Mimi’s Christmas Biscotti

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I’m not the first person to come up with the festive combination of dried cranberries and pistachios. They’re red and green, which, of course, is all about Christmas and the holiday season.

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Biscotti are twice-baked cookies. They’re first baked in flat logs, then sliced and baked again to dry them out.

I’ve always loved making different variations of biscotti, because they lend themselves to limitless variations. Because of that, I wanted a cookie base I could depend on, and this is my recipe for that base.

To it you can add dried cranberries and pistachios, or any other fruit and nut combination.

I’m going to type up my recipe as it was published in a local cookbook called “Cooking by the Boot Straps” – A Taste of Oklahoma Heaven Cooked Up By The Junior Welfare League of Enid, Oklahoma. I was honored that they included a few of my recipes in their book, which was published in 2002.

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So here’s the recipe:
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Mimi’s Biscotti

Cookie Base:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour

Fruit and Nut Additions:
1 cup chopped dried fruit
3/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts

Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until creamy. Add the sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat just until combined.

Fold in the dried fruit and nuts with a wooden spoon. Chill, covered, 4 hours or overnight.

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Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Place 1 portion of the dough on a hard work surface. Use a small amount of the remaining scant 1/4 cup of flour to shape 1 portion of the dough into a log approximately 2 inches in diameter.

Arrange the log along the long side of a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Repeat the process with the remaining portion of the dough.

Pat each log into a rectangle about 1/2 inch in height.

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Place the logs in a preheated 350-degree oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until light golden brown and slightly firm to the touch. Do not over brown. Remove from oven.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees and let the cookie logs cool for about 10 minutes.

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Slide the logs on to a cutting board using a metal spatula. Cut each log diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. My kids always begged for the “rejects,” which are the ends and any broken biscotti!

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Arrange the slices cut side down on a baking sheet.

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Dry in the oven for 30 minutes; turn. Dry for 30 minutes longer. Both sides should be hard and dry.

If necessary reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees and dry for 1 hour longer. Remembering that you are drying the cookies, not toasting them.

Remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in re-sealable plastic bags. May freeze for up to 1 month.

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You may use dried cranberries, dried cherries, dried apricots, dried blueberries, dark or golden raisins as well as coconut and crystallized ginger for the chopped dried fruit.

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For the nuts, they all work – almonds, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, pecans, pine nuts, and hazelnuts.

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Be creative. Try cherry almond, cranberry pistachio, golden raisin pecan, hazelnut apricot or your favorite combinations. You may also add cinnamon, poppy seeds, sweet citrus oil, citrus zest and any extracts.

Makes 5 dozen biscotti.

Pheasant

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My husband, when he was young, hunting with his bird dog Penny, in Kansas

My husband, when he was young, hunting with his bird dog Penny

In 1981, when I met my husband-to-be, I liked him immediately. Like grew into love, and within 3 months we eloped and moved in together.

Now that’s not something I would recommend to people, like getting married at 16, but it has worked for us. However, there are things that you can’t learn about a person in 3 months.

It was well after we married that I learned my husband was a hunter. I nearly fainted. It was too late for an annulment, but trust me, I wasn’t happy.

During my last years of high school, I lived in Park City, Utah, which is a big deer and elk hunting area. I worked at a diner back then, so every year I had to put up with these drunk guys stopping in for meals, making feeble attempts at sobering up, as well as being crudely obnoxious to me.

These guys would fly into Utah for long weekends of gun- and man-bonding, shooting anything and everything that moved. I remember seeing dead horses and cows that were killed by these idiots during their drunken hunting fests. Sometimes if they kept the deer or elk, they would leave the entrails behind to rot. So believe me. I wasn’t keen on hunters.

My husband told me that first of all, he only killed birds, no four-legged animals. That made me feel better, although I’m not sure why. And he also explained to me that he was trained at an early age on the sport of hunting, and on gun handling.

But it was still really hard to believe that when he’d go out with his buddies for their annual pheasant and quail shoot over the years, that there wasn’t drinking involved. But this was serious business, he claimed, and at least during the time they were hunting, there was no drinking. And at nighttime, it sounded like after walking 10 or 15 miles, they were just happy to go to sleep.

