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Posts tagged ‘Christmas’

this little light…..& shortbread cookies

for those of us who live north of the equator, we’re only 4  days from the darkest day of the year. But for many among us, it felt as though last Friday must surely have been that day.

. . .

in this hurting world

don’t think that for one moment

your light goes unnoticed.

don’t think for an instant that your light,

just now, is too dim to shine for anyone.

. . .

don’t believe that what we face

is either too big or too complicated,

or that our little light

is powerless

in the creeping shadow of it.

. . .

in this hurting world, the one thing,

the one thing, we can each do

is let our own light shine.

whatever shape or brilliance your candle,

it is exactly what the world needs…

this shimmering little light

that is yours alone

to share.

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LemonShortbread&Light-7-2________

Sometimes, when it feels like sadness might overtake us,

we bake.

something so small.

An unseen part of us knows though that an ancient comfort

is resident in our kitchens. When hope seems dim, or our candle flickers,

and we really haven’t much of a clue where to put our sorrow,

we can always bake cookies to share.

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LemonShortbread&Light-11

______________________

these little shortbreads are aromatic and truly lovely. if you already know and love lavender in the kitchen, go for the full teaspoon. if you’re trying for the first time, you might start with the smaller amount. but if you don’t have lavender at all, it can be omitted. or try replacing it with ¼ to a scant ½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, very finely minced. (Culinary lavender is easily obtained on-line.)

however, if chocolate is your flavor, a recipe for chocolate shortbread follows.

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Lemon Lavender Shortbread

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½ cup butter at room temperature

½ cup powdered sugar (unsifted)

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

¾ to 1 teaspoon culinary lavender  (see above) 

¼ teaspoon lemon extract

1 cup flour

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Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Drop the powdered sugar into a small bowl. Mince very finely the zest of lemon and the lavender and add them to the powdered sugar. Add the lemon extract.  Stir to mix; then add to the butter and cream together. Work in the flour, scraping the bowl as you go.  Once the dough has mostly come together, remove to an unfloured board and knead  until nice and smooth.

Either spray with non-stick vegetable spray or brush a thin layer of vegetable oil on the bottom and sides of your pan. Firmly press the dough into the pan. (I used a clay pan with Scottish thistle imprinted on it, but an 8-inch round cake pan or 9-inch pie tin will work just fine!) Prick the entire surface with a fork and bake at 325°F (165°C) for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set the timer and allow the shortbread to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife and flip the pan over onto a wooden cutting board. (If it doesn’t release right away, tap one edge of the pan.) Cut the shortbread into 8 pieces while still warm.

( to print lemon lavender recipe, click. )

LemonShortbread&Light-12

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dark chocolate & pear torte

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

DarkChocolatePearTorte-2

A chocolate torte with pears…

and a dollop of gingered whipped cream.

______________

I came upon this gluten-free flourless, deep dark chocolate torte, baked with the pear of song, and knew it was destined for you.

Simple…and well, sort of heavenly…

_________

Dark Chocolate & Pear Torte

(8 to 12 servings)

1 cup butter (2 sticks, salted)

7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (see NOTE)

1 cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

1½ cups toasted and finely ground almonds (see NOTE)

1 firm-ripe pear (Comice are wonderful here!)

~

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Fresh Ginger Whipped Cream, for serving (recipe follows)

~

DarkChocolatePearTorte-3

NOTE:   To toast the nuts: Spread on a baking sheet and bake in a 350F oven for 5 to 8 minutes or until they start to brown. Allow to cool and then grind finely in a food processor. I used toasted ground almonds…but you could just as well use pecanswalnuts or hazelnuts.

NOTE: This might be an occasion to splurge and buy an extra-special chocolate – though of course it’s not necessary. Guittard is such a chocolate. I used the bittersweet.

__________

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat; brush some of the butter onto the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Lower the heat beneath the butter and add the chocolate, stirring slowly until the chocolate has melted.

Remove from the heat and transfer the butter chocolate mixture to a medium-sized bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes.

Whisk in the eggs – one at a time – until completely incorporated. The batter will be smooth and glossy. Stir in the ground nuts until well-blended. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the mixture to your buttered springform pan.

Peel, core and quarter the pear, from stem to base. (Using a melon baller to remove the core will help maintain the pretty appearance.) Slice each quarter in half, and then in half again (4 slices/quarter.) Fan the pears around the batter to form a wreath. Bake until the pears are tender and the center of the torte is set, about 40 (to 45) minutes. Set the springform pan on a wire rack to cool completely.

Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the pan and release the pan’s ring. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving with the whipped cream.

DarkChocolatePearTorte-4

recipe for gingered whipped cream follows…

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German apple pancake

No food tradition in our family is longer-lived than the German apple pancake. So central a family holiday tradition, so beloved, for years it even served as the “secret password” between my daughters and me. We never needed to use it, but it was comforting knowing it was there. ; )

Every Christmas morning for our children’s lives our house would fill with the sweet perfume of cinnamon and nutmeg and caramelizing apples. Every Christmas morning, the girls’ eyes, and later on, the boy’s, would pop at the big puff of a pancake as it came from the oven. (It’s a bit of a wonderment really.) From the oven, I’d slip it onto a warm platter and then –  into the golden heart of it a steaming skillet-ful of glistening caramelized apples would tumble. I think it’s become impossible for any of us now to separate Christmas morning from the pancake.

As true as that is, we enjoy this special breakfast too much to relegate it to one morning a year. It manages to show up at birthday breakfast tables by request, and occasionally it appears just because  someone’s in need of a little extra lovin’ or an atta-boy or -girl! This year we’ll bring it the New Year’s table too. It’s how our family celebrates with breakfast.

So disappointed I forgot to include the cranberries for this one – it’s positively beautiful with them.

German Apple Pancake

serves 6 to 8 

the pancake:

  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup all purpose flour (3¾ oz. – 105 g.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1½ Tablespoons butter

the apples:

  • 1½ pounds apples (up to 2 pounds will work) – Granny Smith are a good choice
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (either new or freshly grated is best)
  • ½ cranberries (optional)

the sprinkling of snow:

  • powdered sugar

Place an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Into a blender (or food processor) break 3 eggs. Add milk and vanilla, and process for about 30 seconds. Add the flour, salt and sugar and process until lumps are gone, about 15 seconds. (Don’t overmix.) Allow to “bloom” – for flour to absorb the liquids completely – at least 15 minutes, and as long as overnight. Briefly mix again before pouring in the pan.

With oven at 500°F, melt 1½ Tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat- cast iron works very well for this. When the butter has turned to foam, swirl it around the bottom of the pan, and slightly up the sides. Pour in the pancake batter and place the pan in the oven. Promptly lower the heat to 425°F. Cook for 10 minutes at this setting, and then lower the heat to 350°F and cook for about 15 minutes longer. (If during the initial stages of the baking, the center of the pancakes bubbles up and forms a little mountain, pierce it with a long handled fork. No worries if it doesn’t completely flatten though because the apples will take care of most of that.) Like magic, the sides of the pancake will rise up and form a bowl.  Read more

remnants of Christmas past ~ and chocolate lavender brownies

When I wrote my last post, I hadn’t really intended that it be my farewell until after the holiday was over. But big family came to stay with us, and even though I had a picture of what that might look like, my picture was a bit off. What we had for a week was a joyous, raucous house.

My office becomes a bedroom for a little one, a diaper-changing station, and the floor a stage for exploding overflowing suitcases! We lose heat to that part of the house while they’re here and no one will come to fix it, so space heaters, extra quilts and comforters clutter the bedrooms. Teeth chatter as little ones climb under a mountain of covers to get warm for the night. Our favorite dog in the world (along with our own), a blind yellow lab, manages to maneuver his way around toys, Christmas trees and moving furniture with only a few mishaps as we call out over here buddy to help him when he’s lost his way. Five little children cousins run crazy with joy at seeing each other again, and stage parades complete with instruments and frequent costume changes. Their delight at life is completely infectious! Their brilliant imaginations, their adaptability to changing circumstances, their ease at living in the moment is a reminder. We make a mistake when our expectations are too finely detailed, too perfectly colored in. We do best to take the lovely surprises as they come and revel in messy mayhem and laughter. All too soon a pale quiet will descend. Order will return. And our hearts will ache a bit from the missing of them and all the Life they breathe.

~ ~ ~

Undoubtedly I have some catching up to do, but I’m excited to begin it. First off, I want to share with you a brownie, densely dark and aromatic, the very kind of brownie that could drive sane people mad. I’m quite sure it’s my very favorite brownie ever and it was the genesis for a gift.

For the last several years one of my presents to my daughters is a box of goodies organized around a theme. Last year it was vanilla and chocolate. This year, lavender.

The recipe for this exquisite chocolate mouthful comes from the cookbook (above) by Chef Sharon Shipley. It’s a fairly new book to me and already I’m buying it for others. (That, if you didn’t guess, is a bonafide endorsement!) Based on several other recipes from the book, tried and loved, I was game to try a lavender brownie of hers though I couldn’t quite taste it in my mind.

I assure you, this isn’t a nose full of lavender. It doesn’t taste anything like rolling down a lavender hillside in Provence (though I’d love to try that, just to be sure.) You won’t know lavender’s in it – you’ll just know there’s something quite extraordinary, unidentifiable, about this brownie…and you’ll keep trying to figure out what as you reach again for another…or so.

Chocolate Lavender Brownies

(makes 24 brownies)

  • 1 teaspoon dried culinary Provence lavender buds (see NOTE)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cups plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (see NOTE)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon instant espresso powder (or instant coffee powder)
  • ¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

Place the lavender in a spice grinder with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Pulse until the lavender is finely ground. Transfer every last delicious dusty bit of it to a large bowl. Add the flour, cocoa, salt and espresso or coffee powder, along with the remaining sugar. Mix well.

Place the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high power for 1 minute at a time until melted. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, mix until just combined.

Stir in the nuts (if using).

Pour the brownie batter into a prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Cool and cut into 24 brownies.

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wishes


I take a break today from the extraordinary messes I make when I cook and take pictures of my food. Someday I may share photos of the paths of my destruction. It’s good for a laugh. But not today. Today, let me just wish you, in this season of lights, all good things.

~ ~ ~

May you come in out of the cold…

…may you be warmed and may you be fed…

…may you hold some dear one close…

…may you paint your toenails red…

…may you see art where you had not…

…may you know wonder…

…and may you share it…

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a Christmas bread – Panettone

I caught a little flack from family for sharing the caramel corn. Some thought (kiddingly I’m sure) that it ought to be “sacred,” a family secret, vaulted away. These are NOT stingy people! They’re tremendously generous. Their hearts are huge. But they did have serious qualms about my going public with Ruthie’s caramel corn.

And yet…I’m here to share. So while I’m at it (and already in questionable standing with the family)… here comes another recipe from our holiday house to yours.

This bread is so deliciously fragrant! It’s a soft loaf, delicately but surely flavored with anise, slightly sweet and full of colorful dried fruit. It’s the traditional loaf on Italian tables for Christmas and New Years and has been a tradition in our non-Italian family since I was a kid and our mom first learned to bake homemade bread.  You can eat it with just a creamy smear of sweet butter or – as we do – toasted, with its fragrance roused to life again. We’ll have it for breakfast along with our scrambled eggs and fresh-squeezed juice.

