Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Baking Friday 2014 Wrap-Up

Tomorrow is special.  First off, it is the 3 year anniversary for G & I!  We have been celebrating all week with a bit of a staycation, but haven't quite decided yet exactly what we will do to celebrate tomorrow.

I suggested roller skating or ice skating - how romantic the couples skate would be. <insert teenage girl hearts here>

Those ideas just rendered him speechless.  I think that means he loves them and can't wait to lace up!

Happy Anniversary, Love!

For everyone else, tomorrow marks the last day of 2014.  As such, it seems only appropriate to wrap up the Baking Friday venture with a DD Top 10 list.

The Top 10 Things I Learned From the Baking Friday 2014 Venture:

# 10 A week is a short time.  7 days.  Thursdays roll around every week, every 7 days.  As do Fridays.

# 9 Setting goals is good.  Working towards those goals is good, one little step at a time.  Completing goals is sweet.  (Ooo!  Pun intended!)  Setting writing goals helps me write.  Otherwise I won't write nearly as often as I should if I ever want to "be" a writer someday when I grow up.

# 8 I like to teach.  I enjoy sharing ideas and tips and information that makes someone’s life easier or more enjoyable or giving them tools to share love with others.  Plus I like research.  I love to learn, perhaps even more than I like to teach.

# 7 I have a lot to learn about photography.  Taking pictures.  Editing pictures.  Creating pictures that are worth a thousand words.  Because pictures really do help tell a story.  I’ve focused on words my whole life.  This blog experience has given me a deeper appreciation for the power of pictures.

# 6 I like food presentation!  Decorating cakes.  Plating cookies.  Writing on pies.  I put more words on pie this year than ever in my whole life! 

# 5 I like baking treats for grown-up taste testers to take home to little taste testers.  Blue and orange are the favorite colors of two special little taste testers from this year so when I include those colors on the treats then I win!

# 4 Not all baked goods are created equal.  Some lend themselves more as favorites than others.  Guiness Shepherd’s Pie is more memorable than Chocolate Chip Cookies.  

Chocolate Chip Cake, on the other hand, is immediately memorable and an easy favorite.  

Same with Chocolate Croissants.  

And thankfully no one remembers the failures.  Or at least they are gracious enough not to mention them.
# 3 Cookies are hard.  No, cookies aren’t hard, but finding a cookie to feature is hard.  One that is worth writing about.  Cakes are pretty easy.  Pies are pretty easy.  Breads are pretty easy.  But cookies?  Cookies are so simple they are hard.  While at the same time, cookies are supposed to be soft most of the time.

# 2 My taste testers and “customers” are a generous group!  They donated $153 this year for Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments.  One scone at a time.  That right there is just plain pretty amazing!

And the # 1 Thing I Learned From The Baking Friday 2014 Venture...

# 1 I have a new found respect for food bloggers.  I understand better now how it is a full-time job.  Researching recipes.  Testing recipes.  Recording the one you want to feature.  Taking pictures while cooking.  Editing pictures.  Writing the narrative to feature with those pictures.  Editing the writing.  And finally publishing to only discover afterwards that you missed something.  Yep, new found respect.  

And a realization of how much more I have to learn about blogging in general.  It's a good thing that this is mainly for my family and friends to hopefully love and learn and know our family better.  

Thank you again for stopping by and sharing this venture with me!  I am still debating what I might blog about in 2015.  One idea has been to choose a certain food genre and visiting various places or versions of that genre.  For example, pizza.  New York Pizza.  St. Louis Pizza.  Chicago Pizza.  Even the original Margherita Pizza from Italy.  Not exactly a throw down but an exploration of each.  We could do soup, sandwiches, chili, etc.  That idea.  But I'm still thinking, so we will see.

No matter what, Happy!  Happy!  New Year to you and yours!  May it be WONDERFUL!!!!


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Faces of Christmas

Christmas 2014 that is.  For each of these faces will be just a little bit different by Christmas 2015. Or Christmas 2016.  Not to mention Christmas 2025.

And I love each of these faces, so I want to remember them as they look right now.  A couple of these are brand-new faces this year.  Others have already gone through changes since they first appeared.  I recognize similarities of these faces in other faces I know, which simply adds to the love.

Here's one of the brand-new faces.  Hi Handsome.
Or should I say, "Hi Blue Eyes."
Here's the other brand-new face.  Hi Beautiful.
Make that "Hi, Sleepy Beauty."  Oh, and just for the record, it is the little face on the right that is the brand-new one.  But you're right.  Both faces are beautiful.

This little close-up face happened during a quick "stopped by Mimi's house for a moment" treat.

While these are little Christmas brunch eating faces.
We have pie-eating faces.
Elf likes pie, too.

And a couple of cousin pie-eating faces.
Pie tastes extra good on a small airplane table, especially if you have a couple of puppies close by to help you taste!

We have scary faces.
And "jus' chillin'" faces.  Cause dads be cool like that.
We have musical band faces.  Solo face.
And duet faces.  Cause grandpas are cool band members, too.
We have train faces.
And more train faces.
And more train faces.
And other train faces.
Ok, wait.  Maybe those aren't faces exactly.  But they are boys having fun with "choo-choos"!

I like cousin faces.
And aunt faces.
And who doesn't love a mother's love face?
And finally, we have Grandpa carrying a couple of cousins faces - an event that I bet we won't see any other year ever again.
Cause as faces change, bodies grow.  And get a little less carry-able each year.

Which is all part of why we need to remember the faces we have in our lives this Christmas. Just the way they are today.

Mimi/Grandma Deb

Friday, December 26, 2014

Baking Friday - Cookie # 12

Our last cookie.  Our last Baking Friday recipe to share.  We did it!  I didn't always post on time, but we completed our journey.  13 cookies, except since many months I did more than one cookie, we really did more than 13, but who's counting?

Our last cookie is an easy Peppermint Meltaway.
I found this recipe on The Recipe Critic website, and the hostess "declares these the best Christmas cookie ever."  I wouldn't go that far; in fact, I would not make them again in the exact same manner.  I feel like there is too much cornstarch in the dough.  I feel like I can taste the cornstarch, if you will, so I would make these again, but in a different flour to cornstarch ratio.  I will share the ratio that I will try the next time, but I must admit that I haven't done this exact ratio in real life, because it is the day after Christmas.  And with the 3 different kids of fudge, the butterfinger stacks, the toffee, the pecan brittle, the gingerbread men, the sugar cookies, the chocolate krinkles, and 3 oreo balls already on hand, I figure we may have "enough" treats around at the moment!  (And I promise you, we cut back this year!!!  Trust me, we didn't do divinity or Martha Washingtons or peanut butter balls, for example!  See how much we cut back!!!)

As for how these cookies were reviewed, they ran the gamut from "this is the best peppermint meltaway I've ever had!" to "I didn't care for these, and I like peppermint."  The one who did not care for them liked the icing with the peppermint; it was the cookie that she didn't care for much.  I made these one night and served them the next day, and while I do think that they improve with age - mild flavored cookies often do improve with a few days of aging - it is the flour to cornstarch ratio that I think is off and may be what this taste tester was conscious of with the flavor.  These are a very tender cookie - no doubt about that.  They almost melt in your hand before you even get them to your mouth, and cornstarch in a recipe really helps facilitate that.  But I think we can cut back on the cornstarch by about half and still get a nice tender crumb without making the potential cornstarch taste as prominent.  So here is what I would do the next time, but you have the original amounts in the link above to compare.

1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 - 2 t. peppermint extract
Dash of salt and vanilla
1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch

I combined the flour and cornstarch on a piece of waxed paper.  In my mixer I creamed the butter and sugar together with the flavorings and salt until light and fluffy.  On a lower speed I added the flour and cornstarch until thoroughly combined.  I then wrapped the dough in plastic and chilled for about an hour.

At the end of an hour or so, I formed the dough into balls about 1-1/2" in size.  Or about like this.
The dough wasn't like a typical chilled dough.  It was a bit sticky, so I had to work quickly in forming the balls.   I have a feeling this may also be due to the level of cornstarch in the dough.  There is a lot of butter as well, so the dough softens pretty quickly once out of the fridge.

I baked them at 350 for 10 - 12 minutes, 11 minutes was just about right for my oven.
I let them cool on the pans completely, and some of them did deflate slightly with cooling.

Once cool, I frosted with cream cheese icing (my standard, but you could use a store-bought or your own favorite) with a bit of peppermint extract added to up the peppermint flavor.  I used a pastry bag cause it is so fast and easy, and then topped each one with crushed up peppermint bits.
Pretty cookie on a tray, no doubt!  And maybe this pic can give you a sense of how tender these are.  I honestly had to handle these very gently or I would have crushed many of the edges.
See how cake like they look on the inside?  I think we can still achieve most of that tenderness but improve the flavor slightly with a little less cornstarch.  At least that is what I will try the next time, cause these are almost a keeper if we can tweak the flavor just a tad.

I hope you try these sometime - maybe even do a peppermint meltaway throwdown and compare the two ratios to see what you like best!

And that, my friends, is our last cookie.  And our last Baking Friday 2014 entry.  Such a journey!

We began the year with these cookies, a strawberry cookie, and the double chocolate mocha drops that are hiding underneath the hearts.
Then we took a trip to Scotland and tried to recreate a couple of childhood favorites from there!
We spent quite a bit of time making Springtime cookies, all based on the same sugar cookie dough with the exception of the biscotti.
I really enjoyed decorating these!
Then for Mother's Day, we made this assortment, including the cheese straw "cookies" that have a nice zip to them!  And I still like the sugar-encrusted, slightly citrusy diamond ones!
Then we explored chocolate chip cookies - 4 different ways, including one with bacon!
What came next?  Oh yes, the 4th of July with old-fashioned, all-American oatmeal, gingerbread and snickerdoodles!
For August, we celebrated a moon holiday - one of those most important "holidays" don't ya know!
And who could forget Mt. Vesuvius day with a mountain of brownies?
We had our peanut butter cookie throwdown.
And we did applesauce streusel bars - that needed more butter!
Our 5th Friday cookie was this multi-layered, almost "cake" with mocha filling between the layers and whipped cream inside the cones.  Fun!
Last month we had Italian Nut cookies and chocolate krinkles.

And that brings us to this month's cookie, cookie # 12, a peppermint meltaway that is a tender taste of Christmas!  Or New Year's, right?
As always, thank you for coming along on this journey with me.  I will post a wrap-up of our journey in another day or so - things I've learned along the way about blogging, about baking, about myself. I hope you stop by one more time for that post.  Thanks again!