“Lucy Light; The Shortest Day & The Longest Night!”

“Lucy Light; The Shortest Day & The Longest Night!”

St. Lucy’s Feast Day is celebrated December 13, though since Gregorian calendar reform, the feast day no longer lands on the eve of Winter Solstice as it once did, so the focus on light may feel a little puzzling at first.

I find St. Lucy’s Feast to be a nice advent to Winter Solstice, reminding me to pay attention and  give presence to the significance and power of the shortest day & longest night. Though the worst of winter lies just ahead, the significance of knowing the days are growing longer is a huge lifter of spirit, and truly a yearly event worth celebrating.

To mark a feast day with many food references to sunshine and magic, what could call to mind sunshine more than yellow corn cookies in the shape of the sun? Simple, gluten-free, and virtuous while still being delightful and celebratory.  Plus, simple, earthy, and unfussy.

I am all for a category of sweets that is regular part of a nutrient dense, locally sourced everyday diet, not a shameful guilt-inducing lack of discipline, how about you?

Masa Zaletti (Cornmeal Cookies)

Not-too-sweet but perfectly delicious Italian cornmeal cookies. Vegetarian, gluten free. From my tattered-and-stained favorite whole grains cookbook, "Whole Grains For A New Generation" by Liana Krissoff.
Servings 28 cookies

Ingredients
  

  • 1/3 cup dried currants
  • 1-1/2 cups masa harina
  • 1 cup raw fine yellow cornmeal
  • Pinch salt
  • 10 TBS unsalted butter melted
  • 3 large egg yolks beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Put the currants in a bowl and cover with hot water, let soak until soft.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the masa marina, yellow cornmeal, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the butter.
  • In a medium bowl, whist together the egg yolks, sugar, baking soda, and lemon zest. Pour the mixture into the masa marina mixture and stir to combine. Drain the currants, reserving the soaking water; add the currants to the dough and knead gently in the bowl with your hands until the dough is thoroughly combined, sprinkling in up to 4 TBS of the currant soaking liquid little at a time to make a dough that holds together when you squeeze it.
  • Scoop up a rounded tablespoon-size chunk of dough and squeeze it into a ball; flatten it between your palms to make a 1/4-inch thick round and place it on the prepared baking sheet. (Or, drop the batter onto the cookie sheet and use a decorative cookie stamp to make it festive.)
  • Repeat with the remaining dough, arranging cookies 1" apart. Bake until golden brown at the edges and firm in the centers, about 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through so they brown evenly.
  • Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool.
A steamy cuppa Valentine Love  ♥️

A steamy cuppa Valentine Love ♥️

Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.

Today is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day.

Here in Pennsylvania,  we’ve been very fortunate here with the mildness of our winter so far  – unlike those of you  suffering some real damage and hardship, we’re mostly just inconvenienced and fatigued.  The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.

I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off the package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. At home, it’s not really any more work, and the results are so worth it. Once you’ve spoiled yourself, you’ll want to keep a pint jar in your fridge at all times.

But then, one day, this really lovely post from Molly at Remedial Eating stopped me in my tracks. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did. This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.

Hot Chocolate Base (Ganache)
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache (enough for 2 dozen+ mugs of hot cocoa)

This makes a light ganache (1:1), scoop-able straight from the fridge.  For firm truffles and heartier frostings, a 2:1 chocolate:cream ratio gives greater body and intensity.  FYI.

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)

Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl.  Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards.  Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes.  Pour into jar, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.

To Make Hot Cocoa:

Heat milk (2% or whole), as much as you want, over medium heat, until steaming.  (Alternatively, for one mug, microwave).  Add ganache to hot milk: I use 1 heaping tablespoon per 8 ounces of milk, though there are those under my roof who argue 2 tablespoons are far superior.  And no, I don’t measure.  Eyeball it.  Stir ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, and add more, if desired.  Pour into mugs, top as desired (whipped cream, marshmallows), wrap fingers ’round, and give thanks for winter.

Who am I kidding?  1-2 TBS? No way. Try 3, or even 4!

So, if you’re still struggling for not-too-big, not-too-small DIY gift ideas, here you go – you still have time. A nice jar of homemade chocolate ganache for a steamy cup of ready-made love for your beloved.

And, if heating milk sounds like too much work, there’s always spoon truffles. Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!

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?

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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DIY gifts: a sweet cuppa Valentine Love

DIY gifts: a sweet cuppa Valentine Love

Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.

 

This week is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day. And while I’m weary of the commercialized aspect of the day, you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to not love one big collective day of appreciation for the special people in our lives.

We Pennsylvanians will tell you that winter can be an old-fashioned, mettle-testing trudge. I can’t really complain this year, Western Pennsylvania has been warm, but warm winter mud presents its own kind of soul-crushing fatigue.   The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.

I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off-the-package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. Is it really too difficult to heat a pan of milk?

But then , one day, I stumbled upon a GREAT IDEA.  Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did.

This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.

Hot Chocolate Ganache
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)*

Note: In general, the fewer ingredients a recipe calls for, the better quality those ingredients should be. While you don’t have to break the bank on the chocolate, do go for bars around 70% cocoa (usually called bittersweet or dark) . The standard Hershey bar tends to disappoint.

Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl.  Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards.  Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes.  Pour into jar, decorate with a Valentine label and instructions, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.

To Make Hot Cocoa:

Heat milk over medium heat, until steaming.  Add ganache to hot milk: I don’t measure, the right amount of ganache is kind of a personal thing. Stir a Tablespoon or two of ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, then add more, if desired.  Pour into mugs, and do not be stingy with the whipped cream or marshmallows.

No worries if your Valentine is too lazy to heat the milk – there’s always spoon truffles.

Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!