Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Baker Challenge: Decorated Sugar Cookies

I always look forward to the Daring Baker Challenge every month. Because I was traveling so much last month, I didn't have a chance to participate, so I was doubly excited to get back in the game this month.

The challenge for September was to make and decorate beautiful sugar cookies in the theme of "September" -- whatever that means to you. And to me, among other things, September really means football season. So what better way to celebrate a great start to the season for my Utah Utes than to make (and eat) Ute cookies!

So, Saturday night, while we listened to the Utes cream San Jose State, I carefully crafted these beauties:

I couldn't resist a not-so-subtle dig at BYU (the "Y"), the biggest rival of our Runnin' Utes.
My dad graduated from the "Y", so I made him eat it. So glad he's a good sport! :)

Oh, the sweet taste of victory!

Want to make some cookies of your own? Read on, my friend. Read on.

Start by making your dough.

Most sugar cookie dough recipes call for a leavening agent. In this case, the recipe omits baking powder or soda so the cut cookies hold their shape and don't puff. While they're not as tender or soft as a leavened cookie, they are still light and sweet, and the dough is extremely easy to work with.

Basic Rolled Sugar Cookies

½ cup + 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature 
3 cups + 3 Tbsp all purpose flour 
1 cup caster sugar / superfine sugar (I ran regular sugar through a food processor.)
1 egg, lightly beaten 

1 tsp vanilla

Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in

(Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape.)
Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms. Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.  

Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 1/4". Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.  
(Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap and then refrigerate it for an hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker.)   
Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.

When you're ready to decorate, make royal icing and color it with gel color -- regular liquid color will work, but it will think the icing, making it necessary to add more powdered sugar to maintain the right consistency.

Piping icing onto cookies doesn't require any special equipment. You can use a ziplock bag with a tiny corner snipped off, or a pastry bag -- I used both a pastry bag and some squeeze bottles with small openings.

Start by outlining the shape you want to fill.

Then apply icing inside the lines in a zigzag pattern. Working quickly, use a toothpick to spread the icing evenly within the area. This is called "flooding". If you wish, you can outline with one color and flood with another. Simply let the outline dry before filling in with a second color.

To give my cookies a little sparkle, I sprinkled them with granulated sugar while they were not quite dry. It's cheap and gives just the right finishing touch. (You can also use food coloring to color granulated sugar to match your icing, just keep mixing it in until it's fully blended and incorporated. No need to buy expensive sanding sugars or sprinkles. You're welcome.)

Royal Icing

2½ - 3 cups Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 tsp Almond Extract, optional


 Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
(Tip: It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and grease free. )
 Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
 (Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.)
 Beat on low until combined and smooth.  Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
(Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.)

As you can tell, I'm not awesome at piping words yet, but this challenge has armed me with new-found know-how and confidence. I'm looking forward to more practice come Christmas-cookie time!

Go Utes!!!!

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!”
Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy
Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Storing Summer

I love this time of year. Have I mentioned that, yet?

My mother grew up in a small-ish town called Brigham City in northern Utah, where they grow delicious peaches. In the early part of September every year, they have a festival they call "Peach Days". I remember going as a child -- there were rides and games and, I think, a parade. But mostly I remember the peaches we would eat from my grandparents' back yard.

They tasted like summer. Like every spark of sunshine over the summer months was collected and stored for later, giving the fruit it's sunrise-colored skin, plump and soft and warm from the treetops.

The first time I ever had freezer jam, I was at my cousin, Jenny's, house. Tired from playing house or spinning around in circles or generally causing trouble, we had begged for a snack. My aunt produced a small square tupperware from the depths of the freezer, and not too much later we each had a jam sandwich with the most heavenly concoction I could ever remember tasting -- Strawberry. Freezer. Jam.

Until last year, I was simply too intimidated by the thought of making jam. It seemed like such an undertaking, requiring copious amounts of fruit and special equipment and time to kill. Then I remembered freezer jam.

If you're interested in preserving some of summer's goodness this fall, don't be too scared to try your hand at freezer jam. It is so easy and quick; no special equipment needed. And it doesn't really require that much fruit.

This is a recipe I got from Kraft's Sure-Jell site -- it's pretty standard for freezer jam, but it is just so good. I love the sunrise color and the interplay of mellow peaches with zippy, tangy raspberries. If you have a couple of hours, head to the store or your local farmers market, maybe grab a friend, and make this jam.

