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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookies, on December 7th, 2015.

no_bake_holiday_cookie_cubes

A cookie. A little bar. A little square of goodness. Chocolate, cookie crumbs (you’ll have to read below to learn what types), corn flakes (they are the little light colored horizontal striations you see buried in the cubes), nuts, dried cranberries and speculoos. What, you say? I know, you’ll need to read more about that below.

When I saw the picture of this little gem on Dorie Greenspan’s website, I just knew I needed to try them. The recipe was written up for her column at the Washington Post. What intrigued me were several things: (1) it was a no-bake cookie; (2) it called for 2 things I knew nothing about – Biscoff cookies (where have I been?) and speculoos (another, where have I been?); and (3) it was chocolate (yum). First, though, I had to FIND these elusive ingredients.

biscoff_cookie_package

Going down the aisle at my grocery store I found the Biscoff cookies. Because I rarely buy store-bought cookies, I guess I’ve just never noticed. They’re a butter spice cookie, probably made with dark brown sugar, I’d guess. They’re crispy. The manufacturer says they’re “Europe’s Favorite Cookie with Coffee.” Not remembering how much I needed, I ended up buying 2 packages. I only needed one. But, if I hadn’t found the other elusive ingredient I would have used the 2nd package to make the cookie butter.

speculoos_cookie_butter_trader_joesIn the write-up, Dorie mentioned that Trader Joe’s makes a speculoos cookie butter which is very similar to the Biscoff cookie, in a butter form, and sure enough, they do. Right next to their version of Nutella. In a jar (see photo) and I scooped a spoonful of it up for you to see – it has the same look and texture as peanut butter. It’s jarred, and it says right on it, don’t refrigerate it. Okay, got it. I used most of the jar for the filling of this cookie. Don’t know what I’ll ever use the rest of it for – maybe over the holidays someone will want to spread it on toast. Being me, I had to go look up more about speculoos – from wikipedia: Speculoos is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit, traditionally baked for consumption on or just before St Nicholas’ feast in the Netherlands, Belgium, and around Christmas in the western and southern parts of Germany (and they make it into a spread, just like Biscoff does).

In my pantry I had corn flakes. I also had ample dried cranberries, and I chose to use almonds in this – you can use any kind of nut you’d like, or use a combination. The recipe calls for just 1/2 cup of nuts. First you make the cookie base. I whizzed up nearly all of one cookie package in the food processor until it was fine crumbs. Melted butter was added, then it was patted into the 9×9 pan – actually it might be an 8×8 pan, which is what Dorie calls for. I do suggest you press the cookie crumb layer firmly – if you don’t it will fall apart when you try to cut it into cubes later.

melting_choc_speculoos_butterThat is put into the freezer to firm up while you make the filling. In a big saucepan you melt butter, the speculoos cookie spread/butter and 12 ounces of chocolate. Dorie prefers a dark chocolate, which is what I used. Milk chocolate can be substituted, though. I used a flame-tamer to do that part because the mixture was very thick (the speculoos particularly – it’s sticky like peanut butter) and I didn’t want it to burn. I let it cool a bit, then added the corn flakes, dried cranberries and almonds. You can also use raisins, dried cherries or chopped up dried apricots instead of the cranberries. You stir all this together until you can’t see any more of the cornflake pieces, then gently scoop it on top of the frozen crumb crust. Press it down firmly all over (I didn’t do that quite enough) so the chocolate layer adheres to the crumbs.

layers_no_bake_cookiesThe mixture is spread out clear to the corners and you do squish it out and down as best you can. Chill several hours, or freeze. I can’t imagine trying to cut this from a frozen state. Getting this block of stuff out of the pan was a bit of challenge – I dipped the 8×8 pan into a pan of hot water for about a minute (being careful to not splash any water into the cookies), then used a narrow metal spatula to free all the edges. It came out easily at that point (Dorie actually recommends blowing a hair dryer all around the bottom and sides of the pan); I righted it, then cut it into cubes. Dorie recommended 7 sliced strips – I was only able to get 6 from my pan, then I carefully cut each of the long slices into cubes, so I got about 40. A serrated knife did not work for this (though Dorie suggests it). I found a big chef’s knife worked better. And as it was, I messed up a bunch of them where the crumb crust came unstuck. I’ve packaged them up in a plastic box and they’re in the refrigerator. Before serving, allow them to warm at room temp for about 15 minutes, Dorie suggests. My cubes were not very uniform – Dorie’s look like they’re cut with precision. It’s a bit hard to do – but that won’t matter to the taste of them.

What’s GOOD: love the flavor of these – the cookies give a different flavor and texture – the crunch in them is wonderful. I liked the corn flakes. All of it is good, and although it’s a no-bake cookie, you’ll still spend a bit of time making this. But it’s not like rolling out Christmas cookies, using a cookie cutter, then baking. I would think children would LOVE these. Haven’t tried them on any yet, but I will.

What’s NOT: nothing other than some time – saying it’s a no-bake cookie just means you don’t have to heat the oven. You’ll still spend a bit of time making them.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

No-Bake Cookie Cubes

Recipe By: Dorie Greenspan, column in Washington Post, 12/2015
Serving Size: 49 (or less)

CRUST:
1 1/4 cups Biscoff cookies — or graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — (3/4 stick) melted
TOPPING:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — (3/4 stick) cut into 6 pieces
1 cup spice cookie spread — such as Biscoff/Lotus or Speculoos
12 ounces chocolate — preferably semisweet or bittersweet, coarsely chopped (may substitute milk chocolate)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt — (1/4 to 1/2)
4 cups corn flakes
1/2 cup raisins — or dried cranberries, chopped dried cherries or chopped dried apricots (or a mix of fruits)
1/2 cup slivered almonds — (toasted or plain), shelled pistachios, chopped walnuts or chopped pecans (or a mix of nuts)

