Honey and Tea Cookies

More so than others, these cookies were the product of a grand culinary adventure, as well as final degree in a Six Degrees of Separation game I was playing against myself (I won!).  One thing kept leading to another, and, before I knew it, I had some bomb diggity cookies made with some crafty and resourceful ingredients.  Please, allow me to spell out the tale to you.

The year before last, I received an adorable single-serve teapot for Christmas.  I adored it (and still do) and couldn’t wait to use it, especially since it had accommodations for brewing loose leaf tea, which I’d never done before.  I quickly used up all of the tea that I had been given with the teapot, so I went to a local tea shop to restock.  Whilst perusing the shop’s selection of black teas, I happened upon an English breakfast tea called “Sherlock’s Special”.  Being a fervent fan of the detective in all his various incarnations, including Sir Doyle’s original stories, RDJ’s big screen interpretation of the character, and the new BBC series (season premier next Sunday!), I could not resist giving it a try.  Not surprisingly, the tea was delightful, and I’ve kept it on hand ever since.  Then… months passed and I turned twenty-one.  To everyone’s great surprise (most of all, my own), I found beer to be my coming-of-age drink of choice and quickly began exploring all manner and styles of craft beers.  And then, last Christmas, my mom gave my dad and I the most clever gift of a homebrewing kit.  We had a ball brewing our first batch and have made many more since.  In particular, I have made a habit of brewing small, one-gallon batches with increasing frequency, though I’ve been dogged by the problem of what to do with the leftover grains.  I have become particularly fond of one recipe from the Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Book titled “Tea & Toast”.  This brew utilizes biscuit malt, giving it a delightfully toasty flavor, as well as a bit of black tea just for kicks and giggles.  As you may have guessed, I definitely used the “Sherlock’s Special” tea and with greatly pleasing results (that’s the finished “Tea & Toast” beer there in the picture).  Now, we’ve reached the end of the chain.  I count only four degrees.  Not bad.

The aforementioned brew book contains a smart recipe for making dog biscuits out of spent grain, which I have made, though I felt compelled to find additional uses for all of the grain.  My dog did enjoy the biscuits, though they made him a bit gassy….  I’ve tossed the grain out into the woods for the deer on several occasions.  However, considering they often munch on any produce we attempt to grow, I am reluctant to provide them with further incentive to frequent our abode (they eat like kings around our house in the summer).  Finally, after a decent amount of thought and consideration, I decided to utilize the grain for selfish purposes, drying it, grinding it, and turning it into flour to be used for many baking adventure to come.

The present recipe utilizes honey, tea, and, should you have the opportunity to do so, flour made of spent-grain from brewing.  The spent-grain flour gives the cookies a toasty, wholesome taste, especially if your original mash contained biscuit malt.  Should you not have any spent-grain on hand (don’t fret, not many people do), whole wheat flour can create a similar wholesome flavor.  Sound like a plan?  Very well, then, onward we go!

Honey and Tea Cookies

Adapted from AllRecipes.com

Makes about 16 cookies

Ingredients:

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup honey

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup whole-wheat or spent-grain flour*

2 tsp. black or chamomile tea, loose leaf or from a tea bag (if using loose leaf, finely chop or pulse a few times in a blender or food processor until finely ground)

Equipment:

1 small saucepan

1 small mixing bowl

1 large mixing bowl

1 stand mixer, hand mixer, or wooden spoon

1 whisk or fork

1 spatula

1 cookie sheet, greased with butter or covered with parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350F.

In the small saucepan, heat the honey, butter, and sugar over low heat.  As the butter begins to melt, gently and continuously stir with the whisk.  Continue to stir until the mixture begins to bubble.  Once the mixture is gently bubbling, turn off the heat and immediately use the spatula to transfer the mixture from the saucepan to the small mixing bowl.  Allow the mixture to cool in the small mixing bowl for5-10 minutes.

While the honey mixture is cooling, in the large mixing bowl, add the lightly beaten egg, baking soda, vanilla extract, and tea, stirring until combined.  Next, gradually add the cooled honey mixture to the egg mixture.  Finally, add the flours, 1/4 cup at a time.  Stir the mixture until just combined.

Scoop tablespoon-sized dollops of the dough onto the greased or covered cookie sheet.  Bake the cookies for 13-16 minutes, until golden brown.

Allow cookies to cool on the cookies sheet for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  Serve with your favorite tea or beer, and enjoy!

