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What’s a holiday cookie spread without a pecan thing? It’s pretty much a requirement. I’ve made probably 50 different kinds of pecan bars, tassies, tarts and cookies over the years and this one, based on a recipe in the Washington Post based on a Maida Heatter recipe, caught my interest. A cookie crust topped with a brown-sugar-pecan mixture reminiscent of a New Orleans praline. Oh boy, there is little I love more than brown sugar and butter. It’s the best.

For this one, our butter cookie dough forms a thin, crispy base with pecans gently pushed in a pretty, even pattern. Brown sugar and butter is cooked together, with a little salt and vanilla and a bit of cayenne because I felt it needed a little zhuzhing up. It’s not spicy but adds a really nice depth of flavor, a bit of warming toward the end. Pop into the oven until the crust is golden brown and the topping bubbles up and caramelizes around the nuts in a praline-like fashion. Its sturdy, something to consider if you’re shipping cookies, and its tasty. Cut into little squares its everything a pecan bar should be. And then some.

12 Days of Cookies from years past:

Basic Butter Cookie Dough: (see below)

FruityJam ThumbprintsJam Streusel TartsRaspberry Linzer SquaresLemon Poppyseed ButtonsOrange Sesame CrispsCranberry Pistachio CoinsAlmond Raspberry StripsOrange Sandwich CookiesApricot Rosemary ShortbreadCoconut Lime SticksBourbon Glazed Fruitcake ButtonsLemon Cornmeal BiscottiBlueberry Lime ButtonsDate Swirls

NuttyMexican Wedding CookiesRussian Tea CakesPecan TassiesMaple Black Walnut CookiesPB&J Sandwich CookiesPecan Triangles

SpicedCinnamon Sugar PinwheelsCandied Ginger Spice ButtonsCardamom Rose CoinsBrown Sugar Wafers with Lemon Lavender Glaze

ChocolateBasic Chocolate Butter Cookie DoughMexican Chocolate CrinklesChocolate Cocoa Nib Wafers,Raspberry Chocolate DropsChocolate Hazelnut ButtonsDark Mocha Sandwich CookiesEspresso CrinklesCranberry Cocoa Nib WafersChocolate Dulce de Leche Sandwich CookiesChocolate LebkuchenFudge TartsChocolate Marzipan DropsChocolate Coconut BullseyesChocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich CookiesChocolate Almond CrescentsChocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

BarsRum Butter BarsPeppermint Brownie BarsBanana Walnut BarsChocolate Banana Petit Fours

Holiday ClassicsCream Cheese WreathsClassic Molasses CookiesPeppermint Candy CanesAndes Mint Chip CookiesHoliday Mallomars

This year:

Basic Butter Cookie Dough for all recipes

Day 1: Sparkly Sugar Cookies

PECAN PRALINE BARS

Base Butter Cookie Dough – recipe here

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. For the cookie base: Line a pan (with at least 2” sides) with a crisscross of foil, pressing to make as smooth as possible. Parchment will work but foil works better with hot bubbling sugar.
  3. Turn the base cookie dough into the pan and spread to form an even, level layer, pressing down to compact. The easiest way to do this is to crumble the dough into the pan, starting with the corners, and press to form an even layer. Then top the dough with a scrap of parchment and smooth with your fingers. 
  4. Cover the base with the whole pecan halves, flat sides down, giving a little push to adhere to the dough.
  5. for the topping: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the butter, brown sugar, salt and cayenne, stirring with a spatula, until the mixture comes to a hard boil all over the surface. 
  6. Continue to stir for 30 more seconds, then remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot mixture over the pecans, tilting the pan as needed to coat the entire surface.
  7. Bake for 20-23 minutes, until the butter and sugar caramelize and start to solidify around the nuts. 
  8. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. Using the foil, ease the bars from the pan, gently tugging as needed. Remove the foil then cut to desired size – thin strips or small squares. 
  10. Let the bars to come to room temperature before serving.
  11. Make Ahead: The baked bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or frozen for several months. Separate the layers with wax paper.
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Here we go … Day 1 of 12 Days of Cookies, the 2022 Edition. Starting off slow and easy with these pretty, sparkly cookies. After the Thanksgiving crush, gift shopping and the general head spin that precedes December 1st, an easy one is required. 

First move: round up some pretty sugars or sprinkles. I particularly like the large grain sugars; they’re extra sparkly. These things are everywhere right now – grocery stores, craft stores, dollar stores, online. The best selection is right now and probably on sale too. You can also make your own colored sugar if the mood strikes. Just put ¼ cup sugar in a plastic bag, add 1-3 drops of gel/paste food coloring and smoosh/shake it to blend. Turn the sugar out into a clean sheet pan and let dry for several hours. Easy.

Once you have your sugars figured out, take the room temperature butter cookie dough, mix in a few simple things then roll it into tablespoon sized balls (or whatever size you like) and give it a good roll in that colored sugar to fully coat. Bake, giving them a gentle press halfway through to flatten. That’s it. Pretty. Easy. Delicious. It’s also a good one to turn to if you have scraps of dough left from an odd sized batch. And if your cookie tin needs a little color and sparkle, this is the one.

12 Days of Cookies from years past:

FruityJam ThumbprintsJam Streusel TartsRaspberry Linzer SquaresLemon Poppyseed ButtonsOrange Sesame CrispsCranberry Pistachio CoinsAlmond Raspberry StripsOrange Sandwich CookiesApricot Rosemary ShortbreadCoconut Lime SticksBourbon Glazed Fruitcake ButtonsLemon Cornmeal BiscottiBlueberry Lime ButtonsDate Swirls

NuttyMexican Wedding CookiesRussian Tea CakesPecan TassiesMaple Black Walnut CookiesPB&J Sandwich CookiesPecan Triangles

SpicedCinnamon Sugar PinwheelsCandied Ginger Spice ButtonsCardamom Rose CoinsBrown Sugar Wafers with Lemon Lavender Glaze

ChocolateBasic Chocolate Butter Cookie DoughMexican Chocolate CrinklesChocolate Cocoa Nib Wafers,Raspberry Chocolate DropsChocolate Hazelnut ButtonsDark Mocha Sandwich CookiesEspresso CrinklesCranberry Cocoa Nib WafersChocolate Dulce de Leche Sandwich CookiesChocolate LebkuchenFudge TartsChocolate Marzipan DropsChocolate Coconut BullseyesChocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich CookiesChocolate Almond CrescentsChocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

BarsRum Butter BarsPeppermint Brownie BarsBanana Walnut BarsChocolate Banana Petit Fours

Holiday ClassicsCream Cheese WreathsClassic Molasses CookiesPeppermint Candy CanesAndes Mint Chip CookiesHoliday Mallomars

This year:

Base Butter Cookie Dough

SPARKLY SUGAR COOKIES 

Base Butter Cookie Dough – recipe here

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, place the rack in the lower third of the oven and line a sheet pan or two with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the room temperature butter cookie dough, baking powder, salt and sugar.
  3. Place the colored sugar or sprinkles of choice in small bowls.
  4. Roll the cookie dough into tablespoon sized balls.
  5. Roll the balls in the colored sugar to fully coat, pressing lightly to help the sugar adhere.
  6. Place on the prepared sheet pan, 1” apart to allow for spreading, and bake for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and give each cookie a gentle press to flatten a little. Return to the oven for an additional 5-7 minutes until the cookies are firm to the touch but still soft in the centers and golden brown on the bottoms.
  8. Let cool.
  9. Cookie dough can be rolled into balls and frozen up to 3 months. The colored sugars sticks best if the dough is soft.

So. Here we are. Twelve Days of Cookies. I thought after 48 cookie recipes (linked below) plus 12 for crackers (here) over the years, I was out of ideas. And I was, for a while. This year has been crazy busy and all my creative recipe brain space has been consumed with work projects but somehow, in a corner of my notebook, I’ve been scribbling cookie ideas here and there. Apparently, the idea portion of my brain takes a break and come back strong. So once again, here we are. A brand new set of Twelve Days of Cookies. Buckle up.

If you’ve played along in the past, you know the drill. If you’re new to this game, we start with one good, solid butter cookie dough and divide it into four, maybe eight, maybe only two pieces. Maybe even something in between. Then you add various things to those blocks of dough – brown sugar, cocoa, nuts, chocolate; all kinds of things – then roll, press, fill and cut to turn them into different cookies. Turning one basic dough into several completely different cookies is the solution to alleviating your holiday baking stress. Works remarkably well unless you try and bang out all 12 cookies the Monday before Thanksgiving like me. That brings a certain amount of aggravation into your life but is do-able if you have to. Sometimes you do what you have to do.

I did a recap a few years back on how to think about your selections and getting organized here and below is the basic dough recipe that starts every cookie. Make a batch or two to start and every other day until Christmas, I’ll throw a new cookie recipe at you in a few different batch sizes. There are a few bars this year, that workhorse of easy holiday baking. A filled cookie, some shortbread. Some are easy, some more involved. Plus don’t forget about the archive of years past – 48 other options to peruse. It’s a choose your own cookie adventure.

12 Days of Cookies from years past:

Basic Butter Cookie Dough: (see below)

FruityJam ThumbprintsJam Streusel TartsRaspberry Linzer SquaresLemon Poppyseed ButtonsOrange Sesame CrispsCranberry Pistachio CoinsAlmond Raspberry StripsOrange Sandwich CookiesApricot Rosemary ShortbreadCoconut Lime SticksBourbon Glazed Fruitcake ButtonsLemon Cornmeal BiscottiBlueberry Lime ButtonsDate Swirls

NuttyMexican Wedding CookiesRussian Tea CakesPecan TassiesMaple Black Walnut CookiesPB&J Sandwich CookiesPecan Triangles

SpicedCinnamon Sugar PinwheelsCandied Ginger Spice ButtonsCardamom Rose CoinsBrown Sugar Wafers with Lemon Lavender Glaze

ChocolateBasic Chocolate Butter Cookie DoughMexican Chocolate CrinklesChocolate Cocoa Nib Wafers,Raspberry Chocolate DropsChocolate Hazelnut ButtonsDark Mocha Sandwich CookiesEspresso CrinklesCranberry Cocoa Nib WafersChocolate Dulce de Leche Sandwich CookiesChocolate LebkuchenFudge TartsChocolate Marzipan DropsChocolate Coconut BullseyesChocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich CookiesChocolate Almond CrescentsChocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

BarsRum Butter BarsPeppermint Brownie BarsBanana Walnut BarsChocolate Banana Petit Fours

Holiday ClassicsCream Cheese WreathsClassic Molasses CookiesPeppermint Candy CanesAndes Mint Chip CookiesHoliday Mallomars

BASIC BUTTER COOKIE DOUGH

Makes dough for 2 or 4 or 8 batches of cookies

Vanilla has come down in price from years past (thank god) but if it’s still out of your price range, raid the liquor cabinet. I’ve used bourbon and dark rum as decent substitutions.

1 pound unsalted butter, softened (4 sticks)

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

4 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  1. In a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Scrape the bowl and with the mixer running on medium-low, add the yolks one at a time, then the vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Scrape the bowl.
  3. With the mixer on low, gradually mix in the flour until combined.  Scrape a final time and turn the dough onto a work surface and gently knead to incorporate all remaining flour.
  4. Divide the dough into two, four or eight equal pieces (a scale is ideal here) and use as is for a delicious butter cookie or proceed with one or several of the variations that will follow in the next twelve posts (or the forty-eight posts from year’s past). 

Tips:

  • Dough can be made ahead and refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.  Let return to room temperature before continuing.
  • If using salted butter rather than unsalted, decrease the salt in the recipe to ¾ teaspoon.

I tend to do a funny thing with excess food that’s taking up too much space. I turn it into something else and then move it from one place to another. From fridge to freezer. From pantry to freezer (um, hello bean stash.) From fruit bowl to pantry. It’s more of a shifting of the problem than eliminating the problem, but whatever. I’m doing something and it’s not going to waste.

Recently I found myself with an excess of fruit. Again. It’s a frequently occurring problem. I’d picked up a bunch of rhubarb with no plan (no plan = frequently occurring problem #2) and it sat in the fridge for a bit. I also had a few containers of raspberries, over purchased for a holiday cake. I often over purchase as I’m a terrible at calculating how much I’ll need and I don’t like to run out midway. It’s less stressful to deal with an excess of fruit later than to run to the store at 2am to buy more. Trust me. So here I was, again, finding a use for excess fruit but this was an easy one. I’ve said before and I’ll happily repeat myself … raspberries + rhubarb is the superior combination. They are meant to be together. So was it to be tarts? Ice cream? How about a small batch of jam? Yes, why not jam?

A small batch moves quickly, which was important because I was short on time, and the method couldn’t be easier. Equal parts fruit to sugar. My raspberries and chopped rhubarb equaled 380g so I tumbled them into a bowl, added an equal amount of sugar and some fresh lemon juice, gave it a stir and popped it in the fridge. Two days later I brought it to a boil, cooked for just over 10 minutes until it gelled and poured the bubbly red mix into 5 little jars. Easy. Sunshine on toast. And the problem has now moved from the fridge to the pantry. Success. Ish.

