We are hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year, and we are in full preparation mode: cooler in the garage for turkey brining, mountains of squash on the counter (more on that soon), the fridge packed with butter for making pie crusts, and of course waves of cranberries that eddy and swirl all over the kitchen when the Lucas-Harmonica Band races through and dumps them out again (come on Lucas, give your busy mama a break!).
If we were not hosting this year, and were going visiting instead, I would almost certainly be bringing a potluck something. And along with it, I would probably bring a little hostess treat. Something homemade and understated, something to be enjoyed but not regretted. A little thank you.
I’m sharing two of my current favorite going-visiting recipes. They are simple gifts – the best kind to give, and to receive. And really, who doesn’t love apples, or cookies? NO ONE, that’s who. Almost no one. And anyone who falls in that grinchy category at least knows someone who loves apples and cookies, right?
(Plants also make nice gifts though, like this little herb garden that I keep in my kitchen – if you really think your hosts don’t want a little treat).
And if you’re looking for Thanksgiving goodness to go with your turkey (or your Tofurkey), here are some favorites from our house: Kale made Jess’s way, this standby Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad from Heidi (if you don’t have blood oranges yet, swap out whatever’s showing up at your market), this terrific Lemony Brussels Sprout Slaw from the New York Times, Luisa’s take on Nigel Slater’s Peas with Mint … and why not finish it all off with Emmy’s adorable miniature pies? Oh, and if you need the perfect thing for company who has stayed for breakfast, we’re planning on some strong coffee and a batch of Kimberley’s Ginger Pecan Pumpkin Muffins. If you have leftover whipped cream, you can put it on both. Easy peasy, which is just what we need in a post-Thanksgiving kitchen.
Oh, and please don’t worry Glasses, Lustigs, Cruzes, Rineharts, Gormans, Thomases, or anyone else coming visiting this weekend – we are not expecting host(ess) treats! In fact, we beg you – please do not bring anything extra with you, since our kitchen just might collapse under the weight of all this goodness :) Can’t wait to see everyone though. xo
‘Tis a gift … Give a listen to Alison Krauss singing Simple Gifts with Yo-Yo Ma on cello … this was one of my mom’s favorites, and Jacob almost has the melody nailed on piano these days. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we will be not be ashamed. To turn, turn will be our delight, ’til by turning, turning we come round right …
Say-Anything Buttery Shortbread Cookies
If you’ve been reading a while, you might remember when I shared a recipe for herbed shortbreads, including a lemon-verbena shortbread cookie for Mother’s Day. The inspiration for those came from Michael Ruhlman’s terrific book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. This is another variation on that recipe, tweaked with the idea of gifting: I’ve swapped out my addition of spelt for all-purpose flour to reduce crumbliness when wrapping. We’ve kept the buttery goodness, the crispy edges that give way to a softer chew in the middle, and the pure not-too-sweet flavor that happily dances with almost any partner you throw at it. Go ahead and customize it to match your host – they will think you are clever and sweet :)
These quantities are super easy to double or triple from memory so that you can make a few variations, customized to your intended recipients. The ones pictured and described have been flavored with brown-sugar pecan, orange cranberry, and lots of freshly ground nutmeg (it is worth mentioning that everyone who tastes the nutmeg version says “Oh! An eggnog cookie!” – and that captures the flavor perfectly I think). But herbs of almost any sort (rosemary, mint) or spices (cardamom, allspice, or of course cinnamon) make a lot of sense here – I could also see almonds, or big pinches of lemon zest, or even vanilla bean scrapings and black pepper. I’ve done cacao nibs and chocolate – both good – also finely chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans – yum! This cookie is an open canvas, really – and I would love to hear about what you decide to try!
One last thing: I think making these small (1 teaspoon dough per cookie) is perfect for gifting. It means that you can stack them and wrap them in parchment and pretty ribbon, or stack them in a sweet little mason jar with a sprig of something pretty on top, or stack them in a brightly colored little espresso cup and twist that into some cellophane. I speak from experience that all versions are received with delight :) But Ruhlman makes BIG cookies (this recipe makes around 50 cookies for me, and “5 or 6” (!!) for him) and I’ll bet those are tasty, too: just adjust your baking time accordingly (and plan on a bigger piece of parchment for wrapping them in!).
