This year, I made many a cup of properly spicy and milky chai. I shared the secret to indulgent, old-school cheese grits, made a vanilla bean panna cotta for Valentine’s Day, posted a guest recipe for addictive, homemade sriracha, and wrote about that beloved Indian restaurant staple: saag paneer.
Jill & I drank our fair share of champagne cocktails, fell in love with an eggplant salad, and joyfully welcomed baby Shiv into our lives. My mom retired, sold the house I grew up in, and moved to a new house less than two miles away from ours.
It’s been a YEAR, friends. Jill & I plan to celebrate it with some homemade pasta and a trip to the movies while Shiv hangs out with his grandmother. On New Year’s Day, we’ll offer the little man his first taste of solid food—sweet potatoes from our dear friends’ garden.
If you’ve got festivities lined up to ring in 2013, allow me to humbly suggest you bring some of these gougères to the party. Light, addictive, and just a little bit fancy, these bites of cheese-filled pastry are easy to make ahead and reheat when you’re ready to serve them (alongside glasses of champagne, of course!)
Recipe from Alain Ducasse as published in Food & Wine, October 2003
To make gougères, you first make pâte à choux, or choux pastry, which is the same pastry dough used to make éclairs, profiteroles, and beignets, among other French desserts.
Pâte à choux is cooked twice—first in a saucepan as you make the dough, and a second time in the oven (or fryer, in the case of beignets), where the large amount of moisture in the dough creates steam that makes the pastry rise.
Though pâte à choux sounds fancy and intimidating, it isn’t really, I promise. The main thing is to make sure you have your mise en place
—ingredients at the ready—and then it’s as simple as following directions and feeling impressed with yourself when the gougères come out of the oven.
½ cup water
½ cup milk
4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
large pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup shredded Gruyère, plus a few pinches more for sprinkling
freshly ground pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
pan: baking sheets lined with parchment
To make the pastry, combine the water, milk, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; turn the heat down to low and continue to stir until the dough pulls away from the pan and looks dry.
Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs to the dough, one at a time, mixing vigorously and thoroughly between each one. Don’t worry if the dough appears to curdle and separate at first! Keep stirring and it will come together. Once all of the eggs have been added, stir in the cheese and a few generous grinds of pepper and a pinch of grated nutmeg.
Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch round tip (or, if you’re me, into a large Ziploc bag with a small piece cut off of the corner). Piping in a spiral shape, make tablespoon-size rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about an inch of room between each one. Sprinkle with extra cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until puffed and light brown. Serve immediately.
If you are making the gougères ahead, let them cool completely and then refrigerate or freeze them in an airtight container or bag. Reheat in a 350° oven until nice and hot.
We talk a lot about magic this time of year but sometimes forget that this magic is not a given. It’s created.
My awesome and amazing friend Courtney, who came to visit us this week from Oregon, likes to remind me that perfectionism is a tool of the oppressor. To this truth I will also add that comparison is the thief of joy. To go in either of those directions leaves no room for magic to show up.
I am the guiltiest of guilty on this count. I am so very prone to fret, to worry, to feel the need to plan it all out and then feel like the plan is somehow not good enough. I all-too-easily become my very own Grinch.
When my perspective feels three sizes too small, I find that the simple act of saying aloud or writing down the things that are bothering me helps. Often, once I get those things outside of my head, they lose some of their power and I am able to see them for what they are, and get myself back to myself. From there, it’s often making something with my hands, looking at or listening to something beautiful, writing a note or email or even a simple text message of appreciation to a friend that will distract me until I realize that I’m not so worried or fretful anymore and actually able to enjoy this time that can be so magical.
So whether it’s ice skating and hot chocolate, crafting and baking, taking a trip to see Santa and driving around the neighborhood looking at lights, watching goofy or bad or classic movies while planted firmly on the couch, consuming a parade of food and drink, tree trimming, carol-singing, church going, present-opening, old-photo-viewing, storytelling, or something else altogether that occupies your next few days, I hope very sincerely that they are joyful and bright, and that you are able to spend them with people that you love.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!
The danger of blogging about cookies is that you end up…eating cookies. More cookies than you can justify with the “quality control” excuse.
But you know what? To heck with it. I ATE SOME COOKIES. SO THERE. This is what December is about, right? Cookies on the counter and potatoes in my pantry destined to become latkes next week…mmmm, latkes.
If you are feeling unabashedly gluttonous like me, or perhaps just want to bake up some homemade love in the form of butter and sugar to share with friends, family, colleagues, and the like, I’ve rounded up of all the cookie recipes I’ve ever posted on this site, plus a new one, into a list below. That’s a grand total of eighteen recipes: not too shabby, eh?
holiday cookie ideas:
–CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD COOKIES
–CHERRY PISTACHIO COOKIES
–CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES
–CHOCOLATE-ESPRESSO MINI CAKES
–GINGER-MACADAMIA NUT COOKIES
–LEMON LIME-BASIL SHORTBREAD COOKIES
–MEYER LEMON THUMBPRINTS
–PEANUT BUTTER/ALMOND BUTTER COOKIES
–SALTED PEANUT COOKIES WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE
Next week I’ll post another round-up of homemade holiday gift ideas that don’t fall into the “cookie” category, plus a new one.
I’m fond of the baked goods posted here, of course, but also love trying new ones each year. If you have favorites or suggestions, please link to a recipe in the comments!
CHOCOLATE-DIPPED ORANGE SHORTBREAD COOKIES
adapted from this recipe by Eileen Troxel, as printed in the Minneapolis StarTribune
One of Jill’s favorite combinations is orange and dark chocolate, so this cookie is for her <3
As written, the cookie is a hybrid shortbread/thumbprint, but you can also skip the marmalade and just make orange shortbreads that are half dipped in chocolate. I love the look of them either way.
1 cup butter, at room temperature, plus a few tablespoons extra
¾ cup sugar
1 egg yolk
zest from 2 navel oranges
1 ¾ cups flour, plus extra for rolling dough
½ cup almond meal (optional—you can go with an all-flour cookie, too)
approximately ¼ cup of kumquat* or orange marmalade
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
equipment: baking sheets lined with parchment, wax paper
Lay the sugar out on a large cutting board. Sprinkle the orange zest on top (better yet, zest the oranges directly onto the sugar). Using a bench scraper or knife, cut the zest into the sugar, scraping and chopping to combine. This will help distribute the orange flavor into your sugar evenly.
Cream the orange sugar and the butter at medium-high speed for two minutes. Add the egg yolk and beat until combined. Turn the mixer down to low and add the flour, mixing until just incorporated.
I found this dough easier to work with after it sat in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, but you can skip that step and go straight to rolling out the dough on a generously floured surface. Aim for a ¼” thickness and use the cookie cutter of your choice to cut rounds or shapes from the dough.
Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets (they won’t spread, so you can set them fairly close together) and use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each cookie. Fill with a small amount (from ¼ to ½ teaspoon) of marmalade.
Bake until the edges just begin to brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.
When you are ready to dip the cookies, melt the chocolate in either a double boiler or the microwave, then whisk in a few tablespoons of butter to achieve the desired consistency for dipping (I used 4 T).
Dip half of each cookie into the chocolate and place on wax paper to set. If your kitchen is warm or you want to speed up the setting process, slide the dipped cookies into the refrigerator for a bit.
*I had a jar of homemade kumquat marmalade on hand that I made using this recipe.
Is it just me, or is there a lot of competitive holiday-ing going on out there?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest and food/style blogs and Instagram and gift guides as much as the next girl, but sometimes I think that all of this display can mess with our heads. Maybe it’s not meant to be competitive, but when everyone else’s life appears to be perfectly packaged, in cute recycled cardboard boxes festooned with washi tape and organic baker’s twice, then photographed using the perfect vintage filter, it’s easy to feel like your life doesn’t measure up.
