Almond Butter and Jam Cookie Sandwiches

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Almond Butter and Jam Cookie Sandwiches

I wasn’t one of those kids who wanted a PBJ sandwich in my lunchbox every day — I was more of a bologna and Kraft cheese kind of gal. (Don’t judge, people change.) And yet, there is still something innately comforting to me about the combination of peanut butter and jelly. These cookies are my attempt to combine that sense of comfort and familiarity with a set of ingredients that better match my grown-up palate.

It doesn’t take long to figure out I’m a little bit of an almond fanatic, so it was an easy leap for me to substitute almond butter in my cookie sandwiches. With apologies to George Washington Carver and the state of Georgia, I much prefer the sweet, cherry-like nuttiness of almonds to their legume counterparts.

For the filling, I chose two options: triple berry conserve, and chocolate ganache. (For traditional ganache, try this recipe, or go a little more high-falutin’ with a creme fraiche ganache here.) Both were great partners for the slightly savory notes of these tender shortbread rounds.

I love these because they are special without being complicated, small without feeling too precious. And let’s face it: no one can resist a tiny little cookie sandwich. There will always be a place on my table for the kind of food that brings out the kid in all of us.

Almond Butter Sammies In Progress

Almond Butter and Jam Cookie Sandwiches
makes 24 cookie sandwiches

1 c. unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
1/2 c. all-natural almond butter (I love Justin’s Nut Butters)
1/2 c. demerara or light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. fine salt
2 c. all-purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)
granulated sugar for dipping
1/2 c. filling of your choice — jam, chocolate ganache, Nutella, or frosting
(It’s probably rather telling that I always have at least three of the four above on hand.)

Oven 325F. Line a baking sheet pan with parchment and set aside.

Cream together butter, almond butter, demerara sugar, and salt with an electric mixer on medium-high until well-combined. Gradually beat in half the flour, then stir in the remaining flour by hand.

On a piece of waxed paper, pat the dough out into a 6″x8″ rectangle and cut into 48 equal pieces, about 1″-square each. Roll pieces into balls, and place two inches apart on the cookie sheet. Dip the flat bottom of a glass or measuring cup in granulated sugar, then press the balls to flatten them to about 1/4″ in thickness.

Bake 12-14 minutes, until they are lightly brown and the centers are set. You will know they are done because they lose their shine. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for five minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Once cool, scoop about a teaspoon of filling on to a cookie, then sandwich with another. Do this like a good parent — gentle, but firm.

Store in an airtight container up to three days. Or freeze, well-wrapped, up to a month, then defrost at room temperature before serving. This is the perfect recipe to get a leg up on your holiday baking…

Cookies Waiting for Filling

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Muffins

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Bacon and Egg Breakfast Muffins

Hello, again! :) After a five-month hiatus to care for my newborn business, I am finally back to a more balanced routine that includes such luxuries as weekends off. That means I am also back to Saturday Morning Baking, one of my favorite times of the week. And what better way to celebrate both the beginning of a new endeavor and the start of a new day than with these scrumptious breakfast goodies?

Full of bacon, eggs, and cheese, and glazed with maple syrup, this recipe has everything I love about breakfast in one convenient little package. It also uses self-rising flour, a real time-saver that makes these muffins feasible even when there’s a hungry crowd waiting. Their savory, biscuit-like layers are also a great way to introduce a little more protein into the diet of finicky eaters who might normally object to scrambled eggs or cheese.

Most important of all, they are plain old delicious. I am a strong proponent of breakfast all day long, but your main challenge will just be hanging on to some of these long enough for them to qualify as brunch!

Breakfast Muffins waiting to be baked

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Muffins
makes 12 muffins

4 eggs, scrambled and coarsely chopped
12 oz. cooked bacon (about 12 slices), chopped
2 c. self-rising flour (I prefer King Arthur)
1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne powder (optional)
1 1/4 c. finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. vegetable or canola oil
1 raw egg
1/4 c. maple syrup

Oven 400F. Line a muffin pan with paper or silicone liners. Spray inside of liners lightly with canola oil or cooking spray.

In medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together flour, mustard powder, black pepper, and cayenne if using. Add 3/4 c. grated cheese, eggs, and bacon and stir again. In small mixing bowl, whisk together remaining raw egg, milk, and oil. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry just until blended; there will be lumps, but it is important to avoid over-mixing.

Spoon muffin batter into prepared pan, filling each cup 2/3 full. (I find an ice-cream scoop works well to get even portions.) Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup finely grated cheese. Bake the muffins 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Allow baked muffins to rest in pan for five minutes, then turn on to baking rack. Brush the tops with the maple syrup and serve warm. (And by warm, I mean immediately. ;)

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Muffins

Inspired by a recipe from King Arthur Flour; I highly recommend their blog for weekly cooking inspiration.

Loving the Kitchen

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recipe journal cover

Thanks to a fantastic response from our backers on Kickstarter, my new business Kerfluffles Marshmallows got off to a wonderful start. I so appreciate everyone who supported me with feedback and purchases. Now comes many weeks in the kitchen making handmade bites of fluffy goodness to fulfill all our backer pledges and the orders coming in on the web site. I can’t wait!

In honor of the months ahead, I thought it was a great time to blog about a recipe journal I made recently as a birthday gift. The front is titled appropriately: Ten Things I Love About Being In the Kitchen. The recipient is a dear friend who makes my world a gentler, more loving place, and who also shares my enthusiasm for cooking and baking.

recipe journal page 01

The journal pages are each folded pockets containing blank, embellished recipe cards for her to add her own family favorites. I took a cue from the vintage-style printed cardstock and further aged the covers, pockets, and recipe cards by sanding the papers and staining the edges with chocolate-colored ink.

recipe journal blank pages

For me, time in the kitchen is much like time in the studio: creative, inspiring, and nurturing. Even when I am not alone — when there is a house full of guests and multiple conversations and dishes bubbling away — somehow the kitchen manages to be a place of quiet for me.

recipe journal back cover

Maybe that’s one way to define love, when calm and joy exist regardless of circumstances. I do love being in the kitchen: the feathery softness of flour, the minuscule crunch of vanilla bean, watching a sauce thicken as it simmers. I love the details and the preparation, the sharing and smiles. Wishing you that same feeling today, in your kitchen and beyond. :)

recipe journal page 02

Creamy Chicken Noodles

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Creamy Chicken Noodles

Back-to-school time means lots of wonderful things for my kids: seeing good friends again, resuming favorite activities, and a heap of brand new books and freshly sharpened pencils. But every year without fail, re-entry into the germ soup of childhood also leaves us with a round of late August colds. This time it hit all four of us within a matter of days, so that we left behind a wake of tissue boxes and cough drop wrappers in every room. With a recycling bin full of empty Vitamin Water bottles and all the tiny medicine cups in the house pressed into service, I knew it was time to pull out the big guns: Creamy Chicken Noodles.

This recipe is chicken noodle soup’s saucier, slightly tangy cousin, thanks to a hearty chicken stock and a big spoonful of sour cream. The vegetables are reduced to a mince so that nothing interferes with the creamy, soothing texture. I prepared it with sautéed chicken breasts and broccoli because I was craving protein and something green, but there have been seasons when the savory egg noodles alone nursed us through days at a time. Whether you have a sore throat or not, everyone can do with a little extra TLC this time of year, and a big, steamy bowl of these is just the thing to provide it.

Creamy Chicken Noodles
makes 8-12 servings, depending on your appetite

3 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
3 carrots, peeled
4 stalks celery, leaves and white ends removed
1 large or 2 small yellow onions, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp. kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. crushed brown mustard seed or 1 tsp. dried mustard powder
(if you have neither, substitute 1 Tbsp. prepared grainy mustard)
1/4 tsp. ground dried rosemary (read more in Lamb Ragout recipe notes)
1 32-oz. carton or 4 c. homemade chicken stock (not chicken broth)
2 c. water
12 oz. wide egg noodles
8 oz. sour cream (preferably all-natural, I use Daisy brand)

Cut carrots, celery, and onions into large chunks. Place in food processor along with garlic cloves and process until very finely chopped, stopping just short of puréed. The point is to include all the vegetable flavor and nutrition without the effort of chewing. :) You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your food processor.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add minced vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, until they are softened and onions and celery are turning translucent. Stir in salt, pepper, basil, thyme, mustard, and rosemary. Add chicken stock and water, cover, and bring to a boil.

When broth is boiling, remove lid and add egg noodles. Simmer rapidly for 12-15 minutes, until noodles are tender and stock has thickened to a saucy consistency. Add sour cream, reduce heat, and simmer on low for another 3-5 minutes, until sour cream is melted and sauce thickened. Taste for final seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve piping hot, adding hugs as needed based on recipient’s current emotional state.

