Friday, July 25, 2014

Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies....(really)....



Peanut Butter Cookies are not something I normally think to make in the middle of summer.  For some reason they seem more appropriate for fall or winter.  But I thought of them this month.  It had nothing to do with the weather...or the current season...but rather my line of vision.  I noticed that a friend had shared a link on her Facebook timeline to a "Best Ever" peanut butter cookie.  Well, since I am already in possession of the best ever recipe for peanut butter cookies, I had to click through and take a look.

I didn't see anything about this 'best ever' recipe that tempted me to switch my allegiance, so I messaged my friend to tell her she really needed to try the recipe that I use.  The next day she did try it...and she loved it. 




This particular peanut butter cookie truly is exceptional.  It is also a recipe for which I can take no credit.  From Rose's Christmas Cookies by Rose Beranbaum (an all around exceptional cookie book, by the way), these cookies were created for the 100th anniversary of Peanut Butter.  Most appropriately for such an occasion, the recipe contains a lot more peanut butter than most recipes (twice as much, in fact).  Not surprisingly, the resulting cookie is intensely peanut-y.  Other versions pale in comparison.  There is also much less flour than is the norm for peanut butter cookies.  It must be this—in combination with the higher percentage of peanut butter—that gives these cookies their unusual texture:  incredibly tender and sandy, with a moist, slightly chewy finish.  They are delicious...  and addictive.....

It has been a while since I made these cookies, but seeing the pictures my friend posted of hers on her timeline made me hungry for them.  So I made a batch....and I thought it would be nice to pass along to others what I think really is the best ever peanut butter cookie recipe.  But I hesitated since they seem a bit "out of season".  Then I heard that July has been dubbed National Ice Cream month (by whoever it is that decides these things).  



And since these cookies are fantastic with Ice Cream (preferably a flavor that includes a little chocolate), I decided it would be a good idea to post them after all.  Clearly peanut butter cookies are something I need to think about making during the summer.  Or at least during the month of July.




Peanut Butter Cookies

 
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (5 oz.; 142 g.)
1 t. baking soda
1/8 t. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. smooth peanut butter (9.25 oz.; 266 g.)
1/2 c. light brown sugar (3.75 oz.; 108 g.)
1/4 c. granulated sugar (1.75 oz.; 50 g.)
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
Sugar for dipping

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  Beat the butter and peanut butter together.  Cream the sugars into the butter/peanut butter mixture.  Beat in the egg and vanilla to the creamed mixture until incorporated.  Stir in the dry ingredients.  Cover and chill at least one hour (or overnight if you have time).

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls.  (I use a level 1/2-ounce cookie scoop to scoop all of the dough, then I go back and roll the cookie scoops between my hands to give the cookies a nice round shape.)  



Place the balls of dough on parchment-lined baking sheets 1 1/2 inches apart.  Using a fork dipped in granulated sugar, flatten the balls using the traditional criss-cross motion. 



Bake in a 350° oven until set and lightly browned around the edges—about 10 to 12 minutes.  Cool the cookies on the sheets for a minute or two (they will fall apart if you try to lift them off immediately).  



Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes 4 1/2 dozen.

(Recipe adapted from Rose's Christmas Cookies by Rose Beranbaum)

Note:  These cookies are so tender that they can be eaten from frozen...which makes them an especially good choice for making miniature ice cream sandwiches....



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Basil & Garlic Roast Chicken

For several years now I have been teaching a summer class that features the kinds of foods one might find in a French picnic basket.  The French are famous for their delicious pâté's, wide variety of interesting cheeses and crusty loaves of bread...and you would indeed find these things in a typical French basket.  But at its core, the things you would find are not that much different from what you would find at a well-crafted American picnic spread...vegetable and grain salads, fruit, a simple dessert that can be eaten out of hand...and cold chicken.  For Americans, this chicken would most likely be fried...for the French it will probably be roasted.  


The roast chicken that I teach in my class is perfect summer picnic fare—fragrant with roasted garlic and basil from a purée tucked under the skin...it is every bit as tasty hot as it is cold...great for enjoying from a basket in the park...at a roadside stop...or around the patio table in your own back yard.


