Archive for December, 2008

Cheddar Cheese Twists

December 31, 2008
Cheddar Cheese Twists

Cheddar Cheese Twists

My son the college freshman is having friends over for New Year’s Eve. Normally New Year’s Eve is a quiet affair here without much fanfare but with four college age boys I imagine it will be anything but quiet. We have a lot of snacks around but they’ll go through them like wild fire, and I wanted to do something a little special. I was in the mood for something savory after all of those sugar cookies. I had a few ideas but knowing how my son loves cheese I knew these would hit the spot.

It’s been so much fun to have our son home. It amuses me that he’s taking an interest in kitchen activities. Part of that may be due to his interest to move out of the dorms next year. At any rate he wanted to dig right in and help make these. They come together like a snap with the food processor. I doubled the recipe. I recommend weighing the cheese instead of going by volume. Some of the reviewers at Epicurious had to add extra milk to make them come together but I didn’t have any trouble. The dough is very easy to work with.

The first batch was cut by me. The second batch was cut by our son. I thought it was interesting to see how much thicker he cut them. He’s a natural at shaping these. The second batch was sprinkled with some freshly ground peppercorns. It didn’t add a lot but they have a little more visual appeal. The directions say to cut them and bake them flat, but I thought twisting them would be more fun. They flatten out quite a bit, but we think the extra effort was fun and worth it.

Even though we’re quickly running out of light I shot a couple of quick pictures. I’m sure these will be gone by morning.

Cheddar Cheese Twists with Pepper

Cheddar Cheese Twists with Pepper

These have a four fork rating on Epicurious. We agree! For the recipe click here

Update: There are a few of these left this morning so I had a taste to see how they held up. The texture was a little better last night but they held up pretty well. They taste cheesier this morning which surprises me a little because they tasted quite cheesy last night. The ones that were cut thinner and rolled thinner remain crispier than the ones that were rolled and cut thicker.

Vanilla Dreams and some surprise ingredients

December 31, 2008
Vanilla Dreams

Vanilla Dreams

These will be the last sugar cookies of 2008 at my house. It is good to end the sugar cookie spree on a high note. It’s time for something chocolate or something savory, but before I move on I’ll write about these Vanilla Dreams. They are light and crisp and have a nice vanilla flavor thanks to the vanilla bean paste. The unique texture comes from baker’s ammonia also known as hartshorn.  The vanilla bean paste and the baker’s ammonia are ingredients that are both worth searching for as they lend unique texture and flavor to the cookies.

It has been very cold here and the furnace runs constantly so the humidity level is much like the desert southwest despite the huge snowfall we got yesterday. I’m thinking the dry air contributed to the fact that the dough would not come together despite prolonged mixing. I was about to add more butter to the mixture but I was concerned that more fat would make the cookies spread. I was reluctant to add water and then it occurred to me. Vodka! If you can use it in pie crust, why not try it in cookies? Having no experience with the baker’s ammonia I wondered if the vodka would interact with it in a strange way, but I lucked out and a teaspoon of vodka brought the dough together without adding any taste or spread to my cookies.

Secret ingredients

Secret ingredients

I had toasted nuts in advance thinking I would pretty these cookies up with a bit of melted chocolate and a dip in the toasted nuts, but my husband and son like them so much as they are that they vetoed the idea.

The bakers at King Arthur Flour blogged about this recipe earlier in December. You can read about it at King Arthur Flour Baker’s Banter There are links to the recipe as well as links to where they sell their vanilla bean crush and baker’s ammonia. You are on your own with the vodka. :-)

Lemon Roll Out Sugar Cookies

December 30, 2008
Lemon Roll Out Sugar Cookies

Lemon Roll Out Sugar Cookies

After referring to the cookies in my previous post as my favorite sugar cookies I hesitated before writing about these. Don’t get me wrong, they are good cookies, but the taste and texture remind me more of spritz cookies than sugar cookies. They disappeared quickly and were enjoyed by all, so I guess they deserve to be talked about at least a little.

Lemon Roll Out Sugar Cookies

2 1/4 c. flour

1/4 t. salt

3/4 sugar

3/4 c.  butter

1 egg

1 T. finely grated lemon zest

1 t. vanilla

Whisk together the flour and salt. Set aside. Cream together the butter and the sugar until very light and fluffy. Blend in the egg, lemon zest, butter and vanilla.  Add the flour and salt mixture and mix well. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll out between pieces of waxed paper. Stack all four pieces on a cookie sheet and chill until firm. When firm remove from the refrigerator and cut out with decorative cookie cutters. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.

Cool completely and decorate as desired.

Our Favorite Sugar Cookies

December 30, 2008
Roll Out Sugar Cookies

Roll Out Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies fascinate me. There are so many variations of this simple cookie and the slightest variation can yield big differences in texture and taste. This recipe has been my favorite for many years. I often try others to see if I like them better but I always come back to these. The texture is difficult to describe and how thickly or thinly they’re rolled has a lot to do with the texture. My description would be soft but crisp.

A helpful tip I learned this year. Roll out the dough between layers of waxed paper, and then chill the dough flat on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator. It makes the rolling and clean up so much easier. Forever more I will roll out the cookie dough using this method. It was so much easier and much less messy.

My son, the college freshman helped decorate these. He looks forward to this tradition, and I love to have his help in the kitchen.

We love the almond flavoring, but understand that not everyone likes it the way we do. You could just go with the vanilla, or you could zest some lemon in place of the almond.

Roll Out Sugar Cookies

1 c. butter

1 1/2 c. powdered sugar

1 egg

1 t. vanilla

1/2 t. almond extract (optional)

2 1/2 c. flour

1 t. cream of tartar

1 t. soda

Whisk together the flour, cream of tartar and soda. Set aside. Cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the egg and blend completely. Mix in the vanilla, and almond.  To roll the traditional way, chill the dough for four hours. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll out one piece at a time. To flour your board use a mixture of 1/2 c. flour and 1/2 c. powdered sugar, using only the amount you need to keep the dough from sticking to your board or rolling pin. Cut out with decorative cookie cutters.

For the tidy, easy method of rolling follow these directions. Immediately after mixing the dough together divide it  into four pieces. Place one piece of dough between two layers of waxed paper and roll. Repeat with other three pieces. Leave the dough between the pieces of waxed paper and stack them on a cookie sheet. Refrigerate until firm. When the dough is firm remove the waxed paper and cut out the dough with decorative cookie cutters.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Cool completely before icing.

Greetings!

December 30, 2008

Thank you to those of you who have continued to drop by! The days have been filled with family, cooking, cleaning, and then yesterday a day with a friends. I have some recipes and photos to post and hope to get to that soon. Over the past week or so I’ve baked Apple Pie, Graham Cracker Cream Pie, two kinds of sugar cookies, Chocolate Sundae Cookies, Toffee, cinnamon pull apart biscuits, and more.  Be sure to check back later and through previous posts for some of the recipes.

Almond Toffee

December 22, 2008
Almond Toffee

Almond Toffee

This toffee rocks! This is the second year I’ve made it. This year I tried the version that Joe posted at Culinary in the Desert. You can see from the photo that I didn’t have any crushed sliced almonds on top of my version. One may wonder why that is so, and I would be unable to explain to you what happened. I can tell you that if you mistakenly put 1/3 of your almonds on the bottom of the pan and pour the hot candy over top of them the toffee is still excellent!

The link for the recipe as I made it is here Culinary in the Desert

Chocolate Sundae Cookies

December 22, 2008
Chocolate Sundae Cookies

Chocolate Sundae Cookies

These cookies have been a Christmas treat for me since I was a little girl. My grandmother found the recipe in a periodical of some sort. A few years ago she sent the original clipping to me. It’s old and yellowed and she “laminated” it with tape to preserve it. At some point she wrote the measurements down in her own hand writing in the margin. I suspect she did this as her eyesight started to dim with age. 

Last year I shared this recipe with Anna at Cookie Madness. You can check out her entry here. Cookie Madness

These cookies are an anomoly of sorts. They’re actually better the second day. The cookie, marshmallow and frosting sort of meld together to become what they are meant to be. The original recipe says to bake for 12-15 minutes. I like to underbake them. On my insulated cookie sheets I give them about 10 minutes. The original directions also say to frost with your favorite frosting. For me that means trying something different almost every year which is what I did again this year. What I like about the frosting this year is that it is a fluid frosting but it firms up so that the cookies can be stacked.

I’ll type up the recipe as I made it. These look great on a holiday cookie tray.

Chocolate Sundae Cookies

Chocolate Sundae Cookies

Chocolate Sundae Cookies

1 1/2 c. flour

1/2 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

2/3 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. butter

1 egg

1/4 c. maraschino cherry juice

2 T. milk

2 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1/4 c. chopped maraschino cherries

18 marshmallows cut in half

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Set aside.

Cream together the brown sugar and butter.  Blend in the egg until thorougly blended. Stir in half of the dry ingredients. Add the cherry juice and milk. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients until completely combined. Blend in the melted chocolate. Stir in the walnuts and the maraschino cherries.

Drop by rounded teaspons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Place one marshmallow half cut side down on each hot cookie. Cool on wire rack. Frost with chocolate frosting.

Chocolate Frosting

1/4 c. butter

1/4 c. milk

1 c. sugar

1 c. semi sweet chocolate chips

Combine first three ingredients in saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 30 seconds. Stir in chocolate chips until melted.

When the Weather Outside is Frightful….

