Valentine’s Day Pastry Puffs

On this day back in 1974, my college friends and I decided we were sick of seeing lucky girls getting roses delivered to them willy-nilly, while we got nothing. So we held a Valentine’s Day Sleep-A-Thon.

My friend and resident artist, Dawn created fabulous posters for our doors that said anyone could participate, in the VD Sleep-a- Thon.  All you had to do was sleep through the day so you didn’t have to witness the floral onslaught. Only problem was, we had to miss class to participate, and we were good girls, so it never quite took hold the way we imagined.

Now, that I’m older, still alone, but much wiser, instead of coveting someone else’s roses, I go buy myself flowers and chocolate. Why wait for something I’m perfectly capable of buying myself?

Close up DPP.JPGIn fact, now I celebrate Valentine’s Day with abandon. I even bake for it, and one of my favorite things to make is a Danish Pastry Puff. I usually make it as a breakfast or brunch item.

It’s a buttery pastry crust topped with another layer that’s almost like a cream puff in texture but flavored with almond extract, then covered in icing and sprinkled with almonds.

It’s an easy recipe I got from my brother, Bernie, who had a food column years ago called Top Fork.  He used to go around sampling food at different restaurants then write about it.

(It’s a sickness — Tunno’s can’t help it, we’re always either eating, cooking , or talking about food.)

ITop Fork Column saved his clipping from all those years ago and every time I make a Danish Pastry Puff, I use it. It’s easy, buttery  deliciousness!

Here’s the original recipe for Danish Puffs, handed down via my brother, who got it from his ex-neighbor Martha May, who got it from her eighth grade Home Economics teacher, Wealthie Crawford, who entered it in a national bake-off and won a prize.  I love how recipes make the rounds. And let’s hear it for one nationality embracing the food of another.  It’s what makes the United States so totally cool. I swear food is the true route to world peace.

I tried a variation on it with Brown Butter Frosting and it was very good, but I like the almond too. Usually Puffs take the form of rectangles, but for Valentine’s Day you can shape them like hearts.  Enjoy them and have a Happy Valentine’s Day whether you’re alone or a couple!

Danish PuffsCropped shot Brown butter

Crust

1 cup flour

1/2 cup butter

3 Tbsp. cold water

Mix together ingredients and spread into two rectangles (or hearts) on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Filling or Topping

1/2 cup butter

1 cup water

1 tsp. almond extract (for the brown butter puff, delete the almond extract)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup flour

3 large or extra large eggs

Put 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup of water in a medium size sauce pan and bring it to a boil. Add 1 tsp. of almond extract and 1 tsp. vanilla. Then remove from heat and add 1 cup flour immediately. Beat by hand until smooth, then beat in three eggs, one at a time until smooth. Spread on top of crusts and back at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.

Vanilla Frosting for Puffs with Almond FlavoringPuff Beauty shot.JPG

2 Tbsp. butter

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 Tbsp. half and half

Dash of salt

Melt the butter and add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla, the half and half, and salt, to taste. Pour over the cooled puff and sprinkle with nuts. You can use sliced almonds or chopped walnuts.

Brown Butter Frosting (You will see God when you taste this)

1/2 cup butter

3 cups powdered sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. half and half

Melt butter over low heat in a saucepan until melted. Continue stirring until butter turns a golden to medium brown. Be careful not to burn it. It should smell wonderfully fragrant. Once browned, remove it from the heat and add the powdered sugar and half and half, stirring with the whisk until smooth. Then drizzle over the cooled puff and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Groundhog Day with Cherry Cranberry Crisp!

Edited GroundhogGroundhog Day is near and dear to my heart. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Pennsylvania where Punxatawney Phil was a pretty big deal. There’s another reason, which embarrasses my brothers when I talk about it, so you’ll just have to read my Groundhog Day blog post from two years ago where I explain it all. Be forewarned — it involves sex.

Since there is no official dessert for Groundhog day, I’m making one up. Cherry-Cranberry Crisp – it has all the flavor of cherry pie filling with the tartness of cranberries, and tastes great with vanilla ice cream.  It’s perfect for that bag of cranberries you still have in the freezer and it can double as a President’s Day dessert too! George Washington and Abe Lincoln would have loved it and I’m fairly certain serving it can bring about world peace.

