Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fairy Godmother Xmas Cookies

Dear Mouse, 


(deep breath)

Christmas Eve in Princeton NJ, just before community carol singing. 

What a good time! I once again spent a dreamy Xmas Eve with the BFF Fam in NJ and then hightailed it back to NYC for  Maybe one of the Best Xmas Day Feasts Yet. This one deserves special mention because it was the first Mouse House-Hosted one and went swimmingly. I was very happy to be one of three Supporting Player Apartment Kitchens contributing to the We-All-Live-In-The-Same-Building Yellow-Submarine-Style Holiday meal. I would say Honorable Mentions go to Your Husband's intoxicating and fragrant three-days-in-the-making Pernil and to the Mother's wonderfully juicy despite-broken-oven-and-emergency-relocation-while-cooking Turkey. 

But since we both agree that maybe we're kind of maxed out on the Full-Meal-Photo-Recap of Big Holiday Meals, I'll stop there and focus in, as you requested, on one particular treat. 

No, not that. 

(My Xmas Present from the BFF's 3-year old, approved by Mama and requested from shopkeeper as "for my fairy godmother (!!) who is very sparkly". (OMG))

No, not that either. 
( But isn't that cool? This was in my tip jar at the "Christmas Eve Eve" gig. A good omen!)

Getting Closer...
(BFF child in question. Now, imagine a dessert version of this image...)

 ... you got it!
("Peppermint Cream Squares", courtesy of, a first-time recipe Chez Boo.)

Yes, Mouse, if I learned anything in 2012 it's that I know an exciting dessert when I read one. If a recipe leaps off the page at me, inspiring curiosity and wonder and demanding special mail-order ingredients, well then Amazon here I come and I probably won't regret it. 

Everyone liked these, skeptics and sweet tooths alike. They are a perfect xmas confection: cool with peppermint, festively colored pink and white, rich with shortbread crust and a salty-creamy-sweet cream cheese-powdered sugar-crushed mint filling. It's basically 'The Nutcracker' in a baking pan.

The recipe says that for those who like "a strong mint flavor", peppermint extract may be added to taste, 1/4 tsp at a time. I am happy to say that I resisted this temptation (I'm often a "strong flavor" girl), and  followed Ina Garten's advice to always make a recipe strictly to the letter the very first time. Having tasted these I now think that to add more mint would take it from delicious white-christmas treat to something more along the lines of Crest White Strips. Not as tasty.

I used Bob's Sweet Stripes Soft Mint Candies, as the recipe suggests. One bag made two batches of cookies with some mints left over. I did run them through the cuisinart, though I also tested out the hammer method and that's pretty fun.  I recommend doing this the day before, or maybe just first to get it out of the way.

I also do have parchment paper on hand for these occasions and this recipe needs it.

You make a shortbread crust which is super easy as it involves no kneading or rolling out, just mushing it into a pan with your hands. I didn't have an 8X8 pan so I just used my 9x13 pyrex and pressed the dough into a square leaving some empty pan space. It worked - the dough held its shape and the filling didn't run over much. You chill 1/2 C of the dough while the rest goes in the oven.

While it's baking, you whisk the filling:

                                Powdered mints, confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, and milk.

 The shortbread comes out when it's half done and cools for 10 min. Then you pour the filling on and spread it around. Some reserved, chilled dough is grated over the top with a cheese grater (or just crumble it, but it looks nice this way.)

It bakes again, cools again, and you finish it with more peppermint/sugar powder while it's still warm. Cool it comPLETEly before lifting out and cutting into squares. 

Perhaps a new holiday staple, and I thought we had those down. Just goes to show, plus ca change, plus cookie recipes to be discovered. I'm pasting the recipe below and will bring some by later. God Bless Us, Every One!


The Boo

The Kitchn's "Peppermint Cream Squares"

For the shortbread:
1 C butter, softened (I used kerrygold unsalted and cut it into pieces for faster softening)
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 C all-purpose flour

For the filling:

30 soft mint * candies  
1 C powdered sugar, divided
1/4 C cream cheese (i'd let this soften a bit too)
2 tbsp whole milk
Peppermint extract (optional) (but try without)

* must be SOFT not the hard peppermints you're thinking of, or they will wreck your food processor. Think the mints from old-fashioned restaurants that kind of dissolve in your mouth. Or just order Bob's.

