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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wookiee Cookies



Yesterday was Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you! Nyuk, nyuk!), and at the last minute, I invited some folks over to watch The Empire Strikes Back. We cooked up some Princess Leia buns, served Yoda Soda, and had a great time. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to bake Wookiee Cookies. The good news is I have some old Wookiee Cookie photos and the recipe in my head, so for those of you who wanted the low-down on Wookiee Cookies, here ya go.

Let me preface this post by saying I am not really a Star Wars fan. Growing up, my only exposure to Star Wars was a small collection of action figures that belonged to my friend Jared. Jared was about 5 or 6 years my senior, the son of my mom’s friend, and I thought he was too cool for school. He had a thick mop of blonde hair, bright blue eyes, he could walk to 7-11 without an adult accompanying him, and he listened to Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and Led Zeppelin. I was completely enamored.

In an effort to get Jared to notice me, I tried to feign interest in his little figurine collection, which rested on his bedside table on top of a mat of silky white faux fur. One afternoon we were both in his bedroom. Looking back, he was probably babysitting me, but deep in my hopeful heart I dreamed he had actually done everything in his power to get out of going dirt-biking with his friends, just so he could stay home and spend time with me. With tremendous effort, I pulled my starry eyes away from Jared’s dimples and tousled hair and focused my attention on the small plastic figures beside me. I mean, we all know the way to a man’s heart is to get him talking about himself and his interests. Am I right ladies?

“Hey Jared,” I said as casually as a 7 year old could, “who’s this green alien guy?”

“That,” Jared said, rolling his eyes at me, “is Yoda. He’s only the most wise and powerful Jedi Master in the entire universe, duh!”

“Oh,” I replied.

I had no idea what a Jedi Master was. What I did know was that Jared had just said “duh” to me. Any self-respecting 7 year old knows that when someone says “duh” to you, you better shape up quick and say something smart lest you look like a complete fool.
I knew I was in over my head, and I knew there was a very slim chance of sounding intelligent about anything related to Star Wars, but I couldn’t stop. The future of my life with Jared was on the line! I had to continue this conversation for the sake of the children we would eventually have together.

“Hey,” I said, picking up a small likeness of Carrie Fisher, clothed in a flowing white robe, “so um…why is this girl wearing earmuffs?”

“Those aren’t earmuffs, that’s her hair.” Jared ripped the figurine from my hands and looked at me in disbelief.

“This is Princess Leia,” he said. “Don’t you know who Princess Leia is?”

“Sure,” I lied. “She’s...a princess.”

“Right, and she’s also Luke Skywalker’s sister!”

“Oh. Right, right. I forgot about that. Heh, heh.”

My cover was nearly blown. I had to redeem myself if I ever wanted Jared to invite me to eat Pop Rocks and throw dirt bombs with him and his buddies down by Oak Creek. I could tell he was already disinterested. His back was to me and he was rooting around in his closet for his favorite AC/DC t-shirt. I picked up another action figure and asked, “So, this is the Princess’s bodyguard, right?”

“Yeah,” he replied, his head buried in a mound of clothes, “kinda. Chewbacca is pretty much everyone’s bodygua...”

I looked up. Jared had emerged from the closet, a screen print of Malcolm & Angus in hand, his gorgeous hair even more disheveled than normal. He was staring down at my sweaty, balled up fists, which were gripping the hard, plastic statuette as if my life depended on it. Slowly, his eyes made their way to my face, and he stared at me with what I imagined was intense, unbridled passion. Finally!, I thought, Jared has recognized his true feelings for me! He’s going to ask me to be his girl, I just know it!

“Aimee,” he said, trying to control himself, “that is nobody’s bodyguard. That is Darth Vader. And…you…just…broke…his…LIGHTSABER!!”

I looked down and saw a pink, thin bit of plastic on the floor, with a black gloved hand attached to it. And then I started to cry.

Needless to say, our love story never panned out, and I carried a permanent disdain for all things Star Wars-related into early adulthood.

That is, until I met my dear friend Wren in college. Wren and I first lived together one summer when my lease expired and I needed a place to stay for 2-3 months before the school year started. There was an opening in her house, and I gratefully took it.

