Friday, March 15, 2013

Amaretto Almond Biscotti

It's real talk story telling truth time and I have an embarrassing confession to make… I'm not quite what you would call a "sweets" person. Which is weird because one of my all-time favorite activities is baking (one could only assume after perusing around on my blog for even just a minute). Nothing melts away stress or puts a smile on my face faster than being elbow-deep in dough and listening to the whirling of my stand mixer whipping together fat and sugar.

It still doesn't mean I would pick it over a crusty loaf of bread with some goat cheese. Or peanut butter. Or figs. Or really, really, dark chocolate. Or… I've better stop myself now. Just know that the way to win me over is with bread and spicy curry. Not a candy bar.

But if you brought me some biscotti? Game over. I'm done, all yours for the taking. Biscotti is my biggest weakness - it's a crispy crunchy not-really-sweet dessert breakfast item. I love brunch. I love crunch. Put those two together and you got biscotti. My kryptonite. 

As I lean towards indecisiveness, I presented "A" with two options earlier this week: biscotti or cookies. This post kinda hints at what he chose. To keep my ravenous self at bay, I sent him off to work with a good sized Tupperware filled to the brim and told him to share. I hope he's at least getting popular...

If you want to be the coolest chap at the office, I recommend you make some too! Or just give them to me and I'll do your (evil) bidding.

Amaretto Almond Biscotti

  • 2 cups almonds
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon amaretto or 2 tablespoon rum with 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 cup cocoa nibs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spread the almonds in an even layer over a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until toasted, carefully stirring once halfway through to prevent burning. Let cool for 10 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of your food processor, combine 1/2 cup toasted almonds, 1 tbs sugar and pulse until finely ground. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pulse three times to mix.
  4. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, vanilla, amaretto and remaining sugar on high until fluffy and thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Fold in the whole almonds and cocoa nibs.
  5. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
  6. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Wet your hands with water, divide the dough in half and form into two loaves, about 2″ by 10″ (the dough will be thick and sticky). Smooth the tops to create a flat surface and bake for 40 minutes, until golden.
  7. Remove the loaves from the oven. Using a bread knife or a very sharp chefs knife, diagionally slice the loaves into 1/2″ cookies and bake for another 20 minutes, flipping cooking halfway through, until crispy.
  8. Cool the cookies completely before stacking or storing. To retain crispness, put the cookies in an airtight container as soon as they are completely cool. Biscotti may be stored airtight for several weeks.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Apricot Maple Cinnamon Rolls

I feel like I could post a picture and present without comment (but I'm a chatterbox so that would be impossible to do). However, I essentially did just that on my Facebook page and boy-oh-boy did the offers start rolling in! I had one friend beg me to come back to Seattle, another started plotting a road trip over to Madison and all the while, "A" is gloating in the glory that is homemade apricot maple cinnamon rolls. Freshly baked on a Sunday morning. All to himself. Even though I did offer up the leftovers, no one seemed willing to make the journey. Oh well, "A's" gain.

While I was ambitious enough to make cinnamon rolls for our weekly Sunday brunch, I was just lazy enough to do the prep work the night before. Make the rolls according the directions but instead of having them do the final rise on the counter, plop them in the fridge overnight for a slow rise. The next morning, bring them to room temperature on the counter before baking.

The thing is, friends, these rolls are shockingly uncomplicated to make. Granted, I do have a KitchenAid stand mixer to do most of the dirty work for me. Even if you don't have a mixer, the dough is so soft and pliable that it would be too difficult to work with by hand.

Apricot Maple Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook

  • for the dough:
  • 2¼ tsp. (1 pkg) active-dry yeast
  • ½ tsp. + ¼ scant cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water, lukewarm (~115° F)
  • ½ cup almond milk milk, at room temp.
  • 2 TBSP. packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2¾ c. all-purpose flour + more for kneading
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. (½ cup) goat butter, softened

for the filling:
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 TBSP. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • pinch ground cloves
  • 3 TBS. pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup goat butter butter, melted

for the glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ⅛ cup almond milk

  1. Combine yeast, ½ tsp. of sugar, and water in the bowl of a mixer. Stir and let sit until foamy, 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add remaining sugar, almond milk, brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Beat until well combined. Using a dough hook, add flour and salt to bowl and mix at medium speed until dough just begins to come together. Turn mixer to medium-high and knead for ~4 minutes.
  3. Add the softened butter and continue to knead for ~6 minutes. The dough will be wet and sticky. Knead in another ⅓-½ cup of flour into the dough. Dough should be just slightly tacky and very soft, but it should not stick to your hands.
  4. Place in a large, greased boil. Cover with plastic or clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1½-2 hours.

