Monday, July 22, 2013

White Chocolate Bark and an Ina obsession

There are a few things I wish I knew how to do. Swimming tops the list and guitar is a close second. But if there's one thing I'm excellent at, it's knowing how to spend a perfectly sunny day indoors watching Food Network. Which means I'm either fantasizing about being besties with Ina Garten on a daily basis and dreaming of cooking up a classy storm in her Hamptons kitchen, OR I'm drooling. Or both!

She's the dinner party queen and if someone doesn't give her a crown, I will find a way to do so. In a recent episode, she hosted a party for her very very lucky friends (who I envy, also on a daily basis) and made candy for dessert. Candy with a side of coffee...only Ina could pull that off with so much ease and splendor. Not just ordinary Jolly Ranchers, though. But chewy homemade caramels and white chocolate bark studded with nuts and dried apricots. I didn't even finish watching.

I dug right into my pantry and pulled out a bag of white chocolate chips, dried cranberries, pistachios, cashews and a few other miscellaneous toppings I grabbed out of excitement but didn't use.

Melting chocolate is a form of therapy for me. I tend to stir and sway away to someplace not here and watch the chocolate transform into a smooth, glossy puddle of magic. Just a pot of simmering water, a bowl of chocolate nesting on top and a spoon. Also will power. You should note, however, since white chocolate has a lower burning point, it's more susceptible to scorching and getting clumpy if melted on too high a heat...just be careful and be sure the water in the pot doesn't touch the "butt" of the white chocolate bowl. : )

As soon as it melts, I took it off the heat and stirred it gently to temper it a bit. I then poured the white chocolate directly onto some parchment paper (wax paper will do!) and spread it out with a straight edge spatula. It's sOoO HARD to keep your finger away.

Lift it off the parchment and crrrrrrack! It's a glorious moment.

This works just as beautifully with milk or semisweet chocolate. You can top milk chocolate with Oreo pieces or almonds...coconut or peanuts, sea salt and caramel, crushed pretzels and M&M's...ANYTHING! Whenever you need some chocolate to munch on, look no further than this. It's a blessing and a curse, to be honest.

You'll need: 

1 cup white chocolate chips, or bar. (Lindt chocolate works wonders)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pistachios
1/4 cup any other kind of nut, really

Fill the bottom pan of a double boiler with water and place it on the stove over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to low once the water is boiling. Place the white chocolate into the top saucepan of the double boiler once the water begins simmering gently. Make sure the bottom of the chocolate saucepan is not touching the water.

Watch the chocolate and stir it frequently with a wooden spoon. Do not leave the double boiler unattended! Remove the double boiler from the heat as soon as the white chocolate is smooth.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper (on a tray) and spread it lightly to a pleasant enough shape. Sprinkle the top evenly with the cranberries, pistachios and whatever else you like. Set aside for at least 2 hours until firm, or refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or freeze for a few. In other words, do what you gotta do to make sure it’s set perfectly enough to crack into shards of beautiful, yummy bark! (I froze mine for an hour, and then served it at room temperature)

Ohhh Ina. You slay me in half.

 Until next time! X 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies aka Life

(Sighhhhhhhhhh.) Hello hello! Lately I've been completely and utterly outta the loop. I cannot let this blog slip away! So, I'm back and here, and very present.

I've had a bunch of feelings to sort through for the past few weeks. And honestly, I don't even know where they come from. But I'm slowly learning to accept whatever life throws at me no matter what size, shape or color. I feel good. And there's no denying Ramadan has everything to do with it. You naturally feel clean from the inside out and light and airy. Prayers are more focused, minds more relaxed and anxieties are not many. So I'm just going to bask in this time of year, and stir up things for iftar (breaking of the fast at sunset). Iftar and sweet stuff to nosh on all the way to bed. 

Though I loveeeee whisking up complicated things and trying my hand at new recipes, there's nothing quite like baking a simple, classic batch of chocolate chip cookies. There really really isn't. Warm and chewy in the center, slightly crispy on the outside...bursts of chocolate chips and a cold glass of milk (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). I cannot think of anything more comforting and heart healing. Especially in times of confusion and chaos, you really need nothing more than more cookies. 

So, a couple days ago, my brother joined me in watching the Food Network (which is basically the definition of my life) and The Pioneer Woman was making ice cream sandwiches. We were fasting...and he threw a pillow at me. So I told him to calm it and go get some ice cream while I bake. 

These were so so so perfect. I rested the raw cookie dough in the fridge for a couple hours before baking them, and since we were fasting, we were doing pretty alright in the will power department anyways. And now if  you don't mind, I'm going to get all technical and attempt a scientific explanation...but it's all in the name of goodness and virtue, trust me.

