Monday, November 24, 2014

Maple-Glazed Vegan Coconut Bacon

Apparently, you can now buy vegan bacon. Sounds like a paradox. This is not something you would find in my shopping cart. I like to keep it real. Real butter, real sugar, real bacon. That was until I met a very cute and very pink piglet at the local farmer's market. Giving up bacon was really not that difficult. If a hunter can cook a vegan meal, anything is possible. Hank makes a good point and our Meat + Taters culture is centered too heavily on meat, anyway. While I agree with the concept of being vegan, I really do not like ingesting a ton of chemicals created in a lab to replace natural ingredients. It usually tastes bad, too.

Enter Vegan Bacon. Yes, fake bacon. You know I do not like anything artificial, but this stuff is made from real coconut and real maple syrup. Put good stuff into a dish and get good stuff out of a dish. Considerably better for you than actual bacon, this stuff is teeming with the good type of fats, vitamins, minerals, even antioxidants. Even liquid smoke is natural; it is just the condensation produced when wood chips are smoked. Coconut Bacon might win you endorsements from PETA, gurus worldwide, your family doctor and, most importantly, Mom. As a bonus, this stuff actually tastes so damn stuff-your-face good, it will send you running down the street, smackin' your lips, slapping yourself happy. Ok, maybe nothing so dramatic, but doing the right thing and eating the right foods feels good, doesn't it? Even the texture is on target. The coconut releases its natural oils in the hot pan and becomes crispy the same way real bacon does when fried. Sweet, salty, smoky, crunchy and unspeakably tasty, just like real bacon, but not.

Maple-Glazed Vegan Coconut Bacon
Note:  The smoked paprika adds a bit more flavor and color, but is really not necessary.
Makes 3 cups

Supplies                                                    Steps
3 cups sliced, unsweetened coconut             Line a cookie sheet with paper towels. Set aside.
1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)                  Place a large nonstick pan onto medium-high heat.
2 Tb soy sauce                                            Toss everything into the pan and stir occasionally.
1 Tb freshly cracked black pepper               Continue frying until the coconut becomes golden.
1 Tb liquid smoke                                        Remove from heat and transfer onto paper towels.
1 Tb maple syrup                                         Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Maple-Glazed Vegan Coconut Bacon is as fabulous as its name. Serve it along with the any of the usual breakfast favourites, whether eggs and hash browns, pancakes or French toast. It is also a delicious stand-in for pork bacon in primetime dishes like Mac n Cheese, green bean casserole, pumpkin soup, etc etc etc. I have some ideas of my own cooking up. Wait til you see what I have for you in an upcoming post. No piggies were harmed in the making of this Maple-Glazed Vegan Coconut Bacon. So eat with abandon and do not worry about your cholesterol level or your place in Heaven. This stuff tastes so good, you just might think you are dreaming. Now you can tell the kids "Finish your bacon - it's good for ya!" and mean it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Grandma's Butter Toffee Peanut Popcorn

Trips to the supermarket are a funny routine for Daisy and me. Before we even reach the door, she argues her case about being too mature to sit in the shopping cart, after which I try to find a way to coax her into the seat. We roll around, gathering all the basic necessities and finish with a trip toward the produce section. By now, we are usually negotiating whether and when she can have ice cream. I get to pontificate to a toddler about the importance of eating a healthy, balanced meal before sugary sweets. Incidentally, I happen to be indulging in a warmed chocolate chip cookie with a tall glass of ice-cold milk while I am telling you my story. As I was saying...It is not long before I run into the Snack Monster and, if I do not give into his demands, I will grab everything off the shelves with big ambitions of cooking a 10-course meal with all the fixings, including several choices of desserts. This is what happens when I go grocery shopping on an empty stomach and accounts for my popularity among the cashiers.

My eye catches a glimpse of those cute, little crinkly bags of Cracker Jacks conveniently hanging from the corner post of the pasta sauce aisle. It really is an odd place to put candy, but, come to think of it, caramel corn would not be bad after a big bowl of pasta marinara, right? Then my left hand does this strange thing and automatically reaches for a bag. Then it opens the bag, reaches in, clasps a small bunch of caramel-covered popcorn and shoves it right into my mouth.  All the while, I have been preaching to Daisy about how important it is to eat a proper dinner before chomping on sweets. She must think I am such a hypocrite. Popcorn, even the caramel-covered stuff is not usually a temptation for me. But, Cracker Jacks are a serious problem.

