Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Blue and White Box

The town next to the one in which I grew up had a bakery that produced superlative cookies and breads. Their blue and white box on the counter always meant a special treat, especially if it contained Hermits.

Years after I had left the town of my childhood, these Hermits lived large in my memory. With the bakery long out of business it was impossible to sample these particular Hermits again. All others paled in comparison. Most failed and wound up in the trash bin. All recipes were found lacking. And resignation took hold. The disappointment was palpable.

One day while sitting in a waiting room flipping through some magazines a recipe captured my eye. Hmmmmm, now that looked intriguing. For the first time in years I felt hope that I might actually once again bite into the Hermit of my childhood. I copied the recipe out and made it within a day or two. It did not disappoint.

Although there is no blue and white box to signal a particular treat, these cookies have become a family favorite. And, disappear almost as quickly as those from the blue and white box.

A historical note: Hermits are a very old cookie and are said to have originated on Cape Cod. An excellent keeper these cookies often went to sea stored in tins and packed into sea trunks.

Note: Rotating cookie sheets--for me this means moving the cookie sheets--the sheet on the top rack is moved to the bottom rack and the sheet on the bottom rack is moved to the top rack. The sheets are also turned 160 degrees in this process (a half turn--front to back or back to front). This allows for more even baking.


2 c. flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. ginger

¼ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. cloves

1 c. brown sugar

½ c. unsalted butter, softened

1/3 c. molasses

1 egg

1 c. raisins

1 c. pecans coarsely chopped and toasted

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two cookie sheets.

Measure dry ingredients into a bowl and stir to combine.

In another bowl beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses until well combined. Beat in egg. On low add flour and mix just until combined. Stir in raisins and pecans.

Divide dough into quarters.

With lightly floured hands, shape each quarter into a 12” x 1-1/2” log. On each sheet place 2 logs leaving 3 inches in between.

Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until logs flatten and edges are firm. Rotate sheets halfway between baking time. Cool 15 minutes on baking sheets. Place logs one at a time on cutting board and cut into cookies. Transfer slices to wire racks to cool completely.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spread That on Your Cracker and Eat It!

Cannellini beans are an Italian white bean and are often referred to as “white kidney beans.” They retain their shape very well when cooked, and are firm with a wonderfully smooth texture and a slightly nutty flavor. Cannellini can be found in cans already processed or you may prepare them yourself. (Click for my instructions for preparing beans.) They double in size—1 cup of dry beans will result in approximately 2-1/2 cups of cooked beans.

The delicate flavor of the beans combined with the refreshing flavor of the dill makes this an especially tasty spread. It goes well with crackers and bread. For the best flavor make a day in advance and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Allow the spread to sit at room temperature 20 minutes before serving. This spread was a huge hit, and there's been lots of pestering for the recipe by everyone who enjoyed it. Finally, you may now spread this on your cracker and eat it!

Dilled Cannellini Bean Spread

2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed & drained

½ of a red pepper, chopped

3 Tbsp. chopped dill

1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic crushed & chopped

Kosher salt

White pepper (freshly ground)

Olive oil


Fit a food processor with it’s chopping blade. In the work bowl place the cannellini beans through garlic. Using the pulse option, process just until ingredients are combined. With the machine running pour only enough olive oil through the feed tube to make the mixture smooth, but still thick and spreadable. Remove lid and add salt and pepper to taste, and more dill, if desired. Mix to combine. Allow to sit at room temperature for an hour before serving. Can be made the day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Serve with crackers.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Coming Full Circle

Madame was one of those people for whom the beauty and elegance of life was essential. There were no coffee mugs in Madame’s home. She considered them to be ugly and refused to succumb to their convenience. “Sweetie,” Madame would say in her still heavily French accented English, “They just have no elegance!” Madame worked to create the life of beauty and elegance she valued, and did her best with everything and expected the same of those who surrounded her.

On her recent visit home I told Bella that I had finally written down the measurements and ingredients for Madame’s vinaigrette, but was struggling with the post. Bella suggested that I talk about how a visit to Madame required the best. Bella said, “You know, my best dress, my best shoes, and the socks with the lace ruffles. I had to wear a hat and gloves and carry my best purse.” And, most importantly, Bella remembers needing to be on her best behavior. (Some visits were quite short!) Then Bella said, “And I couldn’t chew gum. Remember the time we were standing on the steps and you looked down and I was chewing gum? You had already rung the bell and you looked at me and said, “Get rid of that gum! And, whatever you do don’t swallow it! It’ll be in your stomach for seven years!” So, I spit the gum into my purse just as Madame opened the door!”

For many years I have considered Madame’s vinaigrette to be the essence of culinary artistic simplicity. Every time it is served our guests rave about its subtle flavor and elegance. What finally spurred me to record the recipe was my nephew Wort. On his recent visit we had served this dressing with salad one night for dinner. Wort looked at me and said, “Auntie, this is the best salad dressing I’ve ever had.” From Wort, high praise in deed! For that brief and shining moment the beauty and elegance to which Madame aspired and tried to instill in those she knew blazed brightly. I felt like we had come full circle with Madame for whom we always did our best.

Notes for this recipe: I have adapted the recipe slightly. Madame always used vegetable oil, white wine tarragon vinegar, and jarred mayonnaise. She would never have added mustard of any kind! I use only homemade mayonnaise, and for the best results suggest that you do, too—click for my mayonnaise recipe. Substitutions for the Dijon mustard are not encouraged--use Dijon or omit this ingredient.  The amount can also be reduced.

Madame’s Vinaigrette
1/3 c. white wine vinegar
1 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
Sprig fresh tarragon

Select a 2 c. glass jar with a tight lid. Into it measure the vinegar and olive oil. Add the mayonnaise and mustard. Put the lid on the jar and shake. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the sprig of fresh tarragon. Store in the refrigerator or use immediately. Store any unused dressing in the refrigerator.