Wednesday, December 24, 2008



I trust that all travellers have made it safely to their appointed destinations? I got an email from my friend, June, and they had a difficult journey down to New Orleans, with one particularly gruesome 16 1/2-hour day's drive though the--unfortunately--dry counties of Alabama last Sunday. Then again, I don't feel very sorry for her, as she's already sent me taunting pictures of an amaryllis or some such tropical flower blooming in her mother's back yard, and family members enjoying the hot tub outside, with Christmas lights twinkling behind! BOO HISS!

Meanwhile, in our neck of the woods, they say the next storm is on the way. But so far, no sign of it, and I am determined to do some more party-hopping tonight. My longsuffering friend Lee Ann, who must be sick of me by now (having just attended her Christmas party Saturday night), has very kindly invited me over to spend Christmas Eve with her family. Then after the little girls have worn themselves out opening their presents, I will head just around the corner to my friends, the Padulas, for their annual Feast of the Seven Fishes, a deliciously fabulous Italian Christmas Eve tradition. Finally, I will drag myself away from all the savory fish dishes to attend Trinity Episcopal's lovely Christmas Eve "midnight" service (it starts at 11).

Of course, I can never go anywhere empty-handed. I have one last pan of maple cinnamon rolls in the freezer to take for the Padulas. As for dinner at Lee Ann's, I am bringing a yummy snack for us to munch on while we prepare the main courses. I was browsing a thread about appetizers on Chowhound recently, and I came across a recipe for a smoky and spicy black bean dip that sounded terrific from a poster calling him/herself the Good Health Gourmet. I doubled the recipe to make it party-sized and made a few minor adjustments, because I just can't help myself. Let me tell you, it is super-easy and DELISH, and surprisingly healthy, unlike many other rich dips of the season. I plan to serve it with some lower-fat, whole-grained tortilla chips so that maybe we'll carry a wee bit less guilt--and excess weight--into the new year! ;-)

Smoky and Spicy Bean Dip
(Source: adapted from
Chowhound's Good Health Gourmet)

2 (15.5-oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
6 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro, mainly leaves (a generous cup, loosely packed)
juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt (can be low- or nonfat to make it even healthier)
1-2 chipotles in adobo (I think one big one is plenty, and I like heat--but you do what you gotta do!)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón de la vera)
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except sugar, salt, and pepper. Process until smooth. Taste for seasoning, add sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and blend again thoroughly. If you prefer a thinner dip, continue processing and add water one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with two tablespoons of chopped cilantro if desired, and serve with baked tortilla chips, homemade whole-grain pita chips (dusted with cumin, paprika and salt), and/or crudités.

*If you're not cooking for a crowd, you may wish to halve this recipe.

Ok, so we'll have a healthy bean dip, but what would a Christmas feast be without some sinful sweets? Even though hot fudge sundaes are their family's Christmas Eve tradition, I will be bringing some lovely almond cloud cookies to add to the dessert offerings. I found the recipe on King Arthur's website, and I thought it might be like the confidences that I get in Montreal and love so much. As it turns out, these are a little different, a little denser (I think the confidences have some flour and also whipped egg whites). However, the almond cloud cookies are crisp and chewy and scrumptious, especially as I took it upon myself to gild the lily by dipping their bottoms in bittersweet chocolate. (Are you jealous? Tee hee). Because they are flourless, these cookies would be great for your gluten-free friends and/or for kosher holidays. And as they are simple drop cookies, they are so quick and easy--perfect for the chaotic Christmas kitchen (ooh! nice alliteration!).

Of course, I made a few wee changes to the recipe, but mainly because the King Arthur recipe calls for ten ounces of almond paste, and I could only find eight-ounce cans around here. So I scaled it down a bit. Also, I think the cookies taste PLENTY almond-y with just the almond paste, so I swapped out some vanilla for almond extract(s). Finally, I melted bittersweet chips with a little shortening, and when the cookies had cooled, I dipped them in the melted chocolate, then chilled them until firm. I also dusted the tops with powdered sugar to make them look fancier and more festive. Beautiful and YUMMY!

Almond Cloud Cookies
(Source: adapted from
King Arthur Flour)

8 ounces almond paste
3/4 cup sugar
2 small egg whites, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
few drops lemon oil, optional (but highly recommended!)
confectioners' sugar or glazing sugar, for topping

1) Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment or Silpats) two baking sheets.
2) Blend the almond paste and sugar until the mixture forms fine crumbs; this is best done in a stand mixer.
3) Add the egg whites gradually, while mixing, to make a smooth paste.
4) Stir in the flavorings.
5) Scoop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared pans.
6) Sprinkle the cookies heavily with confectioners' sugar, then use three fingers to press an indentation into the center of each cookie. (OOPS! I just realized that I forgot to do this! And I sprinkled them with powdered sugar after baking, not before. My bad. Oh well, next time.)
7) Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, until they're brown around the edges. Remove them from the oven, and let them cool right on the pan.

*If desired, after the cookies cool, melt one half cup bittersweet chocolate chips with half a tablespoon of shortening in a double boiler over gently simmering water. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in the melted chocolate and let cool and harden on a tray lined with waxed paper.

Have a very blessed holiday with your loved ones, my dear readers!


Anonymous said...

I have been reading for some time now, but have never left a comment. I enjoy stopping by to see what lovely food you are creating. When I need some inspiration, I come here! Just wanted to let you know I enjoy your entries - Happy New Year!

Joy Bugaloo said...

Hi, Christine! THANKS so much for your kind comments. I LOVE it when readers say "hi."