However, there just never seems to be enough of those toasty peanuts in the bag. Is there an embargo on peanuts? It would be really nice if they were evenly dispersed among the popcorn, but inevitably they somehow gather at the bottom of the bag instead, along with the dusty bits and lint. So, last weekend, I decided to take charge of the matter and make my own version at home, with a ridiculous surplus of those peanuts we all love so much. Then, to take it over top, I drenched the popped corn and peanuts with my grandmother's butter toffee. Damn good stuff, I tell ya and no one has to know how easy it is to make.

Butter Toffee Peanut Popcorn
Makes 9 cups

1 stick of butter
1 cup sugar
2 Tb honey
pinch salt
8 cups popped corn
16 oz jar roasted salted peanuts

Cover two cookie sheets with foil and sprinkle popcorn in a single layer. Add peanuts.
Melt butter, sugar, honey and salt in a heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium-high heat.
Using a wooden spoon, stir occasionally until a golden colour develops and the mixture becomes fluid.
Be careful not to burn the caramel as it will taste bitter.
Pour over the popcorn and peanuts.
Wait 10 minutes before handling.

Candied popcorn is one of those old timey treats that never goes out of fashion and smothered in my grandmother's butter toffee with oodles of peanuts everywhere makes it impossible to resist. It is so easy to make and everything you need is probably already in your kitchen. Enjoy a big bowl with your family while watching a Christmas classic together or surprise your guests at your next holiday party. Making your own means you will never have to dig around the bottom of the bag for the peanuts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Beans + Booze = Homemade Vanilla Extract

Christmas is still a bit while* away, but I have already started planning. I will do anything to avoid that last-minute manic rush to the shops in the coming months.

The holidays make some people a little crazy. If you made it onto Santa's Nice list, you might just witness a delightful show starring a tangle-haired, growling bear of a woman clawing at another over the last pair of rhinestone-studded hot pink fuzzy boots.

While everyone enjoys a good cat fight, I find it destroys my faith in humanity, especially this time of year. I would much rather spend lazy evenings sipping cocoa by the fire. That means getting my shopping done early and spending some time making a few of the gifts myself.

If you are looking for a charming, but easy handmade gift, now is the time to get started. Far more valuable than anything with a blingy price tag, that cute little bottle of homemade vanilla extract is great for anyone on your list. There are some people on this planet who actually do not like chocolate (I know, wow.), but do you know anyone who does not like vanilla?

I love seeing those tiny black vanilla specks in home-baked sweets. That is how I got into using whole beans, which I was surprised to find affordable. The extract is easier to use and a luxury item that is a snap to make at home. There really is not much to making homemade vanilla. Just the beans and the booze.

Decorating the bottles adds a personal touch to these sweet little extracts. I adore plaid and was lucky to have some wintery cream and blue fabric on hand. My handwriting is hardly legible and I had to throw some tags out because I myself could not read what I had written, but they were fun to make with some of Daisy's art supplies.

The Beans
Whole vanilla beans are a luxurious baking ingredient worth the splurge. But, there is no need to break the bank. Spend a bit of time, do some research, because there are some really good deals out there on ebay and amazon. I have been buying bunches of 25 beans at a time. This morning, I was getting ready to dress a cake with fresh homemade whipped cream and when I cut into a bean, it was so dry and leathery that there wasn't much pulp to scrape out. So I myself am on the market for a new supplier and have it on good authority that Whole Foods actually has quality vanilla beans at a decent price. Guess where I'm going right after work today?

The Booze
Commercial extracts use 35% alcohol (70 proof). Rum, brandy, bourbon and vodka are most commonly used. Vodka is my preference because its flavour is neutral and will allow the vanilla to steal the spotlight.
There is no need for stretching your funds for top-shelf alcohol. However, bathing beautiful vanilla beans in cheap alcohol will surely not place you in favour with the food gods. So, go middle-ground as is always wise.

The Formula
1 bean or 2? 2 ounces of alcohol or 4? There is really no exact formula here. I chose 2-ounce bottles, because smaller is cuter. I put only one vanilla bean into the bottle, but two would infuse the alcohol more quickly. There are no rules and that is what makes this a fun project to do with the kids. Just make sure no one sneaks a swig while you are not looking.

