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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Unfussy Cutout Cookies



One of my favorite things to make for Valentine's Day is cutout sugar cookies. I have loved them since I was a small fry. My mom recently quadrupled my cookie cutter collection by giving me the bulk of hers, and I am happy about it. Like, deleriously happy.
Okay, maybe not quite that delighted, but color me pleased in any case.

(And, yes, in case you were wondering, that vast collection did include a great number of hearts, but I made these for a baby shower and already had these great pictures so I'm using them. That's what we call being lazy, which is one of my favorite talents to exercise.)

Cutout cookies fall on either side of a line between tenderness and shape retention. Those that hold their shape well through baking generally aren't that soft and tasty. And those soft and tasty cookies baked up into a puffy mess that used to look like a star in a former life.

The recipe I grew up with walked that line nicely, but it called for shortening, so I found one almost perfectly the same, but that called for butter instead. The butter not only eliminated the strange ingredients found in shortening, but added even better flavor. Score!

And my (other) favorite thing about both recipes is how easy the dough is to work with. This rolls out so smoothly! I like to roll mine out using powdered sugar instead of flour, but I hardly need anything because this rolls easily and doesn't tear. Rolling it out on a sheet of parchment paper, cutting out your shapes and peeling away the scraps will make it all the easier to get it into the oven quickly -- just slide the parchment onto your cookie sheet and bake.

The glaze couldn't be simpler or more delicious.

You should make them with someone you love! Seriously. Get on it.


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Unfussy Cutout Cookies
from Allrecipes.com
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. butter, softened
2 c. white sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
5 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Directions:
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400º. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Unfussy Cookie Glaze

1 Tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 c. powdered sugar
food coloring (I use gel colors, which won't thin the mixture. If you use liquid food coloring drops, consider adding extra powdered sugar to compensate for the extra liquid in the mix)

To glaze cookies, I find it easiest to simply place all the ingredients in a squeeze bottle (available at a restaurant supply store) and shake. If needed, I'll help it along with a butter knife. The mixture should have the consistency of tempura paint. More milk or powdered sugar can be added to thin or thicken to the desired texture. Test it on a cookie to be sure that it is thick enough to keep from dripping down the sides -- adjust consistency as needed.
Then I screw on the lid and use the squeeze bottle to apply the glaze. I start by outlining the basic shape of the cookie I'm glazing. Then I "flood" the surface of the cookie by squeezing out a zig-zag line from side to side, touching or nearly touching the outline I've made. I smooth out the zig-zags evenly along the surface of the cookie to fill in completely. I usually use my clean fingers, but a butter knife will do as well.
Let the glaze dry for a minute or two before adding sprinkles, if desired. For the look pictured, all I did was sprinkle plain white sugar over top and gently tap off the excess. This gives it a subtle sparkle that doesn't require me to get a million different colors of sprinkles -- it will meld into any color I can devise!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Honey Citrus Fruit Salad



The locavore in me cringes a bit at the sight of a fruit salad in January. What produce there is this time of year is usually limping along wishing for the sunshine not manufactured in a greenhouse. Particularly those sad, out-of-season berries. Which is why, when nothing but a fruit salad will do, dead-of-winter notwithstanding, it needs a little sprucing up.

My mom used to squeeze a little lime over top of melon for a delicious summery treat, and I couldn't get enough of it -- still can't. Just adding a little honey and lime to any fruit will make it sing happy, happy songs any time of year, but especially when your strawberries have an inch of greenish white protruding under the leaves... Actually, if those are the best strawberries you can find, you should probably wait and hope for better things.

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In addition to being a great way to give out of season produce a leg up, this really is a delightful mix of tastes and textures, all brought together with some sweet honey and sweet-tart citrus. For this, I use a combination of lime juice and clementine juice, which is unbelievably divine. Just imagine the fireworks in store for you when the fruit is at its peak!

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Honey Citrus Fruit Salad
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
1-2 Tbsp. honey
juice of 1/2 a lime
juice of 1/2 a clementine
dash of salt
about 1 - 2 c. each of the following:
blackberries
blueberries
clementine segments
strawberries, quartered
red and/or green grapes, removed from bunch
pineapple, cut into bite-sized chunks

Directions:
In the bottom of a large, non-reactive mixing bowl, whisk together honey, lime juice, clementine juice, and salt until well combined.
Add fruits on top, and gently combine together with the honey mixture on the bottom of the bowl.
Devour.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Slow Cooker Ham & Bean Soup


Well, I'm sure you all know why I've gathered you here today, so let's begin.

If you had ham over the holidays, maybe you have a ham bone lingering in your freezer and you're hoping to do something fabulous with it. Well, I'm not sure what you had in mind when you chucked it in there, but this soup is why I kept mine.

This is a serious budget meal. The ham bone was, well, let's call it free, since it was purchased concurrent with your Christmas dinner. Beans -- does it get cheaper than dried beans? Not really. Onions, celery, carrot: all things you probably have on hand, and wouldn't break the bank to get if you didn't.


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And I don't think I need to tell you how easy it is, since the "slow cooker" aspect kind of says that on its own. But it has all the simplicity implied and makes a nice big batch, so it will serve many with almost no effort, and almost no cost.

So far we've covered cheap and easy, so I guess the only thing left to really sell you on is the taste. I admit, I was a bit skeptical. I kind of went into it expecting bland, but it went way beyond the sum of its parts. The beans get creamy, the way beans should, the ham meat and bone give a richness of flavor, rounded out nicely by the smoky paprika and cumin. The original recipe called for coriander, but that's not my thing, so I swapped it out for a dash of nutmeg, which I think gives it a little something indefinably special.

So... I think I've covered all of your concerns. I hope you've enjoyed my presentation today. My agent will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Good day, ladies and gents!

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Slow Cooker Ham & Bean Soup
adapted from My Kitchen Addiction
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
1 large onion, diced
1 or 2 ribs celery, diced (about 1 cup)
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound dried beans (I used a mixture of white, kidney, and pinto. All white would be nice, too.), soaked overnight in water to cover by 1 or two inches and 1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
dash nutmeg
2 – 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Ham bone with meat
6 – 8 cups liquid (I used all water, but you could use half water, half vegetable or chicken stock)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Combine onion, celery, carrot, garlic, beans, smoked paprika, cumin, nutmeg, and thyme, plus a pinch of salt and pepper in the bottom of slow cooker. Place ham bone on top and fill with liquid to cover ham bone. My slow cooker took about 6 cups, but you might have more or less depending on the size of your slow cooker and the ham bone in question.
Cook on low for 8 hours, until beans are tender.
Remove ham bone and sprigs of thyme. Remove about 1/3 of the soup mixture from the cooker, and puree until smooth. Return it to slow cooker. Cut meat from ham bone, excluding any fatty bits, dice, and add back to slow cooker. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Enjoy!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Clinton St. Baking Co. Pancake Waffles

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Now hear this:
On a whim, I decided to toss the batter for my Clinton St. Baking Co. Pancakes into the waffle maker, just to see what would happen.

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And I'm here to announce, that the batter also makes dang good waffles! I'm happy to have these stored up in my freezer for some busy morning.

I love it when a great thing gets even greater!


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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Crumpets

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Probably every American child has a different interperetation of what, exactly, a crumpet might be. All we know at the outset is that dainty ladies have them with their tea, so presumably they are some sort of decadent delicacy.

I can't say what I imagined when I was young. My memory for that kind of thing is kind of pathetic. Maybe I imagined them to be a bit more like petit fours, which to my young mind were the ultimate fancy lady tea party food. But when I discovered as an adult what they actually are, I found them shockingly homespun.

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They are kind of like the English muffin's younger, softer, and more tender cousin. They come complete with the nooks and crannies beloved in the former, but with a milder flavor and fluffier texture -- more like a pancake than bread. For me, they were love at first bite, and I've been dreaming of them ever since.

Rather plain in appearance, they are something special, which I do save for special mornings, when we won't mind splurging on our calories. So many little crannies for the butter to hide, you see.

You don't often find them prepackaged in your regular grocery store, and when you do they are lacking in flavor and have this slightly rubbery texture going on, so you might as well make them at home if you really want to know why they're so awesome. They're not hard at all, requiring only a little time, a griddle, and some round English muffin rings. I didn't have the rings the first time I made them, so I used cookie cutters, which worked great!  (More detail on that provided in the recipe instructions.)

So whip some up -- Tea party optional.

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PS: This strawberry-rhubarb jam is an awesome small batch recipe from Simple Bites. Make it sometime -- you will thank yourself. (You don't even need any special equipment to make it happen.)

Crumpets
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
1, 0.25 oz. pkg. quick yeast (two rounded tsp.)
1/4 c. warm water
1 tsp. sugar
1/3 c. warm milk
1 egg, at room temperature
4 Tbsp. butter, melted, plus more for pan and rings
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp.  salt

Directions:
In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, water and sugar. Let stand 5 minutes, or until foamy. Add warm milk, egg, and butter. Stir to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix into wet ingredients until well mixed, but be careful not to overmix
Heat a large pan or griddle over medium to medium-high heat. Butter griddle, and egg/pancake rounds or molds (in a pinch, you can use cookie cutters, plain shapes (circles, simple flowers, hearts, etc.) work best), setting molds onto the hot griddle. Spoon batter into molds and cook until bubbles begin to break the surface of the batter. The bottom will be golden, and the sides will begin to set. Remove molds and flip. Continue cooking until golden. Remove from heat. Repeat, buttering griddle and rings will each time. Slather them with (ahem, yet more) butter and jam. You can also split them, much as you would with an English muffin -- a fork works better than a knife to keep those nooks and crannies intact. They're also delectable, split or not, when toasted.
Makes about 8.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Spinach Salad with Poppyseed Dressing (and Bacon)



I know you're looking askance at me from your kale and chia seed smoothie right now and mentally telling me that mid-January is no time to be talking about bacon. I guess I'll give you that one, but if I'm going to eat salad, it needs to have bacon in it, okay?

I only sort of like lettuce -- mostly when used as a condiment, like on a taco or something -- so salads are not my thing. Still, sometimes you need something crunchy and green and crisp.

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So I'll call this a well balanced salad. You've got your healthy greens, and yummy cheese and bacon to even one another out. There's also the crispness of the greens against the creaminess of the cheese and the slightly chewy crunch of the bacon, with the sweet-tartness of the dressing, punctuated with a poppy seed surprise now and then.

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Maybe I should eat salad more often...

Spinach Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
1 bag baby spinach
1/2 bag hearts of romaine
3/4 c. shredded swiss or gruyere cheese
1 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled/chopped

1/2 c. flavorless oil (canola, etc.)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
2 Tbsp. finely minced shallot or red onion, optional

Directions:
In a large serving bowl, combine spinach and romaine. Sprinkle cheese and bacon over top, and set aside.
In a mason jar or small bowl, combine all remaining ingredients and shake or stir vigorously to combine and emulsify.
Refrigerate until ready to serve, then toss salad with dressing to coat.

Also great with the addition of some chopped hard-boiled egg!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Best Oatmeal Muffins


5:30 am

My eyes pry themselves open for no reason at all. My ears perk up to the soft noises of the house and the rain pattering on the window panes. I lie in the stillness, wondering if I can will myself back to sleep, knowing the futility all the while.

I wriggle out of the covers and use the light on my alarm clock to locate some socks. Grabbing my laptop and the baby monitor, I tiptoe down to the kitchen.

