Monday, July 30, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Almond Macaroons

Almond Macaroons
Page 240 in the old book / page 263 in the new book

I'm afraid no almond macaroon will ever measure up to my ideal almond cookie: Brutti ma Buoni (or Belli et Brutti as the case may be), but if I'd never tasted the Italian version of this cookie, I suppose I might have said these were pretty good.

I was out of blanched almonds, so I had to buy them fresh rather than pulling some from the freezer. Even so, there were complaints that the macaroons weren't almondy enough or that the almond flavor was not noticeable. Perhaps the answer to that would be to toast the almonds before grinding them... or increase the amount of almond extract. Then again, maybe the problem really isn't a lack of almond flavor, but a lack of any other flavor. The cookies aren't especially sweet and if you look back at that Belli et Brutti recipe, you'll see that they have both vanilla extract and lemon zest (which added a wonderful layer of flavor to those cookies). These almond macaroons are made simply of almonds, sugar, egg whites, and almond extract.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I thought from the look of the cookie that it would be crunchy, but instead it was very chewy. The cookie was a very attractive pinwheel shaped with a cherry in the center and I liked the almond taste. I didn’t like the soft, chewiness of the cookie. Rating - 2.5"

Denny: "OK, didn't do too much for me. Bland and really couldn't taste the almonds, which I love. -1 for no chocolate equals 2. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "Very tasty and chewy. Delightful almond flavor, but would have liked the cookies to be a bit more almondy. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "These macaroons are outstanding! Very moist and chewy. The cherry in the middle is especially decorative - but the taste is the best macaroon I've eaten. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.4

In two weeks - Fudge Délices

Nutrition Facts

Friday, July 27, 2007

Y is for Yellow!

Yellow Squash Dalcha, Carrot Raita and brown rice

Sorry, this is hardly the most beautifully composed dinner plate, but what it lacks in good looks it more than makes up for in good taste! I really don't need an excuse these days to cook myself an Indian meal. It took me forever to finally muster the courage to tackle my first recipe, but now I find myself quite often turning to my Indian cookbooks (and particularly Madhur Jaffrey) when looking for an answer to the question, "what's for dinner?" Though I don't need an excuse to cook Indian, I'm afraid I've become such a slacker blogger of late that I do need an reason to post about it. Well, I've got one - Nupur's A to Z of Indian Vegetables. She's running out of letters, so it's now or never!

This week's letter is Y and all I could think of was Yellow Squash and Yogurt. With that in mind, I chose two recipes from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian - a fantastic cookbook that has quickly become one of my very favorites. The first is Vegetarian Dalcha - a sambar of masoor dal (red lentils) from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. The zucchini in this recipe is a substitute for bottle gourd in the traditional recipe. I'm not sure what distinguishes Dalcha from other sambars, but I think it might be the bottle gourd... so is a Dalcha with yellow squash really a Dalcha? It may be a misnomer, but I've dubbed my adpatation "Yellow Squash Dalcha" just so I get that all-important Y in there. :) I love dal under any name and this easy-to-make dish did not disappoint. It is delicously seasoned and the squash, which is cooked for just a couple of minutes, provides a nice contrast in texture.

Next up is Carrot Raita - a mixture of yogurt and spiced grated carrot which has been lightly cooked. I never dreamed that the carrot mixture would color the yogurt so beautifully. In fact, much to my surprise, what I ended up with could rightly be called "Yellow Yogurt"! (OK - so it's closer to golden, or maybe even orange, but humor me... please?) My experience with raitas is limited to the most basic - tomato and cucumber - but after my experience with this one, I'm anxious to try others. I especially enjoyed this raita just after it was made and was still at room temperature, but it can also be eaten chilled. Next time I may cut back slightly on the oil and might even increase the red chilli powder a bit.

Yellow Squash Dalcha
adapted from "Red Lentils with Zucchini" in Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian

1 cup masoor dal, picked over and rinsed
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 tbs canola oil (the original recipe calls for 1/4 cup, but I found this was plenty)
4 whole cardamom pods
1 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tsp ginger paste
3 garlic cloves, mashed or very finely minced
2 small yellow squash cut into half-circles about 1/2-inch thick
black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
freshly-squeezed lime juice

Place the masoor dal and 4 cups water in a pot (holding at least 3 quarts) and bring to a boil. Stir in the turmeric, turn the heat down to low and cover (keep the lid slightly ajar). Cook the dal for about 40 minutes. When done stir in the salt.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the spices (cardamom, cinnamon, bay, and cumin) and cook for a minute. Add the onion and stir and cook until slightly browned. Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute. Add the squash, black pepper, and red chilli powder and stir for another minute then stir in 1/2 cup water, cover the pan and lower the heat. Cook for 2 minutes. Pour the squash mixture into the dal and stir. Add freshly-squeezed lime juice to taste and stir.

"Yellow Yogurt" (aka Carrot Raita)
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian

2 tbs (or less) oil (I used canola, but I see now that olive oil was one of the suggested oils and I'd be inclined to use that next time)
1 tsp mustard seeds
pinch asafetida
8 oz carrots, coarsely grated
1/2 tsp salt, divided
2 cups plain yogurt (I used lowfat)
black pepper to taste
1/8 - 1/4 tsp red chilli powder

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, stir in the asafetida. Add the grated carrots and stir and cook for 15 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Let the carrots cool to room temperature.

Whisk the yogurt until smooth and then whisk in 1/4 tsp salt, black pepper, and red chilli powder. Stir in the cooled carrot mixture. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Craig Claiborne's Chocolate Macaroons

Craig Claiborne's Chocolate Macaroons
Page 239 in the old book / page 262 in the new book

I'm pretty sure these macaroons didn't turn out the way they were supposed to, though I have my doubts that they would have tasted that much better if they had. I don't think I can fault Maida on this one - the blame clearly is mine - but the phrase "consistency of soft mashed potatoes" did leave me a little uncertain. How soft is soft?

These cookies are made in (what I think is) a unique way: ground almonds, ground chocolate and sugar are combined with egg whites and then cooked on the stove until the mixture reaches the "consistency of soft mashed potatoes" which is supposed to take about five minutes. Then they are piped onto cookie sheets and baked. I was particularly worried about overcooking the mixture and Maida's warnings only increased my anxiety, "Do not let the mixture boil, and be careful that it does not burn... If the mixture [is] cooked long enough in the frying pan, these will not spread in baking. If it [is] cooked too long, the dough will be stiff and difficult to press through the pastry bag." There didn't seem to be any wiggle room - undercook and they will spread or overcook and it will be impossible to pipe them. Oh the pressure!

So I'm cooking the mixture on the stove and get to the five minute mark. The mixture is thick, but still fairly loose. I decide to go another minute. Not much different from five minutes. Ahhh! What to do, what to do. I chicken out and take it off the stove. The next step is to stir in the almond extract and then stir occasionally until the mixture cools. Once it had cooled I was pretty sure I had undercooked it and when I started to pipe it, I was certain. I considered putting the mixture back in the pan and cooking it longer, but didn't know if cooking, then cooling, then cooking the egg whites would create a new problem (does anybody know if this would have been OK to do?). So I piped the macaroons and held my breath. They spread almost immediately, but managed to hold a little shape. I put them in the oven fully expecting that they were going to spread and merge into a thin interconnected sheet of cookie dough, but miraculously they spread no further in baking. You can see in the photo, though, that the star shape was all but lost.

I think because they spread, they dried out more while baking. They were chewy, but not moist. I also thought they were bland, but it's possible a moister consistency might have enhanced the chocolate flavor. Maida certainly seems enthusiastic in the notes, "Hip hip hooray and three cheers for Craig for creating these sensational macaroons..." I think they might be worth another try.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I didn’t believe there was a chocolate cookie that I wouldn’t rate as a 5. I’ve found one. The cookie was kind of bland, not very sweet and sticky to the touch. It was a very attractive cookie, but not like any macaroon cookie I’ve every tasted before. Rating - 2.5"

Denny: "Very good. Chewy and chocolaty, but couldn't taste the almonds. I'd rate them a 4.0. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Chocolaty and yummy, but the cookie itself was a little "sticky". Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "This would be a favorite for chocolate lovers, but was too chocolaty for my taste. The texture was chewy, in fact, almost too chewy for a macaroon. The cherry added an appealing sweetness and color to this cookie, but I basically thought it was too heavy tasting for a macaroon. Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.4

Next week - Almond Macaroons

Nutrition Facts

Friday, July 20, 2007


My name is Cathy and I'm a 50-year-old blogger. Waahhhhh!!!!! Birthdays come and go and I don't give them much thought, but this one is different. It's not the vanity thing... it's the living thing! I keep thinking, best case - I've reached the halfway mark. I remember my Dad saying many years back that time is relative and the older you get the faster it goes. Nothing could be truer and let me tell you, it sure seems as though the seasons are whipping by these days. What happened to summer? For that matter, what happened to the 2000's?

Aside from time passing too quickly, I actually like being older. I think I'm happier and more accepting of myself. I do detect an increasing impatience that's a little worrisome, but perhaps that is forgivable in light of my increasingly accelerated sense of time. In general though, life is good. Very good. I have wonderful friends and a fantastic family, good health, a comfortable place to put my head down at night, and not least of all this little blog which has brought me a sense of community and some friendships that I will treasure always.

There are certainly things I miss from my younger years, but then again I am SO much closer to retirement and the prospect of that thrills me to no end! I really can't complain about my job. People there have been good to me; I work in a place where I can feel that I'm contributing to the public good; and it has given me a comfortable life. BUT... the things I long to spend my time on are not the things I can make a living from and these days they seem to get bumped by work and general busy-ness: cooking, weaving, sewing, knitting, genealogy, etc. I will be able to do the job I wish most to excel at - being Aunt Cathy - so much better when I finally am able to step away from the more mundane work-a-day world! More time to bake cookies with Cassidy, sew with Christina, weave with Catelynn (yes, I've decided that 3-month-old Catelynn will be the next weaver in the family!), hug Tommy, and chase Brian around the house trying to plunk a kiss on his cheek.

But I shouldn't and I won't wish away the remaining working days, for at the very least there are evenings and weekends to be enjoyed: cooking in my little kitchen, catching up on hobbies, reading a good book, delving into a new weaving project, or simply enjoying the company of friends and family. There's also time to stay in touch here and I honestly look forward to that.

When I started blogging in 2004, I felt that I was an anomaly. It seemed to me at that time that every other blogger was at least 20 years younger than me. I suspect I was mistaken then and I know that's not true now - and thank goodness for that! Blogging brings all sorts of people together and the variety of ages is no less than the assortment of hometowns, ethnicities, or favorite ice cream flavors! Anyway, I have come to feel very much at home here, so I am finally ready (though still with slight trepidation) to post my picture here. Hello everyone!


I'm home from work today and since it's a weekday morning it's very quiet. A little while ago, I heard a rattling sound which was a little alarming. Leo (my cat) and I gave each other puzzled looks and then I heard it again. It was coming from this room. It turned out to be a goldfinch tapping on the window. There was a minute or so when I was able to look him right in the eye, but of course the moment I turned to grab my camera he was off. It was such an unusual and wonderful thing to happen on my birthday, that I have decided to take it has a good omen. I think the next fifty years are going to be great!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My Favorite Hand-Formed Cookies

Fudge Mallows
With a come hither look that's hard to refuse, these Fudge Mallows made the Cookie Panel's top ten, but were too sweet for my taste.

Can you tell I'm running out of steam? I probably shouldn't admit that, but it's true. I think I've had enough cookies for a while, but there are only 16 to go and I can't stop now! Unfortunately, whether it's my waning enthusiasm, or that after 132 cookies I've become hypercritical, or possibly even that the cookies in this chapter weren't quite up to the standards of the earlier chapters, I was slightly underwhelmed by these hand-formed cookies. There were definitely cookies I liked, and even some I liked a lot, but in my opinion there were no WOW cookies this time around. I should hasten to add that I may be alone in my view of this group of cookies, for the cookie panel in its infinite wisdom awarded its first 5.0's to two cookies from the chapter: the Fudge Mallows and English Gingersnaps #1.

This chapter brought the most dramatic cookie disaster yet, the second cookie to get a reputation in the wilds of the blogosphere for looking like a turd (I kid you not. And I'm not telling what the first one was, it's in the witness protection program), but still and all, it was fun. Lots of fun, actually - there is something very, very satisfying about rolling dough with your hands, be it into little balls or long ropes.

So, on with the show. I hope my earlier comments don't deter you from trying some of these cookies. Even if they're missing that wow-factor, there were still some very good cookies. As usual, the runners-up are in no particular order and I've saved my very favorite cookie for last...

This is a classic, but still sooo good - delicate, buttery, and nutty Austrian Walnut Crescents.

Chewy and crunchy at the same time, with the winning flavors of brown sugar and toasted almond. I think I'm going to have to find an excuse to make these Señoritas again very soon.

Maida Heatter's Italian Sesame Sticks
Not to everyone's liking because of the sesame seeds, I thought these Italian Sesame Sticks were delicious... and habit-forming!

And finally, my favorite: Coconut Washboards. I made them with unsweetened, dessicated coconut, which I expect is what made them so crunchy (the recipe says they are semisoft cookies). Though I'm curious to try them as Maida intended (probably with sweetened, shredded coconut), I loved this crunchy version. They taste great too - it always amazes me how basic ingredients such as brown sugar, butter and vanilla can combine to produce such wonderful flavor.

One more chapter!!! I get my weekends back!!! But I'm getting ahead of myself... there are still 16 cookies to go and hopefully a few gems yet to be discovered. Please join me next Monday when I begin the mysteriously titled last chapter, "Et Cetera". And if you're just tuning in, all the cookies on this page are from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies. The book is out of print but still available as a remainder, used, or in your library. All but one of the recipes were also reprinted in the newer Maida Heatter's Cookies which also includes cookie recipes from a couple of her other books. Read about my little project here and start here if you're interested in exploring my earlier posts.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Italian Sesame Sticks

Maida Heatter's Italian Sesame Sticks
Page 235 in the old book / page 259 in the new book

Here we have another plain but good cookie that (I think) got undeservedly low scores. I think there were quite a few people that didn't enjoy these, but on the other hand a large batch of over 70 cookies was gone by the end of the day, so someone must have liked them! I know I did. They are rich and crumbly, have flavorful crust of sesame seeds and are one of those cookies where you keep going back for another.

In the recipe notes Maida explains that the recipe comes from a trattoria in New York's Little Italy where she enjoyed them with espresso. She noted that she saw the regulars dunking them in red wine (hence my photo above which you may have been puzzling over). I tried one dunked in wine and I think it might be an interesting combination, but unfortunately the only wine I had on hand was opened long ago and long past being drinkable.

If you (like me) loved playing with Play-Doh as a kid, you are going to have a blast making these cookies. You trained your entire childhood for this! Remember rolling out long, worm-like ropes of the stuff? The instructions for this cookie have you roll out 20-inch-long ropes of dough and then cut it into shorter logs. Fun!

playing with dough

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I love sesames on anything. As a matter of fact the only type of bagel I eat are sesame bagels. My first impression was that there wasn’t much to this cookie, but after the second bite, I really enjoyed the lemony taste and the sesames. The cookie was a little on the dry side. Rating - 3.5"

