Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Canning In The Off-Season

For the last two months I've had a one-gallon crock of saurkraut sitting on the counter. There's a lot of other stuff sitting around on that counter, so a big jar of fermenting cabbage didn't really stick out the way you might imagine it would. Still, it was long past time to move the kraut to a more permanent home.

When I was growing up, my mom didn't exactly celebrate the domestic arts. She was a good cook but never really enjoyed it the way I do. Nonetheless, mom was a faithful canner of tomatoes from our garden and jelly-er of grapes from my nearby grandparent's vines. Every summer, my distant grandparents would arrive with bushels of fresh peaches and Lodi apples. I remember my mom and great-aunt working in the kitchen for hours, peeling, slicing, freezing, and saucing. (Was I helping? Mostly not. I was probably busy being a surly teenager). My point being that, despite the frequent appearance of Spam at our supper table, home preservation of fresh, local foods was part of my family's food culture.

In spite of my initially unhelpful attitude, I've done a bit of canning myself. The summer after I graduated college I decided to grow pickling cucumbers in my parents' garden. Two weeks into my post-graduation trip my mom called to say that the cucumber vines were taking over. Sure enough, those suckers were quite productive and kept me busy harvesting, pickling and canning for the rest of the summer.

Every few years I have the urge to can again. In grad school it was jellies and jams, then for a while I flirted with canning tomatoes and peaches. The saurkraut habit started as a side effect of owning too many books about pickling: I browsed through the fermented pickles chapter once too often. I tried a small batch a few years ago and, having met with success, gave it another go this year.

It's really pretty easy to make: if you can slice cabbage and measure salt, and tolerate a large crock that occupies prime counter space for two months, you can make saurkraut. The kraut probably finished fermenting several weeks ago but I just didn't make the time to deal with it. Plus it was fun to skim off the "bloom," some fungus or whatnot that appears on the surface of the brining liquid, and watch it grow back again. You've just gotta love a recipe that directs you to remove surface scum every three weeks.

Canning saurkraut is not a very traditional New Year's Eve activity, at least not in any tradition that I'm aware of. It's not really necessary to can it anyway, if you have a nice spot in your house that's a constant 38 degrees for kraut storage. But it had reached the point where the kraut had to be tended to, so that the counter would not have been occupied in vain. Truthfully, it felt a bit odd to get out the canning gear on the same day that I shoveled 10" of snow. Canning is supposed to be a summertime sport. It was rather nice, however, to boil a huge cauldron of water on a cold, dry day. Too bad there's no way to make tomatoes wait until winter.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Go Play With Your Food

My son has never really had a "lovey," some kind of stuffed animal or security blanket, that he carries everywhere. He does like to take various objects with him whenever we go out, though. When he was about a year old, he liked to hang on to a spoon when I took him out in the stroller. Now that he's a big boy (all of 2.75 years) he's broadened his objects of desire to include the occasional toy, but more likely than not he'll be clutching a piece of produce when we walk out the door.

For the last few weeks my son has been fixated on potatoes. Part of it stems from his recent mastery of the concepts involving "one" and "two." It was inevitable, therefore, that when Mommy unpacked the big bag of potatoes from the grocery sack, he immediately begged for me to give him just one potato. (Well, what he actually said was "wah, wah, wah!" but I knew what he meant). Having obtained just one potato, he immediately began lobbying for another.

The two potatoes have been everywhere. They roamed around the house, danced to music, rode along in the car (in the cup holder, of course). They even misbehaved when my son had the brilliant idea of using the potatoes to push things off of the table, when I told him to stop doing that himself. (I then found myself uttering words that I never, ever envisioned myself saying: "Do I have to put that potato in a Time Out?"). One potato even got wrapped up in a cozy foil blanket: I was wrapping burritos to re-warm in the oven and my son cried out for some foil to play with. Wrapping the potato seemed like the thing to do.

A few weeks ago, the foil-wrapped potato came along to a playgroup. We walked into our local Family Network and the nice lady kindly asked, "What've you got there?" when my son proudly brandished his pet. "It's a potato," I replied. "Oh...a baked potato?" was the still-kind, but puzzled response. "No," I sighed, "It's a raw potato. He just wanted to wrap it up in foil." I'm sure the kindly lady put this down as typical, odd toddler behavior, or at least I hope she did.

Another mom's comment has me reconsidering the meaning of my son's love affair with food as playthings. The mom has a young child as well as a job, and mentioned that she'd rather spend time with her son than be tied to the stove. Now granted, since I'm not working an outside job (in addition to being mommy), I probably spend more time cooking than I would otherwise. And, my son is usually playing in the kitchen alongside me while I cook, unless he can't keep to our safety rules and has to be sent to the adjacent playroom for a little while. Nevertheless, he likes to do what mommy is doing, and mommy is in the kitchen an awful lot.

My son also loves to play with a bar of soap - the kind that comes in a box. great entertainment that is, opening the box, taking the soap out and putting it back. My son carries soap everywhere, too, and it's certainly NOT because he sees Mommy cleaning all the time. So maybe, just maybe, it really is typical, odd toddler behavior.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wigilia - The Director's Cut

Here's the final menu from our Christmas Eve feast:

Crabcakes; wild mushroom soup; roasted cod with arugula; kapusta (saurkraut) with mushrooms; potato-cheese and saurkraut-mushroom pierogies; fruit compote, Panforte di Siena and rugelach for dessert.

My cookbooks tell me that the Wigilia feast should have an odd number of courses (or dishes, I guess) - seven, nine, or eleven. If you count all the desserts as one course, it brings the total to seven. I had also picked up the ingredients to make cucumbers in sour cream (a favorite of my hubby) and cauliflower baked in a cream sauce (because I felt compelled to have another vegetable). The thought of nine courses for just four people was a bit much, however, so I saved those recipes for another day.

We ended up doing a simple treatment with the cod, based on an Epicurious recipe. The cod was seasoned with salt and pepper, fried on one side in a hot cast-iron skillet, then flipped over and finished in a 400F oven for about 5 minutes. We served it with a simple arugula salad, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and the kapusta. The arugula went surprisingly well with the cod; the kapusta, not so much - the flavors were too strong for the fish. In retrospect, it might have worked better to serve the kapusta as a separate course with the pierogies, perhaps as an appetizer. Although that would have brought us to three appetizer courses!

I found a recipe for Polish Dried Fruit Compote (Kompot) on, and then - as usual - ignored most of the instructions. I did stick with the 1 1/2 pounds of dried fruit, 8 cloves and 2 cinnamon stick directives, but added much less water (~3 cups instead of 8) and sugar (1/3 cup instead of a whole cup; I think dried fruit is sweet enough). I also added a splash of brandy (works for fruitcake - why not fruit compote?).

The recipe's notes say that compote was originally made with twelve dried fruits, to represent the twelve apostles. It took some scrounging around the pantry, but we came up with 12 (mostly) different fruits: figs and prunes, which were purchased just for this recipe; dried currents, dried pineapple, golden and regular raisins, which were leftover from holiday baking; dried cranberries, apricots, and peaches, which we have on hand for my son's snacks; dried lychees and red dates, which I use to make Eight-Treasures Tea; and finally dried chestnuts, which I bought to make Korean ginseng-stuffed chicken (but never did).

OK, you caught me - the chestnuts are not really fruits. Or maybe they are? I don't know enough of chestnut tree biology to address that question. The recipe author on (and my husband) wondered which of the twelve fruity apostles was supposed to be Judas; I'm thinking that if it has to be someone, the chestnuts are it. At any rate, the stuff smelled delicious whilst it was simmering in the kitchen, and the chestnuts came out quite tasty.

Altogether, dinner lasted about four hours (not counting the snacking we did all afternoon on cheese, bread, nuts, and olives). We took our time with it; most of the dishes were prepared during the day and re-heated as we went. I was still pretty full when I woke up this morning.

...but we somehow managed to eat a little breakfast. I'd bought a huge Panettone that sufficed to feed us while our son opened his presents. Later in the morning, I used the Wigilia leftovers to make a big breakfast based on a specialty at a local diner: crabcakes benedict. I toasted some baguette slices and topped them with some arugula. I warmed a couple of leftover crabcakes were re-warmed in a skillet then placed on top of the arugula. I put fried eggs on the crabcakes, and topped the whole thing off with some mushrooms from the soup. Yum. We were so busy eating last night that I forgot to take pictures, but I did get a shot of our breakfast this morning.

Now off to cook more food. Today will be easy; I'll bake the leftover kapusta with some kielbasa. More pierogies are awaiting their fate in my freezer; it's simple enough to fry them up. I might even get around to making those cucumbers in sour cream.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Functionally Polish

I don't remember what my family used to eat on Christmas Eve. Probably, I was too excited about the next morning to pay much attention to what was on the dinner table. I do recall, however, what was served on Christmas Day for many years: a Pennsylvania Dutch concoction called "Dutch Goose," which is comprised of a pig's stomach stuffed with sausage and potatoes. My generation was sufficiently removed from the family's farm that Dutch Goose held a maximum ick factor - I used to eat the filling within a one-inch border around the hog casing. In later years, the Dutch Goose was replaced with a crown roast of pork - much more kid-friendly, with its top hat-like paper frills.

In my husband's family, Christmas Eve is a big event. They still have a traditional Polish Wigilia feast (say "Veel-ee-yah"). As I understand it, Wigilia means "vigil" as in waiting for the Christ child. The meal is traditionally meatless.

My father-in-law does most of the cooking for their family and prepares fish cakes, stuffed mushrooms, homemade pierogies - both potato-cheese and saurkraut, - boiled shrimp, and more. The first few years that we were married, my hubby and I would make it to the feast on alternate years. Now that we have our little guy, however, we've been staying home for Christmas. Since I don't have a strong emotional attachment to Christmas Eve foods, I'm happy to make a Wigilia feast for my husband. (Heck, even if I did have a strong emotional attachment I'd probably be up for making the feast anyway. Let's call a spade a spade - I'm a cooking junkie).

I had my first truly authentic Polish Wigilia a few years ago, prepared by my friend Marta (the guest cook in our paczki episode). While we were enjoying that delicious meal it became apparent that some of my husband's family traditions differ from Marta's. Subsequent conversations with other Polish-American families have revealed further divergence from the homeland. Such as, whether or not to serve soup (my hubby's family: no, Marta's family: why, of course).

Marta is joining us for Wigilia supper this year and I'm a little worried about what to make. I bought pierogies and saurkraut at a Polish deli, so I've got that covered, and Marta is making a mushroom soup - but I need to come up with a fish thing. I like fish but it's one of those things that I can't quite get right when I try to cook it. Or at least, when I try to cook it Polish-style.

I can handle a basic saute, or baked fish recipe, and I have a couple of Indian and Korean recipes that work OK for me, but my Polish cookbooks leave me stymied - all the recipes call for fish types that I can't seem to find. When was the last time you saw pike in the market? Or carp? Last year I decided on tilapia and stood patiently in line with the rest of the horde at Super88 on Christmas Eve to get a freshly-killed fish. I passed the time by consulting with a fellow shopper on how much fish I needed to feed 4 people. She recommended a 2-lb tilapia. Well, that might have worked out all right if I'd cooked the fish whole, but when I brought the little fella home and my hubby tried to fillet it, there just wasn't that much fish. I guess that tilapia is not a big filleting fish? I ended up sending the hubby out to the grocery store for supplemental tilapia.

