Sunday, December 23, 2012

Classic Pizzelles

It's not Christmas without some pizzelles! I shared my chocolate pizzelle recipe with you a few years ago. This year, I thought it was time to share the real deal. I've made several pizzelle flavors over the years - vanilla, chocolate, chocolate hazelnut, pumpkin - but vanilla is always my favorite.

My mom has always limited pizzelle-making to the holidays because it can be a time-consuming process. Most presses only make two cookies at a time - the number that I used to eat as a kid would keep my mom busy for hours. I don't mind taking the time as much, since they're my favorite cookies, but I've still been saving them for special occasions. But now that we have a TV in our kitchen (merry Christmas to us!), pizzelle-making is no longer a chore. I can sit in the kitchen, monitoring the press and watching a good movie. It was seriously easy. I may be making these far more often in the future - especially since they store so well!

Classic Pizzelles

1 3/4 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp vanilla

First, set up your work station. You'll need an electric mixer for the batter, a hot pizzelle press, and a paper bag or some paper towels for the pizzelles to cool on. (Why not a cooling rack? This is the way my mom always did it. But I think the paper bags help draw the moisture out of the cookies as they finish cooking, creating a crispier result.)

Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. Combine the eggs and sugar in the mixer bowl. Mix on medium speed for about a minute. Add the butter in a slow stream, then repeat for the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix for another 20 seconds or so, until everything is moistened. The batter will be thick.

Drop the batter onto the pizzelle press in teaspoon-sized portions (my press came with a special little plastic spoon for this). Make sure you center each dollop on the pattern (I also find that positioning it slightly to the back of the press works well, since the batter is squeezed forward as the press closes). Close the press and cook 1-2 minutes until slightly golden, or until the press tells you they're done (mine has a convenient green light that goes off).

When the cookies are ready, gently peel them off (it shouldn't be too difficult - the vanilla ones are the easiest to work with of any pizzelles I've made) and place them on the paper bag or towel to harden (I stack them when they're cool to conserve space). Repeat with the rest of the batter (you'll probably want to find a good TV show to watch). These can be stored in a box or tin for several weeks - avoid air-tight containers, which might make them soggy.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fudge-Dipped Cherry Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

I've been wanting to make these cookies for years. They've made it on my Christmas to-do list before, but somehow they never happen. I guess I thought they would be really time-consuming, what with the shortbread, the filling and the fudge dipping sauce. As it turns out, however, there is not much hands-on time at all. The recipe is extremely easy to throw together in little stages. The shortbread is tasty, the cream is awesome, and the fudge sauce is luscious.

The one problem I have with this cookie is the fudge sauce. It tastes delicious, but it's not very practical. It remains soft and drippy even after a night in the freezer. I placed some cookies on a plate for a few minutes in order to take the above picture, and they'd already left chocolate smears all over it. In the future, I think I'll dispense with the fudge sauce (who wants to eat corn syrup anyway?) and go for a hard chocolate coating, like what you would use on a truffle. I'm still including the fudge recipe here, but I'll update it when I come up with a better solution.

Fudge-Dipped Cherry Shortbread Sandwich Cookies
From Better Homes and Gardens November 2009.

1/2 c dried cherries
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 c butter, cold and cut into 1/2" pieces

1/2 c heavy cream
3 tbsp light corn syrup (I did find an organic, GMO-free one!)
4 oz semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 c heavy cream
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 c powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325° F. Add the cherries to a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit ten minutes, then drain.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, cornstarch, salt and baking powder. Pulse until combined. Add the butter and soaked cherries and pulse until the dough begins to clump together. Dump out onto a sheet of parchment paper. Mold the dough into a square, cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and roll into a 12 x 9" rectangle (I don't know how you roll things into rectangles - mine was more oval, so I sliced the edges off and rolled them out separately. That's what caused the different-sized rectangles in the picture below). Remove the top parchment and use a knife to slice the dough into 3 x 1" pieces (but don't separate them!). Slide the parchment onto a baking sheet.

