Thursday, December 30, 2010

Resolutions & Empanadas OR I resolve to eat more Empanadas

Do you make New Year's resolutions?  I do.  I make them all year long.  I'm quite flexible when it comes to making up my mind, and so always keep a notebook close at hand to allow the jotting of revisions all year long.  Sometimes (rarely) I actually keep the resolutions that I make.  Most of the time though, I just resolve to add them to next year's list and hope for the best.

I've got a head start this year, however, as one of my resolutions was to learn more about food.  The collage of books you see above is but a part of what I currently have on hold at the library (and apparently the limit is 25).  In 2011 I've decided that I want to learn to cook more ethnic and regional foods.  I have never, for example, made a tamale from scratch.  I want to do this.  I want to learn more about the cuisine of Portugal and Spain, more about foods of various U.S. regions of the South, West, and Northeast.  I plan on reading and reviewing each book and sharing with you one or more of the recipes.  It should be an interesting journey for us both.

All of the searching for cookbooks put me in the mood for Mexican food, so I made use of the Beer-Braised Beef and Onions left over from the Insight Bowl dinner (an EXCELLENT recipe!) in the form of empanadas.  I used Grands biscuits that I first spread with refried beans before adding the beef, a dollop of salsa, fresh cilantro, sliced black olives, sliced scallions, and grated cheese.  As sides I served Ina Garten's Guacamole Salad and Spanish Rice.  Delicious!

Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again

What do you resolve for 2011?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Soul-satisfying Steel Cut Oats

It was with great anticipation that I awaited the arrival of this morning's New York Times, as the Wednesday issue (like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and presumably every other national paper) has the beloved Food Section.  At this time of the year it usually means the year-end wrap-up of the best of the best recipes of 2010.  Boy, was I wrong!  While they may have been top recipes in the NYT the very thought of eating broiled sardines, codfish fritters with lamb sausage ragu, chili lobster (Really?  Lobster, in chili?  Why?!), or celery sorbet (Now come on!), made me want to hurl.

Do people really eat this?  And by people I do include the adventurous New Yorkers who, it would seem, are willing to intrepidly devour anything in the name of fashion.  I'll never forget watching, in horror, a food program featuring a New York restaurant that served not only beetles and other insects, but live worms to its willing patrons, the latter of which were cultivated by the proprietor on his apartment balcony.  Surely, I thought, the waitstaff must be peering out of the kitchen, holding their sides with laughter, as diners who paid top dollar in an effort to be trendy, consumed items that used to get my hands slapped by my mother along with the admonish, "Put that slimy thing down!"  (I can't say I disagree.)

So, instead of planning a special meal of recipes from theTimes, I fixed myself a bowl of soul-satisfying steel cut McCann's Irish Oatmeal, and ate it while I watched the rain fall.  Drizzled with cream, studded with raisins, and topped with brown sugar, I thought that nothing could be more appealing on this wintry day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ritz Cracker Thin Mint Clones

"Remember, a balanced meal is a cookie in each hand!" - Anonymous

Just before Christmas a friend asked me if I had a good recipe for cookies that tasted like the popular Girl Scout cookie, Thin Mints. My only experience, up until now, was a recipe that Sandra Lee of the Food Network had provided some years ago which was coating vanilla wafers with mint-flavored chocolate.  So, one year I tried this, and put the cookies out on the tray.  My oldest son grabbed one, bit into it and said, "What is this, a Vanilla Wafer covered with chocolate?"  Umm, yes, it was, and it was obvious that it was.

This year, however, my daughter-in-law (different son) told me about a very simple recipe to make an amazing clone of the beloved cookies.  I tried it and am hooked. These are wonderful and the recipe couldn't be simpler.

Girl Scout Thin Mint Clone

1 12-oz. bag chocolate chips
3-4 drops peppermint oil
A sleeve of Ritz Crackers

Melt the chocolate over simmering water in the top of a double boiler.  Add peppermint oil to taste.  Dip crackers, coating well with chocolate, and place onto waxed paper to set.

I made these after midnight the evening before our Boxing Day dinner.  I used 60% cacao Ghirardelli chocolate chips and whatever happened to be left in the bottle of mint extract (my guess is probably 1/4 teaspoon). After letting them set, I decided to give them a more festive look by melting about 1/2 cup of green mint Ghirardelli chips and drizzling this over the top.


I'll never buy a Thin Mint again (but don't worry, Girl Scouts, there are plenty of your other offerings that I will buy!)

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Boxing Day Dinner

As the family grows, so do their commitments, and it becomes more and more difficult each year to pack visits with everyone into the day-and-a-half that comprises the Christmas holiday.  So this year, in an effort to make things more enjoyable and relaxed, I opted to celebrate the day after Christmas with a Boxing Day dinner.  It was a huge success!  Twelve were in attendance and everyone enjoyed the event.  I served my traditional buffet roast beef dinner at a table bedecked with live greens, snowflake candles, Santa, and apothecary jars full of Christmas candy that delighted guests both young and old, all of whom had to have a sample (or two).  The young ones were allowed to reach into the jars at evening's end and select some candy to fill a bag and take home with them.  In addition, each guest was given a small house-shaped box with caramels inside that I'd used as place cards.  The name was on the front of the tag, and the explanation of Boxing Day was on the reverse, as follows:

Boxing Day, also known as the Feast of St. Stephen (after the first Christian martyr), is celebrated in the U.K. on December 26th.   It originated in England in the middle of the nineteenth century under Queen Victoria as a holiday for members of the merchant class to give boxes containing food and fruit, clothing, and/or money to trades people and servants. The gifts were an expression of gratitude similar to the bonuses many employers offer their employees today. These gifts, usually given in boxes, gave the holiday its name, "Boxing Day". Today, Boxing Day is a time for family and friends to gather with lots of food and fun. 

Apothecary jars full of candy delighted the children (and young at heart) at the table.
Place setting with place card box.
Each guest had his or her own bottle of water.  I liked this extra addition of green.
Apothecary jars contained M&Ms, bell-shaped gumdrops, mini Hershey bars, Kisses, peanut butter cups, and Twizzlers all in red and green.
The mantle in the dining room above the Franklin Stove glowed with soft candlelight.
The frosted trees at either end, gave the table a Northwoods look.

Santa oversaw the event and was pleased.

This is linked to Tablescape Tuesday and Seasonal Sundays.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


I wish you a day of good food, good friends, happy family, and most of all, health.  See you next week!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cookie #5 Salted Toffee-Chocolate Squares

Okay folks, we're into the home stretch.  There's no time for rolling pins, cookie cutters, icing tips, sprinkles, or those cutesy little froo-froo cookies that people ooh and ahh over, but never eat.  It's time for fast and easy and snarfingly delicious.  This cookie fits that category to a "T".  We recently served them for a Rams game and people gobbled them up like popcorn.  So make a batch, maybe two.  You won't be sorry.

Salted Toffee-Chocolate Squares

14 graham crackers
1 bag (8 ounces) toffee bits
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped toasted natural almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (4 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place graham crackers in a single layer on sheet, edges touching. Sprinkle toffee bits and almonds over graham crackers.

In a small saucepan, bring sugar and butter to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat and cook at a rapid simmer, swirling pan occasionally, until mixture is syrupy, 2 minutes. Immediately pour over graham crackers. Bake until sugar topping is bubbling, 12 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate and salt over graham crackers. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into 2-inch squares. Let cool completely on sheet on a wire rack. (Store in an airtight container, up to 1 week.)

This is linked to Foodie Friday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


My 84-year-old mother still likes to do Christmas to the hilt.  On Tuesday of this week (with the help of my Aunt and me) she hosted a holiday luncheon for 8 grateful ladies.  Part of her Santa collection took center stage on her very elaborate table.

Each guest took home a snowman lollipop made of white chocolate.
My dad, aged 86, made the wooden tree candleholders.
Here's another view of the candleholders.
The red pressed-glass Santa bottle was my contribution.
These Santa picks have been around for ages.  They go back at least to the seventies.
Santa was even on hand to serve the butter.

This Santa riding a bicycle was one of more than 20 Santas that graced the table.

The Snowman lolly up close.

Santa is everywhere.

A caroler oversaw things from the sideboard.

Lunch is served!

Chocolate cheesecake topped with strawberries, whipped cream, and drizzled with chocolate was served on Santa plates.
This is linked to Tablescape Thursday.

Cookie #4 Spritz

What would the holidays be without Spritz cookies, I ask you?  Yes, they are simple and ubiquitous, but they're tradition!  And you just can't argue with tradition.  Here's the recipe that I use.  It's from Land O Lakes, and I think the tastiest variety of all of the Spritz recipes I've tried.  You can always experiment (as you just know I do) by adding different flavorings.

Best Ever Spritz

2/3 cup sugar
1 cup Land O Lakes butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all ingredients except flour in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour. Beat until well mixed. If desired, prepare dough as directed by variations below. (If dough is too soft, cover and refrigerate, 30 to 45 minutes.) 

Place dough into cookie press fitted with template. Form desired shapes, 1 inch apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. 


Chocolate Chip Spritz: Add 1/4 cup coarsely grated semi-sweet chocolate.

Eggnog-Glazed Spritz: Add 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Glaze: Stir together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 cup LAND O LAKES Butter, softened, 2 tablespoons water and 1/4 teaspoon rum extract in small bowl until smooth. Drizzle over warm cookies.

Lebkuchen Spice Spritz: Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Glaze: Stir together 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in small bowl until smooth. Drizzle over warm cookies.

