21 December 2010

Italian Sprinkle Cookies

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been so busy with baking Christmas cookies that I’ve neglected my intention of posting about some of them.  On the day of the big December storm (storm - part 1, Dec. 11th) I spent the entire day in the kitchen and did manage to tweet some pictures and comments about my activities. A couple of friends asked specifically for this recipe, so I thought I’d better get it written up to share. Better late than never, right?

 I’ve seen recipes for these Italian Sprinkle Cookies in numerous cookbooks and magazines over the years and have always been intrigued by them. The comments that accompany the recipe always have a variation on the theme of “they take some effort, but are worth it.” I didn’t feel that they were an inordinate amount of work, but they do necessitate some good timing – get those sprinkles on the top of the cookies quickly or they won’t stick. That glaze dries fast! 

The cookies have a mild flavor that intensifies as they sit, which I believe is why the instructions tell you to let them rest for 24 hours before storing them. I did a taste test as soon as they were cool and wasn't too impressed. When I tasted them again the following day the flavor had improved and deepened dramatically. They've got a simple, uncomplicated flavor.

This particular version of the recipe comes from Taste of Home’s Christmas Cookies (2003) pull-out recipe card book, one of those little gems found at grocery store cash register counters everywhere. It was a great purchase, as I’ve made and enjoyed numerous treats from it…

Hope you enjoy these too!

For some reason I can't change the orientation of the picture, so tip your head to the right...

Italian Sprinkle Cookies

6 eggs
5 cups flour
2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp + 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup shortening, melted
1 Tbsp almond extract
1-1/2 tsp lemon extract

1/2 cup warm milk
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-3/4 cups (1 pound) powdered sugar
Colored sprinkles

Using a heavy-duty/stand electric mixer on high speed, beat eggs until light and foamy, about 5 minutes.  Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and baking powder; gradually add shortening and extracts until a bead-like texture forms.  Gradually add beaten eggs. (Note: dough will be stiff and sticky, and the flower/shortening beads will not all dissolve or incorporate into the dough – think of it much like a pie crust where these will become flaky pockets in the finished product.)

Roll dough into 3/4 inch balls and place on ungreased, parchment lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes, or until the bottoms just begin to brown slightly (the tops should not brown though).

To make glaze, combine milk and extracts in a large bowl. Add powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.

As soon as the cookies are out of the oven, immerse them two or three at a time into the glaze; remove with a slotted spoon and place on wire rack to drain and cool. Quickly, while glaze is still wet, top with sprinkles.

Let dry 24 hours before storing in airtight containers.  Makes about 9 dozen cookies.

10 December 2010

Five Simple Rules to be Happy

Nice to remember not only during the holiday season, but all year through. I actually have these posted at my desk where I can see them every day. The challenge is to not overlook them or let them become invisible...

  1. Free your heart from hatred
  2. Free your mind from worries
  3. Live simply
  4. Give more
  5. Expect less

08 December 2010

Mom's Sugar Cookies

It can’t be Christmas without ____

Do you have one cookie (or other treat) that it just can not be Christmas without? The one that screams out to you, “It’s here!"?

As much as I love to bake this time of year – and even better, love to try out new recipes – the one that must make an appearance is my mom’s sugar cookie recipe. 

This is not one of those rolled, cut out, and then slathered in icing sugar cookies (although I can appreciate those as well…). These cookies are delicate, buttery, lighter than air, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The only decoration they require is a pressing of red or green colored sugar before they’re baked.

Make these. You won’t regret it… and neither will your family and friends. If you choose to share. You might not. They’re that good. Luckily this recipe makes a pretty big batch, so go ahead. Share. ‘Tis the season, after all.

One warning though: they’re also to-die-for delicious straight from the freezer - some in my family even claim that they're better frozen! So freezing them won’t deter you from eating the whole batch before you know it.

Let me know what you think… and enjoy!

Mom's Sugar Cookies

1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup butter
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 1/2 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl, beat together powdered and white sugar, eggs, oil, and butter until light and creamy.  In a separate bowl sift together flour, soda, salt, and cream of tartar.  Add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla. Beat until well combined.  Refrigerate dough for at least two hours.

Roll dough in 1” balls and place two inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten each ball with a drinking glass (or other flat, smooth item) that has been dipped in sugar to approximately 1/4” high.  Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes until just set and barely starting to brown. Let cool on baking sheet for a minute or two before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

29 November 2010

Turkey, Tortellini & Spinach Soup

Turkey, Turkey Everywhere!

That’s how it always feels to me in the days following Thanksgiving anyway… like everywhere you look there’s leftover turkey. Yesterday I finally used up the last of the holiday bird in a Turkey, Tortellini & Spinach soup. 

The original recipe from epicurious.com used watercress instead of spinach, and didn’t include any other veggies in the finished product, so of course I modified it to fit my taste. The original recipe also calls for using the turkey meat from the carcass you’ve now cooked a second time while making the stock in the finished soup. I have always found that after making the stock all the flavor has been “sucked” out of the meat so choose not to re-use it, instead using additional meat that has not been used in making the stock.

We liked it; hope you do too.


Turkey, Tortellini & Spinach Soup

For the stock:
5 quarts (20 cups) water
Turkey carcass, broken into large pieces (I used only the wings & thighs/legs)
1 carrot, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
4 sprigs parsley
1 tsp. fennel seeds

In a large stockpot combine above ingredients. Simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours.  Strain the stock through a mesh sieve into a large bowl, discarding the solids.

For the soup:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 carrots, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
Stock from above
2 cups finely diced cooked turkey
1 – 10 oz. package refrigerated cheese tortellini
Salt & pepper to taste
4 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach

In your large stockpot sauté the carrots, celery, and onion in olive oil until tender. Add stock and diced turkey to the pot and bring to a boil. Add tortellini, salt & pepper, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer just until the tortellini is tender, about 6 minutes. Add spinach and cook for an additional minute. Serve and enjoy!

21 November 2010

Pumpkin Butter

After the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns were all carved, lit, and composted I still had four pumpkins left that required some kind of attention. After gutting them I roasted the seeds and baked/ pureed the flesh. Most of the puree was measured into freezer bags and stacked in the freezer to be used through the winter (the first one will come out later this week for the requisite Thanksgiving pumpkin pie), but some was used to make a batch of pumpkin butter.

No, there is no butter – or even margarine – involved. This is totally fat-free (although definitely not calorie free).

Not familiar with pumpkin butter? I’ve found that most people aren’t, and when I say that it’s similar to apple butter it’s a toss up if I’ll get a blank look or comprehension. I next describe it as a pureed fruit spread – kind of a cross between jam and jelly – and usually the look of comprehension dawns. Pumpkin butter is awesome on toast, pancakes, and even spooned over vanilla ice cream.

The original recipe my mom had was cut from the Pioneer Press in the early 80s. I remember spending days in the kitchen with her cooking up batch after batch that we’d preserve and give as gifts. Alas… that recipe was lost a few years back, and every fall since I’ve been searching for a comparable one with no luck. This year I tried melding a few different recipes and came up with the recipe here. It’s pretty close to my memory, and my mom thought it was really good. I don’t have the equipment to go through the whole preserving process anymore, but instead divided it into freezer containers. Oh, and as it still makes a great gift, I’m continuing to share it with friends too…

Spicy Pumpkin Butter

1 - 29 oz. can of pumpkin puree (or fresh pureed pumpkin)
1 1/2 cups apple juice
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine pumpkin, apple juice, spices and sugar in a large saucepan; stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour or more, until thickened to desired consistency, stirring frequently.

Cool and refrigerate. It should keep in the refrigerator for about one month. Enjoy!

18 November 2010

My Favorite Quote Today...

From Patti Smith, in her speech accepting the National Book Award for non-fiction last night:

"There is nothing more beautiful in our material world than the book."

14 November 2010

Mushroom & Barley Soup

Since I promised this recipe to a friend I thought I'd make it the first post so I can finally get it shared with her. The original version comes from the 3 Books in 1 Crock-Pot cookbook, which has a whole bunch of awesome recipes. I've made a few changes to the recipe (because after all, a recipe is only a suggestion!), most notably doing half button and half crimini mushrooms instead of just buttons. I have made it with just crimini as well and there didn't seem to be much of a difference so I do the half & half just to save a few pennies at the grocery store. I'm loving slow cooker cooking more and more - and winter is really a perfect time to utilize this versatile kitchen appliance.

Be warned on this one though - the smell that fills the house is so good that you'll be salivating long before it's time to eat. This soup is so hearty that even the meat lovers in my family didn't miss it - and actually didn't even notice that it was meatless. Score one for me. Add some nice crusty bread and you're good to go!

Don't judge the soup by the quality of my photo...

Mushroom & Barley Soup

9 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I like to use half low sodium)
1 – 8 oz package sliced fresh button mushrooms
1 – 8 oz package sliced fresh crimini mushrooms
1 large onion, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled & diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 cup uncooked pearl barley (I like thick soup so would make it a generous 1/2 cup)
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms, broken into pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt (if desired)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and stir until well blended.  Cover; cook on low for 4-6 hours.

Makes 8 servings.