Fig, Almond & Rosemary Bread

Fig, Almond, and Rosemary Quick BreadJust when I thought I was done baking for a good long while, I discovered a carton of buttermilk a few days away from expiring and half of a pack of almond paste in the back of the fridge.  What to do, what to do?  Well, we can’t be wasteful and since we’ve got almost a week to go before we start thinking about New Year’s resolutions and whatnot, what do you say we make one last holiday treat?

Here’s the plan: we’ll use the almond paste in combination with plenty of slivered almonds to make a few dense, nutty little loaves.  We’ll call it bread, so we can eat it for breakfast (who am I kidding–like I haven’t been eating Christmas cookies for breakfast all week with little remorse), but really it’s bordering on pound cake.  Dried figs will get plumped up with a bit of Grand Marnier and folded into the batter along with rosemary, adding a dose of holiday cheer.

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Fennel, Orange & Black Olive Salad

Fennel, Orange, and Olive SaladShaved fennel with orange slices and black olives is far and away my favorite winter salad.  It’s a very non-recipe recipe that I’m about to share, but it’s a combination that I adore, so I must sing its praises to you.  The flavors play so well off one another: the crunch of raw fennel is highlighted with sweet juicy citrus and cut with briny black olives.  It’s a salad that makes such a refreshing counter to heavy winter braises and roasts that I find myself making/craving this salad all the time.   

Side note–have you ever noticed how I’m constantly adding orange zest and strips of orange peel to dishes without ever touching the actual fruit?  Yeah, I can pretty much count on having 3 naked oranges in my refrigerator at any given time.  This salad is an excellent way to make use of the interior of the orange.

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White Chocolate, Espresso & Hazelnut Pinwheel Cookies

White Chocolate, Espresso, and Hazelnut Pinwheel CookiesOne thing I really appreciated about traveling in Belgium and the Netherlands this fall was that every time I ordered a coffee or tea, it would be served with a little something sweet.  In most cases, it’s just a packaged cookie or a thin wafer of chocolate, but once in a while, you really luck out and get a tiny cream puff or a narrow sliver of a tart.  

My best bonus treat came after dinner one night.  We had finished our meal and I was in dire need of a coffee.  Matt and I each ordered one and a couple of minutes later, our server set a tiny silver tray on our table.  On it, sat 2 espressos with some of the densest crema I’ve ever seen and a thick chunk of white chocolate with a small knife.  Now, mind you, we were stuffed and white chocolate is something we both claim to dislike, but not wanting to be rude, I picked up the knife and broke off a shard for each of us.

Within seconds, I retracted my statement about not liking white chocolate.  Paired with the espresso, it was so unbelievably good!  I nibbled and sipped, nibbled and sipped, wondering why coffee isn’t always served with a slab of white chocolate.

So that’s the moment I was dreaming of I was when deciding what kind of cookie to bake.  I wanted to combine those flavors into a small, rich bite to be nibbled with coffee.  And, as always, I’ll take any excuse I can find to retreat into a happy vacation-memory fog for a moment.

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Cranberry-Orange Cornmeal Quick Bread

Cranberry-Orange Cornmeal Quick BreadI have a theory on how the humble little quick bread became everyone’s favorite homemade holiday gift: no one has time for anything in December.  Life goes from busy to absolutely chaotic.  I’m supposed to be where, when?  You’re on your way over…um, great!  Throw in shopping, pre-entertaining deep-cleaning, the fact that you must double the amount of time it takes to go anywhere, and you get the picture.  If you’re going to have something in homemade in hand when you show up at that party, the only viable option is a loaf of quick bread.

Thankfully, quick breads are among my favorite baked goods to give and receive.  On a giving end, I love making them for the obvious reason of being quick, but they’re also versatile and forgiving.  Don’t have the cranberries the recipe is calling for?  No biggie–use the dried cherries from the cupboard.  Slightly over-baked because you were singing in the shower and didn’t hear the timer buzz?  Don’t sweat it, just add extra glaze.  You get the picture; it’s easy, relaxed baking.  On a receiving end, it’s always such a pleasure to wake in the morning, knowing a breakfast-able is ready and waiting on the counter.  And, of course, you can always pop a loaf in the freezer and save it for, say, when you’ve run out of Christmas cookies and you need to shake the middle of January blues.  

This is a great quick bread–tender and cakey, made with cornmeal and buttermilk, bursting with winter citrus and bejeweled with tart cranberries.  It’s perfect to give as a gift, but if you want to bake a loaf just for yourself and enjoy in a dark, quiet room away from the hustle n’ bustle, that’s cool, too.  

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Pistachio, Orange & Honey Florentines (Lace Cookies)

Pistachio, Honey & Orange Florentine CookiesMy pistachio florentines are the cookies you’ll probably pass over on your first go-around with the holiday cookie tray.  They’re unassuming, thin and brown.  No bells, sparkles, or whistles.  You’ll skip right over them and make a grab for the little cutie with the sprinkles and frosting.

At least, that’s what I’m hoping.  I’m hoping you’ll look right past my irregularly shaped florentines so half of them come home with me.  

I love florentines and what they lack in “cute factor” they more than make up for in the flavor department.  This rendition is especially good; the crisp, caramelly cookies are packed pistachios, with bursts of orange, hints of honey, and a dusting of flaky sea salt.  They are sweet, salty, crispy, and perfectly addictive.  

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