Sunday, December 21, 2008

Party-Hopping: 'Tis the Season

GOOD GRIEF! A glance at my Week-at-a-Glance reveals this:

Monday: Holiday Potluck at School
Tuesday: Padula Cookie Swap, Dinner at Sawatdee, Trivia at Geoffrey's Pub
Wednesday: Final Grades DUE!
Thursday: President's Holiday Brunch, Dinner at Vicky's Cabin in the Woods
Friday: Faculty Association Party at the Burgundy Room
Saturday: Heintz Family Christmas Party

Is my dance card full this holiday season, or what? Now I won't pretend that I made it to all of these events or contributed significantly to each. Still, with all of these parties and events, in addition to making treats for co-workers and getting packages of homemade goodies in the mail, I feel as if I've been baking non-stop! In fact, Sunday's entry should read: DO DISHES! They were piled to the ceiling when I finally faced the task today, and I had to do them in three separate sessions before I saw the end of it. WHEW! And mind you, this is only the week BEFORE Christmas! Help us!

Last night was my dear friend Lee Ann's Christmas party. As usual, guests were asked to bring either an appetizer or a dessert, and as usual, I brought both! These affairs tend to be rather heavy on the sweets, so I originally thought to bring just a savory offering. I decided to make one of my favorite finger foods, tortilla pinwheels. They are so easy, quite tasty, and a little whimsical, too--thus, perfect party fare. And I served them with a sidecar of my homemade salsa. I have been making this recipe for, geez, at least 15 years. I got it from an old friend, Naomi, back when I lived in a house full of crazy young people in Kankakee, IL in the early-to-mid-nineties, and we also had an extended "family" of friends and significant others who practically lived there, too. Naomi was one of that gang from Kankakee/Bourbonnais (shout out to those homies, and you know who you are!). However, and no disrespect intended to Naomi (who we affectionately called "Naonka" for reasons that I just can't explain here succinctly), but the recipe is rather....vague. I shall attempt to clarify it. By the bye, this recipe makes a SHLOAD of little pinwheels, so unless you're preparing them for a big gathering, I would cut this by half.

Naonka's Tortilla Pinwheels

2 packages cream cheese (we will assume two 8 oz. bricks), softened
1 carton sour cream (let's go with 16 oz. here)
1 package shredded cheddar cheese (who knows what size package? 8 oz?--let's say 2 cups)
1 small can diced green chiles (that's 4 oz.)
1 small can chopped black olives (that would be 4.25 oz.)
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped (bunches vary, of course, but I would say about 6 larger green onions or 8 smaller ones?)
*I also like to add a teaspoon or so of chili powder, about a half teaspoon of granulated garlic, and a good pinch of cayenne to this mixture, but that's just me.
1 package large flour tortillas (burrito size)

Mix all of the above ingredients (except the tortillas, of course). Spread a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on each tortilla then roll up and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, unwrap each roll, slice into spirals (1/2 inch?), arrange decoratively on a platter, and serve with your favorite salsa.

The tortilla pinwheels were all that I was planning on taking to Lee Ann's party, but unfortunately, the annual Padula Cookie Swap had to be cancelled this year, and I had my heart set on making tassies--little bite-sized pies--for that occasion. So I decided to make them for the Heintz family party instead. Plus, Lee Ann's sweet little mom, Evelyn, is known to make pecan tassies, but Lee Ann promised her that she wouldn't haven't to cook anything for the party this time, encouraging her just to enjoy herself! So I made them in her honor. I actually made two different kinds of tassies, the traditional pecan pie-type (from Gourmet's Favorite Cookies: 1941-2008) which are simply OUTSTANDING, and also, a chocolate-almond version that was profiled in the latest issue of Bon Appetit. The chocolate-almond ones were very good, but I think they needed even more chocolate. Next time I make them, I might go so far as to double the amount of mini chips that the recipe calls for. And though I prefer the original pecan variety, it's kind of fun to have two different types of tassies on your tray (that sounds a little obscene if taken out of context). In the picture below, the chocolate-almond tassies are on the left, and the pecan tassies are on the right.

I should also note, I simply doubled the dough from the chocolate-almond/Bon Appetit recipe and used that to make the pecan tassies as well. The dough recipes are nearly identical, except that the chocolate-almond version calls for a little sugar in the dough and a pinch of salt, which I quite like. However, the chocolate-almond recipe calls for chilling the dough for at least two hours before rolling into little balls, then chilling again, then forming the shells and chilling yet again. Nonsense, I say! If you chill the dough that long initially, it will be nearly impossible to work with. I found this out the hard way. While I was making batch #1, I put the other half of the dough in my blast chiller (read: the front porch), and when I retrieved it less than a half hour later, it was hard as a rock! The pecan version, by contrast, does not call for any dough chilling at all. I recommend a compromise between the two recipes. Do not chill the dough beforehand or during the shaping process, but once you've formed one muffin tin's worth of shells, chill that one while you're working on the second. Then chill them both while you're mixing up the filling. The cold pastry cups will hold their shape better while baking, and shrinkage will be reduced (again, that sounds vaguely inappropriate, a la George Costanza...tee hee). All of the extra chilling just adds time and pointless fussiness. And I assure you, the pastry shells will turn out delectably tender and flaky without all the nonsense.

Pecan Tassies
Gourmet Magazine, April 1985)

1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened slightly
3 ounces cream cheese, softened slightly
1 cup all-purpose flour
*I would add 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt to this dough.

1 large egg
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/8 teaspoon vanilla (I used 1/2)
pinch salt

In a bowl, combine one stick of the butter and the cream cheese, stir in the flour, and form the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into 24 pieces and press the pieces into the bottom and up the sides of 24 small (2-tablespoon) muffin tins.

In a small bowl, beat the egg lightly with the brown sugar and stir in the pecans, the remaining tablespoon of butter, the vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Divide the filling among the pastry-lined tins, bake the tassies in a preheated 350° F. oven for 25 minutes, or until the filling is puffed slightly and the pastry is golden, and let them cool on a rack. Loosen gently with the tip of a paring knife to remove from tins. When completely cooled, store in an airtight container.

Makes 24 confections.

Chocolate-Almond Tassies
(Source: Bon Appetit Magazine, December 2008)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons amaretto or other almond liqueur (I used 1 tablespoon of the liqueur plus 1/4 teaspoon almond extract)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate morsels or chopped bittersweet chocolate

Beat butter, cream cheese, sugar, and salt in large bowl until blended. Stir in flour (dough will be soft and sticky). Scrape dough onto sheet of plastic wrap. Using plastic as aid, shape dough into disk. Cover and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. (I skipped this step and recommend that you do the same for reasons discussed above.) Roll dough into twenty-four 1-inch balls; place one dough ball in each of 24 mini (2x3/4-inch) muffin cups. Chill 15 to 20 minutes. (Again, I would skip the chilling here.) Using floured fingertips (also not necessary), press dough over bottom and up sides of each muffin cup, forming a shell. Chill until ready to use, up to one day.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk first five ingredients in medium bowl until blended. Stir in almonds and chocolate morsels. Spoon filling into shells. Bake tassies until crusts are golden brown and filling is set, 23 to 25 minutes. Let stand five minutes. Using small sharp knife, cut around each cookie to loosen, then turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Can be made three days ahead. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

1 comment:

Just the Right Size said...

Your pinwheels are making my mouth water. I LOVE anything with a Tex-Mex flair, especially if it involves salsa!

Cutting and pasting to my recipe file.

P.S. your tassies are beautiful!(please don't take that out of context either!) :-b