Saturday, December 24, 2011

Olivia the Woodland Elf-fairy

Olivia Elf is one of our best cookie bakers.  She mixes and rolls and bakes to perfection.  She has an alarming amount of sprinkles and can create the perfect cookie for Santa and the other elves for any occasion at the North Pole.  The only teeny, tiny problem is that Olivia doesn't really want to be here at the North Pole.

At all.

You see, Olivia is an avid reader and she once read a book about woodland fairies and she just has it in her head that she wants to be a woodland fairy, too.  However it is very hard to be a woodland fairy when there are no woodlands for frolicking about. Olivia tried prancing amongst the potted cocoa bean trees we keep in the garden nursery.  She also tried zipping through the Christmas tree farm at the outer edge of the North Pole.  It just isn't the same for her.

Truthfully, Olivia would make a terrific Woodland Fairy.  Her feet are awfully small for an elf and she has brown hair and lovely hazel eyes.  Perfect for blending in to the woodland setting.  Olivia also dances gracefully and could dart poetically from tree to tree. One tiny....okay, huge problem remains.  Olivia can't fly like the Woodland Fairies can.  So, until she sprouts some wings or finds some alternative means of aerial transportation, Olivia is an elf.  A ground hovering, pointy toed, snowbound elf.  So, to demonstrate her displeasure at being at the North Pole, Olivia is on a strike of sorts.  Olivia only makes sugar cookies in the shapes of trees.  She is hoping that one day we will send her to the Woods and she will find some magical wings and she will join her deciduous friends.    Until then, please enjoy her tree sugar cookies.  We are ready for another shape, so please help yourself to as many as you would care to eat.

Sugar Cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter
2/3 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, beat butter and shortening together.  Add sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add eggs, milk and vanilla: beat well.  Add dry ingredients to beaten mixture, mixing until well combined.  Cover and chill 4 hours or overnight.  Roll on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut into tree shapes.  Bake at 375 for 8 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.  Allow to cool.  Frost.

Butter Frosting

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
8 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
food coloring

Mix all ingredients together except food coloring.  Add more milk if necessary to make a smooth spreading or piping consistency.  Tint with food coloring.  Decorate cookies.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Snow Soup

Davis Elf is a good looking elf. He is taller than most and all the young girlie elves are quite impressed by his soaring height.  His blue eyes and charming smile added to his appeal with the ladies.  Davis Elf is a funny big little elf.  He keeps everyone charmed with his humorous stories and quick wit.  The problem is is that he was used to getting by on his looks and charm and doesn't do much work around the North Pole.  Oh, a lot of work is attributed to him, but he doesn't do much of it.  His job is to test the video games before they get packaged. Instead of testing, Davis gets involved in the game and plays for hours.  With a quick wink and flash of a dimpled smile, the girl elves working on the assembly line cover for him and he spends the afternoon happily playing his games.

It is the same with cooking.  Davis doesn't like to cook, but he does like to eat a fine meal.  He becomes quite clever at eating well with minimal effort.  When Davis was young his mother read to him a lot.  One of his favorite stories was Stone Soup.  As Davis grew he learned the fine art of crafting a story to fit his dietary needs.  He would invite over a bunch of friends and moan pitifully as he sat in front of a big plate of snow. 

"Now, if I just had some onions to flavor this snow, I could make a nice broth."  Out came the dimples and the big blue eyes.  Tina Elf would run back to her kitchen and grab a few choice onions.

"A few potatoes would really flavor this broth."  Davis would shoot a smile at Robin Elf.  Off she would go to her pantry.  On and on it went with each ingredient being bought with a flash of sparkling white teeth and a swoop of his long golden, brown hair.

Soon a big bubbling pot of soup would be served all around.  Here is Davis Elf's favorite recipe for Snow Soup.  Just don't hang around too long when he starts talking about Filet Mignon Ice. 

Snow Soup

4 large baking potatoes
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups milk
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup diced scallions
dash paprika
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees until tender, about 1 hour.  Let cool completely and peel and cube potatoes.  In a large saucepan, melt butter.  Stir in flour and salt.  Stir until smooth.  Gradually add milk and cook and stir until thickened.  Remove from heat and add the potatoes and sour cream.  Garnish with scallions, paprika and cheddar cheese, if desired.  Serves 6 - 8

