Russian Snowball Christmas Cookies

Moscow Basilica
Strange but true: I've worked full-time, for eight years, with a man I've never met or even spoken to. That's because he lives in Moscow and neither one of us feel like affording that long distance bill.

We freelance together. He's my designer/programmer. I email him junk, he emails me stuff, somehow we put it all together and make it look pretty. (Long live the internet.)

I've never met him, but I did meet one of his co-workers a few years back. Costya introduced us to the miracles of fine vodka. After a few hundred shots of that stuff, he taught us how to swear in Russian. Прокляните все это к черту!

Every year, I send Pasha a Christmas card. He never gets them but I keep sending them anyway. I figure, if Putin stays in office long enough he might figure out how to make his postal service work. Until then, I suppose the KGB is compiling a big secret file on my activities...

Russian Snowball Cookie Recipe - Makes 3 dozen
(Российский Рецепт Печенья Снежка)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
How To:
  1. Cream butter and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Combine powdered sugar and flour; stir into the butter mixture.
  3. Mix in the chopped walnuts.
  4. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 12 minutes @ 350 degrees F.
  6. When cool, roll in a second dusting of powdered sugar.
* Dough will appear very dry. The warmth of your hands, as you form the snowballs, softens the butter and moistens the cookie dough.

This is my 3rd most favorite cookie in the whole wide world. Whenever I make them, I think of my buddy, P. They melt in your mouth, light as air. If I could stop eating them long enough to put them in a box, I'd probably send him some.

С Рождеством Христовым, Пол. Я даже не знаю, любите ли Вы это печенье!


Classic Spritz Christmas Cookie Recipe

If you make 1 cookie this season,
make it a Spritz

I can't imagine Christmas without a tray of these tempting little treats. Though, I'll readily admit they're a lot more fun when someone else is baking them.

Spritz are made with a cookie press ~ if you're a perfectionist, that will give ya fits. It's not so bad for me because we generally eat all the dough before the oven is preheated.

For years I suspected my oven hated me. It would bake too hot, or broil too cold. Everyone accused me of being childish and immature for blaming the appliance.

Last year, that #!%*! oven decided to quit baking on December 23rd ~ so, we had to broil our Spritz Christmas Cookies! They weren't very pretty but they still tasted great.

Who's cryin now?
Sure, I could have recycled it. But, deep down, I knew it was possessed. So, I happily hauled that mean-spirited oven away to a place where it will never (ever!) be able to foil another baker's plans.

Classic Spritz Cookies
If you can refrain from eating the cookie dough, this recipe makes 4 dozen.
1 cup butter
3 egg yolks
2.5 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

How to:
  1. Mix the butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Add the flour and mix by hand.
  2. Spoon into cookie press and press onto cookie sheets.
  3. Sprinkle with colored sugars. (Or, use red and green food coloring on smaller batches of the dough.)
  4. Bake @ 400 degrees for 7-10 minutes.
* Cookies require no recipe adjustments, when baking at high altitude.


Crunchy Peppermint Cookie Recipe

Fire up the oven. Cookies require no tricky recipe adjustments when baking in high altitudes!

Crunchy Peppermint Christmas Cookies

* If you can refrain from eating the cookie dough, this recipe makes five dozen.

  • 1.5 cups butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 tablespoons baking powder
  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup crushed peppermint candy

How to:
  1. Cream butter and sugar.
  2. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
  3. Add dry ingredients to the batter in two batches, alternating with milk.
  4. Stir in crushed candy.
  5. Spoon onto cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes @ 375 degrees.

This recipe is even better than that one!


Cranberry Apple Pie Recipe

Fun Facts to Know & Tell:
I have never tried Pumpkin Pie.

Whenever I mention that at a holiday dinner, someone inevitably takes the fork that was recently inside their mouth and pokes it at me, hoping I'll try a bite. I don't like, or dislike, Pumpkin Pie.

I simple prefer pretty little cranberries to messy orange pumpkins, filled with slimey junk and ghostly white seeds. Once you try my pie, you will, too.

Cranberry Apple Pie
  • 1.25 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh, lovely, cranberries
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 5 sliced Granny Smith apples
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 Pillsbury pie shell (Don't bother making your own. Face it. They're better at this than we are.)
Luscious Topping
1 cup crushed Graham Crackers
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter

Create the Masterpiece:
  • In a saucepan, mix together sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and salt.
  • Stir in cranberries and maple syrup.
  • Cook over high heat, stirring, until mixture comes to a boil.
  • Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in apples and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, add walnuts.
  • Pour apple mixture into pie shell; set aside.
  • Mix up Luscious Topping sprinkle over the pie filling.
  • Bake 30 minutes @ 375 degrees.
Serving Suggestion:
Cut yourself a big slice and wait for an idiot Pumpkin Pie fan to say something derogatory. Then slowly remove the fork from your mouth, scoop up a sample size piece from your plate and ask them to try a bite, germs and all. It's only fair.


Biodynamic Wine

Growing up, we never celebrated Thanksgiving with wine, champagne or anything else really fun. There was no religious excuse surrounding this decision. We just didn't do it.

I always thought that was a huge mistake.

After all, we were living in this horrid little town in South Dakota. Just looking out the window could drive ya to drink!

If you ask me, we should have invented the concept of Bloody Marys with Breakfast. Talk about family tensions! Mom had 11 sisters and Dad had at least as many siblings. God forbid they could ever enjoy a big group hug. (Champagne Cocktails could have helped that cause, too.)

Everything is more palatable when we all get along. And, that's why I'm so fond of the concept of Biodynamic Wine.

It's a nice, fancy term for returning to our roots, finally listening to our elders and farming the good old fashioned way.

Organic is great but Biodynamic takes it to the next level by making the land self-sustaining.

√ Cover crops return nitrogen to the soil.
√ Trees, birds and bees all play a role.
√ Essentially, the acreage becomes a nature preserve surrounding the vines.

Thanksgiving is Thursday ~ and half the nation is expected to show up with a side dish and a bottle of wine.

In the spirit of getting along, bring one from a Biodynamic Vineyard.

Why? Because everybody's gonna be bitching about global warming when you get to the party.

You can show off your bottle, brag up biodynamics and act all smug.

I can actually afford this one: Frey Wine is around $12. (But, you could bring a super expensive bottle just to piss off your less successful siblings!) Here's a great big list of Biodynamic Wines.

PS: This might be a good day to visit Gardening While Intoxicated.


Marvelous Mashed Potato Recipe

I go through periods of my life when cooking everything from scratch is essential to good living.

Then the dishwasher breaks and I rebound. I can't help myself. I'm weak. Plus, I'm hungry. And, it's hard to cook a meal once you've run out of dishes.

It begins, innocently enough ~ a dinner date with my on again, off again par amour, Mr. Microwave.

Soon, I'm sucked back into one of my most enjoyable bad habits: the cutting of corners.

Take potatoes, for instance. Sure you can tub 'em, rub 'em and scrub 'em or... you could just doll up the pre-made varieties.

Because no amount of toil and trouble can match the stirring in of some fresh chives and Gournay cheese.

Recipe Steps for Marvelous Mashed Potatoes:
1) Get yourself to the hot mashed potato stage however you please - work yourself into a frenzy or buy them pre-mashed from the store.
2) Dice a couple tablespoons of fresh chives (just the stems) into the potatoes.
3) Add a few tablespoons of real butter.
4) Stir in a package of Garlic & Herb Gournay cheese.

Warning: These are the fattiest fat fat potatoes you've ever tasted. Which is why I call 'em Marvelous!

Another Warning: Read the label! Last Thanksgiving, I accidently bought a package of reduced fat Gourney cheese, by mistake. That was a dark day, indeed.

Third & Final Warning:
Chives are a pretty pink and purple lifetime commitment in the garden. That's because they are hellacious re-seeders. No matter how hard you try, once you plant them, you'll always have them. Personally, I think they're worth it. Their fresh green stems have a delicate, oniony flavor that simply cannot compare to a dried spice. Not into gardening? What's wrong with you? (Just kidding.) Fresh Chives are available, year round, in the produce department of your local supermarket.


Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Recipe

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I can over-indulge at someone else's house. I don't have to bring presents. And, I'm generally clever enough to get out of washing the dishes, too!

I'm determined to make this a good one because lately things have gone awry.

Last year, I was in charge of desserts.
I slaved for hours and hours and hours, but they were horrible and everyone was too nice to say so.

The forecast for this holiday is much brighter. After last year's disaster, I've been assigned the easy task of sweet potatoes.

If you've been losing sleep over the difference between yams and sweet potatoes, fret no more...

Impress your friends by explaining that yams and sweet potatoes are entirely unrelated, though here in the US, they're essentially the same. Yup, it's just another marketing ploy. In spite of everything your grocer tells you, you'd be hard-pressed to buy a yam in America. Yams sold in the US are just a different variety of sweet potato.

Garnet Sweet Potatoes (marketed as yams) have deep, red skin and bright orange flesh. Moisture content is much higher, making these a great choice for candied sweet potatoes or my all time favorite, Sweet Potato Cheesecake.

Jersey Sweet Potatoes have tan skin and yellow flesh. They're sweeter than 'yams' and also drier. Great for muffins and breads.

Sweeten up your Garnet Reds with Dark Brown Sugar and Toasted Pecans:

2 lbs Roasted Garnet (red-skinned) Sweet Potatoes, peeled, mashed and lovingly improved with:
1/4 cup Butter
1/3 cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Chopped Pecans, toasted (brings out the flavor)
1/2 tsp. Salt
(Serves 6)

* Yams and sweet potatoes are completely unrelated vegetables, though in both cases you're eating the root of a tropical vine. Sweet potatoes are grown in America, a distant member of the morning glory family. Yams, a staple in Africa, are rarely seen in the U.S.


High Altitude Bread Baking

Winter thunder rumbles across the meadow, with snow and sleet not far behind. Such is life in the mountains, where seasons change overnight, with little warning. And, they'll change back again, tomorrow.

So, I’m keeping busy baking bread. If you think high altitude gardening is a challenge, try baking a yeast bread from scratch. Dry, thin air wreaks havoc on traditional recipes and Betty Crocker is not much help. Her high altitude recipes say ‘over 3,000 feet.’ I live above 7,000 feet so, with most recipes, I'm winging it.

I’ve learned...
  • Rapid rise yeast is the proverbial recipe for failure. Breads rise faster at high altitudes. I have better luck with an instant active yeast, using less than the recipe calls for.
  • A little extra water helps if the dough is too dry.
Baking bread is a science experiment in the mountains. Start with small (1 tablespoon of water, as example) changes and use your best judgement when modifying recipes. Sometimes those adjustments need to be dramatic. For instance, I have added up to 1/4 cup of water to a recipe for bread dough to reach a nice, moist consistency for kneading.

And, don't worry... even the failures taste great!

Seems silly, to me, to pay $3.50 for a loaf of artisan bread when the ingredients cost about 50 cents. Here's a yummy French Bread Recipe to try the next time you're snowed in.

French Bread
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (add more water, by tablespoons, until bread dough is moist)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (less 25%, if you're at high altitudes of 5,000 feet or more.)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon shortening, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
* Combine ingredients in the order listed above. Add flour last. Begin with 3 cups. Place 1/2 cup on your bread board and knead this into the dough. If the dough is very sticky, add additional flour 1/4 cup at a time.
* Rising time: approximately 1 hour. 400 degree oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Brush loaf with beaten egg white and water mixture, for a crispier crust.


Holiday Horse Treats: Molasses Cookie Recipe

Your kids might not like these but my 'kids' jump for joy.

Who doesn't have time for this?
5-minute prep, 20 minutes in the oven and you'll have some very happy horses on your hands.

Oat & Molasses Horse Cookies
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 2 cups apple sauce
  • 4 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups flour

Easy Prep:

Stir together carrots, apples, oil, and molasses.
Mix in salt, oats, and flour.
Spread onto a cookie sheet and bake @ 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

PS: Be careful. They 'mobbed' me when I walked into the corral sporting these cookies. I know they meant well but oats & molasses is to horses what wine & chocolate is to us...


Yellow Crookneck Squash ~ Side Dish Recipe

Summer and winter squash are on the market all year long.

So, what's the difference?

Maybe it's like using the term, horsepower, when talking about cars. These days, nobody has a clue what that really means...

Impress your friends by explaining that winter squash got it's name, centuries ago, because these gourds have thick, hard rinds, storing well over a long winter.

Yellow Crookneck is a summer squash. These dainty, little swans have bumpy, edible skins with a sweet, nutty flavor. Add it to recipes when you get bored with Zucchini.

And, don't fall for those Zucchini tricks! If your neighbor tries to pawn off a two-foot Zucchini on you, toss it in the compost pile. Yellow Crookneck, Zucchini and other Summer Squashes taste best when harvested small, around 6 inches long.

Fabulous side dish for an autumn meal:
  • Slice crookneck squash lengthwise
  • Brush with olive oil
  • Roast with onions and red, sweet peppers
Click here for another yummy squash recipe.

* And, they're good for you, too! High in antioxidants, vitamin C and beta-carotene.

* Save some seeds. These little swans are open-pollinated, meaning they should grow in your garden, next summer.