This is not what the holidays are about.
The holidays are not a competitive sport. They are not meant for comparing your life (or holiday card or wrapping job or homemade toffee) to everyone else’s. They are not about feeling obligated to whip up magazine-page-worthy meals from scratch or addressing your custom typography/photo collage holiday cards in metallic pen calligraphy or making sure that your tree ornaments are all in the same color family or festooning your mantle and door with homemade decorations from pine boughs you chopped yourself.
You don’t have to host the most charming holiday party or have just the right present picked out for everyone. If you don’t do these things, the holidays will go on, and they will not lose any of their real meaning.
I’m all for making this time of year special, but when we make it so damn significant that every inch of it is up for inspection and ornamentation, we’ve defeated the point.
HOMEMADE CRYSTALLIZED GINGER
Okay, it may seem totally hypocritical that I waxed on about resisting the holiday pressure to do it all and now I’m offering you a recipe for making your own crystallized ginger. I know, I KNOW.
Please know I’m not implying that you ought to be making your own crystallized ginger, just that you can make it at home should you be planning to do some holiday baking or would like to give some away as gifts. But if you care not for the stuff or can’t be bothered to do one more damn thing right now, then ignore me.
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8” strips or coins
Bring the water and sugar to a boil over high heat, then add the ginger pieces. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to boil the mixture until the ginger becomes translucent, 25-30 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon or strainer, transfer the ginger pieces to a drying rack set over a cookie sheet (to keep drips off of your counter). Allow the ginger to cool and dry for half an hour before rolling the pieces in granulated sugar. In the meantime, reduce the leftover liquid down until you have yourself a nice ginger syrup (perfect in tea or cocktails!)
Return the sugared ginger to a clean rack and allow the pieces to dry out thoroughly before storing them in an airtight container. The finished crystallized should no longer feel tacky and should “ping” when you drop the pieces into a jar.
Looking for a recipe to use your ginger in? These ginger-macadamia nut cookies are a favorite.
Tonight is the last night of my twenties! I’m going to drink some bourbon and, if the weather cooperates, sit by a fireplace and say goodbye to one decade and hello to another.
We’ve had a good run, twenties, you and I. We’ve grown a lot, God knows.
We lied to people in ways that were really hurtful. We were judgmental, twenties—like wow. We were righteous, defensive, petty, and conceited. We were also spontaneous, effusive, ambitious, and strong. We did things we look back on with tremendous pride. (There are also a few things that make us shake our head.)
We learned what true-blue friendships really look like, the kind that you work on, the kind you invest in, the kind that blossom both in the short-term and in the long, long term, stretching out over a decade now. We’ve learned to trust the ebb and flow of people, in and out of our lives, knowing that there really is a time for every season.
We have kissed people when we probably shouldn’t have, and not kissed people, then wished we had. We have had too much to drink. We have taken things for granted.
We have gotten a few things under our belt: how to make pasta from scratch, how to get eighth graders engaged in English class, how to show up on time and be an adult, how to suck it up and deal when things are hard, how to love without abandon or regret.
We have been blessed, we have taken some fabulous trips, we have grieved and we have experienced exquisite joy.
Thanks for the ride, twenties—I’ll look back on you fondly, but I’m ready for what’s next.
YOU GUYS. Thanksgiving is next week. When the hell did that happen?
Seriously, I swear the holiday has snuck up on me this year (you too, perhaps?), but this is kind of a good thing. It means, much like having only sixteen days notice to get ready for a baby, that I can’t overcomplicate things too much. I can not plan my many plans. I can’t over-think and re-think the menu, making things less fun and more fussy. I can’t go overboard.
I know that “overboard” is normally what Thanksgiving is about, but this year I’m aiming for right at or above board instead. I’ve got a turkey in the freezer, and I plan to try brining him (a first) before letting Jill roast him (she’s the expert in our house). I’ve made the cranberry sauce you see here, and my mom and I are both craving pecan pie, so that’s on the docket.
Jill will probably whip up some of her famous deviled eggs, and I loved my friend Rebecca’s grandmother’s dinner rolls so much last year that I think I will have to make them again. Mom makes a killer vegetarian dressing. Throw in a couple of vegetables—butternut squash? green beans? beets? (I’m totally open to suggestions here)—and I think we will call it a day.
This year, I’m leaving the perfectly coordinated, picture-perfect, show-stopping Thanksgiving to someone else. And for that, I feel truly grateful.
HOMEMADE CRANBERRY SAUCE
This cranberry sauce has the texture of a loose jelly and a very bright, sweet-tart cranberry flavor. It’s dead simple to make and is a lovely addition to the Thanksgiving meal as well as to leftover turkey sandwiches (especially when paired with mayonnaise!).
I use port in my sauce, but you can substitute red wine, or even water. Keeps very well in the fridge, so it’s great for making ahead of time.
1 (12 oz) bag cranberries
zest of 1 navel orange
juice from half of the orange (approximately 1/8 cup)
¾ cup water
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup port*
Combine all ingredients in a deep saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly. As the sauce cooks, the cranberries will burst and break down, so I like to keep a lid partially covering the pan, to prevent splatter.
The sauce is ready when it has reduced by almost half and is quite thick in texture, sticking a little as it pulls away from the side of the saucepan while you stir. Cool completely, then refrigerate before serving.
*If you’re feeling boozy, you can bump this amount up to ½ cup & drop the water down to ½ cup. Any proportion will work as long as you end up with 1 cup of liquid total, plus the orange juice.
Along with cranberry sauce, here are some other ideas for your Thanksgiving table:
Diwali is about hope and joy, the promise that light will always find its way in, no matter how dark and lonely the corner. But the true magic of Diwali comes, I think, as so many magical things do, in the form of love; it is our loving of each other, truly and fiercely that forces the light into the cracks.
We celebrated Diwali on Sunday at brunch, friends and loved ones gathered in a house filled with candles, too much food, and a baby who loves to chew on fingers.
If there is one thing I can always feel sure of, no matter how many other things in my life feel confusing or uncertain, it is the mandate of loving the people in my life: fully, joyfully, without abandon. I know I can never go wrong doing that.
“Love is not consolation. It is light.” (Fredrich Nietzsche)
2012 Diwali Brunch Menu:
saffron yogurt with fruit & seeds
vegetable biryani (I added paneer)
eggs poached in Indian-style tomato sauce (a riff off of shakshuka)
Indian-style potatoes & fresh puris (both made by my mom)
Currently in my house: baby asleep, Jill working on her laptop on the couch next to me, and my mom rustling around in the guest bedroom.
My mom is here because my mom LIVES here. Well, not in this house (that’s temporary until the moving truck with all of her stuff comes next week), but in this town. In our neighborhood, in fact. Less than two miles from our house!
This has been the season of major life transitions for the Mehra women; I became a working mom, she became a retired grandmother. And we both said goodbye to the house I grew up in, the house where we last spent time with my father, the house with the yard my mother spent hundreds of hours in over the years, gardening like a crazy woman—the very same yard in which my friends and I played-pretend and climbed the side-yard fence, even though we weren’t supposed to.
I am thrilled, of course, that my mom is here, that I get to see her every day, that she gets to see her grandson every day, that we are no longer separated by hundreds of miles. I am eager to recreate our relationship in this new context and build a whole separate set of memories and traditions as a family. But even with all of the joy, I can’t help but feel sad at the ending of an era. I will miss that house; I will miss my regular trips to Memphis. I miss my father, always.
Nostalgia can be a trap, I know, and I don’t want to get caught in it. My memory dances around how things used to be and my imagination wonders how things will be; maybe I should work on just being here with what is happening right now: my three favorite people in the world are together under one roof. Right now, I am a very lucky so-and-so.
