Christmas Cookie #3 – Cookie Press Cookies (Depressed With My Press)

This cookie press recipe was a true test of my baking and decorating patience.  As most of you know, a cookie press is nothing more than a hollow tube fitted with a decorative nozzle at one end and a plunger at the other.  You insert your cookie dough into the hollow tube and then you press a trigger that makes the plunger press out the dough.  The dough is pressed out through the decorative nozzle and a pressed cookie is formed.  The nozzle holds discs that turn the dough into various shapes-hearts, wreaths, Christmas trees, flowers-the list is long and covers most of the major holidays.  Here is the cookie press I used at the start of my baking.  Little did I know that two more would follow.

I’ve discovered that my right arm has gotten incredibly strong.  That’s because my squeezing of the cookie press trigger achieved pressing out five dozen cookies, but, on the bad side, it broke three cookie presses.  Yes, three presses that broke-two triggers broke off and one shaft that holds the dough cracked into two pieces!  Is this bad luck or what?  I got my cookies done, but had to order a new press at the end as a result.  This time I paid a little bit more and got a “heavy-duty” press.  I’m hoping this solves the problem.

These cookies are very tasty, with a rich butter and vanilla taste.  The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of vanilla, which seems like a lot, but really works well with the dough.  After the cookies had cooled, we decorated each one with a glaze made out of confectioner’s sugar and a variety of cookie decorating supplies-colored sanding sugars, melted chocolate, tinted glazes, chocolate sprinkles, etc.  Most of it was purchased at the supermarket so just have fun and get whatever supplies catch your eye.  With cookie decorating, there really is no bad way to do it.  Here’s the steps:

For the cookies:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted, for decorating
  • Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze (see recipe below)
  • Food coloring, preferably gel-paste, for decorating
  • Sanding sugar, for decorating
  • Other favorite items, to use for decorating

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add egg yolks, flour, salt, and vanilla.  Mix until well combined.

Fit cookie press with desired disk and fill with dough.  Press out shapes onto prepared baking sheets.  Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake until cookies are lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To decorate, tint confectioners’ sugar glaze as desired (dividing it among a few bowls to make different colors, if desired). Dip cookies in glaze and decorate with sanding sugar, nonpareils, or dragees.  Let set until the glaze dries, at least 1 hour before serving or storing. Cookies can be stored, between layers of parchment, up to 1 week at room temperature in airtight containers.

For the glaze:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons water

Directions:

Mix confectioners’ sugar and the water to achieve an easy-to-pour consistency, adding more water as necessary. Use immediately.

These are a great cookie.  They taste great and look great.  Impress your family and friends with a cute little decorated cookie.  They will be impressed.  At our house right now, none of us want to eat my cookie press cookies.  Not because they don’t taste good, but because they are so pretty.  Knowing how we like to eat, this mood will change soon and we will devour them.  It’s the holidays right?  Overeating is expected!  Do you make any decorated cookies during the holidays?

Christmas Cookie #2 – Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti (Or Hey You, Give Me Something To Dip Into My Coffee)

This is a batch of biscotti, which is technically not a cookie at all, but rather a biscuit.  However, it has always been part of my Christmas cookie baking timeline whenever the mood hits me to bake Christmas cookies.  Did you know that biscotti is the plural form of biscotto?   The word biscotto originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-cooked/baked.  So there you have the secret of making a batch of biscotti.  You make two long loaves of dough, bake them, let them cool a little and then slice them and bake them again.  The second bake actually hardens them up a little so that they last a little while longer than a normal cookie does.  Their hardness also makes it a favorite for dipping into coffee or tea.

That’s another reason I make them.  The holidays at our house see a lot of coffee that is drank on a daily basis.  I find it amazing that the people who are older and have the weaker kidneys are usually the ones that ask for the most coffee to drink and a little something to nibble on while drinking.  I have not done a scientific test on this factoid as of yet, but I know it would fall out as a solid statement if I did.  For each cup poured, many times there is the question “What do you have to dip into this coffee?”   Many times they ask this by calling my name and, more than a few times, my name is forgotten and a simple “Hey you!” starts out the request.

