Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas - Hidden Charges in Dining Out

In an earlier posting I talked about being charged $8.00 for my husband and myself to taste wine at Three Foxes Winery in Northern Fauquier County, VA.

We only wanted a drop of the wines so we could make our selections. We wound up buying 4 bottles for a total cost of about $95.00 - including the $8.00 tasting charge even though we drank less than 1/4 of a glass - each.

In the posting I lamented that the Virginia farm wine industry was actually becoming wine bars hidden behind farm tax laws and warned you to ask about tasting charges before you rack up a bill.

Today's posting is not about wine but rather coffee, added charges and tipping specifically at the Olive Garden in Manassas. Dining out used to be relaxing. Now it's as confusing as a sudko puzzel.

The Olive Garden - Manasses

Recently, on December 17 to be exact, my husband and I had a very nice lunch at a favorite restaurant of ours, The Olive Garden.

Lunch was delicious. We had a huge appetizer of crispy calamari, chicken fingers and toasted ravioli. For entrees, I had the Tour of Italy (a little bit of everything).

I asked to substitute something else for the Fettuccino Alfredo that was part of my entree. What I had in mind was broccoli or a vegetable but the waitress said I could substitute ravioli or spagetti & meat balls.

I selected the ravioli. The way she recited the substitutions, I thought those were my only choices. She never mentioned that it would be additional. I should have asked but her manner never suggested that it wasn't.

My husband had his favorite, spaghetti and meat balls. We skipped dessert although we were tempted.

Here's what the problems were:

1. My substitutuion cost $1.95 extra which was not a lot of money but had I known I had to pay extra, I would have ordered what I really wanted - a vegetable and not the ravioli.


2. A cup of coffee cost $2.15. That's way too much money for coffee that was mediocre at best and only passable as fresh.

They served me a cup and later on the waitress asked if I wanted it warmed up (I had drunk about 1/4 of it). "Sure," I said.

The waitress brought me a small thermal pot (which might have contained another cup or a little more) and left it on the table.

Then the bill came. Had I known that coffee was $2.15 a cup, I would have sent it back and asked them to make me a fresh pot or take it off the bill. I'm sure the menu said it was $2.15 but when a waitress asks if you want coffee, the usual response is either yes or no - not may I see the menu again to check on the price.

3. On our bill was a note that an optional 18% gratuity would be added for parties of 8 or more. That's a lot of money and I don't remember seeing that on the menu anywhere. We were only 2 people so it didn't apply to us but if you're a group, you won't know that until you get the check.

Here's the Point

So here's the point of today's posting. As you make merry this holiday season or in the new year, get a clear picture in advance of what people are charging you.

The rules of dining out (and drinking out) that we all understood are gone. It's every consumer for him or herself.

Spend what you want just don't let the food industry pick your pockets with hidden charges.

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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

Want to know more about our Cooking Classes, Gadgets, Karla's Cooking Made Easy On Line Magazine or our Bed and Breakfast?

Visit our web site : http://www.cheesecakefarms.com

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas - Healthy Holiday Punches

How about some healthy holiday punches that really pack a punch!


Pomegranate and Champagne Punch
Anti-oxidants in the punch bowl? Why not!

Makes about 16 (1/2 cup) servings

1 handful fresh mint (about 1 cup) left on tender stems (remove stems if woody)
1(32 oz.) bottle pomegranate juice (chilled)
1 (750 ml) bottle Asti Spumanti or extra dry champagne (chilled)

Wash and dry mint. Lightly crush mint between the palms of your hands and put into the punch bowl. At serving time, pour juice and wine over mint. Serve chilled.

Karla's tip: Brut champagne makes a tart punch but it can be used if preferred.


Chilled Almond Tea
A non alcoholic punch is most welcome at any holiday gathering and this one is yummy!

Makes about 24 (1/2 cup) servings

8 tea bags (plain, regular tea)
12 cups water (divided)
1/2 cup sugar
2 lemons (juiced- about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons almond extract

Bring 4 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add tea bags. Cover. Steep 10 minutes. Remove teas bags and squeeze. Stir in sugar till dissolved. Chill.
At serving time, put lemon juice, extract and remaining 8 cups (cold) water into a large pitcher or punch bowl. Stir in cooled tea mixture. Serve chilled.

Hot Swedish Spiced Wine
Make ahead, if desired. Reheat for serving.

