Thursday, May 28, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green: Lime Sugar Cookies*

*tastes like a margarita without the booze.

This recipe is one of my oldest non-family recipes. It is also one of the most labor-intensive and rewarding. The tastes (sour, sweet, salty) are rivaled only by the texture (crunchy on the outside, chewy in the center). They are, perhaps, the tastiest things I've ever put in my mouth. Bonus: they prevent scurvy!

Lime Sugar

Using a microplane, zest 6-8 limes. In a blender, add the grated zest to 2 1/4 cups white sugar, blend until sugar turns green and only a few tendrils of lime zest remain. Your kitchen will smell clean, sunshiney, amazing!


6 Tables butter, softened
2 Tables shortening
1 c sugar
1/2 c lime sugar
1 lg egg
1 teas vanilla
1 1/4 all-purp flour
1 teas baking powder
1/2 teas salt

*In large bowl, beat together butter, shortening, white sugar, and 2 Tables lime sugar (I usually add more for a limier cookie). Beat in egg and vanilla.

*In smaller bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour into large bowl, stir to combine.
*On sheet of wax paper, shape dough into 10" log (about 2" in diameter). Wrap. Chill dough until firm, at least 4 hours (an hour if you freeze it).

*Preheat oven to 375°F.
*Cut log into even rounds; mine usually wind up being between 1/4" and 1/2"

*Bake cookies 1/2 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets in batches in middle of oven 10 to 12 minutes, or until pale golden.

*Transfer cookies to a wire rack with wax paper under it. Sprinkle cookies with remaining lime sugar. I tend to get carried away and add too much, which is dusted off when the cookies cool.

Also, you'll have lime sugar left over. It stores pretty well in the fridge for a week or so, you can freshen it with the addition of lime zest.

For Alice, Wherever I May Find Her

Perhaps we all have complicated relationships with our bodies; I'd rather not assume anyone else's perspective. Mine has, at times, been so fraught I started exploring it as an academic discipline (body studies and visual culture) to better understand it. I went from fearing I was intersex to becoming "stacked" in a matter of weeks, at around 16 or 17. My family didn't talk about it, though I heard the boys in the locker room had much to say. When no one prepares you or when you don't choose it, it can be difficult to transition from invisibility to what feels like hypervisibility. You start to perform to gain some distance and assert some agency. It felt like the over-read, feminist dork had been usurped by people's ignorant assumptions/fantasies of unchecked libido and excess sexuality. During my undergrad, I wrote about pornography and/as performance art to try to determine if women whose bodies were like mine could ever be agents of their own desires and sexuality. Annie Sprinkle became an idol.

Alice was one of my closest friends as I tried to get my bearings and assert my nerdy self-hood. She makes excellent mixtapes (dancing out angst always helps). My favorite, whose artists/titles are lost to history and many moves, continues to thrill. To say thank you, this shirt:

I wore a similar shirt, with fishnets and miniskirts, when Alice and I were living in Madison. Though I was unaware of its punk origins--it appears a few times in The Filth and the Fury as an accessory to the UK anarcho-punk scene--wearing it emboldened me. I hoped that when people noticed it, saw the pierced nipples under a see-through sweater, it made them aware of the ways, and where, they were looking. I'm not sure that anyone else ever understood, or if they just saw boobs, but I felt that calling attention to the ways they looked would give me more equal footing, as a subject staring back. Alice, dear friend that she is, was there for my (to-date) most awkward phase: mousy bookworm becoming mouthy bookworm. For that, she's getting this iron-on, lime sugar cookies, and my affection.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cream in the Fridge, Dream in My Heart: Peanut Butter Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Improvisation in the kitchen, like anywhere else, is delightful!
This recipe was born last year as a way to salvage some barely over-baked peanut butter cookies. PB cookies are often crunchy, and a little dry, especially when overdone. To remedy that, and to revel in my love for peanut butter-chocolatey goodness, I started experimenting with chocolate frosting--visions of sandwich cookies dancing in my head--with the hope that the moisture from the frosting would soften the cookies and mask some of the nearly-burnt bitterness. It worked! The "best value" sandwich cookies were one of our top sellers at bake sales in part because, like most things I make, they eat like a meal.

This go-round (for a Memorial Day picnic), I decided to add oatmeal...because oats make everything better. Oatmeal is pretty much the embodiment of my baking philosophy: something delicious and also - just a little - good for you, something that sticks to your ribs long after the taste has left your tongue.

For the peanut butter-oatmeal cookies, I used the Better Homes and Gardens' recipe, with the addition of extra peanut butter. I didn't measure it out, just scooped extra. I made a double batch; the recipe below is for a regular batch.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
3/4 c butter, softened
1/2 c peanut butter
1 c granulated sugar
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1 teas baking powder
1/2 teas baking soda
2 eggs
1 teas vanilla
1 1/4 c all-purp flour
2 c rolled oats
1 c chopped cocktail peanuts or semisweet chocolate pieces (I left these out)

*Preheat oven to 375.
*In large mixing bowl, beat butter and peanut butter on med-high till smooth (about 30 seconds).

