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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

These lemongrass and pandan cookies started as an experiment and are now a Christmas cookie tradition. (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)

Lemongrass and pandan Christmas sugar cookies

By The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook / 12.19.13

Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.

I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the United States where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican wedding cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. And Deb was baking glazed lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”

When my sister and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement didn’t last after we moved away.

Two years ago, when my son was a year and some, I decided I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition. These lemongrass and pandan cookies were the result of my experimentation (read my original post here).

To make them festive for the season, I sprinkled the cookies liberally with colored sugar. Stacked, wrapped in cellophane, and tied with a bow, they make a lovely edible gift. Or, invite your girlfriends over for a spot of afternoon tea to escape the hectic atmosphere of the season and a plate piled with cookies will be a welcome – and pretty to look at – treat on your table. 

Lemongrass and pandan Christmas sugar cookies
Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with white whole wheat flour (that’s what I had but you can use all-purpose flour, too) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to 1/2 cup more sugar.

2 cups cake flour

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup natural cane sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup lemongrass confetti (see below)

1 tablespoon pandan extract (see below), or 1/2 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)

Sugar sprinkles or other decorations

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.

4. Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.

5. Divide the dough into 2 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits and pandan juice to each bowl respectively. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.

6. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.

7. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

8. Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.

Lemongrass confetti

Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils.

Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk so you’ll probably need 2 stalks for this recipe.

Pandan extract

Pandan (also called pandanus or screwpine) leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)

Rinse 10 pandan leaves and snip off sharp tips and hard bases. Snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll have more than the required 1 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just save the extra for making other desserts or add some to a pot of tea.

Related post on The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Chinese New Year Cake

Top your pound cake with a glaze or sparkling sanding sugar. (The Runaway Spoon)

Red velvet pound cake

By The Runaway Spoon / 12.18.13

Christmas is the perfect time for red velvet. It’s the festive color of the season, and it is just so fun. 

I’ve made red velvet polka dot cookies and red velvet surprise cupcakes, and experiment with even more ideas. But this may be the most practical. Pound cake is such a holiday staple – it’s easy to make, keeps well and freezes beautifully. Serve hefty slices with whipped cream or ice cream and some festive sprinkles for a dessert, or smaller slices on a buffet. Wrap a loaf in plastic wrap with pretty ribbon and it makes a beautifully fun, festive gift. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it would be lovely baked in those little decorated paper mini loaf pans as a gift.

I’ve added a simple glaze (skip it for freezing or wrapping) because it adds a lovely snowy top, but the cake is rich even without it. I’ve even sprinkled the glaze with sparkling sanding sugar to give it a real winter wonderland effect.

Red velvet pound cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter,  at room temperature

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 tablespoons red food coloring

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1/2 cup buttermilk

For the glaze

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan or use a baking spray.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and food coloring on slow speed.

3. Sift the flour, salt, and cocoa together in a bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar and add to the buttermilk in the measuring jug. Beat the dry ingredients into the butter and egg alternately with the buttermilk in three additions, mixing well after each and scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently.

4. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release air bubbles. Bake for about 50 minutes or until cake is done and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan about 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the glaze

Whisk together the powdered sugar and buttermilk until you have a runny glaze (use a bit more buttermilk if needed). Pour the glaze evenly over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Traditional pound cake

Nutella adds an extra creaminess to this fudge. Add toasted almonds for extra flavor and texture. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

Almond Nutella fudge

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 12.17.13

Remember my epic fudge fail? I told myself I would try that recipe again and make it right but it's been two years and the trauma hasn't faded so I never did give it another shot. Truth be told, I don't think I've even made any kind of fudge since then. Not sure if I was really that traumatized or just risk averse and wanted to make other things that had a higher chance of success.

But I got this recipe from one of the ladies on my online fitness board who's also a baker so I was willing to give making fudge from scratch another chance. I modified her original recipe which called for peanut butter and instead substituted in the same amount of Nutella. I also added whole toasted almonds for additional flavor and texture.

Thankfully, my fudge curse may have been broken, as I thought this turned out really well. There was a hold-my-breath moment when it seemed like the fudge was going to be dry and not creamy once it had lost its initial gloss after I melted and beat in the chocolate chips and Nutella, but the moment passed and I could exhale.

