Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holiday cookies

Big cookie swap at work. I spent Sunday making eight dozen of these:

Holiday cookies

I'm calling them raspberry schmear cookies. Originally, I was planning to do a raspberry jam sandwich cookie for the swap. And then it dawned on me that I'd have to make SIXTEEN DOZEN cookies in order to have eight dozen finished sandwich cookies. I don't mind doing some work, but that was going to be ridiculous. So, I mixed up the dough from the original cookie recipe and tried to figure out how to incorporate the raspberry preserves. I could do a filled cookie, or spread the preserves over the rolled out dough to make a spiral cookie... and then I started thinking about one of my favorite desserts to make, which is Giada De Laurentiis's jam crostata. It's a basic butter pastry dough spread with jam or preserves. As it bakes, a lot of the water evaporates out of the preserves, leaving you with a thickened, almost caramelized filling. When I need a quick no-fuss dessert, that's what I make. I thought that maybe I could get a similar result on a cookie by spreading a thin layer of the preserves on the cookies before baking....

Worked like a charm. The consistency of the preserves changes completely after baking. You're left with a thin, slightly sticky fruit layer, very different from the messy preserves you start with. The cookies stick to each other a bit when piled on top of each other, but come apart easily. I think they look very festive (part of the reason I used red raspberry preserves... very Christmas-y).

And as it turned out, the original recipe makes half the number of cookies it claimed, so it was a VERY good thing that I had already decided to go another route. The recipe said it would make 2 dozen sandwich cookies... I rolled mine out THINNER than what they called for, and got 2 dozen cookies, which would have only made 1 dozen sandwiches.

Anyway... basic sugar cookie plus about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of raspberry preserves spread thinly on top, baked at 325 degrees for 12-16 minutes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006



I went to a holiday party at a friend's house last night, a party that involved dinner. The main dish was curry chicken, and my contribution was a batch of homemade samosas, a yummy savory Indian pastry. Inspiration came from Curried Favors: Family Recipes from South India by Maya Kaimal MacMillan. This was one of the first cookbooks I checked out when I started working at the library, but somebody had placed a reserve on it and I had to return it before I got a chance to try any of the recipes... quite upsetting. The whole book makes me drool.

The recipe in the book is a bit labor-intensive -- not unreasonably so, but there's a good amount of work involved. To make things a little faster and easier, I got out my favorite kitchen appliance: my food processor. The version I made ended up being quite different from the one in the book. Not only did I make good use of the food processor instead of chopping and mixing things by hand, but I also had to make a quick substitution when I discovered that the onion I had on hand was older than I thought it was. The top of it looked fine... the bottom was scary. I needed something to take up the room that the onion would have filled. Out came a couple of carrots. Carrots and cumin work well together, so it was a good match for the filling.

Everything "shredded" was done with the shredding blade on the food processor. It takes 10 seconds to zip a couple of potatoes and carrots through. Without a food processor, you can absolutely chop everything up by hand. The dough can also be made by hand; after combining the ingredients, knead it for a minute or two until it is smooth.

Makes 24 samosas, serves 8-12

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water

2 medium waxy potatoes, peeled, shredded OR diced into 1/4" cubes
Salt for boiling potatoes
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, shredded OR chopped finely
2 teaspoons grated ginger (freezing the ginger makes this a lot less messy)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup frozen peas
Juice of half a lemon

Oil for deep frying (I used canola oil; vegetable oil or peanut oil are also good choices)

Combine the flour, salt, and oil in a food processor and pulse to mix thoroughly. Add the water a couple of tablespoons at a time, mixing after each addition, until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Turn the dough out on to a piece of plastic wrap, flatten into a rectangle (to make it easier to evenly divide it later), fold the plastic wrap over the dough to cover completely, and refrigerate the dough while you make the filling.

Place the potatoes in a saucepan filled with cold, well-salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and boil for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain well and set aside.

In a large skillet over high heat, toast the cumin seeds in oil until they are light brown and fragrant. Add carrots and ginger, and fry until the carrots begin to soften. Add the coriander, garam masala, cayenne, and salt, and stir to combine.

Stir in the peas and fry for 2 minutes. If you find that the spices are sticking to the bottom of the pan, stir in a couple of tablespoons of water. Stir in the cooked potatoes and fry for 2 minutes, stirring to combine. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool before moving to the next step.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into 12 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, knead the dough for a minute in your hands, then roll into a ball. Place the ball between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, flatten with your hand, and roll out to a very thin 6" round. Cut the round in half; you'll now have two half-circles. Take one half-circle of dough, place a tablespoon of filling off to one side, then fold the other side of the dough over to cover the filling. Use a little bit of water to seal the open edges. Press the seals closed with a fork. If they're not completely sealed, they'll leak when fried. Repeat with the other half-circle of dough. Repeat the process for the other 11 pieces of dough.

In a heavy saucepan or deep fryer, heat oil to 375 degrees F (to prevent boilovers, the oil should only come about halfway up the sides of the pot). Fry the samosas in small batches; the size of your batches will depend on the size of your pot. Keep the oil temperature are 350-375 degrees while frying. Remove the samosas from the oil when they are light golden brown, and place on a paper-towel lined plate to drain (or use an Alton Brown draining rig: an upside-down cooling rack placed on top of a paper towel-lined baking sheet).