We've crossed into the official holiday season, which means cooking and sharing, of course, with smiling family members gathered in warm kitchens to lovingly re-create treasured specialties from recipes passed down through the generations.
One warm and fuzzy part of that tradition is cookie-making. But for the novice baker it can be time-consuming, confusing and messy. Bar cookies or decorated cookies? Flour, powdered sugar and candy sprinkles all over the counter. The array of ingredients (molasses, butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, fruit) to be measured, mixed, shaped and finished with a flourish. We're tired already.
There's an easier way for the cookie-confused, one that purists scoff at - until they taste the end product. Essentially, we're going to doctor a tube of Pillsbury chocolate chip cookies into unrecognizability.
You'll need the cookie dough and bags of Mariani dried cherries, Diamond pecan halves and Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate morsels, all found at most supermarkets. For a "gourmet" touch, find some pine nuts.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap the dough and lay the tube on the surface of a nonstick baking pan; be sure the dough is very cold. Ignore the Pillsbury directions that say, "Spoon dough by rounded teaspoons two inches apart ..." We want clunky, politically incorrect cookies, so we need to break the rules.
So, using a blunt knife (so the nonstick surface isn't damaged), cut the roll into 1/2-inch-thick coins. Place them around the cookie sheet. They're big and awkward and will take up most of the sheet, but that's OK -- we want them to melt into each other and stick together, so that when they cool we'll need to break them off at the "seams." Why? For esthetics, of course. We don't want our cookies in only one size and shape, or confused with ones that take actual skill.
Now the fun part: Take a few cherries, pecans, chocolate morsels and pine nuts and mash them into the dough. How's it looking? Need another pecan over there? What about more cherries on that one? Does that one have enough chocolate? You get the idea.
Put the cookies in the oven and ignore the timing instructions on the Pillsbury label, the one that says, "Bake 10 to 14 minutes or until golden brown." Let's bake 'em for 20 minutes and add 2 or 3 or 4 minutes, depending on how they look. We want them dark and crunchy, with slightly burnt edges and a tinge of char on the nuts and cherries.
Remove the cookies from the oven. They smell and look pretty darn good, don't they?
What do you say now, Martha Stewart?
While the cookies cool, put a quart of milk and your favorite glass into the freezer. You know what comes next.