Feeds:
Posts
Comments

My friend and I were talking about The Swiss Colony the other day. I wasn’t aware they were still around but she’d just received a catalog in the mail and we were discussing the nostalgia of the catalog, the items we’d pine over and never receive. I confessed that as a kid I used to go to their store in the mall and eat all their cheese and sausage samples. All of them. It’s where I discovered my love of hot pepper cheese and summer sausage and there was no turning back. But at Christmastime, there were two things in that catalog I obsessed over: The Towers of Treats and the petit fours. First off, of course I obsessed over a tower of boxes taller than me filled with delectable treats. Who wouldn’t? But those sweetly decorated little cake squares had my heart. I dreamt of elegant ladies at fancy tea parties delicately sipping from porcelain teacups and nibbling at teeny sweets. Deep down, I knew they were terrible; overly sweet and dry but damn I wanted them anyway.

So today for Day 2 of the 12 Days of Cookies, I’ve taken inspiration from those petit fours. And yes, this was a rather different cookie last week when I shot the whole collection but after my Swiss Colony discussion I had some ideas and baked a new batch this morning. With cookie dough in the fridge you can do these sort of last minute things. To the base dough, I’ve added a few bananas, some chocolate chips and a simple icing once they’d cooled. You can certainly leave them plainly iced or you can go fancy schmancy and dig out the special sprinkles or whip up a batch of royal icing and really decorate those little things. Then you can have that fancy tea party. Because when not do something fancy schmancy if not the holidays?

36 One Dough/Many Cookies from years past:

Fruity: Jam ThumbprintsJam Streusel TartsRaspberry Linzer SquaresLemon Poppyseed ButtonsOrange Sesame CrispsCranberry Pistachio CoinsAlmond Raspberry StripsOrange Sandwich CookiesApricot Rosemary ShortbreadCoconut Lime SticksBourbon Glazed Fruitcake ButtonsLemon Cornmeal BiscottiBlueberry Lime ButtonsDate Swirls

Nutty: Mexican Wedding CookiesRussian Tea CakesPecan TassiesMaple Black Walnut CookiesPB&J Sandwich CookiesPecan Triangles

Spiced: Cinnamon Sugar PinwheelsCandied Ginger Spice ButtonsCardamom Rose CoinsBrown Sugar Wafers with Lemon Lavender Glaze

Chocolate: Mexican Chocolate CrinklesChocolate Cocoa Nib WafersRaspberry Chocolate DropsChocolate Hazelnut ButtonsDark Mocha Sandwich CookiesEspresso Crinkles

Bars: Rum Butter BarsPeppermint Brownie BarsBanana Walnut Bars

Holiday Classics: Cream Cheese WreathsClassic Molasses CookiesPeppermint Candy Canes

2020 12 Days of Cookies line up to date:

Basic Chocolate Butter Cookie Dough

Day 1: Cranberry Cocoa Nib Wafers

DAY 2: CHOCOLATE BANANA PETIT FOUR

Start with the base chocolate dough – recipe here. For this one I used a natural cocoa powder but I think I’d prefer a dutched for the darker color.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line the desired pan with a criss-cross of aluminum foil or parchment paper. Spray lightly with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, combine room temperature cookie dough, mashed banana, brown sugar and baking soda and mix on medium until well blended.
  3. Add the chocolate chips and mix until just blended (at this point the dough can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 months. Let come to room temperature before proceeding.)
  4. Spread dough evenly into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with no wet batter.  It’s better to slightly underbake than to overbake.
  6. Cool completely on a wire rack. 
  7. For the chocolate icing: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the melted butter and cocoa powder on medium speed for 30 seconds just to combine. 
  8. Add half the powdered sugar and half the milk and mix for 1 minute. 
  9. Add the remaining powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract and mix for another minute or two until smooth. 
  10. Use immediately or cover until ready to use.
  11. When the bars have cooled, smooth the icing over the top. If you like, decorate with sprinkles while the icing is still wet or leave plain. Or leave at room temperature to set (the icing will crust over nicely) or refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  12. Cut the bars into neat little squares. If you like, decorate the squares with royal icing.
  13. For the royal icing: In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip together the sugar, egg white and lemon juice until thick and creamy. This is a small quantity and a bit of a pain but stick with it and scrape the bowl regularly. It’ll get there. Color small amounts and use paper cornets for piping. 

We’re starting this round of 12 Days a Cookies with a simple one to get us going in the right direction. One of the most popular cookies of past 12 Days has been a round, thin crispy cookie flavored with cranberries, pistachios and orange zest. So of course I did a chocolate version but with cocoa nibs instead of pistachio. Delightful. Slice and bake cookies are the real workhorses of holiday baking. 

One thing to keep in mind when baking chocolate cookies … it’s difficult to know when they’re done. Those visual cues you’d normally use – golden brown, etc. – aren’t an option due to the cocoa color so you have to go by feel. This one should bake up on the crisp side so at around 8 minutes, they should feel a little firm to the touch. If you like, bake a few to gage timing before baking a whole batch.

36 One Dough/Many Cookies from years past:

Fruity: Jam ThumbprintsJam Streusel TartsRaspberry Linzer SquaresLemon Poppyseed ButtonsOrange Sesame CrispsCranberry Pistachio CoinsAlmond Raspberry StripsOrange Sandwich CookiesApricot Rosemary ShortbreadCoconut Lime SticksBourbon Glazed Fruitcake ButtonsLemon Cornmeal BiscottiBlueberry Lime ButtonsDate Swirls

Nutty: Mexican Wedding CookiesRussian Tea CakesPecan TassiesMaple Black Walnut CookiesPB&J Sandwich CookiesPecan Triangles

Spiced: Cinnamon Sugar PinwheelsCandied Ginger Spice ButtonsCardamom Rose CoinsBrown Sugar Wafers with Lemon Lavender Glaze

Chocolate: Mexican Chocolate CrinklesChocolate Cocoa Nib WafersRaspberry Chocolate DropsChocolate Hazelnut ButtonsDark Mocha Sandwich CookiesEspresso Crinkles

Bars: Rum Butter BarsPeppermint Brownie BarsBanana Walnut Bars

Holiday Classics: Cream Cheese WreathsClassic Molasses CookiesPeppermint Candy Canes

2020 One Dough/12 Days of Cookies line up to date:

Basic Chocolate Butter Cookie Dough

DAY 1: CRANBERRY COCOA NIB WAFERS

Start with the base chocolate dough – recipe here; for this one I chose a dutched cocoa