I soon learned that Wren is a hardcore Star Wars fan. My internal response to this, naturally, was “Great. Just what I need – another Star Wars nutso.” Wren tried in vain to explain the Star Wars story to me, and I adamantly fought her tooth and nail. Not only did I not care a lick about Star Wars, I also found it too complicated and confusing. So many people that may or may not be related, so many weird names to keep track of, so many solar systems and planets and spacecrafts...it was just too much!

Wren persisted though, and one evening in the midst of finals, I became weak. She had made popcorn, and I emerged from my bedroom, my olfactory senses following the aroma of buttered goodness. I felt weary from staring at and proofreading an essay on global systems in social services, and as I rubbed my tired eyes, I was oblivious to the videos sitting out next to the TV. Wren offered me some popcorn, and I gladly accepted. I sat there munching for a minute or two, my thoughts lost in service delivery models and best practices, when Wren suddenly piped up and said, “So...wanna watch a movie?”

“Sure,” I said, barely noticing the glimmer in her eyes, “I could use a break. Anything to get my mind off of this paper.”

“Okay!” she responded gleefully, “I’m going to show you Star Wars!”

I didn’t even have time to protest as she zoomed to the TV at a hyperspeed pace and turned on the VCR. I sat there in a stupor as she disappeared upstairs, then came rushing back down with a plastic bucket bearing the faces of the Star Wars cast. Slowly she began to unload its contents on the living room coffee table. One by one, she set out the entire cast of every Star Wars film ever made…in the form of Pez dispensers.

That’s right, kids. I was schooled in all things Star Wars with the help of Pez and an over-zealous Star Wars fanatic. My dear friend was wise enough to recognize that, as a kinesthetic learner, I needed solid representation of what I was learning. I think we used a Nerf ball to represent the Death Star, and an empty Tupperware container to represent the Millennium Falcon.

That night we had a Star Wars marathon. We watched the original trilogy, staying up until around 2am and pausing as necessary if I had questions or became confused. The next night, we watched episodes 1 & 2. (Revenge of the Sith hadn’t come out yet.) Wren was very patient with me, sometimes explaining a particular sequence two or three times so I could get it.

In the end, I enjoyed the films. I certainly didn’t LOVE them like so many other people did, but I could at least carry on a conversation about Star Wars at a party (if I absolutely had to).

A year or two later, Wren showed me a menu she’d made for a Star Wars party. It included items such as Princess Leia cinnamon buns, Yoda soda, and Wookiee cookies. I was blown away. The detail and creativity that had gone into making the menu was so clever and fun. I’ve since begged Wren to send me a copy of her menu, just so I can pull it out every once and awhile and chuckle at it. But she continues to keep it secret.

I can, however, recreate the Wookiee cookies, because Wren made them dozens of times during the years we’ve lived together. The recipe is pretty easy and a lot of fun...

Wookiee Cookies

1. Find your favorite peanut butter cookie recipe for the dough. If you don’t like peanut butter cookies, use a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Here’s the recipe I used:

1 1/4 cups flour, sift or stir before measuring
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside. Cream shortening, peanut butter, and sugars; beat in vanilla and egg. Stir in flour mixture, blending well.

2. Get a bag of Snickers Minis, unwrap a few, and cut them in half. Like so:



3. Smoosh a bit of Mini into a ball of cookie dough, then roll the dough around to completely cover the Mini, so it’s in the center of the cookie.



4. Place the cookies an inch or so apart on a cookie sheet and bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes.

5. Wren suggests drizzling a bit of melted chocolate over the top of the cookies, to give them a bit more character. The ghetto Safeway chocolate chips I had didn’t melt very well, so drizzling really wasn’t an option. It was more like “splattering”. Hmm. Let’s just say the chocolate was squirted on with plasma-converting, laser-firing, “blaster” rayguns. Yeah. That sounds about right.



The best part is when you get a cookie that has melted a bit and spilled out the Snickers center onto the baking sheet, like this:



Crispy, crunchy, caramel! So tasty!

Now, you’re probably wondering why these beauties are called Wookiee Cookies. The answer is clear to anyone who knows anything about Star Wars. The reason they’re called Wookiee Cookies, dear readers, is because...there’s a Chewie inside. Of course! Enjoy, friends.

And believe it or not, I still have not seen Revenge of the Sith in it’s entirety. So sue me!

