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.

Salmon Corn Chowder

A bowl of Salmon Corn Chowder

Not a fish fan? The salmon can be replaced with shredded cooked chicken.

Culinary School flew by at such a rapid pace that I barely remember the basics. Today, 11 years later, I couldn’t tourne a potato to save my life, even though we spent weeks perfecting our technique. Knowledge was imparted by Chef, 90% of it sadly unretained by this student.

Someone recently asked me what defines a soup as “chowder” and, as that definition was probably somewhere in my missing 90%, I didn’t have a sufficient answer. Does using seafood make it chowder? Nope. Seafood is a standard ingredient, yes, but not a requirement. Does adding cream make it chowder? Chowders are often finished with cream, but they don’t have to be.

According to The Professional Chef, the tome we relied upon in school, chowder is defined as, “a soup that is thickened with flour, roux or potatoes.” Thank goodness “potatoes” were in that mix, because I’ve been calling this recipe “chowder” for years.

Who knew I could be validated by a potato.


Salmon Corn Chowder

A hearty soup loaded with salmon, bacon, sweet corn, and, of course, potatoes.


Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup brandy, white wine, or dry sherry
  • ¾ lb. potatoes, cut into ½” cubes
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups frozen or fresh corn
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups cooked salmon, cubed
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. In a large pot, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Add onion, carrot and celery to the bacon fat and cook until softened and beginning to brown.
  2. Add bay leaf, thyme, and brandy; reduce, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add potatoes and chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  3. Add corn and simmer until corn is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add heavy whipping cream, salmon, and reserved bacon. Simmer 10 more minutes, remove bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper.

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.

Hermit Bars

Hermit Bars – a heavily spiced chewy cookie studded with golden raisins and walnuts.
Hermit Bars cooling on a wire rack
I’m currently re-reading back issues of Cook’s Illustrated. Staying true to its name, the back page of each month displays illustrated drawings of a specific variety of culinary ingredient or food category. The current issue in my hand is sporting an illustration of “Classic American Cookies.” I scan the line-up and check off the usual suspects– chocolate chip – yep, peanut butter – made them, oatmeal raisin – of course, snickerdoodles – baked my first batch at 12 . They took liberty with some. Outside of Oreos, is “chocolate sandwich” truly an American classic? Then one lumpy, Cliff-bar looking cookie catches my eye – Hermit Bars. Whaaaa??? What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of a hermit bar. Where could this hermit have been hiding all these years? A bit of cookie wiki and I soon learn they came from the New England area and, although ingredients differ, seem to be a chewy, heavily spiced cookie, similar to gingerbread – with any combination of raisins, currants, dates and walnuts.

What have I been missing? Well, a lot, it turns out.


Hermit Bars

  • Servings: 3 dozen cookies
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These cookies are a heavily spiced, chewy bar cookie studded with golden raisins and walnuts.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon (scant) cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups All-purpose flour
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 cup golden raisins, softened in boiling water
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 3 Tablespoons turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13×9” pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together melted butter and sugar until combined and smooth. Beat in egg, spices, salt and baking soda. Gently stir in flour (batter will by dry) then add the molasses and beat just until fully incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.
  3. Pat dough evenly into prepared pan and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just set. Do not over-bake. You want the final bars to be chewy. Cool completely before cutting. Combine confectioner’s sugar with enough water to make a glaze. Drizzle over cut bars.

Adapted from King Arthur Flour