Simple and Classic – French Vanilla Sables

 

Last weekend I spent one day visiting my ‘rents and another visiting my MIL. I came bearing food and treats. I thought the applesauce bread would be the hit, but the French Vanilla Sables were the winner. Sables are a classic French shortbread cookie, rich and sandy. This is a recipe I found in Dorie Greenspan’s “Dorie’s Cookies”. She spoke at a local indie book store. She’s a delightful pixie of a person. She shared some great stories, tips and cookies! My favorite tip is to roll out the dough on parchment paper and THEN put it into the fridge or freezer. I’ve always struggled pounding the hardened dough, to roll it out. This makes perfect sense ! Chill the dough and then cut out your cookies. You can freeze them after you bake, in case you need help with your self-control!

 

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature

½ cup sugar

¼ cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

½ tsp. fine sea salt

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

 

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter, both sugars and the salt on medium speed for about 3 minutes. If you have a stand mixer, use it. Three minutes can seem like an eternity.  The mixture should be smooth but not fluffy.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and, one by one, beat in the yolks, followed by the vanilla. Turn off the mixer, add the flour all at once and turn the mixer to the lowest speed. You don’t flour flying throughout your kitchen! Mix just until the flour disappears into the dough. Give the dough a couple of turns with a spatula.  That’s it!

Turn the dough out on the counter and divide it in half. If you are going to roll out the dough, form the dough into two discs. Roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper to about ¼ inch thick. Slide the parchment-sandwiched-dough onto a baking sheet and freeze for at least an hour, or refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Use a 2-inch cookie cutter to cut out the rolled dough.  A simple circle or rectangle is perfect. Don’t use anything too detailed. The dough won’t hold a complicated shape. Press sparkling sugar onto the tops prior to baking for a fun crunch. Start checking the cookies after 10 minutes. You want them slightly browned on the bottom.

If you don’t want to cut out cookies, you can form the dough into 9 inch logs. Wrap them and freeze for 3 hours, and up to 2 months.  I use the parchment to help me roll the cookies. They don’t have to be perfectly round.When you are ready to bake, slice the logs about 1/3 inch thick.  I eyeball the thickness.  Again, press some sparkling sugar onto the tops. Bake one sheet at a time on the center rack of a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Check the bottom of a cookie. It should be slightly browned. It could take more or less depending on the thickness.

Every oven has hot spots. So, to prevent (I hope) uneven cooking, I like to turn the baking sheets around halfway through the cooking process. You want the cookies baked evenly. Sometime one side of the sheet can brown quicker than the other. I set the timer and then turn. Reset the timer. I also bake all my cookies on parchment. When they are done, I slide the parchment off the baking sheet onto my counter or a rack to cool.
These are perfect with that wintry afternoon cup of tea. Enjoy!

Auntie Julie’s Cheese Cake

 

This has been a family favorite for some time. It’s not really Auntie Julie’s own recipe, but one which stole our souls. It’s not a holiday or a special day in my house without this cheese cake. I just made it as an “extra” for my daughter’s birthday. I bought a fantastic chocolate cake that tasted like a Hostess Cupcake. It brought back childhood memories of eating them at a friend’s home. She came to my house for milk that wasn’t powdered. I went to her house for Hostess products. It seemed fair to me. I thought most people would want the chocolate cake. I was wrong. More wanted the cheese cake. Yet somehow the chocolate cake is gone…..

This cheesecake is pretty simple. The only special thing you need is a spring form pan. The trick is to let the cream cheese come to room temperature, just like the eggs. I mash the cream cheese with a fork and let it sit for about a half an hour. Don’t skimp and use low-fat or no-fat ingredients. It’s cheese cake for goodness sake. Celebrate something!

Crust

¾ cup fine graham cracker crumbs

2 tbsp. melted butter

2 tbsp. sugar

Blend well with a spoon. Press into bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan. I used the measuring cup to press down the crumbs. I buy the graham cracker crumbs already crumbed. If I buy a box of graham crackers, you can find me by following the trail of crumbs.

