Sunday, December 25, 2011

hooray for the holidays

merry christmas
happy hanukkah
happy winter solstice

Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

photographer: Tom        stylist: Tamara        model: Mel

Friday, December 23, 2011

still baking...

I've been in the kitchen for most of the day today.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I love to bake and had so many ideas for the cookie swap, that I had to just keep baking knowing I still had people I wanted to gift some home baked goodies to and also have places to bring my goodies to this weekend for Christmas!  I started with a dough that needed to chill so it could sit in the fridge for a few hours while I worked on other goods...the Linzer Tart.  My husband claims his mom made this cookie when he was young and I asked my mother in law for her recipe, unfortunately it is one of those recipes that comes without any measurements.  I decided I will wait for her to come over and watch her make them so I can create a recipe to work from.  For this batch, I found a recipe on the internet that seemed tasty and followed that.  I did however use the "infamous" grape jam my husband grew up with in place of raspberry the folks at Epicurious suggested.  I will caution you, this dough is very delicate, but if you have experience with rolled/cut cookies, you should be good.

linzer dough rolled out & cut

making the "sandwiches"!

finishing touches...sprinkle with confectioners sugar

The next two cookies I made were from the 2010 Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies Special Issue.  I love these special issues and never throw them away.  They always have so many good ideas!  The first one is an Italian cookie called Ciambelle (Lemon Wreaths).  They actually look like little doughnuts!  You have to roll the dough out and shape them into wreaths.  It was just like rolling coils in ceramics, very cool.  The best part was dipping them in the lemon glaze and sprinkling on the nonpareils...a very fun cookie to make.  If you have kids they would love to help with this part.

wreaths baked & waiting to be glazed

glazed & doughnut anyone?

The next one is bar cookie and was a bit of a challenge at first, but surprisingly easy.  My husband loves eggnog, so when I saw the Eggnog Cheesecake Bars, I thought they would be perfect.  It wasn't until I read I had to bake them in a hot water bath that I got very nervous.  I usually shy away from cheesecake or any recipe that has a "bath" process...but honestly, it was very easy and they came out perfect (I haven't cut them yet, they are still chilling, but they do look perfect!)  

bars in water bath ready to go in oven...I used my turkey roasting pan!

While the bars were baking I was onto a special cookie for my dad.  My grandmother (his mother) used to make a soft raisin cookie, similar to a soft chocolate chip cookie (with raisins instead), but no one in the family has the recipe.  My mother did find a dog-eared recipe card that is "thought" to be the recipe, so I decided to give it a try.  I think they look pretty darn close, however I will have to wait until Sunday for the taste tester to give them a try! 

Dad's raisin cookies cooling

One last item on deck, not really a cookie, but something I remember my other grandmother making and sending my way, Festive Chocolate Pretzels.  I recently thought about these pretzels since M&M introduced the chocolate covered pretzels, of which I can not be left alone with a bag of!  These festive pretzels are so easy to make I even enlisted the help of my husband and we were done in no time.  This is another one kids could easily have a ball with!  I couldn't find the exact recipe I wanted, but with the one I used, I substituted the Hershey's Hugs or Kisses for the Candy Melts you can buy to make your own candies out of.  They are those colored disks they sell many times at stores like Michael's Arts & Crafts.  I bought red ones and then used the holiday red and green M&M's in the center.  I love sweet and salty together so these festive pretzel treats are just perfect.  I plan to make up little cello bags for everyone, and of course keep a few for myself!

Tom placing M&Ms in the melted chocolates

cooled & set...don't forget to save a few for Santa!

I still plan to make a banana pudding for dessert Christmas Eve and bread pudding for Christmas Day!  
What have you been baking?

Monday, December 19, 2011

holiday baking & sharing

packaged and ready to go!

I love to bake.  So when we were invited to my bff's this past weekend for a holiday party and was asked to bring some festive cookies for a "cookie swap", I was super excited to partake. I was however overwhelmed with choices of what to bake!  There are always so many recipes to choose from, and during the holidays especially, so many fun, festive, and delicious ones!  After a few sifts through my recipe "pile" (I have yet to find the best way to organize my recipes...some are in a folder, others in a binder, some are on my computer, and the others are scattered throughout the internet, friends and family)...I decided to make 2 of my favorites.  I made one of the more challenging "cookies" that I only attempt every few years when I really have the time and patience, petit fours (I used this basic recipe but filled mine with raspberry jam, tinted my frosting green and decorated with red hearts, red flowers and sugar gingermen).  After working at Martha Stewart TV for so many years, I really learned the tricks of these by watching John Barricelli, one of the master chefs in the prep kitchen there, (really I would eat the "scrap bowl" while he was making the beautiful creations!)  They are definitely labor intensive and I have to be honest, I did lose about 1/2 of them in the making...but the 1/2 I "lost", were just not as "pretty" for the swap and they stayed home for my husband and I to enjoy.  The other "cookie" I chose to make was not really a cookie either.  It is one of my favorite recipes from a good friend I used to work with at Martha, the worlds best Gingerbread Cake from Gramercy Tavern!  If you love gingerbread the way I do, I really recommend trying this recipe.  The original one is made in a bundt pan, however I decided to make individual cakes (reducing the baking time accordingly) and package them in cello bags with a cute tag.  Again, this way I could contribute to the swap with a smaller, take away portion.  With so many cookies, I felt the cakes were a great addition at the end of the night for the guests to bring home and eat the next morning, perhaps with their coffee, or share with other family members.  Another great thing about this gingerbread cake recipe is that it just gets better after a day or two!  Making these individual cakes also reminded me of the small loaves of zucchini and banana bread my mom, husband and I made as part of our wedding favors.  We made the breads to go along with jars of currant jam my mom made from the berries my dad grew in his garden.  Small home baked gifts of breads, cakes and cookies are always loved by just about anyone and what better way to spread the love and give thanks to someone during the holidays?  Maybe you have someone on your list you too can bake for.....the dog walker, babysitter, postman, kid's teachers, house keeper, doorman? Kids love to bake too!  Really, who doesn't love homemade AND home baked?  What is your favorite holiday cookie recipe?
individual gingerbreads baked, cooling and waiting for packaging
this years petit fours!

my cookie swap box to come home!  
note the festive gingerbread owl peering out made by my bff (and the host) Sweet Dani B!
Whooos ready for the holidays now?

Friday, December 9, 2011

happy birthday mel

Our dog Mel had a birthday this week.

Since we adopted/rescued Mel, we are not sure of his exact age or birthday, so we decided to make the day we brought him home his official "I Gotcha Birthday".
Last Thanksgiving weekend we visited the Yonkers Animal Shelter in Yonkers, NY.  They have over 100 dogs (and some cats too) and after speaking with an adoption coordinator and trainer, they introduced us to several dogs.  Once we met Mel however...the rest was history.
For his birthday I made Mel tuna cupcakes!  He LOVED them.  I adapted the recipe from several I found on the internet.  For those of you who have picky eaters like me, I suggest giving them a try.

Mel's Tuna Cuppies
3 Eggs
1 Can Tuna (I used the kind packed in water, drained)
1 C Flour (I used white, but whole wheat would be great too)

Mix together in a bowl
Pour into 3 ramekins - I used Pam to make sure they came out
Put in microwave on high for about 3-5 minutes
- They will expand like a souffle!

Let cook on wire rack, you can remove from ramekins after a few minutes
Once cool, ice with cream cheese