Buckwheat Speculoos Cookies

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Buckwheat Speculoos Cookies

If you keep an eye on my Favorites of the Month posts, which naturally I recommend you do, you may remember me featuring some organic and gluten-free cookies made in Belgium by a small company named Generous: a friend had kindly refered them to me, and they had offered to send samples my way.

I was impressed by the delicate, sandy texture they managed to create for their sablés — not so easy with gluten-free baked goods — and I love that they chose to use buckwheat flour, and embrace its bold flavor.

The simpler-shaped cookies had just as much snap and flavor as their more ornate counterparts.

The buckwheat notes work especially well in their speculoos, an emblematic spice cookie that is typically baked in the north of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and parts of Germany. But the popularity of the speculoos has vastly outgrown these borders, and it is hugely popular all over France now, where it is often slipped on the saucer of espresso cups in cafés and restaurants (and often much needed to make the acrid coffee palatable).

When I saw how quickly that sleeve of buckwheat speculoos was inhaled in my household, I was inspired to revisit my own speculoos recipe, substituting buckwheat flour for half of the wheat flour (and decreasing the amount of sugar a little bit while I was at it).

I also took this opportunity to use the special speculoos molds that friends of mine brought me back from Alsace some time ago: before speculoos became a year-round treat, they were traditionally made during the Advent and given seasonal shapes — in my case, a crane and a Saint-Nicholas figure — by pressing the dough into finely carved wooden molds.

Buckwheat Speculoos -- Dusted molds

I confess I was a little sceptical about these: how could the dough possibly take on such an intricate shape, unmold without tears, and bake without all the details getting fudged? But I was amazed to see that, with proper flouring and no leavening agent in the dough (which my recipe didn’t call for anyway) all three bases were covered effortlessly.

I was intent on using these pretty molds, especially as I thought it might amuse my two-year-old to nibble on an oiseau and a monsieur (it did), but once I’d convinced myself that it worked and that the cookies were pretty indeed, I reverted to the much quicker slice-and-bake method.

Luckily, these simpler-shaped cookies had just as much snap and flavor as their more ornate counterparts.

Speculoos are lovely with a cup of tea or coffee — dipping is allowed, and even encouraged — but they are also the perfect companions to a fruit salad, or a compote of stewed or roasted fruit. They are also the cookie crust component of choice for French bakers who want to make cheesecake — no graham crackers in supermarkets this side of the Atlantic — and they make a pretty spectacular ice cream, too.

Buckwheat Speculoos -- Molded, post-baking

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Oven-Baked Falafel

I am a big fan of falafel, and every once in a while I get a craving for a good falafel sandwich, either from our local Lebanese hole-in-the-wall, or from the ever-thronged l’As du Fallafel on rue des Rosiers.

Seduced by the idea of an easy, ready-made dinner item, I have on occasion bought falafel from the organic store, in little plastic trays of fifteen, and they were quite tasty. But they cost a small fortune — a little over 4€ ($5.5) for fifteen two-bite falafel — for something so cheap to produce, so I got it in my head to make my own instead.

A more rewarding kitchen venture you’ll seldom encounter: the baked falafel turned out crisp and flavorful, and when assembled into pita sandwiches, they made for a wonderful treat of a weeknight dinner.

I certainly don’t object to fried foods on principle, but I do avoid frying anything in my own (open) kitchen, as I balk at the inherent prospect of scrubbing the stove, and having my entire apartment smell of hot grease. So frying wasn’t an option, but baking in the oven was.

As it turns out, making falafel couldn’t be easier: you’ll soak dried chickpeas overnight, then grind them with some onion, garlic, spices, and parsley if you like. You’ll shape this crumbly mixture into balls or patties, and fry or bake, as prefered.

I was also delighted that this gave me the perfect opportunity to use the grinder attachment a friend gave me for my KitchenAid mixer a few years ago, and which had been sitting untouched in one of my kitchen cabinets since then. But if that’s not part of your kitchen arsenal, fret not: a mixer or blender will do just fine.

And a more rewarding kitchen venture you’ll seldom encounter: the baked falafel turned out crisp and flavorful, and when assembled into pita sandwiches with my simple tahini sauce and lots of crudités, they made for a wonderful treat of a weeknight dinner.

And for the cost-conscious among us, I got forty falafel balls out of this recipe, at an (all-organic) ingredient cost of roughly 2€ ($2.75), which makes them out to be about five times cheaper than the store-bought option. Check my homemade hummus recipe for more chickpea money-saving tips.

Join the conversation!

Are you a falafel aficionado too? Who makes your favorite? And do you fry things at home, or do you leave it to the pros to do the frying and related scrubbing?

Falafel sandwich at L'As du Fallafel.

Falafel sandwich (pretty light!) at L’As du Fallafel.

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70 Things To Do With Fresh Spinach

Fresh spinach is in season right now, and I got a huge bag of it from my favorite grower, so I’ve been looking for great ways to use it. I naturally turned to Twitter and Facebook to hear about your favorite spinach dishes, and I thought I’d share the master list. Thank you all for your inspired suggestions!

Spinach pairings

- Spinach + garlic
- Spinach + cheese (especially fresh goat cheese, feta, ricotta)
- Spinach + sesame
- Spinach + eggs
- Spinach + cream
- Spinach + pasta
- Spinach + mushrooms
- Spinach + potatoes
- Spinach + nutmeg
- Spinach + lentils
- Spinach + raisins
- Spinach + bacon
- Spinach + fish
- Spinach + anchovies
- Spinach + rice
- Spinach + lemon

Sautéed spinach

- Sautéed in butter
- Wilted in a pan with slivers of garlic (lots of it).
- Simply sauté with olive oil, sliced garlic and lemon juice.
- Spinaci alla romana, with pine nuts, garlic, and sultanas
- Toss in a hot skillet with garlic, olive oil, salt. Cover, remove from heat, wilt 5 min. Leftovers can be mixed into fromage blanc.
- Chop up spinach, sauté in sesame oil, and serve with quinoa or rice, and tofu baked with miso or soy sauce.
- Stir-fry quickly with garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and a dash of soy sauce.
- Sautéed in a skillet with rice vinegar, a drizzle of sesame oil, toasted black sesame, and fresh ginger, Japanese-style.
- One-pot spinach and quinoa pilaf

Spinach in baked dishes

- Spinach quiche, with leeks and gruyère
- Spinach and potato quiche with feta cheese
- Spinach tart or pie, with fresh goat cheese or camembert
- In a phyllo pie with feta, à la spanakopita
- Torta pasqualina (Spinach and ricotta Easter pie)
- Spinach and ricotta lasagna
- Spinach pirojki
- Spinach börek

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April 2014 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2014, I will be offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

As a new feature this year, the desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for April is a picture of the springtime pot-au-feu I am gearing up to make now that the first spring vegetables are appearing on market stalls.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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March Favorites

Gluten-free and organic cookies by Belgian company Generous.

Gluten-free and organic cookies by Belgian company Generous.

A few of my favorite finds and reads for March:

~ A vegetarian’s alphabet.

~ Absolutely delicious gluten-free and organic cookies from Belgium, with irresistible packaging as a bonus. I have a special weakness for Charlotte Chocolat and Céline Citron.

~ What can you eat for 10€ (that’s about $14) in Paris?

~ Networking is for everyone.

~ Taste testing for the best lemon tarts in Paris.

~ How is it that honey keeps forever?

~ Looking forward to Superbarquette, a street food festival at Paris’ Wanderlust April 11 to 13.

~ The 30-second habit with a lifelong impact.

~ Cannot wait for strawberry season to commence in earnest so I can make this meringue roulade.

~ Eating beef in Paris.

~ A guide to Paris’ best coffee shops.

~ A tour of British accents in a minute and a half.

Any favorites of your own to share this month?

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