Christmas cookies from Sicily


Bakers, fire up your ovens.  Cookie season is upon us.

In the coming weeks, even people who usually buy their cookies in packages will be pulling mixers out of storage and dusting off baking sheets in preparation for their annual fling with butter, flour and sugar.   For some, it’s enough to recreate the chocolate chip cookies from their childhood, working from the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House package.   Others will spend hours decorating fanciful shapes cut out of buttery shortbread or pressing spritz cookies onto baking sheets.

Every year, I try to add a new cookie to my repertoire.  This season, it’s cucidati, elegant filled cookies originally from Sicily that I first tasted at Lupretta’s Delicatessen nearly a decade ago.  At that time the family business was still located on Stevens Creek Boulevard in San Jose.  It moved to the village of Saratoga a few years later but recently closed its doors. Continue reading Christmas cookies from Sicily

Turkey sandwiches for the cook’s sake


Right now I’m up to my eyeballs in Thanksgiving preparations.  There are groceries to buy, rolls and pies to make ahead, a turkey to dry brine a la Russ Parsons, and a thousand little details to attend to before the big meal on Thursday afternoon.

By the time all the dishes are washed, dried and put away that night,  I’ll be ready to get out of the kitchen for a couple of days.  I don’t know about you but I rarely have the energy or dedication to rework leftovers from the biggest culinary marathon of the year into elaborate new dishes.

I’d rather make some sandwiches and give myself time to get out on a mountain trail or off to the beach after so many hours in front of the stove.  (Just the thought of shopping on Black Friday sends me into a panic.) Continue reading Turkey sandwiches for the cook’s sake

Roasted beet salad to the rescue


As much fun as it is to watch the pros race from pantry to stove on shows like Top Chef, I have no desire to emulate them during the holidays.

Thanksgiving is hard enough with more people than usual in the house–all wanting to help, chat with the cook, or just stand around the kitchen.   (Did I mention how small my kitchen is?)  I’d plummet right over the edge if I tried to cook everything from scratch on the big day.

That’s why I look for side dishes that can be prepared ahead and finished off with just a few touches at the last minute.  A beautiful salad that can be handed off to a helpful guest for final assembly is a real lifesaver when you’re trying to get the turkey out of the oven, the gravy made, the potatoes mashed and the rolls heated all at the same time.

Continue reading Roasted beet salad to the rescue

Polenta torta worthy of Thanksgiving


The biggest challenge facing many cooks this Thanksgiving may well be finding a vegetarian entree worthy of the annual feast.

Particularly in California, it’s not unusual anymore to find among the guests at the holiday table relatives and friends who have forsworn meat.  Often they’re  left to fend for themselves, picking among the side dishes in search of something that wasn’t made with broth, bacon or gelatin. Either they leave the table still hungry or depart in a carbohydrate-induced stupor.

This elegant polenta torta, sweet with caramelized onions and creamy with roasted butternut squash and mascarpone cheese, is just the dish for omnivore hosts who want to show their appreciation for vegetarian guests.  It tastes like fall on a plate and has wide appeal, unlike Tofurky and other meat substitutes.

Continue reading Polenta torta worthy of Thanksgiving

Pound cake favorite of the expert


When Shirley Corriher talks, bakers listen.

A biochemist by training, Corriher is the author of two James Beard Award-winning cookbooks, including “BakeWise” (Scribner, 2008).  Few others explain the mysteries of successful baking better.

When she began dictating a recipe for pound cake at last week’s Baker’s Dozen meeting in San Francisco, I took out my notebook.  So did nearly everyone else in the room.

“This is my new favorite pound cake,” the baking expert proclaimed with trademark enthusiasm, a grin spreading across her face.  It’s hard to imagine anyone getting  more joy out of their work than she does. Continue reading Pound cake favorite of the expert