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reach into the cookie jar above for the recipe I use!

Biscotti started to become better known in the US  outside of all the Little Italys everywhere about 15-20  years ago, although they quickly transformed into oversized affairs covered in thick sweet icings and chocolate, with a hundred different additions ranging from raspberries and white chocolate, to chocolate chips  and craisins (dried sweetened cranberries).

Everyone has their own preferences, but I tend to like mine simple and traditional – some almond or anise extract, either of which is a very traditional flavoring.  Sometimes with whole almonds or hazelnuts, and maybe one side of the finished cookie finished with a little chocolate:  That is my idea of a good time , with a cup of coffee.  After all, they are twice-baked and benefit from a dip in something wet so you don’t break your teeth on them!   So dip them in a little coffee, or wine or sherry (I don’t drink alcohol myself, but this is also a combination in the afternoon or early evening enjoyed by a lot of people around the world).  One reader from a Sicilian family says they had a soft biscotti when he was growing up!

Because this version is twice-baked (like mandelbrot or rusk) they are easier to digest, the carbohydrates having been broken down by the toasting process in the second baking.  They do traditionally have sugar and fat- including eggs- so they do also have some richness.  The anise (in the form of liquid extract or actual anise or caraway seed) points to the relative antiquity of the recipe, and to the fact that at one point they might have been intended to be an aid to digestion- as well as keeping bugs away from them, since they store well for long periods of time.  But anise also gives them a distinctive flavor that people familiar with European patisserie will recognize.   There are lost-flavors in cooking today that it would be nice to see make a comeback- rosewater, jasmine, angelica are a few others that can be found in recipes ranging from baklava to petit fours.

I’ll post the recipe I use shortly, but thought I’d put it up on the blog, because holidays are coming up and people LOVE to give and receive biscotti as gifts.  There is something special and festive about them, and while they take a little time to make, they are not intimidating to make, especially after you’ve made them once or twice.  And they are versatile- try making them with walnuts, pine nuts or pistachios (all very traditional as well)- and of course, dip them, coat them and lace them with dark, milk or white chocolate if you are a chocoholic.  There really isn’t a lot of limitation to what you can do with a standard biscotti recipe, and you can probably find some new recipe or combination to experiment with every week for a year without repeating yourself.

Mix the dough and shape it into flattish logs and bake  for about 15-20 minutes in a medium oven (about 375F) and while they’re still warm, slice them with a serrated knife.  Lay the cut biscotti out on a baking sheet and subject them to further baking, until they are golden brown and fragrant.  After they’ve cooled you can decorate them…or keep it simple and leave them unadorned.

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little meat pies- PASTIES!

ready for the oven

I grew up pronouncing it pasties (like, past-ease), but I’ve also heard paste-ease.  There are many variations, but when you make them and keep it simple, they are wonderfully good.  They’re individual pocket pies (probably best known with a meat and potato filling), and we always heard that the Cornish miners always took them to work a century and more ago, down under the earth, wrapped in a  newspaper.

Who couldn’t love these moveable feasts, these filling and deliciously simple heritage foods that come to us from ingenious cooks in Wales.  The only tricky part sometimes is making a pie pastry – but whether you make it from scratch or use a store-bought pie-crust (I won’t tell if you don’t), it is a very approachable recipe.  Thanksgiving (or as one of my Native Elders refers to it:  Thanks-taking) is a good opportunity each year to use leftover turkey for these pies.  Pasties are traditionally made with beef and potatoes, seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and sometimes they have peas–or carrots and peas.  Various cultures have little meat pies in one form or another:  samosas, chicken pot pie-even the humble shepherd’s pie could plausibly be considered a distant cousin to this pleasant family of foods.  Some little meat pies are baked, others are fried.

The global family of dumplings are also recognizably related also to pasties:   Cha Sui Bao (Chinese steamed pork buns), tamales (steamed corn bread with sweet or savory fillings), the famous Tibetan Momo and the Chao-Tze (known best as potstickers), and Kubey Brinj (a tasty little fried torpedo of rice wrapped around a filling of ground meat and onion, deep fried- one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life).  But let’s return to the redoubtable Pasty.

Make yourself a standard recipe of pastry- you know, 2 cups of flour, 2/3 cup shortening (I generally use a combination of vegetable shortening and butter- and sometimes lard- or even a little beef tallow if I happen to have it in the freezer).  A teaspoon of salt, and water to make a workable dough.

Meanwhile for the filling, use  a medium chopped onion, about a generous cup of cooked cut-up meat – you could even use a pound of cooked ground beef or turkey, and I think that makes a perfectly wonderful pasty – and a couple of large potatoes, cut into 1/2″ to 1″ cubes (don’t pare them if you don’t have to- most of the vitamin C in a potato is just beneath the fiber rich skin), season with salt and generous pepper to taste – and add frozen peas- and fresh or frozen carrots, also in cubes.  That can be a good way to get vegetables in your kids.

When I use the proportions for pie pastry above, I usually divide into 3 portions.  Roll a disc of dough out and put about a cup of the meat/potato filling in the center- (I usually assemble the pasties right on an ungreased baking sheet to avoid transferring them around and risking torn dough).  Fold the dough over the filling in a half moon shape and crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork.  These don’t have to look glamorous- they’re meant to be rustic.  Make a few slits on the top of each pasty to allow steam to escape during baking and place in a 350F oven until they’re golden brown and smell very good.  (Some people brush them with a little beaten eggs- pretties them up and makes them look fancier).  That’s how I learned to make pasties from my mom.  We always thought everyone ate these when we were growing up- but pasties are still a new discovery for many people.

If you had turkey, or a turducken or tofurkey on the occasion of a traditional-style Native American Autumn harvest feast, you might have some leftovers:  And therefore the ingredients for pasties.  Try making them with sweet potatoes in place of white potatoes.  Add some corn, or punch up the seasoning with  thyme, sage or your favorite herbs.  Or try tossing the meat and potato filling with a little leftover gravy to moisten everything.  You are the cook and you can make the rules.  I’d like to try making a pasty with moose-meat, simply because I love moose!  What do you think??