Giving Thanks

After a day of feasting (aka gorging) it seems insensitive/clueless/self centered to post yet another indulgence when so many people went without yesterday. So, please take a moment to be thankful for your food coma and spend a little time thinking about how you can fill the empty bellies of those less fortunate. Maybe the below links can help.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Appropriate Tea Time Ginger Lemon Cookies

The other day my mother said something to me that I have never heard her say in all of my 40 odd years; “Your father is busy watching the game.” Um, who is that man in front of the World Series and what have you done with my father?
Some background. I do not come from sporty kin. My parents, sister and I do not play any sports or root for any teams. Growing up there were no pre-Thanksgiving touch football games and no post-Thanksgiving Pro-football viewing. This situation left my very athletic brother in the unfortunate position of watching Wide World of Sports in the kitchen while my mother made dinner. So what’s up with Dad?
The funny thing is that when approached by his son about his new baseball viewing habit he acted like it was the most natural thing in the world. Okay, in all fairness Dad did take my siblings to about three or four Yankee games. In 1977.
Could this be a sign you can teach an old dog a new trick?

When I confess to people that I don’t understand how sports commentators can tell the difference between a good or bad play, or that I don’t know what a 'down' is, or that I wonder why a basketball player can’t run the length of the court just holding the ball they are curious about how I spent my Sunday afternoons as a child. That always seems like a strange question to me. I grew up in New York—it wasn’t exactly difficult to come up with a way to pass the time.

But to answer the question...we did tons of things on Sunday afternoons. We rode bikes in the park (somehow always on cold, windy and damp days), we went to museums and went to see old movies at the New Yorker. But, no matter what we did, the day always ended with tea.
Tea time meant that one parent brewed a pot while the other saw to it there was something good to eat. Sometimes it was homemade (scones, banana bread) or sometimes it was purchased (an Entenmann’s Pecan Danish Ring or Nabisco’s Fancy Cookie Assortment).
But there was one unfortunate Sunday when I learned a valuable lesson involving mean girls. After a day spent in the park with family friends visiting from out of town everyone came back to our apartment. With no treats in the house my father dispatched me and the daughter of the other family to the market to buy something. "You know what we like” he said as he handed me a five. We were about ten and this was before kids still had nannies at age 17. Which is ironic since the city was a lot grittier than it is now.
So, we went to Sloan’s and I remember the other girl leading the charge to the snack cake aisle. Standing in front of the array of Drakes cakes I knew Ring Dings were not what grown-ups ate and certainly not what my father meant when he sent us on this important mission. “We'll get these,” announced my compadre grabbing a bright red, white, blue and yellow box of Hostess “Suzy Q’s.” I lost the little back bone I have and said “okay,” knowing “okay” was really “okay, I’m going to get in trouble.”
And yes, the look in my father’s eyes when we pulled out the box of junk said it all. I think more because I didn’t have the guts to hold my own against the tough-y and less because he was about to ingest a ‘crème’ filled devil’s food sandwich.

Needless to say, later that evening I got quite the talking to about standing up for myself. Which frankly, didn’t take and is a life skill I could still use some extra help with. What did stick with me was the importance of serving what I learned to be the appropriate thing with a pot of tea. These cookies for example would fall under the ‘appropriate’ category--as any sane person (or at least someone raised in my family) knows.

I think I’ll make a batch and bring them over to my parents’ so Dad can sit back, watch the (football?) game and enjoy a Ginger Lemon Cookie with a cup of Darjeeling. I’ll leave the six pack to the other sports fans--you can't expect an old dog to tackle too many new tricks at a time.

Appropriate Tea Time Ginger Lemon Cookies
(Adapted Martha Stewart Living, Dec/Jan 1995)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 large egg
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, cut into 1/8-inch dice

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two baking sheets with parchment; set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl twice.

Add egg; mix on high speed to combine.

Add zest; mix to combine.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, ground ginger, baking soda, salt, and crystallized ginger; add to butter mixture. Mix on medium-low speed to combine, about 20 seconds.

I like to make these bite sized so I use the one teaspoon ice cream scoop-the original recipe suggests two teaspoons. You can decide on your preferred size. Just space them 2 inches apart regardless.

Bake for 7-9 minutes. They will be pale.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Yield 3 dozen medium, 6 dozen small.


Don't Be S.A.D. Sunny Raspberry Lemon Cake

I hate transition and this time of year is always brutal. You have the darkness of the dead of winter but not the cold that gives you permission to hibernate and be cozy. It’s too early for the warmth and spice of gingerbread and too late for the sweet-tart juiciness of a nectarine cobbler.

The weather in New York has been unseasonably variable--less the crisp, clean of autumn and more the damp, clamminess of spring. My hair couldn’t look worse, my vacuum is broken and the Odd Couple marathon that made me so happy till 2am made me miserable when I overslept.
So, instead of completely caving to the crabbiness provoked by my sloth and the whims of barometric pressure, I’m going to pick myself up with my red potholders and make something cheerful.
There is a fruit cart in my neighborhood that somehow manages to have the best deals on berries no matter what time of year. I know, I know…I should be buying local and seasonal but if I bite into one more pear that bears more than a passing resemblance to a potato I may stop eating fruit all together. And buying from the cart allows me to kid myself for one minute and pretend I’m in Paris nodding “merci” to the fruitier and not on the corner of 68th and Columbus saying “thanks” to the ornery vendor.
Mr. Vendor’s most recent deal was three boxes of Mexican raspberries for $5.00. (Excuse me but I chose a larger carbon footprint over an attack of Seasonal Affective Disorder! Now back off!) Luckily I still had one box in the fridge, and the buttermilk left over from my sister’s birthday cupcakes, so I didn’t need to go out in the rain for any ingredients.
The great thing about this cake is that it can be baked in a round 9” cake pan, cut into wedges and served as a dessert, with a little bit of yogurt or crème fraiche if you feel like being fancy. OR you can bake it in a square 9” pan, cut it into well, squares, and serve it for brunch. The lemon really adds some sparkle and it just feels like sunshine. Simply making it will stop your slide down the slippery slope of S.A.D and one bite will send you on the path to a warm, bright place.

Don't Be S.A.D. Sunny Lemon Raspberry Cake
(adapted from Gourmet, June 2009)
Printer friendly version

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
Zest of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries (about 5 ounces)

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round or square cake pan.
In small bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In liquid measuring cup combine buttermilk, vanilla and lemon zest. Set aside.
In bowl of electric mixer beat together butter and 2/3 cup sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.
Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Invert onto a plate.

Yield 6-8


All Yours Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes

I don’t like to share. I especially don’t like sharing food. And I most specifically don’t like sharing dessert. Years ago a friend invited me to join her and her parents for dinner. When the waiter brought over our meals these otherwise reserved and somewhat fancy folk began lunging at each other with their forks and taking bites off one another’s plates and “Oh, let me try!” And “This is so good. Here, take a bite!” and “Taste, taste.” I felt like I had to throw myself over my plate to ward off the savages. And protect my rigatoni Bolognese.

I understand that for most people a little bite of everything is the preferred method of meal taking. And I agree, when the dish is designed that way. Sure, sharing a Pu-Pu platter or an assortment of antipasti makes sense. But when we’re talking thought through and full entrees? No thank you. If I had wanted the striped bass I would have ordered it myself. Now, keep your mitts off my plate.
Rich, my frequent dining partner, has the habit of asking me what I am ordering right as the waiter comes to the table. I usually say, “It doesn’t matter what I’m getting but, if you must know, I’m getting the salmon.” “The salmon?! But I want the salmon. We can’t get the same thing!” “Why not?” I argue. “Why can’t we both have what we want?” And thus begins the negotiation which ends with me giving up and in and ordering something else just because the waiter is waiting and I’m hopeful this won’t be my last meal so who really cares.

