Athena Magazine

Fashion, lifestyle, passions

Get Ready for Valentine’s Day with Pretty Easy Cookies! February 11, 2009

tray-of-valentines-cookiesBy Julia Pantoga

Someday, the domestic goddess will have a staff and her days of making roll-out cookies for holidays will end. Until then, the dg will don her Valentine’s Day tiara, open a bottle of beer, take out her rolling pin and make cookies at her kitchen table the same way that she tells you to do it.

essential-valentines-day-cookie-making-suppliesI went through all the details of these cookies with you before the winter holidays, so I’ll refer you to my previous columns: Holiday Prep: The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever, Parts 1, 2 and 3 and tell you what to do differently for Valentine’s Day. The first difference is that you will use heart-shaped cookie cutters. Wilton has a great set of six different sizes of the exact same heart . Having the same shape in different sizes will give you more creative opportunities when you get to decorating.

Make the same frosting, but this time you need only three colors: light pink, white and dark red. White, you will have; light pink is made by putting a small amount of red dye in white frosting, and dark red is made with several drops of red dye and one drop of blue dye (be careful with the blue, or your frosting will turn out black).

more-valentines-day-cookie-making-suppliesThe technique for decorating heart cookies is the same one I used for my Christmas trees in December. Frost each heart with light pink frosting. Paint a few strokes of dark red on each heart. Paint a few of the small hearts plain white or dark red. While the frosting is still wet, decorate the large heart cookies with the small ones.

Remember, on Sunday or Monday, go to your local craft sale and stock up on 75% off Valentines Day merchandise for next year. Keep in mind that anything you find in a solid color (red, white, silver, gold) can be used for other holidays.

 

Start Your V-Day Cookie Dough Now February 8, 2009

heart1Domestic Goddess Reminder: Next Saturday is Valentines Day. I’ll have a cookie-making post on Tuesday. If you are going to make heart-shaped cutout sugar cookies (as I am in this column), use the recipe from my column, “The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever! Part One,” to make your dough and freeze it this weekend.

 

Holiday Prep: Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever, Part 3 December 19, 2008

holiday-cookies1

By Julia Pantoga, resident domestic goddess

Finally! We are in the last phase of our holiday cookie project: Decorating the Cookies (For reference, the first two steps were making the dough and rolling and baking cookies).

Don’t call the kids in yet. There’s still some set up you’ll want to do before you have young ones underfoot.

The first step to decorating cookies is to make frosting:  a lot of it. I make 4 cups of it for 4 dozen cookies,
(which is my yield from the recipe I gave you back in October in Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever – Part 1)  Cookie frosting has only two ingredients:  confectioner’s sugar and milk. The ratio is 1 ½ teaspoons of milk for every cup of confectioners sugar.  Be careful working with the confectioner’s sugar—it can really be a mess. Wear your apron and whenever you pour it from one container to another, try not to spill (good luck with that, I’ve been handling the stuff for decades and I still make a mess with it).

Divide your frosting into several small bowls and color each using the deluxe food coloring that I recommended that you buy in Easiest Holiday Cookies – Part 1. Don’t forget to set at least a cup of your frosting aside to use whenever you need white frosting. You can see from the photo below that I forgot to do that and had to go back later to make more frosting.

several-colors-of-frosting

Once you have your frosting made and the confectioner’s sugar is put away, call the kids! Remember, the thickest cookies and the ones with the fewest appendages will be the easiest to handle. To the extent that you can control which cookies little ones select to work on, direct them towards the thickest cookies.

Another thing you should have picked up at the decorating store back in October was a small, angled and tapered spatula and paintbrushes for icing your cookies. As you may recall, I’m not crazy about decorating cookies—so instead of painstakingly applying detail to each one, I try to get the entire job done as quickly as possible. Here’s what I do (I’m using my Christmas tree cookies for this example):

1.     Pour about one teaspoon of base color frosting to each cookie. You may need to thin the frosting a little bit for this step—use milk, added ¼ teaspoon at a time. For my Christmas tree project, the base color was medium green.
2.    Use your spatula to spread the frosting over the entire cookie.
3.    While the frosting is still wet, decorate the edges with small candies.
4.    Choose a darker color and apply light brush strokes to the top of each cookie. For my Christmas trees, I used dark blue-green.
lots-of-christmas-trees(You’ll see this whole process again when I post my Valentine’s Day column, except the cookies will be shaped like hearts and the frosting colors will be pink and dark red.)

