December 28, 2011

TWD's last- Thumprint Cookies (and Christmas)

Oh my how the time has flown. This week is the LAST Tuesdays with Dorie recipe and the end of the year! I remember the shock I felt at how heavy the book felt when I first opened it and the end has come. Since I joined TWD I have gained the confidence to try new recipes, make substitutions and adaptations, burned through a million boxes of butter, and made a lot of new friends. I'm so grateful to Laurie and Dorie and all the other helpers along the way for such a wonderful experience (and a million favorite recipes).

Dorie chose this weeks recipe. These cookies came together in less than five minutes- butter, peanut butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a little flour. Scoop and roll in egg whites and then chopped nuts (I used cashews since I had those on had), make a little 'thumbprint' and bake. Dorie suggests filling them with jam but I piped in some melted white chocolate. The end product is peanut buttery, crunchy and delicious (albeit rich!) My kids LOVED these and I am glad to have some extra dough in the freezer for another day. See the rest of the bunch here.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas! We sure did. Baby Strawberry and I love her new play kitchen Nana built. It's shiny and red and came complete with her own KitchenAid (what more could a girl ask for?) Well, I do hope Santa drops off Baking with Julia a little late for me. I think my kitchen wouldn't be complete without a Dorie recipe each week- though there are certainly plenty of Baking recipes in permanent rotation around here!

December 20, 2011

TWD- Apple Pie and Classic Brownies

 Oh I can't believe Tuesdays with Dorie is coming to an end! I've loved this event so much, meeting new people, trying new recipes, learning new skills and gaining the confidence to tackle any random recipe. This week's assignment was a rewind- trying out an old favorite or something you didn't get to previously. Like so many of you we are busy busy this time of year, with lots of opportunities to bake and limited time to photo and blog! This week my tall man needed a treat to take to work so I made Dorie's classic brownies. I frosted them with a simple chocolate frosting and sprinkled on silver sanding sugar. I cut them into individual portions and put them in cupcake liners- they looked festive and were easy to serve out (a win win!) Of course I don't have a picture so here is a previous version as well as a link to the recipe.

Sunday I made Dorie's All American All Delicious Apple Pie for a family birthday party. I didn't want to serve anything particularly Christmas-y since it seems like December birthdays get ripped off pretty often! I used some new pie crust cutters a friend gave me for my birthday to quick and easily decorate the pie top with flowers. They were simple to use and super cute (and the ones I found on Amazon have a strawberry, I might need those eventually!) The recipe itself is perfection. I've made this pie a million times and while I think there are a few Dorie inspired recipes that are more so my favorite, this pie must be one of the true favs from the sheer number of times it's been baked. Don't miss Dorie's buttery, delicious pie crust (my husband's favorite!) I always double the recipe and freeze a couple of disks of pie crust so I can pull them out and have a delicious, homemade dessert without the time or mess.

See more of this week's Dorie recipe's here and have a very Merry Christmas. We'll be eating ham, rolls, potatoes, green beans, and all of our favorite fixing on Christmas day. I haven't decided on a dessert yet but if you have a family favorite or traditional Christmas dessert please do share- I'd love some ideas!

Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
3/8 cup very cold (frozen is even better) Crisco (plain, not butter flavored), cut into 4 pieces
About 1/2 cup ice water

Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade; pulse just to combine the ingredients. Drop in the butter and shortening and pulse only until the butter and shortening are cut into the flour. Don't overdo the mixing—what you're aiming for is to have pieces the size of fat green peas and others the size of barley.

Pulsing the machine on and off, add 3 tablespoons of the water—add a little water and pulse once; add some more water and pulse again; and keep going that way. Then use a few long pulses to get the water into the flour. If after a dozen or so pulses, the dough doesn't look evenly moistened or form soft curds, pulse in as much of the remaining water, or even a few drops more, to get a dough that will stick together when pinched. If you've got big pieces of butter, that's fine. The dough is ready and should be scraped out of the work bowl and on to a smooth work surface. (be careful not too add too much water- if the dough looks dry after adding most of the water, pinch it with your hands to check if it's coming together, and finish combining it by hand)

Shape the dough into a disk and wrap it. Refrigerate the dough at least 1 hour before rolling. The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

December 12, 2011

Gingerbread Houses (& a winner)

Our 2010 Gingerbread Houses
I'd like to thank everyone who entered the Chex Mix Party Giveaway from MyBlogSpark! I loved hearing about everyone favorite neighbor gifts to give and receive (check out some of the awesome suggestions in the comments here!) The winner of the giveaway (thanks to is Laraine Eddington!  Get me your address and we'll have it shipped out to you! She has the funniest blog, check it out!
This is my little man's gingerbread house from last year- a small milk carton + graham crackers + royal icing (don't forget all the candy you can pile on!) My family makes these every year and it's a ton of fun for all ages! Definitely a favorite Christmas tradition. We are staying busy around here and enjoy the excitement and fun little kids bring to the holidays. They're already pretty hyped and the big day is still a bit away. It's going to be sporadic around here as usual but we're enjoying this special season with our families and that's the best part of all.

PS Need Cookie ideas? Millions here!

December 7, 2011

Chex Mix Neighbor Gifts

Have you made your neighbor gifts yet? Growing up my mom always gave out boxes of white chocolate covered oreos but I haven't gotten into a groove of my own yet. We usually make cookies or something easy to do with the kids. I was really excited when MyBlogSpark contacted me about doing a Check Party Mix-Change as a fresh take on a cookie exchange. Our group made three kinds of Chex Mix from the recipes provided in the party kit and (they have a crazy huge list!)
Chex Caramel Chocolate Drizzles- I added Chocolate Cheerios and Dried Cherries (yummy!)

Then we drizzled on a bunch of chocolate for added deliciousness (can you tell this one was my favorite?)

 My Tall Man's favorite- half of the Chex is covered in white chocolate, the other in peanut butter chips, tossed together with Reese's Pieces and Cashews (that I should have toasted- but remember, it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful delicious and this went fast anyways!)

Last but now least- Muddy Buddies. I've never made this before but after I read the recipe I had a little Joey from Friends moment (remember with Rachel's Shepherd's Pie Trifle?) Chocolate? Good. Peanut butter? Good. Powdered Sugar? Good. No wonder I've always liked this stuff.

We loved making these different varieties of Chex Mix together and it was a fast, fun, and delicious activity- no stress, hardly any mess, and something for everyone. I have a gift pack to giveaway to one reader courtesy of MyBlogSpark. The winner will recieve a $20 giftcard to buy ingredients and decorations to go with the 2 boxes of Chex Mix cereal, recipes, and takeout containers to share your treats in. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment letting me know your favorite Christmas neighbor gift to give (or receive!) US Residents only and giveaway will be open until Saturday night.

"Disclosure: The Chex Party Mix-Change product, information, and giveaway have been provided by Chex through MyBlogSpark."Opinions are my own.

December 6, 2011

TWD- Bittersweet Brownies

Brownies are my favorite treat to bake. The batter (delicious!), the ease, the endless variations-  they're a bakers dream. Plus, who doesn't love a brownie (besides my non-chocolate eating husband, but he still loves the smell!) A few weeks ago I made Dorie's Bittersweet Brownies- using semi-sweet chocolate of course. This recipe, chosen by one of my favorite bloggers, Leslie, is the last brownie recipe in the book for Tuesdays with Dorie. I can't believe it! See the recipe on her blog here. Brownies make the perfect neighbor gift and there are a million types to choose from. Here are a few of my other favorites from Dorie and you can see a bunch more in my brownie category.

Come back tomorrow for another great neighbor gift idea (Chex Mix three ways) and a special giveaway from MyBlogSpark!

Classic Brownies (four ways)

Brownie Buttons

York Peppermint Brownies

Katharine Hepburn Brownies

French Chocolate Brownies

 Quintuple Chocolate Brownies

November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! It's really snuck up on me again (I think I say that every year) but we are so excited to have time with family, enjoy the beautiful weather and some of our favorite traditions. This year I'm in charge of bringing the rolls and pie. I'm going to make our favorite easy dinner rolls and try a new-sure-to-be-favorite, Homemade Raspberry Honey Butter. Janet's blog is beyond lovely and you can see her similar roll recipe with careful and gorgeous photos to walk you through the cresent-roll making process if you are a little nervous.

