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Winter weekends sure can be a mixed blessing. You’ve got an entire day spread out in front of  you with endless possibilities; time on your hands and hours to make just the way you want, and yet, if you’re like those of us in Minnesota, you often wake on those long days to crackling cold air and sunshine thats full of promise but delivers nothing in warmth.

Those are the days that just require waffles.

There’s something about a crisp and aromatic waffle that deems it a culinary perfection for a chilly winter morning. A morning that you know needs to lead to a productive day. A morning where the coffee pot seems to be endlessly working, where your pajamas are often more desirable than a pair of blue jeans, mornings such as one that finds you casually sipping your brew, and noticing that the bright sunshine has highlighted your neglect of the vacuum cleaner, the dustmop and a Swiffer cloth or two.

I’m sure others can relate, right?

I grew up with Sunday morning waffles. It was eagerly anticipated to come down the stairs to the pungent scent of the percolator on the stove as it bubbled away, competing with the creaky old waffle iron, hissing emphatically, cranking out perfect rectangles of golden hued delectable treats. I do love pancakes, especially ones that stray off the beaten track of breakfast food; pancakes with shredded apples and yogurt in them, bananas and pecans in a whole wheat pancake, chocolate chip flecked ovals cooked to soft perfection and then topped with summer cherry sauce. Pancakes even spread with peanut butter and eaten out of hand. Oh, do we know about pancakes in this house, yes we do. But waffles, why there is really no other means needed to enjoy them other than good butter and syrup, because the waffle, in all it’s dented glory is the perfect palate to top with a few slices of cold butter and then drizzle warm maple syrup over to run through tunnels, cubes and edges to dress them in sweet buttery delight. Those edges crunch, the syrup absorbs and the bites come together in the mouth, a marriage to linger over, knife and fork in hand, coffee to the side. I’ll eat pancakes for dinner, and often we do, but waffles are strictly breakfast, and best on the weekends when their sturdy personality buoys you up for the long day ahead.

And who wouldn’t love the crunchy and wholesome addition of some cornmeal to the waffle?

I’ve made cornmeal studded pancakes before, and really, they’re pretty good and all, but there’s something about the added crunch of cornmeal on batter placed in the waffle iron that just sort of gets me right there. I don’t know how to describe it any more than that. And when I came across the recipe for these crunchy beauties on Kristin’s lovely blog, somehow I knew I would adore them like a treasured memory so I put together a double batch. People, I made waffles for hours, it seems. Hours. Did I care? Oh no, not at all. You see, after I made the first one and dressed it appropriately, I consumed it with gusto. My tummy, loving the introduction of it, politely asked for another. And I complied. The batter seemed endless, but I stockpiled waffles for the next few days and two packs to go into the freezer. We are happily away in waffle ecstasy. Don’t bother to look for us, ok? We’ll be fine, really and I will come back when they’re gone and do it all over again.

Oh yeah, and after I ate that delicious breakfast, it spurred me on to clean my house from top to bottom and boy, did it look nice in the dazzling but cold winter sunshine then. All thanks to a perfect little cornmeal waffle.

Buttermilk Cornmeal Waffles
(from Kristin at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, slightly adapted from Gourmet magazine)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional oil for brushing waffle iron

Into a large bowl sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Repeat sifting 2 more times.

In another large bowl whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and oil. Add flour mixture all at once and whisk just until combined.

Preheat a waffle iron and preheat oven to 200 °F.

Brush waffle iron lightly with additional oil. Spoon batter into waffle iron, using 1/4 cup batter for each 4-inch-square standard waffle and spreading batter evenly, and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer waffle to a baking sheet and keep warm, uncovered, in middle of oven. Make more waffles with remaining batter in same manner, brushing waffle iron with more oil before adding each batch.

Serve waffles with syrup.

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It’s not often that I wish something so rich, so decadent and addicting on my readers. Me, of the ‘You should try this quinoa!’ and ‘Have you ever had such amazing black beans!’ and “Ooooh! Soup!‘ posts that gently encourage health through your food and yet when I come across such an incredible recipe for hot fudge sauce, something that takes all of about 10 minutes to make for an indulgent return of gasping through each sultry chocolate-y mouthful, here I am devilishly trying to get you all to break those hard-core resolutions with a spoon and a wink. On top of ice cream, even.