Frankly, I'm a bit tempted to sneak in one of those Indian or Korean fish recipes to our Wigilia supper, since I know that they will turn out OK. Marta's husband is Korean-American, and my son is ethnically Korean, so it's not such a wild idea, really. These days, many families are culturally blended; does it really matter if our traditional Polish feast is not 100% Polish? There's a trend amongst adoptive parents with children of international origins to refer to the whole family as Chinese-American, or Irish-Ethiopean, etc. - basically applying the cultural sum of the family members to the family as a whole, to help create a family identity. In that vein, our full family identity is Polish-American-Korean-WASP, but we jokingly refer to ourselves as Functionally Polish since that's the type of food I'm usually cooking for holidays. As I learn more Korean dishes, however, that's likely to change; my son's last two birthday parties have been billed as "kimchee and kapusta" events.

At any rate, my menu is almost set and cod was the winning fish. I picked it up this morning when I was running errands; after the weekend's storm and other events, I don't have the fortitude to face the Super88 fish counter tomorrow. Marta's coming over early to make the soup, so maybe I can get her to help me pick a recipe for the fish. I'll let y'all know how it all comes out.

A Quick Note Between Errands

Just stopping by briefly to let you all know that we added a few more cookie recipes to the Neighborhood Dish website (see We had planned to re-broadcast our first-ever show, Holiday Cookies, for the rest of December. The show is the same but we've added our groovy graphics and a plug for the extra recipes on the website. As of last weekend, however, the bachelor episode was still running. Hopefully, Holiday Cookies will make it into the lineup for MATV's holiday programming - if not, no big whoop...the main thing is that I wanted to get the word out about the recipes.

Off to run more errands...Happy Baking, and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Panforte di Siena

Why don't more people like fruitcake? Maybe they would if more people made them from scratch. Maybe they would if more fruitcakes had chocolate in them.

This is yet another recipe I collected during the heyday of Gail's Recipe Swap. It was originally posted by Julie R - WA. I made one today because I'm still trying to use up leftover ingredients, but it's usually on my to-do list of goodies anyway. (I was trying to not go overboard this year, and now I'm a bit worried that I won't have enough. More baking!).

As usual, I've taken a relatively simple recipe and added copious instructions - all to help ensure success in your kitchens. Can't have users posting comments that the recipe didn't work, now can we :-) Please don't be put off by my lengthy notes; this fruitcake has a wonderful, chewy texture rich with chocolate and apricot flavors. A little goes a long way so in my opinion it's worth the effort.

I also do a few things that are probably not traditional, but I'm OK with it. You have some latitude with this recipe, too - last year I forgot to add the almonds, so I just pressed them on top after the batter was spread in the pan. If you don't have dried apricots or candied pineapple, you could substitute dried peaches, pears, or cranberries. I used dried pineapple today.

I like to add wedges of this to my cookie plates - the light color of the nuts contrasts prettily with the dark chocolate of the batter. If you have a set of those individual cheesecake pans - the 4"-diameter springform pans - you can make 5 mini-panfortes to give as gifts (the baking time is about the same).

4 ounces almonds
4 ounces hazelnuts
2 ounces dried apricots
2 ounces candied pineapple
2 ounces of candied orange and lemon peel
2/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon good ground cinnamon
2 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, broken into pieces or coarsely chopped [chocolate chips are fine; I usually use whatever semi- or bittersweet chocolate that I have on hand]
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
powdered sugar (for sprinkling)

[I start by toasting the almonds and hazelnuts for 10 minutes at 350 F. They can go onto the same baking pan but keep them in separate piles; when the nuts have cooled, rub the skins off of the hazelnuts. You can rub them individually or wrap them in towel and rub the whole bunch at once].

Prepare an 8-inch cake pan by greasing well. [I like to use a springform pan. I butter the pan, lay a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, and then butter the parchment].

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Chop the almonds, hazelnuts, apricots, pineapple, and candied peels.
Put the sugar and honey into a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, then reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the chopped fruit and nuts in a large, heavy glass or ceramic bowl (this will make it easier to mix the dough). Add the flour, cinnamon and cocoa and mix well.

