Pink Christmas Marshmallows

Here's my third, and final, entry for the Holiday Cookie Exchange, hosted by Dawn at SoCal Foodie. If you haven't yet participated, there's still time to join in throughout the rest of the weekend!

I had trouble choosing what I would make this time, especially because I knew I had only the ingredients already in my kitchen to work with - we leave on Wednesday to drive home to Colorado for Christmas. But I also have a (sometimes annoying) habit that once I see something that I think is great, be it a recipe or a food product in the store, I have to have it, or make it. Right away. This has been the case since I saw an advertisement for homemade marshmallows yesterday.

Homemade marshmallows.
Soaking in a cup of peppermint schnapps-laced hot chocolate.

Mmmm... I looked on the Internet to buy them - "hand-crafted marshmallows." There were several types available, from all over the place. But wait! I'm broke! I don't get paid until the end of the month - after Christmas. And they tend to be a bit pricey for what they are. But wow, are they sure pretty. So, I thought, maybe I can find a recipe for them. Perhaps they aren't too difficult to make myself (home-made is always better, anyway, right?). I found a recipe on www.epicurious.com - and it didn't look too difficult. And it got rave reviews.

I could make these for the Holiday Cookie Exchange! Now, I know these aren't your traditional cookies...but can't you just see little cellophane bags filled with homemade marshmallows, tied together with a Christmas bow? Perhaps alongside a homemade hot chocolate mix to give to the neighbors, or your friends? Doesn't everyone love hot chocolate with marshmallows on top??? I apologize that my pictures are not more Christmas-y...but after scouring the house, I realized that I do not own a single Christmas-y dish! Nor any cute bows or anything fun to make a neat Christmas picture with my marshmallows! I guess that's what you get for still being a student! Loving Boyfriend and I actually tried to make an igloo out of the marshmallows on a red napkin, thinking this would be the coolest picture of Christmas marshmallows out there - but it was quite possibly the ugliest igloo I've ever laid eyes on...so we dismantled it and decided against having photographic evidence of it ever existing.

They taste fabulous. And they're cute (well, I think so). Except that in an effort to make them more Christmas-y, I added red food coloring - hoping if I added just a bit and didn't stir too much, they would come out looking streaky and pinkish red, like these. But no, they just turned out baby girl pink. I should have made them green. I even tried to dab on red food coloring after the fact, but this does NOT look pretty. If I had money and time, I would have also gone to the store and added a bit of peppermint extract, to make them even more like Christmas marshmallows.

Just think of the possibilities! Cinnamon marshmallows over mexican hot chocolate. Coconut marshmallows. Cutting out shapes of pastel-colored marshmallows - perhaps little Peeps for Easter! Smores. Or how about dipped in dark chocolate and covered with graham cracker crumbs for a Smores rendition? I think that these will definitely become part of my repertoir. Apparently, though, you shouldn't make rice crispy treats out of them (I'm not sure why, but one reviewer said definitely not to do this...followed by "EW" in capital letters!).

Marshmallows, from epicurious.com

about 1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115°F.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites*
1 teaspoon vanilla

*if egg safety is a problem in your area, substitute powdered egg whites reconstituted according to manufacturer's instructions

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners' sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F., about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer. In a large bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift remaining confectioners' sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat. Marshmallows keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 week.

Makes about 96 marshmallows.

My notes: You should either own two bowls for your stand mixture, or use a handmixer for beating the egg whites. I don't own a second bowl, nor a handmixer (I killed it to get the stand mixer...he he he) so I tried holding a separate bowl under the paddle to do the egg whites, and this was quite nearly a disaster...and probably dangerous! I'll be purchasing a second bowl for my mixer right after Christmas to save myself from ever having to do this again!

Wash everything right away - it's really gooey! And transfer the mixture to the pan immediately after you've combined everything - it gets sticky fast. I also took the advice of one of the reviewers and oiled my hands and used them to flatten out the mixture right after I put it in the pan - this worked great! And my last bit of advice is to use either a very hot, large, sharp knife or a very sharp pizza cutter to cut them.


