Friday, June 27, 2008

My Cookies Are Voting Blue

When it came to a Cindy McCain vs. Michelle Obama cookie faceoff between myself and a co-worker, I gladly signed up for the challenge, even picking what I thought to be the more difficult of the two recipes. On screen, Michelle is eloquent, thought-provoking, pointed (though some would call her angry) but not the kind of gal I envision at home with an apron serving Barack cookies in one hand with a brandy in the other. But I digress.

After getting home from a 10-hour shift in 100-degree weather,the last thing I wanted to do was sweat over shortbread for a couple of hours. However, after popping in The Holiday and changing into some sweats, I was good to go.

Since I am the type of cook who likes to make things easier on herself, I melted the three sticks of butter in the microwave and creamed the sugar and butter together. Adding the orange and lemon zest was not the problem, nor was the amaretto, but the sweat came in when I was trying to separate the egg whites from the yolks. I highly recommend buying an egg separator to avoid the balancing act I had to achieve by manually scooping out the yolks.

My readers usually expect a small level of tragedy when it comes to my cooking but despite the length of the recipe (and the fact I put the dough on regular foil vs. non stick, which meant I had to take it off, put it back in the bowl and spray it with Pam) it wasn't bad at all. And better yet, most people voted that my cookies were better than my competition. Always my most cherished desire: that people enjoy my cooking. C'est bon!

Michelle Obama's Shortbread Cookies

Makes: 6 dozen 2-inch x 3-inch cookies


* 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
* 1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
* 2 egg yolks
* 2 tablespoons Amaretto (almond liqueur)
* 1 teaspoon each orange and lemon zest
* 3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 beaten egg white
* Chopped nuts or dried fruit (optional) (I used walnuts, which made it very tasty.)


1. Heat oven to 325 degree F. Line a 17 x 12 x 1-inch baking pan with
nonstick foil. In large bowl, cream together butter and 1-1/2 cups of the

2. Slowly add egg yolks, and beat well until smooth. Beat in Amaretto and

3. Stir in flour and salt until combined.

4. Spread dough evenly into prepared pan, flattening as smoothly as

5. Brush top of dough with egg white; sprinkle with nuts or fruit (if using)
and with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.

6. Bake at 325 degree F for 25 minutes or until brown, turn off oven and
allow cookies to sit in oven (with door ajar) for 15 minutes. Cut while
slightly warm.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Converting to Coffee

At my house, coffee is not just something to wake up in the morning with; it's holy. The pot is the shrine, complete with devoted followers--namely, my mother and father. Every day, they stumble in the kitchen in the morning, consumed with one idea, and one alone: making the perfect cup of joe. Coffee at my grandmother's house was supposedly legendary, complete with eye-rolling descriptions of how good it was. There's only one problem: I refuse to drink a single cup.

I like coffee-flavored soy ice cream, but not coffee. I like vanilla ice blended drinks from the coffee shop (which have coffee in them) but not coffee. I even love the aroma as it wafts to my nose from an addicted co-worker, BUT JUST NOT COFFEE. I resist and rebel in my own ways--drinking black tea and such but my mother says that it's just a matter of time before I join coffee's devoted band of followers. To her, it's in my blood.

For those who can't live without their cup of joe, I found this fun article over at Epicurious for making work-coffee drinkable. Their tips include mixing hot chocolate in with the coffee and drinking your cup (or two or three) right after brewing--as coffee that sits for a while ends up becoming too strong.

But for the weekends, when the 9-5 is blissfully behind you, here are some tips designed to give you an aromatic and satisfying cup (from a coffee worshiper):

1. Only use fresh ground beans. Nordstrom's Cafe actually carries some tasty ones.
2. Use only filtered water.
3. This is not the time for a pinch of this and a dash of that; measure out one level teaspoon of grounds for every cup of water.
4. Treat youself to some real china. The cup truly makes the taste of the coffee. Steer clear of styrofoam.

I said I have to make it to age 30 and my first child before I feel like I've made it through this addiction danger zone. But who knows? I may become a convert after all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Eat. Pray. Love

It is amazing how foods create memories. For me, food reminds me of my mother. Not that she is a fantabulous cook or anything--her culinary skills consist of meatloaf, mac and cheese and spaghetti--but there were those special moments for me growing up where food wasn't about eating but more about sharing traditions and history. Being the morbid woman that she is, she would always say, "When I'm dead, be sure that you make this just like I did--don't try to substitute any of your healthy ingredients" as she whipped pounds of butter and sugar into her sweet potato pie. Food was about loving--as we argued about how much curry to put in the cornbread dressing and went at it about whether her tuna had too much mayonnaise--at the end of it all, we would laugh as we proudly produced whatever culinary masterpiece that we were working on at the time. Or whatever we slapped together to get dinner on the table.

If I've had a long day or am in need of a good cry (which has been common lately), I simply come home and whip out my recipe file. Hours later, after I've made roasted chicken with tomatoes and chickpeas or baked salmon, I'm okay again. And usually during those times my mother comes and talks to me and we share what happened.

I don't know how I'll live in a world without my mother. But just like mom, somehow preparing a good meal tells me that all is right with the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tiramisu's Fiery Chicken

I am afraid of bland food (post traumatic stress from a bad cooking experience), especially chicken. So, when I got an easy recipe from my grandmother for a marinade that she swore was to die for, I was excited to make it until I was finishing the mix. My cooking antennae went up, so I ventured on my own path.

Here's my fiery-hot chicken:
about a 1/2 tsp. of salt
about a 1/2 tsp. of pepper
Three or four pinches of red chile peppers (flakes)
Two tbs. of minced onion
Half stick of butter
Cup of lemon juice
Three cloves of garlic, crushed
Four green onions, chopped
Tsp. of parsley flakes
1 heaping tbsp. of Tony Chachere seasoning.

1. Set your oven on broil (depending on how strong your oven is, you may have to use the lower-temperature function.) Take thawed organic chicken breasts (for however many tummies you need to feed) sprinkle each side with salt, pepper and minced onion.

2. In a separate bowl, mix lemon juice, butter, green onions, chile peppers (more if you like extra spicy), garlic cloves, parsley and Tony Chachere's (which we call cacciatore's in my house).

3. Spray a 17 x 12 x 2 inch glass dish with Pam and lay the chicken inside. Pour half the mixture over the breasts and pop in the oven on the top rack for about 15-20 minutes. Watch it close, 'cuz it can burn fast.

4. Turn chicken, pour the other half of the mixture and pop back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

5. Take out and eat! Is delish with steamed asparagus.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bug Appetit!

Squish bugs, squash 'em, yell at them, spray Raid like a maniac--but surely don't eat them. I must admit that after seeing a recent article about bugs being the new protein-packed cuisine--not to mention seeing photos of deep-fried scorpions, worm salads and chicken stuffed waterbugs, my stomach turned over. And over. But calling myself adventurous, I volunteered to see what all the fuss was about--and regretted it the minute I saw the scorpions atop a mini shrimp toast on my table.

Determined not to chicken out, I dipped the cake in the sweet and sour sauce and downed it--each bite made me wonder where the nearest hospital was, in case I needed a quick stomach pump. The scorpion appetizer was followed by Taiwanese crickets (never mind that they were browned and assuming the dead-bug position) which were stir-fried in garlic and chile peppers and had a french fry-like consistency. After the last cricket and scorpions were crunched and washed down by many chugs of Thai iced tea, I sat, waiting for the food to spontaneously come up. It didn't, but I wasn't full either.

The manager told us that crickets are their most popular insect dish. All in all, I had one thing to say about the whole experience--I could have had a turkey burger.