Turn off the heat under the pan, add the chocolate and stir until it melts. Pour the chocolate mixture over the fruit-nut mixture (drizzle it all over to make it easier to incorporate) and stir with a really heavy wooden spoon. You can use a rubber spatula to scrape the chocolate out of the pan, but it will not be strong enough to stir this dough.

The batter is VERY heavy, like clay...after a few turns with the wooden spoon I usually give up and "knead" it with my hands. The batter is also sticky (to itself, not so much your hands). There is basically just enough dough to hold all the fruit and nuts together.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and press it into place. Use the back of your fist to push it out into an even layer, or as even as you can get it.

Bake for 35 minutes. The batter will still look "wet" over most of the surface of the cake - it's important to not overbake it or the edges will be dry. If you see little holes appear over the surface of the cake (from releasing steam), it's done.

Let the cake cool in the pan. Remove the cake, wrap it in foil, and it stand overnight. The cake will keep for weeks if it is wrapped in foil (you do not need to refrigerate it). To serve, sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar and cut into wedges. I use a big 10" chef's knife and cut it in half, then into quarters, then each quarter into 6 wedges.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Couple of Ways To Go Nuts

I always seem to overbuy ingredients for my holiday baking. One of these years I just might figure out exactly how many cookies I truly need and therefore be able to shop more accurately. Until that happens, there are a few recipes I rely on to consume the leftovers.

These are two of my favorite recipes that use up lots of nuts. Both can be prepared ahead of time and frozen, so you can make them now and get them out for your next party. The Union Square bar nuts are especially nice when they are warm from the oven.

Candied Curried Pecans (from Bon Appetit magazine, Nov. 2002)

1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
3 cups pecan halves

1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Mix onion powder, garlic powder, 1 teaspoon salt, curry powder, and cayenne pepper in small bowl to blend.

2. Melt butter and honey with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add pecan halves and stir to coat; remove from heat. Add spice mixture and toss to coat pecans evenly. Spread pecans in single layer on prepared baking sheet.

3. Bake pecans until dry and toasted, about 40 minutes [in my experience, the baking time is closer to an hour. The nuts should get darker and will be crisp when they are cool. Since they are not crispy while they are still hot, I take one or two off of the pan and taste them after they've cooled a bit to be sure that they're done]. Cool completely. Separate pecans. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

The Union Square Cafe's Bar Nuts

2 1/4 cups (18-ounces) whole unsalted nuts [I like to use cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans. You can also add peanuts and Brazil nuts. Oh, and if all you have is salted cashews, you can either give them a quick rinse in a colander to remove some of the salt, or you can just not worry about it and use a little less kosher salt in the recipe].
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet (with a rim) that is large enough to hold them in a single layer (a 9x13" cake pan will do). Toast in the oven until the nuts are fragrant and light golden brown in color, about 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt and melted butter.

4. Add the toasted nuts to the bowl containing the spices and butter and mix well. Serve the nuts warm, or let them cool and store in an airtight container (zip-top bag) for a few days.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Something Pithy About Baking

(Sorry about the lame-o title; for once I'm at a loss for words. Maybe i'll think of something better later).

I've never contributed user comments to a recipe on Epicurious, but I do love to read them. Call me lazy for benefitting from others' work without contributing, but really, most recipes have enough user comments already - what else is there for me to say?

Some recipes are downright controversial - half the users love it and think it's the easiest thing ever, the other half say it's a complete disaster. What's really interesting is when one user attempts to diagnose the problems encountered by other users. Case in point: I just made a chocolate biscotti recipe. Some people said that the cookies came out perfectly, whereas others complained that the dough was much too wet and spread all over the place. Enter the sleuths: one user surmised that those plagued by runny dough were adding all 4 eggs (as listed in the ingredients) to the batter, instead of using the 4th egg as a wash for the prepared loaves (as instructed in the directions). Fascinating - now there's a cook that knows a thing or two about cooking. And about how other people cook.

