Jacquy Pfeiffer's coconut macarons. Credit: Paul Strabbing

At this time of year we’re always looking for recipes for gluten-free sweets, especially cookies, as more and more of our friends have forsaken flour. I always turn to my French pastry guru, Jacquy Pfeiffer, with all of my baking questions, even though I know that the Chicago-based, Alsatian-born pastry chef is not a gluten-free kinda guy. But he doesn’t need to be to offer an array of Christmas cookies that everyone can enjoy, whether they tolerate gluten or not. His moist, chewy almond-meal cinnamon stars (zimsterne), are among the most iconic of Alsatian Christmas cookies and date back to the 14th century, long before people even knew what gluten was, let alone gluten free.

There are several other gluten-free cookies in Pfeiffer’s Alsatian repertoire. He did not have to invent these recipes, or make traditional cookies gluten free by working with special flours or ingredients and changing formulas. They just don’t happen to contain flour. Among my favorites are his coconut macarons, or rochers, incredibly addictive morsels made with lots of unsweetened coconut, egg whites and sugar. They are the easiest cookies in the world to make: You mix together the egg whites, sugar and coconut with a very small amount of applesauce or apricot compote (whose fruit pectin absorbs and retains moisture), and stir the mixture over a double boiler until it thickens a little and reaches 167 degrees F (75 degrees C). Then you refrigerate the batter overnight. The next day you scoop out the cookies and bake them until golden brown. They keep well for weeks, so you can begin your Christmas baking way ahead of time.

lemon mirror cookies

Lemon mirror cookies. Credit: Paul Strabbing

Lemon mirrors, macarons and more

Other cookies that I find irresistible and always make at this time of year so that all of my friends can enjoy them are called lemon mirrors. They are delicate, nutty cookies with a meringue base enriched with almond flour, an almond cream filling (the original recipe for the almond cream called for 1 teaspoon of flour, but that small quantity was easy to swap out for cornstarch), and a lemon icing. They’re called mirrors because the final glaze makes them shiny and reflective.

The coconut macarons and lemon mirrors are not the only gluten-free cookies in Pfeiffer’s repertoire. Think macarons. Those iconic French cookies are made with almond flour, egg whites and sugar, without a jot of wheat. But they require a little more time and practice to make than the two Alsatian cookies here, and by now you are probably ready to get those cookie plates going. So get out your baking sheets and your whisks, and leave your flour in the cupboard.

Jacquy Pfeiffer’s Coconut Macarons

It’s best to mix up the batter for these cookies the day before you bake and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator. They are naturally gluten free, with no flour in the batter.

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Prep time: About 15 minutes

Resting time: Overnight

Baking time: 15 to 20 minutes

 Ingredients

100 grams (about 3) egg whites, at room temperature

160 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar

100 grams (about 1 1/3 cups) unsweetened fine coconut flakes

10 grams (2 teaspoons) apricot compote or applesauce

1.5 grams (scant 1/4 teaspoon) fine sea salt

Directions

Day 1:

1. Create a double boiler by pouring 3/4 inch of water into a saucepan and placing it on the stove over medium heat.

2. Place all the ingredients in a stainless steel mixing bowl that is larger than the saucepan, and mix them together with a whisk. Reduce the heat under the saucepan to low and place the bowl on top. It should not be touching the water. Stir continuously with a whisk — not like a maniac, but stirring all areas of the bowl so that the egg whites don’t coagulate throughout the mix into small white pieces. Stir until the mixture thickens and reaches 167 F/75 C. Remove from the heat, take the bowl off the pot and wipe the bottom dry. Scrape down the sides of bowl.

3. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the mixture, taking care to lay the plastic right on the surface of the batter so that it is not exposed to air. Cover the bowl as well and refrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight.

Day 2

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F and arrange the rack in the middle. Line sheet pans with parchment or Silpats and, using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, scoop the coconut mixture onto the sheet pan leaving one inch in between each cookie and staggering the rows. Each scoop should be leveled so that all the cookies are the same size and bake the same way. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, one sheet pan at a time, until golden brown. Allow to cool on the parchment before removing.

Note: Another way to make these cookies is to pipe them onto a sheet pan with a 3/4-inch star tip. A smaller tip will not work, as the coconut likes to clump up. Pfeiffer also likes to pipe them into small 1 1/2 by 1 1/2-inch pyramid shaped silicone Flexipan molds, then bake them right in the molds. To unmold, let them cool for a full hour. They will come out easily when they are completely cool.

Jacquy Pfeiffer’s Lemon Mirror Cookies

Here’s another naturally gluten-free cookie. The only flour required is almond flour.

