This week—I was a graphic designer by day and a baker by night.
I dream of being a full-time baker. Especially after this week, where I made 120+ cookies for a friend’s wedding shower. It wore me out, no lie. But I loved every last second of it. If only I didn’t have to work 8-5.
In regards to most recipes on this blog you’ve probably heard me say—This is easy, I promise. Not the case with these little guys. They are hard work. Back breaking work. And they take tons of practice. So, now that I’ve scared you away, let me also say, You can do it. It will be so rewarding. I promise.
Before you get started, I recommend watching this clip from The Martha Stewart Show (the video is on the lefthand side of the page). The trickiest part about these cookies is working with the royal icing. This segment will teach you how to make the royal icing, as well as all the important lingo like damming and flooding. Best of all, it will teach you how to achieve the chevron-like pattern I did on several of the cookies.
You’re also going to need a couple of tools before you get started, such as a condiment bottles. I found mine in the baking section at Michael’s.
Food coloring is a must. I recommend investing in the all-natural kind although it is a couple dollars more. I went with India Tree (sold at Whole Foods). They make their food coloring out of vegetable pigments. You can still achieve beautiful colors with it, and it doesn’t pepper your icing with a bad aftertaste like so many do.
Now on to the good stuff—the recipes! I made these cookies as all-natural as possible. Usually these types of cookies scream fake and over processed to me. But it doesn’t have to be the case, especially if you make them yourself.
Vanilla-Almond Sugar Cookies recipe from Bake at 350, with slight changes
amount of cookies will vary based on size
3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 c. cane sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. pure almond extract
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts, and mix.
4. Gradually add the flour mixture, and beat just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
5. Knead dough together with hands as it will be crumbly.
6. Place dough on floured surface and using a rolling pin, roll out to 1/4″ thickness or thicker. Cut into desired shapes.
7. Place cookies on parchment lined baking sheets or Silpat and freeze for 10 minutes before baking.
8. Bake for 9 minutes. (I pull the cookies out before they begin to golden for a softer texture.) Let sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack. (Make sure cookies are completely cool before icing. I usually wait overnight.)
1/4 c. meringue powder
1 pound confectioners’ sugar (about 3 1/2 to 4 c.)
1/2 c. water
1. Using a hand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix together meringue powder with 1/2 cup water until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Using the beater attachments, add sugar one cup at a time; continue mixing until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Icing will become thick and glossy in appearance.
2. Ice cookies.* (Do not cover or stack until completely dry. I usually wait overnight.)
*Throughout the decorating process, you will need different consistencies of royal icing. Writing icing will need to be thick while “flooding” icing will need to be a bit thinner. To do this, add more water. If frosting becomes to thin, add more powdered sugar.
Below are pictures of the process with a couple decorating how-to’s.
Royal icing: When beating, it will go from soft peaks, to stiff glossy peaks as you add in the sugar.
Applying Icing: In a seperate bowl, add a tiny bit of water to icing. Add food coloring if necessary. Dam, flood, watch it flood, fill in any blank areas, let dry.
Decorating: HEARTS—use original icing (not thinned icing). Pipe 2 circles. Pull the icing down with tip to form a heart. DOTS—while icing is wet, place nonpareils on cookie using tweezers. CHEVRON PATTERN—while the base icing is still wet, draw horizontal lines with original icing (not thinned). Using a toothpick, lightly pull icing down in a vertical manner. Make sure to wipe off toothpick each time. Pull up to create zig-zag effect. FLOWER—much like the heart, use original icing and pipe 5 circles. Using the tip, pull in to center. Place nonpareil in center with tweezers.
They are hard work. Back breaking work. And they take tons of practice. But, you can do it. It will be so rewarding. I promise.
We don’t really do the corned beef and cabbage thing. It’s not our cup of tea. But you better believe we do the Irish Soda Bread thing though. With green decorations. Made out of ribbon, yarn, coat hangers, and craft glue. Yep, that’s how we celebrate.
Want to celebrate like us? Here’s how—
1. Make Irish Soda Bread.
2. While it’s baking, make decorations for the soda bread, duh!
3. Get out some yarn, ribbon, craft glue, scissors, and a coat hanger.
4. Cut the coat hanger into 2 pieces. Wash thoroughly. Dry.
5. Cut 8 2″ (or so) pieces of green ribbon. Add glue to half of the 2″ piece of ribbon and fold over, making sure the yarn is in the center of the fold. Repeat 7 times. Allow glue to dry for about 30 minutes.
6. Cut triangles into each ribbon. Attached the yarn to coat hangers.
7. Once bread is done cooking, decorate.
8. Take pictures and eat!
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, and beat on high speed until the mixture is thick and light-colored, about 2 minutes. Stir in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then 1 cup of the wheat flour. Gently beat in half the buttermilk, then another cup of the wheat flour. Add the remainder of the buttermilk, and the final cup of all-purpose flour, mixing until smooth. Stir in the currants.
Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased 8″ round pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Drizzle the milk atop the batter, and sprinkle with the sugar.
Bake the bread in a preheated 325° oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Tent a sheet of aluminum foil over the top for the final 15 minutes, if it appears to be browning too quickly. Remove the bread from the oven, wait about 5 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a rack to cool. Allow the bread to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.
I’m not sure quite what to call this dish. It was born in our tiny little kitchen a couple years ago. We were looking for a healthy dish. Full of flavor. And veggies. With a couple whole grains and some protein. So I looked in the pantry, pulled out a handful of ingredients, and Thai Stir Fry was born. My husband likes to call him Chinese Chili.
This dish is quick, healthy, colorful, and super flavorful. You’ll have dinner on the table in 45 minutes made completely from scratch. That’s right. I timed it. I even spilled a glass of water, cleaned it up, and washed some dishes during the 45 minutes. Call in some help, and you can cut the time down to 30 minutes. This meal will make you look like a super hero.
You’ll need 3 pots for this—one for the rice, one for the veggies, and one for the chicken. You may keel over at the amount of ingredients in this recipe, but most, if not all, will be in your pantry. If you’re not into all the veggies, leave the ones you don’t like out.
Thai Stir Fry serves 5–6
2 packets of Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf (Buy at Whole Foods) Veggies
1 bunch of broccoli, chopped
2 red or yellow peppers, chopped
1 onion, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 c. frozen edamame, shelled
1/3 c. water
olive oil Chicken + sauce 2 chicken breasts, de-thawed
4 garlic cloves, minced
10 oz. light coconut milk
1/3 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. natural peanut butter
1 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. ginger
squirt of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
1/4 c. water
2 tsp. cornstarch Garnish
1. Rice: Begin cooking rice according to instructions. This will take about 30 minutes.
2. Veggies: Chop veggies and place in large saute pan. Drizzle with olive oil and salt to taste. Add water. Cover and steam on medium heat for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
3. Chicken: Using kitchen shears, cut chicken into cubes and place directly into pan. (I use a non-stick pan with depth so that it can house the sauce.) Drizzle with sesame oil and cook on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large liquid measuring cup or a bowl, whisk together minced garlic, coconut milk, soy sauce, peanut butter, lime juice, honey, brown sugar, sesame seeds, ginger, and Sriracha sauce. Add into chicken. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes. Combine cornstarch and water. Add to sauce in order to thicken. Stir continuously for 1-2 minutes.
4. Garnish: In a bowl, combine rice, veggies, and chicken. Pour sauce over dish and garnish with cilantro and chopped peanuts. (If you’re like me, add a swirl of Sriracha sauce for added heat.)
TIPS: • If you’re looking to save even more time, buy frozen stir fry veggies instead. This will eliminate some prep work. However, the veggies may not be as crisp. • While we love all the different whole grains we get with the Kashi pilaf, feel free to substitute a different rice. I would recommend using a slow cooking rice. Put it on as soon as you start cooking, and it will be done by the time you have prepared everything else. It’s all about timing. • If you don’t have everything in the pantry, here are some ingredients you can omit without seeing a huge difference: edamame, sesame oil, lime juice, sesame seeds, ginger, and cilantro.
I’ve been a big lazy bum this weekend. Reason being—Broomball.
We played Broomball Friday night, and it did me in for the whole weekend. After all the years of playing competitive soccer, I don’t think my body has ever hurt this bad. Maybe I’m getting old. In hindsight, I should have come armed with knee pads, elbow pads, and a helmet. Speaking of helmets, I took a nasty spill about 10 minutes into playing, hitting my head on the ice. A goose egg bump ensued. Being the competitive kamikaze athlete that I am, if you can even still call me an athlete, I kept playing. But, oh, I payed for it the rest of the weekend.
