I don’t know about you, but when the leaves fall from the trees, the birds fly south, the horse’s water bucket starts freezing over and the barn cat spends most of her time in the cat bed, it’s time to start baking for the holidays.
The cookie baking season seems earlier this year because of the weather, but I got a wake-up call when my neighbor (thanks, Barb!) dropped off an assortment of her cookie baking episode —it’s time to get a move on.
Now, I’m looking for sales on butter and confectioners’ sugar, nuts and diced fruit. I try to stock up during the year, but somehow that doesn’t always work and when the cookie baking list comes out this time of year, it can be a bit daunting.
The secret to holiday baking success, which is not such a secret anymore, because we seem to rush right through the fun holidays, like Halloween, and skip right over Thanksgiving as if it were just another Thursday, is to start your Christmas baking early.
Online reader Carol Johnson must have had this in mind because she called recently to ask for a reprinting of my rum ball recipe. This is an especially good choice to get going on as these rum balls not only taste better as they age, but they ship really well without too many precautions.
When I make these, I always reflect on the other reason for baking this time of year — in addition to baking up tasty treats, we reheat precious memories of Christmas past. The rum ball recipe comes from one of my husband’s guitar students who smelled the cookie baking one week and came back the next week with his mom’s favorite recipe. These became a favorite in my house in no time.
Gathering a friend or two or three to help with a cookie baking spree is another good way to enjoy the holidays — it’s really about the people we spend time with that makes the memories. And those memories will last a lot longer than the cookies.
Makes 6 dozen
4 cups vanilla wafers, crushed
2 cups pecans, finely ground
2 cups powdered sugar
4 Tbsps. cocoa powder
4 Tbsps. maple syrup or dark Karo syrup
2/3 cup dark rum
Extra 2 cups powdered sugar
In a bowl, combine crushed vanilla wafers, pecans, powdered sugar and cocoa. Stir in the maple syrup and dark rum to form a sticky mixture. Using a teaspoon, form 1-inch balls and roll them in the extra powdered sugar to coat. Store in a tightly sealed container for at least one week to develop flavor.
My granny’s favorite — she made these all year and you always could smell them before you even got your foot in the kitchen.
3/4 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
4 tsps. baking soda
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsps. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
Additional sugar in small bowl
Cream together the butter, margarine, molasses, sugars and eggs. Sift together dry ingredients and stir in until well incorporated. Form into small balls about an inch in diameter. Roll each ball in sugar, flatten slightly and set about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Freeze until ready to use. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes.
— My grandmother made a version of these with molasses while my granny always used sorghum.
Makes 6 dozen
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup molasses or sorghum
1 cup butter (two sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsps. ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
5 cups all-purpose flour
Measure molasses and stir in the baking soda. Set aside.
In large bowl, combine butter with sugar, ginger and salt until creamy. Beat in molasses mixture and egg. Gradually add flour. On lightly floured surface, knead dough until thoroughly mixed, kneading in remaining 1/4 cup flour if necessary.
On floured surface, with floured rolling pin, roll dough out to 1/4-inch thick. Use floured cookie cutters to get as many cookies as possible; reserve trimmings. Place cookies, 1/2 inch apart, on ungreased large cookie sheet. Reroll trimmings and cut out more cookies.
Bake cookies eight to 10 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.
When cookies are cool, frost with prepared icing. Let dry completely before storing between layers of waxed paper in a tightly closed container.
— These were always my mom’s favorite cookie and I make them every year.
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups flour
1-1/2 cups dates, chopped
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Sift dry ingredients together and add. Stir by hand until well-blended. Place dough in refrigerator to chill while you make the filling.
In a heavy stockpot, combine the dates, water and sugar and cook over low heat about 30 to 45 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. Let chill.
Remove chilled dough from refrigerator and divide into fourths. Roll out each portion to a rectangle. Spread one-fourth of the filling on each rectangle and roll up from the short size making a log.
Stick each cookie log in the freezer until firm. You can freeze these if you wrap them up air-tight; remove as needed and proceed with recipe.
Remove a cookie log from freezer and slice into 1/4-inch thick circles.
Bake on a paper-lined cookie sheet in a preheated 325 F oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until set and lightly browned.
I would wager that most everyone now knows someone that keeps vegetarian in their diet. Of course, that means they will not be indulging in the entire traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey. But there’s no reason to panic; make some minor adjustments to the menu and add one or two more side dishes and you’ll be fine.
