Category Archives: cookies

The BIG News

Hi. I’m here. And I have news.

Maybe you’ve noticed a decrease in post quantity as of late. Maybe you’ve noticed fewer tweets, fewer Facebook posts, and a general absence from the interwebs on my part. Oh, and I fully admit to totally falling off the Blog Comment Wagon. I may or may not have busted my face I’ve fallen so hard. As I was gathering my teeth from the side of the road, the Blog Comment Wagon kept right on movin’ and left me behind.

I’m sorry. If you could see me now, you’d see a toothless head hung in shame. I have an excuse.

Notice I didn’t say GOOD excuse because, really, there’s no such thing. But I do hope to catch up soon.

Now. The news. Yes. It is the most newsworthy piece of information to cross the wire in my world in a long, long time. It’s BIG. It’s HUGE. It’s EPIC.

Before we go any further, allow me to share what the news is NOT.

I am NOT, repeat, NOT pregnant. Okay? That’s NOT the news. No babies!*

*Yet.

The news is….drum roll please….

We’re moving! WOO!

I know, big deal, right? You’re rolling your eyes thinking THAT’S the news?! Yawn.

Hear me out. We’re not just moving across town or to a new house nearby…we’re moving BACK HOME! After six years here in Iowa, we have the opportunity to return to Illinois. Eric got a new job (same company, just a different location) and we snatched it up. Had to. Although we’re not returning to my suburban Chicago stomping grounds or  to his rural Southern Illinois homestead, we’re going to be a heck of a lot closer to both. A LOT closer.

And we are thrilled. HOME. I’m giddy just thinking about it. We are biggest bunch of homebodies you’ve ever met. We just feel like we belong there. Being closer to our families is so important to us. I can’t believe it’s finally happening.

So. There ya have it. The reason for my absence. I haven’t been cooking much because I’ve been tip-toeing around our house trying not the touch anything in case we need to vacate for a last minute showing. My usual weekend baking activities have been interrupted by house hunting and trips to explore our new area. We don’t know when for sure we’ll move permanently to our new home (turns out the holidays aren’t a great time to try to sell a house. Gee, I can’t imagine why that would be! 😉 ), but it should be sooner rather than later.

We’re new to this whole house selling thing. It’s kinda hard. I have to make my bed and put the cap back on the toothpaste tube when I’m done. This is tough stuff, I tell ya! I decided to do the only thing I could think of to get people excited about buying our home.

Bake cookies.

I have STUFFED my freezer full cookie dough. It’s embarrassing. But also brilliant. See, every time there’s a showing, I pop a couple dough balls in the oven before we leave. Not only does it fill the house with the most enticing aroma of butter, sugar and chocolate, it also provides a sweet treat for our lookers to remember us by. How could you NOT want to buy a house that comes with cookies?*

*Cookies are non-transferable. Once the baker (ahem, me) leaves the premises the cookie responsibilities fall solely on the buyer. Sorry, no refunds.

Especially these cookies. Friends, we have a new contender in the race for Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever. This prestigious title, previously held by Alton Brown’s Chewy in this house, now goes to the Cooks Illustrated Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Don’t get me wrong, both are good, but the CI version eeks out Alton in the texture arena. Where Alton’s are softer, CI’s are truly chewy. The edges are perfectly crisp while inside keeps a great bite. I also think the CI version has a greater depth of flavor, a bit caramely with hints of vanilla and salt and the perfect chocolate compliment. I don’t think the flavor of the cookie part is as strong in The Chewy. Warm from the oven or from the cookie jar a couple days later, these really are the perfect chocolate chip cookies.

Make ’em. They may sell your house one day.

