Posts tagged ‘nuts’

October 5, 2013

Grains of Paradise and Cayenne Oatmeal Cookies

Living in Houston I’ve learned that Texans LOVE spicy, hot food.  They serve everything with a side of Tabasco or hot salsa that makes your forehead sweat, and it’s already hot enough without the spicy food.  Eggs, steak, salads, burgers… everything is bursting with heat.  I spent my first few months in Houston downing gallons of milk every time I attempted to conquer the red salsa at our local Mexican restaurant.  Sadly, I never succeeded.  But in an effort to enbrace my new home I’ve tried to incorporate some spice into my classic recipes to satisfy my friends cravings.

Grains of Paradise and Cayenne Oatmeal Cookies

The thing I like about these cookies is that they don’t immediately smack you in the face with heat, it gradually hits at the end and lingers ever so slightly.  I didn’t want to mess with a classic too much, but I do think this takes a traditional oatmeal cookie to a more grown up level.  The cranberries add to the chewy texture of the oats and give it an added sweetness needed with the earthy spices. I purposely left out cinnamon, usually a staple in oatmeal cookies, as I didn’t want it to mask the other spices. 

The secret ingredient in these cookies is grains of paradise, a spice native to West Africa. I crushed the grains with my mortar and pestle which released the most heavenly aroma — a combination of black pepper, cardamom, coriander and citrus with a lingering scent of something floral and woodsy.  If you crack one between your teeth, the flavor follows in much the same order as the aroma.  If you only get one thing from this recipe I hope it’s an introduction to this wonderful spice.  The floral, peppery flavor is going to make a wonderful addition to just about all your favorite foods.  Your grilled steaks, fish, vegetables and potatoes will thank you.

If you’re looking for something a little more special, pop two cookies in the oven at 350 for a few minutes and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have a perfect ice cream sandwich. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you are adventurous)
  • 1 tsp. grains of paradise
  • 1 tsp.  baking soda
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped and toasted
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups traditional Quaker Oats (not quick cook)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F
  2. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. This helps the cookies crisp by being closer to the heat source or at the very top where the heat accumulates.
  3. Place nuts in a small pan and toast on medium heat for 5-7 minutes.  As soon as they become fragrant take them off the heat and space them on the side to cool.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cayenne, grains of paradise and salt thoroughly and set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, beat butter, white and brown sugar, and vanilla until the mixture changes color and becomes a smooth, pale white… this is what you want so you have light, fluffy cookies.
  6. Slowly add the flour mixture and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated.
  7. Add oats, pecans and cranberries and stir until mixed well.
  8. Scoop dough on to ungreased cookie sheets, I use a mini ice cream scoop to make it easier.  I also spray the spoon with pam so the dough doesn’t stick.
  9. Bake for 8-10 more minutes until the cookies are golden brown
  10. Let the cookies cool on pan for 1 minute before placing on wire rack.
  11. Enjoy!

 

November 9, 2011

Hummus with Homemade Pita Chips

Hummus is one of my go to’s when organizing my list for party snacks.  It’s far healthier than the traditional ranch dip (although that does have it’s place at times) and packs huge flavor in a small bite.  It’s also an impeccable match for vegetables, breads, chips…. pretty much anything you like to dip.  It’s one of those dishes that will leave you with a perfectly clean bowl and happy, full stomachs after every party.

Hummus is a Middle Eastern spread or dip made with chickpeas, which are also known as garbanzo beans.  By themselves, I’m definitely not a fan, in fact, I hate them.  I pick them out of soups and salads, and toss them away without the littlest thought.  I find them mealy, dry and flaky and have no need for them.  But all blended up in the food processor with some other goodies and they make a fantastically good dip!  I can’t resist the creamy deliciousness that makes simple pita turn into a delicacy.  Serve it with some olives and a glass of wine and you’ll feel like you’re on a Greek vacation… ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but it will make your ordinary Tuesday something special.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp. sesame seed oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice, about 1/2 lemon
  • Handful fresh cilantro

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line baking tray with foil, and spread the pine nuts out
  3. Once oven is preheated, toast pine nuts for 10 mins.  Keep your eye on them; if your oven runs hot or it’s touchy, you’ll want to check on them after 6-8 minutes to make sure they don’t burn.  You can also do this in a dry skillet on medium heat.
  4. Once they turn golden remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes
  5. Add all ingredients with the exception of 1 tbsp. pine nuts and cilantro to the food processor.  The reserved pine nuts will be your garnish
  6. Pulse on high for 30 seconds until mixture is well blended
  7. Add cilantro and pulse a few more times until cilantro is incorporated
  8. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more water or olive oil, this is the time to taste it to see if the salt and spices are at the right level.  Add a little more salt if needed but be careful, you can’t take back
  9. Scoop hummus into serving bowl and garnish with the remaining pine nuts and a little olive oil
  10. Serve with chips, pita bread, jicama, or carrots…. Anything you like to dip!

