Friday, December 25, 2009

We did it!

The idea of 25 Days of Cookies started on a cold weeknight in Chicago. I was sitting at my laptop after putting Jack to bed, thinking about how I could celebrate the holiday season with words. I'm so happy to have received so many recipes this month and also given the opportunity to write personal Christmas cards, in a way, to some of my family and friends. 

Now it's Christmas Day and the turkey has just been taken out of the oven. I'm going to sign off now and help my mom with the side dishes and wait for Jack and Jeremy to wake from their Christmas naps and for my sisters to come home from visiting their in-laws. Merry Christmas!  

Marisa's favorite: Gingerbread boys

Marisa is a part of our college trio, with Amy. As a freshman, she was always my favorite meal companion in the cafeteria - she would tell good stories and has the best laugh. Those early meals have turned into a lasting friendship - sophomore roommates, senior roommates in our first off-campus apartment, and now as married old broads living in Chicago. She has great stories now, traveling the world wide for work, study and fun with her husband Luke. 

Her mom is a very special person to me. Ann always remembers the small pleasures in life and if you love Marisa's laugh, you'll find Ann's perfectly infectious:

Gingerbread boys

5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
1 1/2 t. baking soda
2 to 3 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 cup light molasses
2 T. distilled white vinegar
Red cinnamon candies

Sift flour with baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. In a large bowl, beat shortening and sugar. When creamy, beat in egg, molasses and vinegar.  Stir in flour mixture, one fourth at a time, mixing well after each addition.  (Mixture will be stiff so you may want to use your hands.) Cover dough and chill 3 hours or longer. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut dough in half. On a lightly floured board or pastry cloth, roll one piece of the dough 1/8-inch thick.  Dip a ginger boy cutter into flour and cut dough. Places cookies on lightly greased baking sheets and use cinnamon candies to make buttons. Bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to write racks to cool. Repeating with remaining dough.

Makes 5 dozen cookies.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Emily Y.'s favorite: Dried cherry and almond cookies with vanilla icing

I am overwhelmed by my family and friends' generosity. They have responded to my call to action, opening their worn binders and recipe boxes to share some of their favorite cookie recipes with me. As I draw to a close on my 25 Days of Cookies this Christmas Eve, I'm able to look over the long list of some of the wonderful women in my life and feel truly blessed.

I actually have more than 25 recipes to share - so today I'm sharing two with you, gentle reader. Emily is Jeremy's work wife. They are the two reporters in the Chicago bureau of an advertising trade publication. Emily is a serious reporter with a delightful laugh and lovely singing voice. And she can cook too. In fact, she is starting a food blog of her own; stay tuned.

Here is her introduction and recipe:
I don't come from a cooking family, and it's taken me awhile to learn my way around the kitchen. So this is first year that I've made Christmas cookies. I wanted to try something more modern than the tree-shaped, green-sprinkle sugar cookies my mother still buys from Magee's Bakery in Lexington, Ky every year. My boyfriend, bizarrely, is not a fan of desserts, especially of the sweet and chocolatey variety. This Giada DeLaurentiis recipe for dried cherry and almond cookies with vanilla icing caught my eye because it's got cherries and almonds (two of my favorite things) and it didn't look like it would be too sugary. The comments on the site are raves. Turns out - they are fantastic. The flavors are really festive, the icing makes it fun, and they're not too hard to make. But they've got a little something for everyone. The picky eater in my house described them as "the best cookies ever."

Dried cherry and almond cookies with vanilla icing
I started by creaming:
½ c unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
½ sugar plus 2 tablespoons - I like vegan cane sugar because it's mellower
½ vanilla extract
½ almond extract
¼ t ground cinnamon
¼ t fine sea salt

I left this running in the stand mixer with paddle attachment while I got the other ingredients ready. It was frothy and white by the time I added:

1 egg

After it's all incorporated, scrape down the bowl and paddle, and gradually add:
1 ¼ c all-purpose flour (I used white wheat flour for half of that quantity)

next fold in:
¾ c chopped dried cherries
½ c slivered blanched almonds that have been toasted and cooled (I had slivered almonds for baking on hand, and it was fine)

