Chocolate Fudge Pie

I have been struggling with this blog post for the past two weeks.  At one point, it evolved into a manifesto about self-confidence that referenced bad haircuts, my upcoming ten-year high school reunion, and my ex-boyfriend (this illustrates why insomnia-fueled 3 a.m. blogging is usually a bad idea).  However, despite my tortured literary efforts, this recipe doesn’t require an elaborate introduction.  It’s a glorified brownie baked in a pie dish, the sort of straightforward dessert that shows up in a ponytail and yoga pants, rolls up its sleeves, and gets the job done.

If you want, you can dress up your slice with an artful swirl of whipped cream.  But you don’t need to.  If my compulsive rewriting of this blog post has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes simplicity is exactly what’s called for.

Adapted from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters, by Marilynn and Sheila Brass

Ingredients:

Chocolate Fudge Pie Ingredients

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease a 9-inch glass pie plate.

Mix melted butter and sugar in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add eggs and mix until well combined.  Stir in the vanilla and melted chocolate and mix until well combined.  Finally, stir in the all-purpose flour and salt and mix until a smooth batter forms.  Pour batter into prepared pie plate and smooth to an even thickness.

Chocolate Fudge Pie Before Baking

Bake until a tooth pick or cake tester inserted into the center of pie comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Place pie on a wire rack to cool (center of the pie may sink slightly as it cools).  Cover and store in refrigerator.

Chocolate Fudge Pie

Serve topped with whipped cream, if desired.

Chocolate Fudge Pie

Hot and Sour Tofu Mushroom Soup

I am one of those fortunate people who doesn’t get sick very often.  Most likely it’s partly because I don’t have or work with small children, so I’m not exposed to many germs.  I like to think that my high level of produce consumption and regular work out routine plays a major role, but probably I’m just genetically blessed with a robust immune system.  But this January, I’ve been unusually under the weather.  The month began with sort-of cold that was never quite bad enough to justify taking medicine, but nonetheless featured lots of annoying coughing and sniffling.  Once the cold wound down, I was hit with a stomach bug that left me bleary-eyed and nauseated after a sleepless night, lugging a two-liter of diet ginger ale through the SkyWay (Target didn’t have any 20-ounce bottles), for once grateful that my job does not require much in the way of high-level thought.

But I have emerged from my brief period of illness with a new appreciation for the good health I enjoy most of the time, a liter of flat diet ginger ale, and a new hot and sour soup recipe.  Since it has some assertive flavors, it’s probably not the best thing for the depths of the stomach flu, but it’s a nourishing way to clear your sinuses if you’re dealing with a cold.  I used red cabbage, since I had some left over from a salad recipe, but I’m sure green cabbage would work too.  The soup itself is mostly sour–the heat comes from the drizzling of sriracha that you serve it with, so you can adjust the spiciness level to your liking.

Also, white spots on the jalapeno pepper in the photo are frost (I store whole jalapenos from our CSA in the freezer and use them year-round); I’m not serving moldy food!

Adapted from The Kitchn recipe by Faith Durand

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Hot and Sour Tofu Mushroom Soup Ingredients

1 tablespoon canola oil
8 ounces white mushrooms, thinly sliced
jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced (about 3 tablespoons)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3-inch long piece of ginger, peeled and minced (about 6 tablespoons)
2 limes, zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons zest and 6 tablespoons juice)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
12-ounce package extra firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 head of cabbage, cored, halved, and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
sriracha sauce, for serving

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add oil and tilt to evenly coat.  Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are well-browned, about 10 minutes.  Add the jalapeno pepper, garlic, and ginger and cook until garlic and ginger are light golden, about 5 minutes.

Add lime zest and broth and bring a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and add tofu.  Continue simmering for 5 minutes.  Add lime juice, soy sauce, and cabbage and simmer until cabbage is tender, about 5 additional minutes.

Serve with sriracha sauce.

Hot and Sour Tofu Mushroom Soup

Review: World Street Kitchen

Uptown’s World Street Kitchen originated back in 2010 at the vanguard of the Twin Cities food truck craze.  This trendy aesthetic is evident in the brick-and-mortar version’s industrial chic cement floors and exposed pipes, as well as the numerous bottles of sriracha sauce at the condiment station.  In lieu of artwork, the white wall behind our booth was lined with large glass jars of dried beans and spices, possibly a Pintrest-inspired decor project.

Appropriately, the menu spans the globe, with tacos, burritos, Asian-style rice bowls, and sandwiches ranging from a falafel burger to beer-battered fish.  On weekends, there is an additional brunch menu on offer, and for dessert there are deluxe soft serve sundaes and a small daily selection of baked goods, mostly cookies and cake.  All of the appetizers are vegetarian, and each menu category features a vegetarian option (many of which can be made vegan on request).

World Street Kitchen

Pickle plate

The pickle plate is a Technicolor assortment of pickled carrots, cucumbers, onions, and bean sprouts.  Lightly astringent with a dash of sweetness, the crisp pickles were a welcome palette cleanser before our meal, and they paired particularly well with the crispy marinated tofu rice bowl.

World Street Kitchen

Crispy Marinated Tofu Yum Yum Rice Bowl

And what a rice bowl: rice stained yellow from the yolk of a soft-boiled egg, topped with Chinese broccoli, squash, shiitake mushrooms, and a sprinkling of peanuts, drizzled with a creamy “special sauce,” and finally crowned by slabs of crispy tofu and garnished with fresh basil.  The tofu was the highlight, with a thin batter reminiscent of the best fried chicken yielding to a creamy interior.  Although at first they seemed like a mere afterthought, the cooling bits of basil decisively tied together the diverse elements of the dish.

World Street Kitchen

Moroccan Fried Chicken and Waffle

Unfortunately, the actual fried chicken was a letdown.  Ordered as the chicken and waffles from the weekend brunch menu, the Moroccan fried chicken was exceedingly tough and jarringly spiced.  The waffle itself achieved a well-executed fluffiness and was served with high-quality honey.  The portion was generous, which was a good thing as far as the waffle was concerned, but this also led led to much excess chewing to get through the too-tough chicken.

World Street Kitchen

Salted Caramel Soft Serve

Dessert was a sundae of salted caramel soft serve, chocolate sauce, marshmallows, and chocolate covered almonds.  The soft serve was refreshingly light with a robust caramel flavor, and the garnish of coarse salt crystals added a nice additional touch of saltiness.

My main gripe (besides the disappointing Moroccan fried chicken) is that the prices seem a dollar or so too steep for a counter-service joint.  Yes, the tofu is amazing, but World Street Kitchen is more likely to become an occasional lunch splurge than a standard on our rotation.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

World Street Kitchen
http://www.eatwsk.com/
2743 Lyndale Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
(612) 424-8855

World Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Maple Walnut Cranberry Pie

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie

Yesterday officially marked the end of our holiday season.  Since my family is in Minnesota and Wisconsin, while Mike originally hails from Colorado, geography prevents us from doing the Christmas-Eve-with-your-family-Christmas-Day-with-mine compromise.  This year we spend several days in Boulder over Christmas, and I hosted a belated Christmas lunch for my side of the family this weekend.  Mike is rather traditional when it comes to Christmas cuisine (a Norman Rockwell-style turkey dinner features prominently in his family’s celebration), so rather unexpectedly for a mostly-vegetarian and accomplice, we served ham for lunch.  I also made a cabbage salad, the breadsticks from Beard on Bread (I made them very long and skinny and served them standing up in a large flower vase, like a carbohydrate bouquet), and a cheese tray featuring some of the delicious Wisconsin cheeses Mike’s parents gifted us for Christmas.

But the real highlight for my sweets-loving family was dessert.  Since we’re well into January, I didn’t want to make something that screamed “Christmas,”  so eggnog pound cake and candy cane cheesecake were out.  However, this gorgeous cranberry pie struck the perfect festive balance.  With a custard filling and toasted walnuts, it’s somewhat reminiscent of pecan pie, but the tartness of the cranberries keeps it from veering into the toothaching sweetness most pecan pies tend towards, while maple syrup adds a welcome depth of flavor.  The crust recipe I’ve provided is from my mom, a talented baker whose fabulous pies have set the standard against which I judge all pastry.  You can substitute your favorite crust recipe if you like, but do make a homemade crust–this pie is just too wonderful for the mass-produced variety.

