Mexican Wedding Cookies

When I was young, and (I'm ashamed to admit this), up until about 3 years ago, I was convinced that these cookies were my mother's. By that I mean her recipe that she was brilliant enough to dream up. I guess my mind as a child associated the "Mexican" in the title with my mom's Spanish (as in, from Spain) heritage...which shouldn't have made much sense 3 years ago anyway.

Imagine my surprise as I perused the grocery store (3 years ago) and came upon a pink Keebler box entitled "Danish Wedding Cookies," complete with a picture of powdered-sugar coated balls.

Could these...

Were these...

Were the Mexican Wedding Cookies that had always been a staple during Christmases of my childhood not been an example of my mom's brillance at work?

Apparently not, I soon confirmed with a quick Google search. The exact same cookies are not only known as Mexican Wedding Cookies, but also as the Keebler box suggested, as well as Russian Tea Cakes and, not so subtly, Pecan Snowballs.

Regardless of what you call them or what culture you associate them with, these cookies are often the only one of their kind on holiday potluck tables. They bake up much like shortbread, buttery and crumbly, and after a quick roll through powdered sugar, are irresistible at best and dangerous at worst. You may find you need to double the recipe (this one yields about 36).

You will need:

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cups powdered sugar, plus 1 cup for dusting
1 tbs vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup - 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Knead all ingredients except pecans together until a ball forms, but do not overmix or the cookies will be tough. Knead in pecans.

Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled enough to handle (about an hour). Form dough into balls, and bake 12-16 minutes until the balls are golden brown.

Allow to cool. Put the rest of the sugar in a large bowl. When the cookies are cool to the touch, place 2-3 at a time into the bowl, and shake to coat with sugar. Once all the cookies are coated once, sift the remaining sugar over the cookies to give a second coating.

Savory Bread Pudding

Man. Is it just me, or is it really hard to go back to eating normally after Thanksgiving? All I want are cookies.

Alas, I refuse to undo the work I've done all year and nullify my thrice weekly workouts by eating cookies morning, noon and night. Add to that the fact that I've become a part of my company's Wellness Committee, and therefore I. must. resist.

My carb cravings hit full tilt this time of year also, and they eventually become unignorable to the point that I have to give in from time to time, despite my best efforts to ingest main-dish salads every night leading up to Christmas (as the buffalo wings digesting from dinner laugh at that best effort).

Enter bread pudding...but not the sort that would quell my cookie craving. This is a savory bread pudding, which I'd like to think is fairly original and imaginative, but I'm sure I'm not the first to give it a shot. I had leftover Italian bread from my parents' visit over Thanksgiving, as well as half and half and a smattering of good cheeses from the same visit (my Italian father is a Grana Padano snob, while I'm generally content with Parmesan in a tub). Josh had just dried the final sprigs of a hearty sage plant that had survived at least two overnight frosts, so you see, I had no choice.

How do I know when a new dish is a hit? Josh tells me he loves me with his mouth full.

You will need:

2-3 slices bacon (peppered bacon would be sooo goooood)
1 shallot, sliced thinly into rings
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 or 4 leaves of chopped sage/2 teaspoons dried sage
4 1/2 cups of French or Italian bread cubes, cut from a loaf and loosely packed into a measuring cup
1 cup mixed grated cheeses (I used Grana Padano, white cheddar and muenster)
4 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crispy. Remove, crumble, and set aside. In the same pan, cook the shallot until beginning to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sage and cook just until fragrant, about one minute (don't burn the garlic).

In a medium bowl, combine the shallot mixture, bread cubes, cheeses, and bacon. Pour in the cream and stir until everything is moistened. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Transfer to a greased casserole dish and cook for 20-30 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.