Today, December 6 is St. Nicholas Day. It’s a big holiday in Europe, mostly for children, but in the U.S., it barely rates a tiny blip on the Holiday calendar. I’ve always loved the story of St. Nicholas - a 3rd-century figure who was born to prosperous parents, raised a devout Christian, orphaned when he was young, and gave his wealth to the poor. Nicholas eventually became Bishop of Myra, in what is now Turkey. He was well-known for his love of children, sailors, and ships, and was the inspiration for Santa Claus.
I began observing St. Nicholas Day a number of years ago. In Europe, children receive small gifts on December 6th, but I prefer to mark the day by giving simple gifts-from-my-kitchen to friends and neighbors – generally in packaging that may be hung from their front doorknob. The fun of coming up with a new idea each year, and of quietly leaving the gifts on friends’ front doors to be discovered later in the day, gives me as much pleasure as those who receive the gifts.
This year, I was inspired by The Night Before Christmas and created sugarplum “lollipops” filled with Pink Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies. The lollipops are fashioned from white glitter foam squares cut into 5 1/2-inch circles, decorated with a swirl of glitter glue to resemble a large lollipop, secured together with bright pink, chenille pipe cleaners, and filled with cookies. I packaged the lollipops in cellophane bags with a pipe cleaner lollipop stick, and tied them at the top with curling ribbon. It’s an unexpected, clever bit of packaging for holiday cookies. I’m happy to share my recipe and step-by-step photos for your own holiday celebrations. Happy St. Nicholas Day!
Pink Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies
|1||cup unsalted butter, softened|
|1 1/3||cups sugar|
|1 1/4||teaspoons baking powder|
|1/4||teaspoon peppermint extract|
|4-5||drops red food coloring|
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, and beat until they are well blended.
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture with a large spoon to form a soft dough. Divide the dough in half and add peppermint extract and red food coloring to one of the halves, stirring well. Set it aside.
On a floured pastry cloth or counter, roll the plain cookie dough into a 16-inch x 13-inch rectangle, and set it aside. On lightly floured parchment paper, roll the pink cookie dough into a 16-inch x 13-inch rectangle. Lift the paper and place the pink dough face down on top of the plain dough. Peel off the parchment paper.
Starting with the long edge, roll the doughs together to form a 16-inch log. Turn the parchment paper over and place it next to the log. Roll the log onto the paper and transfer the cookie log to a cookie sheet. Cover it with plastic wrap and chill several hours until the dough is firm, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap the cookie log, place it on a cutting board, and slice it into 3/8-inch-thick slices. Place the pinwheel cookies on a lightly-greased cookie sheet and bake 8 to 9 minutes or until the edges of the cookies barely turn brown. Remove them from the oven, cool 1 minute, and transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Yield: 6 dozen cookies
I've been wearing pink or red since last week in honor of Valentine's Day, which is Thursday February 14th. I love all holidays, but Valentine's Day is extra special. It's one of the few times I push aside other tasks and focus almost exclusively on my husband of almost 37 years.
Instead of going out to dinner, each year I place a small table in front of our hearth, accessorize it with fine linens, china, crystal, silver flatware, and tall candlesticks, and prepare a special meal designed to spoil us both. We begin with a gorgeous salad or hot, creamy soup served in antique soup cups, followed by rack of lamb or a recipe from my newest book Celebrating Home – roasted duck breasts glazed in a gorgeous Cointreau-orange marmalade sauce (pictured), served with black japonica rice or roasted garlic new potatoes garnished with fresh rosemary, and grilled asparagus or tender green beans. For dessert, chocolate mousse swirled into pretty miniature bowls or an impressive chocolate Valentine cake coated in bittersweet chocolate genache, like the one pictured here, says "I love you" with every decadent bite.
Whatever your plans this Valentine's Day, make it a celebration devoted to those who are special in your life – a sweetheart, family members, or special friends. There's nothing more precious. And to get you started, I'm happy to share my recipe for Orange-Glazed Roasted Duck Breasts from Celebrating Home: A Handbook For Gracious Living (Bright Sky Press, Sept 2012).
Happy Valentine's Day!
Orange-Glazed Roasted Duck Breasts
by Christy Rost
Celebrating Home: A Handbook for Gracious Living
|4||boneless duckling breasts|
|Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste|
|1/2||cup Cointreau or other orange-flavor liqueur|
|1/2||cup beef stock or broth|
|4||tablespoons orange marmalade|
|Juice of 1 orange|
|1||orange, rinsed and thinly sliced, for garnish|
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the duck and dry them with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, trim excess skin as needed and score the skin to form a diamond pattern, taking care not to pierce the meat. Season both side of the meat well with salt and pepper.
Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Place the duck breasts, skin side down, in the skillet and cook 8 to 10 minutes until the skin is brown and crisp, draining excess fat as needed. Turn the meat over and cook 3 to 5 minutes more to sear it.
Transfer the meat to a roasting pan, reserving the skillet for the sauce, and roast the meat uncovered for 20 minutes. While the meat roasts, drain the fat from the skillet and place the pan over medium heat. When it is hot, deglaze the pan with Cointreau and beef stock, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add orange marmalade and orange juice, stir well, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Season the sauce with black pepper.
During the final 10 minutes of roasting, spoon the sauce over the duck and cook until the meat is tender and light pink inside. Remove the meat from the oven, cover it with foil, and set it aside 10 minutes to rest. To serve, slice the meat at an angle and fan it out on dinner plates. Spoon any remaining juices next to the meat, garnish with a slice of orange, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
After a whirlwind Celebrating Home book tour that took me from coast-to-coast, my husband Randy and I returned to our historic Colorado mountain home Swan’s Nest a few nights ago, and any dreams of snow-covered rooftops were quickly dashed. Though there was snow on the mountain tops and plenty of man-made snow on the ski slopes, our grass had nary a flake. Could it really be almost Christmastime?
The sky was crystal blue this morning, but our local news warns of a snowstorm that’s due to arrive tonight, and another more potent storm this weekend. Like magic, the scenery will be transformed into a winter wonderland in a matter of hours and days. But, before the first snowflake falls, I need to deck our front veranda with garlands of greenery and cranberry-red ribbons intertwined with tiny white lights; hang wreaths and place electric candles in the windows; and make preparations for St. Nicholas Day.
St. Nicholas Day is Thursday December 6th. It’s a simple, but important holiday widely celebrated in Europe, when children receive sweets and small treats. Though Americans rarely take notice of this primarily European holiday, I’ve embraced it as a day to reach out to those who are special to me with a simple token of remembrance.
Every year on December 6, I bake irresistible gifts-from-the-kitchen, wrap them in small, attractive packages, and tie them onto neighbors’ front doors with pretty ribbon for later discovery. This year, I’m baking “St. Nicholas Brownies” – decadent, fudgy brownies cut into rounds and decorated with buttercream St. Nicholas faces.
Leave the last-minute Christmas rush and stress to others this year, and celebrate friendship and loved ones on St. Nicholas Day with simple treats from your kitchen. And as if to prove this is truly a magical time, it started snowing at last! Happy St. Nicholas Day to you and yours!
St. Nicholas Day Brownies
|1 1/4||cups flour|
|1||teaspoon baking powder|
|1 1/4||cups sugar|
|1||square unsweetened chocolate, melted|
|3/4||cup unsalted butter, melted|
|1||cup chocolate chips|
|1/2||cup chopped nuts (optional)|
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; set it aside.
In a large bowl, stir together eggs, sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter, and vanilla until the mixture is well blended. Add the flour mixture, stirring just until the batter is smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts, if desired.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until the brownies are set, but not dry. Remove them from the oven, and set them on a rack to cool completely. When they are cool, cut the brownies with a 3-inch round biscuit cutter, spread a thin layer of Sugar Glaze on the top of each, and set them aside 10 minutes until the glaze sets.
|1 1/2||cups sifted confectioners’ sugar|
In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla until the glaze is smooth. Add a bit more milk if needed if the glaze is too thick. When the glaze is set, decorate each brownie with Buttercream Frosting.
|6||tablespoons unsalted butter, softened|
|3 1/2||cups sifted confectioners’ sugar|
|Dash of salt|
|15||red cinnamon candies|
|Blue and red food coloring|
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt, milk, and vanilla together to form a thick frosting. Place ¼ cup of frosting into a small bowl, tint it with blue food coloring for St. Nicholas eyes, and transfer the blue frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip. Divide the remaining frosting in half, tint one of the halves with red food coloring for St. Nicholas’ fur hat, and transfer it to a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip. Transfer the remaining white frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip.
Pipe half of each brownie with small white stars for St. Nicholas’ beard and add a flourish to form his mustache. Gently place a cinnamon candy “nose” in the center of the mustache. Pipe two blue eyes above the mustache, then pipe red stars around the top half of each brownie to form St. Nicholas’ hat. When the frosting is slightly firm to the touch, pipe a white swirl of frosting at the top of the hat. Set the brownies aside until the frosting is dry, then place brownies in small cellophane bags tied with ribbon.
Yield: 15 brownies
Last-Minute Gifts: If time is short, bake and cut the brownies into rounds, spread with Sugar Glaze, and garnish with tinted decorator sugars.