Tag Archives: holiday

Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti for the Holidays

pistachio cookies Melissa Iwai 4

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Wow, Chanukah has already passed and Christmas is just days away!

I haven’t had a chance to bake much this season because of all my art projects, but managed to combine my two loves for this batch of Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti.

I’ve been making these biscotti pretty much every year, but this time I changed it up by adding orange zest and a 1 tablespoon of orange juice to the batter. I thought they’d be pretty with some white, so I drizzled melted white chocolate over the biscotti.

I mentioned combining my art and baking — this is what I created — an illustrated recipe for They Draw and Cook. 🙂

cranberry pistachio biscotti Melissa Iwai 2015

It is featured on their site this week as a Red and Green recipe.

I know it is hard to read the recipe so small! Here it is for your printing purposes (note: the white chocolate part and orange juice is not in the illustrated recipe because I didn’t have enough room!):

pistachio cookies Melissa Iwai 2

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

2 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice

1 cup salted shelled pistachio nuts

1 1/3 cups dried cranberries

1 large egg, or white, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water to  make egg wash

1/2 cup white chocolate chips, melted (optional)

pistachio cookies Melissa Iwai 5

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line baking sheet with parchment.

2 Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda &powder &salt in a large bowl. Add eggs, vanilla, orange zest and beat with mixer  just until a dough forms.

3. Add cranberries and pistachios and mix at low speed.

4. Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and knead several times. Halve dough, then form each half into a 13 by 2 inch slightly flattened log on baking sheet, Brush logs with egg wash.

5. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet on a rack 10 minutes.

6. Transfer to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices with a serrated knife. Arrange slices, cut side down, in 1 layer on baking sheet Bake in middle of oven turning once until golden and crisp. 20 – 25 minutes total.

7. Cool completely and drizzle with melted white chocolate if you’d like.  Put the melted chocolate in a sandwich bag, seal, and snip a hole in one corner. Squeeze and drizzle chocolate over cooled biscotti. Chill in the refrigerator to set chocolate.





Filed under Art Related, Desserts

Fun Holiday Activites for Kids and Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots

J painting

It’s the holiday season, and we’ve been doing a lot of baking and crafts to give as gifts.  J is doing a “Grab Bag” (like Secret Santa but minus the Christmas slant) in his class that I’ve been helping him with all week.  I will post later when it’s not a secret anymore!  I really proud of him because he came up with the concept entirely on his own and designed everything. I just helped him execute it, which involved a lot of cutting. I’ll leave it at that for now!

Another fun holiday craft we do is make cake decorations with fondant or gum paste.  The gum paste is a lot harder in texture and you can make very thin, solid objects with it.  You can make both at home and color as you wish, or you can buy them.

Last year, we made decorations for a dual faith cake with gingerbread men and a Christmas tree and Chanukah dreidls.

luster dust

The fun thing about the gum paste decorations is that you can paint them with a clear alcohol (it will evaporate as it dries and you only use a scant amount) and decorate with luster dust.

Gum paste snowflakes and angels with brushes, alcohol and luster dust

Gum paste snowflakes and angels with brushes, alcohol and luster dust

Last year I made this beautiful snowflake cake that was featured on Chef Dennis’ blog, and we decorated it with these shimmery gum paste snowflakes using leftover paste from the aforementioned dual faith cake.

My bad photography isn't quite capturing the beautiful shiny quality of the luster dust -- sorry!

My bad photography isn’t quite capturing the beautiful shiny quality of the luster dust — sorry!

We’re very much looking forward to spending Christmas with Denis’ family in Long Island like we do every year.  We usually bring a dessert, a side dish, and snack-y things to munch on.  We all hang out in the kitchen, talking, nibbling, and having a good time.  This year, we’re hoping to introduce everyone on our New York side to our FAVORITE family game which we play every year during Thanksgiving at my brother’s house in Illinois.  My nephew introduced it to us I think during his first year of college several years back, and it’s become a family tradition to play every Thanksgiving.  It is AWESOME!  The more people the better too!  Later we saw a ripped off version that was a board game in Barnes and Noble, but trust me people, it is better when you make it yourself.

What it is called:  Teledraw

What you need:  A group of people, a stack of small plain paper (like post-its), writing utensils.  So if you have seven people, you need seven stacks of seven pieces of paper. If you have twelve people, you need twelve stacks of twelve pieces and paper, and so forth.

Ages:  6-100! (When J was younger, he used to play as a partner to Denis who would do the writing– for kids doing this on their own, they just need to be able to read, write, and draw)

Basically, the game is like Telephone, but instead of whispering a sentence to the person next to you, you write a sentence.  Then pass it to the person next to you — and you get a sentence passed to you from the person on your other side.  Then for the next round, you draw a picture of whatever sentence was passed to you.  Then you pass this on, then you get another picture, and you write whatever you like the picture is showing.  It is hilarious how much your original sentence changes after a few rounds!  When you get your original stack back to you, the game is over, and you take turns reading it to everyone.  When we played at Thanksgiving, we were crying, laughing so hard!

