Witches’ Fingers Cookies

To me, there’s no better smell than the inside of a pumpkin.  Except for maybe fresh cut grass…or wild blackberries…or warm chocolate chip cookies…or pine needles…or homemade bread…or new shoes…or apple pie…but yeah, other than those, pumpkin is definitely the best smell in the world!  Every single year, just before Halloween, I carve a pumpkin, and one of my favorite things to do (no judging, please) is to stick my face in the gigantic bowl of pumpkin guts and just inhale.  Stop.  I said no judging.  Pumpkin guts smell like leaves crunching underfoot as I stomped around the pumpkin patch picking out the most perfect, round, orange pumpkin; they smell like arguing with my mom before trick-or-treating as she forced a warm winter coat over my thin costume, claiming that I’d be glad I had it once I was outside in the cold.  Pumpkin guts smell like walking down dark streets with a flashlight in one hand and a plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket in the other, shaking my bucket around so I could judge how much candy I’d collected so far.  Pumpkin guts smell like coming home to a warm house after hours of trick-or treating and dumping my loot onto the rug, sorting my candy into little piles and giving all the raisins and Bit-o-honeys to my mom and dad.   I love pumpkin guts.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a sucker for holiday traditions, and one of the best ways to celebrate holidays is through baking, of course!  There are some recipes I make year after year, and each year I also like to try out some new ones.  I’ve eaten witches’ fingers cookies at multiple Halloween parties throughout my life, but last year I tried making them myself.  These are a great cookie to make with kids, and are always a hit at gatherings.  You can tint them green and call them witches’ fingers or leave them whitish and just call them fingers.  Definitely gross either way.  Gross looking that is, because underneath all those bloody fingernails and green skin is a delicious almond sugar cookie.  But please don’t go around telling your guests that these are delicious almond sugar cookies.  I’d go with bloody-cuticled witch claws…much more appetizing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witches’ Fingers Cookies

Yield: 32 cookies

Fingers:

1/2 cup (8 Tbs) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar

5 Tbs granulated sugar

1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/8 tsp salt

5-6 drops green food coloring (optional)

2 cups all-purpose flour

Nails:

32 slivered almonds

Red gel food coloring

Directions:

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add in the egg, egg yolk, almond extract, salt, and food coloring; mix well.  Stir in the flour, mixing just until combined.  Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

After the dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line or lightly grease cookie sheets.  Take one half of the dough out of the fridge and divide into 16 equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to roll each piece into a finger shape about 4-4.5 inches long.  Pinch each piece of dough in two places to create knuckles.  Use the back of a small knife to lightly score the surface of the knuckles.  Place the cookies onto the prepared sheets.  Repeat with the remaining half of dough.

When all the cookies are shaped, make a small indentation at the tip of each finger.  Squirt a small amount of the red gel food coloring into the indentation and carefully place a slivered almond on top for a nail.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until cookies are set and lightly browned around the edges.  Let cool on the sheets for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

(Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats)

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Polvorones de Canela (Mexican Cinnamon Cookies)

 

As I’ve moved closer to graduation and have started taking higher-level classes, almost all of the “busy work” I’ve had since middle school has disappeared.  It’s been replaced with many more long-term assignments, expected independent reading, and the like.  I’m actually fine with this approach.  I feel like I’m being treated more like an adult, and it’s a liberating feeling to know that you’re only going to get out of a class whatever you’re willing to put in.  However, such a “hands off” approach in classes leaves a lot of room for that evil little demon called procrastination to weasel its way into my life.

