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holiday eating, + down time

December 6th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The space between Thanksgiving and Christmas feels so much shorter this year, like a freight train coming at us, all decorated in sparkling lights, tinsel and bows. I love Christmas a lot, and the decorations are only a part of what makes it so appealing. But we’re barely past Thanksgiving and December is already roaring in to greet us, all proclaiming the glory of the season.

It’s time to turn the focus on the real meaning of the season.

But first….. we need some good food for celebrating, don’t we??

I tend not to post a lot in the last month of the year. My job becomes so incredibly busy this month and the uptick in activity drains a lot of energy out of me, leaving little time for extra effort in the kitchen to make, photograph and write about a divine treat, or beautiful holiday option. Plus, I just don’t think anyone needs yet another food blogger spelling out Christmas cheer in concentrated posts between now and the end of December. It’s become so saturated with those, hasn’t it?

But I do have some delicious treats, side dishes and snacks from past years that I think are wonderful, and thought that I’d just share a few of them with you. Some are old (but all things old are new again, aren’t they??) and some are new; some spell Christmas loud and clear, and others are just a darn good idea, but all of them can be incorporated at some point over the next weeks in to your holiday repertoire.

May your season be cheerful and bright, however you celebrate.


The ultimate Christmas treat: Sugar Plums

If you’ve never made this classic holiday treat, this should be the year you do. They are superbly simple, with a delicious taste that only gets better as they sit, waiting for Christmas morning. They’re quite healthy, too.

Sugar Cookies. The perfect blend of butter, sugar and vanilla, and just what you need to roll out and cut with fancy cookie cutters for decoration.

 

A Nutmeg Cake that smells like Christmas:


White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies- Christmas perfection.

Swedish Holiday Fruit Bread (Fruktkaka), tasting like a long forgotten memory.

Nutella Pound Cake, anyone?? Can’t get much richer and decadent than that, can you?

Earl Grey Tea Cookies- made with the beautifully aromatic tea leaves, these taste like a gorgeous Winter day and are a great afternoon treat.

Authentic German Stollen, which I must make again this year. This recipe was glorious. (Photo is from 2008- no judging!)

Great snack option, or perfect for gift giving, Dark Chocolate Nutella Muddy Buddies:

For a very hearty appetizer, this Chili Bean & Queso Dip is spectacular:

For something completely different, try making this Middle Eastern spice and nut blend called Dukkah. (again, photo from 2008- no judging!!)

Make Christmas magic with this unique and delicious Red Rice Pulao with Roasted Vegetables as your side dish:

You can substitute your favorite hearty green in this Boursin Spinach Gratin, and still get an amazing, rich and creamy side dish:

May the magic and beauty of Christmas, and all the holidays be kept close to your heart, now and all the year through.

shortbread with cacao nibs & toffee

May 23rd, 2013 | 3 Comments »

My beloved baking mentor, my Mom, had this recipe she made a lot when we were kids called Coffee Toffee Bars. Although they did have coffee in them, there wasn’t one snippet of toffee at all. It was a shortbread type cookie, dense and rich, glazed with a thin, crackly almond glaze and we would gobble this treat up shamelessly whenever she made them.

These bars, however, are not my Mother’s Coffee Toffee Bars.

Come in to my kitchen…

white chocolate macadamia nut cookies

November 29th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving is done, the month is nearly over and December looms on the horizon. Holiday plans are in full swing, decorations are coming out of storage and right on schedule, the air turned cold and brisk. There’s not much snow yet. Only enough to change the landscape from late Fall to Winter, but enough to get everyone’s thoughts on the next big holiday activity; baking. While I do a fair amount of baking year round, during the holiday season, I make more cookies than any other time of the year.

These cookies are a classic combination; soft and luscious white chocolate with buttery, rich macadamia nuts. A terrific cookie for holiday baking, or any time of the year, really. Something about white chocolate, to me anyway, speaks of winter. Maybe it’s the resemblance to soft snow, the pristine look of it, the clean taste. Not all white chocolate is the same though; in the current edition of Saveur magazine, they did a huge taste test on white chocolates and came up with some of the best available. Thankfully, Ghiradelli white chocolate made the cut, as it’s the one that’s most readily available to me.