Monday, January 31, 2011

Strawberry Kisses

Riding into the North Pole on his trusty reindeer, the Kissing Bandit Elf both terrorized and delighted the town.  His enigmatic presence was a welcome diversion for all the single ladies and a pain in the neck for all the single guys.  With a pocket full of flavored Chapstick, Ethan Elf was prepared to meet any osculatory need. A cherry kiss on the cheek?  You betcha!  A minty peck on the nose?  No problem!  A strawberry smooch on the lips?  Coming right up!
Ethan Elf takes his job pretty seriously at the North Pole.  He has always been an equal opportunity kisser, although after last week and the Big Beulah Elf incident, his kissing rampages may be tempered a bit.   Big Beulah is a rather large elf who works in my North Pole Kitchens.  I first assigned her to make pastries and breads but after a few weeks and a few samples too many, I noticed that Beulah was putting on even more weight.  I moved her to the salad division.  She looks a little leaner but let’s just say that a salad consisting of 3 pieces of lettuce laden with cheese, bacon bits, olive oil and garlic croutons with a generous pouring of salad dressing isn’t exactly a lower calorie replacement for her earlier snacking.
On the day of the Big Beulah Elf Incident, the ladies in the kitchen were excited because Lydia Elf had seen a trail of used Chapstick tubes leading right to the kitchen door.  The Kissing Bandit Elf must be near.  Upon hearing the news, Beulah pushed herself to the front of the room and got out her own tube of chapped lip relief.  She slathered it on and waited impatiently at the door.  Soon, we all heard a noise outside.   Beulah threw open the door and planted a big one on poor Ethan Elf.  He didn’t see it coming and he was now hopelessly trapped in the sticky embrace of Beulah.  Perhaps it was the combination of Chapsticks or just the mere size of Beulah and her mighty lips, but Ethan Elf could not escape her grasp.  He turned a vibrant shade of blue, then purple and then finally lurched free from her smothering kiss.  He turned and ran out the door and took off down the lane gasping for clean, fresh air as he went. 
Ethan is a little more careful in his kissing jaunts.  He tends to stake out the place before he enters these days.  And Beulah has worn a rapturous expression ever since her exuberant encounter.  She asked to be transferred back to the pastry division so she could make these cookies to help commemorate her fabulous encounter with Ethan the Kissing Bandit Elf.

Strawberry Kisses

½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup strawberry preserves
1 cup chopped pecans
Mix together butter and sugar; add egg and vanilla.  Beat well.  In another bowl, sift together flour and baking powder; add to egg mixture.  Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 10 X 14-inch rectangle.  Spread preserves over dough and sprinkle nuts over preserves.  Beginning with the long side, roll cookie dough.  Chill for 3 hours.   To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a cookie sheet.  Slice the dough into ¼ inch slices and place on cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Take cookies from oven and remove from cookie sheet immediately to cool on wire racks. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Warm Chocolate Sauce and Elf Elbows

Once a year the accounting firm of Duffee and Wiles comes to the North  Pole.  Their two representatives, Gigi and Jan, are serious elves who mean business.  They come in their candy cane striped suits with briefcases full of sharpened pencils and calculators.  My kitchen records have to be in perfect order for them when they come.

I’m a little afraid of Gigi Elf and Jan Elf.  They are diminutive but they don’t mess around.  One misplaced receipt and…well, I don’t really know what would happen because I’m too afraid to misplace a receipt.  Last year when they came, they told me that they would be putting me on a 3 month visitation rather than a yearly visitation.  I wasn’t sure why because my records were perfect and they didn’t find any errors, nevertheless, I am expecting a visit from them today.
For this visit Gigi and Jan requested my private conference room next to the kitchen.  They are insisting on a closed kitchen.  I told them I could accommodate them if they came between breakfast and lunch.  The bread would have already been made and there is a one hour lull while the brownies are baking and cooling. 
Right on schedule, the two little elves arrived in their black sedan sleigh.  Accountants don’t have flashy sleighs at the North Pole.  They jumped out of the sleigh and marched in to the kitchen.
“Is our room ready?” Gigi asked as she pulled off her driving gloves and looked around.
“Has everyone been cleared out?” added Jan. 
“Everything is ready.”  I responded walking them to the conference room.  “I put a plate of cookies on the table for you.  Do you prefer cold milk or hot cocoa?”
“Neither,” Gigi interrupted.  “We’re here to work, not to socialize.”
“All right,” I said a bit disappointed that they wouldn’t be trying my cookies. “I’ll just close the door for you.”
I left my kitchens and headed over the North Pole Tea Room to wait for them.  I figured I could check on the elves working there this morning and see how many cookies we needed for this afternoon’s cookie break.  I got half way to the Tea Room and then my curiosity halted my steps.  What could those elves possibly need with a closed kitchen?  They were accountants, for crying out loud.  Accountants need extra pencils not extra locks on the door. What was the big secret? 
They weren’t interested in my cookies, so I didn’t think they wanted to steal any of my secret recipes.  Besides, they were tiny, skinny little elves and it didn’t look like they ate a lot of sweets anyway.  What were they doing in my kitchen?  I had to find out.
I decided to go back and poke around for myself.  I went to the rear of the kitchen in the sleigh delivery area.  All the doors were locked and the windows were shut.  I climbed up the candy cane fire escape and found that one of the windows was unlocked on the landing of the fire escape.  I silently pulled it open just enough to peek inside.
Gigi and Jan were putting some papers inside their briefcases and standing up.  Gigi looked at Jan and said,
“Are you ready?”
“You betcha!” 
The next thing I knew the two little elves were dashing over to the machinery in the corner.  They tugged at a few pieces of equipment until they came to the largest piece of kitchen machinery.  It was covered in a protective dust tarp.  They wheeled it to the center of the room and squealed with delight as they uncovered the chocolate fountain.
“Plug ‘er in, Gigi!” Jan commanded.
“You got it!  Should I set it for Tea Party, Dance Party, or Psychedelic Rave?” Gigi asked with an unaccountant-like gleam in her eye.
“Why, Gigi dear, shall we have the rave today?”
“But, of course, Jan dear.”
With that, all traces of sophistication left the pair as they started dancing around the fountain as it gushed great spurts of warm, gooey chocolate.  They dipped a few cookies in it, dunked some fruit, and then abandoned all sense of propriety and began sticking fingers, arms, and elbows in the fountain for maximum coverage.  Soon Jan started taking great gulps of chocolate straight from the streaming flood with Gigi copying her enthusiastically.  Then as a finale to the act of unsanitary kitchen disgrace, they plopped a miniature cream puff on each finger and made confectionary claws out of their hands as they dug into the fountain of chocolate once more.
Then as if on cue, Gigi and Jan looked at each other, dabbed their lips daintily on napkins and quickly put the fountain away in the corner of the kitchen from where it was first discovered.  They picked up their briefcases and headed for the door.  I scrambled down the candy cane fire escape and dashed to the front to meet them.
Gigi spoke first, “Your kitchen records are in good order, however, I think it will be necessary to keep you on the 3 month schedule for the rest of the year.”
“We just want to be sure you don’t get into any trouble with the ERS (Elf Revenue Service),” Jan added thoughtfully.  I was too shocked to mumble more than a “thanks” as they jumped in their black sedan sleigh and took off down the lane.  I staggered into the kitchen and prepared for a Duffee and Wiles double decontamination session!

Warm Chocolate Sauce

4 squares semisweet baking chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt chocolate in a double boiler.  Add the butter and milk; stir.  Slowly add the sweetened condensed milk and stir until well-blended and warmed through.  Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.  Serve warm over ice cream, cream puffs, or elbows!! Keep leftover sauce in refrigerator.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The North Pole Pneumatic Express and Gingerbread Fellas

The North Pole is a real place with real people and a real pole. 
The South Pole is a real place with real people and a real pole. 
What you probably don’t know is that the North Pole and the South Pole are actually one pole.  Yes, one really long pole that stretches through the earth and comes out on each end.  Like a giant corn on the cob with two handles. 
The best part about this pole is that it isn’t solid. It’s a pneumatic pole.  You know how when you go to the bank and pull up to the teller but you aren’t in the sleighdoor bashing side of the teller window, instead,  you are in the third lane over with the little sucky tube for  your money?  That is the same idea as the North and South Pole.  What is different, however, is that the capsules are really large and elves can transport in the capsules between the North and South Pole. 
The two trusty conductors of the North Pole Pneumatic Express are Sean and Thomas (or Thomas and Sean as Thomas likes to say.) They are the real engineers on this zippy mode of transportation.  They load at one end and unload at the other.  Traversing through the earth in the heat resistant capsules is fun.  There are video monitors, complimentary beverages, and pretend control buttons so you think you are guiding the tube. Everyone knows the buttons are just for show but they are fun to press, nonetheless. 
Transporting is safe except for one temporary side effect.  You get stretched a bit.  Just a bit, mind you, but you do come out a little taller after being swooshed through 12,715 kilometers (that’s 7,901 miles for you Americans).  Fortunately, the trip is a little shorter through the poles than through the equator, but it is long enough to add a little height.
 The problem is that sometimes there aren’t many customers on the North Pole Pneumatic Express and Sean and Thomas do what any employer at a Six Flags would do.  They ride over and over.  No hands, upside down, in bathing suits with arm floaties, racing each other—these are but a few of the ways they amuse themselves on a slow day at work.  So as you can imagine, Thomas and Sean are really tall elves.  They never give themselves time to shrink back to size before they catch another joy ride. 
So, when you come to the North Pole, and I hope you do sometime, you will recognize Sean and Thomas right away. Just look for two tall blonde elves in uniforms with a competitive glint in their eyes.  You can’t miss them.

Gingerbread Fellas

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground  ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
1 tablespoon vinegar

In a medium sized bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, shortening, and sugar.  Add egg, molasses and vinegar, beat well.  Add dry ingredients to butter mixture.  Chill 3 hours.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease cookie sheets.  Roll out ½ of dough on a lightly floured surface.  Cut with cookie cutters and place on greased cookie sheets.  Bake 6 minutes at 375 degrees.  Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheet one minute and then remove cookies to wire rack to cool.  Decorate with royal icing.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sidecar Sugar Cookies

