Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Cookies!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!  As you can see, I went a little NUTS this year with Christmas cookies.  I made 7 kinds.  Here's the rundown -  starting top center and moving clockwise: Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies, Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies, Italian Florentines, Butter Cookies, Ginger Spice Cookies, Mexican Wedding Cakes, and in the center, Cardamom Cookies. 

The verdict: Some of these are tested veterans and will stay on the list.  Here they are. Follow the links for the recipes!

Mexican Wedding Cakes (my favorite).  These are cake-like and buttery and have pistachios and dried cranberries in them.  They are rolled in powdered sugar when warm.  Wonderful.

Ginger Spice Cookies (second favorite).  These are chewy and spicy and have ginger three ways - freshly grated, candied, and ground.  Yum.

Butter Cookies (close second). Melt in your mouth sugar cookies.  These are just classic. I kept some plain, sugared some, and frosted others.  This was fun!

and Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies (these are my little sister's favorite and they are pretty awesome. a keeper.).  These are chocolate cookies, filled with mint filling, and then rolled in crushed candy cane. OK? Good stuff.

Of the newbies, I think only the Italian Florentines were worth keeping around.  They are thin and crispy and almondy and I used tangerine zest in them and decided not to dip in chocolate (which is traditional) because I liked their simplicity.

The chocolate hazelnut guys and the cardamom guys were both good -- i mean, they are cookies, OK? but just not GREAT.  They can't stand up to these other classics. 

Check out the recipes!  Enjoy!

Pistachio and Cherry (or Cranberry) Mexican Wedding Cakes (best Christmas cookies ever!)

These cookies are my favorite cookies.  I know what you are thinking.  Really Anya? Your actual favorite or your favorite this moment?  My husband says I have more "favorites" and "worsts" than anyone he knows.  This is true.  I tend to... exaggerate... or maybe I should say I am just really enthusiastic (right?).   There are just so many great things how can one say anything is THE favorite to beat all other favorites?!  But, listen, these may be my actual true favorite cookies. They are cakey and buttery and have pistachios and dried cranberries and melt in the mouth.  I make them once a year, on Christmas and so they are special and exciting.  My whole family loves them.

Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes
This recipe is from Bon Appetit, December 2006.

(makes approximately 80 cookies)

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar plus more for coating
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 ounces), chopped
  • 1 cup dried tart cherries or dried cranberries
  • 3 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups sifted all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 3 large, heavy baking sheets.  Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy.

Add vanilla and salt, beat to combine.

... then pistachios and cherries or cranberries.   

Stir in the flour by hand, mixing just until combined.

Shape dough by generous tablespoonfuls into football-shaped ovals.  Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until bottoms just being to color, about 16 minutes.

Cool cookies on sheets 10 minutes before coating.

Pour generous amount of powdered sugar into medium bowl.  Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turn to coat thickly.

Transfer cookies to sheet of waxed paper.  Repeat to coat cookies with sugar again; cool completely.

Store at room temperature between layers of wax paper for 4 days.  Can be frozen for... a long time... :-)


-- Anya

Melt-in-your-mouth Butter Cookies

These are so yummy.  They just melt in your mouth.  They are good with regular butter; they are better with some high quality butter.  I doubled the recipe this Christmas, doing one batch of rolled and sliced and one of cut-outs.  I made a simple icing (recipe below) that I coated some with, but not all -- the frosting is so good but the plain cookies are also wonderful!

Basic Butter Cookies
(from Gourmet, December 2003)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Garnish: coarse or sanding sugar; or melted chocolate (see cooks' note, below)

1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. 

2.  Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer (preferably fitted with paddle attachment) or 6 with a handheld. 

3.  Beat in egg and vanilla. 

4.  Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and mix until just combined. 


5.  If making disks, form dough into a 12-inch log (2 inches in diameter) on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll up dough in plastic wrap. Chill dough on a baking sheet until firm, at least 4 hours. (To roll cookies into balls, see cooks' note, below.). 

6.  Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F.

7.  For disks, cut enough 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick slices from log with a heavy knife to fill 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging slices about 1 inch apart (chill remainder of log, wrapped in plastic wrap). If garnishing with coarse sugar, sprinkle slices with it.  

 Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes total. Cool on sheets 3 minutes, then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough on cooled baking sheets.