It's a muffin morning.

The truth is that I invent excuses to make these muffins as often as possible, and it comes as no surprise to me that one of the handful of words my baby says is "mu-umm".

These are the best.

I'm having a love affair with oats right now, and these play right into that. Couple that with my deep and abiding love for buttermilk in baked goods, and oh, boy, are we in business. Not too sweet, a nice heartiness and a tender crumb. They really need no embellishment, but we all know that I need no excuse to embellish. Filled with a spoonful of apple butter, they go from amazing to sublime!

I can almost guarantee you'll be making up reasons to have more muffin mornings, too.


A note before we begin: Resist the temptation to swap whole wheat flour for the white flour in this recipe. Whole wheat flour results in a terribly crumbly muffin, and nobody wants that.

Best Ever Oatmeal Muffins
from Simple Bites
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
2 c. rolled oats
2 c. buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temp.
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
apple butter

Directions:
Combine oats and buttermilk and let stand one hour.
Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon) and set aside. Preheat oven to 375º.
To oats, add brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Stir in dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing until just blended -- batter will be stiff and a bit lumpy.
For regular muffins, fill muffin cups 1/3 full, then drop a spoonful of apple butter in the center (I try to make a little well for it so it stays in the middle). Top with enough batter to fill muffin cups 2/3 full, doing your best to seal in the apple butter.
For big muffins, fill muffin cups 3/4 full (about 1/4 c.), drop in a spoonful of apple butter in the center. Top with another 1/4 c. of batter -- it will be mounded over the top of the muffin cup.
If desired, sprinkle tops with extra rolled oats. (For pretty!)
For regular muffins, bake10 to 12 minutes; for big muffins, bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until tops spring back when gently touched.
Let cool in tins.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Roasted Carrot Soup with Cumin & Thyme

Carrot Soup


Virtuous soups are the stuff of January in the food blog world. So let's just get this out of the way, okay?

But this soup is hardly white noise. I had never given much thought to carrot soup until I made this completely on a whim. I had a bunch of carrots in need of saving, so I roasted them up with a little cumin, salt and pepper. Then I made them into soup.

And force-fed it to my toddler so I could say he eats his veggies.

I'm kidding.

Sort of.

He did eat it, though, and it made me feel rather sneaky. I tell myself that he's working on his fine motor skills as he carefully picks any hint of green or vegetable out of his dinner as a nightly ritual.

Sigh.

Mmm... Velvety


So anyway.
Back to the soup.

I don't know where the idea for the cumin came from, but I'm glad it came because it's a lovely combination with the sweetness of the carrot. Add in some grassy thyme and it's a winner.

It has this velvety feeling in your mouth, which comes courtesy of a pat of butter and a splash of half and half. But even without them the carrot purees up smoothly, but with enough texture that it won't remind you in the slightest of baby food.

I like mine with some cooked lentils (I like the precooked ones from Trader Joe's), but my husband prefers his without. Either way, you can't go wrong with something yummy to dip into it!

With lentils


Roasted Carrot Soup with Cumin & Thyme
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
oil
salt and pepper
1/2 of a medium onion, medium dice
1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock
1 c. water
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. cumin + a sprinkling more
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. butter (optional)
1 Tbsp. half & half (optional)

Directions:
Heat oven to 350º. Toss carrots with oil to coat (about 1 Tbsp. or so), along with a pinch of salt and pepper and a sprinkling of cumin. Spread in a rimmed baking sheet and roast until fork tender -- an hour and a half or so.
Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a medium-sized pot over moderate heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute until softened and translucent. Add roasted carrots, stock, water, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and puree soup until very smooth (I use my immersion blender right in the pot, but you can use a regular blender or food processor. Be careful with the hot liquid, and work in batches if needed!) Add lemon juice and cumin, taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste. For a velvety texture, stir in 1 tsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. half and half or cream.

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