Sunday, October 24, 2010

What I have today

Sometimes I have a dynamite recipe that I want to share, but nothing earth-shattering to say about it. No nostalgic recounting of an event in the kitchen of my youth; no profound connection between the recipe and recent goings-on in my life. No convenient seasonal connection or association with far-flung lands. Just a delicious recipe.

This is one of those times. What I have today is just a recipe. A simple recipe for cookies. Cookies that are crumbly and velvety and melty, but that have nothing groundbreaking to say and harbor no clever metaphor or life lesson. What they lack in inspiring gravitas, however, they make up for in butter and toasty, crispy, teased-with-a-pleasing-hint-of-bitterness walnuts.

These cookies are technically called cream cheese-walnut cookies, but I prefer to call them walnut shortbread. They are shortbready in that awesome shattering-with-butter way that brings a tear of joy to my eye as only shortbread can. The toasted walnuts emerge from the buttery crumb, wedged perfectly in the cookie, asserting their own nutty selves. It is a match made in heaven: butter fat with walnut oil. I'm kind of drooling a little right now as I write this.

Thankfully this recipe makes two logs of dough -- one you can bake right away and share with family and friends. You can even take some of them to your dog's vet's office, as I did, because vets deserve treats for safeguarding our best friends. You can then freeze the second dough log and save it for a rainy day: tuck it under your arm and take it over to a friend's house for fresh-baked cookies when they're least expected; or wait until you have to write about them, start to drool, then realize you still have the second log in the freezer, just waiting to be sliced and baked.

Some for now, some for later. Not necessarily profound, but always delicious.


Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t. kosher salt
1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/4 c. sugar
2 T. plus 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. walnut halves (1 1/2 c. toasted and chopped, 1 c. finely chopped)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat; set aside.

Place 1 1/2 c. of chopped walnuts on a third baking sheet and toast until brown and aromatic, 6-8 minutes. Remove the walnuts from the oven and set aside.

Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

Place butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in the sugar and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined; do not over-mix. Add the toasted walnuts and mix until just combined.

Transfer dough to a clean work surface and divide in half. Shape each piece into a 8 1/2-inch-long log, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in parchment paper and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. (If you are going to freeze one of the logs for baking at a later date, wrap it in the parchment followed by two layers of plastic wrap.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove one log from the freezer and roll in the remaining 1 c. finely chopped walnuts, coating completely. Cut the log into 1/4-inch rounds. Transfer the rounds to the prepared parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until the cookies are just golden around the edges, 18-20 minutes. Do not over-bake! Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely. Repeat the process with the remaining dough on cooled baking sheets (or freeze the remaining dough until later).

Consume, preferably all in one sitting. Forget what I said earlier about sharing them with your dog's vet.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: French bread
Two years ago: sibling rivalry chicken noodle soup

Saturday, October 2, 2010

In the middle of the night

There is something really, really awesome about the Australian Football League. The rules are nearly impossible to grasp, especially to a foreigner like me. (It's not as incomprehensible as cricket, but it's close.) The players tackle each other with abandon, yet nobody wears helmets or pads. The field is elliptical, and there is something called a "behind" which is worth fewer points than a goal. To figure the final score, one has to do math. ("As an example of a score report, consider a match between St Kilda Football Club and the Sydney Swans. St Kilda's score of 15 goals and 11 behinds equates to 101 points. Sydney's score of eight goals and ten behinds equates to a 58 point tally. St Kilda wins the match by a margin of 43 points. Such a result would be written as 'St Kilda 15.11 (101) defeated Sydney Swans 8.10 (58)' and said 'St Kilda fifteen eleven, one hundred and one defeated Sydney Swans eight ten, fifty-eight.'" Solve for x to determine how many behinds your team scored.) The players wear tall socks, often striped. Their supporters sit in the stands wearing fashionable scarves in team colors. And the most crazy business of all? If the teams tie -- even in the Grand Final -- they play a rematch a week later.

So last week, my dear friend Nate's beloved St. Kilda Saints played their hearts out in the Grand Final, only their seventh appearance in the final in their 113-year history. They've only won once, in 1966 (reminds me of a certain Cleveland baseball franchise). And true to the madness of AFL, last week the Saints came from behind, scoring enough behinds, to force a tie against the hated Collingwood Magpies. (The last time there was a tie was in 1977.) It was a freaking awesome game, with a shocking result that left the 100,016 people in the Melbourne Cricket Ground totally silent. And Husband and I were sitting here in Ohio, in the middle of the night, watching the game live and eating homemade meat pies.

Because when you're watching a quintessentially Australian sport, you want to be eating a quintessentially Australian snack. (And drinking a quintessentially Australian beer.) Though my homemade pies were not exactly the same as, say, a Harry's pie, they were a perfectly serviceable and totally delicious approximation. And if you don't mind rolling out shortcrust pastry at midnight, you can even make them to enjoy during the few live footy matches that ESPN airs in this country. The best part of all: the recipe makes eight pies, so you just might have a few left over that you can stash in the freezer, unbaked, to whip out the next week in the event of a Grand Final rematch.

Go Saints!


Adapted from Delicious. magazine; shortcrust pastry from The Cook's Companion, by Stephanie Alexander

I made half of these pies with ground beef and beef stock, and half with ground turkey and chicken stock. And, OK, so I've never seen a turkey pie in Australia. But I don't eat beef (for the most part), and I did a little substituting. Please don't revoke my imaginary Australian passport.

Note: apologies for the strange measurements. I had to convert from metric.

One more note: you'll need 8 disposable pot pie tins for this recipe. I find mine in the baking aisle of the supermarket.

For the shortcrust pastry:

16 1/2 oz. all-purpose flour
Big pinch of kosher salt
12 1/2 oz. unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 c. water

Sift the flour and salt directly onto a work surface. Using a box grater, grate the chilled butter into the flour mixture (or you can chop the butter into small pieces and add it to the flour mixture, but honestly, it's randomly fun to grate butter). Toss the butter pieces lightly in the flour, lightly rubbing to combine partly.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the water. Using a pastry scraper, work the water into the flour until you have a very rough heap of buttery lumps of dough. Using the heel of your hand, smear the pastry away from you across the workbench; this will slowly bring the dough together. (It does work; be patient.) Don't knead the dough, you want to just bring it together. Kneading it will develop the gluten too much and create a tough -- instead of tender and flaky -- pastry.

Divide the dough in half and form each half into a flat disc. Dust the discs with a little flour and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 20-30 minutes, or until ready to use.

For the meat pies:

1 T. vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. beef stock
1/4 c. tomato puree
2 1/2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. soy sauce
1/2 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. dried oregano
4 sheets store-bought puff pastry
1 batch shortcrust pastry (recipe above)
1 egg, beaten
Ketchup (optional), to serve
Your favorite mashed potatoes (optional), to serve

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and beef and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes until the meat has completely browned. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add the stock and stir to deglaze the pan. Add the tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and dried herbs. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often to break up any large lumps of meat. (If the pan gets too dry, feel free to add a little more stock.) Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using the circumference of the pot pie tins as a guide, cut 8 rounds of the puff pastry dough. Set aside.
Roll out the shortcrust pastry to about 1/4-inch thick, flouring the work surface and the rolling pin as needed to prevent sticking. Turn over one of the pot pie tins onto the dough and cut about 1 inch beyond the tin's circumference with a knife. Place the shortcrust pastry round into the pot pie tin, then repeat with the remaining 8 pies. (You might have to re-roll the pastry scraps; this is fine but try to be as gentle as possible with the dough to avoid over-working it.)

Add the meat to the pies, filling them to the top.

Top the pies with the reserved puff pastry rounds, pinching round the edge to seal as best as possible. Brush the pies with the beaten egg then, using a paring knife, cut a small slit in the top of each pie to allow it to vent in the oven.

Place the pies on baking sheets and bake for 25 minutes until golden.

Serve with a few scoops of mashed potatoes and a little ketchup on top. Then, watch the footy.

Makes 8 pies.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: oregano baked chicken dinner
Two years ago: zatar crackers with ful medames