Greek Christmas Cookies

A new tradition is born! While doing an internet search for kourabiedes, the Greek cookies my family eats on special occasions, I stumbled upon several recipes for melomakarona- Greek Christmas cookies. And I simply cannot figure out why we haven’t been baking them every year. They’re simply everything you want in a Christmas cookie: citrus-y, bright, sweet, nutty and warm with cinnamon and clove. You could easily make them vegan by subbing in thick, Grade-B maple syrup for honey.

You make them by throwing together the hardest, most terrible olive oil shortbread, then pouring copious amounts of spiced honey syrup over it. The little cookies eagerly drink the syrup and it gives them a soft, delicate texture.

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A few notes: I made them using what I had, so no, this recipe is not strictly traditional, but it is close. You can make them look more authentic by forming the dough into eggs instead of balls. They get better with time! The honey preserves the shortbread and I’ve read that they will last up to a month, though you’ll be hard pressed not to eat them all within a couple days.

Greek Christmas Cookies (Μελομακάρονα)
-makes about 80 small cookies

for the shortbread:
1 cup good olive oil
1 cup grapeseed oil
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup bourbon
3/4 cup raw cane sugar
zest of 2 unwaxed oranges
7 cups AP flour*
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the syrup:
1 cup honey (the runny variety)
1 cup raw cane sugar
1 1/4 cups fresh ginger tea
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick (didn’t use it, didn’t miss it)
5 whole cloves
rind of half a small lemon

For the garnish:
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
cinnamon

1. Whisk together the oils, sugar, and juice in a small bowl until well combined.
2. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Pour wet into dry and fold together until a dough forms.
3. Refrigerate your dough for at least 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350. Pinch off pieces of dough that are about a heaping Tablespoon in size- I believe each of mine weighed 22g. Roll into balls and press down gently on the top with a fork like you would if you were making peanut butter cookies.
5. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly golden all over.
6. While the cookies bake, make the syrup. Bring all the ingredients to a boil, skim off any foam, then simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Arrange cookies on a vessel with a lip. While the syrup is still warm, pour it- all of it!- evenly over the cookies.
8. Flip them over to get a good, sticky surface on the top, then put them back flat side down. Sprinkle them with the crushed walnuts and a light dusting of cinnamon. Let them sit in the syrup until it’s all soaked about (should take an hour or so).

*You may need more flour if your dough looks overly oily. Don’t panic if the oil separates out of the dough after you refrigerate it. Just gently fold it back in.

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The Essentials

So very many of you have written to me asking for a list of my kitchen essentials, I couldn’t not write a post about it. You’ve been asking about it for a while and now that I’m moving, my kitchen is down to its bare bones. I can’t really debate with myself over what is essential or not- the answers are right here in front of me! To make it a little more fun, I’ve partnered with Bob’s Red Mill for a giveaway! We’ll send one of you a box full of my 15 favorite dry goods. All you have to do to enter is DM me a screenshot on Instagram showing that you have subscribed to the Pantry Raid podcast. You can enter a second time by posting about the podcast in your stories and tagging me, @hmmessinger. The giveaway closes today at noon CST.

For the most part, you’re Noah and your kitchen is the ark. Pack in two of everything. Preserve biodiversity.

2 seeds
Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (sometimes plain, sometimes in togarashi)

2 nuts, neither salted nor roasted
Usually almonds and walnuts, sometimes peanuts or pistachios

2 beans
Black beans and canellini beans- one dried, one canned

2 salts
Kosher and flaky

2 pastas
Long and short

2 oils
A good, flavorful olive oil and a neutral oil, such as grapeseed oil

2 vinegars:
One mild, like rice wine, one strong like apple cider or red wine

2 flours:
All purpose, cornmeal, sometimes almond flour

2 raising agents:
Baking powder, baking soda

1 thickener:
Cornstarch or arrowroot powder

2 sugars:
One liquid sugar (like honey or maple syrup) and one dry sugar (like raw cane sugar or brown sugar). I also really like coconut sugar for balancing out coffee and salad dressing.

