Thumbprint Cookies – Nowruz Recipe

I‘m at an age when I may be guilty of idealizing my youth in a kind of “the good old days” filter that blocks out any unpleasant memories of political or cultural unease.  Of course, I wasn’t aware of any such issues, at least not in a way that was meaningful: I had a privileged upbringing.  We weren’t rich by the American standard – not by any stretch of the imagination- but I didn’t worry about when and if my next meal would arrive.  We ate a lot of soup beans and cornbread, but we ate.  And life got better, and there were more cookies and cakes, and always love.

So whenever I’m asked to write about cookies I find that I often write the same kind of column.  Cookies make me think of my grandmother and the smells of her kitchen and all the love and good stuff that goes along with those memories.  As I write, I can almost always count on a few tears, too– some coming of good memory, others of remorse and loss.

But these cookies are not like other cookies.  Sure, they are – I mean they smell good and I know that they evoke potent memories for Mahasti, memories of her mother’s frantic holiday baking which always included special thumbprint cookies made with homemade jam.  But these sweets are treats made for the Iranian New Year – a spectacular celebration called Nowruz: literally translated as “a new day”.

It’s a holiday that begins at the exact moment that the vernal equinox begins, precisely when the sun crosses the equator.  So it varies in terms of calendar time, but it’s a major celebration that’s about 3000 years old.

Like many nations of ancient pedigree, Persian culture is spread across the globe, and despite what you may think you know about Iran and Iranians, the people and culture are diverse especially among the millions living outside the border of Iran.  But in the midst of theses differences, Nowruz, a secular holiday, is a common denominator among people of varied world views.  It’s a symbol of the one great truth that binds all people on earth: we are on earth, we live under the sun, and we are all subject to its rise and fall.  And whether great or small, each of us lives within the cycles of birth and death.

Like all celebrations of the new year, spring festivals, and even harvest rites, Nowruz is optimistic:  This year will be a good year, this sowing will yield a good crop, this child will live in peace.

Hope is the root of so many treats: we bake to celebrate, and cookies are as much a celebration of the goodness and sweetness of the earth as they are an indulgence shared by our mothers (and fathers, too).  So perhaps your mother didn’t bake like mad for Nowruz, but someone in your past, even if it was just you, hoped that life would get better, that you would live without worry and discord.  Finding a time to forget what divides you from your neighbor and, instead, celebrating what you share, what is common to you and them, whoever “them” may be, is a valuable part of countless celebrations around the world.  It’s also a good way to live with less worry and discord.

A good start is to bake some cookies, and share them.  With everyone.

 

My Mom’s Thumbprint Cookies

 

1/2 Cup Butter, softened

1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar

1 Egg, separated

1 Cup All Purpose Flour

½ – 2 cups Nuts, chopped

Jelly or Jam.

Cream the butter and sugar, until light and fluffy.   Add egg yolk and mix until smooth and creamy.  Add flour and mix until all the flour is mixed in.  Scoop 1 Tablespoon portions and roll into balls.  Dip the cookie balls into the egg white then roll them in the chopped nuts.

Place the cookies on a cookie sheet 1 inch apart.  Make an indent with your thumb in the center of the cookie.  Bake in 350-degree oven for 5 minutes remove from oven and re-indent the centers again if necessary.  Bake for 10 -12 minutes more.  Allow cookies to cool then fill the center with your favorite Jam or Jelly.

Makes 11 cookies.

Tomato Head’s Chicken Enchilada Dip

Ingredients

2 packs Frontera Enchilada Sauce

2 oz Cream Cheese at room temperature

1/2 tsp Salt

¼ tsp Cayenne Pepper

¾ tsp Cumin

2 tsp Light Brown Sugar

4 cups Cooked & Shredded Chicken

1.5 cups Frozen Corn Kernels

2 cup shredded Monterey Jack or Mild Cheddar

Heat the enchilada sauce in a 10-inch cast iron skillet.  Add salt, cayenne pepper, cumin and brown sugar.   Whisk to mix well.  Add softened cream cheese and whisk until the cream cheese has melted into the sauce.  Place the chicken and corn in a medium bowl.  Add sauce mixture and cheese then toss well to coat all ingredients.  Place the chicken mixture in the cast iron skillet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes.

 

 

 

Remove the dip from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes then top with queso fresco, sour cream, shredded lettuce, diced tomato, diced onion and jalapeno.

