Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cranberry Orange Walnut Loaf

Cranberry Orange Bread is a favorite in my family. My mom always makes many mini loaves to give away to friends. She wraps then in little cellophane bags with holly on them and ties them with raffia ribbon. It's pure Christmas cheer.

My mom calls it "bread," but it's really the consistency of cake (Cake that you're allowed to eat for breakfast, so we'll roll with this "bread" bit... I've called it a "loaf" here to be politically correct :) ) The orange and cranberry are a refreshing punch to this moist and delicious comfort food. This can be eaten it by itself, or spread with some butter and jam on top.

My mom gives away most of the loaves, but there's always a few left for us. I know what I'll be having for breakfast this week... :)

one year ago: Ciambelle (Lemon Wreath Cookies)

Cranberry Orange Walnut Loaf
from Martha Stewart

yields 1 large loaf or 3 mini loaves (mini loaf pictured above)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
zest of 1 orange
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cranberries, diced
1/2 cup roasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, stir heavy cream, orange juice, and vanilla. In another small bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl beat butter, orange zest, and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time while continuing to beat. Alternate adding flour mixture and cream mixture until fully incorporated. Add cranberries and walnuts.

In a prepared loaf pan or cardboard loaf pan, fill with batter until 2/3 full. Bake about 30 minutes in the oven until gold brown or until a toothpick come out clean when put in the center of the loaf. Let cool completely on a rack. Loaves can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored on the counter for days or in the freezer for weeks.

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Iced Gingerbread Snowflake Cookies and the U.S. Botanical Gardens

This week I went to the U.S. Botanical Gardens next to the U.S. Capitol to see the annual Christmas display. This year's "Who Lives Here?" exhibit features houses of critters, fairies, and presidents, as well as national monuments. The creative team from Applied Imagination, a Kentucky-based crew of artists, botanical architects and landscape designers, spent eight months creating this amazing display entirely out of natural material.

Fairies made of flowers and hot air balloons made of leaves hang from the ceiling while below are little abodes made of nuts, bark, fruits, and moss, cozily situated among the garden plants. Here is the 'Porcupine Place'.

The level of detail is absolutely phenomenal. You could look at this ten times and see something new every time. The fact that all of the media used to build these is all-natural makes them all the more inventive and creative. I just love the reed organ and acorn cap goblet!

All of the monuments are also constructed out of twigs and leaves and vines. Here's the Capitol.

If you are in the DC area over Christmas, I highly recommend going. Your inner child will be delighted!

These snowflake cookies were inspired by the earthy fairy houses: decorated with detail on a down-to-earth gingerbread cookie. The gingerbread cookies are the same recipe as the Molasses Gingerbread Cookies and Hogwarts Gingerbread Castle, and will make your house smell like clove and cinnamon. They are more spice than sweet. The royal icing was piped with only a #2 tip. 

These cookies make a great holiday gift or addition to a holiday dessert table. I'd like to think that the fairies might eat a miniature version of these... :)

one year ago: Ciambelle (Lemon Wreath Cookies)

Molasses Gingerbread Cookies

yields about 5 dozen cookies

5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsulfured molasses

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl.

Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in molasses. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Divide dough into 3 portions, and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. On a generously floured piece of parchment, roll dough to a scant 1/4 inch thick. Brush off excess flour. Slide dough and parchment onto baking sheets, and freeze for 15 minutes.
Cut out desired shapes. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, and freeze for 15 minutes.

Bake cookies for 6 minutes. Remove sheets from oven, and tap them firmly on counter to flatten cookies. Return to oven, rotating sheets, and bake until crisp but not darkened, 6 to 8 minutes more. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Decorate to your heart's content with Royal Icing.

Royal Icing (Outline Consistency for Piping)

yields 3 cups icing

3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoon meringue powder
6 tablespoons warm water

Combine in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 5 minutes.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Snowball Cookies

 I got home to Silver Spring from Tucson Saturday night. What did I do my first day home on Sunday? Start making Christmas cookies of course. This will continue for the next two weeks in my home. We'll play traditional choral Christmas carols on the speakers, and my mom and I will bake. They're not kidding: It's the most wonderful time of the year.

These Snowball Cookies are a childhood favorite. Our old neighbors and family friends the Sebastians would make these every year and serve them with peppermint ice cream. They are a spin off of Polvorones, or Mexican wedding cookies. I dare you to only eat one. These little guys just melt in your mouth while the nutty pecan flavor lingers on. Oh, and you'll be covered in powdered sugar.

If you can spare to share, these make a great little gift all packaged up in a cellophane bag.

The Christmas Cookie Season has begun! Stay tuned for more cookie recipes this week and next.

Snowball Cookies
adapted from Bon Appétit

yields about 4 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup pecans, coarsely ground


Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans. Divide dough in half and form each half into ball. Wrap balls separately in plastic. Chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar in a shallow bowl or dish. Set aside.

Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough.

Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Green Gazpacho and Desert Colors

It is no secret that the desert can often be an inimical and inhospitable place (see any and all posts between May and September where I'm probably complaining about the heat...). The desert takes some getting used to. The mountains are brown and the lawns are "zero-scaped" with stones. Grass is a luxury. Trees are a rarity. Plants attack. Yet, it would be a bold-faced lie to declare that the desert is devoid of life and color. 

Green cacti are highlighted all the more by complimentary red sandstone.

Catch a hummingbird between wing flaps, and see the varied green, blue, and purple hues in its feathers.

Even if all that surrounds is drab, the sky never disappoints.

And on that rare occasion, the most precious treasure springs forth and dances in the endless sunshine.

Ottolenghi's vegetarian cookbook Plenty is just as vibrant as these desert gems. The recipes are simple, yet incorporate a multitude of vegetables and complex flavors. Do not let the number of ingredients in this gazpacho deter you! This soup takes a mere 10 minutes to make. It is the most refreshing, yet filling and satisfying vegetarian dish I have made to date. So much so that I wanted to eat it for every meal of the day (Yes you will find a way to incorporate this into breakfast - omelette... breakfast burrito... soup for breakfast... it's fine...).

Green Gazpacho

yields 8 servings

2 celery stalks (including the leaves)
2 small green bell peppers, stemmed and seeded
1 1/4 pounds cucumbers, peeled and seeded
3 slices stale bread, crust removed (I used multigrain, and would also recommend white or wheat)
1 fresh green chile/jalapeno, seeded
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups walnuts, lightly toasted
6 cups baby spinach
1 cup basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 cups water
9 ounces ice cubes
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly cracked pepper to taste

Roughly chop the celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, bread, chile, and garlic. Place these in a large bowl along with the sugar, walnuts, spinach, basil, parsley, vinegar, oil, yogurt, 1 1/2 cups of the water, half the ice cubes, the salt and a pinch of pepper.

Working in batches, pulse the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth, pouring each batch into a bowl and stirring to combine at the end. Add as much of the remaining 1/2 cup water, a little at a time, to get your preferred consistency.

Serve the green gazpacho immediately, ladling it into bowls and drizzling a little olive oil on top. Soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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