A holiday recap

The winter holidays at our house always revolve around food, whether we want them to or not. It’s always been a time to indulge – a time to make the Christmas cookies everyone’s waited for all year, a time for big healthy breakfasts and hearty, planned-out dinners. And as much as we all complain about the constant eating and having too much stuffed into the refrigerator, we all look forward to the lazy days of whipping up our favorite traditional recipes and new ones we’re eager to try.

This year we surpassed our typical homemade deliciousness with all kinds of handmade gifts. I don’t know what it was, maybe the our obsession with pinterest over the past year and all the inspiring ideas it presents. So we brought on the creativity and went wild with homemade gifts – or I did at least!

Tara worked on her laser-cut jewelry (which she has been selling lots of!), and made some adorable wooden painted wall hangers for air plants, which unfortunately I don’t have a photo of. Melissa and I spent a few days straight making t-shirt scarves inspired from pinterest, and she also made some adorable holiday-themed cake pops! I took on a hanging-plant-in-a-canning-jar project, created a bread baking book from scratch for my sister Tara (with many tasty sounding bread recipes I’ve collected around the blog world), made a couple photo calendars for family, and baked cookies and nuts and granola to package up all festively for gifts. Jamie made some beautiful (and so easy!) etched wine and drinking glasses, and Jeremy gave my parents some of his homemade “honey badger hard cider” and beautiful handmade maple wood cutting boards for several of us. Whew. That’s a lot of handmade goods, lots of time, and lots of love. It may be our most crafty Christmas yet!

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December: the month of cookies

Where it lacks in warmth and sunshine, it makes up in sweetness. Sweetness of the plethora of sugar and butter and chocolate in the kitchen, soon whisked and stirred and baked into treats of all flavors, from caramel to cinnamon, butterscotch to coconut, lemon and raspberry, maple, almond, and peppermint—let’s just say we have it all covered in this kitchen.

Am I cookied out?

Never!

What a silly question.

December is cookie month, and it only gets richer each year. This year I added to mom’s classic collection with  a couple of my less-guilty recipes: raspberry-chocolate thumbprints and sugar plums, along with a few indulgent ones: dark chocolate cherry pistachio bark and cinnamon roll cookies.

Mom’s classics [and definitely not guilt-free ;] include peanut butter balls, mint squares, pinwheels, three-pepper spice cookies, seven-layer bars, lemon Christmas trees, toffee-almond triangles, cappuccino caramels, and extra-guilty saltine toffee :]

The cinnamon rolls were my favorite to make because they’re so pretty and nothing is more comforting than the smell of hot cinnamon buns in the oven. I had come up with the idea of creating a cinnamon roll in cookie form after last Christmas, and have since seen my idea come to life on a couple of different blogs! I decided to test the recipe of Baker’s Royale, mainly because the pictures were so mouth-watering. And the cookies turned out just so. They taste exactly like cinnamon rolls—I would argue even better. And because I refuse to follow any recipe exactly, I traded white flour for whole wheat, used Earth Balance instead of butter, egg white instead of yolk, and a bit less brown sugar for the inside swirl. So at least I could feel a little better about the ingredients, and they still came out crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with that buttery-cinnamony-sugary swirled middle. Bliss in Christmas-cookie form.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies, from Baker’s Royale

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 T whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 t cinnamon, plus 1 T for divided use
  • ½ t baking soda
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ cup Earth Balance (or butter), softened, plus 3 T for divided use
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar, plus ½ cup for divided use
  • 1 egg white
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • 1 T of light corn syrup
  • 1 t vanilla

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoon of milk
Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Place ½ cup butter, granulated sugar and ¼ cup of brown sugar in a stand mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment and beat until light in color. Add in egg white, applesauce, light corn syrup and vanilla and beat to combine. Turn off mixer.
Using a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon, fold in flour mixture until just combined.  Dough may have some flour streaking. Do not over mix. Divide dough in half and wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place remaining 1 T of cinnamon and ½ cup of brown sugar in a bowl and whisk to combine. Now divide cinnamon and brown sugar mixture in two; one for each portion of halved dough. Set aside.
Remove one wrapped dough. Dough will sticky so place it between two large pieces of wax paper and roll out dough to 1/4inch thickness. Using a pastry brush spread 1 1/2 tablespoon of softened butter on dough. Then sprinkle half of the cinnamon and sugar mixture on top and gently press it into dough (I didn’t use the entire cinnamon-sugar mixture). Roll up dough, beginning with long side. Place roll seam side down on plastic wrap and cover tightly. Repeat this once more with reamining dough and 11/2 tablespoon of butter, along with remaining cinnamon and brown sugar mixture. Place both rolled doughs back in refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.
Remove chilled roll and cut into ½ inch slices. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.
To make glaze: Sift powdered sugar and add in 1 tablespoon of milk at a time until drizzling consistency is achieved.
Drizzle tops of cooled cookies with glaze and let stand at room temperature until glaze dries completely. Store cookies in an airtight container or freeze to keep longer.
To offset (albeit hardly) these days of munching our way through plates of cookies, we’ve been “training” for a Christmas Eve 10k my sister Tara organized with neighbors and friends and family on a beautiful hilly country road, the same run/walk route we did on Thanksgiving but a bit longer to make it a 10k. The sun finally came out from the clouds for the morning and we had about 30 people and 10+ dogs come out for a wonderful run/walk and breakfast party afterwards. It was great! And no surprise that the winners were two brothers, one of which just did a 50-miler. We gave them a basket with some of the sweet treats and chocolate we had around the house, still barely making a dent in our sugar supply. But hey, with all this running we’ve been doing we need the sugar, right?
Sure….
the dogs sure are into it!
and here come the winners!

So it’s Christmas Eve, the sun is still out (maybe the first time in about a week), the family is all here, and we have more than enough cookies to satisfy Santa tonight.

Happy Holidays!

-mich

This post is linked to: Sweets for a Saturday

coffee + a spontaneous chocolate shopping spree

Café y cacao: two incredible beans that are grown in the place I would most love to live—Central America. But I won’t get into that right now.

These pictures are a few snapshots of this past summer– one morning when the steam was beautifully swirling off my morning coffee, and later Mom and I found ourselves confronted with a wall of quality chocolate bars. Nothing exciting really, I just like the photos. (And that I got to sample several gourmet chocolate bars ;]

We were at MOM’s Market, a place I’ve seldom been to but has a nice selection of organic and health foods. And seriously, I have never seen such an impressive collection of unique, gourmet chocolate! There were a number of chocolatiers I had never heard of (and I’ve tried a lot of chocolates), bars containing every kind of filling and add-in you can imagine, all percentages of cacao, and a good selection of locally-crafted bars.

We found ourselves standing there reading all the unique labels and ooh-ing and ahh-ing at all the crazy combinations. Who knows what we came to the market for, but we left with four kinds of chocolate, and let me tell you it was way hard to pick just 4. Continue reading

Cookies of the earth

Dates + apples + peanuts + almonds + cacao + oats + rice + coconut.

Talk about an impressive list of ingredients for a cookie!

I intended to title these “no-bake choco peanut puddles,” but while scanning my list of ingredients I realized something—how close to nature these cookies really are :] Fruits, nuts, grains, legumes… but not processed, refined, enriched, fortified or sweetened like everything in our grocery stores seems to be.

So you can truly feel good about eating these cookies—they’re full of natural and whole foods, which are naturally better for your health!

Besides all that wholesome nutrition, these guys are good. In every single way. They’re rich with a chocolatey peanut butter flavor, they stay soft straight from the freezer and thaw extremely fast. Know what that means?! Yep. Ice cream sandwich perfection. A little spoonful of vanilla bean cream in between two of these guys and you’ve got yourself one divine, richly satisfying dessert. Let it thaw a minute and the cookie and cream meld seamlessly into one another.

Vegans rejoice. Make them gluten free if you wish by using gluten free oats. And even the biggest sweet teeth on the planet [me] can indulge completely guilt-free. No refined sugar, no artificial sugar. Just fruits of the earth. And love.

No-bake choco peanut puddles, adapted from here

½ c pitted Medjool dates, firmly packed (about 6-7)

½ c hot water

1 T coconut oil

2 T unsweetened applesauce

1/3 c natural peanut or almond butter

2 t vanilla

¼ c + 1 T raw cacao powder

¼ t sea salt

¼ c almond meal

¼ c peanut flour

1 c oats (processed in a blender a bit)

½ c puffed rice cereal (processed in a blender a bit)

**edited 8/29/12: I took out 1/4cup earth balance / applesauce from my original recipe and added 1/4 cup more oats. This makes the dough less runny and easier to work with. You could even get away with adding more oats/puffed rice if you’d like a stiffer dough.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the pitted dates in a blender or food processor. Add hot water, coconut oil and applesauce and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. Blend or process the mixture until it is nice and creamy. You may have to push or stir the mixture down a couple of times, but make sure the dates are as broken down as possible.
Transfer the date mixture to a medium sized bowl. Use a small spatula to scoop out the mixture, as you’ll want to make sure you get every bit of it. Add the nut butter and vanilla; stir until well blended. Stir in the cacao powder, salt, almond meal and peanut flour. Add the processed oats and puffed rice and stir until well blended. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet and freeze 30 minutes or until set.
Since the dough is rather loose and gooey, I recommend keeping the cookies in the freezer until you eat them–they’ll thaw in about 60 seconds!
I you want to make ice cream sandwiches: Roll the dough out to ¼ inch thickness between parchment paper and plastic wrap. Cut into circles (I used a jar), freeze on parchment paper, assemble sandwiches and freeze in tupperware or plastic wrap til you’re ready for one yummy treat. *Note: the dough thaws quickly, so when cutting out and assembling sandwiches work fast!

beets + chocolate

I made these a month or so ago and am just getting to posting them. I actually have many recipes from this summer that I’d like to post, which works out because I’ll soon be busy with school and have less time for leisurely baking. Plenty of time for blogging though, as I procrastinate writing papers on my laptop. But I have fun classes this semester like photojournalism and racquetball, so it can’t be too brutal ;]

So the brownies, fudge squares, whatever you’d like to call them. I’ve heard of black beans in brownies before, but beets?! Interesting. As always my curiosity got the best of me, especially when we’re dealing with nutritious substitutions to a delicious treat! Mom had the recipe clipped out of a magazine and one night when we were craving chocolate after dinner (a common occurrence), we decided to give it a go.

Result? Fantastic. Rich and deeply chocolatey; a smooth, velvety texture that melts away in your mouth. A cross between fudge, custard, brownie, and mousse. Heavenly when warm, even better when chilled. And one little square is all you need—they’re so rich, which is incredible considering their healthy ingredients!

This recipe is a keeper for sure. If only I had one in my pocket every time I’m offered a brownie—at school, birthdays, from the roommates—I’d be set!

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