Sicilian Christmas Fig Cookies

Photo Credit: Sicilian Girl

Our good buddy David Wronski fondly remembers the Cuccidati his friend Joe's mother used to make for the Christmas Holidays. That young charming freshie Mr. Wronski called them "Coochie Coochie" cookies. (Smiles ensued.)

Mrs. Palazzolo's fig filled cookies were shaped like crescents. A simple search will show that there are many variations on how to shape them. Go nuts.

Speaking of nuts, this most excellent recipe calls for four kinds of nuts: filberts/hazel nuts, almonds, pecans, and walnuts. And, not just figs, but two kinds of raisins, dates and oranges and tangerines, skin and all (so get organic for a Cooky Cat "A" rating).

Also, take some care rolling out the cookie dough. The recipe is for a sturdy dough, so you may want to go on the thin side to get a nice proportion of dough to filling in the final product. The Cuccidati will keep seemingly forever. Mrs. Palazollo kept hers in a clean shoe box in the closet for long after the Holidays, to be enjoyed with a nice cup of espresso (it was Neapolitan "Flip Drip" style at the Palazzolo's).

The last word on the dough issue: In other words, these little guys are a toothsome treat, so don't overdo the dough or you'll be having a big chew.

Cuccidati Recipe per Ms. Clara . . .

There are instructional videos at the end of the written recipe. It features the great Ms. Clara and her loving grand daughters explicating that definitive Cuccidati recipe. We've lifted the specifics from those demonstrations. You may want to look at the videos first. A picture is worth 1,000 words.

This recipe is big. And complex in terms of the steps and the number of ingredients. It should yield 16 dozen Cuccidati (192 pieces), cutting the pieces into lengths about 1 and 3/4 inches each. Those in the photo above are cut smaller, thus yielding 32 dozen (!).

In preparing our batch we scaled the recipe to 25%, or 1/4 the amounts listed below. That yielded 48 cookies. Keep in mind these are rich cookies; scale to suit your needs.

For 16 dozen, cut into 1 and 3/4 inch pieces; 32 dozen cut smaller.

2 lbs. Dried Figs
1/4 lb. Dark Raisins
1/4 lb. Yellow Raisins
1/4 lb. Dates
1/2 lb. Candied Fruits
1 Orange
1 Tangerine Skin

2 Cups Water + (heat to make sugar syrup)
     1/2 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup "Whisky" (Bourbon, Dark [Myer's] Rum) Optional
1T Pure Vanilla

3/4 Cup Hazel Nuts / Filberts
1/2 Cup Walnuts
1/2 Cup Almonds
1/2 Cup Pecans

Filling Assembly:

Toast nuts in oven preheated to 350° F for 10 minutes, or in thick skillet. Let cool.

Chop figs. Be sure to remove woody stem bit from each. Chop tangerine skin and whole orange. Combine with other dried fruits and cooled nuts. Mince all the solid filling ingredients in a hand or electric food grinder, small blade. Alternatively, pulse in food processor until blended, but still grainy. Add vanilla and whisky (if using an alcohol flavoring). Incorporate sugar syrup a portion at a time keeping texture firm enough to be able to mold with your hands.

Additional Options: Dried Apricots, dried Cherries, Currants.

Our bright idea was to make ropes of the finished filling mixture by spreading a line of filling on plastic wrap and rolling sushi style. Then putting these plastic wrapped rolls into the freezer to firm up for handling. Works fine. You will also see in the video below the ladies are using a cooky presser to lay out a line of filling on the rolled out dough. You can old school it like grandma and just spread the filling with your hands right onto the rolled out dough. It's all good. 

The issue is just how much filling to dough. On our test of this recipe we made the filling "ropes" each 10 inches long and a shy 1" in diameter. Since we quartered the original recipe this yielded 8 ropes, each 10" x 1".

Please understand, this is not rocket science. You can make them as long and as big in diameter as you care to. But, remember, they are very rich, so you don't want to be having too big a cookie.

Dough Ingredients:

10 Cups Flour
12 Whole Eggs
1 lb. Lard (Yes, Lard)

     Let's pause on that Lard business. We're not trying to sell you on lard. Though in certain uses it just plain tastes good. Think best pie crust ever. Of course if you abstain on dietary or ethical or religious grounds, no problem; use butter. Crisco? It's a "no-go" with us. But, if you do use the lard, do not buy that brick of bland and unhealthy hydrogenated commercial lard you find in the supermarkets. Render your own from pork fat trimmings, or go to a shop that specializes in pork products that may sell their own rendered lard. Like our reliable Polish specialty meats store. In fact, at our regular stop they have two kinds, with and without cracklings. Very Importanto: Be sure that the rendered lard you buy is not flavored (as with onions and seasonings). Plain is what you want. On the pros and cons of lard versus other fats, go look around on the Google. It's a subject all to itself.

