Archive for December, 2009

Christmas Season started late for me this year – normally I have containers filled with cookies jam-packed in the freezer and waiting to be shipped to family or given out as gifts well before the holiday! ( I never start before Thanksgiving, though, to keep my holiday traditions special)  Not so this year.  I meant to get recipes for my favorites up for everyone to make, but it was not to be.  My last remaining grandparent passed away earlier in the month and it threw me for a loop.  My Grandma Dorothy was very special to me and she loved to eat my many creations!  Those who knew her reminded me about her Joie De Vivre and I knew she’d want me to celebrate the holidays with gusto – so I set to work!  Not quite the variety or quantity I usually make, but a respectable showing.  (My sister even asked if it was normal to make so many.  For me it is!)  I did make more types than I am sharing here, but these are the ones I can’t live without!  Merry Christmas everyone!

Peppermint Cookies

I started making these in high school – they are a little fussy to make, but incredible to eat – especially frozen! These are my most requested holiday cookie I make for friends.


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts

Cream the butter sugar and vanilla until fluffy.  Add flour and walnuts, mixing thoroughly.

Candy Garnish:

  • 1/4pound peppermint candies/canes
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

Grind the candy fine in a blender or food processor.  Mix with the powdered sugar and place in a small, but deep bowl.  Reserve 3 Tablespoons for the filling.


  • 2 Tablespoons cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons reserved candy garnish

Mix all filling ingredients until well blended.

Preheat oven to 350F. To form cookies, roll dough into walnut sized balls.  Press dough around your thumb to make a pocket.  Fill with ¼ teaspoon filling and pinch closed.  Make sure no filling is escaping – patch if need be.  Place seam side down on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Place cookies at least ½” apart.  Bake 10-12 minutes, or until firm to touch and barely gold on the bottom.  Do not brown.  Roll in remaining candy garnish while still warm.  Re-roll in candy garnish when cool.  Makes 2-3 dozen.  Recipe can be multiplied successfully.  Cookies can be frozen up to 3 months and ship well. ( I prefer to eat them frozen!)  (Recipe adapted from Jeff Smith, “The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas”)

Grandma Gaydos’ Kolaches

My paternal grandfather, Paul, grew up in a large immigrant Czech family in Cleveland, OH.  His parents came to the US from a small town outside Prague in 1917.  When my grandpa served during WWII, his wife, my grandma Daisy, lived with her Czech in-laws.  She only spoke English, her mother-in-law spoke only Czech, but Daisy watched and wrote down the family recipes, like this one.  Every year I make hundreds of these cookies and ship them off, because in our family, it is not Christmas without them!  There are two traditional kinds of Kolachy – one made with a raised yeast dough, and this kind, with a flaky pastry.

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ pound cold unsalted butter or margarine ( I prefer to use a non-hydrogenated margarine suitable for baking, like Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar (cookies do not taste vinegary – it makes them flaky)
  • 3 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1  12oz can Solo filling, such as apricot, cherry or raspberry. (The prune and poppy seed are both traditional, as well, but not as sweet.)
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting finished cookies

Preheat oven to 375F. Into a medium bowl, combine the 1½ cups flour and salt.  Cut in the butter or margarine until lumps are pea-sized. (Like for pie crust)  In another bowl, mix the 1 cup flour, egg yolks, water and vinegar with a fork until well blended.  Scrape the liquid mixture  into the dry and use a fork to blend well.  Wrap dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill at least one hour, but no more than 1 day.  Working with 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll out dough into a square until it is 1/8” thick.  Using a pastry cutter or the blunt edge of a butter knife, trim the dough edges so they are straight, reserving scraps. (Keep scraps and remaining unrolled dough refrigerated until in use) Cut the dough into 2 – 2½” squares. Place approximately ½ teaspoon filling in the center of each square.  Pull together one set of opposite corners (as if you were folding the square into a triangle), pinch just the ends together, then fold down.  The result will look a little like a swaddled infant.  Don’t press too hard or pull the edges up too much, or the filling will squish out.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet as close as ¼ inch apart.  Repeat with remaining squares.  Edge scraps can be re-rolled once, but toss anything left over after that as the dough will get too tough.  Bake 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Immediately place on racks to cool.  When cool dust with powdered sugar.  Makes about 4 dozen, but it is never enough!  Recipe can be doubled, but if you want more than that, make multiple batches of (doubled) dough.  Keep them in an airtight container, up to one week, although they are best within 2 days (they get a little soggy after that, but still good) These freeze perfectly, with layers separated by waxed paper.  You will have to re-dust with powdered sugar after thawing.

