Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies

By: Brady Evans

I’ve got a cookie monster of a husband. For a while I gladly made him cookies. I made him chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, nut-filled cookies. He requested chocolate chip cookies most often, though. It didn’t take long before I was tired of using my precious cooking time to make the same boring recipe over and over again.

So I began purchasing him cookies at the grocery store and generally only bought whatever was on sale. One week shortbread cookies were on sale and he fell in love with the sweet, slightly salty, crumbly texture. I began to brainstorm about making these cookies here at home. I could add a variety of mix-ins and no eggs were required, making them really easy to whip up regardless of the grocery situation!

I added a total of 1 cup of mix-ins to Ina Garten’s shortbread recipe so I encourage you to either make my recipe adaptation or come up with a new concoction of your own!

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.  Add in nuts and dried cranberries and mix on low until thoroughly combined.
  3. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into 2 cookie logs, 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Cut 1/2 inch cookies with a sharp knife.
  6. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Chocolate Cake

By: Brady Evans

CakeMy birthday came and went in early March without much fanfare. Part of the problem might have been that I have a student who has been consistently wishing me “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” daily since August. It was hard to believe when the day had come that it was truly my birthday after all those wonderful salutations all year long.

Another problem, I guess, is that as you get older, birthdays matter less. Unless you are my mom (who blogs at leemalerich.wordpress.com if you want to check her out!), apparently, and then you throw yourself a wonderful party. That’s where this cake came into play – not on my birthday but on her birthday, which is two weeks after mine.

Maybe I went all out on the cakes (yes, there were two; I’ll share the other later) because I had truly not gone all out on my birthday. Or maybe it was because the skies had opened up and it had been raining for two days. What’s better than baking up a storm during an actual storm?

CakeI must confess that I chose this cake because the interior is deep dark chocolate and while my mom and I both prefer vanilla, our husbands do not. Also, I was in the mood to challenge myself by making homemade salted caramel.

The cake was described by the party guests as “shove your face into and eat away” delicious. Ina Garten makes a mean chocolate cake and the salted caramel frosting truly was the perfect contrast. The compliments I received for the baking of this cake at the party were embarrassingly plentiful, so use that as an indication of how quickly you should make this cake! Below are the recipes for the cake, the salted caramel and the salted caramel frosting.

Chocolate Cake (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups whole buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup good cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your cake pans. (I like to use the wrapper from my sticks of butter).
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy (approximately 5 minutes).
  3. Reduce the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time and incorporate fully.
  4. Add the vanilla and mix well.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and coffee.
  6. In a third bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
  7. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended.
  8. Finish by folding the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it’s completely blended.
  9. Divide the batter between two 8″ round cake pan.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10-15 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Salted Caramel (from Kimberly Taylor Images)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Combine the sugar, water and the corn syrup in a large saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Cover the saucepan and let it cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.
  3. After 3 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
  4. Do not stir from this point on, but instead swirl the liquid around the pan so that the caramel doesn’t burn.
  5. Continue to cook until the caramel turns an even light amber color (it will darken upon standing) then remove from the heat and let stand for about 30 seconds. This step will take about 5 minutes.
  6. Carefully, pour the heavy cream into the mixture. The mixture will bubble up, so watch out.
  7. Stir the mixture, again being careful. Add the butter, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until combined.
  8. Measure 1 cup into a glass measuring cup. Stirring occasionally, allow to cool until thick like molasses and warm to the touch, about 20 minutes.
  9. Save any extra in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Salted Caramel Frosting (from Kimberly Taylor Images)

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter at room temperature
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 3-4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 cup salted caramel (recipe above)

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
  2. Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.
  3. Add 1 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.
  4. Add additional powdered sugar until the frosting is the sweetness and consistency you desire.

Lemon Pasta with Broccoli and Cauliflower

By: Brady Evans

“There’s nothing I love more than working all day in the yard and going out to eat afterwards,” my husband said to me this past weekend as he toweled off after a much-deserved shower…

The day started for me at about 5am.  I ran 15 miles or so, came home, and put on a pair of pants.  My husband and I hopped on our horses and went for an early morning ride while the sun burned off the dew.

Want to get dirty quickly?  Love on some horses. They’ve grown their winter coats now (and we keep them natural- some people clip the heavy fur away).  They feel soft, like fuzzy bears, but the thick coat holds the dirt.  Have you ever hugged a horse before?  Have you ever been hugged by a horse?  They wrap their necks around your body and you breathe in their delicious, homey, scent.

Immediately after our ride we got to work. We stayed outside doing yard chores all day long. After moving around logs, hedge clippings and horse poop, we were filthy!

At the end of the day, my husband wanted to go out to eat. I, however, wanted to eat restaurant-quality food at home.  I wanted to wash my hands (up to my elbows), kick off my boots, peel off my jeans, and make a nice, delicious dinner at home.  I didn’t want to shower, change clothes, have to think about how badly my feet hurt, shave my legs, and drive to the big ol’ town down the road to find a restaurant.

Guess who won the constant debate this weekend? Not me.

I made this dish the next night.  This pasta dish combines the fresh and summery feel of a lemon sauce with hardy winter veggies like cauliflower and broccoli.  I added some white beans in for protein and, at the last minute, ½ cup of cooked, chopped chicken. That chicken addition was so minuscule and unnecessary, though, that I’m not even putting it in as part of the recipe.

The pasta dish is flat out fantastic.  It is exactly what our bodies would have needed after a long, hard day of yard work.  It was quick to put together and used minimal dishes – exactly the factors I appreciate when I’m just trying to get dinner on the table.

Lemon Pasta with Broccoli and Cauliflower

(adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 4 cups cauliflower florets
  • 1/2 pound pasta
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil (I used basil infused – any variety will work)
  • 
1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 
1/3 cup pasta water
  • 2 cups white beans, rinsed and drained

Instructions

Cook the broccoli and cauliflower for 3 minutes in a large pot of boiling salted water. Remove the broccoli from the water with a slotted spoon or sieve. Place in a large bowl and set aside.

In the same water, cook the pasta according to the package directions, about 12 minutes. Drain well and add to the vegetables.

Meanwhile, in a small saute pan, heat the butter and oil and cook the garlic and lemon zest over medium-low heat for 1 minute.

Add 1 teaspoon salt, the pepper, lemon juice, beans, and reserved pasta water. Bring to a simmer.

Pour this over the broccoli and pasta. Toss well. Enjoy!