Makes about 8 (1/2 cup) servings

Peel of 1 thick skinned orange (without white pith)
1(750 ml) bottle medium sweet red Virginia wine (like Beaujolais, merlot, or table wine)
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
3 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup whole blanched almonds

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Cover and heat to steaming. Remove from heat and steep (covered) 5 minutes to blend flavors. Serve hot. Ladle into a chafing dish or slow cooker to keep warm, if desired.

Karla's tip: A vegetable peeler works well to remove peel from the orange. Try to keep the peel in 1 continuous spiral. It looks extra nice floating in the wine. Reserve the orange pulp for another use.


Steaming Cider and White Wine Punch
Can be made a day in advance and reheated at serving time.

Makes about 16 (1/2 cup) servings

1 1/2 cups dried apples (pieces, halves or rings)
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 (750ml) bottle medium sweet, white Virginia wine
4 cups apple cider (1 quart)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
4 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and heat, covered, until steaming. Do not boil. Cook 5 minutes to blend flavors. Serve hot. Ladle into a chafing dish or slow cooker to keep warm, if desired.

Karla's tip: Brown sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste may be used instead of granulated sugar. If you prefer, sugar may be omitted entirely.


Paula Luddy's Christmas Wassail
This festive libation is specialty of Paula Luddy, wife of the president of the Brandy Station Foundation, who makes it for their annual Christmas party.

The foundation is dedicated to the restoration of the Graffiti House, a Civil War era hospital at Brandy Station near Culpeper, Virginia.

Makes about 24 (6 oz.) portions

2 oranges
2 lemons
Whole cloves (about 2 tablespoons)
3 liters red Virginia wine (your favorite kind)
1 1/2 liters ginger ale (about 1 1/2 quarts)
3/4 cup sugar
8 small cinnamon sticks
Nutmeg to taste

Stud oranges and lemons with whole cloves. Slice into wedges. Stir remaining ingredients together in a slow cooker. Add studded citrus wedges. Add studded citrus wedges and put on lid. Set cooker on high. Cook one hour then reduce temperature to low and simmer "forever", Paula says, which will keep the wassail warm for serving right from the slow cooker.


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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

Want to know more about our Cooking Classes, Gadgets, Karla's Cooking Made Easy On Line Magazine or our Bed and Breakfast?

Visit our web site : http://www.cheesecakefarms.com/

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tips for Crispy Chanuka Latkas

It's early morning here at Cheesecake Farms.

It's drizzling that drizzle they've been predicting all week but so far it's a warm, gentle drizzle - not the freezing rain they've been predicting.

Yesterday, we worked like mad to plant the last of our fall perrennials so they'd be tucked into their winter homes before the big freeze came.

To my memory, it's never been this warm in Virginia so we dragged our feet about getting everything planted earlier.

We tilled most of the vegetable garden, too, for it's winter sleep.

Holiday parties are everywhere this year and going to them has been great fun.

Yesterday, Tony and I attended a Chanuka party at Mark and Laura Mensch's. They always have great parties with crowds of interesting people. They know EVERYBODY!

The conversation was lively - from "What's Europe's role in the 21st century?" to "Invasive, red wiggler worms are changing the pH of Viginia's soil!" to "How can I get Christine Fox (an upscale local store) to sell my hand crafted silk felted scarfs?"

Laura made tons of Latkas (potato pancakes) that were crispy and light - as delicious as I've ever tasted.

I hung around her kitchen begging for some tips and here's what Laura had to share:

1. Use Yukon gold or russet potatoes for latkas.

2. Prepare the onions and potatoes by washing, peeling and cutting them into chunks but keep them submerged in cool water to keep them from turning brown.

3. Shred the onions and potatoes just before you're ready to fry them - not before.

4. By hand, squeeze out all the extra water.

5. Use peanut oil for frying or (if you're alergic to peanuts) canola oil.

6. Serve hot with home made apple sauce and sour cream.


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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

Want to know more about our Cooking Classes, Gadgets, Karla's Cooking Made Easy On Line Magazine or our Bed and Breakfast?

Visit our web site : http://www.cheesecakefarms.com/

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas - Last Minute Gifts from the Kitchen

Where did this week go?

We're expecting dreadful weather this weekend here in Fauquier County, Virginia, so it's a great time to whip up some last minute gifts from the kitchen.

Cookies are always a welcomed gift but here's some other ideas to inspire you.