Bake the shortbread for 30-35 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack. Then use a knife to separate the rectangles and match them into evenly-sized pairs.

Meanwhile, make the fudge sauce. In a small saucepan, combine the cream and corn syrup. Cook over medium-high heat until hot. Remove from heat and add the chocolate chips, stirring with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and combined. Let cool for about an hour, until thickened.

To make the cream filling, combine the cream, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

When everything is ready, assemble the cookies. Pick up a pair of shortbreads. Use a small spatula to spread the cream onto the flat side of one cookie. Top with the other cookie, flat side down. Dip one end into fudge sauce, then place on a piece of parchment paper to dry (since I was making these a week or so in advance, I put the parchment on a baking sheet which I could slip in the freezer. Once frozen, I removed them to tupperware containers). Repeat with the rest of the cookies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cranberry-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

It's cookie-making time! I started the week with an intimidating list of Christmas cooking and baking projects. So far, though, everything is going swimmingly. Most of my cookie baking is complete, both for desserts and edible gifts, and what's left is definitely do-able in the time I have available.

I look forward to holidays and family gatherings as a time to bake some of the new, fun recipes that I've been stockpiling. However, this seems to please me more than everybody else. When it comes to gifting, I fall back on the old standards that my family always asks for. These oatmeal cookies are one of my specialties. This batch is for my Grandma - she insists that I shouldn't buy her any presents and that she doesn't need anything, but these cookies always bring a smile to her face.

These cookies are just as good for gifting as they are for munching on a weekday afternoon. It's a great all-purpose recipe to have around. I think Santa would appreciate it if you left some out for him, too!

Cranberry-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Southern Living Best of Barbecue cookbook.

1 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c rolled oats
1 c dried cranberries
1 c chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375° F. 

In a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy, then add the sugars. 

Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually add this to the butter mixture until everything is well moistened. Stir in oats, raisins and pecans. Drop in teaspoon-sized pieces (mine are probably a bit larger) onto greased baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned.

Cool on a wire rack. These can also be frozen if you want to make them ahead of time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Farro Risotto with Winter Squash, Hazelnuts and Gruyere

I know my last post was about how busy we are and how great quick recipes are at this time of year. That's still true. But I threw this complicated recipe on my menu (on a weeknight, no less!) because I just couldn't resist it any more. The fact that I had most of the ingredients on hand already sealed the deal. I spent a Monday evening laboriously chopping the hardest winter squash in the world (seriously - I don't usually have much trouble with them but this one was a doozy), then standing over the stove stirring and stirring.

Yes, it took up time I should have been spending on work. Yes, all that standing aggravated my injured foot. Yes, I nearly chopped several fingers off working on that squash. But you know what? Once we sat down to eat it was totally worth it. This was a bowl of creamy, complex, earthy deliciousness. So earthy, in fact, that Jeff couldn't believe there were no mushrooms. The squash was sweet, the hazelnuts crunchy and earthy, and the Gruyere added a nice bite. I don't think you could improve this dish. We got six servings out of this - three meals - and it got better with each one. This is not only a keeper, but it's worth some more of my precious pre-holiday time.

Farro Risotto with Winter Squash, Hazelnuts and Gruyere
From Cooking Light January/February 2012.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green parts sliced and cleaned
1 c uncooked farro
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c white wine
4 c water, divided
4 c cubed winter squash (the recipe calls for butternut, but I used a Golden Nugget that I had sitting around)
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 oz Gruyere, shredded
1/2 c hazelnuts

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek and cook 5 minutes, until translucent and tender. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the uncooked farro and cook another minute, stirring constantly.

Stir in the wine and cook 2-3 minutes, until it evaporates. Add 1 c water and cook 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until nearly all the liquid is absorbed. Repeat for next 2 c water.

Stir in remaining 1 c water, squash, sage, salt and pepper. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, until squash is tender. Meanwhile, heat a small pan over medium-high heat. Add the hazelnuts and toast, shaking frequently, until golden. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.