It’s a touchy subject, this hunting thing, which is why I’m not offering up this post as a debate forum. I’ve loosened up about hunting over the past years, and of course I’m especially understanding of people who hunt because they must. That makes complete sense to me.

Out of respect, my husband keeps his shotgun out of my sight, because I don’t even like seeing it, and he’s never asked me to join him. He also doesn’t go on hunts where all the birds are sent flying towards you, which really is no sport at all.

I will never touch a gun and I will never shoot an animal. That I know. I (sort of) understand that it’s a sport, and if there’s no waste, that’s a good thing. But here’s the thing. I fish. In fact, I love to fish. And I do eat the fish. And I also step on spiders. Happily. So what’s the difference?

So most every bird season since we’ve been married, depending on where we were living, my husband went hunting, and on good days he would bring home pheasants and quail.

Quail are so small that I always poached them and fed the meat to our dogs. I really didn’t know what else to do with them.

Pheasants, of course, are bigger. I cooked them a few times in the early years, the best I could. But the first time you bite down on a metal buck shot, you become a bit timid about eating more pheasant.

Buck shot, being so tiny, is easy to miss when you’re cleaning the birds. But discovering it with your teeth is like finding a popcorn kernel you didn’t expect in your bag of fluffy popcorn. Except these tiny metal balls will make your ears ring and your teeth hurt, and crack, if you’re really unlucky.

So pheasant meat also became dog food, which the dogs loved. Sadly, I never really viewed pheasant as “gourmet” game that I was lucky to have in my freezer. But this year, I decided it was time to actually work on preparing pheasant.

My first attempt was the recipe Pheasant with Green Chiles. The only challenge is to not overcook the pheasant breasts; they are lean and dry out easily.

After this pheasant experience, I decided the sous vide process would be the best way to cook tender juicy pheasant. Coming soon!

Chocolate Pecan Mousse

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I’ve fallen in love with a product. Here it is. I buy it at Whole Foods in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and just now when I looked up their website, I realized that the company is in Oklahoma! We have a lot of pecans here.

It’s toasted pecan butter.

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Yes, I know. I finally have a Vitamix and I could so easily make this myself. It’s pecan butter, just like a peanut butter, but made from toasted pecans, and sweetened a little.

But instead of just spreading it on apples and overindulging, because it’s that good, (there’s a chunky version that is heavenly) I decided to use this stuff in a dessert, so I could really enjoy it.

I was having friends over for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, and I had a disaster of sorts with the pumpkin roulade I’d planned on serving. Let’s face it – things don’t always work out in the kitchen.

So that morning I ran to the grocery store to get some last-minute produce, and bought chocolate to make a, wait for it… chocolate pecan mousse!

I had a good 7 hours of chill time in the refrigerator before I served dessert, so I was pretty sure this would fit the bill. A bit of chocolate and pecan indulgence, but not too much. Topped with whipped cream and candied pecans. Oh, and layered with a creamy pecan butter!

So I set to work but then got a phone call from my daughter. I hadn’t even gotten the chocolate melted yet, but I don’t get to talk to my busy daughter that often. Oh, and I should point out that phones don’t work in my kitchen, which is why I just had to run in, turn off the heat, and run out. But after about 30 minutes I told her that I really needed to go.

Then, I got a call from a friend, and we gossiped chatted for quite a while. I have to say that I was getting a little nervous, because I usually make chocolate mousse the day before I plan on serving it!

Let me just say that I made it, chilled it, served it, and it was fabulous. Here’s my recipe if you want to try it, too! (And it worked with only 5 hours of chill time!)

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Chocolate Pecan Mousse

8 eggs
12 ounces good, semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup white sugar
8 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons cognac
1 – 10 ounce jar pecan butter, divided
Cream, about 1/2 cup
Whole pecans
Sugar, about 1/4 cup
Whipping cream, slightly sweetened

Firstly, separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a small bowl, and the whites in a larger bowl.

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Place the chocolate, butter, sugar, espresso powder and cognac in a pot that is over a pan filled halfway with water over medium heat. This is also called a “double boiler” system.

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This is tempering, or melting the chocolate. Often chocolate is tempered by itself, and one drop of water or anything can seize up the chocolate and you have to start over. However, if there’s a significant amount of other ingredients, like the butter, in the pot, it will work perfectly.

