22 December 2011

Almond & Orange Shortbread Bars

Christmas is here, people.

The stockings are hung, the gifts are wrapped, and everything seems to be enveloped in a soft, warm glow. It's a damn good thing Christmas doesn't last all year or else we'd all get fat and drunk and never accomplish anything. But jeez, what a fab time of year it is.

Giving cookies is a holiday tradition, and I just love sharing my favourite things with my favourite people. I have my standard, go-to treats like buckeyes and these cranberry-studded oatmeal gems. This year, I tried something new, and it's delightful. If you got some of these chocolate-dipped shortbreads, you are not on the naughty list. Just so you know.

Adding a unique flair to this shortbread is an ingredient of my own concoction. Allow me to introduce to you: roasted orange peel.

After making roasted lemon peel for this bread, I was inspired to try other citrus. If using an orange for anything else, simply cut away the very outside layer of peel, leaving all of the white pith behind. Let it sit out for a couple of days to dry out. Then roast it in the oven (I typically do this while preheating the oven for something else). Grind it to a powder -- this takes some muscle if working with a pestle and mortar, but it's worth it. The scent alone is worth the effort, warm and earthy, knee-buckling and exotic. It tastes like what I imagine caramelised oranges taste like.

I had a bunch of this powder sitting around, waiting for the perfect thing to add it to. I'd often open the little container and give it a whiff, savouring that beautiful scent. I'm pretty sure I forced my boyfriend to smell it when we first started dating - he probably thought I was insane.

I wanted a recipe where it could really shine, and not get lost among other prominent flavours. It marries beautifully with the almond and fresh orange in these shortbreads, and I couldn't be happier. Simply replace it with fresh orange zest if you don't want to go to the effort of making roasted peel. 

Almond Shortbread Bars
adapted from The Guardian

170g butter
50g light brown sugar
50g caster (granulated) sugar
100g ground almonds
200g plain flour
1 tsp fresh orange zest
1 tsp roasted orange zest
Melted chocolate -  I use a mixture of milk and dark choc, plus a little vegetable shortening so I don't have to temper it. Plus a pinch of sea salt.
Chopped nuts - I used pistachios and almonds. Do what you want!

Set the oven at 160C/gas mark 3.

Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Stir the nuts, flour and zest into the mixture. Knead a little with hands to make sure the mixture is uniform. Divide dough in two, flatten into disks, wrap and refrigerate 20 mins.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 1cm thickness, cut into 1"x2.5" bars. Prick with the tines of a fork and bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about 13 minutes, until the edges turn golden.

Dip in melted chocolate and sprinkle with chopped nuts of your choosing.

20 December 2011

Brussels Sprouts Hash with Gruyère

There is no light in my flat. The sun literally never shines into my windows. The shortest days of the year are here, and the sun doesn't get high enough in the sky to crest over the hill I live on and illuminate my living room. The good news is that I've been so busy in the last few months that I didn't even notice that the sun was setting at 3:30 until two days ago. So, I haven't had a chance to get depressed about it, and in one (short) day, the days will begin to grow longer again, spring will come, and I'll have enough sunlight in my flat to take decent photos. Then, before I know it, we'll all be wearing skirts and sandals and getting some serious freckles. Being crazy-ass busy is the only way to get through the winter, in my mind. All of this has nothing to do with the recipe - I just thought you should know.

People generally don't like brussels sprouts. I didn't like them for years, until I decided that I should. As a vegetarian in an omnivore's world, I don't really have license to push many veggies aside. I've tried various methods over the years, but never hit on anything spectacular - until now. This is so good.

The trick is to never, ever boil those suckers. Don't even think about it. Get them nice and browned. Crispy. Delicious all over.

Another trick: don't miss the vinegar. You need a little acidity to break through the strong flavours here. I wanted to use lemon juice, but I discovered too late that I was actually out of lemons. White wine vinegar does the job nicely. It really brightens everything up and rounds out the flavour profile.

Brussels Sprouts Hash with Gruyère
original recipe by me!

250g brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
3T olive oil
1 medium potato
small knob of butter (about 1.5T)
1 small leek (or half of a normal-sized leek)
splash white wine vinegar (about 1 tea)
25g Gruyère, grated
sea salt and pepper to taste

Sauté brussels sprouts in olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally to brown on all sides. Season with salt and add diced potato. You'll think the sprouts might be burning, but it's ok. They need to get really brown. Don't stress.

Once potatoes have begun to brown, add butter and chopped leek. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Cook until potatoes are done and leeks have begun to brown. Add a splash of white wine vinegar, toss to incorporate. Grate over gruyere and allow to melt in the skillet, serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a side (or 1 as a main - this was totally my whole lunch).

15 December 2011

Moravian Spice Cookies

Christmas is coming.  Time to bake cookies!  It might be more of an American tradition to bake loads of cookies around the holidays, but my mates over here don't seem to mind.

Might I suggest some soft oatmeal cookies with fresh cranberries?  Or, perhaps, some homemade oreos?  Snickerdoodles?

This Moravian spice cookie is amazing, like super-thin-snappy-wafers-of-awesomeness.  The flavours are strong and perfect at this time of year.  It's not easy to find molasses in Britain, so I've used black treacle, which might make them even better. They're crispy and crunchy, and amazing when eaten with coffee and vanilla ice cream.

What are your favourite Christmas cookie recipes?

Moravian Spice Cookies
modified from Gourmet
This makes a ton of cookies, over 100, if cut in 2-inch rounds.

1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup black treacle (traditionally, molasses is used, but good luck finding that outside America)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Pulse shortening, brown sugar, and treacle in a food processor until smooth.  I don't have a food processor, so I used a spoon.  It wasn't fun.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add to processor and blend just until combined.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly, allowing dough to absorb a little more flour if sticky. Divide dough in half and form each half into a ball. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 day.

Preheat oven to 170°C/325°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll out a bit of dough, 1/2 or 1/3 of a ball, on a piece of foil until very thin (less than 1/16 inch thick). Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and stick in the freezer for 2 minutes.  This will allow you to get the thin, sticky discs off the foil with ease and without allowing them to become misshapen.  Arrange about 1/2 inch apart on baking sheets.

Bake cookies 10 minutes (or less if your oven is fan-assisted, like mine -- they took 4 minutes). Let stand 1 minute on sheet, then loosen with spatula and transfer to cooling rack. If first batch isn’t crisp, bake 1 minute more (on baking sheet), minute-by-minute until they are crisp.  Careful not to burn, since they are dark cookies it's hard to tell so watch closely.

Re-roll scraps and repeat until you have enough cookies to feed an army.

06 December 2011

Baby Greens Salad with Orange & Fennel

So, it's winter again.

I know this because I had to switch back to my lighter foundation. Also, it's snowing. Brrr. I just want eat potatoes and cheese and hot sauce. Am I the only person who does this in the winter?

Soooo [subject change] we just got through Thanksgiving, and I was lucky enough to host a meal for my friends. I introduced 9 of my favourite people to traditional American things like pumpkin pie, cornbread, green bean casserole, and sweet potato soufflé. The dinner was quite a success in the end, but DANG. I'm ready to not do that again for another whole year.

But this salad? I made it again almost immediately. I served it as part of my first course, and it wasn't the biggest hit of the day - but I could hardly expect it to be, since it sat on a plate next to homemade herbed cheese (recipe soon!). But it stuck with me. The flavours (and colours!) were crisp and bright and intense. It was the perfect way to get a bit of a detox after the big holiday/before the next big holiday. And it makes me feel just a little less guilty about my potatoes-with-cheese-and-hot-sauce habit.

Baby Greens Salad with Orange & Fennel
from Shutterbean, with a few small changes -- for example, I found the dressing lacked something. Doubling the sugar fixed it beautifully.

90g mixed baby leaves (such as red chard, rocket, spinach)
1 orange, segmented - Don't know how to segment an orange? Here's a video.
abt 1/2 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon orange juice (from your segmented orange)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt & pepper to taste

Assemble salad. Mix up dressing. Pour dressing over salad. Eat it up. The end.

Serves 2.