Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies anneliesz

How is a tradition made? I’m inclined to think the plain response is repetition. But look for the underlying root cause and you’ll find desire–that holds something of intrinsic interest. Is it desire for gobbling sugar-laden rounds, crispy or chewy at a yearly cookie swap? Perhaps. But, peek beneath that layer of parchment paper and the desire goes well beyond unsalted butter creamed into brown sugar and granulated white. If we cook to nourish, we bake to share.

Growing up, Christmas cookies didn’t factor into our holiday experience. My mom regularly kept keen tabs on the sugar supply entering our house. Once, while visiting family in Mexico, my eyes bugged out of my head seeing the elaborate platters of cookies baked simply for service when guests visited. Can you imagine keeping a cookie inventory with the expectation of people regularly visiting? More often, cookies around here get frozen, packed up and toted to work or washed down with a sip of tea. But, once a year, for the past few, we congregate to share cookies with friends who have brought their own batch to dispatch to a new home.

This year, I contemplated making this year’s get-together the final hurrah in a string of past year cookie parties. I thought I had baked my last Christmas cookie until the day of the party when I pulled down the new cookbooks I had been waiting to put to good use and which I’m going to highlight below. What I had failed to see as I considered cutting the cookie swap ties is what I actually love about cookie parties. Each person brings cookies that reflect their personality, whether they’re nuanced and complex, simple and straightforward, or adventurous. This year’s batch was no less interesting.

Pierre Herme chocolate sables sidled up to chocolate peanut butter buckeyes. Linzer cookies with cranberry orange jam sat near Mexican pfeffernusse. Saffron snickerdoodles and sandwich cookies cut in animal shapes slicked with tomato jam set up shop near double chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate fudge punctuated by white chocolate chips kept company with chocolate hazelnut thumbprint cookies with hot fudge. The array of cookies distributed on the platters reflected the interesting assemblage of characters in our house. Each person’s individuality positively impacted the party and the wild collection of cookies served as a visual depiction.

Snickerdoodles - Cookie Love

“Any Which Way But You Will Never Lose” Snickerdoodles

from Cookie Love by Mindy Segal with Kate Leahy

When my friend Kate’s newest cookbook came out in April, I pre-ordered it even though I knew I wouldn’t use it until December. I’ve visited Mindy’s HotChocolate in Chicago and toted home a bag of one of her hot chocolate blends to keep the sweetness going strong. What I liked right off the mark with Cookie Love is how cookie plates play a regular role at HotChocolate.  The book is organized like a cookie plate–even the table of contents resembles a tic-tac-toe grid of cookie types. Segal says, “Like serving a cookie plate, making cookies is a generous act.” (p. 4) Her cookie plates focus on providing cookies of different textures, flavors, and colors, offering a cookie type for each kind of eater. Two methods for shortbread yield fun and aesthetically pleasing sandy crisps of Leopard Print Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Shortbread with Hot Fudge (p. 61). Best Friends cookies (p. 119) marry coffee and malted milk hot fudge. In her tough love front matter section, Segal implores you to “Embrace the extras.” (p.4) She puts her methods where her mouth is giving multiple ways that extras can be used up. The photography is inventive and sometimes whimsical much like the cookie-maker herself, evidenced in cookies like the Black Sabbath (p. 85), a deep dark chocolate sandwich cookie with frosty peppermint filling and that pays homage to Segal’s appreciation for heavy metal. Next up on the cookie-baking front: quite possibly the Peanut Butter Thumbprints with Strawberry Lambic Jam (p. 145). But, for the Cookie Swap, I made the Snickerdoodles. Rolled in cinnamon sugar, the flavor is all familiar but the cookie clincher can be easily summed up as two kinds of salt–one to round out the sweetness and the other, a bit of crunch. It just so happened that Kate brought Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprints dented with gooey hot fudge, a variation of Hot Fudge Thumbprints (p. 147) that another party-goer exulted over when the second layer of cookies made an appearance.

Chocolate Wafer Cookies - Gluten Free Wishlist

Chocolate Wafer Cookies

from Gluten-Free Wishlist by Jeanne Sauvage

I met Jeanne in person only this year during a brief trip to Seattle. She kindly let me prep for a cooking demo in her kitchen and after every last ingredient had been measured and bagged, we sat down for tea and she offered me cookies from a batch she was testing. That cookie! Chewy in the middle, crisp around the edges and deeply doused in chocolate, it left quite an impression. When she offered to pack up the batch for me to ferry away to my hotel room, I happily accepted them. Every year at the Cookie Party, I bake a batch of gluten-free cookies. I knew that this year’s fete needed to include one of her cookies and she happily sent me a copy of her cookbook to check out and cook through. I love the premise behind Gluten-Free Wishlist creating a collection of recipes that include foods that have been missed when living gluten-free. As testament to that idea, one Cookie Party attendee decided to purchase a copy of the cookbook for his sister upon seeing the photo of Ramen Soup (p. 186) on the cover. Sauvage’s foundation in technique comes through in her precise instruction, including a six-page method for making Croissants (p. 147) with a variation for Chocolate Croissants. Using Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (p. 39), a blend that kicks off the book means the recipes  that follow it are straightforward with expert guidance of what to look for as you bake and cook. The morning of the Cookie Party, I was running a bit behind schedule and I say this primarily to highlight how easy the Chocolate Wafer Cookies (p. 196) were to make. If I’d had enough time, I would have converted those Chocolate Wafer Cookies into Jeanneos (p. 205), slathering their middles with frosting. And the same cookies would make a fabulous base crust for an icebox pie (hello, Peanut Butter Cream or Banana Cream Pie!). I’m eyeing the Soft Pretzels (p. 69) next and am intrigued by the Gluten-Free Master Sourdough (p. 87) though the recipe for Stroopwafels (p. 206) hits all the high notes for Dutch food taste memories of morsels my Dad would bring home from Henk’s Black Forest Bakery.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts - Gluten-Free Girl Everyday

Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

from Gluten-Free Girl Everyday by Shauna James Ahern with Daniel Ahern

Over in Emeryville, there’s a tiny bakery that sells a screamingly good hazelnut chocolate chip cookie. For this year’s Cookie Party, I knew I wanted to bake two types of gluten-free cookies because I figured most of the cookies friends would bring would be glutenful and I knew three people attending are gluten-avoiders. I wanted their cookie options to be interesting, delicious, and safe. When Shauna James Ahern and Dan Ahern launched a kickstarter last November, I kicked in and was rewarded with a box of their gluten-free flour with a chocolate chip cookie recipe on the side of the box. I had a hunch that the ingredients were within reach and proceeded to mix them together. I discovered happily the suggestion to add chopped hazelnuts to the batter. Bingo! When these cookies hit the cooling rack, it was mighty hard to hold myself back from just eating one with chocolate melting as the cookie is torn in two. Aside from the cookie being a good gluten-free cookie, this was one good cookie. I spirited over to my cookbook shelf. Sure enough, inside Ahern’s James Beard award-winning cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, there on page 289, was the Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts recipe. Ahern and I worked together at a previous company. Her writing wins me over and her recipes are easy to navigate. Earlier this year, we earmarked several of their recipes while going through a Whole 30 nutrition reset. I’ve bookmarked others like the Edamame and Sweet Rice Salad with Salty Seeds (p. 151) for a quick weeknight meal or the Millet Fritters with Feta, Spinach, and Golden Raisins (p. 98).  I’ve made their Millet Waffles with Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche, and Capers (p.103) which were light, crunchy, briny, creamy, and smoky. This cookbook leans on the more savory side and so do I.

Christmas Cookies- anneliesz

I believe in Christmas and the reason for the season. But, I also wish my friends Happy Hanukkah who celebrate that holiday and send Happy Holidays greetings to friends who exchange gifts without attachment. This is the first year I’ve caught a few sentiments thrown out declaring, “Happy Everything!” and I don’t know what that means. Let’s say that next year, the cookie party assembled under one theme, say chocolate chip cookies. I can guarantee that if there are 15 people in attendance, there will be 15 variations on the same chocolate chip cookie idea. And doesn’t that diversity make for a more interesting conversation?

It’s hard to celebrate the season singing Christmas carols or being merry and bright in light of recent events including the massacre in San Bernardino. The Los Angeles Times style of reporting short bursts of updates has satisfied my need to know and stay current, perhaps to my detriment as I scroll and refresh the page with frequency, gobbling information like aforementioned cookies. We are at the start of two holidays that are celebrations and in the back of my mind I think about employees gathered at an ordinary office Christmas party in Southern California, not knowing as they drank cider or punch that their lives were about to change. Perhaps they too ate cookies before the doors splayed open.

We gather together bringing who we are to the table. What we bring, who we are can vary differently from the person next to us, but isn’t that part of the beauty of a cookie swap? Your cookie will be different from my cookie and that makes it delicious in its own right. I can’t imagine requiring everyone to bring the same cookie made from the same recipe as the only way to party. Each cookie and each person who bakes them holds so much intrinsic worth. Sometimes, it is all we can do to come to a cookie party, toting a baker’s dozen to share with the stranger who looks nothing like us and who just might become a new friend. Sometimes, it is all we can do to spread cheer and be the change we wish to see in our world, in our living room, right here.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

Cookbooks to Help You Reach New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. Perhaps that stems from what starts one year as possibility and by year-end equals failure. I, however, do not fall into the camp that recycled resolutions denote some sort of inadequacy on the part of the goal-maker. Instead, I choose to consider that perhaps the lesson of that particular goal has not completed what it needs to, knowing some things take much longer to learn, even in our instant satisfaction society. So, this year, let a cookbook (or cookbook author) help you get one step closer to completing your goals. Selecting one tome to take you into a New Year sounds like a tradition I can get behind (and have selected the Bi-Rite Eat Good Food cookbook as the one feeding us this January).

