Old Year Passing...

The new year is only days away, and while this is usually my favorite time of year, this new years has taken a different kind of turn.  My dear, sweet Mother-in-Law, who I've been so lucky to call "Mom" for 45 years is slipping away from us.  At 97, she's lived a good, long, happy life, but somehow that doesn't make her passing any less difficult for the rest of us.

I tell you this because we are leaving to go be with her and the family, and it may be a while before I get back to the blog.  We're buying one-way tickets and will be with her for as long as we need to be there.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very wondrous New Year and hope that 2017 is your very best yet.  I hope to be back at some point with some new culinary inspirations, but in the meantime, have yourself some fun in the kitchen and be well....

💜

Patrice

                                                                                                            Mom and I,   2014

                                                                                                            Mom and I,   2014

Raspberry-Nutella Holiday Linzer Cookies

If you’re looking for a distraction from the news these days, baking cookies might just be the way to go.  There are still co-workers and neighbors and holiday guests who would love it if you offered them a plate of these festive little linzer cookies.  And then there’s always the no holds barred distraction of sitting in the corner and eating them yourself.

In any case, it’s the holidays, and no one is going to question why you’re baking cookies.  Here’s how much I’ve needed to distract myself.  Does this seem excessive?…

Just kidding. (About making all of these myself).  Actually this is a photo of the cookies made at our annual family cookie party this year, which included snickerdoodles, Russian tea cakes (aka snowballs), peanut butter blossoms, shortbread cookies, sugar cookies, Grinch cookies, cranberry/white chocolate/macadamia nut cookies and these linzer torte cookies.  The last two cookies in that list were my contributions to the event.  

So if you're feeling the need for a little holiday fun and cheer right about now,  you might consider making some of these scrumptious little linzer cookies.  First of all, they're just so pretty and festive, right?  Secondly, to increase the deliciousness quotient, I added a layer of Nutella to the raspberry filling (because chocolate and raspberry), and while that's not exactly traditional, it was dang awesome in there.

And as an added bonus, they really are fun to make!  Once you've got your dough made and chilled, you just roll it out and cut out your cookie rounds and then cut out the center of half of them using whatever little cutter you might have on hand. 

I wanted to make these a little smaller than usual, so I used a 2 1/4-inch fluted cutter for the cookie and a 3/4-inch star cutter for the center.  I also did some with circle centers and used the round end of a pastry nozzle for that.  Any cutters will work here, so be creative.

Once you have your cookies made and cooled, you'll want to dust the cutout halves with powdered sugar.  I decided to do this before assembling, so that the raspberry jam stars would really stand out.  Then you're just going to take one of those little cookie rounds and spread a little Nutella on it,

And then spread a little raspberry jam on top of that.  And then place a star cookie on top!  You're done!  

Before I go any further, I just have to say that while these cookies are incredibly fun and delicious with all of that jam and chocolate and powdered sugar, you might be happy just eating them plain. I had all of the grandkids here after I made these and dusted the star and circle cutouts with powdered sugar and they ate every last one.

Yeah, I know, they had powdered sugar on them, so of course they ate them, but the cookie itself was a huge hit, owing to its shortbread-like qualities.  Traditional linzer torte cookies have almond in them, so this dough is made with almond flour (and maybe a little butter) which makes them very, very eatable.

Distractions aside, there really is nothing quite like a festive little cookie to bring a little holiday cheer to your afternoon coffee.   If you're into spreading the cheer, here's the recipe...

Raspberry-Nutella Holiday Linzer cookies

Click here for a printable recipe

These are such fun cookies to make.  I used a 2 1/4-inch fluted cutter for the cookies and then a 3/4-inch star cutter for the cutouts.  I rolled my dough thinner than called for which makes a more delicate cookie.  Just watch them closely in the oven... they don't take long to cook!  You might not want to spread all of your cookies with jam and Nutella, as they’re really really good eaten plain.