You’re probably thinking—”Does she want some cheese, with that whine?” I’ll pass on the cheese, but I’ll take a cookie instead. And that’s exactly what I did yesterday. I soothed my soul with a healthy chocolate chip cookie. I wasn’t about to try making a new recipe to blog about with my head being a little more foggy than normal. There’s no telling how it would have turned out. So I stuck with what I knew—an oldie but a favorite.
This little gem of a cookie will delight your palette. It’s tiny. Cute. With hints of maple. Filled with dark chocolate. And hidden with healthy morsels of whole wheat flour, oats, walnuts, and honey. Even college students, known for their fast food pizza eating habits, love these cookies.
In a sauce pan, melt butter and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in bowl.
In food processor or high-powered blender, finely grind oats, and add to flour mixture. Then finely grind walnuts. add to flour mixture.
Into cooled butter mixture, whisk in sugar, honey, egg, and vanilla extract until sugar is dissolved and all ingredients are well combined.
Pour butter mixture into flour mixture, and mix until just combined. (Dough will be somewhat dry.)
Mix in chocolate chips.
Scoop cookies with a spring release scoop or roll in ball by hand. Chocolate chips will have a nasty tendency to drop out of the cookies. Give them a little nudge to stay inside. Roll cookies in turbinado and cinnamon mixture and place on silpat or parchment paper lined pan. Do not flatten.
Bake for about 10 minutes. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes.
You can also freeze these cookies before baking. Do everything up to step 9. Instead of placing the cookies in the cookies in the oven, place them in the freezer on the cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes. This process is called flash freezing. Once they are frozen or hard, you can put them in a freezer proof bag and store up to 2 months in freezer. When you are ready for a cookie or two, set the cookie(s) out on your pan while preheating the oven. Bake for the same amount of time. You may have to add 2 minutes or so. With this method, you can have a freshly baked cookie instead of eating a week old cookie.
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Go ahead and treat yourself to a cookie. A healthy(ish) one at that!
You know what day tomorrow is. The day where you’re supposed to do something extra special for your honey. But it’s hard to be creative every year. If you don’t know how to out-do yourself from last year, look no further.
I’ve got two words for you—homemade pasta. And another three words—tomato cream sauce. Don’t get hung up on the first 2 words. If you don’t have a pasta maker, you can usually buy freshly made pasta from Whole Foods or from a specialty grocery store. If you do have a pasta maker, click here for a whole wheat pasta recipe. (Half the recipe, though, because you’ll only need dinner for two). And let me tell you, the tomato cream sauce is decadent. It’ll make you look good. Best part of all, it’s quick and easy to make.
Whole Wheat Pasta Half the recipe for 2 servings Click here for the recipe. I made bucatini noodles (they are hollow on the inside), but any type will do.
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 tbsp. Butter
1/2 Medium Sweet Onion, Finely Diced
2 cloves Garlic, Minced
1 can (15 oz.) Crushed Tomatoes
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Dash of Sugar
1/2 c. Heavy Cream (or 1/4 c. half and half and 1/4 c. heavy cream to cut down a little fat)
Handful of Grated Parmesan
Fresh Basil, Chopped
1. Cook pasta.
2. Heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and saute for a minute or so. Pour in tomatoes, and add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.
3. Cook over low heat for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Add cheese to taste, then check seasonings.
5. Stir in pasta and chopped basil. Serve immediately.
6. Watch your significant other look to you in awe.
Now you’re probably looking for something to accompany this delicious meal. Get some asparagus, break the tough ends off, sprinkle with salt and olive oil. Bake at 450º for 10 minutes and serve. Don’t forget a glass of wine. Frank Sinatra. Candles. You know the drill. And to top the evening off, make some velvety dark chocolate pudding. We used Lucinda Scala Quinn’s recipe from Mad Hungry (link includes video). It did not disappoint. It’s quick and easy to make as well.
Hope your dinner for two is decadent. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Carol left me no choice but to figure this out the hard way. Trial and error, and lots of ’em.
Enter Vanilla Sugar. I came across her blog the other day from Tastespotting. As I was scrolling through, I found cookies that look like the closest thing I’ve seen to Carol’s Cookies. Big, fat chocolate chip cookies. Funny thing is—she’s trying to reproduce her favorite cookie as well, only it’s from a different bakery, Levain Bakery in NYC. I made the recipe Friday night. They were close, but they weren’t Carol’s. (Now keep in mind, we are trying to reproduce two different cookies.) Carol’s Cookies are sweeter and not as doughy tasting. So I slept on it. I woke up. Read a thread about how to reproduce Carol’s Cookies. (Looks like I’m not alone in this endeavor.) Then, I made a POA (plan of action)!
