Friday, December 29, 2006

Again With The Cookies...

Christmas is over for another year. I tell you, coming back to work feels like a rest. It's not easy entertaining two nephews and niece who are all under the age of five. I love them all dearly, and love spending time with them (and my parents and my brother and sister-in-law, of course), but HOLY COW, those kids do not tire easily.

At one point on Boxing Day I was trying to sit quietly for a few minutes, and young James (who is two-and-a-half) found me, grabbed my finger and kept repeating "play Uncle Ian, play". For some strange reason, when I tried to explain to the boy that Uncle Ian was tired, and maybe he should jump on Uncle Monkey Face (don't ask, it's a long story), he just kept saying "play Uncle Ian, play". So of course, I smiled and said, "OK, let's play".So, with a full house of sixteen people, including five children under ten, we had a very nice buffet-style turkey dinner. My brother has a big dining room table, but not big enough to sit sixteen. As my contribution to the meal, I had prepared gift boxes of cookies for everyone. Tell me you're surprised.

Each box contained some Cinnamon Snickerdoodles, some Chocolate Toffee Holiday Cookies, and some Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies. This was the first time I had attempted the sugar cookies, and I vowed at the time that I would never make them again.Let me tell you why.

When it comes baking cookies, flour and I have an amiable relationship most of the time. However, when a certain Ms. Rolling Pin gets involved, things tend to get messy.

As you may have noticed, all of the cookies I have baked lately have been drop cookies, as in "drop the batter by spoonful on to the cookie sheet". I have taken some liberties with this, but that's basically what they are. These sugar cookies were my first foray into the murky world of rolling pins and cookie cutters. It wasn't really an auspicious start, let me tell you.

I really wanted these to work out. I went out and bought some funky new cookie cutters and some red- and green-coloured sugar and was all set. When I made up the cookie dough, it seemed to me that it was a little sticky and loose, but I thought that a couple of hours in the fridge would fix that. That was wishful thinking, apparently.

For this last explosion of cookie-baking, I have been using parchment paper instead of greasing the cookie sheet, and without exception it has been a huge improvement. It's essentially a non-stick surface, and means that I don't have to do anything more than wipe off the pan with a paper towel afterwards, if that.

This dough had other ideas.

I guess the dough didn't have enough flour in it, because it stuck to everything. EVERYTHING. The rolling pin, the kitchen table, the bowl, the parchment paper... AAAAGGGHHHHH! I managed to get about six snowmen cut out and on the cookie sheet before I gave up with the rolling pin. I ended up simply taking a small spoonful of dough, rolling it into a ball, wetting my finger slightly, and patting it down until it was about an 1/8 of an inch thick. Sixty times.The pictures at the top of this post show the sugar cookies that came out of later batches. You'll notice that they're fairly light in colour, and don't have too much coloured sugar on them. The cookies in the picture above were one of the first pans out of the oven. I oversugared them somewhat, and to me, it looked like the cookies had been in a horrible horrible accident, and the lines of melted sugar looked like blood-spatter. I call them "Drive-By Cookies". Look for them soon in a supermarket near you.

The one thing that saved these cookies was that despite their appearance, they tasted wonderful. Made me re-evaluate my "never again" stance, so I will likely have another go at some point.

Here is the recipe for these cookies. May you have better luck with them than I did.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

1 C granulated sugar
1 C softened butter
1/3 C cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk (reserve white)
2 C all-purpose flour

In large bowl combine sugar, butter, cream cheese, salt, extracts and egg yolk; blend well. Stir in flour until well blended. Chill dough for 2 hours. Pre-heat oven to 375F. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough one-third at a time to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shaped with lightly floured cookie cutter.
Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Leave cookie plain, or brush with lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Craziness. Absolute craziness.

'Tis the season to be REALLY REALLY busy.

During the rest of the year, I find myself sitting at home evenings thinking, "I know I could be doing something constructive right now, but Trailer Park Boys is on in ten minutes...."Well, careful what you wish for. Over the last two weeks, I have conducted and performed with a small brass ensemble for a Carol Service at a local church (incidentally, the same church at whose book sale I scored a whole pile of cookbooks), organized the annual holiday potluck lunch at my office, baked about fifteen dozen cookies and a four-pound lasagna, and still managed to (almost) finish my Christmas shopping. Oh yeah, and my full-time job.In addition to all of this, the friend of mine who I visited in New Orleans back in May flew into town for the holidays (and boy are his arms tired), so copious partying was required.

