Thursday, December 30, 2010

Squid Ink Spaghetti with Crabmeat

Please welcome Victoria from Mission: Food to the LC stage.  Victoria, love that name by the way, blogs out of NYC.  Mission: Food is a great combo of cooking, writing, photography, and restaurant reviews.  She recently posted a fabulous Leek Bread Pudding and Red Lentil Rice Pilaf.  Nice!

Today she shares a smart, creative, and extremely flavorful Squid Ink Spaghetti course.

Victoria is active on Facebook and a very supportive blogger.  So check out Mission: Food, you will be happy you did.


Guest Post Spotlight

Hello, everyone! My name is Victoria and I write a little blog called Mission: Food. Lately, I've been attempting to strike a balance between sharing original recipes, recipes from cookbooks I love, and reviews of exciting New York City restaurants. It's been very busy, but I've been enjoying the challenge :) When Lazaro asked me to write a guest post, I was extremely flattered, as he is one of the most innovative food bloggers out there, and I knew I would have to pull out the big guns to make a dish worthy of Lazaro Cooks! I also know that we are approaching the New Year, and I decided to share something elegant, but simple, that would be appropriate for serving a small New Year's dinner party, for any last minute party planners out there.

This makes a lot of pasta, and could easily be portioned into smaller appetizer servings if needed. I purchased the dry squid ink spaghetti from a specialty food market, and it had been imported from Italy. It should be available at gourmet markets, Italian markets, and online, but you can always make it from scratch to make this dish extra special! If you absolutely can't find squid ink pasta, you can substitute 1 pound of regular spaghetti, but it won't have the same striking colors. I love the contrast in color between the noodles and the lump crabmeat, so it's worth the extra effort to make it happen. The heavy hand with the lemon juice really brightens up the dish, and the garlic confit is subtle and a nice, somewhat sweet, background note. It takes very little effort to put this dish together, and yet the colors and flavors will definitely impress your guests! Thanks again to Lazaro for having me share a recipe here at Lazaro Cooks! I hope you all enjoy it and will come on over to Mission: Food to check out more!

Squid Ink Spaghetti with Crabmeat

Serves 6

1 lemon
6 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
500g (just over 1 lb) squid ink spaghetti, dry or fresh
1 lb lump crabmeat, picked over for shells
1/2 cup white wine (recommended: pinot grigio)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel 1/4 of the lemon and julienne (or thinly slice) the peel. Set aside as a garnish. Then juice the entire lemon and save until needed.

Put the garlic cloves in a very small saucepan and just cover with extra-virgin olive oil. Heat over medium-low to low heat until the garlic is slightly golden and completely tender. Remove the garlic from the oil and smash with a fork. Reserve the oil.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt the water and add the spaghetti. Cook until al dente. Reserve some of the starchy cooking water and then strain the pasta.

Meanwhile, coat the bottom of a large sauté pan with the reserved garlic oil (reserve extra for another use) and heat over medium heat. Add the mashed garlic confit, crabmeat, lemon juice, and white wine. Season generously with sea salt and pepper. Stir gently, as to not break up the crabmeat too much. Cook until the crab is heated through and the flavors are absorbed. Gently toss the crab sauce with the strained spaghetti. Add some starchy cooking water if needed to help nicely coat the pasta. Serve immediately, garnished with julienned lemon zest.

For more please check out Mission: Food.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Enchanted Cook's Beer Chili Spaghetti

Today I am very happy to turn over the LC floor to The Enchanted Cook.  If you are not familiar with this wonderful blog please check it out.  It is packed with great food, writing, and amazing photography.  Everything we love about good blogs.


Guest Post Spotlight

I am honored to be guest posting on Lazaro Cooks today! I always enjoy Laz’s elegant and creative dishes and also admire him for his mission to eat sustainably, organically and seasonally. I do my best to do the same.