Form the cookies into a log, about 12 inches long and 1 ½ inches in diameter. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or as long as three days. Later, slice the log into ½ inch pieces and arrange on two heavy baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Space them about one inch apart. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes until cookies are puffed and beginning to brown around the edges. (I added a couple of minutes to get them all slightly brown, and frankly could have pulled them at 15) Cool on wire racks for at least 30 minutes

Meanwhile, recipe calls for a glaze, made with
2 ¾ c. powdered sugar
2 t vanilla extract
3T water, and more if necessary (I needed 5)

Whisk vanilla extract into sugar, and add water one tablespoon at a time, until it becomes a good drizzling consistency. I needed 5 tablespoons, and could have added even more.
(This made easily twice the amount of icing I needed to drizzle each one. If you want them really sweet, and decide to coat the entire cookie, this would be enough. I'll half the amount next time.)

Let cookies set completely before serving, about 1 hour. Of course I had to try one right away. It was sensational. But they're mellower in flavor after setting, and even better the next day.

Abby's favorite: Chocolate peanut butter bars

Abby and Adam are our dear friends who live too darn far away (San Diego). Adam is one of Jeremy's best friends, and he was the best man at our wedding. He and Jeremy talk like schoolgirls on the phone often about the Jets, Mets and Wildcats. Abby is a wonderful friend and mom - a teacher by profession, she is calm, patient and extremely creative. Some of my favorite memories with them are walking around San Francisco, savoring an affogato from North Beach; their beautiful wedding and sharing many other of our friends' weddings; and them traveling to Chicago to surprise Jeremy for his 30th birthday. Here is one of her favorite recipes that her mom makes.

Chocolate peanut butter bars
cup peanut butter
6 T. butter, softened
1 1/4 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, beat peanut butter and butter. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Blend in flour and salt. Hand stir 1 c. chocolate chips into the mixture. Spead into ungreased 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Bake 25-30 mins until edges begin to brown. Immediately, sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips. Let stand 5 mins until chips are shiny. Spread evenly over top. Cool completely. Cut into bars.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Carol's favorite: Sandies by the sea

Carol is one of my North Carolina cousins. She is creative, artistic and very funny (she even submitted a picture with her entry!). She is a lot like her mother, my aunt, which I know she would find as a compliment. I love that she gave me this recipe - when I think of my North Carolina cousins, I think of the beach, lots of laughter and lots of good food and conversation.

Sandies by the sea

2 cups all-purpose flour 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) 
unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup firmly-packed 
light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, lightly toasted and very finely ground*
20 caramel candies
3 tablespoons cream or whole milk
2 to 3 tablespoons large crystal sea salt or 
fleur de sel, as needed**
1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate morsels (at least 60% cocoa)
  1. Combine flour and salt in bowl; set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat to blend. Add dry ingredients in batches, mixing between each. Stir in ground pecans. Cover and chill dough until firm.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper or butter the sheets.
  4. Roll dough into 1-inch balls with floured hands. Place on baking sheet at least one inch apart, and form a cavity in center of each ball with thumb. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until bottoms are brown and set.
  5. Remove cookies from oven; cool briefly on baking sheet. Transfer with a metal spatula to a wire cooling rack set over a piece of parchment paper.
  6. Melt caramel candies and cream together in a saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. Fill center of each cookie with approximately 1/2 teaspoons of caramel. Sprinkle warm centers evenly with sea salt, and let sit until firm.
  7. Place chocolate in plastic bag in a bowl, heat on medium at 30-second intervals in microwave. Massage between each interval until melted. Cut a small hole in bottom corner of bag,
  8. Drizzle chocolate across each cookie; add additional salt if desired and allow cookies to sit until chocolate has become firm.

Makes about 4 dozen.

*To toast pecans, place nuts in a single layer in an ungreased shallow pan.  Bake at 350°F (175°C) for 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to cool.
** Sea salt and fleur de sel are found at specialty food markets and most supermarkets. For this recipe, choose a white or pink variety with large crystals.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Val's favorite: Mrs. Cozzi's cookies

Val is the kind of co-worker/friend everyone needs in their life - she lets me go on and on with Jack stories; she can toe-to-toe with Jeremy on Bruce Springsteen; and really is always up for a good giggle.

