Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cleverley at Crave Sushi


*What is the difference between sushi and sashimi?   **What is uni?  See answers at the end.

Those are the questions I answered correctly (but not before I consulted a couple of sites online!) for a gift certificate for lunch at Crave Sushi.  Offered by the vivacious Cleverley Stone on Facebook, favorite daughter Emilia and I took the drive from the ‘burbs to Midtown - Houston, the land of many new and hip restaurants and ever-creative cuisine. 

Known as the ‘Diva of All Things Delicious’ in foodie circles, Cleverley hosts a live show every Saturday from Noon to 1pm on CNN 650 radio.  She often selects a restaurant location to set up mobile equipment - interviews and lively discussion about food and the Houston restaurant scene ensues.  There was a lively crowd on hand that day (free lunch = happy tummies) which made listening to the show a challenge, but we shared a table with an interesting foodie couple from Sugarland (she is an aeronautical engineer at NASA – how impressive is that?) so it was fun.  Hopefully we’ll cross paths again at another Cleverley event.

Cleverley, Chef Robert Garay and Crave Sushi owner, Linny Huong

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Sleek and elegant, Crave Sushi’s decorative centerpiece is a large print evocative of traditional Japanese woodcuts depicting a landscape, flowers and geisha (see first picture:  she seems cool and indifferent, but I bet she can see everything…).  Lustrous white seats contrast with black tablecloths and wall fixtures.  The cool palette continues in the blue-gray walls and a pop of brilliant color is present in the crimson napkins and tiny votive candle holders.  The restaurant is quite small but is enclosed by large windows on two sides which allows our brilliant Texas light inside.  A large mirror behind the bar adds to the feeling of spaciousness. 

A full house for lunch

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Executive Chef Robert Garay, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, has created a Japanese ‘fusion’ menu that includes Kobe Beef Burgers and Soy-glazed Lamb Chops.  But Crave’s Cheetah Roll is all the rage.  The story goes that Linny Huong, the young owner of Crave and a former NCAA gymnast, placed a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos™ in front of Chef Garay and challenged him to make a roll.  It took only six attempts and the Cheetah Roll was created with Surimi Crab Mix, Cream Cheese, Cucumber, Avocado, Sriracha, Spicy Mayo and Flamin' Hot Cheetos on the inside;  Crushed Flamin' Hot Cheetos, Wasabi Cream and Jalapeños on the outside.

Chef Robert Garay graciously offering Crave’s Cheetah Roll after the sushi demonstration.


I never buy Cheetos™ but these camouflaged hotties hit the spot!  A cool tip from Chef Robert: before cutting a sushi roll, dip the tip of your knife in water and let it run down the blade.  Now you’re ready to make a clean cut.  I also learned that, as daunting as it seems, making sushi is not that difficult.  All you need is the right equipment, the best ingredients and a little practice.  A definite challenge for me in the future! 

Seriously spicy with the jalapeño slices!

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You can watch Chef Robert make the Cheetah Roll here:

During the show, we were treated to an Oriental buffet which featured Pan-seared and Steamed Pork Gyoza, Roasted Duck Breast in a Spicy Plum Sauce with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, Ahi Poke, Scallops over Udon noodles in a Lobster-butter Sauce, Stir-fry of Shitake, Oyster and Button Mushrooms with Baby Bok Choy; and Green Tea and White Chocolate Creme Brulee. 

Cleverley graciously hopped from table to table afterward.  She is entertaining and amiable and can be found around Houston with the Cleverley Show, broadcast live on CNN 650 every Saturday from 12 noon –1pm.  She can also be seen on FOX 26 on Fridays at 8:30a.m. for Cleverley’s Weekend Dining Picks and Smooth Jazz 95.7 for “All Things Delicious” on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 3:15p.m.  For information about future shows go to her website.

Not to leave you without a recipe, here’s my version of Ahi Poke.  I like to use Ponzu instead of regular soy sauce, because Ponzu is seasoned with an Asian citrus fruit called yuzu.  It’s delicious with tuna.

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Dragana’s Ahi Poke   Poke means ‘cut piece’ or ‘small piece’ in Hawaiian.  It’s a Hawaiian take on Japanese sashimi.