When I began blogging (not all that long ago), Laz was one of the first to take notice and he often left positive and supportive comments. Cooking and blogging are such a joy and when your work is recognized, especially by someone as talented as Laz, it means the world. Laz is so wonderful to promote other bloggers on his site via his guest post series and I am very appreciative to have been invited to take part.

So a little about me...I’m an eclectic eater. I like a wide variety of foods and cuisines and I like to cook whatever strikes my mood at the moment. It’s usually inspired by where I am and what ingredients are available to me but it can also be because a random craving hits. One of the great things about being able to cook is that you can go in the kitchen and whip up whatever your tummy fancies. I love that.

I live in Southern California most of the time and travel quite a bit with my work as a marketing professional in the high tech industry. Currently, I’m on an extended stay in Texas (where I grew up) and with the cold weather upon us, I naturally began to crave chili. One of my favorite dishes I’ve made over the years is called “Beer Chili Spaghetti”. If that doesn’t sound like a down home Texas dish, I don’t know what does.

I use whole wheat spaghetti and top it with a chili-inspired meat sauce, then garnish with extra sharp cheddar cheese and diced red onion. The combination is flavor-packed and delicious. It’s spicy in a Texas chili kind of a way but it’s smooth like a meat sauce should be. A plate of this on a cold winter day is sure to warm you up.

The Enchanted Cook’s Beer Chili Spaghetti

Beer Chili Spaghetti
(by The Enchanted Cook)

Serves 4-6

1 16-ounce package whole wheat spaghetti
2 pounds lean ground beef (I use natural grass fed beef)
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 teaspoons paprika
1 1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper (a little less if you like no heat)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground oregano (the kind that is finely ground like a powder)
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 cup chili powder
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 12-ounce beer (I used a dark regional beer from Shiner, Texas but your favorite beer works just as well)

diced red onion
shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
chopped fresh parsley if desired

In a large pot over medium heat add the olive oil and then brown the ground beef breaking it up and crumbling as you go. If you’re not using lean ground beef, skip adding the olive oil. While the beef is browning, cook the spaghetti noodles in heavily salted water and according to package directions.

The beef should look something like this when done:

Cooked Ground Beef

Next add the rest of the ingredients. The beer will fizz for a few seconds then reside.

Stir well, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

Meanwhile, drain the spaghetti and toss with a small amount of olive oil to keep moist.

When ready to serve, top spaghetti with meat sauce then cheddar cheese and red onion. It’s delicious y’all!

The Enchanted Cook’s Beer Chili Spaghetti

Cheesy and good!

Happy Holidays!

For more, please check out The Enchanted Cook.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Textures of Parsnips

Collaboration - The act or process of collaborating. A product resulting of collaboration.

Nothing gets my creative juices flowing more than working with a talented person. So it goes without saying that any day that I can work with Natasha from 5 Star Foodie is a great day.

For this month's collaboration we decided to build dishes around the color white.  There is something truly elegant about an all white dish.  Each component of the dish was to be white or mostly white.  This dish is a study in parsnips offering different preparation and textures.

Check out Lazaro's White Dish on 5 Star Foodie.

Enjoy another 5 Star Foodie Masterpiece...

My friend Lazaro is always full of wonderful ideas and inspiration to create amazing new dishes. When he suggested the idea for a project with a white color theme, I was definitely very excited to work with him on this concept. After a lot of thinking, for my dish I decided to focus on one single ingredient, parsnips.

Parsnip is a root vegetable of European origin similar to a carrot but pale white in color and sweeter in taste when cooked. Parsnips are often overlooked in favor of other root vegetables especially since the potatoes have been introduced from America to the rest of the world. They are most often used in soups, stews, or side dishes along with other root vegetables. In my dish, however, the parsnip is a star. I prepared the parsnips in various ways to explore different textures and flavors of this vegetable.

The centerpiece is the parsnip custard, with a delicate, smooth, pudding-like texture and a naturally sweet flavor of the parsnip. The surrounding parsnip velouté is perfectly silky and creamy, and white pepper is the unique flavor enhancement in this component. The dehydrated parsnips chips provide a lovely crunchy contrast to the smooth textures of the velouté and add a bit of saltiness to the overall flavor profile.

