Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2011!!

The eve of a new year is upon us! For most of us we get to make new resolutions that we won't keep!  Diet….exercise…Really?  I resolve to stop wasting time! Huh…but as long as I have this computer…that's not going to happen!!
I always start the year by having a family open house on New Years Day. I took the tradition over from my aunt and, I am still doing it 23 years later. There have been years where we had upwards of 45 people. Last year only 10. The children are all grown, live in other states and no longer come. The South called several family members…warmer temps…no snow…more golf….and lower taxes! This year they only got the lower taxes!  However, we still gather and miss them all. We will talk to many of them during the day and wish they were here with us. This year looks like we'll have a few more people then last year.  I really never know how many will come until the day of the party. I always bake a ham, using the leftovers to make a big pot of pea soup the following week. I will also make a pan of lasagna, a potato casserole, tabouli salad and a cabbage salad. My sister-in-law always brings her famous baked beans, my cousin will bring her baked kibbi and my aunt will bring her rice pilaf, cooked in the pot my grandmother  used. I will also make a Creme a la creme for dessert. This is a lovely creamy (don't get turned off by this) gelatin dessert.  It's made with heavy cream, sour cream, sugar, vanilla and Knox gelatin. I hope it gets eaten up on New Years day because I really don't need it in my fridge calling my name. Did I mention it calls for heavy cream??
Wishing all a very happy, healthy New Year!

Creme a la Creme

One envelope unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup of sugar
2 cups of heavy cream
 1 tablespoon vanilla 
 2 cups sour cream
Garnish with grenadine syrup and raspberries.
Serves 8 or more

In a saucepan, mix gelatin and sugar. Stir in the heavy cream. Let stand 5 minutes.
Place saucepan over low heat and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Remove and cool to lukewarm.
Add vanilla and sour cream, blending till smooth. Pour into 1 1/2 qt. mold. Refrigerate until set. 
At least 2 hours. Un-mold and spoon grenadine over top and garnish with raspberries.

Heavy cream, sugar and gelatin warming on stove

All ingredients mixed and poured into mold. Since New Years Day is tomorrow I can't show you the unmolded dish!!
If I can get a photo before all dig in I will post later!

The finished Creme a la Creme....with Chambord drizzled on top….Yummy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas! Rugelach and Holly Wreaths

Well the countdown begins! As I stand in my kitchen doing the last of my baking, I can only think how this holiday can be both joyful and stressful at the same time. I love the hustle and bustle of the season. The get togethers with friends and family. However, trying to accomplish all that is expected can be a bit challenging. I have finally finished my wrapping and the stockings are hung!! My family usually comes and spends Christmas Eve with us.  I have one last run to the grocery store. All those last minute things that I forgot to get and some kid friendly food for my grandchildren. I always do some appetizers early in the day. For dinner, I will be serving a Seafood Thermidor, in a puff pastry shell, and a big spinach salad. Then we gather around the tree and exchange gifts. The very excited children will get to open a gift from grandma and grandpa. Then with the anticipation of Santa coming….they will be off to bed!!  They will be up very, very early! While the kids are opening their santa gifts I will serve coffee, tea and juice, then a big breakfast to start the day! I baked a beautiful Christmas bread a few days ago and froze it for Christmas morning. I also serve a hot fruit bake, eggs and turkey sausage. We will enjoy the morning watching the kids opening their gifts and enjoying each others company. Then my daughter and her family will be going to her in-laws for dinner. 
However you and yours spend the holidays I'm wishing you all the love and warmth of the season! 
Have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful healthy New Year!

My beautiful Christmas bread

Rugelach so delicious! 

Cream cheese spritz…one of my favorites! They look so festive on a cookie plate.

Cream Cheese  Rugelach

1/4 lb butter
1/4 lb cream cheese
1 cup flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
sugar to taste
cinnamon to taste
raisins and chopped nuts
apricot jam (optional)

        Prepare dough in advance. Soften butter and cream cheese. Mash together. Add flour gradually with sugar. Dough will be stiff. Chill in refrigerator a minimum of 2 hours. Separate dough into 4  balls.  Preheat oven to 350º.
Roll out each ball into a circle. Cut into wedges . Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, raisins and chopped nuts. If desired,
place a dab of apricot jam at the wide end of triangle.  Roll each wedge from wide end to the point.  (Can be frozen at this point.)  Place point down on baking sheet. Bake 18 to 20 minutes. 

