – toss carefully and mix thoroughly. Scatter reserved fennel fronds over the top and serve warm or at room temperature.

This healthy tasty salad is a wonderful side dish or entrée sure to please you and your family.  Other garnishes could include a sprinkling of goat or feta cheese.  Give it a go!