Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Walnut Shortbread

I have a great fondness for shortbread. I don't think I'd tasted anything close to real shortbread until I was in the 5th grade. Before that, about all I'd had were those tinned Danish butter cookies at post-church coffee hours and the Girl Scout Trefoil cookies I sold as a Brownie. That all changed once I recieved the topic allotted to me for my 5th grade pioneer day: food. Tasked with recreating some tastes of the history of American pioneer fare, I thought of the descriptions of food in A Little House on the Prairie, one of my favorite elementary school reads. We somehow extrapolated one of their recipes for shortbread - you know, the special treat in Mary and Laura's Christmas stockings? It may have been thanks to some behind-the-scenes parental digging getting our hands on a copy of The Little House on the Prairie Cookbook - but who knows? I was probably too busy licking the batter of my fingers to notice. Once the first taste of homemade shortbread melted on my tongue, I suddenly realized just how much I'd been missing with those tinned and boxed cookies. A nice little lesson in appreciating that even if the pioneers didn't have the marvels of modern technology and society, they had daggone delicious eats! Most of my classmates if I recall correctly, agreed with me. There certainly wasn't anything left to bring home. Though I have yet to get my hands on that recipe again (a task I am working on I assure you), I saw a delicious and slightly similar-sounding shortbread recipe in this month's MSL magazine. I tweaked it a bit to make it a bit more nutritious but it was certainly still absolutely melt-on-your-tongue tasty shortbread.

Walnut Shortbread
adapted from MSL March 2010
1/4 c walnuts toasted and chopped
1 c whole wheat pastry flour (the original used white flour)
1/2 c Sucanat or brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick of butter
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 F. Process walnuts in a food processor until ground fine. Add to a bowl with the flour and salt.
In a separate bowl or stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar and vanilla. Slowly add in flour mixture until just combined.
Press down into a 8" cake pan (a sheet of cellophane will be handy here to keep it from sticking to you), and cut the dough into 8 slices. Prick slices with fork a few times (I found concentric circles around the pan are rather pretty).
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the shortbread is golden brown and the middle is solid.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pleasant Eats PSA

If you haven't noticed already, check out the newly added recipe page! After 2 1/2 years (can you believe it!?!?) of delicious recipes, they are finally indexed for your browsing convenience. Enjoy!

Wheatberry Salad with Dates, Celery and Walnut

Wheat berries and the idea of the freedom of adulthood go hand and hand to me. Growing up, I went to church more or less every Sunday and I will confess, sometimes I went rather grudgingly. I would look with longing at the leisurely brunchers at Bread and Chocolate as we sped by on our way to church, wistfully hoping for the day when I was a grown up and could spend Sunday mornings as leisurely as I liked and over brunches if I so chose. Every great once and a while, I could convince my parents to stop for brunch on the way home from church. While the challah french toast at Bread and Chocolate was divine, they served a wheat berry salad - sweet, nutty, acerbic and delicious that somehow tasted like those grown-up dreams of mine. It was the first place I'd ever tasted wheat berries and it's still my favorite way to prepare them. Though Bread and Chocolate isn't there anymore, my memory of that wheat berry salad and all the promise it represented is still quite vivid. And this adaptation of Martha Stewart's version comes quite close to recreating that salad. To have as I choose on Sunday mornings or otherwise, of course ;)

Wheat Berry Salad
adapted from MSL March 2010

1 c wheat berries (soaked overnight or at least 4 hours, drained)
2 celery stalks, chopped
3/4 c pitted, chopped dates
zest of 1 orange
juice of 1 orange
2 tbs walnut oil
3 tbs sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Place wheat berries in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 35 minutes. Drain.
While cooking, prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together orange zest and juice, walnut oil and sherry vinegar.
Once the wheat berries are done, in a bowl, combine wheat berries, walnuts, celery, dates and vinaigrette (give it a good whisk before you pour it in, making sure it emulsifies). Mix together and enjoy!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Roasted Carrots with Feta and Parsley

It's hard not to be a little disenchanted with root vegetables as the end of winter. This time of year, when the promise of fresh spring veggies is so close, yet you are still cycling through the same root vegetables that have been available for most of the season. Another root vegetable? Siiiigh. However, this month's MSL had a nice little pick-me-up for one ubiquitous root vegetable - the carrot. Roasted to a delicious intensity of flavor and lighted with feta cheese and parsley, this is a fabulous way to pep up veggies when you're pooped out of the same-old-same-old winter veggie selection.

Roasted Carrots with Feta and Parsley
adapted from MSL March 2010

1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled, sliced on the bias about 1" thick
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 feta cheese
1-2 Tbs chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line jelly roll pan with aluminum foil. Place carrots on sheet, drizzle with the olive oil and turn to coat. Roast carrots for 20-25 minutes until browned and tender. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste while warm. Once cooled, mix together in bowl with feta and parsley.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

(slightly) healthier chocolate chip cookies

Today kicks of the season of Lent for most Catholic and Protestant Christians, and whether you subscribe to those faiths or not, this time of year seems to be one of reflection and renewal. For some it may be a time of devotions, others perhaps closet reorganizing, starting at that long list of spring cleaning to-dos, garden planning and other outdoor chores and pursuits. It tends to be a time of introspection for me, a time to get back to the heart of what's really important to me and cut back on all that other extraneous stuff that get's in the way.

It's also a time of year I seem to naturally want to eat more nourishing things. With spring just around the corner, the first veggies and other sweet tastes of that so-close-I-can-almost-taste-it-season will soon be upon us. That said, we're not out of this winter buisiness just yet. And sometimes, especially at the end of a long and tiring day, I still want a cookie. A really tasty cookie. But perhaps a more nourishing cookie than most. Enter Myra Kornfled and her Healthy Hedonist. Her chocolate chip cookie recipe sounded like a great place to start for something nourishing with whole grains and unrefined sugars, but was still satisfactorily indulgent.

Slightly Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfled

1/2 softened unsalted butter
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c sucanat or maple syrup
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour (whole wheat flour works too, just a slightly denser with a more earthy flavor)
1/2 tsp
1/4 kosher salt
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.
Using a mixer or wooden spoon and strong wrist, cream together butter, sugar and sucanat/syrup until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla until smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix the flower, baking soda and salt together. Slowly mix in the dry mixture into the butter mixture about 1/3 at a time until just combined (always best not to overmix cookies!). Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop walnut-sized cookies onto the prepared sheets 2" apart. Squash them flatish (but not too thin) with the palm of your hand or a glass or jar. Bake for 10-12 minutes for a cakey cookie and 15 for a crispy cookie.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakelettes

I was a stranger to sticky toffee pudding until a visit to the UK for the holidays nearly a decade ago. I was in Bath, strolling the streets living out Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in my mind to my whimsical hearts' content. We stopped for dinner someplace the clerk at our hotel had recommended. It had columns out front - although in Bath, this really isn't much of a distinguishing characteristic. I'm sure dinner was lovely, but any memory of it was swiftly drop-kicked out of my mind by my first taste of sticky toffee pudding. Something I grieved over not having been in my life before then. Cakey, sticky toffee caramel sauce, whipped cream... nothing else I'd ever had before quite compared. It was almost my first traditional British 'pudding' expanding my global culinary experiences.

My whole family was smitten, and have since tried to replicate that decadence without great success. Though not quite the same as the original (can anything ever truly be?) this is one of my favorite approximations, and also comes quite close to the tasty way they make it a few blocks over at Commonwealth gastro pub. Also a plus for this version, it makes four individual servings as opposed to an entire bunt cake if you're cooking for a smaller crowd.

Sticky Toffee Cakelets

adapted from

Makes 4 single-serving cakes

For the cakes:

3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pitted finely chopped dates

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons packed brown sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the sauce:

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1/3 cup evaporated milk or heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350° F. Use nonstick spray to coat custard cup or ramekin. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to blend. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the apricots and dates. Pour enough boiling water over the fruit to cover. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Slowly add the dry ingredients. Drain the fruit and gently fold it into the mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed up high and a cake tested inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. The cakes will fall like a soufflĂ© when removed from oven. Allow cakes to cool slightly before turning out of their ramekins. Prepare the sauce:Combine sugar, butter, evaporated milk, and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir until butter is completely melted and the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, until the sauce darkens to a deep brown color. To serve, drizzle the warm sauce over the cakes, allowing the some sauced to pool in the center where the cakes have fallen, or under the cake to let it soak up from the bottom.

Bread and Blizzards or a Post in Pictures

In case you've been wondering what was up with all the posts lately, allow me to explain:

We've been getting just a wee bit of snow here. Here, Mr. Pleasant and I dug out to check out the nieghborhood on Sat. as the "snowpocolypse" was winding down. Wow! What a storm! Haven't seen this much snow in DC EVER! A bone-a-fied BLIZZARD!

Oh, ho! but WAIT! There's more!! "Snowverkill" was winding up...and this morning the view out a kitchen window looked like this:

and by noon, it looked like this:

Just to clarify, yes kids, the window is more than halfway blocked by snow and it ain't slowing down anytime real soon...

...and yes, your eyes to not decieve you, there is a rubber chicken hanging out on our windowsill. One of those ridiculous family traditions that is ridiculous and funny to no one but us...but doesn't it just make you chuckle anyways? Blizzard? Rubber chicken? Ha? No? Okay, moving on...

So what's a girl to do when snowed in? Why, bake bread of course! I started with a pumpernickle to go with some delicious lentil soup...

followed by some amazing cinnamon raisin bread...

and even turned out some homemade pita and hummus. A nice little taste of warmer mediterranian climes when it's feeling a lot like Antartctica here.

I'll post more about that pita soon - right after I have some chili and some of Millie's delicious cornbread.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Another addition to the collection of delicious, homemade versions of storebought pantry sweets. I had wanted to try Tricia's delicious-looking take, but didn't have any shortening on hand. Luckily, I did have the evaporated milk this recipe called for, so I was in business. These and a tall glass of cold milk? Belly-rubbin'-heaven.

1 c granulated sugar
2 1/2 c all purp. flour
1/2 c dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 c (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chopped into in cubes
2 egg yolks
2 tsp bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips or chunks, melted and cooled (Although still liquid)
2 Tbs water
1 c confectioners sugar
1 Tbs corn syrup
1 1/2 Tbs evaporated milk
Process sugar for 30 seconds in food processor, then add the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa to combine. Can also do this in a regular bowl. Add butter and combine just until carse crumbs form. Blend in th egg yolks and vanilla. Scrape the melted chocolate into the batter an ix to combine. Add the water, 1 Tbs at a time until the dough comes together when squeezed in your hand. Note that he batter will be crumbly, but cohesive.
Preheat the oven to 400 F and grease 2 cookie sheets.
Gathere the dough together on top of a piece of parchement paper or wax apper with a scraper nearby. Divide teh dough in half and shape each piece into a flat square. Set one square aside and roll out the first square by covering it with a second sheet of parchemnt or wax paper and flattening itno a large rectangle about 13 x 15 inches and about 1/4 in thick.
Cut out as many cookies as you can using an inversted glass or cookie cutter. A scraper is a handy tool to get the dough off of your counter onto the cookie sheet.
Bake the first sheet 7-9 min or until edges are slightly dark. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 2 min. before transfering to a wire rack. Meanwhile, repeat the rolling and cutting with the remaining dough. If the dough gets too soft to work with, leave on parchemnt and chill for 20 min. in teh fridge or 5 min in the freezer. BAke cookies as above. Allow cookies to cool complteely or about 30 min.
To make the filling, combine the sugar, syrup and milk in a bowl untill they form a sticky mass. Spoon filling onto cookie with the flat side up or pipe through a pastry bag or ziplog bag with the corner nipped. Sandwich second cookie onto first. Each cookie combo should use about 1-2 tsp of filling. I found I needed to double the amount of filling to adequately fill all of the cookie combos. Allow to set for an hour to get ideal filling texture (if you're that patient - I wasn't).

Grahm Crackers for Seth

Nothing like a snowy weekend to hole-up in the kitchen and keep yourself warm by keeping delicious things on the stove and in the oven. In addition to some delicious homemade whole wheat bread, lentil soup and mayonaise (yes, that recipe will be coming to you soon), I got down to some baking. What kind of baking? Still in the I-can-make-it-better-than-store-bought frame of mind, I set out to tackle some pantry staples. Or perhaps, more accurately, pantry sweets. I first made the grahm crackers from this fabulous cookbook, but while I enjoyed them immensely they were very molassesy, which is not truly grahm-cracker like and Mr. Pleasant is not at all fond of strong molasses flavor. So, for my second attempt I turned here, which produced a fabulous traditional honey, cinnamony grahm cracker flavor but so, so much better than anything storebought. For a softer, flakier cracker, bake for only 10-15 minutes. For a nice crispy, bring-on-the-milk sort of cracker, bake for the full 25 minutes.

You can thank our family friend Seth and his visit from the Midwest for this prompt post. By his request, I've got on the ball and posted this sooner rather than later. Yes Seth, here's your shout-out. And the Grahm cracker recipe as promised.

Graham Crackers

adapted from

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen (or with a sturdy, sharp knife and loads of caution, cube frozen butter)

1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover

5 tablespoons whole milk (I found 2 additional Tbs. of milk were required, but this will depend on how dry the air is where you are - add any additional milk slowly and mix well, observing the consistency until it is sticky as described below)

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.
To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.
Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough. (If it is already cold in your kitchen, as it was in mine, I had no qualms about resting the baking sheet full of cut grahm crackers on the cold tile floor to "chill". I confess to not letting them chill the full 30 min -just as long as it took me to cut the second batch of crackers and I was happy with the results).

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line. Alternatively, cut the crackers out into rectangles (I found our ravioli cutter to be quite perfect for this) once rolled, poke with a fork as desired and sprinkle on sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Or, for the softer, flakier crackers, 10-15 minutes.

Yield: 10 large crackers or about 2 dozen smaller rectangles.

From Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000)