5.  If making cutouts, form dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 6-inch disk.  Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

6.  While oven preheats, roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining dough chilled) into a 9-inch round (slightly less then 1/4 inch thick) on a well-floured surace with a well-floured rolling pin.  (If dough becomes too soft to roll out, chill on a baking sheet until firm.)  Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with cutters and transfer to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging cookies about 1 inch apart.  If garnishing, sprinkle cookies with glitter or nonpareils.

7.  Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, ntil edges are pale golden, 8 to 10 minutes.  Transfer to racks to cool completely.

Cooks' notes:
  • Dough log can be chilled up to 5 days or frozen, wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap, 1 month. If frozen, thaw dough in refrigerator just until it can be sliced.
  • Instead of forming dough into a log and chilling, you can roll tablespoons of dough into 1 1/4-inch balls, then roll balls in finely chopped nuts (about 1 cup) and coarse sugar. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until bottoms are browned, about 15 minutes total.
  • To garnish cookies with chocolate, melt 3 1/2 oz chocolate and cool slightly. Transfer to a heavy-duty sealable plastic bag and snip a 1/16-inch opening in 1 corner. Pipe chocolate evenly back and forth over cookies. Let chocolate set before storing cookies.
  • Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tsp. milk
2 tsp. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Assorted food coloring


  1. In a small bowl, stir together confectioners' sugar and milk until smooth. Beat in corn syrup and almond extract until icing is smooth and glossy. If icing is too thick, add more corn syrup.
  2. Divide into separate bowls, and add food colorings to each to desired intensity. Dip cookies, or paint them with a brush (or use a butter knife like i did!)


-- Anya

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies

Peppermint buttercream sandwiched between homemade chocolate cookies, rolled in crushed candy cane.  It's really, um, good.  That's all I will say.  These will get eaten quick!

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies
Bon Appetite, December 2005
(makes 18 cookies)


  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint (I used just regular "mint") extract
  • 2 drops (or more) red food coloring
  • 1/2 cup crushed red-and-white-striped candy canes or hard peppermint candies (about 4 ounces)

For cookies:

1.  Whisk flour, cocoa, and salt in medium bowl to blend.

2.  Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended.

3.  Beat in egg.

4.  Add dry ingredients; beat until blended.

5.  Refrigerate dough 1 hour.

6.  Preheat oven to 350°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

7.  Scoop out dough by level tablespoonfuls, then roll into smooth balls. Place balls on prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Using bottom of glass or hands, flatten each ball to 2-inch round (edges will crack).

8.  Bake until cookies no longer look wet and small indentation appears when tops of cookies are lightly touched with fingers, about 11 minutes (do not overbake or cookies will become too crisp). Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Transfer chocolate cookies to racks and cool completely.  

For filling:

1.  Using electric mixer, beat powdered sugar and butter in medium bowl until well blended.

2.  Add peppermint extract and 2 drops food coloring. Beat until light pink and well blended, adding more food coloring by dropfuls if darker pink color is desired.

3.  Spread 2 generous teaspoons filling evenly over flat side of 1 cookie to edges; top with another cookie, flat side down, pressing gently to adhere. Repeat with remaining cookies and peppermint filling.

4.  Place crushed candy canes on plate. Roll edges of cookie sandwiches in crushed candies (candies will adhere to filling). (Cookie sandwiches can be made ahead. Store in single layer in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.)


Italian Florentines

These nutty, lacy and crisp cookies are easy and really delicious.  They can be drizzled, dipped or sandwiched with chocolate.  I skipped this step because I loved them just as they were and I had plenty of chocolate already in my Christmas cookie collection this year.  But I will try it next time.  These survived the critique of parents and siblings to be welcomed into the Christmas cookie club.  Next year they will be veterans.

Here's how you make em!

(from Food Network Kitchens)(makes about 5 dozen)

  • 1 3/4 cups sliced, blanched almonds (about 5 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange (about 2 tablespoons)(I used tangerine zest since that is what I had and it was amazing! I would suggest it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Chocolate Topping, optional:
  • 2 to 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Pulse the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped, but not pasty (as you can see, I did not have enough blanched almonds so I just used a mixture of slivered, sliced, and whole roasted... it really made no difference. they were wonderful!).

Stir together the nuts, flour, zest and salt in a large bowl.

