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One of my talents (if you can call it that) is my ability to synthesize. I notice things here and there, collect ideas all over the place, and then they marinate in my brain until two or three things connect and suddenly I have a new idea, argument, thought, or, in the case of the kitchen, recipe. Now, you can call this stealing, if you like. I prefer to think of it as borrowing, or on those days where I’m really full of myself, a really derivative form of genius. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m not the most original thinker in the world.

Anyway. That idea-marinating is the source of these crispy, buttery, not-too-sweet, slightly herbal little cookies. I recently spotted a recipe for rosemary cookies at ellenfork. This idea popped into my mind when I was contemplating our indoor rosemary bush, which I’m trying to take advantage of now, before it dies (every year we try to winter our rosemary indoors, and every year it makes it to January before dying. I’m hoping for a change this year, but I’m not too hopeful). So, that’s the first bit.

As I contemplated rosemary cookies, I remembered a Laurie Colwin recipe for rosemary toasted walnuts that I made  (and Carlo loved) last year. When I was thinking about those walnuts, I remembered that Tim at Lottie + Doof recently posted a rosemary cashew recipe. Thinking about Tim reminded me of another recipe he posted recently, for walnut sandwich cookies. Thus: rosemary–>cookies–>nuts–>walnut cookies–>rosemary walnut cookies. A perfect recipe for cookies that, though they might be a bit derivative, are super- pleasant. Call me a genius, or call me a slightly boring thief. It’s up to you. Either way, I do suggest you try these. They’d make a lovely accompaniment to tea, or a nice simple addition to a holiday cookie platter.

Rosemary Walnut Butter Cookies
Adapted from “The Sweet Life” by Kate Zuckerman

1 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (to taste, or use 1 tsp. dried, crushed rosemary)
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, at room temperature 

1. Combine the walnuts, rosemary, and 1 tablespoon of flour in the bowl of a food processor, and grind until the walnuts are a fine powder.
2. Combine the rest of the flour (2 1/2 cups minus 1 Tbsp), the salt, and the walnut powder in a small bowl. Set the bowl aside.
3. Cream the butter at medium speed with a paddle attachment in the bowl of a stand mixer. You can do this by hand as well, if you use some elbow grease.  Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Next, beat in the egg, mixing until the batter is smooth.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, folding them together with a spatula. Mix slowly in the stand mixer or stir with a wooden spoon  until ingredients are combined. 
5. Scrape cookie dough into a piece of plastic wrap, wrapping it tightly and then pressing it into a 1-inch-thich rectangle. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
6. When you’re ready to bake, line baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 F. Slice the chilled logs of dough into 1/8-1/4 inch thick squares and arrange them about a half inch apart on cookie sheets. 
7. Bake until the cookies smell toasty and they’re golden on the bottom, about 12 to 15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheets. These cookies store well in an airtight container, and I have a feeling they’d freeze beautifully too.

There’s nothing like a blogging event to keep a food blogger on her toes. While I’m not a huge joiner-of-things, I love the idea of Taste & Create, an activity that pairs food bloggers up to browse through each other’s archives and choose a delicious recipe to recreate.

I was paired with The Life and Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch, a blog I’ve come across before. Its tagline, “who I love, what I love, and what I love to” explains the proprietress HoneyB’s mindset perfectly. I loved browsing the recipes on this charming site, but I also enjoyed that it’s clear in every post why she cooks. It’s for “who she loves,” and the blog is full of mentions of and reflections about friends and family. It’s all very homey and comforting.

I picked out a recent recipe that caught my eye mostly because of its use of cardamom (my current obsession). On the other hand, I was a little unsure because of the sesame seeds. I’m not a huge sesame lover, because I find it has a musty kind of taste to it. This recipe worked well because the nutty rich flavour of the sesame, while present, wasn’t dominant. I also loved the warm cardamom scent of the cookies, but I would add more next time (or grind it fresh instead of using my tired old ground cardamom), because I thought there wasn’t enough for my taste (mind you, I’m a cardamom fiend). My favourite thing about the cookie is its texture. They’re chewy at the middle, but crunchy and crisp at their edges.

Finally, as these cookies are iced, they are very sweet. HoneyB mentioned the same thing. Next time I make them I might not make the icing, though as I flavoured that with cardamom too, it will hurt me a bit to leave it off. You can find the recipe here. The changes I made were: demerara sugar instead of regular brown sugar, cardamom instead of cinnamon in the icing, and bake time (this was by accident, as I forgot about them, but I baked them for about 15-18 minutes and they turned out great).

Thanks, HoneyB, for a great recipe and a glimpse into your life!

