Saturday, December 20, 2014

Eggless Almond Thumbprint Cookies

My 2-year old took a 3 hour nap yesterday. It is something that happens fairly unpredictably in the last few months. Whenever that nap matches up with a day that I actually don't need one myself, I am amazed at how productive I can be.

I might have written the day off as a bad one, based on our morning. As we ran out to get cranberries from the store, I ran into some car problems. This meant that both our vehicles would now be away at the "car doctor" for a bit, and we also needed daddy to come rescue us at the grocery store. But he did rescue us, and the nice mechanic who called me Signora, and told my husband to listen to me next time I complained of noises from the car, was able to fix it in a few hours. On a side note, this is why I love my new suburban city - it's filled with all sorts of nice old-school charmy folks doing nice things and saying nice things and kissing both cheeks when they don't even know you. Not to say it's without politics, drama or hot issues - but the kindness is just more overt here than the city. I'm sure if daddy hadn't rescued us, some kind stranger would have, without hesitation.

Somewhere in the middle of this interesting day, my son threw down a perfectly timed 3-hour nap. I did dishes, showered and baked 2 batches of biscotti and these thumbprint cookies. Any parent of toddlers might agree, that no matter what else happened, this is a downright perfect-day-maker. Oh, and the kid loves the cookies too, and they're not all that unhealthy, so that's fine! He doesn't feel the same way about the pumpkin cranberry biscotti (which are pretty great), saying "I don't like them for my mouth" (he's got molars cutting through - joy).

Quick Pumpkin Cranberry Biscotti with Ginger
For the thumbprint cookies, a recipe from Food & Wine caught my eye. It used half almond flour, and was spiced with cardamom. Not my personal favorite spice, but my family all like it, and most likely I'd be giving most away. The only problem was that my husband's family don't eat eggs. I decided to give egg-replacer powder a second chance in this recipe, and it actually worked out! (I didn't have such luck with it in cake). I also added the jam halfway through baking, instead of after, so that it got firm enough to stay in place.

My husband asked if these are easy to make. For me, I'd say no, they're not easy. But not difficult either. I just really hate holding a heavy hand-mixer, and waiting for butter to soften, and shaping each cookie. Here is my version of the cardamom thumbprint cookies, neither too easy nor too difficult (but very delicious):

Eggless Almond Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 36-40 2-1/2" cookies

1 C almond meal
1 C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1 T egg-replacer
3 T water (filtered)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 C sugar

Fruit preserves or chocolate spread. (I used Mixed Berry preserves and Nutella)

1. Heat oven to 350F.

2. Mix together almond meal, flour, cardamom and salt in a bowl.

3. In a small bowl, mix together egg replacer and water. Add vanilla and almond extract.

4. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. (It may take quite a while, maybe 4-5 minutes).

5. Add egg replacer and extracts to the large bowl and continue to mix on medium speed. Add the flour mixture slowly until incorporated and a dough forms. 

6. Using your hands, form the dough into a large ball. Pinch off a little at a time and roll using your hands to make small 1" balls. Place the balls 3" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten each ball to 1/4" thick using your hand and use your thumb to make a well in the middle. Bake for 8 minutes.

7. Remove cookies and use a small spoon to press down the wells in the centers. Fill each with 1 tsp of preserves or drop 1/2 tsp dollops of spread. Bake 8-10 more minutes, until firm but not browned. Cool a few minutes and then remove from pan to a cooling rack. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Poached Eggs Over Latkes with Kefir Creamed Kale

I can cook a lot of things, but for whatever reason, I just can not poach a proper egg. My husband asked if I could do it one day, and my answer was: "Nope, I can't do it. Not gonna happen, I just SUCK at poaching eggs. I need that special contraption like my mom has, from 1965." He could hardly believe me, like, how the heck can't I of all people, cook a stupid little egg. Why on earth is it so freakin' hard to poach an egg?  I know I'm not alone.

A conversation about this struggle with fellow moms - over delicious, perfect, poached eggs at Buckram Stables - left me wanting to try my hand at it again. So, I tested the method of adding a splash of vinegar to the water. I'm not real sure it helps much, but certainly didn't hurt. I also tried deeper water, but ended up fishing in a sea of loose whites for the lost little eggy stuck on the bottom. It's like baking for me - I can do OK, but not great. I didn't throw out any eggs, but I couldn't make them look pretty, or perfectly runny either.

On this egg-poaching morning, I actually concocted a pretty yummy recipe with random ingredients I had on hand. I wanted to make something like my favorite brunch dish, eggs florentine, but had no spinach. So I used some frozen kale. I discovered my heavy cream had soured, so I used the Kefir I've been drinking to cream it up, along with some shredded parmesan I've always got around. I puréed it to make it less chewy and fibrous, without having to cook it forever. I think our bread might have been moldy too, so I baked some Trader Joe's latkes from the freezer, which my 2 year old loves to eat.

There you have it: impromptu eggs florentine with a twist. A healthy, hearty little brunch at home. Also a great way to use up leftover latkes, if you've got those around. By the way, I suck at making those too, but I bet there's a way I figure that one out eventually!

So, how do YOU poach an egg?

Poached Eggs Over Latkes with Kefir Creamed Kale

poached eggs
cooked potato latkes
frozen kale
plain kefir (cultured milk)
grated parmagiano cheese

Heat the latkes and prepare the creamed kale. In a skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt butter (about 2 T butter to 1 C kale). Add kale and cook until heated through. Lower heat and add kefir (about 2 T to 1 C kale), cheese to taste, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes or so, until some of the liquid evaporates. Puree or pulse to break up the stems, make it as smooth as you like. 

Poach eggs and serve over latkes and kale sauce. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Polenta Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Black Bean Salsa

I love the idea of stuffing things for vegetarian meals. It's a little more exciting than a casserole, but pretty much the same thing. Just prettier. Topping things with colorful salsa doesn't hurt either.

Anyone know what the skinny one is? It's medium hot, but I don't know the name!
The day I made these peppers, I had been to the farm to buy vegetables. They had a whole table of peppers in all shapes, colors and sizes that day. I just had to make something with them, heartburn or no. I guess it took me long enough to post the recipe, because it's now December and the farm stand has closed for the winter! Guess I'll be replacing farm-stand runs with wine shop sprees. I've certainly been hitting the bakery pretty hard too. I hate winter.

Developing a good pepper recipe requires a beer in hand at all times. 
Anyways, these stuffed peppers came out pretty awesome. Next time you see some beautiful peppers, grab a few and get some color, crunch and bonus vitamins and minerals into your dreary winter life. They're packed with Vitamins A, C, K and B-6. Good stuff.

Polenta Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Black Bean Salsa
1 hour

3 servings, as a meal. 6 servings, as a side dish

For Peppers:
3 medium sweet peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed
2 T olive oil

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
½ C onion, minced
½ tsp dried oregano
½ C instant quick cook polenta
1 C vegetable stock (or no-chicken stock)
½ C heavy cream
1-1/2 C shredded sharp cheddar
½ C shredded Mexican blend cheese (or more cheddar, jack or pepper jack)
¾ C fresh corn
¼ C black beans (canned, rinsed)
¼ C cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

For Salsa:
½ tsp garlic, minced
2 T onion, minced
1 C black beans (canned, rinsed)
¼ C cilantro, chopped
½ C fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ C canned crushed tomatoes
1 T lime juice
1/8 tsp fresh chili pepper, jalepeno or cayenne, very finely chopped (to taste, depending on how hot)
½ tsp cumin

1. Heat oven to 425F. Rub peppers, inside and out, with olive oil. Lay cut side up in a baking dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast 20 minutes.

Peppers ready to pre-roast
2. In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, add butter and olive oil. Sauté onions 3 minutes, add garlic and cook 1 minute.

3. Have all ingredients ready near the stovetop to add them quickly. Add stock and milk and bring just barely to a boil.  Using a wire whisk, add polenta slowly while stirring, continuing to stir 1 minute. Working quickly, keep whisking, and add cheese until melted. Still whisking, add corn, beans and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and keep whisking another 3 minutes.

4. Stuff polenta mixture into the peppers and roast at 425F for 20 minutes. Extra polenta can be baked in ramekins or muffin tins.

5. Prepare salsa by combining all the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with lime juice, cumin, and salt, or more hot peppers if desired.

6. Serve each pepper topped with salsa.

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