One Ring To Rule Them All

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Nobody knows exactly where it came from.

I thought we got it out of a cereal box.  My oldest daughter says it just showed up one day in a kitchen drawer.

The ‘it’ that I’m referring to is a replica Lord of the Rings ring, complete with elvish handwriting. 

However the ring arrived, it seems reluctant to depart.  We keep losing it, and it keeps finding its way back to us.  Most recently it was missing for a year.  But when the girls were packing for camp this summer, the One Ring slipped out of a suitcase that has been used at least twice since it was last seen.  Other than the fact that the gold has slightly tarnished over the years, it remains unchanged in any way.

It doesn’t seem to possess any other magical powers.  I can slip it over my finger without disappearing or, to the best of my knowledge, attracting the attention of Sauron. 

This recipe attracted my attention when I was looking for more recipes to use up my accumulated jams and preserves.  Although making Ring Cookies requires a few steps, they aren’t difficult, and the result is delicious.  Believe me, this is one case where you won’t mind at all being ruled by a ring.

Ring Cookies (aka Cookie bar Jammers)
Recipe from Lottie and Doof, and inspired by Dorie Greenspan)

SablĂ© Dough (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioners’ (icing) sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
2 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour

Beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and very creamy.  Add sugar and icing sugar and beat for a minute.  Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in two egg yolks and vanilla.

Pour in the flour (one cup at a time) and stir with a spoon until completely mixed. 

Brown Sugar Streusel

3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
pinch of ground cinnamon

Melt butter in a small saucepan on stove.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir with a fork to form crumbs.  Cover and set aside until ready to use.

Assembling and baking the cookies:

You need one recipe of Sablé Cookie dough, one recipe of streusel, and some jam or preserves (I used strawberry jam and apple butter).
You also need a set of ring molds to shape and bake the cookies in.  (If you don’t have ring molds, just use round cookie cutters to shape the cookies and bake them free-form.  The cookies won’t be as symmetrical, but they’ll still taste great.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Roll dough to about 1/3” thick.  Use ring molds to stamp out cookies.  (I got about a dozen.)  Transfer the dough and rings to prepared cookie sheet, then chill in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes until the dough firms up. 

Top each cookie with 2 tsp jam or preserves, followed by 2 tsp of streusel.  Bake for 16 – 18 minutes, or until golden.  Remove from oven and let cool 5 – 10 minutes before removing the ring molds.

Using Up Extra Ingredients

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Have you ever looked in your cupboard and realized you have way more ingredients than you need?

That’s what happened to me this week.  I had one full bag of coconut, and two partials.  Looking in my fridge, I found four jars of jam (not counting the apple jelly and the apple butter).  This might not be a problem in some houses, but we don’t eat jam.  I rely on my baking to use it up, and it was time to do just that.

I googled “jam and coconut bars” and came up with this terrific recipe.  Not only is it made from ingredients I always have on hand, it’s delicious and has that old-fashioned flavour that reminds me of church lunch desserts.  I now have two fewer bags of coconut and one less jar of jam in my kitchen.  As a side benefit, I also finished off a second bag of oats.

I’m on a roll.  Does anyone have a recipe to help me finish my apple butter?

Oatmeal Coconut Raspberry Bars
(adapted from epicurious)

3/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut (first amount)
1/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut (second amount)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
3/4 cup good-quality raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line an 8 x 8” pan with parchment paper.

Spread 3/4 cup coconut evenly on a baking sheet and toast in oven, stirring once, until golden, about 5 minutes, then cool.

In a large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, then add brown sugar and beat until combined.  Stir in flour and salt by hand, then add oats and toasted coconut and stir until well-mixed.

Reserve 3/4 cup of the dough, then spread the remainder into the prepared pan.  Spread jam over it.  Crumble the reserved dough over the jam, then sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup coconut.  Pat down lightly with your hands.  Bake until golden, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Mise en place

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mise en place is a cooking term that refers to having all your ingredients in place, and carefully reading the recipe, prior to getting started.

Mise en place is a method that all the best cooks employ.  There’s nothing like moving seamlessly from one task to the next, knowing where to find the next ingredient you need. It’s the perfect way to stay organized in the kitchen and prepare a recipe without losing your mind.

I’ve yet to try it myself.

The first time I made these butterscotch puddings, I realized that everything kind of happened at once.  I thought, “Next time I make them, I really need to be organized before I get started.”

The second time I made these puddings, I thought exactly the same thing.  Except even more earnestly.

The recipe isn’t hard, but it’s fast-paced.  And more than worth the effort when you sit down to enjoy the buttery, scotch-infused warmth of a butterscotch pudding.

The key to a delicious pudding (other than organization, without which it clearly still works) is using a strong single-malt scotch.  This is the time to reach to the back of your cupboard and pull out that Laphroig that’s just a little too strong for your taste buds.  Or the Lagavulin that you save for the people who will really appreciate it.  If you don’t like scotch, buy a single malt and share it with a friend who does – like me!

Butterscotch Pudding

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp water
1 1/2 cup whole milk (first amount)
1/4 cup whole milk (second amount)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp scotch whisky (preferably a strong single malt)

Whipped cream for topping (optional)

Have six ramekins or pudding cups, each holding 1/2 to 3/4 cup, at hand.

Put the brown sugar and water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, put the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Stirring and lowering the heat if necessary, boil for 2 minutes.  Add 1 1/2 cups of the milk, and all the cream, and bring to a boil.  Don’t worry if, as it’s heating, the mixture curdles.

While the milk is heating, combine the cornstarch and salt in a small bowl.  In a medium bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks for 1 minute.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup milk and beat just to blend.  Add the cornstarch mixture and beat just to blend.

With the beaters running, very slowly pour in the hot liquid.  Beat for a few seconds, then pour everything back into the saucepan.  Whisk without stopping over medium heat – making sure to get into the edges of the pan – until the pudding thickens and a couple of bubbles come to the surface and pop (about 2 minutes).  You don’t want the pudding to boil, but you do want it to thicken, so lower the heat if necessary.

Scrape the pudding back into the blender and beat a few seconds.  Add the butter, vanilla and scotch, and beat until everything is evenly blended.

Pour the pudding into the ramekins.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Top with whipped cream, if you like.

The Rut

Sunday, July 8, 2012
I hate to call it a ‘rut’.  That sounds so negative.  Maybe ‘habit’ would be a better word.

I like my routines.  When I discover a new CD, I put it in the car and listen to it for six months straight, until I discover a newer CD.  Great for the driver, maybe not so much for the passengers who are forced to listen to their mother's choice of music in six-month intervals.

The same thing happens to me at lunchtime.  I become infatuated with a certain recipe and make it over and over again.  If it’s only me at lunch, I can eat – for example – black bean and smoked cheese quesadillas every day for a month and it doesn’t matter.

Except my family has been seeing a bowl of black bean mixture in my fridge every day for the last month.  Getting ever smaller and smaller, then disappearing, only to appear freshly made again the next day.  And they have started to comment on my lack of originality.

I consider myself a pretty creative person, and being branded as unoriginal hurts.  So when I made this pasta for lunch, I was hoping to expand my horizons.

How good was it?  It was good enough to enter the rotation for lunch options.  It was good enough to temporarily knock my black beans to the back of the cupboard.

It was good enough to supplant the quesadillas.  At least for a while.

Do you think my family will notice if I’m still making this for lunch a month from now?

Penne Rigate with Mixed Greens and Pine Nuts
(adapted from

2 1/2 cups uncooked penne rigate
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves chopped garlic
5 cups loosely-packed arugula
5 cups loosely-packed spinach
2 sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), drained and chopped
1/2 cup cremini mushrooms, chopped (feel free to substitute another kind)
salt, to taste
1/3 cup grated Pecorino-Romano

Cook penne in boiling salted water in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot until al dente or according to package directions, then drain in a colander.
Combine butter, oil, and pine nuts in cleaned and dried pot and cook over medium heat, stirring, until nuts are pale golden, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Stir in greens and cook, stirring, until they wilt, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, and stir over heat for 1 minute.  Add penne and salt, if required, and toss to coat. Stir in cheese and serve immediately with additional cheese on the side.

Endings and Beginnings

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My oldest daughter just graduated from high school, just went to her senior prom, just started her first summer job.   This fall, she’ll be going away to university.  I couldn’t be prouder of her.  She has excelled academically and, more importantly, has developed into a kind, conscientious young women who I’m proud to send out into the world.

With my lovely daughter standing on the threshold of her future, here are some of my hopes for her:

“May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

-from “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan

My sweet daughter loved these coffee cake muffins – both of my sweet daughters loved them!  Make them for the people you love.

Cinnamon Roll Muffins

For the filling:
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

For the dough:
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
zest from 1 orange
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour (and extra for dusting)

For the drizzle:
1 cup confectioners' (icing) sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 - 3 Tbsp cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter or spray a standard 12 cup muffin tin.

To prepare the filling, whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Set aside.

To prepare the dough, in a separate small bowl, lightly beat together the buttermilk and egg.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the orange zest, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and vanilla. Whisk to combine.  Add the buttermilk/egg mixture and, using a fork, mix everything together.  Add the flour and mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Do not overmix.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead gently for about a minute.  With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12" by 18" rectangle.  (Don't overwork the dough in either step, or it will get tough.)

With a pastry brush, coat the entire surface with the melted butter.  Sprinkle with the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture, and gently press it into the dough.

Starting on the long side, begin rolling the dough into a tight log.  If the ends are scraggly, cut them off.  Cut the log into two equal pieces, then cut each of those into two pieces.  Finally, cut each of these sections into three, for a total of 12 muffins.  Place each one into the prepared pan, and bake for 13 - 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let the muffins rest in the pan for about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool completely before adding the drizzle.

For the drizzle, combine confectioners' sugar, cinnamon and 2 Tbsp cream in a small mixing bowl until smooth.  If it looks too thick, add a little more cream until thin enough to glaze.  Drizzle mixture over the muffins to decorate.