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What's your Favorite Christmas Cookie that you give as a Gift?

A while back someone asked for the recipe for my all-time favorite holiday cookies, adapted from the winning recipe in a Washington Post cookie contest. Sorry--have been swamped with work of late and not much of a presence on the boards.

These are a bit like Linzer cookies--you could increase the resemblance by adding a bit of cinnamon, cloves, and lemon zest to the dough. The original recipe called for decorating the finished cookies with zigzags of melted chocolate, but I prefer a dusting of powdered sugar. Enjoy!

3/4 c. walnuts
1 1/4 c. flour
dash of sea salt
1/2 c. butter, softened
6 T. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. sieved apricot jam, apricot lekvar, or raspberry jam
1 T. Grand Marnier, Chambord, or other complementary fruit liqueur (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting

In a food processor, grind the nuts finely. Add the flour, salt, and sugar, and pulse to combine. Add the butter, cut into chunks, and the vanilla; pulse on and off till a crumbly dough forms.

Turn the dough onto a sheet of wax paper. Lightly knead the dough just to form it into a ball. Chill slightly, then roll between sheets of wax paper until it is about 1/8" thick. Cut into circles with a 2" scalloped round cutter. Reroll scraps--note that the fat content in this dough is so high that you can reroll without ruining the texture. If dough or unbaked cookies are difficult to handle, chill the dough again briefly.

Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets at 350 for 8 minutes, or until light golden brown. Cool on the sheets (they're fragile when warm). Then combine the jam and liqueur, if using. Sandwich two cookies together with jam in the middle and dust with powdered sugar. Makes about 20; recipe is easily doubled.

Dec 14, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

What's your Favorite Christmas Cookie that you give as a Gift?

Love the mice! Another kid-friendly idea, which I simplified from a Martha Stewart Kids magazine a few years back, is to make reindeer faces from smallish gingerbread men. Once they're baked, turn the gingerbread men upside down (head at bottom, feet at top). Spread melted semisweet chocolate on the head and then draw ears and "antlers" up the legs with chocolate--a bamboo skewer works well for this. Make the reindeer face using a cinnamon red hot for the nose and white chocolate chips dotted on the tips with dark chocolate for the eyes. If you want the antlers to look velvety you can dust them with a little white sanding sugar before the chocolate sets. Kids love these--and adults like the ginger-chocolate combo.

Thanks to Neuromancer for the recipe link.

Dec 12, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

Yes, Virginia: there is...Vietnamese in Amherst?

For years people in Amherst and Northampton have been waiting, hoping, and wishing for a Vietnamese restaurant north of Springfield/Hartford. Now it seems we've gotten our wish: Rumor has it that a little place called "Pho" has opened on Boltwood Walk, near Thai Corner. Not sure what, besides the eponymous noodle soup, it serves.

Has anyone been?

What's your Favorite Christmas Cookie that you give as a Gift?

Yes, I love the more exotic stuff, but you can't beat the classics. Snickerdoodles are one of my great 70s childhood food memories. I make them now for my daughter's more finicky friends--no one can resist!

Can you point me to the mini "Oreo" thread? That sounds like fun...

Nov 15, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

What's Your Secret Ingredient?

Hi, I usually don't but will sometimes bruise the pods a little to release some of the flavor. Most of the biryani and pilau recipes I have saute the rice in a little butter/ghee or oil; I throw the cardamom and any other whole spices in right at the beginning so they can infuse the oil a bit. Subtle, maybe, but it works.

Nov 15, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

Bittman's No-Knead Bread...Wow!

I made this bread with slightly too old SAF instant yeast and very nice organic bread flour with a protein content just slightly higher than King Arthur AP. As with someone else who posted earlier, the bread was a little flatter than I'd like, which I'd attribute to the age of the yeast as much as anything else.

One tip for people who are worried their available ceramic pots, Pyrexes, etc. can't withstand 450 or 500 degrees: I baked mine in enameled cast-iron but only at 400 degrees: 30 minutes with the lid, 30 minutes without, and liked the resulting crust and crumb just fine.

I love how this recipe makes good bread accessible to all of us on the cheap.