When the risotto is done simmering, stir in the cheese and most of the nuts, reserving some to use as  a garnish. Serve hot.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cauliflower, Kale and White Bean Soup

With the holidays so near, everything is starting to get busy. Between our normal activities, trips to the gym, and holiday baking and other preparations, we seem to be occupied every evening. This is not the time for complicated, time-consuming recipes (though I still love them, and have a good one to post some time soon!). This is the time for simple goodness simmering in a pot.

This soup is really easy to throw together, using some of my favorite winter vegetables. I can never get enough cauliflower. It's good in soup, roasted, pureed in pasta sauce, in curries, and sometimes even raw. Roasted cauliflower, in particular, doesn't last very long in our house. Leftovers are a rare occurrence. This soup didn't last long, either, since it combined the wonder of cauliflower with delicious, nutritious kale. I don't know about you guys, but when I eat kale, I feel so much more energetic and alert. Those vitamins must be doing something good!

What made our batch of soup extra special is that we made it with some of our Thanksgiving turkey stock. That stock turned out so thick and rich that it gelled in the fridge. There was definitely some extra protein floating around in there. If you have homemade poultry stock, it will make this soup more delicious. If you don't, it'll still turn out pretty good, and good for you!

Cauliflower, Kale and White Bean Soup
Adapted from What Would Cathy Eat?

2 tbsp olive oil
3 leeks, white and light green parts sliced and soaked
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 c kale, chopped
2-3 c cannellini beans, cooked
1 small head cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets
6 c turkey stock
2 c water
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp dried parsley (fresh would be better, if you have it)
salt and black pepper to taste (my stock is unsalted, so I had to add a lot of salt to the soup)
4 tbsp grated Parmesan

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook about 10 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add kale and cook for 5 more minutes.

Add the beans, cauliflower, stock, water, bay leaf, parsley, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes, until the cauliflower is very tender. Stir in Parmesan and serve. (Remember to remove your bay leaf!)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cabbage and Leek Gratin with Mustard Cream

We're in full-fledged Christmas mode around here. I wanted to get all the decorations up this week, but I couldn't bear to decorate a dirty house. We've been skimping on the cleaning for a while now - a deep clean is overdue. My solution has been taking the house one room at a time, cleaning really well, then decorating as we go. So far we've tackled . . . three rooms. One of them was the kitchen, though, so I consider it a triumph. The Christmas tree just went up and will be decorated later tonight, so we'll have to handle the rest of the rooms later in the week. However long it takes, I am determined to have everything sparkling before Christmas.

A clean, festive house requires comfort food, doesn't it? But if you're anything like me, you're probably trying to avoid too much heavy winter fare. There will be enough time for splurging and treats at all the holiday parties that are coming up - in between, we need to keep things light. This is a great meal for that. Despite its name, this gratin is cheese-less. I've lightened up the dairy called for in the original recipe, so the final result is a healthy but satisfying dinner option.

Cabbage and Leek Gratin with Mustard Cream
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers.

1 1/2 lb green cabbage, chopped into bite-sized chunks
3 large leeks, sliced into half-moons
1/3 c flour
1 c skim milk
1/3 c fat free Greek yogurt
3 eggs
3 tbsp dill, chopped
1 small shallot, minced
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
2/3 c fat free Greek yogurt
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp prepared horseradish

Preheat oven to 350° F and lightly coat a 6 c gratin dish with cooking spray.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cabbage and leeks. Boil for 5 minutes, drain in a colander and press out remaining water. Return the cabbage mixture to the empty pot.

Whisk together flour, milk, yogurt, eggs and herbs, then add to the cabbage and leek mixture. Sprinkle with 3/4 tsp salt and fold together with a rubber spatula.

Transfer to prepared dish and bake 45 minutes, until firm and browned.

Meanwhile, mix the shallot and vinegar in a small bowl with 1/8 tsp salt and let stand for 5 minutes. Add yogurt, mustard and horseradish. Mix well to combine, then serve with gratin.

(If any of you end up trying the mustard cream, let me know what you think! I think it tastes exactly like the sauce Burger King uses on the Whopper. Who would have thought that pickled shallots were the secret ingredient?)