Friday, January 28, 2011


I first made this recipe from The Kitchn about a year ago, but for some inexplicable reason I never posted it (even though I remember taking photos and everything). I’m so glad I suddenly decided to try it again, because it’s incredibly delicious. I’ve never been a particular fan of meatballs, but these are enough to make me reconsider—moist, tender, and flavorful, bathed in a tangy, plate-lickingly addictive lemon-thyme pan sauce. Be forewarned: The sauce will be on the thin side, but don’t worry about it. The more sauce, the better! I think the first time I made this, I kept cooking it down in an effort to thicken it and ended up with too little; I recall the meatballs and noodles being somewhat dry. This time I was in a hurry and didn’t bother letting it reduce much, so my portions were a bit soupy but oh so tasty, with the sauce permeating the meatballs and coating every cranny of the noodles. (If you don’t like noodles, potatoes, rice, or bread would also be good sauce-soaker-uppers.)

I like that this is a substantial dinner (I recommend a nice green salad on the side) but feels so much lighter than the traditional leaden meatballs in tomato or cream sauce. Its citrusy zip will brighten up a dark winter’s day, but you could also enjoy it in the spring…Excuse me now while I enjoy a reverie about how good asparagus would taste dipped in lemon-thyme sauce.

POSTSCRIPT, JUNE 2011: I was on to something up there, because you know what's good in this? Asparagus! Just cut it into one-inch pieces, steam it, and throw it into the pan with the sauce, meatballs, and noodles. The green makes it pretty, the tastes go beautifully together, and you've got a one-dish meal right there. I'm doing it all the time from now on.

½ cup milk
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 egg
1 pound ground pork
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to taste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme, divided
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups chicken broth
¾ cup dry white wine
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
Zest of one lemon
8 ounces uncooked egg noodles

1. Put the milk and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and mix with a fork. When the crumbs have softened, squeeze out the milk and discard it.

2. Gently sauté the onion in a little olive oil until it is soft but not colored. Season with a pinch of salt and set it aside to cool.

3. In a large bowl, beat the egg with a fork or whisk. Add the pork, breadcrumbs, onion, ¼ cup Parmesan, sage, 1 teaspoon thyme, cayenne, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix with hands thoroughly.

4. Shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls. (I made mine on the small side and got about 40 of them.)

5. Over medium heat, place a skillet large enough to hold all the meatballs in one uncrowded layer. (For extra flavor and convenience, I used the same skillet I’d just used for sautéing the onions.) Add a little olive oil. When the skillet is heated, add the meatballs, shaking the skillet to keep them from sticking. Using tongs to turn so they brown evenly, cook the meatballs until they are no longer pink in the center and lightly browned on all sides. Remove from the skillet to a plate.

6. Add the chicken broth and wine to the skillet and simmer until reduced by about a third. Add the lemon juice and thyme, then return the meatballs to the skillet. Simmer at least 10 minutes, but up to half an hour.

7. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the noodles until al dente. Drain and add to the skillet with the sauce and meatballs. Toss well and serve garnished with lemon zest and grated Parmesan.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 to 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good. If you want, you can do steps 1–4 several hours or even a day ahead (or you could probably freeze the uncooked meatballs as long as you like). Leftovers from the finished dish will keep well in the fridge for a week or so.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I just realized that my last three posts have featured brown foods. It’s that time of year. But thank goodness for carrots, without which winter eating would be drab indeed. There are few things more cheerful on a cold day than steaming bright-orange soup, and I already have a couple of favorite recipes. I still had to try this one, though, because it has fennel.

I’m nurturing a nascent love affair with fennel, which is too bad for A because he’s decided he doesn’t entirely like the stuff. So, as in a restrained BBC costume drama, I’m fighting to keep my feelings in check while casting longing glances across the farmers’ market at the creamy white bulbs and feathery fronds. I refuse to be kept from fennel entirely, but fennel and I have agreed to see other people. In other words, I’m trying not to put it on the menu every week.