I’ve suggested certain fruits to go inside, but really the choice is entirely yours. Mom used to make it with those candied fruits and peels (which, as a kid, I detested and had to go to a lot of trouble to pick out so I could get to the truly good stuff.) I’m saving you the trouble. Use whatever dried fruits you like…cherries, apricots, golden or dark raisins, cranberries or candied citrus rinds or softer nuts like walnuts or pecans. Traditionally, it’s one half raisins and one half other mixed fruits, but you can do all raisins if you like, or none at all. Be sure though not to skimp on the anise (neither the extract nor the seeds) because that’s where all the heady perfume comes from! Can you stand being adored? Then you will be so glad you made this bread!

Panettone - Christmas Bread

  • 2 Tablespoons yeast (or two packets)
  • ¼ cup lukewarm water (100-110°F)
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¾ teaspoon anise extract
  • 2 teaspoons crushed anise seed
  • 6 to 6½ cups all-purpose flour or bread flour  (total weight 30 ounces – or 1 pound, 14 ounces)
  • 2 cups dried fruit (1 cup golden or dark raisins plus 1 cup total of a variety – dried cherries, dried apricots, cranberries, dried pineapple, candied citrus rinds or soft nuts like walnuts or pecans)

My personal choice – 1 cup raisins (¾ golden, ¼ dark), and 1 cup equally divided between apricots, tart cherries and dried bing cherries. If I had on hand a bit of candied orange rind, I’d add it too, but I don’t always.

Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm water. (Don’t exceed 115°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, the elbow is a good indicator of the right temp. It’s baby bathwater warm.) Set aside.

Place the butter, sugar and salt in a medium size bowl and pour boiling water over top. Stir to melt and dissolve, then set aside to cool. (Again, no warmer than luke warm.) Once it’s cooled, add the eggs, anise extract and crushed anise seeds. (You can use mortar and pestle to crush…they don’t need to be ground.) If you’ve got a stand mixer than can knead your bread for you, hooray! Transfer these wet ingredients to the bowl of your mixer.

Measure out 6 cups of flour. Have another ½ cup standing by in case you need it. Gradually add the flour to the liquid and knead with dough hook attachment for about 7 or 8 minutes (or longer if required to achieve proper consistency.) You’re looking for most of the dough to be pulled away from the sides of the bowl. When you press the dough with a finger, the dough bounces back at you. And when you lightly squeeze it between your fingers, it almost wants to stick but you’re able to ply your fingers from it without taking dough with. The surface is smooth and baby’s bottom soft.

Lightly butter the inside of a large bowl. Form the dough into a ball, place inside the bowl, and roll around the sides of the bowl to very lightly coat with butter. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 1 hour. (My preferred place is inside a cold oven. I place another bowl inside the oven filled with hot water. It creates just the right environment, rising the dough but not too quickly. It should be doubled in about 1 hour.)

 While the dough is rising, place the raisins in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 30 minutes and plump up a bit. Drain them in a collander and then place them on a clean towel, patting to dry.

Cut the fruits into approximately raisin-size pieces.  Mix all the fruits together.

Once dough has doubled, remove the plastic wrap, and with your fist, deflate the mound. One gentle punch or two will do.

Lay the dough out fairly flat; pile the fruits on top. Roll the dough around the fruit and gently knead, incorporating the fruit. Gather into a rough ball, then tuck the sides of the dough under until you’ve again achieved a smooth, round ball. Place it back inside the bowl to rise as before, a second time. Allow to rise until double, about an hour or so. (This may take a bit longer with the heavy fruit now inside.)

Once doubled the 2nd time, split dough in two fairly equal pieces. Allow to rest for 5 minutes under a towel. 

Forming the Loaves:  The object is to stretch the top, tucking the sides down and to the bottom of the loaf. Do this with the dough held in both hands, thumbs more or less on top, your other fingers continually curving over the sides, tucking the sides down and under. If that’s something you don’t feel confident about, not to worry. However you make a round loaf will be good. Put each loaf onto its own baking sheet or into individual cake pans. (You’ll want to put them side by side in the oven. If you put them both on the same baking sheet, they could rise to meet each other and meld their sides together. That wouldn’t be a catastrophe but you’ll be happier if they don’t.)