I decorate all of my cookies either painting solid colors or using this “gesso” painting process.  The only other technique I use is to sometimes put a smaller cookie of the same shape on a larger cookie.  If you insist on using other decorating materials on your cookies, make sure that everything dries eventually.  Gel decorating products are beautiful, but the if the gel doesn’t dry, you end up with ridiculously fragile smeared cookies.

The cookies at the top of this essay were decorated by a professional artist friend of mine and the cookies below were decorated entirely by yours truly.

finished-cookies

 

Holiday Prep: The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever! Part Two December 17, 2008

holiday-cookies
By Julia Pantoga

Do you remember that I recommended that you break your holiday cutout cookie baking into three steps?

1.    Making the dough
2.    Rolling and baking
3.    Decorating

This is Step Two: Rolling and Baking. I assume you have three packages of cookie dough in your freezer, as I advised you back in October in The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever! Part One.

I’m a flour-flying-all-over-the-kitchen kind of baker, so this very neat, no-flour-mess method of rolling out cookie dough was counter-intuitive to me. But it works—really well.  And it’s really neat. I did it wearing dress clothes and no apron.

Before I give you the step-by-step, there’s two important notes:
•    Many recipes for rolled dough assume that flour will be added to the dough during the rolling process, so this method won’t necessarily for sugar cookie dough recipes other than the one I gave you.
•    The proper height for a rolling surface is slightly below your hips. That means that if you are on the short side a table, not a counter, will work best for you. You need the leverage of being able to bend over your project easily.

dough-rolling-setupHere’s the step-by-step for my no-mess method of rolling cookie dough (The parchment paper and tape industries ought to be sending me kickbacks for this!):

1.    Put a cookie sheet in the refrigerator.
2.    Tape a piece of parchment paper to the rolling surface.
3.    Put a small disk of dough on the parchment paper (about ½ of one of the bags you made in October, or, if you didn’t do that, about 1/6 of the recipe I gave you, or, if you’re using a different recipe, about 1/3 pound).
4.    Tape a larger piece of parchment paper over the top of the dough.
5.    Roll the dough slowly to 1/8” thick.  Eliminate any creases in the parchment paper as you go along, as creases in your final dough will cause your cookies to crack and break. I don’t recommend rolling any thinner that 1/8”, because thinner cookies break easily when you decorate them.
6.    Carefully lift off the top layer of parchment paper, leaving it taped to the rolling surface for the next rolling.
7.    Remove the bottom layer of parchment paper with the rolled dough on it and place it on the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for at least ½ hour.
8.    Repeat steps 2-7 until all the dough is rolled.  When you have finished, put the top piece of parchment paper on top of all the layers.

rolled-dough-in-the-refrigerator Well, I sure wish I had learned that trick of refrigerating the rolled dough years ago!

While your rolled dough is chilling, set up for cutting and baking your cookies. Put the cookie cutters and cookie sheets that you want to use right next to where you will be working with the dough. Your cold dough will make it infinitely easier to move raw cookies around, but you still want to minimize how far you move them.  The best tool for picking up and moving cookie dough (even cold dough) is and angled (not tapered) spatula used for frosting cakes.

After baking, you want to handle and move the cookies as little as possible before you decorate them (minimize opportunities for breaking cookies), so you may want to set up the area where you will have your cookies cool as well.

cutting-setupTake your rolled dough out of the refrigerator, one piece at a time and work quickly, as cold dough is much, much easier to work with than room temperature dough! Leave the cold cookie sheet in the refrigerator, as you will have enough dough scraps to make a second (maybe even a third, but no more—by then your dough will be terribly worn out) batch of cookies.

