Belgian Spice-Almond Cookies (Speculoos)

Another advantage of weighing dry ingredients, particularly flour is that one recipe writer will consider 1 cup to be equal to 4.5 ounces. Whereas, another writer will decide that 1 cup of flour equals 5 ounces. However, if you weigh the flour it will always be the same amount regardless of how many measuring cups you use.

In my recipes 1 cup of flour equals 4.5 ounces using the spoon and sweep method (using a whisk fluff the flour in your flour bin, spoon flour into a dry measuring cup to overflowing and sweep off the excess with a bench scraper or the back of a flat edged knife).

The same is true when measuring sugar* if you weigh the sugar, 6 ounces will always be 6 ounces. Get yourself a scale and start weighing ingredients instead of using measuring cups!

David Schmit Photography

1 2/3 cups (7.5 oz/215 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 oz/55 g) almond flour
5 teaspoons (10 g) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom 
¼ teaspoon ground cloves 
¼ teaspoon baking soda 
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt 
¾ cup (6 oz/170 g) turbinado sugar*, Belgian candi sugar, or 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (4 oz/113 g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup sliced almonds (preferably blanched)

Using a sharpie and a ruler, draw 10 x 12-inch rectangle in the center of each of 2 large sheets of parchment paper, crisscrossing lines at the corners to use as a guide when rolling out dough. Set sieve over medium bowl and sift together the flours, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

If using turbinado sugar, process in food processor for 30 seconds (the end result grain size may be different than granulated sugar, and that’s okay). If turbinado sugar is not available, use light brown sugar, and skip the sugar grinding step. Add butter pieces and process until a uniform mass forms and no large pieces of butter are visible, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add egg and process until smooth and paste-like, about 10 seconds, again scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

Add sifted flour mixture and process until no dry flour remains but mixture remains crumbly, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Tip out dough onto a smooth surface and using the palm of your hand, smear the dough away from you, then gather it back with a bench knife. (This is a french baking technique called fraisage.)

Place 1 piece of parchment paper on counter with sharpie side lines facing down. Place dough in center of marked rectangle and press into 6 by 9-inch rectangle. Place second sheet of parchment paper over dough, with sharpie side lines facing up, so dough is in center of marked rectangle. Using the marks as a guide, use rolling pin and bench scraper to shape dough to the 10 x 12-inch rectangle of even thickness.

Remove the top piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle sliced almonds evenly over the dough. Replace parchment paper and gently roll the almond slices to press into the dough. Transfer dough with the parchment paper to a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate until dough is firm, at least 1½ hours (or freeze for about 15 minutes). Rolled out dough can also be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Transfer chilled dough to counter. Gently peel off top layer of parchment from dough. Using fluted pastry wheel (or sharp knife or pizza cutter) and ruler, trim off any rounded edges of dough that may have extended over the marked edges of the 10 x 12-inch rectangle. Cut dough lengthwise into 8 equal strips about 1¼ inches wide. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 equal pieces about 3 inches long. Return dough to the refrigerator or freezer (for another 15 minutes or so).

When ready to bake off, adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats (or even better, perforated silpats).

Using an off-set spatula, transfer the chilled cookie dough to prepared sheetpans, spacing them at least ½ inch apart. Bake until cookies are lightly and evenly browned, 20 to 25 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool completely on the sheetpan, about 20 minutes. Cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

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Classic Shrimp Cocktail

Photography, Jane Shortridge

In about an hour you can have an elegant first course for your fanciest dinner party, lunch with Bloody Marys on a pontoon boat or brunch on the deck of a friend’s cabin enjoyed with a  Hugo Spritz. We enjoyed all three this summer.

Makes 4 substantial first course servings
10 cups cold water
2 medium carrots, quartered
2 stalks celery, quartered
1 large yellow onion, quartered
3 – 4 cloves garlic
1 lemon, halved; preferably organic
2 sprigs parsley
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning (optional)
16 large (just over a pound) shrimp, in the shell, rinsed

Lemon wedges and cocktail sauce for serving

Make an ice bath and set aside.

Put the water, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, lemon, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, (and Old Bay Seasoning if using) in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer between 10 to 30 minutes.