Nov 15, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

What's Your Secret Ingredient?

Chef chicklet: No, have never heard of the Banana Sauce, but I'm curious. What's in it? How does it taste--or are you waiting to try it?

Also, I am a big fan of garam masala and smuggle cardamom into just about anything I can--especially rice and chicken dishes and anything coffee-, tea- or chocolate-flavored.

Nov 08, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

What's Your Secret Ingredient?

I recently discovered the magic of orange zest in savory dishes: it lends a kind of mysterious brightness to both tapenade and braised beef or lamb.

Thanks to all for the great ideas...

Nov 02, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

What's Your Secret Ingredient?

I'm curious to know if other people have go-to ingredients they use to add a little extra flavor dimension to food. Some examples: nutmeg in creamy sauces or with various vegetables, lemon juice in or on almost anything, a little balsamic in a soup or stew.

Beyond salt and pepper, which can do good things for many dishes, what do you use? Is there an ingredient you added as an experiment, only to discover it took a favorite dish to new heights?

Oct 30, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

What's your Favorite Christmas Cookie that you give as a Gift?


This thread is full of great suggestions (and it's good to know there are so many manic holiday bakers out there, so I'm not alone). I'd just add a couple of choices that have been big hits with my friends and family:

Cherry Almond Biscotti (a Martha stewart living recipe)
Cranberry Pistachio Cornmeal biscotti (ditto)

Also, Real Simple has a wonderful recipe for gingersnaps made with an unusually wide array of spices and a big hit of chopped candied ginger. We have taken to called them "Turbo Snaps" in our house--they have a great chewy texture if you don't overbake them, and one batch makes 6 dozen, which is handy for quantity baking.

My hands-down favorite cookie involves two rounds of delicate, walnut dough (like shortbread but lighter and flakier) sandwiched around raspberry or apricot jam and topped with zigzags of chocolate. This is an old Washington Post recipe that I managed to hang on to. All my East European friends claim it's authentically from *their* home country, which must say something.

Oct 30, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

Not a diet - your small cooking changes that make a big difference?

These are all great ideas. Some others:

--no seconds--as others have suggested, plate the entree and sides in the kitchen and then pace yourself.
--I've started making my own low-fat soups. Carrots and butternut squash make great, creamy soups with little or no fat and they take to all kinds of creative spicing.
--if you snack in the morning and/or afternoon, be sure the snack includes some protein. One of my favorites is a smallish apple cut into quarters and spread with a tablespoon of peanut butter. I find if I eat nuts, I like them too much to stop, but somehow the peanut butter and apple combo works. Others: a hardboiled egg with salt or mustard; a small amount of low-fat Jarlsberg and a couple of heavy-duty, whole-grain crackers; yogurt with a little homemade applesauce.

Finally, I am a good baker and a complete baked goods junkie, so I (1) don't buy commercial baked goods and (2) don't make cakes, tarts, cookies, pies, etc. unless we have company or we're taking it to someone's house and I can count on not having leftovers. If half a cake is sitting in our kitchen, I know I'm going to chisel away at it a couple of times a day. Better if it's just a one-time, one-serving treat every once in a while.

Oct 17, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

good solo dining option in Arlington?

Thanks to all for some very good suggestions. I can tell I won't go hungry!

good solo dining option in Arlington?

I'll be in DC on business in a few weeks and need to find a tasty solo dining option in Arlington, convenient to a metro. Any suggestions?

I like all cuisines, but if pressed would prefer Vietnamese, Thai, or Mediterranean-ish flavors. Most important is a setting where someone dining alone will get decent service and not feel like a goldfish in a bowl.

PHO in CT....where do you dig it?

Jim, at Pho Boston try the house special spicy pho (I think it has "sate" in the name). It is chili-laced and tasty, with the contrast of fresh tomato and cucumber slices floating on top with the beef.

OK, what happened to my pesto?

Thanks to everyone for continuing to suggest ideas and remedies.

