30 June 2013

Macadamia Butter Cookies with Dark Chocolate

You're about to find out how easy it is to make your own nut butter! Macadamia nut butter is the base of these cookies; no other butter or oil is used. They are not overly sweet but have a hit of creamy, soft dark chocolate pieces for added indulgence. Substantial flour and nut butter prevents them from being classified as an empty-calorie treat, therefore allowing them to serve double duty as an energy-boosting, sustaining snack even though you feel like you are treating yourself.

To deepen the flavor, the macadamia nuts are roasted before blended into nut butter. Even then the nut flavor is mild and not overpowering. The end product is soft and cooked only until just set, leaving the outside slightly cakey and the center moist and just underdone.

My aim on this blog is to share recipes that are inspiring and exciting to me either because of the ingredients, flavor combinations, or techniques. Baking is not always my favorite with its precise measurements and need for dirtying too many bowls and utensils. But here, it's the minimal ingredients, ease of pulling together, and the feeling of satisfaction after making your own special nut butter that contributes to the cookie's wholesomeness.

Macadamia Butter Cookies with Dark Chocolate

Macadamia Nut Butter
Yield: 1 cup nut butter

Notes: If you can only find roasted and salted macadamia nuts, skip the roasting step below and don't add salt when blending.

2 heaping cups raw, unsalted macadamia nuts (~300 grams)
several big pinches salt (~1/8 tsp.)

Place baking rack in the upper 1/3 of the oven and set oven to broil. Spread nuts out on a baking sheet and carefully broil for approximately 4 minutes, tossing half way through so they brown on all sides. Watch very carefully the last two minutes as they will burn very quickly.

Let nuts cool slightly, then place in food processor with salt and  blend (don't pulse) for 2 minutes, scraping the sides down halfway through, until the mixture is a smooth, thin, liquid butter.

Notes about blending: Just after scraping the sides down the mixture will thicken and ball up, but more oil will be released as it blends, and it will thin out in the end.

Cookie Dough
Yield: 20-22 cookies

1/4 cup muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup macadamia nut butter
1 cup light spelt flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
100 grams dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa powder), chopped (~ 2/3 cup)
1/3 cup macadamia nuts, chopped (eyeball it, depending on how nutty you like your cookies)

Set oven to 350 F (176 C) and move rack to middle of the oven.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together sugars, vanilla extract, salt, eggs, and nut butter. Add flour and mix until just combined, then fold in chopped chocolate and nuts. Don't over mix.

Place bowl with cookie dough in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes.

Scoop out dough in small mounds (~1/2 ice cream scoop) on a cookie sheet lined with grease-proof paper. Bake for 15-16 minutes (12-13 for convection) or until cookies are golden around the edges and the top is just set and beginning to brown. Err on the side of under baking by a minute. You can always test one by splitting it in half and seeing if the middle is cooked to your liking.

Let cool slightly, but best enjoyed warm.

22 June 2013

Walnut Toast Tartine

It finally started to warm up around here in the past week. Until today, the days have been cheery, warm, and long. The sun peaks through our bedroom window before 5:30, much earlier than we are ready to get up even on weekday mornings. And it lingers around until 10:30 at night, giving us a good excuse to stay up just a little while longer. I find myself on our balcony early in the morning and late into the evening because that's what you do when you have these magical summer days that could change to cool and rainy in a flash. The lake to our north bordering Germany, Austria, and Switzerland is 15 minutes away, and I'm beginning to sense it beckoning us to its surrounding green lawns and pebbly shores. The mountains tucked deep into the remote interior region of Appenzell to our south are a 30 minute drive away, and a recent Sunday morning drew us to them, but without our ski gear this time. Hiking season is upon us, and though the highest peaks are still dusted with snow in some crevices where the sunlight barely reaches, we found ourselves hiking through their snow-free foothills and lower peaks. Soon when the path is open and free of snow we will climb the coveted Santis peak

On a trip down to Northern Italy's Lake Como in May we crossed over the Splügen Pass which was still very much in the middle of winter. A pass so high that it is only open during the summer months because of the precarious wintry conditions it endures most of the year. In fact, on our descent returning home it was sunny one minute, and then snow began to fall quickly, gaining momentum with each switchback we took.

I hope the pass is seeing warmer, sunnier days now and experiencing more human activity as a result. My activity in the kitchen is definitely changing as a result of the warmer days. I want simple preparations that are less involved but still produce delicious results. Though I'm not a multi-tasker, I find myself turning to ideas that can do double duty, such as this walnut bread. It's a savory, walnut-based quick bread that has the subtlest hint of sweetness. I'll top slices with Gruyere or Emmentaler cheese (Swiss cheese in America) as a savory change-up for a quick breakfast or snack. We also smear it with jam or even better, apple butter, or use it as the base for tartines such as this one. It's a true BLD (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) item, as is this tartine.

A tartine is nothing more than an open-faced sandwich. This particular tartine is smeared with goat cheese specked with lemon zest and dill and topped with simple scrambled eggs. It feels gourmet and elegant without much effort and is perfect for a weekend brunch or a simple, light dinner outside. Fresh herbs (dill and chives), lemon zest, and a quick toasting of the walnut bread are key components to making this delicious and special. Go on, see for yourself. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Walnut Toast Tartine
Serves 4

Notes: I did not provide a recipe for scrambled eggs, but I found a few YouTube tutorials  here and here that may be helpful if you're needing tips.

8 thick slices walnut bread, sliced on a diagonal for more surface area (recipe below)
Butter for toasting
4-6 eggs, scrambled, seasoned with only salt and pepper
Herbed-lemon goat cheese (recipe below)
Small bunch chives (~20 pieces), chopped, divided
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling


Set the oven to broil and place the rack in the upper third of the oven.
Lightly butter slices of walnut bread. Toast in the oven until edges are golden brown and the bread begins to smell nutty, watching closely so it does not burn (~2-4 minutes).

Let cool slightly. While cooling, fold 1/2 of the chopped chives into the scrambled eggs.

Spread a generous layer of goat cheese on each slice of walnut toast. Top with scrambled eggs, divided equally  among the 8 slices.

Finish with a sprinkling of the remaining chives and dill and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Walnut Bread
Adapted from La Tartine Gourmand

1 cup (100 g) walnuts
1/4 cup spelt flour (or whole wheat flour/whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup almond meal
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 F and butter a loaf pan no larger than 9x5.
Grind the walnuts in a food process until you get a fine meal and pour into a mixing bowl. Whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes and unmold.

Herbed-Lemon Goat Cheese
1/2 cup goat cheese (4 oz or 112 g), softened
Zest of 1 small lemon
1 Tbsp. dill, chopped and divided (~1/2 a small bunch)

Mix the goat cheese, lemon zest, and half of the chopped dill in a small bowl and set aside. 

16 June 2013

Apricot Salad with Cumin-Orange Vinaigrette

This is hardly a recipe. It's more of a suggestion for flavor pairings to bring out the best that fresh apricots have to offer. Apricots are the highlight of this salad because it's their season to shine and I wanted to celebrate them in an actual recipe rather than eating them whole, often while standing over the sink with juice dripping down my chin. Now, there is nothing wrong with enjoying them this way. It is, after all, one of life's small pleasures. But taking the time to work them into a recipe where you must plan ahead to source the ingredients, then prepare the dish, draws out the anticipation and prolongs the enjoyment.

Whether it's a meal with family or friends, a special life event, or a holiday, the preparation for and anticipation of an occasion is a significant component in actually enjoying the event. And just another way life and food mingle together to teach us great lessons, preparing a dish, however small the task may be, is good practice in patience and realizing immediate gratification isn't always the most gratifying.

There are many flavors with which apricots pair well such as chocolate, cinnamon, orange, cumin, rosemary, and mango. But I especially love how this sour-sweet fruit with creamy, floral and tropical notes are complimented by earthy cumin, orange, and toasted almonds in this salad. Punchy goat cheese is the final addition that brings it all together. I used Marcona almonds because I love their salted and deeply toasted, olive oil flavor. But if you cannot find them, simply dry-roasting whole blanched or slivered almonds until golden brown will also be delicious.

This salad serves 2 large or 4 small portions, but if you're making this for one or would like to have the salad a few different times over the course of several days, simply mix the vinaigrette separately in a small jar and store in the fridge and drizzle over the salad as needed. 

Apricot Salad with Cumin-Orange Vinaigrette
Serves 2-4

Cumin-Orange Vinaigrette
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp. orange juice (~ 1/4 orange)
Heaping 1/4 tsp. cumin
Drop of maple syrup or honey
Pinch of salt
Lots black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

Add all ingredients to the bottom of a serving bowl. Mix well to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Couple large handfuls arugula (or baby greens like baby spinach/maché)
4 firm, ripe apricots
Handful Marcona almonds (or deeply toasted whole or slivered almonds)
Goat cheese, to taste

Cut apricots in half and slice each half in thirds. Just before serving, add apricots and arugula to the vinaigrette, toss to coat. Sprinkle almonds over tossed salad and crumble goat cheese on top, to taste.

09 June 2013

Moroccan Tacos

Though originally Mexican in origin, tacos are quickly being adapted to other cuisines. You can find Korean, Indian, and even French tacos, particularly amidst the popular food truck scene. So I'm not reinventing the wheel here, I'm simply applying a familiar style of eating to a different set of flavors. And man is it good.

On our trip to Morocco I was introduced to Zaalouk, a very flavorful cooked eggplant and tomato salad. It is stewed until thickened and is usually served alongside other vegetable salads and bread. The flavor is deep and complex without complicated preparation. It is smoky from cumin and paprika but lifted up with fresh herbs and lemon. It is one of those dishes that is way more than the sum of its parts. But it's hard to describe the exact flavor, and I urge you to make it and see for yourself. It's a popular and authentic Moroccan recipe, and I credit my recipe to the many versions floating around the web.

I layer this spread on flatbread and top it with a raw, zesty zucchini salad and feta marinated in extra virgin olive oil and harissa. The crunchy zucchini balances the soft eggplant spread, and the marinated feta adds a fresh zesty, smoky layer that pulls all the flavors together. I like to make a Greek yogurt flatbread (recipe below) because it's easy, delicious, and it holds up to the toppings without feeling heavy or bready. If you're short on time you could instead use store-bought flatbread such as pita, naan, or flour tortillas. But remember, in a dish like this where there are only a few components, it's important to use good quality ingredients because each ingredient is front and center.

Moroccan Tacos
Serves 4

Set the taco components out on the table and allow diners to make their own taco. Lay flatbread on a plate and top with the eggplant-tomato spread, zucchini salad, and feta.

Zaalouk (Stewed Eggplant-Tomato Spread)
Serves 4-6

1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup cilantro and parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Few pinches cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp. mild olive oil
1/3 cup water
Squeeze of lemon

Mix all ingredients except for lemon in a medium saucepan or deep saute pan. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom does not stick.

Remove lid and lightly mash the eggplant and tomatoes with a fork or potato masher. Simmer for another 10 minutes, uncovered, until the mixture has  thickened and is the consistency of a spread. Stir in lemon juice.

Serve warm or room temperature.

Lemony Zucchini Salad
Serves 4-6

Notes: Leftovers keep in the fridge for 1-2 days. Thanks to the zesty but bright, clean flavors, leftovers can be used as a stand-alone salad or mixed into other dishes that need to be brightened or could benefit from extra crunch (think grain salads, a bruschetta-like topping, or stirred into a frittata or omelet).

2 medium, firm zucchini
Juice from 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt and pepper
1 red chili (or red pepper flakes)

Shred zucchini using the shredder attachment of a food processor or the large side of a box grater. Set aside.

In the bottom of a medium mixing or serving bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients to make the dressing. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Add zucchini to the bowl and toss to coat. Taste for seasoning, more salt may be needed.

Marinated feta
Serves 4

Notes: The heat level in harissa sauces varies depending on the brand. My favorite brand is a blend of dried chilies, cumin, and tomato paste, so it's not as spicy. But taste yours before adding the full amount. The feta will keep in the fridge for several days, but I'd be surprised if you have much left. It's so good.

1/2 cup (100 gr) feta, crumbled
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping tsp. harissa sauce
1/8 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. za'atar (optional)
Juice from 1/4 lemon

Gently stir everything together in a small bowl and set aside to marinate.

Greek Yogurt Flatbread
Adapted from Plenty

Makes ~ 6 flatbreads (serves 4-6 as a starter, 2-3 as a main)

Notes: The dough can be made a day ahead of time and kept in the fridge. I  usually double the recipe because these tend to disappear rather quickly!

1 cup + 2 tsp. spelt flour (or whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
Tbsp. ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil, or other oil with a high smoke point
In a large mixing bowl use a fork to combine all ingredients except for the ghee. When everything is mixed use your hands to work it into a dry dough, adding a little more flour if it seems too wet. Knead the dough in the bowl until smooth and uniform (~1 minute). Wrap it in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.

To make the flatbreads, divide the dough into 6 pieces, use the palm of your hands to roll into balls, and with a rolling pin roll out to ~ 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick, or as thin or thick as you desire for tacos. Heat some of the ghee (or oil of choice) in a large cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed non-stick pan over medium heat. Cook the flatbread for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden in color. If using a cast iron skillet, you will need very little ghee or oil after the first flatbread has been cooked, and you may not use the full amount called for in the recipe.