White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

In the world of herbs and flavorings mint gets the short end of the stick; relegated to chewing gum, left in the cut-glass dish long after the strawberry candies with the soft centers have been sifted out, candy canes gone chewily humidified with neglect while the chocolate orange gets all the glory.

It’s a crime because mint is so lovely – think about it: a Thin Mint would just be a dry cookie coated in waxy chocolate without that mentholated breeze. Perhaps I'm biased because it’s one of my favorite flavors, but I was pleased to see one of my favorite bloggers, Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt, give it some love in the form of the White Chocolate Peppermint Cookie. Rather than make the humble starlight mint an ironic punchline she’s treated them with respect surrounding their red and white striped freshness with a cast of players that lets their virtues shine. Cool and energizing with a foundation of smooth sweetness and a top note of vanilla scented salt. Perfect for a festive holiday occasion and a lovely send-off for any stray candy cane.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt (yield 18 to 24 cookies)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup plus, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw)
1 egg at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup roughly crushed peppermint candies (or candy canes)
2 tablespoons vanilla sea salt (store bought or homemade, recipe below)

Instructions:
In a medium mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and all three sugars together on medium speed, until smooth and light in texture, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and vanilla to the bowl and mix well to combine. Again, stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a spatula as needed.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until streaks of flour still run throughout and the dough just comes together. Stir the crushed peppermint candies and white chocolate chips in by hand, taking care to make sure everything is evenly distributed.

For best results, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 24 hours. Resting the dough intensifies the caramel flavors, and the texture of the baked cookie improves.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into 1 inch portions and roll lightly between your hands into balls. Tap the top of the cookies into a shallow dish of vanilla salt and place onto the baking sheets spaced about 1 1/2 – 2 inches apart. Once the cookies are formed, chill again on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes to allow them to firm up again.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the sheets halfway through if the cookies appear to be baking unevenly. The cookies should be lightly golden on the outside but still look quite gooey on the inside. Allow the cookies to cool for 5-10 minutes before moving to a wire rack to finish cooling.

These are best eaten the day of baking but will keep, if well sealed, for up to 2 days.

Rewritten and very slightly adapted from Ashley Rodriguez’s White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt via Food52.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

Homemade Vanilla Sea Salt (yield 3/4 cup)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup flaked sea salt
1 vanilla bean

Instructions:
Place the sea salt in a small bowl. Next, split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a small paring knife. Run the tip of the knife along the interior of each half to scrape out the small black seeds. Add the vanilla seeds to the sea salt and rub together with your fingers to combine. Transfer the vanilla salt to an air tight jar or container. Tuck the empty vanilla bean pods into a mason jar of granulated sugar to get started on your next project… Vanilla Infused Sugar! The sea salt can be used right away or saved indefinitely.

Rewritten from Joy the Baker’s DIY Vanilla Salt.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used two medium mixing bowls, a stand mixer (a hand mixer would work too), two rimmed baking sheets, a rubber spatula, measuring cups and spoons, and a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop. A small dish to roll the cookies in vanilla salt is helpful, as is a heavy rolling pin, a zip top bag (for breaking up the candy pieces), and parchment paper. If you're also making the vanilla salt, then you'll also need a small bowl, small cutting board, and a paring knife along with an airtight storage container.

The Verdict:
I made these cookies for our annual holiday party and based on the small amount left on the platter at the end of the night I’d say they were a success. I love the bracing chill of peppermint in any form - as evidenced by my hunt for the best Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream - and here it’s perfectly complimented by the caramel sweetness of the dough and the white chocolate pieces. All that sugar could get cloying if not for the finishing edge of the vanilla salt. Vanilla on it’s own isn’t necessarily sweet and with the briny sea salt it does its work as an amplifier and keeps these cookies just this side of too much.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous Salad with Cherries & Pistachios

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios | Image: Laura Messersmith

There’s been a lot of cooking lately, not that you could tell by the sporadic posts around these parts. The trouble with cooking is that a recipe that looks amazing on Pinterest turns out to be a dud. Case in point: the overly salty falafel I made earlier this week. Sometimes it’s me though, and I discover that fish tacos were never meant to be eaten like nachos. That there is a reason you don’t see them on menus, genius. Sigh.

All that is to say – there is quality control around here, it just means that when I hit a rough patch like I have the past few weeks I post less frequently than I’d like while I fiddle around getting things just right. My goal is only to share recipes I’d be proud to serve, or pass along to my friends, like this one here.

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios | Image: Laura Messersmith

This essentially a pasta salad made a little fancy with additions like crumbled goat cheese and toasted pistachios. It also offers a little bit of a departure from the classic vinaigrette or mayonnaise-based dressings by incorporating pomegranate molasses.

If you’re wondering where on earth you’ll get pomegranate molasses the way I did when I first saw it in the ingredient list, let me reassure you. It’s easy to make it yourself by simmering plain pomegranate juice with a little sugar and fresh lemon juice until it reduces and thickens. I actually did it a few weeks ago following this recipe from Fine Cooking and it works perfectly, I bet it would also work with plain cranberry juice too if pomegranate isn’t available.