The fudge was a trifle more firm than creamy but it wasn't dry or crumbly. I think the firmness might have been due to the Nutella substitution as it was also cold in my kitchen when I was making this (I'm notoriously cheap about not turning on my heater until I'm practically blue from frostbite) so the fudge mixture cooled more quickly than I anticipated before I was able to get the chips fully melted and the Nutella incorporated.

Despite the marshmallow creme, this wasn't too sweet. You can't really taste the Nutella too much so I think it served the purpose more to add creaminess than flavor to the fudge. I will have to try the peanut butter version shortly and see how the flavor turns out. Plus, I need more fudge for my holiday gifts as I took this batch of fudge into work today and it's all gone. This also freezes well so it's a good do-ahead recipe and definitely a keeper.

Almond Nutella fudge

1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1/4 cup butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk chocolate chips

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup Nutella

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole almonds, toasted, optional

1. Line an 8- by 8-inch baking pan with foil and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallow creme, sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt. Bring to a full boil, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

3. Remove from heat and pour in the chocolate chips and Nutella. Stir until the chocolate is melted, the Nutella is combined and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Add toasted almonds if desired. Pour into prepared pan and smooth. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours or until firm.

Related link on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Nutella-filled chocolate chocolate chip coookies

Use up the last of that pumpkin puree in these pumpkin whoopie pies, with a frosting of your choice. (Blue Kitchen)

Pumpkin whoopie pies two ways

By Marion BoydBlue Kitchen / 12.16.13

When I told my friends that for this week’s post I would be making whoopie pies, no one said, “Making what?”

Pretty much everybody in the United States these days knows what a whoopie pie is. A cookie sandwich with an icing filling, it’s simpler than cake, a happy intermediate between a cupcake and a sweet bread. Whoopie pies emanated from the American Northeast –  Maine (where it is the “official state treat”), Pennsylvania and Boston all vow they invented it. Wikipedia reports that the world’s largest whoopie pie was made in South Portland, Maine in 2011. It weighed 1,062 pounds. This is a real thing, that happened. 

In the last couple of decades or so, whoopie pies have moved from the humble North Atlantic lunchbox to tables all over the country. They are in hipster bakeries and everywhere on the Internet – hundreds of thousands of recipes and all sorts of flavors. There are Pinterest boards devoted to photos of them. Chocolate, chocolate chip, red velvet, lemon, salted caramel, peanut butter, raspberry, sweet potato … there’s a royal purple one on one pinboard that I am trying to get my head around. But after our recent visit to Syracuse, pumpkin has been on my mind.

This is an adaptation of about 40 online recipes. The recipe can be made in stages – bake the cookies in the morning, then later in the day make the icing and assemble the whole shooting match. Then you will have these convenient treats around for a quick afternoon pick-me-up or informal dessert or on hand when people drop in over the holidays or as part of a game day TV marathon buffet. Or you could take a batch to the office like I did on Monday or bring it to a holiday pot luck.

After sorting around online for a while, that is what I went with – a classic soft pumpkin cookie, and a cream cheese filling. But we agreed that we wanted more than just cream cheese. This ain’t carrot cake. Terry suggested something to emphasize the tanginess of the cream cheese: lemon. And I proposed something to enhance the warm spicy flavors in the cookie: maple syrup.

The thing about cream cheese filling is that first you mix up the base icing, and after that, you add the flavor. The commitment to a flavoring happens last.  This really cheered me up because I did not have to decide between the two flavors – we could have both.

There are lots of other fillings you could devise for these simple desserts. Instead of lemon, go for orange or don’t use icing at all, use a little Nutella. Or use the cookie recipe on its own with a simple fat-free icing – powdered sugar and lemon juice mixed together, then drizzled over the cookies, for instance.

Pumpkin whoopie pies
Makes about 15 or 16 3- to 4-inch whoopie pies

For the cookies

3 cups flour

2-1/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed – see Kitchen Notes)

1 cup canola oil

1 can pumpkin puree (15 ounces)—not pumpkin pie filling

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

For the icing

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the half-recipe of lemon icing

2 teaspoons lemon zest, chopped fine

2 teaspoons lemon juice

For the half-recipe of maple nutmeg icing

1-1/2 tablespoon maple syrup

A pinch (okay, 1/16 teaspoon or maybe less) freshly grated nutmeg

1. Make the cookies. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper – you won’t need oil or butter.

2. In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, mix together the canned pumpkin, oil, brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, allspice, and salt. Mix until there are no lumps.

