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Entries in Christmas Cookies (3)

Monday
Dec152014

Eat Like a Iaciofano - Christmas Cookies!

Season's Greetings, readers!

How's everyone's holiday shopping coming along? That good, yes? Excellent.

I've managed to make more cookies than purchases this year, and that's been a conscious effort. I've been finding it fascinating to focus on my family's eating habits, especially as they revolve around holiday traditions.

You know when you have a group of caged animals at the zoo? Like lions? And then a zoo keeper throws in some raw meat and CHAOS ensues? Welcome to Christmas cookie time at Iaciofano HQ.

Russian Tea CakesI talked about some of these habits before. It does seem that for a family of four, the Iaciofanos make and consume an inordinate amount of cookie. So much so, at least on the consumption side, that Marmo has taken to hiding them. I detailed some of her favorite places here, and indeed, when I returned home this weekend for baking, she whispered in my ear, "There are biscotti in the laundry room."

Close up pizzelle actionI don't think she is fooling anyone anymore, because as baking commenced on Sunday, one or other male Iaciofano crossed the path from TV room to laundry room, emerging cookie-laden (cue Marmo, exasperated, shouting: STOP EATING THOSE!!!).

This post, recipes and corresponding flip through book (link below) stem from both my amusement at these family habits and my own cookie-making frenzy.

This weekend, Marmo and I made three types of cookie: The Russian Tea Cakes (probably my all-time favorite), Pizzelle, and some iced-gingerbread cookies. 

The iced-gingerbreads were not initally on the menu. They're not a traditional "Iach" cookie. But I had a plan.

Usually, when I have a plan the Iaciofano parentals brace themselves against said oncoming idea as one might tape down the house windows in preparation for a hurricane. It's not encouraging behavior. However, I must press on and will not be dissuaded by exasperated looks, sighs of defeat, moans of exhaustion or other nonsense.

My plan this year was to ice the gingerbread cookies to look like...wait for it....mini margherita pizzas!!

Yes? YES! 

I had first played with icing Christmas cookies here, and had much fun with it. But this time, I had an icing agenda: to make the sugary medium look like tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil. 

To prep, I ordered a few things from Amazon (since I signed up for Prime, I can't stop ordering things from Amazon. I think I need a support group). I had this decorating kit, this icing mix (oh yes, I was cheating), and this pack of food coloring shipped to Iaciofano HQ.

For the recipe, I used this gingerbread cookie recipe that I had made previously, here. It's super-fantastically easy and tasty.

The cookies came out even better than I thought they would. They really looked liked pizzas! In cookie form!

I even made a pizza oven out of gingerbread.So thrilled was I, that I began excitedly snapping photos of said cookies and then everything else, including what Marmo was making for dinner: her special Lasagna Bolognese (recipe at end of post).

Marmo prepping the pan.My favorite shot of the day - steam from freshly boiled pasta.Filling in the layersReady for the oven!I have to say, her lasagna is really a masterpiece. It sports a beef-based Bolognese sauce complemented by a smooth Bechemel that is both velvety and decadent. She translates the recipe from the Harry's Bar cookbook. We added a salad, some California Merlot, tree decorating and more cookies as sides.

Some of my take-aways from the day were:

1. The light in the dining room is Northern light and much better for food photography. I've been taking photos in the kitchen like a fool (Western light) for too long.

2. Toby's new jingle-collar is really dashing.

3. John prefers to play the "foreman" instead of actually decorating the tree. This apparently involves very half-assed art direction as to which ornament should go where. And wine drinking. It involves that too.

3. I do not know the difference between the Shuttlecraft and the Enterprise (we own both as Christmas ornament representations, and I can't tell the difference much to The Box's horror and dismay).

4. Our TV has only one channel: The Golf Channel.

Here any and all Iaciofano Family Christmas Cookie Recipes for your enjoyment (and one lasagna recipe)

Pizzelle

Russian Tea Cakes

Iced Lemon Knot Cookies

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti

Gingerbread Cookies

Lasagne Bolognese

Ingredients:

1 box of no-boil lasagna

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (as much as you like)

For the Bolognese Sauce
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1 small onion or large shallot
2 T butter and Olive oil each
¾ lb of ground beef
¾ lb ground veal
2 Tbsp of tomato paste
2 Tbsp of flour 
½ cup of white wine
4 cups of chicken broth
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 Tbsp rosemary
1 Tbsp thyme 
salt and pepper to taste