The cookies pictured above are an adaptation of the Minnesota Munchers I mentioned in my last post. However, after some more modifications and alterations I have made these my own now, and they will now forever be known as (drumroll) "The Gallumphing Gourmand's Chocolate Toffee Holiday Cookies". Kinda trips off of the tongue, doesn't it? The reason I don't have more pictures of these, is that the little suckers tend to disappear quickly when I bring them to work with me.I have to tell you about the lasagna, though.

I got the idea (and the basic recipe) from my friends Rob & Rachel at the incomparable Hungry In Hogtown, but as a good meat sauce is different for everyone, I consulted several recipes before settling with the one below. Plus, instead of the standard ricotta cheese, I made a nice Béchamel sauce, and bought a big chunk of fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese. The bonus in this whole thing, however, was the fact that the mother of one of my co-workers offered to make me some fresh pasta (thank you, Mrs. Ignagni).She made me sixteen noodles that were about six inches wide and between ten and twelve inches long, and they were all individually wrapped in plastic wrap. This was the most beautiful pasta that I have ever worked with, and definitely improved the taste of the lasagna.

Now, to the nuts & bolts:

Lasagna Bolognese

First, I made the meat sauce and let it rest in the fridge in a sealed container for a few days.
Ragu Bolognese (the meat sauce):
500g (1 lb) extra lean ground beef
500g (1 lb) ground veal
500g (1 lb) mild italian sausage
125g (¼ lb) pancetta, diced
5 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 carrot, finely, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
1 can whole roma tomatoes, with liquid
1 C milk
1 C chicken broth
¼ C sherry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

* In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat.
* Add the onions, celery, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.
* Add the ground beef, veal, sausage, and pancetta and stir into the vegetables.
* Turn the heat up to high, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until it's all browned.
* Add the tomatoes, milk, wine and sherry and stir to combine. Snip the tomatoes into smaller pieces with kitchen scissors. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 3 hours. You could even turn the heat right down to low, and let that bad boy go the whole day. I simmered my sauce for only three hours due to time constraints. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.
* If not using it right away, place in sealed container and store in the fridge. This can also be frozen for up to a couple of months.

On the night before the potluck lunch, I decided to assemble the lasagna, but not cook it until the next morning. So I whipped up some Béchamel sauce to go with the meat sauce.
Bechamel Sauce ~ A Traditional Recipe
1 small yellow onion, peeled and cut into small dice
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
½ celery rib, cut into small dice
½ C unsalted butter
1/3 C unbleached all purpose flour
4½ C milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
small bouquet garni

* Scald the milk. Remove from heat and set aside.
* Heat the butter in a small saucepan until the foam subsides, then add the diced vegetables. Saute until the onions are translucent.
* Take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour. Put the pan back on the heat and cook about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
* Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the scalded milk.
* Return to heat and bring up to a boil, stirring constantly with a woodem spoon.
* Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the bouquet garni, lower heat and simmer for 35 minutes.
* Remove and strain the sauce, without pushing on the vegetables.
**Note: I pushed on the vegetables. I couldn't help it. I'm sorry.
* Cool the sauce in a cold water bath and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. May be frozen for up to 3 months.

Now, for the assembly.
* Preheat oven 400°F.
* Cook lasagna in abundant boiling water. When not quite al dente, stop cooking, drain and lay each noodle on a damp towel in preparation for assembling.
* Using a baking dish about 2 inches deep, butter bottom of dish. Line with layer of lasagna. Cover with a thick layer of meat sauce, a little béchamel and some grated parmigiano cheese. Repeat layers in same order. Spread last layer with bechamel and dot with butter.
* Bake in preheated 400°F oven for 20 - 30 minutes or until very browned. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The lasagna turned out great, and as you can tell from the picture at the top, it went very quickly.

Gotta go now. Only two more days of craziness before I can relax.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Sick. Feeling yucky. Baked cookies. Slept a lot. Thinking in monosyllables. Um, except for that one. Why is that such a long word? Anyway, back at work today after being off since Monday afternoon, but as I sit here typing this I'm questioning the wisdom of that decision. Got my orange juice and DayQuil sitting on the desk beside me, and I'm thinking about making some soup.... what was I saying?.... Oh yeah, the cookies....

Tried out another new cookie recipe yesterday, but in my weakened condition, decided not to bother taking pictures. The cookies are called Minnesota Munchers, and I got the recipe a while back from the repository of all good things - Here is the original recipe. It looked like a good enough recipe as is, but me being me I took the liberty of simplifying it a bit.

Minnesota Munchers
makes about 4 dozen cookies

1 C butter, softened
1½ C brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2½ C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1½ C crushed Skor bars
½ C semisweet chocolate chips
1 C chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two cookie sheets.
In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then stir in vanilla.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into creamed mixture.
Fold in semisweet chips, Skor bars and pecans. Drop by tablespoons onto cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in preheated oven. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

The recipe originally called for a cup of milk chocolate chips and a half a cup of toffee bits. Well, that sounded suspiciously like Skor bars to me so I just used a cup and a half of crushed up Skor bars instead. There's nothing quite so relaxing as smacking the hell out of a ziploc baggie full of Skor bars with a wooden mallet, if it wasn't for all the racket.

As you may be able to tell from the recipe, these are just jazzed-up chocolate chip cookies, but the addition of the pecans and the toffee really gives them an extra something. I was planning to use an incredibly pithy and descriptive word there, but my brain hurts right now. However, the pecans give an extra crunch, and the toffee melts, leaving little pockets of crispy toffee crunchies in the middle of the cookies. If I think of it, I'll take some pictures and insert them later. After my nap.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Cornucopia Of Cookies

As I mentioned in my last entry, I've started my Christmas baking, and to this end I'm trying out some new recipes and playing around with some old recipes this year. My co-workers and friends have been the biggest beneficiary of this, as I've been giving away dozens of cookies, and bringing some to work with me as well. The two kinds of cookies I've been concentrating on lately are Lime Macaroons and Christmas Cheer Cookies. The macaroons are pretty self-explanatory, and the Christmas Cheer cookies likely are so named because of the maraschino cherries on the top of each cookie which are so festive. Or, maybe it's the half cup of rum. I'll let you decide.

I've made the Christmas Cheer cookies several times before, and I'm starting to get the hang of them. I've found that they really benefit from chilling the cookie dough in the fridge for a few hours, even overnight.

This is a huge recipe, and will yield about eight dozen cookies, depending on how big you make each one. When I whipped up the batch of cookie dough, I baked a few dozen right away without refrigerating the dough. The results are pictured above. They turned out absolutely fine and tasted wonderful, but the next batch I made the following day, after chilling the dough overnight, had a certain je ne sais what that really made them spectactular. The cookies were almost flaky.Now, a few notes about the recipe.

First of all, I found the original recipe here at I took the liberty of making a couple of minor substitutions, replacing the 1/2 cup of whisky with rum. Not a big deal you would think, and I certainly don't have anything against whisky (see previous posts about my adventures with whisky here and here), but I found that the rum gave the cookies a fuller, richer taste. Also, the recipe calls for 'golden raisins'. I used sultanas, because they were on sale at the bulk food store for $.29/100g (about $1.30/lb). Another thing I tried, was to roll the dough into a log, then slice it into little puck-shaped cookies instead of the spoonful-drop method. I found it easier with this method to control the size of the cookies, and to figure out how many I would end up with when I ran out of dough.

So here's the recipe I used:

Christmas Cheer Cookies
makes 8 dozen cookies

1 C butter, softened
1½ C brown sugar
3 eggs
3 C un-sifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
500g (1 lb.) dates, chopped
500g (1 lb.) walnuts, chopped
250g (½ lb.) sultana raisins
½ C dark rum
about 250g (½ lb.) maraschino cherries, drained and cut in halves

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs. Beat until ingredients are combined. Mix flour and soda. Stir in dates, walnuts, raisins and rum. Batter will be stiff.
Refrigerate dough a few hours, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).
Drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet, or roll dough into a log and slice cookies about 1/2 inch thick. Top each with cherry halves.
Bake 10-12 minutes. Store in airtight container.

Now, for the macaroons. This is THE simplest cookie recipe I have ever made. Four ingredients and minimal prep time make these cookies a breeze.I made a couple of batches of these, and I discovered that it's best to let these cool completely before trying to move them or lift them off the parchment paper. Otherwise they just fall apart on you. I like macaroons quite a bit, but I had never tried the lime-flavoured variety. The tartness of the lime zest really compliments the sweetness of the coconut and sugar. The taste is delicate, and they go really well with a cup of coffee (as I discovered this morning). 'Nuff said, here's the recipe.

Lime Macaroons
makes about 15 cookies

2 C desiccated coconut
½ C sugar
2 egg whites
2 tbsp shredded lime zest

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF).
Place the coconut, sugar, egg whites and lime zest in a bowl and mix to combine. Roll the mixture into balls. Place on a lined baking tray, flatten slightly and cook for 10-12 minutes or until light golden. Let cool completely.

I can't for the life of me remember where I found this recipe, but it's been sitting in my 'to do' pile for quite a while now. I'm glad that I finally got it, because this recipe is a keeper.