Eats

Christmas Cookies: Orange-Hazelnut Shortbread

There are two methods to getting the skins off hazelnuts, and this link will give you both. One is to roast them and rub the skins off in a dishtowel; the other is to blanch them first, rub the skins off in the sink, and then roast them. I found the latter technique much, much easier.

Orange-Hazelnut Shortbread

  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts (about 6 ounces), toasted, skins removed (or vice-versa)
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Process nuts in a food processor until finely chopped, about 20 seconds (do not overprocess). Transfer nuts to a large bowl; add flour, granulated sugar, butter, zest, and salt. Mix with hands until dough just comes together and forms a ball.

Halve dough; shape each into a disk. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With lightly floured hands, shape 1 disk into a 7-inch round, and score to mark 12 equal wedges (do not cut through). Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sanding sugar. Repeat with remaining disk and sanding sugar.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. While shortbread is warm, cut wedges to separate completely. Let wedges cool slightly on sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Christmas Cookies: Pepparkakor (Spice Stars)

These are my absolute favorite holiday cookie. I think of them as Pepparkakor although this recipe isn't comparable to any traditional recipe that might be out there. It's my adaptation of a spice cookie I've been making for years and in my evangelical non-Scandinavian opinion, it is superior. If you want to take it outside with your recipe so we can settle this like men, have your lieutenant send a missive to mine.

For a bunch of years, it was pretty much a guarantee that nobody in the house liked these but me. It's a very spicy, not-too-sweet dough that contains both white and black pepper. A bite starts out beautifully warm, then gives you a kick. I loved them and they were all mine. Until one year when I caught Redman dipping a finger into the dough when my back was turned. 

"That's spicy," I warned, "You probably won't like it."

He tasted warily, then beamed at me. "It's great!!"

Little shit...

So according to tradition, you are supposed to put one pepparkakor cookie in the palm of your hand, make a wish and press on it. If it breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true. If it doesn't, you still have cookies.

Broken cookies are still sweet.

I'm still glad we're here.

I still love us.

Pepparkakor (Spice Stars)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (Breathe, butter is good)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup corn syrup (Breathe. It's okay, it's Christmas. You can use dark or lite syrup. Or you could do 3/4 cup lite syrup and 1/4 cup molasses)
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 5 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (Mmmm, yes, Debbie, yes)
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • White nonpareils, or sanding sugar

Melt butter with sugar, corn syrup and vinegar in a medium saucepan over low heat. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.

Sift flour, baking soda, spices and salt into the bowl of your mixer. On low speed, gradually add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients. Once incorporated, stir in eggs and orange zest until batter is very smooth.

Divide the dough into two portions, wrap in plastic wrap, flatten into a disk and refrigerate at least 3 hours. OR freeze, this freezes very well. If frozen, let thaw in refrigerator overnight

Preheat oven to 350. Divide each disk in half, roll out on lightly flour surface. Cut shapes and transfer to baking sheet. Sprinkle with nonpareils. To keep the nonpareils from rolling and sliding all over, I give the cookies a blast of Pam before sprinkling.

Bake cookies until edges are golden brown, 7-8 minutes. Let cool on wire racks.

Divine with a cup of coffee. Celestial with a glass of red wine. Unbeatable at three in the morning when you're just passing through the kitchen to get some water.

Christmas Cookies: Ugly Earls

So mean to call them that but come on. They're delicious but they're ugly. The ground tea leaves makes the dough this really unattractive gray and the flecks of orange zest don't help.

Ugly. But yummy. To be honest, Earls don't taste very good straight out of the oven. Or even after cooling. But, if you put them in a cookie tin and leave them alone for a couple days, some strange settling-in, resting alchemy happens and then they are delicious.

Ugly Earls

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

Whisk flour, tea, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.

Put butter, sugar, and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Divide dough in half. Transfer each half to a piece of parchment paper; shape into logs. Roll in parchment to 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow the log and force out air. Transfer in parchment to paper towel tubes; freeze until firm, 1 hour. (Note all this parchment-ruler-paper-towel-tube bullshit is Martha Stewart making simple things complicated. Just roll it in a log, wrap in Saran and chill. Sheesh.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment.

Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Seal in cookie tin for 2-3 days for best flavor.

VANILLA CHAI VARIATION

Substitute ground vanilla chai tea for Earl Grey. Add an additional 1 tsp of vanilla and omit orange peel.

If you want to go hardcore, scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean and add to the batter as well.

Christmas Cookies: Lemon Poppyseed

These are Jeeps' favorite. They are light, lemony and just darling: the kind of small little cookie that you feel justified eating six at a time. You can make them any size, actually. They go equally well with tea, coffee or a glass of wine.

Lemon Poppyseed Crisps

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, plus 3 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest (about 3 large lemons)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp poppyseeds plus more for sprinkling

Note: lemon zest both refrigerates and freezes well. I make a lot of cookies that use citrus zest and it's a task I loathe. So along with pre-measuring dry ingredients, I take a night to zest oranges and lemons (say the bells of St. Clements) and store it until I'm ready.

Take 1 1/2 tsp of the grated lemon zest and mix it with 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl or tupperware. Set aside or put in the fridge until you are going to make the cookies.

Bring lemon juice to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until reduced by half. Add 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter and stir until melted. Set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Cream together the remaining 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter and 1 cup sugar. Add egg and reserved lemon butter, mix until pale, about 3 minutes. Mix in vanilla and remaining lemon zest. Reduce speed to low. Mix in flour mixture and poppyseeds.

Empty dough onto saran wrap, flatten into a disk and chill for an hour, or freeze until ready to use (thaw frozen dough in fridge first).

Roll dough into 1" - 2" balls, depending on how darling you want your cookies to be. Roll balls in lemon zest-sugar mixture and place on baking sheets. Press each with the bottom of a glass dipped in the sugar mixture to 1/4" thickness. Sprinkle with poppyseeds.

Bake 12-13 minutes at 350 until just browned around the edges.

Christmas Cookies: Chocolate Gingerbread

This is one of the few recipes I can claim as truly my own. I used to make a chocolate-gingerbread cookie from a Martha Stewart recipe but they were never quite what I envisioned. Both my mom and I noticed the cookies never came out the same way twice, something was always slightly off.

So I went through other cookie recipes, tinkered around, and last year I hit on the perfect recipe for chewy chocolate cookies with the heat of ginger which are the pure essence of Christmas. I love them. I hope you do too.

Suanne's Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (please use Hershey's Special Dark because it is superior)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground ginger (heaping if you like it spicy)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 oz melted bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger (either fresh ginger peeled and grated, or bottled pressed ginger which is what I do because grating ginger is a pain in the ass.)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)

Sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa, or, as I explained earlier, go fetch your ziplock bag labeled "Chocolate Gingerbread" with the pre-measured dry ingredients. Oh my God, you are SO ORGANIZED! I hate you.

In the electric mixer, cream the butter and pressed ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes, and by the way I personally make that a generous tablespoon of ginger. Add the white and brown sugar and beat until combined, then add eggs, followed by flour mixture and chocolate chips (if using).

Turn dough out onto plastic wrap, flatten into a disk, seal and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. (Or freeze.  Thaw frozen dough in fridge overnight)

Heat oven to 325. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in granulated sugar. Place on cookie sheet and bake until the surfaces start to crack, about 13-15 minutes. Transfer to wire racks.

These are at their absolute best right out of the oven while the chocolate is still gooey, with a big glass of milk. Once cooled and stored, they are ever so slightly less divine, but still pretty f'ing good. I always wonder if you could revive one in the microwave to just-out-of-oven goodness, but have never tried it. If you do, let me know.

 

Tomato Pie

I've long wanted to try this recipe for Tomato Pie.  I first read about it in Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking. Colwin first had it "...at a tea shop called Chaiwalla, owned by Mary O'Brien, in Salisbury, Connecticut. According to Mary, the original recipe was found in a cookbook put out by the nearby Hotchkiss School, but she has changed it sufficiently to claim it as her own."

So it looked delicious and not that complicated so here we go, and you're going to make it with me! Preheat the oven to 400 and let's go...

So the pie is a double-crust pie and you can make your own crust. I used a Trader Joe's pre-made crust. Be sure to bring it to room temperature 30 minutes before you start putting the pie together. I didn't do this which put a slight crimp (cough) in my plans but it was fine in the end.

You need 2 28-oz cans of whole peeled tomato. "Drain well and slice thin," says the recipe and I had a feeling "Drain well" was going to be the make-or-break factor of this pie. So I drained the whole tomatoes in a colander in a sink, and then after slicing them, put them back in the colander to drain more, pressing down on them a little. Either way it's a soggy business.

Grate 1 1/2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese.