  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the room temperature cookie dough, cranberries, cocoa nibs, orange zest, baking soda, salt and water until well combined.
  2. Divide the dough in quarters for the largest batch (2 pieces for the medium and 1 for the smallest) and roll each piece on a piece of plastic wrap into a nice, tight, round log, around 5-5 ½” long.
  3. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight (or freeze up to 3 months).
  4. When ready to bake preheat the oven to 350°F and line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking liners.
  5. Place the dipping sugar in a bowl and set aside.
  6. With a sharp thin knife, cut the log into ¼” thick coins, rotating the log frequently to keep one side from flattening. If the dough is frozen, give it a few minutes to soften enough to cut cleanly.
  7. Dip one side of the cookie into the sugar and place, sugar side up, 1” apart on prepared pans.
  8. Bake 8-10 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through until lightly golden brown.
  9. Do ahead: it’s best to make and freeze the dough and bake as needed rather than freeze baked cookies. Frozen dough will keep up to 3 months.

For the last several years, I’ve done a series of 12 Days of Cookies posts built around a basic butter cookie dough. Divide that base dough up in two, four or eight pieces and flavor each a different way. With a minimal amount of extra effort, you’ll have a whole variety of delicious cookies in different flavors, textures and colors. It’s an easy and incredibly efficient way to approach your holiday baking. In these weird times, maybe you need a bit of normalcy so I’d encourage you to bake some cookies and gift them to friends and family. Particularly your single friends and those that live alone. They’ve spent 8 months quarantining solo and now are likely going to spend the holidays alone too. It’s rough. Bake them some cookies.

In three years’ worth of December posts, I’ve given you one basic butter cookie dough and 36 different variations; something for everyone – fruit, spice, nuts, holiday classics and new fangled recipes. Well, hold up … last year I did savory crackers – 3 doughs, 12 different crackers. Same idea, different application. With that, I thought I was done. After 36 cookie recipes and 12 more for crackers I didn’t think I had any ideas left in me. Until I went to make some cookies a few weeks ago and thought … chocolate. I’d made several chocolate variations of that basic butter dough. What if I started with a chocolate dough? Surely I had 12 more chocolate ideas in me? I sure did. 

So this year, in the midst of this pandemic shitstorm when we need stress baking more than ever, prepare yourselves for the 12 Days of Chocolate Cookies. Same basic butter dough we’ve been using all along but with the addition of cocoa and a few other things. Get ready. 

First up, and this may seem obvious, you need cocoa powder. This is not as simple as it initially seems as there are a few different types out there. There are three general options:

  • Natural/Unalkalized: The most commonly found natural cocoa is your standard Hershey’s cocoa powder. Best used when there’s some type of acidic leavener in your recipe, such as baking soda. Some think natural cocoa tastes more “chocolatey” but I often find the results, when tasted side by side, to be neglible. For me, it’s more of a color consideration as it tends to bake up a bit lighter than a dutched cocoa.
  • Dutch Process/Dutched/Alkalized: sometimes also referred to “European style”. A lower acidity than natural cocoa, dutched cocoa tends to give baked goods a richer, darker color. It is my standard cocoa powder. The Hershey’s version is called “Special Dark”, Droste has won a Cooks Illustrated taste test or two and Cocoa Barry Plein d’Arome is a pastry chef standard. 
  • Black/Super Dark: an almost black dutch-processed cocoa with an intense, dark color. Think Oreo dark. This one is a little harder to come by but is available via various online sources. Makes gorgeous cookies though I like to combine it, about 60/40, with a dutched cocoa for best flavor. King Arthur has both dark and “double dutched”, a black/dutch blend. 

So … which one should you use? That depends on both the recipe and frankly, you. Dutch-processed cocoa is natural cocoa that’s been treated with an alkalizing agent to lower its acidity, thus allowing more of its pure chocolate flavor to shine through. It has been my go-to cocoa for years and I’ve used it in all kinds of recipes to great success but if you want to get technical, here’s the deal: if you’re preparing a recipe that uses baking soda as a leavener and there’s nothing else acidic in the recipe, then natural/undutched cocoa is ideal. Its acidity neutralizes baking soda’s potentially strong, “soapy” flavor; and because natural cocoa is acidic, and baking soda is a “base”, when the two get together they produce a reaction – CO2 – which makes cakes, brownies and cookies rise in the oven. For every recipe I’m posting, there’s some added baking soda or baking powder so a natural cocoa would be great. I just happen to like the deeper, richer colors that dutched cocoa brings to the table. For some cookies, particularly a sandwich cookie, that extra dark is quite spectacular. If you like dark Oreo-like cookies, black cocoa is an excellent choice. I’m currently sitting on a lot of samples of all three types, I used them all so you can see the difference. All the cookies were delicious so I think the decision comes down to how you’d like your cookies to look and/or what cocoas you can get your hands on.

The rest of the recipe is very straight forward – the usual butter, sugar, flour, eggs with the addition of a little espresso powder to boost that deep chocolate flavor. Make the dough and divide into pieces – 2, 4 or 8. Then decide how soon you’ll use it. If the same or next day, leave at room temperature. If within the next 3 days, refrigerate and let come to room temperature before proceeding. If within the next 2-3 months, freeze and let come to room temperature before proceeding. I like to break up the tasks so I’ll flavor the dough then freeze it in whatever shape my cookie will be – logs for slice and bake, rolled into balls or rolled into sheets and cut into rounds or squares and frozen between sheets of parchment paper. When I need a few cookies, I can bake off as many as I need; two or twenty.

So round up your ingredients. Decide what cocoa you want to use. Find some instant espresso or coffee. Make your base dough, maybe peruse the past recipes and get ready. I’ll post a new recipe every other day starting tomorrow.

12 Days of Cookies from years past:

FruityJam ThumbprintsJam Streusel TartsRaspberry Linzer SquaresLemon Poppyseed ButtonsOrange Sesame CrispsCranberry Pistachio CoinsAlmond Raspberry StripsOrange Sandwich CookiesApricot Rosemary ShortbreadCoconut Lime SticksBourbon Glazed Fruitcake ButtonsLemon Cornmeal BiscottiBlueberry Lime ButtonsDate Swirls

NuttyMexican Wedding CookiesRussian Tea CakesPecan TassiesMaple Black Walnut CookiesPB&J Sandwich CookiesPecan Triangles

SpicedCinnamon Sugar PinwheelsCandied Ginger Spice ButtonsCardamom Rose CoinsBrown Sugar Wafers with Lemon Lavender Glaze

ChocolateMexican Chocolate CrinklesChocolate Cocoa Nib WafersRaspberry Chocolate DropsChocolate Hazelnut ButtonsDark Mocha Sandwich CookiesEspresso Crinkles

BarsRum Butter BarsPeppermint Brownie BarsBanana Walnut Bars

Holiday Classics: Cream Cheese WreathsClassic Molasses CookiesPeppermint Candy Canes

BASIC CHOCOLATE BUTTER COOKIE DOUGH

Makes dough for 2 or 4 or 8 batches of cookies and will be the base dough for the next twelve posts

If vanilla is out of your price range right now, bourbon or dark rum makes a nice if not quite as flavorful substitution.

  1. In a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Scrape the bowl and with the mixer running on medium-low, add the yolks one at a time, then vanilla and espresso mixture and beat until incorporated.  Scrape the bowl.
  3. With the mixer on low, gradually mix in the flour and cocoa until combined.  Scrape a final time and turn the dough onto a work surface and gently knead to incorporate all remaining flour.
  4. Divide the dough into two, four or eight equal pieces and use as is for a delicious butter cookie or proceed with one or several of the variations that will follow in the next twelve posts (or the twelve posts from last year). If you have a scale, use it to divide the dough into precise measures.

Tips:

  • Dough can be made ahead and refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.  Let return to room temperature before continuing.
  • If using salted butter rather than unsalted, decrease the salt in the recipe to ¾ teaspoon.

So, OK. I’m going to throw a little wrinkle in here. Maybe you don’t want to make all your cookies chocolate this year. So here’s what you do: make a full batch of butter cookie dough, like we’ve done in years past, and make half or even a quarter chocolate. Then you can make any of the recipes from the past years that use plain dough and/or any of the chocolate recipes this month. Options. The holidays are about options.

BASIC BUTTER COOKIE DOUGHMakes dough for 2 or 4 or 8 batches of cookies

BASIC CHOCOLATE BUTTER COOKIE DOUGH VARIATION

  1. For the base dough: In a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Scrape the bowl and with the mixer running on medium-low, add the yolks one at a time, then vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Scrape the bowl.
  3. With the mixer on low, gradually mix in the flour until combined.  Scrape a final time and turn the dough onto a work surface and gently knead to incorporate all remaining flour.
  4. Divide the dough into two, four or eight equal pieces and use as is for a delicious butter cookie or proceed with one or several of the variations that will follow in the next twelve posts (or the twelve posts from last year). If you have a scale, use it to divide the dough into precise measures.
  5. For the chocolate dough: choose your dough piece (½ or ¼ batch), break it up and place in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment along with the sugar and baking soda.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the espresso and water and stir until dissolved. Then add to the mixing bowl.
  7. Mix on medium-low – medium until well combined. Divide into smaller pieces and wrap tightly until needed. If making other recipes, proceed with room temperature dough; if not refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months. Let come to room temperature before proceeding.

I’ve discovered that Thanksgiving cranberry sauce is a deeply personal thing. As a kid, it was the jellied canned type; the ridges and distinctive sound of the jelly releasing from the can were as much a part my Thanksgiving tradition as turkey and stuffing. Around 12 years old, I got snooty and insisted on whole berry cranberry sauce, ironically also from a can. Alas, my true snootiness had yet to be refined. That came in my twenties, as I became a more involved cook and hosted my first Thanksgiving. Because I am an absurd overachiever and apparently hadn’t taken on enough for my first attempt, I made a sauce with whole, fresh berries from the recipe on the back of the bag. While I haven’t hosted many Thanksgivings of my own, I’ve discovered that offering to make the sauce is easy and happily accepted by harried hosts. For years, I used this triple berry sauce and while it remains my ideal of a classic cranberry sauce, I’m always open to new ideas. This is where my friend Maurine stepped in.

I met Maurine through my friend Kate Hill in their beautiful corner of Southwest France. She is a delightful woman, a California transplant full of energy and light and ideas with a big laugh and incredible blue eyes that sparkle. I swear, her eyes truly sparkle. I just adore her. She has a great blog full of stories of her life in Southwest France and has been doing really fun French cooking classes on Facebook throughout the pandemic. Check her out! Several years ago, she posted a picture on Instagram of her cranberry chutney, a tradition in her house. I was intrigued and she generously shared her recipe; a mix of fresh cranberries, whole orange, dried fruits and spices. Let me make this abundantly clear: it is delicious. Incredibly delicious. A wonderful mix of sweet and tangy, a little spicy; full of bright flavors and interesting textures. It is great as a turkey accompaniment but really shines on a leftovers sandwich. Don’t limit yourself to Thanksgiving and Christmas, it works wonders on a cheese plate any time of the year and is wonderful with goat cheese and cheddar in particular. One Christmas I got really crafty and molded a cheeseball around it so there was a cranberry chutney surprise center. Delightful! 

This is one of those dump it all in a pot and let ‘er rip kind of recipes that I really appreciate. It starts with fresh cranberries and is enhanced with a variety of fresh and dried ingredients, spices and just enough vinegar to give it that tangy chutney hit. The orange – I used clementines – is chopped whole, rind and all, and thrown into the pot. As a lover of candied rind, this absolutely delights me. The dried fruit – cranberries, figs, raisins, cherries – can be varied to your tastes. I really like the addition of dried figs but I didn’t have any so I threw in a few prunes, purchased from a village near Maurine so it felt perfectly appropriate. I also switched out the raisins for currants. Hard, dry little unattractive nuggets. (FYI, chutneys are great uses for those dried fruits that maybe don’t look so hot but still have great flavor. The heat/moisture combo revives them quite nicely.)  I would also encourage you to not skip the nuts as they add a nice texture to the finished chutney; the recipe calls for pistachios but any nut will do. Whatever your ingredient mix, bring it all to a boil until the cranberries pop, about 3-4 minutes, and it’s done. It will take you longer to round up the ingredients than it will to cook.

I don’t know what your Thanksgiving plans are under these new covid surges but I urge you to be smart and be careful. As much as we absolutely hate it, in person indoor gatherings are risky so it’s time to think differently. My friends are planning a Friendsgiving potluck where we each claim a dish and portion it out. We’ll meet up somewhere for an exchange, each person going home with a full dinner. A few hours later, we’ll reheat, regroup and dine together via zoom call. It’s not traditional or what any of us would choose given the option but we’re adapting. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate these people. I’m planning on making this chutney and raising a glass in Maurine’s general direction.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: EASE INTO IT. Maurine likes to make a double batch and gift it to friends and I think that might be a wonderful thing to do in these weird times. I’ve made smaller ½ batches, often in the offseason with frozen cranberries that work perfectly. It’s a great thing to have on hand as it really elevates deli counter turkey sandwiches. And here’s a hot tip – spread some on the bread before making a grilled cheese. Swoon.

Some other great Thanksgiving recipes

appetizers – Bacon Cheddar GougeresSouthern Cheese StrawsBaked Brie with Savory Fig JamPort Wine Cheese LogSpicy Seeded Parmesan StrawsSausage Stuffed MushroomsAntipasto SquaresFrench Onion Stuffed MushroomsBacon Wrapped DatesSpiced PecansParmesan Black Pepper Crackers Mustard Puff Pastry Bâtons

starters & side dishes – Maple Bourbon CarrotsRoasted Delicata Squash – 4 WaysMaple Mustard Glazed Delicata, Brussels Sprouts & ShallotsBaked Corn PuddingThanksgiving Stuffing Stuffed SquashRoasted Stuffed SquashEasy Squash Carrot SoupSherry Candied Walnut SaladThe Original Kale SaladKale Salad with Crispy Salami & Chickpeas

dessertsFrench Apple TartFrench Apple Tart for a CrowdFrench Apple PieSalted Caramel Apple PieCider Apple PieClassic Apple PieSimple Apple TartsGingerbread with Bourbon SauceClassic Pumpkin PiePumpkin RouladeSweet Pumpkin EmpanadasPumpkin Bundt CakeCranberry Crumble Tart

eleven years agoCider Donuts

ten years agoClassic Wedge Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

nine years agoMaple Buttermilk Spoonbread with Glazed Pears

eight years agoKale & Squash SaladLemon Slice Cookies

seven years agoSunday Lunch RamenApple Cider RollsPumpkin Spice Granola

six years agoFrom Scratch Rum Cake

five years ago: Caldo Verde (Portugese Kale Soup)

four years agoCreamy Steel Cut Oats with Roasted Pumpkin and Pumpkinseed CrumbleTurkey Egg Drop Soup,  

three years agoChunky Applesauce CakeCrispy Squash SandwichDairyland Sour Cream Apple Bars

two years agoCreamy Spinach Artichoke Dip

last yearDate Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar Caramel Glaze

MAURINE’S CRANBERRY CHUTNEY – from Maurine’s recipe

Makes about 2 cups

12 ounces fresh cranberries (1 bag)

1 ½ cups sugar

1 medium orange or 2 clementines, chopped 

½ onion, finely chopped

½ cup raisins (I used currants)

¼ cup pistachio nuts, chopped

6 dried figs, chopped (I used prunes)

½ cup dried cherries

½ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup white vinegar (I used cider vinegar)

1 Tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ teaspoons mustard seed

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. 
  2. Increase the heat and let the mixture boil until the fresh cranberries pop, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Let sit, covered, off the heat for 30-60 minutes to allow the dried fruit to fully plump.
  4. Transfer to a clean jar and refrigerate. I like to let it sit for a few days before using to let the flavors fully meld but have been known to make a sandwich and spoon some right out of the pot too. Will keep refrigerated for months.

It’s that time of the year again, the pre-holiday rush, but it’s different this time. Very different. Many of are trying to figure out what to do in the midst of pandemic with increasing infection levels in every corner, particularly the Midwest. (WTF North Dakota?!) We want to celebrate with family, with big tables of abundant food and rounds of laughter, however, we’re aware of the current situation and certainly don’t want to put anyone at risk. So we’re wisely scaling down. Celebrating virtually. Maintaining our distance. Having BYO cocktails in backyards around makeshift fire pits. We’re doing what works to keep others safe and that really is a good thing. Remember that. Hang in there.

But oh boy do we need a good food celebration. Potlucks are out, individually served things are in. And snacks. God damn do we need snacks. I’ve been snacking on the regular since April and have no intention of stopping. Snacks for dinner is a regular thing around here. You definitely need a tasty nibble to offset that glass (ahem, or three) of wine with your social Zoom calls, right? I was flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, looking for ideas that used mustard and stumbled upon the most genius of snacks with only three simple ingredients. That woman is a wonder.

So here’s what you’re going to do for the easiest snack ever. Go to Trader Joe’s and buy a box of that great all butter puff pastry they only have at the holidays. Hell, buy four. Then dig around the fridge for a jar of Dijon mustard. If you have some cheese or a bit of prosciutto, fantastic, but it’s not necessary. Grab an egg while you’re in there. Preheat the oven to 400°F while you’re rooting around for these things.

Smear one side of the pastry with Dijon, fold it over, cut into strips and bake. A very simple yet delicious and surprisingly elegant cocktail snack in no time. If you want to fancy it up, sprinkle some finely shredded cheese (gruyere is perfection) over the full sheet. Or lay a few pieces of prosciutto over the lower half. I did all three on one pastry sheet, for a nice mix of each. A little egg wash, and a pinch of poppy or sesame seeds are nice. That’s it. The recipe can be doubled. Tripled. Halved. It can be assembled and frozen to bake off as you wish. Bake one; bake twenty. Do what you want. It is the ideal appetizer for these uncertain times and even when things go back to whatever normal might be. When you start having parties again, remember this one.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: WHO ISN’T STRESSED RIGHT NOW? Things suck. They just do. Chicago is going back on lockdown next week and I imagine, a lot of the country isn’t far behind. Which is why you might want to think about baking up a whole sheet of mustard puff pastry bâtons, pour yourself a glass of chilled crisp white wine and eat them all. Hey, just saying, it’s a thought. 

eleven years agoMultigrain BreadChicken Salad Full of Good ThingsLamb & Ale Stew

ten years agoClassic Wedge Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

nine years agoMaple Buttermilk Spoonbread with Glazed Pears

eight years agoKale & Squash Salad

seven years agoApple Cider Compote and an Orchard PartySunday Lunch Ramen

six years agoRoasted Delicata Squash – 4 Way

five years agoShaved Mushroom and Fennel Salad

four years agoChicken Wing Friday – Green Curry Chicken Wings,  Kale Salad with Crispy Salami & ChickpeasChocolate Malt Cookies

three years agoHomemade Sour Cherry Cracker JackFresh Apple FrittersPumpkin Cream Cheese BreadGjelina Style Roasted Beets with Spiced Lentils

two years agoCreamy Spinach Artichoke DipThe Original Kale Salad

last yearDate Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar Caramel Glaze

MUSTARD BÂTONS – loosely adapted from this recipe

Makes about 20 bâtons

Be sure your Dijon really packs a punch as the spicier varieties tend to come through more after baking. If you like the pop and crunch of a mustard seed, the grainer varieties are nice too. 

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in the fridge (about 12 ½” x 9 ½”)

¼ cup Dijon mustard, more or less

Good pinch of kosher salt

1 large egg + 1 teaspoon of water

Poppy or sesame seeds, for topping (optional)

A bit of flour for rolling

  1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Have a ruler and a pizza cutter (or sharp knife) handy.
  2. Lightly flour the top of the pastry sheet, flip it and lightly flour the top.
  3. Roll out lightly to extend the size a bit, about an inch or so more on either side. You want to even out the dough and make it a bit thinner.  
  4. Turn the dough so that the longer side of the rectangle is closest to you. 
  5. Spread the mustard in an even, thin layer all over the pastry. An offset spatula works great but you can use a butter knife. 
  6. Sprinkle a good pinch of kosher salt all over the mustard.
  7. Optional: if you like, at this point sprinkle finely grated cheese in a thin loose layer over the pastry or lay prosciutto in a single layer on half of the pastry. 
  8. Fold the top portion of the dough over the bottom and lightly press to adhere. Trim the edges into nice, tight rectangle.
  9. Chill for 30 minutes to make the cutting easier and cleaner.
  10. Using the pizza cutter (or sharp knife for the prosciutto strips) cut the pastry from top to bottom into strips about ½” wide. 
  11. Carefully transfer the bâtons to one of the baking sheets and chill for another 15 minutes to get the pastry nice and cold before baking. (You can make all the strips to this point and freeze them on the baking sheets, then pack them airtight and keep them frozen for up to 2 months.)
  12. Lightly beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of cold water and brush the tops of the strips. If you like, sprinkle them with poppy and/or sesame seeds.
  13. Bake 8 minutes. 
  14. Rotate the sheets (top to bottom, front to back) and bake for another 7-8 minutes, or until the strips are puffed and golden brown. 
  15. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the bâtons rest for a couple of minutes before serving.
  16. Storing: Unbaked bâtons can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 months and baked while still frozen. Brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle them with the seeds, just before baking.

Every couple of years, usually when I find myself with an abundance of meyer lemons, I decide to make preserved lemons, a staple in Moroccan cooking and other Middle Eastern cuisines. I cut my lemons in half, carefully removing as many seeds as I can find, pack them in a clean jar with a lot of sea salt, topping off with fresh lemon juice if needed. Every few months, when I remember (i.e. rarely), I’ll give the jar a shake or a turn. The salt slowly dissolves, softens the rind and preserves the lemons. True words here: once cured, I never know what to do with them. Once I made a delicious lamb tagine, happily adding a few diced lemons and was quite pleased with myself. That was the one time I actually used them properly, partly because I’m never really sure exactly what to do with them but mostly because I forget I have them. They sit on a shelf where I promptly forget about them as they slowly turn from bright yellow to unattractive brown. Forgotten preserved lemons are not particularly attractive.

A few months ago, my lovely friend Jenn gave me a jar and to be honest, hers looked a helluva lot better than mine. Bright yellow with whole cloves and allspice berries throughout, she stores hers in the fridge. Maybe that’s the secret to keeping them a pretty yellow, the refrigeration helps hold the color? (I mean, look at the two jars below in the photo. Guess which one is mine?) Regardless I now had two jars I didn’t know what to do with. Time to change that. I was spurred into action. Well, spurred into googling what the hell to do with these things beyond throwing a few bits into a salad dressing or making a tagine every five years. 

In researching uses for preserved lemons, I came across a really great idea – turn it into a paste. This was an extremely appealing to me – much easier to use and I was less likely to loose track of it in the fridge versus on a storage shelf. I liked this idea. I liked it a lot. I had seen a jar of a similar paste in a spice shop a while ago, got distracted and forgot to buy it. (Maybe that’s a good thing because then I’d have 3 jars of preserved lemon things I didn’t use.) A little research showed that brand contained just lemons, lemon juice, salt. Well, hell. I had two jars of THAT. More research unearthed a method – basically throw it all in a high powered blender and whirl it together with the addition of olive oil and a bit of paprika to brighten the color. I liked these additions – the olive oil made it nice and creamy and the paprika brightened the color. So that’s what I did. I had a vivid yellow, salty acidic lemon paste in no time in a form that would be much easier to use. 

The recipe I used as a guide recommend a nifty little trick I use with the last dregs of a mustard jar – add a few simple ingredients and turn those bits left in the blender into a delicious and ridiculously easy vinaigrette. Brilliant! By the way, make this paste and you’re 1000% going to do this. Just so you know.

Now then, just because I now had my preserved lemons in an easier form I wasn’t instantly bequeathed the knowledge on how to use it. So far I had a whole two ideas in my arsenal: a vinaigrette and a lamb tagine and I don’t really make that many tagines. Luckily the New York Shuk website had 34 incredible ideas (see here for the full list). Here are my favorites, several of which I’ve used my very own paste for, with excellent results:

  • My favorite use? A simple vinaigrette. Add a spoonful instead of, or in additional to, the mustard in your basic vinaigrette recipe.
  • Delicious tuna salad – mix up your tuna fish with harissa, lemon paste and a bit of mayo for a new take. 
  • Think ceviche – add lemon paste to your impeccably fresh fish for a really lovely ceviche.
  • Add a spoonful to your Bloody Mary or other cocktail that leans a bit savory.
  • Add lemon paste to your favorite chicken or beef marinade in place of lemon or lime juice.
  • Smear the paste on your roasted salmon before cooking or brush on fish and seafood before grilling.
  • Make a compound butter for fish or steaks – cream together a stick of room temperature butter with a spoonful of lemon paste, use parchment paper to roll into a log and chill.
  • Add a zesty note to your chicken soup by adding a touch of lemon paste when serving.  
  • Instead of adding lemon juice to your hummus, add lemon paste.
  • Mix it into yogurt for a bright and flavorful dip for vegetables; top with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of za’atar or dukkah
  • Zip up a potato salad with a generous spoonful of lemon paste and maybe a bit of harissa for a Moroccan flair
  • Make a preserved lemon aioli by stirring a spoonful into mayonnaise to taste
  • Make Greek lemon potatoes by replacing the lemon and salt in the recipe with the preserved lemon paste.
  • Season cooked vegetables with a mixture of olive oil, lemon paste, and minced garlic. This is particularly nice with green beans and fantastic with roasted fennel.
  • Eating a lot of beans in quarantine? I am! Warm some minced garlic, harissa, olive oil, and lemon paste in a pan and toss with the beans. Garnish with chopped herbs and grated parmesan.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: OH SUNSHINE DAY! Numerous jars of preserved lemons have been lost within my pantry shelves over the years, only to end up in the trash. I’m thinking that a paste, all ready to go, in my fridge will get far more use and far more notice. I’m still not 1000% convinced I like the flavor of preserved lemons but everything I’ve used this paste in the last two weeks, I’ve been pretty happy with and have really enjoyed the brightness it’s brought to each recipe. I was surprised at how much I liked it in my bowl of chicken noodle soup so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt and will continue to try different things. You should too – but keep in mind that it’s salty so plan accordingly.

How to make preserved lemons if you are interested

eleven years agoCucumber Kimchi

ten years agoSautéed Beet GreensChicken Pot Pie

nine years agoSimple Apple Cake

eight years agoKale & Squash Salad

seven years agoPickled Green Cherry Tomatoes

six years agoSherry Candied Walnut Salad

five years agoThai Peanut Butter

four years agoRicotta Gnudi with Cherry Tomato Pesto Sauce

three years agoPickle Brined Spicy Chicken SandwichesCherry Coke Sorbet

two years agoFrench Apple Tart for a Crowd

last yearClassic Minestrone

PRESERVED LEMON PASTE – roughly based on this recipe

Makes about 1 ¼ cups

1 cup chopped preserved lemons, seeds removed

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 Tablespoon preserved lemon brine

½ cup olive oil

¼ teaspoon sweet paprika

For the preserved lemon vinaigrette:

Fresh lemon juice

Honey

ground black pepper

Olive oil

  1. Roughly chopped the lemons, pulp and peel. Make sure the seeds are removed as they can add bitterness.
  2. Place the chopped lemons into a high speed blender or food processor and add the water, brine and paprika.
  3. Process for a minute or two until fairly smooth, stopping and stirring as needed to get everything going.
  4. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil
  5. Transfer to a clean jar, top with a thin layer of olive oil to cover and refrigerate.
  6. Now here’s what you need to do immediately: make a dressing with the leftover paste in the blender jar. Use this is kind of a loose guide as the amount left in your blender jar will vary widely so adjust as needed.
  7. Add some fresh lemon juice, maybe 1-2 Tablespoons, enough to get everything moving.
  8. Add a squirt of honey, 1-2 teaspoons if I had to guess, and a few grinds of pepper.
  9. Turn the blender motor on, for a minute of so to combine then scrape down the blender jar, getting as much of the lemon paste bits as possible down toward the bottom.
  10. With the motor running on low, drizzle in olive oil and process until emulsified, smooth and creamy, start with ¼ cup and see how it goes as you made need more. Taste and adjust if needed.
  11. Transfer the vinaigrette to a clean jar and store in the fridge until needed. It will keep for about 4-5 days. Maybe more. If you like a creamy dressing, add a bit of plain yogurt or sour cream to the blender. Maybe stir in some poppyseeds. Or a finely diced shallot or a clove of garlic. Maybe some fresh herbs would be nice. 

Biscuits are a long on-going thing with me. I never can seem to nail down exactly the one I want despite the fact that I make them regularly and have no less than 6 biscuit recipes posted here. Don’t get me wrong; I make delicious biscuits but I have this image in my head of what they should be, and I’ve only just realized that these ideals are formed by commercial biscuits – fast food or refrigerated tube kinds. Not sure that’s a good thing but it is what it is. It’s got to be the salt; the constant factor is these types of biscuits always tip the to the edge of saltiness. They might be tender or they might be flaky but they are always salty. As for the type of biscuit, I’m undecided. Should they be flaky, tender and buttery/salty, like a Popeye’s or McDonald’s biscuit? Or should they be layers piled upon layers, that you can pull apart in sheets like those Grands biscuits you get in the tubes? I’m not too sure how natural either are but the truth is I like both. While I don’t exactly want to recreate a mass produced biscuit, there are some elements I’d like to borrow. 

For years, I’ve adhered to the flaky type of biscuit where the dough is treated more so like a laminated dough – butter is rubbed in but left in pea size bits and the dough is folded, rolled and chilled a few times. It makes for a spectacularly flaky biscuit that is really nice but lacks the tenderness I sometimes crave. It’s also not a quick process. There are times when you just want warm biscuits without a whole lot of effort (um, this may be where the whack-a-tube types come in to play). I’d been reading about cream biscuits lately, where heavy cream is simply stirred into dry ingredients. Seemed easy enough, maybe too easy, so I tried it this weekend to learn more.

I’m lucky to have dear friends with a lake house and being a good guest, I usually bake a lot while there – quiche, brownies, pies, tarts. I decided to give these biscuits a try so at home, I measured all the dry ingredients into a Ziploc and threw it into my travel bag along with some heavy cream and a jar of homemade raspberry jam. A really easy breakfast, I thought. No mushing butter, no rounds of folding and rolling and chilling. Just dump and stir, and really, who doesn’t love a hot biscuit with butter and jam in the morning? Much to my delight, they were incredibly easy – I had hot biscuits on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Not expecting much from such a simple recipe I was thrilled at how tender and even a little flaky these were. But what really surprised me was how, even a few hours later, they remained tender. That is one of my biggest peeves with fresh biscuits – they’re really great right out of the oven but stale quickly. We had a few leftovers around lunch time, and they made a fantastic sandwich. That doesn’t always happen with biscuit leftovers.