I am so honored that she, her sister and her mom have shared this recipe with me. While she admits they are simple, they have a lot of fond memories associated with them. Here is her introduction:

These simple butter cookies have become one of my family's holiday favorites. Their green and red coloring make them festive-looking in any holiday cookie selection.  The recipe is from our cherished neighbors, Gus and Mary Cozzi. The Cozzis were the best kind of people. Mrs. Cozzi frquently invited us in when we were kids and fed us her fabulous Italian cooking. We loved these simple butter cookies so much, after much begging and pleading, Mrs. Cozzi graciously shared her simple recipe with us. Gus and Mary Cozzi are both gone now, but I still think of them especially around the holidays.

Mrs. Cozzi's cookies
1 lb butter
1 1/3 c powdered sugar
6 T vanilla
4 c flour
red and green food coloring

Blend & divide dough in half. Color half red and other green. Roll into small balls and bake 350 12-15 min until slightly browned on bottom. Let cool then lightly sprinkle tops with powdered sugar.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pam's favorite: Java sticks

My dad's cousin Pam is a wonderful baker. Her introduction and recipe are taken from the cookie cookbook that my mom compiled for my sister Dayna's wedding. My Italian family has a nice tradition of having a cookie table at the wedding reception, where aunts, mothers, sisters and cousins contribute. It's definitely one of the reasons I have a food and family blog today - I couldn't live without either one.

From Pam:

Flo Baker, an award-winning cookbook author and baking expert, has devoted her life to making Thumbelina-size sweets, including these mocha-flavored fingers edged with white chocolate and walnuts. They are not too sweet – I like them with a mellow cup of hazelnut coffee. The recipe was taken from “Holiday Cooking with America’s Top Chefs."

Java sticks
1 ½ cups unsifted, unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup walnuts
¼ cup unsweetened, Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces (1 cup) walnuts, finely chopped
Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat to 325° F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Dough: In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, sugar, ¼ cup walnuts and cocoa powder just until blended. Add the butter and coffee powder mixture and process with on/off bursts just until the mixture forms a ball.
Place half the dough in a 16-inch pastry bag fitted with a ½” plain decorating tip (such as Ateco #6). Pipe dough into sticks 1 ½” in length and 1” apart on baking sheets. To cut off the dough at the end of each stick press the decorating tip down toward the sheet. You may wish to anchor the parchment paper by dabbing dough under each corner of the paper. Fill the pastry bag with remaining dough and pipe it into sticks.
Bake, one sheet at a time, 8 to 11 minutes, or until the cookies no longer appear shiny and are pale tan in color. (Sticks spread to about 1” wide.) Cool sheet on wire rack.
Decoration: Melt chocolate in a bowl over 110° F. water. Spread finely chopped walnuts on a plate. Lightly dip both long edges of each cookie in chocolate, then into the walnuts, placing each cookie on a clean baking sheet as you finish. Refrigerate sheet a few minutes to set the chocolate. Store in a single layer in a foil-lined box at room temperature up to 3 days.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Got your attention? I Tivo-ed Nigella's Christmas Kitchen this morning and was able to watch half before Sunday football took over our TV. She made some fabulous-looking chocolate cookies, which I'm sure are in her new cookbook. The special airs again on December 23, if you're interested in watching. While Jack napped the afternoon away, I made some mini bundt cakes as Christmas presents: double-chocolate bundt cakes with ganache glaze. Hello. I had enough to make a small loaf for Jeremy and me. Dee-licious!

Margaret's favorite: Polish kolaczki

Margaret is a wonderfully warm friend - truly beautiful inside and out - whom I've met through work. She's very caring, down-to-earth and remembers to ask how you (and your mom, sister, best friend, etc.) are doing. She is from a very Polish family, and her mom dictated this recipe to her from memory:

Polish kolaczki
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 can apricot pastry filling

Mix cream cheese, butter and egg yolk. Mix together flour and baking powder and add to cream cheese mixture. Roll dough out to 1/8-inch. Cut circles using cookie cutters. Put apricot filling in and roll up. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Whitney's favorite: Sour cream cookies

Whitney is a favorite friend - she is witty, fun and intelligent. We started out as friends through working on Northwestern's yearbook. We were also sorority sisters. After college, we met regularly for dinner and movie dates. Our lives followed somewhat similar paths...we both work in Chicago's nonprofit sectors (she has the most awesome job - managing the temporary and traveling exhibits for The Field Museum, criss-crossing the globe) and our weddings were within a month of each other. We're fellow Libras (she's 3 days older, which I don't let her forget) and members of Fourth Presbyterian Church. And one night in spring 2007, we met for tapas. "I have news," I started to say, to let her know I was pregnant. "So do I," she said.

