Monday, September 28, 2009

Sexy California Figs: A Recipe for Fresh Fig, Ricotta, and Honey Breakfast Crostini

fresh calimyrna figs
A ripe Calimyrna fig grown in San Diego County.

You might think that these figs are the product of a Photoshop trick I learned at the BlogHer Conference this weekend. Nope. These photos, however sexy, are all natural -- the glistening flesh you see is what makes a fresh fig so luscious (and so perishable).

A ripe fig is a sensual fruit: its soft, delicate skin often splits with ripeness, emitting a fruity perfume and sweet, honeyed nectar.

Fresh fig season is heart-breakingly short (from August through October). That's why I buy a basket or two every weekend at my farmers' market. Though delicious eaten out-of-hand, fresh figs are a lovely addition to salads, sandwiches, pastas, breads, and, of course, desserts.

fresh california figs
Brown turkey figs grown in San Diego County.

Fresh figs are not featured frequently enough in breakfast recipes, so today I'm sharing my recipe for Fresh Fig, Ricotta, and Honey Breakfast Crostini. The beauty of these breakfast crostini is that they're wonderfully easy to make, yet make breakfast seem, well, sexy. Try one on, and see what your partner thinks.

fresh fig, ricotta, and honey breakfast crostini

Fresh Fig, Ricotta, and Honey Breakfast Crostini
This isn't so much a detailed recipe as it is a guide. Adjust amounts to suit your taste.
Makes 10-12 slices
Print recipe only here.

1 large loaf crusty bread, such as French country or ciabatta (cut into 10-12 slices)
1 (8-ounce) container fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
8-12 medium fresh figs, any variety, stemmed and sliced
1/2 cup dry roasted, unsalted pistachios
the zest of 1 large lemon
1 small bottle quality honey

1. Preheat broiler. Place bread slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Broil for 3 minutes, or until lightly toasted and golden brown.

2. Spread 1-2 tablespoons ricotta cheese on a toasted bread slice. Top with 6-7 fresh fig slices, a few pistachios and some lemon zest. Drizzle with desired amount of honey. Repeat with remaining slices. Serve immediately.

You might enjoy more of my fresh fig recipes:

Dessert Risotto with Wine-Poached Figs
Fresh Fig and Fennel Pizza
Fresh Fig, Arugula, and Mascarpone Bruschetta

These fabulous fig recipes would also brighten any breakfast:
Quick Refrigerator Fig Jam recipe at A Mingling of Tastes
Ricotta Pancakes with Figs recipe at Serious Eats
Fresh Fig and Rose Smoothie recipe at Chocolate and Zucchini
Fresh Fig Muffin recipe at Lulu at Home
Fig Financiers recipe at Novice Baker
Learn more about California figs at the California Fresh Fig Growers Association

Friday, September 25, 2009

Announcing Quaker's Awaken Your Senses Oatmeal Challenge

Quaker Instant Oatmeal has partnered with Good Bite to sponsor the "Awaken Your Senses" challenge. What is that, you ask? It's a challenge that asks twelve food bloggers (including yours truly) to share their favorite food memories, which have been translated by Good Bite's Chef Dave into a new oatmeal topping.

Now we need YOUR HELP! Please go to YouTube to vote for your favorite blogger-inspired oatmeal creation and help that person win $10,000 toward a deserving charity!

My video will be up in a couple of weeks, so I'll be telling you more about it soon!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who Has Time to Do Preserving? I've Gotta Pack.

farmers' market red bell pepper
An oversized red bell pepper from the La Jolla Farmers Market.