If you don’t have a bag of cranberries in the freezer, this is a good excuse to go buy some. Some stores still have fresh ones, but frozen work fine too.

close up cherry cran crispI found this recipe years ago in an ad for Comstock cherry pie filling. It was for Cherry Cranberry Pie, but is even easier and very tasty as a crisp, so that’s what I make when I need a quick dessert. And this recipe makes enough crisp topping for two pies, so you can just save half in the freezer for the next time you feel like baking a crisp.

I was doing fairly well on my New Year plan to eat less dessert, but this dessert nipped that right in the bud.

Cherry Cranberry Crisp

Crumble Topping

1 cup flour

2 cups whole, uncooked Quaker Oats

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 stick melted butter (not unsalted)

Mix together dry ingredients, then add melted butter with fork, stirring to make sure all ingredients are combined.  It should look pebbly. This is enough to cover two pies or crisps.

cherry cran closeupSet the topping aside and mix together:

Cherry Cranberry Filling

1 can of cherry pie filling

2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries rinsed

3/4 cup of sugar

2 Tbsp corn starch

Thoroughly mix together, pie filling, rinsed cranberries, sugar and corn starch in a large mixing bowl. Then pour them into a buttered, deep dish pie pan or casserole dish.  Sprinkle 1/2 of the topping over the cherry cranberry filling, just to cover it. Don’t make the topping too thick. Freeze the other topping for later use.  Bake at 350 for one hour to an hour and 10 minutes, or until filling bubbles.  If topping starts looking too brown, cover it lightly with a piece of foil.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Share with friends and strangers and watch world peace ensue.

 

 

 

Granola Cluster Cookies –Even Your Healthy Friends Will Love Them!

Each winter my mother and I sported a light coat of flour from December first to the 25th. My mom flew into a baking frenzy and I was recruited to grease pans, sprinkle sugar on hot fried twists of lemony dough, and run up and down between our upstairs and downstairs kitchens like lightning for whatever mom needed  because she always said, “Honey, you gatta da fresh a legs.”

Once I remember her saying, “Honey go getta me da ting dat goes inna da ting I use to beat uppa da stuffa.” And I brought her back exactly what she needed – the beaters for her mixer.  My dad looked at us incredulously and said, “How the hell did you know what she meant?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know, I just knew.” My mother smiled knowing we had a baking shorthand that transcended the English language.

This year I’m trying to get it all done before I go back to Pennsylvania and I’m relying on  legs that are not quite as fresh as they were 50 years ago to get me through.

I love bringing cookies to work and to friends for the holidays.  Just being in my kitchen, baking in the evening when it’s dark outside reminds me of those childhood Decembers when condensed water in the corners of windows turned into tiny ice crystals. I’d stand at the big picture window  in the dining room, looking out on the frozen backyard and knew I was lucky to be warm and cozy, baking with my mom.

I miss her more this time of year than any other because she was like the spirit of Christmas present — large, laughing, joyful, always giving, and ready to sample every treat that came her way. Everyone, from neighbors, to friends, to the nuns at school, even the mailman, got a sample of Mama Tunno’s cookies.

Keeping that tradition alive makes me feel like our floured fingertips touch every December. And I swear, I am going to bake her banana cookies this year, and give you the recipe because they are awesome dipped in a hot cup of coffee. It’s a dough wrapped cookie filled with a mixture of chocolate, raisins, walnuts, nutmeg and cinnamon, that is awesome.

Each year I also swear I’ll expand my repertoire, then never do it.  (Apparently, I do a lot of swearing this time of year.) But, I actually did try two new cookie recipes this baking season. One was a success, the other was just meh. The success was a fantastic, sweet treat even your health conscious friends will love, called the Granola Cluster Cookie.  My daughter found it on the Bon Appetit website, which she and I both love. Their cooks  are really laid back and fun. You just want to hang out with them.

edited granola cluster.JPGThe Granola Cluster Cookie is made of pecans, almonds, pepitas, coconut and some oats, and it’s held together with egg whites beaten with sugar. I truly couldn’t stop eating them — they’re that good. And I just made another batch with hazelnuts instead of pepitas and they were even better!

But when they tell you to bake them on parchment, they aren’t kidding. They really stick to  the pan and removing them results in some broken cookies, so definitely use parchment, or wax paper in a pinch. And wait until they’re cooled to remove them or you’ll have cookie casualties.

