Christmas Cookies

Peppermint Meringues (c)2012 La Domestique

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let your heart be light

From now on our troubles will be out of sight…

{words by Ralph Blane}

Valentine’s Day is marked by chocolate, Easter is sweet bread, the Fourth of July is ice cream, Halloween is candy, Thanksgiving is pie, and Christmas is cookies. Whether store-bought or home-baked, a tin of assorted cookies on the kitchen table makes each day leading up to Christmas feel festive. If you can’t seem to get into the holiday spirit, put on some Christmas music and bake a batch of cookies (by the time you finish licking the spoon clean you’ll feel like a kid again). With all the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s easy to lose your joy. A dozen cookies baking in the oven slows time down just enough so you can savor the season as the house fills with the aroma of caramelizing butter, sugar, and spices. Tis the season for giving, so bake a few extra to give away – and just like the Grinch – your heart will grow three sizes in one day!

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Irish Christmas Cake

Irish Christmas Cake (c) 2012 La Domestique

Last night we ate our first slice of Irish Christmas Cake. To my Irish-born-and-raised husband, this fruit cake is an essential part of celebrating Christmas. If you ask him about Christmas cake, his eyes gloss over as he recites its virtues, from boozy dried fruit to moist, dark crumb to marzipan crust. My experience with Christmas cake came a couple of years ago when we traveled to Ireland during the holidays for a family wedding. As we journeyed from house to house visiting friends and relatives, I noticed a Christmas cake appeared on every table in every home. Once invited in, we gathered around the kitchen table next to the warm stove. A pot of tea and the obligatory slice of Christmas cake placed on the table sustained us through hours of chatting and catching up. The dense crumb studded with golden raisins, currants, and glacé cherries was heavy with holiday spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Covered in a thick coating of marzipan and wrapped in white fondant, the cake tasted tooth achingly sweet. Everyone had their favorite way to eat Christmas cake, my husband preferring to peel off the fondant and nibble at the marzipan. He had a history of stripping the whole cake of marzipan and leaving the naked fruit cake for everyone else!

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Dinner with Food52: A Cookbook Review and Giveaway

Chicken That Fancies Itself Spanish, with Lemons, Onions, and Olives (c)2012 La Domestique

Food52 sent me their newest cookbook for review, and have graciously  provided a copy for this giveaway contest to La Domestique readers.

Full contest rules can be found at the end of the review.

I pick up the Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2, Seasonal Recipes from Our Kitchens to Yours, and run my fingers over the smooth, slate-gray cover. The cover photo is a gathering of ingredients that tells the story of a recipe in the making: sliced squash, sprig of sage, sprinkling of salt. Will it be soup tonight? I open the book to find out.

The introduction takes me back to the beginning of Food52, a website founded by Amanda Hesser and Merril Stubbs. Their original project crowdsourcing a cookbook online is now an active community of home cooks (about 100,00) sharing recipes, advice, and inspiration on Food52.com. I turn the page  and see The Year in Recipes begins with my favorite season, fall. Flipping through the pages, I find a somewhat random collection of recipes (noted as winners of weekly contests at Food52.com), anchored by the seasonal theme. Week 1 is the contest winner for Your Best Red Peppers, Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Corn and Cilantro, followed by Your Best Chicken Wings, Korean Fried Chicken Wings, and a Wildcard Winner, the Wicked Witch Martini. Each page turn reveals something unexpected, and I feel this is a cookbook I’ll reach for throughout the year to shake up my cooking routine. Every time I see the words “Your Best” before a recipe, it reinforces the highly tested, curated standard to which Amanda and Merrill measure these recipes by home cooks. Flipping through the pages, several fall recipes catch my eye. I realize they each have one thing in common: a clever combination of flavors that I would not have thought of before. In Week 4, Your Best Brown Bag Lunch, there’s Pan Bagnat: Le French Tuna Salad Sandwich, tempting me with a vibrant and punchy mix of tuna, basil leaves, olives, red bell pepper, red onion, artichoke hearts, and haricots verts (French green beans) atop crusty baguette. The Roasted Cauliflower with Gremolata Bread Crumbs (winner of Your Best Cauliflower) brings to mind an Italian antipasto – so simple and smart – coated in crisp breadcrumbs, lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. Another thing I notice about this cookbook collaboration by home cooks across the world is diversity – from the Moorish Paella to Afghan Dumplings with Lamb Kofta and Yogurt Sauce to Okonomiyaki (Kyoto-style pancakes), the Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2 is anything but vanilla.

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Winter Radicchio Tart

Winter Radicchio Tart (c) 2012 La Domestique

Last week here at La Domestique, I shared images of produce from the final farmers market of the regular season in Boulder, Colorado in a post titled, The Last Phase is the Most Glorious. Every season, a trip to the market brings the usual staples (carrots, onions, celery, potatoes), seasonal highlights (peaches, corn, pumpkins), and the occasional wildcard vegetable (an unfamiliar green, exotic fruit, or monstrous squash). Scanning the farm stands at the last market of 2012, my eyes smiled at old friends, both human and vegetable, until I came across something I had never seen at the market before – a massive head of ragged leaves, dark green surrounding a tender heart of purple with white veins. As Chef Eric Skokan of the Black Cat farm and restaurant handed me a piece to taste, I looked at him, perplexed, “What IS this?” Chewing on the sturdy, bitter leaf, my brain knew it was the wild, tannic flavor of a chicory, but my eyes weren’t sure. It was a radicchio – but not just any variety of radicchio, a huge leafy head of Radicchio Palla Rossa.

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The Last Phase is the Most Glorious

The growing season is pretty much over here in Colorado. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden there will still be the occasional snow-covered leaves of kale to harvest, or maybe one last head of cabbage to pull from the cold, hard ground. This Saturday the lot where farmers stands piled high with produce all summer was empty. Living at Zone 5 on the plant hardiness map teaches you to really savor the seasons. Winter is long, and when spring finally arrives at the end of May she’s slow to reveal herself. It seems like all we get is radishes and salad greens forever, until August when summer arrives and gives us everything all at once: peaches, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, peas, zucchini, squash, carrots, cucumbers. The bounty of summer overwhelms us and we hardly have time to appreciate it all. September and October lull us into complacency with seemingly endless offerings of pumpkins and hot peppers, but apples and pears freshly plucked from the tree hint that a change is coming. Autumn turns abruptly to winter here in Colorado, and the first snow in October snaps us back into reality- the barren season of our Zone 5 winter is approaching. A visit to the final farmers market of the season reveals the beauty of nature even at the end of the growing season in November. I’m reminded of a favorite line from the movie, The Calendar Girls:

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