Kids in the Kitchen: Owl Cookies

*I’m so excited that Heather is back to share this post with us!!!*

I just happened to see these adorable owl cookies on Food Gawker recently and knew immediately they were the perfect thing to bake together with my six-year-old son. Before the day was up we had our own batch of owls perched in our kitchen. They were easier to make than I thought and the kids loved them!

Hoot Owl Cookies
(adapted from My Diverse Kitchen)
Print this recipe

12 Tbsp.  butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 unbeaten egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 tsp baking soda
white chocolate chips (or dark), for the eyes of the owls
whole cashew nuts (preferably unsalted and not roasted)

In a bowl, using a hand held mixer, cream the butter and sugar till soft and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla extract and beat well.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and add to the butter mixture and mix well to form a softish dough. (Note: I had to add about 1 tsp. of water to get my dough to come together.)

Melt the semi-sweet chocolate over warm water and allow to cool slightly.

Take 2/3rds of the dough out of the bowl and set it aside. Add the baking soda to the melted chocolate, stir well and add it to the 1/3rd portion dough which is in the bowl. Knead this well so that you have a brown coloured dough with no streaks visible. Chill both doughs for about 1/2 an hour to make the dough easy to work with. (Note: my dough was workable enough I didn’t need to chill it.)

Take the light coloured dough and divide into 2 equal portions. Also similarly divide the chocolate dough into 2 portions and roll each portion into a long cylinder/ rope shape about 10” long. Set aside.

Cut out a piece of wax paper (approx. 12” by 6”). Place one piece of light coloured dough in the centre of the piece of paper and roll it out into 10” by 4” rectangle. Place one chocolate dough cylinder/ rope in the centre of this rectangle.

Using the paper, wrap the light coloured rectangle of dough around the chocolate one from both sides. Your dough should now look like a long roll of light coloured dough with the chocolate dough in the center. Wrap the wax paper around the roll.

Repeat this with the other half of both doughs, and chill both rolls of dough for at least 2 hours or even overnight. (Note: we chilled ours in the freezer for about 15 minutes.)

When ready to bake the cookies, remove the wax paper and slice each roll of dough into 1/4” thick slices and place them on lined baking sheets.

For each owl, press two slices together to form a face. Pinch, or shape the outer corners of each slice to form “ears” and push an upside down chocolate chip in to the centre of each slice to make “eyes”. Press a whole cashew nut between the slices, with pointed side down to make a “beak”. Repeat with all the slices.

Do leave some space on the cookie sheets between “owls” as the will swell up and become larger as they bake. Bake the owl cookies at 350F for about 10 to 15 minutes till the edges of the cookies start becoming brown.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then carefully remove them racks to cool completely

This recipe makes 2-3 dozen owl cookies.

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Market Fresh: Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash is my favorite winter squash. I love its mild, sweet taste and its bright orange color. I’ve been noticing the suggestion this fall of using butternut squash puree in place of pumpkin puree in your favorite pumpkin recipes. Sounds like a good idea to me!

Here are some other ideas for butternut squash:

Butternut Tarts with Spinach and Feta make a delicious fall take on quiche.

This Spicy Butternut Curry is a recipe I made several times last fall. Company loved it and, served with brown rice, it is a very healthy meal.

Roasted Sweet and Savory Squash is a quick and easy side dish that mixes fresh herbs, butter, and brown sugar for a winning combination.

Heather’s Favorite Posts

Today it’s time for me to share some of my favorite posts from the past year. To me, favorite post means beautiful and delicious. Here the ones I chose:

Giant Strawberry Shortcake: I love this fresh turn on an old favorite that makes for an easy, elegant dessert.

Farmer’s Market: Pictures from the farmer’s market always inspire me. This post was full of such pictures.

Good to the Grain Strawberry Jam Scones: I was surprise at how delicious these barley scones were. They instantly became a favorite.

Sweet and Spicy Citrus Tilapia: This was an easy but sensational way  to cook fish.

