Tag Archives: cookies

Neanderthals

I’m a little obsessed with Neanderthals at the moment. Maybe it’s because I read that they may have died out because of “inability to adapt to climate change” (scary!); maybe it’s because Biden made news for referencing them – or maybe it’s because my 23 and Me results show that I’ve got more Neanderthal DNA than 95% of their customers.

Whatever. I knew little about Neanderthals until my interest was tweaked these last few months. And now I can’t get enough of them. Of course, I have a great curiosity about their eating habits. It seems that in the last few years scientists studying these hominids (I had to look that term up) have gone from considering them meat-eaters to realizing that they ate much more, depending upon where they were living.

Here’s a quote from Richard Wangham, a Harvard biological anthropology professor:

These lovely new data on fecal sterols confirm what many people have been increasingly thinking, which is that something is wrong with the inference that Neanderthals were 100 percent carnivores…In the end it would not be surprising to find that Neanderthals show little difference from sapiens in their diet composition.”

Wow. “Lovely new data on fecal sterols” is not quite the wording you’d expect! 🙂 Wangham is responding to new findings from a MIT study about vegetable-eating Neanderthals.

Apparently, scientists gain much of their knowledge not only from fecal sterols – but also from teeth and plaque – and their ability to do that using ancient DNA analysis has markedly improved in the last 20 years. Today in Andy’s Corner you’ll find Andy focusing on a 1956 anthropological study that also includes teeth. Surely you’ve heard of the human group called the Nacirema? Ha!

Research published in 2017 in Nature.com compared plaque DNA from Neanderthal remains found at the El Sidrón cave in Spain and the Spy cave in Belgium. The analysis shows that whereas Spy Neanderthals apparently ate woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep, El Sidrón’s residents foraged for plants. More specifically, El Sidrón’s residents – over 50,000 years ago – were dining on mushrooms, moss, and pine nuts.

Even more recently scientists announced the discovery of the remains of 9 Neanderthals near Rome, Italy. According to The History Blog, given the condition of their teeth, these early humans apparently “foraged for cereals.” Can someone help me here? How do you forage for cereal?

Barley grains were found in the teeth of a Neanderthal

Before we get to our recipes, here’s a 2021 North Carolina State U video which fits our theme beautifully. It’s a little hard to know if it was tongue-in-cheek or dead serious. The title? Eat Prey Run – A Neanderthal Cook-A-Long!

Given all this info on my ancestors, I thought a vegetarian dish of mushrooms and pine nuts seemed perfect (note: I chose to pass on including a wooly rhinoceros recipe or a moss recipe). The recipe also has some pasta (made with cereal grains AND coming from Italy) to make this even more relevant! Yes, I know pine nuts are expensive, but you use so few of them at a time that it’s not as spendy as it may seem. Plus, the left-over nuts will keep well in the fridge.

Though we know now that the Neanderthals dry-roasted and boiled plants, I don’t believe there is any indication – at least not yet – that the Neanderthals baked cookies with their pine nuts. Nonetheless we’re offering up a delicious pine nut cookie recipe. Savor your family’s historical ingredients, if not their cooking techniques.

And if you too have a relatively hefty amount of Neanderthal DNA (fact check: no one living today has more than a minuscule amount when looking at the big DNA picture) – and you want to know more about your kin – here’s a brief, helpful overview published by The Smithsonian.

Mushroom and Pine Nut Pasta

Mushroom and Pine Nut Pasta

Adapted from Elizabeth Minchilli.com

  • 1 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper (about 1 tsp Diamond kosher salt should be enough)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch arugula, trimmed and roughly chopped – or use spinach, chard, or another favorite cooking green (I use about 6 c of lightly packed greens)
  • 1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 c grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 – 1 lb orecciette – or pasta of your choice (note: we prefer going light on the pasta)

Add the olive oil to a large pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sliced mushrooms and let them cook, stirring only after they’ve had a chance to brown for a few minutes.  Turn the heat to low and let them cook until tender, then add the garlic, season with salt and pepper and let cook another few minutes until the garlic is cooked through. Turn off the heat and add the arugula, stirring it to wilt.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of pasta cooking water.

Heat the mushrooms if they have cooled off, and add the pasta to the pan with the mushrooms, stirring to combine. Add half the water and continue stirring for another minute. Turn off the heat, add the cheese and a bit more water, and stir well to combine. If it seems dry add more water. Add the pine nuts, and stir.  Serve and enjoy.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Pine Nut Cookies

Pine Nut Cookies

  • Servings: makes about 30 two-inch cookies
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Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

  • 8 T (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c flour
  • 1/2 c toasted pine nuts (note: life will go on if you don’t toast them)

Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Butter 2 baking sheets.  In a mixer or food processor, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolk, vanilla, and flour – just until blended.  Don’t overbeat.  Mix in the pine nuts.

Drop the batter a heaping teaspoon at a time onto the baking sheets.  Do a crosshatch pattern on the top of each with a fork dipped into water; press down with the fork to flatten the dough.

Bake until pale golden, about 18-22 minutes.  Cool on the pan for a few minutes and then use a spatula to move the cookies to a rack to cool.  

These little cookies freeze well – and are even yummy eaten straight from the freezer.  Been there; done that!

