Grown-Up Holiday Treats

Dear Friends,

When the children are nestled all snug in their beds, break out the mugs for a grown-up treat. Have a Gingerbread Latte or Skinny Eggnog Latte. Or opt for Hot Buttered Rum or Peppermint Mocha.

The flavored lattes and Hot Buttered Rum recipes I’m sharing are for my favorite warm drinks, each created years ago to satisfy a craving. The Peppermint Mocha, a copycat of Starbucks’ holiday drink, is from http://www.food.com.

Back in the days when I ate sugar and butter with abandon, I would make a batch of my hot buttered rum mix at the beginning of winter and keep it in the refrigerator for warm-ups all season long. The butter-molasses-brown sugar mix, dolloped into a mug with rum and hot water, makes a truly luscious drink.

Unless you buy some gingerbread syrup, you’ll have to plan ahead to enjoy a homemade gingerbread latte. It must steep with spices for several hours or overnight. I  made my own syrup before I realized it was available in stores. Now I see no reason to shell out cash for something I can make at home. Plus, I can enjoy a spicy latte long after the seasonal drink is removed from Starbucks’ menu.

After I gave up sugar (kind of) several years ago, I yearned for an eggnog latte each November when autumn rains turned to snow. In desperation I created my own with equal amounts of skim milk and strong coffee or espresso sweetened with Splenda and flavored with rum extract, vanilla extract and fresh-grated nutmeg. Recently I improved the recipe by stirring in two teaspoons of instant vanilla pudding mix to give the drink a richer, creamier mouth feel. It still isn’t the real thing, but it has no sugar and a heckuva lot fewer calories than Starbucks’ 460-calorie extravaganza. And that’s for the SMALL (grande) size.

HOT BUTTERED RUM

  • 1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter, softened
  • 6 tbs. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses or dark corn syrup
  • Rum
  • Boiling water
  • Whipped cream

With the back of a spoon, mash together butter, brown sugar and molasses in a small bowl until thoroughly mixed. Place 1 or 2 rounded teaspoons of mixture (or to taste) in a mug. Add 1 ounce of rum. Fill with boiling water, stirring until butter mixture has melted. Top with whipped cream. Serves 1.

GINGERBREAD LATTE

  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. molasses
  • 3 sticks (3 inches each) cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
  • 5 whole cloves
  • Strong, hot coffee
  • Warm foamy milk

Combine the water, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. When mixture starts to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes without stirring. Cover, remove from heat and let steep for 4 hours or overnight. Strain and discard spices.

Pour 3 tablespoons syrup into a cup. Fill with strong, hot coffee. Add warm foamed milk to taste.

Note: Foam warm milk in a blender or with a whisk (see Help U Cook) if you lack a foamer.

SKINNY NO-SUGAR EGGNOG LATTE

  • 1/2 cup espresso or strong, fresh-brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk, warmed and frothed, if desired
  • 1 tsp. rum extract or flavoring
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp. Splenda granular (not Splenda for Baking)
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. instant vanilla pudding powder

Combine all ingredients in a mug in order given, stirring to dissolve pudding powder. Makes 1 serving.

PEPPERMINT MOCHA

  • 3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp. warm water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. peppermint syrup (NOT extract) or crème de menthe liqueur
  • 1.2 cup espresso or strong coffee
  • 12 oz. (3/4 cup) fat-free warm steamed or frothed milk
  • Whipped cream
  • Red sugar crystals

Combine the cocoa powder with the warm water to make a rich syrup. Pour into a 16-ounce mug. Add espresso and peppermint syrup and stir well. Add steamed milk. Garnish with whipped cream and sugar crystals.

From Food.com.

HELP U COOK

Think you know everything about making hot cocoa? Even something as simple as cocoa can be made simpler with the proper techniques. The milk should be warmed before adding the cocoa powder. Cocoa stirred into cold milk will lump and refuse to blend into the liquid.

But if, like me, you forget and spoon cocoa into a mug of cold milk, grab your thinnest full-sized whisk and put the business end in the mug. Then rapidly roll the wire handle between your palms, like a Boy Scout trying to start a fire with two sticks. The whisk will not only dissolve the cocoa, it will froth the milk.

If you don’t have a milk frother (a plunger gizmo in a narrow glass carafe), use the wire whisk method to foam milk for lattes. Use fat-free milk if possible because it froths better than cream or whole milk.

THE MAILBAG

From C.J. Crawford:
As a fellow hunter-widow, this is the BEST time of year for a pot of tea and yummy smells coming from the oven…  enjoy your alone time. Have a wonderful holiday!

Dear C.J.: Yes, having the house to myself is peaceful. Plus, I don’t have to watch the Outdoor Channel. Merry Christmas to you, friend.

From Sue, Plano, Texas:
I just discovered miso paste and have fallen in love with it.  I tried the Marukome Boy that is smooth and contains dashi stock and I just add the hot water and some green onions and it tastes just like (miso soup) at restaurants.  I also made a yummy salad dressing with garlic and ginger.

Now I am looking for a dip recipe using the miso. Can you help me?  I would like something simple to whip up for the kiddos to get them eating their veggies!  Thank you and miss you all in Akron dearly.

Dear Sue: Here’s a good recipe from Food and Wine magazine. It originally was intended  as a dressing for coleslaw, but it makes a great dip for raw vegetables, too. If you would like a thicker texture, reduce the oil by one-fourth cup and add more mayonnaise.

GINGER-MISO DRESSING/DIP

  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. white (shiro) miso
  • 1 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine rice vinegar, miso, mayonnaise, lemon juice, ginger and sugar in a food processor and process until completely smooth. With the motor on, pour oil through the feed tube in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

From Judy:
Years ago Mr. Martel at Maison Martel restaurant (in Akron) served a dish he called “Poulet Moutard.”  The chicken was sort of a French version of chicken nuggets which he served with a wonderful mustard dipping sauce.  Do you or anyone else have a recollection of that, and if so,  any idea how to duplicate the sauce?

Dear Judy: I do not recall the dish. Pat is gone now and his son and daughter live in California. The last time I talked to Paul, the son who was chef at the restaurant for a while, he was a private chef to the rich and famous. Sadly, I didn’t get his address. Maybe someone else can help with the recipe or at least describe the mustard sauce.
.

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Pork with Pears and Star Anise

Dear Friends,

For the first time in my marriage, I am at peace with hunting season. Although Tony has spent an average of five days a week in the woods with a bow or a gun since the season began in late September, I am not irked.

For starters, he has hardly glimpsed a buck, let alone killed one (hunters call it “harvesting”.) I don’t expect that to change. We do not need or want more antlers for the wall.

Second, I’ve been busy myself trying to finish a cookbook. Being ignored is good.

Third and most important, Tony has stopped eating dinner the evening before he goes hunting. He gets to the woods before dawn and spends hours up a tree. You figure it out.

This means I’ve only had to cook a couple of times a week. At first I relished the break. Then gradually I began cooking more and more as my joy in the process returned. Preparing  what I want to, when I want to, has rekindled my passion for cooking.

I may even make a French cassoulet for Christmas Eve this year. The  bean-and-lamb dish is a two-day labor of love. Meanwhile, I’ve been having fun trying new combinations of ingredients for quick dinners while I concentrate on my book. Here’s my latest:

PORK WITH PEARS AND STAR ANISE

pears.jpg

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, about 1/2 inch thick
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 tbsp. sweet soy sauce (kekap manis)
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Asian pear, cut in fourths, core removed, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 2 whole star anise or a pinch of 5-spice powder
  • 1/2 cup port wine
  • 1 tbsp. cold butter, in pieces

Pat chops dry with paper towels. Heat about 1/8 inch oil over medium-high heat in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet. Season chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Brush one side of each chop with half the sweet soy sauce, then half the mustard. Place chops in hot pan, sauce side down. While chops brown, brush the sides facing up with remaining soy sauce and mustard. Cook for two minutes on each side. Reduce heat to medium and cook 1 minute more on each side, or until interior of the thickest chop is just faintly pink. It will finish cooking as it rests.

