Few things give me greater pleasure than planning the menu for a party or a family visit. In addition to eating, pretty much constantly, our family also loves to talk about food and cooking, and pretty much everyone has a strong opinion on, well, whatever food-related topic is under discussion. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, my mom was a gifted cook and she not only taught me how to cook but how to love the process of cooking: collecting cookbooks and magazines, poring over recipes, making detailed lists, and even grocery shopping, all the things you have to do before you tie on your apron and approach the stove.
At this time of year, I’m busy stocking up for the holidays, of course. We’re having the whole family at our new house, and, in about a week and a half, things will evolve into the somewhat organized chaos that attends large family gatherings. It’s hard to think and plan when you’re busy drinking a nice glass of wine at 3 pm, eating whatever crosses your path, free-styling at the piano, and going out for long walks when your body tells you that the excess has to stop, temporarily at least. We’ve added a couple of rituals to our family calendar each year now, including a trip to the curling rink where, apart from my sister and her husband, we all display varying levels of astonishing incompetence, and the Flea Market Yankee Swap, where we each buy the weirdest thing we can find under $10, wrap them, then play the famous mean-gifting game with the often creepy and hysterical results. In the middle of all of this fun, it can be hard to plan meals and make a grocery list, much less get to the grocery store.
So I try to get organized in advance, which gives me a reason to engage in the process of stocking up, which I revel in. Last year, we held an 18th birthday/graduation party for our daughter, and I decided to serve lasagna and birthday cupcakes. I made, I believe, 15 lasagnas, half tomato-based, half-white, and 100 cupcakes, filling our chest freezer to the brim. Very satisfying. This year, we don’t have a chest freezer, so I’m limited in the amount of food I can store in advance, but I’m still doing my best to fill it to the top.
I’m not such a fan of baked goods that have been frozen and thawed, but years ago I came across an article, possibly in Canadian Living, recommending freezing logs of cookie dough, which struck me as a genius idea. So, every year now, I make about 10 or 12 logs of various kinds, using recipes that would normally be in the “chilled” section of my mom’s tattered Blue Ribbon Cookbook. You make the dough, form it into a log, wrap it in a nice thick layer of plastic wrap and then foil. I usually store them in ziplock plastic bags as well, which I make sure to re-use of course. Before you pack things away in the freezer, stick a straw (use a paper one to avoid the environmental horrors of plastic straws) and suck the air out of the bag before sealing and storing.
Here’s one of the recipes I just made for pecan and white chocolate shortbread. I like this recipe because, basically, you use 1 cup of everything (except flour)
Pecan and White Chocolate Shortbread
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups flour
In the bowl of a stand-mixer or with a hand-mixer, whip butter until fluffy. Add in icing sugar gradually, until it is all incorporated. Add chocolate chips and pecans and whisk again until fully incorporated. Gradually add in the flour until the mixture starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. Watch your flour and don’t add so much that the mixture gets dry, but don’t let it be greasy either.
Dump onto a clean cutting board, scraping out all the bits stuck to the sides. Form into a log, wrap in plastic wrap, then tin foil, place in a plastic bag and store for up to a month in the freezer.
When it’s time to make some cookies, remove from freezer and let it thaw for a few hours, if you can. Slice the log into 1/2-inch pieces, and bake for about 10 minutes at 375 F, watching to make sure they don’t burn on the bottom.