Friday, December 31, 2010

MMMM Cookies

Here's December's column from the Petaluma Post.  It's probably past the time for cookies, but something for the future...

We all know how crazy of a month that December can be. With places to be and places to go, cooking and gifting, it is hard to make sure that you always have the right thing. I am a huge believer in consumables; we all have so many things and want to make our lives easier, I like edible gifts. To me the perfect gift is cookies. There is nothing that I love more than a plate with four or five different little nibbles. They are great to put out when guests arrive, or to relax with after a busy day.

It is a great idea to keep several cookie doughs on hand for just such a need. While cookies may only hold well for a day or two once baked, many of them hold very well in raw form in the freezer or refrigerator. Yes you can buy Pillsbury slice and bake, but you can make your own and use them the same way. All of the cookies that we make in the catering company are made and scooped then baked as needed.

One recipe that I really love is a basic short cookie; this recipe is great for cookies and can also be used as a sweet tart crust too.

Short Bread Cookies
2 lbs Butter
12 oz Sugar
4 Eggs
3 lbs Flour

This makes about one hundred cookies. I usually split this into two or three parts and add mix-ins (no its not Cold Stone but the term works so well). Try these classic additions:

A Russian Tea Cookies - add a ½ cup of chopped pecans, fold into dough

Mexican Wedding Cookies - add a ½ cup of chopped walnuts, fold into dough, when baked dust with powdered sugar.

Fruit Cake Cookies - add a ½ cup of chopped dried fruit; like craisins, apricots, cherries, candied lemon skins plus 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, mix together. I then roll the dough in large crystal sugar.

Black & White Cookies - mix 2 tablespoons of cocoa in to a ½ cup of the dough, then you can braid the white and chocolate dough together.

Feel free to experiment, it is a great dough.

Roll cookie doughs into logs and wrap in parchment or plastic wrap. They can freeze well for up to three months or hold in the refrigerator for about ten days. When needed, just remove from fridge or freezer and slice about ¼” thick. (If it just came out of the freezer, give it 20 minutes to thaw before slicing.) Place on lined cookie sheet and bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees, till just lightly golden.

The first year my husband and I were married, we were living in student housing, I had just graduated from cooking school and we were living off of one small income. So, I decided to make candy for everyone for Christmas. I started in mid-November with things that could freeze, like cookie doughs and fudge. Funny thing was that by Christmas there was still hardly any fudge in the freezer, but hubby needed a new belt

During that that time I created a great recipe for Peppermint Patties. A no cook recipe that holds great.

Peppermint Patties
1 can sweet and condensed milk
1 tsp pure peppermint oil (more or less to your taste, my family likes them strong)
1½ lbs powdered sugar
½ cup chocolate chips
½ Tbl vegetable oil

Place sweet and condensed milk in your mixer (a stand up mixer is best, but you can easily work it by hand), add the peppermint oil. Begin adding the sugar one cup at a time, the amount may vary slightly with the weather- rainy days take more. You want a very thick almost solid paste. Remove from the mixer (the house should smell great by now). Roll into logs, wrap in plastic, and allow to cool in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes.

To finish, slice patties off approximately ¼” thick, and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Melt the chocolate chips with oil, slowly in micro wave or in a double boiler, then drizzle the chocolate over patties, allow chocolate to cool and set up. They are ready to serve.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back in the Saddle... well almost

As with everyone the holiday season flies by with a flourish.  In a catering company it can feel more like a hurricane. This year we kept very busy – sorry for the limited posts.

There were a couple of trends coming back; there were a lot more cocktail parties (people were having parties- yeah), but in a more casual atmosphere, often at home.  Tray service hors d’oeuvres are defiantly making a comeback.  Those beautiful delicious bites, are the star of the season. With all of the rain that we had most of the parties were a bit cozy, but this style is perfect for that.

On the corporate side we saw many companies doing parties again this year (a big up tick from last year), however bringing them in house at the office, and eschewing the fancy ball room variety.  I've been a big proponent of this for many years.  I love big fancy parties, but for company parties I think casual is often better.  Bring in lunch for the staff at noon or one o'clock and let them enjoy with their co-workers.  The holiday weekends are just so busy with family and friends this time of year that they will appreciate you freeing up that Saturday night.

Thank you to everyone for a great holiday season, and here is to a great new year!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

King Arthur

This time of year the baker comes out in each of us, that urge to bake is just part of the winter/holiday experience.  Do you have an aspiring pastry chef or a friend that is the best baker that you have ever known? If so, I have the place for their perfect gift, King Arthur Flour.  It's not just flour.  I love the King Arthur’s web site – a great place for Christmas shopping.

My husband is a chocoholic in the truest form.  I ordered him a whole array of cocoa. Not a real gift for a non-baker (so I have to bake for him) but we have spent time together over the last 2 years testing and choosing what kind of cocoa to use from one recipe to another; from standard cocoa to dutched cocoa to black cocoa.  (Black is also called double dutched, for more cocoa info see my blog Join the Dark Side from earlier this year.)

They also have great baking equipment, mixes, ingredients, and even gift packs.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chestnuts Roasting Over An Open Fire

Two years ago we took a cruise of the Mediterranean and fell in love with Portugal.  It was the week of Thanksgiving to us, but they were already decorating for the holidays.  Coming from northern California I had never had fresh roasted chestnuts.  What a wonderful thing, as you walk down the street holding a paper cone (that is keeping your hands warm) and nibbling as you break them from their shells.  The street vendors used an actual open fire, but we have brought them home and roasted them in our oven.

This time of year you can find chestnuts at the farmers market or the grocery store; you want to look for ones that feel heavy in weight with a clean shell and no mold.  They are very easy to prep, with a paring knife cut a cross in the shell and lay out on a cookie sheet, then bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, till they expand and the shell cracks open (see the photo).  It is very important to cut the X so they can expand, last year I missed one and it exploded in the oven like loud popcorn. Then just sit back and enjoy.

They are the only nut that contains vitamin C, they contain no gluten (they often make flour out of them), and they are also a source of Iron and Potassium.

If you want a fun and healthy snack for a holiday event – roast some chestnuts.