½ cup cilantro, chopped

2 scallions, finely sliced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 tablespoons shallots or onions, finely chopped

1 jalapeno, finely chopped, optional (I used a red jalapeno from my plant)

4 tablespoons Ponzu (citrus-seasoned soy sauce) or soy sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar, optional

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Sriracha, to taste

½ teaspoon black sesame seeds

½ teaspoon sesame seeds

¾ lb fresh Ahi tuna loin, cut into ½ inch cubes

Combine all ingredients from the cilantro to the Sriracha.  Add tuna and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Serve immediately with crackers or fried wontons.

After our pleasant experience at Crave Sushi, we drove to the University Co-Op in Uptown Square, and imagine our surprise when we came across CRAVE Cupcakes.  We had a great mother/daughter hysterical laughing fit that came from the belly;  it felt soo good! 

The bakery was packed.  $3.25 per cupcake and $39 for a dozen, thank-you-very-much!  One can watch them through a glass window, meticulously icing each cupcake…Oh why didn’t I think of this concept?

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*Sushi is any rice dish (su is vinegar and meshi is rice, therefore sushi).  The rice is usually seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt.  Sashimi is sliced raw fish alone. 

**Uni is sea urchin!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes

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As I write, my house if filled with the wonderful aroma of sofregit, a Catalan word for a sauté of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and onions.  This version has red peppers and mushrooms added ….so fragrant!   Known as soffritto in the rest of Spain, sofrito in Italy, and bećar paprikaš in my homeland, Serbia, it is the flavoring component of the rice dish that is our Daring Cooks’ challenge for this month.  

DBKitchen logo Olga from Las Cosas de Olga and Olga’s Recipes is our host for August.  She has chosen a delicious Spanish recipe by José Andrés, one of the most important Spanish Chefs at the moment.  He trained under well-known Ferran Adria at his three star Michelin restaurant El Bulli.  José Andrés now lives in Washington DC and owns several restaurants in the DC area.  The recipe is from his US TV show Made in Spain.

This delicious rice dish includes cuttlefish, artichokes and a few precious threads of azafran, or saffron.  The word is derived from the Arabic asfar meaning ‘yellow’ for the vivid yellow-orange color it imparts to food and fabric.  Saffron is a collection of the stigmas and styles of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) flower.  One of the finest growing regions is La Mancha in Spain.  Painstaking to harvest, it is the most expensive spice by weight.  Fortunately, a few threads is all you need to season the entire dish.  In fact, too much saffron can be toxic. 

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My well-travelled son spent a month in Spain this summer and gifted me with a small container of saffron - a wonderful gift for any cook! 

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A key element in this dish is an Allioli ‘mayonnaise’.  It is critical to the final flavor of the rice.  And let me warn you…a little goes a looong way.   It is spicy and pungent and suits our Serbian sensibility – you can never have too much garlic!  Making the sofregit and allioli ahead of time will allow you to put the dish together quickly.

Olé Allioli!

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Allioli   (I chose to make the ‘traditional’ version.  For the ‘modern’ recipe, please go to Olga’s site)
Cooking time: 20 min aprox.

4 cloves garlic, peeled

Pinch of salt

Fresh lemon juice (a few drops)

Extra-virgin olive oil (Spanish preferred but not essential)

Place the garlic in a mortar along with the salt.

Using a pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. (The salt stops the garlic from slipping at the bottom of the mortar as you pound it down.)

Add the lemon juice to the garlic.  Drop by drop; pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly as you continue to crush the paste with your pestle.

Keep turning your pestle in a slow, continuous circular motion in the mortar. The drip needs to be slow and steady. Make sure the paste soaks up the olive oil as you go.

Keep adding the oil, drop by drop, until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli gets too dense, add water to thin it out. This takes time—around 20 minutes of slow motion around the mortar—to create a dense, rich sauce.

José's tips for traditional recipe: It's hard to think that, when you start crushing the garlic, it will ever turn into something as dense and smooth as allioli. But don't give up. It's worth the extra time and effort to see the oil and garlic come together before your eyes. Just make sure you're adding the olive oil slowly, drop by drop. Keep moving the pestle around the mortar in a circular motion and keep dreaming of the thick, creamy sauce at the end of it all!  I pressed the garlic through a garlic press which sped up the process.  I had a smooth allioli with a definite ‘bite’ to it.

Ingredients for the sofregit:

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Sofregit  Cooking time: about 1-1 1/2 hours.   (My changes are in blue)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

5 big red ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 small onions, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped (optional)  I used 1 red pepper and 1 red jalapeno pepper

4 or 5 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup of button or Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional) I used a combination of button and cremini mushrooms

1 bay leaf (fresh from my garden)


a pinch of ground cumin

a pinch of dried oregano 1 fresh sprig

Put all the ingredients together in a pot and sauté slowly until all the vegetables are soft.  Taste and add salt if necessary.   You will not use all of the sofregit for this rice dish.  Here are just a few delicious ideas on how you can use the rest of it:  as a filling for omelets, on toast, on top of grilled fish,  in soups or with polenta. 

The sofregit after cooking for about 1 1/2 hours:

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 Rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes  Serves 4

2 cuttlefish   I couldn’t find cuttlefish in my part of the woods so I substituted calamari

4 artichoke hearts, each cut into eighths  I used frozen artichoke hearts but you can use canned or fresh

12 mushrooms, quartered  I used a combination of button and cremini

2 bay leaves

1 cup white wine

the sofregit

2 cups (300g) short grain rice such as Arborio, Calasparra or Montsant

about 6 cups of water or fish stock

a few saffron threads (you can substitute 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, if necessary)

the allioli

Cut the cuttlefish or calamari into thin strips. 

Heat 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan pan on high heat and add the cuttlefish/calamari in the pan.

Add the artichokes, mushrooms and bay leaves.   Sauté until the artichokes are golden.

Add a little white wine to the saucepan and about 3 spoons (I added at least 1/2 cup) of the sofregit and make sure everything gets impregnated with the sofregit.

Add the rest of the wine and the stock and bring it to boil.   Add the rice and let it cook for about 5 minutes on high heat.

Add a few saffron threads (or the turmeric) to enrich the dish with its flavor and color.  Stir a little bit so the rice and the other ingredients get the entire flavor.  Turn heat to low and boil for another 8 minutes (or until rice is a little softer than “al dente”).

Take the away from heat and let the rice stand a couple of minutes.  Serve each portion with a small dollop of allioli.

Once I had all the ingredients ready, this dish came together very quickly.  We shared it with my sister’s family and it was well liked by all.  I added a pound of large shrimp (20 count) for the final 8 minutes of cooking time because I felt that there wasn’t enough ‘meat’ to go around – there were 3 teenagers at the table, two of them over 6 feet tall! 

Rice with cuttlefish, mushrooms and artichokes 017-crop v1 For more information and instructional videos, please go to Olga’s siteThanks Olga for a great challenge, and two thumbs up to our founders Lis and Yvonne


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fabulous Figs!

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by D.H. Lawrence

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,

Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,

And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin

Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,

After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.

But the vulgar way

Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

Read the rest of D.H. Lawrence’s freeform poem here but be forewarned – it continues with a luscious description of a fig as female parts!  Peaked your interest, didn’t I?

My blog header is evidence that I am an ardent fig lover.  I cannot resist it’s velvety smooth skin, sweet and succulent flesh, and delicate seeds.  My wine group will attest to the fact that I’ve trespassed and stolen a few during trips to Provence and Oregon!  Knowing this, they generously indulge me during fig season.  Ralph’s latest offering was figs stuffed with Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue Cheese wrapped in the thinnest slices of prosciutto.  Here’s Helen, another wine buddy, preparing her fig-based appetizer during a recent wine dinner (recipe below).  Love her for it! 

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I was not aware that there are poems about figs, or proper ways to eat a fig, but I must fit in the ‘vulgar’ category!  I usually first take a bite of the entire fig (why trash the skin?) and admire the juicy red flowers inside.  Fresh and ripened on the vine is best, if you can beat the early birds.  And eat soon after harvesting as they sour quickly.

Husbie is experimenting with varieties that grow successfully along the Texas coast.  The recent drought did not bode well for our trees this year but we did manage to harvest enough of the Brown Turkey variety for a grilled pizza with goat cheese, pancetta and freshly ground black pepper.   With a spring salad on the side, you be the judge!

