The Pioneer Woman’s Favorite Christmas Cookies — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, December 20th, 2013

The Pioneer Woman's Favorite Christmas CookiesWhen my sister and I were young, we had a standing Christmas- cookie-decoration date with a family friend. Eleanor’s kids were grown, but she loved mixing up several batches of dough (some colored red and green with food-safe dye), pulling out the cookie cutters, and helping us make and bake fancy tray after tray of cookies.

I looked forward to that afternoon in Eleanor’s kitchen every year. Even after I got too old for the annual cookie party, I thought about it fondly (and dreamed about her delicious, buttery cookies).

When December rolled around this year, I found myself craving the experience of making and decorating holiday sugar cookies. I used to have a copy of Eleanor’s recipe, but no matter how much I looked, I couldn’t put my hands on it. And so I went looking for options and found The Pioneer Woman’s Favorite Christmas Cookies.

It uses vegetable shortening in place of butter and adds a little bit of orange zest to the dough, but otherwise seems very close to the recipe I once knew. And truly, it’s a delightful dough to work with. It comes together quickly, rolls out beautifully and holds its shape nicely while baking. If you’re still in the midst of your holiday baking, stir together a batch of this dough and cut out some cookies for your Weekender!

Before you start baking, read these tips

Chocolate Truffles — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, December 13th, 2013

Chocolate Truffles - The WeekenderNearly every year, I make at least half a dozen varieties of holiday cookies to share with friends, neighbors and relatives. I have a few standbys (sugar, gingerbread, chocolate crinkles) and a few wild card slots (this year, they are thumbprints, almond flour shortbread, and oat cookies with cranberries and pistachios).

In addition to those cookies, I also try to include one extra sweet in my holiday treat assortment. In the past I’ve made oven-roasted caramel corn, easy fudge with sweetened condensed milk and crunchy pepita toffee.

This year as I was scanning recipe websites, looking for that extra something sweet to put in my treat packages, I spotted Ina Garten’s recipe for Chocolate Truffles.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Hot and Sticky Noodle Bowls — The Weekender

by in Recipes, December 6th, 2013

Hot and Sticky Noodle Bowls - The WeekenderWe are now officially in the time of year known as “the holiday season.” You can tell it has arrived by the uptick in events on your social calendar and ever-present cookies and treats in the office break room.

During these last few weeks of the calendar year, it can be increasingly hard to do things like get to the gym regularly and ensure that you’re having healthy, homemade dinners. I can’t help you with the gym issue, but I do have a suggestion as to how to get a meal on the table in the midst of the weeknight holiday rush.

Steal a couple of hours on Sunday and prep a couple make-ahead meals. If all you have to do on Tuesday is boil some water and reheat some vegetables, you’re far more likely to resist the siren call of takeout.

One of my favorite make-ahead meals is the Hot and Sticky Noodle Bowls from Rachael Ray’s show Week in a Day. You season and cook some chicken and vegetables, then cool them and stash them in the fridge. When you’re ready to eat, just cook some spaghetti noodles, reheat the chicken mix and toss it all together. Truly, it’s easier than ordering pizza and should become part of your Weekender routine.

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Grilled Hasselback Sweet Potatoes — The Weekender

by in Holidays, November 29th, 2013

Grilled Hassleback Sweet PotatoesI am something of a sweet potato fanatic. As soon as the weather starts to turn crisp, I stock up on those dense orange tubers and eat them at least three times a week. I’m especially fond of them when they’ve been sliced into rounds, rubbed with a little olive oil and roasted until crisp in a hot oven.

This year for Thanksgiving, I didn’t get the chance to make a sweet potato dish (I was assigned mashed potatoes), and so, in order to satisfy my obsession, I’ve been making an array of sweet potato dishes that would have fit in nicely as part of a celebratory meal.

I’ve made a vanilla-flecked puree. I’ve formed grated shreds into fritters. I folded together a batch of sweet potato biscuits for a weekend brunch with friends. And I made Bobby Flay’s Grilled Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Molasses Nutmeg Butter.

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Winter Slaw — The Weekender

by in Holidays, November 22nd, 2013

Winter Slaw - The WeekenderIn my family, having a salad on the Thanksgiving table is a controversial issue. My mother, an avowed vegetable enthusiast, lobbies for it every year. My dad is firmly attached to tradition and so had long been entirely opposed to the presence of raw greenery.

He thinks that the menu should remain unchanged and the side dishes should be limited to stuffing, mashed potatoes, pureed winter squash, buttered green beans and a quivering log of canned cranberry jelly. The issue is made harder by the fact that he is the designated holiday cook in our household and so much of the prep falls to him.

In recent years, my mom and I have had some success in convincing my dad of the merits of a hearty autumnal salad as an addition (not a replacement) to the holiday table. He has reluctantly conceded, provided we select a salad that maintains a sense of seasonal integrity.