Adapted from the Cooking Light recipe by Ruth Cousineau

Ingredients:

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie Crust Ingredients

Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 scant teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup cold water

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie Filling Ingredients

Filling:
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, halved

Prepare the crust:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease a 9-inch glass pie plate.

In a medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup flour and salt.  Cut in the shortening using a pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles wet sand.

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie Crust

Beat the remaining 1/4 cup flour with cold water in a small bowl.  Pour into shortening mixture and mix until a soft dough forms.  Form dough into a ball.

Using a floured rolling pin, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle approximately 11 inches in diameter.  Transfer dough to prepared pie plate.

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie Crust

Trim away any excess crust, fold over edges, and flute.

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie Crust

Prick the bottom of the crust in several places with the tip of a sharp knife.  Line bottom of crust with foil, and place pie weights or dried beans on top of foil.

Bake for 5 minutes.  Remove foil and pie weights or beans and bake for an additional minute.  Cool crust on a wire rack.

Prepare the filling:

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toast walnuts in a medium skillet over medium heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the maple syrup, corn syrup, melted butter, cornstarch, vanilla, salt, and eggs in a medium bowl and beat until well-combined.  Fold in the cranberries and toasted walnuts.

Pour filling into prepared crust and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove pie from oven and fold rectangles of foil over edges to shield crust.

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie

Return pie to oven and bake until filling is just set, about 10 additional minutes.  The pie may appear slightly puffy.

Cool on a wire rack.  Pie will settle as it cools.  Cover and store in refrigerator.

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie

Heidelberg Rye Bread

Although I’ve been griping about the cold temperatures and lack of local produce, there is a benefit to this time of year in Minnesota: it’s bread season.  I love to bake bread, but it’s a winter sport for me.  From May through September, I spend my weekends blitzing though the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro, trying to fit in as many farmer’s markets, festivals, picnics, lakeside walks, and patio dinners as possible.  My warm weather priority is to spend as much time as possible enjoying said weather, and I don’t want to be tied down to my kitchen for the three to four hours it takes to make a loaf of bread.  Once October and cooler temperatures hit, I pull out my yeast again, but I don’t really get into the bread baking groove until the holiday hustle has died down.

I rely on two cookbooks for bread recipes, my well-thumbed copy of Beard on Bread and Great Whole Grain Breads, by Scandinavian baker extraordinaire and fellow northern Minnesota native Beatrice Ojakangas.  I like Ojakangas’ book for its sheer volume of rye recipes, each subtly unique.  The Heidelberg Rye Bread has been one of my favorites so far: it’s a moist bread with just a hint of caraway and is an excellent keeper.  I’ve adapted the recipe to yield one 8 x 4 loaf, just enough for two bread lovers.  If your grocery store doesn’t stock rye flour, try checking the bulk bins at your local co-op–you can buy just as much as you need and the price is usually quite affordable.

Adapted from Great Whole Grain Breads by Beatrice Ojakangas

Yield: one 8 x 4 loaf

Ingredients:

DSC_0182

1 1/2 cup bread flour
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (approximately 110 degrees Fahrenheit
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups rye flour

Combine the bread flour and yeast in a large bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine warm water and butter and stir until butter has completely melted.  Add molasses, instant coffee, caraway seeds, sugar, and salt and stir until combined.

Add the liquid to the flour and yeast and stir until smooth.  Gradually add the rye flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed to prevent sticking, until dough is smooth and bounces back when pressed lightly.  Form dough into a ball and let rest until slightly puffy, about 25 minutes.

Heidelberg Rye Bread Dough

Form dough into a loaf and place in a greased 8 x 4 loaf pan.

