Spiced Chocolate Maple Leaf Cookies

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When I started blogging, my friend Lynne gave me a handmade cookie cutter in the shape of a maple leaf to celebrate the blog and my Canadian heritage.  I have been waiting for fall to create something with the cookie cutter.  When walking recently in the beautiful Chanticleer gardens near home, I was wishfully admiring the lotus seed pods in the pond.  I was told  the way to the seed pods was through the gardener’s sweet tooth!  So you know who got a basket of these cookies!  Fall themed cookies, perfect for a plantsman and for care packages to my college sons!

This sweet is essentially a chocolate molasses cookie.  The cookie dough is made with cocoa which is high in anti-oxidants and is getting a lot of buzz as helping reduce inflammation in the brain, improving memory,  fighting cancer  and benefiting heart health.  Dr.  Richard Isaacson, Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in NYC has recommended adding unsweetened cocoa to your morning coffee as  easy preventive medicine to fight inflammation in the brain which can lead to cognitive decline. So go ahead and indulge in these cookies for fall entertaining knowing there is something good for your health in them.  Keep fall spicy!

SPICED CHOCOLATE MAPLE LEAF COOKIES

2 1/2 c flour

1/2 c dark chocolate powder, additional for rolling dough

1/2 t ground cardamom

1/2 t ground cinnamon

1/2t fine sea salt

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking powder

3/4 c brown sugar

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 large egg

1/2 c unsulphured molasses

colored sanding sugar available in the baking section of the supermarket

1- Preheat oven to 325F.   In a large bowl combine the first 7 ingredients and set aside.

2-  Cream sugar and butter in another bowl, add egg, and mix until fluffy.  Add molasses until combined.  Add dry mixture gradually and mix until just combined.

3-  Divide dough in 2 balls.  Wrap and chill for an hour.

4-  On a cocoa dusted counter, roll out dough to a 3/8 inch thickness and cut out your desired shape.  Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheets, 1 inch apart. Bake at 325 F for about 12 minutes in center of oven.

5-  Cool on a wire rack.  Using a pastry brush dipped in water, wet the surface slightly and sprinkle with decorative colored sanding sugar. I used fall colors for mine.

Depending on the size of your cookie cutter, you will get about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

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To deliver my sweet bribe I wrapped the cookies in cellophane tied with ribbon in fall colors.  I nestled the cookies in a birch bark box filled with shredded paper.  I made a tag using corrugated cardboard that I traced with the cookie cutter, cut out  and then outlined in rust marker.

To deliver my sweet bribe I wrapped the cookies in cellophane tied with ribbon in fall colors. I nestled the cookies in a birch bark box filled with shredded paper. I made a tag using corrugated cardboard that I traced with the cookie cutter, cut out and then outlined in rust marker.  An offering befitting the recipient!

Some of the lotus pods I hope will soon be mine from the much admired pond at Chanticleer Gardens

Some of the lotus pods I hope will soon be mine from the much admired pond at Chanticleer Gardens

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”  John Burroughs

Happy fall baking!

Roasted Butternut Squash Couscous Salad with Apricots and Mint

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Settle into sweater weather with a scrumptious grain salad bursting with complex layers of flavor and chock full of fantastic texture. It was inspired from the master of interesting  combinations of foods,  Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu who is the author of 3 interesting cookbooks and has one of the hottest restaurants in London bearing his name. Although it will seem like the seasonings are odd together and too numerous, trust me on this one.  Ottolenghi knows what he is doing.  Thiis delicious salad will become a favorite.  If you will serve it as a side grain, you can omit the arugula.  Variations would include changing the nuts to hazelnuts, adding pomegranate seeds or toasted sunflower seeds.

“The kitchen is a country in which there are always discoveries to be made.” Grimod de la Reynière

COUSCOUS with DRIED APRICOTS and ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH

1 large (red) onion, thinly sliced

6 tbs olive oil

50g dried apricots – (1/2 cup)

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch dice

250g couscous (1 1/2 cups)

400ml chicken or vegetable stock (1 1/2 cups)

a pinch of saffron strands

3 tbs roughly chopped tarragon

3 tbs roughly chopped mint

3 tbs roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

coarse sea salt and black pepper

1/2 c  shelled and toasted pistachios

2 cups of arugula

3 fresh apricots, optional, pitted and cut in 6 segments, as garnish

Preheat the oven to 400F
Place onion in a large frying pan with 2 T oil and a pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes, until translucent and a golden, caramalized brown. Set aside.
Pour hot water from the tap over the apricots just to cover them. Soak for 5 mins then drain and cut them into small dice.
Coat the diced squash in 1-2 T olive oil and spread out on a baking tray to roast. Place in oven for 40 mins, until  soft, stirring to prevent sticking, half way through.
While waiting for the butternut squash to roasting, cook the couscous. Bring the stock to boiling, add the saffron. Place the couscous in a large heatproof bowl and pour the boiling stock over it, plus the remaining olive oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave for about 10 mins for all of the liquid to be absorbed. When done, fluff with up with a fork. Then add the onions, squash, apricots, herbs, cinnamon and lemon zest and juice. Mix well with hands.
Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve warmish or cold over a bed of arugula.  Top with the toasted pistachios and fresh apricots, if using.

Delicious Autumn!

For more interesting recipes, check out Ottolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi’s cookbooks.

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imageIf you’ve ever dined at one of Ottolenghi’s restaurants, let me know how it was in the comments so I can live vicariously through you until I get there myself!  :)

Pomegranate Molasses and Mustard Grilled Pork Tenderloin

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Grilling pork tenderloin gives it a nice crusty outer layer and leaves the inside moist and succulent.  This marinade introduces great flavoring with fall accents and is transformed into a flavorful glaze by simply reducing it for a few minutes.  Add some rice and a vegetable side and it transforms into a company-worthy meal in no time at all.

POMEGRANATE MOLASSES and MUSTARD  GRILLED PORK TENDERLOIN

1/4 c molasses

2 T pomegranate molasses

2 T apple cider vinegar

2 T Dijon mustard

2  T grainy mustard

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

fresh ground pepper

1 1/2 to 2 lbs of pork tenderloin

Dry your tenderloin with paper towels and pepper liberally with freshly ground pepper.  Whisk together the molasses, mustards, vinegar, garlic to create the marinade.  Using a zip lock gallon bag or a marinading dish, cover the tenderloin with the marinade and set in your refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours, turning once.  Remove pork from the marinade and transfer the marinade to a small saucepan.

Preheat your grill.  Start grilling the tenderloin on high heat to sear the outside of the meat.  Reduce the heat, and grill covered for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally until pork is cooked through.  Remove from the grill and tent in foil for 5-10 minutes.  Cut on the diagonal, across the grain, into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Bring the marinade to a boil then lower the heat and reduce the marinade until is is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour over the sliced pork and serve extra on the side.  We served our pork with a side of Uncle Ben’s  brown, red and black rice medley to which I added pomegranate seeds and fresh chives and a side of sautéed baby kale.  A delicious and simple fall meal ready in 30 minutes.

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Fall Window Box

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Fall is my favorite season to decorate.  The rich colors in nature and the bountiful pumpkins, gourds, mums and kales available everywhere just make it so easy to bring fall’s flourishes into your home décor.  When temperatures start to dip a bit, it’s time to start entertaining outside again.  Near our patio table we have a window box that is filled with annuals all summer.  By now the flowers are spent and ready for a refresh.  A no-maintenace window box bursting with fall’s bounty is what I set out to create.    No mums, grasses or kale were used to avoid having to water or deadhead.  I foraged dried seed heads and bark,  right in the yard;  got a bag of mixed gourds at the supermarket; gathered various rattan spheres,  silk fall branches, some waxed artichokes and moss from my craft supplies, and set to work.  To bring interest to window boxes think of adding an element of surprise.  I created 3 looks for the same window box with a lantern, a rattan pumpkin and a acorn sculpture. Here is how it all came together:

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I left trailing sedums from the summer to create a base layer.

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My first look was with the apple shaped lantern. I just started playing around with the fresh gourds and spheres.

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For height, I inserted a bundle of pheasant feathers and some silk branches and a cone made out of birch bark that I filled with moss.

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A silk bird in autumn colors is perched on the lantern, I hung a fall wreath on the window above the window box and added the seed pods and moss. Layering is what helps create a lush arangement with lots of interest for the eye to discover.

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Substituting the lantern with a rattan pumpkin creates a different look.

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A cozy nook to read during still beautiful fall afternoons.

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These shutters are a salvage find and were added to make this back window a focal point near our outdoor dining table.

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3 rd look: adding a giant acorn sculpture which I lay on a piece of oak bark. Although the gourds are stacked, there is no glue necessary. This planter is in a sheltered area. If your box will be more exposed to the elements, especially wind, you might want to use some hot glue.

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This was the same window box last fall. If you want to read about it, please search for French-Themed Fall Luncheon In the Garden

Which look do you like best?  I like the lantern one myself!  A simple stunning fall display which was created for $9 in a few minutes.  And the best part, no maintemance needed and the gourds can be composted and won’t require storage.  Happy fall!

Garlicky Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds

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When visiting my Greek best friend, Panorea,  in Toronto last fall, she made these roasted sweet potato rounds.  They were the hit of the meal.   I had never thought to slice sweet potatoes into rounds for roasting and seasoning them with garlic, hot pepper and thyme.  This dish was a revelation.  The spices in the rub make the house smell so good, your mouth will be watering by the time they are ready!  It took a Greek cook to teach this French cook how to really bring out the best in sweet potatoes!  You may never want to eat sweet potatoes any other way again.  Thanks, Penny!

GARLICKY ROASTED SWEET POTATO ROUNDS

Preheat oven to 400F

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1 1/2 inch thick

3 t olive oil, or bit more to really coat the potatoes

1 T fresh thyme leaves( can use 1 t dried)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 t hot pepper flakes

1 t coarse sea salt

In a medium bowl, mix the oil and seasonings.  Toss potato slices to coat.  Place the potato rounds in a shallow baking dish and bake at 400F for 45 minutes, turning once.

Enjoy as a side.  Leftovers are great in a salad the next day.

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Deep Dish White Asparagus and Ham Pie

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In one’s life there are those meals that are memorable, a revelation really, with the power to bring you back to that moment in time.  For me, I am transported to Brussels almost 30 years ago.  I was travelling alone in Paris and had decided on a whim to explore a bit of nearby Belgium.  No agenda, no reservations.  After checking in at my hotel, I headed out to explore the city.  After wandering the city for hours I found myself lost in a quaint residential neighborhood, not far from Avenue Louise where many Embassies are located, after darkness had long fallen,  famished.  I was thinking I should get back to a main street and hail a cab when I came upon a small gem of a restaurant, its amber lighting beckoning me in.  I could not believe my luck.  Once seated I realized the whole menu was featuring white asparagus.  What???  When in Rome….When my dish of steamed asparagus with a soft poached egg in a sublime vinaigrette arrived, I was blown away.  Simple but astoundingly delicious.  At this point in my life I had only ever had white asparagus from a can, which is not memorable at all.  Since then, I have discovered that in some parts of Europe, the white asparagus harvest is celebrated and whole meals in both restaurants and private homes are prepared showcasing white asparagus.

When I read Teresa at Food on Fifth’s “An Homage To White Asparagus and Elizabeth” I knew I would make the deep dish white asparagus pie.  I searched for weeks for white asparagus but had missed the short spring season in Pennsylvania.  I had resigned myself to making the quiche next spring.   But then last week I found ivory hued  asparagus from Peru at my local market!  I was so surprised and delighted,  I started talking to anyone who would listen, to share my excitement.  I am sure  people thought I was a crazy eccentric.  But I knew I had found a treasure and  hurried home to make this pie.  White asparagus from Peru is not as good as the market-fresh fat spear- asparagus from Europe, but it is better than no white asparagus at all!  White asparagus has been revered for centuries.  Edouard Manet even immortalized it in 2 famous paintings.

