Almond or Hazelnut cookies

During the holidays , especially when the first sign of flurries appear , I am ready for my holiday cookies . I must confess , these cresent cookies , made with toasted almonds ( very important , I find , as it intensifies the flavor of the almond and gives the cookie a crisper texture ) , are my favorite . Normally the cookies are rolled in powdered sugar , but I use just a dusting , its just the right amount . I made slightly larger cookies to pack as individual gifts , but , round , crescents or even cigar shapes are attractive .

Adapted from cook’s illustrated

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Photograph by Rahul Mahtani

 2 cups hazelnuts , toasted or a scant 1  3/4 cups whole blanched almonds ( preferably toasted )

2 cups bleached all purpose flour

3/4 tsp table salt

1/2 lb (2 sticks ) unsalted butter , softened

1/3 cup superfine sugar

1  1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract ( if using almonds )

1  1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar for rolling cooled cookies ( I used less than 1 cup as I just sifted the sugar on top )

Adjust oven racks to upper and lowe middle positions and heat oven to 325*F . Mix 1 cup chopped nuts , flour and salt in medium bowl . In workbowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade , process remaining chopped nutsuntil the texture of coarse cornmeal , 10 to 15 seconds ( do not overprocess );stir into flour mixture and set aside.

In bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed or by hand , beat butter and sugar until light and creamy , about 1  1/2 minutes with an electric mixer or 4 minutes by hand ; beat in extracts . Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula; add flour mixture and beat at low speed until dough just begins to come together but still looks scrappy , about 15 seconds . Beat at low speed until mixture just comes together , 6 to 9 seconds ( do not overbeat .

Working with about 1 tbs dough at a time , roll and shape cookies into balls or other desired shape . Bake until tops are pale golden and bottoms are just beginning to brown , turning cookie sheets from front to back and switching from top to bottom racks halfway through baking , 17 to 19 minutes .

Cool cookies on sheets about 2 minutes ;remove to cooling rack to cool completely . Then either roll each cookie in powdered sugar or simply dust with powdered sugar.


Sauteed Chicken with cherry tomatoes , olives , Feta and Mint

Whenever I want to eat like I am in the Mediterrean , I chose recipes like this one from Cook’s Illustrated. This has all the elements I look for in a dish , simple ,elegant, healthy and colorful , hence very appetizing. I simply serve some fresh whole grain bread or Orzo with this and dinner is done.

Serves 4

1/2 cup unbleached All purpose flour

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts , tenderloins removed and breasts trimmed.

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 tbs olive oil , plus 2 more tsp , if needed

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 pt cherry tomatoes , halved

1/2 cup Kalamata olives , pitted

1-2 tbs water (if needed)

2 oz feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup shredded mint or basil leaves

Place flour in shallow dish. Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Working with one chicken breast at a time , dredge in flour, shaking off excess.

Heat 2 tbs of oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. Add chicken and cook until well browned on one side 6 to 8 minutes.

Flip the chicken over , reduce the heat to medium low , and continue to cook until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 -165* on an instant read thermometer , 6 -8 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a serving platter , tent loosely with foil ,allow to rest.

Add 2 tsps of oil and garlic to skillet and cook over medium high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and olives, scraping up any browned bits ( if necessary , add enough of the water to help loosen the browned bits from the bottom of the pan ). Cook until the tomatoes are just softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in any accumulated chicken juices and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Off the heat , stir in remaining 2 tbs olive oil and pour tomatoes over chicken , sprinkle with Feta and mint. Serve.

Spanish -style garlic shrimp

Gambas al ajillo are a tapas staple. Little shrimp sizziling in a pool of olive oil and garlic.One bite into the dish confirms that the garlic deserves equal billing with the shrimp. Generally the shrimp is served right in the cooking ramekin, but be careful ,it is very hot.serve along with crusty bread to mop up the richly flavored olive oil.

Serves 6 ,as an appetizer

14 medium garlic cloves,peeled

1 lb (31-40)shrimp,peeled,deveined, and tails removed

8 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

1 (2 inch) piece mild dried chile,such as new Mexico,roughly broken, seeds included

1  1/2  teaspoons sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

Mince 2 garlic cloves . Toss minced garlic with shrimp, 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt ,in a medium bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile,smash 4 garlic cloves. Heat smashed garlic with remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil in12 inch skillet over medium low heat,stirring occasionaly until garlic is light golden brown,4 to 7 minutes. remove pan from heat and allow to cool to room temperature,remove garlic with slotted spoon.Discard.

Thinly slice 8 remaining garlic cloves. Return skillet to low heat and add sliced garlic,bay leaf, and chili. Cook, turning occasionally,until garlic is tender,but not brown.Increase heat to medium low,add shrimp with marinade to pan in a single layer. Cook shrimp,undisturbed ,until oil starts to bubble, about 2 minutes. Using tongs flip shrimp and continue to cook until almost cooked through ,about 2 minutes longer. Increase heat to high and add shrerry vinegar and parsley. Cook ,stirring constantly until shrimp are cooked through and oil is bubbling vigorously ,15 to 20 seconds. SERVE IMMEDIATELY.

Source Cook’s Illustrated

Bread Salad with Tomatoes and Red onions

This salad, popularly known as Panzanella is my son Rahul’s all time favorite salad. I originally got the recipie from Cook’s illustrated, but, as always I have made just a few modifications to suit my family’s taste. The beauty of this salad is that it uses day old bread, so no waste.

Serves 4

1 lb Italian pesant beard, day -old ,crusts removed, cut or torn into 1 inch cubes (about 6 cups)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, I love Monini oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 large vine-ripened tomatoes , seeded and cut into medium dice

1/2 red onion , sliced paper thin

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresgh basil leaves

2 teapoons fresh oregano leaves

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

12 mozzarella Bocconcini (optional)

6-8 oil packed sun dried tomatoes, sliced (optional)

Place bread cubes in a shallow bowl. Mix oil, vinegar, tomatoes, onion, and half the herbs in a bowl. Let stand for flavors to develop ,about 10 minutes. Then add to bread along with the remaining herbs and toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If bread still seems dry sprinklle 1-2 tablespoons water to rehydrate it a bit.