The failure to follow directions can't explain all of the negative reviews for a recipe, but the diagnosis of that problem is a good reminder to read the recipe carefully :-) For the record, my biscotti came out just fine - no issues with sticky dough.

My main objective was to use up some hazelnuts and a chocolate biscotti seemed like a good match (all those people eating Nutella can't be wrong). I swapped out the candied ginger for candied orange peel (because I was trying to use that up, too) and the taste is OK but in retrospect, I would have preferred the ginger. I also skipped the drizzling-with-white-chocolate part, because I wanted to differentiate them more fully from the Cranberry-White Chocolate biscotti on the cookie plates (see the Puttin' on the Spritz post for more on my obsession with attractive arrangements of cookies).

Which brings me to another thing I love about user reviews: cooks who make so many changes that they end up preparing something altogether different from the published recipe. Don't get me wrong, I'm a major tinkerer myself; the thing that I am fascinated with is why someone would take the time to write, "I loved this recipe! I used a grapefruit instead of the almonds, substituted chicken for the wild boar sausage and cooked it over a slow grill rather than stir-fry, and it came out PERFECT." I'm being more than a little facetious but you get the idea...the well-meaning user has actually reviewed a different recipe. Fascinating stuff, indeed.

Anyway, here's the biscotti recipe: (and no, I haven't yet figured out how to embed html links into text). These cookies have a nice chocolately taste, and they can be baked well ahead of time because there isn't any butter. (The cranberry-white chocolate biscotti, which have lots of butter, will remain at their prime for about 3 weeks). The batter is easy to work with and would probably do well with a variety of ingredients: almonds, pecans, cranberries...hmm maybe that's what all those creative user review-writers are getting at.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Biscotti Baking Tips

These are also posted on our website,, under the Recipes section.

• Make sure the biscotti dough is well mixed - take it out of the mixer bowl, dump into another bowl to be sure there isn't a puddle of wet ingredients at the bottom
• Use a scale to weigh the batch of dough, then divide by the number of "logs" the recipe calls for (i.e., 2 pounds of dough, 4 logs = 8 oz per log or 1/2 lb)
• If the dough is very sticky, you can wrap the portions in plastic, shape into a thick, short log and put in the fridge for a while to firm up a little. Then roll the dough out of the plastic and onto a floured surface to do the final rolling into a log. (Roll the logs in cocoa or sugar for a chocolate biscotti recipe)
• Most doughs need to be flattened a little after the logs are shaped, to get the most even baking throughout the loaf.
• Use parchment paper to line baking sheets. A piece of parchment can be re-used a few times.
• Slices can be baked "standing up" on the cookie sheet. This saves your fingers from trying to flip hot cookies and also takes up less space. The baking time is the same as if you flip them (i.e. 10 min, flip, 10 min = 20 min when standing).
• To decorate with melted chocolate, put wax paper down to cover the counter and set a couple of cooling racks on top. Place biscotti on cooling racks. The cookies should be lying on their sides and be spaced close together, but not touch each other.
• Put chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate) into a zip-top quart-size freezer bag. Melt the chocolate in the bag by microwaving it for 15 seconds at a time; smoosh the chocolate around between bursts of microwaving by squeezing the bag (this is really fun). When the chocolate is evenly melted, smoosh all of the chocolate to the bottom of the bag and snip off the tip of the corner. Now use the freezer bag like a pastry bag and rapidly move the bag back and forth over the cookies while gently squeezing the bag, so the chocolate drizzles all over. (I usually go at a diagonal). It is important that all of the chocolate is melted, or the chunks will block the opening in the bag.
• Let the chocolate set up completely (put the cookies in the fridge for a few minutes, if you have to) and then store in tins between layers of waxed paper. This is a really easy way to make your biscotti (or any other cookie) look much harder to make than they actually were. I always use white chocolate for biscotti - you don't need to worry about tempering it, because a cocoa butter “bloom” won't be visible.
• Let the loaves of biscotti cool COMPLETELY before attempting to cut into slices. Especially important if there is chocolate chips in the dough.
• Use a serrated knife to score the tops of the loaves, then cut the slices with a sharp chef's or utility knife (I like the utility knife because the blade is thinner).

