Almond Biscotti

One of the newest cookbooks to our collection came during this year’s annual Christmas cookbook haul.  It is called Chewy, Gooey, Crispy Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich and I am slowly making my way through it.

Since we are both big fans of the biscotti, I decided to tackle crunchy first.  As you may have heard, M is crazy for the Cardamom Biscotti and requests it often.  I assured him that these would be just as good (they actually aren’t) and that it would allow me to try something new.

Biscotti are great in that they provide a terrific bit of sweet to the end of a meal without the addition of any fat.

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Pork Chile Verde

I gave my sister a subscription to Bon Appétit for Christmas this past year.  We have decided to each make one thing per month from the magazine and then discuss.  Here’s my pick from February.

Truth be told, they had me at verde.  There is something about a green sauce that just sends me into food heaven.  This dish has several of my favorite green ingredients – green chile, cilantro and tomatillos.

Mild green chiles, mix with the tart tomatillos to create a delicious base for pork to smother and cook in for hours.  A perfect winter Sunday afternoon creation but I could and will enjoy it all year long.

I also finally bought Mexican oregano for this recipe, after using only Mediterranean oregano for years.  The Mexican version does indeed have a smoky flavor that the Mediterranean does not and it is a welcome addition. Here is the recipe…

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Basler Brunsli – Chocolate-Almond Spice Cookies

One of our friends is gluten-free.  This presents somewhat of a challenge to me as a baker since I am just fine with gluten and rarely give it a second thought.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and is off-limits for those with wheat allergy or celiac disease. It is also the magical ingredient that provides cohesiveness to dough and is easily taken for granted by me, the non-gluten-free baker.

Our gluten-free girl recently came to dinner and I decided to finally tackle this type of baking.  I had recently read an article in Saveur on favorite holiday cookies from around the world. Switzerland’s entry was for Basler Brunsli, also known as a chocolate-almond spice cookie.  No flour in this recipe – a cookie everyone can enjoy.

It certainly sounded promising– almonds, sugar, cloves, cinnamon and chocolate. Chewy texture and the “unmistakable flavor of old-fashioned Christmas cheer.” Well, alright then.

However, I cannot lie. This was one frustrating cookie and I almost scrapped it in favor of something, anything, that was not baked.

The dough is very tricky and needed, I don’t know, some flour to help hold things together. Determined not go give up, I found that working in small batches and keeping the excess dough in the freezer was the key to success.

Overall, the Basler Brunsli is actually quite nice and resembles a chewy chocolatey spicy brownie. A nice ending to a gluten-free dinner for a guest that I hope returns on many occasions in the near future. Here is the recipe…

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Olive Relish

Talk about versatile.  I made this as a tapenade to spread on crackers with a cocktail but then ended up using it in a variety of ways.  It couldn’t be easier and especially so if you have a food processor– just throw in the ingredients, pulse and you’re done.

As I mentioned, it is lovely on a cracker or toasted baguette.  But it is also delicious alongside a piece of pork tenderloin, rubbed under the skin of a chicken before it is roasted, served with that same chicken after comes out of the oven, or even with lamb.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, by David Tanis.  He has a simpler tapenade but suggests this version if you like a little more tap in your tapenade.  He serves it with Roast Leg of Lamb with Flageolet Beans and I just served it anywhere I could.

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Coffee-Caramel Crème Brûlée

I am a big fan of coffee, an even bigger fan of caramel, and these two flavors together really make me happy.  This coffee-caramel Crème Brûlée and reminds me of a rich caramel cappuccino.  I could eat this every day but generally save it for special occasions.

Crème Brûlée sounds intimidating but it’s really not.  The tricky part is making sure that your custard does not cook when adding the hot cream to the egg yolks.  Once past that part, it is relatively smooth sailing.

The caramelization of the sugary top can be done in your oven’s broiler.  But it is more fun to use a kitchen torch.

More fun than that is going to Home Depot and discussing the pros and cons of different blow torches with the knowledgeable sales staff .

“Exactly what do you plan to use this blow torch for?” the kind salesman finally asked after several minutes of deliberation.

“Crème Brûlée, of course.”

And then we laughed all the way home. Here is the recipe…

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Posole with Chile Colorado

I first discovered posole on a trip to New Mexico way back when.  I have loved it ever since.

Posole is a special type of large kernel white corn that is “slaked” or soaked in lime or wood ash. The lime dissolves the outer layer of skin and then the corn can be dried and preserved.

Luckily, I am now able to find dried posole at the wonder that is Kalustyan’s, New York’s landmark for fine specialty foods. However, I have been known to hit the brakes for a Mexican supermarket, regardless of which town I am in.

Posole stew, like the one featured here, is what I fell in love with in New Mexico. It is a ceremonial dish to celebrate life’s blessings and is traditionally served on Christmas eve.

This particular version contains no meat.  However, pork or chicken often make an appearance and sometimes green chile takes the place of the dried red ones featured here.  The red Chile Colorado sauce is a bit labor intensive but very much worth the effort. To make this a hearty vegetarian dish, simply use vegetable broth in place of  the chicken broth that the recipe calls for.

The closest I ever came to this growing up in Texas was canned hominy.  Sure, I suppose you could substitute it for the dried posole that this recipe calls for but it would be a mushy shame.
Here is the recipe…

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Bustrengo – Polenta and Apple Cake

This past Christmas, M whipped up a mean Osso Buco and served it over Risotto Milanese. Braised slowly for hours, the end result was aromatic and tender.  But, I’m not writing about that, except to say that it was out-of-this-world delicious.

I’m here to write about my challenge.  What would dessert be?  I wanted it to be Italian, in keeping with the dinner’s theme.  Tiramisu was too obvious, so I regrettably passed on that.  And, although I could eat frozen desserts year round, it was just too cold for gelato.

I finally settled on a Bolognese polenta and apple cake called Bustrengo.  It was not an easy sell for me.  Breadcrumbs, polenta and dried fruit in a cake?  It sounded too much like a dried out fruitcake.  But, I persevered.

The cake was super moist – an Italian version of bread pudding and a perfect ending to our Italian Christmas. Here is the recipe…

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