Holiday Helpers: in the galley with guests

14 December 2010 By Victoria Allman

The galley is a place of boiling liquids, sharp knives and hot surfaces. It's not always conducive to young tender hands, but the holidays are the time I invite the little guests into my cubicle.

Together, we dip apple slices in batter for Hanukah or pipe snow-white icing for gingerbread cookies. It is a time when, as chef, I become not only the maker of the food, but the activities director and vigilante for those soft, delicate hands.

As the children sit on the counter, close to the burner, or grab at hot cookie sheets, my mind whirls through the rules of safety. Do not leave them unattended. Turn the handles inward to avoid spilling hot contents. Move the cookies to racks to cool. But, nerve-racking or not, it's always fun to watch their faces light up with laughter while helping create holiday treats.

Apple latkes are a traditional Jewish treat often made to celebrate Hanukah, the eight days and nights commemorating the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jewish victory over the Hellenist Syrians. For the original dedication ceremony, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah (candle). They only had enough oil to light it for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight. Today, Jews celebrate Hanukah with dishes centered around the use of oil, to remind them of the miraculous eight days of light.

Along with apple latkes, potato latkes are fried in oil creating a crispy-crunchy exterior and soft inside. Jelly doughnuts are dropped in hot oil and then covered in powdered sugar. All fun to create with children, but dangerous and needing extra care and attention.

For Christmas revelers, decorating cookies and gingerbread seems to be the activity of delight. Last year, my two little helpers and I decorated three-dozen gingerbread men, two-dozen shortbread stars, and three-dozen lime and coconut snowballs. I was cleaning red and green sprinkles out of the corners of the galley for weeks after that day. This year, I am planning construction of a gingerbread yacht, complete with marzipan dolphins and gumdrop navigational lights…wish me luck!

But, holidays are not only a time for children, adults have their favorite foods as well. Each year, I make a point to ask for Grandma’s recipe for sausage stuffing or mom’s famous plum pudding recipe. The holidays are a time for family traditions and even though we are paid to be creative, it's important to cook the dishes of happy memories and create the feeling of home. You never know, one family’s treasured recipe for cranberry sauce or brisket might just become your favorite new dish and work its way into your repertoire.

So, this year, open up your galley, invite the guests in and help celebrate the holidays together.

Almond Shortbread Stars
¾ cup butter, softened

½ cup powdered sugar

½ tsp almond extract

1 cup flour

½ cup cornstarch

¾ cup ground almonds

1 egg, beaten

½ cup seedless raspberry jam

Powdered sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in  almond extract. Add flour, cornstarch and ground almonds just until incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap and chill  for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface roll the dough until it is ¼ inch thick. Using a three-inch star-shaped cutter, cut out the dough. Place half the cookies on the parchment paper. Brush the edges with the beaten egg. Use a smaller star cutter to cut out the centers of the other cookies. Place the frame on top of the whole cookies to create the sides of the cookies.

Spread half to one tsp of raspberry jam in the center of the cookies, making sure to spread the jam to the corners. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes to chill.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 12 cookies

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