But please do so, if you are so inclined. While I am a firm believer in taking control of one’s health, of making the changes in your body and spirit that give you the wherewithal to pump your fist in the air and shout “YES!” when you step on the scale, or easily slip those old jeans over your hips,  at the same time I also emphatically feel that we can’t achieve our successes when we deprive ourselves of everything in the name of health. Life should be about balance. Enjoy some hot fudge, really enjoy it but not every day and for Pete’s sake, please share it with those you love because that’s what food is all about, isn’t it? The look on their faces when they spoon the first deep dark bite into their mouths and run their tongues over the silky smooth sauce and you’ll be fist-pumping for yet another reason because you totally made someone’s day. Make that one of your resolutions this year too, hmmm?

Decadent Hot Fudge Sauce
(from The Silver Palate Cookbook, with adaptations)

4  1-oz squares unsweetened Bakers Chocolate
3 T. unsalted butter (NO substitutions- be WILD people!)
2/3 c. water
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. light corn syrup
Pinch sea salt
1 T. pure vanilla extract (or get even more crazy and add real rum, cognac, amaretto……you get the idea)

In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt the chocolate and butter together. Do not stir, but occasionally agitate the pan to distribute the heat. Alternately, you can use a double boiler. In another small pan, bring the water to a boil.

When the chocolate is fully melted, pour the boiling water into it, then stir in the sugar and corn syrup. Stir to combine and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat so that it simmers gently, but not violently, and allow to boil for about 10 minutes. You can stir it occasionally, but it’s really not necessary. After 10 minutes, remove it from the heat and stir in the flavoring. Allow to cool for 20 minutes or so, then spoon it over ice cream.

This can be chilled too, and reheated in the microwave. Stir to combine before serving. Enjoy it immensely.

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Well now…..how do I follow up on those amazing shirred eggs? What epitome of blogging can I reach, after a feature on The Kitchn page of Apartment Therapy, days in a row of well over a thousand hits per day on the blog, a Twitter post that ran rampant with RT’s and an endless run of traffic to my Flickr page?

By posting about meatballs. Whooo boy….I know how to maintain a mighty pace, don’t I? Maybe I should create a meatball with a baked egg inside of it. Life would be good then, wouldn’t it? I might just go out on top, revel in all that eggy glory. My husband would be even more thrilled then. (psssst…..he hates eggs. The popularity of that egg post was almost too much for him.)

So I had put off posting on these meatballs, even though they were a reality back when the calendar read 2009, because, well….they’re meatballs. They’re not that inspiring. Good thing those eggs came along to beat it off the top of the queue.  There are some people to whom a meatball is worthy of culinary greatness, but really, they’re nothing more than chunks of meat and seasonings, baked to perfection, seared in a skillet or simmered in potent broth. Not too special, are they?  And once finished they don’t really stand up and pose all that well. Photographing them wasn’t exactly the most anticipatory item on my To-Do list. I was too busy being gape-mouthed at what madness had been stirred up by those eggs.

But then, I remembered how these meatballs tasted. Oh Lord, they were delicious.

But they normally would join soup, stew and chicken as the dishes that I just can’t make myself photograph, and yet for whatever reason, once I put these on a plate and adjusted the light in the room, they really jumped out at me and made themselves heard. Good thing, I suppose, as the January issue of Bon Appétit magazine boldly claims the humble Meatball as it’s Dish of the Year and throws out no less than five ways to make them for yourself. As if we need any proof. Commencing Meatball Education 101.

Simply because I love the name Albondigas, as the Spanish apparently call a meatball, I zeroed in on that recipe to start my more thorough meatball training, which may be furthered through Spicy Pork Meatball Banh Mi, a delightful All’amatriciana meatball dish, the Lamb Köfte and then end, happily stuffed by all things meat, tiny and round, with the Morrocan Meatball Tagine. I’m pretty sure that Griffin will be glazing over in joy when our lessons are finalized.

Is it possible that having a good background helps with proper meatball photography?

The original recipe in the magazine is an Ancho Chile Soup with Poblano Albondigas, but I knew that those little orbs of ground meat and roasted poblano chiles would be just as delicious all on their own, and with some young house-guests coming for a few days, I needed something simple, but filling, and desirable to both the youngest, who was not quite two years old, and both the adults.

These meatballs had immense flavor from the cumin and oregano, and the subtle flavor of roasted chiles. I think a roasted jalapeno would really make these more intense. Instead of making them in a soup, I baked them under a layer of fire-roasted tomato sauce, and to give them some substance, I added about a cup of rice to the meat mixture. Our sweet niece Nina ate so much of it that she languished happily on my lap, her toddler belly stuffed and round, satiation apparent on her cherubic face, and her 9-year old brother, who initially shook his head at the offering actually went back for seconds. Our meatball learning has happily begun.

