The week before Halloween is always a busy one: baking, cooking, and getting ready for the Big Day.
This year I’d also promised a friend (the very talented Danielle Centoni from Roux 44) that I’d test some recipes for a cookbook she’s been editing.
Portland Cooks comes out next fall and features profiles and recipes from our city’s most creative chefs and bartenders. I was all too happy to help her out this past week recipe testing for the book — especially since I was able to cherry pick which recipes I wanted to do — and I chose two recipes that I’d eaten at restaurants (and had been obsessing over ever since).
The first recipe was from Milk Glass Mrkt — an amazing cafe in North Portland.
I’ve told you about them before — and I’ve been hugely impressed with their offerings.
I remember eating their outstanding Kale Salad and when I saw that this was one of the recipes to test, I was so excited to learn from whence that magic came.
Turns out the recipe has a long, long list of ingredients, but if you follow the recipe exactly, you will have more Sunflower dressing and Savory Granola than you’ll need for those four servings, which is like money in the bank.
Behold the Kale Salad with Pickled Onions, Garlic Dates and Savory Granola.
The restaurant used a different kind of kale and legume as I did (I don’t think I’m allowed to share the recipe quite yet) but all versions are beyond compare.
A zippy sunflower dressing pulls together the dark greens, the roasted squash and pickled onions, the garbanzos add heft and the savory granola gives unexpected crunch and texture.
It’s outstanding — by far the best kale salad I’ve ever had.
I also tested the recipe for the Bucatini Carbonara with Sunny Side Up Eggs from Grassa.
Regular readers will remember that name; Grassa is the rockin’ pasta place from Rick Gencarelli (I interviewed him for my Meet Your Maker series earlier this month).
I went to Providore to pick up the ingredients
invited a friend over for lunch, and got that water boiling.
I made one bucatini without the egg
and the other with the egg — and this version was the clear winner.
Rick gave the genius tip about cooking the egg in the pancetta fat and it came out perfectly — and when you cut into the yolk and it coats the pasta below, it’s like magic.
Porky, cheesy, bucatini magic.
In between all this recipe testing, there’ve been lots of beautiful walks in the neighborhood.
Boy I love Grant Park.
It’s beautiful every month of the year, but something about the long shadows and leaf peeping at this time year gets me every time.
Take one of the last looks at the high school. It’s going to be remodeled next year during a two year process and we’re all very curious how it’ll look inside and out when it’s done.
Those clouds, right?
So there’s been a lot to be grateful for this week.
Great pasta, amazing salads, tons of catching up with friends and lots of decorations going up everywhere.
I love this vintage inspired garland I bought ages ago — and every year it goes over the French doors that open up into my back yard.
And Charlotte always gets such a kick out of the countdown every year.
And I love decorating the mantle.
And here’s one last bit of Halloween goodness:
THE PERFECT SUGAR COOKIE.
I know, I know, you’re thinking. Wow. Whoopie. A sugar cookie. Yahoo.
I can’t blame you. I grew up eating sugar cookies that were made using those refrigerated slice-n-bake logs and while they work in a pinch (and their consistency is great for rolling out), the flavor never wow-ed me.
Even now, most sugar or butter cookies leave me indifferent; a cookie has to reach shortbread-like richness to truly pique my interest, but when Charlotte told me this week that she wanted to decorate some cookies, I remembered a recipe my friend Gillian gave me ages ago that I really loved.
I fished it out of my cookie binder (I’m the kind of recipe geek that I has binders filled with page-protector recipes) and whipped up a batch.
Let me tell you what really punches it up.
Yep, almond paste. Whipped into the butter, it lends the cookie a lovely nutty taste and a good pinch or two of salt in the recipe ensures that the cookie doesn’t delve into butter cookie over-simplification or blandness.
Adding a drop or two of almond extract into the confectioner sugar icing makes it even more special.
(It looks like the recipe is from the good folks at Land O’ Lakes Butter — just another reason to love this brand).
And here’s the best part.
It’s not only delicious, but with the right shape or adornments, you will want to use this recipe for every holiday.
I realized that I love candy corn — but the taste not so much. Too sweet, too much like corn syrup for my liking.
What I do love, however, is candy corn’s iconic shape and color stacking. So cheery. So Halloween-y.
So a great cookie recipe plus a few sprinkles (okay, a lot), makes some holiday magic.
Now, I could have cut them with a knife so that all the edges were stick-straight but I like they’re not perfect — they are kind of loveable in their rusticness.
And when you give away these oversized wonders (I made them as big as scones) and you watch your recipient bite into it right into it in front of you, you get to see the wonder in their eyes when they taste that almond-y magic of the dough.
Because no one expects a sugar to taste this good — or to have quite as many sprinkles (kids have a much higher sprinkle tolerance, so plan accordingly and know your audience).
They were just the right thing to add to a care package I was making for a pal who was visiting her son at college. Wouldn’t you be so happy if your parents walked in with this?
Halloween might still be 2 days away, but right now these cookies have me feeling like this.
- 1½ C. sugar
- 1 C. (2 sticks) butter
- 4-6 Tbs. almond paste (depending on how almond-y you want it)
- 2 eggs
- 3 C. all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Combine sugar, butter and almond paste in mixer. Cream together until mixed, scraping down sides as necessary. Add eggs, and beat at medium until creamy and well-mixed. Reduce speed to low, and add all remaining ingredients. Beat, scraping bowl often until well-mixed.
- Shape rounded teaspoons of dough into 1 inch balls or roll out and cut into shapes (refrigerating so they will keep their shape).
- Bake 7-10 minutes until edges are lightly browned and they no longer look wet.
- If desired, whip up a small pit of glaze, adding milk, powdered sugar and either vanilla or almond extract until desired consistency. Drizzle onto cookies and sprinkle like there is no tomorrow.