Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chinese Five-Spice Peanut Shortbread - My Legume Love Affair 34

Peanut Butter Chinese Five-Spice Shortbread

I am convinced now: the drop-dead easiest dessert to make isn't the brownie, after all. It is shortbread. I know, I know. Shortbread has some of the same intimidating qualities as a pie crust. But there is none of that taunting and sinister rolling, lifting, crimping, and shrinking which is so frustrating when you are laying a foundation for all those wet and wonderful fillings which have such a savvy knack for sogging up the cement that cradles them. It is far more difficult to toughen up a shortbread because you work it so little; all it needs is a brief fiddling with the fingers, a pressing into a pan, and a few nicks with a knife and fork. The result is a golden brown disk which crumbles and melts in the mouth without the risk of tugging your teeth on it.

Chinese five-spice powder provides a very subtle warmth that compliments the equally gentle nuttiness to offer a treat that can be a savory, a sweet, or both. It would make as much a rich foil to an airy cheese mousse as to a sticky drizzle of caramel. But I am quite happy to enjoy it plain, as I contemplate a hunch that it's got just the right stuff for a very fine, fuss-free pie crust, indeed.

Chinese Five-Spice Peanut Shortbread - Adapted from the Peanut Butter Shortbreads recipe from The Peanut Institute

Serves 8


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 cup salted butter, softened, but not mushy to the point of melting when touched
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Preheat oven 300 ° F

In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Add butter and peanut butter to dry mixture; there is no need to mix them together first. Working quickly, rub and toss to distribute fat until mixture is the texture of coarse meal. Drizzle with extract and briefly work in.

Transfer meal to a 10-inch, ungreased springform pan. Press meal evenly into pan, making sure not to leave the edges too thin. With a very sharp knife, partially score dough into 8 even wedges. Prick dough all over with fork tines, or for a decorative touch, press a dried star anise into dough. Bake on center rack of oven for about 45 minutes, or until lightly browned. Do not insert a knife to check for doneness; shortbread is very fragile, before and after baking. Remove from oven and open latch of springform pan to release shortbread. Do not remove it from the pan bottom. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before very carefully cutting through the scoring to separate the wedges. Please expect some crumbles and perhaps a crack or two. Allow to fully cool before serving.

This recipe is for Jaya of Desi Soccer Mom, hosting My Legume Love Affair 34, and will be accepting latecomer recipes through May 3. Jaya is busy juggling many tasks, and will present her round-up as soon as possible. Smitha of Kannada Cuisine will be welcoming your great recipes for MLLA 35. Please stay tuned for her announcement.

Thank you always for joining in My Legume Love Affair!

Been There, Done That ~
King Arthur's "Magic in the Middle's" Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
African Peanut Yam Soup
Lemon Curd Shortbread

Other People's Eats ~
Peanut Butter and Blueberry Shortbread Bars from Lisa's Kitchen
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Shortbread Bars from Une Gamine dans la Cuisine
Perfect Peanut Sauce from Cooking with Amy

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spreading the Love - Catching Up on Awards and Tags

Wild Strawberry Jam

The small and tidy box went nearly unnoticed in the dark, nestled in a drift of a million dusty snowflakes. The deliveryman had pitched it into the doorway from the warmth of his truck. He would have been lazy except that we were all struggling under the weekly ravages of winter storms. I had come in nearly frostbitten, but every second of the bitter day behind me recessed further into foggy memories as my fingers felt around the viscera of packing material. I removed four tiny jars of jam, a thank-you gift from Lana of Bibberche, for answering her distress signal as the deadline for her photography-class final approached.

There were four exquisitely distinctive flavors: quince and walnut; fig and bay leaf; rose petal; and wild strawberry, all crafted and cured with sugar by Lana's gifted Serbian family. Once the quince and walnut disappeared directly from the jar, one teeny spoonful at a time between sips of severe black tea, I slowed my pace to savor the others over the next weeks. The strawberry was the last to go. I had been holding onto it with the tenacity of tentacles, just like I've been holding onto some community kudos that need their public acknowledgment, too.


The Versatile Blogger Award was bestowed on me by Akheela of Torview Toronto. Thank you, A! For this honor, I am to reveal 7 things about myself and pass it forward to 15 others. Do play along as your time and interest allow, and add your own twist. Memes never wind round the blogosphere in the same condition that they started.

Janet - The Taste Space
Sra - When My Soup Came Alive
Robyn - Koek!
Jaya - Desi Soccer Mom
Joanne - Eats Well with Others
Soma - eCurry
Cinzia - Cindystar
Aqua - Served with Love
Cathy - What Would Cathy Eat?
Vanessa - Sweet Artichoke
Nilam - Grow in the Kitchen
Mary Katherine - MK's Kitchen
ShuHan - Mummy, I Can Cook
Graziana - Erbe in Cucina
Lori Ann - Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness

7 Things About Me ~

1) Every time I take myself out and about for groceries, I always pick up a small bouquet of flowers. When you have to drag your purchases up two flights of stairs like a pack mule, you need a little treat to keep you from savaging the box of cookies you promised yourself you weren't going to buy.

2) As much as I have loved my dark red kitchen, after three years, I feel like I am standing in a blood vessel. It is time for a dramatic change. I have my eye on a very particular ivory which will transform the space from a grotto to an airy.

3) Herbs are my very favorite fresh culinary ingredients. I've purchased a variety of mints which will be planted in my mother's garden. I expect them to be the menace of her neighborhood by July.

4) I've developed a rather odd craving for club soda -- not seltzer water, but club soda. They are not created equally, but depend on the addition or absence of minerals for their flavors. Club soda's definitely got that snap to it. At first, I thought it was the salt content I was after, but both are labeled "Sodium Free." It's puzzling, but not a murder mystery, and will probably burn out before I can figure it out.

5) Scott bought me a stand mixer for Valentine's Day. That would be Valentine's Day 2010. It's taken me over a year to figure out where to put it. Perhaps I should have asked for chocolates, after all. I would have known exactly where to put those.

6) Speaking of equipment, I probably use my whisks more than any other tools. By the end of the day, every man Jack of them is dirty in the sink.

7) Of the three major kitchen appliances, the one I am least pleased with is the refrigerator. It is not its fault, though, that I keep stuffing it with greenery. I fantasize about standing in front of one of those French-doored models all agleam in stainless steel, but who am I kidding? With the luxury of such a cavernous space, I would only have to feed the monster. It would be another jungle in there.


8 Questions were posed to me by Priya of Mharo Rajasthan's Recipes. Thanks for thinking of me, Priya! I'm to pass the same or my own questions* to 8 others. Again, participation is at your discretion and without obligation.

Kirsten - From Kirsten's Kitchen to Yours

Christine - Kit's Chow
Claire - Chez Cayenne
Jasenka - Sweet Corner
Lori Lynn - Taste with the Eyes
Ivy - Gourmet Concoctions in Assini
Kelly - Eat Yourself Skinny
Sandhya - Sandhya's Kitchen

8 Questions for Me ~

1) What is your favorite thing about blogging?

The discovery of new ingredients, recipes, equipment, techniques, and rituals.

2) Who best critiques your cooking?

I am my own most strict critic, but do rely on my husband when I need a second opinion. Although our tastes vary often enough, Scott does provide some objectivity. I particularly rely on him when I am doubtful about an outcome; usually, he will confirm my suspicions.

3) What are your favorite foods?

Anything spicy, especially if complex and inscrutable, like curries.

Cakes of all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. I love all desserts, but cakes take the cake for me.

Legumes, but I think you already know this. ; )

4) What are some of the foods that you've been amazed by on others' blogs?

Soma's Cabbage and Chickpea Roulade

Haalo's Poached Donut Peaches with Wild Willow Water

Carolyn's Dandelion Fritters

Sayantani's Lentil Paste Designs

5) Who inspires you in the blog world?

I am inspired by and admire many blogs for many reasons, but Jen of Simply Breakfast is a dynamo who turns out that first meal of the day with endless variations that never get old.

6) Would you prefer a cold sandwich and salad or a hot panini and warm soup for lunch?

Hot panini and warm soup.

7) Are you obsessed about anything related to food?

Yes, that perfect cup of coffee, very smooth yet robust, the one that my local fast-food restaurant no longer sells, the one that I am very close to replicating at home. I know what beans they used and their brew method. I will be conducting my own experiments very soon. If I like the results, I will write a jubilant post to share it with you. And best of all, neither the coffee nor the equipment is excessively expensive.

8) Have you ever thought about preparing or actually prepared something for TV or a newspaper?

