Friday, October 30, 2009

My new blog!

Please visit peaceloveagave.com, and thanks for reading!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Coming Soon - Peace Love Agave

My new blog, Peace Love Agave, will be up and running soon. It will, of course, be a continuation of my celebration of baking, and will center around healthful and delicious desserts. I'm thinking this will be up around the beginning of November. See you soon!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

End of the Sweet Beat era

I cannot fully remember the first time I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, or the first mixing bowl I ever used in the kitchen, but I do know that I've been baking for at least half of my life. I've felt that every step of the way has been a learning experience, which was the impetus for creating this record of recipes and stories, and over the two years, I've made massive leaps as a baker. After exploring countless cookbooks, patronizing a dizzyingly delicious array of bakeries, and roaming the baking aisles of grocery and specialty stores, I feel that I've found a tradition of baking with which I thoroughly identify and which I support with every beat of batter.

I've found that I can no longer handle mass quantities of butter, shortening, refined sugar, and corn syrup, and I say this without the sometimes-present air of the Pacific Northwest's “only organic, local, fair trade” foodie snobbery, but as a basic fact. The baking that I enjoy to do and to share now revolves around nourishment as well as enjoyment. Therefore, I've decided to re-direct myself and my blog and focus on the baking that matters most to me, hoping that others will be, at the very least, interested in the alternatively sweetened, alternatively grained, alternatively created concoctions I plan on making.

Of course, like any healthy eater, my diet would be incomplete without the occasional foray into more classically or commercially baked goods, and so there will be recipes from time to time that follow the Paula Dean school of cooking. I may love my veggie burgers on whole wheat buns, but every now and then, I like a juicy beef burger with a pile of melty cheese on top. The same goes for dessert; I may normally enjoy my applesauce chocolate chip cookies, but that doesn't mean I will never eat a slice of restaurant chocolate blackout cake again. Dessert is all about celebration, fun, and warmth, and my passion for it continues onward.

The Sweet Beat, as it is in its present form, will be going on a break and possibly ending altogether with this posting. The next months are slightly hectic for me, as next week I'm relocating (yes, again!) to the beautiful and peaceful San Juan Island, not too far from the city of Seattle. I also want to spend time working through my ideas on baking, and the blog which will most likely have a new name and, of course, a new direction (but will hopefully still include Sweet Beat archives).

Thank you for reading The Sweet Beat, and I ask that you join me as I explore this new niche of the baking world. Wholesome baking excites me, it brings me joy, and it leaves me feeling harmonious and well. As you all know, my desire in baking is to share those feelings, along with some scrumptious food, with you all.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We all eat Gluten-Free Mint Chocolate Cookies

A friend of mine is gluten-sensitive, and although she has been able to eat certain forms of gluten with minimal side effects, on a trial-and-error basis, she explains that she feels her best when she goes off gluten altogether. Though to do so requires a larger amount of diligence on her part, and despite the fact that some wheat-based foods don't sit too badly with her system, she explains that it's a worthwhile endeavor. And I agree! If there's a way to make your body run more smoothly, and make you feel a bit healthier, why not go for it? My lactose-intolerant friends tend to use the same thought process, but occasionally indulge in a bowl of superb ice cream, though they know their stomach will be upset later.

When we discuss our various food intricacies, I've found myself grateful that I need not be on the lookout for entire food categories from which to abstain, for fear of running myself through the wringer. Of course, as my diet has changed over the past year, if I now choose to eat a rich, buttery slice of cake with thick butter cream icing, I know that my system will not be able to handle it as well and my body will not be happy after consuming it. And that's just because I've so drastically reduced the amount of butter and shortening I eat that when I do have some, it turns into an epic event for my digestive system. In that way, I don't feel all that different from my lactose-intolerant or gluten-sensitive.

We create our diets and fall (for better or for worse) into habits that our bodies adapt to, and when something unfamiliar comes along, problems can occur. That reminds me of the “Simpsons” episode when Lisa prepares a green, leafy, vegetarian feast for her normally bacon-and-sausage based family, and everyone but Lisa is sick for days afterwards.

I wanted to make something special for my gluten-sensitive friend, and I found a gluten-free recipe for mint chocolate cookies, which contain a favorite of mine: Teff flour. These substantial cookies are chewy and a bit on the heavier side, and the mint-chocolate combination are delightfully reminiscent of the Girl Scouts' Thin Mints.

Gluten-Free Mint Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup honey
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. mint extract
1 cup Teff flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
Pinch salt
Turbinado (raw) sugar

Directions:
1. Cream together butter and honey. Add vanilla and mint extract. 2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Blend in butter mixture. Place in plastic bag, and shape into a log about 1-1/2" in diameter. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more. Preheat oven to 350°F. 3. Slice refrigerated dough into 18 cookies. Place on buttered baking sheet and top with a sprinkling of Turbinado sugar. Bake for 14-17 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Autumn's Apple and Raisin Crisp

I know that I will miss the warm summer days and the sweet fruits that were in such abundance over the course of the past few months, but autumn has begun here in the Pacific Northwest, and I could not be happier. This Labor Day weekend was chilly, blustery, overcast, and slightly damp, but I, along with many others I asked, could not be happier with the change of season. The days here have been more dramatic than anything I've seen, with shifts in the clouds and the wind and pockets of sunshine and blue sky. It's an astounding weather pattern to witness, and it makes me feel cozy and humbled. It also brings out my cravings for hot cinnamon cider, warm apple pie, and most basically, apples from the orchard.

It's been ages since I've been to an orchard for apple picking, but I've been delighted to find that I'm close to several apple trees where the apples are simply falling off the branches, and the owners have implored people to come take the fruit and enjoy their deliciousness. And that's precisely what I did. With the help of a fancy apple corer, I made a double batch of Apple and Raisin Crisp for a crowd. They were pleased with the crumbly and cinnamon-scented topping, I was pleased with the combination of raisins (both golden and brown) and apples (I used Granny Smith), and we were all overwhelmed by the homey taste of warm apple crisp on a cool September day.

Apple and Raisin Crisp
Adapted from Epicurious.com

Ingredients:
Topping
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
¾ cup whole wheat flour flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
Filling
3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1 ½ cups golden or brown raisins
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 9 x 13 1/2-inch glass baking dish.
For Topping:Mix old-fashioned oats, brown sugar, all purpose flour, ground cinnamon and salt in large bowl. Add unsalted butter and blend mixture until coarse crumbs form.
For Filling:Combine sliced apples, raisins, sugar, fresh lemon juice, flour and ground cinnamon in large bowl. Mix well to blend. Transfer apple-raisin filling to prepared dish. Spread topping over. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 55 minutes.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Free Cookies at the Islands Village Faire

As I've mentioned many times, a major goal of my baking endeavors is to share what I make with as many people as possible. This weekend, I was given the perfect venue for such promotion of my personal baking brand, and it was amazing.

Not far from Seattle is a set of secluded islands called the San Juans. I've been fortunate enough to spend a good deal of my Pacific Northwest time exploring San Juan Island, and this weekend I participated in their Islands Village Faire. Growing up in Connecticut, then living in New York City, I had never seen such an assortment of people (retirees hand in hand, young families with babies in brightly colored sarongs, fuzzy bearded men, girls in long flowy skirts who looked remarkably just like me) matched with such a sense of community; throughout the Faire, I experienced a heady mixture of peace, serenity, and overall goodwill to my fellow Islander. It was a beautiful thing. And since a major tenant of this Faire, in going along with the theme of community, was bartering, I was able to give away or trade off all of the cookies I had made, spreading the joy that I pompously believe comes with each bite of the cookies I make. I spent a better part of the week mixing batter for my favorite chocolate chip cookies and my Teff peanut butter cookies (the gluten-free kind), and after that hard yet gratifying work, sharing the fruits of my labor with friends and strangers alike was as different to me as it was fulfilling.

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I'm looking forward to more opportunities to get my cookies out there, so to speak. The San Juan Islands Village Faire was a remarkable step in that endeavor.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Figs and Honey

Not long ago my boyfriend and I were invited to dinner at a friend's house, and as was expected, the feast that we enjoyed was full of fresh, local, flavorful ingredients. Our hosts are remarkable gourmets, and so I was not surprised when, as we were chatting before the meal, the dessert was casually explained as “a grilled fig dish with thyme and Gorgonzola that we've been dying to try.” I needed little more description before I, myself, was salivating toward dessert, and wondering how inappropriate it would be to suggest that I make the fig toasts before the main course, so that I could taste them to make sure they were “okay.” Instead, I held my tongue and patiently waited through the delicious main course. As soon as I brought the dinner dishes to the sink, though, my hostess beat me to the punch, exclaiming that it was time to start on the figs.

The recipe, from the Herbfarm Cookbook, is one that she marked and starred afterward; the dish was amazingly light and summery, but bold in taste (from the cheese and the honey). The sweetness of the figs and honey was offset by the Gorgonzola, but I ate a few honey-drizzled figs on their own, and I found them to be more than appetizing. This is a dessert I believe I would see at a fine restaurant, the toasts artfully arranged on fancy china with swizzles of thyme-soaked honey in decorative patterns on the plate. And to be able to make it with my gracious foodie hosts, and to enjoy it on their porch as the sun set on a beautiful August evening, was too sweet for words.


Grilled Figs With Thyme, Honey and Gorgonzola Toasts
From The Herbfarm Cookbook

Ingredients:
¼ cup mild or medium-strength honey, such as clover or blackberry
6 sprigs fresh thyme
12 large ripe figs
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 baguette
6 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, at room temperature

Directions:
Simmer honey in small saucepan, and add thyme sprigs. Let cool for 15 minutes or more while grilling the figs and bread. Start a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill or preheat a gas grill. Cut figs in half, and toss them in a small bowl with 2 teaspoons olive oil and thyme leaves. Set grill rack 4 inches from fire. When the charcoal is ashed over and glowing, or the gas grill is medium-hot, grill figs quickly until they are heated through but not collapsed, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter. Cut 24 1/2-inch-thick slices from the bread, and brush both sides lightly with olive oil. Toast bread on both sides on the grill away from direct heat. Spread Gorgonzola cheese on toast, and top with figs. Remove thyme sprigs from honey with a fork and discard, then drizzle honey over figs and toast slices. Serve at once.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cinnamon Sugar Plum Cake

There are time when I see a recipe that, for some reason, grabs my attention and will not let go until I finally just make it. This is only troublesome when I do not have any occasion to make something like a pie or a cake, since I'm not sure what I would do with a whole dessert sitting on my counter top (other than eat the whole thing myself, of course). So I decided that my co-workers would get to try this Cinnamon Sugar Plum cake this week, and I'm happy for them to try it.

I think perhaps I'm very susceptible to language and the power of suggestion that words can impart, because once I read “sugar plum” in the title of this particular recipe, I was hooked. After brief reflection, I realize that I'm drawn to the warm, Christmas-y connotations of sugar plums, and despite the fact that it is August, and plums are in season now, I simply could not let go of the term “sugar plum.”

And I'm glad that I did not. The cake is fairly simple to make, yes, but the flavors of cinnamon paired with sweet plum are absolutely heavenly, and certainly not season-specific. It is not too heavy for summer, nor is it too lemony for winter. I tried my slice with lemonade, on a warm evening on my balcony, but it would also be lovely with hot cider, sitting in front of the fireplace. The color that the cinnamon lends to the browned cake is also positively gorgeous, and an image that comes to mind when the term "rustic" is used: I could envision this cake on a heavy wooden farm house kitchen table, waiting to be devoured after a large lunch.

The cake also deepened my appreciation for the plum, a fruit I would never think to pick up at the farmer's market. Before buying a few, I did a bit of research on the plum; the plum is high in vitamin C and antioxidants, and there are over 2,000 varieties of plums, with over 100 available in the United States. When buying plums, look for ones that yield to slight pressure and are soft at the tips.


Cinnamon Sugar Plum Cake

From Epicurious.com

Ingredients:
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
4 large plums (about 1 1/4 pounds), pitted, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter spring form pan. Whisk first 3 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in ¾ cup sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, then lemon juice and lemon peel, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in flour mixture. Spread batter in prepared pan.
Press plum wedges halfway into batter in circles, spacing slightly apart. Mix remaining 1 ½ tablespoons sugar and cinnamon in small bowl; sprinkle over cake. Bake until cake is browned on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cut around cake; release pan sides. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chocolate and Cherries, Sans Gluten

There are many mix-ins that one can add to a drop cookie recipe: chocolate chips are the first to come to mind, in a variety of cacao levels, then there are raisins and coconut and peanut butter chips and small candies and toffee bits and dried cranberry. Yet, I had not come across any recipes (that come to mind, at least) that called for dried cherries. Then I found this one, and I was initially intrigued by the addition of cherries to a chocolate cookie base, and further excited by the fact that the cookie is gluten-free. I am not, actually, gluten-free, but I know many people who are, and anyway, it's a great way to experiment with the slew of alternative flours that have taken up a permanent residence in my pantry.
I fiddled around with the original recipe a bit, and I came up with a cookie that I think is absolutely decadent. By allowing the cookies to bake a tad longer, the outside gets nice and crisp (of course, be careful not to burn the poor things) and the inside stays slightly fudgey and chewy, with a distinctly brownie-esque texture.


Gluten-Free Cherry Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:
½ cup Garbanzo Bean flour
¼ cup potato starch
2 Tbsp. tapioca flour
1 tsp Xanthan Gum
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch)
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp sea salt
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup dried cherries (Tart)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a large cookie sheet or line with parchment paper (see our website to order); set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients (garbanzo bean flour through salt); set aside.With an electric mixer cream butter (room temperature, not melted) with sugars, egg and vanilla until well-combined. Add dry ingredients gradually; mix only until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips and cherries. Roll dough into small balls and place on cookie sheet. Bake 12-13 minutes until puffed and cracked. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Baking To-Dos

I have a bit of a problem with to-do lists. The issue is not that I am forgetting important tasks or appointments, or that I never know what needs to be done around the apartment or picked up from the store. It is hardly that my life is not managed; the problem lies on the opposite spectrum, in that I feel, at times, that my life is micro-managed. I have task lists for absolutely everything, sprinkled everywhere that I would possibly be on any given day. There are scribbled Post-its on my desk, in my calender, and in my bag, hanging from the bulletin board, and next to my bed. I have a computerized to-do list, a list of books I must read, vacations I must take, and another list of long-term to-dos in a special notebook of mine. Everything is written down, even the things I know I will never forget: “Tuesday, cereal for breakfast.”

It goes without saying, then, that I also have a list of baking to-dos: “Desserts To Bake.” Like many of my lists, it seems to grow faster than I can cross items off, and it doesn't help when I pick up a new cookbook, and then go wild marking pages with even more Post-its.

Since I've been spending most of my baking time lately putting together older favorite recipes, I thought I would expunge myself of a portion of my baking to-do list, and let someone else have fun with some of the recipes that I may, or may not, try at some point in the future.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Zucchini Cake
from Bob's Red Mill Baking Book

Ingredients:
1 cup white rice flour
1 ¼ cups white bean flour
2 tsp. Xanthan Gum
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
¾ cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 cups shredded zucchini
½ cup milk
1 cup walnuts

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan or loaf pan.In a mixing bowl combine the first 8 ingredients (rice flour through cinnamon), set aside.In another bowl cream together the butter and sugar; add eggs one at a time and vanilla extract, orange peel and zucchini. Stir in, alternately, the flour mixture and milk (or water); add nuts and stir. Pour batter into prepared pan.Bake for approximately 1-1/2 hours; cool with oven door open for 30 minutes. Turn out and cool completely on a wire rack. May be served with or without frosting.

Hazelnut Butter Cookies
from Epicurious.com

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy unsalted hazelnut butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 12-ounce package semisweet mini chocolate chips (2 cups)

Directions:
Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter, hazelnut butter, and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before shaping.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using 1 level tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms of hands into 1-inch balls. Arrange 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets on racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool. (Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature.)

Peach Cobbler
from The Food Network

Ingredients:
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
1 cup milk
4 cups peeled, pitted and thinly sliced fresh peaches (5 to 6 medium peaches)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Several dashes ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Pour the melted butter into a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 1 cup sugar, the baking powder, and the salt and mix well. Stir in the milk, mixing until just combined. Pour this batter over the butter but do not stir them together.
In a small saucepan, combine the peaches, lemon juice, and remaining cup of sugar and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Pour the peaches over the batter but do not stir them together. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg if desired.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden-brown. Serve warm or cold.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Spicy Blueberry Streusel Bars

On a warm summer night, at a backyard party or barbeque, sometimes the least appealing thing on which to end the evening is a dessert that is dripping with chocolate or butter, heavy enough to capsize a rowboat. For these occasions, I find fruit desserts much more appealing; although I can never get enough of cobblers and crisps, I wanted to try something a bit different (and slightly more portable) for a recent potluck.

The original recipe for these blueberry streusel bars called for an even larger amount of cardamom than is suggested here, and these 2 tablespoons really, in my opinion, max it out. These bars are unique for sure, and the cardamom spice is what gives this cookie variant a hint of the exotic. And using fresh blueberries, there was little need, really, for any other flavoring. This is yet another dessert where the fruit takes the zesty reins, but this time shares the center stage with the spice found in the streusel topping.


Blueberry Streusel Bars

Ingredients:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ Tbsp. grated lemon zest
¼ cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries

Topping
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.
2. Whisk the flour and baking powder together and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar. Cream with an electric mixer at medium speed. Reduce speed to low and beat in the eggs, then lemon zest, and lastly the buttermilk.
4. Add the flour mixture and stir with a spoon until fully incorporated. Turn the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread it to cover the bottom evenly. Arrange the blueberries on top in a single layer.
5. For the topping, combine the flour, sugar, and spices in a bowl. Mix well with a fork. Cut in the butter to form crumbs and scatter over the blueberries.
6. Bake about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fresh-from-the-Oven Millet Blueberry Muffins

Despite the rising heat here in Seattle, my baking has also been on the upswing; with a few new cookbooks on my shelf – The New Laurel's Kitchen, Bob's Red Mill Baking Book – and some new ideas about my baking philosophy (don't laugh – like anything else, baking can have a philosophy. And I've been working on mine), I've found it impossible not to be in the kitchen, trying something new out. I'm also at the point where I would much rather share my food, and I'm hoping to find a more business-like way to do so soon. In the meantime, though, I see nothing wrong with a big ceramic bowl with a cloth towel liner, brimming with fresh-baked treats, like these Millet Blueberry Muffins: just what I plan on bringing with me to work today.


The millet gives them a fine and substantial crunch, and the honey leaves them tasting a bit cleaner, and not so sugary. And the blueberries, in my opinion, crown them perfectly. The great thing about these muffins is their versatility: almost anything can be stirred in, instead of blueberries: raisins, walnuts, blackberries or strawberries are the first few that come to mind.

Millet Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:
2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup millet
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ c. applesauce
¼ cup honey
1 cup blueberries

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease or line 16 muffin cups.
2. In a large bowl, mix the whole wheat flour, millet flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 3. In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk, egg, applesauce, and honey. Stir buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture just until evenly moist. Fold in the blueberries. Transfer batter to the prepared muffin cups.
4. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fresh Raspberry Quick Bread

After the explosion of fresh, fragrant, utterly perfect strawberries last month, I had nearly (but not quite, of course) exhausted myself of eating them. But now that raspberries are the crop du jour, I find myself replacing the strawberries in my diet with these berries, and the result is just as lovely and yummy.


At the market, I'm able to buy raspberries by the half-flat, and I've been busy adding them to my salads and yogurt, freezing them, and naturally, nibbling upon them throughout the day. The next step is to bake with them, and although I've found lots of pies and parfaits that use raspberries, I wanted to try something a little different; a little like the strawberry muffins I made last month. So, not to divert too much, I put together this recipe for Raspberry Quick Bread. I had seen similar recipes that call for bananas as well, but I wanted only the sweet taste of raspberries. That's precisely what I got with this recipe. The honey complements the raspberries well, but if that seems too sweet still, then the honey can be reduced by a couple of tablespoons. Additionally, the bread is quite moist, which I like but others may not prefer. This can be altered by omitting the milk, and keeping a close eye on the bread through the end of its baking time. And the spelt and garbanzo bean flours can, of course, be replaced with whole wheat or other flours, but I find this combination to be perfect in making this a hearty and fiber-filled quick bread that left me satisfied for hours after eating.

Fresh Raspberry Quick Bread

Ingredients:
1 c. spelt flour
¾ c. garbanzo bean flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ c. applesauce
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. honey
1/3 c. milk
2 c. raspberries

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix the applesauce with the eggs and honey.

3. Blend in the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients alternately with the milk. Fold in the raspberries.

4. Bake for 50-60 minutes, careful not to let it burn. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chewy Honey Cookies

When I saw this recipe for Honey Cookies in my Complete Cookie cookbook, I knew I would want to try it. Under the description, it was stated that these cookies are ideal for making ice cream sandwiches, and although that is not what I personally did, after tasting these, I agree that these would make for one super swell ice cream sandwich. I could see these pairing well with a creamy French Vanilla or strawberry ice cream: a fun treat for a BBQ or pool party.
What I did do, though, was to experiment with the honey flavor. After all, there are an exorbitant amount of flavored honeys that one can try. There is the most well-known clover variety, then there is blackberry, raspberry, lavender, huckleberry, alfalfa, dandelion, fireweed, and many more. Part of the fun in this recipe is that the honey is such a strong player, that whatever type you choose will give your cookies a hint of that particular flavor. And the best thing about flavored honey is that there are no additives to twist the honey one way or another; it's all dependent upon where the bees buzz, and where they are collecting pollen.
The one thing that I would do differently next time, though, would be to lessen the amount of brown sugar. As is, they are very sweet, and I would want the taste of the honey to shine through a bit more. Even still, they are a absolutely delightful.


Chewy Honey Cookies

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups garbanzo bean flour
1 ½ cups brown rice flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup honey
1 large egg yolk

Directions:
1. Whisk together the flours, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon.
2. Cream the butter and the sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the honey and egg yolk and beat for 1 minute. Fold in the flour mixture, ½ cup at a time, to combine. Form the dough into a long log, roll in wax paper, and refrigerate for 4 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment.
4. Cut the log in half and return half to the refrigerator until ready to use. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut out into 3-inch circles and transfer to the prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with all the dough.
5. Bake for 5 minutes then rotate the cookie sheet and bake for about 5 minutes more, until the edges are golden brown. Let cool on wire racks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dessert Night Oatmeal Cake

Whenever I'm given an invitation to a party, my mind quickly wanders to the possibilities of the type of food I can bring; if it is a dinner party, then what dessert can I make? If it is a brunch, then what dessert can I make? If I'm going to a child's birthday party, then what dessert can I make?

Although, like anyone else, I love a nourishing, filling, and delicious meal, I generally am more concerned with what will follow the main course and appetizers. So this past weekend, when I was invited to a “dinner for dessert” party, I was overcome with two emotions: the first was of excitement. Finally, an event that that celebrated the very thing I take the most pleasure in! But as my eyes widened and I unconsciously began salivating, I also began to worry; what could I bring that would stand out, that would not get lost in the delectable crowd of other desserts? My first instinct was to make a rustic berry cobbler or crisp; after all, it's what's in season. But then I backpedaled, thinking that everyone would naturally be taking advantage of the spectacular berries the Pacific Northwest has been savoring. Then, I considered chocolate: anything at all that was chocolate. But again, I had my reservations: I had just recently made a very chocolatey, very rich dessert, and I had hoped for a bit more variety in my baking practice.

So after a bit of consultation and research, I found the perfect dessert: a hearty oatmeal cake with a brown sugar glaze. And it did turn out to be along just the right track; though the only cobbler to be found at the table was a mango cobbler, chocolate was the key ingredient of the night. While I took part in tasting a bit of everything there, I also enjoyed a piece of my cake, which offered a great balance to the other desserts.

The brown sugar along with the honey (or agave nectar) make for a sweet cake, but the whole wheat flour and the oats give it a substance that a purely sugary treat would not possess. The coconut in the glaze added a pleasant texture, and the glaze is best poured on the cake while both are still warm, so that the cake can soak up the moisture of the mixture – without becoming soggy itself. My friends were just as happy with the oatmeal cake as I was; it's just right for grabbing a piece and eating with your fingers, if your plate happens to already by weighed down by a selection of other desserts.


Oatmeal Cake

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups boiling water
1 cup oats
1 cup Raisins
½ cup applesauce
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup honey or agave nectar
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 ½ cups sifted whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Topping:
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 ½ tbsp. canned evaporated milk
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup chopped pecan halves

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan, set aside.
Directions:In a mixing bowl combine boiling water, quick rolled oats and raisins, set aside to cool.In a separate mixing bowl cream together the applesauce, brown sugar, honey and eggs.In another mixing bowl sift together whole wheat flour, cinnamon, baking soda and sea salt, add to sugar mixture, add oatmeal-raisin mixture, blend well.Bake at 350° for 40-50 minutes or until done. Spread with topping while cake is hot.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sage Biscuits with Ancient Grain

I've become quite a fan of Amaranth flour. Amaranth is an ancient Aztec grain that comes from an annual related to spinach and swiss chard, high starch content, and rich in protein, iron, and calcium. It works best when combined with other flours, as it can have an overly grainy texture on its own; I discovered this while experimenting with Amaranth pancakes.

I thought that this would be the perfect type of flour to use for a savory, satisfying breakfast pastry. Although I'm not much for the overly buttery and flaky variety of biscuits, I wanted to see if I could create something a tad more wholesome. I did some research, and I found two biscuit recipes that were intriguing, but not precisely what I was hoping for. So, I picked and chose a few key pieces from each and put them together into this variation. And these sage biscuits, while certainly not the buttermilk biscuits of the South, are soft, aromatic, and absolutely perfect served warm. I brought a dozen of them to a brunch, where they accompanied fresh fruit and yogurt, and I couldn't have been more pleased with how well they went with a lighter spread of food; they did not overwhelm, but also left no one wanting for a more filling alternative.


Sage Biscuits

Ingredients:
1 cup rice flour
1 cup Amaranth flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. finely chopped sage
8 tbsp. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
¾ cup buttermilk

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and set oven rack to middle position.
2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and sage.
3. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the mixture until it becomes a course meal.
4. Stir in the buttermilk until the mixture forms a sticky ball.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Divide the dough into quarters, then cut the quarters into thirds. Shape each piece into a rough ball and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
5. Bake 10-12 minutes, until tops of the biscuits are browned.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Alternative Baking with Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp

I don't think I would have necessarily sought out a variety of gluten-free recipes on my own; after all, my body and my diet are both very gluten-friendly. But when I was given a gift of flours for my birthday, I realized what a wide world of baking there is beyond the “unbleached white” or even “whole-wheat pastry flour.” Using alternative grains is an absolute art in baking, and a very nourishing one, too. Many alternative grains, such as Kamut or Teff flour, are filled with protein and a host of vitamins.

Generally, gluten-free or alternative grain desserts are not necessarily “healthy,” due to the butter or sugar. But, this can be remedied with alternative sweeteners and butter replacements. From my experience with alternative and healthful baked goods I've bought, and the ones I've made myself, I much prefer the wholesome ones to the full-fat kind (yes, even my birthday cake was a bit too much butter and sugar for me to handle).

I would never look down upon any baked good, regardless of its nutritional content; however, if I'm going to be baking as often as I do, for all of the people I care so deeply about, why not make something that is actually good and satisfying for the body, as well as the soul?

This Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp definitely qualifies for these condition: sweet and tangy, and with a topping that does not overwhelm the natural flavors of the blueberry and rhubarb. And of course, if you do not want to make it with the alternative grains, then it's just fine to use whatever you have in your kitchen.

Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp
From Bob's Red Mill Baking Book

Ingredients:

Topping:
¼ cup Amaranth flour
¼ cup Teff, soy or barley flour
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced

Filling:
¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons Teff flour
2 cups (about 3/4 pound) rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups blueberries

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 2-quart shallow baking dish.
2. For the topping, combine the flours, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers until crumbly. Refrigerate while making the filling.
3. In a small bowl, stir together the honey, cinnamon, and flour. Add the rhubarb and blueberries, tossing well. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the fruit and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the topping is brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

More Muffins: Carrot Raisin

I recently mentioned how my muffin baking is sparse and slightly erratic, but after my fantastic strawberry muffin success, I'm falling more in love with muffins. What I especially like about homemade muffins is the amount of control I have over the ingredients, and therefore, the taste and health quotient. I'm not a fan of the jumbo bakery muffins, loaded with butter or oil, and I've never understood the allure of chocolate muffins (just make cupcakes if you want to use cocoa powder!). But the muffin recipes I have my sight set on call for alternative sweeteners, like the honey used here, and hearty flours, and flavorful add-ins. These carrot raisin muffins are adapted by me from a basic rice muffin recipe I found; at first, regular sugar was called for, but I found that honey works better with sweetening, without being overbearing and heavy. The cinnamon and nutmeg work well with the raisins, and the carrots add a freshness that could be acquired with zucchini, or shredded apple perhaps. No matter what is stirred into this muffin base, I'm certain that they will turn out as light and tasty as these ones did.


Carrot Raisin Muffins

Yield: 1 dozen

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 eggs
½ cup milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup honey
1 ½ cup rice flour
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. fresh nutmeg
½ cup raisins
1 cup shredded carrots

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line or grease muffin tins.
2. Mix butter and honey. Beat in eggs.
3. Mix together flour, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add flour mixture to egg mixture alternately with milk. Add vanilla. Stir in raisins and carrots. Pour into muffin tins and bake for 18-20 minutes

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Chocolate Cake-with-Vanilla-Buttercream-and-Strawberries Birthday to Me!

This past Sunday was my birthday, and I celebrated in one of the most joyful ways I know how: I baked, and then shared my dessert with good friends.

Most people want to enjoy their favorite cake on their birthday, whether it be a basic vanilla with vanilla icing, a complex Italian specialty, a festive ice cream cake, and any other cake one can imagine. No matter what kind of bakery you frequent, you can find a birthday cake, or similar stand-in (for example: birthday tortes, birthday muffins, birthday pies). I also know a good number of individuals who prefer to bake their own favorite creation, whether it be a birthday dessert or a very special main meal, for their birthdays; I obviously find this to be the better option for me. In fact, cookbooks featuring only recipes for birthday cakes have been written (to be honest, my roommate owns one, and it sits proudly on our cookbook shelf), and while I did not pull my birthday cake recipe from this volume, it is filled with imaginative concoctions, all of which are incomplete without candles on top. The recipe, from Epicurious, is not terribly complex, but like any layer cake, it is time consuming, and special attention is required if it is to turn out well.


