Walnut Anise Biscotti

Truthfully, I'm not much of a cookie person (Gasp!). I'd much rather have bowl of ice cream or a slice of pie if I'm going to indulge in a sweet, but biscotti have a special place in my heart for two reasons:

1. Growing up I would make biscotti for my dad because he IS a cookie person. He likes the whole gamut - chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, snickerdoodles, molasses, etc... etc... and of course biscotti. The first time I made them for him, though, I don't think he really understand what I was saying. Bis-cot-ti. In his snow and mountain driven mind they were Big Skis, both in shape and in name. So now biscotti will always remind me of my dad and his love for cookies and skiing.

2. They're Italian and everything from Italy tastes good. Right? Pasta, espresso, gelato, pizza, affogato, mozzarella, wine,  I could go on and on. I have yet to make my way across the Italian border, but when I do, I will most definitely be eating some Italian biscotti (among many other delicious things...). Italy is very, very high in my 'top places to go' list

Despite not being 'cookie person', these biscotti were gone in about three days. With the help of Noah, of course, who is a 'cookie person', like my dad. They're just the right blend between crisp and crunchy, but not so crumbly that they dolefully fall apart after dunking a hot cup of tea or coffee (big pet peeve). I learned a nifty trick from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book to process the sugar and eggs in a food processor before mixing in the flour so that air gets incorporated into the dough. This makes the biscotti light and airy rather than dense and tooth-shattering. Big win. Even if cookies aren't your favorite treat, I highly recommend giving these a try. You'll thank me later :)  

// Walnut Anise Biscotti // makes about 20 cookies
This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite baking guides - Cook's Illustrated Baking Book. The reason I like this book (and their other books) so much is because they go into why a recipe works, not just how to a recipe is put together. For these light and crunchy biscotti, the secret is to process the eggs and sugar in the food processor so that air is incorporated into the dough. Without this air, the cookies would be much more dense and heavy. If you don't have a food processor, you could try beating the eggs and sugar with a handheld mixer.
1 1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cane sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons anise powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners sugar
2-3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325° and adjust rack to the middle of oven. Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper

2. Pulse 1 cup of walnuts in a food processor until coarsely ground, about 8-10 pulses. Remove walnuts from food processor and set aside in a bowl until needed. Process remaining 1/4 cup of walnuts until finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flours, baking soda, and salt. Process until well mixed. Transfer flour mixture to another bowl and set aside

3. Add 2 eggs to empty food processor and process until light in color, about 3 minutes. While motor is running, slowly add maple syrup and sugar. Process for a few seconds then add melted butter, anise, and vanilla. Process until well combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer egg mixture to a medium bowl. Add half of the flour mixture to the eggs and gently fold it in. Repeat for second half of flour, being careful to not over mix. Fold in roughly chopped walnuts

4. Divide dough in half and gently form each piece into a 6-8 x 3 inch rectangle. Smooth down the tops and sides as best you can then brush tops with egg white. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until loaves are golden brown and just beginning to crack on top. Remove loaves from oven and let cool on sheet for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, use a serrated knife to cut loaves into 1/2-inch slices. Place slices on a wire rack, cut-side down, and bake for another 30-35 minutes, flipping slices halfway through. Let cool completely

5. To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners sugar and orange juice in a small bowl. Glaze biscotti after they're cool and garnish with orange zest if desired. 

Enchanted Valley + Trail Cookies

I'm writing this as I sit on the front porch of my childhood home in Vermont, savoring a cup of hot tea with milk and honey and trying to fight the urge to nap instead of write. In front of me, across the gravel road, is a sunny, green cow pasture dotted with blooming wildflowers. The cows just went in for milking and we (my dad, Noah, and I) just got back from a quick mountain bike ride on the single track crisscossing the woods in back of our house. Life is good. Coming back home is always good. A respite from the go, go, go of city life in Seattle. 

But this post isn't about Vermont, it's about our recent trip into the Olympic National Park to the Enchanted Valley. There is something so deeply satisfying about heading off into the woods with everything you need (hopefully...) strapped to your back. This was actually my first backpacking trip ever and I'm kind of embarrassed to say that. I've done plenty of hiking and car camping, but for some reason have never actually gone on an overnight backpacking trip. What was I thinking! Backpacking is awesome and now I'm hooked.

