Blog posts have been few and far between this year—this is my fifteenth post in 2016—and the era of consistent, twice-a-week posts (whaaa???) feels like it’s a lifetime away.
I love this space, even as I wonder why I keep it; the internet and my life have both changed a lot since 2009. Still, not a day goes by that I don’t interact with someone who I met because of Blue Jean Gourmet, and, from time to time, I hear from friends and acquaintances that they’re using one of the recipes archived here. That brings me so much joy.
Being a food writer may not be my ultimate calling, but I couldn’t have known that without giving it a whirl first. While I may eventually transition Blue Jean Gourmet into something else, this space has helped me determine which stories do feel like mine to tell, and that is a tremendous gift.
I know we’re mostly busy talking about what a dumpster fire of a year 2016 has been, but personally, I can’t write it off. This was the year that I signed a publishing contract, something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember, and I am proud as heck for making that happen. Working on a book while teaching full time and parenting/life-ing is no joke, but it’s the best kind of problem to have, one of my own making and one that pushes me to live ever-more in line with what I say I want, and who I say I want to be.
This has been a year filled with a lot of examination around those categories—what I say I want, who I say I want to be—and some hard, important adjustments made in the wake of that examining. I’ve been a lot more honest with myself, which feels less painful and more powerful each time I do it; my bff Coco got me this awesome pin (side note: Emily McDowell’s stuff is so good) and it is an aspirational reach that I will take with me into 2017.
Ideally, I would have passed these recipes along before Christmas and Hanukkah came along, but they’re also both well suited for any New Year’s celebrations that you may be scheming, or you can just keep them in your arsenal for any time you may need to woo, placate, or dazzle someone with chocolate.
SALTED TAHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
source: Danielle Orton, as shared by Food 52
You’ve probably heard about these cookies already, and maybe you thought, “Do I really need another chocolate chip cookie recipe in my life?” The answer is yes. But don’t make these unless/until you own good-quality tahini (ordering Soom online is worth every penny) and good quality dark chocolate (I used Guittard 66% semisweet baking wafers). Trust me, it’s worth the splurge;people will rave about these!
8 T unsalted butter, soft
½ cup well-stirred tahini
1 cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup + 2 T all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 ¾ cups good-quality chocolate chips or chunks (since I had discs, I gave them a rough chop before using)
flaky finishing salt
Cream butter, tahini, & sugar together on medium speed for about 5 minutes—the mixture should look light and fluffy when you’re done. Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix for another 5 minutes.
Sift the dry ingredients into a separate bowl, then add to the wet ingredients on low speed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the chocolate in by hand, using a spatula.
From here, the original recipe instructs you to line a baking sheet with parchment, divide the dough into twelve scoops, and place the dough balls on the cookie sheet and freeze for 12 hours before baking. Either I wasn’t paying attention or I was feeling lazy, but I stashed the dough in the fridge, still in the mixing bowl, wrapped in plastic, overnight, then baked, and my cookies still turned out delicious. You do whatever feels right to you.
Whenever you’re ready to bake, you’re looking at 325F and about 12-15 minutes in the oven, until just the edges are getting brown. Don’t worry if the middle of the cookies looks a bit pale-that’s how they’re supposed to look. As they come out of the oven, sprinkle with salt. Cool on a rack, then move to a platter and watch them disappear!
PEAR AND BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CAKE
an oldie-but-a-goodie from Smitten Kitchen
This is a “back pocket” recipe for me, one that’s simple enough to make but feels fancy, especially when served with some homemade whipped cream. It’s the technique here that really make a difference, so don’t ignore the instructions about making sure the eggs are at room temperature before you whip them for, yes, nine whole minutes. If you’ve never whipped eggs for that long before, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you do.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
3 eggs, at room temperature*
8 T unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, cored, diced small (I like using bosc)
¾ cup bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips
Pan: 9-inch spring form pan, buttered & floured (I’ve also used a 9-inch square pan in a pinch)
Whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.
Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, whip the eggs for NINE WHOLE MINUTES until they’re pale and very thick. While that’s happening, brown the butter; melt it in a saucepan over medium-low flame, stirring occasionally, until it begins to smell nutty and the color turns brown. Set aside.
Add the sugar to the eggs and beat for a few more minutes. Turn the mixer down to low and add the dry ingredients and brown butter to the batter, alternating like this:
1/3 dry mix
½ brown butter
1/3 dry mix
½ brown butter
1/3 dry mix
Mix until just combined—don’t overmix, or the eggs will lose volume! Scrape the mixture out into the pan, then scatter the pear and chocolate pieces on top.
Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes away clean when inserted into the center of the cake; in my oven, that took a good hour, but you may want to start checking at 45-50 minutes, to be safe.
Serve with some barely sweetened whipped cream. If you’re feeling fancy, a drop of almond extract or a couple of drops of Amaretto in the whipped cream would also be nice.
Well hello there, a month after my last post! It’s been quite a month around here – me back to school, Shiv out of school for a few weeks, Jill out of town for one. I’ve made lots of “survival” meals—big batches of versatile food, like slow-cooker roasts and veggie-laced black beans. We’ve blown through plums at an alarming rate (Shiv has taken to eating two in one sitting, as a snack). I’m well into my giant Costco bag of quick-cooking steel cut oats, my school-morning-breakfast-of-choice. Jill used the internet and an electric knife to break down the half a wild hog that cousin Paul sent to us courtesy my in-laws. And I’ve made these cookies three times.
The recipe below yields a large amount, which is great because these cookies are delicious—wonderful texture, sweet but also salty, soft but not crumbly. After Shiv helped me put together the dough, we baked off about a dozen cookies for our family’s Labor Day feast, then froze the rest on parchment-lined cookie sheets; I’ll move those to a Ziplock bag for future use. From there, they’ll stand ready to serve as an easy dessert or a take-something-over-to-someone’s house item. My father-in-law likes them so much he thinks I should sell them.
Here’s a thing that’s true about me: I give good advice. Here’s a thing that’s also true about me: I’m not always so good at taking my own advice. (My friends reading this right now are nodding.) But I am trying, trying to listen to the voice that advocates for sanity, just as I urge others to listen to–and heed–that voice.
I signed a publishing contract with Picador/MacMillan this week. I keep saying that sentence aloud just to hear it and absorb that it’s real. Speaking of real, “AUTHOR will deliver THE WORK to PUBLISHER on 1 JUNE 2017” has to be both the most terrifying and exhilarating collection of words I’ve encountered maybe ever? “The work” in this case is a collection of essays with the working title Making Space: On Parenthood, Family, and (Not) Passing. I started working on it this summer, and boy does it feel good.
In short—I have some work to do. I have a lot of work to do. I don’t know how this blog fits into that work, except that I know that the thought of shutting this thing altogether makes me very, very sad, so I’m not going to do that. Maybe I’ll continue to throw recipes your way, things we’ve made and loved and managed to photograph before consuming. Maybe I’ll want to share links or poems or playlists. Maybe I’ll need to be quiet for long stretches because only so many things fit into a given day. But every time I think this blog has outlived its usefulness, I hear from someone who tells me that they regularly pull this website up for ideas on what to make for dinner. That makes me glad.
You ever have that feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing, but you also know exactly what you’re doing? A little disconcerting, but not at all a terrible way to live. Not terrible at all.
(Yes, that’s a little skulking terrier in the background. He knows a good thing when he smells one.)
DOUBLE PEANUT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Recipe from King Arthur Flour, source of so many good things
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 ¼ cup peanut butter – original recipe calls for “mainstream” PB with sugar & salt; I’ve made them that way, they were great; this time, I only had homemade PB, so I added some additional sugar & salt, cookies were still great
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. each baking powder AND baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 2/3 cup all purpose flour*
1 ¼ cup dry roasted, salted peanuts, chopped
1 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
oven temp: 350°.
pans: Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Use a stand mixer to combine the butter, sugars, peanut butter, vanilla, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides in between. Stir in the flour, chopped peanuts, and chocolate chips.
Shape dough into rounded tablespoons and place on the prepared baking sheets. I like to sprinkle the tops with a little coarse salt at this point, too. Bake right away, or freeze for later. Check cookies at the 10 minute mark, but they’ll probably need closer to 12-15 minutes. You want them to be a little brown around the edges; if under-baked, they will be extremely crumbly and difficult to handle. Move baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow cookies to come to room temperature before moving them around.
*The original recipe recommends weighing the flour, in which case you are looking for 11.25 ounces of it. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, be sure to aerate your flour before measuring, and to level off your cup measure with the back of a butter knife—too much flour, the recipe warns, will lead to dry cookies.
We got married on Thursday, July 2nd, six days after the Supreme Court of the United States “It is so ordered” that we could. Standing in our friend Mike’s judge’s chambers, with my mom and Shiv as witnesses, we said the vows we had written just a few nights before, exchanged rings, alternately beaming and fighting back tears. It took all of ten minutes and it was perfect.
We had come downtown a few days before, on Monday, to get our marriage license, not knowing at all how that would go. Mike had told us that he could issue a waiver for the 72-hour waiting period, if necessary. Jill made me put two hours’ worth of change in the parking meter. We walked into the building, went to the wrong office at first, giggled in the elevator, made it to the right place, and walked right in—there was no line. A clerk called us over, asked for our IDs & our money, and before we knew it, we were raising our right hands and swearing that all of the information on our marriage license was correct. Bizarrely, wonderfully, shockingly easy.
As Jill so rightly said later, when you’ve been leaning into the wind your whole life, prepared to meet resistance, prepared to fight, that posture becomes invisible to you—until it’s no longer necessary anymore. We went to get a marriage license, and it was no big deal. Which makes it a huge deal.
Nothing is different and yet everything has changed. The first couple of nights following the SCOTUS decision, Jill & I kept getting goofily excited about the things we would now have access to: “You can collect my Social Security!” “We can file taxes jointly!” “I can have a FLEX account now, too!” Things that come automatically with a marriage license. Things we couldn’t have before. Things that a lot of people take for granted.
People have asked, “Does it feel different?” and it doesn’t, really. It feels fun, and I grin like a nut whenever I see the ring on Jill’s finger, which matches the ring on my finger. It feels like a relief and a wonder, that it all actually happened and wasn’t just a dream. But, you know, there’s still laundry to do and a VERY energetic toddler to parent, so perhaps what it feels like is a renewing of the commitment we have had all along, now with some pretty swell rights and a really fancy piece of paper. The most humbling and wonderful piece of it all is the fact that so many people are so happy for us—genuinely, enthusiastically happy—in a way that’s made the past week feel like a celebration not only of a marriage, but of everything we’ve been gifted by grace.
PECAN WEDDING COOKIES
Recipe via Saveur
I couldn’t resist putting together thank you notes + gift bags for the dozen friends who rearranged their lives to meet us out for dinner after our ceremony, plus Mike, who made it all possible (and took beautiful photos, including the one you see here), and Michael, the executive chef who accommodated our party on such short notice.
These cookies, a taste memory from growing up in the South, were the homemade component; I rounded out the bag with “Eat, Drink, & Be Married” wine stoppers & bottle openers, Lake Champlain chocolate squares (so good), and Shiv-friendly kazoos, mini bottles of bubbles, & toy dinosaurs. What, doesn’t everyone put toy dinosaurs in their wedding gift bags??
16 T (1/2 lb.) good-quality, unsalted butter, softened
6 T + 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups pecans, toasted & finely chopped*
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 275°. Cream the butter & 6 T of confectioners’ sugar until fluffy. Slowly add the flour and mix until combined. Stir in the pecans and vanilla using a spatula. The dough may seem a bit crumbly, but it should come together when you work it a bit with your hands.
Roll the dough into approximately 1-inch balls; place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway, until the cookies are slightly browned and firm to the (gentle!) touch. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and allow the cookies to cool. When you’re reading, pour the remaining 1 cup of sugar into a shallow dish and roll each cookie in sugar until completely coated. Store in an airtight container.
*The original recipe does not call for toasting the pecans before chopping, but I much prefer the flavor that way!
Dear Class of 2015,
Graduating from high school is like having a baby in at least this one way; you get a lot of unsolicited advice. And in both cases, you figure out whom to listen to and whom to ignore—just like you learn in writing workshop who “gets” your voice and who doesn’t.
The thing is, I know you all well enough to know that you don’t need really need advice from anybody. You are some of the most thoughtful, reflective human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing; you have plenty of sound advice of your own to give. So instead, I’d like to share some of the lessons that I have learned from each of you. You know how you always hear teachers say, “My students teach me”? I thought I knew what that felt like, but our time together this year has blown all prior knowledge out of the water. Not only has this been my most meaningful year of teaching, it’s also been one of the most personally and professionally rewarding periods of my life. This, I have no doubt, is because of you.
