Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

dsc05462

When I was a kid, we had a lot of American shows on TV: from “Happy Days” to “Charlie’s Angels” to “The Love Boat” and “Dynasty.”  They were all subtitled in Greek, which was actually a big help in learning English. There were a lot of things that the characters on these TV shows talked about that we didn’t really know about or were ever able to experience. One of those was the mythical “peanut butter.” It seemed to be everywhere. On sandwiches and in desserts, it sounded like the most delicious thing my sister and I could imagine. In fact, we did imagine that it probably tasted like an even better version of Nutella, which we did have available to us and which we adored. So, we always begged our dad to look for peanut butter at the store but he always came back empty handed. It simply did not exist in Cyprus.
dsc05460

Then one day, when we were teenagers, he came home with a jar of peanut butter. My dad worked at the American Embassy and somehow, he got a hold of some of this spread that seemed to be the American equivalent to the Cypriot tahini, ubiquitous and universally loved. My sister and I couldn’t hold our excitement. My mom joined us, and the four of us each held a spoon. My dad opened the jar and peeled away the plastic cover. We all took a spoonful, marveling at the thick, luscious consistency and placed the spoons in our mouths. As if in a slapstick comedy bit, we all started gagging. How could this be what Americans loved? It tasted like peanuts (go figure!) and stuck your tongue to the roof of your mouth with a faint grit and a tiny hint of sweetness that just wasn’t enough for us. We all hated it. We threw out the jar and never thought about it again.

Several years later, I moved to the U.S. and my love affair with peanut butter began. I don’t know what changed. Maybe I had better peanut butter, maybe the one we had in Cyprus was old and stale. More likely, peanut butter is one of those things that you kind of have to learn to love, like Vegemite and stinky cheese. I know that even today, with peanut butter available world wide, many non-Americans despise it.

There are many ways to enjoy peanut butter, but this recipe for peanut butter cookies is one of my favorites. Four simple ingredients (five, if you count the salt), one bowl, and 15 minutes in the oven, will reward you with the most exquisite, crispy on the outside, meltingly soft in the middle, cookies. They’re good enough to perhaps entice even the most ardent peanut butter haters.
dsc05467

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies – Very slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups (335 grams) packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (450 grams) smooth/creamy peanut butter (I use the Jif Natural kind and it’s perfect)
Coarse-grained sea salt, like Madon, to finish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the light brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then the peanut butter until smooth and completely incorporated; you shouldn’t be able to see any ribbons of peanut butter.

Preferably, chill the dough by freezing it in its bowl for 15 minutes, stirring it once (so the edges don’t freeze first), before scooping it. Scoop or spoon the dough into balls, about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. If you want them bake into a more rounded, tall shape, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Or you can bake them immediately for flatter cookies, like the ones in the photo above.

Sprinkle the dough balls lightly with coarse-grained sea salt just before baking. Bake cookies for 18 to 20 minutes. When finished, cookies should be golden at edges. They’ll need to set on the sheet for a minute or two before they can be lifted intact to a cooling sheet.

Let them cool completely before serving. Otherwise, you won’t get the nice crispy outside.

 

Pomegranate and Za’atar Braised Chicken

dsc05337

Taste, like language, is learned. We grow up eating certain foods and experiencing certain flavors. We do so during our most formative years, our childhoods, and so we connect them, strongly, with events and feelings. Our memories become multi-sensory and they are brought to the surface with a simple bite or a bare sniff.

We all have our Proustian madeleines. For me, it’s Middle-Eastern food (and I include Greek food in that category). No matter what it is and what its country of origin, Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian, it’s food that feels like home. It’s my comfort food.dsc05352

When I saw this recipe on Chocolate & Zucchini, I knew that I would love it. Combining za’atar (the spice mix found throughout the Middle East) and pomegranate molasses makes complete sense for my taste buds. And I was right. The result is succulent chicken that is deeply fragrant from the za’atar spices, with a tangy sweet sauce and caramelized onions. It warms your soul. It’s the kind of dish you serve and people immediately ask for the recipe, which is incredibly simple to make. And for some of us, it tastes like home.
dsc05340

Pomegranate and Za’atar Braised Chicken – Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari (make sure it is gluten-free as needed)
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon za’atar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1.5-2.5 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Directions:

In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except the chicken, the onion, and the garlic. Add the diced onion and stir well. Add the garlic and the chicken thighs and use your hands to mix them well with the marinade. Cover and marinate in the fridge anywhere between 30 min and 10 hours.

Preheat the oven to 175°C (325°F).

Place the chicken with its marinade in a Dutch oven or other heavy, ovenproof pot with a lid.

Place the lid on the pot, put it in the oven, and cook for 1 1/4 hours, until the thighs are cooked through.

Serve with steamed rice or couscous, spooning the sauce over the chicken and the rice/couscous.

Tangerine Sorbet

dsc05370

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” When Charles Dickens wrote those words, he could have been predicting people’s perceptions of the world today. Depending on where you get your news from, who you’re connected to on Facebook, or who you follow on Twitter, these are the best or the worst of times. There’s no middle anymore. No nuance. It’s exhausting and emotionally draining.

Personally, I’ve turned to a couple of things that calm me in times of crisis: TV and food (and Steve, so I guess three things). Watching a good show on TV turns everything else off. My brain and my heart disengage from the real world and are immersed in the fictional world on the screen. “Jane the Virgin” makes me smile. “The Walking Dead” pumps my adrenaline. “The Crown” makes me swoon.

Food works in a similar way. It gives me something to look forward to, at a time when there’s a news alert on my phone every five minutes that’s sure to make me sad or scared or angry. The smell of short ribs braising is a sign that there are still so many good things in the world. Savoring each bite of a perfectly roasted chicken helps me from dwelling on the news. And the bitter-sweet-tart taste of this tangerine sorbet reminds me that life doesn’t come in just one flavor, but that it’s always deliciously precious.
dsc05392

Tangerine Sorbet – Slightly adapted from “The Perfect Scoop” by David Lebovitz

Ingredients:

3 cups freshly squeezed tangering juice
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 tangerine for zesting
1-2 tablespoons orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier or Cointreau)

Directions:

In a small saucepan mix 1/2 cup of the juice with the sugar. Warm over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir it into the remaining juice. Zest the tangerine into the mixture and add the orange liqueur. Mix with a spoon and chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge. Freeze the chilled mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Brussel Sprouts, Apple, and Pomegranate Salad

dsc05362

I haven’t posted on the blog for a while because I was traveling. Steve and I celebrated New Year’s eve in Lisbon with out friends. We ate bacalao (salt cod) cooked with potatoes and eggs, pasteis de nata (the ubiquitous Portuguese egg tarts), and drank lots of vinho verde wine. We listened to fado music in a neighborhood restaurant, where the owners, a husband who cooked and wife who served us, both sang for us and brought us to tears with emotion.

We then went to Paris where we spent time with friends and observed the tail end of the latest Parisian food fad: hot dogs. Yes, hot dogs. Last year it was bagels, the year before it was cupcakes, and before them it was burgers. Despite the fascination with the worst of American cuisine, I’m happy to report that the food scene in Paris is thriving, with countless little restaurants offering home-cooked, delicious meals everywhere.

Before coming back to New York I went to Cyprus for a week to visit my family and a day after I arrived I was struck with a nasty case of stomach flu that pretty much destroyed my appetite, so I didn’t get to enjoy my mom’s cooking as much as I would have liked.

By the time I came back home, after being away for almost four weeks, I was craving simple and familiar food. My body demanded salads and grilled chicken. This brussel sprout salad with apples and pomegranate will soothe any travel-weary stomach. We made it for the first time last Thanksgiving and we loved it. It’s fresh and sweet-tart with a satisfying crunch. It holds well in the fridge so you can make it in advance or store left overs for next day’s meal.

dsc05364

Brussel Sprouts, Apple, and Pomegranate Salad – Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1/2 large red onion, diced small
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons ground sumac
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to season salad
2 cups shredded brussels sprouts (you can shred them with a food processor or thinly slice them with a sharp knife)
1/2 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (from about 1/2 a large one)
1/2 a large peeled apple, cored and diced
Juice of half a lemon, plus more to taste
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup toasted, cooled walnuts, lightly crushed or coarsely chopped
Aleppo pepper (or ground chipotle chile pepper, urfa biber peppers, hot smoked paprika or another chile flake) to taste

Directions:

Make the sumac-pickled onions: Combine red onion, wine vinegar, sumac and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a small bowl and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients, or ideally at least 15 minutes.

