Kids Christmas Cookie Decorating Party - Do the Mashed Potato! - The Great Pumpkin (…and how to roast it!) - Peach Perfection - Sammies to Scream For</br>Chocolate Wafer Ice Cream Sandwiches -

Kids Christmas Cookie Decorating Party

 

Sprinkle the kitchen liberally with fairy dust, crank up the rockin’ holiday music and they will come. Lots of them. Every year tiny Christmas elves turn my kitchen into Santa’s workshop as they decorate dozens of holiday sugar cookies and gingerbread people.

 

Buttercream frosting from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

Eyes wide-bright, they ooh and ahh at the site of my long kitchen table laden with yummy pots of brightly colored buttercream frosting, sprinkles, edible glitter, red hearts and whimsical decorations.

 

Gingerbread people from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

Their eyes dart to the sideboard where large trays of delicious cookies wait for their magic. Soon little hands eagerly collect favorite angels, stars, trees, bells and gingerbread mamas, daddies and babies.

 

Party favors from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

As head elf, I pile on the holiday spirit with Santa hats, aprons and festive party favors. Nothing breaks the ice like blinking necklaces of colored lights and silly, flashing Rudolf noses to remind kids of their friends at the North Pole.

 

3 elves from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

These little guys get into the party spirit as Santa, Rudolph and Jango the elf.

 

Frosting frolic from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

Look at that black tongue! This cutie-pie swiped his mini spatula in the black frosting and immediately started eating it. In a flash all the boys joined in, giggling and showing their black tongues to the other kids. Soon all the guests—young and old—got in on the silly fun.

 

Elves working. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

The joy of creativity is infectious. Each year I get a special thrill when the kids tire of the cookies and run off to play, only to be replaced by their moms and dads, eager for a shot at the frosting. My oldest  guest (85 years young!) hung three masterpieces on the kitchen cookie tree.

 

Santa with kids at Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Cookie Decorating Party.

 

Beyond Wonderful intern Theo Andersen is my very cool Santa. Dressed in a full Santa suit, he always bursts into the room with a robust, “Ho-ho-ho—Merry Christmas!” He listens to each child’s wish and distributes candy canes to all. This Santa is always hungry and happily accepts cookies!

 

Paty food. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

To keep the elf energy up and prevent a sugar overdose, I set out lots of tasty savory snacks on a low table for easy access. Deli meats like salami and ham are always popular. Add some cheese, bread and crackers with fresh fruit and veggies, a few drinks and you’re set.

 

Boxed cookies. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

After a few hours, the elves of all ages are ready to carry their cookie treasures home. I find that inexpensive, different-sized cardboard gift boxes with tissue paper do the job well. Close each with a festive sticker to make it feel special.

 

Baby santa. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

I am reminded, as always, that kids are magic—especially when surrounded by so much sugar and creativity.

 

Party guest. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.

 

Take your cue from them, and your own cookie party is sure to be sweet success.

Get printable copies of  Sugar Cookies  and Gingerbread Cookies  for easy reference.

Do the Mashed Potato!

Forget turkey and all the fancy foods. The hands-down favorite dish at my Thanksgiving celebration every year is mashed potatoes—mounds and mounds of them. No one can resist the simple spud dressed to perfection with lots of cream, milk and butter then whipped to sublime fluffiness. Myself included.

Even novice holiday cooks can wow the crowd with this easy-to-prepare dish. All that’s needed is my perfect Classic Mashed Potatoes recipe and a few tips for success.

1.    Select Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes for best results.

2.    Prepare the mashed potatoes earlier in the day and warm them just before serving. Otherwise, it’s crazy busy when you start peeling, mashing, and mixing while trying to get the rest of the meal on the table.

3.    Use a simple potato ricer for mashing the potatoes. They are inexpensive and available at kitchen stores and select supermarkets. (Stores like Sur le table carry the larger sized ones that make mashing faster.)

4.    Never, never, never mash the potatoes in a food processor or they become gummy. Yummy but gummy.

5.    Heat the cream, milk and butter together until the liquid is hot to the touch and the butter melted. Pour the hot cream mixture over the potatoes and mix thoroughly.

6.    Check the consistency of the potatoes and add more warm milk if needed. They should have a soft, creamy texture. Don’t fret if you have lumps unless smooth is the goal. In that case, scoop all of the mashed potatoes in to the bowl of an electric mixer, set it to medium and whip to your desired consistency.