Butter Toffee Popcorn
Better make 2 batches because you're sure to eat one!

Makes about 5 cups popcorn
Pan size not important but a 10 1/2 X 15 X 1 inch jelly roll pan works well

6 cups plain popped corn (1/4 -1/3 cup un-popped corn)
1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/2 stick butter (margarine not recommended)
2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Pop corn according to package directions. Spread on a large pan to cool. Using your hand, loosely pick up popped corn letting any un-popped kernels fall through your fingers and back onto pan. Put only well popped kernels into a bowl. Set aside. Discard un-popped or partially popped kernels.

Position oven rack so corn will bake in center. Preheat to 200 degrees. (Yes, 200 very low degrees.) Coat pan with cooking spray.

Put remaining ingredients (except baking soda) into a small, heavy pot. Heat over medium until butter melts. Stir mixture to combine. Cover pot. Cook 1 minute. Remove cover. When mixture starts to bubble around edges, lower heat and cook 4 minutes more. Do not over cook.

Working quickly, remove pot from heat, stir in baking soda and pour over popped corn. Toss quickly to coat. Spread in a single layer on prepared pan. Bake 1 hour, stirring mixture every 15 minutes. Do not over bake.

Remove from oven. Stir one last time. Let cool completely in pan (at least an hour) before packaging as gifts.


White Wine Mustard Sauce
Easy, quick and yummy!

Makes about 2 cups sauce
No cooking required!

1 1/2 cups brown hot dog mustard (like Guldens Spicy Brown)
1/3 - 1/2 cup sweet or medium sweet, white wine (like Vidal or a Vidal blend)

Whisk together, adding white wine to desired consistency. Pour into decorative jars or crocks and refrigerate.

At gift giving time, add a tag that says:
White Wine Mustard Sauce
For turkey, roasts, grilled meats, seafood and pretzels.
Keep refrigerated.

Karla's tip: Make several days ahead and refrigerate to let flavors mellow.


Lovely Lavender Tea
A warming treat for bone chilling days.

1 cup loose black tea
1/4 cup dried lavendar flowers (no stems)
1/4 cup dried chamomile flowers (no stems)
1/4 cup dried jasmine flowers (no stems)

Toss everything together and pack into a fancy bag, pretty container or 1/2 pint canning jar. Wrap festively. Add a tag or label that says:

Use 1 teaspoon tea (or to taste) per 6-8 ozs. boil water. Steep 3-5 minutes. Strain. Serve with honey, if desired.


Karla's tip: Buy "loose" black tea in the grocery store.

Loose tea is tea that's not in tea bags. If there isn't any loose tea in the regular tea section, try the imported foods or gourmet section. If all else fails, get tea bag tea and open up enough bags to measure 1 cup.

Black tea is regular tea - not green tea or herbal tea.

Karla's tip 2: Edible dried flowers are available in most health food stores in case you don't have any saved from last summer's herb garden.

If not available, get lavender, chamomile and/or jasmine tea that's 100% lavendar, chamomile and/or jasmine.

Do not use flowers from the florist. They are usually sprayed with insecticides.


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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

Want to know more about our Cooking Classes, Gadgets, Karla's Cooking Made Easy On Line Magazine or our Bed and Breakfast?

Visit our web site : http://www.cheesecakefarms.com/

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas - Hors d'oeuvres

Christmas is inching up on us day by day.

For the past 20 plus years, I've worked like crazy through Christmas all the way to New Years Eve getting Cheesecake Truffles (tm) dipped and hors d'oeuvre cheesecakes made for holiday parties every where from New York to Florida plus a cheesecake or two to far off California.

It was a tremendious labor of love all those years but now that I've retired from commercial baking, I vowed to party the entire month of December.

So this year, I still have holiday parties scheduled all month long but now I'm attending them not preparing food for them. I'm having a ball!

Let's start the festivities with an hor doeuvre recipe and a few holiday tips.

Social Graces

Here in the metro Washington, DC area we have people from all over the country (not to mention all over the world!) who all have different customs.

More and more, when one receives an invitation to a party, you hear people respond with "Great ! What can I bring?"

While it's a very lovely mid-western custom to bring a dish when invited somewhere, here in the south, it's annoying.

We pride ourselves in gracious southern hospitality and have gone to great lengths to plan the perfect party.

If you bring a dish, albeit splendid, our lovely southern manners obligate us to graciously thank you and put it out for the guests even though you've spoiled our so carefully made plans. It may seem trivial to non southerners but to us it's a big thing!