Pour the oil from the pecan oil into a small bowl and save it. I actually used it on the roasted Brussels sprouts I made that evening, plus a little bit of pomegranate molasses. They didn’t taste pecan-y, but they were mighty good. Save the oil. Oh, and I tasted it because I didn’t want a sweet oil on the Brussels sprouts, but the oil itself that had separated from the pecan butter wasn’t sweet at all.

Now, back to the recipe. Add about half of the jar – a little over 1/2 cup – of the pecan butter to the chocolate-butter mixture. Gradually, using a spatula, stir the ingredients together until the chocolate and butter are completely melted. Remove the pot from over the hot water and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the remaining amount of pecan butter into a mini blender.
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Add cream and blend until it’s almost pourable, and set aside.
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Using an electric mixer on medium speed, begin adding one egg yolk at a time to the chocolate mixture, and beat it in well.
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The chocolate mixture starts out like this.
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And after all of the eggs are beaten in, it becomes thicker, very shiny and smooth.

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Because of the inclusion of the pecan butter, the chocolate-pecan mixture felt very differently than the traditional chocolate mixture does without pecan butter in it. I could tell it was much stiffer and would be more challenging to work with. But I kept going. Chin up.

Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Then, begin folding in the chocolate into the egg whites.
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Be patient, because it will, eventually work.
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I decided to quit folding and folding and just deal with some chocolate streaks within the egg white mixture – I didn’t want to deflate the mousse. My friends don’t care.

First place some of the creamy pecan butter in the bottom of parfait glasses.
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Then top that with the mousse.
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Refrigerate the parfait glasses immediately. If they would have been refrigerated overnight, I would have covered them with plastic wrap; I’ve always read that chocolate can pick up flavors from the refrigerator.

To make the candied pecans, place some pecans in a skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle with white sugar.
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Eventually the sugar will melt. Don’t do what I did and completely forget that I’d just done this. I was playing on my ipad in another room when I started smelling burning pecans. The whole kitchen was full of smoke. Fortunately the smoke alarm didn’t go off, but it took about a half an hour to get the smoke out, clean the skillet, and start over.

So this is the sugar melting slightly.
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Use a spatula to move the pecans around and try to get them coated with what is essentially caramel – melted and caramelized sugar. When you’re happy with the color of the melted sugar, place the candied pecans on a plate to cool.
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Before serving, remove the parfait glasses from the refrigerator. You can do this up to an hour before if you like, but I like my chocolate mousse chilled. It’s your choice. Whip the cream and place a dollop on top each parfait glass.

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Chop the candied pecans coarsely and sprinkle them over the whipped cream. I’m sure there’s a more sophisticated way of “plating” this dessert, but plating is not my specialty. Again, my friends don’t care about such things!

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I was actually too full to have dessert that night, after all of the cheeses and other goodies I’d set out for hors d’oeuvres, so I enjoyed my mousse the next morning with an espresso. Don’t judge me. Desserts are fabulous for breakfast. As long as you can get past the heart beating extra fast for an hour or so.

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verdict: This mousse is even better than chocolate mousse. And chocolate mousse is heavenly. You can taste the toasted pecan flavor in the mousse itself, but having that layer of the bottom of creamy pecan butter really added to this dessert. A pretty tasty invention if I might say so!
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Boxty

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Of all things, my first boxty was not eaten in Ireland. It was, in fact, enjoyed in an Irish pub in, of all places, Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s called Kilkenny’s, and it’s been an established and popular Irish pub since 2002.

I really enjoyed the boxty, which I’d never heard of before. I only ordered it because I wanted something traditionally Irish since I was in an Irish pub. And of course it was good – it was a giant potato-based crepe filled with creamy goodness. I can’t really remember all of the details now, but because of that experience, I was determined to have one in Ireland… which I did just a few weeks ago.

We had lunch in Dublin at Gallagher’s Boxty House one Sunday. We went there knowing that it was a touristy sort of place, but I had to have my boxty. Gallagher’s Boxty House is an unassuming little joint of a restaurant in the Temple Bar area of Dublin.

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It actually seemed like only locals were eating lunch there – especially families with children. The young man who waited on us was 17, and the son of the restaurant’s owner. It was nice finding out it’s a family business.