*Add sugars, baking powder, and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping bowl.
*Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.
*Beat/Stir in flour.
*Stir in oats (and peanuts, if you're including them)

*Drop by rounded teaspoons on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate Ganache

12 oz Heavy Cream
12 oz Bitter or Semisweet chocolate chips, or chopped (most recipes call for bittersweet, but semisweet chips will do)

{Ganache is funny. It sounds fancy in that Francophilic way, but it's actually one of the easiest, most versatile, and most delicious chocolate-thingies you can make. You can use it as the base for truffles or for icing cakes, and it sounds so sophisticated. Though I eschew sophistication, most often cause it seems artificial, and wish we just called ganache "chocolate yumminess," cause that's what it is.}

*Simmer cream in saucepan.
*Remove from heat. Add chocolate chips. Allow chocolate to soften for a minute or two.

*Stir with wooden spoon/whisk until combined. Let cool to room temperature before using.

I often let the ganache cool in the fridge, then spread about a 1/2-1 Tables on the side of one cookie, before smooshing a similarly sized cookie on top of it. I love these cookies, perhaps because, like love, they make my pulse race and my tummy tremble. Yay!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Burnt Sugar Cookies

School's Out for Summer! School's Out Forever!

More time to bake! More treats to give away!

Ronnie, one of the loveliest ladies--pretty much the only lady--at TipTop, lends me cookbooks, with the expectation that I will make her delicious treats on a regular basis. I'm happy to oblige since I get to expand my recipe repertoire and make her smile.

At first I was skeptical of the Burnt Sugar Cookies, if only because burned cookies are never tasty. Boy-oh! Was I wrong? Burnt-sugar cookies taste like gingery caramel. Not only is this my new favorite recipe, but it was like being in chemistry lab all over again: Hooray!

2 1/4 c all-purp flour
1 1/2 teas baking soda
1 teas ground ginger
1/2 teas ground coriander
1/2 teas salt
3/4 c (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c packed brown sugar (either light or dark)
1 teas grated lemon zest
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 burnt sugar syrup
granulated sugar

To make the burnt-sugar syrup, place about 3/4 cup granulated sugar in a saute/frying pan, over medium-low heat. Sugar will start to melt and turn brown.

Stir occasionally. When melted, add 3/4 cup hot or boiling water. Stir gently and carefully as the mixture will bubble like a cauldron. Though I'd been warned, I was still gleefully impressed. Simmer over low-ish, for 5-10 minutes, letting some of the water boil off. Then, let cool to room temperature.

For the cookies:
*Sift together flour, baking soda, ginger, coriander, and salt. (Nota Bene: I'm too lazy to sift...and everything seems to turn out fine).
*In mixer bowl, cream together (on HIGH) butter, brown sugar, and lemon zest til light and fluffy.
*Reduce speed to MEDIUM. Beat in egg and burnt-sugar syrup, till blended.
*Reduce speed to LOW; add dry ingredients in two additions, till just blended. Cover, refrigerate for 2 hours.
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Pour 1/4 c of granulated sugar into a small bowl. Roll 1" dough-balls in sugar before placing on cookie sheet.

*Bake for 10 minutes, until crinkly on top like gingersnaps.

The flavor of these reminded me of the caramel on an apple, with a little bit of ginger and lemon to enhance the slightly bitter sweetness. Also, the texture was tops: a little chewy and a little crunchy. Yum-City!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

B'nana Cake, B'nana Cake, Maker's Mark*

*now with more Beam.

To mark the end of the semester--and the completion of the MA degree that brought us together--I'm making a Banana Bourbon cake for Penny and me.

One of my favorite things about baking, maybe more so than other kinds of kitchen alchemy, is the the fact that my hands get dirty, sticky, sweet. So dirty that before I can rinse them under the faucet I have to lick my fingers. To wit, this recipe, with its mashed bananas, toasted coconut, and finely chopped pecans is a handful.

The bottle of bourbon, at the ready, speeds this along. So too, however, does the messy fun, reveling in the textures and processes that make something so tasty come to be: between your fingers the mashed bananas squish, the coconut crunches, the pecans crumble.

This recipe also demonstrates the other thing that amazes me about baking: very often, in the middle of making it, the batter/dough looks disgusting, absolutely inedible, repellent actually. Then, magically, it all comes together to make a taste explosion on your tongue. This recipe, mid-mixing, looks like vomit, but tastes like heaven.

1/2 lb butter (two sticks), softened
3 c sugar
2 c bananas (about 4-5), mashed
4 eggs, beaten
2 teas baking soda
4 c all-purpose flour
1 c buttermilk
1 teas vanilla
2+ Tables. Beam

Grease and flour 3-9" cake rounds. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar. Add 2 cups bananas and continue mixing till smooth. Add beaten eggs and beat slightly. Sift baking soda and flour together. Add to batter, alternating with buttermilk. Add vanilla and Beam. Though Beam in cake (and not in a glass) may seem like a waste, I added some extra to make a Beamier cake. Mix well. Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on racks.

1/2 c banana (2-3), mashed
1 teas lemon juice
1/4 lb (1 stick) butter
2 lbs powdered sugar (1 big bag)
1 c toasted coconut (to toast: in pan with edges, place in 350 degree oven for 4-5 minutes, stirring to prevent over-browning)
3/4 c finely chopped pecans

Sprinkle mashed banana with lemon juice to prevent browning. In separate bowl, cream butter. Add powdered sugar and bananas. Cream on high till smooth. Add coconut and pecans. When cake has cooled, spread between layers and on top and sides of cake.

Though tasty, this cake has to be the heaviest I've ever made. I should be Swedish, named Magnus, and competing in the Strongest Man competition.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Buttermilk, Birthdays, and Black Velvet

I’m a barmaid at TipTop (432 Franklin), a neighborhood bar in Bed-Stuy. One might think I’d feel out of place. Yet, every Wednesday, I walk in feeling more and more at home. My maternal grandparents, in addition to being farmers, ran my hometown’s (town is a stretch, there were 1000 people) bowling alley. Before they sold it while I was in junior high, it was a magical place. My parents met and fell in love there; as children, we were allowed to run around—through the kitchen and the inner workings of the pin-setting machines—all the places customers couldn’t go. TipTop, replete with twinkling Christmas lights, shiny streamers, and a jukebox that plays soul-funk jams, is similarly otherworldly. TipTop’s owners—Junior and Corene—have become surrogate grandparents. Their customers my uncles: avuncular in the “sit on my lap and let me tickle you” way.

After having made a pumpkin bread for their 50th anniversary, Boss Lady asked what I was making for her birthday. Every party they throw is one of sensory over-indulgence: exuberant music, stiff drinks, and TONS of soul food. I finally decided on a Buttermilk Cookie recipe and a Citrus Pound Cake, both from the January 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine. My dad is a bricklayer/masonry contractor. Sometimes, when I bake I’m reminded of how he talks about building people’s homes and hearths, with his bare hands, as creating a space for family, love, future. Though my labors are comestible, I think of them as nourishing, loving, sweetly imbuing the devourer with tender morsels. So, for these recipes (below) I didn’t even bother with the mixer, choosing to make it all by hand.

Buttermilk Cookies
3 c all-purpose flour
1 teas grated lemon zest
½ teas baking soda
½ teas salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ c granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teas vanilla
2/3 c well-shaken buttermilk

1 ½ c powdered sugar
3 Tbls well-shaken buttermilk
½ teas vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Butter 2 large baking sheets.
*Whisk together flour, zest, baking soda, and salt

*Beat together butter and sugar in large bowl, with electric mixer, until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. Mix in flour and buttermilk, alternating additions, ending with flour mixture.

*Drop level Tbls of dough about 1 ½” apart onto baking sheets.
*Bake 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are puffed and edges are golden, 12-15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets 1 minute, then transfer to racks.

*For the glaze, whisk together all ingredients. Brush on top of warm cookies.

*Let stand until cookies are completely cooled and glaze is set.

Citrus Pound Cake
2 c sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
1 teas baking powder
½ teas salt
1 c granulated sugar
1 Tbls grated orange zest
1 teas grated lemon zest
2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teas fresh orange juice
1 teas fresh lemon juice
½ teas vanilla

*Preheat oven to 325. Butter a loaf pan (8 ½” x 4 ½”)
*Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt
*Mix together sugar and zests, with electric mixer set to LOW, until sugar is evenly colored.

*Add butter and beat on HIGH until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

*Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, at MEDIUM, scraping bowl often. Then beat in juices and vanilla. Mix in flour mixture, on LOW, until just combined.
*Spread batter into loaf pan. Rap on counter to eliminate air bubbles.

*Bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60-75 minutes. Cool in pan for 30 minutes, then run a knife around the pan’s edge. Remove from pan. Cool completely.
*Suggested garnish is a dusting of powdered sugar. I used the remaining glaze from the Buttermilk Cookie recipe and sprinkled with left-over lemon and orange zest.
Flavor is said to improve if made a day in advance.

Happy (belated) Birthday, Willie!

My best friend, Ivy, has given me Playboy-themed gifts for years. She suggested making excerpts a regular part of my blog. Starting now.

Naturally, the first post should be our favorite, from Dear Playboy Advisor: Questions from Men and Women to the Advice Column of Playboy Magazine (2006, p. 213):

Stand By Your Man
What does it mean when a woman can have the biggest orgasm of her life simply by standing next to a certain man? This has happened to me three times--the first was 10 years ago, and the most recent was last year. My girlfriend and I waited for the guy to see if it would happen again, and it did--twice. The man is Willie Nelson. Is this normal? I don't want to wreck his marriage or mine. But I would be a cheap date. --M.J., Newark, New Jersey
God works in mysterious ways.