Saturday, December 28, 2013

Family Traditions

Christmas has come and gone, and it was all such a blur. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season, whatever you may celebrate. Ours was quiet and peaceful, just the way I like it. Bonus: I managed to revive two family recipes this year.

This year I continued my tradition of making homemade gift baskets and bags for family and friends, though weather and illness prevented me from doing all that I wanted to do and delivering all the finished goods within the necessary timeline. Here's to better success next year!

I tried some new cookie recipes and was sadly disappointed. If any of you have any tips or tricks for successfully using a cookie press, please share them! I just ended up with a glob of cookie dough hanging from the end of the press without releasing to the cookie sheet. It reminded me of the old Play-Doh Fun Factory...minus the fun. Maybe it was the dough I used (though the recipe specifically stated it was for use in a cookie press), but I ended up so frustrated I quit and tried rolling and cutting my shapes instead. That was spectacularly awful as well. My dough spread out into shapeless blobs of chewy grossness instead of the light, buttery, whimsical shortbread cookies I was going for. This photo I saw on Pinterest kind of depicts my cookie strife:

Disclaimer: This is not me. I am not a skinny blonde. (Though my kitchen is exactly this shade of green. Weird.)
This is some random chick from Imgur:

So, in true Krista fashion, I got pissed off, threw it all away and moved on to the next recipe.

One family recipe I revived this Christmas was my grandmother's sugar cookies. Again, they spread out more than I wanted, which I didn't understand. Mom and I used to make them every year, and every year they were beautiful. This year not so much. I might try them again for Easter or something and see what I did wrong. But they were tasty, if a little flat. My goal for this year had been to learn to make royal icing. I had visions of my grandmother's sugar cookies lovingly decorated with fancy hard icing, but as happens so often, life got in the way and I ran out of time.

Our freezer cooking group had planned to meet mid-month to make goodies to swap for our homemade gift baskets and help one another with some larger tasks, like making my grandmother's Swedish meatballs - my favorite family food tradition. Sadly, sickness and work got in the way - though surprisingly it wasn't MY illness or work this time! My mom also lacked the spare time to make these delicious bites of meaty goodness as well, so for the first Christmas in memory, we didn't have them, which made me very sad. We still had the cocktail wieners and some frozen meatballs in grandma's traditional beer/chili sauce, but it wasn't even close to the same. I may have to schedule a game night just as an excuse to make some damn meatballs. They are so time-consuming, with all the rolling and browning, but every savory bite is worth the effort.

In an effort to make up for the lack of meatballs - and in the spirit of trying new yeast recipes - I reached out to my Great Aunt Ethel for her yeast roll recipe. I've heard about these light and fluffy "biscuits", as she calls them, for decades, but I've never had the opportunity to taste them. When my grandmother was alive, she and my Pa hosted dozens of extended family and friends on Christmas Eve, and according to Mom, Aunt Ethel would bring her delicious rolls to town with her, already risen and ready to pop in the oven for dinner. After my grandmother passed away (before my second birthday), our family's Christmas Eve traditions changed and slowly each part of the extended family began to form their own annual traditions closer to their homes across Indiana and Kentucky. I know how much my mom misses these Christmases that pre-date my memory, so I decided to bring a piece back to her.

It's been many years since Aunt Ethel (now near 90 years of age) attempted to make her biscuits but, bless her heart, she gave it a go after Thanksgiving just for me, since these rolls were never made from a written recipe. It was always just one of those "use about this much flour and knead until it feels like this" processes. Unfortunately, too much time and memory had faded for her to make them successfully, but she knew she had taught her daughter Pam to make them several years ago. Though she warned me, Pam makes hers differently now.

Hip-hip-hooray for Pam taking notes on the original process and then saving them where she could easily find them! A few emails later and I had Pam's notes on Aunt Ethel's original yeast roll method. They were loose, and I was a little nervous starting out, but as I carefully walked through the process I could see and feel what was conveyed in the notes, and I knew I was on the right track.

Once you start working with yeast recipes, you get a feel for what's right and what's not right. Like I talked about in an earlier post, your fingertips come to learn what "lukewarm" feels like exactly, and you just know it's right. So I credit my recent baking experiences with giving me the knowledge I needed to successfully make these rolls. They were so beautiful as they were rising.

When we baked the first batch up at Mom's house on Christmas Eve, though, they were HUGE (like Grands biscuits on steroids) and ever-so-doughy in the middle. But everyone agreed they were delicious, and Mom said they tasted "just right." Score! The Big Guy liked them so much he sweetly asked me to go through the entire six-hour process again on Christmas Day for dinner with his folks. I couldn't say no to those big blue eyes, plus I wanted to try again with smaller rolls and a little melted butter after baking. So, on Christmas Day, I made them half the size of the previous day, and when I pulled them out of the oven (at the Big Guy's suggestion), I brushed them with some melted butter before serving. HOLY YUM! We were so excited to tear into them (and the rest of the meal) that I forgot to take a picture until we were digging into the second pan. Now, mind you, there were only four of us eating these things, so I think I can safely say they were a hit!

So, here is a great big THANK YOU to Aunt Ethel and my cousin Pam for helping me bring back this yearned-for recipe and Christmas tradition in our family.

I hope all of you enjoyed your holiday traditions this year - and maybe even added a new one or brought back an old one. Here's to a happy and healthy 2014, y'all!

Top of page photo credit: Mukumbura via photopin cc


  1. My mom gave me a cookie press a couple of years ago that she got as a free gift with something she ordered...I found a cookie recipe online that was supposed to be specifically for cookie press use and it was a disaster. I had all these beautiful daydreams of pressing out a kajillion pretty little butter cookies and those dreams crashed and burned like the Hindenburg. I keep thinking one of these days I'll buy a battery operated Wilton one on sale because it has to work then, right? Jeff slaps me upside the head with a resounding no and I move on. I have a Betty Crocker Cookie Book that I got at the Friends of the Library book sale several years ago that has never failed me.

    1. Jeff is a wise man. hahahaha