Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cookies through the years

I enjoy reading a good cookbook, not just the recipes, but the stories that sometimes come along with them.

At the Wilson County Public Library recently, I came across a cookbook that I thoroughly enjoyed. "The Gourmet Cookie Book" is a collection of cookie recipes from the magazine -- one per year from 1941 to 2009 --as varied as Moravian white Christmas cookies from 1946 to butter cookies with jam in 1984.

Each recipe is accompanied by a description of the cookie and a lovely but simple photograph that shows off the cookie.

In addition to offering recipes, the cookbook tells a story of how cooking and cooking magazines have evolved from the ingredients we use to the way we write recipes.

The first year, a recipe for Cajun macaroons appeared in a menu for a Mardi Gras party in New Orleans. Although the recipe was time-consuming, the book states, it was popular with readers and was requested often.

For the book, Gourmet decided to leave the recipes as they were published in the original form, with instructions such as "bake in a hot oven." However, the editors tested the recipes and put in notes to clarify temperatures and ingredients and to offer an easier (or more modern) way to make the cookies.

For instance, for the October 1960 recipe for pine nut macaroons, the editors suggest using a food processor to grind blanched almonds, and they tell you "breakfast cocoa" in the ingredients for February 1950s chocolate wafer is unsweetened cocoa.

Some years, there were few cookie recipes in the magazine. In 1962, there was only one cookie recipe the entire year, and that was for cottage cheese cookies, described in the current book this way: "Cottage cheese in cookies might sound strange, but it is much like ricotta, lending a subtle tang that mellows a sugar cookie into something nuanced and very lovely." I want to make this cookie.

Mixed into the descriptions of the cookies are details about the magazine in relation to the world at large. The 1944 recipe for cinnamon cookie crisps gave advice for things to put in a care package to send to a soldier.

Dining trends are also noted in the book. The 1989 recipe for cornetti, or almond cookies, reflects America's passion for Italian food that year, and cranberry pistachio biscotti showed a love for trendy biscotti.

There were so many recipes in this book I'd like to try, but the one I chose to make was lemon thins from the April 1976 Gourmet. I was almost 14 at the time it was published in the magazine. My sister and I always loved lemon cookies and the photograph reminded me of ones we ate as children. The note with this recipe says this was the first time since the end of World War II that Gourmet devoted an entire story to cookies.

The lemon cookies were easy to make and were delicious. They are very simple and not too sweet. They also stayed soft the next day.

Look for "The Gourmet Cookie Book" at the library or bookstore. It makes good reading and provides a wonderful source for some delicious cookie recipes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vegetarian stir-fry

For five years now, I've had a wonderful stir-fry recipe in my possession. The sad thing is, I didn't make it until last week!

The recipe is Sweet and Spicy Peanut-Pasta Stir-Fry in the 2006 American Heart Association's Love Your Heart publication. (Not sure why they call it spicy -- maybe it's the red pepper flakes I didn't use!)

I bought that little cookbook in the grocery aisle that year and did a food column, sharing a cranberry tea recipe, I think. I've pulled out the recipe collection a few times since, but I never gave the vegetarian entree a second look, apparently.

Knowing it was heart month, I wanted to give us all a recipe we could feel good about, so I looked through that publication one more time.

This time, the recipe really appealed to me, and I couldn't wait to try the stir-fry dish, featuring red bell pepper, broccoli, carrots and onion and even dry-roasted peanuts.

This is not a super-quick recipe because there are several steps involved, including cooking the pasta, squeezing an orange for the sauce and prepping the vegetables, but I had it ready in about 30 minutes. A note on the recipe suggested making the orange juice mixture in advance to cut down on preparation time and buying cut produce from the grocery store. I did get my broccoli from a salad bar but still had to cut it some to smaller sizes.

The aroma was wonderful on both the sauce and the sauteed veggies, and I couldn't wait to try it! Let's just say I wasn't disappointed.

Hands down, this is one of my favorite dishes I have ever made for this food column. I think part of its appeal is that it's different from anything else I make, and I was so proud when it turned out as pretty as the picture in the cookbook!

So why is it good? The citrus flavor teamed with the stir-fried vegetables is fantastic, and the blend of textures is extra appealing. I love the crunch of the peanuts and the wonderful flavor they add.

The recipe makes a lot, enough for four is what's suggested, and there was enough for leftovers the next day. All morning, I kept thinking of my stir-fry waiting for me at home! I decided to warm it in a skillet instead of the microwave, hoping the peanuts would be just as good as the night before, and they were!

I plan to make this dish often and keep it in the refrigerator to have at lunch. I want to try it with a little stir-fried chicken as well and will probably eliminate the peanuts if I make it that way.

Be good to your heart (and your tastebuds) and give this dish a try.

Sweet & Spicy Peanut-Pasta Stir-Fry
  • 5 ounces uncooked whole-wheat vermicelli or spaghetti, broken in half
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon grated peeled ginger root
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dry-roasted unsalted peanuts (about 21/2 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 cups small fresh broccoli florets (no larger than 3/4 inch)
  • 1 medium carrot cut into matchstick-size pieces (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
  • 1 medium red pepper, cut into thin strips
Prepare the pasta using the package directions, omitting the salt and oil. Drain well.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the orange zest, orange juice, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger root and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Heat the peanuts for 2 minutes or until they begin to lightly brown, stirring frequently. Transfer to a plate.

