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i had my first macaron ever this past september at sugar factory in las vegas. they were surprisingly disappointing - the flavors weren't distinguishable and the bottom half of one was completely gone. the very next day, i picked up one, single, perfect pistachio macaron from bouchon bakery and was hooked.
these churros are really a testament to trial and error. since churros have been on my to make list for a while now and since my churro expert susie happened to be hanging out after an impromptu dinner tonight, we set out to make these.
the recipe and the dough is surprisingly simple. three things tripped us up: the right size tip when piping them into the hot oil, deflating churros, and the fry time. the first few i made with a small star tip. they were way too small and scrawny, so i upgraded to a large star tip. they were a lot thicker and one side looked beautiful. as the first side was cooking, the other side facing up split right down the center. once we got over the fact that their looks aren't perfect, we noticed some of the larger ones would puff up all nice and golden while cooking and almost immediately after we took them out of the oil, deflated - the middles sunk right in. this time, we weren't cooking them long enough and the insides were still gummy. a few more seconds on each side gave us a nice medium brown we were looking for. and of course we nailed it, with the very last bit of dough.
a mere ten years ago, although it seems like yesterday, my parents, sister, and i set out on one of our best vacations ever: italy. we saw it all - the colosseum and vatican in rome. what remains of pompeii with mt vesuvius in the background. the amalfi coast. the cinque terre. st francis of assisi's church. more churches and relics than i can count. the ponte vecchio and statue of david in florence. the towers of san gimignano. my mother trying to pronouce moltepulciano the first ten times. the bridge of sighs and kicking our feet in the water when st mark's floods in venice at night. and gelato every single day, sometimes more than once.
so it's no surprise that any time i eat - or even think - of gelato, it brings me back to that trip. it's always a different memory, but always a great one.
every christmas my grandma had a small glass covered dish of homemade fudge sitting on the bookshelf in her living room. each of us kids after dinner & all the hub of christmas was winding down - while watching a christmas story or some other christmas special - would sneak pieces of fudge until it was gone. the rest of us mad at the one who dared to take the last piece. that's how i remember it.
i had almost forgotten about that fudge until last week.
i've said it before and i'll say it again: i love gingerbread. not only does the smell instantly bring me back to my honeymoon in germany, and loudly announces - in all it's spicy glory - that christmas is here. each year i tell myself i'm going to roll, cut out, and decorate gingerbread men, and for last five or so, i've completely skipped it. partially because i've inherited my mother's cookie decorating skills, but mostly because i know my mom made a batch that my dad decorated. each year is different. there's been gingerbread at the beach. gingerbread boys and girls. gingerbread santa. all meticulously decorated by my father. the year we were engaged, my sister beat him to it and decorated a bride and groom for us.
this year i skipped the cut outs again and opted for chewy drop cookies studded with white chocolate. and next year, i'll probably do the same.
each and every time i email a request for a budget, modification, or some other financial request to one of our finance guys at work, the response always starts with "cookies!" followed by whatever information i'm asking for. sometimes - depending on how short i am on time when i put in the request or how involved the request is - i give in and ask him what kind. and it's always the same: oatmeal chocolate chip.
last week we were working on a particularly fussy and annoying budget, so i caved to the request. but who's the real winner?! i got my budget on time and got to eat cookies!
almond and raspberry is one of my all time favorite flavor combinations. let's be honest - anything i've ever had paired with almond is a winner in my book. these cookies have been on my to bake list for the past few christmases, putting them off because cutting out all those windows seemed like a lot of work. these cookies are a complete labor of love. and if you find that cutting out the middle leaves your kitchen in a flurry of broken tops, skip it, and make simple sandwiches. they taste just as good and no one will miss the fancy window.
from as far back as i can remember, my grandpa worked in a nestle plant. their candy drawer was always full of boxes of gobstoppers and nerds and bags of funsize butterfingers, o henry, and baby ruth. the fridge was loaded with juicy juice. grandma would tease us with stories of her trips to the company store - all that candy! and cheap! it was a kid's dream. and every year for christmas each of us grandkids got a milk chocolate santa. except me. i got a white chocolate snowman. i can still remember ripping open the box, sliding the plastic mold out, and biting the head off on christmas morning. i don't know exactly what year chocolate santas stopped coming - probably around the same time grandpa retired from the chocolate works, as he called it - but not a christmas day goes by that i don't have a split second vision of that snowman.
