Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Actual Cooking: Actual Cookies!

In my last post, I mentioned the Quiet Corner Democrats' holiday party, where I had the most delicious chocolate martinis, and I promised to post about the Chinese 5-Spice Brownie Cookies I made as my contribution to the potluck dessert reception.

I've talked here often enough about how much I love making ice cream, and I first thought I might take homemade ice cream... but the party was an hour's drive from home, and the logistics of keeping ice cream cold for the trip, and then for the several hours of the party, and making it easy to self-serve on an unattended buffet line all seemed a bit daunting. Just as I was scratching my chin about this dilemma, the local paper's Thanksgiving week food supplement came out, and on its last page was an Associated Press article headlined "Grown-up holiday cookies with fennel and anise," and my eye fell on this recipe

Chinese 5-Spice Brownie Cookies
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 10-oz. packages bittersweet chocolate bits
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp 5-spice powder
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Combine the butter and oil in a pan and heat over medium-high heat until the butter is all melted. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until all the chocolate is melted and smooth (return the pan to low heat if necessary). Set aside.
  2. Whisk together (I actually used my stand mixer) all the other ingredients until smooth, then add in the chocolate, continuing to beat until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350.
  4. Line 2 large baking sheets (or 4 half-sheet pans) with parchment paper and scoop out the dough by the table spoon, leaving about 2 in. space between scoops.
  5. Bake until puffed and crackly on top (10 to 12 minutes per the published recipe; more like 14 minutes in my oven). Cool on racks.
I was delighted with the result: rich, fudgy, brownie-like texture, just as the recipe promised; very chocolaty and with a delicious hint of spice.

Truthfully, I was surprised it was only a hint of spice; I had expected the flavor to be a bit more exotic. I suspect the explanation may be the 5-spice powder: The traditional version (as referenced in the article) includes Sichuan peppercorns, but what I got from my local Penzeys spice store included ginger instead. In any case, the final flavor was delicious, tasting mostly like a chocolate brownie, but reminding one of my friends vaguely of gingerbread, as well.

The recipe promises a yield of 4 dozen, but I actually got 5 dozen cookies out of it, plus a couple samples for in-process quality control testing! As it happens, 5 dozen is exactly what the Rockville Public Library needs for its annual Holiday Cookie Sale, so I'll be making another batch soon.

You should try them, too!
¹ Note that my local paper is actually the Journal Inquirer, but since its content is behind a paywall, I found the same recipe somewhere else, and linked to that. That'll show 'em, eh?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Have a Cocktail: The Old-School Chocolate Martini

Today I attended a the annual holiday party for the Quiet Corner Democrats, a service organization that helps facilitate coordination between local Democratic party groups, activists, and candidates here in Eastern Connecticut.

Before you wonder why I'm not writing about this at my other blog, let me just say that we Democrats worked hard this year, and had a pretty good November, and were ready to party with some good food and drink. The event was a pot-luck dessert reception, and soon enough I'll blog about the chocolate brownie cookies with Chinese 5-spice that I made, but the occasion for this (brief) post is the featured drink at the open bar (yes, liberal parties are better).

My friend Chris Pitts, one of the QCD founders, was serving a a chocolate martini... and no, this was not one of those "martinis" that shares virtually nothing with the classic martini other than the shape of the glass; this was old school: A generous serving of premium vodka mixed with a much smaller amount of secondary liquor — in this case, white creme de cacao — and served up in a classic cocktail glass.

I don't have a proper recipe, but from watching the bartender build more than one of them, I'd say it was about...
  • 3 to 4 parts Pearl vodka
  • 1 part white creme de cacao
  • Shake with ice
  • Strain into cocktail glass rimmed with cocoa powder.
What a delicious way to begin the Christmas holiday season; enjoy!

Dining Out: Thirty5

Friday evening, my wife and I had our second dinner at Thirty5 in West Hartford Center. In reinventing the former Reuben's Deli, owner Brian Hersh is largely carrying over the existing breakfast and lunch menus (which I haven't had an opportunity to sample yet), but under Thirty5's new chef, dinner and late-night offerings are entirely new.

On our first visit, just days after the early-October reopening, there were some obvious growing pains, as the kitchen seemed a bit backed up, but the staff couldn't have been more gracious, and the delays were quickly forgotten. My wife chose the skirt steak frites with garlicky spinach, Moroccan glaze, and chimichurri, while I selected the crispy buttermilk fried chicken with red bliss potato salad,  grilled corn salad, and roasted tomato salsa. Both were excellent: Straightforward food elevated and really well prepared.

My wife liked the steak frites so well that she ordered it again, this time requesting the red bliss potato salad as a substitute for the fries that normally come with it. I could happily have eaten the fried chicken again -- it was crispy, moist, and deeply flavorful -- but I'm addicted to variety, so on this second visit I chose the daily special soup, a delicious truffled mushroom, and the kung pao shrimp and beef from the Bites portion of the menu, along with a side of the house hand-cut fries.

The kung pao dish was great, with just the right amount of bite from the ancho chili and acid from the lime. Be advised that the Bites dishes are proper appetizer-sized portions (which I mean as a compliment, by the way), rather than the massive, everybody-share plates that are so common these days.

Having not gorged ourselves, we were able to sample dessert: an excellent creme brulee, served with a single piece of house-made rugalach.

The atmosphere at Thirty5 is cozy and friendly, if a bit loud. I can't wait to go back to sample the rest of the menu (the grilled Stonington scallops look good, as does the Reuben's chicken rollatini) and check out some of their special events, including Happy Hour, Sunday brunch (with endless mimosas), and local beer tastings.