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.

Video: Easy roasted vegetables.

Looking for a quick and delicious side dish recipe for Thanksgiving? Look no further than this video recipe I helped create for The Christ Hospital’s Healthspirations website:

Awesome Thanksgiving appetizers.

If your family is like mine, the pregame action on Thanksgiving Day is a big deal. There’s this whole meal-before-the-meal thing going on, with a massive spread of nibbles to tide us over before the turkey comes out of the oven. Dips, shrimp cocktail, cheeses and charcuterie, the whole shebang.

If you, like us, are traveling to the big feast and asked to bring an appetizer, or if you’re hosting and need just. one. more. thing. for your spread, check out this library of great (and easy) Thanksgiving appetizers.

winter salad with arugula, butternut squash and blue cheese recipe | writes4food.com

Fall salad with butternut squash, arugula and blue cheese.

Now that (sigh) we’ve passed beyond summer tomato season, my salad tendencies are trending toward more seasonally appropriate produce like arugula, root vegetables and squashes.

Repeat after me: Salad is not a pile of iceberg lettuce drowned in Italian dressing. Salad is NOT a pile of iceberg lettuce drowned in Italian dressing. 

No, salad is a well-composed assemblage of the freshest seasonal vegetables, including lettuce or not, in homemade salad dressing. Salad is this: Lightly steamed matchsticks of butternut squash on a bed of peppery arugula with creamy blue cheese and a simple shallot vinaigrette.

I’m thinking this salad would be a lovely accompaniment to the traditional Turkey Day spread, very much of the season and a lighter, brighter foil to the mashed potatoes and stuffing.

Pick up all the local produce you’ll need to compose a beautiful, seasonal salad at your favorite farmers’ market this week!

winter salad with butternut squash and arugula

(serves 4)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1 package baby arugula, washed and spun dry
Handful of toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds
2 ounces good blue cheese (I prefer Maytag for its balanced flavor and creaminess)
Simple shallot vinaigrette (see below)

Slice the neck of the squash into matchsticks; transfer them to a steamer basket set over boiling water and steam the squash until it loses its raw taste and is cooked but firm (and not breaking apart), about 5 minutes. Remove the steamer basket carefully from the pot and run cold water over the squash to stop the cooking.

Place the arugula in a large bowl and season it lightly with salt and pepper; drizzle over about a third of the dressing and toss to coat. Portion the salad onto four salad plates; scatter some of the butternut matchsticks, pepitas or sunflower seeds and crumbled blue cheese over each serving. Drizzle with additional dressing if you’d like.

simple shallot vinaigrette

1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon or whole-grain mustard
1/2 teaspoon finely minced shallot
3 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

homemade egg noodle recipe | writes4food.com

Grandma’s homemade egg noodles.

My grandmother, Dorothy, is still going strong at 95. And while she doesn’t cook like she used to, she remains one of my biggest inspirations for cooking and gardening. Thinking of her today prompted me to share one of my favorite recipes she passed down to me: homemade egg noodles.

These homemade egg noodles work beautifully in a pot of chicken soup, of course, but they also substitute for homemade pasta (in Italy, egg pasta is called pasta all’uovo or pasta fresca). I roll the dough out by hand, without a pasta machine, because a) it’s easy, and b) it’s how Grandma always did it.

As the weather cools, it’s time for a batch of homemade noodles to go alongside the remains of a roast chicken or some vegetable Bolognese sauce, don’t you think?

homemade egg noodle recipe

serves 4

2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1–3 teaspoons water

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and the salt together. Place the flour in a large bowl, and make a well in the center. Add the egg/salt mixture and stir with a fork to combine. Add 1 teaspoon of water and stir to combine. If the dough feels dry or crumbly, add more water a few drops at a time. Dig your hands into the dough and knead for 2 or 3 minutes to combine thoroughly, adding more water or flour if needed to create a smooth dough that's slightly tacky. Transfer the dough to a flour-dusted pastry cloth and divide it into thirds. Turn the mixing bowl over the dough to cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes. Take one portion of dough and dust it liberally (and the pastry cloth) with flour; roll it into a large circle that's as paper-thin as you can get it. If the dough seems too stretchy and doesn't want to roll, let it rest for another 30 minutes. Repeat rolling the other two portions of dough. Set the rolled dough rounds aside on paper towel to dry. The dried dough should feel slightly leathery: rough on the surface but still pliable. When it reaches this point, roll each round into a cylinder and cut the dough into 1/2-inch strips. Unfurl the noodles and place them on a rimmed baking sheet to dry, preferably overnight, tossing occasionally to ensure even drying. To store your homemade egg noodles, place them in a zip-top plastic bag; they'll keep well for 6 months. Cook the noodles for 5 to 8 minutes in well-salted boiling water.

hearty vegetable bolognese recipe | writes4food.com

All-vegetable ‘Bolognese’ pasta sauce.

Around here, summer has … stretched … out … well … past what we’re accustomed to. We’ve had a few cool overnights, but in the middle of October, it’s still near 80 degrees this week. Tomatoes are still abundant at the farmers’ market. And yet, I’m ready to start eating a little heartier.

This vegetable-centric Bolognese pasta sauce fits the bill. It’s not technically ‘Bolognese’, of course — the meat-based pasta sauce, or ragù that originates in Bologna, Italy. Made with ground beef, aromatics (celery, carrot, onion) and canned plum tomatoes, Ragù Bolognese over hot cooked pasta is the ultimate comfort meal. This nearly vegetarian Bolognese has tons of flavor, thanks to lots of mushrooms, and a satisfying heartiness thanks to butternut squash. (Make it totally vegetarian by omitting the pancetta.)

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients — this is easy to put together with help from your trusty food processor. Make a big batch this weekend; it freezes beautifully.

vegetable bolognese pasta sauce recipe

serves about 8

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 (1/2-inch) slice pancetta, cut into chunks (optional)
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped butternut squash
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves
6 ounces cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
1 pound dried pasta (rigatoni or farfalle), cooked according to package directions

First, place the dried porcini in a bowl and pour the hot water over; let sit to soften. Place the chopped carrot and butternut squash in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; process until evenly and fairly finely chopped. (You want pieces roughly no bigger than peas.) Transfer to a bowl. Place the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the processor and chop similarly. Transfer to another bowl. Do the same with the cremini mushrooms; transfer to a bowl. Finally, process the pancetta until it resembles coarse ground beef.

In a large stockpot or sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering; lower heat to medium-low and add chopped pancetta. Cook, stirring often, until the pancetta browns (watch that it doesn't burn). Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add the chopped carrot and squash. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add chopped onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, oregano and bay leaf; cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, another 5 minutes. Strain the porcini mushrooms (reserve the liquid and strain out any dirt or sand) and chop; add them with the cremini mushrooms to the pan; add 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and a generous pinch of ground pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes more. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the wine, mushroom soaking liquid and canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the sauce thickens and turns a deep, rich red, about 30–40 minutes. Add the mascarpone cheese and stir to combine.

Toss the vegetable bolognese with the cooked pasta. Dish out servings and top each with some sliced basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.