Double Chip Molasses Oatmeal Cookies

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OatmealCookies

I’ll warn you up front: if you think it’s possible to have too many chocolate chips in a cookie, this isn’t the recipe for you. Ditto if you like your oatmeal cookies crunchy, or only vaguely spice-scented. Subtle flavor and smooth texture? Not so much.

However, if you want a dense, chewy, chocolate chip festival, full of rubbly mounds of oats and chips, keep reading. If you crave a cookie with plenty of cinnamon, allspice, and ginger, combined with the smoky sweetness of molasses: this is the one. And if you’d like to mollify your conscience just a wee bit by using whole wheat flour, well then, have I got a treat for you! :)

Double Chip Molasses Oatmeal Cookies
makes about 30 cookies

1/2 c. unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. turbinado or light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or real vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. unsulphured molasses
3/4 c. whole wheat or all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur White Whole Wheat here)
1 1/2 c. rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips (I use 3/4 c. semisweet and 3/4 c. white)

Beat together butter, sugars, spices, salt, baking soda, and vanilla with electric mixer until smooth and evenly incorporated. Beat in egg, then molasses, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the flour until completely combined, then stir in oats. Add chips and stir again. Cover dough and refrigerate for an hour or two, until chilled and firm.

Oven 375F. Drop dough by tablespoonful on to parchment-lined or lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake ten minutes per batch, until cookies begin to brown and centers are completely set. Allow to cool on pans for a few minutes, then transfer to cooling racks. Enjoy warm and gooey, or cool completely and store in airtight container.

(Quick tip: if cookies begin to dry out, place a small slice of apple into the container with them until they are tender again.)

Recipe Notes:
If you’re doubling this recipe, you may find double the molasses a bit overpowering. Consider using three tablespoons of molasses and three tablespoons honey or golden syrup instead. If you like nuts, switch out 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips for a 1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts.

Just a pinch

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pinchpockets01

With three close friends all celebrating birthdays this past Sunday, my studio time has been centered around coming up with creative gift ideas. For this one, I used the “more is more” approach, with a little bit of “tiny = cute” thrown in. There is just something inherently exciting about being handed a pile of small, brightly colored paper packages.

These pinch pockets are made of double-sided cardstock in a variety of vibrant patterns. The shape is reminiscent of packets of sour cream or frozen juice pops, but these contain less perishable presents: a handful of chocolates, all-natural lip balm, itty-bitty bottles of nail polish, a miniature clock, a baby slinky, and some drink markers in the shape of mustaches. Finding fun items that would fit in a space about two inches square was like a scavenger hunt, and my daughter and I enjoyed searching our favorite stores for tiny treasures.

pinchpockets03

The pockets are made from small paper rectangles, folded in half and sealed along two edges with double-sided tape. The third edge is pinched closed in the opposite direction to form a triangular pouch, then sealed with a strip of paper tape.

The sky is the limit for these appealing little packages. I think they would make beautiful wedding or baby shower favors, especially folded out of patterned vellum. They are not complicated to make, only requiring a little time and a tool to cut straight lines. I presented mine in a bamboo bowl, but they would be an irresistible, interactive centerpiece piled in a large mason jar or glass vase. A lining of wax paper would also make them ideal containers for bite-size baked goods. (May I suggest Clementine-Scented Vanilla Caramels or Mini Oatmeal Cream Pies?)

All in all, the perfect handmade paper craft: simple, versatile, and ready to make someone’s day more special. :)

Raspberry Dutch Baby

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dutchbaby

Monday morning of our second week of school dawned stormy and gray, not the best encouragement to get out of bed for little bodies still on their sleepy summertime schedule. This Raspberry Dutch Baby was the perfect way to brighten up the start of our day. A dutch baby is a cross between a pancake and a popover, eggy and fruity, with a hint of sweetness and cinnamon. It comes together in five minutes, but between the golden brown dome and a sprinkling of powdered sugar, it makes morning feel like a special occasion.

In the summer, you can easily substitute blueberries or peach slices for the raspberries, and it tastes lovely with apples or pears in the fall. For another yummy variation, try substituting ground nutmeg and ginger for the cinnamon. We like ours with a dollop of creme fraiche on top, but vanilla yogurt or whipped cream work as well. Guaranteed morning sunshine, regardless of the weather. :)

dutchbaby

Raspberry Dutch Baby
serves 6-8

1 c. raspberries, rinsed
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
3 large eggs
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste or real vanilla extract
dash of salt
a few teaspoons powdered sugar to sift over the top
a few teaspoons creme fraiche or vanilla yogurt to serve

Oven 450F. Cut the butter into two pieces and place in small glass or ceramic baking dish. (I use either a 9″x6″ oval or a 9″-round dish.) Place the dish in the preheated oven for the butter to melt while you finish the remaining steps, about five minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the raspberries with two tablespoons of the sugar, breaking up a few of the berries so they better release their juices, and set aside. In a blender, mix remaining tablespoon of sugar, eggs, milk, flour, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Blend on medium speed for one minute, until thoroughly mixed and a bit frothy.

Carefully remove the hot baking dish from the oven and pour in the batter. Scatter the berries and their juice over the top, then place in oven and bake 17-18 minutes, until edges are puffed and golden brown and center is completely set. (My oven cooks a bit hotter toward the front, so I rotate the dish halfway through.)

Sift powdered sugar over the top and serve immediately with a dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt on top. This does not save well, so be generous. :)

Recipe Notes:
If you would like to use a cup of thinly sliced apples or pears instead of berries, then the directions change slightly. While the butter is melting in the baking dish in the oven, toss the fruit with two tablespoons sugar, an extra 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon, and a grating of fresh nutmeg. Arrange the fruit slices evenly in the melted butter and bake for 10-12 minutes, until softened. Prepare the batter as directed above, then pour over the cooked sliced fruit. Bake 17-18 minutes more, then serve as described for the berry version.

dutchbaby

Easy-Peasy Friday: Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

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tomatoes

With the plethora of tiny tomatoes available at the market right now, it’s the perfect time for a batch of these slow-roasted beauties. I found a rainbow of locally grown, organic baby heirlooms at a fantastic price, but traditional cherry or grape tomatoes work just as well. The key to this recipe is the low, slow cooking, which coaxes every bit of sweetness and flavor out of the fruit.

What makes this recipe easy-peasy is that the tomatoes are placed in a preheated oven which is then promptly turned off, so that they are left to roast slowly overnight as the heat of the oven dissipates. This fix-it-and-forget-it roasting method is the brainchild of Nigella Lawson, one of my favorite cookbook authors, who devoted an entire cookbook to easy-peasy recipes: Nigella Express: 130 Recipe for Good Food, Fast.

The question is not what you can do with a pint of these, but really what you can’t. They lend instant credibility to any green salad and make a lovely partner for pasta. Add a handful of freshly chopped basil, and they become a quick bruschetta topping. I love them on pizza with no more than goat cheese and a glug of olive oil. They’re also delicious stirred into tuna or chicken salad for a Mediterranean feel. I’d love to hear how you use yours. :)

tomatoes

Easy-Peasy Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
makes one pint

1) Preheat your oven to 475F while you wash and halve one pint of tomatoes.

2) Place the tomatoes in a ceramic or glass oven-safe dish and toss with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1/2 teaspoon each coarse salt, pepper, and granulated sugar; 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder; and 1 teaspoon dried thyme.

3) Place the tomatoes in the preheated oven and turn off the heat. Leave for at least six hours, preferably overnight. Finished tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator in a glass jar for up to two weeks. (Don’t forget to spoon the seasoned oil and cooking juices into the jar with them — yum!)

A last note: more than once, I have forgotten I put a batch of these in the oven the night before. Usually I make the discovery when I preheat the oven for another recipe and find the lovely scent of caramelizing tomatoes in the air. However, I once rediscovered them after preheating the oven to broil. The tomatoes were charcoal, my roasting dish was never the same, and now I put a post-it note on the oven to remind me I have them in there. (I am sure none of you would ever be so forgetful, but I thought I’d share anyway. ;)

olive oil

Beginnings

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pencils

Things have been a little slow in my blogosphere the last month, but real life has been zooming along. This is our first week back to school, which carries a great deal of weight as a homeschool teacher. While the real reward is in spending my days educating and enjoying my kids during the school year, the tasks of the summer months are full of promise and potential: waiting for UPS to deliver boxes of new school books; planning our schedule and lessons; filling binders with blank pages; and sharpening a batch of pencils for the first time. (And nothing makes my geeky, organization-loving heart go pitter-patter like a shopping trip for new office supplies and calendars. :)

As with the rest of the homeschool year, the summer also provides plenty of opportunities for humility. Even after teaching for eleven years, I still have magnificent moments of naiveté and hubris, when I am utterly over-ambitious and under-prepared. In the kindergarten days, I planned so many activities back-to-back that the salt dough had barely dried on my five-year-old’s fingers before I was thrusting a paintbrush into his hand. By the end of the first week, the classroom looked like the victim of an F5 glitter glue tornado that rained down flashcards and worksheets like hail.