2T Baking Powder
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Milk

Dough Preparation:

Combine dry ingredients. Incorporate the 1 lb. lard. Whisk eggs, kneed into dough. Adding milk to bring mass to a smooth soft dough. Adding flour as needed (sparingly) to make the dough manageable. After mixed, let dough rest in refrigerator.

Work with dough in portions about the size of an medium-large orange. Roll out between wax papers or plastic wrap sheets to 10+" by 20" rectangles, shy of 1/4 inch thick. Lay the first filling log near the bottom of the 10" length of the rectangle with an inch or so of the dough showing, and use the bottom sheet of wax paper/plastic sheet to roll completely around the filling log, cutting off at a place to leave enough to wrap around and slightly overlap. Gently roll with hands a bit to seal the dough at the bottom joint and keeping the round log shape. Cut diagonally into 1 and 3/4 inch lengths maximum, or half that if you like. A decorative hash cut in the middle of the longer pieces adds some interest. See video.

Bake in preheated 350° F oven on bottom rack for 10 minutes; move to top rack for an additional 5 minutes. Since we are suggesting chilling the filling, this may slow the baking. So watch your times and give it a few more minutes if necessary.


2 Cups Confectioners' Sugar
1/4 Cup Milk
Clear Vanilla or other flavoring. Optional
Multicolored sugar sprinkles/dots to finish before icing sets.

Icing Preparation:

Heat milk and whatever flavoring you may choose. Add confectioners' sugar slowly, whisking continuously to a smooth icing.

Dip cooled cookies into warm icing, sprinkle with sugar dots. Let icing set.

Ready to serve. Cuccidati keep a long time in dry cool place.

Here is the the actual assembly . . . 

Part 1 . . .

Part 2 . . .

See the entire folio of great recipe presentations at Depression Cooking with Clara. Click here for Ms. Clara.


Oxtail Ragu à la Cooky Cat Mode

We have to just say at the outset . . . what's with the price of oxtails? At six bucks per pound it's a very pricey dish. When you factor the more than 50% bone, that's getting to be the price of a pretty decent steak. But, if you love oxtails, then you must pay the piper. And, thank all those Big Apple Downtown foodies for driving the price up to the stratosphere. We hope you bouches are extremely amused. That is, until the next "must have" item is discovered. Enough.

Here is a version based on a classic Jamaican recipe. We modified it a bit to add mas sabor. That is, we flavored the cooking oil with annatto and added a sofrito.

Oxtail Ragu à la Cooky Cat Mode

3 lbs Oxtails (one oxtail will do it), trimmed of fat.

Have the butcher cut the oxtails at the joint with a knife, as shown in above photo image. You may like a smaller cut/more pieces, in which case it will be cut with a band saw, through the bone. We don't like the latter cut because there will be odd bone bits from that method. And, don't forget to scrap off the "bone dust".

— 4 T olive or other good oil
— 2T Annatto seeds (achiote)
— 1/2 Cup Sofrito*
1/2 lb Carrot, thinly sliced
1 large Onion, coarse chopped

—1 Scotch Bonnet Pepper, left whole or deseeded.  (Not the same as Habanero peppers) Be sure to handle chili carefully, muy caliente.
4 cups Water (or 3 cups water and 1 cup beef stock)
—3-4 fresh Thyme sprigs, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon ground Allspice
—2 Plum Tomatoes coarse chopped, or 2 tablespoons Tomato paste
—Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper, to taste
1 Bay leaf, crumbled

—1 large can Broad (Fava) Beans (or Lima Beans.) If using dried beans add at the start.

*Sofrito (Make 3-4 Cups)

—1 small bunch Cilantro, rough chopped. If you have the roots, use them.

— 3-4 leaves Culantro**, rough chopped (Culantro per Daisy Martinez is like Cilantro X10)
—Aji Dulce***, chopped
—White Onion, chopped
—Green Frying Peppers, chopped
—18 cloves Fresh Garlic

Process all Sofrito ingredients in a food processor until a smooth paste. Set aside extra Sofrito for other uses (soups and stews). Store in freezer in 1/2 Cup portions.

**Culantro at grocery stores catering to Hispanic tastes.

***Aji Dulce are small green chilis with a small quotient of heat. Looks like habanero, but distinctly different; not nearly as hot.


—Large Potato in chunks
—Carrot cut into large pieces
—Small whole Onions
—Chayote cut into large pieces
—Plaintain, large pieces (Green or ripe)
—Your choice other root vegetables: Yam, Sweet Potato, Yucca, see this link for other alternatives
—NOTE: Obviously, we are suggesting you add (or not) whatever elements you may want to augment this dish. 

