Inspired By A Trip to Spain, We Celebrate a New Year

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I think it was my grandmother who first told me that the older one gets, the faster time goes by.  Back then, it didn’t mean much to me, but it surely does now. It seems like we’ve barely celebrated the start of one year, when the next one slaps us in the face. For twenty years, I’ve marked the beginning of each year with an open house, inviting friends and acquaintances to come for food, drink and conversation. Perhaps it is my hope that through this ritual we can, if only for a moment, quiet the forward rush of time. Also, I love the idea of  colorful characters from the many parts of my life coming together, and getting to know one another. This year, on the second Sunday in January, upwards of forty people dropped by mi casita. Having had the privilege of spending two weeks in Spain last fall, and taking a cooking class in Barcelona,  a Spanish theme seemed inevitable. And so, inspired by the food of Spain, I created a menu, not authentically Spanish perhaps, but rather my impression of a few Spanish dishes, cooked in my style. So, here in pictures and words, are the dishes I served, with a couple of recipes and the complete menu following at the end.

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Photo at the top–Vegetable Paella. Medium grain brown rice sautéed along with diced onion, garlic, tomato and a pinch of smoked paprika and of saffron, cooked in lightly-salted vegetable stock. When the rice is nearly done (about 5o minutes later), I added in diced, steamed  carrot, butternut squash and  sweet potato, and continued cooking for about ten minutes. At this point, I seasoned the paella with a generous sprinkling of umeboshi vinegar (find this in a good natural food store, or substitute a bit of lemon juice and additional salt). Just before serving, I stirred in thawed frozen peas.

Photo above: Seafood Salad.  Surprisingly, I found an exceptionally nice seafood mixture (raw shrimp, scallops, calamari and cooked mussels) at Costco. A day ahead, I briefly steamed some diced fresh fennel and then marinated it in a mixture of orange and lemon juices (along with the zest), mirin, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper (save the feathery fennel leaves for garnish). Separately, I marinated thinly-sliced raw red onion in a similar mixture. The morning of the party, I quickly cooked the shell fish (when the shrimp is firm and thoroughly pink, the seafood is ready). Then I combined the briefly-cooked shell fish with the marinated fennel and red onion. The marinade from the vegetables was almost enough for the entire dish, but I did add some more orange and lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. This can be served chilled or at room temperature.

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All photos by Robert Starkey

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You Asked for It: Here’s Robyn’s Millet-Coconut-Cardamom Cookie Recipe

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Robyn Swanson first came to us several years ago as an intern. We immediately loved her humor, energy and enthusiasm, and she has been an important part of our Monday night kitchen team on and off ever since. Recently, she’s been our go-to sous chef as well as part time baker–a role where her skills shine. A couple of weeks ago, she created these cookies, which were such a hit that many of you who attended our dinner that night asked for the recipe. Well, here it is… (full recipe after the jump)

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Photo by Robyn Swanson

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Gingery Peanut Butter Cookies

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Like many of you, I’ve been baking peanut butter cookies for years.  But to tell the truth, I always thought the taste was a bit one dimensional.  The peanut flavor was great, but the cookies needed some secondary flavor as a counterpoint. So, in this recipe I’ve turned to ginger for a bit of flavor punch, as I often do in dishes both sweet and savory. I think it works well, and the 120 cookies I baked for our Monday night dinner last night in Palo Alto sure disappeared quickly! Recipe after the jump…

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Photo: Bob G., one of our long-time, dedicated volunteers in Palo Alto, tries out a new career: cookie model. I think it suits him! He’s showing what 120 cookies look like, but you’ll find a home-size recipe for two dozen, after the jump.

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Chocolate-Dipped Almond Anise Biscotti (Homemade is Better)

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Most of us know biscotti as those crisp little cookies we munch on while enjoying coffee or tea at our neighborhood cafe. While they may not be the richest or fanciest option, say this for them: compared to most everything else available there, they’re not as sweet. “Biscotti,” of course refers to the fact that they are twice cooked, or twice baked to be more precise.  And in fact the English word “biscuit” is a translation of “biscotti” which we borrowed from the French.  But I digress. The point of twice baking something is to dry it out, thus greatly extending its shelf life. I’ve read that the Roman Legions carried twice-baked goods as part of their rations.

While there’s no lack of biscotti recipes out there, you may like this one because it’s vegan, naturally sweetened, and contains whole grain flour.  This recipe isn’t that difficult, but I won’t lie to you: it’s a bit tricky. Here’s what to do to succeed: 1) keep the dough moist, 2) during the first baking, remove the biscotti from the oven while the  loaves are still a little bit moist to the touch in the center, 3) cut while still hot, gingerly, with a very sharp knife, 4) watch carefully so as to bake them to the precise degree of crispness you prefer during the second baking. If you can manage all that, you’re be rewarded with some very nice looking biscotti. These are good plain, but for the chocolate lovers among you, I’m including a recipe for a chocolate sauce which is great for dipping.  Recipe, after the jump.

Photo: Who is that woman trying to make off with a whole plate of biscotti?  Actually, it is my friend, Ilona Pollac, who manages our Monday night dinners in Palo Alto.

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Two Wheat-Free/Gluten Free Cookie Recipes, Revisited and Revised

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One of the things I hope to do from time to time on this blog is to share with you revisions I make to recipes when I attempt them again. Every time I recreate an old recipe, my hope is that I can find a way to make it better than ever. I originally posted a recipe for wheat and gluten-free raspberry gems in December 2010. The version I’m offering today contains walnuts rather than almonds and sunflower seeds, and additionally, I’ve slightly increased the amount of flour, vanilla and cinnamon, and adjusted the baking time and temperature. I first posted a recipe for wheat and gluten-free coconut-peanut macaroons in March of 2011, but last week I made these cookies again, with some revisions.  I’m convinced that the gluten-free versions of both these cookies taste as good, if not better, than the more conventional one. After the jump, you’ll find my updated recipes for both these cookies.  Let me know how you like them.

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Photos: Top--Wheat and gluten-free raspberry gems. Above--Wheat and gluten-free peanut-coconut macaroons.

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What’s For Dessert? Crunchy Corn, Pumpkin Seed and Coconut Bars With A Caramel Glaze

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What do you serve for dessert with a Mexican-themed vegan meal? That’s the question today’s recipe was created to answer.  Rather than adapting an already-existing Mexican recipe, I decided to go the other way and create something new using typical Mexican ingredients. Corn, of course, came immediately to mind, here in the form of cornmeal. Pumpkin or squash also appears in the form of pumpkin seeds.  The other major ingredient, coconut, is not indigenous to Mexico, but does grow in it’s tropical, coastal areas. In these bars, the crunch comes from the seeds and cornmeal, while the easy-to-make caramel topping contributes to the bar’s dense, moist richness.  Try to find coconut in the large flake form for sprinkling on the top.  It makes for a more dramatic presentation.  Recipe, after the jump…

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Sesame-Lemon Cookies (Feed Your Inner Cookie Monster!)

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Considering how much I like the taste of lemons and of sesame (and especially of tahini), it’s not surprising that I’ve combined them in a cookie. I’d been making cookies like these for years when I noticed that Meredith McCarty has a similar recipe in her classic vegan baking book, Sweet and Natural. I doubt that either of us borrowed the idea from the other, I think we each had an independent inspiration that these flavors would be great together. If you want to check out her recipe, do yourself a favor and get a copy of her book. In any case, if you love lemon and sesame, this is the recipe for you. Allow a little extra time however, as this recipe works better if you chill the dough before forming it into cookies. Read the recipe, after the jump…

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