  • If you put a warm, melty dough into the oven, your cookies will spread before they even begin to set up. Too often they'll run into one another, becoming a single crisp, crunchy mess. The cooler the dough, the less it will spread! 
  • Chilling the dough also allows the gluten to relax. You don't want to mix a cookie dough any more than absolutely necessary. The more you mix, the more gluten develops, and the more rubbery (blekh!) your cookies will be. Letting the dough rest in the fridge for at least half an hour does wonders for relaxing the gluten and you'll learn that with a little patience comes cookies that are soft and chewy, but not tough and rubbery. 

Don't ask me how I know this but even Ruth Wakefield, creator of the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie, said she chilled the dough overnight. Bingo! 
 I think knowing the ropes to the perfect chocolate chip cookie EVERY TIME is a fundamental life skill. This is it for me
Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies: 

2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted room temperature butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Grease or line baking sheets with parchment paper.

1. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. 
2. Using an electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. (Very important it be room temperature!)
3. Add both sugars and beat to blend. Add eggs and vanilla, and do the same. 
4. Add flour in 3 batches and beat on low speed until it's JUST combined. 
5. Stir in the chocolate and gently fold in and possibly melt away. 

Cover and chill the dough for 2 hours. (But if you are in dire need of cookies and absolutely cannot cannot
wait..yes, you can bake them right away. Just preheat your oven first thing.) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Drop dough by a tablespoon or two full onto prepared sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake for 11 minutes, until the edges are browned and tops are lightly golden. 

Sit, nibble, slurp and breathe. 

x Zareen 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cliche Festival of Life (and things related)

Hello. It's been a minute since I last posted, and it's funny because I'm rarely ever short on things to blabber about. 

Picture via tumblr.
But today I'm going to skip the recipe and the spiel about clarified butter and just vent out loud about loss and grief and life. If you know anything about me, you probably know I'm obsessed with Glee and all things musical and bubbly. You'd also know that for the past 16 hours, I've been choking up over the sudden loss of Cory Monteith, someone who reached out through virtual words and gut-wrenching scenes and proved it okay to be awkward, and vulnerable and just human. He battled addiction for years and years, took himself to rehab, showed signs of recovery and TRIED, and then in a matter of moments,  he was gone. He relapsed. A few people last night went straight to the "there are kids dying in Africa everyday out of starvation and this rich actor guy was just a druggie blah blah blah.." STOP. Just stop. No matter the cause, he was still a person, a friend, a son, a fiance, a guy who helplessly battled an illness. An addiction he just could not fight no matter his efforts. No matter how rich or famous a person is, if you can't find your way out...well, then sometimes there is no way out. Even IF somebody else has it much worse, even if someone else doesn't bank millions from a hit TV show or have a spot in the big leagues, it doesn't really change the fact that they are no longer here. It doesn't really change the fact that they have what they have.

It's irrelevant to some I get that, and that's why I don't want this to be an obituary biography thing.

I just want you and I to cherish life and realize the depth of cliches that claim "you never know what you have until it's gone" (and things related). I couldn't sleep last night. All I could think of was what Lea Michele (his longtime lady) must have been feeling and how terribly her tears must hurt. It's worse for the ones left behind, the ones past can't feel anymore. Gone, just like that. Poof! How could this have happened so abruptly? How could one be so near and dear and not know the battles being fought inside. Makes me wonder of the people I see on a daily basis. The laughing couple right next door, the guy in line for coffee, my own best do they feel today. Are they as happy as they seem to be? Is anyone? It made me want to hug everyone I know and care about, and tell them of faith and the stars. Tell them how much they mean to me...and tell them not to ever ever hide their hurt. Life is TOO short, too precious to wait. For a second I wanted to feel what she felt, what his mom felt, what his friends felt....but then I didn't. I pray I never have to. I just want to make sense of the universe and life and what it all really means. Everything happens for a reason, I know. I know it so much it makes me sick. But I still don't get it. What reason?!

But I guess some things are better left misunderstood. I guess maybe we don't have the capacity to understand and accept. To understand life to the fullest. To figure out God's intent. My friends have once lost loved ones, and I wondered last night how on earth they coped. How does one recover from loss...

If ever.

 I want the world to be happy, once. I want broken hearts everywhere to find comfort and love again, one day. I just want dreams to come true and lives to be lived before it's too late.

That's all. And that may have been an excruciating cliche, sap festival...but I'm glad. I want to say what I want to say and feel what I want to feel. You can do the same, you know? Just don't let the moment pass you by.