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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Christmas Cookies - Italian Sesame Seeded





Last year was the first year I found a recipe for a sesame cookie that had the consistency, taste, and aroma of an Italian Brooklyn bakery's cookie. It must have the right weight and aftertaste to be able to dunk in a cup of coffee. Besides a bagel, or a crumb bun, or a pastry, or a chunk of buttered Italian bread, a sesame seeded cookie is one of my favorite Brooklyn breakfast's.

The secret to the success is the anise extract. I opened the bottle and held it under my son's nose and asked him what he smelled. He thought medicine, or cough syrup. Huh? If anything it smells more like black licorice to me. He replied he hated black licorice and it smells "mediciney" to him. One person's delectable odor is another's gross one. Funny thing is after they were baked he couldn't stay away from the cookies. This recipe gets two big thumbs up!

INGREDIENTS

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup Crisco shortening
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp anise extract
milk
raw sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375
In a large bowl add eggs, sugar, Crisco, baking powder and anise extract. Mix everything well.
Add the flour and mix well.
Take a piece of dough, roll it to about 1/2" thick and cut it every 2".
Take each piece, wet it in milk and then roll it in the sesame seed.
Place all the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.




Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas Cookies - Robert Weinstein's Night Before the Diet Bars



Today's Christmas Cookie recipe isn't so much a cookie as it is a "bar." This is the first time I baked them and this recipe comes from The New York Cookbook. Honestly, even though they did taste better the next day with this afternoon's spot of tea, I'm not such a fan of them. I feel like something's lacking, however, the boys really liked them, and that's all right with me.

As I was just typing the ingredients I realized I did not use milk chocolate chips, but semi-sweet ones, and I wonder if that was the "thing" lacking. By the way, I have no idea who Robert Weinstein is...

INGREDIENTS

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup milk chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325.
Butter a 9-inch square cake pan
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Add the flour and vanilla. Pour one-third of the mixture into a small bowl and set aside.

Add the melted chocolate to the large bowl and mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Pour the contents of the small bowl on top of the chocolate layer and top with walnuts and chocolate chips.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Makes 18 bars.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Christmas Cookies - Venetians

The second Italian cookie recipe I'd like to share is for the ever popular Venetians, or 7-layers, or Rainbow cookies...whichever you want to call them. Up in Brooklyn in the Italian bakeries you can find these delicacies for a pretty steep price per pound. They are so worth it! Locally, here in Roanoke I've tasted three different place's version and although they looked nice they didn't taste too nice, actually not nice, seriously shitty. Yours might not come out looking professional, but if you follow the recipe below I guarantee you they will be better than anything you'll find locally, unless you live in New York City, but that's a given.

I'm not making them today, but hope to within the week...that is if I could find the Solo Almond Pastry filling in a can at the local supermarkets. For some reason the shelves at my local Kroger and Food Lion do not have a single can, and I can only pray that this product did not fall under the Elena Curse...you know about the curse...anything I like here in the south, disappears, leaves, goes out of business, etc. It's important to note that the recipe yesterday called for almond paste. This recipe calls for almond pastry filling. It's a different consistency from the paste and I find it makes a much better tasting and textured cookie. Let me know if you see any in your travels and also if you see any reasonably priced pine nuts. I'm itching to make pignoli cookies.

I'm posting this recipe now, before I make another batch and have a much better picture to show because I don't know if I'm going to find the Solo pastry filling and these take two days total to be ready.  You'll need a space in your fridge for the layers to set overnight under a weighted wooden cutting board or similar so I wanted to make sure you would be ready to undertake them in time for whenever you wanted to serve them. As usual, make sure to use butter, not margarine. Life is too short to substitute margarine for butter...

VENETIANS

Preheat oven to 350.

1 can (8 oz. almond pastry filling)
1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) butter softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups sifted flour
1/4 tsp salt
10 drops green food color
8 drops red food color
1 jar (12 ounces) apricot preserves
2 1/2 squares semisweet chocolate

DIRECITONS

Coat three 13 x 9 x 2 inch pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line with wax paper, allowing paper to come up at the short ends. Spray paper.

Break up almost pastry filling in a large bowl. Add butter, sugar, egg yolks and almond extract. Beat with electric mixer until light about fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Beat in flour and sat.

Beat egg whites in a different bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into almond mixture until well blended.

Divid mixture into 3 equal portions. Add green food coloring to one, red to another, leave last yellow. Sparely spread each potion into prepared pans.

Bake in oven 350 for about 15:00 or until edges are golden brown. Immediately remove the cakes from the pans using the waxed paper overhand.

Heat preserves in a small saucepan, strain through sieve. Place green cake layer on a jelly roll pan (or cookie sheet). Spread half of warm preserves over layer to edges. Slide yellow layer on top, spread with remaining apricot preserves. Slide pink layer, on top of yellow layer.

Cover with plastic wrap, weigh down with large wooden cutting board. Place in refrigerator overnight.

Melt chocolate in double boiler over water. (I do it in the microwave and it comes out fine, at 20 second intervals stir.) Trim edges off cake. Spread melted chocolate to edges of cake. Let dry about ten minutes until chocolate is hardened. Cut into 1 inch squares.

You know which ones they are



Saturday, December 15, 2018

Christmas Cookies - Italian Jelly Filled Butter Cookies

I love baking. I love baking cakes. I love baking loaves. I love baking cookies the best. Baking is different than cooking, which I also love, but whereby cooking usually means sticking precisely to a recipe, I do a lot of baking not only by recipe, but by eye, feelings, textures, smells, hunches, etc.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it goes horribly wrong, but usually baking affords more opportunities to rectify a mistake.

Take for instance this recipe I found on a Facebook Italians from Bensonhurst site...It's entitled, "Ultimate Italian Jelly Filled Finger Sandwich Butter Cookies." The poster promised these are the real thing that you would find in an Italian Brooklyn bakery, say like one on 18th Avenue. There wasn't any photo so I don't know what their results looked like, but when I first took mine out of the oven I was really disappointed. It was probably my fault as the recipe calls for using a pastry bag with a star tip. I didn't have one so planned to use my mother's old cookie press that has pastry tips and sausage nozzles. I use it to fill canneloni. When I took it out of the box I realized the attachment for the pastry tips were missing, so I did what any good Italian baker would do...improvise...and I used the sausage nozzle instead. What a mess!

The texture of the dough made it challenging to put it into the cookie press tube to the bottom. By the seventh time of putting the dough into the press my tennis elbow arm was rebelling and I just gave up by plopping spoonful's of dough onto a baking sheet and sprinkled some colored sugars on them. You won't be seeing any photos of that!

Anyway, when I first saw the little fingers coming out of the oven I was disappointed because they weren't identical and a little thinner than I hoped. I didn't even taste them. I was annoyed that it took me so long to make them and they looked nothing like I had imagined. After dinner my daughter and I sat at the table and began to rectify the "mistakes." First we found pairs that were almost the same size. On one of the cookies we spread raspberry unseeded preserves then pressed the other cookie on top. We did all of them life that. Then we took Baker's dark chocolate and melted it in the microwave. I'd brush the chocolate on the cookie, hand it to her and she would sprinkle the sprinkles on it and then place them sideways on a cookie sheet with parchment paper on it so they wouldn't stick when hardened.

When we tried them I was much happier. Even though they didn't look "professional" they tasted great and according to my daughter way better than bakery ones! Now that is a compliment! I would recommend using a pastry bag or if not, using a plastic ziploc baggie with a star nozzle cut through the bottom. Why didn't I think of that before???? Also, I'm sorry I didn't do half with apricot preserves to mix it up. Naturally, you can use any type of sprinkles, coconut flakes, nuts, or even just powdered sugar as the finishing touch. Two more points...use butter, not margarine and the almond paste is a must. Below is the recipe...Enjoy!



Italia Jelly Filled Finger Sandwich Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

3 1/4 cup flour
7 oz butter room temperature
7 oz shortening
1 cup + 2 tbs confectioners sugar
4 egg whites
3 oz almond paste
salt pinch
1 tsp almont extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
Choice of jelly filling, chocolate for dipping and sprinkles for finish.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350

In a large mixer bowl, cream lightly the butter, shortening and sugar until fluffy and pale, about 3 minutes. Add the egg whites, almond paste, almond and vanilla extracts and mix until combined At low speed add the combined dry ingredients and mix until just blended.

Place into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, pipe onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, cutting 2 inch fingers and spacing two inches apart.

Bake for 10 - 14 minutes just until the bottoms and edges begin to turn golden brown. Remove from pans by sliding the whole piece of parchment onto a large wire rack and cool completely.

Sandwich 2 finger cookies with choice of jelly in between. Dip one end (we did both) in melter chocolate and cover with sprinkles. Or just leave plain with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.