The original recipe for this chicken (from Monique Jamet Hooker's Cooking with the Seasons) is for roasting an entire bird.  And you could of course do it that way if you like.  But I think it is much easier to cut the bird into quarters prior to roasting.  This allows you to take the individual pieces out of the oven as they are done (so you don't end up with over cooked white meat or undercooked dark meat) and makes the 'carving' process a non-event. 

To portion the bird, simply cut the legs in half at the joint, cut the wings away from the breasts and cut the breasts in half cross-wise.  With six quick motions you will have cut the bird into ten individual portion-sized pieces.  

Half of a chicken--leg-thigh joint separated, wing cut away
from the breast and the breast ready to halve or debone....

Or, cut the leg-thigh joints and wings as described and then pull the bone away from each of the breasts and slice the meat thinly cross-wise—perfect for serving to people who prefer their chicken served off of the bone. 


The other great thing about roasting parts is you can choose to roast just the parts that you (and your guests) prefer—all white...or all dark...or a half chicken, if that better suits your need...    

Whenever I make this chicken, I always make a double batch of the roasted garlic and basil purée.  Added to mayonnaise—preferably homemade, but a good quality commercial will do too—it makes a delicious sauce to accompany the cold chicken. 


It is also the perfect smear for a roast chicken sandwich (with thin slices of dead ripe summer tomatoes).  Even after the chicken is all gone, you will find lots of ways to use this delicious mayonnaise...it really is worth adding a few minutes to your prep time to make some extra roasted garlic and basil purée. 

If you do decide to make extra basil-garlic for a sauce, make sure to take out what you want for sauce before you salt the purée destined for stuffing under the chicken skin.  Do this for a couple of reasons.  First, the purée destined for the chicken is highly seasoned and would be way too salty in a mayonnaise.  If you add it unsalted  to the mayonnaise it is an easy thing to correct the seasoning of the mayonnaise by adding salt if necessary.  You can't take the salt away if the sauce is too salty. 

The second reason is that by removing the extra purée to a clean container you will be insuring that the purée that goes into the mayonnaise will never touch the raw chicken.  Salmonella is typically not contracted from eating undercooked chicken.  More often than not it comes from cross-contamination...that is, from raw chicken coming into contact with something that will be served as is (without further cooking).  Since the mayonnaise won't be cooked, you don't want it to come into contact with the raw chicken via the basil-garlic purée.

In her book, Hooker shares that whenever she prepares this recipe she almost always roasts two birds.  She takes one on a picnic and uses the other in a favorite summer pasta salad.  And I think this is a great idea.  Even in my household of two, I like to roast a whole bird so I can enjoy some hot for dinner right away....  

With braised greens and couscous...

some cold (on a picnic—or for lunch—the next day)....   But mostly I want leftovers so I can make chicken salad. 


A couple of years ago I discovered that this roast chicken makes an amazingly delicious chicken salad.  In fact, chicken salad is probably my favorite way to enjoy this roast chicken.  Simply remove the bones and skin (making sure that the delicious basil-garlic stays with the meat and doesn't go away with the skin) and dice the chicken.  Add some finely minced scallion (or spring onion), a few toasted, chopped walnuts and a generous spoonful of mayonnaise (preferably enhanced with extra roasted garlic and basil purée).  With some crusty bread...and maybe a fluff of arugula...it makes an exceptional lunch...or a nice light dinner.  This year, I discovered that it is even better with the addition of a handful of blanched peas.  I can't imagine liking it any better than I do now, but who knows?  It's hard to predict what kinds of delicious things I will find in my pantry the next time I make this chicken.    

Summer on a plate:  Basil-Garlic Roast Chicken Salad (with peas),
Cherry Tomatoes & Corn on the Cob....


Basil & Garlic Roast Chicken

1 head garlic
1 c. packed basil leaves (about 1 ounce), washed and dried
3 T. olive oil, divided
1 3- to 3 ½-lb. Chicken, cut into quarters (2 leg-thigh joints plus 2 bone-in breasts with wing attached)
Salt & Pepper

Prepare the chicken for roasting the day before you plan to roast it.

