Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Spice Cookies and Hot Cider

I don't know about you all but we sure have been doing a lot of Christmas baking these days. The girls just love to roll out the dough and cut out Christmas cookie shapes! The cookies are fun to give away to Christmas carolers and friends. Today I wanted to share one of my newest creations for you to enjoy this holiday season.

Sort of like a sugar cookie, but with the addition of a few warming, sweet spices. I used my favorite cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon. The flavor reminds me of the red hot cinnamon candies that were a favorite of mine as a child. I added nutmeg and cloves, and then a little freshly ground star anise. You can also find the star anise in the bulk spice section of your local co-op.

To grind the anise, simply remove the seeds from the pod (the star) and grind in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle (I used the later). For a more intense anise flavor grind the whole star (pod and seeds) in a coffee grinder. The aroma is intoxicating and the flavor exotic. You can use it to make your own chai spice tea, or try making a stove top potpourri with water, orange peels, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and star anise. Simmer on the stove during a holiday gathering or on Christmas eve and enjoy its sweet aroma wafting throughout your home.

Serve these delightful little cookies with hot mulled cider on a chilly winter afternoon. You can make a cookie glaze if you wish by mixing powdered sugar with a very small amount of non-dairy milk or water and a dash of vanilla. I used palm shortening in these cookies but organic unsalted butter would also work. The flour I buy from Authentic Foods in California. If you live on the east coast you may want to order it from the Gluten Free Mall.

Christmas Spice Cookies

1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
1 cup organic palm shortening or unsalted butter
1 cup maple sugar or coconut sugar
1/4 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla

Place the dry ingredients into a bowl (rice flour through ground star anise). Whisk together.

In a large bowl, cream the shortening and sugar together with an electric mixer. Add the applesauce and vanilla and beat about 30 more seconds.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Chill dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Sprinkle a clean, flat surface with a little four and roll out your dough until about 1/8 -inch of thickness.

Cut out with your favorite cookie cutter shapes. Place cookies onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Repeat this process with the remaining dough.

Enjoy cookies with a cup of freshly mulled hot cider. If you don't have any apple cider on hand then try using a container of organic apple juice. You know the kind in the large glass jars, the not-from-concentrate-type found at your local health food store or co-op. Basically you simmer apple cider on the stove with cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, sliced fresh ginger, and a few orange slices for about 30 to 60 minutes. Strain and enjoy! The girls use the cinnamon sticks as straws to suck the warm cider up. Mmm.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snow Day Soup

Here in Bellingham, Washington the temperature has dropped and its snowing! In fact, the cold weather moved in last weekend and we had a little snow then and now its a beautiful winter wonderland!

I had to buy the babies some down buntings so they could go out and play in it. As soon as we set them on the front porch, all toasty warm in their new blue buntings, they crawled down off the porch and began crawling through the snow and eating it as their faces brushed up against high drifts (they both walk now but for some reason prefered to crawl in the snow). It was the funniest site to see, something the girls never did! They crawled all throughout the yard, making tracks in their wake.

What better than to relieve the cold chill in the air than a steaming bowl of hot soup! We have been enjoying the Winter Vegetable and White Bean Soup this week (recipe in the soup chapter of our book). It is chocked full of warming winter vegetables, such as, yams, delicata squash, potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, and cabbage. (We had a bumper crop of delicata squash this year in our garden so I have been making more squash recipes than usual this season.) The white beans (I used navy beans in this batch) add extra protein and fiber. The tomatoes add zing and balance the heavy flavors of the root vegetables. The large amounts of onions, shallots, and garlic add robust flavors and help keep your immune system functioning well. The herbs add a subtle complexity in flavor.

This soup is a favorite of most and we hope you enjoy it too! The recipe makes a large batch, which for our family only lasts 3 days. The root vegetables don't freeze too well so if you find you have extra, I 'll bet your friends would be happy to share it!

I have some new recipes to post, but this is the Holiday Season and we have been enjoying spending time with our children playing Christmas songs on our new piano, baking Christmas cookies, playing in the snow, or just cuddling up on the couch with a good book.

The boys will turn ONE YEAR this Friday! Hard to believe, it goes by so fast. I am going to create a recipe for a special first birthday cake, so stay tuned!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Spicy Butternut Squash Stew

The other night Tom began preparing dinner by making his favorite Quinoa Black Bean Salad (recipe in the cookbook). I usually like to serve it along side some steamed winter squash for a light meal. But it was chilly out and I was craving something a little denser, with more, salt, spice, and fat! I had a flash picture in my mind of what I wanted. I always try to keep ingredients stocked in my pantry so I can create a recipe on a whim. And luckily I had everything I needed.

Since Tom had everything prepped for the quinoa salad I asked him to peel the squash. While he was busy with that and the kids were all happily playing I began with the rest of the stew. I started cutting an onion. And then heated my large, heavy-bottomed (11-inch) stainless steel skillet over medium heat. I tossed in some whole cumin seeds and toasted them for about 60 seconds. Then added the oil and onion, more spices, some chopped jalapeno pepper, the chopped squash, a can of fire roasted tomatoes, and some sea salt and water. After it had simmered for a while the whole house smelled like a Mexican restaurant.

We all sat down to a candlelit dinner and enjoyed our simple, yet very satisfying meal of Quinoa Black Bean Salad and Spicy Butternut Squash Stew with sliced avocados on the side.

Spicy Butternut Squash Stew

2 to 3 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
2 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch cayenne pepper
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
one 14-ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
sea salt to taste (2 teaspoons or so)

Heat a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and toast for about 60 seconds. Then add the olive oil and onions and saute for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and jalapeno. Saute for a minute more. Then add the squash, tomatoes, water, and salt. Stir, then cover and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes or until squash is tender. Taste and adjust salt or seasonings if necessary. Source: