Semolina Biscotti with Dates and Walnuts

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Too often, we hear “biscotti” and we think of those plastic-wrapped, rock-hard cookies sold on coffee chain counters across America. But this beloved Italian cookie is not to be overshadowed by ungainly drop cookies. Homemade biscotti are toasty and sophisticated, able to withstand dunking in coffee or tea, but tender enough to be eaten on their own.

I discovered these biscotti my first winter in Morocco, during which I drank endless glasses of hot mint tea. Needing a companion to dip in my beverage, I decided to make cookies with dates, walnuts, and semolina flour, all ingredients found in abundance in my neighborhood souk. Moroccans would never chop up dates to put in cookies, but this aberration was a revelation- slightly crisp, with pockets of chewy sweetness and crunch, they have a heartier texture from the semolina flour. Plus, they mix up in one bowl, and are easily adaptable. I can imagine adding orange zest, pistachio, chunks of dark chocolate, or drizzling glaze on top. No need for a special occasion to bake these biscotti. Your afternoon coffee will thank you.

Recipe adapted from http://www.King Arthur Flour.com (golden semolina biscotti)

Makes 15 large biscotti.

Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups AP flour
  • 1/3 cup semolina flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  1.  Grease a baking sheet. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Stir together the melted butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, and vanilla until blended well. Stir in the eggs one at a time, then blend in the flour and semolina until just mixed. Stir in the chopped dates and walnuts with wooden spoon.
  3. Scoop out the dough and shape into a 10 x 4 inch log. The log will spread as it bakes, so make sure there is room on either side. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool for 1 hour.
  4. Slice the log on the diagonal into 1/2 -3/4 wide inch pieces. Place the biscotti on a clean baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 325 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on the sheet.

Beet and Yogurt Dip

I love beets. I will admit, however, that my main motivation for cooking with them is that gorgeous purple-pink hue that tints everything they touch- the other food on the plate, my hands, the kitchen counter. No matter, give me a fuchsia stain any day. Cooking with beets makes me feel like an artist.

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This dip will take you five minutes to whip up, and is infinitely adaptable. Drizzle olive oil on it, mix some cumin in, garnish it with slices of preserved lemon. To make it more substantial, you could blend in some cooked chickpeas and tahini to make a sort of hummus. I eat it with crusty baguette, by the spoonful, or with slices of cucumber or carrot. It’s healthy, inexpensive, and so, so pretty.

Quick side note: The best way to cook beets is to scrub them clean, wrap them individually (unpeeled) in foil, and bake them in a 400 degree oven for 30-60 minutes, depending on the beet size. They will be finished when you can poke them easily with a sharp knife. Let them cool, unwrap, and peel. I picked this tip up from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small beet, cooked and peeled (see above)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • lemon juice from half a lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • small handful chopped walnuts
  • parsley, to garnish

1. Blend all ingredients, except for walnuts and parsley, in blender or food processor.

2. Garnish with chopped walnuts and parsley. Serve.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting and Toasted Pecans

I think there is something distinctly special about a layer cake. Layer cakes can’t be whipped together in an hour, or mixed in one bowl, or toted easily to the park for an impromptu picnic. They take time and a little planning, and they are usually made for a special event- weddings, birthdays, anniversaries. Layer cakes are not cut into pieces and laid on a plate. They arrive, with precarious height, do-not-touch peaks of icing, and in this case, rivulets of salted caramel.

Two layers of moist chocolate cake made with coffee and buttermilk are encased in a salted caramel frosting  and filled with chopped toasted pecans and caramel. And of course, drizzled with more caramel and decorated with toasted pecan halves. I have to give due credit to my coworker and friend Beatrice for inspiring this one: she suggested I make a turtle cake. It’s got the slight crunch and caramel-y decadence of the candy with the lavish proportions of a cake meant for celebration.

Chocolate Cake

(courtesy of Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter (or use cooking spray) to grease two 8-inch round pans*. Line with parchment paper (to do this, fold sheet of parchment in half, and then in half again. Using the bottom of the pan as a guide, trace and cut the square into a quarter-circle- when you unfold, you should have a circle the size of the pan). Grease the parchment and sides of pan again.
  2. Beat together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with an electric mixer at low speed. Whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Slowly beat the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated, and then slowly beat in the hot coffee until fully incorporated.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 30 minutes, and then- very carefully- invert the cakes onto a rack to cool and peel off the parchment (if you want to be extra careful, run a knife around the edge of the pans before inverting). Keep oven on if you plan on toasting the pecans.
* you may choose to use one or both of the layers; I used one.
Salted Caramel Frosting + Pecan topping
(frosting courtesy of bakedbree.com)
Ingredients:
  • 2 sticks room temperature butter
  • 1 brick (8 oz) room temperature cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup salted caramel + 3 tablespoons (I bought a jar at Trader Joe’s- you could also make your own)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves 
  1. Turn oven down to 250 degrees. Spread pecans evenly over a baking sheet lined with foil. When oven is heated, toast pecans for 5-8 minutes, turning once or twice during baking. Be careful- these will burn easily. When pecans are finished, remove from the oven, allow to cool, and set aside 8 pecan halves. Chop the remainder into fine pieces.
  2. In the meanwhile, cream together butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer.
  3. Pour in the salted caramel and beat until combined.
  4. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Add milk as needed, as I found the frosting to be very stiff. Beat for a few minutes- the more air, the better!
Assembly
  1. Set aside one cake layer to freeze or use later (or alternatively you could use both cake layers to make an extra tall cake- I prefer mine on the more petite side- in any case, you will have enough frosting for both layers).
  2. Place the other layer on a cake round or plate, so that the flat bottom of the cake is facing up. Using a serrated knife, slice the layer in half (insert the knife in about 1 inch; using your hand to turn the cake, saw around the edge of the cake several times, inserting knife in further an inch at a time). Remove the top layer carefully and set aside.
  3. Using a small offset spatula, or small rubber spatula, dollop a generous amount of frosting on the top and spread the frosting outward in small circular motions. Continue adding more frosting until layer is covered. Using a spoon, drizzle 2 tablespoons of salted caramel (or more if you wish!) evenly over the frosting. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over the top. Place second layer over the top.
  4. Now for the “crumb coating”. Use a small spatula to spread frosting in a very thin layer over entire cake. This layer should catch any crumbs that would mar the final coating of frosting. Wait 20 minutes to 1 hour before spreading on the remainder of the frosting over the sides and top of the cake (if you only used 1 layer like I did, you should have plenty of leftover frosting. Sandwich cookies anyone?)
  5. Place 8 toasted pecans halves evenly around the perimeter of the cake. Using a fork and a little bit of caramel at a time, very carefully and slowly drizzle caramel across the top of the cake.


Avocado and Fried Egg Tartine

Lately, I’ve been indulging in the 4 packs of avocados at my nearest Trader Joe’s. It’s all relative though- less than a dollar each for a creamy fruit, pebbled green on the outside and mildly sweet on the inside, perfect with just a sprinkling of sea salt and cracked black pepper, or a squeeze of lemon juice. I find that avocados have a way of elevating the humblest of meals- a simple salad, an omelette, or in this case, a breakfast sandwich.

A few mornings ago, my rumbly post-jog appetite inspired me to make a tartine-basically an open-faced sandwich- with my little green gems. I wanted to satisfy all my cravings: salty, crunchy, creamy, sweet. So I piled avocado and a handful of crumbled feta onto a sliced of toasted buckwheat walnut bread from the bakery I work at. Then I  fried up an egg with some good olive oil to top it off. The salty feta and black pepper cut the richness of the avocado, and the fried egg rendered the whole thing warm, filling, and decadent without being heavy. I devoured the whole thing on my back deck, where I have been enjoying some unseasonably early spring warmth.

 

Couldn’t wait to take a bite.

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Ingredients

  • Half an avocado, sliced
  • about 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice whole grain bread
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. toast the bread; top with sliced avocado and feta
  2. pour olive oil into pan placed over medium-low heat; allow to warm up
  3. crack egg into pan; when white seems set, use a spatula to carefully fold egg in half. allow yolk to set.
  4. top toast with egg, sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper.

Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies with Baileys Glaze

Though I live in Boston- the veritable epicenter of St. Patrick’s Day festivities in America (and maybe the world)- I didn’t celebrate the holiday with the prerequisite green beer and beads this past weekend. Instead I made pizza and drank wine with a few close friends. A let-down to my heritage? Maybe. Embarrassing to admit publicly? Only if you think so. I did, however, acknowledge St. Patrick with a nip of Baileys, the sweet milky liqueur redolent of coffee and toasted nuts.

I always feel pizza and wine necessitate chocolate, so I decided to make brownies and drizzle them generously with a boozy glaze, courtesy of my little nip of Baileys. I usually use a box mix for brownies, but I wanted to make them from scratch this time, so I used a recipe from Matt Lewis of Baked bakery in Brooklyn (which I discovered via Martha Stewart).

These bars are rich but not gooey, with a barely-crisp top and moist center. They taste of cocoa, butter, and of course, the famous Irish liqueur, and get even better after a couple days. If you have Baileys left over from your own celebration, consider making a batch- or at the very least make the glaze and look to Betty Crocker for the rest. Cheers.

Ingredients: Brownies 

(marthastewart.com)

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, plus more for pan
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (again, I used Ghirardelli)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light-brown sugar (I used dark-brown sugar)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used 2 ounces of chopped semisweet Ghirardelli chocolate)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 by 8 inch pan, line with parchment paper, and butter paper (you could probably skip this, but it makes lifting the bars out a lot easier).
  2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Combine butter and espresso powder in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat. Stir until butter has melted.
  4. Add chocolate, and stir until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and stir in both sugars until well-combined.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla and keep stirring until mixture is smooth. Sift in flour and stir until just combined. Do not overmix! Stir in chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.
  6. Pour batter into pan and use a spatula to smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 26-28 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.
  7. Drizzle with glaze (recipe follows). I dipped a spoon into the glaze and slowly waved spoon above the pan to make “stripes”. I like to do this in stages, allowing 5 or so minutes to pass between each time I drizzle, so that I can layer more and more glaze while maintaining the stripe effect.
  8. I cut my brownies into long “fingers” (I think the finger shape is more conducive to perfect bites, and looks especially aesthetically pleasing with the stripes of glaze; glaze and cut as you wish). If you choose this shape, the pan will make 12-14 bars. Serve with milk, or alternatively, more Baileys.
Ingredients (glaze)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more if needed
  • 3-4 tablespoons Baileys
  1. Pour powdered sugar into small bowl. Pour a couple tablespoons Baileys into sugar and mix with a fork  or whisk, adding more Baileys to make a glaze that slowly drips off a spoon.

Tangy Kale Salad with Feta and Caramelized Onions

I discovered the glorious versatility of kale this past summer at the farmer’s market I worked at, where my generous fellow vendors would supply me with big verdant bunches at the end of the day, in exchange for a few crusty olive rolls. In the past I had limited my use of kale to kale chips, tearing the leaves into pieces and baking them with a drizzle of olive oil or soy sauce. But these crisp green leaves of lacinato could not be banished to the oven. They wanted to be eaten as is, dressed with some salt, crunch, and good olive oil.

I make this salad when I’m feeling the need to be particularly healthful. If, for example, I’ve chosen to subsist on pie and dark chocolate for a couple of days, I detox with kale. But it doesn’t really taste healthful at all- eaten warm, it is crunchy, satisfying, and just salty enough. Eaten cold, it is creamy and flavorful. The salad is sweet and acidic, simple to make, and gets even better after a day or two in the fridge.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch of kale, preferably lacinato (or dinosaur)
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta
  • juice of 1 large lemon or 2 small lemons
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • cracked black pepper, to taste
  • coarse salt, to taste
  1. Peel and thinly slice red onion.
  2. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan set over medium-low heat; add sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until soft.
  3. While onions are caramelizing, slice up the kale. I fold each leaf in half and drag the tip of a sharp knife across the fold to remove the rib. After I have done this with a few leaves, I stack them up, roll tightly crosswise, and then slice crosswise, to make long ribbons. Place ribbons in a large bowl as you go.
  4. Dress the kale with the lemon juice. I usually squeeze the lemon directly over the kale, using my fingers to catch the seeds. You could also sub in red wine vinegar here, but you want to be careful not to overdo it with the vinegar (I learned this the hard way).
  5. Add the warm onions, crumbled feta, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  6. Toast the sliced almonds on low heat in a dry pan for 3 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid burning. You could also toast these in the oven, or use toasted almonds, but I like the way the hot almonds sizzle on the finished salad.
  7. Add the almonds to the salad, along with a few turns of coarse salt and cracked black pepper. Toss well, and let sit for at least 10 minutes before eating. You want the salad to wilt a little and the flavors to meld together.

Crumble-Topped Buttermilk Custard Pie with Raspberry Jam

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I had today off from work, so I decided to devote this afternoon to a project. I wanted to make something that may involve a few steps, a fair amount of patience, and generous portions of sweet, gooey reward. I had a full pint of buttermilk waiting to be used, a half-empty jar of raspberry jam, and a few small, juicy lemons on their way out, so I decided to make a pie- I’ve been practicing crust for the past few months, but I hadn’t attained flaky perfection yet. No time like the present- a cold, sunny February day in Boston, an empty afternoon, and a  few items begging to be transformed from kitchen refuse into baked bliss.

This pie is both light, rich, ethereal, and crumby all at the same time. Custard rich with buttermilk, drizzled in raspberry jam, and topped with big, toasty crumbs in a flaky, buttery crust– it even made a pie-lover out of my pie-abstaining roommate, who went for promptly went for seconds, and declared it superior to any thanksgiving finale she had ever had.

Crust:

(From The New York Times All-Butter Piecrust (November, 2006))

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2-5 tablespoons ice water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Crumble Topping:

(adapted from Melissa Clark)

*recipe will yield far more than you need- freeze the rest and use for later, or cut in half

  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter melted

Custard Filling:

(from allrecipes.com)

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter, room-temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup raspberry jam
Directions
For the crust:
  1.  Pulse salt and flour together in a food processor. Add butter, and pulse for 3-5 second intervals until large crumbs form. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture just holds together. Form a  small disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  2. On a floured surface, roll out disk into an 11-inch round and fit into a 9 -inch pie plate. Fold the overhang under and crimp, using one hand to pinch and the other to make the indent (Deb from smitten kitchen has this technique down)
  3. Prick crust with a fork, and place in freezer for another 30 minutes to 1 hour. In the meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Remove crust from freezer, line with parchment paper, and fill with dried beans, pennies, or pie weights. Place in oven on middle rack for 10 minutes. Remove, carefully remove paper and beans and let cool completely. Keep oven on.

For the crumble topping and pie:

  1. Stir  together all crumb  ingredients with a fork. Place in refrigerator (will keep topping firm and crumb-y when baking).
  2. Beat eggs with electric mixer until frothy. Beat in 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/2 cup sugar, and 3 tablespoons flour.
  3. Stir in 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Pour into cooled crust and place in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
  4. In the meanwhile, whisk raspberry jam until pourable, and make a ring out of aluminum foil to cover pie crust (you will need this to prevent burning crust).
  5. Remove pie from the oven, drizzle jam onto the custard with fork, and gently smooth over an entire surface with an offset spatula. Remove crumb topping from fridge, and squeezing topping with your hands to make big crumbs, sprinkle gently over surface.
  6. Fit aluminum foil-ring around the crust and return to oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the center is firm (it will jiggle, but shouldn’t seen runny). Place pie on rack to cool for at least 2 hours.