18 March 2011

A Glazed Almond Cookie Adventure

It's been a few weeks since my last post, so I hope that you've enjoyed reading about Andrea's Iron Chef victory with Garlic Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches. I'm glad to know that they were a hit, especially because I hope they don't reappear at home. I don't ever want to smell 3 heads of roasting garlic in the middle of the night ever again. It made for some strange nightmares. But I digress, we're talking about Christmas cookies, right? Yes...and it's March, so I'm right on time, of course. So let's get started!

My grandma (by way of my stepdad, but grandma just the same) used to send dozens of cookies around to her children/grandchildren every year at Christmastime. She doesn't do it anymore, and I really miss it. One year, I asked her to send me her recipes, and she did! Now, I try to make two or three different kinds each year.

I read a blog called Eat, Live, Run on an almost daily basis. The author's name is Jenna, and I love the way that she presents her recipes. She usually begins with a mise en place, meaning everything in place. I think this is a great way to start out all cooking, because your prep is done, and everything is lined up happily waiting for you to use it. Sometimes, however, there are lots of steps involved before your mise en place is complete.

For these cookies, the almonds first need to be blanched.
Glazed Almond - blanched almonds
See grandma's hand-written recipe back there?!

In reality, this is my favorite part of making these cookies. I boil some water, drop the almonds in for 1 or 2 minutes (you don't want them to lose their crunch), and then strain them out, and submerge them in a bath of ice water. Then, strain them again, pop the skins off of the almonds one by one. I love this part because it's like taking a jacket off of each almond, and what emerges is a beautiful, perfect almond.

Next, we chop!

In this picture, you see the almonds in every stage: un-peeled, naked, and chopped.
Glazed Almond - Mise en place

After that, we gather all of the other needed items, and assemble our Glazed Almond Cookie Mise en place!
Glazed Almond - Mise en place

Now we can get started. First, we cream the butter and sugar:

Then, we mix in the flour, eggs, and chopped almonds, until you get this lumpy dough with almond pieces:
Glazed Almond dough in mixer

Once it's all incorporated, roll it all together into a dough log. Since the recipe has so much butter in it, I find that the dough tends to melt really easily. So i like to roll it into this log, and pop it into the freezer for 30-45 minutes until it's firm enough for me to start hacking at it with my tablespoon measuring spoon.
Glazed Almond dough

I take my measuring spoon and roll each cookie into a ball. This is the perfect size for them. Then, you drop them into egg whites before placing them onto a buttered Cookie Sheet. Then, you press a plain almond into the top of each one.
Glazed Almond

Bake them in the oven until they're golden. Make sure that you take them off the cookie sheet as soon as possible, because the combination of the egg-white and sugar on the hot cookie sheet will cool into a something as hard as a rock. Put them on a cooling rack if you have one. Since I don't, I just do what my mom always did, and just lay the cookies onto some paper towels on the counter or table.
Glazed Almond

And that's it! Enjoy!

11 March 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Garlic Ice Cream Sandwiches

Oh yes I did.

Every once in a while my office holds its own Iron Chef competition. Usually the winner of the last competition chooses the ingredient but because several years have passed the organizer put it to a vote. I was torn between two of the options, sweet potato and garlic. I figured if sweet potato won I'd sweep the field with another Turcaken. But I do so love garlic. In the end I voted for garlic and it won so I got down to business planning a garlic dish. Of course I was going to do a dessert because that's where I excel in the cooking. But what to do? My mind went immediately to garlic ice cream which I'd been dying to try but that alone did not seem to be unique enough to enter. So I did some Googling for garlic desserts to see what was out there and one of the more interesting recipes I came across was garlic chocolate chip cookies. And then I figured, I could make it even better if I made regular chocolate chip cookies with garlic ice cream. And so began the terrible adventure.

The ice cream was easy and pretty much went the way of all my ice creams:

5 heads garlic (heads, not cloves)

2 tablespoons butter
1 liter half-and-half cream
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks

I roasted the garlic the night before I made the cream base (not for any recipe reasons, just because I didn't have time to do everything at once) and the entire apartment smelled like garlic for a while. I was constantly hungry and all I wanted to do was get some bread and butter and eat the air.

