Christmas Cookie Day: Spiced Sugar Cookies

spiced sugar cookies

spiced sugar cookies danced in their heads

I’m a little behind with my Christmas baking this year. We can blame Thanksgiving for being so “late.” But let’s be honest, it’s never too late to start making Christmas cookies.

First up this year are classic sugar cookies with holiday spices. I cut them into festive shapes to get myself into the holiday spirit. But please, don’t judge my decorating skills. There’s a reason I don’t draw or paint for a living. I don’t have a lot of patience, and I think that has a lot to do with it. The only good thing about being a crummy cookie decorator is that you get to keep the rejects for yourself. And I maybe kinda sorta messed up a few on purpose. Oops. Hope that doesn’t put me on the naughty list. Maybe I can persuade Santa with a few of these tasty cookies.

Spiced Sugar Cookies
For the cookies:
2 1/3 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla
Holiday cookie cutters

For the icing:
1 cup of powdered sugar
2 teaspoons of milk, plus more if necessary
Holiday sprinkles and green & red colored sugar

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, and then add the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture a little at a time until well combined. Refrigerate dough until firm, about 2 hours.

Heat your oven to 375º.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. Carefully cut into shapes using the cookies cutters and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then place a rack to cool completely.

While cookies are cooling, make the icing. Combine the powdered sugar and milk in a small bowl. Add more sugar or milk depending on how thick you want it. Hold the cookies by their edges and use a spoon to pour the icing over them. Let any access icing run off, and then place on a sheet of parchment paper. Add sprinkles, colored sugar or other decorations, and let dry. Then eat. Or, leave them for Santa on Christmas Eve (wink, wink).


A Taste of Turkey Day

Sage & Cayenne Rubbed Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy

thank-full

You know what I’m thankful for? It’s a short list, but a significant one.

My friends. My family. My cat.
Good TV. Bad horror movies.
Chocolate chip cookies and multigrain Scoops.
Beach days and carefree nights.
And, meals like this one.

I know everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions, filled with comforting side dishes, weird classics (canned cranberries anyone?) and favorite desserts. And that’s what’s so great about this holiday. That no matter what’s on your plate, there’s always something to be thankful for.

Plus, it’s the one day of the year that you get to openly stuff your face without any judgement.

Also don’t think for a minute that you have to make a giant 23 lb turkey to enjoy the splendors of Thanksgiving. By all means, go for the big bird if you’re feeding an army of hungry family and friends. But if it’s just a handful of folks, go for a turkey breast. You’ll get all of the goodness with less fuss. A simple rub like this puts a different spin on your typical turkey day feast.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sage & Cayenne Rubbed Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy
1 3.5 to 4 lb bone-in turkey breast
1 1/2 teaspoon of sage
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of paprika
1 cup of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
Salt & pepper

Rinse the turkey breast with water and then lightly pat dry with paper towels.

In a small bowl, combine the sage, cayenne, salt, cumin and paprika. Gently rub the spices all over the turkey breast and let stand for 1 hour at room temperature. (Or, if you have the time: Place in the fridge uncovered overnight. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before roasting.)

Heat your oven to 350º.

Place the turkey breast skin-side up in a roasting pan with a wire rack. Add the broth to the pan plus 1 cup of water. Roast for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 155º to 160º degrees. Occasionally baste the turkey with pan juices to keep it moist. When fully cooked, transfer to a platter or cutting board and let stand 20 minutes before carving.

While the turkey breast is resting, make the gravy. Pour the pan juices through a strainer and discard any solids. In a small skillet, heat the butter over low heat. When melted and bubbling, stir in the flour and let cook for 3 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup of the reserved pan juices, and continue cooking over low heat until the gravy thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carve the turkey breast into large slices, top with pan gravy, and eat.


Fudgy Center of Attention

Oatmeal Walnut Fudge Cookies

just go nuts

If you’re a fan of oatmeal cookies, you’ll probably go cuckoo for these. If you’re a fan of walnuts (here, lightly toasted, pulverized and mixed into the dough), you’ll probably go nuts. And if you’re a fan of chocolate fudge, well, these cookies will probably make you flip out from happiness.

Because seriously, what’s not to like about a dollop of gooey fudge on top of a chewy, nutty cookie?

Nothing, that’s what.

Oatmeal Walnut Fudge Cookies
12 oz of shelled walnuts
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup of brown sugar
½ cup of sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of maple syrup
3 cup of rolled oats
1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 12oz bag of semisweet chocolate chips

Heat your oven to 350º.

Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, turning halfway through, until toasted. Grind them in a food processor until they’re about the size of mini chocolate chips. Remove all but 1/4 cup from the food processor and process until fine.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, vanilla and maple syrup. Add the flour mixture a little at a time until well combined. Stir in the oats and larger walnut pieces.

In a small sauce pan, heat the condensed milk and chocolate chips over medium-low heat until chips are completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Keep on a low heat.

Drop small rounds of the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten the center to form a nest, and then spoon a teaspoonful of the chocolate mixture in the middle. Sprinkle each with the fine ground walnuts. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then place a cooling rack. Then eat.


Falling for Risotto, Again

maple pumpkin risotto

who’s up for a round of squash?

Guys, I think I have another food obsession. Everyone (everyone who regularly reads this blog, that is) knows that I’m obsessed with chicken. And eggs. Duh.

But after searching through my recipes, there are a lot that involve squash. Zucchini. Butternut. Acorn. And like this risotto, pumpkin. If you asked me when I was a kid – heck, if you asked me 5 years ago – I would have said that I didn’t like squash in any form. It was squishy and gross and bland. Oh, how naive I was. Squash is nothing like that. It’s sweet and rich and earthy. And crazy versatile.

Which brings me to pumpkin. Most people are used to seeing squashes in all kind of dishes this time of year, but pumpkin still seems to be something we just carve up or bake into a pie. Seasonal lattes aside, there’s more to pumpkin than just that. And risotto, with it’s creamy, fluffy rice, is the perfect base for this autumnal flavor. And please don’t get put off by the somewhat laborious process of making risotto. It’s worth it in the end, I promise. Would this squash fanatic lie to you?

Maple Pumpkin Risotto
2 cups of apple juice or cider
3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 ½ cups of diced leeks
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 cups of Arborio rice
1 cup of white wine
1 15oz can of pumpkin puree
3 tablespoon of maple syrup
2 tablespoon of grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt & pepper
4 slices of maple-glazed bacon, cooked & crumbled (optional)

In a medium sauce pan, combine the apple juice and stock and warm over low heat.

Heat the butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft and slightly caramelized, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and wine, and cook until the wine has been absorbed.

Next, add ½ cup of the juice/broth mixture to the rice and stir frequently. When fully absorbed, add another ½ cup of the mixture. Repeat this process until all of the juice/broth mixture has been absorbed into the rice, or until the rice is al dente. The rice should nearly double in size, so use that as a gauge, too.

Stir in the pumpkin puree, maple syrup and Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate, garnish with extra Parmesan (and bacon), and eat.

(*Also, I realize putting maple-glazed bacon on this doesn’t make it meatless. But I’m not saying you HAVE to put it on there. But I am telling you it tastes pretty good if you do.)


Easy as Chicken Pot Pie

chicken pot pie with crumbly topping

a pie for me, a pie for you

Well, well, well. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it folks? Over a month if my calendar is correct.

Sidebar: Is anyone else in shock that it’s already November? 2013 has flown by. And yet, still no hover boards or flying cars. Sigh.

Luckily, I can take comfort in one of the most comforting dishes ever created – chicken pot pie. While I’m a fan of flaky pie crust surrounding a warm, saucy mixture of chicken and vegetables, I’m not a fan of making flaky pie crusts. That’s something this aspiring baker needs to work on. It would help if I actually liked fruit pies (which I don’t), but that’s a story for a different day.

But even without a pie crust, you can get the same comforting meal on your plate. Much like a crisp, this version of chicken pot pie has a crumbly topping, which takes almost no time at all to make and even has a little kick of cayenne pepper to keep things interesting. This recipe might seem like it has a lot of steps (it kinda does), but you’re basically using the same pot over and over again. Makes for easy clean up, right? And it’s also simple enough that you can enjoy this comforting meal on a weeknight. Because sometimes (many times) you need comforting on a Monday to get you through the week.

Chicken Pot Pie with Crumble Topping
For the filling:
1 ½ to 2 lbs of boneless chicken breasts
3 cups of chicken broth
1 small onion, finely diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
8 oz of mushrooms, diced
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
4 tablespoons (½ stick) of butter
½ cup of flour
1 cup of milk
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup of frozen peas
Olive oil

For the topping:
2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
3/4 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of pepper
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons of butter, cut into ½ inch cubes and chilled
½ cup of grated Parmesan
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of heavy cream

Bring the chicken breasts and chicken broth to a simmer in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook until chicken is done, about 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to a large bowl. Pour broth through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl and reserve. Don’t rinse Dutch oven.

