Sunday, January 6, 2013

suffering cookies

Every year we hold a post-Christmas party for family, church friends, work friends, significant others, neighbors, random strangers… lots of people. This year that party proved Murphy’s Law.

Let’s start with these cookies, which have been dubbed “Heartache cookies”, “$60 Cookies”, and “Suffering cookies” at different intervals.

They are a great big pain in the ass!


It started with the Washington Post cookie special in the Food section. They do it every year. This year ALL the recipes looked like a pain in the ass. Weird ingredients, complicated methodologies, general sense of fussiness. However, my mom thought the Oaxacan Chocolate Cookies, from Jaleo, Jose Andres’ original restaurant in D.C., sounded sufficiently interesting that they were worth the fuss.

Well, let’s recount what happened:

- The recipe called for 2 teaspoons of mezcal. Mezcal, for those of you who do not know (as I did not until relatively recently), mezcal might be considered the Scotch of tequila. It’s agave liquor, aged. Wonderfully smoky and delicious. But we only needed 2 teaspoons. And the smallest amount the liquor store carried was a fifth. For $28.

- Then we needed 10 1/2 ounces of very high cacao percentage dark chocolate. My sister was kind enough to donate two chocolate bars she got for Christmas to the cause. We needed one more and opted to get Mexican chocolate, as the recipe called for. A bar of Taza chocolate (which is delicious, and direct trade, admittedly) was $9, without tax. Absurdly expensive ingredient #2. And let’s not forget the massive amount of butter going into this, too.

- The methodology was bizarre, and instructed the cookie maker (my mom, at this phase in the process) to quit using a mixer and fold, by hand, an enormous amount of flour into wet ingredients that were not all that wet and did not particularly care for that process. It took forever, and resulted in dough with the consistency of gravel.

- Then that gravel was supposed to be formed into logs. Yeah. Right. When my mom finally succeeded (seemingly) in forming one log, she wrapped it in wax paper and went to, per the recipe’s instructions, chill it in the fridge. When the log promptly collapsed, causing a very very large amount of dough to scatter all over the kitchen floor. Awe. some.

- Lest you think the suffering was complete, after the lengthy chilling time we then had to follow absurd instructions that involved baking for seven minutes, rotating sheets, baking another seven minutes, brushing the cookies with egg and salt (which I made the executive decision to change to sugar, spiked with salt to make flavors pop, because the cookies were barely sweet at all)

The cookies were good, but NOT WORTH THE SUFFERING.


Along with suffering cookies, however, I completed a fun and emotionally satisfying baking project: vasilopita. Also known as Saint Basil’s bread, it’s a Greek tradition: every New Years Day (which is the Saint’s Day of Saint Basil a major saint in the Greek Orthodox church) this bread is made. Inside is hidden a coin. Whoever gets the slice with that coin supposedly has good luck for a year.

This was a recipe from Flavors of Greece, truly the only Greek cookbook you will ever need. It has the perfect, Platonic (get it? get it?!) recipes for all of the Greek standards, as well as some creative unexpected recipes. This vasilopita was quiiiiiite decadent, with lotsa butter, honey, sugar, etc. But what gives it its signature va-va-va-voom is a flavorful combination of anise and orange. SO good.

Furthermore, we very sadly lost my dear great aunt Rose, very unexpectedly, a few weeks before I made this. She made delicious traditional Greek specialties, and her vasilopita was always gorgeous and tasty.

So this was also a bit of a tribute to her.

Also, it was ENORMOUS.


Also on the list of things made by me was gluten-free shortbread. Our choir director’s wife Betty, who sings soprano with me, has Celiac disease.. and her husband just got diagnosed too! Guys, is it contagious?! If so, I NEED TO STAY AWAY FROM THEM.

But at least I know how to make good gluten-free shortbread. This recipe, using all-purpose gf flour and rice flour, pleased everyone, including those of us who can (thank God) process gluten.


I wasn’t around these parts for Thanksgiving this year, but according to multiple sources, the White House recipe for thyme-roasted turkey, which my aunt Jeanie made for that holiday, was “the best turkey ever”.

So my sister nominated it for our party.

Hint: butter.


(Go Redskins! Or Seahawks?! Both Washingtons are in a certain sense my home! Eek!)

My sister also made bacon-wrapped dates. SO good.


And deviled eggs with caviar on top, which people ate in like thirty seconds.


ANOTHER Murphy’s law story: we had a container of caviar in the kitchen, which my mom said she had bought for deviled eggs in the past. But the not-too-distant past. But there was no expiration date.

So, we called the company, gave them the serial number on the jar, and they said the caviar didn’t expire until March 2013. Awesome. Oh, but… “We see there are some black spots in the caviar. Is that anything to worry about?” “… We’ll call you back.”

Well, fortunately they did, because it turns out that the kind of caviar we’d bought had been discontinued in 2011. Furthermore, the serial numbers apparently repeat (?!) in canned goods and as a result the jar could’ve been from 2003 or 2006. SO IT’S GOOD WE CHECKED HUH?

Let the record state, my family doesn’t buy caviar regularly. (Clearly!)

Also present at the party were dips: lotsa dips.

Our “secret family recipe” for artichoke dip (artichoke hearts from a can, mayo, garlic, and cheese), made by my mom. A white bean dip I made.


From the Greek store, labneh (white) and taramosalata (pink).

My favorite project, a new recipe. The Washington Post food section (attempting to redeem themselves in my eyes for those cookies? I’m sure) did a special section on vegetable pates. The carrot ginger pate caught my eye, as I anticipated great flavor and beautiful color. It delivered on both fronts. Make it! It’s a keeper!


The bacon wrapped dates and, in the other category of stuff-wrapped-in-meat, cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto.

More Murphy’s Law: my mom brought fruit salad to Christmas Eve. We went to H-Mart a few days prior, which can usually be counted on to have beautiful produce that’s exceedingly ripe. We got mangos, pineapple, and cantaloupe. And… Christmas Eve, none of it was ripe. The other stuff got used, but I figured out-of-season melon would be best served with something else.

It was good with the prosciutto. My grandma made that, back in the day.


Took ANOTHER trip to the delightful Red, White, and Bleu, my new favorite cheese shop, because my mother had bought the Groupon too!

This was a delicious selection that disappeared almost immediately.


Unpictured are the finished meats, but in addition to the turkey (which was good but not earth-shattering, in my opinion) we also had a ham. People went NUTS for the ham, which is funny since I spent a total of 20 seconds making the glaze for it (you’ll see why below)- dumped mustard, brown sugar, and cider vinegar in a bowl, tasted it, went “yeah okay”.

For making little sandwiches, we bought an assortment of rolls. They all looked similar, so you were playing “roll-ette” (HAHAHA!)


Anyway, here’s a photo conveying the general scene.


The reason there are fewer pictures, and perhaps they’re a bit blurred, was the state of UTTER CHAOS in our house prior to the party.

I have two words for you: plumbing emergency.

I’m not shedding details, but suffice it to say that while it wasn’t fun running out for a last minute emergency errand to buy scented candles, praying the plumber would be there by the time I returned, it was really nice getting out of a very stressful house.

Anyway. It all worked out. The cookies were good.

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