Add optional ingredients after oxtails are tender and cook until done. 

Spinners / Flour Dumplings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix to form a stiff paste. Knead until smooth. Break off small pieces (small walnut size) and roll between hands to form tubular shapes with pointy ends, about 3-4 inches long. Add to stew after oxtails are tender along with other optional vegetables; cook in for an additional 20 minutes. The spinners will tend to thicken the sauce, so pay attention. Alternatively, a no-fail option would be to boil the spinners to doneness in salted boiling water.


Trim away the excess fat from oxtail pieces as necessary.

In a large heavy pan brown oxtail pieces, set aside.

Add 2 T annatto seeds to oil and boil over medium heat to release essence/color. Careful not to burn seeds. Remove from oil.

Saute onions until slightly browned.

Add sofrito and cook briefly.

Return oxtail pieces to pot.

Add remaining ingredients (dried beans should go in now; canned add after oxtails are tender) and water/broth.

Cover and simmer 2 hours or more until oxtails are falling off bone tender.

Add water/broth as needed. Keep it brothy to avoid sticking to bottom of pot.

Add canned beans and whatever additional vegetables and you may choose and cook until done.

Then, add hand rolled spinners and cook for an additional 20 minutes.

Serve hot with with a nice salad. And, whatever else your little darlings might like.


Best Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves Recipe

If you search the Internet you will find several recipes for Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves.
Some vegetarian, with a rice filling; or with a mixture of rice and ground beef or lamb. They also vary on rice cooking instructions, other mix-ins, and amount of filling per leaf roll up. There are some, just wrong in the instructions to fully cook the rice. You want to par boil the rice so it can cook to doneness when you poach the finished rolled up packages. People talk in terms of tablespoonful or teaspoonfuls of stuffing. The amount varies according to the size of the leaf. And, one person's teaspoon is another's tablespoon. Clearly, the map is not the territory.

Stuffed vine leaves and cabbage leaves have a wide ranging heritage. Of course, the Middle-Eastern countries. But, Mama Wronski of Polish descent would regularly please the family with her delicious meat and rice filled cabbage rolls; Gołąbki [ɡoˈwompki . . . that "ł" in Polish is pronounced as an English "w"]. Grape leaf roll ups are also a part of the Eastern European and Russian cuisines.
Here is a meatless version with an ingredients mix combined from a few recipes. The best of everything. Add ground beef or lamb and adjust the amount of rice accordingly.

Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves Recipe: Makes approximately 40 small packages

Grape Vine Leaves / Cabbage Leaves (alternative)
Unless you have your own grapes growing* you will have to buy them packaged. They come about 100 to a jar or plastic pouch and will have to be soaked briefly in very hot water to remove the brining salt.
*If you are lucky enough to have fresh vine leaves, just blanch them before using. 
The next step to get the leaves ready is to snip off the tough stems.
Cabbage leaves are also an option, just to soften them in boiling water a bit to get them to roll up around the filling without cracking. And to trim off any thick spines.

For the Filling:

One Cup Long Grain or Basmati white rice
Parboil by adding to 1 cup boiling water, adjust heat to low and let cook covered 5 minutes. Drain and let cool.
Brown rice will work, but lengthen the par boil to 10 minutes.
1/2 Cup finely chopped Onion
         Sauté chopped onions in olive oil or butter until translucent
3 T toasted Pine Nuts, toast in dry skillet tossing until nicely browned.
3 T currants (previously soaked)
½ Cup finely chopped fresh Dill
½ Cup finely chopped fresh Parsley
¼ Cup finely chopped fresh Mint
Dried herbs will do in a pinch, but use sparingly. Think 1 part dried = 4 parts fresh.
3 T Olive Oil
2 T Fresh Lemon Juice

Salt and pepper to taste
Stir carefully to combine ingredients.

Rolling the filling into the leaves: (Here's a good picture tutorial)

Place a large vine leaf on a flat surface shiny side down, ribbed side up. Large (stem) base toward you.
Place a tablespoon of the filling in the middle at the broad base. Some recipes call for only a teaspoon of filling. Adjust the amount to proportion with the leaf size. Also, to your preference for size of the finished roll up.
First fold wide part of leaf toward the center onto filling, roll, and continue to fold sides toward the center until package is finished. If you have a broken or smallish leaf, put two together.
Roll the vine leaves snug but not tight, nor loose. The poaching to finish will cause the rice to expand a bit to result in a nice firm package. Practice makes perfect.
Place flap side down in a medium pan with vine leaves lining the bottom (2-3 layers thick), arranging packages neatly and snugly, but not tight. Remember they expand. Some packages may split open in the cooking . Not a problem. They taste the same, just not as pretty as they should be.

