And we have a winner!

It’s that time of year again…the county fair.

We spent days talking about what each of the kids wanted to enter. Our son started with a cake, then was certain he wanted to enter biscotti, before finally settling on cookies. Our daughter wanted to enter fudge, but decided on brownies.

I was going to submit biscotti. I couldn’t decide what kind. My husband said to pick something I’ve made before that I know is good. Probably sage advice, but I didn’t follow it. As I looked at the Biscotti Bin, I noticed quite a few orange flavored items I’ve been waiting to try. I settled on Orange Pistachio Biscotti.

So early Saturday morning my daughter, my son, and I got a glimpse of the county fair before the gates even opened as we submitted our baked goods to be evaluated. They were equally exited about the rides…the yo-yo or those swings that make me dizzy just by looking at them, the freefall ride that I’ve always associated with the Demon Drop at Cedar Point in Ohio which I’ve never ridden only wondered how crazy you had to be to get on it, and the ferris wheel, which exacerbates my very slight fear of heights.  Anyone who knows me knows I despise amusement parks.

We returned to the fair Sunday to check out the livestock, tractors, and of course find out if any of us had ribbons on our entries. We had the “we are all winners” conversation as we got out of the car and walked through the gates. And we had the “it doesn’t matter if we win or not, we had fun doing it” conversation. Yet, all our son kept saying was “I hope I won the fair!” I have to admit I was a bit nervous walking into the building that housed all the baked goods, not quite sure how all of this was going to play out.

We came across the “ethnic cookie” category first. I shared with you the outcome of my county fair entry last year. This year was perhaps even more comical. I again entered my biscotti in the “ethnic cookie” category. No ribbon. Not earth shattering and I realized I set a good precedence for whatever was to come as a result of our kids entries. While I got a hug from our daughter and an “it’s okay mom.” I was somewhat relieved and curious at the same time. As I looked at the other four entries, I realized each of them had gotten a ribbon. My biscotti came in last place. But the best part is that someone’s Italian Oatmeal Biscotti actually won first prize! My husband and I were laughing so hard we could barely read the tags to find the kids’ entries.

We found our daughter’s brownie container. No ribbon.

Then we found our son’s cookie container. A blue first place ribbon was attached to the top. I’ve never seen him more excited! Out of all the 5-11 year old entries in the “hand-formed cookie” category, he won first place. We congratulated him, took pictures, and shared a round of hugs.

He made these cookies all by himself. While I told him what to do, he got out the ingredients, measured, mixed, and hand-rolled each cookie. He whisked the frosting, dipped the cookies, and gave each a healthy sprinkle of nonpareils. Way to go my man!

We picked up our boxes and walked to the exit, only to be stopped by the baked good police who were shouting at us as if we were trying to smuggle a newborn out of the maternity ward. Apparently all entries need to remain at the fair until the final day. Who knew!

We quietly replaced the boxes and explained to a rather frustrated little guy that he had to wait to take the ribbon home. We promised to find a prominent place in the kitchen for him to display his award…when we finally get to bring it home. He is my big kitchen helper.

Rocco Ribbon

While I could share my recipe for my entry, Orange Pistachio Biscotti, the real show stopper is our son’s Lemon Ricotta Cookies. We make these during the holidays and although there are several steps involved, they are perfect cookies for little hands. There are plenty of recipes for ricotta cookies online and in Italian cookbooks. The cookie recipes are relatively the same, but the frosting recipes can vary greatly. We used a family recipe that has been handed down through the generations and wanted to share it with you here.  

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

½ pound of butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 pound ricotta cheese

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

zest of 1 lemon

4 ½ cups of all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

nonpareils

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1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and salt.

3. Add the eggs, ricotta cheese, and lemon zest.

4. In another large bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.

5. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.

6. Dip your hands into a bowl of cold water and shape small, no bigger than golf-ball sized balls, and place on parchment lined cookie sheets.

7. Bake for 10 minutes of until the edges are lightly browned. Let the cookies cool completely.

8. Dip the dome of each cookie upside-down into the frosting, and let all of the extra frosting drizzle off.

9. Immediately sprinkle each cookie with nonpareils.

Frosting

5 tablespoons milk

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

1. Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.

Lemon Dill Biscotti with Almonds

lemon dill 3

A work in progress. That is how I often describe us and the myriad of unfinished projects we have around the house. Whether it’s a home improvement project, a decorating project, or some kind of craft project, you can generally find us in the middle of something. We are either contemplating how to finish it, evaluating our options, or debating how it should be done.

There is one project that our daughter has been “reminding” me we have not finished and questioning exactly when we are going to get to it.

For the last month my sewing machine has been taunting me from our dining room table. I’m not a sewer.

My mother taught both my brother and I the basics of how to sew and read a pattern while we each made our names out of letter pillows. Although I can’t remember what fabric I used, I remembered I loved them. After I got married my mother bought me a sewing machine. I’ve taken it out of the box now and again over the years, but it is generally an exercise in frustration. The bobbin doesn’t wind properly, the needle breaks, or the tension is off.

Last summer I told our daughter we could make aprons. I took her to the fabric store and we found a “Sew Easy” pattern (that is a misnomer…there is nothing easy about it), picked out fabric, and some ribbons for embellishments. We took our supplies home, cut out the patterns pieces, and dug out the sewing machine from it’s box in the basement. And there it sat, mocking me like a schoolyard bully every time I walked past it. When I was finally determined to start sewing, the tension was off and I couldn’t fix it. I promised our daughter that I would get to it.

But eventually the sewing machine made it’s way back into the box in the basement. The patterns and fabric made it’s way into a plastic bag that was stowed in the box with the sewing machine. And for a while it was all forgotten.

For a while she was distracted by other projects and goings on. But soon again the “reminders” to finished the apron surfaced and after a year I realized that if we didn’t get her done, it would probably be too small for her when he did. So this past weekend, I finished it.

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And while she loves it, I know that the stitches aren’t even. If you look closely you’ll find plenty of mistakes and lose strings. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly. I basted when I should have hemmed. I folded instead of surged. But overall, it at least looks like an apron. I make everything with a bit of “character” as I like to call it. Nothing ever comes out perfectly. It is a sign that it has been handmade…at least that it what I tell myself.

In order to commensurate the completion of such a monumental task, our daughter suggested we make biscotti. She desperately wanted to wear her smock, as she calls it. So, we decided on Lemon Dill Biscotti with Almonds. The dill is from our garden. We left it out to dry on the counter overnight before adding it. We used an Asian lemon oil, which would also work well with basil rather than dill if you prefer one over the other.

As we were mixing and kneading, our daughter looked down at her apron and then up at me. “Can I get it dirty?” she asked. I laughed. “Of course. That is the sign of a good cook!” I think it will be used a lot.

The pattern was for matching aprons. Luckily she hasn’t asked yet when I am going to finish mine.

Lemon Dill Biscotti with Almonds

YIELD: approximately two dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for the topping

1 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 heaping tablespoon chopped dried dill

2 eggs and 2 egg whites

1 teaspoon lemon oil

zest of one lemon

½ cup roasted and salted almonds, chopped

lemoncello

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1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

2.  In a large flat-bottomed bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and dill.

3.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, lemon oil, and lemon zest.

4.  With a rubber spatula, stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until the dough just starts to come together.  Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough in the bowl until all the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is tacky.

5.  Add the almonds. Sprinkle your hands with lemoncello and knead the dough until incorporated, about 10 – 20 times.

6.  Separate the dough in thirds.  Form three logs, approximately 2 inches wide and 1 inch high on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Leave several inches between the logs, the dough will spread as it bakes.

7.  Sprinkle to top of each log with a generous helping of sugar.

8.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the tops begin to crack or split.  Transfer logs to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

9.  Transfer biscotti logs to a cutting board.  Slice the biscotti on a diagonal and place cut side down on the same parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for an additional 20 minutes, turning the biscotti once halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

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What to do with the ends #79: Use the ends to help hold your fabric in place on your next sewing project.

 

Limoncello Pignoli Biscotti with Homemade Candied Lemon Peels

pignoli 3

“Have you stopped making biscotti?” may daughter asked me as I sliced her a piece of the french yogurt bread our son and I made earlier in the day for dessert.

“No. We’ve just been really busy with other things,” I mentioned…feeling a bit like I’d let her down, along with countless others who are asking where all the biscotti are.

As I handed her the plate and turned toward the fridge to get her a glass of milk, I heard “mmmmmmmm.”

“I think you should start a bread blog,” our daughter mutter with her mouth stuffed with her first bite of bread. She rubbed her belly in big sweeping  motions with both hands. We have a tradition in our house to determine just how much the kids enjoy what they are eating…a one handed belly rub or a two handed belly rub. Since dinner didn’t even register with a single hand twitch, I’m glad dessert was well received.

Yet, a bread blog I will not be starting.

However, I think we could potentially start a blog about all the foods that we dunk. Our kids are dunkers. They’ll pretty much dunk anything…sprinkle donuts into a glass of cold milk, ciabatta into a shallow bowl of olive oil, gooey grilled cheese into a steaming bowl of soup, or crab legs into melted butter.

The other night I noticed our daughter dunking her graham crackers into her milk as we finished off a few books before bed.

“You like dunking don’t you? We need to make some biscotti.” Her eyes grew big and she just nodded her head. I knew we had to get back at it.

Our daughter’s comments and obsession with dunking were the impetus for these Limoncello Pignoli Biscotti with Homemade Candied Lemon Peels. Since the french yogurt bread was a hit we stuck with the same flavors, although we added some toasted pignoli and limoncello. We followed the Dolci: Italy’s Sweets recipe for candied orange peels, but used Meyer lemons instead. The Meyer lemons have a thinner skin than other lemons. Their sweet floral scent makes them a perfect choice for candied lemon peels. Rubbing the top of each log with the limoncello and sugar mixture creates a sweet crunchy top. We will be making these again.

Limoncello Pignoli Biscotti with Homemade Candied Lemon Peels

YIELD: approximately two dozen

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for topping

2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs and 1 egg white

zest of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons limoncello liquor, plus 1 teaspoon for topping

½ cup pignoli, toasted

½ candied lemon peels

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1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

2.  In a large flat-bottomed bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

3.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg white, and limoncello.

4.  With a rubber spatula, stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until the dough just starts to come together.  Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough in the bowl until all the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is tacky.

5.  Add the pignoli and candied lemon peels. Knead the dough until incorporated, about 10 – 20 times.

6.  Separate the dough in half.  Form two logs, approximately 3 inches wide and 1 inch high on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Leave several inches between the logs, the dough will spread as it bakes.

7. In a small bowl mix 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 teaspoon limoncello. Press mixture into the top of each log.

8.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the tops begin to crack or split.  Transfer logs to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

9.  Transfer biscotti logs to a cutting board.  Slice the biscotti on a diagonal and place cut side down on the same parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for an additional 20 minutes, turning the biscotti once halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

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What to do with the ends #69: Write the numbers 1-10 on ten different ends and use them to practice number ordering, adding, and subtracting.

 

Lemon Poppy Seed Biscotti

poppy 2

There are so many questions around the holidays. Do all reindeer fly? How does Santa get down the chimney? How can he visit every house in the world in only one night? Can we go to the North Pole?

Yet, right now in our house these questions are overwhelmingly about elves.

A few years ago Santa sent us an elf to keep an eye on the kids before Christmas, you know…to report back to Santa if they are bad or good. We named him Inglemauker. Every year since, Inglemauker joins us on the first day of December, returns to the North Pole at the end of every day, and returns each morning until Christmas Eve. Inglemauker is not as naughty as some other elves and rarely gets into trouble, but he finds some ingenious spots to hide in our house.

Our daughter keeps telling our son, “You know Inglemauker is watching.” Then he comes running to us asking if he is going to get “black rocks” for Christmas. My husband and I have a tendency to answer that one differently.

So we thought we would share with you the top 5 questions and conversations we’ve had lately about elves.

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Son: Does Inglemacker fly or poof?

The Baker: That is a very good question.

Son: I think he poofs because it is faster to get back to the North Pole.

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Daughter: Can elves become invisible?

The Baker: I don’t know if that is part of their magical arsenal.

Daughter: What’s an arsenal?

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Daughter: Will Inglemauker die?

The Baker: No. Inglemauker is magical. He and all his elf friends will live forever.

Son: Will Santa die?

The Baker: No. Santa is also magical and will never die.

Daughter: Will Mrs. Clause die?

The Baker: No. She is magical too.

Daughter: Will we die?

The Baker: Yes.

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Daughter: Why do think Inglemauker picked the same place to hide again today?

The Baker: Maybe he loved it there so much he decided to come back today to the same spot.

Daughter: Do you think he likes sitting on the wreath on the door because he likes the ride when we open and close the door?

The Baker: Absolutely!

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Son: What happens if we touch Inglemauker?

The Baker: He would lose all his magical powers, return to the North Pole and we’d never see him again. He could never do his job or visit any other boys and girls.

Son: Would he be sad?

The Baker: Yes.

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inglemauker

Although Inglemauker is a usually a good elf, we did find him with his hand in the biscotti jar. He can’t seem to get enough of these Lemon Poppy Seed Biscotti with Homemade Candied Lemon Peels. 

 

Lemon Poppy Seed Biscotti 

YIELD: approximately two dozen

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons black poppy seeds

3 eggs

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

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1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

2.  In a large flat-bottomed bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds.

3.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.

