Friday, December 18, 2009

Most special

Hello Dolly bars are the sweet, gooey pillar upon which the joyous Christmases of my youth rest. They were omnipresent: on every cookie tray, in each cousin's hand, presented in abundance on the card table my aunt would set up in front of her living room closet for the express purpose of holding Christmas cookies.

(Studly cousin Jeff on Christmas morning 1984, in front of the festive tablecloth-covered cookie card table.)

I didn't know back then that they were a relatively common bar cookie. I didn't know that anyone else had ever heard of Hello Dolly bars. I thought my extended family was really onto something...a super-secret amalgamation of graham cracker, nuts, chocolate, butterscotch, coconut and Eagle Milk.

For you see, my aunt -- the one with the cookie card table -- is named Dolly. (Actually, she is named Georgeann, but everyone throughout the history of time has only called her Dolly.) And she is an amazing cookie-baker (she made all the cookies for my wedding favors). I thought the cookies were named for her. Like, Hello, Dolly! We are here to eat your cookies!
It wasn't until, like, 2003 that I realized they were (a) common, and (b) named after Carol Channing. OK, I don't know if they were named after Carol Channing, but I know for certain that they weren't named after Georgeann Shearer.

But just because something is popular doesn't mean it's not perfect in every way. (See: Glee, Tater Tots, "Single Ladies.") I'm happy I can't imagine Christmas without a pan of Hello Dolly bars. I'm glad that I can still picture them on the card table, next to those peanut butter cookies with the Hershey's Kisses planted firmly atop them.

So though Hello Dolly bars are nothing special, they are most special to me. If someone told me that I could only have one cookie at Christmastime, I would choose the Hello Dolly bar. They're rich, and sweet, and crumbly, and more than able to support a childhood's worth of happy Christmas memories.

Even if they're not named after my aunt.



These delicious cookies are an absolute snap to make. Which is good for when you need a quick dessert (or for when you have a craving).

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 c. graham cracker crumbs (about 18 graham crackers, pulsed in the food processor)
1 c. sweetened coconut
6 oz. butterscotch chips
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. walnuts, roughly chopped
1 14-oz. can sweetened, condensed milk (I prefer Eagle Brand)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt the butter over low heat directly in a 13" x 9" metal pan. Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over the butter and mix to combine. Using your fingers, pat the graham cracker crust into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.

Sprinkle the coconut over the crust, followed by the butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and walnuts. Drizzle the sweetened, condensed milk evenly over the cookies, then bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A rich hunk of chocolate

So you know it's bad news when your dad tells you he doesn't bother going to your blog anymore.

"I keep reading about those kaiser rolls, but there's never anything new."

Well, Father, as usual you are correct. I have been noticeably low-key around these parts for the past few weeks. Maybe I should blame the turkey:

(Father, expert carver of my brined bird.)

Or the spectacular view of Manhattan from our Hoboken hotel-room perch last weekend:

(Post-dinner at Diner.)

(Pre-"breakfast" at Shake Shack.)

Or Shake Shack, which we ate twice in two days, in the car mind you because the weather was so frightful:

(Note gearshift.)

(Steaming up the car windows with our Shake Shack.)

Or the cute dog, who requires and deserves a great deal of attention:

(No caption necessary.)

Or the Christmas decorations, which, you know, should be in place before the 25th:

Or the couch, my warm and inviting nemesis:

Yes, I've been otherwise occupied. And my little bloggy space has suffered. So today I offer chocolate on a stick -- something decadent enough to take your mind off my inappropriate absence. Because if anything's a distraction, a rich hunk of chocolate is.

A rich hunk of chocolate (or 36) is also a good thing to have on hand in December, when you might need a festive treat while decorating the tree, or listening to Christmas carols, or welcoming friends and long-lost family members. These cocoa blocks are perfect for just such occasions: chunks of creamy chocolate you can swirl in a mug of hot milk to create a deeply flavorful cup of hot chocolate -- or that you can just eat straight off the stick, depending on your patience and sweet tooth. When I think of December, I think of blustery snow, cable-knit sweaters and steaming mugs of cheerful soul-sating goodness. These cocoa blocks fit right in with that image, and are particularly perfect on Christmas morning.

They're also really easy to make, so you can get right back to the couch if you want. I won't judge you.


Adapted from the King Arthur Flour catalog

I used a bit of almond extract to add a non-chocolate complimentary dimension to these treats, but they would be equally delicious with an equal amount of vanilla extract or a drop or two of peppermint oil. Or even a drop of cinnamon oil (how very Mayan). Or you can skip the extra flavoring entirely and just go for the full-on chocolate.

Also, please note that the cocoa blocks need to stand overnight to set, so plan accordingly.

One final note: unless you are going to use all 36 cocoa blocks at once, I find it easiest to cut the blocks, then wrap the whole batch together in parchment paper and a layer of plastic wrap BEFORE adding the wooden sticks. Store at room temperature and insert the sticks before serving. (It's challenging to store 36 cocoa blocks on sticks.)

1/2 c. (4 oz.) heavy cream
14-oz. can sweetened, condensed milk
3 c. (18 oz.) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 c. (4 oz.) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 t. almond extract (or flavoring of your choice; see above)
1 T. cocoa powder, for dusting
Wooden sticks

Line an 8"x 8" pan with parchment paper, allowing for an overhang of parchment on all 4 sides that you'll use to grip and remove the cocoa blocks once they're set.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the cream and condensed milk over low heat until it simmers and steams. Remove from heat and add the chocolate; allow it to melt gently.

After 10 minutes, return the chocolate mixture to low heat to melt the chocolate completely. Whisk until the chocolate is thick and shiny, which only takes a few minutes. Add the almond extract and whisk to combine.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared pan; level with an off-set spatula. Using a small sieve, sprinkle the cocoa powder over the chocolate to coat the surface. Set aside overnight, uncovered, at room temperature to set.

The next day, remove the chocolate from the pan using the excess parchment overhang. Heat a knife by running it under hot water. Dry the knife and cut the chocolate into 1 1/4"-inch squares, cleaning and reheating the knife occasionally to ensure even cuts.

Place a wooden stick into the center of each block, taking care not to stick it all the way through.

Eat straight off the block, or stir into a cup of hot milk. Repeat.

(Husband = cocoa block beneficiary.)

Makes 36 blocks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice 16/43: kaiser rolls

I feel like I'm becoming a broken record on this Bread Baker's Apprentice business:

"I do not wish to overstate it, but really, this is (so far) my favorite recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, hands down."

"And? This focaccia is good. Damn good."

"However, were I not about to fly about as far as one can fly without starting back the other way, I'll tell you what I'd be doing: I'd be baking more English muffins. Because Reinhart's recipe is e-asy. Easy! And the resulting muffins -- especially if fork-split, toasted and slathered with a teaspoon of homemade blueberry jam -- are so much more delicious than anything anyone named Thomas ever baked."

"But as it is, Reinhart's cinnamon buns are so amazing I don't know if I'll ever have a need to go back. You live, you learn. You bake a better cinnamon bun."

"Trust Peter on this one: a long cold fermentation engenders amazing bagels, bagels that are good enough to turn a person with tepid feelings about bagels into a person who has to eat the entire batch, like, now."

It makes one wonder if I possess the ability to be critical.

To be fair, I wasn't a huge fan of Reinhart's French bread, strawberry-walnut celebration bread or corn bread. I mean, they weren't terrible, but they weren't favorites either. Chalk it up to Reinhart's overall brilliance, however, that I am only lukewarm on three of the 16 breads I've baked so far. I'd say that's a winning percentage.

Thus it logically follows that I found today's bread -- kaiser rolls -- to be absolutely amazing. You can quote me on that.

Reinhart's kaiser rolls are easy to make and they bake into large, well-risen rolls that are tender and airy on the inside, crusty and textural on the outside. They look really, really pretty and they taste even better. The only complaint I can possibly muster is that the recipe only makes six rolls. Six rolls! Six rolls disappear in no time. A word to the wise: make two batches. Or four. Or six, like I did.

I used my kaiser rolls as the foundation for savory, salty fried egg sandwiches. I also used them for hot turkey sandwiches, which I slathered with homemade thousand island dressing studded with my homegrown and canned dilly beans. Those two lunches were two of the best lunches I've had since Mom and I ate fish and chips at Fort Denison and enjoyed pies from Harry's Cafe de Wheels in Woolloomooloo. Which is saying a lot.

Meanwhile, what does it say about me that far more often than not I'm hesitant to move to the next Reinhart recipe, preferring instead to stay where I am, baking the current bread over and over again? Maybe it says that I am a whore for yeast, especially tried-and-true yeast. Maybe it says that I am easily pleased (though ask Husband, and you might get a different answer to that question). But then again maybe it says that I know a good thing when it comes along (again, see: Husband).


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not post Reinhart's recipes. But you all have the book by now already, so no biggie. Turn to page 175 to start making kaiser rolls over and over and over again.

PS. I'm submitting these kaiser rolls to Yeastspotting, because I'm so proud of their deliciousness that I wish to share them with the whole yeast-loving world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Labor under no illusion

I know the turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving day meal. And I like turkey, especially when it's brined and golden brown and juicy. Don't get me wrong.

But I labor under no illusion that Thanksgiving is about anything more than mashed potatoes. Oh sure, the holiday is about giving thanks, being grateful for what we have, breaking bread with loved ones. But it is mostly about potatoes. Pounds of them. Mashed with full-fat dairy.

And so. In the spirit of the Mashed Potato Club -- one of my favorite restaurants (now closed) that we used to frequent when I lived in Chicago -- this year I sought something interesting and maybe unexpected to add to my potatoes. The Mashed Potato Club was fabulous for its flamboyantly gay waiters and its hi-hat bass-thumping dance music atmosphere. It was also fabulous for its menu: rich mashed potatoes topped with any combination of nearly limitless toppings. I used to order mine with tomato, chiffonade of basil, grilled portobello mushrooms and mozzarella cheese. Which I washed down with several (many) cosmopolitans. It was a scene.

Though my kitchen does not resemble a gay bar-slash-mashed potato restaurant, I can keep the decadent memory of the Mashed Potato Club alive nevertheless. All I have to do is whip up a batch of these caramelized onion, shallot and brie mashed potatoes. While listening to Rent. If I had a disco ball, a mural of a naked gent and a mesh-clad Boystown resident to serve me drinks, I'd be in business.

But I digress. I'm guessing the majority of you out there can eat a plate of mashed potatoes without thinking of the soundtrack to Evita. Most of you quite reasonably associate mashed potatoes with Thanksgiving or with a rustic home-cooked dinner. And that's wonderful, too, as these potatoes will add an unexpected flair to the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Your guests are most likely expecting potatoes. They might not be expecting a mash laced with deeply caramelized onions and the mild, smooth flavor of brie.

Go ahead: mix it up. Even though Thanksgiving dinner truly is all about the potatoes, there's nothing that says they have to be plain.



2 1/2 lbs. potatoes (whatever variety you like), peeled and cut into large cubes
2 T. olive oil
1/2 large white onion, thinly sliced
1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 c. skim milk
1/4 c. sour cream
8 oz. brie, rind removed, cubed
Freshly-cracked pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a large pot of cold water, then place over medium-high heat. Cook the potatoes until they are fork-tender, which takes 10-15 minutes after the water comes to a boil.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the olive oil in a large skillet (I prefer cast iron) over medium heat. Add the onion and shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to take on color. About 15 minutes into the cooking, add the 1/4 t. salt to the onion mixture. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are deeply caramelized but not burnt. (Turn down the heat if they begin to burn.)

Remove the onions from the heat and allow them to cool slightly. Place the onions in a food processor and pulse until they form a very smooth paste. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter and skim milk and warm, over low heat, until the butter melts.

When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them and return them to the cooking pot. Mash them using a ricer (my favorite method) or an old-fashioned potato masher. Add the butter mixture to the mashed potatoes and stir to combine. Add the brie and stir to combine. Add the sour cream and the pureed caramelized onions, stirring to combine. Season to taste with additional kosher salt and black pepper; serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings. Or, like, 3 servings, if you're wearing your traditional Thanksgiving spreadin'-out clothes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calorically Acceptable Thanksgiving Side Dish

It is November 10.

Somehow the calendar has advanced itself very close to Thanksgiving and nearly to the end of the year. Though it seems like the beginning of May was just a few weeks ago, alas, here we find ourselves...older, (perhaps) wiser, knocking on the holiday season's door once again. Where does the time go?

Well I for one know that I've spent the majority of this year baking bread. You'd be surprised at how quickly time flies while you're waiting for yeast to do its thing. But beyond that and a massive trip to Australia, I don't have much to show for 2009 -- except my home and my wonderful husband and my sweet dog. And now that I've written that down, it appears that I have an awful lot to show for 2009. An awful lot that counts. Here's hoping for a multitude of blessings in your life as well, dear reader.

And speaking of giving thanks, now's also the time to start talking about Thanksgiving dinner. It's time to order the turkey, to plan, to cook, to locate your spreadin'-out clothes in the back of the closet, to salivate in an inappropriate fashion. To help you plan for the big day, I've put together a collection of Stove With A House recipes that will fit in nicely on your Thanksgiving table -- whether you're hosting an army or need a dish to take to someone else's feast. Just click on the "Tasty Thanksgiving Recipes" link over there on the right and have a look. Happy cooking!

To kick off the season today, I'd like to share a recipe for twice-baked cauliflower that I dreamed up on my birthday. Husband took me to Downtown 140 for an amazing and absolutely filling multi-course extravaganza. There was an elaborate cheese course, and chicken curry spring rolls with a perfect cilantro sauce, and grilled heads of romaine with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a rare steak for Husband, and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. Then there was my delectable entree: almond-crusted scallops with pomegranate served atop cauliflower mash. It was divine, and it got me thinking that I do not eat enough cauliflower.

I should be making more cauliflower mash at home, I thought while savoring my deeply caramelized scallops, especially since it is much healthier than mashed potatoes yet strikingly similar in taste and texture. But a few days later, after sending Husband to the store to pick up a head of cauliflower, I determined that I wanted something a little more exciting than a simple puree -- especially if I was to serve it during the holidays. I wanted to add just enough dairy goodness to elevate the humble cauliflower from Healthy Vegetable to Calorically Acceptable Thanksgiving Side Dish. You are planning on exercising that Thursday morning, right?

So I roasted the florets until they were brown and crispy, pureed them with butter and cream, then baked them again with panko and Manchego and a pinch of cayenne. Though Husband and I enjoyed the twice-baked cauliflower with coriander-dusted chicken paillards and a bit of sauteed spinach, it will also pair perfectly with a Thanksgiving turkey. And it will fit right in alongside the rest of the Thanksgiving side dishes, all gooey and crispy and browned in a casserole dish.

All gooey and crispy and browned in a casserole dish. I knew there was a reason I love Fall.



I like to make this dish in individual oven-proof dishes, but you can, of course, bake the whole thing in a large casserole and spoon out individual servings. I just like my tiny yellow Pyrex baking dishes and use them whenever possible.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
3 T. olive oil
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. sea salt
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/2 c. heavy cream
4 T. unsalted butter
Pinch cayenne
1/2 c. panko
4 oz. Manchego cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the cauliflower, olive oil, black pepper, sea salt and thyme in a baking dish and toss to combine. Roast until the florets are tender and brown and crispy on the edges, about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly; leave the oven on.

While the cauliflower is cooling, heat the heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat.

Place the cauliflower and the cream-butter mixture in a Cuisinart
. Add the cayenne and process until the mixture comes together and the cauliflower is chopped into tiny pieces -- it shouldn't be completely smooth; I like a little bit of texture.

Divide the cauliflower mixture into 4 single-serve oven-proof dishes.

Top each dish with 1/8 c. of the panko and 1 oz. of the Manchego cheese. (Alternatively, if you aren't using individual baking dishes, add the entire cauliflower mixture to one large baking dish and top with the entirety of the panko and Manchego.)

Bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and enticing.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Not just on the last day of October

Halloween is over. My nephews -- one a ninja, one a wizard -- have multiple cavities. I've hung up my Sue Sylvester costume, tucking the whistle and stopwatch into a drawer. I've consumed every tiny Snickers in a tri-county area. (Aside: Why do they call the tiny Snickers "fun size"? It is less fun to have a small Snickers. From now on, I shall refer to them as "penalty size.") The battery-operated purple skull lights are now 75% off at Target. Tricks, treats: your time has gone.

