Monday, December 24, 2007

An Auntie Mame Christmas

This is another one in the long list of Christmas movies we love. If you scroll down, you can click on a scene from the movie. I love technology. Like Auntie Mame's Christmas, this season has been a little rough. But what we lack in "stuff" we make up in laughter, joy and love. And good food. We were blessed to have my sister spend the Christmas weekend with us and once again we had great time. A baked ham, potatoes, salad, bread, and no less than two desserts, a simple meal yet so delicious. I forgot to take pictures of the "60 Second Chocolate Mousse" darn it, maybe next year! We are grateful for our blessings and to be able to share them with others.

Sure, it's been a little rough this season, but you know, nothing gets you out of feeling sorry for yourself like helping somebody else. I stuffed gift bags and we cooked a Christmas meal at the church for those in the community who are in real need. I set out cots and blankets, put up tables and chairs, and helped cook at the shelter. I helped the parish nurse administer flu shots, doing the necessary paperwork with the clients.

I tell you this personal data about me, not to sound like a goody-goody, but to let you know who I am and what I believe is the answer to the big questions---Action. I am not Oprah nor do I have the resources to do grand things like the great and powerful. I admire her resolve and determination, and I look to this coming year for the great and powerful to lead us. (GET OUT AND VOTE!) What I can offer are the small things, minor tasks, simple meals. If you need to know more, look up Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25. Enough said.

While I poured the punch and coffee for the clients, I realized that Penny Lane, the kitty at the top of this page, lives a better life than the folks we serve. She sleeps on top of a brand new comforter on my bed, has all the food and water she wants, and gets lots of love from us. I also thought about how lovingly so many folks come out and give of themselves during the holidays. Bless you all for doing your part. One last thing---Remember that men, women and children are in need all year, and if you get a chance, please support your local organizations with your time, your talents, and your financial contributions.

God bless you and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Coffee Bucks Cranberry Bliss Clone

Face it, you can't get away from them. The love of my life, comedian Lewis Black does a bit about being stuck in Houston, standing on the street between two "Coffee Bucks" on opposite corners of each other. ARRGH! They are everywhere, and if you try to run and hide, they will be there waiting for you. "Coffee Bucks" is the stage name for the coffee house on "Scrubs" where everybody goes to get a java fix. And I really don't want to upset them so the name is changed, but you get the idea, verdad?

A few years ago I tried their Cranberry Bliss bar, and based on the in-store advertising, I was expecting a taste similar to a less-fruity fruitcake flavor. Boy, was I wrong. Yikes! It was dense, waaay too sweet, and the spices were off. I was on the verge of a sugar buzz and had to wash it down with a Venti. Hmm? Maybe that was their ploy, make me gag on this yucky sweet stuff so I'd buy a bigger coffee. I give up, it worked. But this little "limited time only" confection deserved a better fate. The concept was good, it just needed to be tweaked and toned down a bit.

Monica and I both worked on our own formulas. There were a few Cranberry Bliss clones out in the blog-o-spheres, but none had the taste and texture I was trying to achieve. I wanted something more tender and less chewy, so I used a combination of baking soda AND baking powder. I also wanted to try almond flavor instead of vanilla, to work with the tartness of the cranberries. Next time I may use rum or brandy and see what happens, but that is for another day. Then the spices were adjusted, decreasing the cloves and nutmeg, and adding cinnamon. Most important, I cut waaay back on the sugar, the amount of white chocolate chips and left off the thick coating of icing altogether. Instead these little clone bars get a light dusting of confectioner's sugar or icing sugar, making them just sweet enough without putting anybody into a coma. Here is my 2007 Edition of the Cranberry Bliss Clone---enjoy!

