Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Sugar Cookies

Its Christmas Eve and I have been intending on writing a post for three days now. We are hand making all of our Christmas presents so there have been many late nights and early mornings trying to get sewing done while the baby is asleep. We are almost done, just in the nick of time.

Even with all the hand crafting we have been doing we did find time to make sugar cookies with our 20 month old son. It was pretty successful seeing as he is in a stage that he wants to help with everything. He helped me make the dough, with a guiding hand he poured in all the ingredients, he helped me roll out the dough, he kept his hand on the rolling pin as I rolled, and he helped to cut out the cookies, he only tore off one reindeer leg. We have a nice little collection of holiday cookie cutters, some traditional: reindeer, sleigh, tree, and some non-traditional: sweater, hat, mitten, ice skate. Even with all those fun shapes my favorite way to cut out cookies is the what my dad used to do when we were kids, customized letters with a knife. Our son did not like this method as he could not help so I only did a few, but we always made sure to cut an S for Santa so he would have a cookie waiting for him on Christmas Eve.

Even with all his help I don’t plan on letting my son have more than a bite of the cookies. In an effort to stave off the inevitable sugar addiction I try to limit his sugar intake and I have found over the last few weeks, as there have been more holiday treats entering the house and I have been letting him have bites here and there, he has been rather moody. I don’t know if its just a new phase or if it has something to do with the sugar, so to be on the safe side we are going to try to limit the sugar; if he doesn’t see it he won’t want it so of course that means limiting my sugar too, and that’s not all bad. Maybe Dr. Crystal has some better information about sugar and moodiness.

So for the recipe this week… Sugar Cookies.
I adapted the recipe from an Alton Brown recipe I found on

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated if you can
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbl milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix the first four ingredients together.
Cream the butter and the sugar till light and fluffy.
Add the egg and the milk.
Slowly mix in the dry ingredients.
Chill for two hours.
Roll out and cut into desired shapes.
Place on a cookie sheet either greased or line with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Bake for 7-9 minutes, till just barely browned at the edges.

A note about spices: I wanted to make something different so since I have recently discovered the wonderful taste of freshly ground nutmeg I decided to add it to this recipe. That being said there are many different spices you could try in this recipe, ground ginger, cloves (maybe just a dash), or cinnamon. Just add the new spice in moderation so you don’t get over powered, half a tsp in this recipe was just right, it gave it a subtle flavor.

Happy Holidays to you and all your family and friends!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I don't have anything to whine about... because I have my wine

My love affair with red wine started with a $5 bottle of Barefoot Merlot accompanied by very garlicky mashed potatoes. Since then I have learned to prepare my garlic mashed potatoes with a more balanced flavor and have graduated from Merlot to pretty much any other varietal of red. I don’t often have a Merlot that is pleasing to my pallet so I stick with Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or anything that has a red hue, but if it says Merlot I steer clear. The one thing that has remained constant from that first foray into the red wine world is the price. I don’t know the last time I paid more than $10 for a bottle of wine. I am tempted, the names or labels are what catch my eye, but my experience has taught me that a $6.99 bottle from Trader Joes can be a pretty satisfying experience. This being said my husband and I were treated to dinner by a distributor he works with and at this dinner we consumed a very nice, very expensive red wine. I don’t know what the cost, varietal, or producer was but it was definitely not $6.99. So there is a place in my heart for a fabulous, pricey wine but I am devoted to my Trader Joes budget buys.

The recipe I am sharing with you this week is a dessert, Wine Poached Pears. When the pears are finished serve them with a triple cream blue cheese (also found at Trader Joes) and a glass of the same wine you used for poaching liquid, you’ll need to buy two bottles then, one for poaching and one for drinking.

Wine Poached Pears
Makes 4-6 servings

4 cups Water
1 Tbl Lemon Juice
4 - 6 ripe, but not squishy (Pears, Bosc, Bartlett, Anjou, or Comice)
1 bottle dry red wine (Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or a Merlot if you must)
1 cup sugar
Zest and juice of 1 Orange
4 half inch slices of peeled fresh ginger
Ginger tip: You can buy a big chunk of ginger and store it in the freezer then when you need some grated ginger or slices you just take it out and grate or saw off what you need.

In a large bowl, combine the water and lemon juice. Peel pears, leaving stems intact, and cut a thin slice from bottom of each to enable pear to stand upright for presentation purposes. Place the pears in the lemon water to keep from browning while prepping the poaching liquid.
In a large pan (large enough to hold the pears either laying on their sides or standing upright), add red wine and sugar; bring just to a boil. Add orange zest, orange juice, and ginger slices.
Remove pears from lemon water and arrange on their sides in poaching liquid; add enough additional water as necessary to just cover pears. Reduce heat to low and simmer, turning them occasionally, approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until pears are tender. To test the doneness stab the pears carefully with a thin bladed knife - it should meet little resistance. Don't poach for too long as the pears will quickly disintegrate to mush. This is best done the same day you plan to serve them.
When done, carefully transfer pears with a slotted spoon to their serving dishes. Strain the ginger slices from the poaching liquid. Increase heat to medium-high and boil liquid until it is reduced to about 3/4 cup and slightly syrupy (watch carefully so it does not burn). Remove from heat and pour sauce over pears or serve in a small dish on the side for dipping. Cover and refrigerate pears until ready to serve.
Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Math of Wine--a Postscript

A unit of alcohol (10 milliliters of ethanol—the amount the average healthy body can process in an hour) can be determined by multiplying the volume of the drink (in milliliters) by the percentage of alcohol by volume in your beverage and dividing by 1000. For example, a 750 milliliter bottle of wine at 13% alcohol contains 9.75 units of alcohol. An ounce is approximately 30 milliliters (29.57 for you purists out there) so that means that an average bottle of wine is 25 ounces. If you do the math, that means that a unit of 13% alcohol wine is just a hair over 2.5 ounces (2.564 for the purists).

Wine a Bit...You'll Feel Better!

As I sit to write this, I have just poured a glass of Shiraz (okay, so it’s “3 Buck Chuck” but it’s still wine!). It isn’t anywhere close to the recommended 59-64 degrees at which red wine should be served (I don’t have a wine cellar or wine storage—just my garage which is way colder than that right now as it hasn’t been above freezing around here for a couple of days), but it sure is hitting the spot! We love wine! And while expensive wine isn’t in the budget for either Chef Brett or myself, we still enjoy the wine we can afford. And isn’t it great that wine is good for you too?! Let’s explore, shall we?

Recently, I’ve seen commercials starring my favorite foodie, Alton Brown, talking about the polyphenols in grape juice. Polyphenols are a class of molecules that are highly antioxidant and also may deactivate some of the enzymes cancer cells need for growth. Wine is also high in other flavonoids like quercitin which is also antioxidant. The reason that antioxidants are so important in heart health is that it is oxidized LDL (“bad” cholesterol) that creates plaques in arteries. Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of LDL and thus prevent plaque formation. Quercitin also helps prevent platelets from sticking together and so acts as a blood thinner. There is also some health benefit to the alcohol itself—ethanol in moderation helps raise HDL (”good” cholesterol).

Another, lesser known, benefit of wine is that it can kill harmful intestinal bacteria such as shigella, salmonella, and E. coli—some research even shows it is more effective than Pepto Bismol for traveller’s diarrhea. So, if you are travelling out of the country, drink up! When it comes to health benfits, red is where it’s at (remember, pigments are pretty much synonymous with antioxidants). The level of tannin (what makes wine “dry”) is highly correlated with health benefit, making cabernet sauvignon, syrah/shiraz, and merlot your best choices.

Grapes share all of the health benefits that wine does except the ethanol effect so for those who would prefer not to drink, are pregnant, or have diabetes, eating grapes is a great choice. Drinking non-alcoholic wines or grape juice (be cautious about the sugar—6 ounces of no-sugar-added grape juice has about 30 grams of sugar and 120 calories) might also be an option (admittedly, I’ve never tried any but if they are anything like non-alcoholic beer, I’m probably not really a fan). Speaking of calories, if you need to know, here’s a link to a website with calories by type of wine: --personally, I don’t want to know!

The cheaper the wine, the more additives and chemicals that can cause trouble in people who are sensitive to them. Sulfur dioxide, a common preservative, can trigger asthma and substances known as congeners as well as amines can trigger migraines. So, buy the best wine you can afford and drink less of it!

Women should not consume more than 14 “units” of alcohol each week, men 21. (For all the other math nerds out there, a post script follows with the calculations!) The result of all the math means one 5 ounce glass of wine a day for the ladies; guys, you can have 7.5 ounces. I don’t know about you, but that feels a bit disappointing (and I’ll admit, I just refilled my glass) but let’s look on the bright side: if we can keep our consumption there we are really helping to protect our hearts! Unfortunately, consuming more alcohol than that tends to reverse the health benefits and we start damaging our livers and increasing our risk of cancer. So remember: everything in moderation! Savor that glass!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Great Cilantro/Tortilla Dilemma

There appears to be a large divide between those who like (or love!) cilantro and those who claim it tastes like soap. I have heard it proposed (though I have no definitive proof) that there is actually a gene that controls the way you taste cilantro and for those with (or without?) the gene, cilantro tastes like soap. Again, no proof, but I would recommend if you are serving for a crowd, find out the taste preferences of your guests--or provide offerings with and without cilantro. I guess all the more cilantro for me Chef Brett!

Oddly enough, we have the exact same tortilla preferences in my house as in Chef Brett's: my hubby prefers flour tortillas in his enchiladas and I prefer corn. I solve our dilemma by making 2/3 of the enchiladas with flour and 1/3 corn (if you layer flour tortillas on one end and corn on the other of a 9 x 13 pan, they fit perfectly). However, it must be said, my hubby will eat just about anything so I'm not sure why I go through the trouble--it must be love! Just to keep things interesting, when we make tacos/burritos, I prefer flour and he prefers corn!

Happy eating!