Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What's for Dinner?

Today I'm doing things a bit backwards, so I'm going to tell you what I'll be making and post pictures later on. This works well because 1. Anticipation is half the excitement, 2. I have part of dinner started and have to wait to move on some of it, and 3. Kate is asleep.

A while ago, I made gnocchi with tomato cream sauce, and I'm making it again tonight. I haven't made it since July, and I still have some tomatoes left in the garden. It was so good, and my husband will be crushed when he sees what we're eating without him (he'll be out with his cycling friends tonight for an end-of-the-season ride and meal that won't include anything this delicious). Also, I stated in my previous entry that it's difficult to have an appetizing picture of pink or cream colored food, but I want to try again. I'll let you know if I succeed.

To go with it, I'm having some seasoned chicken breasts. I've seen the sous-vide method talked about nonstop on Top Chef and The Next Iron Chef, so I'm anxious to see if I can pseudo-recreate it in my kitchen. On a very cave-man like level, of course, since my gadgets are limited to the standard food lover's kitchen. Basically, you place vacuum-packed ingredients in a low-temperature water bath with circulating water and cook it for a long time. You can read more about it on the Wikipedia site. I'll be circulating my water by hand, on occasion, and keeping the temperature right around 165° - 170°, much higher than sous-vide methods, really, but since I'm not an expert I'm erring on the side of safety. And we'll see how long we let it cook. My guess is my cross-over method will end up closer to a poached chicken than anything else amazing. But maybe a perfectly poached chicken.

Also, I'm trying a new recipe from Epicurious. It's called brussel sprout hash or something, and I'm making that because my husband isn't here tonight and doesn't like the sprouts, but I do, and I am so excited about this dish I'm jumping out of my skin. I can't wait to tell you how it all turns out. Check back....

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Last night I was looking for a quick but interesting dinner. It was a bit blustery outside, and I settled on carrot soup and panini. I haven't really made panini before, but our sandwiches were full of flavor and very filling, and I remembered at almost the last moment that I should take a quick picture. Thus the blurry bite to the left.

Carrot soup, if you haven't made it, is very smooth and rich, even though I don't add any cream, and I didn't want too much food to serve with it, but just bread didn't sound quite filling enough, especially since I questioned who would finish their soup. It turns out Mark, Kate, and I finished our soup. Actually, Kate ate all but two bites of Emily's (the first two), and David didn't even try it. Oh, well.

The panini was splendid, and very easy, as all sandwiches are. All the work was in going to the grocery store. This is how I layered them:

slice of rosemary olive oil bread (or something equally nice)
slice prosciutto
slice rosemary sundried tomato ham (or just a really good ham, but nothing sweet)
Comté (any Gruyère will do)
thinly sliced tomatoes
salt, pepper
baby arugula leaves
slice of bread

Just lightly butter the outsides of the bread and grill it one of three ways: panini press (I don't have one of these), on a griddle covered with foil and two baking tiles or stones (my first method), or a George Foreman grill (our second method, which also works very well, though it doesn't really press the sandwich if you're looking for that kind of a result).

So, I'm curious. Have any of you made panini, and what do you put on it? How do you cook it?

Also, I'm headed out of town for a few days. Just me and little Kate (for a wedding), so unless I can convince Mark to write a post, you won't hear anything from me until the middle of next week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Morning Smoothie

I've considered writing this post for a long time - perhaps months - but thought the idea was so ridiculously simple that it wouldn't do. Today I changed my mind because, like every other morning, I realized I just couldn't live without my smoothie for breakfast. My husband favors steel-cut oats or homemade granola, my daughter would give up all other options for eggs, and my 3-year old son strongly prefers any breakfast cereal in a bag. But they will all have a bit of my smoothie if they're home when I make it.

I don't know how I reached this point, but my blueberry smoothie is now a necessity. I won't eat anything else. In the morning, my stomach is empty and fussy and doesn't like any heavy foods (though I can manage a waffle mid-morning) or too much milk. I'm also allergic to eggs (just straight-up...I know, what a pity!) and prefer cereal as a snack. Not to mention I'm a fruit nut.

Mark and I used to make different smoothies once in a while, but a couple of years ago I settled in on one irresistible recipe and almost never vary from it. It's fruity and creamy and absolutely delicious. It's perfect for the morning, nutritious, and it keeps me going until lunch. Also, I have never lost weight on any diet when I have strayed from my smoothie. And now you, too, can have this breakfast every morning. But keep in mind, it's more addictive than any cup o' joe.

Blueberry Smoothie

1 c. frozen blueberries (fresh work, too, but you may need a touch of ice)
1/3 c. vanilla or plain low-fat yogurt (plain if you're dieting)
1/2 - 1 banana, if you have it around (this is totally optional)
about 2/3 c. orange juice
about 2/3 c. vanilla soy milk

Throw all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If it's too thick to blend, add about 1/4 c. more orange juice or soy milk or both. Serves 1 if it's your entire breakfast or 2 if it's not.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Spare Ribs

When I was young I lived on a farm. Because we were self-sufficient (at least in the food category), we ate a lot of meat. A lot of beef, a lot of pork, and a lot of chicken. We always enjoyed the spare ribs, but for some reason I haven't really had them in my adult life. Back ribs seem to be much more popular in the grocery aisle and at restaurants, so I was skeptical about trying to make them at home, wondering how they could be really good if everyone has turned to back ribs.

I started by learning the difference between the two: spare ribs have more meat on them, but the bone is larger, and back ribs are easier to cut apart. That doesn't sound like any big deal, of course, so I'm not sure what the big deal is. Maybe in the South spare ribs are still more popular.

In the past, I've used Alton Brown's recipe for making baby back ribs and really liked the method, but I wasn't crazy about the flavors, so Mark and I decided to shake it up a bit. (Of course it was a collaboration, since it involved a big piece of meat.) I really like the flavor of my brother Dan's dry spice rub (or my loose interpretation of it, based on what I had around the house), and I have some of that on hand still. But, since the weather is cooling, I couldn't really plan on grilling for several hours. The charcoal wouldn't have held its heat, and I didn't have that kind of time to devote to one thing. So I decided to combine a few ideas.

We rubbed the meat, let that soak in for an hour, then braised it in the oven, using Alton Brown's suggestions. Then we used the braising liquid as a base for a sauce to baste the ribs with while finishing them off on the grill. The rub had all the spice we used in the recipe and the sauce was a sweet and acidic balance to the spice, making the overall spice fairly mild (just tolerable for Emily). Additionally, the meat was really tender and easy to pull from the bone, while the flavor was nice and bold. I really liked doing it this way, though if it were just for adults, I'd throw more rub on in the beginning to make it spicier. Of course, this is all assuming you don't have a smoker.

We served it with potato salad and the corn salad recipe from the other day, sans the bleu cheese, which it didn't really need, since I wanted to make that one last time before fresh, local corn was gone for the summer. My potato salad is pretty simple: boil red potatoes, slice them, add cider vinegar, chill them, and add diced sweet onions, lots and lots of chopped pickles, a touch of pickle juice, chopped boiled eggs, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. It was a good potato salad. A good standard potato salad. Sometimes I like a more inventive one (with tarragon or Dijon or bacon or something), but sometimes the standard is good, too.

In case you might get to it, here is the recipe for the spare ribs. And if it's too cold to grill, you can finish them under the broiler, but watch them carefully and don't put them too close to the heating element.

Dan's Spice Rub
adapted from Dan Metcalf, or you can use his original recipe

3 T. brown sugar
1 1/2 T. Kosher salt
1 1/2 T. cumin
1 1/2 T. black peppercorns
1 T. dried, ground chili of choice (I used ancho or guajillo), or chili powder
1 dried guajillo chili, destemmed, torn (or 2 Anchos would be good here, too)

Throw all the ingredients in a blender and blend to a fine powder. Set aside.

Spare Ribs

extra-long heavy duty aluminum foil
Dan's Spice Rub
1 rack (4-5 lb.) spare ribs
Kosher salt
3/4 c. white wine
1 1/2 T. white wine vinegar
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. honey
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 t. yellow mustard
1 T. molasses
2 T. white wine vinegar
1/2 c. apple cider
brown sugar
dash or two of Worcestershire sauce

Lay out a long sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet. If it will not be wide enough to wrap around the ribs and roll together, place to sheets side-by-side and roll the ends together to make it fairly airtight. Set the rack of ribs on top of the foil.

