Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cookie Party!

Well, it's almost upon us now, the big C-day! Are you ready? I am proud to announce that--mainly thanks to Cyd--we finally have the last of the Halloween down (gasp!), a little bit of external holiday trim on the house, and we even have a tree put up. Oh, it's bare, with no ornaments or lights, and no presents underneath, for that matter, but it's up! And it smells good, too. So with three days left, we are right on schedule (tee hee). A sure sign of the season is that yesterday was the (hopefully, annual) Padula Christmas Cookie Swap at my dear friend Janice's house. But the big props must go to her amazingly talented daughter, Dominica, who gets the golden apron this year. You cannot believe how full-on Martha she went for the affair yesterday! Just look at the table that greeted us when we walked in, down to the recipe card and mini-rolling pin favors and the personalized cookie place cards! TOO FABULOUS!

And though the guests came just to exchange cookies, we were surprised and delighted with a delicious Italian luncheon to boot! We began with two kinds of stromboli, ham and cheese and salami and cheese, then there was a delicious green salad with pears, pistachios, and dried cranberries. The main dish was something that Dominica christened a "mansagna"--kind of a cross between manicotti and lasagna. Basically, it was a lasagna but made with crepes instead of pasta. So even though it looks heavy, it ends up being much lighter and not as overwhelmingly filling. For dessert, in addition to the authentic Italian Padula cookie assortment, Dominica made my new favorite dessert, the walnut tart from the faculty holiday party a couple of weeks ago. That night, after the party, I actually took two pieces of it home with me to share with Cyd, but it was SO good that I ended up eating both of them myself! It's actually a very simple tart with few ingredients, but it tastes like a cross between baklava and pralines. I have been begging for the recipe since that party, and Janice and Dominica were so sweet to give me a cute little recipe binder as a Christmas gift, and the first recipe in it was the blessed walnut tart! I will share the recipe below, but first, look at the cookies that we swapped after the meal.

For those of you unfamiliar with the logistics of the traditional cookie exchange, everyone bakes a dozen of the same kind of cookie for each invitee. We had six guests in attendance, so I baked six dozen apricot and walnut rugelach. Then, if you're not as stressed out as I was yesterday (grades were due at school, and I was under the gun!), you should package each dozen individually so that it's easier on your host(s) and guests. Of course, my beloved friends, Janice and Dominica, had extra treat bags available for use by forgetful losers like yours truly. :-( Then everyone gets one dozen cookies from every other party guest, and you leave with six dozen different kinds of yummy cookies (my personal haul is pictured there to the right). Now, if that's too much temptation to leave around your house, then you can assemble mix-and-match cookie trays for your friends or, as in my case, for your neighbors. What a fun and helpful holiday activity, eh? Thanks, Padulas! Same time next year? ;-)

Dominica's Walnut Tart
(Source: A Taste of Home Dec/Jan 2002)

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup cold butter
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 cup cold milk

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts (I haven't made this yet myself, but I am always in favor of toasting nuts a bit beforehand to bring out their flavor)

In a bowl, combine flour and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine egg yolks and milk; stir into flour mixture until blended. With lightly floured hands, press dough onto the bottom and up the sides of a 12-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Line the shell with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes until lightly brown. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine sugar, cream, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add walnuts. Remove foil from pastry shell and pour filling into the pastry. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

*Dominica recommends using less filling and pastry overall and making another smaller tart with the remainders. Otherwise, she believes that the filling in the tart becomes too thick and gooey, more like pecan pie. She prefers the filling to be thinner and set up more. Just an idea...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad the "mansagna" didn't have anything to do with men. I had terrible visions. Love the cookie exchange idea. You know we will have a Falls City event next season. Sorry Cyd that your roomie hides desserts from you.