Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cold Weather, Hot Meat Pie

As the wind blows hard and the temperature drops to 38 degrees here in sunny Las Vegas, I can't help but think of comfort food. The cold blustery weather reminds me of my trip to London last Spring. Although we did not run into a plethora of gourmet British food, a good old meat pie was very easy to enjoy. We found our pie in a cute pub just off of Trafalgar Square. After meandering up a narrow spiral staircase, we ordered our pub food at the bar, and then found a cushy little table by a stained glass window.

After downing the delicious meat pie, I wondered how long the British had been eating these tasty little things. I soon found out that they date back to at least Medieval England. Back then, however, meat pies were filled with bite size pieces of venison, rabbit, pheasant, or pork as well as figs, and root vegetables. King Henry VI of England was supposedly served meat pie made of peacock when he was coordinated.

When I got home, I tried several recipes for the meat pie. I like left over roast, potatoes, and carrots the best. The pastry part is actually easy to make. Here is my favorite recipe for the dough.

Meat Pie Pastry Dough
(makes 2 pie tops)

8 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup cream
1 1/2 cups, plus 2 T flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a food processor blend butter, cream cheese, and cream together until smooth. Add the flour and salt. Pulse until mixed. Divide the dough into two discs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll the dough out to 1/8 inch. Place on top of the meat pie and seal to the baking dish. Cut a few slits in the dough to create vents for the steam. Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 oven.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Star Tree

One family tradition that I have done with my boys every year is to make a Christmas tree using different sized stars stacked on top of one another. This is so much easier than trying to make a gingerbread house, and you still get the benefit of wonderful smelling cookie in your home.

I bought a kit with all of the stars years ago when my oldest was first born. You could easily, however, take a star cookie cutter, trace it, and while using a copier, blow it up a few sizes and then minimize it a few sizes. After cutting out the stars, you can use them as templates, or patterns for the stars.

After cutting and cooking your cookies, merely stack the stars from biggest to smallest, gluing them with royal icing. Decorate as you go with any kind of sprinkle. Let it dry overnight, and you will have a wonderful center piece for your holiday table.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sugar Cookies

Now that I am in full Christmas cookie swing, I had to write about the ever so notorious sugar cookie. I think sugar cookie have gotten a bad reputation in past years. There are many yucky sugar cookie recipes out there, so be careful when determining what kind of sugar cookie you want. For Christmas sugar cookies I like a dough that is sweet, smooth to roll out, easy to make cuts, and of course it holds the shape after being cooked. Further more, my husband likes crisp cookies, so crispy golden bottoms are a must. For such a cookie, I use Martha Stewart's sugar cookie recipe. It has been the only one that has not spread out on me.

Not everyone is going for the crisp cookie. My sister, for instance likes soft fluffy cookies with pink icing. Those types of cookie doughs are not for making cut out cookies. It is best to use for large rounds covered in an almond flavored royal icing with confetti sprinkles.

A few tips for getting a well-shaped sugar cookie is to work with the dough in small batches so that it does not get too soft on you. Roll out on a cold surface. To get as many cuts out of your dough as possible start from the most outer edge of the dough, and then work your way to the center. After cutting out your shapes remove excess dough from between the shapes. Flour a metal spatula to transfer the cut-out cookie onto the pan. Refrigerate the pan of cookies before putting them in the oven. They should be firm and cold to the touch.

A sugar cookie really is not anything if the decorations are not screaming "CHRISTMAS"! I buy all of my cookie making supplies from a great on-line store called "Fancy Flours". Their catalog is beautiful as well, and gives much inspiration to the aspiring baker. Every package comes with the contents wrapped in cute black polka dot tissue paper. The pants I used on this little sugar cookie boy is actually rice paper that you put over icing. This year I bought some edible "disco dust" to give my cookies an extra sparkle! Happy cookie making everyone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Cookie Know How

Every year at Christmas time I go into cookie mode. I love to give ribbon wrapped boxes of cookies to friends and family. In order for that to happen, I actually start Thanksgiving weekend. Over the years I have developed a system to make hundreds of cookies that look challenging to make. In actuality, however, making mass quantities of beautiful Christmas cookies is easier than one would think.