Grandma Gaydos’ Butter Cookies (Spritz)

These are tied with Kolaches for my favorite Christmas cookies!  You can color the dough and press out different shapes and decorate them with sprinkles, but my favorite way to make then is to press out a wreath shape and place a half of a cherry on each one before baking – yum!

  • 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 Tablespoon milk/cream (I always use milk, because I rarely have cream)
  • Maraschino cherries, halved (Optional)

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg yolk and vanilla, mixing well.  Stir the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Add to the sugar/butter mixture, alternating with the milk.  Stir thoroughly.  If desired, tint with food coloring.  Press through cookie press into desired shape and bake 10-12 minutes, or until slightly firm and barely golden.  If you let them brown they will be dry. Makes about 3 dozen.  Cookies keep up to one week in an airtight container, or frozen up to 3 months.

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Mincemeat Tartlets

While talking about favorite Christmas foods one day, my friend Liz told me that she used to love her mom’s mincemeat pie at Christmas – how the mincemeat came in a box and had actual beef in it, and how they liked to eat it with vanilla ice cream.  I told her I was pretty sure I had seen the little boxes at the grocery store, and sure enough, the next time I was there I ran into a stack of them, on sale for Christmas!  That got my tastebuds working, since I like English-style mincemeat tarts.  I made the filling (Nonsuch brand?  I usually see it in the baking aisle way down low by the pie fillings/spices) according to the package directions.  This American-style mincemeat has more apples than raisins/currants and doesn’t have as much citrus peel in it, but it was still good!  Nice and nutmeg-y and not too sweet.  Liz was very pleased to receive these!

Mincemeat Tartlets

  • 1 box Concentrated mincemeat filling
  • Dough for a 10″ single piecrust (I made the full recipe below and used one half, reserving the other half for another use)

Prepare the mincemeat filling at least 2 hours ahead to allow it to chill after preparing according to package directions.  When you are ready to assemble tartlets, preheat oven to 425F.  Roll dough into a large circle approximately 1/8 inch thick.  Cut 12 rounds with a 3 inch round cutter (Or freehand with a sharp knife)  Using a small cookie cutter about 1 inch in diameter, cut 12 decorative pieces for the top, rerolling dough scraps once, if necessary.  Evenly place dough circles into 12 standard muffin cups. pressing any folds flat and easing to fit.  Fill shells evenly with mincemeat mixture.  Top with decorative cutouts.  Bake about 15-25 minutes, or until golden brown and filling is bubbling.  Let tarts sit in pan for only a few minutes to allow them to set up a bit (or they will burn you and/or break), then remove from pans using the tip of a butter knife and cool on wire rack.  If the filling has bubbled over the edge a bit, make sure to remove from pan while warm, or they will stick and break.  Makes 12.  Keeps a few days – these freeze well, too!

Easiest Pie Pastry

Makes 2 10” crusts, or  3  8” crusts

  • 1 cup shortening (preferably non-hydrogenated such as Spectrum Organic) or ¾ cup plus 2 Tbs Lard
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7-9 Tbs cold water

In a medium bowl, mix flour and salt.  Cut shortening into flour until the largest particles are the size of peas.  Sprinkle with water 1 Tbs at a time, tossing with a fork until all flour is moistened and pastry almost cleans side of bowl.  With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough and form into 2 or 3 balls, then flatten each into a 5-inch disk. Cover any portion you are not working with to prevent it from drying out.  *At this point, dough (tightly wrapped) can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen up to 3 months.  If refrigerating, let sit at room temp for 5 minutes before rolling.  Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight before using.

Place dough on lightly floured surface and cover lightly with flour.  With a floured rolling pin, roll pastry from the center out in north and south directions, turn pastry a quarter turn and repeat.  If dough starts to stick, flour the surface a bit more, but try to use as little flour as possible.  Roll the dough to about 2” larger all around than the pie pan you are using.  Trim with a knife if necessary. Repair any tears by lightly moistening tear with cold water and pressing edges, overlapping, together.  This recipe works well doubled.

(Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cooking For Today)

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Cottage Pie

A nice and warming dish!  Traditionally, if it is made with lamb or mutton it is Shepherd’s Pie, and when made with beef it is Cottage Pie.   Lamb and I don’t mix, so I always use beef!  Such a nice dish to make ahead – just heat and serve.  Comfort in a bowl…

Shepherd’s Pie (Cottage Pie)

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, trimmed and finely chopped(optional)
  • 1-2 Tbs butter (or olive oil)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef or lamb
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 Tbs Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp chopped thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2lbs leftover mashed potatoes (or 2 lbs potatoes boiled and mashed with milk & butter)

(If making potatoes, cook potatoes in a large heatproof casserole.  Drain, place in large bowl and mash, adding butter, milk, salt and pepper until well seasoned and a spreading consistency, reserve.  Wipe casserole dry.)  Preheat oven to 375F. Heat casserole over medium heat and add meat, onions and leeks.  Cook until meat is browned and leeks and onions are soft.  Add celery, garlic and carrot- sauté for one minute.  Add flour and cook for one minute.  Add stock, tomato paste, Worchestershire sauce and herbs, season to taste.  Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes (sauce should thicken).  Top with mashed potatoes and dot with butter, if desired.  (At this point, the dish can be cooled and refrigerated up to 48 hours, or frozen up to 3 months – thaw overnight in the fridge before baking. )  Bake for about 20 minutes (or 1 hour if made ahead and refrigerated), or until potatoes are golden.   Serves 4-6.

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Irish Soda Bread

When I was cooking the potato leek soup, I had an irresistible urge to eat it with soda bread!  Irish American soda bread is nothing like the real thing.  Real soda bread is crunchy, chewy and great with soups and stews – it calls for a good smear of salted butter – pasture butter, if you can get it!  You can add dried currants or caramelized onions or herbs to the batter, if you like, to fancy it up a bit.  This is a great bread for your recipe book  since there is no kneading and it cooks so quickly!  Practice makes perfect as far as how much liquid to put in, but your results will all be delicious – so have fun!

White Soda Bread

  • 1 lb all purpose or cake flour (the wheat in Ireland is very low in protein and gluten, so cake flour would be more accurate – but all purpose flour works fine too!)
  • 1 level teaspoon baking soda (don’t be tempted to add a little more – it will spoil the flavor and appearance of the bread)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 – 2 cups buttermilk (or add 2 Tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar to a 2 cup measure and fill to 2 cups with regular milk, allowing it to sit at least 5 minutes)
  • Flour, for dusting

Preheat oven to 450F.  Taking a large baking sheet, sprinkle it lightly with flour in an approximate 12″ circle in the center, to keep bread from sticking.  Set baking sheet aside, and lightly flour about 12″ of your work surface.  Sift the flour, soda and salt together into a large bowl.  Stir well to thoroughly combine soda with flour.  Make a well in the center of your flour and start to  pour in the smallest amount of milk, stirring with your hand or a wooden spoon or spatula.  The dough should be moist and  sticky, with no flour crumbles in the bottom of the bowl.  A dry dough will make heavy bread, but you don’t want it sopping wet, either.  The dryness of the day and the flour will determine the amount of liquid.  Here in very dry Denver, I use the larger amount.  Working quickly, once the dough is mixed, turn the dough onto your floured work surface.  If you mixed the dough with your hands, wash them and dry thoroughly.  Flour your hands and lightly knead and pat the dough into a circle about 2″ thick, place on the prepared baking sheet on top of the flour.  If you like, you can make 2 smaller loaves or 4 individual loaves, just reduce the baking times. Using a knife, slice a cross onto the top, making sure to go down the sides.  Slice about 1/8″ deep.  This will allow the bread to rise (or to let the Fairies out!).  Bake for 20 minutes at 450F, then lower heat to 400F and bake a further 15 minutes, or until bread sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and feels light for it size.  Cool on a rack, covered with a kitchen towel (not terrycloth) to soften the crust.  To serve, split into quarters along the cuts and slice each wedge. Serve with lots of salted butter, and maybe some jam! This bread does not keep well, so either eat or freeze the first day.  You can also toast the leftovers the next day.   (adapted from Darina Allen and the Ballymaloe Cookery School)

1 te

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Potato Leek Soup

The scent of this soup wafting about the house and the cold cloudiness of the day made me feel like I was back at Ballymaloe.  It is always amazing to me, the power that scents and tastes have of taking us back to a certain time and place.  Not that I never made potato leek soup before going to school in Ireland, but the smell of cooking leeks and potatoes really took me back to those cold winter mornings where we started cooking in silence, then started chattering along as the kitchens warmed up and we finished cooking for each other.  I hope this recipe warms you  and your memories too!

Potato Leek Soup

  • 2 medium leeks
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 lbs potatoes
  • 1 1/2 quarts of chicken or vegetable stock, unsalted or low sodium
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or half & half
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/4″ rounds.  Place in a strainer and rinse thoroughly to get rid of any dirt and grit.  Drain, then place them in a stockpot (that has a lid) with the butter.   Heat the pot on medium until the butter melts, stirring the leeks so they are evenly coated.  Cover and let cook 6-7 minutes on medium low, stirring occasionally, until leeks are soft and cooked, but not brown.  Meanwhile, peel and dice the potatoes, set aside (remember, the more even they are in size, the more evenly they cook).  Mince the garlic, or press it through a garlic press and add to the cooking leeks for the last minute or so.  Once leeks are cooked and the garlic has been cooked a minute, add the potatoes and the stock.   Add black pepper to taste.  If using unsalted stock, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer until potatoes are thoroughly cooked – 15-20 minutes.  Once soup is cooked, remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, or a regular blender, puree the soup (if using a regular blender, you will have to do this in batches).  Add the cream and stir well.  If it still seems too thick, you can add a little more stock, water or cream.  Taste and season, if needed.  Makes 2 1/2 quarts of soup – about 6 bowls.  This soup will freeze beautifully up to 6 months.

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The Remains of the Day

I am saddened by the fact that this is my last taste of Thanksgiving stuffing.  I don’t eat a lot of stuffing and look forward all year to the batch I make especially for Thanksgiving.   No matter how much I make, it always goes fast – it has been known to convert stuffing haters!  This year I had a request for the recipe from some friends who weren’t able to make it up to our annual shindig…the amounts are approximate so you can customize it.  Different breads will also require different amounts of liquid. I never stuff a turkey, because by the time the stuffing reaches the 165F needed to kill off all the germs imparted by the blood and juices dripping into it, the turkey will be overdone and dry.  Plus, the turkey cooks in half the time without it being stuffed! (For more flavor, you can put herb sprigs, cut citrus fruits or other aromatics into the cavity to perfume the meat)  I like to make my stuffing with lots of chestnuts and fresh sage, but you can vary the additions to taste.  The biggest factor for creating great taste and texture is the bread used.  Sliced white bread or commercial stuffing cubes don’t cut it!  I used to make my own bread ahead of time, but now I just buy some good quality loaves.  I usually like to combine crusty wheat and white breads, but one of the best stuffings I ever had was made with pumpernickel and pistachios (good thinking Jeremy!).  I love chestnuts, but they are time consuming to roast and peel.  I highly recommend looking for the ones peeled and packed in air (I have seen them at Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods) as they will save you about an hour and they taste virtually the same as the ones you roast yourself.  Just don’t use the ones packed in water – yuck!  This stuffing would be equally nice with goose, chicken or a pork roast – or cold straight from the fridge.  That’s how I’m eating this last bit…

Chestnut & Sage Stuffing

Serves approx 8-10 people.

  • Get 2lbs of good quality crusty bread & cut into 1 inch cubes. Dry 1-2 days on sheet trays or dry in a 200F oven until  dry, but not browned. (The quality of the bread makes a huge difference!)
  • 4 or 5 leafy stalks of celery, diced (include the leaves)
  • 3-4 shallots, diced
  • 1/2- 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 pkg fresh sage, finely minced
  • 1/2 pkg fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • Chicken stock (the amount you need will vary – about 1-1 1/2 quarts) Get good quality as this is a major flavor component. You could also use vegetable stock.
  • 1-2 sticks butter (don’t skimp!)
  • 1 13-14oz jar peeled chestnuts packed in air, chopped  or 1 1/2 lbs roasted fresh chestnuts, peeled, chopped
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Grease a 9X13 pan with butter. Place the bread cubes in a very large bowl. In a large skillet, melt the butter & saute the shallots and celery until soft. Add the herbs & saute 1 minute. Add chestnuts, then season to taste (remember the stock will be salty, so don’t add a lot of salt). Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and toss well. Add enough chicken stock to make the bread moist, but not too soggy, mixing well – it should clump when squeezed. A few crunchy bread cubes are ok, but almost all should be moist. Taste & correct seasoning. If it doesn’t taste herby enough, add more. Pour this mixture into the baking dish and bake for 30 minutes @ 375, or until top is crunchy & stuffing is heated through.  You can make this up to 1 day ahead, covered & refrigerated- uncooked. Leftovers will last a week. (in theory)

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