Tis the Season: Mexican Chocolate Cookies Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

Look at this sunset!

Look at this sunset!

Since we are in the thick of the holiday season, I’ve been craving a really good homemade cookie. But just one! If I’m going to make anything this time of year, it will be my family’s butterball cookies, but I certainly don’t want them in the house because they are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. The Eater of the House doesn’t really eat sweets, so I know I’ll start looking like a butterball myself eating the entire batch! But I recently had the opportunity to try something new and these cookies were it! The melding of chocolate, cinnamon, and pepper is a classic Mexican mixture and it all came together in this cookie. A soft cookie with a deep chocolate peppery flavor, this made the perfect sized batch to accompany the casserole I took to a recent dinner party. And it made just 24 cookies for me, so it was a sized offering of cookies.

If you don’t have a microwave like me, you can easily melt the chocolate in a water bath. Just take a saucepan filled with water and set a glass bowl over. Bring the water to a boil and stir occasionally, the chocolate will start to melt gently.

I realized as I started this that I was out of cayenne pepper. To be honest, when I see “red pepper” in recipes I don’t exactly know what that means; I always take it to be a spicy red pepper. So without cayenne, I added a dash of spicy Hungarian paprika since that’s what I had on hand. Success!

Happy Cooking!

cookies
Mexican Chocolate Cookies

This recipe first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Cooking Light.

5 ounces bittersweet (60 to 70 percent) chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 1/3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Place chocolate in a small glass bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until almost melted, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

3. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper); stir with a whisk.

4. Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg; beat well. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla; beat just until blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until almost set. Remove from oven. Cool on pans 2 minutes or until set. Remove from pans; cool completely on a wire rack.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Ben’s Kosher Deli and Restaurant
matzoIn the last *like* of my trip to New York City (see Like 1 and Like 2 here!), lunch on Monday was at Ben’s Kosher Deli and Restaurant. This restaurant right off Broadway didn’t seem to cater to tourists, or at least it didn’t seem so when I was there; at the height of lunchtime, it seemed to be more business and family lunches. Our meal began with a platter full of pickles and some coleslaw, which were both delicious. I ordered a bowl of matzo ball soup and half of a corned beef sandwich for my lunch. The matzo ball were the size of a tennis ball, yet light and fluffy, nothing like the ones I make at home. It was a good thing I ordered half a sandwich, it was layer upon layer of corned beef on a really nice rye bread. These were both delicious and gave me sustenance for an afternoon of walking around the city. This restaurant is definitely worth seeking out!

Ben’s Kosher Deli and Restaurant
209 West 38th Street
New York, New York
www.bensdeli.net

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Creamy Butternut Squash Soup Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

I hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday! Now it’s full speed ahead to the December holidays!

A few weeks ago, I read Ruth Reichl’s newest book, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life. In 2009, Reichl, and the rest of the country, was shocked when Gourmet magazine, the oldest cooking publication in the country, closed its doors immediately. After almost 70 years, Conde Nast folded the monthly with nary a reason. At the helm was Reichl, who along with being blindsided, also blamed herself. With no job and no prospects, she tweeted on Twitter and retreated to the kitchen and cooked. The book encompasses her tweets and recipes she created during that year.

Her recipes, such as they are, are more a listing of ingredients with a description of what to do. I love this way of cooking, but I know it’s not for everyone. And her writing is so beautiful, she makes everything she cooks sound delicious. Including a butternut squash soup.

I’ve never been one for squash soups; squash in soup, yes, but a pumpkin or butternut squash soup is something I’d tried on occasion but never liked. I’ve always found the flavors odd and would always avoid it in restaurants. This mindset shifted a couple of months ago when my mom ordered a pumpkin soup that was really delicious. Reichl had a recipe for a butternut soup and her description of it made me want to make it immediately. I took a glance at the ingredient list, decided to make my version, and cooked it up as the first snowflakes fell outside the kitchen window. And she was right. It’s good. And comforting. And is the best kind of soup to eat this time of year; it’s easy on the wallet and takes maybe 30 minutes at the most to make.

Dairy-free, wheat free, vegetarian, this is so simple that anyone can make it. For lunch, it’s satisfying and warms you up and fills you up, too. You’d think that just five ingredients would make for a not so exciting soup, so I was skeptical when I put everything together. But something about the melding of the flavors is delicious. And don’t worry about precise chopping, everything is going to be blended; it’s a lot easier to use a hand blender if you have one, but a standing blender will work, too.

You’ll find you’ll need more than the first two cups of water. I always add a little bit to my lunch container to get the consistency I like. If you want a little bit more flavor, I thought some cumin or thyme would be a good addition.

Happy Cooking!

butternutsoup
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

1 Tablespoon olive oil

One butternut squash, 1 pound

2 peeled carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 medium onion, diced

2+ cups water

Salt and pepper to taste

Warm the olive oil in a soup pot. When ready, add the carrots, celery, and onion and saute until soft over medium heat. Add the squash and saute for about five minutes or so. Add the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook the vegetables until everything has completely mushy. With a hand blender (or standing blender) puree until everything is blended, adding additional water if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.

bs1MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbook Store

Number two on my New York City adventures (Part I can be read here). When I went to New York, I had very little on my agenda except for one thing, I had to go to Bonnie Slotnick’s cookbook store in Greenwich Village. I really wanted to check it out and after more than ten years, I finally made it!

My friend, Jen, and I got there Sunday afternoon at 12:56, only to discover the store opened at 1 p.m. and we were famished. So instead of waiting four minutes, we went to another bookstore for lunch and then I made my way back while Jen went shopping.

bs2I walked in and it was like walking into someone’s kitchen. A lovely table with the season’s colors and cookbooks was in the middle of the room. Cookbooks lined the walls, all neatly divided into ethnicity and topic. The lighting was golden with lamps on various bookshelves and the colors were of retro kitchens, light greens, oranges, yellows. Vintage aprons, linens, and cookware sat on wooden kitchen tables, and I immediately spied the recipe box my mother has in her kitchen since I was born! A box in the back had a pile of old menus from long ago New York City restaurants now closed. It was warm enough to have the back door open, which led to a small enclosed garden with a small table and chairs, where you could read your cookbooks.

bs3I thought it was curious she had no Julia Child books in the French section, but I soon discovered she had a reserved spot for the masters right in front of her counter! Child, James Beard, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, a variety of editions of The Joy of Cooking, she had all of the greats. I was so pleased to find they had such a special space all together!

bs4After everyone left, I was able to have a chat with Bonnie and it was everything I thought it would be. I ended up buying a book, Clementine in the Kitchen, a book Ruth Reichl reissued when she was editor of Gourmet, the recipe box, and a small cooking booklet titled Meals for Two. I found the book prices to be reasonable, especially for New York City and for being vintage. If you are into cookbooks and want a treat, don’t hesitate to check it out. Her hours change weekly, but she always posts them on her website, bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com.

bs5Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks ~ 28 East 2nd Street, New York, New York

My Vermont Kitchen Gets Out of the Kitchen! Plus a Christmas Cookie Recipe

Chris isn't in Vermont anymore!

Chris isn’t in Vermont anymore!

I mentioned right after Thanksgiving that the month of December was crazy, and that’s no lie. Between work during the week, the weekends have been devoted to traveling, so I’ve been getting out of the kitchen and having other people cook for me, which I admit has been quite the treat!

But before I get to my travels, I thought, since it tis the season, I’d bring you my favorite Christmas cookie recipe. Apologies in advance to my longtime readers, who see me haul this out every year, but to be honest, if I have time to make just one Christmas cookie (or eat one!) during the season, these are it. I can think of nothing better than butter, sugar, and walnuts. So for my new readers, this is my hands down favorite Christmas cookie. No need to pull out the cookie cutters and they are hardly fussy.

This is a family recipe that I think everyone in my family has made at one point or another in their cooking lifetime. The original recipe calls them Butter Fingers, but to be easy, we always formed them into little round balls, hence their “new” name. I recommend a nice cup of coffee or tea with a cookie or two. They are moist and yummy, and like all older recipes, the directions are sparse!

butterball2
Butterballs
14 Tablespoons butter, softened
4 Tablespoons confectioner sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground nuts (I usually use walnuts, but pecans are good, too)
2 teaspoons vanilla and 1 teaspoon water, mixed

Mix and shape with hands. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Watch to make sure they don’t get too brown. When cool, roll in confectioner sugar.

* * * *

A really bad hair day, but I'm very happy!

A really bad hair day, but I’m very happy!

Last weekend I took the bus down to New York to meet up with my friend, Jana, who lives in Seattle. Besides going to museums and walking through Central Park, we ate at some pretty spectacular places, most which might not make it on your radar, so I thought I’d give a little synopsis in case you find yourself in the Big Apple in the near future and are looking for something to eat!

(I’m sorry for the lack of photographs. I tried taking a photo at the first restaurant, it turned out terrible, so I decided to go without. But the pictures and flavors are in my mind and memory, I just wish you all could enjoy them!)