Holly Wreaths

1/2 cup butter
1/2 of 3 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1/ tsp. vanilla
1 cup sifted flour
few drops of green food color

Preheat oven to 375º
Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar well. Beat in vanilla and green food coloring. Gradually blend in flour. Fill cookie press. Form cookies on ungreased cookie sheets using star plate. Bake 8 to 10 minutes.

This recipe came with my Mirro cookie press. My mom gave it to me when I was first married.  My mom and Aunt made these at Christmas time since I was a small child.  It would not be Christmas without them.  I actually have several cookie guns but my favorite is my Mirro press.  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

Last night I hosted a small Christmas party at my house so, getting a post done for FFWD was just not going to happen. I had so many things that had to be done…putting greenery on my chandeliers, I wanted the house to look festive…baking my pork roast….setting the table…not to mention cleaning, cleaning and did I mention cleaning!  I had baked a chocolate-mint cheesecake the night before so, I just had to get some cookies finished. I thought I would not get time to make these nuts but, at about 3 pm I realized I had a little down time. I took out the nuts and the recipe and had them done and in the oven in about 15 minutes. These little treats were so easy to make and such a hit with everyone at my party.  At the end of the night all that was left were a few crumbs. I will definitely make a couple more batches before Christmas! I will experiment with the flavors when I do the next batch. Last night I made them according to Dories recipe but, I did cut the chili powder by 1/2 teaspoon. I would love to try the cardamon next.  All I can say is another winner! Thanks Dorie!
spice mix

I used pecans and almonds…ready to bake!

They look so good!

Everyone loved them….
This recipe can be found in Dorie Greenspans new book 'Around My French Table'. Love this book! 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Poppy Seed and Walnut Rolls

As I have shared before, I am Lebanese…I am also Hungarian. My father's family came from Hungary. My grandmother, Susan, was the most marvelous baker. I think, like many other Eastern Europeans of her time, she spent her childhood at her mothers side learning how to cook and bake.  One of the things I remember most was her Strudel. She made the pastry herself and pulled it so thin, then filled it with apples and rolled it.  The strudel was so flaky and when you ate it, it melted in your mouth. My mother only tried a few times to make my grandmothers strudel.  She just didn't feel she had the touch. The one thing my mother did replicate was my grandmothers Poppy Seed and Walnut Rolls. They became a Christmas staple. So much a part of our Christmas tradition, that it wouldn't feel right without them. I have been making them since I was a young bride. We had moved away from my home state of NJ, and I wanted everything to feel like Christmas. I was worried about trying them because they called for yeast, and I had never worked with yeast before. I followed my mothers instructions and they actually came out great the very first time. One of the tricks my mom taught me is to proof my yeast. So, when you make these rolls, you want to put the yeast and warm water in a cup with the sugar. The sugar helps the yeast to proof. I had made these for a Christmas party and everyone just loved them. They are a wonderful pastry. I hope you give them a try!
My goal for the New Year is to try strudel. I have wanted to give this a try for a long time. I even have
a 'you-tube' demo with Rose Levy showing you the details of strudel making. One day this winter it's going to happen and I will post about it for better or worse!

Friday, December 10, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie Speculoos

My very cute Santas
This month in FFwD we get to pick the order of what we make. Since I'm in the middle of Christmas baking, I chose to make the Speculoos. In Dutch Speculaas! My husband's family is from Holland and Speculaas is a traditional Christmas cookie. When my son was about 15 months old, my mother-in-law went to Holland to visit her family. When she came home she brought these beautiful BIG cookies shaped like old world Santas. She told me they were Speculass and were given to all the children of Holland at Christmas. Over the years I tried to replicate this cookie. I tried all kinds of recipes mostly without success. When I visited Holland I had brought back Speculaas molds with great expectations, but no recipe and no luck.  A few years ago I found a wonderful recipe. I have been making it ever since. I have not used those molds though…until last night. I loved Dorie's recipe for Speculoos. I found this recipe easy to work with. I made the dough in the morning and put it in the refrigerator for about 5 hours. The dough was pliable and the cookie was delicious. I finally got to use my Santa molds, so that I could give one to each of my grandchildren for Christmas. I have to perfect my painting of the cookie but I love the way they look.  I will be stopping by the craft store to get some food color that I could paint onto the Santas. I also rolled out the remainder of the dough and cut them into stars and trees. I did an egg white wash on them before I baked them.  I wasn't going to frost them and wanted them to have a slight shine. Loved this cookie and will definitely be making this again. In fact, I have already started my second batch. One thing I will do in my second batch is increase the spices…more cloves and some nutmeg. We like a little more spice!
This recipe is in the new Dorie Greenspan book 'Around My French Table'. Great book! Great Christmas gift! You can also find it here.

