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Amigthalota (Flourless Almond Cookies)

Feb 18 2013

I found it difficult not to pick them up by the stems as if they were real pears, resulting in several sad almond pears on the ground. But of course, I ate them anyway.

I have a bunch of almond flour in my cupboard leftover from my last flirtation with low-carb eating.* So this recipe published recently in the Miami Herald caught my attention. Just five ingredients—almond flour, powdered sugar, lemon zest, egg whites, and almond extract. Decorative clove “stems” optional.

like pears in the snow, which makes no sense, but is kind of pretty anyway They’re similar to marzipan, but not as sweet. Only 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar in the recipe goes into the cookies, and even a generous coating will only use another 1/2 cup, so most of the 2 1/2 cups called for is just for storing them. I’m not totally sure what the point of that is. I guess it might prevent them from absorbing moisture, although an air-tight container would probably suffice, especially if you eat them quickly.

The powdered sugar might detract a little bit from the pear resemblance, but it covers the cracks that appear during baking and I’m not sure they’d be quite sweet enough for me without it. If you generally like your sweets sweeter, you might want to double the amount of sugar in the dough. If that makes it too dry to work with, just add a little water. I suspect you could probably replace the egg whites with water if you wanted to make them vegan. There are other recipes that call for orange flower water and no eggs. I imagine you could use cinnamon and a dash of cayenne in place of the lemon zest for a spiced version.

But I’m also pretty pleased with what you get by following recipe as written—crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, not overly sweet, and kind of adorable.

before baking after baking

*In the short term, low-carb diets tend to perform better for both weight loss and health indicators like blood lipids than low-fat or calorie-restriction diets, but in most long-term controlled studies low-carb doesn’t do much (if any) better. As with most diet research, it’s hard to tell if the long-term failure is because most people stop following the diet or if weight regain happens even when people stick to the diet. If the former, it’s unclear if that’s primarily a psychological issue (will-power is a limited resource) or if there are physiological reasons (e.g. decreased leptin levels depress metabolism and increase appetite). Or both. Anyhow, I’m not interested in losing weight (or it might be more accurate to say I am interested in not being interested in losing weight), but many low carb adherents also claim to experience improved well-being, mental clarity, etc. so I was sufficiently intrigued to try it few times. Mostly it seems to make me slightly lethargic and depressed, so I never last longer than a couple of months. Read more »

Sautéed White Fish with Red Curry Coconut Sauce

Jan 15 2013

not my prettiest plating. if you care, i'm sure you can do better

Fighting Frozen Fish Apathy

I got into sort of rut with frozen fish filets. Melt some butter in a skillet, toss in a few cloves of minced garlic, season the fish with salt and pepper and maybe a dusting of flour and some dill or curry powder or Old Bay, cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, and voila: dinner. Practically instant, and usually at least moderately tasty. But so boring.

So boring that at least once in recent memory, I let a package of filets go to waste. For the first few days after I’d pulled them out of the freezer, I could tell myself they might still be partially frozen. And I think there was something else in the refrigerator in more eminent danger of spoiling. And then I might have ended up eating dinner out once or twice. And I might have had one of those days when I ordered take out because taking even five minutes to put a piece of fish in a pan and flip it once while nuking some peas seemed too onerous. So the fish entered this sad limbo state where it might have still been edible and I didn’t really want to throw it away, but I also wasn’t particularly excited about opening up the package in case it wasn’t. Which made it all too easy to just ignore it for a few more days until it had reached an even sadder state where I was pretty sure  it wasn’t edible and I didn’t really even need to open the package to find out. Wasteful, profligate, shameful, I know. Lots of people don’t have enough to eat and people like me use far more than our share of resources.

not actually a cheese sauce, even though it sort of looks like oneAnyhow, this recipe isn’t going to solve world hunger or save the environment, but it managed to keep me from wasting another package of fish that was probably a day away from limbo. The sauce only takes a few minutes to throw together and reduces while you cook the fish, and it’s decidedly un-boring: velvety coconut milk infused with the classic combination of garlic and ginger, a little funk from the fish sauce, acid from the lime, mild heat from the curry paste, and bright cilantro to finish. If you wanted it spicier, you could double or triple the curry paste or use green instead of red. Including the Brussels sprouts, which I halved and braised for about 10 minutes in a cup of water, the whole meal took about 30 minutes from start to finish. Read more »