Kimberly Elf is busy.  Her time is scheduled far in advance.  Kim is the official photographer for the North Pole.  Her photo sittings are magical, her sports photography is divine, and her candids are delicious. This year’s  Eligible Elves of the Far North calendar was sold out in advance and she had to invent a month to accommodate all of the elves who want to be featured.
It seems that my Sylvie, I mean Sylvester the famous Iron-Elf champion, (can’t let him know I’m interested, so my mom says) was determined to be on the cover and have his very own month. He also wanted to pose with his trophy on a leopard rug.  Kim, who for some unfathomable reason seems to be resistant to his charms, refused to give him that much coverage or uncoverage as the case may be.
“Sorry, Sport,” she argued.  “You’re not the only seal in the Arctic.  You can have November.  Take it or leave it.”  She drove a hard bargain. 
“You’ll be sorry,” he fumed.
“Not as sorry as you’ll be when you get frostbite.  Now, go find some leaves from the prop room and come back in your time slot on my schedule.  See?”  She pointed to a poster on the wall full of appointments. “Your time is next Thursday from 8:00 to 2:00.  Don’t be late or I’ll give you July instead of November and you know what that means.”
He knew, all right.  Vacation time was in July and everyone put happy red slashes across the calendar. No one would be home to look at his glorious picture on the wall. With that threat, Sylvester grabbed his trophy and skulked out the door.  He would return next Thursday humbly with pointy “hat in hand” and ready to work.
So you can see that Kim is a busy elf and unfortunately for me, she never has time to sit and enjoy a good cup of tea and a cookie.  Each day in the North Pole Tea Room adjacent the North Pole Kitchens and Bake Shoppe, I serve a featured cookie and a hot drink.  When you see snow and ice 365 days a year you gotta have some variety now and then!  So, today’s cookie is in honor of Kimberly Elf and her on-the-go lifestyle.  I made sidecar cookies for busy elves on the go. The cookies hook on the side of a cup so Kim can get back to work fast and still enjoy a sweet treat in her jam packed day.

Sidecar Sugar Cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter (1 ½ sticks)
2/3 cup shortening
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Stir together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, and sugar.  Add eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Gradually add the flour mixture.  Refrigerate dough 1 hour.  When chilled, roll half of the dough on a floured surface.  Cut with cookie cutters and re roll the scraps.  Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes depending upon the thickness.  Immediately upon removing from the oven, use a sharp knife to cut a small rectangular notch in the left side of each cookie.  Allow to cool completely.  Decorate with royal icing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Old Whizzer Caramels

Old Whizzer was a mean and crusty elf.  Whizzer wasn’t his real name.  Just the name we gave him because he rarely came out of his cottage except to yell at kids for coming onto his lawn – or permafrost as the case may be.    If you dared to venture his way, you would soon hear snowballs whizzing past your pointy ears.  He rarely connected with his target.  I think he mostly sent them as a warning to stay away. 
Unfortunately, his house was near the North Pole Kitchens and elves were complaining feverishly about his antics.  Seems they couldn’t get to the kitchen for their afternoon cookie and cocoa break without being bombarded by snowballs. Something had to be done about this impish elf.  Whizzer absolutely and positively had to stop throwing snowballs at everyone.  Kids were crying, reindeer were barking, and insults were flying.  
Over the years, elves had talked to Whizzer pleading with him to stop.  There were ordinances made against his errant behavior.  There were “Whizzer Warning” signs put up near his yard, and even Elmo, the Chief Elf, made a special plea to Whizzer personally “for old elves' sake.” Nothing worked.
I gathered 3 of my most trusted assistants into my kitchen office and hoped we could decide once and for all how to get him to stop.  I had a backload of cocoa and cookies that needed to get eaten.  It was right then and there that we hatched a plan.  There was only one choice and we had to do it.  We had to kill him.
Yes, it was the only thing to do.  We had to kill him.  Not elficide, there’s no such thing as that at the North Pole.  We had to kill him... with kindness, of course.  Here’s how it went down.
We gathered up the murderers with their suspicious looking pouches.  We ventured onto Old Whizzer’s lawn and sure enough he came out with blazing snowballs.  We reached into our pouches to get our own snowballs out and began to fire them at him. But, these were special snowballs.  They were homemade snowballs filled with candies and goodies.  Old Whizzer picked up one of the snowballs that had fallen at his feet and examined it.  He cracked it open and then, miraculously, he cracked a smile.  He gathered all the goodie filled snowballs and went back into his house.  Our plan had worked!
Now, the only time Old Whizzer throws snowballs is when he is out of treats and that’s our cue to throw some of our special snowballs his way.   

Indoor Snowballs Party Favors

6 small white balloons
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup water
6 white paper towels
White tissue paper
White school glue
Masking tape

Blow up balloons and tie ends.  Mix together the flour, salt, and water.  Dip paper towels into flour mixture and place one paper towel over each balloon smoothing out wrinkles as well as possible.  Allow to dry completely.  Cut tissue paper into 1X1 inch squares.  Using the eraser end of a pencil, twist the tissue square over the pencil and dip into glue.  Place twisted tissue onto dried balloon.  Cover surface completely except for one small circle.  Make a cut in the uncovered portion and remove the balloon and then fill snowball with goodies.  Place a small piece of tape over the opening and finish covering the snowball with tissue paper squares.  Repeat with remaining balloons.

Whizzer Caramels

1   cup butter
1   1-pound box brown sugar
1   14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1   cup light corn syrup
1   teaspoon vanilla extract
1   cup chopped pecans

In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add sugar, condensed milk, and corn syrup; mix well.  Cook over medium  heat, stirring frequently,  until mixture reaches soft ball stage(236 degrees).  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Pour into a generously buttered 9X9 in dish.  Allow to cool.  When cool, use a wet, sharp knife to cut into small squares.  Twist in waxed paper or cellophane. Yield: 2 pounds

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Elf Olympic Curling and Chewy Chocolate Cookies

Sherri Elf is a Canadian beauty and a 2-time Elf Olympic curling champion.  She is the Skip of the North Pole team and responsible for calling the play and directing the strategy. Her decisiveness got her the job of skip and, ironically, got me the job as head of the North Pole Kitchens and Bake Shoppe.  Let me explain.
In last year’s Olympics there was an exciting semi-final match between the team from the North Pole and the fierce competitors from Nova Scotia.  Sherri was particularly invested in this match because she used to share a training camp with this team when she lived in Canada. These were some ruthless curlers whose brooms were swift and mighty.   Sherri wasn’t going down without a fight.
In this Olympic match the players were on their 10th and final end.  The championship was at stake and the victor was soon to be waving flowers and crying during their anthem.  Team North Pole had just slid their seventh rock and it made an impressive stop near the button.  And then disaster struck.  Danni, one of the sweepers for the North Pole, picked up the last and final stone, the hammer stone, to give it a quick look. 
“Put it down!” Sherri cried out, but it was too late.
CRACK! The heavy stone crashed to the floor and was now scattered in pieces on the ice.  The startled competitors looked around the arena.  Their gaze was met with equally stunned looks from the fans.  The Nova Scotia team, however was elated.  They had one last stone to slide and it was resting safely on the pebbly ice.  You could faintly hear them humming their anthem in anticipation. 
Then, Sherri had a brilliant idea.  While Nova Scotia was delivering their last stone, Sherri ran to the refreshment table in the training room and returned with a chocolate marble bundt cake.  At that time I was not the head of the North Pole Kitchens and the baker in charge, Grindle Elf, was not particularly skilled with an oven.  He was better at stews and soups and had been on the job so long that no one was quite sure how he got the job in the first place. He was a prickly old elf and didn’t take criticism well, constructive or otherwise.
The chocolate marble bundt cake, hard and heavy as a curling stone, was perfect for claiming the victory in the Elf Olympics.  It smacked right into the Nova Scotia’s guard rock and landed squarely on the button.  The crowd erupted in cheers and the sweepers began a reverse sweep to clean up the crumbs.
Old Grindle Elf stomped his little green booted foot and huffed,  “I quit!” 
Alas, the search began for a new head elf for the kitchen and I was selected after a grueling baking demonstration and tryout. Santa placed Sherri on the interview committee and requested that she slide each baker’s bundt cake down the ice.  If it made it to the end in one piece, that baker was eliminated from the interview process.  To this day, Sherri is a kitchen consultant. She loves all things chocolate and has personally tested each and every recipe for taste and for use as sporting equipment.  Sherri has declared these cookies, Chocolate Nut Chews,  a winner in both categories.  They taste great and cannot be used as hockey pucks.  Thanks, I think.
Chewy Chocolate Cookies
1 1/4 cup butter (2 and 1/2 sticks butter)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together butter and sugar; add eggs and vanilla.  In a small bowl mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt;  add to creamed mixture.  Stir in pecans.  Drop by mounded tablespoonfuls onto greased cookies sheet.  Bake 8-10 minutes.  Do not overbake.  Allow to cool on cookie sheet 2 minutes and then transfer to cooling racks. Dust with powdered sugar. Yield: 4 dozen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Abs of Steel and Buns of Cinnamon