POA—try Vanilla Sugar’s recipe again with some slight tweaks. More sugar. Regular butter instead of European butter*, although I love European butter. But, same technique. Speaking of technique, these are not your mom’s chocolate chip cookies. Throw everything you know about making chocolate chip cookies out the door. Let your butter come to room temp, forget about it. Cream your butter and sugar together until pale in color, think again. Preheat oven to 350° or 375°, not this time.
Big, Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe adapted from Vanilla Sugar
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter*, chilled
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 c. AP flour
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
12 ounces (2 c.) good quality semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. crushed walnuts (optional)
1. Using a grater, grate chilled butter into a large bowl. Make sure to scrape out butter left on grater. If butter is too warm, stick it in the freezer for 5 minutes.
2. Add sugars to the butter. Using a mixer, mix until just combined. Do not over beat.
3. Add vanilla and eggs, and mix until just combined. Again, do not over beat.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
5. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, and mix until just combined. Dough will look crumbly. You are right on track.
6. Stir in chocolate and crushed walnuts (optional).
7. Take off your rings—you’re gonna need your hands for this. Gather dough into a large ball, as you would if you were making a snow ball. Place on pan lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.
8. Preheat oven to 365°. Meanwhile, place cookies in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
9. Bake cookies for 18 minutes or until slightly browned around edges. Cookies will still be doughy in the middle.
10. Allow to cool completely before eating. The doughy center will stiffen up a bit.
*Note: In the pictures, I used European butter. However, I used regular butter the first time I made the recipe and the cookies held their shape much butter better. Therefore, I made the executive decision to go with regular butter in the recipe. A little tid-bit for you: according to Sunset Magazine, too low-fat butter (aka margarine) or too high-fat butter (aka European butter) can cause spreading. Go regular or go home.
Here’s the visual recipe.
Have I arrived? I don’t know. But I feel a lot closer than I did last week.
Maybe it’s because of all of the good memories surrounding it. My mom made chili a lot growing up. While she made the chili, I was in charge of adding the egg and milk to the Jiffy Cornbread mix. Without fail, every Halloween we’d have a bowl of it before going trick-or-treating. Those were good times.
When I make chili, it makes home feel a little closer. Two and a half years ago, I married my best friend and moved to Chicago. Here, winter lasts about 5 months out of the year, providing many opportunities to make chili. So, I set out to recreate my mom’s chili. After a couple attempts, “the chili” was concocted. A friend asked me for the recipe last year, only problem being that it was in my head. I guess that’s not the only problem—I rarely use measuring utensils. When I cook, I smell, dump, and taste. Kevin, my husband, alerted me to this the other day. I always open the spice jar and smell it before dumping in the guesstimated amount. I guess I cook with my nose just as much as I do my taste buds. This is no good for sharing recipes.
Today, though, I got out my measuring spoons.
Chili serves 8
1 large sweet onion (make sure it’s sweet!)
4 garlic cloves
6 roma tomatoes
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
6 oz. tomato paste
1 lb. lean ground beef
15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained
15 oz. can light red kidney beans, drained
15 oz. can black beans, drained
Hot Chili Sauce (we call this chinese ketchup)
2 tbsp. cumin
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. unsweetened chocolate powder
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1. Dice onion and garlic. Don’t worry about chopping too finely. You’ll take care of that in a minute.
2. In a stock pot with olive oil and salt, sauté onion and garlic for about 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, dice tomatoes.
4. Add tomatoes into the stock pot, and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
5. While the tomato mixture is sautéing, cook ground beef until browned.
6. Pour sautéed tomato mixture into a food processor, and pulse for 20 seconds. (This will help get rid of those pesky tomato skins that curl up and look unappetizing.)
7. Add mixture back into stock pot along with the browned meat, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, beans, and spices. Add hot chili sauce and salt to taste. Stir.
8. Simmer for an hour. (I recommend tasting 30 minutes in to make sure everything is on par. Go with your gut, or should I say your nose, and add extra spices if needed.)
9. Top with your favorite chili toppings. (We love to add brown rice or pita chips, hot sauce, cheese, and cilantro.) Serve.
For all the people out there like me, here is a visual recipe.
I hope this makes home feel a little closer for you too!