Scrumptious Pumpkin Bread Recipe

I was going a little stir crazy yesterday. Nasty winds, blowing snow, nothing to do. Well, plenty to do. Cleaning comes to mind since it looks like a bomb went off in this house of mine. But, why clean when I can putz around the kitchen and make an even bigger mess?

Pumpkin Bread Recipe
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Combine flour, salt, sugar and baking soda. Separately, combine pumpkin purée, oil, eggs, 1/4 cup water, and spices. Stir all ingredients together. Last but not least, stir in those yummy walnuts. Bake in a bread pan @ 350 (F) for about an hour.


Harvest Corn Side Dish Recipe

The Corn Picking Moon (named by Native American tribes) is often the brightest full moon of the year.

Farmers call it the Harvest Moon because it's almost like a second daylight, allowing them to work well into the night, harvesting crops.

Harvest Corn Side Dish Recipe
(My Grandma used to make this.)
  • 18 oz. sweet corn
  • 1.5 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 6 oz. skim milk
  • 1.5 cups minced onion
  • 1.5 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 Tbsp. melted butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Stir together: corn, egg, milk, onion, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup Swiss cheese.
Place in a shallow baking dish.
Create a topping with the melted butter and bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the casserole.
Cover with the remaining Swiss cheese.

Bake @ 350 degrees for about a half hour.


Oven-Fried Green Tomato Recipe

There is so much bad news in the local paper* that I often wonder why I subscribe. Take this morning, for instance, when a sneaky little note in the corner of the front page warned that night temperatures would drop to 24 degrees (F). Oh, I know there are plenty of bigger problems in the world than frozen green tomatoes but I had sort of crossed my fingers that we'd have a long, leisurely autumn since it snowed in June. This is why containers are oftentimes a mountain gardener's best friend.

If you have an abundance of good fresh tomatoes, freeze them whole. Just wash, dry, and put them in freezer bags. They'll retain their flavor ~ great for all sorts of recipes (too squishy for salads.)

[Bake in 400 degree oven]
  • 6 green tomatoes, cut in 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup skim milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1.5 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1.5 cup Parmesan cheese
Mix beaten eggs, milk, and water in a shallow bowl. Mix bread crumbs and Parmesan in a separate shallow bowl. Dip tomato slices into the egg mixture, then into the bread crumbs. Arrange tomato slices on a cookie sheet and bake uncovered in 400° oven for about 10 minutes. Flip all of the tomatoes, to brown on the other side, and bake for 10 more minutes.


Watermelon Pickle Recipe

You gotta be quick. When Levo's melons are ripe, it's a free-for-all, kind of like Filene's Basement. Perhaps it's a secret in the soil. Or, maybe it's just good old-fashioned know-how. Whatever the case, when Levo turns the lights on at his stand, summer is officially over and the pickling season has begun.

Turns out old Levo knew what's what long before the rest of us. Watermelons are one of the world's healthiest foods - higher in cancer-fighting antioxidants than any other fruit. Make this recipe with your kids. It's a fun time and a whole lot sweeter than taking them to McDonalds.

Watermelon Pickle Recipe
*Quantity: Makes 2 1/2 pints
*Prep Time: Takes forever (Hey, it's a labor of love.)

2 pounds watermelon rind
1/4 cup pickling salt
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon broken stick cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced

Day One:
  • Trim the dark green and pink parts from the watermelon rind.
  • Cut into 1-inch cubes and measure 7 cups.
  • Soak watermelon rind overnight in a mixture of the pickling salt and water.
Day Two:
  • Drain and rinse watermelon rind.
  • Cover rind with cold water in a large saucepan; cook just until tender.
  • Combine sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, whole cloves, and 1 cup water in an 8-quart kettle. Simmer mixture 10 minutes, then strain.
  • Add drained watermelon rind and lemon slices.
  • Simmer until watermelon rind is translucent.
  • Fill half-pint jars with watermelon rind and syrup mixture, leaving 1/2-inch space at the top of the jars. Adjust the lids.
  • Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

* Find Levo's historic watermelon stand along route 37 in South Dakota. By the time I arrived, most of the goodies were gone. Slackers get to explain to the kiddies why they're roasting pumpkin seeds instead of cookin' up pickles.


Bacon & Tomato Irresistible Dip

This is a face only a Mother could love...

...Which is why I'm dicing him up for the Labor Day BBQ. Heirloom Tomatoes can win, hands down, in a blind taste test but they don't score many points in a beauty pageant.

I live in a boom town and - just between you and me - the Californians are makin' us a little nuts. They quite seriously show up at a Labor Day BBQ with some kooky Tofu recipe and call it a 'dish to share.' Dish to scare is more appropro.