Serve the dip in the cast iron skillet with tortilla chips on the side.

Gingerbread

Cookies are magic.

We know it instinctively.  It might be that some of us grew up believing that little elves who live in hollow trees make magic in the form of fudge stripes on shortbread.  Or perhaps is the Christmas Eve ritual of leaving treats for old St. Nick. For me, the magic is in the memory of family kitchens filled with palpable holiday enchantments: forbidden cookie dough clinging to spoons and beaters, the bewitching and tortuous aroma of baking cookies almost ready.  Just writing those words casts a craving on me that won’t quit.

And of all that aromatic cookie magic, the most potent is gingerbread.  The secret, methinks, is in the formidable combination of ginger and molasses which creates a darkly sweet but lively dough that produces a rich baking aroma that gets inside of me and makes me feel warm and, of course, very, very hungry.

It’s not a new magic. Gingerbread in various incarnations populates the histories of the world, and the ritual of shaping food into shapes for a little magical mischief is an ancient juju.  It may have all started with clay and idols, but, as the idea evolved into something more like hope than sorcery, the tools of enchantment became more toothsome.

By about year 1000, gingerbread was being baked into the images of saints, and in Medieval England, ladies would sometimes eat gingerbread husbands in hopes of acquiring the real thing.  But how gingerbread men came to be a part of the Christmas tradition is unclear – it might have evolved from a German tradition of making gingerbread houses for the yuletide that started sometime in the 16th century.  Or maybe it’s just one of those things that happens – somebody made a gingerbread Saint Lawrence and decided it would look good on a tree, and, abra cadabra, a tradition was born.

But the real magic of gingerbread isn’t in the shape – it’s in the creation, the act of the shaping, and the fact of the making.  But it’s something that must be shared.   Sharing kitchen time and recipes between generations is more than a link to a family’s tradition and history, it’s a bonding ritual that creates love and memories rooted in the practical magic of the senses and made firm by the sharing of that most precious of all enchantments: time.

The rich aroma of gingerbread in the oven is the aroma of home. And isn’t the magic of home a big part of what we observe this time of year?  No matter what holiday we celebrate, it’s always better at home – whether that’s a family moment or time shared with close friends, perhaps even pets, spending time with those we love is the real charm.

Homemade gingerbread is the by-product of love, which, of course, is the greatest magic of all.

It’s never too late to find your inner wizard.

Deviled Eggs

My relationship with eggs is a Facebook status:

It’s complicated.

And like many a well-documented social media bond, my affair with eggs has always been mercurial and overly sensitive to the delicate shadings of status updates.

Today, I’m a fan of eggs of all sorts – boiled, deviled, poached and even shirred.  But it’s been a tempestuous affair.

It all started as a child when cousin Johnny and I could happily divide a boiled egg (he the white, I the yolk) until one day, without warning, poof!  The love was gone. I was done.  Just done.  In an instant, even quicker than Tayor Swift can sing, “Never, ever, ever,” my egg splitting days were over.  I don’t know that there was a reason, but, while I continued to hang out with Johnny, the egg and I were over.

Much later, after a late and very merry night, friend Ann made us a boiled egg and toast as a buffer against our indulgence.  It was a medium boiled egg, crunchy with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper eaten in succession with bites of good bread, well-toasted and slathered with rich, Normandy butter.  Heaven.  A perfectly textured nibble, generously endowed with my favorite treats (salt and fat), it rekindled an old flame burning in my heart.  For years, even long after I abandoned besotted evenings about town, that egg service has remained my favorite snack:  we were reunited and it tasted so good!

Despite that reconciliation, my prejudice against deviled eggs persisted even longer.  It may have a been a lingering and unpleasant memory of limp and tepid examples from church socials where the yolks were so pale and pasty that not even a sprinkle of tasteless grocery-brand paprika could enliven their visual appeal.  First impressions are strong, and this one endured until only a few years ago.  The change transpired at a family Thanksgiving when my new favorite aunt presented a plate of eggs stuffed with a deep yellow yolk flecked with parsley and garnished with a half a green olive on top.  In moment, better far than a metaphor can ever, ever be, I wasn’t just in love – the egg was love:  Delicious, simple but well considered, and pleasing to all the senses.

That, of course, is the truth of all great food loves – a good eat is a well-rounded appeal to at least 4 senses (and sometimes all five if there’s a sizzle involved).  And that’s exactly what this recipe for deviled eggs has going for it.  The addition of a little sriracha deepens the color of the stuffing and puts a little of the devil in it too, giving both the eyes and the tongue a treat. Red onion adds some texture and capers, with a little punch from Dijon, bring a refreshing savor for the aroma and the taste too. But, of course, all these elements perfectly frame the rich and smoky flavor of the salmon which also affixes a luxurious silkiness to each bite.

It’s a festive deviled egg to be sure, but it’s just the right kind of celebratory for the Fourth July or any gathering with the people you love.  That’s the real reason we spend time in the kitchen – it’s a palpable way to show our love, and a good recipe makes it a palatable and enduring affection, too.

 

Tomato Head’s Smoked Salmon, Red Onion and Caper Deviled Eggs

6 large eggs

3 TBL Mayonnaise

1 TBL Dijon Mustard

1 TBL red onion, chopped fine

1 TBL capers, chopped

2 TBL Smoked Salmon, chopped fine

1 tsp sriracha

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

Boil eggs for 10 -11 minutes. Remove the eggs from the hot water and place in an ice bath. Peel the eggs then cut them in half lengthwise and gently remove the yolks, keeping the whites intact.

Place the yolks in a small bowl. With a fork mash the yolks with the mayonnaise and mustard until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Fill the egg whites with the yolk mixture. Cool for 1-2 hours and serve chilled.

 

Tomato Head’s Grit Casserole with Mushroom Cream Sauce        

I can’t recall my first memory of grits.

I may have blocked it. That’s not because of any dislike, per se, but more likely it comes down to shame.  I suspect that my first

Grits and Cast Iron

encounter with grits involved copious butter with lots and lots of sugar, too.  And as any self-respecting Southerner will tell you, sugar and grits are a dishonorable combination that casts considerable shade over the house that dares to serve it.  You will understand, of course, why I may have repressed any such memory, if, in fact, it ever transpired at all.

Or it may be that I suffered at the hands of hurried or inconsiderate cooks who didn’t care to or know how to cook grits properly and, thus, served up some al dente.  As far as I’m concerned, an underdone bowl of grits is a far greater transgression than a sweet one; and it’s much more horrid to the young and sensitive palate.  Imagine the shock of that first, granular bite – why you’d want to forget that, too.

But whatever it was, something happened way back when to make me more than a little suspicious of this staple; and that’s wreaked havoc with my love of fine dining in town over the last decade or so as there are more grits on pretty plates than you can shake stick at.

In the intervening years, I have managed to accept grits or at least to taste them with an open mind, not because of the number of talented chefs giving grits a loving and careful treatment, but because of an old friend and roommate named Harry who shared his conviction that all grits are improved by good casserole treatment.

Mushrooms and Cream

Harry’s Sunday habits were practically set in stone and included the New York Times, mimosas, biscuits, country ham and cheese

grit casserole.  The paper was for Harry to read aloud to you whether you liked it or not, but everything else was selected for sharing.  Harry’s house was one of those places where you never knew who might show up hungry.  And being a firm believer in hospitality, Harry always had something to offer – provided, of course, that they would listen to his selected readings from the Times.

I don’t recall his exact recipe, but the one that follows is very close.  And, as Harry would tell you, it feeds plenty and can sit happily in line with ham or whatever you serve for any upcoming family feasts or breakfasts or brunches for a crowd, waiting its turn and keeping its good taste and texture as everybody fills up their plate.

Tomato Head’s Grit Casserole with Mushroom Cream Sauce        

2 cups Whole Milk

Comfort on a Plate

1 cup Water

½ cup Heavy Cream

½ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper

1 ¼ cups Stone Ground Grits

1 TBL Butter

1 cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded

2 eggs

Place the milk, water, heavy cream, salt and ground pepper in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk until mixture starts to let off steam.  Gradually stream in the grits while whisking, reduce heat to low and whisk constantly until mixture thickens.  Remove the grits from the heat and add in butter and cheddar.  In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, add ¼ cup of hot grits to the eggs and whisk until combined.  Add the egg mixture to the cheese and grit mixture and mix well.

Pour the mixture into a greased 10-inch cast iron skillet and bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes until the top is browned.

Serve the Grit Casserole in the skillet with Mushroom Cream Sauce on the side.

For the Mushroom Cream Sauce:

6 cups Mushrooms, sliced

2 TBL Butter

1 tsp Salt

½ tsp Black Pepper

¾ cups Heavy Cream

In a large skillet over high heat, melt butter.  Add mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Add salt, pepper and cream.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until the cream thickens, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour Mushrooms into a small bowl.

Serve with Grit Casserole

Serves 6-8 people.

 

 

 

Hot Milk Cake

 

Despite the digital age and the ease of having all my favorite books on a portable screen, I’m still dedicated to the real thing.  Books fit my hand, and there’s something particularly satisfying about holding the bottom corner of the next page of between my thumb and index finger; it’s a tease to my anticipation.

And with actual books, when I’m browsing through a bookstore, a sense of the hunt comes over me – and that feeling’s never so intense as when it’s a used bookshop that is my hunting ground.  It’s a treasure hunt, made complete by the enticing, almost delicious aroma of old books and their inevitable dust.  Pages old and new have their own scents that mingle into something that I find almost intoxicating.

But the hunt has other, better rewards if I’m prowling for cookbooks, something I can never seem to stop doing.  Cookbooks can yield the finest treasures, especially if they’ve been well used by thoughtful cooks who scribble notes in the margins that reveal certain truths or elucidate some mystery.  Perhaps they’re adjusted cooking times, or oven temperatures, or some reminder of an improvement – things like, “needs more vanilla” or “better with pecans,” living moments that bear witness to that best of recommendations for recipes and cookbooks, too – that they been used more than once.

If you’re particularly lucky, there may be even more treasure in the form of newspaper clippings, perhaps yellowed and nearly crackling cuttings that help date books for the time of their use – a small window into the past of the book’s owner.  Or, when the fates smile, the book may have the richest treasure of them all: an original recipe.

My favorite of these come on an index card, handwritten in ballpoint pen, stained and faded with use, complete with little corrections, changes that tell that the recipe is tried, true and perfected along the way.

This how our current recipe came to us.

Mahasti found a lovingly used treasure, The Cake Cookbook by Lilith Rushing and Ruth Voss, while on her own used book expedition.  Published in 1965, the book’s cover speaks of an era of doilies under cakes and napkins between fine china tea cups and their saucers.  The authors, sisters, are pictured by their biographies: Lilith, in wise and frameless glasses, also wrote children’s stories for the Farmer-Stockman of Oklahoma City and married a Kansan; Ruth, the younger sister in cat’s eye frames, was the associate editor of the Thomas, Oklahoma Tribune, and lived with her bachelor son.

Two red cardboard leaves are pasted inside the front cover of the book, and on them are written the names Tommy and Kathlyn.  Perhaps one of them, (Kathlyn, Mahasti imagines) also took a black, ball point pen to a 3 and half by five, lined index card to record a recipe for Hot Milk Cake.

It’s a cake that seems to have been fairly standard in the American kitchen from the early 1900’s until faded out of favor in the late 60’s or 70’s.  We imagine that Kathlyn copied the recipe from her mother’s or grandmother’s cookbook, perhaps it was her favorite, perhaps it was the one that mom loved best.

The cake itself is a like a sponge cake but calls for some baking powder to help the cake rise.  It’s one of those rich and moist cakes that tastes of vanilla and butter and comfort.  Often it was served alone without adornment or just touched with a simple glaze.  Kathlyn doesn’t tell us how her cake was finished, but we’re betting it all gotten eaten with or without something extra on top.

HOT MILK CAKE (exactly as it was hand written)

Mix in a Big Bowl

4 eggs

2C Sugar

Sift Together

2C Flour

2 tspb. b. Powder

½ tsp salt

Add:

1C Boiling Milk into which 1 stick of Butter Has been cut up

Add:

1 tsp vanilla

Pour in a well greased & Floured tube cake pan

Bake 50 min in 350⁰

Tomato Head’s White Bean Chili

White Bean Chili

Yum

White Bean Chili Recipe

 

2 cups dry White Beans, checked for stones and soaked overnight

¼ cup Oil

½ cup Onion, chopped

3 large cloves Garlic, minced, about 2 TBL

Preparing to Cook

1 large Poblano Pepper, seeded and chopped

4 cups Water or Chicken Broth

1 cup Cooked Chicken, white and or dark meat shredded

2 tsp Salt

3 TBL Cilantro, chopped

2 TBL Cumin

½ tsp smoked Paprika

1 tsp Chipotle Pepper, chopped fine

2 TBL Cornmeal

½ cup Heavy Cream (optional)

Drain beans, place them in a medium pot and cover with enough water to cover the beans at with a couple of inches of water.  Bring the beans to boil, skim off the foam on top, reduce heat to medium and cook until beans are soft, for about 1-1.5 hours, adding more water if necessary.