Heidelberg Rye Bread Before Rising

Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

Heidelberg Rye Bread Afer Rising

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brush top of loaf with water and slice three 1/4 inch deep parallel cuts into the surface of the loaf with a sharp knife.

Bake until loaf is crusty and sounds hollow when rapped on the top and bottom, about 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Heidelberg Rye Bread

Store completely cooled bread in an airtight container at room temperature.

Potato Leek Soup

There are several reasons why Chez Panisse, the restaurant credited with being one of the drivers of the “eat fresh and local” movement, is located in Berkeley, California instead of the upper Midwest: November through May.  Right now it’s -2 degrees Fahrenheit, on the way to a daily high of 1 degree Fahrenheit, and the ground is covered in snow.  There’s not much going on in the way of fresh and local, besides the -27 degree windchill.  Granted, if you’re an industrious sort you have frozen and canned produce you put up last summer and fall to tide you over through the winter.  I do freeze strawberries, blueberries, applesauce, and peeled, cubed butternut squash, but I draw the line at canning.  Mostly it’s because I really can’t cope with the mushy texture of canned vegetables, but it’s also because I am surprisingly impatient and slapdash for an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist.  My canning venture would likely start with skipping the crucial step of sterilizing the jars in order to save time and end with driving a botulism-sickened Mike to the ER.

So instead of sketchily canned vegetables, I rely on large bags of corn, peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts from the freezer aisle, pre-washed organic salad greens, and select items of produce that still taste decent after thousands of miles of transit or months of cold storage.  Sturdy items like potatoes and squash obviously figure prominently, and cabbage is a solid bet if you need something crispy (this is my favorite winter salad).  But when I really need a freshness fix, particularly on those sub-zero days when I’ve just calculated that CSA season is six and half months away, I turn to leeks.  Obviously, supermarket leeks from California are not as sweet or tender as Minnesota-grown leeks in their prime.  However, they are magnitudes better than playing Russian roulette with botulism or eating my sixth serving of microwaved frozen peas in one week.  And if you make the leeks into a hearty potato-leek soup, and serve it with a side of warm bread in your well-insulated house, you might even forget about the windchill for an all-too-brief moment.

But in that moment, you feel the warmest you have all day.

Adapted from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen

Ingredients:

Potato Leek Soup Ingredients

2-3 russet potatoes (1 pound), cut into 1 inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large leeks (2 pounds), trimmed, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces, and separated into rings (about 6 cups tightly packed)
pepper, to taste

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and add 4 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until potatoes are mushy, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add the olive oil and tilt to evenly coat bottom.  Add the leeks and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks start to soften, about 2 minutes.  Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally, for an additional 5 minutes.  Cover and cook on low until leeks are completely softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the prepared potatoes and their cooking water to the leeks.  Season with pepper to taste, and add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

In batches, puree soup in blender until leeks and potato skins have broken down into small pieces.  Pour soup into a medium saucepan over low heat to keep warm.  Reheat to serve if needed.

Potato Leek Soup

On the Road: Boulder, CO

Another year, another Christmas in Boulder, Colorado (you can read about last year here).  Our trip was filled with as many ups and downs as the Colorado weather: our plane to Denver was late, but our bus ride to Boulder was free due to a broken fare box; Mike’s parents very kindly picked us up at the bus station, but then deposited us at the wrong hotel; we eventually got to the right hotel, but we were treated to a morning without hot water; and finally, we missed our bus back to Denver by minutes, waited outside in the 15 degree cold for an hour, faced a daunting check in-line at the Southwest counter, but still made it on our flight home to Minneapolis.  Throughout the ongoing drama, the weather oscillated from green grass and a balmy 50 degrees on Christmas Eve to several inches of snow on Christmas Day.  But despite the setbacks, we enjoyed our time with family, the views of the foothills, and lots of excellent food.