Special thanks to my ex, Andy. These photos were taken in his kitchen.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Nutella & Mascarpone Grilled Cheese Sandwich on Brioche



In a couple weeks, Pike Place Market will host the annual Seattle Cheese Festival. I believe this is the 4th year and counting. The Cheese Festival falls the weekend before my birthday, so in past years I’ve been unable to attend due to being out of town or otherwise celebrating another year on planet Earth.

I’m bound and determined to attend this year’s Cheese Festival. And, to really show how dedicated I am in this endeavor, I decided to enter the Grilled Cheese Sandwich Contest.

Earlier today I posted my first entry in the contest, here is my second entry. I've gotten the most positive feedback from this recipe, and truth be told, it's my favorite of the two. Onward!

Nutella & Mascarpone on Brioche

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. Nutella spread
4 generous Tbsp. Mascarpone Cheese
Brioche
Big ol' dash of cinnamon (optional)
Powdered sugar
Sliced strawberries for garnish

Method

Preheat skillet over medium heat. Generously butter one side of a slice of bread. Spread Nutella on other side. Place bread butter-side-down onto skillet bottom. Butter a second slice of bread on one side, spread with Mascarpone. Sprinkle cinnamon if desired, and place butter-side-up on top of sandwich. Grill until lightly browned and flip over; continue grilling until bread is golden. Remove from pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with sliced strawberries.

Inspiration: I love, love, LOVE Nutella, and have been looking for more reasons to cook with Mascarpone. I decided to try my hand at a dessert grilled cheese sandwich for this competition. I was not disappointed! The mascarpone absorbs the chocolate/hazelnut flavor, and the powdered sugar almost caramelizes as it melts on the warm buttered bread. It is basically heaven on a plate. Seriously. Try this sandwich.

I got my brioche at Le Panier Bakery in Pike Place Market. I've gotten eclairs from this bakery before, but never ordered a loaf of bread. I should order loaves of bread more often, because apparently it's their specialty.



Here's the girl who sold me my loaf of brioche. Her name is Alice. She was so helpful and encouraging. Thanks Alice! You're the best.



Here's some naked brioche. No more, no less.



A generous helping of Mascarpone on one slice:



Thin layer of Nutella on the other:



Don't forget that hefty dash of cinnamon!



Throw it on the skillet.



Flip it over...



See that Mascarpone oozing down the side? Can ya see it??



Why yes it DOES taste as good as it looks!



The final product.



Notes:

+ Brioche is a good bread to use, as it's fantastic for French toast and other sugary treats. But any other type of egg bread would work. You just don’t want anything too flavorful, as it’ll take away from the overall integrity of the sandwich.

+ Though the cinnamon is optional, I highly recommend it. The bitterness of it complements the sweetness of the Nutella so nicely. If you add it, don't skimp!

+ The strawberries do not need any sugar - a bit of tartness is actually good for the sandwich.

+ I brought a sandwich into my boss for breakfast on Monday morning. She ate a few bites and saved it for later. Around 4pm, she polished off the rest of the sandwich. She came bursting into my office a few minutes later to tell me that even after sitting on her desk all day, no longer warm and melty, the sandwich was still very tasty. Good to know. :)

+ UPDATE: This is also phenomenal with cardamom in place of cinnamon. OH MY YES.

Bellavitano Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Sundried Tomato, Basil Pesto, & Arugula



I love Seattle. If I were to make a list of all the things I love about Seattle, it would probably fill at least a dozen pages. At least. One thing I love about Seattle is the amount of festivals around these parts. During any given week, a person could most likely find some fun, free, and interesting festival to attend. Food fests, cultural fests, music fests, art fests, fests fests fests.

In a couple weeks, Pike Place Market will host the annual Seattle Cheese Festival. I believe this is the 4th year and counting. The Cheese Festival falls the weekend before my birthday, so in past years I’ve been unable to attend due to being out of town or otherwise celebrating another year on planet Earth.

I’m bound and determined to attend this year’s Cheese Festival. And, to really show how dedicated I am in this endeavor, I decided to enter the Grilled Cheese Sandwich Contest.

Now, the deadline to submit recipes was Saturday May 1st. I found out about the contest Friday April 30th at about 9pm. I had a little over 24 hours to come up with a recipe idea, test it out, and mail it off to the good folks who sift through the entries to be judged.