You are what you eat: My top 10 favorite foods meme

I was recently tagged by Ilva, at Lucullian Delights for this meme, and then shortly thereafter by others (you know who you are!) looking for unsuspecting victims that had not yet been tagged. This leaves me with the duty of trying to find new people who have escaped the radar of tagged bloggers for this meme... I'll be coming after you soon! If I can find you, that is... Unfortunately, I don't have beautiful pictures like Ilva does to go with mine since some of my most favorite things are not in season, and so either not available, or not beautiful this time of year. And besides, now I am just going to post it sans photographic enhancement to avoid getting tagged again! (That said, thank you all for tagging me, I feel loved.)

10. Artichokes. Sure, I like the hearts right out of the cans, but there is nothing like a freshly steamed artichoke leaf, dipped in mayonnaise, a little lemon juice, and some worchester sauce. And digging out all of those pokey little leaves towards the heart just make that morsel even more worth it when you get to cut it into quarters, dip it in straight melted butter, and shove it in your mouth.

9. Fried Calamari. Now, at first you might say: "That's sacreligious! A marine biologist eating calamari!" Perhaps even more so when you find out that if I see it on a menu at a restaurant, I simply have to order it. And it's probably even more appalling when I tell you that I insist that it actually looks like squid to be edible - with all those little tentacles streaming out in all directions, complete with little teeny-tiny suckers! It's true though, all of it. Calamari should be tender, and in either rings or little bunches of tentacles. I hate to break it to you, but there are no calamari steaks or sticks out there swimming along in the ocean! I assure you that there are many other marine biologists out there eating seafood just as much as I do - we just try to be sustainable about eating our subjects.

8. Pecans. Or as some of my family from Texas calls them: PEE-CANS. Pecans are yummy. My grandmother makes a mean pee-can pie...even meaner the one time she mistakenly forgot to put eggs in it and it turned out like sticky caramel pie. Everyone knew but my grandfather, and no one told him just to see what would happen. He didn't even say anything until his dentures came flying right out onto the table! Good memories go hand-in-hand with pecans in my life. They're lovely in any kind of pastry or even savory dishes, but I like them roasted and right out of the bag.

7. Mache. Lamb's lettuce. The only place I have been able to find mache is at Trader Joes here. I know it abounds in other places, like Europe, but I haven't been so lucky.
Its mildly sweet and tender leaves make mache the perfect green bed for almost anything you feel like placing upon it. You can sautee it, or eat it raw, like I do.

6. Berries. Blueberries, strawberries, gooseberries, mulberries, raspberries, blackberries, any kind of berry. I just love them. I could eat them until I get sick, and I have done it before. That part isn't so enjoyable. But there is nothing like picking up one of the sweet little morsels and popping it in my mouth to squish all that juicy sweet goodness out with my tongue. Even better is picking it off a bush in the wild or the backyard and eating it fresh, with gooey stained fingers.

5. Garlic. 'Nuff said.

4. Avocados. Silky smooth guacamole...slices on sandwiches...layered with eggs on a breakfast burrito...placed on crackers with olive-oil packed tuna...made into smooth, rich soup...avocados are just delicious in every way. And no one can argue - they have the good kind of fat! (Who cares how much of it, right?)

3. Bacon. Yes, I know that it's fatty, and bad for me. But the smokey crispy goodness of bacon just calls me in, sniffing the aroma like a trail in the sky, directly to the kitchen. I could eat an entire pound in one sitting. And yes, I would be sick afterward, but it would be worth every little bite. It's just so good. And yes, I know, poor little piggies may have given their lives for me to enjoy the luxury of my slab of bacon, but I wouldn't eat them if they didn't taste so damn good! So, really, it's not my fault.

2. Dark Chocolate. Milk chocolate, although good in some things, is just far too sweet for my tastes. Especially after comparing it to all the delicious varieties of dark chocolate at the Slow Food For the Love of Chocolate event this year. Just a single square (okay, maybe two) and I'm satisfied. And anyway, woman doth not live on vegetables and savory foods alone...she needs her sweets!

and now, drumroll please...

my most favorite food in the whole world is...