Here in the south, when your receive an invitation, simply say "thank you" then indicate whether or not you can attend. Never ask, "What can I bring?"

This is entirely different from a pot luck or covered dish supper which the host or hostess will tell you about up front when extending the invitation.

If you've asked "What can I bring?" and the host or hostess says "Oh nothing, just come and be a guest", in southern speak that means DON'T bring a dish but STILL DO bring a gift.

Good manners here in the south dictate that you MUST bring the host or hostess a modest, tasteful gift in appreciation for invitation.

A bottle of wine. Some nice flowers. A box of candy. A loaf of tea bread, plate of holiday cookies, a jar of fancy jam. An extravagant bar of hand made soap. If you've made it or it's from your garden, so much the better. Price is not the concern for the gift. Good taste, here in the south, is always what's important.

And when you invite a southerner, they won't ask if they can bring a dish. They'll know that it's their time to be the guest and your time to let your good taste in hospitality shine.

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Here's a couple of easy hors d'oeuvres to start you out!

Merry Cherry Tomatoes
Prepare up to 4 hours in advance but not longer or the coating will get gummy.

Makes about 2 dozen hors d'oeuvres

1 pint fresh cherry or grape tomatoes (see cook's tip below)
1 (.5-.7) oz. package dry ranch salad dressing mix (or 3 tablespoons your favorite spice blend -with or without salt)

Wash tomatoes under tepid running water and drain but do not dry. Put salad dressing mix (or spice blend) into a plastic bag. Toss damp tomatoes in spice to coat. Put into serving dish. Serve with tooth picks along side.

Karla's tip: When selecting tomatoes for this recipe, the smaller, the better. Get a size that can easily be put into the mouth whole - without having to bite it in half to eat.


Jolly Old Guacamole
Don't throw away that left over spice blend from the Merry Cherry Tomatoes! Use it to spice up this festive twist on guacamole.

Makes about 1 cup

1 ripe avocado (about 3/4 cup mashed pulp)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely minced onion (regular, red or Vidalia)
1 tablespoon dry salad dressing mix (or your favorite spice blend)
Salt and pepper to taste

Chunky mash avocado (an old fashioned, hand-held potato masher works well). Stir in remaining ingredients. Chill before serving.

Karla's tip: Serve this in the bowl of a chip and dip platter. Put the Merry Cherry Tomatoes where the chips go. The red and green color combination makes a festive presentation. Serve crackers, party rye or chips along side.


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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

Want to know more about our Cooking Classes, Gadgets, Karla's Cooking Made Easy On Line Magazine or our Bed and Breakfast?

Visit our web site : http://www.cheesecakefarms.com

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Christmas - A Big Batch of Cookie Recipes!!

Well, I hope you have been baking up a storm with all those cookie recipes I've been posting.

How about a few last cookie recipes before we start with holiday hors d'oeuvres!


Double Fudge Chocolate Chip Cookies
Like a chocolate chip cookie only fudgier and chocolatey-er. I can't think of anything more yummy than sitting down with a plateful of these and an icy glass of milk!

Makes 2 dozen (2 1/2 inch) cookies
Uses parchment lined cookie sheets

12 oz semi sweet chocolate chips (divided)
3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour (white)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup walnuts (halves and pieces)

Put 6 oz. chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl. Put butter on top. Microwave until butter and chocolate are melted. Stir together well. Cool slightly.

Meanwhile whisk together eggs, sugar, flour and baking powder. Stir into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining chocolate chips and walnuts. Dough will look like a batter rather than a cookie dough. Refrigerate dough about 1/2 hour (longer is OK) or until it firms up enough to shape into balls.

When dough is chilled and you're ready to bake, position oven rack so cookies will bake in center. Preheat to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Greasing cookie sheets, using pan spray or non stick pans not recommended.)

Divide dough evenly into 24 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place balls about an inch apart on parchment lined pans. Bake cookie 10-14 minutes or until bottom is lightly browned. When done, cookies should look shiny and set but the centers will be soft and fudgey.

Remove cookie from oven. Cool on pan 1 minute then slide entire sheet of parchment paper (with cookies on it) onto cooling rack. Let cookies cool completely ( at least 1 hour) before attempting to remove from parchment.

Karla's cookie tip: There are only 3 tablespoons of flour in this recipe which may look strange but it's right.


Honey Rum Chocolate Balls
An adult, make ahead cookie that's a must on every southern table. Don't waste these on the kiddies!

Makes 2 1/2 dozen (1 inch) cookies
No baking required but cookies need to mellow about 2 weeks

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons honey
2 3/4 cups vanilla cookies (crushed into fine crumbs)
1/2 cup powdered sugar (sifted)
1 cup walnuts (chopped)
1/2 cup dark rum (approximately)

Put chocolate and honey into a microwave safe bowl. Heat until just melted - about 2 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients adding enough rum to make a mixture that you can form into 1 inch balls.

Roll balls in powdered sugar or dip into additional melted chocolate. Refrigerate or freeze at least 2 weeks before serving to let the flavors mellow. At serving time, roll powdered sugar coated balls in additional sugar.

Karla's cookie tip: If the mixture is a little too soft to form into balls because you've added a bit too much rum, simply add additional cookie crumbs to thicken it.



Yummy Raisin Bars
So wonderful you won't be able to stop munching.
Make filling first so it can cool a bit while you make the crust and crumbs. There are no eggs in this recipe.

Makes one (8 X 8 X 2 inch) pan

Filling
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch salt
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups raisins

Stir sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a medium sauce pan.. Whisk in water and lemon juice. Stir in raisins. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick - about 3 minutes. Cool at room temperature while preparing crust and crumbs.


Crust and Crumbs
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 stick butter (1/2 cup, melted - margarine not recommended)
1 1/4 cups old fashioned oatmeal (uncooked - instant or quick cooking not recommended)
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (coarsely chopped or use 1/4 cup sunflower seeds)

Mix everything but nuts (or sunflower seeds) together using a heavy duty mixer until it looks like uniform crumbs. (Mixture will not come together. It stays like crumbs and does not make a dough.) Stir in nuts or seeds by hand.

Spread 1/2 the mixture into the bottom of ungreased pan. Using fingers, evenly press crumbs down firmly. (Mixture looks like it won't work, but it does!)

Dollop raisin filling over top and carefully (so you don't disturb the bottom crumbs) spread to cover. Sprinkle remaining crumbs evenly over entire top and using fingers and or palm of hand, press down firmly.

Bake 25-35 minutes or until top crumbs are lightly browned and firm to a medium touch. Do not over bake.

Remove from oven, cool 10 minutes in pan then press a knife into cookies to cut into squares and loosen edges. Leave cookies in pan until completely cooled - about 1 hour. Cut through cookies again before removing from pan.

Karla's cookie tip: To cut neatly, press the knife into cookies and lift knife to reposition. Do not drag knife though cookies.


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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

Want to know more about our Cooking Classes, Gadgets, Karla's Cooking Made Easy On Line Magazine or our Bed and Breakfast?

Visit our web site : http://www.cheesecakefarms.com

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christmas - Gingerbread Cookie Recipes

Today's recipes are all for gingerbread men because I love each of these recipes for there own unique-ness.

We make all three here at Cheesecake Farms. You just can never have too many gingerbread men !

These recipes use the same basic technique that was used for yesterday's butter cut outs.

Easy, Bread Flour Gingerbread Men
This recipe uses high gluten bread flour instead of the usual all purpose flour which means the cookies are sturdier and will never loose an arm or a leg when you take them off the pan!

Makes 20 (5 X 3 X 1/4 inch) cookies

1 stick butter (softened - margarine not recommended)
3/4 cup sugar
3-3/4 cups white bread flour (not all purpose)
3/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk, kiefer or thin, plain yogurt
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon regular, plain salt)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground, dried ginger
Decorations: 1 recipe white chocolate icing (recipe follows)

Cream butter and sugar together. Stir in molasses and buttermilk (or kiefer or yogurt). Mix all dry ingredients together then stir into molasses mixture. Can be rolled out right away or refrigerate dough up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, position oven rack so cookies will bake in center. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets or line with baking parchment.

Divide dough into 3 parts. Roll out 1 part of dough 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut into shapes. Place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake 7-8 minutes in preheated oven or until bottoms are nicely browned.

Cool 1 minute on pan then slide parchment sheet (with cookies still on it) onto cooling rack.
(When using a greased pan, remove cookies after 1 minute with a spatula.)

When cookies are completely cooled (at least 1 hour - longer is OK) decorate with white chocolate icing (recipe below).

Lebkuchen
An old Germany honey cookie that makes wonderful gingerbread men - even though the recipe doesn't call for any ginger.

Makes about 15 (5 X 3 X 1/4 inch) cookies

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup white vegetable shortening or natural shortening
1 large or extra large egg (1/4 cup)
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
2 -3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon regular, plain salt)
Decorations: 1 recipe white chocolate icing (recipe follows)

Cream shortening and sugar together. Beat in egg and lemon rind. Mix flour, baking soda and salt together then stir into butter mixture. Can be rolled out right away or refrigerate dough up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, position oven rack so cookies will bake in center. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets or line with baking parchment.

Divide dough into 2 parts. Roll out 1 part of dough 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut into shapes. Place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake 7-8 minutes in preheated oven or until cookies are firm to the touch.

Cool 1 minute on pan then slide parchment sheet (with cookies still on it) onto cooling rack. (When using a greased pan, remove cookies after 1 minute with a spatula.)

When cookies are completely cooled (at least 1 hour - longer is OK) decorate with white chocolate icing (recipe below).


Karla's Spicy Gingerbread Men
The black pepper in this recipe may seem odd but it makes the cookies wonderfully spicy. Roll these cookies thinner than the other two recipes.

Makes about 3 dozen (5 X 3 X 1/8 inch) cookies

4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoons ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon regular grind black pepper
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons water
1 large or extra large egg (1/4 cup)
Decorations: 1 recipe white chocolate icing (recipe follows)

Stir all dry ingredients together. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add molasses, water and egg. Stir in dry ingredient mixture.

Dough can be rolled out right away or refrigerate dough up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, position oven rack so cookies will bake in center. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets or line with baking parchment.

Divide dough into 4 parts. Roll out 1 part of dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut into shapes. Place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake 7-10 minutes in preheated oven or until cookies are lightly browned on the bottom. Cool 1 minute on pan then slide parchment sheet (with cookies still on it) onto cooling rack. (When using a greased pan, remove cookies after 1 minute with a spatula.)

When cookies are completely cooled (at least 1 hour - longer is OK) decorate with white chocolate icing (recipe below).


White Chocolate Icing
Makes enough for a simple decoration of eyes, mouth and buttons. Make 1 batch of icing at a time - making additional batches as you need them. You can't rehear white chocolate repeatedly.

1 cup white chocolate confectionary coating discs or baking chips (approximately)
1 tablespoon white or natural vegetable shortening (butter, margarine or oil not recommended)
Pastry bag with a small writing tip


Put the white chocolate into a heat safe container (I like to use a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup). Put the shortening on top. Microwave till shortening has melted but chocolate is almost melted - about 1 minute.

Remove from microwave and stir till completely smooth. Pour into prepared pastry bag. Pipe each gingerbread man with 2 round eyes, 1 round mouth and 3 round buttons on chest. Refrigerate decorated cookies about 5 minutes to set chocolate.

No pastry bag?
Put melted and smooth stirred white chocolate into a new plastic picnic squirt bottle for ketchup or mustard. (White chocolate will pick up flavors from a previously used bottle even though the bottle is clean.)

The tiny hole in the nozzel is just the right size for decorating. If chocolate gets hard between decorating batches, put chocolate filled container into very warm water till chocolate melts again. (Like warming a baby bottle.) Do not microwave these bottles. They'll melt.

More recipes tommorrow!

Today's baking tip:
Make cookie baking effortless by preparing the dough one day and baking the next. Works for most recipes!

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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

Want to know more about our Cooking Classes, Gadgets, Karla's Cooking Made Easy On Line Magazine or our Bed and Breakfast?

Visit our web site : http://www.cheesecakefarms.com/

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Christmas - Cookie Recipes !!

Let's start baking!

Butter Cut Outs
A nice, buttery tasting cookie that's so easy to make you don't even need to soften the butter!

Makes about 4 dozen (2 1/2 inch) cookies
Special equipment: Food processor, parchment (baking) paper, cookie cutters

No food processor? See note below.

1 cup sugar
2 sticks cold butter (margarine not recommended)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus extra to roll out dough)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large or extra large egg (1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

Put sugar, then butter into the food processor. Pulse briefly - about 30 seconds - until butter is in smallish pieces and starts to be creamed into the sugar.

Add flour and baking powder. Pulse again until butter is creamed and flour starts to mix in - about 30 seconds more.

