BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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A Cookie in Every Oven

If ever there was an ideal time to bake cookies, it would be now. At this very moment, cookie swaps are happening across the nation, and gifts of cookie platters and cookie baskets are being piled high. Rainbows of doughs are rolling out on kitchen counters, a world of flavored batters are being dropped onto baking sheets, and scores of every shape a cookie cutter can create are cooling on wire racks. Just imagine what it would look like if we could take a peek at the combined efforts of all those holiday bakers, hard at work. The scent of sugar rising into the brisk air and cookbook pages encrusted in flour, it just wouldn’t be Chanukah or Christmas without a full menu of cookies planned for hungry friends and family to devour.

As much as I may crave the classics, the desire to create something new and exciting always take the reins when assembling ingredients, and no two cookie trays ever end up alike. Simple, straight-forward bakery-style chocolate chip cookies are easily my most requested variety, a rare recipe that I do actually follow without variation… Most of the time.

Using the holidays as my license to experiment, I wanted to give the basic idea a bit of a savory, salty twist, to balance out the sweeter items sure to follow. An unexpected hint of herbaceous rosemary adds an unexpected but entirely welcome change of pace, further enhanced by the natural nuttiness of crunchy toasted pecans. Inspired by the addictive party snack of spiced rosemary nuts, I couldn’t help but keep the theme going and tossing in a generous dose of spice here as well. Lending a bright kick just as the taste of chocolate and pecans begin to fade, it’s the element that makes you go back for just one more bite, trying to pinpoint what that enchanting flavor was.

It’s certainly not your grandma’s or your mom’s chocolate chip cookie, but that’s probably a good thing, too. With so many options already available around this time of year, why not take the opportunity to try something a bit different?

Spiced Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary (or 1 Teaspoon Dried), Finely Chopped or Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, blend together the melted margarine, both sugars, maple syrup, and vanilla until smooth and fully combined.

Sift the flour into a separate bowl, and add in all of the spices, rosemary, baking soda, and salt. Lightly toss both the pecan pieces and chocolate chips in, to coat with the flour.

Add the dry goods into the stand mixer in two additions, being careful not to overwork the dough but mix it just enough to bring everything together, without any pockets of flour lurking at the bottom. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions so that everything gets incorporated.

Scoop out dough with a medium-sized cookie scoop, or two large spoons in about 3 – 4 tablespoon portions. Give the cookies plenty of space on your prepared baking sheets, leaving at least and inch between blobs. I usually bake only 9 per sheet, to ensure that none of them spread and collide. Flatten the raw cookie dough out lightly with the palm of your hand, so that they’re nice and round, and about 1/2 inch in thickness.

Bake for 12 – 16 minutes, watching closely to make sure that they are just barely golden brown around the edges when you pull the from the oven. They should still look fairly under-baked in the center, to ensure a soft and chewy texture.

Let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, and then move them off to a wire rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, if they last that long.

Makes 12 – 18 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Fool-Proof

If ever there was one homemade holiday gift that I would recommend above the rest, it would undoubtedly be some form of nut brittle. Barring allergies, I have yet to meet a soul who didn’t enjoy the salty-sweet dichotomy of roasted nuts and crunchy homemade candy. Versatile to a fault, every year could bring a new variety of brittle, between the numerous choices of nuts and additional flavorful accompaniments. Best of all, it’s so simple, it’s one of the few edible treats I might venture to call “fool-proof.” Easy enough to be made in the microwave, for crying out loud, even the mostly kitchen incompetent should be able to master this rewarding recipe.

Classic but a bit played out, quiet flavors like plain old peanut brittle don’t quite light my fire anymore. Flaming Hot Peanut Brittle, though, sure adds a bit of excitement to a deceptively homely candy. Pistachio Chai Brittle remains one of my favorite variations, a beautiful hue of green that fits in so nicely with a Christmas color scheme.

This year, I’m pushing the boundaries between sweet and savory food just a little bit further. Curry strikes me as the perfect ingredient to add some interest into this simple candy, especially when paired with equally exotic coconut and cashews. A welcome change of pace that reminds me of tropical climates, far from the chilly winds that blow right outside, it’s a sweet little escape that is sure to disappear almost as quickly as it’s made.

Curried Cashew and Coconut Brittle

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Light Corn Syrup or Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 1/2 Cups Roasted or Toasted Cashew Pieces
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
1 1/4 Teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; blend in butter. Swirl the pan ocassionally rather than stirring, to prevent the sugar from boiling over. Cook until the syrup hits 300 – 310 degrees (the hard crack stage) according to a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, lay out a silpat on a baking sheet nearby. Combine the cashews, coconut, curry powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, and have at the ready.

Once the hot sugar syrup hits the proper temperature, immediately turn off the heat and very quickly stir in the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla extract last, and mix thoroughly to incorporate. Without pausing, scrape the hot candy out of the pan and onto your prepared baking sheet, pressing it out with a spatula to achieve a flat, thin shape as needed.

Let cool completely before breaking into pieces and either eating right away, or storing in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes About 1 Pound of Brittle

Printable Recipe


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Dreaming of a Sweet Christmas

No amount of planning ever seems to leave me properly prepared for the holidays, despite mustering all the enthusiasm possible and diligently keeping an eye on the calendar. Days mysteriously grow shorter, schedules fuller, and to further complicate matters, those originally simple plans of mine curiously evolve to become more and more complicated. Getting a head start usually means laying out a detailed list of presents to make, recipes to try, and fun activities to participate in… Which is lost or completely disregarded by the time December actually rolls around. After spending one too many of the last mailing days before Christmas stuck in line at the post office, fighting off the other hordes of procrastinators frantic to make the final cut off, it became clear that my approach wasn’t working.

This year, the plan is to plan less. Stick to simple but nice holiday cards, rather than elaborate gifts with complicated shipping requirements and deadlines. Make whatever recipes strike my fancy, whenever that might happen. Enjoy the holidays whenever they allow, without forcing artificial merriment at every turn. “Low-key” is the mantra of the season- No pressure, no anxiety, no self-flagellation when things don’t work out perfectly. Sounds like a much more enjoyable way to pass the next few weeks, don’t you think?

And just like that, I find myself almost on top of the key points that constantly evaded my grasp the previous year. Greeting cards are done and printing, and the first set of festive sweets has already sprung forth from the oven, seemingly without effort. It may be a push to fit that pending manuscript into the festivities, but at least it doesn’t seem like such a great burden to squeeze into the jam-packed holiday game plan.

It needn’t be a grand holiday, or one to remember above others, even. It just needs to be less than torturous, and adding in a bit of sweetness and good company would be a nice touch, too.

Pistachio Praline Linzer Cookies

Pistachio Praline Paste:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
2 Cups Shelled, Skinned and Toasted Pistachios
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Allow the sugar to cook until it caramelizes to a deep amber color; about 10 – 15 minutes. Quickly add in the pistachios, stir to coat with the hot sugar, and immediately transfer everything out to a silpat or piece of parchment paper. Let cool completely before breaking it into chunks, and tossing the pieces into your food processor, along with the salt and oil. Pulse to break down the brittle to a coarse consistency, and then let the motor run until very smooth. It may take as long as 10 minutes, so be patient. Let cool before using, or store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Linzer Cookies:

1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Almond Meal
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Zest of 1 Orange
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/3 Cup Plain Vegan Greek-Style “Yogurt” or “Sour Cream”
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line three baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

Cream together the margarine and both sugars until homogeneous and fluffy pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt, zest, and ginger, starting the mixer slowly to prevent the dry goods from flying out. Mix briefly before introducing the “yogurt” and vanilla as well. Mix just until a cohesive, smooth dough is formed, and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Press the dough into an even round and roll it out to 1/8th of an inch in thickness.

Use a 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out the shapes. Cut out the centers of half of the rounds with a smaller shape of your choice. Transfer the cookies to your prepared sheets, and chill them for 15 minutes before moving them right into the oven. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until just barely golden around the edges. Let cool.

Assemble the linzer cookies by spreading 1 teaspoon of the praline paste on a whole cookie, and topping it with a cut-out cookie. Repeat with remaining cookies, and enjoy.

Makes 52 – 60 Cookies; 26 – 30 Sandwiches

Printable Recipe

Bonus! For a gift that keeps on giving, nothing beats a delicious, tried-and-true recipe from a friend. To share this recipe with someone you love, snatch up the free printable recipe card below. Just set your printer to “scale to fit” your paper, trim the excess as needed, fold down the center, and doodle something on the cover, or paste a photo if you prefer.


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Moving Right Along

…Is it safe to come out now? Has the Thanksgiving madness come and gone for another year? Thank goodness, it passed without too much fuss or duress around here, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Now that we’re over that hurdle, there’s nothing standing between us and full-blown winter holiday immersion. Decorations and wrapping may have been pushed to a prominent place in stores since Halloween, but now we can finally stop ignoring them- There’s no longer any shame in diving head-first into that sea of iridescent tinsel. It’s my favorite time to cook and bake, when diets don’t even factor in and everyone eats with abandon, simply enjoying the festive foods on offer. Desserts can be desserts, not healthy desserts or breakfast-like desserts (although they may very well be on the menu first thing in the morning, too) and extravagant ingredients can be just par for the course.

If ever there was an easy show-stopper of a treat for the holidays, for me, it would have to be a rum cake. Doused with spirits and emboldened with light spices, I have fond memories of picking moist crumbs off of empty serving plates as I carried them back to the kitchen. Under the guise of being a helpful child, I was really after those leftover scraps.

