Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentine

Valentine's Tradition #1: Box of Chocolates

On Valentine's my sister and I would wait excitedly for dad to come home from work because we knew that in tow were three very special boxes of chocolates; one for each of us and a huge one for mom!

Dan hasn't caught on to this tradition yet...for shame! However, knowing that he usually forgets the chocolate, I thought I would sneak a box in his bag Valentine's morning for a surprise when he got to the office to start his day. I decided to go with the good stuff: Jacques Torres dark chocolate. Needless to say, this went over well, and he even shared the chocolate with me :)

Tradition #2: Aunt B's tree.

Okay, so my Aunt B has a quaint old house with lots of character; over the years, she has collected all sorts of fabulous little crafts and what nots and she decorates almost every room according to season. There is something that is just homey about it. My mom decorates for Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas; Aunt B decorates almost year round. There is always something to look forward to when you go to her house!

One thing that always fascinated me, as a child and today, is a small artifical tree set up in her sunroom. She keeps the tree up year round and decorates it according to the appropriate holiday. I love this tree (seriously, when I go to her house I beeline it to the tree to see what she's added and then I meander through the house to see if I spot any other new finds!)

When I was in high school I asked my mom for an extra small version of Aunt B's tree for my room. My tree is a quarter of the size of Aunt B's, but it turned out to work out perfect because it fit in my dorm for college and now in my apartment.

We had to down size when we moved from DC, so I didn't bring any of my holiday decorations for the house. It may seem silly, but I really look forward to decorating the house for the different holidays; I was a bit bummed not have all of my stuff. However, I kept one box with a few different items for my tree for each season; above is my Valentine's tree with 100 wishes garland. I'll post a few snapshots when I change it for St. Patty's day coming up.

For Valentine's as promised, I made Jam Sandwich cookies. I used a recipe from Cook's Illustrated. They were good but I would like to make real linzer tarts next time, so I'm just posting the images now; I will post a recipe when I have one that tastes like what I know this cookie to be.

Also, this recipe was kind of a pain in the neck to work with; the dough is stiff and has to be refrigerated before rolling out and after rolling out. It isn't impossible; it just isn't easy either.

I sent the lot with Dan to his office and as I suspected, the shortbread cookies received the raves (which goes back to what the pastry chef, Karie, told me in the cook books!) I wish I would have just made a double batch of shortbread. They were not only delicious but beyond easy to make.

Tartine Shortbread Cookies

--1 cup + 2 tbsp (9 oz/255 g) unsalted butter, very soft
--1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt

--1 3/4 cups + 2 tbsp (9 oz/255 g) all-purpose flour

--1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (2 2/3 oz/75 g) cornstarch
--1/3 cup (2 1/2 oz/70 g) granulated sugar

--1/4 cup (2 oz/55 g) superfine sugar for topping

1. Preheat oven to 325. Butter a 6-by-io-inch glass baking dish. (I used a half sheet pan because that is what I had on hand similar to those measurements and it worked like a charm.)

2. Place the butter in a mixing bowl. (Elisabeth notes that it is imperative that the butter is very soft, like the consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream.) Add the salt to the butter and mix well with a wooden spoon or whisk so that it dissolves completely before you add the rest of the ingredients.

3. Whisk the flour and cornstarch together into a bowl. Add the granulated sugar to the butter and mix just until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix just until a smooth dough forms.

4. Pat the dough evenly into the prepared baking dish. The dough should be no more than 2/3 inch deep. You want a nice smooth surface on the top because if it looks lumpy prior to baking, it'll still look lumpy afterwards!

5. Bake until the top and bottom are lightly browned, about 30 minutes. The middle of the shortbread should remain light. Let cool on a wire rack until warm to the touch.

6. Sprinkle the shortbread with the superfine sugar. Tilt the dish so that the sugar fully and evenly coats the surface and then tip out the excess sugar. (If you don't have or cannot find superfine sugar you can put granulated sugar in the food processor and pulse for 20 seconds.)

7. With a very thin, sharp knife, cut the shortbread into rectangular fingers about 1/2 inch wide and 2 inches long. (If the cookies have become cold they will not slice well, so they must still be warm to the touch at this point, otherwise they will crumble on you.) Chill thoroughly before removing from the baking dish.

8. These should come out easily with a small, thin offset spatula; I received a tiny pampered chef one from my friend Kate that I engaged here. The cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 2 weeks (though in my house there was no way they'd last that long!)

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