Posts Tagged ‘nuts’

Banana Bread

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Everyone knows that over-ripe bananas mean banana bread. So when I found myself with an apartment full of guests and several over-ripe bananas, I decided to throw some together last weekend. And it was pretty near close to perfect, if I do say so myself. It made the whole place smell amazing!

Banana Bread
adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life”

  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter (I used salted, because that’s what we keep on hand).
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cps mashed bananas (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup walnut halves

1. Preheat the oven to 350.

2. Line a loaf pan (9 X 5 inches) with parchment paper

3. Now take your butter, put it in a skillet or a small pot and melt it on a relatively low heat.

4. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, the sugar, the baking soda, the salt, the ginger and the cinnamon.

5. In the bowl of a stand mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs lightly. Add the mashed banana, the buttermilk, the cooled butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well.

6.  Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir gently with a rubber spatula until it’s just combined (don’t overmix). Gently stir in the walnuts. Now scrape it into the prepared loaf pan.

7. Bake it in the oven for about an hour and 15 minutes until a tester comes clean.

8. Cool the loaf in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes then let it rest on a cooling rack until completely cooled. If you can. 🙂

Cooking Light’s Sweet & Sour Chicken

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

I really, really enjoyed this Sweet & Sour Chicken recipe, and so did Leah and David. The sauce made with pineapple juice was much tastier than any sweet and sour sauce I’ve had at home. The water chestnuts and bell pepper added a satisfying crunch to the mixture, but the pineapple chunks were my favorite. This was very good with canned pineapple, but I imagine fresh pineapple could take it to a whole new level. I think I’ll try that next time.

Sweet & Sour Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1  tablespoon  bottled minced garlic
  • 1  teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2  pounds  skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4  cup  chopped onion
  • 1/2  cup  chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 1  (15 1/4-ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice, undrained
  • 1/3  cup  reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2  tablespoons  rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  cornstarch
  • 2  teaspoons  brown sugar
  • 1/4  cup  dry-roasted chopped cashews
  • 1 batch of prepared Baked Brown Rice, recipe follows

Directions

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, red pepper, and chicken to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken mixture from pan; set aside.

Add onion, celery, water chestnuts, and bell pepper to pan, and sauté 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain pineapple, reserving 1/2 cup juice. Add 1 cup pineapple chunks to pan; cook 30 seconds. Reserve remaining pineapple for another use. Combine the reserved 1/2 cup juice, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar in a bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.

Return chicken mixture to pan. Stir in juice mixture; bring to boil. Cook 1 minute. Sprinkle with cashews. Serve over rice.

Note: Sweet & Sour Chicken is one of my favorite Chinese dishes to order. Normally, the take-out version is made by deep frying the chunks of chicken in a thick batter before adding them to a thick, syrupy sauce. Though this dish was a little different than that version, I didn’t miss the breading one bit. I will definitely make this one again.

Alton Brown’s Baked Brown Rice

This is by far the easiest and best brown rice recipe I’ve come across. It’s literally fool-proof, and after you taste the chewy, nutty texture, you’ll never go back to Minute Rice again.

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice, medium or short grain
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Place the rice into an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
  • Bring the water, butter, and salt just to a boil in a kettle or covered saucepan. Once the water boils, pour it over the rice, stir to combine, and cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour.
  • After 1 hour, remove cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve immediately.

Potica

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Potica is a traditional Slovenian pastry made with flaky dough and a sweet nut filling. You might be wondering what I’m doing making Potica, which is a reasonable question.

I suppose it started with my mom, who loves the stuff. It’s not exactly easy to find in stores, so she was always estatic to find someone had brought it to work for a holiday treat or for sale at a baked goods table at some event.

Then there’s my husband. He goes crazy for Potica. Both sides of his family make it, he grew up eating it…and for about as long as I’ve been cooking with him, he’s wanted me to learn how to make it. My standard response was that we didn’t have the counterspace, and while that used to be true, it’s not any longer. So it was time to learn to make Potica.

David was happy to organize the event, by purchasing a not-so-subtle three pounds of walnuts from Costco, and inviting his mom over to teach me. So it came to be that Dave’s mom came over a couple of weeks ago, with well-used loaf pans and a couple of worn, aged recipe cards (one for the dough, one for the filling).

She maintains that the recipe is not enough–you need to be taught to make this tricky pastry, and I certainly understand her point. For one, the recipe is an old family affair that involves measurements like “enough milk” and “just enough flour.” For two, it really was tricky work, stretching the dough so super thin. (Literally, thin enough to read a newspaper through!). No rolling pin will get you to dough that thin, it’s got to be done by hand. I was very grateful to have an experienced player in the kitchen, let me tell you.

Was it worth it, in the end? I have to say yes. For one, it’s a favorite of David’s, along with my mom and my granny, three people I love very deeply. And the look on my mom’s face when she realized what I was handing her was priceless. I also enjoyed hearing how much Granny liked it. In some ways, I’m not looking forward to the work that the next batch will require, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to making a batch on my own.

Plus, since David ran out last week, I expect I’ll be seeing another not-so-subtle bag of walnuts from Costco any time now.

Potica (Walnut Pastry)
Makes 4 large rolls

For the Filling:

  • 3 sticks butter
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 to 2 cups of milk, divided
  • 2 lbs ground walnuts (I ground them using the fine plate on our Food Grinder attachment for the KitchenAid mixer).

For the Dough:

  • 12 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 sticks margarine (melted)
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, well-beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1  packet of dry active yeast, or the equivalent

1. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add honey, sugar, and salt.

2. Beat the eggs with 1/2 cup milk and add to the nut mixture.

3. Add more milk, a little at a time, until the nut paste is smooth enough to spread. You’ll probably need about a cup of milk, but it could be more.

4. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid the paste sticking to the bottom. Let stand for at least an hour at room temperature while preparing the potica dough.

5. To make the dough, heat margarine, sugar, and salt together in a small saucepan pan over medium-low heat.

6. Beat the 4 eggs with 1 cup of milk. Add a small amount of the margarine mixture to the beaten eggs and whisk to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs. Remove from heat and add the egg mixture to the margarine in the sauce pan. Whisk constantly to keep the eggs from curdling. Set aside, away from heat, and allow to rest until the mixture is cool to the touch.

7. Dissolve yeast  in 1/2 cup of warm water with a teaspoon of sugar. Stir into milk mixture.

8. Add 6 cups of flour to the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add the milk/yeast mixture and mix until just combined. Fit your mixer with a dough hook, and mix on high.

9. Add additional flour about a cup at a time as the dough hook begins to shape the dough. When the dough is a smooth ball, but still sticky to the touch, turn the dough out onto a counter covered with flour.

10. Knead the dough, adding flour as necessary, until smooth. Place the dough in a bowl,  cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to give the dough a chance to rise. Let rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

12. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

11. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, work to roll and stretch the dough to a rectangle, about 1/16th of an inch thick. Work carefully so as not to put holes in the dough. When the dough is thin enough it will be almost translucent. Carefully spread with one quarter of the nut mixture, and carefully roll up the dough. Place on a baking sheet, covered with a towel, and allow to rise for at least 10-15 more minutes. Repeat until all four rolls have been made.

7. Place each roll on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can put two rolls on one full size baking sheet, but be sure to leave space between them. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour, until the dough is golden brown and the filling is set. The roll will be firm to the touch when the potica is done.

8. Allow to cool completely before slicing into 1 inch thick slices to serve. Potica rolls stay fresh for about a week if wrapped well, but can be frozen as well.


The Biggest Loser’s Pecan-Crusted Chicken

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

For the past few seasons, I’ve watched The Biggest Loser pretty regularly. Sure, there’s nothing realistic about the conditions, and yes, they fall into the reality show trap of drama, drama, drama. But despite all of that, it’s still really inspiring what the contestants are able to accomplish in just a few weeks on the ranch.

I picked up The Biggest Loser Cookbook a while back, and finally got around to trying one of the recipes last week when I made their Pecan Crusted Chicken.

As the book said, the breading contains enough pecans to be satisfying, but not enough to make the crust unhealthy. This recipe was pretty simple, though I made a few changes to up the flavor a little bit. The recipe below is my take on this tasty dish.

pecan-crusted-chicken

Pecan-Crusted Chicken
Adapted from The Biggest Loser Cookbook

  • 1 large egg white
  • 4 tablespoons minced toasted pecans
  • 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist a nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray, or cover with parchment paper. In a small shallow bowl, beat the egg white, honey, and mustard with a fork.

In another small bowl, combine the toasted pecans, bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper. Spread on a sheet of wax paper. Dip each chicken breast into the egg white/mustard mixture to coat. Place the smooth side of the breast on the nut mixture; press to adhere. Place the breast, nut side up, on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the other chicken breasts and place on the baking sheet, so that the pieces are not touching.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until no longer pink. Let stand 5 minutes.

Note: If you’ve never toasted pecans, it’s pretty simple to do. You can either spread them in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet and bake on the top rack of a 350 degree oven for 2-4 minutes until lightly browned. You can also toast pecans or other nuts in a small skillet over medium heat. Keep an eye on them, because they can burn quickly. Your nose will know when they’re done though–toasted pecans smell delicious!

Ben & Jerry’s Uncanny Cashew Ice Cream

Friday, February 20th, 2009

It’s ice cream time again!

One of my favorite flavors of Ben & Jerry’s is something called Uncanny Cashew. It’s vanilla ice cream with a caramel swirl and caramel coated cashews. The last pint David and I shared was on our honeymoon at Treebones Resort in Big Sur. (The food was so good that we couldn’t seem to save room for dessert at the table, so we retreated to our cabin with the ice cream to eat later on).

Of course, since I got the ice cream maker, we haven’t bought a lot of ice cream, which might be why we didn’t notice that the flavor had been cancelled. A trip to the Flavor Graveyard at Ben & Jerry’s website confirms it–Uncanny Cashew is no more.

Of course, that just made me crave it even more. So what to do? Make my own, obviously! I took the Sweet Cream Base recipe from the Ben & Jerry’s cookbook, spiked it with a little bit of vanilla, and made another batch of the caramel from the Peanut Butter Cookies with Salted Peanut Caramel for the swirl and to coat the cashews.

Ben & Jerry’s Uncanny Cashew Ice Cream
Adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream & Dessert Cookbook

  • 1 cup of cashews
  • 1 batch of salted caramel sauce, cooled (recipe follows)
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Dip single cashews into caramel sauce and place one at a time onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Freeze until caramel hardens, about an hour.

2. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Add the vanilla extract and blend again.

3. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker. Add while the mixer is on the low setting, then turn it up to high.

4. Once the ice cream is almost finished (about 1 minutes before it is done) add the chilled cashews. Once the cashews are mixed in, drizzle in about a half a cup of the caramel sauce, for the caramel swirl. You will have extra sauce, and you should save it. It’s delicious on top of the ice cream.

When it’s done in the ice cream machine, the ice cream will be the consistency of soft-serve. Freeze for at least two hours for a solid, scoopable ice cream.

Salted Caramel:

  • 1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (100g) finely chopped roasted salted peanuts

1. Start by warming the cream in a saucepan or in the microwave. You want it to be hot, but not to the point that it boils.

2. Cook the water, 1 cup sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it turns a nice, golden brown color.

3. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the hot cream in a slow, steady stream.

4. As it cools, the caramel will set up. When it has thickened to a caramel sauce, but is still pourable, dip your cashews. Allow to cool completely before adding to the ice cream base.

Note: Delicious! And very, very close to the original, if not the same. It’s hard to say, without a sample to compare. The only thing that didn’t work is the caramel swirl–it ended up just kind of blending into the ice cream. I’ve got some ideas on how to prevent that next time, but I’m not entire sure it’s possible to get a good, frozen swirl at home. I don’t mind testing out my theories though–I know I’ll be making this ice cream again. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to give up on Uncanny Cashew just because Ben & Jerry’s did!