After cutting, bake your cookies for 5 minutes at 400°. While they are baking, gather and roll the scraps of dough, using the parchment paper and tape routine I described above. It is at this point that I begin to become irritated with the entire holiday cookie project and mutter to myself, “How on earth could anyone think this is a fun project?” Thrifty as I am, I use the parchment paper over that I used before and tape only the bottom piece down.

OK, in a few days, I’ll show you how to decorate these bad boys.

Why so many Christmas trees?  Tune in in a few days and find out!

Why so many Christmas trees? Tune in in a few days and find out!

 

Holiday Prep: Two Recipes for Great Baking Gifts November 25, 2008

wrapped-gift-cakesBy Julia Pantoga

In my column, Giving Away Baked Goods, I promised to give you the recipes for some of my favorite baking gifts. Here, you’ll find two recipes and instructions for making them. See the Domestic Goddess column Giving Away Baked Goods for information about wrapping and ordering.

In my mind, here’s what makes a food fit for giving away:
•    It packs/wraps easily.
•    It can go without refrigeration for several hours.
•    It can be made and wrapped in advance and be stored in the freezer.
•    There is at least one thing “special” about the recipe that makes it unlikely that your recipients would make it on their own—which makes it a treat.

Recipe #1: Ginger Bread with Lemon Icing
This recipe makes enough for six gift loaf pans. Paper pans with wax coating do not need to be prepared.

lemon-brandy

Lemon Brandy
Zest from 2 Lemons
4 ounces Brandy

Steep the lemon zest in brandy for at least one day. You can replenish the brandy twice using the same lemon zest.

Ginger Bread
1 pound butter (2 sticks, I use salted)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
4 eggs
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 GENEROUS tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
4 teaspoons lemon brandy (substitute vanilla at your own risk, do not use lemon extract as a substitute)
1 cup buttermilk

1.     Bring the eggs to room temperature (you can do this quickly, by putting them in a bowl of hot tap water).
2.    Preheat the oven to 350°.
3.    Cream butter and brown sugar.
4.    Add molasses and beat again.
5.    Beat in eggs.
6.    Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice).
7.    Add dry ingredients to mixture.
8.    Add lemon brandy and buttermilk and mix thoroughly.
9.    Arrange six gift loaf pans on baking sheet.
10.    Pour batter evenly into the six pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a straw inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.
11.    Cool thoroughly before icing.

Lemon Icing
1 stick butter
Zest of one lemon
Two teaspoons lemon brandy
Two tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar
1.    Cream butter.
2.    Add lemon zest, lemon brandy and lemon juice and beat until fluffy.

Pre-icing the cakes.

Pre-icing the cakes.

3.    Add powdered sugar ½ cup at a time (Watch out. Powdered sugar tends to fly and make a big mess!)
4.    Pre-ice the cakes with 1 tablespoon of icing each. This will eliminate the possibility of crumbs in your lovely final cakes.
5.    After the pre-icing has hardened, ice the cakes with the remaining icing.
6.    Allow icing to harden before wrapping cakes.

wrapped-walnuts

Recipe #2: Fried Walnuts
This recipe falls into the category of recipes that will fool you by having few ingredients. First of all, any time you fry something, it is a mess. Before you start making these:
•    Put on an apron or old shirt on which you don’t mind spattering grease.
•    Clear a large surface for laying the walnuts out (I use my kitchen table)
The reason I make these every year is because they are GREAT. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love them. They also pack really well and one batch makes seven gift bags.

Fry walnuts

Fry walnuts

Ingredients
8 cups water
4 cups walnuts
½ cup sugar
Cooking oil
Sea salt

Drain walnuts.

Drain walnuts.

1.    Bring water to a boil.
2.    Add walnuts to the water and boil for 1 minute.
3.    Drain boiled walnuts and rinse with hot water.
4.    While the walnuts are hot, return them to the pot you used for boiling and mix well with sugar.
5.    Heat 1 inch of cooking oil to 160°.
6.    Fry the walnuts in two single layer batches for 4 minutes (Put lid or spatter guard on the pan to prevent more of a mess).
7.    While the walnuts are frying, lay wax paper on your clear surface.
8.    Scoop walnuts out of the oil with slotted spoon and drain well in a sieve (one year I didn’t drain the walnuts very well and they were so greasy that they were nasty.) [draining walnuts photo here]

Salt walnuts.