3. Add the baking soda and baking powder. Stir and then add the flour in batches. The dough should be smooth and a little glossy.

4. Drop spoons of batter onto the cookie sheet, leaving about 1-1/2 inches between blobs. Each of mine was about 1-1/2 tablespoons of dough. The dough is very sticky and a little fussy to work, and at times seems to be feeling its way along your hands, and you will have an adventure getting it from the spoon to the sheet. Keep a wet cloth at hand to minimize the damage. (Note to self: move laptop away from work area.)

5. Slide the sheets into the hot oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes depending on your oven. I did two sheets at a time, three batches. When done, the cookies should be firm to the touch and your tester should come out clean. Lift the cookies off the sheets right away with a spatula and cool completely on racks.

6. Make the icing. While cookies are cooling, put the butter in a big bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the cream cheese. Beat again for about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla. Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Scrape down the bowl now and then. Pretty quickly, it will take on that lavish look of cream cheese icing, and even if you have done this a hundred times before you will think: say, that was easy!

7. This recipe yields about 2-1/2 cups of cream cheese icing. To make the two flavors, divide the icing in half into two smallish bowls. In one bowl, add the maple syrup (the icing will have a subtle maple flavor) and grate in the nutmeg – go easy on it.

8. In the other bowl, stir in the 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and the lemon juice.

9. Assemble the whoopie pies. Prepare a plate or surface to hold them – I ended up using pizza pans. If you are making two different fillings, then divide the cookies into two and use two different sheets to sort them. There’s not a lot of visual difference between the fillings, and it’s easy to lose track of which is which (see Kitchen Notes).

10. Hold one cookie flat in your hand, flat bottom side up, dollop on a generous tablespoon of icing, then gently place another cookie on top. Don’t squeeze it. Settle it in place firmly.

11. Slide the whoopie pie-laden sheets into the fridge for a little while to firm them up. That’s it. Done. Store finished whoopie pies in a single layer in airtight containers in the fridge.

Kitchen Notes

Brown sugar. Before you add the brown sugar to the batter, eyeball it for lumps. If it is looking like there are hard stubborn lumps, try to crush them and break them up.

What would I do differently? I would add a tiny drop of yellow food coloring to the lemon icing, because honestly, it was really hard to tell the difference between these two flavors visually. I might also try making the cookies smaller (with a  corresponding shorter baking time).

What if you only want one icing flavor? Use the whole icing recipe and double the flavorings.

Whoopie? How did they get that name? Supposedly, because that’s what kids would say when offered one.

Use real maple syrup, not “maple-flavored” stuff. We still have some of the superb maple syrup we got at beautiful Moondance Gardens in upstate New York during sugaring time – but use any kind that you have available.

And finally, fun with cats. After I prepared the lemon zest, I went in the living room and patted the more scornful of our cats. Now you smell like lemon, I said to her.

These cookies are chocolatel-y and almond-y, and amazing. The fact they are gluten-free and dairy-free are just an added bonus. (Garden of Eating)

Holiday food gifts: Coconut almond chocolate chunk cookies

By Garden of Eating / 12.15.13

Someone I work with likes to use the term "amazeballs" and it is the perfect word to describe these cookies. Each bite is rich and super flavorful — coconut-y, chocolate-y and almond-y — sorta like a Manischewitz chocolate macaroon mixed with an Almond Joy — but better. Wheat flour would just dilute the flavor.

I personally love both wheat and dairy and have to admit that taste, not health, is almost always my primary consideration when I bake. So when I say that these cookies are delicious, I sincerely mean it. But the fact that they are gluten and dairy-free a nice plus since it means that more people will be able to enjoy them.

My friend Lana handed me one of these cookies, fresh from the oven, a couple of weeks ago as we got in the car for our semi-monthly trek to the nearest Trader Joe's. While I munched in bliss, she chattered enthusiastically about the recipe from her new favorite cookbook, 'The Sprouted Kitchen' by Sarah Forte. An hour later we arrived at the TJs, managed to find a parking spot without too much bloodshed (their shockingly undersized lot can make you feel like you're in the "getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot" video) and headed in, armed with shopping lists, armfuls of canvas tote bags and multiple insulated freezer bags.

I knew I would be making these cookies soon so I added a few more impromptu items to my list — almond meal, shredded coconut, chocolate chunks, and coconut oil. I had an urge to bake the other afternoon and busted out the simple ingredients for these cookies. I mixed the dry ingredients together, adding a little bit of cocoa powder to enhance the chocolate flavor. Then I melted the coconut oil, which solidifies unless it is really hot out. But it melts quickly and easily, especially when placed on top of a woodstove!

I beat the egg and added the vanilla and coconut oil to it, then added the wet ingredients to the dry, and stirred to combine. Into the fridge it went to chill for 30 minutes while I worked on the rest of dinner (which included a divine kale and avocado salad that I will be writing about soon). Finally, I formed the dough into balls, placed 'em on the baking sheet and pressed them down a bit then into the oven for a quick bake — 8 minutes only. Took 'em out once the edges began to brown and let them cool a little. 

I was glad that I did not cook them for longer as I really enjoyed how soft they are. There are a lot of pretty hearty things in these little cookies so they stand up really well without needing to be super crunchy, unless you like your cookies really crunchy in which case, cook them for a minute or two longer and go to town.
 

Coconut almond chocolate chunk cookies 
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook
Makes 20 cookies (I strongly suggest you make a double batch - they'll go quickly!)

1 1/4 cups almond meal

1/4 cup chopped chocolate

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoon cocoa powder (optional)

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 egg (try to get pasture-raised from a farm near you)

3 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

 1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together almond meal, dark chocolate chips, coconut, baking powder, cocoa, salt, and sugar.

 2. In a separate bowl, beat egg until uniform in color and doubled in volume.

3. Whisk in the coconut oil and vanilla, then add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

4. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or even overnight.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, place on baking sheet with 1-1/2 inch space in between each. Press down slightly to flatten a bit. Bake until edges begin to brown, 7-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

Related post on Garden of Eating: Mandarin Coconut Cookies— Vegan Yet Delicious

Saffron buns play a big part in family holiday traditions across Sweden on St. Lucia Day. (Kitchen Report)

St. Lucia Day saffron buns (+video)

By Kitchen Report / 12.13.13

In Sweden, Dec. 13 marks St. Lucia Day, a day traditionally when the oldest daughter of the family wears a white robe, a red sash, and a wreath of lit candles on her head as she delivers coffee and saffron buns to the rest of the family still huddled in bed against the cold and dark morning.

St. Lucia is one of the very few saints honored by Lutheran Scandinavians (Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, and Danes) and in some parts of Italy. I’m not exactly clear who St. Lucia was, except that she did some self-sacrificing behavior for the good of others. The legends and stories differ depending on the region of the world.

What seems to be more important is the timing – a celebration of light and comfort on one of the darkest days of the year. Before the Christians came along and redefined all the pagan holidays to support their worldview, Winter Solstice holidays were focused on using light to shield against perceived forces of evil (i.e. really long nights, bitter cold, and long lines at the mall). St. Lucia comes out of that tradition as well.

RECOMMENDED: 28 cookbooks from 2013

I’ve never been to Sweden but I’ve heard how very dark it is this time of year. It’s on my bucket list to see the spring flowers burst out in full force in Sweden during midsummer celebrations when the days are longer than the nights. Somewhere I have some distant cousins of my grandfather’s who live there, and I carry a Swedish last name. So I’ve had a yearning the past couple of years to figure out how to make saffron buns for St. Lucia Day.

But dough is fickle. It takes time and patience and doesn’t give a flip if you are a working person who doesn’t have the time to wait around for it to rise already. When I was hunting for saffron at my corner store I happened to strike up a conversation with a store manager who is half Swedish and makes saffron buns every year with her family. She said they have a special wooden bowl they use to let the dough rise, and even set it in the laundry room to help the process.

Saffron buns require two rising periods, first after you mix the dough, and a second time after you shape the buns. So if you have a job outside the home, I recommend you start this late the night before. Put the dough to bed when you turn in and then get up at 4:30 a.m. to finish the task. I don’t know what else to tell you. Maybe just take the day off. I tried this schedule this year and the results were a little more successful than my first attempt last year, which had me willing the dough to rise in time so I could put the buns in the oven and make it to work before the afternoon holiday party. They turned out to be kind of a flop, but people ate them anyway because they had never seen St. Lucia saffron buns before.