Meanwhile chop onion, poblano peppers, and garlic.  In a large 6-7-quart pot, heat ¼ cup of oil on medium heat.  Add onion and sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Add garlic and poblano peppers, and sauté for 1-2 minutes longer.  If your beans are not soft, turn the heat off and let vegetables rest until the beans are soft.

Toppings to Customize

When beans are soft, drain the beans, saving the cooking liquid.  Pour cooked beans into the pot with the sautéed vegetables.  Measure your cooking liquid and bring the total liquid up to 4 cups by adding either water or chicken broth.  Add liquid to beans and turn the heat on to medium then give the beans a good stir.  Add the cooked chicken, salt, cumin, paprika and chipotle pepper and stir to combine.  Bring the mixture back to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the poblano peppers are soft.  Sprinkle the cornmeal into the pot while stirring constantly to avoid clumps, simmer the chili for 5 minutes longer, then add the cream if using; stir and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve topped with chopped onion, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, sliced radish, sliced jalapeno, avocado, corn chips or tortillas for a full meal.

Serves 8-10 people.

Warm Winter Pasta Bake

Yum

Baked Rigatoni Recipe

8 oz dry Rigatoni Pasta

2.5 cups Spaghetti Sauce

1 ½ cups Italian Sausage, cooked

2 cups Spinach, chopped

1 cup Ricotta Cheese

3 TBL Basil, Chopped

2 TBL Heavy Cream

2 cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook pasta one minute less than the suggested cook time on the package in a large pot of salted water.  Drain the noodles into a strainer, rinse with cold water, and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add 2 cups spaghetti sauce to noodles and toss well to coat.  Add Italian sausage and spinach and toss to distribute the ingredients well.  Pour the other ½ cup sauce in the bottom of a medium cast-iron skillet or an 8×11 baking dish, then pour pasta mixture over the sauce.

In a small bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, basil and heavy cream.  Drop the ricotta mixture onto the pasta by the spoon-full, distributing the cheese evenly.  Top with shredded mozzarella.  Place the baking dish in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted and browned slightly.  Remove from the oven when done.  Allow the dish to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with some hot bread and a side salad for a complete meal.

Serves 6-8 people.

Shopping List

1 lb box or bag of Rigatoni Noodles, or any tubular noodle of your choice

1 tub Ricotta Cheese

Heavy Cream

1 lb block Whole Milk Mozzarella Cheese

Italian Sausage

Spinach

Basil

Equipment list

Medium Stockpot

Strainer

Cutting Board

Chef’s Knife

Cast Iron Skillet

Small & Large Mixing Bowls

Dry Measuring Cups

Liquid Measuring Cups

Measuring Spoons

Wooden Cooking Spoon

Tomato Head’s White Bean Kale Butternut Squash Stew

Yum

Warm and Hearty

White Bean, Butternut Squash & Kale Soup Recipe

Beautiful Colors

 

1 cup navy beans, dry

¼ cup oil

¾ cup onion, chopped

1 tbsp garlic, chopped

2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes

1 cup fennel tops and fronds chopped

1 – 14 oz. can petit diced tomatoes

4 cups water

Coming Together

3 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp salt

1 Tbsp sugar

1 bay leaf

2 cups kale, chopped

 

Look through the navy beans for rocks; rinse and soak overnight.

Drain the beans.  Pour the beans into a medium pot and fill with enough fresh water to cover the beans by 2 inches.  Place the beans on high heat, when they come to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook the beans until soft.

Meanwhile, chop the rest of your vegetables and measure the rest of your ingredients.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the Onions and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Add the butternut squash, fennel tops, diced tomato, water, tomato paste, and bay leaf.  Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes until the butternut squash is soft.

When the navy beans are soft, drain them and pour them into the pot.  Add the salt, and sugar (recipe can be made ahead up to this point and refrigerated for several days).

When ready to serve add kale; stir to submerge all the kale and simmer until Kale is softened, 2-3 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design