Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies

When I lived in San Francisco, I worked quite often as a temp. The money was generally good and you could choose what places you really liked to work at and get called back or refused the really awful places unless work had been scarce and the prospect of facing the landlord was more scary than facing the taskmaster at sweat factory.
It was during this period that I took a half-day job at an ad agency downtown.  They had rented out a local restaurant for their Christmas party so I was left to answer the phone and take messages an easy job but also boring as only a few people called and maybe one or two stopped in.  Thank goodness for magazines in the waiting area.
It was while I was browsing through a cooking magazine--I don't even recall which one it was--that my eyes were drawn to this.  thumbprint cookies have been an annual favorite since I was a kid. But instead of pecans or walnuts, this recipe called for hazelnuts....and roasted, at that!  There is something about roasting nuts that brings out a level of flavor that just seems to be hidden otherwise.  I promise, once you try these, you will retire the old recipe forever!

Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
1/2 cup sugar
12 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 3/4 cups flour
Red raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet.
Roast for 15 minutes shaking the pan at least once to roll them around to ensure even roasting.
Empty them into a clean towel and rub them vigorously to remove the skins.
This may take a few times to remove most of the skin which will be bitter if there is too much.
Transfer 1/2 cup of nut to a food processor and grind to a medium fine consistency. Remove to a plate and reserve.
Transfer the remaining cup of nuts and the sugar to a food processor and grind.
Add butter, vanilla extract, and salt and process until smooth.
Add flour and process until mixed. Remove dough to a bowl.
Pinch off pieces big enough to form 1-inch balls.
Roll ball in reserved chopped nuts, place 3 inches apart of cookie sheet and press with thumb to make an indentation.
Fill with 1/2 teaspoon of jam and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Crab-stuffed Deviled Eggs

So I was at G&G Market in Santa Rosa......
If you are at all familiar with this area (Sonoma County) you know that crab season means a very big line and a very long wait at the back of G&G Market as people order crab.  (20 at a time, sometimes!)  So, if I happen to be there and see a nice mountain of the ocean's tastiest gift piled high and only a few people, it's too much of a temptation NOT to grab a ticket!
This is exactly what happened last week as I was shopping for ingredients for AT&T's Christmas party.  I had been asked to contribute my gingersnap ham and a disgustingly sweet bar cookie that I won't mention.  But I also thought deviled eggs would be nice as some people there will neither touch red meat nor sweets. That's when the idea hit me to stuff the eggs with crab and top them with prawns.  If I'd only had enough in my budget to replace the scallion rings with dabs of Beluga......

Crab-stuffed Deviled Eggs

12 eggs, hard-cooked, cooled, peeled, halved and yolks removed and reserved
6 cooked egg yolks
1 12 cups crab meat
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 scallions, while part only finely chopped reserve green part where the white ends.
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
Salt to taste
24 large shrimp (35-40 count)
1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper corns

In a medium bowl, mash the egg yolks well. Mix in mayonnaise, mustard, scallions, Old Bay Seasoning and salt. Mix well and fold in crab meat.
In the meantime, boil 6 cups of water with celery, onion, parsley, bay leaves, salt and pepper corns. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain liquid, return to pot and bring to a boil. Add shrimp and cook just until pink.
Remove, cool in ice water bath and peel and reserve.
Fill each egg half with some of the crab stuffing. Top with a cooked shrimp and garnish the center with a ring of green scallion.

Candied Orange Peel

I don't remember the last time I bought candied orange peel in the market but I do remember that it was expensive for what I was getting namely something that was pretty tasteless except for the sweetness.  It did not resemble an orange peel in the least.  In fact, if it hadn't been labeled as such, I never would have known just what it was exactly.
Enter Victoria Granof  and her wonderful book, Sweet Sicily, an adventure in  the history of pastries on the largest island in the Mediterranean.  In addition to the fabulous recipes for pastries and candies, Ms Granof treats the reader to recipes for the preparation of liqueurs, syrups, preserves and this wonderful candied orange peel.
You will shun the expensive stuff in the plastic containers and never again have to shell out your food dollars for a something that you can create many times better in your own kitchen.

Candied Orange Peel
3 unblemished organic navel oranges
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup corn syrup

Wash oranges and cut each into 6 wedges.  Scrape away the pulp but leave the pith. (I love to snack on the pulp during the course of the day!)
Put in a sauce pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and boil one minute.  Drain and repeat process 3 more times for a total or 4.
Remove from pan and add sugar, water and corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium high heat stirring until the sugar melts.
Add the peel and continue to boil for another 25 minutes.  Drain on a rack for 2 to 3 hours and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Cooking

Potato pancakes have crept into many cultures and traditions but none does it justice quite like the Potato Latke that is so closely associated with the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah ( a holiday which has too many times been referred to, unfortunately, as the 'Jewish Christmas'), a celebratory remembrance of the retaking of the temple in Jerusalem in the Second Century BC. It was during this time that the miracle of the holy oil occurred.
What was only enough to last a short time, lasted for 8 days whilst more oil could be procured. For this reason, Hanukkah becomes a celebration not only of lights but of oil (in this case cooking oil) as well.
I learned to make these potato pancakes from a friend, Helen Friedman, from San Francisco one year when invited to spend Hanukkah with her and her late husband, Joe. I have been told that matzo meal should be used instead of flour. If you like, make that substitution which, may be more authentic than this version. But as I stated, it is the one I learned.

