Anise Cakes

Gam's Anise CakesSpice is Nice

Have you noticed that you use par­tic­ular spices at cer­tain times of the year? I have. Some spices are a year round thing—cinnamon, cumin, thyme, and of course, salt. (What would we do without salt!) And others only make a short appear­ance during the hol­i­days, then qui­etly go back into spice drawer obscurity.

I come from a very Scan­di­na­vian family there­fore many of the things we enjoy for the hol­i­days have a very Nordic flavor and nothing says I am a Viking more than the flavor of anise. Full dis­clo­sure: I am not a fan. It reminds me too much of black licorice, another Scan­di­na­vian obses­sion. Most people in my family agree. (I guess we should turn in our Lon­gen­hurden.) My sister though, loves it.

Growing up, we all had our sig­na­ture Christmas cookies that my grand­mother would make specif­i­cally for the lover of said cookie. My cookies were the Swedish Rosettes made by dip­ping irons into a thin batter, and frying the dough in hot oil. A quick dusting of pow­dered sugar and they were good to go. So good! (I mean, how can you go wrong with fried food?)

My sister’s sig­na­ture cookies are Anise Cakes. They were hers because she loved them, and because no one else would eat them. Her cookies were always the last ones left on the table at Christmas Eve, but it wouldn’t have been Christmas without them. And, of course, there were the req­ui­site pro­nun­ci­a­tion jokes. Were kids after all!

These hard cookies are meant to be dunked into coffee or tea, like biscotti–only a little bit more dense. If you love the flavor of licorice, give these a try with your morning coffee. Read more…

Roasted Fresh Ham with Citrus and Rye

Ham Meat The Challenge

As with most fam­i­lies during the hol­i­days, mine likes to split duty for the numerous meals that happen in the 48 hours between mid­night December 24 and mid­night (or some­times later) December 25. I am respon­sible for Christmas Eve Dinner.

I see Christmas Eve Dinner as a yearly chal­lenge to see what off the wall, out of the box, totally dif­ferent thing I can make for a party of 15. I think it’s fun. My Meat Depart­ment doesn’t always see the humor in making them hunt for the obscure at a time when they are so busy they just want to sit in the corner and drool.

All year long I throw little chal­lenges their way just to see if they can pull it off. But I get even more cre­ative during the holidays—just think Willy Wonka, but with meat. (You’re right. Bad visual!)

Last year I ordered a slab of pork belly, com­plete with the skin, to make a Porchetta. For obvious rea­sons, this is not some­thing we nor­mally carry. (I am that 1 in 1000 who thinks this would be super cool to make myself.) My guys in the Meat Depart­ment ordered it for me and it was awe­some. The good news is that I’m not spe­cial. My guys will spe­cial order for all y’all…even whole pigs. We’ve sold a few of those recently.

Other wacky meals included whole sides of salmon (not much of a chal­lenge), Ducks, Geese (for Christmas Dinner), and a fresh Ham (oth­er­wise known as a Leg of Pork). This year I tried for venison, but it turned out to be a little too dif­fi­cult and cost pro­hib­i­tive. We are talking dinner for 15 and I do actu­ally have limits to my mania, though my hus­band may disagree.

I am giving the guys a break this year, and going with the fresh ham again because it was really good. You have to plan ahead since its needs to cure it for 4 days. But once you have the spice mix­ture on the ham, you just flip it every day to make sure the flavor gets every­where. The results are well worth the effort, and it is an impres­sive pre­sen­ta­tion for a buffet table. Read more…

Christmas Butter Cookies

Christmas Butter CookiesC Is For Cookie…

This weekend I am having a couple dozen kids over for a cookie dec­o­rating party ‘cause who needs their sanity? Am I right?

This is the third year we have hosted it, and despite the crazi­ness, it really is a lot of fun. If you ever want to get in the spirit of Christmas or just re-​​live it through the eyes of an eight year old—have a cookie party.

In the past I have made a mas­sive amount of sugar cookies and gin­ger­bread men/​woman for the kids to dec­o­rate as they see fit. This year I was thinking about mini gin­ger­bread houses. but as the weekend fast approaches, I’m real­izing that would be a one way ticket to crazy town. I might just pro­vide some graham crackers for the kids who want to try their hand. I am also cheating by pur­chasing the cookie icing instead of making it and col­oring it myself. I did that the first year. #Rookiemistake.

The hardest thing about making the cookies is finding a recipe that actu­ally tastes good. There are plenty of sugar cookie recipes, and most make cookies that are easy to dec­o­rate, but are too hard and have little flavor. This year I am going with a butter cookie instead, because the whole pur­pose of making and dec­o­rating cookies is to eat them. By the handful…

This recipe orig­i­nated with America’s Test Kitchen. I played around with it. It makes a great cookie sturdy enough for icing, and with plenty of butter for tasti­ness. Yay for butter! Read more…

Gam’s Apple Chutney

Gam's Apple ChutneyInter­pre­tive Cooking

Every family has a Thanks­giving recipe handed down through the gen­er­a­tions. Even if it just opening a box, it still counts as a family tra­di­tion (or at the very least, a funny com­men­tary on whether or not your ances­tors could cook). Case in point, my paternal grand­mother was a dis­aster in the kitchen. In fact, my grand­fa­ther did all of the cooking during a time when it was def­i­nitely not the norm, and they always came to our house for Hol­iday meals.

My maternal grand­mother was just the oppo­site. If you read my posts reg­u­larly, you will know about Gam’s recipes—she was a really great cook. I have come to realize that she was pretty bad at actu­ally writing her recipes. When you con­sider she was a teacher for most of her life, it seems sort of strange that her recipe writing would be that “open to inter­pre­ta­tion”. It may be more a gen­er­a­tional thing than her inability to get her point across. Gam never had a problem get­ting her point across. She made her opinion very clear…often.

In my cook­book col­lec­tion, I have some “antique” cook­books that were written at a time when people, mainly women, did a lot of the cooking. Cer­tain steps were implied, and were not written down—it was assumed the reader just knew. I would def­i­nitely put my grandmother’s hand­written recipes in this cat­e­gory, espe­cially because they were written for her own use. She didn’t elab­o­rate. That thought was under­scored when I pulled out her recipe for apple chutney in antic­i­pa­tion of Thanks­giving leftovers.

My favorite part of Thanks­giving are the turkey sand­wiches the next day and I really like them with some thickly-​​spread apple chutney. For me, Gam’s apple chutney is the best. But I had to read through her recipe a few times to make sure I under­stood her thought process. There were a few impor­tant pieces of infor­ma­tion missing, but I man­aged to channel my inner Mary Jane, and fig­ured it out.

Below is the revised recipe. Although cooking yet another dish this week might be the last thing you would like to do, keep in mind that a tasty little jar of home­made chutney makes a great gift for the hostess or that last minute gift for the person you forgot! Read more…