1. CRUST: Pulse cookies until fine crumbs, then place in a medium bowl, pour over the melted butter, and, using a fork or your fingertips, mix until the crumbs are moist and evenly coated. Turn out into the 8-inch square pan, then use your fingertips to press and compact the crumbs into a crust. Freeze the crust while you make the topping.
2. TOPPING: Put the butter in a LARGE heavy-bottomed saucepan (such as a 3-to-4-quart pan), then add the cookie spread; finally, add the chocolate and salt (use the lesser amount if you’ll be adding salted nuts) to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring as the ingredients melt, to form a smooth, glossy mixture. Turn off the heat and stir in the cornflakes, dried fruit and nuts, mixing until all the add-ins are coated with the chocolate mixture.
3. Remove the crust from the freezer; pour the topping over it and use a spatula to spread the topping across the crust, making sure to get it into the corners. Press firmly so the filling sticks to the bottom crust. Refrigerate for 4 hours; you want it to be solid.
4. To unmold, either warm the bottom and sides of the pan with hot air from a hair dryer (Dorie Greenspan’s preferred method) or dip the pan into hot water for about a minute, taking care not to let the water splash onto the chocolate.
5. Place a piece of parchment or wax paper over a rack or cutting board, and have another cutting board at hand. Run a round-edged table knife around the sides of the pan, and turn the pan over onto the paper. If the cookie slab doesn’t drop out of the pan, apply more heat. Once the slab is unmolded, carefully flip it over onto the other cutting board so the crust side is down.
6. It’s easiest to cut the slab into cubes using a long chef’s knife or a serrated slicing knife and a sawing motion. Cut cookie cubes that are roughly 1 inch square by slicing the slab into 7 rows and then cutting each row crosswise into 7 cookies. Store the cubes in the refrigerator or freezer, and allow them to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving. Biscoff’s are available at most grocery stores. Speculoos butter is available at Trader Joe’s. It resembles peanut butter.
Per Serving (not accurate as I forgot to add nutrition info on the speculoos): 111 Calories; 7g Fat (54.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 58mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on November 21st, 2015.

safari_anzac_biscuits1

Well, so . . . . we had some cookies while we were in the safari camps. They put them out for our game drive stops, and sometimes they served them after lunch, or at the sundowner stops as well. They called them biscuits since that’s the British tradition to call them so. They were really wonderful, so I asked for the recipe. There begins the tale.

There at the camp, they called these Anzac biscuits, but since I knew all about ANZAC Biscuits (ANZAC – Australia New Zealand Air Corps – click on the link to read my post about it) from our trip to Australia some years ago, I knew these weren’t ANZAC. But, oh well, they called them such, so I just added on the “safari” part. The original ANZAC biscuits were developed when World War II caused lots of rationing, and the biscuits would keep well if they were shipped to soldiers abroad.

safari_anzac_biscuitsThere at left is the photo I took of the cookies at the camp where these were served first. Do note how completely different these look than mine – more cookie than anything else. Whereas my cookies (above) are nearly all seeds and oats and coconut and almost nothing to hold them together.

The cookies are healthier than some – they contain some good nutritional stuff in them, as I mentioned. Lots of seeds. That’s part of what intrigued me about them – they had pumpkin seeds and flax seeds (that’s mostly what you see at left).

So once I was home for awhile, I decided to tackle this recipe – I bought a big bag of flax seeds, and a big bag of pumpkin seeds too. I thought I had sesame seeds, but couldn’t find them, so maybe next time I’ll add them too.

The recipe is fairly straight forward, other than the butter and syrup (Golden syrup or Karo) is melted together, and you also dissolve baking soda in boiling water and combine the two before adding that to the cookie dough. I used my stand mixer because I suspected the dough would be a bit unwieldy. Yes, it was. But I certainly didn’t know how much unwieldy it would be.

When the camp director handed me the recipe she mentioned that they also added about 1 1/2 cups of seeds. She’s written it in on the side. She mentioned flax, pumpkin and sesame. Okay. No problem. So, I did a combo of two of those and after adding in the oats and coconut, I poured in the seeds. And the mixer laboriously tried to mix it all up. It succeeded, but only barely. I had to do some of it by hand because it was fairly stiff.

Because the dough didn’t look like the camp cookies, I baked just one cookie sheet of them. And once out of the oven I groaned – these didn’t look anything like theirs. Oh dear. I decided to try another tray. Then I added in some chocolate chips and just a tiny bit of flour. Oh dear me. That mixture became almost impossible to work with, but I went ahead and made more cookies out of it. I really thought that I was going to have a monumental failure on my hands. At that point, though, what else could I do but try to make it work.

I ended up giving nearly all of them away, keeping only about 3-4 of the seeded ones without chips. The ones without any chocolate chips were better (to me anyway), though I rarely turn down chocolate in anything. And I’ve enjoyed eating them – chewing and chewing – as those seeds get stuck in your teeth (particularly the flax).

My take-away from this is – I think – that they SUBSTITUTE seeds for the oats and coconut – not adding them IN ADDITION TO. I reduced the amount of seeds from 1 1/2 cups to 1 1/4 cups only because I felt they had enough. But, for the sake of this recipe, I’m giving it to you exactly as I made them – with all the add-ins, which makes the cookies up top – mostly seeds, oats and coconut. And they’re really quite delicious. They just don’t look like the camp cookies. I took these to a friend who phoned me this morning to tell me she thought these were the BEST cookies she’d ever tasted and can’t wait to make them. And here I thought they were a failure! As I’ve had a cookie each day since I made these, I’m liking them even more. I may try them again with just seeds and try baking one tray first, to see how they turn out, then I may add in the oats and coconut anyway. If I make them again with changes, I’ll be sure to report all about it.

What’s GOOD: well, sometimes what you think is a failure turns out to be a great success. These aren’t quite like what I had on safari, but they’re really wonderful and worth making. They’re healthier than some, which is a bonus.

What’s NOT: they’re not a traditional cookie – they’re more add-ins than they are cookie. But I have no complaint!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

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Safari Anzac Biscuits (cookies)

Recipe By: From “And Beyond” safari camps, Africa
Serving Size: 20-24

1 cup cake flour — [I think you could use all-purpose]
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup desiccated coconut — (desiccated means unsweetened)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup — or Karo syrup
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups seeds — flax, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds

1. Preheat oven to 180° C or 350° F. Grease baking sheets.
2. Sift the flour into a large bowl, add oats, coconut, sugar and salt. Stir to combine.
3. Melt butter and syrup in a small saucepan over low heat.
4. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and set aside.
5. Add water to the melted butter mixture, then add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the seeds and mix well.
6. Roll 1 1/2 T sized balls and place on greased cookie sheets. The batter is a bit on the dry side, so it takes some elbow grease to get them to hold their shape. Allow room for the cookies to spread. Flatten the dough some with the palm of your hand.
7. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Do not over bake.
8. Remove from oven, place biscuits on cooling racks. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. The note on the recipe says: “Serve as a wake-up biscuit or for morning game drives.” Yes, indeed!
Per Serving: 239 Calories; 17g Fat (61.3% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 145mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on October 14th, 2015.

walnut_blk_pepper_cookies

Not savory cookies – no, these are the real deal – walnut cookies with a moderate jot of black pepper.

Needing some cookies to serve to my friends who were coming to play Scrabble, I saw this recipe online and thought what a wonderful combination – WALNUTS and BLACK PEPPER. And different, for sure. They were SO easy to make – I had them mixed and baked in a little more than an hour, and my hands-on time was probably no more than 20 minutes. The cookies are baked low (at 300°F) for 25 minutes. That’s a long time for cookies. I could smell the butter browning as they baked – I almost thought they were burning, but they weren’t. They bake until the bottoms begin to turn a golden yellow.

The recipe was adapted by one of the chefs at the James Beard Foundation (until today I’d never looked at their website). The original recipe came from a cookbook called Cooking with Italian Grandmothers: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany to Sicily. I don’t own that cookbook – it sounds like a wonderful one to browse through.

Actually, because I was still in the midst of remodeling the day my friends were coming, we ended up going to one of the other gal’s homes. I didn’t think they’d want to hear the pounding going on. My decks are getting completely re-done (yet more dry rot discovered), and the roofers are still pounding away. By the time this recipe airs, the roof, decks, and everything else should be finished. Thank goodness.

This is a crispy crunchy cookie (no eggs in the batter) – just butter, sugar, honey, black pepper, a dash of salt, finely pounded walnuts and flour. It mixed up in a jiffy in the stand mixer, and as usual, I had a hard time keeping my fingers out of the batter. I love cookie dough.

What’s GOOD: the combo of walnuts and pepper was different, but really good. The heat from the black pepper is subtle – don’t expect it to assault your taste buds – it doesn’t, but you’re barely aware of some residual heat once you’ve chewed and swallowed a bite or two.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

printer-friendly PDF and FILE: MasterCook 14 (click on link to open)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Walnut-Black Pepper Cookies

Recipe By: James Beard Foundation – This recipe is adapted from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux.
Serving Size: 18

1/2 cup unsalted butter — softened
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper — (don’t skimp – it needs all of it)
A pinch of salt
3 tablespoons dark honey — such as wildflower or chestnut
1 cup walnuts — (4 ounces) pounded or coarsely ground
1 cup all-purpose flour
Granulated sugar for sprinkling the cookies

1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. If the honey isn’t liquid, heat briefly in the microwave so it is pour-able. Add the black pepper, pinch of salt, and honey; mix to incorporate. Add the nuts and flour, and mix with the electric mixer until the dough forms moist clumps, a few minutes.
3. Roll large teaspoonfuls of the batter between your clean hands to make little balls. Place the balls on the baking sheet, and press down on them twice with the tines of a fork to make a crosshatch pattern. Sprinkle with a little bit of granulated sugar or sugar sprinkles.
4. Bake the cookies for 25 minutes, or until their bottoms have turned golden-nutty brown. Set aside to cool.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 9g Fat (60.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 14mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on September 12th, 2015.

chocolate_almond_cookies

Finally, I made time to do a little baking. I was all out of cookies in the freezer, and I could have made some chocolate chip ones, which seem to be everybody’s favorite, but I looked elsewhere first. Since I still don’t have my “old” bunch of to-try recipes for the last few years (my computer guru guy is trying to make the time to find out if the files are lost), I’ve been adding new ones. I’ve probably added about a hundred recipes to my to-try ones, and they’re all kinds of things from lamb roast to rosemary oil to this, a cookie recipe. The original recipe came from Food & Wine, about a year or so ago, and that recipe was a chocolate pine nut recipe.

We make all kinds of compromises in life, don’t we? I sure do, on a daily basis. Most are easy; a few are harder. This one was easy – the recipe called for bittersweet chocolate, and the only kind I had was Trader Joe’s big block that contains chunks of almonds. I suppose I could have removed the almonds once I melted the chocolate, but I just decided to make these with almonds rather than pine nuts. See? Easy compromise. I love almonds. Below you can see the glob of batter before baking, and then after baking.

choc_almond_unbaked

choc_almond_baked

These cookies could be a version of cloud cookies since they’re almost flourless (there is 1/4 cup added flour). They have the consistency of really chewy brownies on the inside, but the outsides have a crackly crust. But a thin crust for sure.

The batter is simple enough – eggs and sugar, then the melted (and cooled) chocolate, then the tiny amount of flour, baking powder and salt. Then the toasted choc_almond_facealmonds are added in at the last. Took no time at all to put together. The batter is fairly liquid – it barely holds together. I noticed that after I’d baked 2 pans of cookies, the batter still remaining in the bowl had firmed up a little bit – made it easier to scoop and put on the cookie sheets. They’re baked 12 minutes, rotating the pans half way through. At the halfway point they were still VERY soft – I mushed one with the hot pad and it was like a glob of hot molten chocolate. Fortunately it didn’t get to my fingers or it would have burned! The cookies are very tender once you remove them from the oven. The recipe didn’t say when to remove them to a rack, so I tried right away and wow, it was hard. The ones that sat on the other baking sheet for 3-4 minutes were easier to remove. So I’ve added that info to the recipe. I think I’ll need to put each cookie on waxed paper because I think these will stick to each other if stacked. Or else freeze them on a baking sheet, then put them into a plastic bag and they’d be fine.