Yield: 40 cookies

Prep time: 1 hour (assuming ingredients are at room temperature)

Baking time: 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes for glazing the cookies

Ingredients 

For the almond cream:

100 grams (approximately 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) skinless almond flour

100 grams (approximately 1 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar

6 grams (2 teaspoons) cornstarch

100 grams (7 tablespoons) French style butter, such as Plugrà

Pinch of sea salt

3 grams (3/4 teaspoon) vanilla extract

60 grams (1 large plus 1 to 2 tablespoons) beaten egg

20 grams (1 tablespoon plus 2 1/4 teaspoons) dark rum

For the icing:

50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted

12 grams (2 teaspoons) fresh lemon juice

For the meringue cookie base:

50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar

50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) almond flour with skin

100 grams (about 3) egg whites

Pinch of sea salt

Pinch of cream of tartar

10 grams (2 teaspoons) granulated sugar

For the topping:

50 to 100 grams (scant 1/2 to 1 cup) sliced almonds with skin

100 grams (scant 1/4 cup) apricot jelly

Directions

Before you begin: Bring all ingredients to room temperature.

1. Make the almond cream. Sift together the almond flour, confectioners sugar and cornstarch. Tap any almond flour that remains in the sifter into the bowl.

2. Make sure that your butter is at room temperature. Place the soft butter, sea salt and the vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and mix at medium speed for 1 minute.

3. Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the almond flour mixture to the machine. Mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Gradually add the egg and mix at medium speed until it is incorporated, which should take no more than 2 minutes. Add the rum and mix until incorporated. The cream should look shiny and creamy. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip and set aside.

4. Make the sugar icing by mixing together the confectioners sugar with the lemon juice. Set aside.

5. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line one or two sheet pans with parchment.

6. Make the meringue cookie base. Sift together the confectioners sugar and almond flour onto a sheet of parchment paper.

7. Place the egg whites, sea salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of your standing mixer and whisk together for 10 seconds on medium. Add the sugar and whip on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until you have a meringue with soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently and carefully fold in the sifted confectioners sugar and almond powder until the mixture is homogenous. Make sure that you do not over-mix. Over-mixing the meringue mixture will make it soupy and the baked cookies will be gummy.

8. Using a bowl scraper, carefully transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch round tip. Do this gently so that you don’t deflate the mixture. Pipe 1 1/2-inch rings onto the parchment-lined sheet pans, leaving 1/2 inch of space between each cookie and making sure to stagger the rows. Sprinkle the edge of each ring with sliced almonds.

9. Pipe the almond cream into the center of each ring.

10. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

11. While the cookies are baking, warm the apricot jelly in a small saucepan just until it becomes liquid. Keep the apricot jelly warm over the lowest heat possible so that it won’t seize up. If this happens just warm it up a little more and it will become liquid again.

12. Right out of the oven, brush each cookie with the apricot jelly, then right away with the sugar icing. Allow to cool completely before removing from the parchment paper.

Main photo: Jacquy Pfeiffer’s coconut macarons. Credit: Paul Strabbing, recipe and photo courtesy of Pfeiffer’s “The Art of French Pastry.”

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Thse apple malpoas, crisp fried pancakes , offer an Indian twist to latkes served for Hanukkah. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

If celebration food is the determining factor, Hanukkah has to be one of my all-time favorite holidays. I have yet to meet a fried food I didn’t love, and the ever-popular latke calls my name, especially on nippy days like these.

Offer me a holiday that offers a reason to indulge in crispy potato pancakes and doughnuts, and my food fantasy is complete.

Over the years, I have had a few latke recipes that I have created, like this loaded variety or another with a blend of harvest roots. Depending on the meal, I pair them with foods throughout the year.

Last year, however, I actually set out to explore Indian foods that might work on a Hanukkah table for a guest who was visiting. Hiam, a young Jewish man and an intern working with my husband, stayed with us for a couple of weeks at a time that happened to coincide with Hanukkah.

His father, he told me, was born of half-Indian descent in what is now Mumbai in India, and had later moved on to various places before finally setting here in the United States. He had told Hiam many stories of India, leaving his son with a romantic view of the country and a deep wish to visit it one day. On my table, Hiam was hoping to find foods that would take him a little closer to his goal.

He wanted to celebrate Hanukkah with some foods that would be symbolic of the holiday and Indian in character. He mentioned to me that his family often enjoyed Indian lentils, or dal, with pita bread, and his father had a recipe for curried cauliflower, so his request was to sample something beyond that.

A Jewish community in India?

India has a small but long-established Jewish community in parts of eastern, western and southern India, so finding Jewish cuisine in India is not such a foreign concept. Nahoum and Sons, located in the center of Kolkata’s historic New Market, is a well-established and third-generation bakery of Jewish heritage. It still carries confectionery that represents traditional family recipes and unique savories.

I scoured through some heritage cookbooks, to grant Hiam his wish. Certain recipes, such as a roasted chicken and a potato creation called Chicken Makallah, or the stuffed creations called dolmas, have likely found their way onto Indian tables by way of Jewish influence.

None of these seemed to fit the Hanukkah bill of celebrating fried foods.

Fashioning a latke out of tried-and-true Indian food

So I was back to creating a festive meal from my tested and tried staples. The Indians love their lentil fritters called vadas or chickpea batter coated fritters called pakoras. These provide loads of options for the seeker of fried indulgences. I scoped out my two favorite recipes that are perfect for any celebration and well-suited for those looking for easy and unusual festive recipes.

The first recipe is for a traditional crisp pancake called malpoa, which actually offers you something in between a doughnut and a crepe. I like to top the malpoa with seasonal fruit, and this variation has an apple and pistachio topping. It is important to serve these hot. The syrup can be made ahead if you wish and brought to room temperature.

The second recipe is a classic Bengali onion fritter that I make as onion rings, as this rendition works best with my children. The distinct element of this recipe is the addition of nigella seeds, which add a unique flavor and pretty speckled appearance to the rings. These onion fritters are a well-loved roadside food in Bengal — hot and crisply fried, wrapped lovingly in newspaper bags.

Apple Malpoa – Indian Pancakes with a Cardamom, Apple Pistachio Topping

(Recipe adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles,” Hippocrene, 2012)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 15 medium-sized (5-inch) pancakes

Ingredients

For the syrup:

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

For the apple pistachio topping:

2 honeycrisp apples, diced, skin on

1/2 cup crushed pistachios (pecans can be used, if desired)

1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom

1/3 cup coconut milk

For the pancakes:

3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds

1 to 2 whole black peppercorns

2 cups commercial evaporated milk (about 2 large cans)

1/3 cup ricotta cheese

1 1/2 tablespoons semolina

3/4 cup all-purpose flour (enough to bind the batter)

Oil for frying

Directions

1. To prepare the syrup, place the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot and cook on medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until it reaches a consistency thick enough to lightly coat the pancake when soaked.

2. To prepare the apple-pistachio topping, preheat the oven to 375 F.

3. Lightly toss the apples, pistachios, cardamom and coconut milk.

4. Bake for about 15 minutes.

5. To prepare the pancakes, dry roast the fennel seeds, cardamom seeds and whole peppercorns for a few minutes.

6. Grind the roasted spices to a coarse powder.

7. Blend the evaporated milk, ricotta cheese, semolina, and flour until a smooth batter is formed. The batter should be slightly thicker than buttermilk.

8. Stir in the roasted spices.

9. Heat some oil in a skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of the batter for each pancake and spread slightly. When browned on one side, turn over and brown on the other side.

10. Remove from pan and place into the syrup and let soak for 5 minutes. Serve warm, topped with a small amount of the apple, allowing 2 pancakes per serving.

 

 

Bengali Onion Rings. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

Bengali Onion Rings. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

Onion Rings with Nigella Seeds – Gol Piyaji

(Recipe from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

4 medium onions, tops removed and peeled

3/4 cup chickpea flour

1/2 cup water

3/4 teaspoon nigella seeds

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder

1 teaspoon black salt

Oil for frying

Cilantro to garnish, optional

Directions

1. Cut the onions into 1/2-inch-thick rounds and separate into rings.

2. Mix the chickpea flour and 1/2 cup of water into a thick batter; the consistency should coat easily. Stir in the nigella seeds, cayenne pepper powder, and black salt; mix well.

3. Heat some oil in a wok or deep skillet until hot enough for frying.

4. Dip each onion ring in the batter and fry until crisp. You may fry 3 or 4 rings at a time, depending on the size of the wok or skillet. It is important not to have the rings touch each other while cooking. Remove rings from the oil and drain on paper towels before serving.

Main photo: These apple malpoas, crisp fried pancakes, offer an Indian twist to latkes served for Hanukkah. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

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A mound of luscious pasta is tossed in a sweet dark chocolate sauce and topped with grated chocolate and walnuts. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

In Italy, besides special holiday cookies and cakes like panettone, pasta is served for dessert, especially on Christmas Eve. Italy has a long tradition of serving sweetened pasta for dessert. Back in the Renaissance, pasta was a luxury food, reserved for special occasions, and paired with other luxury foods like sugar and cinnamon.

Each region of Italy, from north to south, has a different specialty recipe.

Macaroni with walnuts, maccheroni con le noci, a mound of luscious pasta tossed in a sweet dark chocolate sauce topped with grated chocolate and walnuts, is served in central Italy, especially in Lazio and Umbria. For centuries, the nuns at the Monastery of Santo Spirito in Agrigento, Sicily, have been selling couscous desserts seasoned with pistachios, cuscus dolce siciliano al pistachio, dense like rice pudding, with deep pistachio flavor. It’s usually served topped with grated dark chocolate and pomegranate seeds, which makes for a pretty green and red Christmas color theme.

Macaroni With Chocolate Walnut Sauce (Maccheroni Con Le Noci)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

10 ounces pappardelle or other wide noodle

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped, plus more for garnish

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

3 tablespoons rum

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Ground cinnamon

Freshly ground nutmeg

Honey

Directions

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions.

2. Drain, return to the cooking pot, and, off the heat, immediately toss with sugar, chocolate, walnuts, rum, zest, and pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss well, until the sugar and chocolate dissolves.

3. Serve topped with grated chocolate and a drizzle of honey.

Pistachio Couscous (Cuscus Dolce Siciliano al Pistachio)

From “Pasta Modern” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Francine Segan

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Salt

1 cup couscous

1/2 cup shelled pistachios

1/4 cup blanched almonds

Ground cinnamon

4 to 6 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 ounces dark chocolate

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds or other fresh fruit or dried fruit

Directions

1. Bring 1 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, then stir in the couscous and remove from the heat. Cover and let rest 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool to room temperature.

2. Meanwhile, grind the pistachios and almonds in a small food processor until very fine and powder-like. Add the nuts and a pinch of cinnamon into the couscous and stir until well combined. Sweeten to taste with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar.

3. Serve topped with grated dark chocolate and pomegranate seeds or other fruit.

Main photo: A mound of luscious pasta is tossed in a sweet dark chocolate sauce and topped with grated chocolate and walnuts. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

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Zester Daily's holiday favorites. Compilation credit: Karen Chaderjian

Many lucky people reach a point in life where the last thing they need is more stuff. That’s why choosing the right kind of Christmas present — or holiday experience — can be the best gift of all.

Food is perfect, of course. Things to create food are handy, too. Then there is the gift of time together, the very point of a holiday and something that can be achieved with just the right kind of party.

Here’s a collection of Zester Daily stories to provide some ideas to brighten everyone’s holiday. The notes are directly from the contributors. Click on the links for each story.

Gifts

Maple-Nut Fudge: Easy as Pie for Holiday Gifts by Charles Perry: As we slide into the holiday season, my mind turns toward maple: maple syrup, maple frosting — and maple fudge.

United States of Artisans: 51 Edible Holiday Gifts to Send by Emily Grosvenor: You can’t go wrong with edible gifts at the holidays. Edibles send strong messages of sharing, goodwill, pride-of-place and uniqueness, while not cluttering up the recipient’s house for the rest of their lives.

5 DIY Edible Gifts to Impress Everyone on Your List by Sue Style: Christmas is for sharing, and some of the best gifts to share are the ones you’ve made yourself.

Need a thoughtful gift idea? Try These Cookbooks by Clifford A. Wright: Shopping for a great Christmas gift once meant hours of driving and parking, but with today’s Internet shopping, it’s easier.

Turmeric Candy: Give a Gift of Health and Drink to It, Too by R. Eckhardt and D. Hagerman: By now, you’ve probably heard about turmeric: the yellow-orange rhizome native to South Asia recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Sweets

Mince Pies: Where’s the Beef? by Clarissa Hyman: “Mince around the World” is probably one of the worst names ever for a cookbook, yet it was discussed in all seriousness by an editor of my acquaintance a few years ago.

A Fruitcake Everyone Will Love (Really!) by Julia della Croce: I never understood the aversion to fruitcake until someone sent me one of those clunkers that the humorist Russell Baker said he deplored, dating from a Christmas dinner when a small piece he dropped shattered his right foot.

A Trio of Italian Cookies for the Holidays by Francine Segan: Here are three unusual Italian cookies that you can make ahead for the holidays, each with a special featured ingredient.

Buttercrunch Lets You Slow Down, Enjoy the Moment by Kathy Gunst: The part of the holidays that always makes me feel warm and loved are the traditions my family has established.

Sugar and Spice: Italian Confetti by Francine Segan: Italians sure like to sugarcoat things. They’ve got a sugarcoated something or other for almost every occasion.

Caribbean Black Cake Will Leave You Wanting More by Ramin Ganeshram: It would arrive each year by the first week of December: a brown paper parcel from Tobago.

A Fruitcake Recipe That Finishes With a Big Bang by Louisa Kasdon: Like many people, I thought fruitcakes — like Twinkies — came wrapped and packaged and were the kind of food that goes into the fallout shelter with you.

Cantucci: Tuscany’s Classic Cookie by Francine Segan: Cantucci, crunchy almond biscotti, are a Tuscan classic.

Celebrating Christmas — and Fruitcake — in East India by Rinku Bhattacharya: In India, December comes with the spirit of Christmas throughout the country.

Entertaining

How to Throw a Flawless Holiday Dinner Party by Clifford A. Wright: It is joyous to watch people have a good time and set a table for sparkling conversation and good food.

Holiday Menu Makeovers That Flip Ho-Hum to Yum by Francine Segan: Do you have menu monotony? Are you cooking the same recipes over and over again?

Pozole: A Go-To Party Food for Las Posadas by Karen Branch-Brioso: For nine nights leading to Christmas Eve, Mexico celebrates las posadas: singalong parties to reenact Joseph and Mary’s biblical pilgrimage to Bethlehem and their near-fruitless search for shelter before Jesus’ birth.

The Dinner We All Want for the Holidays by Barbara Haber: I am thinking about having an ecumenical holiday party this year to bring together friends of varying religious and ethnic persuasions and am enjoying the challenge of coming up with an inclusive menu.

Main composite image: Zester holiday favorites. Composite credit: Karen Chaderjian

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J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Work's finishing salt, pectin jaune and pâte de fruit top my holiday gift list for canners this year. Credit: Susan Lutz

Canners like me tend to give gifts in cans or jars: marmalade from the backyard tree, red wine vinegar made from the leftover bottles of a special party, goat cheese hand-rolled by the kids.

But sometimes the cupboards are bare. And sometimes you want a little something from Santa yourself. That’s when you need ideas from canners — for canners.

In my experience there are three major styles of food preservers: I call them old school, hipster and science geek. (There are, of course, many other types and hundreds of sub-genres.) The old-school canner likes to preserve the way Grandma did. The hipster is looking for something that preserves with some style. And the science geek is often more interested in the process and cares less that the homemade vinegar tastes good than that the techniques are cool. They each have their own needs when it comes to preservation gear and gadgets.

This is my list for holiday giving, both for presents I’ll be giving to fellow food preservers and, of course, for my own wish list.

Top gifts for food preservers

1. Finishing salt from J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, $9 for 3.5-ounce jar, $25 for 1-pound bag.

Serious canners tend to be obsessed with salt, even the fancy kinds that aren’t actually used in food preservation. I discovered this hand-harvested, small-batch finishing salt at Monticello’s harvest festival in the fall. Chefs and speakers at the festival were wedged together in a tiny booth tasting and admiring the complex flavors of this salt. Made by siblings Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne, this salt is a reinvention of an older tradition of salt processing by their ancestor William Dickinson, who started mining salt along the Kanawha River in the Appalachian Mountains in 1817. I have a case of Dickinson’s 3.5-ounce jars of salt stashed on a shelf ready to be given as hostess gifts. (Truth be told, it’s a case minus two jars, as I’ve decided to keep a couple for myself.)

Great holiday gifts for canners include a lacto-fermentation kit from Rancho La Merced Provisions, J.Q. Dickinson Saltworks' finishing salt and Leifheit canning jars. Credit: Susan Lutz

Great holiday gifts for canners, from left, include a lacto-fermentation kit from Rancho La Merced Provisions, J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works finishing salt and Leifheit canning jars. Credit: Susan Lutz

2. 1.5-liter lacto-fermentation kit from Rancho La Merced Provisions, $42.

Know someone who loves sauerkraut or kimchi? Science geeks and hipster canners will appreciate the clever design of this kit. I received one of these kits as a gift from the maker, chef Ernest Miller, the man who helped relaunch Los Angeles County’s Master Food Preserver program in 2011. Although old-school canners may scoff at the idea of needing anything more than a Mason jar for lacto-fermentation, this kit helps reduce mold issues and produces more consistent results than old-school methods, especially for the inexperienced canner.

3. 2-gallon stoneware fermentation and pickling set from Kirby & Kraut, $136.

Old-school food preservationists with hipster design aesthetics will swoon over the fabric and artwork choices available to grace this 2-gallon crock with fabric top. As someone who currently uses a dishtowel to cover my crock, I’ll admit that this fermentation kit would be an upgrade to my current setup. I find the red/blue chevron top particularly charming.

4. Pectin jaune from La Cuisine, 8 ounces for $20.

Pectin is gelling substance used to help solidify jams and jellies. Commercially produced powdered pectin is usually made from apple seeds, but pectin jaune is a bit different. Made from the seeds of citrus fruit, pectin jaune will not liquefy after it sets as other pectin can. This unique property makes it the traditional choice for use in pâte de fruits (fruit paste), a delightful French confection that is vaguely similar to — but infinitely better than — those jelly fruit slices that are so popular around the holidays. I found pectin jaune at La Cuisine, an amazing cooking store in Alexandria, Va. Pectin jaune is often available in only large quantities, but this store packages it in 8-ounce bags suitable for small-batch experimentation.

5. Leifheit canning jars, available in various sizes ranging from 1 cup (1/4 liter) to 1 liter, price varies by size. Also available for purchase in six-packs.

Leifheit canning jars use the two-piece lid system recommended by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, but they have a more unique shape than the classic Mason-style jar. Their diamond footprint allows these jars to fit neatly into the canner, which will appeal to organization nuts and those with a strong sense of spatial relationships. Perfect for the hipster canner on your gift list. Although the jars themselves are reusable, consider springing for a few extra sets of replacement lids and rings, which are safe only for one-time use.

6. Nine-tray radiant cherry Excalibur dehydrator with timer, $399.95.

It’s an extravagant gift, but an Excalibur dehydrator is a gift that keeps on giving, especially during the summer harvest season. I’ve been eying this nine-tray cherry red version with a 26-hour timer. There are other dehydrators on the market, but the Excalibur is my favorite because of its horizontal airflow system. When comparing dehydrators, look for an adjustable thermostat, large tray size, mesh screens with small hole size and a timer. Also, be sure to consider how many trays you think you’ll realistically need. I’ve filled up nine trays (15 square feet of drying space) with no problem, but your working style may be different. If you’re going to splurge on a gift of this magnitude, you might want to give the recipient a heads-up so she (or he) can weigh in on color choice and other important features.

But even if you splurge on a beloved fellow canner, also be sure to whip up a batch of apple butter or bake some gingerbread for your nearest and dearest. A homemade gift is often the best gift of all.

Main photo: J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Work’s finishing salt, pectin jaune and pâte de fruit top holiday gift lists for canners this year. Credit: Susan Lutz

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The whole family can get in on the tamale-making traditions, with children spreading the masa dough onto tamales such as these sweet raspberry tamales. Credit: Cheryl Lee

For many families of Mexican descent, Christmas is the time to gather around the kitchen table to teach the next generation to spread masa dough onto corn husks. That’s the first step before filling, folding and steaming tamales.

For more than 90 years, this tradition has held strong in the family of my friends, sisters Victoria Delgado Woods and Rebecca Delgado.

I have known them for more than 30 years, having met while studying at the University of the Pacific. Victoria is also my daughter’s godmother, and every Christmas Eve we join her family making and eating tamales.

A conversation with the Delgado sisters

Curious about this tradition and how long their family had followed it, I asked them to answer a few questions about the Christmas Tamales:

Virginia Cruz Delgado, the Delgado sisters' late mother, taught her children how to make tamales -- a family tradition handed down from her parents. Credit: Delgado family photo

Virginia Cruz Delgado, the Delgado sisters’ mother, taught her children how to make tamales — a family tradition handed down from her parents. Credit: Delgado family photo

Who taught you to make tamales?

Our mother, Virginia Delgado.

How long has this been a tradition in your family?

Rebecca: As far as I know, we have always had tamales for Christmas Eve. But I do know when we started making them at our family home. I was 10 when my Nana passed away, and the next Christmas Eve we started making them at our home. Before, we would all go to our Nana’s house in Exeter, Calif. When my Nana became ill, we went to my Tía Binnie’s house to celebrate because my Nana stayed with her. I was a kid, so I assume my Mom and her four sisters would make them. The kids did not help. But that all changed when we started making them at our home. The rule was, you eat tamales, you help make tamales. Which mostly included spreading the masa on the leaves. Even if you were a guest and came over Christmas Eve, you helped make tamales. It is a good rule and stands to this day.

The same rule applied to other generations of the family, according to Victoria’s maternal aunts, Tía Luisa and Tía Carmelita, who were visiting when I interviewed her.

Tamale-making involved the entire family for prior generations

Luisa, 74, and Carmelita, 70, said the tradition goes back at least 90 years in the family. They recalled that they and all of their siblings — a total of five girls and two boys — always were required to pitch in.

Their production goal: 100 tamales.

Their job: washing the corn husk in two big portable bathtubs, spreading the masa on the corn husk, and adding two olives per tamale.

Their parents did the rest. In true farm-to-table fashion, their father slaughtered the pig. (The parts of the pig that weren’t used for the tamale meat was saved to make menudo for the New Year’s feast.) Their mother prepared the masa and the chiles.

Then came the Christmas Eve feast. Their father was the oldest of seven brothers — and all of them would arrive. They were all musicians, making for quite the party.

The Delgado sisters carry on the tradition

What flavors are traditionally made in your household?

Rebecca: Pork tamales with black olives are the tradition, but we added veggie tamales when Victoria became a vegetarian. We continue to make both kinds, but the veggie tamales seem to go faster than the pork. Most families do not use black olives in their tamales, but our family does. I remember my Mom’s friend, Mrs. Rodrigues, would add three or four black olives in one tamale and say whoever got that tamale, she would kiss them. I do not recall anyone collecting on the kiss, but it was fun to hear her say it.

Are you teaching the next generation how to make tamales?

Rebecca: YES. I hope they continue making them. My son Vicente could use more experience on making the chile and flavoring the masa, but I think he could do it without me. He will have some hiccups, just like we did when my Mom passed away and we started making them without her. I recall a few earlier tamales that needed or had too much salt in the masa, but we still ate them! Making tamales is a family event. I have good memories of all of us around the table spreading masa, talking, laughing, joking and, of course, making fun of each other’s spreading technique. To this day, my brother Ken thinks he is the best, but, then again, he thinks he is the best in everything. Brothers!

Victoria: My daughter Callie learned from me. But my boys, Jermaine and Antonio, are only allowed to spread the masa, whereas Callie knows the whole process.

Now, my daughter Ruby and I have joined the mix. Learning from the sisters gave me enough confidence to attempt making tamales in my home. I did diverge from the traditional pork tamale and made sweet tamales with raspberries. I had to get the approval of the Delgado sisters before I could call them a success, though.

And I did.

 

Raspberry tamales are a sweet holiday tradition to start in your family. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee

Raspberry tamales are a sweet holiday tradition to start in your family. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Raspberry Dessert Tamales

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Yield: 14 to 17 tamales

Ingredients

3 to 4 pints fresh raspberries

1 tablespoon sugar

2 cups instant masa harina

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened

3/4 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup turbinado or raw cane sugar

Dried corn husks, soaked in hot water for one hour, drained and patted dry

Directions

1. Place the raspberries into a medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle the raspberries with the sugar. Stir to mix.

3. Place the raspberries into the refrigerator until ready to use.

4. In a mixer on medium speed, combine the masa harina and butter, until combined and crumbly.

5. Add the orange juice and vanilla, mix until combined.

6. Slowly pour in the turbinado sugar, mix for about one minute, until the masa dough is well combined.

7. Spread about 2 tablespoons of masa dough onto a corn husk, leaving about 1/2-inch border on the side.

8. Place about 4 or 5 raspberries into the center of the masa.

9. Fold the sides together, then tie with a strip of corn husk.

10. Place a steamer basket or overturned plate into a large stock pot, add a few inches of water, just to the bottom of the basket.

11. Place the tamales onto the basket, cover with a damp towel and a tight fitting lid.

12. Steam the tamales for 1 hour.

13. Remove the tamales from the steamer and let cool slightly before serving.

Main photo: The whole family can get in on the tamale-making traditions, with children spreading the masa dough onto the corn husks for these sweet raspberry tamales. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee

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Celeriac, a knobby and bulbous root vegetable, is a variety of celery. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Celeriac looks like Hannibal Lecter’s lunch. A pale and ghostly cerebellum with tangled dreadlocks, it is never going to win any beauty prizes. Prepossessing, it is not. Little wonder many shoppers give it a wide berth as it singularly fails to bear any resemblance to its slender green cousin and has the sort of looks only a mother vegetable could love.

Yet celery and celeriac are essentially the same plant, both descendants of wild celery. Plant breeding and cultivation from the 17th century onward, however, took them in different directions. Celery was destined to be sought after for its crisp, sweet stalks; celeriac for the large swollen base half-buried in the ground like a forgotten cannonball.

Over the centuries, horticulturalists succeeded in turning a tiny root into a gnarled ball of intense but delicate celery flavor and fragrance. Despite these excellent qualities, celeriac has never really hit the big time. Still overlooked by many shoppers, it is an omission to our vegetable repertoire that is gradually being rectified.

 The French, however, have long known better. Celeriac remoulade is one of the great classic salad dishes across La Manche. The crunchy, mustardy slaw strikes the right balance between creaminess and acidity, and is a distinguished partner to cold meats and sausages. You would never know this elegant hors d’oeuvre derives from such an ungainly start in life.

The many ways to use celeriac

Never ones to shirk a kitchen challenge, however, the French became skilled at hacking their way through the knotted roots and convoluted rhino-thick exterior in order not to waste large chunks of good flesh. However, user-friendly varieties have come onto the market in recent years that are larger and smoother and much easier to peel.

If eating it part-cooked or blanched in a salad (raw celeriac is underwhelming), try adding celery salt to the vinaigrette or give the basic dressing of mayonnaise, cream and mustard a bit more zip with capers and/or gherkins.

A touch of orange zest can add some warmth to a velvety soup of celeriac and leek or fennel. Or, you could scatter with toasted hazelnuts or add a dollop of parsley-walnut pesto for interesting contrast. Think of celeriac as you would potatoes: serve deep-fried celeriac chips with mustard or garlic mayonnaise; roast chunks along with a joint of beef, pork or lamb; or boil or steam and mash them with plenty of butter for a purée.

Modern vegetarian cooks have welcomed the ability of celeriac to soak up flavors, which makes it excellent to roast in the oven; use in gratins or as a filling for pies and tarts; and mix with mushrooms (especially ceps), nuts, tomatoes or cheese. Dauphinoise made with celeriac and potato makes a wonderful combination, or try celeriac rosti for a change. It also carries well the pungency of fresh spices such as ginger, chili, coriander and black pepper.

The paler it is the fresher celeriac will be, but the thick knobbly skin will keep the interior smelling pleasingly of aniseed for quite a long time until used. At its best between September and April, celeriac should be saved from the compost heap. It may be a knob-head, but it deserves better.

Kitchen Notes:

  • If you can’t use the celeriac once cut, drop the pieces into acidulated water to stop discoloration. Browning doesn’t affect the taste, but the color can look rather unappetizing.
  • To store, refrigerate in an unsealed plastic bag. It will keep for several weeks.
  • To cut celeriac safely, slice about a half-inch (1 centimeter) off the top and bottom with a sharp knife. Roll onto a flat edge and either cut off the skin (as you would a pineapple) or use a potato peeler. Expect to discard about a quarter of the celeriac by the time you have done this.

cut celeriac

cut celeriac
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The simple makings for celeriac and celery soup. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Celeriac and Celery Soup

Add a little orange zest or a handful of toasted hazelnuts for extra interest, if desired.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoon butter

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 leek, thinly sliced (don’t include the dark green part or it will spoil the look of the marble-white soup)

About 1 pound peeled and chopped celeriac

Salt

About 1 pound sliced celery (reserve a few leaves)

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 dollop of heavy cream

White pepper

Chopped parsley (optional)

Directions

1. Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the onion and leek. Cook gently for 10 minutes, then add the celeriac, celery and a little salt.

2. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes but don’t let the mixture brown. Add the stock, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes).

3. Purée the soup, then reheat gently. Add the cream and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Adorn with a few reserved celery leaves and/or parsley.

Celeriac Remoulade (French Slaw)

Adjust the proportions of the dressing to your own taste; some like a piquant taste, others prefer just a hint of mustard.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 medium celeriac

Juice of 1 lemon

3 to 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon heavy cream or crème frâiche

Chopped parsley

1 to 2 tablespoons capers (optional)

Salt and black pepper

Directions

1. Peel the celeriac; either grate to a medium size or cut into matchsticks. Plunge into a pan of boiling water, then drain and cool.

2. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a serving bowls. Season to taste and mix in the celeriac.

Celeriac and Potato Gratin

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup whole milk

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Salt and black pepper

About 15 ounces peeled potatoes, cut into thin slices

About 15 ounces peeled celeriac, cut into thin slices about the same size as the potatoes

2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

1. Put the cream, milk and garlic in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Arrange the potatoes and celeriac in overlapping layers in a gratin dish. Cover it with the cream mixture, tipping the dish to get an even distribution.

3. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour or until the vegetables are tender. Tip: While the dish is baking, use a spatula to press the vegetables into the cream once or twice so they don’t dry out.

4. Remove the foil, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake for another 10 minutes until the top is nicely browned.

Main photo: Celeriac is a knobby, bulbous root vegetable. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

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Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends -- and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David Hagerman

By now, you’ve probably heard about turmeric: the yellow-orange rhizome native to South Asia recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The ingredient in Indian and southeast Asian cuisines that colors curries and other dishes gold, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a staple in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Studies suggest that the rhizome may be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, viral and bacterial infections, stomach ulcers, cancer and other conditions.

I’ve known of turmeric’s usefulness in treating the common cold since 2008, when I stumbled upon sugar-coated slices of the rhizome at the central market in Hoi An, Vietnam. I’d been nursing a scratchy throat and runny nose for three chilly, drizzly days. When a vendor heard me cough, she pushed a bag of candied turmeric in my direction and motioned toward my throat and red eyes. I ate several slices then and there and intermittently snacked on the turmeric for the rest of the day. By morning, my sore throat was gone. By day two, I felt good as new.

A Not-So-Common Cure for the Common Cold

Over the last few years I’ve incorporated turmeric into my daily diet, usually combined with green tea, ginger and lemongrass in the form of a powerhouse infusion. I drink the refreshing, slightly spicy and astringent elixir iced, as a preventive. I haven’t suffered a cold since late 2011.

So this Christmas, I’m giving friends the gift of good health in the form of jars of candied turmeric slices (and making extra for myself to carry with me on travels). The lovely orange flesh of the rhizome has a slight bitterness that proves a wonderful foil for a coating of white sugar. To increase the snack’s healthfulness, I add black pepper – believed to increase the body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial ingredient, curcumin to the simple syrup in which I poach thin slices of turmeric.

An Unexpected Extra That You Can Tip Your Glass To

At the end, I’m left with a bonus: a beautiful, astringent-bitter simple syrup that makes a great flavoring for cocktails.

Like ginger, turmeric peels most easily with the edge of a spoon. The rhizome stains anything it touches (wear an apron) and will leave a dark orange, tacky goo on your spoon and knife. To remove it and the color that’s left on your hands, cutting board and other kitchen surfaces, wash with a kitchen cream cleanser.

Look for fresh turmeric at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores, gourmet markets and southeast Asian and Indian groceries.

Candied Turmeric

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes to peel and slice the turmeric plus up to 6 hours to dry the turmeric slices.

Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes

Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup candied turmeric slices

Thin slices are paramount here, as is allowing ample time for your turmeric to dry after poaching. Rush this step and you’ll end up with unattractive clumps of sugar and rhizome.

Ingredients

3/4 pound fresh turmeric

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for tossing the poached turmeric

Directions

Prepping the turmeric:

1. Break any small knobs off of the main turmeric root and use the edge of a spoon to peel the skin off of all of the rhizome pieces. Use a paring knife to peel away any stubborn bits of skin.

2. Rinse the peeled turmeric and slice it as thinly as possible into coins and strips.

To candy the turmeric: 

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the water. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir to dissolve.

2. Add the turmeric, stir to submerge all of the pieces and bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer briskly until the turmeric slices are tender but not limp, about 25 minutes.

3. Drain the turmeric in a colander or sieve placed over a bowl, then transfer the turmeric slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or piece of foil or parchment paper. (Set the turmeric syrup aside to cool and use to flavor sparkling water and cocktails.) Arrange the turmeric slices on the rack so that they do not overlap and place in a well-ventilated spot (underneath a ceiling fan is ideal). Allow the turmeric to dry until the slices are slightly tacky but no longer wet, at least 3 hours and as many as 6 hours, depending on the temperature and ventilation in the room.

4. Toss the turmeric slices in 1/3 cup of sugar until coated. (Don’t throw away leftover sugar; it’s delicious in tea.) Store the turmeric in a clean, dry jar or other container. If you live in a hot, humid climate you may need to refrigerate it to keep the sugar from dissolving.

The Orangutang

Yield: 1 cocktail

Syrup and orange juice make this pretty and potent bourbon cocktail a little bit sweet. Campari and turmeric add a nice astringent-bitter edge; lemon juice adds a hint of tartness.

Ingredients

2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce orange juice

1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) turmeric simply syrup (see Candied Turmeric recipe, above)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Orange slice, for serving

Directions

Pour all of the ingredients except for the orange slice into a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice. Shake and pour the cocktail and ice into a short glass. Garnish the rim of the glass with the orange slice.

Main photo: Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends — and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David Hagerman

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