Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The 12 Shades of Christmas, Part I
It was a wild idea, romantic and implausible, and the odd thing is that it worked.
-Louis de Bernieres (Corelli's Mandolin)
A lot can happen in a week. I flew across the country (it's cold here; my skin doesn't like it at all). I also revised my prospectus (yay, finally! Now the real writing can begin) and sent it off to each and every committee member. In the midst of all that, I also made cornbread to go with the chili that my mom made; both were so delicious and warm that I didn't even bother to take a picture of them...even though they were pretty and blog-worthy. However, I'm not here to talk about cornbread. There's plenty of time for that later.
This is instead going to be about Christmas. And cookies. Because Christmas wouldn't be the same without them! Keep in mind that, despite the fact that I know Christmas isn't at all PC and, for the majority of America it's all "Happy Holidays" this and that (as evidenced by the message I discovered written on a jar of disposable hand-towels in the eat-in section of a Pittsburgh Whole Foods; see below for a very ungrammatical, but very Pittsburghese holiday greeting), I'm going to use it anyway. For me, Christmas has nothing to do with Christ, which became clear a few weeks ago at a cookie baking party with the Chemical Engineering graduate students. I couldn't remember one girl's name and so I asked the Greek and he responded (naturally in Russian so as not to be at all obvious) telling me that her name was the female equivalent of the famous person born on December 25. So, I called her Nicolette. Not Christie. *sigh* I know, I know; I suppose I can be a bit daft sometimes, but who can blame me? Ever since I was a little girl, I've always been a member of Camp Claus. Nothing gave me more joy than picking out the choicest morsels for his "consumption" on Christmas Eve.
But because I shouldn't try to cram too many recipes into one post and my grandma and I are baking some of the world's best cookies tomorrow (seriously, they have never failed to please. Not even the most anti-sugar hardened heart could refuse them), I'm going to break this post into two and fill it with highlights from the past week, which really means more joy for you! :)
1) Last week I did my first official gift exchange of the season! And, for probably the first time in my life--after 27 years of giving poorly wrapped gifts or gifts wrapped by those more talented than me, I finally grasped the art of folding the paper. It was remarkable (I kid you not; while that may seem like overstatement, anything involving paper folding and cutting has always escaped me). Even more remarkable than that was the fact that a very careful reader of this blog gifted me with something I really wanted and then some. I am now the proud owner of a 6 lb. Greek cookbook (!!) that, due to the difficulty of carrying heavy bags in crowded airports, sadly had to stay in CA! Asterix, however, is a light and enjoyable traveling companion.
2) My mom and I went to Pittsburgh, albeit not for the happiest of reasons. But I've always been one to have, a la British style, a stiff upper lip and also to seek the positive in any situation. So, we made a day of it, squeezing a little shopping in, as well as some "fine" dining. In fact, I treated us to lunch at Whole Foods. Where else can you combine ginger tofu with roasted squash and a nice-sized portion of Mac and Cheese? Maybe such things were not meant to be combined, but whatever. The point is, I enjoy the possibility. I once combined hummus and provolone too and, let me just say, naysayers be damned, it was surprisingly tasty. =p
3) I left my gloves in California. It's not fun to drive, to touch a cold steering wheel, with my bare hands, so I had to find gloves. Not only did I think these were adorable, but they also made me feel like I was wearing a touch of Berkeley--some Golden Bears pride. Maybe they're for children, but, oh well, they fit my hands.
4) My brother's lovely girlfriend is visiting from central PA (closer to Baltimore than to Pittsburgh) and so she and I, both to bond and to satisfy our own sweet tooth (in addition to my brother's humongous one) baked at least 8 dozens of cookies tonight. One of our recipes was the latest by Joy the Baker, which, when I read about it, I found to be pretty intriguing. After all, it's not everyday that I eat cookies with chunks of apples in them. But, after trying these, that might have to change. The combination of oats, apples and cinnamon-y goodness is just plain good. I didn't have walnuts and I couldn't find any nutmeg in my mother's spice cabinet, but pecans and a dash of ginger will save the day. In fact, I think I'd take ginger over nutmeg any day.
5) I'm sure I've mentioned that the true love of my life (besides coffee) is peanut butter; I put it in oatmeal with either bananas or blackberries (trust me when I say it's like a PB & J sandwich), I eat it on a spoon with apples....or on bread with Nutella (who said hazelnuts and peanuts don't mix?). So, obviously, it was inevitable that one day I was going to make some kind of peanut butter cookie and post about it on this blog. And that day was today. I found a recipe on epicurious for Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks. This recipe calls for oats, honey, peanut butter, brown and white sugar and chopped chocolate. It's basically my dream cookie. But then, for some reason, I wasn't so into the idea of chopping chocolate (a tedious task) and, since my grandma had given me some mini tart baking pans, I decided to roll them into balls, put them in those pans instead of on a cookie sheet and then, to push a combination of chocolate and peanut butter chips into the top of them. Kind of like those fantastic peanut butter cookies that call for the addition of Reese's Cups? In short, a peanut butter lover's fantasy concoction.
6) You might be wondering how anything could top these tasty-looking cookies? The impossible is sometimes possible and this was no exception. The Cookie Queen of the Evening was, while fairly homely-looking and barely able to rise off of the cookie sheet, a small mass of crumbly, crispy and buttery goodness with a surprisingly spicy kick: Curry Coriander Shorties. Yes, you read that correctly. Curry and coriander. Little sugar. Two sticks of butter. Mixing only with a spatula. So, so good. Though I would recommend each and every cookie (or recipe!) on this blog, if there were anything that you were to have to make immediately, I would say that it should be these. They're the perfect antidote to the sometimes overly saccharine quality of Christmas. Maybe it's the season for miracles (or so they say), but I personally can't help but like the thought of a spicy bite of reality.
Curry Coriander Shorties
Adapted from Paul Grimes at Gourmet
Yields 3 dozen, which won't last long
2 teaspoons coriander seeds *
1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder (preferably Madras) *
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
*Due to the difficulty of finding spices at the local grocery store, I bought ground coriander seeds and toasted them. I was perhaps missing out on some of the flavor, but there was still plenty to go around.
*I knew my mother had curry powder at home, so I didn't buy any at the grocery store. But then I discovered it was a curry masala blend instead of "pure" curry powder. Considering that we all still liked them (and there were several taste testers to be found), I would say that you should just use what you have on hand.
-Toast coriander (or ground coriander) in a small heavy skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet often, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 2 minutes. Cool. If using seeds, finely grind them in the spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
-Toast curry powder in same skillet over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant and a shade or two darker, about 1 minute.
-Preheat oven to 350°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.
-Mix butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt with a rubber spatula.
-Whisk together flour and spices, then blend into butter mixture with spatula.
-Form 1-inch balls of dough and arrange 2 inches apart on 2 ungreased large baking sheets.
-With a fork, gently flatten balls of dough to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. (NB: Based on how thin my cookies were, I would suggest that you could easily skip this step. I suppose it depends on how you like your cookies--thin and crispy or fatter and chewier.)
-Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes (the original recipe called for 20-25, but mine were done well before that).
- Cool on sheets 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool.