Monday, December 15, 2014

Spiced Apple Butter Cookies

Winter's a week away.  Can you believe it?

Central Pennsylvania's been attempting winter in fits and starts for several weeks already.  We had a lovely little dusting of snow back around Thanksgiving.  No sunshine since then, though.  I've had to make my own sunshine by spending my free time either in the kitchen or with friends.  Ahhh, such a life.  

My holiday gift-giving this year is entirely food -- sweet pickles, apple butter, and homemade wine (recipes to follow).  Oh, and cookies!  When I got an email in October about the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I just knew I had to be a part.  Cookies in exchange for donating to a great cause, and an excuse to use up some leftover apple butter?  Yes yes yes!  

There was more than once that I nearly chased the delivery truck down the street while waiting for my cookies to arrive.

I was lucky enough to receive jam and hazelnut snowballs Carrie at Fresh from Oregon, red velvet cookies Lynna from Hearts in My Oven, and brown butter shortbread cookies from Sara at Confectionary Tales of a Bakeaholic.  I mean, can you even believe how beautiful these are?

They were a perfect mix.  I'm only a little ashamed to say I lived entirely on cookies for a while there.

How did I pick which cookies to send?  Well, to be frank I was shooting for something that was warming without being too sweet.  I'm not big on sweets and I just happened to have about four quarts of apple butter sitting around, so I tweaked the pumpkin molasses cookies from last year.  The result was chewy, soft, and almost reminiscent of an apple quickbread in bite-sized form.  If you like your cookies to lean to the sweet side, consider rolling them in (or dusting them with) cinnamon and sugar and/or adding mix-ins such as apple chunks or cinnamon chips.  You could also try a maple, ginger, or brown sugar glaze for an extra little sumthin'.  You have my permission to be creative!

Apple Spice Cookies

Total Time: 15 minutes to mix, 45-60 to refrigerate, 12-14 to bake, 10 to cool.
Yield: 45 cookies (1 TBS dough portions)


  • Wet Ingredients
    • 0.5 cup butter, room temperature
    • 1 TBS cream cheese, room temperature
      • can sub: neufchâtel or mascarpone cheese
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 0.25 cup molasses
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 cup apple butter
  • Dry Ingredients
    • 2.75 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
      • can increase to 2 tsp if you want a stronger flavor
    • 1/2 tsp ginger
    • 1/2 tsp cloves
    • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/8 tsp allspice
  1. Use a large mixing bowl to beat together the butter and cream cheese until they form a fluffy paste.
  2. Add the sugar and cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar together until they form a thick paste.
  3. Add the egg, molasses, and vanilla to the bowl and beat until mixed well.
  4. Beat in the apple butter and set the bowl aside.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until well-combined and no lumps remain.  
  6. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and gently mix the two together by hand until the flour just disappears.  Be careful not to overmix!
  7. OPTIONAL:  if adding apple chunks or cinnamon chips, stir them in gently at this point.
  8. Wrap the bowl and place it in the fridge for 45-60 minutes.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  10. Remove the dough from the fridge.  
  11. Use a 1 TBS scoop to portion out dough balls.  Place dough balls several finger-widths apart, as they spread out quite a bit (~12-15 per baking sheet).
  12. OPTIONAL:  if desired, used wet fingers to gently roll the balls into a uniform shape and/or dip them in cinnamon and sugar.
  13. Bake 12-14 minutes, turning the tray 180 degrees halfway through.
  14. Allow to cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet.
  15. OPTIONAL: frost or glaze after cookies have cooled completely.


Let's walk through it step by step!

First off is beating the butter and cream cheese together.

Once they form a fluffy paste, you're all set.

Put the sugar in the bowl next.

It will be difficult to photograph, but don't worry.
Next, beat the sugar & butter mix together until it forms a thick paste.  This process is called "creaming" the butter and sugar, and it's the basis for just about every cookie ever.

Next are the vanilla, egg, and molasses:

I kind of love that photo.  It's such a mess.
Mix all that up into a wet goo.

And then let the apple butter join the party.

I made the apple butter at home, recipe to follow shortly (short version: cook applesauce to death).   Most orchards and a number of grocery stores carry it, usually somewhere near the jams or peanut butter.  

Anyway, mix all that up and set it aside. 
Now, in a separate bowl, whisk together all your dry ingredients.

You can double the cinnamon if you want (or all the spices, for that matter), assuming you like a very strong flavor in your cookies.  I'd love to suggest that you start with the original amount to start and then scale it up according to your tastes, but don't let me hold you back.

Next, the wet ingredients get added to the dry.  