Poblano Albondigas
From Bon Appétit magazine, January 2010

2 large, fresh poblano chiles, split in half, cored and seeded
1# ground beef (15% fat recommended)
1/2 c. coarsely grated zucchini
1/4 c. finely grated onion
1/4 c. Panko breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten to blend
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 t. dried mexican oregano
1 T. ground cumin
1/2 t. kosher salt

Heat oven to Broil. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay the peppers on it. Spray the peppers. Broil, watching closely, until skins are charred and blackened. Remove from oven and place in bowl, then cover with plastic wrap. Allow to steam until cool, then peel the charred skin away and finely chop the peppers.

Mix beef with peppers and remaining ingredients. Using moistened hands, shape mixture into 1″ balls, about a tablespoon each. Place on foil covered rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 375° until cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

KATE’S NOTES:
I used ground turkey in place of the ground beef. You won’t get much fat run-off at all with that substitution. I did not have any zucchini on hand so I shredded some spinach and added that instead. It was a wonderful flavor. I think that adding some corn puree to this recipe would be amazing- half a cup of corn blended in a food processor with just enough liquid to make a coarse puree. If doing so, more breadcrumbs would be necessary to hold the mixture together. Hmmmm….next time?

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It’s my new favorite, my breakfast to satisfy in so many ways and means. But there is also a thin measure of sadness when I make them, as I am the only one in my house that will ever be able to enjoy these. Mike doesn’t eat eggs- I know!- and Griffin doesn’t eat potato skins. I know! Who are these two? Sometimes, it befuddles me.

But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying a simple egg breakfast, or even dinner on my lone Wednesday evenings when the guys are both gone. I treasure those nights; an empty house, the music I love and a kitchen humming with singular possibilities. The food that I make for myself, for my ‘alone’ time is so different than what comes from the cookware on other nights. I can satisfy my appetite with nibbles of many different items, a bite of this or that, grazing from the fridge and pantry until my tummy says “Ahhh. Thanks. That’s good for now.” Maybe if it was how I supped all the time it would get old, possibly lonesome. But I don’t, so it balances those nights that Griffin charges down the stairs, hopping around in delight, and Mike comes beaming into the kitchen nearly singing “Something smells gooo-ood!”

But, about those eggs.

Baked eggs, well they’re nothing new. Called ‘Shirred Eggs’ if you want to get technical and all, you just place them in buttered ramekins or chafing dishes and set them in a hot oven until they are cooked to your liking. Dusted with salt and pepper, it’s a simple meal, especially if placed atop a slice of hearty rye bread, and maybe a slab of briny ham. Having a warm oven on to soothe the ravages of a bitter January night also makes them ever appealing. I had dropped a half dozen potatoes into the oven prior to running Griffin to his youth group night, and when I came home to a fragrant house, soft mealy potatoes and the desperate need to fill my gnawing mid-section, somehow the thought of a twice-baked potato morphed into a baked egg, encased in a crunchy potato skin and soon enough I was sighing happily through so simple and yet so great a repast that I could hardly believe it hadn’t been done before. But as I nibbled, sighed some more and gazed blithely at the scene on my plate, it saddened me to know that my family would never eat it. But if my Project365 Flickr friends are any indication, there is plenty of interest to be had out there, among the fervent internet web I have woven around this little blog.

Here’s what you do:

This dish requires nicely baked potatoes. You need skins that are good and sturdy to hold your egg. I like my baked spuds to be superbly soft and mealy and often bake them much longer than most people. The skins pucker, and they look like they’ve nearly collapsed inside. Be sure to have some potato size that will adequately hold an egg inside. The ones I baked were almost too small. Keep the oven on after the potatoes are done. Mine was set at 400°.

Once baked and cool enough to handle, slice the potato as if you plan to make Twice Baked- I cut a slip of skin off the top to make more of a cup-like shape. Scoop the interior- gently!  into a bowl and if you’re like me, add a small pat of butter, some good salt and a grind of pepper, and nibble on it while you make your eggs. Lay the bare potato skins on a baking sheet and place them back in the oven for maybe 5 minutes. This firms up the skin, making them more sturdy. I placed the skins in ramekins to help support them to hold the eggs, but that’s because mine were rather small. If yours are large enough, this won’t be necessary. Remember that if the skins tear or split, they won’t hold the raw egg.

Have a small measuring cup with a spout ready, and crack one egg in to it. Make sure your potato skin is already on the baking sheet. With the raw egg in it, it is difficult to move. Gently pour the egg into the skin. Season any way you wish. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the egg until it is set to your liking. I am not a soft-set girl by any means, and I baked mine until they were very firm with only a small amount of soft egg left. The time needed will vary accordingly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Top with cheese, bacon, seasoned bread crumbs- my way in the photos- or whatever suits your fancy. If firm enough, they can be sliced and eaten out of hand but I suggest sitting down with knife and fork, and quietly enjoying them with each rapturous bite.

And be sure to also use those slices you’ve cut away from the tops. With a bit of salt, they bake into the most delectable potato chip.

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Cranberry and orange is a classic combination, and even the thought of it brings me swiftly back to Christmas as a child when my Mom would pull out her superbly old hand-cranked food grinder and clamp it to the counter edge to make a fresh cranberry-orange relish that filled our kitchen with the lively tang of oranges and the tart haze of cranberry. My sisters and I loved standing at the counter turning the crank of that grinder while Mom fed whole cranberries and oranges into the hopper, the pop and crunch of the fruit filling our ears while the mouth dripped it’s ruby mass into the bowl underneath. It was the scent of the holiday for us, more than a fresh ham baking in the oven, better than her scratch mincemeat or a simmering apple pie. I can zest an orange in the burning July sunshine, wearing shorts and a tank-top, and I will immediately be transported back to wintertime, as a kid again in Mom’s kitchen, fighting my sisters for a turn at the grinder. Back then, the tart cranberries were not to my liking, but I absolutely adored that smell.

The mix of cranberry and orange seems to be everywhere right now, and for good reason as fresh cranberries are in season. For some delicious winter baking, I grabbed it with both hands and enjoyed the promise of greatness found in this match.

There were scones first…..

I had to backtrack to find out exactly where this recipe came from, but thankfully came across it on LoveFeast Table so I can be sure to give proper credit. I’ve linked the recipe for you because I seriously suggest you make yourself a pan of these before too long. The flavors speak of winter, they require you to pour a steaming coffee to sip alongside, and will make you smile happily with delight. We all need that in the chilly months ahead.  This past year has been a big one for me in terms of muffins and scones. I like being able to put together a batch if the moment seems right, and you really can’t lose with anything that has some semblance of chocolate in it. Even when the chocolate is white. And these scones are tender, moist and airy. You’ll never purchase a coffee shop hockey puck again.


Then, even while there were still a few scones left over, I forged into a Cranberry Date and Orange quick bread to bring to one of our Christmas gatherings. It was so hard for me to wrap these loaves and slip them in the freezer to await our celebration, because when I knocked them out of the pans to cool, the smell that rose from them reached into my nose and tickled it immensely. I had to walk out of the kitchen in order not to rip a chunk off one to sample. Thankfully, we ended up with plenty of leftovers.

CRANBERRY DATE ORANGE BREAD

2 c. all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat)
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt (I started using sea salt in baking and I love the results!)
1 egg
1/2 c. orange juice
Grated peel of 1 orange
2 T melted butter or margarine
2 T. hot water
1 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c. chopped dates
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts (or pecans- but either is optional)

Heat oven to 325°. Spray a standard 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, dates, water and butter. Heat to a low simmer, stirring occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes. Some of the berries should start popping but you want them to retain their shape as much as possible. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange juice and zest. Allow to cool until barely room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Beat egg separately. Add egg and cranberry mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in nuts, if using. Spoon into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

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I’m not sure whether I feel sadness or relief that Christmas is over.


Some years, it’s a combination of both.

This year it seems to be more relief, as I struggled to bring the holiday forefront in my life. I am more eager for this coming New Year’s Day. I’ll be happy to throw out the last calendar page of 2009, thinking this month I might rip it into tiny pieces before fluttering them into the recycle bin, watching the last of a year to forget slip through my fingers. Maybe the metaphorical shredding will empty my heart of the effects of too many trials and ongoing stress. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that.

Our Christmas celebrations were nice, as they always are. There was plenty of good food and family time. There was lots and lots of snow, Minnesota-style. We even had some rain, which led, of course to ice and then on top of that, more snow. I love how when I look out over a fresh snowfall, I feel giddy again like I did as a kid. It’s nice to feel that sense of wonder still inside me.


The more adventurous of our two cats had enough curiosity to venture onto the front steps, but that was about it. The sound of the snowblowers was a bit too much for him.


The Christmas celebrations had plenty of high points; my son, our little carnivore, got his fill of good meat, a gift in and of itself. We caught up on some much needed sleep and my sister-in-law gave me a beautiful, warm hand-knitted shawl that I am completely uninterested in removing from my shoulders any time soon. We’ll have a new niece or nephew any day now and the anticipation is very high. There is much to be joyful about, and this is no lie. Even in my pensive state I am well aware of the multitude of blessings that surround us.  And I am here now, in the last few days of one year, a year I can’t imagine ever wanting to re-visit again, eagerly full of hope, mystery and the potential of something far better starting in the new year on Friday. I’ve always been in wonder over the fact that you can lay down to sleep on December 31st, and wake up to a whole new stretch of months ahead, a new numbered calendar year, a lineup of days, blank and exciting to make into what you wish. I remember being young, ushering in a brand new year, and unaware that life had the potential to keep kicking you after you’ve tripped and fallen flat. I always thought it should look different, that switch from one year to the next; I expected the new year to dawn bright and shiny, unblemished and superbly fresh, like that moment you step out of the bath. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the ability to place your burdens on the ground, the stroke of midnight imminent, and step over some magical threshold into 2010, closing the door and leaving them behind? Spiritually this is full of possibility. I hope to be able to do just that, the best I can this coming Thursday evening. I think about changes I wish to see in the coming year. I think about stress relief, smiling more, hoping more, praying more. I think about rising up to a better level of personal contentment, stretching my culinary wings, digging deeper, loving more fully, reaching out farther, accepting life more gracefully with less judgment. What’s the next step? The right step? Maybe my best option is simply to keep myself open to immense possibility.

And let’s talk about immense possibility, with regards to this Cornbread Stuffed Poblano Pepper.


I came across this idea while blog surfing one day and had yet another ‘Eureka!’ moment. If I recall correctly, we ate it for dinner that night and I was swirling with the potential of greatness to be found in this simple option. Like the New Year ahead, it’s bright with new promise and endless outcomes. I think about chunks of pork, mixed with green chile sauce and topped with cornbread mix nestled into a dark green pepper, baked to perfection and steaming hot, topped with avocado and a spot of sour cream. I think about chili beans too. Maybe spicy chicken pieces. I like thinking in terms of potential, for both my life in the 12 months coming rapidly my way, and for my food. It makes future endeavors seem much more delicious.

For your Cornbread Stuffed Poblano Peppers:

Buy as many poblano peppers as there are people to serve. Look for firm, unblemished peppers with as much roundness as possible, not the easiest option in a poblano. Heat the oven to 375° and cover a baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil with cooking spray.  Slice the peppers the long way and trim out the core and seeds. Prepare your favorite cornbread recipe, reducing the liquid up to 1/3. A more dense cornbread won’t spill out of the peppers as it bakes. Jazz up the cornbread by adding a chopped jalapeno, or a 4-oz can of diced green chilies, some sharp cheddar cheese, a spoonful of minced chipotle peppers. Be creative with the additions. Spoon some of the cornbread mix into each pepper half, just enough to barely touch the top. Sprinkle extra cheese over the top. Any remaining cornbread can be baked as muffins, or any option you wish. Bake the peppers until the cornbread is cooked, about 18-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

A savory meat or bean layer underneath the cornbread strikes me as a delicious option for these, turning a healthy side dish into a delightful main course meal. Oh, the possibilities……..

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Those Sugar Plums, the ones that dance in the head during the long winter slumber in the most familiar Christmas story that’s likely ever been written. How did I get to be this age, with a teenager and a husband, long gone away from treasured annual reads of that classic story each year, the retelling of Santa’s magical visit, and not have any clue what a real sugar plum entailed? I want to kick myself.

Because, I’ll tell you something, and this is no small truth. Had I known about these delightful, sweet and simple little treats prior to this past week, how easy they are to put together and how eager and surprised everyone looks when you pull out a container and say “These are Sugar Plums. Yes! THOSE Sugar Plums!” I’m telling you, it would be all I need and I’d have been cranking out these nutty fruit-filled, orange-scented orbs the moment the calendar page flipped over to the month of Christmas.


My hope now is that I don’t go so far into overkill that I never want to see a dried apricot again. The delight and flavor and simplicity of these might possibly have that effect on me. Good thing Christmas is just a few days away. It’s a bit embarrassing, really, to be so interested in food of all kinds, the history of it, the stories it can tell and not be aware of this confection. But that’s what we have friends for, isn’t it? To enlighten us? To share the wealth?

And little could be simpler than combining rough-chopped nuts and dried fruit in a food processor along with honey and orange juice and whirring it all into an utterly fragrant crush of flavor. Even the rolling of the mixture was contemplative, as the sun warmed my backside and Miles Davis kept me company with his sultry trumpet. A late afternoon of putting together a Christmas fiction and ballet classic that I know I will love for years to come left me feeling a lot more festive than I have been lately. With the addition of a fragrant tree, dragged through a snowy wood, and boxes filled with a lifetime of memories and nostalgia also added some much-needed holiday spirit to my life. If all I need to do that is a few packages of dried fruit and some bags of nuts, then holidays from now on could become much more simpler. One can only hope, anyway.

