My late best friend, Doreen was known for sporting an evil grin when, after almost every restaurant meal we had together, she’d look at the waiter and slyly ask for just a little something… perhaps a cookie for dessert? This was her way of taking a pass on that big bowl of Carolina fruit crumble, or New York style cheesecake – even if we were in the Deep South or the Big Apple at the time. She must have known there was a law and she was breaking it!
Her favorite just a little something cookies, were biscotti dipped in her cappuccino. Second favorite, were shortbread cookies.
She may be gone, but her habits live on in my world and make me miss her every day. I find myself craving just a little something after most meals too, and love that I can have a cookie, with my espresso late in the afternoon. I JUST LIKE COOKIES!
These days, I bake my own cookies rather than enjoy them dining out. I like having cookies in the cookie jar. I like sharing them with people that come around the house. I especially like taking home-baked cookies as a hostess gift when asked to dinner. My grandkids look forward to Nana’s cookies when they come over.
It’s all good, but it can always get better!
During a recent trip to the Spice and Tea Exchange, I sniffed one of their specialty sugars and got a wild idea. The sugar is wild berry and it really smelled like berries. A quick sample and yah… there is a distinctive berry taste! It was then I got the idea…. Berries and chocolate…. Chocolate and berries…. a chocolate cookie topped with wild berry sugar.
Next, I took things to a deep, dark place. A deep, dark chocolate place, I mean. I ordered black cocoa from King Arthur’s to make these the most chocolatey cookies I could bake!
Black cocoa powder is made through a process called Dutching – when the cocoa beans are washed with a potassium solution, which neutralizes the acidity of the beans. Natural cocoa powder is made from beans that are roasted and then pulverized into cocoa powder. Most supermarket brands of cocoa powder, like Hershey’s and Nestle are natural cocoa powders.
Dutching cocoa powder makes it darker and can help mellow the flavor of the beans. Therefore, extra Dutching creates black cocoa powder. Think about those dark chocolate wafer cookies that you find in ice box cake recipes or the outside of an Oreo cookie. These contain black cocoa. Most recipes suggest that you blend in black cocoa powder instead of totally swapping it out.
Long story short, these cookies are perfect with an afternoon latte, spot-on to offer to the delivery guy when he brings you your second Amazon box of the day, special to pass around to friends and as Doreen would say, it’s perfect when you’re looking for just a little something.
Dark Chocolate Cookies
With Wild Blueberry Sugar
Makes about 3 dozen
About 1 ½ hours until you are chomping on a cookie!
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
⅓ cup cocoa powder
⅓ cup black cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons wild blueberry sugar (substitute with granulated sugar)
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Use an electric mixer to combine the butter and sugars until soft and fluffy. Stir in the cocoa powders, eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flours in three additions until well combined (no white flour showing). Stir in the mini chips.
Divide the dough in half. Roll each piece into a log and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge to chill for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Remove one log from the fridge and slice into ¼-inch rounds. Place each slice onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle each round with sugar. Bake until the cookies are just firm to the touch, about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool.
This is breaking news! Did you know the pumpkin puree you got at the grocery store is NOT pumpkin? Apparently, it is a combination of all types of squash. WHO KNEW? I feel betrayed, lied-to, conspired against! Well, not really. The canned stuff is still pretty good, and has been a staple for all my pumpkin treats for as long as I can remember.
Now, you can make your own puree, from your very own pumpkins, but this seems just a little bit too over-the top for me.
So…. BRING IT ON, SQUASH… I can take it! Let’s open a can of puree and dive right in, shall we? I CANNOT WAIT, as home baked bread is a real holiday treat for me! I remember my early days in the catering business. Our signature corporate holiday baskets included at least one mini-loaf of pumpkin quick bread.