The Design
Recently, I sketched a new logo for my blog. The twins holding a bowl together were inspired by my little blue-eyed beauty and have already found their way onto a tux apron. I ordered custom waterproof labels online and they turned out great in white against the chocolate-brown glass. A simple handwritten paper tag, though, is what really gives these little cuties the personal touch and makes them extra-special. This took a bit of effort on my part - If left under the sun, my handwriting will grow legs and walk off (an old Armenian saying). Just make sure yours is legible.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
Note: Below are instructions for how I made the extract and decorated the bottles. Let your imagination loose and do your own thing.

What to Get
750ml bottle vodka
12 vanilla beans
12 amber boston 2oz bottles
a small funnel
sharp paring knife
cutting board

crimping shears
Sharpie marker
decorative hole puncher

12 small rubber bands
12 2x2 swatches of cute fabric
pretty thin ribbon, yarn or sparkly pipe cleaners
custom clear waterproof labels (2" x 1.5")

What to Do
Place a vanilla bean onto a clean cutting board and split lengthwise down the middle with a sharp paring knife.
Fold the bean in half and stuff it through the neck of the bottle, using a chopstick to coax the bean to go into the bottle.
Place the funnel over the bottle and carefully fill the bottle with enough alcohol to completely immerse the bean.
Seal the bottles with the provided caps.

Cut 2"x2" square of fabric using crimping shears.

Place  fabric square over each bottle and secure into place with
a small rubber band.

Cut small 1"x2" tags out of paper with crimping shears.
Punch a pattern (like a heart or snowflake) out with a decorative hole puncher.
Using the Sharpie, label the tag.

Pass the ribbon/pipe cleaner through the hole in the tag
and wrap over the rubber band around the neck of the bottle.

Place them back into their shipping box.
Store them in a cool, dry place like a pantry for at least a month.
Take them out every week or so and give them a little shake to help the vanilla pulp
to loosen and infuse into the alcohol.

Little bottles of homemade vanilla extract promise to make a great impression. Toss the lonely old bow aside and decorate a present with one of these little cuties or hide them in someone's stocking. Even those who do not bake can still enjoy a few drops in their morning coffee or oatmeal. It may even inspire a creative new cocktail. Keep this up and, some day, you just might even make it into somebody's will.

*Bit while: A phrase borrowed from Daisy, one of the many cute things she has coined and will unfortunately soon forget.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rooghan Jooshi Bread: Guest Post by Zozobaking

The voice of experience is undeniable, but there are times when you know  from the beginning that you are making the correct when you meet "The One," walk through the doors of the house that feels like your home and unexpectedly meet a new friend. Online, that is where I met my friend Fariba of It is the oddest feeling for a happily married woman with a little girl to say, but it is the truth, - I really did meet her online.

After following the posts of the delicious things she bakes for several months, we resolved to meet over coffee. It was then that I was sure Fariba was as sweet as the confections she makes. A long-time executive who left her desk job to pursue her passion for pastry, she launched her bakery business Zozo Baking.

I knew that feeling was mutual because, after having known her for only a few months, she invited us to attend her wedding where we met her equally charming family. She and her sweet mom baked all the traditional Persian treats for the event, including the favours, adorable jars of mini coconut meringues. There were several kinds of homemade mini cupcakes for the kids and Fariba made the beautiful wedding cakes herself - Chocolate with chocolate buttercream and golden chiffon with layers of strawberry purée and lemon mousse. How's that for a bride?! See for yourself.

If you are in Los Angeles, catch her at the farmer's market and sample the delicious Persian sweets she makes. Also, book a baking class. She offers a great variety of venues including gluten-free baking, holiday favourites and even Persian pastries. Recently, she and her mom spent some quality time in the kitchen, making a specialty from her hometown in the southeastern tip of Iran, a fragrant, fried bread called Rooghan-Jooshi. This treat would be an exotic stand-in for the usual biscuits on your holiday table, but is not offered in bakeries. Luckily, Fariba shares her family recipe in the guest post she composed for us.

Did you watch Anthony Bourdain's show: Parts Unknowns on Iran? It aired on Sunday and I think me and most of Iranians living in the USA were watching it. The show was about his recent trip to Iran and Iranian cuisine, and I have to say it was remarkable.  I thought his take on Iranians being so secretive about the food recipes was so interesting and true. He said: "Iran is the land of secret recipes, passed down within families like a treasure possession."  I had never thought about it, but it's so accurate. I remember times, I had asked my relatives for a recipe and I was never given a straight answer. I would get answers like: "well... you know ...a closed fist of flour  "yek moshti ard" or just a little bit of milk…well, how much milk? A cup? Half a cup?... Needless to say, I couldn’t get the recipe. If you’re Persian, you know exactly what I’m talking about it  ;)

Today, I'm going to share one of these secret recipes :) the recipe for fried dough / Rooghan-jooshi a homemade bread from Kerman, my city.

Kerman offers a wide range of pastries and breads that are specific to that region, some even rooted in Zoroastrian time. There is a large population of Zoroastrian living in Kerman, so it's natural that their bread and pastries are apart of Kerman's confectionery. Some pastries are known to locals and are not even for sale in the pastry shops. You can find pastries like date filled cookies (Kolompehand wheat sprouts bread with dates (Komach Sehen) in the pastry shops, but Rooghan-jooshi (Fried dough bread) is only made at home. 

What makes this bread so different and unique is a mixture of seeds and herbs that is used to bake this bread, we call it (Tokh-meh noon). In Kerman, this mixture is available at the spice markets in the grand bazar, but you can make your own mix. Add a cup of black cumin, a cup of sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons safflower flower heads, and 2 tablespoons fenugreek. This will give the bread a rich taste and aromatic flavor. We eat this bread for breakfast or as an afternoon snack (Asraneh) with feta cheese and herbs (sabzee).

Makes 8 flat breads

What do you need?

Seeds and Herb Mixture:
1 cup black cumin seeds
1 cup sesame seeds
2 Tb safflower flower heads
2 Tb fenugreek seeds

Bread Dough:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp active yeast
1 Tb of seeds and herb mixture
Water enough to make the dough 
2 Tb warm water to dissolve the yeast
1 tsp sugar

How to do it?

1. Mix together the two tablespoons warm water + sugar + yeast and let it rest for 10 minutes

2.       In the bowl of stand mixer and fitted with dough attachment, mix together the flour (both types), dissolved yeast, and 1 tablespoon of seeds/herb mix and slowly add water. You know you have added enough water, when the dough is no longer sticky.

3.      Knead dough with machine on low speed until slightly springy and soft for 3-4 minutes.

4.      Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and form into a ball and place into a medium size bowl.

5.      Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for an hour or until the dough is doubled in size.

6.      Remove dough from bowl and place onto a floured work surface. Lightly pat into a flat shape and cut into 8 pieces.

7.      Form each piece into a small round ball with a smooth top, pulling dough from the sides and tucking the ends underneath the bottom and let them rest for another 10-15 minutes.

8.      Place a deep frying pan on the low-medium heat

9.  On a floured work surface, using a small rolling pin flatten each ball to a 6 inch round, poke the dough with a fork.

10.  Lay the dough into the hot oil and cook until bread begins to puff up and the bottom has brown spots and blisters, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook 2 more minutes, the bread begins to puff up, now remove from the oil and stack cooked bread onto a dish covered with kitchen napkins to absorb the oil.

11.  When the bread cools down, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy. The bread can be wrapped in a plastic bag and kept in the refrigerator for a week.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Double-Dipped Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

If you are a romantic like me, then this could very well be love at first sight. While baking chocolate chippers several weeks ago with Daisy, a little evil thought entered my mind. Before adding eggs to the batter, I saved a few tablespoons of the dough into a jar and tucked it away toward the back of the fridge. Do you know what I did with that cookie dough last night? It got rolled into cute little balls, dipped in melted dark Lindt chocolate, then melted white Guittard chocolate, then painted blue like the night sky and sprinkled with edible glitter like the stars. If I am not eating sweets, I am either thinking out my next recipe or making them. Sometimes I even dream about them. Did I mention there are whole pistachios inside?

White chocolate sits very low on my list of foods I am excited to, or at the very least, willing to eat, but I wanted to make something that looked like little candy snowballs. The blue contrasts beautifully against the white and reminds me of the night sky sparkling against snowy hills on Christmas Eve. The Guittard coins are smooth, melt beautifully and have a rich, vanilla-scented sweetness that is delightful. And just to take things over the top a bit, I double-dipped the cookie dough, first in velvety dark chocolate, then creamy white. 

The process is very easy, a bit messy and very inviting for the kids to get their hands dirty, because they help make the reward for their hard work. It would be highly recommended to wait for the dark chocolate to set before dipping it into the white. Popping the lot into the freezer for maybe 15 minutes will do the trick in a hurry. Clearly, I could not wait that long. The marbled effect was beautiful and the taste, irresistible. Remember, looks aren't everything.

