One more Christmas cookie for the season ~ Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog Glaze

Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog GlazeI couldn’t resist making one more batch of Christmas cookies before the holiday. 🙂 I altered my sugar cookie recipe to make them eggnog sugar cookies! I added a good amount of nutmeg to the batter, and replaced a little of the butter in the original recipe with eggnog. Then I made a simple eggnog glaze as the finishing touch.

Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!

Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog Glaze

For the cookies:

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons eggnog (I used Organic Valley Eggnog)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar, or more to make a thicker glaze

1/4 cup eggnog

For the cookies:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the eggnog and vanilla, and continue beating until all of the wet ingredients are well combined. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough until it is slightly thicker than 1/8 inch. Cut into desired shapes with a cookie cutter.

Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for about 7 minutes, or until slightly firm in the middle, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.

For the glaze:

Whisk the sugar and eggnog together until the mixture is completely smooth. Either spread or pipe the glaze onto your cookies.

Christmas Cookies! ~ Mexican Hot Cocoa Cookies

Mexican Hot Cocoa CookiesIt’s Christmastime again! I hope you are enjoying all of the things this season has to offer…the lights, the decorations, the music…and of course, the cookies. 🙂

I made these festive little Mexican hot cocoa cookies this year. They are sweet and tender bites with a little spicy heat from cayenne pepper. I also love that Mexican hot cocoa naturally includes Christmassy spices like cinnamon, and sometimes nutmeg, so these cookies seemed like a perfect choice for this time of the year. 🙂

Mexican Hot Cocoa Cookies

Inspired by a recipe from Martha Stewart

Makes about 18 cookies

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

6 tablespoons room temperature butter

1/2 cup + 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons skim milk

1 egg

Move your oven rack so that it is about 1/3 of the way down from the top. Preheat to 400 F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1/2 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, milk, and egg. Beat until well combined. The mixture will look a bit broken when you start mixing at this point, but just keep at it, and it will come together. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The dough will be rather sticky.

In a shallow bowl, add the remaining sugar (1/4 cup) and cinnamon (1 teaspoon.) Whisk until combined.

Using a tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough. Roll the balls between your hands. Drop them into the sugar and cinnamon mixture and coat well. Place the dough balls on your prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process until you use all of the dough. Make sure the cookies have a couple of inches to spread on the sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are set and a bit cracked on top.

Happy Christmas! ~ Star-Topped Mince Pies

Star-Topped Mince PiesHappy Christmas! I hope you had a lovely Christmas Day. 🙂

These sweet little star-topped mince pies were the grand finale of my Christmas dinner this year. They were the perfect finish, and just the right size after a beef Wellington feast.

I used Nigella Lawson’s cranberry mincemeat recipe with a few small changes. I replaced the brown sugar with a diced apple and a little extra honey, I used two oranges rather than one, and I added a dash more of brandy, since it was Christmas after all! 😉

For the crust, I used store-bought pastry cups, but I also made my own pastry. I could have just used the ready made cups, but I really wanted to make stars for the top. 🙂 Then I had a lot of extra dough after making the stars, so I made some homemade shells, as well. They weren’t as fancy as the ones I bought, but I actually preferred the texture and taste. Using a food processor, the pastry is very easy to make…It literally only takes 5 minutes, so I figured I could fit that into my holiday schedule. 😉 This is the same short crust pastry dough I used for my meat pies this September, and it worked as beautifully for sweet as it did for savory.Star-Topped Mince PiesStar-Topped Mince Pies

Cranberry Mincemeat

Recipe based on Nigella Lawson’s cranberry studded mincemeat

¼ cup port

½ apple, peeled and diced

3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ cup currants

½ cup raisins

¼ cup dried cranberries

2 clementine oranges, zested and juiced

3 tablespoons brandy

3 drops almond extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons honey

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the port, apple, fresh (or frozen) cranberries, and spices. Cook until the cranberries begin to bubble and pop. Then add the currants, raisins, dried cranberries, and the orange zest and juice. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the fruit has absorbed most of the liquid. If you still have many whole cranberries, you can squish them with your spoon to help them incorporate into the mixture. Remove the pan from the heat. Then add the brandy, extracts, and honey. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Let the mincemeat cool before using in your pies.Star-Topped Mince PiesWhole-Wheat Short Crust Pastry

Based on a recipe from BBC

125 grams ivory whole-wheat flour

Pinch of salt

55 grams cold unsalted butter, cubed

Approximately 5 tablespoons ice water

With a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, and butter until the butter is the size of small peas. Gradually add the water until the mixture comes together. Add only enough water to combine everything. You may not need a full 5 tablespoons. Form the dough into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes before rolling it out. It also freezes well. Just take it out of the freezer and refrigerate the night before you will need it.Star-Topped Mince PiesTo assemble, grease a mini muffin pan very well, and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 425 F.

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a very thin sheet. Cut out circles for the crust and stars for the top. Carefully fill the muffin pan with the crusts, fill each crust with the cooled mincemeat, and top with a pastry star. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden, and the bottom crusts are baked through. Let cool before serving.Star-Topped Mince Pies

Merry Christmas! ~ Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cookie Cups

Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cup CookiesThese festive little cookie cups will make a perfect dessert for your Christmas meal. I think Santa might like them too! 😉Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cup CookiesI made a simple whole-wheat sugar cookie dough for the cups and handles. They have a lot less sugar and butter than many recipes to keep them a little lighter. Then I filled the cute little cups with my favorite chocolate mint pudding that is a regular at our house.

If you are looking for a fun way to spend a few hours in the kitchen, I think you’ll enjoy these. (Or if your holiday schedule is already full, make them next month. 🙂 I think hot cocoa is just as fitting in January as it is in December! Why should December get all the fun cookies? 😉 ) Either way, I hope you’ll enjoy giving these a try.Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cup CookiesPeppermint Hot Cocoa Cookie Cups

Cookies:

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

Approximately 1/8 cup milk, dark, or white chocolate (to attach the cup handles)

Pudding:

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 1/2 cups skim milk

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon peppermint (or mint) extract

To make the cookies:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a second large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. You may need to hand mix the last bit if the dough becomes too thick for the mixer.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare a mini muffin pan by greasing it very well. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Reserve about 1/4 cup of the dough for the cup handles.

With the remaining dough, roll approximately 1-inch balls between your hands, and place them in the prepared muffin tin. Push the center of each ball until it squishes up the side of each hole. Make sure to press the sides and bottom firmly so there are no gaps in between the dough and the pan, and make sure the top is neat. The sides and top will be visible in the final product.

With the reserved dough, roll small pieces into thin lines, and fashion them into tiny cup handles. Place the handles on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the cups for about 15 minutes, or until firm, rotating the pan halfway though. Let cool for a couple of minutes before removing the cookies from the pan. Bake the handles for about 7 minutes, or until firm, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool the cups and handles completely on a wire rack.

To attach the cup handles:

Over a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Place all of your cups on their sides in the cleaned mini muffin pan to prop them up. The side of each cup should be facing up. Dip the edges of the cup handles in the chocolate, and gently place on the side of the cups. Let stand to dry for at least an hour.

To make the pudding:

Begin by placing a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Set aside.

Off the heat, in a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa powder. Turn the heat onto medium high. Gradually add the milk, whisking well to dissolve the cornstarch. Add the egg yolks, and whisk until incorporated.

Continue to whisk occasionally, until big bubbles begin to form. At that point, reduce the heat to low. Cook one more minute, whisking constantly. The consistency should be creamy and thick.

Remove the pudding from the heat and pour it through the strainer into the bowl. Add the vanilla and mint to the hot pudding, and whisk until well incorporated.

Cover the pudding directly on the surface with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least three hours. Before serving, whisk it one more time to make sure the consistency is smooth.

To assemble:

Place the pudding into a piping bag to neatly fill the hot cocoa cups. Use the back of a small spoon to smooth the top.Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cup Cookies

Merry Christmas ~ Creamy Chestnut Soup

Chestnut SoupInstead of roasting chestnuts over on an open fire, I made a festive and creamy chestnut soup with truffle oil for Christmas this year. 🙂 It was a unique and delicious first course to our family dinner!

