I spent a lot, and I mean a lot, of time deciding which cookie recipes I would use to make my baked Christmas gifts this year. I was looking for something relatively easy, very tasty, and able to withstand traveling in a box hundreds of miles. I found my Christmas Cookie Winner in Celia Barbour's Spoon Cookies, as printed in Gourmet's December 2005 issue.
These are very simple shortbread cookies made with brown butter, molded in a spoon, and fastened together in sandwich-fashion with preserves. As Barbour testifies in her lovely article, two magical transformations occur in this recipe. First, the browning of the butter amps caramel and nutty flavors in the simple dough. Then, aging the cookies for a couple of days turns the texture from sandy to velvety.
I made four batches this year, and am considering another two. Because I didn't have a regular spoon that was appropriately deep, I chose a large melon baller for molding the cookies. This increased the tedium of molding the cookies, but also increased the yield. The little balls look quite festive. Wrapped up in a Christmas box and tied with a bow, they make a terrific last minute gift.
While searching for some appetizer recipes on Epicurious for her upcoming holiday party, my friend Nicole stumbled upon some hilarious interactions between recipe reviewers for Gourmet'sChicken Satay Bites.
As Brillat-Savarin so famously said, "Tell me where you live, and I'll tell you whether you're capable of appreciating what you eat."
Be sure to read from the bottom up:
A Cook from Chicago on 06/16/05
To the cook from the left coast: Illinois, where one of the "thumbs down" reviewers is from, is most definitely NOT a red state. In fact, it is more blue than New Jersey. Kerry won in Illinois with 55% of the vote. In NJ, he garnered 53% of the vote. I honestly don't even know one person who voted for Bush where I live. (Sorry to further distract from the recipe, I just wanted to clarify!)
A Cook from Houston, TX on 12/30/04
Texas may be red, but it ain't Midwestern. Better brush up on your geography, Guido.
ClayinIowa from The far left side of Iowa on 12/29/04
"Midwestern heartlanders (read: red states"... that may be true but over all ... it's not all inclusive. All I'll say is...Don't pin it on me.
A Cook from Left coast on 12/28/04
Cat fight! In this corner, two Midwestern heartlanders (read: red states); in that corner, a cook from NJ (read: blue state). Popcorn, peanuts, anyone?
ClayinIowa from Wilton Iowa, Heart of the midwest on 12/28/04
Unimpressed is all I can say about this recipe. But to the COOK in NJ, I’d like a definition of “a lot of flavor”. Would that be the Satays or other flavorful spicy dishes I had in Bangkok, the red curries I had in Kathmandu, the spicy bean dishes in Brazil, the hot moles I’ve had in Mexico or the slow cooked BBQ ribs I make here in Iowa. I know good food and I know spicy and flavorful, this is none of the above. Again unimpressed
A Cook from Heartland, USA on 12/26/04
Nice-one person didn't like your "pet" recipe and you bash everyone from the Midwest. Can you say superiority complex?
A Cook from NJ on 12/24/04
Definite winner! Instead of pita, served it in mini-phyllo cups. Don't know what's wrong with the other reviewers because this appy was LOVED by my guests. Maybe mid-westerners can't handle a lot of flavor.
jgolf from Illinois on 12/13/04
I think chicken satay BITES says it all. This was so unappetizing I threw it out rather than serve it to friends.
A Cook from Dallas TX formerly from Burnham Harbor, IL on 12/04/04
Fast and easy. The peanut sauce is good, but not outstanding. Added extra chopped dry roasted peanuts and salt. Served it to a group of 20 and while it didn't fly off the table like the wasabi shrimp rice crackers did from the same story, it eventually disappeared. Didn't make a pretty appetizer even with the cilantro leaf -- using dark meat as the recipe suggests made the chicken just look like a dark brown blob.
What did this all prove? People who like this Chicken Satay recipe are against gun control.
This week, one of the New York Times most forwarded articles was about the beauty of cast iron cookware. Mark Bittman's "Ever So Humble, Cast Iron Outshines Fancy Pans" gives tips for getting over the biggest hurdle to cast iron ownership - seasoning, and explains what is so great about these old-school pans.
Bittman tells no lies. It is kind of surprising that Times readers have taken such an interest in the stuff. I guess it's just difficult to fathom that a piece of cookware, purchased for $20 at your local hardware store, could be as wonderful as the $175 Calphalon from Williams-Sonoma. I'm not throwing out my fancy set. I know that every pan has a purpose, of course. But I suggest that unless you can master the maintenance of a $20 iron skillet, you probably shouldn't be allowed to take responsibility for a $600 All-Clad set.
Our household proudly owns three cast iron pieces - a 10-inch flat skillet, a 10-inch ridged grill pan, and a 6-inch mini skillet. Mr. John is in charge of keeping these babies seasoned. I guess cast iron is especially manly.
We clean our cast iron with kosher salt. When it's too gunked up to wipe clean, I put a small handful of salt into the pan, then scrub around with my fingers. The salt soaks up the oil and is an abrasive. This is especially helpful for ridged pans. Afterward, a drop of oil can be applied with a paper towel if it looks like any of the coating has been scratched off. Then we put the pan back on the stove and heat it up again to dry. After all the water is evaporated and the burner is turned off, it's a good idea to put a pot holder over the handle. You don't want anyone unwittingly grabbing the hot handle.
I've also been loving my Emile Henry ceramic baker, tureen, and pie dish. It's very old-school stuff, as well. We've been doing a lot of braising and roasting lately. It's terrific. To clean, you might need to soak the pieces in water for a bit afterward. Usually all the gunk comes off very easily with a gentle scrub. The ceramic has great heat distribution and retention, and is quite a bit more attractive than cast iron for table presentation. I made some Alsatian Stuffed Cabbage this week and it couldn't have come out better.
Dinner was delicious. My mother, father-in-law, and husband sure can pack away the stuffing...and wine. My turkey was golden, well-shaped, and meaty. Hurray for Lobel's! No brining, no basting, and with stuffing that somehow managed not to kill us despite the all-out 'anti-stuffing in the turkey' media blitz. I started it at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, then took it down to 350 for another two and half hours.
We also enjoyed a Butternut and Apple Soup, Potato and Parsnip Dauphinois, Roast Brussel Sprouts with Lemon, Pureed Yams, and Spiced Cranberries. My stuffing was made with Armagnac-soaked apricots, toasted hazelnuts, smoked bacon, and French bread. It was light and fluffy and quite flavorsome. Kris also created another terrific Tarte Tatin to end the meal.
Afterwards, we polished off the rest of the wine and fought about what to watch on TV. Ahhh. Thanksgiving.
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Edward Winslow recounting the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving feast in Mourt's Relation , as seen on Wikipedia.