For the Bechemel Sauce:

1/4 cup of butter (1 stick)
2 cups of milk
1/4 cup of flour
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Process
For the Bolognese Sauce:
Process the carrot, celery and onion in a food processor until fine.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté the processed vegetables in the skillet until soft—about 10 minutes.
Then, add the ground beef and veal and cook thoroughly.
Next, add the tomato paste and flour to the skillet and stir until well combined.
Now add the white wine, and simmer until most of the liquid has reduced.
Add the chicken stock and all the herbs. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for about 45 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste!
For the Bechemel Sauce:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.
Add the flour and stir constantly until the mixture starts to turn a golden color.
Add the milk and stir until it starts to thicken. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste!
Assembly:

Bring a large stock pot filled with water to a boil. Salt the boiling water and add in the lasagne noodles. Boil for about 3-4 minutes. You don't want to cook them, you just want to get them started. Even though we indicated no-boil pasta, boiling them for a short amount of time prevents a dry lasagna. You don't have to pre-boil, but if you don't, add a bit more sauce to the dish for extra moisture.

Grease a 9x13" oven-proof dish with butter. Add a row of the lasagna noodles.  Layer Bolognese sauce on top of the noodles, then dollop a little Bechemel on top of that. Continue layering until all the noodles have been used.

The top layer should be a Bolognese layer with Bechemel around the edges (as seen in the above photo). Dust the top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes at 350°F degrees.  

 

 

 

Friday
Dec232011

Iaciofano Family Christmas 2011 – Prep Time!

It's that time of year again, folks! Time for Santa to squeeze his corpulent figure through tiny crevices for the purpose of Easy Bake Oven delivery. Time for Aunt Emily to drink tumbler after tumbler of gin on the rocks while complaining about John's hair and the lack of grandchildren in the family. Time for The Box to don his baby blue bathrobe and distribute gifts to his 30-something children.

Let me tell you this: a good time will be had by all.

In preparation, Marmo has stocked the fridge with all kinds of edible nonsense. Behold!

I've itemized some of the more exciting residents of the fridge:

1. Grapefruit Juice: for making this drink.

2. Orange Crush: The Box's beverage of choice.

3. Truwhip: The all-natural alternative to CoolWhip.

4. Limoncello: For proper Italian digestion. Make your own like this.

5. A Lot of Seafood: Christmas Eve is all about the seven fishes. I believe Marmo has plans to combine all seven of them into one masterful, magnum opus of a seafood salad. Stand by for that.

6. Tomatoes: And a lot of them. I don't know what these are for specifically, but I'm sure we'll put them to good use.

7. Brussels Sprouts: Roast 'em!

8. A Red Pepper: Roast this too!

In addition to an overflowing refrigerator, Iaciofano HQ is also crammed to the gills with cookies. Marmo has taken to hiding them around the house because both The Box and John will find and eat them all before Santa has a chance to get his white-gloved mitts on them.

In fact, The Box has something to say about MARMO AND THE CASE OF THE HIDDEN CHRISTMAS COOKIES:

As Christmas approaches each year, Marmo devotes her considerable talents to the creation of a range of exceptionally edible Christmas cookies.  She packs these cookies always in a selection of tins intending to preserve them from consumption until the holiday actually arrives.  That is where the fun starts!
 
Just as Sherlock had his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, Marmo is bedeviled by John and The Box who, individually and together, do their best to locate each cookie stash and, of course, to eat all cookies found with no thought of preserving any for the holiday.  An appropriate image for the reader to have in their mind would be of two white sharks  cruising the beach of a fat farm.  In years past, total decimation of the cookie population has occurred well in advance of Christmas causing Marmo to have to engage in a fit of re-baking amidst screams, admonitions (and denials).

Over the years, Marmo has become sneakier and sneakier in her efforts to hide cookies in locations that she hopes are immune from discovery.  Sometimes these efforts work, and sometimes they don’t.

As the score sheet has not been filled in for this year, we bring you some of Marmo’s favorite hideouts.  No doubt, John and The Box will be up to their usual tricks. The Box has threatened to employ Toby in the process...