Childhood Vices & Flaming Hot Spices: Why Nothing Compares to H O T Cheetos

Oct 11 2012

Pardon the long absence! Book manuscript comes before blogging. But before this video slips out of cultural relevance entirely…

This August, the music video for “Hot Cheetos and Takis” by the Y.N.RichKids, a group formed under the auspices of a YMCA after-school program in Minneapolis, became a minor internet sensation. It was posted August 05, and already had 39K views by the next day when it got its first twitter referral. By the time it got its first facebook.com referral later the same day, it had been viewed over 202K times. As of this morning, it’s been seen over 3.2 million times, and I can’t possibly be responsible for more than 1,000 of those. In case you missed it:

 

In an effusive review on Grantland, Rembert Browne broke the song down by performer to deliver individual props and applaud them for “how effectively they share the rock.” He also echoed Rolling Stone’s declaration of HC&T as the “summer’s final truly great jam.” Ken Wheaton of Ad Age called the video “epic” and subtitled his post about it “There Is Hope for Humanity Yet.” Andy Hutchins at the Village Voice rhapsodized about the 20 best things about the song, most of which seem to be the myriad ways these kids are cooler than him.

For Youth By Youth?

Many of its admirers suggested that at least part of HC&T’s appeal is how perfectly it captured something about childhood. Hutchins says "‘Hands red like Elmo’ is the sort of thing that only a kid would think to rap,” which is also the line David Greenwald of Billboard.com cites as an example of the song’s “age-appropriate lyrics” (although he acknowledges that I go H.A.M. in the grocery store bears a “trace of profanity.”) According to Browne, “it's apparent that the words of this song were written For Youth, By Youth (FYBY).” He loves the line Bout to cop me some hot cheetos and a lemonade Brisk because:

I haven't had that combination of food and drink in years, so it would never occur to me to write such a lyric. When I was 12, however, and the ice cream truck would roll up to my tennis camp, that was my exact purchase (along with a whole pickle). So yes, this is simply Dame telling a story of what he did earlier that day.

I agree that the song and the video are both impressive as hell, but I’m not sure its appeal is due to a faithful representation of exclusively childish experiences and pleasures. What struck me the first time I watched the video was how well the spicy snack foods stand in for another standard trope of popular music: alcohol and drugs. Instead of describing gettin’ slizzard on Moet & Crystal, or drinking 40s of Olde English 800 whilst driving around Compton, Dame Jones and his crew are celebrating the addictive pleasures of corn chips dusted with chili powder & MSG. It seems like either a kind of imitation or maybe a brilliant parody of adult paeans to whiskey and cocaine.

Why Carrots Cannot Be Cheetos

Unlike the many songs about drugs & alcohol—especially by country-western and blues artists—that focus on the dangers of overindulgence and addiction*, HC&T is all about the joy of snack foods. But I’m not sure the pleasures of anything people are inclined to consume in excess can ever really be divorced from the idea of vice, which made the last line of the Grantland piece seem rather strange to me:

I can't wait until Michelle Obama convinces them to start rapping about fruits and vegetables.

Maybe Browne meant that to be tongue-in-cheek? However, he certainly wouldn’t be the first to argue that the main reason kids like junk food is because of the advertising and the best way to counter the childhood obesity boogeyman is to market apples and carrots to kids as aggressively as Froot Loops and Doritos.

Anyone else initially mistake the rabbit on the RAWK font package for some kind of lobster/alien hybrid? Or was that just me?

I have nothing against well-meaning attempts to make fruits & vegetables seem more enticing. And I’m pretty sure it would be possible to rap about “healthy” foods. The Y.N.RichKids might even do it very well, but I’m not sure it would have quite the same appeal. Just like I’m sure it would be possible to write a country-western song about meditating and going to group therapy instead of drinking your blues away. But I suspect that’s either going to come out sarcastic or kind of terrible.

All of which is to say that Hot Cheetos & Takis themselves are not incidental to the song’s success. Their junkiness and possibly also their spiciness is essential to their cultural significance and song’s meaning and appeal.

*In that vein, I’m especially enamored with Lydia Loveless. Read more »

Mini Zucchini Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

Aug 13 2012

and tri-color candied citrus zest

The Fine Line Between Bread and Cake

Quiz!

1) What would you call a baked good comprised primarily of grated carrot, flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, spices, and baking soda/powder?