Add the oil to the same skillet and swirl to coat the bottom. Cook the broccoli, carrots, onion and bell pepper for 6 minutes or until just tender-crisp. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the cooked pasta and peanuts. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

In the same skillet, bring the orange juice mixture to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes or until reduced to about 1/3 cup, stirring constantly. Pour over the pasta mixture, stirring to blend.

Serves 4

American Heart Association

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cheesecake treats

Want to surprise your co-workers with a sweet Valentine treat next week?

This simple recipe for miniature cheesecakes makes a lot of pieces (five dozen) and takes very little time to put together.

I needed a lot of dessert for a Relay for Life fundraiser at my church and didn't want anything complicated -- just easy and delicious. I certainly chose the right recipe because in less than an hour, I had more than 60 little cheesecakes ready for someone to decorate.

There are a number of versions of this recipe, but I adapted the allrecipes.com version, and instead of using crushed vanilla wafers in the bottom of my miniature cupcake holders, I used a whole, bite-size vanilla wafer, flat side down. The vanilla wafers also come in a smaller mini size, depending on the brand. I used two 24-cup miniature muffin pans, and the bite-size cookies fit one pan just fine but were too big for the other pan -- go figure!

Anyway, if you have trouble getting them to fit, use 1/2 teaspoon crushed vanilla waters in the bottom of each miniature cupcake liner.

I made a double recipe for last weekend's event, and each time, I mixed miniature chocolate chips into about half of the batter to have a variety for my dessert tray. The chocolate chip variety was a hit with my family members who "sampled" the cheesecakes.

Because the fundraiser was a father/ daughter Valentine dinner, my daughter and I decorated the little cakes with a seasonal theme. I put pretty red cherries from a jar of cherry pie filling on many of them. On others, Anna arranged decorative sprinkles. She put them on soon after the cakes came out of the oven, before they completely cooled. The rest of our mini cheesecakes, including the ones with chocolate chips inside, got a drizzle of the chocolate glaze we use on so many desserts.

Be creative when you decorate your cheesecakes. Blueberry topping would be so good on these little bize-size desserts, or even crumbled vanilla wafers, fresh strawberries, caramel sauce or chopped nuts. And if you choose several toppings, your dessert platter will be even more appealing.

You can also be creative with the cheesecake itself. For instance, use almond extract instead of vanilla or stir some lemon zest into the batter.

It's always nice to find a go-to recipe. The next time someone needs many dessert pieces, I will certainly volunteer to make this easy recipe.

Mini Cheesecakes
  • 1 (12 ounce) package vanilla wafers (regular size crushed or whole bite-size or mini)
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Toppings
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line miniature muffin tins with miniature paper liners.

Place bite-size or mini vanilla wafer, flat side down, into paper liner or crush the vanilla wafers, and place 1/2 teaspoon of the crushed vanilla wafers into each paper cup.

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until all of the lumps are gone and mixture is smooth. Fill each miniature muffin liner with this mixture, almost to the top. I used my miniature muffin scoop.

Bake for 15 minutes. Cool.

Add desired topping.

Makes around 5 dozen.

Adapted from allrecipes.com

Satin Chocolate Glaze
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pour chocolate chips and butter into microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir until chips are blended. Mix in honey and vanilla extract. Frost cake or cupcakes.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Valentine's chocolate

You've gotta have chocolate on Valentine's Day, whether it's from a beautiful heart-shaped box or prepared in your own kitchen.

In the past, I've enjoyed making a nice meal for my husband on Valentine's Day and topping it with a special dessert. Two years ago, I made an especially delicious treat called Chocolate Decadence from Cooking Light.

This yummy dessert is much like a lava cake. It looks like a cupcake or miniature cake from the outside, but when you scoop your fork or spoon inside it, a wonderful soft chocolate center is revealed. What a perfect way to end a special meal.

I found this recipe at Cooking Light, of all places. It only goes to show how you can prepare recipes sensibly if you don't go overboard. For instance, this easy recipe for four little cakes uses only 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter.

I remember how much Reggie and I enjoyed this dessert at our Valentine dinner and kept it in my "must share" stack of recipes.

The cakes can be made in 2 oz. ramekins or regular-size muffin tins, and the ingredients are nothing fancy. The serving size is not very large, but the big chocolate taste makes up for that.

One good thing about this recipe, the chocolate cake gives you a clean slate to decorate. You can sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top, decorate with some whipped topping, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or even some sliced strawberries. You can also bake them in a heart-shaped muffin pan for a special touch. And don't forget to serve your cakes on pretty plates.

If you aren't cooking for Valentine's Day, find another special occasion to make this yummy dessert for your sweetheart, and maybe your sweetheart will return the favor.

Chocolate Decadence
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup 2 percent reduced-fat milk (I used 1 percent)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg white
  • 8 teaspoons semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly coat 4 (2-ounce) ramekins (or use a muffin pan) with cooking spray, and sprinkle 3/4 teaspoon sugar into each of the ramekins, shaking and turning to coat. Set prepared ramekins aside.

Combine 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, milk, and cocoa in a small saucepan, stirring well with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 30 seconds or until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add the butter and 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Cool chocolate mixture 10 minutes.

Add flour, vanilla, salt, and egg white to chocolate mixture, stirring with a whisk just until blended. Spoon 2 tablespoons chocolate mixture into each prepared ramekin, and top each with 2 teaspoons chocolate chips. Divide the remaining chocolate mixture evenly among ramekins, spreading to cover the chocolate chips. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until barely set. Cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto dessert plates. Serve warm.

Cooking Light | December 2003