holidays

Valentine’s Hearts

by Caroline

In years past, I have made heart-shaped chocolate sandwich cookies, I have made heart-shaped brownie ice cream sandwiches, and even homemade Ring Dings (or Ding Dongs, depending on whether your family bought Hostess or Drake’s Cakes). Last year, apparently not so much in the mood for sweets, I made a bright pink beet pasta for Valentine’s Day. This year, with a kid at home — not quite sick but not quite well– taking a midwinter personal day off from school, I wanted to make a Valentine’s treat that involved him. I had a vague recollection of a stained glass cookie, and Ben’s the one who found the recipe in his Spatulatta cookbook. And because we already had a supply of pomegranate-tangerine lollipops (long story) available for crushing, we didn’t even need to go to the store!

12 T (one and a half sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
clear red hard candies, like Life Savers, crushed

First, enlist a willing young helper to crush the candies. Stick them in a big ziploc bag and use a rolling pin or a can of beans for pounding:

He is *definitely* going to school on Friday

They're rather pretty when smashed, aren't they?

Next, beat together the butter and sugar until pale, add the eggs one at a time, and then mix in the vanilla. Now add the flour, baking powder and salt, and mix until well blended. Form two discs of dough, wrap well and refrigerate for about an hour.

Toward the end of the hour, preheat the oven to 375. Line two cookie sheets with parchment.

Sprinkle a work surface with a bit of flour and, working with one disc of dough at a time, roll out to 1/8″ thick. Cut out large hearts and put them on a cookie sheet, then cut out small hearts from the middle of each large heart. If you are lucky, you’ll have another willing helper to do this part for you:


Fill the heart-shaped hole with crushed candies:

Sprinkle the small hearts with colored sugars, or simply bake them with the large hearts and frost them (or not) after they have baked and cooled.
Bake the cookies 7-9 minutes, until lightly browned.

Let the cookies cool completely on the cookie sheet before removing them to a rack, or else when you lift the cookies, your candy hearts will remain behind!

sweets for my sweets

A Sparkling New Year

by Caroline


Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks is one of the few food blogs I read regularly: the writing is wonderful, the recipes are terrific, the photography is gorgeous. Even better, my sister and several friends read the blog, too; they often try out the recipes before I can get to them and report back with their results.

So it was with Swanson’s recipe for sugared cranberries, which my friend Julie made at Thanksgiving and let me taste; they hit just the right balance of sweet and tart, crunchy and soft. Ben and I both love cranberries, and we do eat cranberry sauce by the spoonful, but it’s nice to find another way to eat them. I made them for our New Year’s Day party, and served some on a cheese plate, while putting others with the cookies.


We have just enough left over to toss a couple into a glass of champagne, and then to top tomorrow’s oatmeal — they are a very multipurpose snack!

I used frozen berries, thawed briefly at room temperature on a jelly roll pan. I was short on time so I skipped the second tumble in sugar, and then used that leftover sugar (what didn’t stick on the cranberries) to make lemonade. The leftover simple syrup is in the fridge, awaiting the next round of cocktails.

Here’s the recipe, straight from 101 Cookbooks:

For the simple syrup, raw cane sugar or real brown sugar lends a nice molasses flavor to the cranberries, but regular granulated sugar (or a blend of brown/white) will work.

2 cups cranberries, picked over
2 cups water
2 cups sugar (see head notes)

More sugar for coating: I do a mix of medium-grained organic sugar for the first coating, and then a second toss with regular granulated white sugar. You don’t want a huge grain for that first toss, just something larger than standard sugar, smaller than most turbinado sugars.

Place the cranberries in a medium glass bowl and set aside.

Make a simple syrup by bringing the water and sugar just to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Let the syrup cool for a couple minutes and then pour it over the cranberries. If the syrup is too hot the cranberries will burst, so be careful. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, drain the cranberries and toss them with larger grained sugar until they are well coated. I only use a scoop of sugar at a time, and small batches of cranberries, so the sugar doesn’t get too damp. Place the coated cranberries on a baking sheet to dry for a few hours.

Do a second toss with the regular granulated sugar, this typically takes care of any sticky spots on the cranberries. Let dry another hour.

Makes 2 cups of sparkling cranberries.

Iced Ginger Cookies

by Caroline

I spent an hour today going through my stuffed binders of torn-out magazine recipes, assembling a menu for our annual New Year’s Day party. This cookie recipe is one I found in Sunset magazine four years ago and yet had never tried. Now it’s going to be a regular part of our holiday baking, because the cookies are easy, delicious, and pretty.

Ingredients

* 1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling cookies
* 3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
* 1 egg
* 3 tablespoons molasses
* 2 cups flour, sifted
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
* 1 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
* 1 cup powdered sugar
* 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream 1 cup granulated sugar with butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and molasses.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and spices. Add to butter mixture and blend well.

3. Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar. Break off walnut-size pieces of dough and roll into balls; roll balls in sugar. Arrange on greased cookie sheets and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks.

4. Meanwhile, make glaze: Combine powdered sugar with 1 tbsp. water and stir until smooth, then stir in lemon juice. Drizzle glaze over cookies.

A Christmas Cocktail

by Caroline

If you type the word “cocktails” in the search box up to the right there, you’ll find about a dozen posts and recipes, mostly by Lisa, though my family makes good use of cocktail hour ourselves. This time of year, while most folks are stirring up jugs of eggnog, Lisa and I are happily mixing pitchers of milk punch, spiked for us and plain for the kids.

But much as I love it, milk punch is kind of a dessert (even when, as I often do — though Lisa might think this is heresy — I leave out the cream and even make it with low-fat milk); I can’t drink it before dinner (that is, during cocktail hour). And while I am happy to have a post-kids’ bedtime drink, some days, of course, call for a cocktail before dinner and one after.

Enter the Maple Leaf, which Tony mixed up for me for the first time last week. It is both appropriately wintry and works with the primary ingredient we enjoy here at my parents’ home in Connecticut. So don’t pour all that maple syrup on your pancakes and waffles this week; save some for cocktail hour!

Combine in a cocktail shaker:
3/4 oz. maple syrup
3/4 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. bourbon

Shake well with ice and serve on the rocks.

More Light

By Lisa

Unknown to us, Caroline & I have the same advent wreath tradition.  We light ours, made with greens from the Redwood tree in our backyard and 3 tealights (3 violet, one rose for Gaudete (orRejoice!) Sunday) every night during this season.   So I will leave you with just this image and a poem by Wallace Stevens which has nothing to do with food, or Advent, but with the power of light in darkness. Which is something I think we all need, and something a candlelit table can sometimes help to provide.

Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour
By Wallace Stevens

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.