And so, during the last few years, I’ve dreamed up an array of salads and relish-like concoctions that satisfy a hunger for raw, crunchy things. For this year’s salad, I have my sights set on Tyler Florence’s recipe for Winter Slaw.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Cauliflower Mac ‘n’ Cheese — The Weekender

by in Recipes, November 15th, 2013

Cauliflower Mac N Cheese - The WeekenderWhen I was growing up, macaroni and cheese was a very special treat. The only time the boxed version made an appearance at our table was on the rare occasion when my parents went out in the evening and left us with a baby sitter. The sitter was given strict instructions to serve it with carrot sticks and glasses of milk, which dampened the joy of dayglow pasta just a little.

It wasn’t until I went away to college that I discovered two things about macaroni and cheese: It is dead simple to make from scratch, and if you stir in some kind of vegetable in with the pasta, you can call it a complete meal.

Once I was living off-campus and had a real kitchen at my disposal, I had my way with the world of mac and cheese. My roommates and I made cheesy shells with cheese, stirred ribbons of zucchini in with leftover spaghetti noodles, and we even did a batch of smoked salmon and cream cheese mac and cheese once for a brunch potluck. They were all tasty dishes that left me with a healthy respect for the power of cooked pasta and a quick batch of cheese sauce.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Brownie Batter Cookies — The Weekender

by in Entertaining, November 8th, 2013

Brownie Batter Cookies - The WeekenderI believe everyone should have one cookie recipe that they know by heart — one that can be easily whipped together to welcome new babies, offer up at potlucks and make on a whim when you need a touch of sweet homemade comfort.

For some people, that cookie is a basic chocolate chip. For others, it’s a rough and tumble mix of oats, nuts and dried fruit. And I know other folks who can make peanut butter or sugar cookies with their eyes closed.

The basic requirements of this type of cookie are that the ingredients can be kept in the kitchen cupboard, that you need only a bowl or two to make it, that it drops from spoon to baking sheet with ease (no roll-out cookies need apply) and that it tastes good. Being sturdy enough to withstand the U.S. Postal Service is not required, but it’s a plus.

Before you start baking, read these tips

Crispy Chicken Tenders with Piccata Sauce — The Weekender

by in Entertaining, Family, November 1st, 2013

Crispy Chicken Tenders with Piccata Sauce - The WeekenderIn the last few years, the bulk of my friends have become parents. It has been a joy to watch these dear people grow families and to see their once-tiny, squawking babes turn into little humans with preferences and desires.

One thing I’ve learned is that once kids enter the picture in your social circle, it becomes a whole lot harder to throw a traditional dinner party. And so, I stopped having them. Instead I started inviting people over for more casual gatherings and welcomed their children.

In the process, I’ve become a connoisseur of meals that allow you to cook once and satisfy everyone. Burrito bars are one good option, because they allow for mixing, matching and liberal applications of hot sauce for the parents.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Pumpkin-Ginger Bread Pudding — The Weekender

by in In Season, October 25th, 2013

Pumpkin-Ginger Bread Pudding - The WeekenderThis time of year, there is no more popular or trendy ingredient than pumpkin. It is everywhere you look, from muffins to salads (all those pumpkin spice lattes don’t count, as there’s no actual squash in them, just pie spices). With such ubiquitous distribution comes the inevitable backlash. Some folks are truly dead-tired of all the pumpkin.

Let me take a moment to intervene on behalf of pumpkin (and all the rest of the sweet, orange-fleshed winter squash). I beg you: Don’t dismiss it just because it’s going through a period of oversaturation.

Instead, think of all its virtues. It’s a great source of beta carotene. It’s full of healthy fiber. And with just a little roasting, the flesh becomes intensely sweet and creamy. Truly, what’s not to like?

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Fleuri’s Curry Lentil Soup — The Weekender

by in In Season, October 18th, 2013

Fleuri's Curry Lentil Soup - The WeekenderI’ve worked from home full time for just over two years now. Other than the inevitable occasional stir-craziness, I love everything about reporting to my little home office each day. Truly the only thing I really struggle with is what to eat for lunch each day.

During the warmer season, it’s easy enough to throw together a salad as my midday meal. Once the days start to cool, however, a giant serving of crunchy greens is the very last thing I want. That’s when I put operation soup into effect.

On Sunday afternoon, I make a pot of soup that I can eat from all week long. Then I can scoop a bowlful out each day at about 1pm. Paired with a few crackers or a piece of toast, it makes lunchtime so much easier.

I like to go for vegetable-based soups for these lunchtime meals because they hold up well during the course of the week. Split peas are good, as are roasted pumpkin with coconut milk soups. Right now, my heart belongs to Fleuri’s Curry Lentil Soup from Rachael Ray. It’s creamy, it keeps like a dream and it’s just perfect for The Weekender.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

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