Ina Garten’s Pomegranate Gimlet

Here’s another treat that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day! ❤

This cocktail is composed of many of my favorites. I love a classic gimlet. 🙂 This pomegranate version would also be festive for the holidays or just tasty any other time of the year.

This recipe was adapted from Today.com. I modified the proportions to make individual cocktails. The volumes for 6 gimlets are also noted below.

Yield: one cocktail

  • 2 oz (4 T) gin
  • 1 1/2 oz (2 1/2 T) pomegranate juice (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 1/2 oz (2 1/2 T) freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 2/3 oz (1 1/2 T) agave nectar or simple syrup
  • lime slice and pomegranate seeds, for garnish

For a Crowd:

Yield: six cocktails

  • 1 1/2 cups gin
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (6 to 8 limes)
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup
  • 6 lime slices and pomegranate seeds, for garnish
  1. At least one hour before serving, place martini glass(es) in the freezer.
  2. Combine the gin, pomegranate juice, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice (for 1 cocktail) or large pitcher (for 6 drinks).
  3. If making multiple drinks, fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice and add the drink mixture until the shaker is three quarters full.
  4. Shake for a full 15 seconds.
  5. Pour the mixture into the frozen martini glasses and garnish with a teaspoon of pomegranate seeds, or more to taste, and a slice of lime.

Note: To make your own simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small pot and heat just until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Refrigerate until cold.

Cinnamon Star Bread

I kept seeing various versions of this pretty pull-apart star bread and had to make one for myself. 😉 It’s so pretty and deceptively simple.

There are savory versions out there, but this variation of a classic cinnamon bun was the first choice for my crowd. The recipe is from King Arthur Flour. I weighed the dry ingredients and used fine sea salt. I made the loaf a day in advance and it was still tender, moist, and delicious.

Yield: One Star Loaf, about 8 servings

For the Dough:

  • 2 cups (241g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (46g) potato flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill) or 1/2 cup (46g) dried potato flakes
  • 1/4 cup (28g) nonfat dry milk
  • 3/4 cup + 2 to 4 tablespoons (198g to 227g) lukewarm water, enough to make a soft, smooth dough
  • 4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (6g) fine sea salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup (99g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

To Make the Dough:

  1. Sift the flour, potato flour, and dry milk through a strainer; this is an important step to prevent lumps in the dough. (If you’re using instant mashed potatoes rather than potato flour you can skip this sifting step.)
  2. Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough.
  3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 60 minutes, until it’s nearly doubled in bulk. (I used a proofing oven.)

To Shape and Bake the Loaf: 

  1. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. (I used a scale.) Shape each piece into a ball, cover the balls, and allow them to rest for 15 minutes.
  2. On a lightly greased or floured work surface, roll one piece of dough into a 10″ circle.
  3. Place the circle on a piece of parchment, brush a thin coat of beaten egg on the surface, then evenly sprinkle with 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar, leaving 1/4″ of bare dough around the perimeter.
  4. Roll out a second circle the same size as the first, and place it on top of the filling-covered circle. Repeat the layering process — egg, cinnamon sugar, dough circle — leaving the top circle bare.
  5. Place a 2 1/2″ to 3″ round cutter in the center of the dough circle as a guide. With a bench knife or sharp knife, cut the circle into 16 equal strips, from the cutter to the edge, through all the layers.
  6. Using two hands, pick up two adjacent strips and twist them away from each other twice so that the top side is facing up again. Repeat with the remaining strips of dough so that you end up with eight pairs of strips.
  7. Pinch the pairs of strips together to create a star-like shape with eight points. Remove the cutter. ( Removed the cutter before joining the strips, which may have given the star an uneven appearance.)
  8. Transfer the star on the parchment to a baking sheet.
  9. Cover the star and let it rise until it becomes noticeably puffy, about 45 minutes. (I used a proofing oven.)
  10. While the star is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F, preferably on convection.
  11. Brush the star with a thin coat of the beaten egg.
  12. Bake it for 12 to 15 minutes, until it’s nicely golden with dark brown cinnamon streaks; the center should register 200°F on a digital thermometer.
  13. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
  14. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired, and serve warm or at room temperature. (It could also be served drizzled with a confectioners’ sugar glaze, if desired.)
  15. Store any leftover bread, well wrapped in plastic, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.
Note: To reheat bread for serving, place it on a baking sheet and tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Place in a preheated 350°F oven, and warm for about 15 minutes, or until it’s as hot as you like.

