The Wedding Cookie Table

wedding cookie table italian wedding cookies

So, as you may (or may not) have noticed, I have been MIA for the past few months. There are a couple of reasons for that: First, Cathy converted the site from Blogger to WordPress. WordPress and I have a mutual loathing, so suffice to say I have been avoiding working with it like the plague. Temper tantrum over, however; it’s time to pull on my big girl panties and deal with it.

Secondly, my absence was for a far happier reason: The state of Florida finally got its head out of its ass and legalized same-sex marriage in January, so I officially became Mrs. Grillmaster D on April 12.

Now, Grillmaster D and I have been together for over 17 years, so my immediate thought was to have a friend who is an officiant marry us on the beach and meet friends for drinks afterward. My friends and family thought differently, however. Have a wedding, they said. It will be fun, they said.

And it was. But it was also a lot of work.

Grillmaster D and I had already had a spiritual wedding 12 years ago, so I didn’t want to do the whole boring gown and tux thing again. I wanted something different and something fun. So instead, we decided to throw a badass rainbow-colored party on Pass-a-Grille Beach with a small hand-fasting ceremony and maybe a couple of “wedding” elements at the “reception”: a small cake, a wedding cookie table.

A wedding cookie table, you ask? What is this wedding cookie table of which you speak?

Imagine my surprise when I found out that, outside of the Pittsburgh area from where I originally hail, very few people have ever heard of a wedding cookie table. A wedding cookie table is just what it sounds like: In place of or in addition to a wedding cake, a large table with different cookies, typically prepared by family members, is presented to guests at the wedding reception. There are also boxes provided for guests to take a selection home with them, much in the way you might offer boxes for a slice of wedding cake.

It can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose although, when my cousins got married, my aunts would bake for weeks. When my mother—who is Italian, retired and occasionally bored—found out no one coming to our wedding had ever heard of a wedding cookie table before, she kicked it into high gear and produced about 12 different kinds of cookies for 85 guests herself (I added three kinds of my own for my gluten-free friends).

It was a huge hit.

You can choose whatever kinds of cookies you like, bearing in mind that you want to offer a good mix to your guests. Think about color, presentation, possible food allergies or sensitivities, and don’t forget the little ones in the crowd (chocolate chip cookies without nuts are usually perfect). Of course, you don’t even have to limit a wedding cookie table to a wedding event. Baptisms, bridal showers, bar mitzvahs, graduations—the list of possible events where you can offer a cookie table is endless.

In Pittsburgh culture, Italian wedding cookies—often called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian teacakes as well—are usually sacrosanct as one of the offerings on any wedding cookie table. Here is my favorite recipe:

Italian Wedding Cookies

1-1/4 cups powdered sugar, divided
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1-1/2 cups organic unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups pecans, toasted and finely ground
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Sift together 3/4 cups of the powdered sugar and the salt. Cream butter, gradually add the powdered sugar mixture until well-incorporated, then beat until light and fluffy.

Stir in the pecans and vanilla extract, then gradually blend in the flour and mix well. Do not overmix at this point, just blend enough so the flour is fully incorporated.

Shape the dough into balls, using about 1 teaspoon of dough for each cookie. Place the balls on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for about 15 minutes or until they just barely start to color. Do not brown.

Cool slightly, and remove to wire racks. Strain the extra 1/2 cup powdered sugar over them, using a fine mesh sieve. Cool completely and then store in an airtight container.

Makes approximately 3-1/2 dozen.

~ Tiffany


Sautéed Chicken Breasts

I love to cook, but there are days when I’m just too tired or busy to do much. Today was one of those days, so I turned to a long-time staple here at Magic Cove: sautéed chicken breasts. Nothing is faster or easier to do.

The chicken, start to finish, took about 20 minutes. In the meantime, I made pan-roasted potatoes at the same time, heated some peas (my family will only eat the canned baby ones, the heathens) and finished a partially pre-baked garlic knot loaf from Fresh Market (a total cheat). I was maybe in the kitchen 30 minutes, tops, and had a beautiful and (relatively) healthy meal on the table in no time.

Sautéed Chicken Breasts
For the chicken:
1 T. organic butter
1 T. good olive oil
Three to four organic chicken breasts
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

For the sauce:
2 minced garlic cloves
2 T. minced onion
1/3 cup white wine (I had a partial bottle of Pinot Grigio in the frig, so that’s what I used)
Juice of one lemon
2 T. organic butter
Fresh chopped parsley

For the chicken: Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Lay down the chicken breasts, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then turn so they are coated with the fat. Sprinkle the other side with salt and pepper. Cook, turning once, until they are lightly browned on both sides.

You don’t want them too dark. See that pretty color?
When the chicken is browned, cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, turning occasionally, until just barely shy of done (done will be 180ºF on an instant-read thermometer, so shoot for about 170ºF). Remove the chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Increase heat to medium. In the pan juices that remain, add the garlic and onion and sauté until soft. Add the white wine (if you are not accustomed to cooking alcohol over heat, especially gas, please remove the pan briefly from the heat to do this; I don’t want to hear it’s my fault you have no eyebrows). Bring the sauce to a boil and boil until slightly reduced. Add the lemon juice, then swirl in the butter. Cook until slightly thickened.

Add the chicken breasts back to the pan and cook in the sauce, turning occasionally, until cooked through and the chicken registers 180ºF on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the chicken to a platter, pour the sauce over and sprinkle with parsley (for me, a matter of stepping out my back door to the bodacious herb garden Grillmaster D planted for me). Serve hot.

* This is my favorite sauce for sautéed chicken breasts, but the possibilities are endless.
* A lot of people like to pound their chicken breasts thin before cooking, but we prefer them unpounded. Just remember that if you do, you will have to adjust your cooking time accordingly.
* I love lemon passionately, so this is a fairly tart sauce; however, if you are not quite the lemon lover, you can reduce the amount of lemon juice called for or substitute chicken broth for the wine.

~ Tiffany

Aunt Lena’s Roman Apple Cake

Cathy and I are both of Italian descent (translation: batshit crazy), so it should be no surprise to anyone that the love of good food is culturally programmed into our genes.
Italian-Americans take their food seriously. I mean, seriously. And for Italian-American women, it is often a huge point of pride to be locally famous for a certain dish—to the extent that it is not unheard of to be absolutely refused the recipe if you request it or, if it IS handed out, for certain alterations to be made so that the finished product is not quite as good as the original. (They even did it to me, totally favorite niece and great-niece of my family—not understanding my experience in recipe development and testing, so I just shrugged and fixed it myself without them being any the wiser.) These women take no prisoners.
Which brings me to Aunt Lena’s Roman Apple Cake.
In the small Pennsylvania steel town where my family is from, my Aunt Lena (my materal grandmother’s sister) was famous for this cake. I have no idea where she got the recipe—she would never say—but I suspect, based on the title since my family is not Roman, it was something she found in a newspaper or church cookbook when she was young, then honed and refined it through the years until it became the legend it was.
And that was all well and good—until my Aunt Hattie, my Aunt Lena’s sister-in-law, submitted the apple cake recipe to be included in the cookbook our family church was publishing in the late 1960s (and how Auntie H got the recipe, we’ll never know). Except she did it under her own name instead of under Aunt Lena’s name—which was exactly how it was published for all to see—and precipitated a war in our family that lasted …
… for thirty. Freaking. Years.
I was too young to be involved when all this started (I was about five), which I will regret until my dying day because, from the stories my mother and her cousins tell, the drama was absolutely awesome. Family reunions, Sunday dinners—there was a permanent line drawn down the center of any gathering and you risked the wrath of some seriously pissed-off Italian women if you crossed it (I understand my cousin Joey, the family troublemaker, tried to stir up some trouble once by pushing that line, and … well. Suffice to say, he’s still alive. Barely).
I can understand the bloodshed because this cake truly is amazing. Don’t make it if you are expecting the usual fluffy, light cake—this is a really dense and heavy cake that’s almost like an apple bread pudding with a yummy streusel topping. Although it is good the day it is made, it is heavenly if you wait a day after you bake it to let it mellow a bit.
Aunt Lena and Aunt Hattie have both shuffled off this mortal coil, God rest their souls, and the family no longer gathers, so I don’t have to worry about retribution for sharing this with you. Much. I wouldn’t put it past either one of them to haunt my dreams.
Aunt Lena’s Roman Apple Cake
Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup organic brown sugar
2 T. cold organic butter, grated
2 tsp. cinnamon (preferably organic Ceylon)
2 T. all-purpose flour
Pinch table salt
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup organic butter, softened
1-1/2 cups organic sugar
2 large organic eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup organic whole milk, room temperature
3 medium organic Granny Smith apples, medium dice
3/4 cup organic raisins
Make the streusel topping: Mix together the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, flour and salt in a small bowl until well-combined. Set aside.
For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13×9-inch cake pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, and mix well after each addition. Stir in apples and raisins. Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the cake batter.
Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool in pan on wire rack.
Makes 16 servings.
~ Tiffany