Cookie Dough Truffles 
Note: I used a foodsafe paintbrush to decorate the truffles with the edible blue paint, but you can easily just use your pinky finger to drop a bit of the paint onto the tops.

Makes 1 dozen

What to Get
1/2 cup Crumbs Cookie dough (before adding eggs)
1/2 cup dark chocolate (Lindt 80% cocoa)
1/2 cup white chocolate (Guittard)
edible blue paint
edible glitter

What to Do
Take teaspoons of the dough and roll into balls.
Place onto a tray and chill in the fridge for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the dark chocolate in the microwave for no longer than 1 minute.
If you do not have a microwave, you can melt the chocolate over a pot of boiling water.
Stir to make sure it has melted uniformly.

Take the dough balls out of the fridge. Using a fork, dip them, one at a time, into the melted
dark chocolate. Remove and place over a metal rack for the excess chocolate to drip off.
Transfer them to the freezer to 10 minutes, until the dark chocolate has set.

Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate.
Retrieve the truffles from the freezer and dip each into the white chocolate.
Arrange them to the metal rack and return them to the freezer for another 10 minutes.

Decorate with edible blue paint and clear edible glitter.
Arrange onto a pretty little plate and share with those who are near and dear.

Tis the season to indulge and nothing but the best will do here. The beautiful tastes of Lindt and Guittard are what make these sweet nuggets so impossible to resist. These gorgeous double-dipped cookie dough truffles are best enjoyed with a very strong cup of unsweetened coffee and a very good friend. I just could not wait any longer to get this recipe to you. Can you wait any longer to make it?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Interview with Billy Parisi and his Lemon Polenta Cake with Blueberries

Is there a full moon? Really weird stuff happens when the moon's face is in full bloom. Last week, we were out of eggs. Shawn was probably relieved, because that meant that I could not bake. But, my yearning for sweets soon had me baking an eggless vegan cake, not my usual gig. This week, I have no cornmeal, which is normally not a big deal, because, ordinarily, I do not have a use for it. But something I saw a couple of days ago got embedded so deeply into my mind that getting my hands on a box of that stuff suddenly became a state of emergency.

The funniest thing is that our pantry is bursting with cans, jars, bags and boxes. Jams, we have got - Cherry, blackberry, strawberry, apricot, even pumpkin, but not a single box of cornmeal.  So I had the crazy idea of making my own. There just was no time to waste going to the market for polenta and that bag of popcorn was not going anywhere. It might as well go to some good use. I only needed a cup of cornmeal. So I put my handy, dandy little coffee grinder to work. That did not do a great job. So my resident engineer (aka my hubby) suggested upgrading to the juice bullet thingy. I really wanted to make a specific Lemon Polenta Cake with Blueberries. This reaction is quite a normal response after seeing photos of food on Go, see for yourself, if you do not believe me. 

Billy Parisi is an accomplished chef and family man. His drool-inducing creations pop off of the vibrant pages of his site, but are elegantly simple enough for busy home cooks like me. Here is a man who wears many hats: Food and Content Creator, Sometimes TV Host, Picture Taker, Coffee Drinker, Daddy, Husband, College Sports Enthusiast, Fashionisto, Film and Music Lover. With a culinary degree paired with one in communications and videography, he has both the technical training and an eye for design.
Billy is an approachable, friendly, grounded man with a positive disposition, an all-around likable fellow. With a character ideal for the role of an educator, Billy's enthusiasm for food as an attainable art is clear in the beautiful composition of dishes and the uncomplicated techniques of his recipes. He intends to wow you with a gorgeous plate of food, but is also willing to share his secrets to replicating it at home for yourself. In this vein, he was also willing to answer some (very nosy) questions I had for him.

C: Where were you born/raised?
B: I was born in Detroit and actually moved around quite a bit as a kid.  We moved twice while in Detroit and then we moved to Cleveland when I was 8, St. Louis when I was 11, and then I was off to Phoenix for Culinary School after graduation in St. Louis.  I'm now in Chicago, but I'm not sure if there is a place I could call home.  Detroit or St. Louis maybe? 