We started late Saturday afternoon by walking to East Harlem and we went to El Paso http://elpasony.com/ (1643 Lexington Avenue) for a late lunch. I was famished; I’d been on the road since 7 a.m., so my three tacos: chirizo, cecina [salted beef], and asada [grilled beef] were spectacular. Also incredible was the guacamole (probably the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant!) and house-made totopos (tortilla chips). Next time I could just order that and be very happy. I should have taken the traditional route and tried one of their specialty margaritas instead of my usual vodka martini. This was a  wonderful restaurant if you want authentic Mexican food, as my sister-in-law would say. The service was wonderful and the food incredibly delicious. What more could you want?

DSCN0787

I read that this year’s tree had FIVE miles of lights on it! I thought I might be disappointed, but I wasn’t, despite the crowds!

From here it was a train ride to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree along with two million other people, and a walk down 5th Avenue. We decided to stop in at a lovely Italian restaurant, Mozzarella & Vino (33 West 54th Street). I decided to have a glass of Italian chardonnay, which was lovely. After sitting and chatting for quite some time, we decided we were hungry again and decided to have another bite to eat. Since mozzarella is half the name of the restaurant, they obviously focus on cheese, so we ordered a tasting platter of three different cheeses with some bread: mozzarella, burrata, and a smoked mozzarella. I’ve only read about burrata cheese in cooking magazines; the outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream; in other words, heaven. I am going to have to seek this out in Vermont. Yet again, I could have ordered and eaten this entire appetizer by myself and been perfectly content. Next time!

rtr-300x225Lots more walking and we were getting tired. Near Times Square and getting cold, we made our way to the subway. Walking past Carnegie Hall and lots of old New York landmarks, I was cold but excited to see these places in person. And then it was right in front of us: The Russian Tea Room (150th West 57th Street)! Almost my entire life I’ve heard about this restaurant, through books and movies. When my book club read Anna Karinina and I was hosting, I went to their website to see what they served so I could cook an authentic Russian meal. Even though they were closing in 30 minutes, we  had enough time to have a cocktail and nightcap at the bar. Stolichnaya martini for me (of course, I had to be authentic and it’s my vodka of choice!) and Irish Coffee for my friend. It would be exciting to be there on New Year’s Eve, but their $500 per person for the six-course meal is a bit cost prohibitive!

Sunday morning, dark and gray, but after a brisk walk through Central Park, we made our way to a nice coffee shop for breakfast. Apologies, I didn’t pay attention to the name, but the breakfast burrito was delicious and held me through a late morning and afternoon of museum walkings until a slice of New York veggie pizza late afternoon. Then dinner was mecca: Mario Batali’s Eataly (200 5th Avenue in the Flatiron neighborhood).

Like I said, bad photos, but this is what greeted us at our table.

Like I said, bad photos, but this is what greeted us at our table.

Mario isn’t my favorite celebrity chef, but he does have a connection with Italian cook Lidia Bastianch, so I was still excited. I’ve never been to a place like this; it’s a market, but also a sort of cafeteria. Over here is the antipasto section, the shellfish area, the fish area, the pizza and pasta area over here. So diners choose what and where they would like to eat. After walking all over Manhattan and two museums that day, we were pooped, so standing at the antipasto area was out of the question. We chose to take the elevator up 14 stories to eat at their brew pub, Birreria. We spent about 15 minutes trying to decide what I wanted to eat because everything looked delicious! And it was. We had a grilled portobello with whipped burrata (again!) with small raw beets and a house-made pork and beef sausage with braised red cabbage and speck. (This was the second time we saw speck on a menu, and I investigated what it was, because I had never heard of it before. Click on the hyperlink. Trust me, it’s delicious.) Our waiter was wonderful and I’m still trying to place who he reminds me of, although we confirmed our paths have never crossed, and it was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Monday morning, with a few flakes of snow in the air, we decided to take a historic walk through Harlem, which was exciting and educational. But it was getting to be late morning, we hadn’t eaten and we were hungry. So our trusty guidebook took us to Amy Ruth’s, and I couldn’t have been more happy to be here for my last meal in the city. A traditional “soul food” restaurant, a description I sort of dislike, but this was it–and it was incredible. Each meal was named for a famous African American; I ordered the President Barack Obama (fried chicken with cheesy grits and collard greens) and Jana ordered the Rev. Al Sharpton (smothered chicken and waffles), with fresh, moist cornbread to start. For me, fried chicken will always be on the menu for my last supper; growing up my birthday dinner request always was fried chicken and chocolate cake. And with all due apologies to my dad, this fried chicken, eaten at 11:30 in the morning in Harlem, was the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten.

The chicken was able to tide me over until Massachusetts. My bus driver surprised me by stopping at a store so us weary travelers could stop and pick up something to eat. Needless to say, the stale roast beef and cheddar sandwich was my least favorite meal of the weekend.

There are a million other restaurants in New York, I’d love to try them all, but to be honest, if I went back to these restaurants, I’d be happy as a clam!