Nom-Nom-Paleo-Cookbook

RESOLUTION: Eat Clean Foods.  

Written by the witty (and fun!) Michelle Tam with illustrations and photos by husband Henry Fong, “Nom Nom Paleo” is a book not just for the paleo population but all people.  Its real food recipes make weeknight assembly a cinch with fun comic book graphics and cheeky commentary along the way. Their real food approach (and her admission in what may seem a shockingly short Dessert section to being a sugar fiend), all point to why their blog of the same name is ridiculously popular. Make a batch of their Bone Broth (p. 105) for its healing properties when you’re feeling under the weather or bake up some Mushroom Chips (p. 75) when you get the urge for something crunchy. Their Coconut Pineapple “Rice” (p. 157), made of cauliflower is a great way to get more veggies into a meal and Fiona’s Green Chicken (p. 193) might just need to be what gets fired up once it’s grilling season.

Duck Duck Goose cookbook

RESOLUTION: Eat Less Meat, but Better Quality Meat.

If you’re anything like the Mister and I, we tend to be highly skeptical of factory-raised protein. The conditions, life span, antibiotics and potential GMO feed animals are fed is enough to make me want to go vegetarian full-time. In steps hunter and angler Hank Shaw to shed light on the possibilities of preparation of wild and domesticated waterfowl in “Duck, Duck, Goose.” This comprehensive guide gives technique and mouthwatering recipes help pave the way for novices to waterfowl. Hank is a cook with serious street credentials and I trust his insights and instruction. His website is called Honest Food and his foraging escapades for mushrooms are legendary (at least in my own mind). That he tries to find ways to use the whole bird is an important detail. Make a dinner of Duck Jagerschnitzel (p. 75) perfect for cold winter evenings or Italian Duck Meatballs (p. 100) for a familiar dish to entice picky eaters. Along those lines, the Confit of Duck with Pasta and Lemon (p. 149) or Duck Egg Pasta (p. 214) would also be easy entrees into waterfowl foods. To change things up a bit in the summer, make his Duck Fat Pie Dough (p. 208) paired with your favorite stone fruit. I’m partial to his Tea-Smoked Duck (p. 92) and think it might be the perfect dish for a Valentine’s Day feast.

Homemade with Love cookbook

RESOLUTION: Why Buy When You Can DIY – Stock Your Larder from Scratch.

If you still haven’t jumped onto the DIY larder locomotive train, there’s no time to start like the present. Would that we could all have a teacher as encouraging and full of heart like Jennifer Perillo. In her book “Homemade with Love,” she sets out to share her scratch cooking secrets to make you a DIY pro. Back when the food poet was a fledgling, she taught me how to make ricotta from scratch. If you’ve never had an interest in stocking your own pantry with housemade goods, you might be missing out on an incredibly empowering opportunity. You too can learn to make Homemade Ricotta (p. 32) – once you lick a spoonful of lush warm ricotta or smear a spoonful on toast with a smidge of marmalade, you’ll never want to buy the store-bought stuff. Instead of buying boxed vegetable stock, make Homemade Vegetable Bouillon (p. 24) to keep on hand and that will also help save money. Jennifer has a tradition in her house of pizza night and she teaches you how to make Homemade Pizza Dough (p. 127) so you can start your own tradition. Perhaps you’ve never made pie? Her Foolproof Pie Crust recipe (p. 178) is sure to set you on firm footing.

Tartine Book No 3 review

RESOLUTION: Eat More Whole Grains.