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I’ve really enjoyed having my ice cream freezer, as you might be able to tell. After the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream, I took a poll to see what flavor I should make next. Right up until the poll, everyone had been all excited about Butter Pecan. It was all anyone wanted. Then, out of nowhere, after one silly little poll, Butter Pecan came in second. It took a backseat to sexier, flashier Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch ice cream. Until now.

This recipe also comes from the Ben & Jerry’s cookbook, and while I’m not sure I’m ready to blame the cookbook, I have to say: this was the first Ben & Jerry’s recipe that I was slightly disappointed with.

I’m not sure what went wrong here. Maybe it was technique, or maybe it was the fault of the recipe. Maybe the pecans were cooked too much. Maybe not enough. Maybe the bowl wasn’t chilled enough. Maybe the mixing didn’t happen fast enough. Maybe the pecans were too warm.

What I do know is that we lost the perfect texture that I’d worked out during the previous trials. This ice cream had crystals that you could taste, and wasn’t the velvety smooth base that I’ve come to crave.

David thought that he might have over-toasted the pecans, and while I did taste that once or twice, I don’t think that was really the problem. For me, the real problem was another texture issue–ultimately, the finish on this ice cream smacked of butter. There were even little tiny chunks of butter in the mixture. As Alton Brown would say, that’s not good eats.

On the plus side: the flavor was amazing. My issues here were all textural, and those can be fixed, I think. Of course, maybe I’ll just look for a different recipe next time. I’ve had butter pecan ice cream many times, and I’ve even made butter pecan ice cream before. But I’ve never actually eaten BUTTER in my pecan ice cream.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream
Adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream & Dessert Cookbook

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over a low heat. Add the pecans and salt and saute, stirring constantly, until the pecans start to turn brown. Drain the butter into a small bowl and transfer the pecans to another bowl and let cool.

2. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Add the melted butter and blend again.

3. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker. Add while the mixer is on the low setting, then turn it up to high.

4. Once the ice cream is almost finished (about2 minutes before it is done) add the pecans and continue freezing the mixture until the ice cream is ready.

When it’s done in the ice cream machine, the ice cream will be the consistency of soft-serve. Freeze for at least two hours for a solid, scoopable ice cream.

Note: I don’t want to point fingers, but I can honestly say that the reason I’m not entirely sure what went wrong with this batch of ice cream is in large part because I had David make it while I worked on the rest of dinner. I’m not saying he did it wrong, I’m just saying I don’t know what was different. I do know that he forgot to add the salt. I don’t think that was the source of the troubles though. As I said, I might try this again, and make sure we’re a little more cautious, but maybe it’s just time to look for another recipe.

Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry with Cashew Rice

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

If you (like just about everyone I work with) are working on your New Year’s Resolution to eat healthier, you probably have not been aided much by this blog. There have been some seriously unhealthy things around here lately, but I swear, that’s not all we eat! To prove it, here’s a recipe for last night’s dinner, a stir fry dish adapted from Cooking Light magazine.

If you’re looking for healthy recipes and enjoy cooking, you really can’t go wrong with Cooking Light. I get their “Dinner Tonight” emails daily, which is actually where the inspiration for this meal came from.

pork-stirfry-ck-1571430-l

Chicken & Vegetable Stir Fry with Cashew Rice
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

  • 1 batch Alton Brown’s Baked Brown Rice, recipe follows
  • 1/3  cup  chopped green onions
  • 1/4  cup  dry-roasted cashews, salted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 2/3  cup chicken stock
  • 2  tablespoons  cornstarch, divided
  • 3  tablespoons  soy sauce, divided
  • 2  tablespoons  honey
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1  tablespoon  canola oil, divided
  • 1  tablespoon  grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 2  cups  sugar snap peas, trimmed (about 6 ounces)
  • 1  cup  chopped red bell pepper (about 1)
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts

Directions

  1. Cook the rice according to the recipe below. Stir in 1/3 cup chopped green onions, and chopped dry-roasted cashews; set aside, and keep warm.
  2. Whisk together 2/3 cup chicken broth, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and honey in a small bowl, and set aside.
  3. Combine chicken, remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce in a bowl, tossing well to coat. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté 4-6 minutes or until browned. Remove from pan.
  4. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add water chestnuts, ginger, and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add peas and bell pepper to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in pork; sauté 1 minute. Add reserved broth mixture to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Serve over cashew rice.

Nutritional Information (For 1 & 1/2 cups of chicken mixture, and 1/2 cup cashew rice): Calories: 460 (23% from fat), Fat: 11.8g (sat 2.5g,mono 6.2g,poly 2.3g), Protein: 31.8g, Carbohydrate: 55.9g, Fiber: 3.6g, Cholesterol: 74mg, Iron:4.6mg, Sodium:787mg, Calcium:73mg

Note: This recipe is flexible; almost a method, rather than a recipe. The original called for pork, onions, and mushrooms, but I made the swaps as you see above–and it was just as good. Broccoli would also be at home here, or maybe those baby corns, bamboo shoots, some carrots, cabbage, or bok choy. It could be spiced up with red pepper flakes, if that’s more to your liking. I’d add about 1/4th of a teaspoon to the remainder of the sauce, if you want a spicier dish.

Alton Brown’s Baked Brown Rice

This is by far the easiest and best brown rice recipe I’ve come across. It’s literally fool-proof, and after you taste the chewy, nutty texture, you’ll never go back to Minute Rice again.

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice, medium or short grain
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Place the rice into an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
  • Bring the water, butter, and salt just to a boil in a kettle or covered saucepan. Once the water boils, pour it over the rice, stir to combine, and cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour.
  • After 1 hour, remove cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve immediately.

Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

And we’re back to the baking!

This recipe is from Martha Stewart’s website. I’m not always a fan of Martha’s recipes, but these cookies sounded good, and I’m glad I tried them.

The texture is rich and crumbly, like a shortbread. They are not overly sweet, but have a nice flavor. I toasted the walnuts and cooled them again before mixing into the cookie dough, and there’s a lovely walnut taste throughout the each cookie. The cookies are a great little crunchy treat–a nice break from some of the sweeter, heavier treats so prevalent this time of year.

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Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, (not whipped) room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups walnut halves (1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped), 1 cup finely chopped

  1. Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in sugar and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and mix until just combined (do not overmix). Mix in toasted walnuts.
  2. Transfer dough to a work surface. Divide in half; shape each half into an 8 1/2-inch long log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in parchment paper; freeze until firm, about 30 minutes or up to 2 weeks.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 with racks in upper and lower thirds. Unwrap 1 log, and roll in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, coating completely. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  4. Bake cookies, rotating halfway through, until golden around edges, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Repeat with remaining log and remaining 1/2 cup chopped walnuts. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Note: I did use a bit of egg wash to get the nuts to stick to the frozen cookie dough logs. One batch of this dough made 4 dozen cookies, easily. In my experience, you don’t always get the yield that you would expect from cookies, but these delivered. Not surprisingly, the taste reminds me of a rich cheesecake. They were especially amazing straight from the oven.

Cashew Brittle

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Apparently, Christmastime is also for candy.

On my hunt for Christmas cookie recipes, I came across an excellent recipe for Cashew Brittle. Now peanut brittle, I’m not that crazy about, but cashews are a whole different story. We also had bought cashews at Costco the week before, which were delicious. So it seemed meant to be.

I’m also a sucker for the salty and sweet combination, and this definitely fits the bill there.

I found this recipe on another blog that I read, The Wednesday Chef.

Homemade candy is one of those things that seems to impress everyone, but brittle is really about the simplest kind of homemade candy that there is. No candy thermometer or special equipment needed.

Note: Because I wanted the salty flavor to really come through, and because it’s what I keep on hand, I used salted butter instead of unsalted, and it was delicious. One other reminder–the instructions call for a large saucepan, and that’s important. When you add the baking soda and salt, it’s REALLY going to rise and bubble, and my saucepan wasn’t large enough to keep it from boiling over. A non-stick stockpot is really a safer bet, in my opinion.

Cashew Brittle
Makes 3.5 pounds

4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (I used salted butter)
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds salted, roasted cashews

1. Line two baking sheets with lightly buttered parchment paper or lightly coat the sheets with cooking spray. Do not use wax paper or plastic wrap.

2. Combine sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan and stir together. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel turns a medium-golden color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda and then the salt. The mixture will rise and bubble. Using a wooden or metal spoon, stir in the nuts, then immediately pour the brittle onto the prepared cookie sheets, using the back of the spoon to spread the brittle out.

3. Once brittle is completely cool, break it into bite-sized pieces using the back of a knife or your hands. The brittle can be stored at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to two weeks.

I’ve made this kind of candy once before, and this recipe is as good as I remember. For an extra fun treat, stir a bag of popped popcorn into the hot candy once it’s spread out on the cookie sheets. It makes an awesome poppycock style snack.

Christmastime is for Cookies

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I have been waiting and waiting for the baking bug to bite. It’s Christmas, after all.

Part of the problem may have been a Thanksgiving hangover of sorts. Not only did I run the kitchen for what my friends and I call “fake Thanksgiving,” an all-out Thanksgiving feast above and beyond all of our family obligations on the real Turkey day, but David and I hosted our first Thanksgiving in our new place. His family came, my family came–and it was the first time we even had a place set up for hosting, so it was kind of a big deal.

I think that’s why I spent most of this Christmas season not feeling the urge to roll out the sugar cookies or decorate the gingerbread houses. Then, at work, my Secret Santa got me an adorable gift basket full of baking paraphernalia. Spatulas and mixing bowls and towels and cookbooks. And so, the baking bug bit.

When I decided I wanted to bake, last weekend,  I started poking around different websites and blogs looking for some great Christmas cookie recipes. I started at the Food Network site, where I was excited to see their 2008 12 Days of Cookies guide had started. It sounded so promising!

I was actually rather disappointed with what I found. Sandra Lee was more focused on pretty than tasty, with her Sugar Cookie ornaments, Duff’s cookies looked strange, Paula Deen had some Snowflake cookies that looked okay, but nothing special. Alton Brown’s submission, however, was just what I was looking for. He calls them Paradise Macaroons, and I have to say, the name suits them.

First of all, they were simple to make. There’s some fuss on the Food Network boards about how it’s confusing that he only provides measurements in terms of weight, not volume, but I don’t think that should be a surprise to anyone who’s seen his show.

Second, they were delicious. My husband, who had never had a macaroon, apparently has a new favorite cookie. They’re light and crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, with just the right amount of sweetness. I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips for the coating, and I substituted chopped walnuts for the macadamia nuts, since that’s what I had on hand.

Third, they were beautiful. They look as good as they taste!

Overall, I was very impressed with this recipe, and will definitely make again.

Alton Brown’s Paradise Macaroons

  • 2 (7 to 8-ounce) packages sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 5 ounces granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli)
  • 1 ounce vegetable shortening
  • 2 ounces finely chopped dry-roasted macadamia nuts (I used finely chopped walnuts)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the coconut with the sweetened condensed milk, salt and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to whip the whites until medium peaks form, 6 to 7 minutes.

Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. Scoop tablespoon-sized mounds onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately transfer the parchment with the macaroons to a cooling rack. Cool completely before topping.

Fill a 4-quart pot with enough water to come 2 inches up the side, set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Combine the chocolate chips and shortening in a small metal or glass mixing bowl and set over the simmering pot. Stir occasionally until melted, then remove from the heat.

Dip the cooled cookies in the chocolate mixture, sprinkle with the chopped nuts and place on parchment paper to set, about 30 minutes.

Note: My one concern with this recipe is that as written, there is way too much chocolate topping. I used the 12 ounces of chocolate to 1 ounce of shortening recipe for a double batch of macroons, and still had chocolate left over for another cookie. I would recommend halving the chocolate dip for just a single batch of cookies.