Add remaining ingredients and process until a nice smooth dough is formed - about 30 seconds. Dough will be soft.

Remove from processor and refrigerate at least an hour - up to 24 hours is OK.

When ready to bake, position oven rack so cookies will bake in center. Preheat to 375 degrees.
Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop half the dough onto a floured surface (use about 2 tablespoons flour). Work the dough lightly with your hands to soften. Pat into a 4 inch circle and place onto floured surface. Spread 2 more tablespoons of flour evenly on top of the dough circle. Lightly roll out to a thickness of 1/4 inch.

Cut out shapes. Place 2 inches apart on prepared pans. Brush off excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Bake 7-8 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. Remove from oven and slide entire parchment sheet (with cookies on it) off onto a cooling rack.

Remove cookies from parchment when completely cooled - about 1/2 hour.

Baker's tips:
1. The baking time varies according to the thickness of the dough, the shape of the cookie and the oven. Always bake a test cookie to determine the right baking time for your cookies.

2. If your dough seems too soft, knead in a little extra flour, a tablespoon at a time. Most roll out cookie dough recipes take into account that you will be adding additional flour as you roll out the dough.

3. Never re-roll scraps until all the dough has been rolled out then gather all the scraps together and re-roll. Don't re-roll the re-rolled scrapes until all the re-rolled scraps have been rolled out then gather all the re-rolled scraps together and re-re-roll out a third time continuing the same as nedded until all the dough is used up. This keeps all the cookies uniform in the amount of flour they contain.

4. Cookies can be baked on an ungreased cookie sheet but then you have to wash the cookie sheet (and dry it very well) before baking another batch. Once you start baking on parchment you'll wonder what took you so long!

No food processor?

Soften the butter by leaving it at room temperature for about 3/4 an hour.

(I know you'll be tempted to microwave it but the butter must NOT melt or your cookies will be tough. To microwave refrigerator temperature butter, cut it into chunks and heat only about 20 seconds then let it sit at room temperature about 10 minutes before using. Butter should be mashable with a spoon.)

Cream softened butter by hand (using a wooden or metal spoon) or with a heavy duty electric mixer. Cream in sugar. Add egg and whip till fluffy. Stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate dough 1 hour (or up to 24). Continue as above.

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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas - Cookie Baking Tips

Ready to bake?

Let's get started with some basic cookie recipe tips to help you make the best cookies ever!

Choosing Your Cookie Cutters

1. Choose a sharp edge, metal cutter

When choosing cookie cutters, make sure they have a cutting edge that is metal. This will give you a clean cut.

Plastic cookie cutters are a waste of money. They don't really cut through the dough (they sort of squash their way through the dough) so the cookies are often mis-shapen or do not separate neatly.

Stainless steel cutters are the best because they don't rust but they're impossible to find except through bakery supply houses and they are rather expensive.

Most metal cookie cutters are tin plated. They'll last a couple of seasons if you wash and dry them very carefully but they'll eventually rust out making them unsafe to use for food. It's disappointing because it's always your favorite cookie cutter that rusts out first!

The cutting edge of a metal cutter should be a little on the sharp side, although it's not sharp like a knife - just sharp enough to make a clean cut.

Copper cookie cutters are a nice, good looking alternative to the tin or stainless steel cutters. They're pretty so you can display them on your kitchen walls when they're not in use. They cost much more than the tin cutters but not nearly as much as stainless steel.

2. Simple designs work best

It's easy to be tempted by elaborate cookie cutters which often have many small components to the design but simple cutters work best.

When your cookie cutter has a large, simple overall design, the dough will easily release from the cutter. If the spaces are small (like ears on a horse or dog cutter for example) the dough often sticks in those areas yielding mis-shapen cookies.

Add design touches with frosting and other decorations rather than trying to get intricate detail from the dough.

3. Dip your cutter in flour

As you cut out your cookies, dip the cutting edge of your cutter in flour each time you cut the dough and occassionally rub the cutting ege clean with your finger to remove an minute traces of stickiness.

Never dip your cutter in sugar or powdered sugar. Both will make the dough stick to the cutter.
Tomorrow - Great recipes for cut outs!


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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

Want to know more about our Cooking Classes, Gadgets, Karla's Cooking Made Easy On Line Magazine or our Bed and Breakfast?

Visit our web site : http://www.cheesecakefarms.com/