Cut 1/4-inch off of the top of the head of garlic to expose the cloves.  Place the garlic in the center of a square of aluminum foil; drizzle the cut surface with olive oil (about a teaspoon) and season with salt & pepper.  Drizzle a little water around the garlic (a tablespoon or so).  Then, wrap the foil up and around the garlic and twist the edges together to seal (it will look like a Hershey’s Kiss).  Place in a 350° oven and roast until soft—about 45 minutes to an hour.  When cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic out of its papery skins and mash to a purée.

Place the basil leaves in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped (or chop finely by hand).  Add the garlic and 2 T. of olive oil and process until well-combined.  Season with 1/2 t. kosher salt.  It will taste very salty—this is as it should be.

Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels.  Cut away any excess fat.  Gently slide your index finger under the skin of each breast and leg-thigh joint to loosen (but not detach) the skin and form a pocket between the skin & the flesh.  Spread the garlic basil mixture under the skin, coating as much of the meat as possible. Season the chicken all over with kosher salt (for 3 lbs. of chicken you will need about 1 1/2 t., for 3 1/2 lbs. of chicken you will need about 2 t.).  Season all over with freshly cracked pepper.  Tuck the wing tips back on the breast quarters.  Cover loosely and refrigerate overnight. 

About an hour before you are ready to roast the chicken, pull it out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°.  Rub the chicken all over with a tablespoon of olive oil and place the chicken in a shallow baking dish (Pyrex, stoneware, and enameled cast iron are all good choices). Choose a pan that will just hold the chicken—a 13- by 9-inch is about perfect. 


Half a chicken...stuffed and ready to roast...

Place the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start sizzling and browning within 15 to 20 minutes.  If it doesn’t, raise the temperature in 25° increments until it does.  The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature in 25° increments until the fat stops smoking.  Continue to roast until the breast quarters register 155° and the thigh meat registers 165° to 170° on an instant thermometer.  Begin checking the doneness of the parts after about 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove individual pieces to a plate when they are done.  All of the parts will probably be done at the same time, but if you do have to remove some before all are done, add a splash of water to the pan when you do so that the caramelized juices on the bottom of the pan don't char and burn while the remaining parts finish cooking.  When the chicken is done, let it sit until cool enough to handle.  (If you like, deglaze the roasting pan with some water and reserve these drippings for another use.)


 Cut the chicken into serving portions:  Cut the leg-thigh quarters at the joint to yield 2 legs and 2 thighs.  Cut the wings away from the breasts.  The breast meat may be left on the bone if you like—cut the breasts in half cross-wise to yield 4 breast pieces.  Or, pull the breast meat off of the bone in one piece and slice across the grain.  Serve hot, cold or room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from  Cooking with the Seasons by Monique Jamet Hooker)

Notes & Ideas:
  • To make a delicious sauce to serve with the cold or room temperature chicken, make a double quantity of the roasted garlic-basil purée. Remove half of the purée (1 recipe) before adding the salt and add this unsalted portion to 1 to 2 cups of mayonnaise (or, to taste). Salt as necessary. Add lemon juice if necessary. You may use your favorite commercial mayonnaise, or make your own using the recipe below. 
  • Use this chicken as part of another preparation—pasta salad, grain or bean salad, chicken salad, etc. Simply remove the skin (leaving as much of the basil purée with the meat as possible) and discard. Shred or dice the meat. 
  • The breast meat is particularly nice on a sandwich. Slice thinly and add lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise (the basil-garlic mayo above would be excellent). 
  • The recipe may be prepared with all white meat or all dark meat. Just purchase 3 to 3 1/2 lbs. of your favorite part. 

Mayonnaise:
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (best quality organic and local)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 T. lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 T. Dijon Mustard
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil or 3/4 cup vegetable oil combined with 3/4 c. olive oil

Place egg, yolk, salt, lemon juice & mustard in the bowl of the food processor and process until smooth.  Add the oil in a slow stream through the feed tube.  A thick emulsion will form. Taste and adjust the lemon and salt. If the mayonnaise is too thick, let it out with a few tablespoons of warm water.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.


 My New Favorite Chicken Salad

3/4 lb. diced Basil & Garlic Roast Chicken (skin and bones removed before weighing)—to make 2 1/2 cups diced chicken
1/3 to 1/2 c. walnuts, toasted and coarsely broken
2 scallions or spring onions (white and some of the green), trimmed and finely minced (if the onion seems particularly hot, rinse the white portion under cold running water and drain well before using)
3/4 c. peas, blanched, rinsed under cold running water and spread on kitchen towels to dry (optional)
1/2 to 2/3 c. mayonnaise flavored with basil-garlic purée
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Lemon juice and Dijon mustard, to taste (may or may not be necessary, depending on the mayonnaise used)


Place all the ingredients in a bowl and fold together.




Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sweet Corn Vichyssoise...Cold Soup for the Hot Days Ahead

Last month a client asked me to prepare a chilled soup for the first course of their dinner menu.  Since June is still a bit early for tomatoes, Gazpacho—the king of chilled soups as far as I'm concerned—was not really an option. After considering the vegetable palette of early summer I decided to offer a choice between a chilled pea soup with mint (inspired by my memory of a delicious soup I enjoyed years ago in the South of France) and a chilled sweet corn and leek soup (thinking that the corn would make an interesting stand in for the potatoes in that other classic chilled soup, Vichyssoise).  Either one would have been delicious, but my clients selected the Sweet Corn Vichyssoise. 


I was super pleased with the way my soup turned out.  Chilled soups can be refreshing and flavorful, but they can also be a bit boring and one dimensional.  I'm not sure why this is so—probably something to do with the ability of our palates to discern flavor at cold temperatures—but in any case I think a chilled corn soup is particularly prone to this.  The super sweet style of corn that is most often available nowadays could make for a chilled soup that is monotonously sweet.  Since dessert for the first course wasn't my goal, I took several steps to insure that my soup was nicely balanced between the savory and the sweet. 

Using leeks instead of onions went a long way towards rounding out the flavor of the soup.  Onions would have accentuated the sweetness of the corn.  Leeks, on the other hand,  always add depth of flavor and in this case their subtle tang provided a nice contrast to the sweetness of the corn. 

In her book Fresh From the Farmers' Market, Janet Fletcher suggests that roasting will draw out the inherent nuttiness of the corn.  Since roasting is one of my favorite ways to prepare corn, I followed her advice and roasted it for my soup.  To get as much flavor as possible out of the corn, after cutting off the kernels I added the cobs to the broth.  This is a great idea for any corn soup since corn cobs make a delicious broth.  Before discarding the cobs I took the extra step of "squeegee-ing" them by scraping them with a spoon (a stiff spatula will work too) to make sure all of the flavorful liquid went into my soup and not the compost pile or trash. 

Even as I was finishing the soup, my goal continued to be providing counterpoint to the sweetness of the corn.  Instead of adding heavy cream (as is my habit with puréed soups), I reached for the sour cream.  It was a nice touch.  I imagine that crème fraiche or a thick, creamy yogurt would be good too.  I garnished each bowl of soup with a simple tomato, scallion and roasted corn relish.  This brightened all of the flavors and at the same time added textural interest and much needed color.   

I should point out that my recipe will produce a soup that is a bit on the thin side...perhaps on a par with the thickness of heavy cream.  This was my goal.  I wanted the soup to be thin enough to sip from a cup or a glass.  And because I wanted it to be silky smooth, I passed it through a fine mesh strainer (pressing hard on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible).   Skipping the straining step will result in a soup with the texture of thin gruel...which is not particularly appetizing. 

I liked the soup so much that when I discovered this past week that I had over-purchased a bit on the sweet corn at the farmers market, I decided to make a batch of this soup for myself.  It made a wonderful dinner alongside a cheese quesadilla. The next day I had a small portion for lunch with a sandwich (roast pork with yellow tomato, basil and a little goat gouda).  I think it is exactly what a chilled soup should be...light, flavorful and—above all—refreshing.




Sweet Corn Vichyssoise

5 to 6 ears sweet corn (to get a generous 6 cups kernels...see note)
2 to 3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, trimmed, halved, thinly sliced crosswise (you should have 2 1/2 to 3 cups) and  rinsed in several changes of water
3 cl. garlic, chopped
2 to 3 T. olive oil
3 c. water
2 c. chicken stock or low-salt canned broth (or use 2 more cups water...see note)
6 T. sour cream

Place the corn (still in the husk) directly on the rack of a preheated 375° to 400° oven.  Roast for 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  When cool enough to handle, remove the husk and silks.  Cut the kernels off of the cob and scrape the cobs with a spoon or the back of a knife to get all the bits of corn that remain after cutting off the kernels.  


Set aside (reserving 1/2 cup separately for the roasted corn relish).  Cut the cobs in half crosswise and reserve.

While the corn roasts, warm some olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add the leeks and garlic, along with a pinch of salt.  Gently sweat over medium low heat until the leeks have wilted and are mostly tender.  


Add the corn cobs, the water and the stock.  


Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the leeks are tender and the cobs have given flavor to the broth—about 30 minutes.  Lift the cobs out of the stock, running a spoon (or a spatula...or the back of a knife) down all sides of the length of each cob to squeegee out as much liquid as you can.  Discard the cobs.  Add the reserved corn kernels to the broth and purée in batches in the blender until smooth.  Don't add any more liquid unless the blender is unable to run freely.  Pass the soup through a fine meshed strainer (a chinois, if you have one), pressing firmly on the solids with a ladle in order to extract as much of the liquid as possible. 


Place the sour cream in a small bowl and add a small ladleful of the soup.  


Whisk until smooth.  Scrape this mixture back into the soup and whisk in (see note). Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Chill deeply.  Serve in chilled bowls with a spoonful of roasted corn relish in the center and drizzled with a little olive oil.  Makes 6 to 7 cups of soup...serving 6 to 8 as a first course or accompaniment to a sandwich and 4 as an entrée.

Notes:
  • The number of ears of corn you will need will depend on where you live and where your corn comes from.  I live in corn country and the ears that come to my farmers' market yield a minimum of a cup of corn per ear.  To make this quantity of soup, you will need a generous 6 cups of corn kernels
  • The soup will have a more well-rounded flavor if you use part stock, but if you use some stock, you must eat the soup within a day or two of making it since it will not be reheated before serving.  I have made it both ways, and it is delicious either way...but I prefer all water.
  • Letting out the sour cream with a small amount of the soup before adding it to the whole batch will insure that it incorporates smoothly into the soup (without lumps).


Roasted Corn Relish: 
6 oz. vine ripened tomatoes (2 small or one medium)
1/2 cup reserved roasted corn kernels
1 or 2 scallions, trimmed and rinsed
olive oil
sherry or red wine vinegar
salt & pepper

Core the tomatoes.  Top and tail the tomatoes and cut away the outer walls as if you were cutting the peel away from a citrus fruit.  Discard the inner flesh and seeds (or reserve for sauce, stock, etc.) and cut the pieces of the outer walls (called filets) into a dice the same size as the corn kernels.  You will have about a half cup.

Place the diced tomatoes in a bowl along with the reserved corn.  Mince the scallions using the white and an equal quantity of the green.  Add to the bowl with just enough olive oil to moisten (about 2 t.) and with vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  The amount of vinegar that you need will depend on the acidity of your tomatoes.  Begin with about a half teaspoon and add more to taste. 

Makes about a cup of relish.



Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sweet Cherry & Almond Scones



I have recently become reacquainted with an old friend:  a drop scone recipe.  I favored this scone for years prior to being introduced to the marvelous Cream Scone.  It is a sad fact that in cooking...as with anything I suppose...when we discover something new and wonderful, we often abandon the old....even though the old might have been pretty wonderful too.  Having rediscovered it, I would like to introduce others to this old friend—given new life from the introduction of fresh sweet cherries—that in its own way is just as special and worthy as the cream scone that supplanted it.

My rediscovery came about because of an email I received from a friend who is spending her summer in the Pacific Northwest.  It has apparently been a banner year for cherries and she was wondering if I thought cherries might work in the cream scone recipe...or perhaps if I even had a special fresh cherry scone recipe. 

Unfortunately I didn't think I had a recipe for a scone that would handle the addition of fresh fruit.  The cream scone  dough is somewhat stiff and even if you were able to incorporate fresh fruit into the dough without crushing the fruit, it seemed to me that the water released during the baking process would make the resulting scone kind of gummy. 