Filling

24 ounces cream cheese

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

Cream the cream cheese well. Slowly beat in 1 cup of sugar. Add one egg at a time, beating well after each additional egg. Add 1 tsp. vanilla. Spoon mixture into prepared pan. Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes. It may need longer. The sides will look firm. Touch the center with your finger. It should feel somewhat firm. If it cracks, that’s ok. It will be covered up with the sour cream topping. Remove the pan from the oven and raise temperature of over to 500 degrees..
Topping

2 cups sour cream

3 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together while oven is heating up. I like to wait until right before I put the cheese cake in the oven before I add the topping. The cake may fall a little. It’s ok. More room for the topping. Spread the topping on cheese cake and cook for about 5 minutes. I usually set my oven to 450 degrees. I can’t reach the smoke detector myself, so I avoid higher temperatures. Just cook it for an extra 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and let the cheese cake cool on a cooling rack. Never put anything hot into a refrigerator. Once it is just warm to touch, put in the fridge. I like to make this in the morning and serve at night. It really needs to chill. When I am ready to serve, I unclasp the sides and put it on a cake stand. Seems more elegant that way. You can also see who is trying to swipe a finger-full.

If you are adventurous, a raspberry coulis is the perfect addition.

Enjoy!

I roast to you!

It’s Soup Saturday in my house. If you’re looking for something different, but not too adventurous, you need to try this soup. It’s so easy and delicious. You don’t even need to put any dairy in this soup. The roasted parsnips add a sweetness, and the cumin adds some spice. Don’t tell anyone there is cauliflower in it. They will never guess! Enjoy!

Knosh and Knit: the world according to Nora

                               Roasted Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup

 

In case you hadn’t noticed, I make a lot of soup.  Soup is good. Most of my soups are tomato based and often include lentils, spinach, different spices and some kind of sausage. I’ve been looking to make something different and healthier. I have read various recipes that used roasted cauliflower, but they relied on too many spices. I found one recipe that used roasted cauliflower and roasted parsnips. Pure magic. I adapted the recipe so that the sweetness of the parsnips would be the dominant flavor. Instead of roasting the spices with the vegetables, I added them later into the chicken stock. Instead of roasting the onions, I sautéed them in olive oil. My new friend, the Immersion Blender, made sure the soup was creamy.

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Apple Pie with Crumb topping

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Apple Pie with Crumb topping

It’s snowing here in New England. You know what that means? An early trip to the grocery store.  I beat the crowds (it’s a sport here) and planned my baking day as I wandered. By noon I had already made giant blueberry muffins and an apple pie. APPLE PIE! Nothing makes the house smell so delightful. Such comfort food! I prefer an apple pie with crumb topping. More cinnamon and sugar for the win!! I have no magical pie crust recipe. I’m just not good at making pie crust…..butter? Crisco? Ugh. So, you can use your own recipe or cheat like me and buy a crust. Yup. I’ll say a few Hail Marys for my soul, but the crust is the just vessel of sweet cinnamon and cooked apples into my mouth. I’m not embarrassed. (Maybe just a little). I do make a great crust for apple galette that does not work well as a pie.

The secret to the crumb topping is to make it before you peel the apples and then let it sit in the fridge to harden. This technique makes it easier to sprinkle over the ready-for-oven pie.

5 Granny Smith apples

1 tablespoon all-purpose King Arthur flour, any brand will do

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Crumb Topping:

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ cup cold butter

1-9 inch Pyrex pie plate

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the topping by mixing flour, sugar and cinnamon is large bowl. Add cold butter that’s been cut up in small pieces. I like to use a pastry cutter, but you can use a food processor, a fork or even your hands. Make sure it is all mixed. Place in fridge to harden a bit.

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Peel your apples. I like to do them in one spiral piece. It’s just something I like to do. There is more than one way to peel an apple. Next you will need to core your apples. If you don’t have an apple corer, just slice around the core. I cut the apples in half and then make 6 slices from each half. If the apple slices are too thick, the pie will take too long to cook. Just a helpful hint. When I was coring my apples, I pushed a core through my finger. It got stuck. I panicked. Then I realized this isn’t like the wrought iron rails on my parents front steps that I got my head stuck in….I mean my friend’s head…..I could eat my way out of this. How often can you say that?

Once peeled and sliced, I put the apples in a big bowl. If you don’t have a bowl big enough, you can use a clean pot. If you don’t have a pot big enough, just do half the apples at a time. I put a tablespoon of flour in with the apples to help thicken the juices. You don’t have to. I use about ½ cup of sugar and 1 tsp. of cinnamon in the apples. I like to toss them using a knife. It’s tradition. You can use your impeccably clean hands instead. Then taste an apple. Very important. If the apples need more sugar or cinnamon, now’s the time to add them. I read on the internet that the French don’t use cinnamon in apple desserts. If it’s on the internet it must be true! Oui?

Now the apples are ready for the pie shell. I crimped along the top of the crust with my fingers. Not artfully, may I add. You can press it down with a fork. There’s lots of ways to prepare your crust. Most people like to just dump the apples in the pie crust. I like to place the curved back of the apples along my pie crust. I systematically place the apples around the pie crust, in several layers. This may sound excessive, but it helps prevent the pie from collapsing after you bake it. The center of the pie should have more apples than the side, like a mound. If there is any of the cinnamon/flour mixture, sprinkle it over the top of the apples.

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Now it’s time for the crumb topping. Place your pie plate on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. You can also use aluminum foil. The topping will fall off and burn. You don’t want to clean that off your baking sheet! Sprinkle the crumb topping all over your pie. Have a taste or two! This recipe makes too much topping for the pie. I just haven’t done the math to reduce it. If you have any pie crust scraps, you can sprinkle this mixture over them and bake. It’s a treat for the kiddos! My mother used to sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over her pie scraps. It made us all so happy.

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Bake your pie at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Check your pie by putting a sharp knife into a cooked apple. If it goes in easily, the pie is done. If not, then cook for another 5-10 minutes. Another sign of doneness is bubbling juices in the pie. That makes my heart happy. Let pie cool before serving. You can have it plain, with vanilla ice cream or even whipped cream. Enjoy!

 

Turkey in the morning, turkey in the evening, turkey at supper time….

 

If you are reading this, you have survived 2016 successfully! Good for you. Did you make an resolutions? Didn’t think so. Every Sunday I get deep and introspective. I thought today would be even more so, but it was not. I am glad to see 2016 go, but nervous about 2017. I don’t think we should put pressure on the new year. It’s up to us to be successful and happy. Is it about choosing a small safe world or taking risk and chance in a big scary world? Meh. I’d rather think about cooking food for the ones that I love.

I found this Turkey Chili recipe in the Washington Post. This is a Sarah Moulton recipe. She was the host of one of the Food Network’s first shows. I loved watching her awkward knife skills, being a lefty. Every time I say “impeccably clean hands” I think of her. What? You don’t use that phrase? You should! It reminds me to keep washing my hands to avoid cross-contamination. She was a great teacher, and I learned many things from her. She’s moved on from the Food Network to PBS and is still cooking and writing about cooking.

I’ve adapted the recipe a little. Her recipe is here.

Turkey Chili

1 cup finely chopped onion

¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more for brushing tortillas

1 tbsp. minced garlic

2 pounds ground turkey or chicken

1 tbsp. chili powder

2 tsp. ground cumin

¼ to ½ tsp. cayenne pepper

½ tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste

Four (or more) 6” corn tortillas

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 cups chicken stock (store-bought works well)

2  15-ounce cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1   5-oz. can of chopped green chilies

2/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

2 tbsp. lime juice

¾ cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Heat oven to 375 degrees

Combine the onion and oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Increase the heat to high; add the ground turkey or chicken, the chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper (to taste) and the ½ teaspoon of salt; cook for about 6 minutes, breaking up the meat, or until it is no longer pink.

