Nostalgic Cookie Stars

Remember those Barnum’s animal crackers that came in the little box printed like a circus wagon and with a string handle?

When I was a kid, those were my favourites. Mum used to let us kids get a box when she did the weekly grocery shopping (no doubt a ploy to keep us quiet), and I can still remember trailing her through the store carrying my little box of cookies.

This week, I found a cookie recipe that evokes those animal crackers. From the most beautifully designed cookbook I’ve ever seen–The Gourmet Cookie Book–these Moravian White Christmas Cookies are stars.

The recipe makes a huge number of cookies, and the dough is not the easiest to work with. Make sure it is well chilled before rolling, roll it in small batches on a well-floured board, and give yourself plenty of time.

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp sherry (I used brandy)

Cream butter. Add sugar gradually and beat until light. Add eggs and continue to beat. Combine dry ingredients, and add them alternately with the sherry. Chill several hours.

Roll dough to 1/16 inch (seriously–the thinner the better) and cut with cookie cutters. Bake on a greased baking sheet at 450°F for 7 minutes (I found that the cookies burned at this temp/time combination–keep a close eye on them and pull them out when they begin to brown).


Giant Pumpkin

I made pumpkin soup for dinner yesterday. I chose to use a jumbo pink banana squash for it, because their flesh is quite moist–perfect for soup.

I like to bake my pumpkin when I use it for soup. I cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake the halves, cut side down, on an oiled baking sheet. I tuck a few garlic cloves into the hollow under one half, and end up with beautifully roasted garlic for the soup.

The only problem is that the pink banana squash really are jumbo. I knew the largest one wouldn’t fit into the oven, so I chose the next largest one. I barely managed to squeeze both halves in together. For the soup, I used only one of the halves, and it made enough for two meals.

That’s some serious pumpkin!

A Bite of Summer for the (winter) Solstice

I’ve been celebrating the winter solstice in little ways all week–candles at dinner, an extra log on the fire, sunny-coloured food on dark plates…Yesterday I pulled out the last of the blackcurrants to make blackcurrant tarts for dessert.

I’d been saving them for a special occasion, and I thought the solstice was an appropriate one, since the blackcurrants were picked and frozen around the summer solstice.

Biting into one was like biting into a piece of summer–bright and sharp.

In case you missed my blackcurrant pie recipe from 2015, check it out here. It is incredibly simple, and oh-so good! In summer, it goes particularly well with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. In winter, I recommend a cup of strong coffee, some whipped cream, and a crackling fire.


Black Bean Quinoa Burgers

I love burgers made from all sorts of things. At this time of year, most of our burgers are bean based, and most are made up as I go, with whatever’s in the house.

Bean burgers require some thinking ahead, but this recipe makes enough that it’s worth the extra work.

2 cups dry black beans
1 cup quinoa
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 Tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
handful fresh cilantro
2 eggs

Boil the beans ahead of time in plenty of water until soft. Drain and mash cooked beans in a large bowl (I use a potato masher for this). Cook the quinoa in 2 cups of water until the water is absorbed (10-15 minutes). Finely chop the onion and garlic. Sauté them in 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil until the onion is translucent. Grate the carrot.

Add all ingredients except the eggs to the mashed beans and stir to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly.

Form into patties and place on a well oiled baking tray. Bake at 210°C (400°F) for about 25 minutes, flipping the burgers after 15 minutes.

Makes about 18 burgers. Freeze the leftovers for quick mid-week meals.

The Season for Food Porn

A spread of summer vegetables ready for grilling.

I roasted the last of the summer’s potatoes last week, and finished off the carrots over the weekend. The corn I froze in March and April is already a memory, as are the cherries, apples and blackcurrants.

We’re getting to the boring time of year, when our vegetable options are limited, and we eat a lot of beans. It’s not a problem, but it means it’s a great time to enjoy food porn. Here are just a few of my favourites.

Waffles smothered in strawberries

Roast summer veggies

Soy, parmesan-crusted zucchini sticks, watermelon, and breadsticks dipped in a rich tomato sauce.

Tomatoes ripe and flavourful

Apricot upside down cake

Homemade strawberry ice cream

Pumpkin Pizza

Ordinary pizza on the left, pumpkin pizza on the right.

I tried something yesterday that I’ve been thinking of for a long time. I’m sure that if I googled it, I’d find millions of people who had already done this, but for me it was new.

When we make pizza, we always make two–we eat one, and put the other in the freezer for a quick mid-week meal. So when we made pizza last night, I decided to make one of them a pumpkin pizza. I figured if it was awful, we could at least eat the other one.

It wasn’t awful.

In fact, it was incredible.

Here’s what I did…

3 1/2 cups cooked winter squash, mashed (I used kabocha squash–you want something with dry flesh so your pizza doesn’t end up too soggy)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
fresh sage and thyme to taste
1/2 tsp salt
50 g blue cheese
grated edam, mozzarella, or other mild cheese

Chop and sauté the onion and garlic in 2 Tbsp olive oil until the onion are translucent. Add chopped herbs toward the end. Mix into the winter squash along with salt.

Spread this mixture evenly over the rolled-out pizza dough. Crumble the blue cheese and dot it over the surface. Top with grated cheese of your choice and bake as for any other pizza.


Rainy Day Cookies

Yesterday was a squally southerly. Not much fun to be outdoors, but at least there were moments when it wasn’t raining, and the sun even peeked out for about thirty seconds.

But today, that southerly has settled into an all-day heavy, driving drizzle. Looks light, but soaks you through in minutes.

Cabin fever has set in on this long weekend.

So it was time to bake again. Something involved. These subtly flavoured crunchy oat thins were just the thing. The difficult-to-work-with dough took extra time and care to mix and roll out. The fragile unbaked cookies had to be handled with care. And the filling of them to create beautiful sandwiches had to be done with gentle precision.

Not a cookie to make when you’re rushed for time.

But a wonderful rainy-day creation.