Springerle Cookies: An old-fashioned anise flavored cookie

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My most favorite Christmas cookie is the polarizing Springerle cookie; you either love them or you hate them. You tend to like them if you like the flavor of anise and black licorice. If not, they typically aren’t for you.

I refer to Springerle as an old-fashioned cookie because of two of the ingredients used: anise oil and bakers ammonia. Both ingredients are very hard to find and can be quite pricey. My mother would need to special order these two ingredients from the pharmacy in the small Iowa town I grew up in. I order mine online from King Arthur Flour.

Bakers ammonia, also know as ammonium carbonate or hartshorn, quickly becomes gaseous ammonia and carbon dioxide when heated which is why it makes a great leveling agent. It is the predecessor to the more modern leveling agents of baking soda and baking powder.

Springerle cookies were the first Christmas cookies my mother would make each year. This is because springerle cookies should age a few weeks in order for them to develop their unique hardness. This also allows the flavor of the anise to mellow. Done correctly, these cookies will remain light and airy though harder than most cookies. You may bake these cookies closer to Christmas if you prefer a softer cookie. You can also place a slice of soft bread in the storage container.

Here is the recipe handed down to me from my mother:

Springerle Cookies

Ingredients

4 Eggs
1 Pound powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon water
½ Teaspoon anise oil
¾ Teaspoon bakers ammonia
½ Teaspoon salt
4 (1 pound 1 ounce) Cups all-purpose flour

Directions

Mix all ingredients, except flour, together and beat one-half hour at the number 5 or medium speed in stand mixer. Gradually add flour to form a stiff dough. If too loose or sticky, add more flour no more than a tablespoon at a time. Turn dough out on cold surface and roll out to about ¼ inch thick with standard rolling pin. Next use pattern springerle rolling to imprint design into dough. Cut dough apart following horizontal and vertical lines imprinted by rolling pin. Move cut cookies to a cool room and let stand overnight or at least eight hours.

After aging the cookie dough, pre-heat oven to 325° F. Grease a cookie sheet with shortening. One by one, place a small drop of water on the under side of each cookie and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Cookies will puff up and the bottoms will slightly brown. The tops will remain somewhat pale.

Notes: I like to roll my cookies out on a very well chilled marble cutting board. This allows me to work with a smaller amount of dough and to cool the cutting surface down. My directions call for aging the cookies overnight in a cool room. A cool room would be a room that is between 50 to 60 degrees or so. Do not place in a refrigerator as you want some air circulation. A refrigerator may cause condensation to form on the cookies.

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Grilled Eggplant and Tomatoes with Rustic Kale Pesto

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Nine months since my last post. I am so very sorry. I have been busy honing my improv and taking an acting class at TCR. During this time I have been creating and cooking many, many things. I just haven’t had the time to blog them and I have quite a backlog. I will try to blog at least once a week again.

Here’s my latest creation.

This is a great late summer meal. All of these ingredients should be readily available this time of year at your farmer’s market or in your garden.

Ingredients

Pesto
8 – 10 larger leaves of Kale (about 2 – 3 cups finely chopped)
4 Cloves Garlic (Minced)
¼ Cup Pine Nuts (Toasted)
¼ Cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (Freshly Grated)
Olive Oil
Grey Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

Eggplant and Tomatoes
2 Larger Eggplants
4 Medium or 2 Larger Tomatoes (I prefer a heirloom tomato)
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

Directions

Pesto
Toast pine nuts in skillet until lightly browned. Let them cool, coarsely chop them and set aside. Remove the thick, center rib from the kale. Next, chop kale into a fairly fine cut. The best way to accomplish this is to use a chiffonade technique to cut the kale into thin strips and then cross-cutting it into finer pieces. Mince garlic and add to kale along with pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir in olive oil using just enough to thoroughly coat all ingredients. Season to taste with grey sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Eggplant and Tomatoes
Preheat grill to high heat. You will reduce heat to low a few minutes before placing the eggplant on the grill. Slice eggplant and tomatoes into ½ inch thick slices. Brush eggplant with olive oil then season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Season tomatoes with kosher salt and a little black pepper. Grill eggplant over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side. Grill tomatoes over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Plating
Place eggplant first followed by tomato. Then top with kale pesto. Enjoy!

There’s an app for that: Angels on Horseback

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I love oysters. I love the salty brininess they bring to food so much that I will order them almost every time I see them on a menu except during the summer months. Yes, I follow the “R” rule and only eat oysters during months containing the letter “R.” I am told this rule no longer applies but old habits die hard.

Oysters also remind me of Christmas and my father. One family tradition while growing up was to have oyster stew on Christmas Eve after coming home from Mass and prior to opening presents. A week later, I would tag along with my father on New Year’s Day when he would go up town to the local taverns to eat raw oysters. It is because of this that I often times associate oysters with the holidays.

