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.

September 14, 2011

Wednesday Want- KitchenAid Art?!

I haven't been able to get this print out of my head since I saw it blog hopping the other day. I have the perfect place for it to- right above the sink, next to the window. Lucky for me I seem to find myself washing dishes enough that I would get a lot of use out of this eye candy. I think it would make the perfect birthday present for myself and hope that it comes back into stock soon. You can even personalize the color to match your own beloved KitchenAid (though why anyone would buy any color besides red escapes me. I kid! Variety is the spice of life, but I'll stick with red everything thank you!)

The real empire red is even on sale on Amazon this week- coming in under $200 after rebate for the amazing 5 quart Artisan Mixer. That's cheaper than Craigslist around here (though people seem a little crazy on CL Phoenix, $300 for a crazy particle board dresser? My hunt for a French Provincial dresser is futile and slightly frustrating when I see so many bloggers finding gems for next to nothing!) Ahem. There's a huge selection of colors and no better Christmas/Birthday/Whatever present. Check out the 'Yellow Pepper' and 'Green Apple'.

Source: Oh Dear Molly on Etsy

September 12, 2011

TWD- Classic Brownies

{printable recipe here}

Tuesdays with Dorie is one of my favorite parts of the blogosphere. I anticipate the monthly recipe selection and love pulling out my butter splattered copy of Baking, knowing that whatever I end up making will be delicious, as well as seeing everyone's creative take on these great recipes. I was thrilled to get a chance to host another week and happy to discover that there was still a brownie recipe available to choose. Brownies are one of my favorite treats to bake and eat (you can see lots more here) so I figured the 'Classic Brownies' were a perfect choice.

Since I can't leave well enough alone, I tripled the batch and after mixing it up, divided the batter into four smaller pans. Each recieved a different flavoring- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Swirl, Pecan, White Chocolate, and Oreo (I actually used Vanilla Bean Joe Joe's from Trader Joe's). The four dishes lined up perfectly on my cookie sheet.

After cooling, the brownies popped right out of the pan and my favorite knife made quick work of dividing them up. I plated them up on a huge platter and let people pick their favorites (oreo went fastest). Next time I'll give these the BYU Brownies treatment and put some mint frosting and chocolate ganache on top. I know the last thing these delicious little brownies need is more sugar, butter, and chocolate, but like Ina says, 'How bad can that be?'

 Sometimes it's hard being a food blogger's daughter! Poor baby strawberry was NOT happy to wait for these brownies but even after she downed one she was crying again, this time for more! Thanks for baking along with me (you can see the rest of the brownies here)- I hope you enjoyed this recipe and can't wait to see how everyone made these their own. And for friends close by- I have a nice little pile in the freezer. Stop by anytime (though I think my little man took the last peanut butter swirl!)

PS Did you know you can get $20 worth of groceries at Whole Foods for $10 today only from Living Social? Think of the baked goods you could make... yum!

Classic Brownies
from Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan, page 88
{printable recipe here}

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (note- I used Semisweet but I think even milk would be good, whatever you have on hand!)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional, but really good)- note- I left this out and doubled the vanilla
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (according to taste- I used the full amount to bring out the chocolate flavor)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used pecans- yum!)

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, butter the foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Put the butter in the bowl, top with the chopped chocolates and stir occasionally until the ingredients are just melted - you don't want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

With a whisk, stir in the sugar. Don't be concerned when your smooth mixture turns grainy. One by one, whisk in the eggs. Add the vanilla and give the ingredients a vigorous whisking before gently stirring the espresso, if you are using it, salt and flour; stir only until incorporated. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the chopped walnuts.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the spatula.

Bake the brownies for 30 to 33 minutes, or until the top is dull and a thin knife inserted into the center come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the brownies to room temperature.
When the brownies are completely cool, turn out onto a rack, peel away the foil and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares, each a scant 2 inches on a side.

Serving: Like all great brownies, these are good eaten out of hang without a bit of embellishment or topped off with whipped or ice cream (coffee ice cream is really good with these), offered either way at room temperature or a bit chilled.

Storing recommendations: These are best served within 2 days of baking. If you're going to keep them at room temperature, just cut what you need and keep the remainder wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. To freeze for up to 2 months, wrap the brownies airtight.

September 7, 2011

Wednesday Want- Chocolate Cheerios

Today's Wednesday Want is an admittedly casual one. I loved this picture of Baby Strawberry rocking her first bowl and cereal and milk all on her own and felt, as it is her birthday coming up, I should let you in on a secret. Nestled between a million brightly colored boxes at our grocery store is one demure little stack of our favorite cereal. It seldom has a toy in the box, a sale, or any flashy characters grazing it- but Chocolate Cheerios are the real deal. My son has discovered their magical powers ('Try these sister, they turn the milk chocolate!') and I've started storing my limited supply in the farthest reaches of the pantry to avoid detection by the children. Oh sure I share, but I want to make sure these babies aren't subjected to any children's kitchen experiments. You know, the ones that end with cheerios all over the floor (that the dog won't eat any more from over-exposure!) And I fill most of their bowl with plain cheerios first- trust me, it still tastes great, these babies are magical!

Have you had Chocolate Cheerios before? Is there another cereal I'm missing out on? If only I could get oatmeal to taste as good as a nice bowl of cheerios and sliced strawberries...

PS I checked my favorite store and sure enough our favorite cereal is a suprisingly great deal on Amazon (especially with the subscribe and save option and free shipping right to your door). Who knew?

September 6, 2011

TWD- Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

Is there a better combination than chocolate and peanut butter? Just looking at these pictures has me drooling and wishing I had saved more of these cookies for our own cookie jar, although I know giving them away was the wiser choice. This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is really late but when I looked through my folder and realized I'd missed posting these in the crazy of summer, I knew it was time!

Dorie describes these as 'thin and plain' but they turned out much different for me- fluffy, flavorful, and almost cute. I used a small-ish metal cookie scoop to portion out the dough nicely and will use and even smaller one next time to make tiny little whoopie pies. I think you could really use any flavor filling to compliment the chocolate (mint, raspberry, orange, caramel?) but the second I tried one out of the oven of these I had Barefoot Contessa's peanut butter frosting on the brain. It was a delicious combo as long as you didn't think too much about how much rich, delicious stuff heads into that icing! Thanks Spike for getting me out of my comfort zone so I could discover another new favorite.

See this weeks real recipe here. I've included my recipe with the changes below as I omitted the spices, fruit, and worked with what I had. I'm sure any way you make them they would come out great (once again, butter, sugar, flour, chocolate, how bad can that be?)

Whoopie Pies with Peanut Butter Filling
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's wonderful Baking

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (or bittersweet was fine for me- work with what you have!)
1 cup sour cream

Getting Ready: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 375. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until it is creamy and smooth.  Add the sugars and beat for two minutes or so, then add the eggs one by one.  Beat for another minute-the mixture should be smooth and satiny.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the vanilla and melted chocolate.  With the mixer still on low speed, add the dry ingredients and the sour cream alternatively, adding the dry ingredients in 3 batches and the sour cream in 2 (begin and end with the dry team). Do not overmix and be gentle!

Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheets, making certain to leave at least an inch between the spoonfuls. Note- if this is difficult, try chilling the dough for a few minute in the fridge! Bake for 12-15 minutes- the cookies will puff, spread and round themselves out in baking.  They’re done when they are set on top but still springy to the touch.  Pull the sheets from the oven and let the cookies rest for 1 minute, then, using a wide metal spatula, carefully transfer them to a rack.  Cool to room temperature.
Repeat with the remaining batter, making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches.

Storing: Because these are soft, they are best stored loosely stacked in a tin with wax paper between the layers.  They can be kept at room temperature for about 4 days or packed airtight and frozen for about 2 months.

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing
adapted from the lovely Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa)

1 cup powdered sugar (I added an additional 1/2 cup for a total 1 1/2)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the powdered sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Spread frosting between cooled cookies and enjoy (guess what- they are even better the next day, yay!)