Archive for November, 2011

November 28, 2011

Spritz Cookies

 

Spritz cookies are not something I grew up making.  However, I’ve certainly had them a lot growing up – in plates of cookies given to my family over the holidays and at friends’ houses.  I never thought twice about them – they were simply, tasty, crumbly cookies, sometimes with colored sugar decorations.  I never thought about how they were made, or that I would even ever make them.

And then two years ago, I inherited my grandmother’s cookie press.  I had no idea what to do with it – it came with its original “recipe booklet” which I was more fascinated in as a historical object than as a useful tool to help me learn how to use this thing that came with metal disks shaped like trees, camels, and flowers.  No idea that is until I asked my friends for their favorite cookie recipes, my friend M sent over her family’s spritz cookie recipe.  Suddenly I realized it was time to give this thing a turn (literally).

It wasn’t easy – the dough never stuck to the cookie sheet so I couldn’t actually press things out.  I gave up and did several batches  of cookies as blobs on the sheet.  And then I decided to go on YouTube (yup, it’s become one of my g0-to sources when I don’t know what else to do).  The recipes I was reading said to put the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet, and the videos all said you “don’t need to grease the pan.” However, I’d been doing what I always do when I bake cookies: even when recipes say to just plop cookies directly on the sheet, I always put down parchment paper.  Well, what the recipes and videos should be saying is not that you don’t need this, but that you shouldn’t do it.  Don’t do it!  Press directly on the cookie sheet.  Only this way will the cookie batter stick to the sheet and come off the press.  There is enough butter that the cookies won’t stick to your cookie sheet.  Also, do not put this dough in the refrigerator – use it at room temperature.

Now, without further ado, here is the recipe my friend shared with me.  She said her mom got it from a traditional American cookbook like Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker, she couldn’t remember where.

Spritz Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine, softened (I used butter)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla (I used anise)
1. Preheat your oven to 400F.  In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until they appear white.  Add the egg and extract and blend in briefly.  Add the flour and salt and continue to mix with the hand mixer until the batter is uniform.

2. If you wish, you can portion out the recipe and add food coloring to different batches.  People often do this to make the green trees.  I didn’t, because I don’t care much for food coloring, but if you do it do it in this step.  Be sure to use the hand mixer and not your fingers, because they will get stained.

3. Put the batter into your cookie press and squeeze onto the (unlined, ungreased!) cookie sheet.  You don’t need to space them too far apart because they will not expand.  Switch out shapes as you like, and decorate with colored sugar or sprinkles if you like.

4. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 6-9 minutes, until set but not browned.  Cool on the cookie sheet, then transfer to an air-tight container.

November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving friends!  I hope you all have safe travels today and enjoy the holiday. This is my first year celebrating Thanksgiving not with family (I count my JYA Thanksgiving as a family event, as well as my Fulbright Thanksgiving, because those two years were so intense and awesome, and we all bonded as if we were related).  I was sad at first, but then a dear friend from childhood asked David and me to have Thanksgiving with her, and now I know it’s going to be a great holiday.  I can’t wait to spend the entire day tomorrow cooking and eating with her and her husband, and Friday and Saturday lounging around (and packing their house for a cross-country move – sad!)

 

 

Thanksgiving for me is about family, and about community.  My good friend Kristina organized a bunch of musicians, artists, and other friends of hers and edited a community cookbook.  This isn’t just any cookbook – it’s probably the best community cookbook you can have!  It was organized through an online community, and its story is pretty amazing.   I love the book, I love the recipes, the art, and the obvious fun that comes out of the book.  It’s clear these are cool people, eating awesome food, and I kind of want to be friends with each and every contributor (there are over 50 people who worked on this book)!

If you’re looking for a great new cookbook, consider Cook Food Every Day.  100% of proceeds of your purchase goes directly to the Greater Boston Food Bank, and the book has raised over $1000 dollars, and there are still books left.  Click over to the Cook Food Every Day blog where a PayPal donation gets you your very own copy of the book.

Also, Kristina writes a pretty incredible blog called No Gluten Required.  I recommend it whether or not you eat gluten.  She’s currently got a pretty sweet round-up of Thanksgiving recipes up!

November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Roundup, Schedule, & Shopping List

And here we are – it’s Thanksgiving Week!  Here is the roundup of recipes we’ve gone over this month in preparation:

Thanksgiving Menu

Apple Martinis

Butternut Squash Soup
Roast Chicken & Stuffing
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Dinner Rolls (goes to King Arthur site with step-by-step picture instructions)

Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pielets

For those who still need or want to make turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce, my sister shared with me this fantastic video by Mary Risley, a woman after my own heart.  Here’s everything you’ll need to know on these dishes:

 

Schedule & Shopping

Now, grab a glass of wine/beer/apple martini and relax.  Here’s a shopping list and schedule for you. The shopping list is based on one times each of the recipes, which will make a dinner for 4-6. You can edit both to fit your needs.

Thanksgiving Shopping List
Thanksgiving Timeline

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving full of happiness, laughter, cooking, and fun.  May the conversation at your table never be awkward, may your kitchen mishaps create funny stories, and may your family and friends enjoy health, love, and joy this year!

