Archives for November 2006

Everyone Loves Shortbread

Almond Shortbread Stars

Who doesn’t love Shortbread? Perhaps it’s because I am half British (my father was born in England and moved here as a lad of four) and I never feel more in tune with those roots as I do when I am sipping tea and nibbling shortbread. Throw in a good Colin Firth movie and, blimey, that’s the cat’s pajamas! Of course ‘nibbling’ might be a tad of a stretch-it’s so rich and delicious-scarfing might be more appropriate. Now what some people don’t know is that shortbread is Scottish, not British. Shortbread is to Scotland what biscotti is to Italy and madeleines are to France. This simple combination of only four ingredients-flour, sugar, butter and salt-lays claim to be the best cookie out there and I tend to agree. If you are bored with the classic recipe, the good news for you is that there are many variations that you can make on the standard.
Trendy foodstuffs such as green tea and espresso have made their way into these delightful sweets, updating them for your 2006 Christmas! You can also get creative on your own. Chop up your favorite nuts or dried fruit and add that to the dough. Dust with icing sugar, dip in chocolate, or glaze with icing-just not all three. You don’t want to mask the shortbread’s humble ability to delight of the senses!

Here is a recipe for basic shortbread and following it, some variations. Remember that baking time for each variety will vary depending on the size and shape of the cookies.
Basic Shortbread Makes 8-12 1 cup unsalted butter 2 cups all-purpose flour ¾ teaspoon salt ½ cup confectioners’ sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Sift together the flour and the salt and set aside. In a bowl or mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat another 2 minutes until very light and fluffy. Add vanilla if using. Slowly add flour and mix on low until just combined. Gather into a ball with your hands, wrap in plastic and chill until firm.

Roll dough onto a lightly floured surface until ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shapes.
Place on baking sheet and chill until firm.
Preheat oven to 325F.
Bake until firm and just starting to color.
*Keeps well in an airtight containter for up to three weeks.*

Variations: Almond:. Add ½ cup powdered almonds and 1 tsp almond extract to the creamed butter. Omit vanilla. Proceed as usual.

Ginger: Substitute brown sugar for the icing sugar in basic recipe. To the flour mixture add 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch of cloves. Omit vanilla. Proceed with basic recipe.

Green Tea: Omit vanilla. Sift 2 tablespoons of finely ground green tea with the flour and salt and proceed as usual.

Chocolate: Add ½ cup cocoa to the flour and salt.

Espresso: Dissolve 2 tablespoons espresso powder in 1 teaspoon hot water. Add to creamed butter and sugar mixture before adding flour. Proceed as usual.

Home with Friends. Good Friends.

With Danny away on business, it i’s amazing how fast I find myself reverting back to girly pre-marriage, ritualistic habits. Noah is fast asleep upstairs, and almost without thinking, I have changed into something cozy, reached for a pint of ice cream and a golden oldie girl movie. Yes, I ha’ve lit a few candles. It’’s almost like a sleepover, but I don’t have to share the ice cream with anyone. Sweet! After all, I have to take care of myself, right? I’’m holding down the fort, so to speak. With all that responsibility, a girl’’s gotta decompress.
There’’s no better way than with my friends, Ben and Jerry. Thanks for being there, guys!

Guilty Food Pleasures

This post started out as my Top Ten Guilty Food Pleasures, but when I started the list, I could only come up with a half a dozen. I guess for me the ‘guilty’ part really outweighs the ‘pleasure’ part, or else I don’t take much pleasure in guilt-inducing foods. I’d like to think that is more the case. There is very little junk food, fast food, or processed food out there that I eat. I don’t consider myself an über health nut, but, for better or for worse, I am a food snob, so would never look twice at stuff like pudding cups (especially the bubble gum flavor-blech-just the sight of it turns my stomach), Kraft singles, Twinkies and the like. The more processed and distorted from it origin the food item is, the harder I find it to stomach.

However, I am not without some secret shame and I list a few items below that never fail to tempt me and I never fail to indulge in when I have the chance! Of course there’s lots of sweets, munchies and sugar-filled drinks that I will dabble in from time to time, but they are just riff-raff and not very high up on the ‘pleasure’ chart. To me, if you’re not really craving it, perhaps you’re just eating it because it’s being served at a party, it’s not worth the trouble. And by trouble I mean the fat. And the tooth decay, facial breakouts, heart stress and brain sluggishness. The list could go on, but as I am not an expert in nutrition, I’ll leave the scientific facts out of it and just go with my standard yardstick for measuring junk food:

If my mother didn’t allow it when I was growing up, chances are it WILL kill you.

I was asking around to a few people about this topic and was astounded by what I found. People really have some very astonishingly gross and potentially hazardous eating habits! Maybe I am just blind to what really goes on out there in those dark kitchens in the wee hours of the morning, but I am now immensely curious and must find out more.

If you have a guilty food pleasure –and I know you do- please share it with us at underthehighchair. We would love to hear from you the shocking stuff! the calorie mountains! the unthinkble combinations! Come on, we won’t tell anyone else and it will be lots of fun.

