Lemon Meltaway Cookies

I think I love parchment paper more than other people do.

I first tried baking with parchment paper a couple years ago after an unfortunate scone episode, and I’ve been a devotee ever since.

If I’m eyeball-deep in baking fresh cookies, and I realize that the only missing ingredient is parchment paper, I will sooner bring production to a halt and drive to the store for a box of parchment paper, than consider browning my beautiful batter on a greased cookie sheet.

See? SEE?!

I only recently discovered 50 kindred spirits who feel as strongly about parchment paper as I do, when I joined the I Love Parchment Paper Facebook group.

Parchment paper is an absolute MUST in baking these tart and sweet, buttery lemon cookies. They’re baked to a delicate, crispy perfection. Then you slide them off the paper with gentle fingers into a softly melting pillow of powdered sugar.

At that point, what you do with them is your business.

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cranberry orange scones

Let’s see a show of hands: who here is having a craptastic week? (I’m operating under the assumption that anyone reads my blog.)

Sometimes getting out of bed is a challenge, when you know you’re facing a putrid garbage fart of a day.

Based on the weather alone, I’d say at least a few folks out there need a pick-me-up first thing.

Starting off the work day with a cocktail is generally not advisable, so I suggest, as an alternative, a freshly-baked scone.

The dough can be rolled, cut, and frozen in advance, then thawed and baked in about 20 minutes as needed.

These cranberry orange reasons-to-live are not too sweet, and not too tart.

They’re softer and fluffier than regular hard, dry, crumbly scones. Which is fine by me.

If you’re truly inconsolable, and even warm, buttery baked goods can’t salvage the day, perhaps Professor Meowington can bring you a little comfort:

Do you need a hug?

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lettuce soup with goat cheese croutons

I hosted Christmas dinner this year.

In the weeks leading up to the big day, I was awfully excited and nervous about it, until I realized that hosting meant providing the venue, not the meal. Mom arrived with nearly all of the food prepared – the lasagna was ready to be assembled, the cottage cheese bread was ready to bake, and the candy cane custard was ready to go into the ice cream maker.

She did let me toss the salad. It was pretty exciting.

And dinner was fantastic. Mom’s lasagna recipe is the world’s best (the secret ingredient is salami!). All that remained of the meal the next day was a bag of leftover romaine hearts, and a giant mess on the dining room table.

So when my dear friend Jenna called from her hotel in town and we discussed what to do on our annual holiday visit, I shocked myself when I replied, “c’mon over for dinner. I’ll cook.” Without testing recipes, without weeks of menu planning, without even sufficient time to go to the grocery store, I offered to make dinner for my fancy friend, who lives in Connecticut. Connecticut, y’all. Who am I?

Sad Fridge

It was a little touch-and-go there for a while when I realized the dining room table was not just messy, but missing – it was completely hidden by dirty dishes. I thought of everything I could possibly make out of lettuce, while I rummaged through the soiled plates and glasses for the table. As it turns out, the dining room table was inside of me all along.

/Christmas miracle

And the lettuce soup recipe for my fancy vegetarian guesty was only a Google away. I cooked and cleaned in record time. Jenna and I shared stories of the year past, wishes for the year to come, boxed wine, and the world’s ugliest soup.

It was creamy and fresh, with a little bit of heat, and seriously butt-ugly. The crispy goat cheese croutons provided a tangy richness and a partial disguise to the fugly, yet tasty, lettuce and potato puree.

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Chicken Shepherd’s Pie with Truffled Mashed Potatoes

My pursuit of the world’s fanciest popcorn for fancy guesties Mom, Aissa, and Alison brought me to Clancey’s Meats and Fish in charming and trendy Linden Hills. I was looking for duck fat and truffle salt – I’d never used either ingredient before. As I waited for the butcher to scoop out a cup of rendered duck fat, I found an unmarked, 3-ounce jar of black truffle salt and handed it to the cashier.

“That’ll be $3.69 for the duck fat and $25 for the truffle salt.”

“TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS FOR SALT!!?!” screamed the voice inside my head.

I glanced back at the line of well-dressed Minneapolitans behind me, anxious to get home with their fennel pollen sausage and Alaskan sockeye salmon.

“Yes. Yes, that’s fine. I’ll put it on my Visa,” I heard myself say, in an entirely unfamiliar, just-a-hair-too loud, robot voice.

Thanks to my pride, I am the owner of 2.97 ounces of earthy, pungent truffle salt, and I’m happily exploring ways to use it in my cooking, tiny pinch by tiny pinch.

$25 salt and sale-priced frozen veggies cancel each other out, right?

I started with a thick, rich, comforting chicken stew topped with creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. Then I considered my (very slightly) elevated cholesterol, and made a couple of small tweaks:

I substituted milk for cream in both the gravy and the potatoes; I cut half the butter in the potatoes and replaced it with a heart-healthy spread; and I used canola oil instead of butter to make a roux for the gravy. Then I added truffle salt to the potatoes, and bouillon and a lemon rind to the chicken stock to boost the flavor lost in cutting the cream and butter.

