Tag Archives: recipes

The International or “Auntie Mame” of the Cookie World

Making holiday cookies is really not that complicated to understand or do. It might seem difficult because there might be a food processor or a stove but making cookies, a small nugget of sugary goodness, is so simple. So divinely simple…and fun. Simply simple.

I’ve been invited annually to a cookie exchange party for the past three years. The party, now in its fourth year, was the first time that I was able to go. To make up for the past three years, I made three different kinds of cookies because I couldn’t figure out which to bring. (Ultimately, I only brought two.)  I discovered one of the recipes from Real Simple Magazine which has quickly become one of my favorite publications when it comes to food. (I could do without the makeup tips though.)

The magazine recipe for Cornmeal, Fig and Thyme was delicious but the Mexican Wedding Cookies is truly one of my favorite for the holidays and everyday. Apparently it has many names around the globe such as Russian Tea Cakes, Italian Wedding Cakes, “biscochitos”  (Mexico), “polvornes” in Spain, Swedish teacakes (to be confused with the Russian), Moldy Mice, Pecan Sandies, Danish Almond Cookies, Finnish Butter Strips, Napoleon Hats, Melting Moments, Butter balls and…the hipster version, “Yeti Balls”. (Oh, the Iceman cometh…). All are made with the same method (flour, sugar, vanilla and butter) but with different shapes such as crescent, balls or strips…sometimes they use different nuts such as hazelnuts (filberts) or pecans in different European areas.

 You can research why it’s called the Mexican Wedding Cookie/Cake, Russian Doll Goes to Mall…whatever, but I’m calling it the “Auntie Mame”. Not only is it sugary and sweet like the Lucille Ball musical version (“We Need A Little Christmas“) of Mame, but it’s well-traveled and glamourous as if Rosalind Russell dusted it with white. It’s also smart, sort of like the casting of Angela Lansbury in the Broadway musical.

 

And as I said, it’s simple. Really, really simple…and very holiday-like.

Let’s make these puppies: “Auntie Mame”

1 cup (2 sticks) of softened (room temperature) unsalted butter

3 cups sifted powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1 cup very finely chopped toasted nuts (Note: Toast nuts at a low temp of 325 for about 20 minutes or until fragrant on a cookie sheet. Then place in a food processor to a mince.)

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Combine the butter, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until creamy. Beat in the flour and nuts. Chill the dough 30 to 60 minutes.

3. Shape the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter and try to make them them the same size. You want them to cook evenly.  Arrange them on parchment paper, squishing them down to flatten the bottoms so they don’t roll around, about an inch apart. Bake on the center rack of the oven until the cookies are set and seem to be a  golden. Roughly 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through cooking

4. Transfer the cookies to a rack or a plate. Then using the sifter, immediately dust heavily with about a cup of the powdered sugar. Once they cool, place the remaining confectioners sugar into a bowl and roll the suckers coating them entirely. Sometimes, before serving, I like to sift some sugar on top to make it look pretty.

No Cook Thanksgiving But If I Were…..

I stopped cooking Thanksgiving meals about 5 years ago. I know, I know. It’s one of the big days that all caliber of cooks want to shine showcasing their adeptness in the kitchen, commercial or home. If you know anything about me, cooking is one my favorite of the things. Therefore, you would think that I would be all over this but I’m not. Not anymore. I stopped cooking for the holiday when I was ending a decade plus relationship that entailed my work and my personal life. I also moved from San Francisco, where I lived for 3 years, back to Los Angeles at the same time. (Hey, no one ever said that I liked to do it easy). That first Thanksgiving, as a single man, turned out to be a horrible experience as I was invited to eat at one of my ex’s friend with their 30 plus dinner guests. My only excuse for going was I that I was still delirious from the break-up.

With each progressive year, I feel less and less like big festivities. This year, I think it’s just Nick, Holly, JJ and my mother. I don’t really think of the holiday as exceptional anymore but I celebrate it quietly with people who love me and I, them.

At the heart of it all, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday and New Year’s Eve clustered together in a 6 week period, is that I really just want to spend quality time with the people whom I cherish. I don’t want to wrapped up in a kitchen anymore for the entire day. Let someone else shine and enjoy learning about cooking. (To brine or not to brine? Fried or not to fry? Oysters in the stuffing or sausage?) I’ve made a lot of turkeys, roasts and hams in my life and I’m now willing to give up the “big star” turn to others. Cooking quietly, simple easy meals on a daily basis.

However, if I were to cook for a dinner of 8 to 10 (LOL), this is what I would make and why:

Butternut Squash Soup: Simplicity. Ease and elegance. Besides, Butternut Squash Soup screams fall!

Roasted Turkey Stuffed with Prunes: Mario Batali’s way of cooking a large bird is ingenious. Have your butcher remove the bones and use them for stock and gravy. Beautiful. Easy. Delicious and quick.

Homemade Bread: There is nothing in the world like homemade bread. Nothing. It can be made two or three days in advance and frozen. Just one of the most beautiful things ever. No Knead Bread is revelatory.

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Salad: If I were making the dinner, the recipe for this Kale, Fennel and Apple Salad would be it. And I would leave it at this. It feels very European this meal. A protein. Bread. Salad. Soup.

This would be the meal. You don’t have to do too many things. If you want to throw in a traditional dish of roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, go for it.

Oh, but don’t forget for dessert. HA! I don’t make a lot sweet things and there are reasons for it. I don’t want it around because I will eat it…ALL…but if I find something sweet and light.

Sparkling water and flat. Always.

White Wine: Duckhorn or Cade Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley. Both are perfect wines for cocktails and for the first course. Lovely and herbaceous.

Red Wine: Oregon’s Sokol Blosser Pinot is lovely for this dinner. Light, bodied, earthy red with hints of cherry.

Beer: Brouwerij West “Saison”. Not to hoppy, excellent flavor, Belgian-style beer. Craft beer made in Los Angeles.

Happy Turkey Day. Enjoy your family, friends and food!