Heat oven to 350.
Line 8x8 baking dish w parchment paper so that ends hang over sides (see link above for picture). Coat parchment and exposed parts of pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Make shortbread: beat butter until creamy. Scrape down sides of bowl and add sugar. Beat again til light and fluffy like frosting. On low speed beat in flour and salt until dough comes together/no more flour visible. 

Scoop out 1/2 C of the dough and refrigerate in covered container.

Scrape remaining dough into baking dish. Press the dough flat with buttered hands, pushing into corners and smoothing the top. Bake 20-25 min until dough is turning golden at edges. Remove from oven and cool for 10 min.

While dough bakes,make the filling. Put soft mint candies in the food processor and pulse until they have broken down into powder with pieces no larger than rock salt. (again, I recommend doing this ahead). This "will make an enormous racket". (Alternatively, you can put them in a sealed bag and smash with a hammer, which is fun.)

Mix powdered candies with 1/2C of powdered sugar and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and milk. Add the remaining 1/2 C powdered sugar and 3/4C of powdered candy mixture to the cream cheese. Whisk to form a thick paste. Taste and add extract in increments if you'd like a stronger flavor. (Like I said, don't do this.)

When shortbread is cooled but still warm, pour peppermint cream mixture over it and smooth into corners. Remove reserved shortbread dough from fridge and grate or crumble it over the peppermint cream layer.

Bake for another 10-13 minutes until edges are just starting to bubble. The crumbled dough on top will remain pretty light-colored. 

Remove from oven and let bars cool in pan 15 minutes. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of peppermint powder/sugar over the top while bars are still warm. 

Let bars cool completely,  then lift from the pan (by edges of parchment) and cut into squares. 


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Chicken at the End of the World

Dear Mouse, 

Happy Winter!

Xmas Tree on the porch of The Porches Inn, North Adams, MA

 It's 12:01 AM on 12/22/12, which means the Winter Solstice has passed, and we are all still alive, praise {Insert Mayan Deity Here}. You, A-Mac and MD have just left my place after our annual Solstice Dinner, which means I have been consuming wine since early 12/21/12. As such, I'll try to keep this short, sweet, and coherent.

I've been back in NYC for twelve days now since A-Mac and I returned from a two-week gig up in the Berkshires that was, on several levels, the stuff that dreams are made on. 

                                      Even though we had to wear our own faces all the time. 

(My) first snow of the year!! glimpsed from hotel window

Just another day at the office

                               Sabine, the Porches Inn Cat, stares at the fire. (There's a fireplace.)

I'm well aware that a lot is going on in our world at the moment. Certainly there's been enough new things to blog about in the time since I returned from AvantShangriLuminatiCamp. And I'm aware that if I AM going to yammer on about My Winter Vacation in the hills I could at least talk about the incredible Museum where we worked, the beautiful and challenging piece we were there to rehearse, the Dream Team Playwright/Director/Composer triumverate I have only dreamed of, or at least the memorable acoustic gig I played in a local sports bar/restaurant, singing in front of a popcorn machine between two flat screen TVs. These are all important.

But all I really want to talk about ...

... is breakfast.

So, you fill out the little card and hang it on your door at night...

... and in the morning, this happens.

(L to R (basically): chocolate croissant, juice glass, adorable silver 'lunchbox', black mug, grapefruit juice, half-and-half, coffee thermos, NY Times.)

Yes, the Porches Inn in North Adams, where we were housed for this gig, is a pretty stellar joint. It has a lot going for it : rural charm, proximity to famous museum, fireplace, 24-hour outdoor hot tub. But the feature which has ruined me for all Actor Housing going forward is

 - three words -

 Complimentary. In-room. Breakfast. 

Let's see it again, shall we?

I mean, if you can imagine a more Boo-Friendly amenity I'd like to hear it. 
You choose coffee or tea, type of juice, type of pastry, type of milk!!, and either local news or NY Times. Oh, and when I requested fruit instead of pastry? I got it. Apple & orange. I mean I still can't get over this . I really can't. 

I figured, well, I'll do that for the first few mornings. You know, until I get sick of it. 

