vanilla bean thumbprints

As the holiday season winds into New Year’s Eve, I know more of you are thinking of starting diets than starting a batch of cookies, but I have a few new recipes from the holidays that are too good not to share!  This first one was inspired by two lovely food gifts from the year – a large jar of demerara sugar packed with vanilla beans, making a wonderfully fragrant raw vanilla sugar, and several jars of homemade jams from my auntie.    I knew I wanted to use the jam to make Jam Thumbprint cookies, a childhood favorite, but I needed just the right cookie recipe.  After a few false starts, I came up with this dough that has the perfect crisp outside-soft inside texture and adds a fragrant vanilla creaminess as a counterpoint to the sweet-tart jam.   Fast, easy, and really delicious, this one is a cookie all-star!

A Fine Kettle of Ish's Vanilla Bean Thumbprint

See those little flecks of vanilla cookie goodness?

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a few old favorites

A few old projects inspired by great recipes from some of my go-to blogs.

Salted Butter Caramels:  David Lebovitz, former pastry chef at Berkeley’s legendary Chez Panisse, now living in Paris, is a great source for sweet and savory recipes, as well as affable observations from an American living in France.   His recipes (and insights) tend to be spot-on, and I really enjoy his easy-going and humorous approach to quality cooking.  Check out his simple recipe for making wonderful salted butter caramels at http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/01/salted-butter-caramels/.  I used this recipe to make rosemary infused salted butter caramel lollipops to give as holiday gifts – just heat a bit of fresh rosemary in the heavy cream then strain before using it to make the caramels.   The hot caramel was poured into a silicone lollipop form and the resulting treats were wrapped in foil and gift bags (all available in the baking section of the craft store).   As with any recipe that emphasizes a few simple ingredients, this is worth using quality butter and salt for the best flavor and most bang for your time in the kitchen.

A few other favorite recipes from David’s blog are French vinaigrette (easy! delicious!) http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/11/how-to-make-french-vinaigrette/ and apricot jam, which I make in the summer when apricots are cheap and plentiful http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/08/apricot-jam/.   I like to throw in a handful of dried food-grade lavender as well as a few apricot kernels – it makes a delicious, herby, tart jam that can be combined with equal parts Dijon mustard for a great chicken or pork marinade, spooned over goat cheese and served with crackers, or spread as a jam layer on a layer cake to seal in the crumbs before you frost.  Or, you know, just spread on toast or eaten out of the jar with a spoon (but I say when in doubt, eat with cheese).

Salsa: Yes, I know you can buy fresh salsa at the store for $3.  Yes, I know it can be really, really, good.  But this.  This makes what is seriously the best salsa I’ve ever had.  Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, is a great site for easy, fun recipes that will not make you feel embarrassed for occasionally using a box cake or for ordering a side of butter to go with your pancakes (you know who you are).  She also has regular give-aways for excellent kitchen goods, so it’s worth checking out, even if you insist on buying your own salsa.  This recipe does make a lot of salsa, so it’s worth the time if you’re throwing a party or other event that will be full of salsa-loving guests.  Or make it for yourself and don’t tell anyone.  Good news – canned tomatoes are actually higher in lycopene then fresh tomatoes.  There, now you have permission to eat a quart of salsa.  You know, for health purposes.  I like to double the lime juice and garlic in this, and will often use Trader Joe’s pre-cut Onions, Garlic, and Shallots as a time saver (Onions, Garlic, and Shallots, you stink up my car on the drive home from the store but I love you). http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/01/restaurant-style-salsa/

Halloween: Martha Stewart always has such great Halloween recipes on her site.  Unfortunately, it seems like they’re often over complicated or look much better than they taste, which just doesn’t work for me.  This recipe for “Lady Fingers” on the other hand, is fast, looks creepy, and – best of all – is fun to make!  I tinted half the dough with green food coloring and used black food coloring (available at the craft store around Halloween) for the nails to make a batch of troll toes to go with my lady fingers.  Full disclosure – I did have a few guests that thought they were too creepy to eat.  However, I lack patience for the stick-in-the-mud sort, especially if they are the type to turn down cookies (because…COOKIES!).  Original recipe and article at http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/ladies-fingers-are-easy.

 

Lamb and Chickpea Tagine:  This is an easy and relatively frugal approach to making great Moroccan food at home.   Do not be intimidated if you think this sounds too complicated – YOU CAN MAKE THIS!  IT WILL BE DELICIOUS!  http://www.therecessioncookbook.net/2009/03/lamb-tagine.html.  We served this on a bed of spinach rather than couscous to lower the carb count, and the result was so good we ate it all before I could get a picture.  Guess I’ll just have to be faster on the draw (or click, as it were) next time…

 
 
 
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