3 Whole Grains
This is my best cooking advice to date, and will be probably ever: make a pot of grains every Sunday. Cold grain salads throughout the week. are. the. bomb. They can go into soup or be reheated at the end of braising meat for an easy one pot meal. Once they’ve gone a little dry, make a fried rice type dish to bring them back to life.

Always farro and oatmeal, sometimes rice and barley. I also like keeping puffed rice cereal on hand.

10 condiments shelf items or less!
You know those shopping experts (or maybe it’s just my Mom?) who say you should have a set number of hangers so that every time you buy something new, you have to give something away? Follow that kind of logic with your condiments. I know I know, they’re so damn interesting, but work through a whole jar of one thing before you purchase the next.

for me: miso, dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, hot sauce, sesame oil, mayo, capers, olives (castelvetrano, please), pickled red onions, tahini

Other good options include: tomato paste, anchovy paste, kimchi, homemade chutney, preserved lemons, orange marmalade (put it in a stir fry, trust me)

Fridge:
buttermilk or yogurt, eggs, one melty cheese, one hard cheese, unsalted butter, wine

Freezer:
homemade chicken stock, bag of food scraps for making more stock, sourdough breadcrumbs or loaf of bread

Produce:
SHALLOTS (DUH), lemons or limes, parsley, green onions

A note on dry spices: I’m not that into them. They lose pungency before I ever get my money’s worth. I always have bay leaves, whole white peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and whole cloves (which are excellent for pickling red onions). If I need a certain spice for a dish, I go to a store with a bulk section and buy a very small amount. Pro tip: smell before buying! The aroma should slap you in the face if it’s fresh. Buy whole and grind yourself whenever possible.

Last Supper

I am writing to you from sanctuary house, a place I sometimes think I wished into existence. During the last few years, I lived in a dark little duplex that was a source of paranoia and harbor for bad memories. One day, I was at my friend Sarah Norris’ house and she asked me to write down what my house should be, as though it already was. “My house is a welcoming place of solace,” I scribbled. Three months later, my life had fallen apart and I woke up in my Chattanooga, TN rental house with the realization that it was an actual sanctuary- cathedral ceilings, a light-up cross hung where I couldn’t get it down, and mosaic alters in the kitchen and bathroom. A welcoming place of solace for me as I put the pieces back together, a place for long baths and late night reading, a place where no one could stop me from leaving my Christmas tree up in my bedroom until Valentine’s Day.

The time for us to part is quickly approaching. I am sorry to leave you, sanctuary house. I am sorry I cannot stop your next owner from ruining you with neutral colors and floors that are easy to clean. I am sorry they probably will not love your army of chipmunks, thieving rabbits, overly-friendly opossums or artistic spiders in the way I have. This year at the Thanksgiving table, I will say, I am thankful for my little house and the rest it has given me.

This will be my last meal in Sanctuary House before moving out on Saturday. As you can see from the recipe below, I stretched one pound of meat with handfuls of other things to feed four people, twice. It’s full of all the ingredients I’m trying to use up from my pantry and freezer. I’ll cook it in one 10.25” pan because Sanctuary House has a tiny oven and no dishwasher. Then I’ll move on to another place I will not stay and another, and another (that’s a fancy way of saying I’m a bit homeless in December). On January 1, I move into a place that is like a cabin dollhouse. I’ve decided to call it Little House in the Big Yard after Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book and nomadic life.

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Special thanks to my Mom, who did the prop styling for these photos because all my props are already packed away!

