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Nobody is a perfect cook, and nobody has a perfect kitchen. Come hang out with me as I cook, experiment, and make mistakes.

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Buttered bourbon florentines with diplomat cream

Three tube-shaped florentines stacked together like firewood on a white plate

These buttered bourbon florentines were the result of a series of questionable decisions on my part. 

Should I maybe have tried hot buttered bourbon before making cookies based on that flavor profile? Probably yes. Might I have thought about the consequences of putting a cream filling in a shatteringly crisp cookie? Probably yes. Should I maybe have considered that this “cookie” might be straddling the very thin line between cookie and actual dessert? Also probably yes. Did I do any of those things? 

No. 

Jessi uses a piping bag to fill a tube-shaped buttered rum florentine with diplomat cream

Fortunately, these cookies came out extremely well – despite my best efforts. 

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Apple cider cookies

Five stacked apple cider cookies on a white plate. There are two more cookies in front of the stack. One is lying flat on the plate, the other, which has a bite out of it, is leaning on top of it.

I wish I could say that these apple cider cookies were inspired by childhood trips to orchards and memories of parents or grandparents simmering a pot on the back of the stove at holidays – but the truth is a lot less glamorous. 

My family goes to a tree farm every year to pick and cut our tree, and once we’ve dragged it back to the car and dad has strapped it into the bed of the pickup, we huddle up around the tailgate, sipping hot cider and eating boiled peanuts from the farmstand out of styrofoam cups until we can’t feel our fingers anymore.

Jessi spoons apple butter onto the bottom half of an apple cider cookie. You can see the container of apple butter in the background, alongside a small sheet pan with unfilled cookie tops and bottoms

The cider, by the way, is almost certainly powdered, but we’re usually so cold by that point that it doesn’t really matter. 

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Eggnog thumbprint cookies

Three eggnog cookies sprinkled with nutmeg on a white plate. Holiday lights and poinsettia are visible in the background

There was no way I was going to make it through a holiday-drinks-inspired Cookie Week without at least trying to tackle eggnog – and I think these eggnog thumbprint cookies knocked it out of the park. 

For as long as I can remember, every year at Christmas Mr. Chestnut would give my grandmother and grandfather a quart jar (or two) of his infamous eggnog – and they always brought it out for the family Christmas Eve celebration. It’s heady, powerful stuff – creamy, rich, and the kind of boozy that you don’t taste until you’ve swallowed and your whole chest warms – and I look forward to that jar coming out every single year. Not necessarily for the eggnog itself (though it is undeniably excellent) but for the memories that are tied so closely to it. 

So I just knew it needed to be a cookie. The problem is that I had no idea what cookie it needed to be. 

Jessi pipes eggnog filling into empty thumbprint cookies. All the cookies sitting on the wire rack are filled but one. There is a poinsettia and some greenery visible in the background.

I played with this idea off and on in my head for nearly a month, choosing and discarding ideas over and over again. I knew that it had to have a filling – no cookie on its own could ever capture the eggy creaminess this one needed – but I didn’t know what that would look like. A pastry cream in a sandwich cookie? A rolled tuile with buttercream? A spice cookie with a custard center? 

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Ginger molasses cookies with rum glaze

A stack of cookies on top of a piece of crinkled brown paper. One of the cookies has been broken in half and is leaning on the stack. The whole scene is surrounded by greenery.

These ginger molasses cookies are delicious – I had one for breakfast this morning, and for snack yesterday, and for dessert the night before…I think you’re getting the picture here. 

But I have to admit these cookies aren’t quite what I intended. 

Rum glaze drizzles from a whisk onto a cookie which is sitting on a glazing rack - the whole rack is full of unglazed cookies. The glaze has splashed onto the cookie next door

They were supposed to be Dark and Stormy cookies – sparkling heat from candied ginger and rich sweetness from molasses and spice, balanced by the tingly brightness of lime zest and punch of rum in the glaze. 

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Hot chocolate cookies

A pile of hot chocolate cookies on a white plate. You can see a cooling rack with more cookies and a string of holiday lights in the background

These hot chocolate cookies are the direct result of my inability to leave well enough alone. 

You remember the chocolate crinkle cookies from Cookie Week last year? The ones I said were perfect as-is, and more or less promised not to mess with?

Yeah…that lasted.

I wanted to make a cookie inspired by all the best parts of hot chocolate, and in my defense, that recipe is the perfect place to start. It’s richly chocolatey, has the sort of dissolving texture I always associate with drinks, AND it all comes together in one bowl. I couldn’t resist.

Six cookies on a cooling rack. The one in the upper right has had two bites taken out of it.

All I had to do was figure out how to make the cookies a little more like hot chocolate, and a little less like being punched in the face by a lava cake. 

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10 easy last-minute Christmas gift recipes

With all the hand-wringing about the much-vaunted supply chain issues, I think it’s fair to say that if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping by this point you might be feeling the first twinges of panic. 

Or maybe that’s just me projecting. 

Either way, I know I feel better when I have a few ideas in my back pocket if the drop-dead shipping deadline sails past and I still have a few people to check off my list. 

Aged Eggnog – Alton Brown

Image from AltonBrown.com

This is as close as I’ve ever come to replicating the infamous eggnog Mr. Chestnut brings to my grandmother’s Christmas celebration every year. It’s smooth and rich and deceptively potent – and it comes together in ten minutes, makes three quarts, and keeps absolutely forever. The recipe says you can age it for up to a year, but I’ve never been that brave. 

