12.12.13 Cookie Monsters (& a Sizzling Giveaway)

Shizzle 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
It's really, really hard not to get sucked into the vortex of holiday madness, isn't? Not that you would want to go all Ebenezer and shun celebration entirely but it can be challenging to maintain an even keel when all around you is glitter and tinsel and shopping and champagne. I want to spoil and surprise all my loved ones but I'd rather not buy into the commercialism, and I've found that gifts that come from my own hand feel like a good happy medium. Of course it's a lot of work, and not everyone has the luxury of time, but a little tin of cookies, jar of jam or bag of caramels goes a long way—and think of all the time saved by avoiding crowded malls and freeways! Speaking of caramels, the winner chosen at random to receive the much coveted jar of sea salt caramels is ERICA. Please send your mailing address to me at gluttonforlife@gmail.com, Erica! And now, read on for more holiday treats, including today's giveaway...
Cellar 790 xxx
more Mirena Kim
The top photo shows a jar of the new Glutton for Life spice blend, THE SHIZZLE, created just for me by spice wizard Lior Lev Sercarz! How did I get so lucky? (Rhetorical question.) We talked at length about my favorite flavors, the foods I grew up eating and how I like to cook and then he distilled all this into an irresistible combination of hot, sour, salty and sweet, with an overall effect that alludes to both Mexico and Southeast Asia. It's delicious as a finishing salt—on guacamole, on rice, on sashimi—but also works well as a spice rub to prime meat, chicken or tofu. I can't wait to share it with a lucky winner, who will also receive this gorgeous ceramic salt cellar from L.A. potter Mirena Kim.

Just leave a comment below by midnight on Sunday 12/15 telling me about your favorite kind of salt (smoked? Himalayan? kosher?) and you'll be in the running for this dynamic duo.
Meringues 790 xxx
meringue magic
I haven't shared any recipes wtith you lately and, though I do have a few new ones up my sleeve, I thought this might be the right moment to recap some favorite cookies. There are so many different kinds of traditional holiday cookies, from rugelach to gingerbread men to Mexican wedding cookies to rum balls to almond-studded biscotti to spicy pfeffernussen to shortbread...the list goes on and on.

I miss my mother so much at this time of year. I play over and over Handel's Messiah, which she loved to sing in her beautiful contralto; Misa Criolla, a wonderful folk mass in Spanish; and Joan Baez's album of Christmas songs, and this music transports me instantly back to my childhood in Santa Cruz, California. I remember so vividly the feeling in our home right before our annual holiday party. The thrill of anticipation so strong and everything so beautifully set: the crystal punchbowls, the platter after platter of homemade cookies, the mulled wine, the 20-foot tree decorated with vintage ornaments and even Santa in full regalia complete with a knapsack of presents for the donwstairs kiddie party. All this, the handiwork of my mother, who emerged from her bedroom at the last moment in her long dress with the burgundy velvet bodice, wafting Estee Lauder's Youth Dew and pinning a black satin camellia to her decolletage.

My cookie picks include the gluten-free but still very satisfying chocolate-walnut meringues you see above. They are from a recipe by François Payard, who knows a thing or two about baking, and they are incredibly fast and simple. Both chewy and crunchy, they deliver a lot of richness and complexity of flavor when you use the best cocoa powder (Askinosie's is, of course, awesome.) For a seasonal twist, try making them with black walnuts (or pecans or hazelnuts). The recipe is here.
Shorties 790 xxx
square deal
Next up are my famous Spicy Shorties, possibly my favorite cookie of all time. Lots of ginger and butter, cardamom (of course) and black pepper, plus oats and whole wheat flour for a deeply chewy texture. (You can really sub in most flours, including gluten-free, or some buckwheat or just use all white all-purpose. It's a very forgiving recipe.)
Scourtins 790 xxx
sweet and salty
And last, but not at all least, these divine sweet-spicy scourtins, that my dear friend, the endlessly inspiring Giovanna, introduced me to through a comment on this blog a few years ago. You wouldn't necessarily think that oily black olives in a buttery crisp biscuit would rock your world to this degree but prepare for greatness. So, now you tell me, What are your favorite cookies to make at this time of year?

Before I let you get started with your baking, just wanted to let you know that Glutton for Life was featured this week on the beautiful Reveal blog for ABC Home, a beautiful emporium in New York City. I'm really honored and happy to get this recognition for our little world!

