August 12, 2013

I heart Trader Joe's

Have you been to Trader Joe's lately? I'm kind of hit or miss there because it's a little ways from my house but I've been stopping by more often because I keep finding amazing things (and I may or may not have been stalking the cookie butter that was in and out of stock. I hear its back now- and on Amazon of course. Too funny). The frozen fruit is great for smoothies and really well priced. On the way to the pineapple one day I saw these Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels and couldn't resist. They taste like super charged Milk Duds. Milk Duds for grown ups (but my kids loved them too).

Trader Joe's has the best salad stuff. I made an easy balsamic vinaigrette with their vinegar and Spanish olive oil (thanks to my BFF Natalie for the recommendation on the olive oil!) Toss it over their salad greens, goat cheese (also cheap and delicious), pecans, and you have a pretty dang close knock off of the French Country Salad from the Cheesecake Factory. They also sell these beets in the refridgerated section. I used them at my Bastille Day dinner and happily sliced them and threw them on the salad instead of roasting and peeling and ending up with a crazy messy kitchen right before my big dinner party. I do still want to try making them from scratch, though...

Their Yukon Gold Potatoes are seriously delicious, too. They make the most amazing mashed potatoes. My little man loves the honey whole wheat pretzel sticks (I like to dip them in the roasted rep pepper hummus). Baby Strawberry swears the JoJo's taste better than real Oreos and she's a chocolate and carbohydrate connoisseur.

What do you like at Trader Joe's? I'm always looking for something new to try...

August 1, 2013

Mini Soft Rainbow Sugar Cookies

A few weeks ago at our family reunion, we were debating the virtues of the store bought brightly frosted sugar cookie. I am a mean mom and never buy those, so my kids were dying to try one, of course. Someone said "We call these 'cancer cookies', they are full of so much garbage" and her daughter piped in "but they taste SO good!" I told them I usually make my own with this tried and true recipe. I can control all the ingredients (not that they are amazingly healthy but at least I can pronounce them) and it's fun making them, too. I used a small metal cookie scoop to make itty bitty cookies this time. They're about the size of an Oreo and oh so yummy. I love the smaller portions for my littles (let's be honest, the smaller cookies just mean grown ups eat more of them).

Last time I posted these, I used my favorite Americolor gel coloring to make a bunch of different colors. It's easier than you think- I put about 3/4 cup of frosting into a mug and mix the coloring in with the knife I'll use to spread it out. These are imperfect and lovely at the same time. Washing a few mugs isn't a big deal and the rainbow effect is lovely. This time I used the standard grocery store four pack and got six fun colors easily that way. Check out this food coloring mixing chart for more color ideas. It's pretty amazing what you can do with the basic pack (though I still much prefer the lovely gel dyes).

Please note- I use a mix of a butter and shortening for these cookies but whatever mix/fat you're comfortable with should be fine as long as you stick with the proper ratio. I've used all butter for a softer cookie if you'd like to omit the shortening. Let me know if you try something fancy!

Anne Strawberry's Soft Sugar Cookies

{printable recipe here} adapted from Shelly   

1 Cup Plain Shortening (I like the blue Crisco, none of that icky 'butter flavor')
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
4 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour 
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt (I used Kosher)
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Roll into balls, placing about 2 inches apart on Silpat/parchment lined/greased cookie sheet. I usually use 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. Smaller scoops make cute little cookies which is always nice for a party or kids. Pampered Chef scoops are my very favorite.
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. I always buy the Wilton brand.)
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.
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.  

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
2 1/4 Cups Sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder

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.

Bake the cookies for about 8-9 minutes, or until they start to brown slightly on the edges (shorter time for smaller cookies- keep your eyes on them after 6-7 minutes). I wanted mine extra soft and nice so I err on the side of under done. 


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.

PS Little baby Rosebud is five months old! Time flies and while I do make dinner (and treats, too) most of the time, I still feel like my head isn't on straight! You can see why I can't get anything done, I can't stand to put this little darling down! Even noticing herself in the mirror is adorable and she has the yummiest, chubbiest legs. Baby number three is lovely but life feels trickier still. Is that just me? Tips and tricks anyone? Please forgive my sporadic posting and my instagram pictures. These cookies are yummy as can be even without a fancy blog post!