Monday, March 21, 2011

Apricot and Blackberry-Marzipan Hamantaschen

Hamantaschen!  Oh man, it seriously took me a week to learn how to say and spell the name of these cookies correctly.  The first time I told my roommate I was going to make hamantaschen, it came out something like "hama-stor-stat-tatch-tashen."  To which her bewildered response was a..."wha?  Are you trying to speak German?!"

Anyways, regardless of difficulty for me to wrap my apparently failing linguistic skills around, these cookies are delicious nonetheless.  And they are related in part to a German word, so I wasn't so far off, right?  Right?

The first I'd ever heard of these little triangular cookies was from my friend Starr, who started telling me about them at the beginning of last week.  Then, once I knew about them, I couldn't stop seeing them everywhere--they were in the coffee shop I went to to do work, they were in the supermarkets, they were all over the internets--even though I had never noticed them before.  Does anyone else ever do that, like notice how many other people seem to have your car?  So when Starr mentioned that she wanted to try her hand at making hamantaschen, I jumped at the chance to try them out.

It turns out that the cookies are pretty awesome and simple, a shortcrust pastry-like cookie on the outside with different sorts of jam or paste fillings inside.  Poppyseed and prune are two traditional flavors, I think, as is apricot, but, like any sort of filling-cookie combo, I couldn't help but get really excited to see what else I could stuff inside the cookies instead.  Starr and I ended up making four different flavors of hamantaschen, but these were the two that we liked the best: a more traditional dried apricot quick jam filling and a more non-traditional blackberry preserve and marzipan filling.  The apricot jam was deliciously tart, made from dried California apricots that are supposedly tart-er than their Turkish counterparts, and packed with juicy, fruity flavor, and the tartness was the perfect accent against the sweet crust of the cookies.  In the blackberry-marzipan hamantaschen, the almond paste melded beautifully with the pastry outsides for a rich, nutty center top with seedy berry preserves.  Starr mentioned that these looked reminiscent of the prune-flavored hamantaschen, but in my opinion, I'll take marzipan and blackberry over prune any day.  :-)

On that note, Happy belated Purim to everyone!  Make sure to grab a hamantaschen on your way to the recipe....

(and yes, I'm still working on pronouncing "Purim" correctly, too.)

(P.S.  In case you were wondering, the other two flavors we tried were poppyseed and mascarpone-fig.)

[Edit:  Upon eating these, Starr's husband, Alan, broke out into spontaneous song.  To the tune of Frere Jacques:
Hamantaschen, hamantaschen
I eat you, I eat you
You are very tasty, you are very tasty
nom nom nom, nom nom nom
Thanks, Alan!  :-)]

Read on for recipe...

Monday, March 14, 2011

An Open Letter to Paula Deen

Dear Ms. Paula Deen,

My roommate, Maria, and I (pictured below) have wanted to write you for a long time now to thank you for being such a happy force in our lives.  As graduate students, we're too often over-worked, almost always under-paid, and constantly surviving on far too little sleep, but whenever we hear your cheerful voice come through the television and see your love of life and your healthy appreciation for cream and butter, we can't help but smile along.

Me + Maria, in Shanghai, China, June 2008
Our absolute favorite Paula Deen moment has to be when you made a hamburger out of two donuts, complete with a fried egg and bacon!  Sweet and savory together--that's something that I really like to do in my baking, too, often incorporating herbs or a sprinkling of salt into my dessert creations.  But the question that I've always had for you about your hamburger is... where was the cheese?!

To thank you for inspiring us to take time and appreciate the yummy things in life, Maria and I decided to make you a tribute pie in celebration of Pi Day 2011.  We wanted to do something that we thought you would appreciate the most, so this is what we came up with: a macaroni and cheese pie.  And not just any ol' mac'n'cheese pie!  We made sure to pack it full of cheesy and delicious goodness, from the homemade spicy cheddar cheese crust to the deep-fried mac'n'cheese balls buried inside the mac'n'cheese pie filling.  (Yes, that's double the mac'n'cheese.)  To top it off, Maria came up with the brilliant idea of making a lattice-top with bacon, which was so smart on her part because the bacon flavor seeped down into the mac'n'cheese, making it even awesome-er.  Finally, we made sure to serve it with maple syrup and hot sauce, because we had to have the sweet and savory combination there.  Seriously, Paula, this is probably one of the best pies I've ever made, and everyone at our school's Pi Day event loved it.

Oh-- and we named it the "Pie-la Deen." :-)

So I hope you enjoy our little token of thanks for helping make our lives brighter and buttery-er.  If you're ever in the Bay Area, you are always welcome to drop by here, and we'll make sure to whip up some Pie-la Deen for you!

❤ always,
Stephanie (and Maria)

Read on for recipe...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lemon Ricotta Bites, or a little bit of sunshine on your Friday

See?  I told you it would be impossible to keep me out of the kitchen for too long.  On Monday night, I was at a departmental dinner party, and the graduate studies admin, Belen, made these absolutely lovely meyer lemon ricotta cookies for dessert.  The tang of the lemon, with the lightness of the ricotta cookie--so light that it's almost like a cake!--really brought a ray of brightness and sunshine into my day.  There's just something about meyer lemon that makes me smile, in addition to the wonderful company at the party.  Thankfully, Belen was happy to share the source of the recipe, and I just had to replicate these cookies myself at home to power me through this week of proposal-writing.

Alright, now I'm headed back to work.  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and if you need a little pick-me-up, these cookie bites are most definitely what I'd prescribe.  :-)

Also, my thoughts go out to those in Japan, as well as New Zealand--stay safe!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

a note

Dearest blog readers,

I'm still here!  I'm still alive!  This blog has been suffering from a dearth of desserts (sadly!), and I wanted to just thank you all for your continued patience as well as ask for it a little longer.

So what have I been up to that's so important that I haven't been in the kitchen, dreaming up new ways to use butter, sugar, and chocolate?  My dissertation proposal! which is due this week.  As in Friday.  as in *yikes*!  So in my free waking moments, when I'm not teaching or preparing to teach or doing other departmental obligations, I have my head stuck in piles of books and printed pdfs and pages after pages of my own handwritten scrawl to try to make sense of the universe (okay, or a weeeeeee small tiny portion of it) and distill my understanding of it (or lack thereof, to be completely honest) into a single Word document for my committee's appraisal.  In all fairness, part of me has really been enjoying this time for intellectual focus, how I can just think and concentrate on solving one problem twenty-four hours a day (yes, I'll even wake myself up in the middle of the night, my brain buzzing from the ideas).  But, I don't think I'm the type of person who can keep up this pace forever and ever.

It also hasn't been the case that I've been completely out of the kitchen these past few weeks.  We've had a slew of visitors in the department last week and a big dinner at one of our professors' houses one night for them.  I couldn't let go of the tradition of bringing dessert for that event (it's an annual thing--this is what I made last year), so I managed to jump in the kitchen quickly and whip something up.  That's when I learned that it is possible to make a big batch of mini cupcakes in less than an hour and a half!  I love having recipes in my back pocket that I can just pull out and tweak and combine at will for things just like this, and what I ended up doing were these dark chocolate cupcakes with lemon mascarpone frosting--adding about one and a half tablespoons of instant coffee in the cupcake batter--and then I drizzled them on top with salted butter caramel (use this recipe for caramel brandy hard sauce, but omit the brandy and add 1/2 tspn of coarse salt to the butter).

Anyways, trust me when I say that I'm looking forward to jumping back in the kitchen and getting back behind the camera after I send off my first draft of this dissertation proposal.  I've been keeping a stack of post-it notes on which I've scribbled all of the food ideas and projects that I want to do, and I can't wait to start tackling them.  In the meantime, thank you so much for sticking around and, for those of you on Twitter, your friendly and positive chatter there that keeps me going.