This makes enough for three flavor versions: each bakes on its own sheet, 15 to a sheet (3 across and 5 down in the 1-teaspoon size) and you will have a tiny bit of leftover dough (5-10 cookies worth) to keep in the fridge and bake off later, for yourself. The basic ratio is 1 cup flour: 1 stick butter: 3/4 cup sugar. Now let’s dance :)
3 sticks butter
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Version One: 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries plus zest of one large orange, plus 2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar for rolling
Version Two: 1/2 cup chopped pecans (toasted and lightly salted are best) mixed with 2 tablespoons brown sugar
Version Three: 1 1/2 whole nutmegs, freshly grated (yes! It is a lot! And it is awesome!)
Line three baking sheets with parchment and pre-heat oven to 350 F.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar with paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix in. Add flour and salt, mix until dough forms.
Divide dough into three parts. Put one part back in the mixer, and mix in the nutmeg. Put heaping-teaspoon sized balls on the cookie sheet (no need to flatten). Refrigerate until ready to bake.
Put the second part of dough back in the mixer, and mix in the orange zest and chopped dried cranberries (I like unsweetened here for their tart kick, but either way is good really). Make heaping-teaspoon sized balls and roll each ball in Turbinado sugar to coat. Put on cookie sheet (no need to flatten). Refrigerate until ready to bake.
Put the third part of the dough into the mixer, and mix in the pecans and brown sugar. (If using raw unsalted pecans, add a pinch of salt). Make heaping-teaspoon sized balls and arrange on cookie sheet. Refrigerate a couple minutes before baking.
Bake sheets, all three at once if they’ll fit, for 9-11 minutes or until edges are golden but middle still soft. Let sit on cookie sheets 10 minutes to firm up before removing to finish cooling on racks. These eat well, freeze well, and gift well.
Note: dough can also be frozen in logs, and sliced to bake off cookies a few at a time. Wrap well in parchment, then cling wrap, and then put in a freezer-proof bag or container.
Maple Apple Chips
I very slightly adapted Alana’s recipe as she posted it here, and hers in turn was adapted from Aimee Wimbush-Bourque (of Simple Bites, but writing on Eating Rules). These have become an absolute favorite snack here, and I only wish I could figure out a way to make more at once! They are wonderful, crunchy with just the barest chew underneath, slightly sweet, slightly tart, and they generally don’t last more than an hour out of the oven, unless I hide them to be saved for Jacob’s lunch!
Note: Alana’s recipe has maple syrup but no sugar, however the first time I made these I was using up Kyle’s leftover cinnamon-sugar from breakfast, and so we have a little bit in the mix. I don’t think it would matter much to leave it out, although with the apples pictured (Granny Smiths) it probably helped balance their very tart flavor.
4 smallish crisp apples (I’ve used Granny Smiths, Pink Ladies, and Rubigolds – I’ll bet any other very crisp varieties would also be great – Alana used little Spencers, and used six of them, but when I sliced six apples I had way too many slices!)
Juice from 1 lemon (~ 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. (we actually used 2 different baking sheets plus our pizza stone, all lined with parchment, because I was curious about the different baking surfaces – results were identical across all 3).
Wash, dry, and core the apples (do not peel). Slice as thin as you can, to an 1/8 inch. I used a sharp knife, but a mandoline would be perfect and Alana did it with a slicing blade on her food processor.
Mix the maple syrup, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Gently toss the apple slices in the mixture so they are all coated. Lay the slices in single layers on the parchment-lined baking sheets, and then drizzle any excess juices from the bowl over them.
Bake until the chips have just a touch of chew to them: we ended up going 3 1/2 hours, but the timing will depend on the thickness of your slices and the variety of apple, so start checking after 2 hours (and Alana mentions that it could take us much as 4 1/2 hours, so plan accordingly). You can leave the chips in the oven to cool, and they will continue to crisp up – but don’t leave them too long (we left a batch overnight and they ended up tasting almost freeze-dried – these should be crispy, but with the barest detectable chew to let you know they are really fruit!)
Store in an airtight jar. This jar makes a wonderful hostess gift decorated with a pretty ribbon, but good luck keeping them even 24 hours in the house. They are addictive!