RAS EL HANOUT RECIPE
recipe from Cook Almost Anything
When I came across this recipe, I was excited to give it a try; I have a bit of a fascination with Morocco and Moroccan food. I had seen several recipes calling for ras el hanout (including the one below), and had assumed that the spice blend would be difficult to come by or make. As it turns out, I already had the requisite ingredients on hand but had never combined them in this particular way.
The resulting blend was incredibly aromatic without being overpowering or too heady. I think it would make a wonderful rub for grilled meat, and plan to employ it again with other roasted vegetables. As with all spice blends, feel free to tailor to suit your tastes.
Morocco is at the top of my travel bucket list, but for now I may have to settle for channeling its smells with the little jar of ras el hanout that lives in my spice cabinet!
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
Over medium-low heat, toast the seeds and peppercorns in a frying pan. Give them about 3-4 minutes, or until they smell deeply fragrant, jiggling the pan occasionally to prevent scorching. Cool, then combine with the rest of the ingredients in a spice grinder and process until smooth.
Yields a little less than a quarter cup; store in an airtight container in cool, dry place.
MOROCCAN CHICKPEAS & ROASTED VEGETABLES
adapted from Gourmet, May 2008
I wish I had a photograph to show you of this lovely, hearty dish, but my computer seems to have eaten the shots that Sonya took for me about a month ago. Seriously, no idea where they went. And she is currently on vacation in Belize, where I am not going to bother her. So please use your imagination on this one! It was delicious.
The original recipe called for zucchini and carrots instead of butternut squash, so feel free to change up the vegetables used here.
½ head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
½ large or 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, & cut into 1-inch cubes
1 fennel bulb (reserve stalks for another use), cored and cut into ½-inch wedges
1 large red onion, peeled & cut into 1-inch chunks
3 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced lengthwise
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked chickpeas*
½ cup dried Turkish apricots, halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp. ras-el-hanout
1 tsp. honey
¾ tsp. red-pepper flakes
garnish: ¼ cup chopped cilantro, sliced/chopped almonds
serve with: cooked barley or quinoa
Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss the cauliflower, fennel, butternut squash, & onion with generous amounts of olive oil and the ras-el-hanout. Transfer the vegetables to a shallow, foil-lined baking dish or casserole and sprinkle with salt. Roast until they are tender and just beginning to brown, approximately 25-35 minutes.
Once the vegetables have cooked, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in your biggest skillet and add the garlic, cooking to infuse the oil with flavor. Add the apricots, cinnamon stick, and red-pepper flakes, cooking until fragrant. Pour in the tomatoes with their juice, then fill the empty can with water and add that along with the chickpeas and honey.
Spoon the roasted vegetables into the mixture and gently stir everything to combine. Simmer until the liquid has reduced a bit, about 5 minutes. Check for salt and add as needed. Serve.
*I soaked & cooked dried chickpeas for this dish, instead of using canned–it’s super-easy to do and produces a wonderfully creamy texture. Cheap, too!
I know it’s arbitrary, but I am glad to welcome a new month. October was a tough one for me; I am ready to leave it behind.
I feel ready to start a new decade, too; my birthday is this month—the big 3-0. As I approach that milestone, I have been thinking a lot about what I have built or acquired over these last (nearly) three decades, what I’ve seen and where I’ve been, what I’m proud of having accomplished and created. What I keep coming back to are my friends.
A recent Newsweek article I read quotes a study out of the University of Chicago about human development; according to the findings, we choose most of our adult friendships between the ages of 22 and 28. The relationships we establish in that time period end up being our most solid, dependable, and joyful ones, and much of the important “work” of our twenties is figuring out how to manage, negotiate, and commit to those relationships.
Isn’t that the truth? I had never thought about it in exactly those terms, but there is something really affirming about reading about this work as a necessary and right stage of our development. I remember so distinctly those years that my friends and I were trying to figure out what it meant to live on our own terms, as adults, and trying to determine what our friendships meant outside of the context of high school or college or graduate school.
