Sunday, December 28, 2008

biscotti making

Every x-mas, I make biscotti. Like, for at least the past ten years. It is a holiday ritual involving a good two days of labor, but one that yields the most satisfying of results. Biscotti, anise cookies, the ultimate cookie, call them what you will, they are my favorite cookie. Maybe you have not had the cookie I'm thinking about. Or you think you have, but are really imagining one of those rock hard biscotti-shaped things that ruin folks experience of the real deal. These, are the real deal, and if you have the hand and forearm strength to give them a try, I implore you to do so. You will be most pleased.

Unless you have access to a professional kitchen with an industrial mixer, you'll be making these completely by hand. In order for the dough to be the right consistency it must be extremely tough to mix. Try it in a Kitchen Aid or similar home kitchen model and by the time you have all the ingredients together, the motor will come to an abrupt stop. Really. (I strongly advise against even trying it, so please trust me here.) Using a wooden spoon yields similar results and chances are you'll break it if you insist on using it. This recipe is so old school that you don't even need a bowl to mix it all in. Think: pasta making where you add the eggs to a well in the flour already on the bread board. When all is thoroughly mixed, toss it in the fridge. Then, ideally, forget about it for anywhere between two and five days.

When you remember, (or have achieved aged dough perfection, however you choose to view it) remove it from the ice box and split it into thirds. If it is your first time attempting these, shape only one piece into a loaf for the first baking so you can see how the dough behaves, looking for how much rising and spreading the loaf will do and keeping it from browning too much. After the first baking, make sure to cool it until room temp on a rack. Now cut it at a slight angle with a thickness ranging from between 21/64ths to 29/64ths of an inch. Don't worry too much about precision here, after a few sheets of varying thicknesses you'll figure out the fine balance between enough strength and too thick. Place these pieces side down on the sheet, filling it most of the way. Now here comes the art of this cookie: bake them about 6-7 minutes per side, flipping them each time and rotating cookies and multiple sheets if needed to compensate for inconsistencies in your oven. Compensate for inconsistencies in your brain too I suppose. (If you've ever baked cookies in a late 1920's Wedgewood, or tried baking while using my brain, you know what I'm talking about.) Anyway, pay close attention, because burning cookies that are baked twice is easily 200% easier to do.

Oh, and back to that hand and forearm thing. If you've never made these, one batch is tough. If you end up liking the recipe and think about making even more, doubling it is nearly out of the question unless you have the enormous hands of an NBA center to achieve mixing the resulting, huge-tastic doughball. I recommend making one batch a day for successive days. (I do anywhere from two to four of these each year.) Making two batches in one day can be done if needed, but will result in certain hand fatigue, noticed primarily the following day when you reach for a doorknob or squeeze something in your fist. Or reach for your 8th cookie of the morning. Because, like the picture shows, there are always a broken few that need immediate gastric recycling.

So make sure you are nice and fortified before you attempt making these biscotti. Maybe do some carbo loading the day before. Come to think of it, this year I ate several of these sandwiches the couple days before embarking on my workout plan. I guess after years of making the cookies, I just do this naturally. I'm pretty sure the deep dish pizza I made was full of carbs. Overall though, it was a nice balanced snack with the cream cheese and salmon placed in the middle, panini style. Ahhhh, the things you have to do to achieve hand and forearm fitness.......


measure and set aside:
2T anise seeds
1 & 1/3c chopped walnuts

4 large eggs (let come to room temperature)

sift together 3 times:
5c all-purpose flour
1 & 2/3c granulated sugar
2t baking powder
1/2t salt

in a measuring cup combine together:
2/3c melted butter
1/3c salad oil (like safflower, canola, etc.)
2t anise extract
2t vanilla extract

make a well in the dry ingredients and add the (slightly beaten) eggs. mix with your hands until the egg is well incorporated then add the measuring cup of the remaining wet ingredients and mix until you need to rest. now make it even more difficult and painful, by adding the anise seeds and walnuts and mixing until they are nicely distributed. put into a large bowl and cover, then place in the fridge, at the very least overnight. from one to five days later, remove from the fridge and cut into thirds. shape one portion into a log. mash down with your hands into a low profile loaf, about 2 1/2 inches wide and nearly and inch tall. this will likely stretch most of the way across your cookie sheet (unless you are using a larger pan like a standard 1/2 sheet.) bake this loaf at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until it has risen some and turned a light golden color. remove from the oven and cool on a cookie sheet until it has reached room temperature. slice on a diagonal about 3/8ths inch thick and lay on their sides back on the cookie sheet. bake at 350 again, about 6-7 minutes per side, flipping each time. by the second flip (nearing 15 minutes) they should be about done. cool on a rack and then start eating. dip in coffee, dip in wine, ice cream, chocolate, chili, whatever pleases you. and make sure to admire those strong hands and popeye-like forearms you just worked on and think: "I don't need no stinkin' mixer!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

fist of the buddha

Ever cook with a citron? We'd had one on the counter for the past week and I've been having so much fun looking at it, I went out and got another. The next day I turned over the first and saw mold. Damn! I hacked it off and pondered what to do next. Well, I thought to myself, lemon is good to stuff into chicken, so citron ought to be nice. I had my first happy hen from Ted, and a more or less intact palm along with another few knuckles and a finger. The chicken has a big hole, something is going in it, the post writes itself.......

I smashed two garlic cloves and gave it a rub down, then put the chicky on a few spears of carrot to keep it off the pan a bit. I tossed some beet hunks in and splashed olive oil all over. Listening to and rubbing a dub, the beets gave the bird a rosie tint. Mouth was beginning to water. Shake a salt and pepper, 425 degree oven and we're rockin'. With an hour to go, we needed more roots, and veggies. The carrots are especially fabulous right about now, so I chucked 'em in with the usual 'taters, onions and mushrooms.

This bird had a nice crisp on the outside, and boy howdy was it tender. Ted wasn't kidding when he said it would be a real good bird. Like, damn, that is some good bird there, man. Roasting the veggies in the drippings is key to sublime tender hunks, and this time it was particularly true. Everything was infused with bird. Especially yummy bird. Oh yeah, and fist. Tasty buddha fist. Come on, you know you want to say it with me, nice and loud now: "Mmmmm, "fisted chicken," just like grandma used to make!"

Yep, just like that. Because, you know what? It's the holidays, the economy sucks, and hell, sometimes you just gotta be rude, crude and socially unattractive. Besides, I just wanted to say fisted chicken.

Monday, December 01, 2008

leftover week

Did you know that you don't need the tryptophan-laden bird in order to get a serious case of food coma on Turkey day? I didn't, but now do.

This year we honored the beast and had some faux-chicken sausages with some of the usual side dishes: mashed potatoes, candied yams, stuffing, and brussel sprouts. Even without loading the plate up a second time, the food coma set in and we nearly didn't get to dessert. Somehow, we managed. Then, despite no carcass, as usual, we had tons of leftovers. I say we should officially call the week after Thanksgiving leftover week, since chances have it, that's mostly what you'll be eating. So here goes: a look into this year's leftovers.

I started feeding the monkeys leftovers as soon as possible. The little dude is moving into hyperdrive with the utensil usage and gave cheesecake and brussel sprouts a go at the same time. He ate most of the sprouts, but every last speck of his cheesecake. Without any mess. Wasting none happens when you really, really like something, so I'll take that as a compliment and testament to his wanting more cheesecake in the future.

Yeah, speaking of cheesecake. I'm a fiend for them in case you don't know. But more specifically, the sweet potato kind. The addiction started a while back, before the blog. Then two years ago I made an orange colored one while recounting the original. Then last year, I found the right variety and we had a purple one. This year's had garnet yams again, as the purple variety of sweet potatoes were nowhere near the vibrancy of last years after cooking them. Oh well, just coat them in butter and brown sugar and eat them anyway.....aren't candied yams one of your favorites anyway?

But what I really loved the most from this year's leftover fest is that homemade stuffing, heated up and served with a gooey-yolked fried egg atop it, is damn close to heaven in a bowl. Especially if it's made with bread made the day before and toasted the morning of. Luckily we had a disproportionate amount of stuffing leftover this year, and eggs o' plenty. So, not only have I had this four mornings in a row, but unless someone comes and swipes the rest outta my fridge, I'll have my last hella delicious bowl of it tomorrow. There are still some candied yams (gone tonight I'm sure), some brussel sprouts (ditto), and mashed taters (uh, scratch that as writing this piece took too long). The last piece of cheesecake (it was a frickin' huge one) just might hang in there until tomorrow though.

Ahhhhh, the leftovers nearly done with and we're on to the next portion of the holiday season. Some folks mark it with counting down the days until x-mas, so to honor the tradition, we went and bought a couple of "advil calendars" this morning. You might know them by their better known name: advent calendars. I guess the bigger of our little heathens knows more about advil than she does about the advent, and being as though it has been a whole year since the daily chocolate dispensation occurred, it only seems normal she'd go with the more familiar sounding name. Considering we just survived really only the beginning of the holidays, maybe an advil calendar isn't such a bad idea.

Anyway, stay warm, enjoy the festivities, and may a homebrew be coming your way soon..........Happy December!