Cooks Corner

Apricot-chile glaze gives ham a savory sheen

Chef Annabel Langbein’s apricot-chile glaze.
Chef Annabel Langbein’s apricot-chile glaze.

If you haven’t caught New Zealand celebrity chef Annabel Langbein on PBS, you need to make time.

Langbein is kind of the Kiwi version of Martha Stewart, urging us to savor simple pleasures: “Growing, preparing and enjoying food together gives us a sense of belonging and nourishment,” she says in the introduction to her cookbook, which is beautifully illustrated and makes you want to join her foraging in the countryside.

You’ll be charmed as she urges us to live and cook simply and with care for the land. Her recipes are sensible and seasonal and don’t require obscure ingredients or fussy techniques.

This “really useful” savory apricot glaze gives ham, chicken and spare ribs a wonderful golden gloss in the oven, and will certainly be on my Christmas ham. It also makes a terrific dip for fresh vegetables, or spring rolls or pot stickers, and would make a great hostess gift packaged in a pretty jar.

Cookie culture

Last week I met up with old friends for our annual holiday cookie swap. I took my usual Key lime icebox cookies, which I’ve published many times in Cook’s Corner. (Email me if you don’t have the recipe.)

Though icebox cookies are pretty easy once you make the dough, since they slice and bake, I still spent about four hours doing all the prep, baking and clean-up. So I was super impressed when I tried the Linzer bar cookies here, which my pal boasted took her 10 minutes to prepare, and there wasn’t even a bowl to clean. I would have sworn they were from scratch.

Cream of chicken soup

I am an unabashed fan of cream of chicken soup. I love it as comfort food on gray days, but its greatest asset is as a pantry staple, to make quick casseroles, sauces and gravies. When I came across this pasta recipe from Campbell’s Soup I tried it right away. It’s quick, easy and delicious — and holiday green, so perfect for potlucks and parties.

Of course to make it more authentic you would use red onion, up the garlic and top with tons of shaved queso blanco. I’d be tempted to add aji amarillo as well for a little punch.

Whole-hog cooking

Doreen Colandres has an enticing recipe for roasting a whole pig in a box on, if that’s what’s traditional for you at Christmas.

I love lechón asado, but can’t envision dealing with a whole pig. Still, I think I’ll borrow her marinade ingredients next time I’m roasting a pork shoulder or leg.

For a 25-pound roast, she calls for a marinade made by pulsing a 12-ounce bottle of beer with a cup of extra virgin olive oil, a bunch of cilantro, a whole head of peeled garlic and a tablespoon each of annatto powder, dried oregano and dried parsley, plus salt and pepper to taste. Marinate the pork at least 1 to 2 hours and up to a day before roasting.

Tried and new

Here’s an intriguing stocking stuffer or movie-night snack: Biena snacks are chickpeas roasted with bold flavors — Sea Salt, Habanero, Barbeque, Cinnamon or Honey — and have 78 percent less fat than peanuts, are gluten-free, and contain 6 grams of protein and 24 percent of daily fiber. Find them at Target, $4 for a 5-ounce bag.

Linda Cicero: @TasteMemories. Write to Cook’s Corner at Food, Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.

Really Useful Apricot-Chile Glaze

From Annabel Langbein’s “The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures,” which airs on PBS (WPBT in Miami). The accompanying cookbook, adapted for the U.S. market, is available at Amazon.

1 pound apricots

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1-2 long red chiles, or more to taste, chopped

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

2 teaspoons soy sauce

Finely grated zest of 1 lime or lemon

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper

Remove pits from apricots and place in a large, heavy-based pot with all other ingredients. Bring to a simmer, stirring now and then, cover and cook over medium heat until fruit is very soft and pulpy (about 10 minutes). Transfer to a food processor and whiz until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 3 1/2 cups

Super-Fast Linzer Bar Cookies

Adapted from a Pillsbury recipe. You can make these with any type of jam, though raspberry is traditional. You can also swap the pecans for what you prefer — walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts.

1 (18-ounce) package refrigerated sugar cookie dough

1 to 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon or orange zest

1/2 cup seedless jam

1/4 cup chopped pecans

Let the cookie dough come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Tear about 2/3 of the dough into pieces and place in a plastic bag with the zest. Close up the bag and mash the dough up to distribute the zest. (You can add cinnamon or cardamom to the dough at the same time if you like.) When it seems pretty evenly mixed, press the dough into the bottom of the baking pan. Dump the jam on top of the dough layer and spread evenly. Crumble the reserved cookie dough on top, then sprinkle the nuts over all.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until nicely browned. Place pan on a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Cut into bars with a wet knife.

Yield: 16 cookies.

Tallarines Verdes (Peruvian-Style Pasta in Green Sauce)

Adapted from a recipe by Campbell’s Kitchen.

2 tablespoons butter

1 green onion, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

3 ounces fresh baby spinach (about 2 cups)

10 fresh basil leaves

1 (10 1/2-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup

1 1/3 cups milk

1 clove garlic, minced

8 ounces mini penne pasta or spaghetti, cooked and drained

Shaved queso blanco for serving

Heat the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook and stir for 1 minute. Add the spinach and basil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 3 minutes or until the spinach is wilted.

Stir the soup, milk and garlic in the saucepan and cook until the mixture is hot and bubbling. Transfer the spinach mixture to a blender. Cover and blend until the mixture is smooth. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium heat until the mixture is hot and bubbling.

Place the penne into a large bowl. Add the spinach mixture and toss to coat.

Yield: 8 side-dish servings