Now go preheat your oven! xo


Truffle Salt makes me feel rich! I don't use it on everything but as an umami lover it satisfies many of my flavor craving. I also came up with a parmesan or romano cheese substitute using it (after discovering we were all out one night): Blend pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and some truffle salt in a spice blender (blend to your desired texture) and you've got a nice topping for pasta, rice or even eggs. My vegan friends enjoy it too.
Suzinn on December 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm —
Sounds delicious, Suzinn! An alternative to nutritional yeast and good on kale chips, too...
laura on December 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm —
Okay now this one I have to enter--the shizzle! I'll be gifting cacao nib granola and quince jam, and the goodies will include maple squares and chewy-graham bars, maybe salted chocolate hazelnut and lime meltaways. Plus some chocolate bark and maybe caramels. I better get busy!
val on December 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm —
Wow, your friends are REALLY lucky!
laura on December 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm —
Maldon has been my go-to fleur de sel since my British brother-in-law introduced me to it fifteen years ago. I love to dig one of the big four-sided crystals out of the salt cellar and let it sit on my tongue for a moment before crunching it with my front teeth. Maldon is too precious to use for cooking--I use Portugese sea salt for that. But I used Maldon when I made your chocolate sea salt caramel recipe.
Zora on December 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm —
Maldon is a deep favorite of mine, as well. I marvel whenever I get one of those enormous pyramids!
laura on December 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm —
As a housewarming present recently a dear friend gave me a jar of Maine Sea Salt, which has enlivened and heightened every thing it has touched! It is sundried, entirely natural, and a lovely mid-range kind of texture. Not flaky like Maldon, nor chinky like kosher, it is its own thing, just like the state of Maine!
Amy Bernhardt on December 12, 2013 at 5:21 pm —
It's so great that we have salts available with local terroir! I also like Jacobsen salt from Portland, Oregon.
laura on December 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm —
I'm not really up on salt, but it is so important in balancing and bringing out perfect flavoring. We typically have kosher salt in our salt pig.
Una on December 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm —
Love a salt pig!
laura on December 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm —
Favorite salt experience: collecting salt directly from stony outcroppings on the ground in Salinas de Guaranda in Ecuador, a source of salt since pre-Hispanic times.
judy blankenship on December 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm —
laura on December 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm —
Well, we use a basic damp, minerally sea salt and untreated kosher salt for every day use, but around here we just generally love salt. Truffle salt is nice and any kind of fleur de sel, too, for fancy things. We like Wellfleet Sea Salt. Some smoked salt tastes a little too much like tires, but a really good smoky salt is nice. Was this an essay question? Mostly I loved the mental picture of the party you painted.
Janet on December 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm —
Oooh, Wellfleet sea salt; gotta get me some of that!
laura on December 13, 2013 at 8:53 am —
I've got to say Himalayan. I love the color and grating it as a subtle finishing touch!!! I've always wanted to try Maldon but haven't been able to find as of yet. I make all of my Grandmother's and aunts' cookies every year and revel in bringing back their spirits. I throw on some Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy and they're in the kitchen with me! My favorite cookie to make is my Aunt Genieve's anisette cookies! Loved hearing your memories - as the song says we can go home for Christmas if only in our dreams!
bonnie on December 12, 2013 at 9:30 pm —
Love the image of you baking to the oldies!
laura on December 13, 2013 at 8:53 am —
a bottle of youth dew...I have a bottle on my desk. once and awhile I spray it in my office and it brings back memories as well
Robert on December 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm —
Did your mom wear it, too?
laura on December 13, 2013 at 8:53 am —
To me salt is the absolute essence of balancing the taste of your food. I use different kinds, a favorite is the French sel gris, a sea salt, slightly moist.
rita on December 13, 2013 at 1:00 am —
Yes, I use that one, too—a classic!
laura on December 13, 2013 at 8:54 am —
I have a soft spot for Himalayan pink. It's just so pretty.
Cussot on December 13, 2013 at 8:14 am —
Do you ever cook with a slab? I've used mine for sashimi.
laura on December 13, 2013 at 8:55 am —
talk about inspiring! you're unbelievable. i really do love a classic chocolate chip cookie or anything with almond/almond paste (that texture). well, the italian grandmother would have a table of tins with (no joke) about 20 kinds of cookies that you weren't allowed to touch before dinner! and of course as a child, dinner took forever to arrive. lots of yelling, olives on fingertips, rabbit stew and polenta… then cookies. i so love that gf meringue recipe, thanks again. much love and holiday light to you both. xo
g on December 13, 2013 at 11:47 am —
Olives on fingertips - that conjures up such memories of childhood! xo
laura on December 13, 2013 at 11:56 am —
and i agree about the maldon!
g on December 13, 2013 at 11:49 am —
The salt Barkeater puts in their chocolate!
Diane Lindsay on December 13, 2013 at 4:43 pm —
I love my coarse kosher salt and my chocolate chunk cookies are delicious!
Debra Lee on December 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm —
We went diving in Bonaire a couple of years ago. It turns out their biggest export is sea salt; a nice rosy one, dried locally on many of their backbays. We brought some home and it reminds us of that great vacation with each use (all but gone now, though). Love your blog and FB posts, Laura. Keep up the great work!
Jack Barnett on December 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm —
Thanks, Jack! That rosy salt sounds delicious.
laura on December 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm —
I use fleur de sel a lot in baking - I'm all over the salted dessert trend.
Susan Christy on December 15, 2013 at 12:59 am —
At first I thought you meant you were "over it," but now I get that you're *all over* it!
laura on December 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm —
Jennifer Sudarsky on December 15, 2013 at 8:30 pm —