Apple Strudel

My Mother-in-Law makes this delicious strudel every Christmas Eve as part of the traditional Ukrainian 12-course feast. It is always a highlight of the meal for me. 🙂

I used tart apples (Granny Smith) but may use a combination of tart and other firm sweet-tart apples next time. I also used a mandoline to slice the apples. My Mother-in-Law has the magic touch… hers tastes better than mine, of course, but I did use her recipe! Yum.

Yield: One Strudel, about 8 servings

  • 2 1/2 to 3 tart and firm apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • lemon zest from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ground cinnamon, to taste
  • 2-3 T fine bread crumbs, plus more for sprinkling
  • 8 sheets of thawed phyllo dough
  • 1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • strawberry preserves

To Make the Filling:

  1. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. (I used a mandoline to slice the apples 1/8-inch thick.)
  2. Mix the sliced apples with the sugar, raisins, lemon zest, vanilla, cinnamon, and 2-3 tablespoons of bread crumbs.

To Make the Strudel:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Unroll the phyllo dough and cover with a damp towel and plastic wrap.
  3. Remove on sheet of phyllo dough and place on a piece of parchment paper.
  4. Brush the entire surface with melted butter, sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs, sprinkle with brown sugar, and dot with strawberry preserves (use very little preserves).
  5. Repeat this process for the next 7 layers of phyllo dough.
  6. After the dough is prepared, place the filling evenly on top of the dough, starting at the shorter end and leaving 1-2 inches uncovered at the opposite end.
  7. Lift the edge of the parchment paper closest to the filling to help roll the dough and form the strudel.
  8. Place the roll, seam side down, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with remaining melted butter.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Ukrainian Winter Borscht with Vushka

We missed celebrating Christmas with our extended family this year. 😦

Traditionally, my Mother-in-Law makes all of us the meatless 12-dish Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast as part of our celebration. It is a beautiful dinner, but a major undertaking. I didn’t attempt to make the complete meal, but I did make a couple of the courses for our celebration at home. 🙂

Our meal began with a (mini) shot of vodka and a bite-sized piece of challah with honey. We ate this Winter Borscht with Vushka (mushroom-onion dumplings) followed by sauerkraut and potato-cheese pierogies, which my husband purchased from a local Polish store, as our main courses. I made my Mother-in-Law’s apple strudel for dessert, post to follow.

This recipe was adapted from Tom Birchard and Natalie Danford of NYC’s East Village restaurant Veselka, via The New York Times, contributed by Julia Moskin. (I gave my husband the Veselka cookbook for Christmas!) I incorporated some of the beets, puréed, into the finished soup. I used dumplings wrappers instead of making the dough for the dumplings. I also modified the Vushka proportions and technique.

I used beets from my CSA share for the soup, made it in advance and stored it in the freezer. I made the Vushka a day in advance and stored them in the refrigerator. The recipe states that the dumplings are optional; in my house they are essential! The soup had a spicy kick which may have been from the fresh garlic, which is incorporated at the end. I enjoyed it but may consider omitting the garlic next time.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the Borscht:

  • 2 pounds beets, trimmed and scrubbed (do not peel)
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 whole allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, more to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • coarse salt
  • mushroom and onion dumplings (Vushka)
  • chopped dill, for garnish, optional
  1. Coarsely chop beets, preferably in a food processor.
  2. In a medium pot, combine beets, 4 cups water and vinegar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beets are soft, about 45 minutes. Strain and set juice aside. (Beets can be used for another purpose, like salad.)(I puréed half of the strained beets in a Vitamix and incorporated them in the finished soup.)
  3. Meanwhile, in a deep pot, combine carrot, celery, onion, stock, bay leaves and allspice; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes. Strain and discard aromatics and vegetables.
  4. Combine strained stock and beet juice and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Add sugar, garlic (if using), and black pepper. Season to taste with sugar and salt.
  6. Add half of the reserved beets, puréed, into the finished soup, as desired.
  7. Serve with dumplings and sprinkle with dill, as desired.

For the Vushka (Ukrainian Mushroom & Onion Dumplings):

Yield: 80 to 100 dumplings

For the Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, minced
  • 2 cups chopped button mushrooms
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the Dough: (I used Shanghai-style dumpling wrappers instead)

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, more as needed

To Make the Filling:

  1. Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Let soften, about 10 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid and mushrooms separately.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until golden but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add button mushrooms and cook, stirring, until mushrooms have released their liquid, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drain liquid.
  4. In a food processor, combine both kinds of mushrooms.
  5. Spoon in porcini liquid, leaving behind any silt in bottom of bowl.
  6. Pulse together until finely ground but not pasty: about 3 or 4 pulses. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

To Make the Dough: (I used dumpling wrappers and continued at Step 8)

  1. In a small bowl, combine egg yolk, oil and 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water and whisk 1 minute.
  2. Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in center. Add a third of the egg mixture and lightly mix in with fingers or a fork. Repeat 2 more times.
  3. Using hands, fold dough together until soft: if crumbly, gently work in more water; if sticky, add flour.
  4. Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead 3 minutes.
  5. Form into a ball, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate 45 minutes.
  6. Lightly flour a work surface and a pan or board for the finished dumplings. Divide dough into 3 sections.
  7. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll each section out until very thin and in a rough rectangle.
  8. Use tip of a sharp knife to cut dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. (I used a 1 1/2-inch square cookie cutter as a guide. Each dumpling wrapper yielded 2 squares. If using square dumpling wrappers, each one may be able to make 4 squares. Next time!)
  9. Cover the cut dough with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out.
  10. Drain any excess liquid from filling. Place 1/4 teaspoon filling in center of each square. (I found it helpful to pre-scoop the filling and place it on a cutting board because it dried it out slightly.)
  11. Wet the edges of the dough and fold squares in half to form triangles, sealing filling inside.
  12. Pinch the 2 opposing corners together to seal tightly, use water if necessary.
  13. Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with plastic wrap or a floured surface: do not stack.
  14. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  15. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook dumplings until they float, 2 to 4 minutes. (If cooking frozen dumplings, cook until they rise to the surface and add 2 minutes.)
  16. Drain and serve in hot borscht, about 10 per serving, or just with sour cream.

Vanilla Bean Spritz Cookies

Classic butter cookies are my husband’s absolute favorite, so I had to try this vanilla bean version. He loved them! They are dangerously easy to make too.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used the ground cinnamon option, varied the shapes, and topped the cookies with festive colored sugars prior to baking.

Because the cookies are quite fragile, the original recipe suggests making them into sandwich cookies, filled with chocolate, Nutella, or thick jam, to increase their stability for shipping. We ate them as is!

