Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cowboy Cookies

Given my "maximizer" tendencies, that is, an insistence on assessing all possible options to ensure I’ve chosen the absolute best one before making a decision— as my sister has pointedly labeled my behavior—choosing a holiday cookie is not an easy task for me. By not easy, I mean positively agonizing. The possibilities are endless, the angles innumerable. Does one go traditional Christmas cookie, sprinkles and all? Or gingerbread, molasses-rich and deeply spiced? What about dark chocolate, peppered cheerily with candy cane morsels? I poured through all of my cookbooks and read countless “Top 50 Christmas Cookies” lists online, toiling through the comments sections in feverish hope of feeling with finality that I’d chosen the best…

And just when I’d settled for an intricate yet interesting spice cookie with a thin lemon glaze on top, bae glanced at the cookbook photo and told me point-blank that it looked like someone had jizzed all over these Pfeffernüsse varietals. Horrified, I slapped the book shut, ready to start the search from scratch.

“You’re thinking too hard about this,” bae said. “Why don’t you just make chocolate chip? Everybody loves chocolate chip cookies.” My first reaction was to protest, too mundane! Too basic! Too non-holiday! But truth is, bae had a very good point. So I set out to find a recipe for a loaded chocolate chip, and with resolve and conviction chose these Cowboy Cookies—trading my “maximizing” mindset for wholehearted enthusiasm apropos to these spectacular sweets.

I don’t know why they are named “Cowboy”, but I do know this—they’re insanely delicious, easy to make, hard to mess up, and quite the crowd pleaser. I mean, how can a cookie that’s essentially the Original Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe plus pecans, oats, shredded coconut, and cinnamon be anything but? Even for baking dopes like me who don’t let the butter warm to room temp and bake a dangerous 2 minutes past their doneness, they still managed to turn out excellent. For the amateur baker, a resilient cookie is a must.

In its original form, this recipe makes giant, scone-like Levain Bakery style cookies—¼ cup batter allocation per each. I wanted more of a two-bite cookie, so I cut the recipe and cookie size by one-third, which I’ve reflected below. Now, you are free to eat more than one :)

Happy Holidays! Sending all the love and joy of the season from my kitchen to yours. I’ll see you in the New Year.

Cowboy Cookies (from the New York Times)
Makes 30 two-bite cookies

1  cup all­ purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light­ brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup old­ fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened flake coconut/ coconut chips
2/3 cup chopped pecans

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in sugars, and combine thoroughly.
4. Add egg, beat into batter. Beat in vanilla.
5. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans.
6. For each cookie, drop a heaping tablespoon of dough onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart.
7. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, until edges are lightly browned; rotate sheets halfway through. Remove cookies from rack to cool.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Pan-Roasted Romanesco with Golden Raisins, Tahini & Sumac

It's nearly impossible to visit a farmers market this time of year without a head of romanesco, nestled between its broccoli and cauliflower cousins, catching your eye. Was it the pinwheel of stegosaurus-like spiral spikes that first gave you pause? Or maybe its fluorescent lime hue was cause for reconsideration. Either way, we can agree that the romanesco is definitely the most bizarre-looking Brassica of the bunch. But if that fractal eccentricity means you're habitually turning to its tamer family members, I urge you to try those crazy spikes in the kitchen with Pan-Roasted Romanesco with Golden Raisins, Tahini & Sumac.

Contrary to its sharp exterior, romanesco has a very mild flavor; significantly subdued compared to broccoli or cauliflower. That's not to say the romanesco is dull—I've often seen it described as having a "sweet nuttiness" that becomes accentuated with high-heat cooking. Think of it as a vegetable to be praised for its agreeableness, perhaps; boasting a wonderfully crunchy texture primed for charring in that deeply satisfying way exclusive to roasted winter vegetables.

And yet, an oven isn't even required to cook the romanesco to perfection in this recipe. Instead, the florets are pan-roasted, achieving beautifully bronzed, charred edges in just 10 minutes time. At first, I was skeptical: how could such a burly stalk be cooked to completion via open stove top with minimal oil so quickly? The secret, it turned out, was in the finish. After approximately 8 minutes of charring, the florets are "steamed" with a splash of vegetable broth for the remaining cook time. The contact of the broth with the hot pan's bottom immediately creates a steam bath for the romanesco, ensuring that the crunchy florets lose their raw bite in the final minutes before serving. Genius, right?  To my delight, the pan-charring worked for two other winter vegetables I generally reserve for time-consuming oven roasting as well, broccoli and brussels sprouts.

This recipe hails from the Gjelina cookbook by Travis Lett, a connoisseur of phenomenal vegetable preparations. Everything is nuanced: the sweetness of the raisins and nuttiness of the tahini amplifying the flavor profile inherent to the romanesco, the sprinkle of tangy Sumac and coarse sea salt to finish. The presentation is beautiful, a masterpiece fit for entertaining that feels almost indulgent when whipped together on a random weeknight for one. Substitutions are effortless and welcome: romanesco can be subbed out for any other hearty winter vegetable, golden raisins with many a dried fruit. If Sumac isn't a pantry item for you, top with finely grated lemon peel instead.

Pan-Roasted Romanesco with Golden Raisins, Tahini & Sumac (from Gjelina)
Serves 4 to 6

¼ cup tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp cold water
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium heads romanesco, trimmed and chopped into 1-in florets
¼ cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp vegetable stock or water
1 Tbsp ground sumac
Flaky sea salt
Best-quality olive oil for drizzling

1. In a small bowl, combine the tahini with the lemon juice, garlic, and cold water. Whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. The sauce should be thin enough to drizzle with a spoon. (If it is too thick, add in more cold water, 1 Tbsp at a time.) Season with kosher salt and pepper.
2. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Add enough extra-virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and warm until hot but not smoking. Add the romanesco, cut-side down, and cook until deep golden brown in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir with tongs or a wooden spoon and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Turn the heat to medium and add the raisins. Season with kosher salt and cook, stirring, until the raisins soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the stock and allow the ingredients to steam briefly. Taste a piece of romanesco for seasoning and doneness; it should be tender.
3. Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle the tahini sauce on top, sprinkle with sumac, and garnish with sea salt and a drizzle of best-quality olive oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.