My brother and mom cracking up

My brother and mom cracking up

I scanned my stack (minus the last sheet — sorry Nick!  It was a great drawing too!  Somehow it got lost in transit…  ) which had twelve panels — but showing eleven here.  I typed out the written segments so it would be easier to read here:

1.  (My sentence)  “I ate some cake.”

2.  Which my mother drew:

For some reason, my mom decided to make it like a "rebus"!

For some reason, my mom decided to make it like a “rebus”!

3.   My brother described this as:  “I see a little 3 year old running to a birthday cake.”

4.  Which my sister-in-law drew:


5. Denis then described:  “A smiling unshaven man watches as a child rushes toward a rocking chair-shaped menorah perched on a fireplace mantle. ”

6. Which my nephew’s friend drew:


7.  Which my nephew described as:  “A little boy says the blessings over the menorah during Chanukah as Sirium Black watches.”

8.  Which Jamie drew:


9.  Which my niece described as:  “Harry Potter is putting a wand to his head.  In another room, Ron Weasley is begging him not to.”

10.  Which her boyfriend drew as:

1011.  Which my other nephew’s girlfriend described as:  “A man stabbed his head with a stick but ended up running happily away.”

12. Then my nephew drew an amazingly detailed picture of man stabbing himself in the head and then running away with a smile on his face (lost in transit!)

So that is how “I ate cake” evolved into something slightly dark.  I love that the Harry Potter theme was continued for awhile!

Writing and drawing!

Writing and drawing!

So if you have to time and energy– play this game with your family over the holidays!  It is guaranteed to make you howl (in a good way)!


To end with a recipe….

Here is a quick recipe for a side dish we love that would be a perfect side at your holiday table if you have bacon eaters.

green beans

Holiday Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots

1 lb. green beans (I buy the frozen ones at Trader Joes, because I am lazy!)

2 slices of smoked, thick sliced bacon, chopped into pieces

1/2 large shallot, diced

salt and pepper to taste

chopped parsley for festive garnish (optional)

1.  Steam green beans in steamer until cooked but crispy.  For frozen, this is about 8 minutes. For fresh, I think 6 minutes would work, but test a bean and see.

2.  Meanwhile, saute bacon in skillet.  When it is cooked, remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate and let drain and crisp up.

3.  Add diced shallots to bacon fat in pan and saute until softened a bit, about 1 minute.  Then add steamed green beans and saute for about 2-3 minutes.  Add in reserved bacon and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish if desired with chopped parsley.  Serve.

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday Season!

Melissa Iwai 2012

Melissa Iwai 2012


Filed under Art Related, Desserts, Sides

Holiday Butter Cookies Three Ways

stack 2

Every year I make a ton of holiday cookies to pass out to friends and family.  I have been collecting recipes since 2000.  Here are some of the every year standards:

Hidden Surprise Snowball Cookies


Turtle Browniesturtle

Chocolate Crinkles


Brown Sugar Ginger Crisps


Pistachio Orange Lace Cookies

These are usually more tan, rather than green!

These are usually more tan, rather than green!

Stained Glass Trees



Our gingerbread castle

Our gingerbread castle

Favorites tend to appear over and over because people request them, but I also try to test a couple of news ones every season as well.

Jamie has been imploring me to bake cookies for a special “snack” for his class, so I decided to try out three variations on a theme in one pop!

This basic cookie dough recipe is from an old 2003 issue of Gourmet (he wasn’t even born yet!)  that I’ve used for cut-out cookie holiday cookies, which we then frost.  The cookie dough is versatile, and you can add different flavors to it, creating a whole new cookie.

I decided to try out three that are school-friendly (i.e. containing no nuts):  A lemon one, a chocolate one, and one drizzled with melted chocolate and white chocolate.


Lemon Butter Cookie

Chocolate Butter Cookies with sanding sugar

Chocolate Butter Cookies with sanding sugar

Butter Cookies Drizzled with Melted Chocolate and White Chocolate

Butter Cookies Drizzled with Melted Chocolate and White Chocolate

Instead of making three batches of dough, I made one batch, divided it into three parts, and then flavored one with lemon and one with chocolate.  I drizzled the last third with melted semi-sweet and white chocolate.

Here is the link to the original recipe, and here is my version of three different cookies in one batch. 🙂

Packed for school!

Packed for school!

Holiday Butter Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For Lemon Cookie batch:

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

For Chocolate Cookie batch:

1/3 cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder

a little less than 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3.5 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Demerara sugar for sanding (optional)

For Chocolate Drizzle Batch:

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

1/4 cup white chocolate chips, melted

1.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.

2.  Beat together butter and sugar in bowl of a standing mixer for 3 minutes until pale and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

3.  Divide dough into thirds and remove from bowl.  Wrap one of the thirds in saran in the shape of a 4-inch log.  Return one third back to mixing bowl and add lemon juice and zest.  Mix until combined.  Wrap this lemon dough in saran in the shape of a 4-inch log.

4. Return last third of dough back to mixing bowl and add cocoa powder, baking soda, and melted chocolate to dough.  Mix until combined.  Wrap chocolate dough in saran and shape into a 4-inch log.  Chill all logs for at least 4 hours or overnight.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven.  Cut each chilled dough log into 1/4-inch slices and place on baking sheet 1 -inch apart.  For chocolate slices, roll in Demerara sugar if desired.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway.  Cool cookies on sheets for 3 minutes.  Then remove to cool completely on racks.

6.  Decorate plain batch of butter cookies with melted chocolates by transferring melted chocolate to a sandwich bag and  snipping a small hole in one corner.  Squeeze bag and drizzle chocolate over cookies in a Jackson Pollack fashion. 🙂  Repeat with white chocolate.  Chill to set chocolate for about an hour.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

in box


Filed under Cookies, Desserts

Holiday Cookies

Every holiday season I tell my husband, “I’m not baking cookies this year.  I don’t have time.  It’s too much work.”  He indulgently says nothing and basically accepts the plan.  Then December rolls along and there is a get- together or some such event, and I find myself making a batch, and then another.  And then another… you get the picture.

You see, I have this enormous collection of cookie recipes that I’ve been compiling over more than ten years.  There are some favorites I keep making year after year.  They are so easy to make, the ingredient lists are basic, and people enjoy them – and let’s face it:  I love to bake.  For some people de-stressing is a mani and pedi and a Cosmo. For me, it’s baking.

During the holidays I usually go a bit overboard and make about ten to twelve different varieties to give away and send to my family.  It’s hard to cut down because I have my annual favorites and I usually try a few new recipes as well.  Plus it’s an excuse to bake!

An illustrated snowball cookie recipe. Printable one below!

This year, I cut it down to six different kinds, which is a record for me.  Most of the recipes are originally from the December Gourmet issues over the years.  I’ve altered some of them and noted where I did so.

Do you have a favorite cookie you make year after year?

Hope everyone has a Happy Holiday Season!

Hidden Surprise Snowball Cookies

From Gourmet December 2002

4 oz. sweetened coconut

3 oz. unsweetened coconut

1/2  cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 2/3 cups sugar)

pinch of salt

5 tablespoons egg whites (the original recipe calls for two egg whites)

2 teaspoons water

large chocolate chips or chunk (the original recipe calls for 30 1/2” pieces of fine quality bittersweet chocolate)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2.  Process  coconuts  with sugar and salt until sandy. Add egg whites

and water and pulse until mixture is moist.

3.  Take a teaspoon of mixture in your hand.  Put chocolate on top.

Cover with another teaspoon of mixture and form into a ball.

Repeat until coconut mixture is used up.

4.  Bake for 15-18 minutes on parchment lined baking sheet.

Remove parchment and cookies from sheet and let cool.

Peel off cookies when completely cooled.

(The original recipe has a last step of dusting snowballs with confectioner’s sugar — I think mainly to hide any browning from baking, but I think it is too sweet, so I don’t do this.)

Turtle Brownies

From Gourmet December 2001

Brownie Layer:

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (I use chocolate chips)

1 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup packed brown sugar (I don’t pack it in and maybe use a little less — this   is a rich cookie!)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 large eggs

For the caramel-pecan layer:

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup

3 tablespoons water

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups pecans (6 oz) (I always toast first to bring out the flavor)

Garnish:  Melted semisweet chocolate

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare a 9-inch square metal baking pan by lining it with two sheets of foil laid vertically and horizontally with excess foil hanging over edges.

2.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Melt  chocolates and butter in a double boiler (or 2-quart heavy sauce pan over low heat), stirring until smooth, then remove from heat.  Cool to luke warm, then stir in brown sugar and vanilla.  Add eggs one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition until mixture is glossy and smooth.

4.  Add flour mixture and stir until just combined.  Spread batter evenly in baking pan and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on rack.

5.  Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil, without stirring, until mixture turns a golden caramel, about 7 minutes (the original recipe says 10 minutes, but I have burned the caramel at this length!  Watch it very closely!)

6.  Remove from heat and carefully add cream and vanilla (mixture will bubble and steam).  Stir in pecans and immediately pour over brownie layer, spreading evenly.  Cool completely in pan on rack.