Because I wanted them a bit butterier and yes, a tad saltier, I opted to brush the cut biscuits both before and after baking with a bit of melted butter and salt. I also gave the dough a few folds to increase the layers and flakiness. It’s very easy; once the dough comes together roll it about ½” thick and fold in half and do the same once more. This simple step made for a noticeable difference, a higher rise and took maybe an extra 2 minutes so I think it’s worth it. For a few, I sprinkled on some everything bagel spice in homage to a biscuit I had in Savannah last year from Back in the Day Bakery that I still dream about. That was one amazing biscuit. This wasn’t quite it, but it was certainly close. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: EXHALE. Fresh, hot biscuits in less than 30 minutes? You bet. This is one of those recipes that you can easily bake on a whim without much thought, given that you have heavy cream on hand of course. An absolute delight. Make these often and dazzle your friends and family. They’re great with butter and jam obviously but think bigger … they would be outstanding with a sausage gravy, would make a great topper on a chicken pot pie and split and stuffed with whipped cream and strawberries, you have a deceptively easy dessert. So there you go.

Other biscuit recipes: Dooky Chase’s Sweet Potato BiscuitsCacio e Pepe BiscuitsGuinness Cheddar BiscuitsFlaky Buttermilk BiscuitsSour Cherry Cobbler with Biscuit ToppingPeach Blackberry Cobbler with Cornmeal Drop Biscuit Topping

eleven years agoLattice Love, Lessons in Pie CrustSquash & Onion Tart

ten years agoRadish ButterRoasted Beets w/Whipped Goat Cheese

nine years agoConcord Grape Pie & Purple Cow Pie Shakes

eight years agoKale & Squash Salad

seven years agoMuhammara – the best sauce you’ve never heard of

six years agoSeeded Crackers

five years agoSimple Pear Tart

four years agoFinnish Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Braid)

three years agoConfetti Pork Stew

two years agoSausage & Cheddar Breakfast Scones

last yearMinestrone

CREAM BISCUITS

Makes about 12 2 ½” biscuits

An important thing with biscuits is to minimize the scraps – the first roll will produce the prettiest biscuits with the best rise and straightest sides. While I use a round cutter here, I will often make square biscuits to keep scraps to a minimum.

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 ½ Tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 ½ cups heavy cream

  1. In a small pan (or in the microwave) melt the butter and add the salt for brushing later. Set aside until needed.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
  3. Add heavy cream and stir gently with a rubber spatula until dry ingredients are just moistened.
  4. Gently squeeze and press the dough in the bowl, picking up all the loose, dry bits.
  5. Turn out dough onto a lighted floured work surface and lightly flour the top. 
  6. With a rolling pin, roll the dough to a ½” thickness, fold in half and roll again to a ½” thickness.
  7. Fold once more and roll to a ½” thickness. If the dough sticks to the work surface or the rolling pin at any time, lightly flour. 
  8. Using a round cookie cutter, cut out biscuits as closely together as possible to minimize scraps and place about 1” apart on a parchment lined sheet pan. 
  9. Gather together scraps, pat down, give them a fold or two as above, roll to ½” thickness and cut out more biscuits. 
  10. You can roll the scraps maybe one more time but this biscuit will not be as pretty as previous ones. It’s a good one for the cook to snack on.
  11. Brush the tops with the melted butter (and sprinkle with everything spice, if you like).
  12. Bake the biscuits in a 400°F oven until risen and golden, about 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. 
  13. Brush immediately with the remaining melted butter.
  14. Let cool slightly and serve warm or room temperature. Keep any leftovers tightly wrapped but biscuits are best consumed not long after baking.

I have a thing about squash this time of year. I see big gorgeous piles at the farmers markets or pass picturesque farm stands on country roads and it’s hard to resist the urge to pull over and throw a bunch in the car. I actually did this very thing a few weeks ago. A farmer down the street from some Wisconsin dwelling friends had quite the selection in the front yard of his farm. My wheels skidded a bit in the gravel as I pulled over with the intention of picking out a nice Halloween pumpkin. He had hundreds, sorted into various groupings of sizes and shapes as well as all the multicolored heirloom varieties. It was a fantastic selection. I settled on an absolutely gorgeous pumpkin with a long tapered stem for 5 bucks. I had a 10 or a 20 in my wallet and it wasn’t the kind of situation that bodes well for change so I picked up a few additional things to round it up. This is how I ended up with two small pie pumpkins and two acorn like squashes in the trunk next to my big orange beauty. It was a good day.

The two squashes I grabbed were lovely; acorn-like but yellow with dark green and orange splotches. Some image googling determined they were carnival squash, a cross between acorn and dumpling squash. Well, alrighty. I’d never had that variety but I read they’re similar in flavor to acorn but a bit sweeter so I treated them accordingly. (If you pick up an interesting squash on a whim and are not too sure what it is, this guide is very helpful.) I enjoy roasted squash of all kinds but there’s something you have to take into consideration: they can be rather bland. This is why it’s important to use a flavorful glaze or stuffing to amp up that flavor. Today, I used both.

It started with a jar of spicy harissa sauce, leftover from some past project. Harissa is a spicy aromatic chile paste that’s a widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking and this jar had been sitting in my refrigerator for a while. It needed a purpose. For years I’d bought my harissa as a paste in a tube so this jarred “sauce” was new to me. From what I can tell, this was just a looser version than the tubed paste and with a bit less concentrated heat. I saw one particular brand of this sauce in every grocery store – from Whole Foods to WalMart – so it’s readily available and though I looked, I never did find the tube type so I just went with what I had. As I said, it needed a purpose. Harissa – both tubes and sauces – vary wildly in terms of spice so use your best judgement as to the heat levels you desire. Mixed with some honey and roasted at a high temperature, it works quite nicely. (psssst – here’s a tip. I often use Mike’s Hot Honey to drizzle on the squash before roasting. It’s wonderful stuff.)

I filled the cavities with a stuffing to make it heartier and a bit more interesting, following a basic formula: grains for the bulk, nuts for crunch, dried fruit for sweetness, herbs for freshness and cheese for a little salty/savory punch. Anything goes and this is the perfect recipe for using whatever is in your pantry. I give several suggestions in the recipe header; switch it up as you wish. Todays mix took the lead of the harissa for a Middle Eastern twist: red quinoa, dates, dried apricots, walnuts, parsley and feta. The combination of salty/sweet with crunchy bites is irresistible and rather pretty too. It is a terrific fall dish and something to think about with Thanksgiving coming up if you have any vegetarian guests. It would be just perfect.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE. Pumpkins, gourds, squash. I can’t help myself, I buy more than I can possibly eat this time of year. Sometimes they just sit on the table and look pretty, to be honest. But I do eat my fair share and I learned long ago to doctor those suckers up so they actually taste like something. Sweetness works well, spicy is delicious and a little salt never hurt anything. This one works particularly well because it’s a mix and match situation; you can be very intentional or you can use what you got.

