There is no holiday tradition I love more than the baking and sharing of cookies. Most of the year, I do my best to keep the sweet treats at bay, but during December, all bets are off. I make at least half a dozen varieties and hand them out to my friends, neighbors, and family members.
My first cookie of the season is always a basic roll-out sugar cookie. The recipe comes from an old family friend. It’s easy to make, can stand up to repeated rolling, and holds its shape during baking. I like to decorate them with a simple shake of colored sugar or sprinkles, but the truly ambitious can employ frosting as well.
We all know that Thanksgiving is a turkey-centric holiday, but I don’t think I’m speaking an untruth when I say that for most of us, it’s a meal that’s really more about the side dishes than the main event. Truly, it’s stuffing, potatoes, green beans, and casseroles that make this annual meal feel both special and festive.
Cookbook author Tara Matazara Desmond knows that it’s really the side dish that makes the meal, and has recently published a book celebrating the things we serve along with our mains. Called Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal, this book features side dishes for every occasion.
Whether you’re searching for something special to join a brunch menu or you’re simply on the hunt for some new flavors to enhance a weeknight regular, this book is here to serve as useful guide for home cooks who are stuck in a rut and need a few new ideas.
When I heard about slice, the sweet snacks common to Australia and New Zealand, I was intrigued. Slice is, apparently, ubiquitous to life there. Children eat slice in packed lunches or after school, and adult coffee time gets supplemented with slice. It’s found in most every bakery, cafe, supermarket, and corner store, in countless variations. MORE
Why do people always order ginger ale when they fly? I almost always do, and many of my fellow travelers seem to do the same. It’s not a conscious thing for me, but rather reflexive. I don’t know what it is about being strapped into a cramped coach seat, browsing SkyMall, that makes me think: Canada Dry. When I’m on the ground, I rarely find myself saying, “Gee, you know what’d be great right now? Ginger ale.”
Woe to the thirsty soul who, only familiar with ginger ale, picks up a ginger beer. Pity this poor sap, this rube, who thinks that he can glug-glug ginger beer down his gullet just like his Canada Dry or Schweppes, but instead finds himself attacked by the ginger bite, as if a tiny, ginger-fierce dog was running circles in his mouth, tearing up the carpet, barking up his nose, and slobbering down his throat.
Oh, I have been this sap.
There are so many foods that do well when steamed. This gentle cooking technique produces crisp, tender broccoli, makes for impossibly delicate salmon, and has long helped British cooks with their dessert courses when no ovens were available.
Still, when it was first suggested that I consider steaming a whole chicken, I was a little unsure. I was afraid that I’d produce something rubbery and bland. It seemed like a process destined for disappointment.
As I looked into it, I quickly discovered that there’s a long tradition of steamed chicken and that, if done right, the process produces a moist and mild-flavored bird. And so, I set to collecting the necessary ingredients to properly steam a chicken. I picked up a bamboo steamer at an Asian market, got my hands on an organic chicken, and gathered ginger, green onions, garlic, and white wine.
As a cheerleader for home cooking, I try to avoid take out and delivery meals. But recently, when I was overcome with a craving for Thai food, I placed an order for pickup at my local curry spot. I tasked my husband with picking up dinner on his way home from work. The experience reminded me of all the things I hate about take out—the food wasn’t ready on time, it was cold and not as vibrantly flavored as I wanted. The spring rolls were greasy and excessively high in calories. The spice level was meek. And the price tag was high.
I decided the time had come for me to conquer Thai curries from scratch. MORE
I like the ritual of an evening cocktail hour—a drink paired with something salty signals the end of the work day, that it’s time to relax. It’s lovely to have something to sip while making dinner or chatting about the day. The only problem is that I am not much of a drinker. It’s not that I’m opposed; my body just doesn’t like alcohol. More than one glass of wine makes me uncomfortably hot and flushed. If I venture past a single cocktail, I end up feeling like I’ve been bludgeoned.
In my twenties, I fought against my biological desire to live a dry life, but now firmly settled into my thirties, I’ve come to accept my genetic incompatibility with booze. Though I’ve not been able to take part in much of the re-emerging cocktail scene, I’m grateful for it nonetheless. That’s because it had led to a renewed interest in herbal syrups, fruit and vinegar shrubs, and other tinctures that go beautifully in a glass of fizzy water.
When fresh herbs are abundant, I’ll infuse them into small batches of simple syrup. Rosemary lemon syrup is fresh on hot days and can do double duty in homemade vinaigrette. During peach season, I’ll peel and mash two or three ripe ones into a jar with sugar, apple cider vinegar, and grated ginger, for a bracing concoction that hits both the sweet and savory taste buds.
When fresh apple cider is in season, I regularly cook down a half gallon of juice into two concentrated cups of syrup. Flavored with a little mint and honey, it works with either sparkling water during that post-work, pre-dinner time or in a mug of hot water later in the evening. The best part of these shrubs and syrups is that once you learn the ratios and get a hang of the technique, you can use whatever fruit, herbs, or vinegars you have on hand. MORE