Holiday Dining: Eating In

by Lisa


We are, when it comes to Christmas menus, a family of traditions.  Though the side dishes and exact preparation may change from year to year, if my mother, my sister, or I are cooking, the meal is alway anchored by a beef filet. It’s a really expensive cut of meat, but our gatherings are usually smallish, and it is the only time of the year when we buy it, and our men folk wouldn’t have it any other way.  The past two years, serve it with tomato confit, which is so versatile, that it deserves its own post.

This year, we had a small feast with our family of four and my husband’s parents. I woke up, or was woken up, at 6 am by my daughter, whose excitement knew no bounds, and after presents and a little bit of prep work, I went back to sleep until 1 pm, and the guests arrived shortly thereafter.  What with all the LEGO to build and new crafts to play with, the kids unbeknownest to me, were not fed lunch.  At about 2:30 pm when I put out the fegatini and bagna cauda, Ella was so hungry and tired she could barely eat. But she did.  Finley did not, so when dinner rolled around, he sat and ate 3 helpings of spinach,2 of truffled mashed potatoes, and 2 healthy portions of meat. Not that I’d recommend starving your 5 year old, but this year it was an effective, if inadvertant strategy for a peaceful dinner time.  We had a really lovely time, and the food was delicious.


The amuse bouche: diced chiogga and red beets, dressed with olive oil, white balsamic, garnished with baby arugula, goat cheese, and fleur de sel


Pioppini, chanterelles, and baby shitakes sauteed in butter, olive oil, shallots and thyme


Bloomsdale spinach with garlic, meyer lemon and black cypress salt


Yukon Gold potatoes with a lot of butter, a little whole milk, finished with white truffle oil and fleur de sel


The crowded but cozy table

Making Cookies, Making a Mess

by Caroline
I was sharing some of my food writing with a friend recently — mostly stories of cooking with my kids — and she started shaking her head in wonder. “This is just so foreign to me,” she said, “All of your kitchen stories are so. . . happy.”

I reminded her I do have it easy right now, since Tony and I both work from home and have flexible schedules that mostly eliminate the dinner time rush, the source of so much stress and anxiety for so many parents. I do what I call the “accessory cooking,” the fun stuff, on which nobody’s health and well-being rely. But I have to acknowledge that for the most part things do go pretty well in my kitchen — things don’t get burned; things come out tasting good; nobody shouts at each other– and I have been thinking about why that is. Maybe because I learned to cook from my parents, who weren’t too stressed out about cooking (I’ve mostly written about my mom in this context, but will have stories soon about my dad’s calm competence in the kitchen, including the time he and I exploded baked potatoes). And maybe, and I do think this matters, it’s partly because I don’t fret a whole lot about how the end product looks. I put a lot of stock in the love and good ingredients that go into a dish, and if the cake’s a little fallen or the cookies a little unevenly browned, well, it usually still tastes pretty good. And it probably means I was paying as much attention to my kids as the cake, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Some people can make beautiful food that tastes good while still being present to their children — but right now, at least, I can’t manage it. So I make forgiving cakes and crisps and big batches of candy and, this time of the year, the dreaded sugar cookie.

They’re a mess, but I cave in to the obligation to make cut out cookies this time of year because the kids love to decorate them so much.

Ben cutting out cookies

Ben cutting out cookies

Eli decorating cookies

Eli decorating cookies

more kids = more mess!

more kids = more mess!

there's no such thing as too much decorating sugar

there's no such thing as too much decorating sugar

one messy, joyful cookie plate

one messy, joyful cookie plate

Milk Punch

by Lisa

One of our favorite holiday traditions is Milk Punch. While the boys in the family could survive on Egg Nog and pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving until New Year, the girls here prefer Milk Punch, which is actually a traditional New Orleans drink.  We are not in the least bit southern, but more than a decade ago, the recipe I found in Food and Wine proved too good to resist, and I’ve been making it every year since.

Be warned:  this drink packs a punch.

If you serve it at a party, which we always do, make sure there are designated drivers. But, the beauty of it is that you can whip up a batch sans bourbon for the kids. They’ll love it.  It’s pretty and it smells delicious.

Generally , we have a pitcher of the real stuff and pitcher sans alcohol in the refrigerator in the week leading up to Christmas. If 2 batches seems excessive (but it isn’t because it is that good), you can keep a pitcher without alcohol and add the bourbon to taste as your pour your nightly glass.

We’re glad here for the rain. We need it, and it’s a good excuse to cozy up to the fire with a glass of pure joy.


Bourbon Milk Punch

  • 4 oz. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons bourbon (use what you like to drink)
  • Fresh grated nutmeg for serving

In a bowl, whisk vanilla and sugar. Slowly whisk in cream, milk, bourbon.  Chill for several hours. Serve with a grating of fresh nutmeg

Christmas Cookies: Pistachio-Cranberry Icebox Cookies

by Caroline

This is the third Christmas for this cookie recipe, which I found in Gourmet and love for all the reasons I love making candy: it’s quick, beautiful, and makes a lot.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (did you make candied orange peel? use your leftover coating sugar in these cookies to give them a bit more orange flavor)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
1/2 cup shelled pistachios (2 1/4 oz; not dyed red)
1/3 cup dried cranberries (1 1/4 oz)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup decorative sugar (preferably coarse)

Stir together flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until dough just comes together in clumps, then mix in pistachios and cranberries.

cookie dough

Gather and press dough together, then divide into 2 equal pieces. Form each piece of dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Square off long sides of each log to form a bar, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until very firm, at least 2 hours.

cookie bars

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Brush egg over all 4 long sides of bars (but not ends). Sprinkle decorative sugar on a separate sheet of parchment or wax paper and press bars into sugar, coating well. (Of course you can skip this step, and I often do. The cookies are perfectly delicious without the extra coating of sugar, but it does sort of add to the nice stained glass effect).

Cut each bar crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Arrange cookies about 1/2 inch apart on lined baking sheets.

cookies to bake

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, 15 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies from parchment to racks using a slotted spatula and cool completely.

I forgot to take a picture until we’d given most of the first batch away, but here are the last few, looking prettily Christmasy, I think, all studded with their red and green:


Christmas Candy: Salted Chocolate Pecan Toffee

by Caroline

In his recent New Yorker piece about cookbooks, Adam Gopnik writes, “…cookbooks have two overt passions right now: one is simplicity, the other is salt.” This recipe, originally published in Sunset magazine, offers both. The boiling sugar makes it a poor choice to make with the kids’ assistance; just let them stand back and watch in awe as you put more sticks of butter into one pot than they have ever seen you do before.

2 cups pecan halves
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or coarse sea salt

Have all the ingredients prepped and ready before you begin, because once the sugar reaches candy temperature, you need to move quickly. Also, keep a bowl of ice water near the stove just in case of accidents; sugar burns badly.

Preheat oven to 350°. Put pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 8 minutes. When cool enough to handle, chop roughly. Divide into 2 batches; chop 1 batch finely. Set both batches aside.

chopped nuts

Put sugar, butter, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. If you have any doubt about the size of your pan, go with a bigger one; you want to let the sugar bubble up quite a bit without having to worry about it boiling over.

bubbling butter

When butter and sugar are melted, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden brown and measures 310° on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.
cooked sugar

Remove from heat and carefully stir in vanilla (mixture will bubble up, so stand back as you pour, and/or wear oven mitts, just in case) and finely chopped pecans. Pour into a 10- by 15-in. rimmed baking sheet.

cooling toffee

Let toffee cool until set, at least 30 minutes. (For even pieces, you can score the toffee by cutting it with a sharp knife after it has set for about 10 minutes, scoring into 5 strips lengthwise and 8 strips crosswise to yield 40 pieces. Wipe knife clean with warm water after each slice for easier cutting.)

Chop chocolate and melt gently in a double boiler (this is where I break out my late mother-in-law’s beautiful copper and ceramic double boiler), but a metal bowl set over a saucepan of water, or the microwave, both work just fine, too.

melting chocolate

Pour melted chocolate over toffee; spread evenly with a knife or offset spatula. Sprinkle the chocolate with roughly chopped pecans. Let sit 20 minutes, or until chocolate is cool but still a bit soft. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Chill until set, about 1 hour.


Gently twist the pan to release toffee, then chop or break into chunks. Store in the fridge, if it lasts that long.