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Let's Celebrate Easter!

It may be Easter, but it's been snowing rather heavily at Swan's Nest the past three days, so any thought of the Easter Bunny hiding colored eggs outdoors has been tabled until another year. My husband Randy and I tease that should we forge ahead and hide eggs anyway, knowing that either a fox will get them or we'll find them sometime in May after the thaw.

This year's Easter celebration won't miss a beat though, because the Easter Bunny is delivering a basket of egg-shaped Orange Cream Easter Cookies. These tender, orange-flavored cookies garnished with a thin layer of frosting and a sprinkle of tinted sugar, look every bit as festive as Easter eggs, and will add a festive touch to any Easter celebration.

Happy Easter!

-Christy

 

Orange Cream Easter Cookies

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, and orange zest together at high speed until the mixture thickens. Add orange juice, cream, and vanilla, and beat at high speed 2 minutes until the mixture is the consistency of raw egg whites.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture with a large spoon to form a soft dough. Cover the cookie dough with plastic wrap and chill 1-2 hours until it is cold.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease cookie sheets. On a floured pastry cloth or counter, roll half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using an egg-shaped cookie cutter dipped in flour, cut out cookies and transfer them to the prepared cookie sheets. Bake 8-9 minutes until the edges of the cookies are barely brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and immediately transfer them to a wire rack to cool. When they are cool, spread with icing and sprinkle with tinted sugar.

Icing

2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
  Tinted sparkling sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk milk into the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time until the icing is thick and smooth. Add vanilla and whisk well until it is well blended.

Yield: 45 to 48 3-inch cookies

Valentine's Day

I've loved baking cookies ever since I can remember. Throughout middle and high school, and whenever I was home from college, baking cookies was a relaxing, creative outlet – one that continues today. The ritual of measuring and combining ingredients, watching the cookie dough come together, inhaling the aroma of the dough and sensing exactly how it will taste once baked, forming the cookies and placing tray after tray into the oven, and then the tantalizing reward of just-baked cookies cooling on a wire rack. These are the things that make me smile and give me joy in the kitchen.

Nothing compares however to the smiles on the faces of family and friends when cookies are presented as a gift. For Valentine’s Day, a gift of homemade cookies is sure to delight, and when they’re heart-shaped, it’s an extra special treat. My recipe for Valentine Linzer Tarts is adapted from one I developed for my first cookbook, The Family Table. These gorgeous, two-layer gems, shaped like hearts with a center of raspberry preserves, and enhanced by a dusting of snowy confectioners' sugar, make heartfelt gifts or a simple, but romantic Valentine's Day dessert.

Happy Valentine's Day!

-Christy

Valentine Linzer Tarts

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup seedless raspberry preserves

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and confectioners’ sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until they are well combined.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, and baking powder. With a large spoon, gradually stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture to form a soft dough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill 2 hours or overnight until it is cold.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out half the cookie dough on a floured pastry cloth or counter to ¼ -inch thickness. Cut with a 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter dipped in flour and place cookies on ungreased cookie sheets. Cut the centers out of half the cookies using a 1-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. Bake 6 to 8 minutes until the edges are barely brown. Remove the cookies from the cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack.

When the cookies are completely cool, spread the solid ones with raspberry preserves, mounding it slightly in the center of each cookie. Top with the remaining cookies. Sift with confectioners’ sugar, which will melt over the preserves, leaving a glossy center.

Yield: 22 to 25 cookies.

Sharing The Love

February is a busy month in our home - Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and our wedding anniversary – all celebrated in twenty-eight short days (well…twenty-nine this year!). It seems appropriate that someone with an almost-Valentine birthday should be so focused on sharing the love, not just in February, but throughout the year. Perhaps, that’s why I’ve always loved spending time entertaining and in the kitchen, whipping up memorable occasions and decadent treats for family and friends.

My husband Randy and I got a jump-start on Valentine’s Day over the weekend by hosting a dinner party for ten. The front doorway was festooned in greenery, tiny white lights, red ribbon, and shiny hearts – with a large, shimmering, sequined heart above the door. Even our giant plush snowman – a permanent fixture on the porch during the winter – is sporting a large Valentine at this time of year.

I draped the table in a red cloth, topped with a white cutwork tablecloth purchased years ago at my favorite shop in St. Thomas. Red chargers, white-on-white china edged in silver, sparkling crystal, my grandmother’s silver flatware, and tall, silver candlesticks ensured our guests felt pampered by the festive atmosphere of this Valentine table. The centerpiece was simple, but effortlessly pleasing to the eye. I created airy clusters of white chrysanthemums with lush, red roses into four square glass vessels, and interspersed them among the candles. While many of our guests exclaimed over my table decor, it was in all honesty incredibly quick and simple to do.

For dinner, I served a glazed ham with Southern baking powder biscuits, scalloped potatoes layered with mozzarella cheese and applewood smoked bacon, roasted asparagus, a composed salad drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, and for dessert, a choice of birthday cake for a dear friend who was totally surprised I remembered, and a warm-from-the-oven rustic apple tart with vanilla ice cream. Sharing the love can be so easy…and delicious!

-Christy

St. Nicholas Day 2015

Weeks before Christmas Day arrives, a cherished European holiday provides a special opportunity for Americans to spread joy to others through simple gifts and acts of generosity. December 6 is St. Nicholas Day, and much like its namesake, this feast highlights the spirit of sharing through simple gifts from the heart.

