New Year's

Fruit Roll Cookies

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Our family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but we do celebrate cookies, which are as ubiquitous during the Christmas season as doughnuts during Hanukkah and matzo balls during Passover.

Every December I make a load of cookies. I give most of them away as gifts, but of course, keep (in the freezer) a container or two of family favorites for us.

Depending on how much time I have, I make these oldies but goodies: Fannies, Grand Finale cookies, Dutch butter-almond cookies, peanut butter cookies, lemon bars, cheesecake cookies, Chinese cookies and Orange Marmalade cookies.

Last year I added these Fruit Roll cookies, based on my mother’s wonderful “frozen dough” nut roll. They were a big hit, so I’m going to make them again this year.

Fruit Roll Cookies

Dough:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour

  • 1/2 pound butter, cut into chunks

  • 1 cup dairy sour cream

Filling:

  • 2 cups mixed diced dried or candied fruit (such as cherries, pineapple, orange peel, cranberries, apricots, dates, figs

  • 1 cup raisins

  • 3/4 cup chopped nuts

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 cup orange marmalade

To make the dough: place the flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter and beat at low speed for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is crumbly (you may also do this by hand or using the pulse feature of a food processor). Add the sour cream and mix it in to make a smooth, uniform and slightly sticky dough. Dust the dough with flour, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To make the filling: Place the dried fruit, raisins, nuts, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and toss the ingredients to distribute them evenly. Add the marmalade and mix it in to coat all the fruit.

To assemble: Lightly grease a baking sheet. Cut the dough into 5 pieces. Working separately with each piece of dough, roll the dough on a floured surface to a rectangle about 12-inches by 6-inches. Place 1/5 of the filling on each rectangle, forming the mixture into a strip along one of the long sides and to within 1/2-inch from the ends of the two short sides. Roll the dough and place each roll, seam side down, on the baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Score each roll along the top with a sharp knife at 1-inch intervals. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven, let cool, then cut along the score lines.

Makes about 60

 

Orange-Vanilla Flavored Cheese Stuffed Dates

Sometimes I think life is a bunch of holidays with not much in between. Except for the entire month of January.

I suppose that's a good thing, because holidays are happy and celebratory.

Also, there's the food. Except for Yom Kippur, every holiday has food. And even when it comes to Yom Kippur, there's the break-the-fast when it's all over and the break-the-fast is all about food. 

As far as holidays go, at this point of the year, we've just finished Thanksgiving. So what’s next up?

Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a really delicious holiday. Lots of fried stuff like latkes and doughnuts.

It's also a dairy holiday because of the story of Judith, which you can read about it here

For our family, in honor of Judith, I make lots of dairy items in addition to the usual potato latkes and doughnuts. I have served cheese latkes and potato latkes with a yogurt based sauce laced with lemongrass. And also Potato Galette with Caramelized Onions and Cheese and Almond Crusted Winter Squash and Noodle Kugel (actually that one’s a favorite). 

Desserts? Maybe Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie (you can use regular lemons) or Baked Goat Cheese with Honey Sauce and Cranberries. Maybe even cheesecake. Or some fabulous cheesecake cookies!

And also these stuffed dates! Easy to make, not too sweet (no added sugar), these little morsels are perfect for the holiday. If you don't want to use almonds for garnish, crushed, toasted coconut will do nicely.

Btw, these make a nice tidbit for New Year’s, either as hors d’oeuvre or late night snack. 

 

Orange-Vanilla Flavored Cheese Stuffed Dates

  • 12 medjool dates

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (4 ounces)

  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel

  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 3 tablespoons crushed toasted almonds (or pistachios or crushed, toasted coconut)

Cut the dates through the center, but not all the way through to the bottom. Remove the pit and spread the date slightly to form a hollow for filling. Mix the cream cheese, yogurt, orange peel and vanilla extract in a small bowl until the mixture is smooth and soft. Fill the dates with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the nuts.

