Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lemon sweetie pies, or an exercise in turning a kitchen disaster into pop art

lemon thumbprint cookies

I know, I know. I am totally off schedule. Right now I should be posting healthy, fresh recipes for getting back into shape for the new year. Instead I am writing about this delicious, lemony cookie. But I made a promise to my friend Clythie (who recently started her own blog about running and cooking called Run Cook Eat Repeat), and dammit I will keep my promises, even though it may take a while.

I made a batch of these cookies for a cookie exchange a few weeks ago. When I had finished the lemon curd to fill in the center of the cookies, I was so enamored of the glorious yellow and the sweet, tart, and fresh scent of lemon, I decided I had to get a picture of the stuff to spiff up a blog post and to brag on. Of course, this happened:

Argh! Catastrophe!

But then I had to admire the rather pleasing effect of the splatter pattern. And that lemon, placed just so! (It really landed just like that.) When I posted the photo on Facebook, a friend commented that the white sock disturbed the composition, and I agreed. For better effect next time, I need to coordinate my clothes to amp up the contrast (perhaps a blue sock?). Anyway, I had to laugh because the vanity of trying to get a good picture of this glorious lemon curd ended up in a big mess.

About 24 hours later, I had more lemons, made another batch of curd, and baked the cookies. And I finally got a good picture of the curd, which is like sunshine in a bowl, perfect to light up deepest, darkest winter. And the cookie tastes that way: the sweet, sour, fresh bite of curd paired with sweet, crispy cookie.

The recipe for these cookies comes from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett. I gave the book to my husband for Christmas in 2001 (I wrote an inscription on the inside cover). I've made a lot of the cookies in this book, but this one may be my favorite.


For the curd:
  • 2 large whole eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • finely grated zest of 2 large lemons
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
For the cookie dough:
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsps fresh lemon juice


For the curd: In a heavy, nonreactive (non-aluminum, typically) pot, combine the curd ingredients. Whisk continuously while bringing the curd to a boil. Let it boil for a minute (keep whisking). Then remove the pot from the heat and keep whisking for another 30 seconds. Strain the curd (you may need to help it along through the strainer with the back of a wooden spoon) and let it cool completely. The curd can be made up to 4 days ahead of time.

For the cookies:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare baking sheets (grease or cover with parchment paper or silpats).
  • Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Make sure everything is evenly mixed together. 
  • In a stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until it's very light and fluffy.  
  • Add the egg, 1 tablespoon water, vanilla, and lemon juice to the sugar-butter mixture. Keep beating until these are thoroughly mixed in. 
  • Reduce the speed to slow and mix in about half the flour mixture. Then slowly add the rest of the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. 
  • Shape the dough into a little ball (about 1 1/4 in) by rolling a piece of it in the palms of your hands. (Using a small scoop would be useful here to keep the balls evenly sized and the right size; I always make these too big!)
  • Place the ball of cookie dough on the cookie sheet. With your thumb, press into the center of the ball until a well is formed and the dough sort of flattens out into a cookie-like shape. Don't push all the way through the dough.
  • Place about 3/4 tsp of the lemon curd in the well.
  • Repeat until you have used all the dough. (You may have some curd left over. Like I said, I always make these too big, so I end up with a lot of leftover curd. But you could put that on toast, or cake, or something. Or eat it with a spoon. Whatever makes you happy.)
  • Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 10-13 minutes. Turn the baking sheet about halfway through the baking time so that the cookies bake evenly. Let them cool on wire racks. 
  • Nancy Baggett warns that these cookies should be eaten fairly quickly because they grow softer after a few days. So far that hasn't been too much of a problem.    

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two-potato hash with ham: Fall comfort food

I try to plan meals. I really do. But I end up improvising dinner far more often than I'd like to admit. And some nights, I have a plan to try something new and perhaps a little healthier, but find myself craving something comforting. Especially on a cold night like tonight.

Hash is the perfect food for cold nights. It's the food equivalent of your oldest, most comfortable sweats; a soft blanket; and a good book. And I've almost always got something I can use to improvise a decent hash.

The key to a good hash is balance. It should have a bit of this and a bit of that. A little bitter or mild to play against something sweet. Some salt from bacon or ham. The vegetables should be cut pretty small, but not so small that they lose their individual characteristics altogether. And of course, a good hash is incomplete without a fried egg or two with runny yolks to break and bring all those nicely roasted vegetables together into the perfect bite. I've just had a bowl and am still craving more, but I have to leave some for my sweetheart (oh the agony!).

This particular version of hash includes sweet and regular potatoes and ham. However, hash can have lots of different things, and it's a great way to clean out any root vegetables that are slightly past their prime (at the end of the post, I have some suggestions for variations).

I like to start the hash off on the stove top while I dice the vegetables and then finish it in the oven, and my beloved cast iron skillet lets me do that. Make sure that whatever pan you use is safe to use in the oven.


  • 2 Tbsps vegetable oil (whatever your preference, lately I've taken to using avocado oil)
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 2-3 medium potatoes (my preference is yellow, but any potato on hand will work fine), cut into 1/2 inch dice (peeled or not, your call)
  • 1-2 small, medium sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch dice (peeled, generally, sweet potato skins are very thick)
  • 1/2 lb ham steak, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • smoked paprika
  • thyme
  • salt and pepper 


The nice thing about making hash is that you can cut vegetables as you go, and that's usually what I do. (In other words, you don't need to dice everything before you get started.)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (F).
  2. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium low heat. 
  3. Chop the onions and add them to the pan. Stir a few times and let them cook slowly until they are slightly shiny, about 5-10 minutes. 
  4. Meanwhile, cube the ham and add it to the skillet. 
  5. Next, cube the potatoes and sweet potatoes and add them to the skillet. Start with the potatoes because they need just a little longer to cook. 
  6. Let everything get a little brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Then season with smoked paprika (about 1/2 tsp or to taste), a generous sprinkling of thyme, and some pepper.
  7. Slide the pan in the oven and let the vegetables roast for 30-40 minutes. Stir at least once about halfway through the cook time. 
  8. When the vegetables are cooked through and a little brown and crispy around the edges, the hash is ready. Season with salt and more pepper and serve with a sunny-side up egg (or two).


I almost always include a few potatoes, but feel free to switch up the rest of the vegetables (or add more). The quantities are whatever fits somewhat comfortably in the pan. I like having a distinctly sweet vegetable matched with a more bitter one, here are some examples:

  • sweet potatoes
  • golden beets (red ones will work, but they will make a red mess of your hash)
  • brussels sprouts
  • kale, chopped (add at the last minute before sliding into the oven)
  • turnips
  • carrots
  • parsnips.
You can also mix up the protein. I love bacon in hash and let the fat melt into the onions before I add any vegetables. Other options are to add some leftover turkey (Thanksgiving is coming up soon) or chicken.

The quantities don't matter, and the hash isn't always perfect, but it's almost always deeply satisfying. I love the improvisational character of it, the add a bit of this, and some of that, and see how it turns out.   

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Autumn Comfort: Cream of Cauliflower Soup

I haven't posted in an age. And the longer the time stretches out since that last post, months and months ago, the harder it gets to start writing again. Blogging is chock full of do's and don'ts. Experts all around explain the importance of SEO, of building community, of being consistent, of being yourself, of strategy, and on and on and on. All the rules overwhelmed me. Every post turned into a challenge to do something different, something that stood out from the pack, or really expressed who I am deep down as a person, or showed my marvelously quirky personality. As though I really know myself all that well and can express it in pretty pictures and words or am all that quirky and visionary and unique.

But I want to write. I want to think about things that I care about and express ideas about them, whether they be food, art, literature, nature, or the thousand other things that are dreamt of in my philosophy. I think I need to get away from the do's and don'ts and start over. I need to post imperfect pictures, meander to and from my topic, and simply enjoy this blog again. It won't be perfect. It won't always be about food (perhaps it will rarely be about food). Hopefully it will be fun, thought provoking, funny, informative, and interesting for me and for you, dear reader.

I am starting back with a recipe today. This one is for homemade cream of cauliflower soup, a rich, creamy dish that still warms the air here after dinner. When I was a child, my favorite soup was cream of cauliflower soup made with a powdered soup mix from the store in Sweden. I've never found that kind of soup here in the United States, and even if I had, I rarely make anything packaged now. But I wanted my son to try this soup because I always loved it so, and I thought he might as well. I've tried a few different recipes, but I think this one is perfect. It makes a rich, smooth soup that's warm and mild, as pleasing as a warm bed on a cold morning. It is also surprisingly simple for how good it is. The recipe derives from a recipe in The Joy of Cooking, the old classic cookbook (incidentally one of the first Christmas gifts my husband ever gave me; that first copy disintegrated about a decade ago).


  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into coins
  • 1 large head cauliflower, cut into about 1-inch pieces (trim off any leaves and the woodiest part of the stem)
  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or broth)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
  • dried or fresh finely chopped parsley
  • salt and white pepper        


  1. Melt the butter with the water in a large soup pot. (By the way, the water is there to help keep the onion and garlic from burning or turning too brown, which will affect the appearance of your soup.)
  2. Cook the onion and the garlic in the butter-water mixture over medium-low heat until the onions are very soft (but not burnt or browned), about 10 minutes. 
  3. Add the carrots, cauliflower, and stock or broth to the pot. 
  4. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let the vegetables simmer until soft, about 15-20 minutes. 
  5. If you have a stick blender, now is the time to use it. Blend the soup until very smooth. (If you don't have a stick blender, you can use a blender or a food processor just as well. Just be careful to blend the soup in batches so it doesn't overflow or explode. Hot soup can hurt. When you have blended the soup to a smooth consistency, return it all to the pot and return the pot to the stove.) 
  6. Add the cream and parsley to the soup and season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  7. Serve the soup hot with toasted bread and cheese for a nice winter meal. Also, if you have any leftovers, this is a good soup to pack for a school lunch with some crackers. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Reflections on winter and a bowl of beef stew with Guinness and bacon

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

- Rainer Maria Rilke, The Duino Elegies (1)

Snow came down last night, leaving pretty patterns on the brick patio in the back yard. A cold, raking wind also scoured the world, now alternately lit too brightly to bear or cast in gray gloom, under scudding clouds. A winter day to burrow into the soul and reflect.

Rilke's poem calls beauty the beginning of terror that we are just able to bear; this terrible beauty is like winter. Winter is the country of sorrow and cold, silent magic. Winter flays us bare as it does the trees. Cold winds scour the soul, exposing rock, snapped branches, the bones of our architecture. 

A deep, cold, and savage beauty exists only in winter, but we must have courage to stop and look at it, to let the blinding light fill up the cavities of our eyes and brains, to take in the bleak landscape, stripped to its wild, naked, indifferent truth. We can only bear to look at it for a short time, to allow the terror of beauty to howl over us like a wild windstorm, until it's time to come inside, into the warmth of home and family, and have a bowl of stew.

Beef stew with Guinness and bacon

This stew is perfect for a cold winter day. I've slightly adapted the recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook's (2) recipe for carbonnades a la flamande. It is rich and hearty and exactly what you want when you are cold and hungry. I served it with some kale-mashed potatoes, but you can serve it over rice, or with noodles, as long as it's something that can soak up the incrediblly rich and delicious gravy. I definitely recommend using grass-fed beef. To find sources, check out Eat Wild, a fantastic source for information about grass-fed meats all over the country. 


  • 4 slices bacon, sliced thinly
  • 3 large onions, sliced thinly
  • 3 pounds stew beef, preferably grass fed, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsps flour
  • olive oil as needed
  • 16 oz. Guinness beer (most of one large bottle, either drink the rest or save it for another day)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon beef bouillon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsps sugar
  • 3/4 tsps salt
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 2 Tbsps red wine vinegar 


Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit). In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until it's crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and put it in a Dutch oven.

Add the thinly sliced onions to the pan and let them cook until they are softened and a bit browned. Add the onions to the Dutch oven. Add some olive oil to the pan and brown the beef cubes in batches. (Be sure to give the beef plenty of room to brown all the way around. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed.) Add the browned beef cubes to the onions and bacon in the Dutch oven. 

Add two tablespoons olive oil and two tablespoons flour to the pan. Let the mix cook until a bit brown. Slowly add beer, water, bouillon, bay leaf, sugar, salt, thyme, and pepper to the pan. Let the mixture cook until it thickens slightly. Add it to the meat and onions in the Dutch oven. Stir it all together, cover, and let it cook for 1.5-2 hours, stirring occasionally. After removing it from the oven, stir in two tablespoons red wine vinegar. Taste for seasoning and serve. 

(1) Rilke, Rainer Maria. (1989). "The First Elegy." The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell. New York: Vintage International. 
(2) Carter, John Mack, Minda W. Mulvey, and Mary E. Powers, eds. (1989). The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, revised edition. New York: Hearst Books.