1. Tomatoes. Growing up on a farm in Colorado, we always had a garden. As a child, I didn't really appreciate this fact much as it simply meant to me that when mom got upset at us for not helping around the house, we recieved a large peice of paper listing the chores we had to complete to become 'ungrounded'. Weeding the garden was one of my least favorite of these chores. However, as I have become older, and wiser, or so I like to think, I now actually enjoy the manual process of weeding, hoeing, composting, planting, picking the fruits of my labor (er...Loving Boyfriend's labor), and even canning them. At least until the deer came along and ate most of what we grew this year. We canned many of the heirloom varieties of tomatoes we got from our CSA this year, because there is nothing like an in-season, fully ripe, red juicy tomato - even if it's been canned for months...and simply because I cannot live the 6 or 7 months of winter without tomatoes while waiting for them to come back in season. I also blame growing up on a farm for my pickiness about what a tomato should look or taste like, and unfortunately most restaurants (unless they care about their tomatoes as much as I do) and most grocery stores just do not live up. I'll still eat them, of course, I'll just complain about them first. :)

Now the fun part, to come up with a few people who haven't been tagged yet...keep your eye on your comments...he he he (evil laughing ensues...)

Squash stuffed with quinoa ala Bakingsheet

As Christmastime tends to be rather expensive when you're living on the meager budget of a graduate student stipend, we've had to be more creative with what we're eating lately and rob the cupboards of all of those unusual ingredients I've 'collected' over the years (yes, some of them have sat in there for years waiting to be used, as I have already confessed). One of these ingredients in quinoa. I'm really not sure when I bought it, or if I even used it once after buying it, but it was in the lazy susan under the counters and in a pretty little old-fashioned wire-topped glass jar that I also must have picked up at a second-hand store or one of our Goodwill raids. Now, just what could I do with something that has a name like quinoa - sounds like some exotic ingredient like Ms. Cooking diva, Chef Melissa, might pick off a tree in the tropics. But no, just a rather mundane and boring looking grain-like thing...

Then, from the recesses of my memory, I recalled a recipe from Nic, at Bakingsheet, for quinoa stuffed squash. We still have a random assortment of squash and potatoes from the mysterious re-appearance of Farmer Steve from our CSA, including something that looked vaguely reminiscent of Nic's carnival squash. Luckily, I also had the rest of the ingredients she called for. You can find her recipe here, and the only changes I made was to add some toasted walnuts and using dried cranberries instead of dried cherries. The smell from the oven when you take the squash out is heavenly - a combination of carmelized sugar and maple mixed in with the earthiness of the squash. And Nic means it when she says one squash feeds two. I made two, thinking that without the addition of a salad or something to round out the meal, we might still be hungry. I was wrong, but the leftovers will make a nice lunch this afternoon. Even the extra filling by itself was tasty.

Then I read more about quinoa today in an effort to educate myself a bit - it's actually not a grain at all, it's the seed of a plant distantly related to spinach! And it's also considered a 'supergrain,' which is good in light that we won't be eating the most balanced meals possible with our monetary constraints. Unfortunately, as I read more about it I also realized that I might actually have cooked millet instead of quinoa, but since there was no label and I don't have to background of using either one, I'm not sure which I used! Though I do think it looked like the same grain as Nic's picture...either way, it was tasty. The website I saw also recommended toasting the quinoa in a heated pan briefly before cooking it, and I think this would really add a nice roasted flavor that would go really well with this recipe. Try it - it's delicious!


Holiday Cookie Exchange #2

This is my second entry for the Holiday Cookie Exchange, hosted by Dawn at SoCal Foodie. Thanks for hosting, Dawn! Go check out her round-up of recipes, choose a recipe (or add one of your own) and start your ovens!

My friend, Kristin, and I were baking up a storm last night for the Biology department's Holiday Party this afternoon...though I have to say after all the work of cutting out the shapes for my Raspberry Linzer Windowpane Cookies, Kristin is the smarter of the two of us - she went out and bought a cookie press for her very cute spritzer cookies! It's so fun to just pull the trigger and have little Christmas trees appear! All in all, it was a great night of girl talk, flour all over (my) face, and dough everywhere, and we even ended up with a large assortment of great cookies.

The first cookies are out of Martha Stewart Living Holiday Cookies (see my last entry here). I love coconut, so the name of these cookies was the seal in the deal: Double Chocolate Coconut cookies. YUM. I was expecting something like a regular old chocolate chip cookie for texture, but these turned out surprisingly moist and light. Be sure if you're going to be transporting these anywhere to layer them between parchment paper, or they'll stick together. I also found that the second batch of cookies, that had sat in the bowl while the first batch was cooking, turned out prettier than the first batch...I haven't figured out why this is, but this happens to me a lot...so someone please tell me if there's some little unspoken baking secret about letting baked dough 'rest' for a while or if this is just one of those random events in the universe that happens to me.

Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies, from Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups white-chocolate chunks (~9 oz,)
1 3/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 3/4 coarsely chopped walnuts (~6 oz.)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter and sugar until smooth, about 2 minutes. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
2. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix into butter until well combined. Stir in chocolate, coconut and walnuts.
3. Using a 1 1/2 inch ice-cream scoop (or if you don't have one, like me, use a heaping teaspoon per cookie), drop batter onto sheets lined with parchment paper. Space 2 inches apart. Flatten slightly, then cook for 10-12 minutes or until set. Let cool on sheets on wire racks for 2 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment paper to wire racks to cool completely. Can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 1 week. Yields approximately 5 dozen cookies.

The second cookies I made are from Cooking Light magazine. (This is my attempt at mercy for all the butter I've been using lately, Vickie!)

Raspberry Linzer Windowpane Cookies, from Cooking Light

These beautiful cookies are easy to prepare. Cut them into shapes--round, rectangular, or even star-shaped. You can reroll the dough scraps, but be sure chill them first.

2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
2 teaspoons powdered sugar

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, stirring well with a whisk.

Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg substitute; beat until well blended. Beating at low speed, gradually add flour mixture; beat just until a soft dough forms. Divide dough into 2 equal portions, and wrap each dough portion in plastic wrap. Chill at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Roll each dough portion into a 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface (I also 'lightly' floured the dough before rolling it out, because it stuck really nicely to the counter the first time I rolled it out and I couldn't get my beautifully cut little circles off of the counter); cut with a 2-inch square cookie cutter to form 32 cookies. Repeat procedure with remaining dough portion. Place cookies 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Cut out centers of 32 cookies with a 1-inch square cookie cutter. Bake cookies at 375° for 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on pans 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

Spread center of each whole cookie with about 1/2 teaspoon jam. Sprinkle cut-out cookies with powdered sugar. Place 1 cut-out cookie on top of each whole cookie, and viola! Your windowpane into raspberry gooey goodness! Yields 32 cookies.


The Pizza Research Institute

Eugene has a unique pizza establishment, called the Pizza Research Institute. I've heard murmerings around town about how good it is, that it is considered "Northwestern artisian pizza," that it actually enjoys it's own cult following of Eugenians, and now after having been there, I believe it. They won second place for best pizza this year. It's a small place, with sort of a warehouse, blackmarket feel to it. There are only a few tables inside, and they take advantage of an open-air atmosphere with tables outside whenever the weather permits it. The guy behind the counter had tattoos up and down both arms as well as his neck, though this is not that unusual in Eugene and I feel it adds to the flair of the population that makes up my town. The service was prompt and friendly as we chose our pizza by the pie (or the slice, if you'd like) from the unique offerings written on a small chalkboard next to the counter... obviously the reason for the name of the place has to do with the various combinations of toppings they provide. One in particular sounded appealing, and unlike anything I had ever tried before: gouda, apple and walnut pizza. The dough is made fresh daily, and most everything is organic. They also offered soups, salads, vegan options and home-brewed rootbeer and hemp cola (I'm going to have to try these next time).

After ordering, we situated ourselves at a table and perused the sauces for adding pizzazz to pizza. This was not just your normal grated parmesan and red chili peppers - they offered everything from olive oil, balsalmic vinegar, salad dressings, hot peppers, hot sauce, salt and pepper, spice mixes and more. Loving Boyfriend grabbed an assortment (my favorite was the balsalmic), and we waited patiently for our pizza. PRI is open only Tuesday through Saturday every week from 5:30pm until 9:30-ish. Several other patrons crowded in the tiny restaurant and it was clear many of them had been here before and knew their favorite combinations, or had come just to try the new ones.