I once dated a guy who had a house with an outdoor grill. One night for dinner he wanted turf and I wanted surf so we bought a piece of each. While doing the post-meal dishes he seemed sulky and when I asked him what was up he said, “I’m a little surprised you didn’t offer me any of your tuna.” Talk about a test--who does that? Frankly, it hadn’t occurred to me. Then again he is the same guy who said, when we broke up, “Miranda, I need someone who’s going to wake me up in the morning and say ‘Let’s run a 5K, let’s ski double blacks.’” Which begs the question; are you looking for a girlfriend or a personal trainer? Clearly he had bigger problems than wanting to be fed a bite of fish.
The thing is I wasn't raised in a "family style" kind of family. Not to say we were stingy or selfish, just that we never ordered in Chinese food. So I think that “you- have-to-taste-the-sesame-noodles-can-you-pass-the-General-Tsao’s-chicken” kind of eating just isn’t in my blood. I also have a younger brother who could put away our bag of Brussels before I’d even poured my glass of milk and had the habit of honing in on the best bite of my piece of pecan pie just as the ice cream was melting into the grooves of pecans. I think it is natural that I feel compelled to defend my dessert.
I once had a roommate with an eating disorder in that she ate everything in the house that wasn’t hers and nothing that was. I’m embarrassed to say it got to the point where I was hiding my Mallomars in my underwear drawer.
What I have learned over the years is that there are certain sweets that come with a built in “all mine” feature. For example, you would never ask someone for a lick of her ice cream cone. Even a bite of crème brulee, in its own little ramekin, is less likely to evoke “may I?” than a bowl of chocolate mousse. And you would never order a cupcake “for the table.” (I hate ordering a dessert for the table by the way--there is never enough for me.) Cupcakes are the definitive dessert for one.

This recipe is one I found years ago when searching for something that captured the spirit of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, my sister’s favorite candy. I make these every year on her birthday. She can eat the whole thing without intrusion and can decide for herself if and with whom she wants to share the rest. She’s smart enough to share with the chef.

All Yours Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes
adapted from Bobby Flay/The Food Network
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1 1/4 cups cake flour

1/2 cup Dutch processed unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup strong, hot coffee

Ingredients--Peanut Butter Buttercream Filling
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

Ingredients--Ganache Frosting
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream


Set rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.

Line two 12 slot muffin pans with paper or foil cupcake liners.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together 3 times.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together at high speed for 15 seconds until combined.

Add the eggs 1 at a time beating until each is incorporated.

Continue beating until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes longer.

With the mixer at its lowest speed, beat in 1/3 the flour mixture. Beat in the buttermilk and vanilla, then another third of the flour. Beat in the coffee and then the remaining flour.

Fill the sections of the muffin tin 1/2 full.

Bake for 20-23 minutes or until the centers spring back when lightly pressed.

Set pan on a rack to cool.

Directions--Peanut Butter Buttercream Filling

Beat the butter and peanut butter at medium speed in a mixing bowl until blended.

Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar.

Increase speed to high and beat for 3 to 5 minutes until smooth and fluffy. (It will become much lighter in color.)

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium, plain tip with filling.
Insert tip into each cooled cupcake and squeeze approximately 2 tablespoons of filling into each cupcake. (I usually count to 4 seconds while squeezing pastry bag.)

Directions--Ganache Frosting
Place chocolate in a medium bowl.

Bring the cream to a scald in a small saucepan.

Pour cream over chocolate and let sit 1 minute, then whisk until smooth.
Let sit for 10 minutes until thick, but still pourable.

Dunk the top half of the cupcakes into the frosting to coat.
Transfer to the refrigerator for 20 minutes to set.

