This holiday season was chock-full of baking and cooking, just the way I like it. I got things started early, the day after I finished my internal medicine shelf exam, with a whirlwind of cookie and candy making for holiday goodie baskets to give to our neighbors, family, and friends. True to form, I couldn’t stop at just a few types of treats, so the holiday baskets arrived at their destinations full of fluffy chocolate dipped peppermint marshmallows, crisp cardamom crescents, flaky apricot rugelach, soft ginger spice cookies, chewy pecan bars, and decadent espresso fudge. From what I hear, the goodies were all a hit, and the stragglers left behind at my parents’ house found their way into our happy bellies quickly. As there are SO many other things to show you all from a wonderful holiday break I am going to stick with sharing just a couple of the recipes.
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
- 1 cup pecans
- 1 cup room temperature unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F, arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats
Whisk first four ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. Combine 1/2 cup powdered sugar and pecans in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a fine meal. Beat together butter and vanilla in another medium bowl until fluffy and then add nut mixture, beating until thoroughly combined. Add dry ingredients and mix until blended evenly. The dough will be crumbly. Knead together just until the mixture comes into a ball on a clean work surface.
Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon measurer form small balls and then roll into 1 1/2 inch long logs. Gently bend them into crescent shapes while pinching the ends into tapered rounded points. These will be fragile, try to mend any cracks that form with firm pressure. Space crescents 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheeting and bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Bake until cookies are a light golden brown. You want the cookies to be crisp so if you have any questions bake them a little longer than shorter. Sift 1 cup powdered sugar into a shallow bowl. Roll warm cookies in sugar and then transfer to a rack to cool. Once cooled completely roll in sugar again. The next step is the hardest…try not to eat them all in one sitting.
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarc
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup chilled butter, cut into cubes and re-chilled
- 1 1/4 cups packed golden brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 4 cups chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F and line 13×9 pan thoroughly with foil, leaving at least 1 inch overhang on all sides. Butter foil well.
Combine flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter cubes and process until mixture begins to clump together. Dump the dough out into the prepared pan and press into the bottom, spreading evenly with the flat bottom of a measuring cup (or your fingers). Bake the crust about 25 minutes until the dough is set and light golden brown. Remove and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 325F.
Stir together the brown sugar, syrup and butter in a medium saucepan over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil. Allow to boil for about 1 minute before adding the cream and chopped pecans. Continue to boil until the mixture thickens slightly, about another 3-5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla after removing from heat and pour the mixture over the pre-baked crust.
Bake the bars for about 20 minutes, or until the topping is darkened and is thick and bubbling. Transfer the entire pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely (make sure you do this! I was impatient and ended up with pretty rustic looking bars as a result from some unintentional breakage). Lift the foil out of the pan, transferring bars to cutting board. Using a sharp knife cut the bars into the shape of your choosing (the original recipe calls for diamonds). These are RICH so keep them small (or don’t and enjoy a serious sugar high followed by a precipitous fall into food coma).
Christmas really snuck up on me this year. One moment I was running around the hospital admitting patients, responding to codes, and trying my best not to look awkward and then the next, POOF, I was knee deep in sugary treats and holiday decorations, braving crazy crowds while buying stocking suffers, watching Christmas movies, and enjoying many a glass of red wine with the people I love. As the only family member with the days off before Christmas I was in charge of the menu planning and grocery shopping. Whole Foods was INSANE. Nothing says it’s the holidays like crazy people ramming each other with carts full of overpriced gourmet groceries. I managed to do the majority of my shopping in a less dangerous grocery store this year. I only had one embarrassing incident next to the onions where in my attempt to carry too much I dropped it all, slowly, pathetically. First the bag carrying my potatoes broke, and then down went a lemon….and another lemon. I had to set my wallet in the onions to collect my produce rolling across the floor. In true American Christmas fashion no one stopped to help me. Fortunately, the rest of my shopping was less embarrassing (and AWESOME since I got to buy 5 bottles of wine) and the whole family spent a great afternoon together in the kitchen while the culinary magic happened on Christmas Eve. On the menu was my rosemary focaccia (this has become Pat’s favorite thing that I make), a big butter lettuce wedge salad with buttermilk blue cheese dressing and bacon, grilled butterflied herb marinated lamb leg, and smashed roasted potatoes. Because I love you all and because this focaccia recipe is SO good I am going to share it with you all below. I can’t take any credit for the recipe because I use Anne Burrell’s from Food Network, and it is a near perfect recipe that requires almost no adaptation whatsoever (I make a few tiny changes which I describe below). If you have a stand mixer and can get your hands on a rimmed baking sheet you have NO EXCUSE not to make this recipe.
