Monday, February 21, 2011

What to do with overripe bananas...

It's official! I'm moving my blog over to

I figured that was enough of a tongue-twister to remember without "" added in. So come visit me and see my latest post! You'll also be able to see all my older posts on the new website as well. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Tale of Buttery Shortbread

I really don't know why I don't make shortbread more often. It's definitely one of my favorite cookies. It's so humble looking - no flashy chocolate chips or frosting - and yet, when you first bite into it, you can't help but smile. It's buttery and crisp giving way to meltingly soft. In other words - it's delicious.

While I'm always tempted to play around with spices, I managed to hold myself back with this batch. I wanted to just taste the complex buttery flavor and subtle sweetness that comes from a simple ingredient list. No frills.

Of course, I'm not sure I'll be able to refrain from baking these again adding in freshly ground cardamom, or perhaps orange zest and black pepper. However good these variations might be, I have a feeling the simplicity of the original recipe will be my favorite.

To start, you'll need 4 cups of all-purpose flour.

The secret ingredient: 1 cup of cornstarch. Speaking of cornstarch, why is it always so static-y?

The 3rd and final dry ingredient: 1 cup granulated sugar.

Now mix all those dry ingredients together in a large bowl. The key word is large. The bowl you see pictured worked just fine, but next time I might use an even larger bowl to make the mixing process easier. Cornstarch is so light and airy that it likes to jump out of the bowl. That's my excuse for being covered in flour after baking these and I'm sticking to it.

Now, you'll need a little butter. Er...that means 1 lb of butter (2 cups = 4 sticks). For this recipe you really need to use real butter. It's the main flavoring and there's a lot of it so margarine might make it taste...well a bit dull. If you're afraid of butter, this probably isn't the recipe for you. See: Cabbage Recipe.

I used salted butter which meant I didn't need to add any salt to the mix. If you use unsalted it is important that you add 1/4 teaspoon to the dry ingredients. Otherwise, your shortbread won't taste like much. It's amazing how salt really allows you to taste other flavors.

Cut the butter into smaller pieces to make the mixing process easier. Then, start mixing away with your hands. I started out with a pastry cutter and soon realized that hands are really the best tool. Have fun with it!

Keep mixing until you stop finding any unmixed pats of butter. How neurotic you want to be about this depends on how much you want your cookies to resemble something Martha Stewart would make. I went for rustic. You'll see what I mean in the last few pictures.

Now poor the crumbly dough into a cookie sheet (with high sides) lined with parchment paper. If you don't have any parchment paper, this should still work - it only serves to make cookie extraction easier.

Begin patting down the dough with your fingers. Once again, depending on your perfectionist tendencies, you can try and smooth out the top of the dough.

Now, the secret to making these truly delicious: Sprinkle the top with 2 tbsp sugar and a heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt. Yum!

Bake the cookies at 325 F for 45 minutes or until they start to get a hint of golden brown around the edges.

Let the cookies rest for 5 minutes after taking them out of the oven, then slice. Slicing them while they're still warm is definitely the easiest way to go.

You'll notice that some of my cookies have little holes in them. This is because I'm not much of a perfectionist and I didn't spend forever mixing the dough together. The little pea sized dots of unmixed butter effectively melted away and left a little impression. I will say that the cookies were eaten by my fellow coworkers so quickly that nobody had the time to notice any minor imperfections.

Don't forget to enjoy one (or two...) for yourself.

Buttery Shortbread
(yields 40 small bar cookies)

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 lb salted butter (if unsalted, add 1/4 tsp salt to dry ingredients)

2 tbsp sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat oven to 325 F. Mix together flour, cornstarch, and sugar (1 cup) in a large bowl. Cut butter into small cubes and add to dry ingredients. Mix with hands until well mixed (with no apparent pieces of unmixed butter). Pour into baking sheet covered with parchment paper and pat down. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp sugar and coarse salt. Bake at 325 F for 45 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes then cut into squares.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Spiced Chai

As the gray days of winter meander along here in Seattle, I find myself preparing all manner of warm beverages to brighten my mood. Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate all fit the bill nicely - but there is something so soothing about the warming spices and gentle sweetness of chai that keeps me turning back to this recipe.

