DIY holidays – a perfectly thoughtful cookie gift

DIY holidays – a perfectly thoughtful cookie gift

What can I do today, before the rush is on, to be ready for last minute gifts, kind neighborly gestures, and unexpected visits? Make recipes for rolls of unbaked refrigerator cookies, portioned into gift-sized logs, wrapped in waxed paper, and stashed in the freezer for gifting or fresh-baked cookies in minutes..

Like many retro, forgotten ways, Icebox cookies add a simple, convenient and downright elegant trick to your pantry that will help preserve that element of snacking spontaneity we all love so much. They come in filled swirls, basic shortbread styles, with and without fruit and can be dipped in chocolate for an extra degree of fanciness.

The logs require almost no time to thaw enough to slice, arrange on a baking sheet, bake & cool. Thoughtfully wrapped with a recipe tag, they make a small and lovely gift. I like that since they have to be baked, you can save them for later, after the overload of sweets and snacks has passed.

Here are three of my current favorite recipes for Icebox cookies:

Salted Rye Cookies

  • Golden  Raisin Icebox Cookies – tender, crisp & rich, these are both rustic and sophisticated.
  • Fruit Swirls – an extra bonus to this one is the recipe uses no processed sugar. Instead, use honey and dried fruit. They’re tender, rich and easily adaptable for a variety of flavors.
  • My current obsession: Salted Rye Cookies. I love crunchy sugar crystals and was completely taken by this idea: these earthy rye rounds are rolled in a crunchy, crystal-ey mixture of coarse sugar and salt. Brilliant.

And, not just a DIY gift idea, icebox cookies are a great everyday pantry trick for anyone interested in real foods.

Fruit Swirls, no sugar. One recipe, divided into four logs, wrapped in waxed paper for gifting or baking.

Why do I love prepared snacks in my freezer?

  • simple strategy for portion control – divide the dough into smaller logs and only bake what you need
  • a quick, fun after school treat kids can make themselves
  • something special on hand to feed unexpected visitors
  • strategy to keep those overly processed commercial cookies out of your pantry
  • your kid tells you at 9 pm they need to bring cookies to class tomorrow – no biggie

In these days of pandemic, old fashioned neighboring is more meaningful than ever. What sweeter way to check on your neighbors than by gifting them a thoughtful log of ready-to-bake cookies?

Turkey-Day Serendipity.  A Strange Foreshadowing of 2020…

Turkey-Day Serendipity. A Strange Foreshadowing of 2020…

I would have to try really, really hard to sum up the weirdness surrounding our Thanksgiving holiday better than this essay I serendipitously found in a book about preserving seasonal harvests.

All the best storylines are present: Fake News, Propaganda, Revisionist History in School, Consumerism, Branding, and sheer force of will by a focused, relentless American. Sarah Josepha Hale, had she been born in 1988 instead of 1788, would very likely have been one of the first social media Influencers.

But the best part? It all works out in the end, and proves that there isn’t much that can’t be smoothed over with a well-branded and enthusiastically prepared food holiday. So, turn off the media, and tuck in.

Talking Turkey:The Literary Origins of the Thanksgiving Meal

The story of Thanksgiving is a fiction, or at least it is as I learned it in elementary school one November Day back in the seventies, when we cut out construction paper turkeys, brass-buckle shoes, and feathered headdresses.That tale of Pilgrims being saved from starvation in 1621 by kindly Indians bearing gifts has little basis in the historical record, according to food historian Andrew F. Smith, whose revisionist research appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of the journal Gastronomica. The reality is that Thanksgiving was invented by a sentimental novelist in 1846 and enshrined as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln as a means to soothe national division after the Civil War.

The history of thanksgiving – lowercase “t” began soon after the grave Puritans arrived on the Mayflower and established Plimoth Plantation in 1620. They issued all sorts of thanksgiving proclamations in observance of “a military victory, a good harvest, or a providential rainfall,” says Smith, but these were solemn days of prayer, not sumptuous meals.

A letter dated December 1621 is often cited as evidence of the first Thanksgiving – capital “T” – because it describes a feast of wild fowl eaten with Native American King Massasoit. The letter’s purpose makes it suspect, however, because it was sent to England to attract more settlers. Less a cornerstone document of American’s multicultural past, suggests Smith, it might be viewed by a jaundiced eye as a hyped-up real-estate advertisement meant to convince wary Englishmen that the New World natives were friendly.  (They weren’t for long: King Massosoit’s son Metacom, known to the English as Philip, later led the so-called King Philip’s War against Plymouth Colony.)

Throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, says Smith, “thanksgving remained an opional local celebration held at different times in response to specific circumstances.”Only on a few occasions did it assume a national character, as when George Washington marked a day to celebrate the new Constitution, and President James Madison commemorated the end of the War of 1812.

Then along came Sarah Josepha Hale, born in 1788. The energetic writer is best remembered for her verse “Mary Had A Little Lamb” but she rose to prominence in 1827 with the publication of a novel, Northwood; a Tale of New England, which devoted a chapter to Thanksgiving. In it, Hale worked up the now familiar spread: roast turkey with stuffing, pumpkin pie; and plates of pickles, preserves… and all the necessaries for increasing the seasoning of the viands to the demand of each palate.“

Starting in 1846, Hale devoted herself to a tireless lobbying campaign to establish Thanksgiving as an annual holiday.“Hale believed that Thanksgiving could pull the United States together as regional differences, economic self-interest, and slavery tore the nation apart,” writes Smith.That her efforts were temporarily interrupted by the Civil War only underscored Hale’s great theme of the need for a shared feast to foster national reconciliation.She leveraged her connections until she managed to write President Lincold directly, and somehow she persuaded him to join her cause.In 1863, a few months after the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November the third national holiday, after Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday.

Political leaders throughout history have seized upon inspiring narratives to promote their agendas – from the Virgin Queen and le Roi Soleil to the Kennedy Camelot and Regan’s “morning in America”: – and for Lincoln’s purposes, situating America’s original harvst feast in a multicultural Peaceable Kingdom provided an inflection point for renewal after the Civil War.The real question is why it stuck.

Perhaps because Hale’s Thanksgiving menu may have been a fantasy, but it did, almost by chance, summarize the facts of the American food experience. Guy Davenport writes:

“The honey bee came over with the settlers of New England, along with the apple tree and the pear.Two enormous ecologies blended in the New World, where pumpkin, maize, persimmon, melon, and other native vegetables changed the European palate.“

The centerpieces of Hale’s menu, which is everyone’s now, are roast turkey and pumpkin pie. Both are North American species, and they may have been as strange to the Pilgrims as they are familiar to us. Thanksgiving makes us all celebrate how much the nation’s founding depended on the continent’s aboriginal bounty and how profoudly our mainstream food culture has been enriched by multicultureal influences derived from Native American peoples, African slaves, and countless later waves of immigrants.

The American story is one of optimism and adaptability, and American food has always been joyfully opportunistic, pulling ingredients from multiple “enormous ecologies.” Hale’s version of Thanksgiving and all its manifestations, including construction paper stagings of a Pilgrim-Indian sitdown, have endured because, like all myth, it is true, even if it isn’t accurate.

Exerpt from Saving the Season by Kevin West, p 386-7   @2013

Anyway, I hope you navigate this holiday and manage to find some joy, and some resolve. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days to spend outside, so maybe instead of the usual driving around to hit all the gatherings, a hike outside will bring a different type of connection instead?

 

Happy Weird Thanksgiving, from your friends at Auburn Meadow Farm. 
Phone-it-in Orange Beef

Phone-it-in Orange Beef

 

Some cuts of beef just are never going to be Ruth’s Chris caliber. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good, they are just something else.

A disappointing, tough, lean Delmonico makes a damn fine Chicken Fried Steak, or pepper steak. Ditching the supermarket has made me step up and learn a few things, and now I see how truly cheated we have been.

I kid you not, a well raised chicken fried steak is ten times better than an easy supermarket commodity-raised wet-aged steak. Regaining those food skills is well worth the effort, and honestly? Not even all that hard.

Restaurant style Orange Beef is an amazing treat, involving steps for dredging, frying, and otherwise giving your beef strips an amazing, crispy, tender texture, coated in rich, sticky, delicious orange-flavored sauce. 

This quickie is not that.  It has the flavors, but not the oil, the deep fried stickiness, the deep fry smell or fussy steps. It also doesn’t have that ethereal texture, or glaze, but being so  quick, easy, delicious, healthy, and tasty, it’s exactly what a weeknight needs. Pleasing and satisfying fuel for mind and body, and a non-burger way to honor  and enjoy the more complex parts of the animal. 

