Tuesday, December 28, 2010

seasons greetings: mexican wedding cakes

Greetings from PA (aka not the Blizzard of 2010)! I'm not snowed in under 14 inches of snow and my flight home (so far - I leave Wednesday) isn't canceled, so there's really no good reason for me to be baking up the storm I have been the past two days except... I can! And there are people (family) here to eat everything! Which means good things for my waistline and gives me something to do besides the Back To The Future marathon that appears to be never ending.

To that end, here are some cookies I whipped up tonight after some social plans fell through. When you can't drink, bake! My Mom used to make these and I found them absent in the Christmas cookie tins this year, so I perused Tastespotting and found this recipe that seemed easy enough for 10pm on a holiday Monday - though I'll tell you what, cookies are tough to make when there are cute little Grizzle dogs nearby. I used almonds since that's what was on hand (thanks Mom's kitchen pantry!) and they turned out quite tasty! And hey, they even look like the snow balls I'll be coming home to on Wednesday when/if I make it back to NYC.

There will be another Christmas-recipe coming, though to be honest I seemed to stick by tried and true recipes this year. I made this appley-goodness for Christmas dinner dessert, and put together a batch of these as hostess gifts for a neighbors party, but by request I'll be posting my Mom's Holiday Pretzel Salad! So stay tuned...

I hope you all had wonderful holidays filled with family, laughter and lots of joy (and good food) - now on to the recipe!

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup toasted and ground almonds (no need to skin them)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a rimless baking sheet with parchment paper (I didn't).

In a bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.

Add the ground almonds and beat on low speed until blended. Add the dry ingredients and beat until a soft dough comes together in large clumps (it will seem very dry).

To form each cookie, roll a level tbsp. of dough between your palms into a 1-inch rectangle.
Place 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake until the cookie bottoms are light brown and the tops are very lightly colored, about 20-22 minutes. Be careful not to over-bake. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Gently roll the cookies in the sugar to coat them evenly. Store the cookies in an airtight container. The cookies will become surprisingly softer the second day - make sure you cover them nicely when storing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

holiday treats: peanut butter-chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies

It's December 21st and Christmas is all around with:

- giant snowflakes on Columbus Avenue
- holiday markets with red stripes and gingerbread men
- the Rock Center tree
- ice skating in circles at Wollmann Rink and The Pond
- peppermint Mocha's and red Starbucks cups
- fresh-cut trees being bartered on street corners
- holiday windows on 5th Avenue
- freezing cold apartments and salted sidewalks
- ugg's accessorizing every outfit
- horrible fragrance commercials flanking every TV show
- christmas parties and holiday cards
- lots of wine and bubbles
- snow wishes
- doggies in sweaters
- my birthday (and the late night it implies)
- Mom's pretzel salad
- White Christmas on AMC
and, maybe best of all, Christmas cookie exchanges!

I asked my co-workers for their favorite Christmas cookies and got a surprising answer: good ole Chocolate Chip. I've had a personal hankering for my own favorite Christmas cookies lately (and I'm on batch #4) so I found a recipe that combines the two into a cookie filled with deliciousness.

These were picture perfect and I stacked them together as a holiday treat for colleagues. Hope you're making the most of the last few days before Christmas! Merry, merry!

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups chocolate chips (1 12-oz package)
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped (I left these out)

In a bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and peanut butter until well blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

In another bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Stir or beat into butter mixture until well incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips and oats.

Drop dough in rounded 2-tbsp. portions, 3 inches apart, onto buttered or cooking parchment-lined baking sheets. With a fork, flatten slightly into 2 1/2-inch rounds about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake in a 350 F oven until cookies are golden and tops feel set when lightly pressed, about 12 minutes (they will feel underdone but will firm up as they cool).

Let stand 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer to racks to cool.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

happy hanukkah: sweet challah

And... we're back. Back on solid foods, that is. It was a rough go there at the end but I prevailed and the crazy thing? I miss the juices. Weird right? And not what you'd expect from a foodie like me. But my skin is glowing, my tummy is flat(ter), and I've been sleeping like a baby. Mission accomplished!