A nice buttery homemade apple pie is my favorite Thanksgiving dessert and you can see my favorite (shown above) here as well as a lot of other pie recipes in my archives. As I told the women at Church at our pie class last month, when it comes to pie, all those great ingredients thrown together with ice cream on top- how bad can that be? I'm going to make our pies today and throw them in the freezer so Turkey Day is as stress free as possible.

Don't miss David Lebovitz's great stress-free baking tips here- there's something for everyone. Have a very happy Thanksgiving- I am so thankful for each of you that stops to say hi or lets me know that one of my recipes made someone feel special! Hugs!

Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
3/8 cup very cold (frozen is even better) Crisco (plain, not butter flavored), cut into 4 pieces
About 1/2 cup ice water

Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade; pulse just to combine the ingredients. Drop in the butter and shortening and pulse only until the butter and shortening are cut into the flour. Don't overdo the mixing—what you're aiming for is to have pieces the size of fat green peas and others the size of barley.

Pulsing the machine on and off, add 3 tablespoons of the water—add a little water and pulse once; add some more water and pulse again; and keep going that way. Then use a few long pulses to get the water into the flour. If after a dozen or so pulses, the dough doesn't look evenly moistened or form soft curds, pulse in as much of the remaining water, or even a few drops more, to get a dough that will stick together when pinched. If you've got big pieces of butter, that's fine. The dough is ready and should be scraped out of the work bowl and on to a smooth work surface. (be careful not too add too much water- if the dough looks dry after adding most of the water, pinch it with your hands to check if it's coming together, and finish combining it by hand)

Shape the dough into a disk and wrap it. Refrigerate the dough at least 1 hour before rolling. The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

November 21, 2011

Food Rules- an eater's manual

 Have you heard of Michael Pollan before? I first read his book In Defense of Food a few years ago and was blown away by the common sense. It's easy to feel like the 'rules' change every five minutes- butter, margarine, back to butter, no-carbs, whole grains only, gluten free, where ever you look there is a different message- it's down right stressful! Pollan's book In Defense of Food gets down to the straightforward truths of what is actually good for our bodies and presents it in a way that you can understand and absorb. When TLC Book Tours let me know about his new book, Food Rules- an eater's manual, I couldn't wait to read it. The timing couldn't be better with the onset of the holiday season. Every time I open up a magazine or read a blog I think about the holiday and the traditions- the parties, the food, it is the most wonderful time of the year. It's also an easy time to overindulge and forget the common sense that we should really hold on to.

This book is full of the common sense that we all need! Food Rules is a slim and beautiful book, thanks to the lovely illustrations by Maira Kalman. It's nicely organized and easy to delve right into. I read it a little at a time and walked away with a smart, simple new idea to process each time. Some of my favorites? "If You're Not Hungry Enough to Eat an Apple, Then You're Probably Not Hungry." I've found myself repeating that without realized it when the mid-afternoon munchies set it. And hooray- it's apple season! Not surprisingly, I do feel better after snacking on an apple than after grabbing some chocolate from the pantry.

Another I loved- "Don't Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn't Recognize as Food." Foods that come to mind- spray margarine and go-gurt. I can't imagine that our ancestors ate either of those. I love chocolate Cheerios, I really do, but can there be any doubt which breakfast is going to make our bodies happier, that or a bowl of oatmeal and berries? And food that doesn't ever go rotten, is that actually food? If the bugs don't want to eat it, why would we, is there any actual food left in it? I think deep down we can tell what our bodies really need without the input of advertisers and other people looking to make a profit despite the costs to ourselves. Reading Pollan's wise words accompanied with Kalman's gorgeous illustrations has inspired me to do better and not in the unobtainable, crazy lifestyle and budget way that can overwhelm. I walked away from this book feeling I could choose better for myself and my family, that we can make simple changes and turn these fresh and helpful ideas into habits.
Thanks to TLC for providing me a copy of the book to review. Stop by the tour list here to see the book tour schedule. You can see the book here on Amazon. It's lovely and one I will read over and over again.

