Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mango Cashew Ginger Chews

This recipe was originally developed back in 2008 and has since become my favorite holiday tradition. I look forward to them every year. I already had a wonderful recipe for gingerbread men, but this became something much more special. These cookies make great gifts whether you’re delivering a dozen next door or mailing them across the country; they keep for about a week, they’re soft (therefore less breakable) and contain no chocolate (no melting). They also freeze extremely well in Ziploc freezer bags.
I love the combination of sweet and spicy, salty with a little tang. I used to buy a trek mix, with ginger, mango, cashews and almonds, which was discontinued a few months before I first made this cookie. I was craving the flavors of that trek mix; though, I really wanted something chewier. I decided to make a molasses-rich cookie with nice big chunks I could take my time to enjoy. I hope you enjoy my Mango Cashew Ginger Chews as much as I do.

2 cups all-purpose white flour
½ cup almond meal
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp powdered ginger
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup crystallized candied ginger chunks
1 cup dried mango
1 cup cashew halves and pieces
1 jar of gold sugar sprinkles (optional)

1.     Butter should be left out for 15 minutes before baking; or pop it into the microwave for 5 seconds.
2.     Cube the semi-soft butter. Using a stand mixer, combine the butter, brown sugar and white sugar.  Place in the refrigerator.
3.     Sift together the: flour, almond meal, cinnamon, ginger powder, pepper, nutmeg, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
4.     Chop the dried mango and ginger chunks into chocolate-chip-sized pieces. *Chop the cashews as well if purchased whole. Set aside.
5.     Return the butter/sugar mixture to the standing mixer. Add the egg, molasses and vanilla. Scrap the sides down as necessary.
6.     Add the dry ingredients to the wet little by little with the mixer on until just combined.
7.     Add the chopped mango, ginger, and cashews. Return the dough to the fridge for at least 20 minutes. The colder the dough keeps the better. Return unused dough to the fridge between batches if using multiple cookie sheets.
8.     Preheat oven to 350°.
9.     Using a small ice cream scoop, make roughly uniform 1” balls of dough and place on an ungreased cookie sheet 1-2 inches apart. Press the cookie ball gently with the palm of your hand. Cover the top of each dough ball with a generous amount of gold sprinkles.
10. Bake for 10 minutes.
11. Makes 3 dozen cookies.



A couple notes on the ingredients… 

For the mango you want to buy the still soft and slightly moist dried mango. Some dried pieces are too tough to bite into once they are in the cookie. I recommend Soft and Juicy dried mango from Trader Joe’s. Besides being the right texture, one 6 oz bag is exactly one-cup once cut to size, the other benefit is that one package is only $1.69.

For the crystallized ginger you can easily spend a small fortune. DO NOT buy the crystallized ginger from the spice section of your grocery store, you will easily end up spending over 20 dollars for the 4 ounces you need. Go to the dried fruit section of your grocery store. You might also find dried ginger slices or chunks in the bulk bins or health food aisle. I recommend Naturally Preferred Crystallized ginger a 6-ounce bag is $2.99 at Fred Meyer. Trader Joe’s also sells a 6-ounce uncrystallized candied ginger chunk for $2.99, which works equally well.
Lastly, the gold sprinkles are totally optional. You could go without, or roll the dough in any crystal-sugar sprinkles you desire, or even raw (or turbinado) sugar crystals will give you a similar effect without the cost. I found gold sprinkles at Home Goods, which has become one of my favorite stores for obscure kitchen do-dads.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

If You Can Stomach It.