THE BEST FOCACCIA
- 1 3/4 cups warm water
- 1 package active dry yeast (that is VERY far from its expiration date)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus coarse salt, for sprinkling (we used porcini salt for Christmas!)
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/3-1/2 cup finely chopped rosemary
Combine the warm water and sugar, mixing with a spoon until dissolved. The water should be very warm, but not hot. I do this part in a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup. Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the water evenly and set in a warm, not hot or cool, place (I turn the oven on to about 350F and set it on top) until the yeast is frothy and aromatic, 15-30 minutes. If the mixture isn’t becoming foamy don’t move forward! The only major mistake you can make with this recipe is using dead yeast.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and the yeast mixture on low speed. Once the dough has come together, continue to knead for 5 to 6 minutes on a medium speed until it becomes smooth and soft. Give it a sprinkle of flour if the dough is really sticky.The recipe asks you to transfer the dough to a clean, lightly floured surface, then knead it by hand 1 or 2 times. I don’t do this 🙂 I just knead it a little longer in the stand mixer. It saves a while lot of mess and cleanup, which means I can make this recipe more often.Coat the inside of the mixer bowl (or another bowl of similar size) lightly with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover the surface of the dough ball lightly in oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Put it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, at least 1 hour (I put it back on top of the stove).Coat a jelly roll pan (full sized rimmed baking sheet) with the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Put the dough onto the jelly roll pan and begin pressing it and stretching it out to fit the size of the pan. Turn the dough over to coat the other side with the olive oil. Continue to stretch the dough to fit the pan. As you are doing so, spread your fingers out and make finger holes all over the dough, ALL THE WAY THROUGH the dough. If you do not make the actual holes in the dough the holes will flatten out when the dough rises.
Cover in plastic wrap and set the dough in the warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. When the dough is close to risen preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. After the dough has doubled liberally sprinkle the top of the focaccia with the rosemary and coarse salt and lightly drizzle a little oil on top. Bake the dough until the top of the loaf is golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes. There is no wrong way to eat or serve this bread. It freezes extremely well too.
Christmas day was relaxed and fun at the Hanson household. We did the morning with my parents, my sister Annika and her boyfriend Andy at my parent’s house. This year both of our families decided to forgo big gifts and get each other entertaining stocking stuffers instead. It made for a whole lot of laughter when we sat down to open gifts before a breakfast of crab eggs benedict served on crispy potato pancakes and greens. Pat, my parents, and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which proved to be a great movie!) around midday before launching back into cooking our Christmas dinner of standing rib roast with horseradish sauce, roasted Brussel sprouts, and Yorkshire pudding. As you might expect, there was some red wine in there.
We spent the few days after Christmas with Pat’s family at their home in Sun Valley, ID. One of the biggest highlights was getting to spend time with our little niece Lola, who turned one at the end of November. She was always on the move, having started walking just recently. Pat enjoyed quality time on the mountain and at home with his dad and brothers while I had lots of time with pat’s mother preparing the house for a holiday party they threw during our trip and making dinner for a “red meat and old red wine” dinner they hosted the next night. It was a bittersweet vacation though as Pat’s grandfather Chuck passed away in Indianapolis on the 28th after a battle with Melanoma. It was an emotional time for the whole family, but we celebrated him with stories, toasts, and laughter as he would have wanted. It was incredibly meaningful for everyone to be together during such a difficult time. On our last full day in Sun Valley Pat and I ventured to Galena Summit to find some now (since it was extremely sparse near Ketchum) and enjoyed a sunny morning of snow shoeing.
Our holidays were capped off by a fabulous New Year’s dinner at Cicchetti on Eastlake with Annika and Andy. The restaurant had a pre fix 5-course dinner and a Roaring 20s theme, making it right up our alley. Many of the other diners and staff were decked out in their Gatsby era finest when we arrived at the bustling little restaurant for our 10:30pm reservation. We enjoyed festive cocktails at the bar to start and a leisurely meal with excellent wine. We all toasted with bubbly at midnight upstairs overlooking a foggy Space Needle and then snuck out to the street to shoot off confetti canons before returning to our braised lamb.
It was the perfect way to welcome in what promises to be a fabulous 2014…
and now it’s definitely time to head back to the gym after such a decadent holiday season!