Denny: "It had to happen. A recipe that someone should not have passed on due to mediocrity. I found these dry, seedy and not really that good. More like a not-so-crunchy breadstick. If it were a breadstick, I'd give it a 3, but with the no chocolate penalty, I'd rate it a 1.0. Rating - 1.0"

Laura: "Too many sesame seeds! Cookie underneath is tasty, but the sesame seeds ruin the cookie for me. Rating - 2.0"

Terri: "These cookies remind me of a shortbread cookie rolled in sesame seeds. Actually, they are a bit like a cracker. Mine was delicious with my morning coffee - not too sweet, but filling. Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.4

This is the last cookie in the chapter, so please join me again on Tuesday to find out which of the hand-formed cookies were my personal favorites!

Next week - Craig Claiborne's Chocolate Macaroons

Nutrition Facts

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mondays with Maida - English Gingersnaps #2

Maida Heatter's English Gingersnaps #2
Page 234 in the old book / page 258 in the new book

This cookie is a smaller, spicier, and orange/lemon-scented (and yes - snappier!) variation of last week's English Gingersnaps #1. I loved the orange and lemon rind in these - it really brightened the flavor and made the cookies a little out of the ordinary.

The dough for these cookies has slightly less flour than the original recipe, so the dough is softer and needs a longer chilling time. After chilling, the dough is very easy to handle and shape. These gingersnaps are a more conventional size, so you get a generous 80 or so cookies per batch.

The cookie panel is a little short-handed this week. I really thought I would catch Suzanne and Denny later in the week, but a late flight delayed Suzanne's return and Denny worked from home at the end of the week, so the cookies I'd saved for them were enjoyed by someone else - me! Here's the panel (what's left of it, that is)...

Laura: "Yummy and crunchy. These cookies remind me of the wonderful gingersnaps my grandmother would make. Delish! - 4.5"

Terri: "These ginger snaps are a bit spicier with a tinge of orange taste as compared to Gingersnap #1. Also, they are not as chewy and smaller. I prefer the #1 G.S., but if you like spicier - try these. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.3

Next week - Italian Sesame Sticks

Nutrition Facts

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mondays with Maida - English Gingersnaps #1

Page 233 in the old book / page 257 in the new book

Well, I could hardly have been more surprised if Denny had deducted points for chocolate - the cookie panel (with Drucie subbing for Denny) bestowed a perfect 5.0 upon these very simple, very unchocolate gingersnaps. What made this perfect score even more befuddling was that I wasn't all that crazy about the cookies myself.

The recipe makes a relatively small number (22) of large cookies. The dough requires only a brief chilling time and the cookies are easy to make, so the entire process is not very time consuming. The dough is formed into balls which are coated in sugar before baking. The sugar coating splits open during baking forming the familiar crazed surface.

Ginger "snaps" doesn't seem quite the right name for these large semisoft cookies. They have the requisite spicy ginger flavor, but the texture is hardly a "snap". I was never a fan of gingersnaps until Nupur introduced me to Trader Joe's triple ginger snaps. I couldn't help but compare these cookies to the TJ's version. In my opinion, those yummy little TJ snaps would best these cookies hands down. It will be interesting to see how next week's cookie, a smaller, crisper version of this cookie with more ginger and some grated orange and lemon peel, will compare.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I’m usually not a big fan of ginger, but I loved this cookie. My first impression was, 'wow, what a big cookie', but after my first bite, I wanted more then one cookie. The texture was just right, soft yet had some crunch to it. Rating - 5.0"

Laura: "Large, moist, chewy and delightfully gingery! These Ginger Snaps #1 are definitely a 5! Rating - 5.0"

Drucie: "These cookies were moist and chewy with a great flavor. I think that these are my favorite so far - even though they aren't chocolate! Rating - 5++" (I promised Drucie I'd include her ++)

Terri: "These are the best ginger snaps I've ever tasted! Just the right amount of ginger and spicy but sweet. Very moist and chewy texture. The sugar sprinkled on top is perfect. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 5.0

Next week - English Gingersnaps #2

Nutrition Facts