Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mom's Favorite Cookbook and Hazelnut Biscotti

My mom was not great cook. Except for the best banana bread, and a few cookies, including biscotti making tasty savory foods eluded her. Aside from my dad's abundant fish dinners, I recall Mom's dry pork chops, stringy pot roast and leathery cube steak dinners.

Mom was absolutely delighted when Peg Bracken released The I Hate to Cookbook in 1960. "I love this book," Mom had said, "it's like it was written for me."

I never really looked at the I Hate to Cookbook until after Mom passed away, but I smiled the other day when I opened it, reread the introduction and thought about Mom:

"Some women it is said, like to cook.
This book is not for them. This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day."

I like to think that Mom just never hit her stride in the kitchen, never really found what she truly loved cook beyond sweet recipes. Or maybe Mom was simply more interested in her flower garden, sewing projects, drawings, watercolors and Louis L'Amour westerns.

Anyway, thinking about Mom, on Saturday at the market, Patty said she'd wanted to get a plant in memory of Sam, so when I walked over to meet her at the Botanica Plant booth, I spotted this lovely exotic peony and thought of Mom's beautiful flower gardens. I got it and thought it was perfect and much better than baking one of Mom's favorite sweet recipes. But my kitchen assistant looked so sad I had to get out my cookbook and make hazelnut biscotti. His mood brightened considerably.

Mom's biscotti was so good, everyone always wanted seconds, and thirds. Mom had to hide the Italian cookies to save some for herself, but one dayI found her treasure trove stashed behind the pots and pans--the cookware Mom rebelled against. But these pots and pans were what I used the most in the kitchen when I was in high school when I cooked my many of my own vegetable-dominated dinners.

I can't remember Mom's exact biscotti recipe now, but the recipe in my cookbook evolved from Mom's recipe called Knish Cookies. I make it Northwest with the hazelnuts from Holmquist Orchards and soft wheat flour from Nash's. The flour has less gluten than grocery store flour, but the flavor is so much better, it doesn't really matter that these recipes crumbled a little more than usual. Here's my recipe from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook:

Hazelnut Breakfast Biscotti

My mother always had a few biscotti with her morning coffee, so enjoy them first thing in the morning or save them for an afternoon treat. These twice-baked Italian cookies can be baked up to a day ahead the first time, then sliced and baked again.

Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon each: baking powder and baking soda

Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped

1 cup chopped hazelnuts, lightly toasted

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and hazelnuts in a large bowl and mix well.

3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together and blend in the eggs. Mix in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Stir the wet into the dry ingredients, adding enough flour for a very stiff dough, if necessary.

4. Divide the dough in half and roll into 14-inch logs. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, flatten the tops of the logs, and bake until lightly browned on the bottom, about 25 minutes. Turn the oven off. Remove the logs from the oven and let them cool completely.

5. After at least 1/2 hour has elapsed, reheat the oven to 325ºF. When the logs are cool, slice 1/2 inch thick at approximately a 45º angle. Lay flat on a baking sheet or pizza screen. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. If using a baking sheet, turn halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Store the biscotti in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week or freeze.

No comments: