Sweet Mustard & Hazelnut Biscotti

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Stonewall Kitchen hosted a recipe challenge to develop a recipe using one of their mustards. Of the 12 varieties they make, I selected the Bourbon Molasses Mustard for my entry because it sounded the most unusual and interesting. A week or so after signing up for the recipe challenge, a little box arrived at my door with a jar of Bourbon Molasses Mustard and an extra surprise sample of Blueberry Orange Marmalade.

 

Sweet Mustard and Hazelnut Biscotti

Before I get to my mustard creation allow me to first stumble and trip over my love for the Blueberry Orange Marmalade. I’d always heard how great Stonewall Kitchen jams were, and now I understand. The combination of these two flavors is brilliant and I’m just a touch annoyed I never thought to put them together myself. The blueberries temper the tartness of the orange marmalade, and as if in an exact reaction, the orange marmalade tempers the sugary sweetness of blueberry jam. This synergy results in a beautifully balanced, juicy, jammy, marmalade. You’ll notice I don’t have a picture to tempt you with because it didn’t last long enough for me to go get the camera.

I signed up for the recipe challenge with the idea of making a savory biscotti featuring the Bourbon Molasses Mustard, but never having tasted the product was open to going in any  direction my taste buds led me. With one dip of my spoon into the rich mahogany colored mustard, it was full steam ahead for my mustard-biscotti adventure. 

This mustard is mild, sweet and tangy delivering none of the aggressive kick of a Dijon. Rather than heat, an intriguing tangle of  smoky, woody, warm flavors are paralleled by sweet molasses notes and contrasted with a bright vinegary tang. Eating it by delightful spoonful has been fully tested, proving that this mustard could masquerade as a relish if it chose to.

Mention biscotti, and mustard isn’t the first thing that pops into most people’s minds, but don’t snarl at the thought because biscotti has much to offer the savory world. It can lend visual and textural contrast to an ordinary bread basket, be a crunchy complement to a platter of artisan charcuterie, and out-class any pretzel as a bar snack served alongside the trendiest microbrews.

Sweet Mustard & Hazelnut Biscotti after first round of baking.

This biscotti recipe is essentially a quick bread and easy to mix together. Once mixed, it’s simply patted into loaves, brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with brown mustard seeds and flake salt before the first visit to the oven.

Biscotti sliced and ready for second round of baking.

After the loaves are baked the first time, they are cut into the iconic long beveled slices that at first glance might make you crave a strong cup of coffee. The cut slices are then baked for a second time to dry them out so they deliver a crunchy satisfaction. With savory biscotti, I prefer a texture that is more crumbly-crisp. Savory biscotti shouldn’t need to be dunked to be consumed, chewing shouldn’t drown out conversation, and shouldn’t come with risk of  Captain-Crunch-syndrome-style trauma to the upper palate. The butter, additional egg yolk and milk ensure the safety of your upper palate and tasty eating enjoyment.

Biscotti twice baked, golden and crispy.

The sweet, woody, smoky, warm flavors of the Stonewall Kitchen Bourbon Molasses Mustard take to biscotti like it was planned that way from the beginning. These really need to be served at your next cocktail party, or set them out at a pot luck and sit in the corner of the room and snicker as people bite into them expecting dessert. I bet every surprised pot-lucker would feel quite lucky to have discovered these tasty gems; well, once they got over the confusion caused by preconceived notions of what this iconic shape represents.

Sweet Mustard and Hazelnut Biscotti

In my vast taste research on this Bourbon Molasses Mustard, I learned that it’s not only great in biscotti and eaten right off a spoon, but also when  spread on a sliced baguette and topped with a sardines, spread on an egg salad sandwich, used as a dip for Trader Joe’s Pumpernickel Pretzel Sticks, and spread on salami, apples, and cheese. I guess it’s time for me to order another jar because I’m pretty sure I have more research to do and I know I have more biscotti to make.