December 14, 2008
Cranberry Crunch Cookies

Cranberry Crunch Cookies

We bake!! We’re in the midst of a snowstorm as I type this. What does one do during a snowstorm? Bake, read or quilt, or course! The house smells wonderful right now thanks to this delicious recipe http://oatmealcookie.typepad.com/the_oatmeal_cookie_blog/2008/10/cranberry-crunch-cookies.html from the Oatmeal Cookie Guy. He won a contest with this recipe and it’s easy to understand why. Even though I had to make some substitutions and use ingredients on hand these are clearly winners. They are crunchy and full of flavor from the dried cranberries, orange zest, nuts and vanilla. My substitutions included toasted pecans for the almonds and plain white sugar instead of the Turbinado sugar.
As the wind howls and the snow flies I’m grateful for my warm, wonderful smelling home!

While the wind howls, the snow flies, and the temperature plummets, this little woodpecker waits patiently between gusts for his turn at the feeder.

Waiting for his turn at the feeder.

Waiting for his turn at the feeder.

Garlic and Cheddar Stuffed Potatoes

December 14, 2008

Last evening we had friends over for dinner. It had been way too long  since we entertained people other than family. We had a very nice evening, and the food was great. I made a nice entree and my favorite spinach salad and served the cranberry caramel bars and some freshly baked chocolate mint sandwich cookies, but do you know what stole the show? Potatoes. It never ceases to amaze me how the simple spud can make people silly for more.
There are no photos of the finished product and for that I apologize because they were the most beautiful twice baked potatoes I’ve ever made, but you see I’m just not comfortable photographing food with guests here. The food was hot, and I wanted to get it to the table without too much fuss or fanfare.
The recipe is from the Gourmet Cookbook and appears here. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Cheddar-Garlic-Stuffed-Potatoes-106067

I’ll tell you what I did because I only followed the recipe as guide, and let’s face it. There are as many ways to make twice baked potatoes as there are cooks to make them.
First off, the recipe calls for 4 medium sized russets. I’m here to tell you that in my town there is no such thing. There are small russets and there are GIGANTIC russets. I felt that the gigantic russets would be easier to scoop out so I went with three of those. These super spuds took forever to bake. I have a convection oven so I put the vegetable oil rubbed potatoes directly on the racks and convection baked them at 400 degrees for an hour. After an hour they weren’t done and I needed to get the main course going so I upped the temp to 425 for 20 minutes. They still weren’t done. It was time to put the next dish in so I shoved them to the side reduced the convection oven temp to 325 and left them in for a very long time. It was ridiculous how long these giants took to bake. When I was able to poke them with a wooden skewer I took them out, and let them sit for 10 minutes or so until they were cool enough to handle. I cut the baked potatoes in half and scooped out the hot potato flesh leaving 1/2 to 3/8 inches of potato next to the skin. You need a little potato flesh in there so the potato skin is sturdy enough to handle and to hold the filling. The hot potato flesh went in a bowl with 3 tablespoons butter, and the cloves from one head of roasted garlic. I forgot to roast the garlic when I was baking the potato so I just microwaved my garlic for about a minute after chopping off about 1/4″ from the top. The garlic cloves will just slip out of their skins and you can easily mash them with a fork. Since I had those gigantic potatoes I used more sour cream than the 1/3 c. called for in the recipe. Honestly, really don’t know how much I used, but I would guess 1/2 c. or so. I dumped in most of an 8 oz. package of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, reserving some to sprinkle on top of the potatoes. I mashed the mixture along with a sprinkling of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. The filling went back into the scooped out potato skins and the remaining cheese was sprinkled on top. Then they went back into the convection oven for about 10 minutes at 425. I checked them frequently to make sure the cheese didn’t brown too fast at such a high temp. They turned out picture perfect.
You do not need a convection oven to make these, but since my potatoes were so ridiculously large I’m glad I had it to speed things along.  These were very good and I would definitely make them again.

Cranberry Caramel Bars!

December 11, 2008

cranberry-caramel-bars-007This recipe is from The Gourmet Cookbook. I’ve wanted to make it ever since I first saw it, but for one reason or another it hasn’t happened until now, and am so I sorry I didn’t jump on these sooner.  These were a big hit at the potluck I went to today. Everyone wanted the recipe which is always a good sign. The tart cranberries, the sweet “caramel”, and the crunchy pecans layered on a shortbread crust make for a great combination and a great contribution to a holiday cookie tray. I didn’t bother with the drizzle of chocolate. After tasting them, I felt it simply wasn’t needed, but if you want to dress them up a bit feel free to drizzle with a bit of bittersweet chocolate, white chocolate or both. I will definitely make these again.

cranberry-caramel-bars-008

The recipe is also called Cranberry Turtle Bars and can be found at the following link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Cranberry-Turtle-Bars-105743


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