Friday, November 20, 2015

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate-Chip Biscotti

With such a busy Fall, it’s barely occurred to me that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and now I’ve worked myself into a pre-Thanksgiving panic about the lack of pumpkin desserts I’ve made this year.  I operate with this irrational belief that after Thanksgiving, all pumpkin desserts are rendered obsolete as we move into the realm of winter gingerbreads and puddings. As if only when the leaves are still in the trees can I dabble in pumpkin bread, muffins, pie, lattes, parfaits, cookies, squares, bars…the list goes on and on.

Now, I’ve been very prepared to make all of these desserts since September, when I caught wind of a potential pumpkin shortage in the US and stocked my pantry to the brim with cans of puree. “There’s going to be a pumpkin shortage,” I whispered gravely to the cashier at Trader Joe’s as he loaded up bags of my endangered squash, my eyes darting suspiciously at any one who ventured near the display. “Good luck getting all this home,” he replied.

And I started off strong. I made a few pumpkin breads, but I ate them in like, three days. I was introduced to the dazzling concept of pumpkin butter, but found myself eating it by the spoonful late-night, too often. Finally, I decided I needed something pumpkiny that would last, that would allow me to consume my beloved cucurbita with abandon but also not give me that “oh my god I can’t believe I ate that WHOLE thing” feeling afterward, either. A ritualized post-dinner tea drinker,  I decided to turn to tea’s favorite cookie: biscotti.  Specifically, Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate-Chip Biscotti.
I am a total biscotti junkie, and not just because of the taste. I like how biscotti resides on the lighter side of the cookie spectrum; void of butter or oil and not too sweet. I like how the hard texture likens it to a biscuit or sweet cracker. Instead of feeling super indulgent, it feels practical, utilitarian—like a sensible fixed presence that accompanies your cup of tea or coffee. Yet, there’s just the right amount of chocolate to quench that dessert craving. Plus, the pumpkin flavor is spot on: subtle, but spiced just right to give a recognizable nod to fall.
Because it is twice-baked, biscotti is a bit more labor-intensive than a regular cookie: It has to bake, cool, bake again, cool again. But once made, it lasts forever when sealed in an air tight jar, so you can count on a supply when that pumpkin craving comes knocking. I love to dip it in my tea or coffee, but you can also use it as a vehicle to spread pumpkin butter— twice as nice for those with a pumpkin vice!

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate-Chip Biscotti (adapted from Chocolate Moosey)

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour ( whole-wheat, white, or combination)
¾ cup granulated sugar (add ¼ cup for a sweeter cookie)
1 tsp baking powder
1½ Tbsp cinnamon
1½ Tbsp nutmeg  
¼ teaspoon ginger spice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
teaspoon salt
2 eggs (can substitute flax seed eggs: 1 Tbsp flax seed + 2 ½ Tbsp water per egg)
½ cup canned pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, and salt.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in the flour until incorporated (it will be lumpy, that’s OK!) then stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
4. On a floured surface with floured hands, lightly knead the dough. Place the dough on the parchment paper and pat out into a log that is roughly 15-20 inches by 5-6 inches, no more than ½ inch high. If dough is too sticky, add a little bit more flour.
5. Bake for 22 to ­25 minutes or until brown, set on the edges, and center is firm. Remove from the oven. Turn the oven down to 300F.

6. Cool biscotti for 15 minutes, then with a serrated knife, cut into ½ inch wide pieces. Place cut side down back onto the cookie sheet and bake an additional 15­ to 20 minutes until firm. Cool completely before eating.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lentil Salad with Mint, Roasted Peppers, and Feta Cheese

Regarding the emotional needs of legumes, I would like to put forth the argument that lentils are in urgent need of some love. The poor petite pulses are so narrowly confined to their namesake soup, save a marginal feature in the occasional veggie burger or salad. It’s as if the lentil’s inherit earthiness keeps it tethered to dishes that are similarly mellow—chill, easy flavors often paired side-by-side with likeminded constituents such as mushrooms, quinoa, and squash. The laid-back lentil!

That is, until our little timorous legume got a major makeover in Deborah Madison’s Lentil Salad with Roasted Peppers, Mint, and Feta Cheese. Here, the lentil positively shines in a snazzy, salacious salad: all dressed up (literally) in a tangy, punchy dressing and flanked with flavor-forward accouterments like briny feta, fresh herbs, and flame-kissed roasted red peppers. Instead of burying the lentils in earthy tones, they are brilliantly enveloped in exciting ones.  A dressing of tart lemon juice and rind, smoky paprika, and slick olive oil is punchy to say the least, but it’s the treatment of the lentils themselves that deliver extra pop to this recipe: simmered in a rich stock of onion, carrot, garlic, and bay leaf, which not only adds killer flavor to the lentils but produces a delightful, meaty broth on the side.
In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, I am super excited about this salad. It’s a very exciting salad! A salad deserving multiple exclamation marks!! (It’s also a Food52 Genius recipe, meaning it’s unarguably excellent). What’s more, this delightful, underused seasonal legume—by seasonal I mean with a hearty nature apropos to the colder months, you can obviously buy lentils year round—also happens to be a nutritional powerhouse.
When it comes to nutrition, lentils aren’t joking around. A single cup of cooked lentils contains 16 grams of dietary fiber, or 63% of the USDA recommended daily intake. They also provide a whopping 18 grams of protein per cup, on par with carnivorous sources but ditching the saturated fat and cholesterol. And when it comes to vitamins, the little legume continues to pack a punch, boasting a significant source of folate, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin, and vitamin K. Just one more reason to support the underdog of the legumes—a position, I suspect, le lentil will not stay in for long.
Deborah Madison’s Lentil Salad with Roasted Peppers, Mint, and Feta Cheese (slightly modified from Food52)
Serves 4 to 6


For the Lentil Salad:
1 ½ cup small French lentils (Puy or beluga)
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1/8-inch squares
2 celery ribs, diced
½ small onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp salt
2 medium red bell peppers
1 tbsp chopped mint
¼ cup chopped mixed herbs: parsley, marjoram or cilantro, thyme
Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar to taste
8 ounces feta cheese
Olive oil, for garnish

For the Lemon Vinaigrette:
1 large lemon
¼ tsp paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Rinse the lentils, cover them generously with water, and bring them to a boil with the carrot, onion, bay leaf, garlic, and salt. Simmer them until they are cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. They should be tender, just a little firm, and still hold their shape. Drain the lentils and save the liquid for soup stock.

2. While the lentils are cooking, roast the peppers over a flame until they are evenly charred, and put them in a covered bowl to steam for 10 minutes or so; then, if desired, scrape off the charred skins with a knife.  Do not rinse them under water or the flavorful juices will be lost. Slit them open, remove the veins and seeds, and cut them into squares.

3. Prepare the vinaigrette. Remove two wide strips of peel from the lemon with a vegetable peeler, and slice them into narrow sliver). Put 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a bowl with the lemon peel, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and salt. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and taste.

4. Fold lemon vinaigrette it into the warm lentils. Add the mint, herbs, and most of the peppers. Taste, and season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if needed. Taste again just before serving and add a little more vinegar to brighten the flavors. Crumble the feta and gently stir it into the lentils.

5. Garnish with the remaining peppers and drizzle some olive oil over the surface.