Drop the shrimp into the liquid, immediately turn off the heat and cover with a lid. Allow the shrimp to cook in the hot liquid, stirring occasionally, until they curl and turn pink, about 3 – 4 minutes. Using a pair of tongs, fish out the shrimp and place in the ice bath. Strain the broth (aka court bouillon) and reserve/freeze for other uses, like when making seafood risotto.

Peel the shrimp and remove the vein along the curve of the shrimp. Refrigerate if not serving right away. If refrigerated, bring the shrimp to room temperature about 15 – 20 minutes before serving.

To serve put your favorite cocktail sauce in a medium bowl and surround with the shrimp on a bed of crushed ice or loop the shrimp over the edge of an individual cocktail glass and top with the sauce. Garnish with the lemon and serve.

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Fresh Corn Vichyssoise

Photography, Tracy E. Tracy

It’s peak sweet corn season here in the midwest and there’s nothing better then roasting a few ears on your Weber Grill. However, when you tire of roasted corn of the cob making this cold soup is a delicious alternative. With the addition of, potatoes, yellow jalapeños, yellow squash, and English cucumber, the recipe is a cross between gazpacho and a classic vichyssoise but with a kick.

Makes about 2 quarts

1 large leek
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 – 3 yellow Jalapeño peppers or to taste based on heat tolerance
1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 – 3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
6 ears of corn (about 5 cups or 2 lbs kernels)
1 medium yellow squash, diced
6 cups vegetable or corn stock, preferably homemade
½ large English cucumber, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped; about 1 cup
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ – 1 cup cream, or to taste

Snipped fresh chives
Quartered yellow cherry tomatoes
Crème Fraîche or heavy cream
Garlic Croutons

Trim and discard root ends and the dark green tops, reserving the white and light green parts of the leeks. Halve leeks lengthwise, then cut into ¼-inch slices. Add them to a large bowl of cold water swishing them around to dislodge any dirt that may be lurking inside the leaves. Carefully lift the leek slices out of the water, leaving the grit behind and drain in a colander.

Heat butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add leek, celery, jalapeños, and bell pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so. Add potatoes, corn kernels, squash, and 6 cups vegetable or corn stock or enough to cover vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetables are very tender, about 25 minutes. Add cucumber and cook for another minute or so.

Allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Working in batches (do not fill jar more than halfway), purée soup in a blender until smooth. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until cool about 4 hours or better yet overnight. When ready to serve, thin soup to desired consistency with cream or cold water, if needed. Serve with any or all garnishes to your heart’s content.

Freeze any remaining vichyssoise for up to one month. When ready to serve, thaw the vichyssoise in the refrigerator overnight and then then with a bit of cream or cold water to your desired consistency and serve.

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Vichyssoise with a Twist

Makes about 12 cups (3 quarts)

This recipe is a variation of one from Food & Wine magazine and can easily be cut in half depending on how many folks you are serving and the portion for each person. I made it ahead of time and took it to enjoy at a friend’s cabin as a first course. It was easy to transport in a small cooler along side the frozen shrimp, cocktail sauce, and bloody mary mixer we also enjoyed that weekend.

2 large (10-ounces) leeks
2 -3 garlic cloves, or to taste, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
¼ cup unsalted butter (2 ounces)
4 cups lower-sodium vegetable broth or chicken broth, preferably homemade
1 cup water, or as needed
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 medium zucchini, ends removed and chopped
1 ripe avocado
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Garnishes – you’ve got options
Minced fresh chives
Chopped fresh parsley
Chopped fresh dill fronds
Garlic croutons
Shaved pecorino Romano cheese

Trim and discard root ends and the dark green tops, reserving the white and light green parts of the leeks. Cut leeks in half lengthwise, then cut into ¼-inch slices. Add them to a large bowl of cold water swishing them around to dislodge any dirt that may be lurking inside the leaves. Carefully lift the leek slices out of the water, leaving the grit behind. (You should have about 7 cups sliced leeks.)

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt, cook, stirring often, until leeks are softened but have not caramelized, about 7 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and continue to cook until softened, about another minute.

