Dandeen’s Cookie Recipes: Sauerkraut-Raisin Drops (really) and Snickerdoodles

My great-grandmother Dandeen would have been 101 this Christmas.

Her friends and family called her Dandeen, but her name was Retaw Snyder McCoy, and she passed away last spring at the age of 99. She grew up in western Pennsylvania, as did her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but moved away when I was little– first to Florida to soak up the sun, then, widowed and no longer able to see, to Vallejo, CA to live with family. I used to love visiting her in Largo as a child. We didn’t do much, just talked– she’d let my hair out of its tight ponytail and brush it, and we’d eat cookies, play Uno and talk. She never made me eat anything I didn’t like, and she had the greatest stories, about the massive snowstorms they used to get when she was young, or the trouble my grandpa got into as a kid.

It’s been more than a year since she died, but this Christmas, she was everywhere. I kept running across little pieces of Dandeen‘s life in unexpected places– a photo here, a crocheted afghan there. She kept popping up in conversations. And then I starting going through my mom’s recipe box.

The recipe box is much older than I am (I’m 27), and it’s filled with recipes handwritten on stationery from long-gone local print shops, yellowed newspaper clippings and typewritten index cards. I found a letter from Dandeen and Pap-Pap (that’s my great-grandfather) to my mom asking how baby Sarah was doing, and I also found this recipe. A note in Dandeen‘s handwriting reads:

These are for Dusty’s sweet tooth.

Both real good.

I don’t frost the cookies.

(Dusty is my dad– this was before my parents divorced.)

I wasn’t brave enough to make this, because I hate sauerkraut with the deepest of passions. Even more than I hate pickles. Yes, I realize that rinsing the sauerkraut will drain it of its flavor, leaving it to act as a moisturizing agent– like cake recipes that use yogurt or applesauce, for example. I still can’t get close enough to a bowl of sauerkraut without gagging to make this recipe. Sorry. But I have to say I’m curious– so if any of you dear, brave readers want to know more about Pittsburgh’s German culinary heritage, please, make these and let me know how it turns out! Click through for two recipes. Read the rest of this entry »

Peanut Butter Blossoms (a.k.a. Sombreros)

Merry Christmas, kids!  Santa brought a cookie recipe:

1 3/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup (firmly packed) brown sugar

1 egg

2 tsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 packaged Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped please

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together into a bowl.   Set aside.

In your electric mixer, cream together the shortening and peanut butter.  Gradually add the sugar and brown sugar and mix well.  Then add the egg (don’t beat it), the milk and the vanilla and mix well again.  Then add the dry ingredients gradually until everything in thoroughly mixed.

Shape the dough in rounded spoonfuls into balls.  Roll the balls in sugar and bake on an ungreased baking sheet for 8 minutes.

Remove from oven and place a Hershey’s kiss on top of each cookie, pressing down gently to smoosh the cookie into a flatter shape without breaking it.  Return to oven and bake 2-3 minutes longer.  Remove from oven, let sit for a minute, then put the cookies on a rack to cool.

Leave on a plate for Santa, with a glass of cold milk.

Yep, that’s right, Santa left me a note telling me what cookies to make him next year.   He’s pretty direct, that Santa is.

(In the margins, by the way, he mentioned that this works pretty well with gluten-free flour as long as you don’t overbake.)

Gluten-Free Cornbread Stuffing: Two recipes good enough to make all winter

I love stuffing. (Or ‘dressing,’ as some of you insist on calling it.) Turkey’s all well and good, sweet potatoes are nice, but Thanksgiving is all about the stuffing for me. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this U.S. dish, Thanksgiving stuffing is basically a savory bread pudding, usually flavored with sage and a meat (turkey, sausage and oysters are traditional choices). It’s often baked inside the cavity of a roasting turkey, but in recent years, as we’ve learned more about bacteria and food safety, that method has fallen out of favor.

My grandma’s traditional verson involves cubed bread and sausage, baked in a shallow layer in a glass baking dish. It’s delicious, and I’ll give it to you if she says I can.

My version is a little different. We’ve done this for two years now, and it’s well on its way to becoming a tradition. I make both meat and vegetarian versions. And they’re gluten-free!

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A Chocolate Chip Triptych

chocolate chip cookie

I love homemade chocolate chip cookies. You love homemade chocolate chip cookies. Everybody does. If you grew up in the US, they were probably part of your childhood. If you didn’t get the real thing until adulthood, then I envy your first taste of a warm, melting chocolate chip cookie. It’s still one of life’s great pleasures for me.

There are a few conflicting histories of the chocolate chip cookie, but everyone agrees that it was invented by Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Inn in 1933, and popularized during World War II, when families shipped boxes to soldiers overseas. It became an American classic, and today the recipe is printed on bags of Nestlé chocolate chips.

Here’s the original recipe; it’s pretty much in the public domain at this point, so here, go crazy. I’ll follow that with two worthy variations, one of which is gluten-free.

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Pound Cake with Lemon Curd

pound cake

Oh, pound cake, you buttery temptress.  So satisfying, yet so versatile.  You’re dessert, breakfast, a coffee break snack.  You’re so easy to make, yet so often you’re served dry and crumbly.  Can I do you justice? 

The good news is that Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, that venerable friend of vegetarians, has a beautiful pound cake recipe.  And my favorite cooking guru Alton Brown has a wonderful recipe for lemon curd that goes with it beautifully.  Lemon curd, if you’re not familiar with it, is a tart, lemony custard that has many, many applications, my favorite of which is as a topping for pound cake. 

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Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake

Before you ask: no, I’m not Jewish.  (I get that a lot.)