Some of this work was really difficult. I had to come to terms with some of the nastier parts of myself: my tendency to judge, my defensiveness, my habit of acting like everything was fine, even when it wasn’t. I had to be really honest and really vulnerable and trust my friends enough to let it all hang out (and admit that I had been previously holding back) and I’ll be damned if that wasn’t scary as hell at the time.
But oh how grateful I am for that work, and for the people who were generous enough to do it with me. There is nothing I am more proud of than my relationships; they are my true accomplishments from this life so far.
Of course, it’s not as if I’m all done and closed for business just because I’m about to turn thirty; I know there will be plenty of other work ahead, and it will be just as important to be open and honest and willing to work on my relationships as it’s ever been. But I do feel, especially in this past month that has been rough around the edges, how blessed I am to have a solid foundation of friends with no shortage of empathy, humor, and generosity. They offer me advice, bring me back to myself, make me laugh, feed me dinner, send me home with good books, push me, and mock me lovingly. I’m biased, but I think they’re superstars.
BOURBON-LEMON-HONEY-CIDER COCKTAIL RECIPE
adapted from Garden & Gun
Friends are especially great when they come with a lemon tree. We visited our friends Vicky and Lois (whom I was lucky to “inherit” from Jill) on their farm this past weekend and they sent us home with these beauties, which taste and smell like a variety close to Meyer. Since I sliced open the first one, I have been hoarding them for only the highest uses—of which a bourbon cocktail surely is one.
If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy this cocktail as-written. If you’re like Jill, you’ll want to add a good bit more lemon juice for it to suit your taste.
I know there’s a good potential name for this drink out there, but I couldn’t manage to come up with one. Any ideas?
1 oz. bourbon
1 oz. fresh apple cider
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. honey syrup*
optional but highly recommended: pinch of ground cardamom
purely ornamental garnish: apple slice
Pour the bourbon, apple cider, lemon juice, and honey syrup into a shaker, over ice, and shake. Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice and garnish with cardamom and/or apple slice.
*For the honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and water in a small saucepan. Heat and stir until the honey has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool.
Weekends are for projects.
You know, tackling the things you just haven’t felt up to tackling during the week, starting something you need several hours to finish, cooking something unhurriedly, collaborating, sorting, organizing, repairing. Recent and upcoming projects in our household include: dealing with papers that have been piling up on desks, putting in our fall garden, sorting through baby clothes and weeding out the ones he’s already too big for, researching replacement options for the kitchen tile we despise, making the final edits on a book manuscript (!), and taking really long, decadent naps while the baby naps (sometimes the most exciting project of all, not going to lie.)
Applesauce can be a project, too. It’s dead simple once you’ve got all of your ingredients prepped, and even the work of peeling & chopping several pounds of apples can become meditative and kind of comforting in its repetitive rhythm. Also, homemade applesauce is one of the more delicious weekend projects you can undertake; nothing better than a project that’s edible AND makes the house smell good.
What project(s) do you have on deck this weekend?
HOMEMADE APPLESAUCE RECIPE
My favorite way to eat this applesauce is warmed up, in a bowl, with a big dollop of cold, plain yogurt on top. Sounds weird, but it’s delicious. Try it!
Besides eating it, you can also use this applesauce for baking, subbing it in for cooking oil in quick breads and muffins.
approximately 4 lb. apples (I used a combination of Jonagold, McIntosh, & Granny Smith)
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
1 star anise pod
¼ cup brown sugar
5 strips lemon peel
juice of one lemon
Peel, core, & chop the apples. Combine with the remaining ingredients in large Dutch oven or similar pot. Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples begin to break down and turn soft. For me, this took about 45 minutes.
Remove the cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, & lemon peel; taste the applesauce. Add more lemon juice if it seems flat, more sugar if you’d like it sweeter. As for texture, I prefer my applesauce a bit chunky, so just stirring mine worked, but you may want to press yours through a sieve or put it through a food mill once it cools.
Keeps in a jar in the refrigerator for a few weeks.