Matcha Almond Cookies

matcha almond cookies // sweetsonian

matcha almond cookies // sweetsonian

I am a creature of habit. If I force myself to do something over and over again, as annoying as it is at first, the task gets easier every day. Part of this process is repeating this statement over and over again, because if I train myself to become a creature of habit, well, perhaps one day it will be true.

On the one hand, I am and have been a creature of habit in the past, but on the other hand, I am incredibly stubborn… and sometimes lazy. Perhaps laziness happens as a result of being a creature of habit — because if I make being lazy a habit, well, then I’m back to square one, right?

When I was a kid, I would lose things. Coloring books and dolls at first, but as I got older, keys, sunglasses, and lip gloss would just get left behind, recklessly abandoned on a daily or a weekly basis. My dad, at one point, had an intervention. I remember his sigh of disgust, as in, are you kidding me, Sarah? You lost something again?

The trick, according to him, was to make sure everything had a place to go. I nodded, but also knew that this was also his way of trying to get me to keep my room clean (saw right through that, Dad). The solution that worked for me, however, was to essentially narrate my entire life in my head. Have you ever done that? Every time I put my keys down, I’d think to myself, I’m putting my keys down on my desk. Or, I’m leaving my sunglasses in my car tray.

It works for things. But there are still habits — like waking up early and eating well. I know that I should do both, but it’s hard to do when you stay up late and agree to go to happy hour four nights in a row. So this is my own personal intervention.

Now that it’s August, it almost seems like summer is wrapping up and we’re going to squeeze in every last drop of warm weather. But like every other summer, I find myself itching for fall. In fact, I replaced a pair of boots in July (re: they were on sale!). 

These cookies were a symbol of lack of control. I made them a couple of weekends ago, when I had a Monday off. So what was two boxes filled with cookies gradually dwindled to one, and by Tuesday, I had eaten an entire box, so I hid them in my purse and handed them over to the coworkers.

This week was the beginning of my detox. My conscious effort to make a habit of not eating half a batch of cookies, and of not spending half of my paycheck on expensive dinners and cocktails. Tomorrow is a new day. But it does feel good, to set a goal and actually get into the habit of sticking to your guns. But the matcha cookies (and a last brunch at one of my favorite spots in DC) were some damn good indulgences, and I do not regret them.

matcha almond cookies // sweetsonian

matcha almond cookies // sweetsonian

matcha almond cookies // sweetsonian

Matcha almond cookies  Continue reading “Matcha Almond Cookies”

Cardamom Pound Cake

cardamom pound cake // sweetsonian

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Cardamom is a spice that you don’t come across too much in American cooking. I never really knew what it was until I was 19, wide-eyed and living in Tanzania for the summer — it was the main ingredient in a selection of teas and desserts, occasionally, in one of the rice dishes we had. Thinking back, there are a lot of things I wish I could change about that trip, but mostly myself: how I viewed life, how I acted back then. I’m sure we all have those moments (days, weeks, months).

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Just the taste of cardamom reminds me of how much we can change in just seven years. Back then, I was on a mission to prove my dedication to international development, and to prove to my parents that I didn’t need to listen to every piece of advice they scolded my way.

I deserved the scolding. I was an asshole back then (oh man, I hope-hope-hope I’m not nearly as much of an asshole now).

But no matter how broke I was because of that trip, I wouldn’t take it back for the world.

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I lived with a handful of other volunteer teachers in a house near Bahari Beach, just outside of Dar es Salaam. There were a few women who lived in the house that also cooked for us and taught us bits and pieces of Swahili — which I used to be alright at — but honestly, the memory that sticks with me more than anything is the scent and the taste of the cardamom-infused chai tea that greeted me every morning.

They mixed the tea from scratch, and boiled water in huge vats — water that was used throughout the day for cooking, laundering, and other methods of cleaning. The tea was strained directly into a giant, baby pink thermos, and had enough tea for everyone in the house to have at least a few cups of.

Breakfast usually included a few cups of tea, lesson planning, and toast with a glass of fresh passionfruit juice. Then, I’d hop onto tht dala dala, a bus that was so packed with people that no morning was complete without a stranger sitting on your lap or crouched between the other 20 riders on a 10-person bus. After teaching elementary school in the morning and high school in the afternoon, I usually took the bus back to Bahari beach, and walked to the beach itself — not far from Rold Dahl’s house, and a separate dial-up internet cafe.

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I had a typical Tanzanian school notebook that I used as a journal back then. It shouldn’t surprise you that I was a journal-writer, because, well, I write to you here as often as I can. I will say, it’s nice to have an actual reader for this type of stuff.

But after a drink or dinner at the beach cafe, I’d come back to the volunteer house and hang out with the girls and the other volunteers. I’d cross my fingers the entire walk back, hoping that there would be some tea left.

But then again, there was always beer, too.

Baking this cake filled my apartment with the scent of cardamom, which only made me drift back even further into these memories. I bought a massive box of Chai Bora before I left Tanzania — but I went through the tea ever so quickly, back in my UCSB days of daily, chilly morning Arabic classes.

They say scents spark the strongest memories, and when they do, years might have passed between the last time you even remembered the details your mind pairs with those scents.