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

Makes about 2-3 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cutters

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups (about 7 ounces) almond flour
2 cups (about 10 ounces) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg1 cup raspberry jam
1 cup Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut) spread

DIRECTIONS

Adjust oven rack to middle and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; set aside. In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and 1 cup confectioners sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and egg and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Divide dough into two equal portions, wrap in plastic wrap, and let chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

On a clean, lightly floured work surface, roll out one ball of dough to a rectangle roughly 8-inches by 12-inches and 1/8-inch thick (I rolled mine a little thinner). Using the larger of your two cookie cutters, cut out an even number of cookies. Use the smaller cutter to cut holes in centers of half of cookies. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet, leaving 1/2-inch space between each cookie. Gather cookie scraps and re-roll until 1/8th-inch thick. Stamp more cookies. Continue until all of the dough is used up and the baking sheets are full. 

Bake cookies until golden, about 15 minutes, rotating back to front and top to bottom once during baking.

Let cookies sit at room temperature until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. 

Sprinkle the cutout halves with powdered sugar.  Spread the bottom halves with jam and then Nutella. Top with a cut-out cookie.  Serve. 

Uneaten (ha!) cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 or 4 days.

Moroccan Meatballs With Couscous and Saffron-Harissa Sauce

Meatballs.  Let's just take a moment, shall we? (.......quiet moment of meatball contemplation...). So what came to mind during your moment of meatball meditation?  Perhaps a perfectly tender, flavorful, moist and meaty orb of deliciousness?  Possibly dunked in or drizzled with a tasty sauce?  My own meatball fantasies span the globe and it matters not whether Asian, Mexican, Swedish, Italian, Middle Eastern or Canadian 🤔, as long it's ground meat in a round-ish sort of ball shape and tastes good, I'm in!

And while that may sound like my meatball standards are a bit low, that's not entirely the case. Yes, I will eat and enjoy just about any kind of meatball, but I know a good one when I meet one, and a great one really does make the sun shine a little brighter.

After we first tasted these meatballs, I used the word "beguiled" to described how I felt about the extraordinary flavors in this awesome little meatball.  Cousin Katie made me promise to use that word in my blog post, so there it is, my girl.  Yes, we were beguiled.  And enchanted.  They were delicious.

I will now refer you to the meatballs in the recipe below, but don't freak out!  Yes, there are 84 ingredients, but it really does come together quickly.  I just opened my spice drawer and pulled out every one of them (or maybe it just seemed like it) and proceeded to mix together this fragrant combination of scents and flavors that come through in every last bite.  Be not afraid.  You can do this.

And I haven't even mentioned the sauce!  While it was good and provided a lovely bath in which our meatballs finished cooking, as a finishing sauce, it was a little too thin.  To remedy this, I stirred Harissa into some Greek yogurt and whisked this into the broth, creating a seriously flavorful sauce for not only our meatballs, but for the couscous as well. 

Just a word about Harissa, if you're unfamiliar... it's a North African (think Morocco) chili paste that's loaded with roasted red peppers and chiles and spices and herbs and is ever so amazingly flavorful and delicious.  It turned our sauce into something quite special indeed.  You can buy it full strength spicy or mild, so choose according to your preferences.  I like getting the mild so I can use more of it - the flavors are amazing.

Alrighty then, folks.  Enough talking.  These meatballs aren't going to make themselves, so pull out your spice rack and get to it!  You will be ever so glad you did.  Here's the recipe...

Moroccan Meatballs with Saffron-Harissa Sauce

Click here for a printable recipe

First of all, I must encourage you to not freak out.  Yes, that is a very long ingredient list, but it's all so do-able.  Most of this stuff you probably already have in your pantry, except possibly the saffron and Harissa.  If you can find it in your heart to spring for these two ingredients, you will be well rewarded.  Oh my heavens, this is a very special, flavorful, festive dish and possibly the best meatballs I've had.  Still, I did some major tweaking to the original recipe, which was delicious, but in my humble opinion, the sauce needed a bit of help.  I used the yogurt to add some body and the Harissa for a lovely flavor punch.  If you've not had Harissa, you're in for a treat.   It's basically a sauce of roasted red peppers and spices and is ever so delicious.  If you like spice, it can be spicy, but if you're preferring less spice, it comes in a mild version that's dialed back on the heat but retains its earthy spiciness.

