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white chocolate macadamia nut cookies

November 29th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving is done, the month is nearly over and December looms on the horizon. Holiday plans are in full swing, decorations are coming out of storage and right on schedule, the air turned cold and brisk. There’s not much snow yet. Only enough to change the landscape from late Fall to Winter, but enough to get everyone’s thoughts on the next big holiday activity; baking. While I do a fair amount of baking year round, during the holiday season, I make more cookies than any other time of the year.

These cookies are a classic combination; soft and luscious white chocolate with buttery, rich macadamia nuts. A terrific cookie for holiday baking, or any time of the year, really. Something about white chocolate, to me anyway, speaks of winter. Maybe it’s the resemblance to soft snow, the pristine look of it, the clean taste. Not all white chocolate is the same though; in the current edition of Saveur magazine, they did a huge taste test on white chocolates and came up with some of the best available. Thankfully, Ghiradelli white chocolate made the cut, as it’s the one that’s most readily available to me.

Every Christmas season for the past few years I’ve been blessed with a gift box from
Oh! Nuts! for baking, or just decadent snacking. Oh! Nuts! has a full selection of premium dried fruits, chocolates, candy and high quality nuts for home cooks, as well as exquisite gift baskets for everyday or special occasions. Of all their products I have tasted over the years, I’ve never had anything less than stellar quality. I’m not one to purchase macadamia nuts all that often; once in a while I indulge in a small bag for ‘mouth therapy’, as they are one of the finest nuts ever that have crossed my tongue, but their price is often prohibitive, and a gift of them is wonderful. Macadamia nuts have the highest amount of monounsaturated fats of any of the nuts or seeds that we consume, and are a good source of a long list of minerals and vitamins. But go easy on them, as that fat content doesn’t come without a price, unless you use it’s oil on your skin. And don’t ever let your pup eat them; macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs.

In these cookies, those rich nuts just shine. The buttery base aside, a crunch of the moist nut next to the vanilla-sweet bite of white chocolate is, as I already mentioned, a classic combination. Based on this recipe from Joy the Baker, the end result of this cookie is a moist and tender little mass of cookie goodness. These turned out so perfectly that I almost wanted to box up the entire batch and give them away as a means to prevent me from tip-toeing into a closet with the container and nibbling them to oblivion and a whopping belly ache. I don’t know what’s worse in terms of temptation; having a sack of macadamia nuts in the house, or these cookies.

Brown Butter White Chocolate
Macadamia Nut Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, don’t even think of using margarine, shortening or fake non-dairy butter
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8  teaspoon salt
1/2 coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a medium saucepan melt the butter, swirling and stirring the butter until nicely browned bits appear in the bottom of the pan.  This may take about 5-7 minutes.  Once the butter is browned, remove pan from heat and set aside to cool a bit while you measure out the dry ingredients and set them aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the brown sugar and slightly cooled butter.  Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes.  Add egg and beat for one minute more.  Add milk and vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.

Turn the mixer off, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the dry ingredients all at once.  With either the stand mixer on low, or by hand with a spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients until just mixed in.  Fold in the chopped nuts and white chocolate chips.

Scoop two teaspoon sized balls onto a lined baking sheet.  Bake for 9-11 minutes or until cookies are deliciously golden.  Remove from oven and let rest of the baking sheet for 3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Recipe reprinted verbatim from Joy the Baker

 

KATE’S NOTES:
The only process I changed in this was to add the white chocolate and the nuts when I added the flour. I find that folding in those extras at the end makes the dough too uneven. This spreads them out perfectly.
I did not brown the butter, as I’ve had some disasters with that process and have lost my mojo on it. I know. Sad, huh?
As it was, without that step these cookies still rocked.
As stated in the post, I used Ghirardelli white chocolate, a 4-oz bar and chopped up the entire thing, using every last shred.
I also added in way more than half a cup of chopped macadamia nuts because I’m a rebel like that.
And as if that isn’t enough, I used vanilla greek yogurt in place of the milk, mostly because I had a container of it that I didn’t want to eat. (ugh….don’t buy Dannon Light Greek yogurt. Bleah)
I think it contributed nicely to the very moist end result.

