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 Days of Spatula Licking are Almost Over

This week, I baked cookies because someone at work asked me to. I’m pretty easy. All you have to do is flatter me by telling me my cookies are the best you’ve ever had and I’ll bake for you too.

I also baked because one of my young co-workers lost his dad to a sudden heart attack a few weeks ago and the pain is still so raw for him that it breaks my heart. So, baking his favorite chocolate chip cookies couldn’t hurt.

Miss Milena

She had the whole thing licked clean before I could even take the picture.

As I was in the kitchen baking, my daughter was on the comfy, sage colored couch in the living room working on a paper for school. I was cleaning off the beater, wondering if she’d want to lick it like she used to when she was a kid. I hesitated, thinking she might not go for it, then offered it to her. She happily took it like she did when she was three. Continue reading

The Circle of Life — Already?

My daughter’s been away, housesitting for the past few weeks and I’m getting a taste of what it’s going to feel like in this very empty nest. It will finally be clean, and very quiet.

It really forces you to take a look at your life, think about what you’ve done, where you’re going and whether you want company for the rest of the ride.  It brought a few tears for me because for 25 years I was a mom first.  That was my most important job.  I always worked, but my kids came first. And it’s all changed lightning fast. Continue reading

Coffee Cake Biscotti — Oh Yes!

I have bounced around the idea of starting a biscotti business for over a year. My family rolls their collective eyes when they hear this because I flit from one idea to another like a fruit fly. Continue reading

The Biscotti Tasting

Yes, I baked my butt off!

Yes, I baked my butt off!

No, I did not forget to write last week, I was covered in flour, white chocolate and nuts for days. Nothing “Shades of Grey,” I was just getting ready for my biscotti tasting on Sunday the 12th. I baked like a maniac, then did the scariest thing a baker can do, I asked people to give me their honest opinions of my biscotti. Continue reading

Adding Seven Layers To My Waist

Dorm desks.  My side (left) covered with books I don't remember and my roommates walls adorned with Steeler photos and hot rollers.

Our desks at Forest Manor in Clarion. My side (left) covered with books I don’t remember and my roommate’s side adorned with Steeler photos and hot rollers.

When I attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, I studied Elementary Education. I use the term, “study,” loosely because I don’t remember a damned thing about education, but I do remember the Seven Layer Cookies my roommate, Margaret brought back with her. Continue reading

Lemon Ricotta Cookies – My New Love

Dating can be so difficult. Does he like me, does he not? Why doesn’t he call? Should I call him? Why isn’t he emotionally available?

As my mom used to say, “Who loves you comes after you.” She was right — that’s all you need to know about relationships.  Unfortunately, this means I am now in love with a cookie. Continue reading

Mix Trootfully Wedding Cookies

On June 21st, my brother, Bernie and and sister-in-law, Donna will celebrate their 45th Anniversary. I find that impressive because even if I got married right now; the best I could hope for would be maybe 40 years and that’s only if I live to be 98 and marry an infant.

My brother Bob and his wife Patty just celebrated their 40th last year with a great surprise party. My marriage fizzled out before I even got to silver, but I haven’t given up on weddings yet because:

A. I’m still a hopeless romantic who believes marriage can be great if both people really want to work at it.

B. They’re a great excuse to bake cookies and maybe finally learn to do a proper Electric Slide or  Tarantella.

C. I love telling this wedding cookie baking story about my mom, which involves potential bodily injury, table-shaking laughter, and a great recipe.  Continue reading

The Power of a Sugar Cookie

I’ve been using cookies as communication devices for years. The College of Cardinals uses a smoke signal to tell us there’s a new pope,  and I use cookies to send messages too. They can say:  I love you, I miss you, or Happy Birthday.

After I left Pennsylvania in the early ’80s, I knew I’d lose touch with my family and my young nephews if I didn’t connect. Since I adored my nephews, I wasn’t about to let that happen, so what better way to connect than with cookies? Continue reading