Cocoa Thumbprints

Welcome to our week-long Christmas treats extravaganza! Our focus will be on chocolate, but we might sneak something else in as well. We hope you find plenty of inspiration for your holiday baking!

I enjoy a good jam-filled thumbprint cookie. Last year I made lovely little butter thumbprint cookies. This year I was imagining a chocolate cookie base with a berry jam center. And what do I find in the December issue of Food Network Magazine? That’s right, Cocoa Thumbprints!

I tinkered with the recipe a bit to make them gluten-free. I cut-back on the sugar by a couple of Tablespoonfuls. And I used a slightly sweet, four-fruit jam as the center. Oh my, these are tasty!

As usual, if you are not gluten-free, feel free to substitute all-purpose flour and omit the xanthan gum.

(slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine, Dec. 2011)
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1 1/2 c. gluten-free all-purpose flour
scant 3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. confectioner’s sugar (for rolling)
1/4 c. granulated sugar (for rolling)
favorite jam (for filling)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, scant 3/4 cup sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum. Add the melted butter and eggs and stir until combined. Cover and refrigerate the dough until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the confectioner’s sugar and the granulated sugar in two separate bowls. Roll scant Tablespoonfuls of dough into balls. Roll each in granulated sugar and then in confectioner’s sugar. Place 1-inch apart on baking sheets.

Make a deep indentation with thumb in each cookie. Place 1/2 teaspoon of jam in the indentation. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and slightly cracked. Let cool 3 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer to a wire rack until completely cooled.

Superbowl Snack: Peanut Butter and Jelly Popcorn

To be honest, I wasn’t initially excited about the idea of “peanut butter and jelly popcorn” when this recipe first crossed my inbox. But, the novelty of the idea caught me and since I love food experimentation, I couldn’t help but try this recipe. That’s when I discovered that this popcorn is addictive. Yes, it is. It was nearly as good as caramel corn, but with far less sugar and only a few minutes of time invested. It’s my new favorite.

(adapted from the Cook It Quick Newsletter)
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1 large bowl of popped popcorn (probably 2 bags of microwave popcorn)
3 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
3 Tbsp. grape jelly (or jelly/jam of your choice — I used strawberry jam)
2 Tbsp. butter

Melt peanut butter, jelly, and butter together in microwave or over low heat.

Pour over popcorn and toss evenly to coat.

Serves 4-6.

Counter Culture

Summer is a beautiful time in the kitchen. There are so many fresh, colorful, delicious foods to set on the table. Here is a pictorial tour of what’s been happening on my counters:

Fried Squash Blossoms: these are a once-a-year treat! Stuffed with ricotta, garlic and herbs, and then fried in a mesa flour batter, they are an amazing appetizer. One hint: pick your flowers early in the day before they close up! Otherwise they are just too hard to stuff.

Grilled Pizza: I did go ahead and try Bobby Flay’s recipe. We all loved it. The grilled pizzas did take a lot longer than I hoped. First we had to cook enough flatbread for 8 people, then we had to put on the toppings and get them all back on the grill.

Once I resigned myself to this being an “event” rather than just a quick dinner, things went a lot better. It’s an ideal meal to make with company on your back patio with a beautiful evening to enjoy.

Kale Chips: You may have noticed that Kale Chips are all the rage on the internet this year. When a large bunch of kale arrived in our CSA produce recently I decided to join the crowd. Surprise, surprise! The kale chips were absolutely amazing and I’ll be making those again! (Here is a recipe to try.)

Jam: One day a friend came over and we made jam: peach, peach-ginger, strawberry-rhubarb, and mint jelly. The sheet that comes inside the pectin boxes has just about any basic recipe on it and we followed that for most of what we did. For the peach-ginger jam, I added chopped crystallized ginger to the peach recipe. (In case you are wondering what’s wrong with the mint jelly — the jar pictured was the leftovers in the pot, including the scum.)

I finally harvested some rainbow swiss chard from my garden!

It seems once a summer we sit down to an all yellow meal!

I hope you all are also enjoying the delicious produce of summer!

Off The Shelf: Well Preserved

Well Preserved: A Jam-Making Hymnal by Joan Hassol is a tribute to the joys of preserving the seasons in your kitchen. Part memoir, mostly recipes, this book was enjoyable to read through and imagine what kind of jam I might like to make next.

Hassol’s drive to make jam so matches my feelings that I felt I was reading my thoughts put on paper. Here are a few excerpts from the introduction: “There is something about finding the succulent, almost ripe fruits; about picking berries; about laboring in the hot sun, that awakens long-dormant memories of a sun-washed early childhood….I’m still a hunter-gatherer, with an instinctive sense of needing to ‘have enough’…Stacking jars fills me with a sense of security….This book is about my relationship with jam, my soul, music, and the world in which I live.”

Arranged seasonally, you will find recipes such as: Apple Grape Jam, Cranberry Raspberry Jam, Green Tomato Chutney, Cranberry Citrus Chutney, Lemon Ginger Marmalade, Orange Marmalade with Whiskey, Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, Rhubarb with Ginger Jam, Apricot with Rum Jam, Pineapple Ginger Jam, Blueberry Jam, Raspberry Amaretto Jam, Cherry Pineapple Jam, and Wild Cherry Jam. The book ends with a collection of muffins, breads and scones to enjoy with your jam.

I decided first upon the Strawberry Rhubarb Jam since I love that kind of pie. The directions were easy to follow and my jam came out exactly as it should. The original recipe did not include a processing time so I just checked with the National Center for Home Food Preservation and found I should process my jam for 10 minutes. I could have wished for more fruit flavor, and less sweet, but with the amount of sugar in these recipes, one won’t be getting something less sweet.

