Posts filed under 'organic foods'

Experimental Christmas cookie preview

Every year, my mother goes all-out making several varieties of Christmas cookies, and I do a lot of work on them, too. I mix up and bake some batches, decorate some while my mother bakes, and various other permutations on the theme. Most get eaten at home, but some get given to distant relations (a package gets shipped, along with presents, to the West Coast family of one of my uncles), many are packaged en masse for a gift exchange my sister runs, and some get given to neighbors and my mother’s mechanic, co-workers, etc. This means _a lot_ of cookies, completed well before Christmas for the sake of shipping. A couple years ago, I stayed up till 4am trying to produce enough by deadline. I ran out of regular flour, and used self-raising flour to make up the difference. No, you cannot run out and get a bag of flour at 4am on Staten Island if you don’t have a car and the freedom to leave. (Disabled family member involved.)
The cookies ended up edible, but “not up to standard”, saltier than usual, with a blander taste. Michelle decreed that they weren’t fit to give away and that I was the bad guy for having produced substandard cookies…this in spite of the fact that we were way past deadline, mom was too exhausted to continue, and I was overloaded with other work as well. This past year (2011) I declared that I would not stay up till 4am making cookies. In fact, I considered the acrimony I experienced last year to be reason enough not to play a role in the yearly mass cookie production, but as with all other things in my family, I got sucked in again. At least this year, the endeavor started earlier, and in stages: well before deadline, my mother mixed up the dough for several “staples” of our annual Christmas cookie production, and stored the dough batches wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge for a couple of weeks; then we rolled out the dough and cut out the cookies in the first weeks of December. In several instances, my mother did the cutting and rolling, while I put cookie sheets into the oven and took them out of the oven. Given the relatively short baking times of most cookies, our having done this “assembly-line fashion” made it considerably more manageable for both of us. In some instances, she baked, I decorated. And for some of the batches, I was responsible for the entire process. This was the case, for instance, with the new variety added to this year’s lineup: Lemon Moons (based on the Lemon Slice cookies in the 1964 Betty Crocker cookbook, cut out with a crescent moon-shaped cookie cutter, and adorned with lemon-flavored icing made using the recipe for Italian Lemon cookies. For some reason, in this instance, as in the past, the production of new varieties of cookies has been largely, if not entirely, in my hands.
In the past, one of Michelle’s other aides added Russian Teacakes to the lineup: though they were good, their spheroidal shape and hard texture, as well as the fact that they contained walnuts, made them impossible for some to eat. They were also messy to eat, store, and move (powdered sugar coating!), involved a lot of work, and were outside of the family “comfort zone”. Then there was the year I made Kahlua Bites (from a recipe in Parade magazine) and Bourbon balls. They went over a little too well: my brother was home on leave and “bogarted” them!

