Category Archives: In between

Holiday Baking with Cookie Logs

I’m going to tell you one of my favorite cooking secrets. Cookie Logs. Better than sliced bread, the wheel, or individual packets of nutella. Cookie logs spell salvation for the home cook. The concept is beautifully simple – you take your favorite cookie recipe, mix it up, shape it into logs, and freeze (or refrigerate).

"cookie logs"

Kids forget to tell you they have to bring in dessert for the community supper tomorrow? No worries you’ve got cookie logs. Invited to a going away party for a neighbor but forgot to make something? You’re covered because you have cookie logs and can have fresh-baked cookies in less than 17 minutes. Stressed out with all the holiday stuff you still need to do including finding a ukulele for your husband who wants to learn to play the instrument at age 53? No sweat, Christmas cookies are covered due to a fridge full of cookie logs. I am telling you cookie logs make you feel you can handle whatever culinary curveballs life throws. If you make three or more doughs today and turn them all into logs, you’ve just taken more than half the stress out of baking. Tomorrow (or Sunday or Monday) you will be a slice and bake Queen or King! Guaranteed.

"getting ready to roll cookie dough"

Getting ready to roll.

Martha Stewart puts her logs in empty paper towel tubes to keep them perfectly symmetrical. I’m down and dirty with mine. Plop some dough along a sheet of wax paper, fold over and use a dough scraper or ruler to push the wax paper around the dough and form into a log shape, then twist the ends and throw in the fridge or bag up for the freezer. It really doesn’t mater if they have a slightly flat side – they’ll sit on the counter and not roll when you go to slice them.

I usually give myself a clue as to what is in the log plus note what temperature the particular dough bakes at with a magic marker. Remember lower your baking times. My logs tend to be about the size of a quarter, which is usually smaller than a regular cookie. This means their cooking time is shorter. You’ll smell/see when they are done. Smaller cookies also means you’ll end up with a larger yield. I like this because often all I want is a nibble, not a cookie the size of my hand.

"dough scraper cookie log rolling"

Dough scraper log rolling.

The other thing to know is not all doughs are able to be turned into logs. Anything which ultimately gets rolled out flat, such as sugar cookies, I don’t make into logs. In the past I haven’t “logged” dough that needs to be rolled into balls, but lately I’ve switched over to logging just about everything. With doughs that call for being rolled into a ball, I simply slice off bigger chunks and roll them into marble or walnut sizes depending on the recipe. You also may need to leave those doughs out to soften a bit before attempting to roll them, especially if they’ve been frozen.

"plastic ruler cookie dough log rolling"

Plastic ruler cookie log rolling.

Since my doughs don’t have preservatives I only keep them in the fridge for 5-7 days. When I pop logs into the freezer I place them in zip lock bags to guard against freezer burn.

"slice and bake cookie dough logs"

Slice and bake.

So now you know one of my favorite culinary tricks. I hope you enjoy your cookie logs!

"cookie crown"

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Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies

I love making Christmas cookies. To me they signal Christmas is coming as much as lighting each week’s Advent candle, a yard full of snow, listening to Christmas CDs on repeat, or enjoying a glass of eggnog with rum and freshly ground nutmeg.

"Picking out a Christmas Tree"

Many years ago my friend Marisa Gorgoni and I  tried to cash in on this mutual love we both shared for baking Christmas cookies. Our money making scheme was to sell homemade cookies to people who were too busy to bake. Good idea right? Our basic math skills were sharp enough, though we clearly didn’t understand how to estimate in our time (or for that matter the cost of electricity) when we came up with our prices. Here, in Marisa’s very neat handwriting, were the costs of our cookie ingredients:

"Prices of cookie ingredients"

We sold them to a captive audience – our teachers at F-M High School (I’m guessing our parents probably bought some as well, but that is another story). Here is what we charged:

"Cookie prices"

All I can say is our underpaid teachers got a great deal that year, and they all probably knew it.* Especially our math teacher. When all the dishes were done and the cookies distributed I think we each had made about 5 cents/hour. Lesson learned, ever since I have only “sold” cookies when I was getting well paid for my time (either as a pastry chef or as a food stylist). It doesn’t mean that I haven’t made cookies out of love, as a thank-you, or for a get well present. I do it all the time. I just don’t try to make a career out of it.

With roughly twelve days to go ’til Christmas I am embarking on my annual cookie baking marathon. B.K. (before kids) I would go nuts. Nowadays I’ve settled into a somewhat predictable and slightly shorter cookie roster which consists of Grammy Caldwell’s snickerdoodles, Arlene Sullivan’s Molasses Snaps, Grammy Thompson’s Scandinavian CookiesSugar Cookies, Butterscotch Icebox Cookies, Gertrude’s, and Snowballs. There are plenty of other cookies that I love, I just stay with these since I associate each one with Christmas, especially those of my childhood.