Mix by hand.  Gently!  Only stir it until the flour juuuuust disappears.  You want to almost err on the side of undermixed, though there shouldn't be any flour visible.  If you're putting any add-ins, such as apple chunks or butterscotch chips, do that here.  But again, don't overmix this.  It requires a light hand or you'll end up with tough cookies.

Tough cookies, sweetheart.

I find the dough is too sticky to work with at this point, so I pop it in the fridge for 45-60 minutes.  Ultimately that's optional, I just don't like to fight the dough.  Once it's cool, fire up the oven and use a 1 TBS cookie scoop (or just a measuring spoon) to portion out dough balls onto a greased sheet, parchment, or silpat.

If you like uniform, smooth cookies you can use wet fingers to gently roll them into rounds, but it's not necessary.  You can also sprinkle cinnamon & sugar over them, or dip / roll them if you want.  I'm not big on sugar so I don't, but it's your choice.  (Seriously, it's choose your own adventure with these!)

Be sure to leave plenty of space between cookies, 'cause they spread.  I can fit about 12-15 on a tray.  Whatever doesn't make it into the oven goes back into the fridge between batches, 'cause the dough warms up quickly.

They typically take about 12-14 minutes at 350.  At around 6-7 minutes, turn the tray 180 degrees so that they bake evenly.

They're gonna smell pretty divine, let me tell you.

They're fantastic warm, but do try to let them cool for 10 minutes before burning your mouth on them.  If you're going to glaze or frost them, wait until they're completely cool or you'll end up with a mess.

Voila!  They stay chewy for several days and freeze well.  Or you can pack them up and mail 'em off to your cookie swap partners.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Peaches & Cream Quinoa Oatmeal

Howdy strangers!

I meant to post this at the end of summer, but then I started a new job that entails writing for 8 hours a day.  It's a dream job, to be sure.  The down side, though, is that at the end of the day I'm not so keen on writing for fun.  Now that November's here, thanks to National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), I'm back on my feet.  I decided to forego a novel this year in favor of simply picking back up my side writing projects, out of which That Dang Cook is probably my favorite.

So here's the lost overdue post.

Now that cooler weather's here there's nothing stopping you from using frozen or dried fruit.  Around this time of year I love to make this oatmeal with pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and a tiny sprinkle of granola for crunch.

What I love best about this recipe is that it makes a week's worth, meaning I can make it Sunday night, put the rest in jars or tupperware for the week, and not have to fuss when I get up in the morning.

It also tastes like peach pie or peach cobbler thanks to the pecans and nutmeg (which are optional, of course).  Heck, some nights I have it for dessert!

Peaches & Cream Quinoa Oatmeal
Makes: around 4 servings, 5 if you stretch it.
Total Time to Make:  40 minutes to cook, 20 to chop the peaches (or other toppings), cool, and divide into containers for the week.

  • 0.5 cup steel cut oatmeal
    • Note: you can use regular oatmeal if you like, though you'll have to cut the cooking time back drastically.  Check the package instructions for your oatmeal and compare that to the package instructions for quinoa.  Cook for whichever takes longer.
  • 0.5 cup quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon butter (or substitute)
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • pinch of salt
  • 0.5 cup yogurt
  • 0.5 cup milk
    • Note: I enjoy subbing almond milk here, so go with your heart.  Same goes for the yogurt if you'd like to use a soy, almond, or coconut yogurt.
    • Alternatively to the yogurt + milk, you could use a cup of kefir or 0.5 cup milk + 0.5 cup buttermilk.  This part is fairly flexible.
  • For peaches & cream topping:
    • 1 white peach, cut into thin slices
    • 0.25 cup pecans
    • brown sugar, cinnamon, & nutmeg to taste
  • For other toppings, try your favorite fresh fruit, frozen fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and spices.  For example:
    • apple slices, raisins, & cinnamon
    • dried cranberries, walnuts, nutmeg, & allspice
    • pumpkin seeds, granola, & brown sugar
    • blueberries, lemon zest, & honey
    • dried cranberries, orange zest, honey, & vanilla sugar

  1. Start the water boiling in a kettle or pan.
  2. Heat a saucepan on medium high heat.
  3. When the pan is hot, add the butter, quinoa, and oats.  Stir frequently, toasting the grains, for around two minutes.
  4. Add the boiling water and salt, reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot.
  5. Allow the grains to cook for 25-30 minutes.  Do not uncover or stir.
  6. While the grains are cooking, whisk together the milk & yogurt and set aside.  
  7. Once the grains have cooked, uncover, add the milk mixture, and stir briefly.
  8. Return the cover and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat.  
  10. Serve in a bowl topped with brown sugar, peach slices, pecans, and a dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg (use nutmeg very sparingly - a little goes a long way).  Or use toppings of your choice.  
  11. Divide unused portions into mason jars or tupperware containers for the rest of the week.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Alright, let's go through it step-by-step, shall we?  It's a fairly easy one, which is why I love to get it done on a Sunday night when I'm getting the last of my relaxing done for the week.

