Cookies Till They Come

My boys are coming.  My boys are coming.  It’s Saturday morning and we were up late at our staff Christmas party last night, but I sprang out of bed with the call to prayer at sunrise.  We have that auditory time regulator here in Tunisia.  I love it.
I’m Tabitha Tittlemouse today.   Oh gosh, I love The Tale of Mrs.  Tittlemouse and her fastidiousness over every tiny detail, every tittle.  How about this line from the Wikipedia synopsis:  Mrs. Tittlemouse fears she “shall go distracted” as a result of the turmoil and takes refuge in the nut-cellar.  You know where to look for me if I need a little time out this week, though all that’s in our cellar is wine, no nuts.
There’s so much I want to do:  make up heavenly beds for jet-lagged boys to sink into, prep the basics of some midweek feasts so we can have friends over to enjoy the season and visit with the guys, and make cookies.   I think that this is going to be my nervous distraction for the next 24 hours, minus sleep, while I’m picturing them at every stage of their journey.
I can’t just pick any cookie recipe and pull it off, here.  I looked at Bon Appetit’s  31 days of cookies and  I can get many of those ingredients here, but often there is just one missing ingredient, like corn syrup, that makes me think they won’t come out right without it.  As with all things in Tunisia, it’s best to begin with what we’ve got.  There is actually a treasure trove of special ingredients available at the moment.  A local store had bulk-packaged quantities of the following this week:  hulled pistachios, shredded (unsweetened) coconut, dried apricots and hulled, toasted sesame seeds.  Added to that are some plump golden raisins and dried pears I bought in Nice and finally, some dried Montmorency cherries gifted to me by Shelly.  And I have ginger.  My friends and I are always so concerned  that we can’t get ginger here that we buy it in large amounts every time we see it.  It turns out that ginger has been available recently, both fresh and dried, like the stuff you see in the Chinese apothecary shops in China towns, and I now have all of the forms required to make a triple- ginger cookie, one of my very favorites.
Because I knew it would occupy the most oven time, I began with biscotti.  Cranberry/pistachio biscotti must be ubiquitous.  Recipes kept popping up all over.  My one unavailable ingredient in this recipe was almond extract and I do think it would have been a fine addition.

I dried the cranberries in my food dehydrator on Lummi Island when I was home in October.  They took an extremely long time to dry.  For about 24 hours, they were just hot, plump, berries not looking like they were getting any more shriveled.  So I started poking them and squeezing air out and finally some of them dried out and some didn’t so much.  I tossed them in a Ziploc anyway and brought them back here, keeping them in the freezer.  These are the end of them.
Once baked, sliced, and then oven dried, the pistachios in the cookies become deliciously nutty and the little bit of tart cranberry creates a bright accent.  I’m not even going to dip them in chocolate because I really like the vanilla/nut balance as it is.


Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
1/4 cup light olive oil 
3/4 cup white sugar 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon almond extract 
2 eggs 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 cup dried cranberries 
1 1/2 cups pistachio nuts
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). 
In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in 
the eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by
Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12×2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.
Dough may be sticky; wet hands with cool water to handle dough more easily. 
Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool 
for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C). 
Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake 
approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.
So that’s the first cookie and I am planning on a line up of five in the next 24 hours.   I just gave the boys a wake up Skype call and they are officially underway.
I’ll keep posting as I bake (is this fun?).   You can bake along with me if you’re inclined.

Birthday Braise

          It’s Allan’s birthday.  We have a long succession of November birthday parties together.  It turns out to be a nice time for a party.  The weather is cool, but not yet frigid and some warm and filling foods taste very good.

We had 12 great friends over and lucked out with a warmer than recent evening, a lovely night sky,  and no wind.  We pulled the garden tables close to the barbecue and kept a fire going all evening.
The main dish was Cranberry Short-Rib Stew.  This was, again, from the stew/beer pairings section of the October 2011 edition of Sunset Magazine.  The recommended beer was Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter.  There were a lot of smokey and bright flavors in this stew that might not have been immediately recognizable, like chocolate, cranberries. ginger, and orange zest.  After cooking a couple of hours, the meat was tender enough, but the stock was still a little watery.  I uncovered the dish and continued to bake it for about 2 more hours which served to caramelize all of the complexities.

I couldn’t buy meat on bones at our butcher so I bought meat and bones.
After browning, but before braising.  See recipe for finished dish photo.

Since we are officially off pumpkin.  I omitted the addition of pumpkin in the stew, but it still needed some color.  Instead, I roasted some of our vibrant, almost red carrots.  I drizzled them with olive oil and seasoned them with herbes de provence, Himalayan pink salt, and pepper.  They needed to roast for at least 2 hours to get completely tender and a little caramelized.  As a finishing touch, I drizzled them with some passion fruit vinegar, which set them off nicely.

Think you already have the perfect mashed potato sequence?  Bon Appetit has a process that might give you some new thoughts about it.  You start with large cubed potatoes that you cook in salted water.  When they are fork tender, you drain them and turn them out onto a baking sheet to cool and dry for about 15 minutes.

Then, you force the potatoes through a ricer or food mill, along with 1/2 cup of chilled butter.

Heat milk, cream, bay leaves, fresh thyme or rosemary, and pepper corns on the stove.  Allow to steep about 20 minutes and then strain.  Reheat milk mixture.  Pour over potatoes as you stir.  I used the dough hook on my Kitchen Aid mixer.

This may be the biggest tip of the recipe:  at this point you can hold the potatoes in fluffy condition if you do the following.  Number one, cover the potatoes with plastic wrap directly touching them.  Number two,  keep them in a bowl over, but not touching, simmering water.

I kept them for over an hour and they turned out great.

And because I said I would, here is the link to the chocolate peanut butter cake at Smitten Kitchen.  Yes, it is a great recipe.