ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH WALNUTS AND TAHINI SAUCE

I never imagined I would call a butternut squash dish “festive”, but it’s the word that came to my mind as I savored it. I blame it on the addition of pomegranate seeds. They turn any dish into a celebration, little jewels of the gastronomic world. Plus their slightly sharp taste complements sweets, complements veggies, meats, hard to imagine something that cannot be paired with these red beauties. Remember Fesenjan? Anyway, in this preparation, I roasted butternut squash as I’ve done many times, in coconut oil with paprika. To me, it’s a trio made in heaven. And no, I do not use smoked paprika for this anymore, I now prefer a milder flavor with the squash. Of course, do as your taste buds instruct you to.

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH WALNUTS AND TAHINI SAUCE
(inspired by several sources)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut in large cubes
1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
walnut halves or large pieces
1/4 cup tahini
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
pepper to taste
water if needed to thin sauce
fresh pomegranate seeds
light drizzle of pomegranate molasses for serving (optional)

Heat the oven to 400 F.

Place the pieces of butternut squash in a large bowl, drizzle with the coconut oil, mixing it very quickly because it solidifies fast. Season with paprika, salt, and a little pepper. Transfer the squash to a baking dish that holds the pieces in a single layer. Roast for 20 minutes, then add walnuts, mixing gently with the squash. Roast for about 10 minutes more, until the squash is golden, with edges turning slightly brown.

Meanwhile, prepare the tahini sauce mixing tahini, lemon juice pepper and pepper. If it seems too thick, add water until you reach a nice fluid consistency.

When the squash and walnuts are roasted, transfer to a serving dish, drizzle the tahini sauce all over, and top with fresh pomegranate seeds. If you have pomegranate molasses, consider drizzling a little bit on top, a nice additional contrast of color and flavor.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This could be a great side dish for Thanksgiving, for those trying to move away from the classics, or perhaps in need to increase the variety of vegetarian-friendly sides. Of course, it’s odd to mention Thanksgiving in December, but the color-scheme of this dish makes it hard not to. Come to think of it, roasted sweet potatoes would work wonders too replacing the squash. And dried cranberries could play the role of pomegranate. The tahini dressing is perfect to tie the whole thing together in a very luscious way. We enjoyed this hearty side dish with store-bought roast chicken. Admittedly, this could be considered a sin in the home of a food blogger, but we love the convenience of it, and our store does a pretty decent job preparing it. So, we make our life easy and often bring one home for our dinner.

Plan ahead and reserve some tahini sauce (as well as extra pomegranate seeds) in case you want to call it lunch next day… I did, and it was absolutely delicious, love the contrast of a cool sauce with the warm squash.

ONE YEAR AGO: The Complicit Conspiracy of Alcohol

TWO YEARS AGO: Candy Cane Cookies

THREE YEARS AGO: Macarons: Much better with a friend

FOUR YEARS AGO: Our Mexican Holiday Dinner 

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Cranberry Sauce

SIX YEARS AGO: Edamame Dip

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Gougeres

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Beef Wellington on a Special Night

 

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ZUCCHINI LEMON & WALNUT CAKE + COOKBOOK REVIEW

A while ago I was browsing cookbook suggestions in amazon.com and spotted one called “French Desserts“, by Hillary Davis. I simply had to investigate it further. C’mon, French Desserts, how could I possibly let that slide? The book was published just last month,  so not very many readers posted reviews yet. However, whereas all gave it 5 stars, one person ranked it with 2 stars only. Her criticism was the use of store-bought items like puff pastry to make some of the recipes. Hillary herself replied to that reviewer and she did so with such class and gentleness, it really impressed me. I browsed through the index, and ordered the Kindle version, which always makes me feel a bit less guilty. Very glad I did not let that review mess with me. The book is a delight, great photography, just the right amount of prose with the recipes. I bookmarked many to try, but the first one I made to share with you today was part of her chapter called Homey Cakes.

zucchini-lemon-loaf2
ZUCCHINI, LEMON & WALNUT CAKE
(ever so slightly modified from French Desserts)
printed with permission from Hillary Davis

for cake:
1-1/ 2 cups (192 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/ 4 teaspoon baking soda
1/ 4 teaspoon salt
1-1/ 2 cups (220 g) coarsely grated zucchini, squeezed very dry
(about 170 g after squeezing dry)
1 cup (135 g) chopped walnuts
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1/ 2 cup (110 g) olive oil
3 large eggs
1/ 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon extract (I omitted)
1/ 4 cup (60 g) lemon juice

for icing:
1 + 1/2 cup  (188 g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
a little over 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 9 x 5 inches loaf pan. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the zucchini and walnuts and stir to coat. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, eggs, vanilla, lemon extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined. Do not overwork the batter. Scoop batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate. If desired, make an icing with the powdered sugar and lemon juice, drizzle all over the cake. Cut in slices and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This was one delicious cake! The picture doesn’t do it justice, not even slightly. There is no obvious zucchini taste, it simply gives it moisture and a lovely texture even after sitting at room temperature overnight. It is very lemony and the flavor and crunch of the walnuts a perfect match for the citric tone. I did not have enough walnuts, so I added just a little bit of diced pecans to reach the required amount. I think the combination of nuts worked well too.  I made the loaf on a Sunday afternoon and took to our department next morning. I had tried a very small piece when the cake cooled (quality control), and hoped to get a slice mid-morning. That did not work, because around 10am, I found the platter clean. Oh, well. The best laid plans…

So lemony!
Not too sweet, just right!
Love the walnuts!
It made my Monday so much better! 
(some comments from our colleagues that made this baker very happy)

 

compositezucch

Now, let’s have a little tour of Hillary’s book. I will go straight to the recipes, although she does include a comprehensive section on Essentials of Baking. You can look at the full index in amazon.com, I will simply list the recipes from each chapter that made my heart miss a beat. Or two…

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Homey Cakes: Great collection of cakes that are simple to prepare in a loaf type pan or as a single layer round cake. The one I featured comes from this chapter, but I was tempted by many others, like Plenty of Pears Salted Caramel Loaf Cake, described as invisible cake. Invisible cakes indicate that very little batter is used to hold the fruit together. I love this type of cake, very much like Doris Greenspan’s Apple Cake which happens to be the most popular recipe in my blog.  From this chapter I quickly bookmarked her Whole Wheat Nutella Loaf Cake (need I say anything more?), a Hazelnut Cake with Nutella Drizzle (O.M.G.), a Walnut Cake with Warm Honey Glaze, and a Fabulous Butter Cake from Brittany.

Cookies: Perfect for the season are Pumpkin Seed Tuiles, I must save some pumpkin seeds to try them, because tuiles have been on my list of culinary projects forever!  Sablés au Chocolat are her take on a classic, buttery cookie from Normandy. Another very tempting choice for me would be Orange Madeleines with Orange Glaze. Together with tuiles, madeleines are part of my list of projects (I even own a madeleine pan, feel guilty every time I look at it).

Baked: I cannot stop thinking of her Roasted Peaches in a Pool of Crème Anglaise… I will give you a moment to think about it. Wonderful, right? But how about Individual Berry Gratin with Yogurt Whipped Cream? Or maybe you would rather have Puffs with Warm Chocolate Sauce? I must also include a very exotic concoction (unknown to me) called Far Breton Prune Custard Cake, a specialty from Brittany. Made me think of the many things I could have tried while I lived in France, but had no idea existed. Such is life.

Verrines: I simply adore verrines. Stunning presentation, in small portions. Perfect. I can tell you one thing, there are 10 recipes in this chapter and I would love to make and enjoy each and every one of them.  Just to give you some examples, the first one is called quite simply A Cloud of Lemon Vermouth Mousse. I am officially in love. Chocolate Ginger Pots de Crème..  Grand Marnier Mousse…  Lemon Rice Pudding with Blackberry Caramel Sauce…  One tempting sweet after another….

Frozen or Refrigerated Desserts: Very interesting recipes in this chapter, starting with a child-friendly Vin Chaud Sorbet with Frosted Grapes. You cook the alcohol out, but the idea is to have the flavors of vin chaud, often served in Alsace during cold months. And in a nice parallel, back home in Brazil we have “vinho quente” traditionally served in the month of June, welcoming the first chill of the year. I would love to make her Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, with a touch of balsamic vinegar. Or her Peach Melba with Muddled Vanilla Ice Cream.  She closes the chapter with a stunning retro dessert: Vanilla, Raspberry and Chocolate Ice Cream Bombe. Imagine that to awe your guests at the end of a dinner party?

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Vin Chaud Sorbet with Frosted Grapes

Waffles, Crêpes and Pancakes: Tempting chapter. The recipe that impressed me the most: Farz Buen Broken Crêpes. The name indicates exactly what it is. You start with a traditional crepe batter, then break them as they cook, as if making scrambled eggs. Her description of this delicacy from Brittany made my mouth water. Must. Make. It. Crêpes Suzette is in there too, how could it not be?  Such a classic!

Puff Pastry: Her recipes call for store-bought pastry. Now, I realize she was criticized for it, and I find it very unfair. I’ve lived in France several years and have never ever met a French woman who made her own puff pastry. Maybe they are out there, but in a very rare minority. Why would they make them when you can find excellent products at the store, many brands of pure butter puff pastry waiting for you? Sure, if you’d like to make it, go for it, but don’t twist your nose at the boxed product. I use it all the time, puff pastry and phyllo dough, thank you very much. Anyway, my favorite recipes in this group are Niflettes, a specialty from Provins, not only because they are impossibly cute but for the story behind them. Folklore says they were created to console orphans crying over the loss of their parents. Nowadays they are served in All Saints Day in that region of France. Alsatian Marzipan Apple Strudel would be amazing to try too. as well as – ready for this? – Sweet Vol-au-Vent with a Strawberry Tarragon Coulis. Just wow.

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Niflettes

Tarts: I rarely make them but find them quite fascinating. Many options tempted me, starting with her Rustic Plum Tart in a Sweet Fennel Crust. She follows with a very interesting Medieval Custard Tart in a Clove-Scented Crust. I adore spices and find their addition to pie crusts a strike of genius. I also have my heart set on her Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Cheesecake Tart.

Candies and Mignardises: Mignardise might be one of the cutest words in the French language. Fun to say, fun to enjoy… I would make every one of these recipes, starting with White Chocolate White Truffles with Dried Cherries, moving to Mini Pain d’Épices (I was basically addicted to those while living in Paris), and Nonnettes, a concoction made by nuns in the Middle Ages, little cakes with orange marmalade in the center. From the Middle Ages, can you wrap your mind around it?  Too cool!

Special Occasion Desserts: Chocolate Soufflé, a must-make!  White Chocolate Crème Brûlées with Salty PistachiosA Precious Pear Charlotte, Baba au Rhum closes the chapter.

Hillary, thank you for allowing me to publish the recipe from your beautiful cookbook!

zucchini-lemon-walnut-cake-from-bewitching-kitchen

 

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ONE YEAR AGO: Paleo Energy Bars

TWO YEARS AGO: Pecan-Crusted Chicken with Honey Mustard Dressing

THREE YEARS AGO: Mozzarella Stuffed Turkey Burgers

FOUR YEARS AGO:  Cashew Chicken Lettuce Wraps

FIVE YEARS AGO: Clay-pot Pork Roast

SIX YEARS AGO: Panmarino

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Classic Roast Chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WALNUT-RAISIN BRAN MUFFINS

Every single time I type raisin it comes as raising instead. Pumpkin more often than not becomes pumpking. You could assume I have issues with words that end with “in”, but when sous-vide first gets written as sous-vice, and kitchen turns to chicken that hypothesis falls flat on its face. Oh, well. The mind works in mysterious ways. Even more mysterious, though, is what constitutes the perfect bran muffin as far as my beloved is concerned.  It’s been a while since I baked a batch, so it’s time to share my latest attempt at reaching his Bran Muffin Nirvana. Keep in mind that they have to be big, very bran-y, and loaded with nuts and raisins. I adapted a very popular recipe from Heidi Swanson and surprised Phil one early Sunday morning with six jumbo-sized muffins. Just a side benefit of waking up full of energy at 4:30am…

Bran Muffin

 

BRAN MUFFINS WITH WALNUTS AND RAISINS
(adapted from Heidi Swanson’s recipe)

1 cup bran flake cereal
12 ounces full-fat yogurt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup diced walnuts, slightly toasted

Heat the oven to 400, and line 6 cups of a jumbo muffin pan with paper liners or grease them with butter.