Recipe Link

 

All photos by David or Carol Peterman unless otherwise noted

LARD, The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient

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The title of this book puts it right out there, lard is back. For centuries it was actually the fat of the pig that was the prize rather than the meat. A shift in our collective mindset, however, put animal fats on the outs as vegetable-based fats became the new health salvation. We’re a fickle society when it comes to diet and nutrition.

The advent of Crisco, TV commercials touting less greasy chicken when fried in Wesson and the promise of feeling like royalty with one bite of Imperial margarine made casting aside animal fats for these newer and “healthier” options an easy sell. Now of course the joke is on us as we’ve come to learn many of these vegetable-based fats contain trans-fats, which are actually worse for us than saturated animal fats.

Lard ready to be rendered

A chorus of praise for cooking with lard has been growing over the last few years and the Editors of Grit Magazine are singing at the top of their lungs. The title of their new book aptly points out the full-circle irony of our society’s fickle culinary ways. I for one am happy to land right back in grandma’s kitchen and reach for the lard. In 2006 I began rendering my own lard after reading an article about the spectacular baked goods, namely pie crusts, that could be achieved with lard. My use of lard has been limited to pie crust all these years, so I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Lard, The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient from Andrews-McMeel publishing to see what else the Editors of Grit Magazine are making with this magnificent ingredient.

Tender, light biscuits made with lard

The book opens with a chapter on breads and biscuits, so I started with the obvious, biscuits. Cook’s Illustrated’s Fluffy Biscuit recipe has been my go-to for years and with one bite of these all-lard biscuits I was instantly rethinking my biscuit-making ways. It all comes down to texture; lard lends a spectacularly tender, crispy, crumbly, flaky texture that simply can’t be replicated by other fats. While indulging in a second biscuit my previously long-held association of lard being an artery clogging, heart disease inducing, fatty-fat-fat that I shouldn’t be eating surfaced out of nowhere. Strangely I wasn’t the least bit phased by the butter I was slathering on my delicious biscuits, which has more saturated fat than lard (a fact I’ve seen reported by a variety of sources, giving me confidence in the claim). I was simply experiencing an irrational fear-based association left over from the “vegetable fat is our salvation” era. Granted, lard is still a fat and like any fat, eating too much of it isn’t advisable.

A simple sauté of Italian squash, onions, garlic, celery and tomato sauce.

After working my way through the chapters on vegetables, entrees, brownies and cookies, desserts, cakes, and of course pies, it’s clear that lard has a place in every category of food. The recipe collection was culled from Grit and Caper’s magazine reader’s contributions over the past 130 years. The magazine’s editors carefully selected and tested the recipes weaving them together with helpful, history-studded headnotes as well as reader’s personal stories and anecdotes about lard. The recipes are all very approachable, down-home cookin’ type dishes. The recipe for Italian Squash is a great example (and reminder) of how well lard works for simple sautés.

Fiesta Beef Potpie

The most exciting result of the recipes I tested was the Fiesta Beef Potpie. Like all the recipes in the book it’s a very straightforward dish to put together. The beef filling is a sauté of onion, green pepper, and cubes of beef chuck, or ground beef in my case. A can of tomatoes, corn, green chiles and black olives are stirred in along with chili powder, cumin, and red pepper for a spicy kick. It’s the crust that really blew me away. Flour, cornmeal, and toasted wheat germ are combined with lard to create a fantastic flavor and crumbly, crunchy texture. It’s pushed over the top with the addition of grated cheddar cheese, and a simple egg wash adds a beautiful golden finish once baked. I made individual portions in ramekins and froze extras unbaked, which made for a few no-effort dinners in later weeks.

Bizcochitos, New Mexico’s official state cookie

 A few particularly interesting recipes that caught my attention were Carrot Fries, Yam Drop cookies, and Bizcochitos, which happen to be the state cookie of New Mexico. This of course sent me right to Google to look up my state’s cookie. Sadly there isn’t one for Washington. The bizcochito dough is studded with anise seeds, spiked with a bit of brandy, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and the pig-shaped cutouts were my little ode to lard. Given my spice obsession I loved the use of whole anise seeds, but will punch up the anise flavor even more next time by adding an additional ½ teaspoon of ground anise seed. The texture of these cookies is remarkable and proves the point for using lard in baked goods. When I first tasted this cookie I expected to taste butter and was a bit thrown by it’s absence, but then realized it’s the remarkable texture and flavor from the spices that make these cookies special, and I should warn, addictive.

