Thursday, February 25, 2010

This is NOT a post about Indian food.

A few weekends ago, my friends and I decided to gather for a potluck and some board games on a cold winter's least, it began as a potluck that evolved into a fabulous Indian meal when my friend, Vicky, declared that she would be bringing a chicken curry with rice and raita and naan bread. Following her lead, I decided to bring two Indian appetizers--a spicy lentil dip with pita chips and some potato-and-pea-filled samosas. Then, far too late on the day of the party, I came to the conclusion that the perfect thing to go with the samosas would be a homemade mango chutney that I spied on Simply Recipes.

That's where all my grand plans broke down. Oh, the golden chutney came out beautifully, but after all the cut and chop and cooking down, I had lost a lot of valuable time to tend to the other items. There was an awful lot of cutting and chopping and different stages of cooking for the samosa filling, too--so much so, that I ran out of time to form and bake the samosas themselves, even though I was going to use puff pastry as a shortcut. But the filling was delicious enough on its own, so I figured that we could just eat it as a side dish (which would, in point of fact, be aloo matar). However, that meant I went to all that trouble to make the gorgeous mango chutney, but now we'd have nothing to put it on! Furthermore, the spicy lentil dip turned out WAY too spicy (I went against my better judgment and added the whole 3/4 teaspoon of cayenne that the recipe called for!), and the texture was also too soft for a lentil dip, in my estimation. So I decided to soften it further and take the heat down by adding a pint of half and half and turning the dip into a soup! I garnished each bowl with crushed pita chips and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro, and it became a much improved dish.

Golden Mango Chutney
C&H Sugar website)

2 cups C&H Pure Cane Granulated Sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar
6 cups mangoes (4 to 5), peeled and cut in 3/4-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped (medium)
1/2 cup raisins, golden
1/4 cup ginger, crystallized and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. mustard seeds, whole
1/4 tsp. red chili pepper flakes (hot)

Combine sugar and vinegar in a pot; bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until syrupy and slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir occasionally during cooking. Pour into clean, hot jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace; close jars. Process in a water bath 15 minutes.

Makes 6 (1/2-pint) jars

Despite how my preparations went awry, we ended up with an elegant and delicious Indian feast, but none of the above has anything to do with what I REALLY want to share with you--and that's what we had for DESSERT! My friend, June, hosted this affair, so we let her off easy with making a salad for dinner and some cookies for dessert. But these were no ordinary cookies, friends. These may be my new favorite thing in the world! By way of back story, I should tell you that June's son lives out west, in my homeland of Oregon. Every year for his birthday, when they are together, he requests that she make him a carrot cake. But as a full-on carrot cake doesn't travel well, so in the last few years, June has taken to making him carrot cake cookies instead. She has tried a few different recipes, but the one she made this year (from that now most sadly defunct Gourmet Magazine) was truly sublime! After making them for her son, June made a second batch for our party, and they were so good that I had to rush right home and make some more for myself!

Of course, I read all 172 comments on first and made a few adjustments to the original recipe. As per many reviewers' advice, I made them a little smaller, about one tablespoon of dough per cookie. I got 33, so that made 16 sandwich cookies, plus one "taster." Also, I omitted the raisins (yuck!) and replaced the amount with extra walnuts, upped the cinnamon in the batter to two teaspoons, and chilled the dough ahead of time to prevent too much spreading. (However, contrary to some posters' advice, I neither increased the flour nor squeeze-dried my carrots, and the texture of the cookies was PERFECTLY moist!) Oh, and they only needed ten minutes to bake (NOT 12- 14!), baking only one tray at a time on Silpat-lined sheets. Finally, I made my favorite cream cheese frosting instead of the (honeyed) one from the recipe: one 8 oz. package softened cream cheese, 4 tablespoons softened butter, one pound of powdered sugar (3 1/2 to 4 cups), 1 teaspoon vanilla, and a good pinch of salt. In sum, I cannot imagine why anyone would want to make a proper carrot cake when you can have these flavorful, cakey cookies with delightfully crispy edges! And SO much less work, too! Also, for anyone far away that loves carrot cake, these cookies freeze, pack, and travel well. An absolute MUST-make!

Inside-Out Carrot Cake Cookies
Gourmet, April 2004)
Yield: Makes about 13 cookies

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or two!)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely grated carrots (2 medium)
1 scant cup walnuts (3 ounces), chopped (1 1/2 cups, if omitting the dreaded raisins)
1/2 cup raisins (2 1/2 ounces), optional

8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup honey

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 2 baking sheets (or line with Silpats or parchment).

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in carrots, nuts, and raisins at low speed, then add flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Drop 1 1/2 tablespoons batter per cookie 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and springy to the touch, 12 to 16 minutes total. Cool cookies on sheets on racks 1 minute, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

While cookies are baking, blend cream cheese and honey in a food processor until smooth. Sandwich flat sides of cookies together with a generous tablespoon of cream cheese filling in between.

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