Upscale bar cookies for the holidays

chocolate cherry bars

Homey chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies are all very well for the rest of the year.  The holidays, though, cry out for something spectacular.

It takes an over-the-top cookie like these chocolate cherry hazelnut bars to stand out among the fanciful sugar cutouts, elaborate spritz and spicy gingerbread men found on platters at every neighborhood party and office pot luck this time of year.

I usually try out a new cookie every year during the holidays, but this recipe has become a standard.  It’s always a hit on the cookie platter and it makes great gifts, too.  The fact that it takes only minutes to pull together only adds to its charm. Continue reading Upscale bar cookies for the holidays

Turkey leftovers transformed

Turkey leftovers salad

Thanksgiving is just days away, yet my thoughts already are turning to leftovers.

The menu for the big day is pretty standard:  Simple roast turkey a la Russ Parson’s Judy bird, decadent mashed potatoes, those sweet potato-stuffed mini pumpkins I wrote about last week, green beans, persimmon salad, fresh cranberry relish, homemade rolls and pumpkin pie from an old “Joy of Cooking” recipe.  It’s a lot of work to pull together, but the basic elements don’t change much from year to year.

When it comes to leftovers, though, innovations are definitely welcome.  Even after the obligatory soup–I’m thinking chili this year–and overstuffed sandwiches on Friday, we usually still have a lot of turkey left in the refrigerator.  And I’d rather be hiking or walking on the beach than spending more time in the kitchen.

By Saturday, I’m looking for an easy, fresh-tasting dish that puts turkey squarely in the background.  This pasta salad fits the bill. Continue reading Turkey leftovers transformed

Dress up sweet potatoes for Turkey Day

Stuffed mini pumpkins

A Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes is unimaginable. The orange-fleshed tuber ranks right up there with the turkey in most families.

Yet, I no longer have any appetite for sugary casseroles topped with toasted marshmallows.  They’re just too much like dessert served in the middle of the main event.  I’ll save my sugar for later, thank you.

For years, I simply roasted whole sweet potatoes and served them plain as a counterpoint to all the heavy, rich food on the Thanksgiving table.  Plain sweet potatoes don’t feel festive enough for a culinary blowout, however, and an assignment to write about elegant Turkey Day dishes inspired these stuffed mini pumpkins. Continue reading Dress up sweet potatoes for Turkey Day

Pears spice up cake

pear cake recipe 2

A perfectly ripe pear is a joy unto itself, requiring little more than a bit of cheese and a handful of nuts to make a memorable dessert.

Sadly, I haven’t encountered many perfect pears.

The pears of my experience tend to be hard as rocks at the market, only to bruise and scar in the bag on the trip home, then turn to mush almost overnight on the kitchen counter.  Sometime in between, I know there is a point when they’re just right, the flesh still slightly firm, the sweet juices flowing freely.  But I miss it more often than not.

Still, I can’t resist the promise of pears.  Every fall, I find myself buying gorgeous pears at the peak of the season in the hope I can catch a few at the elusive moment of perfection.  It’s a good thing I have this cake as Plan B for the fruit that doesn’t measure up. It’s especially good with Bosc pears. Continue reading Pears spice up cake

Ancient grain, modern flavor

farrotto recipe 3

The trouble with writing about seasonal cooking at this time of year is you never know what the weather gods are going to deliver from day to day.

When I started working on this post, temperatures were chilly and the skies overcast.  Nothing seemed more appropriate than this hearty variation on risotto made with mushrooms and an ancient form of wheat Italians know as farro.  By the time I got up this morning, though, temperatures already were in the 60s and the sun was rising in a clear sky.

Still, the forecast is for rain and cold weather again in a couple of days.  Unless you have a well-stocked pantry, it may take that long to round up the essential ingredients for this dish. Not every market carries farro alongside the rice and pasta, although it has become more widely available in recent years.

Nutty in flavor and nicely chewy, farro is one of my favorite whole grains. It makes a tasty change from brown rice and bulgur and cooks about as quickly as white rice.   Semi-perlato farro, with lightly polished grains, still retains some of its nutritious bran and it’s a lot less daunting than wheat berries. Continue reading Ancient grain, modern flavor