Ahhh, 2011, you’ve treated us well. A new apartment! A new human! And for the first year since 2007, no one cut open my head! Yahooooo! 2-0-1-1, you thought of everything. Then, to top it all off, you squeezed in some fudgy bourbon balls just under the wire. That’s bourbon and chocolate together in one boozy confection.

It’s been a very good year.

The recipe comes from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, the same cookbook that brought us that special snacking cake and rosemary-laced lemon bars, which practically makes these bourbon balls delicious by association. I added them to our Chanukah party spread last week, sent some off to my family in Ohio, then hurried right back into the kitchen to prepare a batch for New Year’s Eve. I thought you might want to make them for New Year’s Eve, too, though to be perfectly honest, I’m kicking myself for sharing the recipe with you only this afternoon. You can start these bourbon balls the night before, or even the day you plan to serve them if you can get the dough together with enough time to let it rest before rolling. The one- to two-day old balls will be very good. But I’ve found that they don’t really arrive until day four or five. That’s when their fudginess peaks. (The bourbon in these little buggers sneaks up on you, by the way, so watch out.)

A couple of things about this recipe surprised me. First, there’s the fact that you crunch up store-bought chocolate cookies in a food processor and use the crumbs as the base for the balls. In other words, you’re making what amounts to a cookie out of cookies. It's cookie cannibalism, people. Then comes the part where you have to leave the dough (can I even call it “dough?”) uncovered for hours to dry it out. That also felt strange, and especially so when I realized that the finished balls also do best when left out in the open. For days. But then you have yourself a plate of bourbon balls so dense and rich – almost chewy – that suddenly, the whole thing feels perfectly natural. Of course, that could be the bourbon talking.

I’m going to unplug next week to wrap up a work project and get some ducks in a row, but I’ll be back on January 7th with a recipe and some thoughts for 2012. Until then, Happy New Year, friends.

[Oh, and p.s. – When we moved last spring, we did so with the help of some good friends. No boxes, if you recall. We just picked up our stuff and carried it over to the apartment next door. Eli captured the whole apartment take-down on camera and stitched the shots together into a stop-action video. It’s a fun piece, and I thought you might like to see it… if only to see poor Eli trot across our empty living room with a 19-weeks-pregnant Jess on his back!]

Music: "Cripple Creek," Mike Seeger.

Fudgy Bourbon Balls
Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark

Melissa Clark recommends using Nabisco Famous wafers for the cookie crumbs, but any crisp chocolate cookie will do. Think Oreo cookie (minus the cream) or crisper. I used Mi-Del Chocolate Snaps. Deb over at Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for chocolate wafers that would work beautifully, if you’re into the whole bake a cookie to make a cookie routine.

2½ c. chocolate cookie crumbs
1¼ c. pecans
½ c. good bourbon or rum (I used Woodford Reserve)
1 c. confectioners’ sugar, plus additional for rolling
3 Tbsps. unsweetened cocoa powder, plus additional for rolling
1½ Tbsps. honey

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the cookie crumbs and the pecans until the nuts are finely ground.

In a separate bowl, stir together the bourbon or rum, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, and honey. Add the mixture to the food processor and pulse until just combined. Transfer the dough to a bowl, preferably a wide, shallow one to maximize air exposure, and let it rest, uncovered, at room temperature for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. You want the dough to try out a bit before rolling the balls.

Using one level teaspoonful of dough per ball, use your fingers to roll into balls. Roll some of the balls in confectioners’ sugar, and some of them in cocoa powder. The coatings will absorb into the balls over time, so if you want, you can sprinkle or re-roll in the sugar and cocoa just before serving.

Yield: A zillion bourbon balls, by which I mean about 100.


She made soup

The first few weeks after Mia was born were the soupiest weeks of my life. My mother made mushroom barley soup, my friends dropped by with lentil soup, more lentil soup, and minestrone, and when we ran out of all that, Eli defrosted a container of his mother’s chicken soup. We ate it with matzo balls, parsnips, carrots, and celery and then, when Mia was five and a half weeks old, my stepmother, Amy, came to town.

I wish I could remember more about that visit. According to my journal, that was the week when Mia started crying actual tears, and the week she first looked me straight in the eye and beamed, so that’s something. Amy did laundry – I remember that – and she hung out with Mia early one morning so that I could sleep for an hour or two. She cooked, of course: a pumpkin stuffed with everything good, some kind of chicken in wine, maybe a pasta dish. And because Amy knows what you want to eat most of all when you’ve just made a human, she made soup.

