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Nigella Lawson's Cinnamon Squares



These little friandises are courtesy of Nigella Lawson's most recent piece in the New York Times about the simplicity of no-roll crusts. The cookie is a cinnamon-scented shortbread slicked with a glaze that's been punched up with even more cinnamon. The cookies are warm with spice and crumbly from the butter and powdered sugar. As Nigella says, they're perfect with tea in the afternoon.

Two nights ago, as leeks braised in the oven and my last round of CSA potatoes boiled away on the stove, I set about making the cinnamon squares. For the first time, my Robot Coupe was employed! It was quite a moment we had together. I think it's my new best friend. The dough is incredibly easy - it comes together in seconds, then all you do is pat it out in a pan (I used a 10-in round cake pan, ungreased) and put it in an oven until the shortbread's firm and toasty.

I couldn't justify buying a whole tin of Lyle's for the one tablespoon required in the glaze, so I substituted honey (you could also use maple syrup). The glaze was warm and drippy at first, then firmed up with an opaque sheen. Oddly enough, the texture of the shortbread and the glaze was much improved by an overnight nap.

Nigella is a heroine to many, and as I've mentioned before, a personal favorite. I like her self-deprecating style; it makes everything in the kitchen seem more attainable. Sometimes, though, her I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing-in-the-kitchen-but-that's-okay-sisters-just-throw-caution-to-the-wind-shtick feels a little overdone. It's just a minor bit of peevishness on my behalf, and obviously not a real critique, but I wonder if there isn't a new way of approaching easy cooking in the meantime.

Suzanne Goin's Braised Leeks


As Hannah pointed out the other day, Suzanne Goin and her Sunday Suppers are everywhere. The LA Times did a piece on her one week, only to be followed by the New York Times a week later. So it was only a matter of time before I got around to making one of her recipes. And what an array to choose from! Most of the ones excerpted seem better suited for weekend cooking (nothing wrong with that - I just wanted to find something I could fit in after a day's work), so I ended up making her braised leeks. And they were a revelation.

Humble leeks are pretty delicious things, regardless of how you prepare them. Boiled with potatoes and blended into a delicate vichyssoise. Steamed and served plain with a sharp vinaigrette. Covered with bechamel and slivers of ham, and baked into a crusty, melting mess. Cooking a leek draws out its sweetness and mellows its oniony flavor. For someone who finds most members of the allium family overpowering, leeks stand apart.

Goin layers flavors nicely in this dish, with shallots and white wine and fresh thyme and stock. The initial sear gives the leek a burnished sheen, and the oven time turns them into silky wonders. They were such a success that I can't wait to find time to make more of Goin's recipes. And aren't we all glad that I've moved on from the Thanksgiving recap?

Braised Leeks
Yields 6 servings

6 large leeks
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup sliced shallots
1 tbsp thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken stock

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Peel any bruised outer layers from leeks. Trim roots, leaving root end intact. Trim off tops on diagonal, leaving two inches of green. Cut in half lengthwise. Clean very well in water to remove internal grit. Pat dry with towel.

3. With cut sides up, season with salt and black pepper.

4. Heat pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in 1/4 cup oil and wait 1 minute. Place leeks, cut side down, in pan with crowding them. Make in two batches and use more oil, if necessary. Sear them 4 to 5 minutes, until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper and turn over to cook 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer them, cut side up, to a gratin dish.

5. Pour 1/4 cup oil into pan and heat over medium heat. Add shallots, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until just beginning to color. Add wind and reduce by half. Add 1 1/2 cups stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour over leeks, without quite covering them.

6. Braise in oven 30 minutes, until tender.

Cranberry Orange Sauce

I, er, mixed up my recipe provenances when I said my stepgrandmother was the source for this sauce. The recipe actually comes from a thinly lined sheet of paper in my stepmother's recipe clippings, and she, in turn, copied it out of a magazine in an airplane several years ago.

It might be my ideal cranberry sauce: it's textured and tasty, with spicy notes and chunky nuts and the gloriously astringent flavor of cranberries. Is anyone else Thanksgiving-ed out? I'm keeping this short and sweet.

In other news, the Accidental Hedonist is accepting nominations for the 2005 Food Blog Awards. If you're so inclined, head over there and leave your nomination in the comments section for each category. As for who might deserve your nod, dear reader, well, that is up to you.

Cranberry Orange Sauce
Yields: 2 1/4 cups

1 bag cranberries (12 oz)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier, for example)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp grated orange rind
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans

1. Combine first seven ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat, simmer, stirring frequently, until cranberries have popped and the mixture has thickened slightly - around 10 minutes. Set aside and cool slightly. Stir in orange zest and pecans.

Regina Schrambling's Pistachio Brussels Sprouts


Hmph. I don't know who to blame this failure on. And I'm getting sick of the Thanksgiving recap. After this, there's only one more recipe and it's worthwhile, I promise. But in the meantime, I'm going to grump all over this post.

We are a Brussels sprout-loving family, I would say. Maybe not 20 years ago, when my father would steam frozen ones and make me eat four: two big ones and two small ones. But I've grown in more ways than up over the years, and now I can enjoy an entire serving or two of sprouts on a regular basis without screwing up my face and holding my nose shut as I swallow. Most Thanksgivings, my father makes a festive Brussels sprout dish with onions and apples and walnuts. This year, though, I had to mess with a good thing by introducing a recipe by Regina Schrambling from a two-year old LA Times piece.

It calls for pistachio oil, which we searched for high and low at Whole Foods, at Russo's, and at two different Indian grocery stores (which boasted a great selection of all kinds of oils, except, of course, for pistachio), to no avail. We settled for using olive oil instead, but I can't help but wonder if this substitution was at fault for the dish's lackluster flavor. We did use a gorgeous pile of rose- and green-tinged pistachios, and the freshest sprouts I had ever seen. But we made the dish a few hours before our guests arrived, and I fear the time spent in the bowl might have softened the nuts and brought out a fearsomely cabbage-y taste from the sprouts.

In the end, I also have to ask myself if it just wasn't the most inspired recipe from Regina Schrambling. I love her stories and her biting wit, but her recipes have been hit or miss. Go to Orangette or Stephen Cooks for much better Brussels sprout recipes, and hope that my mood is better tomorrow.

Martha Rose Shulman's Pecan Pie

I suppose I should have known that when attempting to bake three pies in one day - the most important food day of the year, I might add - one cannot expect all three of them to shine. If you have already managed a glorious squash pie and a stellar apple pie, well, then it must not be good karma to have your pecan pie dazzle, too. Which is too bad, because it certainly looked the most promising.

The recipe came from an article on pecans in the LA Times in 2001. The delicate filling called for honey and rum instead of corn syrup. I figured it might be a nice change from the traditionally sweet and sticky version. Well, I figured wrong. The pie looked absolutely gorgeous - a toasty brown filling that puffed up nicely in the oven and then squidged down into the all-butter crust - but tasted totally odd. Like...soap! I can't figure out why: rum, butter, honey and vanilla, not to mention a mess of pecans straight from Texas, these are all good-tasting things. How in the name of turkeys everywhere did this combination go so wrong?

First, I beat together butter and honey into a gorgeously unctuous cream that practically begged to be smeared on toast or waffles.
To that I added rum, vanilla, eggs, salt and nutmeg. When the pie crust was rolled out, fitted into a tart pan and chilled, I parbaked it for five minutes, which really only seemed to make it greasy.
In went the pecans in an even layer,
and then the filling was poured over.
The pie went into the oven and baked for about 15 minutes longer than specified, until the nuts were browned and the filling had puffed up.
Ms. Shulman says that people like her pie because it's less sweet, but that's just no justification for this misbegotten pie that tastes of suds. Pecan pie was meant to be tooth-achingly sweet and chewy, the better to eat with a pile of whipped cream. Next time, I'll be looking elsewhere for a real pecan pie. Any suggestions?

Jasper White's Cranberry Onion Jam

With 16 people needing to be fed on Thanksgiving, we decided to make two cranberry sauces. Can you ever have too many? Our traditional sauce is lovely - full of citrus notes and toasted nuts - and comes from my step-mother's grandmother. If sauces had personalities, the traditional sauce would be a dainty Southern lady and the cranberry onion jam be a flannel-shirted lumberjack. These are ridiculous metaphors, yes! But I dare you to try them both and see if you don't agree.

The recipe comes from a clipping that might be among my oldest ones. It dates back to an article Amanda Hesser wrote in 2000. The silky, savory jam has an acidic kick from cider vinegar and the vermilion bloom of tart cranberries. The caramelized onions add another layer of sweetness and tang. It's a delightful little condiment that makes even tired, 4-day-old turkey taste good while eaten on that most gastronomic of locales: a Greyhound bus.