Potato Salad: I had so much fun reviewing the potato salad cookbook that I couldn’t stop making various kinds.

King’s Cake: I had never heard of King’s Cake until this year. It was surprisingly easy and so delicious. We enjoyed it several times.

By far, the recipe that I use the most from this past year is Alaina’s Green Beans and Walnuts with Lemon Vinaigrette. I use the sauce (minus the shallots and walnuts) almost every week. I put it on green beans most frequently, but it is also good on broccoli. Everyone who tastes it loves it!

Off the Shelf: Nigel Slater Appetite

Appetite by Nigel Slater is one of my favorite inspirational cookbooks. I love reading cookbooks by people who are not only passionate about cooking but also eating. And, another thing I like about Nigel is his flexibility. Many of his recipes give guidelines, not precise ingredients, and he also adds lots of suggestions on ways to tweek the recipe he gives.

The first fourth of this book contains all kinds of helpful information such as: the new cook’s survival guide, learning to trust your own taste, how to make something taste better, measurements and why you don’t always need them, kitchen kit, basic kitchen skills, ingredients — how to buy, store, and use them, herbs, vegetables and fruit, fish, meat, and dairy, as well as seasonal cooking.

Nigel then launches into the recipes which include all kinds of things: a simple loaf of bread, a great tomato sauce, variations of soup, easy pasta dinners, different ways with rice, thirty-minute fish supper, classic roast chicken, a thin, crisp, fruit tart, a warm and crumbly fruit tart, and a rib-sticking pudding for a cold day.

We have used Nigel’s Creamy, Unctuous Potato Dish over and over at family dinners and holidays. Yes, it is rich, but it pairs so nicely with holiday meats, and it is so easy to prepare, that it is fine with me to enjoy this treat once or twice a year.  (Note potatoes to the top left in picture below.)

A CREAMY, UNCTUOUS POTATO DISH
(Appetite, by Nigel Slater)

potatoes — waxy-fleshed if possible, about 2 pounds
garlic — 2 large, juicy cloves
butter — just enough to butter the baking dish thickly
heavy cream — enough to cover the potatoes (about 2 1/2 cups)

You will need a moderate to low oven, so set the heat at 325F. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly. This, by the way, is one of those dishes where you really must peel: strings of brown, “healthy” skin are totally at odds with the gratin’s hedonistic overtones. The slices should be no thicker than 1/8 inch. If the garlic is really juicy, cut the cloves in half and rub them around an earthenware or enameled cast-iron dish, pressing down hard to release the juices. Otherwise it might be better to slice it thinly and tuck the slices between the potatoes.

Smear the dish generously with butter. Please don’t be stingy — you are only cheating yourself. Lay the potato slices in the dish, orderly or positively hugger-mugger, it matters not, seasoning with salt and black pepper as you go along. Pour the cream over the potatoes — it should just come to the top of the slices. Bake for an hour to an hour and a half, until the potatoes are virtually melting into the cream.

Enough for 6 as a side dish.

I recently made Nigel’s custard recipe and then threw it into our ice-cream maker to create this incredible frozen custard. Topped with raspberry coulis, it was a delicious, well-rounded dessert.

Counter Culture

Have you ever eaten a paw-paw? I’ve heard of them in historical books but had never seen or tasted one until I saw these interesting fruits (technically berries) in our local farmer’s market. Of course I had to try them!

Paw-paws, also known as “Hoosier Bananas” are native to North America, and easy to grow organically because they have few pests. They are not widely cultivated because when the fruit is ripe it has to be eaten right away and can’t handle travel.

The texture of the flesh resembles an avocado, the color — banana, and the taste, well, something of a mix between the two with some floral notes thrown in. I would eat them again!

My kids have noted that we’ve been eating a lot of soup around here. We enjoyed this amazing corn chowder on our night to eat food from New Hampshire. To accompany it, we made a salad with apples and cranberries (also popular foods from NH), and ate pumpkin pie for dessert.

I finally purchased an immersion blender last week as I didn’t want to go through another soup season without one. We tried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and the blender worked great. Turkey soup hit the table after roasting a turkey from the freezer and then later in the week we had chicken noodle soup.

It’s also apple pie season and this was one of the last things I made for our gluten-free diet (which is now over!!). Gluten-free pie crust filled with apples and then topped with a pecan/butter/rice flour topping. Very delicious!

We had a birthday around here this week and angel food cake was the requested cake. Some frozen strawberries and a pile of whipped cream made a nice accompaniment.

I’m gearing up to start making my own baby food. Peas, sweet potatoes, and carrots are on the menu. I steam a large batch, puree and then freeze them in ice-cube trays for easy thawing.

I hope you all are enjoying these first cool days of fall!

Off The Shelf: Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food

Comfort Food by Rick Rodgers (commissioned by Williams-Sonoma) is a large book full of delicious photos of all the food you want to eat when you are in need of relaxation or respite.

Thumbing through you will come across recipes such as: Blueberry Pancakes, Cinnamon Buns, French Onion Soup, Chicken and Dumplings, Reuben Sandwiches, Shepherd’s Pie, Meat Loaf and Gravy, Texas Beef Chili, Real Sloppy Joes, Roast Lemon Chicken, Buttermilk Biscuits, Creamy Coleslaw, Maple Baked Beans, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peach Cobbler, Apple Pie, and Strawberry Shortcake.

I tried the Spaghetti and Meatballs. They came out great, and I liked the blending of the two meats. However, I felt that, true their nature, Williams-Sonoma had to add in a few extra steps that just didn’t seem that necessary for the home cook (such as soaking the breadcrumbs in milk and then straining them rather than just adding a small amount of milk). However, the book does have quite a number of really appealing recipes and perhaps not all of them would be as involved.

SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
(Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food)
Print this recipe

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs (can use gluten-free breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
1   1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1   1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 pound ground beef round
1/2 pound EACH ground pork and veal (I just used 1 pound ground pork)

6 cups Marinara Sauce (see below)
1 pound Spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. In a small frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, place the bread crumbs in a small bowl. Add the milk and let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a sieve and drain, pressing hard on the bread to extract the excess milk. Add the soaked breadcrumbs, egg, parsley, salt, oregano, and pepper to the onion mixture and mix well. Add the ground meats and mix with your hands just until combined. Do not overmix, or the meatballs will be dense.

Using wet hands, shape the mixture into 18 meatballs, and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the tops are browned, about 20 minutes, then turn and bake until cooked through, 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven.

In a large saucepan, bring the marinara sauce to a simmer over medium heat. Add the meatballs. Discard any fat on the baking sheet, add 1/2 cup boiling water to the baking sheet, and use a wooden spatula to scrape up any browned bits. Pour into the marinara sauce and stir. Simmer until the flavors are blended, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and stir occasionally until the water returns to a boil. Cook according to the package directions until al dente. Drain in a colander. Return the pasta to the pot. Add about half of the sauce to the pasta, without  the meatballs, and toss to combine. Divide the pasta among individual pasta bowls, and top each serving with more sauce and an equal number of the meatballs. Serve hot, with Parmesan.

Serves 6.

MARINARA SAUCE
(Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food)
Print this recipe

2 can (28 ounces each) plum tomatoes with puree,
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup hearty red wine
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Pour the tomatoes and their puree into a large bowl. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes between your fingers. (Don’t squeeze too hard or you’ll be squirted with tomato juice.)

In a large, nonreactive saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the crushed tomatoes and their puree, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, and adding water if the sauce thickens too quickly, until the sauce has thickened, about 1 1/2 hours. During the last 15 minutes of the simmering, stir in the basil.

Discard the bay leaf. Use the sauce at once, or let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Makes about 6 cups.

Market Fresh: Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a wonderful seasonal addition to your fall table. Some of you may be lucky enough to find mushrooms such as these (below) at your local farmer’s market. The rest of us must choose from the selection at the grocery store.

Wherever you find your mushrooms, here is an amazing side dish that I recommend you try. We all loved it so much that the ingredients to make it are in my fridge again. You can make the sauce a day ahead of time and refrigerate it so all you have to do is cook the beans and mushrooms.

GREEN BEANS AND MUSHROOMS WITH TANGY SOY DRESSING
(greatly adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com)
Print this recipe

1 pound green beans, trimmed
8 oz small white mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp. chopped chives (optional–I didn’t feel they were a necessary component)
5 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. grated fresh root ginger (essential)
1 Tbsp. honey
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

butter for sauteeing mushrooms

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a skillet. Saute the mushrooms (leaving plenty of room between them) in several batches until they are nicely cooked (about 5 minutes). Add more butter as necessary.

Cook the beans in boiling water for 5-7 minutes until crisp-tender. Drain.

Put the remaining ingredients in a jar and shake well. Mix the beans and mushrooms, pour over the sauce.

Serves 6.

For more mushroom ideas, check out these recipes:

Supreme Pizza Pasta Salad

Orzo with Mushroom, Snow Peas, and Pine Nuts

Savory Mushroom Meatloaf

Mushroom Soup

Spinach Mushroom Bacon Swiss Casserole

Mushroom and Goat Cheese Frittata

Baked Garlic Butter Mushrooms

Off The Shelf: New Flavors For Vegetables

New Flavors for Vegetables put out by Williams-Sonoma is a beautiful book filled with fresh, seasonal ideas for vegetables. Arranged by season, you will find inspiration for even the commonest vegetable. Admittedly, some of the recipes may seem a bit too gourmet for regular cooking, but not all are complicated. Have a look at some of the recipe titles:

SPRING: snow pea and radish salad, sautéed english peas with garlic and sesame, steamed new potatoes with chive oil, quick two-pea saute with basil and pecorino, roasted asparagus with fried eggs and parmesan.

SUMMER: green beans with creamy tarragon dipping sauce, spicy okra stew, sautéed yellow pear tomatoes with arugula pesto and feta, spicy cucumber salad with roasted peanuts, marinated summer vegetables grilled on rosemary skewers, creamed corn with chipotle chiles.

FALL: stir-fried broccoli with cashews and dark soy sauce, roasted beets with orange and herbed goat cheese, roasted acorn squash with chipotle and cilantro, caramelized cauliflower with honey and smoked paprika, glazed carrots with coriander, roasted root vegetables with indian curry and cilantro.

WINTER: spicy roasted potatoes with cool yogurt dipping sauce, gingered winter squash with pear puree, braised mustard greens with pancetta and lemon, braised winter vegetables with coconut and red curry, individual swiss chard gratins.

We tried the Sautéed Baby Spinach with Lemon Zest and Cream. This was beyond my expectations. It was so good. I’ve never had such mild, sweet (as in naturally sweet), delicious creamed spinach before. I would love to make this again. (Yes, I know fresh spinach is not cheap. Save this recipe for when you find some on sale.)

SAUTEED BABY SPINACH WITH LEMON ZEST AND CREAM
(New Flavors for Vegetables)

1 cup heavy cream
1 lemon
2 pounds baby spinach
1 tsp. sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour the cream into a saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, peel 2 stripes of lemon zest, each 2 inches long from the lemon. Set the lemon aside. Add the zest strips to the cream and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook the cream, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 8 minutes; watch that the cream does not boil too vigorously. Remove the zest strips and discard.

Remove any tought stems from the spinach leaves and rinse them well in a colander. heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the spinach, with the rinsing water still clinging to the leaves. Sprinkle with the sugar and toss well. Cover the pan and cook the spinach for 3 minutes. Uncover and toss the leaves well. Continue to cook, uncovered, until the spinach is wilted and tender, 1-2 minutes.

Place the spinach in a colander and, using a wooden spoon, press on it firmly to remove all the excess liquid. Chop the drained spinach coarsely and add it to the pan with the reduced cream. Finely grate the remaining lemon zest and add to the spinach (reserve the fruit for another use). Season the spinach with a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp. pepper and stir well to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until just heated through, 2-3 minutes.

Transfer the spinach to a warmed serving bowl and serve right away.

Serves 4.

Counter Culture

This time of year there are a lot of birthdays in our family. This “fruit pizza” showed up for the last birthday and was enjoyed by many. A cookie dough crust is covered by a cream cheese mixture and then fruit is piled on top. This is a nice summer dessert which can be made with any combination of fruits.

Many years ago I came across my first fresh figs. I loved them and have been on the lookout since then to find more. When I ran into them at Costco several weeks ago, I bought them without a second thought. Loosely following a recipe in Emeril’s From Farm to Fork, I stuffed them with a sour-cream/whipped cream mixture, drizzled them with honey, and sprinkled them with lavender. A feast for the senses!

The colors of summer never cease to amaze me. Setting out fruit and vegetables on our table creates such beautiful kaleidescopes and I can’t resist taking pictures. I hope you are enjoying your fill because fall is just around the corner.

I made a very quick side dish this week by grating fresh beets and carrots and dressing them with Italian salad dressing. The raw taste of beets is just a bit earthy, but if you can tolerate them, they make an extremely healthy addition to your dinner plate.

Last, but not least, I made gluten-free pizza this week from an amazing recipe you can find over here at our friends Mennonite Girls Can Cook. I never thought dough this good was possible with gluten-free but look at the results!

I have several winter squash sitting in my kitchen and I can’t wait to begin cooking fall dishes. Roasted squash, butternut squash soup, pumpkin pie….the months of comfort food are on their way!

Off The Shelf: More-with-Less

There are three cookbooks my mom owned that I remember as a child: The Joy of Cooking, More-with-Less Cookbook, and The Congregationalist Church of Cambridge, VT Cookbook. Of these three, it was the More-with-Less from which much of what we ate came from. When I got married I made sure I took a copy of this book with me.

What is so great about this 33-year old, picture-less cookbook? Not gourmet recipes. No. This book is all about the basics of healthy living. It covers breads, cereals, beans, main dishes, dairy, meats and fish, soups, vegetables, salads, desserts and gardening and preserving.

Some of my all-time favorite recipes come from this book. Things like: Honey Whole Wheat Bread, Oatmeal Bread, Edna Ruth Byler’s Potato Dough, Baked Lentils with Cheese, Tomato Quiche, Chinese Savory Beef, Basic Meat Curry, Creamed Chicken, Cucumber Salad, and Roman Apple Cake.

One recipe I’ve made many times is Eggplant Parmesan. It’s perfect for this time of year when eggplants are plentiful. It doubles easily too.

EGGPLANT PARMESAN
( More-with-Less)
Print this recipe

1 medium eggplant

1 cup bread crumbs (can use gluten-free bread)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. oregano

6 tomatoes, chopped (or one 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes)
2 green peppers, chopped (I leave these out)
2 onions, chopped
2 Tbsp. oil (olive oil)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (or thicken sauce with 1 Tbsp. flour)

1-2 cup grated cheese
1/4 cup additional Parmesan

Slice eggplant and place on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and broil 5-7 minutes. Turn slices, brush with olive oil, and broil until tender. Place in the bottom of a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. (I would use a smaller dish.)

Mix breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, and oregano and sprinkle over eggplant.

Combine tomatoes, green peppers, onions, oil, garlic and tomato paste in a saucepan. Simmer uncovered about 20 minutes then spread on top of the crumb mixture. Top with cheeses and bake uncovered 10-15 minutes at 375F. Can be made ahead and refrigerated.

Serves 4.