Friday, December 31, 2010

Ringing in the New Year

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The family on Christmas Eve.

Well, here we are on the cusp of 2010. A pretty good year all around for our family. A few challenges, but that's what keeps us aware of our many blessings. Today is my baby's 21st birthday, an amazing milestone, that, he surprisingly does not want to spend at home. But we still have a 17 year old that has to have a social agenda chock-full, so we told her to invite her crew over tonight, we have a few adults coming over, and a spread of all that is bad in the food world today. I really thought about doing a fabulous beef tenderloin, a sweet potato gratin, champagne punch etc. But the truth is my kids, their friends and my husband want finger food. Pick up and go. Nothing crazy. I get it. We are not the kind of family that makes a counter full of appetizers to watch a football game, except today I make appetizers and we will enjoy the last weekend of the holidays before school starts, work sets in and life goes back to normal.

First off, everyone will receive their red underwear for breakfast. Red must be worn against the body as the New Year rings in to ward away evil spirits. All over Italy, red underwear are everywhere following Christmas. It is a bit more of a challenge here to find things that are, shall we say, appropriate? I will not take photos of our new drawers to share. They are quite tasteful, take my word on this.

So the party: No teenage get together is complete without Rotel. Now in the South, that means a couple of cans of Rotel (tomatoes and peppers) dumped into a brick of Velveeta and melted in a crock-pot. I will add some Italian sausage since it's a "special occasion". This is one of the main food groups in the South, and I am certain I am in violation of some law because I am not serving pulled pork butt with it. However, I am brining some pork tenderloins to toss on the grill and slice onto little rolls. There will also be some sliders for the kids left over from the last party.

Another Southern New Year's tradition is the black eyes peas. Now most prople I know who make them cook them with bacon and maybe some greens, onions, whatever. I have opted for a little Texas Caviar. I snagged the recipe from Epicurious and I love it. You can get the core recipe here, Texas Caviar from the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and my own vinaigrette. I have never been to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, but my friend's mom is in it. How cool is that? Dixie Moseley. Right now there is an exhibit at the museum on aprons. I know a food blogger/sewer who would love to see that, ME! Back to the peas. Any constant reader knows I didn't follow the recipe. I used 4 cans of beans, cilantro instead of parsley, 4 jalapenos, and an orange and a yellow pepper along with what it actually called for. As far as the dressing, apparently Epicurious took off the one that was originally on the site. I used a dried Penzey's salad dressing base and some white balsamic (for sweetness) and cider vinegar, and of course olive oil. Then put it in the fridge so they can mingle for a few hours. It is best on Fritos scoops, which I normally hate, but they can hold the weight of the beans. I am addicted to baked Tostitos, but you have to set the beans on the chip because they are far too fragile to scoop it up!

I am also making some marinated cheese. A recipe from my friend Claudia which I have changed over time as well. Here is my version:
Slice up your favorite cheese. I like fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, white cheddar, even cream cheese works. You want cheese that can take on bold flavors. Lay them in a shallow dish so they look good. Plating is so not my thing. Then top with some marinated artichoke hearts, some green olives, maybe some sun dried tomatoes. Then make up a vinaigrette with ¼ cup balsamic, ¼ cup olive oil, a clove of garlic, a teaspoon of sugar, 2 chopped green scallions and a jar of pimentos, drained. Pour over the cheese and garnish with fresh parsley and basil and let sit at room temp for an hour before eating on bruschetta. YUM!

I am also conceding to the cream cheese and jam business. There is this awesome grocery in Castle Rock, CO between Denver and the Springs. Tony's Market on Happy Canyon Road. What's not to like? A guy named Tony must be a paesono and what a great street name! Anyway Scott went for a sandwich and they were sampling Blueberry Jalepeno Jam on cream cheese. He was reeled in and brought a jar home for tonight.

The sweet stuff is chocolate fondue, cookies and cream cupcakes and red velvet cupcakes with almond buttercream. Pictures to follow. Providing of course I don't drink too much Veuve. No sunshine today either, so bad photo weather. Happy New Year to you all. Next week is my last week on management. Everyone say WHEW! and then we work on the resolutions!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Sweetest Sugar Cookie

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I love an old fashioned Christmas. Which is funny considering I work at a high end retail store where we sell to the masses...but I honestly do a lot of home made holiday gifts. More on that in a later blog. I made these fantastic cookies, and have no idea what to do with them...parting with them is way harder than I thought! They are so adorable. I used wafer paper from Fancy Flour and I was going to give them to the teachers, but life, once again got in the way. So here they are, enjoy.....and get in there and bake! Until midnight if need be, that's what I do!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pizzelles for Christmas

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Ahhh, the perfect Saturday, oh wait, that was last Christmas. This year I said "Yes! I would love to go into management for the busiest 8 weeks of the year." What was I thinking? My blog is sad, my writing career is flat, my freezer is full of cookies begging for royal icing. Oh my, there really aren't enough days in the year. So today is pizzelle day (night, really) I have a new recipe and a new pizzelle iron. After 8 hours of peddling pots and pans, I am tired, really want a glass of wine, and my house is smelling like a bakery. A week ago I reread my blog from last year on pizzelles and decided I had better order a new iron! So I have a no nonsense pizzelle iron. No non stick, no fanciness. I decided to use a different recipe since I rarely do the same thing twice.
The recipe I have used in the past few years is from Nick Malgieri's book Cookies Unlimited. There are a million variations on the web, and it really is personal. My family has always gone with the crispy anise flavored pizzelles. There are thicker soft versions, pizzelles with anise seed, fennel seed, almond and chocolate. The chocolate isn't bad, but I love the anise. This year I am using anise extract instead of oil. With the extract you could use a half teaspoon or more. The key is to know when enough is enough, because too much anise oil (like anything over ¼ teaspoon) and the whole batch is ruined, I know, I've done it.
This is my own variation of a recipe I have had for awhile. And amazing enough, they always taste good. These cookies are always a hit, likely because they are so special looking! I use both white and brown sugar, I think it adds a little depth to the flavor. My new pizzelle iron makes them sooooo thin and crispy, perfectly browned! The recipe as follows only makes about 2 dozen. But some of the recipes I found make 180 pizzelles, I'd be there at the iron for hours! I have learned over the years a recipe that big would not do well divided to make just 45. Better to double a tried and true version. A little Elf on the tube and how can you not get into the spirit! Remember there are four food groups, Candy, Candy Canes, Candy Corn and Syrup....gotta love Will Ferrell. Happy baking.

Here's the recipe...
3 eggs
½ teaspoon anise extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ flour
½ melted butter
¾ sugar
¼ brown sugar

Mix 'em up and bake in the iron....thin and crispy!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Message in a Cookie (cont)

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What was I thinking????? I had admired the colored cookies on the box of the Message in a Cookie cutters, so I made some of my dough green. UGH! Too much green. It's hard to remember that it tastes like my regular dough. I actually ended up throwing a chunk away, I couldn't roll any more. So I made a few stamped cookies, some trees and, yea, that's that. I was asked by one of my faithful to post a gingerbread recipe. So since I have a batch chilling for another day, I thought I would get the recipe up. This is the one I am making this year, I cannot say it is my tried and true, I haven't made gingerbread boys in a few years. So when I ordered my gingerbread house cutter, Fancy Flours sent this recipe, so I guess it's fair to say it is their tried and true. So I shall use it myself. You should check out this site, very inspiring!

Gingerbread Cookies

2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup light molasses (I buy organic at Whole Foods, we'll see what happens)
2 eggs
4 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves

Cream butter and sugar. Add salt, soda and spices. Add eggs and molasses. Add flour. The dough will be soft. Chill well before handling. Preheat oven to 350°. Roll out dough using a good amount of flour. She recommends 1/8th inch to keep the details in tact during baking. Bake 8-10 minutes.

I'll report my experience! So, get in there and bake!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Message In a Cookie

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One of my "jobs" at my job was to make some gingerbread men for a visual that is in the window. I used the Message in a Cookie cookie cutters and have to say...I loved them. I was a true skeptic when these came in, but now I see the possibilities. I admit however, they are a pain to clean, lots of tiny little letters. Let me explain.

The Christmas cutters are essentially 3 cookie cutters, an ornament, a gingerbread boy and a snowflake. Good size cookies are made from these. You could easily use them as a basic cutter, but they have a couple of "rails" in the center of the cutter that you can slide words and letters onto. The holiday box came with Merry, Christmas, Seasons, Greetings, Happy, Holidays, and From. There is also a huge assortment of extra letters so you can spell out any message that will fit onto the two rails. You will want your cookie dough well chilled. And I rolled it out a chunk at a time. You carefully push the plunger of the cutter and slide your words and letters onto the rails. There is a video on the Williams Sonoma site that shows how. (How do I get THAT job?) Next, the cutter with the letters in place needs to be well floured, I tapped the plunger that controls the letters a number of times into flour and then cut the cookie dough. Once the cutter is positioned on the dough, you push the plunger to stamp the letters/words into the dough. Admittedly, many of my cookies stuck and had to be re-rolled. I like the effect of the full stamp into the dough although the O's were pushed completely through the dough. It isn't a perfect world here, but it works. I think it would be an epic fail with any dough that contained margarine or shortening, puffiness is not your friend. I had a dish towel laid out on the counter and slid the letters and words on and off over the towel. That way no little letters bounced off the counter to the floor, all the flour and dough scraps stayed put and when I finished, I put them all back into the mesh bag they came in and swished it in hot, soapy water, let it soak for about 20 minutes and they were pretty clean. You may have an E or F that holds onto some dough, but once it dries it will easily fall off. Careful not to let the letters fall into the sink, they are small enough to suck right down the drain! They say they are dishwasher safe in the mesh bag, but seriously? What is it with the dang dishwasher? I put plates, glasses and silverware in it. Period. No knives, no appliance parts, no gadgets...did you know that the detergent in there is almost all bleach? With the hot water and the steam and the sheer force of the jets of water...Yikes! Honest, washing by hand is not that awful, you'll be amazed how much longer things last.The box shows cookies with the dough tinted, which I have done, there is a chunk of green chilling now. Of course to keep the integrity of the words, these cookies won't take the full royal icing treatment, which is better particularly for gingerbread. I love that you could make any message in the dough. I of course bought the holiday set, and put the Basic set on my Christmas list. There is a heart, a star and a scalloped rectangle. Perfect for so many cookies. I love that I could put my Sweetie Petitti signature in every batch I make! As usual, I buy all my own stuff, there is no paid advertisement here, I just happen to love these little cookie cutters. I will update with pictures of the new sugar ones ASAP. So, get in there and bake!