That night, realizing we were due within days of each other, we decided to share childcare. Our lives have been even more intertwined ever since. Her son Nate and Jack are like brothers. Friday when I was leaving for work, I got big hugs and kisses from our sweet boys and that reminded how happy I am to have my family so close to Whitney's.

Sour Cream Cookies
1/2 c. shortening
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 c. sour cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda

Mix and bake @ 375 degrees for 10 minutes

1/4 c. butter
1 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1-2 tsp. hot water

Mix and ice cookies when cool. Add sprinkles, raisins, cinnamon, or other fun toppings as desired. This part is good to do with kids!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jeremy's favorite: Snowball cookies

My mom has made this cookie nearly every Christmas since we were little. It’s taken from her original Betty Crocker cookbook that she used in a nutrition class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania – the first cookbook she ever owned. Jeremy just loves them. He brought them to work this week, and I got a thumbs-up approval from his co-workers.

Snowball cookies
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
2 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

Heat oven to 400° F. Mix thoroughly butter, sugar and vanilla (or almond extract). Work in flour, salt and nuts until dough holds together. Shape dough into 1” balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. While warm, roll in powdered sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again.

Makes 4 dozen.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mom's favorite: Nut kifles

This recipe is a relative newcomer to my mom’s cookie plate. It comes from a Sherwin-Williams employee cookbook that my dad gave my mom one Christmas.

Nut kifles
1 pound (2 cups) margarine
4 cups flour
3 eggs, separated
1 ½ cups sour cream
1 ½ cups ground walnuts
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cut margarine into flour as for pie dough. Beat together egg yolks and sour cream; combine with flour mixture. Divide dough into six or seven parts. Wrap in waxed paper and chills 6 hours or overnight.

Roll out each piece of dough on floured surface to a 12-inch circle. Brush with egg whites. Combine ground nuts, sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle on top. Cut into 12 equal wedges. Roll up from wide end to point. Curve into crescent with point under. Brush top with egg whites and dip top into nut mixture. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 6 to 7 dozen.

Note: The dough is very sticky – flour the working surface frequently.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The best thing in the world

In honor of three people telling me today already I look/sound tired, including my mom, I'd like to dedicate this post to my first love: coffee. I was first introduced during our freshmen college days, and the love has blossomed from there.

Jeremy (who's been drinking coffee since he was a kid but don't worry he's 6' tall) and I have traveled near and far to bring you our favorites:

1. Best budget buy: Kirkland's Sumatra French Roast Coffee (found at Costco)
2. Best middle buy: Whole Foods' 365 Everyday French Roast Coffee
3. Best splurge: Intelligentsia Quetzal Breakfast Blend or any 100% Kona coffee

My kind husband even sent me to work this morning with my French roast coffee in one of the greatest inventions ever:a Thermos leak-proof backpack bottle. I was able to throw this in my bag, nary a worry about coffee spills.

(My mom, by the way, has given me permission to close my office door and put my head down on my desk.)

Kathryn's favorite: Ranger cookies

I've known Kathryn since our days at Northwestern. Our lives has intersected at many points; we served on a student/alumni group together at school and she and her husband are good friends of Amy and Mark, so these days, we see each other at picnics and parties. It's nice to keep up on each other's life via Facebook. She and I are also faithful fans of Ina. All of that said, I'm going to declare that Kathryn's recipe is my first reader-submission recipe. Yea, Kathryn! Thank you for sending along this recipe, and I hope others will as well. There are still 9 days left, gentle readers!

Kathryn tells me this is a favorite for cookie exchanges, makes a million cookies and only uses one bowl (three thumbs up!):

Ranger Cookies
1 1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 cup
dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp
baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups
rice flakes (Special K)
2 cups coconut

Mix ingredients. Drop by teaspoonful on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Geoff's favorite: Peanut butter buckeyes

Geoff is known as "Uncle" in our household. He is my sister Dayna's husband, and Jack (and our nephew Andrew) just adore him. He is truly the good times' guy and is always coming up with silly games for his toddler nephews.

He is the ultimate Buckeyes fan - though what Buckeyes fan isn't? This is one of his favorite it the chocolate/peanut butter combination or something else?

