almond thumbprints

boxed almond thumbprints

I always wanted to be that mother, the one who bakes a variety of cookies every Christmas – and box them up and give them to family and friends.  This meant, in my mind at least, that I needed to master Pignoli cookies since it’s one of the few sweets my husband likes.  I have tried to make these cookies twice before, and let’s just say that the results were underwhelming.  The first batch came out flat as a pancake, and yet my husband still complimented me on the “crispness” of them.  (He is so sweet to me).  The second time I tried them, I remember the bottoms being a lovely shade of brown-black and the tops remaining soft.  They made it to the garbage can with a quick jerk of the arm and a few not so nice words muttered.  So this year, I re-read the recipe and set it out again as a contender for the Christmas cookie baking marathon.  The recipe I have, had a note to not purchase Marzipan nor the almond paste in a tube because it is too crumbly.  Instead, it said to buy the almond paste in the can.  I was delighted when I scoured the shelves at the store, to find “almond” in the can, so I quickly grabbed two cans and threw them into the cart.
Back at home, I started the recipe, and when it was time to mix in the almond paste, I opened the can.  I soon realized that this goopy sugary mixture was not at all what I was supposed to be using.  I had purchased almond filling.  Good Lord, Erin.  Why do I even bother???
I reached for the iPad and googled the difference between the two.  The answer meant no Pignoli cookies again this year.  But because I am stubborn, I looked for a way to use this stuff in a cookie.  What I found online was apparently a type of Kolacky cookie recipe.  I was pretty pleased with the results actually.  I didn’t get to hand out boxes of cookies this year as my almond flub took the wind out of my baking sails….not that I had awesome baking skills, uh I mean sails, to begin with.

confectioners' sugar

almond thumbprint cookies (adapted from the recipe on

1/2  cup butter, softened
1  cup confectioners’ sugar
3  egg yolks
1  tsp. vanilla extract
1 can Solo almond filling
2 1/2  cups sifted flour

creamed butter and sugar

get started on the cookies:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Cream the butter and sugar.  Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well.  Add the vanilla extract.  Gradually add flour until just mixed together.  The dough will be stiff.  Roll dough into tablespoon size balls.  Place on greased baking sheet.  With your hand or a greased flat-bottomed glass, gently press ball to thickness of about a half an inch.    Make a thumbprint in the center of each cookie.  Fill the center of the cookie with about a teaspoon of the almond filling.   Bake for 15 minutes.

cookie ballsthumbprints

note:  this recipe made about 30 cookies, and yes, they are photographed in a box, but the box stayed on my counter – not given out as the gifts I had set out to do.

almond thumbprintcookies


cranberry chocolate chip blondies

plate of blondes

I’ve had some unexpected girl time this week with my daughter, and have really enjoyed it.  It isn’t that I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it…I’m not that cold.  I think because she is 9 now, we can communicate more than during the Dora years.  (Oh, and maybe because I’m not working right now is another reason for my enjoyment?)  She has been home from school due to the usual cold going around, and besides having a fever and a lovely new raspy voice, she has felt reasonably fine.  But that doesn’t keep her from getting bored, so we have put on all our favorite Victorious episodes, agreed that the iCarly kids are no longer kids, and watched a marathon of Clean House.  (I have a HGTV and Style networkee in training!).  She and I discussed all the important things in life.  I learned just how much Disney kids are recycled.  She pointed out how iCarly was on Drake and Josh, some blond girl on Ant Farm is Crazy Connie on Jessie and many more.  I also got to enjoy watching her make notes for Joy – our Elf on a Shelf who has been watching my kids for about a week.  (I was a little late to that game).  We painted toes, braided hair and rearranged her room.  And being house-bound, I was in the kitchen of course.  Chicken soup was made, braised turkey tacos were devoured, and so to top it off I wanted to make a sweet treat.  To be honest though, I wasn’t in the mood for anything difficult (remember my skills as a baker are not concrete).  So I scanned a few different brownie recipes and decided to make what I thought would be similar to my favorite indulgence of all time – soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies.  It is a blond brownie recipe that is a little healthier than most, so to counteract that – chocolate chips were added!  I also threw in some dried cranberries for color.  Oh who am I kidding!  I threw them in for the hell of it.  This recipe was super simple to mix together and came out just as I wanted them to.  I got the nod of yumminess from my daughter, and so I had to immediately put the foil over the pan to keep myself from finishing the pan…in one sitting.  Oh I’m finishing that pan though….

cranberry chocolate chip blondies (adapted from Cooking Light December 2008)