Transfer chops to a plate. Return skillet to burner over medium heat. Sauté pear slices in juices left in skillet  until brown on both sides but still crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer pears to plate with chops.

Add star anise and port wine to skillet and scrape and stir up the browned bits. Simmer over medium heat until the wine is reduced by half. Whisk in butter a piece at a time. Pour sauce over chops. Makes 2 to 4 servings, depending on appetites.

HELP U COOK

Chances are you’ll roast a turkey for Christmas dinner. If not, you may opt for ham. Those are top two choices in the United States for Christmas dinner, with turkey handily eclipsing ham. Still, more beef roasts are sold in December than any other month, according to industry sources, and many of them wind up on the holiday table. Here are some basic roasting times for beef lovers:

* Bone-in rib roast: Roast at 350 degrees for 1 3/4 to 2 3/4 hours (for medium-rare to medium-well) for 4 to 6 pounds; 2 1/4 to 3 hours for 6 to 8 pounds; and 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours for 8 to 10 pounds.

* Whole tenderloin: Roast at 425 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes for medium-rare and 60 to 70 minutes for medium.

* Boneless rib roast, large end: Roast at 350 degrees for 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 hours for 3 to 4 pounds; 2 to 3 hours for 4 to 6 pounds; and 2 1/4 to 3 hours for 6 to 8 pounds, depending on desired doneness. 

Use a regular or instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness. Beef is medium-rare at 135 degrees and medium at 150 degrees.

THE MAILBAG

From Kathryn:
Does it matter if I use sea salt instead of regular salt in recipes? I never buy regular salt anymore because sea salt seems more natural.

Dear Kathryn: I don’t advise giving up table salt entirely. It is one of the very few good sources of iodine in the American diet. Before salt was fortified with iodine, goiters were rampant in the population.

Table salt is dug from deposits in the earth, while sea salt results from the evaporation of sea water. Most sea salt is sold in coarse crystals, which measure differently than fine-grained table salt. Also, sea salt can taste less “salty” than table salt. If you substitute, taste to make sure the seasoning is correct.

I rarely use sea salt in any cooked preparations. I save it to sprinkle on foods just before eating, where its delicate texture and flavor can be appreciated.

From Terri:
Here’s another cookie recipe, if you haven’t already packed the box for Tony’s parents. It’s a caramel-filled pecan bar with a cookie crust, just wonderful. I got the recipe years ago from a cookbook and have been making them ever since. My husband loves them.


CARAMEL-PECAN BARS


Crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Filling:

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups pecan halves

Crust: Spray or grease a 9-by-11-inch baking pan.

Whisk together flour and salt in a small bowl. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Beat in sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mixture should be almost white in color. Beat in vanilla.

On low speed, beat in one-third of the flour. Gradually add remaining flour, beating just until blended. Pat into the pan and refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake crust for about 20 minutes, until edges start to brown and center is dry but not completely cooked.

Filling: While crust bakes, place butter, brown sugar and honey in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter melts. Turn heat to high, bring to a boil and boil 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in cream, vanilla, salt and pecans. Pour over partially baked crust. Return to oven and bake until filling has darkened and edges are set, about 30 minutes at 350 degrees Center will still be slightly wet. Cool completely before cutting into bars, preferably overnight. Makes 40 bars.
From “A Baker’s Field Guide to Christmas Cookies” by Dede Wilson.

Dear Terri: Thanks for sharing. I have the book, too, but I’ve never tried the pecan bars. They sound incredibly  rich but incredibly good.

Cookie-Palooza Continues

Dear Friends,

The following letter arrived in my in box this week, a reminder that this joyous season is about more than cookies and eggnog. As you celebrate with your loved ones this month, please join me in helping those in our community who don’t have much to celebrate. Several years ago I began the Jane Snow Fund for Hunger through the Akron Community Foundation to help alleviate hunger in our area. I donate part of my fee for writing this newsletter to the fund. Won’t you join me? Whatever you can spare, even a dollar or two, would be appreciated. You may donate directly to the fund through this convenient link:  Give now. 


