Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Cool Yule and Crunchy Cookies

Solstice is here. Winter assembles itself from cold, wind, and the moisture that will soon become snow and slush instead of the hard rains we've been getting. The long stretch of mild weather has turned our heads a little, but the wise have already prepared for the next phase. Maybe the wiser are prepared but still enjoy the unseasonably green grass, higher-than-average temps and absence of having to shovel.

I'm not as prepped as I'd like to be: there are leaves on my lawns, raked into piles that never got moved to the curb-side where the Village would have kindly removed them, right up until yesterday. I haven't had the heart to seal the back doors with plastic, hoping for one more chance to open them and hear the sounds of the world beyond my backyard. Christmas cookies, however, have already been made, exchanged & consumed. (See the link on the recipe title to get a glimpse of the Polenta cookies).

The wheel of the years rolls quicker at the end, bringing me close to the first anniversary of this adventure in communication. It's been mostly howling in a closet, but I've learned quite a bit, and I'm staying here for the forseeable future, under a shortened title.

Next month, next year, will be different in subtle ways... I used to host family dinners, now I'm planning on getting out ever more and more, having friends in, entertaining casually. I like cooking for people whose tastes I don't know; it takes away the limits. There'll be more strident budgeting to make that all happen, which means daily food should get simpler. I can live with that.

Oh, and I'm lining up guest posters to enlarge the scope of things. As the title change will signal. It is more than just semantics, as I take stock of the first year of this blog: it's a mandate to be out there, showing by delicious example that plant-based eating is wonderful, joyous, economical and fun.

Wishing you a beautiful Solstice and a warm, cozy end to the year.

Peaceful Seasons, Mari

These lightly sweet, crunchy, yellow cookies delicately touched with lemon, bring sunny flavor to a wintertime cup of hot tea. I made them at our family holiday cookie bake & take. My notes are below the recipe.

ITALIAN POLENTA COOKIES, Martha Stewart Living, November 2005

Yield: Makes about 2 1/2 dozen


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Italian polenta, or yellow cornmeal*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest, (1 lemon)
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, polenta, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Put butter, sugar, and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

2. Add egg and egg yolk, one at a time, beating after each addition to combine. Mix in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tip (such as Ateco No. 826).

3. Pipe S shapes about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide, spaced 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake cookies until edges are golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment to wire racks; let cool about 10 minutes. Remove cookies from parchment, and transfer to racks to cool completely.

*Mari's Notes-- These were a success with my family and friends, and we agreed they truly shine dipped into steaming tea, although I've since discovered they're not bad with white wine! They are, however, made from a thick dough that takes some strength to push through the pastry bag. My pastry bag is the Williams-Sonoma mechanical type; I'm not sure a regular cloth style wouldn't work better here. But even my gimpy arms made it through the process, and I made a double batch!

As to the cornmeal issue, I used 3/4 Bob's Red Mill Polenta, and 1/4 Hodgson Mill's organic white cornmeal, and we all agreed, the texture is great-- very crunchy and crisp (these are not a child's cookies!) with just enough of a crumbly edge. They demand actual chewing, but aren't tooth-breakingly hard.

You could make them more tender by going half & half on the polenta and cornmeal, or try them with medium grind. Bob's also makes a stellar medium grind cornmeal.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eating Trees

Back from my Nano hiatus, I have a couple things planned for this space: keep the Tried and Tweaked column, but lose the special day attached. This means that you get it when you see T&T in the title. There are still plenty of these wonderful recipes I haven't shared here and more coming along all the time-- I never post these unless I've made them often enough to almost forget the original recipe concept, so they are eminently usable.

Also, going through my gigundus collection of Christmas/winter holiday themed food mags for inspiration this week, I realized many of the recipes are no longer available online, they've been around so long; or else the mags may have ended, like Gourmet. So beginning now, for a new feature we'll call The Collection, I'll regularly type in with my own two hands some of the excellent recipes from bygone food eras that you probably can't get anywhere else, unless you have a similar room full of old food mags.

Today it's an appie from Food and Wine. In an article about a tree-trimming party, an occasion I've never seen the like of, I found this neat little uptake on the old standby, cheese canapes. Old school entertaining, yes, but they were good! Simple, tasty, and suitable for any holiday just by changing up the shape of the cutter used. I think they'd take nicely to other seasonings mixed into the topping, such as a sprinkle of wasabi powder or a dash of dried dill. Non-stick cookie sheets work best here.

Parmesan Trees Food and Wine magazine, December 1989

Makes 24 trees

"Use various cookie cutters to make these zesty cheese toasts, which are festive for any occasion."

3/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese (3 oz)

1/2 C good quality mayonnaise

2 Tbsp grated onion

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

24 slices white sandwich bread (such as Monk's, or Pepperidge Farm)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine the cheese, mayo, onion and pepper.

2. Lay the bread on a work surface and cut with a tree-shaped cookie cutter. Scraps can be reserved for making bread crumbs.

3. Spread about 2 tsp of the cheese mixture evenly onto each bread tree. Arrange trees on a large baking sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Try them on your picky eaters, or with a soup dinner.

Peace, Mari

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cheesy Friday Night

You know those days when you have to run out and shop for this, that and the other thing? Then you come home loaded down with food but too tired to cook it?

That happens to me a lot, but after keeping house for over 25 years, experience has taught me to buy something frozen or easily assembled for that night's dinner, to avoid the indignity and expense of ordering take-out after all my careful grocery budgeting.

Except for last night, when I had too many things on my mind. Oh, sure, there were edible, if unappealing, leftovers in the fridge. There were rolls that needed using, there were veggie burgers... but looking around, I got a brain wave. What if we used those rolls as dippers?

I knew we had some hard cider around; and for whatever reason, we have two fondue pots, one new and unused for several years, the other a hand-me-down, an electric one. I went searching for a recipe and found the perfect one almost instantly, thanks to the Cooking Light forums.

The original recipe is from The Melting Pot, a chain of fondue restaurants, and AZJane of the CLBB nabbed it from Recipezaar. She had jigged it around some. I jigged it further to meet my needs. It came together wonderfully easy, prompting me to suddenly desire a fondue cookbook.

The only real work here is prepping the dippers. We used lightly cooked fresh broccoli, sliced Mac and Empire apples, chopped and toasted sesame rolls, and a few walnuts on the side. Chunks of cooked potato or slices of raw fennel would be lovely, too. With a glass of wine or beer, this is a cozy little meal for two or three, perfect for a cold evening.

Melting Pot Cheese Fondue, as adapted by Mari

SERVES 4 as starter, 2-3 as a light meal.

12 ounces hard cider*
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces swiss cheese, shredded
1/4 cup flour
1 hefty tablespoon dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix cheeses with flour.

Heat cider in fondue pot until steaming.

Add garlic, mustard and pepper; mix well.

Add cheese and stir until melted. Keep warm on low setting, if using electric pot.

Serve with dippers such as sliced apples, toasted bread cubes or pretzels, crunchy steamed broccoli or green beans, and raw carrots or fennel.

*Angry Orchard Hard Cider is a nice regional brew-- I used the Apple Ginger.

Hope you have a hot, cheesy night, too. Peace, Mari