The trail that we chose for my first hike was a pretty easy one. Mostly flat, well-traveled, and easily done in 4 days. We had heard that the Enchanted Valley was, well, enchanting, and definitely a highlight of the Olympic Peninsula, so we decided to give it a try for Noah's birthday weekend. My plan was to make some trail bars for the hike, but two days before we were supposed to leave I got a nasty 24 hour bug and spent the next few days recovering. Needless to say, the trail bars didn't happen, but the following recipe for trail cookies will be on the snack list for next time.

I'm not going to narrate every step of our trip because that would make this a long and boring post, but here are the the highlights that we will remember:

- The gravel road. At the beginning and end of our trip we had to hike along a two mile stretch of gravel road to Grave's Creek Campground where the trailhead to the Enchanted Valley started. Winter storms had washed out a section of the road, making impassable by car. It was fine at the beginning, we had fresh legs. But on the last day those two miles were torture. We were exhausted from the 15 miles we had just hiked out from the valley and my footwear wasn't the best so my feet were on fire with blisters. Noah and I didn't talk for those two miles. The rest of the trip was great, though!

- Our first night was spent at Pyrites campsite after hiking in for about 13 miles. We were definitely glad that we stopped here instead of continuing on to the Valley because those last four miles on the second day were the prettiest and we wanted to see it in the morning light

- The forest! We weren't strangers to the Olympic Peninsula or National Park, but every time we go we're reminded of how beautiful it is. The old growth trees - firs, cedars, and hemlocks - are draped with lichen and the forest is intersperested with light-filled meadows and crystal clear streams. Berries are everywhere - blackberries, thimbleberries, huckleberries, blueberries... Enchanting indeed. The only drawback was that we didn't see any black bears. Almost every other hiker we talked to did :( 

- The blowdowns. Holy moly the blowdowns! At one point in the hike we came to the river and it looked like a massive giant had stormed through the valley. Huge trees were blown down in every direction over and in the river and the trail turned into an obstacle course. Thankfully, we weren't the first ones hiking in since the winter storms, so a nice path through and over the trees had already been established

- When we made it to the Valley and chalet on the second day, we opted to camp down by the river rather than up in the main campsite by the tree line. Our campsite was well equipped with a clothes line (noah carved some clothespins), a table made out of sun bleached wood from the riverbed and a tree stump for a base, and a some log benches next to the fire. It was a perfect setup and the privacy was great

- That first night in the Valley, right after collecting firewood, we were hit by a heavy downpour. We were just able to string up the tent footprint over the log benches as a tarp roof before the worst of the rain hit. We stayed mostly dry :) Thankfully we had started a fire before going to get firewood, so we had hot coals to work with when the rain came

- Showering under waterfalls = best showers ever. It was a bit of a trek to get to the thinly cascading waterfall on the other side of the Valley, but so worth the effort after a day of hiking and sweating profusely

- On our way out on the last day, we hiked most of the trail with a ranger who entertained us with stories of his time with the Park Service and Navy. When we were passing through the blowdown section, his radio chatter started going and we heard that someone in the trail crew working with chainsaws had been 'tagged'. We couldn't figure out what had happened until we rounded a bend and saw a section of the path blocked off. Apparently one of them had disturbed a hornet's nest and was stung multiple times. Yikes!

It was a short trip, but definitely a good one. I can't wait to set out and explore more trails and forests by foot with everything that we need strapped to our back. Including these trail cookies (recipe below)

// Trail Cookies // Makes 12 cookies
These cookies are everything a trail cookie should be: salty, sweet, not crumbly, covered in chocolate, and easily eaten by hand. Unfortunately these ones didn't make it on our hike to the Enchanted Valley because I came down with a nasty 24-hour bug two days before we left, but they will definitely be in our packs for the next trip. Or maybe before that... 

Dry ingredients
1 3/4 cups spelt flour
2/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup peanuts
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger

Wet ingredients
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In medium bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well

2. In large bowl, stir together the ground flax seed and water and let sit five minutes. Add the remaining wet ingredients to the flax seeds and mix until well combined. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until a dough has formed

3. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup of dough onto the parchment paper about 1 inch apart (they won't spread much while baking). Flatten cookies into a round, disk shape. Bake cookies for 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack

Pumpkin Pie Spice Ice Cream

Pumpkin season is not over yet! I do realize that we posted pumpkin pie, then stuffed squash (kind of like pumpkin), and now pumpkin ice cream all in a row. But... I really like pumpkin and pumpkin pie flavored things. Especially ice cream. And lattes. Have you ever had pumpkin pie spice ice cream? I highly recommend it! This recipe doesn't actually have pumpkin in it (although I'm sure that would be delicious) but it has everything else a pumpkin pie filling needs: cream, eggs, milk, lots of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger... All freshly ground and steeped for at least 20 minutes. It's like eating a frozen pumpkin spice chai latte. Two of my favorite things! 

We made this ice cream on our trip to Sequim last month. But after we froze it we realized that we couldn't bring it home because it's a two hour trip back to Seattle including the ferry ride. So... we ate the whole batch in two days. Just kidding, we didn't really. But we made a pretty good dent in it! Next time we're in Sequim - hopefully around New Year's - we have dessert ready for us :)  ' 

// Pumpkin Pie Spice Ice Cream // makes about 2 pints
We made this ice cream with freshly ground spices and I highly recommend you do that too because they are so much better and more fragrant than pre-ground spices. It makes your whole kitchen smell like fall :) If you don't have a grinder your can use some elbow grease and pound the spices in a mortar and pestle until coarse. If that still doesn't sound like your thing you could use ground spices instead and reduce the amounts by half. I would still put them in some cheesecloth though. 

2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 nutmeg, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons loose black tea

2 large egg yolks
1 pint heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 inch knob ginger, sliced thin

1. In a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder, grind the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and peppercorns until coarse. Spoon the spices plus the black tea into small cloth spice bags or tie up in fine mesh cheesecloth

2. In the top bowl of a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks until they are smooth. Heat the yolks over medium heat, whisking frequently, until they start to thicken and turn a deeper yellow - about 5 minutes. This can happen really quickly, so be watchful! Slowly add the heavy cream and milk and whisk until the yolks are fully incorporated. Add the sugars and continue to cook until sugar is completely melted. Stir in vanilla, ginger, and spice bags. Remove ice cream base from double boiler and let stand for 20 minutes.

3. After 30 minutes, remove ginger and spice bags (or strain in fine mesh strainer) and transfer ice cream base to fridge.  Let cool completely

4. Pour base into ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions

Salted Chocolate Fudge

Deeply chocolately with a zing salt, this fudge is ridiculously good. So good that it won Honorable Mention in a recent recipe contest. I actually developed the recipe by accident. I was attempting to make a chocolate pot de creme, but when the chocolate cooled, it hardened more than anticipated and become a decadent chocolate fudge instead. No complaints there. Noah, unfortunately (fortunately?) wasn't able to help me polish these off. You see, he hasn't eaten chocolate for almost 20 years. One day when he was 13 or 14 he decided that he was simply going to give up chocolate (!). I have no idea how he 1. has made it that long and 2. didn't sneak a bite while taking these scrumptious pictures. Or maybe he did... I don't know, I wasn't home... Anyway this fudge is good. I savored it as an after lunch treat almost every day at work until it was gone and I'm contemplating making more. Last time I did a touch of cayenne powder, but it would also be good with other spices like cinnamon, chipotle, or ginger. What's your favorite chocolate pairing?     

// Salted Chocolate Fudge // makes enough for 1-20 depending on your affinity for chocolate
I like my chocolate dark, as in 70, 80, or 90% cacao, so this fudge is not for the milk-chocolate lovers. You can try using a lower cacao chocolate (such as 60%) if you want a milder fudge or add another tablespoon or two of sugar to balance out the bitterness. You can also play with some add-ins such as nuts, seeds, spices, etc... to get unique flavor combos. Or not... it's pretty darn good as it is.   

10 ounces 70% chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup half and half or non-dairy creamer
1-2 tablespoons cane sugar, depending on how sweet you want it
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon or less cayenne pepper or other spice for flavoring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder for dusting, optional

1. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate over medium heat

2. While the chocolate is melting, pulse the cashews in a food processor or high speed blender until mostly smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Let sit until chocolate is ready 

3. When the chocolate is melted, add the coconut oil and whisk until fully incorporated. Whisk in the half and half (or non-dairy creamer), vanilla extract, cane sugar, salt, and cayenne or other spice. Let cook for another 1-2 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.

4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the food processor or high speed blender with the cashews. Process until very smooth, about 4-5 minutes. 

5. Optional: strain the chocolate through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl, stirring continuously to speed up the process. This will result in a smoother fudge

6. Pour the chocolate into ramekins, porcelain cups, or a glass bread loaf pan. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 4 hours. 

7. When chocolate has set, loosen the edges of the chocolate by running a butter knife along the edges. Invert the ramekins or baking dish to dislodge the fudge. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces and dust with cocoa powder