A list of food-related things I’ll be trying to do in 2011, you know, if I feel like it and stuff.

I’m not a resolution-maker. This has more to do with my fear of failure than anything else; but also includes the fact that my personality dictates that when I decide to do something, I just do it — no waiting until January 1st, or the urge will fall by the wayside. So I give you this vaguely-defined “list,” rather than a set of “resolutions.”

This also means that you can’t hold me to any of them. See how well that works?

In the next twelve or so months, I would like to:

  1. work in earnest on the (at times) deplorable diets of my three young children. Especially the youngest, our two-year old who by the very fact of being our third has already learned how to subsist on a diet composed primarily of dairy, grains, and cookies.
  2. make a habit of taking my cod liver oil each and every day, not just the days where I open the refrigerator and my eyes happen to land on the lonely bottle. If I’m gonna hit 40 soon, I want to do so with fervor.
  3. related: invest in eating good fish, more regularly. This will be pricey, so a plan is needed.
  4. kind of related: try my hand at making sushi. It would help if I hadn’t just given away that old sushi cookbook at the White Elephant Christmas party. Though, I think Emily ended up with it, so maybe she’d be willing to share?
  5. exercise more. I know that has nothing to do with food, but isn’t it on everyone’s nebulous list?
  6. catch my own sourdough starter.
  7. get back into making fermented beverages, preferably without moldy scobies.
  8. grow a real garden. Not exactly sure what will define “real,” but I hope I’ll know it when I see it.
  9. can my own tomatoes. This is heavily dependent on #8.
  10. teach someone how to make bread. Someone who actually wants to know how, not just a random person whom I hold captive in my kitchen.
  11. get my kitchen groove back. This is dependent on getting that good feng shui (the window is in our basement, ready for installation — we just need a little more cash for a backsplash and some time to make the magic happen).
  12. have one week, very soon, where we eat nothing but the contents of our freezer. It’s like a very cold episode of Hoarders right now.

That’s it for now, though I’m sure I’ll be adding to the list.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some black-eyed peas to soak. It’s true that I don’t believe luck will have anything to do with my deciding, at my will, to actually do the things on this list; but it never hurts to start a year with smoked meat, beans, and greens.

Happy New Year! (And if you know me personally, or even if you don’t, I wouldn’t do you bodily harm if you happened to nonchalantly ask me about one of the things on this list. Just so I could be reminded that I actually thought about this stuff at one point.)

Our new tradition

Let’s just say I’ll be eating my words.

All that stuff I wrote about not having any traditions for the holidays? Well, scratch that. Because every year, from here on out, in sickness and in health, ’till death do us part, our family will be making linzers. Because I had no idea that by never having made them before, I was depriving myself and my family of the World’s Greatest Cookie.

I think the only time I’ve had them before was way back in my days working the counter at a bakery in Athens. We could occasionally indulge in a treat at work (or maybe I was just sneaking them when no one was looking? can’t be sure) and when the case held linzers, I was reaching for them. Mainly because they were beautiful: delicate little cookie sandwiches with just a gem of jam peaking out from underneath a powdered sugar veil. Labor-intensive, I thought. A cookie worth my time and expenditure of calories.

And why have I never made them? Believe it or not, it’s because I just didn’t have adequate cookie cutters. You need a pretty round one (normal-cookie-size) and then a tiny one for the hole in the middle. I remember almost buying a set of linzer cookie cutters, at a gourmet store in Athens, a few years back. In classic me-fashion, I carried the ten-dollar item around the store for about 15 minutes, letting it warm in my hands, before putting it back and walking out of the store empty-handed. How useful is it — I mean, how often would I make linzers? I wondered. Silly, penny-pinching me.

But this year, on my wish list was this set of Martha Stewart biscuit cutters. A whole set, labeled with diameters. My sister Amy granted my wish, and I opened it early so we could get to the cookie-making, preferably before Christmas, and after the sickness left us (it finally left my oldest, enough so she could help with the cookie-making, while my other two succumbed to the virus — a Christmas to remember, indeed).

