Mouthwatering Mexican wedding cookies

Mexicanweddingcookies061514Last week my team had a Mexican-themed potluck. Because I now take the bus to work every day, I had to come up with something that could be easily transported. Naturally, I went with something I could bake.

I can’t remember where I found this recipe for Mexican wedding cookies, but it’s one of few that I have memorized. It’s simple enough to put together, and they’ve always been a hit. For those of you who haven’t had Mexican wedding cookies before, they’re like more fragile pecan sandies and are similar to Russian tea cookies. They’re a shortbread cookie, and even though the dough may seem too soft going into the oven, trust that they’ll hold their form.

Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus another 2 tablespoons for dusting
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper

Cream together butter and 1/2 cup sugar. Mix in vanilla. Gradually add flour until combined. Stir in pecans.

Take 1 tablespoon of dough and, using your hands, shape it into a crescent and place it on the cookies sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake for 40 minutes.

When cool, dust with remaining two tablespoons of sugar.

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Curious about quinoa

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This is what I had for breakfast this morning. I made quinoa once a long time ago for a cold salad. It was good, but I hadn’t seen any recipes since that made me want to revisit the grain, until this recipe arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago. I had forgotten about it until I went grocery shopping yesterday and saw quinoa on the shelf.

Now that I’m working normal daytime hours for the first time in a long time, I’m realizing that I really do need to eat breakfast. Skipping it and waiting for lunchtime leaves me lagging, especially since by that time I’ve already been awake for six or seven hours. So, I’ve been looking for things I can make quickly in the morning, just to get a good start to the day.

When I saw that this recipe was called porridge, I instantly pictured the soupy, unappetizing substance served in “Oliver Twist.” I don’t know why that’s the first thing that came to mind, but it was. This quinoa porridge turned out to be quite good, and was a satisfying start to the day. I added to the original recipe because I like more texture in my food.

Know that the amount of quinoa made below is more than you’ll need for one serving of this porridge. But, if you want to make it for more than one, or have quinoa to keep in the fridge for other dishes, make the full amount. If you do want to make just one serving, use 1/3 cup quinoa and 2/3 cup water.

Ingredients
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
2/3 cup almond milk
5 strawberries, hulled and chopped
1 tablespoon shredded raw coconut
2 tablespoons sliced almonds or whole pecans, toasted and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons light agave nectar
Pinch of salt

Place quinoa in a pot and rinse and drain twice. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until outer germ layer separates and grain appears translucent.

In another pot, combine 1/2 cup quinoa and 2/3 cup almond milk. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover pot, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, or until porridge is thick and creamy. Stir in strawberries, coconut, nuts, agave and salt. Serve warm.

Brownies for any occasion

Germanchocolatebrownies1

Of all the desserts in the world, brownies are my favorite. They always have been, and probably always will be. While I have a couple go-to recipes, this is one I return to when I want to get a little fancy.

These German chocolate brownies look more complicated than they actually are. I got the recipe out of Good Housekeeping’s Favorite Recipes: Brownies! book, which I found years ago during one of my regular trips to Seattle. It was in a clearance pile on the basement floor of the the Barnes & Noble at the corner of Pine Street and Seventh Avenue. As someone who loves brownies, I couldn’t pass up the $4.99 price tag for a book that contained dozens of recipes for my favorite dessert. To this day, it’s one of my favorite cookbooks.

If you like chocolate, coconut and pecans, you’ll enjoy these brownies. When properly cooked, the brownie layer is fudgy, so it sticks to your teeth the slightest bit when you bite into one. The coconut layer browns during baking and adds a burst of flavor to the top. Together, the two make for a decadent treat that I’ve made time and time again.

When I first made these at high altitude, they didn’t turn out right. The brownie layer overcooked at the edges as I attempted to get the center to fully cook. The next time I made them, I added one-fourth cup cocoa powder, which turned out to be the perfect stabilizer. The brownies turned out just right. Thursday will mark one year since I moved to high altitude, and I’m happy to say I think I’m finally getting the hang of baking up here.

BrownieGermanchocolatebrownies2
1/2 cup butter
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet baking chocolate
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
(If you’re at high altitude, add 1/4 cup cocoa powder)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.

To prepare the brownie, heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in the brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; stir until well mixed. Stir in flour and salt just until blended. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

ToppingGermanchocolatebrownies3
3 large egg whites
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

To prepare the topping, beat egg whites with a wire whisk in a medium bowl until foamy. Stir in coconut, pecans, brown sugar, milk, vanilla and almond extracts and salt until well combined. Spread topping over batter.

Bake until toothpick inserted 2 inches from the edge comes out almost clean and topping turns golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

When cool, cut lengthwise into six strips, then cut each strip crosswise into six pieces.

A fancy take on traditional thumbprint cookies

Chocolate Turtle Cookies

The 2010 edition of America’s Test Kitchen’s Holiday Cookies magazine was a good one. Not only was it filled with a variety of concoctions, but more than half of the 64 recipes were actually good. I hate it when I buy a magazine containing what look like promising recipes, only to have them turn out poorly or not how I had hoped or expected.

One of my favorite recipes from this edition was Chocolate Turtle Cookies. They take the idea of thumbprint cookies to a whole new level with their chocolate cookie base, nutty adornment and chocolate filling. They’re one of the most gorgeous cookies I’ve ever made. If you love chocolate, caramel and nuts, this is the recipe for you. The recipe calls for melting caramels for the filling but, if you’re feeling ambitious, as I usually am, you can make the caramel from scratch using your favorite recipe.

If you’re working on a cookie platter for the holidays, be sure to give this recipe the time it deserves. It’s worth the effort and will make a nice addition to any dessert tray or other array of holiday food. If you don’t like pecans substitute peanuts or another kind of nut. You really can’t go wrong.

By the way, this week I passed 1,000 hits on my blog since I started it nearly six months ago. Thanks for reading.

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, separated, plus 1 egg white
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pecans, chopped fine
14 soft caramel candies
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Combine flour, cocoa, and salt in bowl. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add egg yolk, milk, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture until just combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk egg whites in bowl until frothy. Place pecans in another bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, dip in egg whites, then roll in pecans. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using 1/2 teaspoon, make indentation in center of each ball. Bake until set, about 12 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.

Microwave caramels and cream in bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Once cookies are removed from oven, gently re-press existing indentations. Fill each with 1/2 teaspoon caramel mixture. Cool 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

A pecan dessert at its finest

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Are you ready? Pumpkin pie is a staple for my family, but for those of you who don’t like pumpkin pie or may be looking for something new for dessert, try Curtis Stone’s Pecan Tart.

I have never been a fan of pecan pie, but I’ve liked every recipe from Curtis Stone that I’ve tried. When I saw this pecan tart on his website a couple years ago, I decided to give it a chance. From the smell of toasted pecans while it was baking to the last bite, I enjoyed it.

The recipe says to bake it in a pie dish and, even if you have a tart pan, go with the pie dish. The last time I made it, I made the mistake of putting it in a tart pan and, after the filling puffed up, the mixture made a solid barrier just above the crust. I had to cut it out of the pan and it fell apart around the edges. As pretty as the edges could be, it’s not worth the hassle. Use the pie dish and keep it simple.

Whatever is on your table for Thanksgiving, I hope you have a happy holiday.

Flaky Dough Crust
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Combine flour, sugar and salt. Cut in butter. Using your hands, combine the ingredients until they resemble pea-size crumbs.

Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Mix in just until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry.

Gather dough into ball. Flatten into disk. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes. (Can be prepared a day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out dough on a floured surface to a 10-inch round disk. Transfer to 8-inch diameter glass pie dish. Trim overhang to 3/4 inch; fold under and crimp decoratively. Set aside.

Filling
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup golden syrup
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups pecan pieces
Whipped cream

Melt the butter in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk until the butter is golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Pour the butter into a large bowl and cool to room temperature.

Whisk the golden syrup, sugar, and salt into the cooled brown butter to blend. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the pecans. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Bake the pie for 10 minutes.

Decrease the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking the pie until the edges puff and the center is just set, about 45 minutes longer.

Cool the pie on a cooling rack for at least an hour.

Serve the pie warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.