This year, with a better recipe my college friend Jen gave me, the buns were a little more successful. I may even tweak the recipe again for next year after finding this King Arthur Flour recipe that recommends melting the butter first, adding the saffron, and then letting it sit for a half and hour to draw out the saffron flavor even more.

So how did expensive saffron grown in southern climes come to be cherished by the northern Swedes? It’s a good question, and probably tied to the developing spice route across Europe in the Middle Ages. It is very expensive, but considered a holiday indulgence and you just need a pinch for saffron buns. I have not found a fully satisfying answer in my research, nobody really seems to care, only that is is a tradition. So if you know something please be in touch!

St. Lucia Day evolved from being a rural farmhouse tradition to a nationally celebrated event in the 1920s when Stockholm declared an official “Lucia” for that year. Soon other cities followed suit, and now the day is marked by long processionals of girls singing and carrying candles, accompanied by “star boys” and “Gingerbread men” so all children can participate. Even across the United States you can find Scandinavian communities who appoint their own Lucia each year.

St. Lucia Buns

Makes about 2-1/2 dozen buns

1 package active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron (if you are using saffron threads, use 1/2 teaspoon and grind until fine)

4 cups flour, divided

For brushing:

1 egg

2 tablespoons water

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside.

2. In a sauce pan over medium heat, warm milk and then add butter until it is melted.

3. Combine the yeast, milk, melted butter, eggs, salt, saffron and 2 cups of the flour to a bowl. Mix with a hand mixer using bread hooks for 3 minutes. Then add the remaining 2 cups of flour and combine using a wooden spoon.

4. Turn onto a floured surface and knead dough, adding a little flour for easier handling.

5. Return to a clean, greased bowl and cover with a tea towel. Set in a warm place and let rise until the dough has doubled.

6. Turn out onto a floured surface. Pinch off palm-sized pieces of the dough and rollout into “logs” 6 inches long. Shape into and “S,” curling the ends in opposite directions tightly.

7. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper) about 1 inch apart. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until they appear puffy (about 1/2 an hour to 1 hour).

8. Position oven rack to center of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

9. Mix an egg with 2 tablespoons of water, then brush the tops of the risen buns. Place a raisin in the center of each curled end.

10. Bake cookie sheets one at a time for 18-20 minutes, until buns are golden on top.

RECOMMENDED: 28 cookbooks from 2013

Food-related tree ornaments like this one make fun holiday gifts for your 'foodie' friends. (The Runaway Spoon)

Stocking stuffers and festive finds for foodies

By The Runaway Spoon / 12.13.13

Holiday shopping season is upon us once again, and I love to share gift ideas for the food lovers in your life. As always, these are just some ideas about personal favorites – no one has asked me to promote any products.  To get a good look at all this year fun finds, follow me on Pinterest.

You can’t go wrong with a good gift of food, and if you don’t get around to going homemade, here are a few recommendations.  Classic cakes from Sugaree’s Bakery taste like you made them yourself.  And the fabulous, unique caramels like Old Fashioned and Pretzel from Shotwell Candy are a real treat.  Ricki’s Chipsticks are a chocolate chip cookie with a real difference- and highly addictive!  A special gift for any cook would be a subscription to BeshBox – a monthly box of recipes, tools and ingredients straight from New Orleans chef John Besh.

I think a cookbook is about the best gift there is, and the book I am hoping to find under the tree is The Great American Cookbook by Clementine Paddleford, a beautiful reworking of a true classic. These practical and pretty little Short Stack editions are a lovely gift for the cookbook lover, covering my favorite ingredients like buttermilk, grits, sweet potatoes and more.  Tara Desmond will jazz up all your meals with Choosing Sides, a wonderful book of creative side dishes. Or make eating your veggies more delicious with Sarah Copeland’s beautiful Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite. And for a rollicking good read (fiction this time), Cinnamon and Gunpowder combines food and pirates!

RECOMMENDED: 28 cookbooks from 2013

Get organized. Grocery lists, recipe notes, photos of your favorite meals … keep them together in these bespoke notebooks and albums.  Pick a color and the text to imprint. Whether its making recipe notes, coaching the team or keeping the gift list in order, do it on style with these fabulous personalized clipboards. And it’s fun to make all those notes and lists with these fun Dewdrop Designs pencils. A beautiful ceramic piece from Ceramica Botanica is a work of art and useful in the kitchen.  And I would love one of these beautiful personalized mixing bowls from Ice Milk Aprons Southern artisan collection under the tree.   This fun Gastronomy cutting board features a map of the US with made up of local specialties.