After a short wait, our pizza arrived. It smelled marvelous. The crust was crispy and tasty with a subtle hint of herbs in it, and the combination was perfect. The thin slices of fuji apple were still slightly crisp, the toasted walnuts added a nutty but soft crunch. You could still see the slices of smoked gouda laid on top of the mixture, along with a bit of mozzarella, and under that, a thin layer of pesto and some kind of spices sprinkled lightly on top. It was delicious. I would definitely go back...but now I want to go back to take notes on their other combinations, because I'm going to have to try this one at home next time!

Pizza Research Institute
1328 Lawrence Street
Eugene, OR 97403


The light of friendship on a dark and dreary day

After a weekend of coughing and being drugged up on Nyquil cough medicine all weekend, which I am unbelievable sensitive to (just ask LB - I passed out within 10 minutes of taking it, and didn't wake up until 10:30 the next morning), I wasn't much in the mood to be back at work on Monday, plugging along on the drudgery of my experiments. And by the way, Nyquil is the nastiest tasting stuff ever! You would think that they could come up with something that at least resembles a real or at least semi-real cherry flavor since we can fly to the moon and back, but no, it just tastes like red death! And don't even get me started on the original flavor...it's 10 times worse! I don't want to feed my kids that someday - how could I, knowing how awful it is? Like when my mother used to make us take spoonfuls of cod liver oil when we were kids (they didn't have the fancy little capsules back then) because it was 'good for us' (now, I know it's supposed to be, but have you ever tasted the stuff???). We used to fight and fight against having to take it, until one day she actually tried it herself...and lo and behold, we never had to take cod liver oil again! Okay, enough of my tangent and on to the good news...

When I got home last night,
after a rather dark and dreary day of coughing and working, there was a package sitting on my porch from my friend Vickie, over at the Moveable Feast Food Blog. Vickie and I have been emailing back and forth and laughing together since we both began our blogs around the same time. This was quite an unexpected surprise! I can't even describe how big and giddy my smile was when I tore open the box (I didn't even wait for LB to get home). Christmas came early, and finding this package made my whole day. Vickie sent such thoughtful and beautiful little ornaments of all kinds - which was just perfect as we recently bought a little 2 foot tall plastic tree from the Goodwill to decorate our house with, since it never really feels like Christmas without one. I also collect ornaments that mean something to me to celebrate the year that just passed by, and now I have some to reflect back upon my blogging experience and everything it has brought to my life, including some new and special friends.

She also sent some yummy looking soup and dip mixes, a jar of delicious looking Vickie's jam (very cute), some handmade soap, and a bag of amazing smelling culinary lavender (complete with two fabulous looking recipes) that I'm really anxious to try. Even more exciting and way over the top, she also included a very chic little picnic set for two - perfect for those times when LB and I want to take some of our goodies and have a romantic evening together. I can't thank you enough, Vickie! You shouldn't have! But I'm very grateful - both for all of the thoughtful gifts, and just for your presence in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Caramel-Hazelnut Sticky Buns

When I was younger, all of my girlfriends and I would love to spend the night at my friend Leslie's house. Not only were her younger twin brothers pretty cute, but her mom always made sticky buns for all of us in the morning. Oh, the joy of plunging your little fingers into the bowl containing all that ooey-gooey stickyness and pulling a round ball of dough out - watching all the sticky tendrils stretch out slowly as you brought it to your mouth and got it all over your face. It was a bit of pure sugar-induced weekend heaven. Of course, at that age I wasn't concerned with keeping my 'girlish figure' and ate as many as I could before the belly-ache set in for the rest of the day.

These days, I am watching my figure, but there's nothing like a sticky bun - so when I saw this recipe in Cooking Light magazine, I had to give it a try. It takes a while, but the results are well worth it. The toughest part is eating just one (or two). They're only 5.3 grams of fat per roll, so if you can limit yourself (which I'm still not very good at doing) you'll be able to keep your figure and eat your sticky buns too! Do eat them while they're warm as they harden up when they've been sitting out, making them extra sticky (so sticky that they stick to your teeth incredibly well). The original recipe is made with pecans, which are the classic nut to use, but I couldn't resist putting a little Northwest flair into them and using hazelnuts. These would make an excellent holiday breakfast with a full house to feed (less leftovers to entice you!), and they look really beautiful set out on a platter.

