Buttery root vegetable mash.

If you’ve lately been to a winter farmers’ market in our area, you’ve seen abundant root vegetables and winter squashes on the tables. Root vegetables, with their underground growing habit, can withstand cold, blustery weather, especially if they’re cultivated in low tunnels or hoop houses that keep the ground from freezing and heaving out the roots. Squashes, harvested late last fall, are still delicious in all sorts of preparations.

All this produce fits beautifully on our plates right now, when it’s still chilly (well, today it’s going to reach near 70°) and we’re craving as much fresh flavor as we can get.

So this Root Vegetable Mash recipe is perfect.

I started with a recipe from Food & Wine for Braised Short Ribs with Root Vegetable Mash and made a few adaptations. The concept for the mash is simple: Sauté diced mixed vegetables in lots of butter, add liquid, then simmer until they’re tender and simply mash them with a fork. With more butter.

You can use any assortment of root vegetables and winter squash you’d like. I’ve made this with butternut squash, celery root, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes in various combinations. Do include celery root — its herbaceous flavor works really well in this dish.

This Root Vegetable Mash is a terrific side dish for roast chicken, grilled steak or the braised short ribs the original recipe calls for. While all these roots and squashes are available, give this a try!

root vegetable mash recipe

serves 4

4 pounds mixed root vegetables, at least 3 of the following: celery root, carrot, parsnip, sweet potato, golden beets (see Note)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Minced fresh parsley for finishing

In a large skillet, heat 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat until it's foamy. Add vegetables, garlic, thyme and bay leaves; cook, stirring to coat with butter, about 10 minutes. Season with salt. Add honey and stir to coat; cook 10 minutes more, until vegetables begin to soften nicely (some may cook more quickly than others). Add stock; bring to a boil and cook until vegetables are uniformly tender and liquid is almost completely absorbed, about 20 minutes more. Mash the vegetables with a fork; stir in remaining tablespoon of butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scatter minced parsley over the mash before serving.

Note: Parsnips are lovely in this recipe, but I find that some parsnips have a tough inner core that doesn't cook evenly and leaves crunchy bits in your mash. It's easy to spot this core: Quarter the parsnips lengthwise and remove it.

Blood orange French yogurt cake.

I lovelovelove a simple slice of cake, for dessert, sure, and also for a breakfast treat. Or an afternoon snack. Or a nibble right before bed. This recipe for Blood Orange French Yogurt Cake does the trick! Not too sweet, full of orange flavor and super easy to stir together, it’s a starter recipe for novice cake bakers and a staple for every home cook.

You can make this yogurt cake recipe with any kind of citrus, really: regular oranges, if you can’t find blood oranges (they’re in season right about now), Meyer lemons (!), regular lemons or limes. Blood orange juice makes the glaze a pretty blush color.

You could fancy this up with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a scattering of blood orange segments. Or just carve off a slice and eat it standing over the kitchen sink.

If you keep plain Greek yogurt on hand, then I’m betting you have everything you need to mix up this simple cake right in your fridge and pantry. Give it a try: It’s just the thing to restore your faith in, well, humanity and everything.

Blood Orange French Yogurt Cake Recipe

Serves 8

Bit of softened butter + flour for preparing pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated blood orange zest
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:
1– 2 tablespoons blood orange juice
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Rub butter on insides of a standard (8 1/2x4 1/4-inch) loaf pan; sprinkle with flour and shake to coat, dumping out any excess. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl, use your fingers to rub together sugar and orange zest until sugar is damp and zest is evenly distributed. Whisk in Greek yogurt, oil, eggs and vanilla. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the dry ingredients just until blended (some lumps of flour are OK; don’t overmix). Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until cake is browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes, then tip out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Whisk powdered sugar and orange juice together to make a pourable glaze; drizzle over cooled cake. Keeps well at room temperature; freezes well when tightly wrapped in plastic.

broken noodle bowl with broccoli-peanut pesto recipe | writes4food.com

Broken noodle bowl with broccoli peanut pesto.

Can we pause for a moment and look at how beautiful and colorful this healthy Broken Noodle Bowl with Broccoli Peanut Pesto is? I know bowls are *a thing* right now, and have been for awhile. This is exactly the kind of thing I’m craving for lunch: super flavorful, packed with bright vegetables and hearty enough to satisfy me at mid-day.

And I have to say: the chunky Broccoli-Peanut Pesto with a kick of chili garlic sauce is delish … and I can see it making a regular appearance in my kitchen this winter. I totally made up the recipe, and loved it. I envision it as a great add-in for fried brown rice with vegetables. It would be great spooned into a pan of scrambled eggs. My gluten-free friends could swap the buckwheat soba noodles for brown rice and do an Asian-inspired grain bowl. Need protein? Add sliced cooked chicken or quick-sauteed tofu.