Each December, I love to share a quick and easy recipe, plus creative packaging ideas, for those who wish to embrace the spirit of St. Nicholas and share a gift from their kitchen. At a time when shopping, wrapping, mailing, and decorating are all on our to-do lists, simplicity is essential, so this year’s recipe is Gingersnaps. These spicy cookies, with the perfect balance of sweetness and spice, capture the flavor of traditional gingerbread cut-out cookies, but in an easy drop-cookie form.

This recipe is an adaptation of one given to me 40 years ago by a co-worker. They were a part of many of our Christmas celebrations until I misplaced the recipe several years ago. Imagine my excitement when I rediscovered it this fall, tucked into the pages of a favorite cookbook. It was like finding an old friend. I hope you enjoy it as much as our family and friends have through the years.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

-Christy

Gingersnaps

Ingredients:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons Saigon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add molasses and egg, and beat 1 minute more; set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger until they are well blended. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture with a large spoon until they are well combined.

Lightly grease cookie sheets. Roll teaspoons of dough into small balls between floured hands and place them 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake 13 to 15 minutes until the cookies are done, remove them from the oven, sprinkle with sugar, and allow them to cool 1 minute on the cookie sheet. Transfer the cookies to a rack until they are completely cool; then store in airtight containers.

Yield: 3 ½ dozen cookies

Best-Ever Thanksgiving Table Settings

A Step-by-Step Guide For Holiday Hosts

For many, planning the Thanksgiving menu usually involves a healthy dose of family tradition, a long checklist, multiple trips to the grocery store and farmers market in search of the ‘perfect’ turkey and ingredients for must-have side dishes, and for dessert, pumpkin and pecan pies with mounds of whipped cream. We may plan every last detail of the meal – often many days in advance – but give little thought or time to the table where family and friends will gather to enjoy our carefully orchestrated feast.

Do you wish – just once – that your holiday dining table looked like the ones you see in magazines? Well, I’m here to help! I’ve deconstructed a gorgeous Thanksgiving table setting I created in our 1890’s Colorado cabin and divided it into four easy steps any host can follow.

Any room can be welcoming and beautiful. Our cabin presented a completely blank slate – unadorned, rustic log walls, a plywood floor painted a neutral tone with a band of dark green near the edges, and a brushed metal chandelier with no electrical power currently available. But, the room is cozy, the substantial wood table and chairs beg to be surrounded by family and friends, and the casual bookcase along the back wall provides added interest. With the help of decorative accessories I’ve had for years, casual ironstone dinnerware in seasonal colors, and luscious, but inexpensive fabrics and linens, I transformed this very rustic setting into a beautiful dining room to celebrate Thanksgiving. So, let’s do the same with your table!

Start With The Centerpiece

When I complete a table setting with a simple floral centerpiece, the flower arrangement is the last item I place on the table, but when I create a lush table setting featuring a variety of textures, levels and accessories, I’ve found it’s much easier to start with the centerpiece. That way, I can build layer upon layer in the center of the table without worrying about knocking over glassware or dropping bits and pieces of decorative material onto the place settings, particularly when working with natural items or those that shed glitter. The centerpiece pictured here begins with three squares of dark brown felt to protect the wood and anchor the decorative materials so they don’t slide on the table. Two 9-foot silk leaf garlands rest on top of the felt, providing a foundation and color scheme for everything that follows.

Add Decorative Layers

Once the autumn garlands are in place, add depth, color, and texture by incorporating pumpkins of various sizes, fruit, pinecones, additional leaves, large pillar candles in tall glass hurricanes, and seasonal placemats. Tiny pumpkins, readily found in supermarkets, rest on small glass coasters to prevent damage to the table’s wood surface.

Mix and Match Dinnerware

Tablescapes that most often elicit an appreciative gasp of surprise rarely feature matched china and crystal. Instead, blend dinner and glassware based on complementary colors, patterns, themes, shapes, sizes, and seasonality. For this Thanksgiving table, copper-colored chargers provide a rich background for heavy, rustic yellow ironstone dinner plates, paired with white porcelain soup bowls featuring a brown floral border and turkey pattern in the center. The copper chargers complement the placemats’ copper and yellow twist border and reflect the centerpiece’s coppery leaves. Ironstone plates ensure the table isn’t too formal or fussy, and the turkey bowls leave no mistake it’s Thanksgiving. Leaf-patterned napkins, secured with bronzy, metal oakleaf napkin rings, and heavy cut-crystal water glasses paired with delicate etched wine glasses edged in gold, add finishing touches to delight the eye.

Extend The Theme Throughout The Room

A buffet, china cabinet, or bookcase provide exciting opportunities to extend the decorative theme beyond the dining table, so take advantage of these surfaces if you have them. In the cabin, the large, square mirror above the glass buffet reflects light from the tall candlesticks – an important asset when there’s no electrical power! Several garlands of silk leaves are layered across the back edge of the buffet next to the wall, setting the stage for a luxurious sense of bounty. A wooden tray echoes the rustic cabin theme and provides an attractive gathering spot for turkey, pumpkin, and spicy candle decorative accents. Dessert plates with a woodsy theme await decadent slices of pumpkin pie, pumpkin swirl cheesecake, and pecan pie – the perfect ending to a memorable Thanksgiving celebration in the cabin.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Christy