Saturday, December 8, 2012

Quinoa-Leek Pilaf is a stellar
holiday dinner side dish

This time of year, many cooks are on the lookout for a stellar side dish, one that will be a worthy alongside a magnificent Christmas turkey, ham or roast.
    But the easier the side dish the better, right?
    Well, I’ve got a recipe that fits the bill perfectly: Quinoa-Leek Pilaf (click for the recipe).
    My husband and I agreed immediately after trying it that it was a winner. The quinoa was fluffy and light; the leeks a perfect accompaniment. But it was also filling and hearty, reminding me of stuffing.
    In fact, this pilaf could easily stand in for stuffing at any holiday dinner, and it is much easier to make. Leftovers also warmed up very nicely in the microwave, making this side nice to enjoy even after the big dinner is done.
    The secret to the pilaf’s excellent taste, I think, is that the quinoa was cooked in vegetable broth.
    The pilaf is so easy to make. Note that the recipe makes 10 to 12 servings, so be sure to halve the ingredients if you need to make less.
    The recipe says to use a large, deep skillet, but if you are nervous about this not being big enough, by all means use a large soup pot instead.
    Leeks are cooked in a skillet, then rinsed and drained quinoa is added and cooked for about five minutes.
    Vegetable broth (I used store-bought) and water are added to the leeks and quinoa and brought to a boil. The skillet or pot is then covered and simmered over moderately-low heat until the quinoa is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
    The pilaf is removed from the heat, left to stand for 10 minutes, fluffed with a fork then served.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas cookie baking begins
with Walnut Snowball Cookies

My annual foray into Christmas cookie baking began this year with Walnut Snowball Cookies (click for the recipe).
    I chose to try this recipe for two reasons: The apt-sounding name, and the use of vanilla bean seeds in the recipe, something I have never seen before in recipes for similar types of cookies.
    They were a good choice to get me in the holiday mood. They were easy to make and looked very wintery.
    Above all, they were bite-sized pieces of goodness that were a hit with everyone to whom I served them.
    One of my co-workers said they reminded her of the Christmas cookies her mother used to make.
    These cookies are practically begging to be served with a cup of tea, but they are just as good snuck off the plate, taken to a quiet corner, and enjoyed.
    They were easy to make.
    Walnuts are toasted in the oven, then coarsely chopped (I used a small electric kitchen chopper, but was careful the pieces weren't chopped too finely).
    Butter and vanilla bean seeds are beaten together, followed by additions of confectioner’s sugar (also called powdered sugar), salt, flour and walnuts until the dough comes together. It won’t come into a ball, but soft pieces; it’s your job to put the pieces together and roll them into balls.
    Level tablespoons of dough are arranged on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and baked for about 17 minutes.
    After the cookies are cooled slightly, they are rolled in confectioner’s sugar to coat, then left to cool completely. The recipe says to roll them in sugar again, but I didn’t bother – they were coated well enough.
    The recipe says the cookies will keep in an airtight container for about five days, but I found that after three days the freshness started to ebb away.