Athena Magazine

Fashion, lifestyle, passions

Holiday Prep: Stunningly Beautiful and Delicious Drink December 18, 2008

By Julia Pantoga, resident domestic goddess

finished-cranberry-vodkaI used to try to give this one away for gifts, but by the time I found bottles to use for giving it away, my friends and I had already made history of it.  Basically, it’s vodka marinated for 10 days with orange peels and cranberries.  The vanilla in the cranberry mixture makes it taste vaguely like cherries.  I serve it “neat” (with no garnishment), but it can be served mixed with tonic water, ice and a lime garnish.

Here’s the step-by-step:
1.     Combine 1 lb. cranberries, 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the berries burst, about 5 minutes.
2.    Wash and peel 2 oranges.  Cut peels into strips.
3.    Pour 1 bottle (750 ml) of vodka over orange peels and cooled cranberry mixture in airtight container.  After 10 days, strain into a clean bottle.  Store in refrigerator.
cranberry-vodka-marinatingAt left, marinating vodka-cranberry mix.

 

Perfect Applesauce November 2, 2008

Filed under: Domestic Goddess,Food is Good — rebmas03 @ 2:47 am
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By Julia Pantoga

I’m taking a break from my holiday preparation series to write to you about apples because we are at the end of the apple season, and if you GO RIGHT NOW, you may be able to get some great orchard apples. I know I did just a few days ago.

Here’s the thing about apples: If you have great apples, anything you do with them will be great.  If you have mediocre apples, anything you do with them will be mediocre. The sad truth is that if you bake a great apple crisp with mediocre apples, your desert will be so-so at best. However, you can just cut up a couple apples, squeeze some lime juice over them and serve them with slices of cheese, and if you have great apples, you will have a stunning and delicious desert.

In my experience, great apples are not to be found in supermarkets; I find them at fruit farms and orchards. The variety I bought this year is “Melrose,” but the variety that will work best for you is entirely dependent on the region you live in, the time of year you are going to the orchard and what you plan to do with the apples. Talk to the clerk in the orchard store. He or she will make a great recommendation. I’ve found that even listless teenagers working in orchard stores know apples. There is something magical about great apples!

If you are going to be peeling your apples to bake them, you will want to buy big apples. That way, you will get the best fruit-to-peeling effort ratio. If you are going to be packing your apples in your lunch, you’ll want a smaller size. Stored in a cool place, apples will taste fresh for weeks. If you will be using your apples for baking or applesauce, they will last longer.

Here’s a domestic goddess tip: Homemade applesauce is really, really impressive, and it is really, really easy to make. In the past couple of years, I’ve started to leave the skins in my applesauce, which:
•    Makes it a gorgeous pink color
•    Clearly communicates to your guests that this is homemade applesauce
•    Adds delicious and interesting texture to the applesauce and
•    Makes it even easier
Here’s how to make homemade applesauce:
1.    Cut up five huge apples and put the pieces in a pot.
2.    Add ½ cup water, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of salt to the pot.
3.    Simmer the pot (covered) on medium low heat for 30 minutes.
4.    Turn the heat off and mash everything together.

Cooking homemade applesauce makes your home smell great too.

 

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).