However, as Michelle had this year wisely tried to get us to plan ahead, and wanted input in the optional/new cookies in the lineup, she searched the internet for recipes she wanted to try well ahead of time (in November). She wanted cookies with lemon juice or flavoring as something different. Let’s face it, there aren’t many lemon cookies period, and lemon cookies as Christmas cookies are still more rare. Thus, I tried out a number of new recipes where there was lemon juice in cookies or lemon flavoring in cookies, or lemon icing on the cookies.
Here’s how they stacked up:
Lemon Sand Dollar cookies: everybody liked the taste well enough, but somehow sand dollars just didn’t fit with Christmas.
Italian Lemon cookies: good in theory, but too fat and difficult to mold to specifications in practice. The icing/lemon glaze was well liked, but tended to sink into the soft, bready, raised-dough cookie base. Also, we had to have a special shopping expedition well before making the test batch, because the recipe called for an entire bottle of lemon extract. They went over well with a repairman who came to the house as I was taking them out of the oven, but with Michelle? Not so much.
Then there were the lemon-ginger pinwheel cookies. Pinwheel cookies are pretty big around here, a Christmas season favorite, but we usually have chocolate-and-vanilla pinwheels, though I understand peppermint pinwheels (with peppermint extract in the dough and the non-chocolate dough dyed pink to differentiate them from the regular pinwheels) do exist, and we may have made them many moons ago. (My memory fails me, but my sister’s physical therapist was raving about them.)
The new and exciting pinwheel cookie variant turned out to be meh. I had expected the lemon part to be more conspicuously lemony, and the ginger part came out much softer in texture than the other dough used, and seemingly steamed and crumbly in consistency. Though I would make them and eat them under other circumstances, I agreed that they were disappointing, and not Chrismas cookie-worthy. There was another variety of lemon cookie wherein the somewhat inexact directions resulted in a yield of a small number of cookies, and thus it was deemed not suitable for Christmas cookie production. One could double and triple recipes, and in other circumstances, I have often done so, but no, I did not want to be fiddling with fractions at the 11th hour, so, though I liked these particular cookies, I agreed that they were not Christmas cookie candidates.
Cookie Cutter Ginger Crisps were a bit softer in texture than the average gingerbread cookies, but in flavor quite similar. Since I made the for the first time well before Christmas, I ended up producing something visually interesting as well as seasonally appropriate when I used maple and oak leaf shaped cookie cutters to produce cookies evoking the shape and texture of autumn leaves.
The Lemon Slice cookies from the 1964 Betty Crocker cookbook made a decent number of cookies, and while the cookies themselves could be more lemony (I should try adding lemon extract in addition to the lemon zest the recipe calls for), they were liked by all for flavor, color, and concept. The moon shapes and the addition of icing was Michelle’s idea, and due to the assertive lemon flavor of the icing, it did “add” something to the shortbread-tasting cookies. Due to the harder, denser texture of the cookies, the icing didn’t sink in, but formed a uniform coating on the surface of the cookie. So the cookies were very good in terms of both taste and appearance. There isn’t a recipe for these on the modern-day Betty Crocker website, though these “Lemon Rosemary slices” come close, and this admittedly “old” recipe from a back issue of Good Housekeeping magazine is similar.

I haven’t yet made the sugared cranberries, but I got the cranberries during one of the last days of the Union Square Greenmarket in December, and I plan to make them sometime in the near future.

Add comment October 9th, 2012

Pork loin, apples, and stuffing, oh my!

I’m not the only one who experiments in the kitchen, and dessert isn’t the only meal with which to experiment: recently, my mother took the reigns and searched the internet for a new and exciting recipe for roast pork loin. She must have been in the mood for apples, because this is what she made last night:
from the Food Network:
[quote]Roasted Pork Loin with Cider and Chunky Applesauce

Recipe courtesy Anne Burrell

Prep Time:
20 min
Inactive Prep Time:
15 min
Cook Time:
55 min


6 servings


* 2 sprigs rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
* 2 sprigs sage, roughly chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, smashed
* Pinch crushed red pepper
* Salt
* Extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 (6-chop) pork rib roast
* 2 large onions, sliced
* 1 bundle thyme, tied with string
* 3 bay leaves
* 2 quarts apple cider
* Chunky Applesauce, recipe follows


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a food processor, combine the chopped herbs with the garlic, crushed red pepper, a generous pinch of salt and enough olive oil to make a paste. Brush the paste on the outside of the pork rib roast.

Toss the onions with olive oil, and salt, and place in the bottom of a roasting pan. Add the thyme, bay leaves and 2/3 of the cider. Place the pork on top of the onions and place in the preheated oven. Roast the pork at 425 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pork has developed a lovely brown crust. Check the pork, stir the onions and cider if they are starting to burn. Add more cider when the level starts to go down.

Lower the oven to 375 degrees F and roast for another 30 to 35 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 150 degrees F. If the crust on the pork starts to get too dark, cover it with foil. Remove 1 1/2 cups of the cider from the bottom of the roasting pan and reserve for the applesauce.

Let the pork rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. When ready to carve remove the pork from the bone and cut the loin into thin slices. Serve with the onions braised in cider and Chunky Applesauce.
Chunky Applesauce:

* 3 tablespoons butter
* 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (toss the apples in lemon juice if not using right away)
* 1 1/2 cups of the reserved cider from the Roasted Pork Loin with Cider
* 1/4 cup apple cider
* 1 pinch ground cinnamon
* 1/4 cup heavy cream
* 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to accommodate the apples. Add the apples and saute over medium-low heat until the apples start to soften. Add the reserved cider, apple cider and cinnamon and cook over low-medium heat until most of the cider has evaporated and the apples are cooked and very soft.

Add the heavy cream and walnuts and cook until the cream has reduced by half. The end result should be a very chunky, sweet/savory applesauce.
She didn’t make the Chunky Applesauce part of the recipe (she is philosophically opposed to cooking with cream), and substituted chicken stock because we were out of cider. Because she didn’t have some of the spices in the house, she bought a Recipe Inspirations set (card with pre-measured spices) for Apple & Sage Pork Chops. (Disclosure: I made the recipe from the card on a previous occasion in recent memory, and it got the same reception…)
It was still a good dinner main dish (involving more effort than the average dinner) but my sister complained about the pork and the cubed apples being too tough as well as the unaccustomed juxtaposition of sweet and savory flavors.
For the side dishes, I cooked the last of the organic spinach I had bought during my last visit to the last session of the NYC Union Square Greenmarket, as well as assembling and baking a small casserole dish of potatoes au gratin (for which I bought a carton of light cream beforehand) using only a ginourmous Yukon Gold potato (obtained at that same Greenmarket) which I was sure had to be at least a pound in and of itself. The problem was, that it wasn’t the pound and a half of potato the recipe called for, and with proportional reduction of the other ingredients, it _just made it_ to be the right volume to fit into a smallish, vintage, covered casserole. The recipe called for one-third cup of unsalted butter; I reduced it by nearly half. I wish I had put even less unsalted butter on the top than I did, because when it came out of the oven, the sides of the casserole were slightly greasy, meaning that the butter had bubbled up and run down the sides while it was in the oven. Though I had a smaller quantity of potatoes au gratin than I had originally planned, I was informed that it wasn’t ready whenever my mother checked it. Indeed, it wasn’t ready to come out of the oven until well after dinner and even dessert. So it resides in the fridge as a leftover to be served another day.

Add comment January 18th, 2012

Purple Peruvian Potatoes, White Tomatoes, and Dandelion Greens

Some people have allegiance to a particular supermarket. I shop ‘em all, but being a New Yorker, the Greenmarket is always an option, and as my family has decided to boldly try more “healthy” foods, I have recently started to frequent the Union Square greenmarket with its plethora of unusual exotic vegetables, free-range meat, locally-produced honey, flour, and more. Earlier this week, I bought white tomatoes, popcorn on the cob (more about this in a future posting), and dandelion greens, among other things, including but not limited to Peruvian purple potatoes (these were my sister’s request).
I had tried dandelion greens at my grandfather’s house years ago when I was a kid. I found them too bitter for my taste, but I had wanted to appreciate them at the time, because my grandfather made a big deal about what a gourmet item it was.
So, with a lot more years and dress rehearsals of eating arugula and drinking coffee under my belt, I bought the big bundle of dandelion greens. As per the farmers’ market suggestion, I squeezed lemon juice over them before serving. It cut the bitterness, but only somewhat. They weren’t as bitter as I remembered, perhaps being a larger and broader leaf version than my grandfather’s backyard lawn weeds, but they were still too bitter for comfort, and still a little too tough for my sister. I had used only about a quarter of the dandelion greens in the salad with the white (really pale yellow) tomatoes (which taste just like regular tomatoes, but have slightly tougher skins), and, since they came with the roots still on, stuck the rest of the bundle in a coffee mug with a little water in the bottom before putting ‘em in the fridge. To my dismay, I discovered that a lot of the leaves (enough to be conspicuous) had nevertheless wilted and withered. So, I found a recipe for cooked dandelion greens on the double…here’s hoping there are enough left unwilted to make this successfully:

Add comment November 19th, 2010


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