What’s GOOD: For sure this is chocolaty. The texture is delicious – the bit of crispy on the outside (but I imagine that would soften if left out at room temp). And the insides are chewy, fudgy almost. Stick to your teeth type. But still, it IS a cookie. The crackly top is interesting. Altogether good. Rich. I like that each cookie is only about 100 calories.
What’s NOT: they’re a bit fussy – or maybe fragile is a better word. Cooling and packaging them for freezing is a little bit of a nuisance. Or else freeze them on a baking sheet, then pile them into a freezer bag.

printer-friendly PDF – and – Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate-Almond Cookies

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine, 2014
Serving Size: 30

3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate — finely chopped
1/2 stick unsalted butter — cubed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup superfine sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large skillet, toast the nuts over moderate heat, tossing occasionally, until they are golden, 5 to 7 minutes. (Alternately, toast them for about 6 minutes in a 350°F oven.) Cool completely.
2. Meanwhile, in a large heatproof bowl set over a medium saucepan of simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate with the butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 5 minutes; let cool completely.
3. In a small bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar at medium-high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate, then fold in the dry ingredients. Stir in the almonds.
4. Bake the cookies in 2 batches: Scoop 1-tablespoon mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are dry around the edges and cracked on top; shift the sheets halfway through baking. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
5. Allow cookies to rest for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet before attempting to transfer them to a rack, but do do that part then allow them to cool completely before serving. Freeze on a baking sheet, then package into freezer bags, or eat them in a hurry and don’t worry about packaging.
Per Serving: 102 Calories; 8g Fat (62.5% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 18mg Cholesterol; 38mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on August 7th, 2015.

almond_paste_choc_chip_cookiesThe other day I decided I really needed to make some chocolate chip cookies. I haven’t made any in a long, long time and I do like to have some in the freezer. I guess I was craving them. There were some other cookies left over from Christmas still lurking in freezer corners. I tasted one and threw out the bag – they had zero flavor. That’s what you get for freezing cookies for 7 months! So new cookies were in order, but I wanted to do something different. Enter almond paste.

The original recipe came from Cheryl Sternman Rule’s blog, 5 Second Rule, one I read regularly. And her epiphany about these cookies is a bit round about, but she ended  up making little tiny balls of almond paste to mix in with the cookie dough at the last, so there would be some little pockets of straight-shot-almond-paste mixed in. A little flavor explosion. I thought I was going to make them the same way.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep almond paste on my pantry shelf. It just dries out. So, no, I didn’t have any almond paste. So, I’ll just make some. Hmmmph. I’ll only make enough to use for this recipe, since almond paste is really expensive stuff. I know from experience that using a part of a tube of it isn’t a good idea either, because then it really dries up fast.

So I researched almond paste recipes. That led to determining the difference between almond paste and marzipan (usually it’s the amount of sugar – more in marzipan according to several sources). But I went through my pantry and lo and almond_pastebehold I found a package of toasted almond flour (from King Arthur Flour). I opened it to see how it smelled – it smelled great, like toasted almond flour should. So I made almond paste with 3/4 cup of that flour, 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, a tetch of almond extract and one egg white.

That got whizzed up in the food processor and that’s what I ended up with (at right). A little bowl – exactly the 2 ounces I needed for the cookies. I thought.

Mixing up the cookie dough was simple enough. Cheryl explained that it’s basically the Tollhouse recipe, but she was so enamored with almond paste that she decided to incorporate the almond paste in little tiny balls. She had a tube of commercially produced almond paste. A product that is firm and will actually make into little balls. If you look at my bowl of home made almond paste, can you imagine trying to make little balls out of that? Impossible. I added more almond flour assuming it would firm up some. Not much. I tried to make it into little balls again. Nope. No luck at all. After adding yet more almond flour, I gave up and just added the paste into the cookie dough so it was mixed in totally. No little balls – it simply was too wet to work with that way.

cookies_on_baking_sheetSo, I made a bigger recipe than Cheryl did (double, actually) and I got about 50 cookies. She made hers a bit smaller, I think. I should have gotten 60. I used my handy-dandy cookie scoop, so they were all uniform.

The recipe said 10-14 minutes baking time – mine took 6 minutes, then I turned the sheet around 180° and another 6 minutes and they were done. So 12 minutes.

We’ve been having really humid weather – as I’m writing this it’s still morning and it’s 75° and 78% humidity outside and the A/C is already running. If nothing else the A/C helps lower the humidity. When I’m cooking I just have to keep the temp down – I’m miserable otherwise. That said, I left these cookies to sit out for about 2 hours on the kitchen island, on a rack. That was a mistake, because they became quite soft. Since I eat them frozen anyway, I probably won’t notice, but I should have packed them up as soon as they cooled. Lesson learned.

The day after I made these I took a bag of about 12 of them to a friend. He’s my financial adviser, but he’s almost more a friend than a financial adviser. He emailed me this morning – this is a guy who professes to not like sweets (i.e., when we go out to lunch he never orders dessert), and he thanked me for the cookies and said by far the 4th cookie he ate out of the bag was the best. Ha!

What’s GOOD: I really like these cookies – the almond paste adds a totally different flavor to choc chip cookies and I really enjoyed it. They’re simple – well, except for making the almond paste as that was an added step. Buy the paste if you want to, and refer to Cheryl’s recipe to add the little balls of paste inside the cookies.

What’s NOT: it’s a little bit more work than a traditional choc chip cookie recipe, but very worth it. No down side to me!