Sprinkle both sides of the ribs with the spice rub and with a light, even dusting of Kosher salt, then rub it into the meat. Use a thin layer for mild to medium ribs, more as desired. Bring the foil together on top of the rack and fold together (as you do the top of a brown paper bag), leaving extra air above the meat for steaming, then roll up the ends. Let the meat set for an hour to absorb the rub.

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

In a bowl, combine the wine, 1 1/2 T. white wine vinegar, 1/4 c. honey, 2 T. Worcestershire, and garlic cloves. Microwave for one minute, then stir to blend well. Open up one end of the foil, pour the liquid in, and close the foil back up. Shake it gently to slosh it around inside, just to spread it a bit. Place the baking sheet with the ribs on it in the oven and bake for 2 1/2 hours.

Open up the foil end again and pour off the braising liquid into a small saucepan (it will have multiplied, since it has pork stock in it as well now). Return the ribs to the oven and let them continue to cook for about 20 minutes as you make the sauce. As you start on the sauce, light up the charcoal for your grill to get it ready (unless you're using gas).

Set the saucepan over medium to medium high heat and whisk in the mustard, molasses, vinegar, cider, Worcestershire, and about 1/2 c. of brown sugar and 1/4 c. honey to start. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to about 1 or 1 1/2 cups. Taste for flavor and adjust as necessary. It should be rich, sweet, slightly acidic, and little mustardy to balance out the spice in the rub.

After your grill is very hot, baste the ribs with the sauce and grill, turning a couple of times, applying a couple of layers of the sauce until it's all used up. Grill until the sauce has glazed well and the ribs have a nice sear on them, then cut and serve.

Now, isn't that inspiring?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


On occasion throughout the last 10 years, I've tried to make biscuits. I say "tried" because that's typically as far as I got. I didn't use Bisquick, and I didn't have self-rising flour (since I don't live in the that why they say the South will rise again?). I'm also not Southern, which my husband pointed out each time my biscuits came out nearly flat. But that wasn't a good enough excuse for me, especially since I lived in southern Indiana as a child, which almost counts.

One of the frustrating sections of biscuit instructions is always the part about mixing things together with your hands. No one ever really tells you how, and this is where it usually all goes wrong. At least for me. So when I made peach pie last time, in a vacation condo, and I had to use utensils and my fingers but still ended up with a lovely, flaky crust, I knew it was time to tackle the biscuits again.

Which I did. And I succeeded.

This time, my biscuits were tender, fluffy, and delicious. The trick was definitely mixing in the butter properly. I took what I've learned from pastry and applied it to this recipe: keep the butter chilled, don't work the flour into the fat (i.e., keep your layers separate), and don't worry about getting the crumbly appearance very uniform or small. Larger pieces of butter are fine, as long as they have been flattened between your fingers to a thin layer.

If you haven't done a lot of baking, or if you haven't made biscuits but like to eat them (for example, if your dad is making sausage and gravy), you should give these a go. They take no more than 10 minutes to throw together (about as long as your oven takes to preheat) and another 15 to bake. So simple, once you get the little technique down, the one that apparently all Southerners already know.

to view a printable version of this recipe, click here

Baking Powder Biscuits
makes about 8 three-inch biscuits

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 t. sugar
8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3/4 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, or just spray it with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and stir once or twice to coat, then mix the butter in. Begin by using a fork to cut most of the chunks up into smaller pieces, then, working quickly, use your fingers to smash and pinch the pieces of butter, working them just until they're all fairly flat. Stir in the milk with a fork or with your hands, until the dough is just consistent and manageable.

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface. Flatten into a disc, then dust the top with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until it is a generous 1/2" thick. Cut into round biscuits, using the size or shape you desire (I just use the top of a glass).

Place on the baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven, cool slightly, and remove to a cooling rack. Serve.

You thought I was done, because what else can you say about biscuits, right? How about sweet potato biscuits? They're a scrumptious use of leftover sweet potatoes, which we often bake for dinner in the fall and winter.

