Shakshuka

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Twelve grapes at midnight. Black eyed peas. Flutes of champagne, clinking and bubbling. The spread for New Year’s Eve is one we all know. We want drinks that sparkle and food that will bring us luck in the new year. But what about the morning after? We should be thoughtful about the first meal of the new year, too.

Nothing too ambitious. Or sweet. I don’t mean that in a resolution-sort-of way but by this point you don’t really want another cookie. You want a meal. Something savory. And on January 1? Something that doesn’t ask too much of us, please. It’s the first day of the year, we watched the ball drop not too many hours earlier, and I think I still have glitter and confetti in my hair.

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The answer is shakshuka. This quick stew of tomatoes with slivers of onion and bell pepper has North African origins, though almost all the ingredients will be familiar and are probably already in your kitchen. Once the spicy sauce is simmering, eggs are dropped into indentations made in the tomatoes and they poach in the juices. Eggs bring this dish into breakfast territory, but I’d eat this any time of day. Continue reading  continue reading

Crème Brûlée French Toast

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We’re getting pretty good at this brunch thing. I wanted to host one more before the end of the year, and it was a good excuse to get the biggest Christmas tree we could fit in our place. It’s our first! And not our last. Why was I so cheap the other years? A tall, fat tree twinkling with lights in our living room is so worth the effort.

So is this baked French toast, which doesn’t ask too much of you and can be made the day before you want to serve it. It’d be great on Christmas morning, and if you’re already preparing one baking dish it’s not much more to make two if you need to feed a crowd.

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You melt butter, sugar, and maple syrup together (sounded better to me than corn syrup) and pour it into a baking dish. Top with bread and custard and let it chill in the fridge until you’re ready for it.

A dusting of powdered sugar and raspberries makes this really pretty. The maple syrup is already baked into the dish so you don’t even need to add more. Serve it with thick-cut bacon and this is a great holiday breakfast.

We also mixed up this easy spiced sangria with citrus to go with the toast. We served it in a punch bowl, and it went over really well. Not a drop left.

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Shortbread Tart with Apricot Jam and Hazelnuts

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Maybe this weekend holds a holiday party for you. What to bring? A bottle is always welcome, and cookies are an obvious choice, but I recommend my new favorite dessert. The shortbread tart.

My abuelito used to keep a tin of Danish butter cookies on top of the fridge, and I loved to sneak a couple of cookies when we visited. That buttery crumb is irresistible. At some point, the blue tins disappeared. I think he forgot to buy them. So I forgot about shortbread for a long time, too.

Then this shortbread tart with pockets of jam and a sprinkling of chopped nuts came into my life, and in the past week I’ve made two. A third may be slated for this weekend, if that tells you anything about how easily this comes together and how irresistible it is.

Even better, this shortbread tart is infinitely adaptable. The recipe I found on Food52 called for sliced almonds, but I wanted to use hazelnuts. Try any jam you like. I bet walnuts and pecans would work well. I reduced the cooking time quite a bit; just make sure the top is golden brown and fragrant and you’ll know it’s done.

Serve with whipped cream for bonus points, but with or without it this recipe is a winner.

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Cookie Jar Gingersnaps

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In the comedown of Thanksgiving, on the cusp of crazy December, we puttered around the kitchen of the house where Danny grew up, warming up with one more cup of coffee and assembling turkey and candied ham sandwiches whenever we got hungry. That is, whenever we pulled ourselves out from under two layers of down comforter. Plus wool socks for me.

But the brisk air (14 degrees one morning!) does a lot to set the scene for the holidays. Seasons are static in Miami, much like the humidity, and a break to the Midwest for a holiday instilled the Christmas spirit in me. Cool temperatures and a little snow on the ground make it more romantic, somehow. A visit to his hometown, visiting his old haunts, makes Danny more sentimental, too. It’s the most nostalgic time of the year.

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