Potato Latkes

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and shredded
1/2 medium onion, grated
1 large egg
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
oil for frying
Sour cream (optional)
Apple sauce (optional)

Place shredded potato and onion in a dish cloth and wring out the water.
Place in a bowl and add the egg, flour and salt.
Fry in heaping tablespoons in hot oil spreading them out into pancakes.
Brown well on both sides and serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce, if desired.

Once again, cranberries turned up on my show on Monday. This time, though, it was not in a cocktail but rather a dessert that all members (read: any age) may legally enjoy.
This recalls the old English tradition of the Christmas pudding which still exists to this day which is evidenced by the number of comments and recipes I read at the Jamie Oliver forum, a great place to learn about cooking (and just about anything else) and to meet some of the nicest people in the world. But I digress, here is the recipe...

Cranberry Pudding

2 cups flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup butter, melted
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups finely chopped cranberries
1 teaspoon grated orange zest


1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch baking dish.

2) In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add butter, milk, and egg; beat well. Stir in cranberries and orange zest.

3) Transfer mixture to prepared dish. Bake 45 minutes, until set. Cool slightly and serve.

If there is such a thing as a cooking gene, I can point to the side of the family from which it comes. Not only did the Krumpens (my maternal grandmother's maiden name) turn out wonderful food but completely insane people as well. (And I mean this in a good way!) This all translates into food and fun as far as I am concerned. Time will not allow me to go into stories and antics from this side of the family, but I will share this recipe for snickerdoodles from my second cousin, Mary Stewart Brandt. (Get her family and our family together, throw in a few bottles of wine and it is advised that all doors and windows be secured.)


2 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400F
Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt and set aside.
Beat shortening and sugar together until fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Stir in the dry ingredients until well blended.
In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon.
Make 2-inch balls from the dough. Roll in the sugar mixture, flatten slightly on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Monday's quick fix brought back a memory of Sicily for me. Our host, Franco, was a very accomplished cook and was legendary for filling up the table with food and surrounding it with guests. For some reason he seemed to think that my capacity for food was far greater than it actually was. On this particular night, the first course was aio e oio a very simply done sauce of olive oil, garlic and chilies (Franco used cayenne). It is not an exaggeration to say the my bowl was spilling over with pasta. In the clamor of talking and drinking and chaos, I emptied half my bowl into his (he never noticed and if anyone else did they kept mum) and was able to enjoy the subsequent courses without feeling stuffed. This is a great one to do when you are hungry and don't want to take a lot of time but need something now. Buon appetito!

Aio e Oio

4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chili flakes to taste (or cayenne)
1 pound pasta, cooked and drained reserving some of the water
Parmegianno Reggiano or Pecorino

Mince garlic and add to skillet along with chili and olive oil, saute just until garlic starts to color. Add pasta and mix thoroughly adding some of the cooking water to make a sauce.
Season to taste and serve with cheese.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Rabanada (it's what's for breakfast...)

First off, I want to thank Rodrigo Antunes, um Brazileiro living in San Francisco, for this recipe.
He (and for that matter, all of my Brazilian friends) always gives a willing hand if I have a question or need some help with anything that has to do with Brazilian culture, history or cooking.
Last week, I decided it would be fun to devote the next few weeks to holiday cookies and figured that every country and culture has it's own specialty when it comes to Christmas or Hanukkah. The first person I hit up for a family favorite recipe was my friend Erick who lives in Brazil. He responded by telling me that they didn't have Christmas cookies there...
What? That couldn't be right. He must have misunderstood or was trying to be funny. But as it turns out, baking cookies for Christmas seems to have bypassed Brazilian culture in spite of the
influx of people from Germany and Italy, two countries where making cookies is almost a prerequisite for citizenship. Not to worry, though. The Brazilian has a sweet tooth and it's no wonder considering their history of sugar cane plantations and the number of sweet concoctions I see everyday just showing up on my Facebook and Twitter pages from the recipe sites of which I am a member. But getting back to sweets associated with Christmas...
A Christmas morning breakfast item, rabanada (pronounced ha-ba-na-da in Portuguese) came up more than once and I was curious as to what it could be. But before I had a chance to Google it, Rodrigo had already sent me a link to a recipe for it in English. Yes, I know this looks like the same old French Toast we are all used to but this goes beyond the quick milk and egg dunking and introduces some typical Brazilian ingredients like sweetened condensed milk, something found in many a Brazilian sobremesa. Also, instead of the quick dip, this calls for the bread to soak overnight much like a strata. But the similarity stops there; whereas a strata is baked these slices on saturated bread are deep fried. I must confess that I have not made these yet but am looking forward to it. If they are anything like the other Brazilian food I've made, I will not be disappointed.

1 medium sweet baguette or 1 medium sourdough baguette
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
6 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 -4 cups vegetable oil (for frying, estimated)


Cut bread into 1-inch thick slices on the bias. You should get about 16 pieces. If you have more, adjust other ingredients to compensate.
Whisk together the eggs, condensed milk, whole milk, vanilla extract, and salt until well mixed.
Coat bread slices on both sides in the egg mixture, and place coated bread in a shallow pan or pie plate, add any remaining egg mixture to it. Cover with press and seal wrap or foil and place in the refrigerator to soften overnight.
Mix together sugar, cocoa and cinnamon in a small shallow bowl big enough to hold one slice bread.
Heat oil in a deep skillet to about 2-inches until it reaches 330F (use a candy thermometer to check).
Lift the bread from the egg mixture until it stops dripping, and pan fry the pieces in the skillet on both sides until golden and crispy. Keep the oil hot while frying (check temp), raising the heat if needed.
As the pieces are removed from the skillet, drain on paper towels then dredge in the spicy sugar mixture.