The good news is that these days my mistakes are less messy, and I’m a little quicker to admit them. It only took me a few weeks after receiving our two-year (non-refundable) Latin curriculum to realize it was so dry and undecipherable as to challenge the ancient Romans themselves. With a sigh, it went up for sale in the homeschool classifieds, and I went looking for Plan B. Vivo et disco. (“I live and I learn” in Latin, not “I live and I dance feverishly,” though that could also occasionally apply.)

Being sovereign ruler of the classroom means I own every victory completely, as I do every setback. Motherhood and teaching are certainly not professions for the weak-stomached or the glory-hound, and seeking the best for my children often means confronting my own worst habits and attributes. But there is such beauty to be found in the beginnings, in watching and helping them learn what the world is about, where they come from, and where they are going. For every angst-ridden math lesson, there is the joy of finally conquering long division. Spelling errors and lectures on sentence structure give way to a child who can communicate his thoughts and feelings. And of course there’s all the things they teach me, about huge subjects like courage and character, and even about plain old book-learning. (I was corrected about the origins of the northern-dwelling ancient Celts only this morning.)

Homeschooling and parenting are not for everyone, but beginnings are. Sometimes beginning is the hardest part, balancing patience and preparation with just doing it already. Whatever beginning you find yourself at right now — school, work, relationship, or change — I pray you find the courage and strength to start, and fulfillment and peace as you continue.

Butterscotch Banana Sundaes

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butterscotchsundae

I was six years old when my love affair with butterscotch began. My grandmother always had a stash of mixed hard candy in the bottom of her purse, and whenever she took me bowling, she would let me dig through her big burgundy handbag in search of cellophane-wrapped goodies. I didn’t mind the occasional peppermint because they reminded me of Christmas, and I insisted on trying to eat the red-hot cinnamon discs, even though they burned my tongue. But the real objects of my affection were little butterscotch rounds, salty and sweet, wrapped in gold and equally treasured.

Fast-forward thirty years, and these sundaes are my ode to butterscotch in all its gooey, buttery glory. The star of the show is homemade butterscotch sauce, spooned over the ice cream and used to make a shortcut version of Bananas Foster to put on top. A handful of crushed salted almonds is all it needs to be positively swoon-worthy.

Butterscotch Banana Sundaes

To make one pint Butterscotch Sauce:
1/2 c. best quality unsalted butter (8 Tbsp. or one stick; I like Cabot Creamery)
2 Tbsp. golden syrup (see these recipe notes for more info; can substitute light corn syrup)
1/4 c. water
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. demerara or light brown sugar (I use demerara to stay sulfite-free)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or real vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Heat the butter, golden syrup, and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the butter melts completely. Stir in both kinds of sugar and the salt and bring mixture to a boil. Cook until the sauce reaches 245F and turns pale brown, about 7-8 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully stir in heavy cream until completely incorporated. Add vanilla and lemon juice and stir again, then pour into a glass jar and allow to cool. This keeps at room temperature for several days, or it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months; simply reheat in microwave before using.

butterscotchsundae

To make four Butterscotch Banana Sundaes:
1/2 c. homemade butterscotch sauce
2 large bananas
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 c. ice cream, preferably all-natural (my favorite flavors with this are vanilla, butter almond, or coffee)
2 Tbsp. crushed salted almonds

Cut bananas into 1/2″-thick chunks. (I like to slice mine on the bias because I’m fancy like that. ;) In a small sauté pan, stir together 1/4 c. butterscotch sauce, cinnamon, salt, and lemon juice. Heat over medium-low until sauce begins to thin, then add sliced bananas. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bananas soften and start to look blurry around the edges, 2-3 minutes. Remover from heat and set aside until bananas are warm but not hot, so it doesn’t make a complete puddle of your ice cream.

When ready to serve, scoop 1/2 cup of ice cream into each of four small bowls. Spoon one tablespoon plain butterscotch sauce over the top of each serving, then top each sundae with 1/4 of the cooked butterscotch bananas and the warm sauce from the pan. Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon of almonds over each serving, add a spoon, and enjoy.

Recipe Notes:
My butterscotch sauce recipe is adapted from one in the March 2008 issue of Saveur magazine. Saveur is one of my favorite food magazines, and this recipe came from one of my favorite special issues, entitled “The Beauty of Butter.” My sentiments exactly. ;)

butterscotchsundae

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