We baked hundreds of these each season. But I also love yeast bread, especially when it is laced with a bit of sweetness. I’ve told you the story of Sammy’s favorite “Sammy Bread”, a loaf of sour dough bread, sweetened with cinnamon-sugar and frosted with a sugary glaze. We look forward to placing a loaf in our basket every week from the Farmer’s Market.
I recreated it at home, with a can of fake pumpkin puree, wink wink. It’s SO YUMMY, toasted and slathered with butter, or battered and fried ala French toast. Use leftovers to create a toasted crouton for your bowl of ice cream, or as the lead ingredient in custardy pumpkin bread pudding.
But first, make this bread – it’s a recipe born of two cravings: pumpkin bread and cinnamon bread, married together in the sweetest fall recipe you could possibly imagine.
With Hazelnuts and Chocolate
Yield 1 loaf, about 12 slices
2 ½ hours before you can eat the bread!
¼ cup maple syrup, room temperature
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 ¼ cups bread flour
1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup hazelnuts, chopped
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup pumpkin puree
Pour the maple syrup into a measuring cup. Sprinkle with yeast. Add I cup warm water. Allow the yeast to bloom (foam) about 10 to 15 minutes.
Whisk together the flours, nuts, chocolate, spices and salt in a large bowl.
Place the pumpkin into a bowl. Whisk in the bloomed yeast. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Use a spatula to bring the dough together. Sprinkle your work surface with a generous amount of flour. Pour (the sticky) dough onto the flour and knead the dough until it comes together, and no flour shows through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Place the dough into a bowl coated with vegetable oil spray. Cover with plastic wrap and move to a warm place to rise for 1 hour. I use the warming drawer on the proof setting for this.
After an hour, remove the dough from its cozy hide-out and use a spatula to fold the dough onto itself while your turn the bowl, about 8 to 10 turns. Cover again with plastic and move the bowl back to the warm place to rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Coat an 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½-inch with vegetable oil spray. Use a spatula to transfer the (still pretty sticky) dough to the loaf pan. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 31 to 40 minutes.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again! I just can’t get enough of Fall Festival time in the mountains. There is a festival weekend for October Fest (with sausages and kraut), one for Wooley Worms (these furry insects race UP a tight rope!), one for pumpkin patches and corn mazes, one whole month dedicated to the Wizard of Oz and my personal favorite, a festival dedicated to apples!
The Valle Country Fair in Banner Elk is such a place. I visited on a cool, crisp autumn day where my breath blew out steam, and my hands were shoved into my pockets. I didn’t shiver long.
As soon as my gal pals and I walked into the fair, we beelined for the home made apple cider station and helped ourselves to a heaping cup of warm cider. It’s produced the old-fashioned way using a wooden press and aluminum wash bowls to collect the juice.
After that we wandered through the rows of craft booths spying everything from hand carved wooden bowls and cutting boards, to personalized nursery rhyme music CD’s, to gourds turned into Santa faces, to ceramic treasures like those of Triple C Pottery where I bought a set of the cutest bowls…
But, the absolute best, longest wait in line, and most expensive item at the fair is a fresh, warm jar of apple butter, lovingly prepared by the members of the church in huge, steaming pots over wood fires.
The cinnamon-gingery aroma lures you to the booth, where you queue up to spend $8 a jar. Along the way, you make new friends, exchange recipes and meet a guy with a chicken hat on his head (the legs move up and down!) You are only allowed several jars of the golden apple butter, and I usually max out the limit.
Apple butter is terrific on a warm biscuit, sensational on banana bread, exceptional as a condiment alongside roasted pork and delicioso in my apple butter cake that I dedicate to the hard-working church members and schoolteachers of Holy Cross Episcopal Church.
1 to 2 tablespoons milk (as needed to thin frosting)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat two 9 x 9-inch (you can certainly change the size of the pan if you choose) cake pans with vegetable oil spray. Place a layer of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and coat the paper.
