Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Almond Sticks with Cacao Nibs

I've been trying to make my peace with the coming winter. The shortening days, the rain, the wind, the farewell to reading in the backyard on a camping chair in the last of the light. The light that now disappears before 5:30. Sigh.

I once read a list of ways to make yourself happier around the home, that included this excellent suggestion: If you can't get out of something, get into it. This mantra, cribbed from one of the legions of how-to-get-happier books on the market, encourages you to let go of what you would have frankly rather been doing, and just embrace where you're at. Doing the dishes? Do those dishes! Heckyeah dishes! And so forth. So I'm trying to do that for winter. I'm flirting with picking up a cheap little sunny picture to tack to my walls, as a sort of wintertime gift that'll make me feel better about the gray outside. Oh, and I'm baking cookies.

Far be it from me to decry the value of a gooey, oozy brownie. Or a galette that spills sugary fruit syrup over its edges. But bittersweet cookies seem just the thing for turning my bitter feelings into sweetness.

These particular cookies, from pastry guru Alice Medrich, have been likened to biscotti. But really they're more of a shortbread stick, with ground almonds taking the place of some of the butter. And then they're studded with cacao nibs, the full-flavored-yet-unsweetened building blocks of chocolate (which, as a bonus, add nice little crunchy nubbins throughout). As the days darken, and the possibility of something called a "wintery mix" enters into the forecast, I'm still struggling to get into winter. But cookies? I'm so into those. I'm trusting the rest will follow.

Almond Sticks with Cacao Nibs

adapted from Alice Medrich's Seriously Bitter Sweet
yields ~18 cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour  
3/4 cup whole almonds (Medrich recommends blanched, but I'm not that fancy)
2/3 cup sugar  
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt  
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed  
1/4 cup roasted cacao nibs  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold water

Pulse the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor until smooth. Add the butter, and pulse until pea-size crumbles form. Add the cacao nibs, vanilla, and water, and pulse just a few times until a crumbly dough forms.

Form the dough into a 6- x 9-inch rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick, and wrap in plastic wrap, parchment, or a plastic bag. Transfer to your refrigerator, and chill at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.

When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or two baking sheets, if yours are small). Unwrap the dough onto a cutting board, and slice crosswise into 1/2-inch x 6-inch thick batons. Transfer to your baking sheets, leaving an inch between cookies. Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, ~20 minutes. Transfer to a rack, and cookies cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Apple Walnut Salad with Bread, Cheddar and Lime

I was in something of a groove with summer salads. Soft butter lettuces, drippy-sweet peaches or melon, a handful of basil leaves. Maybe some corn shaved off the cob, or mild and briny feta. These were less salads than summer celebrations. And then the rains set in, and corn and peaches and basil leaves disappeared. And salads became the same. Lettuce, carrots, maybe some beets or toasted pumpkin seeds if I was feeling fancy. You know, salads. Boring salads. And then I saw this recipe. Crisp apples, fresh croutons, cheddar cheese and scallions. Oh, and parsley, all tied together with a limey dressing. Hello, fall salads!

This recipe comes from Joshua McFadden, the genius behind the ur-kale salad, way back in our kale-free days of 2007. McFadden now, blessedly, has set up shop in Portland, where I was lucky enough to eat at his restaurant. And he does have a way with vegetables.

This salad is just lovely — much like my summertime versions, more celebration than salad, a curated assembly of the fruits of the season. The dressing is aggressively limey, but is perfectly balanced by the cheese, bread, and scallions. And then there's the nuts! And apples apples apples! Can you tell I'm excited? It's just that sort of salad.

And if you'd like another reason to wax enthusiastic about the autumnal harvest, I recently produced a story about eating acorns (or, if you prefer to think of them this way, oak nuts). You can hear all about it over at NPR.

Apple Walnut Salad with Bread, Cheddar and Lime

adapted from Joshua McFadden, via Bon Appetit
serves ~6 small first courses, 4 larger courses

1/2 cup walnut halves
1 generous cup rough-torn pieces of crusty bread
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bread
1/4 cup lime juice
dollop honey
generous pinch chili flakes
2 crisp apples (Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, etc)
1/4 cup parsley leaves, plucked off the stems
4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1/3 cup crumbled sharp white cheddar

Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Spread the walnuts in a rimmed baking sheet, and toast, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (~8-10 minutes). Give them a rough chop (or just crush them with your hands), and set aside in a small dish.

Raise the oven temperature to 450° Fahrenheit, and place the bread chunks on that same baking sheet. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of salt, then toast, stirring occasionally, until toasted to a golden brown on the edges, ~10 minutes (you can also do this in a skillet, but hey if you've got the oven on it's easy). Remove, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, honey, and chili flakes, along with salt to taste. Core and thinly slice the apples, then toss them with the dressing to coat (which, conveniently, will keep the apples from discoloring). Then add the parsley, scallions, cheddar, and reserved walnuts and bread, and gently toss. Transfer to plates and serve.