(Or maybe it's just the hefty dose of caffeine. I can't really be sure.)

The recipe I've outlined here is more of a guideline. I like my chai moderately spiced and sweetened, and definitely creamy. I use a handful of different spices - perhaps to justify my compulsive spice shopping habit - but you can certainly leave out any that you don't like or don't have. Up the quantities of spices if you like a really spicy chai. Me? - I prefer to let the flavor of the tea leaves shine through with the spices adding a gentle background note.

I'll get to the recipe in a second, but first a little background on my chai escapades. My first introduction to chai was at my aunt and uncle's house as a young girl. They were world travelers with many treks to remote regions of India and Nepal under their belt and the food they served was equally exotic. I remember being served a peppery chai that was bewildering but wonderful. I was hooked.

Fast forward a few years to when I visiting my older sister in college. She had two roommates, one from Pakistan and one from India, who made simply spiced chai on a near daily basis. This was where I first learned to make a more traditional chai (compared to the tasty but utterly different chai lattes that are available at coffee shops around here). As my sister can attest, there is nothing like a cup of chai to get you through a study session.

Lastly, in college I became mildly obsessed with replicating the chai from a nearby Indian restaurant (formerly Cedar's - now Taste Of India). Their chai is heaven, pure heaven. I have yet to be completely successful in my replication efforts (maybe I'll have to get a job there to learn their secret?) but this version I'm posting comes pretty darn close. At the very least, it filled all my cravings for chai on this cold, blustery day.

Onto the recipe...

First you'll need some ginger and some whole peppercorns.

I used about 3/4 inch of ginger, sliced up and 10 peppercorns. If you don't have whole peppercorns, I recommend leaving them out as ground pepper would be difficult to strain out. And nobody wants gritty chai.

By the way, an easy way to peel ginger is to use the side of a spoon. As you pull the spoon along, it will release the skin - voila! - peeled ginger.

This is a lot easier to do if you're not trying to use your uncoordinated left hand and take a picture at the same time.

You'll also need some whole cloves, anise seeds, cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick.

I used:
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
1/8 tsp anise seeds
10 cardamom pods

Place 2 cups of in water in pot and add all the spices (including the ginger). Bring to a boil over the stove and gently simmer for 10 minutes.

Now for this recipe, I used 6 teabags of black tea (orange pekoe, darjeeling or any unflavored black tea). Note, that it only serves 1-2 people. So if you're downing the whole batch yourself or are caffeine sensitive you might want to use fewer tea bags.

Or you could use all or half decaf teabags.

Now that the spices have simmered for 10 minutes, turn off the stove and add the teabags. Let steep for 5 minutes.

Now add 1 cup milk plus a splash of cream.

Or instead of the splash of cream you could use half n' half or just additional milk. Your choice.

I like cream.

Take a moment and enjoy the beautiful swirling colors.

Is there anything more therapeutic than this?

Now add 2 tbsp of sugar to the whole mix.

Turn the stove back on (medium/medium-high) and bring the whole mixture to a boil and let simmer for just a moment before removing from the heat.

Be sure to watch the mixture because milk has a tendency to bubble over.

The mixture should look something like this, with the faintest hint of frothy milk. Don't worry if a "skin" forms on the top of the mixture (we're boiling milk after all). You can simply spoon it away, or just filter it out in the next step.

Finally, strain the tea to remove the spices. It may be easiest to remove the tea bags first.

I strained it into a teapot for kicks, but you could strain it directly into your mug.

The last step is to enjoy a cup! Preferably curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a good book or shared over a heartfelt chat with a friend.

Spiced Chai
1-2 servings*

3/4 inch ginger, peeled and sliced
~10 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 tsp anise seeds
5 cloves
10 cardamom pods
2 cups water
6 black teabags (orange pekoe, darjeeling, etc.)
1 cup milk
1/8 cup cream, half n'half, or additional milk
2 tbsp sugar

Place 2 cups of water in a medium sized pot. Add spices (ginger through cardamom). Bring to a boil on the stove and simmer 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Add tea bags and let steep 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients (milk, cream, and sugar) and turn the stove back on. Bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for a moment (~20 seconds) and then take off heat. Strain and enjoy.

*This recipe is easily doubled