THICK AND CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (Recipe Source: Cooks Illustrated, January 1996)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 
1/8

 cups
 
all‐purpose
 flour
 (about
 10 
1/2 
ounces)
  • 1/2

 teaspoon 
table 
salt
  • 1/2

 teaspoon
 baking 
soda
  • 12

    tablespoons
 unsalted
 butter
 (1 
1/2
 sticks),
 melted
 and
 cooled 
slightly
  • 1

    cup 
brown
 sugar
 (light 
or 
dark),
 7
ounces
  • 1/2

 cup 
granulated 
sugar 
(3 
1/2
ounces)
  • 1

    large
 egg
  • 1

    large
 egg
 yolk
  • 2

    teaspoons 
vanilla
 extract
  • 1
‐
2

 cups
 chocolate
 chips
 or
 chunks 
(semi 
or
 bittersweet)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven racks to  upper – and lower middle positions. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Beat butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Mix in egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Slowly add dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Stir in chips.
  3. To shape the cookies: form scant 1/4 cup dough into a smooth ball. (I made mine a bit smaller than that, just a personal preference). Holding the ball in the fingertips of both hands, gently pull the ball into two equal halves. Rotate the halves 90 degrees and jam the dough back together at the base, leaving the jagged edges exposed on top. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheets.
  4. Bake, rotating the cookie sheets positions half way through baking, for 15 to 18 minutes (start checking after 13 minutes), until the edges start to harden but the middles are still soft and puffy. Cool completely on cookie sheets. Makes about 3 dozen.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Butternut Squash and Sausage Lasagna
Two Years Ago: Texas Chili – My favorite chili recipe and the only one I make! LOVE.

 

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I Got My Mind Set On…Cookies…

I was in the dentist’s office the other day (Where I have spent entirely too much time lately. Seriously. Oh my goodness, NO MORE DENTIST. PLEASE!) and as I picked up an outdated, dog-eared People magazine (What’s this about Tiger Woods? I hadn’t heard…EYEROLL!) I immediately started humming along with the radio being pumped into the waiting room.

Ah, yes, the music in the dentist office. It’s special, isn’t it?

“This is DJ DDS spinning your mellow but upbeat 70s, 80s and 90s soft rock hits here on 102.7 THE TOOTH FM. We just heard the Goo Goo Dolls with Iris, and before that, the Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder classic Ebony & Ivory. Special shout out to all the folks out there in Dental-land rapidly losing all feeling in an entire half of their face. Sit back, relax and let that awkwardly placed blue paper towel around your neck catch the drool while you swing to sounds of one of my personal favorites – hold on to your spit suckers, friends – this is Peabo Bryson with A Whole New World comin’ at ya next!”

ANYWAY.

The song that got my foot a-tappin’ that afternoon was an old George Harrison song that I hadn’t heard in like 10 years. You know the one. It’s the one that gets insanely stuck in your head. The minute you see it, you’ll be singing it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Got my Mind Set on You.

Oh, you’re singing it already, aren’t you. HA! It doesn’t help that it’s pretty much JUST that one line over and over and over again set to crazy catchy melody that just plays over and over inside your brain – slowly driving you mad.

Well, needless to say, that song pretty much cemented itself into my brain for the next week. So when I decided to get in a little royal icing practice, one line from that song continued to play as I meticulously outlined, filled and piped on cookies.

Sing it loud and proud if you know it!

“It’s gonna take tiii-me/A whole lotta precious time/it’s gonna take patience and time. To do it/to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it right, child!”


Maybe old Georgey boy there had his mind set on pretty cookies. Okay, probably not, but this old 80s tune provides a pretty good lesson when it comes to decorating cookies.

See, I had my mind set on cookies. Beautiful, flawless cookies. I’ve actually never tried to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it/to do it right and really set aside the time needed to successfully decorate with royal icing. I admit to rushing it in the past. What did I get for rushing it? So-so results. See: Here. Also: Here. Not this time.

Now, I don’t know if my attempt was SUCCESSFUL in a “You’re a rock star, quit your day job and decorate cookies full time” kind of way and I can’t call them flawless, but these are probably my most successful cookies to date. For someone whose hand is so unsteady, she literally cannot cut a straight line with scissors (um. That’s me, in case you were wondering) I think these came out pretty good.

I made the majority of the batch into ice cream cones.

Fun for spring! What do you think my flavors are? Hm. I’m gonna go with strawberry and peach. Two of my personal favorites.

So while I was absent-mindedly singing 80s hits under my breath and making cookies, I learned a few things along the way:

If you’re a beginner/amateur like me, the fewer icing colors you deal with, the better. In the past I have tried to work with 5 or 6 colors at once – this time I stuck to 3. I can’t even tell you how much stress this alleviated from the whole process. Less = more. As in less cursing and more smiles.

Simple shapes are best. The less detailed the shape, the less likely it is to look messy. Take these hearts, for example. One easy shape and two icing colors. Wa-la! Fairly attractive.

You can’t rush the flooded icing drying time. It takes how long it takes. This time I waited until I was 100% sure they flooded icing was dry before proceeding (I hadn’t in the past) and I was 100% more pleased with my final result.

“It’s gonna take time/a whole lotta precious time/It’s gonna take patience and time…”

Oops. See? Still in my head.

Thanks for baking lesson, Mr. Harrison!

Source notes: Sugar cookie recipes and tips and tricks for dealing with royal icing are plentiful on the interwebs! For the cookies, this time I used the Roll Out Sugar Cookie Recipe recipe from this GREAT comparison post by Bridget at The Way Cookie Crumbles. Bridget’s comparison posts are SO helpful and wonderful! These cookies are quite good and probably my favorite I’ve tried so far. I’m not a huge sugar cookie fan to begin with but even I found these pretty irresistible. 🙂 Big thank you to Bridget for the awesome recipe!!  The basic royal icing recipe is available here at the Wilton website.

For more inspiration or to learn from the REAL experts who are far superior to me in art of cookie decorating – check out: Bake at 350, Annie’s Eats and Good Things Catered.

One Year Ago: Everything Bagels

On a side note – I dare you to check out the video to Got My Mind Set on You and NOT tell me that dance is awesome to eleventy-billinoth degree. I’ll make it easy. Here ya go. Enjoy. 😉

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I’m (Not) Lovin’ It.

In the interest of being totally and completely honest, I’m about to post a recipe I’m not in love with. If there were some ominous watchful eye that would strike down anyone that tried to modify recipes from the original, I would not be making these again. They’re not worth being stuck down, that’s for sure!

Since that is clearly not the case, I’m blogging this recipe for two reasons. 1. Others might like it. Just because I don’t love it, doesn’t mean others feel the same way. And 2. I do believe certain modification could improve the final result.

The recipe: Banana Whoopie Pies. The reason I don’t love them: Well, the texture and the flavor to start out. Hm. Isn’t that what food is? Texture and flavor?

Let’s start with the flavor. Holy Rot Your Teeth Out, Batman! These are insanely sweet. Between the cookie part, the chocolate chips, the nuts and the filling, it’s just too rich for my blood. A little TOO delightful. TOO much of a good thing. I used my tablespoon cookie scoop to shape the pies and found even that size to be far too large. I could hardly finish one they were so rich. And the recipe suggests using a large scoop for the pies – whoa. I can’t even imagine.

And the texture. Now, I’ve never made or had a whoopie pie before so I’m not sure what I was expecting. I guess something a bit more cakey? Lighter than a cookie maybe? Obviously, I have no idea what I’m talking about. These were pretty dense and chewy – like making a frosting sandwich out of banana bread. The recipe calls for two cups of either whole wheat, white whole wheat or all-purpose flour. I used one cup whole wheat and one cup all purpose so I’m sure that attributed to the textural properties of the cookie as whole wheat flour does tend to make things denser. Then with the huge chocolate chips and the nuts, I just couldn’t fall in love with the final product. It was all too much.

Improvements. I think they can be made here. First, I’d nix the whole wheat flour. Maybe whole wheat flour and whoopie pies aren’t meant to be friends. That’s okay. A whoopie pie isn’t supposed to be a shining beacon of nutritional merit anyway.

Second, I’d cut back significantly on the amount of chocolate and use mini-chips instead.  I think minis would disperse more evenly throughout the batter and provide just a hint of chocolate –not overpowering chunks. I’d probably eliminate the walnuts too. I’ve never been huge fan of walnuts, but I thought I’d give it a try and see if I’ve changed my mind.

Upon further review, the answer is no. I have not changed my mind.

Walnuts, meet Cilantro. You two go stand over there and don’t touch any of the other foodstuffs. Thanks.

If you decide to give these a try, let me know! I’d be curious to see what others think. If you make any other changes, I’d like to hear about those too! One of these days, I’ll try these again with the changes I mentioned, but not today. I just can’t eat anymore whoopie pies. For now.

So there here it is, without further ado: A Recipe I Don’t Love.

But you might love it. 😉 You’ll have to let me know if I’m the crazy one! It’s entirely possible. Oh yes.

BANANA WHOOPIE PIES (Recipe Source: King Arthur Flour)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Cookies:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 medium to large) mashed bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups Whole Wheat Flour, white whole wheat or all-purpose
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk as needed
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional) – I omitted

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugars, and salt until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the bananas. Beat until mixture looks curdled. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  3. Whisk together the flour and baking soda; add to the banana mixture, mixing until evenly combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then mix for 1 minute more. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
  4. Scoop the dough by the quarter cup for large cookies, and by the tablespoon for small cookies. Allow plenty of space between them.
  5. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the tops spring back when lightly touched with your finger, and the edges are a very light golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring the cookies to a rack to finish cooling completely before filling.
  6. To make the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Add just enough milk to make the mixture a spreadable consistency. Stir in the walnuts (if using).
  7. Spread the bottom of one of the cookies with the filling. Place another cookie on top of the filling, bottom side down. Press until the filling just reaches the edges. Makes 10 large or 20 small whoopie pies.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago:
Mushroom Rigatoni Bake – One of my favorites!
Soda Shop Cupcakes – How does a rich chocolate cake smothered in swirls of malted milk buttercream sound? Good, huh?

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Sweet Rewards

I have a confession to make. Deep breaths. Ready? Okay, here we go.

I STINK at cleaning my house. I am horrible. It’s disgraceful, really. Sure, sure – I can PICK UP the house. That is, get the clutter out of the way so no one sees it (Hm. Here’s a drawer that still opens and shuts – must need more crap inside.) and clean up the obvious glaring messes (Oops. There’s a pile of petrified shredded cheese on the kitchen floor again…) But when it comes the actual roll-up-your-sleeves, put-your-back-into-it, elbow-grease cleaning, I just kind of….ignore it. No, I mean I forget about it. Yeah, yeah…forget. Since I’m so busy…and stuff.

Until I look around one day and think…Holy cow, this place is disgusting. Nothing can remedy this nastiness except…an entire day off work devoted to cleaning. A vacation day. To clean.

That sounds wrong. So, so wrong. I’m a little ashamed of it myself. 😉

Enter our bathroom. Now, don’t get me wrong – the bathroom is on my regular Saturday cleaning schedule. Every Saturday morning, I do my quick sweep through where I change out our towels, wipe down the counters and sink, scrub the wayward toothpaste splatters off the mirror and clean the toilet. About once a month, I go crazy and wash the rugs and sweep and mop the floor. I mean, I don’t let us live in complete squalor over here, but I’m ashamed to admit how much time goes by in between shower/tub cleanings and grout scrubbings. It’s a little bit sick.

So early last week, I’m surveying the bathroom and it’s hundreds of white subway tiles (note to self: TOO MUCH TILE IN THE BATHROOM. NEVER AGAIN!) and I’m thinking…ew. I can see little specks of dust on my tiles and grout. There’s some pretty gnarly hairballs jammed into the corners and there was some definite black and pink moldy, mildewy gunk building up in the tracks of the shower door. Time to roll up my sleeves, put my back into it, slather on that elbow grease and clean the stupid bathroom.

So that’s what I did. Took the day off on Friday and spent the better part of the entire day cleaning the bathroom. Save for the half hour or so I had to get the heck out of there after the bleachy fumes started to make me a bit wobbly. I went through every drawer and cabinet and purged a bunch of old junk. I scrubbed and scoured every tile, every surface in that little room. I chiseled moldy, mildewy junk off the shower door, cleaned every inch of that tub and shower up to the ceiling. I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed every single crevice of those textured tiles on the floor. You could serve dinner on my toilet it’s so sparkling clean in there now.

I always feel extremely satisfied after I do something like that. Now, if I just kept up with it a little better I wouldn’t have to spend ENTIRE DAYS doing it but…meh. Job well done, anyway. I’m gonna go ahead and give myself a pat on the back. ::pat, pat, pat:: Ah. Nice. Good job, Self. Way to git ‘er done. 🙂

After all that, I decided to reward myself with…COOKIES! YAY for cookies! I wanted something classic and comforting after all that hard work, so when I saw my latest copy of Midwest Living (my favorite magazine!) hinting at the Midwest’s best chocolate chip cookie recipes hiding inside, I knew exactly what I wanted make. Of course, I turned straight to their number one pick!

These.Are.So.Good. Oh my. The recipe hails from Lindsay’s Chocolate Cafe and Coffee House in O’Fallon, MO, which after trying these cookies, I will have to stop at the next time we’re in the STL area! Mmmm. They are chock full of chocolate, oats and nuts. Crispy around the edges and chewy on the inside. I loved all the different textures going on in these babies. Mmmm. Truly a most perfect and wonderful cookie!

What intrigued me most about these cookies was the addition of a grated milk chocolate bar to the batter. I’m not sure it added any more chocolate flavor so much as a nice chocolatey marble. It really gave the cookies a nice color.

Looks like little chocolate centipedes! Ah! They’re trying to escape! 🙂

LINDSAY’S CHOCOLATE CAFE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES: (Recipe Source: As seen in Midwest Living, March/April 2010)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2-1/2 cups regular rolled oats
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 12-oz. pkg. (2 cups) semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 4 oz. milk chocolate bar, grated

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. Beat butter in a bowl with an electric mixer on a medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugars and beat on medium speed until mixture is combined, scraping sides of bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer, then stir in any remaining flour mixture with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir in chocolate pieces, nuts and grated chocolate.

3. Drop dough from a large cookie scoop (about 3 tablespoons) 4 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets or baking stone. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 9 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown. Cool on cookie sheets 1 minute. Transfer to wire racks and let cool. Yield: about 30 cookies. (These can be made smaller, if you prefer. Expect to get about 60 if using a standard cookie scoop)

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: California Medley Pasta Toss

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The Great Imitation Oreo Chase

My husband loves Oreos. LOVES. He could sit there and stuff his face with an entire package if it were socially acceptable. Chocolate crumbs tumbling down his shirt and sweet creamy filling stuck in his teeth. They are his absolute favorite cookie.

He doesn’t get them very often. Two reasons. 1. I try to limit the sweets in the house to one at a time. And I prefer it if I make it. It’s just better, sweeter, tastier that way. Oreos are good….in a chemical-laced, barely food kind of way. (Is it just me, or do all the cookies and snack cakes we used to love as kids just not taste as good now? ) 2. They’re expensive. If they are not on sale, real Oreos break the bank! And for what? Not much.

So, if I’m going home for the weekend and Eric’s staying behind and I know I’m not going to have time to bake, I’ll pick up package for him to tide him over.

But I never buy actual Oreos. I am so cheap! As a result, my husband has become quite the expert on store-brand Oreo knock-offs. According to Eric, the Wal-Mart brand is satisfactory, the HyVee brand is downright inedible and the Target brand is the runaway favorite. To me, they are all about the same, but even I have to admit the HyVee ones…ew. ::shudder::

I started seeing recipes for homemade Oreos pop up this past fall. I was immediately intrigued. No more chasing down imitation Oreos! Hooray! It’s funny, because when I finally decided to make them (to give away as holiday gifts) the Oreo lover in the house only got to sample ONE. What a cruel, cruel world.