Apple pie with an all-lard crust

Despite using lard in combination with butter in my pie crusts for many years, this was my first time making an all-lard crust. Just like the biscuits and Bizcochitos the all-lard crust was great and made all the better by the Apple-Maple-Raisin filling. This might be the best apple pie filling I’ve ever had. Sweetened with maple syrup, enriched with heavy whipping cream, spiced with cinnamon and my favorite spice of all time, cardamom, I was very reluctant to share slices of this pie with anyone.

As much as I love diving into a challenging, avant-garde, chefy recipe, I also love simple home cooking and that’s what this book is all about. It’s quite likely these recipes are dishes you’ll recognize from your grandma’s kitchen. Lard, The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient will have you embracing this long-loved, briefly demonized, and again loved ingredient in no time. I have this book to thank for expanding my lard world to so much more than just pie crusts.

As a special bonus, the Editors of Grit Magazine have included a coupon for a free one-year subscription to their magazine with every book. You can learn to cook with lard and bone up on your rural American know-how, such a deal!

Recipe Links

All photos by David or Carol Peterman unless otherwise noted

Rendering Lard at Home

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My lard-awakening was in 2006 after reading a Seattle Times article called The Real Thing*, by Matthew Amster-Burton. He sang the praises of a miracle oil with no trans fat that produced the most beautifully crispy, non-greasy fried foods and impossibly delicate, flaky pastry crusts. Chefs around the country were embracing this fabulous “new” fat that had been around for centuries. As I continued to read about the virtues of cooking with lard my long held prejudices about animal fats began to melt away.

Tender, light biscuits made with lard

The former golden-girl of fats, hydrogenated vegetable oil, has been on the outs with nutritionists for some time and negative scientific data continues to mount against the healthfulness of these manufactured fats due to the presence of trans fats. Trans fats are the dietary villain of the moment and lard doesn’t contain trans fats. Like all animal fats however, lard does contain saturated fat, but less than butter (43% vs. 68% respectively) and less than the currently popular coconut and palm oils which come in at 91% and 51% saturated fat respectively (reference: How Baking Works by Paula I. Figoni, 2010). So when it comes to saturated fat, lard shouldn’t be the first fat that jumps to mind. Don’t forget that current dietary guidelines still recommend limiting consumption of all types of fat, so just because lard has some superior attributes compared to other fats, it’s not license to go hog-wild.

Unrendered Leaf lard

As is the case with most things, the more you know the better off you are and lard is no exception. Some lard sold in stores has been processed so extensively that it’s far from the pure, natural ingredient that’s been winning over health advocates and garnering culinary admiration. The full-proof way around this fat-trap is to take the processing into your own hands and render lard at home. If you buy pig fat from a farmer at your neighborhood farmer’s market you’ll know exactly what you’re getting because you can ask them questions. You can also specify the type of fat you would like, back fat or leaf lard. Leaf lard is the fat located around the kidney and abdominal area of the animal. It’s the most desirable fat for baking purposes because it has a milder flavor and softer texture than back fat.

Leaf lard chopped and ready for rendering

You might be able to buy rendered lard at your farmer’s market, but it’s cheaper to do it yourself and it’s really no more difficult than melting butter. Well, there’s a little chopping and straining involved, but essentially you’re just melting fat nice and slow. Rendering your own lard will also make you feel like a kitchen bad-ass and give you impressive bragging rights when people praise your fantastic pie crust or biscuits. An added bonus of rendering lard is the excellent seasoning it puts on your cast iron cookware. I think of it as a spa day for my cast iron Dutch oven.

