Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

This past year on the blog has been a lot of fun for me, because I have shared, created and explored so many of my favorite Good Things.  The feedback I've received from readers across the world has been wonderful to say the least.  In all sincerity, I appreciate every single one of you who has taken the time to read & learn from my posts.  Some of you, whom I've gotten to know a bit more through correspondence, have in turn shared and taught me a thing or two (or more!) and have inspired me in more ways than one.  Thank You!  

It has always been my intention to present good content that is informative, delicious for the eyes & palate, and perhaps a bit inspirational for everyone tuning in.  Let's make 2013 a year filled with even more Good Things for all of us.

Happy New Year!

Best Wishes,

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On Vacation!

I've just arrived safely at my destination and am looking forward to spending some quality time with my extended family in the coming days.  I will be taking a short break from blogging this week, but don't worry it won't be too long!  While in Southern California I do plan on visiting some exciting places that I will share with all of you, so expect to see more good things shortly.  In the meantime I hope every one of you had a safe & Merry Christmas.  


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Eggnog from The Joy of Cooking

With its rich consistency and sweet flavor, so many people enjoy a glass of eggnog during Christmas.  Yes, it is a rich drink made with cream, milk and eggs, but it is only a once-a-year treat after all.  There should be no reason why one should avoid a sip or two on Christmas day, at least in my opinion.  The Joy of Cooking which graces so many of our homes (it was one of the first cookbooks I ever purchased) has wonderful recipes that are go-tos, traditional and downright delicious.  I still cook from it and probably always will.  Their recipe for cooked eggnog is a nice alternative for those of you who fear consuming uncooked eggs.  The technique is very simple and it takes no time to make it. 

The base is essentially a creme anglaise, which is nothing more than eggs that have been tempered with scalding milk and then cooked over medium-low heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Creme anglaise can be served as a dessert sauce to accompany many sweet cakes, but it can also be turned into French-style ice creams.  Add some more cream & milk, and then some brandy, rum or Cognac to the custard and you have eggnog!  Yes, how simple is that?  No worries about drinking uncooked eggs and the results are just as rich and just as delicious.  Make some for your Christmas gathering and enjoy a traditional drink that is loved by many.  

Merry Christmas!

Joy of Cooking 'Cooked Eggnog'

Lightly cooking this eggnog kills dangerous bacteria in the eggs.  For a nonalcoholic alternative, 2 tablespoons vanilla or 1 1/2 cups strong coffee can replace the spirits.  Do not double this recipe.


  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
Whisk in a medium bowl just until blended:
  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
Heat in a large saucepan over medium-low heat:
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
While whisking slowly add part of the hot milk and cream mixture to egg yolks.  Then slowly pour the cream and egg mixture back into the saucepan, stirring constantly until the mixture becomes a little thicker and reaches a temperature of about 175° F (79°C).  Do not overheat or the mixture will curdle.  Remove from heat and immediately stir in the combined 1 cup milk and 1 cup heavy cream.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a storage container and cool.  Chill thoroughly, uncovered, then stir in:
  • 1/2 cup brandy, Cognac, dark rum or bourbon
Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.  Serve sprinkled with ground nutmeg.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Martha by Mail ~ Victorian Ornament Cookie Cutters

Do you decorate your Christmas tree with glass ornaments every single year?  There is nothing quite like these vintage style ornaments to spruce up one's tree with their colorful sparkle and their spherical shapes.  You can mimic a set of ornaments in cookie form if you happen to own the ones that were produced for the Martha by Mail catalog several years ago.  The Victorian Glass Ornament Cutters were introduced after the catalog had transitioned into The Catalog for Living and were produced by the Boston Mountain Copper Company.  Made of solid copper with two rivets that hold each cutter together, these heirloom quality cutters will last you a lifetime.  I've seen them come up for auction every now and then, so it's still possible to purchase a set from a seller.

Pull out these cutters out of storage if you own them and cut out your favorite cookie dough for the holidays.   Ice them according to the decorating card & suggestions below or use your own designs and custom colors if you happen to be crafty.  You can even punch a hole in each cookie before baking so that they can be strung up on the tree or they can be left as is and wrapped up in cellophane bags for gift giving.  Make some merry treats for carolers, friends & family on this joyous holiday using the Victorian Ornament Cookie Cutters.  They make beautiful cookies.

Decorating Card

The Label

Victorian Ornament Cookie Cutters
Decorate your tree or holiday table with cookies shaped like old-fashioned ornaments.  Our set of four handmade copper cutters can be varied with imaginative decorating for an unending variety of Victorian-style ornaments. 

Decorating Techniques
The cookies pictured in this booklet have flooded surfaces, meaning that they were coated with a smooth layer of icing before being further embellished.  To flood with a single color, outline a cookie with icing using a pastry bag fitted with a #2 tip.  Let set, about 10 minutes.  Using a #4 tip, zigzag icing across the cookie.  Use a toothpick or a small offset spatula to blend zigzags together until the surface is completely covered within the outline.  Allow to dry.  For two or more colors of icing, outline an area with one color and other areas (such as sections of an ornament) with other colors as desired.  Fill and blend zigzags in each area as described above.

Wet on Wet
Piping icing on top of wet icing results in a smooth, flat design.  First use the flooding method, then immediately pipe another color using the #2 tip onto the wet icing.  This is good for small details such as thin stripes and dots on the ornaments.

Raised Piping
To add smooth, raised lines or dots of icing to a flooded cookie, let the coating of flooded icing dry completely, about 60 minutes, before piping your design.

For glittery cookies, draw icing designs, then sprinkle on sanding sugar or nonpareils while icing is still wet.  Let stand 30 minutes; tap off excess sugar.  To flock with multiple colors or sanding sugar, decorate with icing for one color, and flock; let dry completely, about 60 minutes, before piping and flocking with the second color.

Christmas Tree Ornaments

Victorian Ornament Cookies

The Catalog for Living 2003

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Favorite Cookies for Christmas

Cookies and the holidays go hand in hand.  Everyone awaits their favorites, everyone expects them and when they're made at home with the best ingredients possible and a lot of love, everyone wants to eat them right up.  The weeks leading up to Christmas at my home begin with a list of cookies I want to bake and an inventory of what I have and don't have in my pantry.  A few batches are always made early in December & handed out to the people who live nearby.  I then put together my treat boxes that go out to certain family members who aren't nearby and send them on their way ahead of time.  The last of the baking is done the weekend before I take my trip to visit the extended family on the west coast.  These cookies either get mailed out or are carried by me on the airplane (never check them in with your baggage or they will arrive in pieces--trust me!).  After I've baked hundreds of cookies (no exaggeration) and the kitchen has calmed down, I begin to think about next year's baking projects.

Christmas treats getting ready for shipping.

With Christmas upon us I thought I would make a list of my top 10 favorite cookies that I've baked and shown here on the blog.  Take a few moments this weekend to bake some goodies for your loved ones, because I just know they're all going to be raving about what you make for them.  I don't know about you, but I actually find it such a relaxing task to mix up cookie doughs and bake them by the dozens because it is so simple.  The rewards of cookie baking are sweet, to say the least, and if you share the fruits of your labor it's an even better feeling!  Get the kids to help you mix ingredients.  I've done this with my nephews & niece in the past and they seem to like the way these edibles get made.  It's a good learning experience.  

These cookies are loved by all.  If you must know, using mini chocolate chips makes them look even more enticing.  I know some people who prefer white chocolate chips or some who only like bittersweet.  Create a custom mix for those picky ones.  The dough is made in no time!

The spiciness of these cookies is irresistible.  Christmas is not the same without gingerbread or gingersnap cookies.  Everyone likes their deep flavor.  I suggest doubling the recipe so that you have plenty on hand for those unexpected pop ins at home.  You never know!  

A bit like linzer cookies, these raspberry sandwich cookies do not contain any nuts in the dough.  They still have that familiar flavor and if you want to make them very festive, make a shapely cutout on the tops of the cookies before they bake.  Sift confectioner's sugar over the cut out tops before sandwiching and eat them the day they're assembled.  So tasty. 

I made these to ship out to family members because they are really good!  I can't get enough of them.  I ran out of dried cherries at some point during the week and used cranberries instead.  They're just as delicious and no one will every know!

I'll be making these for my little niece over the weekend.  She expects them and I will not disappoint!  Martha's recipe makes such a buttery dough that is so tender and addictive.  If you have a few oranges add the zest of one to make them even better.  Don't forget to roll them in fine sanding sugar to make the  cookies sparkle!  It's such a special cookie.

Sugar cookies are a must during the holidays.  A soft, puffy cookie that is simple to make is just the thing to bake in the afternoon with the little ones.  I add sanding sugar to the tops, but they do just as well without it.

Look at what my friend Joy from Idaho made!  She baked a batch and packaged them up into a cellophane bag tied with a pretty ribbon.  On it she included a beautiful tag and named them "David's Sugar Dreams!"  How nice is this?  I'm glad you liked them Joy!

For some reason mom has always included brownies to the cookie display during our Christmas gatherings.  She makes them a bit more decadent and ices them with a rich fudge frosting.  To each square she places a plump walnut or pecan.  Go right ahead and do this if you want, but my brownie recipe is already rich.  It's up to you!

This cookie is just waiting to be iced with royal icing.  I developed this not-too-sweet recipe so that it could stand on its own, but it is a perfect canvas for your icing projects.  The cookies do not spread out and they do not puff up in spots.  I love this roll out cookie dough.    

Mom's Cinnamon Orange Cookies are the stuff of legend.  They are ALWAYS included for Christmas and many is the time that mom and I will bake them even when everyone else is asleep.  The aroma that emanates from the oven is so wonderful and very much of the season.  The cookies come with a warning though: watch out!  You will not be able to eat only one.

I became an instant aficionado of this Hungarian butter cookie recipe when it was given to me by my baking pal, Darlene.  If you roll them out and cut them into whatever shapes you want, all they really need is a sprinkling of sanding sugar to make them wonderful.  Use an assortment of colors and stack them up for everyone to eat.  If you have some cake stands pile them high.  They look very nice.

I'll let you in on a little secret about this butter cookie dough.  Little Snowball Cookies can be made if you do the following to the dough.  Using a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop out even-sized pieces and roll them between your palms to form balls.  Space the dough with about 1" in between each on prepared baking sheets and bake them at 350° F (177°C) for 15 to 17 minutes (just until the edges begin to take on some color).  Let them cool completely.  Roll in sifted confectioner's sugar once cooled.  They last for at least a week.  Yummers.  This makes approximately 11 dozen Snowballs!

I hope all of you do some form of baking in the coming days.  Have fun doing so!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sweet Surprises

Over the weekend I was pleasantly surprised by a few sweet and unexpected deliveries via mail.  The first came from my dear brother Erik & his family whom I plan to visit this Christmas.  An assortment of French wines along with a few ready-to-eat appetizers arrived at my doorstep on Friday afternoon!  That evening I made a porcini-stuffed roast chicken (a recipe inspired by one of my Jacques Pepin cookbooks) and chose a white Pinot Gris from Alsace.  The dinner was superb, I can assure you, and I  have my brother, in part, to thank for.  I can't wait to see him and his family soon!

On Saturday afternoon as I was beginning my baking extravaganza of breads, cakes and cookies for the Christmas treat boxes that I send out to a few family members, I noticed the mailman coming down the driveway.  In his hand was a box from my friend Janet in North Carolina!  Yes, the same Janet I introduced you to in the last post who bakes such wonderful cookies for her friends, family and her community.  The box contained such a wonderful tin from the great Bake it Forward movement along with a nice personal note from my dear friend.  When I opened the tin I gasped at the beautiful cookie!  

Here's a closeup of that gorgeous cookie that was packaged with such great care.  Janet iced this large tree in green royal icing and then added a yellow garland which was embellished with pastel-colored dragees and sanding sugar.  I immediately contacted Janet to thank for this lovely cookie and told her that I was going to save it for my 6 hour flight next week.  Yes, at 35,000 feet in the air I will devour this cookie for dessert after I've had my dinner.  Sweetness indeed!  

If you're like the two of us who enjoy baking and making people smile, Imperial Sugar makes it possible for you to send this tin filled with your favorite treats to whomever you want and have it tracked as it travels the country.  What could be better than sending some sweetness to someone this Christmas?  I know of many people who would love some Christmas cheer right now, so get these tins and fill them up with your favorite goodies.  Stock up and use the tins throughout the year! 

I'm currently baking some delicious cakes and cookies that are getting shipped out tomorrow.  This large 19th century yellow ware bowl holds a double batch of my Pumpkin Pound Cake which I'm finishing by hand.  To it I decided to add some fresh cranberries for an updated version.  Although I love my large KitchenAid mixer, if I'm mixing big pieces of fruit, nuts, etc., I much prefer to mix these in by hand.   

I hope a lot of you are baking this Christmas.  So many of us need to be cheered up right now and we should not lose sight of the fact that it is the season for giving.  Bake up a storm for your loved ones and do let the little ones help you in the kitchen.  As a child I was always by my mother's side helping her bake for our Christmas gatherings.  They're nice memories for me.  Make some good memories with your loved ones and bake some sweetness this week!


Friday, December 14, 2012

Cookies by Janet

It was several months ago that I was contacted by a reader of the blog who had several questions regarding a few collectible items, and after exchanging a few emails with her I quickly realized that we had several things in common.  I found her to be a serious collector of Martha by Mail cookie cutters, along with other kitchen wares from the former catalog (as you know I am!), but little did I know that she was also a fellow blogger.  I wasted no time in visiting her site when she told me about it.  From the moment I looked at her photography, ideas and cookies, I knew I was onto a 'good thing'.  I came to understand that Janet had been blogging for quite some time and that her following was an established one; her ideas continue to inspire many.  

Over the course of the past few months I've gotten to know Janet a bit more and I think we've come to an unspoken agreement that we love the little things that make our lives good.  For Janet, the cookies she creates for loved ones, friends, co-workers and great causes are truly little pieces of art that she enjoys making.  With a well-stocked kitchen filled with the many accouterments required to make the best cookies, Janet ices batch after batch of fun-shaped cookies in the most vibrant colors.  She bakes like a professional in her kitchen.  

I asked my friend if I could showcase some of her ideas & photography for all of my readers to get inspired this holiday, and lucky for us she kindly agreed to share a few choice images of some marvelous cookies that she has produced over the past several months.  When you look at the beautiful reindeer, woodland mushrooms, penguins and other treats she has created using her collectible cutters which she is passionately amassing, you too will be inspired to bake some holiday cheer this season.  

Let's have a look at some wonderful cookies by Janet.     

This little quartet of charming penguins was getting ready for a good cause.  Janet was going to a blog conference sponsored by OXO (that fabulous kitchen wares company) and they asked every participant to bring their favorite cookies to auction off.  All proceeds were going to help fight pediatric cancer!  This was when I knew I had to have Janet on the blog.  Sweet treats for a good cause, what could be better?

Packaged into appropriately-sized cellophane bags and tied with pretty ribbons, each pink penguin with its candy heart was also tagged with her motto: Have a Sweet Life!

An ice-blue penguin that's been flocked with fine sanding sugar is ready to march into someone's life.  It isn't too difficult to give back in some way and believe me, these small gestures mean a lot!

Like a true professional, Janet works over a plate to catch the clear sanding sugar as she flocks each cookie.  Can't you just imagine a small army of these Christmas penguins for your holiday desserts?  These would also make wonderful ornaments if you wanted to have a one-of-a-kind tree for the season.  Use pinks, reds, greens or whatever colors you happen to like!  

This delicious cookie dough (which has been rolled out onto a marble surface with plastic wrap if I'm not mistaken) is being cut with a giant Christmas tree cutter from the former Martha by Mail catalog.  Hmmm, I wonder who the lucky recipient will be?

Once baked to perfection, the beautiful evergreen will be iced in some spectacular way with Janet's finesse.  Oh by the way, she loves her Le Creuset cookware.  A lime-green braiser is sitting next to one of her prized round dutch ovens.  

Look at these beautiful cookies?  Have you ever seen such a vibrant and most delicious mushroom in your life?  That little chocolate-colored deer almost seems ready to take flight.

I love this family of deer cookies with their pretty sugar flower embellishments.  They look like the ones we see around my home.

Janet loves this Martha cake stand with glass dome.  I have a feeling it gets used a lot throughout the year to house special treats for her family.

For Halloween, a Bat & Owl cookie duo in autumnal colors made for some spooky and clever goodies.  With a few color changes and different embellishments, Janet created a whole set of these for Christmas.  Visit the charming Christmas Snow Owls on her blog and get ideas for your decorations.

After having acquired a set of copper cat cookie cutters, a few sheets of sugar cookies were baked in such adorable feline shapes.

Here they are sitting on a cooling rack awaiting their icing.


Aren't the kitties just about the cutest things you've ever seen?  If you're a cat lover just as much as I am, you'll agree that these little cookies are perfect for anyone who adores the pitter-patter of little cotton ball feet.   

Janet made them for the wonderful people who helped care for her kitty cat, Bing, who recently departed (I know he's missed immensely).  

If you click on the link above you will discover a flurry of snowflake cookies that were recently iced.  Trust me, you'll want to make a set of these for your Christmas party this year. 

