Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Entertaining - Death by Chocolate Cookie

Seen above is the best chocolate cookie you'll ever eat. There's probably more that could be said, but we're awfully close to Christmas, so let's just get to it. Buy the ingredients below tomorrow morning. The prep is quick, and you're family will love these on Christmas morning.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter softened (use Plugra)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
10 1/2 oz of fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), melted and cooled

To make:

1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
2. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (or in a stand mixer on medium-high speed with paddle attachment) for about 3 minutes until pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Lower speed to low setting and add flour mixture just until combined.
3. Continue on low speed while you add cocoa, baking soda, and finally the melted chocolate.
4. Form dough (which will be stiff) into a 14-inch log on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll up. Chill dough for at least 4 hours (can be chilled for up to five days, or frozen in a double layer of wrap for 1 month--although you'll want to thaw it in the fridge just until you can cut it).
5. Slice dough in 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices, roll edges in sugar, crushed pistachios, or whatever makes you happy, and bake the slices on an ungreased cookie sheet in a preheated oven at 375 degrees.
6. Cook cookies for 12-15 minutes, cool on sheets for another 4-5 minutes, and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gardening - Paperwhites

Perhaps no flower brings a more beautiful smell to the Christmas holiday than a paperwhite. They're quick-growing, gorgeous to look at, and absolutely wonderful to smell. If you're going to plant them, plant them in bulk. One bulb is beautiful, but nine or ten are sublime. After planting the bulbs with 3/4ths submerged into some good-quality soil, just add water and stand back. In just a week or two you'll have plants that are 6-12 inches tall:
Within another week, you'll have buds forming:
And a week or so later you'll have blooming plants standing 24 inches tall. When they begin to bloom, they get top-heavy and begin to droop; just construct a simple frame around them to hold them upright (the one in the picture took four twigs from the yard and about 15 minutes to make) and they'll stand tall:
From there, enjoy the blooms:
As a side note, researchers at Cornell University discovered that if you want smaller paperwhites that don't sag, you can simply water them with a solution containing 5% alcohol (they like the hard stuff--vodka, rubbing alcohol, etc. - no beer!), which will retard the growth. We happen to like the drama of the taller plants, but to each his own. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Design Tip - The Christmas Wreath

Ever wonder what would possess us to chop up foliage, spin it in a circle, and hang the result on our door? Well, turns out that the Christmas wreath likely has its roots in the pre-Christian Germanic people who gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted them on fire as signs of hope and renewed light during the cold winters of Eastern Europe. Christians later kept these popular traditions alive to celebrate their hope in Christ, celebrating him as the everlasting light. The Christian wreath, or advent wreath, consists of four candles in a ring of evergreen with another candle set in the center. One candle is lit every night for the first week of Advent with another candle added to the nightly ritual each week. On Christmas Eve, the final candle is lit to represent the birth of Jesus. The wreaths we decorate with today arise from this tradition.

That said, you shouldn't relegate the beauty of the wreath solely to your front door. Get creative and enjoy the season:
on that front door;
on a window;
inside a window;
over a mirror;
over a chandelier; or anywhere else you feel like spreading a little Christmas cheer.

images via Traditional Home and Veranda.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Design Tip - A Christmas Rose?

Speaking of roses, the ubiquitous red rose is not just for that lovers' day in February. The deep red petals and vibrant green stems are as perfect for Christmas decor as any amaryllis you'll find, a whole lot cheaper, and much easier to use throughout your home. By candlelight or the glow of a Christmas tree, they're perfect.
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