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), preferably cultured, softened
  • 1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup/55 grams light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or use 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or orange zest, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom, OR 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • 2 1/4 cups/290 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • decorative sugar, for sprinkling, optional
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the egg, vanilla and the zest, spices or almond extract (if using), and mix until well combined and smooth.
  4. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour and salt until just incorporated.
  5. Load dough into a cookie press. Following the directions that came with your cookie press (models can vary), push the dough onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch between cookies.
  6. Sprinkle cookies with decorative sugar.
  7. Bake until firm to touch and golden brown at edges, about 8 to 9 minutes, or longer (up to 17 minutes) depending upon the size of your cookie press.
  8. Transfer cookies onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Our festive 2020 “Gingerbread Mansion” (photo above). 🙂

Belgian Spice Cookies (Speculoos)

I am mildly obsessed with Biscoff cookies. They are my absolute favorite store-bought cookies (Trader Joe’s Maple Leaf Cookies are a close second…) When my friend shared this version from America’s Test Kitchen, I knew that I had to include them in my Christmas cookie assortment this year. I doubled the recipe. 😉

This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen via wskg.org.  I rolled out the dough and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. I also froze the cut dough prior to baking to help it maintain its cut shape. I weighed the flour and sugar and used freshly ground spices.

These cookies have the ultimate crispy texture. My husband thought that they had more cardamom than the store-bought version, possibly because I used freshly ground cardamom, but I thought that they were perfect. 🙂 Yum!

Yield: 32 cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) turbinado sugar (see note)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 1 large egg
  1. Separately, grind cloves and cardamom in a spice grinder.
  2. Whisk flour, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in bowl.
  3. Using pencil and ruler, draw 10 by 12-inch rectangle in center of each of 2 large sheets of parchment paper, crisscrossing lines at corners. (Use crisscrosses to help line up top and bottom sheets as dough is rolled.)
  4. Process sugar in food processor for 30 seconds (some grains will be smaller than granulated sugar; others will be larger).
  5. Add butter and process until uniform mass forms and no large pieces of butter are visible, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  6. Add egg and process until smooth and paste-like, about 10 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  7. Add flour mixture and process until no dry flour remains but mixture remains crumbly, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  8. Transfer dough to bowl and knead gently with spatula until uniform and smooth, about 10 seconds.
  9. Place 1 piece of parchment on counter with pencil side facing down (you should be able to see rectangle through paper).
  10. Place dough in center of marked rectangle and press into 6 by 9-inch rectangle. Place second sheet of parchment over dough, with pencil side facing up, so dough is in center of marked rectangle. Using pencil marks as guide, use rolling pin and bench scraper to shape dough into 10 by 12-inch rectangle of even thickness, about 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. (If the dough spreads beyond the rectangle, trim it and use the scraps to fill in the corners; then, replace the parchment and continue to roll.)
  11. Transfer dough with parchment to rimmed baking sheet.
  12. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm, at least 1 1/2 hours (or freeze for 30 minutes). (Rolled dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 5 days.)(I refrigerated it overnight.)
  13. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lowermiddle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees, preferably on convection.
  14. Line 2 rimless baking sheets with parchment. Transfer chilled dough to counter. Gently peel off top layer of parchment from dough.
  15. Using fluted pastry wheel (or sharp knife or pizza cutter) and ruler, trim off rounded edges of dough that extend over marked edges of 10 by 12-inch rectangle.
  16. Cut dough lengthwise into 8 equal strips about 1¼ inches wide. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 equal pieces about 3 inches long.
  17. Freeze cut dough until firm, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  18. Transfer cookies to prepared sheets, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart.
  19. Bake until cookies are lightly and evenly browned, 30 to 32 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.
  20. Let cookies cool completely on sheets, about 20 minutes. Cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

Note: If you can’t find Sugar in the Raw, use 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 ounces) of packed light brown sugar and skip the sugar grinding step.

* Do not use cookie molds or an embossed rolling pin for the speculoos; they will not hold decorations.*

Christmas Cookies 2020

Happy Holidays!

Although this holiday season has been very different, I was still happy to be able to share our Christmas cookies with family and friends. The assortment included our usual favorites, listed below. I added a Christmas version of our special linzer cookies, a vanilla bean version of my husband’s favorite- spritz cookies, and a new speculoos cookie.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021!

Cookies Clockwise from Top:

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