Slice and Bake Cheese Sables

with wineSome mammals develop an extra layer of insulation to keep them toasty during the winter. For mammals with fur, this extra layer consists of a thicker or longer winter coat of their fur. When spring and summer roll around they naturally shed that extra layer. Other mammals, like me for instance, pack on a cookie layer to keep them warm during the polar vortex. Sadly, that extra layer does not magically shed when bathing suit season rolls around.

 In order to help me shed my cookie layer I declared my kitchen a bake-free zone during the month of January. But, as anyone who knows me can attest, I can get a little cranky if I go too long without baking. I was having some friends over for drinks this week so I thought I would break my rule and bake some savoury cheese sables. (Sable is what the French refer to when talking about crumbly butter cookies) It didn’t really feel like cheating since these cookies are sugar free!

I came across a recipe for Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt in the January 2015 issue of Food and Wine Magazine. The dough came together very quickly and I rolled it into a log and chilled it. Slice and bake cookies make me very happy. slicingThey are topped with some rosemary salt as soon as they come out of the oven.adding rosemary salt While they looked quite beautiful, when I picked up a cooled biscuit to taste, it fell apart in my hands. I am not quite sure what I did wrong. Perhaps it is nature’s way of telling me that until I shed my cookie layer, and I need to lay off all biscuits, be they sweet or savoury!with rosemaryI carefully transferred them to a platter and served them anyways. They were messy but still quite delicious. If anyone has any ideas about what went wrong, let me know. I have a few suspicions. I used Manchego Cheese instead of the Parmesan called for in the recipe, so perhaps that was a factor. I also baked them while on holiday in Florida, on a very humid day, so perhaps that was what caused them to crumble.

Click here to print recipe for Slice and Bake Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt.

Blood Orange and Belgian Endive Salad

on platter 2Cutting into a blood orange always brings to mind that famous quote from Forrest Gump; My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Same thing with blood oranges. Sometimes you cut into them and the inside is pale pink, at times they are mottled pale orange and brilliant red, and, when all the stars are aligned just right you get this:making vinaigretteI get such a kick out of slicing into these oranges and finding this brilliant scarlett surprise inside. Tart-sweet and slightly berry-like they’re only available from January to March, so slice into one now and see what’s waiting for you.

Blood oranges have been popular for many years in Italy and Spain, where they grow with wild abandon. I decided to give my salad a Spanish twist by incorporating Sherry vinegar in the dressing, smoked paprika in the spiced nuts and some manchego cheese shavings to top it all off. It would also be delicious topped with some soft goat cheese or some  thinly sliced shards of Parmesan.

For the lettuce element of my salad I settled on Belgian endive, sliced lengthwise into wedges, instead of chopped up crosswise, the way I ususally do it. I added some arugula to ramp up the bitter flavours. If you are not a fan of bitter, and prefer a gentler flavour, use boston lettuce mixed with some red leaf lettuce.

Making your own smoked spiced nuts is easy to do. I decided on a combo of pistachios and almonds. Supporting cast members include sugar, salt and smoked paprika. Feel free to add some cayenne if you like things a little caliente.mise en place for smoked nuts 2Egg whites are whisked until frothy. whisking egg whiteNuts are added and mixed until coated with egg whites. The egg whites help the spices adhere to the nuts.coating nuts in spicesSpread out nuts on baking sheet and bake in 350°F oven for 15-20 minutes. You won’t need all the nuts for the salad. Store the leftover in an airtight container. They are great with cocktails or a glass of wine or just for late afternoon snacking!

Neatly breaking down the oranges into perfect little segments takes a bit of practice but with a sharp knife in hand, you should be fine.

in bowl

Click here to print recipe for Blood Orange and Endive Salad.

 

 

Winter Farro Salad

in bowl fAlthough I have posted about farro herehere, here, here and here, I am of the opinion that you can never have enough good farro recipes. I just adore this nutty versatile grain. I discovered this winter version in the November 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. Associate Food Editor Claire Saffitz had a similar version at the NYC restaurant Charlie Bird. They simmered the farro in apple cider to infuse it with a lovely tart-sweet essence.apple cidercooked farroThe cooled farro is tossed with crunchy julienned apples and celeriac.celeriacYou have to believe that the first guy to come across one of these gnarly roots was in an extremely weakened and ravenous state. It would have taken quite a leap of faith for someone to come across this in the wild and decide that eating it was a sound idea. 

This knobby root is Celeriac (also known as celery root). I have often come across them in the supermarket, but had no idea how and where to use it. However, in January, when fresh local stuffs is in short supply, you need to go outside your comfort zone and embrace the ugly! Celeriac has a mild delicate taste, rather like a cross between celery and parsley. Beneath that grody exterior lies a heart of snowy white goodness. 