Not yet, but the future is the next frontier.

*8 Questions for 8 ~

1) Do you have a signature recipe which you regularly prepare for special occasions or holidays, or one that your family or friends are always clamoring for you to serve?

2) What particular blogging talent (cooking, baking, writing, photography) would you like to improve as your blog matures?

3) Who are your biggest blog supporters? Are they your family and friends, or other bloggers?

4) What one recipe, ingredient, or technique are you challenged by, but are determined to master?

5) What is your favorite way to enjoy learning about anything culinary: TV, magazines, online, cookbooks, classes, family and friends? Be as specific or general as you like.

6) What ingredients are the cornerstones of your kitchen, the ones which you must have on hand at all times?

7) How many minutes/hours a day do you spend in your kitchen?

8) Is your kitchen driven by dietary/health concerns or anything-goes indulgences? Or do you struggle trying to balance the two?


Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend Herb Blogging #277 - The Round-Up

Big thanks to everyone for your great food and friendship. Weekend Herb Blogging has always been a special hosting pleasure for me, and this 277th edition has been no exception. The longevity of this event is tribute to Kalyn's foundation and Haalo's carrying of the torch. Your impressive and energetic talents complete the trinity.

Rachel of The Crispy Cook is now hosting WHB #278. She will be welcoming your recipes until close of the event on Sunday, April 10.

Should there be any errors or omissions, please know I will make the corrections as soon as I'm notified.

Thanks again!


The manual labor of mortar and pestle is worth the grind for
a colorful confetti of complex spices in a vegetable toss.

Making quinoa for the first time? Make it green with
an envious mix of asparagus, peas, leeks, and mint.

Quinoa and Spring Vegetable Pilaf
Mary Katherine - MK's Kitchen
Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.A.


A frilly fringe of leaves from a particularly popular flower
are a healthy foliage for much of what might be ailing you.

Garland Chrysanthemum
Tigerfish - Teczcape - An Escape to Food
California, U.S.A.


Bitter little gourds are less bitter pills to swallow when
they are charred and spiced and hissing in a skillet.

Sautéed Baby Bitter Gourd
Sra - When My Soup Came Alive


Tender little leggy leaves enliven a North African
grain dish balanced with spices and sweetness.

Moroccan Barley and Pea Shoot Salad
Janet - The Taste Space
Toronto, Canada


A square of juicy, fruity dessert is the plum-perfect
ending to a convivial, casual luncheon party.

Plum and Cinnamon Oat Slice
Johanna - Green Gourmet Giraffe
Melbourne, Australia


Just when you thought it was safe to yawn at yet another pesto,
along comes Thai basil and coriander to recharge the sauce.

Pan-Fried Shrimp with Glass Noodles in Thai Basil and Coriander Pesto
ShuHan - Mummy, I Can Cook
London, U.K.


A kumquat compote is the crowning golden glory
on a delicate cheesecake atop a biscuit base.

Kumquat, Vanilla and Ginger Cheesecake
Elly - Nutmegs, Seven
Oxford, U.K.


Piled-high baked potatoes with nary a drop of dairy fool and
satisfy the diner expecting cheese, butter, or cream.

Potato Boats with "Sour Cream" and Herbs
Ricki - Diet, Desserts and Dogs
Toronto Area, Canada


A sucker for spices grinds her own special blends into
powder potions that sprinkle magic flavors on many a dish.

Assorted Spice Medleys
Claudia - Honey from Rock
Hawaii, U.S.A.


Smoked-up chile peppers pair well with sugary apricots
to finish fillets swimming in good taste and nutrition.

Roast Salmon with Sweet Chipotle Glaze
Joanne - Eats Well with Others
New York


A simple stack of crepes napped in aromatic cream
makes for a serving that's a cut well above the rest.

Crepes Pie with Pancetta and Rosemary
Graziana - Erbe in Cucina


A crush of fresh corn kernels is a sweet, golden nest
for a topping of salty cheese and quick ratatouille.

Sweet Corn Polenta
Haalo - Cook Almost Anything at Least Once
Melbourne, Australia


The piquant flavor of piccata can lure away even the most
addicted from her online game of a frog and some balls.

Chicken Piccata
Annie and Nate - House of Annie
Kuching, Sarawakm, Malaysia


The joys of one's garden yield handfuls of hale and hearty
kale to chop into a casserole bubbling with good health.