Over the last nine months, you have reminded me what real vulnerability and risk-taking look like; you have inspired me to pour myself out onto the page, to do the very thing I asked you to do—step outside your comfort zone. Your willingness to tackle whatever assignments I threw your way, even in the midst of college applications and living full, vibrant teenage lives, pushed me to bring a matching level of integrity to class and to my writing. Your trust, enthusiasm, and warmth have brightened each & every day.
The greatest gift of all, though, is the way you have allowed me to see you—to see the way you struggle with families, with relationships, with illness, with disappointment. I am so moved by the scars you’ve shared: the missteps and misjudgments that you transformed into opportunities to choose the person you want to be. I have seen your indefatigable hard work, your dogged determination to grow as writers and people, your resilience in the face of life’s bullshit and people who judge without truly seeing. I have seen you care for each other so gently, and I have witnessed the deep love you share, the way you know the shape of each other’s hearts.
You won’t be surprised by this, but I’m going to break my own rule and give you some unsolicited advice anyway:
1) Trust what you know to be true about yourself, but don’t limit yourself based on an old idea of who you are. We are all constantly inventing and reinventing ourselves; give yourself room to be surprised by your own capacities, passions, and interests.
2) Find out from upperclassmen who the good professors are—the passionate ones, not the easy ones—and take their classes.
3) Don’t shy away from hard things or difficult feelings; you are built stronger than you know.
4) Figure out the difference between feeling lonely and being alone.
5) Last but not least, remember that the trick of your early twenties is to acquire the kinds of stories you’ll want to tell your children, students, nieces, & nephews someday, not the kind of stories you’ll have to explain on a job application.
Thank you for the pleasure of being your teacher. I am so unspeakably proud of you, and I love you very much.
In one of Shiv’s current favorite books, The Hello, Goodbye Window, there is a line that reads “You can be happy and sad at the same time, you know. It just happens that way sometimes.” And since these bars are a little bit tart & a little bit sweet, I thought they were just the right fit for this bittersweet occasion.
for the crust:
1 cup AP flour
½ cup almond meal
10 T butter, soft
Preheat oven to 375°.
Combine all ingredients with your fingers, cutting the butter into the dry ingredients. Dump the mixture into the baking pan and press into an even layer with floured fingers. Freeze for 15 minutes; bake for another 15 minutes; cool slightly.
for the filling:
12 oz. raspberries (~1 pint)
1/3 – ¼ cup sugar, depending on your preference
juice & zest of 1 lemon
2 T flour
Fold all ingredients together with a spatula and allow the mixture to sit while you make the crumble topping.
for the crumble:
1/3 cup flour
¼ cup oats
¼ cup chopped almonds
3 T brown sugar
3 T butter, soft
Once again, mix all ingredients together with your fingers until, well, crumbly. Gently spread the raspberry mixture on top of the pre-baked crust, then dot with clumps of the crumble topping. Bake the whole thing for another 20-25 minutes.
Cool the bars as much as possible before you attempt to slice them—ideally, you would cool completely, but we both know that’s not realistic. If you’re willing to have more of a falling-apart-bar, these are delicious warm and I’m sure they would do well topped with ice cream. But since you’ll need to store them in an airtight container in the fridge anyway, I recommend eating at least one cold with a large glass of milk.
Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.
It seems straightforward enough, the injunction to “Love thy neighbor.” As is true of all oft-repeated phrases, we hear and speak it without pausing to think about what it actually means or entails. It sounds good, so it must be right, must be something we can all agree to, can all agree to do, and to teach our children.
Loving my neighbor is doable enough when it looks like being gracious with my colleagues, patient with my students, and forgiving of the sins others commit in traffic. But all of that’s the easy stuff, the “givens.” Not being an asshole takes effort, to be sure, on some days more than others, and for some of us so than others, regardless of the day. But not being an asshole is kind of the baseline for living inside of society and relationship; “love thy neighbor” in its fullest expression asks us to go past the bare minimum of human decency. Way past.
I am in the midst of teaching Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” surely one of the most impeccably crafted pieces of writing in American history. (If you’ve never read it, you should. Find the full text here.) For King, loving his neighbor meant affirming the humanity of those who refused to acknowledge the humanity in him. All men created equal meant equal on all sides, meant not falling into the trap of those who opposed him and resisting the temptation to demonize or lash out while still—and this is important—doing his utmost to highlight and bring an end to the injustice all around him which was, of course, put into place and perpetuated by his neighbors.
This week has been full of news stories that make it really, really hard for me to think about this loving-thy-neighbor business. I want to indulge in the feeling of hatred instead, or at the very least, a sense of superiority and self-righteousness. I want to draw dividing lines, “us” and “them.” But even if and even when those feelings are justified, I know they are not productive. They do not provide a way forward. They are not going to help me or anyone else grow. They are not what I want to model for my son.
I’m still, and probably always will be, working out what it means to love my neighbor while also being mad as hell about things that matter. What it looks like to be heartbroken by the actions of some of my human neighbors and at the same time remind myself that their lives have as much inherent value as mine. That they are just as human as me, as my loved ones, as my child. I know this to be true even if I don’t always believe it.
HAZELNUT LINZER COOKIES
These beauties were made using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen; I haven’t reproduced it here because a) there’s no way I could get the wording/instructions any better than Deb, and b) the only adaptation I made was to use jam (some strawberry, some apricot) to sandwich the cookies instead of chocolate-hazelnut spread, since I am apparently the only person on the planet who does not care for Nutella.
Love, of whatever shape, nature, or structure, is probably the best thing we humans have going. It’s this unaccountable miracle, and I, for one, welcome the chance to celebrate it. As silly of a holiday as Valentine’s Day has become in the mainstream, I am happy to use the day as a chance to take stock of all the things love has given me, the ways it continues to expand my human capacities, and how grateful I am for the gift of its presence in my daily life.
Shmoopy as it sounds, this weekend I hope that you feel present to the love in your own life, no matter what you are or aren’t celebrating.
I love cooking for my son.
As is the case with everyone in my life, I derive great joy from making things I think Shiv will like and from seeing his responses when he tries them; lately, he’s been doing this pretty cute extended “Mmmm!” thing with a corresponding raised-shoulder gesture. I gotta say, it’s rather gratifying.
Popsicles are what often induce the above-mentioned response these days ; I’ve been making a steady stream of homemade fruit pops (Shiv calls them “hops” & they are pictured in last week’s post) since I bought this mold at Whole Foods a few weeks ago. It’s by far the best one I’ve encountered; you can remove just one popsicle at a time, and the molds clean up super-easily. What goes in them? Whatever glorious summer fruit we happen to have around; I toss ~2 cups of fruit in the blender, add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, maybe a hit of honey or agave nectar (though right now everything is so sweet on its own, this isn’t needed), and blend, adding a little water if necessary to get thin the mixture out. Pour in the molds, freeze for a few hours, & your backyard dessert awaits.
Cooking for Shiv I’ve been doing for a while; cooking with Shiv is relatively new. This kid wants to participate in e-v-er-y-thing. Why would I use the little watering can you got for me when I can use the BIG GREEN watering can that Gigi uses? Why would I use a plastic fork when I can use the same kind of fork as y’all? Why would I cook in my play kitchen when I can cook in an actual kitchen?
Jill & I love this, this determination to be a part of things, to learn how to do real stuff. Competence is one of the values that we selected to help guide our choices as we raise him, and neither of us see any reason why he can’t start building that competence now. When he makes a mess, he helps clean it up—he helps spray the Mrs. Meyer’s, he wipes up with a paper towel, he throws the paper towel in the trash. He knows how to strike a match and light a candle, with help from an adult. He helps Jill with cleaning out the litter box, taking out the trash, refilling the bird feeder, & vacuuming/sweeping the kitchen.
Completing tasks with Shiv’s “assistance” is more time-consuming than simply doing them ourselves, at least for now. But to simply do them ourselves not only leaves him out but also robs him of the opportunity to learn, to be empowered, to contribute—as is the case when he helps cook the family meal.
The sight of a not-quite-two-year-old perched atop a step-ladder in front of a stove draws cheers from some folks but alarm from many others. Then again, a lot of things about how we parent alarm people…we own no Purell, our son goes barefoot in the backyard, etc.