Sweet potato biscuits are good right out of the oven but they're best once they've cooled to room temperature, when you will find them irresistibly addictive. I'm not kidding. Bake them not when you think you have an amazing amount of self-control, but when you don't care, like you've just run 10 miles or you haven't eaten in 14 days, or when you have a lot of people around you to eat them all quickly. And I have to warn you - if you're at all like me - you're going to taste them right when they come out of the oven because you'll be so popping proud, and then you'll think, "These are pretty good. Maybe they could be a little sweeter. They're okay." Then you'll walk away. An hour later, you'll return, take a piece off of one, realize how incredible they are, and suddenly eat the rest of them. Well, hopefully not. Just be warned.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
makes about 12 three-inch biscuits

2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 T. brown sugar
12 T. cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. mashed roasted sweet potatoes
1/2 c. crushed, roasted pecans (roast at 350° for 10 min., cool, then crush with bottom of a glass)
1/4 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, or just spray it with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and stir once or twice to coat, then mix the butter in. Begin by using a fork to cut most of the chunks up into smaller pieces, then, working quickly, use your fingers to smash and pinch the pieces of butter, working them just until they're all fairly flat. Using the fork, stir in the sweet potatoes and pecans until mixed fairly well, then quickly stir in the milk. You may need to use your hands a little. (Wash them when you're done, please.)

Dump the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface, then dust the top with a little flour. Gently press and shape the dough until it's a generous 1/2" thick. Cut into round biscuits, using the size or shape you desire (I just use the top of a glass).

Place on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a cool ing rack and bring to room temperature. Serve.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


I was planning on telling you all about the most wonderful, magnificent, incredible brownie in the world quite some time ago, but I was afraid you wouldn't believe me. It's my one real cheat, I guess. They're from a box. This box:

The amazing thing about them is that while they're dense and moist, they have an unmatched depth of chocolate flavor. I've tried to replicate it. I can't. The texture is just incredible, since they're very thick but not at all cakey. (I don't like cakey brownies.) And when I make them, it takes less than a day for the pan to look like this:

I've always purchased them at Costco, and on this last trip I noticed, to my horror, that they'd been replaced.

When I say, "to my horror," I'm not exaggerating. My heart sunk. Instead of the beloved Hershey's box, I saw a Betty Crocker box with mini-kisses and some other chocolate.

Mark and I had just been talking recently about how we should stock up on these, so we could always have them around. You know, in case of a brownie emergency. (By the way, they're also amazing with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce.) Unfortunately, we hadn't done that yet.

So I'm terribly concerned, but there is one little ray of hope. The Hershey's brownies are made by Betty Crocker, so Mark suggested maybe they're just changing the branding of the box. I'm a bit concerned because the previous brownies were deleted by Costco and these now placed on permanent order (I asked). I think I'll call Betty Crocker or Hershey's tomorrow and see if I can sort it out. Unless any of you already know.

Just in case, I better work on my own brownie recipe.

Oh, and by the way (in case you happen to have one of these boxes, which I'd buy off of you), they should be made with softened butter, not oil. I'm sure it's just a misprint on the box when it calls for oil, because they work wonderfully with softened butter and the taste difference is very noticeable.

Update on Oct.10: I called Betty Crocker (well, General Mills) and they told me the old brownies haven't been discontinued, and they may just be on a rotation at Costco. More importantly, they're also called Betty Crocker Supreme brownies Triple Chocolate Chunk and available at most grocery stores. I have to say, though, as I've been thinking about it, I wonder how they'd be at sea level. They're so dense and fudgy here at 2500 feet and in Utah at 4000 feet, and I don't know if they're the same in Indiana or Florida or wherever else. Let me know. But make them with butter, or it won't be a fair comparison.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Chicken Pot Pie

Let me extol the virtues of chicken pot pie. First, the crust. How ingenious is it to use pie crust in savory dishes, so you don't even have to wait for dessert. Of course, that's assuming you've had good pie crust and know what you're constantly missing out on everyday there's not a pie waiting for dessert.

Second, who doesn't like stew in cold fall temperatures? That starchy, mellow goodness that warms your whole body and satisfies every bit of your hunger. It just feels like you're home when you're eating a stew.

And third, it's a one-dish meal. Kind of. It actually takes a few dishes to prepare it, but you only need to put one serving dish on the table when you're sitting down to eat. Everyone gets some protein, everyone gets a few vegetables, and everyone gets a little incentive to eat the dish, since it's topped with a delicious homemade crust.

Okay, now I'll tell you what I really think, usually, of pot pie. All the ingredients taste pretty good, but then you stick them all together and there are no clean flavors left. The result is that harmony of nothingness. Creamy, stewy, whatever. I like making chicken pot pie, but by the time I serve it, I don't want another bite. I'm over-stewed. Except this time.

One of the problems is that nothing has any distinct flavors in a stew. This is really okay, but to make it interesting, you can't just add all your average components and expect to have an above-average flavor in the end. You also can't add exciting flavors and expect them to stand out above everything else; well, if you add a whole lot of them, they will, but the pie will be best when you have achieved a good balance of complementary flavors.

I like mushrooms in my pot pie, and I like the way that Sherry tastes with mushrooms. I prefer crimini to white mushrooms because they have an earthier flavor. That was a good starting point for me. I considered the rest of the basics: shallots over onions and/or garlic, red potatoes (definitely) boiled or fried, how much chicken, roasted or poached, and seasoning.

I thought shallots would make a difference here, since I didn't want onions or garlic taking over the flavor of the dish. Boiled potatoes, a very watery starch, would only dilute the other tastes and textures, but frying the potatoes in an oil-free non-stick skillet would not only give the potatoes texture, but also enrich the flavor of the rest of the dish. However, I thought the more delicate texture and flavor of poached would make a better meal. I'm not crazy about overdoing the chicken flavor in chicken pot pie, which I guess sounds really ironic.

As far as other flavors go, I decided to start with bacon to give it a little smokiness, which really mellowed out by the end, but I'm happy with the amount I had. You could opt for more if you want that flavor to stand out, but as I've said, it's not about anything standing out, but coming together. I also added an apple and a touch of Dijon for just a bit of acidity to balance everything else out. Now, you might think, "Oh, yum, this recipe sounds really good, but I think I'll leave out the Dijon. I'm not crazy about that part." At least, if you're like me, you'll be thinking of how to alter the recipe before you start. Don't leave out the Dijon. There's just a teensy weensy bit in there, and it's so perfectly a part of it. Don't leave it out. I'm not kidding. Just leave it in. Please. You'll be so happy you did when you taste it, except you won't really taste much of it at all, and it will be just right, and you'll realize how absolutely brilliant I am. And that I'm always right.

Of course, the crust is extraordinarily important, so make your crust. It doesn't take long, and you can just quickly use your fingers to smash the mixture to pieces if you don't have a stand mixer, but an all-butter crust will make the dish, since butter goes so well with stew, but shortening does not. Oh, and also (which is a phrase I think my daughter uses), I only make a top crust, since otherwise it's not so much about making a dinner as it is about eating crust.

This was so good that I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner, even after tasting everything so much along the way. In fact, I wanted to eat a lot more, but, well, it's not the healthiest meal out there. But it is delicious. (Do I sound torn? I was very torn.)

By the way, this does fit in with my diet. It's all about portion control, after all. And exercising 60 minutes today. And having nothing else but V8 the rest of the day (I'm drinking one right now and it's delicious). See, I can make it work.

Chicken Pot Pie
makes 2 pies (one for you, one for me)

1/2 lb. bacon, chopped (I prefer thick, maple-cured bacon)
1 lb. shallots, sliced
2/3 lb. crimini mushrooms, chopped
1 lg. apple, diced (I used Honey Crisp, but any would be fine)
2 1/2 lbs. red potatoes, 1/2" dice
2 large chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 lbs.)
2 T. butter
1/3 c. flour
1/4 c. sherry
3 c. chicken broth
3 T. cream (because I had it around, milk would be fine)
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 c. peas
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
One recipe pie dough, divided into two equal portions, rolled out (you can roll them out, wrap them in plastic wrap, and set them in the fridge while you do all this)

First, poach the chicken. In a small or medium saucepan, add water to about 3 inches, the core from the apple you diced, a few baby carrots, and 1/2 t. salt. Add the two chicken breasts, set over medium heat, and bring nearly to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 - 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the chicken sit in the poaching liquid for another 15 minutes or so, cooling, until you're ready to cut it up.

In a large non-stick skillet, set the bacon over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until done. Remove to drain on paper towel, then pour off all but 4 T. of the bacon grease. You can eyeball this. If you're concerned about saturated fat, keep the bacon but substitute olive oil for the bacon grease.