My dream birthday cake was chocolate with vanilla buttercream, and to my joy, it has became a delicious reality. I made it over the course of two days, making the cake a day before the birthday celebration, and letting it cool, then wrapping it in plastic wrap. The frosting, I made the morning of, and then I assembled the entire thing a few hours before we cut it. The cake was everything I wanted it to be: lusciously chocolatey, achingly sugary, and blissfully tasty: the perfect treat to look forward to once a year.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

From Epicurious.com

Ingredients:
1 cup boiling-hot water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
4 cups vanilla buttercream

The Cake:
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottom of each with a round of wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess. Whisk together hot water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla.
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.
3. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
4. Divide batter between cake pans, smoothing tops. Bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean and edges of cake begin to pull away from sides of pans, 30 to 35 minutes total. Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, removing wax paper, and cool completely.

Vanilla Buttercream

Ingredients:
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whipping cream

Directions:
With a hand mixer or stand, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

To assemble cake:
Put 1 cake layer, rounded side up, on a cake stand or platter and, using offset spatula, spread top with about 1 cup buttercream. Top with remaining cake layer, rounded side down, and frost side and top of cake with 2 cups buttercream.

Friday, June 26, 2009

June's Sweet Bounty: Strawberry Muffins

I have one particular go-to muffin recipe that I discovered about a year ago and have subsequently enjoyed through all months of the year. They're blueberry muffins, calling for frozen blueberries, which are available at the store whenever the mood to purchase them strikes my fancy. Because I don't bake muffins very often, I've never been inspired to find a recipe that takes advantage of fresh seasonal produce. Then, I recently found this recipe for strawberry muffins. The ingredient list specifies fresh strawberries are needed, and given how glorious these Pacific Northwest berries have been tasting the past couple of weeks, it was impossible not to make these immediately.

It turns out that I was right to do so. These muffins, found in the magazine Body and Soul are a divine breakfast wake-up call. Not laden with a host of various flavors and textures, the berries have the opportunity to be center stage; and as with any dish, when the key player is fresh, local, and of high quality, then there is no possibility for failure (or great failure, anyway). The buttermilk adds a down-home quality to the muffins without making them heavy, and the whole wheat flour makes them slightly more fiber-filled. And they are a light and sweet morning treat with a vibrant strawberry essence.

Although I know I will pull out the recipe book for my blueberry muffins come autumn, while the season allows, I believe I've found a new go-to muffin recipe.

Strawberry Muffins
Yield: 1 dozen

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups sliced strawberries
1/3 cup plus 1tbsp. sugar
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Toss together strawberries and 1/3 cup sugar. Using a potato masher, lightly mash berries; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, egg, and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk mixture and berry mixture (with juice). Fold until just combined. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops with remaining sugar.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice Rhubarb Bread Pudding

It will take an exorbitant, inhuman amount of rhubarb this summer for me to tire of the wondrous desserts that utilize this tart, delicious seasonal vegetable. Already, I've sampled several crumbles and crisps and cobblers whose defining ingredient is the rhubarb, and with each taste, I only grow hungrier for it. However, I knew that there must be something out there for rhubarb besides the generic pie; once I started searching, I found that I was correct. I discovered recipes for rhubarb sorbets, crepes, trifles and compotes. The one that I was most eager to try was the Rhubarb Bread Pudding I found in my Great Harvest Bread Company cookbook.

What better time to try out this summery recipe than the Summer Solstice: the longest day of the year, a day of celebration in Seattle, revolving around the Summer Solstice Parade and Fremont Fair in the Fremont neighborhood. It is a jubilant time of year, and so it deserves an accordingly festive dessert, which is where the rhubarb comes in. Rhubarb is quite simply a cheery and refreshing food, and it can be used in such a wide range of desserts, from the favorite stand-bys to the unique experiments, that it will be a very dark time when the rhubarb season comes to an end.

As for the bread pudding, it was as much of a crowd-pleaser as I expected anything with rhubarb to be: tangy, with just enough sweetness to balance it out. Even still, I think that the sugar could be reduced slightly to give the dish an even stronger rhubarb flavor.


Rhubarb Bread Pudding
Ingredients:
8 slices white bread (½ inch thick each)
1 lb. fresh rhubarb, diced (about 4 cups)
1 ½ c. milk
5 eggs
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ c. chopped walnuts
¼ c. butter
1 ¼ c. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
Directions:
1. Toast bread and remove crusts. Cut toasted bread into ½ inch cubes and places in a buttered casserole dish.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and butter. Bring just to a boil. Pour over toast cubes and let stand 15 minutes.
3. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in rhubarb. Stir into bread mixture and sprinkle with nuts.
4. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Farmer's Market Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie

There's definitely something to be said about basing one's meals around what is in stock at the nearby Farmer's Market. This is, of course, how one eats the most flavorful foods, the most nutritious produce, and the most local ingredients that the community currently offers. Thanks to this form of food shopping, I'm now a big fan of the delicious combination of rhubarb and strawberry. Rhubarb is actually a vegetable, known for it's tart flavor, and it's thick stalks are currently found everywhere, only a few steps away from the large, juicy strawberries that are growing now. Most people are aware of the nutritional value of strawberries, and rhubarb also contains a large amount of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. Not only are these two foods nutritionally compatible, but the sweetness of the strawberry and the tartness of the rhubarb compliment one another for a tangy and summery flavor.

This pie is a prime example of how exquisite the strawberry-rhubarb relationship is. The addition of sugar and strawberry preserves further help to offset the acidity of the rhubarb, and can even be decreased to match one's taste. Although I'm still working on perfecting my pastries and creating an aesthetically pleasing pie, I'm quite satisfied with the flavor of this one. Appearances aside, I'm sure I'll be taking advantage of this fruit and veggie combo as long as the season lasts.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie with Hazelnuts

Ingredients:
For crust:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
10 tablespoons (about) ice water
For filling:
3 ½ cups 1/2-inch-thick slices trimmed rhubarb
3 ½ cups strawberries, hulled, quartered
¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked, chopped
½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tbsp. strawberry preserves
1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Directions:

Crust:Combine flour, sugar and salt in processor. Using on/off turns, cut in shortening and butter until coarse meal forms. Blend in enough ice water 2 tablespoons at a time to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; cut in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap separately in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (This can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.)

Filling:Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Toss gently to blend. Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter flass pie dish. Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4-inch overhang.
Mix the first 9 ingredients together in a bowl. Spread into the pie dish.
Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut into strips and form a lattice pattern over the pie. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal.
Brush glaze over crust. transfer pie to baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pie-in-the-Sky Marshmallow Clouds

The S'more season is just about upon us, and in preparation, the grocery stores have erected their massive displays of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars, all in bright packaging and delightful towers that just scream "summertime snacks!". It's difficult not to walk by and not be tempted by the nostalgic bags of jet-puffed sugar that were an ever-present element of summer camp-outs and lake parties. Although I'm not a huge fan of S'mores anymore (don't get me wrong, I will most likely indulge in one or two before autumn comes, but I simply don't have the same craving for a summer S'more as I used to have), I couldn't pass up on the marshmallows. I knew there must be a host of other recipes that call for marshmallows, which do not involve graham crackers.

Luckily, one of my favorite cookie sages, Mrs. Fields, had the perfect recipe.