From Debbie Minerich:

Prior to my retirement, I promoted healthy eating, increased physical activity and avoidance of tobacco use and exposure in vulnerable Summit County populations with the goal of reducing preventable risk factors for chronic disease. I witnessed first-hand the effect of poor health habits on our fellow residents. For many, healthy food is not an option and education on the availability and preparation of fresh produce, grains and other healthful choices is important.. As we see the new year quickly approaching, I encourage my fellow “foodie friends” to consider a contribution to the Jane Snow Fund For Hunger through the Akron Community Foundation. Let’s support efforts such as this to recruit new fans who do not have the necessary resources at their disposal. Happy Holidays!

Now on with our cookie-palooza:

Two batches of Christmas cookies already are nestled in plastic tubs, awaiting shipment to Japan. I’ll bake more cookies this week to add to last week’s Lemon Wafer Crunch Cookies and this week’s shortbread-like butter slices topped with strawberry jam.

The batch of Strawberry-Filled Butter Slices I made Sunday are just the kind of cookie I had in mind for my in-laws – crisp, pretty and not too sweet if you don’t count that ribbon of jam down the center.

The recipe was sent by Jean Barron of Akron, who makes them for special events at the pre-school where she works. She wrote, “I love to bake cookies for the kids and every holiday or special school event you will find me  in the kitchen whipping up a batch of 100-plus cut-out cookies  for the kids. These (the Strawberry-Filled Butter Slices) are a big hit and I usually make a double batch.”
Thanks to everyone who sent cookie recipes in response to my request, including Dawn Chapman of Lakeland, Fla. She sent an interesting recipe for Birds Nests, which sound similar to thumbprint cookies. The butter cookies contain brown sugar, though, and the indentation is filled with a cream cheese mixture. The filling contains a raw egg yolk, though, so either buy pasteurized eggs or be careful not to serve them to the elderly, the ill, or those with compromised immune systems. Or just fill the indentations with jam instead.

The final two recipes I’m sharing this week are from my friend, Dorena, who shared   recipes for the cookies her grown nieces requested this year. Her  Revel Bars, in particular, sound wonderful. Dorena writes,  “The Revel bars are  like a thick, moist oatmeal cookie with gooey-chocolate-nutty in the middle and a little crunch from the flatter oatmeal part on top.”
I’m in.

STRAWBERRY-FILLED BUTTER SLICES

xmascookie13 006.jpg

  • 1 2/3  cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp.) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (I used ground walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup (or less) strawberry preserves
  • Confectioner’s sugar for sifting

In a bowl stir together flour, baking soda, and salt to combine thoroughly; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In mixer bowl combine butter and the 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar; beat until fluffy and well combined. Beat in egg until fluffy. Blend in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, then walnuts, blending until well combined.

Using a third of the dough for each strip, spread dough in 1 1/2 inch wide, 1/2 inch thick strips, about 2 inches apart, down the length of a greased baking sheet (I used parchment paper instead of greasing). With your floured finger or teaspoon, make a 1/2 inch wide depression down the entire length of the center of each strip. (I used the side of my pinkie finger.)

 Bake 5 minutes, then remove from oven and press depressions down again. Return cookies to oven and bake until edges are golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes longer.

Fill depressions in warm cookie strips with preserves. Let cool on baking sheets for about 15 minutes, then cut, slightly on the diagonal, into 1-inch wide bars. Sift lightly with confectioner’s sugar. Cool completely before storing in tightly closed plastic containers. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.

BIRD’S NESTS

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups flour
  • Pecan nut meal (ground pecans)
  • Filling (recipe follows)

With an electric  mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Mix in egg yolks and flour until a stiff dough forms. Roll into balls and dip into beaten egg whites. Roll in nut meal. Place on ungreased baking sheet. With a finger, make a deep depression in the center of each ball of dough. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool. Then fill holes with filling.

