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?  

An Unexpected Thing Of Beauty During A Battle

This is a story of finding something of beauty when you least expect it.  The last couple of months have been extremely busy and stressful here at Acorns On Glen.  So busy, that we’ve not had much time to post here on the blog.  Between work, the Thanksgiving holiday and my father’s ongoing battle with cancer, there has been little down time here on Glen Road.

First off, I am the head of a large group of Accountants.  I’m sure you have heard the term “year-end” muttered a time or two at the places where you work.  Well, that is the time where the rubber definitely hits the road in the accounting world.  To successfully complete year-end requires a lot of organization and some extra time spent in the office.  There is nothing worse than taking an expense in 2012 that could have been taken in 2011 because you weren’t prepared.

Then the holidays pop up.  This year we thought we were being smart and had our favorite restaurant cook most of the food for the 17 guests that were showing up on Thanksgiving day.  We would only make a few side dishes that were family traditions.  Although we saved a lot of time in the kitchen with the food, we still worked the better part of two days cooking the family favorites, setting the table and making sure that the house was neat and tidy.

Lastly, we have spent a lot of time as a family in a new round with my father’s ongoing battle with prostate cancer.  My father had his prostate removed several years ago and, unfortunately, the surgeons were unable to remove all of the cancer cells.  After seeing his PSA levels continue to increase even without a prostate, we have had him come to us for over five years and seek medical care at Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.  While it is common for men to have a small level of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) in their blood stream, the higher a man’s PSA level, the more likely it is that cancer is present.  Unfortunately, my father’s PSA level has become very high and he has formed a small tumor on his skull that has required radiation.  So far, we have all successfully juggled the doctors’ appointments and radiation sessions and hope to begin to see some progress against this latest flare up in the very near future.

For those of you who have or has had parents who are ill, watching them deal with their issues on a frequent basis makes you heavily reflect on your own life.  First, you feel the need to be checked for the issue that your parent is dealing with on a daily basis.  For any man, frequent PSA screening is essential–do not wait to discuss the need for you with your doctor.  Second, there is a lot of anger that you bottle up.  I constantly think about why this is happening, is there someone to blame and is my family doing enough to make this cancer disappear.  You choose to not show your anger.  It is better to bottle it up then explode and make a bad situation even worse by upsetting everyone.  Lastly, you begin to think about your own life because you realize that life doesn’t last forever.  Are you happy?  Have you made the right choices in your life?  If you could start again, would you do it the same or do it very differently?

Needless to say, all of these things that are going on have dampened the mood here at Glen Road.  You begin to think a lot about what is wrong in your life.  Then you turn a corner while driving and see something that reminds you that life can be very good to you as well.  When things are not so great in your life, remember that the bad things can quickly be out numbered by the things that are going well in your life.  This unexpected Christmas tree in a remote part of Danbury, CT made me remember that although life is not perfect right now, my family, friends and I do have a lot to be thankful for and that we have great lives even in bad times.  As for my father’s cancer, I’m thinking that this Christmas tree in the sky is God’s way of giving us proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So here’s to the unexpected Christmas tree that came to us in a time where we needed to be reminded of how precious and great our lives are.  Anyone can have faith during fair weather; but the true test of faith is how we respond during stormy weather when we can’t see our hand in front of our face.  How do you keep the faith when you are experiencing hard times?

Crafting and Orange Marmalade

This is a jar of my newly labeled orange marmalade.  After making my first-ever batch of orange marmalade, I decided that the finished jars looked a little plain.  I decided that they needed labels.  For many people, making and affixing labels to their canned goods would be a simple and rather artistic chore.  Not me, because this falls in the area of crafts and I am not very good at crafts.  I have tried.

There was one year when I made a real cranberry wreath from a ‘Martha Stewart Living’ magazine article I had read.  It jumped out at me from the pages of the magazine.  I had to have this bright red beauty on my front door for the holidays.  For days, I took real cranberries, inserted toothpicks into each one and then pushed the cranberry spikes into a foam wreath form that I had bought and spray painted red.  It looked pretty, but Martha did not tell me that for those of us who lived in California at the time, that real cranberries would quickly rot in the high temperatures that Californian’s enjoy at Christmas.  Within a week, my wreath had a bad smell and the squishy and wrinkled cranberries were falling off their toothpicks onto my front porch floor.  As well, pushing sharp-edged toothpicks into hundreds of cranberries messed my fingers up for a good week or two.  It was painful every time I jammed my two sensitive fingers into my computer keyboard after being mini-stabbed by toothpicks a hundred times or so.

Then there are the times I decide to make hand-made Christmas cards to impress my friends and family (and make them green with envy).  The last time this urge hit me was when a friend of mine convinced me to buy some stamps, card stock and ink from her new ‘Stamping Up’ business.  I bought like $700 of stuff that guaranteed me beautiful hand-made gems.  My stamps were three penguins with Santa hats and scarves on and each one held a candy cane and a string of Christmas lights.  Each one was stamped in black on white card stock and special markers had been purchased to color those penguins in with various colors.  Sounds easy, right?  Not for me.  After I realized that the date to mail the cards was two days away and I was only half done with the number of cards I needed to send, there were two all-nighters needed to finish.  There is nothing worse than coloring your festive penguins at 4 AM in the morning.  This was the last time I sent cards out.  Too much work!

Being wiser with age, I found a website that produces gorgeous writing papers and envelopes called Felix Doolittle.  This company makes canning labels available in the Summer months.  Perfect for me!  Even better, they had a label with oranges on it and I had them add ‘Acorns On Glen’ across the top.  My blog’s first product although they are not for sale so probably not a product at all.  The best part of getting the labels?  I decided that it made me crafty for the first time in my life without having a breakdown or a mess on my hands.  I like this new way of crafting.  I might have to keep it up.  What things have you accomplished in the crafts department?

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words – Vacation Needed

This is where we might be spending our Summer vacation unless we decide on something to do as quickly as possible.  All of our friends are off to Europe, on cruises, at the shore.  Us….absolutely no plans.  While the hammock would be nice to lay in for a week, it’s not very exciting.  We need to make a plan and make it now.  What are your plans for Summer vacation this year?

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words – Don’t Bark Up The Wrong Tree

This is JoJo at our July 4th party.  She didn’t take a nap all day.  She just ran from guest to guest to guest.  When she went to bed at 11:30 at night, she fell to her side and didn’t wake up until 10:00 the next morning.  Partying is really hard work.  What have your pets been up to lately?