December 2010 Archives
The rain this morning forced me to cancel a hike with friends, and so I baked cookies for them instead. I was eager to taste the organic, reduced sugar fruit spreads Crofter's had given me, and knew that thumbprint cookies, their indentations designed to be filled with jam or jelly, would be a yummy way to try the preserves.
These cookies are a variation on the first thing I learned to bake. I was 6 years old, my grandmother was visiting, and I begged her to make her brown sugar thumbprint cookies- our name for them was Grandmother Cookies. She showed me how to mix the simple dough by hand, roll spoonfuls of it into rounds, and stick my finger into each to form an indentation- all great fun for a kid’s first attempt at baking. I now form the dough in an electric mixer, but still call these delightful morsels Grandmother Cookies.
I like to feast on domestic white truffles a couple of times during the holiday season. These gems may come in small nuggets, but are compellingly aromatic and are easy to find at several Los Angeles county farmers’ markets. For breakfast or brunch, I slice them over farmers’ market eggs softly scrambled with Parmesan cheese, shallots, and chives. For lunch or dinner, they top a simple risotto. The heat of the warm creamy scramble or rice releases the truffles’ mysteriously earthy aroma, transforming the simple dishes into luxurious holiday meals.
The truffles are sold at the Clearwater Farms’ table at three LA county farmers’ markets: Santa Monica
at Arizona and 3rd Street on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and Hollywood
on Sundays. (Please note, the Santa Monica market will be closed on New Year’s Day.) At $15 an ounce, they are much more reasonable than Italian white truffles. I find ½ ounce per serving makes a good once-a-year treat. When I get my treasures home, I seal them in a glass jar atop arborio
rice for the risotto, and with farmers’ market eggs for our breakfast. Both the eggs and the rice absorb the truffles' fragrance, adding depth of flavor to the final dish.
Baking holiday cookies is a fun project for this cold and wet weekend. I warmed up my kitchen this morning with a big batch of tender rugelach. The contrast of a delicate unsweetened crust wrapped around a sweet nut filling has always made these bite-sized pastries impossible for me to resist. They take a little more work to form than simple drop cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal, but they are so tasty with such an exquisitely fragile texture, every bite reminds me why I like to make them.
Mixing the butter and cream cheese dough the night before simplifies baking day. This morning I sprinkled the dough with nuts, sugar and spice, rolled it up into little rugs (the meaning of rugelach), and popped them in the oven. Within minutes, the cinnamon in the filling scented the house, and made me eager to taste the first batch.
I ordered fresh Italian Marroni chestnuts from a family orchard in the Sacramento valley for our Thanksgiving feast. The chestnuts arrived only a few days after I requested them from the website. I am happy to report that the chestnuts are sweet, tender, and moist. Roasted, they make an excellent winter treat for before dinner or while sitting around a cozy fire.
Correia Chestnut Farm
still has some chestnuts available. Unfortunately, the next shipping date isn’t until January 3. However, I am about to order more of these delicacies, to have on hand for cheering up bitter, rainy, January nights.
To avoid the crowds of holiday shoppers and to give personal gifts, I have started preparing goodies in my kitchen. Today I boiled up a batch of Maple-Nut Pralines. It took me only half an hour to turn out a large batch of confections, and my house smells like maple sugaring time in Vermont.
Pralines are a New Orleans-style candy fashioned from sugar, cream, and pecans. I put my own flavor stamp on these sweets by replacing the standard white sugar with pure maple syrup, stirring in walnuts in addition to pecans, and adding a pinch of nutmeg for a festive touch.
I plan to concoct more candies and bake cookies all during December, and will post some of the recipes on this blog. They will be treats I have thought up over the years and enjoy making again and again. These recipes, and many more, can also be found in Cooking at Home
. I am going to thumb through the book again, to select a cookie to make for the friends I will be visiting this weekend.
The cold, windy weekend weather drove me into the kitchen to bake something comforting. In less than 15 minutes I had mixed together a cornbread batter, and in 10 more minutes enticing aromas accompanied the welcome heat radiating from the oven. It was only minutes longer and a golden, crusty loaf was ready to serve with the maple-molasses butter I had whipped together.
The bread is sweetened with maple syrup and flavored with sage leaves. Whole grain cornmeal offers crunch, and buttermilk imparts tenderness. This recipe makes a reliable starting point, but I have fun changing it around. For a healthier version, I replace the butter with light olive oil or vegetable oil, and use whole wheat flour rather than all purpose. Sometimes I season it with rosemary instead of sage, or use honey as an alternative to maple syrup. I have added generous quantities of freshly ground black pepper, and folded in corn kernels.