Happy Chinese New Year!   Chinese year 4714 began on February 8, and is the Year of the Monkey.  The monkey is the ninth animal in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle (other monkey years include 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, and  2004).

People born under the monkey sign are purportedly clever, and intelligent, especially in their careers and financial affairs.  “They are lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile,” and “their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life.”  But they are also “jealous, suspicious, cunning, selfish, and arrogant.”  They are perfect matches for those born under the sign of the ox and rabbit and are bad matches with those born under the sign of the pig and tiger.  Check your compatibility with monkeys here.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year, I baked a batch of Chinese Almond Cookies.  I remember having these in Chinese restaurants as a kid growing up in New York, but I don’t see them anymore.  Give these a try — who knows, maybe your family will go ape for them.  🙂

Recipe type: Cookies
  • 2-3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ⅓ cup whole blanched almonds
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Cut butter into pieces and add to flour. Pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the beaten egg and almond extract, and process until combined and dough forms. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet, flattening slightly. Press an almond on top of each cookie. Using a pastry brush, brush tops of cookies with egg yolk mixture. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.
  4. Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.


Ready for their egg wash


The egg wash gives them a nice gloss

Beautifully golden and glossy


I think they should start serving these in Chinese restaurants again


Happy Year of the Monkey!


When in the course of blogging events, it becomes necessary to create a holiday dish, it’s fun to try to come up with something creative in order to form a more perfect celebration.  For this year’s 4th of July festivities, I’ll be making Red, White and Blue Biscotti, which hit all the high notes with my family.  (I’ve seen it suggested that Chicken Catch-a-Tory would be a good Independence Day party dish, but these colorful biscotti are so much more fun.)  There’s a few steps involved, but the end result is worth the extra time.

Begin with your favorite biscotti recipe, or use the one I’ve provided below.  Divide the dough into thirds, placing each third in a separate bowl.

To color the dough, it’s best to use gel food color, as opposed to liquid food color, for deeper colors:


Be careful when using the food color, however, as it will stain your clothes, countertops, wooden spoons, fingers, dogs, etc.  Add enough food color to get the depth of color you desire, and mix it thoroughly into the dough (I find a metal fork works best for mixing the food color in):


To shape the biscotti, cover your workspace with a sheet of waxed paper or parchment, and lightly flour the surface.  Place one portion of dough on the waxed paper, and using your bare arms (which is your right), knead the dough a few times and then roll into a log about 14 inches long.  Repeat with the remaining two portions of dough.  Lay the three logs side by side, and gently twist them to form a single log:


Cut the log into two pieces and transfer to a baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Shape logs into fat rectangles:


Bake according to recipe directions, then remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet.  The dough will have puffed up considerably.


When cool enough to handle comfortably, slice on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices using a serrated knife.  Stand the slices up on the baking sheet.  (For some recipes, you lay the slices on their side and bake, then turn over and bake longer, but for this recipe, in order for the colors to stay sharp, you don’t want to brown the sides.)


If you really want to gild the liberty bell, you can spread a little white chocolate on the tops of the biscotti and sprinkle with red, white and blue nonpareils:


Peaceably assemble (which is your right) the biscotti in a decorative container, and stand back and receive full faith and credit for these crowd-pleasing treats.   If you bring these to a 4th of July picnic, it should be a self-evident truth that they will be a surefire hit.


I tried to find a knock knock joke to post for the 4th of July, but apparently there aren’t any, because freedom rings.  Happy 4th of July!

Recipe type: Cookie
The beauty of this recipe is that it's a blank canvas -- you can doctor it up as you desire with nuts, flavorings, chocolate, etc. The butter keeps it from being tooth-breaking hard, but still crunchy enough for dunking.
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Place eggs, melted butter, and extracts in a large bowl, and beat together using an electric beater. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and stir until well combined, and a sticky dough is formed.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently 5 or 6 times. (If making red, white, and blue biscotti, divide dough into thirds and color one third with red gel food color, one third with blue gel food color, and leave the last third uncolored. Form each third into a rope approximately 14 inches long. Lay the ropes side by side and gently twist to form a single rope.) Divide the log into two equal portions.
  5. Transfer the logs to a baking sheet, and using your hands, pat into fat rectangles. Bake until lightly browned and firm to the touch, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the logs from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees. Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and slice them on the diagonal into ½-inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Stand the cookies up on the cookie sheet and bake again until the biscotti are dry, approximately 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.




cowboy art

I saw this hanging on the wall at an estate sale, with a $5 sticker on it.  Can you imagine trying to sell your kids’ elementary school artwork — is nothing sacred?  Who knows, maybe there is a market for such stuff?  Let’s see, I’ve got some of my daughter’s artwork that might interest y’all.  Here’s a sample of her cowboy art:


Perhaps something from her Degas period might appeal to you:


This one is my personal favorite, which I could never part with at any price:


Then there was the dark period — we’re still trying to figure this one out:


In any event, I’d be willing to bet that the cowboy picture was drawn during that time of year in Houston when everyone’s a cowboy — the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is presently upon us.  Friday was Go Texan Day, the day the trailriders thunder into town, the barbecue cook-off starts (a full weekend of smoke and debauchery), and the rodeo season officially kicks off.  My newsfeed was filled with adorable pictures of my friends’ kids and grandkids in their cowboy couture.  I got kind of verklempt thinking back to the days when I used to dress my kids up for Go Texan Day.

Tomorrow, March 2, happens to be Texas Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836, an event that marked Texas’s independence from Mexico.  9-1/2 years later, Congress admitted Texas as a state of the Union.

Inspired by the child’s cowboy drawing and all the Texas-ness going on around me, I set out to make a Texas cookie.  The one that kept popping up in my searches was Laura Bush’s Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies (rather pompous sounding, don’t you think?), her entry in the 2000 presidential cookie contest.  The inane contest began in 1992, when Hillary Clinton rattled a number of women with her comment that “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.”  Family Circle magazine seized on this and came up with the contest, pitting HIllary’s chocolate chip recipe against a classic one from Barbara Bush, and asking readers to vote for the winner.  In 2000, Laura Bush’s cookie beat out Tipper Gore’s gingersnaps.

This recipe for Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies makes a huge batch of very stiff dough — you might wind up mixing in the chips and nuts with your hands, as if you were making meatballs.  You can follow the recipe and make Texas-sized cookies by scooping out the dough with a 1/4 cup measuring cup, but we preferred them regular size, using 2 tablespoons of dough.  There’s some debate about how long to bake them.  I baked them for about 16 minutes, and they came out golden around the edges and crisped up as they cooled, which we preferred over ones that cooked for a shorter time and were softer in the middle.

At first bite, we did not love these cookies.  But like soup, they vastly improved the next day, to the point where they were really good — crunchy and packed with goodies. Come and bake it!

Recipe type: Cookies
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups semisweet or milk chocolate chips
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups sweetened flake coconut
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl, and mix together.
  3. Place butter in a large bowl, and using an electric mixer, beat until fluffy. Beat in sugars. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
  4. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined. Mix in chips, oats, coconut, and pecans. (These steps will take some time and elbow grease.)
  5. For Texas-sized cookies, use ¼ cup of dough for each cookie, spacing cookies 3 inches apart on cookie sheet. For cookies the size of those eaten in the rest of the U.S., use 2 tablespoons dough for each cookie, spacing 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake cookies for 15 to 17 minutes, until edges are lightly browned and centers are set. Remove to racks to cool.



Stiff dough requires a lot of elbow grease

1/4-cup scoops for giant cookies, 2-tablespoon scoops for normal-sized cookies

Golden and crisp from the oven


You can make them Texas-sized, or the size that the rest of the U.S. enjoys


Bang bang eat ’em up


Baking cookies is an integral part of many families’ holiday traditions. Part of my holiday baking tradition also includes trying a new cookie every year.   I’m not sure which recipe it’ll be yet (I’ll update when I decide), but have I got a cookie for YOU to try!  This  recipe for Golden Pecan Balls won the grand prize in a holiday cookie contest sponsored by House & Home magazine. My prize was a beautiful set of Jamie Oliver T-Fal stainless and copper cookware, which my daughter is happily using in her first apartment.

Golden Pecan Balls are based on a cookie my Mom used to make called Walnut Crescents.  There’s a lot of variations of the cookie out there, which you may recognize as Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Snowballs, or Butterballs.  My version is different in that it uses European butter, golden syrup, and toasted pecans, and if I don’t say so myself, it is delicious.  If you’re looking for a holiday cookie that’s easy and delectable, I would be honored if you gave my prize-winning Golden Pecan Balls a try.

Recipe type: Cookies
  • ½ cup European-style butter, softened
  • ¼ cup Lyle's golden syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup toasted pecans,* finely chopped
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • *To toast pecans, place them in a single layer in a large dry skillet over medium-heat. Stir continuously for 4 or 5 minutes, until nuts are fragrant and beginning to darken in color, being very careful not to let them burn. Let cool before using.
  1. Place butter, syrup, and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat using an electric beater, until smooth. Add flour and salt and stir until thoroughly combined. Fold in pecans. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Roll dough into 1" balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, approximately 1-1/2" apart. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until lightly golden.
  3. Place powdered sugar in a shallow bowl. When cookies are cool enough to handle, roll them in powdered sugar. For a pretty presentation, dust lightly with powdered sugar just before serving or packaging (see magazine photo above).

 IMG_3161Ready for the oven


Baked to golden deliciousness


All dressed up and ready to go


Last Sunday we attended the Last Bite dinner put on by Rebecca Masson, benefitting Lucky Dog Rescue, a volunteer foster-based organization providing rescue services, vet care, foster care, and placement to stray and abandoned dogs.   This was the 10th and final dinner, because Rebecca will be focusing her efforts on her Fluff Bake Bar, which will be opening in the very near future.  Chefs from Houston, Austin, Dallas, and Massachusetts collaborated to put on an amazing final dinner.


Highlights of the 12+ course meal included this mosaic-like terrine of fall vegetables — fermented, roasted, and raw from Nathan Lemley of Parkside in Austin:

A Thanksgiving-worthy course that included smoked turducken, cornbread dressing with ham hock and greens, field pea and radish succotash, and roasted rainbow carrots with sorghum and Texas pecans from Patrick Feges of Feges BBQ and Brandi Key from Clark Cooper Concepts:

Duck Bolognese and apicius-spiced pasta from my favorite chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan of Pass & Provisions:


Mint-marinated lamb with baba ganoush, spiced yogurt, and pickled onion salad from Jason Gould of Cyclone Anaya’s:


A cheese course of St. David’s raclette, sakura boshi (?), cashew, and rye from Tim Maslow of Ribelle & Strip T’s in Boston (we’ll be on the lookout for this cheese!):


Crème fraiche sherbet, concord grape sauce, and ras al hanout from Rebecca Masson:


And adorable cookies from Michael’s Cookie Jar:


I made it to the farmers market last weekend for the first time in a while.  Musical entertainment was being provided by the Grim Reaper’s brother:


I had to ask what these were:


The vendor told me they were jujubes.  I asked him how do you eat them, and he said, “Like this,” and popped one in his mouth.  Whatever.  A minute or two later, another lady came up and said to him, “How do you eat these?”  He said to her, “Here, try one,” and handed her a jujube.  Guess how many jujubes I bought from him?  If you guessed zero, you would be correct.  Way to blow a sale, farmer.  I will just have to imagine what they taste like, and he will just have to imagine what my money would feel like in his wallet.

I got very excited over a new item at Kroger — red walnuts from Sanguinetti Farms:


From my interwebs research, it appears that they have been available for at least a few years.  They are naturally red, and are created by grafting  Persian red-skinned walnuts onto larger and creamier English walnuts.  They’re only red on the inside, and the shells look just like English walnuts.  They’re slightly milder in flavor than English walnuts and lack some of the bitterness.   I can’t wait to use these in holiday salads and baking.  How red are they, you ask?  Very red!


Last year I posted how to make Black Cherries for Halloween.  I made some last week, and used them in these Black Cherry Halloween Butter Cookies.  Something a little different for Halloween, and not overly sweet.  Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Recipe type: Cookies
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 tablespoon half & half
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Orange food coloring (I used ½ teaspoon Wilton concentrated paste coloring)
  • 24 black maraschino cherries (approximately)
  • Colored sprinkles, if desired
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric beater until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk, half & half, and vanilla. Add flour and baking powder and gradually add to the butter mixture. Add food coloring, and beat until thoroughly combined.
  3. Roll about a tablespoon of the dough into a ball. Repeat with remaining dough. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, make a hole in the top of each cookie. Place a cherry in each hole, cut side down.
  4. Beat egg white lightly with a fork. Using a pastry brush, brush edges of cookies with egg white and sprinkle with colored sprinkles.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until cookies are set and lightly browned on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.


IMG_5343 (2)

 Happy Halloween!


This was my daughter’s first full weekend at college. In other words, it was my first full weekend without my daughter at home.  I missed her like crazy.  I managed to get a care package off to her, which included a batch of Snickerdoodles, a cookie we’ve enjoyed making together.  These are easy and hold up well during shipping (so I’m told), and are also nice to tuck in a lunchbox.  The recipe is adapted from the one in Martha Stewart’s Cookies cookbook.  Comfort.  And joy.

Recipe type: Cookies
  • 2-3/4 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar, + ¼ cup for rolling cookies in
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat together butter and 1-1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Stir in flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together remaining ¼ cup sugar and 4 teaspoons cinnamon. Roll dough into 1-1/2" balls and roll each in cinnamon sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheets approximately 2 inches apart.
  3. Bake until golden brown, approximately 12-14 minutes. Allow to cool briefly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

011 - Copy

 Ready to rock and rolled

012 - Copy (2)


 Mmmmmm — cinnamon-y

013 - Copy

What a great way to say “I care.”


Valentine’s Day was a day of community service for us this year.  My son’s school requires its freshmen to complete 15 hours of community service with an organization servicing the elderly, and we found that the opportunities for service were not as abundant as we would have thought, at least not on weekends, when the boys didn’t have school.  This year, the boys were off on Valentine’s Day, so we came up with a Valentine’s Day idea.  The boys spent an afternoon packaging up homemade cookies (made by yours truly) to deliver to nursing home residents and to use as favors at Bingo sponsored by our community’s Senior Services.

OK, I’ll admit, they didn’t really love packaging up the cookies, tying them with ribbons, and attaching a handwritten sentiment — 100 altogether.  But they approached it with a good attitude, and when they saw the smiles on the recipients’ faces, I think they realized the value in the exercise.  At least I hope they did.


Keep up the good work, boys — only 98 more to go!

They also delivered potted hyacinths to some homebound senior ladies, which turned out to be a lot of fun.  The ladies were as tickled to receive them as the boys were to deliver them.  One of the boys kept the list of women we delivered to, because “he might want to do this again next year.”  It was a good day.

The cookies I made for the boys to hand out were Crisp Sparkly Sugar Cookies.  The original recipe I clipped was called “World’s Best Sugar Cookies,” but I personally hate calling anything “World’s Best” or “Best Ever” — got to manage expectations.  Think of the “World’s Best Coffee” scene in “Elf”:

I thought staying away from nuts and chocolate was probably a good idea in this case, and these simple cookies are easy and tasty.  Besides, we’re suckers for sprinkles and colored sugars!  I’m thinking I might just make another batch with green, gold, and purple sugars for Mardi Gras.

Recipe type: Cookies
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for coating cookies
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Colored sugar for decorating (optional)
  1. Place oil and butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until blended Add powdered sugar and 1 cup granulated sugar, and beat well. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt, mixing until thoroughly combined. Chill covered in refrigerator at least 2 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Put approximately 1 cup sugar in a small bowl (add more, as necessary). Using your hands, roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in granulated sugar. Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly, using the bottom of a lightly greased glass dipped in sugar (do not flatten cookies too thin). Sprinkle cookies with colored sugar, if using. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, until light brown at edges. Transfer to racks to cool.


 Rolled, susgared, and ready for the oven


They crisp up as they cool


See — crisp AND sparkly!