Buch of Asparagus, Edouard Manet, 1880, Wallraf- Richartz- Museum, Cologne, Germany

Buch of Asparagus, Edouard Manet, 1880, Wallraf- Richartz- Museum, Cologne, Germany

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L’asperge, Edouard Manet, Musée d’ Orsay, Paris

This deep dish quiche is a really delicious homage to white asparagus, which is sweeter than the more common green asparagus.  White asparagus is really green asparagus which has been grown without light to prevent photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll.  Its texture and taste is unique and it is prized for its earthy subtle flavor. This dish really lets it take a starring role, which it should!

DEEP DISH WHITE ASPARAGUS AND HAM PIE

Adapted from Food on Fifth   Serves 8

1 lb white asparagus

1 pie crust, home made or bought

5 eggs

6 onces of thin sliced ham, chopped

6 onces of shredded white cheese( cheddar, gouda, grugère or swiss)

1 T of grainy mustard

1 c of half and half cream

1 T fresh thyme leaves

salt and pepper

optional:  a few small kale leaves or chopped swiss chard greens

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Preheat oven to 375F

In  an 8 inch springform pan, fit your pie crust, extending the pastry up the sides a few inches.  Using a spatula or a pastry brush, coat the bottom of the crust with the mustard.

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Rinse the asparagus, trim to a 3 inch length from the spear end, and blanch in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.  Dry on paper towels.   Only the tender tops of the asparagus will be used in our pie.  The rest of the stalks can be used later for soup.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, thyme and salt and pepper.

To assemble, spread half the cheese on the mustard-coated crust.  Top with all the chopped ham.  Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.  I used a combination of gruyère and swiss cheese.

Over fhis, pour the egg-cream mixture, tapping the pan gently to allow the eggs to seep through all layers.

With the asparagus spears pointing towards the outside of the pan, lay the spears in a wheel pattern on top of the pie.  If using, scatter your kale leaves randomly across the top.  I used torn swiss chard, fresh from the garden, on mine.   I felt the greens distracted a bit from the beauty of the asparagus pattern and when making this again, I would layer the greens on top of the ham instead.

Place your springform pan on a cookie sheet to catch spills.  Bake  40 minutes in the center of the oven.  Cool about 10 minutes before running a knife around the edges and removing the sides of the pan.

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A golden, glorious homage to white asparagus which transported me back to that magical night in Brussels so long ago.  What is your most memorable meal?  I hope to have transported you back to your memories of a special meal.  Thank you for visiting with me and reading my 100th post!

 

Cantaloupe and Lime Slushy or Margarita

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With temperatures in the 90s and humidity high,  crisp fall days still await.  Cooling off is still very much a priority in our neck of the woods.  This cantaloupe slushy is one way to savor the last of summer’s bounty at the Farmer’s market.  It can easily be turned into a frozen margarita for a party by adding 1/4-1/2 cup of Tequila and putting on some Jimmy Buffet!   The lime gives it a kick and sweetening with maple syrup a hint that fall is around the corner.  Drink up!

CANTALOUPE LIME SLUSHY

6 cups of ripe cantaloupe chunks, frozen overnight on a flat surface tray

1 t lime zest plus more for serving

juice from 8 limes(2/3 cups approximately)

1/4 c honey, maple syrup or agave nectar

1 1/2 c cold water

Whisk together the honey or maple syrup, lime juice and zest in a small bowl. Put all ingredients in the blender and purée until thick and smooth.  If using tequila, reduce water by the same volume and add to the contents before blending.  Divide in 4 glasses and serve immediately with a slice of lime, some extra lime zest sprinkled on top and if desired, a sprig of flowering basil as shown here.  This yields a very pretty pale orange drink.   I served ours on a hand embroidered tablecloth by my talented friend Millie in Canada, with a botanical motif in gold and turquoise.   In a turquoise pitcher vase I assembled  a late summer flower and herb bouquet of phlox paniculata transplanted from my childhood garden, flowering cinnamon basil and some flowering chives, for a spicy aromatic and cheerful kitchen bouquet.  Cheers!

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