This post was going to be about the joys of preserving late summer's produce for winter, especially red bell peppers. I had planned on extolling the virtues of making your own roasted peppers -- tastier, healthier, cheaper -- rather than buying them. That's not gonna happen.

roasted red peppers

In less than 20 hours, I'll be on a plane to San Fransisco for the BlogHer Food '09 Conference, where I'll be on the panel, The Meaning of Identity and The Value of Voice in a Crowded Food Blogging World, with Ree Drummond, Garrett McCord and Dianne Jacob. And before I leave, I have a few things to do, including:
  • Finish a chapter in my upcoming book.
  • Edit an upcoming piece for about a local farmers market.
  • Pack for the trip.
  • Freak out that I have NOTHING to wear for the trip and debate going shopping. Again.
  • Conduct an interview about how to cook tri-tip BBQ.
  • Try not to get sucked into the abyss, otherwise known as Twitter.
  • Make a batch of biscotti that I promised to a friend. What was I thinking?
  • Have a mini-meltdown that I'll never get all of these things done in time and blame it on Twitter.
  • Throw a half dozen protein bars in my carry on, so I can virtuously deny those peanut butter crackers and chocolate chip cookies the flights attendants will heave upon me.
  • Call Jeff and complain that I have NOTHING to wear this weekend.
  • Drink coffee. How else am I gonna get all this stuff done?
  • Hope that my Good Bite video for Quaker Oats is all set cause I had a good hair day when I taped it.
  • Watch the latest episode of Mad Men with Jeff tonight while sipping a gin and tonic with extra lime, because, after a day like this, I've earned it.
  • Lie in bed unable to fall asleep because I'm still fretting about having NOTHING to wear this weekend.
  • Wonder if they sell any good cocktail dresses in the San Diego airport.
Oh, and you should definitely make this soup. You'll love it.

fennel spiked red pepper soup

Fennel Spiked Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup

Makes 4 servings
Print recipe only here.

1 large yellow onion, cut into chunks
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, reserving a few for garnish
6 large roasted red bell peppers, diced
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
1 (28-oz) can diced or crushed tomatoes with juices
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
a generous sprinkling of salt
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add onions, and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until lightly browned.

2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, add coriander and fennel seeds. Toast until aromatic, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Add diced roasted peppers to the onions and stir. Add broth and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer. Add crushed red pepper flakes, toasted coriander and fennel seeds, and salt. Stir well. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Turn off heat and cool for 5-10 minutes.

4. Puree soup in two batches until smooth, and return to the pot over medium-low until thoroughly heated. Taste it; adjust seasonings accordingly. If desired, add more broth for a soupier consistency. Garnish each serving with some toasted fennel seeds and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Here's how to make roasted red peppers. Of course, for a quicker version, you can substitute jarred roasted peppers.
  1. Preheat a grill to high. Place peppers on the grill, rotating several times, until fully blackened (about 20 minutes).
  2. Place grilled peppers inside a paper bag and close the top tightly. Place the bag inside a large bowl (to catch any juices that spill out), for about 10 minutes. The steam will help the skins peel off more easily.
  3. Remove one pepper at a time. Place on a cutting board, and split open. Remove the stem and the seeds.
  4. Using a piece of paper towel, rub the skins off. If you have trouble removing them, then steam them a bit longer; otherwise, they should come off easily.
Note: If you don't have a grill, then you can roast or broil the peppers in the oven. You can even place them directly on the burner of a gas stove. Click here for more about roasting red peppers.

You might also like my:

Grilled Eggplant with Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade
Creamy Corn and Zucchini Soup
Healthy Chili
Red Lentil Mulligatawny with Apple-Celery Salsa

You might also like these red pepper soups:
Roasted Red Pepper, Lentil & Spinach Soup at Albion Cooks
Pepper Soup at eCurry
Quick and Easy Roasted Bell Pepper Soup at Farmgirl Fare

Monday, September 21, 2009

An Interview with Michelle Mitchell from Scribbit

If you don't know Michelle Mitchell of Scribbit, then do yourself a favor and start visiting her. Michelle is talented, smart, funny, and kind. Or, as Jeff likes to simply say, "She's good people."

Michelle's blog Scribbit was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 5 Motherhood Blogs. Take it from me; you don't have to be a mother or know anything about Alaska to enjoy her blog.

