At 5:30 a.m. yesterday morning, on my way to the kitchen to make granola, I pulled up to the Starbucks drive-though.
"Good morning! Welcome to Starbucks! Can I interest you in one of our wonderful breakfast wraps?!!?"
"Uh, no, thank you. Just a venti-non-fat-extra-hot-latte, please."
"One ventinonfatextrahotlatte coming right up, Julie! I'll see you at the window!"
I don't know why, but I'm always a little bit embarrassed when the baristas know me from my order through the drive-through speaker. True, there aren't many customers who consistently show up at 5:30 in the morning with my exact order, but I do go to Starbucks a lot.
At the window, I handed Stacy (I don't really know that her name is Stacy, but she looks like a Stacy) my Starbucks gold card -- like I said, a lot -- to pay, and in exchange I received.......
A RED CUP!!
I was completely taken aback by the color of my caffeine vessel, practically dropping it as I reached through the window to Stacy's* extended arm. After all, it was only November 1st -- much, MUCH too early for this sort of nonsense. OK, I don't really think that it's nonsense. I actually love the red cups. But November 1 is pushing it just a bit.
Now, those of you who still haven't ventured over to the Starbucks extra-dark coffee side might be wondering what the big deal is. Red cup. White cup. So what? Allow me to enlighten you.
The appearance of the red Starbucks holiday cup is the gunshot that kicks off the frenzied holiday marathon. It gives stores and radio stations the O.K. to start playing Bing Crosby tunes. It means that the Salvation Army can set up in front of the supermarket and that Santa should head to the mall. And it starts the wheels turning in all of our heads: Can I still order a fresh turkey from the butcher? What on earth am I going to get for my dad? Where did I store those Christmas lights in the garage?
And, of course, the biggie: What am I going to serve for ThanksChristmaKkuh dinner and our annual holiday cocktail party/cookie exchange/open house??
Relax -- take a deep breath. As luck would have it, I am armed with an arsenal of holiday recipes and ideas, which I will be posting throughout the next few months, and which I hope will give you some help with your festive events. Some creations will be my own and some will be reprints or riffs on recipes that I have torn out from magazines over the years (my holiday file is massive!)
For starters, I have one of each. Whenever I have a cocktail party or a finger-foods type of get together, I find that people are always impressed if I supplement the crackers or flatbread type of food with something that I created on my own. They really shouldn't be all that impressed, since what I usually create is super easy, but that can be our little secret.
I had made my own blue cheese coins several years ago, but I had forgotten about them until I was reading the most recent issue of Food and Wine magazine, in which Dorie Greenspan has a piece featuring three of her own "cocktail cookie" recipes. Eric and I had a little cheese and wine shin-dig this past weekend, so I decided to make one of Dorie's sweet variations along with a savory cookie of my own.
Dorie's cookie pairs dark cocoa with a hint of spicy cayenne and a sprinkling of flake salt -- a trio that works so well together. These cookies are versatile, pairing well with coffee and both red and dessert wines. You could also serve them alongside peppermint stick ice cream.
My savory blue cheese, walnut, and thyme cookie is a great complement to a cheese tray, or you can just set out a bowl of them for nibbling (they will disappear quickly!) Both varieties would also make a great hostess gift, packaged in a box so that they don't crumble
Here are a few extra tips for making these cute cocktail coins:
- The rolled out and frozen cookie dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept frozen for up to 2 weeks.
- The baked cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
- Feel free to experiment with different flavor combination: substitute ground ginger for cayenne in the chocolate cookies, fresh rosemary for the thyme in the cheese cookies, almonds for walnuts, etc.
- Try adding some finely chopped dried fruit to the dough for another variation: figs, apricots, and cranberries would all work well!
Dorie's Chocolate-Cayenne Cocktail Cookies (slightly modified)
Makes about 5 dozen cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
8 ounces butter, softened
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg yolk
Flake salt, for sprinkling
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cayenne, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with both sugars at medium speed until light ad fluffy. Add the egg yolk and beat until well combined and smooth. Add the dry ingredients and beat until incorporated.
Transfer the dough onto a work surface and knead it gently until it comes together. Divide the dough in half and press each half into a disk. Roll out each disk between 2 pieces of parchment paper to about 1/4-inch thick. Slide the parchment paper-covered disks onto a baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour, until very firm.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with one layer of dough at a time, peel off the top sheet of parchment paper. Using a 1 1/2 inch round cookie cutter, stamp out the cookies and close together as possible. Arrange the cookies about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets and sprinkle with some of the flake salt.
Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until they are just firm. Shift the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Julie's Blue Cheese, Walnut, and Thyme Cocktail Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen
1 cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces blue cheese (I used Point Reyes)
8 ounces chilled butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk
Place the walnuts, sugar, and the thyme in the work bowl of a food processor; pulse until the walnuts are finely chopped. Add the flour, salt, and the blue cheese to the bowl and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the egg yolk and process until large clumps of dough form.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and form it into a ball. Divide the dough in half, and form each half into a disk. Roll out each disk in between two pieces of parchment paper to a thickness of about 1/4-inch. Stack the parchment paper-covered disks on a baking sheet and freeze until very firm, at least 90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with one sheet of dough at a time, peel off the top sheet of parchment paper. Using a 1 1/2-inch round cutter, cut out cookies as close together as possible and arrange about 1-inch apart on prepared baking sheets.
Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden. Let the cookies cook on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.