Flour mixture

Creaming sugars and butter

ready to add flour

Everything mixed and ready to be refrigerated

2 disks 

Egg wash gave a very nice sheen


Monday, December 6, 2010

Traditions! Anise Drop Cookies

I know there are traditions that are handed down through generations. There are also traditions that are cultural or religious. But when do traditions start? Sometimes they take us by surprise. Years ago when my daughter was 12, we moved to NJ from Long Island. It was a terrible time for me. I really loved living on Long Island and never wanted to move. Our house wouldn't be ready for 16 months and we lived in a rental. My kids went off to their new school everyday and, my husband went off to his new job, while I sat and felt sorry for myself.  Not a good time in my life. I needed a wakeup call. Something to remind me of all the good we had and, that in fact, our family was the most important constant in my life. Christmas was around the corner and I was not feeling the Christmas spirit. One night, about 2 weeks before Christmas, my daughter came to me, put her hand on my shoulder and asked, "we're going to make Christmas cookies aren't we mom? It won't feel like Christmas if we don't". I could hear the sadness in her voice. This was something we had done since she was very small. At that moment I realized we had created our own Christmas baking tradition. A tradition neither of us wanted to break. It started out small…me baking while my kids watched Rudolph, or Charlie Brown's Christmas. I would take a plate of freshly baked cookies to them, with some milk, while they watched their Christmas special. It gradually included my daughter helping with the baking.  Today my daughter is grown and the mother of a 6 year old daughter.  She is now passing down the Christmas baking rituals that we use to share. They usually come to my house during the Christmas holidays. I will save some cookie dough so that my granddaughter, my daughter and I can bake a batch together. Tradition…old and new so very important!
Today and for the next few posts I will be sharing some of my traditional Christmas cookie recipes.
The first recipe I will be sharing is for Anise Drop Cookies.  They make a top crust so that the cookie looks frosted.

Anise Drop Cookies

3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons anise seeds or 1 teaspoon anise extract

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the sugar gradually and continue to beat for 15 to 20 minutes.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Reduce the speed of the mixer and add the flour mixture to the egg mixture. Beat for an additional 3 minutes. Add the anise seeds and blend well.
Drop the dough by heaping teaspoons onto well greased cookie sheets.
Gently swirl the drops to form round cookies.
Allow to stand, uncovered, for 8 hours or overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325º degrees. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes
Do not allow them to brown. While baking the cookies will divide into 2 layers.
Remove to cookie racks to cool immediately after taking out of oven.

Beating eggs and sugar together

Anise seeds..rub in your hand to get full flavor

Flour mixed with baking powder, salt, anise seeds

Put on cookie sheets let rest 8 hours or overnight

Just baked (note the 2 layers)

These cookies are best made in cool weather….they do not turn out well if humidity is high.

Friday, December 3, 2010

FFWD My Go-To Beef Daube

So glad to start the December recipes for French Fridays with Dorie. Another month where we get to pick the order of what we make. I love the choice of recipes this month and, am especially looking forward to the Speculaas. I chose the Beef Daube last night. I have been quite busy this week (as I would guess everyone is at this time of year) and needed a recipe I could put together and forget about for a little while. This is also the kind of recipe that I will get a few meals out of.  That will be lovely tonight, after a long day of putting up Christmas lights. The aroma was wonderful and was a great dish to have on this very cold day in NJ.  At first when I looked at the recipe and saw it called for brandy and a whole bottle of wine, I kind of hesitated. I had promised myself to try each recipe as was written. I was disappointed I didn't do that with the Pumpkin Flans. The wine added so much flavor and tasted sooo French!  I could picture myself sitting in a cosy little french bistro, enjoying this dish. This is true comfort food. This recipe took more time than I thought in preparation. If I were more organized I would have had all my prep done in advance but, today was not one of those days. I started cooking before I had all my veggies cut. This dish moved so quickly, once I started cooking, that I had to take the pot off the stove, while I finished the prep of the veggies. Once in the oven, it took care of itself! My liquid did not evaporate.  The taste was delicious. So satisfying. I served it with a nice crusty bread and a salad. By the time this finished cooking, I had cleaned up the kitchen, had a cup of tea and was relaxing.  What a nice way to end a very busy day! Bon Appétit!!

This recipe can be found in the new Dorie Greenspan book 'Around My French Table'.

Bacon  ready to saute

Browning beef

Beef and vegetables mixed before entering the oven

The Beef Daube just out of the oven

Relax and enjoy…a nice glass of red wine would be great with this.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Minty Marshmallows

Well, now that Thanksgiving is over it is time to start the Christmas baking.  I totally enjoy this part of the holidays. Decorating..somewhat fun…being in the kitchen making wonderful treats…the most fun! Don't snicker. I know I'm a little crazy when it comes to holiday baking. My mother-in-law use to laugh at the fact that I would make a cookie a night for the 2 weeks before Christmas. So today my project was marshmallows….chocolate, mint or just plain! I decided on mint. You see, years ago when I first made these delectable treats, I was browsing through a Williams-Sonoma's Catalog and saw that they were selling homemade marshmallows. They touted the fact that these were like little puffs of heaven, and no store bought  marshmallow will ever compare. The price was way more than I would pay for marshmallows. Ok, so now they sucked me in! I'm always up for a challenge. I thought if someone is making marshmallows to sell at Williams-Sonoma, then why can't I make them.  That's when I took out my trusty Martha Stewart Holiday Cookbook.  If anyone knows how to make marshmallows it would be Martha! I was right. Since then they have been a tradition in our house. My grandkids love them. They are so yummy topping a cup of hot chocolate or just eating. I really love the mint. They compliment the hot chocolate nicely.  I have to say that no store bought bag of marshmallows will ever compare….Williams-Sonoma was right!!

Foil lined oiled dish


Water in mixer bowl with gelatin sprinkled on top.

All  ingredients, in pot, coming to a boil. 

Thermometer and peppermint oil

Boiling till thermometer reads 234 to 240⁰

Beating mixture till thick and stiff

Ready to go!

Mixture poured into dish

Powdered sugar on cutting surface 

The set mixture ready to be cut

Cutting the marshmallows

These are on their way to my grandsons.

Martha's Marshmallows

4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1½ cups water (divided)
3 cups sugar
1¼ cups light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or you could use peppermint  oil...just 2 or 3 drops 
the first time…this could be quite potent)
Confectioners sugar for finishing

Oil a 3 qt. Pyrex baking dish with vegetable oil. Line the dish with foil, and lightly
coat the foil with more oil.
In the bowl of the electric mixer soften the gelatin with ¾ cup water.
Place the sugar , corn syrup, ¾ cup water and the salt in a heavy saucepan.
Bring to a boil and cook over high heat until the syrup reaches 234⁰ to 240⁰ F.
Add the extract or oil.
With the whisk attachment  of the mixer at full speed, beat the hot syrup slowly
into the gelatin until mixture is very stiff. About 15 minutes. Pour the mixture into the
foil lined dish and smooth the top with on oiled spatula. Allow the mixture to rest, 
uncovered, at room temperature 10 to 12 hours.
Using a fine sieve, sprinkle the confectioners sugar onto a cutting board. Turn the 
stiffened marshmallow mixture out onto the sugar, and using a lightly oiled knife 
cut into squares or use cookie cutters and cut out in shapes. Be sure to dip the cut 
edges of the marshmallows into the confectioners sugar to prevent sticking.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The After Thanksgiving Soup

Well, hopefully everyone has had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I had a house full of company. Children, grandchildren, brothers, in-laws, nieces and nephews. We had a ton of food and I did not take one picture of my food prep.  I just couldn't spare the time. Things were pretty crazy around here. I made all the usual sides…Sweet Potato Casserole, home made Cranberry Sauce, and a wonderful Broccoli Casserole. My sister-in-law brought the Apple and Pumpkin Pies. Delicious! I made a family favorite, Kahlua Cheesecake, and also a Dark Date Nut Bread that we enjoyed for breakfast with cream cheese. Two days of eating the leftovers and today a great big pot of turkey soup. This is a bonus  gift of the Thanksgiving turkey. After everyone has feasted on the bird…it is time to take the carcass and make a lovely pot of soup.  I put the carcass in a large pot of water with lots of carrots, onions, parsnips, parsley and celery. I also had a head of garlic that was roasted in the cavity of the turkey that I added to the pot. Salt and pepper to taste and simmer for several hours. If you're lucky to have some leftover gravy, you can also throw that into the pot. Let it all cool down and refrigerate, (mine sat on my back porch overnight) pour into another pot through a mesh strainer.  Then I add about 1/2 cup of barley to the soup, along with sliced carrots, celery and peas. Serve over fine soup noodles. It's a great way to use up every part of the Thanksgiving turkey and happens to be so satisfying on the cold days of November.