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios | Image: Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous Salad with Cherries & Pistachios (serves 6-8 as a side)

Ingredients:
2 cups Israeli couscous (pearl pasta)
1/4 cup Pomegranate Molasses
2 1/2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon raspberry vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turbinado sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw)
2 cups dried cherries
1/2 cup toasted pistachios
1 1/2 cups, packed fresh parsley and mint leaves
2 ounces crumbled plain goat cheese
4 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves

Instructions:
In a medium sauce pan, bring two cups of salted water to a low boil, then add the couscous and simmer on medium heat for 5-7 minutes, or according to the package directions until al dente.

While the couscous is cooking, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, champagne vinegar, raspberry vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, sugar and salt.

When the couscous is done, drain through a fine mesh sieve and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over while the pasta is still warm and stir together. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, toast the pistachios in a dry skillet over low heat, chop the herbs and crumble the goat cheese. When the couscous is cooled to room temperature, stir in the prepped ingredients. Add the baby spinach just before serving.

Rewritten and adapted from Couscous Salad with Fresh Cherries by Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt.

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I needed a medium sauce pan, mesh sieve, medium bowl, and a small sauté pan. A cutting board, chef’s knife, measuring spoons, a liquid measuring cup, and a large mixing spoon. That’s it!

The Verdict:
I made a few changes to the original to reflect our preferences, a slight softening of the vinegar bite with a touch of raw sugar. A sprinkle of toasted pistachios to continue the Middle Eastern flavors, a generous crumble of goat cheese to balance against the tart cherries, a handful or so of baby spinach to bring the dish more firmly into the realm of salad. All told, this is a great side to serve during the final grilling parties of the summer and is simple to whip up in just a few minutes. My kind of recipe!

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios | Image: Laura Messersmith

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce | Image: Laura Messersmith

After more than five years of marriage and many wonderful dinners out together I can predict with a high level of accuracy what Mike will order from a menu. Any cocktail involving bourbon, oysters on the half-shell, and a gloriously grilled pork chop will catch his attention without fail. So, when I spotted this recipe for Butter Braised Pork Chops with Pickled Blueberry Balsamic Sauce on Not Without Salt last week I knew it would be perfect for a special Friday night dinner.

To be honest, I don’t always have the best luck trying to cook pork. I like it just slightly pink in the middle, but I have a tough time gauging the time and it ends up too raw, or over-cooked and dry. Neither option is ideal, so I was excited to try Ashley’s method of pan-searing and basting with a little bit of butter. It seemed like a simple, sure-fire way to cook a juicy, flavorful, restaurant-style pork chop.

I have another confession: I adore dishes that pair fruit with a savory ingredient, so while the pork chop was geared toward Mike, the blueberry sauce was the element that really convinced me to try this recipe. Just the thought of the bright blueberries, tart with balsamic spooned over salty, meaty pork made my taste buds sing and the results more than lived up to my imagination.

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce | Image: Laura Messersmith

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce (serves 4)

A brief note on juniper berries. I was able to find them in the jarred spice section of my grocery store (they look like dark green peppercorns), but if they aren’t available I’d substitute a sprig or two of fresh rosemary to get the herbal, piney scent they add to the sauce.

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 whole garlic clove, peeled
3 thyme sprigs, divided
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup (6 ounces) fresh blueberries
4 bone-in pork chops
2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
6 tablespoons butter, divided
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper

Sauce Instructions:
In a small saucepan combine the juniper berries, garlic, two thyme sprigs, balsamic vinegar, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat then reduce to low and simmer for 5 minutes. (Cook a few minutes longer if you want a thicker, reduced sauce.)

Place the fresh blueberries in a bowl then strain the balsamic mixture through a sieve over the fruit. Allow the berries to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.

The sauce can be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated. Rewarm before serving.

Pork Chop Instructions:
Sprinkle the pork chops generously with kosher salt and ground black pepper.

Set a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over high heat, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 3 tablespoons butter to the pan. When the oil shimmers and the butter sizzles carefully add the pork chops to the pan. Cook in batches if necessary to prevent crowding the pan.

Cook on one side undisturbed for 3 minutes, then flip the chops and again let the chops sear for 3 minutes.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and thyme sprig and with a large spoon start basting the chops with the butter. Flip the chops repeatedly and continue to baste. The chops are done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chop reads 135°F. This should take about 7-8 minutes.

Remove the chops from the pan, cover with foil and rest for 15 minutes. Serve with the pickled blueberry-balsamic sauce.

Slightly adapted and re-written from Butter Braised Pork Chops with Pickled Blueberry Balsamic Sauce by Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt.

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used a 8” cast iron skillet, tongs, and a long-handled spoon (key since the pan is hot!); along with a paring knife, small sauce pan, medium bowl, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, and a small sieve. A plate for resting and aluminum foil round out the necessary equipment.

The Verdict:
Mike was nervous about the post-sear flipping, but the tender, juicy results more than convinced him. The pork was perfectly cooked with a golden crust and deep flavor that worked beautifully with the herbal, fruity blueberries. I served the chops over wilted garlicky kale, with a handful of fresh blue berries, a few dabs of goat cheese, and a sprinkle of slivered almonds. Heaven. These pork chops are deceptively simple combining a relatively small number of ingredients with results that are far greater than the sum of the parts.  I can’t wait to try this cooking method with other fruit sauces. Peaches or cherries maybe?

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Butter Braised Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Sauce | Image: Laura Messersmith