Monday, January 21, 2008

Play with your food

Winter has turned me into a homebody. This winter in particular has, and I think that perhaps now that food is becoming a proper obsession for me, I always want to try new things. This weekend I wanted to get a few things ready for the business of weekday life, so I made up an egg salad which is more appropriate for the winter than your regular picnic variety. This recipe is inspired by the French potato salad that I love to eat in the summer (ahhh, summer...) which uses grainy mustard instead of mayonnaise. I used a little of each in this salad and it turned out pretty well- but I think that is mostly due to the amazing eggs in it. (Seriously, the yolks are nearly orange!) The eggs are from the Virginia Organic Farms (sold at Ellwood Thompson).

One caveat before we get started- I am not an exact type person, especially when I cook. Sometimes this works out for me, sometimes not. So, measurements are not exact, but that is all part of the adventure, right? I hope these work for you.

Egg Salad
6 gorgeous eggs (hard boiled and chopped)
a spoonful of grainy mustard
2 spoonfuls of mayonnaise
1/4 chopped fennel
1 chopped green onion

I plan on eating this egg salad for lunch this week on cracked wheat bread, toasted and spread with grainy mustard with local spinach.

Which brings me to one of the other wonderful things to love about winter cooking- making stock for soup.

I get so excited when I have a reason buy fennel because I love it and because I can use the tops for stock. No waste! Today I just threw the leafy fronds and the outer layers of the fennel bulb into some water, added some garlic, salt and peppercorns (I used both green and long black) and let it simmer for 20- 30 minutes. If you have leftover carrots, celery, potatoes, onions- any vegetable or herbs which need to be eaten, you can throw them in as well. I am vegetarian, but bones from meat make very flavorful, rich stocks as well. Basically, don't throw it away- give it another incarnation!

After all of the flavors have blended and the stock is a tan color, strain the liquid into a plastic container. (Those 32 ounce yogurt containers are so great for this.) Just mark the contents and the date on the container and put it into the freezer. I think the stock I made today will make a great base for a curative soup. (Read: loads of garlic.) Homemade stocks also add a lot to risottos, too. If you go through the (very simple) work of making some stock, undoubtedly someday you will be glad you did.

And then, sometimes a girl just needs chocolate.

These cookies were full of mistakes and mishaps- a bit like love (and life) itself. Because they turned out beautifully in the end, I can tell you that they really will make all of your troubles disappear. For a little while, anyway.

Chocolate Love Cookies

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
1 cup 'white' sugar (Sugar in the Raw or turbinado)
1 cup brown sugar
a large dash of vanilla- (I couldn't find mine, so I used the bourbon where I keep spent vanilla pods- either way... I think that since these are SO chocolatey, you could use another extract as well to give it dimension- mint, coconut, hazelnut- what ever you have. I just happened to have bourbon.)
2 eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
a large dash of salt
About 10 oz. of finely chopped chocolate (mine had peppermint in it- really good)
1 8oz bar of dark chocolate, (I used one that had 77% cacao) coarsely chopped

Oven to 350 degrees
Cream butter and sugars until light-(one of the mishaps in making these was that my mixer, which I bought for about five dollars right after I graduated from college, finally collapsed. I mixed everything with a big paddle spoon instead. More love that way, I think.)
Add vanilla and eggs (one at a time.) Mix well.

Fully incorporate cocoa.
Mix rest of dry ingredients together and add to mixture one part at a time- do not over mix this step.
Stir in chocolate.

Spoon dough onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

I made my cookies really big, so I cooked them for about 15 minutes. However large you choose to make your cookies, remember that they will look underdone- take them out when the chocolate has melted and the cookies have flattened out.

Let them cool on the pan (they will continue to cook a little).

Now, go on, make someone happy...

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