Sweet & Simple | Pecan-Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies

Each crisp, yet tender bite of these pecan-cocoa nib shortbread cookies has an almost caramelized flavor that harmonizes with the cookies’ seductive ingredients. 

Pecan-Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies | Flour Arrangements

The other day my husband walked through the door with 10 pounds of Guittard chocolate in one arm and five pounds of cocoa nibs in the other.  It wasn’t Valentine’s day.  It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas either.

He knows that I spontaneously bake with whatever ingredients we happen to have around the house.  He clearly wants more chocolate in his life, which is saying something since we’ve been using both of these ingredients in generous quantities lately in tarts and waffles and fancy s’mores desserts.

Pecan-Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies | Flour Arrangements

Just as he’d hoped, I did more spontaneous experimenting with chocolate and cocoa nibs when I had some time last weekend.  Fortunately for all of us, I totally hit the jackpot with these little pecan-cocoa nib shortbread cookies.

Pecan-Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies | Flour Arrangements

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Fall Flavor | Sweet Potato Muffins with Candied Ginger

Welcome fall with sweet potato muffins!  These deeply spiced bites — full of candied ginger and molasses  — have a gingerbread-like flavor.  They’re simple to make, and they keep well, too!

Sweet Potato Muffins | Flour Arrangements

Whenever I roast sweet potatoes for dinner, I try to throw in a few extra to use for baking projects.  I’ve been craving these starchy, sweet tubers lately — I guess all those tell-tale signs of fall have triggered this response.  Even in the mostly warm and sunny Bay Area, it’s dark when we wake up now, and the air feels cooler in the morning.  Thankfully, we get to ease into to seasonal changes:  I can still enjoy the last of summer’s golden harvest and eat my sweet potatoes, too.

At my house, leftover sweet potatoes usually turn into sweet potato rolls, but these days, they’re finding new life in sweet potato muffins.  Spiced with cinnamon and cardamom — along with a healthy dose of chopped candied ginger to give them a bit of a kick — these muffins are moist, flavorful, and delicious.  I like muffins with a bit of texture, so, in addition to the candied ginger, rolled oats give them substance and make them feel hearty and healthy, despite the sweetness imparted by molasses and brown sugar.

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Salad Days

Give stale bread new life in a simple, flavorful Tuscan bread and tomato salad. Garden-fresh tomatoes really shine in this easy-to-prepare recipe.

Tuscan Bread & Tomato Salad | Flour Arrangements

Most of the time, my family can’t keep up with the steady stream of food experiments taking shape in my kitchen.  Fortunately, disposing of cupcakes, cookies, and brownies – even imperfect ones —  is easy to do;  I can usually count on neighbors or friends to take excess sweets off our hands.

But when it comes to bread, it’s a totally different story.  Even if I have it in abundance, I’m often not willing to share.  With cupcakes, I don’t actually want to eat two dozen by myself; somehow, though, when left alone with them, I accidentally do. Unlike dessert, bread usually plays a supporting role, and this makes it super versatile.  I WANT to eat all of it!

Even when bread starts to stale (which it tends to do if you’re a hoarder ), I see it as an opportunity:  cubed and frozen, it’s great to have on hand for making stuffing, fresh croutons, or bread pudding.  I love to stockpile it, and I’m pretty good about slicing it up before it’s too late.

tuscan bread and tomato salad-6

Just the other day — knife in one hand and the remains of a rock-hard rustic loaf in the other —  I eyed the sheer mass of garden tomatoes lining my kitchen counter.  This time, I decided to skip freezing — this loaf was destined for immediate consumption in the form of Tuscan bread and tomato salad.

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What the Spuck?

This s’mores tart’s decadent graham cracker-inspired crust holds a thick layer of chocolate ganache topped by homemade marshmallow fluff.S'mores Tart | Flour Arrangements

My friend Peg always brings her train case camping.  This small boxy suitcase contains essentials like toothpaste and deodorant, but more importantly, it contains the necessaries for fireside facials.

When the time finally comes to tuck our overtired kids into their sleeping bags, Peg always sets large pot of water to warm over the campfire.  After bedtime stories, goodnight kisses, and urgent, last-minute bathroom runs, regrouping around the fire feels downright luxurious with warm washcloths to wipe away the day’s gritty layer of sweat, dust, and s’mores.

Peg, thank God, doesn’t stop at fuzzy washcloths.  She comes equipped with gentle cleansers, detoxifying masks, and emollient-rich creams.  I’m pretty sure I take better care of my skin on our camping trips than I do at any other time of the year.

One night, before the masks’ tightening effects stifled conversation, someone proposed starting a spa truck business to help the less fortunate campers of the world.  As the evening progressed, inspired by toned skin, cold drinks, and a warm fire, we outlined a kick-ass business plan for the Spuck. This simple, short combination of the words “spa” and “truck” says it all.  It also lends itself to the perfect tagline: “What the Spuck.”

Unfortunately, this brilliant plan has not yet come to fruition.  Maybe someday, in a different time or place, my friends and I will finally become professional Spuckers.  Until then, I’m offering up this very Spuck-worthy dessert: the s’mores tart.

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Perfectly Ironed

With their subtle hint of cinnamon and the bitter, chocolaty crunch from the cocoa nibs, these nibby super cinnamon waffles taste amazing with maple syrup. 

Nibby Super Cinnamon Waffles | Flour Arrangements

My daughter Eliza may be a picky eater, but this frustratingly finicky trait has a definite upside.  She feels passionate about the foods does like, and she can prepare and cook a few of these herself.  Since she loves to experiment, this sometimes leads to culinary genius, like pizza omelets or cinnamon chocolate brownies.

Eliza’s especially fond of waffles, and she’s perfected her super cinnamon waffles over the last several months.

Nibby Super Cinnamon Waffles | Flour Arrangements

Last weekend, she deviated slightly from her standard recipe, and the resulting waffles were truly inspired.  As she mixed up the dry ingredients, she noticed the bag of cocoa nibs I’d picked up for making peppermint patty tart. Her eyes lit up and she asked, somewhat cautiously, if she could mix some into the batter.

Why, yes.  Yes you can.

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No Sour Grapes

This roasted grape tart features flavorful fruit layered over over sweet mascarpone cream and a brown sugar-pecan crust.  It’s simple, yet elegant.

Roasted Grape Tart | Flour Arrangements

I love grapes. I love their juicy crispness.  I love the explosion of sweetness they unleash in your mouth as their taut skins rupture. I love grapes, but I only love them when they’re perfect.  Once they’re even slightly past their prime, I want nothing to do with them.

My genius mom used to pop saggy grapes in the freezer: since water expands as it freezes, juice-filled grapes plump right back up into delicious frozen treats.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize that she was using the sad, withered grapes that we refused to eat to make this coveted snack. Now, though, I totally appreciate this simple trick for reducing food waste.

These days, ironically,  I’m withering perfectly lovely grapes on purpose.  Tossing them with a bit of oil, salt, sugar, and herbs and baking them in the oven transforms grapes from simple snack food to elegant cheese platter fare.

Roasted Grape Tart | Flour Arrangements

Roasting heightens grapes’ flavor as it begins to caramelize the sugars in each juicy globe.  As soon as the heat makes them sag in their skins, they’re mouthwateringly delicious. With a splash of balsamic vinegar, they’re downright addictive.

Adding roasted grapes to dessert gives me some restraint, but not much.

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Minty Fresh | Peppermint Patty Tart

This peppermint tart — with its creamy minty, filling — nearly takes your breath away. 

Peppermint Patty Tart | Flour Arrangements

My kids always jump at the chance to go to the hardware store with my husband.  Sure, they love his company, but mostly they go because he buys them York Peppermint Patties at the check stand.

I don’t eat much candy, but I’m right there with my family on the peppermint patty front.  Chocolate and peppermint, like perfect friends, bring out the best in each other.

It didn’t take much convincing on my part to take this flavor friendship to the next level.  With a bit of experimentation and lots of cheering on from my husband’s colleagues via Twitter, we’ve struck on something far better than peppermint patties: the peppermint patty tart.

Peppermint Patty Tart | Flour Arrangements

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Whiskey Rebellion

Glossy, whiskey-laced ganache adds over-the-top decadence to this moist, rich chocolate whiskey cake.  Mix this simple recipe in one pot on your stove.

Chocolate Whiskey Cake | Flour Arrangements

If you love simple baking projects, you’re going to want to grab yourself a bottle of whiskey and some cocoa powder.   This chocolate whiskey bundt cake gives new meaning to the word simple.  You don’t even need a mixing bowl to make it — just combine everything in the saucepan you use to melt the butter.

If you happen to be fond of washing dishes, you could transfer that butter to a mixing bowl before adding everything else.  I’m going to ask you nicely to use the saucepan, though.  We’ve got a drought going on here in California;  since I’ve got to conserve water, everyone else should, too.

Chocolate Whiskey Cake | Flour Arrangements
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