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Lemon Polenta Pistachio Buttons

My blog doesn’t have much of at “theme;” I pretty much do whatever I want.  The majority of my posts are about baking, but this is not exclusively a baking blog.  I’m someone who generally watches what she eats and makes exercise a priority in her life, but this is most definitely not a healthy eating blog (see recently these, or these, or even these).  Butter, flour, sugar, chocolate – these are the things that make life worth living.  But everything in moderation, right?

That’s why I love new book Baking with Less Sugar, by Joanne Chang, the pastry chef–owner of Flour Bakery + Café in Boston.  For her book, Joanne developed recipes using natural sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrup, and fruit juice.  She also includes recipes that simply use (much) less refined sugar, which allows the other flavors in the recipe to shine.  These Lemon Polenta Pistachio Buttons are one of those recipes.  They are a lemony, just-sweet-enough cookie with a lovely crunchy texture from a healthy dose cornmeal in the dough.  Topped with a little sweetened crushed pistachios, they are a treat perfect for any occasion.

Overall, they are easy to make (no mixer or fancy equipment required!) and taste fantastic, while being summer wardrobe-friendly.  Thanks for the great book, Joanne – can’t wait to try more recipes!

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Lemon Polenta Pistachio Buttons

Baking with Less Sugar by Joanne Chang of The Flour Bakery + Café

Makes 10-12 cookies

Total active time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sugar dipping mix

2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped, roasted and salted pistachios
1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

1. Pour butter into medium bowl and add the sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, and egg; stir together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, stir to combine. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until well-combined. Cover and chill the dough in the fridge until firm, about 1 hour (or up to overnight).

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in center of oven.

4. Make the sugar dipping mixture: combine sugar, pistachios, and lemon zest in a small bowl.

5. Roll the cookie dough into balls the size of a large walnut; I ended up with 11 cookies. Roll the dough balls in the dipping mix – press firmly to allow the mix to adhere to the dough. Place cookies on a lined baking sheet 2 inches apart. Press them flat with the palm of your hand, they will not spread much when the bake. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown on edges and pale in the center. Let them cool on the sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Honey Nut Brownies

I love honey as a natural sweetener; while I certainly eat my fair share of refined sugar, I often replace sugar with honey where I can, like in my morning cup of coffee or tea.  It’s not often you find honey replacing sugar in baked goods, so when I found a recipe for “honey nut brownies” in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, which uses honey in an unexpected place (brownies), of course I had to try it.

Everything Dorie touches turns to baking gold, so not surprisingly these honey nut brownies are fantastic.  Just like regular brownies, they are easy to throw together and bake up in under an hour.  But these are not the dense, fudge-y brownies you might be used to.  Don’t get me wrong, dense, fudge-y brownies are hands-down my favorite kind of brownie.  These honey nut brownies have enough chocolate to qualify as brownies, but honey is definitely the star of the show.  The brownies have a moist, cake-like texture, thanks to the addition of a full cup of honey.  And the flavor of that full cup of honey adds a richness and depth to an otherwise lighter brownie.

If you’re looking for a lighter version of a brownie (or even a simple chocolate cake), this is a great recipe to try!

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Honey Nut Brownies

If you wanted to up the chocolate factor, you could add 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Makes 16 brownies

Ingredients

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
4 to 5 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup honey (Dorie recommends a mixed blossom honey)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used pecans, but walnuts or almonds would be great as well)

1. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter until just smooth. Set aside.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a 9 x 9 inch pan with foil, then butter or non-stick spray the foil.

2. Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and salt together on medium-high speed until light and foamy.  Add the honey, sugar, and vanilla and continue to beat for two minutes, or until well blended and smooth.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the chocolate-butter mixture, mixing only until just incorporated.  On low speed, add flour and mix until it just disappears into the batter. Using a spatula fold in, the nuts then scrape batter into prepared pan.