Meatballs and Grains

-serves 4, twice

Here are the things you absolutely need:
1 pound meat (I used lamb. Use whatever as long as it’s not too lean)
1 pound frozen spinach (you can use whatever greens you have cooked and chopped, as long as you squeeze the liquid out of them)
1/2 cup medium grind cornmeal
2T buttermilk or yogurt
1 t kosher salt
1 large egg
whole grains such as farro, barley or quinoa
chicken stock

Here are the flavorings I used, but you can sub in what you have/like:
1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta
zest of one lemon
1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts
several large pinches finely chopped rosemary

**Half these meatballs will totally fit in a 10.25” skillet, but you won’t get much farro in there with them. If you have a regular sized oven, go ahead and make half the meatballs in a 12” pan.

1. Mix everything but the meat together until it is well incorporated. Form 1.5” balls (that’s about 36g each). You’ll get between 25 and 30 meatballs, depending on your flavorings.
2. Preheat oven to 350.
3. Set aside half the meatballs, some grains and some stock for a super easy meal later. Get a skillet** nice a hot over medium high and add 2T neutral oil. Brown the remaining meatballs on the top and bottom, pressing them down so they’re a little flat.
4. Pour chicken stock in the pan until the meatballs are liiiike 80% submerged. Bring it to a simmer.
5. Cover as tightly as possible and bake. You’re going to bake them for 30 minutes total and add the grains in at a point that you will determine by their cooking needs. So for example, I used soaked farro, which should cook in 10-15 minutes- I added it to the meatballs pan 15 minutes through cooking. I don’t worry too much about measuring out the grains. If you put too many in there, you can always add some extra stock later. Just eyeball a 1:2 grains:liquid ratio.
6. Cover the pan back up and finish baking. Serve with dollops of yogurt.

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Stress Baking Cake

Remember when I said I was going to lean into the Fall baking craze real hard? Never a better time to do it than the week of an election.

Today I tested what I thought was going to be an extremely Pinteresty-in-a-bad-way kind of baked good. See, I had all these homemade candied ginger marshmallows leftover from my Native Field Trip dinner, plus jars and jars of pumpkin puree leftover from various Fall things. And my brain isn’t exactly functioning at 100% after a week of political ups and downs (you’re a fucking goose feather pillow, Marsha Blackburn) so I set out to make the most obvious thing I could think of: Gingery Pumpkin S’mores Swirl Cake. It turned out tender and toasty, chocolatey and rich, with pops of spicy ginger. Every bit good enough to be worthy of replacing a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. I’d suggest that you serve it with a dollop of boozy whipped cream- something with a little bite to cut its richness. Me, I’ll probably just eat it for breakfast like the sugar fiend Maggie Pate turned me into this year.

A couple notes: homemade marshmallows are likely to disintegrate into the cake batter. Burn the living heck out of them carefully to get that toasted campfire taste of a s’more. Or use store-bought ones alongside little pieces of candied ginger coated in flour with the chopped chocolate.

Gingery Pumpkin S’mores Swirl Cake
-serves 8

1/2 cup neutral oil
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cup raw cane sugar
1 cup homemade pumpkin puree
1/3 cup water or unsweetened ginger tea
1 3/4 cup AP flour, + 1 Tablespoon for dusting chocolate
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 of a batch Ina’s marshmallows with 1 heaping cup finely chopped candied ginger mixed in
1 3.5 ounce bar dark chocolate
2 graham crackers (optional)
9”x5” loaf pan

1. Get everything into place: cut marshmallows into pieces that are about 1/2” tall and line them up on parchment paper. Grease and lightly flour your loaf pan all the way to the top. Roughly chop dark chocolate and toss it with 1T flour until coated. Set over to broil on high.
2. Make the batter: mix the first five ingredients together until smooth. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet until no lumps remain.
3. Carefully, so so so very carefully- never taking your eyes off them- broil your marshmallows. They will catch on fire in an instant! Make sure the whole surface is very dark. Set your oven to 350.
4. While the marshmallows are still warm, swirl them into the pan with the batter and chocolate in three layers, beginning and ending with batter. Crumble graham crackers on top.
5. Bake for 60-80 minutes, or until the loaf is a beautiful shade of brown and no longer wobbles in the middle.
6. Cool for at least 25 minutes before serving.