The book club selection for the month of October was Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It was my first suggestion to the group. Although after our meeting and hearing everyone’s responses I may be banned from making suggestions for a while.
I’d first heard about Katherine Dunn while researching Portland area authors for an art project. I discovered she’d been in the news, not for a raving book review, or teaching; she’d been involved in a violent altercation outside of a grocery store. A young woman approached the, then 64 year-old Dunn outside the NW Trader Joe’s and attempted to steal her purse. Dunn refused to let go. In an effort to make a getaway with Dunn’s purse, the young thief slapped Dunn across the face. Dunn, who made her career writing ground breaking material about boxing, who also, to this day boxes herself, seized the opportunity to defend herself, punching the punk thief in the face.  I said to myself: “That’s my kind of woman.”
 It was more convincing than a traditional book review.
I was holding the electric orange covered book in my arms, wandering the stacks at Powell’s Books in Beaverton when an employee stopped and asked:
“Is that Geek Love in your hands?”
“Yes.”
“It’s great, but it is twisted. Seriously it’s F***CKED up.” She laughs. Initially her comment seemed slightly sarcastic. In hindsight, the truth is I assumed I could handle anything this little book could deliver. I thought I was ready.
“If you end up liking it you should read…” the employee mentions another author and book I’ve never heard of and after finishing Geek Love, I’m unsure if I want to remember who it was she suggested.
 “Geek Love is really good, but it’s weird. Y’know she’s local?” the woman adds.
 “I know. I heard she was local.” I thank her for the information. I go back to browsing. I was really curious now. I was so excited when I left the book store I drove straight to a park to read in the grass.
 In a nutshell the work explores issues associated with the nuclear family. Geek Love is the story of a tight knit family of carnival freaks starring an albino, hunchback, dwarf middle daughter named Olly, who is the narrator, the eldest son Artie (a boy with fins instead of arms and legs, rendering his body nearly useless outside of water), a pair of Siamese twins named Elly and Iphy, and the youngest son nicknamed Chick, who only appears normal, but has metaphysical powers. All these children were born to normal parents, who “customized” their intentionally freakish children through drug experimentation.
            When your entire world is defined by the monetary value of your unusual physical appearance, one’s self-worth becomes skewed. When your siblings are the only other people in the world as “unique” as you are, rivalry doesn’t begin to cover it. Those with the least physical power grow to use mental manipulation to gain control. Those gifted with the abilities to manipulate the physical world, use their power to possessively protect the family’s way of life (no matter how destructive or detrimental that way of life might be from the outsider’s perspective).
Upon entering any theme park ride: a haunted house, roller coaster or otherwise, pregnant women and those suffering of heart conditions are encouraged to turn away. Soon to be added to that list is Geek Love. Not for the faint of heart, defiantly not for the easily offended; a word of caution is certainly necessary. Thirty pages into the novel I caught myself saying “What the F**k” aloud at the end of nearly every paragraph. I screamed: “No!” My voice whispered in disbelief an: “Oh my God…” at the conclusion of each chapter, where I then allowed myself a long break before continuing.
Although I had to stop regularly, to absorb, digest, and reassure myself nothing would be regurgitated; I finished. Maybe this makes me a mildly twisted freak too; but, I had an impulse to finish. Despite the journey feeling less than comfortable, or familiar, or enjoyable, in the end I was absolutely satisfied. It was a sweat-inducing, chill giving, challenge in content served in a precisely executed package of repulsively addictive language.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit it to everyone. No, I should. I’d rather own up to the fact that I did indeed find pleasure in and a little love for the unsettling work: Geek Love.
            

Friday, November 25, 2011

The After Thanksgiving Dinner...And Lunch... And Possibly Breakfast.

I slept in this morning. I skipped the pushing and shoving that goes along with black Friday shopping to do something a little more productive. This is how I’m doing Thanksgiving leftovers this year, and it’s definitely NOT a run of the mill turkey sandwich.

            Of course it’s pie. There never seems to be enough room to stack everything between two slices of bread. I thought this would be a more convenient package for take to work lunches over the next couple days, and believe me nothing is left out.
            I used pre-made crust this morning, because, after a full day of cooking yesterday I thought my mom and I each deserve a break. Just roll out a crust into a prepared 9-inch pan, poke the bottom and start layering!


I started with stuffing, just barely coating the bottom.

Next comes the turkey. I used a whole thigh for dark meat and about a ¼ of a breast. I cut the turkey into long, bite-sized pieces. To preserve moisture in the pie I scattered a just little bit of the flavor-rich-fatty skin in the meat layer.

On top of the turkey goes cranberry sauce.

Next are your vegetables. Use whatever you have already made! I had roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and steamed green beans.

The whole thing is topped with a mountain of mashed white and sweet potato. I highly encourage stacking the potato layer as high as the crust can stretch. Cover the whole thing with a second crust. Use a touch of water to make the edges stick together. Press the edges with a fork. Brush the whole top with egg wash (one egg+ a splash of milk). Cover the edges of the pie with tin foil to prevent burnt edges. Don’t forget to put at least four small vent slits in the top. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes.

Serve warm with a heavy-handed spoonful of gravy.
I hope you had an enjoyable holiday yesterday!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sweet Potumpcan Pie


            Thanksgiving is about spending time with our families and stuffing ourselves to the brim with comfort foods. It’s the one holiday of the year where it is more than acceptable to enjoy multiple desserts, because at my house there are at least 3 available choices. Gluttony is sin all the time; I’m a sinner especially this one day of the year.
My problem is that after all the wonderful turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon, roasted sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, more turkey and the inevitable digestive-waiting period between dinner and dessert, who the hell has room for pie? Who has room for even a little of everything?
            I set off to correct this little problem. This year at work my co-workers and I competed with each other in a pumpkin pie-baking contest. I invented this recipe to combine my three favorite Thanksgiving fare pies. The result is an awesome parfait of sweet potato, pumpkin, and pecan pies.
            At first glance it looks complicated, littered with a million details, but don’t be intimidated. Each filling takes less than five minutes to whip up and many of the ingredients simply repeat. I make piecrust from scratch so I can specify the flavor, but store bought crust is always a superb shortcut.

Crust:
2 ¼ cups all purpose white flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted COLD butter
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp spiced rum
6-8 tsp ice water

1.      Combine flour, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Cube the chilled butter and combine with the flour with a pastry blender until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2.     Pour 8 tsp of water over an ice cube in a cup. Add the maple syrup and rum to the same cup. Stir. Add one tsp of the wet mixture to the flour/butter mixture at time (stirring with a fork in between) until the crust reaches your desired consistency.
3.     Roll finished dough between two sheets of wax paper to even ¼ of an inch thickness. Place in a prepared glass pie dish 9-10” in diameter. Trim the edges of excess, then shape your edges to fluted pattern or pressed with a fork. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork many, many times before baking.
4.     Line the piecrust with parchment paper; fill the paper with 2 cups dry beans. This keeps the crust flat while pre-baking. Bake the piecrust at 350° for 15 minutes.

Sweet Potato Filling:

2 cups mashed sweet potatoes (I roasted mine in butter for 40 minutes at 350° before hand, cool to room temp to avoid scrambling the eggs)
6 oz sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp clove
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
¾ tsp salt

1.    Throw all ingredients into a bowl, and then mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until everything is combined, about 4-5 minutes.
2.      Pour into the piecrust (now out of the oven and sans beans).

Pumpkin Filling:
7.5 oz (½ can) unsweetened pumpkin puree
6-7 oz  (1/2 can) evaporated milk
1 egg
¾ cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ginger
1/8 tsp clove
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/8 tsp nutmeg

1.     Throw all ingredients into a bowl mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until everything is combined, about 4-5 minutes.
2.    Pour into the piecrust over the top the sweet potato filling. The pumpkin filling is much less dense and will simply float.
3.      Place back in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes.

Pecan filling:
1 cup raw pecan halves (chopped or left whole to preference)
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 beaten egg
Pinch of salt

1.     Combine in a bowl and whisk by hand until everything is combined.
2.     When the pie has baked for 20 minutes, remove from the oven. Using a spoon scoop the pecan topping and arrange on top of the pie in five lines coming out from the center, leaving spaces between for marshmallows.
3.      Bake again at 350° for 25 more minutes.
4.     After 25 minutes remove from the oven. In the gaps place mini marshmallows. Return to the oven for 5 more minutes, just enough to start melting the marshmallows.
5.     To achieve a toasted marshmallow look and flavor use a culinary torch.
6.      The pie must rest for at least an hour before serving.


When serving slice so that each piece is half pecan topping, half marshmallow topping. Three pies in every bite never tasted so delectable. It’s safe to say I solved my “problem”. I’m thankful for my family, having a roof over my head, a job I love, and creative problem solving. Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Perfect Reuben

A short vocabulary lesson-

Cabbotage: Placing soured, spoiled sauerkraut on an otherwise perfectly amazing pastrami sandwich. *

*No cabbotage EVER found at Kenny and Zuke’s.

            I’ve never particularly cared for fermented cabbage, so I’ve rarely indulged in Reuben sandwiches. Until I discovered Kenny and Zuke’s- a Portland Mecca for perfectly cured, smoked meat sandwiches and homemade pickles with an already outstanding reputation. There are a millions reasons to stop in for lunch or all-day breakfast, piled into juicy, pickle-y, meaty layers.
            I went a few weeks back for a lunch date with one of my best friends. How can a weekend get better than a stop at Powell’s (where I picked up Habibi, Craig Thompson’s new graphic masterpiece), followed by the best Rueben I’ve had in my life, at a sidewalk table on the last sunny afternoon of the mild Portland summer? I’m still daydreaming about the toasted rye bread; the sweet strings of the kraut not too tangy or assaulting my taste buds with vinegar, the teeny-tiny-diced pickles in the creamy Russian dressing. The sweet delicate cabbage, complimented the savory, ultra-thin pastrami; the heaping layer of gooey, nutty, salty Swiss cheese balanced everything out.

            I was so excited just holding the wrapped tinfoil packet, letting it warm my hands. Walking to our table, the smell of it floating on the breeze was taunting my growling stomach. By the time I opened it, I couldn’t wait long enough to get a picture before taking a bite, two actually.
            There were certainly a few minutes of waiting. But, having the best quality is worth the extra anticipation. From my experience nothing this good stays a secret. I never trust an empty restaurant. For a delectable cabbotage-free experience: 
Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen: 
1038 SW Stark St, Portland, OR 97205. 
Hours and full menu available at Kennyandzukes.com 

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Help in Review

Stockett uses characters that have probably been in development for the whole of the author’s life. These are people Stockett’s known, or currently does. The local color, the diction, every word choice was perfect. I could hear every voice. Each personality became real; these are people who might exist in our personal lives.
Having three dramatically different women: Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen, tell the shared narrative leaves the novel structurally sound. Nothing feels left out. Each of the women brings her own opinions, past personal experience, on-going personal dilemmas of: motherhood, abuse, loss, and life’s transitions. Each narrator shows off her talents for observation, leaving every character (minor or otherwise) complete, literally 3-dimensional.
Two-Slice-Hilly is projected by all three authors as mean, manipulative, self-righteous, a total stereo-typical-southern-bigot racist, power-hungry, controlling, and the absolute bitchiest product of the era. Ironically Hilly is also and attentive, loving, a genuinely affectionate mother. Aibileen takes notice, noting Hilly kissing and reminding her children just how must she loves them while the children swim in the Mississippi heat. We have to ask if this quality is actually redeeming. No one is without fault; therefore can anyone be solely evil?
Aibileen shows this tender moment to contrast the absence of love between Elizabeth and her own daughter Mae Mobley. To Elizabeth, Mae Mobley is an inconvenient, but necessary accessory to her well-groomed appearance as a model southern woman, wife and mother. Aibileen is Mae Mobley’s surrogate mother, who cares and more importantly loves her like her own. Hilly could never manage any capacity for something or someone who wasn’t totally her own.
The Help is a novel about challenging societal expectations, and self-expectation, despite the consequences brought about by others, and the ever present and very real danger of “going against the grain”. For the reader Stockett challenges our sense of flaw and sympathy. Stockett indirectly forces us to ask ourselves if we would have the nerve.
A book worth reading reaches beyond the cliché of asking reader’s to imagine ourselves in the character’s situation, or if we’d perform as they do. Specifics matter. We work to identify the many characteristics which made Skeeter’s, Minny’s, and Aibileen’s project so successful: we have to identify what qualities we already possess and recognize the possibilities, the power available if we dare to use it. 

The Help Them Eat Caramel Cake

Roughly six months ago a few of my equally word-nerdy co-workers and I
started a book club. We meet about once a month to discuss a fiction selection. For the month of September we read The Help by Katherine Stockett.
I truly believe reading for personal pleasure is vital for leading a healthy, mentally stable life. We are bombarded with so much reading and digital information on a daily basis, we’re constantly distracted, multi-tasking a long to do list while taking in more and more, and more information. When you’re not sitting with a book quietly by yourself words dilute into a simple transfer of information clouded with everything else that’s going on. Words go in one ear and are stored in some dusty corner on the left side of the brain (if not dropped out the other ear all together). For some of us squeezing in the down time to enjoy ourselves is difficult. Good reading takes time. A well-written work will encourage us to not only absorb, but to ask questions, to imagine.
 I think creating the book club was like building a support group, similar to those who diet together. Books become more meaningful when you can pick them apart with your friends. What I love most about book club is hearing the perspectives of other readers; someone may have noticed a detail I skimmed over. There are six physical people to whom I can ask questions. In a lazy sense, I don’t have to figure everything out for myself: as silly as it sounds we work as a team to discover the deeper connections to words we already love dearly. We share stories, and memories related to the novels. We make each other laugh. We always share wine. My second favorite part about book club is that we turn the night into a mini potluck, with a theme related to the book selection- food for thought. I’m usually responsible for dessert.
The character Minny made two distinct desserts in the novel- a southern caramel cake and her notorious chocolate cream pie.  Unfortunately I’ve never had a southern-style caramel cake. I ended up just altering my traditional pound cake recipe with little molasses for a rich flavor and little brown sugar to crystallize the sweet edges. I topped it all off with a sticky, creamy layer of decadent and super simple classic caramel sauce. It turned out delectable and complimented our meal of fried chicken, spicy southern greens, mac n’ cheese, and red beans and rice perfectly. You’ve got to read the book. You’ve got to try the cake for yourself!




The Help Them Eat Caramel Cake

CAKE:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 sticks of unsalted butter
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda
7 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp molasses
2 cups white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350°
2. Start by sifting the flour, baking soda, and salt together.
3. The butter should be softened to room temperature. Blend the butter, the white and brown sugars together with an electric mixer until it reaches a “fluffy” consistency.
4. Eggs should be left on the countertop for at least a half hour before use. Then, add eggs one at a time to the butter and sugar mixture.
5. Add the vanilla and molasses to the wet ingredients.
6. Alternate adding a quarter of the heavy cream with a quarter of the flour mixture to your wet ingredients. Combine thoroughly after each addition.
7. This recipe fills a standard 3-quart bundt pan. Be sure to butter and flour the inside of the pan before filling. Bake at 350 for 60-80 minutes.  In my case I used a 2-quart silicone fluted bundt pan; for which there is no need for anti-stick prep. I ended up with two small cakes (a roughly half-filled pan), which were each baked for 35 minutes exactly.
8. Test for doneness by inserting an ordinary toothpick into the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean the cake is done. Use a knife to loosen the edges, and remove the cake from the pan while still warm. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack.

CARAMEL SAUCE:

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp light corn syrup
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1. In a medium saucepan whisk together the heavy cream, corn syrup and brown sugar.
2. Heat on medium to medium low. Bring the mixture to a steady boil, whisking very often. If your using a candy thermometer heat to 250°. You don’t want a rolling boil, watch for splatters, and keep your face at a safe distance.  You must watch caramel closely it’s incredibly easy to burn or burn you.
3. Watch for the caramel to develop a rich amber color and to thicken. At least 10-15 minutes of solid stirring. Use your instincts, when it reaches the desired consistency remove from the heat and add the vanilla.
4. Keep stirring. I found stirring not only helped it cool faster, but cooled evenly.
5. When the caramel has reached a temperature safe enough to dip your finger in, still warm but not hot, it is ready to coat the cake. The cake must be completely cooled. Simply pour the caramel right over the top and let it naturally drip down the sides.


1.