Cooking with Red and Green

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The combination is everywhere right now, of course, because it’s the season of Red and Green. If you’re lucky, you might score a pair of light-up Christmas earrings perfect for your daughter while playing bingo at a family Christmas party. She will love them, and the Christmas-colored camo socks, too.

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But I digress.

I like to cook with color any time of year, but especially right now. Red and green food is festive and delicious.

05-IMG_6404Have a Christmas cookie!

To the shortbread dough I wrote about here, add 3/4 cup (3.5 ounces) finely chopped pistachios and 3/4 cup (4.25 ounces) chopped dried cranberries after combining the butter, sugar, vanilla, flour, and salt. Form into two logs on waxed paper, and wrap. (Tip: slice open a couple of empty cardboard paper towel rolls and slide the wrapped logs inside before chilling to preserve their round shape.) Chill for several hours or overnight. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Sprinkle a thick layer of sparkling sugar across another sheet of waxed paper, and roll the chilled dough in the sugar to coat. Carefully slice 1/4-inch thick. (Go slowly, and give the dough a quarter turn with each cut. I found that a few of the slices broke apart if I got in a hurry.) Bake until the cookie edges turn light brown, 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your slices. Transfer cookies to racks to cool.

06-IMG_6409Shaping shortbread dough into logs before chilling.

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Add a (red and green) stuffed pasta shell recipe to your back-of-the-box repertoire. I’ve liked any recipe I’ve ever tried that came from the back of a package of Barilla jumbo pasta shells. My favorite fillings are made with ricotta cheese combined with parmesan and other tasty ingredients, with some finely chopped parsley adding that green zing.

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The best tomato sauce I’ve found – bar none – is a new product made right here in central Arkansas. Called Bonta Toscana, the sauce is available at several retail locations in Little Rock, including Hillcrest Artisan Meats. I’ve also bought it directly from the cook herself at Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. It is exceptionally good. Read more about the sauce at www.bontatoscana.com.

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Since holidays can be hectic, how about taking a night off from cooking? I did, and it was wonderful to come home to a warm fire and bottle of good wine after doing mall battle. All I added was a lovely Olli salame, some smoked Gouda cheese, buttery crackers, and a log of goat cheese coated with fig spread and rolled in more of those finely chopped pistachios. It was a fine finish to a busy day, and, yes, another riff on the red and green theme.

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Go ahead, throw a handful of quartered cherry tomatoes in that pan of fresh spinach you’re sautéing. Red looks good with green. (Rinse a 10-ounce package of fresh spinach in cold water, but do not dry beyond a vigorous shake. Drizzle some olive oil into a large skillet with sides, and place over medium heat. While the oil warms, add a few slices of garlic for flavor. Remove the garlic after it turns golden brown, and add as much of the spinach as will fit in the skillet. Stir and turn in the hot oil, adding more spinach leaves as the rest cooks down. Add the tomatoes towards the end of cooking. Keep sautéing until nearly all of the moisture has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.)

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And now, back to the to-do list. Time’s a wasting. Before I go, here’s a look at the Christmas tree at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock. The hotel is lovely anytime, but especially during the holidays. Thank you, Capital Hotel elves, for your Christmas spirit.

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