1  cup brown sugar, packed
1/4  cup butter, melted
1/4  cup egg substitute
2  tsp. vanilla extract
1  cup all-purpose flour
1/2  tsp. baking powder
1/8  tsp. salt
1/4  cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4  cup dried cranberries
Non-stick cooking spray

melted buttermixing in flour

get started on the brownies:

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a whisk.  Add flour, baking powder and salt to butter mixture.  Stir just until moist.  Stir in chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  (Make sure you separate the cranberries so you don’t have large chunks).  Spread batter into a 8 inch square baking pan coated with non-stick cooking spray.  Bake at 350 for 22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out almost clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack.  Store covered for up to three days (if they last that long!).

cranberries on toppan of brownies

note:  I read somewhere that the ‘scooping method’ of flour is preferable to the ‘spoon into the cup and level method’.  I’m sure there is a slight effect using one method or the other…I don’t feel like researching that though.  I’ll save my time for the results!

blond brownies

baked feta and romesco and olive tapenade

two crostini

I can eat a whole loaf of crusty bread.  Add olive oil or cheese and I’ve just gained 8 pounds without blinking. I also get into trouble when my husband makes his big pot of ragù sauce.  That pot calls me…taunting me all effin day…while it simmers away.   He has to shoo me away from it, or else I will have ‘tested’ it 45 times before serving, and then all the bread will be gone for dinner.  He can even tell while he’s upstairs, that I have removed the lid of the cast iron pot to dunk some bread in the bubbling sauce.  I can’t help it.  Maybe this bread addiction stems from when I was growing up, my parents would snack on it after my father got home from work, and they would review their day before dinner.   The telltale ‘antipasti’ – the Boursin cheese (and if bought that week, dad’s stinky cheese…aka some sort of blue cheese), pepperoncini and green olives.  It wasn’t anything fancy – just a flimsy single paper plate, damp with dumped out olives and pepper tops.  It wasn’t put out for me or my sister either, but that didn’t stop us from cruising by, and ripping off some bread and smearing it with cheese and exiting the kitchen while our parents continued to talk.  Fast forward 20 years and marry an Italian.  The cycle has reset itself.  My husband has a soft spot for cheese and bread as well, but he brings soppressata and hot peppers to the mix.  After sampling this dip, he made the ‘eh’ face, which says to me he’s sticking with his toppings.  That’s ok, you can’t please everybody.  I liked this mix of cheese, olives and romesco.  I had never made a romesco sauce before and it was delicious!  Plus, it all was served warm with a crusty loaf of bread, which reminded me of dipping in his pot of tomato sauce…

baked feta with romesco and olive tapenade (adapted from Cooking Light October 2011)


red bell pepper
cooking spray
1  28 oz. can San Marzano peeled whole tomatoes, chopped
5  garlic cloves, minced
1/2  cup low sodium chicken broth
2  TB chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1  slice wheat bread, chopped
1/4  tsp. black pepper


1/2  cup pitted kalamata olives
1/2  cup pitted fruity green olives (I used a large green olive in a spicy oil)
1/4  cup fresh flat leave parsley, chopped
1  TB extra virgin olive oil
2  TB sherry vinegar
1/4  tsp. fresh ground black pepper

remaining ingredients:

1 1/4  cups (5 oz) crumbled feta cheese, divided
2  TB fresh flat leave parsley

roasted pepperswhole peeled tomatoes

get started on dip:

Preheat broiler to high.  To prepare romesco sauce, cut red bell pepper in half lengthwise, and discard seeds and membranes.  Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet and flatten them slightly with hand.  Broil for 8 minutes or until blackened.  Place peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam.  Let stand for 10 minutes.  Peel and chop peppers.
Reduce oven to 425.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray.  Add chopped tomatoes and garlic.  Cook 4 minutes or until garlic starts to brown slightly, stirring frequently.  Add red bell peppers and broth.  Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in nuts and bread and cook for 1 minute more.  Transfer mixture to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and add pepper.
To prepare the tapenade, place olives, 1/4 cup parsley and the next 3 ingredients (through pepper), in a food processor.  Process until finely chopped.  Transfer to a bowl.  Coat a smaller size broiler safe casserole dish (1 1/2 quart) with cooking spray.  Spoon half of romesco sauce into prepared dish, and top with 3/4 cheese.  Dollop tapenade over cheese.  Spoon the remaining romesco sauce over tapenade, and top with remaining 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese.  Bake at 425 for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Sprinkle with parsley.

chopped olivesdip dish

note:  this dip serves 12 (which is hilarious).  Ok portion control….deep breath.  Oh, and I had Serrano peppers laying around…stuck them on there for ‘garnish’.