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.

homemade roasted red pepper hummus recipe | writes4food.com

Low-fat red pepper hummus.

A few pita chips and a couple of tablespoons of hummus is my favorite afternoon snack. And while there are tons of options for purchasing hummus at the grocery, I find it’s just so easy (and cheap) to make my own.

In this lower-fat hummus recipe, I’ve added nonfat Greek yogurt to add tang and smooth texture. In place of tahini, I’ve used a splash of toasted sesame oil—so you get all that bold sesame flavor with less fat.

Try this next time you’ve got the afternoon hungries!

low-fat roasted red pepper hummus recipe

makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cans chickpeas
1 red bell pepper
1 large clove garlic
1 (7-oz.) container nonfat plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat broiler. Halve the bell pepper and remove seeds and stem; press with your hand to flatten. Place the pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until it's completely charred, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with the foil and let steam for 10 minutes. Peel and cut into large pieces.

Drain the chickpeas into a colander, rinse with warm water and peel them by squeezing each chickpea between your fingers to pop the bean out of the skin. Discard skins. In a food processor with the metal blade, combine the peeled chickpeas, roasted red pepper, garlic, yogurt, lemon juice and sesame oil. Process to a smooth and creamy puree, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

heirloom tomato and bean panzanella salad recipe | writes4food.com

Heirloom bean and tomato panzanella salad.

Last weekend, I drove Mom up to Dayton to introduce her to the joys and pleasures of shopping at Dorothy Lane Market. Then, we had an equally pleasurable lunch at Meadowlark Restaurant nearby. I utterly swooned over Meadowlark’s summer tomato panzanella salad, a gorgeous platter of vibrant vegetables, crusty artisan bread, fresh herbs and hunks of Parmesan. It was perfection. And I decided I’d try to replicate it at home. I think I’ve gotten close.

This Heirloom Bean and Tomato Panzanella Salad recipe starts and ends with the very best, ripest, most perfect summer produce. Like the Meadowlark version, it includes beans; in this case, I cooked up a batch of Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima Beans and tossed them into the bowl. (You could certainly use good quality canned cannelini beans if you don’t feel like cooking dried beans.) Finally, it finishes with a versatile Garlicky Parmesan Vinaigrette that will become a regular player in my homemade salad dressing repertoire.

The recipe below is more a guide; adjust the amounts based on how many folks you’re feeding, and whether you’re enjoying this Heirloom Bean and Tomato Panzanella Salad as a main course for lunch or a side dish with dinner. Use any herbs you have in your garden. Add as much dressing as you like.

However you do it, make this. Now. While summer tomatoes are still widely available.

P.S.: If you love Dorothy Lane Market as I do, plan to join me at the DLM Culinary Center on Wednesday, October 12, for my Fall Harvest Supper class!

heirloom tomato and bean panzanella salad recipe

First, cook your beans: Soak them overnight, or not. If your dried beans are pretty fresh, they'll cook fairly quickly, so soaking isn't imperative. Rinse the beans and pick out any debris. Place them in a large saucepan and cover with an inch of water. Add aromatics; I like cooking beans with Colonel De's Kentucky Bean seasoning, which contains dried onion, bell pepper, celery, carrot and herbs, using 1 tablespoon of seasoning per 1/2 pound of dried beans. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender but still toothy. For the Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima Beans pictured, that was about 70 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature.

Then, whisk together your Garlicky Parmesan Vinaigrette: Use a garlic press to press 1 clove garlic into a lidded pint jar. In a small saucepan, heat 6 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Pour warm oil over garlic; let cool. Add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan and salt and pepper. Cover and shake.

Meanwhile, prep your vegetables: Core and wedge heirloom tomatoes, preferably different varieties/colors. Halve cherry tomatoes. Cut a red bell pepper into big chunks. Toss in a large bowl with a big pinch of salt and let sit 30 minutes.

Make your croutons: Tear thick slices of good quality bread into big chunks (you'll want a generous half-cup of bread per serving. Toss on a rimmed baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil and a big pinch of herb-seasoned salt. Bake at 375° for 15–20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.

Finally, make the salad: About 10 minutes before serving, add a bit of Garlicky Parmesan Vinaigrette to the vegetables. Add croutons and toss gently to combine. Let the juices and dressing blend flavors and soften the croutons slightly. Add big chunks of Parmesan to the bowl. Finish with whole leaves of fresh herbs like basil, mint and parsley, and snipped chives. Season with coarse sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.

sweet and spicy red pepper jam recipe | writes4food.com

Sweet-spicy red bell pepper jam.

“Sometimes I think you make things just so you can use your cute little Weck jars,” said Rob.

“Right,” I said. “And the problem is …?”

This Sweet-Spicy Red bell Pepper Jam recipe isn’t just an excuse to use those cute little Weck jars. It stems from a memorable meal we had at Scopa in Healdsburg, CA, on vacation months ago. An appetizer of toasted rustic bread, housemade burrata and Calabrian red pepper jam started our meal — and should have ended it, really, because it was just. that. good.

I purchased a jar of Calabrian red pepper jam online, but vowed to make a batch of my own once red bell peppers in our garden started producing. And that is this recipe.

Peppers are tricky, right? Some varieties are super hot, and even within the variety some are much hotter than others. So use this pepper jam recipe as a guide, switching in more or less jalapeno depending on how hot yours are. (When I tasted this first batch, I though it could have used a bit more spice.) A bit of apple adds sweetness, body and, importantly, natural pectin to help set the jam. You’ll start with about 2 pounds (a bit over is OK) of produce to 2 cups of sugar.

What can you do with Sweet-Spicy Red Pepper Jam? Well, there’s that burrata-and-grilled bread thing, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The jam is great on a cheese platter, particularly with salty cheeses like Pecorino or Manchego. It would rock on a BLT. Or as a glaze for grilled chicken kebabs or grilled salmon.

While red peppers are abundant, give this recipe a try. You don’t even need fancy jars.

sweet red bell pepper jam recipe

makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 3/4 pounds red bell peppers + red jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (see Note)
1 small apple, cored, chopped
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Few drops red food coloring (optional)

(Note: Use any combination of bell and jalapeno peppers; add more of the latter if you want more heat. You'll want your produce to total about 2 pounds.) Place the peppers and apple in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely mashed. Transfer the mixture (along with any juices) to a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pan. Add the vinegar and sugar. Add food coloring if desired. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, then boil rapidly, occasionally stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching, until it becomes thick, dark and syrupy, about 25–30 minutes. Use a candy or digital thermometer to check temperature; it should reach 220° for soft/jelly set. Alternately, spoon a bit of jam onto a small plate and put it in the freezer for a minute or two; it should resemble a soft-set jam. The jam will thicken as it cools. Transfer to small jars and freeze up to 1 year, or process in a water bath canner per directions found on FreshPreserving.com.