Except. I made some candies on Sunday, the day after Halloween. I wanted to make them for Halloween, but didn't quite get around to it. Then I decided: candy is good each day of the year, not just on the last day of October. So I made them anyway and would like to share them with you today, even though you're probably now plotting and planning for Thanksgiving dinner as thoughts of jack o'lanterns and ghosts recede like the waning hours of sunlight.

These candies are sophisticated and grown-up; a peanut butter cup for the big kids. They look a little strange, and sound a little bit like they wouldn't be any good. But they are amazing.

The dark filling is comprised of toasted black sesame seeds, regular sesame seeds, caraway, rosemary, honey and powdered sugar. I experimented with the recipe a bit -- which originally called for dark chocolate to enrobe the filling -- discovering that milk chocolate complements the complex flavors of the subtle, vaguely Middle Eastern filling much better. The dark chocolate fights it too much; milk chocolate covers the filling with a sweetness that recedes on the tongue, allowing the eater to focus on the surprising flavors inside. And if there's anything I need from a candy, it's focus.

I was expecting to have these candies on hand for awhile, as the recipe makes 24 and they keep for several weeks. But then yesterday Sister and Nephews and Mom stopped by. More than half the dish was empty by the time they were done with them, my four-year-old nephew embracing the more sophisticated flavors like a little gourmand. "I like it, Aunt Dianne. I want another one." My seven-year-old nephew wasn't quite as into it: "No offense, but I don't like it. It's my taste buds." Never let it be said those boys can't honestly articulate their thoughts.

Even though they're incredibly rich, I'm finding myself reaching for these professional-looking candies more often than I'm reaching for the leftover penalty-size Snickers. I like that they're a little strange and dark, a little like a hallowed eve. But as I've already stated, I'd be just as happy to get one of these sweets in my Christmas stocking. Or in my Easter basket. Or on Tu B'Shevat.

Homemade candy knows no season.


Adapted from Karen Solomon, The San Francisco Chronicle

I found that the best way to get a really smooth and professional look for these candies was to use a squeeze bottle to dispense the chocolate.

About the black sesame seeds: If you can't find them, you can substitute regular sesame seeds. But the resulting candies won't be as dark and cool-looking. You can also use any mix of black and regular sesame seeds, as long as it adds up to the full 1 1/3 cup measure. There's a specialty spice shop in my town that carries the black sesame seeds and I was able to buy about a cup's worth for a little less than $5.

1 c. black sesame seeds
1/3 c. sesame seeds
4 t. honey
2 T. canola oil
3 T. powdered sugar
1 t. dried rosemary (or 1 1/2 t. fresh rosemary, finely chopped)
1/2 t. caraway seeds
1/2 t. kosher salt
26 1/2 oz. milk chocolate (I used 6 of Hershey's 4.4-oz. milk chocolate bars)

In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat when the seeds start to pop; take care not to burn the sesame seeds. Allow the seeds to cool to room temperature.

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the toasted sesame seeds, honey, canola oil, powdered sugar, rosemary, caraway seeds and salt. Blend until extremely smooth, 5-8 minutes, frequently stopping to scrape down the inside of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The filling will come together into a black paste.

Place mini cupcake liners into the wells of a muffin tin.

Take about 1 teaspoon of the sesame filling and roll it into a ball between your palms, then flatten it into a disc that will fit into the bottoms of the paper liners without touching the sides. Set the discs on a cookie sheet while you roll and shape the rest of the filling.

Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a simmering pot of water. Allow the chocolate to melt, stirring occasionally, until it is smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before transferring into a squeeze bottle.

Squeeze enough chocolate to coat the bottoms of the paper liners, tapping the pan gently to smooth out the chocolate. Then squeeze a "border" of chocolate around the perimeter of the bottom of the liners.

Nestle one piece of filling into each liner.

Pipe chocolate around the sides and top of the filling. Lightly tap the pan to smooth out the chocolate; pipe in a little more chocolate to level out the candies, if necessary.

Allow to set at room temperature until the chocolate is completely firm, 12-16 hours. Do not refrigerate or freeze. Your patience will be rewarded.

Makes 24 candies that can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. If they last that long!