Thursday, February 26, 2009

The February Greys

You must have nights like these: there's nothing in the fridge, you don't want to go to the store, and everything just seems like such an effort. Yeah, I've been there. Especially in the winter, when the options start to feel so much more limiting at this point in February.

So what's the cure for the almost-end-of-February greys? It turns out that it involves big, heavy, cheesy biscuits. The truth is, I think a lot of problems can be solved with cheese. It always works for me, at least.

These paprika and cheddar biscuits are, in a word, gorgeous. They puff up with deep, craggy tops and tiny melted pockets of cheese. The paprika is just barely there--in fact, I think I would punch it up a little bit the next time I make these, but they're absolutely lovely as they are right now. The texture is chewy and soft, and in short, they were just what I needed. Served next to a bowl of tomato soup (from a box, sadly,) they made the perfect accompaniment.

Paprika and Cheddar Biscuits
From Joy the Baker, who in turn adapted it from Martha Stewart

Makes 10 biscuits

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika, plus more for dusting

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

6 ounces cheddar, finely grated (about 1 cup)

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and paprika. Using a pastry blender, or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles course meal with a few larger clumps remaining. Stir in the cheese with a fork.

Add the milk and sour cream; using a rubber spatula, stir until the dough just comes together. The dough will be slightly sticky; don’t over mix. Using a 1/3-cup, scoop mounds of dough about 1 1/2-inches apart of the prepared baking sheet. Lightly dust with paprika.

Bake, rotating the sheet halfway through baking, until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Slide parchment and biscuits onto a wire rack to cool or let biscuits cool on pan for 5 minutes before removing onto a wire rack with a spatula. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Sometimes, recipes just don't turn out, despite your best efforts. Or my best efforts, anyway. Like these cookies. The first time I made them, it was a disaster. I'm pretty sure that I mismeasured the butter, and the dough literally fell apart in my hands as I tried to roll it into logs. There were crumbly chunks of chocolate and vanilla dough all over my floor. It was a sad night.

But try try again--I made them again the other night, and they turned out beautifully. Really beautifully. Almost like tuxedo jackets, with the contrast between the halves, and sparkling on top with large grains of salt, they look elegant and ready to serve for something fancy. The salt (and we all know how much I love salt) brought out all the best qualities in the chocolate, giving a deeper, richer flavor that was balanced nicely by the delicate vanilla. They're dense without being dry or crumbly, and the butter comes through in every bite. I would serve them with tea or coffee, after a rich dinner.

When you're making these, make sure you measure the butter correctly. It's really important--I'm pretty sure I was off by less than a tablespoon, and it completely changed the dough.

Tuxedo Cookies (aka Salted Chocolate Vanilla Bean Cookies)
From Joy the Baker, who adapted it from Martha Stewart

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg yolk, save egg white for brushing cookie dough
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or scraped vanilla beans from 1/4 vanilla pod
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
2 tablespoons semi sweet chocolate, very finely chopped
course sea salt

Sift flour and salt into a medium bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Mix in egg yolk and vanilla bean or extract. Gradually add flour mixture; mix until just combined, about 1 minute.

Remove half of the dough; set aside. Add cocoa powder and chopped chocolate to remaining dough; mix on low speed until well combined. Turn out chocolate dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a 10-inch log, about 1-inch wide and 1/2-inch tall. Repeat with reserved vanilla dough. Wrap each rectangle in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until slightly firm, at least 30 minutes.

Remove the chilled doughs from the fridge. Brush the top of the chocolate piece with a bit of a remaining egg white. This will help the chocolate and vanilla stick together. Press the vanilla piece on top of the moistened chocolate piece. Press lightly. Rewrap dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut log into 1/4-inch-thick rounds; space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. If dough becomes too soft to slice cleanly, return to freezer until firm. Sprinkle course sea salt onto the chocolate half of the cookies. Press in lightly with fingertips.

Bake until firm to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Being sick might be my least favorite thing. I think it's right up there with not being able to sleep, although when the two go hand-in-hand, it's infinitely worse. In case you couldn't tell, I've had a cold for a while.

But before I started feeling so awful, I made something great. Something rich and creamy and filling. And it wasn't even dessert. It was risotto.

Risotto is made with arborio rice, rather than just regular rice, which is what gives it its creamy, soft texture. Combined with cheese and vegetables, it's the perfect winter comfort food. But what's really amazing about risotto is the leftovers. Or, more precisely, what you can do with them.

Risotto cakes. Risotto fritters? I don't know what to call them, but they're delicious. Crispy and browned on the outside, soft on the inside. They're not the most beautiful things in the world--the cakes don't stay together particularly well--but once you take a bite, you'll forget all about the haphazard presentation. They don't even really deserve the term "leftovers." I might even love them more than the original risotto itself.

Whatever you call them, whichever you prefer, make this recipe. It won't disappoint.

Mushroom, Asparagus and Artichoke Heart Risotto Cakes
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

5 cups vegetable broth (40 fl oz)
1 cup water
1 pound thin to medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, leaving tips 1 1/2 inches long
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 small jar artichoke hearts
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 oz)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup, though I used half)

Olive oil, for the cakes

Bring broth and water to a boil in a 4-quart pot. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain and pat dry. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.

Heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then saute mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a bowl.

Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and looks creamy, 18 to 20 minutes. (Save leftover broth for thinning.)

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup cheese, remaining tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir in asparagus, artichokes and mushrooms, then cover pan and let stand 1 minute. If desired, thin risotto with some of remaining broth. Serve immediately with remaining cheese on the side.

Now, you can stop here for the risotto. Or you can eat half the risotto now, and save some for later. Whatever your decision, here are the instructions for the risotto cakes:

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Once heated, use a 1/4 cup measure to put the risotto in the skillet, keeping it as much of a "cake" shape as possible. Let it brown for several minutes, until crispy on the bottom. Flip it over, and brown for another few minutes.

If your cake falls apart a little, don't worry. It's still going to taste just as good.