Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Happy belated new year! After three weeks of feverish baking and canning before Christmas, two weeks in Minnesota being blissfully fed by others, and then two weeks of slow readjustment to everyday life, I’m finally back in the kitchen and back to the blog, and it seems a big fat update is in order.

Sharing recipes for the holiday treats I made seems to detract from their mystique, particularly when I’m giving them as gifts, so you probably won't be seeing separate entries on them anytime soon, but here’s a rundown.

The standards:
  • My mother’s spritz recipe—absolutely the best I’ve ever tasted, puts all others to shame—using the cookie press handed down to me from A’s mom
  • Chocolate peanut-butter balls on pretzels—my personal favorite of all the treats I made
  • Carole Walter’s coconut-apricot cookies—simply awesome, and my favorite of the non-chocolate treats
  • Apple butter—the only canning I did this year; I nearly forgot how fun it is!
The experiments:
  • Rosemary roasted cashews—Wanting something more savory to give to the non-sweet-toothed among us, I originally intended to make a ton of different spiced nuts, but ran out of time and settled on just this recipe. It was so easy and delicious that I ended up cranking out four batches and will definitely make them again next Christmas. Or, you know, next week.
  • Peppermint bark—I pretty much just made this to go into cookies (see below), but was impressed by how pretty, tasty, and crazy easy it was. Sadly, there was no peppermint extract at the store and I had to go with just regular mint extract instead, which gave the bark a slight wintergreen-gum flavor that kept it from being perfect. I’ll make it again next year with the right flavoring, maybe kicking it up a notch by using dark chocolate as well as white.
  • Peppermint bark chocolate cookies—such a great concept, but so-so execution. I’m obsessed with Trader Joe’s Peppermint Jo-Jos and wanted to capture that classic chocolate-peppermint combo in a homemade treat, so I was happy to find this recipe. The result was tasty enough to try again, but not the ideal cookie of my dreams; I’d like a darker chocolate cookie with a moister texture (though that might have been my fault; I overbaked them) and more peppermint-bark pieces. I’m wondering if it would be possible to just add peppermint-bark pieces to Carole Walter’s delicious chocolate sugar snaps.
  • Cream cheese sugar cookies—I love a good frosted sugar cookie, and when I tasted some at an office cookie exchange last Christmas I immediately snagged the recipe, but I shouldn’t have chosen to make them as a gift, considering it was my first time baking cutout cookies. A and I had a lot of fun making and decorating them together, but they ended up looking as though they were created by demented four-year-olds instead of college-educated thirtysomethings. The cookies seemed thinner and crisper than I remembered, and the icing recipe I selected was an epic fail, turning out so runny that it was really more of a glaze. The homely cookies still tasted delicious (I’ve been working my way though the leftovers in my freezer with increasing enjoyment), but the process was too frustrating and the cookies not interesting or attractive enough to become regular members of my Christmas-cookie rotation.
OK, enough about giving. Let’s talk about all the awesome food-related gifts I received! Thanks to my parents, I now finally have a good, heavy, tight-lidded, oven-safe Lodge Dutch oven, a cast-iron behemoth covered in adorable red enamel, and it cooks like a dream. I plan to spend the rest of the winter making soups, stews, braises, and no-knead bread to my heart’s content. In particular, I will be using it to cook beans, because thanks to my parents and A’s mom, I received a stash of nine pounds of delicious heirloom varieties from foodie fave Rancho Gordo! As a recent convert to bean-eating and a relative newbie to using dry beans, I’m taking things slow, but I’ve already been pleased with the results of using yellow eye beans for my fave stovetop baked bean recipe, and on Sunday I tried a great new black bean soup recipe (recipe to come) using the midnight black beans. Next I’m thinking maybe refried Vaquero beans, and eventually we’ll get brave and tackle the Christmas limas. It’s fun to be able to experiment with new ingredients, but the main point is that these are some of the best beans I’ve ever had—you really can taste the difference, and I’m already plotting my next Rancho Gordo order. (To A’s slight dismay, I think; he’s been gamely trying the new beans and claiming to enjoy them so far, but secretly he’s still a beanphobe.) Other great gifts included a little digital kitchen scale (sooooo handy), a pizza cutter that doesn't make my hand feel like it's falling off, reusable produce bags to use instead of plastic at the farmers’ market, another year of Cooking Light, a supply of Tea Source tea, fleur de sal, and Wisconsin honey with the comb still in it.

On to the year-in-review stuff: Last year I chose five best recipes, but this year I’ve made so much good food that I need to expand the list to ten. But I’ve created two separate categories of five each, so technically it’s not cheating!

Bookcook’s Five Best Recipes of 2008: New Standbys (these are the ones I’ve come to rely on and have already made over and over again, occasionally on a near-weekly basis…I’m looking at you, frittata)
  1. Asian Dumpling Soup
  2. Roasted Root Vegetables With Sausage
  3. Monster Cookies
  4. Zucchini-Potato Frittata
  5. Stovetop Baked Beans
Bookcook’s Five Best Recipes of 2008: OMG I Made That! (these are the revelations, the showstoppers, the ones that’ll make you feel like a DIY diva or domestic goddess, but the dirty little secret is that they’re all simple and easy enough for everyday cooking)
  1. TIE: Creamy Lemon Chicken and Roast Chicken With Pears, Shallots, and Leeks
  2. Pan-Fried Lemon-Ricotta Gnocchi
  3. DIY Taco Seasoning
  4. Ranch Dressing
  5. Dill Pickles
Can you believe there's not even a pizza recipe on either list? And I love pizza! That's how good these best recipes are. You really should try at least one of them immediately.

Last year, I listed my favorite food books, but I must have burned out on food reading because this year, none spring to mind. Last year, I also listed a bunch of resolutions, but most of them are still ongoing, so I don’t really feel the need to make more (a few I did actually cross off my list: acquire Dutch oven and kitchen scale, make gnocchi and pickles). In 2009 I’d definitely like to rejoin the CSA (P, the friend I split produce haul with before, got too busy with grad-school classes to cook regularly, but she’s recently expressed an interest in getting back into it) and finish adding photos to all the recipes on this site (except the sad, rejected ones in the Not Favorites category). I do have a huge wishlist of recipes to make and cooking experiments I’d like to try, including homemade yogurt, mayonnaise, ricotta, dumplings, tortillas, pita bread, and popsicles. And I won’t say that a pasta maker or ice-cream maker wouldn’t be nice. But mostly I’m happy with the way things are going here, so I’m just going to keep on keepin’ on. I hope you’ll keep on joining me...and I hope you're hungry!

No comments: