Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A great Christmas Day ...

Chicken, mashed spuds, Brussels sprouts, old fashioned stuffing (I still use Moms recipe... the best stuffing I have ever tasted!), and, of course, yummy gravy. Ahhhhhhhhhhh ... could not have been better.

The house is littered with plates of many types of baked treats. I have been enjoying myself baking for weeks now. I absolutely love the build up to the day. Probably even more than the actual day if the truth be known.

We thoroughly enjoy admiring our "sparkly" tree for a few weeks of the festive season. It was a peaceful, relaxed, special day.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's Christmas Eve day.....

Look how nicely a dozen pack into a little card box.

The Butter Tarts.... have to have 'em every year. They are my BIL's only request if someone asks what he wants for Christmas.

and here is a quick little tip ... after they have cooled a bit ... (but only for a few minutes) .. run the sharpest edge of your tiny spatula gently around each in order to facilitate easy removal later when they are fully cooled . Sometimes there is a tiny bit of excess that bubbles over and it "bakes" the tart onto the tin. That can be the ruin of a tart when you try to remove it later. But, this trick should ensure that none are ruined. However.... since we feel we can't gift any of the "wrecked" ones... who cares? ..hahahhah ............ more for us. And this batch ?? was one of the best ever .... Cranberry Butter Tarts.

I will post the recipe later.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Cookies (same post...different blog...)

I love to buy the Christmas Cookie version of Better Homes and Gardens...or Woman's Day... etc.. Well, just look at them! Who could resist? The beautiful colours; the amazing covers ... they sold me before I even looked inside.

I have a box of 3 ring page savers...and if the books are worth saving... this a great way. I have a lot of them in a drawer..but if you like... get a separate binder for those as well. Why not keep them safe and organized?

It is a wonderful way to keep them in pristine condition even if we do use them every year. I use mine a lot .... get them out as soon as October rolls around ... they are part of my early Christmas decor .... :)

I also began this special Christmas Recipe "album" years ago. Easier to peruse and find my special recipes for the festive season. I can easily add or subtract pages as I likes and dislikes change ...or as my taste in food changes...or if I find new (or old) or better recipes. You know how we save those piles and stacks of recipes?... to do what with ? and when? Well... I have begun to purge those...and also now I even change the ones I have carefully saved in the binder pages. It is all so simple and organized now.

I chose a winter scene... cuz it is beautiful and is for Christmas "stuff" after all.... but, if you are craft minded and like to do such things, then alter a cover to suit yourself.

I am making it into a sort of heirloom I suppose. Some Christmas cards are just too beautiful to toss... well, lets face it ... lots of them are. So ... I save them as well. If you receive beautiful, or especially Vintage looking cards and don't want them.... can I have 'em? lol... I love to make tags, or tree ornaments with them. Anway.. here is one of the other ways I recycle and use some of them. I pick and choose colours to complement the recipes and their pics ... cut out a portion or even use the whole card front on the same page. It is a nostalgic, fun look at Christmases past as well as my fav holiday recipes. A lot of the cards are from my sister ... she always sends great cards.

.... look ... even some of the bear pics made the cut!

.... and here, some mag pics that remind me of my Mom... this was fun. She and my aunt always joked about taking a cruise... one day I saw this pic and thought the two of them had become poster gals for the Cruise lines... they were the type that had a ton of fun wherever they went! As did my other aunt... the crazy ladies went everywhere, did everything, and had a blast creating a lot of fun! a pic of them beside it shows how much they look like the models. We thought for sure it was them! I have Mom's hand written recipe for the best butter tarts ever ... right beside them and their cruise fun. Makes me laugh every single Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cookies

These intrigued me a few years ago and now have become a tradition at our house. They are simple if a little fiddly and look pretty darn special.

Thank goodness I had and extra set of hands to help with them ... it is killer on the shoulder blades to sit and put the little bit of chocolate dough around 51 cherries!

... and .... he does such a great job too!

Even the smallest foil cups still seem a bit large to me ... I suppose I could put a bit more dough around each one... making them fill it. Or... squeeze it onto the dough a bit before baking.

but.... they still look pretty special.

Wonder if it might help to leave a few out for Santa?

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

2 10 oz. jars maraschino cherries with stems
2 tbsp. cherry brandy or maraschino cherry juice
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Chocolate Cherry Frosting

Drain cherries, reserving juice. Lightly toss cherries with brandy if using...and drain. Let stand for 20 minutes.
Beat butter or margarine in a large mixing bowl with electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder; beat til combined. Beat in egg and 1 teaspoon of the reserved liquid. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon.
Shape a scant 1 teaspoon of dough around each cherry. Place each ball in a 1 inch foil or paper bake cup. Place cups 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet.
Bake in 350F oven for 10 minutes or til tops look dry. Transfer cookies to wire racks. Frost warm cookies with about 1/2 tsp frosting. (I waited til they were very cool... not enough energy... they worked very well cooled.) Makes 48 (I ended up with 51)

Chocolate Cherry Frosting

Stir together 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces and 1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk in a small heavy saucepan. (I had a bowl in water in the pan..worked perfectly) Cook over low heat just til chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally. Sir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of reserved cherry liquid to make of spreading consistency. Makes plenty.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Easy shortbread

Easy, quick, great tasting and festive looking .. all the words we want to hear at this time of year.

I like to use berry sugar...which is just finer granulated sugar. My choice is also half and half rice and all purpose flour.

This works so well and quickly with a wooden spoon it is not worth messing your mixer up... can feel the consistency better by hand.

Work flour into the butter mixture with the back of the wooden spoon... and scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate any smeared butter and also the flour.... keep working the flour in until you can press a knuckle into the dough and it does not feel really sticky... your knuckle should be almost clean.

Little balls of dough about the size of a teaspoon.. gently shape or press a bit.. just so you don't have sharp, thin edges. They tend to brown too quickly.

Aww ...look all Martha Stewart.... lol....oops...but there is wrapping paper on my table tsk, tsk...that will never do! She would be horrified.

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar (fruit, icing or brown)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla & a little drop almond flavouring
2 1/4 cups sifted pastry flour or
2 cups sifted all purpose flour ...or...
1/2 and 1/2 rice flour and all purpose
drained maraschino cherries cut into 1/3 or 1/4

Use a wooden spoon to cream the butter; add sugar gradually and cream together thoroughly. Add egg yolk and cream again, then add vanilla and almond flavouring. Cream some more.
Add flour slowly until a soft but not sticky dough is formed. If it starts to get too stiff you may not need the last teaspoon or so of flour.
If using an older cookie sheet place a piece of parchment paper to protect from sticking or browning... you don't want to brown shortbread. Place by teaspoonfuls on baking sheet..or make small balls and gently press down or shape a bit.
Drain some maraschino cherries (pat with paper towel) and cut into 1/3 or 1/4 pieces and place a tiny piece on each cookie. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes.... don't leave the kitchen! Check them at about 8 minutes to make sure they are not browning... this is a lot of butter and sugar...and it will happen quickly when it begins. You want them very pale.

If you have made them small enough you will get 36 or more easily..if you make them a bit larger as I tend to do on the first few will only get about 34 or 32. However, this is such an easy can try another one right away to get the sizes right. ...or just for a few more to munch... When they are still warm...they just melt in your mouth.
Lift off baking sheet while still warm but be gentle as they are a bit fragile when still warm. I use a thin metal spatula. Cool on wire rack.

There are many ways to package baking for easy and beautiful gifting. Little tins, containers and even gift bags... use a second colour of tissue under some basket saran ... you could even join the handles with a bit of raffia or a ribbon ...

Little saran bags.... with a ribbon..... or gold twist tie.

Speaking of gifting..... what about your favourite baker? You know what they want? Well, a few years ago.... I thought that when I finally got my stainless steel measuring cup set ... I would have arrived!

... and .... I also always wanted a set of measuring spoons .... stainless of course. I just love how smooth the indent feels when I run my fingers over it.... I know I must be weird or something.... but I love my spoons.

And...even this... a little one cup Pyrex measuring cup. You know... I still think they are a great gift for a cook. You need several ... and several sizes to boot. If you cook or bake... you just need them all the time. Measuring things of course...but I also use them for mixing a quick vinaigrette... flour to water for stews or gravies... pouring things into...pouring things out of... standing forks or spoons in... etc... they really are just soooo useful. If you are stuck what to buy for me...another one please.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Holiday Biscotti

When zesting an orange or lemon .... try to use a very light touch. You really only want the top colour. If you go beyond that and into the pith of the fruit... it has a very bitter taste. You just want the flavour.

I like to stir in any fruit or nuts by hand after the mixer has gathered all of the ingredients together.... and, also like to chop them fairly small as it makes nicer edges on the biscotti. I just have this thing about nice edges.

The mixture should easily come away from the sides of the bowl .... if it is a bit too sticky to handle easily, try dipping your fingers into the flour cannister. It should help.

It should be one big happy lump.

form into a log and cut in half.

Gently pat the logs down to about 1/2 inch thickness

Later, for when you are cutting....get one of these.

This may look like a hacksaw blade ..... and, yes it is. But, it is also THE most wondrous thing I have found to get perfect sides on my biscotti. I don't know why...but I like them smooth on the edges. I refer to it as my Biscotti Blade. Even my husband calls it that now. The other day he wrecked his saw..and wanted to know where "the Biscotti Blade" was....hahahah....nope not telling.

see how nicely it cuts?

and...look at the teeeeensy bit of waste. Hardly enough crumbs to scrape into a little pile. Love it.

This recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis ..... but, as usual....I have thrown in my own little comments. I always tweak a recipe to my own preferences. And, instead of dipping each one in chocolate...I often use a plastic baggy, cut a tiny hole in one corner, fold it way down, pour in chocolate and drizzle chocolate over many cookies at the same time... it is easier and looks very decorative. You don't need nearly as much chocolate either...but it gives it that little extra. I don't bother with the sprinkles.
If you don't cool sufficiently before slicing... ...they tend to crumble.

Holiday Biscotti

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (unsalted if you prefer)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I often use orange)
1/4 tsp. if you use unsalted butter
2 large eggs
3/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped (I use a lot less)
2/3 cup dried cranberries (less again, for me)
12 ounces good quality white chocolate, chopped(much less if you are only drizzling)
red and green sugar crystals, for garnish

Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour & baking powder in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, lemon zest and salt to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in pistachios and cranberries.

Form dough into a 13 inch, 3 inch wide log on prepared baking sheet. (as you can see I prefer smaller cookies so I cut my log in half). Bake at 350F or 325F until very light golden, about 25 or 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them... ovens vary. Cool for 30 minutes.

Place log on cutting board. Using sharp serrated knife, cut log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. Arrange biscotti, cut side down, on baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until they pale golden, about 15 more minutes, at 325F ... turning once in that time. Transfer biscotti to a rack and cool completely.

Stir the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Dip a portion of biscotti into melted chocolate. Gently shake off excess chocolate. Place biscotti on baking sheet for the chocolate to set. Sprinkle with sugar crystals. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm...about 35 minutes.

The biscotti can be made ahead. Store them in an airtight container up to 4 days or wrap them in foil and freeze in plastic bags up to 3 weeks.