Cranberry Orange White Chocolate Cookies

Here’s the thing that I’m finding difficult about food blogging: sometimes I have no idea what to say. I can only think of so many ways to say something is delicious, and not everything I make has a charming anecdote to accompany it. And I don’t really want to make you wade through pages of some childhood story of mine that relates somewhat tangentially to whatever recipe I’m about to post.

But.

I do like those childhood stories. And I like those anecdotes. Trimmed down, without frills. It’s just that those stories aren’t always available.

I used to keep a personal blog (well, I guess I still do, technically, but I update it about once every four months, so…) in which I would post about whatever was on my mind. Often it was just uninteresting verbal diarrhea, but occasionally I’d get lucky and I’d write a lovely little story or a snarky-funny rant. Sometimes I can write well.

But I do wonder how I managed to have anything to post about on a regular basis, because these days, I don’t really want to blurt out too much. It’s not that my life is void of interestingness (or other made-up words); it’s that I feel more guarded about what I share on the internet. You never know when someone won’t pick up on your sarcasm. So, like, talking about the swinger parties T and I go to is out of the question. And you’re probably not all the interested in hearing about the town gossip I relished at the latest quilting bee.

See? Jokes. Jokes, people. Not that I judge. But quilting is not for me.

I suppose I’m still trying to find my voice on this blog. Maybe I never will. It’s a blog about food, and cooking, and my enduring allegiance to butter and sugar and fattening sweet treats.

So, I will continue to try to find my voice, and in the meantime I will leave you with these crammed-full-of-stuff cranberry orange white chocolate cookies. I don’t have much to say about them except that I made them at Christmastime, they don’t have eggs or granulated sugar, and they taste like Froot Loops. I think they are best eaten warm, the day you make them.

Ingredients:

1 cup salted butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. orange zest
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup dried cranberries, snipped

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and powdered sugar until light and smooth. Add powdered sugar and baking soda; beat until combined. Stir in orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla. Beat in as much flour as you can, then stir in the remaining flour and the rolled oats. Add the white chocolate, pecans, and cranberries.

Drop by teaspoons onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are just lightly browned. Cool for one minute on the cookie sheet, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.

Makes about 42.

Note: The texture of these cookies was very light and almost shortbread-like. I think these could be interesting without the fruit and orange – if I make them again, I’ll try substituting milk for the o.j., omitting the zest, and replacing the cranberries with chocolate chips.

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Glazed Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Source: Annie’s Eats

I love cookies. I just completely adore them. They’re fun to make, the dough is delicious, and they travel to work with me far better than a piece of cake.

When it comes to cookies, though, I’m pretty much a sucker for traditional. My favorite of all time is a chewy chocolate chip cookie, preferably with milk-chocolate chips, especially preferably warm from the oven.

But during my November/December cookie baking frenzy, I made it a point to reach out beyond the traditional and find recipes that I might otherwise ignore. I’m a fan of lemon and all, but if I had encountered these cookies on any other given day, I might have said “meh” and moved along.

I’m really glad I didn’t. Because these lemon goodies are light, fluffy pillows of cake, all citrusy-sweet. There’s ricotta cheese in the batter, which might strike you as…different. But don’t let it deter you — don’t! — because I think the ricotta contributes greatly to the magnificent soft texture of the cookies. If you like big, soft sugar cookies, these lemon treats are for you.

Ingredients:

For the cookies:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15 oz.) container ricotta cheese (part-skim is fine)
3 T. fresh lemon juice
zest of one lemon

For the glaze:

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 T. lemon juice
zest of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Using an electric mixer (or sheer arm strength), beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the ricotta, lemon juice, and zest, and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined.

Scoop heaping tablespoonfuls of the (really very quite tasty) dough onto the lined baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies are just getting golden at the edges. Remove from oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 20 minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cookies are cooling, make the glaze: Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl, then stir in lemon juice and zest. Whisk until smooth. Spoon a little bit of glaze onto each cookie, smoothing and spreading the glaze with the back of the spoon. Let the cookies sit (if you can) to allow the glaze to harden, which will take about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container at room temp.

Cherry Pistachio White Chocolate Blondies

Source: Smitten Kitchen and my childhood
Yield: One 9×9 pan

When I was in middle school, my mom would pay me ten dollars a week to wash the kitchen floor. From what I recall, I usually did it when I was home alone, so I could crank up the music and glide around the kitchen like a blissed-out Cinderella. Sometime during that era, I also learned how to make blondies from scratch. I had found some recipe in my mom’s worn, fragile family cookbook — one that was filled with her own mother’s handwriting — and I was sold on the simple combination of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. Easy, delicious, perfect.