4.  With a rubber spatula, stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until the dough just starts to come together.  Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough in the bowl until all the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is tacky.

5.  Separate the dough in half.  Form two logs, approximately 3 inches wide and 1 inch high on a parchment lined baking sheet. Leave several inches between the logs, the dough will spread as it bakes.

6.  Sprinkle hands with Lemoncello and rub each log. Sprinkle to top of each log with sugar.

7.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the tops begin to crack or split.  Transfer logs to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

8.  Transfer biscotti logs to a cutting board.  Slice the biscotti on a diagonal and place cut side down on the same parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for an additional 20 minutes, turning the biscotti once halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

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What to do with the ends #56: We give Santa cookies and leave carrots for the reindeer, but what about the elves that work all December long? Leave them some ends!

 

Lemon Thyme Biscotti with Pistachios

thyme 6

I wish I could say the holidays always bring out the best in us. But I’d be lying. There are quite a few things around the holidays that while intended to spread goodwill and cheer, produce more stress and discord. Example…holiday cards. My husband thinks it is a ridiculous tradition and doesn’t understand why we are sending holiday greetings to friends or family that we may not have seen or spoken to at all throughout the year. And, why do the people we see often need a card with our kid’s picture on it, since they already know what they look like. Better yet, he also wonders why we can’t send cards that say “Merry Christmas” or why we can’t simply call it a Christmas card anymore. Yet, every year we still send them.

For this year’s holiday card we took a great photo of the kids angelically playing in the snow. Then I created, ordered, addressed, and stuffed the cards. All I asked is that he seal the envelopes and maybe put on a few stamps. But, that is when the drama usually begins.

Last night we agreed we would finish the process and get the cards in the mail. I walked into the dining room after the kids were in bed and he was waiting for me at the table with a towel spread out in front of him and wet rag in his hand, announcing that he is ready to commence operation holiday cards. He has devised a system for sealing the cards that includes a moist, yet he assured me not too moist, kitchen rag. I am sure when people get our holiday greetings the envelop is stuck to the cards, which are all warped from the amount of water he is slathering on them. When I nonchalantly mention not to wring the rag out on the cards, he retaliates by letting me know that if I was licking all the cards I would probably have a tongue covered in paper cuts and spend the night at Patient First so they could sew me up.

As I was handing him the stuffed envelopes, he told me I needed to toss each one over further to his left so he didn’t have to strain his neck picking them up by reaching across his body.

In an attempt to spread holiday cheer and lift the mood, I casually remind him of the days when we used to have to lick the stamps too. At least now they are self-adhesive. He is less than amused.

So if you are expecting a holiday card from us, know that the kids stamped the return address upside down on most of the cards, my husband thoroughly doused each card with water as he sealed it, and I actually put most of the stamps on upside down. So, we’ve yet again managed to take a holiday tradition intended to bring cheer and turn it into a spectacle.

So after a jolly good time of bonding, laughing at each other and our ridiculously cynical ways, these Lemon Thyme Biscotti with Pistachios were a total stress reliever. We made the lemon thyme sugar a day ahead to let the flavors meld. The roasted and salted pistachios are a perfect complement to the sweet and savory lemon thyme sugar, which also lends a wonderful lemony sweetness to a cup of tea.

 

Lemon Thyme Biscotti with Pistachios

YIELD: approximately two dozen

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup lemon thyme sugar (see recipe below)

2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

2 teaspoons Lemoncello

¾ pistachios, roasted and salted

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1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

2.  In a large flat-bottomed bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

3.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and Lemoncello.

4.  With a rubber spatula, stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until the dough just starts to come together.  Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough in the bowl until all the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is tacky.

5.  Add the pistachios. Knead the dough until incorporated, about 10 – 20 times.

6.  Separate the dough in half.  Drizzle your hands with Lemoncello. Form two logs, approximately 3 inches wide and 1 inch high on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Leave several inches between the logs, the dough will spread as it bakes.

7. Press the tops with lemon thyme sugar.

8.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the tops begin to crack or split.  Transfer logs to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

9.  Transfer biscotti logs to a cutting board.  Slice the biscotti on a diagonal and place cut side down on the same parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for an additional 20 minutes, turning the biscotti once halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

thyme 7

Lemon Thyme Sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

Zest of 2 lemons

3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

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1. Place sugar, zest, and thyme in food processor for approximately 20 seconds to thoroughly combine. Store in an airtight container.

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What to do with the ends #55: Wet the ends and use them to seal your holidays cards. (Gotcha!)