as an adult i tend to get most of my white chocolate in the form of hot chocolate. which surprisingly i have never thought to make myself until this year. besides, i needed something to wash down all these cookies.
these holiday biscotti are a simple riff on my favorite - i added dried cherries and white chocolate chips to my favorite pistachio biscotti to get all the holiday colors in one cookie. it's the same combination i used last year to make killer holiday shortbread cookies. biscotti are the perfect cookie: insanely easy to make, pretty difficult to screw up, and they're just fancy enough that people are impressed you can make them from scratch.
every year, the last week before christmas is deemed 'cookie week' at work. years ago when i first started, there was a sign up sheet to ensure treats were spread out among the week. needless to say, the week is complete cookie chaos and the sign up sheet soon went out the window. and in honor of our week of sweets, i've got five of my christmas cookies and treats this week, just in time for the big day.
but wait - don't forget about the archives! there are tons of holiday treats already there!
don't let it's looks fool you. while this soup isn't much of a looker, it's packed with flavor. the meatballs are spiced really well and the soup is a pretty basic homemade tomato soup - sweetened up a touch with a bit of carrot and celery added. it's a really great winter soup.
and don't let the time fool you. sure, it took me a good 45 minutes to make it. but there's a 20 minute chunk of time right in the middle where the soup is simmering - which means you can wrap presents, watch a half an hour DVRd show, or just plain relax for that matter.
eight months ago, my first attempt at gnocchi ended in a miserable failure: the little dumplings fell apart in the water and i ended up with a pot full of mush. and ever since i've been oh so timid and anxious about trying again. there's nothing like spending a good hour or so on a dish only to watch it get completely ruined in the final minute of preparation. it's a big turn off. [and the reason why i gave up on trying to make cake pops. but that's another story.]
this time, thanks to michael chiarello [anybody else tuning into next iron chef?], i had some pretty darn good homemade gnocchi. granted they weren't as pillowey light as they could be, but they were light years above some dense as a rock gnocchi i've been served in restaurants in the past.
i've been in kind of a food funk for the last month or two. where my google reader is typically busting at the seams every week with too many dinners, too many desserts, and too many snacks to make each week, lately it's been the opposite. few recipes have caught my attention and i've been mildly stuck in a rut of old standbys.
maybe it's the weather. we're stuck between 'is it still fall?' and 'is it finally winter?' at a time of year when the high is typically thirty degrees and we've already had a snow storm, we've had a full quarter inch of snow and the temperatures have stayed in the fifties, with no chance of going down. it's really odd. and throwing me off.
so to break the rut i've been in, i dug out a few old cook's illustrated special editions i picked up a couple months ago when borders was going out of business. which led me to a week's worth of new meals. starting with this easy & delicious white chicken chili. bonus that it's light and leftovers reheat perfectly.
i made this graham crackers a long time ago - months ago, to be exact. and since i felt ambitious, i decided to make two different kinds and have a taste off. the winner? both. karen's honey graham crackers have the perfect amount of sweetness to them while alton's have the perfect amount of spice from the cinnamon.
if you haven't made or eaten homemade graham crackers, they don't have much in common with their store bought mass produced counterparts. where store bought crackers are super light, these are definitely a bit more dense, almost like a cookie. and the flavor is light years better than the relatively bland ones from the store.
whenever i am in new york city, i try to end an evening in little italy. can you blame me? when it's right, it's everything great about new york. great people watching, amazing food, good asti spumante, and the choice of two of my most favorite desserts: gelato and cannoli. neither of which i have ever tried to tackle myself. maybe it's because they both sound tricky or maybe there's something magical about sitting on mulberry street, sipping cappuccino and eating cannoli with ten year old friends, catching up on life, that you simply lose all sight of when you're home.