The cookies seem simple enough: butter cookies, dusted with powdered sugar, sandwiched with jam. I found a recipe here, and adapted it to my liking.

Words will fail me here. I love these cookies to that point of not wanting to eat them because that will mean they will be gone. They have remarkable complexity for a humble dessert: a textural delight, with the crunch of tiny flecks of almond, the delicate crumb of buttery shortbread, and sticky-sweet jam. Cinnamon and lemon zest in the cookie are a perfect complement to the tangy-sweet punch of raspberry, with the powdered sugar giving the slightest extra layer of sweet without being cloy. Like most butter cookies, these are the perfect side to a cup of afternoon tea, my favorite treat in cold months.

I made minor adjustments to take advantage of some whole grains and soaked almonds (soaking them renders them more digestible, and it also makes it easier to remove the skins, necessary since I had no blanched almonds on-hand). Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing, as perfection requires no alteration.

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Linzer Cookies
(adapted closely from this recipe at The Joy of Baking)

makes about 20 2-inch cookies

For almonds, soak 1 cup raw almonds in very warm water to cover for 7 hours (or overnight). Rinse well, then slip the skins off the almonds. Proceed with toasting in the oven (it will take a little longer to toast them since they’ll be wet).

  • 1 cup raw almonds (soaked and skinned, or blanched)
  • 2/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or combo whole wheat, sprouted and/or unbleached all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks (one cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tsp)
  • powdered sugar (for dusting)
  • 1/2 cup raspberry (or other flavor) jam

Toast almonds in a 350º oven until very lightly golden (about 8-10 minutes for blanched, or 15-20 minutes for soaked — see note above). Let cool completely.

Measure out the total amount of sugar for the recipe (2/3 cup) in a small bowl. Scoop out about 4 Tbsp (reserve the rest) and place in a food processor with the almonds. Process until very finely ground, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer) beat together the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, then the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Add the ground nuts, and then the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 rectangles about 1/2″ thick. Wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350º, and place racks in upper- and middle-center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and remove dough from refrigerator to soften a bit before rolling.

Roll one piece of dough to 1/4″ thick. Using the larger (2-3″) cutter, cut out the dough and place 1″ apart on baking sheet. Re-roll scraps, and continue to cut cookies until all the dough is used. Using a small (3/4″) cutter (or an apple-corer, which worked great for me) cut the centers out of half the cookies. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Repeat process with second piece of cookie dough. Cool completely on a wire rack.

At this point, the un-assembled cookies can be stored for a few days (it’s best not to assemble until the day they are served so the jam doesn’t make them soggy). When ready to assemble, dust the cookies with cut-outs with a fine layer of powdered sugar. In a small saucepan, warm the jam until it’s the consistency of thick honey, then let cool to room temperature.

On the bottom surface of a whole cookie, spoon about 1/2 tsp of jam. Top with a cut-out cookie, then spoon a little extra jam in the hole to fill it. Serve with a strong cup of tea.

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This post is part of the Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS.

The view from here, Holiday ’10 edition

I’ve heard a lot of discussion lately, about traditions. Folks, like me, who are young-ish with young children, wondering how to create family traditions around the holidays. These conversations usually involve a recollection of the traditions a person brought with them into their new family — and there is either a desire to create something similar (because those memories are sweet) or a desire to do the complete opposite (because they are sour).

And, my goodness, what pressure. Or at least, it feels like that to me. I’ve more than once been accurately accused of being flighty; and while I can often remember a recipe I made once, I can’t remember to do things that I put on my google calendar (it helps, I suppose, to actually look at the calendar). While it’s true that I want to embrace what this season offers: a time to be with friends, family, and hopefully lots of good food — I’m not one to make a to-do list of things we will plan to do each and every year in order to establish traditions.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not something I am wired to do.