I struggle a little with the sourcing of the frozen veggies, the Bird’s Eye I used are Conagra, which is… Conagra. But we live in the world we live in, and one battle at a time.

Makes about four servings

  • 1/2 – 1 pound of some type of everyday beef steak; flank, round, sirloin tip steak, something chewier and not-too-fancy, thinly sliced across the grain and cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce 
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar 
  • 2 tablespoons sake or white wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch 
  • 2 tsp cooking oil (I use lard or olive)

Rub the beef strips in the baking soda, and refrigerate, approx 30 minutes. 

Mix together the orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar, wine, sugar and cornstarch. 

Rinse the beef strips well, pat dry on paper towels. Heat the cooking oil in a skillet, add beef strips and brown, about 4 minutes, turning to brown all sides. Remove to a plate. 

Add the package of frozen stir fry veggies to the hot skillet, with 2 tablespoons water, and cover. 

Simmer for about 8 – 10 minutes to allow larger pieces to cook through, then remove lid. 

Allow the water to simmer away, then add the soy mixture to the skillet and simmer until thickened and nicely coating the veggies. 

Return the beef strips to the mix, combine well, and serve warm, alongside rice.

Sustainably and attainably delicious, twenty minutes or less. 

 

Slow Cooker Pepperoncini Beef

Slow Cooker Pepperoncini Beef

So tender, a little tangy, with a very gentle spice, this is one of the laziest meals ever, and everyone loves it! I didn’t even bother to thaw my quart of stock, and used pork stock because it’s what I had, and still delicous. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 – 4 pund bone in beef chuck, arm, or English roast
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 jar pepperoncini
  • 1 pint of stock – beef, pork, chicken or veg is fine
  • 4 tbs butter

Instructions:

Combine black pepper, salt, and granulated garlic. Rub generously into the roast. 

Place roast in crock pot, pour over the jar of pepperoncini with it’s juice and the quart of stock, top with the pats of butter, cover and cook on low for eight hours or so. 

Remove the beef from the slow cooker, remove any fat or collagen, shred and return to the juice. 

Serve as au jus sandwiches on sausage rolls topped with pepperoncini and your favorite fixings (including generous slather of butter on the bun), top salads with beef shreds and pepperoncini, or as a meat course wtih rice, mashed potatoes or cauliflower, polenta, or your favorite sides.  

If you have leftover juice, do not throw it away! Freeze it for another dish calling for beef stock later – that little tang will make some fantastic fall soup!

What’s in season: Celebrating strawberries with homemade Strawberrycello

What’s in season: Celebrating strawberries with homemade Strawberrycello

 

If I was going to name one skill to master to save money and really intensify the flavors of your home cooking, it would be to deeply start exploring the juices. We throw away so much flavor and nutrition because we don’t value that extra bit of juice in the pan. Yet we will buy a separate spice or sauce to do exactly what that discarded juice will do if you would only recognize it.

Seasonal fruit is a great example of how harnessing the power and flavor of those natural peak-of-freshness juices makes your cooking extraordinary. Most recipes solve the issue of too juicy in pies and jams by cooking the fruits down, and adding thickener. But reverse that thinking, and slow down your process, and I think you will be amazed at the difference.

Got my first strawberries from the local Amish farmer a couple days ago. Plain, simple, straight-up strawberry jam may be one of my very, very favorite kitchen staples. But last year, I made this. And it’s a pretty wonderful way to celebrate that unmistakable flavor of a fresh, ripe, local strawberry in January. And a really excellent DIY gift idea, if you are inclined to think ahead that way.

Strawberrycello

  • 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced, or 1-1/2 pounds frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1-1/2 cups Simple Syrup*
  • 1 fifth vodka, 80 – 100 proof

Muddle the strawberries and simply syrup with a wooden spoon in a half-gallon jar. Stir in the vodka. 

Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of strawberries, about 7 days.

Strain the mixtue with a mesh strainer into a clean quart jar. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid – it will make your Strawberrycello cloudy. 

Note: If you feel your berries may have been a little overripe, and the flavor of your liquor seems a little flat, add a Tablespoon of strawberry or raspberry vinegar to restore the balance.  

Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Use within 1 year. 

Perfect for sipping on a summer day, for spiking a cosmo, mixing with a summery white wine like Prosecco – don’t forget to chill the glass! 

From the very fun book, Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss. 

Martha will show you how to make herb sugar here.

 

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