Heat your oven to 450º.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and cayenne. Add butter cubes, and using fingers, rub butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse corn meal. Stir in the Parmesan, and then mix in the cream until combined. Crumble mixture onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until light browned and fragrant. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. While veggies are cooking, cut chicken breasts into small cubes. Add cooked veggies to the same bowl as the chicken.

Heat another tablespoon of oil in the Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until juices are released, about 5 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce and tomato paste, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated, mushrooms are well browned and a dark fond begins to form on the surface of the pan, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to the bowl with the chicken and veggies.

Heat the butter in the Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and the reserved chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom to loosen the browned bits and then cook until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a wooden spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Then mix in the chicken, cooked veggies and peas.

Pour the mixture into a 9×13 baking dish (or several individual pie dishes) and top with an even layer of the crumbled topping. Bake until bubbling and topping is browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and then eat.


What The Fluff?! Cookies

WTF cookies

holy $#%&

What the F#@$ is in these?!

Yep. That’s pretty much the response from everyone who’s tried these cookies. I think that’s pretty accurate considering they have some unusual ingredients. Originally based on a Momofuku Milk Bar recipe (that famous bakery in NYC known for putting weird things like breakfast cereal into their cookies), I changed it up by replacing mini marshmallows with Fluff.

What’s Fluff, you ask?

It’s that gooey, marshmallow-y concoction that got it’s start in Union Square, Somerville (just a stone’s throw from where I now live) almost 100 years ago. In fact, the annual Fluff Festival was this past weekend. Nowadays, most people use it to make fudge or frosting or a Fluffernutter sandwich. Unlike regular marshmallows, Fluff is vegetarian friendly. And when mixed into cookie dough, it bakes up all ooey-gooey-wonderful, resulting in cookies that are both crispy and chewy. And 100% irresistible.

WTF Cookies (aka Cornflake & Fluff Cookies)
1 ½ cups of flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup (2 stick) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup of sugar
2/3 cup of packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon of vanilla
3 cups of cornflakes
½ cup of milk chocolate chips
½ cup of peanut butter chips
3/4 of a 7.5 oz jar of Marshmallow Fluff

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat for about 4 minutes, scraping down the side as needed. Add the flour mixture a little at a time until well combined. Beat in the cornflakes a little at a time, and then stir in the chips and the Fluff. Cover and chill the dough for at least 3 hours, or overnight. It’s very important you do not skip this step. The dough needs to firm up before baking.

WTF cookies bowl

stirring in the magic ingredient

Heat your oven to 375º.

Roll golf ball-sized balls of dough and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet a few inches apart. Pay attention to this too, as these cookies spread a lot. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the cookies have flattened and the edges are browned. Let cool completely on the baking sheet, and then enjoy.


Rollin’ With My Zucchinis

zucchini rollatini, plate

ready to roll

You probably don’t think prosciutto can come from Serbia. At least I didn’t before a few weeks ago. But silly me, it does. And my friend Boris (who’s Serbian) was nice enough to bring me back some from his recent trip home. He promised it would be different from the Italian stuff: meatier, smokier, not as dry. Which, come to think of it, is a lot like Boris.

Of course you don’t need Serbian prosciutto for this dish, but it would be a great touch. Just be careful slicing your zucchini so that it’s not too thin. Then it might be too delicate to roll after sautéing. And while Serbian prosciutto isn’t a must-have, please don’t use some boring jarred tomato sauce. Making your own is so, so much better.

Zucchini Rollatini
2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/8-inch thick lengthwise
6 to 8 slices of prosciutto
8 oz of fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
1 bunch of basil leaves
1 ½ to 2 cups of tomato sauce
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Toothpicks
8×8 baking dish, or similar

Heat your oven to 425º.

Season the zucchini slices on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini in batches and cook until golden on both sides, about 2 minutes. Let cool enough to handle.

Top each zucchini slice with a piece of prosciutto cut to fit, a slice (or two) of mozzarella cut to fit and 1 basil leaf. Carefully roll each stack into a pinwheel and secure with a toothpick. Place the tomato sauce in the bottom of a baking dish and then place each rollatini side by side in the dish. (You can remove the toothpicks at this point, or wait until after baking.)

zucchini rollatini, dish

bake & roll

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling. Plate and then eat.