7.  Melt semisweet chocolate and spoon into a ziploc bag.  Squeeze chocolate into 1 corner, then cut a tiny slice off corner to form a small hole.  Squeeze chocolate decoratively over brownies.

8. Chill brownies, loosely covered, until caramel and chocolate are firm, at least 4 hours.

9.  Remove whole thing from pan by lifting foil edges.  Cut into 64 squares.

(The original calls for buttering and dusting pan with flour, but I find it really difficult to remove and cut brownies this way!  Removing the whole thing with the foil and cutting it on a cutting board is so much easier.   I have also made these with roasted almonds instead of pecans, and it is delicious.  I used about 2 cups or so, which is more than what is called for with pecans.)

Chocolate Crackles

From Martha Stewart’s Cookies

(I halved the original recipe– it makes a ton of cookies!)

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), softened to room temperature

3/4 cups packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1.  Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring.  Set aside and let cool.   Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2.  With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate.  Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk.  Divide dough into two equal pieces.  Wrap each in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

3.  Preheat oven to 350  F.  Divide each piece into sixteen 1-inch balls.  Roll in granulated sugar to coat, then in confectioners’ sugar to coat.  Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper (I used a Silpat mat).
4.  Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks.  Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Brown Sugar Ginger Crisps

From Gourmet December 2001

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (3 oz)

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at moderate speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

3. Beat in yolk, vanilla, and gingers.  Add flour mixture nad mix at low speed until just combined.

4.  Drop heaping teaspoons of dough about 3 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets (I use Silpat mats) and bake in batches in middle of oven until golden, 13 to 14 minutes.  Cool cookies on sheets on racks 5 minutes, then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely.

Pistachio Orange Lace Cookies

From Gourmet December 2002

(I halved the original recipe.)

2 3/4 oz salted shelled pistachios (about 3/4 cups)

1/3 cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled slightly

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur

1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1.  Pulse pistachios and sugar together in a food processor until nuts are finely chopped but not ground (I think you have more control if you chop the nuts by hand.  This year, my cookies had a more greenish tinge because I accidentally got to the ground stage with my pistachios!)

2.  Stir together with remaining ingredients in a bowl.  Spread dough in a 6-inch long strip on large sheet of plastic wrap and, starting with a long side, roll up dough in plastic wrap (dough will be very soft).  Chill dough on a baking sheet until firm but still malleable, about 1 hour.

3.  Roll dough into a 8-inch by 1-inch log, using plastic wrap as an aid.  Chill wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, about 3 hours. (I’ve also just thrown the dough into the freezer and cut and baked later, without thawing.)

4.  Preheat oven to 325 F.

5.  Cut log crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices with a serrated knife and arrange about 2 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Flatten each cookie into a 1 1/2 – inch round with the back of a spoon, dipping in water and shaking off excess for each cookie.

6.  Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes total.  Cool cookies on sheets 5 minutes. then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cook completely.  Make more cookies with remaining dough on cooled baking sheets lined with parchment.

These are usually more tan, rather than green!

Stained Glass Trees (Originally called Stained-Glass Teardrops)

From Gourmet December 2002

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 – 8 oz individually wrapped assorted  fruit-flavored hard candies (I always use Jolly Ranchers.)

1.  Whisk together flour and salt in a small bowl.

2.  Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer (preferably fitted with a paddle attachment) or 6 minutes with a handheld, then beat in egg and vanilla.  Add flour mixture and mix at low speed until just combined.

3.  Form dough into 3 (5-inch) disks and chill, each disk wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 2 hours.

4.  While dough chills, unwrap candies and separate by color in small heavy-duty sealable plastic bags.  Seal bags, forcing out air, then coarsely crush candies by wrapping each bag in a kitchen towel and pounding bags with a rolling pin (I also use a meat pounder.)

5.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

6.  Roll out 1 piece of dough into a 9-inch round (1/8 inch thick) on a well floured surface with floured rolling pin (keep remaining dough chilled).  Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with a large cutter and transfer to a Silpat-lined baking sheet, arranging about 1 inch apart (you could also use parchment).

7.  Cut out centers from cookies with a small cutter and add to scraps (I just save these as small cookies and sprinkle with leftover hard candy dust in the bags.) Spoon 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed candy (depending on size of cutout) in center of each cookie.  (If you want to use these cookies as tree ornaments, make a hole with a drinking straw in each for hanging.)

8.  Bake in middle of oven until edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes, then cool cookies completely on baking sheet on a rack, about 10 minutes.  Transfer with a metal spatula to a plate or an airtight container.  Gather scraps and chill until firm enough to reroll, 10 to 15 minutes.  Make more cookies with remaining dough scraps (reroll once) in same manner on cooled baking sheet.

We used this technique for the windows in our Haunted Gingerbread House.


Filed under Cookies, Desserts