It felt like years had passed since I smelled cardamom. The scent is comforting.

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Recipe after the jump.  Continue reading “Cardamom Pound Cake”

Candied Lemon Florentines

Let’s be honest.  I’m not Julia Child.  I’m a baker, maybe on the borderline of pastry chef.  I could be more of a Martha.  But she’s no Julia Child.  Which is perhaps why her recipe for chicken liver pate was an absolute disaster.  I’m not talking about a kitchen explosion, a hot mess, or some catastrophic mishap — the pate was just bland.  Not good.  Meh.

Perhaps I remember pate tasting much better than it actually did.  But then again, this was more than two years ago, when a Frenchman brought pate to my Westwood apartment for a graduation celebration.  I do trust the French when it comes to food.  After all, that same Frenchman lit crepes doused in rum on fire in my kitchen.  Perhaps that pate was duck and not chicken, or perhaps it had a different array of spices.  But lesson learned: I will never use this recipe again.  It was… gross.  And the worst part of all had nothing to do with the taste of it, or the fact that I’ll never get that hour of my life back.  It was that, after all the effort, it didn’t even look pretty.  It’s actually very ugly, and I am still very bitter that I man-handled bloody chicken livers for ten minutes in complete vain.  I guess that’s one of the reasons why I love baking so much; even if it tastes like dirt, you can find some way to make it look pretty.  And it usually tastes pretty good.  I’m a huge fan of icing, which can make almost anything taste like heaven.  Or chocolate.  It’s pretty much heaven by itself.

This past weekend, my house threw our annual cookie “rager.”  It’s our twenty-something yuppie version of a traditional cookie exchange, which involves massive amounts of cookies, sangria, and dancing.  More than forty people were crammed into our little townhouse like dancing sardines.  There was even couch dancing for the sake of space.  It actually reminded me of one of my favorite movie scenes — the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Anyway, it was satisfying to see many of the people that I can hardly keep in touch with between classes and running — and, I recruited a few new running buddies.  It was only appropriate to talk up fitness at a cookie rager as everyone plowed through pounds of cookies and booze.

These were my cookies — candied lemon florentines.  My office benefitted from the leftovers this morning.  It took all of twenty minutes for them to disappear from the coffee room.

 

 

WHAT YOU NEED:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream
4 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 cup finely chopped candied citrus peel
1 cup ground almond flour
1 cup sliced almonds

WHAT TO DO:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter.

Slowly stir in the sugar and the heavy cream over high heat, until the mixture boils.

Then, remove from heat and stir in the flour, citrus peel, almond flour, and almonds. Mix well.

Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and drop batter in round, 1-tablespoon measurements, leaving a few inches between each one. If you have silicone cupcake or florentine molds, that would work even better than the parchment paper — I’m just too poor to buy those right now! So parchment paper will have to do.

Place the cookies in the oven, and let them bake for 10-15 minutes. The time really depends on how crispy you would like your florentines. I, personally, prefer them light and on the chewy side. But the longer you leave them in, the crunchier and darker they will be.

The batter spreads into a delicate lace pattern, which can be lethal when painted in chocolate (and perhaps formed into sandwiches with multiple cookies and a ridiculous mess).

When removing the florentines from the oven, be sure to let the cookies sit for at least 15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack, eat, and repeat.

 

Almond Flavored Ice Cream

After much fluctuation, it seems that the warm weather is here to stay — I’m writing this on my balcony, after wasting my beautiful Saturday in bed, sadly, under the weather.  Nothing beats having a south-facing balcony in a Dupont row house.  This balcony serves as the background for most of my food photography, has hosted many candle-lit dinners amongst Reagan National flight patterns, and served as the same balcony I sat on when I first met Kristen at the open house when I moved to Washington.  Aside from my bed (where I spent most of my day), the balcony really is my favorite part of this old house.

Some of my favorite DC memories take place on this balcony — for example, a thunderstorm dinner with friends, or eating almond-flavored ice cream with Rachel at 3 A.M. (last night).  The ice cream making came as a surprise to me.  After one day of lunch break perusing on ebay and Amazon for an inexpensive ice cream machine, I painfully convinced myself not to buy anything — so I left work that day and met up with Dave for sangria and tapas.  Afterwards, I met his mother at her beautiful house in the U Street area, discovering another foodie at heart.  I mentioned my pining for an ice cream machine and the pain I went through in convincing myself to spend money elsewhere… and then she pulled her unopened Krups ice cream machine out of a closet (literally) and let me borrow it.  Needless to say, this almond ice cream can be attributed to her.  It’s nice having a fellow foodie to leave with confectionary creations.  Anyway, this ice cream hasn’t lasted more than a day or two in my house — Kristen and Silje have told me that this ice cream flavor trumps all other flavors.  I plan on making some home made ice cream sandwiches with it, so you will all see those photos soon enough!