I’m digging this Broken Noodle Bowl for lunch, but you could make dinner of it for 4 people by using 2 bundles of noodles and doubling up on all the vegetables (there’s enough pesto for a double recipe).

Crunchy, zingy, satisfying … give this one a try!

broken noodle bowl with broccoli pesto and crunchy vegetable recipe

makes 2 or 3 lunch servings, depending on how hungry you are

For the broccoli pesto:
1/4 cup lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts
1 clove garlic
2 cups (packed) lightly steamed broccoli florets
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1–2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon chili garlic paste (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper

Place peanuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to chop. Add broccoli, sesame and olive oil, 1 tablespoon water and chili garlic paste and pulse to create a chunky puree. (Add more water if needed for consistency.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the bowl:
1 bundle soba noodles broken in thirds
Assorted vegetables (as many and as much as you'd like), thinly sliced: snow peas, red pepper, cabbage, cucumber, carrot, scallion
Black and/or white sesame seeds for garnishing
Chopped lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts for garnishing

Cook soba noodles in boiling water according to package directions. Drain. While still warm, toss with about half the broccoli-peanut pesto to coat well, adding more if needed. Place half of noodles in a shallow bowl and top with vegetables; scatter sesame seeds and peanuts over. Or, toss everything together and pack into portable lunch containers.

cheesy butternut squash and wild rice bake | writes4food.com

Cheesy butternut squash and wild rice bake.

This is one of those recipes that seems healthy, what with all the brown and wild rice and butternut squash and so on. But oh, the cheese! Given the cheesiness of this delicious vegetable bake, I cannot vouch for its good-for-your-waistline-ness.

But lordy, did this Cheesy Butternut Squash and Brown Rice Bake hit the spot when I was craving something carb-y and comforting on a recent cold night. The recipe is simple, based on one of my most popular recipes for Broccoli-Brown Rice Bake (which is, itself, hacked from a mushroom casserole recipe on 101cookbooks.com). I used full-fat dairy when I made it the other night because I was cold and cranky (though you could certainly swap in part-skim ricotta and nonfat yogurt and not at all be sad about it). It cured both the coldness and the crankiness, letmetellya.

The base of this recipe is pretty adaptable; starting with the rice blend and egg/yogurt/ricotta mixture, I could see swapping in pretty much any steamed vegetable in place of the butternut squash: peas, red peppers, carrots or any root vegetable, zucchini, whatever’s in the rot drawer of the fridge. Use any good shredded cheese on top (and please, shred your own from a block or wedge instead of buying the packaged shredded stuff). Start with the recipe here, then experiment and expand.

Butternut and Brown Rice Bake recipe

serves 6

3 cups cooked brown-wild rice blend
3 cups steamed diced butternut squash
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried herb blend (I like Colonel De's 'Simon & Garfunkel')
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Fontina
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375°; spray a medium-sized baking dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine cooked rice, squash, parsley and herbs; season well with salt and pepper. In a small saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers; reduce heat to medium, add onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add onion and garlic to rice mixture; stir and let cool slightly. In a bowl, whisk together ricotta, Greek yogurt, eggs and nutmeg; whisk in a pinch of salt and pepper. Add ricotta mixture to rice mixture and fold to combine thoroughly. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Scatter grated Fontina and Parmesan evenly over the top. Bake 40 minutes, until casserole is bubbly; run it under the broiler to brown the cheese for the last 2 minutes or so if desired.

Christmas Cookie-palooza: Almond wreath butter cookies.

It isn’t really Christmastime for me until I break out the vintage cookie press and bake a batch of Almond Wreath Cookies. This butter cookie recipe is a tradition in my family; my mom and grandmother and I spent many a Saturday after Thanksgiving baking a double batch to take us through the holiday season.

I tinkered just the tiniest bit with the recipe when I made almond wreaths — earning, predictably, maternal wrath. As I was baking, I texted Mom a photo.

Mom: Looks like almond wreaths!

Me: You’ll say it’s sacrilege, but I flavored the dough.

Mom: You WHAT? How could you?

Me: An Italian vanilla-citrus flavor called Fiori di Sicilia. I love it in butter cookies.

Mom: Well, if you must …

To keep the peace, I baked another half batch the old way. But I really prefer the light citrus flavor of my version; the cookies taste like ones you’d buy at a fancy Italian bakery.