It's a simple ingredient list, certainly, but as a filled cookie, there are layers of taste that make them quite special. There is the richness of the double dose of chocolate, and the gooey texture of the melted marshmallow, both of which make for a sweet, decadent cookie. When assembling the cookies, it is very important to make sure that the mini marshmallows are entirely wrapped in cookie dough, as they will explode a bit onto the pan if not covered all the way. Even if that happens though, it won't create a major mess: just more of an open-faced marshmallow cookie.

Marshmallow Clouds

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
12 oz. mini semisweet chocolate chips
8 oz. mini marshmallows, frozen

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine sugars. Blend in butter. Add eggs and vanilla and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
4. Add flour mixture and chocolate chips and blend at very low speed. Batter will be very stiff.
5. Gather 4-5 frozen mini marshmallows in the palm of your hand and enrobe them in the cookie batter, completely covering them and forming a 2-inch ball.
6. Place balls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Apple Oatmeal Bars

Like any respectable quaint New England town, mine had an apple orchard nearby: the pick-your-own kind that boasted acres of fields that were filled with meticulously lined apple trees of every variety. There was a large converted barn that became the orchard store, selling apples by the bushel, homemade apple pies, and sticks of red and green rock candy. Signs were posted with charts and diagrams informing the lay-picker about the varieties of apples, and what one was supposed to do with that particular apple once it made its way home. Of course, there were pumpkin patches and hayrides, but the apple picking sticks out in my mind as the quintessential September weekend activity. Apples for baking strudel at home: check. Apples for after-school snacks: check. Apples for our teachers: check. It was there, at Blue Jay Orchards, that began my life-time love of apples.

My particular favorite is the Granny Smith, with it's cheerful green pigment, it's tart flavor, and the juicy crunch of the first bite. There are some health rules I don't always abide by, but when it comes to having “an apple a day,” I have no problem.

Even better for me when I can incorporate the delicious apples that stack up high in my kitchen into a recipe for something even tastier. The Apple Oatmeal Bars in the recipe below may not be quite as nutritious as a single Granny Smith, but the whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and oats add a healthful element. They are not a sweet or buttery bar, but cakey in texture. The apples are not really the star of the recipe, but the flavor does come through, and matched with the spices and the walnuts, the bars are a tasty and substantial treat.

Apple Oatmeal Bars

Ingredients:
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp. wheat germ
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground allspice
2-3 large Granny Smith Apples
¼ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup quick oats

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking pan
2. Peel and coarsely grate the apples, for approximately 1 cup. Toss with 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice.
3. Combine the butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a small bowl.
4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat germ, baking powder, salt, and spices. Stir in the egg mixture. Fold in the apples, walnuts, and oats. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.
5. Bake about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Afternoon Tea Lavender Cookies

In our country, every day, we practice what multitudes of workers call “coffee breaks,” where highly caffeinated drinks are often accompanied with sugary pastries such as doughnuts and croissants. Generally, these are short social breaks in between working hours, dressed up with a substantial amount of ritual. Being neither a coffee drinker nor a lover of fried dough, I've never been much for the idea of the coffee break.

What does appeal to me is the lesser-practiced Afternoon Tea. Although I wouldn't mind tiered stands of petit fours, cucumber sandwiches, and scones, along with delicate tea cups on saucers, I am not so attached to its formality (stuffiness, some may call it), but rather to its very existence. For me, tea time lasts from my wake-up cup of English Breakfast to my bedtime chamomile. Throughout the day, my tea is at times paired with a cookie or some other treat, and at times, it stands alone. As much as I like to appreciate the teas that I drink and truly take in their individual flavors, there is also can be a place for a delectable morsel of food alongside the tea cup; why else would tea houses and coffee shops also stock such a wonderful selection of baked goods? I have yet to designate an official “afternoon tea time” for myself, or even obtain a fancy cup and saucer. But I still like to try out an assortment of cookies and pastries that simply beg to be sampled alongside a cup of Earl Grey.

The following Lavender Tea Cookies are a perfect fit. Basically a shortbread, the cookies are buttery and rich, and the addition of lavender frosting adds another dimension to the already fragrant base.

Lavender Tea Cookies

Ingredients:
1 tbsp. dried culinary lavender flowers
1 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp.pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp. lemon extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
Lavender Frosting (see recipe below)

Directions:
1. In a mortar, grind lavender flowers with the pestle.
2. In a medium bowl, cream together ground lavender flowers, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon extract. Add flour and salt; mix until combined (dough should be soft but not sticky.)
3. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until dough is firm.
4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Remove dough from refrigerator and shape into small discs, about ¼ inch thick. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. When cool, frost with Lavender Frosting.

Lavender Frosting

Ingredients:
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
2 tbsp. dried culinary lavender flowers
2 tbsp. milk

Directions:
1. In a small plastic bag, combine powdered sugar and dried lavender flowers. Let stand at least 1 day before using. When ready to use, sift the mixture into a medium-size bowl; discarding lavender flowers. Add milk, mixing well. Spread on cooled cookies.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Construction For Change Almond Meringue Cookies

Baking for an audience is one of my favorite things; I enjoy the opportunity to create something that others will (hopefully) take pleasure in tasting. And I also feel it's important to support causes that resonate with me personally, so when a friend asked me to help her with a dessert menu for her charity event, I was eager to offer my talent. She works for a wonderful Seattle-based non-profit organization called Construction For Change, and they hosted a large-scale banquet fund raiser last week. The mission of Construction For Change is this: “We partner with organizations worldwide to provide needed infrastructure for economic, medical, and educational growth in developing communities; giving them the tools to eradicate poverty and improve quality of life for those in need.” And from what my friend told me, the event was a massive success, with a substantial amount of money raised for their initiative in Zambia.

I was very happy to help support her efforts in whatever way I could, and even if a dessert at their banquet may be a humble offering, I hope that the Almond Meringues I baked made a small difference, at least, in someone's evening.

Almond Meringue Cookies

From The Joy of Baking

Ingredients:
3 large egg whites
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
¾ cup superfine sugar
¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees and place the rack in the center of your oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Beat the egg whites on low-medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla extract. The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks and when you rub a little between your thumb and index finger it does not feel gritty.
3. Before placing the cookies on the cookie sheet, place a little of the meringue on the underside of each corner of the parchment paper. This will prevent the paper from sliding. Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip. Pipe 2 1/2 inch rounds of meringue in rows on the prepared baking sheet. Alternatively, spoon mounds of meringue, using two spoons, onto the prepared sheets. Sprinkle with a few shaved almonds.
4. Bake the meringues for approximately 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, rotating the baking sheet from front to back (about half way through) to ensure even baking. The meringues are done when they are pale in color and fairly crisp. Turn off the oven, open the door a crack, and leave the meringues in the oven to finish drying overnight.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rich Chocolate Cookies

Last week I was playing around, as I so often do, with chocolate chip cookie recipes, and I decided to blend the elements of three of my favorite recipes together into one cookie. What I got in the end was a dark, rich cookie that was cakey and not too sugary – exactly how I enjoy my chocolate chip cookies. Normally, I use semi-sweet chips in my cookies, but given the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder, milk chocolate chips work perfectly to soften the flavor.
As usual, I had a wonderful time experimenting in the kitchen, and I wanted to save this particular recipe, as I feel that it's a bit more special than regular chocolate chip cookies, but not overly fancy: just a simple, delicious drop cookie of chocolaty goodness.

Rich Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk
2 cups milk chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, blend together the sugars, butter, and vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time. Gradually beat in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Bake for 11-13 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Sweet Summer Berries to Come

The abundance of Spring produce that entices us with their fresh, sustaining scents and flavors fills me with unlimited gratitude, especially now that I am able to spend so much of my time on an organic farm here in the Pacific Northwest. Never have I felt so close to the food that I eat: the fresh spinach I had for lunch, my breakfast eggs that had been plucked from the hen house only a day before, the texture of homemade bread baked through with hand-picked rosemary. Each meal and snack is a treat for the senses and a gift to the body.

Living in this area of the country, I am particularly thrilled for berry season. While I love my assortment of vegetables, berries are my weakness. I'm looking forward to days where I consume nothing but fruit and homemade bread, the occasional nibble of cheese thrown in here and there for good measure. This past weekend, I enjoyed a little preview of what berry season can mean to Washington State when my boyfriend and I picked up a 3 pound bag of frozen berries, straight from Remlinger Farm in nearby Carnation, WA. Our initial plan was to make a mixed berry cobbler for dessert, but there was such an abundance of berry delightfulness I was able to put together a whole second mixed berry dessert – Berry Crumb Bars – the next day.

I've always loved the month of June, but this year I'm full of another level of anticipation: strawberry season begins mid-June at Remlinger Farm, with raspberries and blueberries following close after. That, combined with the copious amount of wild blackberry bushed in this beautiful state, stand to guarantee a gloriously colossal array of fruit-filled desserts...assuming, of course, that the berries make it home at all.
Mixed Berry Cobbler

From Cooking Light Magazine

Ingredients:
2 cups granola
½ cup milk
2 (12-oz.) packages frozen mixed berries
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. cardamom
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350º. Stir together granola and milk in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes.
2. Toss together berries and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Spoon berry mixture into a 8-inch square baking dish.
3. Stir granola mixture, and spoon over berry mixture. Lightly coat with cooking spray.
4. Bake at 350º for 1 hour or until bubbly.
Berry Crumb Bars
Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. white sugar
2 tsp. lemon zest
1 pinch salt
½ cup butter, chilled and diced
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Filling:
2 ½ cups mixed berries
¼ cup white sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Topping:
5 tbsp. butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400º. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the 2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons white sugar, lemon zest and salt. Cut in the 1/2 cup butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Beat egg and vanilla together; stir into the crumb mixture. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.
4. Sprinkle berries over the crust. In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 cup sugar and nutmeg; sprinkle over the berries. Make the topping: In a medium bowl, cream together the 5 tablespoons butter and brown sugar until smooth. Mix in the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over the berry layer.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until browned.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

As is common knowledge, I have quite the soft spot for cookies; it doesn't matter if they are the most traditional of traditional, the same chocolate chip cookies that have been made since the dawn of Hershey's, or if they are strange, adventurous recipes that mix unlikely partners in a surprisingly tasty and offbeat snack.

Peanut Butter cookies are on my list of classic cookies that adorn every bakery case, and I've never found the need to experiment much with them – some chocolate chips or cocoa powder here and there, perhaps. But when I found this recipe for peanut butter cookies, I was amazed at the different, and altogether wholesome, ingredient list: oats, wheat bran, whole wheat flour. I knew I had to try these cookies, and add my own twists. I replaced applesauce for the butter, used raw sugar instead of granulated, and reduced the overall amount of sugar (only slightly with the brown sugar).

The original recipe also made no mention of chocolate chips, and I figured that must have been a printing error of some sort; the chocolate only enhances the peanut butter flavor, and it provides a good, sweet balance to the bran and the oats.
The cookies, then, turned out not only delicious, but nourishing (at least partly so, or as much as a cookie can nourish). At the very least, my spirit was heartily stimulated after eating a couple of these Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Yield: About 4 dozen

Ingredients:

½ cup applesauce
¾ cup raw sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup rolled oats
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup wheat bran
2 tsp. baking soda

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, beat together applesauce, sugars, vanilla, peanut butter, and eggs. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, bran, oats, and baking soda. Slowly stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto an ungreased baking sheet.
3. Bake 15-17 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Birthday Banana Cake

Like so many bakers, one of the greatest joys I get from baking is creating something that I can give to another person, offering them a present that comes not only from my heart, but from my hands. Artists and carpenters, potters and knitters, poets and farmers all can relate to this feeling, I'm sure. And while I enjoy picking up presents for my loved ones as I may find them in various shops and markets throughout my travels, what brings me the most happiness is to give a gift of a baked good from my very own kitchen. When I'm in a whimsical mood, I even like to think that my baked presents are doubly fine, since they're so copiously sprinkled with tenderness and affection.

But aside from my secret magic ingredients, whatever they may be, I also like to hand-pick a recipe based on the recipient, as I would any other gift. And since there is a special person in my life who is celebrating a birthday very soon, I wanted to find a dessert that he would especially savor: one that I found just for him. With that in mind, I searched for banana cakes (as it's for a birthday, I simply needed to make a cake of some kind; and since this particular person is so fond of banana bread, I wanted to find a cake with similar properties).
I found the following recipe, and with it I saw a long thread of comments celebrating the cake and the brilliance of the recipe. My experience with the cake was not far off from that of the commentators, but I would offer a possible alteration.

One primary remark about the cake was it's unrivaled moistness; while I won't dispute that, I found that the center of the cake was not so much moist as it was under baked. To avoid ruining the entire thing, I opted to leave the center as it was, and not over bake the perimeter. To remedy this, I think I would simply try a higher baking temperature, and monitor it closely to see what length of time in the oven works best. Other than this slight problem, the cake came out wonderfully. It boasted the perfect amount of banana flavor, and although the same could not be said of the frosting, the cake itself was not too sweet: one of the key elements of a strong banana bread. However, the frosting truly completed the cake, in my opinion.

It was a birthday cake that warranted second and third helpings, abundant praise, and a grateful hug from the birthday boy. With reactions like that, I would certainly try this cake again, experimenting a bit more, but with a general security in its delicious outcome.

Banana Cake

Ingredients:
Cake:
1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed, ripe
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 1/8 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Chopped walnuts

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 275°. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.
2. In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in 2 tsp vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.
4. Stir in banana mixture.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place directly into the freezer for 45 minutes.
6. For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add icing sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth. Spread on cooled cake. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over top of the frosting, if desired.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Not-So-Bad Lemon Bars

Once upon a time, there was a magical recipe for the most luscious lemon bars in all the land, and I had access to this brilliant recipe card, and the treasure that could be created from its contents. These lemon bars were foolproof, they were creamy and sweet and tart and a joy to consume. Of course, I have no idea where that recipe has disappeared to, but I've intermittently spent the rest of my days searching for a lemon bar recipe that replicates this long-lost culinary jewel.

Unfortunately, I have not quite succeeded.

That seems like an awfully unfair thing to say here, as I follow with a recipe for lemon bars that I made recently; like telling a child that although his drawing is passable and may take up space on the refrigerator for a few days, it will never live up to his dead older brother's masterpiece painting, which is now hanging in the living room above the sofa.

Perhaps that isn't the most precise analogy...the lemon bars below are more than simply passable; they are quite good – tangy, light, and refreshing – though they still are not the lemon bars I was searching for. They would make any bake sale or picnic a bit more cheerful, with their bright yellow hue and lovely lemony aroma. But I'm not sure that I would bake them again, knowing that the bar I am looking for is still out there. However, I feel responsible for putting this recipe out there, as one I have tried. These bars are very simple to make and have quite a low-key ingredient list; a trip to the grocery store is most likely not even needed to make these, so they would be a perfect last-minute dessert to put together if guests were coming over or if they were needed for an emergency surprise party.

Lemon Bars

Ingredients:
Cookie Base:
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
Lemon Filling:
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon rind

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together butter, powdered sugar and flour until well blended. Press mixture into the bottom of a 9x13-inch glass baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes.
2. Sift together sugar, flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add eggs, lemon juice and lemon rind. Beat by hand or with electric mixer until well blended. Pour mixture over crust and bake for 25 minutes.
3. Allow bars to cool, then dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stress-free Lemon Coconut Chiffon Cake

In the past, the idea of throwing a “dinner party” has, for me, usually brought on an emotional combination of excitement and anxiety. The thought of having a house full of friends is very appealing, but the anxiety surfaced when I got caught up in overthinking the menu,the pre-party cleaning, the necessary amount of plates and silverware. I had always made dinner parties into hefty affairs, where the threat of a minor imperfection haunted me for days beforehand, even well into the party itself. I think this hostess distress is fairly common, but over the past several weeks, I've come to view “dinner parties” differently. What if, instead of worrying about how the apartment looked, I worry about nothing? What if, instead of obsessing over finding the ideal recipe for a main course, I obsessed over nothing? What if, instead of expecting something to go wrong, I expected nothing?

I've found this manner of dinner parties to me much more enjoyable and gratifying. Of course, there are times for the formal and nit-picked party, but I don't see why those should be the norm when having guests over. For me, I much prefer inviting a bunch of people over, cooking a lot of good food, and seeing where the evening might lead, hoping for nothing more than an entertaining night with friends.

And since for me, baking is a stress-reliever, as opposed to a stress-inducer, I decided to try a cake that I had wanted to make for some time, but hadn't yet had the proper audience. But the warm weather and a table full of friends prompted me to open up my copy of Baking Illustrated and try the Lemon Coconut Chiffon Cake. Although I pointedly did not stress over what they may have thought of the cake, I was still pleased when they smiled at their first bites and told me that it was absolutely wonderful: light, lemony, and moist.

Lemon Coconut Chiffon Cake

From Baking Illustrated

Ingredients:
Cake:
1 ½ cups sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
7 large eggs, 2 whole and 5 separated, room temperature
2/3 cups water
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. cream of tartar
Grated zest of 2 large lemons (about 3 tbsp.)
2 tbsp. strained lemon juice
1 cup lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
Icing:
4 tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
5 tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

Directions:
For the cake: 1. Adjust the rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk in the 2 whole eggs, 5 egg yolks (reserve the whites), water, oil, vanilla extract, zest, and lemon juice until the batter is just smooth.
2. Pour the reserved egg whites into another bowl and beat at low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add the cream of tartar and beat until the whites are very thick and stiff, just short of dry, about 10 minutes. Fold the whites into the batter.
3. Pour the batter into an ungreased large tube pan or bundt pan (9 inch diameter, 16 cup capacity). Rap the pan against the countertop a few times to rupture any air pockets.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55-65 minutes. Immediately turn the cake upside down to cool, and elevate it on a wire rack so that air can flow through the pan. Let the cake cool completely.
4. To unmold, turn the pan upright and run a knife around the pan's circumference. Use a skewer to loosen the cake. Invert onto a serving plate.
For the icing: 1. Beat the butter, lemon juice, and confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Let it stand 1 minute, then spread on the cake.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Green Space of One's Own

Over the years, whether I was living in a college dorm, at home with family, or alone, I have consistently agreed with Virginia Woolf's assertion that a woman (or a man – an individual, in my opinion) must have a space of one's own. This, ideally, is a quiet space that is set apart from where the routine of day-to-day life takes place. It cannot be a kitchen or a bedroom, because in these places it is impossible to truly separate one's self from the entrapments of everyday life, and the roles that are played there; to find peace, and to allow creativity to flourish, there must be a specifically designated area where one can go: a spare room, a bench in a garden, a tree stump in the forest. The examples are endless, though still not always easy to find – especially when living in a city.

I'm still searching for the perfect space of my own here, but I'm pleased to find that I did not need to travel far to find a green space of my own. Luckily, my apartment had a delightful, small balcony, perfectly sized for a bistro table, a couple of chairs, and a selection of plants and herbs (although it is just the right size for a small bee hive as well, which would be simply ideal for me, the location isn't quite suited for it). But the herbs seem to be thriving in my little green space.
It was with a superfluous amount of excitement that I first brought home a lavender plant a couple of weeks ago, and my thrill hardly diminished as the lavender was followed by sage, thyme, and then rosemary. They go well with the potted pea plant, and I'm brainstorming on what else I can add to my pseudo-garden.

The reason, naturally, for my burgeoning herb collection is to have a host a fresh herbs at my disposal for spring and summer baking. My inaugural expedition into baking with fresh-picked herbs was with the following Rosemary Shortbread. Even if these cookies had turned out to be inedible (which was not the case at all), the fragrance that filled my kitchen as these baked in the oven would have been solely worth the effort. Fortunately, the cookies turned out wonderful – crumbly, buttery, aromatic. One sampler even gushed that these were, quite literally, some of the best cookies he had ever tasted.

If this recipe is any indication of what I have to look forward to with my herb garden, it is going to be a splendid season.

Rosemary shortbread

Ingredients:

3/4 sticks (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. honey
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Garnish: small rosemary sprigs

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter a 9-inch cake pan.
2. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat butter and honey with sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and rosemary. Beat flour mixture into butter mixture until just combined.
3. On a lightly floured surface knead dough about 8 times, or until it just comes together. With floured hands press dough evenly into pan or mold. Press small rosemary sprigs on top.
4. Bake shortbread in middle of oven 20 to 30 minutes, or until pale golden, and let stand in pan for 10 minutes. While shortbread is still warm, loosen edges from pan with a small knife and invert onto your hand covered with a kitchen towel. Invert shortbread onto a cutting board and cut halfway through round along score marks. Cool shortbread on a rack.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Healthy(ish) Fudge Brownies

When I was younger, to make brownies meant a few simple tools, one or two supplementary ingredients, and the always-available red box of Betty Crocker brownie mix. Although I've long since become disillusioned with any dessert that comes from a box, there still is one brownie mix that I thoroughly enjoy: the low-fat No Pudge Fudge Brownie brownies. It's not due to obsessive calorie counting, or the misguided notion that “diet” desserts are acceptable substitutes for the real thing that I occasionally purchase this mix. When I crave a dense slab of chocolate with frosting and chocolate chips adorning the top, I know which recipes to pull off of the shelf, and I do so with loving anticipation. But when I want a chocolate treat that is a bit lighter in overall substance, and not so overly rich or thick, I know that the No Pudge brownies will satisfy that particular yearning, and do so without a bit of flavor or chocolatey indulgence lost. There is a time for both particular types of brownie, and I'm grateful to have each readily available.

This is why I was so excited to find the following recipe for low-fat brownies in the most recent issue of Body and Soul magazine. While I wouldn't say that these are “nutritious” brownies (and anyway, brownies are simply not supposed to be “nutritious,” full-fat or non), these certainly seemed to be a less heavy variation of the brownies I normally make from scratch, full of butter and oil. And when I tried the first warm bite of these brownies, with such a unique ingredient list, I was thrilled to find them similar to the boxed low-fat brownies that I so enjoy.

In addition to the brownies, I also experimented, for the first time, with making my own homemade whipped cream. It's safe to say that the fat in the heavy cream negated any of the “healthfulness” of the brownies, but that was just fine with me. Whipped cream-topped brownies – especially warm brownies – are a simply celestially blissful dessert, and I was much too caught up in the tastes and textures of my treat to be concerned with something as silly and unimportant as fat content.

Healthy(ish) Fudge Brownies

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup sweet-potato puree
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon instant coffee powder

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square pan; set aside. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Remove pan from heat, and stir in cocoa. Let cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. Stir in sugar and sweet-potato puree, then egg. In a small bowl, stir together vanilla and coffee until coffee is dissolved; add to cocoa mixture.
Add flour mixture to cocoa mixture and stir until no traces of flour remain. Spoon into prepared pan; smooth the top. Bake until surface of brownies looks barely dry and an inserted knife comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Homemade Whipped Cream

Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar

Directions:
In a large bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat.