Daring To Blog Again

Wow! Who is this smiling face showing up in your RSS feed? You thought I died, didn’t you?

Nothing catastrophic to report. It’s just that the in-laws, because of visa issues and having already rented out their house, ended up going from a 2.5 wk visit to a 7 wk visit and busily worked on putting up our metal storage building (42′ x 48′, not just a ‘garden shed’). And during that time I got out of the habit of blogging. Not their fault by any means, just priorities needed to be changed. So, you are thinking to yourselves, they’ve been gone for what? 15 or so wks? What happened? I have several excuses, but no good reasons. Life is a little busier this year on several fronts and will continue to be as we plod along with our construction project, and a hopeless addiction to Bejeweled Blitz is no help at all.

While the family has been enjoying not waiting until the food photo session is done to be able to eat, I find that have missed blogging. I enjoy taking pictures of food and writing about it. I’ve wanted to tell you so many things in the past few months — Cocomero (frozen yogurt on UI campus) is fantastic, if a little pricey for a family outing (and they really should consider buying ‘troughs’, like a banana split boat, rather than a deeper container so you can try more of the 16 flavors without them smooshing into each other). Have you checked out the recycled aluminum foil? It costs a little more than regular and it’s a little thinner, but it works just fine. FoodBuzz kindly sent me some food samples to review — Emeril’s chicken stock is good but I’ll stick with Meijer, however, his Chicken Rub is fantastic! Tartlet 1 is hooked on his Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard.

But what brought me back to the blog was to say that I’ve just found a new butter cream frosting recipe! I’ve been using the same old thing and used to think that American frosting is American frosting. But this is one good recipe! It pipes and spreads so well, firms up when refrigerated, and is super easy to work with. I made 4 dozen cupcakes and 4 dozen snowman cookies for a school carnival tomorrow and thought I might need a double batch, which ends up being roughly the amount you would need to decorate a life-sized version of the Titanic. Sounds like a good excuse to make more cookies or a cake . . .

 

Butter Cream Frosting

1 c. butter
1 c. solid shortening

8 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract

3/4 c. whipping cream

Cream together the butter and shortening until fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Gradually beat in whipping cream, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally to make sure it is well incorporated. Beat on high speed for a few minutes, until fluffy and smooth, adding a few tablespoons of whipping cream if needed (mine didn’t).

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Daring Copy Cats

I’m trying to get back in the blogging groove after a summer of very little baking and I have to say that I’ve missed participating in the Daring Bakers, Sugar High Friday, and Hay, Hay It’s Donna Day events the last couple of months. Unfortunately, I’m still a couple of days late putting this one up, but here I am, finally, with the copy cat cookies that were this months DB challenge.

First I did the Milans, thinking I might only do those and not both, but I really did want to try making marshmallows. Despite warnings that the Milan cookies spread, I wasn’t prepared for just *how much*! We’re talking s-p-r-e-a-d, and maybe we’ll just skip the comparisons to hips.

Also, while the batter sat waiting for the next sheet to bake, the cookies developed a lot more air bubbles. I was trying to aim for a crisp cookie that didn’t brown too much, but I never achieved that. Part of the cookies sat out overnight sandwiched with the filling (I chose to flavor mine with raspberry extract/flavor rather than orange zest), and part of them I put in a zip bag to play with the next day. The ones in the zip bag retained some crispness, but those that sat with the filling were chewy and not at all the texture of a Pepperidge Farms Milan. So for future reference, I would probably bake the cookies in advance and fill them not long before serving them. The girls absolute LOVED these cookies and declared them not *good*, but wonderful, the best cookies ever, and absolutely delicious. WIN!

The marshmallow was interesting to make. And very sticky. I didn’t make the cookie base for these, but rather used graham crackers and piped the marshmallow on top (which, when covered with chocolate, gives them an unfortunate shape).   😛  I was glad to use a disposable decorator’s bag with no tip so I could just throw out the sticky mess when I was done. I made the mistake of placing some of the cookies too close together, so that when I went to pick them up to put them in the chocolate coating a few hours later, the neighboring marshmallows clung to my fingers like little octopi. But they were good.  And did I mention, sticky?  The chocolate melts on your hands very easily, so these are best stored in the fridge.  I served both of these cookies for dessert when we had friends over for homemade pizza and there were none left. Thanks, Nicole, for a great challenge.

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

Recipes after the jump.

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Cherry Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I periodically buy packages of Welch’s Dried Cherries for a snacking treat or to make a super quick and easy dessert. But ever since I first bought a package, with a recipe on the back for Cherry Oatmeal Cookies, I’ve thought it would be really tasty to make cherry chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Since the recipe on the back of the package only made 18 cookies, I decided to come up with something different.

One thing I really wish I would have done, however, is to chop up the cherries. They make delightful lumps in the cookies, but there aren’t enough in a 5.5 oz package to get much cherry in each cookie and I didn’t want to make the cookies outrageously expensive by using several packages. Too bad I was too lazy to chop them! These cookies are really tasty and I will definitely make these again.

Cherry Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 cups quick cooking oatmeal

1 (5.5 oz) package dried cherries, chopped
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Beat butter and sugars together until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl, blend together flour, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Add to butter mixture, mixing well. Add oatmeal. Fold in cherries and chocolate chips.

Chill dough for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a greased or parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 7-9 min or until slightly under done. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1 minute on baking sheet before removing to cooling rack.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies, which still won’t be enough. 😉

Christmas Baking

I am behind in my Christmas baking, but it is finally getting underway.  I started with an easy no-bake recipe, Almond Balls, for a cookie exchange. I have some Sugar Cookie dough in the fridge waiting for me to roll out. I bought all the ingredients to make Chocolate Caramel Cookies, because Christmas isn’t complete without chocolate and caramel.

Of course we’ll make a batch of the Christmas cookie poster child, Spritz Cookies, and it’s sibling, Russian Teacake (or Mexican Wedding Cake or Snowballs, it goes by a number of aliases!).

I’m also pretty certain The Husband will be expecting at least one pan of Nanaimo Bars. Although I sometimes add in different cookies in the Christmas line up, these are family traditions that certain Tartlets would not want to forgo. What’s in your cookie tin?

My New Favorite Cookie

I’m not famous for my cookies like say, Lynn, and part of that is because I only have a few recipes that turn out exactly how I want them to be. I’ve tried several recipes for chocolate chip cookies — I keep optimistically returning to the Tollhouse recipe, even though it never turns out as well for me as it seems to for others, only to be disappointed. In February I tried a recipe from my King Arthur’s Flour Company cookbook and, while they were pretty tasty right out of the oven, they were too crunchy for my tastes later. The recipe suggested keeping a slice of bread in the box with them and it really needed that and then some.

Today I wanted to bake some chocolate chip cookies for The Husband (his favorite) to take with him on a road trip and to have some extras for the freezer and it coincided with me sorting through some of my bookmarked blog pages to see if any of them had vaporized since I last saw them or if the recipe was something I really wanted to keep or if it was just time to let some of them go. And here on the list was this January post from Erin Cooks for chocolate chip cookies, but not just *any* chocolate chip cookies, these have pecans and coconut in them! As to other differences, you chill the dough before baking and use a lower oven temp than I usually find in a cookie recipe.

Naturally I started mixing things up before I realized that I had about 2 scant tablespoons of coconut in the house so I modified the recipe for what I had on hand. I used 1 1/2 c. granola (it had sunflower seeds, coconut, and pecans in it) and the little bit of flake coconut I had with 1 1/2 c. untoasted chopped pecans in place of the 2 c. pecans and 1 c. coconut. I also only used a 12 oz bag of chocolate chips plus a partial bag (~1/2 a bag?) that I had open in the cabinet. They came out of the oven quite puffed up and didn’t look very much like chocolate chip cookies, so I was a little apprehensive at first. As I transferred them to the cooling racks, they sunk down and developed a lovely topography with chocolate chip and pecan hills and soft doughy valleys. Sometime I’ll have to try the recipe as it is written, but it was absolutely wonderful as I ended up making it.