The following recipe is a bit of twist on the classic hors d’oeuvre Angels on Horseback. Angels on Horseback are simply shucked oysters wrapped in bacon, skewered and then baked in an oven or grilled. They are often times served on toast.

In my revision of the classic hors d’oeuvre, I first fry the bacon crisp and then use the same pan to sauté the oysters in butter, white wine, and the liquor from the oysters along with scallions and garlic. I then serve them on toast points.

Here is what I do:

Ingredients

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic
Baguette cut on the bias into 1″ thick slices
10 Slices bacon cut into thirds
3 Scallions, finely chopped
¼ Cup white wine
2 teaspoons lemon juice, plus wedges for serving
8 to 12 oysters, shucked, with juices reserved or ½ pint shucked oysters
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Roughly chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

Heat oven to 400° F. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in microwavable bowl. Brush baguette slices with the butter and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes or until lightly toasted then set aside.

While baguette is toasting, cook bacon in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Transfer bacon plate lined with paper towels to drain and set aside. Drain bacon grease from pan but do not wipe pan. (Bacon grease can be used for another use.) Melt remaining butter in the skillet and then add the garlic and scallions. Cook garlic and scallions until soft; about 3 minutes. Add wine, lemon juice, and oysters with their juices. Season with salt and pepper. Cook about three minutes until oysters begin to curl at the edges. Using a slotted spoon, transfer oysters to a bowl and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Continue to cook sauce until thickened and reduced by half. Spoon sauce, dividing evenly, over toast points. Top each point with an oyster and two or three reserved bacon pieces. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

There’s an app for that: Candied Bacon

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I am always looking for great appetizers that are easy and crowd pleasing. This recipe for candied bacon fits the bill. Make sure you use a thick-cut, good quality bacon and real 100% maple syrup. Do not use pancake syrup which is maple flavored, high fructose corn syrup.

As I said, this recipe is so easy. It only take about five minutes of prep time and 30 to 45 minutes of cook time.

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Ingredients

1 pound good quality bacon, sliced
2 Tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup (Do not use pancake syrup.)
¼ Cup brown sugar
2 Teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ Teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ Teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350° F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and top with a wire rack. Mix the maple syrup, brown sugar, Dijon mustard, Kosher salt, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Add the bacon to the bowl and toss gently with your hands making sure that all of the slices are evenly coated. Place the bacon in a single layer onto the wire rack. Bake in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes. The bacon will be a bit brown, but will most likely need to bake for another 10-20 minutes depending on thickness. It should look slightly dark and crispy but not burnt. If you take it out too soon, the texture will be chewy. Patience is certainly a virtue with this.

Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes on the rack. Don’t let them sit too long or else they will stick. Once cool enough to handle, you can break the bacon into chards or cut roughly into thirds. You’ll have about 30 pieces. You can leave them whole if you would like.

Serve at room temperature.

There’s an app for that: Stuffed Mini Peppers

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I am always on the lookout for quick, easy appetizers. Here is a great one for your fall parties and tailgating. The sweetness of the mini peppers balances the tanginess of the chèvre, and the herbs help kick things up to a level your guests will enjoy.

Ingredients

½ cup panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
20 to 25 mini bell peppers, washed
10 ounces goat cheese, softened
4 ounces cream cheeses, softened
2-3 tablespoons of your choice of herbs such as chives and thyme, chopped
black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add panko bread crumbs and sauté until crumbs are golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Slice peppers in half lengthwise. Do not remove stems. The stems are simply for presentation. Remove seeds and place in large bowl. Drizzle remaining olive oil over peppers and toss to coat the peppers. Then arrange peppers on a baking sheet and set aside.

Mix goat cheese, cream cheese, herbs, and pepper with a fork in a small mixing bowl until well combined. Spoon or pipe the cheese mixture into the pepper halfs. Sprinkle toasted panko bread crumbs evenly over peppers. Bake peppers for approximately fifteen minutes or until peppers are tender and the goat cheese is warm. An additional two to three minutes under the broiler may be needed to give the panko topping a little extra browning and to help heat the cheese.

Grilled Portabella Mushroom Tacos

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Here is a hearty meatless taco. The surprising flavor combinations work well together and give a unique twist to a Mexican favorite.

Ingredients

Truffle Aioli
1 Tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 head garlic, roasted
¼ shallot, minced
1 Tablespoon white truffle oil
1 cup mayonnaise

Mushrooms
6 large Portabella mushrooms
¼ Cup olive oil

Caramelized Onions
1 red onion, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup fresh orange juice (3 to 4 oranges)

Tacos
12 (4-inch) corn tortillas
6 large radishes, thinly sliced
2 cups pea shoots

Directions

Truffle aioli
Slice the top off a whole head of garlic and place on a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to completely wrap the garlic head. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap up the head tightly in the aluminum foil. Place on grill while heating grill for mushrooms. Next, place vinegar, roasted garlic, shallot, and truffle oil, in a food processor and pulse several times to create a chunky paste. Add mayonnaise and process until well-combined. Cover and place in refrigerator until needed for tacos.

Grilled mushrooms
Heat grill to medium high heat. Meanwhile remove stems from portobellos and discard. Place mushrooms, olive oil, salt, and pepper in one gallon sealing plastic baggie and gently shake to coat mushrooms. Place mushrooms onto hot grill gill side up and cook for four to five minutes. Turn mushrooms over and cook for another four to five minutes. Remove from grill and tent with aluminum foil. After about ten minutes, slice them into approximately twenty-four ½-inch thick pieces, cover once again with foil and set aside.

Caramelized onions
Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add olive oil. Add onions, salt and pepper and sauté for three to five minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until they have turned a nice light brown color. Once onions are caramelized, add fresh orange juice and continue to cook for about fifteen minutes.

Tacos
Warm tortillas and hold in a tortilla warmer or in aluminum foil until ready to serve. Assemble tacos by adding approximately one tablespoon of truffle aioli to the center of the tortilla from end to end creating a line. Place caramelized onions on top of the truffle aioli and then place two slices of grilled mushrooms on top of mushrooms. Garnish with several slices of radish and five or six sprigs of pea shoots. Serve with a wedge or two of lime to squeeze on tacos.

Sautéed Morel Mushrooms in Cream Sauce

Morels are the truffles of the Midwest. They are heavenly morsels available for a very short time in the spring. Unfortunately, most people simply dredge them through egg and a breading and then fry them in butter. Although I admit they are fantastic that way and I have to make them that way first they are also a very versatile mushroom that lend an earthy goodness to many dishes. They also pair very well with fresh asparagus. Tonight I sautéed them and made a gravy and then served them over a grilled beef tenderloin steak.

Ingredients

½ pound or more of fresh morels cut length-wise in half or quarters if large
1 Large shallot minced
3 Cloves garlic minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ Cup chicken stock
1 Cup heavy cream
Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions

Heated olive oil in 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots, stir and sauté until softened but not brown. Add butter. When melted add morels. Stir and cook until mushrooms start to brown; about 4 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to simmer and cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Add cream and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until reduced and thickened.

Chicken Paillards with Asparagus and Lemon, Garlic, and Dill Sauce

I stopped at a farmer’s market for the first time today and picked up some fresh asparagus, one of my favorite spring treats. When I got home I made this quick, easy dish. The chicken has a very light breading and the garlic, lemon, and dill complement the asparagus very well. Here is what I did:

Ingredients

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
3 oz. (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chicken broth
6 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 lemon, zested and squeezed to yield 1 tablespoon zest and 3 tablespoons juice
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
2 Tbs. unsalted butter

Directions

Pound each chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to an even thickness; ¼ to ½ inch.

Combine the flour with approximately 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge the paillards in the flour. Shake off excess flour and place in the skillet. Do not crowd the skillet. Cook two at a time if paillards are too large. Cook about four to six minutes total flipping once half way through. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the garlic to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about a minute or until right before garlic begins to turn color. Add the chicken broth and lemon zest, scraping up any browned bits from the skillet. Next, add the asparagus and nestle the chicken on top of the asparagus. Add any accumulated juice from chicken. Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to maintain a simmer and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the asparagus is tender, five to seven minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter or plates.

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, dill, and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the asparagus mixture over the chicken and serve.

A Simple Roasted Chicken

This roasted chicken is insanely easy to make. The simple seasonings and cooking method result in a roasted chicken with a nice crispy skin and tender, moist meat.

It’s a delicious chicken recipe any home cook can master and enjoy!

Ingredients

One 3 to 4 pound whole chicken (The happier the better.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ Cup unsalted butter
Several sprigs of thyme. Remove the leaves from a sprig or two of thyme and set aside.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Blot the chicken inside and out with paper towels.

Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird. Trussing is a good technique to feel comfortable with. The wings and legs stay close to the body when you truss a bird. The ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and it also makes for a better presentation.

Now, season the outside of the bird with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Start by placing the chicken breast side down seasoning the back; flip and season the breast and legs.

Place the chicken in a cast iron skillet and place in the 450° oven. Leave it alone for at least 40 to 45 minutes. Then add the butter and thyme sprigs. Do not use the leaves yet. After another ten to 15 minutes, baste chicken with melted butter. Continue roasting until an instant read thermometer reads 165° inserted into the thickest part of the breast. Remove it from the oven, baste one more time, sprinkle with thyme leaves, tent with aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Place on serving platter, remove the twine, and carve.