December 30, 2009

Good Luck Black-Eyed Peas

New Year’s Day is just around the corner and people across the globe will prepare for the coming year, often with a traditional meal that is thought to bring good luck. In many countries, ham or pork is thought to bring good fortune, a tradition that may have originated because pigs use their snouts to dig in a forward direction, a symbol for “moving forward” in the new year. On the contrary, some cultures believe that eating poultry on New Year’s Day will result in bad luck because the birds scratch backward when they search for food. Many cultures also bake sweets or pastries for good luck. Greeks and Dutch, for example, make a special New Year’s cake with a coin baked inside. The person who gets the piece cake with the coin is considered the luckiest.

In the United States, black-eyed peas are widely eaten as a good-luck food on New Year’s Day. Also known as cowpeas, they were introduced to the New World by African slaves and have become a common food in the South. For maximum good luck in the New Year, a traditional dish known as Hoppin’ John is enjoyed among family and friends. The simple, hearty bean stew is typically simmered with rice, salt pork or bacon, and Creole flavors. It is typically served with Southern greens, which are supposed to bring prosperity since green is the color of money.

There are many theories as to how Hoppin’ John got its name. One story holds that the phrase “hop in, John” was used as a custom of inviting guests to eat. Another theory says that the name stems from the ritual of children hopping around the table on New Year’s Day before sitting down to eat. Whatever the origin, Hoppin’ John is a deep-seated tradition that we can all enjoy on New Year’s Day. Although I am not particularly superstitious, I do love traditions that are built around food, and I say that enjoying this delicious, one-pot meal definitely can’t hurt!

Hoppin’ John

Serves 8 to 10


1 pound dried black-eyed peas, rinsed 

1 medium yellow onion, chopped 

1 garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice 

1 medium red or orange bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste 

Tabasco (optional)

For greens
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound greens (collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, or kale)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper

Place black-eyed peas in a large heavy-bottomed pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off heat and set aside for 1 hour. 

Drain black-eyed peas and return to pot. Add enough water to cover beans by an inch. Stir in onions and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered until black-eyed peas are tender but still whole, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare greens. Heat oil over low heat in a large skillet. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add greens and broth and simmer 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with Tabasco, if desired. Ladle into bowls and serve with greens.

December 28, 2009

A Fantastic Holiday Cookie Platter

Baked sweets have been part of festivities since ancient times, but one of the most beloved traditions that continues today is making Christmas cookies for the holidays. Cookie-making dates back to the Middle Ages—typical ingredients included cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds and dried fruits. For Christmas, Dutch and German bakers used cookie cutters, decorative molds and festive holiday decorations to make holiday cookies.

German lebkuchen, or gingerbread, is thought to be the first cookie traditionally associated with Christmas. By the 1500s, Christmas cookies were popular throughout Europe. Many countries had developed their own version of a ginger Christmas cookie, as well as other sweets like the German spritz cookie, Austrian linzer and springerle cookies, French Buche de Noel, Stollen or fruitcake, and Christmas pudding.

The earliest Christmas cookies as we know them in America came from the Dutch and English settlers in the 1600s. In the early 20
th century, imported kitchenware from Germany introduced cookie cutters of highly stylized images—bells, Christmas trees, camels, and crimped edge shapes.

My favorite thing about Christmas has to do with the special and unique traditions that connect us with our families and make holidays more meaningful. In fact, this has always been the case. I can just see myself as a kid, spirited and strong-willed (to put it nicely).
What?! What do you mean we’re not doing ____ for the holidays? IT’S TRADITION.

Although I consider myself more of a cook than a baker, there is something about the cold weather and family gatherings that brings out the baker in me. Spending hours in the kitchen baking holiday sweets (and making a mess) with my mom and sisters is a tradition I cherish. Each year, we bake our usual favorites—holiday biscotti, peppermint brownies, and nutmeg logs—as well as experiment with some new recipes. Our holiday cookie platter was particularly special this year and I feel obliged to share some of my favorites with you.

Nutmeg Log Cookies

These tasty treats are a Sykes-Shipley family tradition. The recipe was passed down to my grandmother who made it a point to make these cookies for every holiday occasion. These cookies are not particularly well known, but a Google search tells me that the all the recipes out there are made in a similar manner and are also known as eggnog log cookies. My family’s nutmeg logs are shortbread-y in texture, sweet, and impart the distinct flavors of eggnog—perfect for Christmas or New Year festivities.

