Out of the Summer Rut and Into the Oven

August 25, 2014 § 2 Comments

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It may not feel entirely appropriate to be talking about cookies on a day in August when you’re probably just doing your best to avoid any two parts of your body coming in contact with one another. I should apologize now for even suggesting you turn on the oven, but instead I ask you to make a sacrifice: less than an hour of kitchen heat in tribute to Alice Medrich, dessert goddess.

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Medrich’s title as Sweet Genius (in every meaning of the term) is so well established that I hardly need to tell you that every one of her recipes turns out. My only excuse for not owning a single Medrich book is purely one of self-preservation. Faced with an entire book of desserts-that-work I would be powerless to resist eating my way through it in a matter of a few days. So when I stumbled upon her “Sesame Coins” from Pure Dessert one evening as I drooled over the archives of Sweet Amandine, that beautiful blog run by Jess Fechtor, I practically sprinted into the kitchen to make them. It was worth the exercise. The cookies are fragile and crumbly, in the melt-in-your-mouth way of a proper pecan sandie, and somehow luxuriously creamy at the end. Jess likens the effect to halvah, and I’d compare them to a shortbread with a stealthy satin finish.

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Having now foisted batches on kindly friends at a pub, unassuming co-workers, and even on my not-too-adventurous family, I feel secure in their reception among even the most suspicious of takers. The take-away? No matter the audience, these Sesame Coins are simply a good idea. When you can’t bear another bite of summer cobbler, ice cream, or grilled stone fruit, and you’re ready to get out of the summer rut, (The overwhelming abundance!!!! The blinding colors of the produce!!!!) dig out that jar of tahini hiding in the depths of the fridge and settle into a batch of these beauties.

Sesame Coins
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

2/3 cup flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
2/3 cup unsalted tahini
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. sesame seeds

Whisk together the flour and baking soda in a small bowl, and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix the remaining ingredients (except for the sesame seeds) until smooth. Add the flour mixture, and work it into the wet ingredients. The dough will feel like an oily, slightly crumbly pie dough to the touch.

Divide the dough in half and roll into two logs, each with a 1½-inch diameter. Wrap each log in plastic and chill for at least four hours, or overnight.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove one dough log from the refrigerator and allow it to soften slightly. Unwrap the dough and cut “coins” of ¼-inch thickness (mine are usually a little oblong at best). Transfer the coins to the lined baking pan and sprinkle each with sesame seeds, then lightly press them into the dough with your fingertips.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are lightly brown. Allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheets. While the first half of the batch is baking, repeat the above steps with the second log of chilled dough.

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M is for Mornings and Muesli

February 15, 2015 § 3 Comments

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I am, without a doubt, a morning person. I cannot drink in enough of the light, of the solemn quiet of my sleepy neighborhood, and the promise of the day almost tangible in the fresh early air. And then of course, morning translates pretty fluidly into the best meal of the three – breakfast – which around here means whole grains.

Oats, buckwheat, millet, grits, barley, red winter wheat. No food speaks more strongly to me of nostalgia, of home, and of comfort than grains. You could measure my childhood breakfasts in from-scratch pancakes, biscuits, muffins and just-out-of-the-oven loaves of bread.

Growing up in the mountains out of town meant rising at 5:30 am on weekday mornings to catch the bus that would take me and my siblings down to the valley and school an hour later. Somehow my mother could whip up a batch of almost any baked good in the half-hour it took to get us out of bed and stumbling into the shower, so that another half-hour later we were sitting down to fragrant apple muffins, or a double batch of sturdy whole-wheat pancakes – for breakfast AND lunch (we didn’t mind). Perhaps our favorite were her biscuits, always made with whole milk and butter, and so tender that you’d split the top and bottom apart using careful fingertips, to slip a pat of butter inside (for a little extra fortitude) and shut it quick, so as not to let its steam escape.line up


Although she always offers to make them, these days my mother can’t share a stack of whole-wheat pancakes or her classic biscuits with me, having discovered a wheat-allergy last year. So instead she and I tinker with gluten-free alternatives that have been known to fail spectacularly (i.e. when my beautiful raspberry scone dough morphed into something in the oven which we now affectionately refer to as “Raspberry Rubber”. My family, kind souls that they are, valiantly ate them all).

One of the best breakfasts we’ve eaten together lately is an amazing, naturally gluten-free muesli, a recipe from Noelle of xo breakfast (who adapted it from Saveur). I was introduced to Noelle’s blog by a close friend in 2010, and as you’ve probably already guessed, I fell immediately in love with it – from her delightfully casual but sophisticated tone to the blog’s little heart-shaped-egg emblem. I still make a batch of her muesli at least once a month, and more often in ridiculous weather like we are having now, when the 72˚F average means nothing’s so welcome as a chilled bowl of  muesli. The ingredient list can and should be sung to the tune of “My Favorite Things” (Toast-ed nuts, coc-onut, orange-boost-ed rais-ins, Spoon-fuls of yo-gurt with ap-ple and rolled oats), and singing or no singing, the finished result is an absolute pleasure to eat.

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If I am being particularly smart, I remember to soak the grains in water for at least 8 hours before draining them and adding milk and vanilla (you know – digestability and all that). But I often settle for the original recipe’s single soak because, well, one must live a little right? Regardless, this is just the breakfast for the Bay Area summer heat that’s hit 4 months too soon.

Muesli

Adapted from xo breakfast (who adapted it from Saveur)

Makes at least 4 servings

1/2 c. rolled oats ( I love a good mix of rye, barley, oats, quinoa flakes and buckwheat when I have them and am not making this for a gluten-sensitive audience)
1/2 cup almond milk (or milk of choice really)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (the original recipe calls for a 1/4 of a vanilla bean, but I don’t usually have those)
a pinch of salt
a small orange
1/4 c. + 2 TB raisins
1/4 c + 2 TB walnuts
1/4 c. + 2 TB sunflower seeds
1/4 c. shredded unsweetened coconut
6-8 prunes or figs or dates
1/4-1/2 c. yogurt, plus more as needed
1 apple
2 TB honey

optional: more things you’d sprinkle into granola or oatmeal: i.e. hemp seeds (my favorite), pistachios, or flax seeds.

The day before, soak the oats in water for a few hours. Then drain oats and combine with the milk in a large sealable container or bowl. Add the vanilla and the salt, and stir. Cover and refrigerate.

In another container, squeeze the orange into the raisins. Cover and refrigerate.

Toast the walnuts at 350ºF for 8-10 minutes. Toast the coconut and sunflower seeds for 2-4 minutes. While they are toasting, pit and chop the prunes. Chop the walnuts if you like. Mix nuts and prunes together in a bowl and cover.

The next morning, add the raisin mixture to the oats. Core and grate the apple into the mix, dollop with a generous scoop of yogurt and sprinkle the nuts, prunes, and coconut on top. Stir everything up and taste. Drizzle with honey if more sweetness is needed.

Save the rest of the muesli components for the next day, and the next, and the next!

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