Linzer Torte/Tart Cookies

30 Dec

My main man is a huge marzipan fan, so while watching some baking show or other, when he saw someone make Linzer Tart Cookies, he was sold.  Because I’m a selfish only child, and I agreed to this whole 40 by 40 challenge, I took over the baking of these myself.  Full disclosure, I thought they were just okay, but my sister in law said, and I quote, “Your Christmas cookies are off the chain” and “I ate all the Christmas trees I brought home and didn’t share.  My fave.”  So maybe they just aren’t my jam (see what I did there?  because they have jam. . . ).  I think if I did them again, I’d follow some of the suggestions I saw online and incorporate some other types of ground nuts with the almonds.  And since you’ll probably sense the theme straight away, I’ll just let you know in advance that yes, I also made changes to this recipe.  Sorry not sorry.  Looks like I might not learn anything after all. . . .

  • 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups sifted all purpose flour, divided
  • 1 3/4 cups ground almonds (or almond flour, which I had on hand and gladly used)
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon (I would have used Allspice if I had it since I think the other flavors would have gone nicely)
  • 5 tbs seedless raspberry jam
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • lemon zest from one lemon

First things first – read the recipe all the way through.  Twice maybe.  Okay, begin.

Mise en place first, to minimize screw ups.

Beat butter & sugar together until light and fluffy.  Stir in 1/2 cup flour, the almond flour (or ground almonds), cinnamon and lemon zest.  Oh crap, I forgot to sift the flour before adding it to the ground almonds.  SEE?  Gah.  Sift rest of flour.  Mix in remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time til a slightly stiff dough forms.

Shape dough into a ball, divide in half, wrap each half in plastic and pop in the fridge for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Take one half of the dough and roll it out between two sheets of parchment – it is a sticky nightmare to work with, so do yourself a favor and use the parchment.  You want to roll it out to about 1/8″ thick.  We used a Christmas tree cutter for obvious reasons, but using whichever cutter you like best, cut out as many cookies as you can.  Knead the scraps together again, and roll out again, and cut out – again.  It’s a good idea to refrigerate in between re-rolls.  I swapped back and forth between the two halves of dough to ensure it stayed cool as I worked with it.  (roll, cut, knead back together, rewrap in plastic, and put in fridge; grab other half and do the same, on and on until I had no more dough)

Don’t forget that half of your cookies need the “windows” in the center cut out – we used a star that came with the tree.  I also put the cookie sheet in the fridge before baking to help stop spread.  In this example, I rolled out nine trees and put them about 1″ apart (on parchment) on a cookie sheet and put it in the fridge.  Then I rolled out nine more trees with the stars cut out of the middle.  First tray comes out of fridge and goes into the oven; second tray goes into the fridge while the first tray bakes.

Remember what I said about this dough being a nightmare?  There was a lot of breaking and cursing as I tried to get the center stars out of the trees and get the trees onto the trays without falling apart.  Ensuring the dough is cool helps with this.

Bake 10-15 minutes until light brown.  We found that baking for 7 minutes, rotating the pan, and baking for 7 more minutes worked best for our oven.

Move the bottom cookies (the ones without cutouts) onto a wire rack to cool.  Put another wire rack into a cookie sheet or on a piece of parchment – this is for the top cookies.  As soon as you put the top cookies onto the rack to cool, dust with the confectioners sugar first.

Heat up your jam to make it a little more spreadable (I did it for a few seconds in the microwave, but you could also do it on the stove top).

Spread a thin layer of jam on the bottom cookie, avoiding the edges so it doesn’t squish out when you put the top cookie on and press down.  Put the top cookie on, being careful not to touch the tops of the cookies and smudge the sugar.

See my “learn from my mistakes” fingerprints on the edges.

Served straight away, the cookies are crisp; saved overnight and served the next day they become a bit softer and chewier, which we actually preferred.  If you like a crisper cookie, don’t do the jam sandwich part until you are ready to serve them.

