Corporate Cookies

(Martha Stewart’s) Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

I admire Martha Stewart. Who knows what any public persona is “really like,” and if you don’t have to ever interact with them, why would you care? Martha takes the traditional role of homemaker and pimps the crap out of it, rendering quaint the idea that the duck you spent all day cooking or your perfect rose bush is for the satisfaction and gratification of anyone besides yourself. When made a special example of after being caught lying about insider trading, Martha took the high road, not only did her time but also rocked OT to the max, and dared to reemerge immediately, giving a big middle finger to the Man. Incidentally, her cookie recipes are superb, and the 2005 Holiday Cookies Magazine is among my most used references. This is how I make her sugar cookies; she uses the mixer for work that should be done by hand, but we’re all doing the best we can.

3 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 C sugar
1/4 C light-brown sugar
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 C butter, softened
2 large eggs
Sanding sugar

Set the oven to 350. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Then add the brown sugar and mash it in until everything’s the same color. Stir in the eggs, lemon zest and juice, and beat by hand until the eggs are completely incorporated. Add the flour mixture and stir it as well as you can, then get in there with your hands and knead the dough together until there’s no more loose flour in the bowl.

Roll the dough into 2″ balls; these are big cookies. Flatten them out slightly on a cookie sheet and sprinkle generously with sanding sugar. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, rotating the sheet half-way through. The cookies will be raised a bit in the center when you take them out of the oven, but they’ll flatten as they cool on the sheet. After five minutes, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling.

We’re having pork for dinner. Yes, again.

Cuban Roast Pork Loin

In mental preparation for Billy the Kid’s introduction to trick-or-treating tomorrow, Team Peña will sit out this particular date night and pack it in early after a big hot supper. It’s a great season for loin, and this is an easy way to pull of an unconscionably succulent piece of meat. As opposed to Pork Tenderloin with Guava Chutney, this recipe uses the intact, unsplit tenderloin and roasts rather than broils it. The resulting presentation is more handsome than dainty, but surprisingly light due to the not-too-sweet citrus marinade.

1 whole pork tenderloin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 C fresh orange juice
1/4 C fresh lime juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

Combine the garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp olive oil in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork to form a paste. Go ahead and rub that all over your loin. Put the seasoned meat in a gallon ziplock bag and pour in the lime and orange juices. Seal it up and stick it in the fridge for 2 hours.

Set your oven to 325. Put a medium roasting pan over two burners on your stove and turn both to medium. Heat the butter and the remaining 1 tbsp of oil in the pan until the foaming subsides, then brown the pork on all sides (this takes about 8 minutes in total). Turn off the stove, pour the marinade into the pan, and cover it up with aluminum foil. Roast the loin for 45 minutes until cooked all the way through (always 160 degrees for pork), then let it stand for 10 minutes before slicing into 1/2-inch rounds.

I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone to inspect their garlic at the store before checking out. In my hustle to complete today’s grocery trip quickly and spare my favorite market from a certain grabby-hands, I selected what appeared to be a perfectly healthy bunch from the bin. Back at the kitchen, I broke off the first clove and my eyes immediately teared up from the physical smack of Satan’s breath mint. I  consider myself fortunate to have lived this long without encountering bad garlic, and after one more hour airing out the house, this lesson should hold me indefinitely.

It’s not natural. It’s better.

I woke up with the vague awareness that something was amiss this morning. Sure enough, I opened the fridge for my usual pre-coffee bracer and it hit me; I had gone to bed on a depleted Diet Coke supply. Making due with half a glass of generic lite fruit punch, I lamented this turn of my wheel of fortune until the voices finally quieted with the 8 AM arrival of my iced coffee. I’m pleased to report that the reservoir is once again overflowing, and three lucky ice cubes are clinking nicely in my glass as I type.

During my several hours of pining, I recalled a great nugget from the Disgruntled Housewife, and I don’t think I could describe my dark passenger any better:

Diet Coke is not for dieters. Diet Coke is for those of us who are modern enough to take that leap of faith into the realm of the unknown. It is more mysterious than Tab, more adult than Coke Classic, more bitter and dry than Fresca. Diet Coke is that wonderful junction where science meets food. It is the ultimate synthetic food: calorie-free, nutrient-free, and vaguely immoral.

Now, I would never advise including a soft drink in any kind of cooking, but I’m never more than a foot away from a tall, iced glass of DC when I’m working in the kitchen. Or anytime after noon, really.

Diet Coke is not for dieters. Diet Coke is for those of us who are modern enough to take that leap of faith into the realm of the unknown. It is more mysterious than Tab, more adult than Coke Classic, more bitter and dry than Fresca. Diet Coke is that wonderful junction where science meets food. It is the ultimate synthetic food: calorie-free, nutrient-free, and vaguely immoral.

A cake to do your bidding.

Black Midnight Cake with Chocolate Buttercream

Straight from the 1969 Betty Crocker, this conservatively dressed anarchist of a cake gets whatever she wants, leaving sweaty foreheads and racing pulses in her wake. Butter or shortening? Both. Can’t take a little trans fat? Then get out of my kitchen!

2 1/4 C flour
1 2/3 C sugar
2/3 C cocoa
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 C tepid water
3/4 C shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1/3 C butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 C confectioners sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 to 5 tbsp water

Set your oven to 350. Grease and flour two standard round cake pans. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder into a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and sugar by hand until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, stir to combine, and pop the bowl onto its stand mixer, beating on medium speed until the batter is completely smooth. Still at medium speed, add the flour mixture and water to the batter in alternate halves (flour, water, flour, water). Once everything’s in the bowl, turn the speed up to high and beat for 3 minutes. The batter will increase in volume and the color will lighten by a few shades as the air whips in. Scrape the sides of the bowl and stir briefly to incorporate any nonconformists, then spoon into the cake pans and flatten the batter with a spatula. Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes, just until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. DO NOT OVERBAKE THIS CAKE! Take it out of the oven and let it sit in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a dull knife around the perimeters of the layers, and turn them onto wire racks to cool completely. The tops are a little sticky, so I turn them over again and set them right side up to cool, otherwise some of the cake will stay on the rack.

The frosting only take a few minutes, so wait until the cake has cooled to get started. Melt the butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Once melted, turn off the stove and stir in the vanilla. Add the sugar half a cup at a time, sprinkling in 1 tbsp of water as needed to facilitate stirring. The finished product should be completely smooth; if you wind up with a greasy, mottled appearance, you just need to add a little more water and beat it vigorously. Frost the (completely cool) cake right away, using about 1/3 C between the layers.

You’ll notice that the cake layers are rounded on their tops, so you can even them out with a wire cutter or sharp knife before assembly, or you can stack the layers so that the flat ends meet in the middle to minimize sliding. Let the frosted cake sit out for 20 minutes to set the shell, then store it in a cake-saver to preserve the magic. You can keep the rapidly dwindling remains sealed up at room temperature for a week, or you can plan on calling in tomorrow and throw yourself a party for one.


Zingy Toms

These little cherry bombs can be prepared well in advance, clear all dietary restrictions aside from non-carbon based, and serve as the ultimate palate cleanser between mixed drinks. I should mention these are based on a recipe from the Martha Stewart H’ors D’Oeuvres Handbook  (1999), a book I highly recommend, both for its fantastic recipes and over a hundred pages of saliva-inducing close-ups bordering on food porn.

24 large cherry tomatoes
1/4 C finely chopped black olives (French or Italian, your choice. Not that there’s no difference, I’m just not much of an olive person.)
1/4 C finely chopped green olives (again, they just need to be green)
3 finely chopped white button mushrooms
1/4 C finely chopped red onion
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

You can prepare the tomato cups up to 24 hours in advance, then keep them wrapped and chilled. The tapenade can also be made ahead of time, but it gets zingier by the hour.

The top of the cherry tomato is the flattest part, so this will be the bottom of the cup. Using a small sharp knife, slice the not-stem end off, far enough up the tomato to hit seed. Use whatever you have on hand to gut the tomatoes; I use a metal quarter-teaspoon, Mrs. H prefers a melon baller. Place the cups face down on a dinner plate lined with a paper towel, wrap the whole thing up and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour to get the tomatoes firm and chilly.

To make the tapenade, mix up all the other ingredients. An anticlimactic ratio of prep work to execution, right? Stuff the tomatoes as full as possible without splitting the skin in your vigor, and plate them up on something fancy.

If you made bread out of meat, you wouldn’t need sandwiches.

Fortified Meat Loaf

About once a month, my body sounds the scurvy warning, necessitating consumption of green vegetable. “But what about the children?” you might worry. No need, as vegetable is the one food group that Billy the Kid seldom sends back to the kitchen, and he gets some with two meals every day. He distrusts sandwiches, automatically vetoes red sauce, and becomes livid upon discovery of other than potato inside a battered and fried stick, but he’ll put away a bowl of canned peas like nobody’s business. So put the phone down, we don’t need to involve the state. Ground chuck is the Borg of the food universe, incorporating unsuspecting ingredients into its mass, extracting any useful flavors, and overwhelming the rest with its relentlessly rich beefiness. Please note that I am not a huge Star Trek fan, I just admire the stoic hustle with which the Borg implements its business plan.

2 C finely chopped onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 finely chopped celery stalk
1 finely chopped carrot
1 finely chopped broccoli stalk, no florets
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2/3 C ketchup (to be used in 1/3 C quantities)
1 1/2 lb ground chuck
3/4 lb ground pork
2 egss, beaten
1/3 C minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp butter

Set your oven to 350. Heat the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, broccoli and scallion for 5 minutes, until they start to soften. Stir 1/3 C ketchup and the salt and pepper into the pan, and cook for one minute. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl, draining any remaining oil back into the pan. Mix the Worcestershire sauce and eggs into the mixture and combine thoroughly.

If you’re a hypochondriac, now’s the time to grab a fresh pair of polyethylenes. Put the chuck and pork in the bowl and use your hands to mix it up. I use Mr. P’s noise-canceling headphones for this step, as the sound of a baby alien clawing it’s way out of someone’s midsection makes me gag. Once it’s ready, pack it into a standard glass or metal loaf pan, brush the remaining 1/3 C ketchup onto the top, and sprinkle with parsley. Bake it for an hour, and use a meat thermometer to check that the center has reached 160. You’ve got pork and eggs in there, let’s not play with fire.

I’ll admit to making gravy from a McCormick packet for this one. You’re not left with any drippings in the cooking process, so you really don’t have much of a choice. But instead of adding water directly to the powder, heat 2 tbsp of butter in a pan over medium heat and once the foaming subsides, stir in the powder to form a roux. Then add the water slowly, stirring constantly to maintain an even, lumpless consistency. Let the finished gravy simmer over low for ten minutes to thicken completely.

Sugar and butter and…is there anything else?

Russian Tea Cakes

The scariest Russian I’ve ever met, actually the only scary Russian I’ve ever met, gives these cookies a terrifyingly enthusiastic thumbs-up. Frequently traveling under the aliases of Mexican Wedding Cookies and Swedish Tea Cakes, I’ve seen all kinds of nuts used, from walnuts to pecans to peanuts (gack), but the hazelnut lends a little taste of Christmas, which is when I usually make these.

1 C butter
1/2 C confectioners sugar, plus more for coating
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 C flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C ground hazelnuts (a food processor is super handy here, a blender also works)

Cream together the butter, 1/2 C confectioners sugar, and the vanilla. Add the flour and salt and combine the mixture with your hands until you can’t find any lumps of unincorporated butter. If you don’t like touching food with your hands, just wait until we get to meatloaf. Add the hazelnuts, and use your hands again to mix until evenly distributed. Wrap up the dough and chill it for two hours.