Salt walnuts.

9.    Spread fried walnuts in one layer on wax paper.
10.    Sprinkle warm walnuts with salt (don’t over salt). [salting walnuts photo here]
11.    Allow walnuts to cool thoroughly before wrapping.

Stay tuned for more recipes, tips on holiday decorating and parts two and three of my essays about making holiday cookies. See previous Domestic Goddess columns for more holiday tips.

 

The most important ingredient November 20, 2008

Filed under: Domestic Goddess — rebmas03 @ 3:03 am
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heartThe Domestic Goddess wishes to remind you that the most important ingredient you add to all of your cooking and baking is LOVE.

 

Baked chicken with homemade stuffing: Yum! November 13, 2008

Written by: Heather of Lone Star Vintage Clothing

A few nights ago, I had planned on making baked chicken with veggies. How bland is that? As I turned on the oven, an idea popped into my head: stuffing! I tend to buy things to keep in the pantry to use at a later date and boxed stuffing just so happens to be one of those things. I looked in my pantry and low and behold, I found a box of stuffing! I then started to look in my refrigerator to see what I could add to the stuffing. I found cilantro, mushrooms and onions. I then went back to my pantry and found some walnuts. I also had some apples sitting in my fruit bowl on the cabinet. Horray! I had all of my ingredients to complete my stuffing.

Here’s my recipe for chicken breasts stuffed with my homemade stuffing:

Ingredients:

  • Two chicken breasts
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 apple
  • Cilantro
  • Walnuts
  • Stuffing
  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic (if you choose)
  • Mushrooms
  • Poultry seasoning

First, you will need to find a pan to cook the chicken in. I typically use a glass pan. Lightly coat the pan in olive oil. Turn your oven on bake at 400 degrees F. Let the oven preheat for 10-15 minutes.

Take your onion, mushrooms, apple and cilantro. Dice/cube all of those items into to very small pieces. Take another pan out and turn the stovetop on high heat (I have a gas stove and can control the heat very easily). Add a bit of olive oil in your pan. Once the oil is heated, add your onions, mushrooms and apples first. Cook those items until the onions begin to caramelize (turn golden brown).

picture-0401

Next, you will add in your cilantro (and garlic if you choose). Add your walnuts. My walnuts were larger and I had to crush them up a bit.

picture-0411

During the time you are cooking your veggies, you will get another pan and fill it will approximately 3/4 cup of water (I never read the directions on the back of the box). You need enough water to cook your stuffing in. Add a tiny bit of olive oil to your water. Bring the water to a rapid boil. Turn off the heat and add your stuffing mixture. Cover for several minutes. Remove the lid and lightly fluff with a fork. You are now ready to add your cooked veggies, apples and walnuts to the stuffing. Your mixture should look a little like this:

picture-042

During the time you have been tending to your stuffing mixture and your oven is preheating, prepare your chicken breasts. Take each breast and cut down the center (slice an opening in the center). When you finish, they will look something like this:

picture-0431

Place the chicken breasts in the pan. Lightly coat the chicken with olive oil (just a tiny bit on both sides will be fine). Take your stuffing mixture and place in the center of each chicken breast:

picture-044

Once you’ve added the stuffing mixture in the center of the chicken breasts, you will then flip one side of each breast over. Add salt, pepper and poultry seasoning:

picture-045

Bake your chicken for approximately 30 minutes at 400 degrees F. Once your chicken is finished cooking, it should look like this:

picture-048

This is one of my own creations! Enjoy!

 

The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever! Part One October 18, 2008

By Julia Pantoga

I don’t get what people love so much about decorating holiday cookies; everyone but me seems to think it’s fun. The benefit to you of my disdain for decorating holiday cookies is that I’ve thought about how to make every step simpler and less excruciating. (By the way, I did not decorate the cookies in the photo above; an artist friend of mine did.)

Okay, there are three parts to making decorated holiday cookies:
1.    Making the dough
2.    Rolling out and baking the cookies
3.    Decorating the cookies.

I like the first two steps; it’s the third step that gets me.


Make the dough now and freeze it.  When it comes time to make cookies in December, you will be really pleased you have that done.  Wait to roll and bake the cookies; however, because baked cookies are very delicate and likely to break before you have a chance to decorate them. (Although broken cookies are magnificent crumbled up and served over fruit.) Here’s the recipe I use. It works when you freeze it and roll it out later, and it tastes great. I divide it into three batches that I freeze.

Sugar Cookie Dough
1 cup butter (I like salted butter for this recipe)
½ cup sugar
1 egg (don’t forget to bring it to room temperature by putting it in a bowl of hot water)
3 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
½ tsp baking powder

1.    Cream butter and sugar.
2.    Add egg and vanilla, beat well.
3.    Measure and mix in flour and baking powder. (I mix the two together before putting them in the dough).
4.    Divide dough in three batches, label and freeze.

If you must know…  For 1/8” cookies, bake 5 min. @ 400 degrees.

You should begin shopping for decorating supplies now.  Go to a store that specializes in cake/cookie decorating.  There, you will find exactly you need.  The store will have the most interesting assortment of cookie cutters, colors of food dye and specialty icing spatulas.  The sales clerks will be knowledgeable and helpful about cookie decorating
The easiest cookie cutters to use are those with the fewest “appendages”.  For example, a bell shaped cookie cutter will make cookies that are much easier to handle than a fussy angel-shaped cookie cutter.  If you have young children, or if any of you are easily frustrated, easy cookie cutters are a must.
While you are at the decorating store, buy:  a small angled and tapered spatula that is designed especially for icing cookies, fantastic green, red, yellow and blue food dyes (they will be so much better and more complex than what you can buy at the grocery store), decorating paintbrushes (I’ve tried dime store paintbrushes, but the bristles fall out, which is unacceptable when you are making food.). Don’t buy anything that won’t “dry”.  “Gel” decorating products look great; but the next day, the cookies are still sticky. Make sure that everything you buy for decorating will eventually harden.  At a decorating store, the clerk will know what hardens and what doesn’t.

I’ll tell you what I know about rolling and baking cookies in Part 2 of this series and give you some ideas for decorating in Part 3.  Keep in mind though, that I don’t like decorating; so my decorating tips will be along the lines of easy-and-quick (but fabulous).

 

Giving away baked goods October 11, 2008

Filed under: Domestic Goddess,Food is Good — rebmas03 @ 4:49 am
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By Julia Pantoga

I know you think it is early, but there are things you can do now to make your life easier in December…

I always give baked goods as gifts. The hardest (and usually most expensive) part of giving away baking goods is packaging them. You can come up with something more festive than baggies.

Suppose you know that you are going to give away cookies.  Start thinking now about how you are going to present those precious treasures. You need containers that are big enough to hold at least one dozen cookies, but not so big that you have to bake a double batch for each gift.  Containers will probably be cheaper if you stay away from holiday merchandise. To wit:  one year I was at the hardware store and ammunition boxes were on sale for some crazy-low price, like 50 cents each. I bought ten of them and fake pebble spray-paint, laid them out on my garage floor, painted them, then filled each with bags of cookies. I hope that these ammunition boxes were useful to my friends and family after the cookies are eaten—for storing sand paper, for example.

Some things that you will give away (like spiced nuts or homemade candy) need smaller containers. My favorite small container is a coffee mug. I begin shopping in October for inexpensive coffee mugs (my local Goodwill sells brand new coffee mugs for $1 each. Department stores donate them when they don’t sell at $6-10 each.)

You will find small gift bags in the candy-making section of a craft store. I must warn you though that going into a craft store is risky business—financially, at least. These stores have so many adorable gift containers that you may forget that one of the reasons you are giving away baked goods is to save money on holiday gifts and spend way more than you ever thought you would on containers.

Another tip for buying containers is to shop for them all year around. I often find great plain red, silver and gold containers on sale right after Valentine’s Day.

Finally, you will need is ribbon. I find that if I combine a red or green ribbon with a gold or silver ribbon, I can tie a simple bow and the result is quite elegant. If you are trying to save money, buy your ribbon at the craft store and don’t tempt yourself to do more spending in the fabric store.

Here’s how it all works together:
1.    Throw a handful of nuts (or homemade candy) into a small plastic bag
2.    Secure the bag with two ribbons that you hold together
3.    Put one little bag in each coffee mug.

I make a dozen of these early in December and keep a paper grocery bag of them in the back seat of my car, so I always have little gifts ready for people who help me all the time, like the clerk at the post office.

Another category of baked goods to give away are those that need to be baked in pans. A great discovery I made last year was the Paper Gift Bakers from The Baker’s Catalogue. These, combined with the medium size Clear Gift Bags that they sell also, have made my gift-giving-life a lot easier. I bake my gift cakes right in the pan.  Once frosted, I pop them in the gift bags. I secure the bags with a silver twist tie, then stick a bow on top of the package. Voila! A beautiful gift!

I make six gift cakes at a time and store them in the freezer once they are completely wrapped. One of the tricks to baking with disposable pans is to place all the pans on a pre-heated cookie sheet before you bake them. That way, there is only one thing to put into the hot oven and one thing to take to the porch to cool.

Usually, I don’t start baking for the holidays until mid-November (although this year I did some early to get photographs for you). October is really best spent starting to accumulate packaging materials.  In early November I’ll give you the recipes for foods that I like best for giving as gifts.

 

The Domestic Goddess Has Entered the Building September 3, 2008

Filed under: Domestic Goddess,Food is Good — rebmas03 @ 2:32 am
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By Julia Pantoga

I can’t take credit for the terrific title of this new “Domestic Goddess” column. Rosanne Barr originally used the term in one of her comedy routines, but I first heard it when Nigella Lawson, cooking celebrity and cookbook author extraordinaire, named one of her baking cookbooks, How to be a Domestic Goddess. When I saw that title, I had to have that book, regardless of whether or not any of the recipes were any good. As it turns out, many of the recipes are quite scrumptious, but the secret to being a domestic goddess, as Nigella obviously knows, and as the exquisite photographs in the cookbook illustrate, is to make everything look easy and fabulous.

There are tricks to making everything look easy and fabulous, and I intend to use this column to share tricks that I know with you. Not just baking, but lots of things around the house.

But I’ll start with baking. As Ruth Reichl, food writer and editor of Gourmet magazine, says, baking is a cheap trick.  It doesn’t matter how simple or complex the recipe, baking impresses people (The message here is to make the simplest recipes you can find.). I am not really a very talented baker, but people think I am because I like to bake, and I do it a lot. Here are some pointers to make baking work for you every time:

1.    Use your oven timer, so you NEVER burn baked goods.
2.    Whenever you take baked goods out of your house, make sure they look nice. Pick the broken cookies out, turn all of them right side up and put them on a good looking plate (I keep cheery and tasteful paper plates on hand for this sole purpose.)
3.    Don’t take baked goods that need a fork to an event where people will be moving around while they are eating. It is sooooo discouraging to watch your homemade key lime pie go uneaten!
4.    Unless you love to do it, and you are good at it, avoid complex decorations. A spice cake dusted with powdered sugar (which is easy), looks far more elegant than a sloppily frosted cake.
5.    Write in your cookbooks. When a recipe works, write it right on that page. When something goes wrong, write it down.
6.    Stick with the tried and true. Whenever you find a recipe that works for you and other people love it, make it over and over again. If you must bake something for the first time, packages are the best source of recipes. The brownie recipe that I used for over twenty years was from the back of the Baker’s Chocolate box. My oatmeal cookie recipe is from the lid of Quaker Oats.  I just found a fabulous cake recipe on the back of a raisin box. These recipes have been tested and tested and tested.

Last spring I broke my ankle, and I needed a friend to come to my house everyday and take care of everyday things like making my meals, doing my dishes and sweeping my kitchen. (Needless to say, I was quite unhappy with this turn of events. Taking away my ability to take care of my house is severe punishment indeed.)  Anyhow, after a few days of taking care of my house, my friend said to me, “Julia, I had no idea you were so domestic.” Now that’s a real domestic goddess compliment!