I read a nice little description in a marmalade recipe by Master Preserver Camilla Wynne on how to tell when you’ve hit the proper gelled/cooked state. On a plate that’s been in the freezer for 10 minutes, place a small spoonful of the jam and pop back in the freezer for 2 minutes. Retrieve the dish, then give the dollop a nudge with your fingertip. If the surface wrinkles like a silk shirt on the floor on Sunday morning, it’s ready. Otherwise, continue cooking for a few minutes before trying again. Doesn’t that conjure up exactly what to look for? Bravo Camilla.

STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: EASY LIKE A SUNDAY MORNING. I’ve recently started composting and have become hyper aware of my food waste. Had I waited until I had a stretch of time, these lovely fruits would have gone into the bin so I’m pretty damn pleased I turned this into something lovely and delicious 30 minutes before my dentist appointment. I squeezed it in when I could. While my jam shelf is packed, it’s easier to deal with than a full fridge so I’m calling victory. My morning toast appreciates it. Plus I can always gift a jar and people will think I’m wonderful. They don’t need to know the real back story. Victory x 2.

other jams: Wild Blackberry JamRhubarb Beer JamApricot JamTomato Chile JamTexas MarmaladeBlood Orange Marmalade, Small Batch Spiced Plum Butter

things to do with jam: Simple Jam TartOatmeal Jam BarsThe CBJ (grilled cashew butter, cheese and fig jam sandwich), Baked Brie with Savory Fig JamJam ThumbprintsJam Streusel TartsSavory Jam ThumbprintsMarmalade Yogurt Cake  

thirteen years ago: Chanterelles & Fresh Pasta

twelve years ago: Sour Cherry Cobbler

eleven years agoSweet & Spicy Beer Mustard

ten years agoSour Cherry Slab Pie

nine years agoHungarian Cherry Soup

eight years agoGuinness Crème Anglaise

seven years ago: Carrot Green & Parmesan Bites  

six years ago: Pineapple with Lemongrass & Lime Leaf Syrup

five years ago: Salmon Rilettes

four years agoGreek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

three years ago: Pan Con Tomate

two years ago: Fresh Pita Bread

last year: Peaches, Halloumi, Mint Vinaigrette,  

RASPBERRY RHUBARB JAM

380g fruit = 5 small 4oz jars

Base recipe:

1:1 fruit to sugar

5% the weight of the fruit in fresh lemon juice (this helps the set)

My batch:

165g fresh red raspberries

216g chopped rhubarb

380g sugar

19g fresh lemon juice

  1. In a large bowl, combine the fruit, sugar and lemon juice, Stir to combine at refrigerate 1-3 days. If you remember, give a stir once or twice a day.
  2. When you’re ready to cook the jam, place your jars in a large pan with at least 1” water to cover. Boil for 10 minutes.
  3. Drain and remove the jars from the hot water and turn upside down on a clean kitchen towel. Slide the rings and lids into the hot water and put the lid on the pot.
  4. Placed a small ceramic plate in the freezer.
  5. Meanwhile, in another pot, bring the fruit mixture to a boil of medium high,
  6. Continue boiling the mixture, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, cook until the surface is glossy, the mixture clings to the spatula and the bubbles are large, rhythmic and a little mesmerizing. Test the set as noted above – place a bit of the frozen plate and return to the freezer for 2 minutes. Give the chilled jam a little nudge with your finger and if it wrinkles a bit, it’s ready. If not, boil for another 5 minutes and test again. My small batch was ready in about 12 minutes.  
  7. Turn the jars right side up, remove the rings and lids from the hot water and let drain on the kitchen towel. 
  8. Fill the jars, leaving ½” headspace. Wipe the jar rims clean with a damp paper towel, place a lid and ring on top and fasten the ring. 
  9. At this point, you can water bath process in boiling water for 10 minutes or turn the jars upside down on a wire rack for 2 minutes, then turn upright and let rest at room temperature, undisturbed, for 24 hours. Regardless of method, check the next day to make sure the jars have sealed. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and consumed within 2 months. Sealed jars can be kept at room temperature for up to 1 year.

It’s melon season in Southwest France and I’m crying that I’m missing it. They’re incredible – a variety called charentes with a deep orange flesh and a fragrant sweetness that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. So so good. When I visit, I’ll make a point of buying several at the markets and the farmer will carefully select and mark them – 1, 2, 3 – based on what order to eat them. Amazing. My dear friend Bill often makes a simple melon salad with a bit of piment d’esplette, olive oil and sea salt that is so great. I think he once pickled the melon which was also fantastic.

Speaking of melon salads, a friend got married a few weekends ago and the food was outstanding – shout out to Maison Cuisine. There was a salad on the dinner buffet that really tickled my fancy and reminded me of Bill – melon, red onion, cucumber with the delightful addition of candied ginger. I made a quick note in my phone for later (one never knows where you’ll find inspiration), grabbed another cocktail and danced the night away.

I can’t really get great melons like those in France, more’s the pity. Sometimes, for a short week or two, something similar might be at the farmers market but for the most part, it’s rather bland cantaloupes. Sad. My plan was to take one of those mediocre grocery store cantaloupes and see if I could zhuzh it up with some of these flavors, inspired both by Bill and that wedding salad. I bought one and that was the plan but then I did something typical. I forgot about that melon. I overcommitted myself and never quite got to it. But something amazing happened as it sat on the counter. That damn thing ripened to an amazing sweetness. Sure it was just this side of turning but holy hell was it good – sweet and flavorful and wonderful. Better than when I bought it, most certainly!

The combination of sweet melon, cucumber, red onion and those surprise bits of ginger with a bit of lemon juice, mint and a hint of spice was outstanding. Crunchy, cold, refreshingly wonderful, it’s another one for those too hot and too tired to cook kind of days. I had originally thought of adding some honey to bring up the sweetness but my lackadaisical attitude took care of that and I didn’t even need it. If your melon isn’t quite up to par, maybe add a little honey. Or just forget about it on the counter for a week because that apparently works too. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: PROCRASTINATION FOR THE WIN! If you can’t find a good melon, maybe plan ahead for this one. I can’t guarantee that a mediocre melon will turn into a great one after a week on the counter but it can’t hurt to try. 

thirteen years ago: Tart Tips & Tart DoughSour Cherry Sorbet

twelve years ago: Betty’s Pies exploring Minnesota

eleven years ago: Sweet & Spicy Beer Mustard

ten years ago: Bastille Day Bomb PopsSour Cherry Slab Pie

nine years ago: Spicy Pineapple PaletasHungarian Cherry Soup

eight years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

seven years ago: Blender Gazpacho,   

six years ago: Blueberries & Cream PopsiclesBeef Bulgogi & Rice Cake SkewersThai Grilled Coconut Rice & Banana

five years ago: Salmon Rilettes

four years ago: Greek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

three years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

two years ago: Pico de Gallo White Bean SaladSimple Summer Fruit Tarts

last year: Sorrel (Hibiscus Drink)

SUMMER MELON AND GINGER SALAD

serves 4-6

I like a bit of spice in this mix; it goes so well with the sweetness of the melon and the herbal notes from the mint. In the spirit of my French friends, I used piment d’esplette, a mild ground red pepper from the Basque country but can be hard to find. In its place, Aleppo pepper is nice but also may be a challenge to locate. That delightful Mexican spice mix, Tajin, is great or, taking a tip from Cooks Illustrated, use a mix of sweet paprika and cayenne.

1 cantaloupe, peeled, halved, seeded, and cut into 1 ½” chunks (6 cups)

½ red onion, thinly sliced

½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

1 generous tablespoon candied ginger, sliced into thin batons

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon mild honey, optional

1 teaspoon piment d’esplette (or dried Aleppo pepper, Tajin or ¾ teaspoon sweet paprika + ¼ teaspoon cayenne)

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ cup fresh mint, chopped

  1. Taste your melon: if you’re lucky and it’s very sweet and flavorful you can skip the honey. 
  2. Combine red onion and lemon juice in large bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. 
  3. Stir in piment d’esplette (or spice of choice), salt and honey if needed. 
  4. Add the cantaloupe, cucumber, candied ginger and chopped mint; stir to combine. 
  5. Transfer to shallow serving bowl and serve. Salad is best eaten the day it’s made.

I haven’t been cooking much for myself lately. It’s been all work recipes all the time and then scraping something together from the leftovers. I’ve been laying low, depressed and dismayed at where we are as a country with a low simmering, building anger. If one more white CIS males tells me it will be ok, I will punch him. It’s not OK. It just isn’t. I keep thinking back to 2018 when someone dismissed my concern over his presidential choice and lectured me that everything will be fine, there are checks and balances, blah blah blah. I expressed my doubts then, was summarily shot down and lo and behold, I was proven right. My concerns were real and justified. It was a classic deflection to avoid a difficult discussion, a be-quiet-little-lady response meant to make me feel small and ill informed. Except I am neither small nor ill informed. Because here we are. In the last weeks, I’ve lost autonomy of my own body, our country is veering into extreme religious rule, our courts are now politicized and there was a mass shooting 30 minutes from my house. Another one. We can’t go to school, we can’t go to church, go to a concert, watch a parade or grocery shop or go to a movie without a lingering fear we might die. We’ve become numb to it all and I don’t like it one bit.

In the meantime, I write postcards for pro-choice and sensible gun control candidates, I volunteer escort at a women’s clinic when I can and I try to get through the days. And I guess I have to eat. Yes, I am steering this difficult topic to food because as much time as I spend thinking, talking and writing about food, it hasn’t been providing the usual levels of comfort. That’s concerning. I don’t feel like cooking and I don’t feel like eating.

My savior? Much to my great great surprise … bagged salads. And that’s what I choose to talk about today. Bagged salads. Weird topic, definitely, but I it’s about all I can handle right now. In general, I don’t care for lettuce (what’s the point?) and I really don’t care for pre-bagged salads. They always look sad and droopy and the flavor combinations are surprisingly boring. However … I have noticed that Trader Joe’s bucks this trend and carries some really interesting and delicious mixes – not just in the greens but the dressings and crunchy add ins too. There’s texture AND flavor. Bravo TJ’s. It’s about all I can handle these days – bagged salads and frozen appetizers. 

These combinations gave me a rare moment of inspiration as I mustered up the energy to make something refreshing and crunchy, with a minimal amount of cooking. Just a lot of chopping. Something about wielding that big knife felt really good. It’s sort of Vietnamese and maybe a little Thai, with a coconut milk based dressing spiked with lime juice, ginger and my favorite, makrut lime. That last one may be tough to find – try a Thai leaning market. I bought a little plant this winter and have been happy to have a supply of fresh leaves nearby but I have a stash in the freezer too just in case. I’ve been eating a lot of shrimp because they defrost and cook quickly and I don’t have the brain space to plan too far out. The vegetables are bright and crunchy and hold up pretty well and sure, it veers into slaw territory, but I really enjoy that crunch. And right now, the goal is just to breathe and get something on the plate. This works.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR. BREATHE AND FIGHT LIKE HELL. Maybe chop up a bunch of vegetables – wielding a big knife is therapeutic and makes you feel like a boss. Or just buy an interesting bag of salad but don’t be complacent about what is happening in our world. Don’t. At one point, America was the great experiment. No longer. Get involved. Write for Postcards to Voters. Pay attention. READ. Get your news from trusted news services and read it, don’t watch it. TV News is entertainment – don’t forget that. Read in depth coverage from publications that adhere to ethical standards of reporting and the classic elements of journalism in America. If they’ve won a few Pulitzers, you’re on the right track. And for crissakes VOTE. 25% of the population is holding us hostage by counting on our laziness and disinterest. Don’t stand for it. 

thirteen years ago: Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

twelve years ago: Big American Flag CakeSour Cherry Cobbler

eleven years ago: Strawberry ShortcakeSweet & Spicy Beer MustardLife in Southwest France

ten years ago: Spanish Sunday Lunch – Patatas AioliStrawberry Hibiscus PopsiclesFarro Tabbouleh

nine years ago: Passionfruit Chiffon CakeBBQ Baked BeansHush PuppiesTin Roof SundaeWatermelon Aqua FrescaRhubarb Beer Jam

eight years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

seven years ago: Onion Rye Berry BreadRadish ButterSlow Roasted Spiced Pineapple  

six years ago:  Sedano e Pomodori (Braised Celery and Tomato)Pina Colada SherbetOrange Julius with Strawberry and Pineapple variations)Chicken Shawarma Pocket SandwichRoasted Cherry Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

five years ago: Michelada Style ClamsGrand AioliSalmon Rilettes

four years ago: Greek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

three years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

two years ago: Raspberry Rhubarb Streusel TartGinger Mint Lemonade Base

last year: Mexican Seafood CocktailSorrel (Hibiscus Drink)

GRILLED SHRIMP SALAD WITH COCONUT DRESSING

Serves 4

When grilling shrimp, I always skewer them. Makes it easy to flip quickly and avoid overcooking. Chasing loose shrimp around the grill is no fun. If you don’t have makrut lime leaf, skip it. Nothing else quite duplicates that flavor and the dressing is still pretty good without it.

for the dressing:

1 cup full fat coconut milk

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 large makrut lime leaf, finely diced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce

1-2 small fresh red chilies, finely diced or ¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

for the salad:

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled & deveined (21-25 count)

½ head napa cabbage, thinly sliced crosswise, about 4 cups

½ medium English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced 

½ medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced, about ½ cup

1 medium carrot, shredded or sliced into thin batons, about 1 cup

¼ small red onion, thinly sliced, about ½ cup

¼ cup roasted salted cashews or peanuts, roughly chopped

2 Tablespoons torn Thai basil leaves

2 Tablespoons torn mint leaves

  1. The night before: In a medium jar, add the dressing ingredients and shake to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld. Shake before using.
  2. Pour about ½ cup of the dressing into heavy Ziploc bag. Add the shrimp; turn to coat and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 
  3. Thread the marinated shrimp onto metal or wooden skewers and preheat a grill to medium high. 
  4. Grill the shrimp until opaque and just cooked through, a few minutes on each side. Alternatively, use a stovetop grill pan or sauté over medium high. If sautéing, add a bit of oil to the hot pan first.
  5. In a large bowl, combine all the vegetables, nuts and most of the basil and mint. Toss with the about ½ cup dressing, just enough to lightly coat, reserving a tablespoon or two to drizzle on top.
  6. Add the grilled shrimp on top, drizzle with the reserved dressing and garnish with some additional basil and mint.

Hi. It’s been a while. My professional life has been incredibly busy and has sucked up so much of my recipe creativity, leaving little left for other things. I’ve been running on empty and leaning heavily on cooking tried and true favorites, generally just trying to get through the days. Aren’t we all? It’s full on survival mode. But I came up with something a few weekends ago and thought I’d share.

It all stems from my spare freezer, the one friends call my ‘magical freezer’. It is a bottomless pit of stuff, a giant magical mystery box full of things I buy with a purpose and forget. Leftovers from various projects. The overwhelming abundance that my little garden plot produces late in the season that I can’t deal with in the moment. Gifts from generous friends. Client samples. Oh so many client samples. Every once in a while, it needs an aggressive purge and that time had come.

I made a cherry pie for a holiday BBQ and knocked out 8 cups of frozen sour cherries. Boom. In digging out the cherries, I found a box of frozen spinach and a thick round of cream cheese dough. Couldn’t remember their original purpose and it didn’t really matter anymore. I could turn this into something. Rifling through the fridge, I unearthed some fresh dill and mint, a half container of feta and a jalapeno; all leftovers from an earlier recipe project. Hmmm. Some sort of spanakopita-ish hand pie thing was starting to come to mind.

And then there were the beans. Oh lord, the beans. I have a bit of a problem, thanks to the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. Every quarter, six pounds arrive and while I really enjoy receiving them, I’ve acquired quite a back stock. It’s just this side of alarming. (Is bean hoarding a thing? Lordy.) One look at that shelf and I made a vow to kick up my bean eating immediately. (In fact, I cooked up 1 ½ pounds this morning. No time like the present.) So anyway, while I was digging around in the freezer, I found a small bag of cassoulet beans, cooked with big ideas and no time to execute. Story of my life. Could I put beans in a hand pie? Why not? Use those suckers up. So that’s what I did: made a spinach/herb/feta/white bean filling and stuffed it into thin rounds of tender, cream cheese dough. Baked until golden and crispy, they were delicious. Even better with the leftover tzatziki I happened to have. The magical freezer delivers yet again.

Now I realize with this god damn heat, turning on the oven seems like the worst idea in the world. If, unlike me, you have A/C it’s probably not an issue but maybe bake in the morning before things get too fiery. Or freeze them unbaked and finish off later. Not that I’m advocating for re-stuffing the freezer but they are awful nice to have on hand for a quick snack.

STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: OH THE SATISFACTION. Taking seeming random things found in the depths of the freezer/fridge and turning them into something wonderful is a great feeling. Making space in my damn freezer feels even better.

thirteen years ago: Cajun Ginger Cookies

twelve years ago: Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

eleven years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie; Lard Crust

ten years agoRicotta Cheesecake

nine years ago: Greek Meatballs

eight years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

seven years ago: Eton Mess

six years ago: Julia’s Braised Cucumbers

five years ago: Cream Soda Sherbet

four years ago: Lemon Sour Cream Pie

three years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

two years ago: Chorizo & Cornbread Strada (Savory Bread Pudding)

last year: Refried Beans

WHITE BEAN SPINACH FETA HAND PIES

Makes about 1 ½ dozen with a 4 ¼” round cutter

If you don’t feel like making a dough, purchased pie crust, puff pastry or phyllo work too. Look for one without palm oil, and preferably all butter or olive oil. Trader Joe’s usually stocks good stuff at reasonable prices.

for the cream cheese pastry dough:

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

¼ cup whole milk

1 ½ cups + 2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour 

½ teaspoon kosher salt

egg wash: 1 egg well beaten

for the filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped jalapeño, about ½ of a large pepper

2 large garlic cloves, minced 

1 10oz box frozen spinach, defrosted

1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped

½ cup cooked white beans (cannellini, northern, tarbais)

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¾ cup crumbled feta

  1. for the pastry dough: In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and cream cheese until smooth and well combined.
  2. Add the flour and salt and mix on medium until crumbly and the butter/cream cheese is distributed throughout the flour.
  3. Add the milk and mix on medium until the dough comes together.  
  4. Divide the dough in half, lightly sprinkle with flour and roll between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to a smooth, even layer about 1/8” thick. Repeat with the other piece of dough and refrigerate until firm, at least ½ hour. The dough can rest in the refrigerator up to one day or freeze up to 3 months and defrost overnight in the refrigerator.
  5. Cut rounds with a 4 ¼” cutter and place on a parchment lined sheet pan. 
  6. Continue rolling and cutting, rerolling the scraps. Place the rounds in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.
  7. For the filling: heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium and slowly sauté the onion with a pinch of salt until very soft and lightly golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.
  8. Add the jalapeño and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
  9. Squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible then spread out on a double layer of paper towels (or a tea towel) and squeeze out some more. Remove as much liquid as you can.
  10. Roughly chop the spinach, and place in a mixing bowl with the sautéed onions/jalapeño/garlic, dill, mint, beans, salt and pepper. Once completely cool, stir in the feta, taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. The filling can be made 2-3 days ahead and refrigerated until needed.
  11. To shape/fill: Preheat the oven to 375°F if baking immediately. Beat an egg to make the egg wash.
  12. Working with 3-4 pastry rounds at a time (keep the remaining pastry rounds in the refrigerator until needed), brush the edges of one half with the egg wash.
  13. Place about a heaping mound of the filling in the center of each round (about 2 tablespoons). 
  14. Fold dough over filling and press to close. 
  15. Either crimp the edge with a fork to seal, or turn the edges of the dough over itself to form a sort of rolling crimp. (The hand pies can be frozen on a sheet pan until solid then transferred to a Ziploc bag for up to 2 months. Egg wash and bake directly from the freezer adding a few minutes to the baking time. Write the baking instructions on the bag with a sharpie to make things easier.)
  16. Place on a parchment paper lined sheet pan, brush with egg wash.  Continue with the remaining rounds and filling. 
  17. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Cool on a wire rack.
  18. Serve hot or room temperature with a complementary sauce if desired, like tzatziki or a roasted red pepper pesto.