  1. While dough is rising, combine sugar, walnuts, apricots, cinnamon, salt and cloves in a medium bowl. Stir in the maple syrup and set aside.

Dough (again):
  1. When dough has doubled in bulk, tip it out of the bowl onto a heavily floured work surface. Gently knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, adding ~3 Tbs of flour as needed for ~2 minutes. At this point, the dough is soft, silky, supple, and totally sexy. Let rest on counter for 5 minutes.
  2. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into roughly a 10"x20" rectangle. Position dough so that the long sides are parallel to you (you'll be rolling from the long side). Brush about half of the melted butter over the top of the dough, enough to coat it well.
  3. Dump all of the filling onto the buttered dough and spread evenly, leaving a 1" border at one of the short edges of the dough so the roll can be properly sealed. Lightly press the filling into the dough.
  4. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Pinch all along the edge to seal. Place dough, seam side down, on a cutting board. Cut into equal slices.
  5. Arrange slices, cut side up, in a greased pan (I used a large pie pan). Each roll will have a bit of space on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest in a warm place for 1 ½-2 hours, until they've puffed up nice and big and are touching. (NOTE: is you would like to refrigerate overnight, place the covered unbaked rolls into the fridge at this point. Bring to room temperature before baking.) Place oven rack in upper ⅓ of oven and preheat oven to 375° F during last 15 minutes of rise time.
  6. Slide into preheated oven and bake for ~30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Rub some goat butter on the rolls just after you've pulled them from the oven.

  1. While the rolls are cooling slightly, whisk together the powdered sugar and almond milk until smooth. Drizzle over warm rolls.
  2. Share with friends. Make people happy. Smile.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Baked Polenta

I'm appreciating the silence. Almost a month ago, when I was first laid off, silence was a terrifying thing. Most days were spent trying to pass the time, waiting for "A" to come home, waiting to go to sleep. That first week was so empty and silent that I tried to fill it with everything.

Podcasts were playing, music was droning on and the TV was a magic pill of time wasting. Not knowing how long unemployment is going to last, I've been slowing learning to appreciate it. Instead of sleeping in, I wake up at the same time as "A" (well… I at least try and roll out of bed to eat breakfast with him) and take in the morning. Sipping my coffee in silence with a magazine. Or a book. Sometimes it's even just a good blog post I never had time to read. Most importantly, I've been cutting out the noise and it's helped with my stress.

During the day, I tried not to watch any TV (on my computer or otherwise) and save the rock-out sessions for later in the day. I don't know why this works, but it does, and I'm not the one to fight it. It hasn't been the easiest month, but I've found a way to make it somewhat better.

Yet the best unexpected benefit to all my free time is how much it's forced me into cooking creatively. When I was unemployed back in Seattle, I lived alone and only had myself to feed. This led to many a nights of canned soup and popcorn. I didn't judge myself! But now that I am a proper "kept woman," I have "A" bottomless pit stomach to feed. I never thought I'd say this, but that challenge is fun.

To cut back on costs, we've been grocery shopping less, buying more from the discount bins at the coop and relying more on seasonal/whole foods. We already did that before, but now we're doing it even more. I still run over to the coop for a bulk ingredient or two, but I mostly make do with what's already in the kitchen. Each night, it's something new and exciting. There are usually always leftovers which means "A" can have a nutritious lunch at work the next day. And I get more material for my blog (albeit, still with improper lighting… damn you winter!).

What's a girl to do with the dregs of a pantry and fridge but a mini-family to feed? Polenta. Comforting, warm and easy to whip up when I lose track of time.

Baked Polenta
Adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 lb chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 1 red bell paper, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced thyme
  • polenta:
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted goat butter
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons grated pecorino romano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crumbled goat cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Pour 1/2 tablespoon oil into a cast iron skillet and brown sausage, over medium-high heat. Pour sausage into a mixing bowl and set aside. Drain excess oil from pan.
  3. Pour remaining oil into the skillet and add bell pepper, onion, garlic and thyme and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, or until vegetables have softened. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Pour vegetable mixture over sausage and fold together. Set aside.
  5. Pour water into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Generously season water with salt and pepper. Whisk cornmeal into water and reduce heat to medium. Continuously stir the polenta for about 5 minutes. Add butter, goat cheese and pecorino romano and stir until fully incorporated. Adjust seasonings.
  6. Lightly grease the skillet used to sauté the sausage and vegetables. Pour half the polenta into the skillet and spread into an even layer. Pour all but 1/2 cup of the sausage/mushroom mixture, in an even layer, over the polenta and top with remaining polenta (creating almost a layered casserole). Sprinkle the top with the remaining sausage/vegetable mixture and crumbled goat cheese and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve.


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