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.

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