For us, the choices are simple, and made on principle. Jill & I feel that our safety-obsessed culture has lost perspective on what kids—even the littlest ones—are capable of. We’re so busy trying to make everything safe that we’ve forgotten that danger is an important part of a natural life. Do I want Shiv to get hurt? Of course not. But I think the best way to protect him is to teach him.
That’s why we’ll be working on knife skills next!
inspired by this recipe from 101 Cookbooks
What we have here is basically a hybrid of Indian-style rice pudding, known as kheer, and Thai coconut sticky rice, which is one of the best things on the planet. Shiv is really into rice AND mango AND all forms of coconut, so I wanted to bring them all together for him using what I happened to have at home. It was all improvisation, so feel free to do the same when you make this! If you don’t have coconut cream but you have (full-fat) coconut milk, you could omit the cream and substitute the coconut milk for the water. It won’t be quite as rich, but it will still taste good. If you prefer a looser, more-pudding-like version, add more liquid at the start or finish with a splash of coconut milk.
You could also go a more savory route when serving & grate some fresh lime zest on top of everything before serving. I also think that a sprinkling of black sesame seeds would be nice, should you happen to have some on hand.
1 cup white jasmine rice, rinsed
2 cups water
½- ¾ cup coconut cream
¼ cup sugar
to serve: 1 ripe mango, diced
optional: shredded, unsweetened coconut & ground cardamom
Place the rice in a heavy-bottomed pot (make sure it’s one with a lid!). Rinse the rice 2-3 times using cold water and swishing it around with your hand. Once you’ve drained the rinsing water, add 2 cups of fresh water, a pinch of salt, and whisk in the coconut cream—you can heat up the cream first, which will make things easier. Cover the pot with the lid and turn the heat to medium-low.
The goal here is to bring the rice to a simmer, not to a boil. Once you’ve reached a simmer, give the rice a good stir, scraping up the bottom to make sure it’s not sticking. Stir in the sugar & salt and cover, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a very gentle simmer.
Check the rice occasionally, stirring gently, until it’s fully cooked and nearly all of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat, cover, and let the rice cool slightly before serving.
A few weeks ago, Jill heard this wonderful NPR interview with Julia Reed, Southern food writer and contributor to Garden & Gun magazine; not only does Ms. Reed have the most fabulous voice (hers is not an accent you often hear on public radio!), she’s also witty, well-read, and someone I would love to have over for dinner.
In the segment, Reed shares a recipe for the World’s Greatest Eggnog, as called by the Memphis grandmother with whom the recipe originates. I halved the recipe and served it a few nights ago when friends came over to help us decorate our tree; the eggnog was a universal hit, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Though the eggnog could have easily counted as dessert all by itself, I served ours with a tray of nutmeg logs, the signature Christmas treat of my friend Ari’s family. Having been gifted with bags of these delicious and distinctive cookies before, I asked if I could share the family recipe and, luckily, Ari’s sweet granny agreed. The recipe below is transcribed from her handwritten notes.
Whatever you have planned for the coming days, I hope you are able to spend time with people who make your heart light. Happy holidays from our family to yours!
This recipe yields approximately 36 cookies, which will keep well stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a week or so.
Sift together & set aside:
3 cups flour
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup butter
-gradually add ¾ cup sugar, cream well
1 unbeaten egg
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp rum or rum flavoring
Add the dry ingredients gradually & mix thoroughly.
Shape pieces of dough on lightly floured surface into long rolls 1/2 in. in diameter. Cut into 3″ lengths; place on ungreased baking sheets. (Note: I lined mine with parchment, out of habit.) Bake in moderate oven (350°) for 12-15 minutes until light golden-brown. Cool before frosting.
for the frosting:
3 T butter
with ½ tsp vanilla & 1 tsp rum flavoring
2 cups sifted powdered sugar, beat well.
-Add 2 cups more powdered sugar alternating with 2 or 3 T cream or milk
Spread frosting on tops + sides of cookies & sprinkle with grated nutmeg.
Thanksgivingukkah. Hanukkahgiving. Call it what you will, this boils down to being the greatest mash-up of food-related holidays of all time, and I could not BE more excited about it.
Loads of folks all over the internet have already blogged about the potential glories of said holiday menu, and I was particularly intrigued by the idea of pecan pie rugelach. I tackled traditional rugelach, with its cream cheese dough & hearty dried fruit filling last December, so I decided to take that dough recipe and combine it with a scaled-down version of my tried-and-true pecan pie filling.
Final verdict? They’re freaking delicious. Even Jill wanted seconds, and she never does that with sweet stuff. She doesn’t even like pecan pie! And several of my Jewish colleagues at work gave me their blessing after the entire container of leftovers disappeared in a matter of minutes. I’ll be making them again next week fo sho. (Check out last year’s Thanksgiving post for more recipes.)
I’ve a tremendous amount to be thankful for this year, and I hope the same is true for each of you. Wishing you all a holiday filled with joy and connection!
PECAN PIE RUGELACH RECIPE
Like so many delicious things that come our way this time of year, these are not simple, quick, or healthy. They are decadent, delicious, a little bit of a project, and totally worth it.
for the dough:
2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cups) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
scant ¼ cup sugar
2 ½ cups flour
½ tsp. salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and salt together at medium speed until smooth. Turning the mixer down to medium-low, add the sugar and continue beating for a few minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, mixing until the dough just comes together.
With floured hands, divide the dough up into two balls, wrap with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.
for the filling:
2 cups pecans, finely chopped
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
¼ cup sorghum (substitute molasses for deeper flavor, maple syrup for lighter)
splash of bourbon
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. vanilla
3 T butter, divided
Place the pecans in a large, sturdy mixing bowl. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, sorghum, bourbon, and salt in a nonstick saucepan. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before thoroughly beating in the egg, then pouring the entire mixture over the chopped pecans.
Remove dough from the refrigerator approximately 20-30 minutes before you’d like to roll it out. Check in on it as it’s softening; there’s a sweet spot to be on the lookout for. Too cold, and the dough will crack when you try to roll it; too soft, and it will fall apart when you roll your rugelach.
Preheat your oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat 1 egg with a bit of water and set it aside, along with a pastry brush. Fill a small bowl with a few tablespoons of raw/Demerara sugar and another small bowl with a few teaspoons of flaky sea salt.
Flour your work surface heavily and roll the first dough half out into a rough circle (it does not have to be perfect, I promise!) around ¼ inch thick. If it’s warmed up too much at this point, you can move it back into the fridge—or even the freezer—for a few minutes, but I didn’t find this necessary. Just work quickly to get these babies rolled up and in the oven!
Gently spread half the pecan pie filling out onto the dough with a spatula. It’s probably going to seem like there isn’t enough filling but there is, I promise; you don’t want a lot. Thinly spread is good. You can even use your fingers to make distributing the filling easier.
Using a pizza cutter or bench scraper, cut the covered dough into long, thin, triangle-shaped wedges, as if you were cutting a pizza. Once you’ve cut all the way around, roll up each rugelach, starting with the widest, outer end and working toward the inner, narrow point. Place onto the parchment-covered cookie sheets, and when they’re all rolled up, brush each one with a little egg wash. Sprinkle generously with sugar, then go back and sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of sea salt. Trust me, the sea salt makes alllll the difference.
Bake for ~20 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire racks and serve, or store in an airtight container for a few days, or until you eat them all.
My friend Michele, the inimitable and unnaturally clever Brooklyn food writer, posted a recipe for this cake on her Facebook page many months ago, saying, “In all my years of cooking, I have never made a better cake than this.” Well. One does not ignore such an endorsement.
As it turns out, Jill has been sentimentally attached to the idea of French Yogurt Cake since reading about it in Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe. Druckerman talks about how this cake is traditionally the first that French children learn to make with their parents; Jill & I both loved the idea of that. I make homemade yogurt regularly, so it’s always around the house, and I’ve always got a hankering for something sweet–but not too sweet–to go with a cup of tea.
So we made our first—but certainly not our last—of these cakes this past weekend, when the Houston weather first dipped down into temperatures that could reasonably be considered “fall-ish,” and I brewed a pot of chai to go alongside. It was lovely, lovely, lovely, and though Shiv wasn’t quite up to helping with the making of the cake yet, he was all too happy to help eat it.
• The best interviews are more like conversations, and I had a really wonderful one with Bel Poblandor for Trop magazine: How to Carry Grief | An Interview with Nishta Mehra
• I’m thrilled to be headed home to Memphis tomorrow, Thursday, September 26 for a reading & signing at St. Mary’s Episcopal School! You can find all the details here.
