Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Cookies & Parties

It's been an entire week since last I blogged. That's a long time for me! I made a decision to cut back on my computer time because I felt like I was spending way too much of the day sequestered in my office, which doesn't get a whole lot of sunshine/natural light, and sunshine/natural light is in short supply these days. Between the gray days and the sun setting so early, I was feeling like I was living in the dark! Plus the unread books and magazines were piling up, the DVR-ed shows were piling up, Netflix movies were lingering for weeks, the cross-stitch was sadly neglected, presents were still not wrapped, holiday cards were in a pile waiting to be addressed and mailed.

The lack of blogging is also because there hasn't been much to blog about. We've been so busy with other activities that we haven't tried any 'new to us' restaurants. Some out of town friends were here last Friday, and as 'the group' of friends gathered here, we opted for the easy thing: pizzas and sandwiches ordered from Picasso Pizza, which is now our favorite local pizza place.

Last Saturday was SP's work holiday party. I didn't take any photos, I didn't even take my camera, so there are not any food photos. The holiday party was at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. It was basically a 3 hour cocktail party with a dancing area and glass demonstrations. I found the glass demonstrations very interesting. Upstairs were two people making glass bottles and downstairs was a man blowing clear glass ornaments. Set up throughout the Glass Center were several bar areas with wines, beers, and mixed drinks. I enjoyed my cabernet sauvignon. There also was a vodka tasting area. I tried a sip of SP's black cherry vodka, but it tasted like cough syrup to me!!! There also was a coffee station as well as tea and hot cocoa.

The food was set up buffet style. Shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon with all the fixings (capers, chopped egg, etc.), soup 'shots' (wedding soup, tomato soup), chowder in a tiny bread bun with a delicious piece of bacon on top, a Thai shrimp sandwich, speck wrapped white asparagus, cheeses & crackers, fruit, hummus, baba ganoush, apple & fennel sausage, a cotton candy station, and probably lots more I am forgetting! Desserts included chocolate cake, pumpkin pie, and a cinnamony-appley bread pudding. Quite the snack selection!

Meanwhile, in our home kitchen, we've started our holiday baking. This year, we are baking early and freezing our cookies. It's just too much to try to do them the week before, especially without my mom in town to be my kitchen helper. Although I love cooking & baking, being in the wheelchair limits my mobility / ability in the kitchen so much that at times I get so darn frustrated and just can't handle things by myself! SP and I make a nice team, and with his help, I do not get as wiped out and frustrated. But baking solo? Not going to happen anymore, except for SP's birthday cake every year.

Two weekends ago, we baked the Raspberry Shortbread and Bow Tie Cookies. This past weekend, we made the Andes Candies Mint Chocolate Chunk Cookies:
Plus SP got to roll dough, one of his favorite kitchen activities, when we made the Sugar Cut Out Cookies:
And we made Spritz Cookies. Spritz Cookies are SP's holiday tradition. His family recipe is a basic vanilla and the spritz turn out thin and crispy. Since that basic taste is like the sugar cut out cookies that I must make every year (need to use those cookie cutters!) we have experimented with other spritz flavors. One year we made Chocolate-Cinnamon Spritz. Last year we made Spice Spritz. And this year we made a Citrus Spritz.
I know. Not very good photos. I forgot the 'natural light' rule. Since it was around 4:30 or 5, I didn't think twice about taking photos, I must have spaced out and not really registered the fact that the sun was gone! Also, I sort of forgot about photos when I packed up all the pretty cookies, stashed them in the freezer, and left out a dozen or so of the 'uglier' cookies for us to enjoy. So these photos are of the 'not so pretty' holiday cookies!The tiny holiday tree shaped spritz are so darn cute, but we froze all of them.

Back to the Citrus Spritz. We love, love, love these bite size cookies! This recipe uses cream cheese (his family recipe doesn't) and it makes the cookies so soft and delicious! We followed the King Arthur Flour Fiori di Sicilia Spritz Cookie recipe but we didn't pay $9 for the special fiori di sicilia flavoring. We used our orange extract.
After all that baking and holiday party fun, we didn't feel much like trying out new dinner ideas. Plus, we need to clean out the freezer to make room for more cookies! So we made two easy meals that we really enjoy for this week's dinners: Paula Deen's Pork Tenderloin (with roasted potatoes & carrots plus steamed green beans) and Chicken with Mustard Tarragon Sauce (with white rice for me, brown rice for SP, and steamed broccoli).

This weekend we plan to bake more cookies! And attend another holiday party. Before we know it, it'll be time to open all the presents Santa has been placing under our tree!

Sugar Cut Out Cookie Recipe
(from a very old holiday craft & recipe cookbook my mom had when I was growing up; much to my dismay, the book was thrown away during a parental purging for one of their moves but luckily I still have my handwritten recipe)

3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
½ cup shortening
½ cup butter
1 and ¼ cups sugar
1 tbsp milk

Sift flour, powder, and salt. Cream shortening, butter, and sugar. Add vanilla, egg, and milk. Add flour mixture. Chill 1 hour. Roll 1/8 inch thick, cut, bake at 375 8-10 minutes; decorate.

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