christmas cookies

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so, i made you some really adorable and yummy cookies for this holiday season. packaged them up in sweet little boxes with tissue paper and ribbons. and then proceeded to take many, many horrible photos of them.  

you are welcome!

i've been struggling to get into the holiday spirit this year. too many cocktails, not enough general cheer.

too many packages gone missing in the brown ups truck in the sky.

Christmas, it's on.

my gifts for my sisters-in-law may not arrive until february, but i had a pretty solid cookie strategy.

my go-to sugar cookie recipe is a cut above due to the addition of an aggressive amount of citrus zest.

i upgraded my oatmeal chocolate chip recipe with some cranberries for color and tang.

several of our nation's dairy farmers are having a fine christmas thanks to the brown-buttery deliciousness of rosemary walnut shortbread.

and because it isn't christmas without some powdered ginger and sparkle, i added dorie greenspan's speculoos buttons into the mix, but mine aren't nearly as cute as those gracing the cover of bon appetit.

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extreme walnut close up. please just be grateful it isn't blurry.

these shortbread cookies will melt in your mouth. did i mention the butter? they left darling little grease spots on the tissue paper. 

allow me to warn you about the speculoos buttons, however. it will be nearly impossible to tell when the little buggers are done since they are such a warm lovely brown color to start. so you must remain vigilant about over baking them, which will turn them into tiny spiced hockey pucks. you will lose a tooth. you have been warned.

but aren't their sparkly edges nice?

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believe it or not, this was one of the better photos. in my next life, my kitchen will be nothing but windows. WINDOWS I SAY.


for those of you who know my sommelier, you will enjoy the image of him on the couch on a saturday night, watching a dreadful movie involving horses and the end of my respect for steven spielberg, delicately frosting reindeer antlers with a squeeze tube of royal icing.

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i think we generally ended up with a nice mix of frosted cookies that looked nearly professional, but just charmingly off key so as to seem legitimately homemade. 

towards the end of the rather nice bottle of twomey 2008 napa valley merlot, the cookies looked a lot closer to what you might expect out of a kindergartner with some fine motor skills challenges.

those cookies ended up at the bottom of the box. just slightly out of frame. 

not that you would even be able to tell much about the quality of our handiwork, based on my mad skills with a camera. so, with that, i will leave you with this gem and some links to cookies that you should revisit in march perhaps, when the gray sky and several months of pretend-dieting leave you in the need for something sweet.

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does the filter make it seem like it was supposed to be fuzzy? good. let's go with that. it was quite the pretentious little display of cookies anyway.


twd: baking with julia: lemon bunny cake


there are two food traditions in my life: grandma's stuffing at thanksgiving and a bunny cake at easter.

i'll be honest, my earliest memories of this cake are more related to stealing jelly beans from the bunny decorations than the actual cake.

and then lying my pants off about it. i'm pretty sure my mom didn't buy it.

but i'm also pretty sure she's forgiven her sweet-toothed baby girl, because she still sends me an easter basket every year full of goodies . . . and always a dark chocolate bunny.

you're never too old for a dark chocolate bunny.


you're never too old to fall for the homespun charm of the bunny cake. coated in coconut "fur", nestled on a bed of that insanely irritating easter basket grass, sprinkled with easter egg jelly beans.


the relatively tart flavor of the lemon pound cake and cream cheese frosting helped cut the sweetened coconut a little, but let's be real. this is a seriously sugary proposition.

in previous years, i've gone with a carrot cake for the bunny. it felt so meta . . . bunnies eat carrots, but we're eating the bunny, the bunny made out of carrots . . . why is this so entertaining to me? 

one year, i tried to go a little more healthy by buying an actual coconut, smashing it open with a hammer, and then decorating the bunny with toasted brown freshly peeled coconut curls. it was amazing and wrong all at the same time.

and this is the other thing about my easter bunny cake tradition . . . it's supremely adaptable. easter, for the non-christian christians, is a holiday without a lot of baggage or rules. it isn't the holiday you'll fly across the country to visit the family for. it's the holiday you celebrate with the family you've created wherever you are – or the family you borrow for a weekend or egg-toss-filled brunch.


Lemon Easter Bunny Cake

You can find the recipe for the lemon loaf cake at Tuesdays with Dorie. I took the whole loaf recipe, but baked it in a 9 inch round cake pan instead. I also baked this Thursday night for serving on Sunday, and has happy to find the cake stayed moist and yummy wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge.