It was delicious and rich – the perfect comfort food – and I didn’t miss the cream and butter at all.

Professor Meowington sez: the lemon really brightens up the flavor of the gravy.

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Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust and Bacon Streusel

I work in the Publishing department at Search, and our department is arguably the envy of all others. One of the best things about working in the Publishing department is the quality and frequency of potlucks. We have elaborate themed potlucks for every birthday.

For her 35th birthday/presidential campaign launch, my kooky boss, Tenessa, requested an all bacon and cheese potluck. Always up for a challenge, I volunteered to make dessert.

I like to think I’m pretty adventurous with food, but I admit, I was nervous about making an apple, bacon, and cheese pie. For one thing, I’d only made pie crust once before, and from what I’ve heard, pie crust can smell fear. Also? It’s an apple, bacon, and cheddar pie.

I love all those flavors together, but I hadn’t really thought of them in a sweet dessert.

My fears were unfounded. This pie is ridiculously delicious. If it weren’t such a pain in the ass to put together, I think I’d make this same pie once a week. Sweet, salty, smoky. Crispy cheese crust, like the best Cheez-It you’ve ever had. Tender, gooey apples. Candied bacon streusel.

Earlier this week, Tenessa announced her resignation from Search, and the Publishing department has been whining and moping ever since. Just imagine, dear Tenessa, how many ridiculous, over-the-top bacon and cheese dishes I have not yet made for you.

Oh, and congrats on the new job. If you need any help packing up your office, I’ll be here planning recipes and potluck themes, soaking Professor Meowington’s back with my salty tears.

Employees must wash their hands.

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glazed carrots with thyme and cayenne

Yeah, I’m still posting Thanksgiving recipes, most of them on loan from my mom, who rules.

I love my Thanksgiving Day routine. Every year at Turkey Lurkey Time, Professor Meowington and I shnuggle on the couch all morning, flipping between parade coverage on CBS and NBC in the hopes of catching lips-synched musical numbers from current Broadway shows.

Then I kiss the cat goodbye, bundle up, and head over to Mom’s to help prepare Thanksgiving dinner. After Handsome Greg finishes a late lunch with his mom, he drives over to my mom’s place to assume his annual position as bartender, potato ricer, table setter, and finally, turkey carver. At that point, Mom and I are completing the last minute tasks – Mom makes the gravy, and I prepare the glazed carrots.

It’s in those last frantic moments of food prep – when all three of us are bustling about Mom’s condo – that I become aware that I’m cooking in someone else’s kitchen. Where are the measuring cups? Wait, the brown sugar is in the fridge? It’s sort of like wearing bowling shoes. It feels unfamiliar, but it generally works fine.

"I love how the lemon cuts through the richness."

And the carrots, along with the rest of the feast, were delicious. The pinch of cayenne could’ve been more generous – I was afraid of overdoing it on the heat, so I used it sparingly. Next time I’ll probably use a shy 1/8 teaspoon. The thyme (from Mom’s hallway herb garden) brought a nice earthiness and tempered the sweetness, and the lemon juice cut through the richness beautifully. This is our permanent Thanksgiving carrot recipe.

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honey wheat bread

I had every intention of exploring the local cuisine of Houston on my trip last week. I left behind the remnants of Minnesota’s first snow, dreaming of fresh salsa, spicy chili, and sticky barbecue. As the days of the conference flew past, though, and I and my fellow conferencees consumed countless boxed lunches and buffet breakfasts, I lost hope that I would experience the authentic regional cuisine of Houston.

While I tasted no salsa, no chili, and no barbecue, my story has a happy culinary end.

One warm evening after an exhausting day of bookselling in the BigTent store, I saw an entire six blocks of downtown Houston walking to the Strip House for a fantastic dinner with a handful of conferencees. We shared decadent sides like Black Truffle Cream Spinach and Goose Fat Potatoes. I had the buttery red snapper, and managed to earn the nickname “Profiterole” over countless glasses of wine. It was a lovely evening.

I returned home late Saturday night to a stern lecture from Professor Meowington, who was very cross about being left home alone for five days in a row. I slept in my very own bed, and woke up to the last of the Honey Wheat Bread in the freezer for my first breakfast home.

This slightly sweet, dense wheat bread, toasted and slathered in strawberry jam, made a perfect welcome home breakfast treat.

The recipe is by Ron Miller, and it’s another from my new favorite cookbook, Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club. I cut the recipe down to make one loaf rather than three, but I made no other changes, resisting the temptation to add a bit more oil (the recipe calls for one teaspoon oil for three loaves!). Even with so little oil, this bread is surprisingly moist.

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