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What’s your signature dish?

By on December 24, 2007

photo by benbengraves
christmas cookies
Holiday gatherings are often highlighted by signature dishes — favorites that appear year after year. Without that single recipe, the celebration just wouldn’t be the same. Maybe it’s a recipe that has been handed down through the generations and evokes fond memories or a story. Eating it feels like home.

Whether you have a recipe everyone looks forward to or want to invent a new signature dish, the food you choose gives friends and family something to talk about and most definitely something to remember.

My family was pretty typical with food traditions. Grandma was the matriarch and cooked most of the holiday meals. My mother and I baked cookies and pies. My favorites were cherry cheesecake and sugar-cookie cutouts.

Sadly, my great grandmother’s sugar-cookie recipe has been lost. Each year we talk about how delicious they were. We attempt to re-create them by modifying and taste testing recipes, and we fail every year. I never stop trying.

Today, I’m sharing both recipes. The sugar-cookie cutout recipe is the closest I’ve come to grandma’s specialty.

Sugar-Cookie Cutouts

1-1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Chill dough in refrigerator for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll out dough to 1/2 inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes or a juice glass to cut circles. Place dough on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets for best results.
Bake 6 minutes. Cool completely before decorating.
Tip: Frost with butter cream frosting and decorate with cookie sprinkles and sugars.
Yield: 2 dozen

Cherry Cheesecake

16 graham crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
1-1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large can cherry pie topping

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan.
In a medium bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs with melted butter. Press onto bottom of springform pan.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese alone and then mix in sugar until smooth. Add milk, and mix in the eggs, sour cream, vanilla and flour until smooth again. Don’t overmix. Pour filling into crust.
Bake for 1 hour. Let cool before adding cherry pie topping. Chill before serving.

Tips: Cream cheese should be room temperature. Don’t overbake. The center will look undercooked but will set. Don’t overmix the cheesecake. Add a pan of hot water on the lower rack in the oven to create a water bath. This will prevent cracking. Don’t open the oven door to peek at your cheesecake; use the oven light. Let cheesecake cool in the oven for at least an hour.
Serves 12.

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