Sunday, February 12, 2012

Soft Molasses Cookies

When I was little, I used to refuse to eat store-bought cookies. No Chips A'Hoy, no Nutter Butters, nothing. If it wasn't fresh, I wasn't eating it. This cookie recipe is largely the reason for that: these cookies are so good that when my mother used to package half of them and put them in the freezer downstairs, I used to sneak down and steal two or three at a time. I'm sure she was a little disappointed--but not too confused--when she found the tupperware container two-thirds empty.

Anyhow, if you're thinking, "But I don't like those molasses cookies with the sugar on top," don't worry; these are nothing like that. They are much much much better, largely because they contain sour cream, the secret ingredient to most of the world's best baking. In fact, I can say pretty unequivocally that these are the best cookies in the world.

I would strongly encourage you to double the recipe. And don't bother putting half of them in the freezer . . .

Soft Molasses Cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup light molasses
1 tsp vinegar
1 cup cultured sour cream
3 cups flour
1/5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

  1. Cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar.
  2. Beat in the egg and the molasses.
  3. Add the vinegar and the sour cream. Blend.
  4. Blend in the flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Chill for at least one hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets.
  8. Cook for about 9 minutes. Press lightly on the top to test. If the cookie bounces back, it's definitely ready--and maybe a bit done. If the cookie doesn't quite bounce back, it's perfect.
  9. Cool and remove from pan.
Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Family Ratings on a scale of 1-10.
Lucy: 10. Duh.
Jamie: 10. More. More. More.
Will: 15. I don't care about the mathematical improbabilities.
Ellen: 10. Damn it, Paul, you have to leave some for us!
Paul: 1,000.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Stir Fried Tomato Beef

It's funny to think that there used to be a time when Chinese food seemed exotic and Chinese cooking seemed like some sort of uncrackable code. Back in the early '90s, my brother-in-law gave me a wonderful cookbook called "Everybody's Wokking," by Martin Yan. It was an introduction to Asian cooking very broadly, including Chinese recipes, yes, but also Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese. Despite the cheesy title--I mean, really? That's the best the marketing people could come up with?--it's a great resource, one that I've used so often some of the pages are falling out.

This recipe comes from that book (obviously), though I have adapted it for a big American families/bellies, and I've adjusted some of the cooking times so that the vegetables come out tasting a little fresher. The great thing about this recipe is that it tastes like "real" Chinese food--or, more accurately, like the food you get in a Chinese restaurant. Part of the secret, in case you're thinking about leaving it out, is the sesame sauce, so it's well worth the extra trip to the grocery store after you forget it the first time.

This dish can be served over either white or brown rice, and despite the fussiness of all the various sauces and marinades, it really doesn't take too long--in fact, once you start the stir-frying, it's really only about five to eight minutes.

Stir Fried Tomato Beef

3 TB soy sauce
3 TB dry sherry
1 TB cornstarch

3/8th cup chicken broth (just under half a cup, for the mathematically impaired)
3/8th cup ketchup
1.5 TB soy sauce
1.5 TB distilled white vinegar (is vinegar ever not distilled?)
1/2-1 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1.5 teaspoons sesame oil
1 TB sugar

Stir Fry
1-1.5 lb flank steak, thinly sliced across the grain
3 TB vegetable oil
1.5 teaspoons minced garlic
1 medium onion, sliced into eight wedges
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares
2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced into eight wedges
1 can bamboo shoots, drained
1 head of broccoli, chopped into kid-friendly "trees"
2.5 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 TB of water

  1. Cook the rice according to instructions
  2. Mix marinade ingredients, add the sliced beef, and stir to coat. Set aside.
  3. Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. Chop your vegetables and drain your shoots.
  5. 2.5 teaspoons cornstarch in 2 TB water, set aside.
  6. Heat the wok. Once it's hot, add two TB of oil and swirl to coat (the wok, not you).
  7. Add beef and stir-fry for two minutes exactly. Remove. Don't worry that it's still pink.
  8. Add remaining TB oil, heat, add garlic and onion, cook for 1-1.5 minutes.
  9. Add the bell pepper, the bamboo shoots, and the broccoli. Stir fry for two minutes.
  10. Return the beef to the wok and add the sauce. Stir in half of the cornstarch mixture.
  11. Cook, stirring, until the sauce begins to thicken.
  12. Add the tomatoes. Stir, cook for thirty seconds or so, adding the rest of the cornstarch if sauce still seems runny.
  13. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Family Ratings, on a scale of 1-10:
Jamie, who always needs a toothpick afterwards: 9
Lucy, who doesn't like cooked tomatoes but loves beef: 9
Will, who hates everything: 10
Ellen, who would be a vegetarian if she were married to someone else: 8
Paul, who has fond memories of going to eat "authentic" Chinese food in LaCrosse, WI: 10