Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Christmas Cookies: Candy Cane Cookies

Red and white twisted together and formed into a cane – these are festive and tasty. Please, please, use real butter.

1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten lightly
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar together, add vanilla and beaten egg. Sift flour and salt together, add to butter and sugar mixture.

Divide the dough in half.

Add red food coloring to one half – be generous, so it will be really red – several drops. Take walnut sized pieces of each color and roll between your hands until they are about 6″ long and about the same thickness from top to bottom. When all the white and all the red dough is rolled into 6″ lengths, take one of each color – red and white – and twist them around each other – you know, like a candy cane.

Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bend top over to form a hook. Bake at 375 F/190 C for about 8 – 10 minutes. Check at 8 minutes – you don’t want these ones to get brown, just thoroughly cooked!

Note – these are really really good for children to make. They love the rolling part, and just need a little help with the twisting together part.

00199.jpg

This is the only photo I could find, other than another with really awful candy canes made of red and green. I thought it was too awful. This one she is using the cookies on a wreath, but the cookies look pretty good.

November 27, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, Cooking, ExPat Life, Holiday, Recipes, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Christmas Cookies: Sugar Roll Cookies

The trick I have found with these cookies is to glaze them with a sugar glaze. The cookies are cut, baked and then dipped on one side into a sugar glaze while still warm. This takes some preparation, but it’s worth it.

These cookies are a little fiddly, so you really need to do it on a more relaxed day. If you have a friend you can trust, it doesn’t hurt to have an extra pair of hands helping you. You will need a rolling pin, and some cookie cutters, powdered sugar and evaporated milk, and cookie decorations like silver balls, colored sugar sprinkles, cinnamon candies, etc.

Put down waxed paper under cookie racks to catch all the glaze that will drip off, it saves a big mess. Find three flat soup bowls, big enough to dip cookies in. Fill with powdered sugar. Put in drops of food color; be generous to get a good strong color.

Use evaporated milk, stirring in a drop at a time, until you have a glaze that is not too thick, but like cream. That way, when you dip the cookie in, and then turn it on it’s back to drain, the glaze will come down over the sides, but not too much will fall off. If it gets too thin, you need to add more sugar until it firms back up a little. Have plenty of powdered sugar on hand. It always takes a little experimenting, sometimes even just doing it on a humid day can make it trickier. But nothing you can’t handle.

Remember, this dough needs to be refrigerated, so you can make it ahead of time, and pull it out when you are ready to bake cookies.

Dough:

Cream together:
1 cup butter
1 cup fine sugar

Beat in one egg.

Sift and add to above:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Add:
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all together well, and refrigerate several hours.

Roll out a little at a time, cut the cookies, put on cookie tray, bake at 350 F/180 C, 8 – 10 minutes or until slightly gold.

When they come out of the oven, cool two – three minutes, and quickly glaze while they are still warm but not hot.

Now those are the basics. Here are some hints:

When rolling out, rub flour into the rolling pin, and use as little as possible under the dough – the more flour, the tougher it gets. Try not to roll too much, and use a light touch.

If you are working with children, just relax and let whatever happens happen. If they eat the dough, oh well. They’re kids. If they want to decorate, let them decorate. Let these be the kids cookies.They won’t be beautiful, but the kids will think they are, and that is what matters. They’re kids!

If these are for your cookie-obligations, here are different hints.

Choose only three or four cookie cutters, and go for uniformity – it makes for a prettier plate. Like make a whole bunch of trees, glaze them all green, and put a silver ball on the end of each bough. It isn’t imaginative, but when the cookie trays go together, it just looks nicer. Make stars, one red cinnamon at each point. Or reverse, or whatever you think looks good, just make a whole bunch the same if you are giving these away.

Again, wait until the glaze and decorations are totally cool and dried before putting into containers to store. Store in a cool dry place, in an airtight container, and they will be good up to a month.

photodraw3.jpg

These cookies are from Baking 911 Ask Sarah where there is a lot more information about glazing, so if you are looking for a more advanced sugar cookie, go there!

November 27, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, Cooking, ExPat Life, Holiday, Recipes, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Christmas Cookies: Spritz or Cookie Press

Not such a secret: when you buy your cookie press, there will be recipes inside.

Here is an old faithful recipe from The Joy of Cooking, a very dry cookbook with solid gold information when you are an inexperienced cook. The ingredients and instructions are from the book, but the explanations I am adding for clarity. Ask questions if it doesn’t make sense!

Although learning how to use a cookie press may seem hard, it’s about as hard as painting your toenails – you figure out the tricks as you go along. The cookies LOOK so fantastic, and you look so clever for making them . . . don’t tell how easy it is.

And remember, one reason we do these cookies is because we can make the dough a day or two ahead when we have a couple minutes, and stick it in the refrigerator in an air-tight container, and then just cook up a batch when we have the time.

I personally think they look better when you use strong food coloring, so don’t skrimp on the green or the red. It helps make your cookie platter look more festive.

Try one batch this year, just to get the hang of it. Double or triple next year, when you have more confidence in your cookie-press skills.

Heat oven to 350 F/180 C.

Sift together:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (not self-rising, not whole wheat)
3/4 cups sugar (the finest sugar you can find, if it is too coarse, grind it finer if you can because big sugar will give you problems getting through the press)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend in, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs:
1 cup butter

(The best thing for “blending in” would be a food processor, or an pastry blender.)
images.jpg

Break one egg into a 1/4 cup measuring cup. If the egg does not fill the cup, add water until it equals 1/4 cup.

Stir egg into crumb mixture, and add 1 teaspoon vanilla. This is also where I add the food coloring.

Beat well, then chill. Put about a cup and a half dough into cookie press and press onto UNGREASED cookie sheet. The dough should be pliable, but if it becomes too soft, re-chill it slightly. Don’t get discouraged at first . . . it takes a little while to get it to come out right, and to stick to the pan . . . keep at it. You’ll get it, just keep trying. Once you know how, you never forget.

Bake at 10 – 15 minutes.

spritzcookie2.jpg

These beautiful cookies in the photo are courtesy of about Southern food.com.

November 27, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, Cooking, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Holiday, Recipes, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Christmas Cookies: Russian Tea Cakes

Note: Americans call these cookies. My British friends call them biscuits. Either name, they taste wonderful.

Who knows where these cookies really came from? The first cookbook I used to make them called them Mexican Wedding Cakes, later I have heard them called Swedish Tea Cakes, Sugar Nut Balls, Pecan Sandies . . . I bet there are more. Russian Tea Cakes is just the name I like the best.

These cookies are the easiest. If you only do one cookie this year, this one is it. They store easily – you can even store them in layers, as long as you use a piece of waxed paper between the layers, otherwish the moisture in the cookie will soak into the powdered sugar. And they melt in your mouth.

You will need at least two cookie baking sheets (flat or low lipped metal pans you find in the baking goods area) and two or more racks for cooling the cookies on. (A food processor helps this recipe go very fast. Chop the nuts first, empty into a bowl, then cream the butter and sugar.)

You will need powdered sugar, also called confectioners sugar – what a Godsend. I don’t even bother with a sifter, just use a good seive, put the powdered sugar in and tap the side of the seive with a spoon, and the sugar will sprinkle finely wherever you need it.

Heat the oven to 400 F/200 C. You don’t even grease the cookie sheets for these, because they have so much butter in them.

For these cookies, though, you have to cool them JUST ENOUGH, and then roll them in a small bowl of confectioner’s/powdered sugar. They have to be warm enough that the sugar wants to stick to them. Too cool and the sugar won’t stick so thickly. Too hot and you will burn your fingers!

1 cup butter, softened (a pint’s a pound the world round. That means that four sticks of butter make a pound, a pint is equal to 2 cups, so 2 sticks of butter equal one cup One stick of butter equals 1/2 cup.)

1 cup powdered sugar

When butter is softened, mix the butter and sugar together. You can do this with a fork, but it sure is easy in a food processor, or a mixer, especially if you are doubling or tripling this recipe. When butter and sugar are well mixed, add in the following:

1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups white flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (pecans are wonderful if you can find them, and if they don’t cost an arm and a leg)

Now, take pinches about the size of a large date, or walnut, and roll them into a ball. When you put it on the cookie tray, flatten it slightly. I don’t know why. It’s just the way this cookie is made.

Pop the tray into the heated oven, set your timer for 8 – 10 minutes.

While the first batch is cooking, pour some powdered sugar in a small bowl.

Keep making balls, put them on the second pan while the first pan of cookies is baking. When the first batch is finished cooking, you can just pop the second batch in.

Check the cookies when the timer rings. They will be a light golden brown when they are ready. Take them out of the oven, and let them sit for about four minutes, so that they are warm, but not hot. Roll them in powdered sugar in a small bowl, and quickly put them on a rack until they are thoroughly cool. Do not pack them up until they are totally cool or they will absorb the powdered sugar when they are in the container.

This makes about 50 cookies. They are so easy . . . go ahead. Double the recipe.

You will see that I have given you a lot of extra instruction for your first time. Once you have done these and you know how easy they are, just use the bold, you won’t need all the blah-blah-blah!

mexicanweddingcake.jpg

I borrowed this beautiful photo from a website where you can BUY these cookies, so if you would rather buy the cookies, you can do it here.

November 27, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, Cooking, ExPat Life, Recipes | 4 Comments

Early Christmas Preparations

Did you know that Thanksgiving used to be earlier in November, and when it was moved to the 4th Thursday in November, the merchants objected because it shortened the Christmas shopping season? It seems to me that the season gets started earlier and earlier every year, in spite of the Thanksgiving change.

In Germany, many people used to put up the tree on Christmas Eve day. We usually put ours up around December 15th – we wanted to have the beauty in the house, but also wanted to be sure it would last without drying out and becoming a fire hazard. It was cold enough that we could buy the tree and keep it outside, and then put it up when we had the time and energy.

And our tradition was that the tree had to be down by the Feast of Epiphany, on January 6th, the day the church celebrates the Wise Men (probably Persians) who came seeking the small baby born in Bethlehem.

We are having a smaller Christmas this year. With my Dad so ill, I don’t have the psychic energy to go all out as usual. Last year, we were all together; Dad and Mom bought tickets for Christmas Eve Day for all of us, the huge entire family, to go see the Nutcracker Ballet together. It was hugely fun. The production was lively and beautiful and delightful, all our plans went smoothly, and then we gathered back at Mom and Dad’s for finger-food dinner and a cut-throat game of Hearts. So much laughter, so much fun.

So I have the packages wrapped and my husband, God bless him, will get them in the mail today to insure they will arrive in time for Christmas. Although we are not going back, our son and his bride will be with us for Christmas here in Kuwait – alhamdullah! In my heart, I think of her as “the Seaside bride” – they were married on a gorgeous late afternoon in April on a snowy white sand beach in Florida. She was glowing and beautiful. He was beside himself with happiness. It was one of the happiest days in my life.

It was a bright, sunny afternoon. The minister, in his black suit, had sunglasses on. When we posted the photos, all our friends asked if he was FBI. He looked like a “man in black”.

On our way to church last night, I saw people who already have Christmas trees up and ready, all lit up in their windows. I remember last year in Qatar, where the word “Christmas” is never mentioned in the ads; stores advertise “seasonal decorations”. We celebrated 50 years of the church in Kuwait last night, and I thank God to live in a sophisticated country, where we are free to worship the same God, but in our own way.

candlesandqc.JPG
(Qatteri Cat thinking about getting ready for Christmas)

But for me, it’s still too early to put up a tree. It is too bright, too sunny, the Christmas tree looks diminished in the bright light. I have my boxes labled so I can pull out the early decorations first, without having to go through everything. Just a few baubles, a few little lights, and a little more next week.

christmasbowl.JPG
(Thought I would go silver this year, courtesy of some cool stuff from IKEA, but it was too cold and hard, softened up by adding just a little additional color)

November 27, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, Cooking, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Holiday, Kuwait, Middle East, Qatar, Random Musings | Leave a comment

Christmas Cookies – Get Ready

It doesn’t have to be so hard. Yes, you are working. Yes, you have children. Yes, you have a million obligations, and the presents to buy and the presents to wrap and the presents to mail, and the cards to write.

Take a deep breath.

There’s an old joke. How do you eat an elephant? The answer? One bite at a time. Let that be your mantra. When you start breathing in short gasps, when you think you will never get it done, think “one bite at a time”.

Think about how much time is wasted at work. In those meetings, when the pompous so-and-so who is always bragging about her project, or the jerk is going on and on about what he has done, and it is pathetic, YOU can be organizing.

Here is the cool thing. When you write things down, you also get to check them off. Once you have written a bunch of things down, you also can see more clearly what comes first, what has more importance, what you can actually let go, and you can give them some sort of priority, on paper. You will be amazed how good it feels to be able to cross things off your list. Use notecards – you can quickly revise them. Save the used ones to savor after Christmas, to see how much you really did get done. You will be surprised – and proud.

So what are YOUR must-dos? Once you know what the must do’s are, you can draw a little time line . . .do today, do next week, do just before Christmas . . .write in when all the cookies are due. You know, your child’s Christmas party, the Lessons and Carols service, your husband’s office party, your office party. . .and you will be able to see when you need to get the majority of your baking done. Or the majority of your Christmas-goody buying. Who says you need to provide home baked cookies? Sometimes, you throw money at the problem.

But IF you are going to bake cookies – and it is a cool, easy thing to do if you have been making notes – let’s get it out of the way.

Advent starts next Sunday – so let’s plan to start the baking this coming Saturday.

What will you need? For sure you will need fine, white flour, and fine white sugar. For you in the US, that is a given, you don’t even think twice about it. For people in other parts of the world, sugar is not always so incredibly fine, or so white.

If you are facing that sugar problem, get a blender. Blenders make so many things so easy, they are cheap and they are a Godsend to the busy person trying to put together Christmas.

Pour that large grained sugar, a cup at a time, into the blender, and turn the blender on. It won’t give you the refined sugar of back home, but a good whirl will cut some of those larger lumps down into a sugar usable in cookie recipes like Spritz, where it has to be able to come through the press, and large lumps of sugar cause annoying hold-ups while you clean them out of the mold every time. it’s worth a few extra minutes, and you can just set aside a half hour one evening to whirl sugar. That’s it – you’re done.

As well as the flour and the sugar, you will need butter – lots of butter. Some people use other solid shortening, but folks – it’s Christmas. Nothing tastes like real butter. When you cook with real butter, they taste better, and you only eat one or two, because they satisfy you, instead of gobbling the whole bunch and having to start all over again!

You will need flavoring – vanilla for sure, almond flavoring and lemon flavoring if you are doind different kinds of cookies. Walnuts if you are doing Mexican Wedding Cakes/Russian Tea Cakes, which are where we will start because they are SO SO easy. You will need red food coloring and green food coloring. You will need confectioner’s sugar, lots of it. A little evaporated milk.

And you will need Tupperware containers. Well, not necessarily Tupperware, but some large containers, air-tight, for storing dough in the refrigerator and then for storing cookies you have made.

See, we are eating this elephant one bite at a time. On the way home from (work, picking up the kids, soccer practice, choir practice) you stop at the store and get the flour and sugar and walnuts and flavorings – you know what you need because you have your LIST! Wooo Hoooo! In and out of the supermarket in a flash, and on your way back home.

Leave a couple sticks of butter out (in the microwave if you have a cat – cats will lick the butter if you leave it out) to soften while you fix dinner. Feed the kids, get the dishes out of the way and quick – before you fall down in exhaustion! – mix up a batch of cookie dough!

Here’s what I suggest:

Russian Tea Cakes
Spritz Cookies
Sugar Cookies
Candy Cane Cookies

That is all. Russian Tea Cakes are so so easy, especially with a food processor. Mix the dough one night, roll the cookies and bake another night – see? One bite at a time. Here’s the trick – the Russian Tea Cakes will all be snowy white, from the confectioner’s sugar on the outside.

Make two different kinds of Spritz cookies – yes, you can. The cookie presses are CHEAP and they last for years. You will need to get the feel of it, but that just takes a little practice. You can do it. The secret is keeping the dough in the refrigerator and popping it through the press is it is cool enough to stick together.

b00004s1as01_aa280_sclzzzzzzz_.jpg

So you make a triple batch of Spritz cookie dough, and divide it into two portions. Color one portion green – and use a lot of green food coloring so the color will be strong and you can make trees. The other portion can be used for wreaths, or whatever you want to choose. You will be surprised how quickly you can make a variety of cookies with the Spritz cookier maker. (yes, I will post these cookie recipes – right now, we are still making lists. We won’t bake until this weekend.)

Now come the sugar cookies. Again, double the recipe, make it one night so it will be all ready to go when YOU have the time. If you have children and want them to have Christmas Cooky experience, sugar cookies are where you want them to spend their time. Let them roll out the dough and cut a cookie or two – most kids will lose interest in a very short time, but they will remember that they helped! ;-)

Again, key to the PERCEPTION that you have done a lot of baking is that we will glaze these cookies with three colors of icing, one set white (like stars) one set green (like trees) and one set red (like reindeer). Sugar cookies are a pain to make, lots of fiddly work, but they are big and showy, and worth the morning it takes to get them done. They go a long way.

Candy Cane Cookies – the dough is a lot like sugar cookie dough, you divide the recipe in half, color one half red, twist lengths of these together, form into candy cane form and bake. Voila!

You’ve baked four kinds of cookies in three different colors.

You buy sturdy paper plates (and raid the post-Christmas sales at the party supply stores this year to stock up on these) so that you don’t have to worry about getting your plate back, and you put a few of each of these cookies on the plate. You will be amazed at how good it looks, with the different cookies on the plate, and how easy it was.

Above recipes will follow. I will even include one special recipe for extra credit – Swedish Rosettes. You will need to find a Rosette Iron, which usually comes with two disks, always one lacy round one, and often one for a shell that can be filled. It takes a couple hours, but the results are amazing. You get to do that one because you made your lists, did a little bit of prep here and there, got the cookies baked and even have a little extra time to dance for joy. Go for it!

b00004rfpj01_aa280_sclzzzzzzz_.jpg

The cookie press and the rosette iron are both from Amazon.com, only because I couldn’t get any other photos to print. There are other sources – cooking.com, maid of scandinavia, etc. These are tools worth the small investment – you use them year after year.

But remember, this is extra credit, not required. You can do it next year!

November 27, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, Cooking, ExPat Life | 6 Comments

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 398 other followers