*To Make Spent-Grain Flour (Use About 2 lbs. of Grains, Enough to Make About 1 Gallon of Beer):

Once you’re finished steeping and sparging the grains, keep the spent grain in a fine mesh strainer to cool for about 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 250F.  Line two cookie sheets with tin foil.  Scoop the moist grains from the strainer onto the cookie sheets, spreading the grains evenly across the sheets.  Place the cookie sheets in the oven, and allow the grains to heat for about four hours, tossing the grains every 45-60 minutes to make sure that they’re drying evenly.  After four hours, turn the oven off but keep the cookie sheets in the oven.  Allow the cookie sheets to remain in the oven as it cools, for another hour or so.  Once the grains have completely cooled, scoop them into a food processor (it took me about three batches to get them all ground).  Run the grains through the food processor on low for about a minute.  After one minute, toss the grains about a bit so as to ensure that they’ll be ground fairly evenly.  Run the grains through the food processor for another minute, or until they have reached your desired fineness.  When you’re done grinding the grains in the food processor, sift them into a large mixing bowl to remove any large, unground pieces (I found that torrified wheat put up a good fight in the food processor and was largely sifted out).  Ta da!  You’ve made a usable flour/grain meal from the vestiges of your brewing adventure!  Well done!

Ham and Cheese Buttons

There's ham in there!

Do you pine for your primary school days, those when you carried your lunch to school each day in a brown paper sack or well-loved lunch box?  When I really get to thinking about it, my own answer is both yes and no: yes, because elementary school was way fun with the coloring and picture books and recess and whatnot, and no, because although I dearly loved my red Flipper lunchbox (wonder where that is…), I did not love the all-too-frequent realization that my sandwich had been squashed into an unappealing pancake of mayonnaise, lunch meat, and cheese product.  Ah, first grade problems, am I right?!  But now, a mere fifteen years later, I think I may have found an acceptable grown up solution.  This solution does not involve crush-resistant bread, which, if you come to think about it, would likely not be as fantastic as it initially sounds.

I propose the solution of the present recipe, that being the above-pictured ham and cheese buttons.  After I finished putting them together, I realized that they bore some resemblance to the mysterious Uncrustables, you know, those peculiar frozen PB&Js without crusts that you can get in the freezer section?  Their appeal and true practicality continues to befuddle me.  Back to these here buttons, there isn’t actually any bread involved because… it’s made of pie crust!  Ha!  How delightful is that!  It’s wee, savory pies for lunch!  What could be more splendid in the middle of a busy workday than the promise of a flavor-filled pocket of pie for your midday meal?  Very few things.  Perhaps a truly free puppy (lifetime supply of food, toys, and poop bags included).

As an homage to the brown bag days of lore, these little treasures are actually made with lunch meat.  Therefore, not only is it inexpensive, but the thinly sliced meat also makes these much more convenient in that there’s reduced risk of biting into your pie, making contact with a prized piece of ham, failing to bite completely through it, then dragging it out of the pie in front of your coworkers in the lunch room.  Such actions are somewhat unappealing.  In addition to the ham, I’ve added a healthy amount of Swiss cheese, along with generous portions of sauteed leeks and onions.  With all of that going on in one petite pie button, additional seasoning is largely unnecessary.  Easy as pie then, yes?

Ham and Cheese Buttons

Adapted from Cutie Pies

Makes roughly 18 3″-4″ pie buttons

Filling Ingredients

6 oz. ham (Black Forest ham lunch meat is DYNAMITE for this), cut into 1/2″ cubes

8 oz. Swiss cheese, grated

1 medium onion, chopped into 1/2″ cubes

2 leeks, cut in half and into 1/2″-thick slices

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Pie Crust Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. granulated sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1/2 cup cold water

1 egg, lightly beaten

Equipment:

2 large mixing bowls

1 rolling pin

1 3″-4″ circular cookie cutter (I didn’t have one, so I used a glass)

1 cookie sheet

1 fork or pastry cutter

1 medium sauce pan

1 cutting board

1 knife

1 spatula

1 brush or your fingers

plastic wrap

parchment paper (optional)

First, make the pie crust.  Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the one large mixing bowl, and mix until well combined.  Add the cold, cut butter.  Using either a fork, a pastry cutter, or your hands, break the butter down into smaller pieces (roughly pea-sized) and mix into the flour.  The idea is to get the butter well-coated in the flour mixture without breaking it down too much; it’s those chunks of cold butter that make the crust so flaky and delightful.  Slowly, about 1 Tbsp. at a time, add the cold water and incorporate it into the dough.  Add just enough water so that the dough stays together and there isn’t any loose flour in the bowl.  Be careful not to overhandle the dough; like I said, those larger chunks of butter will make your pie crust the dreamy vision you’ve always had in mind.  Pat the dough into a two balls, wrapping each in plastic wrap.  Allow the dough to chill for at least an hour.  If you’re making the dough ahead of time, it can be stored for about 3 days in the fridge or 2 weeks in the freezer.

While your dough chills, make the filling.  Over medium heat, allow the olive oil to heat up in the saucepan.  Add the chopped onions and leaks, stirring continuously to ensure that each piece gets a coating of olive oil.  Continue to stir the onions and leeks every minute or so so that none of them burn.  Saute for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions begin to become translucent.  Immediately, in the second large mixing bowl, add the hot sauteed onions and leeks, the chopped ham, and the grated cheese.  Mix all of these ingredients together until well combined.  Allow the mixture to sit, undisturbed, for about 10 minutes, giving the cheese a chance to melt just a little bit.

Once the dough has completed its “chill” phase, on a lightly floured surface, roll out one roll of dough until it is about 1/8″ thick.  Leave the other ball of dough in the fridge until you’ve finished working with the first.  Once the dough has been rolled out, use the cookie cutter to cut out circles.  Store the cut circles in the fridge, covered, until you are ready to assemble the buttons.  Repeat this process with the second roll of dough.

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Take one of the cut circles of pie dough, and, using your finger, gently spread a bit of water around the outside edge of the circle; this will help the top and bottom layers seal together well so that you won’t have pie guts oozing out over your cookie sheet.  Place a small scoop, about 2 Tbsp., of the ham and cheese mixture, in the center of the dough circle.  Take another dough circle, and very gently stretch it with your hands, making it slightly larger than the bottom circle.  Lay it over the scoop of ham and cheese mixture, lining the edges up with the bottom circle.  Using a fork, press the outside edges of the top and bottom layers together, sealing in the ham and cheese filling.  Repeat until you’ve used all of your cut dough circles.  Cut a small slice in the top of each completed button; this will serve as an escape hatch for any hot air or water that may become trapped in the button and help to prevent it from creating an unnecessary mess.  Place the buttons on an oiled or buttered cookie sheet, or on parchment paper atop a cookie sheet.  The buttons won’t really expand much, if at all, so you can pack them pretty closely, but not so much that they’re touching.  Brush some of the beaten egg atop each button, and, should you wish, give each brushed button a light dusting of salt.  Bake the buttons for 20-30 minutes, until the crust has reached a warm golden brown color.  Allow the pies to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

These pies are best served warm, soon after baking, but they can also be reheated by a short jaunt in the microwave.  It only took me about 30 seconds on high heat to reheat one in the microwave for lunch.  Should you wish, the baked buttons can also be frozen for about two weeks.  However you wish to eat them, hot out of the oven or reheated for lunch, enjoy!

Apricot Brown Butter Muffins

Are you a breakfast person?  By that, I mean do you thoroughly enjoy a morning ritual which incorporates a well-rounded meal, a hot cup of coffee, and a briefing on the big stories of the day by the likes of Matt Lauer and Ann Curry?  I do hope so.  If not, I strongly encourage you to give it a trial run for I think you’ll very much like it.  This morning, I find myself having to abandon my usual routine for the sake of a much-anticipated road trip.  That said, I have taken the liberty of preparing tantalizing breakfast fare the night before so that a quick getaway may be made come morning.  Sound like a plan?  Can you dig it?  Very well, let us proceed.

It saddens me that I was completely unbeknownst to the irresistible magic that is brown butter until roughly three weeks ago.  Now that I am well aware that it is nothing short of the cat’s pajamas, I can’t help but use it all the time.  For example, I plan on using it right now!  The delightfully nutty flavor of the brown butter, combined with dried apricots, walnuts, and tastefully chosen spices combine in these muffins to create an all-out flavor extravaganza.  I feel as if this flavor conglomerate packed into one tasty muffin makes it essentially the Justice League of breakfasts, would you not agree?  Me thinks it will be grand (after sampling, I was proven correct for these muffins are, indeed, grand).

A final note before setting off on this particular adventure: I know this seems like a lot of substance crammed into one wee muffin, but it’s always been my kitchen philosophy that overkill is underrated.  I agree that this is a lot of stuff going into one unsuspecting baked good, but why not?  They all taste so good together!  By the time you add all the spices, apricots, and walnuts, this batter will be crazy thick, nearly bordering on dough, but it comes out to be sooooooo tasty.  That small hint of nutmeg really jumps out at you, and the crumbly topping will have you pining for a cup of coffee because it will remind you very much of coffee cake.  Truly, this muffin comes out to be all kinds of right.

Apricot Brown Butter Muffins

Adapted from Joy the Baker Cookbook

Makes 12 muffins

Muffin Ingredients:

7 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/2 cup milk

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg (be generous)

1 cup dried apricots, chopped (dates might be good, too)

1 cup walnuts, chopped

Topping Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Equipment:

2 medium mixing bowls

1 small mixing bowl

1 cupcake pan

12 paper cupcakes cups in the pattern of your choosing

1 electric hand mixer, stand mixer, or whisk

1 medium sauce pan

1 spatula

1 cooling rack

Preheat the oven to 375F.

To brown the butter, place all of the butter (10 Tbs. total) into the medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Allow the butter to melt, periodically mixing to prevent any of it from burning.  After all of the butter ha melted, it will start to crackle.  Fun fact: that delightful popping is actually the water making its escape from the confines of the butter.  After a short while, the crackling will slow and the butter will start to turn brown.  The browning will happen rather quickly, so keep an eye on it.  Once the butter has reached a good brown color, lighter than the color of maple syrup but darker than your typical Hefeweizen, and begins to smell nutty (it’ll smell really good), remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the brown butter into the small mixing bowl.  This will prevent the butter from burning in the pan.  Be sure to get all of the small brown bits out of the bottom of the pan for they are utterly delightful and you’ll be happy that you saved them.  Allow the butter to cool slightly before using; you can pop it in the fridge for a short spell to speed this up.

In one of the medium mixing bowls, add all of the wet ingredients (milk, egg, yolk, vanilla) except the brown butter.  Mix all of the wet ingredients together, then add 7 Tbsp. of the slightly cooled brown butter.  Whisk some more to combine.

In the second mixing bowl, add all of the dry ingredients (both flours, both sugars, baking powder, salt, spices) and mix to combine.  Gently, add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir until just combined.  Next, add the chopped apricots and dates and mix until just combined.  Filling each about 2/3 of the way full, equally divide the batter among the 12 cupcake cups.  Do not bake them yet.

To make the topping, mix the 3 Tbsp. remaining cooled brown butter, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 3 Tbsp. brown sugar, and 1/2 cup walnuts together until just combined.  Ideally, you’ll have large clumps rather than an even mixture.  Sprinkle a bit of the topping onto each of the cupcake cups, very gently patting down to make sure that the topping has made contact with the batter.

Bake the muffins for 19-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.  Allow muffins to cool for 10 minutes before transferring them onto a cooling rack (to do this, I fished them out of the pan with a fork so I wouldn’t risk losing any of the topping).  Make them in the morning to enjoy right our of the oven, or make them the night before and give them a 10 second zap in the microwave just before you consume them in the morning.  Muffins will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for about 3 days, or they can be kept in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a month.  Either way, enjoy!

Lemon Rosemary Chicken

G’day, mates!  I hope that you have been enjoying some magnificent spring weather and that your weeks are off to most excellent starts!  I am reveling in the fact that winter FINALLY seems to be over here in Eastern Washington.  Seriously, temperatures were dwindling in the 40s on the good days, and we faced an onslaught of mystery precipitation with little to no notice.  It was odd, and I did not enjoy it.  But now, rejoice!  Spring has sprung!  It’s time to break out your sun dresses and open-toed shoes (if you’ve not done so already) so that you may whimsically frolic through an open field of daisies in the appropriate frolicking attire!

In celebration of the spring’s arrival, I’ve started Lemon-palooza a bit early this year.  What’s “Lemon-palooza”, you ask?  Why, please allow me to fill you in.  Last year was Lemon-palooza’s inaugural year.  During late April/early May, I went through a phase where I made about a bazillion different lemon-flavored/-themed dishes.  I don’t know what brought it on, but it was far from worst thing in the world.  I made lemon meringue pie (here’s looking at you, Amelia Bedelia!), lemon bars from scratch, lemon curd to have with my morning crepe, lemon meringue pie cupcakes, and myriad other lemon-centric dishes.  Needless to say, I feel compelled to repeat the ritual this year.  Let’s make it happen.