Sugar Plums

Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009    (and Susan)

2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.

3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.

4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut. Place on the baking sheet and chill for about 1 hour until firm.

KATE’S NOTES:
I used two cups equivalent of nuts, utilizing pistachios and pecans as well as almonds. It’s my holy trifecta of nutty favorites.  I might have used figs in place of dates, and on another go-round of this recipe, I probably will do just that along with dried cherries. The possibilities are endless for substitutions. Use raisins both black or gold, dried cranberries, currants, pineapple, mango. Other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts. Try it with lemon juice and zest for a different background of flavor.

I also added a teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the mix. Cinnamon and nutmeg are culinary best buds. They really get along so well together that it’s a shame to leave one out when the other is present.

I added a bit more honey and orange juice, as the amount in the recipe didn’t seem to be enough to make the mixture as sticky as it needed to hold together. Adjust it according to your taste preferences.

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I very distinctly remember the first granola type cereal I ever consumed. It was CW Post cereal. Anyone remember that? It been ages since one could buy it, but when it first came on the market and my Mom brought it home, I probably ate the whole box by myself. It was kind of like granola, way sweeter though. And super crunchy. I recall that my teeth often hurt when I finished.

When I was in college, I used to buy bulk granola from the natural foods Co-Op. I loved it as a snack and it transported well in my backpack, or my bike bag so I could always have something to nibble on. Of course, it was never an easy thing to try and sneak in the middle of a class since the enormous crunch of it always gave me away. For whatever reason, as an adult I never ate granola with milk, like a regular cereal. To me it was always snack food. I love it on soft serve ice cream, and especially in yogurt but I rarely eat it for breakfast.

Granola is everywhere now, and the flavor combinations are endless. My local natural foods store has a decadent chocolate and coconut kind that I love and it’s almost impossible for me to go through there without pouring myself a nice bag to take home. I’ve made a lot of granola from scratch too and am always on the lookout for good recipes to try. Mike loves it too. With a container of yogurt and a bag of granola he has great snacking options. Griffin will even mix up a bowl on occasion, and believe me, I love to see that.

Mike loves dried cherries on his yogurt, so a granola that included those was like finding a recipe that was created just for him. This particular one was from the LA Times, and touted as a nice holiday gift to give. Mmmmm, I thought it was just perfect as a token of appreciation for a hard-working spouse.

Cherry Coconut Granola
from The LA Times newspaper

1 c. shredded or shaved unsweetened coconut
4 T. unsalted butter
1/3 c. honey
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. sea salt
3 c. whole rolled oats
1/4 c. sesame seeds
1 c. chopped almonds (I used both almonds and pecans)
3 T. brown sugar
1 c. chopped dried cherries

Heat the oven to 275°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment and spread the coconut on it in a single layer. Toast in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until lightly browned. Timing will vary according to how fine the coconut is shredded. Keep your eye on it. Burnt coconut is NOT fun. Remove from the oven and place in a bowl to cool.

Melt the butter in a large pot over low heat. Add the honey, vanilla and salt and stir well. Pour in the oats, sesame seeds and nuts. Stir well to combine. Add the brown sugar and stir gently to combine. Transfer to cookie sheet (whether you leave the parchment on it is up to you. I did initially but ended up taking it off halfway through the baking as it was slipping all over the place)

Toast the granola, stirring every 15-20 minutes until the mixture is golden brown, about an hour. Remove tray and allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl and add cherries and coconut, stirring well to combine.

KATE’S NOTES:
Be sure to use whole rolled oats for this recipe. The thickness will hold up better and overall, the taste and nutrition of whole rolled oats is superior. When I’ve made granola previously, I have used barley flakes and if you can find those, they make a nice addition to any scratch granola recipe.

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It came on as ferociously as promised and effectively shut down a large portion of the state. What a great metaphor, if you choose to see it that way. The Christmas crazies have taken hold and yet, no matter what your plan, be it a holiday party, a shopping trip, weekly youth group meetings or even dinner out, Mother Nature said ‘Not a chance, bud’ and forced us to stay in, stay warm and just sit, quiet and calmly, during what amounts to some of the nuttiest days of the year. The snow swirled around us, the wind howled and we took a small step away from the frantic pre-holiday race. Honestly, should we be forced to do this every year, I wouldn’t be one to complain.

After a few days of relative inactivity, I bundled myself up to take a chilly hike, ever aware of the need to move, to get the blood flowing and to whittle away not only the pesky excess on the body, but the loud and clamoring voices in my head that I often can’t shut off. I also wanted to see the winter landscape, to find the moments of clarity that come from a fresh snowfall when the hushed silence around us is marked only by the squeak of your boots. I needed the cold, and the cardio output. It helped immensely.

Christmas is having a hard time reaching me this year. Not particularly sure why, but given that the last 12 months have been challenging, it would suffice to say that getting festive may be the last thing on my mind. But a part of me wants to drench myself in the spirit, hauling out the decorations in an attempt to impress my mind with the full blown effects of the holiday. There is still plenty to be happy and excited about this season. We are in high anticipation of a new member imminently joining the already large clan on Mike’s side. This Christmas will be more beautiful when sharing it with someone so brand new and perfect, a simple reminder of the true reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Fresh promise. New hope. I should be eagerly awaiting the end of December, the turn of a new calendar page, a fresh start to another 12 month saga. I should, really. And I am. But every year is the same; I fight the despicable commercialism of Christmas, the vapid holiday music that is everywhere, and the rush, rush, rush of everyone thinking that somehow there is perfection wrapped in a package, tied up in a bow. One year when I was in college, my cousin took a trip to Europe over Christmas. I remember thinking she was crazy to go away that time of year, but now, looking back, I almost wish I could do just that. Part of me wants to just jump from here to the 31st.

My kitchen repertoire during this quick cold snap turned towards the warm and comfort angle- thick soups, pastas, a delicious meatloaf. It’s a return to the familiar, like the chill wind outside. I don’t complain about cold. It’s inevitable here in Minnesota. Dress warm, keep moving. You’ll be fine. Filling tummies with comfort and warmth is just another step in the process.

This golden and fragrant Spiced Quinoa made it’s way to our table on a dragging Friday, the end of another long week. With the warming spices of cumin and ginger- easily my favorite duo in the kitchen-  the quinoa was rich in flavor, soothing to look at and warm in the belly. It easily took us from busy day to quiet evening, where all I wanted was my couch, my PJ’s and a good movie to engage my mind. It smelled fabulous. And for those frantic days ahead, this could be the easiest and least demading thing you put your energy towards. I spent more time measuring out the spices than doing anything else.

Spiced Quinoa
from the Taste for Life test kitchens

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 t. each ground ginger, cumin, coriander and turmeric
1 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 c. boiling water
Fresh cilantro or mint, if desired

In a medium saucepan, warm the oil and brown the spices for several minutes, stirring frequently. Add the quinoa and stir to coat with the spices. Pour in the boiling water, make sure it’s simmering and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and allow to simmer, undisturbed, until the water is fully absorbed and little holes appear on the top of the quinoa. Gently pull back the grain to check for any remaining liquid but do not stir. When all the liquid is absorbed, turn off the heat and allow the pan to sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Fluff grain with a fork before serving, and top with fresh cilantro or mint if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

KATE’S NOTES:
It’s imperative NOT to stir quinoa when it is cooking. Like rice, it will get mushy if disturbed in the cooking process. One cup of the grain cooks in about 15 minutes or so at a gentle simmer. Quinoa is a perfect alternative to a rice side dish. We topped this option with chopped pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Soy nuts are also good with it, as are chopped almonds or cashews.

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Beyond the sugar, flour and butter of a good cookie, beyond the proper pan, the parchment or silpat on top and the tried and true recipes, even beyond the cookie jar on the counter, rubbed and worn from decades of hands reaching for it, cookies have become infused as a part of me from as far back as I can remember. Thanks to my mom, for certain.

Hey Everyone! You know what time of year it is, right????

Any amount of time in my little obscure corner of the blogging world and you know that my love of baking goes deep. And long. I’ve eaten all manners of cookie; any and all types have passed these cookie-loving lips, of all shapes and sizes and styles and colors and proportions. I’ve had chocolate chip a thousand different ways and oatmeal cookies to swoon over. I’ve had double chocolate rebels and chewy chocolate bites and thumbprints of all manners and madelines that melt in my mouth. I’ve had cakey chocolate drops covered in mocha frosting that nearly made me faint. Gingersnaps both chewy and crisp, macaroons both airy and dense and cheesecake cookies scented with lemon. I’ve had exotic varieties from other lands, sugar cookies of all kinds and shapes, cookies with seeds and nuts and sprinkles and colored sugars and tiny hard candy dots, out of bags, boxes and freezer cases. With one bite I know whether you’ve used butter or not, whether it was built from a recipe or cut from a pre-made log with a brand name on it. I know my cookies. And I think the one item missing from my life, my kitchen and eventually, from my son’s memory is a cookie jar standing on the counter, ready for the next best cookie to fall into it’s fathomless interior. For whatever reason, we don’t have a cookie jar. I love my kitchen, the room where magic occurs and genuine smiles are formed, but my counter does not hold that memorable item.

I’m imbued with the scent of baking cookies, brought on by a lifetime of saturating myself in the process of making them, the rhythmic scooping, the whir of a mixer, the flour covered countertops that result in a hot tray of tiny fragrant orbs that’s sole purpose is to coat and soothe an otherwise hectic life down to a manageable roar. I recall days as a child where the call of the cookie jar would pull me forward, the familiar squawk of the metal lid being pulled off our old worn canister as I eagerly plunged my hand in to bring forth Mom’s comfort and salve. I would indulge until spent, broken and weary from the sugar high but otherwise calmer than when I entered her kitchen, bent on seeking a balm for what ills I had endured. From my cookie coma, I often wished to simply slip to the floor and lay in the sunshine, brushing the crumbs from my face. Likely I just lay my head down on the formica tabletop. If I thought of anything at all, it was when I would feel ready to eat more. My Mom knew that her cookies were our Achilles heel; she knew what each of us liked and didn’t like. She knew how she could draw us to her by simply announcing that she was baking cookies. She just knew. Through chocolate chips and chopped dates and broken nuts and some old worn cookie sheets warped with age and use, she could reach to us across any barriers we tried to put up and give us a piece of her heart. Mom was not so demonstrative with her love, but she made us cookies, and in turn, it gave me the first of many glimpses into the divine dance that occurs when one cooks for someone they love. She taught me to bake cookies and it taught me how to take care of someone’s heart. I make cookies for my family, but what I might be trying to do, at least in spirit, is to awaken in me the memory of her, to keep her alive and beside me, along with grasping a moment where my own child runs to my side, eyes gleaming and smiling wide to take in the cooling rows of cookies. To watch him eagerly reach for a handful, to see him dip into the container that holds them, eyes shut in his delight as he takes a bite is to see pure love.

[[All right, want the mother-lode of Cookies?? More than you can imagine?]]

Christmas comes, and in my life there’s a cookie exchange each year. I always want to offer something new and different, more to stretch my own concept of a cookie than anything else. There are endless variations to be formed through a bowl and a tiny scoop, or sliced from a chilled log. All manner of ingredients can be used. What’s important is the memory and feeling behind pulling out the stand mixer, getting down the ingredients, the smell of the oven and a hot tray of blissful bites on the counter.  This year, just prior to my annual baking frenzy, my tiny cookie scoop was broken and my search for a suitable replacement was futile. These slice and bake cookies saved the day. And opened my eyes. Life’s little surprises, in the shape of a sweet morsel in your fingers, continue to roll forward.

Earl Grey Cookies (bottom left in the photo above)
(courtesy of Shannalee at Food Loves Writing, and everyone’s friend, Martha Stewart)

2 c. AP flour
2 T. finely ground Earl Grey tea (from about 4 teabags. Can be crushed in a baggie with a rolling pin, or in a blender or coffee grinder)
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T. finely grated orange zest

Whisk flour, tea and salt in a large measuring cup.

Place butter, sugar and orange zest into bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrap the bowl occasionally to insure uniformity. Reduce speed to low and blend in flour, only until incorporated.

Divide dough in half and place each piece on parchment paper. Shape into logs and place in fridge until firm, 2-3 hours. Dough can be chilled overnight too, and frozen for up to a month.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until browned at the edges. Cool on sheets on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: The Stash tea I used came very finely ground already. I did not have to crush it any further. I strongly recommend a good quality tea for this cookie. Don’t fear the tea leaves in this cookie; the flavor of these is fresh and lovely, chock full of orange essence. The tea is barely noticeable. I am certifiably crazy about this cookie. As soon as the last one was gone, I wanted to make another batch and I better hurry up and do it quickly before I drink up all the delicious tea.

Vanilla Spice Cookies (top right in the photo above)
(from Shannalee again)

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter at medium speed and gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla and blend. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and spices. Add this to the butter mixture on low speed and blend only until incorporated.

Shape the dough into two rolls, about 12 inches long. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill until firm, 2-4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350° and line cookie sheets with parchment. Unwrap rolls and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire racks and keep in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: I added extra cinnamon and cardamom to these to amp up the spice flavor. They tasted like Chai tea and were just lovely.

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