Monthly Archives: November 2011

The holidays are coming, the holidays are coming!

They are. They are coming…somehow it is mid-November! How did that happen you ask? I have no idea.

I love the holidays though and really love the food part, so I am excited. But I actually feel a little robbed this year that I haven’t started thinking about what to make for Thanksgiving until now. I would usually have started the process of reading, bookmarking and drooling over recipes in October. Pesky graduate school! I have finally started thinking about it in earnest though, and wanted to share some of those thoughts with you.

pumpkins!

As you’ve probably picked up if you’ve read this blog (and/or if you know me, which, let’s be honest, is most of you that read this blog:) I am a vegetarian. And my boyfriend is too, which makes things easy. For our Thanksgiving we are going to have lots o’ veggies and things that are usually thought of as sides, but that to us are the main event.

I’ve also started combing through my various files and lists for holiday-y things to make for food gifts, which are my favorite type of Christmas gifts to give, and for things to just make during these two months. Because I can. Because during these two glorious months one can get away with using way more butter and cream than would usually be allowed in civilized society.

As with the last time I shared my recipe lists with you, I’d like to give you a few that I’ve made myself and would strongly recommend, as well as some that have made it onto my “to make” list and that I think could make it onto yours.

But! I would LOVE to hear what you are making for Thanksgiving, what your favorite Christmas treat is, or what you love to make this time of year just because you can. I need to make up for those few lost weeks of holiday-food-obsessing that grad school has robbed me of. Help me out and post a comment below!

apple!

Dishes I’ve made and would happily make again:

Dishes I’ve yet to make, but are on the Holiday list:

Desserts I’ve made and love:

Desserts I can’t wait to make:

A yummy way to use up leftover cranberry sauce:

Food to give as gifts:

Thank you so much for reading my meager offerings on this blog so far – I am thankful for you. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Filed under Dessert, Food, Main Course, Sides

A soup worthy of chestnut season

Until recently I was at most mildly unaware of chestnuts. They are that thing people roast in that one Christmas carol, right? And the grocery store sells them in jars and they look like shriveled little brains. Had you asked me about chestnuts two months ago, that would have been the extent of my knowledge.

chestnut tree

Then sometime in September my boyfriend and I were walking our pup around the park near our house and we saw this green spiny thing on the ground. I wondered aloud what it was and stepped on it a couple times. Then we walked on. But noticed that as soon as we had walked away from the thing a woman walking slightly behind us quickly snatched it up and carried it covetously – and carefully – away. I was confused and a little intrigued, but I mostly forgot all about it.

chestnut burr

Until one day a couple weeks later when we were back at the park and realized that there were people…lots of people…milling around under a few of the trees looking at the ground. And I thought, ‘you know come to think of it those same people have been there the past few times we have come here. Hmm, how odd.’

So when we happened upon one of the spiny pods during that walk, we picked it up and took it home (it almost didn’t make it – we dropped it no less than 10 times – those suckers are really sharp!) We cracked it open at home with some heavy-duty gloves and discovered a chestnut inside. Ah ha.

chestnut in burr

Coincidentally, the next weekend at the farmers market we saw a booth selling the chestnuts still in their burrs (as I found out the spiny outer layer is called). And they were $10 per pound (!!) So, we got it then. People were swarming to our park, which has about five huge chestnut trees, to collect the chestnuts because they are apparently worth their weight in gold.

3 chestnuts in the hand, worth...

Now when we go to the park we keep an eye out for the fallen burrs. Note: we haven’t joined the crazies who from all appearances LIVE at the park and collect the chestnuts from dawn to dusk (ok, if they are feeding their families with the revenue from these chestnuts I will feel bad calling them crazy, but given the fact that the season is two months long each year, I really don’t think that’s the case). We have, however, managed to put away a respectable stash of chestnuts and I have been using them – sparingly! – on and in many fall dishes. They add a great texture and a subtly sweet yet earthy flavor, especially to soups.

chestnuts

Case in point, as part of my reinvigorated obsession with Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan I made a celery root and apple soup recently. It was simple and understated, but just delicious.

soup prep

I topped it with some of our hard-won chestnuts (lightly toasted) and we ate it for dinner with a simple salad and a hunk of fresh baguette from the farmers market. We felt so French. Not to mention smugly victorious about the chestnuts that we managed to snag from the “professional” gatherers in the park AND that we didn’t have to pay $10 a pound for!

use creme fraiche

Of course, the chestnuts did not come completely without a price, as anyone who has ever shelled fresh chestnuts knows. They are basically a pain in the butt and if I wasn’t getting them for free I wouldn’t bother.

If you happen upon some though, or want to go ahead and buy some fresh at the store to see what all of the fuss is about, let me give you a piece of advice: boil them instead of roasting them in the oven. They taste the same either way and are a lot easier to peel when they’re boiled. I provide some more detailed instructions for doing this below the soup recipe. Happy chestnut season!

yummy soup pretty bowl

Celery-Apple Soup

Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 4-6 servings

Dorie calls this recipe ‘Celery-Celery Soup’ because it uses both celery root and celery stalks. For me though, the sweet apple-ness was just as prevalent as the celery, so I am calling my adaptation celery-apple. Note that if you want to follow my lead and top this soup with fresh toasted chestnuts, make sure you boil and peel them before you start working on the soup…as I already lamented, it is a pain and takes a long time. If you want to use jarred chestnuts they would be scrumptious too – just crumble them up and toast them in a pan as the soup simmers.

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 celery stalks with leaves, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 med-large onions, chopped
  • 2 sweet apples (I used Gala), peeled, cored, and diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound celery root (2 fist-sized roots), peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 4 cups veggie broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche (optional…but you should really add it ‘cuz it makes things yummier)
  • 1/4 cup toasted chestnut pieces (optional)

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over low heat. Then toss in the celery, onions, and apples. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes – until the vegetables are soft.

Add the celery root and stir everything together. Then add the herbs and broth, and bring to a boil.

Once it’s boiling, lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the celery root is soft enough to mash with the back of a spoon. At this point, pull out the bay leaf and the thyme twig (all the leaves will have likely come off).

Puree the soup – either in small batches in a food processor or blender, or all at once with an immersion blender.

Once the soup is smooth, stir in the crème fraîche and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into bowls, and garnish with another dollop of crème fraîche (if you’re feeling decadent) and toasted chestnuts.

Serve immediately, but also save some for leftovers because this soup is even better the second day!

Boiled Chestnuts

Adapted from StartCooking.com

Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.

Wipe the chestnuts off with a damp towel and set them on a cutting board, flat side down.

With a small, sharp knife cut an X in each chestnut. Make your cuts pretty big – this is the section you are going to use to peel away the skin once their cooked. Do not skip this step! The X allows the steam to escape while they are cooking, and if you don’t do it I am told that the chestnuts could explode, which no one wants. Also, please be safe – cushion the chestnut on a clean dish towel if it makes it easier for you to cut.

scored chestnuts

Boil the chestnuts for 15-20 minutes. Once you take them out, peel as soon as you are able to safely handle them – they are much easier to peel while they are still warm. I actually left half of them in the water until I had peeled the first half so that the second half would still be warm when I got to them.

chestnut skin

When peeling, make sure you are removing both layers of skin: there is a thick dark brown outer layer and a thin light brown under layer. As you peel the chestnuts will likely break apart a little, so make sure to have a bowl nearby to save the precious bits of peeled chestnuts.

Save in a container and keep in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.

pretty bowl

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Filed under Food, Odds & Ends, Sides

Cookies that make even flying better

I hate flying. This is not news to anyone who knows me, but for those of you who don’t, I can’t reiterate enough how much I hate flying. I actually border on having a phobia of it – I have panic attacks sometimes and take “calm-you-down” medicine whenever it’s ok for me to be sleepy on the other end of the flight.

In any case, I went on a trip to New York recently and had a great flight – free of any dramatics on my part, and that always makes me proud of myself.

Mt. Rainier

On this trip I was also reminded of a little piece of joy, amidst a sea of discomfort and fear, that I find in flying a certain airline (*ahem* I’m not going to name them specifically). This airline serves these lovely little crispy, spicy, holiday-y cookies instead of the standard peanuts or pretzels and I just love them! (the cookies, I am ambivalent about the airline).