When did fruit salads fall out of favor? Exactly when did they universally become a bowl of underripe cantaloupe, watermelon chunks, tasteless strawberries, hard pineapple and red grapes? What happened to those intricately carved watermelons that looked like baskets or whales filled with fresh, flavorful fruit and the judicious use of a melon baller? Remember when you could order a fruit salad on a restaurant menu and it was good? As a kid I used to make really elaborate fruit salads, prettily fanned out on a plate in mosaic patterns with a bowl of berry yogurt in the center for dipping. I haven’t done that in years. I think it’s time to reclaim the damn fruit salad.

I have an abundance of peaches at the moment, the result of my brilliant idea to get a summer subscription of Georgia peaches. They are wonderful, truly wonderful, but I can’t seem to get through a shipment before the next one arrives and that’s created a bit of a backlog. First world problems, yes, I know. I’ve made ice cream and sorbets, a pie or two and last night a really wonderful salad with salty cheese and a mint vinaigrette. A delight. The best fruit salad I’ve had in a long, long while.

The peaches are not my only abundance problem right now. The mint in my garden plot is rather plentiful. No, that doesn’t quite adequately describe what is happening. My mint is a beast that requires an aggressive trim at least twice a week to beat it into submission. I’m constantly looking for things to do with it as one cannot live on mojitos alone (news flash). I love mint + peaches so I dug up a vinaigrette recipe I haven’t made in far too long. A bunch of mint, bright lime, a bit of honey; it is lovely and exceptionally good with summer stone fruits. 

Anyway, I was thinking some salty feta would be a nice addition but a trip to the farmers market had me throwing a favorite cheese into my bag from a WI vendor called Brunkow. I just call it “Brunkow Cheese” but technically it’s a ‘juustoleipa” – a mild, salty, firm, sort of bouncy cheese from Finland that holds up to heat. It reminds me a lot of halloumi or the Greek kasseri. You grill or pan fry to get a toasty crust and a melty center. If you can find this type of cheese in your store, by all means use it, otherwise look for the more readily available halloumi or kasseri as it essentially works the same. Toasty melty salty cheese, mint and peaches are a wonderful combination, especially on these hot days when you really don’t feel much like eating anything.

STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: COOL RUNNINGS. I’m not even entirely sure what I mean by that but I’ve watched 1,764 hours of Olympic coverage in the fist six days and the Jamaican bobsled team is on my mind tonight. Weird, I know. But really, I think the gist is it’s hot and I don’t feel like eating a damn thing and yet, this salad went down really well. Fresh, bright, easy and refreshing; it’s all that summer food should be.

additional peach recipes: Roasted Peach Sour Cream Ice CreamPeach Buttermilk Ice CreamPeach SorbettoPeach Frozen CustardPeach Blackberry CobblerGinger Peach Hand PiesPeach PandowdyPeach CrostadaBourbon Peach Rugelah

twelve years ago: Tart Tips & Tart DoughSour Cherry Sorbet

eleven years agoBetty’s Pies exploring Minnesota

ten years agoLife in Southwest France

nine years agoBastille Day Bomb PopsSour Cherry Slab Pie

eight years agoSpicy Pineapple PaletasHungarian Cherry Soup

seven years agoGuinness Crème Anglaise

six years agoBlender Gazpacho  

five years agoBlueberries & Cream PopsiclesBeef Bulgogi & Rice Cake SkewersThai Grilled Coconut Rice & Banana

four years agoSalmon Rilettes

three years agoGreek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years agoStrawberry Mascarpone Galette

last yearPico de Gallo White Bean SaladSimple Summer Fruit Tarts

PEACHES, HALLOUMI & MINT VINAGRETTE

Serves 2-3

Ripe, juicy peaches are pretty important for this one. This would also work well with nectarines, plums and probably even apricots. I might even consider plump, sweet cherries. I sometimes also like a sprinkle of Tajin on the peaches, that lime-chili-salt stuff that is weirdly addictive (I use Rancho Gordo’s version.)

for the mint vinaigrette:

¼ cup roughly chopped fresh mint (10g)

3 Tablespoons lime juice

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar 

1 Tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 tsp coarse ground pepper

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

for the salad:

2 ripe peaches, pitted and thinly sliced

½ pound halloumi or kasseri (or juustoleipa cheese if you can find it)

Optional additions: arugula, Tajin (or cayenne)

  1. For the vinaigrette: add mint, lime juice, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a blender and process until smooth-ish.
  2. With the blender on low, drizzle in the olive oil and run until emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. It will be on the thin side. Set aside until needed. Vinaigrette is best within a few hours but will keep refrigerated for a few days though the freshness of the mint tends to fade a bit over time.
  3. For the salad: Leave the cheese in big pieces so it’s easier to handle, one or two pieces.
  4. Preheat a grill or or a dry non-stick pan over medium to medium high then cook the cheese until lightly browned and crusty on the outside and warm and melty on the inside. If in doubt, go with the lower temperature as the cheese will brown very quickly on a higher heat before it gets soft and melty on the inside.
  5. Cut the warm cheese into pieces.
  6. Divide the peaches and warm halloumi between two plates and drizzle a spoonful or two of the vinaigrette on top. 
  7. If desired, top with a sprinkle or two of tajin (or a pinch of cayenne) and a sprig of fresh mint. For more of a salad, placed the peaches and cheese on a bed of arugula.
  8. Serve immediately while the cheese is warm.

I ordered some takeout from a new-to-me Afro-Caribbean restaurant the other day – Cocoa Chili. The food was great – chicken yassa and plantains – but on a whim I threw a drink into my digital cart. A glass of sorrel. It was described as “refreshingly cool hibiscus flower beverage steeped with Caribbean herbs and spices and sweetened with cane sugar.” I was thirsty, I like hibiscus, it sounded good and I am always up to try something new.

Boy, was it ever good. How have I not had this before? Until very recently, sorrel to me has always been a tart, citrusy green herb that grows like crazy in my garden plot. I never knew it was also what some called hibiscus. I’ve cooked with dried hibiscus flowers but knew them more so by the Mexican name, flor de jamaica, not sorrel and have enjoyed hibiscus drinks in Mexican taquerias but it wasn’t like this. There was a spice flavor here I very much enjoyed. How have I not crossed paths with sorrel drink? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it a time or two but was likely thinking of the green herb, so I glossed over it time and again. Big mistake. This stuff is delicious. Cold, lightly sweetened, a little tart, a little floral with this haunting spice note. Clove? Allspice? Cinnamon? Ginger? What was that? I had a bunch of dried hibiscus flowers leftover from some project so I fired up google. I had to figure this out.

 

I learned sorrel (or sorrel drink, zobo or sobolo) is popular in Caribbean and African countries and the specifics of the recipe vary slightly. Every recipe starts with dried hibiscus blossoms (or sometime fresh if you’re climately blessed) then warm baking spices are added – cinnamon, allspice, ginger, star anise, cloves and peppercorns are all possibilities. Some might add citrus; I saw versions with orange, lemon and/or limes. The mixture is brought to a boil then left to steep anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 days when it is then strained and sweetened. It reminds me a lot of mulled wine and like that beverage, it is also consumed frequently around the holidays. Most commonly enjoyed cold over ice and it’s not uncommon to add a jigger or two of rum. Rather festive, I must say.

I’m not sure what spices Cocoa Chili use but I decided on fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries and some cloves. Because the hibiscus is rather tart, I decided to skip any additional citrus. I put the ingredients into a pot, covered with water and brought the mixture to a boil. Steeping time varied, anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 days. After reading all sorts of thoughts and opinions, I opted for a long steep time – 3 days in the fridge – partly because I felt the spices needed some time to impart their flavors but also because that’s what worked for my schedule.

After 3 days I strained out all the solids, and opted to sweeten with a simple syrup rather than straight sugar. I have very unpleasant memories of childhood Kool-Aid pitchers with a sugar sludge in the bottom that never really quite dissolved. Simple syrup is just easier and you can taste the sweetness level to determine the tart-sweet balance relatively quickly and easily. 

I poured an ice filled glass and sat back. Lovely. Just lovely. Bright and refreshing, a little tart, a little sweet with delicious hints of those baking spices. I love it. As an added bonus it’s absolutely gorgeous; a nice vivid dark reddish pink. Many consider this a strictly holiday drink but I think it is perfect for hot summer days. A splash of rum would be welcome and I think tequila would be quite nice too. Over the pandemic I enjoyed quite a few wonderful hibiscus margaritas. They will be even better made with this

So as these super hot days stretch out, maybe grab a bag of those hibiscus blossoms at your Hispanic or African market or even the Hispanic aisle at your regular grocery store, dig out some spices from your stash and brew up a tub of this delicious, vivid liquid. You won’t regret it.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: FEET UP EASY. This isn’t really overly difficult; it just takes time. Hands off time to allow those flavors to develop. Start it early in the week and you’ll be drinking easy by the weekend. Curiously enough, hibiscus is known as “sorrel” in Jamaica and “flor de jamaica” in Mexico. Interesting, no?

Other hibiscus recipes: Strawberries in Hibiscus SyrupStrawberry Hibiscus Popsicles

twelve years ago: Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

eleven years ago: Sour Cherry Cobbler

ten years ago: Life in Southwest France

nine years ago: Spanish Sunday Lunch – Patatas Aioli

eight years ago: Hush PuppiesTin Roof SundaeWatermelon Aqua FrescaRhubarb Beer Jam

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Radish Butter,  Slow Roasted Spiced Pineapple  

five years ago: Pina Colada SherbetOrange Julius with Strawberry and Pineapple variationsChicken Shawarma Pocket SandwichRoasted Cherry Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

four years ago: Grand AioliSalmon Rilettes

three years ago: Greek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

last year: Raspberry Rhubarb Streusel TartGinger Mint Lemonade Base

SORREL (HIBISCUS DRINK) – loosely adapted mostly from this recipe among others

makes 3 quarts

for the steep:

3 quarts water

5 ¼ ounces (150g/about 3 cups) dried hibiscus flowers (sorrel)

½ pound (227g) ginger, and grated (use the grating disk on a food processor)

10 whole cloves

10 allspice berries, roughly crushed 

1 large cinnamon stick

for the simple syrup:

2 cups water

2 ½ cups (495g) sugar

  1. For the steep: In a large pot or Dutch oven, bring water to a boil. 
  2. Add sorrel, ginger, cloves, allspice and cinnamon; and boil until the hibiscus flowers (sorrel) begin to plump and swell, about 8 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and let stand until cooled, then continue to steep in an airtight vessel in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.
  4. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a large pitcher, pressing on solids to express as much liquid as possible. If needed, strain again until it is clear of any ginger remnants. Discard solids.
  5. For the simple syrup: In a saucepan, bring water to a boil with the sugar. 
  6. Continue to cook, stirring, until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat.
  7. To finish: Stir simple syrup into the strained sorrel, ½ cup at a time, until desired sweetness level is reached. Keep any extra simple syrup refrigerated for your ice tea or coffee.
  8. Chill until ready to drink. Serve over ice.

This weather. Ugh. It stifles my soul as well as my appetite. It’s over 100°F in Oregon and in Chicago, it’s been heavily raining with that god awful humidity that goes with it for a week now. We’re all drooping. Nothing sounds good. I want cold food that someone else makes because I can’t get up from the couch and that strategically placed fan. And yet … shrimp cocktail sounded good. Not the Costco tray that’s been sitting there god knows how long. No … homemade. That would be easy, right? Make a two-ingredient cocktail sauce and poach some shrimp? No big thing.

Famous last words. I went to buy the shrimp and noticed the seafood counter had some lovely bay scallops and gorgeous cleaned squid too. Then I remembered those crazy delicious seafood cocktails I’ve enjoyed at so many Mexican beachside restaurants and used to make back home for a spell. It had been a while and that sounded SO GOOD and it really is just a zhuzhed up shrimp cocktail so same-same, right? And just like that, my simple recipe became a whole other thing.

These tomato-y sweet spicy types of cocktails are often just shrimp – Coctel de Camarones – but depending on where you are along the coast, you’ll often see other types of shellfish or chunks of fish in the mix. They’re usually served with a sleeve of saltines or a bowl of tortilla chips to dip and scoop and pile on. Back home, my favorite combination is shrimp, scallops and squid but really, it’s usually just whatever looks good, or what I have in the freezer that drives my decisions. 

