Friday, September 26, 2008

Tale of two cookies

I'm back!! After a whirlwind tour of visiting G's family all over the state on NC, we're starting to get back in to the swing of every day life. It's been great just to be able to do all the normal everyday things again. I didn't realize how much I've missed the routine of every day, like making dinner and sitting on the couch with someone other than the dog. The conversation is better too!
I've also jumped right back into baking this week with a large order for sugar cookies decorated like maple leaves. I tried a couple of different sugar cookie recipes to see which one worked best. Back in December I had hosted a Drop in and Decorate cookie party. The idea of a drop in and decorate party is that you invite a group of friends and neighbors to come over and decorate sugar cookies for charity. Lydia of Nine Cooks came up with this unique and fun concept. For the party I used Lydia's cookie recipe and it was great for cut-out cookies. So I knew her recipe would work great for making a large amount of cut-out cookies, but I can't resist trying new recipes. I made a batch of Dori's Greenspan's sugar cookies as well. The two recipes are only slightly different. Dori's had less butter and more egg than the Lydia's recipe. I thought maybe the lesser amout of butter would help when I cut out the cookies.
How did they compare? Well first of all, both recipes taste really great. Dori's recipe makes a softer cookie that puffs up a bit more during baking. Lydia's recipe makes a crisper cookie that keeps it's shape when baked and really holds up well to decorating.
If you want a really nice soft sugar cookie, go with Dori's recipe. However, if you've got to make 18 dozen cookies cut out in the shape of a leaf and then iced, Lydia's recipe the one to use!
For Lydia's sugar cookie recipe go here

Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
Excerpted from Baking: From My House to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). Copyright 2006 by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together.

1. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated — because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy and malleable.

2. Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide it in half. If you want to make roll-out cookies, shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. If you want to make slice-and-bake cookies, shape each half into a chubby sausage (the diameter is up to you — I usually like cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in plastic. Whether you're going to roll or slice the dough, it must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

3. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

4. If you are making roll-out cookies, working with one packet of dough at a time, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch, lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly. Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies — I like a 2-inch round cookie cutter for these. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for rerolling, and carefully lift the rounds onto the baking sheets with a spatula, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies. (This is a soft dough and you might have trouble peeling away the excess or lifting the cutouts; if so, cover the dough, chill it for about 15 minutes and try again.) After you've rolled and cut the second packet of dough, you can form the scraps into a disk, then chill, roll, cut and bake.

5. If you are making slice-and-bake cookies, use a sharp thin knife to slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between the cookies.

6. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Remove the pan from the oven and dust the cookies with sugar or cinnamon sugar, if you'd like. Let them rest for 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

7. Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Storing: The cookies will keep at room temperature in a tin for up to 1 week. Wrapped well, they can be frozen for up to 2 months.

The icing has to dry overnight so my dining room table has so many leaves on it, it looks like it needs to be raked!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On Hiatus

After a year deployment, hubs is finally back. We are visiting family and will be traveling the next week or so. Hopefully by the end of the month normal life will resume! So probably no new posts for a week or so. Thanks for all your kind comments. I'll be back and cooking soon!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bumpy, nutty, and a little bit year and my recipe

It's finally almost here. Hubs gets back, this Sunday, from a year deployment to Iraq! It's been a long, at times frustrating and lonely, year. At first I was sure how I'd make it through. There were plenty of tears, even the dog went into a major funk after he left. She stayed in the closet for 2 weeks!
My husband is in the reserves, in a very small unit, so we don't have a large military community to turn to during deployment. We all live very far apart. In fact, I've only had contact with one other wives since Hubs left and she lives 5 hours away. So I've had to navigate this deployment on my own. Luckily for me, my parents lives near by so that was very comforting.
Being alone but not single is a strange place to be. It's sort of like being in limbo. There were times I was out of place in both those worlds. You know like being the only single person at a Christmas party of all couples...yuck!
I have to say that all though I hope I don't have to repeat this experience, it hasn't all been negative. I've learned a lot this year, mostly about myself but also about the people in my life. Everyone was great when Geoff left. "Just call if you need anything." was what they all said. One of my neighbors quipped "of course only if we have the time and it's no inconvenience." He was joking, of course, but there is an element of truth in what he said. Many times people just say things like that.
Not of my friends and neighbors however, they have been amazing. They've helped me with everything from a snake in the front yard to just calling and inviting me to dinner. Last Saturday, my next door neighbor rang the doorbell and said he was going to mow the yard because he wanted it to look great when Geoff got home. While he was mowing another neighbor came over and started edging the yard. Our yard is HUGE so this was no small task! Amazing people!
So this year I've learned: I'm stronger than I knew, I can be okay alone, and I know some pretty wonderful folks!

Now for the recipe. It doesn't have anything to do with this post, it's just some really tasty granola.
Silver Palate Outrageous Granola
3 cups Oatmeal (rough cut works best)
1 cup chopped almonds, pecans or any combination of your favorite (I used pecans)
1 cup or any combo dried fruit (cranberries, golden raisins, apricots, dates, cherries, blueberries)
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed Brown Sugar
1 cup Pure Maple Syrup

Mix together in a large bowl. Transfer onto a large baking sheet sprayed with non-stick butter flavored spray. Bake at 325 degree F for 35-45 minutes stirring once in-between. Allow to cool completely on tray. Store in airtight jars or containers.

This is one of the best granola recipes I've ever tried and it's super easy. Crunchy, nutty, lightly sweet...delicious!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Marinated Cucumber, Tomato, Kidney Bean Salad

This is just a quick post to share one of my favorite salads. Life has been a little hectic lately. I've been swimming in a sea of cupcakes. I've lost count this week but I'm somewhere in the 24 dozen range. That's a lot of frosting! I've been happy for the work because time has flown by and hopefully *fingers crossed* Hubs will coming home from Iraq in a week! I can't believe he's finally coming home! Then we're off to visit family and friends. Maybe by the end of the month life will return to somewhat normal...I hope!
Anyway other than cupcakes, I haven't had time to bake or cook much of anything. I did have time, however, to throw together one of my favorite salads. I love this salad because it has a great balance of sweet and sour tossed with some of my favorite veggies. Cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, and kidney beans marinated in red wine and oil. Simple but very delicious. I love it will grilled chicken or fish. This is really more of a guide than a recipe, add as much or little of any of the ingredients to suit your tastes.

Marinated Cucumber, Tomato, Kidney Bean Salad
1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced
1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 14 oz can of kidney beans, drained
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 Tbl sugar
3-4 Tbl canola oil or any light oil
salt and pepper to taste
Put first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. In a small bowl mix together the red wine vinegar, sugar, oil salt and pepper. Pour over the veggies. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. This salad tastes better the longer it sits. If you can, make it and let it sit overnight. This gives the flavors a chance to really meld together.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vote today!!

No it's not the presidental election but the voting for the Iron Cupcake-Chili Pepper competion is now open. Click here to link to cast you vote for your favorite cupcake. Mine of course!! Scroll down till you see Half Baked and click to vote for my cupcake.
Voting ends on Sept. 4th so hurry up!!

Chocolate ancho chili zucchini cupcake with chili infused whipped ganache frosting.
Sounds like a winner;)