I would really like to try the Rhubarb Ginger Jam next!

(Well  Preserved)
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3 cups chopped, fresh or frozen unsweetened strawberries
1 cup chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup water
1  1/2 packages powdered pectin
7 cups sugar

Simmer the strawberries, rhubarb and water until the rhubarb is soft, about 5 minutes. Bring to a boil. Add the pectin. Return to the boil. Add the sugar slowly, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil again and boil for 1 minute, or until the jam sheets off the spoon. Pour into hot, sterilized jars. Cover with new, clean, hot lids. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes 7-8 eight-ounce jars.

Market Fresh: Strawberries

Strawberries are one of the best parts of summer for me. It used to be that we were limited to the 2 or 3 weeks that they were in season locally, but now we can have them year-round. (I’m not supposed to mention that, really, since we’re meant to eat seasonally on this blog. But, I’m afraid I buy strawberries all summer long.)

Mostly I buy strawberries to make one of my favorite desserts ever: strawberry shortcake. It’s a simple dessert, and low in sugar, not to mention that it tastes so good and reminds me of my childhood.

There are so many ways to use strawberries: eaten plain, on top of cereal, frozen and in a smoothie, sliced into green salads, dipped in chocolate, and made into jam.

If you want something a little different from the ordinary strawberry shortcake, why not try one of these giant strawberry shortcakes!

Print this recipe

2 cups flour
1/3 cup butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk

1 pound strawberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400F. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into flour mixture and work with hands until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in milk just until blended. Bring dough together and place on a floured surface. Knead 20 to 25 times. Pat dough out into a round about 3/4-inch thick and place on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake until golden brown 10-15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, slice the strawberries and mix with the granulated sugar, leaving at room temperature so they develop juice. Beat the whipping cream with the powdered sugar and refrigerate until needed.

Once shortcake is cool, carefully slice it in half with a long, serrated knife. Assemble the shortcake just before serving so it doesn’t get too soggy. Pile the strawberries onto the bottom half and then top with whipped cream. Carefully place the top half on top of the whipped cream.

Serves 6-8.

It’s always good to try something different and here’s an idea for a light, gluten-free, strawberry dessert: Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta Cream.

(Food Network)
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1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons

Put the ricotta cheese, honey and vanilla extract into the small bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

In a small saucepan combine the vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally (next time I will try 1 minute as 2 minutes made the syrup go hard when it cooled). Allow to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, toss the berries with the basil and the balsamic syrup.

Divide the cream among 4 cocktail glasses, top with the berry mixture and serve.

Makes 4 small servings.

Off The Shelf: Good to the Grain

Every now and then foodies need a new frontier to explore. Mine, just now, seems to be the up-and-coming world of grains beyond wheat, oats and rice. When I found Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, I realized I had the perfect roadmap in my hand to begin my exploration.

Good to the Grain delves into the history and uses of flours such as whole-wheat, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, kamut, multigrain, oat, quinoa, rye, spelt, and teff. In this book, each grain has numerous recipes with mouth-watering photos meant to tempt you into branching out beyond your comfort zone and trying some of these lesser-known grains.

Some of the recipes include: wholewheat: gingersnaps, apple graham coffee cake, drop biscuits with strawberries and cream; amaranth: molasses bran muffins, honey hazelnut cookies, flatbread; barley: coconut cookies, barley crepes, maple pecan granola; buckwheat: figgy buckwheat scones, kasha pudding, poppy seed wafers; corn: rhubarb tarts, cornmeal blueberry cookies; kamut: sand cookies, pumpkin pancakes, chocolate babka; multigrain: five-grain cream waffles, spice muffins; oat: granola bars, oatmeal pancakes; quinoa: honeyed crepes, quinoa cookies; rye: apricot boysenberry tarts, soft rye pretzels, maple danish; spelt: currant scones, huckle buckle, focaccia; teff: date nut bread, brown butter scones.

As my family can testify,  cookbook after cookbook passes through this house en route to or from the library. This was one of the few books that made it to the shortlist for almost-instant purchase. I now own my own copy, thanks to Mother’s Day and my mom’s generosity. My mom was at my house the first time I made these strawberry-barley scones. Neither of us could stop raving about them, and the cookbook came with the request that I make the scones again soon. Believe me, I will!

(Good to the Grain)
Print this recipe

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. barley flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

8 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk (I used regular milk plus 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar)
1 egg

1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. sugar

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Rub a baking sheet lightly with butter. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces and add them to the dry mixture. Use your hands to rub the butter between your fingers, breaking it into smaller bits. Continue rubbing until the butter is in sizes ranging from rice grains to flattened peas. The more quickly you do this, the more the butter will stay solid, which is important for the success of this recipe.

in a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg until thoroughly combined. Scrape the buttermilk and egg into the dry mixture, and mix until barely combined.

Use a pastry scraper or a spatula to transfer the dough onto a well-floured surface. The dough may be too sticky to handle; if it is, dust it with flour and fold it together a few times. Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Flour your hands and pat each piece of dough into a disk about 3/4 inch thick and 7 inches in diameter.

Cover one disk with the jam. Top the spread with the other disk and press down gently so that the dough settles into the jam. Brush the dough lightly with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Use a sharp knife to slice the circle into 8 triangular wedges, like a pie. Carefully place the wedges on the baking sheet, leaving a few inches between them.

Bake the scones for 22 to 26 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. The scones are ready when their tops are golden brown and some of the jam has bubbled over onto the pan. To keep the scones from sticking to the pan, slide a thin spatula underneath them while they’re still warm and move them to a baking rack. The scones are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day.

Makes 8.

NOTE: I like to use parchment paper to line my baking sheet as it prevents the jam from making a mess, and it is easy to “unstick” the scones.