 

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40 by 40

30 Dec

Because I’m not busy enough, I let myself be goaded into one of these birthday 40 by 40 challenges – no, it’s not to lose 40 pounds by the time I’m 40, or do some sort of amazing feat of fitness like running 40 races.  While that would be a wise move, it’s nearly the opposite.  Although, maybe if I do both 40s by 40 I’ll unlock some sort of rockstar status life badge.

What I really suck at – is baking.  Well, anything involving following rules and having patience really.  So, you know, baking, candy making – that sort of thing.  I have plenty of exhibits to share with the jury, but just take my word for it.  I have more baking failures than I do successes.  This is all odd since I loved science and performing experiments in school, but for some reason, I cannot slow down and follow the instructions necessary for flawless baking.

And so, likely to benefit himself really, my husband challenged me to bake 40 things by the time I’m 40 (we agreed this could include candy making).  This might just be because he got me two new baking cookbooks for Christmas and this challenge makes them that much more relevant, or maybe because he loves baked goods, but it still seems like a fun way to challenge myself and learn a new skill in the process.  Maybe I’ll EVEN learn patience – but that seems less likely.  And so, with a pile of baking books, and a list of things to try on Pinterest (and even in the archives of this blog) a mile long, I set out. . .just like Frodo. . .to cast my burden into the fire and hopefully emerge with perfect fudge. . .

 

First Up: Fudge

For my mother, it’s just not fudge if it’s not Fantasy Fudge.  I would argue, but since I made this with her in mind, it just made sense to provide her with what she wanted and save any holiday disappointments.

Because Fantasy Fudge is a Kraft Foods recipe, and features all of their own stuff, I felt safe in straying a little bit from their recipe (I realize this is awfully cheeky for my first foray into following directions, but what can I say).  You will also note that my version is walnut free.  To each their own

  • 12 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli chips)
  • flaky sea salt for finishing

 

Line 9-inch square pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides.
Bring sugar, butter and evaporated milk to full rolling boil in 3-qt. saucepan on medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook 4 min. or until candy thermometer reaches 234°F, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Add chocolate and marshmallow creme; stir until melted. Add vanilla; mix well.

gearing up

 

Pour into prepared pan; spread to cover bottom of pan. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt for a super delicious salty punch.  Cool completely. Use foil handles to lift fudge from pan before cutting into 1-inch squares.
And because I’m a real wild child, I also made a peppermint version for the first time.  Same as above, but I swapped out the 1 tsp of vanilla for 1/2 tsp vanilla, and 1/2 tsp peppermint extract; and topped with crushed candy cane instead of salt.  Winner!  There was a BIT of grit to the fudge – I have never been able to make it perfectly smooth, even when using a candy thermometer, but I didn’t mind the bit of grit at all really, and neither did anyone else based on how quickly it disappeared.

fudgey goodness

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Panera Mac n Cheese

18 Apr

I love Panera Mac n Cheese.  I LOVE Panera Mac n Cheese.  It’s the most delicious mac n cheese on the planet, like anywhere ever.  Or at least that I can quickly grab and devour.

It’s so cheesey, and so creamy – it’s like, next level Kraft mac, but a trillion times better.

This is the recipe I use (thank you thank you Tim, husband of Brandi at sixmonsters for being a perfectionist with a savant like ability to taste and dissect a recipe for recreation; and thank you Brandi for posting it).

My only change is to add crumbled Ritz crackers on top because someone in this house loves his mac with crispies on top.  And who am I to argue with that?

8 to 12 ounces small or medium Shell pasta
2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
3 slices American cheese, chopped
2 ounces Cream Cheese
1 ounce shredded Parmesan
6 ounces shredded extra-sharp White Vermont cheddar (if you can’t find white, who cares?  so it’ll look more like regular mac, but be just as delicious)
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 drops Frank’s hot sauce

 

1. Prepare pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, do steps 2 – 4

2. Melt butter over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute, whisking constantly.

3. Gradually whisk in cream; cook over medium heat, whisking until mixture starts to thicken. Reduce heat to low.

4. Add cheeses, mustard, salt, and hot sauce, stirring until cheese melts and sauce is smooth. Add a small amount of whole milk to thin out if needed. It should look kind of like vanilla pudding, but a little bit thinner.

5. Stir in pasta and cook over medium heat for 1 minute (or until thoroughly heated).

 

 

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Kale & Clementine Salad

5 Feb

You guys.  This salad.

We all know that kale can be tough – literally.  But this salad is bright, and fresh, and sweet, and creamy, and crunchy, and just yum.  Plus, it’s colorful and gorgeous.  Definitely a dinner party kind of salad.  Or a Wednesday night, the CSA gave us this kale and we’d better use it kind of salad.  It won’t judge.

I took my inspiration from this recipe, but tweaked it to my liking, and will even tweak it further here, since I include the dried cranberries, but easily could have left them out and wished that I had.  If you’re a visual person, head on over to that link for photos of this little beauty, along with the rest of the ingredients that I omitted or swapped if you’re curious.

Salad
1 bunch of kale, ribbed, massaged, chopped
1 avocado, diced
4 clementines (or similar citrus – I used tangerines), peeled and sliced into rounds or small strips
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds

Honey-Lime Dressing
3 tbsp of fresh lime juice (about 2 limes; I used lime and pink lemon, which is what I had on hand – thanks again CSA!)
3 tbs olive oil
1 medium jalapeño, ribs and seeds removed, diced – remember not to touch your eyes after this step!!
2 tsp agave
1 tsp Dijon
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp salt

Whisk together all dressing ingredients and set aside.

You may question my direction to massage the kale above, but believe me – it really helps to break it down and soften it a bit.  I rip the ribs out, wash the leaves, and then as I dry them in a clean dish towel, squeeze them.  Like, a good squeeze, not a dainty squeeze.  You aren’t going to hurt these leaves really.  I squeeze them quite a bit, until I can feel that they’ve softened a little, and then I chop them up, and maybe even squeeze some more.

Add all the rest of the yummy ingredients to your bowl o’kale, and toss with the dressing.

It’s so great right away, but equally fantastic for lunch the next day – and how often does a dressed salad stay good for lunch the next day?  Thanks kale!

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Poached Tilapia with Lemon and Butter

23 May

We had one heck of a heatwave here last week. It was too hot to be inside the house (heat is not the norm here, so very few homes have air conditioning), but I braved the hellfires and cooked up a delicious meal, and then we promptly fled to the backyard to enjoy it.
Heat is handy in that it really lends itself to lighter eating, and this fish dish was perfection.

 

half eaten, yes

half eaten, yes

Poached Tilapia with Lemon and Butter

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons drained capers
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken or seafood stock
4 (6-8 ounce) fillets of flounder or other white fish
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 lemon, sliced
handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add in the butter and allow it to melt completely, stirring occasionally.  Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir the capers, Worcestershire, and wine, and allow the wine to bubble up and reduce for a minute, then stir in the stock.

Pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Arrange the fish in the skillet, scatter the lemon slices around the skillet, and poach the fish for 10 to 12 minutes until firm and opaque.

Season the fish with parsley if using, then transfer the fillets and sauce to shallow bowls or deep plates to serve.

Serve with a side of your choice (we had a bumper crop of new potatoes, and served some delicious roasted spuds with garlic, olive oil and rosemary), and/or a big salad with a creamy dressing.  A cream based dressing was a nice cut to all the acidity of the fish; a vinaigrette likely wouldn’t have worked as well.  Served with a chilled, crisp white wine (the same one I used for cooking), and this was a stellar, easy meal.

 

We ate all the fish first because the potatoes weren't done yet. The horror!

We ate all the fish first because the potatoes weren’t done yet. The horror!

Roasted Cauliflower and Lemon Pasta – take two

8 Jul

I’ve tried before, and I’ve tried again – this time with more success, thanks in part to this recipe from Healthy Green Kitchen.