Mint Kisses: Add 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract. Immediately after removing cookies from oven place 1 chocolate candy kiss on each cookie.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cookie #3 Finger Sandwich Butter Cookies

This is the chocolate-filled version.

I love a good sandwich cookie during the holidays and find these are the first to disappear from the tray.  So tonight while waiting for dinner to come out of the oven I made this batch of cookies.  Yes, they were that quick and easy to make.

Hot from the oven, puffed and beautiful.

Finger Sandwich Butter Cookies

1 1/2 cups butter

1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 drops yellow food coloring
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and food coloring. Add dry ingredients and mix well.  Place dough in a pastry bag fitted with a #4 star tip, and pipe out in 2 inch bars on greased baking pan. (Can also be piped into rosettes or other shapes.)  Bake for about 5 to 7 minutes. Put baked cookies together with jam, frosting. or melted chocolate.

You and your guests will love them.  I guarantee!

This is linked to Tasty Tuesdays.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cookie #2 Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

Today's holiday recipe is the Chocolate Thumbprint Cookie, a new one I tried from Martha's Cookie book.  As you can see it makes a very pretty cookie, and it's very easy to do. I don't particularly enjoy rolling dough into little balls myself, so found this a bit tedious, but I suffer for my art.

The chocolate topping is equally easy, and a cinch to neatly apply to the top of the cookie.  I was all prepared with my pastry bag, ready to pipe it onto the top, but ended up just letting it roll off the end of a teaspoon, with very nice results.

The recipe claims to make 4-1/2 dozen, and perhaps it does, but as I said, the whole ball rolling thing is a bit tedious, so I probably made them bigger than they should have been and, consequently, ended up with a little over three dozen.

The chocolate topping is SUPERB! There was some left over since I didn't make the correct amount of cookies (I encourage this) and can be eaten with pleasure directly from the warming pan, or would make an excellent side dish on days when things aren't going so well and you want to hide in your room with a chocolaty treat.  I refrigerated the remainder of mine and now have a sort of loose fudge hidden in the depths of the fridge (see above reason).

I give this cookie an "A" for ease (despite the whole aforementioned ball-rolling tedium), and another "A" for attractiveness, but for the work involved, I think the flavor is only a "B."  For all of the effort, it just didn't have the taste I was hoping for, i.e. the buttery richness that I like in a shortbread cookie (which is essentially what this is).  The chocolate topping is excellent in taste, texture, and ease of application, but in my book it doesn't make this cookie a 100% winner.  A cookie fanatic, I tend to be a harsh critic, so do try these for yourself and let me know what you think.  I will make these again, but perhaps using my own shortbread dough recipe.

If you can't read it in the photo, you can find the recipe here on Martha Stewart’s website (although the recipe is doubled in her COOKIES book).

Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share (Martha Stewart Living Magazine)

This post is linked to Tuesdays at the Table.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's Cookie Week! Cookie #1 Vanilla-Chocolate Wafers

Fire up your ovens, people, it's holiday cookie week.  We're into the home stretch here with Christmas less than a week away, so time is of the essence.  All week, beginning today, I'll be giving you cookie recipes that are both delicious to eat and uncomplicated to make, so if you haven't started your holiday baking, get ready!

Every December I go through a ritual that I like to refer to as "The Great Magazine Purge."  I page through stacks and stacks of magazines accumulated throughout the year, ripping out items of interest with reckless abandon.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm really saving myself any trouble at all as I often end up with as big a pile of gleaned information as I'd have had if I'd just kept the magazine in tact.

As you can imagine this yielded LOTS of cookie recipes, so I figured what better time to try them out than now.  One item ripped from the pages of a Martha Stewart Living magazine was this recipe.  It looked good, fast, and easy, so seemed the perfect way to start the week.

The magazine page in question.
Lined up on parchment and ready for the oven.
As easy as they are delicious, this recipe is a keeper.  Be sure to come back tomorrow for another holiday cookie recipe.

Vanilla and Chocolate Wafers

Makes about 4 1/2 dozen.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder

Sift flour and salt into a medium bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Mix in egg yolk and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture; mix until just combined, about 1 minute.

Remove half of the dough; set aside. Add cocoa powder to remaining dough; mix on low speed until well combined. Turn out chocolate dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a 10-inch log, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Repeat with reserved vanilla dough. Wrap each log in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until slightly firm, at least 30 minutes.

Press handle of a long wooden spoon into side of chocolate log, making an indentation along its length. Roll handle into and then away from log, creating an apostrophe shape. Repeat with vanilla log. Fit logs together; press lightly to seal. Gently roll into a 2-inch-diameter log. Wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut log into 1/4-inch-thick rounds; space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. If dough becomes too soft to slice cleanly, return to freezer until firm.
Bake until firm to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

From Martha Stewart Living, January 2006

UltraBake Parchment Paper Sheets - 12 × 16½Fox Run Marble Rolling Pin and Base