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.”
STRAWBERRY-FILLED BUTTER SLICES
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.