“I’m totally going to get started on this semester-long project tonight and block out work sessions between now and the due date so that I won’t be overwhelmed when it’s time to turn it in,” said no high school student ever.  At least no high school student I’ve ever known.  I try to be responsible and think ahead, if anything to save myself the stress of a last-minute cram session, but it’s so easy to put things off…just until tomorrow.  <<Famous last words.  College applications, year-long reading assignments, independent Spanish projects, and more have been piled on throughout the fall, and it’s just  hard to get motivated.  Which is why it’s nice to have such an open-ended project like my Spanish one, because kids can pick something they’ll actually enjoy doing and have a greater chance of not waiting until the night before it’s due to throw twelve weeks’ worth of work together and turn it in hoping for a C.  Some serious self-destruction goes on inside the walls of my high school.  And I’m sure we’re not alone!

In my last post, I talked about my independent project in Spanish 3, which is to create a recipe book of at least ten authentic recipes from Spanish-speaking countries.  I started off with Spanish Chicken with Kidney Beans, and I know that procrastination hasn’t reared its ugly head into this project because I’ve already finished recipe numero dos!  Knowing me, there was no way I could make more than one savory dish in a row, so naturally this recipe is for Mexican Cinnamon Cookies, or Polvorones de Canela.  Last year while studying Mexico I learned that Mexican Wedding Cookies, which are basically pecan-studded shortbread balls, are a very popular dessert in Mexico.  These cinnamon cookies are very similar, but without nuts and with the addition of a healthy dose of cinnamon.  The butter and powdered sugar make for an incredible melt-in-your-mouth cookie, and a hint of vanilla and a dusting of cinnamon-sugar finish it off.  These are great cookies to make in large batches, and are fast and easy to whip up.  No specialty ingredients or fancy instructions needed!  And the best part was, by baking up these delicious cookies I was also making progress on my schoolwork.  I wish all my homework could take the form of buttery cinnamon cookies!

 

Polvorones de Canela

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar, divided

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, divided

1/4 tsp salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line or grease two cookie sheets.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add in the vanilla.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and the salt.  Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture (dough will be stiff).

In a shallow dish, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Form the cookie dough into 1-inch balls.  Roll the balls in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and place on baking sheets.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until browned.  Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks.

(Recipe adapted from All Recipes)

Spanish Chicken with Kidney Beans

In my Spanish 3 class, we’ve been assigned three independent semester-long projects.  One is to create our own Spanish book, complete with a dictionary, verb tenses, etc. out of a recycled library book.  The second is to read through a novel written in Spanish.  I picked Jurassic Park, figured that I’d understood about 1 out of every 10 words by the end of the prologue, and switched to Junie B. Jones.  Much better.  The last project we’re doing independently is the most fun…anything of our choice!  Being me, I decided to do a recipe binder full of dishes from various Spanish-speaking countries.  My plan is to try out recipes, take photos, and create a little cookbook.  By little, I mean 10-12 recipes!  I’m no overachiever 🙂

First up, Spanish Chicken with Kidney Beans!  I was a little skeptical as to how this would turn out, since the list of ingredients was surprisingly short and included a sauce made of tomato sauce and yogurt, but I was pleased to find that this dinner was a hit!  The chicken was full of flavor, but not spicy at all; the sauce was slightly sweet from the tomatoes and sugar, slightly tangy from the yogurt and vinegar, and surprisingly delicious.  I served this over quinoa, but I imagine it would go great with any type of grain, potatoes, or even by itself with a side salad or some crusty bread.  My brother, whose usually response to “how do you like the new recipe?” is a grunt that sounds a little like “good,” actually responded in an articulate voice, “this is really good!”  followed by a request to make it again.  Sorry Sam.  I think his name has appeared in almost every post, accompanied by some form of ridicule.  But that’s what brothers are for, right?  Taste-testing and teasing!

Stay tuned for more Latin-style recipes!  In the meantime, try out this Spanish Chicken with Kidney Beans.  I think you’ll like it 🙂

Spanish Chicken with Kidney Beans

Makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs)

1 15-oz can red kidney beans

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 cup plain yogurt

6 Tbs tomato sauce

1 Tbs flour

1 Tbs sugar

1 Tbs vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)

2 tsp paprika

1/8 tsp chili powder

2-3 Tbs olive oil

Salt, to taste

Directions:

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with a little salt and 1 tsp paprika.  Coat with the flour and set aside.