However you choose to make them, I hope you enjoy this, the last recipe of Christmas Cookie-Palooza 2017. Happy baking, and happy holidays!

Almond wreath cookie recipe

makes 4 dozen

1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening or solid coconut oil
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 whole large egg
1 egg yolk (retain white for decorating)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia OR 1/8 teaspoon orange extract + 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract OR 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Red and green candied cherries and silver dragées for decorating

In a small bowl, stir together the almonds, granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer) cream together butter and shortening or coconut oil. (NOTE: If you're using coconut oil, be sure the mixture is smooth with no lumps, which can gum up your cookie press.) Add whole egg, egg yolk and vanilla and stir to blend. Add flour and salt and blend until well-combined. The dough will be soft.

Preheat oven to 350°. Place half of dough in a cookie press fitted with the star tip. Press dough into a circular wreath, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. When you've pressed out a tray full of cookies, brush them lightly with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle with cinnamon-almond sugar. Cut candied cherries into tiny bits and place on the cookies to resemble holly and ivy, or use red cherries and a silver dragée to resemble a bow and silver bell. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until set and dry but not brown. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

raspberry hazelnut thumbprint cookie recipe | writes4food.com

Christmas Cookie-palooza: Raspberry hazelnut thumbprints.

This basic butter cookie dough is incredibly versatile: roll it out and cut it into shapes, form it into a log and slice (a better-for-you version of the slice ‘n’ bake cookies you’ll find in the grocery refrigerated case), or do as I’ve done here and form it into balls rolled in chopped nuts with a nubbin of raspberry jam. Flavor it with grated orange or lemon peel, poppy seeds or almond extract if you’d like.

These Raspberry Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies are quick to put together, and they store well at room temp for a few days or in the freezer for the month of December. Plus, they’re just pretty. At this time of year, when we’re all baking our brains out (you are too, aren’t you?), it’s nice to have something that doesn’t require much fuss but yields a tasty and eye-catching result.

raspberry hazelnut thumbprint cookie recipe

makes 4 dozen

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (or almonds or pecans, or any of the above)

Preheat oven to 350°; line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Blend in egg and egg yolk, then stir in vanilla. Stir in flour and salt to blend completely. Scoop teaspoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. Roll each ball in chopped nuts to coat, arrange on baking sheets. Press your thumb deeply in the center of each ball; fill indentations with jam (use two espresso spoons to make this easy). Bake until pale golden, about 12 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool cookies slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack.

chai spiced shortbread cookie recipe | writes4food.com

Christmas Cookie-Palooza: Chai shortbread.

IMO, every Christmas cookie assortment needs a shortbread: buttery, crisp, unassuming, a great foil for the iced cutouts and other fancies that get all the attention. This simple shortbread cookie recipe is spiked with warm chai spices — cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and a hit of black pepper — to bring a vibrant flavor to one of my favorite basic cookies.

You can cut these chai shortbread cookies into any shapes you want (trees or stars would be nice); I have sets of fluted square and round cookie cutters that I love for their simple elegance. Chilling the cutout shapes before baking helps them retain their perfect shape.

Be sure to stock up on fresh spices for this cookie recipe: they’ll make all the difference in flavor.

chai shortbread cookie recipe

makes about 4 dozen
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), cream together butter and brown sugar for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. In another bowl, whisk together flour, salt and spices; add to butter mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. Divide dough in half; on a lightly floured work surface roll one dough portion out to a round about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out desired shapes; reroll scraps and repeat with remaining dough. Place cookies on a baking sheet in layers between waxed paper, cover with plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350°; line two baking sheets with parchment. Place cookies on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake 12–15 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking, until cookies look dry but are not browned.

Pretty little focaccia rolls.

Rob and I enjoyed dinner at Nicola’s in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and one of many highlights of our meal was a glorious bread basket it was impossible to keep our hands out of. Most glorious were the golden, olive oil-brushed focaccia rolls with pretty vegetable toppings.

I have a good focaccia recipe (courtesy of my brother, Bill, owner and chef at Chicago’s award-winning Baker & Nosh), and decided to see if I could come close to re-creating Nicola’s lovely focaccia rolls. And I did … come close, that is. Mine aren’t quite as perfect-looking. But they’re mighty delicious.

Focaccia is a forgiving bread that’s easy to make if you’re a beginner. You want the dough to be soft and slightly tacky when it’s kneaded; it will stick to your fingers, but it shouldn’t be a gluey mess. The trick to shaping rolls is to lightly grip the dough ball with your hand like a claw, rolling it under your palm and curling your fingers underneath the dough to form a tight skin on the surface. If you’re new to bread baking, try making focaccia the more traditional way: in a rimmed baking sheet (see my recipe for sheet pan focaccia bread here).