I then remembered the drop scone recipe.  It is from a little book called Biscuits & Scones by Elizabeth Alston.  This particular scone incorporates a marbled swirl of a thick dried apricot compote.  It occurred to me that my friend could make a fresh cherry compote (well-reduced...slightly thicker than the one I added to my semifreddo) and use it in the same way in this recipe.

She tried it....and liked it...but reported back that she was really wanting scones that were punctuated with juicy chunks of fresh cherries rather than cooked cherries.  Also, in the interim she had found a recipe for fresh cherry scones and had tried it too.  She was surprised that the recipe worked...that the cherries didn't flood the scones with juice.  She emailed the recipe to me so I could also try it.  As I examined it I was struck by its similarity to my drop scone recipe.  There were also some big differences, but the similarities were enough to make me want to try my old recipe—which I knew to be a good basic recipe—to see how it would work with chunks of fresh cherries. 


They turned out beautifully....light, crusty, tender, moist and studded with chunks of juicy cherries.  I am a bit stumped as to why the cherries don't make the scone soggy or gummy...but they don't.  I can think of several reasons why this might be the case...but in the end, I feel I should admit that I am only making an educated guess. 

As I have thought about it, the first thing that strikes me is that these scones have an unusually high amount of egg.  This gives them a lot more structure than a typical scone and more of an ability to absorb extra moisture.  As an aside, this large quantity of egg could make for a dry scone.  But, there is also a higher percentage of butter in these scones which I imagine is responsible for counteracting the drying effect of the eggs. 

The other thing that is different about these scones is that you are directed to freeze them before you bake them.  It is possible to successfully bake just about any scone from frozen, but for these particular scones it seems to be a necessary step.  The mixing method is a bit unusual and I think tends to develop a bit more gluten than is desirable.  Chilling—or freezing—the formed scones will allow the gluten to relax and as a consequence you will get a more tender scone.  When fresh fruit has been added to the dough, I think the freezing step has an added benefit:  Because the fruit goes into the oven at a much lower temperature, it will necessarily spend less time at temperatures high enough to cause it to begin to break down.  Right about the time the cherries get hot enough to begin to soften and give up their juices, the scone is done baking. 

But, as I said, this is mostly conjecture.  However, because I think the freezing step is integral to the success of these scones, I wouldn't omit it...tempting as that might be.  I love the fact that I can make these, freeze them, and then bake one—or two—whenever the mood strikes.  Also, the freezing step makes them the perfect thing to make ahead in preparation for house guests. 

For those who love my cream scones, don't worry, I love them too and will not be abandoning them anytime soon.  If I want a "quick" scone—one that I can mix and bake on the spot and is amazingly delicious to boot—I will always choose to make cream scones.  But, if I want an incredibly delicious fresh cherry (or fresh apricot!) scone, I will be making these from now on.   

With chunks of fresh apricots and topped with pistachios....


Sweet Cherry & Almond Scones


175 to 200 g. (a heaping cup) Bing cherries (or other sweet red cherry)
340 g. (3 c.) All-purpose Flour
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 lb. Unsalted butter, at room temperature
100 g. (1/2 c.) Sugar
3 large Eggs, lightly beaten, just until broken up and smooth
1/2 t. Almond extract
80 g. (1/3 c.) Plain yogurt (or buttermilk)
60 g. (2/3 c.) sliced almonds
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling


Pit the cherries.  Halve and quarter them. Cut the quarters crosswise.  Your goal is 1/3- to 1/2-inch chunks of cherries—small enough to be well-dispersed in the dough, but large enough to be discernible chunks of sweet cherry in the baked scone.  Set aside.


Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add the eggs in 5 or 6 additions, beating until incorporated after each addition and stopping to scrape down the bowl once or twice.  

The eggs are added in small increments so that they will
emulsify smoothly and completely into the butter sugar mixture.

Beat in the almond extract.  Blend in half of the dry ingredients.  Add the yogurt, mixing just until blended.  Add the remaining dry ingredients to the bowl, followed by the cherries.  


By hand, fold just until the flour is absorbed and the cherries are evenly dispersed.  


Using a 1/3 or 1/4 cup capacity ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Using a spoon or rubber spatula, flatten the scones slightly.  


Sprinkle each generously with the almonds and then the sugar.  


Loosely cover with plastic wrap and freeze until hard.  Cut the parchment in between the scones and place the scones (attached to their  parchment squares) in a freezer bag.  Freeze for up to 6 weeks. 


To bake, place as many scones as you like on a baking sheet (spaced evenly, 2 to 3 inches apart) and bake in the upper third of an oven preheated to 375°F until golden and springy to the touch—about 25 minutes.  Transfer the scones to a rack, cool slightly and serve.  Makes 12 to 14.

(Adapted from Biscuits and Scones by Elizabeth Alston)

Notes & Variations:
  • I have made these with as few as 150 grams of cherries (a level cup) and as much as 200 grams (a generously heaped cup).  I think 200 grams is the maximum amount of fruit the scones will hold...more than that and they will tend to be a bit damp.
  • Apricot Variation:  Replace the cherries with 6 oz. of fresh apricots (2 or 3)—pitted, sliced and then cut into a 1/3- to 1/2-inch dice.  Instead of almonds, top the scones with minced pistachios.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cumin & Mint Marinated Rack of Lamb with Mint Aïoli

In my last post I mentioned that I developed the Bing Cherry & Chocolate Chip Semifreddo for a class I taught a couple of weeks ago.  The class was a dinner menu class filled with foods and flavors of the Mediterranean.  The entrée (and headlining draw) for the class was a roast rack of lamb featuring the Eastern Mediterranean flavor combination of cumin, lemon and mint.  It was particularly delicious...and easy to prepare too.  I don't have a lot of pictures of the process, but I wanted to share it here anyway since it is a perfect entrée for summer entertaining.    


The lamb itself—and the mint aïoli I served with it—were inspired by a couple of recipes from Frank Stitt that ran many years ago in a restaurant issue of Gourmet Magazine.  Instead of rack of lamb, Chef Stitt's recipe was for a leg of lamb.  I chose rack of lamb because it produces such an elegant result...especially when you consider the ease of preparation.  Rack cooks quickly and reheats easily.  Even if it has been cooked an hour or so ahead, just pop it into a hot oven until the surfaces are sizzling hot to the touch (this will take less than five minutes), slice and serve.  Lamb rack slices into beautiful little portions so that people of varied appetites can have as much or as little as they choose.  The marinade that I make is simply an adaptation of Stitt's.  The combination of the mint, cumin and lemon with the lamb is, as I noted at the first, delicious.


Stitt's mint aïoli was delicious too.  Sadly, it has always turned out an unfortunate brownish-green color.  Until now I have overlooked this color because the sauce tasted so good.  Then, as the class was approaching, I happened to run across a recipe for "minted aïoli" in Alfred Portale's  12 Seasons Cookbook.  It was nearly identical to Stitt's except Portale blanches the mint that is puréed into the sauce.  Seeing this caused me to have a bit of a "duh" moment:  Blanching is a standard trick for setting the green color of vegetables and herbs.  I'm not sure why I hadn't thought to do this before. The resulting sauce is a lovely—minty—green.  

I should probably address my use of the word "aïoli" in describing the mint sauce.  I went on at length about the correct usage of the term "aïoli" in my post on the Provençal feast called Le Grand Aïoli.  If you read that post, you will realize that the mint sauce in today's post isn't aïoli.  It is in fact just mayonnaise...flavored with fresh mint and a little garlic.  It is unfortunate, but many Americans seem to feel better about eating "aïoli" than they do about eating "mayonnaise"—even though the quantity of oil and egg yolk used to make them is pretty much the same.  Mayonnaise seems to carry with it a bad connotation....of what, I'm not sure.  Anyway, because both Frank Stitt and Alfred Portale—two chefs that I admire a great deal—call this mint sauce "aïoli," with some reluctance I have given in and called it that too. 


The recipe for the sauce makes a generous quantity, so it is possible that you will have leftovers. But this is not a problem. It is fantastic with vegetables of all kinds...roasted beets, blanched green beans, boiled potatoes, etc....making it an ideal dip for a summer vegetable platter. It would also be wonderful on a sandwich—not only a sandwich of leftover lamb, but perhaps one of thinly sliced leftover steak... or even on a hamburger, hot off the grill. Since the sauce really is just mayonnaise, if you begin to think of it as mayonnaise, all kinds of ideas for its use will occur to you. 