The meh one was the Swig Sugar Cookie.  Apparently, they’re so good people stand in long lines for them in St. George Utah, but the recipe I found on a blog was not worth the effort. They were too sweet, without the balance of salt. I’d read that the sour cream in the icing made them different, but to me, it didn’t and I added a lot more sour cream to see if I could salvage it. I saw a different recipe,  on a Food blog called, The Recipe Critic, and it looked more promising with more salt and sour cream in it, but I have no more time or money to waste on recipes, so for now, I’m sticking with Gramma Ev’s Sugar Cookies as my undisputed favorite sugar cookie.

So, if you’re still looking for a great holiday cookie, I’m posting the recipe for the Bon Appetit Granola Cluster Cookies. This should satisfy your health conscious friends, who want a cookie they can eat with little to no guilt. And they’re really easy to make!

Russian Teacakes.JPGBut, what’s life without a decadent, sweet treat every now and then? So, I’m also posting one  of my, oldie but goodie, favorite Christmas cookie recipes — Russian Teacakes.

My mom called them Butterballs because they’re so buttery they just melt in your mouth.  She loved these cookies at first taste, but she didn’t have a recipe to replicate them, so she tried inventing a recipe. It didn’t work out well, and my brother Bernie, nicknamed mom’s attempt “Cannon Balls.”  Mom laughed it off, but gave up on improvisation.  Years later, my sister-in-law- Patty, gave me a great recipe she had in one of her Polish cookbooks, and I’ve been making them for years. I always lightly toast the pecans before I add them, they’re much better that way.

And, even though I’m usually worried about what I eat, at Christmas, I go with mom’s slogan, “Oh honey, you gatta try dis, ittsa so good!” You only get one life, enjoy it a little. We can all go back on the diet in January.

Granola Cluster Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans

1 cup sliced almonds (I didn’t have any, so I chopped whole almonds)

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, (pepitas) or hazelnuts — they are awesome!

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

3 Tbsp. virgin coconut or extra virgin olive oil , melted (I used coconut)

2 large egg whites

2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Toss pecans, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, oats, salt, and oil on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once, until coconut is golden and mixture is fragrant, 10–12 minutes. Let it cool.

Whisk egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar, whisking until mixture is thick and opaque. Add nut mixture and fold to coat evenly.

Drop ¼-cupfuls of mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing evenly. (This recipe made two batches for me — about 24 cookies). Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until edges are golden, 15–20 minutes. Wait until the cookies are cooled before trying to move them, they are fragile and will fall apart if they aren’t cool enough.

 

Russian Teacakes

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts ( I use lightly toasted pecans, but walnuts work too)

Additional 2 cups confectioners sugar to roll cookies in.

Mix butter, powdered sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Blend flour, and salt and stir into mixture. Mix in nuts, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (If I leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight, it gets really hard, so I zap it in the microwave for about 15 seconds, and it’s easier to work with.) Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and while warm, roll them in confectioners sugar. Let cookies cool and roll them in sugar again. Makes about 4 dozen.

 

Centodue Anni!

Bernie's Lemoncello.JPG

Bernie’s Limoncello

 

My brother Bernie called me last night. He said he was making Limoncello. I love that he and my brother Bob still do that kind of thing. It’s proof they haven’t lost their Italian-ness. The label with my dad’s photo on it is one of Bob’s wine labels.

Bernie was peeling lemons as we talked, and I wanted to watch, so we Face-timed, and it was almost as good as being there. I watched his big hands peeling the lemons and it was like sitting in the kitchen with both of my parents at once. My dad’s strong bricklayer hands combined with my mom always making something in the kitchen.

IMG_2759

Lemon Cheesecake Squares

 

He asked me if I remembered that today was my dad’s birthday, and, of course, I did. My dad would have been 102 today. We always used to say Cent’anni when we toasted, hoping he would make 100 years…but, sadly he did not.  But, I’ll toast to 102 (Centodue) today in his honor.

I’ll bet Bernie was making Limoncello to honor dad, because my dad loved lemony things. Bernie and I got talking about lemons and Limoncello and recipes (we cannot talk without recipes coming up)  and how Lemon  Meringue Pie, Lemon Cake, Lemon Squares, Lemon Ricotta Cookies, and all things lemon were my dad’s favorites. Then we veered toward Chicken Piccata…and that’s when I realized I was going to have to share some lemony recipes and a story of torture you may not have heard yet.

I was an expert at tormenting my dad when I was a child. He loved lemony things but couldn’t eat an actual lemon. If you asked him to, his face would pucker up in such a sour expression.  I used enjoy torturing him by fishing lemons out of the iced tea and eating them in front of him just to get him to pucker up. He always did it, as if on cue and I would laugh hysterically.

