Monday, February 17, 2014

UnRecipe: Snow Day, Like a Boss

Not unlike other winter-trodden regions, we had a bit of snow the other week. And let me be clear, it really was just a little bit, barely anything to sneeze at for areas that are used to feet of the white stuff, but as you've heard, when it snows in/around Seattle, it literally SHUTS THE CITY DOWN. One or two inches of snow? SNOWMAGEDDON 2014. We're just not used to it, and the city and its inhabitants aren't really prepared for dealing with it because it's not a constant seasonal condition. Luckily, this brush with Old Man Winter was over a weekend, so the majority of people could stay in and leave the snow-business to the stalwart experts. For the safety of everyone around me, I stayed-put all weekend, and did a Snow Day/Weekend Like. A. Boss.

Snow  Day? Make chewy chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with sea salt - BOO-YAH! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Okay, so that's not completely true -- I wasn't totally Like A Boss about it because frankly, I was working over the weekend. A writing opportunity/deadline became available, to which I jumped at the chance, and that just meant it was Saturday Night Sadhorns, missing a party while everyone else got to eat lots of smoked pork shoulder and have drunken snowball fights until 3am. Clearly the best parts of my life are happening without me, but that's just how it goes. But I ain't mad, yo. I make the most of a situation with marmalade and cookies.

Yep, it's Winter. Complete with Google Snow! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Being house-bound and eventually snow-bound was good fortune in disguise, as I could make sure our dear Indy was taken care of. She's still on chemotherapy meds, doing well on the stuff, but we still watch her like hawks for any changes and don't always feel comfortable leaving her for long periods of time because we are crazypeople. It was nice to see that look of incredulous "WTF" on Indy's face when she walked out onto a snow-covered patio, because to a dog, it must seem like magic when your yard goes from normal to totally blanketed in strange, non-smelling cold stuff.

How the Pacific Northwest rolls when it snows. With lots of complaints - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Because I was babysitting a dog and a deadline, I decided: let's make marmalade. That's not a typical response to being stuck at home, but it is when you've got a surplus of winter citrus you're fairly certain you're not going to eat. And by surplus, I mean two ginormous oranges. They were beautiful, huge fruits, but the cold weather wasn't making me think, "mmm... oranges." Not wanting them to go to waste, marmalade came to mind, since it's one of those great inventions that pretty much uses the whole fruit, from rind to pulp. I was working on my laptop, sitting in the dining room, so I could easily keep an eye on the orange and water-filled pot on the stove, simmering away for a lot longer than the recipe suggested it would take.

I cast thee out, Scurvy! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I didn't invent Orange Marmalade, I used a recipe. I used Alton Brown's recipe, to be precise, but cut it in half, since I didn't have as much fruit as he was using. I did make modifications, of course. I already know how I use orange marmalade, and it's not for scones and toast. I like marmalade for flavoring cocktails (double-strain if you do that), and savory dishes like stir frys where you want to give something a nice, sweet citrus flavor. This would also work for glazing a pork chop or chicken on the grill. Knowing my marmalade usage habits, I put a bouquet garni of fresh thyme into the orange and water mixture, letting the herbal flavor infuse with everything. I didn't want bits of the leaves to be throughout the marmalade, so I wrapped a lot of cotton twine around a handful of thyme sprigs, basically making it look like a huge doobie, keeping the bundle together for the most part while it simmered. I pulled it out about halfway through the cook time, before it started to break apart. Even after the fruit had broken down quite a bit in the water mixture, before adding the sugar, I buzzed it down further with a stick blender. I will likely use this as a glaze or sauce ingredient, so I prefer a smooth texture. Sorry, Marmalade Purists.

Marmalade done Wasabi-style, with thyme and blended smooth - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The result is a nice, citrus-sweet paste with light herbal notes that would go perfectly well with a scone, but I'm already throwing spoonfuls of it in stir fry sauces that need a little hit of brightness. You can see I was still able to get three odd-sized jars full of marmalade. I didn't can them properly, so the excess just went into the freezer, but I have little doubt they'll get used quickly enough.

I couldn't help but wonder... does SJP eat cookies? Probably not - Photos by Wasabi Prime
My other Snow Weekend activity was making chocolate chip cookies. Because, really, how could you not want the smell of fresh-baked cookies while looking out at a Winter Wonderland? I usually throw together the dough based on the old Toll House Cookie recipe, but this time I pulled cookie wisdom from a most unlikely source -- InStyle Magazine. Yes, a fashion magazine full of people who look like they never eat cookies, giving me some fairly decent advice about making cookies. The world is a strange, bizarre place.

It's the issue with SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) on the cover, looking like someone who does not regularly indulge in carbs of any sort, but the issue was for Valentine's Day, so they had this whole section about making The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. I had to read for myself what wisdom they had to impart and I was pleasantly surprised with the smart-cookie wisdom they were throwing down. They had collected several tips from bakers about dough preparation which was great. These were the nuggets of wisdom that I will carry with me until the end of my cookie-baking days:
  • Rest the dough overnight. Not just an hour or two to let it firm up; tuck that dough in for the evening, tell it a bedtime story and let it have a good 5-8 hours, because the sugars will fully incorporate in the dough, giving it an almost caramel-crunch outer shell after it's baked.
  • Don't skimp on the nuts. Unless you're allergic. Even if you don't like big chunks of nuts in a cookie, just chop them fine and incorporate them in with the chocolate chips/chunks. The extra oils from the nuts will produce a really moist dough. I used pecans, but walnuts are great, too.
  • Bake at a higher temperature. Most recipes seem to stick with the tried-and-true 350 degrees, but the recipe I used said 375. Not a huge difference, but with baking I'm sure every little variance counts, and I wonder if the higher temperature helps develop that caramel-crunch after letting the dough rest. 
These seem like pretty "Duh" morsels of cookie-baking wisdom, but I have to say, I noticed a huge difference in the final result. I used their Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which isn't a major departure from the typical Toll House recipe, but using their dough tips and baking at a little higher temperature yielded a firm, but chewy cookie. It's rare to say the bottom of a cookie is your favorite part, but in this case, that browned, crispy surface was like candy. I used Silpat, but I'm sure parchment paper would yield a similar result. And it's a great way to use some of that fancy finishing salt you have, but forget to use.

So, I leave the final judgment in your hands over whether or not I did a Snow Day/Weekend Like. A. Boss. But I don't see you with chewy chocolate chip cookies in your hands...

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