Bread, Chocolate, Dessert

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT SHORTBREAD

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We went out last night to pick up a tree. The kids were bundled and the packing blanket was in the back to protect the roof. This is the first year both of the kids are super jazzed about the holidays. Curran (4.5) is excited for new toys and allllll the colorful, tacky decor. I am told every day that the white lights we have on the house are NOT festive AT ALL. Cleo is excited about whatever Curran is excited about lately, so anytime we see lights (trees, wreaths, fake reindeer, whatever) squealing ensues. It was cute at first, and now it’s just… loud. But truly, I love it. The first few years of parenting are so much work, with few of those personal connections where you actually get to see your children as a people. The more I get to know them, the more I like them. Even the complicated, emotional parts. Anyway, their excitement is infectious, and their Scrouge McWhite-Christmas-Light-Preferring mother is even considering putting rainbow lights up somewhere… like inside their room ;)

Anyway, the tree. I had this romantic idea about the tradition of picking out a tree and how we would pick up dinner after and decorate it, fireside, with classic Christmas tunes. As it turns out, it was not the romantic vision I anticipated in my head. There was a time this would have wildly disappointed me, but kids have lowered my expectations for the better. We ended up at Costco which I love for many reasons, but rustic tree buying experiences is not one of them. I mean you can’t even see the trees, they are all wrapped in twine in bins and you just take a wild guess. Curran seems to be recovering from a minor concussion so complains and whines frequently, and I get that he doesn’t feel well, but, again, with the Cleo doing everything he does. Our dinner was underwhelming and by the time we got home, people needed to go straight to bed. They both screamed at the reality of needing to take a warm shower (how dare me!), and tucked away they went. There was no decorating, no songs, no fire.

I am not disappointed, this is life. When I think back about getting a tree and decorating it with my family, it was not some Norman Rockwell scene every time. Traditions and memories in their imperfect state are just as nostalgic for me as the ones where everything went ‘right.’ Fighting over whose year it was to put the angel on top, holding the twine down through the windows of the mini van to make sure the tree didn’t fly off, how all the limbs starting breaking off the clay wisemen in the manger scene and no one bothered to glue them back on, or the year a votive candle lit a garland on fire. I would maybe argue that the messy parts, the imperfect parts, are actually more interesting. I don’t think I even remember the moments that went as planned, if there were any. So Mr. Frankie, the bare, unlit, lopsided tree, is sitting in the living room, reminding me that all I want for this month is just to soak in the holidays and stay flexible. Mayyyyybe we’ll even put rainbow lights on him this weekend.

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CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT SHORTBREAD

Makes 18

Recipe adapted from Real Simple

I made these a touch sweeter than the written recipe because well, it’s a holiday cookie. You could sprinkle crushed peppermint candies on top while the chocolate drizzle is still soft and that should act as glue for the candies. If you have tried Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies , they are basically shortbread with a bit of baking soda to help them rise a bit. I’ve tried it here, but don’t think it changes them wildly, so it depends how dense or light you prefer your cookie. Add 1/2 tsp. if you want to try. These are snappy day one, and start to become more tender as they sit. Taste great either way, texture changes, just a fyi.

Ingredients

1/2 cup/1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. natural cane sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour

3.5 oz. bar of dark chocolate
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract

flaky salt, for garnish, optional

Instructions

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment or with an electric mixer, beat the butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add the salt, vanilla, peppermint and beat those in to combine. Add the cocoa, flour and beat until just combined, do not over mix. Roll the dough into a log about 2” across (this is kind of hard, just do your best), wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour, or overnight. Alternatively, you can roll it out and use cookie cutters to make shapes.

Preheat the oven to 325’ and line a baking sheet with parchment (maybe two, or work in batches). Slice the cookie log into 1/2” coins and arrange them on your baking sheet. They won’t spread much, but give them an inch between for safety. Bake for 10-12 minutes until just dry on the edges. They will look raw in the center but that’s ok! Pull them, and let them cool.

While they cool, melt the chocolate either in the microwave or in a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. Drizzle it on top of the cookies, sprinkle flaky salt or peppermint candies, if using, and let the chocolate set.
Enjoy! Cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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CA OLIVE RANCH HARVEST TOUR

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Easily one of my top five pantry staples, extra virgin olive oil is what I use to cook with most often. To dress a salad or finish my favorite roasted potatoes or add moisture to the best lemon loaf ever. We were invited up to the groves and mill of California Olive Ranch to take a closer look at their process and while I had an idea of the olive oil process from past work experience, it was fascinating to see it on a larger scale.

First of all, the transparency was enough to make me love their brand even more, as they are truly taking every precaution to ensure their oil is the highest quality. I couldn’t believe how many rounds of quality control the olives go through before they are actually pressed. You are probably familiar with their green, squared bottle. They sell it at most grocery stores and even sell at Costco. While the ‘Everyday’ oil is great for, well, everyday, I really enjoyed getting to taste the difference between their Reserve Collection bottles - some mild, or a more spicy, peppery variety for getting great flavor as a salad dressing where you’ll really taste it.

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This November, California Olive Ranch is introducing a new suite of products called Destination Series. As they’ve prepared for the weather systems to fluctuate, the brand has been establishing relationships with other olive growers outside of the U.S., who grow their crop with the same attention to detail. After years of perfecting the craft, they are releasing a line of affordable blends, reflective of these partnerships abroad. We had the chance to taste them and again, each so unique and fresh tasting. Can’t wait to pick up a few bottles.

We had the opportunity to ride the harvester that collected the olives, and then see how they get from there, to the mill and the dozens of steps that happen before the oil is bottled and on store shelves. We included some photos here, but there is more information on their site for Olive Oil 101.

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I grew up often using rancid oil, and only through learning more about cooking, can identify that terrible smell. Kind of like...plastic? It is a smell you know immediately if you compare it to a truly fresh bottle. How long have you had the bottle you’ve been using? Do you keep it in the pantry, not right next to the hot stove? Olive oil is best stored in cool, dark places. Did you know that people take shots of it to help with inflammation and that it’s been known to bring cholesterol levels down, lower blood pressure, and improve bone calcification and mineralization? I just think it is such a fascinating product that we use without thinking on a daily basis.


I am partnering with California Olive Ranch to share a few olive oil recipes here over the next few months, so stay tuned.

The best part of all this, is that California Olive Ranch is giving away a YEAR (!!) supply of their new Destination Series extra virgin olive oil to a Sprouted Kitchen follower. Head over to our instagram page asap to enter!

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FALL CHEESE BOARD

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Per request! Many moons ago, we made a summer cheese here. It was simple, had a few handmade components but was super quick to throw together. Since then, and especially lately with the holidays coming up, there have been requests for a fall version. It’s not so much that cheese has a season, but the accoutrements do. Slightly heavier cheeses, fall fruits, darker foresty vibes with the herbs and colors.

I included four cheeses: Emmi Le Gruyère, a young blue cheese, a soft goats’ cheese and a firmer, saltier one, such as pecorino, (or a dry manchego is great too). Emmi Le Gruyère is a great specialty cheese to upgrade a recipe or prepare a cheeseboard. I used it in the mini sandwiches because it melts well and has lots of flavor. I made a candied walnut to go along with the blue cheese, drizzling honey and herbs on the goat and leaving the dry cheese cut up. I like to have other bits for snacking that will satisfy the non-cheese lovers. I added fresh pears, grapes, dates, olives — this adds variety, visual interest, and covers a variety of diets, so at least everyone has a snack. I’ll be sure one of my crackers is gluten free, cause it seems someone always is. One of our favorite nights this past year was hosting a game night for friends and I asked everyone to bring an app to share. Funnily enough, every single couple brought some form of a cheese plate, so next time I’ll be more specific :) Anyway, if you find yourself needing cheese plate inspiration this season. Hope the below may help!

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mini apple + gruyère grilled cheese

You could use pear in place of the apple, or even included a thin slice of ham if that’s your deal.

1 baguette
2 crisp apples, cored and sliced thin
4 ounces of Emmi Le Gruyère, grated
Dijon mustard
Butter or olive oil, for cooking
Slice the baguette into thin slices.

Heat a slick of butter or olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat. On a slice of bread, give it a swipe of Dijon, a generous sprinkle of Gruyère, a few apple slices, another sprinkle of Gruyère and then top with another piece of bread. Griddle the mini sandwiches for about 2 minutes on each side until the crust is golden and then cheese is melted. Repeat in batches with remaining ingredients.

These can be made in advance and warmed in a 250’ oven for 5 minutes before serving to refresh them. 

mapled walnuts

If you stock pecans, those will work great here too. Make extras, these are so yummy in green salads.

1 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 tsp. light brown sugar
3/4 cup walnut halves, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350’ and line a small baking tray with parchment paper. In a small saucepan, warm the butter, maple and brown sugar together till combined. Add the walnuts and stir to coat. Spread them on the baking sheet and roast for 5-6 minutes until dried and just toasted. Remove to cool completely to crisp up. These can be made up to a week in advance and kept covered until ready to use. (Also great in salads!)


To Assemble:

Mini sandwiches with Gruyère and apples

A wedge of blue cheese with the crumbled candied nuts on top

Soft goats’ cheese (chevrè) drizzled with honey and a handful of fresh thyme leaves and ground pepper

A dry, salty cheese: such as pecorino, parmesan, aged manchego

A dish of assorted olives

Dates - pitted if you wish

Fresh Pears

Salami, if that’s your deal

Crackers: a few different sizes, shapes

Herb bundles on there for color


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This post is sponsored by Emmi. They make the delicious Gruyère featured here, amongst other award winning cheeses. See their site and locator to find where you may be able to find their brand near you. All opinions expressed herein are my own. Thank you for supporting our partners, so that I may continue to create recipes here.

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