Mix the yogurt and tomato sauce in a small bowl.  Rinse and drain the kidney beans and place in a large pan.

In a separate skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken breasts and cook for 1-2 minutes before reducing heat to medium-low.  Cook the chicken for an additional 6-8 minutes, then flip and cook for 8-10 more minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.   Remove chicken breasts from the skillet and place on top of the beans in the other pan.

In the skillet used to cook the chicken, re-heat the oil (adding more if you need to) and sauté the onions over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until tender.  Sprinkle in the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Stir in the paprika, chili powder, and vinegar.  Add in the yogurt-tomato mixture.  Bring to a boil, and then pour the onion mixture over the chicken and beans.

Season with salt to taste, and then bring to a boil.  Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, and then serve.

(Recipe adapted from Tienda, originally from Spain GormeTour magazine)

Black Bean & Corn Quinoa Salad

During the school year, my family has a “dinner night” system.  I’m in charge of planning meals for the week, assigning each person to 1-2 dinner nights, and doing some of the grocery shopping.  Some weeks everything goes smoothly, and we eat wholesome, on-time dinners made from ingredients that were already purchased and ready to go.  I would estimate that this happens about 1 out of every 10 weeks.  🙂

The majority of the time, the system is semi-smooth…but life happens.  My brother happens to *forget* that it’s his night for dinner until 7 pm, someone has already used up the ingredients that were meant to go into that night’s meal, one of my parents has to work late, or it’s just one of those exhausting weeknights when the energy required to cook dinner fails to be conjured up and we end up ordering Thai food.  Those nights are the worst!  (insert sarcasm)

When it comes to dinner nights, everyone’s style is a little lot different.  My mom prefers cleaning up to cooking, and though my dad likes to cook, limited time and limited energy lead to fast and easy weeknight dinners.   And as for my 18-year-old brother’s attitude toward actually cooking an actually balanced meal by an actually reasonable time for his family…I’ll just say that if it was between doing that and sticking daggers into his eyes, I’m not sure which he’d prefer.  Which leaves me.  I honestly enjoy making elaborate dinners (and just so we’re clear, a pot of homemade chili is considered elaborate when compared to some of the other meals that have graced our table) and my family looks forward to trying the new recipes I make and enjoying the old favorites.  The funny thing is, no matter what I make, if it involves more than 5 ingredients and about 20 minutes of cooking time they think they’re eating a gourmet meal and assume that I must have labored over dinner all afternoon.  They ooh and aah over almost everything I make.  It’s nice to have such a great support team, but sometimes their exuberance over, say, a meatloaf, makes me laugh.  I can only imagine the awe that would ensue if Julia Child offered to cook for them.  (Just to clarify, I’m talking about awe at her cooking, not awe at the fact that a deceased chef is standing in their kitchen.)

My point is that it’s very, very easy to impress my family when it comes to dinner.  Even if it’s a dish that takes 30 minutes to prepare with only 10 minutes of hands-on cooking, tastes wonderful, goes with almost anything, requires minimalistic ingredients, and can be served at any temperature.  Win, win, win, win win!  This Black Bean & Corn Quinoa Salad is so quick and easy to make, yet my family is always convinced that they’re eating a gourmet side dish.  I’ll admit that this may have something to do with them, but it may have even more to do with this fabulous recipe.  This salad is full of fresh, healthy ingredients that give the quinoa lots of flavor without loading up on heavy fats or salt.  It’s perfect as a side dish to highlight a simple main course, or you could even serve it as a main dish since it’s full of protein from the beans and quinoa.  I bet if you make this for your family, they’ll assume that since it tastes so good, it was a lot more difficult than it really is.  And then they’ll proceed to thank you for dinner about 10,000 times and say, “Is this cilantro?  How fancy!”  Or wait….maybe that’s just my family….

Black Bean & Corn Quinoa Salad

1 Tbs olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa

1 1/2 cups (12 oz) chicken or vegetable broth

1 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 cup frozen corn, yellow or white

2 15-oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and sautee, for 4-5 minutes, or until tender.  Add the garlic and sautee for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant.

Add the quinoa and broth.  Stir in the cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is cooked.

Stir in the frozen corn and black beans.  Cover the pot and allow it to sit off the heat for about 5 minutes to heat the corn and beans.  Stir in the cilantro.  Serve warm or chilled, your choice.

(Recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies (with Cinnamon Chips and Raisins)

Surprise, surprise, another pumpkin recipe!  Can you tell I’m obsessed?  I’ve been putting pumpkin into EVERYTHING recently, from cookies to muffins to corn bread!  The pumpkin cornbread was actually a spur-of-the-moment kind of deal…my favorite cornbread recipe uses applesauce, and since my kitchen happened to be inflicted with an absence of applesauce, I turned to my best fall baking friend in a time of need.  Pumpkin!  And, being the completely amazing BFF it is, pumpkin totally came through for me.  The resulting cornbread was moist, sweet, and slightly crumbly.  It was also orange.  My family commented that this was the best cornbread I’d ever made….score!

However, this post is not about cornbread.  No, no, no.  It’s about cookies!  Cookies made with a winning combination of cinnamon chips, oats, raisins, and of course, pumpkin.  I’m sad to say that a cookie or two’s worth of dough didn’t quite make it to the oven…this dough is seriously addicting.  Or maybe it’s just me.

Whether you enjoy these cookies warm out of the oven, at room temperature, frozen (my brother’s favorite), or straight out of the mixing bowl, you’re in for a treat!  Fall flavors at their finest 🙂

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with Cinnamon Chips & Raisins

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground allspice

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup cinnamon chips (or chocolate chips)

1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Combine flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add in the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla and beat until well-combined.  Gradually stir in the flour mixture.

Add in the oats, cinnamon chips, and raisins.  Stir until combined.  Drop cookies by rounded tablespoons onto  lined or lightly greased cookie sheets.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until edges are slightly browned.  Let cookies cool on the sheets for 3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Black Bean, Chicken, and Red Pepper Stew

After an unseasonably warm September, which to Pacific-Northwesterners like me means temperatures over 60 degrees and more than 5 days of sunshine in a row, fall has finally arrived!  Today the thermometer hasn’t gotten past 52 degrees and I woke up to that familiar feeling of being inside a cloud.  Gray skies, moist air, and the sound of fog horns resonating from the harbor all the way up to my house a mile away.  Basically the kind of weather we get about 200 days a year.  And it comes with that cold, clammy wetness that seeps into your bones and stays there for perpetually 7 months.  I’m sure by now you’re all just dying to move to the Pacific Northwest, right?

Actually, it’s not all that bad.  I’m just highlighting all of the bad features and keeping the good ones to myself so that you won’t all pack up and move to my island and overpopulate it and take over all the good beaches and build a bunch of houses on my favorite trails and go around asking a bunch of ridiculous tourist questions.  Because we islanders are very, very unfriendly.  And the weather really does suck. (See what I did there?)

Kidding.  Anyway, I’m actually excited because cooler weather means that fall is here!  The  leaves have turned beautiful colors and started to fall, pumpkins are appearing outside the grocery stores, and Halloween decorations/recipes/crafts are all over Pinterest.  That last one is what really clued me in that autumn is among us.  Hah.