Every Christmas season for the past few years I’ve been blessed with a gift box from
Oh! Nuts! for baking, or just decadent snacking. Oh! Nuts! has a full selection of premium dried fruits, chocolates, candy and high quality nuts for home cooks, as well as exquisite gift baskets for everyday or special occasions. Of all their products I have tasted over the years, I’ve never had anything less than stellar quality. I’m not one to purchase macadamia nuts all that often; once in a while I indulge in a small bag for ‘mouth therapy’, as they are one of the finest nuts ever that have crossed my tongue, but their price is often prohibitive, and a gift of them is wonderful. Macadamia nuts have the highest amount of monounsaturated fats of any of the nuts or seeds that we consume, and are a good source of a long list of minerals and vitamins. But go easy on them, as that fat content doesn’t come without a price, unless you use it’s oil on your skin. And don’t ever let your pup eat them; macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs.

In these cookies, those rich nuts just shine. The buttery base aside, a crunch of the moist nut next to the vanilla-sweet bite of white chocolate is, as I already mentioned, a classic combination. Based on this recipe from Joy the Baker, the end result of this cookie is a moist and tender little mass of cookie goodness. These turned out so perfectly that I almost wanted to box up the entire batch and give them away as a means to prevent me from tip-toeing into a closet with the container and nibbling them to oblivion and a whopping belly ache. I don’t know what’s worse in terms of temptation; having a sack of macadamia nuts in the house, or these cookies.

Brown Butter White Chocolate
Macadamia Nut Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, don’t even think of using margarine, shortening or fake non-dairy butter
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8  teaspoon salt
1/2 coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a medium saucepan melt the butter, swirling and stirring the butter until nicely browned bits appear in the bottom of the pan.  This may take about 5-7 minutes.  Once the butter is browned, remove pan from heat and set aside to cool a bit while you measure out the dry ingredients and set them aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the brown sugar and slightly cooled butter.  Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes.  Add egg and beat for one minute more.  Add milk and vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.

Turn the mixer off, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the dry ingredients all at once.  With either the stand mixer on low, or by hand with a spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients until just mixed in.  Fold in the chopped nuts and white chocolate chips.

Scoop two teaspoon sized balls onto a lined baking sheet.  Bake for 9-11 minutes or until cookies are deliciously golden.  Remove from oven and let rest of the baking sheet for 3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Recipe reprinted verbatim from Joy the Baker

 

KATE’S NOTES:
The only process I changed in this was to add the white chocolate and the nuts when I added the flour. I find that folding in those extras at the end makes the dough too uneven. This spreads them out perfectly.
I did not brown the butter, as I’ve had some disasters with that process and have lost my mojo on it. I know. Sad, huh?
As it was, without that step these cookies still rocked.
As stated in the post, I used Ghirardelli white chocolate, a 4-oz bar and chopped up the entire thing, using every last shred.
I also added in way more than half a cup of chopped macadamia nuts because I’m a rebel like that.
And as if that isn’t enough, I used vanilla greek yogurt in place of the milk, mostly because I had a container of it that I didn’t want to eat. (ugh….don’t buy Dannon Light Greek yogurt. Bleah)
I think it contributed nicely to the very moist end result.

DISCLAIMER:
I was provided with the macadamia nuts free of charge as a gift.
No blog post was expected for the offering of this gift and all words and opinions in this post are solely my own. 

simply sugar cookies

November 26th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

This is one of my ‘tried and true’ recipes; the one to turn to for comfort and understanding that you know will never let you down. Not that I can’t find a million cookie recipes at the touch of my fingers, for cookies that look amazingly thick, decadent, and pillowy, with that perfect blend of crisp edges and soft interiors and I’m certain that they would be delightful and all, but there’s this thing about cookies and my taste for them; I don’t like to stretch myself all that much. I don’t need fancy in a cookie; I crave basic and and elementary. I might sub in a fancy ingredient, like good quality chocolate chunks for a bag of chocolate chips, but there’s a ceiling of cookie indulgence above me and it’s solidly in place. Give me a straightforward cookie, please.

These Sugar Cookies are perfect. They’re quietly uncomplicated, yet worthy in flavor of bringing back memories of a Sugar Cookie I loved as a child. I’ve passed this recipe on to many people and all the feedback I’ve had has been nothing short of glowing. Stellar all on their own, they accept decorative toppings in any form, making them a must for holiday cookie-making. You can scoop the dough or roll it out and use cookie cutters too. It freezes beautifully too, as do the finished cookies themselves.

