Monday, December 1, 2014


The Cut

Mrs. White in the Kitchen with the Knife

 Just a tiny nick, a slice, a cut. One drop and two, a bead pearling on white porcelain, a droplet of red.

 A rush of cool water, a swirl of red, beet red, cherry red, pomegranate.

 Serrated, butcher, paring, cleaver, anyway you slice it; cut against the grain.

 Cut flowers fresh from the garden, yellow roses, pink roses, fat hydrangeas, slender tulips. Herbs freshly cut from the garden, snipped, pinched, clipped. Cut short because of rain.

Cut knife

"The problem with sharing recipes," my husband pointed out, his voice so thick with annoyance one could cut it with a knife, "is that the cuts of meat are not the same. An animal is not divided into cuts of meat in France as it is in the States. And even when the cut is the same, it isn't necessarily called the same name; the name may refer to one cut here and another there."

 He often creates the savory recipes for my blog, the stews, the sauces and the tagines, for he is a better cook than I, a cut above the rest. We are definitely not cut from the same cloth: he cooks and I bake, he ad libs with inscrutable abandon and I follow directions with a scientific scrutiny. He knows his cuts of beef, la queue, l'entrecôte, rumsteak, gîte, onglet, macreuse. Yet I, on the other hand, know my lamb, épaule, gigot, selle, aficionado, lamb lover that I am. And even as he is still better able to handle a cut of meat, be it beef or lamb, rabbit or chicken, so much better than I, neither of us could elucidate, decipher the mystery of the equivalent cut across the pond.

 I follow him around the kitchen, pen and paper in hand, scribbling down his recipe as he cuts and chops and trims and dices, as he does his chefly thing so handily, I tossing questions at him as quickly as he tosses things in a pot on the stove, which he answers, chop chop. Until I get to what cut of meat. Cut off at the pass.

 Vive le French butcher! The French butcher is notoriously knowledgeable about what he or she is selling, a veritable Larousse Gastronomique of cooking times, choice selections, etc. Have a recipe or a craving? They’ll suggest the ideal cut of meat for a particular dish you are yearning to make. Or see a particularly splendid cut in the chilled case, simply point and ask and the butcher will explain how to best prepare it, offering oven temperature and cooking time for that particular cut. No hemming and hawing, no dithering around, that butcher will cut to the chase, offering you his or her own personal recipe for that cut, a dish that will certainly cut the mustard.

cur zest

 I've cut many things in my life.

 I've cut velvet, lace and ribbon, craft and construction paper in shades of red and pink, for so many valentines, years and years of valentines yet it cut me to the heart when such care, my sentiments, those cut-out hearts were not returned. I've cut out snowflakes in white, silhouettes in black.

 I've cut yards and yards, thousands of yards, swathes of fabric during my years as a milliner. Always on the cutting edge of fashion.

 I've cut classes, oh very few but I did, cut classes (most notably the day my girlfriend and I wanted to spend a day watching soap operas). Never a cutthroat student was I.

 I've cut in line (Oh, cut it out! Don't look at me with that judgmental, withering stare. It won't cut any ice with me, for I know you have cut in line, too.)

 I've cut corners. Of course, who doesn't?

 I've cut a fine figure in my day, or I hope I have.

 I once had a pixie cut. Didn't we all?

 I've slipped a slender paper knife in between envelope and flap and cut, carefully. Billet doux. Love letter. I've slipped a slender paper knife in between the pages of a book, separating one leaf from the next. Uncut cut.

 Paper cut.

 I've cut back on sugar and fat, cookies and cake, bread and cheese. And wine. I've cut back and cut out but never for long. Cut me another slice of pizza.

 And I've cut up meat and veg into tiny mouthfuls for my little boys. I've cut up piles of fruit into salad for a little boy who ate nothing but. I've cut slices of cake and I've cut brownies into wedges for those boys. I've cut grilled cheese sandwiches on the diagonal and peanut butter sandwiches into squares. I've cut out holiday cookies for my boys, stars, menorahs, dreidls and reindeer, Santas and fir trees. Dusted liberally, festively with gaily-colored sprinkles and sugar. I've cut teeny tiny finger and toenails, I've cut their hair and not always with the best results.

 I once had a boyfriend who cut off the top of the bottle of Champagne, neck up, with a sword.

cut cookies

 I love to cut. Not chop, not dice. Cut. Long, narrow tubes of maki, knife pressing down through shimmering, pearlescent black nori, cutting through sticky rice and salmon and avocado. Long, plump cylinders of dough rolled around buttery, sugary, cinnamony filling or a jelly roll, a cake roll, a bûche de noël, an eddy of genoise or sponge and fruit or whipped cream cut into even rounds, even thicknesses. Sharp knife perfectly perpendicular to the table, to the roll, and press. Cut.

cut star

 To cut a long story short, these are the best cut out cookies ever, sweet but much less cloyingly sweet than your other butter cookies, the perfect balance of dense and tender, buttery and wonderful. The dough is so easy to handle, roll and cut out, and as long as you are careful when rolling that the dough is of even, uniform thickness, they bake up the dream. And are the perfect base for decorating. Once you try this recipe, you'll be looking forward to your holiday baking. These cut out cookies are really cut above the rest!


16 Tbs (225 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
2 large eggs
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbs Amaretto, optional
½ tsp vanilla – use 1 tsp if omitting the Amaretto
3 ½ cups (525 g) flour

 In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly after each addition just to incorporate. Beat in the salt, the Amaretto and vanilla and then about a third of the flour until smooth. Gradually beat in as much of the remaining flour as possible using the electric beater, then stir in the rest with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. If you haven’t stirred in all of the flour you can knead in the rest quite easily. Once you have a smooth, homogeneous dough, shape into a ball and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

 Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

 Working with about half the dough at a time, roll it out to a thickness of not less than 1/8-inch (no less than .3 cm), being careful that the dough is very evenly rolled out. Cut out shapes with your cookie cutters. Gently transfer to a cookie sheet (I use unlined, ungreased cookie sheets with no problem at all).

 You can easily decorate the cookies with finely chopped nuts or colored sprinkles by brushing the edges or entire surface of the cookie very lightly with egg wash and then sprinkling with the colored sugar or gently pressing onto the edges.

 Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes. They will be set and appear cooked but they will NOT brown. You’ll know they are done because they will slide right off the cookie sheet when just nudged with a spatula. The underside of the cookies will be a faint golden color. Allow to cool. You can now frost them or drizzle with melted chocolate.

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  1. Another great post! All the cutting--I had to smile. :)

    Love the star on the sprinkle Christmas tree, Ilva!

  2. Amaretto ~ what a lovely twist! Also, Jamie, you were a milliner?!

  3. I had to laugh at the cuts of meat. When I first moved to Australia I'd stand outside the butchers at the bit Queen Vic market in Melbourne. There were probably 20 of them side by side. I'd stare and stare and then move to the next one. After about 30 minutes one of them brought me a chair because if all I wanted to do was look, I should be comfortable.

    I burst into tears and said, "Nothing looks normal!!"

    All sorted but I'll never forget it. T-bone and that's about it is the same.

  4. Art in pictures and words. It doesn't get any better than this.