November 16, 2011

Wednesday Want- Immersion Blender

There's nothing like a good immersion blender. I thought this was a not-so-needful kitchen accessory until my mom got one and I realized I'd been missing out. Soups, homemade refried beans, sauces, and more become instantly silky smooth. The whole blender- transfer process is totally viable but pretty messy, at least for me. With all the fun colors and a great sale at Amazon right now, this is the perfect quick gift for the foodie in your life! Check them out here!

November 8, 2011

TWD- Honey Cherry Scones

A couple of weeks ago we were dying of heat and feeling bad that the AC would still kick on. Suddenly, it's cold- really cold! My mommy brain doesn't do so great on dates lately and last night I realized I hadn't made my Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Sure enough, I didn't have the ingredients or the equipment for this weeks recipes so I hopped back to last week's Honey Nut Scones. The kitchen was cold and everyone was snacky (someone needs to go to the grocery store already...) so we happily turned on the oven and whipped these scones up. Using honey, whole wheat flour, and nuts (or in my case, dried cherries) they felt like a pretty decent treat.

I didn't used to like scones but now I know better! You don't need any special equipment or ingredients and the recipes are flexible. They are simple to make with butter straight out of the fridge cut into a couple dry ingredients. Pour over some wet ingredients, stir in your favorite mix ins and press into a cake pan. Normally I shape my scones with a biscuit cutter but after I read the tips from the rest of the TWD Bakers, I decided to try pressing them into the pan, cutting them like a pizza (only half way though!) and freezing them while the oven got hot. After they baked, I cut the wedges the rest of the way and the final product was fluffy and light, even with all the whole wheat flour. Obviously they were gobbled up quickly (no time for fancy pictures or good lighting at our house!) While these are still technically a pretty sweet treat (especially when topped with butter and jam), the simple, wholeness of it all felt pretty good on a cold night. You can see the recipe at Jeannette's or buy Dorie's wonderful book already. Mine is tattered and stained and I love it more every day.

October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween from Will and Kate

Happy Halloween from our own Prince William and Kate Middleton! Halloween kind of creeps me out to be honest (sure you couldn't tell from the lack of Halloween posts) but I love the dressing up and they do too, not to mention the candy, skipped naps, and parties.

Our own little royalty loved their costumes their Nana lovingly made after tons of research (William's is a perfect replica, buttons, medals, and all!) We kind of had to go with this theme this year and were grateful Nana made it work. You can see my 'Royal Cupcakes' for the Wedding earlier this year here.

Check out those cute buns! Seriously, his costume is amazing (and I love how he looks more like his daddy everyday, so cute!)

Kate's tiny little waste and fluffy bustle are so cute- you can't help but smile when she skips. She rocked her veil for hours Saturday (and kept her princess dress clean, though I'll admit I didn't let her eat any chili at the trunk or treat!)

We made Lemon Velvet Cupcakes (dyed Orange, of course) for the preschool Halloween Party today. Prince William was very proud to share cupcakes he helped make. I was very proud when he successfully washed my silpats and cookie sheets- my least favorite part of making cookies and cupcakes!) Hope you have a very happy and safe Halloween!

October 25, 2011

TWD- Peach Cobbler

As I write, the window is open, the kids are running in and out of the house, and we've eaten pumpkin cookies all morning. It started on the blogosphere ages ago but Fall has finally come to Arizona. This is my favorite time of year and I look forward to baking and cooking without worrying about heating up my already hot kitchen! When I opened up my Baking book for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, my little man immediately said "This looks pretty Mommy!" It was gorgeous but I didn't have figs or cornmeal or the will to take both of my little monkies to the grocery store during the witching hour. So instead, I'm sharing (a little late, don't mind me) a previous TWD recipe I didn't post because it screams fall to me and is one truly worth sharing.

The recipe is called the "Upside Down Plum Cake" and after I baked it, I realized it tasted exactly like a perfect homemade peach cobbler. Before I became a crazy baker, I used to dump fruit in a baking dish, top it with a yellow cake mix, and dot the top with butter. The end result was delicious and our typical peach cobbler. This recipe is a little different. You melt the butter in the pan (while the oven is preheating, genius!), pour in the batter, and top it with the fruit. The fruit ends up on the bottom and the tender cake on top. It's simple and delicious, totally flexible and a keeper. I know peaches are about done but I'm going to try this again with apples and berries and whatever else I can get my hands on (and I think you should too!) You can see the recipe here at Becky's blog as well as the rest of the TWD crew here. Please forgive my quick pictures but the entire family was dying to eat this.

Do you have any favorite fall desserts? This one is bound to become a tradition for us!

October 13, 2011

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Sweet Rolls

Ghirardelli Chocolate sent me some of their new Intense Dark chocolate to try and ever since my carefully wrapped package arrived I've been dreaming about the perfect recipe to use them for. The bars themselves are beautiful and gold wrapped- seriously tempting. They've got sexy names like "Evening Dream" and "Twilight Delight" to go along with the perfect packaging and high cacoa content. This was a big decision! I finally settled on my favorite ever Tuesdays with Dorie recipe- the Brioche Raisin Snails. Brioche is rich dough made with eggs and butter, rolled up with a homemade vanilla pudding and fancy raisins (or in my case, chocolate). I used my Bosch mixer but a KitchenAid or even a big bowl with a wooden spoon will work just fine.

I love that the recipe is made of several components- it's kind of therapeutic to assemble basic things into something extra special and each piece isn't too much work. The bread dough improves with a little stay in the fridge, so I made it the other night. Last night I made the pastry cream and let it chill until this morning. Each step only takes 15 minutes or so but this morning I whipped up a fabulous French pastry that takes me right back to Paris with each bite. The assembly is just like a regular cinnamon roll but uses different components- roll out the dough, spread the cream, sprinkle with chopped Ghirardelli chocolate (I used the Midnight Reverie 86% Cacao bar) and a little sugar. Roll it up, slice, and try to be patient while they rise. It's not that different than cinnamon rolls, really, but SO much better.

You could easily fake this recipe with a regular dough (or even thawed Rhodes rolls if your that terrified of yeast) and chocolate chips, but the Intense dark chocolate with it's luxurious texture and flavor and the silky pastry cream baked together with the rich brioche makes a treat that's extra special. You can even roll up the logs before you slice them and freeze them for a perfectly decadent treat anytime.

I absolutely loved this recipe before but now that I've had it all fancied up, I'm pretty sure a delicious cinnamon roll is going to pale in comparison. I'm going try my favorite brownies next with some more of the Ghirardelli Intense Dark and I'll be back later in the week to let you know how they turn out. Stop by their website and check out their line-up. Ghiradelli will donate $1 from each package up to $100000 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation when you enter the code found inside your bar. You can even print out a coupon here. Deliciousness and an important cause- this is a win win for me!

PS Don't tell but when my mom had a bite of these she totally moaned. They're that good. There are two left on my counter. Let's see if they make it until dinner time (with Baby Strawberry, sporting her dad's super metabolism and roving the house yelling "Chockit! Chockit!" it doesn't seem likely!)

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Sweet Rolls
from Anne Strawberry

6 squares Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate (I used the 86% Cacao Midnight Revelrie), or 3/4 of a package, chopped finely
2 tablespoons Sugar
1/2 recipe for Golden Brioche Loaves (see below), chilled and ready to shape (make the full recipe and cut the dough in half after refrigerating overnight)

1/2 recipe Pastry Cream (see below)
Shiny Sugar Coating (see below)
Powdered Sugar Glaze (see below)

Line one large or two smaller baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

On a flour dusted surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long, with a short end toward you. Spread the pastry cream across the dough, leaving 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Scatter the chopped chocolate over the pastry cream and sprinkle the cream with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Starting wit the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it up to 2 months.)

Cut the log into rounds a 1 inch thick using a chef's knife, bench cutter, or dental floss. Put the snails on the lined baking sheet(s), leaving some puff space between them (half of the brioche yielded 12 rolls for me so I put them in a 3 x 4 pattern on my baking sheet).

Lightly cover the snails with wax paper and set the baking sheet(s) in a warm place until the snails have doubles in volume--they'll be puffy and soft--about an hour or two depending on the temperature of the kitchen.

