Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking ahead to a new year

Another year comes to a close and it’s time once again to make New Year’s Resolutions. Plans for the future, dreams, wishes, goals, whatever you want to call them. But apparently most of us make them.

Some of us make ours only to break them in February, but some of us make them and check back with ourselves at the end of the year to see how we fared in fulfilling them. I think that making resolutions is like making a business plan for the year – but for ourselves, personally. Goals are good – measuring them, even better. How else do we improve ourselves if we don’t set goals?

Some of my resolutions are probably not unlike many most of us have: exercise more, eat less, read more books, watch less television, get more sleep, etc. But one I also have is to challenge myself more in the kitchen. I mean expand my skills by cooking with foods I don’t usually cook with, trying new techniques, and new ethnic cuisines I haven’t yet explored. Like most of us, I find I cook the same kinds of things (Mediterranean being the most prevalent) over and over again. Regional American foods, Middle Eastern, and Latin American foods appeal to me lately and I want to explore them more. I am excited to begin the search for new recipes, and their preparation, and then to sit down to enjoy them.

Whatever your new year’s resolutions are, I hope cooking something that takes you out of your comfort zone is on the list. And if it is, I wish you all the best on your culinary adventure!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

'Tis the Season

If you’re still wondering what to get some of the people on your Christmas list, and you’re a little short on cash, don’t despair. You don’t have to break the bank to let someone special know you care. Consider giving them a home-made gift, one that came from your kitchen.

Christmas cookies or cakes wrapped in pretty packages; home-made jam, flavored vinegars, or herb-infused oils in lovely glass bottles and jars; or baking mixes layered in Mason jars tied with ribbons, all make great gifts. It may seem simple, but that’s exactly what is so endearing. If it was made by you, with them in mind, the gift takes on greater meaning than something you may have simply bought at Williams-Sonoma.

This is a tough year for many people. If you like giving, but don’t have the budget you once had, consider giving something you’ve made. On the other hand, if you know someone who’s having trouble right now, consider having them over for dinner one night. Gifts from the kitchen warm everyone’s heart and are very much appreciated.

I decided to search for German Christmas cookie recipes. I wanted to make some for my dad, who will hopefully come home from rehab for the holidays. I’m thinking that having some of the goodies he remembers from childhood will be comforting as he comes home again after all these months away. 

Here is one of the recipes I just made. It’s one I grew up with and it’s really easy to make.

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

3 egg whites
250g powdered sugar (1 cup)
250g ground almonds (1 cup)
2 Tbsp. cinnamon (heaping)
100g sugar (¼ cup)

Beat egg whites till soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and mix until just blended. Remove 2 heaping tablespoons to use later for decorating. Combine almond meal with the cinnamon and add to the egg whites.

Distribute sugar on a board. Roll out the dough on top of the sugar to ¼” thickness and cut out stars with a cookie cutter. Place cutout cookies on a sheet and decorate with the remaining egg/sugar mixture that you removed earlier. Bake at 350 degrees F until more dried out than baked. They should take on a little color but not much! Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet. 

 Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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