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The fig is believed to be the first food source to be cultivated over 11,000 years ago in the Lower Jordan Valley in Israel and it subsequently became a staple for people in the Mediterranean.  It is the first fruit to be mentioned in the Bible and is referenced many times thereafter.  Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to make ‘aprons’ (Genesis 3:7).  Seven hundred fig trees in moveable pots in the Figuerie at Versailles were tended so as to satisfy the desires of Louis XIV .  Thanks to the innovative methods used by the head gardener, La Quintinie, the trees were able to supply figs for six months of the year. 

Due to it’s high nutritional content, figs were especially valuable to the athletes in Ancient Greece.  Figs are high in calcium, fiber, potassium and a variety of antioxidants.  Figs were used by the Greeks and Romans to stuff geese so as to fatten their livers.  It was known as ficatum, now foie gras in France.   Oh how I would love to taste a fig-fattened foie gras and compare it to the corn-fed liver.  Helen, what do you say about getting us a couple of geese and some figs…?

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 Grilled Figs with Mascarpone, Mint, Port and Prosciutto from Sharing the Vineyard Table by Carolyn Wente and Kimball Jones.

8 fresh figs

¼ cup non-vintage port

3 tablespoons mascarpone

4 very thin slices prosciutto

4 large mint leaves, for garnish

Cut off the ends of the figs and split in half lengthwise. Macerate in the port for an hour. Prepare a small fire in your grill and cook the figs for a moment on each side, just enough to warm the figs and give them a smoky flavor. They should remain firm. Spoon or pipe the mascarpone onto the cut sides of the figs, dividing it evenly. Cut the prosciutto into sixteen 1-inch wide strips. Wrap around the figs. Place on a serving platter. Slice the mint into very thin strips (chiffonade) and sprinkle over the figs.

The beautiful earthenware you see in these pictures are my sister’s fig plates in Oiseau Bleu by Gien. You’ll be seeing more of this striking collection in future posts, I’m sure. 

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To end, here’s a silly limerick by Edward Lear that will describe me later in life (hopefully!):

There was an Old Person of Ischia,
Whose conduct grew friskier and friskier;
He danced hornpipes and jigs,
     and ate thousands of figs,
That lively Old Person of Ischia.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Colorado Vacation and Shredded Pork Tacos with Grape Tomato and Watermelon Salsa

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Paradise on earth!  That’s how I describe the Colorado Rockies.  This picture was taken from the scenic Silver Thread highway, just north of the historic town of Creede, near the headwaters of the Rio Grande River and the Continental Divide.

It’s always a special treat to spend time at the Smith Cabin at Pearl Lakes Trout Club.  Our hosts, Ralph and Barbara Smith, are dear friends.  We met when our daughters, Stephanie and Emilia, now nineteen years old, were in second grade.   Common interests in gardening, wine, cooking, photography, travel and books has kept our friendship lively and we cherish it.

This is the cozy Smith cabin near Creede, Colorado, a perfect setting in which to trade the Texas heat, emails, texts and phone messages for hiking, fly-fishing, morning walks and games.

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Five lovely teenager girls kept us amused at all times: Karley, Stephanie, Emilia, McKenzie and Rachel (with her big, burly blanket I named Mečka – a descriptive Serbian word for ‘bear’, which describes it perfectly).

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Russell, Stacey, Barbara, Ralph and Mrs. Lura Smith enjoying an assortment of artisanal cheeses and champagne on the deck before dinner:

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 The hummingbirds were marvelous to watch for their speed and agility.

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I found them highly territorial after getting caught by surprise in the midst of war between two hummingbirds.  They are so fast that by the time you hear them buzz by you, they are already gone.  The Master of them all guarded his feeder from this perch, just a few yards away:

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Mrs. Smith delighted in feeding the birds and chipmunks and she distributed seventy-five pounds (yes, 75) of bird seed on every possible surface around the cabin, and was panicked when there was only one bag left at the caretaker’s store!

By the end of the week, she had spoiled them rotten and they were eating out of our hands: 

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This little guy is filling up his cheeks before running up the hill to hide his winter provisions. 

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 A Cassin’s Finch joined in the feast:

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 Girls can outfish boys any day!  Stacey and her catch - a Rainbow Trout!

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Emilia weighing her fish - a Brown Trout:

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Ok, ok!  Boys can fish too!

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Every evening there were intense dart throwing competitions.  The girls could out-smack the men in the smack-talking department, much to their surprise!  Here’s McKenzie showing us her form:

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Cupcakes at the Fourth of July celebration.

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After two hard days of driving over one thousand miles and two speeding tickets (awarded me on the same day while driving through *charming* north Texas towns which shall remain nameless), we were pleasantly greeted in the cabin by the aroma of a pork shoulder braising on the stove.  It was heartwarming. 

Towards the end of the braising, Stacey did a wonderful thing:  she slathered the roast with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  It added a touch of heat and spice which was complemented by the sweetness of the salsa.  Simple but delicious! 

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Stacey’s Pork Tacos with Grape Tomato and Watermelon Salsa

We generously served 11 hungry hikers and fishermen by doubling the recipe and had meat left over for sandwiches the next day. 

One 6-8 lb pork butt (contrary to popular belief, it’s actually cut from the shoulder)

¼ cup oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ bottle red wine or port.  In typical Smith fashion, Ralph pulled out a ‘99 Shafer Port – sweeeeet!

2 cups beef or chicken stock

4 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, mashed with a fork

24 corn or wheat tortillas

Grape tomato and watermelon salsa (see recipe below)

Salt and pepper the pork butt on all sides.  Heat the oil in a heavy pot.  Carefully place the pork in the pot and brown it on all sides. 

When pork butt is browned, carefully add ½ bottle of red wine or port and the stock.  Reduce head to low and cover pot tightly with a lid.  Simmer gently on stovetop for 4-5 hours or until the meat separates easily when twisted with a fork.  Remove from heat. 

When the meat has cooled a little, shred it into bite size chunks and serve with salsa and warm corn tortillas.

Grape Tomato and Watermelon Salsa

2 cups halved yellow grape tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes

2 cups watermelon, cut into 1/2" pieces

½ large or 1 small red onion, finely chopped

½ - 1 cup finely chopped cilantro

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Gently combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve with shredded pork and warm tortillas. 

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A delicious addition to the taco would be my Cilantro Crema: a mixture of sour cream, lime juice and chopped cilantro. 


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies

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Husbie is a huge fan of Nabisco’s Pinwheels Pure Marshmallow and Chocolate Cookies.  Alas, the fresh ones are only available in Texas during the winter months because the chocolate won’t melt during shipping.   So he was pleasantly surprised when I presented him with a Pinwheel, freshly made in our own kitchen, the chocolate coating still shiny and warm.

DBMiss Measure_v150x200 I had never thought of making them before I found out that the Daring Bakers’ Challenge for July was Mallows, a recipe by the Chicago-based pastry chef Gale Gand.  Based on the same concept:  a crisp cookie base, gooey marshmallow filling topped with a dark chocolate glaze - it’s a study in contrasting textures and flavors.  And the best part of it all is that we are enjoying my homemade attempt as we speak, during the hot Houston summer. 

Here’s the company line:  The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network

Thanks Nicole for choosing this challenge, and as always, thanks to Lis and Ivonne for founding our intrepid group of bakers and always keeping us on our toes!

Mallows (Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand

My comments are in blue.

About 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together

• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.  On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.  Add the eggs and mix until combine.  Form the dough into a disk, wrap with Clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness (my cookie base was on the thick side, so make sure to roll the dough out thin), on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.  Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.

Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.

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Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.  One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.  I placed the cookies on a rack over a bowl and spooned the glaze over until the top and sides were covered.  I let them sit for a while to cool and moved them gently with a spatula.  Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.  Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

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Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows (Cheaters!), you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, and then proceed with the chocolate dipping. 

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water (I used about 2 tablespoons more)
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar; bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.  Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.  Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.  Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.  Transfer to a pastry bag.

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.  The glaze was easy to pour because was on the thin side, but it didn’t set completely.  Next time I will use less oil.

And if you get tired of the traditional shape, jazz up your selection with some sandwich cookies!

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