In the class I paired the lamb with a vinaigrette-dressed potato salad from One Good Dish by David Tanis. The potato salad as I taught it is unchanged from the book. In a previous post I sang the praises of this book, so I won't belabor it here. Suffice it to say that I think this is a book everyone who loves to cook and eat should own. Stitt paired his lamb and aïoli with a tasty cornbread version of panzanella. I think it would also be good with a summer white bean salad (spiked with roasted peppers, olives and basil)...or perhaps the potato salad with mint and arugula pesto that I shared in May. Dishes featuring eggplant, tomatoes and/or chickpeas would also be fine. To plump up the plate a bit (if you aren't serving multiple courses) you could add a fluff of arugula—dressed with lemon and olive oil—or some olive oil-dressed green beans.

Leftovers with a chickpea, roasted pepper and green olive salad
and zucchini sautéed with garlic and oregano

If you start out your meal with a simple Meze platter (with perhaps some olives....   maybe some marinated cheese....  and a nice dip/spread featuring eggplant...or chickpeas...     and some warm flatbreads, or even a crusty baguette), and finish up with a Bing Cherry & Chocolate Semifreddo, you will have a delicious menu of Mediterranean foods to share with your friends.  Add a chilled Rosé and you'll be all set to linger on the patio on a warm summer night.  

Cumin & Mint Marinated Rack of Lamb

3 "Frenched" racks of lamb—8 ribs and about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. each
1 1/2 to 2 t. cumin seed, toasted and finely ground
12 to 16 strips lemon zest, cut finely crosswise
3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mint
3 T. olive oil, plus more for searing
kosher salt (about 1/2 to 3/4 t./lb. of lamb)
freshly ground black pepper

Trim the excess fat from the lamb racks.  Combine the next 5 ingredients in a small bowl.  Season the racks with salt and pepper and smear with the marinade.  Place the racks in a non-reactive container, wrap and chill for at least 12 hours and up to 24.

An hour before cooking, take the lamb out of the refrigerator. 

Scrape the marinade off of the racks and discard.  Heat a large sauté pan over moderately high to high heat  and add enough olive oil to lightly coat.  Add the lamb and sear on all sides until beautifully browned (regulating the heat as necessary).  


Transfer the pan to a 375° oven (see note) and roast until the temperature in the center is 120° for medium rare (the temperature will continue to go up as the racks rest), about 15 minutes.  The meat will be slightly springy when pressed.  Remove from oven.  Transfer the racks to a plate or another pan and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.  Slice the lamb into individual chops.  Plan on an average of 3 per person.  Serve with a spoonful of mint aïoli. Serves 8.

Notes: 
  • If your sauté pan isn't ovenproof, place the lamb on a rack set in a roasting pan before placing in the oven.  You will need to add about 5 minutes to the total roasting time.
  • For larger appetites—or smaller racks of lamb—plan on 4 chops per person...in which case the recipe will serve 6.
Mint Aïoli

1 1/2 to 2 c. loosely packed mint leaves (about 1 oz.)
1 large or 2 medium cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (best quality organic and local)
1 T. lemon juice, plus more to taste
pinch of cayenne
1 c. neutral vegetable oil
1/3 c. olive oil
2 T. (or so) warm water

Plunge 1 c. of the mint (about 1/2 oz.) into boiling water until it wilts—about 10 seconds.  Scoop out and place in ice water to stop the cooking process and set the color.  Squeeze out as much water as possible and mince finely.

Smash the garlic to a purée with a pinch of salt.  Place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade along with the blanched mint, salt, egg and yolk and the cayenne.  Process until smooth and creamy looking.  With the machine running, add the oil in a slow stream through the feed tube.  A thick emulsion will begin to form. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice and process in.  Taste and adjust the lemon and salt. Adjust the consistency to get a light sauce with a few tablespoons of warm water.

Transfer the mint aïoli to a bowl.  Cut as much of the remaining mint as you like into a fine chiffonade and fold in.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  The sauce tastes best if made a few hours ahead.

Printable Recipe

With green beans and a Mediterranean potato salad
 with roasted peppers and olives