Set your oven to 400. Put a cup of confectioners sugar in bowl. Roll the dough into 1″ balls and put them on a cookie sheet, pressing them down slightly to form a stable base. Space them 2″ apart; they won’t get bigger in the oven, but spacing them too closely prevents the heat from hitting the sides. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown. Check them at 8 minutes to make sure the bottoms are not burning, in which case, they’re done! Upon removal from the oven, let them cool on the pan for 15 minutes. Roll each cookie in the powdered sugar to coat completely (I’m guilty of pressing the cookies violently into the sugar to get as much packed on as possible).

Let the finished cookies sit out for a few hours, then put them in an air-tight container lined with paper towels to blot any butter slick that escapes. These are great to bring into work, as long as you make a sign with “contains nuts” in huge type and throw some napkins next to the plate. Otherwise it’ll look like you’ve all been doing coke.

This little piggy has chutney…

Pork Tenderloin with Guava Chutney

I cry every time I watch Babe, but a little less if I’ve just eaten good pork. A Peña favorite is bone-in, thinly sliced pork chops with caramelized red onions and white rice, but every few months we’ll upgrade to a tenderloin. Pork, generally a husky meat, is at its most elegant when presented in medium-rare medallions, and this cut’s relatively little saltiness makes it the perfect vehicle for a brazen topper.

1 pork tenderloin (you can buy an individually wrapped half, which feeds 2 people generously, or a split whole tenderloin for up to 5)
1/4 C guava paste (Goya is the easiest to find)
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp dried cilantro (1 tsp for a half tenderloin,  2 tsp for a whole)
1 tsp crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
olive oil

Set the pork on a rack over a roasting pan. Drizzle the tenderloin with 2 tsp olive oil. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and cilantro onto the top and rub it in with your fingers. You don’t need to do the bottom, as the meat will be broiled, so when you flip it over in the oven, the bottom will be moist. Leave the rubbed pork at room temperature while you prepare the chutney.

Start your broiler. Position the top rack so that there will be two inches between the top of the pork and the flame. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil over med-high heat in a medium pan. Cook the onion until it softens, turning frequently, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low, add 2 tbsp more olive oil, then add the guava paste to the pan, and break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula.  It will take about 10 minutes for the paste to melt into a thick, syrupy liquid. Once it does, add salt, pepper and 1 tsp crushed red pepper. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and let it sit at room temperature while you cook the pork. Waiting until you’ve finished cooking the chutney to start the pork will give the former just the right amount of time to set, both in terms of flavor and texture.

I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re doing the half-loin. Stick the pork in the oven, so that the flame bar spans the length of the tenderloin (if using a whole, it will take about twice as long to cook, and the halves should be positioned 2″ apart, parallel to each other, equidistant from the flame). Broil the pork for about 10 minutes, until the top begins to brown, then pull the rack out and use tongs to turn the meat over. Give it another 10 minutes to finish cooking. The meat should be completely cooked, just barely rosy in the center. Take it out of the oven and let it stand for five minutes so it reabsorbs some of the juice. The surface will have crisped, so use a super sharp knife to slice the tenderloin at a slight angle into 1/2″ rounds.

Transfer the chutney to a serving dish, skimming off any oil that has accumulated at the surface. This should be an on-the-side option, considering the widespread disdain for public onion consumption. Since you’re serving a starch as well, five end or four center medallions are sufficient for the average dinner guest. Fan them out on the plates if you don’t mind appearing fancy – I certainly don’t. I usually serve this with crispy tinned potatoes; pan-fry drained canned sliced potatoes in HOT vegetable oil with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley, then drain on paper towels before plating.

I’m in the mood for cheese.

Fantsy-Pantsy Caprese Toasts

I rock my few vices hard. I smoke like a salmon, will probably die from aspartame, and have a penchant for cheeses that blur the line between cream and butter. My version of a dirty weekend involves an empty house, a BBC Victorian miniseries, four baguettes, and two wheels of Camembert or triple créme. When it comes to cooking, however, I find a big fresh ball of mozzarella yields some of the most gratifying results. Mrs. H, who you’ll remember from the post before last, tipped me off to freezing mozzarella before grating to avoid the mangled cheese limb effect. For the following hors d’oeuvres, I prefer slicing the mozzarella into thin chunks for a more rustic presentation. I don’t know if buffalo mozzarella makes a huge difference, but I think we can agree that it’s fun to imagine someone milking a water buffalo.

1 French baguette
1 1/2 C seeded and diced plum tomatoes
4 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 C fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced into thin chunks
2 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine the tomatoes, basil, 2 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Wrap it up and stick it the fridge for an hour.

Set the over to 350. Take a bite of the tomatoes and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Slice the baguette into 1/2″-thick rounds and place them on a cookie sheet. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, then saute the garlic for a minute until it softens, but don’t let it burn. Brush the baguette slices with the garlic oil, pile each with a few tablespoons of tomatoes, and top with two mozzarella chunks. Bake at 350 until the mozzarella melts and just starts to show some flecks of brown.

These cool quickly, so start shoveling.

He’s Lebanese, right?

My husband is the Puerto Rican Ben Kingsley. What I find most interesting (and charming) about the ethnic assumptions strangers frequently make about him is that they all want to claim him as one of their own. “Because he’s so obviously Jewish?” someone asked when introduced to Mr. P at a party and told by the host he reminded her of her husband. The local pizzeria proprietor in our old neighborhood couldn’t be convinced, and repeatedly asked if he was sure he wasn’t Lebanese. Right after 911, friends and family suggested he give the beard a little time off because of his uncanny resemblance to an Egyptian hijacker. That the hijacker had died hijacking went unmentioned. When I met Mr. P for the first time back in ’99, I thought “Penya” must be Italian and started researching Lasagna recipes. Then I got wind of the tilde. Cuban by way of his father, it was his Puerto Rican mother, Sra. C, who did all the cooking, so most of my attempts to recreate the comfort foods of his childhood hail from the Territory as opposed to the Republic. The following is a common P.R. Thanksgiving main dish, and for the years that I’ve made it in place of a roasting a whole bird, I’ve gotten delightful reviews and tryptophan poisoning tantamount to that of a traditional WASP turkey dinner.

Pavo en Fricasé

1 substantial but modest turkey, cut up into official pieces, with skin

4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 packet Sazón (in the “international” section with the Goya products)
salt and pepper

4 oz ham, chopped
1 large bay leaf
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 hot pepper, your choice
1 C seeded, peeled and chopped tomatoes (submerging the whole tomatoes into boiling water for a few minutes will shrink the skin for easier removal)
2 C chicken stock
1/2 C green olives, sliced
1 tbsp capers
2 pimentos, chopped
olive oil

Mix the garlic, oregano, vinegar, Sazón, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper together, and rub the resulting paste all over the turkey pieces. The annato in the Sazón will stain your fingers up through your next two shampoos if you don’t use rubber gloves. Rub the seasoning under the turkey skin where possible. Wrap it up on a plate and chill it for 4 hours.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in the deepest pan you have. Saute the onion and ham for a few minutes to brown slightly. Transfer them to a bowl, add a little more oil to the pan, turn it up to high, and then put all the turkey in, shoving the pieces together to give each as much pan-contact as possible. Brown the turkey on high for three minutes, then turn the pieces over and brown for three minutes more.

Now add back the onions and ham, as well as the bay leaf, pepper, tomatoes and chicken stock. Stir it all up with the turkey in what will be the most awkward spoon-work of your life. Keep the heat on high until the liquid boils, then add only as much water as necessary to cover the turkey completely. Cover the pan, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until the turkey is cooked all the way through. Remove and toss the pepper and bay leaf, and add the olives, capers and pimentos. Heat uncovered over low for 5 minutes to warm up the last ingredients.

This should be served with medium-grain white rice, prepared according to package directions; Canilla is Sra. C’s brand of choice, therefore our brand of choice. Putting some of the sauce on the rice is a great idea.

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