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Posts tagged ‘holiday’

spreezza!

Oh, you’ve not heard of it? Spreezza’s that immensely popular little dessert pizza, covered with marscarpone cheese, topped with juicy fresh fruits, drizzled with  some delectable sauce or other, some even scattered with herbs. Oh, you’ve not heard of them?  I guess I must have made it up.

It begins with a good pizza dough….

This No-Knead Pizza Dough is bubbly, chewy, crispy and better than you’ll find at most pizza parlors. It can be used for ALL manner of pizzas – nothing at all about it restricts it to the dessert realm – in fact I’m the one who’s taken it there. It’s a take on the now-famous No-Knead Bread of Jim Lahey (owner of Sullivan St. Bakery in NYC) who introduced it a number of years back to rave reviews. I posted the bread late last year but if you missed the post and would like to take a look, you can check it out hereThis pizza dough, like the bread that inspired it, derives its wonderful complex flavor from its overnight fermentation. So the only thing you have to consider moving forward is to start it the day before you plan to enjoy it.

Now if you’ve got a hankering for a spreezza and you don’t want to wait til tomorrow, you can always begin with a store-bought dough (Trader Joe’s has a very good one), skip all this that I’m about to tell you about the dough, and move quickly to the spreezza recipe further down. But you might want to return to this dough another time, because it really is wonderful.

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(Each of the following 10 to 12″ pizzas will make about 4 portions of dessert, 2 slices per person. About the same amount would hold true if being served for brunch with accompanying eggs and/or meats and other items. For breakfast, I’d allow more per person…maybe half a Spreezza per person. You can halve the recipe easily if you like. Or make the whole thing, break it into portions, wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days to use in other ways…like a traditional pizza. Or stay tuned because I’ve got another fun idea coming up very soon! Flavor and texture of the dough will not suffer at all for the extra time spent in the fridge. If you want to wrap and chill ahead, just allow 2 to 3 hours once they come out of the fridge for unwrapped dough balls to rest before forming into pizza pies.)

No-Knead Pizza Dough

makes six 10″ to 12″ pizzas

(about 20½ hours, with only 90 minutes active time)

  • 7½ cups all-purpose flour (3 lb. 1.5 oz. or 1000 grams) plus more for shaping loaves later
  • 4 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast

Half recipe of the No-Knead Pizza Dough

makes three 10″ to 12″ pizzas

  • 3¾ cups all-purpose flour plus more for shaping loaves later (1 lb. 14 oz. or 850 kg.)
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast

Whisk flour, salt and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water (1½ cups if halving the recipe!). Stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring together  and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic and allow the dough to rise at room temperature in a draft-free place until the surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size. About 18 hours time, though time will vary depending on the temperature of the room. 

Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions (or 3 if halving the recipe.) Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to the center to create 4 folds. Turn seam-side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust the dough with flour; set aside on the work surface or floured baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining portions.

Let the dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour.

To Bake the Pizza Dough

During the last hour of the dough’s resting, prepare the oven. If using a pizza stone, place a rack in the upper third of the oven, put the pizza stone on it and preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500° – 550°F (260° – 290°C.) (If using a baking sheet, no need to preheat that.)

Working with 1 dough piece at a time, dust the dough generously with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a 10″ to 12″ disk (25-30 cm.)

If using a pizza stone - Sprinkle a pizza peel or rimless (or inverted rimmed) baking sheet lightly with flour. Place dough disk on the peel or prepared baking sheet, and, using back-and-forth movements, slide pizza from peel onto the hot pizza stone. Bake the pizza, rotating halfway through, until the bottom crust is crisp and the top is blistered, about 5 – 7 minutes total. If using this pizza dough for a Spreezza, brush with melted butter when you rotate the pizza. 

Spreezza! 

(pronounced spreé-tza)

Now, here is where this whole thing turns so fun! I’ll give guidelines for 2 versions here. I’ll share others as seasonal fruits appear. This isn’t science. This isn’t hard-and-fast measurements. This is Playing with Food! 

for each 10-12″ pizza, you will want – approximately:

Marscapone Layer

  • Marscarpone cheese – 8 ounces
  • zest of ½ lemon (about 1 Tablespoon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons (to 3 tsp.) powdered sugar

Berries

  • Fresh strawberries – ½ - ¾ cup, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons (to 3) powdered sugar (for strawberries)
  • zest of ½ lemon added to strawberries
  • Fresh raspberries – ½ cup
  • Fresh blueberries – ½ cup
  • lemon thyme – a couple sprigs
  • blueberry balsalmic vinegar – or good quality aged balsamic vinegar
  • OPTIONAL: Additional Powdered Sugar, sifted - you may want this especially if you’re serving for dessert as opposed to a brunch or breakfast


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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

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!

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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.

Mexican wedding cookies

When my brother and his new wife were married at our home this summer, our Mom brought Mexican wedding cookies. Every year they also appear at Christmas. They’re a lovely, buttery little cookie, tasting of toasty walnuts and covered with a dusting of white. They look like a snowball rolled downhill to me and seem so right on a plate of holiday cookies. But, somebody named them first, so Mexican wedding cookies they are.

We’ve had a busy four or five days. We’d feasted on Thanksgiving with fifteen around our table. Friday we finished cleaning up after the feast and then briefly braved the crowds. Saturday, after pulling boxes and boxes from the attic, our Christmas tree was lit and dressed with ornaments collected over years. Sunday, we had family for breakfast before they headed out of town. With no precise plan for the rest of the day, a little slow and easy pre-holiday baking sounded more restful than a nap.

I’d made this snowy little confection recently as part of a cookie platter we took to a party. I do remember pulling the recipe card from its sleeve inside a large binder, but its space was now vacant. I looked in files I keep near by desk, files filled with ideas to sample and recipes I intend to post. Not there. I looked in my cookbooks, thinking maybe I’d used the recipe card as a bookmark.  (Truth is: I looked in each of those places several times, disbelieving my eyesight the times before.) I looked in all kinds of unlikely places too, places I’m a bit embarrassed to confess. (Might I have left it in the laundry room on one of my many trips there? You never know.) But gradually it became clear: Mom’s recipe had gone missing.

Plan B: I’d seen a recipe for the same cookie in a special baking issue of Cook’s Illustrated and I’d wanted to sample it anyway. Thought I’d try it side-by-side my mom’s. The side-by-side would have to wait.

We’ve loved this cookie of mom’s. Trying to prepare myself for the possibility, I thought: No matter which recipe I end up using in the future, I’ll always associate this cookie with mom and the holidays. It will always be her cookie. Until yesterday, I had two unanswered questions: Can we improve upon perfection? and Why should we even try? I’ve explained the why part. Let me speak to improving upon perfection:

The Cook’s Illustrated  cookie is not overly sweet, but neither was my mom’s. And it has a wonderful texture. (Some I’ve tried are a bit dry and with no particular taste.  Again, not my mom’s.)  But where this version shone is in its walnut-ier taste and its supreme tenderness. (The secret: half of the two cups of these healthful nuts are ground, lending their good oil to the mix – and the other half are chopped, providing their softly nutty bite.)  Conclusion:

This cookie is one tender, melt-in-the-mouth, dribble-a little-powdery-sugar-on-your-sweater bite of deliciousness!

And yes, every once in a long while, we may need to update our notion of perfection.

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While enjoying  a cookie or two with a cup of tea, I combed through some cookbooks that had come down through my mom’s family, some of them from as far back as the early 1900′s. Some of the ingredients, wow! At least a couple dozen updates to “perfection” have to have taken place since then!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

(Makes about 4 dozen)

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) walnuts (or pecans)
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 sticks (16 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (2.5 ounces) superfine sugar (see NOTE on how to make your own)
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (approximate) – for dusting

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle-and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or use silicon mats.

Using a food processor, grind 1 cup of walnuts to coarse cornmeal texture (10 to 15 seconds.) Transfer to medium bowl. Using either the food processor or chopping by hand, coarsely chop the remaining cup of nuts. (5 seconds in food processor.) Transfer to the same bowl and add the flour and salt.

In a large bowl, either using hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the butter and superfine sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. With mixer on low, slowly add the flour-nut mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl and beaters, then continue to beat on low speed until the dough is cohesive. (About 7 seconds.)

Working with one tablespoon at a time, press and roll dough together into balls and lay on prepared sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies until pale gold and the bottoms are just beginning to brown, about 18 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through the baking.

Allow cookies to cool on the cooking sheet for 10 minutes, then move to cooling rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

Using either a bowl or a paper bag filled with confectioners’ sugar, roll the cookies to coat. Just before serving, re-roll and gently shake off any excess.

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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.)

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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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