Makes 12 

Zombie, Hits the Spot on Hallowe'en

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My kids are grown now so the only thing I do these days for Hallowe’en Trick-or-Treaters is have a supply of goodies for whoever comes to my door.

I do remember the old days though, when my husband would take the kids out. Hallowe’en night was always cold. The kids didn’t want to wear coats for fear it would ruin the measly costumes I bought or made for them and they’d come back home freezing cold but happy to be loaded down with crap candy.

I would welcome them with something hot and comforting. Like hot cocoa.

Now?

No kids at home, so for us — some libation that’s, let’s say, more adult, to celebrate that I have reached the age when I don’t have to go out in the cold OR make or buy costumes OR make sure the kids get over the shivers.

For example — this Zombie cocktail, originally the prize beverage at the original Don the Beachcomber’s restaurants. Apparently the recipe for this drink was a secret for decades and someone either got the recipe or somehow duplicated it. It’s got a lot of rum plus a little of this and that and frankly, some of the ingredients were beyond what I wanted to bother with. For instance, I didn’t want to buy a whole bottle of falernum (a nut and spice seasoned sugar syrup) or even grenadine (a tart fruit syrup) — though I did go to the trouble of cooking a homemade cinnamon syrup. (Btw, if you don’t have grenadine, you can use 1/2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses or 1 teaspoon pomegranate juice.)

So I more or less made up my own recipe and it is quite delicious.

In the interests of making sure my recipe works I tried it several times already.

Happy Hallowe’en.

Zombie

  • 2 ounces dark rum

  • 1 ounce light rum

  • 1/2 ounce apricot brandy

  • 1/4 cup orange juice

  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

  • 1 teaspoon confectioners sugar

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon syrup, optional

  • 1/2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses or grenadine, optional

  • ice

Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or blender, shake until well blended and pour into a tall glass filled with ice cubes.

Makes one

To make the cinnamon syrup: Place one 3-inch cinnamon stick plus 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cook at a simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is syrupy. Let stand for at least 2 hours. Remove the cinnamon stick. Makes 3-4 tablespoons

Chestnut Mont Blanc Mousse

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My friend Eva gave me a can of chestnut puree as a gift. She is a Hungarian-American and told me that she, like many other Hungarians, eats chestnut puree straight from the can or jar. 

But my thoughts went straight to "what can I do with this?"

My friend Susan, who is Swiss-American, told me that her favorite dessert is Chestnut Mont Blanc, which is basically sweetened chestnut puree mixed with whipped cream. 

That sounded like a good start.

Mont Blanc is usually served on top of a meringue or genoise. But I didn't feel like fussing, so I decided to go with buttered chocolate cookie crumbs on the bottom. I placed the crumbs in a bowl and spooned what I call Chestnut Mont Blanc Mousse on top.

Then added a blob of schlag.

Of course.

This will be New Year's dessert for us this year.

Btw, this would also do well as a pie or tart: spread the buttered crumbs in a 9-inch pie plate, tart tin or cake pan with removable bottom and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, remove from the oven, let cool and spoon the mousse inside the crust.

Some specialty stores cary chestnut puree and you can buy it online. If you can't find it, you can make your own: in a saucepan, cover a jarful of chestnuts (about 15 ounces) with milk and cook for about 15 minutes or until the chestnuts are soft. Drain the chestnuts but reserve the milk. Puree the chestnuts in a food processor or blender, gradually adding enough of the reserved cooking milk to make a smooth puree. If you make your own puree, be sure to add the sugar in the recipe.

Chestnut mont blanc Mousse

  • 1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (or chocolate graham cracker crumbs)
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1-1/2 cups chestnut puree
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, optional
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum, optional
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • chocolate shavings

Mix the chocolate crumbs and butter together, making sure all the crumbs are coated. Place the crumbs in a bowl or in a pie plate. (If using a pie plate, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the crumb crust for 10 minutes; let cool before filling.) If the chestnut puree is unsweetened, mix in the 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla extract. Mix in the rum if desired. Whip the cream with the one teaspoon of sugar. Remove half the whipped cream and fold it into the chestnut mixture. Spoon the mixture on top of the chocolate crumbs (or into the pie crust). Top with the remaining whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate shavings.

Makes 8 servings

Orange and Vanilla Scented Cheese Stuffed Dates

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Sometimes I think life is a bunch of holidays with not much in between, except for the entire month of January.

I suppose that's a good thing, because holidays are happy and celebratory. Also, there's the food. Except for Yom Kippur, every holiday has food. And even when it comes to Yom Kippur, there's the break-the-fast when it's all over and the break-the-fast is all about food. 

As far as holidays go, at this point of the year, we've just finished Thanksgiving. Next up? Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a really delicious holiday. Lots of fried stuff like latkes and doughnuts.

It's also a dairy holiday because of the story of Judith. You can read all about it here

So for me, in honor of Judith, in addition to the usual potato latkes and doughnuts, I have served cheese latkes and potato latkes with a yogurt based sauce laced with lemongrassPotato Galette with Caramelized Onions and Cheese has been on my Hanukkah menu and also Almond Crusted Winter Squash and Noodle Kugel

Desserts? I could go with Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie (you can use regular lemons) or maybe Baked Goat Cheese with Honey Sauce and Cranberries. Maybe even cheesecake. Or some fabulous cheesecake cookies!

And also these stuffed dates! Easy to make, not too sweet (no added sugar), these little morsels are perfect for the holiday. If you don't want to use almonds for garnish, crushed, toasted coconut will do nicely.

 

ORANGE-VANILLA SCENTED CHEESE STUFFED DATES

  • 12 medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (4 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons crushed toasted almonds (or pistachios or crushed, toasted coconut)

Cut the dates through the center, but not all the way through to the bottom. Remove the pit and spread the date slightly to form a hollow for filling. Mix the cram cheese, yogurt, orange peel and vanilla extract in a small bowl until the mixture is smooth and soft. Fill the dates with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the nuts.

Makes 12 

Smoked Salmon and Avocado Toasts

At the end of each year food professionals discuss fads and popular trends in the culinary world and often make predictions about what's to come.

I don't know what's coming but I can say that as far as I know, one food trend this year was: avocado toast. Which is basically guacamole sandwich. Which is basically mashed avocado with some lime or lemon juice and anything else you might want in your guacamole, like tomatoes or chili pepper and so on.

I also know this: there's a good reason that avocado toasts became a thing. They're scrumptious. They're easy to prepare. They are incredibly versatile, as in you can use them as a base for a whole host of hors d'oeuvre, which might come in handy for New Year's get togethers.

For example: these avocado toasts on melba rounds topped with chopped salmon and some seasonings. 

Honestly, it couldn't get much easier than this and they do look pretty don't they?

They're on my menu for my New Year pre-dinner cocktail hour.

And btw, I buy salmon "scraps" that (fortunately) my local supermarket sells -- the leftover but still good pieces of salmon that the lox cutter cuts away to get those perfect slices. Because you chop this salmon up, so why not buy the cheap stuff?

 

SMOKED SALMON AND AVOCADO TOASTS

  • 24 toast rounds (or packaged Melba rounds)
  • 2 small avocados, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
  • 2-3 tablespoons lime juice
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 pound smoked salmon pieces
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • pinch or two of cayenne pepper

If using bread, cut out small circles with a cookie cutter, or use packaged Melba rounds. In a bowl, mash the avocados. Add one tablespoon olive oil, the scallion, 2 tablespoons lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and add more lime juice if desired. Spread the avocado mixture evenly over the bread. Chop the smoked salmon, add the remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons olive oil, the chives and some cayenne pepper and mix ingredients thoroughly. Spread equal amounts of the salmon mixture on top of the avocado mixture.

Makes 24

 

Cream Puff Swans on the Lake

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I love that my grandchildren love to cook and absolutely love that they like a challenge. My eldest makes perfectly shaped butter cookies; the next eldest recently cooked a vegetarian rice and beans dinner for her siblings. One of them once helped me bake a flourless chocolate roll for Passover.

Recently, my 9-year old grand daughter said she was bored and wanted to cook something really delicious, very pretty and also "hard." 

Be still my heart!

What better choice than cream puffs made into the shape of swans?!

I have taught baking classes on this particular recipe and have seen fully committed grown ups nervous about getting it right.

But off we went into the kitchen.

There are two really difficult challenges to making swan shape cream puffs. The first thing is mixing the eggs into the butter-flour dough, which is very stiff and therefore not easy to incorporate the liquidy eggs. Fortunately, this kid is athletic, with the kind of strong arms that come with spending hours doing chin-ups and stuff at the playground.

No problem! Stiff dough/eggs, perfectly mixed and blended. Check!

The second hard part is piping out small slivers of dough for the necks. There were lots of not-so-good ones (we just ate these as snacks after they were baked) but she did manage to create enough for us to use in the final product.

After that it was easy: we made some vanilla pudding but I told her that some other time you could also fill the swan bodies with whipped cream, sorbet or ice cream.

She said it would be really nice for the swans to have something to swim on.

Remember that old piano piece, Swans on the Lake? The music that so many of us learned as children taking our first year or so of piano lessons?

Well of course, there had to be a lake. We melted some chocolate. So easy. So lovely to look at when we put the swans down on each serving plate.

Wouldn't this be a beautiful finale to a lovely dinner for New Year's or someone's birthday or other special occasion?

 

SWAN PUFFS

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 4 large eggs
  • whipped cream, ice cream, sorbet or vanilla pudding
  • melted chocolate or chocolate sauce

 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, salt and sugar together in a bowl and set aside. Heat the water and butter in a medium size saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. When the water comes to a boil, raise the heat and add the flour mixture, all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is blended and begins to come away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Spoon 12-18 mounds of the dough onto one of the baking sheets, shaping them into ovals with your fingers, and leaving some space between each oval for the dough to spread. Place the sheet in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 12-18 minutes or until puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and let cool. 

To make the necks, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spoon some of the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a narrow-holed tip. Pipe the dough into "S" shapes about 2-inches long onto the second baking sheet. Bake the necks for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. 

To assemble: Split the swan puffs in half lengthwise using a serrated knife. Cut the top portion in half lengthwise to use as wings. Spoon some whipped cream, ice cream, sorbet or pudding into the swan bottoms. Arrange the split top wings on top of the filling. Spoon some melted chocolate or chocolate sauce onto dessert plates. Place the filled swan bottoms on top of the chocolate. Insert the necks into the front. If desired, use a toothpick to dip into some meted chocolate and make a dot as an eye on the top of the neck.

Makes 12-18

 

Winter Squash and Cranberry Muffins Perfect for Sleepovers

It's December already and I am still sorting through summer clothes and several newspaper articles from last March and April that I was going to read when I had more time.

Why am I always so far behind?

I should be posting about Hanukkah. But somehow I am more focused on New Year's weekend. Probably because I made some unbelievably delicious winter squash muffins recently.

That really isn't a non sequitur. I thought of these muffins because every year we celebrate the coming new year with my brother and sister-in-law and my cousins. The cousins sleep over for a few days. We watch a lot of movies. Watch a lot of British mystery tv (Morse, Endeavor, Foyle's War, etc.). We sit around and enjoy each other's company.

We used to drink a lot of wine but have slowed down over the years.

We used to eat much more too.

(You get older, you can't keep going quite the same way, the same amount, the same speed.)

Still, there are meals to consider.

Breakfasts are usually smoked fish, bagels and stuff like that. 

But every once in a while I like to break up the monotony and have at least one different something for breakfast.

This year: those squash muffins I mentioned. I made a few batches recently and I can honestly say that they are the best muffins I ever ate. I've given some out as samples to my usual "tasters." Most of them also said they were the best muffins they ever ate. 

You'll see.

WINTER SQUASH-CRANBERRY MUFFINS

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup mashed cooked squash (or canned squash or pumpkin)
  • 3/4 cup fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin tins. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger and whisk the ingredients to distribute them evenly. Set aside. Beat the sugar and vegetable oil in the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium for a minute or so or until well combined. Add the eggs and beat them in. Add the orange juice and squash and blend them in thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients to the squash mixture and stir gently until just blended. Fold in the cranberries. Pour the mixture into the prepared tins. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins

 

Celebrate! with Sun-dried Tomato Dip

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A colleague of mine, Elizabeth Kurtz, who blogs at GourmetKosherCooking, has written a beautiful cookbook.

"Celebrate" celebrates not only good food and the beauty of Shabbat, but also benefits an organization called Emunah, a social service agency that helps families in physical or emotional distress -- at-risk teens, lonely seniors, young children who may have been neglected or abandoned. And much more. 

The book is filled with interesting recipes. Like the Everything Bagel Chicken, which I made for dinner last weekend. You know that bagel topping that has poppy seeds and sesame seeds and garlic and all? That's a really good coating for boneless chicken breasts!

I also loved the Butternut Squash Soup with Curry and Sweet Apples, a comforting dish on cold winter days.

There's lots to love here, including the luscious photos.

But my cooking mind is turning to Superbowl this week, so I looked for a recipe that I could bring to my brother and sister-in-law's annual party. I picked the Sun-Dried Tomato Dip -- it's easy to make, you can cook it a couple of days ahead, serve it with crudites or crackers. Elizabeth says it's also wonderful as a spread for challah (I liked it with warm pita) and even as a topping for chicken or salmon (I think it would be terrific, mixed with some mayo, on a burger). I made this for my New Year's Eve get-together and everyone gave it a thumbs up! (I used vegetable stock, not pareve chicken broth).

Whether it's a day of rest, a day together with friends and football, a birthday or anything else, it's always good to celebrate with good food. Like this:

Sun-Dried Tomato Dip (from "Celebrate" by Elizabeth Kurtz)

  • 1 (8-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and chopped, 1 tablespoon oil reserved
  • 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup pareve chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

Heat reserved sun-dried tomato oil in a large skillet over medium. Add tomatoes, onion, and garlic; cook 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently until onion is soft and beginning to brown at the edges.

Add water, broth, vinegar, wine, sugar, thyme, salt, and pepper to skillet; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 30 minutes. Uncover and continue simmering another 5 to 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and mixture is the consistency of jam.

 With an immersion blender or food processor, puree until blended but still a little chunky.

Serve warm or at room temperature with pita chips or vegetable crudite. Store refrigerated in a clean glass jar (the one from the sun-dried tomatoes works great!) if not using immediately. It will keep 2 weeks.

Makes 1-1/2 cups

 

Cheddar Scones and Apple Butter

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I'm still thinking about New Year breakfast/brunch ideas for when my cousins come for our annual sleepover. Shakshuka is a definite. But I am also going to make these cheddar cheese scones and serve them with butter and/or a really special apple butter condiment that I tasted at Kosherfest last November.

You can use any good, sharp cheddar for the recipe, but at Kosherfest I tasted The Cheese Guy’s Double Ale Cheddar Cheese, which won an award for Best Dairy/Cheese, and loved its boozy tang, so if you can find it, you can give it a try.

The company's Vermont Apple and Maple Syrup Butter also won for Best Jams/Preserves and Dried Fruit. I figured -- the sharp cheese and the sweet apple butter -- it's a good combo!

Cheese Scones                          

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup plain Greek style yogurt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add the butter in chunks and work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the cheese. Mix the egg and yogurt together and add them to the dry ingredients. Mix until a soft dough forms. Roll the dough on a floured surface to a circle of 1/2" thickness. Cut the dough into eighths. Place the scones on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until scones are browned and well risen.

Makes 8