05 December 2018: More Classic Holiday Cookies – Natale Cookies

2018-Dec-05_stuff_2793Unbelievably, this year, I’ve been drawn away from chocolate cookies toward citrus-y cookies! I know, there are Peanut Butter Blossoms in my (baking) future, but so far I’ve been working on something entirely different.

Again, The Boston Globe’s Classic Holiday Cookie article is my source. Three bakes in and every single one has been a winner!  Today’s recipe for Natale Cookies comes from Linda Marino and is a great nod to my ethnic heritage. Can Feast of the Seven Fishes be far behind?

Natale Cookies

adapted by Linda Marino

Ingredients for cookies:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract

Ingredients for Icing

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons milk (I used Flor d’Sicilia in place of OJ – about 1/2 tsp; and substituted the other tsp of OJ with milk)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons rainbow nonpareils or sprinkles or colored sugar, for decorating

Method

  1. In a bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder to blend.
  2. In an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese at medium speed until well combined. Add thesugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla and orange extracts.
  3. With the mixer set on its lowest speed, blend in the flour mixture just until no white patches show. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or until the dough is cold.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. On lightly floured counter, pinch off a generous teaspoon of dough. Roll it under your palm into a rope about 6 inches long. Gently knot the rope to create a round. Set knots on the baking sheets with the ends tucked under, about 1 inch apart. Continue rolling and shaping knots until all the dough is used.
  6. Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, or until they are set and starting to brown. Transfer the parchment sheets to wire racks; leave the cookies to cool.
  7. Make the icing: Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of the milk and 1 teaspoon of the orange juice and stir until the mixture forms a smooth icing. Add the remaining milk and orange juice and stir until the icing falls easily from a spoon.
  8. Remove the parchment sheets from the wire rack. Set 1 rack on a rimmed baking sheet.
  9. Pick up a cookie, turn it upside down, and dip it into the icing. Set it right side up on the wire rack. Continue until all the cookies are dipped. Sprinkle with nonpareils, sprinkles, or colored sugar. Leave to cool completely
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29 November 2018: Laura Raposa’s Coconut Orange Macaroons

2018-Nov-29_Fournightsaweek_2767In general, I don’t keep a lot of home-baked sweets in our house. I do so, not as a lofty statement against sugar consumption. I do it because I love them too much! But after Thanksgiving has gone by, there is some strange phenomenon that occurs: I feel the need to bake cookies.

I like to make something either from my heritage or childhood, or something that might not be the usual. Oh, I like sugar cut-outs (and I do have my Aunt Eleanor’s killer recipe for cut-out cookies using Jello as one of the sugars), and I enjoy decorating, but I love to find a cookie with an unusual taste or texture.

Sheryl Julian, the Boston Globe’s excellent food editor, recently published this article about Classic Holiday Cookies in the Sunday Globe magazine. So far, I’ve made 2 of these recipes and plans are materializing to bake the others. Today I made Laura Raposa’s Orange-Coconut Macaroons and promptly froze them for our holiday dessert plate.  The fragrance of orange completely blew me away.

Laura Raposa’s Orange Coconut Macaroons (as adapted by Sheryl Julian)

Makes about 22

Ingredients

  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Grated rind of 1 navel orange or scant 1/4 teaspoon or orange oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flaked, unsweetened coconut
  • 3 1/4 cups flaked, sweetened coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (Either my oven is too hot or this temperature was a bit too much for the cookies to bake 18 minutes; monitor and turn down as needed)
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. In an electric mixer, combine the condensed milk, egg whites, vanilla, orange rind or oil, salt, and unsweetened and sweetened coconut. Beat on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, until thoroughly incorporated.
  4. Scoop 2 tablespoons of the batter (a small ice cream scoop works well) onto a baking sheet, and continue making mounds, leaving 1 inch between them. Dip your fingers into a bowl of cold water and shape the dough into mounds, smoothing out any feathery edges.
  5. Bake the macaroons for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they are light golden brown. Let them cool on the baking sheets.
  6. Meanwhile, fill a saucepan with several inches of water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl that will fit neatly into the pan without touching the water. Melt the chocolate in the bowl, stirring occasionally.
  7. Remove the chocolate from the heat and wipe the bottom of the bowl dry. Dip a fork into the melted chocolate and drizzle it over the macaroons in a crisscross pattern. (I skipped this, but for gifting or to be fancy, it sounds delicious).
  8. Let the chocolate cool on the cookies. Use a wide metal spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet.
  9. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

31 October 2018: Exploring Apéritif

2018-Oct-30_FourNightsAWeek_2704_edited-1Apéritif – just the word by itself sounds elegant and refined. We could all use a little elegance these days, so after discovering an entire book dedicated to this (nightly) ritual in a recent New York Times article (The 19 Best Cookbooks of Fall 2018), it was time to start expanding my pre-dinner horizons. 

The book recommended in the Times, Rebekah Peppler’s Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way, suggests pre-dinner cocktails according to the seasons. As it is Autumn here in New England, we’ve started to work our way through beginning with this delicious drink named “Adonis”.

À ta santé!

Adonis

  • 1 1/2 oz. dry, light sherry (I used Fino)
  • 1 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • orange peel

In a mixing glass or shaker filled with ice, combine the sherry, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Use a cocktail stirrer to stir for 15 seconds until the cocktail is very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and pinch the orange peel to express the citrus oils. Discard the orange peel (or use it as a decoration, as I did).


05 September 2018: Refreshing Quinoa Salad

2018-Sep-05_fournightsaweek_2642Even though we are beyond Labor Day, we are experiencing one of those New England heat waves where the temperatures and humidity almost make one long for winter. Well, maybe not. 

I discovered this quinoa-based salad from Leah Matthews in Vegetarian Times. It really is delicious and, as Chef Matthews intended, reminds me of a tabbouleh. The substitution of quinoa for the more traditional bulgur, makes this one gluten-free for those with sensitivities.

Refreshing Quinoa Salad by Leah Matthews

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and finely diced (2 1/2 cups)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced (3/4 cups)
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • Original recipe instructions reference toasted pine nuts – I used about 1/2 cup blanch almonds in place)

Method:

  1. Bring 2 quarts salted water to a boil. Add quinoa, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 12 to 14 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and small “tails” bloom from the grain.
  2. Preheat over to 400 degrees F. Spread pine nuts on baking sheet and toast 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool, then transfer to larger serving bowl (see last ingredient above).
  3. Drain quinoa, and rinse under cold running water. Drain again. Add quinoa to pine nuts and stir in cucumber, tomatoes, onion, and parsley. Fold in oil lemon juice and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

21 August 2018: Sweet Corn Polenta with Bell Pepper & Tomato Salad

2018-Aug-16_Fournightsaweek_2602The July/August 2018 issue of Eating Well has, as you might expect, some terrific recipes taking advantage of summer harvests. This recipe from Julia Clancy, a recipe developer from EatingWell,  is a perfect example. Is there anything better than a hot-off-the-vine tomato? I don’t think so.  

I’ve been intimidated by making my own polenta for a while. This week, finally, I gave this recipe a try, and I have to admit the difference is amazing! I’ll be hard-pressed to buy the ready-made products from now on. 

The only “downside” to this recipe is that it takes quite a while to complete – the polenta cooking and cooling period is about 3 hours total.  I made the polenta ahead of time, marinated the salad together in the refrigerator and, since we were having one of those unpredictable dinner times, assembled everything in about 20 minutes. This is definitely a great meal to prep ahead of time and put together later.

Served with a crisp, dry rose, this was a terrific mid-summer vegetarian meal.

Sweet Corn Polenta with Bell Pepper & Tomato Salad by Julia Clancy

Ingredients

For the Polenta:

  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal or polenta
  • 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (please, not the canned dust!)
  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the Salad

  • 2 medium red and/or yellow bell peppers, halved & seeded
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
  • 3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 TBSP red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 TBSP chopped FRESH herbs (basil, mint and/or tarragon)

Method:

  1. To prepare polenta: Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to low and gradually add cornmeal, whisking constantly to prevent clumping. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is creamy and reduce to about 4 cups (50 or 60 minutes). If the mixture is too stiff, loosen with 2 TBSP water.
  2. Add corn, Parmesan, butter, pepper and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cheese is melted and the corn is tender – about 5 minutes. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray. Pour in the polenta and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm – about 2 hours or up to 1 day.
  3. To prepare the salad: Position a rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler to high. Place peppers cut-side down on a baking sheet (I lined with foil). Broil, rotating the pan once, until softened and charred – 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam for 10 minutes. Rub off blistered skin and coarsely chop the peppers. Combine with tomatoes, 2 TBSP oil, vinegar and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Position a rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler to high. Cut the polenta into 12 squares and place on baking sheet. Brush both sides of the polenta with the remaining 1 TBSP oil. Broil, turning once until golden brown – 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. To serve: Arrange the polenta and tomato salad on a large serving platter and top with herbs.

To make ahead: Prepare up to Step 4; refrigerate polenta and salad separately for up to 1 day. Serve salad at room temperature.


14 August 2018: Feta-Herb Edamame Succotash

2018-Aug-11_Fournightsaweek_2593With the recent string of hot and humid days, neither of us has felt inclined to heat up our condo by turning on the oven. We love salads made with fresh greens, but after a bit, that gets a little worn out as a dinner option. Cooking Light published this tasty variation on Succotash by Callie Nash in their May 2017 issue and it is terrific. A quick sauté  of chopped onions with the addition of Edamame and corn is about all the kitchen heat that is generated, making this a great salad for hot and humid days.

Feta-Herb Edamame Succotash by Callie Nash

Ingredients

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen shelled edamame, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernals, thawed
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 TBSP fresh dill (USE FRESH)
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (USE FRESH)
  • 2 TBSP sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Method

  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until tender (about 4 mins).
  2. Add edamame; cook stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add corn; cook. stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to a bowl; cool 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomatoes, feta, dill, parsley, vinegar, salt and pepper.

07 August 2018: Summer Farro Salad

2018-Aug-07_fournightsaweek_2587We are in the middle of a New England heat wave, so I’m making an attempt not to heat up our living space beyond tolerable. So with that goal in mind, I went on an Internet search for summer vegetarian salads and came up with this gem from Food & Wine’s September 2009 issue. Summer Farro Salad originated with Marco Canora and the link to his original article is here.

Previously when I’ve cooked with the Italian grain, farro, If you are unfamiliar with this ancient grain, this article from Spruce Eats has a great overview. I’ve found the preparation (soaking, cooking, cooling) to be a bit off-putting. In reading F&W’s recipe, the Farro is simmered with aromatics for about 20 minutes total – way more approachable for those of us for whom cooking is more spontaneous.

Summer Farro Salad – Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cups + 2 TBSP extra virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, quartered
  • 1 small carrot, halved
  • 1 celery rib, halved
  • 12 oz. farro (1 3/4 cups)
  • 5 cups water
  • kosher salt
  • 3 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • Fresh pepper
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • 1 small seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise & thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 pint grape comatoes halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of the oil. Add the yellow onion, carrot and celery, cover and cook over moderately low heat until barely softened, about 5 minutes. Add the farro and stir to coat with oil. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the farro is barely tender (about 10 minutes). Season with salt. Cover and simmer until the farro is al dente (about 10 more minutes). Drain the farro and discard the onion, carrot, and celery. Let cool completely.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 1/3 cup of olive oil with the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the cooked farro, red onion, cucumber, tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

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