Christmas

Oreo Balls

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For a holiday party tonight, I needed a quick, festive finger food to bring. I recalled seeing these Oreo “truffles” somewhere, did a quick online search, and found the recipe.

They require just three ingredients and come together in about 15 minutes of hands-on time with a food processor. They made a great addition to a communal snack table.

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Oreo Balls
From Kraft

Makes 2 dozen

18 Oreo cookies
4 oz. cream cheese
4-6 oz. semisweet chocolate

In a food processor, process Oreos into crumbs. Add cream cheese and process until smooth. Form into one-inch balls (I used a slightly smaller cookie scoop) and freeze for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate. Working quickly,  roll the balls in chocolate and place on a cookie sheet lined wIth waxed paper. (If decorating with sprinkles, sugars or cookie crumbs, add quickly before the chocolate sets.) Refrigerate for at least one hour or until ready to serve. 

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Frosted Sugar Cookies

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We’re a week out from Christmas, and everybody is in the spirit! After a lot of general interest in the Christmas tree, lights, and shiny decorations, Gatsby has settled back into his routine — although he loves taking naps under the Christmas tree.

Frosted sugar cookies are one of my two favorite Christmas treats (and really, holidays in general — there’s never a bad time to make them). Not fancy, but always a hit.

A few random musings about sugar cookies:

1. Santa prefers his cookie with a Diet Pepsi, and a carrot for Rudolph. He’s had enough milk, thankyouverymuch. Time for a late-night caffeine jolt.

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2. Don’t waste your time with royal icing. If you don’t care about eating the end product, just impressing people with fancy, pristine works of art, knock yourself out… but the reason these cookies are so popular is that the frosting actually tastes good.

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3. I make the frosting by feel, not precise measurements. Have plenty of powdered sugar and some extra milk on hand, and adjust accordingly.

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4. They freeze well. In fact, you might even prefer them that way.

A few years back, my brother asked me to bring sugar cookies home for Christmas. He picked me up at the airport, and on the drive home started munching on the cookies. When I asked how they were, he said, “They’re okay, but they’re not crunchy. Mom’s are crunchy.” He was clearly disappointed. He had no idea he’d been eating frozen cookies all these years, and the texture changed at room temperature.

5. The best-tasting cookie is either a star or a Christmas tree shape, decorated with rainbow nonpareils. End of discussion.

Frosted Sugar Cookies

Cookies from Betty Crocker; frosting my own

Makes about 4 dozen cookies, depending on size

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, if desired
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk (or more)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch salt
2 cups powdered sugar (or more)

Food coloring, decorating sugars and sprinkles, as desired

In large bowl, mix powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and egg until well blended. Stir in flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375°F. Divide dough in half. On lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough 1/4-inch thick. Cut into assorted shapes with cookie cutters. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 7-8 minutes or until light brown. Let cool 2 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. (Allow pans to cool between batches.)

In a medium bowl, cream the butter. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until smooth and spreadable, adding more milk or powdered sugar to reach desired consistency. If desired, tint with food color. Frost and decorate.

Cider-Brined Turkey

This post probably would have been more useful to you about a month ago, as you were prepping for Thanksgiving. Sorry, my bad.

It’s just that doing so would have meant making a turkey around Halloween, and I just wasn’t ready for that (not to mention, it seemed a little obnoxious to be thinking about turkey while millions of people were still without power after Hurricane-turned-Superstorm Sandy). Plus, I live alone, and that’s just way too much turkey.

I’m hoping you’ll overlook this indiscretion and and, if turkey is making an appearance on your holiday table this year, you’ll consider this version. I think you’ll be pleased.

Roasted turkey

Roast the turkey breast-down under high heat, then reduce the temperature and flip the bird

I made this on my first Thanksgiving on my own, 2004, and it’s been the centerpiece of my holidays ever since. The combination of brine and a high-heat roast keeps the meat juicy and flavorful. If you’re just making a turkey breast, cut the recipe in half.

Brine

Brining imparts flavor and moisture. Use a double layer of oven bags to prevent messy leaks in your refrigerator.

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The turkey starts breast-down under high heat

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Carved turkey breast is devoured quickly

Apple Cider-Brined Turkey

Adapted from Cooking Light

Serves 12

8 c apple cider

2/3 c kosher salt

2/3 c sugar

1 Tbs black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

1 Tbs whole allspice, coarsely crushed

8 1/8″ thick slices peeled fresh ginger

6 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

1 12-pound fresh or frozen turkey, thawed

2 oranges, quartered

6 cups ice

2 Tbs butter, melted, divided

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided

1/2 tsp salt, divided

Special equipment: 2 turkey-sized plastic oven bags

In a large saucepan, combine first 8 ingredients (through bay leaves). Bring to a boil; cook until sugar and salt are dissolved, about 5 minutes. Cool completely.

Remove giblets and neck from turkey. (Reserve for gravy, if desired.) Rinse turkey with cold water; pat dry. Trim excess fat. Stuff body cavity with orange quarters. Place a turkey-sized oven bag inside a second bag to form a double thickness. Place bags in a large stockpot. Place turkey inside inner bag. Add cider mixture and ice. Secure bags with several twist ties. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Note: now would be a good time to disable your smoke detector and open multiple windows.

Remove turkey from bags. Discard brine, orange quarters, and bags. Rinse turkey with cold water; pat dry. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under turkey. Tie legs together with kitchen string. Place roasting rack in pan, and arrange turkey, breast side down, on roasting rack. Brush turkey back with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Remove turkey from oven. Carefully turn turkey over (breast side up) using tongs. Brush turkey breast with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the turkey is browning too quickly, shield the turkey with foil. Insert a thermometer into the meaty part of the thigh, making sure not to touch bone. The thermometer should read 170 degrees.

Remove the turkey from the oven; let stand 20 minutes.