Recipe Adapted from David Tanis, NY Times

For the Sauce…

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
Large pinch saffron, crumbled
Salt and pepper
3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons Harissa

For the Meatballs
(I got out a small bowl and measured all of the spices into it and then stirred it well before adding it to the meatball mixture for even distribution)

1 and 1/2 cups cubed day ­old firm white bread
1 cup milk
1 pound ground beef, turkey or lamb
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
All­ purpose flour, for dusting
Olive oil or vegetable oil

For the Couscous

1 cup couscous
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to soften, then drained (optional)
Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preparation

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook without browning until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon and saffron, and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper, and allow to sizzle for 1 minute more. Add broth and simmer gently for 5 minutes. May be made several hours in advance, up to a day.

Place the bread cubes and milk in a small bowl.  Leave this to soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg and add add salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cloves, coriander and cumin. Mix well to distribute seasoning. Add 2 tablespoons each of parsley, cilantro and scallion, stir well and then add squeezed-out bread and the ground meat.  Use your hands to mix it all really well.  This may be prepared several hours in advance, up to a day.

With your hands, roll mixture into small round balls, a little smaller than a golf ball.  You should get about 25 or so.  Dip each ball into a bowl of flour, shaking off the excess. 

Heat a few tablespoons of oil, or a quarter-inch depth, over medium-high heat and fry meatballs until barely browned, about 2 minutes per side and set on a rack over a baking sheet while you finish the rest.  

Place the meatballs in the sauce and simmer, partially covered over medium low heat for about 20 to 25 minutes. 

Remove the meatballs from the sauce and keep warm. Let the sauce cool for a few minutes.  meanwhile, stir together the yogurt and Harissa.  When the sauce has cooled somewhat, whisk the yogurt mixture into the sauce until well combined.  Return the meatballs to the pan and warm through.

Cook the couscous according to package directions, fluff gently and stir in butter and raisins. Season with salt and cinnamon, and toss well.

Serve the meatballs over the couscous and pour some of the sauce over the meatballs.  Garnish meatballs with remaining parsley, cilantro and scallion.  Place the remaining sauce in a pitcher to pass at the table.

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Pasta With Chickpea Sauce

Are they a pea or a bean?  A chickpea or a garbanzo bean?  I've always called them garbanzo beans, but I think I'll switch to chickpeas.  It sounds cuter and kind've more affectionate which aptly describes how I feel about these little guys... I 💗 em.  They totally make the list of my top five legumes.  AND they move waaaay up to the top of that list if they're soaked and cooked from their dried state.  From the can, they slide down towards the bottom, but still make the list.

Perhaps you might be wondering if there really is all that much difference between canned and freshly cooked chickpeas, and I'm here to tell you that, yes, YES!, there is a difference, and it's pretty significant.  Chickpeas from the can have a very pronounced bite to them, not crunchy, but not exactly soft either.  But when cooked from their dried state, oh my goodness, they get sort of creamy and luscious and if you infuse your cooking water with aromatics (onions, garlic, herbs, etc), your little chickpeas are also going to win in the flavor department, hands down.

Now, this day and age you can't even talk about legumes without addressing the paleo and ketogenic and other diets that sort of disparage our little chickpeas.  They have their reasons and we'll let them hold on to them because we are pro choice in all matters here in the Circle B Kitchen. Whatever floats your boat or makes your skirt fly up.  Fine.  Whatever.  But I'm hanging with culinary history and the cultures that have thrived on chickpeas for centuries (think India, North Africa and the Middle East for starters), and I'm calling them scrumptious and ever so good for you (think fiber, protein, calcium, iron, read more about that here).

