Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies

by Caroline

Using up the Thanksgiving leftovers is never a problem in our house. Maybe it’s because we’re typically only cooking for five, not fifteen or twenty as some of our friends. Or maybe it’s because we only cook things we really love — there are no obligatory platters of mashed turnips, just because Aunt Sally insists on them. So no matter the reason, our post-Thanksgiving ritual is not finding ways to get through that last bit of stuffing but, more typically, exclaiming with happiness about our Friday lunch plates of stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and caramelized pearl onions, and wondering why we don’t make these dishes more often.

An added wrinkle this year was the fact that Ben had spotted this recipe in a recent issue of Sunset magazine and became consumed with the idea of using our leftover cranberry sauce in cookies. We didn’t have any leftover cranberry sauce (partly because he eats it by the cup), but for him, I made an extra batch. The cookies are well worth it: a wonderful not-too-sweet shortbread, with a great tang from the cranberries. If you avoid nuts, just leave them out and the cookies will still taste great. I think these’ll become a regular part of our holiday cookie repertoire.

Sunset Magazine’s Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies

* About 2/3 cup cranberry sauce, drained
* 1 cup unsalted butter
* 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 1/2 cups flour
* 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
* Pinch of salt
* 3/4 cup pecan pieces


1. Heat oven to 350°. Whirl sauce in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds; set aside.

2. Beat butter and sugar together in the bowl of a standing mixer until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Add flour, spices, and salt, then mix on low speed until blended, scraping inside of bowl as needed. Stir in pecans.

3. Form dough into 1 1/2-in balls and set 1 in. apart on a greased baking sheet. Use your thumb to press a well into center of each cookie. Spoon about 3/4 tsp. cranberry sauce into each well.

4. Bake cookies until light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet.

Icing on the Cake

by Caroline

The World Series is over, our team won, and our black and orange meals won’t be baseball-related anymore — though they’re so seasonal, I’m sure they’ll continue.

But today, after a long and fabulous day at the Giants’ ticker tape parade, we didn’t have it in us to cook anything. We opted for dinner out at one of our favorite local places. The menu changes with the seasons (tonight I had a great lasagna with kale, roasted squash and hazelnuts) but retains enough standards that the boys — not the most adventurous eaters — can always count on their favorite salads and pasta. And we can always count on sharing a piece of ginger cake with pumpkin ice cream for dessert. It’s so good we don’t order the excellent chocolate cake. It’s so good the boys hold spoons ready to dig in the minute they see the waiter approach with our order. It’s so good I practically had to bribe the boys with extra bites so I could take a picture before it was devoured:

It’s so good the newspaper printed the recipe not too long ago, so luckily you don’t have to live in my neighborhood, or even my city, to enjoy this cake; here you go. Enjoy.

Buy Me Some Peanuts and…

Caramel Corn!

by Caroline

As I learned this week, thanks to the intrepid research assistance of friends and family, true Cracker Jack — whether you buy it at the ball park or make it at home to eat while cheering for your team — contains molasses. And while I’m always looking for ways to add iron-rich molasses to our vegetarian diet, I don’t love its flavor, which can dominate a dish. Especially a dish consisting primarily of popcorn.

So, we made caramel corn and it was fabulous. I looked at over a dozen recipes and made two different versions, and based on all that, think this recipe from Smitten Kitchen wins. Many recipes call for corn syrup or Lyle’s Golden Syrup, they call for shortening or margarine; while I do tend to stock those ingredients, I always have a much bigger supply of plain old butter and sugar (and butter just tastes better). Other recipes are fussier about the preparation of the caramel, too, but nothing could be easier than letting it bubble, unstirred, for ten minutes.

I love the addition of cayenne pepper in this recipe, which gives the corn a nice warmth without being too spicy, but if you’re sharing this with the kids, just leave the pepper out. Or, be like me and make two batches.

So here it is, straight from Smitten Kitchen:

Nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 cups salted peanuts (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see Note)
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt (see Note)

Lightly coat two large, heatproof rubber spatulas, a very large mixing bowl and two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray or a thin slick of oil.

In a large saucepan or pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the prepared bowl, removing any unpopped kernels. Toss with salted peanuts, if using.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper (if using).

Have the two large baking sheets ready. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2 cup water. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, 10 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking-soda mixture (the mixture will bubble up).

Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and don’t fuss if it doesn’t all come out of the pot — you’ll have plenty. Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together, as if you were tossing a salad, until the popcorn is well coated.

Spread the popcorn onto the baking sheets and quickly separate them into small pieces while still warm. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Once cool, store in an airtight container. More

Black & Orange Oreos for the Team

by Caroline

The other day we were brainstorming about foods we could make to celebrate our team — the San Francisco Giants — moving into the playoffs. Conveniently, their uniforms are a seasonal black and orange so we were thinking pumpkin muffins with chocolate chips (or chocolate frosting), and for dinner, black bean and sweet potato enchiladas. Lisa, always working the cocktail angle, suggested orange soda with black licorice straws, and of course we’ve already seen her gorgeous Giant Marys.

Then my friend Liz reminded me about the oreo cookie recipe I sent her long ago (and then promptly lost), and suggested making an orange filling. Perfect! Now, there are many recipes online for homemade oreos (including one that calls for devil’s food cake mix; hmmm), and most use an egg — which I’m sure makes a nice chocolate cookie; but, if you’re after the crumbly shortbread texture of the oreos of your youth, use this recipe (which Liz typed up and saved on her computer, thank goodness.) I’m sorry I can’t recall it’s source, so please, if you recognize it, let me know so I can offer proper credit!

“Oreo” Cookies

In a mixing bowl, beat till fluffy
1 cup room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar

In a separate bowl, sift together
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa*
1/2 tsp salt

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter to make a stiff dough. Remove from the bowl, knead a couple times on a lightly floured board to make sure it’s fully combined, then shape into a disk and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

To bake:
Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time and keeping the remainder cold, roll out to about 1/4” thickness. Cut into circles or whatever shape you desire, place on a cookie sheet, and bake 15 minutes or till firm. Cool on a rack. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

When cool, make sandwiches with the following filling:

1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter beaten till fluffy with
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar and
1/2 tsp. vanilla

*Note: I use half regular cocoa and half black cocoa (available from King Arthur Flour) for a real “oreo” color.

Celebratory Fruit Turnovers

by Caroline

We were watching the Giants/Braves playoff game Sunday afternoon with nothing to munch on but little bowls of peanuts (it was almost time for dinner; I’ve been sick for two days) when the boys started dreaming of how our snacks might improve as our team plays deeper into the postseason. “Crackerjack!” one shouted. “Yeah, homemade crackerjack!” “Sure,” I promised, “I’ll make homemade crackerjack if we’re playing for the pennant.” “And It’s-Its?” Eli asked, “It’s-Its for the World Series?” “Yes, I assured him, “It’s-Its for the World Series.

We are a long way from the World Series still, and the last time the Giants got that far Ben looked like this:

eight years ago...

But Sunday’s game went well, and as we turned off the TV and turned our attention to dinner, I looked around the kitchen to see what I could make to celebrate. There was a sheet of puff pastry in the fridge; I’d gotten it out of the freezer a couple days ago to make some savory apple, beet and cheddar cheese tarts, but then I came down with a stomach bug. While I was in bed, the beets got turned into soup and the cheese and apples got eaten, but the puff pastry was still ready for use. We had a bowl of ripe pluots on the table (probably the last of the season), plus an orange, so I turned the oven on to preheat while I improvised dessert.

I chopped up the pluots, sprinkled them with brown sugar and cinnamon, then zested the orange into the mixture. I rolled the puff pastry out and cut it into six pieces, spooned my filling into the center of each one, and crimped them shut with a fork. I didn’t have an egg for the egg wash (a couple days out of commission and our supplies start to run seriously low), but a little milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar worked just fine. By the time I was finished assembling the turnovers, the oven was hot and I slid the pan into bake. I tossed the remaining fruit filling into a saucepan to cook down into a chunky sauce. Half an hour later, our pluot turnovers were ready.

You won’t find these at any ballpark, but I didn’t hear any complaints on that score. We’ll plan a bit better for the games to come, and I’ll post recipes for some baseball-friendly snacks. In the meantime, this dessert served as a good reminder that it doesn’t take much advance thought or planning to come up with a nice finish to your meal. Obviously, we don’t all have thawed puff pastry ready to go at a moment’s notice — it was a first for me — but I could have just as easily (and quickly) made a fruit crisp; all you ever really need, as we find ourselves saying again and again, are a well-stocked pantry and some fresh produce. I’m looking forward to the next game already.