other squash recipes: Baked Squash Bread Pudding,Kale & Squash SaladPumpkin HummusEasy Squash Carrot SoupSquash & Onion TartRoasted Delicata Squash – 4 WaysCrispy Squash SandwichThanksgiving Stuffing Stuffed Squash

eleven years ago: ChocoflanSour Cream CoffeecakeApple Pear Crisp,  Peach CrostadaRatatouilleClassic Apple Pie

ten years ago: Peach Frozen CustardChocolate Raspberry Cream Cheese TurnoversChicken Sour Cream EnchiladasBangkok World Gourmet Festival

nine years ago: Blueberry Raspberry CobblerPlum KuchenPB&J Bars

eight years ago: Kale & Squash Salad

seven years ago: Roasted Ratatouille with Sweet Corn PolentaSpiced Honey Maple Roasted PearsMuhammara – the best sauce you’ve never heard of

six years ago: Aunt Patti’s CornbreadPumpkin HummusWhole Wheat English Muffins

five years ago: Machaca – Mexican Shredded BeefMachaca EnchiladasSmall Batch Spiced Plum ButterCotija Cumin ShortbreadSimple Pear Tart

four years ago: German Apple Cheese TorteChicken Wing Friday – Miso Honey Butter Chicken Wings

three years ago: Miso Butterscotch BlondiesRosemary White Beans with Toasted BreadcrumbsTabbouleh SaladOttolenghi and Buttermilk Garlic SauceYemen Schug (chili herb sauce)Easy Squash Carrot Soup

two years ago: Asian Flavored Pickled Watermelon Rind

last year: Minestrone

ROASTED STUFFED SQUASHserves 4

Keep in mind, you can vary the stuffing an infinite number of ways. Rather than quinoa, use any grain or rice – wild or brown rice, wheat berries, millet, farro, kamut, etc. – and alter cooking times accordingly. You have to have a crunchy element so use any nuts or seeds you like or have on hand – pumpkin, sunflower, pine nuts, almonds. A few flax or chia seeds wouldn’t hurt. For the dried fruit, anything works – raisins, currants, cherries, cranberries, figs, blueberries, what have you. Fresh apple would be nice too. Fresh parsley is easy but dill, tarragon or a bit of rosemary would be nice. Don’t rule out leftover chicken or beef, diced or shredded fine, or a handful of cooked chickpeas, lentils or whatnot to make it a bit heartier. And while I call for acorn squash, any smaller variety will work – delicata, dumpling, small pumpkins, spaghetti, etc. Use the base recipe as a guide and take it any direction you wish. 

for the squash:

2 medium acorn squash

2 Tablespoons olive oil

4 teaspoons harissa sauce (use a bit less if using harissa paste)

4 teaspoons honey

kosher salt

for the quinoa stuffing:

½ cup quinoa, rinsed (any color is fine)

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ¼ cups water

3-4 dates, pitted & chopped, about 2 Tablespoons

6-8 dried apricots, chopped, about 2 Tablespoons

2 garlic cloves, peeled & finely chopped

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted

¼ cup chopped scallion

¼ cup chopped parsley

½ teaspoon harissa sauce, optional

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 ½ teaspoons olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. for the squash: use a sharp chef’s knife to slice cut in half from the tip to the stem. It’s easiest to work along the depressions, easing the knife carefully around the perimeter. With a spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds and stringy bits.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, harissa sauce and honey.
  4. Drizzle half of this mixture on the cut side of each squash, rubbing into the cut sides and reserving the rest for later.
  5. Season each squash with a good pinch of salt.
  6. Place cut side down on the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. 
  7. Turn the squash cut side up, spread the remaining harissa/honey mixure all over the cut surfaces.
  8. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until tender. Leave the oven on. There may be a pool of liquid in the squash centers; this is fine.
  9. While the squash is roasting, place the nuts on a small sheet pan and toast for 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can do this in a small pan on the stovetop over medium.
  10. For the stuffing: in a medium saucepan, combine the rinsed quinoa, salt and water. 
  11. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. 
  12. Simmer, uncovered, until all of the water is absorbed, 12-18 minutes. You may have to add a few additional Tablespoons of water if the quinoa isn’t fully cooked. Just keep an eye on it.
  13. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the dates, apricots, garlic and lemon juice. 
  14. Cover, and let the mixture steam for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff the quinoa with a fork.
  15. Pour the quinoa mixture into a medium bowl; add the toasted nuts, scallion, parsley, pepper, olive oil and additional harissa sauce if using. 
  16. Let cool before adding the feta, so it doesn’t overly melt. Gently stir to combine. Taste and add additional salt, if needed.
  17. Evenly divide the stuffing between the squash cavities. 
  18. Return to the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the stuffing is golden brown and dry on top.
  19. Garnish with chopped parsley and/or scallion and serve warm or room temperature.
  20. To do ahead: you can roast the squash and make the stuffing up to 1 day ahead. Let both come to room temperature, then stuff and roast as directed.

.

We are at that amazing time of the year, well at least in the Midwest, when all that beautiful local summer produce is having its final hurrah. With not much happening due to Covid restrictions, cooking has been one of the only things that has brought me some joy. Grocery and farmers market shopping is the only thing getting me out of the house and as such, things are starting to pile up. Add to that the goods from my little community garden plot and the massive haul I brought home from a friends robust garden and I was drowning in produce. The clock was ticking; it was time to form a plan of attack. Here’s what I did with those key summer treats – Tomatoes, Peppers and Zucchini –  and some other ideas too.

Continue Reading »

In the great wide recipe universe, there are probably more for brownies than any other. So many versions, so many methods. For me, it comes down to fudgy versus cakey and I am firmly in the fudgy camp. For years I’ve used an Alice Medrich recipe made with two kinds of chocolate and a very small amount of flour that is intensely fudgy, chocolatey and wonderful. Sometimes I add nuts or peanut butter swirls or coffee powder, sometimes fruit like port soaked cherries or fresh raspberries and sometimes I just leave them plain. They’re fabulous. Then last week, after an hour call in which chocolate was discussed at length, I had a craving for brownies but not a speck of chocolate in the house. This is highly unusual. Highly. Not wanting to run to the store, I shifted through my pantry and noticed I had a lot of cocoa powder. Not my usual but that could work. I looked for a cocoa based recipe and came upon one I’ve crossed paths with for years but never made: Katherine Hepburn Brownies.

Continue Reading »