Please excuse my groan-worthy title. I’ve got a pun/cliche theme going for this NaBloPoMo, so I’m hoping to make you roll your eyes every day for the next 26 days. Are you excited? I sure am.

If you’re not thrilled about puns, maybe you’ll be interested in a grape sorbet and almond cookie combination. I used the last of the huge pile of coronation grapes we bought at the market to make this sorbet. It’s delicious! The grapes are so flavourful, they don’t need any adulteration–just some sugar to sweeten them and keep the sorbet from getting icy. And this sorbet has a perfect, almost creamy texture that lasted for three days in the freezer without getting icy (maybe it would have lasted longer, but we ate it all up!). My theory is that it stayed smooth because these grapes had a lot of pectin in their skin. This is pure speculation, because I can’t figure out how to confirm it. Maybe there’s some other chemistry at work that I don’t understand.

Along with the grape sorbet, I served almond haystack cookies, a simple treat that complemented the sorbet very well. The almonds were rich, as opposed to the sorbet’s tartness, and just barely sweet. These little cookies are so tasty and low-fat, I’ve been thinking they’d be nice to have around as a little afternoon pick-me-up alternative to something like a granola bar, especially horrible, cloyingly sweet store-bought bars. Course, you’d really only be able to eat one at a time if you were thinking of your health. In any case, whether you rationalize them as health food or save them for the dessert platter, these simple, elegant, almond-vanilla flavoured cookies are so easy to make. Carlo actually found them too simple, so I was thinking that next time I might put a pinch of spice in when I mix up their egg coating. Or maybe just use brown sugar or panela instead of white sugar?

Grape Sorbet
Don’t try making this sorbet with ordinary table grapes. It won’t have enough flavour. I used Ontario Coronation grapes, which are very similar to Concords. I think I read somewhere that you can substitute high-quality grape juice if you haven’t got grapes at hand. If you try that, let me know. I’d love to know how it works! My sugar guidelines are approximate here. I like my sorbet tart, so I held back a little. But don’t hold back too much on the sugar–desserts taste less sweet when they’re frozen, AND sorbet needs sugar to keep it from getting icy.

4 lbs. purple grapes, stemmed
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water

1. Put all ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring and crushing occasionally, until the grapes are breaking up, about 10 minutes.
2. While the grapes are simmering, prepare an ice water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and placing a smaller stainless steel bowl over it.

3. Remove grape mixture from heat, and strain it into the stainless steel bowl with a fine-mesh or cheesecloth-line strainer. This might take a while. If it’s really thick, feel free to walk away and let the mixture strain itself, stirring and mashing it occasionally.
4. When mixture is strained, transfer it to the fridge to cool completely, at least a few hours or overnight.
5. Transfer grape sorbet base to your ice cream maker, and freeze until it’s the consistency of thickly whipped cream. Get that sorbet into the freezer quickly, and let it get solid for at least a couple hours before serving.

Almond Haystack Cookies
Adapted from Bonnie Stern’s Essentials of Home Cooking

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar (you could probably cut back on this a little, if you want)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups slivered almonds

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Stir egg whites and sugar together in a large bowl. Don’t beat them. Stir in the vanilla and then the almonds, making sure the almonds are well-coated.
3. Drop teaspoonfuls of the almond mixture into small mounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes, and then begin checking the colour of your cookies–they should turn golden brown. When baking is done (18-20 minutes), turn off the oven and open the door, leaving cookies in the oven for another 10 minutes.

I’m having a hard time thinking of a way to write this without doing that strange anthropomorphizing the cookbook thing where I say something like “I’ve been spending a lot of time with Alice Waters lately,” and pretend that I’m hanging out in your kitchen with my new best friend Alice, trading tips and feeding each other and generally just being best buds. So, um… yeah, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Alice Waters lately.

Really, though, I’ve been dragging “The Art of Simple Food” around with me like a security blanket. When I go to bed, it’s there on my nightstand next to me. When I get up in the morning, I take it with me to the office (which is only 15 steps from the bedroom) to thumb through in slow moments. Today, we went to renew our passports, and I packed it in my backpack to come along to the passport office, then felt a little disappointed when I found out that our advance paperwork meant that we didn’t have to sit in a two-hour line. That would’ve been two hours with my new best friend! I’ve pretty much had it within arm’s reach at all times since it first came through our door. Like I said in my last post, I’m reading it cover-to-cover. I love this book! I think I’ll name it Red. That’ll get around the whole friends-with-the-author thing.

