Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Road Trip Math

Five days, four swims, three beds, two ferries, one wedding. And 74 cookies. That’s what I call road trip math.

I just got back from a fresh and summery getaway to Orcas Island. Though I had little doubt, the trip confirmed for me that Gravel Cookies are the best road trip cookies. They are chocolatey, but they don’t melt. Their flavor is sophisticated to match the extravagance and novelty of escape. They are bite-sized and irresistible. So irresistible, in fact, that two of us ate 74 of them in five days.
On Thursday morning, when I was packing my Tupperware full of cookies for the road, I envisioned sharing them with new friends—maybe even bringing some home for lunches. But not one was shared, wasted or saved. We ate them all.

And we still had room for pie.  

Please consider bringing Gravel Cookies on your next road trip.  But be advised, they are hard to resist, and your cookie supply may equal zero before you know it.

A note about the name: Years ago, my mom discovered this recipe in the New York Times Magazine. The original recipe refers to them as Cacao Polenta Cookies and calls for instant polenta. Both my mom and I agree that coarse grind cornmeal is a superior substitute, but it brings with it a rather gravelly texture. They are loud to chew, and leave behind bits of “gravel” in your teeth. Instead of fighting it, I prefer to own their gravelly texture.

Gravel Cookies
Adapted from Cacao Polenta Cookies, New York Times Magazine, March 20, 2005.

1 cup unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
½ cup coarse grind cornmeal
½ cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts
Pinch of salt
½ cup cacao nibs

  • Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg yolks.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, hazelnuts and salt.
  • Mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until combined.
  • Stir in the nibs.
  • Make two long logs, one inch in diameter, wrap them in plastic, and refrigerate until firm (about 4 hours).
  • Slice the dough into 1/3 inch pieces, and arrange them on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper.
  • Bake at 350 degrees until slightly golden, about 22 minutes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Watermelon Swim

Cold skin after a long lake swim has a solid position on my list of favorite things. It’s a reminder of the great swim you just had, it cools you down even after your skin is dry, and it usually means that the weather is nice enough to warrant a jump in the lake.

I've been doing a lot of lake swimming recently.

I had a little party last week and wanted to make a special, non-alcoholic drink. I chose a fresh, watermelon-mint cooler. It was really good, and certainly a crowd pleaser. Its lip-smacking corally-pink color and refreshing flavor made it festive enough to go head-to-head with a nice Sauvignon Blanc—in a wine drinking crowd.

The day after the party, while tidying up, I had a glass of the watermelon juice straight, without the mint syrup. I think it’s even better that way.

Watermelon juice is a bit like lake swimming. It’s refreshing even after you’re done, and its presence means that summer is here. I grew up lake swimming, and I'm pretty sure I will grow old that way. Maybe I'll add watermelon juice to that mix.
Watermelon Mint Cooler (or just plain watermelon juice)
1 mini seedless watermelon (about 16 cups of cubed flesh)
1 bunch of fresh mint
1 cup sugar
  • Peel and cube the watermelon, and puree it in batches in a blender. Thin it with about 2 cups water total to ease the blending.
  • Strain the puree with a fine sieve. Discard the flesh.
  • Chill and enjoy. Or:
  • In a small sauce pan, bring 1 cup water and the sugar to a boil until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mint and let it sit for 20 minutes or so until the leaves are wilted and the syrup has taken on the mint flavor.
  • Strain and discard the mint.
  • In a tall glass with ice, mix the watermelon juice with a tablespoon or two of the mint syrup.
Please note, watermelon juice is WAY better cold.  If you'd like to serve the juice shortly after you make it, refrigerate the watermelons.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Scream for Cheese

When we were kids, our ice cream maker was two coffee cans, ice and salt. I am not sure how many times we actually did it, but rolling those cans up and down the deck in anticipation of strawberry ice cream pride has certainly stuck with me.

Maybe it’s because I don’t really have coffee cans in my life anymore—or maybe I’m just getting old and lazy—but when I decided to make ice cream this week, instead of digging around for cans I traipsed over to my brother’s and borrowed his electric ice cream maker. Those things are great.

I made a recipe from an old issue of Gourmet (moment of silence) that called for Mahon cheese, but I substituted Manchego. The result was quite good—creamy and rich with a subtle enough cheese flavor to be interesting but not overwhelming. I highly recommend it.

It’s the name that I’m getting hung up on. “Cheese ice cream” just sounds bad. And “Manchego ice cream” is only mildly better. We endearingly called it “cheese cream” for a while, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Frozen cheese cake is probably the best description of its flavor, but that sounds like something you'd get out of the case at Baskin-Robbins. Still working on a name…

Manchego Ice Cream
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2005

3 cups whole milk
3 eggs
½ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces Manchego, grated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  • Bring milk to a boil.

  • In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, and salt. Pour the hot milk into the bowl slowly while whisking.

  • Pour the mixture back into the pan, and cook on low heat, stirring, until it reaches 175°F.

  • Pour custard through a sieve into a clean bowl, then add cheeses and vanilla, stirring until cheeses are melted.

  • Cover and refrigerate until cold, then freeze it in an ice cream maker. Or two coffee cans.