Monday, July 14, 2014

Homer, Alaska delights, July 13, 2014

                                        Wild roses, Homer. [Photo, TWCarns]

                               Swift at its nest in the vent on a building [Photo, TWCarns]


   Evening rainbow caught in the mountains across Kachemak Bay from Land's End [Photo, TWCarns]

                              Cow parsnip head going to seed [Photo, TWCarns]

   Sandhill crane and half-grown chick at Beluga Slough (there were two adults and two young ones, but couldn't get them all in the same picture) [Photo, TWCarns]

                                       Bluebells at Beluga Slough [Photo, TWCarns]

                                Raven on driftwood at Bishop's Beach [Photo, TWCarns]

                                Homer Spit from Bishop's Beach [Photo, TWCarns]

                 Homer peony (these are becoming big business in the area because the growing conditions turn out to be ideal). [Photo, TWCarns]

                              Luke, Kathy, Lauren at Land's End beach. [Photo, TWCarns]

                                    Orange lilies in a garden. [Photo, TWCarns]

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Greek Lemon Cookies -- not just for special occasions

                       Greek lemon cookies, slow-roasted grapes [photo, TWCarns]  

Trying to replicate someone else's recipe is always a chance for lots of discoveries. In this case, I was attempting to make something similar to delicate shortbreads with coconut oil, lemon and thyme from a local bakery. None of my cookies taste exactly like theirs, but I found treasures along the way. The recipe below is adapted from the, "Shortbread cookies with olive oil and lemon."

One big surprise for me with these cookies is how much kids like them. I thought that they would be too lemony, but not so. And the grown-ups are fond of them too, so make plenty. They are supposed to last well, but they're always gone in a couple of days.

The basic recipe calls for:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (the online recipe doesn't specify, but this temperature seems to work well).

  • 1 cup oil (olive in the recipe, I've used that, and also substituted refined organic coconut oil)
  • 1 cup sugar (try substituting 1/2 cup brown sugar, + 1/2 cup white sugar)
  • 1 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (I use this amount even when making 1/2 the recipe; it just makes the cookies a bit more cake-like in texture)
  • 1/3 tsp salt (try kosher or a slightly rougher salt than table salt to give more taste)
  • zest of 1 lemon (medium-size lemon)
  • about 4 cups of all-purpose flour (I start with 3 cups, and add 1/4 cup at a time until I have a very soft, sticky dough -- usually about 3 1/2 cups altogether)
  • white sugar to roll cookies in before baking (optional) OR
  • sea salt flakes (like Maldon) to sprinkle on top if not rolling the cookies in sugar
I have also added 1 to 2 tsp of minced fresh thyme.

Beat together the sugar, oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest (and thyme or other herbs if using).

Whisk together the 3 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Add gradually to the liquids, and whisk until smooth. Then add 1/4 cup of flour at a time, until it is a very soft dough. You can add more flour to make a slightly stiffer dough if you prefer. 

Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Shape small balls of dough (about 1 Tablespoon). Press flat onto cookie sheet. You can roll in them in sugar before flattening them on the sheet. They should be about 1/2 inch thick. If you don't roll them in sugar, you can flatten them and sprinkle a few flakes of salt on top. Or leave them plain. In the photo above, some are rolled long, some are round and pricked with a fork, and some are round and plain.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until light golden brown. The online recipe cautions that they overbake easily, but I haven't yet had that problem. Allow to cool before removing from the cookie sheet, so that they firm up a bit.

Although the recipe calls these "shortbread" cookies, purists might say that they are not true shortbreads because they have both leavening (baking powder) and liquid (lemon juice) in them.

Bonus recipe for slow-roasted grapes
One advantage of making several batches of shortbreads in a moderately heated oven is that it is the perfect opportunity to roast grapes. These pictured above were red seedless grapes (green seedless work just as well), broken into clusters of 3 to 6 grapes each and left on the stems. I tossed them in a mixing bowl with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, and spead them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. They stayed in the 350-degree oven for about 2 1/2 hours. That's it. They are somewhat wrinkled and the juices have seeped out a bit and caramelized.

Some recipes call for roasting the grapes tossed with a light coating of olive oil for about 15 minutes in a 450-degree oven. Those are not as wrinkled -- they are still whole, bright and juicier -- a different and equally delicious experience.

 Street in the Plaka, the old section of Athens, with the Parthenon at top of picture [TWCarns]