Children are evil that way.

I miss that sweet man every day, and even though our conversations toward the end were mostly repetition, there was something reassuring about hearing him say the same things he said time and again like, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through it,” or “Stay tough,” or “Keep your nose to the grindstone, you can do it.”

My dad was the taskmaster. When there was work to be done, you did it until it was finished. Period. Not even a discussion.

Mom was fun personified, which is why I am such a mess. Half the time I’m disciplined and half the time I just want to have fun.  This does not make for a simple career path. But it’s good for blog writing, which I consider 99 percent fun.

So, Happy Birthday Dad. You are always with me in my thoughts, actions, and DNA. You’ve made me at least half of what I am today and I am so grateful for you. You are the reason anything ever gets accomplished in my life. I love you forever.

Mom, I love you forever too, but for very different reasons.

Single Lemon ricotta

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

To honor Dad, here is Bernie’s Limoncello Recipe – (if you make it – just remember one ounce will knock you out like a prizefighter). Also a link to my Really Good and Easy Lemon Cheesecake Squares Recipe, a link to my Lemon Ricotta Cookies Recipe, and a link to a Williams Sonoma Chicken Piccata Recipe, which is absolutely delicious! I used it when I catered a wedding last January and it was a huge hit.

Bernie’s Limoncello

Peel only the yellow off 14 lemons

Place the peels in a large glass container

Add 2 liters of grain alcohol

Add two cinnamon sticks (these are optional)

Let the mixture sit for 30 days.

Then strain it into a clear container and add 2 liters of distilled water and sugar to taste.  put a cork in it and put it in the freezer before serving it.

Fran’s Really Good and Easy Lemon Cheesecake Squares

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Williams Sonoma Chicken Piccata

 

 

The Most Awesome Cheesecake You’ve Ever Had

first-page-cheesecakeI am finally getting my bearings after the shock of going back to being a full-time employee on November 3rd.  I’m trying to get back on a weekly blogging schedule, and will do my best, but don’t hold your breath.  However, I just had to write about this cheesecake because it’s worth every decadent calorie.

I know I already laid claim to the best Carrot Cake ever. I’m going out on a limb again because I also have the recipe for the best cheesecake ever.  I may be a lapsed Catholic, but I cannot lie (not convincingly anyway) and I’m serious, this is the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. The common denominator for both these outstanding recipes is my sister-in-law, Donna. Her attention to detail is almost mind-numbing.   Continue reading

When Brownie Mix is Your Best Friend

My apartment can go from immaculate to disgusting in about 2.5 days.  Having my Corgi, Topper in the house makes it all possible. Clumps of dog hair the size of tumbleweeds are rolling around as if it was the high desert. Newspapers are toppling over the basket where I usually have them neatly stacked. Dishes are piled in the kitchen and I am too stinking tired to do them. I am pooped. Working numerous jobs will do that to you. That’s why I had to turn to brownie mix tonight. Continue reading

When the World Gets Ugly, Bake Cupcakes

close up cupcake.JPGThe world was very ugly this week. I don’t have a solution, and it was too awful to face, so I turned to baking because it always makes me feel good. I know it’s a cop-out, but it’s better than drinking, smoking or gambling, and everyone loves you for it, so it’s my coping mechanism.

This year has been pretty full of tragedy, so, I’ve been baking a lot. Continue reading

Chocolate Peanut Butter Heaven

close up pb cup.JPG

Behold the glorious Chocolate Peanut Butter cup

It’s been an uneventful week. I haven’t had any run ins with the law and haven’t even been scammed on my dating website. My only excitement was that my computer decided to stop working, so I couldn’t record this. With things this slow, there was nothing left to do but turn to food — chocolate and peanut butter to be exact.

Continue reading

Alex is Getting Married? But She’s Only 12, Isn’t She?

Alex helping me bathe Milena in the sink.

Alex helping me bathe Milena in the sink.

Alex is getting married.  I find this hard to believe because, according to my calculations, she is still twelve and helping me bathe my daughter in the kitchen sink. I was never good at math. Continue reading

A Pat on the Back, Porkchops and Poached Pears

Porcine heaven on a plate.

Porcine heaven on a plate.

Remember, almost a year ago when my friends, my kids, and their friends helped move me into an apartment that needed a lot of work? Well, it still needs a lot of work and since I’m almost over the embarrassment of living in a place that desperately needs a paint job, I figured it was time to pay back my friends Mandy and Bjorn. Continue reading