If you are ever at the Iaciofano house at Christmas time, here is where you can find the cookies:

In the laundry room above the dryer, keeping things like bubble wrap and shoe polish company:

In the bottom most drawer under the "catch-all" shelf in the kitchen:

In the cabinets where the "seasonal" and "random" dinnerware is stored:

 John Chimes in: First let me say... J.....   E..... T.....  S....... JETS JETS JETS!  Christmas could start a bit earlier this year in the Iaciofano household if Rex and Gang Green deliver a Christmas Eve, Revis Island smackdown to the stupid a$$ Giants.   Ironically, the spread of the game (last I checked, the Jets giving two and a half poitns) is the same number value assigned to myself and the Box's over/under for cookie tin's cleaned out during the game.  I devour those Christmas tree shortbreads like it's popcorn.

But aside from the Jets. It is our wish that all readers of this blog - and I suppose non-readers too - have the Merriest of Christmases/Holidays/Festivuses.  And while you cannot physically join us at the table, rest assured that you'll be hearing about all of the food, antics, and Aunt Emily sponsored Italian guilt trips in the days that follow.  Happy Holidays. 

Oh, and for those asking the obvious question - "John, aren't you going post your amazingly creative and hilarious 'Twas the Night Before Christmas poem for all to read?"  Why, yes.  It's right here.  Thank you for the compliments.

 

Wednesday
Dec212011

Simple Gingerbread Cookies

And now a word from my toaster...

In all seriousness, as readers of this blog you may know that my oven is currently broken. There were wild rumors flying around that it was fixed. These rumors are untrue, and you should disregard them.

What do you do when you have a hefty hunk of gingerbread and your oven refuses (strike? persnickety-ness? spite?) to light?

You push on as normal and throw them in the toaster.

Last year, we featured a host of traditional Iaciofano Family Christmas Cookies, including the Pizzelle, the Russian Tea Cake and the all-popular Butter Cookie. This year I thought I would give you a cookie recipe that's good for Christmas, Hanukkah, Ground Hog Day....and generally all winter long. Just change the cookie cutter shape!

The added bonus to this particular recipe is that it is the easiest gingerbread recipe that I've found. The easiest and I'm going to throw this out there – the best. You don't have to refrigerate the dough at all, and yet the dough is very easy to manage and manipulate.

I don't like my gingerbread cookies too crispy, so I cook them for a touch less time so they have a little "give" to them.

The recipe I used is from Epicurious, and I didn't modify it at all, as it's truthfully perfect. Here's how it goes:

For the cookies:

What You Need:
2/3 cup molasses (not robust)
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 3/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Special equipment: assorted 2 to 3 inch cookie cutters; a metal offset spatula; a pastry bag fitted with 1/8- to 1/4-inch plain tip (optional).

What To Do:

Bring molasses, brown sugar, and spices to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, and remove from heat. Stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up), then stir in butter 3 pieces at a time, letting each addition melt before adding next, until all butter is melted. Add egg and stir until combined, then stir in 3 3/4 cups flour and salt.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with as much of remaining 1/4 cup flour as needed to prevent sticking, until soft and easy to handle, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Halve dough, then wrap 1 half in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature.

Roll out remaining dough into a 14-inch round (1/8 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. Cut out as many cookies as possible with cutters and carefully transfer with offset spatula to 2 buttered large baking sheets, arranging them about 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are slightly darker, 10 to 12 minutes total (watch carefully toward end of baking; cookies can burn easily). Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll once).

Put icing in pastry bag (if using) and pipe or spread decoratively onto cookies.

For the icing:

What You Need:

Makes about 2 cups
3 1/4 cups (or more)
powdered sugar, sifted
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon strained
fresh lemon juice

What You Do:

Using electric mixer, beat 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar and egg whites until thick and shiny, adding more powdered sugar by tablespoonfuls if mixture is too thin to spread, about 3 minutes. Add lemon juice. Divide icing into portions, if desired, and add different food coloring to each. Cover until ready to use.

I iced these little ones very basically, using the dots and lines technique I learned from The Tough Cookie. I thought I should keep it simple, as I'm a novice icer. I was especially thrilled with myself when I figured out how to make a bowtie out of icing dots (drag with a toothpick from the center outward).

I also used teeny-tiny cookie cutters (better for fitting a bunch in the toaster oven at one time). They are great gifts, wrapped up all Martha Stewart-style with a bow and cellophane bag. Or just keep them in a jar on the top of your fridge and eat them at random moments during the day...

Don't be surprised if you're making these all winter long.