Either way, this simple homemade bread will be a star at any holiday gathering this season!

Pretty little focaccia rolls recipe

1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup very warm water
Pinch of flour
Pinch of sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for finishing
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more for finishing
Toppings: thinly sliced onion, potato, red pepper or zucchini; sesame seeds, flaky sea salt, cracked pepper, fresh herbs

In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast and water; add a pinch of flour and sugar to feed the yeast. Let the mixture rest until it's very foamy (like the head of a beer); this may take up to 30 minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the dough hook, combine the flour and olive oil; add the water/yeast and stir just to combine. Sprinkle kosher salt over the dough and mix; then knead the dough for 3–4 minutes, until it is very smooth. The dough will be slightly tacky to the touch; if it's very sticky, add a bit of flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Scoop the dough out into an oiled bowl or lidded container and turn the dough over so it's well-coated with oil. Let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk — either overnight in the refrigerator or for 2–3 hours in a warm place.

Working on a lightly floured surface, divide dough into 16 pieces (about 2 ounces each). To shape rolls, lightly grip a dough ball with your hand like a claw, rolling it under your palm and curling your fingers underneath the dough to form a tight skin on the surface. Repeat with remaining dough; transfer to two rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment.

Preheat oven to 450°. Brush each roll liberally with olive oil. Top as desired, brushing vegetable toppings with more olive oil. Bake rolls for 7 minutes, then reduce heat and bake 20–22 minutes more, turning and rotating pans halfway through baking (drizzle rolls with additional olive oil halfway through, if desired). Let cool about 20 minutes before serving warm.

Christmas Fruicake Cookie recipe | writes4food.com

Christmas Cookie-Palooza: Fruitcake gems.

I’ve been publishing this recipe blog since 2010, and occasionally I’ll revisit old recipes that are a little wonky or that I’ve improved upon. This recipe for Christmas Fruitcake Gems falls into both camps. I first wrote about this recipe several years ago, but I found the instructions to be poorly written and the ingredients inexact. (Hey, I was new to this recipe blogging thing.) So I’ve adapted, updated and thoroughly bettered this recipe.

Most notably: with rum.

The rum, of course, is optional. But rum is a classic ingredient in traditional fruitcake, so I’d advocate for its inclusion.

What fruit and nuts to use in this Christmas fruitcake cookie? See the note in the recipe for what I used. Dried apricots are really nice; you could also use dried apple, golden raisins, dried cranberries, dried pineapple. Glazed (also called candied or glacéed) red cherries are a must. Pistachios or pecans (or both) are good; use roasted unsalted nuts.

These cookies have the perfect balance: not too sweet (yay, dark brown sugar!), full of lovely fruit and nuts in a tender cookie. These bear not the slightest resemblance to the leaden loaf-o-fruitcake that everyone avoids on the dessert buffet at Aunt Nellie’s house on Christmas Day. And, you know, rum.

Christmas fruitcake cookie recipe

makes 5 dozen

3 cups chopped dried fruit (see Note)
1/2 cup candied cherries, chopped
2 cups nuts of your choice, chopped
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter,  softened
1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark, or both)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°; line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss dried fruit, cherries and nuts with 1/4 cup of flour to coat (this keeps the fruit from sticking in a clump when you blend it into the dough). In another bowl, stir together the remaining 2 cups flour, salt and baking soda. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, blending after each addition; add vanilla and mix. Carefully add dry ingredients and mix on low speed to blend thoroughly. Carefully stir in fruit and nuts.

Drop dough by generous teaspoons prepared baking sheets; use slightly damp fingers to shape the dough into round, even mounds. Bake for 12–15 minutes — rotating pans and switching shelf position — until nicely golden. Cool slightly, then remove to a wire rack to fully cool.

Note: I used the diced fruit medley (dried peaches, pears, apples and apricots), glazed red cherries and roasted unsalted pistachios from Nuts.com in this recipe. Feel free to use your favorite dried fruit and roasted, unsalted nuts.

Christmas Cookie-Palooza 2016.

Hard to believe the end-of-the-year holidays are upon us. Where, exactly, did 2016 go? If you’re scratching your head in wonder at the speed with which this year has flown, I have two words to make you instantly feel better: Christmas cookies.

As in the past couple of years, I’m preparing a great Christmas cookie assortment to share with you between now and the 25th. In the meantime, here’s a roundup of Christmas cookie recipes from the archives.