Friday, December 31, 2010

Pasta with Sundried Tomato-Red Pepper Sauce

I served this with roasted broccoli
(coming soon to a blog near you)
H A P P Y  N E W  Y E A R !

You know you need to get a life when trying a new pasta shape is the most exciting thing you've done all week (sad, but true). Usually I use penne to make this dish, but I saw this cute, twisty gemelli at the store and gave it a try (I never noticed it before, but I'm sure it was there all along). 

This is my go to pasta recipe for company...it's just something a little different with some zing. Otherwise, I'm pretty content with plain old spaghetti with tomato sauce (actually, my favorite is ultra thin cappellini, a.k.a. angel hair). It cooks really fast and I love the texture.



PASTA WITH SUNDRIED TOMATO - RED PEPPER SAUCE
Makes 5-6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped drained oil-packed sundried tomatoes (9 oz. jar)
1 (7.5 oz.) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (or more or less to taste)
1 cup heavy cream (or half 'n half)
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 pound penne (or pasta of choice)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese


1.      Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes, roasted red peppers, crushed red pepper and cream; simmer over medium heat 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup basil and simmer 1 minute longer.
2.      Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.
3.      Add sauce, cheese and remaining 1/2 cup basil to the pasta and toss to coat. Add enough reserved cooking liquid to pasta to moisten if dry.

adapted from Hollander Finegold (Eugene, OR)
gemelli draining (I already reserved some of the pasta cooking water)

What were some of my biggest highlights of 2010 you ask?  

Honestly I can't remember what I was even doing back in January, so I'd have to pick from more recent memories.  I'll go with playing the part of the tooth fairy for the first time when my daughter lost her first tooth about a month ago. It wasn't easy because she's a light sleeper, but I pulled it off. Number two is already pretty loose (and there are eighteen more after that), so I'm not out of the woods yet. Wish me luck.

Seeing the Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway was another highlight. I've always been a big fan and my daughter has the dvd's, so now she's a fan too. We were lucky enough to catch Pee Wee (and Miss Yvonne) at the side door of the theater between shows. He came out and talked to the small crowd that was still left and even talked directly to my daughter (he gave her a big hellooooo and asked her how old she is). The truly amazing part, she actually answered him. That was a big thrill!

Plus we saw They Might Be Giants do one of their family shows. I think those guys are geniuses. I had actual goosebumps. It was fantastic. If you have a small child, I highly recommend their children's cd's & dvd's (it's kid music you'll actual like listening to in the car).  Of course their regular cd's are great too.

Starting a blog has also been fun. Especially with friends and family commenting from time to time. My new favorite hobby is checking my blog stats. There's a button that shows the "audience" and I love nothing more than when a new country pops up on there.  So far the list includes the United States, Croatia, France, Pakistan, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Singapore, Belgium, Germany, Jamaica, Russia, Romania, Jordan, Luxembourg, South Africa, Turkey, New Zealand, and Canada. I don't know who most of you are, but thank you for reading my blog! Please feel free to comment or ask questions (I like to think I do this for my own amusement, but between you and me, I have a feeling if my stats didn't change, I might lose interest).

UPDATE: Since I originally posted this, the following countries have also popped up: Brazil, Australia, Greece, India, Taiwan, Bulgaria, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Serbia, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Hungary, Philippines, Macedonia, Paraguay, Colombia, Ukraine, Thailand, Israel, China, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Czech Republic, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Switzerland, Morocco, Bahrain, Sweden, Algeria, Costa Rica, Poland, Argentina, Iran, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Guam, Ireland, Peru, Finland, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Japan, New Caledonia, Vietnam, Georgia, Belarus, Venezuela, British Virgin Islands, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, Lithuania, Spain, Ghana, Estonia, Nigeria, Egypt, Latvia, Trinidad & Tobago, Cambodia, Lebanon, Cyprus, El Salvador, Malta, Guatemala, Azerbaijan, Norway, Maldives, Namibia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Malta, Nepal, Albania, Réunion, Barbados, Armenia, Kuwait, Austria, Mauritius, Syria, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Honduras, Oman, Chile, Bolivia, Montenegro, Tunisia, Sudan, Brunei, Panama, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Kenya, Fiji, Jersey, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Dominica and Botswana. Thank you all!

I'm sure I'm forgetting plenty of fabulous stuff (I'd say my memory isn't what it used to be, but it's always been pretty bad). I hope you all had a good 2010 and have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Romaine & Gorgonzola Salad with Pears, Roasted Garlic Dressing & Spiced Pecans

I suppose you'll either love or hate this salad, depending on how you feel about blue cheese. Some people think it smells like stinky gym socks. Maybe I'm smelling impaired, but I like it. If you don't like gorgonzola and would rather eat actual stinky gym socks, try another cheese or just try the roasted garlic dressing. I roasted a whole extra bulb of garlic, just so I could squish the cloves onto some bread (it was delicious, but I admit, the squishing was a major part of the appeal).
 
 ROMAINE AND GORGONZOLA SALAD WITH PEARS,
ROASTED GARLIC DRESSING AND SPICED PECANS
Makes 4-6 servings

Roasted Garlic Dressing:
11 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and black pepper to taste

8 cups bite-size pieces romaine or green leaf lettuce (about 1 large head)
1 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1-2 ripe pears, chopped 
1 cup Spiced Pecans (or plain toasted, chopped pecans would be nice too)


1.      Preheat oven to 350° F. Toss garlic with oil in small baking dish. Cover dish tightly with foil. Bake until garlic is golden and tender, about 45 minutes. Cool. Squeeze garlic from skins. Reserve oil.
2.      Transfer roasted garlic to food processor. Add honey, vinegar, cider and mustard and blend well. With processor running, slowly add reserved garlic oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
3.      Toss lettuce with 1/2 cup of the gorgonzola, chopped pears and enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and spiced pecans and serve.

adapted from Fork restaurant, Philadelphia, PA

garlic cloves before roasting (remember, don't peel them)

roasted garlic cloves


If you want to roast garlic on its own, you don't need all the extra oil in this recipe (that's for making the dressing).  Just preheat the oven to 375° F.  Slice the top off a head of garlic (so you can see just a little of each clove).  Place in a small baking dish (or on a piece of aluminum foil) and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil (try to coat all the cloves). Wrap completely with aluminum foil. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cloves are brown on the edges and the garlic is soft.  Cool and squeeze out the roasted garlic.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Spiced Pecans

Not to be confused with Sweet Cinnamon Pecans, these pecans are spicier, with just a hint of sweetness. I like pecans, but I don't have a thing for them in particular (I say that because I'm sure it looks that way with post #2 coming just two weeks after the first pecan post). I made these specifically to go on a salad that I plan on making tomorrow.  But I have to say, they're pretty good on their own...maybe in a bowl for that big New Year's Eve party. Or maybe to munch while you watch the ball drop by yourself and fall asleep in front of the tv with crumbs on your jammies (no shame, we've all been there).


SPICED PECANS

Yield: 1 pound (about 4 cups)


1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 pound pecan halves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons water


1.      Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
2.      Mix salt, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon and orange zest together in a small bowl and set aside.
3.      Place the nuts in a 10-inch heavy skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5-8 minutes until they just start to brown and smell toasted.
4.      Add the butter and stir until it melts. Add the spice mixture and stir to combine. Once combined, add both sugars and water, stirring until the mixture thickens and coats the pecans, approximately 5-7 minutes.
5.      Transfer nuts to prepared sheet pan and separate them with a fork or spatula. Allow to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container (can be stored up to 3 weeks).

adapted from Alton Brown
Mmm...can you smell the toasty nutty goodness? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Salmon with Watercress-Herb Salad & Lemon Sauce

After all the Christmas indulging, I was ready to eat something a little lighter and healthier for dinner tonight. True, there is crème fraîche in the sauce, but it doesn't take much to finish the dish (especially with the fresh herbs adding so much flavor). I served this once with Leek Soup and it was a great combination. Now I can start planning for all those New Year's indulgences and not feel quite as guilty about it (it's amazing how easily I can do that actually).


SALMON WITH WATERCRESS-HERB SALAD AND LEMON SAUCE
Yield: 6 servings

Marinade/Salmon:
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
6 6-ounce salmon fillets

Lemon Sauce:
1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
salt and black pepper to taste

Watercress-Herb Salad:
1 1/2 cups (lightly packed) watercress leaves and small sprigs
1/4 cup small fresh dill sprigs
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

6 lemon wedges for serving (optional)


1.      Marinade: Whisk honey, olive oil, shallot, lemon juice, and lemon zest in 11” x 7” x 2” glass baking dish. Add salmon fillets and turn to coat. Cover and chill at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour, turning salmon fillets occasionally.
2.      Lemon Sauce: Whisk crème fraîche, lemon juice, and lemon zest in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
3.      Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 400° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and brush with olive oil. Transfer salmon fillets, with some marinade still clinging, to baking sheet. Roast until salmon is just opaque in center, about 14 minutes.
4.      Watercress-Herb Salad:  While salmon cooks, toss watercress, dill, tarragon, lemon juice, and olive oil in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5.      Assembly: Place 1 salmon fillet on each of 6 plates. Top with watercress salad. Drizzle with lemon sauce and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve, passing additional sauce alongside.

adapted from Jeanne Thiel Kelley, Bon Appétit

marinating
on their way into the oven (I only made half the recipe)
watercress, tarragon and dill (it's nice you don't have to chop them up)
ready to dig in

Monday, December 27, 2010

White Hot Chocolate Malted

Being snowed in isn't all bad, it inspired me to come up with a new hot drink that showcases one of my favorite flavors...malt. I've always felt malt was underrated, so I'm trying my best to create a little buzz. Hopefully you'll buy some malted milk powder next time you go grocery shopping and spread the word.

Being snowed in does have its disadvantages too (like I couldn't go out and buy cream to whip). So try to picture this mug topped with beautifully piped whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed candy canes. FYI: when you sprinkle the candy canes on without the whipped cream, they just fall to the bottom (not a good photo op).


WHITE HOT CHOCOLATE MALTED
Yield: 2-3 servings

4 cups milk
3/4 to 1 cup white chocolate chips (I'm sure dark chocolate would taste good too)
3 tablespoons malted milk powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
whipped cream (optional)
crushed candy canes (optional)


1.      Combine the milk and white chocolate in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until all the white chocolate has melted.
2.      Add the malted milk powder and whisk until completely dissolved.  Whisk in vanilla extract.
3.      Divide into 2 to 3 mugs (depends on the size of your mugs).  Top with whipped cream and crushed candy canes if desired.

my backyard

I think the official total was 19 inches, but it looks like more if you ask me
(that's not a grill, it's a flat table with snow piled on top)


video
 There was so much snow, my husband Chuck was able
to build a small hill in the backyard for sledding

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cinnamon Popcorn

Ah, isn't marriage a beautiful thing? When two join together to become one and create something new that's bigger (and tastier) than they could ever hope to be separately. I am speaking, of course, about the long awaited union between popcorn and cinnamon! Maybe you haven't been awaiting it, but I've been dreaming about this day for quite some time.

Of course I'm what you'd call a popcorn enthusiast (which I'm sure has become glaringly apparent since I've posted three recipes in two months). I only hope there are more of you out there who share my fascination and appreciation for the best snack food in the world. Yes it is (I don't want to hear from you crazy pretzel fanatics). Potato chippers, you have a valid argument.


CINNAMON POPCORN
Yield: 6 quarts

3/4 cup popcorn kernels
3 tablespoons coconut oil or canola oil (needed only if popping corn in a pot)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups brown rice syrup (can substitute light corn syrup)
1 cup maple crystals (can substitute light brown sugar)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon


1.      Preheat oven to 250˚ F.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2.      Pop the popcorn in a hot air popper.  Alternately, heat popcorn and oil in a covered heavy large pot over medium-high heat until kernels begin to pop. Shake pot until popping stops.
3.      Put the popped corn in a gigantic bowl (the biggest one you’ve got).
4.      Combine butter, brown rice syrup, maple sugar and salt in a medium* saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to blend.  Boil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (or until candy thermometer reaches 250˚ F.).  *Do not use a small saucepan (the mixture will bubble up when you add the baking soda in step 5).
5.      Remove from heat; stir in baking soda, vanilla extract and cinnamon.  Immediately pour the cinnamon syrup over the popcorn and stir to coat (don't worry if the popcorn isn’t 100% coated). 
6.      Spread the coated popcorn onto the prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
7.      Place a large piece of parchment paper or waxed paper on the counter.  Spread the warm popcorn out on the paper and separate the clumps into smaller pieces.  Allow to cool completely; store in airtight containers or ziploc bags.

Copyright © by Susan Cleland.  All rights reserved.

caramel syrup approaching 250º F.
cinnamon syrup poured over popcorn...hurry, stir it!
in the oven
ready
I make popcorn lots of ways (hot air popper, Whirly-Pop, pot on stove), but I think my favorite is the Stir Crazy. It uses very little oil and there are hardly any unpopped kernels.
Plus it's fun to watch the corn popping!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cranberry Hootycreeks

M E R R Y  C H R I S T M A S ! 

This is one of those recipes that's all over the internet without a copyright (so I don't know who came up with it first). I do know they're delicious, fun to say and make a nice gift when the ingredients are layered in a jar (along with a tag that explains how to bake them--see instructions below).  Don't ask me what a hootycreek is, I have no idea.

CRANBERRY HOOTYCREEKS
Yield
: 18 cookies

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans


1.   Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
2.   In a medium bowl, beat together butter, egg and vanilla extract until fluffy.
3.   Add the remaining ingredients, and mix together by hand until well blended.
4.   Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until light golden brown. Cool on baking sheets, or remove to cool on wire racks.

I gave this as a gift, along with some already baked
cookies so they would know what they taste like
(free samples...that's how you reel them in and get them hooked)!
____________________________________________________________________________

FOR GIFTING:
layer in a 1-quart (or 1 liter) jar, in this order:
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
____________________________________________________________________________

Remember to add a tag with instructions (mine looked something like this):


CRANBERRY HOOTYCREEKS
Yield: 18 cookies

You’ll need to add:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.   Preheat oven to 350º F.
2.   In a large bowl, cream together butter, egg & vanilla extract.
3.   Add the entire jar of ingredients and mix together by hand until well blended.
4.   Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden.

the actual, real life tag
front view
hootycreek pileup (someone get my banjo, I feel a song coming on)


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Linzer Cookies

I took a Czechoslovakian Christmas cookie class at The New School once (I know, I was surprised too). The instructor, Michael Krondl, handed out this recipe. It was by far my favorite cookie we made that day and the only one I've made over and over since.

These are so tender, they practically melt in your mouth.  As a matter of fact, they're so fragile, they're hard to pick up without breaking (I suffered a few casualties this morning when I assembled mine).  They also need to be filled with jam just a few hours before serving, otherwise they get soggy.

I guess I'm saying these dainty delights are not the best choice for that long road trip you're planning and definitely not a contender for mailing in a care package to your friend overseas (but lovely for a tea party or serving to company on Christmas or Valentine's Day). I did manage to successfully walk these over to a neighbor's house without incident, but it was touch and go there for a few minutes.


LINZER COOKIES
Yield:  approx. 2 dozen

4 large eggs, hard boiled for 10 minutes and cooled
1/4 cup blanched almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, slightly softened
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
approx. 1 cup seedless raspberry jam (or other smooth fruit preserve)
confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling (optional)

one 2-inch cookie cutter
one ½-inch cookie cutter (similar shape as above cutter)


1.        Peel the eggs and separate the yolks from the whites (you will only need the yolks for this recipe).
2.        Place the almonds in a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add the sugar and process until very fine.  Add the yolks and lemon rind; process until smooth and evenly incorporated, scraping down the sides if necessary.  Add the butter in several small pieces, along with the almond extract.  Process until smooth.  Gradually add the flour until it is all incorporated, scraping down the sides once or twice.
3.        Divide the dough in half, shape into disks, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 ½ hours (can be refrigerated for 4-5 days).
4.        Preheat oven to 350º F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
5.        Roll dough out onto a well-floured board to approximately 1/8” thickness, dusting dough liberally with flour as you roll.  Using the 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out shapes from the dough.  Using a long flexible spatula, very carefully remove the cut out pieces from the board and place them on the cookie sheets about ½-inch apart. 
6.        Using the smaller cookie cutter, cut a hole in the center of half the cookies on the sheets.  Bake cookies until edges begin to turn golden, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool about 10 minutes.  Slide cookies very carefully from the baking sheet onto a flat platter.
7.        The cookies will keep for several weeks in a cool, dry place.  1-2 hours before serving, spread each solid cookie with about 1/4 teaspoon jam.  Place the cookie with a hole on top.  Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar if desired. 
Remember, these cookies are extremely fragile—handle with the utmost care.

dough cut outs (they don't spread, so you don't need to space them far apart)
raspberry jam spread on the bottom half
(I like seedless raspberry Polaner All-Fruit)
sandwiched
before sprinkling
confectioners' sugar is still showing on the jam
confectioners' sugar melts into the jam after a few minutes,
leaving a nice clear window of red jam

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas & Rice

Wait! Before you throw out that rock-hard block of rice leftover from last night's Chinese food take out, consider this recipe. This soup is a delicious way to use leftover rice. It's very hearty and satisfying, definitely a meal all by itself. You can adjust the heat to your own taste. I used only half a jalapeño and it was just right for wimpy me (mild, but still interesting). Those of you with an iron tongue, go ahead add the whole thing (or more if you can take it)!



CURRIED COCONUT SOUP WITH CHICKPEAS & RICE
Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons coconut oil or canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
½ to 1 jalapeño chili, seeded and finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk (regular or lite)
3/4 cup cooked brown rice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley


1.      In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and jalapeño; cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.
2.      Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.
3.      Add broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, salt, and black pepper; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
4.      Add the coconut milk, cooked rice and cilantro or parsley.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes.  Taste and adjust for salt if needed.

adapted from The Tropical Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Here's a nice gift for the bakers in your life, but not for this Christmas, it takes at least six months for the vanilla flavor to fully develop.  The longer you save it the better it gets, so this would be a good time to start planning for Christmas 2011 (you procrastinators can go pay some late fees or better yet, just go watch tv instead and do that later).

picture it with a beautiful bow

HOMEMADE VANILLA EXTRACT

4 cups (1 liter or 1 quart) vodka (45% alc/vol)
10-12 vanilla beans, split lengthwise*

*If the bottle is shorter than the vanilla beans, cut or bend them to fit.


Pour the vodka into your bottle of choice (or keep it where it is, there are some very nice vodka bottles out there).  Place the vanilla beans in the bottle of vodka (make sure they are fully submerged) and seal. Store in a cool, dark place (such as a kitchen cabinet) for six months, shaking the bottle every week or so.
Notes:
--      After using the extract, you can replace with more vodka. The same beans will continue to flavor the vanilla for up to a year.
--      You can use a paper coffee filter to strain out the vanilla seeds before using the extract (although I recommend keeping the seeds if you don’t mind the specks, they have great flavor).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Cookies (Rolled Sugar Cookies)

you can get that swirly effect by making lines
with your icing then dragging a toothpick
through (works best when not too thick)
Maybe you've had this experience (like I have): someone makes beautiful, homemade Christmas cookies. They obviously took a lot of time and care to make them; they look fantastic. Your mouth starts salivating. You reach for one, take a bite and they taste and feel like cardboard. What a letdown.  Now I'm not saying this recipe is anything special, what I am saying is these cookies have the taste and texture of...cookies! So I'm sticking with these.

Don't feel bad if it takes you a really long time to decorate your cookies, it took me three hours and I'm supposed to be a trained professional (that does include making the icing, but not baking the cookies, I did that the day before).
ROLLED SUGAR COOKIES
Yield: approx. 5 dozen (depending on size of cutters) + 3 cups icing

Cookies:
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Icing:
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
4 teaspoons powdered egg whites (available in most grocery stores in the baking aisle)
1/3 cup water (plus more as needed)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
food coloring (optional)


Cookies:
1.           In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and extract. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt.
2.           Divide dough into 4 balls and flatten into disks. Cover with plastic wrap and chill dough for at least 1 hour (or overnight).
3.           Preheat oven to 400° F.
4.           Roll out dough on floured surface, ¼- to ½-inch thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutter. Place cookies 1-inch apart on ungreased or parchment-linedcookie sheets.
5.           Bake 6 - 8 minutes, until barely lightly golden at the edges. Cool completely before decorating.

Icing:
1.      Beat together all ingredients (except food coloring) in a large bowl with an electric mixer at moderate speed until just combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and beat icing, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until it holds stiff peaks, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 4 to 5 minutes with a handheld.
2.      Beat in food coloring (if using). Add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to thin to desired consistency (especially if you plan to spread, rather than pipe, the icing).

cookie recipe slightly adapted from allrecipes.com
cut dough before baking
baked dough (they shouldn't have much color)
stiff peaks
white icing before coloring (I made a double batch because I was
making so many colors and didn't want to run out in the middle)
colored icing (I add a little water to each until I get the consistency I want)
Once they go in the squeeze bottles I get lazy; if the consistency isn't quite right
I just deal with it instead of fixing it (these aren't exactly for the Queen of England)
I use these awesome squeeze bottles for decorating...they are way less
messy than pastry bags (especially with a wee one getting into the action).
If you do buy the squeeze bottles, you might want to buy extra round tips (you'll probably use
those the most for cookie decorating). 
I keep my tips and other small stuff in a tackle box.
ready for the school party, just waiting to fulfill their destiny and make all the kids hyper
(even if you think they're all dry, wait a good long time before you pack them up
--unfortunately one of my gingerbread men didn't make it, R.I.P.)


These cookies were made possible by the selfless actions of my husband Chuck, who braved Chuck E. Cheese in order to occupy my daughter and give me a head start.  By the time they got home, I had enough done for her whole class and it was her turn to play!



UPDATE

 I decorated some more cookies just a few days later,
while visiting my in-laws for Christmas.

My mother-in-law Judie, a wonderful cook by the way, decorated these cookies.
She's pretty handy with a squeeze bottle (plus she baked the cookies).