Sicilian Fig Cookies

I absolutely love the holiday season!!  In every way, the season is a magical and happy time!  Through the bustle of it all, I remind myself I am not overwhelmed… I’m overblessed!  I’m blessed with a sweet, loving daughter, a caring and kind son, and two little chihauhaus that love me endlessly!  And just when I least expect it….surprises come my way, like a visit from The Fairy Hobmother!!  Continue reading “Sicilian Fig Cookies”

Anisette Cookies

The Italian Anisette Cookie.  The familiar “S” shaped cookie with the white icing and colored sprinkles.  It just wouldn’t be an Italian Cookie Tray without it!  Many may not like the distinct licorice taste from the oil of anise so at times I’ve left it out to please those who were not familiar with it or in finding the crushed herb seeds in their cookies! Continue reading “Anisette Cookies”

Traditions of Christmas Pasts, Italian Tutu Cookies

My earliest memories of Christmas were watching my mother bake cookies.  The kitchen was filled with the most wonderful aromas as tray after tray of cookies emerged out of the oven.  My mother worked diligently and calmly; I often wonder how she effortlessly produced so many cookies.  She was also a perfectionist.  I had to learn how to apply the sprinkles on cookies just so by demonstrating that I would not overload them with sugar.  She had rolling and cutting out cookies to an art.   She cut the shapes precisely and close to each other not to waste dough as she said rerolling the dough caused the cookie to be tough.  Again, until I mastered that skill, I was not cutting out the cookies! Continue reading “Traditions of Christmas Pasts, Italian Tutu Cookies”

Pumpkin Rugelach

The weather over the last few days is exactly what I love about living in Florida.  The humidity has left behind cool breezes ranging in temperatures from the mid 80s in the day to mid 60s at night.  My first Halloween here was when I feel in love with this climate.  When we were living up North the possibility of snow on Halloween was not uncommon.  Bundling the kids in winter coats totally covering their costumes; unless they were wearing masks or tiaras it was hard to see what the kids were dressed up as!

That first year on Halloween the evening was cool.  The kids were dressed in costumes and as we walked through the neighborhood people were sitting out in their driveway, not behind closed doors keeping warm, but sitting in chairs with family and friends passing out candy!  Home and after home was decorated.  It was so welcoming and fun!  Some of the families were grilling dinner enjoying a whole night of celebration.  I remember we walked and walked for hours!   Definitely accummulating more candy than my kids needed!

I do miss those days when I had little ones to walk through the neighborhood.  Halloween and all those pumpkins will always be dear to me!  And anyway I can slip in pumpkin to a recipe, you know I will!  Rugulach is always on my Chistmas Cookie tray so I thought I could easily swap out the sweet preserves with pumpkin.  As I don’t like overly sweet desserts, I only added 1 tablespoon of brown sugar to the pumpkin puree.  For a sweeter taste, increasing the tablespoon to two would sweeten it up more. 

As I make note at the end of the recipe, freezing half of the unbaked cookies to bake for another day allows me to be “party” ready for entertaining in the next month.  Pumpkin for me ends at Thanksgiving.  I give it my all for the months of October and November and then it’s over until next year!!

Pumpkin Rugelach

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Parties! Cookbook

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose white flour

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup pecans,  finely chopped

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash  In a large mixing bowl, cream the cheese and butter with the paddle attachment until light.  Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, salt and vanilla.  Add the flour and mix  until combined.  Dump the dough out onto a well floured board and roll into a  ball. Cut the ball in quarters, wrap each piece in pastic and refrigerate for  one hour, or overnight.

To make the filling, combine 6  tablespoons of granulated sugar, the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon  cinnamon, the dried cranberries and pecans.  In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, tablespoon of brown sugar and cinnamon together and  refrigerate until needed.

On a well-floured board, roll each  ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons pumpkin  puree mix and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling.

Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges—cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with Slipat or parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon  cinnamon and  sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool. Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Note:  I baked half of the batch and froze the rest on a cookie sheet.  When completely frozen put  the unbaked cookies in a container and save for another time.  Do not defrost and bake for 2o minutes.  Can be frozen up to 2 months.  Great idea for holiday cookies all ready to go!

Pumpkin Oatmeal and Raisin Biscotti

How could I let this pumpkin season go by without filling my cookie jar with pumpkin biscotti!!  These are so full of fall flavors that my kitchen immediately filled with the warm aroma of pumpkin and spice.  Oatmeal and spices makes these more rustic in appearance; the texture is crisp and the flavor screams fall.  I’ve gotten into the habit now of using a mix of dried currants, golden, dark and cranberry or cherry. I like how the different colors look like the changing colors of fall leaves.

If you’re not into raisins, as I’ve just learned from Katherine about Greg at Rufus’ Guide to Food and Spirits, you can swap the raisins for walnuts or check out my last year’s pumpkin biscotti recipe.

On another note, how can I delay any further acknowledging the thoughtfulness of John from the Bartolini Kitchens, Ambrosiana from Tales of Ambrosia and Stefanie at A Dash of Sugar and Spice who nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award!   Please check out their blogs; from Chicago to California to Rome, fabulous recipes, heart warming family memories, travel and all things nice!

As I had received this award awhile ago I was surprised and flattered to see my blog recognized again.   As part of the process for receiving the award, I had listed out 7 things about myself.  My daughter thought I could have come up with better things to say about myself, so with this second recognition, I kindly asked her to make a list of what she thought we the 7 things others should know about me,  And in her words, the following…..

  1. You made sure to the color of your dogs’ fur was the same as your hair color, just so everything matched perfectly
  2. It’s extremely hard for you to accept help from others, especially in the kitchen
  3. You always put others before yourself
  4. Growing up your children never had a real Christmas tree because you’re allergic
  5. You get excited over the littlest of things
  6. You would rather wear your white fox fur coat from years ago during winter than buy another

Pumpkin Oatmeal and Raisin Biscotti

2 cups white whole wheat flour

¾ cup oatmeal, not instant

½ cup turbinado sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ cup raisins, I used a mix of dark, golden and cranberry

½ cup pumpkin puree

3 eggs

1 tablespoon walnut oil

1 tablespoon pumpkin spice liquor or pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place parchment paper or a Slipat on a baking sheet.  Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir well.  In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, eggs, oil and liquor and beat well with a wire whisk.  Slowly add the wet to the dry ingredients stirring until mixture is moistened and well blended.  Divide dough in half and form two equal logs about 12 inches in length directly on the baking sheet, placing them about 3 inches apart.  The dough will be sticky, therefore slightly wet hands will help to form the dough.  Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Allow the biscotti to cool for 10 minutes then slice diagonally into ½ inch slices.  Return the slices to the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until crisp.  Remove and allow to cool on baking sheet.  Makes about 36 biscotti and can be stored covered for a few weeks.

Dried Fruit and Nut Cookies

I saw Ina Garten make these dried fruit cookies the other day and was immediately mentally jotting down my ideas to make these a bit healthier. I’m a huge fan of the Barefoot Contessa but not so much a fan of butter and sugar. I like to take dessert recipes that I find of interest and tweak them to reduce the sugar, butter/oil and swap out the white flour.

I do this with many recipes, except my family’s Italian cookies. I just cannot tweak them as I view Italian cookies normally having less butters and sugars though using white flour. It just would not be an Italian Cookie Tray at Christmas without those tried and true family recipes!

When I do remake any desserts, it’s my coworkers that are tasked with the taste testing. No one seems to ever mind and most of them are happy that my treats are not breaking their healthy eating plans. Where I work we are “encouraged” to stay fit with free gym memberships, fitness programs that have us all walking around with pedometers and tracking our progress and daily nutritional and wellness emails to keep us informed. Cookies are banned from lunch meetings and healthy foods have filled our cafeteria and vending machines.

Daily smart choices are my “diet” and being able to splurge and treat myself without feeling guilty is important to me. So these little cookies did just that! The sweetness of the dried fruit made up for reducing the sugar and for the 2 sticks of butter, I replaced 1 stick with ½ cup of applesauce and the other stick with ½ cup of plain yogurt. Sharyn at the Kale Chronicles left me that tip to use yogurt in her comment on my Medjool Date and Walnut Bread recipe.

The original recipe called for soaking the dried fruit and nuts in Sherry; I used rum. I also did not use candied cherries as typically found in fruit cake, used turbinado sugar in place of the white and brown sugar and switched to whole wheat white flour instead of white. The cookies looked exactly like the original recipe as the dough maintained its shape when baked just as it was cut from the shaped rolled log.  While I can’t compare the exast taste of her recipe to this one, those who tasted them were very pleased with the results and I’m definitely adding them to my favorite cookie recipes!

Dried Fruit and Nut Cookies

slightly adapted from Barefoot Contessa’s Dried Fruit Cookies

1 cup dried figs, stems removed and coarsely chopped

1 cup mix of dark raisins, golden raisins and cranraisins

½ cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped

¾ cup chopped pecans

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons dark rum

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

½ cup turbinado sugar

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1 extra large egg

2 2/3 cup whole wheat white flour or wheat pastry flour

¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

2 12×18 inch pieces of parchment or wax paper

In a medium size bowl, combine the figs, raisins, apricots, pecan, honey, rum lemon juice and salt. Cover and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the applesauce, yogurt and sugar until smooth.  Add in the egg and mix until combined.  Slowly add in the flour and ¼ teaspoon of salt until combined, but don’t overmix.  Add in the fruits and nuts along with any liquid.  Divide the dough in half and place each on a piece of waxed paper.  Roll each half into a log, 1 ½ inch thick by 18 inch long.  Refrigerate dough for several hours or until firm.  (I froze one of the logs to bake at another time – this log will be sliced and baked from its frozen state.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  With a sharp knife, cut the logs into ½ inch thick slices.  Place the slices ½ inch apart on ungreased sheet plans and bake until golden about 15-20 minutes   Makes about 5 dozen small cookies.

Picnic Time..PB and J Cookies and Watermelon Feta Salad!

There is something quaint and nostalgic about an old-fashioned picnic.  Not that my menu is particularly old-fashioned, but the simplicity of a picnic under a shady spot in the park.   No toting plastic coolers filled with ice, bags of charcoal or fancy food; just a nice wicker basket, a red checked tablecloth and simple bites to eat.  After being closed up in an air-conditioned office all day, I enjoy being outdoors; sharing a bottle of vino and feeling the warm breeze.  Spur of the moment, packing up my basket and heading out! 

For this little picnic, I packed up my Quinoa Tabbouleh  , some whole wheat pita bread and a Watermelon Feta Salad.  The salad is simply made with chunks of watermelon and feta, mint, olive oil, lime juice, salt, pepper and a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar.  Balsamic vinegar can be simmered until reduced to a thick glaze or purchased as such.  I packed the balsamic glaze separately to drizzle on at serving time. 

For drinks a mason jar of freshly made lemonade kept chilled with lemonade ice cubes and for dessert, these fun little PB & J cookies!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

Adapted from Real Simple Recipes

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 large egg

3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (or use chunky)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups crispy rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies)

1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry seedless jam

Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or Slipat.  Cream the butter and sugars on high in a large mixing bowl. Lower to medium speed and add the egg, peanut butter, and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture on low speed. Beat until incorporated. Fold in the rice cereal.

Using a small ice cream or cookies scoop place balls of dough on the baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Gently press the cookies with the back of a fork to create classic hatch marks. Use the end of a wooden spoon to create a shallow well in the center of each cookie and fill with a spoonful of jam.  Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, gluten and dairy free

Happy Mother’s Day!!  I remember long ago those Mother’s Day breakfasts in bed from my two adorable children!  I remember waking to hear them rustling in the kitchen, chattering away at what they each felt I would like best.  Early on, my kids knew two things…Mom liked to eat healthy and presentation was equally important!  Carefully they would carry the tray into my room, a glass of juice or water, a toasted waffle or pancake and artfully arranged fruit. 

Whatever they presented me truly didn’t stay in my memory as much as their effort and their adorable smiling, proud faces.  They watched me carefully as I ate each bite, anticipating my sighs of delight and hoping that I choose one to be my favorite.  A sibling competition rivalry…who made the best, what part of breakfast did Mom like better and how much did she eat, or finish!  I could tell in their faces they were hungry after all their hard work, so I always made sure to share my wonderful breakfast!

