Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Marjorie's Sugar Cookies - Christmas Cookies from Tupperware

This year I made our family Christmas cookie -- an unusual cutout sugar cookie -- for the first time in a long time. The recipe was a standby during my childhood and teen years, but I'd gotten out of the habit of making them. They are still, however, my favorite sugar cookie and are one of those tastes that says "Christmas" to me.

My mother spent a few years in the '70s as a Tupperware rep. She had two huge (and I mean huge) cardboard suitcases full of samples, and when she stopped repping, they were integrated into our kitchen. One other thing we had as a result of her Tupperware years was a cookbook. Naturally the recipes always featured using Tupperware products as equipment. Don't laugh -- Tupperware made (and makes) a LOT of products beyond storage bowls. We had Tupperware salt and pepper shakers, popsicle molds, and on and on. 

But I digress. The cookbook had two sugar cookie recipes, and the one titled Marjorie's Sugar Cookies were an instant hit in our household. They became the go-to cookie for Christmas -- cut out, of course, with Tupperware cookie cutters. The Christmas shapes included a Christmas Tree, a Santa Claus, and a Candy Cane. Not only did Mama make the cookies for us to have at home, but often made many batches to provide to our classrooms and to the fire station where Daddy worked. I often helped with the production, and even made them on my own as I got older. 

I'd gotten nostalgic for them and made a batch to share with friends and family. I'm very pleased to share them here.

These aren't like any sugar cookie you've had before. First, they are made with confectioner's sugar rather than granulated sugar. Second, They use a combination of cream of tartar and baking soda for leavening. Finally, they have just a little almond flavoring in addition to the usual vanilla. The texture is uniform and a little delicate, with some crispness around the edges.

The recipe includes an egg yolk paint. I'm including it, but these days most folks shy away from raw eggs unless they are pasteurized. Honestly, we rarely used it. We were more inclined to color the dough (!) or use an ordinary confectioner's sugar glaze. I don't have the patience for a lot of cookie decoration -- the most I'll do is sprinkle with colored sugar or sanding sugar, but I'm just as happy with plain cookies.

You can roll the dough to your desired thickness. The recommended baking time works well if you roll them a little thicker than a typical pie crust. If you roll thinner, watch them very carefully because they will cook quickly! The thicker cookie is a little crisp around the edges; the thinner they are, the more crisp they will be all the way through.

Marjorie's Sugar Cookies

adapted from the Tupperware Four Seasons Cookbook, 1969
1-1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
2-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
Colored sprinkles, confectioner's glaze, or Egg Yolk Paint (recipe follows)

Cream sugar and butter with a mixer until fluffy.  Add egg and flavorings and mix well.
Sift dry ingredients together and stir into creamed mixture.  Cover in a Tupperware bowl and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours up to several days. (If refrigerating more than a few hours, wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Divide dough in half.  Cover one half and return to the refrigerator. Roll out the other half on surface lightly dusted with confectioner's sugar. The dough will be very stiff; you can knead it for a minute by hand to loosen it up a little before you start rolling. Don't work it or let it warm up too much before rolling and cutting. Work quickly; if you are interrupted during this process, put the dough back in the fridge until you can continue.

Cut with cookie cutters and place on an ungreased cookie sheets covered with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper.  Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 7 to 8 minutes, until cookies begin turning a light brown at the edges. They should not brown entirely, just get a little outline of browning at the edges. Slide the entire sheet of parchment to a cooling rack; the cookies will crisp as they cool. Decorate if desired. 

Repeat the above steps for the half of the dough in the refrigerator. Store finished cookies in a loosely covered (not airtight) container. 

Egg Yolk Paint
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/2 tsp water
Food coloring

Prepare one recipe of egg yolk paint for every 2 colors desired.  Combine egg yolk and water and mix well.  Divide into 2 small Tupperware containers, custard cups or paper cups.  Stir in food coloring.  Keep tightly covered until ready for use.  If paint thickens, add a few drops of water.   Paint as desired for a colored glaze, and add colored sprinkles.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part Two: Thin Wheats

This post highlights the second homemade cracker I made to go with the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. The method is very similar to the Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers, with the added twist of whole wheat flour and no cheese or cream. Thinner and a little less rich, as well as nuttier from the whole grain, these make a great accompaniment to soup or salad or as just a stand-alone snack.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Potato and Corn Chowder

There are many philosophies regarding corn chowder. The same applies to potato chowders without corn. Many recipes include bacon, using that as the source of the fat. Others include red peppers, for color and flavor. I'm a purist, though. While a sprinkle of crispy bacon on a chowder is wonderful, I don't want that smoke throughout the soup. The same with peppers -- great as a garnish on occasion, not something I want dominating this soup.

Still, the different schools of thought show what a great base a dish like this is. If you want to punch it up with other flavors, it can take it. Bacon or peppers, sure, but also a little crushed garlic or curry powder. If you want to make it more substantial by adding some leftover diced chicken or ham, it's cool. In the spring, change it up with leeks instead of onion. If you like a thicker base, increase the amount of flour. You can use whole milk or cream instead of half-and-half. Etc.

Another point about this chowder is that while it was featured in the Thanksgiving Soup Bar, it's something I've been making for years. This is the first time I've written down the recipe, though, because I've always made it by feel, and based on what I had on hand. I don't worry too much about measurements, I just shoot for general proportions. It's all good.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part One: Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers

This cracker is a recipe that I've made several times, but not in a while. I pulled it out of the file to include as part of the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. Crackers are one of those foods that we tend to take for granted as coming from a store. They are actually quite easy to make at home, though, if you have a reasonable amount of experience working with cookie or pie crust dough. They are lower-pressure though -- for some reason cracker dough isn't as fussy as pie crust can be, and don't have the expectations associated with Good Pie Crust.

Crackers can be simple -- flour, salt, water -- or enriched with fat, or punched up with whole wheat flours or other grain flours, or flavored with an endless variety of herbs and seasonings.

I first ran across this recipe in the fabulous, now retired, Minimalist column from Mark Bittman in The New York Times. Then Deb Perelman posted the recipe with her commentary on her blog Smitten Kitchen, and I had to make this cracker.

Of course you can use the recipe as a jumping off point and add whatever seasonings or seeds you like, either mixed in the dough or as a topping. You can also vary the liquid, switching from cream to half and half or milk (or buttermilk, or yogurt, or sour cream, or ....) Instead of cutting into squares, you can cut out shapes or even bake the sheet whole and just break apart by hand after baking.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Black Bean and Tomato Soup

The next feature from the Thanksgiving Soup Bar is the Black Bean and Tomato Soup. This recipe has been in my repertoire for a couple of years. I'm not a huge fan of legumes, actually, but I try to eat them occasionally because they are cheap and nutritious. I like it best when the beans are pureed, as in hummus or as in this soup. The other thing I like about this recipe is that it has a lot of flavor going on -- it's not just "bean soup." It is so good that I actively like it rather than just tolerate it. That says a lot!

This was another pantry soup -- I had (nearly) everything on hand to make it. I didn't have the chipotle or serrano pepper called for, but I did have an Anaheim chile. That's a larger pepper than the chipotle or serrano, but milder, so I thought the heat level would be roughly equivalent. It worked out fine and I provided minced jalapeno as a garnish for the soup bar for those who might want more heat.

This recipe calls for cooking dried beans without soaking beforehand. Soaking doesn't shorten cooking time that much, so the extra step isn't really worth it. Just be sure that the beans are fresh. Many supermarket beans can be several years old, and old beans can fail to cook. If your beans don't cook up right, or you just don't want to risk it, you can substitute canned beans; see the end of the recipe for details.

Update of an Old Post - Mahogany Glazed Tofu

Today I discovered an old post of mine contained a link to a blog that is now invitation only. Back in the early days of this blog I just linked to recipes on other online sources rather than repeating the recipe here. Luckily some other folks had reblogged the recipe, so I've added it to my post.

I'm not a vegetarian but I do frequently eat meatless meals. I don't go out of my way to use meat substitutes, but the occasional tofu dish or veggie burger will make their way onto my plate. This Mahogany Glazed Tofu, served over rice, is deeply flavorful. It's is actually quite a tasty dish overall, and I plan to make it again soon.  Check it out!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

The Thanksgiving Soup Bar idea started with the idea of doing a pumpkin soup, but I decided to do a butternut squash soup instead. I liked the idea of warming the soup flavors with curry. I could make a basic soup without a recipe, and I'd added curry powder to soups before. I flipped through cookbooks and web sites, though, to see if I could find a specific recipe. Curry and winter squash is a popular combination, and there were a lot of recipes to sift through. I settled on this one from Williams Sonoma. It appealed to me because it went beyond just adding yellow curry powder to a standard soup, but other than the squash, the ingredients were things I already had in the refrigerator and pantry.

I tweaked the recipe a bit, adding lemongrass to the already Thai-style flavor profile. Fresh lemongrass and ginger are wonderful, and I often have a knob of ginger on hand, but didn't last week. I keep tubes of Garden Gourmet pastes on hand as well, though, and using them here saved me a shopping trip. Because I was traveling for the holiday, I made the majority of the soup ahead. After the squash was cooked, I cooled the mixture and transferred it to a zipper bag for transport in an ice chest. Just before serving I pureed the squash mixture, added the remaining ingredients, and turned it over to my sister to man the strainer while I prepped the other soups. You can skip the straining step if you like - the little bit of remaining texture can give the soup a nice heft.

The soup was a little thin after straining; if I'd had more time I would have simmered it a bit to reduce as I prefer a little thicker soup. It was fine as it was, though. I could also see adding more coconut milk or even cream or half and half to make it a truly creamy soup; the amount of coconut milk here is enough to give it a little lightness, but not enough to make it creamy.

Next time I make this I'll add more than the designated 1 tsp of curry paste. I could barely tell