In a small bowl, combine the cereal, yogurt and melted butter. Stir together very well, and let the cereal soak while you work with the dry ingredients. Whisk together the flours, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Stir the eggs and honey into the bowl with the bran cereal, then stir in the dry ingredients. Gently add the raisins and walnuts. Divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake for about 22 minutes. Let the muffins cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then move them to a wire rack to cool completely.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

muffincomp

Comments: Amazing what almost seven years of blogging can do. I knew I had bran muffins on the site, but was shocked to see that this is my sixth recipe for this delicacy. What can I say? They are Phil’s favorite kind and my goal from the start was to bake the bran muffin of his dreams. Did I get there?  The asymptotic curve is getting closer to the top, I am told. The resident critic thought the amount of walnuts and raising raisins were spot on. The size was adequate. The texture got a nod of approval too. So, what’s the improvement needed? More bran. Not bran-y enough. Some people demand “more cowbell“, others demand more bran.  The quest for perfection is still on. But, in a way it’s  nice to have something to strive for…

muffin crumb

I wonder if Christopher Walken would also request a little more bran?

😉

ONE YEAR AGO: A Star is Born!

TWO YEARS AGO: Chestnut Flour Sourdough Bread

THREE YEARS AGO: Kinpira Gobo and Japanese Home Cooking

FOUR YEARS AGO: Walnut Sourdough

FIVE YEARS AGO: Thai Chicken Curry

SIX YEARS AGO: Zen and the art of risotto

ROASTED RED PEPPER-WALNUT DIP WITH POMEGRANATE

Are you familiar with Muhammara, a flavorful Middle Eastern red pepper dip? This concoction is similar but not quite the same. The addition of dates gives it a sweeter note, and the use of pomegranate juice is also a departure from the classic.  I made it for a dinner party we hosted not too long ago, and served it with Ka’kat bread. Perfect partner for the dip.  The recipe comes from Martha Stewart, and contrary to my expectations, there were problems. In fact, it was almost a disaster, but my beloved husband saved the show and thanks to his advice, the dip did not metamorphose into soup. And guess what? This is Paleo-friendly, so if you are into it, feel free to dig in!

Red Pepper Walnut Dip

ROASTED RED PEPPER-WALNUT DIP WITH POMEGRANATE
(from Martha Stewart)

4 pitted dates
3 chopped roasted red peppers
1/2 cup pomegranate juice (use less: see my comments)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Soak dates in hot water until softened, about 10 minutes; drain. Pulse dates, red peppers, pomegranate juice, walnuts, and red-pepper flakes in food processor until smooth. With machine running, slowly add olive oil until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Dip can be stored in refrigerator in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if so desired.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: Don’t let my almost disaster stop you from making this dip, it was delicious!  However, I even left feedback on Martha Stewart’s website stating that there are problems with the recipe as published. No way 1/2 cup of pomegranate juice will work. I actually roasted more bell peppers than the recipe called for, and it was still pretty much a soup once I was done processing it.

In complete despair, I told Phil that we would have to settle for store-bought hummus for our dinner party because the dip was ruined, but he did not even blink: put it in a sieve to drain, it will be alright.  He is simply the most optimistic human being ever, nothing brings him down.  Take golf, for instance. He faces each shot, no matter how tough, with full composure. Moi? I start shaking uncontrollably when my golf ball goes into a bunker (the golf balls I play with have a mind of their own, did you know that?).  In part because I know how many strokes it will take me to get said ball out of there. But, let’s get back to cooking, a nicer subject.

Following the advice of the resident scratch golfer, I placed the dip inside a small colander lined with a coffee filter, and within 30 minutes it had reached a perfect dip consistency.  Tragedy averted! I struck gold in March 07th, 2000.

😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Lemon-Pistachio Loaf

TWO YEARS AGO: Roast Beef French Dip Sandwich with Green Pea Pesto

THREE YEARS AGO: Asparagus Pesto

FOUR YEARS AGO: Chocolate and Chestnut Terrine

FIVE YEARS AGO: Under the spell of lemongrass

SIX YEARS AGO: Greens + Grapefruit + Shrimp = Great Salad!

CAPRESE SALAD WITH CELERY AND TOASTED WALNUTS

I got the inspiration for this salad from Lidia Bastianich. In a recent cooking show she came up with a refreshing celery-mozzarella combo to which toasted walnuts were added for crunch. Lidia mentioned something I fully agree with: celery is a very under-utilized veggie. I know many people don’t like it because of its fibrous and harsh texture. However, if you use the best celery you can find (no need to search for the gigantic creature of my recent past) at the perfect stage of ripeness, and slice it thinly, chances are most of your objections to this stalky creature will go away. Some chefs recommend peeling it, but I don’t see that happening in our kitchen.  I find celery refreshing, bright, and use it all the time. For this salad, I adapted Lidia’s basic idea to make a departure on the classic Caprese, a favorite with us.

Caprese Celery Salad

CAPRESE SALAD WITH CELERY AND WALNUTS
(adapted from Lidia Bastianich)

perfectly ripe tomatoes, sliced
fresh mozzarella, sliced
celery stalks, thinly sliced
toasted walnut halves or pieces
lemon juice
olive oil
Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Make a simple dressing mixing olive oil, lemon juice, mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Amounts are pretty flexible, I add a lot of lemon juice probably 50/50 with the oil. Make enough to coat all the pieces of celery and have some extra so you can drizzle all over the assembled salad. In a small bowl, mix the celery pieces with the dressing and allow it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and mozzarella to a serving platter,  place the celery and dressing all over. Scatter toasted walnuts, sprinkle salt to taste (Maldon flakes are a great option here).

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

We loved this salad so much, I’ve been making it regularly now. Toasted hazelnuts go very well too, and sometimes I make the dressing with walnut oil.  The combination of celery with nuts is superb, I hope you’ll give it a try.  Now that the weather is wonderfully hot, this type of salad is the side dish to go with almost any protein of your choice. Roast chicken, grilled meats, grilled salmon. No need for anything else if you ask me…

Lidia’s show has everything I’d hope FoodTV Network would offer, but it doesn’t.  In our town it is broadcast by PBS. I set our Tivo to tape it and maybe twice per week there is a new episode waiting for me. She is very knowledgeable, fun to watch, and as a bonus often suggests the perfect wine to pair with her meals. I was surprised to learn that one of her restaurants is located in Kansas City, a couple of hours from home. Something to keep in mind if we ever decide to go for a special weekend trip to the “big city.”

ONE YEAR AGO: Oh, my God! I think I saw something!

TWO YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with Hoisin-Grilled Chicken and Soba Noodles

THREE YEARS AGO: The Manhattan Project

FOUR YEARS AGO: Carrot “Nib” Orzo

FIVE YEARS AGO:  A Sticky Situation

SIX YEARS AGO:  The Garden

MAUREEN’S FABULOUSLY FUDGY BROWNIES

Phil is very hard to please when it comes to brownies, bran muffins, and some types of cakes (angel food, layered coconut cake are two that come to mind).  I am always trying different recipes hoping to hit one that will awe him. Brownies, according to the resident expert, have to be dense, fudgy, big, contain nuts, and probably meet a number of other criteria that have not yet been conveyed to the person in charge of baking them (aka curve balls).  Last March, on a trip to Hawaii to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, he went crazy for brownies sold at a very unassuming spot, a little cafe at the entrance of Turtle Bay Resort. I admit that they were indeed spectacular, but all my attempts to get their recipe were ignored. Then, I saw this recipe at Maureen’s blog, and decided to give it a try.  They were nothing short of amazing.  I knew they would be, and the best part is, my hard-to-please husband agreed!

Maureen Brownies 22

FABULOUSLY FUDGY BROWNIES
(from The Orgasmic Chef)

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READ ON TO FIND OUT…  

I want to make sure everyone reads Maureen’s masterpiece of a post on the subject. No one should miss it, so click here for the full post, recipe included, and you can thank me later… Who else but Maureen could compose a superb post on brownies that starts with not one, but TWO episodes of flying creatures emptying their guts on her head?  Now, do you want to know what makes her post even more special for me? The fact that many many years ago (July 1986), while walking the streets of former Yugoslavia, a pigeon dropped what seemed to be a full bucket of warm, greenish-white liquid on my head, from the balcony of a building. Of course,  not a single drop hit my former husband, his Mom and his Dad who were walking next to me, and had the laugh of their lives at my expense. We had to take a bus back to the hotel, with yours truly still plastered in pigeon poop (#totallynotdistractinglysexy). Can you imagine my mood?  This is just one more reason I consider Maureen my virtual sister. And although so far I haven’t had the unique pleasure of getting showered with bat’s or crow’s poop, I can testify that the pigeon kind smells disgusting.  I am sure my readers are delighted to know that. Ready for that brownie now?

😉

Maureen Brownies1

Isn’t that a thing of complete beauty? And the smell as it baked, and later cooled was OUT OF THIS WORLD AMAZING!  Yes, in all caps, it deserves it. These babies were moist, dense, intensely flavored, and the walnuts took care of that monochromatic nature of brownies that some people might object to.  Give this recipe a try, especially if you have a brownie-snob in your home… I guarantee these will please the toughest critic.

Maureen, thanks for the great recipe, and of course, for the amusing write-up…  if I was next to you during the crow-attack, I would do my very best not to laugh, instead would help you get back into socially acceptable shape. I am nothing if not magnanimous.

ONE YEAR AGO: Wheat Berry Caraway Bread

TWO YEARS AGO: Mexican Focaccia 

THREE YEARS AGOSunny Kamut Salad with Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pane de Casa & Crostini

FIVE YEARS AGO: Down-home Dig-in Chili

SIX YEARS AGO:  Cinnamon Rolls

BISCOTTI FOR A BABY SHOWER!

Biscotti Baby ShowerToday I have a special post for you!  We are throwing a virtual baby shower for a great food blogger I got to know through the Secret Recipe Club, Tara,  from Tara’s Multicultural Table. We are all baking biscotti for this party. Why biscotti, you may ask? Well, it is her second baby, and these are twice baked cookies: a natural choice!  Wanna see what I came up with? Here they are:

MapleWalnutBiscotti

I was quite excited to participate, because – believe it or not – I’d never made biscotti from scratch. But first, let me share a story. My first time enjoying biscotti was in 1991, during a visit to Italy. The best possible place to get acquainted with this delicacy, if you ask me.  I had given a seminar in a big vaccine biotech company, and they took me out for a fantastic dinner later that evening. After dinner, where vino was flowing freely, someone insisted that we should all head to a bar so that I could try biscotti dunked in grappa. I knew nothing about either entity, but quickly realized that they complement each other perfectly. The biscotti are hard, but the grappa softens it. And the sweetness of the biscotti masks quite well – maybe too well –  the alcohol in the grappa. Of course, after dunking, you’re supposed to drink the leftover grappa with the little tiny bits of biscotti that found their way to the bottom of the glass. Great food, vino, grappa, all framed by the beauty of Tuscany! Good thing I had already given my talk at that point, and was in full “dolce far niente” mode. At any rate, it was a magical evening. I remember a complete sense of awe as I walked back to my hotel under the most amazing full moon shining over the streets of Siena.  One of those perfect moments that stay with you forever. Since biscotti are so dear to my heart, I spent quite a bit of time debating which kind to bake for Tara’s baby shower. Of course, keeping it all baby-friendly, I’ll ask you to skip that dunking in grappa.  Unless there’s a full moon outside, then all bets are off… 😉

tray

MAPLE WALNUT BISCOTTI
(from Susan Russo, for NPR)

Makes about 36 biscotti

for the biscotti:
2 cups unsalted walnuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing tops of loaves
3 tablespoons maple extract

for the icing:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop. Set aside.