C: What do you like to do on vacation?  You do take vacations, right?
B: We are able to sneak a few vacations in there where we can.  Although Cliche, I love the Caribbean.  I would sit on the beach all day, eat food and do nothing.  I just love starring into the Ocean and feeling that strong breeze roll in, nothing like it.

C: Where would you love to live?
B: I am a sucker for the South.  I love the hospitality, I love the weather and I love the people.  I'd probably want to live in Charleston, NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) or Atlanta, if my wife would let me of course.  I'm pretty sure though that I'll be in Chicago for the long haul. 

C: How did you land in the cooking industry?
B: You know, I always say it started before I was born.  My grandparents were from Italy and my dad met my mom in a restaurant, he was a cook and she was a waitress.  Food has always really been in my life but I actually didn't start loving to cook until I was 13.  When we were in St. Louis, my dad's buddy owned a restaurant so I started washing dishes there when I was 13.  I kind of had a Kitchen Confidential restaurant upbringing where I literally idolized the chefs at this restaurant.  Heck I was only 13 and watching them make insanely beautiful food just caught my attention and really the rest is history.

C: Why do you love your job?
B: I love that I can be at home with my family and just make awesome food all day and take pictures of it.  Seeing the smiles on my wife and daughter's faces is irreplaceable.  I love creating memories with food, whether it's through a picture or a night at the dinner table with my family.

C: If you had an endless budget, what would you do?
B: I'd build an awesome house with an insane kitchen, cook food, take pictures of it and eat with my family :-)

C: What do you cook at home?
B: It changes so much on a weekly basis.  Some weeks I'm baking pies and other weeks I'm making Spring Rolls, literally whatever sparks my interest that week, I'm cooking it.

C: What's in your freezer?
B: I have some leftover frozen pizza sauce, bolognese, chili and a whole bunch of frozen vegetables.

C: Which do you prefer to make: Sweet or savory?
B: Savory all the way, but I love combining them together.

C: Which do you prefer to eat: Sweet or savory
B: Savory. sweet.... savory!

C: Your Soigne dishes are stunning.  Do you force yourself to compose new recipes or
are you naturally inspired?
B: It kind of goes back to what I'm in the mood to do and then I just make'em.  I have learned through making those videos, since I am the producer, shooter, editor, food stylist and chef, that they need to not be a long recipe.  Short and sweet is better and more engaging. 

C: What's your favorite junk food indulgence?
B: Sour patch kids and cool ranch Doritos! 

C: What do you absolutely refuse to eat?
B: N/A :-)

For a cook, good food is intended to convey a powerful message. Sometimes it a romantic novel that takes you on a trip to a beautiful land far away. Other times, it places you back into your grandmother's kitchen when you were a child. 

This gorgeous cake is one of Chef Billy Parisi's signature creations. The lemons and polenta give it an Italian accent. The blueberries give it American flair. Most importantly, it is elegantly simple to prepare by design. 

This cake is also gluten-free as the almond and corn flours stand in place of traditional all-purpose wheat flour. And don't worry about those lemons as they won't go to waste. The zest is needed for the cake batter, but the juice goes into the homemade blueberry sauce. Get the original recipe here.

I have never really been good at following instructions. It is usually a challenge for me to remain faithful to a recipe. To me, recipes are merely just suggestions, even in baking where disobeying the print is sacrilege, punishable by flopped results. This lemon cake is one case, however, in which I followed every step like a model student. It was so easy to make and so beautiful with the fluffy white clouds of whipped cream and rich purple drizzle of blueberries on top. The cake turned out so yummy that Daisy could not wait for me to take a few photos to show it to you. That is why a big slice is missing. She then asked for seconds.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Daisy's Crumbs Cookies

Tis the season where the sniffles are persistent uninvited guests. Daisy still has a bit of a cough, but was very excited to go back to school today and see her friends.  When I picked her up and we headed home, I asked about her day.  I speak to her in Armenian, but she usually replies in English, which is easier to enunciate. I asked all the usual things,  like who she played with, what did she eat, did she learn a new song. Suddenly, she started reciting a little ditty about Autumn in Armenian:

Autumn came, beautiful Autumn.
It brought gold to the fields and pastures.
The wind danced with the leaf.
Slowly creeps in the misty fog.

My heart melted, hearing her speaking in full sentences.  I grabbed my phone and got it all on tape. 