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Almond Paste and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe By: Adapted from 5 Second Rule (blog) 12/2011
Serving Size: 50

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter — at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/3 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds — toasted
ALMOND PASTE:
3/4 cup sliced almonds — or almond meal or King Arthur Flour’s toasted almond flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg white

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking liners (Silpat).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, soda, and salt.
3. ALMOND PASTE: In bowl of food processor combine almonds, (or almond meal or toasted almond flour), powdered sugar, and egg white. Continue processing until it is a smooth, cohesive gluey mixture. This makes about 2 ounces of almond paste.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and two sugars. Add the egg, then the almond extract, beating well. Add the flour mixture in two additions, beating just until incorporated. Then add the almond paste and continue mixing until it’s smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Fold in the mini chips and toasted almonds.
5. Bake for 10-14 minutes, rotating the sheet pans halfway though, and checking the undersides carefully to ensure they don’t burn. (For best texture, consider under-baking them rather than the alternative.) Stored airtight, they’ll keep a good 5 days. Otherwise, store in freezer for up to 2-3 months.
Per Serving: 141 Calories; 9g Fat (55.5% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 18mg Cholesterol; 74mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on July 10th, 2015.

classic_brownies_best_ever

Do you have food in the freezer that calls out to you? That sings your name and says “come hither?” Well, there’s a little box of these in my freezer and in the mid-afternoon when I need a pick-me-up, I swear, they start beckoning.

Not really, but they certainly could sing to me. These brownies. Oh my goodness. I’d forgotten all about these, about how fantastic they are, how chocolaty they are. I cut them into small pieces so I wouldn’t get carried away and I do take just ONE of them. I baked them for an event recently and hoped most of them would be eaten, but alas, there were about 15 of them left over. Oh, sigh. They’re in my freezer.

I posted this recipe back in 2007, a couple of months after I started writing this blog, and I waxed glorious about them then, and hadn’t made them since. It’s a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated – according to my notes it was published in 2004 and I think they call them Classic Brownies. The link at left is to my original post. The only thing different about this one is that I used walnuts instead of pecans.

There is one important point – DO use really good quality chocolate. I’m not sayin’ that these won’t be good if you use grocery store, cheaper chocolate. I had a chunk of Valrhona in my pantry and that’s what I used. It calls for unsweetened chocolate. Nothing about the preparation of these is difficult. There are dry ingredients.There are eggs, and then chocolate and butter that are melted together.

You can bake these in a 9×13 pan. Mine?: I used an odd shaped one. One of my cooking teachers recommended brownies_ready_to_bakeMagic Line, a U.S. company that produces real solid aluminum pans. They’re available on amazon in oodles of shapes and sizes. This one I used is a jelly roll pan, but I wasn’t making a jelly roll, obviously. What’s unique about Magic Line is the nice little lip they put on the edges, which makes it much easier to grab the hot pan out of the oven. Anyway, Parrish Magic Line 10 x 15 x 1 Inch Jelly Roll/Cookie Sheet is the one. In the photo at left I’ve lined the pan, both directions, with foil, with edges sticking out, to make it easier to remove once the brownies are cooled.

I wanted to have thinner brownies and more of them; hence I decided to use the larger pan. I baked them slightly less time, about 29 minutes, rather than 30-40 in the 9×13 pan. I used my Thermapen to check the internal temp and took them out when they reached 200° F. And, I used walnuts. I didn’t toast them – I was running low on time that day, so I took a shortcut. But toasting walnuts, or any nuts, before baking with them is a good idea.

What’s GOOD: everything about these is good, providing you like chocolate. The brownies are dense, but not gummy, and they’re just overflowing with good chocolate flavor. Now I remember why they’re called “best ever.” That was a designation from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated. You’ll hear raves, I promise you.

What’s NOT:  nothing, unless you don’t have any good unsweetened chocolate on hand. These are worth making a trip to a specialty store to find the Valrhona. Or Scharfenberger  would be fine too. Just use good chocolate, that’s all I ask!

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Classic Brownies (the best classic brownie ever)

Recipe By: Erika Bruce & Adam Reid, Cook’s Illustrated, 2004
Serving Size: 24 (or about 40 if you use the different pan size)

4 ounces walnuts — or pecans, chopped and toasted
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate — chopped fine [I used Valrhona brand]
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325°. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8 inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 x 9 inch baking dish (preferably glass), pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edge. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, about 4-8 minutes. Set aside to cool. Whisk to combine flour, salt and baking powder in medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogenous.
3. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using them) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes, or until the brownies are at about 200° F on an instant-read thermometer. Cool pan on wire rack at room temperature about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days (they won’t last that long!). NOTE: I used a 10x15x1 jelly roll pan to bake these, so it made about 40 brownies. When using that sized pan, they baked for about 29 minutes.
Per Serving (if making 24): 224 Calories; 13g Fat (50.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 73mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on June 30th, 2015.

breadfarms_grahams

Can I just tell you that you have to make these and leave it at that? No, you probably won’t believe me, will you? I don’t use that kind of forceful declaration very often. Well, just believe me, okay?

Often I’m led down a cooking path by the description of a recipe. Maybe it’s something unusual about it – or in it – that piques my interest. Other times it’s because there’s such an interesting background story about it. Or maybe it’s a homegrown recipe from way back. In this case, it’s Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette blog, cookbook fame, and her husband’s restaurant Delancey fame too. I’ve always admired Molly’s writing – she has a gift of building up a great story and I was following her long before she became famous. I read her blog and liked it. This recipe came from her column in Saveur.

And I got hooked on it because of the story. She and her family were on a drive in Washington, and her daughter was hungry. So was everyone in the car and most of the stores were closed in Edison. They found Breadfarm was about to close – they grabbed some things and dived into the bags as they stood in the parking lot. What emanated from them all were ooohs and aaahs. But it was the little package of freshly baked graham crackers that made the biggest impression. They were gone before she arrived home. And, because you’re Molly Wizenberg, you obviously can pick up the phone and tell the people at Breadfarm that you want to feature them and their recipe in an article in Saveur.

I’m ever so glad she did. Normally I’d probably not make home made graham crackers. Crackers, in grahams_closeupgeneral, are a lot of work, and one meal, usually, and they’re gone. But Molly just made this graham cracker/cookie sound so divine that there just wasn’t anything to do but make these. First, however, I had to go shopping. I don’t stock whole wheat flour much – it turns rancid so quickly (the remainder is in the freezer for now). And I certainly had never used whole wheat pastry flour. Had to go to two stores before I found those items. It also uses wheat bran – another thing I don’t keep on hand because it doesn’t keep all that long, either.