But touristy or not, we all have a fabulous lunch. I chose the seafood boxty and it was delicious.

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That day in Dublin was Latvia Day, as we surmised after passing loads of people dressed up in their traditional Latvian garb. (Of course, we had to ask what the hoopla was all about…)

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Aren’t these women beautiful?!!!

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I only mention Latvia day because the presence of the singing and dancing Latvians added to the frivolity of walking around Dublin on a beautiful Sunday when everyone seemed to be outside enjoying themselves. And the parade that ensued went right by the Boxty house while we were enjoying our lunch!
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Okay, little things like that get me excited. But back to the boxty.

After returning from Ireland last week, I wanted to make boxty. I own a book on Irish cooking*, and it revealed that the boxty originated in the north of Ireland, actually. The word boxty came about from the fact that people cut holes in boxes in order to grate the potatoes to make this dish! I now appreciate my metal grater even more than ever.

There are also, not surprisingly, a few different versions of boxty. One is exactly like what I had in Tulsa and in Dublin – an oversized pancake with filling. Another version is a pancake on a smaller scale served simply with butter.

The third version, which I didn’t make today, is from a thicker pancake batter – essentially a dough. Round shapes are cut out of it much like our biscuits, and baked. I think I actually saw these on breakfast menus in Ireland, because they were described as hash brown potato cakes. I’m sure they were delightful but unfortunately I never had one.

Here’s my version of the giant boxty pancake with a creamed ham and cheese filling, and boxty pancakes with butter.

Boxty with Creamy Ham and Cheese Filling

4 medium baking potatoes, peeled
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups milk, I used whole
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Chop up two of the peeled potatoes and boil them until done. If you’re not sure, stick a fork in the pieces to see if they are tender. When they are cooked, drain the potatoes; set aside.
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Grate the remaining two potatoes and place them on paper towels for a few minutes to drain.

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Then place the grated potatoes in a medium bowl. Add the flour and baking powder. Mash the two cooked potatoes and add to the grated potatoes in the bowl.
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Give everything a stir, then slowly stir in the milk. The batter should have some consistency, yet be somewhat thin as well.
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Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Use a generous amount of butter for each pancake. When the skillet is hot, almost completely fill the bottom of the skillet with the batter. Don’t make it too thick, but also fill in any thin spots or holes. Turn down the heat to medium, and cover the skillet with a lid.

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After a few minutes, turn the heat down to low to finish cooking the pancake. I discovered that it was nearly impossible to flip over these “pancakes,” so I just let them cook on the bottom side slowly.

After a few more minutes, slide the pancake onto a large plate, turn up the heat again, and make a second pancake. When the second one is done, slide it onto a separate plate.

Complete as many pancakes as you wish, then proceed with the filling:

Filling

1 recipe for white sauce
About 2 cups of chopped ham
6 ounces Monterey jack cheese

Make a white sauce according to the directions using butter, flour, and milk or cream, whichever you prefer.

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Stir in the ham and the cheese. I also sprinkled in some white pepper, but that is certainly optional.

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Add a generous amount of the filling to each boxty, and fold the other side over. Repeat with the remaining boxties that you made. The filing will generously fill four boxties, approximately 8″ in diameter.

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Serve immediately, or reheat later right before serving.

Boxty Pancakes

Make the same batter for the boxty using the grated and mashed potatoes, the flour, baking powder, and milk.

Add a generous amount of butter before adding the batter to the hot skillet. Make these the size as breakfast pancakes, turning down the heat to cook them through and prevent burning. It should take about 3 minutes on the first side, then flip them over and cook for about another minute.

To serve, add a tab of butter to the hot pancakes. These can be served as a side dish, or eaten as is. Personally I would have to have them with a side salad, or a few wedges of tomatoes.

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verdict: I think this boxty batter recipe pretty well tastes like my Dublin boxty. You could also substitute a crepe, but the potatoes really add something to the “pancakes.” And they’re not much work at all. The smaller boxty pancakes were good, but I prefer my own version of potato pancakes, that have less flour in them, and have much more texture. But both versions of boxty were fun to try!

* It’s called The Scottish-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook, by Kay Shaw Nelson.