Tuesday, December 31, 2013


It's time to celebrate. I have a perfect little appetizer that would be great for your New Year's Eve Party.  It's super easy to make and not too naughty. 

Makes 20-30 cups

2 seedless cucumbers
4 ounces of cream cheese, softened
4 ounces crème fraiche (Mexican crema or sour cream will also work)
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped basil
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped chives
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped Italian parsley
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
Dash kosher salt

OPTIONAL (garnish)
A few chives
A handful of capers
A small amount of caviar

Using a vegetable peeler, slice alternating strips lengthwise down the cucumbers. It should look like long stripes of green (unpeeled) and white (peeled) on the cumber.

Cut off the ends of the cumber. Cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch rounds.

Using a melon-baller or small spoon, scoop a little cucumber from each round to make a little “bowl”. 

For Cream Filling
Whip cream cheese till nice and soft in mixer. Add in crème fraiche, beat till smooth and creamy (it should soft enough to pipe through a pastry bag, but not too soft that it doesn’t hold the shape)

Mix in the fresh herbs; dash salt and ¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper.

Using a rubber spatula, spoon cheese mixture into a piping bag with a large holed tip (if you don’t have a piping bag, a plastic baggie can be used instead and just cut off the tip after the bag has been filled).

For Assembly
Using the piping bag, pipe out a small decorative amount of the cheese mixture into the cucumber cups.

Optional- Garnish with snipped chives, capers or caviar.

I also want to wish everyone a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Sunshine Dressing

A favorite salad dressing of mine is honey mustard vinaigrette. It’s super simple to make. The nice thing is that one usually will have all the ingredients sitting around.

This dressing is so bright, tangy and lightly sweet. It reminds me of sunshine and it a perfect way to brighten up your salad on a cold wintery day. I hope you enjoy this simple treat as much as I do.

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

½ cup Dijon mustard
4 Tablespoons honey
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

Put all the ingredients into a small bowl. Whisk until ingredients are fully combined. Drizzle over your favorite salad and enjoy. You can store this in the refrigerator for a week.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Get Your Spritz On

When I was growing up, making Christmas cookies always meant a marathon of baking which would result in tubs of various kinds of cookies.  And then the dispersing of the cookies.

My mother used to save the boxes from greeting card sets (yes, those were the old days, when people actually sent Christmas cards and birthday cards). She would fill each small cardboard box with cupcake paper liners, then layer different kinds of cookies in each. To finish it off, she'd cover with plastic wrap and then tie a ribbon around it.  We'd have a stack of these cookie boxes that would be distributed to neighbors, friends, people who lived alone, people who were sick, and so on.

One of my favorite of all the cookies when would make were the press cookies, which Mother mixed up and loaded into her cookie press.  Three turns of the crank, and out would plop a shake on the waiting cookie sheet.  There were pale green Christmas trees. Pink Christmas wreaths. White stars. And light blue triangular things which I never could figure out what they were.

These were small cookies.  Easy to grab one or three. It was basically just a sugar cookies. But always good.

Well, times have changed. But maybe not so much.  Chef Ashley and I have a cookie baking marathon every year in early December, and are joined by other family members for the day in the kitchen.  Everyone has their favorite cookie to bake.

And it seems like I am always left with the press cookies.  I know that's not the right name for it, but it's what we called them.  Cookbooks label them Spritz cookies.

I'm a little more high-tech than my mother was.  My cookie press is battery operated. But there are the same basic shapes.

This year, Chef Ashley challenged me to add more color to be cookies.  And what resulted could perhaps be called tie-dye cookies.  Yes, I was liberal with the food coloring. And I struggled to get  three colors in the cookie press tube at one time. But I think the result was worth it.

My technique for these explosions of color?  I split the dough in three parts and colored each.  Then I rolled dough into fat snakes and stuffed one of each into the cookies press tube.

After that, it's all random. Every cookie is different.

If you have never made press (or spritz) cookies, I encourage you to try.  The dough is easy to make.  This recipe came from the book for my Hamilton Beach Cookie Press.

1/2 cup butter softened
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 ts vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 ts baking powder
1/4 ts salt

Before you start mixing these ingredients, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  (I admit--the recipe says 375, but with my oven, I found that 350 gets better results).

Now you are going to need a mixer for this.  If you're lucky, you have a heavy stand mixer like a Kitchen-Aid.  A hand-held mixer will do also. 

Cream the butter and shortening together. hen gradually add the sugar. Beat this for five minutes, until it is light and fluffy.  (This is important--give it a full five minutes.) Then add the egg and vanilla, mixing at a medium speed.

In another bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt.  Add this to to well batter, in three parts.  By this time, the dough should be stiff.  Color the dough. Put it in cookie press and then press shapes out onto cookie sheet.  I like to use silicone pads on my cookie sheets, but if you don't have those, use parchment paper.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  They should just start to brown a tiny bit on the edges.  DON'T OVERBAKE.

Let them cool. Taste, and then share with family and friends.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lemon Meringue Tartlets - Wee Bites of Fun

My Grandma Fern was quite a strong, loving and very hospitable person. She would always feed and offer refreshment to any person who may stop by or who was in need. She wasn’t the best cook, but she did have a few great dishes that I remember and to this day love. One of them is lemon meringue pie, my favorite of pies.

The lemon part of the pie had a nice tartness to it and the meringue was very smooth and sweet. This all fit so well with a buttery and crumbly crust that just melted in your mouth. It brings back memories of the freedom of childhood every time I have a bite.

So in her honor I have recreated her lovely dish into Lemon meringue tartlets, which are perfect little mouthfuls for your upcoming holiday parties. You make them in the mini muffin tins, which makes them just a tiny bite of indulgence. A perfect mini bite of lemony bliss. I do hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 
Happy holidays!

Lemon Meringue Tartlets
Makes 24 mini tartlets

Pie dough:
Makes 12 tartlet shells (you will need to make double this recipe for the lemon meringue tartlets)
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening cut into 4 pieces
1/3-1/2 cups ice cold water

Preheat oven to 350.
Process 1 ½ cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 30 seconds. The dough should be a course crumbly mixture. Then slowly add the water as you pulse till the dough comes together and forms a ball. Take dough out, flatten and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes or overnight.

Grease mini muffin pan and set aside. Divide dough into 4 sections. Roll out each section on well floured surface. Use round or scalloped edge cookie cutter to cut out pie shells (the size of the circle should be just larger than the opening of the mini muffin tin hole). Lightly push down the down into the pan. Fill all spaces on the pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden. Let cool. Carefully pull out tart shells and line on a flat cookie sheet.

Lemon curd:
1/3 cup butter
finely grated zest of a lemon
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs

For the lemon curd, heat the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Whisk together the eggs in a small bowl, and slowly whisk in a small amount the lemon mixture. Return whisked mixture to the pan and heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it just begins to simmer and thicken. If you want it super smooth, pour it through a fine sieve set over a bowl. You can refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight. It will thicken as it cools.

3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch salt

To make the meringue: in a mixer bowl (or beat by hand), beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until the meringue holds stiff peaks.

To assemble:
In piping bag with wide round tip, squeeze out the lemon curd into the prepared and cooled tart shells. Then pipe with star tip, the whipped meringue mixture in a nice little swirl.

Place the tartlets on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for about 3 minutes, until meringue tips are just browned. Serve immediately or refrigerate until you’re ready for them.
Makes about 2 dozen tartlets.