First step is to put the water on to boil.  Doesn't really matter how, though don't let it boil for too long or you'll lose too much liquid through evaporation.

Next, heat a saucepan on medium high until it's hot.  Once it's hot, add your butter and grains.

Stir them around for a minute or two to let them get toasty.

Then, add the boiling water and salt.  It does make a difference in cook time to boil the water first and add it hot, so don't skip that step if you can help it.  

Next, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, cover the pot, and let it cook without uncovering or stirring for 25 minutes.  It'll take a little patience and willpower, but you can do it.  I believe in you!

Then, when the grains are cooked, whisk together the milk and yogurt (or kefir, or milk+buttermilk, whatever you're using).  Uncover the pot, stir in the milk mixture, and then put the cover back on.  You can use soy or almond or whatever kind of alterna-milk you like here.  Don't be shy to play around with it!  I really enjoy using vanilla almond milk.

Let it cook for 10 more minutes.

Then, spoon yourself out a serving if you're having some right away, or let it cool and divide it into 4-5 containers.  Make sure that any containers that are going into the fridge are completely cooled, since putting a hot container on a cold fridge shelf can cause either to shatter.  

When serving, add brown sugar, cinnamon, a tiny pinch of nutmeg (be stingy, it's strong!), some chopped pecans, and slices of peach to your taste.  Or get creative and use your favorite toppings!  

I'll be posting a pickle recipe here pretty soon, so be sure to check back!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Summer Borscht (Холодный борщ)

Wow, September already?  Jeez.

Cold borscht is a dish I think of around this time of year, just as fresh beets are coming up, right around late August.  The first time I ever had it was on my birthday in my little kitchen in Iwate.  I'd thrown myself a birthday shindig and invited a few work colleagues.  Three hours before guests were set to show up my boss knocked on my door, arms full with a big pot full of beets and dairy, and without much of an explanation or apology took over my kitchen to make his specialty: cold borscht.  He had to make it at my house, he explained after twenty minutes of silence, because his -- like most Japanese homes -- didn't have an oven and roasting was the key, he said.

Up to that point I'd heard of borscht but never tried it.  I didn't even know what was in it (despite two years of college Russian).  And now here was my Japanese boss happily shucking roast beets and popping them into a pot full of broth.  Surreal moment, right there.

He was a super sweet guy.  I miss those folks.

Mr. Wakayanagi was kind enough to let me watch over his shoulder.  I didn't have the good sense to write things down as he worked, instead committing the process to memory.  I think most of it stuck, but to be honest it was kind of a wild party so I might be missing a few steps.  Even the pictures are hazy.

I still don't even remember this guy's name.  I called him Bambi after that.

The back story, if I understood it correctly, is that Mr. Wakayanagi's family had roots in Hokkaido and the recipe had been passed down that way.  It might be more complex than that (most likely it is), but that's the bit I feel confident about.  At any rate it's a good recipe, excellent for a colorful dinner on a hot day.

Summer Borscht (Холодный борщ)

Makes:  ~ 8 cups (easily halved for a more manageable batch)
Credits:  Wakayanagi-kachosan, plus some input from various Polish, Russian, and Lithuanian recipes.
Total Time to Make:  60 minutes to roast beets, 30 min to cool the beets, 45 min to cook the soup & eggs, 2+ hours to cool the soup, 15 minutes to garnish/serve.  So ballpark 4.5 - 5 hours start to finish.

  • Approximately half a dozen large fresh beets, washed & trimmed.  Reserve greens for other uses.
    • Can sub:  3 cups of chopped canned beets
  • 4 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp majoram
  • 1 TBS soy sauce
  • 1 cup Greek/plain yogurt + 1 cup milk 
    • Alternative:  can use 2 cups of plain kefir, drinkable yogurt, or, if so inclined, buttermilk
  • 3-4 hard-boiled eggs
  • fresh dill, chopped cucumber, scallions, and sour cream for garnish
    • optional:  peeled, boiled, cubed potato for garnish
  1. Individually wrap fresh beets in tinfoil.  Add a few drops of water to each packet.  Bake at 400F for 40-60 minutes or until tender.  Allow to cool enough to handle safely.
  2. Remove tops & bottoms of beets.  Use fingers to peel them completely.  Cube the beets.  
  3. Heat the stock in a large soup pan on medium-low or simmer.  Add beet cubes.  Do not allow the stock to boil.  
  4. Add majoram, lemon, and soy sauce.  
  5. Keep on low heat, stirring gently every 5-10 minutes, for 30-45 minutes or until the stock has turned deep purple.
  6. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature.
  7. Using a standing blender or immersion blender, puree the beet soup.  Take extreme care not to splash, as beets stain on contact and can easily ruin clothing or kitchen towels.  (Apron recommended.)
  8. Mix yogurt and milk together with a whisk.  Add the yogurt mix (or kefir/buttermilk) to the soup.
  9. Refrigerate the soup for 2+ hours (or overnight).  Be certain the soup pot is room temperature before placing in the fridge, as placing hot objects on cold shelves can cause them to shatter or crack.
  10. To serve:  place a generous handful of chopped cucumber in a bowl.  Ladle cold soup overtop.  Top with slices of hardboiled egg, scallions, fresh dill, and sour cream (if desired).  Optionally, add cubes of potato to the bowl with the cucumbers for a heartier soup.

