December 22, 2007

Christmas Packages Part 1

There is not a strong Christmas cookie tradition in my family - when we were young my sister and I would cut and decorate the requisite sugar cookies, but by the time we reached our teens we mostly abandoned this particular tradition. The culprit - no one in our immediate family really likes sugar cookies.

This doesn't mean that food doesn't play a large part in our family traditions - Mom makes caramels, turtles, chocolate-covered peanuts, and old-fashioned chocolate fudge. My mother does not actually make fudge most years because my maternal grandmother makes fudge for each of her sons and son-in-laws every Christmas and each of her grandchildren that is out on their own (quite a few of us now), requiring so much cream she should invest in a dairy.

Last year, however, I began the search for at least one cookie recipe that could become a new family tradition. I found browned-butter spoon cookies, which were very popular (one friend even specifically requested them about four months ago). This year I have expanded upon the tradition. I made several cookies and candies to give to my co-workers in colorful take-out style boxes, and I am going to blog about several of the successes (I know it's a little late for many people to try these out before Christmas this year, but maybe these will inspire bouts of cookie experimentation next year).

The first recipe I'm posting about is my first attempt at biscotti. I'm not usually a biscotti fan, but these were well received and I even liked them. The recipe is greatly adapted from a recipe in the Des Moines Register, given to me by a co-worker. I will be numbering these posts and starting each one with the same top photo.

In the future I would make a few changes from this first attempt. I used dried, unsweetened bing cherries, which were fine, but they are very dark. Dried sour cherries would be more festive and probably work better with the pistachios. I realized too late that I did not have any light olive oil, so I mixed a neutral oil with some good olive oil and I think that worked well. I am able to purchase shelled, unsalted pistachios. If you can only buy salted pistachios in the shell that is fine, but you need a cup, shelled and you should reduce or cut the salt from the dough completely. Also, my mother says the biscotti would be even better dipped in chocolate.

Pistachio and Cherry Biscotti
Makes about 20 biscotti (minus the broken ones and knobby end pieces)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup light olive oil (or as I used 1/8 cup olive oil and 1/8 cup grapeseed oil)
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon real almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pistachios
1 cup dried cherries (bing are usually a little bigger than sour, so you may want to cut them in half)

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Put the oil, eggs, sugar, and extracts in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the salt, if using, and stir.

Sift the flour and baking soda into the bowl and mix well. Stir the pistachios and cherries into the dough to evenly distribute.

Lightly flour the counter and scrape the dough out. It may be slightly sticky so shift a small amount of flour over the dough to help keep it from sticking to you or the counter. Halve the dough and shape each half into a long log and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten to about 3 inches wide and make sure that the logs are about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the logs start the brown lightly on top. Remove from the oven a set on a baking rack to cool for 15 minutes. Transfer one log to a cutting board. Using a serrate knife cut each log on the diagonal into about 1 inch slices. Move each slice to a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the second log.

Bake the slices for about 20 minutes or until the biscotti are dry and lightly browned. Transfer the biscotti to a cooling rack to cool completely. Dip in melted dark chocolate if desired, or place immediately into a tin or air-tight container until ready to serve or gift.

December 6, 2007

A Thanksgiving Surprise

There are people in my life dealing with real, seemingly unending crises, and I then I wonder why I can't even manage to post to this site regularly. I try... I really, really do. I've been holding on to this great recipe that my Aunt Toni shared with our family on Thanksgiving for cranberry salsa. I need to share it because it's simple, it's delicious, and it's appropriately festive. And it's a great way to use up any leftover cans of cranberry sauce (you know - that stuff that is unnaturally can-shaped).

One gripe is that I can't find a brand of whole berry sauce that doesn't have high fructose corn syrup. It's not the end of the world, but I'd rather limit my intake of that particular, pervasive ingredient. If anyone has a favorite HFCS-free brand - let me know.

A quick word about my family - there are a lot of us. I come from a huge family and have only recently begun to appreciate how different from a small family that really is. My mom comes from a family of 10 and my dad comes from a family of 8. Thankfully, we don't try to be with both families for every major holiday. We spend Thanksgiving with my dad's family and Christmas with my mom's family. For both occasions all the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and associated spouses descend with food and beverages galore. For outsiders these events can be daunting I'm sure - but to me - it's normal.

There are old standbys that particular people bring every year, but occasionally a new entrant captures the hearts of many and then the recipe gets passed around (that happened to a soup I took to Thanksgiving several years ago). This year at Thanksgiving it was Aunt Toni's cranberry recipe that had people shoving crackers at each other saying "Try this!" We also have a tradition of naming recipes for the person that either made it or liked it the most. Chocolate cake made with buttermilk will forever be "Tommy cake."

I hope you like this recipe as much as we have.

Toni's Cranberry Salsa
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
1/2 cup horseradish
2 Tbs. brown sugar
2 Tbs. spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup lemon juice*

To serve:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese

Mix the sauce ingredients together, place in a covered container, and refrigerate overnight or at least four hours (the time allows everything to meld and mellow).

When you are ready to serve place the cream cheese on a plate, and pour the salsa over the cream cheese.

*Full disclosure - the pictured version only had half the lemon juice because I had cooked with lemon that night and thought I had more than I did - the lemon is necessary, but may work as a "to taste" ingredient.