Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Generally, if someone told me there was a spider in my kitchen, my response would not be one of joy or excitement.  In our house the eight-legged kind get liberated instead of decimated (unless a cat sees them before I do), and the wire kind shown above get waved happily around like a magic wand. 

A spider is a fairly simple tool, a straight handle with a shallow wire-mesh basket at the end.  It's not a kitchen necessity by any stretch of the imagination, everything it does can be done by other tools, but it's a great addition to your kitchen and it does its jobs better than the other options.  If you're making a holiday wishlist, a spider might be a good thing to include. 

The most common use for a spider is to lift and remove food from hot water or oil.  Those of us who can and preserve can use it for moving blanched vegetables quickly from boiling to cold water.  It's also a great tool for gnocchi and any stuffed pasta, which should ideally be lifted from their cooking liquid instead of being poured into a colander.  Doing the latter can burst delicate pasta or crush gnocchi, while lifting them out individually with the spider is gentle enough to keep this from happening.  Spiders are sometimes referred to as basket skimmers, because they are very useful for skimming foam from stocks and soups.  Additional uses include fishing a bouquet garni or whole bay leaves out of a pot and deep frying foods.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Small-Batch Shortbread Cookies

The cats have been waking us up very early recently, which means that we eat breakfast earlier than usual, then lunch and dinner as well, and at the end of the day I'm wanting to snack on something. A quick cookie dessert generally satisfies that, and the other night I was in the mood for a very simple cookie.  I don't know how I managed to bring a kitchen box that contained cookie cutters but didn't manage to bring one that contained a paring knife, but I do have the former and so used them to make these cookies.  I really like shortbread cookie dough, so I only rolled out and cut the dough twice, eating the remainder raw.  Between that and the fact that I rolled my dough thinner than is traditional (see notes, below), the yield is a little vague.  I suspect that 1/2-inch thick cookies cut to 3"x1" would work out to about 5 cookies.  
  • 6 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 C + 2 Tbsp flour
  • dash salt (see notes, below)
  • additional sugar
  • 3-4 Tbsp semisweet chocolate morsels
1.  Cream together butter and sugar, add vanilla and mix.  Sift in flour and salt and combine.  Form dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
2.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Turn dough onto lightly floured workstation and roll to 1/2 inch thickness.  Use cookie cutters or cut into rectangles 3"x1".  Sprinkle with additional sugar, place on ungreased baking sheet and bake 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cool completely on wire rack.
3.  Once cookies are at room temperature, melt chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler, and drizzle chocolate over half of each cookie until well coated.  Allow to cool.

Yield: 5-8 cookies depending on size

Robyn's notes: the salt measurement should technically be 1/16 tsp.  I used my 1/8 tsp measure and filled it halfway.  This is actually a bit more than I use when a recipe calls for a dash or a pinch, so I like to mention it here.  If using cookie cutters, be sure to either use all one shape or, if using multiple shapes (as I did in the picture above), bake all the cookies of a given shape together.  Size and shape differences can lead to different baking times, and you don't want half the cookies overcooked just to get the other half perfect.  I rolled my dough out to 1/4 inch thick, because that's what I'm used to and I didn't have a recipe in front of me when I was working on this one.  I baked my cookies for 12 minutes at that thickness and they came out perfectly.  In researching various shortbread cookie recipes today, however, I find that the vast majority call for a 1/2-inch thick cookie and a longer baking time.  Whatever works for you.  With this small an amount of chocolate, a microwave is the easiest way to melt it (30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, don't overcook).  We don't have our microwave with us at the moment, so I did it in a double boiler.  I let the chocolate-coated cookies cool on the same wire rack with a sheet of aluminum foil beneath to catch any drippings.   

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently