Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cashew Cookies

There's something so nostalgic about peanut butter cookies. I don't recall making them all that often with my mother (I think we made them more often in my Girl Scout troop), and yet, they call to mind the days when my mittens were clipped to my coat and my feet would dangle off the edge of my chair.

My favorite peanut butter cookies are barely cookies - just peanut butter and sugar bound together with egg. Regular peanut butter cookie recipes seem to lack that real nutty flavor, so I usually use this recipe and forget about using flour all together.

As I looked for a cashew cookie recipe to make for a coworker's birthday (she eats cashews all the time, so I thought it would be a nice touch), I came across a recipe in an old Martha Stewart magazine that looked good. A few tweaks here and there (what, you expect me to buy the right kind of brown sugar?!), and I had to stop myself from devouring them all straight out of the oven. I had found a cookie that tasted strongly of nuts but still had flour (so they're less fragile than the flourless ones). This might just be my new go-to for nut butter cookies.

For this batch, I followed the instructions for mixing in the crushed nuts, then baking as balls and flattening (I used the bottom of a glass) a few minutes into baking. That worked fine, but they're not very pretty. I would suggest a few ways of making them look nicer. Try omitting the chopped nuts, then press a whole cashew into the middle of the cookie after flattening. Or leave in the chopped cashews, but flatten with a fork (a la old school peanut butter cookies). The original recipe called for a drizzle of caramel (which would, of course, make these very pretty), but I think the caramel would make the cookies too sweet, and you'd miss a lot of the cashew flavor.

Cashew Cookies (adapted from a Martha Stewart cookie magazine) (specifically this issue)

2 1/2 cups salted cashews (or 1 cup cashews and 1 cup cashew butter)
2 Tbsp canola oil (omit if using cashew butter)
1 stick salted butter, softened
3/4 packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350°. Roughly chop 1 cup of cashews and set aside. In a food processor, chop remaining nuts until fine; add oil and process until creamy. (Obviously, skip this step if using jarred cashew butter).

Combine cashew butter, butter, and sugars in a bowl and beat until fluffy and uniform, about 2 minutes. Mix in egg and vanilla. Slowly add in flour and chopped cashews.

Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and place evenly (about 2 inches apart) on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 6 minutes, then flatten slightly (see note above about different ways to flatten); bake for another 6 or 7 minutes or until edges just start to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summery Gin Cocktails

When I woke up on the morning of my birthday party this year, anticipating a wonderful dinner of grilled pizza and make-your-own ice cream sandwiches with friends, I craved a light and summery drink to go along with everything else. I looked at my bottle of Hendrick's gin, which has been sitting quietly on my shelf since last summer (because I rarely drink at home by myself), and started researching.

I found a whole bunch of awesome recipes on the Hendrick's website, but my favorites are below. Between the lot of us, we sailed through at least a bottle and a half of Hendrick's before moving on to some lesser gin. The Floradora is sweet and tangy, and the ginger beer gives it a nice bite. The Basil Gin Smash (above) is herbal and welcoming, and I added a splash of seltzer to give it some bubbles as well.

1 1/2 parts Hendricks gin
1/2 part lime juice
1/2 part raspberry syrup*
ginger beer

In a tall glass filled with ice, combine gin, lime juice, and raspberry syrup. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wheel and a raspberry.

*Raspberry Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 pint raspberries

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add raspberries and let simmer for a few minutes, crushing the raspberries with the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and allow to steep for a few more minutes. Strain out pulp and seeds before using.

Basil Gin Smash
2 parts Hendricks gin
1 part lemon juice
1 part simple syrup
5-6 basil leaves

In a shaker, combine ingredients and muddle well. Add ice and shake. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with a basil leaf (I like a splash of seltzer as well).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

S'mores Bars

I was one of those kids who never enjoyed making s'mores. I always managed to burn the marshmallow (although I preferred it un-charred), the graham crackers were too crumbly, and I'd just rather eat the chocolate by itself. But the idea of s'mores was something I did enjoy.

I don't know why I didn't think to make these s'mores bars before now. You get all the great taste of s'mores without all the negative burny, crumbly bits. The fact that they only take a few minutes to make doesn't hurt either.

S'mores Bars
6 Tbsp butter
2 (10 oz) bags of mini marshmallows, divided
5 cups Golden Grahams (or other graham cereal)
4 cups Cocoa Krispies (or other chocolate crisp rice cereal)
1 cup mini chocolate chips, divided

Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter, then add 1.5 bags of marshmallows and stir to melt. Remove from heat and mix in cereals and 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. When everything is well-coated with marshmallow, press into the prepared baking dish (spray your hand with cooking spray if the mixture sticks too much).

Preheat broiler. Sprinkle remaining marshmallows across the top of the cereal mixture. Place under the broiler to brown marshmallows; pay close attention so they don't burn! Remove from oven and sprinkle on remaining chocolate chips. Let cool completely before cutting.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summery Orange Pasta Salad

Another month, another stab at a Kitchen Play recipe. (Really, if you're not checking out the monthly Progressive Parties on Kitchen Play, you're missing out. I won a prize for making nachos last month). This month's sponsor was Dreamfields Pasta. I'd seen this brand in the store, but I eat pasta so rarely, I never bother with any of the stranger varieties on the shelf. So when it came time for me to actually buy my pasta and I took the time to look at the Dreamfields box, I was impressed - 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein in one serving, and yet it doesn't taste dense like whole wheat pasta! I'm definitely a fan after tasting the stuff, too.

There were so many tasty looking choices on this month's menu, but I was intrigued by Foodalogue's pasta salad with orange sauce. I just so happened to be on my way to a family gathering, and knowing us, I would need to make something that could sit on the table all afternoon while we grazed (and graze we did, for 7 hours straight - pretty typical for us). Unlike so many pasta salads, this one didn't have any mayo or, really, anything that would go bad in the summer heat. Bonus points for lots of fruit and veggies and plenty of taste in each bite.

I loved how fresh and bright the orange dressing made everything taste. I think I'm going to try it on a regular salad sometime soon.

I didn't plan on making any changes to the recipe, but then, I can never really follow a recipe to the T. I left the garlic out of the dressing and the cheese at the end by mistake, but I actually really like it like that, so I'm leaving it out of my version of the recipe. I doubled the recipe for our family gathering, but the recipe below isn't doubled. I also cut my veggies into matchsticks instead of julienned so they would be the same size as the penne - the better to eat it up, my dear!
Summery Orange Pasta Salad (from Foodalogue)
1/2 box Dreamfields penne pasta
1 large navel orange, zested and peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
heaping 1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
salt to taste
dash of honey
1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 red pepper, cut into matchsticks
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced thin, fronds chopped and reserved
toasted pumpkin seeds
oil cured black olives, pits removed and roughly chopped

Cook pasta according to package.

In a food processor or a blender, combine peeled orange segments, olive oil, spices, and honey, and blend to emulsify. Season with salt to taste, but remember, there will be more salt from the olives later.

In a large bowl, combine vegetable matchsticks and cooked pasta. Add orange sauce and toss to coat. Add chopped orange zest, fennel fronds, pumpkin seeds, and chopped olives and toss to combine.