Caroline Cooks

A modest documentation of my culinary exploits.

Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Monday, February 27, 2006

February in Review

In my shopping cart this week: sparkling water, strawberries, baby spinach, baby bella mushrooms, small carton of milk (for crepes), oranges, chevre, lemons, LaBrea baguette, butter, and an artichoke. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Oatmeal Cookies from Orangette

I have a secret fondness for oatmeal cookies. They're like that simple, loutish guy who is utterly unrefined and devoid of aesthetic sensibilities, yet all the more endearing for it. Certainly, it could be worse-- I'd rather be caught red-handed with a homemade oatmeal cookie than with an Oreo-- but oatmeal cookies are neither dainty nor sexy enough that I'd feel comfortable serving them to general company. Still, there's something pleasantly quaint about a stack of clunky, hearty oatmeal cookies, and I often find myself covertly making my own personal batches.

For years I relied upon my own recipe, which produced the finest oatmeal cookies I had then experienced. But this time, I decided to see what my fellow food bloggers had to offer. Unable to resist Orangette's stunning photography, I decided to give her oatmeal cookies a go.

...And I reluctantly admit that I have been bested in the realm of oatmeal cookie-baking. I'm not sure what she does differently-- I'll have to compare recipes, because they're very similar-- but something about these cookies makes them subtly superior to mine. I suspect it's the use of melted, rather than softened, butter, which melds more evenly with the brown sugar to yield a melt-in-your-mouth consistency and flavor.

To Orangette's recipe I made three modifications, one of which was unintentional and two that were not. Instead of adding chocolate chips, I used a combination of pecans, walnuts, and dried cranberries. While I normally hold no reservations about adding chocolate to something, I think nuts and berries offer better companionship to the grainy oats. Plus, it makes me feel like less of a weirdo when I'm eating the cookies for breakfast at 7 am.

I also baked the cookies for a scant 15 minutes-- Orangette bakes hers for more than 20-- because I like the moist and chewy texture that results from underbaked cookie dough.

The unintentional modification was the use of 3 cups of oats instead of 1.5; perhaps having The Hours on in the background while I'm supposed to be measuring things isn't a good idea. Surprisingly, the accidental oat quantity seemed perfect, and I would be reluctant to make the cookies without doubling the oats again.

The original recipe can be found here. I'm posting it again, just in case.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs best-quality vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 ½ cups best-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips (or nuts, craisins, whatever)
3 cups quick-cook oats, or rolled oats zizzed in a food processor for a few seconds

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease cookie sheets with cooking spray or line them with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter and brown and granulated sugars until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk, mixing until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients, working until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and oats by hand, using a wooden spoon. Chill dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to one hour. Use a table knife to scoop and press dough into ¼-cup measuring scoops, and plunk the mounds onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be three inches apart.

3. Bake cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cook completely. Eat.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Gâteau de Mamy à la Poire from Chocolate and Zucchini

Having long admired the photography and writing of more seasoned food bloggers, I decided I should give some of their recipes a whirl.

This lovely apple cake comes from Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini. It's one of her early entries-- the measurements are all in metric-- and incorporates all the qualities I love in a cake: it is buttery, dense, not overly sweet, and the recipe is passed down from a grandmother on a scrap of paper. And it's very French.

While the cake has a simple, rustic charm, the technique for creating it is somewhat unconventional. A round cake pan is almost entirely filled with layers of unadultered apple slices. Then a dough-- not a batter, but a dough-- is poured over them.

I stuck the pan in the oven, apprehensive about how it was all going to come together. In every other apple-based dessert I've made, the fruit is tossed in melted butter, or sugar, or lemon juice. Or it is thoroughly integrated into a batter. As it was, the dough was only touching the topmost layer of apple slices, and I envisioned the raw apples at the bottom burning and sticking to the pan. At the very least, I couldn't see them becomming soft enough to form a cohesive cake. But when a recipe's been passed down through multiple generations and shared with the world, you have to assume it will work out.

I opened the oven 30 minutes later to find a dark, crusty surface resembling bread. Worried that it was drying out, I pulled the cake from the oven even though 10 minutes of baking time remained. After letting the cake settle and cool for a few minutes, I inverted it onto a plate and was pleasantly surprised to find the bottommost apple slices lush and tender. A few clung to the pan but were scraped off effortlessly. And the rest of the cake did not look dried out as I had feared (though my panic may have left it slightly underdone). I inverted the cake once again so the apples were repositioned on the bottom. Indeed, the firm top seemed to act as an insulator for the rich interior. I promptly cut myself a slice.

The surface that had appeared dry was actually quite chewy and sweet; it was as if all the sugar had floated to the top and caramelized there. My fork broke through to a thick cakey inside, redolent of the vanilla I added (not in the original recipe). It continued though, encountering more and more apple as it made its way down. The apples were quite tender but not at all mushy. After finishing a slice it was hard to resist a second.

The original recipe can be found here. Below is the version with my conversions, the addition of vanilla, and the shorter baking time.

1/2 cup butter, melted
3 apples, peeled and sliced
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400. Arrange the apple slices in a buttered 8-inch round pan.

Mix the sugar with the eggs. Add the flour and baking powder. Stir in the vanilla.

Pour the dough over the apples and bake 30-40 minutes.

