Lemon Ginger Cornmeal Thins

A stack of Lem Ginger Cornmeal Thins

A benefit of working from home during COVID-19 is the ability to move my office outdoors when the weather’s agreeable. The climate, this week, has been extremely fine and, today, I find myself perched at my patio table, under the sailcloth, bare feet propped on a nearby chair, listening to the mocking birds shout their heads off nearby. This time of year in LA is lovely.

The downside of this COVID-19 quarantine is that I’m baking madly through the pandemic – and gorging my way through the results. I’m lamentably watching the number creep up on my bathroom scale. I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but it’s times like these that I really wish my culinary forte was low-cal, low-carb, healthy meals.

I managed to share these cookies with my guy so I didn’t eat the ENTIRE batch, but pretty darn near close to it. When you bite into these thin, crisp cornmeal cookies, your mouth is filled with fresh lemon (yes, 2 Tablespoons of zest is correct!) followed by the spicy tingle from fresh ginger. They’re so addictive, I’m ready to bake another batch!

*Recipe adapted from Lori Longbotham’s lemon-black pepper cornmeal cookies.


Lemon Ginger Cornmeal Thins

  • Servings: Approximately 3 dozen
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These cookies are best when pressed as thinly as possible to ensure maximum crispness. When you bite into these thin cornmeal cookies, your mouth is filled with fresh lemon followed by the spicy tingle from fresh ginger.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon (generous) finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Additional sugar for shaping

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk the flour, cornmeal, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat the butter, sugar, zest, and ginger in a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and beat on low speed just until blended; the dough will be crumbly.
  3. Scoop teaspoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. Place on silpat or parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Dip the bottom of a glass in sugar and press each ball into a very thin disk – about ⅛” thick.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, switching sheets half-way through baking. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool. I have no doubt these would be fabulous sandwiched with white chocolate ganache.

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

3 jars of preserved lemons

You can file this one under any of the following categories:

    1. Recipes to make during social distancing that don’t require a special trip to the store
    2. Stovetop cooking that will scent your entire house with clean, lemony goodness
    3. Condiments that add a unique complexity to your weeknight standards

My prolific lemon tree is pregnant with fragrant fruit again. Unfortunately, this yellow-orbed bounty resides in my front yard – easily accessible for plucking from neighbors and fruit sellers alike. I welcome the neighbors; not so much those that profit from purloined pickings. Fully ripe in April, the bountiful tree is often stripped bare by July. While I’m sequestered at home, I’ve been staring through my front window at the pounds of pluckable citrus, chiding myself for not using this stretch of time to whip up a pitcher or two of fresh lemonade  before the fruit disappears.

Yesterday, a coworker (yes, a real coworker – not my cats) reminded me of another use – preserved lemons. Preserved lemons are an indispensable ingredient in Moroccan cooking and add a tart, salty, spicy, somewhat bitter punch that can’t be duplicated with lemon juice or zest. How could I forget preserved lemons – one of my top five favorite ingredients? In culinary school, during my final exams, my Moroccan-Spanish menu demanded jars of preserved lemons – for empanadas, for tagines, for a decadently rich dark chocolate tart. One of my favorite uses is simply adding preserved lemons to roasted fingerling potatoes.

I claim that this recipe doesn’t require a special trip to the store, but I also realize that most people don’t necessarily keep items like coriander seeds in their pantry. This recipe is great for substitutions – or leaving spices out completely. If you only have ground versions of any of the spices, use ⅛ or ¼ teaspoon instead. The only things you really need are lemons, kosher salt and water, although some of the spicy complexity will be lost.

Here’s a few of my recipes that call for preserved lemons:
Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon
Farro and Pomegranate Salad


Moroccan Preserved Lemons

  • Servings: 2 lemons, One 16 oz. jar
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Preserved lemons are an indispensable ingredient in Moroccan cooking and add a tart, salty, spicy, somewhat bitter punch to recipes.


Ingredients

  • 2 lemons
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 Tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick (about 3” long)
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns

Directions

  1. Rinse lemons and score peels down length of lemons, about 1-inch apart. In a saucepan, combine lemons, water and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the peel can be pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
  2. Transfer lemons to a canning jar, pressing down slightly to release a bit of juice. Reserve salt water in pan. Add cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and black peppercorns to lemons in jar.
  3. Pour reserved salt water over lemons, filling jar and submerging lemons completely. Seal with lid.
  4. Cool completely and refrigerate, turning jar occasionally. Allow lemons to rest for at least 5 days and up to 3 months. To preserve for longer than 3 months, use your preferred canning method.

NOTE: You may notice a lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons in the jar. It is perfectly harmless, but should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons just before the lemons are used.

Coconut Brownie Buttons

A plate of Coconut Brownie Buttons

I’m only 15 days into California’s shelter-in-place mandate and I’m already tired of staring at the same living room each day and evening, which reminds me of a recent creative writing assignment I completed on just that subject – my living room. I apologize in advance for the length of this post – feel free to skip to the recipe. I won’t mind.

LIVING ROOM

Georgia O’Keeffe, a hero of mine, painted every wall of her beloved home in Abiquiu, NM creamy white. The effect was modern, calming, soothing, and the perfect counterbalance to her large, colorful canvases hung on the walls. I wonder what she’d think of my living room. The first thing she’d notice is the cacophony of colors. I’ve painted the walls a vivid brick red. The imposing mid-century fireplace pops from the corner thanks to a shade of golden wheat. The kitchen wall peeks from the opposite corner, a sagey green. Warm tones, in general, except for the daring teal velvet mid-century wing chair; its color repeating itself on a throw pillow, in a niche, in candles, on a decorative plate. I’ve read in decorating books that tertiary colors should be repeated at least three times to help your eye move about easily. In this painter’s box of color, I’ve taken that recommendation to heart. There are dabs of all these colors – and others – spattered throughout this rainbow palette.

The bare, wooden floors, in contrast, glow a dark Brazilian cherry, reminding me of a racehorse’s shiny coat. I believe breeders call that color “sorrel.” For a long time, I envisioned breaking up the expanse of dark floor and tempering the explosion of color with a large, white, fluffy flokati rug. I finally thought better of it, knowing a white rug would quickly turn a dingy gray underfoot, especially with two cats. The “boys”, the constant residents of this space, spend more of the day here than I do, lounging in the sun, determinedly grooming themselves, and wrestling each other into submission. Consequently, every surface, from floor to couch to coffee table, is covered in a layer of their hair. In fact, just before the cleaners are due for a visit, it’s common to watch cat-hair tumbleweeds slowly roll their way across the floor to accumulate in the room’s remote corners.

My sister, Susan, says my living room reminds her of Pablo Picasso’s apartment in the 1960’s. Since she’s never met Picasso – or seen his apartment, I’m dubious of her comparison, although she explained it to me once – it’s the juxtaposition of eras, of textures, of cultures, not unlike photos of his mid-century abode randomly scattered with mismatched sculptures, found items, and art. My sunken room and its furnishings are decidedly sleek mid-century modern, yet the step down is weathered Saltillo and glazed Spanish tiles. The menacing antique puppet in the corner is Balinese, the embroidered tapestry on the wall Oaxacan, and the ceramic vase hand-thrown by a Santa Ana Artwalk artist, a steal at $25. Another decorating rule I subscribe to is, “mismatched items you truly love will always go together.” These are my loved items – my collection. A less flattering comparison would be that the décor tends towards a Pier 1 sale aisle.

The entire west side of the room looks out on the backyard, thanks to a bank of ten wooden-framed windows original to the 1950’s house. There’s no blinds or curtains to obscure the view. I’ve left them bare so I can watch the morning squirrel and bird going-ons as I sip my coffee from the comfort of my couch. Just before sunset each evening, the room shimmers with direct afternoon light reflecting golden off the polished wooden floor, silver coffee table and flurry of ubiquitous swirling cat hair in the air. It’s often the motivation needed to grab the Swiffer, as the final light rays sink behind the garden wall.

The cookie recipe below is ideal during this time of self-quarantine because it requires minimal ingredients – and substitutions are encouraged. Out of walnuts? Any nut or combination of nuts will do. Don’t have coconut? Roll the cookies in powdered sugar or granulated sugar. Don’t want to go to the store for cocoa powder? Leave it out and let the flavor of the nuts shine! Plus, dare I say, with no flour, minimal sugar, and heart-healthy nuts, they are somewhat good for you – just like staying at home these days.


Coconut Brownie Buttons

  • Servings: 16 cookies
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Rich chocolate cookies with a crisp coconut outside and soft fudge-like middle.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Place shredded coconut in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Remove coconut and set aside.
  2. Place walnuts in the bowl of food processor and process until well chopped. Add sugar and process until mixture looks like sand. Add cocoa powder and salt and process until combined. Add egg white and vanilla extract and process until dough comes together. Transfer bowl to refrigerator and refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes to make it easier to handle.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Divide dough into 16 equal balls (about 13 grams each). Roll each ball in reserved coconut and place on baking sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes until coconut is lightly toasted and cookies are barely firm to the touch (you want the outside crisp, but the inside fudge-like). Cool for a few minutes on baking sheet then transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

Bakewell Alexander Cocktail

Two Bakewell Alexander cordials
Sunday, my guy and I binge watched five hours of Better Call Saul, not leaving the couch, not getting out of our PJ’s – entirely guilt free. This is the new normal in the midst of COVID-19 and a shelter-in-place quarantine.

Another result of my self-quarantine is creative recipe concoctions using only on-hand ingredients. Friday, during lockdown, I cleaned out my liquor cabinet and found a number of bottles, barely used, from last year’s various cooking and baking recipes (How did I accumulate THREE different kinds of Sherry?). I gathered up the most promising flavors, experimented a bit, got tipsy in the process, and came up with this winner.

Stay healthy everyone!


Bakewell Alexander Cocktail

  • Servings: 1 cocktail
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Rich and creamy chocolate almond cherry cordials – taste like dessert in a glass.


Ingredients

  • 1 part whole milk or cream
  • 1 part chocolate liqueur (such as Mozart brand)
  • ½ part almond liqueur (such as Disaranno)
  • ½ part Kirsch
  • Good-quality maraschino cherries (such as Luxardo)
  • Freshly-grated nutmeg

Directions

  1. Pour a bit of the syrup from the maraschino cherries in the bottom of a glass.
  2. Combine milk, chocolate liqueur, almond liqueur and kirsch in a shaker with crushed ice. Shake well and strain over cherry syrup.
  3. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and freshly grated nutmeg. Serve.

Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

Rows of Apple Spice Muffins

“How often do you blog?” he asks.

“I try to post twice a week,” she unthinkingly replies, “Every Monday and Wednesday.”

Her answer was honest…albeit, incorrect. She USED to post twice a week, yet she hasn’t done so in a year. In December, Mardi Gras for most dessert bloggers, her fingers didn’t type a word. In 2019, her unique views didn’t surpass the previous year’s count, a first.

It’s not only about the statistics.

She compares her dull flat-lays to the avante-garde images in her head – a bowl of soup precariously teetering on a see-saw (quirky and unexpected), a slowly melting chocolate truffle on a tongue (sexy, gothic and moody) – and is chagrinned. Her intros are stilted and forced – telling, rather than showing. Her words only seem to flow when in the midst of upheaval – not a sustainable situation. Unsatisfied with her results, she wonders if she’s stuck in a pattern that doesn’t suit her anymore.

But who is she without her blog, her constant companion for the past 11 years? She considers her options and decides, before killing it off completely, to seek CPR – her first remedy – a writing course to revive words that have flat lined.


Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
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Moist cupcakes with the unexpected flavors of cardamom and 5-spice garnished with walnuts and rich cream cheese frosting, if desired.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • ¼ teaspoon clove
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 ” pieces
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • Cream cheese frosting (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350⁰ F. Line cupcake tins with papers.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, soda, spices, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together molasses, sugar, egg, oil, ginger and water. Add molasses mixture to flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Fold in apples.
  3. Pour batter into tins, sprinkle with chopped walnuts (if using) and bake until toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool completely and decorate with cream cheese frosting.