This recipe calls for raw egg yolks. In theory, it contains enough alcohol to kill off any bacteria that might be lurking therein (and with modern egg processing, your chances of getting salmonella from undercooked eggs are about 1 in 20,000), but if you’re gifting to someone older or immunocompromised I would recommend playing it safe and using pasteurized egg yolks, or pasteurizing your own eggs at home

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Turkey pot pie

A 3/4 view into a cast iron pan of turkey pot pie topped with nine biscuits. A wooden spoon has been stuck into the back of the pot, as if it had just been carried to the table for serving.

The first time I made this turkey pot pie was the second time I’d spent a holiday with my now-husband’s family. I’d driven up the day after Thanksgiving to spend the rest of the weekend with everyone in Asheville, and, given that I’d missed out on all the cooking from the day before, I volunteered to throw something together out of the leftovers. Pot pie seemed the obvious choice. 

We had all the right ingredients – leftover turkey and stock, the tail ends of the carrots, celery, and onions, a few handfuls of mushrooms, and the bag of long-forgotten frozen peas that everyone has stashed in the freezer, just in case. 

An overhead view of all the ingredients needed to make turkey pot pie. There is a bunch of celery, a cardboard container of sliced mushrooms, a small bowl of diced carrots, a small bowl of diced onions, a small bowl of diced celery, a head of garlic, a bowl of shredded turkey, half a stick of butter, and a bunch of thyme

I started by throwing together a batch of biscuit dough – at this point I no longer remember which one, since my biscuit allegiances shift pretty rapidly. I probably made whatever was my favorite at the time and chucked it in the fridge while I put everything else together. Whatever biscuit you choose will be fine (yes, even frozen or refrigerated) – they aren’t the star of the show here, especially since they soak up the stew as they bake. Just please don’t use pie crust – I know it’s traditional, but the ratio of pastry to pot-pie filling is all wrong. 

Now, to the filling. 

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Apple spice layer cake

A slice of cake stands on a plate next to a fork. You can clearly see chunks of apples bound by caramel between each layer of cake. The rest of the cake sits on a white stand in the background, with a few green apples scattered around it.

This apple spice cake is, no lie, the best cake I’ve ever made. And I’m not just saying that because I developed the recipe for my wedding cake – I’ve made it this week for the blog (and for Jackson to share with his co-workers), and I’m making it again next week for Thanksgiving dessert. 

It’s the most perfect fall dessert I can imagine – moist but not dense cake that has a pronounced, but not cloying, spice presence, punched up with cinnamon and apple scented caramel, sauteed apples, and a brown butter bourbon buttercream that I would eat straight off a spoon. 

Dry and wet ingredients are being whisked together in a large glass bowl. You can see shredded apple waiting to be added in the background.

Of course, eating it was the easy part. Figuring out how to make it was a little harder. 

Hang onto your butts. It’s going to be a long one. 

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Fall grain salad with mushrooms

A serving bowl of salad sits on a wooden cutting board with a serving spoon. There is a pile of plates and forks visible in the background.

Last year (ed. note: it was 2019), I was lucky enough to find a copy of Ilene Rosen’s Saladish at a little publisher’s overstock bookstore in Athens. I was thrilled. The book had been on my wishlist forever. And while I can’t say that it’s gone into heavy rotation – I’m too easily distracted for that – it is full of exactly the sort of food I love to cook. Simple, vegetable-forward one-bowl meals and grain salads with lots of color and texture. 

Which means, of course, that I couldn’t leave well enough alone. 

Barley with Many Mushrooms was probably the second or third recipe I tried out of the book and the first that I had an immediate desire to mess with. Let me be clear – there is absolutely nothing wrong with the recipe as written. It’s a beautifully balanced grain salad that keeps forever for lunches or make-ahead dinners…

…but the amount of dishes it produced bothered me. 

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Roasted tomato soup

A bowl of tomato soup sits on a plate with two triangles of grilled cheese. A spoon rests in the bowl of soup, as if someone stepped away briefly to grab a drink.

Sometimes a recipe comes to you fully formed and perfect – my grandmother’s pimento cheese, the tiny meatballs the church ladies bring to the potluck every fourth Sunday, or the cheese dip from Taqueria del Sol. And sometimes, as is the case with this roasted tomato soup, a recipe is the culmination of many years of tweaking and experimentation – something that is perfect right up until the next time you decide to try just one more little thing. 

I’ve always been picky about tomato soup. So many (*cough* Campbells *cough*) have a slick, slippery sweetness that reminds me of melted, slightly vegetal plastic. I need my soup to taste richly of tomato, with a thick, spoonable consistency that sits somewhere between a restaurant-style salsa and a melted milkshake. I want something you can sip from a mug but will still cling thickly to dipped bites of grilled cheese. 

Two hands break up a canned tomato over a strainer set inside a glass bowl. You can see that the seeds are being scraped out of the tomato shell.

Oh, and I want it to come together from pantry staples and canned tomatoes – because ho wants tomato soup in late summer, when fresh tomatoes are actually worth eating? 

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Hi! I’m Jessi

A culinary degree and two years of professional experience has not stopped Jessi from making stupid mistakes – she just makes them more efficiently. She habitually reads cookbooks before bed, loses track of time on Wikipedia, and yells at cooking shows like dads watching football. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Jackson, five plants, and more cookbooks than a 600 square foot studio should hold.

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