Soups, I should say. Four in the not even five days she was here. She started with pea soup, I think, then moved on to beef stew, which isn’t exactly soup, but I’m counting it anyway, then to kale and bean soup, which we’ll come back to in a second. On Amy’s last morning here, Eli, Mia, my father, and I drove up to the Newburyport Half Marathon (Eli ran, we cheered), and when we got back, she was gone. In her place, a tomato-based vegetable soup, still warm, sat waiting to be sealed and stowed. Poof! Amy knows how to make an exit.

I like soup, and this specific cluster of soups was especially good. I hate to play favorites, but -- as you've probably already guessed -- the kale and bean soup was a standout, for me. Amy sent me the recipe when she got home, and I’ve been making it on repeat ever since. Kale and bean soup is a homely soup with just a few simple ingredients: an onion, two garlic cloves, kale, a couple of cans of beans, and vegetable stock. You can toss in a Parmesan rind, too, if you have one. What got me excited about this soup is the way you lightly mash some of the beans when you add them to the pot so that they give their guts over to the broth. Now that I have an eye out for it, I realize that partial bean mashing is standard operating procedure for a lot of bean soups, but I had never done it before. One recipe that I came across last week says that mashing the beans “thickens” the soup, but I would describe the effect more as a “texturizing.” It reminds me a little of miso soup, the way the mashed beans cloud the broth.

I took a break from this soup over the last few days to focus my attention on latkes and all manner of sweets, but today, it’s making a comeback. I’m guessing that in these last days of 2011, we could all use a little soup. Enjoy.

Kale and Bean Soup
Adapted from The Columbus Dispatch

I’ve made a few changes to the recipe that Amy sent along. Instead of two cans of cannellini beans, I use one can of cannellini, and one can of chickpeas. I tried the chickpeas at Eli’s suggestion, and he was right. They make the soup feel richer. I’m not sure why. Are chickpea guts richer than cannellini guts? Maybe. At any rate, I think chickpeas have a more distinctive flavor than cannellini beans, so that might be it. I also added garlic into the mix. As for the kale, I usually prefer dinosaur kale (a.k.a. Lacinato kale, the kind with flat, dark leaves), but for this soup, I go with curly. It stands up better to the twenty-minute soak and steam in the pot. (Though if all you have is dinosaur, use it. It will be fine.)

1 lb. kale
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 14.5 oz. can each cannellini beans and chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 c. water
2 c. vegetable broth
A Parmesan rind, if you have one
Shaved Parmesan for serving (I use a vegetable peeler to shave nice, wide ribbons.)
Salt and pepper

Rinse the kale and tear the leaves away from the stems. The original recipe says to cut the leaves into ½-inch strips, but I just tear them into small-ish pieces with my hands.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic, and push it around a little with the onions. When the aroma rises, add half of the beans, and mash them lightly in the pot. I find that a potato masher works best, but a fork will also do. Either way, hold onto the side of the pot with one (oven-mitted) hand while you mash to make sure that the pot doesn’t slide.

Add the water, the broth, and the Parmesan rind, if using, and bring to a boil. Stir in the kale and the remaining beans, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, partially covered, until the kale is tender, about 20 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls, and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Top with the shaved Parmesan and plenty of black pepper.

Serves 4.



We're having kale and bean soup for dinner, and my favorite squash salad from Plenty. How about you?


The good stuff

My friend, Mathias, knows a thing or two about coffee. When I found out that he was coming to stay with us for a few days in August, I bought a Chemex coffee maker in the hope that he would teach me how to use it. He did, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it.

I’m not much of a coffee drinker – probably why I never learned how to brew a proper cup – but I am a breakfast maker and eater, and when I have people over for pancakes or custard-filled corn bread, it’s nice to be able to offer them a cup of the good stuff. Much better than my previous modus operandi, which consisted of me apologetically nudging a French press and a bag of (cover your eyes, Mathias) pre-ground coffee in the direction of my guests, and having them make it themselves.

Earlier this week, Mathias published a coffee gear guide on his blog. It’s a great resource if, like me, you’re just starting out, so I wanted to share it with you.

Some other things to kick off the weekend:

:: Karrah Kwasnik’s photography. I met Karrah last night at a PechKucha Night in Portsmouth, where she presented her work. This woman does amazing things with film. Correction: Not film! She shoots in digital, prints the negatives on transparency paper, and makes the images using the Van Dyke Brown printing process. In other words, Karrah is even cooler than I thought.

:: Mr. W. Poor guy. (Thanks for this, Kasey.)

:: This beautiful essay by Marisa about her “imaginary mentor.” I think it’s important to have those.

See you next week.


PechaKucha Night: Everybody Eats

Hi, all.

I wanted to stop in today to tell you about a PechaKucha event happening tonight in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The theme of the event is food, and here’s how it works: Nine people who care about food will present for a few minutes about what they do. Each presenter is allowed 20 slides, and 20 seconds per slide to tell his or her story. (The slides advance automatically.) Tonight’s presenters are a fisherman, a sculptor, a photographer, a chef, an activist, a writer, a restaurant owner, a local food organizer, oh, and ME!

