Hannukah and Christmas Orange-Nutty Cookies

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This mufti-denominational cookie is based on my mom’s Hanukkah cookie recipe. I added some grated orange zest to heighten the fruity notes. The nuts are optional, but I love the crunch of nuts in cookies.

You can soften the butter in the microwave for about 10 seconds if you forgot to leave it out to soften! Crush nuts by pulsing in the food processor or rolling them with a rolling pin as my mom did. They should be tiny, but not pulverized into powder.

Makes about 30 cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutters.

Ingredients:

1 cube butter

1 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 Tb orange juice

1/4 tsp finely grated orange zest (the orange part of the peel)

2 eggs

3 cups all purpose unbleached flour

1/8 tsp salt (or a couple of shakes)

2 tsp baking powder

½ cup crushed walnuts and/ or pecans

Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add orange juice and zest and beat again.

Sift dry ingredients together and then mix until combined with the moist ingredients. Stir in nuts until incorporated into the dough.

???????????????????????????????Roll the dough into a large ball, then flatten into a disk with your hands. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for ½ hour. This will harden the butter and make the dough easier to roll.

Preheat the oven to 375◦.

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Lightly flour a wooden board and the rolling pin. Grab a few handfuls of dough and roll it out to about 1/8 inch. Dip cookie cutters in flour, then shake out, to prevent the dough from sticking on them, and then cut out shapes.

???????????????????????????????Spray an insulated cookie sheet with nonstick spray or oil the sheet. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to the cookie sheet. Sprinkle cookies with colored sugar sprinkles or a bit of table sugar to make them sparkle. Bake the cookies at 375◦ for about 10 minutes until golden. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.

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Pollo pibil – Achiote chicken

DSC01318Achiote paste is used in Mayan Yucatán cusine, the most famous dish being cochinita pibil (literally pork cooked in a pit). The deep red paste is made with ground annatto seed. Friends from tropical countries have told me that they just went to their achiote tree and broke open the pods to use the seeds for a fresh flavor. For the rest of us, buy it in a  3 ½ ounce brick in a small paper box at a Mexican market.

Yucatán cooks use sour oranges, called su’uts’ pak’áal in the Mayan language, and also known as Seville oranges. Since they are hard to find in the US, I substitute juices from one orange, one lime, one lemon and one grapefruit.

The chicken is traditionally served with red onions which have been pickled with salt and lime juice.

Lorena del Carmen, a Mayan woman I know here in Berkeley, inspired me with her recipe. She made her chicken a bit differently though. She first boiled it, then split it in half and painted the achiote mixture on the inside of the chicken. She then baked it. But I’m following her recipe for the onions. Although she didn’t measure the ingredients, I estimated the amounts from watching her make them.

Ingredients:

ingredients for achiote chicken w grapefruit, lime, lemon, orange and achiote del MayaMarinade:

one pack of chicken breast halves (about 5 or 6 halves)

1/2 brick achiote paste

1 Tb olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp or more to taste Tapatio sauce

2 tsp sea salt

several grinds black pepper

1 1/2 Tb  juice from one lime

2 Tb juice from one lemon

1/3   cup  juice from one orange

1/3 cup juice from one small grapefruit

red onionsPickled onions:

1 red onion

1 Tb salt (I like to use sea salt)

Juice from 3 limes

Make the marinade:

Mix achiote paste with olive oil, using a fork to make a smooth paste, then add the juices, oregano and salt, and stir well until no lumps remain.

Trim fat off breast halves and cut each into about 3 pieces, about 3 x 4 inches. Stab the pieces a few times to let the marinade permeate them. Submerge in marinade so that all sides of the meat are covered. Marinade several hours.

onions sliced, salted and w lime juice marinadeAfter you put the chicken in the marinade, make the pickled onions. . Slice a red onion thinly.  Put a layer of onions in a ceramic bowl and sprinkle salt  over it, and continue to layer with salt, using  a total of 1 Tb salt. Squeeze 3 limes over the onions.  mix with your fingers, and then cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate until chicken is cooked. The onions will soften when pickled. Stir every so often while the onions are pickling. Serve with the chicken.

Grill meat on barbecue over medium flame.

If you’re not up for barbecuing, you can place the chicken in a shallow baking pan under the broiler for 15 minutes until they brown.

serving with onionsGarnish with fresh cilantro and serve with pickled onions and  fresh tortillas.

Fruit juice sweetened, no sugar Jellied Cranberry Sauce

My family loves that jellied cranberry sauce that has the can marks on it. It’s mostly high-fructose corn syrup of course. I figured out a recipe that is healthier than the canned stuff. It gets its sweetness from frozen concentrated apple juice  If you’re counting calories, this makes about 200 calories per cup, (about 25 calories for 2 tablespoons) instead of the 419 calories per cup in the canned cranberry sauce. Even my husband, who distrusts  that homemade cranberry sauces could ever measure up to the canned stuff, thinks this one tastes good.

When I was a little kid back in the day in the 50s and 60s, jello dishes were all the rage. I wish I had an old-fashioned jello mold to pour this in. I suppose I could pour it into an empty can to get the can marks! But I poured it into small cups and dessert dishes, to place on each corner of the table.

Make this at least the day before Thanksgiving, so the gelatin has time to set.

Makes  2 cups

2 envelopes unsweetened gelatin
¼ cup cold water
6-oz can apple juice concentrate
12-oz package (3 cups) fresh cranberries, rinsed well and picked through
2 navel (seedless) oranges, rinsed

Pour ¼ cup cold water into a small non-reactive pot, such as stainless steel or glass.  Sprinkle the gelatin over it and stir. Add the apple juice concentrate and heat until the gelatin dissolves. Stir in the cranberries.

Using a vegetable peeler, cut a strip of the zest (just the orange part of the peel).

Peel oranges with a knife, so no pith (the bitter white stuff) remains. Pull sections apart, discarding white membranes.  Add orange pieces and zest to the cranberries.

Cook a total of 15 minutes, so that the berries burst and the fruit cooks into a nice mush.

Let cool until you can handle the liquid without burning yourself, about 10 minutes.

Pour mixture into a blender and run it on liquefy for a few minutes.

Strain the fruit through a fine mesh sieve into a non-reactive container. You will be eliminating the cranberry seeds and skins, which are the bitterest part.

You can refrigerate the sauce in the bowl or in a jello mold. You can even pour it into a can to get the can marks.

Buñuelos

My favorite New Year’s Eve memories include one spent with my in-laws in a small country town in South Texas. We went to the Knights of Columbus hall, where we joined couples of all ages dancing in a big circle to Mexican polkas and boleros. The men wore cowboy hats and the women danced in high heels. Most of the songs were about love, but I remember a few about chickens.
In the morning, my mother-in-law, Conchita, fried up delicious buñuelos, orange and cinnamon scented flour tortillas rolled in cinnamon sugar. We’ve made them every New Year’s morning since.

Makes 15 buñuelos

Cinnamon powder, divided. 1 tsp for dough and 1 Tb for coating

Sugar, divided. 1 tsp for dough and ½ cup for coating

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tb baking powder

2 Tb butter at room temperature

½ cup orange juice at room temperature

2 cups Canola oil for frying

Mix 1 Tb cinnamon and 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow dish for coating the buñelos and set aside.

Mix flour, baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp sugar in a large bowl. Mix in butter. Mix in orange juice and knead until it forms a ball. Place on a floured board and knead for 5 minutes.

Form into small balls, cover with a warm damp dish towel. and let rest for 5 minutes.

Roll out each ball into a round tortilla shape, as thin as you can.

Heat oil in heavy skillet until hot. Place several layers of paper towels on a plate.
Carefully fry buñelos, one at a time. Fry the first side until it puffs up, or about 8-10 seconds. Turn it over and briefly fry the other side until it stops puffing up. Using tongs, hold the buñelo at an angle above the pan for a few seconds to drain excess oil.  Place on the paper towels to soak up oil for a few minutes,

then roll in cinnamon sugar.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!  Happy New Year!