Peeling the five heads took forever and was something of a sticky mess. But I finally got them all done and into the blender.


Then I made the base by mixing the cream and sugar in a saucepan, heating to the boiling point and pouring it over the egg yolks while whisking briskly.

Then about a cup of that went into the blender with the garlic.

And I pureed until it was as smooth as possible.

Then mixed it in with the rest of the cream base.

I let that sit in the fridge overnight because I like to start with my base being as cold as possible before putting it through the ice cream maker. That night I also made the cookie. I had to have enough ice cream sandwiches for 50-60 people so I made two batches of Toll House cookies. The only thing I did differently than the Toll House recipe was I used Ghiradelli chocolate because it's better and I used bitter instead of semi-sweet for more of a contrast.

The next day i mixed up the ice cream and made the sandwiches. I really could have used a lot more time for the process and it was a pain. It took me about three and half hours to make all the sandwiches. The ice cream didn't have a lot of time to set up so I could only make about 6-10 of them before I had to rush everything back into the freezer and wait 15-20 minutes for it to refreeze. Then repeat proceedure over and over and over. But finally they were done!

I have to say that I was a little afraid that my culinary genius had lead me astray. I'd sampled some of the ice cream and, despite my adoration of both all things garlic and ice cream and my tendancy to use garlic rather more liberally than most people prefer, the ice cream was so strongly garlic it even made me a little sick. While still convinced of my baking superiority I wondered if I hadn't crossed that thin line into mad scientist genius?

Lauren gave me a ride into work as my two heaping pans of ice cream sandwiches would never have survived the hour metro ride. As it turns out half of them didn't survive. It was raining heavily and while balancing the two pans, my bags, and an umbrella while trying to catch the door she opened for me...the top pan of cookies slid off my pile and ended up in the wet wet gutter. Lauren was in the car covering her face with a CD so she didn't have to look and I just stood outside letting the rain soak me as I watched all my hard work go, quite literally, down the drain.

I looked at Lauren and gave a little sob. "Sniff" said I (I tend to verbalize my sniffs and sighs). I got in the car and rode into the office in silence. I entered the competition anyway with what remained but my zeal for the whole thing was nowhere to be found. Competition time came and I had a small bite of one of the sandwiches. I knew I had to try it as entries were supposed to be secret and I couldn't just ignore it but I certainly didn't want the while thing. The little bite I had though was pleasantly surprising. Against the sweetness of the cookie and the chocolate, the garlic flavour of the ice cream was much subtler than it was on its own. I was not the only one to enter with a dessert and hadn't expected to be. There were, funnily enough, garlic chocolate chip cookies and a garlic peach sorbet along with a slew of savory foods.

Everyone sampled and discussed and scored and a few hours later, after recheking all our math and tabulating all the results, the event organizer announced that the next Unnamed Organization Iron Chef was...


Use of this photo courtesy of Unnamed Organization's communications guy who doesn't really know I'm using it :) Thanks Dude.

I was really surprised. Really and honestly. There were a couple things that I liked better than my dish but I think I edged out those with originality points. So yay me! My confidence in my culinary genius as been restored. Now I get to choose the ingredient for next year. Currently I'm waivering between bacon and lemon...but I have a whole year to be indecisive or choose something completely different.

01 March 2011

Zambia Favorite Pictures

I've been promising since forever that I would share my pictures from Zambia...now that I've had two trips, I'm posting here some of my favorite pictures from each of the trips:

Roadside Mango Sales:
Mango Girl

Victoria Falls:

Toad in the Hand:
teeny frog in hand

Children looking on - Zambia

Girl with wheelbarrow:
Girl with wheelbarrow - Zambia

Girls spinning troupe:


I wish I knew what kind of flower this is:

Leopard rug:
Leopard rug

Tiny Praying mantis:
Tiny Praying Mantis


Me on Safari game drive:
On the game drive

Curious Mama Elephant