WHAT YOU NEED:

1/4 cup almond flour
2 cups milk (I used skim)
3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream (Obviously canceling out the skim milk.  Oh well!)
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons almond extract

WHAT TO DO:

Toss the almond flour in your food processor and grind down to a paste — it took me about 5-7 minutes.  Then, heat the milk and cream in a saucepan, adding the almond paste.  Bring to a boil, then immediately remove from heat.  Set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine the egg yolks, sugar, and almond extract.  Stir with a whisk until even, then add to the saucepan — you mix them separately, in this case, to avoid the eggs cooking in the almond-cream solution (learn from my mistakes).  Heat on low for about five minutes, stirring constantly.

Cool the mixture, then use in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  I had ice cream in about 30 minutes :)

Almond Flour

I’ve mentioned it before as a staple in my kitchen, but I really can’t emphasize how much I love almonds. Raw, roasted, covered in chocolate, in pesto sauces, garnishing cookies, lining cakes–I could seriously go on for days. Almond happens to be one of my favorite flavors in the world. A close friend of my dad runs a contracting business by day, and enjoys cooking by night. In my free time I’d hang out at his place and do random side jobs for him, in exchange for some extra pocket cash. Sometimes I’d be running spreadsheets or writing his checks, but most of the time he had me slaving away in the kitchen. Which never ever felt like slaving away–cooking was the love of his life, and he needed a sous chef. Which is pretty much how I learned to cook.
He introduced me to the florentine recipe, which we fumbled with a few times–miscalculations turned our lace cookies into macaroons on a number of occasions. From the florentine recipe emerged a serious personal relationship with almond-flavored things. One day, he made almond-flavored ice cream, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so smitten for an inanimate thing (for lack of a better word) ever since. These days, I do not own an ice cream maker and must resort to dreaming of the day I’ll have the resources to reunite with that dish. Thankfully, I don’t have an ice cream maker, though. Only the gods know what kind of trouble I’d get myself into if I did.
Nevertheless, almonds have been known for their good flavor, texture, and their health benefits. It seems to be one of those miracle foods (e.g., garlic, prunes, etc.), but better. They’re high in mono-saturated fats, protein, potassium, fiber, and folic acid–regulating cholesterol, improving digestion, and boosting energy as well as brain development. Amazing!

Given this background, I try to include almonds in many of my dishes. The easiest way to do that is with almond flour. Phrased simply: almonds ground down as finely as you can possibly do so. I’ll substitute a portion of what a recipe would normally call for all-purpose flour with a portion of almond flour. It adds a good flavor, a coarse texture, and convinces me that I’m getting better nutrients out of the dishes I make.

WHAT YOU NEED:
Food processor
2-3 cups slivered almonds
WHAT TO DO:
It’s simple, really. You just put the almonds in the food processor, and pulse-grind until the nuts are ground into a fine and light meal-ish consistency.
I say pulse-grind because you want the motions of the food processor to be quick, staccato (hello to my fellow piano enthusiasts), and evenly-spaced out. The reason behind this is that a long, constant grind will eventually release the natural oils from the nuts, and turn your flour into a thick paste–also known as almond butter. Which is delicious, by the way. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of peanuts or peanut butter, so almond butter serves as my heavenly alternative.
If you would like to take the path towards almond butter, simply add a splash of vanilla extract and perhaps a pinch of sugar, slowly, as your flour turns to a paste. It takes about 8-10 minutes to get to that point. If you’re a Nutella fanatic like me, add some cocoa powder to the butter also, to taste. You could have your own almond version of Nutella (which, by the way, is fantastic with crepes).

Candied Citrus and Almond Florentines



I’ve finally gotten it together–the food blog. My longing to get back into my life as a writer crossed paths with my kitchen obsession. It’s time to show off some dishes to the world.

So, let’s kick off a healthy online relationship with some good, old-fashioned, way-less-complicated-than-they-seem cookies. Alright, so that hyphenated adjective phrase might be a white lie. It’s really not that bad, though.

Yesterday, I arrived home after dealing with a frustrating independence issue. Luckily, my new Cuisineart food processor, new in the box, was waiting for me when I arrived home. Nothing gets your mind off of stress better than throwing a bunch of things in a plastic container to get shredded. You should try it. Anyway, here’s a recipe for Candied Citrus and Almond Florentine Cookies, my absolute FAVORITE recipe in the world. Hands down.

WHAT YOU NEED:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream
4 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 cup finely chopped candied citrus peel
1 cup ground almond flour
1 cup sliced almonds

WHAT TO DO:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter.

Slowly stir in the sugar and the heavy cream over high heat, until the mixture boils.

Then, remove from heat and stir in the flour, citrus peel, almond flour, and almonds. Mix well.

Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and drop batter in round, 1-tablespoon measurements, leaving a few inches between each one. If you have silicone cupcake or florentine molds, that would work even better than the parchment paper — I’m just too poor to buy those right now! So parchment paper will have to do.

Place the cookies in the oven, and let them bake for 10-15 minutes. The time really depends on how crispy you would like your florentines. I, personally, prefer them light and on the chewy side. But the longer you leave them in, the crunchier and darker they will be.

The batter spreads into a delicate lace pattern, which can be lethal when painted in chocolate (and perhaps formed into sandwiches with multiple cookies and a ridiculous mess).

When removing the florentines from the oven, be sure to let the cookies sit for at least 15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack, eat, and repeat.