The best was yet to come in their handmade cards.  No store-bought card could ever compete with those made from the heart.  My daughter, always girly and flowery, full of love and kisses.  My son, wow, what a cutie he always was (and is) created his cards thoughtfully and reserved, not displaying too much “love” but just enough to get the message across and make me smile!

That was then, and this is now.  If my 20 year old and 18 year old climbed in bed with me now carrying my breakfast tray I would certainly be taken aback!  I know if Gina could get away from school and work she’d be right there in my kitchen.  Adam, unless having to get up for work, normally doesn’t surface any early than noon time.  But it really doesn’t matter.  As I sit here typing away on Mother’s Day, I have my memories, lucky, happy memories that I will cherish forever.

I baked these cookies yesterday as a little treat for myself.  I rarely deprive myself of a decadent dessert, but I do like baking up treats that will make me feel good about eating them, i.e., less guilty.  Oat flour replaces the white flour; I purchase the oat flour but I have read that it can be made by simply processing oatmeal into a flour.  While I use agave as my preferred sweetener, raw, turbinado sugar is what I used in these cookies.  See Note below for using agave.   Applesauce is my healthy substitute to butter and  just a small amount of chocolate sweetens up these little cookies!  These are a soft, cake like cookies, best stored in the refrigerator.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Naturally Thin

1 1/2 cup oat flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup raw, turbinado sugar  * Note:  Can substitute 1/4 cup agave

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (full 1/4 cup!)  (or use raisins, cranraisins or chopped nuts!)

1 teaspoon canola oil

1/3 cup almond milk

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Combine all wet ingredients in another bowl.  Add the wet to the dry and hand mix thoroughly to combine.  Using a small ice cream scoop, drop onto a parchment or Slipat lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12 minutes till lightly golden for a soft cookie, 15 minutes for a crisper cookie.  Makes about 2 dozen.

Orange Sesame Biscotti

If you’ve read my blog in the past or visited my home, biscotti is always in my cookie jar!  Biscotti is a treat I can trust to be there for me.  An old friend with history, my favorite kind of friend, that brings back memories from way back.  Crispy and crunchy, I can bake a batch and not have to worry about them getting stale or quickly downing a dozen.  An indulgence that is not overly sweet, sophisticated to dip in my wine and comforting dipped into my espresso. 

 Since I routinely bake biscotti, I am always looking for different recipes.  And I am always fascinated in other nationalities version of this type of cookie.  Mandelbrot is the Jewish “biscotti” and this recipe is adapted from a Greek recipe, Paximathakia Portokaliou!  Looks like biscotti, bakes like biscotti and tastes like biscotti!  It’s a long name for a simply delish little treat! 

 This recipe uses no dairy.  Olive oil, sesame seeds and citrus lightly flavor this crisp cookie.  I’ve shorted the “method” of baking these to follow my usual biscotti baking method.  The true recipe for these can be found at the Wednesday Chef blog. 

 Orange Sesame Greek Biscotti

 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed, pulp free orange juice

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons good, light flavored olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 ½ tablespoons organic lemon zest

¼ cup lukewarm water

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup toasted sesame seeds

3 ½ cups flour (I use white/whole wheat flour)

1/3 cup sugar

1 ¾ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with Slipat or parchment paper.  In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the orange juice.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, water cinnamon and sesame seeds.  Beat on high for about 5 minutes to fully incorporate the oil and juices.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. 

Switch the mixing beaters to a dough hook and slowly add the dry ingredients to the liquid mixture.  If you do not have a dough hook, use your hands to knead the dough until it holds together.  Add additional flour if dough appears sticky.  Remove dough from bowl and continue to knead lightly with your hands until soft and smooth.  Divide dough in two and shape each into a log on the baking sheet.  Using a floured knife cut half inch slices almost to the bottom but not all the way through on each log.

Bake the logs for 30 – 35 minutes until the logs are firm and lightly browned.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees.  Allow the cookies to cook for 10 minutes then cut the slices all the way through.  Place the slices back on the baking sheet and return to the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes until dry and crisp.  Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.   Makes about 4 dozen.