Rendering lard is great for seasoning cast iron

Lard can be rendered on the stove top or in the oven; the important point is that the heat is low so it’s a nice slow process with minimal browning. A heavy pan is a must and if you’ve got a cast iron pan, that’s the one to use. The lard just needs to be chopped up, you can use a food processor if you want to go to the trouble of cleaning it, but I prefer to simply use a sharp knife. Some methods suggest adding a half cup or so of water to the pan with the lard to prevent the fat from burning as it starts to melt. I don’t add water, but always use a very low heat. With the exception of an occasional stir the lard can be left to render on its own. I also flip on my kitchen vent and crack open a window because the melting fat does have a bit of a porky aroma.

Rendered lard and solids

It can take 3-5 hours depending on how finely chopped the lard is and the level of heat.  As the fat melts out solid bits of protein and connective tissue will be left floating in the liquid fat. Once strained, you’re left with beautiful golden lard that is as pure and natural as can be.

Rendered leaf lard

Lard can be used as the fat component in most any dish, but I tend to save mine for baking. Once the strained lard cools and sets, I cut my stash into individual pie crust portions, wrap them well and freeze until needed.

Rendered lard, cooled and portioned

The only potential hiccup with substituting lard for another fat is when it comes to butter. Lard is 100% fat, but butter is only 80% fat with 20% water. For general cooking a 1 to 1 swap will work fine, but when it comes to baking it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of lard by 20% and add a bit of water. To calculate the adjustment, multiply the weight of the butter by .80 to get the weight of lard that should be substituted. Then multiply the weight of the butter by .20 to determine the weight of additional liquid needed.

Example: if a recipe calls for ½ pound of butter the lard substitution would be 6.4 ounces (8oz butter x .80). The additional water needed would be 1.6 ounces (8 oz butter x .20)

If you’ve not yet explored what this age-old ingredient can do for your cooking, now’s the time. Find a good source for high-quality leaf lard and make yourself a pie. We are just rolling into rhubarb season with all the pie-licious summer fruits and berries to follow, so there’s no better time like the present.

 

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Butter & Lard Crust

*The link to The Real Thing article on the Seattle Times website dosen’t seem to work. So I’ve linked to a Google Docs version of the article.

Recipe links

All photos by David or Carol Peterman unless otherwise noted

Spice 101: Spice Basics Class

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I’m very excited to be teaching an introduction to spices class called Spice 101: Spice Basics at World Spice Merchants in Seattle on January 18th.

If you find the spices in your cupboard to be a little mystifying this is the class for you. I’ll be focusing on the flavor profiles of common spices so you can learn to use them creatively and cook to your palate rather than being bound by the limitations of a recipe. I’ll also cover tips on buying, storing, grinding, and toasting spices.

If you have a jar of caraway, for example, that was purchased for a particular recipe and now you have no idea what to do with the rest of it, this class is for you! Here are the class details:

January 18th, 2012 Rescheduled post-snowpocoalypse for

January 25th, 2012
6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
World Spice Merchants, 1509 Western Avenue, Seattle
Cost is $45
Register for the class now!

There will be many snacks and tastes of foods served during the class to illustrate the flavors of the different spices. Everyone will also receive a custom booklet with information and recipes highlighting each of the spices discussed.  World Spice is offering a 10% discount on purchases made the night of the class.

I’d love to have you join me for this fun night of exploring the flavors and uses of common spices. Sign up here. Don’t delay because the class is limited to 18 people.

All photos by David or Carol Peterman unless otherwise noted

Baking from Maida Heatter’s Cookies For No Kid Hungry

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I wasn’t planning to host a cookie gathering, but I stumbled upon a comment by Jackie of La Casa de Sweets on Twitter about a virtual bake sale she was hosting to benefit Share Our Strength and I decided to get in on the project by hosting a cookie party.

Dorie Greenspan's famous World Peace Cookies

I invited friends over to enjoy a buffet of sweet treats and convivial socializing and asked them to bring a few dollars to drop in a collection basket for Share Our Strength. Through the end of the year donations to Share Our Strength are being matched by their corporate partners, giving every dollar collected twice the impact.

Sugared Cranberries with Ginger and Clove

It’s always good to have multiple motivators, so I took this cookie baking opportunity as a chance to dig further into Maida Heatter’s Cookies cookbook that I’d received as a review copy from Andrews McMeel Publishing earlier in the year.

Maida Heatter's Cookies and Maida Heatter's Cakes cookbooks

These beautifully simple paperbacks are newly published collections of Heatter’s classic recipes gathered from earlier works without glossy photos or a hefty price tag. Maida Heatter is a master when it comes to desserts with nine classic dessert books to her credit and an endless list of accolades. I find myself reaching for these books first when I’m thinking about doing some baking largely due to her reputation for recipes that work, but also because of the enormous variety of classic recipes in each book accompanied by descriptive head notes with helpful tips and valuable words of warning like, “They are very fragile and not suitable for picnics.” I highly recommend both of these books if you are looking for a go-to cookie or cake book. They’d also make an excellent gift for anyone starting to build their cookbook collection.

Maida Heatter's My Mother's Gingersnaps

Wintery weather and holiday festivities must include gingery spice cookies so I selected Heatter’s recipe called My Mother’s Gingersnaps. A recipe she grew up making year around with her mother and after tasting them, I won’t limit them to holiday baking either. Crystallized ginger, ginger powder and freshly ground black pepper give these crisp little “throwing stars,” as David called them, their spicy kick.

Maida Heatter's Swedish Rye Wafers

The fantastic use of spices throughout the book instantly caught my attention when I first flipped from cover to cover. Many are classics that have been passed down for generations and have roots in cultures all around the world. There are five recipes in the book that use caraway seeds for example. How many cookie books give you five ways to put your caraway seeds to sugary, buttery, good use? I can tell you first-hand that both the Swedish Rye Wafers and the Caraway Sour-Cream Cookies are excellent. Clearly I need to make the other three recipes just to be sure they measure up. Cardamom, sesame seeds, anise seed, poppy seeds, ginger, and black pepper all get play in various recipes. Spice flavor is very much a use-it-or-lose-it situation, so why let your spices languish in the back of the cupboard until they are lifeless and unidentifiable when you can put them to good use in cookies?

Maida Heatter's Blind Date Cookies

I was participating in a Twitter chat a few weeks ago and someone posed the question of what to do with all the dates she had on hand. I flipped open Maida Heatter’s Cookies that happened to be sitting on my desk and noted eight recipes using dates. The Blind Date Cookies immediately went on my “must make” list. A walnut stuffed date is dropped in batter to coat and then dressed with a simple glaze after baking. Apparently this recipe originated over 100 years ago at a famous Milwaukee pastry shop. These cookies are sweet and delicious with a soft cakey dough surrounding the chewy, crunchy surprise hiding in the center. They’re a great make-ahead cookie too because they were even tastier on the second day.

I deeply appreciate the generosity of everyone able to stop by for a sugar rush and donate to Share Our Strength. Your donations will connect 150 kids with up to 10 meals each. Here are some of Share Our Strength’s accomplishments for 2011 and your donations will help them achieve even more in the New Year. Thank you!

    • No Kid Hungry campaigns up and running in 17 states, expanding reach and increasing participation in key programs like school breakfast, summer meals and afterschool snacks.
    • Increased the number of summer meals served by nearly 1 million over last summer in six “No Kid Hungry” states alone.
    • Provided $6.9 million in grants to more than 400 community organizations working to ensure that kids receive healthy, regular meals.
    • Cooking Matters classes, teaching how to make healthy meals on a budget, reached 100,000 individuals at risk for hunger in 37 states.

With one out of every five American kids facing hunger — more than 16 million children — there’s still a lot of work to do before the goal of ending child hunger in America is achieved. If you’d like to help, please make a donation, and remember all donations made before the end of the year will be matched making double the impact.

A special thank you goes to Jackie for inspiring me to pull together this last minute cookies-for-a-cause party. And to think some people say Twitter is just a waste of time!

Alderwood Smoked Salt Caramels always round out a cookie party.

Recipe Links

 

All photos by David or Carol Peterman unless otherwise noted



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