 

Basic Sugar Cookies

1 c. softened butter, no substitutes (reserve one of the wrappers)
1-1/2 c. white sugar
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Heat the oven to 375° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place about 1/3 of a cup of white sugar on a small plate and set aside.

Cream butter and the 1-1/2 cups of sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly until smooth and creamy. You really can’t overmix at this point. You want a base that is smooth and creamy as it makes the end result stupendous. Stir together flour, baking soda and powder, and with mixer on low, gradually add to butter until fully incorporated and mixture is in large, somewhat dry chunks. It will not be a smooth batter, but granular, like pie crust. The dough should hold together when pressed between your fingertips. If it doesn’t, give it a few more turns with the mixer. Here’s where you don’t want to mix more than necessary. The dough will come together when it bakes.

Using a small scoop (I used a #60 sized) press dough tight into a ball and drop onto cookie sheet. With your butter wrapper, wipe the bottom of a smooth glass, then dip the glass onto the sugar you’ve set aside. Gently press down on the cookie dough, dipping the glass before each one. If any dough falls loose, lightly push the pieces into the sides of the cookie. Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from front to back, and swapping top to bottom about halfway throughAllow to cool slightly on the sheet, then remove to a cooling rack.

 

KATE’S NOTES: I find that the super fine bakers sugar elevates the texture of these cookies quite a bit. You can mix up white and wheat flour if you wish, the end result will be darker though. I have substituted 1/2 c. of honey for the white sugar and love how tender it makes them.

sugar cookie love

November 2nd, 2011 | 3 Comments »

It’s November, so that means one thing in the blogging world.

 

What’s on YOUR plate for November??

{{And you thought I meant Thanksgiving, didn’t you?}}

That’s my cute little badge for NaBloPoMo 2011, which is blog lingo for National Blog Posting Month. You post every day for a month. That’s all it is. It’s also National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, an epic adventure in which you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. If I had the month free with zero obligations, I might give that one a shot. That’s a lot of words, isn’t it?

I’ve done NaBloPoMo twice; in 2008, when I highlighted a different food holiday each day for the month of November, and again last year, in 2010 when I culled through the 4-1/2 years of archived posts on my site and re-introduced some favorites. That’s my plan this year as well. There is A LOT of good content in my archives, recipes that are perfect for this time of year that no one finds anymore, plus with Just Write Tuesdays, I’ve got more than enough content to fill 30 days in a row. Piece o’ cake.

{{by the way, my sweet husband Mike made that sweet badge for me. He’s awesome that way.
And he accepts food for payment!! Hi honey!!}}

Today is about cookies, though. Sugar Cookies to be exact. It is, hands down, my all time favorite cookie and I don’t say that lightly. There are a lot of amazing cookies out there; chewy Oatmeal Raisin, decadent Chocolate Cookies, Pumpkin cookies with thick cream cheese frosting. There are no limits to what can be scooped up and baked on a sheet pan. But a good sugar cookie is one of life’s simplest pleasures; buttery, chewy and rich with vanilla, I can tell a sugar cookie made with love over a mass-produced butter-flavored fake any day of the week. My Sugar Cookies evoke sighs of joy, and eye rolls and ‘Mmmmmm’ responses from everyone who tries them. And it’s a well honed taste too, going back to my childhood, and a beloved bakery from the golden days of neighborhood bakeries, where a sugar cookie always waited for me. If you want to read the whole story, please go <HERE>

And if you just want the recipe, here it is.

 

Sugar Cookies


1 c. softened butter, no substitutes (reserve one of the wrappers)
1-1/2 c. white sugar  (plus more for rolling)
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Heat the oven to 375° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place about 1/3 of a cup of white sugar on a small plate and set aside.

Cream butter and the 1-1/2 cups of sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly until smooth and creamy. You really can’t overmix at this point. You want a base that is smooth and creamy as it makes the end result stupendous. Stir together flour, baking soda and powder, and with mixer on low, gradually add to butter until fully incorporated and mixture is in large, somewhat dry chunks. It will not be a smooth batter, but granular, like pie crust. The dough should hold together when pressed between your fingertips. If it doesn’t, take the bowl off the mixing stand and turn the dough gently with your hands, pressing any loose flour in to the dough to incorporate. Chill the dough for 20-30 minutes before scooping. It’s a lot easier to work with that way.

Using a small scoop (I used a #60 sized) press dough tight into a ball and drop onto cookie sheet. With your butter wrapper, wipe the bottom of a smooth glass, then dip the glass onto the sugar you’ve set aside. Gently press down on the cookie dough, dipping the glass before each one. If any dough falls loose, lightly push the pieces into the sides of the cookie.

The cookies will bake up just fine if you don’t wish to flatten them; that’s just my preferred method. Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from front to back, and swapping top to bottom about halfway through. I’ve tried this with the convection feature on my oven and they browned too quickly so I don’t recommend that method.

I like to remove the cookies right way, on the parchment to a cooling rack. These are pretty sturdy once baked, and will slip off the parchment easily with a gentle nudge. You simply must eat at least a few of them warm. Of course, a glass of cold milk, or a nice cup of coffee or tea is an excellent accompaniment. The cookies will become firmer as they sit for a day or two.

 

KATE’S NOTES: I began using the super-fine baking sugar for all my baking needs and find that it makes for better creaming and a nicer crumb on the finished product. Most grocers carry it in the baking aisle, in a sturdy carton. It’s called ‘Bakers Sugar’ and it’s very, very fine grain. I used it in these cookies and they were even better than I recall.

The addition of a bit of nutmeg (about 1/2 a teaspoon) in the batter makes for wonderful flavor, or you can add ground nutmeg to the sugar used for rolling the cookies in. 

front step memories

April 16th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having these ‘front step moments’ lately, where memories are popping up from all ages of my lifetime that occurred on our front staircase. For some reason, the moving picture of my life has many frames that are wrapped around concrete and steps that led to streets, friends houses and adventures. So many of them intertwined with food too.

Who didn’t take their peanut butter sandwich outside as a child to eat on the back steps? There was your Mom, inside the house just a few feet away and your backyard in front of you, while you nibbled your lunch, sipping milk to wash the peanut butter from your tongue. Maybe the neighbor girl joined you and you shared your meal. Then you always ran off to play, leaving the remains of a sandwich, maybe a carrot stick or lone potato chip as fair game for the dog to snatch up. But only if they were quicker than your Mom.

Blessed or otherwise, I saw a lot of different front steps in my young lifetime. My first memories, ever, occurred at the top of this long flight of stairs in South Minneapolis.

(that’s not trash littering the yard; it’s petals from a huge Star Magnolia behind me)

Nearly 40 years later, I’m floored to near tears by the fact that the railing pictured is the exact same one we used to slide down as children. My spot to sit and watch my young world go by was on the top step leaning against that railing. It was there, nibbling on my lunch one afternoon that I was jumped from behind by a Black Lab. I was terrified, screaming and wildly thrashing against that surprise assault when our feisty Dachshund, Schnapps came barreling out of nowhere to fling himself at the marauder, then chased that huge dog down the street, barking frantically, nipping at it’s heels. Schnapps was my protector. And he sat on those steps a lot with me.

Then we moved, briefly, to this set of front steps.

With this playground spread out before us.

This was a fantasy world at our young feet. We knew each trail, each bank of that creek as intimately as our own yard. We caught crawfish, dug worms, watched the current and climbed trees. When tired and thirsty, we’d run into the house and rummage for cookies, sipping Kool-Aid or lemonade, resting and catching our breath before heading back outside to find more beauty, gulp down the air and run until we were worn to the bone. How simple life could be if time was only defined through cold drinks, cookies and the sound of laughter and wind in the trees.

My front steps now aren’t that wondrous, but they’re tucked back against our house and sort of hidden in their own way. I’ve always enjoyed sitting outside on them; for the most part, not many people who pass by even know I am there so I can watch and observe and speculate on the world going by without disturbance. Our current neighborhood is made for walking, so there is always a parade of people, of dogs, kids on bikes and rollerblades, young families with strollers that sift through the evening breezes, quietly chatting with each other.

I can enjoy a glass of wine on these steps, chatting with The Teen, or sitting peacefully with a cat. We’ve been known to sit on these steps while thunder groans overhead and the tree in the yard bends in the furious wind. The storm siren can be going off, barely a block away and we won’t be able to hear each other speak, but the joy of watching that storm, the shiver of experiencing nature’s blast right in front of us keeps us there until drenching rain chases us both inside. My boy and I love a good thunderstorm.

So much of my days when I was very young were a mix of fresh air, sunshine, neighborhood kids and homemade treats. There were Dreamsicles, Freeze Pops and trying to fall asleep in the summer heat. My childhood, as many others, is full of these memories, and delicious tidbits that slipped between our fingers just as fast as we could lift them to our lips.

One of my most favorite treat as a young girl, and still to this day was my Mom’s Peanut Butter Fingers.

I guess I look to glean some sense of nostalgia whenever I make a beloved childhood cookie. How simple everything was then, the time of life that didn’t include numbers in bank account, property taxes, thinking about your child’s 16th birthday, insomnia and a host of other adult trappings that leave us longing for a simpler life. I bite into peaceful kid feelings when breaking through the solid chocolate crust of these beauties, and relish the memory of my Mom’s smile. Baking was her love language, and we sopped it up daily, never realizing how good we really had it. I still recall the first time at a friends house and she asked if I wanted a cookie. Enthusiastically I said yes, thinking of homemade chocolate chip, maybe a molasses cookie or my utmost favorite sugar cookies. She gave me an Oreo. Admittedly, I did like it -what kid didn’t like Oreos?- but it was the first exposure I had to the fact that not everyone had an endless supply of homemade treats at their disposal. I asked this friend what kind of cookies her Mom liked to bake and she looked at me blankly, then back at the Oreos. Oh, now that was a lesson to learn, all right.

Yes. I was blessed. And I continue to honor that upbringing in my own home, especially when the need for comfort and inner soothing become necessary. From what I see in the food blog world, baking is an obsession of many. That’s a wondrous thing to see, and indeed, to know in one’s lifetime. Fresh scratch treats have no comparison, in taste or in the way that they soothe, calm and bring ease to a often chaotic existence. The preciseness of baking is almost exactly opposite the freewheeling, often uncontrolled way that life has of tossing us around, leaving our souls feeling shaken. Peace to all-  through flour, sugar and a hot oven. Baking brings it’s own method of calm.

Today is my Mom’s birthday. Happy birthday, Mom. I sure do miss you. It’s no surprise to me that these memories are so strong right now.

Anyone want to join me on the steps for some cookies and a good chat??

Peanut Butter Fingers
origin unknown- some lifetime ago. This recipe is the first one under the ‘Desserts’ tab  in my indexed book of favorites. That’s how beloved it is.

Spray an 8×8 pan with cooking spray. Heat your oven to 350°.

Cream together:
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. each brown and white sugar

Blend in:
1 unbeaten egg
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter (chunky is fine too, if it’s your thing)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. sea salt

Stir in:
1 c. flour
1 c. quick cooking oats

Chocolate topping- 1 12-oz bag chocolate chips

Spread batter in prepared pan and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until toothpick test is clean.  Remove pan from oven and sprinkle chips over the top. Allow to soften and then spread evenly to cover bars. Cool completely before cutting.

Cookies, version 2009

December 10th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

Beyond the sugar, flour and butter of a good cookie, beyond the proper pan, the parchment or silpat on top and the tried and true recipes, even beyond the cookie jar on the counter, rubbed and worn from decades of hands reaching for it, cookies have become infused as a part of me from as far back as I can remember. Thanks to my mom, for certain.

Hey Everyone! You know what time of year it is, right????

Any amount of time in my little obscure corner of the blogging world and you know that my love of baking goes deep. And long. I’ve eaten all manners of cookie; any and all types have passed these cookie-loving lips, of all shapes and sizes and styles and colors and proportions. I’ve had chocolate chip a thousand different ways and oatmeal cookies to swoon over. I’ve had double chocolate rebels and chewy chocolate bites and thumbprints of all manners and madelines that melt in my mouth. I’ve had cakey chocolate drops covered in mocha frosting that nearly made me faint. Gingersnaps both chewy and crisp, macaroons both airy and dense and cheesecake cookies scented with lemon. I’ve had exotic varieties from other lands, sugar cookies of all kinds and shapes, cookies with seeds and nuts and sprinkles and colored sugars and tiny hard candy dots, out of bags, boxes and freezer cases. With one bite I know whether you’ve used butter or not, whether it was built from a recipe or cut from a pre-made log with a brand name on it. I know my cookies. And I think the one item missing from my life, my kitchen and eventually, from my son’s memory is a cookie jar standing on the counter, ready for the next best cookie to fall into it’s fathomless interior. For whatever reason, we don’t have a cookie jar. I love my kitchen, the room where magic occurs and genuine smiles are formed, but my counter does not hold that memorable item.

I’m imbued with the scent of baking cookies, brought on by a lifetime of saturating myself in the process of making them, the rhythmic scooping, the whir of a mixer, the flour covered countertops that result in a hot tray of tiny fragrant orbs that’s sole purpose is to coat and soothe an otherwise hectic life down to a manageable roar. I recall days as a child where the call of the cookie jar would pull me forward, the familiar squawk of the metal lid being pulled off our old worn canister as I eagerly plunged my hand in to bring forth Mom’s comfort and salve. I would indulge until spent, broken and weary from the sugar high but otherwise calmer than when I entered her kitchen, bent on seeking a balm for what ills I had endured. From my cookie coma, I often wished to simply slip to the floor and lay in the sunshine, brushing the crumbs from my face. Likely I just lay my head down on the formica tabletop. If I thought of anything at all, it was when I would feel ready to eat more. My Mom knew that her cookies were our Achilles heel; she knew what each of us liked and didn’t like. She knew how she could draw us to her by simply announcing that she was baking cookies. She just knew. Through chocolate chips and chopped dates and broken nuts and some old worn cookie sheets warped with age and use, she could reach to us across any barriers we tried to put up and give us a piece of her heart. Mom was not so demonstrative with her love, but she made us cookies, and in turn, it gave me the first of many glimpses into the divine dance that occurs when one cooks for someone they love. She taught me to bake cookies and it taught me how to take care of someone’s heart. I make cookies for my family, but what I might be trying to do, at least in spirit, is to awaken in me the memory of her, to keep her alive and beside me, along with grasping a moment where my own child runs to my side, eyes gleaming and smiling wide to take in the cooling rows of cookies. To watch him eagerly reach for a handful, to see him dip into the container that holds them, eyes shut in his delight as he takes a bite is to see pure love.

[[All right, want the mother-lode of Cookies?? More than you can imagine?]]

Christmas comes, and in my life there’s a cookie exchange each year. I always want to offer something new and different, more to stretch my own concept of a cookie than anything else. There are endless variations to be formed through a bowl and a tiny scoop, or sliced from a chilled log. All manner of ingredients can be used. What’s important is the memory and feeling behind pulling out the stand mixer, getting down the ingredients, the smell of the oven and a hot tray of blissful bites on the counter.  This year, just prior to my annual baking frenzy, my tiny cookie scoop was broken and my search for a suitable replacement was futile. These slice and bake cookies saved the day. And opened my eyes. Life’s little surprises, in the shape of a sweet morsel in your fingers, continue to roll forward.

Earl Grey Cookies (bottom left in the photo above)
(courtesy of Shannalee at Food Loves Writing, and everyone’s friend, Martha Stewart)

2 c. AP flour
2 T. finely ground Earl Grey tea (from about 4 teabags. Can be crushed in a baggie with a rolling pin, or in a blender or coffee grinder)
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T. finely grated orange zest

Whisk flour, tea and salt in a large measuring cup.

Place butter, sugar and orange zest into bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrap the bowl occasionally to insure uniformity. Reduce speed to low and blend in flour, only until incorporated.

Divide dough in half and place each piece on parchment paper. Shape into logs and place in fridge until firm, 2-3 hours. Dough can be chilled overnight too, and frozen for up to a month.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until browned at the edges. Cool on sheets on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: The Stash tea I used came very finely ground already. I did not have to crush it any further. I strongly recommend a good quality tea for this cookie. Don’t fear the tea leaves in this cookie; the flavor of these is fresh and lovely, chock full of orange essence. The tea is barely noticeable. I am certifiably crazy about this cookie. As soon as the last one was gone, I wanted to make another batch and I better hurry up and do it quickly before I drink up all the delicious tea.

Vanilla Spice Cookies (top right in the photo above)
(from Shannalee again)

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter at medium speed and gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla and blend. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and spices. Add this to the butter mixture on low speed and blend only until incorporated.

Shape the dough into two rolls, about 12 inches long. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill until firm, 2-4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350° and line cookie sheets with parchment. Unwrap rolls and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire racks and keep in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: I added extra cinnamon and cardamom to these to amp up the spice flavor. They tasted like Chai tea and were just lovely.

Cookie zen

December 12th, 2008 | 2 Comments »

I’m not surprised that baking is a soothing enterprise for me. It calms and centers me and usually it’s because I always feel my Mom’s presence when I bake. She gave me my baking gene and my love for all things flour and butter and it channels my inner child to get out my K5 and open the pantry. This time of year is especially hard for me, as Christmas was such a favorite of hers, but I find that the very act of cookie making can be like entering a zen mode and it takes some of the grief away to see all the delightful baked discs on my counter, and feel the spirit of my Mom’s beaming proud smile.

Plus, I just HAVE to get my cookie in to Susan!!

foodbloggacookielogoFor the second year in a row, Susan of Food Blogga is hosting this event and getting a mountain of responses in return. Last year I was ambitious and submitted three recipes, but this year I have only this one. But I have to warn you, this is a killer cookie recipe.

May I present the Lemon Ricotta Cookie.

lemon-ricotta-cookies-011

This cookie in it’s basic form, was a winner in the Holiday Cookie Contest held by our local paper. Although I love the idea of a cookie chock full of ricotta cheese, I imagined that by adding the tart and heady scent of lemon that it might just add something magical to this recipe.

Magic indeed! While the cookie itself was pillowy, moist, tender and rich, the added element of lemon and the tang of a little zest gave it so much more character. It’s like the cheesecake cookies I made last year for this same event, but lighter and fluffier, and lately I just can’t get enough of anything lemon. And although I might be asking for it by consuming ricotta cheese, the stomachache I get from the dairy in these would be well worth it. And so far, it hasn’t happened, but I also haven’t OD’d on them either.


LEMON RICOTTA CHEESE COOKIES

For cookie:
4 c. flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 (15.-oz) container ricotta cheese
1 tsp. lemon extract
2-3 t. fresh lemon juice + 1-2 t. fresh lemon zest
2 eggs

For icing:
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 tbsp. milk
Red and green decorative sugars, optional

Directions

To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and reserve. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat sugar and butter until creamy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, add ricotta cheese, extract, juice, zest and eggs and beat until well-combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing just until dough forms. Drop dough in small mounds on prepared baking sheets. Bake until cookies are very lightly golden, rotating trays halfway through, for about 15 minutes (cookies will be soft). Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes on baking sheets before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

KATE’S NOTES:
I initially wanted to make these an Almond Ricotta cookie, with almond extract and finely chopped almonds, and sometime I do intend to try out that version, but my almond extract had evaporated so I went with lemon. Be sure to really whip the butter and sugar for a while- the loftiness you achieve makes the cookie very fluffy. Thoroughly scrape the bowl at least once during the mixing of the cheese and egg; you want to really blend the wet ingredients well. The dough, while not very stiff, should ONLY be mixed until the flour is just incorporated. Do not overmix at this point. Once the flour is mixed in,  turn it off and give the dough a few turns, gently, with a rubber spatula in case there is any flour in the bottom of the bowl. I made two batches of this, and inadvertantly let both of them sit after the dough was ready. Whether it made a difference, I have no idea, but that’s what happened with mine. I did not use the icing.

Cookies

December 8th, 2007 | 13 Comments »

Aaaaaaand I’m back! Miss me?

I did treat you to a few posts, shelved prior to ‘the week without tastebuds’ in my house so I wasn’t superbly absent. Interestingly enough, while I recuperated, my blog was inundated with hits, mostly searching for pictures of funny cats. I suppose I’m not so remiss in that area, but this is a food blog!

So it’s December, and the month of Christmas, which means it’s time to bake cookies. Baking for me is highly nostalgic; my mother was a champion baker, if only just for our family. She prided herself on never having store-bought cookies, cakes or anything like that in our home, she baked, and she baked really darn well. If she had one prominent love language to show us, it was in her Baking. She only had to call out “Who wants to help me make cookies?” and I would often drop everything I was doing and race to the kitchen. It was our time to bond, hang out and laugh, not to mention, nibble on warm cookies. Each recipe I have of hers brings me waves of nostalgia whenever I make them- Gingersnaps, Peanut Butter Fingers, Coffee Toffee Bars, Three Layer Bars; they all spelled L-O-V-E in our house. I love to bake but don’t have the benefit of five kids to take away the tempting treats, so I don’t do it too often unless it’s for a crowd, or a special occasion.

Onto the cookies!!!

One of Griffin’s favorites is what our family, and likely plenty of others, always calls ‘Church Window Cookies’. It’s a simple chocolate and colored mini-marshmallow cookie, that when cut (and if you squint and engage enough imagination), can resemble stained glass.

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RECIPES:

Church Window Cookies:

Melt one stick of butter and one bag of chocolate chips of your choice, stir gently until smooth, then cool. Pour over one bag of colored mini marshmallows, stir to combine. Either roll into logs, or scoop into plastic drink cups, chill until firm, then slice.

Date-Nut Pinwheels

8 ounce package dates
1 cup hot water
1 cup very finely chopped pecans
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
3-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine dates, sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla, and hot water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until thickened – about 6 – 8 minutes. Stir constantly. Remove from heat and stir in pecans. Set date mixture aside to cool. Combine brown sugar and butter. Cream until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Combine flour, soda, cream of tartar, salt and cinnamon. Stir into creamed mixture. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix well. Divide dough into thirds. Roll each portion into a 12″ square on waxed paper. Spread with 1/3 of date mixture. Lifting up edge of waxed paper, gently peel off dough and roll jelly roll fashion. Wrap rolls in waxed paper and refrigerate overnight. Cut dough into 1/4″ slices and place two inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 – 10 minutes. Cool cookies on wire rack.

Lemon Cream Cheese Cookies

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 (3 ounces) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups cake flour
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Cream together butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat hard. Stir in vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add flour, mixing well. Stir in nuts. Push small amount from spoon onto a greased baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until delicate brown. While hot, roll in powdered sugar.

RECIPE NOTES:

On the Date-Nut Pinwheels, I doubled the filling mixture, using half dates and half dried sweet cherries. This mixture took a lot longer than 6-8 minutes to thicken, likely from the extra bulk. Cook until it resembles a thick paste, almost jam-like, and allow it too cool completely. I also subbed in some wheat flour, and used a little extra cinnamon. The dough was tacky, I treated it somewhat like pie dough, tossing a little flour over it to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Chill the logs thoroughly and keep them chilled while baking. Any extra filling is wonderful spread on toast.

In our version of the Window cookies, we used Ghiradhelli dark chocolate pieces. If you’re going to eat chocolate, why not make it dark?? Don’t sub the fake stuff for butter; trust me, it tastes so much better to use the real thing. We keep these chilled for a better texture. Cool down the chocolate mix before pouring over the marshmallows or they will melt. Using plastic drink cups is super easy; make sure to press the mixture well into the cup for the best effect. When chilled, cut a slit in the side of the cup and break it apart, pushing the solids onto a cutting board. Use a serrated knife and just a little pressure to slice. *Hint* The bottom slice from the cup is the best part!

For the Cheesecake cookies, I added in about 3/4 of a teaspoon of pure lemon extract to give the cookies more pizazz. It’s been my experience with using just zest and juice that it needs a little added something to really make that lemon flavor shine. Instead of adding in the nuts to the batter, I dipped the cookies into the nuts prior to baking, then finished them with a glaze made of lemon juice and powdered sugar.

Chewy Chocolate Bites

December 11th, 2006 | 11 Comments »

Chewy Chocolate Bites

4 squares Bakers unsweetened baking chocolate

1 1/2 sticks butter (no subs or all of the above mentioned will fail, trust me)

2 c. sugar

3 eggs, beaten

1 t. vanilla

2 c. flour

Preheat oven to 350. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat (or use double boiler) until only small pieces remain. Remove from heat and stir gently to melt completely. Stir in sugar, blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, mix well. Chill for 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle. Shape into 1″ balls and place on greased cookie sheets about 2″ apart. Bake 8 minutes or until just set. Do not overbake. (again, trust me, don’t make ‘em crispy ‘cuz all that stuff I said earlier? Yeah, ain’t gonna happen) Allow to cool on baking sheet about a minute then transfer to wire racks.

These are fabulous all by themselves, a dense chewy and rich cookie with amazing chocolate taste. However, you could up the Christmas love by embellishing them any and all ways. Crush some candy canes and sprinkle over the top before baking; press pieces of peanut butter cups in them after they come out of the oven; drizzle them with melted white chocolate (or my fav….melted cappucino chips….this, I swear, could solve world peace) or how about spreading them with a thick layer of mocha icing?? The possibilities are endless and as long and varied as everyone’s imagination. Bottom line…..MAKE them! Do yourself a favor if the omnipresent and ridiculous commercialism of Christmas is in any way getting to you and making you want to hibernate, go into hiding with a container of these and let the rest of the world just fall away. I don’t doubt it would do you wonders.