When the snails have almost fully risen, preheat the oven: depending on the number of baking sheets you have, either center a rack in the oven or position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the wax paper, and bake the snails for about 25 minutes (rotate the sheets if you're using two, from top to bottom and front to back after 15 minutes), or until they are puffed and richly browned. After they've been out of the oven for a minute or two, brush them with the shiny sugar coating. Allow to cool for a couple minutes then drizzle with the optional glaze (recipe below).

Shiny Sugar Coating
Note- This is optional but only takes a minute or two and helps keep your rolls shiny and moist. Ever since I read about it on this wonderful blog I use it for all my cinnamon rolls. I don't think these would last long enough to need it but I wouldn't skip it! Check out her cinnamon twist post for gorgeous pictures on shaping and glazing sweet rolls.

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil, take off heat and set aside to brush the bread when it comes out of the oven.

Powdered Sugar Glaze
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
About 1 teaspoon water
Drop of pure vanilla extract

Put the confectioners' sugar into a small bowl, and stir in a teaspoon of water. Keep adding water drop by drop until you have an icing that falls from the tip of a spoon. Add the vanilla extract, then drizzle the icing over the hot snails.

Golden Brioche Loaves
2 packets active dry yeast (or 5 teaspoons yeast)
2/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch 2% milk
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt (or 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm (cut into 1 Tablespoon pieces while cold and let sit on the counter for a few minutes to soften)

To Make The Brioche: Put the yeast, water and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit into the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can-- this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you're doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point, you'll have a fairly dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You'll have a dough that is very soft, almost like batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap to the bowl. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the uncovered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Pull the dough from the fridge and divide it into 2 equal pieces.

Anne Strawerry's Favorite "Slightly Lighted" Pastry Cream
adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

2 1/2 cups 2% milk
4 large egg yolks
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan (I usually multitask this step and warm it in my Pyrex liquid measuring cup in the microwave).

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks and egg together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk-- this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking to be sure the bottom doesn't burn, for 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are full incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

October 11, 2011

TWD- Basic Biscuits

Have you ever watched Alton Brown's Good Eats Biscuit episode? It's a total crack up and features Alton and his grandma in a biscuit bake off, his science and technique against her traditions. The end result is that both made delicious biscuits. In the southwest, I think it's more likely that you have a special homemade salsa recipe than family biscuit style. Maybe that's just our family. I remember my mom making Bisquick biscuits and cutting them out with a glass. For her, a biscuit (along with most carbs) is "a vehicle" to gravy, butter, jam, whatever. We aren't picky about them around here and after a week of sick kids, I looked forward to a simple Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.

I let my little man do the measuring, mixing, and rolling of these biscuits. He loves using any cookie cutter and while I tried to follow Alton's advice to push straight down and not maul the biscuits, I'm not sure that was quite the case. My biscuits were a little short but they were a lot delicious nonetheless. We ate them all right off the pan with a little butter and homemade raspberry jam my mom and I made a few weeks ago. Baby Strawberry had the biggest jammy smile, my little man was proud of 'his' biscuits, and Mr. Carbohydrate polished several off before I even took a picture. You can see the recipe here or in Dorie Greenspan's awesome Baking from My Home to Yours. This recipe might be basic but it's a winner at our house.

Speaking of winners, I'd like to thank everyone who entered the Sam's Club and General Mill's giveaway from MyBlogSpark. I was touched by the comments and all the things people do to fight cancer. Together I really think we can make a big difference- thank you guys for the inspiration! The winner of the $25 Sam's Club giftcard is number 6- Holly! Get me your address asap and I'll have your prize sent out!

Come back tomorrow for a special recipe featuring Ghiradelli Intense Dark Chocolate (also benefiting breast cancer research, check it out!)

October 3, 2011

Sam's Club & General Mill's Pink Giveaway

Can you believe it's October already? There are clues everywhere around here, from the 'nice-ish' morning weather, the ripe Utah peaches, and professional football players wearing hot pink. Even if it's still hot here, it's officially October and breast cancer awareness month already. Last night my mom said, "I know it's October when my Yoplait's have pink lids!" MyBlogSpark recently contacted me and let me know that Sam´s Club stores are featuring pink packaging on participating General Mills products for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This cause is close to my heart as my mom and grandma both fought and beat breast cancer. I don't know anyone who hasn't somehow been touched by this disease and appreciate all the efforts made to finding a cure.

This month if you purchase specially-marked General Mills products like Cheerios at your local Sam´s Club you can help decide how half of that contribution will be donated by voting at General Mills´ donations will be divided between two important Komen programs: the Treatment and Assistance Program, which assists women in securing care they otherwise may not be able to afford, and Prevention Research, which helps unlock the keys to preventing breast cancer. Voting results will be announced on Mother´s Day 2012. You can see more about PinkTogether on their Facebook page.

It's no secret that we love General Mills products around here. For 5 years, General Mills has partnered with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Foundation and this year they are making their annual donation of $2 million to the foundation to advance breast cancer research and support education and community outreach projects.

And now for the giveaway! MyBlogSpark provided me with a $25 Sam's Club Giftcard to share with one of you (US Residents Only Please!) To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment letting me know how you give back to help the fight against breast cancer or your favorite General Mills products you would love to see featured in the Pink Promotion at Sam´s Club (I'm going to be getting a giant box of Chocolate Cheerios, along with the usual big bag of flour, sugar, and butter- my bulk staples!) This giveaway will close on 10/10/11 at midnight. Leave a comment before then to be entered (good luck!)

"Disclosure: The information and gift card(s) have been provided by Sam´s Club and General Mills through MyBlogSpark."

Chocolate Cheerio Crust
by Anne Strawberry

2 1/2 Cups Chocolate Cheerios, crushed (in a baggie with a mallet or in the food processor)
1/4 Cup Melted Butter
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder (I like Hershey's special dark)

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine all ingredients and press into four mini springform pans or one regular springform. A pie pan will also work if that's all you have. Make sure the layer is even and not too thick. Bake for 8 minutes and set aside to cool completely. 

September 30, 2011

Soft Rainbow Sugar Cookies

{printable recipe here}
You know those soft, brightly frosted sugar cookies at the grocery store? My kids can't resist the bright colors and ask for them every time at the store but lucky/not so lucky for them, their mom likes to make cookies from scratch. I hear they have a pretty strong following but I've never been a huge fan because of the frosting (Bleh!) When I saw this knock off recipe at University of Cookie I knew these were going to be a hit. These sugar cookies are made just like chocolate chip cookie dough- cream, add the eggs, add the dry team, and scoop/roll. Cut out cookies are a lot of fun but a lot of work too. This recipe is quick enough to do with the kids and have a yummy treat right away. The cookies are soft, buttery, and delicious. It's a win win.

I love the rainbow colored frosting Shelly used and mixed up a few colors of my own using Americolor Gel Food Coloring and the regular liquid coloring you can get at the grocery store. I just made one batch of my favorite frosting, divided it into six kids bowls, and colored them until we liked it (making about 1/2 cup of each color). I used a table knife to frost them and hoped that the messy would look intentional enough. I just have to keep telling myself 'It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.' (or taste good!) I added some edible glitter to make them feel a little extra special. I hope that stuff is really not too bad for you because it's kind of addicting- what doesn't feel a little fancier with some glitter on top?

I bake all my cookies on a regular half sheet pan lined with a Silpat. You can read more about those here. I used to have a lot of different sizes and shapes of pans but consolidating to one type saves a lot of space and has made me so much happier. It's really worth it if you bake a lot (especially since I use them to roast veggies, cook chicken, and a million other things!)

Soft Sugar Cookies
{printable recipe here}

adapted from Shelly   

Makes about 5 dozen cookies (depending on their size). I scooped up a few dozen and froze the balls of dough to take out and bake another time without any work.

1 Cup Butter (Salted is fine), Softened
1 Cup Plain Shortening (I like the blue Crisco, none of that icky 'butter flavor')

2 1/4 Cups Sugar
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
4 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt (I used Kosher)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cream butter, shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy (one or two minutes). Add one egg at a time and beat for one minute afterwards. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer to low speed and carefully add the dry team (flour, powder, salt). I usually turn it off first, pour them all in, cover the mixer with a dish towel and turn it on low. Mix gently- only until the flour is barely incorporated. Give it one last stir with a rubber/silicone spatula to get everything off the bottom.

Roll into balls, placing about 2 inches apart on Silpat/parchment lined/greased cookie sheet. I used a regular cookie scoop to get each cookie uniform (about 2 Tablespoons of dough in each). It will be a little sticky, don't be surprised!  If it's too tacky to work with, add a little more flour or chill the dough in the fridge for a few minutes.

Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes, or until they start to brown slightly on the edges. I wanted mine extra soft and nice so I err on the side of under done. Take them out of the oven and transfer to a cooling rack after a couple of minutes. Frost with your favorite frosting (mine is below). 

Anne Strawberry's Favorite Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened (one stick)
1 package of cream cheese, softened (I like to use Neufchatel, less fat and I don't notice much difference)

2 Tablespoons milk
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or the seeds of one vanilla pod, scraped
dash of salt
6 cups of powdered sugar (more or less to achieve desired consistency, this is a baseline)
1 Tablespoon meringue powder (optional but very helpful! you can find this in the cake decorating section at walmart, michaels, or joann's)

In a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add in the milk, vanilla, and salt, and blend.

Next, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, cover the bowl of the mixer with a dish towel, and turn it on low until everything is combined. Then increase the speed for a minute or so until the frosting is light, fluffy, and delicious. The meringue powder will help set the frosting after it dries so it holds its shape.

Add 1 T. Lemon or orange zest and substitute juice for the milk to make a tangy citrus frosting. Alternately, you can flavor with mint extract or almond extract. 

September 18, 2011

Homemade Salad Dressing & Croutons

I read a post today on one of my favorite craft blogs, Infarrantly Creative, where she shared a few of her great ideas. I love getting tips from people on how to simplify and improve our lives in easy ways. She's also giving away two of my favorite things to go along with her linky party- a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker and a Metal Cookie Scoop. I've gushed about both of those before and can't imagine my kitchen without my drawer full of scoops.

Since I loved her post so much I thought I would join in and got me thinking about something I do on a regular basis that we love. Sure I make crazy treats occasionally, but it's not all brownies and cupcakes for dinner (though I'm sure Baby Strawberry wouldn't object!) I always need more healthy, quick, and economical meal options. Making croutons and salad dressing go right in with that. I heard a quote once about how the French think Americans are bad cooks because we actually BUY our croutons. Making them is quick and tastes SO much better. I usually use the heels or unwanted end of the loaf of French bread from last nights dinner. Toss with salt and pepper, olive oil, and some seasoning and you are pretty much done. A few minutes in the oven or tossed on the stove and the house smells good, you have a nice bag of delicious croutons, and it was pretty much free (that's fuzzy Anne math for you there!) You can even use left over rolls, hamburger buns, whatever bread you have around. They taste incredible in Panzanella too.

You can see the crouton recipe here.

Making salad dressing is just as easy. I use my blender bottle (a lidded jar works too) and just dump everything in. I will include the recipe below but when I make it, it usually goes something like this, "one inch of vinegar, two inches of olive oil, a scoop of brown sugar, a pinch of garlic, salt and pepper." Shake and serve. It tastes 100 times better than store bought dressing and I love knowing exactly what went into it. Swap out spices and vinegar for a completely different flavor, too! I think people see 'Balsamic Vinaigrette' and think that's something you could only buy. I hope you'll try making your own dressing and see how it goes, it's really easy and delicious (a winner in my book!)

Do you have any simple, great ideas that make life easier for you? I'd love to hear em!

Anne Strawberry's Simple Balsamic Dressing
(adapted from Emeril)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (regular, sea salt, whatever will do)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (it's cheap at Costco!)

Combine all ingredients in a blender bottle (or jar) and shake to combine. Toss salad and serve immediately. This makes a lot of dressing so I usually half it and store my extra dressing in the fridge for couple of weeks- but it always gets eaten before it goes bad.

Serve with my Cheesecake Factory Knock Off French Country Salad (with goat cheese!), panzanella, or your favorite green salad. You can't go wrong here.

You can see the crouton recipe here.