The story that I’ll be telling tonight is ours. It’s the story of this blog: how I got sick, lost my everyday, and how this space helped me find it again. How Sweet Amandine helped me find me again. I’ve never talked about this stuff out loud in public before, so I’m pretty nervous. Also, excited!

For the uninitiated: PechaKucha means “chit-chat” in Japanese, and events take place all over the world. The idea behind them is simply to get creative people together and talking. I’ve only ever been to one, but I can tell you that I left feeling inspired.

Tonight’s event will be held at Street 360, 801 Islington St. in Portsmouth, NH. Doors open at 6:00pm, and we’ll begin at 7:00pm. You can find more information about the event and my fellow presenters here.

I know it’s short notice, but if you happen to live in the area, it would be great to see you out there.


What the cookie tin wants

All right, enough with the parsnip and cabbage. Let’s have dessert.

Around this time every year, I go cookie hunting. (In fact, I just noticed that it was exactly one year ago to the day that I posted last year’s find. What are the chances of that?) I know I’m not the only one. We all have our tried and trues, but the cookie tin wants what the cookie tin wants, and come December, what it wants is something new. So we take to our cookbooks, our magazines, our piles of recipes, printed and clipped, and armed with sticky tabs, off we go. We’re never sure exactly what we’re looking for. We’ll know it when we see it.

The December cookie once traveled in packs (sometimes, it still does). Today, it most often flies solo, like the one I spotted yesterday among the beasts and fowl, vegetation, and other edibles of a new, already-beloved cookbook. There, in the glorious habitat of Dorie Greenspan’s Paris kitchen, I discovered a whole new species.

It’s called a croquant, and its identifying characteristics are difficult to describe. Imagine a cross between a macaroon (this variety) and a meringue. It’s sort of like that. Croquant means crunchy, and crunchy it is, though not in the typical way. To me, crunchy cookies mean sugar cookies, buttery slabs that snap when you bite in. The croquant takes crunchy in a different direction. “Airy” is not a word that I usually associate with cookies, especially not the crisp kind, but here, it works. That’s because of the way this cookie crumbles, which is not like a cookie at all. It crumbles more like a cracker, specifically, like those rice crackers with practically no ingredients. You know the ones. Croquants are similarly simple, with just four ingredients to speak of. When I was chopping the nuts, then stirring them in with the sugar, then the egg whites, then the flour, I had trouble picturing what a cookie empty of butter, and oil, and extracts, and leavening, would even look like. Well, it looks like this, people:

And it’s worth every bit of its nonexistent salt. The croquant is a rare bird, indeed.


p.s. If you're reading this via RSS or e-mail, I hope you'll click over to the site today. I've made some changes that I'm excited to share with you.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table

One teaspoon of dough per cookie will look like a pitifully small amount, but don’t be alarmed. The dough spreads and puffs into a perfect two-to-three-bite cookie as it bakes. As you might imagine from the ingredient list, these cookies are quite sweet. That makes them very nice with a cup of unsweetened coffee or tea or, my favorite, warm milk.

About the nuts: I used a combination of unskinned hazelnuts and almonds, which Dorie Greenspan says is the most popular in these croquants. She also notes that the version she makes with salted cashews is her "house favorite." I'm thinking of making a batch with pecans or walnuts the next time around.

3½ ounces (about a cup) of nuts, barely chopped
1¼ c. sugar
2 large egg whites
½ c. plus 1 Tbsp. flour, sifted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the nuts and the sugar in a medium mixing bowl and stir together with a rubber spatula. Stir in the egg whites, then the flour, to form a loose dough. Don’t worry if it looks more like a grainy batter than any cookie dough you’ve ever seen. It’s supposed to look that way.

Drop the dough by the teaspoonful onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. The dough will spread, so be sure to leave about 2 inches between each mound of dough. You can use your finger to round the edges of each one.

Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until they puff up, and the tops crackle and brown. I baked these cookies one sheet at a time. If you want to bake two sheets at once, swap the upper and lower sheets after the first 4-5 minutes so that your cookies will brown evenly.

Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack, and let the cookies stand for about 10 minutes, until you can easily peel them away from the parchment. Transfer the cookies to the cooling rack, and allow them to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the remaining dough. Use a cool baking sheet each time, or your dough will start to melt and spread before you even make it to the oven.

Store in a dry, covered container – not in a plastic bag or plastic wrap – or they will lose their crunch.

Dorie Greenspan says that this recipe makes 34 cookies. Using a level teaspoon of dough for each cookie and rather large bits of nuts, I had closer to 50.