Now on to the good stuff. In celebration of Hanukkah and my Jewish friends, I'm sharing a delicious yeast bread that I love to eat year-round. Yes! Another yeast bread! Wuahahahaha. With this braided beauty, I think I've conquered my yeast fear :)

Challah bread's soft, eggy texture makes it perfect for morning french toast - or as a vehicle for something delicious like pumpkin butter, which is what I used it for!

This recipe yielded one big loaf - next time I'd either split it into two or create a 6-strand loaf - and it was easy to follow and absolutely gorgeous. Plus, with a perfect bread after just a few hours I think I'll be making this again soon. Maybe next time with raisins? And cinnamon??

Viva yeast bread! And Happy Hanukkah :)

Sweet Challah Bread
adapted from Cooking Light

1 package dry yeast
1 cup warm water (100-110 F)
3 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. salt
1 large egg
3 cups bread flour, divided
cooking spray
1 tsp. cornmeal
1 tsp. water
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp. poppy seeds

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup warm water in a large bowl; stir in honey. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add melted butter, 1 tsp. salt and egg; stir well with a whisk.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 2 3/4 cups flour to yeast mixture, and stir until a soft dough forms. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining flour to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will be very soft).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 F), free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough).

Punch dough down. Shape dough into a ball; return to bowl. Cover and let rise an additional 40 minutes or until doubled in size. Punch dough down; cover and let rest 15 minutes.

Divide dough into 3 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, on a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a 25-inch rope with slightly tapered ends. Place ropes lengthwise on a large baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal; pinch ends together at one end to seal. Braid ropes; pinch loose ends to seal. Cover and let rise 20 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Combine 1 tsp. water and egg yolk, stirring with a fork until blended. Uncover loaf and gently brush with egg mixture. Sprinkle evenly with 1/4 tsp. poppy seeds. Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on wire rack.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

yummy: Real Simple Pop Up Shop

Day three on my juices and going strong. With each juice filled to the brim with fruits and vegetables I'm never hungry, but ya'll, I am CRAVING cheese. Is this a side effect? Homemade cheese-filled ravioli, cheesy alfredo pasta, cheese and crackers, you name it. Get it. In. My mouth.

And today at the Real Simple Pop Up Shop, I almost snapped. Real Simple Food Director Allie Lewis-Clapp was on location to give a fabulous cheesy food demonstration within the 15,000 square foot space at Rockefeller Center. It was opening day at the Pop Up Shop and staff and crew were abuzz adding finishing touches and welcoming customers.

You haven't heard of the Pop Up Shop? Well, let me fill you in. Just in time for the holidays, Real Simple has created a full-blown retail store in NYC to set you up with a gift for everyone on your holiday shopping list. There's something For Her. Something For Him. Something for the Kids, and something for Home. And even something for Pets! Some of the proceeds go to charities, you can sign up for high-value sweepstakes (Kitchen makeover, anyone?), and you can even have gifts wrapped and shipped to friends and family, right from the store. Oh, and you'll leave looking better than you did when you strolled in after a complimentary makeover by L'Oreal Paris.

There's so much going on you might need to stop by twice. I'll be there tomorrow through Monday so come say hi!

In case you missed it today, here are two Real Simple recipes from Allie's demo - both perfect for snacking at a holiday party. I might have to host one just to try them out!

Artichoke and Spinach Relish with Walnuts
1/4 cup walnuts
1 13.75-oz. can artichoke hearts, rinsed and chopped
1 cup baby spinach, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
3 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and black pepper
Crackers and cut-up vegetables for serving

Heat oven to 400 F. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing occasionally until fragrant, 6-8 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop.

In a small bowl, combine the artichoke hearts, spinach, Parmesan, mayonnaise, lemon juice, walnuts, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Serve with crackers and vegetables.

Creamy Salmon Spread with Horseradish
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tbsp. prepared horseradish
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 oz. smoked salmon, chopped
Crackers and cut-up vegetables for serving

Combine the cream cheese, horseradish, dill, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper in a small bowl.

Fold the salmon into the cream cheese mixture. Serve with the crackers and vegetables.

Note: The relish and spread can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.
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