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Maybe you call them bird’s nests. Maybe you call them thumbprint cookies. By any name, they’re very tasty little shortbread cookies, rolled in chopped nuts, then filled with jam.

I intended to fill them with peach jalapeño jam, as I have previously. That is, till I remembered the peach jalapeño jar in the fridge is actually filled with ruby red vodka. OOPS. That left two filling options: smoked pear or fig. And the fig–fichi for figs in Italian–was the clear winner!

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If my fichi don’t bring EVERYBODY to the yard, I’m not sure what will because DAMN, these are DELICIOUS!

THUMBPRINT COOKIES

1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans (I’ve also used a combination of pecans and almonds)
jam of your choice*

*I used Sclafani Genuine Abruzzo Fig Preserves–and will do so from now on!

In the bowl of your mixer, beat butter and sugar till light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add egg yolk and vanilla; beat till combined.

In separate bowl whisk together flour and salt. Add flour/salt mixture to the batter in thirds and beat just till combined. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Adjust oven racks to upper third and lower third. Preheat to 350 degrees F.

In small bowl, whisk egg white till frothy.

I used my small Zeroll 60 scoop (measures two teaspoons) to form even balls of dough. Dunk each scoop of dough into the egg white, then roll in the nuts. Use the end of a wooden spoon or spatula to make an indentation in the center of each cookie.

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Bake 5 minutes, then switch top to bottom/front to back and bake 5 minutes more (for a total of 10 minutes). Remove from oven. Fill with jam. Return to the oven to bake 5-7 minutes more (5 in my oven). Let cookies cool on baking sheet before moving them to a cookie rack to cool completely. Makes about 16 cookies. Yes, there were 16. I tasted one for quality control. 🙂 And it was goooooooooooooood!

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1 pound full-fat cottage cheese, small curd
1 pound full-fat sour cream
8 oz. cream cheese, softened (Neufchâtel is fine and welcome at the otherwise full-fat party)
4 large eggs
12 oz. bag of egg noodles
15 oz. can pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt

Topping
½ stick salted butter for topping
crushed cornflakes on top
2 teaspoons light brown sugar to sprinkle over the cornflakes

Butter a deep baking dish (my 10 x 13″ one does the trick nicely), preheat oven to 375 degrees F and set aside. Be sure your oven rack is right in the middle.

Using a stand mixer, whisk cream cheese with brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla and almond extracts. Add eggs, whisk to combine. Add cottage cheese, sour cream, pumpkin and spices.

In a large pot, boil noodles according to package instructions, drain. Combine noodles with dairy/pumpkin mixture in the large pot.

Fill baking dish with noodle kugel. Crush cornflakes over top. Dot with butter. Be generous–I use almost half a stick. Sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of light brown sugar evenly over the cornflakes.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 1 hour. Take a peek around 50 minutes to make sure the top isn’t burning–just in case your oven runs any hotter than mine. If need be, cover top with foil. I didn’t have to do this–hopefully, you won’t either.

Damn, does it smell fantastic in here! Let us dig in and celebrate the season of pumpkin spice!

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It’s a rainy, blustery Sunday, perfect for baking and warming up the house a bit. Can’t wait to slice one of these up for a banana bread sandwich with cream cheese!

P.S. It smells fabulous in here.

BANANA BREAD WITH PECAN STREUSEL TOPPING

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 a stick), softened
1/4 cup oil
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas (the riper, the better)
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Pecan streusel topping
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter
¼ cup chopped pecans
Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl; cut in butter with a knife–or fork together. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease four mini-loaf pans.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.

Beat oil, butter and sugar.

Add eggs and bananas. Beat well. Add sour cream, vanilla, bourbon. Beat some more. 🙂 Gradually add dry ingredients (in three or four additions). Combine well.

Pour batter into mini-loaf pans. Top with streusel.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes (in my oven, anyway) or till toothpick inserted comes out clean.

I like to think Nanny would be impressed, even though there’s a wee smidge of bourbon in the recipe. She used to make mini-loaves of her own banana bread to sell in the store.

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They call ’em cowboy candy and they’re loaded with sweet heat and a bit of crunch–along with that element of surprise: how hot will this one be? Seems the heat level can vary even within different bites of the same pepper. I ate a particularly spicy ring last summer, experienced an all-over “I’m melting” sensation, then fainted and literally hit the wall. For a while, I was afraid to eat more of them, but I soon got over it and ate the rest because a) they’re damn tasty and b) Yankee thrift prevents me from throwing away perfectly great food. 🙂

What to do with them? Whether you eat ’em like candy, perch them atop a spicy margarita or add them as a garnish for tacos, they’re a welcome guest at a variety of sweet or savory parties. And, as a bonus, the by-product is a fiery syrup you can use to make kicked-up margaritas. I even made my own spicy sugar for dipping the glasses–there goes that Yankee thrift action again. Let’s heat things up, amici!

CANDIED JALAPEÑO RINGS: COWBOY CANDY
And a spicy syrup by-product to boot!

6 jalapeños, cut into thick rings
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground chile (I used 1/4 tsp. chipotle and 1/4 tsp. ancho)
additional 1/2 cup sugar for dipping
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Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Dissolve water, spices and half cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Stir over medium high heat till it boils. Add jalapeños and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Using a toothpick, dip each jalapeno ring into granulated sugar. Coat the rings generously. Place on foil-lined cookie sheet.
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Bake sugared rings at 200 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Let them cool and air-dry for several hours. You can even leave them uncovered for a day or two.

But wait! Save that syrup and stick it in the fridge–it contributes to a mean margarita.

You’ll see you have a bit of leftover sugar from dipping the rings–to that, add 1/4 teaspoon of the syrup. To make it pretty, add about 7 drops of food coloring. Stir thoroughly to combine. Now you can dip each margarita glass (dip first in a shallow dish of tequila or run a wedge of lime around the top) in the spicy sugar to make a colorful presentation.

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Be sure to have some tortillas or bread or crackers on hand just in case you need to rescue yourself from the ring of fire. 🙂 Cheers!
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Kattys chicken curry salad

Nothing like a cool sandwich on a hot day. It’s a tasty way to use up leftover roasted chicken to boot! I make chicken curry salad all the time and thought you might enjoy it, too. Well, except for my friend Pamela, who hates raisins. 🙂

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Not a raisin fan? You could use a similar amount of seedless grapes, quartered. No more trust issues. And we all live happily ever after.

KATTY’S CURRY CHICKEN SALAD

½ pound roasted chicken (leftover, cold) cut in small pieces
half a red bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to plump them (or sub seedless grapes, quartered, if you prefer), then strained

Dressing
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
¾ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon sesame oil
¾ teaspoon hot curry powder (or whatever curry powder you have is fine, too)

In a medium bowl or pitcher, whisk together dressing ingredients till smooth. Add chicken, pepper, pecans and raisins and stir to blend thoroughly. Enjoy as a sandwich or on top of your favorite greens for a salad.

 

Kattys Kitchen biscuits n gravy

I grew up in an S.O.S. family. Yup, that’s $#*+ on a shingle. Uncle Al was a Marine, and if Sunday breakfast wasn’t pancakes or waffles, S.O.S just might be on the menu. I’m guessing it was nostalgic for him.

I always did enjoy creamed chipped beef on toast. Then, as I got older, I discovered biscuits and gravy–a serious level up on both components. First, tender, homemade buttermilk biscuits. Right there, the fight is already won. But topped with a rich, spicy sausage gravy? It’s a TKO with the proud winner, B&G!

BISCUITS ‘N SAUSAGE GRAVY

Kattys Kitchen biskies

First, here’s a handy link to my favorite biscuits.

Now, let’s work on the gravy.

1 pound breakfast sausage (I like Jimmy Dean Bold)
sprinkle of cayenne pepper
about a teaspoon, minced fresh rosemary
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk

In a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, add sausage. Break into small pieces as it cooks. When sausage is cooked halfway or so, add minced rosemary and sprinkle of cayenne.

Once sausage is just about finished cooking, sprinkle 1/4 cup of flour over pan; stir to coat evenly. This is a good time to bring the temp closer to medium so nothing burns. You’ll want to get the flour cooked about a minute or so before you add the milk. Then stir and stir till it thickens.

For the full experience, I add a layer of cheesy eggs. To serve, slice biscuits in half. Top with cheesy eggs (cooked low and slow with cheddar in my kitchen), then generously ladle gravy over the top. Pass black pepper at the table if you like.

Last night when I made this for dinner, my mom said, “If this was on the menu, they’d be lined up out the door.” Her comment puzzled me. “Who is they?” I asked. “The people coming to the restaurant.” 🙂 Maybe someday. Till then, at least you can make your own.

Sloppy Joe

There’s nothing like a meal of old school nostalgia on a bun. Back in Macdonough School days, Sloppy Joe was always a favorite. Something in the air on a recent bike ride reminded me of that comforting dish. It got me thinking about our old friend, Sloppy Joe, and how to make a homemade version.

I kicked it up a bit with Sriracha ketchup–one of my new favorite ingredients–and some chopped bell pepper because it tastes good. It’s a flavorful trip down Memory Lane. See if you think so, too.

SLOPPY JOE

1.25 pounds ground chuck
1 small sweet bell pepper, diced
half a large sweet onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 10.5 oz. can Campbell’s condensed French onion soup (strange, I know, but seems to be key to the familiar flavor we all remember)
heaping 1/4 cup Sriracha ketchup
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

To a large sauté pan over medium heat, add chuck, along with bell pepper, onion and celery. Break up meat as you go, cooking till meat is browned and vegetables are tender.

Remove fat, then add remaining ingredients: soup, ketchup, water, tomato paste, mustard and Worcestershire. Reduce heat to low and let simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes so flavors meld and sauce thickens a bit.

Serve on your favorite hard rolls. I find mine at Tri-Town Foods in Portland, Connecticut. They’re whole wheat. And these Sloppy Joes definitely ring my bike bell. May they do the same for you. 🙂