Archive for July, 2008

What do you do with vanilla bean pods, once you’ve scraped out the vanilla? Save them, and make vanilla-flavored sugar. Place the empty bean pods into a bowl of sugar. Then leave for two-three weeks, letting the flavor of the vanilla bean seep into the sugar. It will keep indefinitely. Another method is to dry out the vanilla beans, then grind them up in a coffee grinder or food processor and mix with sugar.

Vanilla sugar can be used in baking, ice cream or sprinkled on fresh fruit. Try it in your coffee or hot chocolate. You can also buy it pre-made from Williams-Sonoma .


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Sometimes chocolate chip cookies seem too sweet, and oatmeal too grainy. It’s then that I turn to peanut butter cookies to quench my cookie craving. This is the peanut-butteriest recipe I’ve ever found. It relies on ground peanuts to jack up the flavor and it’s well worth the extra effort. The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated, and I’d add that the dough is among the best cookie dough I’ve tasted. Sweet, not too heavy, and smoky with peanut flavor. Keep some aside to eat on its own!

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup crunchy peanut butter, at room temperature (Cook’s Illustrated recommends Jif)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup roasted salted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two large cookie sheets with a Silpat or by lining with parchment paper.

Grind peanuts in food processor until they resemble bread crumbs; set aside. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl; set aside.

Beat butter until creamy. Add sugars; beat until fluffy (about 3 minutes) scraping down bowl as necessary. Beat in peanut butter until fully incorporated. Add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Gently stir dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture. Add ground peanuts; stir gently until just incorporated.

Scoop into balls with about two tablespoons dough per scoop and place on cookie sheet. Press criss-cross design into the top of each ball using a fork dipped in cold water.

Bake about 15 minutes until cookies have risen slightly and browned along the edges. If you want a crispy cookie, bake a minute or two longer. Cool for 5-10 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

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Baking powder is a leavener usually made up of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), an acid salt (which reacts with moisture or heat, or both – such as tartaric acid, mono-calcium or combination of acid salts), and cornstarch (a filler used to keep the ingredients separated; it also absorbs moisture which prevents premature action).

Double-acting baking powder is more common. It contains two acid salts. This means that reacts twice: first when it is combined with a liquid, and then again when heated. It emits carbon dioxide gas each time it reacts, which produces leavening.

Single acting baking powder reacts once, when it is mixed with a liquid. The product must be baked immediately after mixing, or you will lose the rising effect. You can make single-acting baking powder by combining cream of tartar with baking soda in a 2:1 ratio (i.e. two teaspoons cream of tartar to one teaspoon baking soda).

Once opened, baking powder usually lasts about 6-9 months. To test if baking powder is still good: place a teaspoon of baking powder in a glass of tepid water to see if it fizzes. If it does, it’s still good. It should be stored in a dry place. Do not store in the refrigerator as condensation on the can will ruin it.

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Brownies are a quintessentially American dessert. They’re not particularly beautiful: the top always cracks, the sides often crumble. They look very homemade. Er, rustic. But then you taste. A bite of the chewy chocolate cake and the brownie becomes worth further consideration.

The name ‘brownie’ is thought to be based on the color, and the mythical pixie-like figures common in children’s stories around the time of the dessert’s invention in the late 19th century.

1 stick butter
5 oz dark chocolate
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Melt butter and chocolate together in a double boiler. Once melted, remove from heat. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and sugars. Add melted chocolate, then dry ingredients.

Pour into greased 8 x 8 baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees F for approximately 20 minutes.

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As the temperature and humidity spike in New York, cool beverages are the order of the day. Here’s an easy iced tea you can sip all afternoon long.

For two quarts of tea, I generally use three black tea bags to one herbal bag. The herbal tea lightens the flavor a bit. You can use any variety here: jasmine, melon, mint, lemon for the herbal; Earl Grey or English Breakfast for the black.

A few tips and tricks:

-You don’t want to let the tea bags steep too long, or too much tannin will be drawn out and the tea will be bitter.

-Drink it within a day or two, as the flavors go dull if the tea sits around too long.

-If you want to sweeten the tea with sugar, make a simple syrup (boil sugar in water to dissolve) first. Then add to the tea. This way the sugar won’t all end up at the bottom of the pitcher.

-Add flavoring while the tea steeps for more flavor: cinnamon sticks, lemon peel, mint leaves. Or, once the tea cools, add 1 cup of juice, such as apple, cranberry or pomegranate.

Here’s a recipe for an easy Earl Grey iced tea.

2 quarts water
3 Earl Grey tea bags
1 Jasmine tea bag (or other herbal variety)
3 Tablespoons honey

Pour water in saucepan; bring to a boil. Add tea bags and remove from heat. Add honey and let steep for five minutes. Remove tea bags and let cool until almost at room temperature. Chill tea (I leave it in the saucepan) in refrigerator. Once it has cooled, serve over ice.

Garnish with a lemon or some mint leaves.

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-It is a naturally occurring carbohydrate in fruit. It acts as a stabilizer and a gelling and thickening agent in food.

-Pectin is from the Greek pektikos, meaning “congealed” or “curdled.”

-Concentrated in the fruits’ skin and core, pectin binds cells together. The tougher parts of the fruit contain more pectin, and as fruit ripens and cell walls break down, the amount of pectin gradually decreases. For this reason, if you are not using commercial pectin, you will sometimes see suggestions to add some unripe fruit to a jam or jelly, or to add the skin of an apple.

-Fruits that are high in pectin: apples, oranges, gooseberries, grapes, cranberries, plums, blackberries, currants and quince. Citrus fruit peel and seeds are also high in pectin.

-Fruits that are low in pectin: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, peaches, pears and rhubarb.

-Acid (such as lemon) helps to draw pectin out of fruit when it is heated. June Taylor uses lemon pith and seeds as a natural pectin in her jams. See a video of her making marmalade and talking about her jams on chow.com.

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My refrigerator is stuffed full of produce from the greenmarket. There are lettuce leaves and green beans in the crisper, potatoes and peaches on the counter, and ears of corn crying out to be husked.

For a cool summer salad, meant to last several days, and to showcase the fresh corn and green beans, I decided to combine corn, potatoes and green beans. It’s a delight of flavors and textures: the crunchiness of the beans, the sweetness of the corn and the balsamic vinegar; the hint of olives and the starchiness of the potatoes.

1 pound small potatoes
1/2 pound green beans
2 ears corn
1/3 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut potatoes in quarters and place in saucepan. Add enough water so potatoes are covered with two inches of it, then add several pinches of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and boil about 12 minutes, until potatoes are cooked. Drain and let cool. Toss potatoes in a bowl with 1 teaspoon vinegar.

Trim beans and cut kernels from ears of corn. In a large saucepan of with boiling salted water, cook beans until tender yet still crisp, about five minutes. Scoop beans from water and run them under cold water to stop cooking. Shake any excess water off beans and add to potatoes. Return water in pan to a boil and blanch corn 1 minute, or until crisp-tender. Drain corn and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Shake off any excess water and add to salad.

n a small bowl whisk together mustard, oil, remaining 2 teaspoons vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss salad with dressing and salt and pepper to taste until combined well.

Serves 6-8.

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