This year, I gave the traditional bundt a cloak of chocolate, transforming it into a downright fudgy mountain of gently boozy cake. Dotted with sizable chunks of candied ginger, every bite is a little bit different.

Sorry to be a tease, but my Chocolate Rum Bundt recipe can be found in the new November/December issue of Joy of Kosher. Keep an eye on the website though, because they often generously share the recipes after a certain time of having the magazine on the news stands.

I’m certainly in the holiday spirit now! How about you?


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Back to the Earth

“There’s fungus growing in our kitchen… and it’s a good thing,” she said falteringly. Posed more as a question than a statement, it was clear that my mom didn’t exactly welcome my latest addition with open arms. Truth be told, it freaked me out just a little bit, too.

The fungus in question were oyster mushrooms to be precise, a much sought-after wild variety that fetch a fair price at market, but still rank below the luxurious porcini and chantarelle. A self-professed mushroom lover, it seemed to crime to have never cooked with oyster mushrooms before, but the grocery budget can only accommodate the common button or cremini on a regular basis. As prices skyrocket, even portobellos have become a special occasion purchase. Thus, when Back to the Roots contacted me about giving one of their mushroom kits a test drive, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Grown on a rectangular cake of recycled coffee grounds, the spores are shipped with everything you need to start a mini mushroom farm in your home. Even though the instructions couldn’t be simpler, they also spell everything out in great detail through online videos, in case a serious mushroom novice lacks confidence. So, guaranteed to be a breeze, I slowly became concerned as the days passed and my moldy dirt looked unchanged, especially considering the fact that the box so boldly declares that a first harvest may be possible in only 10 days. On day 6, at long last, my little mushrooms appeared to awaken…

And from that point on, there was no turning back.

The rate at which they grew was borderline disturbing, and on many trips to the kitchen, they would literally have grown since last glance – We’re talking centimeters per hour at their height of their growth. The monster mushrooms simply exploded out of their flimsy plastic packaging. I had never seen anything like this. Both fascinating and alarming, I was now more enchanted with the growing process than the idea of eating them.

Still mourning the end of growing season, this unexpected thrill helped ease the transition, and seems like the perfect alternative to gardening in the colder months. The downside is that you can only start the mushrooms twice (once from each side of the box) and then it’s all over. Don’t think that you’ll achieve incredible yields and be rolling in mushrooms, either- Though it claims to produce 1 1/2 pounds of edibles, I would be hard pressed to say that I got even 1/2 pound out of mine. However, the novelty factor and environmentally friendly approach justifies the price tag, and it strikes me as the perfect gift for the foodie with everything.

[For a limited time, you can enter the discount code "mushrooms4me10" when ordering online for 10% off and free shipping.]

Unable to make a grand feast of mushrooms with my small harvest, I chose instead to feature the oyster mushrooms prominently, using them as the base of a fun hors d’oeuvre, ideal for the impending holiday parties.

Just like their inspiration, Oysters Rockefeller, these gorgeous fungus are loaded with an herbaceous puree of garlic, parsley, scallions, and a bit of spinach for color. Enriched with a buttery finish, the bright flavors of the herbs combined with the savory, earthy flavor of the mushrooms is unforgettable. Why anyone would ever create this dish with slimy sea creatures instead is beyond me.

Oyster Mushrooms Rockefeller

12 Large Oysters Mushrooms

Olive Oil, to Coat

1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Firmly Packed
1 Stalk Celery, Roughly Chopped
2 Large Scallions, Green Parts Only, Chopped
1/4 Cup Chopped Parsley
1 Small Clove Garlic
2 Teaspoons Capers, Drained
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
Dash Tabasco Sauce
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Fennel Seed
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Fresh Lemon Juice (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay out your mushrooms on the sheet, spaced evenly, and lightly brush with oil. Set aside.

In your food processor or blender, combine the spinach, celery, scallions, parsley, garlic, and capers. Blend thoroughly, until mostly smooth but still slightly coarse. No need to go crazy here, a bit of texture is a welcome thing.

Meanwhile, set a medium saute pan over moderate heat, and melt down the margarine along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once, liquefied, quickly whisk in the flour to fully moisten, and cook for 5 – 8 minutes until very lightly browned, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Slowly pour in the non-dairy milk while whisking, and cook for just another minute or so until thickened. Turn off the heat, and whisk in the Tabasco sauce, nutritional yeast, and ground fennel. Transfer the green contents of the blender or food processor, and add them into your roux. Stir well to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pile the filling on top of your mushrooms; about 1 – 2 tablespoons, depending on the size of the mushroom. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender. Serve hot, with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if desired.

Makes 12 Appetizer Servings

Printable Recipe

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