The carcass and everything good added to the pot.

The finished soup…Oh so good!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

FFWD ~ Pumpkin Flans No Gorgonzola

Ok. Call me a coward, but I just could not put gorgonzola cheese in my pumpkin flans. When I first saw this recipe, it kind of turned me off. I guess I just can't think of pumpkin flan being savory. I decided to change this recipe a bit. I added a little brown sugar and nutmeg to the pumpkin mixture. I still put the walnuts on top with a sprinkle of nutmeg. I did not make these sweet…only 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. I also used fresh pumpkin that I had cooked down. I think that may be the reason for them not having a very strong pumpkin flavor. My flans looked great but tasted..eeh!  My husband ate one but, did not ask for seconds.  Me, I thought they were ok. They tasted a bit eggy and didn't have the flavor I expected. I will probably eat the rest for breakfast.  I wish now that I had been true to the recipe.  But honestly…..I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere, not in a house, not with a mouse…... 

This Recipe is in Dorie Greenspans new book Around My French Table
And so are many more that are absolutely fabulous!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mom's Spinach Pies ~ Fatayer Sabanegh

Fatayer Sabanegh….Spinach pies
Today I was in the kitchen making "Fatayer Sabanegh"….Spinach pies. As I've mentioned before, I am of Lebanese descent. Spinach pies are one of the recipes my grandmother passed down to her daughters. My mother was the best at making anything with yeast in it. As the holidays approach I become a little nostalgic, thinking of Christmases past. I have a blessed life, and certainly am not melancholy. Even so, my thoughts keep going to my mom, who passed away 2 1/2 years ago.  There are days I miss her terribly!  
Today is one of those days because; I was making her favorite recipe. My mom died at 89 years old. The last few years she struggled with dementia. She lived with me and it was a very hard time for both of us. She was an excellent baker. When she would make her spinach pies I would stand-by and watch, but never really helped. This was her thing! Yeast baking was her specialty. Even though I was quite proficient in the kitchen, I never attempted making my mom's spinach pies.  
That changed when she was 87, she could no longer remember many of her recipes. She would say to me, "I want to make spinach pies but, I get mixed up and can't remember anymore".  “ No worries mom", I would say, “We could do them together”! That's when I started baking Spinach pies with my mom.  I then gave her the written recipe (which she never needed before). The first time we did this, she followed the recipe, and my directions. Then we rolled the dough and filled it with the spinach mixture. The next time we planned on making them, she needed help making the dough. That’s when I really started to make her spinach pies. That time I made the dough with her direction.  Because of the time we spent together, yeast dough is now one of my specialties. I am forever grateful we had this time together, while she was still able to participate. And so glad she was able to pass on her knowledge of baking to me. All her little secrets that still help me to this day!

dough ingredients 
kneading till smooth
place in oiled bowl to rise
5 pkg. frozen spinach, squeezed dry
Add all ingredients then add oil and mix, let stand to meld flavors.
risen dough
add toasted pine nuts (or toasted chopped walnuts)
dough ready to be filled
Make triangular shape 
Ready for the oven
YUM!!  Enjoy!!

Fatayer Sabanegh

Pie Dough

8 cups of flour
1 pkg. yeast
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon salt
about 3 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon Mahleb (This is a mediterranean spice that can be purchased at Penzeys on-line. It is made from the cherry pit.)

Mix yeast in one cup of lukewarm water and add 1 teaspoon sugar. Let stand.
Mix all dry ingredients make well in center, add water and oil. Mix well.
Knead until you form a smooth dough. I usually add only 7 cups of flour at the
beginning and then add the rest as I am kneading the dough.  Put into an oiled
bowl, cover loosely and let rise in a warm place. After this has risen, punch
down and break off small pieces and make small balls and let rest. I usually
roll them with a rolling pin but you can flatten with your hand.

Spinach filling

5- 11 oz. pkg. frozen spinach (defrosted and squeezed dry)
2 onions (chopped fine)
Juice of 3 lemons
3/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Salt, pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup of olive oil

Mix all ingredients and let the flavors meld while you wait for the dough to rise.
Place spinach mixture on rolled dough and and close into triangular shape.
Brush oil onto baking sheet and arrange pies in rows. Bake at 350 degrees for
about 20 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned. Then place under broiler
until pies are lightly browned. Serve hot or cold. Makes about 3 dozen