I have, however, been lucky enough to get to know some wonderful Jews who have kindly included me in a few of their traditions.  I’ve always been fascinated by Jewish traditions and the ways they’ve been adapted and kept alive in different ways by diverse groups all over the world.  Jewish holiday foods, in particular, are rich in history and lore.  They’re also amazingly rich in flavor, and this honey cake is an excellent example.  Foods made with honey are a tradition at Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing sweetness in the new year.  I got this recipe from Recipezaar.com. 

I used local honey, eggs and flour and locally roasted coffee, so I’m thinking this is my second entry in the September Philadelphia Eat Local Challenge.

Honey Cake

1 cup honey (I used Lancaster county wildflower honey)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup strong coffee

In a large bowl, mix together the first 5 ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the wet stuff, alternating with the coffee; beat well. Put into one greased 9″x13″ pan (or, alternatively, three 8″ square pans). Bake at 325F– 90 minutes for the large pan, 60 minutes for the three smaller pans.

I found that this cake rises a lot more than you might expect, and then falls during the course of baking.  This resulted in some batter around the edges of the pan that burned slightly.  I’d also recommend putting parchment paper in the pan instead of relying on greasing alone– this is, after all, a honey cake, with all the stickiness that implies.  Also, be sure to keep an eye on it while it’s baking– 90 minutes is a long time, and ovens and pans vary.

The flavor of this cake is very dark and deep; it’s not a ton of cinnamon but the end result is definitely a spice cake.  It’s a little sticky and fairly rich, and it goes really well with coffee at breakfast.  And in allergy-friendly Jewish tradition, it’s dairy-free!  Enjoy, and happy new year.

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Meatloaf with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

If you grew up in what the politicians call Middle America, you are no doubt familiar with meatloaf.  It’s usually mentioned as the height of culinary mediocrity, the unimaginative, badly cooked Tuesday night dinner of 1950s housewives.  The fifties did produce some horrible food in this country, no question: in fact, there’s an awesome web site that specializes in it.

But meatloaf gets a bad rap.  Yes, it’s disgusting if you’re just pouring ketchup over hamburger, but done property it can be a delicious, complex and comforting dish.  Give this simple recipe a try and tell me I’m wrong.

I used Alton Brown’s method for this meatloaf, but the ingredients are mine.  I should also, in the interests of full disclosure, admit that I really, really hate ketchup.  I realize that this is a shocking admission for a Pittsburgher, but it’s true.  I’ve never been able to stand it, my whole life.  I don’t know, maybe I was permanently scarred by those big vats of nasty they used to serve in the school cafeteria.  So instead of the traditional ketchup-and-Coke glaze, I’ve updated this meatloaf with a delicious spicy-sweet tomato sauce.  It’s got a bit of vinegar to make it tangy, like ketchup, but the taste is livelier and more complex than you get with ketchup.  Screw ketchup.

(I really wish I could stop typing this as “meatload.”)

For the meatloaf:

1 1/2 lbs ground beef* 

7 slices white bread, potato bread, or plain gluten-free bread (the Whole Foods GF sandwich bread works well)

1 small onion, chopped

3 whole cloves garlic

1 egg

1 pinch cayenne pepper

2 pinches sage (I used dried, but fresh would be better)

1 generous pinch salt

1 pinch fresh ground black pepper

For the glaze:

About 1 lb crushed tomatoes

1 tbsp garam masala

1 tbsp molasses

2 tsp red wine vinegar

*Alton recommends a mixture of chuck and sirloin; we used chuck from Haldeman’s Foods at the Reading Terminal Market.  Definitely use high-quality, fresh ground beef.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Tear up the bread and put it in the food processor with the sage, pepper and cayenne.  Blend until you have bread crumbs.  Empty into a bowl and put the chopped onion and garlic into the processor.  Don’t quite puree it– leave it a bit chunky.

In a large bowl, mix the onion mixture, the bread crumbs, the salt and the egg into the meat with your (clean, please) hands.   Mix thoroughly but don’t squeeze too hard.

Press the mixture into a 10-inch loaf pan to shape it, and then turn it out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Insert a probe thermometer into the meat at a 45-degree angle, so that the end of the probe is in the center of the meatloaf.  Set the thermometer to go off at 155 degrees, and bake.

In the meantime, heat the crushed tomatoes in a pan over medium heat.  Add the garam masala, vinegar and molasses and stir in.  Lower heat and bring slowly to a boil.  Turn off heat and let cool for a minute, then pour into a measuring cup or other good pouring vessel.  After the meatloaf has been cooking for ten minutes (by which time it should start to have a bit of a brown crust) pour the glaze onto it and brush it over the meatloaf so it’s covered.  Be generous- it’s okay to have a big thick layer on top.

When the center is at 155 degrees, take the meatloaf out and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing (a bread knife works well for this).  Serve with garlic mashed potatoes.

Joe’s Garlic Mashed Potatoes

5 smallish Yukon Gold potatoes

Olive oil

Truffle oil

2 cloves garlic

3 tbsp butter

Fresh herbs (we used parsley and sage), chopped finely

A splash of half-and-half (optional, for texture)

Peel, dice and boil the potatoes, then mash them in a bowl.  Add a splash of truffle oil, the butter, the half-and-half and the herbs.  In the meantime, slice the garlic and brown the slices in olive oil in a small pan.  When it starts to get brown, turn off the heat.  Drain the garlic oil into the potatoes.  Chop the garlic slices and fold into the potatoes.

By the way, the leftover meatloaf makes really good sandwiches– we made this with a week’s worth of lunches in mind!

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