Cheddar Nut Scones

I was grabbing breakfast on the run earlier this week and had been scanning the baked goods at a local coffee shop. The scones of the day were these giant orange wedges dotted with something green and dusted with red pepper flakes. I just finished wondering why on earth someone would ruin a perfectly good scone by covering it in pepper, when the man in front of me exclaimed, “Oh you’ve got those scones again! Fantastic, I’ll take two!”

Not only was I surprised at his enthusiasm, but you’ve got to understand that two scones together were quite literally the size of a football. I can’t tell you if the man ate them both himself, but he was whistling as he carried his bulging paper bag and coffee out the door …and then it was my turn to order. And there was one single scone left.

I’m sure you have figured out that my curiosity got the better of me and I bought the last – very strange – scone. Along with a half-caf soy latte, my prize and I braved the morning drizzle …and as soon as I had taken that first bite I knew that guy was on to something. The scone had all the magic of the traditional cheddar variety, but with whole pistachios adding a satisfying crunch and red pepper flakes providing a deep warmth. The pepper didn’t bother me at all and – surprise, surprise – turned out to be the key ingredient. If you’ve ever had Mexican hot chocolate then you’ll know what I’m talking about. That giant scone lasted all day and before I had even gotten through half of it, I knew I wanted to try to replicate it at home (in a slightly smaller form, haha).

Cheddar Nut Scones (inspired by Uncommon Grounds)

Ingredients:

* makes 8 – 10 small scones *

3   C   AP flour, plus extra for dusting

2   t   baking powder

pinch of salt, if desired*

1/3   C   unsalted butter at cool room temp (neither fridge-cold nor soft)

1   C   buttermilk (or 1 C milk + 1 T lemon juice, let sit 5 minutes)

1   egg

½   C   shelled whole pistachios

½   C   shredded cheddar cheese, minced fine

1   t   red pepper flakes, powdered**

extra cheese and pepper for topping as desired

* Note: Between the (usually salted) pistachios and the cheese, I didn’t bother to add any salt to my dough. Depending on your preference or the nuts you’re using, though, you might want to add a pinch.

** Note: In order to avoid pockets of spiciness, blend the flakes in a food processor or grind with a mortar & pestle to produce a fine powder. If you’re apprehensive about the heat, start with just a pinch and see how the scones come out. If you’re a fan of all things spicy, feel free to load ’em up!

Procedure:

1) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix together flour, baking powder, salt (if desired), and butter in a food processor until the blend resembles fine crumbs (or, alternatively, use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut in the butter). In a separate bowl, beat together the buttermilk and egg. In a third small bowl, combine cheese, nuts, and red pepper powder. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and gently mix until just combined. Add the fillings to the dough and work them in.

2) Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead only three or four times to make the dough nice and smooth (overworking the dough means dense scones). Pat or gently roll the dough out to a circle of about 1½” in thickness (I had to use a rectangle due to limited counter space, but do what you can). Using a pizza cutter or knife, divide the dough into equal-sized wedges and place wedges on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

3) Top scones with a sprinkling of cheese and extra red pepper flakes as desired and bake until golden – about 15 minutes. A toothpick test can check to ensure the centers have cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for a few minutes before serving warm with coffee or tea.

Beezer’s Notes:

My mini-replicas turned out very similar to the giant version from the coffee shop. Their scone was a bit more crumbly, so I’m suspecting I overworked my dough despite being careful, but the flavors were spot on and the delicious subtle heat was there without being overly spicy. I’m a big fan of pistachios so this recipe makes me happy as-is, but I can see it being equally tasty with sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Give it a try and tell me what you think! Perhaps this strange peppery madness is just a local thing, haha.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥

Peach and Walnut Salad

With all these cookies our kitchen has been seeing recently, I thought I might try to balance things out a little bit by sharing this salad recipe. I know, I know… it’s not *quite* as exciting as candy-laden blobs of heaven…but I wouldn’t bother to share something as simple as a salad if it weren’t one heck of a delicious salad. Lucky for you, this one is! 🙂

I’d also like to share something that comes from another, older corner of my life: gaming. With the move, grad school, and general lifestyle upheavals I haven’t gamed much in the past year unless you count the occasional Machinarium replays or Plants vs. Zombies iPhone addiction I had last fall. In the past, though, I used to log hours on Day of Defeat and Counter Strike with my two younger brothers and even my dad. As an ex-marine and sharpshooter, my dad was actually hilarious to play with (think technophobe with military know-how). I’ve also played WoW on and off since 2007 and have dabbled in other RPGs, but the first-person shooters will always be in my top faves.

Why am I telling you this? Because as a female gamer who prefers “violent” games I’ve come across my fair share of trolls (to put it nicely)…but nothing like what some gals are putting up with these days. I just listened to an NPR broadcast dedicated to online harassment in games which, in turn, led me to discover the amazing blogs Fat, Ugly, or Slutty and Not in the Kitchen Anymore. I also learned about the sexual harassment of Miranda Pakozdi that was broadcast live in front of a world-wide audience. That’s right: broadcast live. For five days. The poor girl finally forfeited the competition just to escape the source of the harassment: her coach.

The silver lining to all this is that it’s starting to make the news and not just gamer mags. I mentioned the NPR program, but there has also been a BBC radio documentary, articles in the New York Times and Forbes, numerous other digital posts, and a cute but informative video by PAX TV’s Extra Credits. Hopefully with more and more people – women AND men – standing up for decent human behavior, trash talking will remain just that: harmless jabs about someone’s leet skillz (or lack thereof) instead of crossing the line into something disgusting, degrading, and completely unacceptable.

Peach and Walnut Salad (from Women’s Health July/August ’12 edition)

* serves 4 as a side or 2 for an entrée *

Ingredients:

3   ripe peaches, sliced into thin wedges

3   Cups arugula

4   oz.   fresh mozzarella, cut into 1″ cubes

2   T   chopped walnuts or pecans

3   T   EVOO

2   T   white wine vinegar

1   C   fresh basil

¼   t   salt

Procedure:

1) In a large bowl, toss together peaches, arugula, mozzarella, and nuts. Put oil, vinegar, basil, and salt in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth.

2) Divide peach salad among serving plates and drizzle with basil oil dressing.

Beezer’s Notes:

I promise you, if you are attempting to have a salad instead of cookies this is the salad to have. You’ll enjoy sweet peaches, soft cheese, slightly bitter greens, and crunchy nuts – all drizzled with a zingy pesto-like dressing. This salad manages to be light and filling at the same time, perfect for summer. Plus, with enough of these you could maybe justify your next batch of cookies (or at least, that’s what I tell myself, haha).

Overall Enjoyment:  ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Ann Romney’s M&M Cookies

Finally, here they are! The last few weeks have been full of visitors from both sides of the family and we’ve had a lot of fun… but it didn’t leave much time for baking or blogging. It was challenging enough trying to find the time to get my work done around sailing, kayaking, multiple farmer’s market trips, and touristy things in general. I haven’t been able to kayak regularly in years – although luckily my family is making good use of my 17′ baby while I’m away – so I’d have to say the four hour kayaking trip was my favorite. 

But let me tell ya, folks, these cookies are totally worth the wait! Wow. I had a feeling I would prefer them over the First Lady’s White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies based simply on the fact that they contained both oatmeal and peanut butter (how can you go wrong, really?) and – unfortunately for Michelle – I really do. The Obama’s will continue to have my admiration and support, but Ann Romney has swept this contest for me. In case there was any doubt: the dozen and a half I brought in to the office last week were gone by noon. Not even a crumb remained. Which cookies serve equally well as breakfast or dessert? These babies.

Ann Romney’s M&M Cookies

(makes about 3 dozen cookies)

Ingredients:

1   C   granulated sugar

1   C   packed light brown sugar

½   C   unsalted butter (1 stick), softened

1½   C   crunchy peanut butter*

1   T   light corn syrup

3   eggs

½   t   vanilla extract

4½   C   old-fashioned rolled oats

2   t   baking soda

6   oz.   chocolate chips

2/3   C   regular M&M’s

* Note: For baking, I like to use peanut butter brands that have nothing but peanuts (no added salt, oil, sugar, etc.) because it’s easier to judge the sugar and salt content. If you do the same, just remember to add a pinch of salt to the dry mix! I usually remember, but forgot on my second batch and it really is amazing what a little salt can do for flavor…and how forgetting it can make them lackluster. 

Procedure:

1) Preheat oven to 325°F. Cream sugars, butter, peanut butter, and corn syrup in a large bowl on high speed until creamy. Beat in one egg at a time at low speed until just combined. Beat in vanilla extract.

2) In a separate large bowl mix together oats and baking soda (and salt if using unsalted PB!). Slowly stir into peanut butter mixture and keep working it until well combined – it’ll be tough, but you can do it. Add in M&M’s and chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed.

3) Scoop dough onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets one heaping Tablespoon at a time. Gently press heaps into flat disks with the back of a spoon or your fingertips (if using fingertips you may want to dip them in a bit of water beforehand to prevent sticking) and bake until the entire cookie is a light golden brown – a few minutes more than you would traditional chocolate chip cookies, about 15 minutes. Let cool a few minutes on the sheets before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Excellent warm with vanilla ice cream or cool as a breakfast bar.

Beezer’s Notes:

These cookies were my biggest crowd-pleaser yet and they certainly won me over. I couldn’t help myself and did reduce the white sugar in my second batch, but in my defense I also used mini M&M’s and mini chocolate chips to pack even more candy into the dough – which certainly made up for it. Both batches disappeared in record time. In conclusion, the winner of my personal Presidential Cookie Bake-off is: Ann Romney! Give both recipes a try a tell me what you think; White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies or these oatmeal/peanut butter beauties?

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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