Anyway, along with this cooler weather comes an overwhelming desire for me to make lots of warm stew, soup, and chili.  Which I have done.  I’ve made several different stews/soups/chilis this fall, but they keep getting eaten up before I can snap a picture!  Sad.  But don’t worry, because I did manage to get a picture of the last bowl of this Black Bean, Chicken, and Red Pepper Stew!  And I’m so glad I did, because this recipe is just too good not to post.  The combination of beans, chicken, roasted peppers, green chiles, and cilantro (among other good things) makes for a seriously delicious stew.  It was so thick and hearty that it reminded me of a chili, but with a little more broth and fresher flavors.  This is a perfect meal to warm you up on a chilly fall day, and I’m sure I’ll be making it many more times throughout the cold months ahead!

Black Bean, Chicken, & Red Pepper Stew

2 Tbs olive oil, divided

2 large chicken breasts, cut into small chunks

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers, diced (or 1 large fresh roasted pepper)

1 4-oz can diced mild green chiles

2 14-oz cans chicken broth

2 Tbs cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander seed (optional, but adds great flavor)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or paprika, if you can’t take the heat)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and cook, stirring often, until browned and cooked through.  Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken pieces to a separate bowl.  Set aside.

Drain the juices out of the pot and heat up the second Tbs of oil.  Add in the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute or so.  Next, stir in the black beans, diced tomatoes, roasted peppers, green chiles, chicken broth, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper.

Heat the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer.  Simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until stew reaches desired consistency.  Season with salt and pepper and stir in the fresh cilantro.  Serve.

(Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats)

Quick and Easy Pumpkin Bread

Today I’m going to share with you one of my favorite fall recipes.  Every October, my dad and brother start to get excited because they know it’s coming.  I start stocking up on the ingredients I need to make it because it usually makes several appearances throughout the fall months.  It’s great because it can be made in the form of cookies, muffins, or bread, with no changes except for the baking time and type of pan.  I’m sure that it will be no surprise to hear that this recipe is for….drumroll please…PUMPKIN BREAD!

I know, I know, all that build-up for something as simple and generic as pumpkin bread.  I’m sure you all thought that I had some super-fancy-knock-your-socks-off recipe for an amazing dessert that no one has ever heard of, but nope.  Not the case.  (Not that you didn’t already know that this post is about pumpkin bread, given the title and gigantic picture at the top…)

But don’t run away, because I was serious when I said that this is one of my favorites.  Big time.  Mainly because this bread turns out perfectly spiced, super moist, and ultimately delicious every time.  And like I said before, the same exact batter can be made into cookies or muffins, if you so desire.  It’s just like magic, kinda sorta.  There are so many good things going on with this bread that I hate to tell you the list of ingredients that it requires.  Such a wonderful bread must have some catch, right?  So please be willing to keep an open mind as I list off all the ingredients you must have to make this piece of food art:

1 can of pumpkin.  1 box of spice cake mix.

Honestly.  It’s that easy.  And I won’t lie and say that it’s better than your Grandma’s famous homemade pumpkin bread or the secret recipe for pumpkin cookies that’s been passed down in your family for generations or whatever, but it’s prettttty darn good.  Good enough to make multiple times in a single month, get raving reviews every time, and make an eighteen-year-old brother squeal like a little girl.  If that doesn’t sell you on it, I don’t know what will.

Quick and Easy Pumpkin Bread

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree

1 box spice cake mix

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8″x4″ loaf pan.

Combine pumpkin and cake mix in a large bowl.  Spread batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Let the bread cool in its pan for 15 minutes.

Run a knife along the edges of the bread, and invert onto a wire cooling rack.  Cool completely before slicing.  Serve plain or with whipped cream for an especially delicious treat.

Pumpkin Cookies variation: 

Prepare as above, except form the dough into balls and place on lined or lightly greased cookie sheets.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until tops bounce back when lightly touched.

Pumpkin Muffins variation:

Prepare as above, except scoop the batter into lined muffin tins.  These really won’t rise, so you can fill them almost all the way.  Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Makes 18-24 muffins.

More Variations:

I’ve made this recipe using carrot cake mix instead of spice, and it turns out great as well.  Add in 2 cups of dark chocolate chips if you’re feeling especially naughty.