Now,  I listen to the recording, especially toward the end of the day at the office, when I miss her most.   On the drive home, I look forward to doing something fun with her, like baking. I am Armenian, after all. My people practically live on coffee and pastries. The best thing to bake with kids is a big batch of cookies. Growing up in the States has made me quite the chocolate chip cookie connoisseur, but I have not found that perfect recipe, the one that takes me back to the bake sales from my school days. Luckily, I found an excuse to keep looking.

We had guests coming for dinner on Sunday, so I called my favourite my little blue-eyed culinary consultant for some ideas. When I asked her what we should bake, she suggested cookies, "Crumbs Cookies." Never heard of them. So I googled it. (Yes, google is now a verb.) The first thing that came up was Fregolata, a big, crumbly Italian almond cookie with a very sexy name. Irresistible indeedy, but I doubt Daisy has ever had one. So I showed her more photos and she pointed to the chocolate chippers and nodded, "See, Mama?"

I am always happy to bake chocolate chip cookies for any reason, on any day. There is never a bad time for them, even on Ordinary Tuesday. This was an especially good idea since it meant I was going to bake with my little sweetheart. 
A good chocolate chip cookie recipe is a hard find. There are just so many out there. So I went right to my girl, Dawn of the charming Vanilla Sugar Blog. She's a Cape Cod surfer girl who knows her cookies. Her signature Friday Links are a fun read and I always learn something new, like grating butter. Yes, grating butter. I couldn't believe my eyes, either, but it makes perfect sense. In case of a Chocolate Chip Emergency (You know what I'm talking about.), there is no time to wait for the butter to soften to room temp. That's when you grab the cheese grater. 

This recipe is so lovely, no fancy equipment is needed. You can make this with nothing more than a wooden spoon and a big bowl. Grating the cold butter helps it soften quickly.  The cute little cookie scooper is also not necessary - I just always wanted to have one. Actually, the cookies turn out much cuter if you drop them into clumpy mounds using two teaspoons. Chilling the dough briefly before baking makes for crumbly cookies, just what my little sweetheart wanted.  Pistachios and cherries went into the mix just to shake things up a bit.

Daisy's Crumbs Cookies
Note: You may want to save 1/2 cup of the cookie dough before adding eggs to make some double-dipped cookie dough truffles.

Inspired by Vanilla Sugar Blog
Makes about 3 dozen

1½ sticks butter, cold
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp extract
1 tsp instant coffee
2 1/2 cups flour
1 Tb baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch sea salt
2 cups chocolate chips
handful dried sour cherries
handful raw pistachios

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Using a cheese grater, shred butter into a bigger bowl.
Add sugars and mix until creamy.

If you are using a whole vanilla bean instead of the extract,
use a paring knife to split it lengthwise down the center.
Then scrape the pulp.

Incorporate coffee, eggs and vanilla.

Add flour mixture in batches to the butter mixture and stir until just combined.
Gently fold the chocolate chips, dried cherries and pistachios into the batter.
Transfer cookie dough into the fridge for 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Using a small cookie scooper or a two teaspoons, measure 1-inch
mounds of dough spaced about an inch apart onto the cookie sheet.
Return remaining dough to the fridge.

Transfer to the hot oven and bake about 10-12 minutes.
Using a spatula, gently lift cookies and place onto a wire rack to cool.

Remove dough from fridge and measure next batch for baking.

Enjoy while still warm with a very cold, very tall glass of milk.
Store in an airtight container for 3 days. Remaining dough keeps well in the freezer up to 1 month.

This is now officially my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe, or as Daisy calls them, Crumbs Cookies. They come out crunchy, crumbly on the outside and chewy on the inside. The sour cherries and pistachios offer a make every bite a little different. As for the coffee, no one will ever guess you sneaked a pinch into the mix. They will just keep asking you what chocolate chips you used because they taste so darned chocolaty! Old fashioned recipes are the best. Picture a sweet purple-haired granny in her country kitchen, wearing a cotton smock apron, turning the dough around the bowl with a wooden spoon, despite the pain of her tired hands. She recalls the recipe from memory, like so many other delicious things she makes. This is that kind of recipe. She's a keeper. These cookies taste so good that they demand a smile. I have already made them twice in the last week. But most of them were given away, because if they stayed at home with us, I could not stop eating them. Now I am looking for another excuse to bake them again and with the holidays coming, I should not have any problem finding a good one. You have my guarantee that Daisy's Crumbs Cookies are easy to make, even at a moment's notice. Keeping your hand out of the cookie jar, however, is not so easy.

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