Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Culinary Potpourri!

The first post of 2010!  A wonderful blank slate is spread before me (sort of like the snowy, icy landscape outside my window).  Before I tell you about today's recipe, I must recap the New Year's festivities.

We spent the New Year holiday in North Carolina but in route to NC, we stopped in our nation's capital for a little sightseeing, eating, and drinking (of course!).  I had not been to DC for a few years but each time I go, I am in awe of the beauty and history of this city.  Before leaving New Jersey, I had reserved tickets through our Congressman for a tour of the Capitol. As you may know, all tours begin at the recently completed Capitol Visitor's Center (quite impressive it is). I am a firm believer that Americans should be required to visit Washington every few years for a refresher course in democracy.

After the Capitol tour, we hightailed it across town to the National Geographic Museum for the Terra Cotta Warriors Exhibition from China.  I've seen photos of the incredible statues unearthed in the '70s from the Emperor's tomb, but coming face to face with these figures is truly incredible.  The exhibit is running through March if you are interested.

After much debate about where to go for dinner in DC, I settled upon Central Michel Richard.  Thanks to the DC eGullet members for their invaluable input about the many choices available in the District. Since we had only one night, it was a very tough decision! But Central did not disappoint. Michel Richard (of Citronelle fame) opened a casual bistro that serves American favorites combined with French influences. We began the evening with the traditional French first course, gougeres (cheese puffs) and a lovely Pinot Noir. I just loved these little cheese balls - lighter than air with a delicious earthy flavor. 

Our main course was a special that evening -- roasted pork loin with a cumin dry rub, served alongside butternut squash puree, and tender broccolini. 

And for dessert, Malted Vanilla ice cream!

Everything about our evening at Central was top-notch: the food, the atmosphere, and the first class wait staff (who obviously have been very well trained to provide fabulous service without being stuffy). Our server, although having several tables in her charge, never missed a beat. Her eyes were constantly patrolling her area to make sure water and wine glasses were full, inquiring about your meal, and answering questions when needed. 

Then it was on to North Carolina to visit our friends, Bernie & Cheryl (I had strongly considered calling this post "Weekend at Bernie's" but it wasn't technically a weekend, and thankfully, Bernie is still with us!).  A wonderfully relaxing few days was spent in the Winston-Salem area visiting wineries, enjoying the authentic Mexican food at Las Estrellas (the best Mexican food I've had outside of Baja California), and ringing in 2010 with good  friends. Can't ask for much more than that, can you? Well, maybe just a cookie or two...

While we were at Bernie's, he baked off his favorite chocolate chip cookies for us to enjoy (the recipe is from one of our favorite bakers: Dorie Greenspan). Bernie is a purist when it comes to chocolate chip cookies (as I suspect many people are). The cookies were terrific, but I am not a purist. I want a more complex cookie. I want STUFF in my cookies. I want different textures and flavors in every bite. I want THESE cookies! From the fine folks at Cook's Illustrated comes Chocolate-Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries (!!!). 

Look at the glorious melange of textures here - the chopped chocolate, the plump cherries, the toasted pecans, the oats (and this is the "before" stage, just wait until you see the finished product).  Oh my!

These cookies are a little labor intensive as you need to chop the chocolate and the cherries, but once you get that out of the way, you're good to go. These bake up into thick, chewy inside-crisp outside, perfect with a glass of milk, cookies. One recipe note: the recipe calls for using a 1/4 cup portion of batter for each cookie - I found this to be too big in the first batch so halved it for the remaining cookies (producing the perfect size).  Experiment with it to find your own perfect cookie.

So, Happy New Year to you, dear reader. May 2010 bring you good health, happiness, and your fair share of cookies. Eat well, stay warm, be happy!

Printable Recipe

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/4 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/4 cups rolled oats , old-fashioned, (3 1/2 ounces)
1 cup toasted pecans (4 ounces), chopped
1 cup dried tart cherries (5 ounces), chopped coarse
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped into chunks about size of chocolate chips (about 3/4 cup)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar (10 1/2 ounces), preferably dark
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.  Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large (18 by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, stir together oats, pecans, cherries, and chocolate.
3. In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until no sugar lumps remain, about 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low speed until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl; with mixer running at low speed, add flour mixture; mix until just combined, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on low, gradually add oat/nut mixture; mix until just incorporated.  
Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.
4. Divide dough evenly into 16 portions, each about 1/4 cup, then roll between palms into balls about 2 inches in diameter; stagger 8 balls on each baking sheet, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using hands, gently press each dough ball to 1 inch thickness. Bake both baking sheets 12 minutes, rotate them front to back and top to bottom, then continue to bake until
cookies are medium brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will seem underdone and will appear raw, wet, and shiny in cracks), 8 to 10 minutes longer. Do not overbake.
5. Cool cookies on baking sheets on wire rack 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

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