Not only did I manage to get my entry in three whole minutes before the stroke of midnight on Saturday, but I also submitted 2 (yes, TWO) recipes to the competition. Yep yep. I’m cuh-razy.

Anyway, here’s recipe #1. Stay tuned for recipe #2!

Bellavitano with Sundried Tomato, Basil Pesto, & Arugula

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. Basil Pesto (see below for homemade recipe, but you can purchase premade at the store if you want)
1 Tbsp. Sundried Tomato (packed in oil), diced
1/4 cup Arugula
2 slices Bellavitano Cheese (available at DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine)
Italian bread
Butter

Method

Preheat a panini or Foreman grill. Generously butter one side of a slice of bread. Spread basil pesto on the non-buttered side. Spread sundried tomato on 2nd slice. Layer cheese on the pesto slice, add arugula to the sundried tomato slice. Combine both slices of bread. Butter outside of second slice of bread. Grill for about 4 minutes. Serve warm.

Inspiration: I wanted to use ingredients that I could find at Pike Place Market, and especially at DeLaurenti's, since the winning sandwich will be featured on their menu during the week of the festival. I found sundried tomatoes and cheese at DeLaurenti's and Italian bread just down the alley at Three Girls Bakery. I bought fresh basil and garlic from a produce stand and pine nuts from a vendor for the pesto. I'm a sucker for Italian cuisine, so naturally my sandwich is Italian-inspired. This is a vegetarian version, but to give it a meatier flare, I recommend a few slices of thin-sliced prosciutto, as well.

Notes

+ Bellavitano cheese, made by Sartori in Wisconsin, is a parmesan-cheddar hybrid. It the sharpness and elegance of a Parmigiano-Reggiano and the smoothness of a Fontinella (soft and creamy cheese), but with a little crunch and certain flakiness to it. It has good melting characteristics, so it was perfect for a grilled cheese sandwich!

+ I got the proportions wrong when I sent in my recipe. I originally suggested 5 Tbsps of pesto and 2 Tbsps of sundried tomato. Really folks, just eyeball it. Spread pesto liberally over the bread, then smear some sundried tomato over the other slice.

+ I recommend a higher pesto : tomato ratio. The tomato has a very rich flavor that can overpower the cheese and pesto, so going light with the tomato is a good idea. Please note: Do not use the same amount of tomato as pictured here! It's just too much and overpowers the rest of the sandwich. Use a lighter spread of tomato. Roughly 1 to 2 Tablespoons oughtta do it. You should still be able to see patches of bread.

+ This is an oily sandwich. Between the butter, the olive-oil based pesto, and the oil in the sundried tomatoes, it can get a little greasy. Be sure you have a tray to catch the oil that comes off the grill, and you might consider draining these sandwiches on paper towels before serving.

Homemade Basil Pesto

Ingredients
2 cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup grated hard Italian cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, Romano etc.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Method

In food processor, pulse basil leaves and pine nuts for several seconds. Slowly add olive oil and continue to pulse. Add cheese and garlic and pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Yield: 1 cup.

I don't own a food processor. *sniff, tear* It's been on the ol' wishlist for about 3 years now. (Hi Mom. I hope you're reading. My birthday is this month! *hint, hint. wink, wink. nudge, nudge.*) In a pinch, you can use a blender if you have to, like I did here. But really, a food processor is your best bet. If I had one, I'd totally use it. Often. Did I mention a food processor is on my wishlist?



This is Shane. He works at DeLaurenti's and helped me pick out the cheese. He doesn't know I took his photo. I hope he doesn't mind. And look behind him there, on the wall! There's a poster for the Cheese Festival! Hooray!



This woman sold me fresh basil and garlic for the pesto. I didn't catch her name, because this particular produce stand is always really busy and things were rather chaotic there, but she was a sweetheart. Thanks, mystery lady!



I grabbed some Italian Como bread at Three Girls Bakery. (As far as I can tell, they don't have a website, so that link takes you to Yelp.)





Naked bread!



Tomato.



Open-faced.





Look at these layers!



All grilled up.



Oh yes. Cheese.



CHEEEEEEEEEEESE.



Cut this puppy in half, it's a bit messy!



Just look at that beautiful sight.



Sun Dried Tomatoes on FoodistaSun Dried Tomatoes