I remember making that recipe one afternoon before I started washing the floor. As I prepped my cleaning supplies, the pan of blondies — set out on the counter to cool — sat patiently waiting for me to devour them. One bucket of hot, soapy water later, I was in a rhythm: run the mop up one row of floor tile, stop at the counter, eat a blondie square, run the mop down the next row of floor tile. Repeat. Until most of the blondies were gone. Now THAT, my friends, is the way to make household chores fun. I might as well have been a puppy in training, eager for my comestible reward.

You might think I’d have ruined blondies for myself, associating them with kitchen cleaning. But no. For one thing, I actually kind of liked cleaning the kitchen floor. And for another, blondies are irresistibly delicious. Warm, caramelized brown sugar; thick, chewy, buttery bites; plenty of room for whatever add-ins suit your fancy, from chocolate chips to nuts to dried fruit. These cherry pistachio white chocolate blondies have all three. They’re ripe for experimentation, too, so feel free to adapt your add-ins. But I think this particular combination is my favorite.

To this day, eating a blondie hits some part of my brain that says “Good! Good good good!” I’m pretty sure I would do most any chore with the promise of a blondie at the end. Clearly, positive reinforcement works.

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt (reduce to a pinch if you’re using salted butter)
1/3 cup chopped dried cherries
1/3 cup chopped salted pistachios
1/3 cup white chocolate chips

(A note on the amount of add-ins — feel free to add more or less of each depending on your taste. I did an even split among the three and it was pretty perfect.)

Another awesome thing about blondies? They could not be easier to make. A baking pan, a saucepan, and a stove are all you need. And also, ingredients. Unless you’re making Air Blondies, which, if you are, get off my blog.

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9×9 square baking pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar and vanilla. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then beat in your egg. Stir in flour, then fold in cherries, pistachios, and chips.

Smooth batter into pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it.

Cool, then cut into however many squares you want.

Blog Aid for Haiti

Hey, you guys. I saw this on The Traveler’s Lunchbox this morning. Twenty-seven different food bloggers and writers have contributed recipes and photographs for a cookbook to support Haiti. If you click on the Traveler’s Lunchbox above, Melissa explains it very eloquently and in depth, but in summation: The cookbook, with recipes running the gamut from entrees to desserts to gluten-free to vegetarian, comes in two versions — softcover for $25 and hardcover for $50. The funds earned will go to the Haiti relief effort via the Canadian Red Cross and Doctors without Borders. AND the publisher (Blurb) and West Canadian Graphics are matching every dollar raised up to $10,000. AND THEN, the Canadian government is doing a match until February 12th. So basically, if you spend $25 on a glossy, groovy, full-color cookbook, a whole lot more than $25 will go to Haiti.

So if you’re like me and you love to stockpile cookbooks and read them while you’re eating breakfast (or any time, really), consider picking up one of these babies. I just bought one, and I’m really glad to be able to participate in this food blogging community effort. Go here to read more about the cookbook, see who has contributed, and take a sneak peek. And, you know, get one.

Tangy-Tart Lemon Bars

A few years ago, back when Terwilliger and I were still suffering through winter on the East coast, his So-Cal grandmother sent his family a box of legendary lemons from the tree in her backyard.

“These are the best lemons you’ll ever have,” Terwilliger told me, holding one to my nose so I could smell the sweet-tart aroma. The lemon was a deep, golden yellow, and it smelled like flowers and earth. I appreciated it, but I didn’t really understand just how awesome the lemons were until we ended up out here in San Diego, where we are terribly spoiled by our current locale.

In our yard, we have two orange trees — navel and Valencia — and the legendary lemon tree. We are not sure if they’re Meyer lemons, but they are fantastic lemons. This month the tree is just bursting with citrus, its branches heavy with clusters of fragrant, deep-yellow fruit, and I’ve been looking forward to using them in recipes.

Hello, lemon bars. When I was a kid, with no legendary lemons at my disposal, I would make lemon bars from a box mix, and it was the easiest thing in the world. I was so accustomed to the flavor of boxed crust that years later when I had my first from-scratch lemon bar, with its buttery shortbread base, I thought it was weird. Good, but not like a “real” lemon bar. I’m telling you, I loved the box mix. (One weekend when my mom was out of town, my dad and I ate an entire pan of box-mix-bars in 24 hours. We were great fans.)

But as my snobbery palate has developed over the years, I’ve moved away from box mixes, and I’ve come to salivate over homemade lemon bars. But I’ve never made them myself. So for this endeavor, I combed through various recipes, trying to find one that seemed like the ideal ratio of tart-to-sweet. I was also looking for something that used an excessive amount of lemon juice, since we have so many lemons to use. This recipe, from the Baking Bites Cookbook, used the most juice and looked incredibly easy to put together.

You’d think I would realize that by using as much lemon juice as possible, I would be creating something that was mouth-puckeringly tart. But I didn’t think about it until I tried one of these. Hoooo boy, these have some zing. They’re very good, but I’m thinking one small piece at a time is my limit, lest my throat start hurting from the acidity of the citrus juice.

But as I said, they are good. The shortbread crust has a light texture and perfect buttery flavor, and the filling is more like a lemon curd, smooth and slick and tangy. These are rather thin, so if you prefer a thicker crust and thicker lemon filling, I’d suggest baking the recipe below in a 9×9 square pan instead of the 9×13 called for.

Crust:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Filling:
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 T. lemon zest
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat 350 F.

In a large bowl (mixer optional), cream butter and sugar until well-combined. Stir in flour, salt, zest, and vanilla and mix until you have a grainy, crumbly dough, like coarse sand. Transfer mixture to a 9×13 baking pan (I left mine ungreased and the bars came out just fine) and press firmly to bring dough together. Bake crust for 15 – 17 minutes, or until the crust is juuuuust beginning to brown at the edges.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. This part is really easy: combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whirl until well-combined. If you don’t have a food processor, a spoon and a bowl will work just fine. Pour filling over hot crust, and then bake for 11 – 14* minutes, or until the filling is set and the edges have gotten barely golden. (*My oven cooks slow, but even still, this took more like 20 – 22 minutes for me.)

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then transfer bars to fridge and chill for an hour before serving. To serve, cut into 20 squares and sift powdered sugar over all (you might want to use quite a bit, to cut the tartness of the filling).

Warm Butternut Squash & Chickpea Salad

Whoa, where did January go? My New Year’s resolutions didn’t include updating this blog as infrequently as possible, but a very busy January at work and visitors frequenting our home have kept me far away from blogging. Since the months of January through May are typically a whirlwind of chaos at my job, I maaaay not be able to update this as frequently as I wish. But I’ll try.

So, onward:

I wanted to love this salad, I really did. I adore butternut squash and chickpeas, and the lemon-tahini dressing looked fantastic. But honestly, when all the components were together, this salad just didn’t do it for me.

I should have followed my instincts and replaced the red onion with shallots, or I should have at least roasted the red onion along with the butternut squash. But as it was, the raw red onion was just overpowering. Also, I roasted the squash for just a smidge too long — it would have been better with a little more of a shape to it, but I roasted it long enough that it became rather mushy. Plus, it’s supposed to be served warm, but it didn’t stay warm, so it was just kind of… lukewarm blah. I’d say either serve it cold or serve it piping hot. That’s just my opinion — this recipe has gotten rave reviews over at Smitten Kitchen, and it’s definitely a hearty, nutritious vegetarian option. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Oh, but the lemon-tahini salad dressing? That was indeed sublime.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1 & 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 T. olive oil
Salt to taste
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

For tahini dressing:
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 T. well-stirred tahini
2 – 4 T. water
2 T. olive oil
Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 F. In a large bowl, combine the squash, garlic, olive oil, and a few pinches of salt*. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from oven and set aside. (*If I make this salad again, I will replace the red onion with a small shallot and roast it along with the squash.)

While the squash is roasting, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil and whisk well. Add a small amount of salt and taste for seasoning. You will probably need to add the other two tablespoons of water to thin out the dressing. It should be thin-ish, pourable.

Now assemble the salad: in a large bowl, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion (or shallots), and cilantro. Drizzle dressing over to taste and toss carefully. Then serve extra dressing on the side, because it’s delicious.

Peanut Butter Blondies with Chocolate Frosting

Oh, decadence.

That’s really all there is to say.

Also, this: Dense, peanutty-caramelly blondies, slicked with thick, creamy, indulgent chocolate frosting. Heaven.

Now that’s all.

From Joy the Baker
Makes about 40.

For the blondies:

10 T. unsalted butter, cut into 5 cubes
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9×13-inch pan, then line the pan with parchment paper, then grease the paper. (No worries if you don’t have parchment paper. Just grease the pan.)

Melt butter and sugar together in a saucepan over medium heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then stir in the peanut butter. Allow the mixture to cool for 5 more minutes, then quickly stir in the eggs and vanilla extract.

Whisk together salt, flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients all at once to the peanut butter mixture and stir until just incorporated. Spread the batter, which will be thick, into the prepared pan and smooth over with a spatula. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the blondies comes out clean. Allow blondies to cool to room temperature before frosting.

For the frosting:

6 T. unsalted butter, softened
3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 & 1/2 cups powdered sugar (and 1/2 cup more if needed)
3 T. milk
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips, melted*

*Melt the chips in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, stirring every 15 seconds.

Beat together the butter, cocoa, and salt with an electric mixer. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar, then stir in 1 tablespoon of milk. Beat well. Add another cup powdered sugar, followed by 2 T. milk. Add the melted chocolate chips and beat to incorporate. If you need more thickness, add another 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Spread evenly over the cooled blondies, then cut into 40 pieces.