What constitutes a ‘guilty pleasure’, you ask?
Well, it will be something different for everyone so I won’t define it , but one common thread is that it should have a very low nutritional value and the rest is self-explanatory. If you’re telling me you can’t resist bingeing on a sack of edamame, I’m not going to swallow it.
It may be a tad out of the ordinary, like whipping cream on toast (my brother) or the same as 80 billion other people: a Big Mac. (Yes, you should feel guilty about fast food. If you don’t have a clue why, go see Fast Food Nation for starters.)
I will also add that Guilty Pleasures are not weird combinations that you come up with when there is no food in the fridge…maybe we’ll address those wacky foods another time.
You can either email your guilty pleasures to me directly and I’ll do a follow up post, or just spill the beans as a comment at the end of the post.

For the record here are my few guilty pleasures:

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. They are so evil and so very good

Poutine: the Quebecois classic dish of fries, curd cheese and gravy. I don’t eat it often, but probably more often than I should. Once in a while I need a ‘fix’.

Microwave Popcorn. It’s so artificial tasting, that fake butter and all, but so addicting.

Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles. My weakness in the chip department

Blak: Coffee flavored Coka Cola. I’ve only had this once, but I may as well add it, because I loved it so much, I can tell we’re going to have a future together as soon as more stores start carrying it. Namely, Costco.

An Uptown Party

Smoked Salmon on Pumpernickel with Cream Cheese, Red Onion, Clementines and Sea Salt.

My little sister turned 21 in October and a few nights ago she cashed in on a promised birthday present: a fully catered party for her and her dozen or so friends. Guests arrived with a bottle of wine at her third floor apartment near Atwater Market and were welcomed with the smells of sizzling pancetta and freshly baked cheese straws.
It was a lot of fun. I found myself surrounded by college students who mostly exist on take-out and Kraft Dinner and they were gobbling up the food as fast as I could turn it out. This was a welcome change from catering stuffy rich people’s parties where everyone is watching their weight and the food is picked over and half of it left untouched.

It felt like the beginning of the Christmas holidays as we munched canapés, sipped wine and kicked back, thoroughly enjoying a night ‘in’.

Tomato Thyme Tartelettes

Cherry Tomato, Basil and Bocconcini Skewers: as classic as a vodka martini. A reminder of summer past.

Carmelized Onion, Apple and Brie Phyllo Parcels

Cheddar and Poppyseed Straws

Chip Duo. Top: Baba Ghanouj on a Pita Chip with Kalamata Olive and Parsley.
Bottom: Southwest Blackbean and Grilled Corn Salsa on homemade Tortilla Chip, Sour Cream.

Not Pictured:
Honey Dates With Crispy Pancetta
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Sushi
Endive with Havarti and Toasted Almonds

A few of these canapes were from ideas I was playing around with and I was pretty happy with the way they turned out. Here’s is a recipe from Martha Stewart that I adapted for a salsa that’s a little different that the usual tomato/onion salsa. If you don’t have a grill, you can roast the peppers in the oven and blacken the corn in a cast iron skillet.

Southwestern Black Bean and Grilled Corn Salsa

1 jalapeño pepper
1 red bell pepper
2 ears fresh corn, shucked
1/4 cup lime juice(about 2 limes)
1 fifteen-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fresh loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat grill to medium hot. Place peppers on grill, and cook, turning, until skin is black all over, 5 to 10 minutes for jalapeño and 10 to 15 minutes for red pepper. Place grilled peppers in a brown paper bag; let stand about 10 minutes. Remove peppers from bag, and peel away and discard charred skin; rinse your fingers from time to time under cool running water, if necessary, but do not rinse the peppers. Remove and discard stems and seeds. Mince jalapeño, and transfer to a large bowl. Cut red pepper into 1/4-inch pieces, add to jalapeño, and set aside.
2. Place ears of corn directly on grill. Cook until brown and tender, turning often, about 10 minutes. Remove from grill, and let cool slightly. Use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off the cob; add to peppers.
3. Add lime juice, black beans, parsley, red onion, garlic, and olive oil to corn and pepper mixture, and toss well. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

The Missing Rib

Beer Braised Short Ribs with Ancho Pepper BBQ Sauce

What to do when you have a gang of hungry guys to feed and quiche just won’t do? Go see your butcher, ask for beef short ribs, pick up a 6 pack (or 12 or two-four) of dark beer, come home and slow cook the ribs in the beer and a mélange of other yummies. It will be a hit, guaranteed. That’s what I did the other day and it worked out just fine…except for the sauce…which is why you won’t be getting a recipe…..yet.

I went with an idea I had to make a chunky BBQ sauce with Ancho chilies (see below), a dark spicy beer and some blackened onions and tomatoes, but it ended up WAY too spicy– full of flavor, but too overpoweringly hot for the beef. So I kept adding stuff-can’t remember half of it-and ended up with a deliciously seductive sauce… but which I would be hard pressed to duplicate. Snap! Sorry folks. We sure enjoyed it, but you won’t be able to duplicate it in your own home until I work out the kinks. For one, LESS ancho peppers!
Here I am checking to see if the ribs are fall-of-the-bone tender yet. Don’t be shy to cook these at home using a simple braise method. I know, the word ‘ribs’ conjures up a memory of dry, sticky, chewy bar food, but if you pick cuts that have plenty of fat marbling in the meat and cook them, covered in liquid, for several hours, you will be suprised to how they melt in your mouth. Good thing we like them, because we have 2 quarts of my BBQ sauce left over….

Note: If you are not familiar with ancho peppers, they are dried poblano peppers, moderately hot, and used prolifically in Mexican cuisine. They are essential to make the wonderful Mol