We're Utahns. We're light years behind the rest of the country with respect to social development. (Haven't you seen Big Love?)

This is why I'm cookin' up my favorite BLT Dip. B = bacon!

These days, bacon is so unhealthy and taboo that this dip gets everyone excited ~ including the new neighbors from LA.

  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1 lb. bacon
  • 2 heirloom tomatoes

Cook bacon until crispy, drain fat. Crumble into bite-size bits. Dice two majorly ugly heirloom tomatoes. Stir together sour cream, mayonnaise, bacon, and tomatoes. Serve with Bagel Crisps.

Click here for another favorite Heirloom Tomato Recipe.

What's so great about Heirloom Tomatoes?


Chokecherry Jam Recipe

Chokecherry Jam was a breakfast tradition at our house. It defined Sunday mornings for as long as I could remember. After a few dozen phone calls, I managed to track down this most precious recipe from childhood.

Once I retrieved it, though, I felt kind of foolish. There's nothing to it. Have you ever gone back to a childhood haunt and noticed how everything is smaller than you remembered it? Well, I guess this recipe is kind of like that. Bigger than life for sentimental reasons and nothing more.

Chokecherries blossom in May and ripen throughout the summer. The time for picking chokecherries is... right.. about... NOW.

Picking your own? Look for big, plump berries, dark purple or black. Toss in some light red and green ones, too. They add extra flavor.

The Legendary O'Fahey Family

Remember to stir, stir, stir. Cherries and sugar can get pretty sticky and may burn to the sides of your pot.
  • Add 1 cup of water to every four cups of cherries.
  • Simmer over low heat until fruit is very tender.
  • Use a large spoon to press the chokecherry pulp through a sieve. (Three cups of pulp make about 3 half pints of jam.)
  • Add an equal amount of sugar to match the amount of chokecherry pulp.
  • Put sugar/chokecherry mixture back on the stove and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Cook to a temperature of 9 °F higher than the boiling point of water. *According to Aunt Lillian, this temperature check will deliver a rich flavor and thick consistency.
  • Pour into hot, sterile jam jars to approximately 3/4 full.
  • Seal and process in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes.
  • Give the jam 24 hours to slowly cool.

* Are you a newbie at making jam? Click here. These guys can fill in the blanks.


Heirloom Tomato Appetizer Recipe

Just because I managed to lose all of my own veggies this year, (Memorial Day frost) doesn't mean I have to go without.

Early morning at the local Farmer's Market is a colorful, bustling, fun-filled affair. This week, I came home with more luscious tomatoes than I really need.

So, now it's time to get creative in the kitchen. Here's a tasty recipe I just discovered.

It's so delicious, it easily doubles as dinner.

You'll need a loaf of crusty bread (garlic or rosemary are great choices,) olive oil, shredded Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced proscuitto, and one fresh-picked, vine-ripened tomato.*

Heirloom Tomato Broiled Appetizer
  • Fire up the broiler
  • Cut the bread in half-inch thick, sandwich-type slices
  • Brush with olive oil
  • Add thinly-sliced proscuitto
  • Add thinly-sliced tomato*
  • Cover with shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Broil for 5-10 minutes, until bread is toasty and cheese is melted and bubbly.

* Please don't wreck this fabulous recipe by using a crummy, store-bought tomato. :-)


Chocolate Drop Cookie Recipe

My daughter is moving home for the college summer break. Aside from the fact that I miss her, an important benefit of L living at home is that she hardly ever has 2 dimes to rub together. That means each time she tries to borrow money I can put her to work pulling weeds! Seeing as how my weeds outnumber my flowers 10 - 1, I'm getting more excited by the minute!

Comforting traditions tie us together more so than any of the 'defining moments' of our lives. My Grandmother made this recipe for her daughters. Mom made it for me. I make it for L. And, though she swears it will never happen... Someday, she will be walking down the hallway, to deliver a plate of these cookies to her own daughter, who is pulling an all-nighter on a term paper she should have started weeks ago.

Chocolate Drop Cookies
Preheat oven to 350. Bake for 12 minutes. Makes just enough for a study break.

1 Egg
6 Tablespoons Butter
6 Tablespoons Dutch Cocoa
6 Tablespoons Milk
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
1/3 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Mix in:
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 1/4 Cup Flour

* Don't even think about lowering the fat in this special recipe.
** Looking to satisfy a sweet tooth? Double the sugar. This family loves chocolate, but not sweet treats.