Raspberry Peach Freezer Jam

3 1/2 c. prepared fruit -- about 1 1/2 pints of raspberries and 1 1/4 lb. peaches
7 c. sugar
3/4 c. water
1 box Sure-Jell fruit pectin

mesh seive
quart-size liquid measure
large mixing bowl
tupperware vessels with a combined volume of at least seven cups
maybe a paring knife and spatula/wooden spoon
perhaps a blender, if so desired

(I find it best when preparing my fruit to just use my hands for the most part, but you can use a fork or a wooden spoon or even your blender. I won't judge.)

Wash raspberries and place in a mesh seive over a quart-size measuring cup. Crush the berries (with a fork or hands or whatever) and work the fruit through the sieve until all that remains are seeds. Discard these seeds.*

Wash, peel and pit peaches. I usually crush them with my hands right there in the measuring cup when they're still halves, but you can chop them or puree in a blender if that makes you happy; Leave as little or as much fruit chunkage as you like. Check to be sure that you have 3 1/2 c. fruit when all is said and done. If not, keep adding peaches until you do.

Stir together with sugar in a large bowl (one that will hold at least 7 cups) and let sit for 10 minutes to dissolve, stirring occasionally.

While you're waiting, combine water and pectin in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Once a boil has been reached, stir and boil for one full minute. Add immediately to the fruit mixture.

Stir for three minutes or until sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy.

Immediately distribute among tupperware vessels, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top if you intend to freeze them (room to expand and all that jazz). Fit vessels with lids and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours before storing in the fridge or freezer. Will keep for about 3 weeks in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer.

* Note: I do not like seeds in my jam. If you do, feel free to crush the berries without using the seive or only remove the seeds from half of the fruit. Whatever floats your boat, my friend.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Local Flavor: Bruges Waffles and Frites

Imagine a sunny Friday afternoon in early fall, a clear, blue sky.

Imagine you have the afternoon off of work to spend with friends. You decide to go to Bruges Waffles and Frites.

Now imagine the most delicious waffles you've ever tasted; crispy and chewy and sweet, topped with tangy fresh fruit and creme fraiche, flecked with pearls of sugar. And don't forget to dream up some excellent fries as well.

Salivating yet?

Whatever you may have conjured up in your imagination, these are better.

On just such a beautiful Friday, some friends and I headed down to Bruges to see what it was all about. And what it's all about is a slice of Europe right here in SLC. Though a bit pricey, Bruges serves up some serious waffles -- crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, with crunchy bits of sugar dotted throughout. You can top with your choice of seasonal fruit, sweetened creme fraiche, or get the "Torpedo" -- the height of decadence with a whole bar of dark chocolate sandwiched between two layers of waffle.

Bruges started out at the local Farmers' Market and quickly became so popular that they opened a storefront right across the street from Pioneer Park. They emphasize using local produce to top their waffles (even if the waffles themselves are made of imported ingredients), which made me smile as I dug into my vanilla/creme fraiche/Brigham City peach goodness.

The verdict: Give it a try. I certainly intend to go back again. Maybe on a midwinter day with some hot cocoa on the side...

Nom nom nom...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Just a quick weekend note to encourage SLC residents to check out some new restaurants this week by taking advantage of the great deals offered through the Downtown Alliance Dine-o-Round.

September 17 (today) - October 2 (next Saturday) a number of great eateries in downtown SLC will band together to deliver popular items in a preset menu for a fantastic price: $5-10 for lunch and $15-30 for dinner.

Directory of participating restaurants here.

My picks (in no particular order):

ACME Burger
The Copper Onion
Lamb's Grill
Robin's Nest
Settebello Pizzeria
Tin Angel
Wild Grape Bistro

I also hear fun things about the ever popular Red Rock and Squatters pubs.

Now, go ye forth and eat well this weekend!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

There's a recipe somewhere in here...

You know, food blogging isn't my life. Compared to a lot of food bloggers, or even bloggers in general, I spend relatively little time running my blog. Generally speaking, I post about what I make for meals at home, sharing with you a new recipe I've tried or an old favorite we return to time and time again. If I happen to take a picture, that's fantastic, and I give myself a pat on the back.

The hardest times to put a post together are when my house is a wreck. Like right now, for instance. It's hard to get decent pictures when in the background you see a mountain of unwashed dishes or a forest of cereal boxes littering the kitchen table. And unlike many other types of blogs, a food blog requires one to create something in order to write about it. So it's a challenge -- a challenge I signed up for willingly, so I'm not complaining, really, just mulling over why it can take me forever sometimes to get something on here that satisfies me.

