Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Culinary Time Travel: February 27, 1990

I don’t have a recipe to share with you today, but I’m thankful for this little blog space where I can sit and write.  I realize that I’ve enjoyed writing about food for a long time, starting with a prize-winning essay in fourth grade detailing my disastrous attempt at making breakfast for my family when I was six years old.  (It involved my cooking oatmeal to within an inch of its life, stirring the porridge so insistently that it went far past the point of creamy until it was fried beyond recognition, setting off the smoke alarm in the process!) We could write on any topic we wanted for this district-wide contest, but even as a kid whose age was still a single digit, I found myself choosing to write about food.

I was thinking about previous February 27ths today, and I was laughing to myself while remembering the dinner I’d attended on this day in 1990.  It was a memorable evening if only for the reason that I tasted all kinds of food I’d never tried before, and I felt like I had been introduced to this whole new culinary world.  I was a particularly obsessive journal-writer as a teenager so it's not surprising that I felt compelled to process the entire evening in one of my many cloth-covered notebooks as soon as I got home, scribbling late into the night.

I had been asked to perform at a LA-area fund-raising dinner for the Interlochen Arts Camp (formerly known as the Interlochen National Music Camp), the magical place where I’d spent several formative summers.  This event was held in downtown Los Angeles at the California Club, a very exclusive social club that provided my first encounter with valet parking, an old-fashioned elevator operated by a tuxedo-clad gentleman, and a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres passed on silver trays.  I was sixteen at the time and proudly wearing my favorite green-and-purple plaid Laura Ashley dress for the occasion, a detail I cannot write with a straight face now, and I was thrilled to be there.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Salt-and-Pepper Cocoa Shortbread Cookies

I’ve been very excited to share these Salt-and-Pepper Cocoa Shortbread Cookies with you. I meant to post this in time for Valentine’s Day, knowing it would be a fabulous treat to make for your loved ones. However, I was up to my eyeballs making Valentine’s truffles for all of my CocoaRoar customers, so I’m only getting around to this now. I’m sorry. But these cookies are so marvelous that I think you’ll want to make them year-round anyway.

I have a confession to make. By the time I got through making the recipe to photograph it for the blog, there almost weren’t any cookies left to show for my efforts. I don’t mean that I snarfed most of the cookies as soon as they came out of the oven. They nearly didn’t get BAKED, for the raw dough was that good.

(Another confession: this is certainly not the first time I’ve had this happen with a batch of shortbread cookie dough. I admit I have a problem.) 

Buttery with a fine sandy texture, these tender cookies melt in your mouth. Velvety cocoa makes these shortbreads dark as midnight while a generous hit of sea salt intensifies the chocolate flavor, creating the ideal juxtaposition of salty-and-sweet. And don’t be shy about adding the freshly ground pepper, for it adds a beguiling flavor note that makes your taste buds sit up and pay attention. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Savory Steel-Cut Oatmeal With Sesame and Scallions

We are definitely in oatmeal territory here in New York.  There is a serious cold snap happening yet again, making it perfect weather to be cozy inside while catching up on episodes of “Downton Abbey” and “Boardwalk Empire”.  It’s impossible for me to watch these favorite shows without craving some kind of winter comfort food to enjoy along with the new episodes, though I’m trying hard to avoid inhaling large quantities of cheesy pasta or roasted potatoes these days.  Since I don’t have the patience for a slow-simmering soup, Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Sesame and Scallions really fits the bill these days.  Healthful yet satisfying, it comes together quickly and is ready for its close-up. 

I love how oatmeal acts as a catchall for a wide variety of toppings.  My family has been known to top their breakfast oatmeal with any combination of brown sugar, bananas, berries, dried fruit, toasted nuts, protein powder, wheat germ—you name it.

For years I’d regarded oatmeal as strictly morning food, but I was happily surprised to discover that my beloved steel-cut Irish oatmeal is a versatile backdrop for savory ingredients as well.  I wrote that post about the joys of savory oatmeal more than two years ago, and since then I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve topped my nutty Irish oats with salty shards of Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of liquid gold olive oil. 

But sometimes I need to mix it up, and lately I’ve been going for a soy-and-sesame flavor profile.  The tamari soy sauce and toasted sesame oil create unexpected layers of flavor when stirred into the cooked oats, while scallions add bite and a welcome pop of color. I sometimes add a few toasted sesame seeds if I have them on hand, as I like the way they add crunch while highlighting the sesame notes of the oatmeal in a different octave.