Turn the heat up to medium-high, then add the shallots with a few pinches of salt. Cook, stirring, until they're nice and soft, then add the mushrooms.

(Just a note here, in case you haven't heard this already: it's important to salt food as you make it, in the layers that you're putting it together, to bring out the flavor of each layer. Also, sometimes it's important to draw out the liquids in each food to help them cook faster, as with onions, mushrooms, and potatoes.)

Cook the shallots and mushrooms until the mushrooms are starting to brown a bit and have given off a lot of their liquid. Add the bacon and apple, stir a few times, and remove to a bowl for later.

Preheat the oven to 400°.

To your skillet, add the potatoes and about a teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, covering with the lid for a minute or two here and there to help them along (this will steam them a bit, then they'll dry out after the lid is removed, which helps them to cook without browning too much), adding a bit more salt here and there as needed for taste and to draw out more liquid. If they seem to be browning quickly, turn the heat down to medium and keep stirring. This takes about 20 minutes. Remove the potatoes to a large bowl.

Dice the chicken into 1/2" cubes.

Add the mushroom mixture back to the skillet along with the 2 T. butter. After that has melted, stir in the flour completely, then stir in the sherry. After cooking for a few seconds, add the broth, cream, peas, and chicken. Bring to a simmer, where it should thicken up a bit. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the Dijon. Add the whole mixture to the bowl of potatoes and stir.

Divide the stew between two pie pans and top each with the pie dough. Cut a couple of slits in the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is just done. Cool 10 minutes and serve.

Now, doesn't that sound easy?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Russian Tea Cakes

I have a lot to confess before handing over the recipe today. First of all, that's not my picture. It's just one I found on a Google image search and downloaded from here.

Also, I haven't used this recipe yet. My friend Kristine made them for a bridal shower the other day, and she gave me the recipe. I'd normally test it out first, just so I can be held accountable, but I'm terribly afraid I'll lose it, and they were really, really, really good, and I don't want to lose it.

Also, I'm dieting, and I think I ate about a dozen of these. Well, maybe I wasn't dieting right at that moment.

I wasn't sure what to call this recipe, since there seems to be no shortage of names these little delights take on. I think someone finds out how good they are, they grow scarce, and they take on another alias just to be safe. Sometimes they go by Italian Wedding Cookies, and sometimes they go by Snowballs (that's just silly, though, isn't it?), and sometimes they go by Mexican Wedding Cakes, among other names. I tried to find out what the origin of the cookie is, but it isn't easy. It seems most Western countries developed similar recipes around the time that white granulated sugar and powdered sugar became mainstream. Some began without adding nuts, some used hazelnuts, some walnuts or almonds or pecans. I went with the name Russian Tea Cakes, since that's the name I first heard them called when I was younger. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that you eat them. Oooh, they're so delightful and so very easy to make.

Kristine made probably the best batch I've ever had (my husband agreed), so I'm following her instructions. Yes, you can use any nut, but while I'm usually partial to pecans, the almonds were perfect in this. One exception: she used salted butter and omitted the salt, but since I only keep unsalted around, I am writing the recipe with the salt included. Either way should work fine, as the nuts like salt. Just don't double up... you know, use salted butter and add salt. You'll have to throw them out.

Russian Tea Cakes

1 1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. confectioners' sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. finely ground almonds (you'll need to use a food processor)
1 T. vanilla extract
1 t. almond extract
3 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1/3 c. confectioners' sugar, for rolling

Cream the butter in a bowl, then gradually add the 3/4 c. sugar and salt. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the almonds, vanilla, and almond extract. Stir in the flour in portions (to avoid dust clouds), and make sure the dough is even. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Shape the dough into balls, using about 1 teaspoon for each cookie. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Do not brown. Cool to room temperature, then roll in the extra confectioners' sugar.

Aaah, delicious. You better give some away quickly, or you'll be finishing them off yourself. Of course, you could just freeze some of them and pull them out next week.

Completely off the subject, fall is setting in, which means I'm listening to Loreena McKennitt again, something I only do in fall and winter, since her music is moody and melancholy and beautifully mystic. I love it in the fall, and I highly recommend picking up a cd. Or downloading it on iTunes.