Many of the elves have been training for the IronElf Competition. This is a rigorous sport for elves that combines dogsledding, cross country skiing, and toymaking.  I have been helping Sylvester Elf get ready for the competition.  Sylvie, as I like to call him, is a strapping 4 foot elf with a dreamy 3-pack. When he takes off his shirt after his lacrosse match all the girls swoon.  They need smelling salts candy canes to revive them.
Sylvie came to my kitchen recently and asked me to make him some protein shakes and high fiber granola to help with his training.  Seems he was feeling sluggish after the sledding and skiing, and he wasn’t able to make a fast finish in the toymaking portion of the race.  His fingers kept slipping off the nails as he tried to hammer the music boxes together.  Even worse, he was too fatigued to put the rouge on the dolls and the subsequent slash across the cheeks of the dolls was most unbecoming.  They looked feverish and scary rather than dainty and merry.
One day in my kitchen, I was pulling some cinnamon sticky buns out of the oven when Sylvie came through my door.  He usually came later in the day so I was surprised to see him now.
“What is that divine smell...other than the always intoxicating scent of your perfume?”  That Sylvie has a silver tongue.  I tried not to giggle and blush the way all the other elves do.  Always keep a man on the chase, my mom used to say. 
“Oh just some sticky buns for Santa’s afternoon snack,” I replied. “But I’m sure you wouldn’t want any since you are in training, and all.” 
“You’re right,” he lifted his shirt and slapped his stomach. “Rock hard and ready to rumble.”
I’m not quite sure where elves rumble at the North Pole but I didn’t say so,  besides I couldn’t act too interested, so says my mom.   I put a sticky bun on a silver plate for Santa and got out the smelling salts candy canes for the two icing apprentice elves who had fainted in the big bowl of frosting on the other side of the kitchen. 
 “I’ll be right back.  While I’m gone, you can have your shake and granola.”
When I returned I noticed that the shake and granola were gone but I also noticed that another of the sticky buns was gone, too.  Curious.
 Each day passed and Sylvie always seemed to show up at sticky bun time rather than his usual late afternoon snack time. After a while, I noticed that Sylvie quit pulling up his shirt to show me his 3-pack, and his buns were looking more and more like my buns of cinnamon rather than the IronElf buns he used to sport.  Was my training going to be the ruin of him? 
At the big race, I was very nervous.  Was I going to be blamed for destroying the most famous IronElf that ever lived just because he couldn’t resist my baking?  The starting gun went off.  We would all know the answer to that question soon.
Sylvie started out in front of the Dogsled race and miraculously stayed there.  The announcers kept mentioning that Sylvester’s new physique was acting as ballast and keeping his sled steady on the course.  Hooray!  One race down and two to go.  In the cross country skiing, Sylvester blasted past the others in a burst of speed.  Seems the extra carbs were giving him boundless energy.  Finally, in the Toy  making competition, Sylvie was given the task to make play food and he won the judges over with his authentic looking plastic and foam sticky buns.
So now, thanks to Sylvester, I am the new official IronElf personal chef to the athletes.  My sticky buns are packaged and distributed for all of the competitors.  Sylvie wasn’t too happy about his secret weapon being shared with everyone so I told him he might want to come over one day next week and I would have a surprise new training food for him. I didn’t tell him what it was going to be.  Gotta keep him guessing, you know.

Cinnamon Sticky Buns

1 package dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (105 – 110 degrees)
1 cup milk, scalded
¼ cup shortening
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten

1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup butter
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2/3 cup chopped pecans

¼ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a small bowl, add water to yeast.  In another larger bowl, combine warm milk, shortening, sugar and salt. Beat in 1 cup flour.  Add softened yeast and egg.  Gradually add remaining flour to form a soft dough.  Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl.  Cover and allow to rise one hour.  Mix together the topping ingredients and pour into a greased 9X13-inch pan.  When dough has risen, punch down and turn out onto a floured surface.  Cut dough in half.  Use a rolling to pin to roll out each half into a 10X12 inch rectangle.  Spread each with the filling ingredients.  Start from the long side of one rectangle and roll up dough; repeat with other rectangle.  Cut into 1 ½ inch slices and place in pan on topping ingredients.  Allow to rise another 45 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Cool 2 minutes and invert onto serving dish. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Coco's Cocoa

Gina, the star dog trainer turned reindeer game creator, arrived yesterday at the North Pole with her entourage.  Important elves never travel alone.  Her personal assistant Coco bustled into the kitchen with a locked attaché on her little wrist.  She looked furtively left and right and then motioned for me to join her in the pantry.  I guess she had seen too many Get Smart episodes and thought we were going to enter the Cone of Silence inside the pantry. 
“What’s up, Cookie?” I asked her.
“It’s Coco and it’s cocoa,” She whispered with a steely eyed elfin gaze.
“Sure, Cookie.  Whatcha got in your little suitcase there? You going to grandmas?  That’s what my suitcase used to say right there on the side.” I reached for the case to point out the location of the clever catch phrase on my old suitcase and Coco lurched the case out of my grasp with a startled shriek.  So much for the Cone of Silence.
“It’s my secret recipe for cocoa,” she looked around the pantry again as if she expected Ninja elves to come bursting through the cans of beans.  I could only hope for such a diversion to get rid of this kooky elf. 
“Okay, thank you, sweetie,” I decided to use my ‘patient’  voice (as opposed to my why-don’t-you-and-your-little-secret-just-go-back-to-dogtown-voice.) “Just submit your recipe to the kitchen assistant over there and we will test it before putting it on the menu. “
“You can’t put this recipe on the menu!” she gasped.  “It’s special.”
“It’s special,” I repeated.
“Yes.  It has a secret ingredient and it is only to be served to Gina and her Cabinet members – me, Cricket, Kim, Ken, Kobe, Karla, Colin, and Carrie.” She finally broke into a toothy smile. “The dogs respond better to ‘k’ sounds so Gina only hires elves whose names start with a K or a C.  Clever, huh?”
“And confusing,”  ... ‘and krazy ,’ I thought to myself.  I was trying hard not to roll my eyes although I’m sure they wavered just a bit. Coco finally unlocked the case from her arm.  She pulled out a tattered recipe card and gave it to me with two hands.
“I have other copies, you know.” She said quietly as though she were handing me the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“Prudent.” I whispered back to her in my ‘patient’ voice.
“We’ll expect cocoa each morning precisely at 8:00.  Whipped cream, marshmallows and cinnamon sticks. “  she looked around the pantry once more paying particular attention to the oatmeal shelf and then she was gone.