November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: Pumpkin Pie

Growing up, my dad was always the pie baker in our house.  He was also the pie-pusher.  No, I don’t meant to say he insisted we all eat pie (though we all did eat it heartily).  He encouraged everyone make pie.  People are so afraid of pie crust, and yes it is daunting, but he would always smile and say “If I can do it, you can too.  I have the perfect recipe for you, with a secret ingredient.”

You know what that secret ingredient is?  Sour cream.

 

Yup! Sour cream.  It helps to make the crust flakier while still making it manageable to roll out. He is also always quick to give credit where credit is due.  This recipe comes from Edith Norton, who contributed it to the congregation cookbook, “Our Cup Runneth Over,” of the First United Methodist Church in Schenectady, New York.

And what about the filling?  Well, the filling is from my lovely grandmother, Grace, and it’s quite simply the best pumpkin pie recipe I know.  But, I’m biased by nostalgia so don’t take it from me – make it and tell me what you think!

With this recipe, you will not know when to stop making pies – pretty soon you’ll be making peach pie with a lattice top like I did for the first time this summer.  And you know what?  You’ll succeed.  Because this pie crust really is “Easy as Pie.”

Easy as Pie Crust

3 cups flour
2 sticks (= 1 cup) butter (the original recipe calls for margarine, I prefer butter)
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening (e.g., Crisco) (not oil)
at least 1/2 cup sour cream
Cut the fat into the flour using a fork until you have circa pea sized little pieces of mix. Add the sour cream. If you add too much sour cream, you end up with a sticky glob, so go on the low side to start with.

Cut the dough into two equal pieces and place a piece on a floured surface. Roll out and place the crust into your pie pan and crimp the edges how you like. You can use both halves in one pie (one for the bottom crust, one for a top crust for cherry or apple pies), or you can use the recipe to make two pies with just a bottom crust (recommended for this pumpkin pie recipe).

This dough can be frozen for at least 1 – 2 months or stored in refrigerator for 3 – 4 days.

 

Pumpkin Pie/Custard Mix

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees

Mix Dry Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice (If you’re in Germany: this isn’t a spice I could find there when I lived there, so I used Spekulatius seasoning, which though a blend of spices tasted just as delicious)
1/4 tsp salt

Mix Wet Ingredients:

2 cups pumpkin (canned is fine; fresh winter squash works just as well
as fresh pumpkin)
2 slightly beaten eggs
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (or lemon juice)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tall can (about 1 2/3 cups) evaporated milk
1/2 cup of water (if you cook your own pumpkin and it is dry, use up to a full cup of water.  I’ve found half a cup is more than enough for canned pumpkin)

Combine the two mixtures and pour into prepared pie crust and bake 10 minutes at 450 degrees Fahrenheit then 35 – 50 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: Butternut Squash Soup

This basic recipe for butternut squash soup does not take too much to release the wonderful flavors of the squash.  However, it does allow for a lot of variations.  If you want to, you can add pretty much any root vegetable you want to spruce up the flavors (carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, anything).  You could also take out the meat to make it vegetarian (in fact, the picture below is of a vegetarian version of this recipe that I made in culinary school).  You can make this soup days in advance (even weeks, though we don’t have those anymore) and freeze it, so you just defrost it on Thanksgiving and eat.  There are just so many options.  But, here is the basic recipe.  Have fun being creative!

 

 

One serving suggestion is to have this soup ready when people start to get hungry, or when guests arrive.  Just set out bowls (or even more informal, mugs) and spoons next to the pot in the kitchen (or living room if your kitchen is like mine and too small) and let people help themselves.  That way, your guests have something to munch while you’re pulling out the food from the oven and getting things on the table, but they don’t feel awkward eating the appetizer while you’re running in and out of the kitchen.

Butternut Squash Soup

olive oil for sauteing
1 cup cubed smoked ham
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery root, peeled and chopped (or, if you can’t find celery root, you can use regular celery, though the flavors are different)
1 stem leek, chopped
2 Tbsp dry white wine
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium-sized butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and chopped
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable, if making vegetarian)
1 large bay leaf
chopped parsley for garnish

1. In a large soup pot, brown the smoked ham in the olive oil.  Remove from the pan and set aside. If making in advance, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until serving.

2. Add a little more oil to the pan and cook the onions, celery root, and leeks in olive oil until the onions are clear but not browned.  Add the white wine and cook a minute until it reduces.  Then add the garlic and cook for another thirty seconds to release the aromas.

3. Add the butternut squash, broth, and bay leaf to the vegetables, and cook until the squash is tender (about thirty minutes).

4. Remove the bay leaf and carefully, using an immersion blender, blend the ingredients until smooth.

5. Serve in bowls and garnish each dish with a few cubes of the browned ham and sprinkle with parsley.  Other optional toppings are sour cream, cinnamon, or homemade croutons (taking your favorite cookie cutter, cut out shapes in bread and brown in butter on the stove).