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temp
1 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla OR rum OR brandy
---OR 1 teaspoon vanilla AND 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cup unbleached AP flour or King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats, not quick cooking or instant
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup white chocolate chips, plus more if desired
Confectioner's sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.
Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, spices, vanilla, salt, baking powder, baking soda. Add flour and mix just till smooth. Mix in cranberries, nuts and chocolate by hand, gently scraping the bottom of the bowl. Spread into prepared pan, and even out the top. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until it pulls away from the side of the pan and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes. Cut into bars. Dust with confectioner's sugar and if you must insist on making them sweeter, go ahead and melt 1/4 cup of white chocolate chips and drizzle over the top. But let me warn you, it's sweet enough already.
Makes 16-24 bars depending on how you cut them up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm Dreaming of Flaming Ice Cream Snowballs

Last week I was thinking about things that are no longer around, like Bonomo's Turkish Taffy and Toddy. Then I remembered an ice cream treat we enjoyed as a kids. I did a Google search and there they were. Other people were also interested, there are quite a few posts about this special ice cream. See them, flying throughout the blog-o-sphere! Yes, folks, they were real, Flaming Ice Cream Snowballs, the Holiday Treat dreams are made of. Vanilla ice cream covered with a soft icing, dipped into finely chopped coconut, iced with green and red frosting to look like holly. They came in a kit, I think there were 6 in a box, with doilies, candles, and holly icing. My Grandma served them to us kids every Christmas. The Foremost Dairy company made them and we enjoyed this special dessert at Grandma's house. My parents were strict about sugary stuff, only on holidays and birthday. "Snowballs!" we screamed when Grandma set them out on the dining table. She used her very best china, and one by one, she lit each candle. The trick was to keep the flame going, not let it blow out, while eating the ice cream. Sometimes the candle fell over, sometimes it just blew out. But it was delicious, and I wish these Flaming Ice Cream Snowballs from Foremost were still around.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Persimmon Madeleines

Like I have nothing better to do, I was reading David Lebovitz's blog. Lo and behold, through one of the posted links I found another recipe for persimmons! This time they are used in a beautiful madeleine cookie. We will attempt this one sometime this week. Don't touch that dial, we'll be right back.

This is way cool, all you have to do is click on the title above and will automatically pop-up! "I love technology" especially when I know how to use it. Scroll down to the persimmon madeleine recipe, it sounds delicious. Be patient with me, I am still learning---enjoy!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Reese's" Peanut Butter Cookie Correction

Muchas Gracias! Thanks to a reader for bringing this to my attention. This was part of our cookie extravaganza last year. A photo will be posted later this coming week. Keep those cards and letters coming in, we need all the help we can get!
"REESES COOKIES" - adapted from Spirit of Christmas
makes about 30 cookies

1 1/2 cup unbleached AP flour, or King Arthur White Whole Wheat AP flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter, divided---NO CHUNKY!
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tiny pinch of salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar on a plate for dipping

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1/4 cup peanut butter until creamy smooth. Gradually add in the two half-cups each of the brown and granulated sugars. Add the egg and vanilla. In another bowl, combine the flour, soda, salt and cocoa, stir to aerate. Add to the peanut butter mixture and blend well.

In another bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of peanut butter and the powdered sugar. With clean, floured hands, scoop out and shape into 1-inch balls.

Scoop out a tablespoon of the chocolate dough, flatten it out just a bit and then carefully it shape around a peanut butter ball, covering as best you can.

Place the covered cookie balls about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Dip a flat bottomed drinking glass into the plate with the granulated sugar. Gently flatten each ball to about a 1-1/2 inch diameter circle with the glass bottom. Dip the glass bottom into the sugar each time. Do not go squisha-squisha on them, you are not Trogdor! Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets and then transfer to racks and cool completely before tasting.

Monday, December 03, 2007

"That's What Friends Are For" Tea Cakes

Rod Stewart sings that famous song in the final scene of the comedy "Night Shift" while Shelly Long, Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler walk into the cold dark night, after reconnecting as friends in yet (yes folks!) another New York-based movie. An uptight clerk, a goof-off, and a call girl, yeah, doesn't that spell Christmas? This time the story really does take place around the holidays, beginning with spending time in night court on Thanksgiving night. Later on in the movie, Henry Winkler's character receives a unique Christmas present, a fur-trimmed pimp hat! Nothing says the holidays like a sleazy gift from hookers. I won't give too much away, but it really is funny.

But the real charm of this movie is the genuine friendship that grows between these three unlikely characters and it actually changes them. Where I come from, the message of Christmas is to save us all "when we had gone astray" just like in the carol. What more can I say, it's a wacky Christmas story. Through their support of each other they all give up their sleazy ways, and really, isn't that what friends are for? Tidings of comfort and joy, that's true friendship.

