Apricot Hamantaschen

Apricot HamantaschenHamantaschen Noshin’
I don’t think it’s any great revelation to say that food often plays a starring role in holidays. This is especially true when one is referring to the Jewish holiday of Purim, which starts today.

Purim has a number of customs and one of them is handing out gifts of triangle-shaped filled cookies called Hamantaschen. I did not grow up in a Jewish household but my husband did. And, I can honestly say that any custom that encourages the sharing of cookies is good with me.

The only constant with Hamantaschen is their shape. Even the spelling varies. The filling is as wide-ranging as the people who make them. Traditional filling is made with prunes and walnuts. But, you can also find poppy seed, apricot (my favorite), honey pecan, chocolate chip, cherry…even Nutella. Whatever you dream up to fill the cookies works.

Same goes for the dough. You can use a yeast dough, rugalach dough, or (my personal preference) a butter cookie dough. As long as you get that triangle shape you’re good to go.

Of course, if you don’t want the hassle of making them yourself, we’ve got a number of varieties available from Grand Bakery ready for you to get your Hamantaschen Nosh on…

This recipe for Apricot Hamantaschen is a combination of a one I found on King Arthur’s website and others I have pulled from some of my favorite Jewish cooking books. Feel free to play with it a bit—or use your own butter cookie dough recipe. You can also use apricot preserves instead of the filling below for faster oven to mouth time…

Apricot Hamantaschen
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

Read more…

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pecan Cookies

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pecan CookiesAnd A Bag Of Chips
I keep chocolate chips in my pantry because you never know when you are going to have to make something for some event. Or for that matter, you never know when inspiration will strike and it will be a good idea to put them in pancakes. Side note: It is always a good idea.

It was not in my plans to make chocolate chip cookies over the weekend until I opened my pantry and noticed that someone or something with opposable thumbs had opened the bag of chips and apparently had been using them to satisfy a craving. The result was chips spilled on the shelf. Sadly enough, I don’t think this is one I can blame on the children—unless you think 49 still qualifies as a child.

So that is how I found myself making chocolate chip cookies Sunday afternoon. Since it is January and I have been trying to avoid such things, I justified my actions by telling myself I had no choice because the chips were just going to keep spilling everywhere. That and the kids were going back to school…so it would be a nice way to take the sting out of having homework again. Never mind that it was January 7th and I was already about to blow up my New Year’s resolution. Sigh.

I did make an attempt at healthy. I added pecans and some oatmeal. (What? That counts, right?) While it may not actually have made the cookies healthier, it did make them taste pretty good. And I really only had one…handful. Right out of the oven.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pecan Cookies
Yields approximately 3 to 4 dozen cookies, depending on size

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper, or lightly grease with non-stick vegetable oil spray.

Beat together the butter and sugars until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

Whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and add to the butter mixture in the bowl. Mix until everything is thoroughly incorporated. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and mix briefly. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.

Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2″ to 2″ between cookies.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 17 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown, with slightly darker edges.

Remove the cookies from the oven, and as soon as they’re set enough to handle, transfer them to a rack to cool.

Red and White Pinwheel Cookies

Red and White Pinwheel CookiesCookie Conundrum
If it’s December, that means it’s cookie baking time. In fact, I was reminded over the weekend by my family that I hadn’t made the traditional batch of Swedish Gingies yet. It was December 2. My bad…

This week I am in full-on cookie mode because I have people coming over on Saturday plus two other cookie-friendly events next week. One is a cookie exchange that my sister is hosting—which presents a bit of a problem. I have a set of go-to cookies that I bring to such gatherings because they are always well received. The problem is they are a family favorite, so my sister tends to make the same cookies for her parties. This means I am on the hunt for a new recipe to try this year.

When it comes to finding new Christmas cookie recipes I don’t have too many requirements save one: A Christmas cookie is a cookie you only make at Christmas. Chocolate chip cookies are not a Christmas cookie.

The one exception I would make to this rule is shortbread. Every day is Christmas if there is shortbread.

As much as I love a beautifully decorated sugar cookie, the royal icing and the drying time can be a pain. So, I am thinking of going a little less labor intensive yet still colorful. I found a couple of versions of these tasty Red and White Pinwheel Cookies that seem to fit the bill nicely. I have never actually tried to make pinwheels so this might be a bit of an adventure. The good news is I have four impatient elves more than willing to do quality control sampling…

Red and White Pinwheel Cookies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
These vanilla flavored cookies add a splash of pure color to your Christmas Cookie tray.  We recommend mixing the white and red dough separately rather than trying to add coloring to the already-mixed dough—the color incorporates better. Read more…

Cranberry Tea Loaf

Cranberry Tea LoafHoliday Hurry Up
Well, we survived Thanksgiving. For those of you who were out there in the trenches on Black Friday battling, good on ya. I used to do Black Friday when my kids were younger. Not because I needed to get the best deal on the latest impossible to find piece of plastic from China, but because it was kinda fun to get caught up in the holiday frenzy.

Now? I can make my own frenzy, thank you very much. Besides, my kids have moved on from the fun stuff. It’s all gift cards and clothes now. (Zzzzzzzzzzzz). Gone are the big boy bike reveals and the excited screaming of Christmas morning. We now have to wake them up…sigh.

The past few days could definitely be put in the frenzy category. But, I can’t figure out why I feel so anxious about the holidays. I’ve been freaking out about trying to get things done and it’s not even December yet. Sure, I picked through some of the fifty million Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails that landed in my inbox to take advantage of some really great deals. But, I do that every year—so that can’t be it. Yes, I will be hosting a couple of get-togethers with friends. But again, I do that every year so no reason to panic…except that I haven’t really started to figure out what I am serving and the party is next weekend. So, while panic may not be appropriate it would be a good idea to start planning.

I am certain that some of the anxiety is self-inflicted. See, I always have this impossible Norman Rockwell vision of how the holiday season will unfold. (Think warm fires, plaid ribbons, eggnog, and velvet.) This almost always includes the creation of homemade baked goods for friends and neighbors that we joyously hand out to one and all—spreading cheer for all to hear. The reality is, I ain’t got that much time.

I did manage to make this Cranberry Tea Loaf over the weekend with some leftover cranberries. It is the quintessential flavor of the holidays. And, when you bake it in little foil loaf pans, it becomes a perfect hostess gift (or peace offering to your neighbors who, because they are awesome, throw the errant baseballs back over the fence without complaint).

Even better, give it the Martha Stewart treatment and wrap it in a cute kitchen towel. It’s a very good thing….

Cranberry Tea Loaf Recipe
Adapted from the Silver Palette Cookbook

Cranberries freeze well, so purchase several extra bags now while they are still available. This recipe is easily doubled. Read more…

Raspberry Oatmeal Bars

Raspberry Oatmeal BarsBelly Up To The Bar
I am probably the least OCD person you could meet…and all you have to do is look at my office for proof. I am very much a visual learner. So, if I can’t see it, I forget about it. This means I have stacks of important stuff in various piles on my desk. I also have some similar stacks at home. It drives my very tidy husband bananas. If there is one area where I am a bit compulsive though, it would be school lunches.

I make my kids lunch every morning because the thought of them buying what passes for lunch at school makes me cringe. The good news is they would prefer to not buy their lunch. So, that battle is avoided. I have a strict formula. And, if I run out of one of the components, and am forced to send them without it, I develop a tick. I got issues, man.

The formula goes something like this:
There will always be a main component in either the form of a protein-filled sandwich or leftovers from last night’s dinner. (My daughter is the queen of leftovers.) There will always be a bottle of water and fresh fruit. A snack item is essential in the form of some pretzels, crackers or maybe some nuts. And, last but not least, lunch must always have a little something sweet at the end.

That last component serves two purposes. First, it’s a nice to get a little treat during the day. And second, I can use it as an excuse to randomly make yummy things. Why, as a mature adult, would I need an excuse you may ask? Because I can enjoy the occasional cookie—but my husband has no self-control. When it comes to home-baked goodness, he will eat them by the dozen. If I tell him that they are for lunches though, he is able to stifle his inner cookie monster. (Most of the time…sometimes I gotta sacrifice a handful to the cookie gods because, and I quote, “he is concerned that I may be poisoning the children and would sacrifice himself for their health and welfare”. Way to take one for the team, babe.)

I made these Raspberry Oatmeal Bars over the weekend “to put in the kid’s lunches”. The flavors really remind me of fall. The brightness of the raspberry jam will make you smile and I think we could all use a few more smiles these days…

Raspberry Oatmeal Bars
Makes 16 to 24 bars (depending on how you cut them) Read more…