I’ve been a woman obsessed since at least 2009 with whole grains and even see the word “groats” easily assemble from bananagrams tiles. Whole grains (and by whole, “intact”) have their enthusiasts and absolvers. I fall into the first group and fan the fire of my geekery with growing appreciation of other ways to use them in food. Enter “Tartine Book No 3,” by Chad Robertson, the book that kept me company as I nursed a cold on my birthday. Chad shares his journeys around the world as he continues to deepen his understanding of how cultures incorporate whole grains into their food while sharing his master recipes for baking them into breads and pastries. It’s no secret I’m smitten with his Oat Porridge loaf (or the Rye Porridge loaf or…). Slicing a hunk of these crusty breads with a custard-like crumb made me the bread fan (and budding baker) that I am today. I owe a lot to those loaves. This is a seminal book and I expect it to make out with a Best Picture nod at the food equivalent of such accolades this year. He shows you his master recipe for making the starter and then variations using exotic grains like his Purple Barley Amazake loaf (p. 146) or Sprouted Emmer with Maple & Beer (p. 134). My beloved Porridge loaves are in there too (Oat, p. 178, and Rye, p. 172). I would consider strongly starting a Cook through the Book kind of challenge with others interested in this book (is that you?), but be advised this is a cookbook not for the faint of kitchen. Let the record also show that Chad also shot all of the photos in this book and they are beauties. Get your naturally leavened whole grain bread baking on.

(Bonus: For whole grain breakfasts, go with Megan Gordon’s “Whole Grain Mornings” or if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, pick up a box of her Marge Granola. I’m smitten with the Cacao Nib variety.)

the fresh 20 cookbook review

RESOLUTION: Make a Weekly Menu / Cook at Home More / Save Money.

Sometimes brilliant ideas are in plain sight. Melissa Lanz makes eating real food regularly easy in her book, “The Fresh 20.” Giving the reader 20 ingredients from which to build meals and menus, an economy of ingredients and resources. Melissa’s husband, Trent photographed the book’s bright colorful recipes. Broken up by season, this is an instructive book for knowing what produce is available when. Each section includes menus and a shopping list (which I wish could have been tear-out; good thing for the smart phone camera) to take with you when perusing the aisles at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. With recipes that are easy to prepare, she sets you up for cooking at home success. At our house, to simplify the weekly menu, we’ve implemented Taco Tuesdays and will be making the Greek-Style Lamb Tacos (p. 23) soon. If you’re trying to kick the fast food habit, try making her Fresh 20 Turkey Burgers with Carrot Slaw (p. 91) or swap out the take-out burrito for easy Fish Tacos (p. 108) or Chicken Tamale Spoon Bread (p. 179).

gluten-free-girl-every-day-cookbook-review

RESOLUTION: Go Gluten-Free.

What is it? Burritos? Beer? Pasta? Pizza? You’ve removed gluten from your diet and feel good. Really good. But, there is something that keeps bringing you back to gluten, in spite of the headaches or brain fog or itchy rash. I’m not a proponent of giving up gluten for weight loss or as a trend. In fact, nothing gets under my skin more. But, I’ve got history to show that for some people breaking up with gluten is the best thing they have done to take back their health and feel well again. In fact, many of my good friends are gluten-free because it makes them feel glorious! If you happen to be that person, “Gluten-Free Girl Every Day” is the book for you. Shauna Ahern’s love of life and of good food comes across in a book filled with stories and recipes that remove the gluten, focusing on enticing ingredients that make delectable dishes. Recipes like Chicken Teriyaki with Kale and Sweet Potato (p. 128) make for an easy replacement to questionable (is there gluten in that sauce?) take-out. Are you a sucker for soul food? Her Gluten-Free Biscuits and Sausage Gravy (p. 58) may help you stop singing the blues. Perhaps you bake and find gluten-free baking perplexing. Stir up her All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix (p. 31) and you’re on your way to making Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread (easy to make!, p. 48) or Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns (p. 242). Dog-eared pages in our book include Peanut Butter and Jam Bars (p. 304) and our favorite, Millet Waffles with Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche and Capers (p. 103). Working through this cookbook is like having a friend talking you through the recipes and helping make living gluten-free easier.

eat drink and weigh less review

RESOLUTION: Lose weight.

You knew this resolution couldn’t escape the list, right? Given the obesity epidemic in the U.S., I don’t know why it’s shameful to admit to wanting to lose weight, but somehow, this is the resolution that gets paraded around as the one to avoid, the one that is so cliché. If you happen to be someone (like me) who recycles this resolution with unerring regularity, can you pull up a chair? Instead of attempting some fad diet that is going to be more destructive than helpful, perhaps it’s time to consider a different path? In “Eat, Drink and Weigh Less,” one of my favorite cookbook authors, Mollie Katzen teams up with Walter Willett, M.D., head of Harvard University’s department of nutrition to explore how to eat for the long haul and not just quick results. If you’ve ever attempted recipes from Mollie’s seminal book, “The Moosewood Cookbook” or even her new book, “Heart of the Plate,” you know she advocates for fresh ingredients that don’t skimp on flavor. Here, she assembles recipes along with a meal plan (to get you started) that includes wine, dark chocolate and favorites like Broiled Eggplant Parmesan (p. 216). Coupled with Dr. Willett’s nutrition expertise, this is a book for foodies looking to whittle their waists without turning to bland food.