To assemble, take a 9 inch round cake. slice in half so you have two half circles. Stand one up, and coat the flat side with thick frosting. (I used Joy's recipe.) Stand up the other half circle and press the flat side into the frosting so you essentially have half a layer cake standing upright on your cake stand or platter. If you have time, give the outside a thin frosting crumb coat and then refrigerate for 20 minutes or so to let the frosting set before adding your final coat. This helps make the bunny truly white white, but since you're adding coconut, it isn't completely necessary. Then lightly press coconut all over the bunny to create the fur. I like to add a ball of coconut as a tail.  Eyes and nose are jelly beans, and I cut ears and whiskers out of paper. You'll need to cut little slits in the cake to insert the paper.

chewy ginger cookies


generally, i'm a soft and chewy kind of cookie girl.  i have no time for biscotti.  why?  why would you double bake a cookie?  it's wrong, i tell you, just wrong!

but, when it comes to ginger cookies, i'm a snap kind of girl.  something about the hard crunch of a ginger snap just seems to fit the hard spicy flavor.

but then, i got sucked in by the magazine photo.


so sparkly, so deep and warm looking.  that's a cookie that needed to enter my repertoire.

these cookies really are softer than they are chewy.  the mixture of butter and shortening makes them tender, and i think the molasses helps them down that path as well.


molasses cookies are totally acceptable as soft cookies. 

but do not mistake these for molasses cookies.  they have a serious one-two-three ginger punch: powdered, fresh, and crystallized.


crystallized ginger really is magical.  well, crystallized pretty much anything's pretty good.  foodie friends of my mother's from the big easy came to visit one summer and made crystallized citrus rind.  it totally blew my mind that you could MAKE that. like, from SCRATCH. 

they also kick started my obsession with squash blossoms, but that's a story for another time, and definitely another season.

but don't worry.  i didn't crystallize my own ginger, and really, neither should you.  it would ruin what is otherwise a super easy cookie recipe.

the ginger teams up here with some other nice holiday flavors.  nutmeg, cinnamon, obvious.


it is the black pepper, though, that i think adds a nice, unexpected layer of spice to the mix.  i think i'm going to keep that in mind for future recipes. 

if i can ever find any of my spices again.  my ocd spice organization system seems to be rebelling on me.


i guess i can't be that ocd since my kitchen counter's looked like that for a couple weeks now.  i just can't bring myself to address the situation.


back to the cookies.  i might be failing in spice organization, but i finally did my math-hating self a huge favor and got a new app for my iphone that automatically converts cup amounts to ounces or grams.

i mean, seriously.  why have i been multiplying fractions for so long? 

and i wonder why i can never get the flour right.


my iphone and ipad are seriously some of my most important kitchen tools.

they help save me from myself.  if only siri could see what i was actually doing, i'd really be rolling.

but, to be honest, these cookies came out great.  the turbinado sugar on the outside gives a great crunch, but the cookie is melt in your mouth soft, and the flavor is a wonderfully intense spice bomb. 


bake them.  you won't be sorry.


Chewy Ginger Cookies

Find the recipe at Bon Appetit

grandma lena’s chestnut stuffing


to me, thanksgiving = stuffing.

and not just any stuffing.  porky, sagey, crumbly, chewy, chestnut stuffing.  stuffing made from a recipe passed down from my great grandmother lena, who brought some serious cooking skills with her when she emigrated from the french basque country. 


every year – and i mean every year – thanksgiving is kicked off in my family with a semi-frantic text or call to my mom for the stuffing recipe.  which starts her semi-frantic search for the recipe, recorded neatly in grandma renee's spidery handwriting.


it's totally freudian.  because it's totally not fair that grandma renee isn't still able to make the stuffing. 

that said, while her stuffing was better than mine, she never made enough.  the original recipe calls for two measly cups of bread cubes.

two cups.  we always had at least 20 people around the table.

this weekend, i made stuffing just for me and the somm . . . and basically tripled the recipe.  and we took most of that bad boy down in 24 hours.  none of that depression-era self-control around our house, no siree.


grandma might have called this chestnut stuffing, but the critical ingredient is the sage.

one of the first years my mom and i were on stuffing duty, we couldn't find the recipe.  forgot the sage.  nearly ruined thanksgiving.

don't be stingy with the sage.


i used all fresh, but i'd encourage you to go ahead and throw in some powdered sage.  it's old school, and this is definitely an old school recipe.

here's another piece of advice: don't get a manicure before roasting and peeling your chestnuts.  this is messy work.


there are a couple of ways to roast chestnuts, but all of them start with scoring an x on top.  make sure you actually get through the shell.  don't worry about cutting into the meat of the nut.  you're going to chop it up anyway.  i went stove top roasting, but 15 minutes in a 500 degree oven works well too.

the absence of an actual turkey meant the absence of giblets in my stuffing this weekend, which totally wouldn't fly for my sweetbread loving momma, but was not a problem for me.  i just bumped the flavor up with sausage.


sage sausage.  that's right. there's no going back to boring ground pork from here.

this year, we're heading north instead of west for turkey day, and my mother-in-law sets out a pretty mean spread . . . including the BEST pumpkin pie i've ever had.  but i'm still going to miss my family, who will be gathered around my mother's beautiful table. 

luckily, i'm not also going to have to have missed the stuffing.


Grandma Lena's Chestnut Stuffing

Back in the day, recipes had very little information . . . they just assumed you knew what to do.  Here's the recipe verbatim, and my updated version is below. A note about bread crumbs.  Grandma always used the stuff out of the bag from the grocery store.  This year, I followed the Serious Eats Food Lab's advice and made my own from high quality white sandwich bread.  Next year, I'm going to go back to homemade bread crumbs made from bread with a good chewy crust, because that's how I like it.

For an 8 lb bird.

  • 1/2 lb chestnuts
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 lb pork meat ground
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • giblets
  • celery
  • 2 cups toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp sherry wine
  • 2 tbsp parsley
  • 1 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 tbsp powdered sage
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Wash chestnuts and make long slits on both sides. 

Bake 500 degree oven, 15 min, remove and take off shells.

Boil 20 min.

Saute meat, onions and butter, 10 min.

Updated Variation:

  • 1 lb chestnuts
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 lb pork sage sausage, not in casings
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • giblets
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cupish chopped sage
  • 2 tbsp powdered sage
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 4-6 cups toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp sherry wine
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash your chestnuts (Grandma knows best).  Score an x through each chestnut, making sure to get through the skin.  Toss with the oil.  Heat a large skillet (that you have a lid for) on the stove, add the chestnuts and roast, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then add 1/4 cup of water and cover and roast until water is gone, about 5 minutes.

Let your chestnuts cool, then good luck shelling those bad boys.  Then give them a nice rough chop.

Wash your skillet, return to the stove.  Add the onions and sausage (and giblets if you've got them), and saute until the sausage looses most of the pink.  Add the celery and continue to saute until soft.  Add your herbs and salt and pepper.  Don't be shy with the salt – there's a lot of bread to season!

Whisk your egg in a medium bowl, then stir in 1 cup broth and sherry.  If you're my uncle Maurice, you probably would have also added a little milk.

Combine your chopped chestnuts, bread crumbs and meat mixture in a very very large bowl.  Toss.  Transfer into a large casserole dish – you'll need at least a 9×13 dish. 

Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture and press the bread down.  If you like a more custardy stuffing, add more liquid.  If you like a chewier, crumblier stuffing add less and think about omitting the egg. 

Bake for 30 minutes, covered with foil.  Remove foil and bake for another 15-30 minutes until set and golden brown on top.

Try not to eat it all before you make it to your aunt's house.  Or be thankful that even if you aren't with your family, you have the whole thing to yourself, to eat with a fork, standing at the counter, straight out of the casserole dish.

Happy Thanksgiving!



life's full of scary stuff, you know? 

changing jobs.  moving cross country.  trying a new yoga instructor.  working late and coming home to ravenous kittens.

know what isn't scary?  yeast bread!  i know!  counterintuitive!

yeast feels complicated.  active dry, instant, proofing.  bread seems so onerous to make.  so much kneading and rising and kneading and rising.

but let me tell you . . . it just ain't that hard.  and the smell of fresh baked bread in your house? 


PLUS, a slice of fresh-baked bread?  makes the rest of the scary-ass world that much easier to take on.


let's talk yeast.  unless you go hard-core baker on me, you're really only going to need to know about two types of yeast: active dry and instant.

as the name might imply, you don't need to do anything to instant yeast to make it work.  you can just add it to your flour, water, etc and be good to go.

active dry yeast requires proofing – that's because the little granules of dried yeast have a coating that needs to be dissolved.  all this means is that it should sit with some warm water and sugar to get nice and foamy before you add it to your flour.

but do you want to know a secret?

i've TOTALLY just added active dry yeast to my water at the SAME time as the flour.  no waiting, no foaming.  and you know what?  my pizza dough turned out just fine.  all 15 hundred million times i did it.

but proofing your yeast can be pretty cool.  check this out:


right!?!  so foamy!

here's a few other yeast-related tips.  if you're going to bake more than once, don't but the yeast packets.  buy the cute little jar of yeast.  do it!  just store it in the fridge.  because at some point i'm going to introduce you to jim lahey's no knead bread and this book and it will change your life just like it changed mine, and you need way less yeast per loaf than comes in the packet.

got it?  good.  let's move on to why this bread is different than all other breads.