Now that we've got that out of the way, I want to help us move beyond hummus with our chickpea consumption.  Don't get me wrong, we love our hummus here and make it frequently (with freshly cooked chickpeas), but I have to tell you that our little garbanzos also make an amazingly delicious pasta sauce.  I mean, really good.  But don't try making this with canned beans.  I mean, you could, but it just isn't going to have the same creamy lusciousness.

OK, now hopefully I've convinced you to spend a few pennies on some dried chickpeas.  The first thing you're going to want to do is soak them overnight.  I never remember this part.  But don't worry about this too much.  You can circumvent potential tragedy by "quick soaking them" (bring them to a boil and then let them sit for an hour or so.  Done.  Consider them soaked.

Next you're going to simmer them with some onions, garlic, rosemary and some salt for a couple of hours until they're soft and yielding and sort of sexy like that.  

Then remove the aromatics and drain the chickpeas, saving your cooking liquid.

You're going to add some of that chickpea broth back into the pan with your beans, saving out a few to throw in whole at the end, and blitz it all with an immersion blender until your sauce is smooth and silky.  Alternately, you can also do this in a blender or food processor.

Then you're going to cook up some pasta  Flat, curly pasta like mafalda and farfalle are perfect for this.  I didn't have enough of either of those shapes, so I got creative and cooked up some lasagna noodles and then sliced them into little rectangles and they worked surprisingly well.  You could also serve this sauce over couscous or quinoa or farro or polenta or rice or spaghetti squash or whatever comes to mind. Like I said, we're pro choice here.  

Finish your chickpea pasta with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a dusting of grated parmesan cheese.   If you leave off the cheese, this would be an awesomely delicious thing for the vegan peeps in your life.  (But if you have a choice, the Parmesan is a must).  Here's the recipe...

Pasta with Chickpea Sauce

Click here for a printable recipe

The original recipe called for cooking up 12 ounces of chickpeas, but most chickpeas come in 1 lb bags, so I always cook up the whole thing.  The leftover chickpeas are great in salads, soups, or go ahead and make some hummus.  If you would like to discard all of my good advice and use canned chickpeas, click on the Serious Eats link below where you will find instructions for this.  Evidently, they are even more pro choice than I.

Recipe barely adapted from Serious Eats

INGREDIENTS

1 lb dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in salted water*
1 large onion, split in half
1 head garlic, 3 cloves thinly sliced, the rest left unpeeled
3 sprigs rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I like to use white pepper here)
4 cups cooked chickpeas (see note above), divided
1 1/2 cups chickpea-cooking liquid or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
1 pound short ruffled pasta, such as farfalle, mafalda, campanelle or cut lasagna sheets
1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

* Chickpeas can also be prepared using the quick soak method. Cover with water in a large pot, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let rest for 1 hour. Drain and proceed with the recipe as directed.

Place chickpeas in a large pot and cover with lightly salted water by at least 2 inches. Add unpeeled garlic, onion, and rosemary. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook, topping up with water as necessary to keep beans submerged, until beans are very tender and creamy with no graininess left, about 2 hours. Beans can also be cooked in a pressure cooker at low pressure for 30 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, combine oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups chickpeas and the 1 1/2 cups of chickpea-cooking liquid (I ended up using a little more than 2 cups), and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and, using an immersion blender, blend to a smooth, saucy puree, adding more chickpea-cooking liquid if too thick. Stir in remaining 1 cup chickpeas, crushing some lightly with a wooden spoon or potato masher but leaving them mostly whole. Season with salt and pepper.  And, by the way, don't be afraid of adding more of the cooking broth to the sauce than called for.  The sauce tends to thicken as it cools, so it's OK to err on the side of thin.

In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until just short of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta. Return pasta to pot and add chickpea sauce along with 1/4 cup of reserved pasta-cooking water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until pasta is al dente and sauce has thickened just enough to coat pasta, about 3 minutes; add more reserved pasta-cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if sauce becomes too thick. Remove from heat, stir in chopped parsley and drizzle in some fresh olive oil, stirring to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta and sauce into bowls, drizzle with another whirl of olive oil, some chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

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