Cranberry Orange Biscotti

Cranberry Orange BiscottiCrazy Cookie Lady
My daughter and I fought the crowds this past weekend not because we were trying to find the best deals on the latest 75-inch flat-screen, but because we needed to stock up on cookie tins. Now, you would think that this is a pretty straightforward mission. They’re just cookie tins, after all. But, you would be wrong because when it comes to cookie tins and cookie gifting I am very high maintenance, my friends. I have serious issues.

Here’s the deal… I want anything I give to people to look a certain way, whether or not it’s cookies. I have been known to drive great distances to achieve this goal. From the boxes (or tins) to the ribbon, everything has to be just right. Unfortunately for my daughter, she had to go with me on my journey because she wants to give cookies to her friends. You might be surprised to know that finding cookie tins on the first weekend in December can be a challenge. This is mainly because all of the other cookie bakers with issues, who are better planners than I am, have already stocked up leaving a less than abundant selection in their wake.

Finding the right tin takes much thought and consideration. Do you go with the round tin which is traditional but darn near impossible to put a ribbon on or the square version? What about the tin’s color and decoration? Will it be a monochromatic holiday this year or something more whimsical? Then there is size to consider. Just how many of those tasty treats are you willing to part with? And, would it require a deeper tin? So many options it makes your head spin!! And last but not least, do you get a matching mini tin for the toffee you plan to make? It’s madness! Madness I tell you!

Anyway, we managed to find the tins that meet all of our needs. Now for the hard part, narrowing down the list of cookies we want to fill them with. For my family, it’s not the holidays without our Swedish Ginger Cookies. And, you can find multiple lists of cookie possibilities on our Christmas Cookie Collection post.

This year I am definitely including Cranberry Orange Biscotti. I tested a batch about a month ago and my kids went crazy for them…

Cranberry Orange Biscotti
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields 24 to 30 biscotti (depending on cut size) Read more…

Amy’s Hummus

Amy's HummusTo eat, or not to eat? 
The decision on whether to eat before Thanksgiving or not is a difficult one. Breakfast is a no-brainer if only for the coffee infusion. I mean how’re ya gonna handle the semi-controlled chaos of Thanksgiving without a strong cup o’ joe? It’s the hours after breakfast and before the main event that can be difficult to navigate calorie-wise.

The decision to eat or not to eat is incredibly personal. There are a number of issues to consider, the first one being what time will you be eating your Thanksgiving meal? The later you eat, the more the challenge. Some see it as blasphemous to eat anything other than Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving. If it ain’t a bird and sweet potatoes, it ain’t goin’ in their mouth. And still, others don’t want to eat anything so that when the time comes, they are ensured of the maximum amount of room to fit all of their favorites. My son is this person. He can eat a frightening amount on any given day but Thanksgiving is a source of pride for him. He weighs himself before and after the meal. There’s this whole ceremony… It’s weird, but I still love him.

Personally, I have to have something to tide me over or risk getting a headache. It doesn’t have to be a big meal it just has to be something grab and go that I can snack on from time to time. This is why I like to make my homemade hummus and serve it with cut veggies. It’s a healthy snack and gets a few more veggies in you before the wave of carbs hits your plate. It’s quick to make the day before and you can put it out on a platter for the rest of the folks. Then you can walk away to attend to the cooking while the rest of ‘em watch football or calibrate the bathroom scale or whatever!

No matter what you choose, to nosh or not, have a very happy Thanksgiving and a magical holiday season.

Amy’s Hummus Recipe
Yields about 3 cups
Read more…

No-Shrink Pie Dough

No-Shrink Pie DoughUpper Crust
Thanksgiving can be stressful. That is no great revelation. The stress can come from many sources. For some, it’s having their entire family under one roof and the tension that can cause. For others, it can be the actual meal preparation. I’ve had numerous conversations over the years about what stresses people out about the Thanksgiving meal. For some, it’s the cooking of the turkey. For others, it’s having enough drippings for a really tasty gravy. But, without a doubt, the thing that causes the most stress, at least according to the people I have spoken to, is the pie crust.