• A dear friend sent me a link to this blog post yesterday; this blog is new to both of us and, as my friend put it, “For a moment I thought she had hijacked my brain.” A highly recommended read, and not just for mamas/parents.
• A public service announcement: if you’ve never had the pleasure of an almond butter and Bosc pear sandwich for breakfast (on hearty, toasted bread, please), please remedy ASAP.
FRENCH YOGURT CAKE
recipe from Epicurious, via Michele Humes
The beauty of this cake is in this simplicity: best not to mess with it. If you like your desserts very sweet, this may not be the cake for you.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 T finely grated lemon or orange zest
¾ cup whole milk Greek yogurt (I used my homemade yogurt, straining it ahead of time to thicken)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ tsp. vanilla or citrus extract (I used the latter)
pan: standard loaf pan
Coat the loaf pan with a nonstick vegetable oil spray like Pam, then dust with flour. Tap out any excess flour & set aside.
Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, & salt) in a medium bowl. In a separate, larger bowl, rub the citrus zest into the sugar until the sugar is moist & fragrant; you can also do this on a cutting board using a bench scraper a la Joy the Baker. Add the yogurt, oil, eggs, & extract to the sugar, whisking to blend.
Fold the dry ingredients to the wet until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until the cake is golden brown on top, 45-55 minutes. Cool the cake in the loaf pan first, for about 15 minutes, before inverting onto a rack and cooling completely. Cake can be made ahead & stored at room temperature, well wrapped or in an airtight container. Serve with chai or coffee.
We took the boy berry-picking.
Well, he didn’t do all that much picking himself—that was my job. Mostly, he crawled around the beautiful property while his nani (my mom) chased after him. We all had a big ole time, and came home with lots and lots of lovely, luscious blackberries, blueberries, and peaches.
Since then, we have eaten much of the fruit straight-out-of-hand; the boy has discovered the goodness that is Texas peaches, and he is hooked. I’ve also made blueberry cake to take to friends, put some lemon-blueberry scones in the freezer for this weekend’s brunch guests, and served up peach & blackberry cobbler below for family dinner.
If anything survives into next week, there may be jam or ice cream…if I were disciplined enough, I would freeze some of this summer goodness to enjoy in the depths of winter, but…I guess I’m a bit too instant-gratification oriented when it comes to my summer fruit. Here are some of my favorite berry & peach recipes, including those listed above:
Blackberry Upside-Down Cake
Blueberry Boy Bait
Peach Ice Cream
Peach-Mascarpone Tart with Gingersnap Crust
I hope you are enjoying the bounty of summer wherever you are!
PEACH & BLACKBERRY COBBLER
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
for the filling:
2 lb. ripe peaches
½ lb. ripe blackberries
¼ cup + 2 T sugar
juice from half a lemon
1 tsp. potato starch or cornstarch
pinch of salt
pan: 8” square glass baking dish
I find it easiest to halve the peaches and pit them before peeling, but proceed in any order you see fit! Peel the peaches, using a sharp knife if they are too soft to stand up to a vegetable peeler, and slice into pieces of medium thickness (about 8 slices per peach). Toss the peaches, blackberries, sugar, & lemon juice together and let sit for 15-30 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the fruit and transfer to the baking dish. There should be some liquid left behind—take ¼ cup of it and whisk in the cornstarch. Pour that mixture over the fruit, and bake, un-topped, for about 8-10 minutes, or until you begin to see bubbling around the edges of the pan.
While the fruit is cooking, make the cobbler dough.
for the cobbler topping:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a bit more if needed
1/3 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt, thinned with buttermilk to total ½ cup
5 T cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 T sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
for garnish: a bit of extra milk or buttermilk, Demerarra or plain sugar
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter (ideally) or a fork, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles pebbly sand. Very gently, fold in the yogurt/buttermilk mixture and mix to form a very soft dough. Divide the dough into 5-6 biscuit-sized clumps (they should be craggy and imperfect!)
Once the fruit is ready, remove the baking dish from the oven and scatter the cobbler pieces on top. Leave room between the dough pieces so their edges will bake up crusty and golden brown!
Brush the dough with a bit of buttermilk, and sprinkle sugar on top of each piece. Bake in the oven until the biscuit topping is golden, 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and serve warm, preferably with vanilla ice cream.