Have a Very Dorie Christmas!

A sophisticated brownie with the intense taste of almonds.

A sophisticated brownie with the intense taste of almonds.

 

Include a little Dorie Greenspan in your Christmas to ensure it’s a sweet one.

Greenspan is a baker extraordinaire who also happens to be great at savory cooking too. She can do it all, and it shows in her many cookbooks, Washington Post column, and her wonderful Everyday Dorie blog that’s followed by legions around the world.

Her newest cookbook, “Dorie’s Cookies” (Houghlin Mifflin Harcourt), of which I received a review copy, is a 518-page comprehensive cookie trove.

Cookie fans are sure to find something to love. Cookie Monsters like myself will be beside themselves trying not to make every single recipe at once.

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There are bar cookies, drop cookies, butter cookies, and even savory cocktail cookies. I’ve bookmarked so many of the recipes, including “Princeton Gingersnaps,” “Devil’s Food Wafflets with Chocolate Sauce,” and “Triscuity Bites” (yes, savory cookies made with cream cheese and crumbled Triscuits).

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Nancy Silverton’s Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies

Not your average chocolate chip cookie.

Not your average chocolate chip cookie.

 

Does the world really need another chocolate chip cookie recipe?

You bet, if it’s by Nancy Silverton.

The renowned pastry chef can do no wrong. At least in my book. Over the years, I’ve made many of her recipes, and none have ever disappointed. She’s also the co-owner of my favorite pizza joint, Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, as well as nearby sister restaurants Osteria Mozza and Chi Spacca.

“Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies” is from her newest cookbook, “Mozza At Home” (Alfred A. Knopf), of which I received a review copy. It was written with James Beard Award-winning journalist Carolynn Carreno.

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It’s a dirty little secret that most chefs don’t cook much at home. They just don’t have the time. Silverton was the same way for many years, until a trip to Italy reconnected her to the pleasures of cooking for friends, family, and even herself.

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Spice Up Your Cooking with RawSpiceBar

Masala chai made with RawSpiceBar's recipe and peppercorn chai blend.

Masala chai made with RawSpiceBar’s recipe and peppercorn chai blend.

 

Do you love cooking with new spices, but hate searching high and low for more exotic ones? Or winding up with way too many bottles of spices stuffed into your pantry?

Then, RawSpiceBar is for you.

This monthly subscription service sends three new spice blends to your door each month, complete with recipes. Each has a theme, too.

I had a chance to test drive a sample kit recently. Although it’s called a “Monthly Spice Box,” the spices actually arrive in neatly sealed packets inside a brown mailing envelope, so there’s no box involved. Instead, it’s a much more efficient use of packaging.

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The Newest Il Fornaio Opens in Santa Clara Square

A bountiful Mare Chiaro at Il Fornaio in Santa Clara.

A bountiful Mare Chiaro at Il Fornaio in Santa Clara.

 

So conditioned are we these days to thinking negatively about chains that we often dismiss them without a second thought.

But bigger doesn’t always mean mediocre or less personalized.

Case in point: Il Fornaio.

The Italian restaurant chain started in the Bay Area, but now has 23 establishments not only throughout California, but also in Colorado, Virginia, Washington and Nevada.

I admit I hadn’t dined at one in quite awhile, even if I’d always had fine experiences at them, including when I held my wedding rehearsal dinner at the San Francisco locale years ago.

So, when I was invited in to dine as a guest at the newest Il Fornaio, which opened last month in the new Santa Clara Square retail-residential complex, I knew it would be satisfying, but I honestly had forgotten just how good the food really can be.

After all, it may be a chain, but it takes the time and effort to make its own breads and pastas, which is no easy feat. And it does so exceptionally well.

Fetching a bottle of wine.

Fetching a bottle of wine.

The Santa Clara restaurant is a huge 150-seat affair housed in a 6,200-square-foot building that has the air of a modern-day Tuscan farmhouse with soaring ceilings, weighty wood posts, a wide-open dining room, an open kitchen, and stylish glass-enclosed wine storage cases that reach to the ceiling and are accessible by a library ladder.

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Starry-Eyed Over Star Anise Snickerdoodles

A simple cookie with a powerhouse of flavor.

A simple cookie with a powerhouse of flavor.

 

Think of these as your favorite snickerdoodles — only taken up a big notch.

They’re crisp on the edges, and wonderfully chewy in the center. And they boast that old-fashioned cinnamon-sugar flavor we all love. What’s more, they get an unexpected punch of star anise, which lends warm, balanced licorice, tarragon and fennel notes.

My husband said they tasted exotic. I think they taste irresistible. Especially with coffee, chai tea or hot chocolate.

“Star Anise Snickerdoodles” is a recipe from “Incredibly Decadent Desserts Over 100 divine Treats with 300 Calories or Less” (Oxmoor House, 2015), of which I received a review copy.

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The cookbook is by Cooking Light recipe developer Deb Wise. The recipes use moderate amounts of sugar and fat without sacrificing texture or flavor. Wise is a fan of whole grains, reduced fat cream cheese, fat-free Greek yogurt, and even Cool Whip.

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