Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Garlic and Somersaults

Yep, two totally unrelated topics, but things that have been on my mind recently.

First garlic.  I love garlic.  I land in the camp that "there can never be too much garlic."

However I understand that fresh garlic has a certain SLED.

For those of you who don't work at the same company that I do, SLED is our acronym for  "Shelf Life Expiration Date."  SLED is very important in our world of health and beauty consumer packaged goods. We also concern ourselves with a Pre-Exp - that date before the SLED beyond which we should not ship goods to our customers.  I am not trying to sound flippant here.  It is important.  As a consumer, expiration dates matter.

But back to garlic.  While your individual head of garlic may not have a SLED stamped on the outer skin, it is fresh, so therefore, it expires...dries up...loses its garlickiness.

Why do you care about this, Deb?

Oh!  I failed to mention that, didn't I?!  Here is why....

How FUN is that????!!!!  I was so pleased to hear her tell me this!

However, she said that hers didn't taste quite like she remembered from tasting the one at work.  But she also said that she didn't have garlic, so she used a little bit of garlic powder.  I understand that, but it can also be a little hard to substitute the powder for the fresh.  The powder is really designed to be used in meat rubs and those kinds of seasoning mixes rather than as a direct substitute for fresh garlic.

So the more we talked, I mentioned to her that buying the jarred garlic like this would be a better option than garlic powder and it has a much longer SLED than fresh garlic.

While I've never used frozen garlic, S&A keep it on hand and have had very good results with it.  So this is another really good option.
This sweet lady is busy raising a real cutie of a little man, so she has much better things to do with her time and mind and heart than worry about whether she has fresh garlic on hand or not, so I thought a couple of pics might help her the next time she's at the store.

That's all for garlic.  Now for somersaults.

While little J-man isn't doing any somersaults tonight - it's a little hard with the nebulizer tubes and all -
- he has figured out that he likes to do them!  He can't exactly say "somersault" but he puts his head down and his butt up and giggles until you come and flip him over and then he giggles even more!  I got to do this with him a few dozen times on Sunday afternoon when J-man wasn't feeling as bad as he is today.

But that got me thinking...when was the last time Mimi did a somersault?  Could she still do one?

Only one way to find out, right?  So sure enough, I put my head down and my butt up and pushed off.  And yep, Mimi did a somersault!  I was really, really, really, really, really dizzy afterwards, but it was fun!

That's all!  Feel better, little J-man!  We have some somersaults to get back to!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Diamonds are a girl's...

best friend, according to Marilyn Monroe.

But does that count if it's a cookie?
It should!  Because these are totally yummy little bites of crispy sugary chewiness!  These are great just as they are, but they are a wonderful garnish for an ice cream sundae or a strawberry shortcake!  They go so well with that little bit of ice cream or whipped cream or sauce you have in mind right about now thanks to the power of suggestion.

Glad I could help.

These are another promising KAF recipe that I'd been wanting to try, and Mother's Day seemed like a great excuse!  I made one small tweak to their recipe - I used orange oil instead of lemon oil - and I went wild and used 4 drops instead of only 2.  (And next time, I may just throw all caution to the wind and use a whole 7 drops!  Scandalous!!!)

Crystal Diamonds Recipe

This cookie really couldn't be easier, but they are unusual so they make folks wonder what is in them, which is all part of the fun!  I plan to include them in a neighborhood association fund raising bake sale coming up at the end of next month as the finishing touch to freshly made strawberry shortcake.  I'm getting excited about that offering already!  Oh!  And these improve after a few days in an airtight container.  Does it get much better than that?!

Ready to see what I did?

I began with 1-1/2 cups of flour, 4 drops of orange oil, 1 t. of yeast (yes, yeast is the leavening agent in this cookie, but there's no rising time), 1/2 t. of salt and mixed all of that with 9 tablespoons of milk.
Did I need to take a picture of 9 T. of milk?  Probably not, but I love this little measuring cup that a friend gave me for my birthday a couple of years ago along with a shot glass measuring cup.  They are just perfect for this sort of measurement.  KAF says 1/2 cup of milk plus 1 T., but that's 9 T., so I used this little measuring cup and took a picture, because it made me happy.

I mixed all of that together.
The end.

No, that's not the end!  I need to still add the butter - a stick of butter (1/2 cup), added 1 T. at a time and beat for 1 minute after each addition.  This is after the first 3 T.

And this is after all 8 T.  It is smooth, shiny and elastic - similar to a bread dough in some respects.

And this is the finished dough.  Now you may be wondering where is the sugar?  Is this another one of those "cookies" that Deb is trying to convince us is a "cookie" but doesn't have any sugar in it?

Nay, my friend.  Stay tuned.  We will answer that pressing question momentarily.

The dough needs to chill 2 hours or overnight (I chose overnight) and while the recipe doesn't say to do this, when I looked at the dough in the bowl, it just looked like it needed a little blanket to help keep it moist in addition to the cover for the bowl, so I gave it a blanket.
Does this make me weird?  


So next's the really fun part!  This dough gets rolled on coarse sugar!  See, there's sugar!  It's a REAL cookie!!!

LOTS of coarse sugar to be truthful.  I could have used only the Demerera (on the left) or the while sparkling sugar (on the right), but I chose to use a bit of both.
Spread it all out on my counter...
...and then woke up the dough from its nap and took off its blanket.  It looked a little grumpy first thing in the morning, too.  I'm not sure it was ready to wake up either.

But too bad.  We had work to do!  

I made sure both sides of the dough were COVERED in the coarse sugar by flipping it back and forth as I rolled.

Once it was as thin as I thought I could get it, I began to cut into diamonds with a pizza cutter.

And then laid them on a parchment covered cookie sheet to bake.
I don't normally bake two cookie sheets together at the same time, but since these bake at only 275 degrees for almost an hour, I decided to do both sheets together, and it worked very well.  I removed them from the cookie sheets almost immediately after taking out of the oven to keep them from sticking to the parchment and to let them cool on racks.
I also took a close up of one turned upside down so you could see the sugar on the bottoms as well as the tops.
Finally I took a shot of the sugar containers after I was done to give you an idea of just how much gets used in the rolling...about 1/5 of the Demerara container and all of one of the sparkling sugar containers. And I may have only tossed out about 3 T. of sugar from scraping the counter.  So these definitely have a lovely sugary sweetness!
And that's all there is to these!  Pack them up in airtight containers, and you will enjoy them even more if you can resist digging into them for a day or two.  I'm not saying that will be easy; I'm simply saying that you will be rewarded for your patience and delayed gratification, young grasshopper.

Hope you enjoy trying these sometime!  I'm sure I know one mother (me!) who would enjoy seeing these on a Mother's Day dessert tray or as a dessert garnish!

As always, thank you for stopping by!  And I hope you are enjoying some lovely spring weather where you are!  


Friday, April 25, 2014

Baking Friday - "Cookie" # 4

Does this look like a cookie to you?
How about this?
Do they look like the same dough?  And if they have this much cheese in them, are they a cookie?
Does a cookie have to have sugar to be a cookie?

Such deep, philosophical questions we face here on this blog.  Is your head spinning yet?  Well, I am here to declare that this is a cookie.  Maybe not everywhere, but in this world of ours, this is a cookie!

They are officially called cheese straws, and they are based on Trisha Yearwood's cheese straws.  In fact the main ingredient - CHEESE! - is based on her volume.  Almost 2 full pounds of cheddar!
 Is that awesome or what?!  And these.  Are.  Tasty.

Zippy.  Garlicky.  Spicy.  Cheesy.  Yummy.  As one man said, "Debbie made me feel tingly all over!"  (Like I've said before on here, I am SOOO going to land in HR for this Baking Friday venture!)

One sweet lady who doesn't always indulge on Thursdays, was told by everyone in her department that she had to come get a cheese straw.  So she did.  And here is how she replied to all on the email.
How fun is that?!  (I think she may have liked it...maybe just a little...)

Ready to make these?  Here is what I used:

2 sticks of butter
3 oz of softened cream cheese
30oz of extra sharp Cheddar cheese
2 T. of Vidalia onion mustard (or a good quality mustard)
3 cups of flour
2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper (heaping)
1/2 t. cayenne red pepper (heaping)
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. onion powder

I started by grating all of that cheese.  (Have I ever said that I really love my food processor?)
Then I let is come to room temperature while I did something else fun, but I don't remember right now what that other fun thing was...hmmm..

Anyway, I measured the spices and put them in a sifter with the flour.  Trisha's original recipe only calls for 1/8 t. of black and red pepper and just a dash of garlic powder.  But a number of comments indicated that they weren't quite zippy enough, so I upped the spices.  You may want to do somewhere between, depending upon your mother's tastes.  (Remember, this is for Mother's Day!)
See them on top of the flour?
And then I sifted into a beautiful pile.  See those spices?  This holds promise!
Now I beat the butter, cream cheese, mustard and Cheddar until smooth and creamy.  Trisha talks about it taking 15 to 30 minutes.  I went about 15 - 20, but I didn't measure the time to be truthful.
And then I added the flour on low speed.  Trisha talks about adding up to another cup of flour, but I didn't feel any need for the other cup based on how the dough felt when I mixed it in my hand.
Now, Trisha is a wise woman.  She has done this before and KNOWS that in order to get straws, you want to use a cookie press.  I used to have a cookie press, but it either long since walked away from the house or it is hiding in the nether regions.  (Does anyone else have a nether regions in their house?)  But I thought maybe I could squeeze this through a large tube and pastry bag.
And I could.  Or really G and I working together could squeeze it out with a LOT of effort for about 13 hours and 53 minutes to get this tray ready for the oven.
So after a long nap, I had the strength in my hands again to form the rest of the dough into balls...
...and then flattened with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour.
And yes, I went wild and crazy and sprinkled a few grains of sea salt on top of each one.  I slid them in a 325 degree oven and baked for about 20 minutes until done before cooling on a rack and storing in an airtight container.
These are good right after they are made, but they improve at room temperature for a couple of days.  I like the straws a bit better, but I know one friend who liked the cookie shape better.  Either way, these are a keeper!  They will be great at a cocktail party or with tomato soup or chili.  And if you make the straws (because you HAVE and CAN find your cookie press!) they are fun to stand up on end in a cup, glass or other container.
And there you have it!  They don't take over 13 hours to make if you use a cookie press or form them into balls.  If you have 13 hours and spare strength in your hands and that of everyone else in your house or you need a good punishment for your kids, then you can extrude the dough through a large tube and pastry bag, but since I'm a grandmother, I can tell you for sure that your kids haven't done anything that bad.  Trust me.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thinking About Mothers

Mother's Day is coming soon.  And I have baked four different kinds of cookies for this week's Mother's Day cookie feature.  I will blog tomorrow and Saturday with the recipes and step by step pics for two of these cookies, but tonight I'd like to talk about mothers and all the good things that they deserve and why I chose the cookies that I did.  

Motherhood can be thought about in stages, beginning with pregnancy itself or the adoption process - that wonderful time when mothers spend time dreaming and planning, preparing and nesting, queasy and craving.  And while I haven't lived through the adoption process personally, my guess is that all of those things apply to adoptive mothers as well, including the queasiness from time to time!  

Then we get to these other stages....

·       Mothers of young ones – those who breastfeed and those who do not; those who are so committed to nursing that they pump while they are at work.  I have a special place in my heart for those young mothers since I did so with my first born – back in the day when it wasn’t cool to breastfeed much less pump, and there weren’t rooms at the office with locked doors or even electric breast pumps.  That’s right, baby!  I am one touch chick, pumping these girls with a hand pump!  (Is that TMI?)

·    Mothers of school-aged children – those who home school and those who send their children to private school and those who send their children to public school.  Each avenue requires diligence to know what each child needs.  And that can and very likely will change from year to year, sometimes even day to day. 

·    Mothers of college students – the "kids" have left home, but they haven’t left home.  And you cry because they've left home.  And you worry about them, but you’re also proud of them.  I believe that I cried for the first solid hour driving back home after dropping S off at school in St. Joseph, MO, because somehow I knew that she would be one who would never move back home.  And sure enough she didn't.  I also cried because she was another “parent” in our home – another parental-like “heart” if you will, because of our particular circumstances.  I couldn't have articulated all of that at the moment B & I walked out of S's dorm, but it was all part of those tears.  We mothers?  We cry – for our children.  Sad tears.  Angry tears.  Good tears.  Even tears we don’t always understand, but it’s all part of what makes us who we are.

·    Mothers of adult children – be they married or not; be they well established in their careers; be they struggling to figure out where they belong.  We never truly stop parenting, but somehow we need to stop simply because we know it’s no longer our job.  We've done what we could – right or wrong – and usually bits of both.  But it's a transition stage like all of the others.

·    And finally grandmothers – just about the ultimate reward for all of the other stages!  We get to do those things with our grandchildren that we never had time to do with our own children.  We grandmothers don’t hear the clock ticking in our head 24/7.  The clock stops when those grandchildren are around - or maybe it reverses.  We can’t seem to cram enough time in with our little ones as we’d really like – we can’t get enough snuggles and kisses, can’t get enough tickles and laughter, can’t get enough wonder and joy from everything being new, can’t get enough of reading books and bedtime prayers.  It’s never enough.  For we – perhaps because we can look back and remember – perhaps because we feel younger on the inside than we look on the outside – we get just how quickly each stage appears and disappears into the next one.

For all these reasons – I've been thinking about all the good things that mothers deserve. 

For all of the tough days, mothers deserve something that makes us melt – or that at least almost melts in our mouths.  And a little bling added in with that melt is never a bad thing.  For this, I give you Lemon Snowballs – or more affectionately known as Lemon Bling from the glitter!  Can you see the glitter?

Here is the glitter being mixed in with the powdered sugar and lemonade mix just in case you can't see it on the cookies.
If you'd like the recipe for these, here is the recipe for Lemon Bling!  These really are a nice blend of tart and sweet that just about melt in your mouth!

For all of the sweet days, mothers deserve something that celebrates that sweetness even more.  For this, I give you Amaretti – two ways!  

One way – the original – in all of its delicate sweet glory – for those days that are sweet from their simplicity.  And the other way – covered in dark chocolate and extra sliced almonds – for those days that are sweet from an adventure.  (PS - these are one of my favoritest cookies!) It is a SUPER easy recipe (as long as you have a food processor...) amaretti cookies - and if you don't have a food processor, then I can highly recommend the amaretti that my friend offers on Etsy by Nonna Vincenza - or really ANY of her traditional Italian cookies!

For all of the grown up days – or those days when mothers see glimpses of growing either in themselves or their children (or more likely both), I give you Cheese Straws – full of sharp cheddar cheese and peppery spice to bring a slight amount of warmth to the back of our throats – just the sort of thing to make us ponder and appreciate the complexities of life.  
I will share the recipe and step by step of this one tomorrow along with the comments from today.  These were a real hit!

And simply because all mothers deserve diamonds every now and again – just because! – I give you Crystal Diamonds – a sweet, slightly chewy, slightly citrusy, rather addictive little treat well suited for garnishing ice cream sundaes.  All together now…sigh.  I will share these on Saturday.  These are a keeper!

Yes, mothers.  Can we ever honor them enough?  Of course not. That's why we celebrate Mother's Day every year and not just once every 50 years.  It is the most rewarding and joyous and difficult and painful and exhilarating and amazing adventure a woman could ever hope to experience.  And mothers LOVE to see cookies from their family made with love and spice and bling!  

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you come back soon for the cheese straws and crystal diamond recipes!  Or perhaps get inspired for another something to bake for the mothers in your life!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Baking Friday - Bread # 4

I actually served this last Thursday since I was in Chicago this week.
These are our first Mother's Day entry.  A very simple, classic scone, meant to remind a special friend from work, K, of her days spent walking the markets in the UK.  I don't think I quite matched the flavor and texture that she remembered, but I know she enjoyed them and hope she felt the love.

These are another King Arthur Flour recipe, but I don't know that I will do these again.  These scones don't have any egg in them, which is fine and rather classic in nature, but I think I like the texture of a scone made with egg just a tad better.  Here is the link to this tea cream scone recipe, if you would like to try it yourself sometime; but for a "plain" classic scone that I think I will like better, I plan to try this  recipe next time and leave out any of the optional extras.  All just a matter of personal preference, but I am simply passing along my thoughts.

But that reminds me of a couple of other comments.  From guys.  One said that they wanted gravy... that this reminded them of a thick biscuit.  Another man said that he would rather have a biscuit than a scone.

And that got me to thinking about something.  I don't mean to sound sexist here, but if you look at the list of ingredients for most biscuits or scones, they are both very similar, including technique.  Flour.  Sugar.  Salt.  Baking Powder.  Cut in some butter or shortening.  Add your liquid ingredients to form a dough and then shape and bake.

Call it a biscuit, and it conjures up images of farms and gravy and sausage and bacon and ham.

Guy things.

Call it a scone, and it conjures up images of tea and fruit jams and clotted cream and lace and gossip.

Lady things.

Right?  So for the Father's Day bread, I may serve a biscuit.  Or biscuits and gravy.

But this isn't Father's Day.  This is Mother's Day, so it's scones!  With lemon curd and raspberry jam.

Let's start with our lemon curd.  This is one of those EASY recipes that people are scared of, so they buy it from a jar.  No reason to buy it.  If you have eggs, butter, sugar and lemons on hand, you are half way to some tasty lemon curd.  And this stuff can be used LOTS of ways - on cakes, in pies and tarts, lightened with whipped cream and served in cream puffs.  Any place that you enjoy a touch of lemon, lemon curd will very likely fit the bill.

And it it did for one may just remind you of your mother and things she made when you were growing up.  If so, and if she is still around, this would be a great thing to make her to say, "Thank you for all the sweet things you did and made for us, and I love you."  If so, and if she is not still around, this would be a great thing to make and remember her with love and thanks.

Oh, and let me make sure I give Helen Fletcher her due.  This is her recipe, except I use a bit less lemon juice than she does, because I like a bit milder lemon taste.  If you like a sharper lemon taste more like Helen does, then feel free to use up to 1/2 cup of lemon juice.

It all starts with 4 whole eggs in a heavy non-aluminum sauce pan.
Whisk them until well combined and then assemble your lemon juice (I use 1/4 - 1/3 cup, but Helen likes 1/2 cup), 1/2 cup of butter, cut in 8 pieces, and 1 cup of sugar.
And that's all there is to it.  I add a dash of salt at the beginning and a splash of vanilla at the end, just because, but you don't have to by any means.  Put them all in the pan and cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until thick, about a minute after it starts to boil.

Now I like to explore flavors like lavender and thought maybe I would try infusing some of this flavor into about 1/2 of the curd mixture.  I didn't want bits of dried lavender in the curd so I thought maybe if I put some in a tea ball it would work.
So once it is cooked, I transferred it to two glass bowls to cool with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd, adding the tea ball of lavender to one of the bowls.
But it didn't work, so don't try this at home.  I still want to explore this flavor combination, but I will need to introduce the lavender a different way next time - maybe heat the lemon juice a tad and let the tea ball steep in it for a little while before cooking with the eggs, sugar and butter.  I will have to think on that and get back with you.

Oh, and don't let me forget.  I also poked a few holes in the plastic wrap before setting it in the fridge overnight.

Here are the pics for the scones.  I followed the KAF recipe fully.  Here is the cream added to the dry ingredients.
I mixed and poured it out onto the floured surface.
Shaped into two disks...
...brushed them with cream and sprinkled with sparkling sugar...
The recipe said to cut into sixths, but I cut into eighths and then baked as directed.
They baked up nice and golden.

Once baked I wrapped them in this carrot decorated tea towel...just because it seems springy and cheery to me.
The only other touch that we needed was to serve these with some raspberry jam to remind K a bit more of the UK.  All I did here was to combine about 1/2 cup of some raspberry preserves with the same amount of a raspberry fruit spread and then added a few fresh raspberries for some texture.  It gave us just a bit different mixture, hopefully combining the best features of each of its elements.
Simple.  Classic.  Ready for a pot of tea and a little time with your mother.  Or maybe treating her to a breakfast tray in bed with flowers and a card.

Yep, mothers need celebrating whenever we can.  For as long as we can.  And scones might just fit the bill for you this year as a way to celebrate her.

Thank you for stopping by.  Let me wish you one more Happy Easter!  May you celebrate it with lots of love and family and friends and praise.  He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!