Caramel-Hazelnut Sticky Buns, adapted from Cooking Light

1/3 cup packed dark brown muscovado sugar or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
4 teaspoons light corn syrup
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted

1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 2/3 cups warm water (100° to 110°)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided (about 23 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, softened

To prepare caramel, combine first 3 ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat; stir frequently until butter melts. Continue cooking until mixture thickens and becomes smooth (about 1 minute), stirring constantly. Remove from heat; pour into the center of a 9-inch square baking pan; quickly spread caramel onto pan bottom using a spatula coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with hazelnuts; cool to room temperature. Lightly coat sides of pan with cooking spray.

To prepare dough, dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in salt.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 5 cups flour to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to keep dough from sticking to hands.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.

Combine granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

Roll dough into a 16 x 12-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface; spread 2 tablespoons of softened butter over dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Roll up rectangle tightly, starting with long edge, pressing firmly to eliminate air pockets; pinch seam to seal (do not seal ends). Cut into 16 (1-inch-wide) slices. Place slices, cut sides up, in prepared pan (rolls will be crowded). Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until rolls are light golden brown. Cool in pan 5 minutes on rack. Place a serving platter upside down on top of pan; invert onto platter. Serve warm.

Yields: 16 rolls


Holiday Cookie Exchange #1

For the first ever Holiday Cookie Exchange, hosted by Dawn, at SoCal Foodie, I made Earl Grey Tea Cookies - little buttery shortbread cookies with flecks of real Earl Grey Tea in them. They're perfect for that cup of tea after an afternoon of Christmas shopping when you've been out fighting the masses or for just relaxing after a busy day or perhaps for some comfort during a dark and rainy day (uh-huh, like it is here), when all you want to do is sit and read food blogs for an hour or two (okay, now I'm wishing...).

The recipe comes straight out of the Holiday Cookies special edition by Martha Stewart Living. I'll never be Martha, nor do I want to be, but this is a really cool little edition - every page has few cookie recipes on it, and it's available in stores right now. I halved the recipe because I know I'll be making more cookies for the Exchange over the next couple of weeks and I don't want to be eating all those cookies!! But my co-workers have already gobbled up all of these little cookies that I brought in just this morning! The original recipe says it makes 5 dozen and darn it if I didn't forget to count mine before I started giving them away, so I'm not positive I got 2.5 dozen out of them, but there were still plenty, and besides, I only had one paper towel roll (you'll see what I mean when you read the recipe below). The orange zest is essential, and gives them that little boost of flavor and brightness they need to cut through the butter and because you really don't taste the tea that much.

Earl Grey Tea Cookies, from Holiday Cookies, by Martha Stewart (recipe has been halved)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp Earl Grey Tea, ground finely in a small food processor or spice or coffee grinder
1/4 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1 paper towel roll
parchment paper

1. Whisk flour, tea and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Cream together butter, sugar and orange zest for about 3 minutes, until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Then gradually add the flour until just combined. Gather up all the dough and place it on parchment paper. Shape it into a log, and roll in parchment to 1 1/4" in diameter. As you roll, push it together tightly to push all the air out so that your cookies don't fall apart. Try to get it as round as possible, because you'll be inserting it into a paper towel roll and the cookies are prettier if they're round rather than oblong! Transfer (in the parchment paper) to the paper towel roll, and put it in the freezer until firm - 1 hour. I tried it after 30 minutes and it's definitely better to wait for the full hour or the dough is still squishy.
3. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the cookie logs into 1/4" slices and space 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until edges are golden. Let cool on sheets on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temp for up to 5 days.

Go check out all the other recipes posted at Dawn's site today and through the weekend and join in! The cookie exhange will be taking place today, and the next two Fridays, so there's still plenty of time. This is a great way to learn new recipes and show off some of your family favorites! Happy beginning to the Holidays! And thanks for hosting, Dawn!!