3.  Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the brownies have risen and are beautifully brown, and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a rack, peel away foil and invert onto another cooling rack. Cool to room temperature right side up, then dust with either cocoa powder or confectioners sugar.

Fast and Simple Black Bean Soup

I haven’t been doing much cooking lately, so it’s about time I got back in the kitchen and whipped up something comforting yet healthy.  And usually when I want something comforting yet healthy, I look to my long list of “soup recipes I’ve been meaning to try.”

Black bean soup has always been a favorite, and I’m so glad I found this recipe.  The soup is lovely, even though it takes less than an hour to make, from prep to table.  I served mine with sliced avocado, low-fat sour cream, and a big pinch of cayenne, but some cojita or shredded cheddar is also great addition.  I would eat this soup all year long, but if you’re in one of the many parts of the country currently suffering from extreme cold and snow storms, you should definitely move this to the top of your To-Do list.

Plus this soup freezes well, which means I’ll have some easy, healthy lunches ready to go in the near future!

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Black Bean Soup

Adapted from Dave Lieberman

Serves 6

Total time: 1 hour

When the soup was done, I hit it with my immersion blender for several pulses, until the soup was creamier but still had plenty of whole beans throughout.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can take 1 cup of the finished soup and puree in a blender or food processor, then mix the pureed soup back in with the rest of the soup.

Ingredients

8 slices bacon (optional, or adjusted to your taste!), finely chopped
2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
6 garlic cloves, pressed or finely chopped
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth (or water to make it vegetarian)
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
4 (15 1/2-ounce) cans black beans, drained but not rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime
Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish
Sour cream, avocado, chopped tomatoes, and/or grated cheddar for garnish

1. Put the bacon into a large heavy pot and place it over medium heat. Cook the bacon until it starts to give up its fat, about 4 minutes. Stir in the onions and cook, stirring, until they start to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes, if using, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth, tomatoes, Worcestershire, and chili powder, and stir to combine. Then stir in the beans, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the soup is bubbling gently and cook 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

2. While soup is simmering, pick off all the thick stems from the cilantro, wash, and then and shake dry. Chop the cilantro coarsely and stir it into the soup once it has been simmering 10 minutes. Cook another 5 minutes, or until the soup is thickened. If you want to blend or puree a portion of the soup, do so now (see note above).  Stir in the lime juice, then serve with the garnishes.

Spiced Fig and Walnut Biscotti

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When I meet new people and they hear that I enjoy baking, I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite thing to bake?”  That’s a tough question to answer.  Whenever I pick up a new baking project, it will depend on the season, the occasion, and my general mood.  After much thought, however, I’ve narrowed it down to biscotti.

In case you’ve forgotten, I make biscotti a lot: Chocolate Cherry, Almond, Almond Cornmeal, Pumpkin, and Maple Walnut varieties of biscotti are already found on this site.  Biscotti are easy, fast, and can be constantly updated with new flavors and ingredients.  They perfectly compliment your coffee or tea, and are even an excellent addition to a cheese plate.  They are a light, not-too-sweet treat, as long as you don’t eat half the batch at once.  Which I may have done in the past.  Don’t judge.

I love these.  Love.  The sweet dried figs, toasted walnuts, and spiced orange flavors make for a warm and comforting cookie, and the figs’ little round seeds give these a lovely crunchy texture.  I first made these in November and have now made them an additional 5 times.  The flavors of orange and spice make them a great holiday cookie, but I plan on working them in to my regular year-round biscotti repertoire.

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Spiced Fig and Walnut Biscotti

Adapted from Gina DePalma, The Babbo Cookbook

Makes ~24 biscotti

Ingredients

1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup dried Turkish or Calimyrna figs, quartered
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons or 3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1/2 a large orange
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (or 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg white, lightly beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant. Allow the walnuts to cool completely.

2. Place the walnuts and dried figs in a food processor and process until they are finely chopped.  Or, if you don’t have a food processor, you can chop both by hand (which is what I did).

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula occasionally. Beat in the vanilla and the orange zest.

4. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture to form a somewhat firm dough. Add the walnuts and figs and mix until thoroughly combined. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and chill 35 to 40 minutes or until completely firm.

5. When the dough has chilled, on a floured board, use your palms to roll half of the dough (eyeball it) into a log. Repeat with the second half of the dough, and place both log on the baking sheet.

6. In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze the log with some egg white and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. (I was feeling lazy and skipped this step.)  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the log is lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.  This took me around 30 minutes, so start checking around 20 minutes and keep baking until firm and slightly cracked,

7. Allow the log to cool on the cookie sheet until cool to the touch, about 30 minutes. Move each log to a baking sheet, and with a serrated knife, slice the biscotti, slightly on the bias, into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheet in single layer. Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp.  This also took me at least 30 minutes, so again, start checking at 20 minutes and add more time if needed.

Store the biscotti in an airtight container. They should keep for at least a week.  They also freeze beautifully.

Adventures in PDX Eats: February 2015

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My view, every morning, of Mt. Hood.

Since its inception in 2010, Pâte à Chew has been a blog focused  almost exclusively on my own adventures in the kitchen.  Cooking and baking (especially baking!) are two of only a handful of true loves in my life, and I cannot imagine a time when they won’t be be.  Yet one reason I’m not in the kitchen as much as I used to be is that there are so many amazing people, places, and events to explore in this great town of Portland.

So I’d like to take this new opportunity to branch out and write about my adventures in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.  Am I still doing some cooking and baking? Yes, but not as much lately.  When you are busy at work and have an endless number of unbelievably good food options in Portland, it’s easy to spend (way) too much time eating out.

And speaking of food, for my first installment of what I’m calling “Adventures in PDX,” I’d like to share some of my favorite restaurant adventures of the past 3 months, in no particular order.

Tea Bar.  Tea bar is just that – a tea bar.  But its sleek atmosphere and 30 varieties of tea make this a lovely spot to sip and relax.  My honey assam latte was lovely.

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Roman Candle Bakery.  A bakery that makes, among many other things, Roman-style pizza bianca, served with scissors for sharing.  It isn’t a variety of pizza that is easy to find, but it’s fresh, delicious, and special.  I have not yet been for breakfast or brunch, but a former baker assures me that their Danish pastries particular are winning choice.

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Kachka.  I was never a fan of Russian cuisine, but then I went to Kachka.  This restaurant has been getting rave reviews from professional critics, bloggers, and friends, and after a cozy dinner at the bar with Meredith of Martha Chartreuse I found out why.  The tvorog vareniki (farmers cheese dumplings) and golubtsi (sweet and sour cabbage rolls) were my favorites.  The desserts are great too – if you aren’t dumpling-ed out after the tvorog vareniki, pick the sour cherry vareniki to end your meal.

SweeDeeDee.  Decent brunch, amazing baked goods, but out-of-this-world Salted Honey Pie.  Eventually I will find a way to replicate it in my own kitchen!

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Oven and Shaker.  Most people consider it way more than just a neighborhood pizza place, but it’s in my ‘hood, so it will always be my neighborhood pizza place.  Their signature pie, the Spicy Salami topped provolone, mozzarella, and honey, is to die for.  They also have great salads; it’s one of the few places in the world where I actually like kale.

Piazza Italia.  The menu is made up almost entirely of pasta dishes.  Start with the bresaola appetizer, then always order the homemade pasta option.  My current favorite: fresh pasta with Bolognese topped with a few heaping scoops of freshly-grated parmesan cheese.

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Yama.  Sashimi.  Really fresh, really good sashimi.  Yama has not been a “new adventure,” but rather a constant since I started traveling to Portland almost two years ago.  I visit at a minimum 3 times a month, often with Meredith as my date.  They have some pretty great rolls as well, but again: sashimi.

And if you’ve tried the pizzas, the cheese dumplings, and the salted honey pie, a healthy dinner of sashimi might be just want you need.

 

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