Gather your cookie cutters and begin making batch after batch of cookie doughs this weekend.  Make a list of everyone in your life who would appreciate a good cookie and start baking.  When you're ready to ice the cookies, let the wonderful images and ideas from Janet guide you and inspire you in creating the most exquisite treats imaginable.  Package them into cellophane bags, tie them with a nice ribbon to make them even more special and then send them on their way.  Everyone is going to want one!    

Thank You Janet for inspiring us.  Cheers to you!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chocolate Cherry Cookies

For those of you who adore the mouthwatering duo of cherries and chocolate found in Black Forest cakes, you're going to love my cookie version of this combination.  Superb for the moments when one has to have a chocolate cookie, the decadent treats below are certainly going to hit the spot.  Don't you feel as if cookies and milk are a natural pairing that many of us never outgrow?  But whether you are a dunker or not (I'm not!), a cold glass of milk (skim, soy, rice, almond or whatever you like) is just the thing to have with a giant chocolate cherry cookie.  

Chocolate Cherry Cookies & Milk

The dough itself is enriched with the finest cocoa powder from Valrhona, which gives each cookie its dark color and deep chocolate flavor.  If you can find this French cocoa powder wherever you happen to shop, use it.  However, any good-quality, dutch-process cocoa powder will work wonderfully in my recipe.  A generous helping of plump dried cherries gets added to the dough along with your favorite type of chocolate chips.  Oh yes!  Chocolaty.  Absolutely satisfying.  Easy to make.  These are all of the things that will make you a fan of chocolate cherry cookies.  Bake some the next time you get those cravings for chocolate, which in my estimation will be! 

Chocolate Cherry Cookie Ingredients
  • 2 cups {270 g.} all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup {60 g.} dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon {5 ml.} baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon {2.5 ml.} fine sea salt
  • 2 sticks or 16 tablespoons {226 g.} unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups {270 g.} granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup {140 g.} packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons { 7.5 ml.} pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup {125 g.} dried cherries (or dried cranberries)
  • 1 cup {170 g.} chocolate chips (semisweet or bittersweet)
Equipment: baking sheets lined with parchment or silpats
Yield: approximately 2 baker's dozen ~ 26 cookies

Center oven racks.
Preheat oven to 350° F (177°C)

Cocoa powder is notorious for clumping.  The left bowl shows you Valrhona cocoa powder straight out of the container.  Before adding it to your recipe you really should sift it.  

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and fine sea salt through a fine mesh sieve.  That bit of cocoa that sits in little clumps on your sieve should be pushed through.  Stir to combine the dry ingredients evenly.  Keep them at the ready.

In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until creamy and light, about 1 minute.  Stop & scrape down the bowl and paddle, then add the granulated sugar & packed light brown sugar.  Beat on medium-high speed until lightened and creamy, about 3-4 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl and paddle at least once during this process.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition; about 30 seconds per egg.  Beat in the vanilla extract.

Stop the machine and scrape down the bowl and paddle.  On low speed add the sifted dry ingredients and beat until combined.

Add the dried cherries and chocolate chips and mix on low speed until combined.  You can also add the cherries and chocolate chips by hand and mix them with a large spatula if you don't want the machine to do it.

Give the dough a good stir and make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Using a 2" {5 cm} ice cream scoop, portion out the cookies onto your prepared baking sheets.  Give each cookie about 3" (about 8 cm) of space in between.  I recommend that you only bake 6 cookies per sheet pan, so that they have plenty of room to spread when baking.

Put them in the oven and bake for approximately 15-17 minutes.  

Watch them closely.  Bake until the tops look set.  Continue with the remaining dough.

By the way, if you're working in a hot kitchen, I suggest portioning out the cookies onto sheets and then popping them in the fridge until you're ready for the next sheet to go into the oven.  

When they come out of the oven, let the cookies sit on the baking sheets for about 2 minutes so that they firm up.  You can then gently transfer them onto racks to cool completely.

Set out a tray of these and watch them disappear in no time.

Once baked and cooled, the cookies will keep in airtight containers for 3-4 days and will ship well to chocoholics everywhere.  Use whatever chocolate chip you happen to like or if you feel like getting a bit fancy with them, chop up a good-quality chocolate in great big chunks and add it by hand.  If for some reason you can't find dried cherries at the supermarket, substitute dried cranberries.  Make sure the dried fruits are plump and pliable though for best flavor and texture.  I have a feeling I'll be sharing these cookies with a few family members and friends very soon.  Double the recipe if you want to make several dozen of them and remember, only one per person.

I'm joking!