Build it up, I mean. Oh, puns, how you delight me!
About arsenals, though: Do you have one? Because I’ve been thinking lately about arsenals, and whether I even have one. Or many. You know: Recipe arsenals, style arsenals, entertaining arsenals, joke arsenals, foreign affairs knowledge arsenals, karaoke song arsenals, and so on.
This is not an excuse to say “arsenal” over and over again, and I don’t find the word “arsenal” funny, because I am not juvenile.
But so anyway, like I was saying, do you have an arsenal or two? A quiver of surefire hit makers, or at least a few little numbers that will get the job done? Say, recipes. I was thinking to myself whether I have what I consider to be tried & true recipes, or things I know will delight everyone, or stuff I can make with one eye closed. And the answer is: Kind of?
For instance, today I got to visit with two of my favorite people in the universe, in town from New York. We went over to another old friend’s house for a very impromptu lunch – we’re talking no more than 15 minute prep time. By the time we got there, she had a gorgeous spread almost entirely prepared for us. An elegantly arranged cheese platter with four types of cheese and her husband’s homemade tapenade; an arrangement of tomatoes with vinegar, parsley, and shallots, plus avocado and cucumber; edamame, olives, and chopped tomato relish; crostini with smoked salmon salad; and a big plate of ribs she just happened to have. All of this was artfully displayed on lovely serving platters and was accompanied by red wine.
Did I mention she has two small children and relatives in town?
Sure, she’s always been the consummate hostess, very fabulous and together. Plus, she and her husband own a lovely cafe, and they cater, so they do have some experience with this. But this goes beyond experience and to the heart of an ability to throw things together, to rely on what you know, to make it happen. So of course I was thinking about whether I could pull something like that off with what I had lying around and make it look good.
Probably not. But I’ll keep trying.
So I’m working on beefing up my entertaining arsenal. Not just having the makings of an insta-feast neatly stockpiled in tins and jars in the cabinet, but working with recipes that are quick and easy, that I can throw together in a pinch, that don’t need to be fancy and intricate but make everyone happy and satisfied, that are simple but look pretty (’cos sometimes looking pretty is half the battle).
As far as other arsenals, I’m also building up the baking quiver – rather than flit around from recipe to recipe like I usually do, I’m working more on making favorites over and over, so they become second nature. Like, for instance, those sublime little Meyer lemon sablés that Molly wrote about just around this time last year. I made them once, after she posted them, and was entranced. So unassuming, so perfectly lemony, so crumbly-buttery-hint of salt-just sweet enough, these shortbread like cookies flecked with lemon zest won me over in a single bite. They they bowled over a wide swath of taste testers in the Southern California area – many of whom preferred them to classic chocolate chip and “is there a pound of chocolate in EACH cookie?” chocolate rads. They were greatly enjoyed by a certain someone’s father, who received a large bag of them for the holidays last year.
This year? The little darling conquered Northern California. But the final vote into the Hall of Fame came from, of all people, my father – the man who mostly likes plain milk chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and that’s about it, no other sweets thanks. He turned to me at a stoplight on the way to the house from the airport and said, “Can I have another cookie?”
Folks, we have a winner. Put it in your arsenal.
Hee hee, arsenal.
Meyer Lemon Sablés
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte and Orangette
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs finely grated Meyer lemon zest (from about 2 good-size fruits)
¾ tsp coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup coarse Turbinado sugar, for rolling logs of dough
1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder, and whisk to mix thoroughly. Set aside.
2. Put the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl). Beat (with the paddle attachment, if you’re using a stand mixer) on medium-low speed until the butter is creamy; then add the confectioner’s sugar and beat for a minute. Add the granulated sugar, and beat for a minute more. Sprinkle the lemon zest and salt into the bowl, and mix briefly to just combine. Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing briefly to incorporate after each addition. With the mixer on low, add the flour in three doses, mixing just until the flour is absorbed. Use a rubber spatula to do any last scraping and stirring; do not overmix. The dough will be quite thick and dense and sticky.
3. Divide the dough between two large sheets of wax paper. Using the paper as an aid, smoosh and roll and shape one blob of dough into a rough log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Roll up the log in the paper, and twist the ends to seal it closed. Repeat with the remaining blob of dough. Chill the two logs until the dough is cold and firm, at least two hours and up to a couple of days.
4. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and set a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Put a large sheet of parchment paper on the counter, and pour the Turbinado sugar onto it, making a ridge of sugar approximately the length of the dough logs. Remove a log from the fridge, unwrap it, and roll it lightly in the sugar to press the crystals into its sides. Coat the log as thoroughly as you can; then slice it into ¼-inch-thick slices. [I found that a thin paring knife works well.] Lay the slices on the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Refrigerate the remaining dough.
5. Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes or until just golden around the edges, rotating the sheet 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. [Keep in mind that the cookies will continue to brown a bit after you have removed them from the oven, so it’s best to err on the pale side.] Cool them on the silicone mat or parchment paper on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough.
6. Store the cookies in an airtight tin at room temperature for up to three days, or freeze them in a Tupperware, with a sheet of wax paper between each layer.
Yield: about 80 silver-dollar-size cookies
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