One dish everyone looks forward to is the dressing or stuffing. Here’s where you need to make your first adjustment. Make the dressing without meat and use a vegetable stock instead of turkey stock to moisten the bread cubes. Then bake some of the dressing in a separate casserole dish before you stuff the turkey with the rest.
If you like to add the giblets or sausage to the stuffing, you can still do that after you’ve set aside the separate casserole of vegetarian dressing. A word of explanation is probably needed here -- dressing is cooked outside of the bird; stuffing is the same concoction stuffed inside the bird.
Vegetarians need to be sure to get enough protein in their diet without benefit of meat, so you can help them out by including vegetarian dishes high in protein. These dishes could include quinoa, nuts, cheese (good for vegetarians, but not for vegans -- who don’t eat any animal products), lentils, beans, chickpeas, soy and soy products and seitan (extruded wheat protein).
Vegetables generally aren’t high in protein, but spinach, peas, broccoli and Brussels sprouts have more than most.
Lentil quinoa salad
-- This recipe combines two high-protein foods, quinoa and lentil.
1/2 cup quinoa
1-1/4 cups water, plus 2 cups
1/2 cup lentils
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsps. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 lime, zested
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Put the quinoa in a sieve and rinse in cold water. In a large microwave-proof bowl with a cover, add the rinsed quinoa and 1-1/4 cups water. Cover and microwave on high for nine minutes. Let it sit for two minutes, then stir. Quinoa should be tender enough to eat, but with a little pop upon biting.
Put the lentils in a sieve and rinse in cold water. In a saucepan, simmer the lentils in two cups water until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool.
In a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar together and drizzle in the oil to make an emulsion. Add the garlic powder, lime zest and salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the salad: In a medium salad bowl, mix the quinoa, lentils, green onions and chopped cilantro. Top the salad with the dressing, toss to coat and serve.
Roasted Brussels sprouts
--From “The Barefoot Contessa” television show.
1-1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
3 Tbsps. olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.
Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt and serve.
Baked vegetable side dish
1 lb. baby red potatoes, halved
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1/2 lb. Portobello mushrooms
6 cloves unpeeled garlic
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 lb. cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsps. toasted pine nuts
1 lb. spinach, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 425 F. Place new potatoes in a shallow roasting pan; drizzle with two tablespoons of olive oil. Roast for 15 minutes, turning once.
Add portobello mushrooms, placing stem sides up, and garlic cloves to pan. Sprinkle with chopped thyme. Drizzle with one tablespoon olive oil and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Return to oven; cook five minutes.
Remove pan from oven and add cherry tomatoes. Return to oven; cook until mushrooms are softened, about five more minutes.
Scatter pine nuts over potatoes and mushrooms.
Wash spinach and slice thinly. Toss with the potato mixture and serve. The spinach will become wilted from the heat of the other vegetables, cooking it just enough while retaining some crispness and all its color.
Cheddar cheese potato bake
4 large russet potatoes (peeled or unpeeled)
1⁄4 cup butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic (optional)
1-1⁄2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Butter a shallow baking dish.
Thinly slice the potatoes and place in the baking dish.
In a small saucepan, heat butter, onion, salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme until the butter is melted.
Drizzle over potatoes.
Cover and bake for 45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheese and parsley.
Return to oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until cheese is melted.
1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsps. lemon juice, fresh
1/4 cup basil leaves, fresh, torn
30 Belgian endive leaves
1/4 cup California walnuts, toasted, chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
Puree beans, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Add basil and pulse on and off until basil is finely chopped. Spoon equal amounts into endive leaves and top with walnuts and bell pepper.
Are you hosting the family’s Thanksgiving dinner this year? If so, plan ahead — it’s less than two weeks away — so that you can enjoy your company instead of spending all your time in the kitchen.
It’s such a traditional event that most people already know what their menu is: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, a vegetable or two, rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for dessert.
It’s that time of year ... deer hunting season has begun, at least for those who use a bow. Gun season starts Nov. 21. It’s time to wear blaze orange if you’re out in the woods, whether you are a hunter or not.
Cooking and preparing venison depends on two things: the hunter and the cook. And the more important of the two is the hunter -- he or she is the one primarily responsible for the way the deer is processed.
The most important part of harvesting a deer is the field dressing. I still think they should be “bled,” but this is losing popularity. The whole idea of field dressing is to cool the meat as quickly as possible. This is done by gutting it and removing the innards to create an air cavity, which should be propped open with a stick to let the air circulate.
Get the deer home or to the processor as quickly as possible. This does not include throwing it across the hood of a truck and parading through town with it while you honk your horn. The hood is hot and does not promote quick cooling.
Depending on the weather, deer can be hung outside to age for several days to a week. Temperatures have to be consistently cold (34 to 40 F) and it should be hung out of the sun -- somewhat tricky with no leaves on the trees. A properly aged venison roast is much superior to one that was frozen outright.
However, when you have too warm of temperatures and don’t take it to a processor, there is no other choice but to immediately butcher and freeze the meet. At this stage it is important to know what you are doing or have someone show you the way to butcher the animal to achieve the best cuts.
The best cuts
It used to be that meat -- game and venison in particular -- were “larded,” meaning they were laced with lard (fat). A larding needle was the instrument with which to do this. Nowadays, of course, no one will admit much to adding fat to an already lean piece of meat such as venison. But it is done. You couldn’t make venison sausage without adding fat of some kind. Actually, most processors tend to use pork and mix the two together -- best to ask before you take it in.
“Barding” is of the same intent: It involves wrapping the meat with strips of bacon or salt pork or rolling the bacon inside of a roast, then slow cooking the whole thing, an easier method for sure.
Shoulder roasts are not so often boned out, rolled and tied, but I think it’s the best way to handle them -- if you have an option. If you are doing your own processing you can roll up some of that bacon or salt pork at the same time.
Tenderloin roasts are very small on deer but very good, and I would suggest you always trim them out and cook that up first -- sort of a victory dinner.
The saddle is the part between the last set of ribs and the rump. If you have the means to control the temperature, and the time it takes, cooking the saddle on an outdoor grill is outstanding.
Rump roasts -- depending on the butcher, you’ll get one or more -- make excellent pot roast.
The two points to remember when cooking venison: Cook it slow and cook it wet, meaning with moisture or other ingredients that will lend moisture. This does not mean you give up searing a venison steak or charcoal grilling a cut. But be forewarned -- for the best taste with those methods you will need to add some fat or, as in barding, fat in the form of bacon.
When cooking venison, or other game animals for that matter, I like to complement its woodsy beginnings with other wild flavorings and ingredients, such as wild rice, nuts, woodland berries and wild greens. This list includes black walnuts, hickory nuts, acorns (if you have the patience), cranberries, blueberries, crabapples, chokecherry, wild grapes, wild plums, dandelion greens, morel mushrooms and fiddleheads.
While some of these you will not get until spring or summer that is for the better. They will add taste and character to your stash of frozen venison.
Pot roast of venison
-- If your rump roast is much bigger than 2 pounds, you will want to add more cooking time.
1 rump roast of venison
Salt and pepper
3 Tbsps. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, grated
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup wild rice
2 cups chicken or beef stock
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
1/2 cup black walnuts, or hickory nuts (optional)
2 bay leaves
In roaster pan, heat three tablespoons of olive oil. Saute the onion, garlic, carrots and mushrooms until onions are tender. Add the wild rice and stock and bring to a boil. Stir in cranberries and walnuts.
Salt and pepper the roast and set in roaster on top of the other ingredients. Put in the two bay leaves. Cover the roast and cook at 325 degrees for two hours. If the rice has not absorbed all of the liquid, remove lid for last 15 minutes and cook until liquid is gone.
Remove from oven. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before slicing thin. Serve with the wild rice.
2 lbs. cubed venison
1/4 lb. bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz. whole mushrooms
2 or 3 large carrots, diced
2 or 3 parsnips, diced
1 lb. potatoes, diced
3 cups meat broth (chicken, beef, pork, venison)
2 tsps. parsley, dried, crushed
1 tsp. thyme, dried, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 or 3 bay leaves
2 Tbsps instant tapioca
12 oz. fresh greens, cleaned
In saute pan, heat bacon until sizzling. Add cubed venison and keep cooking to brown. Clean and dice leeks and add to pan along with the garlic. Saute until leeks are tender.
Pour this into a slow cooker along with the mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, meat stock, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Cover with lid and cook on medium for four to six hours (check your slow cooker directions for specific cooking times). Or place in a roaster or Dutch oven at 325 F in the oven for four hours.
For the last hour of cooking, add the tapioca and the greens.
On a recent evening as autumn approached, my wife suggested that we build a fire out in the yard in our portable fire pit and enjoy a bottle of wine. It is pretty much how we spend our winter evenings indoors, meditating on the grace of the flames and the mantra of the wood, ruminating on the events that occupy our lives.
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