Gratin di Cavolo Riccio e Orzo (Kale and Barley Gratin)
Simona - Briciole
California, U.S.A.


Hungering for something humble and homey? Buttered
griddle cakes should have you humming in no time.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fast and Filling - Potato Farls with Caraway Seeds

Potato Farls

They are nothing fancy. There are no swirls of frosting nor complex foldings-in of ingredients. In fact, I can nearly guarantee you have the two ingredients on hand; if not, you can lay your hands on them at your local market without any special trips to tony shops that smell of moldy cheeses and truffles. They are the stuff of farm families and famine, frugal dining, and fry breakfasts.

They are also the stuff of a good, old-fashioned food fight, the kind where the verbal fisticuffs of national pride, ownership, and culinary adaptation can ruin a perfectly good digestion if it wasn't for the fact that farls, simple, unleavened griddle breads of potato mash and flour, can soothe even the most bellicose of bellies. Known in Scotland as tattie scones, and derived from the Gaelic root word for "fourths," farls are a cornerstone of the big, greasy Northern Irish breakfast, as well as a stouthearted staple of a tea table for those who do not primp with cucumber sandwiches and petits fours.

Complicating matters further, not all farls are made with potatoes; some are akin to Irish soda bread, and still others are known as fadge. And if you throw an egg or oats or other leavenings into the mix, you might just as well throw your hands up in the air. There is a name for each of these depending on who does the cooking and where. Follow me?
Well, I'm not surprised. I researched this "simple" fare all day, and I am no closer to clearing my confusion than when I began. Alas, I am also at the very precipice of falling into the fray myself. After hours of tinkering, my farls have far more flour in them than the typical recipe, given my personal preference for a firmer, drier texture. I have also ultimately dispensed mixing in the butter, saving it to melt into all the little surface nicks and crevices. You can hotly debate my methods all you like, but you know it's not polite to talk with your mouth full.

Potato Farls with Caraway Seeds

Serves 4


2 cups warm, but not steamy, mashed potatoes. (Do not add milk, butter, or cream to them. Use the oldest, hardest, driest baking potato variety you can find; waxy Yukon Gold, for instance, is not the best choice.)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting surface, hands, and rolling pin (You may need more if the dough is very sticky.)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter for frying, although you can use a dry, seasoned griddle, as long as your farls are well floured.
1 generous tablespoon caraway seeds
Additional butter for slathering
Extra salt (optional)


In a large bowl, stir flour into potatoes. Turn out mixture onto well-floured surface. Dust hands with flour, then quickly and lightly "squish" the dough with your fingers to incorporate all the flour. If the dough is very soft and sticky, add small incremental amounts of extra flour until you can briefly knead it into a sturdy, yet flexible mass that will hold its shape once you roll it into a circle. I prefer a 1/2-inch thickness for a substantial cake, but you can roll it thinner. Cut the circle into fourths. Warm butter in a large heavy-duty skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. Add caraway seeds. Lay farls in skillet without overcrowding. (Fry up a second batch if you must, depending on the size of your skillet.) Brown undersides (about 3-4 minutes; the thicker the farls, the more time they will need to heat through), then flip with a turner to brown other sides. Slather with butter and season will additional salt. Serve immediately.

Buttered Potato Farls with Caraway Seeds

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging #277, hosted by yours truly. Please tune in again tomorrow, Monday, April 4. I will have the round-up online as early in the evening (New York time) as possible. Thanks so much for your contributions. I am still sorting through them and will comment on all of your wonderful recipes before I retire tonight. Until very soon, best wishes!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Weekend Herb Blogging # 277 - Here This Week

Going strong, well into its sixth year, Weekend Herb Blogging, the popular weekly plant-based party of a food event is being hosted yet again with pleasure by The Well-Seasoned Cook. Chose any fruit, vegetable, herb, or other ingredient that is harvested from a plant; cook or bake it up into any kind of recipe, as simple or complicated as you like; then send it off to me. I will proudly prepare a round-up of all submissions to whet your appetites on Monday, April 4, New York time. Please consult the easy rules for the event and the details for #277.

Thanks to Haalo of Cook Almost Anything at Least Once, torchbearer for WHB's creator, Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. And thanks to all of you who have already sent me your fabulous recipes.