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

Smoky Sweet Potato Hummus

Hummus is a staple in our house. We eat it mainly with carrots and mushrooms and bell peppers, but it's also a great spread for a quick open-faced sandwich or as a dip on a mediterranean platter (one of our favorite meals). I always try to have a fresh batch in the fridge, which helps keeps us away from the less healthy snacks. Sometimes, not always. Currently I'm addicted to those little crunchy Asian puffed rice snacks. It's bad! But then again, we don't have any hummus in the fridge, so there you go... 

As good as plain, traditional hummus is (just chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and maybe tahini), I like to mix things up a bit every now and then. This version has the awesome combo of sweet potatoes and smoked paprika. Yum! I hope you give it a try :)

And next time you hear from us we'll be in SPAIN! 


// Smoky Sweet Potato Hummus // makes about 3 cups
I like to make my hummus from dried chickpeas, but canned would work well here too. I have two tricks for making really smooth hummus from dried beans: 1. Use chickpeas just after cooking them. When the chickpeas are hot,  they blend up into a creamier hummus 2. Use some of the cooking liquid to thin out the hummus. This adds more flavor than plain water

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked until tender (about 15 minutes) - save the cooking liquid!
1 pound sweet potatoes, baked at 350° for 1 hour or until easily pierced with a knife
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup cooking water from chickpeas or plain water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch cayenne

1.   Place all ingredients in a food processor or high speed blender and blend until very smooth, about 5-7 minutes. Scrape down sides as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference. Let cool, then store in fridge in an airtight container


Lemony Quinoa Dolmas

I looove dolmas. They're my go-to snack when I'm out grocery-shopping or running errands and need a snack stat. I get hangry pretty quick.... They're also great on mediterranean platters, which Noah and I have at least once a month - olives, sliced bell peppers, hummus, cucumbers, crackers, cheese, dolmas, etc... In fact, we ate our last dolmas on a plate such as this while watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday. Definitely not your typical Super Bowl fare! 

I've made dolmas from scratch a couple of times before, and while they're a bit time consuming, the pay off is huge. The store bought kind are good, but can be somewhat mushy on the inside, you know what I mean? Homemade dolmas retain their texture and flavor and are much cheaper than buying them pre-made. Plus, they store really well in the fridge so big batches go a long way. 

I made these dolmas with somewhat unconventional ingredients. Traditional dolmas are basically rice, onion, garlic, lemon, and maybe dried fruit or even meat. I used quinoa (rice could be substituted), lots of parsley, mint, lemon, and almonds. The insides are totally adjustable to your liking, but the outside grape leaf is what really makes the dolma. I made the mistake of not reading the instructions on the grape leaf jar (rookie move) and just used them straight from their soaking juices. Apparently you're supposed to rinse them first and them steam the leaves to make them more tender... Next time :)  


// Lemony Quinoa Dolmas // Makes a lot... Maybe about  5-6 dozen?
These dolmas are time consuming, so only attempt them if you have a few hours to spare. But, once they're made you have a  delicious, healthy snack ready to go. I used quinoa here, but you can also use brown rice or other whole grain if you prefer. Also adjust the seasonings and flavors to your liking. I think next time I'd add chopped raisins or currents for a touch of sweetness or maybe some crumbled feta

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
2 cups water

2 lemons, zested
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup packed parsley, chopped
1/4 cup packed mint, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoons salt
Pinch of cayenne
1 jar of grape leaves
Olive oil for storing in fridge
Sea salt

1. Place the quinoa and water in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil, then turn heat down to low. Cover and let cook for 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let cool

2. In a large bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, mint, almonds, olive oil, garlic, salt, and cayenne. Stir well then add cooled quinoa. Toss to combine and adjust seasonings as needed

3. Remove grape leaves from jar and rinse under cool water, separate each leaf as much as possible. Place leaves in a steamer and steam for 3-5 minutes. Depending on how many leaves you have, you may need to do this in batches to make sure all leaves get steamed evenly. Remove leaves from steamer and let cool on a clean towel

4. To make the dolmas, lay out a few grape leaves on a clean, flat surface. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon into the middle of each leaf. Fold in the sides of the leaf over the filling, then roll them up from bottom to top. This is probably going take practice, so don't get discouraged when your first few don't turn out ;) 

5. Place finished dolmas in a glass baking dish or storage container. When all dolmas are made, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt to help them soften and marinade. Store in fridge


2016-0126 - Dolmas_0267.jpg

Sweet Potato + Chicken Hand Pies

My mini-vacation is over. I started a new job this week and I love it. The people, the work, the company - all amazing. I've only had three (long) days of training, but I'm already excited about diving in and learning and more. The company is Omada Health and it's based out of San Francisco. Omada is a startup healthcare-tech business who's mission is to help people lower their risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes through technology and digital health coaching. I will be one of their Health Coaches in Seattle and my job is to provide support, motivation, and education for our participants. From what I have seen, I think it will be a very rewarding and engaging experience. I can't wait to get started!    

Of course, I'll still have plenty of time to cook, especially since I will be working from home. My breaks from the computer will probably be spent washing dishes, stirring a pot, or rotating something in the oven. I still have so many recipes that I want to try and others that I need to perfect. This recipe was one that I made out in Sequim. The crust is buttery, flaky, and crisp and the filling is a perfect combination of sweet and savory. I absolutely love sweet potatoes. We usually make them into sweet potato fries on burger nights, but this may be a new favorite... I highly recommend you eat at least one hand pie straight from the oven (maybe let it cool a bit) because that's when they are the best.   


// Sweet Potato + Chicken Hand Pies // makes about 18-24
The number of hand pies this recipe makes really depends on how big you make the circles. I used a 3 1/2 inch cutter for mine, but you can use larger or smaller (I wouldn't go too small, though because then they'd be a pain to seal). This may also mean that you might end up with extra dough. If that's the case, you can freeze it for another time, use it as a crust for a mini-quiche, or bake it with some toppings for a rustic galette.   

For the filling:
1 lb sweet potatoes or yams
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb chicken breast
1 tablespoon butter
1 large leek, ends trimmed and cut into small slices (I cut mine in half lengthwise twice)
Salt and pepper

for the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
10 tablespoons butter, preferably frozen
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sour cream
7-8 tablespoons ice water, more if needed

2 eggs, beaten
Brown sugar

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Wrap sweet potatoes together in tin foil and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife. Remove from oven and let cool

2. In an oven-safe frying pan or skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Place chicken breast in the pan and generously sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken for about 7-8 minutes or until the underside is golden, but not crispy. Flip and cook for another 7-8 minutes. When both sides are golden, cover and place skillet in oven for 10-15 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160°.

3. For the leeks, heat the butter in another skillet (or you can use the chicken pan if it's out of the oven already. No need to wash it). Add the leeks with a little bit of salt and pepper and cook until leeks are very soft and a bit caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and scrape into a large bowl. 

4. Remove the sweet potatoes from their skins and add to the bowl. Shred the chicken with two forks and add to the bowl. Mix the sweet potato mixture well and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool. 

5. To make the crust, combine the flours, thyme, and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Either grate the butter into the flour mixture, taking care to keep it as cold as possible, or cut the butter into large chunks and work it into the flour with your fingers or pastry cutter. The butter should end up being about "pea" size. At this point I usually put it back in the fridge or freezer for 10 minutes to make sure the butter stays cold, but that's up to you.

6. Mix together the sour cream with 7 tablespoons of ice water. Slowly dribble the ice water mixture into the flour and stir with a fork until the dough looks ragged, but feels like it will come together. If it seems too dry, add a bit more ice water. Gently knead the dough until it forms a cohesive mass, folding it over on itself a couple of times to get layers of butter that later mean a nice flaky pastry. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes

7. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut dough into 3 portions and roll out one portion on a lightly floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick (keep remaining dough in fridge). Cut out circles and wrap unused dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge. Transfer circles to a baking sheet and brush tops with egg. Add the sweet potato filling, the amount will depend on how big your circles are, but it'll probably be 1-3 big tablespoons. Fold one side of the circle over the filling to meet the other edge of the circle. Seal with the prongs of a fork. Place in fridge if there's room - this helps prevent a tough pastry. Continue rolling out dough and making the hand pies until you run out of filling. 

8. When all the hand pies are made, brush tops with egg and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 350° for 25-27 minutes.