The biscotti recipe I always make is filled with cranberries and pistachios.  When you look down at the sides of the biscotti, there are little flecks of red (the cranberries) and green (the pistachio nuts).  What screams holiday more than bursts of red and green?  Here’s how we make the biscotti in our house:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water.  Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes.  Drain, and set aside.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Beat in vanilla.  Add flour mixture, and mix on low-speed until combined.  Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half.  Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.  With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly.  Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes.  Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices.  Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack.  Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes.  Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack.  Biscotti should be kept in an airtight container.

You know you have turned out a great batch when all you hear during “coffee breaks” is the crunch, crunch, crunch of a group of folks gnawing on your cranberry-pistachio biscotti.  Thanks for reading about our second cookie made for the season.  There will be other posts about our Christmas baking through the big day on December 25.  We hope you will come back and “bake” with us.  We like the company!!  What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Christmas Cookie #1 – Coconut Pyramids (No Trip To Egypt Needed)

This is always the first cookie I make if and when I get into the Christmas cookie baking mode.  Coconut pyramids start the season off right.  Front up, I will tell you, it’s not every season I get into the mood to make Christmas cookies.  When I do, these coconut pyramid macaroons are first up at bat.  Why coconut macaroons you may be asking versus something more traditional for the holidays?  I’m not sure I know that answer other than to say they are quick to make and bake.  It’s probably a mental thing…you start off with something easy that always turns out right and then you get into a state where you start taking more challenges with more complicated recipes.  Know that the hardest part of this recipe is finding unsweetened coconut.  The only place I have found it is at my local health food store.  I’ve used the sweetened kind of coconut from the supermarket, but it just does not work.

I first baked these macaroons in 2001 when I ran across the recipe in a cookbook I had purchased.  I remember thinking that they would look like little snow drifts among the other cookies that I had baked that year.  Since everyone I gave cookies to that year was really in the mood for coconut (I guess), these pyramids received a lot of compliments and I’ve been making them ever since.  Coconut macaroons are light and chewy.  The little tip of chocolate at the end of the cookie is a nice little touch as well.  It’s the pyramid shape that I find the best part of the cookie.  It looks like it takes a long time to shape them, but it is pretty quick and painless.  You don’t have to make them your first Christmas cookie of the season, but do give them a shot this year.  It’s always nice to start a new tradition.  Why not do it with a coconut pyramid?

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 5 1/4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (I find mine at a local health food store)
  • 7 large egg whites
  • 1 pinch salt
  •  2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vegetable shortening

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  In a large bowl, mix together sugar, coconut, egg whites and salt.  Add butter and extracts and combine well.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Moisten palms of hands with cold water.  Roll 1 tablespoon of the coconut mixture in palms, squeezing tightly together 2 or 3 times to form a compact ball.  Place ball on a clean surface and, using a spatula, flatten one side at a time to form a pyramid shape.

Place pyramids on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Leave on baking sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.

Place chocolate and shortening in a small heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water; stir occasionally until melted.  Dip top 1/2 inch of each pyramid in the melted chocolate.  Set each dipped macaroon on cooled baking sheet to allow chocolate to harden.

For some reason, my friends, family and I find it hard to eat just one of these cookies at any given sitting.  They go pretty fast, so be prepared.  I’ll be posting a few more Christmas cookie favorites over the next couple of weeks.  I’m in the mood to bake them this year, so why not share the recipes with the masses.  Enjoy!!  What is your favorite cookie that you make for the holidays?

Changing A Thanksgiving Cactus Into A Christmas Cactus – A Chilling Tale

This is my ten-year old Christmas cactus.  I really should say Thanksgiving cactus because for most of its years with me it has bloomed on Thanksgiving and never on Christmas.  This is my own fault and one I am trying to rectify this year.  It’s all in the chilling.  More on that in a second.

My Christmas cactus is from the genus Schlumbergera.  Schlumbergera  is a genus of cactus from the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil.  Plants grow on trees or rocks in habitats which are generally shady with high humidity.  Most species of Schlumbergera have stems which resemble leaf-like pads joined one to the other and flowers which appear from areoles at the joints and tips of the stems.  This genus contains the popular house plants known by a variety of names including Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Crab Cactus and Holiday Cactus.

Over the last several years, I have put my Christmas Cactus in a shady area in my back yard usually in the beginning of June time frame.  Frequent watering and feeding is about all I do to the plant.  In ten years, I have re-potted it into a bigger planter only once.  For me, I like the Christmas Cactus because it needs little care for the most part.  Here is the plant at its regular summer home in my back yard.

