28 February 2012

Amaranth Almond Cookies


Since we are moving, one of my many (many!) pre-moving goals is to use up as much of our pantry as possible. After all, all those tins of grains and jars of condiments (freekiah from Jordan, Turkish aci biber, honey from Senanque Abbey in Provence) cannot come with us. And while using up that whole bottle of sriracha before we leave is a bit too ambitious, I can easily tackle some of our other pantry staples, even though it might mean we eat a lot of bulgur pilafs in the coming months.

One of the things in the pantry is amaranth flour. I always like to have one or two unusual flours around to play with, things like sorghum, graham, teff or dark rye. Amaranth is a gluten free flour that has a slight sweetness to it (it is a grain, but its leaves can also be cooked and eaten). Amaranth is often used in cookies and cakes, though it is usually mixed with other flours since amaranth alone can have a slightly over powering taste. One of the really nice things about baking with amaranth is that it seems to absorb and hold a lot of moisture, which means that cookies don't spread too much in baking and that flavors like vanilla extract, coconut extract, or liqueurs shine through really brightly.

This particularly recipe incorporates almond flour and amaretto, and the liqueur taste really adds a depth of flavor. This is the perfect snack cookie or lunch box addition, and they keep particularly well.


Amaranth Almond Cookies

This recipe is a great chance to break out your scale if you have one. You can substitute a gluten-free flour mixture for the pastry flour to make these gluten free.

4 ounces almond slivers
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (3 1/8 ounces)
1/4 cup amaranth flour (1 ounce)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 1/2 ounces), softened
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon amaretto, rum, or brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Place the almonds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture looks sandy and the nuts are roughly ground, about 15 seconds.

2 Whisk together the two flours and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter using either a fork or an electric mixer, until smooth. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the egg yolk, liquor, and vanilla and beat until well blended, about 30 seconds. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the nut mixture, then gradually add the flour mixture until it is just incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until the dough is firm, at least 90 minutes or overnight.

3 Preheat to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Pinch off walnut-size pieces of the firm dough and roll them between your palms into smooth 1-inch balls.

5 Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies just turn golden brown around the edges and firm up but still yield to gentle pressure, 17 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully slide the parchment paper with the cookies onto a wire rack to cool. The cookies will crisp as they cool.

17 February 2012

Remembering Anthony Shadid


I wanted to take a moment today to remember Anthony Shadid, who died yesterday while reporting in Syria. I always told people Anthony Shadid was my idol, and I absolutely meant it. For the better part of the past ten years I, like many people, have sought out his byline in the Post or the Times. I remember always being disappointed when I opened the paper to find that, after Shadid had written a series of articles on Cairo or Syria or Baghdad, that another reporter had taken over the beat, Shadid was already off digging for next story. No one could capture the personal stories, the nuance of religion, sect, tribe, the mix of history and modernity that is the Middle East.

Shadid had a unique ability to tell the stories of daily Arab life with dignity and accuracy, so seldom found in Western media. More than anything, Shadid's adherence to old-school style journalism, to the story above all else, to real reporting, struck a particular chord with me. Someone remarked that it is so tragic because he was so young. No, I said, it is tragic because he represented to so many of us a better version of what the world could be.

Everyone I know working in Middle Eastern studies or journalism has remarked on how strongly they feel his loss. There is something about the power of his writing that makes his loss feel so personal to anyone who knew his work.

Tunisia's Islamists Test Ideas Decades in the Making

In Assad's Syria, There is No Imagination (anyone who cites Lisa Wedeen in an article is a rockstar)

Baghdad College and America's Shifting Role in Iraq


12 February 2012

Braised Beef Short Ribs


Like most of the U.S. this season, we aren't getting much of a winter this year. We were skiing in Utah a few weeks ago where half the mountains were bare and people decorated their yards with "pray for snow signs." That being said, we do get a few cold days here and there and I'm still in the mood to cook those rich, hearty stews of winter. I've also been on a bit of a polenta kick, and what's better to serve over polenta than a big juicy, spoon-tender piece of meat. (Can you tell I'm one of those people who chooses their entree based on what sides it comes with? Yes, yes I am.)


The recipe I ended up making was a combination of a Dan Barber recipe and a recipe from "Sunday Suppers at Lucques." Both of the recipes share the same basic principles. First, sear the short ribs to add color and flavor and then set them aside. Second, saute an aromatic mixture in the fat reserved in the pan (in my case mirepoix - a mixture of finely diced onions, carrots and celery). Third, add the short ribs back into the pan with a flavorful liquid mixture (aka, wine) cover and simmer for a long time over low heat in the oven (aka braise).


The recipe is really very easy but it does require a lot of time in the oven. Additionally, there is the extra step of cooling the dish before serving it, while not essential I found it made a huge difference in being able to remove all the excess fat from the liquid. Short ribs are a great thing to make on a cold Sunday afternoon and they can easily last through most of the week. And I guess I don't need to say they are excellent over polenta.

Braised Beef Short Ribs
Five pounds of ribs just barely fit in our large Le Creuset dutch oven. If you plan to chill the dish rapidly (see step 5) be sure to make enough room in your freezer ahead of time.

5 lbs short ribs
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
3 cups red wine
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
salt and pepper, coarsely ground

1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Generously season the short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat a small amount of oil in a large dutch oven. Working in batches, brown the short ribs on all sides, placing them on a plate as you work.
2. Drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat in the pan. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and saute over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes.
3. Add in the garlic and lay the short ribs over the vegetables. Sprinkle the brown sugar, Worcestershire, and tamarind over top, then pour in the wine. Add enough water so that the liquid just covers the short ribs. Cover the pot and place in the oven.
4. Braise for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Check the pot once or twice to make sure the liquid hasn't cooked down too much. The short ribs are done when they flake easily and some of the smaller ribs will probably have fallen off the bone.
5. Let cool, you can chill it overnight in the fridge or transfer the pot to the freezer to cool rapidly (about 1 1/2 hours). The fat will have solidified on top. Remove as much fat as possible from the pan.
6. Easy option: Reheat the ribs and sauce and serve immediately. Fancy option: remove the meat from the sauce and set aside. Boil the sauce down until it is thickened and reduced to about 2 cups. Then add the meat back in to the pan to reheat before serving.

02 February 2012

Frangipane Swirl Bread


Well, I must say, what a lovely surprise to find that I really do have more than three readers out there. I was truly excited to read all your messages. Let's get started with something sweet today.

This recipe was something I invented to use up the frangipane we had leftover from Paul's kiflie cookies he makes at Christmas. Let's not talk about exactly how long that frangipane sat in our fridge, just that walnuts and sugar keep for a surprisingly long time.

To use up the frangipane I decided to make a sweet bread instead of the more classic frangipane and fruit tart. I made a dough usually used for making cinnamon rolls but instead I rolled it into one giant loaf with a swirl of sweet gooey walnuts in the middle. The bread is tender with a nice crust and surprisingly addictive. We used a dark brown muscavado sugar which, like my dark brown sugar always is, was full of hardened lumps. I didn't bother sifting out the lumps and they actually added a lovely brown sugar crunch to parts of the bread. And though he'll deny it if you ask him, Paul may have eaten half the loaf within 24 hours.


Frangipane Swirl Bread
Shortening seems to work better in this recipe (we use non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening), but if you prefer butter you can use 5 tablespoons of clarified butter.

5 tablespoons shortening at room temperature
1/3 cup dark brown sugar (clumpy is fine, do not sift)
1 package, .22 ounces, instant yeast
1 cup milk, scalded and cooled
salt, 1/2 teaspoon or to taste
3 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg white

1. To make the frangipane, pulse all ingredients in a food processor until well ground. Set aside in the fridge.
2. Cream shortening and brown sugar in a large bowl. It's okay if there are clumps in the brown sugar, this is desirable. Add the yeast, salt, milk, and 3 cups of flour. Stir until it comes together in a ball of dough.
3. Slowly add the remaining half cup flour while you knead the dough in the bowl until it is smooth and elastic. (You can also turn it out and knead the dough on a board). Rub some room-temperature butter on the dough to keep it from sticking to bowl, cover the bowl with saran wrap and set in a warm place to rise for 90 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the dough out onto a lightly floured board, stretching it to a rough rectangle. Spread the frangipane over the dough. Roll up the dough into a log and place on the baking sheet, seam side down. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for 1 hour.
5. Bake the bread in the oven for 45-50 minutes. It should be firm and borwn on the crust but still tender inside. Place on a rack to cool.