Plus, I tend to think that those activities will organically repeat themselves if we like them. My kids love helping me bake, it’s something they’re always eager to do. There are certain cookies/dishes/etc. we only make at Christmastime, so the makings of these things will inherently become tradition. We have enjoyed the last couple of years, being at home as a single-family unit, on Christmas morning. I don’t like to make a huge meal on Christmas day, but love a good brunch, and we’ve shared that low-key event a few times with friends; and while we don’t yet have brunch plans for Saturday, I can see that happening again, and therefore also falling into the category of “tradition.”

And right now, from where I sit, I’m thankful that I didn’t have a line-up of activities; because chances are we’d be missing them all. My 7-year old, my oldest who is, of my three children, the least likely to be sick, has been ill since Saturday night. Whatever has her, has her hard, and this has effectively shut us down for the week. While in my head I’d thought we’d be making linzers and other cookies, wrapping gifts together, maybe utilizing the time off to clean out a closet or two, instead it’s been laundry, toilet-scrubbing, keeping sibblings away from the sickie, LOTS of movies (my daughter complained that she’s watched too much), coaxing to eat, google-searching (no, she doesn’t have cholera), and praying that my other kids don’t get it. I have been wearing the same 20-year old sweatshirt for four days, and can’t exactly remember when I last showered. I have removed three sticks of butter to soften four days in a row, only to replace them in the refrigerator before going to bed, the cookie dough once again not made.

But won’t there be a conversation one day, about the year that she was sick for half her winter break? She might remember how badly she needed to wash her hair, or what movies she got sick of, or the fact that her 2-year old sister was just about the only thing that could make her laugh. Her brother, always a stickler for details, could recall that this was the year we didn’t make the Christmas cookies until after Christmas, and might come up with a new name for them, like After-Christmas cookies. We might all remember the snow, how much there was, a little unusual for Christmas in Indianapolis — and that she didn’t get to go outside to help build the snowman that fell the same night he was created.

And while I certainly don’t want to make a tradition of this week, it will hopefully still be the stuff that holiday memories are made of.

{drumroll…} Presenting Vegan Ginger Molasses Cookies

{See this post for reasons why I don’t actually have an amazing photo of these cookies.}

It’s kind of reassuring to know that, amidst the recipes for Orange-Scented-Rum-Infused-Salted-Caramel-Shortbreads-with-Saffron-Glaze floating around the internets, most people just want a good old-fashioned ginger cookie.

Hold the milk, please.

While my heart and thoughts are moving in a direction toward Alton’s pinwheels (which I do like to make yearly, and outside of the kids breaking at least one Hallmark Christmas Ornament and my putting off shopping until the point where expedited shipping is my only option, might be one of our only holiday traditions to date), I did make these cookies several times in the last few weeks, and have received possibly the most requests for a cookie recipe, ever.

This is a marriage of two recipes; the mother is my favorite ginger cookie recipe ever, and the father just some random link found after searching for “vegan ginger cookies.” I tweaked over the course of the batches, and ended up with a classic cookie, flat but chewy (bake a little longer and they’ll be crisp), and impeccably gingery (thanks in part to the addition of candied ginger, a trick I picked up from Trader Joe’s).

Since I baked dairy-free treats for a few years when my son was allergic to milk, I have an arsenal of my favorite substitutions for dairy. Coconut oil is the fat, and coconut milk tonic is the liquid — but the recipe should work using vegetable oil and another dairy milk substitute (though the cookies might be a touch heavier — make sure your oil doesn’t have a stale smell, or it could be rancid and won’t bake good cookies).

With most holiday baking, it is imperative that your spices are fresh. It’s worth a $6 investment to buy small bags of the most called-for spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg — usually around $1/oz) at the beginning of each holiday baking season — they can be found at health food stores, and when bought in bulk are much cheaper than buying jars at the grocery. As a bonus, they are usually much fresher, more potent, and often organically-grown. Simply replacing your spices will make a dramatic change in your baking results.

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Vegan Ginger Molasses Cookies
makes about 2 dozen 3″ cookies

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (can use sprouted) or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk tonic (or other alternative to dairy milk)
  • 1 cup sucanat (can substitute cane sugar or light brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped very fine
  • 3-4 Tbsp turbinado (coarse) sugar, for dipping

Preheat oven to 350º, and place oven racks in two middle positions. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the first 7 ingredients (flour through cloves).

If using coconut oil, warm the oil until it is liquefied (about 80º). Combine oil with the molasses, coconut milk tonic (or other milk substitute), sucanat, and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, add the candied ginger, and stir with a wooden spoon until just mixed. Knead a little with your hands if any streaks of flour remain.

Scoop out dough with a 1-Tbsp measure, and roll into a ball. Dip the balls into turbinado sugar, and place 2″ apart on sheet. Flatten balls with the palm of your hand. Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating cookie sheets from front to back and top to bottom, halfway through baking. For chewy cookies, removed them when the tops are just beginning to crack (they will still look slightly undercooked). Let cool on sheet for about 5 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

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The reasons why, when you decide to blog about your first cookie swap invitations, Murphy’s Law will wield its power.

  1. You get off on the wrong foot by promising to post a praised recipe for Vegan Ginger Cookies, but never get around to it. Your friends probably think it’s because you’re deathly afraid that they will make the same recipe as you for the multitude of swaps, rendering a moment reminiscent of prom, when two unfortunate girls wore the same fuscia lamé dress.
  2. But the real reason is that, even after making a second batch for this express purpose, you could not. Remember. To take a picture of the cookies. And if ever there’s a post that should not be published without a short-apertured photograph, it’s one for cookies.
  3. In classic Carter fashion, while everyone else in their right mind (read: Angie Six) probably made their cookies a day or so before the swap, you thought it would work just fine to make them day-of. Even, afternoon-of.
  4. After a couple of really busy and exhausting days, you decided that making the dough for your swap cookies put you positively over-the-edge, and that a nap was in order. While your dough chilled, you could just get 20-minutes or so of reading or light rest.
  5. Two full hours later, you are awakened by the sound of your 1st grader beating on the door to be let in from the snowy cold after being dropped off from school. You let her in, and immediately say, “Hey, wanna help me bake some cookies?”
  6. It’s 3:30 pm. You’re supposed to leave your house for the swap by 5:00.
  7. You slice, and bake, and enjoy a sweet, quiet, mother-daughter moment with your delightful eldest child while you tag-team the dipping of baked cookies into melted chocolate. You set the just-dipped cookies on a cooling rack over a drip pan, basking in the fortune of your timing. You should still have time to dig around in your grandmother’s costume jewelry to find the perfect sparkly thing to add “festive” to your attire.
  8. Before finding something sparkly, your two-year old awakens from nap and, of course, has pooped everywhere. You wipe, wash, dip, rinse, wash again, change, and wash.
  9. As you bring your youngest delightful child downstairs for a snack, you notice that your chocolate isn’t setting up. In a flash of brilliance, you realize it’s cold outside. You take the rack of glistening chocolate-dipped cookies outside to refrigerate for a bit.
  10. Back upstairs, you have just enough time to realize you have no idea where your grandmother’s costume jewelry is actually located before your middle delightful child wakes from his nap. He has wet his bed. You quickly change his clothes and his sheets (lest you forget to tell Daddy and your child sleeps the night in a bed of his own urine). You run back downstairs to check the cookies, and they look perfectly set.
  11. You bring in the cookies, grab a container, and begin to load them up. But — funny thing — the cookies are glued-by-chocolate to the cooling rack. As gently as you pry, half the cookies break, their chocolate preferring its marriage to the stainless steel bars. That’s almost 2 dozen of the 6 dozen you’re supposed to take to the swap, now in ruins.
  12. You have just enough time to call your friend, to tell her you’re running late, and that you’ll just have to drive yourself. Your husband walks in from work to find you in a fluster of choice words and instructions. You quickly change clothes, gather up the salvaged chocolate-dipped cookies, and grab 18 or so of the Vegan Ginger Cookies that you’d baked that morning with a friend to make up the difference.
  13. While you recorded for visual perpetuity the disaster of the chocolate-dipped morsels: of the whole, delicate ginger cookies, you once again forget to take a picture.