I think Floyd may have hit it on the head with the food science research. We recently started cooking with Barilla Plus pasta--it is whole grain with flaxseed and other virtuous things added to it, which may have triggered the reaction Shirley Corriher describes. As I mentioned, the stuff turned muddy brown on contact with the pasta, not before, so I think my storage methods, chopping techniques, and ingredients were not so much to blame.

Will try the lemon juice trick.

Oct 10, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

OK, what happened to my pesto?

Hi, pesto expert:

Thanks for the tips. The basil was dried before I used it but probably not 100%, so water is one possible culprit. I did not microwave the pasta--this was freshly cooked and the pesto just blended in at the moment it was to be served.

Since my original post, I made one more batch of pesto with a teeny bit of lemon juice. No massive discoloration as before, but this time the leaves I used, which were large and rather tough, didn't have great flavor. Perhaps pesto and I were not meant to be...

I think the best-tasting pesto I've ever made was with smaller leaves from Genovese basil plants. Will try again next summer before the plants get too big. For now, I'm concentrating on end-of-summer tomatoes: tomato-basil sauce and slow-roasted tomatoes in oil. We've had a great crop this year, and I have a good supplier for heirloom varieties that make excellent sauce.

Sep 22, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

Northampton - Amherst Asian - What's Good, Whats Not??

I second the Great Wall recommendation, and suggest that if you go there, you either order off the special gourmet menu or just throw yourself at the mercy of the hostess and ask her what's really good in the way of fresh veggies.

I am not a huge fan of Amherst Chinese but I do love their sauteed greens and the house-made noodles, which have a homey quality you won't find outside of a major city's Chinatown.

The Korean place on Route 9 is called Gohyang's. They keep raising their prices, but the quality of the food is high, it's consistently good, and there is a decent range on the menu. Their scallion pancake is a thing of beauty. Plus, the mom-and-pop owners are gracious and friendly--you really feel as if you're being taken care of.

And yeah, I'd give everything single Thai restaurant in the Pioneeer Valley for one half-decent Vietnamese place.

Something wonderful with almond paste and stone fruit?

Dordogne, there is a wonderful-sounding nectarine and frangipane tart in the September issue of Gourmet--bet you could use pluots or (next year) apricots, too. Was thinking of grabbing some nectarines and the can of almond paste in my cupboard and trying it out.

Sep 18, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

Looking for Something Good For Lunch in Northampton

I second Sylvester's for atmosphere and a diverse, creative lunch/brunch menu.

Other thoughts, listed from fanciest to plainest:

--Green Street (on, you guessed it) for French bistro with homegrown produce
--Zen on Main Street for well executed pan-Asian
--Woodstar Cafe on Masonic for creative sandwiches and great coffee and pastries

Have fun....

Old Orchard Beach Breakfast?

I think the place in Ocean Park you had in mind is now Yellowfin's--it's upscale and serves dinner only. I ate there once; it's good but not amazing, and I have to say I miss the breakfasts that used to be available.

The Soda Fountain in Ocean Park (in the very center of town, such as it is!) serves good breakfasts--but you don't need to leave OOB. Instead, check out Mary Anne's on Cascade Road.
Excellent pancakes, and it's full of locals and year-rounders.

OK, what happened to my pesto?

I second Funwithfood--I don't think parsley is a useful addition to pesto, and when I tried it in the past, it had no discernable effect on the color of the pesto. On the other hand, parsley and walnut pesto, made with Italian parsley and very fresh walnuts, is a decent fall/winter sauce.

I'll probably try Nosher's suggestion about vinegar rather than citric/ascorbic acid--our favorite farmer's market pesto has rice vinegar as a stabilizing ingredient.

On reflection, taking into consideration what everyone has said, I think there were probably two factors draining the flavor and spark out of my pesto: (1) the basil I used, while nice to look at and tasty enough in its fresh state, was just too mild-mannered to hold its own in a sauce. I've made pesto in previous years using the same proportion of basil by weight to pine nuts/oil/cheese and have had far more flavorful results, so I don't think the recipe itself is the problem. And then (2) when I refrigerated, I probably should have put the stuff into a Ziploc and squeezed out as much air as possible. Or topped my pesto with a more liberal coating of olive oil.

Aug 16, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

OK, what happened to my pesto?

Thanks, farmersdaughter!

I have made other herb-based sauces in a mortar and pestle. It takes a lot of patience, but if the oxidization of the basil is caused by contact with metal blades, as someone suggested earlier in the thread, then mortar and pestle pesto would probably stay green longer.

Aug 15, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

OK, what happened to my pesto?

True, but the SO complained so much about the lack of flavor in that last batch that I think we'll just rely on the (insipid) memory of it...

Pesto is truly one of those items about which people hold strong opinions. Speaking of which, does anyone have a good recipe for arugula pesto they'd care to share? That sounds good, and next month the arugula will be coming in at our market in a big way.

Aug 14, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

OK, what happened to my pesto?

Thanks, everyone--you have inspired me to hit the farmer's market this weekend and experiment: maybe one batch with Thai Basil and more assertive seasoning, one blanched, and one with some sort of citric acid goosing. Will report back on the Great Pesto Cookoff next week!

Aug 14, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

Boston -> Springfield -> Hadley -> Springfield -> Boston

Hi, Gini:

Esselon Cafe makes very good sandwiches, but I've never gotten them to go so don't know how well they package things, which could be a consideration if you're hiking first. For a wider selection of items you might try either the Whole Foods market on Route 9 in Hadley or Atkins Farms Market on Route 116 in Amherst, close to Hadley, South Hadley, and I-91. Whole Foods would be a good choice if your group includes vegetarians, as they have many vegan and meatless to-go items. Atkins has terrific local produce, a salad bar, a bakery with lots of portable goodies, and a deli that makes tasty, traditional style sandwiches. Also sushi, made locally by an itinerant sushi chef.

Check the archives for recent threads on Springfield Vietnamese restaurants. There are a couple of good ones, each with their partisans.

Have a great trip!

Ogunquit with kids - one non-seafood lover

Yes, I was thinking of the Blue Elephant. I haven't eaten there but walked by a couple years ago and thought it and the menu looked good. Sometimes a little ethnic food is a nice relief from New England cuisine--I say this as a longtime devotee of both!

OK, what happened to my pesto?

Thank you both--this is enormously helpful. I will trying freezing in Ziplocs, and using Thai basil.

Aug 14, 2006
lisacs in Home Cooking

Visiting Old Orchard Beach area; would like Chow suggestions

I second the Maine Diner in Wells (if you go after 7 the lines thin out, in my experience--Mainers eat early!). Another place in Camp Ellis to try is Huot's, right near Wormwoods (I actually prefer it for anything fried).

In Old Orchard itself (on Route 5, if memory serves) is the Lobster Claw, a classic lobster-in-the-rough place with oilcloth-covered picnic tables. You can get lobster, steamers, and the usual fried stuff there.

A great breakfast place (fabulous Maine blueberry pancakes)on Cascade Road in OOB is Mary Anne's. The place fills up early with contractors and locals--it's an excellent, off-the-tourist -track sort of place.

Ogunquit with kids - one non-seafood lover


If you've already done the Marginal Way and Perkins Cove one night, you might try the Maine Diner on Route 1 in nearby Wells. I just took my 10-year-old, non-seafood-eating daughter there, and she went nuts for the chicken pot pie. The restaurant grows its own veggies in a big adjacent garden. The menu has a good mix of seafood dishes, too, for the rest of you, prices are cheaper than in Ogunquit, and service is friendly and efficient.

There is also a good-sounding Thai place in Ogunquit, if that's of interest...

Recs for a casual lunch in the Holyoke/Northampton MA area

Hi, Lloyd,

In Northampton I really like Zen, a new pan-Asian place on Main Street, just after the Bridge Street underpass. The food is fresh, light, and well presented.

If you want a creative sandwich on artisanal bread, with excellent coffee as a bonus, try Woodstar Cafe, at 60 Masonic Street (if you're coming from I-91, head into town on Main Street, then make a right on Masonic. There is usually some on-street parking in the vicinity.

In Holyoke I can't make any specific recommendations, though I do know it's a good place to find both Polish and Puerto Rican mom-and-pop places.