Taming this beast is not difficult. Slice off the top and bottom so it sits flat on the cutting board. Slice around the sides and hack off the brown outer skin. Julienne it for raw salads or cube it for simmering in soup. If you are using it raw in a salad, store it in water with a splash of lemon juice after cutting to prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown.  Drain and mix into salad just before serving.peeling celeriac

cutting celeriac into julienneSalty black olives and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese are added as a welcome balance to the cider sweetened farro. Italian parsley leaves provide a verdant fresh punch. I added some pickled red onions because I love how pickling tames their bite. A final garnish of toasted pine nuts and this salad is ready for it’s closeup!serving bowl 3 625 sq

 Click here to print recipe for Winter Farro Salad.

Ultimate Potato Latkes

platter of latkesI realize that Chanukah ended last week and I’m a little late to the party, but you may forgive me when you find out that I am sharing the ultimate latke recipe with you. So, if you only make latkes once a year, do yourself a favour and bookmark these for next December. You will thank me!

The first time I posted about potato latkes on this blog Taylor Swift was dating  Jake Gyllenhaal. The second time, a month later, Taylor and Jake were still being spotted canoodling in public.  The third time I posted about latkes, Taylor was keeping company with Harry Styles. My final latke posting was last November and Taylor was trying to make Harry Styles jealous by stepping out with Douglas Booth.

From the above paragraph you might conclude that: a) For a woman over the age of 50, I have an inappropriate fascination with Taylor Swift. (Sadly true!), and, b) I also have an unhealthy love of potato latkes (also, sadly true).

I used to believe that I had the very best latke recipe. And then I tried the Cook’s Illustrated version and discovered that I was wrong! These latkes were light, not at all heavy or greasy. The outer crust was crunchy to the point of almost shatteringly crisp and insides were creamy, tender and pillowy soft. These are everything that all self respecting latkes aspire to be.

Leave it to Cook’s Illustrated to crack the code and perfect the latke.  A typical tuber contains 80% water by weight! The secret, it seems, is to rid the potato of as much of it’s water content as possible. This means a little extra work to squeeze out all the moisture that potatoes exude, but trust me, the effort is worth it.

Russet potatoes are the best variety to use. Grating them by hand on a box grater will give you the best texture. Just scrub the potatoes. No need to even peel the potatoes, just scrub well.gratingThe grated potatoes are mixed with a small grated onion and some salt. The mixture is transferred to a tea towel and all the moisture is wrung out. Let the drained liquid sit for 5 minutes and all the potato starch will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Drain off the liquid and save the starch. This starch is what will hold your latkes together. No need to add any additional flour or matzoh meal.sqeezing out liquidThe potato mixture gets heated in the microwave for 2 minutes. This allows the potatoes to release even more moisture and assists in making the latkes crispier and prevents them from becoming greasy by absorbing too much oil. microwavefrying

Click here to print recipe for Ultimate Potato Latkes.

stack of latkes

Pomegranate Tomato Salad

Diced salad 1 625 sqI believe I may have broken the unwritten food bloggers commandment that states, “Thou shalt not post about anything remotely fresh or healthy during the month of December.”  However, in my defence, I believe I am eligible for an exemption from this rule. I have just come off a major bake-a thon, crafting over 30 pounds of Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark, 32 dozen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, 24 dozen Salted Skor Bar Shortbread Cookies, 12 pounds of Almond Pecan Caramel Corn, 24 dozen Chocolate Dipped Pistachio Shortbread, 12 dozen Caramel Chocolate Dipped Pretzels,  8 dozen giant gingerbread snowflake cookies and 23 dozen Lemon Coconut Cookies.

So forgive me if I need something fresh and good-for-you to eat in December. And, I bet you do too! This salad checks all the boxes. Healthy, delicious, beautiful and very satisfying to eat. It makes a great lunch (ask my mom, I fed it to her today!) and would also not be out of place on the holiday table as one of your side dishes. Crunchy, sweet, salty, sour and just a tiny bit bitter, this salad is a feast for the taste buds as well as for the senses.

This salad is an adaptation of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Tomato and Pomegranate salad in his splendid new book, Plenty More. “The sharp almost bitter sweetness of the pomegranate and the savoury, sunny sweetness of the tomato complement each other so gloriously.”Pomegranates 2tomatoes 2Removing seeds from a pomegranate can be a messy affair. My preferred method is to place a deep bowl into the sink,  quarter the pomegranate and gently nudge the seeds out into the bowl. There are many other methods that folks swear by. Spanking (my mom’s personal favourite) and The Underwater Method are two of the most popular. deseeding pomegranateI love the sweet sharp addition of pickled shallots. So simple to prepare. Mix together equal parts red wine vinegar and water and add kosher salt and sugar. This magic blend tames the sharpness of onions and shallots in about 30 minutes!pickled shallotsYou can slice the tomatoes for a gorgeous composed salad.slicing tomaotesplated sliced 1Or just dice everything up and mix and serve. Thinly sliced basil and mint leaves add a lively freshness.Diced salad 2I love the addition of some grated ricotta salata for a salty, tangy addition, but feel free to leave the cheese off.grating ricotta salata

Click here to print recipe for Pomegranate and Tomato Salad.