A) Bread
B) Cake
C) It depends on the proportion of fat: flour: sugar
D) It depends on how you combine the ingredients (i.e. whether the egg whites are beaten into foam)
E) It depends on the presence of cream cheese frosting, as does my eagerness/willingness to consume it

2) What would you call a baked good comprised primarily of grated zucchini, flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, spices, and baking soda/powder?

A) Bread
B Cake
C) It depends on the proportion of fat: flour: sugar
D) It depends on how you combine the ingredients (i.e. whether the egg whites are beaten into foam)
E) It depends on the presence of cream cheese frosting, as does my eagerness/willingness to consume it

If you answered C or D, I admire your attempt to make sense of a senseless world, but you get no points from me. If you chose E, I like where your priorities are, but I think you’re still wrong. For most Americans most of the time, #1 is carrot cake and #2 is zucchini bread, regardless of the ingredient proportions or method. It’s true that cake has generally come to refer to sweeter baked goods and bread to less-sweet ones, but that doesn’t seem to matter in the case of these grated-vegetable cake/breads. If it did, the inclusion of chocolate chips would make probably push you in the “cake” direction, but there are dozens of chocolate chip zucchini “bread” recipes and others that make the whole loaf chocolate, but are still named “bread.” Both probably fall into the categories of “quick bread” or “snack cake” but there’s no fixed culinary meaning for either of those categories either.

Anyhow, I blame whatever historical contingency landed chemically-leavened grated-carrot-containing baked objects in the “cake” bin and chemically-leavened grated-zucchini-containing baked objects in the “bread” bin for my failure to realize until now that the latter could also achieve its apotheosis under a mantle of sweetened cream cheese. And maybe I was too quick to dismiss answer E, because as soon as I realized I could frost what I would normally call zucchini bread, I was suddenly inclined to call it “cake.” In further naming hijinks, without the frosting, I’m pretty sure these become “muffins.” Right?

many tasty little muffins

Not The Answer to Zucchini Excess

My garden was the victim of serious neglect this year, so I’m not facing the Great Zucchini Glut of a typical July-August. If I were, I’d probably be knee-deep in fritters and garlicky almond sautés and wouldn’t waste my time with recipes like this, which use a pretty pathetic amount of zucchini. 2 cups? Please. A moderately-neglected garden can produce that much in the average Olympics break between NBC commercial broadcasts. This is also why recipes for zucchini bread so often describe the squash flavor as “delicate.” That means you really can’t taste the squash at all, but that’s a probably a good thing unless you’re into baked goods that taste like bitter, watery mush.

The grated squash adds some moisture, a hint of green (or yellow, depending on the color of your squash), and maybe a vague nutritional halo to the cake part. The brown sugar and vanilla in the frosting give it a kind of caramelly flavor, much like taffy apple dip. The citrus zest on top is mostly for color, but also adds a little sweet and sour crunch. If any or all of those things sound appealing and you have a solitary medium-sized summer squash you don’t know what to do with (or one or two little ones), this could be the recipe for you.

the citrus zest defintely makes it prettier, but it's really all about the cream cheese frosting Read more »

Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup

Aug 3 2012

not especially summery, but when you're living in AC all the time anyway, who cares? 

This is a new favorite. I improvised something like it a few weeks ago while staying at a stranger’s house with some friends. We were wandering around an unfamiliar supermarket trying to figure out how to make dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen, and someone grabbed some sweet potatoes because yams are a man’s crop. I decided they should become soup, and found some red lentils, coconut milk, smoked pork neck bones, and a cheap bottle of “Jerk Seasoning” (with cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, and chilis).

Back at the house, I simmered the smoked pork neck bones in water to start breaking them down while I prepped the “duh, soup” ingredients like onion and garlic. I also found a knob of ginger, so I minced that and threw it in, too. I added the lentils and sweet potatoes and Jerk Seasoning once the onions had started to caramelize and then added the pork bones with their broth and simmered it all until everything had melted into a thick stew and the meat was ready to fall off the bones. Coconut milk for creaminess, lemon for brightness, and a little salt. It turned out pretty tasty—smoky, sweet, spicy, and rich with the pork and coconut fat. We ate it with a super fast loaf of crusty no-knead bread (made with a full package of of rapid-rise yeast, 2 hour first rise, 30 min second rise, still damn tasty). It would be just as good with long-grain rice or flatbread or crackers or just all by itself.

after about 45 min of simmering, by the time you're ready to add it to the rest of the ingredients, the water should be cloudy and fat should be pooling on the surface chilis, turmeric, cloves, and cumin in the coffee grinder

It occurred to me later that it could have used a little cilantro, so I added some when I made it again at home, and I think that did improve it. In my own kitchen, I like to toast and grind the spices myself rather than using a prepared blend. You might not be able to taste the difference, but the smell of spices toasting in a pan is one of my favorite parts of cooking.

Variations

In this vegetarian version, I left out the sweet potatoes and used 8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, 2 cans of diced tomatoes, and mushroom bouillon in place of the pork bone broth. Still tasty. Like most soups, especially ones you make up on the fly, this recipe is very flexible. You could use another kind of lentil or dried peas, adjust the spices based on what you’ve got or use another kind of prepared blend, substitute cream or yogurt for the coconut milk (or skip that part entirely). If you want bigger, more distinct chunks of potato, leave them out until the last 30-40 minutes of cooking. If you keep kosher, you could substitute smoked turkey necks for the pork. Or leave the meat out entirely for a vegan version and use bouillon or vegetable broth instead, in which case you can reduce the cooking time to 1-2 hours or however long it takes for the lentils to be tender. To make up for the smokiness and umami you get from the bones, you can add some mushrooms, canned or fresh tomatoes, MSG, nutritional yeast, and/or liquid smoke. Read more »

Sourdough Cinnamon-Sugar Monkey Bread

Jul 30 2012

sorry for the lack of items ot show scale...this is roughly the size of a standard angel food cake

Giant Interactive Sticky-Bun Hurrah!

Earlier this year, I posted the recipe for a savory cheesy garlic monkey bread, with a note about the name (to recap: it’s either a reference to the monkey puzzle tree or the process of assembling the loaf or the process or eating it, no one really knows). This one is more like what most people call “monkey bread,” with the pieces of dough covered in cinnamon and brown sugar, which caramelize in the oven until the whole thing resembles a giant sticky bun.

Most recipes start with refrigerated biscuit dough, which is a bit easier and quicker. However, if you have a sourdough starter that needs regular feeding & culling, you can use it to make a soft, slightly-sweet yeast-risen dough that works just as well. Depending on how active your starter is and how long you let the dough rise, the final product can have as much or as little sourdough flavor as you like (longer rise = more sour). I think a little tanginess is a nice counterpart to all the butter and sugar. Someone at the potluck I took this to asked if there was any alcohol in it, I think because the sourdough starter gives it a mildly boozy flavor. Speaking of which, adding a shot of whiskey or rum to the butter probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

I went with

Like basically all kinds of monkey bread, you assemble it by dipping small pieces of the dough in melted butter. In this version, the buttery pieces get a second coating of brown sugar and cinnamon (although you could substitute cardamom or ginger or cloves or whatever else you like—Alton Brown recommends rosemary). For a little extra sticky-sweetness, you can sprinkle a few tablespoons of brown sugar in the pan before filling it with bread. For a lot of extra sticky-sweetness, you can combine more brown sugar and melted butter and pour half in the bottom of the pan before filling it with the bread and the other half on top just before baking. If you want it sweeter still, you can drizzle the finished loaf with a powdered sugar glaze or cream cheese frosting. mini-loaf advantages: every piece is a "top"piece with lots of caramel

This recipe makes slightly too much for my tube pan, so I put the overflow in a regular loaf pan. Tube pans are ideal for monkey bread because they provide lots of surface area—fluted tube pans are even better. However, any kind of pan will work. You could use a 9x13 baking dish, or a few cake pans, or a large soufflé dish, or make individual serving-sized portions in muffin tins or ramekins, just adjust the baking time accordingly (see recipe).

Other combinations that might be tasty: rosemary & raisins with a lemony cream-cheese frosting, ginger and clove in addition to the cinnamon with tart apple pieces, cardamom with dried pear pieces & sliced almonds, maximum caramel with vanilla bean in place of the cinnamon and an extra pinch of salt, or Chinese five-spice with currants & walnuts. Nothing wrong with classic cinnamon, raisins & pecans, though.

this is a little misleading. there were more leftovers, but they stayed at the potluck I took this to; it does tend to disappear quickly Read more »