Put the sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a rolling boil and sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, then pour mixture into almond mixture and stir just to combine. Set aside until cool enough to handle, 30 minutes.

Scoop rounded teaspoons (for 3-inch cookies) or rounded tablespoons (for 6-inch cookies) of batter and roll into balls. Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving about 3 to 4 inches between each cookie since they spread.

Bake 1 pan at a time, until the cookies are thin and an even golden brown color throughout, rotating pans halfway through baking time, about 10 to 11 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve.

Optional chocolate topping:

Put the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with 1 inch or so of water to a very low simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching, the water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted and smooth. (Alternatively, put the chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Melt at 50 percent power in the microwave until soft, about 1 minute. Stir, and continue heat until completely melted, about 1 to 2 minutes more.)

For sandwiches: Drop about 1/2 teaspoon chocolate onto on the flat side of half of the cookies and press together with remaining halves. Return to rack and let chocolate set.

For chocolate decor: Drizzle melted chocolate over Florentines as desired. Set aside at room temperature until chocolate is set.

Busy baker's tips: Store baked cookies carefully, separated by parchment or waxed paper, in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. Florentines are best stored separated from moist cookies and cakes.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Easy Tomato Soup

Tomato soup with grilled cheese.  Is there anything better?  Anyone?  I didn't think so.

This homemade tomato soup was delicious, easy, satisfying, quick.  I just sort of threw it together and it was inspired.  Minimal effort, minimal ingredients, minimal cost.  Lots of love, lots of tomatoes, lots of left overs.  Yes. 

(by the way the grilled cheese you see above is a recipe I got from A Cozy Kitchen for comte and pepper grilled cheese. it was da bomb.)


2 T oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 small carrots, chopped
1 tsp garlic, minced
2 cans (28 oz) whole plum tomatoes with their juices, chopped
1 can (15 oz) fire roasted diced tomatoes, with juice
1 T tomato paste
1 T brown sugar
1 T fresh thyme
1 T dried basil (or use fresh if you have it!)
3 cups chicken stock
1 T. salt
1 tsp. black pepper



Saute onion and carrots in oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until soft.  Add garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, fresh thyme, dried basil, chicken stock, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer over low heat 30 to 40 minutes.

Eat with crusty bread or grilled cheese.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Stuffed Shells

Yum!!! This was so delicious.  Serious comfort food.  I think I might even like stuffed shells better than lasagna (what?! you say)  I know! But they are really good, fun to make and something about them just makes me like really happy.  But I am easily pleased.  I adapted this recipe from one I found on the pioneer woman's site.  I didn't have any fresh basil, which she uses in her filling, and probably would have been awesome, but it didn't really suffer.  Brandon and I got 3 dinner's and a lunch out of this dish (and we ate a lot so normal people might get even more!).   Here's how you make this.


8 oz jumbo pasta shells


30 oz (weight) whole milk ricotta cheese
8 oz (weight) grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cups grated Romano cheese
1 whole egg
2 T. minced parsley
(12 basil leaves, chiffonade)
salt and pepper to taste


2 T. oilve oil
1/2 whole medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pounds italian sausage
(1/2 cup red wine) (optional - I did not use)
1 whole 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 whole 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 T sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
generous pinch hot red pepper flakes
2 T. minced parsley


1.  Cook pasta shells for half the cooking time.  Drain and rinse with cold water and set aside.

2.  Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat, add onions and garlic and saute for a few minutes, until unions are soft.

3.  Add italian sausage and brown, breaking up into small pieces with a flat wooden spoon.

4.  Add crushed tomatoes (I used fire roasted. sooo yummy!), sugar and salt and hot red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 5.  While sauce cooks, make filling by combining ricotta, half the Parmesan, Romano, egg, salt and pepper, basil if using (I added some dried basil), and 2 T. Parsley.  Stir until combined.

6.  Assemble!  Preheat oven to 350.  Coat bottom of baking dish with sauce (I used a 9 X 13 inch glass pan).

Fill each half-cooked shell with ricotta mixture (that is NOT my hand by the way!) (Brandon helped)

Place face down on sauce.  Repeat with remaining shells until cheese mixture is gone.

Cover with remaining sauce.

Sprinkle with remaining shredded Parmesan cheese

7.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.  Serve with garlic bread or other crusty bread.