Martino's Bakery in Burbank makes the most delicious little cakes, these two are the cranberry cake and the tea cake. You are sure to make lots of friends if you bring these little gems along to your next holiday function. Moist, tender with a hint of honey in the icing. The cranberry cakes are also wonderful, with the tartness of the cranberries to offset the sweetness. They are plated next to my favorite Christmas mug, a hand-painted import from Italy. Stop by Martino's and check out their selections of gelatos and many other holiday treats, like their beautiful Gingerbread Houses and Christmas Tree Coffee Cakes. Offer some comfort and joy to your friends with these sweet treats from Martino's, that's what friends are for!

The Original Martino's Bakery
335 N. Victory Blvd.
Burbank CA 91502
818-842-0715 phone
818-842-5111 fax

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"My Favorite Year" and a cookie

Another one of our family's favorite movies is "My Favorite Year," about a young comedy writer on a TV show during the 1950's. The story is about the time he is called upon to "babysit" the show's guest star for the week, a character based on the actor Errol Flynn. I know, it's not about Christmas, but there's a cringe-worthy scene where Benjy must take his guest star to have dinner with his family in Brooklyn, oy! I am sure none of you have folks who embarrass you and your guests---you lucky ones. With my folks it was mandatory to make me squirm and blush with their little family tales. Hey, what good are the holidays without your family trying to make you look like a fool, especially in front of someone you are trying to impress.

This cookie recipe reminds of watching this movie with my kids. It originally came with a little booklet (no longer published) by the good people who make M&M's candy. Like this movie, this cookie is tender, soft, sweet, and a little nutty. Enjoy!

M&M’s Classic Christmas Cookies – adapted from M&M’s website

1 cup (2 sticks or 240mL) butter or margarine softened
1/2 cup (120mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120mL) firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (480mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12 ounces) M&M'S® Red & Green peanut candy
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). In a mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper. Slowly blend into creamed mixture. Stir in M&M'S gently by hand. Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls about 2 inches (50mm) apart onto cookie sheets lined with parchment. Press one or two additional candies on top of each cookie if desired. Bake 10 to 13 minutes or just until edges are lightly browned and centers are still soft. Do not burninate these cookies. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets to allow carry-over cooking, and then gently remove with a spatula to cool completely on wire racks. Some candy pieces will split, and the color will spread, fear not, this is normal. Store in a tightly covered container, or place in bags for gifts. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

"Hark, I hear the cannons roar!"

TCM ran "Radio Days" this afternoon, my favorite Woody Allen movie. This begins my tribute to Christmas movies and treats. Yeah, you're right, it's not about Jesus, but a lot of the action takes place during the holidays. I've never seen winter in New York, but the scenes of the city dusted with snow make it look like a Christmas globe. My favorite line in the movie happens while Mia Farrow's character tries to get rid of her heavy accent with the help of a dialect coach. "Hark, hark," she tries over and over in front of the bathroom mirror. There is another scene where she ends up in the kitchen of a gangster's Italian mama. I won't give it away, but you must see the movie for yourself.

This easy and delicious "Farm Wife's Tart" comes from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by way of "The Amateur Gourmet" blog. The original recipe calls for fresh peeled pears, but I have made this simple tart many times using different fruits such as pineapple chunks, apples, and even fresh berries. Right now there is an abundance of Fuyu persimmons, and at a good price at the local 99 Ranch Market on Atlantic & Garvey in Monterey Park. These are the sweet, crunchy, apple-like texture persimmons, not other ones that must be fully ripe and mushy before using. In honor of Italian mamas everywhere we present the Farm Wife's Persimmon Tart.

THE FARM WIFE'S PERSIMMON TART - adapted from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" and "The Amateur Gourmet" blog

2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch of plain salt
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 to 2 lbs. coarsely chopped persimmons
dash of cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for pan
additional flour or fine plain bread crumbs for pan
confectioners or icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and dust with flour or bread crumbs. I usually omit the dusting step, this cake easily comes out of the pan. Beat the eggs and the milk together in a medium bowl. Add sugar and salt, continue to beat. Add the flour, seasonings and mix to the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Add the chopped chunk fruit and fold in, scraping the bottom of the bowl. Spread into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, then add the 1/4 cup of cold butter pieces, dotting the top. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top is browned. Invert the cake onto a plate, then onto the serving platter. Dust lightly with confectioners sugar, serve warm. Makes 8-10 servings.