And I hope that what I write satisfies you, too. Maybe it inspires you or makes you laugh. Whatever keeps you coming here, I'm glad because I love that anyone would think to pay attention to my little corner of the internet at all. So, Thanks!

After all that, I do have a recipe to share with you. It takes so few ingredients and so little effort that it can barely be called a recipe at all, but it is truly scrumptious so I hope you will try it. (I even took a picture! {Pat on back.})

Slow-Cooker Beef for French Dip Sandwiches
 recipe originally found at Skinny Bovine's Kitchen

1 packet onion soup mix (such as Lipton)
1 packet zesty Italian dressing mix (such as Good Seasons)
a beef roast, 3 or 4 pounds (Whatever kind you can find for a good price. We usually use chuck.)
sliced provalone cheese
good french rolls
caramelized onions (optional)

The super easy directions are as follows: Place roast in crock pot. (Mine is a 5 qt. size.) Sprinkle in both packets of seasoning. Fill with enough water to just cover the roast. Let cook on low all day. When the meat falls apart, it's ready. (Usually after 8 hours or so.)

When you're ready to serve, shred the beef with two forks. Split your french rolls, top with provalone and broil until golden. Fill prepared rolls with beef (and caramelized onions, if you've gone to the trouble of making them) and serve with a little dish of the liquid (jus) from the slow-cooker.

Leftovers can be frozen and reheated. (I never have any jus left when I freeze my leftovers, so I serve it the second time around with the au jus from a packet. Still delish!)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Very nice, that risotto!

I don't know the reason, but for a couple of weeks now I have been craving rice. It's not something we eat a whole lot of, especially when you compare it to the amount of pasta we eat, but I just knew that a risotto would hit the spot.

Perhaps it's the onset of Fall I can feel and see in everything around me. The light has changed somehow, as it always does this time of year, and temps have cooled ever so slightly, letting me know that my favorite season is just around the corner! And with my favorite season come cooler nights and heartier dishes, like the mushroom risotto I made the other night.

Now, I've eaten risotto before, and I've helped my mom make risotto before, and I've watched people get yelled at by Gordon Ramsey for making bad risotto before, but I've never made it for myself. It was time.

I found a recipe from Cooking Light that sounded just perfect (well... almost) and I set to work.

I was advised that when making risotto, it is best to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start, because once you get going, you'll be busy stirring and won't have time to chop mushrooms and shallots or strip sprigs of thyme of their leaves... so if you can prep the night before it will make your life a lot easier.

The original recipe called for dried porcini mushrooms, and I hadn't the foggiest idea where to find those, plus I know that I like creminis, so that's what I used. The original also called for mascarpone cheese, which I substituted for the cream cheese I had on hand. (Besides, 89¢ beats $5.99 any day of the week in my [pocket]book.)

Mushroom Risotto
adapted from Cooking Light

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 c. diced crimini (baby portabello) mushrooms
1 1/2 c. water
1-2 c. beef (or chicken) broth
1 c. arborio rice
3/4 c. chopped shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. white wine (or adequate substitute if, like me, you don't keep alcohol on hand)
1/4 c. grated parmesan
1 tsp. dried thyme (Or 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme)
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper (or to taste)
1/4 c. mascarpone or cream cheese

Heat a large pan over medium heat with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. In a separate small pot, combine borth and water and warm over low heat. (Just ignore this until later, but keep it warm.) Add mushrooms to large pan and olive oil, and saute about 2 minutes or so until slightly reduced in size and browned. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside. If needed, add a little more oil or cooking spray to the pan, then add rice, shallots and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes until shallot is cooked through and translucent. Rice should also be tranlucent and a smell a little toasty. Add wine (I used white grape juice with a little splash of white wine vinegar) and cook until liquid is mostly absorbed, about 2 minutes. Dip a ladle into the broth and water mixture you warmed up previously, and add about 1 c. liquid to the pan with the rice and cook until liquid is mostly absorbed again, stirring constantly. Continue to add liquid 1/2 c. at a time, waiting until each addition of liquid is absorbed before adding more. Rice should now be creamy and tender. If it is not, continue to add liquid as before until it is. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt, pepper, and parmesan. Stir gently until cheese melts. Stir in cream cheese, or top each portion with a dollop, and garnish with fresh thyme if desired.