By the way, I'm originally from Ohio, so many friends have offered me this recipe. This particular one comes from the mother of Dayna's best friend Emily.

Peanut butter buckeyes
3 cups smooth peanut butter
2 pounds confectioner’s sugar

2 sticks butter

Combine all ingredients thoroughly. Mixture should be just a
little dry; if not add additional confectioner’s sugar.

Roll with hands and form into buckeye size balls. You will need the heat from your hands to help the mixture form the ball. When done chill overnight in refrigerator. This recipe makes around 200 buckeyes, so plan the time accordingly.

Melt 18 ounces of chocolate chips with 1/3 slab of paraffin wax in a double boiler. Dip each buckeye using a toothpick leaving the top of the ball partially exposed (buckeye). Let excess chocolate drain off for a moment then place on
wax paper to dry.

Final step is to smooth toothpick holes with tip of butter knife. Place in small paper muffin cup or candy paper for easy serving.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My favorite: Magic bars

Confession: only yesterday, I started baking Christmas cookies for the season. Scandalous, I know. Here I've been blogging all month about cookies but have yet to make any. This is a really easy recipe that makes pretty cookies for the cookie plate. It was passed down from my grandma to my mom, and I will tell you why I like it (besides the sentimental value!): 1. You really can't mess it up - the measurements are estimates; 2. everything is done in one pan (no bowl even!); 3. you can improvise...on this particular batch I also included butterscotch chips; and 4. butter!

Magic Bars
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (yea to the person who invented ready-made graham cracker makes this easy recipe even easier)
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 6oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 3 ½ oz can flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a 13” x 9” baking pan, melt butter. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs over butter. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumbs. Top evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts. Lightly press mixture with a spatula.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool thoroughly (best overnight – covered) before cutting (seriously wait - otherwise it's a gooey mess to cut).

Makes 4 dozen.

My husband, the talking head

From time to time, Jeremy, as a reporter, is asked to speak on TV on stories he's following. It never, ever gets old for me. I just love seeing him on TV, and it always impresses me on how at ease he is behind the camera. At the beginning, it was mostly local news programs, but he's since graduated to the big time - cable news, people.

Sunday morning, he was on MSNBC, talking about Tiger Woods and his endorsements. As we were going to bed Saturday night, I kept asking him if he was nervous, and he assured me he wasn't. His first appearance Sunday was actually via Skype from our home. Since we live in a loft, and it's hard for me to contain noise, I took Jack and our 15-pound, attention-loving cat Roscoe into the bathroom. Jack got a bath with all of his toys while Jeremy did his 7:30 a.m. interview. Here is the second of his two appearances that morning (this one was done in NBC's Chicago studio).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Amy K.'s favorite: Mimi's potato chip cookies

Amy is my sister in Chicago. We met at Northwestern, along with our friend Marisa, as freshmen in an all-girls' dorm (none of us had requested to live there). We've shared all of life's big moments since then; I always think how lucky I am to be in her life.

Once we took a knitting class together (post-college, pre-husbands and -babies when we had time for such a thing). The teacher kept chastising Amy for making her stitches too tight. I laughed - that is who Amy is. She does everything with her whole heart and a lot of intensity - her work as a social worker and her personal life as a loving mom, wife, daughter, sister and dear friend.

This recipe is from her beloved great aunt, who lived in Chicago:

Mimi's potato chip cookies
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
3 c. flour
2 c. crushed potato chips
1/2 c. finely chopped nuts (optional)
1 T. vanilla

Cream butter; add sugar and cream together. Add flour gradually; mix together. Add vanilla, potato chips and chopped nuts.

Chill dough for at least one hour; easier to handle. Spoon dropfuls on ungreased pan and smoosh down with the bottom of a glass. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. Bake for an extra 1 to 2 minutes if still light. Store in an airtight container.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guess who's coming to dinner (us!)

You know what's better than best friends? Best friends who can Cook (and yes that was meant to be with a capital C). Our dear friends Amy and Mark invited us to dinner Saturday night and oh wow! They both outdid themselves, utilizing many recipes from Cook's Illustrated. (It is so nice that we still have this magazine, what with Gourmet being gone now). And did I mention they have a toddler and a newborn?

