December 19 – December 25, 2022
Tuesday: Dinner and Holiday Cheer at Hilda and Tim’s
Christmas Eve: Salumi, Cheese Olives and Bread sticks. Green Salad with Tomatoes, Clementines and Feta. Chicken Stroganoff. Beez’s orange cookies a la Grandma Kelly
Christmas: Antipasto Plate. Filet of Beef. Potato and Fennel Gratin. Green Bean Salad. Applesauce Cake with Bourbon Raisins
December 26, 2022 – January 1, 2023
Monday: Oysters / Hash with Filet of Beef / Bourbon Arnold Palmers
Wednesday: Cheese Steaks
Thursday: Sweet and Sour Pork Chops with Mock Frites
Friday: Ravioli en Brodo
New Year’s Eve: Appetizers: Goat Cheese Crostini with Olives, Roasted Tomatoes or Chutney, Salumi, Cheese, Olives, Cucumber and Crackers / Winter Pork and Fruit Ragout with Steamed Rice / Ceil’s English Trifle
Sweets and Starters
We had so much (too much) good food over the two holiday weeks that it’s hard to choose a recipe to share. So we will retreat from main courses for this week and focus on appetizers and cookies.
*Hilda’s dinner on the Tuesday before last, Ceil’s English Trifle, Ina Garten’s Ravioli en Brodo and our own – near perfect – recreation of a Philly Cheese Steak (yes, it had Cheese Whiz).
And, when you think of it, the start to a meal as well as its ending have everything to do with the complete experience. Serve someone a bad oyster for starters and, even if they survive, you’ll find it difficult to get them into the spirit of things later. End with a pastry purchased from a vending machine at your local gas station and your guests may never return.*
*As a traveling salesman, I can attest that long hours on the road can drive a person to buy and ingest some of the odd things on sale at the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Service Plazas or the mini-mart gas stations of New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia. In my younger days, with my iron stomach, I have had a fair amount of ‘Little Debbies’ confections, as well as jalapeño popcorn and barbecued cashews. As I matured, I became a sucker for Starbucks’s chocolate almonds. While costing roughly the same as a good dinner in most third world countries, those babies, accompanied by a latte with a double shot of espresso will keep you alert on that final, weary 200 miles before you get home after your exciting day in Scranton or Hagerstown.
So . . . what have we learned about starters and cookies in the last two weeks?
I’ll begin with something we rarely eat and have never written about in this blog – cookies. For years, Barbara has been dreaming about her Grandma Kelly’s orange cookies and asking around among family members if anybody had the recipe or might be able to find it in the boxes of photos and memorabilia that families accumulate, like ships accrete barnacles, over time. Frankly, I never knew whether the orange cookies were really a great thing or something that had achieved that status by just being part of a happy childhood. But this year, Barbara decided that she would try to recreate that cookie of family legend for Christmas and we found a recipe that looked promising and, with my help (I lugged the 25 lb. stand mixer out to the kitchen counter) she made those cookies and they were absolutely take-them-away-from-me-or-I-will-eat-all-four-dozen great. They were a hit on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and Day and last Tuesday – 11 days after they were baked! So, we are going to share, if not Grandma Kelly’s, at least granddaughter Barbara’s recipe for orange cookies.
As for appetizers: In my opinion, nothing beats frazzled salami, olives, cheese and breadsticks. But Ina Garten’s Crostini with Goat Cheese and Olives comes close. Since SWMBO is not an olive fancier, we created our own versions with chutney (Beez’s brilliant suggestion) and roasted tomatoes with basil. These are not only very good but very good looking appetizers and easy to eat – hand-held and disposable in one bite. The basic recipe comes from Ina’s newest cookbook which is worth double its cost. (Go-To Dinners)
Grandma Kelly’s (Barbara’s) Orange Cookies
(adapted from recipe in December 13, 2022, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Beez grew up eating these cookies and, on her first try at recreating them did as well as Grandma Kelly.
Timing: 75 minutes (note: you need to have the butter at room temp or softer)
40 minutes to mix and bake cookies / 30 minutes to cool / 5 minutes to ice
Serves: Well, this makes about 4 dozen cookies, but they are so good that it will probably serve fewer people than you imagine.
Heat oven to 375 with rack in middle position
For the cookies:
1 orange zested and juiced / 4 cups flour / 1 teaspoon baking soda / 2 teaspoons baking power
2 sticks butter, softened / 2 eggs / 2 cups sugar / 1 cup buttermilk, divided
For the icing:
20 ounces powdered sugar / 1 orange zested and juiced / 1 teaspoon melted butter
Make Cookie Dough:
Mix flour, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl – a good whisking will evenly distribute the ingredients.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, eggs, the zest of one orange and the sugar. Next, add ½ of the dry mixture to the mixing bowl and, with the mixer running, add half of the buttermilk, then the juice of one orange.
Now, with the mixer running, add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients along with the remaining half of the buttermilk.
Finally, add the remaining 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
On one very large or several baking sheets, drop the dough, by spoonful. Bake for 9 – 10 minutes – you want to see just a bit of brown at the circumference.
Remove baking trays and set on racks to cool.
Make the Icing:
In large bowl, combine powdered sugar, the juice and zest of one orange and the melted butter until smooth and creamy. Add more juice if needed.
When the cookies are completely cooled, move to a platter and ice.
Goat Cheese Toasts
(adapted from Ina Garten, Go-To Dinners)
Unless you’re up for pouring chips into a bowl, this is as simple as appetizers get.
Provided your Goat Cheese is at room temp, 30 minutes (10 minutes to bring oven to 400 F, 10 minutes, or less, to bake baguette, 5 minutes to cool, 5 minutes to dress the toasts).
1 Fresh Baguette / Olive Oil / Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
1 or 2 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise – we omitted this, since we don’t like garlicky appetizers
8 ounces creamy goat cheese / Pitted green olives (Castelvetrano are perfect), halved
Preheat oven to 400 F / Halve Olives / Slice baguette on a bias (diagonally) to 1/3 – ½ in thickness
Place baguette slices on sheet pan and brush with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper
Put sheet pan in oven and bake baguette for 8-10 minutes. You’re looking for the slices to be well-browned. As soon as slices come out of the oven, Ina rubs one side with the garlic halves – we skipped this, Beez is not big on raw garlic.
Note: You must let baguette slices cool before spreading with goat cheese.
Assemble hors d’oeuvres:
After baguette slices have cooled, spread with goat cheese, top with halved olives and grind a bit more pepper over the whole deal.
We suggest the following alternative toppings – spread Major Grey’s Chutney on 1/3 of the slices – top 1/3 of the slices with roasted cherry tomato halves and basil.