Black & Orange Oreos for the Team

by Caroline

The other day we were brainstorming about foods we could make to celebrate our team — the San Francisco Giants — moving into the playoffs. Conveniently, their uniforms are a seasonal black and orange so we were thinking pumpkin muffins with chocolate chips (or chocolate frosting), and for dinner, black bean and sweet potato enchiladas. Lisa, always working the cocktail angle, suggested orange soda with black licorice straws, and of course we’ve already seen her gorgeous Giant Marys.

Then my friend Liz reminded me about the oreo cookie recipe I sent her long ago (and then promptly lost), and suggested making an orange filling. Perfect! Now, there are many recipes online for homemade oreos (including one that calls for devil’s food cake mix; hmmm), and most use an egg — which I’m sure makes a nice chocolate cookie; but, if you’re after the crumbly shortbread texture of the oreos of your youth, use this recipe (which Liz typed up and saved on her computer, thank goodness.) I’m sorry I can’t recall it’s source, so please, if you recognize it, let me know so I can offer proper credit!

“Oreo” Cookies

In a mixing bowl, beat till fluffy
1 cup room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar

In a separate bowl, sift together
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa*
1/2 tsp salt

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter to make a stiff dough. Remove from the bowl, knead a couple times on a lightly floured board to make sure it’s fully combined, then shape into a disk and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

To bake:
Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time and keeping the remainder cold, roll out to about 1/4” thickness. Cut into circles or whatever shape you desire, place on a cookie sheet, and bake 15 minutes or till firm. Cool on a rack. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

When cool, make sandwiches with the following filling:

1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter beaten till fluffy with
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar and
1/2 tsp. vanilla

*Note: I use half regular cocoa and half black cocoa (available from King Arthur Flour) for a real “oreo” color.

Horseradish Cheddar Cheese Dip

by Lisa

Caroline makes a fine garbage salad, and a long time ago, I started making a kind of garbage cheese dip.   Like so much of what goes on around here, there is no single recipe but rather a set of strategies and tips.  This is what you can do if friends stop in unexpectedly. This is another thing you can do if your kids are starving and dinner isn’t ready. This is what you do if you have too many little hunks of cheese lying around in your cheese bin and you don’t know how to use them.  There are two basic ways to go about mixing up a fast, delicious spread that you can use for snack, appetizer, or even a quick lunch.

The first, and my favorite, is Jacques Pepin style, a technique culled from one of his classic cooking shows.  In a Cuisinart blend together:

  • all your leftover little pieces of cheese–especially a little piece of blue cheese. The more eclectic the mix, the better.
  • a splash or so of white wine
  • one garlic clove

Of course, if kids are going to eat this, you will want to make sure the cheese mixing did not require too much wine–or you can substitute or add some mayonnaise as in the version below for a Horseradish Cheddar Cheese Dip:

  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • mayonnaise
  • a teaspoon or two of mustard
  • a tablespoon or so to taste of horseradish

I like keeping things like this around, because anytime you bring out a pre-dinner snack, everyone slows down, gathers together and your weeknight can feel a little bit more like a weekend.

Applesauce Muffins, in the good bowl

by Caroline

This time of year, with school in full swing and the afterschool events (in this house, piano lessons and soccer practices) getting going, I’m thinking more about good snacks than usual. The boys need something when I pick them up from school, and often eat another small snack after we get home, before dinner.

And so I keep pulling out my favorite mixing bowl, an inheritance from my late mother-in-law. It’s nothing fancy, but there’s something particularly appealing about its low, sloping sides, the solidity of the white ceramic, that sweet scallop detail around the edges. I keep reaching it down from the cupboard and and filling it with muffin batters and wonderballs. This week, when a friend brought me homemade applesauce from her tree, I looked for a new way to bake the applesauce into a good after school snack, and found it in Veganomicon, the cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, the fabulous women behind Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and the new Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar!. Try them; you don’t need to be vegan to like them.

3/4 milk (soy, rice, almond and cow’s milk work equally well)
1 t apple cider vinegar
1 c unsweetened applesauce
3 T vegetable oil or (2 T oil plus 3 T ground flaxseed meal)
1/2 brown sugar
1 1/2 c all purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c oat bran
2 t baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/2 c raisins, dried cranberries, or chopped dried apple pieces (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin papers.

In your favorite bowl, whisk together the milk and vinegar; let it sit a minute to curdle. Add the applesauce, oil and brown sugar and whisk well to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, then fold into the applesauce mixture. Stir just until combined. Fold in the dried fruit, if using. Scoop batter into muffin cups and bake 25-30 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

A Bad-Good Day

by Caroline

When my friend Ursula moved to Portugal for a year and said she had room for us all to come stay, I started looking into airfares. When she started posting pictures of Portuguese pastry on her website, I booked the tickets. She wrote me about her favorite pastry shop in Lisbon, and said we could stop in on our way home from the airport.

Now I happen to think that all food is stories, but the story behind Pasteis de Belem is a particularly good one, involving nuns and a secret recipe over two hundred years old.

There was no way I was missing a trip to this bakery. But our flight arrived too late in the afternoon to go out for what’s really a morning pastry snack, and besides, there was a medieval fair to attend. We kept the pastry shop high on the to-do list and went to bed.

Not many hours later, Ben appeared at the side of my bed. Before I could even think to curse the jet lag which I assumed had woken him, his face startled me wide awake. He was grimacing in pain, sweaty, crying. He clutched his left side and moaned as he crawled in next to me. I thought at first that he’d gotten sick from his candy apple dinner the night before, but he insisted it wasn’t his stomach, but a spot lower down, on the left. I flashed to countless readings of Madeleine and Tony googled “appendicitis,” which confirmed everything we were witnessing. I woke Ursula, and her husband drove us into Lisbon, quiet in the pre-dawn hours, to visit the pediatric ER.

And this is where the story suddenly improves. Not just because the walls of the ER were painted with a space theme that delighted my child, and not because the wonderful doctor addressed herself, in perfect English, directly to Ben as she examined him carefully, but because somehow his symptoms all disappeared. Two hours later, instead of sitting by a hospital bed while Ben recovered from an appendectomy, we were sitting in the just-opened, nearly empty Pasteis de Belem, enjoying a sleepy but amazingly delicious breakfast:

The pastry is like a cross between phyllo and pie crust, incredibly light, buttery and flakey, while the egg custard filling is light and not very sweet; the pasteis are served with shakers of cinnamon and powdered sugar (if you get the pastry to go, you’re given perfect little packets of the toppings). They look a little burned on top from being run under a broiler, which just caramelizes the sugar in the filling and gives the pastry topping an unexpected extra crunch. We ate plates full at the bakery, took more home to the rest of the family, and then resumed our vacation, just so grateful that we could.

after the ER

Why We Travel

by Caroline

I love the mix of familiar and unfamiliar when we travel. We bring food from home, but we shop in new markets. We rent an apartment so we can cook most of our own meals, but we also eat out and learn how to translate menus written in different languages. Our first night in Sintra, we went to a school fair (very familiar) but the theme was medieval Portugal (brand new!). Unlike most fairs, where plastic (or, more recently, cornstarch-based biodegradable) cups are standard, here we were given small clay mugs, which have now made their way safely home and become indispensable for breakfast drinks:

The boys shared a candy apple (familiar):

While I was more interested in the skewers of wine-poached pears:

All of our stay involved this fascinating push-pull of new and different. We ate familiar kinds of snacks (cookies and granola)…

…with amusingly new names.

We set the table for dinner outside:

But our table had a view of a castle:

So this is why we travel, even though it can be so complicated, and the rewards so simple: cereal you address with a honorific; a view of a castle. It’s enough to get me packing again.