Let the cake settle a few minutes, then invert onto a plate. Scrape off the apple slice the stick to the pan and rearrange them on the cake. Using another plate, invert the cake again so the apples are on the bottom.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Pink Svetlana

A dear friend recently got me hooked on Ketel One and soda. Previously, vodka tonics had been my drink of choice, but the Ketel One and soda is much smoother. If mixed properly, it's just like drinking water, aside from the pleasant aftereffects. The best part about Ketel One and soda is that it's the lightest drink you can have, with only 70 calories per glass. Cheers to that.

My cousin christened it the Svetlana, after the skinny Russian model. Even though Ketel One is Danish, the name is fitting, don't you think?

For Valentine's Day I had some friends over for cakes and a variation on the traditional Svetlana. In honor of the holiday I added a few drops of rosewater, a maraschino cherry, and a swirl of maraschino juice to each glass. The result was a pretty pink Svetlana with a delicate cherry-rose flavor and perhaps 10 additional calories.

2 oz Ketel One
1 oz rosewater
Soda water
1 Maraschino cherry and its juice

Mix vodka and rosewater into an appropriate glass. Fill with soda water, stir, and add a cherry to the bottom of the glass. Finish by swirling in a few drops of the cherry juice.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Curried Carrot Soup

With the mild weather we'd been having until recently, I hadn't been making many soups. The recent snowfall and bitterly cold temperatures changed that. When the slush seeps into your boots and an icy wind cuts straight through that thick wool coat, no food is more appropriate than a spicy, filling soup.

The glorious thing about this soup is its simplicity. Buy yourself a bag of carrots and a can of broth, and you're set. The carrots lend themselves nicely to Indian spices, but would be just a tasty with East Asian or European flavorings. Don't be afraid to change the spices to whatever you're in the mood for or have on hand. But do add some seasoning, or else it will remind you too much of baby food.

Warning! After making this, my food processor was left with a yellow tinge from the turmeric. It will probably fade away with future washings, but if you don't want this happening to your food processor or blender, mix in the tumeric just before serving.

1 lb carrots, washed and sliced
olive oil or ghee
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp ginger
1 14 oz can vegetable broth
salt and freshly ground pepper

cream or milk
fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped

In a saucepan, saute the carrots with the oil and spices until the carrots are evenly coated. Pour in the broth and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the saucepan to a food processor or blender and puree until it's the consistency you want. You will probably need to add more liquid-- I used water and some heavy cream I had on hand, but you could also use milk or additional broth. I think coconut milk would be especially good here.

This soup is nice served with a swirl or dollop of plain yogurt, and I garnished it with some fresh parsley I happened to have. If you are one of those people who has to have bread with your soup, I'd suggest warmed naan or a toasted pita.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I like the idea of savory tarts. Regrettably, they often lose their appeal due to the presence of heavy ingredients such as cream, eggs, and cheese (quiche is a classic example of this). There is a good reason why these components are so frequently found in savory tarts, of course; they bind well to each other and to loose ingredients such as vegetables, providing a coherent filling that will neither saturate the crust nor ooze or tumble out of it.

However, that doesn't mean an all-vegetable tart filling can't be done. In this recipe onions, tomato, and black olives cling to each other in a mixture having a consistency not unlike a that of a fruit pie filling. Indeed, the secret is the same: a teaspoon of white sugar added to the simmering stage and followed by a reduction of liquid. The result is exactly what I would want a savory tart to be, a pile of slightly sweet vegetables on a wisp of buttery crust.

A true pissaladiere contains anchovies-- its name comes from "pissalat", a spiced anchovy puree which is traditionally spread on the tart before baking. However, the name can be used as a rough designation for any Mediterranean-style onion tart. Do not neglect to add the capers; they make it special.

(for the pastry)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
a pinch of salt

(for the filling)
2 yellow or vidalia onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
3 tbsp olive oil
grated nutmeg, to taste
1 14 oz can of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
dried thyme, to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
2 tbsp capers
fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Rub the flour with the butter until it forms fine crumbs, then mix in the herbs and salt. Add just enough water so it forms a firm dough. Roll out the crust and use it to line a tart or pie pan. Bake blind for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and parchment paper and bake another 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently fry the onions and garlic in the oil for about 10 minutes until very soft. Sprinkle in the nutmeg and mix well. Add the tomatoes, sugar, thyme, salt, and pepper and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the mixture is reduced and slightly syrupy.

Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool. Stir in the olives, capers, and some of the fresh parsley. Spoon the mixture into the pie crust and sprinkle with the rest of the chopped parsley.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Roasted leeks with apple

My nonna makes pizzelles the true Italian way, with strong anise oil. As a result, her house is permanently scented with a lingering anise aroma. I'm always eager to cook with anise because the smell recreates the warm, familiar atmosphere of Nonna's house in my tiny apartment 160 miles away.

While I was looking up ideas for leeks a couple days ago, I came across a recipe from The Philosopher's Kitchen that involves roasting leeks and apple with honey and anise seed. It sounded like a divine combination, if not for the taste than at least for the scent of the oniony leeks mellowed out by the sweet honey and punctuated by the sweet yet pungent anise seed. Of course, I added extra anise seeds just for good measure.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white wine
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp anise seeds
3 large leeks
1 crisp apple, cored & sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Whisk together the oil, wine, marjoram, and anise seeds in a medium baking pan until combined. Quarter the leeks and slice into 2-inch pieces. Add the leeks and apple to the dressing, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring gently about every 10 minutes, until the leeks are golden and the apple is soft. Serve immediately.