I used a combination of two recipes to come up with this holiday winner. I used the chocolate cookie recipe from Joy the Baker’s version. I was drawn to her description of the cookie being a combo of salty and sweet (which I LOVE.) I loved her idea for a white chocolate ganache filling, but since I was giving them away, I wanted something that wouldn’t spoil as quick. Because of that, I used Michelle’s filling from over at Brown Eyed Baker. I added a bit of peppermint extract to the filling and called it a delicious homemade treat!

These cookies were perfect. The filling was smooth and creamy and the cookie perfectly chocolaty and crunchy. Heaven. I’m sad Eric only got to have one. And I’m a little sad I only got to have one too. I’ll be making these again for sure! 🙂

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT SANDWICH COOKIES (Cookie recipe from Joy the Baker, filling from Brown Eyed Baker, which she adapted from Gourmet, December 2007)

INGREDIENTS:

Cookies:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 15 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, but into 3/4-inch cubes, at room temperature

Filling:

  • ½ stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract (depending on how strong you like it)

DIRECTIONS:

Make the cookies:

  1. Position the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed.  With the mixer running, add the butter a few pieces at a time.  The mixture will have a sandy texture at first and then will begin to form pebble-size pieces.  As soon as the dough starts to come together, stop the mixer.  Make sure all the butter is well incorporated.  If there are large butter pockets, mix for a few seconds more.
  3. Form and roll the dough straight from the mixer.  Do not chill the dough.
  4. Transfer the dough to a board and use the heel of your hand or a pastry scraper to shape the dough into a block about 5 by 7 inches.  Cut the block into two pieces.
  5. One at a time, roll each block of dough between two pieces of lightly floured parchment paper until about 1/8-inch thick.  Cut into 2 inch rounds with a circle cookie cutter.  Place 1/2 to 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.  You can form and roll the dough scraps once after the first roll.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking.  Remove from the oven and cool on the sheets for 2 to 5 minutes.  They’ll be too soft to move straight from the oven.  Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and let cool completely. They will become crunchy as they cool.

Make the filling:

  1. Beat the butter and shortening together at medium speed until combined and smooth. Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the sugar and extract. Increase the speed to high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until the filling is light and fluffy.
  2. Spread about a teaspoon of filling onto the bottom side of half the cookies. Top with a second cookie and press gently, just until the filling reaches the edges. Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 dozen sandwich cookies.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago:
Pork Medallions in a Cranberry Wine Sauce
– so flavorful and so easy.
Orzo with Sausage, Peppers and Tomatoes – Dinner in 15. LOVE it. 🙂
Sweet and Spicy Peanut Soup – Oh, this is a MUST try. I love, love, LOVE this soup!

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Upon Further Review…

How do you feel about recipe reviews? All the major online recipe sources offer a place for home cooks everywhere to share their experiences with a particular recipe. It’s like a great big kitchen table for all of us to talk shop about food. They can be helpful and enlightening.

But how much can you really conclude from recipe reviews? If it has a whole bunch of glowing, positive reviews with maybe just one or two stinkers thrown in – do you assume the people that didn’t like it must just lack the skills to do it up right? You do, don’t you? Ha. I totally do. If 683 people think the recipe is awesome and one person doesn’t…well, you gotta wonder about that odd man out.

Or what about those reviewers who change just about everything before deciding the recipe sucks? Don’t you hate those? I do. They kind of make me want to reach through the computer screen and give the writer a virtual throat punch. “I didn’t have flour or sugar,” reads a one-star review, “so I subbed pencil shavings and grass clippings. It tasted terrible. This recipe stinks, don’t waste your time.”

Wow. That’s very helpful. Thank so much, Oh Sultan of the Substitution. Thank goodness we all have your infinite wisdom to save us from this the Recipe of Doom. ::eye roll::

But what if a recipe has an equal number of positive and negative reviews? What to do? How to proceed? Make the recipe? Move on? It’s a pickle, I tell ya!

When I was deciding on what to make for my holiday treat trays this year, I decided I wanted to do three old standby recipes and two new ones. When I saw these citrus butter cookies from Melissa d’Arabian show up in my inbox thanks to Food Network’s 12 Day of Cookies, I was immediately smitten. Love citrus. Love butter. What’s not to like?!

The problem? The reviews were mixed – like total 50/50. Some people loved ’em and some not so much. Hm.

Perhaps in my younger, less confident days I would have shied away from this recipe based on the reviews. But I decided I was a slave to the reviews NO MORE. If I wanted to try something, then by all means, I should try it…and NOT let a couple of Negative Nancys spoil it for me. I was making these cookies.

With a few minor adjustments, of course. Ha. Adjustments I knew would work. First, I made all my cookies orange instead of separating the dough and doing orange, lemon and lime. I did this to: A) save time and B) because I like orange. 🙂 And since I was giving all of the cookies away, I dipped each one in chocolate (some semi-sweet, some white) instead of making the chocolate sauce.

Now, I can see where people may have had difficulties with this recipe. First and foremost, these cookies spread. A lot. I tried everything to keep them from spreading. I chilled my cookie sheets (per the recipe instructions), I chilled my dough. I chilled the dough after piping it on the cookie sheet. No luck. Still spread. It’s okay though…because they are really, really good! And all you have to do to keep from getting large, misshapen cookies is to cut a smaller hole in your baggie before piping. If the piped dough looks too thin, it’s probably just right to get a nice shape on your cookie.

Also, it’s essential that you do not overbake these babies. As customary with butter cookies, overbaking leads to a dried out, crumbly mess. Keep a close eye on them…they’ll go from not quite done to over done in a blink of an eye. Get them out of the oven at the right time and you’ll have a delicate, tender, slightly crisp cookie with just the right kick of citrus. Heavenly.

For the record, if you’re still on the fence, I had a couple of recipients tell me these were their favorite out of the whole bunch. So take that Negative Nancys. HA!

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED ORANGE BUTTER COOKIES (Recipe adapted from: Melissa d’Arabian – FoodNetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Dash of salt
  • Finely grated zest from 1 large orange
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together with an electric mixer until creamy.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat until just blended. Stir in orange zest.
  4. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip, or a sturdy plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe the dough in 2-inch long strips, about 2 inches apart, on a cold unlined baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely.
  6. Melt both chocolates in either the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip half the cookies in the semi-sweet chocolate and half in the white. Place each dipped cookie on a sheet of wax paper. Allow chocolate to set completely before storing. Yield: About 60 cookies.

One Year Ago: We rang in 2009 with Alton’s Baked Mac and Cheese. Mmm. Cheesy New Year…

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Christmas Wishes and Coffee Dreams

Let’s set the scene.

I’m seven. My brother is ten. It’s Christmas Eve. We are beside ourselves with excitement. Even the Christmas dress with the puffy gold sleeves that is itching me like I’m being bitten by a hundreds polyester-loving flees cannot drag me down. Christmas had finally arrived! Hooray! There are a couple things standing in the way of our first taste of pure Christmas awesomeness:

1. Pictures. In front of the tree. In front of the fireplace. With Mom. With Dad. With Mom AND Dad. Sitting down. Standing up. My puffy gold sleeves (and matching puffy gold hair. True story.) shining in all their Christmas glory. I wish I had a picture of me in that dress to share because it is truly amazing. It would blow your mind. For realz. 😉

Edited to add: Thanks to my wonderful mother, who saw this post, and immediately e-mailed me a picture of said dress. She also informed me that I was, in fact, 8 years old at the time, not seven. I say, close enough….because I really don’t think there’s much difference (fashion-wise) between 1989 and 1990.

So here it is, in all it’s shiny, stunning, puffy glory….