Chestnut SoupThe original recipe was from a cooking class at Sur La Table. I omitted the 1/2 cup of heavy cream altogether since it was luscious and creamy without any dairy, and I replaced the butter with Earth Balance. I also added a little more chicken broth than the original recipe called for to make the soup a little thinner.

Chestnut Soup

Creamy Chestnut Soup with Truffle Oil

Based on a recipe from Sur La Table’s cooking classes

Yield: 6 servings

2 tablespoons Earth Balance

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup roughly chopped onions

1/2 cup roughly chopped carrots

1/2 cup roughly chopped celery

1 medium garlic clove, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups cooked peeled chestnuts

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup dry sherry

2 (4-inch) thyme sprigs

3 cups low-sodium
 chicken broth, plus more to thin the soup if you desire

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Black truffle oil, for drizzling

Place a large, heavy saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Heat the Earth Balance and oil until melted. Stir in the onion, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir in the chestnuts and salt and cook until the chestnuts are coated in the aromatics and warmed through, about 4 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the sherry and thyme and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the chestnuts are tender, about 30 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.

Using an immersion blender or standard blender, puree soup until smooth. Return the saucepan to the heat, add more broth if you would like the soup to be thinner, and bring back to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve: Using a ladle, transfer the soup to individual bowls. Drizzle with truffle oil and serve immediately.

Chestnut Soup

Christmas Baking ~ Gingerbread Cupcakes

Gingerbread CupcakesI baked a batch of gingerbread cupcakes to go with my gingerbread caramels. (Sensing a gingerbread theme this month?? I figured Santa might like choices! 😉 )

I based the recipe on Martha Stewart’s Gingerbread Snacking Cake. It is such a flavorful recipe with the addition of fresh ginger, but I wanted individual cupcakes instead of one big sheet cake. I replaced the butter with light olive oil, and I replaced the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour. The bold flavors of the cake stand up the whole grains beautifully. I hope you’ll give this recipe a try! I will definitely keep these cupcakes in my holiday recipe collection. 🙂 Yum!

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Based on a recipe from MarthaStewart.com

½ cup light olive oil

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 cup boiling water

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar

1 cup unsulfured molasses

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine boiling water and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour, ground spices, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix oil and brown sugar. Beat in molasses and grated ginger, baking-soda mixture, and flour mixture. Beat in eggs.

Pour batter into a muffin pan lined with paper liners, filling each about ½ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Merry Christmas!!

Gingerbread Cupcakes

A Decadent Holiday Treat ~ Gingerbread Caramels

Gingerbread CaramelsI typically don’t make treats quite as rich as these, but a small bite is all you need to feel like you’ve had a decadent treat. Share them with friends and family since they travel well, or leave them by the tree for Santa. He might like them even better than cookies. 😉

I have never made caramels from scratch on my own before, so I followed the recipe from Martha Stewart to the letter. Candy making is really a science, and a few degrees can be the difference between a success and a dud. I learned two important lessons through this experience. The first is to make sure your thermometer is calibrated. I learned this the hard way, as my first attempt was a mess that did not set since it did not boil to the proper temperature. The second lesson I learned is that you can rescue your caramel if it doesn’t set by re-boiling it! On my second boil, I used a different thermometer, and the temperature reached the accurate level. Ta da! Success! 🙂

Gingerbread Caramels

From MarthaStewart.com

4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream

2 cups light corn syrup

4 cups granulated sugar

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

Lightly coat a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking
sheet with cooking spray. Line with parchment
paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on short
sides; spray paper.

In a large pot over high heat, bring cream,
corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses to a boil,
stirring until sugar has dissolved. Continue to
cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently,
until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm-ball stage)
on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla, salt, and spices. Immediately pour onto prepared sheet, without scraping pot. Let stand, uncovered, 24 hours at room temperature (do not move pan).

Generously coat a large cutting board with cooking spray. Lifting it by the parchment overhang, invert caramel onto the cutting board; use a sharp knife to loosen parchment, and remove. Cut into 1-by-1 1/4-inch pieces. Wrap each in cellophane or waxed paper. Caramels can be stored up to 1 month in airtight containers.

Gingerbread Caramels

Merry Christmas from Noon Cafe!

Happy Christmas ~ English Christmas Pudding

I decided to explore my British heritage a little this December by making Christmas pudding. It is also called plum pudding, but the interesting thing I learned is that there are no plums in the dish. The pre-Victorian use of the word “plum” meant “raisins,” and it does have plenty of those!

I love the tradition of making a wish as you stir the pudding. It is also traditional to pour brandy on the top of the pudding, light it, and bring it to the table with a flame. It produces a subtle, but pretty blue color. There is so much history in this little dish. I found it fascinating to take part in a tradition my great-grandparents and their parents probably also took part in.

I based my puddings on a recipe from the BBC. I halved the recipe, and made individual puddings in 6 small 8-ounce ramekins. I replaced the Bramley apple with a Granny Smith, since Bramleys are not readily available to us in the States. I only used 4 ounces of butter for half of the recipe, since American butter is packaged in 4-ounce (or 113 gram) sticks. It was a little less than half of what the recipe called for, but it was plenty. I only needed to steam the puddings for 3 hours instead of 8 since I made them in the small ramekins rather than larger bowls. I also used a simple glaze of powdered sugar and cognac instead of the buttered version.

I’ll leave the recipe in the metric format to keep it authentically British. 🙂

Classic Christmas pudding

Recipe based on BBC Good Food

25g (about 1 oz) blanched almonds

1 large Granny Smith apple

100g (3.5 oz) box candied peel (in large pieces) or all citron if you can find it

1 whole nutmeg (you’ll use a little over 1/4 of it)

500g (18 oz) raisins

70g (2.5 oz) all-purpose flour

50g (1.75 oz) soft fresh white breadcrumbs

50g (1.75 oz) light muscovado sugar, crumbled if it looks lumpy

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1 tbsp brandy or cognac, plus extra to flame and for glaze

113g (4 oz) packet butter, taken straight from the fridge

Confectioner’s sugar for glaze

Get everything prepared. Chop the almonds coarsely. Peel, core and chop the apple. Sharpen your knife and chop the candied peel. (You can chop the almonds and apple in a food processor, but the peel must be done by hand.) Grate a little over 1/4 of the nutmeg. Mix all the ingredients for the pudding, except the butter, in a large bowl.

Holding the butter in its wrapper, grate a quarter of it into the bowl, and then stir everything together. Repeat until all the butter is grated, then stir for 3-4 minutes – the mixture is ready when it subsides slightly after each stir. Ask the family to stir too, and get everyone to make a wish.

Generously butter six 226 g (8 ounce) ramekins and put a disc of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each. Pack in the pudding mixture. Cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, pleating it to allow for expansion, then tie with string (keep the paper in place with a rubber band while tying). Trim off any excess paper.

Now stand each bowl on a large sheet of foil and bring the edges up over the top, then put another sheet of foil over the top and bring it down underneath to make a double package (this makes the puddings watertight). Tie with more string, and make a handle for easy lifting in and out of the pan.

Steam the puddings for 3 hours, topping up with water as necessary. (I used a big pot with a steamer basket on the stovetop, taking care to keep the puddings above the water.) Remove from the pan and leave to cool overnight. When cold, discard the messy wrappings and re-wrap in spanking new greaseproof or baking parchment, foil and string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.

On Christmas Day, steam until warmed through. (Microwaving also works in a pinch.) Unwrap and turn out. To flame, warm 3-4 tbsp brandy in a small pan, pour it over the pudding and set light to it.

Top with a glaze of brandy or cognac and powdered sugar. Add a little brandy at a time to the sugar until the glaze is to the consistency you like. Pour the glaze over the puddings before serving.

Happy Christmas!

PS. The top photo has a faint blue cognac flame on my Christmas pudding. 🙂 Click on the picture for a closer view.

Holiday Treat ~ Snowflake Marshmallows

Happy holidays!

We had a festive weekend – We put up our Christmas tree, decorated the house, and baked gingerbread Christmas cookies. We also cut out some snowflake shaped marshmallows to go with our hot cocoa. Since I learned how to make homemade marshmallows last month, I am excited about all of the possibilities! This one is perfect for the season, I think. 🙂

The recipe for the marshmallows can be found here.

Christmas Cookies ~ Pine Nut Biscotti

Santa needs to have some cookies on Christmas Eve, so I baked up a batch of my favorite pine nut biscotti for him ;).  This recipe makes me think of Christmas since the creamy nuts are another part of the Christmas tree! I think it’s a fun but sophisticated version of a Christmas cookie. I’ve made these cookies for several years now, and they’ve become a favorite at our house. They also ship well if you’d like to send them to loved ones far away. They are naturally low in fat since there is no added oil or butter, so they are a good choice in lieu of some of the decadent Christmas goodies of the season. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do! And don’t forget to save a few for Santa ;).

Pine Nut Biscotti

From Cooking Light magazine

3 cups all-purpose flour (about 13 1/2 ounces)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir in pine nuts. Combine 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, rind, vanilla, and eggs, stirring with a whisk. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, stirring until well blended (dough will be dry and crumbly). Knead dough lightly in bowl 7 or 8 times or until a dough forms (dough will be sticky).

Divide dough in half. Shape each portion into an 8-inch-long roll. Place rolls 6 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; flatten each roll to 1-inch thickness.

Bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Remove rolls from baking sheet (do not turn oven off); cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Cut each roll diagonally into 15 (1/2-inch-thick) slices using a serrated knife. Place slices, cut sides down, on baking sheet.

Bake at 325° for 15 minutes. Turn cookies over, and bake an additional 10 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool).

Remove from baking sheet; cool completely on wire racks.

Yield:  2 1/2 dozen (serving size: 1 biscotto)

Merry Christmas ~ Belgian Endive and Frisée Salad with Fennel, Asian Pear and Spiced Walnuts in a Walnut Vinaigrette

Amid several heavy Christmas dishes, I made a light and festive salad that was inspired by a recipe from Domaine Chandon. The different elements really came together to make a delicious combination. It was very easy to assemble, but it felt a little special. That’s my idea of the perfect Christmas dish :).

I used walnuts instead of pecans to go with the walnut vinaigrette. I also replaced the butter in the nut recipe with Earth Balance, one of my exciting new culinary discoveries of the year :).

Belgian Endive and Frisée Salad with Fennel, Asian Pear and Spiced Walnuts in a Walnut Vinaigrette

Adapted from the Domaine Chandon Cookbook: Recipes from Étoile Restaurant

Spiced Walnuts

2 tablespoons Earth Balance buttery spread

1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 teaspoons brown sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pinch of salt

2 cups walnut halves

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In a small saucepan, melt the Earth Balance over low heat. Stir in the maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt. Add the walnuts, stirring to coat well. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until toasty brown, about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent sticking or burning. Remove from the oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Salad

2 tbsp walnut oil

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp Champagne vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 small shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 Belgian endives

1 head frisée lettuce, cored and coarsely chopped

1 fennel bulb, core and stalks removed, cut into thin rounds

1 Asian pear, cored and cut into matchsticks about 1/4 in thick

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup spiced walnuts (recipe above)

In a large salad bowl, combine the walnut oil, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, shallot, and garlic. Whisk until the vinaigrette thickens and all the ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Add the endives, frisée, fennel, and pear to the bowl. Toss gently until evenly coated with the vinaigrette. If desired, season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among 4 salad plates and garnish with the walnuts. Serve at once.

Serves 4 with leftovers.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas ~ Three Kings Salad

One of our favorite salads for Christmas is called a Three Kings Salad. It fuses a colorful group of three of the season’s best and tastiest :). I was inspired by the original recipe, which can be found at MyRecipes.com, but I added and omitted ingredients to our taste. It is forgiving, so use whatever you like. If you like less orange or more onion, that’s fine. Make it yours :). Honestly, we kind of changed one of the “kings” from red onion to pomegranate seeds. I only used a tiny bit of onion for garnish, since neither Rob nor I are big raw onion fans, and I used a ton of pomegranate seeds since we love them! Is there anything more festive than roasted beets and pomegranate seeds? I don’t know what it is about those two, but it just feels like a holiday to me! Both take a wee bit of work to prepare, so they feel like food for a special occasion.

Three Kings Salad

4 seedless oranges

3 or 4 beets…One big bunch

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little more to drizzle over the beets

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

1/4 cup thinly slivered red onion

Pomegranate seeds from ½ of the fruit

Preheat your oven to 375. Trim the beets of their greens, drizzle with a little olive oil and wrap tightly in tin foil. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes (depending on the size of your beets) or until they can be pierced with a fork. Let them cool. Preferably with some sort of thin disposable gloves so you don’t dye your fingers, peel the outside and cut into wedges.

Peel and section oranges over a bowl with a knife so none of the pith or membrane remains. Squeeze the extra juice into the bowl when finished. Set the orange sections aside and reserve about 2 tablespoons of the juice.

Combine the reserved 2 tablespoons of orange juice, vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk well.

Divide the beets, oranges, pomegranate seeds and onion evenly among 4-6 salad plates, depending on the size salad you would like to serve. Drizzle with as much of the vinaigrette as you like.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

Christmas Cookie Day

Today was Christmas cookie day at our house :). I spent a fun afternoon baking a couple of batches. I found the cutest little cookie cutters at Williams-Sonoma this year that made them extra special. They are shaped like a gingerbread man, a snowflake and a Christmas ornament, but the cool thing about them is that you can add personalized messages that press into the cookie dough design. I made some of our cookies with special inscriptions like the names of our nephews, Miro, Ivan and Zach and this website name.

I used a classic sugar cookie recipe from Cooking Light magazine that can be found at MyRecipes.com. It is a lightened version of the classic, so I followed it pretty closely. It uses less butter than most recipes as well as only egg whites with no yolks, but it has a great trick for rolling so you can get away with less fat without cracking the dough. This recipe doubles nicely if you desire. They are also good with a little icing, though I opted for plain cookies this time around to show off the cute design.

Classic Sugar Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 cup granulated sugar

10 tablespoons softened butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 egg whites

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt with a whisk in a medium bowl. Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat with a mixer until fluffy. Next, beat in the vanilla and egg whites. Gradually add the flour mixture to butter mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a puck, about 4 inches across. Wrap each puck in plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.

Unwrap 1 dough puck at a time. Smooth the plastic wrap on your work surface, and put the dough in the middle. Add another sheet of plastic wrap on top, so the dough is surrounded on both sides. Roll the dough in between the plastic until it is about ¼ inch thick. (The plastic allows the dough to stay in one nice piece without more fat.) Chill the dough another 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375.

Remove one portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and replace it with a sheet of parchment paper. Run the rolling pin over the parchment a couple of times to smooth the top of the dough. Remove the parchment, and using a cookie cutter, cut your dough into the shapes you desire. Place the cookies about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on the pans for 5 minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Happy December ~ Springerle

It is Christmas cookie season again, and I decided to try my hand at something new this year called springerle. They are traditional German anise cookies that use a special mold. My parents gave me a metal springerle board last Christmas, and I am part German, so I thought I would give them a try! They are really sweet little pieces of art. 🙂

Springerle

2 eggs

4 oz powdered sugar

1 teaspoon anise extract

2 cups all purpose flour, plus a little more for the board and rolling pin if the dough is too sticky

1 teaspoon baking powder

Beat the eggs until light with an electric mixer on high speed in a large bowl. Reduce the speed and add the anise and sifted sugar. Beat until well combined. Sift the flour and baking powder and stir them into the egg mixture. The dough will be rather stiff.

Roll the dough to about 3/8 inch thickness. Imprint the dough onto the springerle board and cut apart with a pizza cutter. Place the cookies on a baking sheet (this recipe will make about 2 sheets worth of cookies), and let them dry uncovered overnight. This will allow the designs to stay crisp when they are baked.

In the morning, preheat your oven to 350. Bake the cookies for about 8-10 minutes, until cooked through but not golden.