Author Archives: saltandserenity

Oatmeal Lace Speculoos Sandwich Cookies

cookies and milk jug 1F 625 sqI was first introduced to Speculoos over 20 years ago by my Belgian neighbour Brigitte.  These were the cookies of her childhood. Imagine if you can, a gingersnap on steroids. Bolder and much more aggressive than typical gingersnaps,  Speculoos are brimming with dark brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. A few packages of these crunchy thin biscuits always made it into her suitcase to bring back to Ottawa to share with us after a visit home with her mom. Brigitte speaks with a bit of an accent and the first time she served us the cookies I thought I heard her say “Speculum.” Kind of an odd name for a cookie I thought! Sometimes my mind wanders to strange places. Lotus speculoosThen in 2007, something wonderful happened. Els Scheppers, a very creative Belgian woman,  crushed up some Lotus brand Speculoos cookies and mixed them with sugar and oil to create a sweet, creamy cookie butter spread. Hearing about this delicious concoction, Lotus Bakeries got in touch with Els and collaborated to perfect her creation. When it was released for sale to the Belgian market, it promptly sold out. People went bonkers for this stuff. Reminiscent of Nutella or peanut butter, but way more delicious! There is no end to the creative uses for Speculoos Cookie Butter. I have also heard that some people just eat it straight from the jar. 

Trader Joes jumped on the bandwagon in 2011 and Speculoos Cookie Butter was born. In 2013 they launched Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl and pretty soon after that they had to start limiting customers to 1 jar each. It got a bit crazy there for a while. Luckily, it has become so mainstream that you can find several brands of speculoos cookie spread on most supermarket shelves, right beside the peanut butter and hazelnut spreads. trader joes and lotusThese oatmeal lace sandwich cookies are the creation of cookie wizzard Nick Malgieri. I may have mentioned him in a previous post! He sandwiched them with chocolate ganache. I decided to use speculoos cookie butter.mise en place 2

mixing batterThe batter for these gossamer thin lacy cookies gets mixed by hand in a bowl. Leave lots of room on the baking sheet as you form them. They really spread. dough spreadsOnce cooled, pipe a generous dollop of speculoos cookie spread on half the cookies and then sandwich them. filling cookiesin white tray

Click here to print recipe for Oatmeal Lace Speculoos Sandwich Cookies.

Chocolate Dipped Pistachio Shortbread Cookies

cookies and milk 2This is a tale of cookie evolution. These sweet beauties started off their short life as Cheddar Pistachio Biscuits. I had envisioned them as a little nibble to have with a glass of Prosecco over the holidays. I thought they would be similar to the Cheddar Biscuits I made a few years ago, which were met with rave reviews by my wine swilling  sipping girls weekend friends. I baked up a batch of the Cheddar Pistachio biscuits and was kind of horrified by the results. The orange cheddar clashed horribly with the green pistachios and offended my highly tuned sense of aesthetics. I could deal with the ghastly appearance if the flavours were good, but they just tasted so odd, because they were neither sweet or savoury, but rather a muddled in-between. It just confused the palate. With blessings by my tasting panel (husband and child #2), they got tossed.

Being December, I decided to wholeheartedly enmbrace the sweet route and make a pistachio shortbread cookie. And because December is all about excess, (we have January to practice our moderation skills after all!) I dipped these in melted bittersweet chocolate and rolled them in some finely chopped pistachios. The inspiration for this recipe came from a 2004 Bon Appetit recipe for hazelnut shortbread sticks. They rolled the dough into little fingers, baked and then dipped them. I sped the whole process up by turning these into slice and bake cookies.mise en placerolling logs of doughslicing cookiesdippingEach cookie is heavily studded with coarsely chopped pistachios, so that each bite delivers crunch. The final dunk into the bittersweet chocolate provides a perfect balance for the richness of these sweet and buttery cookies. cookies 625 sq

Click here to print the recipe for Chocolate Dipped Pistachio Shortbread.

cooling on rack 625 sq

 

Farro Soup and Sadness

serving soup 625 sqTurns out that contrary to what you might expect, listening to sad songs when you’re feeling blue can actually make you feel better. You would think that bopping along to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off would give you a lift, but actually, listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide turns out to be more beneficial. 

A recent German study has revealed that listening to sad songs can improve a person’s emotional well being as well as make you feel at peace and nostalgic. Liila Taruffi, one of the authors of the study was interviewed on todayhealth.com. She summarized the findings, explaining that essentially there are four benefits to be reaped through listening to sad songs.

1. Sad songs allow you to feel sadness without any of its “real-life implications.” In other words, you can safely explore what it’s like to be a little blue without experiencing the intense grief of mourning a loved one, for example.

2. “Emotion regulation” was another important reward. Many respondents said that when they were in a bad mood, experiencing sadness through music made them feel better afterwards and provided an emotional boost. That may be because the songs help them to express and release their emotions.

3. The reward of “imagination” allowed listeners to feel as though they could express themselves as richly as the mournful music.

4. The “empathy” reward made the listener feel good by allowing him to share the sadness of another human being through the song.

Reading the results of this study, I couldn’t help come to the conclusion that there may very well be a culinary equivalent to sad songs.  Sure, playing Pharrell William’s Happy at an ear splitting volume while downing a pint of Salted Caramel Ice Cream will make me feel better in the short run, but tomorrow I will regret my decision to finish the whole tub. Seems like a better choice would have been a bowl of soup. Soup has the ability to soothe and comfort. It warms your soul.

This hearty Farro Soup is based on a traditional soup (Minestra di Faro Lucchese), which hails from the walled town of Lucca, in Tuscany. My version of it is slightly adapted from Mario Batali’s interpretation.a squeeze of tomato psteadding farroI usually buy large wedges of Parmesan cheese for grating. When the cheese is done, and all that’s left is the rind, I toss it into a ziploc bag in the freezer. I toss the frozen rinds into a pot of soup. The umami properties of Parmesan cheese add a real depth of flavour to the broth.

Parmesan rind for flavour

A good cry while listening to Carly Simon’s “Haven’t Got Time For The Pain“, and a big bowl of this soup may just get you through your latest round of heartbreak or grief. Not quite the same as a hug from your mom, but close.bowl of soup with toasr

Click here to print recipe for Farro Soup.

 

Roasted Squash with Smoked Paprika, Maple Syrup and Sage Salt

Roasted squash 2 625 sqWhile home for a visit last weekend, my daughter observed the mess on our dining room table and expressed the opinion that perhaps I may have developed a bit of a hoarding problem. “Don’t you think you’ve acumulated enough food photography props mom?” she asked.DR tableClearly she doesn’t understand. Those are all spring/summer props. Now I need to start acquiring appropriate fall/winter props. While some parents turn their kid’s vacated bedrooms into gift wrapping quarters or perhaps an extra closet to store off season clothing, it is entirely possible that her bedroom may be converted into my props closet, if I continue collecting at my current rate.

Of course it doesn’t help when my sister sends me these charming bowls. They were intended as nut bowls, but they are just perfect as mise en place bowls for a photo shoot!  I let out a squealed with joy when I opened my gift. I have an extreme fondness for bowls! The colour combination of these little vessels is just gorgeous. little bowlsShe found them in Toronto at The Cookery Store. I have since discovered you can also get them online at Fishs Eddy.

I had a glut of winter squash after a recent photo shoot, and I needed to use them up before they went bad. My go-to ingredient for roasting vegetables is smoked paprika. It just makes everything taste better. The inspiration for this roasted squash hails from Melissa Clark’s book, Cook This Now. She mixed smoked paprika with olive oil and honey and smeared it all over squash before roasting. I swapped out the honey for some maple syrup, because that’s just the way we Canadians roll!ingredients

brushing squashMelissa suggests finishing the roasted squash with a sprinkling of homemade sage salt. So simple to make; just bake some fresh sage leaves for about 10 minutes, until crispy. Then crumble them between your fingers with some coarse sea salt. Earthy, and slightly bitter, sage makes a perfect partener for sweet squash. A final sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds adds a welcome crunch.

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Squash with Maple Syrup, Smoked Paprika and Sage Salt.

Roasted squash 1 625 sq

Pear Parsnip Pistachio Soup

Pear Parsnip pistachio soup 2 625 sqPear Parsnip Pistachio Soup. Say that 3 times fast! If you or your progeny are of a certain vintage, the title of this soup may bring back memories of a certain Sesame Street Fairy Tale called The King Banishes the Letter P, featuring King Peter The Persnickety.

I just adore the shape and all the gorgeous colour variations of fall pears. However, for eating out of hand, pears just don’t set my pulse racing like a crisp Sweetango apple. But when cooked, the flesh of pears becomes silky and velvety. That’s what I wanted to capture in this soup.pears 2I decided to combine the pears with parsnips. The earthy tangy quality of the parsnips would provide the perfect balance for the sweetness of the pears. Looking for inspiration, I stumbled across a recipe for a Pear Parsnip soup with a very odd list of disparate ingredients that included wine, milk, pistachios and a chile pepper. But then I saw that the recipe was from Stephanie Izard’s (Top Chef winner Season 4) cookbook, Girl in the Kitchen. Long a fan of Stephanie’s big bold flavours, I knew I had to try this soup. parsnips

cooking soupI baked some pear chips to accompany the soup, because I like a little crunch with a pureed soup. They couldn’t be simpler to make. Slice firm pears very thinly on a mandolin. Or, if your knife skills are excellent and you can slice very thinly and evenly with a sharp knife, go for it! No need to peel or core the pears.  Lay them flat, in a single layer (do not overlap) on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 200°F for 45 minutes. Turn the pears over and bake for another 30-45 minutes until they are curled up at the edges and golden brown. They will still be a bit pliable at this point but will harden upon cooling. making pear chipsThe pear chips will keep for a week, in an airtight container. You could sprinkle a bit of salt or cinnamon on them before baking, but I just left mine plain. They make such a pretty garnish for the soup. Pear Parsnip pistachio soup 3Sometimes pureed root vegetable soups can taste a little bit flat, and you aren’t really sure what vegetables you’re tasting. I wanted both the pears and the parsnip flavours to shine through. This soup delivered in spades. The chile flakes quietly announce themselves with a gentle heat that does not smack you over the head. The wine provides much needed acidity and the milk contributes a mellow gentle background note. Salty pistachios add texture and a wonderful counterpoint to the sweet pears. 

Click here to print recipe for Pear Parsnip and Pistachio Soup.