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

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It’s an Open-Up-Your-Taste-Buds-to-New-and-Exciting-Tastes Day at BigLittleMeals.com.  And it’s also an Isn’t-Spring-Wonderful Day.  The fires which devastated Sonoma in October are still a part of almost every conversation around here.  It’s mind-boggling how many people we meet who lost their homes.  The massive re-building has barely begun.  But re-birth in nature is already evident, as you can see in this gorgeous green field just above our little neighborhood.

While green seems to be just right in that field, green in food can be tricky.  Or as Kermit sang, “green is the color of spring.”  Yet, “it’s not easy being green.”  Actually, Andy looked a little green recently – while we were eating grilled oysters….see Andy’s Corner.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 8.30.20 AMMoss (how apropos his name is for this topic 🙂 ) and Silas, our grandsons, have always liked Odwalla’s “Original Superfood Fruit Smoothie” and I’ve always winced at its color.  But when we went to Ixtapa, Mexico, for the first time a number of years ago, I fell in love with the new and different green drink we were served on the beach.  Well…maybe it was being on that beautiful Pacific beach, but I think I’d have loved the drink no matter what.  Jugo Verde – a name so much prettier than Original Superfood – and way more delicious too.

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Our version of Jugo Verde

Moss also loves Snickerdoodles and I’ve made them frequently in his honor.  Since I already had a tin of ground green tea (Matcha), when I saw a recipe for Matcha Snickerdoodles I was intrigued.  Even more intriguing was the fact that the recipe came from a patisserie in San Francisco which is in the same building as the office for Tacolicious.  The patisserie’s name? Craftsman & Wolves.

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The cookies, after baking, looked….well, kind of weird, to put it nicely.  But I’m now wondering whether there is something slightly addictive about matcha.  I’ve been sneaking these amazing and unusual cookies all morning long – and still haven’t gotten my fill.  They’re like perfect.  Not too sweet.  Kind of delicate.  And the flavor doesn’t resemble anything you’ve had before – in a very good way.

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Craftsman & Wolves’ Matcha Snickerdoodles

Ras el hanout may not be a spice mixture that you routinely have in your cupboard but it’s what makes the Watercress, Spinach and Chickpea Soup, a riff on a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, unique.  And if you don’t want to bother to make it (I actually did – a combination of at least 13 spices!) or buy it (Amazon, of course), you can substitute the easily-found Garam Masala spice mixture, making it more Indian than North African, but still delicious.

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Watercress, Spinach, and Chickpea Soup – before adding the yogurt

And one final green-ish new-ish thing to try: freekeh.  It’s a young, green wheat, high in protein and fiber – those things we want and need – that has been roasted.  Freekeh, which dates back to around the 13th century Middle East, is delicious…better than barley or quinoa IMHO.  I combined some cooked freekeh with slivered red and green cabbage and mango for a delicious, healthy salad, using one of Ottolenghi’s dressings.

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Cooked freekeh

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I got this from Amazon but some Whole Foods carry it

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It’s Crunch Time

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Andy and I are getting ready for a long-anticipated trip to Oaxaca, so for me it’s crunch time.  Actually, I’m thinking about nuts again (crunch) and seeds and New Mexico, more than I am about the lengthy instructions I need to write for our cat/dog/house sitter on dealing with our disfunctional animals while we’re on our Mexican holiday.  Andy’s got some nutty ideas too – and really, really delicious ones.

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A jicama about to go into my salad.  Crunch.

Ever since David wrote the last blog, New Mexico has been on my mind.  I love David’s New Mexican Calabacitas recipe.  I also love a jicama salad recipe that comes from one of my favorite old cookbooks, The Feast of Santa Fe.  Actually,  I just love any crunch this time of year, when garden-fresh veggies seem like a time long past.

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I’m trying to stick to my New Year’s resolution – at least for one blog.  That is, I’m going to loosen up and be adventurous and less recipe-focused in my cooking.  All of the following salad recipes encourage you to branch out and create!  Also, in accordance with my NY’s resolutions, I promise not to have my suitcase packed and sitting by the door 2 weeks prior to our departure for Mexico. Continue reading

Almond Crackle Cookies

AlmondCookies2I avoid cookie-making.  Now that our kids are long-since gone and our grandchildren are infrequent visitors, I figure I don’t have the patience or desire to bake cookies.  However (HOWEVER) I am now in love with Almond Crackle Cookies from Dorie Greenspan (whose new cookbook, Dorie’s Cookies just won a James Beard award).  The recipe is unusual, simple, and the cookies are delicious. Of course, I love all nuts (both human and non! 🙂  And,  in case you’re avoiding flour, they’re gluten free.  Plus, they freeze well and, put into a plastic zip-lock bag, will stay crisp and perfect for at least 3 days (no need to refrigerate).

Almond Crackle Cookies

  • Servings: 18 to 20 cookies
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Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients

  • 6 T sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cups sliced blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 bakings sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  Whisk the sugar and egg together well, then add the almonds and stir until the almonds are evenly coated.  Do not let it sit long before using and stir it occasionally while spooning the batter onto the sheets.

Use a 1 T measuring spoon and fill it almost to the top (2+ teaspoons worth).  Spoon that onto the baking sheet (go ahead – use your really clean fingers to scrape out the tablespoon measurer!) and flatten the cookie dough slightly.  Proceed with the remaining dough, leaving about 2″ between each mound of batter.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes (watch them carefully after about 12 minutes) –  or until the cookies look brown on the edges and crispy/crackled on top.  Transfer the baking sheets to a rack and let the cookies cool for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes use a spatula to remove each cookie from the sheet.

Recipe provided by Big Little Meals and Andy and Ann

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