Puttin' On The Spritz

I baked some Christmas cookies today. I love to bake cookies, even though I usually have a lot of "technical difficulties." I try to make detailed notes about each recipe but as the season rolls around again each year I find myself in the kitchen facing a messy bowl of batter, half of which has been used up trying to get the cookie size and baking times just right.

I know, I know - I need to let go of my obsession with wanting all of the cookies in each batch to come out looking the same. I'm not a professional, and I don't really aspire to be, but it would be nice if I could get all the biscotti to be approximately the same length. (Actually, biscotti are one cookie that I've gotten pretty good at; I'll post my biscotti-baking tips later).

Another issue with which I grapple is the need to have a pleasing "composition" on the cookie plate. The cookies have to taste good, of course, but I want that visual appeal as well. That means there can be only so many round, oblong, or square cookies. Ya gotta mix it up! I also like to work in a little "punch" of color.

"Spritz" butter cookies seemed like the ideal answer to both problems - if you use a cookie press, you can make any number of differently-shaped cookies, and you can add food color to the dough. After many batches of those cookies, however, I can state with some authority that those spritz can get you into trouble.

Start with the dough itself - too loose and the cookies spread out, losing the details in their shape; too tough and the cookies don't taste as good. I finally found a recipe that I can work with - the cookies are very rich, buttery and have a nice "bite" to them. It's Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for butter spritz and if I remember, I'll post it later too.

The real trouble began when I tried to spruce up my spritz - which was the reason, you may recall, that I was baking them in the first place. Apparently I do not have an eye for color when it comes to cookies - there's some magic formula involving food color and cookie dough that I haven't quite determined. Last years' batch of hot pink cookies was not terribly appetizing; neither are the grey-tinged green trees I produced today. (See the photo - they actually look more appealing here than in real life. More like green arrowheads than trees, really - maybe I'll save them for St. Patrick's Day...)

Fortunately I've learned from my mistakes and know that the occasional flash of pink on a plate of traditionally-dressed cookies isn't as startling as the whole herd of Pinky Tuscaderos, so I didn't panic (too much) about my ailing trees.

As for different shapes, I've almost given up on that. You know that plate on the cookie press that makes little flower-shaped cookies? And how the center of the cookie just cries out to be filled with a chocolate chip? Well if your cookies dough recipe is one of those that spreads and loses details when baked, the cookies come out being a striking resemblance to, ah, shall we say - a body part that is not found on a man. That's not what I had in mind when I said that I wanted to spice up my cookies!

Monday, December 1, 2008

One More Thing To Do With Turkey

We had a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year - an all-day appetizer fest, which I'll write more about later - so I didn't make a roast turkey until yesterday. Which is too bad, because I also forgot about this recipe, which is great to use up leftover turkey meat. The recipe was orginially posted on a now-defunct forum called Gail's Recipe Swap on the Epicurious website. Gails' is archived here : and is somewhat searchable, although that function doesn't always work.

At any rate, here's the recipe. I'll be making this later today...enjoy!

Pumpkin Turkey Black Bean Chili

From: Gail’s Recipe Swap, posted by Jackie in PA

2 T oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1 ½ t dried oregano
1 ½ t ground cumin
1 ½ t chili powder
3 cups beef broth (I use homemade turkey stock)
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained
1 can (14 ½ oz.) diced tomatoes, not drained
1 can (16 oz.) pumpkin
2 ½ cups chopped cooked turkey
½ cup cream sherry
¼ t salt
Dash of ground pepper

Heat oil in Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and peppers. Saute until quite soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in oregano, cumin, and chili powder and cook for 1 more minute.

Add broth, beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, turkey, sherry, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, over low heat.