In my searches I found that there are many variants on cold borscht (also called holodnik, or holodni borscht), many of which center around how to cook the beets and what kind of dairy to use.  The options, far as I could tell, are: (1) boil/bake the beets, either separately or in the broth; and, (2) use various combinations of yogurt, kefir, milk, sour cream, or -- and this makes me gag to think about -- buttermilk.  There was even one that, so far as I could tell, was just shredded beets in a quart of buttermilk.  I...  yeah, no.  I don't do it that way.  

I like to roast fresh beets (for sweetness, also to keep dirt out of the stock since they're impossible to clean perfectly).  

The idea is to scrub them, cut off tops and bottoms:

Wrap these individually in foil with a few drops of water in each packet:

And then roast 'em at 400F for 40-60 minutes or until they're tender.  Let them cool long enough to handle comfortably.  You'll find that the peels slide right off:

See how easy?  I seriously ate an entire beet just like this.  Nature's candy!

Once they're peeled, cut the beets into cubes.

Now you're ready to get started!

Warm up your stock (beef, veg, or chicken all okay depending on your tastes), but -- and this is SUPER important -- do not let the stock get warm enough to boil.  The reason this is important is because if the beets get too hot they'll turn grey and get a little bitter.  This won't ruin the soup, but it will rob it of the gorgeous pink-purple color.  I keep the heat on medium low until it just starts to steam, then turn it down to low-low and drop the beets in.

Since the beets are already cooked it's not critical to heat the stock for long.  I give it about 30-45 minutes to let the color and flavor from the beets seep in.  (And give me time to boil the eggs.  I won't go over how to do that here -- just ask Google if you're not sure how to hard-boil an egg.)

Add in your lemon juice:


And soy (or salt, if you're avoiding gluten/soy):

Once the stock's good and red I take it off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.  Then I blend it.  I used an immersion blender, but let me say with all seriousness that whether you use a standing blender or an immersion blender, you want to be so, so careful at this point.  Put on your scrubbiest teeshirt.  Wear an apron and gloves.  Make sure your favorite towels are out of the room.  The reason here is because it's very easy to slosh the stock onto your clothes or towel and it will stain.  So pretty please be careful and consider yourself warned.  Also, don't pour hot liquid into your standing blender.  Wait for it to cool first or you could end up with a cracked blender and hot purple liquid all over.  

This will give you a gorgeous dark purple puree:

When I learned the recipe from Mr. Wakayanagi, he used a drinkable yogurt product from the local dairy that's not unlike kefir.  Since my local market doesn't stock either of these things, I kludge it with a mixture of half yogurt and half whole milk.  Seems to work just fine.  If you want it more sour, use more yogurt.  If you want it really sour, use sour cream.  If you want it OMGSOUR, use buttermilk.  Up to you.

The way I do it, I first measure out a cup of Greek yogurt:

And then whisk it together with a cup of milk:

Into the pot it goes!

This is seriously my favorite part.  I love love love watching the colors change.

Isn't that amazing?

Damn, nature, you gorgeous!

Pop that bad boy in the fridge for a couple of hours -- even a day or two if you want -- and let it get good & cold.  When you're ready to serve, pop a handful of chopped cucumber into a bowl and ladle the soup over it.

Doesn't that pink just blow your mind?

Next up are 1-2 halves of a boiled egg (alternatively, you can chop it up into small pieces), and a few pinches each of fresh dill and scallions:

Tell me that doesn't look like Elmo.  

You can also top it off with a dollop of sour cream if you want:

And that's it!  You also put in cooked, cubed potato pieces if you want, or serve it with rolls.  Up to you.  

It's great on a hot day because it's full of fresh veg, has protein, and best of all is nice and cool.  Just make sure not to wear your favorite shirt to dinner.