The puffy sleeves are nice, but I think it’s that sad, wilted looking flower thing that really ties the whole look together. And, may I just say, the addition of the matching gold SLAP BRACELET – Um. Genius!

I’ll stand over here and let you laugh. Yeah, yeah. You rocked the same look once upon time – no denying it!

2. Christmas Eve Mass. I think it was probably during Mass I realized that the sleeves on that dress were going to be the death of me. Seriously. The itchiness was becoming an emergency situation. Ha.

3. And, finally…the last piece – Dinner. The rule remained rigid throughout my childhood: NO GIFTS UNTIL AFTER SUPPER.

We always celebrated on Christmas Eve with my mom’s side. It was the beginning of a marathon two-day Christmas celebration filled with family, laughter and tons of fun. It started with dinner, moved on to a gift exchange and ended with severe insomnia as we waited for unblinking in our beds for Christmas morning to arrive.

Christmas Eve was a long day. We couldn’t sit down to dinner until after all that picture-taking and church-going nonsense was over with. And we couldn’t get to the good stuff until after dinner! Oh, what kid-torture! LOL.

Now me, I’d be so excited I could hardly eat. A couple bites here, a nibble there and I’d be leaving the table in favor of my very important Gift Lookout job in the next room. I didn’t touch anything, because I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but the very least I could do was gaurd the goods from any wanna-be Grinch-y theives who may have been roaming the Chicago ‘burbs that night. 😉

Just when I thought dinner was about over, the plates cleared, the wine glasses emptied, out would come the trays of cookies, the boxes of candy, the after-dinner spirits and cordials. And the coffee.

The coffee. At seven, I didn’t really understand coffee. I knew it smelled a little funky. I knew it was hot. And I knew it was sipped. Slowly. Very slowly.

So we had accomplished the picture-taking, the church-going and the dinner-eating. The good stuff was mere minutes away, right?

No.

My grandfather, who noticed the obvious ants in our pants when the coffee was being poured, lingered over his cup just as long as he could. He just loved to tease us that way. “Are you done with your coffee yet, Grandpa?” We’d ask, hopeful he’d be ready to relocate from the dining room to the living room. He’d glance down at us from his chair and say, “Well…I think I’ll have one more cup.”

Grrrooooaaannnnn. Oh no!

Of course, looking back, it was probably only an additional five minutes, but to a kid at Christmas, five minutes may as well be an hour. In the end, we’d make it to living room and have a wonderful Christmas together as a family. And, when it was all said and done, those gifts that we were so excited about turned out to be only a small, tiny part of what made those Christmas Eves so great. All the good times shared and the memories made are something I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to share these memories with my own family one day.

Oh, and what was being nibbled as the coffee was being sipped? Why, Chocolate Shot Cookies, of course! These light, crispy, buttery oatmeal cookies are snap to make and are delightful addition to any holiday treat tray. If you glance at the ingredients you might think, ho-hum, yawn, BORING, but I’m telling you these have such a wonderful flavor you will be so pleasently surprised! My mom has been making these as long as I remember. They take me right back to being a kid and will surely do the same for you.

CHOCOLATE SHOT COOKIES (Recipe Source: My mom, Nadine M.)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup uncooked oatmeal (I use Quick Oats)
  • Chocolate sprinkles, for rolling

DIRECTIONS:

  • With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar, beating until fluffy. Add vanilla.
  • Stir together flour and baking soda; add to butter mixture. Stir in oatmeal and mix well.
  • Chill dough for at least 30 minutes
  • Shape dough into a log and roll in chocolate sprinkles.
  • Slice cookies into quarter-inch and place on an ungreased cookie sheet
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes (check after 15)

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago:
Citrus-Scented Mixed Berry Pie with Oatmeal Lattice Crust
– I actually made this pie again for Thanksgiving this year. It is SO delicious!
Chipotle Chicken Empanadas – Fun and festive finger food!
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie – I’m not a huge pecan pie fan and I LOVED this. 🙂

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