If you thought that the blue cheese scallion mashed potatoes were easy peezy lemon squeezy (I couldn’t help it), this dish is, if you can believe it, even easier.  Despite its simplicity, it will still come out looking fancy as can be, and you’ll be the envy of all your friends when it comes to serving delightful spring dinner entrees.  Plus, as it requires little to no babysitting, you’ll have plenty of time to do whatever you please in the interim hour or so between popping it in the oven and serving it up.  For example, I had plenty of time to take my dog on a walk, do some yoga, spend approximately 83 seconds internally debating which beverage I wanted to serve with the meal (in case you’re curious, I decided on Rogue’s Juniper Pale Ale, though I gave considerable consideration to Leavenworth Beers’ Boulder Bend Dunkelweizen or a good Chardonnay), and set the table for the meal.  That said, I encourage you to do the most with your time as well: work on a knitting project, clean a room, paint your nails, call a friend or relative for a pleasant chit chat, fill up your Amazon cart with multiple items from your wishlist, the choices really are endless.  Either way, you’ve got the makings for a lovely lunch or evening here!

Lemon Rosemary Chicken

Serves 2

Ingredients:

4 frozen boneless chicken tenderloins or 2 frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 lemon, sliced into 1/4″ thick slices

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper (adjust to taste)

2 tsp. dried rosemary

3 Tbs. olive oil

Equipment:

1 casserole dish with lid (if you don’t have a lid, tinfoil works just as well)

1 cutting board

1 knife

1 meat thermometer

Preheat the oven to 350F.  In the casserole dish, drizzle 1-1 1/2 tsps. of the olive oil, swirling around to coat the bottom of the dish.  Place your frozen chicken on the bottom of the dish.  Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the chicken.  Sprinkle the salt, black pepper, and rosemary over the chicken; feel free to be generous with your spices, particularly the rosemary.  Next, place one slice of lemon over each tenderloin, or, if you’re using chicken breasts, place two lemon slices (or one very large lemon slice) over each breast.  Cover the dish with either a lid or tinfoil and place in the oven.  Cook the chicken for 60-75 minutes, until the meat thermometer reads at least 165F when inserted into the middle of the chicken.  If you’re using fresh chicken rather than frozen, your cooking time will be significantly less, more like 30 minutes than 60.  Still, the inside of the chicken should be at 165F before serving.

Serve the chicken with the side dish or salad of your choosing.  In the picture, the lemon rosemary chicken is being served with an adaptation of Joy the Baker’s delightful baked lemon risotto.  I told you, Lemon-palooza is ON.  Enjoy!

Blue Cheese and Scallion Mashed Potatoes

TGIF, am I right?!  Here in lovely eastern Washington, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful weekend, starting with a most excellent Friday afternoon.  One would do well to start the weekend off right with a fantastic dinner to serve as the metaphorical breakfast to the rest of the weekend.  Can you dig it?

What we’ll be making this evening is a delightful spin on the classic mashed potatoes and a great side dish with fish (I like to serve it with salmon) or a good steak.  With the bright color and texture contributed by the bits of deep red potato skins and vivid green scallions, you’ll be sure to impress your bonafide suitor (please forgive my 1930s jargon; I’m watching O Brother, Where Art Thou? while I cook) and assorted guests with this snazzy side.  Again, I’ve portioned this recipe to serve two (or a very hungry one), but it can be easily multiplied to serve more as you see fit.

Blue Cheese and Scallion Mashed Potatoes

Serves 2 (or 1 generously)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. red potatoes (about 2 small potatoes), unpeeled

1 large or medium scallions (green onions), cut into 1/2-inch wide slices

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/4 cup milk

pinch of salt (optional)

Equipment:

1 small pot

1 small mixing bowl

1 fork

1 cutting board

1 knife

Leaving them unpeeled, cut the potatoes into 1-inch cubes.  Add the potato cubes to the small pot, filling the pot with water until all of the potatoes are well-submerged (the pot should be 1/2 – 3/4 of the way full).  Set the pot on the stove over medium-high heat.  Allow the water to come to a boil.  Maintain the boil for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and can be easily broken up with a fork.

Once the potatoes are tender, remove the pot from the stove and drain the water out into into the sink.  Next, pour the tender potato cubes into the small mixing bowl.  With the fork, mash the potatoes until they are well broken up.  Add the milk and mix thoroughly into the potatoes.  Finally, add the blue cheese and sliced scallions and mix into the potatoes.  If you wish, add a pinch of salt, though the scallions and blue cheese will provide plenty of flavor on their own.

Serve with the entree of your choice.  Enjoy!