In a large bowl, hand mix toasted walnuts, sugars, cinnamon, baking powder and flour. In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Add maple extract and whisk until well blended. Add to the flour mixture. Stir a few times. Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. Keep squeezing the batter with your hands, until a dough starts to form. Shape as a ball and divide it into 4 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, place one piece of dough, and using your hands, roll into a log shape that is approximately 8 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 3/4 of an inch high. If it’s sticky, simply dust your palms with more flour. Repeat with remaining three pieces of dough. Brush loaves all over with 1 lightly beaten egg.

Bake for 40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing, using a large serrated knife. Cut 3/4-inch-thick slices, using a sawing motion to prevent crumbling. Each loaf should yield 9 to 11 cookies.

Place slices on their sides back on to the baking sheets; place in the still warm oven with the temperature off and the door closed for 30 to 60 minutes. The longer they stay in the oven, the harder they will become. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

To make the maple icing, mix the confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup in a small bowl and whisk briskly until the icing is smooth and opaque and clings to the back of a spoon. Dip a teaspoon into the icing and drizzle the spoon back-and-forth over the biscotti. Allow to dry completely before storing. Store biscotti in an airtight container, preferably a tin, which helps keep them crisp.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: I was a bit nervous about this baking adventure, because I know that biscotti can be tricky to make, and that very few things are worse than bad biscotti, right?  I fell in love with the flavors of this recipe because anything with maple makes me all warm inside, and walnuts only make it better.  I suppose most people go crazy for chocolate, but I usually opt for other flavors in sweets.  The recipe called for maple extract, because it has a more concentrated flavor, so I was “forced” to place an order for some. It smells amazing!

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One of the tricky things about biscotti is slicing them after the first bake. You are supposed to wait for 20 minutes, and use a good quality serrated knife for the job. Worked great, I had no problems. By the way, I made half the recipe, and ended up with 18 biscotti, some quite small, cut from the edges. They are also called “sacrificial biscotti”. Honest. Not making that up.

I went for a double type of icing, the maple called for in the recipe, and then a drizzle of chocolate for cosmetic purposes.  But, after tasting them, I do think the chocolate drizzle did more than beautify them. The taste complements the maple and walnuts quite well.

dunking

Now that I am older, not necessarily wiser, I dunk my biscotti into a steaming hot cup of cappuccino… Great way to start any day!

Tara, I hope this virtual Baby Shower brought a big smile to your face, we certainly had a great time planning and making sure it was kept secret until today…

And here I share  the collection of biscotti from all virtual secreters who joined this party:

Biscotti Bites from Nicole at I am a Honey Bee

Blueberry Pecan Biscotti from Renee at Magnolia Days

Cinnamon Biscotti from Lauren at Sew You Think You Can Cook

Cranberry Pistachio biscotti from Stacy at Food Lust People Love

Dark Chocolate Orange Biscotti from Amy at Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Green Tea Biscotti Cookies from Rebekah at Making Miracles

Jam-Filled Mandelbrot from Kelly at Passion Kneaded

Maple Walnut Biscotti from Sally at Bewitching Kitchen

Nut-Free Anise Biscotti with Chocolate Chips from Susan at The Wimpy Vegetarian

Orange and Dark Chocolate Biscotti from Lynsey at Lynsey Lou’s

Orange, Date, and Almond Biscotti from Karen at Karen’s Kitchen Stories

Parmesan-Peppercorn Biscotti from Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla

Spa Water from of Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious

Biscotti Baby Shower

ONE YEAR AGO: Barley Risotto with Peas

TWO YEARS AGO: Oatmeal Fudge Bars

THREE YEARS AGO: Cauliflower Steaks

FOUR YEARS AGO: Soft Spot for Chevre

FIVE YEARS AGO: Quick sun-dried Tomato Crostini