DISCLAIMER:
I was provided with the macadamia nuts free of charge as a gift.
No blog post was expected for the offering of this gift and all words and opinions in this post are solely my own. 

simply sugar cookies

November 26th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

This is one of my ‘tried and true’ recipes; the one to turn to for comfort and understanding that you know will never let you down. Not that I can’t find a million cookie recipes at the touch of my fingers, for cookies that look amazingly thick, decadent, and pillowy, with that perfect blend of crisp edges and soft interiors and I’m certain that they would be delightful and all, but there’s this thing about cookies and my taste for them; I don’t like to stretch myself all that much. I don’t need fancy in a cookie; I crave basic and and elementary. I might sub in a fancy ingredient, like good quality chocolate chunks for a bag of chocolate chips, but there’s a ceiling of cookie indulgence above me and it’s solidly in place. Give me a straightforward cookie, please.

These Sugar Cookies are perfect. They’re quietly uncomplicated, yet worthy in flavor of bringing back memories of a Sugar Cookie I loved as a child. I’ve passed this recipe on to many people and all the feedback I’ve had has been nothing short of glowing. Stellar all on their own, they accept decorative toppings in any form, making them a must for holiday cookie-making. You can scoop the dough or roll it out and use cookie cutters too. It freezes beautifully too, as do the finished cookies themselves.

 

Basic Sugar Cookies

1 c. softened butter, no substitutes (reserve one of the wrappers)
1-1/2 c. white sugar
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Heat the oven to 375° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place about 1/3 of a cup of white sugar on a small plate and set aside.

Cream butter and the 1-1/2 cups of sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly until smooth and creamy. You really can’t overmix at this point. You want a base that is smooth and creamy as it makes the end result stupendous. Stir together flour, baking soda and powder, and with mixer on low, gradually add to butter until fully incorporated and mixture is in large, somewhat dry chunks. It will not be a smooth batter, but granular, like pie crust. The dough should hold together when pressed between your fingertips. If it doesn’t, give it a few more turns with the mixer. Here’s where you don’t want to mix more than necessary. The dough will come together when it bakes.

Using a small scoop (I used a #60 sized) press dough tight into a ball and drop onto cookie sheet. With your butter wrapper, wipe the bottom of a smooth glass, then dip the glass onto the sugar you’ve set aside. Gently press down on the cookie dough, dipping the glass before each one. If any dough falls loose, lightly push the pieces into the sides of the cookie. Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from front to back, and swapping top to bottom about halfway throughAllow to cool slightly on the sheet, then remove to a cooling rack.

 

KATE’S NOTES: I find that the super fine bakers sugar elevates the texture of these cookies quite a bit. You can mix up white and wheat flour if you wish, the end result will be darker though. I have substituted 1/2 c. of honey for the white sugar and love how tender it makes them.

11th month, with Sweet Potato Biscuits

November 23rd, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Magic October is gone, the artist’s palette splashed vibrant and rich, in every direction we looked. The season of brown replaced it, and the darkness falls predictably, knocking us backwards in to quieter evenings, thicker clothes, retrospection. Thanksgiving came as early this year as it possibly could; beginning on a mild note in the morning with temperatures near 60 degrees. By afternoon, the wind had stripped the mild weather away, and as dusk fell across countless laden tables of bounty, snowflakes began dropping from the sky, making photos like this nothing but a memory.

I’ve been cooking quite a bit, but not jotting down recipes, or taking much beyond a quick iPhone photo for my Instagram page. Then, I’m not sharing those on Instagram Friday anymore, either. In struggling with the whys of this blog, and trying to figure out a method to jump-start my creativity again, I came across this post from Jacqui that sent my heart scurrying. If there could be truer words spoken about what is in my mind in the moment -although there’s far less about tacos than in Jacqui’s- I don’t know where I’d find it. In brief bullets, she knocked one out of the park, and has left me questioning even more which direction my little corner here is going.

And it’s now way deep in November. I’ve watched in previous years of my life how this 11th month has silently bound me to suffocation in a dark melancholy, but in recent years have seen a more forgiving approach to the slow decline of natural light. Have you ever read this essay from Jeanette Winterson? It’s all about embracing winter darkness and appreciating what happens after the sun goes down.

“We have all experienced negative darkness – those long stretches of the night when we can’t sleep, and worry about everything, and so we know that “dark time” can seem interminably long, compared with daytime. Yet this slowing of time can be the most relaxing and beautiful experience. Spending the evening in candlelight, and maybe by the fire – with no TV – talking, telling stories, letting the lit-up world go by without us, expands the hours, and alters the thoughts and conversations we have.”

Since finding it many years ago,  there has been much more to discover about darkness; and I realize that fighting the cold, the brown and the ennui that November brings only tends to make those aspects of it more pronounced. This November has been very kind; it’s been mild, warm even, and there have been days of ample sunshine that the cats love to bask in. Really, there wasn’t much to complain about with this 11th month.

But I was pleased to see the snowflakes yesterday. Crazy as it sounds, I’ve been impatient for real cold. For my cross country skis and sweaters and candlelight twinkling against windows reflecting pale apparitions of white. I’m a girl of seasons, born deep in my blood and others may find Winter contentious and difficult, but it will arrive with it’s own fury and grace regardless, and welcoming the season without fight is far less tiresome.

And this blog? Well, I’ve got some ideas planned for the next six weeks or so, a fun giveaway for my readers and some good old fashioned Christmas treats to share. And then…. poof! The blog, as we know it, will be gone and once again a Phoenix will rise from the ashes, hopefully by the time the first month of 2013 ends. I’m churning with ideas and plans and am quite excited to see how it all comes out on the other end.

So…. how about a recipe? A perfect one for this time of year, these Sweet Potato Biscuits are wonderful to nibble on with morning coffee, or as an amazing addition to any holiday table (I can only imagine how delicious these would be with turkey and stuffing….) They’re a cinch to make too. Who doesn’t love that?

 

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Yield: 12 to 15 biscuits

One 3/4-pound red-skinned sweet potato (yam), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon (packed) dark brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of cayenne pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup chilled buttermilk

Cook sweet potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, cool, and mash.

Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 425°F. Butter bottom and sides of 8- or 9-inch cast iron skillet (or 8- or 9-inch round cake pan).

Whisk flour and next 5 ingredients in large bowl. Add cubed butter to flour mixture; toss to coat and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk 3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes and buttermilk in medium bowl. Add to flour mixture; toss with fork. Gather mixture in bowl, stirring gently until dough comes together. Using your fingers, press any remaining flour in to the dough, and gently turn it out in to the prepared pan, pressing it to fit. Score the biscuit dough in a pie wedge shape.

Brush tops with melted butter. Bake until puffed and golden on top and tester inserted into center biscuit comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Turn biscuits out and gently pull them apart.

 

from The Kitchen Sink Recipes (and from Bon Appetit)


giving thanks for wild rice & amazing wine

November 21st, 2012 | 3 Comments »

I’ve not always been an ardent fan of wild rice. As a kid, I don’t recall eating it much, and then in my early 20′s, I had an extremely dangerous case of food poisoning that involved shrimp and wild rice and since then? Yeah, you can imagine the aversion I’ve held. And the aroma of this native grass (please don’t call it a whole grain- it’s not even close) is so pungent and strong that I often run the exhaust fan and open windows if I can while it’s cooking to avoid the old, musty-shoe smell of it.

In spite of all that, I keep wild rice on hand regularly, because what it can create in it’s finished state, with it’s firm, chewy and hearty texture is a dish worthy of any gathering, or simply a treat for your every day meal. And I’m grateful to have learned of it’s merits, growing beyond turning my back on such a nutritious and healthy food. One of my most favorite soups, this Wild Rice & Mushroom dish, is one of the best reasons to keep a bag in the pantry, and of course, once Thanksgiving is over, a simmering pot of Turkey Wild Rice soup always makes an appearance, as it makes my boy’s eyes shine like the sun. I love seeing that in his face.

And for Thanksgiving this year, in an effort to bring more non-meat options to our family table, I’ll be making a huge bowl of this Wild Rice Harvest Salad, and as I take up a spoonful, I’ll be saying thanks to the earth for producing this gem, and raise a glass of Famiglia Meschini Carmenere to toast alongside our meal.

