Right on cue, winter has arrived. Thanksgiving day was bitingly cold. “They can’t hold a parade in this wind!'“ I thought as I woke up Thursday morning in New York City, struggling to take a quick jog along the Hudson River before starting our drive home to the farm. But of course they did, and of course people lined up with their folding chairs and thermoses of hot chocolate and unflaggingly high spirits because it is holiday season, exclamation point, and I take great comfort in their enthusiasm.
Though throngs of tourists and giant inflatable balloons don’t exactly do it for me, other classic holiday traditions light me up inside. On every few blocks, the street corners are temporarily transformed into Christmas tree shops. Globe lights are strung up above the trussed-up trees, and beribboned wreaths hang topsy-turvy on the lampposts. I love to watch couples buying their trees, earnestly conversing over which one looks best, and waiting patiently as the shop guys bundle their chosen tree up in plastic wire.
I like picturing them at home, unfurling the tree and sending showers of pine needles onto the carpet. Thinking of them turning on Bing Crosby. Hanging the ornaments. The cheery glow of Christmas lights as they go from off to on in one glorious, bright moment.
Last night I lit a fire in the fireplace for the first time. Dinnertime feels a thousand times cozier with a fire blazing away.
With darkness falling so much earlier, I like to cook a little sooner too, favoring recipes that can be mostly prepared ahead and heated right before we sit down. Or assembled 90%, save the main protein which takes just a few minutes to cook in the case of salmon or chicken breasts or ground lamb.
Last night we had chicken caprese quinoa bowls: sliced skin-on chicken breasts (cooked until golden in olive oil with salt and pepper) over a handful of fresh baby spinach tossed with halved cherry tomatoes, torn fresh mozzarella, chopped fresh basil, and a drizzle of thick, syrupy balsamic vinegar. I cooked quinoa in chicken stock with some tomato paste; when it was ready, I took it off the heat and stirred in a few handfuls of baby spinach, grated Parmesan, and shredded mozzarella. I spooned the hot cheesy quinoa into a shallow bowl with everything else that I had prepped ahead — a nice contrast of hot and cold.
The night before was chicken shawarma salad, which is a very excellent recipe if someone in your household (hello, husband) loves greasy street food-style shawarma but also craves vegetables during the week. PEOPLE YOU CAN HAVE BOTH—WHAT A WORLD. For this one, I marinated skinless chicken breasts in olive oil, lemon juice, and a blend of paprika, coriander, cumin, and turmeric for a few hours. Then I sautéed those, let them rest, and sliced them thinly. Meanwhile, I made the salad: chopped Bibb lettuce, sliced cornichons, thinly sliced red onion (tip: soak them for about 20 minutes in cold water to get some of that raw onion taste out), sliced cucumber, and chopped fresh parsley. The dressing: olive oil, lemon juice, sumac (so good!), and honey. Toss the salad with the dressing. Top with the sliced chicken, then a quick tahini sauce—just whisk together tahini, garlic paste (minced garlic clove smashed with a knife into a paste), salt, pepper, and enough warm water to get a pourable texture.
For dessert, we’ve been having mochi ice cream balls (favorite flavors in our household are chocolate, vanilla, and mango), slices of cocoa leopard bread (more on that insane adventure soon!), and frozen Nutella-stuffed sea salt chocolate cookies.
Which brings me to the real hidden gem of all this writing today: the cookies. Instead of trying to convince you of how good they are (in case the photo doesn’t do that for me), I’ll say that when I brought some of the first batch of these my husband’s office for taste-testing, I had frozen them for easier transport. Our friend Hugh ate one and proclaimed it delicious. The next morning I get. a text saying: “the non-frozen version of these cookies are OUT.OF.CONTROL. Omg.” I responded: “What, are you hoarding them?!”. “I saved a few…haha,” came the response.
And yes, they are out of control. Gooey and chocolate-y and just as outrageous in flavor as they look.
Nutella-Stuffed Chocolate Cookies with Sea Salt
1 cup Nutella
1/2 cup (113g, 1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (106 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup (150g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (42 grams) cocoa powder (I like to use this triple cocoa blend for these)
1 tablespoon whole milk
flaky sea salt, for topping
Before baking, scoop 12 heaping teaspoons of Nutella on a parchment-lined plate or baking sheet. Place the Nutella scoops in the freeze and freeze until solid, at least 30 minutes.
While the Nutella is freezing, make the cookie dough.
Cream together the butter and sugars in a stand mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another minute or two, scraping down the bowl as you go. Line two baking trays with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl, add the sugars and the butter and beat with an electric mixer until combined. Add the vanilla and egg and beat for a minute or so until smooth.
Add the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and milk and mix until just combined.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Take the frozen Nutella balls from the freezer. Take a chunk of cookie dough (about 2 tablespoons worth) and roll it into a ball, then flatten it into a circle. Place a frozen Nutella ball in the center, and wrap the dough up and around the Nutella, making sure to fully cover it. Pinch the dough closed then roll it lightly in your hands to make it smooth. Place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat until all the Nutella is used up.
Sprinkle the cookies with flaky sea salt and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool fully. Except if you don’t…that’s okay because they are wicked good warm. And also wicked good frozen!