15 minutes before you expect the loaves to be ready for baking, place a rack 1/3 up from the bottom of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Brush the loaves gently with melted butter using a pastry brush.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes. If they begin to brown too much, lay a large paper grocery bag over the top toward the end. (Don’t worry, it won’t catch fire.) Or use aluminum foil if you’re leery.

Remove loaves from oven; cool completely on a rack before cutting. This bread keeps well for days, if wrapped tightly. Or bake ahead and freeze (double-bagged) for weeks or longer. Be sure to bring out before the holiday!

~ ~ ~

Tomorrow, continuing to be inspired by our travels to the southwest,

I’ll share yet another recipe with corn as the centerpiece

and some more photos from our trip.

ruthie’s ought-to-be-famous absolutely fabulous caramel corn

We visited a number of ruins while on our trip to Sedona, Arizona. We’ve been to each of them before, at least once, but each time we learn a little something new, and each time at various points, we’ll look over at each other and shake our heads in awe. It’s simply incredible - to walk amongst the stacked walls and scattered rocks where they had walked, farmed and hunted, prepared their food and ate their meals, had their babies, played and danced, wove from cotton they’d planted, carved tools from stone and bone, traded, worshipped…and then, around 1400 AD, they left…and no one can say to where, or why. It leaves us rather awestruck and feeling like we should whisper amongst these ruins. And we do.

Palatki ruins, Arizona

These are the curved stone tools (metates) in which the women (primarily) and children would grind their grains.

Metates

These people domesticated corn, digging irrigation ditches to bring water to their gardens, carving stone tools to hoe between the rows. Corn was absolutely central to these ancient Americans’ existence. With that on my mind, I turn my own attention to working with corn. But this is child’s play really, nothing serious about it. Well, just one. I’m not one prone to addiction, but this is one thing that comes seriously close to having me in its clutches. It’s my mother’s caramel corn and for years now it’s been showing up at our family Christmas. One or two or more of us will independently prepare it, pack in it tins or cellophane bags and gift one another with it. (We always hope we get one back.) It rarely lasts a day. I’m just sayin’…

Ruthie’s Ought-To-Be-Famous Absolutely Fabulous Caramel Corn

  • 6 quarts popped corn (i.e. 24 cups)
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1½ teaspoons salt (if using salted butter, reduce to 1 teaspoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

to be added later:

  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
Tools: Popcorn popper, candy thermometer, deep baking dish or roasting pan

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place popped corn into a large 4-inch-deep buttered baking pan or roasting pan. Keep popcorn warm in the oven as you prepare the caramel sauce.

In a large saucepan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream of tartar and salt. Measure out the baking soda and have it ready but don’t add at this time.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring continuously. The caramel will begin to boil rapidly. Continue cooking and stirring until the bubbly mixture reaches 250° to 260° F as registered on a candy thermometer.

(For these next steps, you’ll want to act fairly quickly as caramel tends to harden before you know it.)

Remove the popcorn from the oven and have it on the counter nearby. Remove the pan from the stove. Add the baking soda to the caramel sauce, stirring quickly and thoroughly. (It will froth up and fill the pan and look like this.)

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pumpkin chiffon pie

I know you show up here mostly because you like food and because you expect that I’ll talk about food. You don’t come to hear my confessions. Yet several times in recent months I’ve subjected you to them. I sincerely apologize, I do, but I guess I’m not quite done, because here comes another: I have had a lifelong Fear of Pie. Well, it’s not the pie I fear, because that would be silly. Pie, especially fruit pie, is my favorite dessert. It’s the making of pie I’ve feared. You can trust me with the innards of any pie, I think, but the crust? I cringe. My hands go cold and clammy. My mouth goes dry.

I’ve lived with this phobia my entire adult life. I’ve spoken of it here before, and eating a bit of humble pie, I offered a compromise, a more rustic version of pie, the galette. But I’d vowed this year to meet pie head on.

For a very special girl’s 9th birthday, my gift was a series of baking dates together. Sici and I laid them all out, from most basic to — you guessed it — most feared. Kids, as you’ve no doubt experienced, are far more perceptive than we sometimes pretend, and they’re quite adept at picking up our true feelings no matter what words we speak. Point is, I think she knows. I swear, hand on heart, I’ve so not wanted to contaminate another generation with pie fear! But this girl wasn’t about to be contaminated or deterred. She’s a trooper, an adventurer, a girl with a can-do attitude, and I’m taking a lesson from her on this one! With our pie date looming, it was time I practiced.

You’re right, of course. Why would you take a lesson from me on pie crust? Why read another word? You’ve got a point. But here’s my thinking: I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the subject. A number of sources claim they hold the secret for the perfect pie dough, and I’m not saying they don’t,  but I’ve remained unconvinced.

If you’ve ever read Cook’s Illustrated, you know that they’re renowned for making hundreds of versions of a recipe in their test kitchens in order to arrive at “perfection.” They’ll lay out a case, sometimes quite scientific, and in this instance, I was looking for science — hard scientific evidence, something to bring me back to the Age of Reason. I won’t lay it all out here, because I actually do have a life apart from this and you do too – but if you’re interested, you may be able to  locate a copy of the article Foolproof Pie Dough, published September, 2010.  I’ll give you the recipe here, but the case they made is brilliant and the article very interesting if you’re so inclined.

In brief, the secrets are three:

  1. the fats – mostly butter, and a little vegetable shortening (which I’ve tried my whole life to avoid, but finally succumbed because, for a great cause, we make sacrifices)
  2. the flour – 1½ cups blended very well with the fat, another cup pulsed in ever-so quickly afterwards
  3. the liquid – half ice water, half Vodka (the vodka burns off completely in the baking, leaving no trace of alcohol and no tell-tale taste. Vodka inhibits some of the gluten-formation that occurs when using water alone, thereby ensuring incredible tenderness!)

I summoned my inner-Sici and made the pie dough yesterday. It wasn’t picture-perfect, but everything else about it was. It was flaky, tender, flavorful. I did it! I’m still basking in euphoria.

the crust – Foolproof Pie Dough

(for one 9-inch double-crust pie)

  • 2½ cups (12½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 12 Tablespoons (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch slices)
  • ½ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • ¼ cup cold vodka
  • ¼ cup cold water

1. Process 1½ cups of flour (7½ ounces), the salt and sugar in food processor until combined, two one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening all at once and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds. (All the flour will be coated and the texture will resemble cottage cheese. Some very small pieces of butter will remain.) Scrape the bowl with a plastic scraper, evenly distributing the mixture around the blade. Add the remaining cup (5 ounces) of flour and pulse until the mixture is evenly distributed around the blade and the mass of dough is broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty the mixture into an empty bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to incorporate the liquid, then press down on the dough until it’s slightly tacky and adheres together. Divide the dough into two equal portions, roll into balls and then flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 days. (Dough may also be frozen, then thawed for later use.)

3. Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a generously floured board (using up to ¼ cup of flour as needed) into a 12-inch circle about one-eighth of an inch thick. Roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin and unroll into the 9-inch pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang all around. Working around the circumference, ease the dough into the pie plate by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with the other hand. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

4. Trim the overhang to ½ inch beyond the lip of the pie plate. Fold the overhang over on itself, with the folded edge even with the edge of the pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute the edge of the dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about another 15 minutes.

5. Remove from the refrigerator and line the crust with foil. Fill with pie weights, or pennies. (This keeps the crust from shrinking.) Bake on the rimmed cookie sheet for 15 minutes. Remove the foil with the weights, rotate the plate in the oven and bake for 5 to 10 additional minutes, until the crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool completely before filling. (And if you, like me, are new to this pie-crust-baking thing, allow the room to fill with appreciative applause – be sure to add your own.)

~ ~ ~

Many pumpkin pie recipes call for pumpkin pie spice. Why buy a jar of pumpkin pie spice, use it once or twice between November and December and then store it away to use again the next year? At that rate, a bottle will last you at least half a decade. I blend my own with the spices I already have on hand and that are replenished fairly often. Nothing stale in this pie! (If you’ll make more than one pie this season, you may want to double the recipe. If you’ve got someone around who appreciates this sort of thing, here’s an idea – take the remaining pumpkin puree, the leftover pumpkin pie spice, add vanilla ice-cream or frozen yogurt and milk, whir it up in your blender, top with a dash of nutmeg and insert 2 straws.)

Pumpkin Pie Spice:

(yields 4¼ teaspoons)

  • 1¼teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon (scant) ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon (gently rounded)  allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly-grated, if possible)


Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

(serves six to eight)

We’ve enjoyed this pie every Thanksgiving for years. Mom would often bring the pumpkin custard pie, and I’d make the chiffon. But (as I’ve already made quite clear) I didn’t do pastry crusts. So this pie always ended up in an alspice-laced graham cracker crust, which though still quite tasty, always left me feeling like I was cheating.

  • 1 baked 9-inch pastry shell
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1-1/3 cups mashed, cooked pumpkin (a bit less than one small can)
  • 3 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice (or for a delightfully spicier note, 3½)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 6 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Garnish: 1 cup heavy cream, whipped with a wee bit of confections sugar and a small glug of vanilla, and sprinkled with a dash of freshly-grated nutmeg

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Black Forest cookies

Ohhh! I feared this would happen. Something deep down in me knew that if I kept going the way I was, this day was bound to come.

Let me back up just a bit. I actually love believing that what lies just around the corner may be even more wonderful than what I’ve already “tasted” or experienced. It keeps me inquisitive, curious, open to new places, new music, foods I haven’t tried before. So when I come upon something that knocks my socks off, I’m mostly delighted (almost solely delighted) – but I’m a tinge (mind you, a very faint tinge) worried or anxious. What could this possibly mean for the future? Could this mean that there’s not better to come? I might as well just throw up my hands in surrender, with the best of life now most certainly behind me!

Today, facing the ingredients and contemplating the possibilities, my anxiety rose. Dare I continue? But I’m a reckless daredevil and so I did!  I made those cookies that I feared would undo me. And those cookies did.

And, if you can muster the courage  to be undone by a cookie- and I so hope you canbake them – eat them  - share them.

I haven’t even told you why, have I? OK, briefly then: a deep chocolate cookie, no eggs to make it fluffy or bloated, no leavening agent to make it light or lofty. A couple simple ingredients – flour, butter, sugar, and just a wee bit of cream cheese – and then! almond extract and Kirsch (cherry liqueur), dark chocolate chips and dried cranberries. And then a drizzle of Kirsch flavored icing.  ~ ~ You see what I mean?

Black Forest Cookies

  • 2¼ cup (11¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • 3/4 cup super-fine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon Kirsch (or other cherry liqueur)
  • 2 Tablespoons cream cheese, cool room temperature
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Glaze

  • 1 Tablespoon cream cheese – room temperature
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons Kirsch (or other cherry liqueur)
  • 1-1/2 cup (6 ounces) powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa and salt on low speed until combined. With mixer continuing to run on low, drop in the pieces of butter, one at a time, and continue to mix until the mixture looks crumbly and slightly damp, about a minute or so longer. Add the almond extract and Kirsch (or other cherry liqueur) and the cream cheese. Mix for about 30 seconds, then add the chopped cranberries and chocolate chips. Mix just long enough to  distribute.