The goat cheese parsnip snow is perhaps the most playful component here. The frozen flakes don't actually melt right away, and in addition of adding a unique textural effect of "snow", they also provide an interesting contrast in temperature and add a perfect touch of acidity to the dish. This goat cheese "snow" can be used as a unique garnish for many other dishes, with or without parsnip powder addition.


chips & powder
1 large parsnip
Coarse salt

Goat cheese parsnip "snow"
2 oz creamy goat cheese
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons parsnips powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Parsnip Velouté
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups parsnips, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
Salt, white pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cream

Parsnip custard
2 large parsnips, cubed
Vegetable stock
Salt to taste
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
Pinch of grated nutmeg

chips & powder
Peel and thinly slice the parsnip, using a very sharp knife or a mandoline. Bring water to boil in a pot. Drop the parsnip slices in and boil for about 1 minute. Blanch in ice water for two minutes. Pat dry well and arrange on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Dehydrate in the oven on 200°F for about 2 hours or until crispy.

Reserve enough chips for plating and grind the rest into fine powder.

Goat cheese parsnip "snow"
In a bowl, combine goat cheese, white balsamic vinegar, parsnips powder, and salt. Whisk until very smooth. Form into a log in a plastic wrap, close tightly and freeze for at least two hours, until frozen solid.

Parsnip Velouté
Melt butter in a large pot. Add parsnips and onions and cook for a few minutes. Add stock and bring to boil. Season with salt and white pepper.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet and add flour, stirring continuously. Place the mixture in the pot with the parsnips and mix to blend. Cover and cook on medium-low heat until the parsnips are very tender. Blend with an immersion blender and strain through a fine sieve back into the pot. Whisk in the cream. Warm up before serving and blend with an immersion blender again.

Parsnip custard
Place parsnips in a pot, pour enough stock to cover the parsnips. Bring to boil, season with salt, and simmer until parsnips are tender. Puree the parsnips in a food processor with just a little bit of liquid, adding more if necessary. Strain the puree.

Add 1/2 cup of the parsnips puree into a bowl along with milk, egg yolks, and a pinch of nutmeg. Whisk into a smooth mixture. Pour into well oiled ramekins (should be enough for about four to six 1/4 cup size ramekins). Place the ramekins in a baking dish and fill with water half-way up. Place baking pan with ramekins on middle rack in oven. Bake on 350° until custards are set, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the cups to a rack to cool completely, uncovered.

to assemble
Carefully invert the custards on each plate. Pour velouté around the custard. Arrange the parsnips chips over the custard and the velouté. At the last minute, the frozen goat cheese and shred it all over each plate.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Few Words of Encouragement

I am not a psychiatrist but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.   Not funny?!   Oh well.

More than a few of my blogger buddies are going through the "blogging blues" right about now.  If blogging is getting you down, do not despair, it happens to all of us.  It is paramount to remember why you started blogging in the first place.

When I started blogging, I really had no idea what it would entail.  As you blog along you encounter some fantastic things like meeting other talented people that share your love of food.  You also encounter some not so amazing things like the world famous, comment game.  But ultimately I do not blog for comments or anything else other than my love of cooking, food, and writing.  LC will always be here because I love to cook and talk about food.

That is the most important thing I could pass along, figure out why you started blogging and get back to it.  Forget about the noise and cook your food.  Another thing you can try is something that I have found incredibly gratifying which is collaborating with other talented foodies to do joint projects.  I actually have another one posting tomorrow with the one-and-only Natasha from 5 Star Foodie.

Whatever you do, never let the little things get you down and keep doing what you do.  Cook your food, take your photos, and share.  That is why we blog.

Wishing you all a fantastic Holiday Season!

That's it for now...till we exchange a few words again...Peace!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Very Cuban Dinner

Thanks to all our foodie friends that supported Denise and I on our Quickies Noodle Challenge.  We got some fun and creative noodle dishes.  Please hop on over to Quickies on the Dinner Table for the complete round-up.

Quickies Noodle Challenge Round-up

Please check out Denise Fletcher's fantastic cookbook Quickies: Morning, Noon, & Night.

This is a plate of food that Laz grew up eating.  Did I just go third person on you?  Yup.

Although, I was born in Miami, Florida USA, I am always dismayed when someone does not know what Miami is.  C'mon man, the 305?!  Forget it.  My entire family was born in Cuba.  Hence, I am very Cuban.  When I got to kindergarten, way way back in the day, I only spoke Spanish, had to learn "The English" in school.  So I was feeling a bit nostalgic today.  Please bear with me as I wax poetic about my childhood memories. chance.

Of course, my version is about as traditional as, well, I am.  Anyone who's read this blog for more than a minute knows that I am not a traditional kind of dude.

I grew up eating this crap. Still to this day one of my favorite meals.

For all my Anglo and non-Spanish speakers I will try to expose you to some Spanish words - might as well learn something huh?  This dish has many Cuban and Caribbean components so I will explain...

Tostones are fried mashed green unripe plantains.  Normally a side kick, today they form the base of this course.  For a complete methodology of making tostones click here.

Arroz con Frijoles Negros: White rice and black beans.  The cornerstone of my diet growing up.  Literally could eat this with any meal. Recipe.

Aguacate - Aguacate? No me jodas!  I kid you not.  Fresh from Florida, avocado.  Why avocado here, dude?!  Tastes good, cannot argue that.  Avocado, sea salt, and as my friend Jessie from The Happiness in Health recently noted "Lazaro’s signature white truffle oil."

Are you having fun yet?  I know I am!

Bistec Empanizado translates to breaded steak.  Think chicken-fried steak, Cuban-style.  The key is to marinate the sirloin for about 2 hours to make for a juicier final product.  If you marinate in acid for much longer than that, you will start to cook the exterior of the meat.  Sirloin ceviche really sucks.

Miso Mayo - Miso Mayo. My favorite condiment. It makes the world a less dark place.  About as Cuban as a corn dog.

Pure de Malanga - Malanga Puree.  Malanga is a brown, hairy tuber closely related to taro.  Found in tropical regions all over the world.  I prefer it to yuca, which most Cubans love but I am not a fan of.  Here I made a etherial puree in the same exact methodology that I make my Yukon Gold Puree.

Grand Mariner Jelly - Okay, I promise you that Moms - Mom, nor Abuela - Grandma, never ever made a Grand Mariner Jelly with any of my meals.  This is an LC thing.


Breaded Sirloin, Black Beans, Malanga Puree & Grand Mariner Jelly

For the Grand Mariner Jelly:
1 tbs water
1 tsp powdered gelatin
1/3 cup orange juice
4 drops fish sauce
1 tsp ponzu sauce
1/4 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp Grand Mariner
1 tsp Vermont maple syrup

In a microwaveable dish, combine the water and powdered gelatin. Let sit for 2 minutes. Microwave for 20 seconds.

In a glass bowl, combine the orange juice, fish sauce, ponzu sauce, soy, Grand Mariner and maple syrup. Whisk to incorporate thoroughly. Add the melted gelatin. Stir to combine. Place in desired container. Cover and fridge until set.

For a thorough tutorial on cooking white rice please phone Uncle Ben's.

That's it for now...till we exchange a few words again...Peace!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Beef Tenderloin, Chickpeas, Matsutake Mushroom Ragout, Mojo Jelly

Remember to get in our Quickies Noodle Challenge.  Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to create a fun, sexy, inventive noodle dish.  The deadline for entry is midnight December 14, 2010.

The grand prize is a fantastic cookbook Quickies: Morning, Noon, and Night written by my good friend the super talented Denise Fletcher.

Chickpeas are one of my absolute favorites. They are low in fat and most of it is polyunsaturated. Chickpeas are also high in dietary fiber and for people who are diabetic, like my little brother, a great healthy source of carbohydrates. Here they form the base of this course, cooked with onions, shallots, leeks, and red chilies.

To compliment and enhance the chickpeas, the next flavor layer is a matsutake mushroom ragout. Luckily, I received some fresh, wild, hand-foraged Matsutake Mushrooms from Marx Foods. Take this recipe and run with it, this matsutake ragout goes well with a plethora of dishes.

I’d like to offer a counterintuitive method for cooking beef tenderloin. Normally, we sear the exterior of the beef at a very high temperature and then finish cooking it in the oven at a lower temperature. Well, when we cook meat we lose “juices” or moisture. There is no getting around that. The key becomes can we minimize moisture loss? The theory behind this cooking method is to first cook the meat in a low oven for 40 minutes in order to gelatinize the juices in the meat. Then, sear it on a hot pan to caramelize the exterior and achieve the crusty exterior we love on a good steak. Now, I am no scientist, but I can report that the meat was succulent and moist.

For all my veggie loving friends I include a vegetarian version of this dish. Here, eggplant confit takes the place of the animal protein. Confit, pronounced “con-fee”, is a method of slow and low cooking submerged in fat. Traditional confit are made with rendered duck, pork, goose, or chicken fat. Our veggie version is cooked in liquid gold, high quality olive oil from Spain.

A big hug and thank you to my lovely and talented friend Tanantha from I Just Love My Apron.  On her recent European adventure, she brought me back some Piment d'Espelette. This is my favorite pepper. Grown in the Basque region of France, it has become the cornerstone pepper in Basque cooking. It packs a beautiful pepper flavor without ever burning the tongue.

Beef Tenderloin, Chickpeas, Matsutake Mushroom Ragout, Mojo Jelly

Eggplant Confit, Chickpeas, Matustake Mushroom Ragout, Mojo Jelly

For the Chickpeas:
15 oz canned chickpeas – rinsed and drained
1 red onion – sliced thin on a mandoline
1 leek (white & light green parts only) – sliced thin on a mandoline
1 shallot – minced
½ red chili – seeded & minced
1 tsp Meyer lemon juice
Sea salt & white pepper
Piment d’Espelette
Safflower oil
Unsalted butter

In a sauté pan, heat the safflower oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 tbs butter. When the butter melts and foams, add the onions and cook for 8 minutes, get some good color on them. Add the shallot, leek, and red chili cook for 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and mix well to combine. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, season with salt, piment d’espelette, and white pepper.

For the Matsutake Mushroom Ragout:
1/3 cup vegetable stock
2 tsp matsutake mushrooms - finely minced
Champagne vinegar
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp white truffle oil
sea salt & white pepper

In a small saucepan, combine the stock, matsutake mushroom, and 2 drops vinegar.  Simmer for 4 minutes.  You want the consistency of a sauce.  Swirl in the butter and truffle oil.

For the Eggplant Confit:
1 large eggplant
Sea salt
Spanish olive oil
1 shallot - small chop
2 tbs coriander seeds
1 tsp cane sugar
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs savory

Cut the eggplant into 11/2 inch thick rounds.  Season both sides of the rounds with sea salt.  Lay the rounds on a wire rack to rest before cooking.

In a saucepan, add the olive oil, shallot, coriander seeds, sugar, bay leaf, and savory.  Heat over medium-low heat to 180 F.  Add the eggplant rounds.  Cook on one side for 12 minutes.  Turn the eggplant.  Cook on second side for 12 minutes.  Try to maintain temperature between 180 and 165 F.  Remove the eggplant to wire rack to drain excess oil.

Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat.  Add the eggplant rounds and sear on one side for 1 minute.  The goal is too get a crust on the outside.  It is good to have contrasting textures within the eggplant, more interesting for the diner.

For the Beef Tenderloin:
Beef tenderloin roast
Canola oil
Sea salt
Black Pepper
Piment d’Espelette
Blended oil
Fleur de Sel

Preheat oven to 200 F.  Coat the beef tenderloin with the canola oil.  Season with piment d'espelette, sea salt, and black pepper.  Cook beef in the oven for 40 minutes.

When the meat is 10 minutes out, heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add some blended oil to the skillet.  Remove the steak from the oven.  Sear the beef tenderloin on all sides to caramelize the exterior.  Remove to a wire rack to rest for 20 minutes.

Cut into 1 1/2 inch thick steaks.  Season with fleur de sel.

For the Mojo Jelly: 
1 tbs water
1 tsp powdered gelatin
1/3 cup mojo
2 tbs orange juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbs cane sugar

Add the water to a small ramekin and sprinkle with gelatin.  Lit it sit for 2 minutes.  Put the ramekin in the microwave and cook for 20 seconds or until it starts to bubble.  Be careful it will boil quickly.

In a bowl, combine the mojo, orange juice, sugar and salt.  Add the melted gelatin, stir to combine.  Cover and fridge until set.

Note: The Mojo Jelly melts quickly.  Bring it to the table and serve last minute.  Use it as you would a finishing butter.  It is so packed with flavor.

That's it for now...till we exchange a few words again...Peace!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Traditional Christmas Treats: A Canadian Foodie Style

Remember to get in our Quickies Noodle Challenge.  Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to create a fun, sexy, inventive noodle dish.  The deadline for entry is midnight December 14, 2010.

The grand prize is a fantastic cookbook Quickies: Morning, Noon, and Night written by my good friend the super talented Denise Fletcher.

Guest Post Spotlight Thursday

This week I have the pleasure of turning over the LC floor to Valerie from A Canadian Foodie.  Valerie runs of the most engaging blogs around.  Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, she is moving Traditional Canadian Prairie Cooking forward.  Whether it is cooking sous vide or baking delicious holiday treats, there is always well executed and interesting food to offer.

Valerie always has something to say and is not afraid to say it.  I like that!  She truly is a sweet person and a supportive blogger.  Please check out A Canadian Foodie you will be glad you did.


It is December second! Time to get those traditional Christmas treats prepared for your loved ones this season! I was introduced to Lazaro through my dear blogging and local friend, LeQuan. Actually, I had spied him enjoying many of the same sites I read and enjoy regularly, so I popped over to his. This is a man serious about his food. I love that. I became a "Lazaro regular". Still, I was blown away when he asked me to do a guest post earlier in the fall. Truly. Am I his admirer, yes! Stalker, yes! But, I have just begun developing a relationship with him and look forward to many personal sharings in the future.

So, dear Lazaro, I am honoured to share some of our Christmas baking traditions with you and your readers.

These were inspired by my mom. She made shortbread every Christmas cut into more traditional rectangles. Buttery shortbread in the oven was the onset of Christmas in our house when I was a child. However, one Spring, I recall the most beautiful pink and green shortbread sandwiches on a tiered tray in the dining room. I had never seen anything so delicate and beautiful. I never thought of them again until many, many years later when I was a young mother going through mom's cupboard to borrow her rectangular cookie cutter when I came upon a round cutter and the memories of those precious dainties flooded back. She gave me the cutter which I have in my cookie cutter vault and our favourite of all favourite family traditions was born.

There were inspired by my grandmother, Maude. She had Brown-eyed Susan flowers growing wild on her property when I was a child and when she first made these cookies, I was in awe. They were much bigger and flatter and so delicious. Everything grandma made was delicious - and big! I was captured by these because they looked nothing like the flower but always reminded me of it, just the same. It wasn't until my first year of teaching school, thirty years ago, when a mom brought these cookies to a party that I remembered grandma's. I got the recipe from Brenna's mom, changed the shape, and have made them every year since.

I like having a positive and a negative plated side by side. This is the perfect counterpart to the Brown Eyed Susan and it has a very personal story, too. I was born and raised n Red Deer, Alberta, just 100 miles South of Edmonton where I live now, and returned for a retirement party of a neighbour about twenty years ago and discovered this cookie on the treat table. It looked nothing like this as it was large and flat and round with ground pecans on top, but it was chewy and delicious. I learned that Red Deer had held an official cookie contest and this was the winner. It has a surprise caramel centre which makes it extra delicious. I had to add my heritage cookie to our plate!