Fortunately I read and re-read the recipe before I began to make them. Making these requires several visits to the freezer as the precious little graham cracker cargo are chilled and slightly frozen before baking. I was home anyway, so I was certain to make these at a time when I would have no distractions.

My kitchen freezer is very full. (Actually, this is a mini form of hoarding, I think – I can’t seem to ever get my freezer to some manageable amount of fullness – it’s always chock full.) So I had to slide the cookie sheets with the rolled out cookies/crackers on parchment into my garage freezer (yes, there is room there). It required 2 visits to the freezer, and technically they were supposed to have a 3rd visit, but I did a shortcut on that one.

The batter is easy enough to make – you cream the butter, sugar (she calls for cane sugar, I used moscovado) and honey for awhile, then add the dry ingredients in 3 separate additions and continue mixing until it pulls away from the workbowl using the stand mixer. The batter is divided in half and pressed into a 1-inch thick rectangle on parchment. A 2nd piece of parchment goes on top and a rolling rolled_perforatedpin is used to squeeze down the dough to 1/8 inch thickness.  The recipe says to keep the dough in its rectangular shape. Well, I couldn’t do that – I was handling it too much, so I just lived with the results of an oval shape and re-rolled the scraps. Some time was spent in the freezer, then you poke the crackers with a fork and either perforate the dough into squares, or in my case, I used a square cookie cutter, which worked just fine. Back into the freezer they go, so they’re cold-cold before you bake them. They are separated and placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet. And they’re baked.

And I remind you – you have to make these. They’re just SO good. They’d be loverly with cheese as an after-dinner course. I’m serving them with my lemon velvet gelato on Father’s Day – this won’t post until a week or so later.

What’s GOOD: the taste. Oh my yes, they taste wonderful. And although you will have spent more time than usual making a batch of these, you’ll be glad you did, if you can make the time to do it. They make a very nice snack, or a straight-out cookie. And maybe you’ll think it’s not so bad because it’s almost all whole wheat flours.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever is bad about the cookie/cracker. It just takes a bit of time to make. And they’re a little bit fussy – trying to get the dough flat and square as you roll it out – you don’t want them to be thicker on one side than the other, not only would they not bake evenly, but they’d look funny.

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Breadfarm’s Graham Crackers _ SAVEUR

Recipe By: From Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, and Saveur, 2015
Serving Size: 48

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon wheat bran — plus 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks unsalted butter — softened
2/3 cup unrefined cane sugar — or turbinado sugar [I used moscovado]
2 tablespoons honey

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the flours with the wheat bran, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and honey on medium speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is creamy, 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three batches, stopping as needed to scrape down the bowl, until the flour is fully incorporated.
3. Continue beating until the dough comes together around the paddle, pulling away from the sides of the bowl.
4. Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and gather into a ball. Halve the dough ball and place each half on a 12” x 16” sheet of parchment paper. Pat each half into a 1”-thick rectangle and then cover with another sheet of parchment paper, lining it up with the first. Using a rolling pin, roll each dough half between the sheets of parchment to an even thickness of 1/8”, maintaining its rectangular shape [this was very difficult to do, so I made do with a big oval shape]. Carefully transfer the two dough halves, still between the parchment sheets, onto two baking sheets and freeze for 30 minutes.
5. Remove each sheet from the freezer, and transfer the parchment-wrapped dough sheets to a clean work surface. Remove the top sheet of parchment from each, and working quickly, use a fork or skewer to prick the dough sheets at roughly 1-inch intervals. Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, score the dough into 2-inch squares. Trim the scraps, and reserve to use for re-rolling and making more cookies. Return the pricked and scored dough sheets, still in single, large sheets, to the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, until very firm.
6. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and heat to 350°. Remove the chilled dough sheets from the freezer, and invert each onto a clean work surface. Peel away and discard the parchment paper and, working quickly, separate the dough sheets along the score lines, into individual squares. Place the squares onto three parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Chill the squares on the baking sheets for 15 minutes.
7. Bake the squares for 14 minutes, until golden at the edges; rotate the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. [I didn’t quite get 48 cookie/crackers out of my batch – probably because they were just a bit thicker than the 1/8 inch suggested – it’s hard to measure!]
Per Serving: 69 Calories; 4g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 46mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on January 30th, 2015.

macadamia_butter_dried_cranberry_cookies

This was a Christmas cookie my friends Cherrie. Jackie and I made when we got together and baked nearly all day in mid-December. I still have cookies in the freezer from that. This cookie isn’t quite what you think – the macadamia nuts are ground up to a paste and become the fat, (in lieu of butter) in the dough, but they’re enhanced with dried cranberries AND chocolate chips. All things to like!

When Cherrie and I were planning what cookies we were going to make this year (we’ve been doing this for about 5 years, I’d guess), we have some favorites. Always we do the Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee. It’s always #1 on our list. We make a double batch, although we do it one at a time because the caramel is hot and a bit unwieldy.  it’s our all-time favorite cookie. We usually make Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies for brandied_apricot_barsmy cousin Gary because he’s GF. We always make Cranberry Noels also – they’re #2 on our list, always. And we usually make Mexican Wedding Cookies too. This year, by special request from Cherrie, I made one of her favorite things, my Brandied Apricot Bars. You can see photo at right. I took new photos because what I had on the blog post was a really old and needed some updating.

Cherrie had mentioned to me that she had a can of macadamia nuts she wanted to use up, so shouldn’t we add a new cookie to our list. I said sure – found this recipe I’d saved from a few years ago. It was on Bake or Break’s blog. We decided to double the recipe. Hers made 30. We doubled it and didn’t get quite 60, more like 50 (obviously we made them a bit bigger than she did). We also added a few mini chocolate chips. Just because. They were sitting out on the kitchen counter, so we threw them in.