I keep a fun, bright Scout Deano bag in the back of my car – it’s great for groceries, farmers market finds or anything thing that tends to move around.  You can even get it personalized.  And I love the hand-printed fabrics on Pomegranate’s aprons.  And if you’ll bring the snazziest dish to your next potluck in this classic canvas carrier.

For the gourmand in your life who deserves a little out of the kitchen pampering, Laura Mercier’s hand cream set includes fresh fig, crème de pistache, honey almond milk and crème brulee fragrances.  And what Southern girl (or lover of all things Southern) wouldn’t love some Sweet Tea Body Scrub from Farmhouse Fresh

But maybe the best gift of all is giving on behalf of someone you love to someone in need. There are so many great organizations to give to that will create special cards you can wrap up for your recipient or have it sent directly to them. Women for Women International is an amazing organization that works to raise women and girls out of poverty around the world.  They have a whole selection of gift donations.

And as food banks are under more strain than ever, Give-A-Meal through Feeding America to a family in need in honor of a family you love.  And remember your local food bank with monetary donations or canned goods.

For some more ideas about my favorite fun kitchen finds, book and movies – check out The Spoon’s Store, powered by Amazon.

RECOMMENDED: 28 cookbooks from 2013

Sesame oil, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, and orange all work together to imbue duck legs with Asian flavor without absolutely taking over. (Blue Kitchen)

The Lemonade Cookbook and Chinese-style braised duck legs

By Blue Kitchen / 12.12.13

We occasionally get offers to review cookbooks. Often, we say yes. But sometimes, the cookbooks can be a little too, well, niche for our tastes. Did you know there are multiple jello shot cookbooks?

So when we were asked to review "The Lemonade Cookbook," you can imagine our first response. Turns out, though, that lemonade isn’t the key ingredient in the book’s recipes. It’s the name of a popular chain of modern cafeterias in Southern California with an emphasis on simple preparations, bold flavors and imaginative dishes with an inventive global taste. This sounded like a cookbook we needed to see.

After years of working in fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles, Alan Jackson, chef/owner of Lemonade, saw the need for quick, affordable food that didn’t come at the expense of taste or imagination. He opened the first Lemonade location in 2007, offering a daily rotating spread of fresh, chef-driven, healthy fare. Twelve more locations have opened since.

RECOMMENDED: 28 cookbooks from 2013

Published this fall by St. Martin’s Press, "The Lemonade Cookbook: Southern California Comfort Food from L.A.’s Favorite Modern Cafeteria" beautifully translates Jackson’s cooking approach for the home kitchen. A full 39 of the 120 recipes are devoted to “marketplace vegetables” – on their own, with legumes and grains and with proteins such as ahi tuna and chicken. Land and sea, braises, sandwiches (including seven pot roast sandwiches), soups and stuff, sweets and, yes, lemonades (10 of them) make up the rest of the list. Lively writing by Jackson and coauthor JoAnn Cianciulli as well as gorgeous photography by Victoria Pearson bring it all deliciously to life.

I’m always happy to cook duck. This recipe makes the most of its meaty, rich flavor. Jackson accurately calls it “Chinese-style” – it uses a number of Chinese ingredients and Chinese cooking techniques without attempting to replicate a specific dish. The sesame oil, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, and orange all work together to imbue the duck with Asian flavor without absolutely taking over. That’s another thing that made this recipe especially “Chinese-style” to me. The effect is subtle, as with Chinese braised, steamed or tea-smoked dishes. And while I love big, tangy, spicy Chinese dishes, it’s quiet ones like this that often wow me.

One more thing about the subtleness. All you serve of this dish are the duck legs; the beautiful aromatics in the photo above get discarded. For a spot of color, serve some orange slices alongside. And if you’re cooking for someone else, maybe have them admire the pan before you serve.

Chinese-style braised duck
Serves 2

2 whole duck legs

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 large, seedless navel orange, cut into large chunks (skin and all)

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1-inch piece fresh ginger, halved lengthwise and smashed

1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 4-inch sections, bulb smashed

5 to 6 sprigs cilantro

1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Additional orange slices (optional)

1. Season duck legs generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high flame. Brown duck legs skin side down for about 10 minutes. Turn and brown other side for about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate. If there’s a lot of duck fat in your pan, pour most of it off (mine had virtually none – leave it to me to find a dieting duck).

2. Add orange, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, and peppercorns to pan. Pour in sesame oil and broth and stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits. Return duck legs and any accumulated juices to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pan and braise duck legs until tender, about 1 hour.

3. Plate duck, along with additional orange slices, if desired, and serve. Discard braising liquid and solids.

RECOMMENDED: 28 cookbooks from 2013

Don't be intimated by rolling, this dough is easy to work with, and the results will delight. (In Praise of Leftovers)

Classic shortbread cookies

By In Praise of Leftovers / 12.11.13

Shortbread always makes me think of my sister. Every Christmas, she makes a gargantuan batch of dough and proceeds to turn each cookie into a frosted work of art. 

I trust myself less with the decorations (yikes!) and more with the recipe. I was craving a traditional cut-out shortbread recipe that wasn't fussy, and it actually took me a while to find one. I ended up coming back to my tattered "Silver Palate" cookbook. The first one. I remember so clearly my mom cooking out of that in the 1980s, way before people even knew what pesto was. Or sun-dried tomatoes. Or roasting garlic, which seemed so crazy at the time. Forty cloves of garlic? Wild!

Don't let the rolling intimidate you. This dough is really easy to work with, and the results are perfection. I added some fresh rosemary here. You can leave it out or add countless other (finely chopped) additions – lemon zest, pecans, hazelnuts, or almonds, Chinese 5 spice powder, lavender, candied ginger. Shortbread tastes even better if it ages for a few days, won't go stale for at least a week, and is so wonderful with a cup of tea in the afternoon. 

Rosemary shortbread

 3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1. Cream butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy.

2. Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.

3. Gather dough into into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 3 or 4 hours.

4. Roll out chilled dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into rounds or shapes with your favorite biscuit or cookie cutter. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar. Place cookies on un-greased cookie sheets and refrigerate for 30-45 more minutes before baking.

5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just starting to color lightly. Cookies should not brown at all. Cool on a rack. 

Related post on In Praise of Leftovers: Russian Teacakes

These filling waffles beg to be topped with maple syrup, and maybe even a dollop of whipped cream. (Whipped, the Blog)

Spiced pumpkin waffles

By Whipped, The Blog / 12.10.13

The big day has come and gone. Millions of pieces of pumpkin pie have been consumed. The spotlight has moved away from pumpkin and is heading toward gingerbread and egg nog. I, however, am not quite ready to say goodbye.

These waffles were a new addition to my repertoire this year. We made a heap of them and froze half the batch, warming them in the toaster oven over the past few weeks. I’ve decided to make one last batch and hit the snooze button on the end of pumpkin season. The added benefit of this recipe is the aroma that fills your house while the waffles cook.

Because I was concerned about the waffles being dense, I altered this recipe from Weelicious slightly by separating the eggs and whipping the whites before folding them in at the end. In addition, I altered the spices a touch. The final result is fragrant, filling waffles that marry exceptionally well with maple syrup. A dollop of whipped cream wouldn’t be a bad match either.

Spiced pumpkin waffles
Makes 12 4-inch waffles

2-1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

4 large eggs

2 cups buttermilk

1 cup pumpkin purée

6 tablespoons melted butter

1. Preheat a large waffle iron. Sift the first eight ingredients into a bowl and set aside. Separate the eggs and whip the whites in a stand mixture until white and soft peaks form. In another bowl, stir egg yolks together with buttermilk, pumpkin, and melted butter. Combine the pumpkin mixture with the dry ingredients until just mixed together. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the egg whites until just incorporated.

2. Cook waffles on medium heat setting of the waffle iron until done. (When I am planning to freeze some, I cook them until just set to allow for further cooking when I reheat them).

3. Serve warm with maple syrup or your choice of topping. To freeze additional waffles, let them cool completely. Then, freeze them on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes before putting them in a zip-top bag together. When ready, reheat them in a toaster oven.

Related post on Whipped, the Blog: The Best Pumpkin Bread Recipe. Really.

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