Coco’s Cocoa
6 cups milk
2 cups half & half
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Secret Ingredient: 1/3 cup leopard spots (if you don’t have a package of leopard spots you can use chocolate chips)

Heat milk and half & half in a medium sized saucepan.  In a small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder and sugar.  Add a few tablespoons of heated milk to the cocoa powder and sugar; stir until all lumps are gone.  Add cocoa mixture to the milk and stir; add vanilla.  Add leopard spots.  Serve with whipped cream, marshmallows and cinnamon sticks, if desired. Garnish with chocolate shavings.  Yield 4 mugs or 8 cups cocoa. Note:  The “leopard spots” will melt and remain on top of the cocoa. They will shimmer when stirred gently.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reindeer Chow

 So I was watching my morning news, The Good Morning Today Show , and drinking my peppermint double mocha latte frapperschnitze, when Pakli burst through the door shouting at me to turn on that other North Pole morning show, Wolves and Friends. 
“They are giving some breaking news,” he exclaimed out of breath.
I flipped channels to see  Katie Cucumber Elf and Tom Brokejaw Elf looking very tense on my SugarCrystal flat screen tv.  Something was definitely up. They cut to footage of Gina, the Dog Sled trainer, in her silver and white team parka. 
“I can officially announce that I have been asked to leave my precious pooches behind to come and lead some reindeer games at Camp Hoof.”  She sniffed daintily and picked up a Siberian husky puppy.  It also gave a delicate snuffle of sadness.
“Can you tell us when you received the call to come up to the big leagues?” the announcer continued oblivious to the possible oncoming torrent of tears.
Gina’s blue eyes so similar to the pale blue eyes of her canine friend brimmed over with the afore mentioned tears. “ I found out yesterday.  I can’t bear to leave my dogs behind but I understand that Winter training is underway the reindeer have expressed some dissatisfaction with their current training games.”
“Well, you are the 6 time Idita-Elf  Dog Sled Champion.  You were the obvious choice.”
“So true, but how can I leave  all of this?” She gestured to a yard full of fluffy dogs in brightly colored doggie parkas with matching booties.  “I was about to start my training runs to prepare for this year’s race.”
“I guess you’ll be guiding the training runs for our other four footed friends now.”
“The reindeer take training runs, too?” Gina brightened visibly.
“Sure.  You must be aware of the summer training loop starting down the coast of North America in New York, then Atlanta, Rio de Janiero,  Acapulco, and then up the west coast with an intensive session over Hollywood before returning to the North Pole.”  The news-elf looked surprised that Gina hadn’t heard of the summer loop.  It was essential training in order to keep the reindeer in tip top condition.
“Hollywood? Did you say Hollywood as in California?”  Gina blinked away her tears. “Movie stars? Swimming pools!  Rodeo Drive and an empty sleigh for my shopping bags!!”  Gina Elf cleared her throat. “It’s my duty to help Santa with the reindeer this year.  I know those poor dears need me to liven up their training.   I must make whatever sacrifices are necessary to take on this important task.”  
She bent down and placed the puppy from her arms on the ground and gave it a scoot, “ Go back to your mama, little guy.  This mama’s going to Hollywood!”

Reindeer Training Fodder
Reindeer love this special version of training oats.  Even though I make it for the reindeer, I have been known to snatch a spoonful to put over my vanilla yogurt or my ice snow-cream, but don’t tell anyone. 

3 cups uncooked oatmeal
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 cups nuts (pecans, walnuts, sliced almonds)
½ cup shredded coconut
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix together the oatmeal, brown sugar, nuts, and coconut.  In a separate bowl stir together the butter and oil; pour over oatmeal mixture.  Sprinkle water over all and stir to moisten.  Place mixture on a cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 20-30 minutes stirring frequently. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