My first tip to making the cookies is to find a great recipe. Easier said than done? Nope. Martha Stewart is the queen of cookies. Her cookbooks, website, , & magazines all have cookie recipes. Every Christmas she comes out with either a cookie magazine or a holiday baking magazine. This year, however, Martha partnered up with the new Apple IPAD to have a cookie recipe application featuring recipes as well as videos. The recipe for the chewy coconut chocolate pinwheel cookie is one of my favorite Martha Stewart recipes.

My next tip for mass production of Christmas cookies is to make all the dough first. When I make the spiral cookies I make 4 or 5 batches separately of all of the white part of the dough first. This aids in not having to wash & clean out your bowl after each batch. After rolling it out into the rectangle, I stack them up and refrigerate until I am ready to make the fudge to pour in the center (with these cookies, never use chocolate chips. The fudge will be lumpy instead of smooth). I make 1 batch of the fudge at a time, and then roll up each roll to let set for the night. Following this routine makes it easy to cut and cook the next day.

My next favorite Christmas cookie comes from Ina Garten. It is the jam thumbprint cookie. Again, making 4 or 5 batches of dough is easy, chilling over night, and then baking the next day. To get my cookies to come out uniform, I weigh each ball on a digital scale. Each one should be
1 oz. Good French jam is the best in the jam thumbprint. Bonne Maman's raspberry is a good flavor, and it is easy to find in almost any grocery store. Ina rolls hers in coconut, but I have found that coarse sugar makes these cookies sparkle.

After baking my cookies I let them cool completely and then I put them in freezer bags to freeze. The day I put my boxes together, I let the cookies thaw out before loading into a wax paper lined box. Williams-Sonoma has cookie and candy boxes along with personalized ribbon during the holidays. The best time to buy these items is AFTER the holidays when they go on sale. Then you don't have to spend extra money on a beautiful package.

The best tip I really have, is to have lots of fun with it! Once you find a recipe put it in a card or computer file so you can make it next year. Happy baking!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Aunt Chick's Cookie Cutters

Christmas was never Christmas unless my mother hauled out her red basket of cookie cutters. My favorite was a funny old Santa that she would decorate; coconut beard, raisin eyes, and blushed cheeks. When I grew up and had kids of my own, I asked my mother if I could have her cookie cutter. It was to my horror, however, that she had given the red basket of cookie cutters to my sister.

I asked my mom where she had bought them, so I could also get some.....uhm 30 years later? It was in Oklahoma in the 1960's. Aunt Chick's was the manufacturer. It was started by a little woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her name was Nettie McBirney. The line of cookie cutters was started in 1948.

Although the company was out of business, I was able to find an Aunt Chick's following on the Internet. Grandma's Cutters is a website that sells replicas of the old Aunt Chick's cutters as well as many other vintage knock offs. Ebay is a great place to look if you want the original antique version of the cookie cutter. I went for the antique set. Make sure there is a recipe included. Only Aunt Chick's special recipe works.

Rolling and pounding the little Santa's is arduous work, but well worth the happiness as the form takes shape. Raisins are put in for the eyes before the dough is cooked. After the dough is punched out, it helps to put the sweet little faces in the fridge to chill before popping in the oven.

There are many variations for decorating the Santa's. The instructions noted using coconut for the beard. My mother did use coconut, but since my son has an allergy to coconut, I used sparkling sugar crystals. To make the cheeks blush I used, as did my mother, watered down red food coloring. Applying it carefully makes the Santa come to life.

Now when I ask my boys what Christmas cookies they want to make this year, they do what I always did and ask for the Aunt Chick's Santa faces. It makes me happy to carry on the family memory.