Category Archives: Snack

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

I have received one butternut squash and one dozen eggs every Tuesday for the last three weeks from my CSA.  Up until yesterday, I had exactly three butternut squashes on my counter and three dozen eggs in my refrigerator.  I always like to kid myself and say things like “When fall gets here and the kids are back in school, I will finally organize their baby books.  Or clean out the storage area.  Or have that yard sale I’ve been meaning to do since June.”  Instead, I am confronted with back to school nights, violin shopping, supply acquisition, homework helping, pick ups and drop offs, driving, soccer, snacks, and maintaining some level of personal hygiene.

(Memo to my kids: I really have tried with your baby books.  Although I am very sentimental and keep things like your baby teeth and dried up belly button stubs, I am very poor at organizing these items into beautiful volumes for you to treasure one day.  I really hope it is OK that everything is crammed into a baby book with a cracked spine, papers falling out, and notes written in any color pen (or pencil) I had handy.  I do love you.  But not enough to scrapbook.)

And this entire month has been consumed by the Bloomsburg Floods.  We have the luxury of not being in the epicenter of the destruction and our busy schedule is pretty trivial compared to what the residents are going through.  But it has meant a lot of back and forth travel — which means bags that don’t have a chance to get unpacked before they are being packed again. Whirlwind is how some describe it, I think.  But as I talk with friends who are having their homes condemned, I am pretty sure a whirlwind would be a welcome feeling.  Never mind the “problem” of having all of your children’s baby book items in a box, rather than in a muddy heap never to be looked at again.

This whirlwind seems to blow cooking and eating rules out the window.  The grown ups have eaten a lot of Thai takeout. The kids have eaten way too many pasta dinners and lots of dessert.  It was the boy’s 5th birthday too, which seemed to provide an endless supply of cookies, rice krispy treats, cakes, and cupcakes.  But no more!

I turned on the oven yesterday (and it still worked!) and I made these muffins in an attempt to make a relatively healthy treat or breakfast that the kids would enjoy.  They are whole grain, quite low in sugar and fat, and filled with both butternut squash and apples.  They were a nice fall treat and used up one whole squash and 4 eggs.

Only two squash and 32 eggs to go.

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

Makes about 18 full size muffins

Muffins:
1 1/2 cups of cooked butternut squash (I like to halve mine, scoop out seeds, and slow roast for about an hour at 325 degrees Fahrenheit)
4 eggs
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar (can use more — up to 3/4 cup for a sweeter muffin)
1/3 cup applesauce
6 T vegetable oil
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 medium apple, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

Streusel:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (can use more here too if you like)
1 t cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped and toasted pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  In a large bowl, mix wet ingredients by whisking together cooked squash, eggs, dark brown sugar, applesauce, and vegetable oil.

3. In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients by combining salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and whole wheat pastry flour.

4.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until just combined.  Stir in chopped apples.  Spoon into greased muffin tins about 2/3 of the way full. (You can use cupcake papers if you like.)

5.  Combine streusel ingredients (brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin seeds) and sprinkle a nice spoonful over top of each muffin before baking.

6.  Bake muffins for about 15 minutes until just done and a tester comes out basically clean.  Let cool a few minutes in tins and then remove muffins to a cooling rack.  (I had to use a knife to loosen them before removing.)

 

 

 

 

Quinoa Sunbutter Cookies with Cocoa Nibs and Pumpkin Seeds

A few months ago, I decided to go off gluten.  While I haven’t been entirely faithful, I am still attempting to avoid it.  And like almost everything else, I am very bad at “all or nothing” eating.  I’m trying to eat less meat, but I don’t think I could ever be a vegetarian because beans have nothing on a seared medallion of filet mignon. I’m trying to eat less dairy, but how the hell is one supposed to give up heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella? And I’m trying to eliminate sugar, but you can’t make caramel without it, so there goes that. And alcohol?  Oh yes, one can give up alcohol and live many more years. But as the old joke goes:  you don’t actually live longer, it just feels like it.

I guess I’m not cut out for strict regimens of anything.  I start feeling sorry for myself.

So I have a pantry and refrigerator full of supplies based on my abandoned “regimens du jour.”  Here’s the brown rice flour.  There’s the coconut milk.  Back there (in the way back) is the goat’s milk yogurt.

Oh, and there’s the quinoa flour!  Aside from being a kick-ass Scrabble word, what might one do with quinoa flour?  I did some reading and found out that it can generally be substituted 1:1 for normal wheat flour in baking (except if you are making a yeast-leavened product, because it has no gluten).  It intrigued me so I decided to figure out a cookie recipe that would utilize all quinoa flour and be very allergy friendly (especially for kids).

As usual, I cut back on the sugar tremendously, so this recipe is not overly sweet.  It is another one of those cookie recipes that is more health food than dessert.  But you could easily add more sugar if you wanted to.  And the end result is pretty darn good — and a great allergy-friendly treat because it contains no wheat, no gluten, no dairy, and no nuts.  It does have eggs, but I bet you could substitute each egg with 2 T water, 1 T oil, and 2 t baking powder (that’s the “egg” combo I used in baking when my daughter was allergic to eggs).  If anyone with egg allergies tries this, let me know how it turns out.  Also, I used cocoa nibs to keep the sugar down even more, but feel free to substitute with chocolate chips if you like.

One VERY interesting side note, however:  I stored these cookies in our cookie jar and when I got some out for the kids today, the interiors of the cookies were green!  I have seen pumpkin seeds create a green tinge in certain things, but this was really green.  I am wondering if it was a reaction with the quinoa or the cocoa nibs.  Green food coloring without the chemicals, perhaps!  The ones stored in the freezer were fine, so if you don’t want greenish cookies, try that.  The kids thought the green color was pretty funky, however.   Any food scientists out there who could explain this one to me?

Quinoa Sunbutter Cookies with Cocoa Nibs and Pumpkin Seeds

Makes 18-24 cookies

1 cup sunbutter (I used crunchy — and any other nut/soy nut butter would work)
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1 cup quinoa flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds)
1/3 cup cocoa nibs (or chocolate chips)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix sunbutter with honey in a large bowl.  Whisk in eggs and vanilla extract.

2.  Combine salt, baking soda, and quinoa flour.  Stir into sunbutter mixture until just combined.

3.  Stir pumpkin seeds and cocoa nibs into dough.

4.  Drop teaspoonfuls of dough onto parchment lined baking sheets.  Flatten slightly with a fork if you like.  Bake for 7-8 minutes until just done.

Chocolate Coffee and Cream Cookies with Spelt Flour

Apologies for the lentil salad meltdown and thanks to those who sent words of support.  Ham bones have a way of making me crazy. Or maybe it’s motherhood and children.  Who the hell knows.  Anyhoo.  Life goes on and we still need chocolate, right?  So, I shall stay strong and carry on and only drink vodka when I *really* need it.

Recently it was a little rainy and I needed something to hold over my kids’ heads to ensure good behavior I wanted to engage in a meaningful life skills activity with my children.  So we decided to bake cookies and I thought I’d make something up with all spelt flour to see how it turned out.  I have done a lot of baking with sprouted spelt flour, but have rarely used it as a 100% wheat flour replacement in a recipe.

We decided to do a chocolate and coffee cookie with a creamy, sweet glaze to replicate some sort of 1000 calorie creation at Starbucks.  Except we used all sprouted spelt flour and cut back on the sugar.  And instead of hipster music, we listened to Hall and Oates.  Can I mention how much I have enjoyed listening to them lately?  It is an odd phenomenon and I attribute it to being almost 38.

The spelt flour actually worked quite well.  The cookie was moist and slightly cakey — partially due to the spelt, I think, but also because we used a lot less sugar than a normal cookie recipe.  They reminded me of a coffee- scented, cakey Oreo with a nice kick from the sea salt.  And that’s a pretty good combination as far I am concerned.

Chocolate Coffee and Cream Cookies with Spelt Flour

Note:  I didn’t do it, but I think that adding some chocolate chips or chunks would be delicious.

Makes 2-3 dozen

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups sprouted spelt flour
3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1 t sea salt
2 T espresso powder

Glaze:

1 cup of powdered sugar, thinned with heavy cream until glaze consistency

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix sprouted spelt flour, cocoa, baking soda, sea salt, and espresso powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy.  Cream together with brown sugar and honey for 1-2 minutes.  One at a time, add eggs and mix well.

3.  Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix until just combined.  Stir with a spatula to finish mixing and make sure the flour is completely incorporated.

4.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 8-9 minutes until just done.  Let cool for one minute and remove to racks to cool completely.

5.  While cookies are baking/cooling, mix glaze and drizzle over cooled cookies.  Let harden a bit and then store in a sealed container or in the freezer.

Apple and Fontina Monte Cristo

When my husband is traveling on business (which seems to be way too much lately), I usually keep the cooking to a minimum.  I hate having a big mess to clean up when I am the only one to clean it.  And combined with homework, baths, and bedtime routines, sometimes it just seems like more than I can handle — especially when he is on a long trip.  Single parents have my ultimate admiration.  If parenting with help is exhausting, parenting solo sucks your every will to live.

On those nights, we usually do some simple pasta or soup.  A big pot of soup made at the beginning of the week can feed you for many days.  I love making chicken noodle soup — by the end of the week, the noodles have soaked up so much of the delicious broth that they are a meal on their own.  But our other favorite thing in Daddy’s absence is breakfast for dinner — eggs, omelets, pancakes — you name it.  The kids are guaranteed to love it and the cooking/cleaning load is much easier.

Lately, the kids have fallen in love with Monte Cristo sandwiches — a great combination of a grilled cheese and french toast.  It’s just as easy as the two component dishes and can be mixed and matched with lots of different fillings and dips.  Today we made Apple and Fontina Monte Cristos, but you could easily add ham or turkey, use any kind of cheese, and dip in anything from maple syrup to grainy mustard to whipped cream.  Quite honestly, I think you could make a version of this for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or dessert.

You might even be able to get through a whole week of travel with nothing but Monte Cristos.  Next time he goes to California, I guess.

Apple and Fontina Monte Cristo

Makes 2-3 sandwiches

Note:  Simple dishes like this are best with simple, fresh ingredients.  In my case, I am extremely lucky to have the wonderful Gemelli Bakery as my challah source.  Use the best bread and cheese you can find.

Half loaf of Challah or Brioche Bread, sliced about 3/4 inches thick
6 ounces Fontina Cheese, thinly sliced
1 apple, thinly sliced
2 eggs
1/4 cup of milk
1/8 t cinnamon
Dash of salt and pepper
Butter
Maple Syrup
Grainy Mustard

1.  Whisk together eggs, milk, cinnamon, and salt/pepper in a wide pasta bowl or deep plate.

2.  Place one slice of bread on cutting board.  Make one layer of Fontina slices.  Follow with one layer of apple slices.  Top with another piece of bread.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches.  If you like, you can spread some grainy mustard right on the bread before cooking (my favorite, not the kids).

3.  Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan or griddle on medium low heat. Hold the sandwich together carefully and dip it into the egg batter on both sides.  Make sure it is coated nicely, but not too saturated.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

4.  Place sandwiches in saute pan or griddle and cook until golden brown.  Flip, press sandwich down a bit, and cook until golden brown on second side.  If your bread is extra thick, you may need to keep flipping for awhile in order to get the cheese to melt (the frequent flipping prevents the bread from becoming too brown).

5.  Remove from pan, cut in half, and serve with maple syrup or grainy mustard on the side.

6.  Pour yourself a tall glass of wine to get through the rest of the evening.

Pumpkin White Chocolate Cookies

So I was talking to a mother the other day and she mentioned that her 1 year old daughter had tested positive for anemia (actually at a severe level) while at a routine check up.  We haven’t signed HIPAA forms here at Cuizoo, so I can’t name names, but suffice it to say that she was freaked out and a little dumbfounded by the diagnosis. And as with many childhood medical situations, the pediatrician was rather matter of fact about it and forgot that MOTHERS FREAK THE F**K OUT when told something like this.  She was sent off with some rushed instructions about supplements and a two second statement about feeding the child dark leafy greens.

It instantly reminded me of when my daughter was diagnosed with severe food allergies.  The pediatrician gave us the test results, told me they were life threatening, and sent us on our way with an Epi-Pen prescription. And I was like, I’M FREAKING THE F**K OUT here and you are already next door checking on Timmy’s whooping cough.

At that point, I had very few friends who had kids (and no one with experience with food allergies) so I was pretty much on my own trying to figure out what to feed a child who couldn’t consume dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, or nuts.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I became a specialist when it came to limited or special diets for children — which has been a good thing because I get questions from people needing advice on a daily basis.

When the unnamed person told me about the anemia, I started searching for iron-rich foods that wouldn’t require the child to chew on meat and bones all day long.  I told her that I would come up with a reasonably healthy, toddler-friendly snack that would be super rich in iron.  I decided to go the pumpkin and white bean route because they are great sources of iron — and what I ended up with is a great kid’s treat (that adults will probably enjoy too).  It is a very cakey and tender cookie and it definitely passed my kids’ taste test.  It could actually almost be a breakfast bar on the go if you skip the white chocolate (or don’t . . . your choice).

And if your family is not eating as much meat as you used to, it’s also good to remember iron levels for non-anemic children (and adults).  Legumes and dark leafy greens are great sources — and actually it seems like you can’t go wrong integrating them both into your diet for many reasons.   I ran this recipe through a nutritional analysis and it came back pretty strong with each cookie having 120 calories, 4 grams of fat (could easily cut back on that further by using applesauce), 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 4% of your daily Calcium, 20% of your daily Vitamin A, and 10% of your daily Iron.

And it seems to me that getting a one year old to eat one of these is going to be a hell of a lot easier than a bowl full of spinach.

Pumpkin White Chocolate Cookies

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
1/2 cup of butter, softened (1 stick, could replace at least half with applesauce if watching fat)
1/2 cup of honey*
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1 cup of pumpkin puree
1 cup of white bean puree (approximately one 15 ounce can pureed with 1/8 cup of water)
2 t vanilla extract
1 cup of old fashioned oats
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds (finely chopped if giving to small children or toddlers)
1/2 cup of small white chocolate chips or chunks
1/2 cup of raisins, dried cranberries, or other dried fruit (Optional.  But once again, finely chopped if giving to small children or toddlers)

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and set aside.

2.  Cream softened butter and honey together until light and fluffy.  Add in egg and mix well. Add in egg yolk and mix well again. Add in white bean puree and pumpkin puree and mix until incorporated.

3.  Slowly add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture. Mix until just barely combined.

4.  Finish mixing with a wooden spoon or spatula. Stir in oats, pumpkin seeds, white chocolate chips/chunks, and dried fruit (if using).

5.  Drop by the tablespoon full onto parchment lined baking sheets.  Bake for 11-12 minutes until just golden.  Let cool on sheets for 1-2 minutes and then cool fully on racks.  (Can store in a tightly covered tin or freeze.)

*Remember that honey should not be given to children under one year of age.  You can substitute sugar or maple syrup for the younger crowd.

Gluten-Free Chewy Granola Bars

So, I guess I could really title these as gluten-free, wheat-free, nut-free, egg-free, and potentially dairy-free chewy granola bars.  But that seemed a little long.  I could also add that they are quite low in sugar and could potentially be made with no added sugar at all.

Can you tell I have made some New Years resolutions?

If I could advertise that these granola bars were alcohol-free too, trust me, I’d do it.  Because it’s been that kind of a holiday.  Which is to say that it was a great holiday.  One filled with at least twelve pounds of butter (and I’m not exaggerating), two Christmas celebrations which I hosted — first for my wonderful 20 person strong family and then my husband’s much smaller crew, my daughter’s Christmas birthday celebration, a New Years Eve party, lots of little dinner parties in between, and more filled recycling bins than I would ever confess to.

I seriously should have given the recycling crew a Christmas present.  They go around our little circle and spend about 30 seconds at each house taking their two milk containers, nicely bundled newspapers, and a few cans of Diet Coke.  They get to my house and they need to call in freaking reinforcements from neighboring counties. As much as it’s cool that my three year old gets to have his own, feature-length recycling truck show, I start self-flagellating just a tad.   Which is to say I berate myself without hauling out the ropes and switches.

So, yes, I have made some resolutions.  Getting back to normal eating and drinking habits is at the top of the list.  But, I’ve also made the decision to eliminate gluten from my diet for a bit.  There are a variety of reasons, but I have a hunch it is causing me issues — so I am going to get rid of it for at least a month and see how I feel.  I did this once before and I only lasted about four days — and when I lapsed (I baked chocolate chip cookies for the kids and sampled one), I felt lousy, got a headache, and wanted to take a nap.  Back in the old days of low carb diets, I always wondered why they made me feel so fantastic (full of energy, less stressed, more rested, with far fewer upset stomachs).  Maybe the lack of gluten was the reason.  So I am going to do a little experiment and see what happens.

I created these granola bars to have around for a quick breakfast or snack that the kids would enjoy.  You could easily remove the butter and substitute with all coconut oil (or dairy-free margarine) if you wanted them to be dairy-free.  And if you want to cut all the added sugar out, you could eliminate the honey and use only agave nectar.   Feel free to subsitute nuts/seeds/fruit/etc.

And I am going to consider it a little moral victory that there is no booze in this recipe.  Much unlike everything else I have made or consumed in the last month.  (BTW, Recycling Dudes, I owe you big time.)

Gluten-Free Chewy Granola Bars

Makes about 24 (a 9×13 pan)

2 cups old fashioned oats (make sure they are gluten-free if you are watching)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, roughly chopped
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)
3/4 t sea salt
1/2 cup sunbutter (or other nut butter or soy butter)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup agave nectar
3 T butter (replace with either coconut oil or dairy free margarine to make dairy free)
3 T coconut oil
2 t vanilla extract
1 cup dried sour cherries, roughly chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Lightly grease a 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan. Mix together oats, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, coconut, and salt.  Spread onto a sheet pan and bake for 14-15 minutes (stirring every five minutes or so) until the mixture is just golden.

2.  Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine sunbutter, honey, agave nectar, butter, coconut oil, and vanilla extract.  Whisk together until everything is fully melted, combined, and just beginning to bubble a bit. (about 3 minutes).  Remove from heat and stir in dried cherries.  Set aside.

3.  When oat mixture is golden, remove from oven and pour it into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in warm sunbutter mixture and thoroughly combine.  Pour into greased pan and pat down completely.  Let cool and cut into bars.

Crispy Salami and Pesto Tart

We are recovering from a month of hard core party weekends.  Living in a college town with big time football is always fun, but it’s sort of like having a vacation home in Florida — everyone wants to visit and it’s always time to imbibe.  I am not complaining because we love having family and friends around, but I will say that my liver might be crying “uncle.”  There are only so many mornings you can wake up slightly hungover and have to face a Bloody Mary at 9:00 AM — while your young children are screaming crazy demands like “I want breakfast.”

Beyond that, the pace is furious to get the shopping done, the sheets changed, the house cleaned, and the liquor cabinet stocked.   And then after the weekend is over, your house looks like a tornado has blown through, you have not caught up on any household chores, you are exhausted, and you basically have to get everything back in shape for the next weekend.

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So, cooking has not been first on my list lately.  I wish I could say that I have been making big pots of tailgate chili or lovely brunches served in the stadium parking lot, but it has been more like takeout wings, deli trays, barbecue chips, and store bought pasta salad.  I am *trying* to learn to recognize my limits and respect my sanity.

This weekend we had a party to go to and I offered to bring an appetizer.  The only problem was that my brother came into town the night before and we were all up way too late drinking rum cocktails with coconut water (he promised me it would stave off a hangover — so I can’t figure out whether I drank too many or too few).  Long and short of it, I was not feeling overly energetic the next day and made this tart with items that were all hanging around the pantry and freezer.  It turned out well, so I thought I’d share because it was so easy.

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And if I can ever get myself out from under the dirty dishes (my dishwasher is broken again — yeah!), children, laundry, Star Wars figures, and empty bottles for recycling, I might try to get back in the kitchen and cook something that doesn’t come with directions.

Salami and Pesto Tart

(Makes a 12×15 inch tart)

1 package of puff pastry, thawed (2 sheets)
8 oz. cream cheese (1 package), softened to room temperature
4 oz. pesto (mine was from the freezer)
1 egg
4 oz. thinly sliced salami, sliced into thin strips (prosciutto or other cured hams would be great too)
1 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2-3 T pine nuts
Parmesan Cheese, shaved into strips
Fresh basil, chopped
Heavy cream or beaten egg (to brush pastry with)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a sheet of parchment paper and roll out into a 12×15 inch rectangle.  Take remaining sheet of pastry and slice into one inch strips.  Lay strips on perimeter of the 12×15 inch rectangle (to make it look like a picture frame).  Prick lower rectangle all over with fork (don’t prick sides).  Bake pastry for 15 minutes, pricking center rectangle with a fork if it puffs too much.  The goal is to keep the center of the rectangle flat, while allowing the sides to puff.

2.  Meanwhile, with an electric mixer whip the cream cheese with the pesto until well combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and add in one egg.  Mix well.

3.  In a small saute pan, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat and add salami strips.  Fry until strips have rendered some fat and are slightly crisp.  Drain on paper towels.

4.  When pastry is done, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Spread cream cheese/pesto mixture into the center portion of the pastry (just not on the “frame” portion of the pastry).  Sprinkle salami strips, and then pine nuts all over cream cheese/pesto mixture.  Brush “frame” portion of pastry with some cream or beaten egg.  Bake tart 15-20 minutes until golden.

5.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Scatter parmesan shavings and basil all over.  Cut into squares and serve.

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Newtons Two Ways: Rhubarb Ginger and Fig Lavender

I am not a fussy cook.  I have great respect for those who are, but I just seem to lack the patience and precision to do fine, detailed work.  So, pastry chefs have my ultimate admiration.  If I make cookies, they are usually drop-style rather than rolled and cut out.  Any cake I make usually tastes great, but looks a little suspect.  (Especially if you were able to see it before I serve it.  I generally fly by the seat of my pants and figure out a way to make it look decent with a pastry tip and some shaved chocolate.  Garnishes are my friend.)  And my favorite desserts to make are crisps, cobblers, and anything “rustic.”  Rustic is my friend too.

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So, these cookies are definitely more fussy than I would like.  But I have wanted to make homemade fig newtons for some time.  Not sure why, but I am thinking it involved a dream with a fig tree and someone I went to high school with.  I’ll spare you the details, because we all know that there is nothing more boring than listening to someone describe their dreams.

I decided the time was right the other day when the grocery store had fresh figs (unfortunately, we can’t go local with figs).  My mind started to wander though … I definitely wanted to make a whole grain version, I wanted to use honey (and not too much), I wanted to dress the fillings up a little bit, and I wanted to make them seem summery.  So, I settled on two fillings:  one with figs and fresh lavender and one with rhubarb and ginger.  It ended up that I liked the rhubarb filling better than the figs.  And in my last batch, I actually combined the fig filling and the rhubarb filling to create “Rhubarb Fig Newtons” and that was great.  The tang of the rhubarb really balances the sweetness of the figs.

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Getting back to the fussiness factor… I made these on a very hot and humid day which made the job a lot harder.  The cookie dough must be thoroughly chilled to keep it firm, but just slightly softened to wrap around the fillings.  I’d suggest making them on a cooler day or turning the AC on.  Every time I’d take the dough out of the fridge it would warm so quickly that I couldn’t work with it.  Regardless of the weather, I think this is an easier job if you divide the work over two days — make the fillings and the dough the first day so they are nice and chilled, and then roll them out and bake them the next.  And I wouldn’t bake them way ahead of time because they seem to dry out easily.

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Because I am lazy, the next time I make these I am going to try them as a simple bar cookie — just roll out the dough, divide into two equal pieces and make a sandwich with the filling.  Then all you’d have to do is bake them and cut into bars.  If anyone tries going that route, please leave a comment with your experience.  And I also got thinking as I made these that a savory newton would make a great appetizer.  How about fig and goat cheese, or apple with a bit of camembert?  I am definitely going to figure that recipe out — because that is a cookie you could have with wine.

Rhubarb Ginger And Fig Lavender Newtons

Makes about 2-3 dozen, depending on how big you cut them

Rhubarb Filling:

2 1/2 cups of chopped rhubarb (about 3 long stalks)
Zest of one lemon
3/4 t fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup honey
Pinch Salt
2 t cornstarch mixed with 1 t water
1/2 t vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients, except vanilla extract, in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until completely smooth and thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Let cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor (or with an immersion blender).  Chill for at least an hour or two (or overnight).

Fig Filling:

2 1/2 cups of fresh figs, stemmed and chopped
2 t fresh lavender, chopped and divided into two equal piles
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of orange juice
Pinch of salt
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla extract

Combine figs, one teaspoon of lavender (reserve other one), honey, orange juice, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until smooth and thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, vanilla extract, and remaining teaspoon of lavender.  Let cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor (or with an immersion blender).  Chill for at least an hour or two (or overnight).

The Cookie Dough:

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup of honey
Zest of one lemon
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour

Cream butter with electric mixer until it is light and fluffy.  Add honey and lemon zest and  continue to mix for 2-3 minutes.  Add eggs, one a time and mix well to incorporate.  (I find that when baking with smaller amounts of honey, sometimes the eggs won’t emulsify with the butter – but just keeping mixing for a few minutes and it comes back together.  It helps if the eggs are at room temperature.)  Add salt and vanilla extract and mix.  Slowly add in the flour in three additions and mix until just coming together.  Finish mixing with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Place dough on one sheet of plastic wrap and cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap.  Pat the dough into a rectangular shape and wrap tightly with the plastic.  Chill for several hours or overnight.

The Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a cool place, roll out the cookie dough between the two sheets of plastic wrap until it is about 1/4 inch thick and the rectangle is about 13 inches by 15 inches.   Cut into four equal strips.  Slide onto a baking tray (with the plastic still on) and put in freezer for 5-10 minutes so it can firm back up.

Spoon a thin line of the filling down the center of each dough strip.  (If you have too much filling on it, it will ooze out like crazy — no big deal, just take some out.) Fold one side of the dough strip to the center, slightly covering filling.  Fold other side of the dough strip on top of that and gently pinch the dough together to seal it up.  (You will have one big “log”).  Repeat with remaining dough strips and filling.  Put all the logs in the freezer for another 5-10 minutes to firm up again.

Place the logs seam side down onto a parchment lined baking sheet and slice into individual cookies (about 1 inch each and don’t forget to remove the plastic wrap if it is still on!).  Space the cookies evenly for baking.   Bake for 15 minutes and if you have multiple trays in at once, rotate them half way through.  Remove from sheets and cool on racks.

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Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs

At the beginning of last summer, we decided to abandon our patio as a dining room.  We had the obligatory table and chairs outside and never ever sat there.  Because the patio is right spanking next to our eat-in kitchen, it just always seemed so pointless to lug all of our food outside.  And then the table was always dirty and covered with pollen — and well, I am lazy.

So we sold the table and chair set at our yard sale and bought an outdoor loveseat, two chairs with big ottomans, and a coffee table.  And we threw down an outdoor rug and proceeded to spend the entire summer sitting on our patio.  We would have a glass of wine while the kids played in the yard before dinner.  After putting the two year old to bed, we would sit out there with our daughter and read mystery books.  We had friends over and lots of impromptu, small parties.  On several occasions, my husband and I sat out there after the kids were in bed and fell sound asleep.

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We couldn’t wait to get our furniture back out this spring and start to enjoy it all over again.  And guess what?  We eat out there more now than ever before.  The kids eat their lunch at the coffee table and we have relaxed dinners in our comfy chairs.    It was all a matter of redefining our space and not feeling so bound by the rules.  (“We have patio.  Must buy table and chairs.”)

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So our outdoor dining matches our new space — small plates of easy to eat things that are relaxed and fun.  Grilled pizzas are one of our favorites.  We usually do two pizzas — the first one with sauce and cheese (or tomatoes and basil once summer is in full swing) to please the kids and the second one with ingredients more suited for grown-ups.  We cook on charcoal and have found that the best way to grill the pizzas is over indirect heat, with a brief stint over the coals if you want to crisp it up even more.  If you have all of your ingredients ready to go, just bring them out on a tray and make the pizzas in stages.  It’s great small party food.  Let the kids run wild and eat as you go.

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Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs

Serves 6 (makes 2 large pizzas)

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 lbs.

I like to make my own using the dough cycle of my breadmaker, but feel free to buy a ball of dough from your grocery store or local pizza shop.  Here’s my recipe for the breadmaker (use your dough setting — which is one hour and thirty minutes on my machine).  Just dump the following in and get the rest of your stuff ready while you wait.  (BTW, this makes enough for two pizzas.)

2 cups of white whole wheat flour
2 cups of all purpose white flour
3/4 t. sea salt
2 t. active dry yeast (about one package)
1 3/8 cup water (room temperature or slightly warm)
3 T. olive oil

If you want to make the dough ahead of time, just put a bit of olive oil on it and cover it tightly in a bowl in the fridge.

Topping Prep

This makes enough to top one large pizza.  If you want to do both of your crusts with these ingredients (i.e. you don’t have picky kids who only want sauce and cheese), just double the following ingredients.

1/2 onion, sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil (plus additional for sauteeing)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1 small bunch of Asparagus, trimmed and chopped into one inch pieces
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, freshly grated (or other cheeses — Fontina and Camembert are great too.)
6 dried figs (or fresh if you have them), stemmed and chopped
Brandy, optional
Salt and Pepper
Fresh herbs, optional (basil, chives, etc.)

1.  Caramelize onion.  Here’s my quick method… Saute the onion over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until starting to brown.  Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water and scrape up any brown bits.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 additional minutes uncovered until nicely caramelized and soft.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

2.  Saute asparagus in a bit of olive oil until just slightly softened (they should still be a bit crunchy).  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Warm a bit of brandy in the microwave or on the stove (on a low power level) with the chopped dried figs.  Let them sit in the warm brandy for 10-15 minutes until softened.  Give them a quick rinse to remove the heavy alcohol flavor, pat dry, and set aside.

4.  Make your seasoning oil by warming the 1/3 cup of olive oil over low heat until just warmed.  Add chopped garlic, red pepper flakes to taste, and salt and pepper.  Set aside.

The Pizza Grilling

1.  Preheat your charcoal (indirect method — which means coals should be on the perimeter, not in the center) or gas grill to about 350 F.

2.  Roll out half of your pizza dough (about a 1 pound dough ball) until it is very thin.  I like to do this on  a parchment lined jelly roll pan with a small wooden rolling pin (a clean bottle works too).  It should roll out to about 10″x12″.  (Rectangular shapes are easier for the grill.)

3.  Brush a bit of olive oil on the crust.  Put the oiled side down on the grill.  Don’t worry about getting the dough on the grill — just lift it off the sheet pan and drape it down onto the grilling grate.  It is pretty resilient.

4.  Let cook 3-5 minutes until starting to crisp and brown slightly on the underside.  Using tongs or a spatula, flip the pizza crust over.

5.  Drizzle several tablespoons of the garlic/red pepper seasoning oil onto the crust.

6.  Scatter the caramelized onion, sauteed asparagus, and chopped figs over the pizza crust.  Cover with shredded cheese.  Drizzle with additional seasoning oil if desired.  Close or cover grill to help the cheese melt.  Cook 2-3 more minutes, making sure underside does not get too brown.  If you want it extra crispy, move the pizza over the coals for a minute or so.

7.  When cheese is melted, use a big spatula to help you guide the pizza onto a tray.  Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh chopped herbs if you like.

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Homemade Flour Tortillas

I hope I don’t lose you on this one.  Because, probably even a year ago, I would have seen this recipe title and furrowed my brow and clicked on over to the Huff Post or something.  Homemade tortillas sounded like a gargantuan task to me — somewhere between homemade bread and homemade puff pastry (although I had no experience to ground this opinion in).

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And then one Saturday, I decided to make them.  And just like so many other made from scratch things, I found out they were simple.  So easy that I felt guilty for not trying them sooner.  You don’t need to mess around with yeast, you can control your ingredients completely, and they are deliciously tender and well worth the effort of rolling them out.  Now, if you are really into tortilla making, you can get a press that will apparently do the work for you.  But the dough is so easy to work with that I found a small wooden rolling pin worked perfectly (not so much for corn tortillas, however — I think a press would be very helpful for those).

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Most tortillas would be made with lard or shortening, but I used butter and really liked the flavor that it imparted.  (I’m also a butter pie crust kind of gal, though…) Use whatever solid fat or shortening that you like, however.  The tortillas are really delicious for soft tacos or burritos — something where you can really appreciate how tender and buttery they are.  However, I wrapped my leftovers tightly and stored them in the fridge and they were great for quesadillas and lightly fried tacos.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Makes 18 – 6 inch tortillas

4 cups flour (I used 2 cups of white flour and 2 cups of white whole wheat flour, but have also used mostly white whole wheat and have mixed in sprouted spelt flour too)
2 t salt
1/2 cup of cold butter (1 stick, cut into small chunks)
2 T oil (mild flavored, like canola oil)
1 cup of warm water

1.  Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl and cut in butter using a pastry blender or a food processor.  Mix in oil and warm water and stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until it comes together into a dough.  Turn the dough out onto the counter or a wooden board (dusted with a bit of flour) and knead for 3-4 minutes until the dough is cohesive and smooth.  Flatten dough into a rectangular shape and wrap tightly in plastic or parchment and refrigerate for about an hour.

2.  Remove dough from fridge and cut it into about 18 similarly sized pieces and roll each one into a ball.  Keep dough pieces covered while you work with one at a time.

3.   Heat a dry saute pan or griddle over medium low heat.

4.  Take one dough ball and roll it out using a small wooden rolling pin (you might even want to raid your kid’s playdough tools for a good one!)  You will want to get it pretty thin and about 6 inches in diameter.  In order to keep them somewhat circular, I would recommend rolling in one direction and then rotating the tortilla a quarter turn — repeat rolling and turning a quarter turn until done.

5.  Place tortilla in the dry skillet and let cook until just barely “spotty golden” on one side.  I like to spin them around a few times so they cook evenly. When spotty golden, flip the tortilla and cook a bit more (about one minute per side — but this is like pancakes, it will take a couple of tortillas to get your heat regulated and the tortillas cooking perfectly).

6.  When the first tortilla is done, wrap it in a clean kitchen towel.  Repeat the rolling and cooking until all the dough is gone, stacking the finished tortillas in the towel.  It seems like it will take forever, but it really starts to go quickly when you can get one tortilla rolled while another one is cooking.   (It’s also a great two person job…) Keep them wrapped tightly in the kitchen towel and use within a few hours.  If you want, you can reheat them lightly before serving.

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