Great for a party, when your cellar is clean out of stellar wines.

We had a BYOB cocktail party to attend this evening, and since we weren’t quite sure who would be there, or whether we would actually know anyone at all, I was feeling insecure about bringing a bottle of wine from our pitiable three-bottle stash collection. Somehow the “nice” bottles I pick up at Trader Joe’s — the ones that cost $5 instead of $3 — just seemed like something I didn’t want to be caught with at the rapture — much less a dress-to-impress type party.

What I did have in my pantry was a very large bottle of vodka (leftover from The Party) and a bottle of Kahlua I picked up last week for hosting book club. I don’t know what it is about book clubs that make me think of white russians, but obviously there is some subconscious connection. Maybe something to do with the fact that my favorite novels are written by Russians?

What I do know is that The Dude was right, and it’s a mighty fine drink. One with which you must show good restraint, because that dessert-like decadence can send you three sheets windward faster than you can say coffee with cream and sugar. I loved this for a holiday party, because it’s a drink you can actually mix ahead of time, and just pour over individual cups of ice. Martha tells us how to do it here — and I followed her recipe, which was strong, so added more milk to top off my bottle.

This makes about a quart, and I carried mine to our party in a grolsch bottle from Ikea (the label was cut from a Trader Joe’s grocery bag and taped to the bottle). I thought it was delicious — but maybe there were too many partakers of good wine at the party, because when it was time to leave there was still 3/4 of the bottle. Always the inappropriate guest, I walked out with it — more for the bottle than for the Russians still to be consumed. We left half of that with the babysitters (don’t worry kids — they are older than I am) and the rest will make a nice evening drink for the Mister and me over the weekend.

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White Russians (one-quart pitcher)

  • 1 1/4 cups vodka
  • 1 1/4 cups Kahlua
  • 1 1/4 cups half-n-half
  • whole milk to top off the bottle (optional)

Combine everything in a one-quart bottle and stir or shake gently to combine. Pour over individual glasses of ice, and serve.

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The reasons why, after never having been to a cookie exchange before, I’ve now been invited to five:*

  1. The concept is old-fashioned, but seeing a resurgence in popularity, not unlike homesteading, quilting, knitting, canning, urban-chicken-raising, and beekeeping.
  2. It’s a mid-western thing, like calling a potluck a pitch-in. Which I may never be able to do.
  3. Someone saw the party theme as a way to effectively guarantee that no spouses would want to participate.
  4. In that same realm of Parties Where No Spouses Want To Participate, the Twilight Marathon Holiday Party ran out of juice in 2008.
  5. One year, a clever (yet baking-phobic) woman figured out a way to have all her friends bake her Christmas cookies for her by hosting the first “exchange.” It’s like a cookie pyramid scheme — which means that somewhere, one woman is receiving approximately 2 million cookies each Christmas. I tend to think this woman lives in Muncie, Indiana.
  6. Since this is only our second Christmas in Indiana, I’ve not yet made it onto any “Who Not To Invite” lists.
  7. It’s the Christmas spirit. It will not be squelched, no matter what Black Friday does to us all.
  8. Since I blog about food, people mistakenly think this will guarantee that I bring good cookies. They don’t yet know that I oftentimes suffer from severe performance anxiety.
  9. What else can you do, but run your oven 24/7 under the guise of baking twenty dozen cookies, when it’s EIGHT DEGREES OUTSIDE.
  10. At the end of the day, we are all just puppets of The Pioneer Woman, and darnit, she says it’s time to bake cookies.

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* DISCLAIMER: I like cookies. I also like cookie exchanges, and the people who invite me to them. I’ll be posting recipes of the cookies I’m making this week for the two exchanges I plan to attend — but you can’t make them if we’re going to the same exchange.