If you’re feeling like really treating yourself, you can make homemade pit chips to go with your hummus.  They beat the ones from the store any day.

Ingredients

  • 1 bag fresh pita (white or whole wheat)
  • 4 tbsp.
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat heat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Cut pita bread into 8 wedges
  3. Pour olive oil into a bowl and brush pita chips with olive oil on both sides.
  4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange pita chips on baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown

 

October 17, 2011

Walnut Banana Bread

I’m not one to go for the fat-free, low-carb, no flavor recipes.  I like everything in moderation and this is a good recipe for those who want to meet in the middle, a little bit on indulgence without all the guilt.  This recipe usually calls for a stick of butter, but I decided to substitute in some other ingredients to give it the same moist consistency you’re looking for in traditional banana bread.  I’ve made more banana bread than I like to think about trying to perfect this combination, and I’ve finally found one that’s a winner.

I’m not a huge fan of bananas, but there’s something about the smell of warm nuts and toasty bread in the oven that warms my heart and has me waiting by the oven to dig in.  Spread a thin layer of honey or jam on top and settle in for some much-needed deliciousness.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2-3 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Line a baking sheet with foil and lay out the chopped walnuts
  • When oven is ready, toast the nuts for 10 mins.  Remove and set aside to cool.
  • Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  • In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, mix melted butter, yogurt, applesauce and mashed bananas, and vanilla.  Then add 2 eggs and mix until well blended with a whisk.
  • Gently stir banana mixture into flour mixture; do this quickly and only until the mixture is moist, if you over mix you will end up with rock hard banana bread.
  • Take the nuts you set aside and lightly dust with flour (this will help them float in the bread and not sink to the bottom)
  • Stir in nuts and pour batter into prepared loaf pan
  • Bake for 50~60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean.
  • Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

This bread lasts for about a week if you keep it in a Ziploc bag in the fridge.  I like to toast the slices after the first day and spread honey and butter on the top.  It’s also been known to be a good companion to your cup of coffee on those early Monday mornings.

September 9, 2011

Pesto

Break out the food processor; it’s attack of the basil plant!

It all started with two small, innocent looking basil plants I picked up at Lowe’s.  I went with two plants, thinking they’d both be dead within a week based on my record.  The leaves would start to wilt on the way home knowing they were about to be subjected to over watering and lack of sunlight in my small apartment.  I’ll admit I do not have the necessary gardening skills to keep even a cactus alive.  So you can imagine my surprise when I found 3-foot plants with more basil than I knew what to do with?  I guess my luck changed in Houston… sadly not due to anything I did, but thanks to the hot, humid weather.

Basil’s pervading, clove-like aroma is intoxicating; it’s extremely aromatic with a scent of pepper, anise, and mint.  The minute the smell hits me I’m transported to an Italian café where I wait for a fresh margarita pizza.  The taste is sweet, but savory, and just like the smell it’s peppery with a hint of spicy mint.

In an effort to control my garden, I went on a pesto fest, and started making jars of herby goodness to share with family and friends.  Below please find 3 of my pesto recipes.  All you need to do it combine all ingredients in a food processor and process on high-speed till evenly chopped and mixed.

Basil Pesto

  • 3 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Walnut Pesto: Substitute pine nuts for 1/2 cup walnuts; it has a slightly nuttier flavor and can also help you stretch your dollar since pine nuts can be quite pricey!

Mint Pesto: Substitute 1 1/2 cup basil for 1 1/2 cup mint leaves


While basil is abundant at the moment, I also suggest that you experiment with other herbs.  Pesto does not need to be basil based; I’ve tried mint, cilantro, rosemary and arugula.  Each one has a unique flavor, and can be added to bread, fish, meat, or enjoyed straight from the jar with some cheese.  With a basic formula you can come up with a myriad of variations by replacing the basil and pine nuts. Try these combos:

  • Arugula & toasted walnuts
  • Mint & toasted almonds
  • Cilantro & cashews
  • Basil, Rosemary & toasted walnuts
  • Cilantro & toasted pumpkin seeds

The other great thing about basil is it can be frozen and stored successfully for a few weeks.  The best method I’ve found is to place a small bunch in a clean Ziploc bag, blow some air in to inflate it, and place in the freezer where it won’t get squashed. You’ll find it quite convenient to then snip off a few leaves any time of year to add to pasta sauce, salads, or dressings.

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