Michelle recently wrote an ebook entitled Blogging in Pink: A Woman's Guide. (Go over to her blog and download it!) It's an invaluable guide for both novice and advanced bloggers. She covers everything from how to be more efficient blogger to the importance of RSS feeds to how to make money from blogging. It's a must read. And to whet your appetite, here's an interview I conducted with Michelle, in which she discusses why she wrote an ebook, how to handle blogging "bumps" in the road, and her future as a writer. Did someone say memoir? Read on to find out!

Michelle and her children, Lillian, Spencer, David, and Grace, FREEZING in Alaska.

Why did you choose to write an ebook?

Mostly to see if it was possible for me to write a book. I had blogged every day for four years, but I had never written something of that length, which, quite frankly, is daunting. So I thought I'd give it a shot.

The name of your ebook is Blogging in Pink: A Woman's Guide, yet the advice you give would benefit all bloggers. Is there a reason you chose that title?

Part of the decision was marketing; it was a way set myself apart. Also, my audience is almost entirely women, and I wanted the book to appeal to them. While most of it applies to blogging in general, I included some things that are more specific to the mom blog community, such as doing product reviews.

Speaking of audience, you discuss that in detail in your ebook. How did you find out so much specific information about your audience?

Programs like Google Analytics are great. You need to type in some code first, but then it gives you information about your readers such as age, gender, location, education level. My audience, for example, is mostly educated women with children, so knowing that helps me speak more directly to them....

Do you check your stats frequently?

When I first started blogging, I used to check my stats all the time. Then I was getting too hung up on them. I'd panic over why my subscribers dropped or why a particular day had really bad traffic. I have realized that there are going to be spikes, and there are going to be dips. But almost all traffic changes have a minimal effect.... Now I like to know how long people are hanging around on my site. If they stay for more than a minute or more, then that usually means they're reading the material. And that's ultimately what I want.

Your ebook is 175 pages. How long did it take you write it?

Well, I cheated a little bit. (laughing) On Scribbit, I write about one post a month that is dedicated to blogging issues, like how to build traffic or how to find a niche. So I went through my old posts, organized them in a more coherent way, and used them as the basis of the ebook. I figured it was my material anyway, so why not use it? I'd say about 25-30 % of the book was new material. So while it still took a good amount of time, it wasn't nearly as long as it could have been.

Why did you opt for an ebook instead of publishing it the traditional way?

I probably didn't have enough confidence in myself. It was an experiment for me, really. Also blogging is a medium that is changing constantly. The information could change or become obsolete in eight months, and that might not be appealing to a publisher or editor. I know, for instance, that some of the topics I covered like Technorati have changed since I published the book in the spring. Online, what was current a year ago may not be current next year. Also I think people who are online like to read online. So I think it was a good choice for all of those reasons.

Based on your experience, would you recommend the ebook route to bloggers who are thinking about writing a book?

If you're interested in a career in writing, you should be blogging. The practice of writing every day helps you to develop your career as a writer. An ebook is an extension of that. It might be good to see if you can actually write an entire book, which is different from writing blog posts.... [As for making money] I didn't charge for my book, but I know you can. For instance, if a 1000 people pay to download your book, then that is at least some proof that you're marketable, and that could help you in the future when working with editors and publishers. I also think writing an ebook gives you credibility and helps boost your image a little bit. You might get taken more seriously as a writer. Ultimately, though, it's up to you.

You talk a lot about handling "bumps" in the road, both big and small. You have been blogging every day for four years, so clearly you have developed some strategies for navigating such "bumps." Would you share some of them with us?

First of all you have to know what your goal is with your blog. If it's to improve your writing, then you have keep at it no matter how many bumps you encounter. If your goal is to build community, you have to stick with it too. With blogging you never know what opportunities are around the corner, so you need to stick with it. If your goal is to have consistently high traffic, it can be kind of manic-depressive, since you can become overly obsessed with stats....

I got so frustrated with blogging this past year. I was losing interest in it and finding it difficult to get motivated to write. Actually since the end of March, I have been thinking about quitting. I made a promise to give myself six months and see how things went. You know, they really did get better. Some opportunities came to me, like working for the marketing network, One2One. And it has helped me to keep going....

I've also got some other projects I'm working on, so I have decided to cut back on my posting schedule for Scribbit. I might post 4 or 5 days a week instead of 7, which should help a lot and keep me motivated. Having a blog is hard work, you know? Some people say when you stop loving it, you should stop blogging. But you can't look long term, as in making a career out of blogging, and have that approach. You have gotta be able to stick with it, even when you really don't want to.... Ultimately though, the choice is really personal. As for me, I'm gonna keep doing it until I'm absolutely dead on the floor. (laughing)

The blogosphere has become so overcrowded. What tips do you have for beginner bloggers to help make themselves stand out?

Live in Alaska or someplace exotic. Maybe you have to lie about something like being a refugee from Sudan or something. (laughing) But, really, you have to set yourself apart. Have a name that's a little off or unusual. Avoid generic names. I have a terrible memory, but if the name is unique, there's a much better chance I'll remember it....

You've got to have good writing. No matter what you're blog is about, if it's not well written, people won't want to keep coming back.

Post regularly. If you have really long lapses for no particularly important reason, then it's going to be hard to build a loyal group of readers.

Give-aways are good because people like free stuff, but there are so many of them now that their power has become diluted. I started doing mine two years go, when they weren't as popular, and it really helped boost my traffic on the weekends. But today there are so many, that they don't generate as much traffic as they used to.

You have been really successful with give-aways and advertising on Scribbit. Would you give bloggers some advice about hosting give-aways and attracting quality advertisers?

I don't like when a marketer sends me an email stating that they want me to host a give-away, they don't want to pay me, and they want to offers my readers a cheap gift. At first I was afraid of offending them, but after a while, I realized my first priority is to my readers. I have learned that you have to figure out what you're worth and to not be afraid to tell that to marketers.

When I first started getting advertisers it was a lot of work, and I really didn't like it. It took me about eight months before I reached the point where I had a continuous stream of advertisers. I talk a lot about this in the book, but for me, what works best is selling ads month-to-month....

Michelle and her daughters, Lillian and Grace.

Is there anything new on the horizon for Scribbit? Or for Michelle?

Well on Scribbit, I have been running a writing contest for 2 years, and I quit doing it in July. Participation had gone down, and it's not always easy to find good judges. But I'm thinking of starting it up again in the fall. So be on the lookout for it!

I have started working for the marketing network One2One. I'm working with them to reach out to bloggers, and I'm enjoying it.

I'm also working on a book proposal for a memoir. I was contacted by an agent who liked my blog and suggested I write a book about my family and parenting in Alaska. I'm working on the opening chapter right now. It's about how my family moved here after WWII when Alaska was nothing but a muddy campground....

Do you think it's important to have an agent?

Well, I was contacted by an agent who is recruiting new artists. I don't think you need an agent up front to write a book, but I looked it this as a luck dog break, so I'm going with it....

Publishing is so competitive nowadays, and when you already have a platform and an audience from a successful blog, it makes you much less of a risk in the publisher's eyes....

[As for attracting an agent] it also helps that Alaska is a hot topic right now, in part because of Sara Palin. People are excited about Alaska and that's good for me. The book isn't a sure thing yet, but it's as good as a shot as I'm gonna get right now, and I'm going for it. It's the kind of book I've always wanted to write anyway. To write about my family history is really exciting to me. I have a very detailed history of my family, from pictures to journals and letters, so I have a lot of information to draw on.

Do you think that blogging has helped prepare you to write this book?

I think that blogging for the last four years has really taught me a lot about what good writing is. You've got to look at life as conflict, crisis, resolution. If you're gonna write a post, you've gotta draw your audience in. And conflict, whether it's some trivial little thing with my kids or something major like my grandparent's move to Alaska, will, if written correctly, draw people in. Well, that's what I'm hoping anyway. (laughing)

From L-R, Lillian, Spencer, Michelle, her husband Andrew, Grace, and David.

Here are some of my favorite Scribbit posts from the last couple of months:

Life in Alaska: What do you do when you encounter a moose?
Life and Parenting: 10 specific ways to cut your food budget and Do children need allowances?
Blogging: Things I've Learned About Blogging
Books: Books Guaranteed to Make You Think Your Life Isn't So Bad After All
Cooking: How to make won ton soup
Crafts: How to make soap crayons. (I want these!)
Michell's musings: Why she's a "ball of worry."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why You Should Never Eat Canned String Beans

farmers' market string beans

If there were a contest for worst canned vegetable, chances are good that string beans would be the winner. Or beets, which are equally repugnant.

Canning is unkind to string beans. They become disturbingly gray and mushy. You can't even chew them; they just disintegrate in your mouth. As for the flavor, it's salty at best and metallic at worst. So do yourself a favor, and don't buy canned green beans. Ever. Frozen are much better, but fresh is superior in every regard.

Fresh string beans are appealing: slender, firm, and brightly hued. Though string beans are available year-round, they're especially abundant from late spring through late fall. If available, buy Blue Lake Beans. They've become the darling of chefs (many in San Diego) who prize them for their sweeter flavor and exceptional crispness.

There is one golden rule for cooking string beans: Do not overcook them. Follow that, and you're good to go. If you're not going to eat the string beans right away, the I suggest the following: Par-boil them for 2 minutes, then plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain, pat dry, and store them in a plastic container in the fridge for up to a week.

Otherwise, you can boil, steam, saute, roast, or microwave string beans. Beans that are sauteed or roasted tend be more flavorful and maintain a satisfying firmness.

This Quick Corn and String Bean Saute honors the flavors of fresh string beans and corn on the cob. The lemon and fresh parsley add just the right amount of zest, making this a simple, refreshing side dish. Oh, and if you don't have fresh corn, canned is OK. Really.

Note: Food Blogga is not responsible for recipes made with canned string beans. If you choose to use canned string beans, then be prepared for dinner table revolts, particularly from children.

quick corn and string bean saute

Quick Corn and String Bean Saute
Makes 4-6 servings
Print recipe only here.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound string beans, ends trimmed
2 cup corn kernels, preferably fresh
zest and juice of 1 small lemon
a generous sprinkling of salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add string beans, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add corn kernels, and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until brown spots begin to appear on the vegetables. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and crushed red pepper, and stir well. Add the fresh parsley, stir, and remove from heat. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Variations: Butter can be substituted for olive oil; also basil, cilantro, or mint are delicious alternatives to parsley.

You might also like these dishes featuring string beans:

String Beans with Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Meyer Lemon

String Beans and Tofu with Thai Peanut Butter Sauce

Warm Bulgur Salad with Beets, Fennel, and Oranges

Here are a few more:
Italian String Beans with Anchovies and Bread Crumbs at Local Lemons
Sichuan String Beans at Wandering Chopsticks
Green Beans with Basil and Almonds at From Our Home to Yours

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Announcing My Second Book and Football Season

Good news, I'm writing a second book!

I can't tell you the details, but it's gonna be big. Well, little actually, but big. It'll be out November, 2010, and it may or may not mention football. OK, football will be mentioned, but I can't tell you how yet.

For now, let's focus on this football season. Yes, boys and girls, it's that time of year again. Emmitt Smith and I are ready for some football: We're getting our pork recipes goin' on offense. What's that? You don't have a game plan?

OK, I'll pull out my play book for you. Just don't share it with the Giants. I can't stand the Giants.
  • Keep it simple. It should be hearty, laid-back grub. No fuss. No frills. No sushi.
  • Include foods you can hold in your hand like sandwiches, burgers, and pizza. That leaves your other hand free to switch to other games during commercials.
  • Anything messy, cheesy, spicy, and/or fried is always welcome. Think mac n' cheese, BBQ baby back ribs, beer battered onion rings, and super nachos.
  • The more dishes that include bacon the better. Including desserts.
  • You can't go wrong with anything Mexican.
  • Hot stick-to-your-ribs dishes like chili, sloppy joes, and jumbalaya are especially good for the second half of the season, when temps dip and fans need some comfort.
  • In addition to drinking it, feel free to add beer to any dish possible.

pork tenderloin sandwich

Jeff and I are having Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches for Monday Night Football. A pork tenderloin sandwich is perfect football food: it's simple, filling, can be held in one hand, and gets along well with cold beer. If you've never had one, think of it as a chicken fried steak, but with pork, and no gravy.

We're ready for some football. Are you? What's your favorite football food?

Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches
Makes 2 sandwiches
Print recipe only here.

2 (4-6 oz) pork tenderloin cutlets
2 eggs
4 tablespoons milk
several shakes of salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cornmeal
4 tablespoons canola oil
2 hamburgers buns
2 tablespoons mayo
10-12 pickle chips
4-6 slices white onion, optional

1. Trim any fat off of the cutlets. Then using a meat mallet, pound the cutlets to 1/8-inch thickness.

2. In a small bowl whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Place flour in a shallow plate. Place cornmeal in a separate shallow plate.

3. Warm oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

4. Dip one cutlet at a time in the egg mixture, then dredge in flour. Dip in the egg again, then dredge in cornmeal, until completely coated. Place in hot oil. Fry 3-4 minutes. Flip once; fry 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.

5. Spread mayo on the insides of the hamburger buns. Place one cutlet on each bottom half of the buns. Top with half the pickle chips and onion slices, if using. Close the sandwiches, and eat 'em while they're hot.

Here are more football-friendly foods you might enjoy:

The Southwest Hamburger

Patriots' Potato Pizza Yes, those Patriots.

New England Clam Chowder

Football Photo: Benj Haisch

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hanging Out With Sam The Cooking Guy

sam the cooking guy
Sam The Cooking Guy

There is one cooking show on television that Jeff and I enjoy watching together: Just Cook This with Sam The Cooking Guy. Actually, it's the only cooking show that we enjoy watching together. Why? Because as the name implies, it's more about Sam than the food. And that's a good thing, because unlike many t.v. personalities, Sam is funny, often irreverent, and completely laid-back. He keeps cooking real. For example, he doesn't delete mistakes from the show. As he said yesterday, "Shit happens in the kitchen, and we leave that in the show. People like that." We do, Sam.

Sam The Cooking Guy tapes his show in his own kitchen (which I can tell you is gorgeous), and prepares no-fuss meals that are big on taste. When he started it in 2001, his goal was to make cooking easy and appealing for the average home cook. So he nixed the fancy kitchen equipment and esoteric ingredients and achieved his goal -- his show has won 11 Emmys. His first cookbook Just A Bunch of Recipes was published in 2008, and he has two more coming out in 2010.

sam the cooking guy making shrimp salad
Sam brandishing a huge bunch of spicy shrimp skewers.

Yesterday I met Sam at a luncheon at his house. He was a fantastic host. Despite cooking and serving the entire time, he managed to chat with guests, share amusing stories, and pose for pictures, all effortlessly.

His food was fantastic too. After serving cocktails made from a refreshing mixture of vodka, soda, lime juice, cucumber, and basil, Sam served three distinctive salads. He has teamed up with Fresh Express to promote their new salads (click here for a list of participating stores). According to the company, Fresh Express Seasonal Salads "are nurtured, tended and picked at the peak of freshness by Fresh Express farmers, then packed into eco-friendly brown bags with less plastic than the typical packaged salads." They also taste great. I know. I ate a lot of them yesterday.

First Sam served a salad that would delight any carnivore: mache lettuce was topped with succulent sliced steak, piquant goat cheese, and crunchy tortilla strips then dressed lightly with a tangy cilantro vinaigrette. For seafood lovers, Sam served spicy grilled shrimp skewers on a bed of tender lettuce leaves. He saved the best for the last. His Mediterranean spinach salad consisted of fresh spinach tossed with warm, garlicky roasted tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and a light olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.

sam the cooking guy and his assistant, Erin prepping steak salad
Sam and his assistant Erin are assembling the steak salads on his bitchin' bamboo plates.

Not only were they delicious, but they were also served on chic eco-friendly plates which Sam says, "are totally bitchin'." They are, actually. They're made from fallen bamboo leaves.

So next time you need a good meal and a good laugh, tune in to Sam's show. He's totally bitchin'.

For more information about Sam, his book, his products, and where you can view his shows, visit his website, Sam The Cooking Guy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lemonade Cookies + Monsoon = Monocookie

lemonade cookies

Want your dish to steal the show at your Labor Day cookout? Bake a batch or two of sweet-tart lemonade cookies.

If you're thinking, "Hmmm... where have I heard of lemonade cookies before?" I'll tell you: Cat Cora, the talent and adorable chef who cooks from the hip. I made Cat's lemonade cookies; unfortunately, they didn't come out as perfectly as hers. The first batch spread.

For the second batch, I employed all of my cookie baking tricks: I didn't over beat the batter; I reduced the butter, and I chilled both the baking sheets and the cookie dough before placing them in the oven. The result? The cookies S-P-R-E-A-D.

lemonade cookies spread

As I stood at the kitchen counter nibbling the crisp edges of the mono-cookie on my baking sheet, sweat beading up on my brow, it hit me, "I know what it is! It's that damn Baja hurricane pushing thick, tropical, humid air into San Diego!"

No matter the cause, I was determined. Stubborn. I would bake a successful batch of lemonade cookies. This time, I decided to go all-out. I combined Cat Cora's lemonade with Anita's delightful cookie batter and my mom's no-fail lemon icing for her lemon biscuits. I thought, "This time it's gonna work. Dammit."

When my oven timer went off, I peered in the oven with one eye. Ah, individual cookies! Victory! I don't know if it was my recipe, the increase in barometric pressure, or dumb luck, but the result was 12 distinct cookies.

Lemonade Cookies
Makes approximately 30 cookies
Print recipe only here.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 large egg
1/2 cup lemonade concentrate, thawed

Lemonade icing, optional:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemonade concentrate
a few drops of whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer cream butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg, and mix until combined. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the 1/2 cup lemonade concentrate, mixing until just combined.

3. Drop tablespoons of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet at least 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on wire racks for at least 30 minutes if frosting.

4. For the icing: Whisk the confectioners' sugar, lemon zest, and lemon concentrate in a small bowl. Add a few drops of milk and continue whisking until the icing is smooth and opaque and clings to the back of a spoon. Taste it, and adjust flavors as desired. When it's ready, pour icing through a fine mesh sieve to remove any tiny clumps of confectioners' sugar. For easy clean up, place a sheet of parchment paper under the cookie rack before frosting. Dip the top of the cookie in the icing and place on rack. Allow to dry completely before storing in an air-tight tin or plastic container. Place wax paper between layers to protect the icing.

Note: The cookies are delicious plain; however, the icing adds an extra layer of tang that'll make you pucker. My only caveat is that icing on cookies prefers chilly winter weather to hot summer weather. So if you ice them, be sure to let them dry thoroughly in an air-conditioned room.

You might also like these desserts for your Labor Day cookout:

Grilled Watermelon Slices with a Honey-Lime Syrup

Nectarine and Raspberry Crumble

"Nude" Berry Tartlets