This recipe from Serious Eats seemed like it might be an acceptable compromise, a way to satisfy my fennel craving while pureeing it into oblivion for A’s sake (he says that while he doesn’t really dig the flavor of fennel, it’s the texture he really doesn’t like). I’d tried a different carrot-fennel soup recipe before and been disappointed, but this one wooed me with its talk of roasting the vegetables, because fennel is best when caramelized and carrots and onions aren’t too shabby either. The soup was easy to make and I followed the instructions pretty much to the letter, except for altering the process slightly to use my immersion blender. In retrospect, I think the traditional blender might have been easier in this case; roasted vegetables have a bit more resistance to pureeing than boiled ones, and I had to work for a long time (and add all the stock, not just part of it) to get it suitably smooth. But it wasn’t really a problem. I also used chicken stock instead of vegetable and crème fraiche instead of heavy cream because I had both of them on hand, and both worked very well.

The finished soup was delicious. A doesn’t really care for pureed soups (I just can’t win!), but he found it palatable enough. I’m almost tempted to leave out the wine next time because once I’d added it I found it impossible to ignore, even after the alcohol cooked off; I think it really changed the flavor and I had a nagging suspicion I might have liked the original flavor even better—but it did add a nice complexity, so I recommend at least trying it once. I happily ate the leftovers all week; the multigrain rolls I just baked were a nice accompaniment.

If you’re unsure about fennel, this might be a good way to try it. You get to taste both the bulb and the fronds, but the flavor in the finished soup isn’t overwhelming.

1 large fennel bulb (about 1 pound), thinly sliced, 1–2 tablespoons of chopped fronds reserved
1 pound carrots, quartered lengthwise
1 medium onion, quartered
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup white wine
1 quart (4 cups) vegetable stock (I used homemade chicken stock)
½ cup heavy whipping cream (I used about ¼ cup crème fraiche)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine fennel bulb, carrots, onion, olive oil, sugar, and salt. Spread vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven, flipping occasionally, until browned and very tender, about 30 minutes.

3. Remove the vegetables from the oven. Add half of them to the bowl of a food processor or blender with 1 cup stock; puree the vegetables until smooth, about 1 minute, and transfer to a large soup pot or Dutch oven, then repeat with the remaining half of vegetables and another cup of stock. (Or, if you have an immersion blender, just add all the vegetables and all 4 cups of stock to the pot and blend until smooth.)

4. Add butter and wine to the pot with the puree and cook it over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add the remaining stock to adjust consistency and simmer for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Add the cream and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve garnished with fennel fronds.

Serves: 4–5 (recipe says 4, but I got 5)
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good; will keep in the fridge for 1 week and in the freezer for months.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Every time winter rolls around (Ha! See what I did there?), I resolve to bake more bread. It seems like such a cozy, domestically capable thing to do. Yet I only seem to manage it a few times per year. I’m not exactly afraid of it; although I’m not super-comfortable working with dough, it always seems to turn out fairly well. But the fact is that in daily life, we don’t actually eat very much bread, even though I adore it. Aside from grilled cheese, and BLTs in the summer, we rarely have sandwiches, and I’m so committed to eating cereal/granola/oatmeal each morning that I almost never get around to making toast (plus A doesn’t eat breakfast). The only time I consistently work bread into the menu is when we’re having soup. So what usually happens is that I make a huge batch of bumpy rolls and stick them in the freezer, and we eat a few every time we have soup until suddenly the weather turns hot and I don’t feel like baking anymore. Maybe I make biscuits a few times too, but that’s pretty much it.

What would really serve me better, baking-wise, would be to start making my own pizza dough, then find a good recipe for pita bread to wrap around my gyros and sandwich rolls on which to eat my BBQ chicken, then maybe develop a perfect sandwich bread. I do intend to do all those things, but first I indulged my dream of being a Bread Person and made these rolls from Annie’s Eats. I was craving something hearty and wholesome. I don’t like really dense hippie whole-grain breads, but I am a huge sucker for oats, honey, and seeds, so this seemed right up my alley. The oat bran-flax seed mixture at the beginning was a little weird (mine hardened into a cement-like sludge that I feared would weigh down my bread entirely, plus I almost forgot to put it into the dough until I was nearly done adding all the white flour), and I realized at the last minute that I didn’t have the right kind of yeast (luckily, I consulted Google and figured out I could substitute 1.25 times the amount of active dry for the instant, which worked just fine), and I’m still getting acquainted with the KitchenAid dough hook, and I wasn’t sure what size pans to use (my two 8-inch metal cake pans turned out to be perfect), but despite every apparent brush with disaster, the recipe was easy to follow (I liked that specific weights were given for the flour measurements, as well as the exact size the rolls should be—if you don’t have a digital kitchen scale, go get one! They’re invaluable, especially for spatially challenged people like me who have a hard time eyeballing what half a pound looks like or whether my eight equal portions are really equal). My dough rose like a champ and baked very obediently into fluffy, flavorful rolls that were delicious when dipped into carrot-fennel soup (recipe forthcoming), or eaten on their own with a little butter. Although they’re actually chock-full of fiber, they’re not heavy or dry or aggressively grainy, and I love the seed-and-salt topping. (In retrospect, this is a much more successful version of another oat-and-seed-roll recipe I tried almost exactly three years ago.) It was also nice that the recipe makes a modest quantity of rolls; we’ll finish them off with this week’s batch of soup, and I’ll have the space in my freezer to experiment with baking something else.

We’ll see if there’s a place in my life for two whole-wheat roll recipes (bumpy rolls are still nearest and dearest to my heart), but right now I’m pretty sure I’d make these again. Probably not soon enough, however, to use up the enormous bag of oat bran I had to buy especially for this purpose. This was my first experience with oat bran, and while it seems tasty, I’m not sure what else to do with it. Most of the recipes I’m seeing online are for muffins, which I don’t eat very often. I’m sure I could throw it into granola, but what else? If you have tips, send ’em my way!

½ cup oat bran
¼ cup flax seeds
½ cup boiling water
1 cup warm milk (105–110˚ F)
2¼ teaspoons instant (rapid rise) yeast or 2¾ teaspoons active dry yeast
¼ cup honey
2 large eggs
⅔ cup old-fashioned (not instant) oats
7 ounces (1¼ cups) whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
15 ounces (about 3 cups) all-purpose flour
Oil, for greasing the bowl
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons mixed seeds (e.g., poppy, sesame, fennel, caraway—I used all four)
Coarse salt, for sprinkling

1. Combine the oat bran and flax seeds in a small bowl. Pour the boiling water into the bowl and mix to moisten. Let sit until the water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine the milk, yeast, and honey; mix briefly to blend. Using the dough hook, with the mixer on low speed, mix in the 2 eggs, oats, wheat flour, pepper, 1 tablespoon salt, and oat bran mixture until combined.

3. Slowly add enough all-purpose flour, ½ cup at a time, to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. Continue to knead on medium-low speed, about 3 minutes.

4. Form the dough into a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1½ to 2 hours.

5. Brush baking dish(es) lightly with oil (I used two 8-inch round metal cake pans). On a lightly floured surface, turn the dough out and divide into 16 equal pieces, about 2½ ounces each. Form each portion into a ball and place the dough balls in the baking dish(es), spaced slightly apart so they have room to grow together. Cover and let rise until puffy and nearly doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water. Brush lightly over the rolls. Sprinkle rolls with the seed mixture and coarse salt. Bake until the tops are golden, about 26 minutes. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

Yields: 16 rolls
Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; rolls keep well in the freezer

Friday, January 21, 2011


Even though mushrooms and sausage are my favorite traditional pizza toppings, and mushroom-sausage-onion is my go-to order at Pizza Hut (I know, I know: it’s terrible pizza, and believe me, if there were better delivery offerings in our area I would avoid it, but every now and then—very, very rarely nowadays—I crave it; I just can’t help myself), the simple idea of using this combination without the tomato sauce had never occurred to me until I saw this recipe at Eggs on Sunday (it’s based on one from Bon Appetit). Even though it looked delicious, I promptly came down with a case of I-could-have-thought-of-that-itis, the stubborn resistance I sometimes irrationally feel toward making something that seems like such a no-brainer it barely needs to be written down—even though, of course, I didn’t think of myself. It’s a tragic condition with no known treatment except time and common sense.

Eventually, hunger won out and I made this. It was easy to throw together, especially since using my beloved homemade pizza sausage allowed me to skip the sausage-browning step, but I was having an off night in the kitchen: I oversalted the onions and mushrooms, overdid the cheese (I had an 8-ounce ball of mozzarella and my desire not to have a leftover scrap of orphaned cheese in the fridge won out over sensible restraint), and then overbaked the pizza, plus I’d had to use whole wheat dough for the crust because Trader Joe’s was out of white (I like their whole wheat for tomato-sauce pizza, but white is better for these gourmet-type ones), and then it did this weird uneven-baking-sticking-to-the-pan thing that was very frustrating (I really need a new pizza baking sheet, or even better a pizza stone, although I’d like to stick with the rectangular shape and all the ones available on Amazon are too big for my little old oven, sigh). I took some awful photos and sat down to eat, certain I’d created a salty, greasy, burnt, mutilated mess, but even with all these impediments, it still tasted fantastic—a nice blend of spicy/zesty, earthy/woodsy, and creamy/cheesy. A and I both loved it. I can’t wait to find out how great it tastes when I don’t eff it up!

1 pound pizza dough
6–8 ounces Italian sausage (casings removed) or ’Atsa Spicy Pizza Sausage
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
8–16 ounces cremini (or other brown or wild) mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary or thyme
1 handful (about ½ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, grated or torn into pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Stretch out your ball of pizza dough and lay it out on a pizza peel or baking sheet that’s been generously dusted with cornmeal.

2. If using Italian sausage, sauté it in a little olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until browned and no longer pink, breaking it up with the back of a spoon. Remove from the skillet and set aside. If using ’Atsa Spicy Pizza Sausage, skip this step.

3. In the same skillet, pour in a little more olive oil (if needed) and sauté the red onion slices with the red pepper flakes, just until crisp-tender. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

4. In the same skillet, pour in a little more olive oil (if needed) and add the sliced mushrooms and fresh rosemary. Sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

5. Scatter the Parmesan cheese over the pizza crust. Add the sausage, onions, and mushrooms, then top with the mozzarella cheese.

6. Bake for about 8–10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; I recommend reheating in the oven.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I’m not usually gaga for lentils, but every now and then I want them.

Aaaand I just realized that I started my two previous lentil entries with variations on this same sentence.

Anyway, I had a cold two weeks ago, and when I read a rave review at The Kitchn of this Molly Wizenberg (aka Orangette) recipe from Bon Appetit, it immediately sounded like just the thing I needed: warm, hearty, spicy, citrusy, cheerfully yellowish, wholesome, healing. What won me over was the secret ingredient: a lemony, garlicky chickpea puree (basically my recipe for hummus) stirred into the soup to give it a creamy, velvety texture without the richness. And indeed, this is a genius move. It also adds a nice, bright counterpoint to the earthiness of the lentils. I amped up the flavor even more by basically skipping the lemon-wedge garnish and squeezing the whole thing right into the pot, and I was not sorry.

This soup didn’t overcome A’s antipathy for lentils (if bacon and sausage couldn’t do it, we can hardly expect a miracle now), but by the time we ate it he was in the throes of a severe version of my cold and also swore he couldn’t taste the curry. Granted, my curry powder is shamefully old and not very fancy, so I’m interested in trying again and seeing how much new, good-quality curry powder makes a difference, but mostly I think his taste buds were defunct, because it tasted plenty curry-y to me. I do think I should have cooked the lentils a tiny bit longer; I slavishly followed the time listed in the recipe instead of testing them myself, and even though French green lentils* are supposed to hold their shape a bit more than regular lentils, mine seemed a bit too al dente. Regardless, I really liked this and may crave it again before winter’s over.

*This was my first time trying them, and it turns out they are not the same thing as ordinary green lentils: Bon Appetit helpfully notes that they are “small, dark green, and speckled with black; they can be found at some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores.” I got mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods.

Oh, and I strongly suspect the butter could be left out of this entirely, to make it healthier/vegan. The chickpea puree seems to do plenty to impart flavor and dairy-like creaminess. I’ll try omitting it next time and let you know how it turns out.

UPDATE, 6/12: Yeah, you can leave out the butter completely; I've tried it with no discernible difference in the results. I'm marking it optional below.

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped, divided
2 tablespoons (or more) curry powder
1 cup French green lentils
4 ¼ cups (or more) water, divided
1 15- to 16-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrot; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add half of chopped garlic; stir until vegetables are soft but not brown, about 4 minutes longer. Add 2 tablespoons curry powder; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add lentils and 4 cups water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, puree chickpeas, lemon juice, ¼ cup water, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and remaining garlic in a food processor or blender.

3. Add chickpea puree and butter (if using) to soup. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional curry powder, if desired. Add water by ¼ cupfuls to thin to desired consistency.

4. Divide soup among bowls. Sprinkle with thinly sliced green onions and serve with lemon wedges.

Serves: Original recipe says 6, but I got 5 smallish servings, although that may be because I accidentally skipped the “Add water by ¼ cupfuls to thin to desired consistency” direction.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good; can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for months.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Many people are intimidated by making and canning jam, but it appeals to my methodical side. To me, the only difficult part is obtaining fruit in large quantities without breaking the bank. (Sure, you can do small batches, but canning involves such rigorous prep that it’s just as easy to make a lot as to make a little, and I don’t find it worth hauling out the canner for just a jar or two.) Of course, I’m lucky enough to live in California, an agricultural wonderland with year-round farmers’ markets featuring abundant fruits, but even so, it’s not always easy to venture beyond apples, pears, and strawberries as jam fodder. Other berries are scarce and expensive unless you pick them yourself, plus I didn’t invest in a canner of my own all summer, so the wealth of stone fruits passed me by (I managed to squeeze in some peach jam at the very end of the season, at least). I’ve loved cherry jam ever since I tried it at a bed-and-breakfast in Lawrence, Kansas, a few summers ago, but given that California is hardly cherry country (not to mention that I refuse to invest in a cherry pitter), I thought homemade cherry jam was out of reach for me—until I stumbled across this recipe at, of all places, the Kraft website (Kraft makes Sure-Jell pectin, so it has a decent stash of safe and reliable canning recipes). Yup, it turns out you can use frozen cherries to make jam. I’d never really even considered the existence of frozen cherries before, but sure enough, there they were at my supermarket, on sale and everything. They weren’t super-cheap, mind you—$3 per 1-pound bag, I think, and I had to buy three bags)—but cheaper than three pounds of fresh cherries would have been at the farmers’ market, and available in December for my holiday-gift canning purposes.

I was a little worried about how the frozen fruit would compare to fresh (it does have a subtle but distinctively different flavor, I think), but the added incentive of almond flavor (and boozy almond flavor, at that) won me over. Almond is one of my favorite flavors and such a natural complement to cherry. The resulting jam is delicious, pleasantly but not overpoweringly almondy, a bit on the sweet side but otherwise irresistible and a unique addition to my jam repertoire. I’m not sure I would have noticed it was made with frozen fruit if I didn’t already know. I’ll definitely be making this again.

2¼ pounds (36 ounces) frozen sweet cherries, thawed and drained
¼ cup amaretto or other almond-flavored liqueur (you may substitute ¼ teaspoon almond extract, but add it at the end of Step 4 instead of in Step 3)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 box fruit pectin
½ teaspoon butter or margarine (optional)
4½ cups sugar

1. Prepare jars and closures as in steps 1–2 here.

2. Measure sugar into a bowl and set aside.

3. Finely chop or grind cherries (I pulsed them with my immersion blender) and place in a 6- or 8-quart pot. Add amaretto and lemon juice and mix well.

4. Stir pectin into prepared fruit mixture in pot. If desired, add butter or margarine to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with a metal spoon.

5. Fill jars to within ⅛ inch of tops and process for 10 minutes, as in steps 7–9 here.

Yield: About 14 4-ounce jars
Time: 2½ hours
Leftover potential: Jars will keep on the shelf for up to 1 year; open jars will last indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


This photo was taken in their natural habitat, the Christmas Eve cookie tray, so the caramel has been slightly rumpled by interstate travel.

The problem (or “problem”) with having so many kickass favorite holiday treat recipes is that you have scant opportunity to try new ones, unless you want to add to your list every year until your Christmas baking becomes an unmanageable burden and your output far exceeds what your friends and family could possibly eat in an already sugar-laden season. This year I already knew I had to—had to!—make spritz, coconut-apricot cookies, peppermint bark, chocolate peanut-butter balls on pretzels, and rosemary roasted cashews, so I decided I only had room in my life for one experiment. I stumbled upon the ideal candidate early—my Delicious account, where I organize all potential new recipes, indicates that I bookmarked it on January 15, 2010—and the fact that it remained the frontrunner for nearly an entire year is in itself a testimonial to its worthiness. I found it while browsing a random food blog I don’t normally read, and it was from a cookbook (Cuisine at Home Holiday Baking) produced by a magazine I hadn’t even heard of. The blog didn’t reprint the recipe, so I had to Google it and track it down at another blog. That’s dedication! It just sounded like such a perfect showstopper Christmas cookie: not only did it combine two of my favorite things, cashews and caramel, but it was also complicated enough to merit special-occasion status. (I can’t help but get cranky when everyday cookies show up on holiday cookie trays. I love chocolate chip as much as the next girl, but in the tradition I was raised in, Christmas is the time to eat cherished cookies—by the plateful—that you only get once a year and yearn for during the next twelve months. [Sugar cookies are an exception, because although they can show up all year round, their holiday incarnations are festively shaped and decorated enough to still be special.])

No source I could locate specified the recipe’s yield, so I doubled it to be on the safe side and got about 4 dozen, which was perfect; it’s labor-intensive enough that while you’re at it, you’d might as well do a lot of it. The cookie ingredients are a little odd, in an awesome way; there’s only brown sugar and no baking soda or baking powder, providing a toothsome but subtle platform for the main attraction of salty cashews and sweet caramel. (In my opinion, the white chocolate’s function is mainly decorative, and if you wanted to skip it, I would look the other way, though it definitely kicks everything up a notch.) The process is definitely on the elaborate side, since most of the stuff goes on top of the cookies rather than in them, but none of the tasks were too exacting in themselves, so you don’t need to have a lot of special skillz other than good direction-following (though no doubt there are those who could make their chocolate drizzles look far more artful than mine). I did have a little trouble making the caramel-holding divots deep enough (they nearly disappeared during baking, and even straight from the oven the cookies resisted my remaking them), but I noticed that you can still get a fair amount of caramel into even a shallow depression; once you've laid down an initial layer and it's had time to cool for a minute or two and get tacky, you can pile another layer of caramel atop it, even higher than the level of the surrounding cookie. (I still had a little caramel mixture left over, though.)

And how did they taste? Well, my mother, although she might be biased, declared them “the cookie of the year” to anyone who would listen, and I received rave reviews from other eaters as well. I love them, too. There’s a reason the salty-sweet combo is uber-trendy right now: Because it is awesome. This is definitely going into my permanent holiday baking repertoire, which means that next Christmas, unless I forgo trying anything new or I temporarily retire one other favorite (a la the Disney “vault”), I’m just going to have to start my holiday baking before Thanksgiving. For cookies like these, it’s worth it.

1cup butter, softened
1⅓ cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
2⅔ cups flour
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons water
3 cups chopped roasted salted cashews
32 caramels, unwrapped
6 tablespoons heavy cream
6 ounces white chocolate
2 teaspoons shortening

1. In a mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and salt; beat on low until blended. Add flour and beat until combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for one hour.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment. Beat the egg white and water with a fork in a small bowl; set aside. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the dough balls in the egg-white mixture and then in the chopped cashews. (For maximum cashew coverage and adhesion, I found that it helps to give the cashew-covered dough balls a gentle squeeze in your hand to press the nuts slightly into the dough.) Place the cookies on the baking sheets and make an indention in each cookie with your thumb. Bake cookies until the edges are set, about 12–13 minutes. (You may need to remake the indentations while the cookies are still warm.)

3. In a small saucepan, heat the caramels and heavy cream over low heat. Stir until the caramel melts and then remove from the heat. Spoon the warm caramel filling into the indentations. Allow to cool completely.

4. Heat the white chocolate and shortening in a bowl in the microwave until the chocolate melts. Drizzle over cookies and refrigerate until set.

Yields: About 4 dozen
Time: 3.5 hours (but that includes 1 hour chilling time and at least 30 minutes cooling time)
Leftover potential: Good; they freeze well.