Yield: 20 cupcakes


New Food Memory Snowballs

I hate soup and I blame Edwidge. When I was 5 my parents hosted a French student from Barnard who babysat for my sister and me in exchange for room and board. Edwidge hated me, because I was five and had opinions, and loved my sister because she was two and had none.
One afternoon she took us to play with the charges of a classmate of hers who was living under similar circumstances. After playing with the two creepy kids we were given lunch and a bowl of brown gruel was set in front of me. “No thank you. May I have a sandwich?” I asked. “NON!” she said and began to shove enormous spoonfuls of the smelly slop into my mouth. I will never forget the feeling of metal hitting the back of my teeth as I choked the soup down. “Please sir may I have no more?”
This experience would fall under the ‘bad food memory’ category. One that leaves you so permanently scarred that you can simply never go back. Everyone has their list of “no way will I ever ingest that again.” So, to paraphrase the Soup Nazi, no soup for me!
My list would also include; Gin (a night in college of which I have no memory involving the bottle of Beefeater my father brought me on Parents’ Weekend)
and Shrimp Scampi (food poisoning in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. The good news? I lost five pounds. The bad news? I lost three days of vacation.)
But the soup thing is the most inconvenient since almost every holiday involves soup and I just sit there like an idiot while everyone is slurping happily around me. Years ago I had a completely mediocre date with a very boring guy. When he called me to ask me out again (I was shocked) I was sick with the flu. Upon hearing my hacking cough and Harvey Fierstein voice he said, in a really annoying sing song-y voice, “Am I going to have to bring you some chicken soup?”
For some, this would have been the beginning of a beautiful relationship. For me? “Next!”

But for every bad food memory there are 100’s of wonderful ones. The almond crescent cookies my childhood neighbor made, chocolate leaves at the house of an old family friend, the marzipan torte with apricot sauce at a birthday party 30 years ago and the Snowballs made by the mother of a close friend.

I’d recently become obsessed with these Snowballs--buttery cookies covered in powdered sugar with a Hershey’s Kiss waiting to surprise you inside. Maybe because being back in contact with the friend who introduced me to her mother’s famous treats sent me on a walk down memory lane. I knew the closely guarded family recipe would not be shared with me, although believe me I tried. So, time to attempt a re-creation!

No matter how hard I tried I could not get the cookies to retain the spherical quality I so dearly remembered. I was about to toss in my powdered sugar covered apron but, then I thought, that’s okay. They taste great and using dark chocolate kisses rather than the achingly sweet milk chocolate variety was a little bit of sophistication. So, maybe memories should stay in the past and the present should be devoted to making new ones.

New Food Memory Snowball Cookies
Printer Friendly Version
2 sticks butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
30-40 Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Kisses, unwrapped (12 ounce bag will be plenty)
Powdered sugar (@ 1 cup or enough to fill a small bowl)

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

In bowl of electric mixer combine butter and granulated sugar until fluffy using paddle attachment.

Add vanilla and mix until combined.

On very slow speed (so you don’t have a dust cloud) gradually add flour until fully combined. Dough will be stiff.
Using a spoon, or tablespoon sized ice cream scoop, place tablespoon of dough on top of chocolate kiss and press it down to cover entire kiss.
Roll dough covered kiss into balls and place on cookie sheets.

Chill for ½ hour.

Bake 10-15 minutes until pale golden.

Cool completely and roll cookies in powdered sugar.

Yield: @40 cookies.