The cookies are easy to put together. But, there’s no butter in this recipe. As I mentioned above, the macadamia nuts, which are naturally high in fat, become the fat for these cookies. So they’re a bit healthier than some.

These do require a bit of chilling time. We let them chill for half an hour or so, but 10 minutes is all that’s required. I don’t know how much good 10 minutes does since it definitely wouldn’t read the middle of the chunk of cookie dough, but anyway, that’s what it says.

The little one-inch balls get dipped in granulated sugar, pressed down onto parchment-lined baking sheets with a fork and baked. That’s it. These are good. Different. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, or for a cookie exchange. Easy too.

What’s GOOD: they’re easy to make. Tasty with the dried cranberries and chocolate chips. You really don’t taste the macadamia nuts, just so you know. If I make these again I think I might add some chopped macadamias just because. I like their taste, and you don’t have any sense that you’re eating them in this cookie. Don’t, however, leave them in chunk form as the ground up nuts provide the glue to hold these cookies together. You’d need to substitute butter in lieu of the nuts if you wanted to change that part. These are very low in fat – only 3 grams per cookie.

What’s NOT: nothing, really.

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Macadamia Nut Butter Cookies with Dried Cranberries and Chocolate Chips

Recipe By: adapted a little from Bake or Break blog, 2011 (she adapted it from Cooking Light)
Serving Size: 50

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/3 cups macadamia nuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg
1 cup dried cranberries — chopped
1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Note: there is no butter in this cookie – the macadamia nuts are processed to a very fine grind and provide the fat.
1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
2. Place macadamia nuts in a food processor. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, combine processed macadamia nuts, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and brown sugar using an electric mixer at medium speed. Add vanilla extract and egg. Beat well. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Dough will be thick. Stir in cranberries and mini-chocolate chips. Chill dough 10 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 375°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
5. Place 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into balls about 1-inch in diameter. Lightly press each ball into sugar. Place cookie balls, sugar side up, on prepared baking sheets. Gently press the top of each cookie with a fork twice to form a crisscross pattern. Dip fork in water as needed to keep it from sticking to cookies.
6. Bake cookies (1 baking sheet at a time) for 9-11 minutes, or until golden. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.
Per Serving: 94 Calories; 3g Fat (31.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 53mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on November 1st, 2014.

halloween_coffee_potSo, I wasn’t home for Halloween. I drove to San Diego to spend a few days with daughter Sara and her family. Got stuck in a gosh-awful traffic jam that had the northbound freeway completely closed down for over 12 hours. I was already en route southbound when I heard about it on the radio and within about 5 minutes my side of the freeway was creeping along at about 5-10 mph for about 15 miles. Two lanes were closed on my side because the big-rig that jackknifed not only went over on its side, but it hit the center divider (thank goodness for that as it might have kept going across 4 more lanes!) and sent debris into 2 lanes of the southbound lanes. . . .  . photo at left is my friend Cherrie’s coffeepot – she doesn’t use it – it’s just for decoration.

The traffic jam, though not fun to go through, didn’t seriously affect my drive other than delaying it by about 45 minutes – I had dinner with my friend Linda. We went to a favorite restaurant, Blue Ribbon Pizzeria that I’ve written up here on my blog long time ago. It’s in Encinitas. Every time we go there we order the same thing – the Signature (white) Pizza (fresh ricotta, lemon zest, basil, oil) – and we ask for their home made fennel sausage on it as well. Then we order the BLT Salad with the buttermilk dressing. So good. My friend, Linda, recently had heart valve replacement surgery, and I was so glad to see her up and around and looking great. She can’t drive yet, so she was happy to get out of the house.

Later in the evening I drove to Poway to stay with Sara and family. On Friday (yesterday) we drove to Point Loma to show Sabrina (granddaughter) my alma mater (the campus itself). It’s now a college called Point Loma Nazarene University, but when I went there in the 1960s, it was California Western University. Anyway, the campus has grown a lot, but the basics are still there. The dorm I lived in is still there, so I pointed out to Sabrina where my room was the 3 years I was there (I graduated from college in 3 years, by taking 20-22 units per semester and going to summer school, double sessions). We drove past the buildings where I attended most of my classes. We drove down to the beach (well, within about 600 feet of the cliffs there) too. Sabrina and her mom walked the “mall,” the long path that wanders through the middle of the campus. It’s not a huge school.

We had lunch at Dave’s/my yacht club where Dave’s sailboat is still sitting, waiting for the right people to buy it. Sara and I just couldn’t walk out to the slips, the docks, to see the boat – too emotionally tough for both of us – from the clubhouse we couldn’t see it. Probably a good thing. I would have broken down in tears, I know.

saras_sugar_cookies

Returning to Poway after lunch, Sara needed to make chili for a group of friends who were coming over for dinner that evening, and between us we made these sugar cookies. Sara told me she’s been making these for years and years and years. I must admit, I’m not much of a sugar cookie fan. To me, they’re just blah. Sugar, flour, baking powder, shortening and salt. Maybe some vanilla. Kids love them – maybe because they’re bland, but also because they’re a blank page upon pumpkin_cookie_cutter_rolling_pinwhich to decorate. I’m not even much of a fan of sprinkles, but gosh, nearly every kid I’ve known loves them.

BUT, these sugar cookies are a bit different than most – these contain egg and milk, so they produce a more tender cookie. Sara had mixed up the dough the night before, so she rolled out each section (4), cut them out using a pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter, and I (from a bar stool so I could rest my foot) decorated them with – you guessed it – sprinkles.

Do watch the baking time – as you’ll read in the recipe, if you roll the dough thinly, you’ll end up with thinner/crisper cookies. I prefer them that way, but if you want softer cookies, merely roll the dough thicker and bake them longer, but don’t over-bake them. You’ll need to use a bit of trial and error. When you take them out of the oven they’re still soft, but within a few minutes they’ll firm-up. They really should be cooled on a rack, but just be gentle with them as you use a spatula to get them off the cookie sheet. They take 8-10 minutes, or more depending on the thickness or the size cookie you cut.