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
Use an electric mixer to combine 1 cup butter with both sugars until fluffy. Mix in the eggs. Pour in ⅓ of the flour mixture followed by ½ cup of the apple butter. Mix well and continue alternating ingredients until all the flour and apple butter are mixed into the batter. Spread the batter into the two pans. Bake until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully invert the cakes onto a rack. Remove the parchment paper and cool the cakes completely.
Use an electric mixer to combine confectioners’ sugar with the cream cheese, ½ cup butter and the vanilla until smooth and creamy. You can mix in a teaspoon or two of milk to get the consistency that you prefer for frosting. Place one cake onto your serving platter. Slather the cake with frosting. Top with the remaining cake. Cover the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top of the cake with chopped walnuts.
I chose ricotta as the first recipe to make into a cooking video for 2 reasons: One, I needed something incredibly fast and easy and Two, I think people deserve to know that ricotta is just one of those things you’re better off making yourself.
I turned to a film student to make Jorj.com’s first official cooking video, and may ask her to follow up with ricotta ice cream w/fruit syrup and baked ravioli recipes.
My video(s) should be ready soon, but in the meantime, let me tell you how fun it was to make this basic cheese ingredient. I tried it myself at home with a friend.
We poured a half gallon of milk into a stock pot and chatted about our summers as it came to a boil. I stirred it. Then as it began to bubble, I added the buttermilk.
We stirred, then waited for 5 minutes. By then, delicious and recognizable ricotta cheese curds had formed. We took them to the sink and strained them into a colander lined with cheese cloth.
Our ricotta now “in the bag” (ha, ha!!), we held it over a cup and collected the last few drips and then transferred it to a bowl.
It was so beautiful! A perfect little blob of delicious cheese. Spoons ready, we tried it and thought that with a grate of lemon zest and chopped herbs, we could eat it right now with crudité or crackers.
But into the fridge it went, where we planned to let it set up to five hours. When it comes out, we had basil, chives and parsley waiting to fold in.
I am told the same kind of scene transpired in the Berman’s kitchen, where their prospective NYU film school student filmed a story about a whole lotta ricotta. She has sweet ingredients for a dessert-y ricotta that she will be tinkering with this week, AND a copy of my book, CANVAS & CUISINE. She and her family loved the artwork in that book, and promised to make something from its pages soon…
Anyway, I would like to officially welcome The Bermans to my culinary Adventureland and thank them for offering their home as stage set, and working with my food blog editor, Jen Russon to produce fresh homemade ricotta.
Here’s the recipe. Video out ASAP. Ciao!
Fresh Homemade Ricotta
15 minute cuisine, plus up to 5 hours to set
Yields 4 to 5 cups
1 gallon whole milk
4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon very fine sea salt
In a large stock pot, add the milk and heat to a boil. Stir continuously, so a skin doesn’t form on the milk. Add the buttermilk and salt. Stir and wait 5 minutes for cheese curds to form.
Line a colander with cheese cloth and pour the cheese into it; drain, then tie off into a bag, holding ricotta over a cup or a bowl to collect further drainage.
Place the ricotta in an airtight container and refrigerate for 2 to 5 hours. After it cools and sets, you may add any chopped fresh herbs you like, such as rosemary, chives, basil or parsley. The ricotta may also be enhanced with sweet flavors.
The possibilities are as scrumptious as they are endless!
I have a recipe in my book Canvas and Cuisine for Fried Peach Hand Pies. It’s good… really good. However, I came across a recipe for peach preserves that included a vanilla bean and smidge of bourbon in place of my cinnamon-spiced version. So, I gave it a try and I’ll tell you what…. good went to gooder, it was so darn good.
Then I saw another recipe for fried pies that uses prepared pie dough in place of my puff pastry dough. And, guess what? This too is knock your grammar socks off-gooder! Then we top these dainty fried pies with a peachy glaze made from the peels and pits of the ripe peach. Well, I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Now, you will say to me, I’m not going to spend all this time makin’ peach preserves and fryin’ pies. And, I’m going to say to you, why the heck not!
I mean, there’s bourbon involved for god’s sake!
You can make the preserves in minutes and allow them to cook themselves over the next hour or so. You can put together the pies well in advance of frying, and let them hang out in the fridge until your craving ramps up to speed. You can fry those pies in minutes… literally minutes. There’s not even a lot of clean up. Let the oil cool, pour it into a container and use it again down the road…when you want to go from good to gooder 😉
Made into Peach Empanadas
Yields about 2 cups Preserves
About 20 to 24 hand pies
10 to 12 ripe peaches, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and halved
⅓ cup bourbon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
For Fried Pies:
Peach peels and pits from 10 to 12 ripe peaches
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ to 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 (14-ounce) box refrigerated pie dough (2 crusts)
1 large egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water
Vegetable oil for frying
For Peach Glaze:
Juice from peach peels and pits, about ½ cup
1 ½ to 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Peel the peaches by placing them in boiling water for several minutes and then transferring to a bowl filled with ice water. Reserve the peels by placing them in a large bowl. Chop the peaches into small chunks. Transfer the pits to the bowl with the peels. Stir ½ cup sugar into the bowl with the peach pits and peels and let sit for 20 minutes.
Place the diced peaches, 1 cup sugar, vanilla bean and bourbon into a deep pot, like so:
Sprinkle with salt. Stir together and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the peaches break down and the consistency of the preserves is syrupy. (I used a potato masher to break down the peaches after about 30 minutes and then continued to cook for another 30 minutes or until most of the liquid is reduced into the peaches). Cool the preserves and store in an airtight container.
Strain the peach peels and pits into a bowl to get about ½ cup juice. Whisk some of this juice into 1 ½ to 2 cups confectioner’s sugar. Continue adding juice until you get a peach glaze that is pourable and looks like the photo below:
Roll out the pie crusts on a well-flour surface. Use a round cookie cutter (about 3 or 4-inches in diameter) to cut circles from the dough. Place a teaspoon of peach preserves in the center of one dough circle. Brush the egg wash (beaten egg with water) around the edge of the circle. Fold the circle in half and use the tines of the fork to seal in the filling. Place the pie onto a rack and refrigerate until ready to fry.
Heat vegetable oil in a deep pot to 375. Gently drop the pies into the oil and cook until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Use a wire spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pies to a rack over paper toweling to catch the drips. Continue until all the pies have been fried. Drizzle the warm pies with peach glaze.
It’s that time of year, mid-summer, when blackberries are ripe for the pickin’! Just last week, I found blackberries the size of quail eggs at the local farm stand. When I went back this week, sadly they were gone. I guess all those berry pickers have scarfed up the ones, so recently come to market…To stop my wails, the very kind lady let me know the berries will make a return in three weeks! Yay oh yay!
In the meantime, she suggested homemade preserves to see me through the dry spell. That’s when I found a lovely jar of blackberry jam! I gathered up all the jam I could hold, and came home to my kitchen to create a snack treat for my nieces and nephews, coming for a visit.
The result was this lovely, crumbly, streusel-like bar with the richness of farm grown blackberries. And, yes, they were a hit!
If you’re in the North Carolina area, check out these local U-pick farms with berries galore!
Blackberry Jam Oat Bars
Yield about 16 (2-inch) bars
30 minute cuisine
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsalted butter, melted, 2 sticks
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest from 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons
2 cups Blackberry Jam
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat a square baking pan with vegetable oil spray.
Stir together flour, oats, melted butter, sugars, baking powder, salt and lemon zest in a bowl. The dough will be coarse and crumbly.
Stir together the jam and cornstarch in a bowl.
Press half of the dough into the bottom of the pan. Spread the jam/cornstarch mixture over the top. Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the jam. Bake until the top of the bars begin to turn golden brown and the jam is bubbling, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the bars in the pan. Cut into squares.