Easter weekend I got around to baking cookies and taking pictures; cozywalls, I have not forgotten you! For my first batch I made my grandma’s favorite soft carrot cookie recipe. I have never known my grandma to make crispy cookies, crusts or any hard-to-chew dessert, for that matter. The baked goods that come from her kitchen are always cozy and soft. A few years ago I brought up the fact to her and she replied, “say, Amy, I like recipes that are easy on my false teeth.” It makes perfect sense!
I am not exactly sure why it is the only recipe in my mom’s cookie book that I hadn’t attempted on my own until that morning. It’s not difficult to put together (I obsessively sift dry ingredients now for added fluffiness, but it’s not necessary), and the ingredients are fairly standard. I remember my mom making them along with brown sugar or chocolate bit cookies. I rarely ate the carrot cookies, because I was more than satisfied with the others. Back then I also thought it was sort of weird to put oranges and carrots in cookies. Today, the weirdness is endearing, and I am drawn to their sunny orange color and lively citrus glaze. They evoke memories of being a child in my own mother’s kitchen where I played on the floor with bowls and spoons indoors while looking forward to the days when our front door opened to reveal optimistic tulips blooming outside.
My grandma’s older sisters used to call her Maddie, so that’s what I am calling these cookies.
Maddie’s Soft Carrot Cookies
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1 egg, beaten
1 cup baby food carrots (about 2 jars or 6-7 pureed carrots)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Drop and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until brown around the edges.
Juice and zest of one small orange
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup confectioner’s sugar + more if needed
Whip 4 oz. cream cheese into glaze, adding confectioner’s sugar to reach desired thickness.
Yesterday my niece and I made Puppy Chow for a special Valentine’s Day treat using the “Muddy Buddies” recipe on the Rice Chex box. We never called them Muddy Buddies growing up, but looking through these photos, I can see the muddiness right before the powdered sugar comes in to absorb the moisture and soften the texture. I think the powdered sugar makes the crunchy chocolate peanut butter treat irresistible. My niece especially likes that step in the recipe, because she says it looks like a bunch of tiny snowflakes coming from the sky. The recipe is straightforward and simple (I don’t turn the mixture out on wax paper to separate, but I do put the mix in the refrigerator to set). For a finishing heart-like touch and added flavor layer, we studded the tops with white chocolate peppermint M&M’s: another sweet avalanche!
Our latest snowfall totaled around 12 inches, and it left the bare forest branches looking like mixer beaters covered in freshly whipped meringue. The kitchen imitated nature the following day when my mom put together a frozen pineapple torte recipe from days gone by. Even though it is an icebox dessert, there is something sunny and warm about the pineapple torte. Her version reminded me a bit of key lime pie; I suspect because she toned down the sweetness. I first learned of this dessert when she was searching for a recipe similar to what her mom used to make when company would come over for Sunday lunch. She kept calling it an old-fashioned recipe, because it states to cook the custard until it “coats the back of a spoon.” My grandma would plop the fluffy tropical mixture into her metal ice cube trays and put them in the freezer to set up. Refrigerator trays used to have removable dividers with a handle that you pulled up to release the ice. If you took out the dividers, the pineapple mixture went in the bottom part of the tray. You can skip the freezer part if you please; it’s simply fluffy and delicious as is. My mom told me that they normally had frozen pineapple torte in hot weather because it was a lot like ice cream. I found it to be perfectly perky and sunny for a February lunch, and I daresay it would be a pleasant finale to a pork BBQ meal anytime of the year.
3 egg yolks
dash of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 can 8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
2 T lemon juice
3 stiff beaten egg whites
2 T sugar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (for a gluten free dessert, select the GF cookies)
Break egg yolks in double broiler. Add salt and 1/3 cup sugar; add syrup from pineapple and lemon juice. Cook over hot, not yet boiling water until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly. Add pineapple; cool. Make meringue of egg whites and 2 T of sugar. Fold in whipped cream and custard mixture. Coat sides of greased refrigerator tray with wafer crumbs. Spread half the remaining crumbs on the bottom of the tray (or dish of your choosing). Pour in fluffy custard mixture and cover with remaining crumbs. Enjoy as is in parfait cups, or freeze firm for 4 hours and slice to serve.
Friday night I was surprised with a beautiful hospitality gift: a box of ripe Michigan blueberries, picked earlier that day by the hands of those that gave them to me. Saturday morning I was delighted to find boxes of white peaches on the in-season produce table at the Farmer’s Market. Both fruits were already delicious on their own, but when an overcast Sunday evening rolled around, I turned on the oven and put them together. The flavors melted into each other with a little help from some butter and brown sugar. A comforting end to a memorable weekend.
Peaches, halved & pits removed / Butter / Brown sugar, mixed with butter / Blueberries
Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Baking time will vary a bit depending on the ripeness of the fruit. Delicious alone or with ice cream / whipped cream. The sauce that is created from the juices is perfect spooned over Angel Food Cake.
The outdoor market in my neighborhood is now open for the season, and I have been enjoying the undeniable pleasures of fresh locally grown produce. So far in Northern Indiana that means sweet teensy strawberries, leafy salad greens, rainbows of beets, and “hand-snapped” (one farmer tells me each time) bundles of asparagus. My roasted red beet and spring green asparagus recipe comes together perfectly this time of year. Minimal dishes required for maximum flavors in one roasting pan: sweet/smoky/earthy/smooth/crunchy.
Serves 1 or 2 depending on the situation. I imagine this dish as a beautiful accompaniment to grilled salmon or an oven-poached white fish.
3 small red beets
12 green asparagus spears
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon pine nuts
Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Scrub beets and slice into coins. Place in roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 8 minutes, turning once.
Meanwhile, rinse asparagus and chop off the woody ends. Place asparagus on top of the roasted beets and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt & pepper. Bake together for 10 minutes more, turning once. At the end of ten minutes you should be able to smell the roasted asparagus and see a slight browning on the stems. If needed, keep the pan in the oven a few minutes longer.
While the asparagus and beets are roasting in the oven, toast the pine nuts in a medium skillet for about five minutes. Toss them frequently or they will quickly scorch. Set aside to cool.
Top the warm roasted red beets and spring green asparagus with slices of fresh mozzarella and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice never hurts either.
If ever a muffin were meal-worthy and meaty, this is the one. It begins with a mashed sweet potato and ends with a team of ‘superfoods’ encased in the batter. This is the type of muffin that you throw in your backpack before a hike or grab on the way out the door to make up for breakfast. Or better yet, have it for breakfast, toasted and topped with peanut (or other nut/seed) butter, and you will face the day as a force to be reckoned with! The recipe below is a riff on a paleo inspired recipe for Morning Glory Muffins. My version includes dried blueberries, walnuts, flaxseed, and coconut. Did I mention that there is no butter, oil, or refined sugar in them; they really are super muffins.
Morning Superpowers Muffins
1/2 cup mashed sweet potato (one small-medium sweet potato)
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs (slightly whisked)
1/2 cup all purpose flour (3/4 cup almond flour for GF version)
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t cardamom
1 t vanilla extract
1 t baking powder
1/8 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup shredded coconut (I used unsweetened)
1-2 T flaxseed
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup raw walnuts
- Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
- Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl (in three steps) until fully blended.
- Coat muffin tin with cooking spray or papers and divide batter evenly.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely. Even better the next day. Makes 6 big ones!