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pomegranate-pear salad with cheese & walnuts

And how inspiration may oddly strike

When I take a “day off,” I love to pack up my camera and go exploring. Where I end up is often left to whim or chance, with little or no conscious attempt to lay out a plan ahead of time. Day before yesterday was such a day. Dressed for whatever weather may come, my camera bag loaded, car gassed up, I headed out. As it turns out though, all day long it was the grayest of days. No rain, no peeking sun, no moody fog. Just gray. Utterly flat, not a highlight or a shadow to be found anywhere. My camera never left its bag.

When I take a “day off” and am on my own to wander, my second favorite thing to do is amble through antique or second-hand stores. I’m never looking for “fine” things – nothing expensive and rare, but rather more common and sweet. A peace overtakes me as I comb the aisles. Most often, I buy nothing at all.  (OK, this is confession time, so get ready for it.) Every once in a while though, a nostalgia rises so strong that I’m nearly overcome by it. This is a bit embarrassing, but sometimes tears will swell – and even fall – and my heart does pirouettes. The day before yesterday was such a day.

My car had driven me to a little town that’s pretty much an antique itself, as quaint as can be without even trying very hard. I went into one of my favorite stores – upstairs, downstairs, room after room of other people’s lives laid bare for strangers (like me) to see, to finger, to turn over in our hands and examine; books inscribed with faded pen in loving words; tablecloths and bedspreads with histories and the stains to prove it; wooden telephones that hung on kitchen walls no longer standing; wicker doll carriages that little girls pushed beside their mothers’; toy rifles, cowboy hats and vests with fringe; large wide wooden bowls, like our Yaya’s, where yeasted dough would rise on the counter in a sunny spot. Uncommonly lovely remnants of people’s “ordinary” lives. Sometimes it just makes a person cry.

Upstairs, past an extraordinary, imposingly large dining table, set as if for a huge family for Sunday dinner, or maybe Thanksgiving with aunts and uncles and cousins, there stood a simple, painted open bookcase. On it, stacks of mismatched dishes. It was the color that first drew me, my eyes seemingly hungry for red. When I first saw it, mixed with pale cream as it was, I think I might even have let out a little gasp. I know I made some sound. And my heart did that thing I told you about. And my eyes welled up. And I was a goner. I believed or pretended  that I had a decision to make. But really…it was already written.  There wasn’t a chance I was leaving the store without a couple of these loveliest (to me) strawberry plates.

~ ~ ~

I think perhaps Amit had planted a pomegranate seed in my mind a few days ago.  I couldn’t quite shake it.

And when I saw these sweet little dishes, I knew, they were destined for a salad such as this.

~ ~ ~

For most salads I won’t specify amounts. What I like in this salad is a mix of greens – the delicate appearance of the watercress, with its arching stems and little leaves, and the pale prettiness of the endive, and the soft big cupping leaf of the Bibb lettuce, all make for a beautiful contrast. But baby Romaine leaves or a mixed spring blend would also work. Be your own guide as to the amounts of each you like. This would be a lovely salad on a Thanksgiving or Christmas table – or anytime while pomegranates and pears are still in season.

Pomegranate-Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

  • 1 pomegranate
  • Bibb or Boston lettuce, washed, dried & torn
  • Endives, washed, dried and sliced lengthwise
  • Watercress, washed, dried and thicker stems removed
  • 1 Red Pear (or apple if you prefer), thinly sliced
  • Cheese – blue or Gorgonzola (or perhaps goat cheese if you’d rather)
  • Walnuts – toasted long enough to have a toasted-walnut taste (at 325°F for 10 or 15 minutes – watch carefully & taste)

the dressing:

a simple balsamic vinaigrette, proportions of 3 parts olive oil, 1 part balsamic, with salt and pepper to taste. (You might remember I was given a gift of  pomegranate balsamic and naturally I couldn’t resist using it here! Another perhaps equally good option – a pear balsamic. But any balsamic will do!)

another option for a dressing: a raspberry vinaigrette – 2 parts olive oil to 1 part raspberry vinegar, zest of orange, a touch of maple syrup, finely diced red onion, and salt to taste.

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