I can’t really speak for other families, but in mine, the pie course of the Thanksgiving meal is extremely important so when the pie crust doesn’t work it’s a problem. Last year my daughter and I were responsible for the making of the pies and because I didn’t want to ruin Thanksgiving, I did a lot of research on pie crust. I tried A LOT of them. I basically landed on two that I thought were the best. One is a traditional half butter and half shortening pie crust. This is the pie crust I use year-round for everything from sweet pies to pot pies.

The other is a crust that uses a technique I had never heard of before that comes from Japanese bread baking that uses a cornstarch “gel” as the moisture for the pie crust. I was intrigued to say the least. The recipe was created by Christopher Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen fame but can be found along with a video on the Williams Sonoma website and on YouTube.

I used this crust for my pecan pies last year and the results were amazing! It’s very easy to work with and rolls out beautifully. The crust was flaky and tender but held up well to the filling. I have yet to try it on a two-crust pie, like apple. My sense is that it might be too “short” for that kind of pie but you never know.

If you are in charge of the pies this year and have some time this weekend to experiment, give this crust a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

No-Shrink Pie Dough
Adapted from Christopher Kimball and William’s Sonoma
Yields one 9-inch pie crust Read more…

Pumpkin Chickpea Stew

Pumpkin Chickpea Stew

Something Different
I don’t know about you, but for me, the hardest thing to around Thanksgiving is to figure out what to eat. I know that sounds strange…but let me explain. This time of year I spend a lot of time looking at seasonal and Thanksgiving-related recipes and talking about new possibilities. As you might expect the seasonal recipes are dishes that could easily be appropriate for the Thanksgiving table. So, it can be difficult to try recipes for Thanksgiving without getting Turkey Day burnout. Obviously, I am not cooking a turkey every night but the side dishes are a different story.

Of all the holidays we celebrate during the year, Thanksgiving, for the majority of my immediate family, is the favorite. (I’m still a Christmas hold out.) So, while I am trying out new recipes, I have to make sure I don’t wreck the anticipation for the big day. If you’re eating sweet potatoes and stuffing for the days leading up to the meal you could see why excitement for the main event could wane. This is why, while I’m looking for new stuff, I am also on the lookout for different things to do with the same ingredients. Pumpkins are a perfect example.

Pumpkins can be used for more than just pies. They can be filled with cheese and other buttery goodness and roasted. They can be tossed into fresh pasta or spicy curries. Pumpkins are the taste of fall but, during the month of November, I look outside the traditional flavors and look towards other cuisines where pumpkins are year-round—which, for me, means North Africa.

It is no secret that I love Moroccan food and, thankfully, Morocco loves their pumpkins and squashes. If you find yourself with a leftover Cinderella pumpkin from Halloween or if you just can’t bring yourself to make a pie yet, give this recipe a try for a little something different.

Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Yields 6 servings Read more…

Farro with Cranberries and Pecans

Farro with Cranberries and PecansSide Job
Truth be told, I am a Thanksgiving freeloader which means I do not usually host Thanksgiving. However, since food is my job, I have been thumbing through numerous magazines and cookbooks looking for interesting recipes for the big day and I have found a few that are intriguing enough that I gave them a try.

Most people are pretty traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving and are resistant to change, myself included. I have been known to pout like a child if certain things are missing. However, if the usual required dishes adorn the Thanksgiving table alongside a few new introductions I can be talked off the ledge. The bonus is sometimes you run across a recipe that works in everyday life and not just for special occasions. The recipe below falls into that category.

I have always loved the nutty flavor of farro. The fact that it is easy to prepare is a bonus. Farro is the perfect fall side dish. Whether it’s plain with a little butter or dressed up with garlic and onions it can be a welcome change from the usual when served beside your favorite roasted meats. In this case, the addition of cranberries and pecans just screams turkeys and pilgrims. Ergo, it would be a great addition to your Thanksgiving feast.

You don’t have to wait for Turkey Day, though. I made this the other night and served it alongside some pan-fried pork chops and it was delicious…

Farro with Cranberries and Pecans
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Yields 6 servings Read more…