Filling:

  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Powdered sugar to taste

Beat together. Fill holes in cookies. (Egg yolk may be omitted, or Jam may be substituted)

CHOCOLATE REVEL BARS

  • 1 cup (16 tbsp.) butter or margarine
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 14-ounce can (1 1/4 cups) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 package (12-oz.) semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Set aside 2 tablespoons of the butter or margarine. In a large 
mixer bowl, beat the remaining butter or margarine with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar; beat until well mixed. Beat in eggs and 2 teaspoons of the vanilla. In another large bowl stir together flour and baking soda; stir in oats. Gradually stir dry mixture into beaten mixture. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan combine the reserved 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, the sweetened condensed milk, and chocolate pieces. Cook over low heat until chocolate melts, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in walnuts and the remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla.

Press two-thirds (about 3 1/3 cups) of the oat mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 15-by-10-by-1-inch jelly roll pan. Spread chocolate mixture over the oat mixture. Using your fingers, dot remaining oat mixture over the chocolate. (This doesn’t work well..I put it on nonstick foil and press out flat and then place the disks on the top).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until top is lightly browned (chocolate mixture will still look moist). Cool on a wire rack in pan. Cut into 2-by-1-inch bars. Makes about 75 bars.

To freeze: Bake in a pan lined with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Do not cut after baking. When cool, lift from pan and wrap in foil, then plastic wrap. Freeze uncut bars for up to 1 month. Cut into bars after thawing.

BOURBON BALLS

  • 1 cup fine vanilla wafer crumbs
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup Bourbon
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. light corn syrup
  • Sifted confectioners’ sugar

Thoroughly combine the cookie crumbs, chopped pecans, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, and the cocoa. In a separate bowl, blend the Bourbon and corn syrup. Stir Bourbon mixture into the dry mixture; blend well. Cover and chill several hours at least. Sift about 1/2 to 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar onto a plate. Shape small bits of the dough into 3/4-in. balls and roll them in the confectioners’ sugar. Store in refrigerator in tightly covered containers. Make these a few days in advance for best flavor, and roll in confectioners’ sugar again before serving, if desired. These can also be frozen for longer storage. 
Makes about 3 dozen bourbon balls.

TIDBITS

Cooks who, like me, take pleasure in growing their own herbs and vegetables should check out my From Garden to Table blog at HGExpo, the online home and garden show.

This month I write about my favorite presents for gardeners. I hope Tony takes the hint and orders the five-year garden journal for me,  not to mention the darling flowered overalls and the five-blade herb scissors.

THE MAILBAG

From Melanie B.:
Hi Jane. Actually, those cranberry lemon wafer crunches (in last week’s newsletter) look
pretty good. I have a ton of cranberry sauce. Could you tell me how you made
yours? I love cooking with cranberry.

Dear Melanie: The cookies did taste good, but I was irked that I didn’t produce a clearly defined spiral. You can easily make my version by creaming two tablespoons whole berry cranberry sauce into half of the dough. Kept mashing and creaming with the back of a spoon until the dough is uniformly pink.
Then pat the plain lemon dough into an 8-by-5-inch rectangle on a floured surface. Pat the cranberry dough over the plain dough. Roll it up, beginning with a long side. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate per recipe, then slice and bake.

Those who missed the recipe can find it at my blog site.

From Barbara Schmucker, Suffield:
My husband and I love turkey.  So much so, that when they go on sale around Thanksgiving I purchase three for the freezer and one for Thanksgiving, all at least 23 pounds. We always, always brine them.  Our brining container of choice is a water cooler, like the big orange ones on the backs of work pickup trucks in the summer.  Our orange water cooler “brinerator” only has one purpose. Brining!

I’m intrigued by the use of orange juice in your brining recipe, we use cider. Will give your recipe a whirl on our next bringing adventure. Two of the three remaining birds will be deboned, brined and “flattened” into a very large turkey rectangle, filled with panetone stuffing, rolled, tied, baked, cooled and sliced into 1-1.5 inch slices, placed in vacuum sealed bags to be eat throughout the year.  It makes for a quick easy and inexpensive meal!

Have a blessed holiday season.

Dear Barbara: You’re a woman after my own heart. And stuffing made with panetone (a fruit-studded sweet Italian holiday bread)! Sounds great.

From Cindy H., Tallmadge:
Here’s one answer for Penny who asked about gluten-free cornbread. I use the recipe for “Northern” cornbread in “The Joy of Cooking” and use stone-ground white cornmeal and  either a gluten-free flour mix or corn flour, which is pretty soft and silky.

I’ve never used it for stuffing, but it makes awesome, moist cornbread (pan or muffins), especially if I add some frozen off-the-cob corn saved from summer. The “Northern” recipe uses oil or melted butter (I’ve used combinations and/or either) and it holds together pretty well.

Dear Cindy: That sounds like a pretty easy solution. Thanks, Cindy.

From Pam McCarthy:
Bob’s Red Mill makes a decent cornbread mix. So does julesglutenfree.com (and they run specials all the time). I have used both. I have also used the recipe on the box of cornmeal, just substituting julesglutenfree.com flour, which can be substituted cup for cup in any recipe where wheat flour is the only ingredient containing gluten. I’ve used it to dredge meat to brown, in pancake batter, etc.

A couple of weeks back, I made my first gluten-free pie from scratch (peach-raspberry) for a friends gathering, using my Jules flour for the crust and the thickening.  My gluten-eating friends loved it! Yay! And I got to have dessert! Double yay!

Dear Pam: Thanks for another good solution to the gluten-free cornbread problem. I’m amazed at how rapidly the selection of gluten-free products has grown.

From Sherri S.:
I’m making limoncello as Christmas gifts for friends.

After soaking the lemon peels in vodka for a week, the recipe calls for a simple syrup made with water and sugar. Is there any reason I couldn’t use lemon juice as part of the water (50/50), with the sugar to make simple syrup? Would that make it too acidic or bitter? I squeezed all the lemons after peeling them and now have quite a bit of lemon juice.

Dear Sherri: Good question. I have made simple syrup infused with lemon flavor from lemon peels, but I’ve never used anything but water as the base. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work, though, and the sugar should prevent it from becoming too acidic or bitter.

The Cookie Swap

Dear Friends,

Let’s have a cookie swap. I mean a virtual cookie swap, although if you want to drop off cookies at my house, I will certainly eat them.

Just don’t expect any cookies in return because I’ve been cooking like a maniac and I need a break. My sister had a shoulder operation two days before Thanksgiving, so I cooked two complete Thanksgiving dinners and delivered one to her the day before the feast.

Anyway, back to cookies. I plan to make several batches this month and send them to Mama-san and Papa-san to share with the whole clan in Japan. I want to make delicate, beautiful, refined  cookies, which will be difficult because I’m a million-calorie-gooey-cookie kind of person. Those cookies do not appeal to Japanese tastes. The cookies my mother-in-law prizes look like miniature works of art.

They are crisp and thin, with a see-through bit of candied fruit or flower lacquered to top, then slipped into individual cellophane sleeves. She buys them at a century-old artisan bakery in the town where she lives. How can I compete with that?

I can’t, but my cookies were warmly received last year so I’ll give it another go. This week I made crisp lemon cookies from a recipe in my friend Bev Shaffer’s “Cookies to Die For.” Bev, who lives in rural Medina County, was the cooking school director at Mustard Seed Market and before that, she and her husband, John, owned the What’s Cooking? Cookware shop in Bath.

I don’t know how Bev keeps whipping out her “To Die For” cookbooks. The fourth in the series, “Chocolate Desserts to Die For,” was   published in September (more info can be found here: http://www.bevshaffer.com/books.

Her Lemon Wafer Crunch cookies are icebox cookies, which means the dough is rolled into a cylinder, refrigerated and sliced for baking. The dough is easy to make, and lemon juice and grated zest give the cookies a powerful lemon punch. Bev  coats the edges with coarse sugar crystals for an understated but lovely presentation. I didn’t have coarse sugar on hand, so I got out some gaudy red sanding sugar. And what the heck, as long as I was getting trashy I figured I’d add a bit of leftover whole berry cranberry sauce to half the dough and create spiral cookies. What was I thinking?

My cookies don’t look bad, although there’s no hint of a spiral. I suggest you make the cookies the way God and Bev intended.

One batch down, many more to go because I’m also making cookies for my sister’s family. They like all kinds of cookies, so I’m looking for all kinds of recipes. That’s where the recipe swap comes in . Please send me your very favorite cookie recipe, and I’ll share it next week in my newsletter. Describe the cookie in a couple of sentences. If you have a photo, even better.

With your help, my inlaws and sister will be happy, and the rest of us also can have a very caloric Christmas. I’ll start things off with Bev’s recipe.

LEMON WAFER CRUNCH

lemoncookies 002.jpg

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. (10 tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. loosely packed, finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Coarse sugar

Cream together butter and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Blend in vanilla, zest, and juice, stopping once to scrape sides and bottom.

Mixture will look curdled. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, mixing until blended.
On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into an 8-inch-long log and roll in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Twist the ends to seal. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough and roll the cylinder in the coarse sugar, pressing gently so sugar crystals adhere, and rocking cylinder back and forth to keep its rounded shape.

Cut dough into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes or just until the edges are a light golden brown. Cool 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.

HELP U COOK

Do your cookies spread too much during baking? The cookie sheets may be too hot. Allow the pans to cool between batches or use different sheets for alternate batches of cookies. Skipping the cooking spray and using parchment paper instead will help, too. One piece of parchment may be used several times, so don’t toss the sheets in the trash until the baking session is done. You’ll know it’s time for a new sheet when the parchment becomes brittle.

THE MAILBAG

From Ellen McIntyre:
I would love to make your brine for my Christmas turkey, but what do you use for a non-metal container?  All my large pots are metal. Can I put a brining bag into a metal pot?

Dear Ellen: If you have a food-grade, leak-proof plastic bag, by all means use it. A bag is the best container for brining meat because it allows you to use a smaller amount of brine. When you use a rigid container, you need enough brine to cover the meat. When you use a bag, you need just enough brine to be held against the meat by the bag.

Non-metal containers are recommended for storing salty foods such as brine because salt can pit some metals. Foods that contain acid can discolor some metals, so those foods should be cooked in enamel-clad, cast iron or non-stick pans, and stored in plastic, glass or pottery containers.

From Penny, Medina:
I’m really interested in how you make the cornbread for your stuffing recipe.  I’m trying to produce a gluten-free product and not use a wheat-based flour to combine.  I do have gluten-free mix if you do not use total corn meal.

Dear Penny: I’m sorry that I didn’t see your e-mail until after the holiday. I’m sure others face the same problem, though, so let’s try to find an answer for future reference (maybe a Christmas turkey).   I use the cornbread recipe on the cornmeal box, and it contains wheat flour. An all-cornmeal bread would be very dry and dense. Hopefully, someone else on a gluten-free diet has solved the problem and will let  us know.

From Sherri:
I have decided to do a turkey breast this year. Can that be brined and if so, for how long?

Dear Sherri: Gaaaa! Another question I missed before Thanksgiving. I’m going to pretend you will  roast the turkey breast for Christmas. Maybe you will.  Even a couple of hours in brine will improve the texture of turkey. One day is better, and two days is best for a bone-in turkey breast.

From Cheryl:
OK, Jane, since you asked, here is the recipe for Chocolate Cream Facial Mask from “Chickens in the Road” by Suzanne McMinn (sorry, I can’t personally vouch for it as I haven’t tried it!  Sounds good enough to eat!):

“This facial mask is deliciously moisturizing and well worth it. It’s a fun and easy beauty trick to create —right out of you cupboard.

Cocoa powder is for the antioxidants along with honey for nourishment, cream cheese for moisturizing, and oatmeal for conditioning.

CHOCOLATE CREAM FACIAL MASK

  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp. cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 tsp. oatmeal

Combine all the ingredients in a blender for food processor and blend till smooth. It makes a dark, rich concoction that looks like you could frost it on a cake. Transfer to a container.

Use a small spoon or mini popsicle stick to dip into the container and spread it all over your face with your fingers.  Let sit for about 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse. Stored in the refrigerator, it will keep several weeks.”

Interesting, huh?

Dear Cheryl: Very interesting, although at my age, using a face mask would be like sending a platoon of Amish to fight Al Qaeda.