The Art of Simple Food is, in fact, one of those books that makes you feel that the writer is someone who knows you very well. Waters’ voice is authoritative and inspiring, with a clear instructional style that makes it hard to believe any of the recipes could possibly go wrong. And the recipes! They’re straightforward but exciting, and Waters offers variations on each theme in the 19 “lessons” she offers in the first half of the book, so that you feel comforted and supported by a strong backbone, but free to wiggle in your own direction too. I’m convinced that this book will be a classic.

Breaking my cover-to-cover reading a little bit, I flipped to the index last night to see if I could find a good use for a particularly beautiful vanilla bean. I found a nice simple vanilla custard recipe that I thought would marry well with a recipe from another great (albeit completely different– again, no wonder we identify with these people as friends) food writer– Nigella Lawson. She calls these cookies “Granny Boyd’s Biscuits.” The recipe is super-simple. It’s essentially shortbread with cocoa added to it.

These cookies’ crumbly texture and smoky cocoa flavour was a great match for the incredibly smooth vanilla custard. We tried the custard warm and cool, but my favorite was the cooled custard. The vanilla flavour was easier to detect, and I appreciated the velvety texture of it.

Thanks, friends!

ALICE WATERS’ VANILLA POTS DE CREME adapted from “The Art of Simple Food”

4 egg yolks
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup sugar
1 two-inch piece of vanilla bean
4 custard cups or ramekins

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl. Pour the heavy cream into another medium bowl.

Put the half-and-half and sugar into a small pot. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Add the seeds and pod to the half-and-half. Put this pan over medium heat and warm it until it begins to steam. Do not bring it to a boil.

Remove the half-and-half mixture from the heat and whisk it into the egg yolks in a slow stream. Strain the yolk/cream mixture into the bowl of heavy cream, and discard or set aside the vanilla pod (Waters notes that at this point the custard can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. I would also like to note that you can rinse and dry the vanilla pod and use it to grind up with your coffee or put in a jar with some sugar to make vanilla sugar).

Pour the mixture into 4 custard cups or ramekins. Put the cups into a deep pan and pour hot water into the pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the cups. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and seal it well. Bake the custards for 25 to 30 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when the edges are firm but the middle is still a little wiggly.

Remove the custards from their pan and cool them. You can eat them warm or put them in the fridge to eat cold later.

COCOA SHORTBREAD COOKIES adapted from “How to be a Domestic Goddess”

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt in a medium bowl. Set the bowl aside.

In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. When they are pale and fluffy, stir in the dry ingredients. This part takes a bit of patience. It will appear that the mixture needs more liquid, but just keep mixing, it will come together into a dough. I used my hands a bit, because I got impatient.

Roll the cookies into balls (about the size of a walnut) and place them on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Press them down with the back of a fork.

Bake the cookies at 325 F for five minutes, then turn the heat down to 300 F for the last 10-15 minutes. The cookies are done when they are firm but not hard on top. Make sure not to bake them too long or they’ll turn into mini hockey pucks as they cool and harden. When the cookies come out of the oven, transfer them to a wire rack to cool. They’re probably best consumed cool, but I bet they’d be great still warm and crumbly with a cooled custard.

COOKING NOTES:

-I used bread loaf tins to hold the water bath for the custard. One was metal and one was glass. The glass cooked the custards much more evenly and they came out smoother.
-I halved the cookie recipe with no problem. Also, the original recipe calls for self-rising flour. As I don’t have it, I just added baking powder and salt and made one cup of flour slightly scant. If you do have self-rising flour, you can use that instead and omit the salt and baking powder.

Do you like this photo? I’m not sure I do, but it’s all I’ve got. Count those cookies. There are four in this picture. There were more this morning. Now there are none. So we’re going to have to live with this photo because, well, I’m sure a picture of four cookies is better than a picture of none. I meant to check these photos out and then go take some more if need be, but the “just one nibble” turned into a mini cookie feast. Now my belly hurts, but that’s a small price to pay. These cookies are just that good.

They have a perfect mix of chewy centre and crispy outside, with the in-your-face bite of blackstrap molasses (go ahead and substitute fancy molasses if you want to) backed up by cinnamon and ginger. I can never eat just one. That’s why I make them in small batches. If you’re like me, you might want to halve this recipe. Or if you’re really worried, just don’t make them at all. They’ll hook you, I swear.

MOLASSES COOKIES

3/4 cup butter (softened) or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together the butter and the sugar. Add the egg and molasses and stir well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients before adding them to the wet ingredients. Again, stir well. The dough will be relatively soft and sticky.

Form small balls of dough and roll them in sugar before placing them (far apart, as these cookies spread) on an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

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