La'SheeLah and Raspberry Pavlova

Sheelah, Sheelah, Sheelah!  Do not say her name one more time!  What were the judges thinking?  My hair is longer, my ears are pointier, and my name isn’t redundant.  Doesn’t ‘Sheila’ mean girl anyway?  She’s a girl named girl? And she doesn’t even spell it write...I mean right. What is she? Some 300 hundred year old teenager trying to impress the rugby elves?  Next she’ll be capitalizing the L and adding another syllable -- La'SheeLah!  Okay, so I didn’t win Grande Supreme Elf.  Maybe if I had some fancy schmancy Australian accent, and a big kangaroo pocket full of peppermint on my apron I’d win, too. 
Sheelah came to the North Pole on a cultural exchange program from the South Pole except she never went back.  She said the North Pole was the “Dinky-di” and she unpacked her “trackie-daks” and settled in as Santa’s personal trainer and the North Pole fitness coach.  Whatever!  I personally think she passes out that candy to keep everyone a little pudgy for her own job security. 
Now, as head of the North Pole Kitchen and Bake Shoppe, I have to make the Honor Dessert for our new Grande Supreme Elf for our celebration dinner tonight.  She said her favorite dish is Raspberry Pavlova.  Of course and why not, Miss Snootypants, because raspberries are just growing all over the icicle bushes here at the North Pole.   Pavlova Schmavlova!  I think I’ll get Pavlov’s dogs to come drool all over the Pavlova.  Russian dog and Russian dancer meet in perfect unity to celebrate the great Sheelah, Grande Supreme Elf!    Ugh...I’m going to go find some raspberries. 

Raspberry Pavlova

4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon (heaping) cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Turn the paper over and draw an 8 inch circle and a 4 inch circle on the back of the paper.  Flip the paper over and place it back on the cookie sheet.  In a large bowl mix together the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt.  Using a mixer beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form.  Gradually beat in granulated sugar.  Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Spread the egg white mixture in the circles on the parchment paper. Form shallow wells in the center of each egg white circle.  Bake at 275 degrees for one hour.  Turn the oven off and leave meringue in the oven for an additional hour.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Whip the heavy cream on high speed with a mixer; add vanilla and sugar.  Spread 3/4 of the whipping cream onto the large meringue. Place 3/4 raspberries on top of whipped cream.  Add second layer of meringue and repeat with remaining whipped cream and raspberries.  Serve immediately.  Yield: 6 servings.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Elfies and Apricot Almond Crescents

Who let  you in here?  Did Inka invite you?  Did Casmo smuggle you in here?  I know, it was Pinda!  You need to hide better than that or Santa will have the guard elves escort you out faster than a bobsled on a polar bear slide.  I think I know why you are here, though.  It would be hard to stay away.   Tonight is the most exciting night of all at the North Pole.  It's the 2010 annual  Elfie Awards.   (Elves Lauding Fabulous and Illustrious Ears).  Everyone knows that Elf ears get pointier and pointier the harder they work.  Baby elf ears start out with round tops like human ears but as the elf grows and works hard at his job, you will see perfectly pointy tympanic organs.  Lazy elf ears just stay round like baby elf ears. But hey, if you want to see some perfect specimens, look at mine! 

Why are you looking at me like that?  So I added a little ear gel to make mine point a bit more.  Everybody does it. Okay, and I added some Dr. Lazlo's sparkle dust to the points.  I refuse to be seen on the cover of ELF magazine in their Stars Without Makeup issue again.  That's right, I said star.  I've been awarded the title of  Elf Supreme for three years running.  If I win again tonight I will set a new record and be crowned Grande Supreme Elf.  Sort of like Toddlers and Tiaras but with less tantrums and more rhinestones, if that's possible. 

You are still looking at me strangely.  Did you think that Christmas was the big night around here?  That's a good one.  By the time December 25th rolls around we are done, finito, finished.  That's Santa's big night along with his Chief Elf and of course, the reindeer.  You don't know much about the North Pole, do you?  Well, I'll be happy to fill you in and tell you all about it.  Now, go hide and wait for the awards. Have some cookies.  I've got to find my Bedazzler. 

Elfies are cookies that are served at the awards ceremony.  The first kind of cookie served is the Lazy Elf Cookie.  It serves as a reminder to work hard during toy season and not be lazy.  Who wants round ears?   The second kind of cookie is the Fabulous and Illustrious Ear Cookie.  They are long and pointy and oh so good.  We only get them one time a year at the ceremony so we eat lots and lots of them.  Better make a double batch for yourself, too. 

Lazy Elf Ears
1   6-ounce package dried apricots
2 ounce block almond bark coating
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Melt chocolate in the microwave for 60 seconds.  Dip half of each dried apricot into the coating and then into the chopped walnuts.  Place on a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper to set.  Yield: 20 ears.

Fabulous and Illustrious Ear Cookies
(Apricot Almond Crescents)

2 sticks (1 cup) butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup apricot jam
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine egg yolk and  sour cream; stir into flour mixture. Do not use a mixer.  Divide and shape dough into 4 balls. Cover dough and chill for 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a generously floured surface, roll out one portion of the dough into a 10-inch circle. Keep remaining portions chilled until needed.  Spread 2 tablespoons apricot jam on each circle then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons coconut and 2 tablespoons almonds. Cut each circle evenly into 12 wedges. Roll up wedges, beginning at wide end.  Stretch out each end slightly to make “points” for our point ears and then curve the whole cookie into a crescent before placing on ungreased baking sheets. Sprinkle crescents lightly with sugar. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from baking sheets immediately and cool on wire racks. Yield: 48 cookies.