Chop about 1/4 of whatever fresh herbs you have to hand.  All the basil is dead in my garden but I had parsley, chives and a couple sprigs of oregano so that's what I chopped

Put the bottom crust into the pie pan.  Arrange the drained, sliced tomatoes in the bottom.  Sprinkle herbs on the tomatoes.

Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese.  Whisk together 1/3 cup mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons lemon juice and drizzle on top, followed by the rest of the cheese

Put on the top crust and crimp.  And shut up because crimping pie crust is right up there with making gravy for me.  I suck at it.

Slice some steam vents in the top crust and into the 400 it goes for about 25 minutes.  Within 5 minutes you'll notice a really great smell coming into your kitchen.  At about 10 minutes I noticed the edges of the crust were browning pretty quickly so I covered them with some foil.

After 25 minutes, take pie out of the oven and set to cool on the curved shelf of your kitchen pass-through window which your architect designed with the express purpose of cooling a pie thereupon.

"The secret of this pie, according to Mary, is to reheat it before serving, which among other things ensures that the cheese is soft and gooey.  She usually bakes it early in the morning, then reheats it in the evening in a 350 oven until it is hot."

So it was delicious and different.  I thought the bottom crust still came out soggy so next time I'm going to borrow a trick from quiche making and put a layer of cheese down first on the bottom crust; this creates a vacuum seal to keep the tomato juices from doing that thing they do.

Ultimate Lentil Soup

Forget it, I'm going to keep making and posting soup recipes until this stupid weather breaks or I die.  Whichever comes first. Slow Cooker Revolution is on a roll with what it touts as "Ultimate Lentil Soup."  I don't really like lentil soup.  I don't hate it but it's not my go-to.  Jeeps loves it though, and he's been killing himself shoveling snow so I wanted to make it for him.  It didn't hurt that the recipe called for bacon and mushrooms.

Well, friends, to cut to the chase: this soup is tits.  Unbelievable flavor.  I snuck in a can of black beans toward the end and the country-style texture of beans and lentils rocks.  The mushrooms are killer.  The chard is a treat.  Bacon makes it all sexy.  I stirred some frozen sweet corn into the kids' bowls to cool it off.  And they ate it. 

As my friend Art said, "This is not your mother's lentil soup."

Lentil Soup
Lentil Soup

Ultimate Not-Your-Mother's Lentil Soup

  • 2 onions, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4-5 slices bacon
  • 3-5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 2-3 large portobello mushroom caps, gills removed and cut into 1/2" pieces (the gills scrape right out with a spoon.  You do this to keep the soup from getting muddy)
  • 1 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and leaves cut 1/2" thick

Microwave onions, garlic, oil, tomato paste, porcini mushrooms and thyme in bowl, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker.

Stir chicken broth, vegetable broth, bacon, carrots, portobello mushrooms, lentils and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Cover and cook on high 5-7 hours or low 9-11 hours, until lentils are tender.

Stir in black beans and chard, cover and cook on high until chard is tender, 20-30 minutes.  Discard bacon and bay leaves.  Serve.

Sicilian Chick Pea Soup

The soup itself is Sicilian, not the chick peas. Most Italian soups feature cannellini beans but in Sicily, chick peas are the favored legume. The recipe comes from the Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook, Volume 2. You can make it in 7 hours in the slow cooker, or in 45 minutes on the stove top. It's not very attractive, but it's yum. It features fennel, garlic, oregano and red pepper. It also calls for anchovies, which I did not use, and escarole, which I did not have.

Stove Top Version

  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 8-oz cans chick peas, dried and rinsed
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 head escarole, chopped coarse, or 1/2 bag of frozen spinach

Heat olive oil in soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add fennel and saute 7-8 minutes. I found the soup very savory and kept looking for a sweet note.   think if you really get the fennel caramelized it will bring that sweetness.

Add garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes, saute another 2-3 minutes.

Add chick peas and chicken broth. Cover and simmer 20-30 minutes. Add spinach or escarole and cook until wilted, another 15 minutes.

Serve with a glug of olive oil and a big dollop of parmesan cheese

Slow Cooker Version

  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
  • 8 oz dried chick peas
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 head escarole, chopped coarse, or 1/2 bag of frozen spinach

Microwave fennel, oil, garlic, oregano, anchovies and papper flakes in bowl, stirring occasionally, until fennel is softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker. Stir in chick peas and broth. Cover and cook until chick peas are tender—10 to 11 hours on low or 7 to 8 hours on high.

Stir in escarole or spinach, cover and cook another 15 minutes.

Serve with olive oil and parmesan.