Chocolate Caramel Cookies

As you may have noticed, I really like the combination of chocolate and caramel, especially with pecans. So it’s a no-brainer that I would like these cookies.

This cookie recipe is another Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe, and it won a $2000 prize in 1990! It appears in several different Pillsbury cookbooks, which is just a sign that Pillsbury knows a good recipe to sell cookbooks. I made these for the men’s retreat, but I made a double batch and saved some for us. In fact, these cookies are so good that I think you should always make a double batch. They freeze well if you don’t put the white candy coating on first so you can have a good supply in the freezer for those sudden cravings and surprise guests and, if you make these cookies, you’ll find that you have more friends who drop by unexpectedly! 😉 They are especially good while still warm from the oven, when the caramel is softer.

Caramel-Filled Chocolate Cookies (from the 34th Pillsbury Bake-Off)

2 1/2 c. flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
1 t. baking soda

1 c. sugar
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 c. margarine or butter, softened
2 t. vanilla
2 eggs

1/2 c. chopped pecans
48 Rolo Chewy Caramels in Milk Chocolate, unwrapped
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 oz. vanilla-flavored candy coating, if desired

Lightly spoon flour into measure cup; level off. In medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa and baking soda; mix well.

In large bowl, combine sugars and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs; beat well. Add flour mixture; blend well. Stir in 1/2 c. of the pecans. If necessary; cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 30 minutes for easier handling.

Heat oven to 375 F. For each cookie, with floured hands, shape about 1 Tbsp dough around 1 caramel candy, covering completely.

In small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 c. pecans and 1 Tbsp. sugar. Press one side of each ball into pecan mixture. Place, nut side up, 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 375 F for 7-10 minutes or until set and slightly cracked. Cool 2 minutes; removed from cookie sheets. Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes or until completely cooled.

Melt candy coating in small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Drizzle over cookies.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Shakin’ It Up

Last Friday morning we were awoken by a rattling sound and a shaking sensation. Concerned that the kid in the room next to us had fallen out of bed, we checked on her — sleeping soundly. Next The Husband checked for an intruder or things falling in the garage. Nothing. I remember groggily saying, ‘Husband, it felt like the whole house shook. What could do that?’ Well, an earthquake could. A few hours later as I sat at my computer, the hair on my arms stood up and my fingers tingled and suddenly my seat and computer desk were shaking. Thing 2 screamed, certain we were all going to die. Seconds after the shaking stopped, the tingling stopped in my fingers. It was really weird. Having no experience with earthquakes, it was a little unsettling.

I’ll blame that unsettled feeling on why I couldn’t follow a recipe and instead created my own after I had dumped a few things in the mixing bowl. It’s probably not the Earth’s fault at all, since I seem to have little capacity for following a recipe normally, but it sounds better than I’m just ‘knot-headed’, as my grandparents would say. 😉 I had a bag of Andes’ Candies Bits on hand and wanted to make a chocolaty cookie for them. I started out with something like the Tollhouse recipe in front of me for the base and my failure to follow instructions resulted in this:

Chocolate Mint Chip Cookies

1 c. butter (2 sticks)
1 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla
3 eggs
3 Tbsp. cocoa
2 1/3 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 pkg Andes Candies Bits

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cream together butter and sugars. Add vanilla and eggs and beat well. Beat in cocoa. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat well. Stir in mint chips.

Drop by teaspoons onto ungreased sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake about 8 minutes or until edges are set and center is still slightly soft. Remove cookies to rack to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.