Pearl Street Mall Finds

Clockwise from upper left: soup selection at Lindsay’s Boulder Deli; sweet potato bisque and house salad at Lindsay’s Boulder Deli; clam chowder and It’s What For Dinna sandwich at Lindsay’s Boulder Deli; dark chocolate and vanilla truffles at Piece Love and Chocolate

  • I could easily spend a whole day at downtown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, with its dozens of neat local shops and interesting restaurants.  My favorite shopping spots are Peppercorn (1235 Pearl Street), a huge kitchen and home store with every cooking implement you can imagine;  Bayleaf (1222 Pearl Street), which stocks gift items and foods imported from Europe, letterpress cards, and the full line of Boulder-made Chocolove bars; and the Boulder Bookstore (1107 Pearl Street), which sprawls across three floors and is the sort of place book lovers dream of.
  • My favorite lunch spot on Pearl Street is Lindsay’s Boulder Deli (1148 Pearl Street), for its array of homemade soups (10 on the day we visited), interesting sandwiches, and salads with amazing croutons.  The best part is that they let you sample the soups before you buy, ice-cream-counter-style (possibly because they are also a Häagen-Dazs outlet).  Although I was impressed by the clam chowder and Cajun lentil soups, I settled on the sweet potato bisque for its spicy flavor with a hint of smokiness.  If you’re a meat lover in search of a sandwich, the It’s What For Dinna is a solid choice, with roast beef, a zesty garlic mayo, and melting cheese on a hearty ciabatta roll.
  • If you skipped the ice cream counter at Lindsay’s (or even if you didn’t), head to Piece Love and Chocolate (805 Pearl Street) for dessert.  There’s a variety of chocolate cakes and tortes by the slice, a counter with dozens of flavors of artisan truffles, and hot and cold chocolate beverages.  I sampled exquisite dark chocolate and vanilla truffles, but the highlight was Mike’s 1/2 and 1/2 sipping chocolate.  A mixture of dark and white chocolate melted into whole milk, it is the fine champagne of hot chocolates, to be slowly savored instead of gulped.

 

Boulder, Colorado Highlights

Clockwise from upper left: Vegan bean and corn tamales at the BDT Stage dinner theater; tea stash from Celestial Seasonings; Vegetarian Combo Mountain Pie at Beau Jo’s; slice of pizza showing Beau Jo’s optimal crust-to-slice ratio.

  • Although the performance and dessert were a bit of a letdown, I thoroughly enjoyed my vegan bean and corn tamales at the BDT Stage, Boulder’s dinner theater (5501 Arapahoe Avenue).
  • Whenever we visit Boulder, Mike and I take advantage of the low prices and amazing selection at the Celestial Seasoning Tea Shop (4600 Sleepytime Drive) to stock up on our favorite teas (this year, we came home with 24 boxes).  You can sample all of the varieties at the nearby tasting room, and the factory tour is well worth your time (see last year’s post for more details about the factory tour).
  • Beau Jo’s (2690 Baseline, plus additional locations throughout Colorado and Rapid City, South Dakota) is in on my short list of all-time favorite pizza places.  Their specialty is the Mountain Pie, sold by the pound and ringed with a thick rolled crust that you drizzle with honey after finishing the cheese-topped portion of your slice.  For this bread lover, it’s the perfect pizza: if you order the one-pounder (enough for two people if you add the salad bar option), one-third of your slice is glorious crust.  I prefer the honey wheat crust, but the standard honey white is good too, particularly with some extra honey.  The salad bar is quite respectable, and there is a gluten-free crust option.

Review: Fitger’s Brewhouse

Duluth’s Fitger’s Brewhouse is appropriately located within a former brewery on the shoreline of Lake Superior.  Although the attraction for most is the beer, the menu of “Duluth pub food” has a lot to offer for a casual meal, whether or not you’re pairing it with a beer.  Classic bar food is well represented–lots of burgers, chicken strips, nachos, and artichoke dip–but there are also vegetarian friendly-items like a hummus platter, a grilled portabella mushroom salad, three iterations of the signature wild rice burger, and black bean chili.  For pescatarians, options include locally smoked trout served in a salad or wrap and a locally caught whitefish burger.

Brewhouse

Clam chowder

In addition to the vegetarian black bean chili, there’s a featured soup of the day.  We were treated to a steaming bowl that would do any New Englander proud: a chowder rich with clams, but not overly fishy, and fortified with tender chunks of potato.

Brewhouse

Fish and chips

The fish and chips were served seconds from the deep fryer, with a thick, crisp beer batter on the fish and a thinner coating of the same beer batter on the chips.  The slender dimension of the chips optimized the deep-fried-to-potato ratio, making them the most satisfying French fries I’ve had in long time.

Brewhouse

Northern Waters smoked trout salad

I ordered the smoked fish salad without the cheddar cheese listed on the menu (the fish/cheese combination just seemed too weird), and I think I made the right call.  Northern Waters smoked trout, wild rice, tomatoes, onions, and a hard boiled egg are arranged atop a bed of mixed greens, with a warm, fluffy pita on the side.  The smoked trout is the rightful centerpiece, while the wild rice provided a pleasantly chewy note.  The salad is served with a house-made smoked dressing that was truly unique: it tasted slightly charred, with a hint of barbecue flavor.  The only off note about the salad was the overwhelming volume of onions, which I could still taste hours later.

And although it might be strange to get a mug of hot chocolate at a pub, the Brewhouse version is as good as anything you’ll find a your local coffee shop, and comes topped with a mound of homemade whipped cream (actually, this makes it better than my local coffee shop–they use Redi-Whip).  This attention to detail is evident throughout the menu–the perfectly tender potato in the chowder, the excellent fries, the smoked dressing–and it makes Fitger’s Brewhouse a worthy culinary stop on a trip to Duluth, even if you don’t like beer.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

Fitger’s Brewhouse
http://brewhouse.net/grille/
600 East Superior Street
Duluth, MN 55802
(218) 279-2739

Fitger's Brewhouse Brewery & Grille on Urbanspoon

Product Review: Peeps, Part 2

It’s stocking stuffer season.  While candy canes are a solid traditional choice, and you can never go wrong with chocolate, Just Born has an array of “everyday” and Christmas-themed Peeps for your favorite sugar-coated marshmallow lover.  Because one (by which I mean me) cannot live on whole grains and seasonal vegetables alone, I’ve taste tested the Sour Watermelon and Strawberry Creme varieties of the everyday Peeps minis and two of the Christmas flavors, Candy Cane and Red Velvet.

Peeps Minis

Peeps Minis

In theory, these are a good idea: bite-sized Peeps that can be enjoyed year-round.  However, to steal a phrase from Chopped, the execution is flawed.  Instead of the adorably plump chicks we know and love, Peeps Minis are curiously flat and oblong.  Although the miniature size makes for a favorably high sugar coating to marshmallow interior ratio, the marshmallow is far softer than a standard Peep, with a strange spongy texture.

Peeps Minis come in four flavors, Sour Watermelon, Strawberry Creme, Chocolate Creme, and Vanilla Creme.  I sampled the Sour Watermelon and Strawberry Creme varieties, which left me sadly disappointed.  The Strawberry Creme Peeps Minis tasted absolutely nothing like strawberries, or even artificial strawberry flavoring, but they did taste vaguely familiar.  After the consumption of several Minis I was able to nail it down: they taste just like Trix breakfast cereal (and I’m feeling pretty good about my junk food palette, since the various artificial fruit flavors of Trix do not include strawberry).  The Sour Watermelon Peeps Minis were slightly better, with a hint of sourness and a somewhat pleasant flavor instantly recognizable as artificial watermelon.

Candy Cane Peep

Candy Cane Peeps

This festive Peep gets high marks for its dusting of red shavings to make it resemble a candy cane.  Unfortunately, the candy cane flavored marshmallow has an assertive toothpaste-like mint flavor, which combined with the dark chocolate bottom to give me that gross feeling of eating dessert right after brushing my teeth.  For the record, Mike thought these were okay, and “everything I would have expected from a candy cane Peep.”

Red Velvet Peep

Red Velvet Peeps

Although I’m not sure how red velvet cake is holiday-themed, this was the taste test winner by far.  The marshmallow is a fairly decent approximation of red velvet cake.  The “cream flavored fudge” on the bottom doesn’t taste like much of anything besides cloying sweetness.  This actually is reminiscent of the buttercream frosting that often tops red velvet cake and added to the effect.  Although they might not be for everyone, and they definitely won’t be confused with the genuine article, I found the red velvet Peep quite delectable in a guilty pleasure sort of way (which is pretty much how I feel about Peeps in general).

 

Lebkuchen

This weekend, I found myself in need of a Christmas-themed costume and a potluck contribution for the annual German Christmas party.  Since the last time I dressed up was Halloween 2001, I was quite proud of my costume idea.  I wore a Goodwill-sourced slinky evening gown, borrowed a faux fur scarf from a co-worker, and perched some antlers on my head to go as Vixen.  Mike was Rudolf, with matching antlers and a red face paint nose.  It was kind of adorable.

Rudolph and Vixen

Mike’s nose had worn off by this point, but you get the idea

Next up was the food.  I wanted to go with a German theme, and after a bit of Internet research I settled on lebkuchen, a traditional German Christmas cookie that is basically a more complicated version of gingerbread.  It is traditionally baked in rounds and flavored with honey, spices, nuts, and candied fruit.  I adapted a simplified recipe from King Arthur Flour that is baked in bar form and flavored with fresh grated lemon and orange peel and candied ginger in place of the more typical candied citron.  Lebkuchen are a bit of an acquired taste, more the sort of thing that you nibble with a cup of coffee than binge eat while watching Christmas movies (I recommend no-bake cookies for that).  But sometimes, when you’ve spent the past evening gorging on American-style spätzle, pretzels, M&M cookies, and alcoholic gummy bears, nibbling on a leftover understated Christmas cookie is exactly what you need.

I did find the cloves and nutmeg in this recipe to be somewhat overpowering; next time I make this, I plan to reduce them to 1/2 teaspoon each.  For the glaze, make sure to use apple juice–it mellows out the spices of the cookies, and you can buy a little personal-sized container at a convenience store if apple juice isn’t something you typically have on hand.

Adapted from the recipe by King Arthur Flour

Yield: one 9 x 13 pan of bar cookies.  Cut them as large or as small as you want for whatever yield your heart desires.

Ingredients:

Cookies

Lebkuchen Ingredients

1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds
heaping 1/4 cup crystallized ginger (I found some in the bulk section at the co-op)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup honey
1 egg
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (about one lemon’s worth)
2 teaspoons grated orange peel (about one half orange’s worth)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Glaze

Lebkuchen Glaze Ingredients

1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup apple juice

Place almonds and crystallized ginger in a food processor.

Almond and Crystallized Ginger Before Processing

Process until finely ground.

Almond and Crystallized Ginger After Processing

Combine brown sugar and honey in a small saucepan.  Bring to boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and cool until warm.

Honey and Brown Sugar Mixture

In a large bowl, combine the cooled sugar mixture, egg, lemon peel, and orange peel.  Add the almond mixture, flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and baking soda and mix thoroughly until a stiff dough forms.  Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Lebkuchen Dough

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 x 13 pan.

Using a rolling pin lightly dusted with flour, roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface into your best approximation of a 9 inch by 13 inch rectangle (it will be about 1/4 inch thick).  Transfer dough rectangle to prepared pan.

With a sharp knife, trim any excess dough and lightly press it into the pan to fill any gaps.

DSC_0211 Lebkuchen Before Baking

Bake until surface has set and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17-20 minutes.

While the lebkuchen are baking, combine the powdered sugar and apple juice in a small bowl and mix until smooth.

Once the lebkuchen are done baking, remove from pan immediately and place on a wire rack for cooling and glazing (you may want to cover the surface below the rack with wax paper to catch the dripping glaze).  Using a pastry brush, thickly coat the lebkuchen with glaze.  Allow the glaze to soak in, about 5 minutes, and then brush with another thick layer of glaze.

Lebkuchen

When glaze has set and lebkuchen are completely cool, cut into rectangles.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature with a slice of apple to keep the lebkuchen moist.

Lebkuchen