Punishment Concord Grape Jelly

I have this thing I do when I’ve been really careless and stupid; I force myself to suffer the consequences. Not in a creepy, masochistic way but in a kind of you-break-it-you-buy-it-you-made-your-bed-lie-in-it way. Like three years ago I threw out my wallet. Not on purpose of course but a rainy day, a broken, wet grocery bag and being late to a train all conspired to derail my attention. That’s how I came to be in my building’s basement up to my elbows clawing my way through 20 industrial size garbage bags in the hopes of finding my black Marc Jacobs wallet. You have no idea how disgusting other people are until you’ve rooted through their trash.
No wallet. So, as punishment for my idiocy, I went online and bought the cheapest, ugliest pink wallet I could find. My self inflicted scarlet 'A'. Think Malibu Barbie goes small leather goods shopping in a Fort Lauderdale hotel gift shop. I carried the wallet for two years until I decided I'd been punished enough.
Recently, I thought I’d make an autumnal and local fruit salad. Feeling virtuous for taking my re-usable bag to the farmer’s market I picked out a gorgeous box of deep purple Concord grapes, that had been sitting under a “seedless” sign. I thought they’d make a beautiful color contrast to the yellows, greens and mottled reds of the apples and pears I had also purchased. Except first of all, they turned out to be filled with seeds and second of all, have you ever tasted a plain concord grape? It is like the grapey-est most intense and sour experience you could imagine. They are just too much. What was I thinking?
I refused to waste the $5.00 I’d spent on them and decided to find a recipe using my stupid purchase. I thought about a Concord grape pie, for which there were tons of experts from New England all over the internet. But then I realized, who in the world is going to want to eat that? Then I thought about the only thing that might appeal to my familial customers...grape jelly! Ok, not officially an adventure in baking but really, what else could I do? I actually hate grape jelly and whenever a coffee shop puts those little packets on my side of wheat toast I ask the waiter to please replace them with orange marmalade or strawberry (which they always have by the way and you should totally ask for it). I’d never made jelly or jam before and I thought I’d channel my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder (minus the outhouse and plus the manicure) and get my pioneer on!
After doing my due diligence I bought the requisite equipment: 4 Ball jelly jars, lids & bands, a box of Ball Original Pectin and a pack of cheese cloth ($12.01 at Gracious Home). I already had the sugar and consulted The Good Housekeeping Cookbook (2001 Hearst Communications, Inc.) on how to improvise a boiling water canner. I was good to go. Or so I thought.

Early on a Sunday morning I started my project. I smashed the grapes and added the correct amount of water. And then I mistakenly added the sugar. I had screwed up the 'make grape juice' part of the recipe, had to start all over again and had no grapes. So at 9:30am I ran to the fruit market and bought another box of this thoroughly unappealing fruit ($3.99 at Fairway).
Ok, starting again I did it right this time and poured the hot grape mess/mass into my make shift ‘jelly bag’ (cheesecloth fastened around a bowl with a rubber band.)
After the prescribed two hours all I had was a little over a cup of juice. The recipe called for five.
Meanwhile, I had to wash and sterilize the jelly jars in my dishwasher so they would still be hot and dry when it was time to fill them. They sat on a dish towel at the ready. I put a cake sized cooling rack in the bottom of a stock pot, filled it with water and got that boiling-my improvised canner. Then I cooked the juice with the pectin and the sugar, and when it was ready I ladled (oops, had to also run out to spend $3.99 on a ladle at Gartner’s Hardware) the purple liquid into the awaiting jelly jars. Yup, didn’t need to buy four, I only filled two.
Using a pot holder I put the jars in the boiling water bath, placed the lid on the pot and prepared to wait the required 10 minutes.
Except that the water boiled up and over the pot, flooding the cook top and making the worst sizzling sound. I tried to move it and all I did was slosh boiling water everywhere, narrowly avoiding third degree burns.
I grabbed a measuring cup and bailed out cups of water, screwing up the whole ‘make sure the jars are covered by two inches of water’ instruction. But, finally things calmed down. After the ten minutes I used rubber gloves to pull the jars out of the water, put them back on the dishtowel where they were to sit for 12-24 hours to allow them to set. And then I heard the best, most satisying sound. Like the opposite of when you open a new jar of pickles. Even with the mishap I’d managed to create a vacuum seal!

The next morning I was amazed-both jars had indentations at the top of their lids. Then I gently shook the jars and I had done it--jelly!
Not being a grape fan I spread a spoonful on a piece of toast and it was really delicious! Like the distilled intense essence of grape. But I still had to convince the experts. First stop, my father (yes, at his age he still eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). We did a blind taste test, Smuckers Grape Jelly vs Mine. "This has no discernible fruit flavor at all!" He pronounced chewing the Smuckers smeared cracker with a sneer on his face. My turn. "Oh wow! Now, this is grape!!!" He said with a smile. Yup, Mine won that test.
Now, onto the niece. She summed up my project with one word: “awesome"--definitely worth my punishment and my $21.99!

Punishment Concord Grape Jelly
Click here for the recipe