Mark and Jeremy have an ongoing bet - the loser of the NU-Illinois football game makes dinner. NU is two for two since this bet started last year. Mark, funny guy, actually provided us with the menu ahead of time:

Warm Bread
Arugula and Roasted Pear Salad with Parmesan Crisps
Horseradish-crusted Beef Tenderloin with Porcini Mushroom Gravy
Roasted Maple-Mustard Green Beans
Mashed Potatoes with Garlic and Truffle Oil
French Press Coffee
Chocolate-Orange Mousse Cake


Janis' favorite: Pumpkin raisin cookies

Janis is the kind of co-worker who hope you have in your life. Always willing to listen (and ready to tell you the truth)...and is always bringing great treats into the office to boot!

Her niece introduced her family to this recipe. They say it's the best hands-down:

Pumpkin raisin cookies
1 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 c. canned pumpkin
1 egg
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 c. raisins

Cream shortening, sugar and pumpkin in a mixing bowl; blend in egg. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; blend into pumpkin mixture. Fold in raisins. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Spread frosting on warm cookies. Makes about 3 dozen.

3 T. butter
4 t. milk
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1 c. powdered sugar
3/4 t. vanilla

Combine butter, milk and brown sugar in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cool. Mix in powdered sugar and vanilla.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Night Special

I'm blogging on my food blog while watching "Julie and Julia" - is the world going to explode?

After a week of ho-hum grilled chicken, what fun to turn up the volume (nod to Ina) and make chicken piccata. This recipe comes from a really fun cookbook that my in-laws picked up on vacation.

Chicken piccata
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, patted dry (2.5 to 3 pounds total)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 T. olive oil
4 T. unsalted butter
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. capers, drained
2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cover the chicken breasts with a piece of plastic wrap and, using a meat pounder, flatten each breast to an even 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow bowl. Dredge each piece of chicken in the flour and shake off any excess.

In a large saute pan, heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. When the foaming subsides, add the chicken and cook until golden brown on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the chicken and brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes. When done, remove the chicken from the pan, sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper and set aside.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice and capers, scraping up any brown bites and pieces left from the chicken. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

Return the chicken to the pan, turn the heat to medium, and heat for 1 minute. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

This movie is really delightful by the way. Is it coincidence that Jeremy and I received our passports in the mail today and the movie scenes of Paris are so charming?

Jeremy's favorite: Black and white cookies

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Jeremy is Jewish, and I am Christian, and so far, so good on the interfaith marriage. I am a big fan of making Jeremy's favorites for the Jewish holidays. Now these cookies aren't Hanukkah-specific but they are a New York specialty and one of Jeremy's favorites. My mom, in fact, made them for the cookie table at our wedding. Here is the recipe she used, from the famous Zabar's in New York.

Black and white cookies
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter,softened
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all purpose-flour
1 tsp.baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

4 cups confectioners sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup boiling water
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter 2 baking sheets and set aside.

Make the cookies: In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and butter and mix by machine or hand until fluffy. Add the eggs, milk and vanilla and lemon extracts and mix until smooth.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking powder and salt and stir until mixed. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in batches, stirring well to combine. Using a soup spoon,drop spoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the edges begin to brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

Make the frosting: Place the confectioners' sugar in a large bowl. Gradually add enough of the boiling water to the sugar, stirring constantly, until mixture is spreadable.

Remove half of the frosting to the top of a double boiler set over simmering water and add the chocolate. Warm the mixture, stirring,until the chocolate is melted and the frosting is smooth. Remove from the heat. With a brush, coat half the cookie with chocolate frosting and the other half with white frosting.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Maria's favorite: Peanut butter and jelly cookies

Maria is nanny extraordinaire to Jack and our little friend Nate. She has boundless energy and is always taking the boys to fun Chicago places. I always like to say Jack has the best life ever...the zoo one day, the aquarium the next and the list goes on and on. She has introduced them to so many different ethnic foods and is really working with them both to learn the proper way to act in restaurants. Just this week, Jack has even taken to holding the door for little gentleman! Here is one of Maria's favorites...very kid-friendly, of course!

Peanut butter and jelly cookies
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons grape jelly

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a bowl whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. In another bowl whisk together peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar until smooth and whisk in egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture, stirring until blended.