Reduce the heat under the skillet to medium, then add the flour; cook for 3 minutes, stirring. Pour in the broth, stirring. I would put 2 cups of chicken stock in at first. I like my soup thick. If you want the soup thinner you can add more stock. Once the mixture starts bubbling, stir in the beans and green chilies. I like to mash one of the cans of beans. It helps thicken the soup. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the sour cream, lime juice (to taste) and season lightly with salt. Stir in about ½ cup of cheese and stir until melted. You can either add the rest now, or sprinkle it on top of your bowl.

Taste the soup. I found that I had to put a little more cumin and chili powder, as well as salt in it. It’s better to add, since you cannot take out spices once they are added.

Now for my favorite part of the soup, the tortilla toppings! On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, place tortillas in a single layer. Brush vegetable oil on the tortillas. Sprinkle salt over them. Put in the oven, on the middle rack for about 15 minutes You want the tortillas to crisp up and brown lightly. Watch them so they don’t burn. Your home will smell wonderful. Take them out of the oven to cool. If you have a rolling pin, you can crush the tortillas with it, making them into coarse crumbs or tear them into small chunks. I prefer the chunks. Of course.

Add the tortillas to the pan and let the soup bubble around them for 2 minutes. Spoon into bowl. Sniff and smell. Lower spoon into bowl, lift to mouth. Smile. It’s delicious!

NOTE: I like to make this soup the day before I plan on serving it. The flavors develop more when you wait. You can, of course, serve it immediately. Your leftovers will be fantastic!

 

You don’t like fish? I make you tuna!

Italian-Americans celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. I don’t love fish. I especially dislike salmon. Tuna, on the other hand, is my favorite. I like to make Creamy Tuna Noodle Cazuela for a celebration or a weeknight meal. Splurge and buy the imported canned tuna from Spain or Italy. The jarred piquillo peppers add a twist from the traditional tuna casserole. This dish is something special.

1 lb. farfalle  (bow-tie) pasta

6 tsp. unsalted butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups whole milk, or 2% or even half-n-half (warmed)

1 ½ cups frozen baby peas

¾ cup piquillo peppers (6 ounces) Roasted red peppers can be substituted

½ cup Parmesan cheese ( or more!)

2 6-ounce cans of white tuna in oil, drained and flaked

salt and pepper

1 cup panko

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the farfalle pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the onion and cook over high heat, stirring, until the onions are softened. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the milk and bring to a boil. Cook the sauce over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened. In case you were wondering, this is called a béchamel sauce. Fancy!

Once thickened, add the farfalle pasta, frozen baby peas, sliced piquillo peppers, Parmesan cheese and tuna. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a large baking dish, or individual gratin dishes.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoon of butter. Add the panko and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute. Sprinkle the panko over the casserole and bake for about 20 minutes or until bubbling. Serve immediately.

Note: You can play around with the proportions. The original recipe is here. I like more tuna, so I added an additional can. I increased a few other things, especially the panko topping. Yum!

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Dreamy, creamy winter soup

 

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

 

Soups are a wonderful way of staying warm during the winter months. A bowl of piping hot soup nourishes the body and soul. This soup also happens to be nutritious! There is no cream. Creamy cannellini beans are used to give this soup a velvety texture. The beans also provide fiber and protein. You can make this soup in about 45 minutes including chopping and simmering. It also doesn’t make so much soup that you are eating it forever.

 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 large head of broccoli, florets and tender parts of stems, chopped

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

15 ounce can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup milk

1 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon powdered mustard

½ tsp. salt

 

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion and cook until tender, but not browned. Add the broccoli, broth and beans. Increase the heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes. You can test the broccoli by piercing it with a sharp knife. If it cuts into broccoli easily, it’s done!

If you are using a blender, let the soup cool for 15 minutes. Make sure you puree the soup in small batches. The hot ingredients in a blender can cause pressure to build up and the lid to explode off the blender. I used an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pan.

Heat soup in pan until gently bubbling. Lower the heat and stir in milk, ¾ cup of cheese, powdered mustard, and ½ tsp. salt. Cook until warmed through.

Taste and add more salt if needed. Garnish the soup bowls with the remaining cheese. Serve hot.

Here’s the original recipe from Ellie Krieger.