What’s GOOD: well, they’re sugar cookies. If you’re a fan, you’ll love them. I liked them a lot, considering that sugar cookies aren’t something I ever make, or order, or even take from a plate of cookies if they’re offered. But these – they’re good. Tender yet crisp. You can color them for whatever season you’re in and cut any kind of shape.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. Easy to make. Easy to bake. Easy to decorate if you’re into that. Do start the night before if possible as the dough does need to chill.

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Sara’s Sugar Cookies

Recipe By: From my daughter, Sara, and she got it from her friend Stephanie.
Serving Size: 36

2/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
4 teaspoons milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Cream together shortening, sugar, vanilla, egg and milk, until fluffy and light. (If you want to color the dough, do so at this point – in this case it was orange – a mixture of red and yellow.)
2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Fold into creamed mixture. Chill dough several hours or overnight (covered).
3. Cut dough into 4 sections and roll out on floured board and cut into desired shapes. Place on cookie sheets, decorate as desired and bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes. Cool cookies on a rack. If you want softer cookies, roll the dough a bit thicker. If you prefer more crispy cookies, roll the dougth a bit thinner and bake them until you can barely see a hint of golden brown. Definitely do not over-bake them. The yield is an estimate – it depends on how thick or thin you roll the dough, and what kind of cookie cutters you use. We got a yield of about 36 3-inch wide cookies.
Per Serving: 83 Calories; 4g Fat (43.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 38mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on October 16th, 2014.

oatella_cookies

Oh my goodness are these ever good. I clipped the recipe out of a recent Food & Wine magazine, thinking well, maybe sometime I’d make them. They may have to become part of my annual Christmas cookie menu. We’ll see.

I have new neighbors. We share a driveway, and so the residents in these two homes need to – for sure – be neighborly. My house actually has an easement on their property so I have ingress and egress (isn’t that the legal language?). They moved in about 10 days ago but I’d actually met them several weeks before because their realtor, Celine, is a friend of mine, and she brought the whole family to my house to see the difference in my view vs. the view next door. We talked about the driveway – I can imagine some people would have concerns.

felicity_julietteAnyway, they’ve moved in now and are settling in. They’re a much younger family with two daughters, 9 and 11. The Mom and I have been texting frequently as she’s had lots and lots of questions about numerous things regarding our adjoining properties. She’s not a cook. Well, let’s rephrase that – she cooks – but only because she needs to feed her family. And because I’ve been kind of stuck in my house the last 12 days healing my foot, she asked if I’d like some company – she would send her two girls over to do something with me – to entertain me. She suggested they could teach me French (Mom is French Canadian and the girls go to a French school). Or I could give them an art lesson. Or, perhaps I’d like to teach them how to make cookies. Imagine your surprise? – I chose the last option. The Mom bought stuff for us, and we made two things, these cookies you see and also a pumpkin chocolate chip cake with a cream cheese frosting, which I’ll post in a few days.

I sat here at my computer in the kitchen, which is right by my baking center area. And I became the instructor – mostly from a seated position. They did all the work including most of the cleaning up. The girls don’t know too much about cooking, although the older one, Felicity, makes numerous breakfast things for the whole family. She makes eggs in various ways and omelets and French toast. But baking? No. I needed to give them lessons in how to use (and be careful of) a stand mixer. How to measure dry and wet things. How to scoop and scrape flour measurements. How to use a plastic spatula, spreading batter, all about scooping cookie dough (and yes, they ate their fair share of dough) and how to bake and turn the sheet half way through. Felicity, the 11-year old, did that part and was duly fearful of the hot oven. I taught her how to do the pulling out and turning. Felicity learned how to chop nuts using a rocking motion with a big butcher knife and the flat of her other hand holding down the blade. She did well. Both girls did a great job and we had so much fun!

Most of the cookies went home with them, but I have about a dozen. So now, about the cookies. They’re an easy cookie to make – the batter/dough is a bit on the dry side, but they are light and crispy when baked. The Nutella – oh gosh – what a great addition to an oatmeal cookie.  (You know what it is, right? A mixture of chocolate and hazelnuts?) The only unusual thing (other than using a full 13-ounce jar of Nutella) is that the cookie uses shortening. I buy the non-hydrogenated stuff and have been on the same small container for about 3-4 years, I think. I almost never use the stuff. It does create a different texture in cookies – a more neutral flavor, I think, and it acts differently in a chemical way, I believe.

Felicity and Juliette used my cookie scoop, placing about 12 cookies on each sheet pan lined with parchment paper. The girls made larger cookies than I might have, but it probably “makes no never-mind” in the flavor. Really large ones would take more baking time, I’m sure. They spread a little bit, so do leave 2 inches of space between the cookies.

What’s GOOD: oh, the flavor of the Nutella. It’s wonderful. And certainly a whole lot easier (and more tasty) than using expensive hazelnuts themselves. Loved the combination of the Nutella and oatmeal. Crispy (which I prefer anyway) and a bit chewy. Warm, they almost have a chewy fudgy quality, but once they cool they’re definitely a cookie. A keeper of a recipe.

What’s NOT: maybe finding Nutella? I think my major grocery stores carry it. Trader Joe’s also makes their own version. I am not a connoisseur of Nutella so I don’t know if TJ’s is as good or not. Also the use of shortening might mean a trip to the grocery store. I was lucky, I had Josee, the girl’s Mom to fetch the grocery list of stuff for me! Hooray!

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Oatella Cookies

Recipe By: Food & Wine, 9/2014
Serving Size: 60

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening — (I use the non-hydrogenated type, not Crisco)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
13 ounces Nutella
2 cups rolled oats

1. Preheat the oven to 375° and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the shortening with both sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the side of the bowl. Add the Nutella and beat until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the dry ingredients until just incorporated, then beat in the oats.
2. Scoop 1-tablespoon mounds of dough 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (mine took 10 minutes), until the edges are lightly browned and the cookies are just set; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Immediately transfer the cookies from the pan to racks to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Per Serving: 112 Calories; 6g Fat (44.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 46mg Sodium.

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