Roll pieces of dough into 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar. On a large baking sheet arrange balls 2 inches apart and bake in middle of oven 10 minutes. Working quickly, with the back of a 1/4-teaspoon measuring spoon make an indentation about 1/2 inch in diameter in center of each cookie. Fill each indentation with slightly heaping 1/4 teaspoon jelly and bake cookies 10 minutes more, or until golden. Transfer cookies to racks to cool.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Emily's favorite: Peanut blossoms

Emily is my culinary co-pilot through life. We have hosted numerous parties and showers for friends; we've tried many restaurants; and we've traveled to Napa and Washington State with our husbands to taste wines. Post-college roommates, Emily introduced me to the Barefoot Contessa (one fond memory is her making turkey meatloaf in our tiny unairconditioned kitchen one August day) and we regularly had Sunday night dinners with our then-boyfriends. Most recently, we made a pumpkin pie from scratch, roasting the pumpkin and all. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise - canned pumpkin is absolutely no match to the real thing. Here is one of Emily's favorite cookies that her mom makes:

Peanut Blossoms
Sift together:
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream together ½ cup butter and ½ cup peanut butter, gradually add ½ cup sugar and ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar, creaming well.

Add 1 unbeaten egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla, beat well.

Blend in the dry ingredients gradually, mix thoroughly.

Shape dough into balls using a rounded teaspoonful for each. Roll balls in sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and place a solid chocolate kiss on top on each cookie pressing down firmly so that cookie cracks around the edge. Return cookies to oven and bake 2 – 5 minutes longer until golden brown.

Makes about 3 dozen

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Laura's favorite: Pizzelles

Laura is my other life partner, our youngest sister. She is a very funny girl who trained for her funny girl status by taking joke books out of the library as a child (I will never let that die, Laura). She's as close as any of us sisters will come to being a fashionista. Don't even think of wearing pleated pants around her (unless it's done ironically). If you need a good shopping partner, she is your gal.

She declares that Christmas would not be complete without pizzelles. Pizzelles are wonderfully light Italian waffle cookies. One of my favorite wedding gifts, in fact, was a pizzelle maker from my Aunt Ruthie.

1 dozen eggs
2 cups oil
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons anise extract or 1/2 bottle anise flavoring
4 to 4.5 cups flour

Beat eggs on high, slowly add oil and sugar. Mix in flavoring. Slowly add flour until well blended. Cover and chill overnight. Follow baking directions on pizzelle baker.

Place pizzelles on cooling rack and let dry overnight before storing in an airtight container.
Can be frozen. Yield 6+ dozen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Outside the snow is falling...

Actually the snow fell earlier today but it was our first honest-to-goodness snow of the season and I was very excited. (I take the train to work so I have the luxury of getting excited about snow without having to worry about driving in it.) What better way to keep my husband warm tonight than making him some of Ina's Italian Wedding Soup? The hardest part was keeping Jeremy from eating the meatballs after they were baked and before they made it into the soup. Plus, it called for a little white wine but not the whole bottle, so the cook got a little sip. How bad could that be?

Dayna's favorite: Cranberry almond biscotti

Dayna is one of my life partners. We've known each other since November 14, 1978. That was the day she, my sister, was born. Funny...even then one of my memories about her birth was about food! During my mom's stay at the hospital, my dad had pulled the phonebook from the cupboard to call her (no Google, no Internet, no speed dials in those days). I saw the pizzelle maker on the shelf and begged my dad to make pizzelles. "Let's make pizzelles!" (I was 25 months old; that is just plain weird. And come to think of it, Jack is now 25 months...does that mean he can remember things now? Yikes.)

Dayna's our little mama who always loved her dolls and playing house. Fast forward to the present: She loves her nephews (she is from the Two Mommies fame) and is always willing to help me out (case in point: she has already emailed me numerous Christmas cookie recipes and has even submitted a recipe on our sister Laura's behalf). Here's one of her favorites that our mom likes to make during the holidays. Enjoy with a cup of tea:

Cranberry almond biscotti
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon almond extract
2 ¼ cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup sliced almonds
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Whisk together eggs, egg whites and almond extract. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients. Stir in almonds and cranberries. On a floured surface, divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 14” x 1 ½” log. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 325° F. for 30 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300° F. Cut biscotti into ½” slices. Stand slices upright on cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Makes 2½ dozen. Note: Can drizzle with melted chocolate when cooled.