Sunday, December 30, 2012

Smoky Salmon and Cream Cheese Dip

Salmon Dip and Chip in White Ramekin, Overhead View

A Fun and Easy Snack for Parties and Picnics

New Year’s Eve is almost here.  And in a few weeks there will be that big Super Bowl bash.  So the quest for party food is on.  Snacks, spreads, and dips rule this time of year.   And one of the best I know is Smoky Salmon and Cream Cheese Dip.

Salmon and cream cheese make a classic combo.  Think lox and bagels with a schmear.  Take the salmon and cream cheese, add some smoky notes and a bit of onion or scallion, and you’ve got the makings of a delicious dip.  It’s great with your chip of choice — I tend to prefer ridged potato chips (which stand up better to dipping) or tortilla chips.  You can also spread it on crackers, or on pieces of that little party rye that supermarkets feature so prominently this time of the year (they always have it in stock, but you see more of it during the holidays).

Once your guests taste this dip, it will disappear quickly.  But if by chance you have some left over?  Spread it on your morning bagel.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese in Ramekin and on Party Rye

This Southern Spread is Perfect for Parties

Need an idea for a party appetizer?  Something you can spread on crackers, or maybe make into bite-size sandwiches using those miniature loaves of party rye? 

How about Pimento Cheese?  This great tasting combination of cheddar cheese and pimentos is a much-loved indulgence in the southern United States. And it’s becoming popular throughout the rest of the country, especially at New Years’ Eve and Superbowl parties.

You can buy commercially prepared Pimento Cheese at many grocery stores these days, but it’s nothing like homemade. And when you make it yourself, you can spice it up (or not) to suit your own taste. Best of all, it takes literally minutes to make. It’s so simple, an eight year old (or even a non-cooking spouse!) can make it.

If Pimento Cheese is new to you, you’ve got a treat in store. But you might want to make a double batch. Once you taste it, you’ll be eating lots of it — just to make up for all that lost time.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Crunch Drop Cookies

Crunch Drop Cookies on Cooling Rack

Coconut is the Secret Ingredient in These Crispy Delights

When I was a child, December was baking season around our house.  My mother would bake cookies almost every day, so we’d wind up with a dozen or more varieties at least.  Between Christmas and New Year’s, she’d serve up a big platter of them every night after dinner. 

I’d always beeline these Crunch Drop Cookies, made festive with a garnish of brightly colored sugar or sprinkles. 

They’re a great tasting cookie, and easy to make.  Almost every kid will like them.  And you?  Well, you may experience your second childhood.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Stinger Cocktail

Stinger Cocktail in Rock Glass with Mint Garnish on Black Acrylic

Crème de Menthe Puts the Tingle in This 1920s Society Favorite

You don’t hear much buzz about The Stinger these days. But a few decades back, it was all the rage. Indeed, in 1920s New York, the Stinger was the “it” drink. It was a particular favorite of the limousine set — and Reginald Vanderbilt’s preferred drink.

Vanderbilt — known as “Reggie” to his friends — was then a society heavyweight and heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune. Today he’s largely forgotten, but you may have heard of his daughter, Gloria, who once designed a mean pair of jeans.

Anyway, legend has it that during the daily cocktail hour — liberally defined chez Vanderbilt as 4 to 7 PM — Reggie would stand behind his ornate home bar and dispense Stingers to all. Though the cocktail originated as a sweet after-dinner drink, by the time Reggie was mixing ‘em up, the Stinger had lowered its sugar quotient, and thus seemed appropriate for pre-dinner sipping.

Alas, Reggie is no longer here to mix cocktails for us (he died at age 45 from cirrhosis).  But you’ll find the Stinger easy to make.  And with its minty flavor, it’s a natural for the winter holidays.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Anise Drop Cookies

Anise Drop Cookies with Holly in Background

Spice Up Your Holiday Cookie Platter with this Traditional German Recipe

When I was growing up, December was always cookie month. My mother baked a batch of cookies almost every day to prepare for the Christmas festivities. Although she always changed the mix of cookies that went into the rotation — adding some, dropping others — one always appeared without fail: these great Anise Drop Cookies. Her recipe was handed down from her grandmother, and in turn handed down to me. And I gave it to Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, who is the cookie baker in our household.

The anise flavor is pronounced in these cookies, but not overwhelming. Anise is somewhat reminiscent of licorice — though even people who don’t like licorice (or black jelly beans) will probably like these cookies. (I hated black jelly beans when I was a kid, and they’re still the last jelly bean standing at Easter; but I always liked this cookie.) And of course, anyone who does like licorice will adore this cookie.

Anise is used in some Italian cookies and biscotti, and features in several of Germany’s best known holiday cookies, including Pfeffernüsse and Springerle. In fact, these cookies taste somewhat like Springerle, but are less labor intensive to make.

If you have an electric stand mixer, making Anise Drop Cookies is fairly simple. But it does take a bit of time — for the best results, you want to let them sit out overnight before baking.

If you insist on baking them right after mixing, you’ll still get a good cookie. But waiting overnight may be a good thing around Christmastime. After all, it lets you practice resisting the temptation to sneak a peek at all those gifts that have your name on them. You haven’t been peeking already, have you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Grasshopper Cocktail

Grasshopper Cocktail with Candy Cane Garnish in Cocktail Glass


If You’d Like to Drink Your After-Dinner Chocolate Mint

Some people like to drink dessert.  Last week we discussed the Brandy Alexander, a delightful mix of cognac (or brandy), crème de cacao, and heavy cream. Switch out the cognac for green crème de menthe and you have the Grasshopper Cocktail, which may be the ultimate dessert drink.

Chocolaty crème de cacao and minty crème de menthe are both sweet. Add cream, and you have a rich drink that tastes an awful lot like one of those dinner mints you sometimes see — such as Andes Chocolate Mints. And although both crème ingredients contain enough alcohol to provide some grown-up pleasure, the total amount is perhaps half of what you’d get in a regular drink. So after a big dinner with lots of wine, you’re not adding too much more to your total intake.

Best of all, the festive green color of the Grasshopper is seasonally appropriate. Add a candy cane garnish, and this drink just screams Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Almond Sugar Cookies

Almond Sugar Cookies cooling on wire rack, overhead view

Kicking Up the Flavor of a Holiday Favorite

If you believe in Santa Claus — and deep down, we all want to believe — you believe in cookies.  After all, you have to leave out a big plateful on Christmas Eve to reward Saint Nick for showing up.  Especially when you know that you’ve been more naughty than nice.

And it’s the rare holiday assortment that doesn’t include a sugar cookie of some description.  They’re easy to make and extremely versatile.  You can adapt the recipe to feature your preferred flavors.  You can serve them plain, or coat them with decorating sugar or sprinkles, or even slather them with icing.  It’s all good.

Best yet, you can make a double batch of dough and freeze some of it.  That way you can bake some fresh cookies whenever the moods strikes you.

Just make sure you have plenty available on Christmas Eve.  I have it on good authority that they’re Santa’s favorite.  Ho, ho, ho!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Brandy Alexander Cocktail

Brandy Alexander Cocktail in Cocktail Glass with Nugmeg Garnish

A Chocolate Lover’s Delight

The Brandy Alexander is a celestial mix of cognac (or brandy), crème de cacao, and heavy cream. The crème de cacao gives the drink its distinct chocolate flavoring — one that’s not overwhelmingly strong, but definitely noticeable. The cream adds richness, and the cognac provides some grownup interest. This is a very smooth and mellow drink that barely seems alcoholic at all.

With its rich creaminess, the Brandy Alexander is perfect for the winter holiday season — a time of year when many of us are looking for decadent, festive cocktails that we might not consider drinking at other times of the year.

You can have a Brandy Alexander before dinner, although you might find it a bit heavy in that role.  But the drink is perfect after dinner — it’s almost a dessert in a glass!  It also works well as a weekend mid-afternoon tipple, best sipped while munching holiday goodies.

I know there are people in this world who don’t like chocolate.  If you happen to be one of them, stop reading right here:  You won’t like this cocktail.  But for the other 99% of us?  Yes, please.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Coconut Kisses (Macaroons)

Coconut Kisses on Black Acrylic

Richer — and Simpler —  Than Traditional Macaroons

OK, technically these cookies aren’t macaroons (they don’t contain egg white).  But they look like coconut macaroons, and their flavor is remarkably similar.  So whatever you call them, your taste buds will get an exceedingly sweet treat.

Last year when I posted about Pfeffernüsse Cookies, I mentioned that for Christmas my mom would bake at least a dozen different types of cookies. The selection varied a bit from year to year, but there was always a nucleus of family favorites. One of these was Coconut Kisses, which she always baked on Christmas Eve. To make them even more festive, she’d divide the cookie dough and dye half of it red, the other half green.

These days, Mrs. Kitchen Riffs (the cookie baker in our household) skips the dye. Although I sometimes get nostalgic for the seasonal look of the red and green cookies, I must admit I prefer the way they look au naturel. Besides, that way you can serve them all year round, not just at Christmas.

A good thing too, because once you see the way kids — and adults — gobble these up, you’ll want to bake them often.