The key here, and this is where it gets a bit persnickety, is to cook the seafood separately and if I have shrimp shells, I like to make a quick shrimp stock first. I’ve noticed it’s becoming harder and harder to find shell on shrimp these days. So annoying. The shrimp I bought this morning only had tails, grrrrrrrr, so I pulled them off and made a quick stock with them. If you don’t have shells, that’s ok, just add salt to the water and move on. Regardless, the poaching step is the same for all the shellfish – bring the stock/salted water to a boil, turn off the heat, add the shellfish, give a stir, let sit for a few minutes, then into an ice bath. Note: if using squid, it really doesn’t take more than a quick dip in that hot water. Squid, like octopus, is one of those things that needs to be cooked very briefly or for a very very long time. There is no in-between if you don’t want to eat rubber bands.

For the sauce part, I like a sweet-spicy combo so I use tomato juice – V8 actually – and a bit of ketchup. Too much and it’s too sweet for my tastes. A good dose of hot sauce and then crunchy things – red onion and cucumber though you could throw in a bit of celery too. I add diced avocado because when is that not a good idea? It’s important to keep in mind that this is a meal not a drink so it’s on the chunky side with just enough sauce to coat the shellfish; not too sloppy, not too juicy. Mix it all up and you have a delightful snack or light meal. Shake up a margarita, make a michelada or pop a cold beer and you are all set.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: PRETTY LOW STRESS. Nobody has the time nor the energy for something super involved right now. There may be a few steps that you may – or may not – decide to take but overall, it’s a pretty easy, low key kind of recipe. Perfect for the upcoming holiday weekend that is destined to be a scorcher. This is also when you dust off those sundae glasses you got as a wedding present years ago. While you could use pretty much any kind of serving vessel, glass is best to show off all the ingredients and it’s just perfect in an old-fashioned sundae glass. I’m actually shocked I don’t own those. Shocked, I say.

make this for July 4th! Big American Flag Cake

twelve years ago: Cajun Ginger Cookies

eleven years agoRhubarb Custard PieStrawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

ten years ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip CookiesClassic FoccaciaBanana Tarte TatinLate Spring Pea SoupRhubarb Syrup – Hipster CocktailsPuff Pastry Asparagus Spears,  Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie; Lard Crust,Strawberry ShortcakeSweet & Spicy Beer Mustard

nine years ago: Banana Fudge Layer Cake,  Pear Frangipane TartsFresh RicottaRicotta CheesecakeFarro TabboulehStrawberry Hibiscus Popsicles  

eight years ago: Chocolate Bourbon Lard CakeRoasted Asparagus w/Stilton SaucePickled GarlicMorel HuntingFrybread for Navajo TacosButtermilk Panna Cotta with Vanilla Cardamom Roasted RhubarbMexican Chocolate Pudding Pops,  Lime Angelfood CakeRoasted Strawberry SorbetGreek MeatballsPassionfruit Chiffon CakeBBQ Baked Beans

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Parmesan Pea DipPickled Green StrawberriesMango Lassi Freezer PopsEton MessOnion Rye Berry Bread  

five years ago: Smoky Baba GhanoushPete’s Special – Teriyaki Chicken & Vegetable Rice BowlSummer Fruit Ice PopsApricot Date BarsLemon Ricotta Doughnuts for National Doughnut DayVietnamese Flank Steak with Peanut Soba NoodlesDate Shake PopsiclesEasy Home-Cured Bacon, Oven MethodRadish Top Pesto with Sauteed RadishesJulia’s Braised CucumbersSedano e Pomodori (Braised Celery and Tomato)Shaved Asparagus Salad

four years ago: Cold Cucumber Buttermilk SoupGreen Garlic Soup with Poached EggsCold Sesame NoodlesCream Soda SherbetMichelada Style Clams

three years ago: Lemon Elderflower Quatre Quarts (French Pound Cake)The Perfect Light Crispy WafflePeruvian Roast Chicken with Spicy Green SauceChicken Wing Friday … Sticky Northern Exposure WingsLemon Sour Cream PieGreek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

last year: Chorizo & Cornbread Strada (Savory Bread Pudding)

MEXICAN SEAFOOD COCKTAIL – loosely adapted from this recipe

serves 4 as an appetizer or part of a lighter meal.

I like a mix of shellfish, but you could go with just one type if you like. Because of the different cooking times, it is important to cook each separately but since each only take a few minutes – or seconds in the case of squid – it moves quickly. I also very much prefer to make a quick shrimp stock with the shells but am finding that shell on shrimp are becoming harder to find. If that’s the case, just add the salt and go forward or use the tails as those are usually left on peeled shrimp. If you opt for squid, try to find it already cleaned to save some work but if you must do it yourself, clean the squid and inspect it for featherbones, remove the beaks and ink sacs. Slice into ¼” rings and cut the tentacles in half if overly large. For the hot sauce, Valentina, Cholula or Tapitio work perfectly but use what you have, however, if it’s a particularly spicy brand, go easy at first. 

For the shellfish:

3 ½ cups water

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

Shrimp shells, if you have them

1 ¼ pounds shellfish

  • large shrimp (26-30 per pound), peeled (shells/tails reserved) and deveined
  • bay scallops
  • squid/calamari, cleaned (see note above) sliced into ¼” rings, larger tentacles cut into bite sized pieces.

Ice bath

For the cocktail:

1 ¼ cup V8 or tomato juice, chilled

¼ cup ketchup

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

3 Tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes), plus lime wedges for serving

2 teaspoons hot sauce, plus extra for serving

½ cup English or Persian cucumber, cut into ½” dice

1 cup finely chopped red onion

1 avocado, halved, pitted, and cut into ½” dice

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

For serving:

Saltines or tortilla chips

Lime wedges 

Hot sauce 

  1. for the shellfish: if you have shrimp shells, make a quick shrimp stock by bringing the water and salt to a boil.
  2. Add the shrimp shells (or tails), reduce to a very low boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Strain out and discard the shells and return the liquid to the pot. 
  4. Bring the poaching liquid back to a boil (if you don’t have shrimp shells, bring the water and salt to a boil and proceed).
  5. Prepare an ice bath and set aside then cook the shellfish separately:
    • Shrimp: bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the shrimp, give a stir and let sit off heat for 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
    • Bay scallops: bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the scallops, give a stir and let sit off heat for 5 minutes. Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
    • Squid/Calamari: this is a quick one. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the squid, give a stir and let cook off heat for 10 seconds. Remove the squid with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
  6. Remove the shellfish from the ice bath, pat dry then cut into bite size pieces – the shrimp into 3-4 pieces, the scallops in half if large and any large squid pieces into smaller bits if needed. 
  7. For the cocktail: combine V8 or tomato juice, ketchup, lime juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper in medium bowl. Taste and adjust for seasoning if needed.
  8. Add cucumber, red onion, and cooked shellfish and stir until evenly coated. 
  9. Gently fold in the avocado and cilantro. 
  10. Divide the mix between individual bowls or glasses and serve immediately with saltines, lime wedges, and extra hot sauce.