Add broth, potatoes, and water to cover. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are almost tender, about 25 minutes. Add chopped zucchini and continue to cook. Peel and chop avocado, add to leek mixture. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until potatoes and zucchini are tender. Remove from heat and add grated nutmeg (if using) and allow to cool about 10 – 15 minutes.

Working in batches, ladle the leek mixture into a blender. Place lid on blender leaving a bit of a gap to allow steam to escape. Place a clean towel over the lid and process each batch until completely smooth.

Transfer puréed soup to a heatproof bowl and add the cream. Refrigerate, uncovered, until completely cold, then transfer to lidded containers and continue refrigerating at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

When ready to serve, remove soup from refrigerator. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Ladle desired amount evenly among bowls. Garnish with any of the suggestions.

Make Ahead 
Any remaining soup can be frozen for a month. The day prior to serving, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Add a bit of cream or cold water to the desired consistency and serve.

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Bruschetta with “Mashed” Pea Spread and Chèvre


Having returned from my local farmer’s market with a bag each of sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes, I decided to whip up a plate of bruschetta, riffing on a recipe from bon appétit magazine. The original recipe calls for 2 cups/pounds of peas. I started shelling the fresh sugar snaps and realized very quickly that I’d never end up with 2 cups.

Instead, I used a 10 ounce bag of Sno Pac frozen peas I had stashed in the freezer. I also blanched a handful of the fresh sugar snaps thinking I needed to make up some of the 2 pounds called for in the original recipe. In the end they weren’t needed, but were totally delicious. Even so, I basically cut the original recipe in half. I’m glad I did or I’d still be eating the “mashed” pea spread.

Mashed Pea Spread
1 garlic clove
2 sprigs fresh flat or curly parsley
1 sprig fresh basil
10 ounces fresh or frozen green peas
Kosher salt
1 cup fresh spring pea pods*
2 – 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Rind of 1/4 preserved lemon, diced, you can add more or less as you like
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
¼ teaspoon piment d’Espelette, or to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Marinated Tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
2 teaspoons basil, chopped (chiffonade)
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Grilled Bruschetta
1 or 2 baguettes, as you wish
½-1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Other Toppings
4 ounces fresh goat (chèvre) or sheeps milk cheese
Fresh thyme leaves, chopped for garnish
Fresh parsley leaves, chopped for garnish
Aged Italian Balsamic to taste

In a medium saucepan add garlic, parsley and basil stems, peas, pinch of salt and ½ cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender, about 5 minutes for fresh peas and 2 -3 minutes for frozen. Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

*If adding whole fresh sugar snap peas, return the reserved water to the saucepan and cook them for about 5 minutes or until tender, adding an additional 1/4 cup or so of water if needed. Drain the pea pods and reserve cooking liquid.

If using the whole pea pods, transfer them first to the bowl of a food processor. Using the metal “S” blade, pulse until finely chopped. (Note; you will need to scrape down the bowl more than once.) Add the remaining peas, garlic, parsley and basil stems and pulse until a coarse paste forms.

Transfer to a medium bowl, mixing in chives, chopped preserved lemon rind, lemon juice, piment d’Espelette and olive oil to taste. Stir in reserved cooking liquid a bit at a time until mixture is spreadable but still thick. Season the pea spread with salt and black pepper to taste. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, add the quartered cherry tomatoes, basil, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

Fire up the grill. While the grill is heating, slice the baguette(s) on the bias in ½ inch slices. Drizzle both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill the bread slices on both sides until lightly browned.  Remove from the grill.

When ready to serve, spread the goat cheese on the toasts. Top with the pea spread, cherry tomatoes, and fresh thyme leaves. Drizzle with balsamic and serve with a chilled rosé.

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Roasted Fennel Crusted Pork Belly

I jumped on the pork belly craze a few years back and have been experimenting with a variety of dry rubs. Slices of this fennel crusted number is delicious as part of a Ramen bowl or atop a bowl of lentils.

Remember that when selecting a worthy slab, if possible, go for one that has the same thickness thoughout so that it cooks evenly.
1 ½ to 2 pounds pork belly, skin-on
2 teaspoons whole fennel
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Freshly ground black pepper

Using paper toweling dry the pork belly. With a sharp knife, score the fat/skin side every ½-inch at a diagonal. Repeat cutting in an opposite diagonal to create a diamond shape pattern. Set aside.

Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind the fennel. Mix with salt, sugar, and pepper. Rub the pork belly on all sides. Wrap in food film and refrigerate overnight. When ready to continue remove the pork belly from the refrigerator and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Set the pork belly skin/fat side up on a grill pan or a roasting rack. Roast pork belly for 30 minutes on the middle rack. Reduce heat to 275°F and continue roasting for an additional hour or until tender but not mushy. (Larger pieces of pork belly will take longer.)

Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Wrap tightly in food film and refrigerate until chilled through – at least a few hours and up to 2 days (this makes for easier slicing). Reheat slices in a sauté pan and serve as desired.

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Classic Italian Pizzelles

These pizzelles are light and crisp. Serve them plain or dusted with powdered sugar. To keep them crisp, store them in an airtight container. Makes between 28 – 30 pizzelles depending on size

1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, (don’t use oil as a substitute)
1 3/4 cups (8.3 oz/ 235 g) All-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground anise seed or extract (optional)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Set a sieve over a medium bowl and sift together flour, baking powder, and ground anise seed (if using). Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together eggs and sugar. Whisk in the cooled melted butter, vanilla, and anise extract (if using instead of the anise seed). Switch to a wooden spoon and mix the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Batter will be stiff enough to be dropped by spoon. Batter can also be refrigerated to be baked off later.

When ready to proceed, heat a pizzelle iron until hot (the light goes off on mine when ready). Using a heatproof pastry brush, brush a bit of clarified butter on the top and bottom of the pan. Drop a spoonful of batter onto each side of the iron. (I used a #50 ice cream scoop, about ½ full.)

Close the lid and cook for about 30 seconds (give or take depending on your iron). Using a fork or offset spatula carefully remove to a cooling rack until the pizzelles are cold and crisp.

VARIATION PIZZELLE CON CIOCCOLATTE: Add 3 tablespoons cocoa and 3 tablespoons sugar to the basic Italian Pizzelle recipe. If desired, you may substitute chocolate flavoring instead of the vanilla and anise flavoring.

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Linzer Cookies

Whether it’s cookie, pie or tart dough, I’ve been experimenting with rolling out doughs between parchment paper or plastic wrap as soon as I make the dough instead of forming the dough into a disk. Using either eliminates the need for flour and therefore, the dough scrapes can be rerolled a couple of times instead of traditionally only once.

Because the dough is already pliable, it saves time as I don’t have to wait for the disk to come back to room temperature. I also find that regardless of whether it’s disk form or rolled out, by allowing it to rest in the fridge there’s no shrinkage when baked.

2/3 cup (2.4 oz / 65 g) powdered sugar 
½ cup (2.5 oz / 70 g) almond flour (or blanched and slivered, sliced or whole almonds)
1 cup (5 oz / 140 g) all-purpose flour 
¼ teaspoon kosher salt 
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk, beaten
1 tablespoon heavy cream 
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cup seedless raspberry  or apricot jam

If you don’t have almond flour, in a food processor using the metal “S” blade process the sugar and almonds until almonds are finely ground, about 20 seconds. Add flour, salt, and butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, 15 to 20 pulses.

In a small bowl whisk together egg yolk, cream, vanilla, and almond extract. Pour over the flour mixture and process until dough just begins to come together. Transfer dough to a counter and using the palm of your hand, smear the dough until it comes together. Divide dough in half and roll each piece out between 2 sheets of parchment paper to a scant 1/8-inch. Leave the dough between the parchment paper, transfer to a half-sheet pan and refrigerate at least one hour or better yet overnight.

When ready to proceed, adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Using 2-inch fluted square or round cookie cutter, cut out cookies and space ¾-inch apart on prepared sheets. Using a smaller cutter, cut out centers from half of cookies. Gather and reroll scraps. Bake until edges are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Let cookies cool completely.

Spread bottom of each solid cookie with 1 teaspoon jam, then top with cutout cookie, pressing lightly to adhere. Let cookies set before serving, about 30 minutes.

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