Combine all salad ingredients, including red onions and their pickling liquid, in a medium bowl and season to taste with salt and red pepper. Taste and adjust ingredients as desired.

This salad can be prepped ahead, but keep the dressing off of it until at most an hour before serving so it doesn’t discolor the sprouts.

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread

DSC04896

My love of books started at a very young age. In one of my earliest memories, I must have been three years old, my parents had friends over and they were all sitting outside our house having a drink. It must have been past my bedtime but for some reason my mom had put me in my parents’ bed and let me sit there by myself and go through a picture book somebody had given me as a gift (maybe the friends who had come over?). The memory is very fuzzy but I remember a few things: how huge the bed seemed to me, how thrilling it was to be sitting in it, the safety I felt from the voices of my parents just outside their bedroom window, and the feeling of holding the book in my hands and flipping through the pages. I couldn’t read yet but it felt so exciting to hold this object in my hand that was filled with amazing pictures (and weird symbols I couldn’t understand) that changed every time I flipped a page.DSC04884

With my mom’s help, I learned to read a year later when I was four, so that when I started first grade at five years old (we started earlier back then), I could read comfortably and by the time I was in my early teens, when my birthday came around, the gift I wished for the most from people who’d come to my birthday party were books. I read everything I could get my hands on and with no access to a library, I was desperate for new books. When I was younger, I wanted fairy tale books, but by my mid-teens I was fully into literary fiction and science fiction books, a love that endures to this day.

Today’s recipe is actually from a little kids’ book called “Cranberry Thanksgiving.” I had never read this book as a kid (given that it’s a book about Thanksgiving, it was obviously never translated in Greek) but I found out about it and this recipe that comes from it from Steve’s sister Christine. She told me she makes this cake every year and that her three boys love it. The cake is peculiar in that it’s made using a method usually used for biscuits and scones, by cutting the butter into flour. So, you can think of it as a giant, golden scone, studded with red cranberries. The result is beautiful and delicious and yet more reason to love books and what they have to offer.

This is the last post for 2016, a year few people will look back on with affection. Let’s hope that 2017 proves to be kinder to us. Happy new year to everyone and see you again in January.DSC04901

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread – Slightly adapted from Cranberry Thanksgiving

Note: The original recipe calls for equal amounts of cranberries and raisins. That’s what I used in the cake you see in the photos. However, I’ve made it with only cranberries and we prefer it that way much more. Feel free to go either way.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
1 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups light raisins (or substitute with fresh cranberries, as above)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper to help you getting the cake out.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. With a pastry blender or with your fingers, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, orange peel, and orange juice and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in cranberries and raisins (or only cranberries). The batter will be thick and there will be small pieces of butter throughout.

Spoon into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick nested in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

2016 Holiday Gift Guide

If you are like me, you start stressing about holiday gifts about a week before Thanksgiving. I frantically google “holiday gift guides” only to find a million variations of hand-made necklaces and  pendants and novelty USB memory sticks. So, I appreciate a good, hand-picked gift guide. This is mine. It’s, of course, focused on food. But everything here is pre-tested and loved by me and Steve. I hope it helps you with your holiday shopping. Enjoy!

Chinese Black Vinegar – Gold Plum Chinkiang Vinegar (Amazon $8.24)

DSC04092

This isn’t just any old vinegar. It’s made out of black rice and malt and it has a unique malted and slightly smoky taste. It’s like no other vinegar you’ve ever tasted. I love using it for marinades or to make a quick salad dressing. You can also use it to make this recipe for crispy broccoli with black vinegar. It’s sold in most grocery stores but you can also get it from Amazon.

Li Hing Mango (Amazon $24.32 for 40oz bucket)

ls-100-2

We discovered this while we were in Hawaii. It’s dried mango slices that are covered in something called li hing, which is a sweet and sour powder made up of ground plum skin that has been pickled in licorice, aspartame, food coloring, salt, and sugar. I know it sounds disgustingly artificial, but it’s incredibly addictive. We couldn’t stop eating it. The link at Amazon is for a giant bucket of 40oz that lasted us a good 8 months. They also sell it in smaller packages. Make sure you buy the brand “enjoy”. We’ve tried other brands and we weren’t crazy about them.

“My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life” by Ruth Reichl (Amazon $22.75 for hardcover version)

rr

Like many others, I was so disappointed by Ruth Reichl’s first foray into fiction with “Delicious!: A Novel.” That exclamation point alone made me cringe every time I picked it up to try and read a few more pages. In the end, I gave up on it after about a third of the way into the book. This wasn’t the Ruth I knew, the one that dazzled me with “Tender at the Bone” and “Comfort me with Apples.” But fortunately, she came back with this cookbook that details how she survived the shuttering of Gourmet…moment of silence…by cooking and eating good food. The recipes are written in conversational style and the stories are short and powerful. You’ll get to experience the grief of losing Gourmet all over again but you’ll relish the chance to cook along with Ruth and share in the joy that she brings to the kitchen.

Cuisinart 7193-20P Chef’s Classic Stainless 3-Quart Cook and Pour Saucepan with Cover (Amazon $35.28)

719320p_sd_silo

I have never understood why almost all saucepans are created with a perfectly circular top lip. Every time I’ve had to pour something out of my saucepans, whether it was soup or a sauce or a custard, I’d always end up with some of it running down the side and onto my countertop. I had to search pretty hard to find a good saucepan with a pour spout. This Cuisinart one is great. It also comes in a smaller size. I love being able to pour everything out of it without losing a drop. My only quibble is that the spout is on the left side which means that I can’t pour out using my left hand and scrape with a spatula with my right. But otherwise this is fantastic

Aroma Housewares ARC-914SBD 8-Cup Rice Cooker and Food Steamer (Amazon $31.47) and Thai Sticky Rice (Amazon $14.16)

81jpdwqdonl-_sy355_

I used to not understand why anyone would need a dedicated machine for making rice. I mean, how hard could it be? You put rice and water in a pot, cover, and cook. Done, right? Wrong! We finally gave in and bought this rice cooker and it has changed our lives. I never realized that rice could be cooked so perfectly, every time, without fail. It has a timer so I can just put the rice and water in there in the morning and have amazing rice done just as we are ready to eat in the evening. If you are getting this for someone as a gift, consider getting them a bag of Thai sticky rice along with it. Tell them that they don’t need to presoak the sticky rice, as it’s generally recommended. Just put the rice and water in the rice cooker and let it do its magic. They’ll be rewarded with that chewy, sweet delight of sticky rice that is sometimes the best thing I eat at some Thai restaurants in New York.

SodaStream Fountain Jet Sparkling Water Maker (Amazon $66.04)

71lvtx73phl-_sl1500_

I know. You, your mother, your dog walker, your tax accountant, his dog walker, your car wash guy, they all have one. But maybe there’s someone in your life who doesn’t. It does one thing and it does it simply and well: it makes fizzy water. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that quenches my thirst on a hot summer day better than a glass of ice cold sparkling water with a slice of lemon. And it’s great not to have to waste a can or a plastic bottle every time you want to add a splash of fizz to your cocktails.

Maussane Olive Oil (Zingerman’s $40)

omau

This might be the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted. There’s a whole explanation of how it’s different over at Zingerman’s, how they pick the olives late, when they’re ripe and they are left to ferment a bit, but really, all you need to know is that this olive oil tastes and smells like an all-expenses paid vacation in an old manor in the French countryside, surrounded by olive groves and sunshine. It’s smooth, herbal, not at all bitter, and makes everything you cook taste heavenly. This isn’t olive oil for cooking. It’s for drizzling over cooked food or making dressings, mayo, aioli and the like.

Sugarfina Candy Gift Boxes (Sugarfina – Prices vary)

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-5-19-49-pmOur friends Brad and Denny are amazing in so many ways, but there’s one particular way in which they shine: they give the best-ever host gifts. Every time we invite them over for dinner or a party they bring us something unique and interesting and usually mind blowingly delicious. One of those gifts was a box of candy from Sugarfina, a company that sources candy and chocolates from all over the world and packages it like jewels in a jewel box. There are champagne gummy bears from Germany, dark chocolate sea salt caramels from the US, choco crisps from Greece, and many many more. Whoever you give these to, they will praise you till the day they die.

Malted Milk Powder and Double Dutch Dark Cocoa from King Arthur Flour ($21)

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-5-29-03-pm

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know how much I love malted milk powder. It’s in many of the recipes listed in this blog, like the Banana Peanut Butter Malt Shake or the Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream. Combining it with the phenomenal cocoa sold by King Arthur Flour would make a great gift for anyone. Before you wrap those two together, print out and add the recipe for Malted Hot Chocolate Mix to the gift. It will make them happy many times during the winter months.

Amarena Toschi Black Cherries (Amazon $17.70)

71l9zszffbl-_sx522_When you ask most people about maraschino cherries, they’ll mention Luxardo. They are the standard. However, if you want amazing cherries that don’t crystalize into sugar in the refrigerator, the Amarena Toschi cherries can’t be beat. They are fantastic over chocolate ice cream (or chopped up and added to it at the last few seconds of churning) and of course they make a great little sweet ending to a fine The Sommer cocktail.

Under-the-Sea Salad

dsc05358Thanksgiving is a time that can bring out the best and the worst in people. There’s a reason why there are so many Thanksgiving movies and Thanksgiving episodes of TV shows where family dynamics explode before the turkey hits the table. It can be a pretty stressful time. Between the forced family reunions, the blaring of football on TV, the preparation of a week’s worth of food in a day, and the eating of said food in record time, things can get a little hectic.

But it’s also a time for traditions. Yes, there’s turkey and sweet potatoes and stuffing and gravy, but every home, every family adapts their Thanksgiving meal by adding foods from their national backgrounds or dishes that someone made many years before and somehow stuck or using preparations and ingredients that are more prevalent where they live. There are as many variations of Thanksgiving dishes as there are pieces to the American quilt of immigrants and their descendants.

Steve’s family has its own tradition for the Thanksgiving dinner table. It’s called under-the-sea salad. And it’s as gloriously trashy as you can get. The ingredients alone are enough to give you an idea: lime Jello, cream cheese, canned pears, and a pinch of ground cloves (which is what Steve always calls the “secret ingredient”). It’s not Thanksgiving for Steve unless the under-the-sea salad is on the table. And don’t even try to tell him that it’s dessert. No, it’s a salad, he and his family will insist.

Truth be told, it’s absolutely delicious. Is it as artificial as our new president’s hair? Absolutely. But it’s tart and sweet and cuts right through the heaviness of the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes that are piled on your plate. Do I think you’ll all run out and buy the ingredients to make it? Absolutely not. But this coming Thursday, it will be jiggling its neon green dome right in the middle of our Thanksgiving dinner table. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

DSC04418

Under-the-Sea Salad

Ingredients:

2 3oz packages of lime jello
1 8oz package of cream cheese
1 28oz can of pears in syrup (or two 14.5oz cans)
A heavy pinch of ground cloves

Directions:

In a large bowl prepare the jello per the package instructions but use 1/4 of a cup less water than the instructions call for. Set aside to let it cool a little while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Drain the pears very well and put them in a second large bowl along with the cream cheese. Using a fork or potato masher, mash the pears and cream cheese together thoroughly. Add the warm jello liquid and the cloves, stir well and pour in your favorite mould (if you don’t have a mould, you can use a metal mixing bowl). Put in the fridge and let it chill until firm.

When ready to serve, fill a very large bowl that the mould can fit in with hot tap water. Dip the bottom and sides of the mould in the hot water, careful not to get any water inside the mould, for 20-25 seconds. This will allow the salad to detach from the sides of the mould. Run the tip of a sharp knife around the top edge of the mould to help with with releasing the salad.

Place a large serving platter on top of the mould and quickly flip it to release the salad. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.