Quick Bite: Salerno Santa’s Favorites

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I remember them called Jingles. But, no matter what you call them these anise flavored cookies not only evoke memories of Christmases past but specifically of a lady in the office at my father’s car dealership. My mother did not buy them so I only ate them there. Have a yummy day!

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A few bites from my food journal

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The fall and winter months mean lots of travel for me since we try to get to most of our son’s swim meets on the East Coast. I know its cliché, but we really do travel on our stomach. Here are a few samples of my recent journeys:

Pizzeria Molto (1215 Post Road, Fairfield, Conn.): I celebrated our son’s 21st birthday with a crisp glass of Rock Hollow chardonnay and a small plate of osso bucco. It was hard for me to picture a small plate of osso bucco but, sure enough, they placed a small plate of four very small bones and small portion of homemade gnocchi. They were aromatic with the meat falling off the bone. The gnocchi were light and served with a pan butter sauce with fresh parsley. The wine bar is a place I know we will all enjoy now the remaining school year.

Gina Tina Ristorante Italiano (602 E 187th St. No 1., Bronx, N.Y.): When I think “Little Italy” in New York of Mulberry Street in Manhattan. There are those who would argue that the Bronx is where the “real” little Italy is located(and the folks from Brooklyn would say we are both wrong). I was here last week to grab a bite before attending my son’s swim meet.

20120612-141020.jpgI ordered the house Montepulciano which came in a large glass filled only a third full. Perfect. I enjoyed the wine and ate some crusty bread with green olive oil, such a simple pleasure for a busy day. I ordered baked clams which were broiled to a crispy top. They were a perfect complement to my wine. As I strolled along Arthur Avenue I glanced into other restaurants and know I will come back and sample other wonderful Italian options.

Bambino Bar and Kitchen (297 Franklin St., Buffalo, NY): This was our pre-hockey dinner spot before the Sabre’s game last night. I love the compact structure and the pictures of the owners when they were children. I think I may be related to them (no, not really but they looked like typical Italian American kids back in the 60’s). Our server Mary Beth was knowledgeable and funny. Everyone enjoyed something different with rave reviews. I had a caprese salad with their homemade mozzarella cheese. The cheese was mild and the tomatoes were not over seasoned. I also had baked clams here (I am picking up a pattern). They were large clams topped with a bread stuffing and a piece of provolone. I liked it a lot. Last, I had a roasted bone marrow salad on fresh parsley. I ordered it just because it sounded bizarre. I love the bone marrow the best when I have osso bucco so why not try this. The plate had two large bones (about four inches long) standing up on a bed of fresh parsley. There was no need for dressing because the juices from the bones provided all the seasoning necessary. I was given a small fork and knife to dig into the bones. The first one offered a few delicious bits of marrow which I ate with the parsley. It was great. When I lifted the second bone to loosen the marrow a huge portion slid out. It was one of the most unique and delicious flavors I have ever experienced.

The First BTF Christmas Cookie Recipe Exchange:

Here are a few tools of the trade which will make your cookie preparation easier and fun:

20120612-141012.jpgHeavy cookie sheets: I have four of them. Be sure they are sturdy and have sides. I went to a restaurant supply store and bought seconds for a fraction of the price. They said they were scratched but I did not care because they would get scratched the first time I used them.

Parchment paper: This may be the single best time saver of all. Before my cookie baking extravaganza I will sit in front of the television cutting and folding about 30 sheets of paper to line my sheets. I store them in between stacked pans. I use fresh paper for each batch (kind) of cookies. When I finish that type then I throw them out and start with a fresh liner. This way I do not have to wash the cookie sheets between recipes and there is no sticking. Brilliant!

Cooling racks: Years ago when one of the discount department stores was closing I bought about 10 cooling racks. I line them up on my kitchen table and cool my cookies until ready to frost or store.

Cookie scoop: I started out using a melon baller to get the cookies all the same size. Eventually that broke and I invested in this scoop. Having all the cookies the same size does several things. The baking time stays the same, they are visually better looking on the platter and they are easier to store.

The deadline for submission is: Tuesday, Nov. 15

Please e-mail: BTF.TheFoodie@gmail.com and put Virtual Recipe Exchange in the subject. If you are a new cook and want some great ideas, please send an e-mail to BTF.TheFoodie@gmail.com by Nov. 20 and I will send you the first annual http://www.BelowTheFalls.com Virtual Christmas Cookie Recipe Exchange.

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Time for the first BTF Cookie Recipe Exchange

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Thirty one years ago this week I was married to my college sweetheart. I was a very young woman with good culinary intentions and very little experience. I had barely made sauce once and made most of my dinners with some form of cream of something soup.

By the way, I’m not putting down cooking with cream soup. As a matter of fact, I have a few go-to recipes which call for it that are warm and fuzzy comfort food. Tuna noodle casserole is my favorite one of all.

Anyway, I come from a long line of cookie bakers having had two very accomplished grandmothers who could stare down 10 pounds of flour and see all of the possibilities.

My mother enlisted me and my sister as soon as we could belly up to the kitchen table to do the little chores which take time away from the mixing and baking. Had I known what a pastry sous chef was I would have included it on my resume.

One year, I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, my job was to crack the nuts. Mom gave me several bags of nuts along with a nutcracker and little metal pick which you use to remove the stubborn meat from the shell. The shells went onto newspaper which lined the table and the nut meat went into the designated bowl. One for me, one for the bowl until my mother had to rush me to the hospital in severe allergy anaphylactic shock. Oops…guess I am allergic to tree nuts! Bummer!

My mother’s cookie platters were beautiful, strategically set with cookies of all colors and shapes. I did not know then but realize now there was nothing haphazard about her baking as she planned with the precision of a military general. Over time I have created my own holiday traditions for my family. Baking cookies for Christmas remains my favorite and the one thing I do whether time is short or spirits low.

There is something about sharing my cookies with people I care about that makes me happy. I give away about 80 percent of the cookies I bake. I think people actually look forward to my gifts of cookies and candies. I have collected beautiful platters over the years which remind me very much of the ones my mother used.

Over the next few weeks I am going to share with you some specific strategies I use to make Christmas cookies. These have been learned over time, with trial and error. Many of you may already employ some or all of these and I hope that along with sharing recipes you can share your strategies, as well.

You may think I’m crazy to present you with this column two months before Christmas, but part of my success is using time to my advantage. This also can save you a great deal of money. You can certainly buy flour today to use later. Things like chocolate chips and coconut can be put in the freezer.

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The first thing I do is make a list on my computer of all of the cookies I intend to bake. The rows are all of the ingredients. You may want to put things like flour, sugar, butter, etc. at the top as most recipes call for them.

Don’t forget to include any icing or toppings on the cookie in the ingredient list. The columns are the cookie recipes and the yield. One column may say “Sugar Cookies” on one line and 36 on the next. Here is a quick sample: Once you have decided what to make and listed all of the ingredients on the spreadsheet you can determine your shopping list based upon the totals. There are plenty of websites which do conversions to let you know how many pounds 8.25 cups of flour is.

Click here for a helpful site.

For those of you who have a recipe file filled with old and new favorites I am proposing a recipe swap. Think of your very best recipe (just one) and share it with me. I will summarize and e-mail all of the participants.

With the recipe (ingredient list, yield and description) please include where you got it and why it is your favorite. By sending this recipe we have your permission to print it.

The deadline for submission is: Tuesday, Nov.15

Please e-mail: BTF.TheFoodie@gmail.com and put Virtual Recipe Exchange in the subject.

If you are a new cook and want some great ideas, please send an e-mail to BTF.TheFoodie@gmail.com by Nov. 20 and I will send you the first annual http://www.BelowTheFalls.com Virtual Christmas Cookie Recipe Exchange.

Coming up next week: Tools of the cookie trade

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