Thursday, December 20, 2012


Last year I started the tradition of having a cookie swap before Christmas. It's a fun excuse to do two of my favorite things 1) bake cookies, and 2) hang out with my friends. If you haven't been to a cookie swap before the rules are simple. Everyone makes a batch of their favorite cookie recipe and gets to take home a bunch of cookies from everyone else's. All your holiday baking = DONE.

It's like the opposite of Thunderdome--one batch of cookies comes in, but 12 types go home.

This year I didn't participate in just one cookie swap, but two! One here at the house and one at work. While we didn't quite have the numbers of last year at the cookie swap here at home (which is kind of a good thing because finding seats for 23 people was a challenge) we had about 15 types of cookies which is a VERY successful swap. A table loaded with cookies, good friends chatting and catching up, mulled cider on the stove...what else do you really need to get into the holiday spirit?

The whole spread.

We're swapping fools!

I made two of my most favorite cookie recipes, one new and one old (recipes are below). The new recipe was from my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Country, and was one of their annual best cookie recipe finalists. Chocolate Mint cookies--a chewy chocolate cookie with a melted Andes mint on top. That's right. a MELTED ANDES MINT. Your mind has been blown.

The old recipe was one of my Grandmother's favorites and one she made every year. Ricotta cookies, a delicious puffy light but slightly savory cookie topped with a sugar glaze. As I baked them, I spent a lot of time thinking about my Grandmother. How she made the exact same cookie year after year...albeit without the aid of a Kitchen Aid mixer. But following her recipe, making something that she loved, I felt really close to her. I never expected to get moved by a cookie, but there's just something really special about these holiday traditions...and the cookies are by far the sweetest ones.

But enough of this sappy stuff! Let's get to the part you really care about--the recipes!

Grandma Riley's Ricotta Cookies

Cream together 1/3 cup margarine and 2 cups sugar. 

Add 1 pound (1 15oz. container) ricotta cheese. 

Add two eggs and two tsp. vanilla. Mix.

Sift together 4 cups flour, one tsp baking soda, one tsp salt. Add to other mixture. Drop by spoonful onto cookiesheet and bake at 350 degrees 12-15 minutes.

Frost with a glaze made from 1 ½ cup powdered sugar, 3 Tblsp lemon juice, and zest of one lemon. Stir until smooth. Spoon 1 ½  tsp on each cookie and use the back of the spoon to spread and let it dry.

Cook's Country Chocolate Mint Cookies

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 cups (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
45 Andes mint

Combine butter, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted, about 3 minutes. Add chocolate chips and stir constantly until chips are melted. Transfer mixture to bowl of stand mixer and let cool for 10 minutes. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl.

Fix mixer with paddle, add eggs to bowl with chocolate mixture, and beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in 3 additions and mix until just combined, scraping down bowl as needed. Refrigerate until dough is firm, at least 1 hour or up until 2 days.

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Working with half the dough, roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls and place 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake until just set 7-9 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.

After removing cookies from oven, immediately place 1 unwrapped Andes Mint in center of each cookie. Let stand until chocolate is softened, about 5 minutes, then spread chocolate over top of cookies. Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 30 minutes. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fairy Tale Murder Mystery

In the past couple years, my friends and I have gotten into the habit of throwing murder mystery parties. This all started because birthday girl in December, Selvi, thought it would be fun to try it. So we put on our finest 1920s duds, used one of those box sets, and had a party. We had a blast, but when it was over, everyone couldn't help but think, "we can do better than that."

Since then, every six months or so we all get together and throw a big party....where one of the guests is murdered. Selvi, Mac, and Priya have alternated coming up with the stories and everyone is more than happy to strap on a costume and put on their detective hats to solve the crime.

This past weekend was Selvi's birthday so what better time to have another mystery party? This time the theme was Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Crime. From the evite (and Mac's brain)
When the curtain falls and the book closes, the fairy tale world does not simply end. Those who dwell in this land must still live with each other, and good and evil are never black and white. It is the Queen's birthday, hosted by her brother, the Dark Wizard, and all throughout the land are invited, even those who believe or flat-out know that the Queen herself is somewhat wicked, and the Wizard's charm is only skin deep.  
Still, it's a party that likely won't soon be forgotten. Basic murder mystery rules: one person will die. The Queen, Selvi Sri, will be tasked with using her brilliant intellect to determine whodunnit. A select portion of the cast will be suspects, and a few others will, for their own purposes, act helpful in her quest. Some of these people will be genuine, and others will lie. The rest of the crew will be there to have fun; any and all are encouraged to partake in the mystery, but you should feel no pressure to if you don't feel like it.
We assembled in the Sky View party room at Selvi's apartment in Rockville (fancy!). The cast was large; in attendance were the Evil Queen, the Dark Wizard, Cinderella (yours truly), Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother, Hansel, Gretel, the Wicked Witch, the Big Bad Wolf, Granny, Little Red Riding Hood, the Woodsman, the Ugly Stepsister, and the Huntsman. There were three suspects: Cinderella, Gretel, and the Woodsman. But who could have done the crime??

Some of the assembled cast.

I was Cinderella, one of the suspects. Here's my character description:

You are a Suspect. You are NOT the Killer.

Years ago, you married Prince Charming, with the aid of your Fairy Godmother. You are now Princess of the land, showered in wealth and adored by all. You even magnanimously allow one of your stepsisters, maimed by her attempts to fit in your shoe and blinded by doves at your wedding, to live in the castle.

But, unfortunately, your dreams are not as perfect as they seem. You've long known that Charming is less than faithful; there was that tart in the glass coffin, and you're sure that he keeps some hairy woman in a tower in the woods, but you tried to rise above it. After all, you are adored and are in a position of political authority. But recently you learned something that's slightly beyond the pale. 

Prince Charming is gay.

Obviously you have no problem with this, and it does explain why he first fell in love with your shoes. The unfortunate political reality is that once he works up the courage to come out of the closet, he'll find true love with his own Prince Charming, and you'll be out of the castle. That can't be; you look too good in a tiara. But it's all right; you and he have an understanding. You're looking for another Prince to marry, and once you do, he'll come out of the closet, pass equal right laws, marry Phillip, and you'll still get to be a princess. Everyone wins!

Well, they would, if it wasn't for that pesky Dark Wizard. He somehow found out (you suspect that your Prince hit on him but you can't prove it) and he's threatening to reveal your secret. You can't let him, not now when you're so close to snagging that Prince Eric with the lovely castle on the coast! He LOVES red-heads who can sing! Fortunately, all the Dark Wizard wants is a bribe. You've secretly snagged a few crown jewels, including a ruby the size of your fist, and paid him off. That should keep him quiet while you work out your living arrangements! Also, you fill the lonely nights in the arms of the Woodsman and Gretel, both of with whom you are in a stable relationship.

*gasp* Such drama! Closeted princes, three-way relationships, political maneuvering! And yet, I wasn't the killer? So who was it?

Surprise! It was the Woodsman. I can't recall what his motive was (mostly because I was drunk), but I do remember this happened.

He killed her brother, after all. 

The thing I love most about these parties is how much everyone gets into it. There are costumes and role-playing and mock fights and murder most foul! Everyone has a great time and it's a different way of getting together and hanging out. We're all giant nerds anyway, so adopting alternate personas and wearing weird outfits is kind of up our alley.

But will I ever get the chance to be a killer? We've had four or five of these things now...and still. No murder for Maggie. Maybe next time....