They are sort of like ginger snaps, but there’s no molasses and they are much more buttery-tasting. They are called Biscoff cookies, and as soon as I got home from my trip I set about trying to replicate them in my own kitchen. I saved the wrapper from my flight, but its list of ingredients was not much help – containing (as does most packaged food) barely anything that one could actually use in a home kitchen…or would want to for that matter.

Luckily, almost immediately upon my return I saw an as yet unread blog post in my Google Reader from Dorie Greenspan about a cookie she calls Speculoos. In her post she mentioned that these cookies are called Biscoffs in the U.S.
Hello, serendipity!

I remembered the recipe for Speculoos from when I first poured through my newly arrived copy of Around My French Table, Dorie’s latest cookbook. So I pulled the tome off the top shelf and started flipping through it to find the recipe again. Now, let me just digress a little to gush about this book.

Around My French Table

This book, people! It is magical. Again, those who know me and know that I am a bit of a Francophile will not be surprised that I am enamored with a book (a substantial one at that!) that is all about French cooking. There are so many other reasons to love Dorie’s book though. It is just the right amount of modern and traditional to make it both accessible and decidedly un-stuffy. It is a book you could cook from for a month without getting bored – and without needing a heart surgeon (which is more than I can say for other beloved French cookbooks…sorry Julia). It is also chock-full of interesting tidbits of information about food and eating in France that I found just delightful.

When I first bought it I cooked from it constantly – I think we had some type of French soup for dinner 5 out of 7 nights a week for a while there. I had also gotten an immersion blender for Christmas, so that contributed to the soup craze too. And well, upon pulling it out to look for the Speculoos I become obsessed with it once more and have been cooking from it ever since. I will share some of those dishes with you in the coming days – including a lovely, seasonal celery root and apple soup. But for now: the Speculoos.

cookie dough

I fussed with the recipe a bit and ended up getting pretty darn close to recreating the Biscoffs I had on my flight. Close enough for my liking anyway. The egg I added to the recipe means that my version won’t keep as long as Dorie’s, but that wasn’t a problem in this house!

cookie cutter

These cookies smell like fall and the holidays and everything good about this time of year. We ate some of them warm, like you do when cookies first come out of the oven. But I must admit to liking them more once they cooled down because they got crisp and crunchy, just like my airline favorites. Enjoy with coffee, tea or a mug of warm apple cider.

cookies

Biscoff-Style Spice Cookies

Adapted from Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 25-50 cookies (depending on what size cookie cutter you use – I used a big one and it made 25)

Before you start making these, be aware that the rolled out dough needs to be chilled for 3 hours before it is solid enough for you to cut the cookies out. Also be prepared for the dough to be really crumbly – I mean really crumbly – when you finish mixing it. But have faith! You just have to work with it a bit and it will come together.

  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg (you could probably substitute 1 tbsp of water here if you want them to keep longer)

First, whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl: flour, salt, baking soda, and spices.

Beat the butter at medium speed (with a stand mixer or hand mixer) until creamy, then add the sugars to that and beat until well-blended (2-3 minutes).

Add the veg oil and egg to the sugar mixture and mix until combined.

With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients slowly, mixing only until the flour disappears.

Once you incorporate all the flour, the dough will be crumbly. There might also be some flour left on the bottom of the bowl. Using your hands or a spatula, reach into the bowl and knead/squish the dough together enough to eliminate dry spots and to bring the dough together.

Divide the dough in half and working one half at a time, pat and press the dough (remember: crumbly!) together into a thick circle. Then roll the dough out between two pieces of plastic wrap until you have a circle that is about 1/4 inch thick.

Refrigerate the rolled out rounds of dough for at least 3 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove one circle of dough from the refrigerator and, using a cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can, carefully lifting the cookies onto the lined baking sheet as you go.

Round up the scraps when you are done, roll them out again quickly into a 1/4 inch round and cut out more cookies. Only do this once or twice for this first batch (if you do it more the dough will get too warm and start being sticky). If you have more dough left, put it back in the fridge and use it with the second batch.

Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until they are lightly golden and slightly browned around the edges. Allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Repeat with the second round of dough. For best results, wait until the cookies are completely cool to enjoy (trust me!)

eat me!

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Filed under Dessert, Food