In the first weeks of November, when the weather gets much cooler and frost is possible, I have brought the Christmas Cactus indoors and placed it on my kitchen table.  This transition from cool to warmer temperatures has always triggered the plant to begin to grow flowers that then bloom around the Thanksgiving holiday.  I always think, why if this plant blooms at Thanksgiving do we call it a Christmas Cactus?  That’s when I made a chilling decision.

The decision was to keep my Christmas Cactus outside until the beginning of December–one month later than usual.  I’m thinking that the plant’s transition from cool to warmer temperatures is the blooming trigger, so if I delay that transition for one month then I can truly have a “Christmas” Cactus.  So that’s what I did and my plant came indoors on Saturday.  As a precaution, I did cover the plant up on extremely cold nights or nights when a heavy frost was predicted.  Here is my plant when under the covers.

While the plant looks healthy and nothing appears to have perished due to the extra month of cold weather conditions, I think that the next few days of the plant being in the house will determine its fate.  It will either make it and begin to bloom in the next few weeks or it could also shrivel up and leave us because of the additional cold it has endured over the last month.  Keep your fingers crossed with me–let’s hope it transitions without a hitch.

I’ll post pictures when the Christmas Cactus blooms (or an RIP notification if things don’t work out).  There is nothing as pretty as a bloomed Christmas Cactus with its fuchsia pink flowers bursting from all sides of the plant.  If it blooms, I can then officially and proudly call my Cactus a Christmas Cactus and all will be right in the world.  Do you have a Christmas Cactus in your home?

Gobbling Up Our Turkey Shaped Cornbread

This is what happens when Martha Stewart inspires you way too much.  I try not to watch her show much anymore because I am the type of person that sees her do something and then I become obsessed with the idea and have to try it.  The problem is that I only complete about 50% of the things that I see her do.  Sure, I made this Thanksgiving cornbread in the special turkey pan she used, but still lingering are projects that I haven’t done, like making wax initials with a letterpress, wax sticks and a glue gun, glittering some pine cones for a crystal bowl I have on my dining room table and embossing my velvet Christmas stockings with a faux bois finish.  I’m serious, I actually have everything you need to do these projects.  They are in my hall closet.  However, the only thing I don’t have is time.  Oddly enough, when I do have the time, I just don’t have the energy.  I see Martha wincing now.

I turned on Martha’s show only once leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was the show where she made these cornbread turkeys.  I was obsessed and knew that it was happening again….the urge to make something beautiful that she made.  I ran to my computer and frantically searched for the right turkey mold pan.  I found it on Amazon.com.  I had it sent via overnight FedEx, which cost me about as much as the pan.  I received the pan late Wednesday evening and knew that it was perfect for the recipe to be made on Thanksgiving morning.  I was right on schedule.

The cornbread recipe to fill the mold was very simple to make.  The cornbread is actually a little more dense than the cornbread recipe I usually make, but still very delicious.  The addition of the jalapeno peppers and the cheddar cheese was a nice addition to the cornbread recipe.  They both gave the bread a little punch.  Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups fresh (from about 3 ears) or thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 jalapeno chiles, minced (ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 5-cup turkey-shaped pans with cooking spray.  Melt 1/2 cup butter and let cool.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high.  Cook corn, jalapeno, and shallots, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4 to 6 minutes.

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add eggs; whisk eggs into flour mixture.

Whisk together melted butter and buttermilk; stir into flour mixture, along with corn mixture and cheddar.  Mix until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth tops.  Transfer to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool slightly before inverting onto a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Christmas is right around the corner.  I know Martha will do something that I will see or hear about and the free-for-all will begin all over again.  What will it be?  Hand felted Santa suits, carve your own reindeer antlers, a simple dinner for 100?  If you find out, please don’t let me know.  Well, maybe just a hint is fine.  Do you stalk have a favorite famous personality that you like and follow?

Using Booze To Make Holidays Even Brighter

This little drink can really make roasting chestnuts on an open fire or going over the river and through the woods a lot less painful.  It is a juice and vodka drink that we call a Pomatini.  It is made with fresh squeezed pomegranate, grapefruit and lime juices.  We made the drink on Thanksgiving morning and actually sat our Pomatini filled decorative pitchers outside so that the drink could cool down before serving.  During our appetizers before the big Thanksgiving meal, we poured, shaked and drank Pomatinis.  Wow, it sure worked to make good food taste even better.  We decided to make these drinks because pomegranates seemed so Thanksgiving-like.  If you think of it, you could really justify this drink for any holiday or occasion–the reddish color fits in well with Christmas festivities or the juice make-up is perfect for a July 4th party.  So the next time you have a get together, consider the Pomatini!

Ingredients for the Pomatini (fills half of a large decorative pitcher):

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
  • 1 1/2 cups vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup

Directions:

Combine pomegranate juice, vodka, grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup and then pour into decorative pitchers.  Continue recipe, making it in the proportions provided, until all of your pitchers are filled.

Add ice to chill into the pitcher or pour drink into a shaker filled with ice.  Strain drink into a chilled martini glass.

Ingredients for Simple Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water

Directions:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.  Let cool.

So why not use our Pomatini to help reduce your stress level during your next holiday get together or party?  Be warned, if you drink more than a couple of these Pomatinis make sure you use a designated driver when you go outside to drive your sleigh around.  What great cocktail recipes do you make during the holidays?  

Our Happy 4th of July Picnic Celebration

This is our second day of recovery from our July 4th celebration held on Saturday.  Our party started five or six years ago and was really a small affair.  We would invite our immediate family and close friends over for a barbecue.  The kids would swim most of the day and the adults would gossip about what was going on over the beverage of their choice.  Oh yes, we also ate…and ate…and ate.  Each year after that first party, the July 4th celebration just kept getting bigger.  We weren’t really increasing our immediate family so that wasn’t the reason for the growth.  I guess we were just meeting more friends that we felt we wanted to come over.  So this year, it was our biggest party to date.  125 people big.  So big that we thought we needed a tent for people to sit under to ward off the sun.  That was a good idea as temperatures hit 85 degrees with full sun.  The tent that we got was like a circus tent.  We were joking that later that night, one of us would be performing a Cirque du Soleil performance at the top of it.  Festivities went from 1 in the afternoon until about midnight.

Believe us when we tell you that 125 people can eat.  We had food on the barbecue grill outside and lots of good old Italian food on the inside.

We will try now to the best of our ability to document all the food that we enjoyed.  I am sure we forgot a lot, but here’s a good try:

  • 20 pounds of hot dogs
  • 30 pounds of hamburgers
  • 20 pounds of skirt steaks
  • 30 pounds of baby lamb chops
  • 20 pounds of boneless chicken thighs
  • Large tray of chicken marsala
  • Large tray of eggplant parmesan
  • Large tray of sausage and peppers
  • Large tray of penne marinara
  • Large tray of rigatoni with sausage and broccoli rabe
  • Tomato brushetta with ricotta salata
  • Filet mignon on toast points with carmelized onions and balsamic reduction
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Potato croquettes
  • Antipasto (cheese and sliced meats)
  • Pigs in the blanket (because it is not a party without pigs in the blanket)
  • Italian sausage wrapped in phylo dough
  • Salad
  • Bread, buns, rolls (you can’t imagine how much starch there was)

Now the dessert.  Our Brooklyn Italian Grandmother put out the call for all Brooklyn and Staten Island bound guests to hit their best Italian pastry shops.  You can imagine the results.  We had so many pastries, cookies and cakes that we actually took many of the leftovers to the homeless shelter the next day.  There was no way we could eat all of the desserts that entered our house on Glen Road.  Here are some cupcakes (which are always a favorite):

Each year, I also ask one of my best friends to make her famous flag cake which is from Ina Garten.  She always obliges.  The flag cake sort of ties it all up here…you know, a symbol of why we are celebrating.

So Happy 4th of July to all of you from all of us here on Glen Road.  We also want to take this opportunity to thank all of our women and men in the armed services who risk their lives to protect all of us.  We appreciate your dedication.  By the way, if you are looking for us, we are still recovering from the big party.  Our beverage of choice was not lemonade, so that fact, coupled with the number of hours that we partied have made all of us Glen Road old people tired.  Thank God we have to go back to work tomorrow.  At our age, work is much easier than partying.  What are you doing today to celebrate the 4th of July?