You’ll need:

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
5-10 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 shallots, peeled and halved; or some thickly sliced onions
olive oil
salt and pepper
pasta
breadcrumbs or crushed biscotti – 1/4 cup or so
grated Parmesan cheese
lemon zest
lemon juice (from 1.5 – 2 lemons)

Preheat your oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with foil. Put your cauliflower florets, garlic, and onions or shallots on, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss a bit and pop into the oven. The cauliflower will need about 30 minutes (stir once halfway through), but the garlic may be done before then, especially if you’re using small cloves. Keep an eye on them, and pull them when they’re mushy, but before they go as hard as little rocks, which they will do if you overcook them.
While the veggies are roasting, put on a pot of salted water to boil, zest one lemon, and get to toasting your crunchies (breadcrumbs or biscotti) in a little bit of olive oil. Once they’re toasted and golden, combine with the lemon zest and parmesan (a couple of big spoonfuls is good, but who am I to limit your cheese intake? I did BIG spoonfuls personally.). You can also add some parsley for a bit of green, but I tend to skip it. You’ll also want to juice your lemons – I used 1 and a half lemons to get my desired level of lemon flavor in the pasta – but if you just add it bit by bit, you’re bound to get right to where you want to be, based on your lemons and taste preferences. Start with a half of a lemon and work up from there.
Cook your pasta, and when done, drain – reserving a cup or so of the pasta water.
Your veggies should be done too, so just give the garlic cloves the slip (out of their skins that is), and give them and the onions/shallots a bit of a chop.
Put the pasta back in the pot and add all of the roasted veggies. Add your lemon juice, tbsp by tbsp (or half by half, since you usually get about 1 tbsp of juice from a half of a lemon).
Add the reserved pasta water bit by bit to make the pasta a little saucier, and definitely silkier. You don’t want it watery though, so take it easy, and stir between additions!
Serve with the toasted crunchies/cheese mixture sprinkled on top.

So, so, so yummy.

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Rosemary Crackers

27 May

These are like store bought, fancy pants, amazing crackers. Served with a little bit of Irish cheddar or blue cheese and marmalade, they are seriously heaven.
All the credit must go to Elana and her pantry, because that’s where we found the recipe.

1 3/4 c blanched almond flour
1/2 tsp celtic sea salt
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 egg

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and rosemary. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil and egg. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until combined.
Roll the dough into a ball and roll out to about 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of parchment paper. Remove top sheet of parchment, and then slide dough and bottom piece of parchment onto a baking sheet. Cut into 2″ squares with a pizza cutter.
Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes until golden, let cool, serve!

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Leek Tart

21 May

File:Selection of cultivated Alliums .jpg

I love alliums.  They make beautiful flowers and tasty eats.  I grew leeks, shallots, and garlic this winter, and just pulled my harvest over the weekend and I am up to my eyeballs in the stinky fruits of my labor.

I gave some of the leeks away, but prepped the rest.  I froze two large bags of cleaned and sliced leeks for fall soups (yum!) and still had plenty leftover.  What to do, what to do. . . . . I’ve sauteed leeks before and used them on pizza (and if you haven’t, please consider it; so good), but I didn’t want pizza.  I decided a leek tart or quiche was the way to go, but was reluctant to use all the cream and fatty stuff that I knew would show up in most recipes.  Enter NY Times and Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe.  It has taken every shred of willpower I have not to eat the entire thing in one sitting.  I used a random frozen, premade piecrust (such a cheater), but let me tell you – totally okay.   I might add a bit more egg next time and make it more of a frittata-y breakfast treat.

3 large leeks, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds, white and light green part only

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter

Salt to taste

1 garlic clove, minced (optional)

2 egg yolks

1 whole egg

1 Mediterranean pie crust or whole wheat yeasted olive oil crust

Freshly ground pepper to taste

3/4 cup milk (2% or regular – I used nonfat and it still turned out great)

3 ounces Gruyère, grated (3/4 cup tightly packed; um, I may have used considerably more than recommended. . . . that’s probably why the nonfat milk was no big deal)

1. Cut away the root and dark green leaves from the leeks and cut in half lengthwise. Run under cold water to remove sand. If the leeks are very sandy soak them for 15 minutes or so, then run under cold water again. Drain on paper towels. If the leeks are very fat, cut the halves in half again lengthwise, then cut in thin slices.  My leeks were all nice and thin, so I just sliced them and washed them before cooking.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil or oil and butter over medium heat in a lidded skillet or saucepan and add the leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook gently, stirring, until they begin to soften. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook gently until the leeks are very soft but not browned, stirring often, 10 to 15 minutes. If they begin to stick or brown, add a little more salt and/or a spoonful of water or wine. Stir in the garlic if using and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, until fragrant.  I did NOT use the garlic.

3. Beat together the egg yolks and egg in a medium bowl. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet to allow for easy handling. Using a pastry brush lightly brush the bottom of the crust and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

4. Add salt (about 1/2 teaspoon), pepper and the milk to the eggs and whisk together. Spread the leeks in an even layer in the crust. Sprinkle the cheese in an even layer on top. Pour in the custard filling. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until set and just beginning to color on the top.

5. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: Serves 6

Advance preparation: The crust will keep for a few days in the refrigerator and freezes well. The finished quiche will keep for two or three days. Warm in a low oven or serve at room temperature.

Nutritional information per serving (based on whole wheat yeasted olive oil pastry): 291 calories; 17 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 2 grams polyunsaturated fat; 9 grams monounsaturated fat; 126 milligrams cholesterol; 2 grams dietary fiber; 240 milligrams sodium; 11 grams protein

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Eggs in Hell

8 Mar

I love me a good, spicy, tomato saucey bed upon which to nestle our freerangeorganiclocalhormonefreecagefree eggs.

While I still think the Spanish version (Eggs Flamenco) wins over this one, this was a fun, spicy option.  I halved this recipe since 8 eggs for two people seemed a little intense.

I really should've wiped that smudge off before taking this photo. . . .

Eggs in HELL.

Mario Batali’s Eggs in Hell

  • 4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 4 jalapeño peppers seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 teaspoon hot chile flakes
  • 3 cup basic tomato sauce (I just used jarred stuff that I had on hand)
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/4  grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino
  • Shredded basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Place a skillet, preferably cast iron, on the grill over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until just smoking.
  • Add the chopped onion, garlic, jalapeños and chile flakes and cook until softened and light brown, about 7 minutes.
  •  Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Immediately lower the heat to a simmer and carefully crack the eggs one by one into the tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper.  Cook until as set as desired. I like it when the whites set but the yolks are still quite runny.  Mario says this takes about 5 minutes, but I nearly ruin it every. single. time., despite having my own little egg factories making plenty of eggs to eggsperiment with.  I think you want that tomato sauce to be shrieking hot to help cook the whites quickly, before the yolk starts to set, but clearly, what do I know?
  •  Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle with cheese and some shredded basil. Allow to cool 3-4 minutes.  Garnish with basil and serve.
Bubbling away - it does look a bit hellish.

Bubbling away – it does look a bit hellish.

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Phat beets

6 Mar

Our first crop of beets.

Our first crop of beets.

Our first attempt at growing beets was okay, but not great.  I should’ve thinned out the seedlings, and I didn’t, so I think it prevented some of the beets from getting very big.  Some were more carrot shaped than beet shaped.  However, the flavor did not disappoint at all.

We oven roasted them (wrapped in foil), peeled off the skins (hey super pink fingers), and sliced them up for a salad with thinly sliced sweet onions, orange segments, and goat cheese.  I used orange juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar to make a quick vinaigrette.  It was divine.  I think next time I’ll add some nuts as well.  You may notice that the onions are pretty pink – before I dressed the salad, I put the onions, beets, and oranges into the vinaigrette to sit for a couple of minutes.

Beet & Citrus Salad.

Beet & Citrus Salad.

The next day for breakfast, it was on to the greens – we can’t just let them fall by the way side!!  The rest of that sweet onion was sliced up and sauteed with some smashed garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.  I let them cook until soft, then added the freshly washed greens (with all their “attached” water) and let them wilt down, finally adding a dash of apple cider vinegar to finish things off.  Then they got topped with eggs of course.  I sort of hate the way the greens make my teeth feel (spinach does it too – anyone know why that is?), but it made my mouth very happy all the same.  Soon, we’ll be able to make this entire dish with food from our backyard, minus the condiments of course.  Maybe the vinegar some day, but I’ll stick to purchasing the oil, salt and pepper.

Eggs with sauteed beet greens and onions.

Eggs with sauteed beet greens and onions.

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