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One Big Table Hardcover – November 16, 2010
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Molly O'Neill on Christmas Cookies
People ask me which all-American dish I got the most recipes for in the decade that I traveled across the United States gathering recipes and food stories for One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking. Meatloaf? Fried chicken? Macaroni and cheese? Nope. In fact, if I gathered all the recipes for all other American icons together in a single pile, it wouldn’t be half as high as the stack of Christmas cookie recipes that I was given.
There were, of course, dozens of variations on butter cookies and cookie press cookies, dozens of secrets to the making and baking of perfect ginger bread people, candy canes, trees and wreathes. But the majority of Christmas cookie recipes are simply special cookies, cookies that take time and a certain touch, cookies whose recipe is passed from generation to generation, cookies that express all that we wish we brought to the holiday kitchen--warmth, generosity and enough white picket fence fantasy to stretch from sea-to-shining-sea.
My mother’s French almond cookies are perfect example. There is no reason NOT to make the perfectly crisp almond cookies any time of the year. But my mother who, like many Christmas cookie maniacs, began baking a different batch of cookies the day after Thanksgiving and continued until she ran of storage room in the cold attic, baked these cookies only once a year. They keep well, so were always her first batch. To her six children and 14 grandchildren and great-grandchild, the smells of these confections is as much of the season as Frankincense, pine and myrrh.
When it comes to cookies, Christmas means "special," and "family" and "eat it while you can!" --Molly O'NeillFeatured Recipe: Virginia’s French Almond Cookies (Columbus, Ohio) from Molly O'Neill’s One Big Table
Virginia O’Neill began making Christmas cookies the day after Thanksgiving and continued making a batch a day until the twentieth of December. "I’d grown up as a single child, raised by a wealthy aunt and uncle who were older and quiet. They had cooks and servants and everything was always perfect. I distinguished myself by preparing dinner on the cook’s night off and by baking cookies and pies. I started collecting Christmas cookie recipes in grade school, and even after I married into a different life—my husband was a dashing working man and I had six children—my aunt and uncle expected me to bake. I used to love doing it. Hundreds of intricate, delicate cookies. It was a way of reconciling where I’d come from and what I’d become, I guess. Always use a little less butter than is called for, that is the secret. The French Almond cookies last for a month, if you store them in a tin, with wax paper between the layers."
1/2 pound (2 sticks) lightly salted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 large eggs, well beaten
2 cups ground almonds
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup slivered almonds
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cream the butter and sugars until smooth. Stir in the honey, eggs, and ground almonds. Combine the flour and baking soda, then add to the butter mixture. Mix well.
Pinch off a piece of dough the size of a walnut (about 2 tablespoons). Roll it between your palms to form a cigar shape. Place on the baking sheet.Repeat, placing the cookies 2 inches apart. Push a slivered almond into the center of each cookie.
Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.Immediately transfer to a wire rack to cool. Let the baking sheet cool and reline with parchment before shaping and baking more cookies. Makes about 11 dozen cookies
Featured Recipe: LaVerne’s Black Raspberry Bars (Arlington, Virginia) from Molly O'Neill’s One Big Table
LaVerne Yost has always been an obsessed home cook, but since retiring, she has had more time to cook, talk about cooking, and eat other people’s cooking. She figures that she has traveled about fifty thousand miles in pursuit of fabulous food in the past decade and, sounding a little like Dorothy in Oz, she said that she has yet to find a sweet that can compete with these simple bars that her sister taught her to make "many, many years ago." They are delicious by themselves, or served warm with vanilla ice cream, Greek-style strained yogurt, whipped cream, or custard.
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
One 12-ounce jar seedless black raspberry preserves
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 9 X 13-inch baking pan.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a fork. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and add to the butter mixture. Stir in the rolled oats.
Press half the batter into the prepared pan. Spread the preserves on top. Crumble the other half of the flour-and-butter mixture over the preserves and bake for 25 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly, then cut into bars.Makes about 24 bars
From One Big Table by Molly O’Neill. Copyright © 2010 by Molly O’Neill. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. O'Neill, former New York Times Magazine food writer and author (New York Cookbook), has compiled an informative and heartwarming refutation of the demise of American home cooking. Ten years and many miles in the making, this collection celebrates the nation's culinary diversity, both ethnically and agriculturally, and offers a uniquely intimate look at what home cooking in America is truly like today. O'Neill crossed the country, interviewing home cooks and spending time in the kitchens of recent immigrants. The results are enticing recipes that intertwine family stories, personal histories, and food. From stuffed Danish pancakes in Utah to tamales in Santa Fe and Vietnamese shrimp pancakes in Mississippi, this eclectic collection showcases the best this country has to offer. O'Neill also includes old-style American fare, including black-eyed pea and mustard greens soup, corn chowder, campfire trout, and bluegrass bass with Kentucky caviar. Sidebars abound on everything from black sea bass to Johnny Appleseed, Elvis to shrimp. As engaging in the armchair as it is in the kitchen, this book is an enduring testament to our historic traditions and the new culinary forays being made by American home cooks. (Nov.) (c)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
- Despite its length, the recipes seem to have been carefully selected and tested. Sometimes with this sort of compilation cookbook it seems that at a certain point the author is tossing in recipes because the book "needs" a recipe of that type, not because the recipe itself is worthy of being there. For example a book might "need" a mac and cheese recipe, or a beef stew recipe or whatever. This book seems like one where a recipe got in only if it was great, not because it filled a "gap" in the collection.
- The recipes are great.
- The recipes are different than what I would find on Epicurious or other on-line sites.
- The recipes are different than what I usually cook, particularly in the seasonings, so I learn. For example,. there is a Persian yogurt soup called "Aush" that uses an extremely large amount of green herbs - dill, mint and cilantro I think (I am writing this off the top of my head). I mean extremely large - like 1 cup of dill and each of the other herbs! I would never ever come up with that type of proportions or that combination of seasonings if I was just improvising myself based on what I have cooked in the past and it is truly fabulous.
- It is the only cookbook I have found with an Aush recipe and I had been trying to find one ever since I had it in an Afghan restaurant years ago. Plus, as mentioned above, the recipe is amazing.
- The recipes are diverse, they come from all sorts of cuisines and cultures. Some recipes are very traditional versions of certain foods and others are clearly recipes that people have adapted and changed over the years. It really seems like a collection of real people's favorite recipes and the criteria for inclusion in the book is "is it good" regardless of the recipes "authenticity" or pedigree.
- The information about the various contributors that accompanies the recipes is interesting and gives the book depth. And it can be ignored if you are just browsing the recipes - the recipes are not "buried" on tons of text. So you can enjoy the info, or ignore it.
- It seems like a book that lots of people don't already have and have not heard about so it makes a great gift.
If I could keep only 10, or even 5, of my many cookbooks this one would make the cut. I just can't find this sort of recipes - and feel confident that each one is a very very good version of whatever it is - online or in other books. And it makes me try new seasoning combinations and proportions that I would never think of myself.
Over and above the histories of the recipes, the reason that they are valued and treasured is that they produce delicious foods. From soups to stews to souffles, there is everything in this book! The ingredients are not too obscure and the methods are clear and well laid out.
Flick through the book at random and you are guaranteed to find either something to warm your stomach or your heart.
A wonder of a book.. buy it immediately and add the recipes cherished by other generations, creeds and peoples to those of your own family.
I would recommend this book to any one whether you be an chef or a novice cook. This is great addition to any kitchen.. actually to any household as its much more than a cookbook.