Make sure you ignore the cooking times that Jasper White specifies at each stage - his version will leave you with a mess of parcooked onions and mostly unpopped cranberries.

Kimberly Boyce and Leslie Brenner's Apple-Quince Pie


Those tender apples! That flaky crust! This pie was a labor of love. At first, it made me want to pluck my eyes out and wail like a banshee. Then I wanted to dump the entire thing into the trash. But in the end it won my heart. Some people at our dinner party even said it was the best apple pie they'd ever had. I warn you: it is a pain in the neck. It might take you the better part of a day or two. You might find yourself whimpering at times. (This is beginning to sound like childbirth. I realize I may be overdramatizing for effect. Clearly this is necessary to illustrate my agony.) But stick with it: the rewards are outstanding.

The recipe comes from an L.A. Times Thanksgiving story that's two years old. Upon rereading the article after baking the pie, I realized that I could have benefited from some of the writing's calm tone. You are supposed to let the quince roast for 3 hours (we took the pan out after two, fearing total quince collapse thereafter.). The pie dough is supposed to be studded with clumps of unprocessed butter, rendering the rolling of it an exercise in nerves. The filling is supposed to be piled as obscenely high as a pie at the Carnegie Deli - that's what makes the pie so satisfying. What a relief!

As for the crimping job I did - well, let's just once again thank my parents for prevailing with their common sense and preventing me from chucking the entire thing. In hindsight, I have to agree - the pie looks nice! I think fear-of-overhandling-pie-crust-itis might have colored my judgement.

In the end, this gloriously burnished pie was a delight. It baked for exactly the amount of time specified. It came out glossy from the egg wash, sparkly with cinnamon sugar, and when the knife sank through the crust, it crackled and flaked just as it should. And the flavor - tart apples that kept their silky shape, gorgeously perfumed roast quince, a perfect blend of spices - was stunning. At Thanksgiving we served it with softly whipped cream. But it was equally wonderful cold and plain the next day, and the day thereafter. Then it was gone. I can't believe I'm trying to figure out when I can next attempt it.

Apple-Quince Pie
Makes one 9-inch double-crusted pie

6 medium quinces
2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean
1 double-recipe pie crust dough
6 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 teaspoon sifted cornstarch
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel, quarter and core the quinces, and cut them into one-fourth-inch slices. Place them in a 9 1/2-by-11-inch baking dish, along with the orange juice, white wine and one-third cup sugar. Slice the vanilla bean and scrape the insides into the dish. Stir to combine, cover with foil and roast for 1 hour.

2. Opening the oven briefly, lift the foil and stir the quinces. Roast another hour. Repeat twice, for a total of 3 hours of roasting time. Let the pan cool, then chill for 1 hour.

3. Divide the dough in half. Keep half in the refrigerator and roll out the other half into a 13-inch circle one-fourth-inch thick. Fit it into a buttered, 9-inch pie plate. Fold the edges in and down to form a three-fourths-inch overhang all the way around the pie. Chill it in the refrigerator.

4. In a large bowl, toss together the apples, one-third cup sugar, one-half teaspoon cinnamon, the nutmeg, cloves and cornstarch. Add the applesauce, vanilla extract, melted butter and roasted quinces and gently toss again. Fill the pie, mounding the filling gently. Chill.

5. Roll out the remaining dough into a 13-inch circle, one-fourth-inch thick. Take the pie from the refrigerator and drape the dough over the top of the filling. Fold the edge forward, dropping the dough into the crevice between the mound of filling and the side of the plate. Lay the overhang of dough onto the bottom lip. Use scissors to trim, leaving one-half-inch beyond the edge of the plate. Crimp in a rustic fashion. Chill for one hour.

6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk the egg. In another small bowl, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and one-fourth teaspoon cinnamon. Brush the surface of the pie with the egg, then sprinkle it with the cinnamon sugar. Use the tip of a sharp knife to imprint a star design onto the top of the pie, cutting only halfway through the dough, or decorate with leaves cut out from extra dough. Pierce a hole into the center of the pie to allow steam to escape.

7. Bake until shiny, dark golden-brown and bubbling at the edges, 1 hour and 50 minutes to 2 hours.