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons rum extract
¾ cup sugar
1 organic egg

For the frosting
3 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon rum flavoring
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine flour and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, cream butter, vanilla and rum. Gradually add sugar and beat in egg. Combine with dry ingredients. On a lightly floured surface, shape pieces of dough into 3-inch long and ½- inch thick logs. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet at bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, cream butter, vanilla and rum extract. Add confectioner’s sugar alternately with cream until mixture is thick and spreadable. Frost cooled cookies, using fork tines to make lines that resemble bark. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

Date-Walnut rolls

This recipe comes from a well-known bakery in the Boston area, Tatte Fine Cookies and Cakes. These delicious rolled cookies are a take on the popular cream cheese based rugelach cookies. Rugelach was introduced to America by Jewish immigrants from Hungry, Poland, and Yugoslavia and means “little twists” in Yiddish. Like rugelach, these cookies can be made with various sweet fillings like fig paste, raisins and nuts, preserves or flavored jams. This recipe was a particular hit with my family and friends for the holidays, but I see myself enjoying these cookies year-round.

8 ounces (1¾ cups) dates, seeds and chopped
4 cups flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ tablespoon baking powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, but into thin slices
2/3 cup cold milk
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine dates and 2/3 cup boiling water; let sit for at least 20 minutes. Pulse dates with water in food processor until a thick paste forms. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and baking powder. Add butter and pulse until dough resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and pulse until dough begins to clump together. Place dough in a large bowl and form into a ball. Divide in half.

Sprinkle work surface with flour. Roll out half the dough into a 14x9 inch rectangle. Spread half of date puree over dough, leaving 1-inch borders along longer sides. Sprinkle half the walnuts evenly over puree. Starting from a long end, loosely roll dough into a spiral. Press gently to smooth seam and pinch ends closed. Place roll, seam side down, on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake 45 minutes, or until golden. When cool, use a serrated knife to cut into 3/4 inch slices. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

Lebkuchen (German Christmas Gingerbread Cookies)

Lebkuchen is the earliest traditional Christmas cookie, reportedly invented by Medieval monks in Germany in the 13th century. These spiced ginger cookies can be traced back to the early days of the European spice trade, when spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, coriander, and anise reached Nuremberg, Germany via the famous spice routes. In the 1640s, the German city approved the establishment of the Lebkuchen Baker’s Guild with 14 master gingerbread bakers. Since then, traditional lebkuchen recipes have been passed down from generations. These lebkuchen cookies from are one of my absolute favorites, soft and rich with molasses, not too sweet, and deliciously spicy.

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading

1¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg

1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1 organic egg

¾ cup light brown sugar

½ cup honey

½ cup molasses

For the Glaze
1 cup confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Set aside.
Beat egg and sugar together with an electric beater until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in honey and molasses until thoroughly combined. On low speed, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface. Knead, adding more flour as kneaded, until dough is stiff. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough into a 9×12 inch rectangle. Cut into about 18 3×2-inch rectangles. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges are browned.

Whisk together confectioner’s sugar, water and lemon juice and spread on cooled cookies. Allow glaze to firm before serving.

December 9, 2009

Black Bean, Butternut Squash and Kale Stew with Quinoa

I’m sitting in my room this morning, drinking coffee and watching the snow fall outside. Chilly nights call for warming, hearty meals so I thought it’d be appropriate to share one of my favorite simple, winter stews with you. I came up with the recipe one evening when my kitchen was overloaded with butternut squash and kale and I was very pleased with the result. The vegetables are paired with black beans and quinoa, making this a one-pot meal that is tasty, highlights seasonal ingredients, and is very nutritious. You will likely be seeing more winter stews in the near future. After all, I’m going to need a way to keep warm as an Arizona girl in a Boston winter. Cheers!

Black Bean, Butternut Squash and Kale Stew with Quinoa

The ancho chili powder adds a great smokiness to the dish. It really can’t be substituted but I suppose a smaller amount of regular chili powder would work. Note that I ball-parked some of the quantities so feel free to adjust as necessary.

Serves 3-4.

1 tablespoon neutral oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
½ jalapeno, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups 3/4-inch chunks of butternut squash
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups vegetable broth (or more as needed)
1/2 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
1 small bunch kale, large stems removed and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup quinoa, cooked
¼ cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno, stir 2 minutes, and sprinkle with spices. Combine with squash, black beans, broth and tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes. Add kale and cook, partially covered 8-10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide quinoa among bowls. Ladle stew over quinoa, sprinkle with cilantro and serve.