Chocolate Truffle Cookies

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately planning a move. It’s not a tragedy, I know. It’s just one of those things that requires work, much like finding a job or learning a new skill—you have to deal with some discomfort, things aren’t exactly easy, there are costs and, in the end, you hope you emerge a little different, a little wiser, having gone through it.

side of chocolate truffle cookie

Last week, my brother and I were talking about logistics—you know, the obvious things of furniture, moving trucks, long drives across several states—and I kept trying to find a way to solve things better. He’d say, Why don’t you buy a bed when you get there? And I’d say, I don’t want to spend the money! He’d say, It’s not that much money. And I’d say, I am going to be broke!

It was kind of funny, actually. Or at least it is now.

From a removed standpoint, I see the problem. What I want is not just to relocate. I want to relocate without spending any money, losing any sleep, causing anyone any difficulty. I want to relocate without relocating. Or at least, I want relocating in a perfect world.

fudgy insides of chocolate truffle cookie

It’s such a silly thing to get stressed out about. It’s just moving. But you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and whether you’re talking about moving or the way two dozen white hairs emerge on your 20-something head, the fact is that this world really isn’t a perfect place. We’re reminded of imperfections every day, in the big things of murder and suffering as well as the small things of long lines and angry strangers. We all taste difficulty. We all experience frustration. In different ways and at different times, but still. I mean, I don’t even watch the news, and I can tell you from experience that there is pain and hardship in this life.

But the thing I am thankful for, even more than that in this life there is also joy, is that the imperfections of this world remind me of life beyond it.

Like Elisabeth Elliot wrote:

Heaven is not here, it’s There. If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next.

Oh, that’s so good.

chocolate truffle cookies

I am also thankful—very thankful—for the good gifts we taste now.

Like blue skies.
Like eyes to see them.
Like a sun that rises every morning, as faithfully as the God who made it.

And I am thankful for my particular gifts, like love, like self-employment, like the way these things are moving me towards a move. I am thankful, this week, for some time in the kitchen to bake cookies—the best chocolate chocolate cookies I’ve made really, little nibbles that are more than just cookies but actually like the lovechild of cookies and truffles combined, soft and rich, covered in chopped walnuts.

I’m thankful to sit cross-legged in the kitchen on a Tuesday afternoon, with a giant white bowl and a big spoon, licking chocolate batter in contentment, grateful for what I have, even more grateful for what will come.

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Anise Biscotti

I realized this morning that I was starting to forget what it felt like to post a blog entry. And that that was probably not a good sign.

anise biscotti

I don’t really know what to say about it. I mean, it’s the strangest thing. Over the last few weeks, I’ve made homemade chicken stock, chicken and rice soup, homemade puff pastry (adapted from this great version at Not Without Salt), goat cheese tarts, pistachio biscotti, roasted vegetables, pizza. In almost all cases, I’ve taken no photos, I’ve planned no blog posts, I’ve just made and eaten and moved on.

Who am I?

Maybe it was finishing Project 365: marathon runners get to rest for a while, right? Maybe it was starting a new year. Maybe it was being busy and feeling like simplifying my to-do list meant cutting time here.

Whatever the case, hello again. I’ve missed you.

biscotti on a baking sheet

So let’s catch up a little. I spent the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 out of town, in Nashville—a place that just may become my new home if I can work out a living arrangement sometime soon—and on the first of the year, we drizzled chocolate onto anise biscotti that looked just like these (but were not, actually, these, as I didn’t even bring my camera on the trip).

I just read that last parenthesis and shook my head.

You know that law about how objects in motion tend to stay in motion? I guess objects not in motion, well, let’s just say it’s easy to not blog when you haven’t been blogging—kind of like it’s easy to not clean the bathroom when you haven’t for a while, or easy to not pick up the phone when you’ve forgotten for a few weeks, or easy to stay in your pajamas on a Monday morning at 2:30 PM because you’ve gotten caught up with work on your computer and you’re in the flow of things and time just flies by.

anise biscotti

Reading this post is starting to feel like a giant sigh.

But the good news is, just because it’s easy for things to stay a certain way doesn’t mean they have to. I mean, look, here I am writing a post! There you are, back at work in January! So it’s possible to do something different—to work out this afternoon instead of staying in your pajamas for example, or to go bake biscotti like you’ve always thought you should.

I’ll even help you with that last part.

This version, which I ended up making all over again last week, a few days after ringing in the new year, because seriously I enjoyed them that much, are packed with that unmistakably licorice flavor of anise, an ingredient I don’t get enough of. We made all kinds of modifications to the original recipe, halving it and swapping brandy with yogurt and adding spices and extra anise seed, and the result is really incredible: crunchy, sturdy enough for dunking in a hot drink, slightly sweet, and virtually irresistible every time you walk into the kitchen and see them on the counter.

Of course, you could resist them if you really wanted to—just like I’m forcing myself to get out of bed once I click publish. But you know what I mean.

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Pumpkin Pie + Homemade Pie Crust

pumpkin pie

OK, I know what you’re thinking: pumpkin pie in December? Why don’t I just put on a Halloween costume and sing the Star-Spangled Banner while I’m at it? Listen, I know. Pumpkin pie is traditionally associated with Thanksgiving, and I know, here we are, a few days from Christmas—a time decidedly post-Thanksgiving.

But I’ve thought this one through, and I’m bringing it to you today, anyway, despite the backwards holiday timing and seeming ignorance of appropriate blog content. I’m doing it for two reasons:

  1. This is the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.
  2. I can’t stop making it.

(Oh and PS: pie pumpkins are currently on sale at my grocery store, so hello?)

homemade pumpkin pie

I’m also posting this now because it includes a pie crust recipe! for a homemade crust! (Once you start making excuses, it’s hard to stop.) I’ve posted this dough recipe before, with a quiche in early November, but I’ve since made it with all my pumpkin pies, as well as another version of that creamy pear pie, and I’ll be darned if it hasn’t been flaky, buttery goodness every. single. time.

If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: if you have a cup of flour and a stick of butter, you have a pie crust. No kidding.

homemade pumpkin pie

And the final thing, the one that really sends this post over the top, is that it comes with a story. See, once upon a time, a year and a half ago, my friend Wendi made a pumpkin pie for a party. She said it was based on this five-star (and 258 reviews) version from AllRecipes, with just a few tweaks that she was happy to pass along. Shortly after that, my brother made the pie. I made the pie. It couldn’t turn out bad. The key seems to be that creamy, spiced, custard-like filling—made with real pumpkin, not the kind from a can—and even though the original is supposed to be best after sitting overnight, I think there’s nothing like a hot, steaming piece fresh out of the oven.

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Chicken Roulade

The truth is, I’ve been wanting to tell you about this chicken roulade recipe for over a week now—ever since last Tuesday, when I pulled chicken out of the fridge and wondered what to make for dinner. I’d gone through all the usual options in my mind, things I’ve had before, things I’ve made, but nothing sounded like it would be worth the high price tag of the Amish, antibiotic-free poultry I’ve been buying, nothing until this beautiful, impressive chicken roulade.

sauteeing nuts and cranberries

Chicken roulade, if you’ve never heard of it, is essentially rolled chicken: the meat gets pounded and flattened into a large surface area; topped with cheese and a filling made of greens, onions, dried fruit, and nuts; rolled tightly; tied up with string; browned and baked. When it’s finished, you slice the bundled breasts into slices stuffed with flavor and color, and it’s the kind of thing that makes you go wow.

chicken roulade filling

This version comes from the lovely Angela of Spinach Tiger: she’d posted it as an idea for a spring picnic back in April; I’m posting it as a weeknight dinner in December. That’s what’s great about this dish: it’s versatile. Not only is it timely year-round, but it’s also adaptable to the ingredients you like and/or have on hand, whether type of greens, nuts, dried fruit, or cheese.

browning chicken bundles

As for why it’s taken me more than a week to post here, all I can say is I’m sorry. I could say I’ve been busy, but then so are you, and you’re reading this. I could say it’s the holidays, but truthfully my family’s Christmas is pretty low-key. So the best explanation I can give you is the same one I’m always giving, it seems: I didn’t know what to say.

chicken roulade unsliced

I keep wanting to tell you about how things are going around here, I mean beyond chicken roulade for dinner, but the words just don’t come. Do you ever feel like that? Like you’re full of stories but speechless? Sometimes you just have to wait it out. But sometimes, in blogging at least, when you’ve already posted the series of photos to Flickr and already typed up the adapted recipe and then still have nothing else beyond that, you just admit it.

chicken roulade sliced

So it’s like this: If we were on the phone today, you and me, or sitting across a table, or pounding some chicken breasts together while we worked on dinner, this is what I’d tell you: right now, even as we do this, there are a lot of things I’m trying not to think about, things like worry and doubt that I feel like I fight more often lately. And I’d say there are other things, things like these, which I’m repeating to myself over and over again. I’d say I’m, as always, overwhelmed by good gifts, don’t misunderstand, but hey, how about you talk for a while? And you could do me the favor of telling me about your day and what you’re doing for Christmas and how much you’ve whittled down on your shopping list. We could also make roasted carrots—baked for about an hour with coconut oil and drizzles of maple syrup—and maybe a salad loaded with vegetables.

chicken roulade and roasted carrots

And then, when we were done, I’d say, let’s eat.

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Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits

Last night, two hours into a kitchen disaster that left dishes in the sink, flour on the counters and about a dozen buckwheat ravioli in the freezer (i.e., pasta with the texture of burlap), I gave thanks for the thing we call cooking.

Because last night, cooking was part something to do, part a way to release energy and part an opportunity to be creative with concrete objects I could see, even if I turned those objects into tough dough set in thick sheets that didn’t cut well. I am thankful cooking adapts to our days, adjusts to our needs.

cheddar-garlic biscuits

It has been, at times, a way to relax. At others, a chance to feel productive. The night before Thanksgiving, while I made a pie around midnight, it was the only thing that could keep my mind occupied. On the Saturday after, while I made another pie and then these cheddar-garlic biscuits, it was a welcome distraction and comfort, better than remembering the holiday ended and everyone had to go back home.

adam eating a biscuit

Sometimes I don’t even care what I’m cooking; I just need the rhythms of mixing ingredients, cleaning the counters, loading the dishwasher yet again. As far as these biscuits—beyond the fact that I had a little over a cup of buttermilk in the fridge begging to be used, I made them because Jacqui inspired me, because I’ve always liked the ones at Red Lobster that they seem to be an homage to and because, quite frankly, baking biscuits is a much better way to spend a Saturday night than staring at the walls feeling sad. They are cheesy and soft, flecked with pepper and covered with natural ridges like rustic biscuits should be. I like them toasted in the oven and served alongside a nice, big salad—preferably a salad I have to take a few minutes to put together, feeling thankful for the chance to.

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Chicken Fingers

chicken fingers

Supersize Me was on TV the other night. Despite the fact that it was created six years ago, I’d never seen the documentary until this year, a few months ago when I streamed it to my computer during my one-month free trial with Netflix. This past Sunday night, I caught the couple minutes where the main character weighs in after a few days of eating a McDonald’s-only diet, something he tried and documented for a full month, gaining weight and hurting his health just as you’d expect. I also caught the scene where he orders chicken nuggets, and the movie does a quick aside, complete with a cartoon illustration, of how chicken nuggets are made.

It’s not pretty.

chicken fingers

A while ago (was it last year?), I also watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (I’m guessing a lot of you did, too?), and saw him explain to children where chicken nuggets come from. And of course I’ve seen this image (click at your own risk and don’t say I didn’t warn you) floating around the Internet and people’s Facebook profiles. I know where commercial chicken fingers or tenders come from; you probably do, too.

But like with everything else we already know is bad for us, chicken fingers have one small thing going for them, and sometimes that’s all it takes to win us over: they taste good. So what are you supposed to do?

Enter homemade, boneless, skinless, marinated, covered-with-homemade-breadcrumbs and then baked chicken tenders.

homemade chicken fingers

I have to say, I love remaking something with good ingredients, taking a fast-food idea and redeeming it with whole foods, whether it’s a chicken panko recipe or french fries. It’s like recovering a chair you got from a garage sale, not that I’ve ever done that, or like renovating a living room, not that I’ve ever done that either. I imagine those things to be all that this is: encouraging, exciting, empowering.

Not only is this homemade version of chicken fingers better for you—not to mention you know which part of the chicken it comes from—but it’s also delicious: crispy and flavorful, perfect for dipping in honey just like we used to. I made mine with a side of roasted sweet potato circles (just wash the sweet potatoes, slice them into rounds or half circles, bake with coconut oil for about an hour). Whether you care about the health benefits or not, these are chicken fingers you can feel good about eating—and while eating, and I think that’s pretty great.

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Gruyère Quiche with Caramelized Red Pepper, Red Onion and Greens

I bought a new purse last week, for the first time since 2006, all because I asked a stranger in a bathroom where she got hers, and she said Target. I enjoy mushrooms now, after 27 years of hating them, because reading this blog post made me want to. I like reading Bon Appetit because I like reading how this girl writes. I’ve taken a photo almost every day this year because I’ve watched other people do it and been motivated.

In cooking as in life, inspiration to try new things can come from almost anywhere. It can be a conversation with a stranger, an article you notice, something quick you look at, maybe sometimes something you read on a blog like this one. For me, with this quiche, it was even simpler: a solid white pan.

ingredients for quiche

The white dish I’m referencing is not mine, but it’s my brother’s, one he set on the counter the other day, and every time I’ve walked into the kitchen and seen it, I’ve thought, Quiche! That pan needs a quiche! So although making homemade pie crusts is not high on my life’s to-do list, I saw no way around it: a store-bought crust could make a quiche, but a store-bought crust could not use that pan. I knew what I had to do.

quiche crust

Turns out the process couldn’t have been simpler. Tuesday night, I mixed flour and salt, cut in butter, added water, and formed the dough into a ball, wrapping it in plastic and sticking it in the fridge. I think it took 15 minutes. Wednesday, I pulled out the dough, rolled it out on parchment (with the confidence that only making perfect homemade apple strudel could have given me) and pressed it into the quiche pan, cutting the edges off the sides.

finished quiche

Choosing the type of quiche was even easier. I looked at what I already had in the kitchen—a red pepper, a red onion, gruyere, some random greens—and found a recipe that made the most of those things. Inspiration by necessity! It begins with caramelizing the vegetables, a step that fills your kitchen with the most incredible aroma of browning peppers and onions mixed with coconut oil. Then you saute the greens, mix all those things with eggs, milk, and cheese, and bam: a golden, flaky quiche with the colors of Christmastime.

sliced quiche

The only change I’d make next time is extra salt—the original recipe said to add to taste, but you add the salt to the cooking peppers and onions, so it’s hard to judge at that point, so now I’d just say to be generous—because when I pulled this out of the oven, it was not only delicious but utterly beautiful, the kind of beautiful that makes you want to take a picture when you don’t have a food blog or have someone over for brunch although it’s not Saturday morning or, you know, make a quiche even without this pretty white pan to put it in.

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