(I never got sick of it. Oh, yeah, and all our meals were catered. And ... scene.)

But nothing gold can stay, and so it was that we finished the project with tears, laughter, harmony, weight gain, and good memories. I found myself back in NYC, forlorn, bleary-eyed, and - gasp! - having to fix my own breakfast.  Oh, the hardships of re-entry. 

Fortunately, we do have The Commons downstairs, and so far no one there has noticed when I'm wearing pajamas.  Also fortunately, the five-pound bag of The Roasterie 'Kansas City Blend' coffee I ordered (from, yes, Kansas City) arrived while I was gone. And most fortunately of all, I remembered that I like to cook

And when you find yourself in the kitchen feeling, for whatever reason, just a little out of practice (read: lazy/whiny), it's good to have a reaally simple, shall we say Foolproof recipe to which you can turn.

Chicken with Shallots, from Ina Garten's new cookbook, "Foolproof", which The Mother gave us both for Hanukkah. Good timing. 

This is the chicken I made for you guys tonight and I think I can say it was a hit. I recommend it for a busy winter week like this because it is FAST, Easy, and yet also somehow Fancy-Seeming and special. 

Happy Winter and Room Service for All!


The Boo

The Boo's Room Service Recovery Chicken, or Ina Garten's 'Chicken With Shallots' from 'Foolproof'

*I do not own an ovenproof skillet, so I browned the chicken in a pan on the stove and then transferred it to a roasting pan for the oven part. Also, Ina calls for "boneless, skin-on" chicken breasts which I couldn't find. My breasts had bones (you know what I mean) and it was just fine. *


4 skin-on chicken breasts
1/4 C minced shallot (1 large)
1/3 C fresh lemon juice  
3 tbsp heavy cream
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter, diced, room temp
1/2 C white wine
3 tbsp canola or veg oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 425. 
Heat oil in skillet over med high heat for 2 min until it starts to smoke. 
Place chicken breasts, skin down, in oil and leave them for 4 - 5 min.
With tongs, turn them over and put the skillet in the oven for 12-15 min. (or, like me, transfer to roasting pan, and put in oven.)
Meanwhile, on stove, mix shallots, lemon juice, and wine in a saucepan over med-high heat. Cook until reduced to about 2 tbsp.  
Add cream, salt, pepper and bring to a boil. 
Turn off heat and add the diced butter. Swirl the pan to melt the butter.  (Don't reheat, says Ina, or sauce will "break", something that the Mouse explained to me and I still don't understand what it is.)
Take out the chicken and pour the sauce over it. Serve. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pork Chops ala Wednesday Chef

Dear Boo,

I know it's the holiday season and our heads should be full of sugarplums dancing and mulled cider and candy canes and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But today I'm thinking about pork chops. Specifically, these pork chops, which are so deceptively simple its almost silly and so delicious you will find yourself doing even sillier things like swiping your finger across the clean plate to get one last salty slick of meaty juice. Actually, for this task fingers are nice, but a fingerling potato is nicer. Take note.

The other day, the site where I work had a special delivery of free vegetables from the CSA which normally has their pick-up at our building. I stuffed a bag with all the tiny yams and sweet potatoes, carrots covered in dirt, radishes, parsnips, sunchokes, bunches of bok choy, and yes, fingerling potatoes, I could carry. I mean, I really stocked up. Free fresh from the farm veggies! It was almost as good as a christmas bonus. For days we ate roasted roots, sauteed and mashed, and stir-fried. And one night, too bored by chicken, pasta feeling too heavy, my wallet too thin for steak, I remembered seeing this recipe which had made me drool (and not just from jealousy) and thought it would be the perfect pairing with the last veggies rolling around in the crisper. I was skeptical at first, what with the minimal ingredients and the copious amounts of salt, and let's face it, its fairly easy to dry out a pork chop, but it really does work. Before we drown in a sea of christmas cookies and rum punch (and don't forget the latkes), make yourself a porkchop. Simple and unadorned, its the perfect antidote to the holiday season overdose.

Look here for the recipe from the Wednesday Chef and try not to die of jealousy. 

The Mouse

Just like that:

and then that:

and then this:

and then yum. Trust me.