Work-Approved Cookies: Lemon Shortbread

There's no better test of a dessert than if it holds up to the Work Test. A copy or break room is the perfect place to test out a new recipe to see how it appeals to the masses, both because you can get a lot of traffic coming through, and also because there's not the immediate pressure of you standing over someone telling to to try something. If they are gone by the end of the day, you know you have a crowdpleaser.

While I've made the following Lemon Glazed Cookies before (so a test wasn't really needed), I received so many compliments on their fresh, light, perfect taste of these cookies today that I wanted to share it with you. In terms of a frosted cookie, you can't make an easier treat with such decadent results.

Lemon/Lime Glazed Cookies
Everyday Food
Note: I've found two lemons, or 3-4 limes (depending on juiciness) will yield enough for the cookies and frosting. BE CAREFUL not to throw out extra juice after making the cookies---you'll need it for the frosting, and I've made this mistake too many times. 
* 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1 cup granulated sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 tablespoon finely grated zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh juice

Lemon Glaze Frosting
* 2 cups confectioners' sugar
* 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
* 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat until combined. With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture.
  2. Roll a tablespoon of dough up in your hands, and press them down onto a cookie sheet. The perfect size for a pressed cookie should be smaller than your palm, maybe 2" in diameter. Trust me, the acidity in these work better for a ton of smaller cookies than a few gigantic ones.
  3. Bake 5 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake another 5, or until the edges of the cookie are about to turn brown. The acidity leaves these cookies less chewy and more crunchy, so it's important not to overcook them--if they are brown on top, they will probably be too hard. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. 
  4. Mix together the items for the glaze in a bowl with a wide rim. Spread out parchment paper or paper towels, and after the cookies have cooled, dip each top-side down in the glaze and then let dry (about 1 hour).
One more note: I have tried this recipe with lemon, lime, and orange flavors. I felt the orange were a little too sweet, but the others are both amazing. I usually make two batches at once: one with lemon and one with lime, but you can pick whichever flavor you like best.


Pork Three Ways: Fancy, Easy, and BBQ Pizza

There's nothing like a large piece of meat to inspire creative cooking. When faced with 4 lbs. of pork shoulder, instead of making way too much of one dish--I split it up into three amazing dishes: Braised Pork Shoulder, Pork Ragu Pasta, and BBQ Pork Pizza. (Well, really four dishes, if you could the 3 lbs I used initially to make Christmas Tamales).

The genius part of this was that I only had to cook the meat once: braising it for 3 hours in onions, a HEAD of garlic, and a bottle of beer. The result was a tender, full of flavor bite of meat that will take me awhile to forget. It also froze back well---after a month in the freezer while I took my Jordan trip, the meat was still awesome.

Try one, or all three when you have a few hours to braise:
Pork Shoulder ready to braise
Braised Pork Shoulder
Martha Stewart
* 6 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
* 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
* 1 bone-in pork shoulder (6 to 7 pounds), room temperature
* Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
* 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 head garlic, minced
* 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted and ground
* 1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
* 2 cups Belgian-style ale
* 1 cup homemade chicken stock

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Crisp pancetta in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, until fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon.
2. Add onions to Dutch oven. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 25 minutes. Transfer to plate using slotted spoon.
3. Season pork with salt and pepper. Add oil to Dutch oven, and sear pork, fat side down, until golden, about 5 minutes. Flip, and repeat.
4. Add garlic and spices to pot. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ale, stock, pancetta, and onions; bring to a simmer. Transfer to oven, and braise pork, covered, basting every hour, until meat is falling off the bone, 3-4 hours.
5. Shred only the meat you are using for dinner using 2 forks, and drizzle with warm skimmed jus. (We served ours with mashed potatoes and stuffing)

Basting the meat after two hours

The oh-so-delicious jus
The pasta dish below would be a great next-day meal, but as I was flying to the Middle East, I choose instead of freeze back both the cooked pork and jus until my return. The following was insanely easy and took maybe 10 minutes of prep. The light egg noodles make it a fantastic pairing to the somewhat heavy braised meat already served.

Pork Ragu Pasta with Sage
Martha Stewart
* 1 pound egg noodles
* 2 cups jus, heated and reduced (from above)
* 2 cups shredded pork, heated
* 2 tablespoons fresh sage, thinly sliced
* Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook 1 pound ribbon pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving some cooking water.
2. Toss pasta with reserved jus, reserved shredded pork, and sage, adding reserved cooking water as needed.
3. Divide among 4 bowls. Garnish with finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Pork Ragu

So the next recipe has a funny story to it. I wanted to use the last cup of pork to make pizza, so I glanced in the pantry---saw A1 Steak Sauce, and in my head went 'ah, Chris has BBQ sauce.' Come two hours later, when the pizza dough is on the piping hot pizza stone and all the ingredients are ready---I realize steak sauce is NOT barbecue sauce. (Head Slap).

BBQ Pork Pizza
BBQ Pork Pizza
But such errors make for the best creativity--and within minutes I had whipped together my own special sauce: one part A1, one part tomato sauce, and two heaping spoonfuls of adobo sauce (I had the chipotles in adobo in the fridge from tamales last month). What turned out was amazing: smokey, sharp, and a perfect compliment to the pork.

The recipe is my standard dough recipe , topped with the leftover meat, sauce, and a mixture of cheese. Cook at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes, and serve.
Finished product
The best part about all of these was that the final recipe--the pizza--made almost a month after I initially braised the meat was just as good as the first thing I made. I take that as a sign of both delicious recipes AND a good product. It's a lot of pork, and the variety of recipes really shows off it's versatility. So what do you think? Do you have a go-to recipe that can pull out three amazing meals? Let me know!


My 2011 Restaurant Goals

There's nothing like a fantastic meal to spark creativity in any cook, and in the past month I've had a few--thanks in part to my Top 10 list, which I compile every year based on Washingtonian's Top 100 Restaurants. The list arrives in January, and I pour through it and come up with 10 new restaurants that I want to try during the year.

Over the course of last year, I've had some excellent meals at Majestic (best meal I had all year), Eventide (get the venison), Tallula (homemade pastas, great pork shoulder, amazing desserts, and an economical wine list), Tabard Inn (best overheard conversations in DC, even if the menu was nothing to write home about), Vermilion (great five-course tasting menu), and even Againn (Their service is lacking where their kitchen shines--I won't be returning). Other outings at Willow and Zaytinya were also enjoyable.

So where do I want to go this year? It's kind of eclectic—a lot of my 'must try' places were taken care of in 2010, so this year I expanded out to a few things that sounded cool, looked delicious, or friends have raved about already. Let me know what you think of my list in the comments:

My Dreams:
VoltI've sent enough people here, it's time to try it myself
KomiMaybe this year, maybe the next, but the occasion has to be special enough to go here.

When I'm Ready for a Road Trip:
Woodberry KitchenThey say it offers items that no place in Washington can. More than enough reason to try it out.

2 AmysI've been here for three years now! It's time I try it.
In the Neighborhood:
Restaurant EveVery happy with my Majestic experience, now it's time to try its fancier-half.
BastilleA neighborhood bistro with "soul-stirring French cooking". Yum.
Brabo by Robert WiedmaierMussels! In Old Town! Plus they have a moderately priced tasting room next door and a Butcher's Block market with wine and picnic items.

Next Restaurant Week:
RasikaI always remember this place during Restaurant Week, but the reservations are impossible. It's my only goal in August.

Chris' Picks: Considering he lets me take him to every other place I can think of, I thought I should give him a little say in the matter this year.
RisApparently she's the nicest chef to work for in the area...and has a fancy resume to back up her cooking. Good enough for me.
Blue Duck TavernFamily style dinners that sound amazing.


The Best Little (Israeli) Italian Restuarant Ever (yes, EVER)

Nice logo too!
When dining out, never underestimate the importance of the atmosphere and the attitude around you.

For me, elaborate interior design or a menu's font (yes, I know, it's silly. But I'm a designer!) will automatically raise the dining experience for me before taking a single bite. A smile from the server, laughter at the next table over, or just friends who can assure you a stress-free hour of delicious food will leave me raving about my experience even if the chicken was slightly dry, or the dessert too sugary.

During my travels in the Middle East, I spent two nights in Jerusalem. While this in no way gives me the authority to claim the BEST Italian food in Jerusalem is at Al Dente, a quaint little storefront hidden away from City Center, it will forever go down as one of my favorite dining experiences. Ever.

Let's start with the attitude. Because the meal actually started earlier that afternoon when Lizzie suggested we return to this Italian restaurant she'd been on a previous visit with her husband.  Touting it's amazing homemade pastas, Al Dente sounded perfect. We just had to figure out where it was.

Armed only with our tourist map of City Center, and a street that Lizzie was '75% sure the restaurant is on,' we took off in her car and on an adventure. After 30 minutes and who knows how many streets that were a mix of Hebrew, Russian, English, and more--we were lost. Our dinner companions, Liz's father and grandmother, were sitting patiently in the back--but the group was getting restless. Each restaurant we passed looked more and more appealing to our hungry stomachs. But Liz was determined.

Suddenly—almost magically—I recognized the neighborhood we entered on the map. Finally back on a course, it took us another 15 minutes to navigate back until we came upon the street--and lo! there was the restaurant, tucked away next to an ally. If only there were a table ready for 4. Unfortunately, it's a TINY restaurant (make reservations!) and while it was only 6:30, the place was packed.

Here's again where attitude makes all the difference. Instead of grumbling about getting lost, or arguing about how cold it was as we waited outside, the group maintained it's adventurous spirit. We chatted about the places we had visited that day and caught up on each other's daily dramas. The waiter, instead of giving us attitude for being the dumb tourists who didn't know to call ahead, was very apologetic and even brought us out hot tea and coffee when our table was taking longer than expected.

And it was worth the wait:
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup and focaccia
Truffled Tortellini with Ricotta filling
Green Pea gnocchi with a cream sauce
Pumpkin 'Sushi' Pasta roll
The atmosphere in this restaurant was amazing. Upon entering, there is a small closed porch with 4 tables (we sat in one by the corner). Inside, a long bench table took up the majority of space for a large party of family-style dining. Behind that, a quaint bar and the kitchen. Two waiters ran all the tables, and they were very patient with our English.

As you can see in the photos, the plates were all earth-tones that added to the heartiness of the meal. Of course I had to order Jerusalem Artichoke soup. And the Truffled Tortillini! Truffle oil, truffle flakes mixed in with cheese, and yet the dish wasn't too rich or heavy. All the pasta is made the day of, so a few things weren't on the menu by the time we ordered (it's also why the place was packed so early) but everyone was really pleased with their meal.

Apple Mascapone Cheesecake & Lemon Tart
As we were contemplating dessert, a large group of French journalists entered. (I imagined they were journalists—they drank a lot, wore khaki vests, had weathered grey hair, and were, according to the waiter, regulars.)

While I'm not a fan of cheesecake, our waiter let us know that the French folks had already reserved every remaining piece of it—except for one. That was all we needed to know, and we snapped it up. And I'm still dreaming about it. So light, so perfect....I must figure out how to make it myself or move to Israel.


Travels in Jordan:
On to the Mezze

When people think of the Middle East, mezze is most likely what comes to everyone's mind first. It's all about the hummus, the tabbouleh, the baba ghanoush, and the mixed grill. While the menu was the same as the states, there was a vast difference in a few key areas.

Baba ghanoush, with a basket of pita
1. The bread 
Pita here is better, hands down. Like a cheese steak isn't the same outside Philly or a bagel is too chewy outside NYC. The best pita I tried here was made fresh---and has inspired me to look up my own recipes once I'm home. I don't think I can eat the store bought stuff anymore---it's too thick and bready.

Fatoosh and rosemary grilled mushrooms
2. The Freshness
I fell in love with baba ghanoush back in the summer during my Vegetarian month, but it wasn't until I arrived in Jordan that I saw how much better the eggplant dish could be. I call it more like a Middle Eastern Salsa: there is the smokey eggplant and tahini, but here they add in tomatoes, onions, and parsley to create a really refreshing dip.

It's that freshness that kept repeating itself on the trip: all the salads tasted like they had just gone outside to pick the veggies themselves. The cucumbers are smaller here, and hold more flavor. The pickles are all made in-house. The list goes on...

3. The hummus is divine
There's not much else to say about it that isn't expressed in the picture above. Light, fresh, awesome.

Mixed Grill, done right
4.The marinade on the meat
The chicken is marinated in yogurt, the steak has a nice char on it...there's not much to find fault with--only perhaps that the lamb isn't as good here as the other meats. Not sure why, I suppose I just don't like how the prepare it (it's ground and formed into patties).

How awesome is that mixed grill above? That was from my last dinner here at Levant around 3rd Circle. Gourmet Arab food, with fancy waiters and all. It was exceptional.


Travels in Jordan:
More street food

Jordan's Sunkist Imitation
Fortified with Vitamin C!

Sufara Shawarma Stand
The Sweifieh shopping distract ended up being my favorite haunt. Located by sixth circle, there are a multitude of shawarma, spice, bread, and candy stores dotting the landscape of high-rises. Drew took me here after Reem so I could see a difference between the styles of cooking. While Reem is the more popular, Arab style, I actually liked this food stand better.
Chicken Shawarma with pickle
Beef Shawarma
First off, they have a chicken option, for those trying to avoid beef. If you go for the chicken, they put in a pickle, which is amazing (and i hate pickles!) along with the sauce. The juiciness and flavor of both the chicken and beef shawarma was noticeable. Another cool part of this store was the glass case of rotisserie chickens roasting in the windows. I watched them remove on rack, break it down, and move it to the grill for what I assume would give it the final, grilled flavor that made the shawarma so fantastic.

So I've started referring to these as Pita Pizzas. This one store (also in Sweifieh) bakes at least 10 different varietities, all for about 1JD. The basic ingredient is a pita, with any number of toppings, baked in a pizza oven. We tried halloumi, za'atar, salami and cheese, turkey and cheese, and then a meat mix which I think was lamb. Coming fresh out of the oven, the pita folds in half and it's best eaten right away.

Halloumi in front, za'atar in the back, and salami to the right

The store front
Unlike shawarma, which involves wrapping a ton of meat around a spic, these are relatively easy to try at home. First, buy some good, fresh pita (from a bakery or homemade if you can), and then top them with whatever and toast in a oven at pizza heat (450-500 degrees) until cheese is melted or meat is cooked. I'm definitely looking for halloumi when I'm home---and with my Christmas present of za'atar from Alicia handy, I'll let you know how they turn out!


Travels in Jordan:
Reem Shawarma Stand

The streets of downtown Amman
So it's been nearly a week since I've arrived here in Amman, and I've been having a blast. I have totally been won over by the sheer number of sites to visit that are all within an hour of the capital city: Jesus' baptism site, Moses' perch on Mt. Nebo, the amazingly well-preserved Roman city of Jersha, the Umayyad desert castles to the east, plus Lawrence of Arabia's haunt in Wadi Rum and Indiana Jones' "Last Crusade" in Petra. But enough of the sites---this isn't a travel blog after all---and of course what everyone is interested in is the FOOD!

I've been staying with my best friend Liz and her family, and throughout the first week I've been able to go eat at a number of shawarma, plus Jordanian pizza, and of course your more generic Mediterranean mezze. For my first post, I thought I'd give my input on the most popular shawarma stand in the city:

Right off of second circle, look for the blue and red awning

This second-circle food stand has been written up by the New York Times, and can single-handedly slow down traffic around lunch and dinner time. Drew took me here my first day, explaining that the meat here is produced in a more Arabic style.

Reem, in Arabic

When you think of shawarma, think of a gyro without all the fixings and with a thinner pita. The meat is prepared on large rods the night before, with layers of fat intermixing with layers of meat to keep the inner levels juicy and tender.

The meat on a stick

At the stand, workers shred the meat, then add in a pinch of onions (I couldn't detect any in my sandwich), a handful of tomatoes (giving the meat a juicy, acid pairing), and a sauce that makes the entire thing pretty drippy---definitely keep the paper wrapper on as you eat. While the sauce is a secret, I'm guessing they use a little tahini in there because Drew's friend who is allergic to seeds and nuts avoids this place.

Inside you get meat, with a light coating sauce and tomatoes

Ordering shawarma is a push-and-shove affair. Make your way up to the counter and order 1-2 per person (they are small enough two is a good-sized lunch but 1 will keep you relatively sustained). They give you a number, and while it has English and Arabic on the ticket, they call out numbers in Arabic so if you are unfamiliar, just pay attention to the people grabbing their orders before you so you know where you are in line.

Waiting for shawarma
My first question is why shawarma isn't more popular in the states. The thinner bread makes shawarma much easier to eat then a gyro, and with the food-stand craze in full swing, someone should be thinking about it. The aroma of the meat on the grill is enough to guarantee business.

Waiting for shawarma
So how does the shawarma at Reem stack up to the hype? I was actually less impressed with the meat. At this stand beef is the only option, and while the char on the pieces was absolutely amazing and gave the meat a fantastic flavor, it was a little tough and dry. I'm not saying I didn't wolf them down, but after trying Drew's favorite stand in Swfara, I definitely prefer the second stand to Reem. More on that stand next time....