These evolved from my grandmother Maude's recipe. Hers were thick and gigantic and the best in the world. I decided I needed a counterpart for the shortbread sandwiches and a cookie that had a winter theme and was not so specific to just Christmas.The crystal sugar makes them sparkle and we all love them!

These are an homage to one of my favourite cities in the world: Venice. I have been there three times, and still long to go back. I love marzipan and recalling the gorgeous sweets pressed against the glass windows in all of the narrow winding streets there I did a little research to find one I could make. This was it. It was not easy at first, but it is now. One batch is enough for the season and for gift giving. Everyone loves them and the family enjoys the additions to our traditional plate as the years go by.

Firenze is my favourite city. I want to live there. Apparently, these cookies do not hail from that region, but they do in my mind. They remind me of the ones I found in the small crowded shops; they are also an homage to my future retirement home. I hope. My dear friend, Rae, found this recipe. We did cookie baking together a few Christmases and it is difficult to find a Florentine that is not so labour intensive. This one is not so easy to make, but so worth it, and so much easier than many we read about. I make two batches of these as they are sensational.

Ah, the butter tart! This is a traditional Canadian tart and my particular recipe comes from my great grandmother: Maude's mother. It has only currants in it and she changed it to add corn syrup when that came out sometime in the 1800's. I have never tasted a butter tart recipe as good as this one. The tart shell shape evolved about twenty five years ago when one of my students brought butter tarts to school that her grandmother had made looking very similar to these. I had to find the cookie cutter and I did in an antique store! I remember Grandma Maude, and her mother, and my little student, Jenny, every time I make these.

I adore these! I squiggle and giggle every time I make them. The recipe is from the Western Canadian famous Best of Bridge series. The shells are very labour intensive to make. Watch a good movie. The filling is puckery perfect. And the violet? My tribute to my travels in France: Oh, how I love thee! I grow my own violets and taught myself how to sugar them. They are not tasty, like the ones in France, but they are boo-ti-full!

These are have graced our table for the past five years and are the best rum balls I have every eaten. I never made them as I never liked them. I also used to made several different kind of truffles every year, so it was just too much to think of another round chocolate morsel. Rae's sister, Debbie, found this recipe. One batch makes enough for an army, so be prepared to gift some. They are extraordinarily moist, pack a powerful rum punch that is perfectly paired with the marzipan chunks and deep dark chocolate.

I discovered this only last year through Helene at Super Kitchen Machine. I had seen it before on The British Larder's site, but just didn't find it as appealing until I saw Helene's version of it. This is the best gift I can give at Christmas. I love everything about it! It is easy to make, delicious, and has an artisan appeal that I adore. You might even say it is somewhat nutritious with all of the good nuts and grains that go into it! Did I say it was delicious? It is! It does help to have my favourite kitchen machine (The Thermomix) to make it with, but you can make it without one, too. If you don't bake traditional sweets, this is the one treat that I would definitely encourage you to try!

The criteria for our Traditional Family Favourites is simple: each has to be spectacular in its own right to make it to the plate. In my circle of family and friends, each of these meets that criteria.

Each comes from a special place in my heart and as I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas this season, I would love to hear about your family cookie traditions! It makes me so sad that fewer and fewer of my friends carry this tradition on at all. It used to be that we could go from house to house and the pride on the face of the hostess beamed as she offered you her wares wrapped in love during the season. Far too often now, everything is purchased. It is too easy. But, is there a story to tell? Is there a connection to the past on that plate?

Please share your Traditional Christmas favourites! There is still so much to learn and explore... and more traditions to build.

Merry Christmas, everyone. The season has begun!

I found them! You can't hide them from me! (Frozen cookies DO taste good!)

For more please click on over to A Canadian Foodie.