(did you get that reference?  i know jhill should have!)

the short answer is eggs.  eggs and honey.  both inside, and a nice coating of egg wash on the top to make it shiny and brown.  mmm.


i could have (slash did) eat this dough with a spoon.  it was, erm, spoon-able, because i was using my iphone for the recipe and apparently i need new glasses cause i put in four cups of flour instead of six.

and then, honest to god, dumped it out onto my silpat and thought about kneading it.  before i realized.  i. am. a. moron.

what is my problem with flour??

after some successful detective work and assistance from my able sous chef, the creeper, i got back on track.  there are few kitchen mishaps you can't solve, folks.

this is what challah dough should look like in your kitchenaid, should you happen to have a kitchenaid.  if you don't, no biggie.  you probably (hopefully?) already have equally effective kitchen tools: a wooden spoon and your hands.


this is what challah dough should look like after you've kneaded it.  not forever.  just give it a little love.  let it loosen up and get a little smooth.  fold it in half and knead it out with the heels of your hands, maybe 20 times.

why do you knead dough?  you're developing the gluten – the protein that lets the dough get elastic.  you want elastic dough because that will allow the gas bubbles to develop during the baking process, giving you a light fluffy loaf of bread. 


this is what challah dough will look like after you've gone off to that scary yoga class for a few hours.


why do we let dough rise?  well, it helps continue to develop the gluten, but it also helps develop flavor in the bread as the yeast gets busy.  it develops gases that stretch and flavor the dough.  which sounds, frankly, disgusting, but let's all just remember how yummy bread is.

nom nom.

now we're going to braid the dough.  this also isn't as scary as you think it is.


the link below offers easy instructions on how to do this, but i used the smitten kitchen method for a round loaf because it felt more intuitive to me.

are you ready to go conquer some yeast bread?  it's totally worth it.  i made two loaves, and each was eaten straight up by friends and coworkers.  i had enough dignity to at least cover some of my slices in butter and jam.  but if i make it again, this is destined for some top-notch french toast, maybe even like this.



Ima's Challah Bread

I changed nothing, so find the recipe here.

And I'll give you links to some of Smitten Kitchen's loaves here and here.

trick or treat

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it got spooktastic in manchego’s kitchen this weekend.  we ate a lot of sugar.  we got into the spirit of halloween.

perhaps some of us got a bit too into the spirit.

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this is the danger of hosting the halloween party.  cobwebs and spooky creatures everywhere.

shrunken heads in the cider.

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also, eyeballs.


and swamp creatures.  adorable swamp creatures.


have you heard of cake pops?  i hesitate to send you to this site, because, well, bakerella’s look legit.  let’s all just remember mine were made with love, ok?  and with some able assistance, not just from Duncan and Betty, but from one very sexy pumpkin.


yes, that is a cake pop landscape i crafted out of tin foil.  yes, i do enjoy using my glue gun at halloween.

but, let’s get serious here for a second.  i have some snacks for you that aren’t wearing halloween costumes.  they’re yummy just as is.

both snacks play off of the salty-sweet combo that you know i’m obsessed with.

this snack mix i made with pretzels, malted milk powder and jazzed up for halloween with candy corn and chopped up snickers – peanut butter and regular.  it was insanely, amazingly good.  it was also ridiculously un-photogenic.  so please just trust me.  it is super easy to make.  just be sure you have friends coming over – maybe for a marathon viewing of seven and riggins? – so you don’t put yourself in a food coma.

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this peanut butter caramel popcorn is just as good – and slightly less likely to give you a toothache.

it has that chewy goodness of caramel corn, but the peanut butter softens it and makes it much less likely to stick in your teeth.  plus, it’s just plain addictive.


Peanut Butter Caramel Popcorn

Adapted from Cooking Light

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted if you’re feeling fancy
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter – I used chunky and liked it
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  If you have one with sides – like a jellyroll pan – that is better cause you’re going to be tossing the corn around.  But I made a batch on a flat sheet and I was careful and it was ok.

Pop your popcorn!  You can do it on the stove with oil, or you can air pop it 1/4 cup at a time in a brown paper lunch bag.  Just put the kernels in the bag, fold it over a few times and then microwave for 2-3 minutes.  Magic!

Toast your almonds if you feel like it.  Toss them with the popcorn in the biggest bowl you’ve got.

On the stove, mix your sugar, corn syrup, butter and 1/2 tsp salt.  Bring to a boil and stir for about 3 minutes.  It’ll get foamy and kind of look like you’re making toffee, but we aren’t getting that fancy here.  Add the peanut butter and vanilla and mix it in.

Here, I gave the super hot caramel mix a minute to cool down because I was afraid it would melt the popcorn.

Then, have your OCD self pour the caramel over the popcorn and toss/stir it so that all the kernels get some coating.

Spread out on your cookie sheet(s).  Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.  Bake for an hour, and every 15-20 minutes, pull the sheet(s) out and mix up the popcorn so it toasts evenly and doesn’t just turn into a giant slab of caramel popcorn.

Crumble into a bowl, and try not to eat it all in one sitting.