I’m really enamored with the Famiglia Meschini wines; every one I’ve tried is full of bold flavor, true to it’s varietal and best of all, so affordably priced. I tend to get bent out of shape over wine pricing, and the perceived idea that to enjoy good wine you’ve got to spend a lot of money and the Famiglia wines turn that on it’s ear, thank goodness. If you are at all interested in getting a first-hand dunking in to all that the family stands for, they are hosting an amazing food and wine dinner in Minneapolis in January, and you can find all the information for that on this page.

The Carmenere wine is deep red and full of rich plum flavor. The taste is smooth and supple, owing to the 10% Cabernet Sauvignon in it to tame the Carmenere grape a bit. It brings an earthy nose and finishes forever, but never over-powering. Although traditionally paired with beef, it sits nicely next to this heavily flavored Wild Rice salad, resplendent with kale and sliced Brussels Sprouts, snappy apple slices and crunchy pecans. A spritely vinaigrette blends it all nicely together.

 

Wild Rice Harvest Salad

1 c. cooked wild rice (according to package directions)
1 Golden Delicious apple, sliced thin
1 c. Brussels Sprouts, thinly sliced
1 c. kale leaves, chopped fine
1/2 c. good quality olive oil
3 T. Apple Cider vinegar (or if you can find any type of pecan or other nut vinegar, use that instead)
1 t. deli style spicy mustard
Roasted pecans for garnish

In a small bowl or measuring cup, blend the oil, vinegar, spicy mustard and a few shakes of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Combine Brussels Sprouts and kale in a large bowl and drizzle a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette over it. With your hands, blend the vinaigrette and greens together, massaging slightly to help soften the kale leaves. Allow to stand for 10 minutes. Add in the wild rice, apple slices and a handful of broken pecan pieces. Toss to coat and drizzle a bit more vinaigrette over it, then more salt and pepper to taste. Allow to stand at room temperature before serving, adding more vinaigrette as needed.

 

This salad leans heavily on the greens and less on the wild rice. You can swing it easily in one direction or the other, adding more wild rice and less greens if you prefer it that way.

Additional items that you could add to this salad would be endless: roasted sweet potato or carrot chunks, sliced celery, dried cranberries….. it’s a blank slate for your own personal taste. Explore! Enjoy!!

 

Disclaimer: I was provided a bottle of Famiglia Meschini wine in exchange for this post. All words and opinions are my own. 

date and nut oat bars

November 5th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

I’m a total rebel.

It’s November, and everywhere you look is pumpkin. In everything. Or butternut squash. In everything. There’s sweet potatoes lurking over there; an acorn squash holding an adorable filling, perfectly browned edge glinting just so. It’s the season for all things roots and orange.

People are already gearing up for Thanksgiving, too. Decorations for Christmas have come out in certain stores. WHAT!!? Gah.

And here I am, dreaming of gooey dates and a crumbly oat bar.

Sarah at The Yellow House recently wrote a post about her Mother’s recipe box, and a particular recipe memory she was seeking, in the stumbling way that a motherless daughter tries to find answers to the questions that can never be solved. Sarah’s post, even in it’s despair and sadness, triggered something in me because I know all about that bitter walk after your Mother dies, the questions you wish you could ask, the reassurance like an anchor, that a Mother brings. She sought answers about a particular barbecue sauce recipe, and for me, the always unattainable answer I sought from my Mom’s spirit was for a treasured Date Bar recipe.

I’m pretty biased towards these iconic baked goods as they’ve been a favorite ever since I could remember stepping up to a kitchen counter, reaching up to place my hands on the worn edge and leaning hard around my Mom’s arm to see what she was doing. A recipe box open, the mass of dates simmering on the stove, the bowl of oats and sugar standing silently, waiting. The small pan ready. A kitchen warmed by an oven.

But then in a flash, I’m grown up, and my childhood kitchen dissipates. I’m a parent now, too. When my tiny boy reached his own chubby fingers towards that kitchen counter, I pulled up a chair and got him situated. We stirred together. We mixed and measured, my hand over his as his blue eyes watched closely. I gave him a knife and he carefully trimmed vegetables. He pushed his luck against my stern warning that yes, indeed that stovetop is still hot even though the burners are no longer red. I dried those tears and soothed the burns. We soldiered on. Pans of Brownies and chocolate cake came and went. Chocolate chip cookies- of course!- and Oatmeal Raisin, Snickerdoodles and Dark Chocolate Drops; Oatmeal Scotchies and Applesauce Cake, cookies every Christmas. Full bellies and full hearts, him and I.  His interest wavered, waned and often, he was absent as he grew too cool to stand by my side. Then, in some great moment of clarity, he returned to the kitchen again, a young man. Now he cooks his own food. Experiments. Expands. Still, if he said to me ‘Can you please make ______ ?’ I would likely tell him ‘Yes.’ and reach for the flour canister.

Because when I would sidle up next to my Mom as she thumbed through a cookbook, or pulled out her recipe card file for inspiration, often she would turn to me and say ‘Got any requests?’ and in my little girl, eager way, I would say “Please make those Date Bars!” And she would, smiling as she pulled the corner piece out of the pan to hand to me, it’s edges chewy and firm and we’d eat ’til our bellies were full, her and I. Eighteen years after her passing, her words still ring strong in my mind, for her baking was her love language, her moment to tell us how much she adored our faces, upturned and eager towards her as she pulled down worn metal tins of flour and sugar, turned the knob on the stove and sought out the warped, old cookie sheets, the favorite baking pan, drawing the aging cookie tin from the cupboard, the big round one with the roses on the top. I still have her recipe box, and I’ve poured over her it in vain, searching for that Date Bar recipe that she made for me, the one that was always just perfect, but I never found it. I poured pan after pan of warm date puree over an oat crust, trying to replicate the taste, seeking her smile in my memory and the love from a chewy corner piece but every time I bit down, the past wasn’t there. I wanted it to be, so badly. I reach for a container of flour, a sack of sugar,  thinking it will restore the dull ache in me that still echoes after nearly two decades. Sometimes the very act of baking will quiet the roar; other times, those first bites just make it more acute.

Then I find this one, a perfect Date Bar with a crunchy oat crust that browns and crisps in the oven, snapping apart to shower on the plate, crumbs falling in your lap that you happily pick up on moist fingertip, the rich dates cooked to a tender chew, gooey edge and all.

And the taste, smell and memory all come together in a tiny piece of cookie, too undeserving to be saddled with the burden of answering the questions of our past, but when I shut my eyes and bite, it’s all there. She’s all there. It’s swift and sharp, a nick of knife metal, barbed hooks caught against the heart. A moment meshes between child and adult, past and painful present wrapped in one oat crust, me as Mom and then, my Mother, with so many similarities between.

Oat and Nut Date Squares

1 8-oz package chopped dates (or equivalent of fresh)
1/4 c. black raisins
1 c. water
Zest from half an orange
2 t. orange  juice
1/2 c. ground almonds ( sub in walnuts or pecans if desired)
1/2 c. each whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour
1/2 t. sea salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground cloves
1 c. packed brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced, softened but still fairly cold.
1 c. old fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350° and spray an 8×8 baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper so that it hangs over edge of pan, then spray the paper.

In small saucepan, combine dates, raisins and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until all liquid has been absorbed and fruit is a thick, concentrated paste. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in orange zest and juice and blend well. Scrape onto a plate and spread to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, place ground almonds, both flours, salt, soda and spices. Pulse to combine. Add in brown sugar and pulse to blend. Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture is like coarse uneven meal. There should be lumps of butter in all sizes. Pour this into a large bowl and stir in the oats.

Press 2/3 of the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing down firmly. Spoon cooled date mixture over, spreading it to cover crust completely. Sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the top. Bake until top crust is golden brown and crisp, 30-40 minutes.

Cool bars completely on a rack, still in the pan. Once bars are at room temperature, gently lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Slice into 2″ squares to serve. These bars are delicious when chilled. Keep in airtight container or refrigerated.

 

{{adapted from an original recipe, author unknown}}