October 23, 2013 11:08:53 AM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether they're toppling governments in "World War Z" or peddling cell service and cars in TV commercials, zombies seem to be America's ghoul du jour. So Linda Jenkins is right in sync this Halloween with her signature zombie finger cookies. The Columbus cook's family counts on her to bake up a batch every October, as the month wanes toward All Hallows' Eve.
Although creepily realistic, these particular fingers are nothing more sinister than a delicious blend of butter, confectioners' sugar, egg, flour, vanilla extract, red decorating gel and sliced almonds.
Jenkins, a retired bookkeeper and former military spouse, found the recipe a few years ago, in a doctor's waiting room magazine. She hastily jotted it down on an envelope and soon made some at home. Now she takes requests from her grown children and grandchildren to make them for their Halloween parties. Her husband, Howard, can be counted on to enjoy a few, too.
"They're cool," said 9-year-old grandson Caleb Jenkins, applying thinly-sliced almond "fingernails" to the ends of several cookies. The Joe Cook Fine Arts Magnet School fourth-grader likes helping his Memaw. Her kitchen and dining room are hubs of activity and aromas on Sundays at least once a month, when her three nearby sons -- Allen, Chris and Steve (Kenny lives in Texas) -- and their families gather for some Southern home cooking.
"We're all about some cooking in the Jenkins family!" said Chris Jenkins, who is assistant director of Mississippi University for Women's Office of Public Affairs. He treasures the cast iron skillets he uses that once belonged to his grandmother. "Food has a way of bringing people together and my mother has instilled in me a love of cooking that I hope to pass on to my son Caleb one day."
For Linda, being back at the oven preparing those Sunday meals is a blessing. She suffered a stroke this past summer and, for a while, kind neighbors and church friends were taking care of much of the cooking. They brought food to the house as the Jenkins grappled with treatment and rehabilitation. But today Linda is doing fine and is back where she belongs, with her family (including six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren), playing the organ at Beersheba Cumberland Presbyterian Church and socializing with her Gamma Masters chapter of Beta Sigma Phi sorority.
"I'm a walking miracle," she said. "God is not through with me yet, and I thank him every day. We'll see what he has in store."
The thoughtfulness the family experienced during a time of illness served as yet another affirmation of home sweet home.
Linda Jenkins has seen the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. She's visited countries as far-flung as Taiwan, India and Croatia during her husband's term as a director with the International Association of Lions Clubs in 1995-1997. She even lived in Spain when Howard was in the U.S. Air Force.
"But we never found anywhere we liked better than Columbus," said the Friendly City native.
Jenkins looks forward to the holiday season ahead, to the house being filled with "her boys" and their families, to the sound of chairs being pulled up around the table, to laughter and baking, to turkeys and yes, zombie fingers. Make some for the goblins around your house -- if you dare.
ZOMBIE FINGER COOKIES
Makes 5 dozen
1 cup butter, softened (no substitutes)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Red decorating gel
1/2 cup sliced almonds
n Cream butter and sugar in medium size mixing bowl. Beat in egg and extracts.
n Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture a little at a time. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or until mixture is easy to handle.
n Roll mixture into 1-inch balls. Shape balls into 3-by-1/2-inch "fingers." Make an indentation with flat tip of table knife on one end for fingernail. With a sharp knife, make three slashes in two places on finger for knuckles.
n Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned.
n Cool 10 minutes then squeeze a small amount of red gel on fingernail bed; press a sliced almond over gel, allowing gel to ooze around the almond.
(Source: Linda Jenkins; original author unknown)
MELTED WITCH PUDDLES
Total time: 1 hour plus chilling
1 teaspoon water
4 drops yellow food coloring
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons shortening, divided
36 Bugle corn snacks
36 chocolate cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies
36 pretzel sticks
n In a large resealable plastic bag, combine water and food coloring; add coconut. Seal bag and shake to tint coconut; set aside. In a microwave, melt chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons shortening; stir until smooth.
n For witches' hats, place about 1/3 cup chocolate mixture in a resealable plastic bag; cut a small hole in a corner of bag. Pipe a small amount of chocolate on a cookie. Dip a Bugle in some of the remaining chocolate; allow excess to drip off. Position over chocolate on cookie, forming a witch's hat. Set on waxed paper to dry. Repeat with remaining chocolate, Bugles and cookies.
n For puddles, melt vanilla chips and the remaining shortening; stir until smooth. Place mixture in a large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag; cut a small hole in a corner of bag. Pipe mixture into the shape of a puddle onto waxed paper-lined baking sheets.
n Immediately place a witch's hat on the puddle. Place a pretzel stick alongside the hat; sprinkle reserved tinted coconut at the end of the pretzel stick. Repeat with remaining puddles, hats and brooms. Chill for 15 minutes or until set. Store in an airtight container.
(Source: Taste of Home Test Kitchen; tasteofhome.com)
Prep: 35 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes/batch
Makes about 40 goblins and 3 1/2 cups dip
For the goblins:
1/2 cup sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
20 flour tortillas (10 inches)
For the pumpkin dip:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
n In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon; set aside. Cut tortillas with a ghost-shaped 3-1/2-inch cookie cutter; place on baking sheets coated with cooking spray.
n Spritz goblins with cooking spray; sprinkle with reserved cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 350 F. for 6-8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Remove to wire racks.
n In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until fluffy. Gradually add the pumpkin, pie spice, vanilla and ginger; beat until blended. Serve warm or chilled with goblins. Refrigerate leftover dip.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.