Pfeffernüsse is a type of cookie I discovered in a mad dash to beat the crowds out of Grand Central Terminal and make it safely onto the 6:02 to Wassaic one pre-Christmas evening, many Decembers ago. I was cruising past one of the many Zaro’s outlets peppered throughout the station, looking for some kind of pastry or cookie package to bring back to Connecticut with me. (As if lugging two bags of Christmas gifts and my luggage wasn’t enough…) A bag of Pfeffernüsse on the cookie shelf looked interesting, better than bringing back some black & white cookies or another loaf of sourdough bread. My gut feeling was correct. My parents loved them, as did I!

Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse, also known as Pepper Nuts, are a wonderful type of spice cookie. If you are a fan of gingerbread, you’ll love these. Upon first glance, they are rather unassuming. However, the addition of freshly-cracked black pepper, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg will put you into the holiday spirit with just one bite. Some people coat them in powdered sugar after they are baked. Some people don’t. I never plan to be that latter person.

Pfeffernüsse

Also, it’s a wonderful word to say.

Pfeffernüsse

Fey-Fer-NEEEWWWWWWWSE. 

(Sorry, I’m on a bit of a holiday cookie sugar high right now…everything is way too silly…)

Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse
(Makes 15 – 18 cookies)

Ingredients:

– 2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
– 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
– 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
– 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 stick butter, room temperature
– 1 egg
– 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
– 1/4 cup molasses
– 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 1 cup confectioners’ sugar (for dusting cookies)

Before We Get Started…

– Be sure to have a small paper bag or Ziploc bag to place confectioners’ sugar in. It’ll make dusting the cookies infinitely easier.

Directions:

1.) Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets and set aside.

2.) In a large bowl, combine flour, pepper, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and baking soda. Set aside.

3.) Place butter, brown sugar, and molasses in a large bowl. Beat with an electric beater on medium speed until mixture is fluffy, about two to three minutes. Once combined, add egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

4.) Slowly add in flour 1/2 cup at a time, beating with electric mixer at low speed. Repeat until all flour is combined and the dough is formed. If mixture is too thick to continue to beat, knead dough together with hands.

5.) Use a tablespoon to scoop out dough and roll into approximately 1″ balls. Place dough balls approximately one inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Depending on the amount of cookies made and size of the baking sheets, no more than one dozen cookies should be on each sheet.

6.) Bake cookies for 15 minutes, rotating sheets seven minutes in. Cookies may crack slightly and should be golden. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes.

7.) Coating three to four cookies at a time, place cookies in bag with confectioners’ sugar. Shake until cookies are well coated. Knock off any excess sugar.

8.) Return cookies to wire rack and allow to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container.

I grew up on homemade soups and stews, save for an occasional can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup in the pantry to serve alongside a grilled cheese sandwich. (Ahhh, childhood…) My father was, hell, still is the King of Refrigerator Soups. You know what I’m talking about: He created soups made by throwing whatever leftovers that were in the fridge into a big pot, and he cooked it until everything harmonized. Sometimes, I found the combinations to be a little weird (leftover chicken, black beans, and cauliflower did not appeal to my nine year old self), but I grew to embrace it. Like any lower-middle class family, we were frugal and used every bit of food we had. Nothing went to waste. A roast chicken carcass was turned into stock, and those little chicken bits made for the base of many amazing soups.

I still love to create a good Refrigerator Soup. I am definitely guilty of buying vegetables with grandiose plans in mind. Then, five days later, I’ll return to my fridge to see them sitting in the vegetable crisper, limp and hanging onto life.

Oops.

vegetable soup

Well, into the soup they go!

I am in love with this Shredded Vegetable Soup. I am a big fan of julienne-peeling and spiral-cutting my vegetables. I feel it gives them more oomph and adds tremendous volume to any dish. I am not the biggest fan of large chunks of vegetables in my soup. In this recipe, I opted to julienne peel the vegetables, giving them an almost noodle-like texture within the broth. Additional grains can be added, such as rice or quinoa, but here, I went simple and added Acini de Pepe. Finally, the turmeric and red pepper flakes both give an amazing depth of flavor.

vegetable soup

We’ve been lucky to have a relatively mild autumn here in NYC, but it’s still nice to eat a nice hot bowl of this soup, even if it’s 60 degrees outside.

Feel free to adjust this soup to any variation you choose! This is a base that can be greatly expanded upon.

vegetable soup

Shredded Vegetable Soup
(Serves Two)

Ingredients:

– 1 carrot, julienne shredded
– 1 medium zucchini, julienne shredded
– 2 cups broth of choice
– 1 cup water
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
– 1/4 cup Acini de Pepe pasta
– Dash of red pepper flakes
– Salt and pepper, to taste

Before We Get Started…

– If you do not have a julienne peeler, either thinly julienne slice vegetables, or, alternately, use a regular vegetable peeler to peel long ribbon-like strips.

Directions:

1.) In large pot, bring broth and water to a slow boil. Add garlic, turmeric, and Acini de Pepe. Cook for approximately 10 minutes or until Acini di Pepe is cooked through.

2.) Reduce heat to medium. Add carrots and zucchini to pot. Cook for approximately 90 seconds or until vegetables start to wilt. Add red pepper flakes and stir. Remove from heat.

3.) Serve immediately.

Autumn is in full swing, with crisper mornings, darker evenings, and the near-daily HELL I face while trying to match the perfect pair of skinny pants with coordinating ankle boots. (The WORST, amirite?) One of my favorite parts of fall? All of my local farmers’ markets are laden with apples! I feel that I am a traditionalist, with my favorite kind of apple being a Macintosh. However, I enjoy walking past barrels and crates overloaded with Mutsus, Jonagolds, Honey Crisps, and Paula Reds. I get damn near overwhelmed at my options, on occasion, and just grab four or five of the best looking ones of any type.

apple sauce

New York City farmers’ markets are full of virtually anything you can think of from the agricultural world. Besides apples, I see veggies, eggs, and meats of all sorts. (One day, I’ll buy that organic duck breast from western Pennsylvania, too!) This past Sunday, however, I had to do a double take after I walked past barrel of something that I can not recall ever seeing at a farmers’ market: cranberries! Beautiful, fresh, Massachusetts-bred cranberries! The heart of this native New Englander fluttered. I had a bag full of apples in my left hand, with full intentions of making some plain ol’ applesauce. Cranberry applesauce is a recipe I enjoy making around Thanksgiving. Still, why not now?! I excitedly shuffled over and ran my hands through these ruby-esque pearls of tart fruit. I looked at the prices…and, at $6 per pound, I quickly carted myself up to my local Fine Fine and bought a pound of Ocean Spray cranberries for $2.29.

cranberries

I strongly support small businesses and the agriculture industry. I just need to cook on the cheap sometimes, just like any other Millennial in NYC with an steep rent and massive student loan payments. Haaa. Next time. Next time…

cranberry apple sauce

Cranberry Apple Sauce is such a wonderful autumnal recipe. It makes a great side dish when eating pork, turkey, or chicken. It makes a great snack to keep in the fridge. Pro Tip: I love to eat it warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Try it. Thank me later.

cranberry apple sauce

Cranberry Apple Sauce (As Featured on Brit + Co.)

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:
– 3 pounds cooking apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ chunks
– 1 cup fresh cranberries
– 3 tablespoons sugar
– 1 cup water
– 1 cinnamon stick
– Juice of 1/2 lemon or two teaspoons orange juice

Before We Get Started…

– In lieu of a cinnamon stick, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried cinnamon can be substituted, depending on how much of a prevalent cinnamon flavor you prefer.

– Frozen cranberries can be used in lieu of fresh ones, but I can not emphasize enough: do not use canned cranberry sauce as a substitute!

Directions:

1.) Place all ingredients into a large sauce pan; bring to a boil.

2.) Reduce to a simmer and cook until apples are tender and cranberries have burst, approximately 30 – 40 minutes. Use a fork to mash any larger chunks of fruit still remaining.

3.) Remove from heat; discard cinnamon stick.

4.) Serve immediately or cool to room temperature and store in refrigerator; this will stay fresh for about a week.

The summer solstice has occurred, and, with it, the start of chilled soup season. The dog days of summer are upon us, if I can be clichéd. As I sit here, typing out this prose, it’s 90 degrees with a line of severe thunderstorms looming to the west. The humidity is making both my body and brain listless. The last thing I want to do cook, bake, or put much heat-induced effort into meal creation. Over the years, I have adapted a pretty strict summer diet. On any given night, I’m usually eating some combination of an avocado, cucumbers dressed with plain Greek yogurt and garlic powder, cheddar cheese, pineapple, prosciutto on toast, and unsweetened iced tea. It may lack in nutritional balance, but…damn. It’s always satisfying. The stove glares at me from afar, and I tell it, “I’ll see you again at the end of September.”

cucumber
So hot, even my cucumber is sweating!

Over the years, I’ve toyed with various cold soups, and the results have never really pleased me. Gazpacho is easy, yet admittedly time-consuming. I always find an excuse to buy it from the store because Westside Market / Fairway / Whole Foods / Samad’s Gourmet / anyone else makes it better than I do! (Damn self-loathing.) As for vichyssoise, my paternal grandmother, Mamie, had that on lock. I have yet to create a batch as good as hers. Then comes the oft-consumed cucumber yogurt soup. It’s simple. It’s light. It’s relatively filling. I can make it with four ingredients. However, one misstep in the recipe, and I’ll end up with unpalatable pale green water. Needless to say, I’ve made a lot of unpalatable plate green water over the years. I’ve played with ratios for more times than I care to count: more cucumbers, fewer cucumbers, different kinds of cucumbers, Greek yogurt instead of plain yogurt, fresh dill versus dried dill, less olive oil, you name it. However, I must mark June 22nd, 2015, as the day I finally got my figurative shit together and had my true “Aha!” moment.

Avocados, is there anything you can’t do?

My past cucumber yogurt soup recipes (or abominations, if I may continue to self-loathe) achieved a creamy mouth feel once I made the transition from plain to Greek yogurt, but the avocado gives it full body. Dare I say, fresh out of the blender, it’s almost fluffy. In addition, I decided to add some lemon zest and juice, helping it achieve a wonderful brightness.

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Goodbye unpalatable pale green water, hello full-bodied and bright moss green soup!

(Okay, I’m still working on better descriptive terms. One thing at a time, eh?)

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Chilled Cucumber Avocado Soup

(Serves Four)

Ingredients:

– 2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
– 1 avocado, cubed
– 6 ounces plain Greek yogurt (full-fat)
– 1 & 1/2 cups cold water
– 1 teaspoon dried dill
– 1 teaspoon garlic powder
– Zest of 1 lemon
– Juice of half a lemon
– Salt and pepper, to taste

Before We Get Started…

– If making en masse and saving servings for lunches / dinners for the week, be sure to give each batch a good stir or shake before eating, as there tends to be a slight separation of ingredients after it’s sat in the fridge.

– Depending on the size of the blender / food processor being used to blend the soup, combine ingredients in batches, if necessary.

– If I do say so myself, these are best served with some freshly toasted crusty white bread and a few slices of prosciutto.

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Directions:

1.) Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor, and blend until creamy.

2.) Serve immediately, or place in fridge until ready to serve.

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Prosciutto Toasts and Cucumber Dreams, until next time…!