7.    Re-heat the mashed potatoes in a heavy pot, stirring constantly over a medium heat. Add more liquid as required to restore the original soft texture. Adjust the seasonings and serve.

With this much pleasure on a plate, I ask that you leave your guilt at the door, grab a fork and dig in!

Print a copy of Classic Mashed Potatoes for your convenience.

The Great Pumpkin (…and how to roast it!)

Grab your hammers and cleavers, we’re roasting pumpkins for holiday pies, cakes, breads—and the most scrumptious pumpkin pancakes around. So are you up for roasting pumpkins? “No, no, no, no”, you say. “That’s not for me.” As a novice cook, I felt the same way. Pumpkins came in a can from the supermarket for the express purpose of making pies once a year. Who knew that fresh pumpkins were easy to use—and suitable for so many dishes? My friend and produce expert, Dan Avakian, encouraged me to start roasting my own pumpkins then taught me how. It was painless from the start, and now it’s so easy that I can roast and freeze a year’s supply in one afternoon. Today, my kitchen counter is filled with edible pumpkins that I bought at Dan’s open-air produce market last Saturday. I stocked up on my favorite, orange Sugar Pie variety. Dan showed me other possibilities like the Green Fairytale, Cinderella, Australian Queensland Blue (aka Jarradale) and Lumina whites. With so many choices, I had lots of questions and felt lucky that someone as knowledgeable as Dan was there to answer them. It reminded me that you should always get to know your local produce people and fearlessly ask them anything on your mind. Not only will they guide you to your best options and values, but they’ll also suggest new ideas that will enhance your menus.

The one thing about roasting pumpkins that most people don’t know is that you cannot eat the decorative varieties grown for Halloween jack o’ lanterns. If you have some uncut ones left over, use them as autumn decorations.

Let’s get to work. The pumpkin roasting process takes a few hours of prepping, baking and pureeing—so if I’m doing a large batch, I set up an assembly line to move things along efficiently. Of course if you’re just doing one pumpkin it’s all even easier. Either way, it’s great fun to knock off the pumpkin stem with a hammer, split it with one good whack of a cleaver and scoop out slimy pumpkin goop and seeds with your hands. Your reward is a deeply flavorful and marvelously textured product that beats anything in a supermarket can.

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Remove the pumpkin stem by giving it a good whack with a hammer.

3.  Cut the pumpkin in half—top to bottom—using a sharp cleaver or chef’s knife. NOTE: Never use a dull or thin knife or you may cut yourself or break the knife.

 

 4.  Pull the sides of the pumpkin apart.

 

5.  Scoop out the stringy pumpkin goop and seeds with a large spoon or your clean hands. Save the seeds for roasting.

6.  Place the pumpkin halves—cavity side down—on a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.

 

7.  Remove the pumpkins from the oven and turn them over—cavity side up. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 15–30 minutes, or until a fork goes through the flesh easily.

 

 8.  Remove the pumpkin halves from the oven and let them cool for one hour.

Peel the outer skin away with your fingers. (The peel comes off easily once cooked.)

9.  Puree the pumpkin using a food mill, food processor, blender or immersion blender.

Add a few tablespoons of water to the pumpkin get the process going.

 10. Store the pumpkin puree in the refrigerator for several days or freeze it in airtight zip-top bags. Be sure to lay the freezer bags on a cookie sheet when freezing so that they will remain flat and easy to handle. Otherwise you’ll end up struggling to pry bags off of your freezer shelf.

Print out my illustrated step-by-step How To Roast Pumpkins and recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes for easy reference.

Peach Perfection

Trips to the farmers market always yield a treasure or two that aren’t on my shopping list. So when a vendor approached with a large sample platter of sliced, golden peaches I couldn’t resist. They were perfectly ripe, packed with flavor and dripping juice. Pie! They would make an amazing fresh peach pie.

I savored a second sample and started creating the recipe in my head. This pie would be stacked high with glazed, sliced peaches in a basic pre-baked crust. Fruit this good is best showcased with a simple glaze made from peaches, sugar and water and thickened with cornstarch. No need for a lot of spice here—let the pure peach flavor shine. And the topping—clouds of whipped sweet cream generously spooned on each slice. Perfection!

Making my way through the crowds to the peach stand, I was disappointed to see that not all of the fruit was as ripe as the samples. Maybe this pie wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Since I was going to need 10 to 12 medium-large peaches for both the glaze and filling, I asked the salesperson for help. She set about selecting the best fruit for today’s project. “We’ve sold a lot of peaches today and had to put out a new batch—some are less ripe.” After checking her reserves, she found what I needed and rang them up. I thanked her and headed home to start the pie.

Back in the kitchen, the peaches needed skinning. Rather than using a knife or peeler—which seems to waste a lot of fruit—I rely on this easy blanching method:

 

 

1. Remove the peach stem with your fingers.
2. Cut an “X” into the bottom of the fruit.
3. Submerge the peach in a pan of boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds. They are ready when the skin around the “X” begins to curl. A ripe fruit peels more quickly than an under-ripe one.

 

4. Remove the peach with a slotted spoon and place it in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and loosen the skin.

 


5. Slip the skin off with your fingers or a paring knife.

Peeling and slicing the peaches for this luscious pie is a quick process. And it’s especially satisfying to breathe in their intoxicating scent that soon permeates the kitchen as you work.

 

Assembling the pie is a breeze. Have your peach glaze and pre-baked crust ready and then build the pie in layers. I like arranging the peach slices in a pretty circular design, and then slathering it was a generous coating of the glaze before starting the next layer. My biggest problem is not eating the peaches while I work. It’s utterly hopeless—all those juicy bits and pieces of fruit just waiting to be plucked from the bowl. Who can resist?

 

Once the pie is finished and chilled through, I top each slice with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Here have a piece. Close your eyes and savor the moment: this is the essence of great summer eating.

Print a copy of my Fresh Peach Pie recipe and illustrated, step-by-step How to Peel Peaches for  your convenience.

 

Sammies to Scream For
Chocolate Wafer Ice Cream Sandwiches

Go on, take a bite. Just one and you’ll know why everyone screams for these ice cream sandwiches. To my mind, the wonderfully soft, dark chocolate wafers made with Dutch-process cocoa and deepened with espresso powder are perfection. Fill them with a generous scoop of your favorite flavored ice cream and you’ll never go back for store-bought again!   Kid sized ice cream sandwiches Big eyes. Little tummies. The tiny-fingered crowd at my house loves the 2-inch rounds, especially when joyfully decorated with brilliantly colored sprinkles. Gone are the days of sticky, gooey puddles of abandoned too-big treats…or worse yet, tummy aches.   Chocolate wafer ice cream sandwich with star sprinkles Big, full-sized ice cream sandwiches all decked out with red and blue stars for Independence Day tickle my fancy. What’s not to love? Be it declared: absolutely no guilt allowed. None. I bought my first chocolate wafer “sammie” off the ice cream truck that drove through my neighborhood on hot summer days. What a treat! Years later, there were no trucks in the hills of MillValley, so I made the sandwiches for my kids. We got creative and cut the wafers into our favorite shapes and filled them with what seemed like a million flavors: mint, vanilla, banana, cherry pecan, coffee and all the crazy Ben & Jerry mixtures.   One thing is for sure, they are super easy and stress-free when you know a few tricks. 1. Roll the wafer dough 1/8-inch thick instead of the standard 1/4-inch. You want a thin, soft wafer that melds into the ice cream as you bite, finishing with wickedly good chocolate crumbs. 3. Bake the chocolate wafers until just set. You may fret thinking they’re still raw, but trust me and remove from the oven. They firm up as they cool and remain soft through the freezing process. Over-baked wafers become crisp and break easily. 4. After baking, place the cooled, empty, parchment-lined cookie sheets in the freezer for 15 minutes before filling. This helps prevent melting as you work—especially when the kitchen becomes hot during the summer months. 6. Soften the ice cream slightly—just enough to scoop—approximately 12 to 15 seconds in the microwave. 7. Working in batches, place six cookies on a flat working surface and fill with ice cream. Top with a second cookie. Lightly press the sandwiches to distribute the ice cream. Using clean hands quickly press the sprinkles or decorations on the sides of the sandwich. 9. Set the sandwiches on the cold cookie sheet in the freezer and firm up for several hours. Repeat the process until completed. 10. Hide your favorite ice cream sandwiches deep in the freezer or they’ll mysteriously disappear when you’re not looking. Today’s indulgence is tomorrow’s sweet memory.   Print a copy of my Chocolate Wafer Ice Cream Sandwiches recipe for your convenience.