To get the recipes of the first four cookies mentioned above click on the name of the cookie and it will link you to the original blog where I wrote about it. The others I will post as I bake my way through them.

Happy baking to all my readers! I’d love to know what you’re planning on making this holiday season –

"staring to fill up the cookie tin"

*I may not be being fair to my high school teachers when I say they got a real bargin, since you could buy a whole box of girl scout cookies for a little over a dollar in 1978. With that in mind a dollar for a mere dozen cookies may have seemed expensive to them. Of course today I’ve seen a single cookie (and grant you it’s a large cookie) sell for anywhere from $1-2.50 depending on where you’re buying it. Sheesh, I sound like an old curmudgeon so I’ll stop now.

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Favorite Christmas Music

My Christmas music list is pretty eclectic. It all started with a vinyl record my Dad brought home, Twas the Night Before Christmas by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. My brother and sister and I played this album non stop as we decorated the tree each year. Someday they will release it on CD and I will feel my Christmas music collection is complete. Until then all Christmas music in our house is in some weird way or another compared with Fred Waring. What are some of your favorites?

"Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanian’s awesome Christmas album

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966 TV version)

The Piano Guys “O Come, Emmanuel”

GRP Christmas Collection, Vol. 3

Wynton Marsalis Crescent City Christmas Card

Mambo Santa Mambo

Angel Voices by the Liberia Boys Choir

*I do realize this is not a food post, but it’s important information for another post I’m writing. Stay tuned.

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Pack a Peck of Peppers

"mixed up peppercorns"

My advise is mix it up. When you’re baking an apple pie mix up your apple varieties. If you’re making raspberry jam try to find different types of raspberries. When you’re filling your pepper mill add different peppers. Red, white, green, black, even a few allspice berries. It will give your freshly ground pepper a depth it didn’t have before.

"peppercorns"

Top Row L-R red peppercorns, black peppercorns, green peppercorns
Bottom Row L-R allspice berries, white peppercorns

You can buy premixed packages of peppers here or go to a store or co-op that sells dried herbs in bulk and create your own custom pepper mix. Your taste buds will thank you.

"sea salt & ground pepper"

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4 Ways to Beat the Heat

It’s been bloody hot the past few weeks. There were a few days when things cooled down a bit and I felt I could catch my breath, but otherwise I’ve been “perspie” as my Grammy Thompson used to say.  “Perspie” was her delicate way of saying perspire. Since we don’t have air conditioning I’ve come up with four great ways to beat the heat.

"swimming hole"

My favorite swimming hole

1. Clean your basement. Seriously, the basement is always cooler than upstairs. I’m not talking heavy lifting, just some rearranging, a few loads of laundry. You’ll cool down and be happier. Heck, just tell everyone you’re going down to clean the basement and instead grab a folding chair and a good book and read for a while.

2. Find a Swimming Hole. This tip is for folks in the country. There are several near and far from me (unfortunately nothing within walking distance). What you’re looking for is something on the icy side so you can bring your core temperature down. Don’t forget to put an extra towel on your car seat so you don’t fry your bottom when you leave.

3. Turn on the Brooklyn AC. When I lived in Brooklyn there were no swimming holes, and we couldn’t afford the electricity an AC unit sucked down so we made our own AC. First set up a chair with a towel on it. Beach or bath it doesn’t matter. Second position an oscillating fan in front of your chair. Third grab all the bandanas you own and soak them in cold water, wring out most but not all of the water. Fourth strip naked. Then sit on the chair, place the damp bandanas all over your body and turn the fan on high.  It will feel like you have AC. Re-wet the bandanas as they dry.

4. Make a pitcher of ice tea. I covered the basic concept for ice tea here. My friend Hilary Zaloom made this divine ice tea for our monthly knitting group when we were crazy enough to meet during a similar heat wave last summer. We ended up at Hilary’s house because she has AC (and not the Brooklyn kind) and she also makes the most delicious drinks. Needless to say between the beverages and the AC we were all happy to sit there for several hours chatting with a bunch of wool in our laps.

"Hilary's Ice Tea"

Hilary’s Herbal Ice Tea with Honey Water

Hilary’s Herbal Ice Tea

The genius of this ice tea isn’t just in the flavor combination, but in the sweetener. Instead of using a simple syrup (one part water to one part sugar) Hilary adds honey and some warm water to a squirt bottle. Once shaken to combine the honey water can be squirted into any cool beverage as a sweetener without clumping as it is want to do in cold drinks. Brilliant!

Red Zinger or Hibiscus tea

1 orange

2-4 spring mint

honey water* to taste (I make mine at a 1 part honey to 2-3 parts water)

Place teabags in a large pitcher of water and let soak 3+ hours or overnight. Remove bags and add mint sprigs.  Slice half the orange and  juice the remaining half. Add juice and slices to the tea. Sweeten to taste with honey water.

*Store honey water in the fridge if you don’t use it immediately, it will keep for a week or so.

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