22 February 2012

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

Some evenings, all I want is a nice big chocolate chip walnut cookie.  Warm from the oven, perfectly crunchy at the edges, chewy and slightly soft at the center.  Chunks of walnut that can be nibbled out of the cookie whole, and melted nuggets of chocolate.  Oh and I'll take a nice ice-cold glass of milk alongside.

Whenever I need the perfect cookie, I always pull out this delicious recipe that purportedly comes from the cafe of the Neiman Marcus department store.  Urban legend watchdog Snopes confirms that the story behind this recipe is just that--a story--but in any case, I'm just thankful that the email meme containing this recipe came my way at a time when I actually *would* read all those crazy email forwards people sometimes spam you with. 

But back to these cookies, I have to say I love the nutty flavor (thanks to oat flour and chunks of walnut) and hints of caramel (that'd be from the brown sugar).  And to intensify and deepen these flavors, you really want to let the dough age for at least 36 hours before baking.  Don't take any shortcuts here!  Research shows that a clear flavor difference is noticed not at 12 or 24 hours but only after 36 hours, as the flours, butter, and egg finally have a chance to truly meld together.

The great thing about aging cookie dough is that you go through the work of making a big batch of dough on one day, and then days (or even weeks) later can effortlessly enjoy freshly-baked, homemade cookies.  Just store the dough in an air-tight container at the back of your fridge, then any time you want a fresh-baked cookie, the aged dough is right on hand, ready to go.  Just grab an ice cream scooper and scoop out a cookie (or two) and bake it up in your toaster oven!  Mmm...fresh-baked cookie goodness!

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One quick note: using a stand mixer definitely makes this a whole lot easier.  The dough gets to be rather stiff once the dry ingredients are added!

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies 
Adapted from the "Neiman-Marcus $250" meme
Makes ~ 4 dozen cookies

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup each white sugar & brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups oats, blended to fine powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. each baking powder and soda
12 oz. chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups coarsely-chopped walnuts (or other nuts of your choice)

Cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.  In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients.  Add to creamed mixture and stir until well incorporated.  Transfer cookie dough to an air-tight container and refrigerate 36 hours or more.

Scoop by rounded tablespoons and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375 F for 10 minutes or until cookies reach desired doneness.  Remove cookies from oven and let sit on pans one minute, then enjoy them nice and warm!  Before storing any leftover cookies, make sure they have cooled completely (a cooling rack is helpful here) before placing in an air-tight container.

15 February 2012

Seafood alla Puttanesca

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I can't help it, I have to take advantage of the space here to sing the virtues of an often maligned pasta shape.  I'm talking about capellini (a.k.a. angel hair pasta).  You know how it tends to clump up much more than, say, strands of linguine or spaghetti?  I know this tendency can be a major pain if you're trying to divide up individual servings from a bowl of pasta that's been sitting around for a while, but I have to say: I don't care how annoying it can be--capellini is perfectly lovely.

Without the stickiness that comes from such fine strands of pasta, you see, you wouldn't be able to get a huge, gorgeous swirl of pasta to rest stably on your fork as it travels from your bowl to your mouth.  And a big--I mean BIG--mouthful of perfectly-twirled pasta is just one of those things that makes me close my eyes in happiness.  I heart you capellini.


Now, this dish is not just another reason to eat angel hair pasta; it's also a dish so easy to put together and so lovely to eat you'll wonder why you don't make a home-cooked dinner every night of the week.  Seafood alla puttansca, I call it.  The pasta gets coated with a savory tomato sauce and then loaded up with a medley of goods like sweet sauteed onion and briny Kalamata olives and capers.  And while traditional alla puttanesca is made with a few anchovies blended into the sauce, here I substitute those little fishes with a fun seafood mix--shrimp, calamari, and scallops-- which gives you yummy nuggets to bite into as you dig through the pasta and sauce.

Chances are you'll have most of the ingredients for this quick and easy dish already on hand at home, and it will only take a few moments before you're ready to sit down to a great meal.  This was one of my favorite "pantry pasta" dishes that I threw together recently for a quick dinner, served with just a simple green salad alongside, and I think you'll enjoy it as much as we did.

Seafood Puttanesca on Capellini
Makes 4-6 servings

1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried parsley
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
2 Tbs. capers
20 pitted Kalamata olives
1 lb. seafood medley (shrimp, calamari, scallops)
1 lb. capellini (angel hair pasta)
salt for cooking pasta
Fresh parsley, minced, for garnish

Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large pot.  Saute the onion until translucent, then add the garlic and stir, cooking for a minute more.  Add the white wine and let boil until reduced by half.  Stir in the red pepper flakes and dried herbs, then add the crushed tomatoes, capers, and olives.  Bring to a boil, then add seafood and reduce heat and simmer until cooked (can be done while preparing pasta), stirring occasionally to prevent bottom from burning.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, then add a handful of salt and return water to a full boil.  Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.  Drain pasta water and stir a cup of tomato sauce into the pasta to prevent it from sticking.  Divide pasta among individual bowls and top with scoops of seafood and sauce.  Finish with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

08 February 2012

Valentine's Ice Cream & Pizzelle Party!

Valentine's Day is coming soon, and whether or not you're celebrating with a valentine of your own, you should definitely treat yourself to a little something special.  Why not?  We are--each of us--worth it!

For some reason I keep thinking back on the pizzelle I made a month or so ago and dreaming about how perfect they'd be with a scoop of pink ice cream for a cute Valentine's Day treat.  Wouldn't it be fun to have an ice cream social with some friends, recalling bygone era of ice cream parlors?  (The last of the ice cream parlors here in  town closed down years ago....sigh.)


What kinds of pink ice cream flavors are out there these days?  There's always the classic strawberry, but then you could also go with peppermint.  Or cherry.  Oooh, I bet a sweet red bean ice cream would be really neat to try too...if only I could get my hands on some.  What would be your pink-colored ice cream of choice?

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Decisions, decisions.  Why not make up a batch of my pizzelle recipe here, gather a selection of different ice creams and sorbets, and get your own ice cream party going this Valentine's Day!  Get guests involved by having them shape their own pizzelle cups, or voting on their favorite pink icy treat.  On the other hand, if you prefer having things prepped well ahead of time, you'll be glad to know that these pizzelle keep beautifully in an air-tight container for several weeks.  Either way, you can't go wrong!

As an sweet ending note, hand your guests a little goodie bag of these fantastic Cupid's Cookies.  They'd be the perfect party favor, or even just a simple little something to show appreciation for friends and family this time of year.