Cooking the Vine Leaf Packages:

You will see that in your store package of vine leaves some are small and others are large. Use the large to make the roll ups. The smaller leaves can be used to thoroughly line the bottom of a medium sized pan.
Water to cover. Chicken broth instead of water is optional.
After all your roll ups are arranged in the bottom of the pot, add water just to cover and press a heat proof plate on top.
Addition 2T Fresh Lemon Juice to the poaching liquid.
Bring to boil, lower heat to simmer, poach for approximately 20-30 minutes until done and tender.

Let cool to set. Serve hot, room temperature or cold with lemon slices to garnish, mint- yogurt sauce on the side (optional).
Add to a pita pocket sandwich with chopped vegetables and dressing.

Here is an instructional video showing A to Z. The demonstration is for a meat version. All rice version, remember to par boil and roll snug (not tight) to allow for expansion of the rice. (We told you there were many versions out there.)

If you have to get all "Martha" [Stewart] about it, get a gadget . . . (It may be Turkish to you, but a picture is worth a thousand words.)


Power Water

Our übermensch editor, advisor, critic, and buddy, David D. Wronski, writes:

We like to explore foods from all the world's cuisines. As you probably know there is a demimonde of foodies who go to extraordinary lengths to find the rare, unusual, obscure, and down right outrageous. Andrew Zimmerman is well known from his Travel Channel show, "Bizarre Foods". In an absolute class of one is the peerless, peripatetic, perspicacious, punctilious, and perfectly purple Baron Ambrosia.

My kitty buddy Cooky Cat tends to go far afield culinarily, and so do I. But not quite so assiduously as the aforementioned gentlemen.

Not so long ago shopping in a grocery store catering to Island tastes, we met a very friendly Jamaican lady, Rosalee, and asked her about Cow Foot, a well known dish in the Jamaican cuisine. I am unabashed in approaching other shoppers in stores selling foods of other nations, often asking for how-to suggestions. In semi-jest I asked our Rosalee whether she might make some Cow Foot for us. And, she said, YES! Of, course. "I call you." After several months passed she finally called. Apparently she had mislaid my telephone number, but she found it and was true to her word. Cow Foot with butter beans and spinners (hand rolled thin wheat flour dumplings). Delicioso.

We got along nicely at that dinner and were invited back again for something else, whatever we liked. Our next selection was braised oxtails, also served with spinners. Also, delicioso. At that recent get together we were treated to Stone's Ginger Wine. A fortified wine sweet from macerated raisins with a good ginger kick.

Rosalee's husband George was also there at each of our dinners. He's been a career chef at a resort hotel in Jamaica. He is expert in the island's culinary repertoire, from preparation to foraging.

In our conversation about food, and the foods of Jamaica, George trotted out something we hadn't heard about before. Power Water.

Power water is also called Mannish Soup or Goat Head soup. It's called Power Water because it give you the power, mon. A reputation as an aphrodisiac. Front end lifter, if you know the term. It put "the bark in the bite". "Make your daughter walk and talk."

That's right, it's made with the head of a goat; the male ram goat head is best, more strength. Also, throw in the feet and the stomach.

My research turned up the fact that Power Water is a traditional soup served at large gatherings. It is usually cooked outdoors in large quantities over a wood fire. It has healthful and strengthening properties. Jamaicans have a big reputation for their understanding of the healthful properties of foods. Also, plain talk. It good for you, mon. Ladies give it their men to make them more "mannish". So fellas, if the "little lady" is cooking up some Power Water for you tonight, take it as a hint; you can be sure you'll be getting lucky later.

Here is a good recipe for Power Water.

Power Water Recipe:

2 lbs cut up goat's head (male is better), feet, and stomach
1 1/2 gallons of water
6 green bananas, sliced (skin on or off)
1/2 lb coco*, cubed
1/2 lb tropical yam** cubed
1/2 lb carrot cubed
1/2 lb cho cho (Chayote) cubed
1/2 lb Irish potato cubed
1/4 lb scallion cut into pieces
1 medium sized scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic
2-3 sprigs thyme
12 Pimento berries (Allspice)
Salt to taste
1/2 lb flour for spinners / dumpling

* Coco, aka Taro Root 
** Tropical Yam, Mapuey

We're already planning our next visit with Rosalee and George. The menu plan is Ackee and Saltfish (Bacalao / Salt Cod), Jamaica's national breakfast dish. Maybe with some Coat of Arms on the side, THE national dish. The latter is a recipe centered on rice and beans (peas). Here's a good source for the basics of Jamaican ingredients.

We'll keep you posted.

 Interesting, the Rolling Stones produced their 1973 album Goat's Head Soup in Jamaica.

"Angie" is a featured song. It's there below to play.

But first, there's the excellent Pluto Shervington and his "Ram Goat Liver".