Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap - "Party" M&M Cookies

It's that time of year again... *drumroll please* ...............

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2015

Yes!  Food Blogger Cookie Swap time!!  I look forward to this every year.  I get some amazing cookies from some seriously good home bakers.  Not to mention doing some good work.  As always, in order to participate, you have to make a donation to Cookies for Kids Cancer which is matched by our brand partners.  This year, we raised an over an astounding SEVEN THOUSAND dollars!  Not bad for a bunch of folks making cookies.  And since I'm such a sharing and giving person (I hear all my friends out there laughing at me ;-) ), my husband and best friend also look forward to cookie swap time.  Because, let's be honest - no one can eat three dozen cookies, no matter how much you spread them out.  The amazingly good cookies I got this year were:

Chocolate Chunk Peppermint Pudding Cookies from The Secret Ingredient [is Love] - the husband's favorite
Toasted Pecan Crackles from Southern Kissed - my favorite
White Chocolate-Cranberry Cookies from My Heavenly Recipes - the bestie's favorite

Usually, I have narrowed down my potential cookies to send within a matter of days but this time, nope.  Not happenin'.  It took me WEEKS to figure out what to bake!  Which is so not like me.  (I blame my crazy, self-employed life.)  I finally settled on baking something from my childhood.  They say scent is one of the strongest ties to memories that you can have.  While I waiting for these babies to bake, I couldn't help but remember all the times I made these - well, "helped" make them.  Really it was just watching my mom and licking all the dough batter off the beaters.  And then eating the cookies.  (It's quality control - the taste of the batter can determine how good the cookies will be and if the batter is bad, the cookie will be bad.  So really I was like the "Quality Supervisor" for my mom's kitchen.)

I'm not quite sure why they are named "Party Cookies" but they taste so good that I don't ask questions.  I'm pretty sure my mom got this recipe off the bag of M&Ms Baking Minis back in the 80s, when I was little.  While my copy of the recipe is nicely printed in Times New Roman on a piece of printer paper, I distinctly remember seeing the original taped to a 3x5 card in my mom's green recipe box (that is older than I am).

I hope everyone enjoyed the cookies I sent them (Justina at Fail Sweetly, Melissa at Persnickety Plates - love the name, btw, and Mary at this tasty life) as much as I enjoyed making them!  And to anyone else who wants to make them, I hope you can start a holiday tradition of cookie baking with your kids just like my mom did with me.

"Party" M&Ms Cookies
adapted slightly from a recipe my mom found somewhere.

1/2 c. Shortening
1/2 c. Butter, Unsalted
1 c. Brown Sugar, packed
1/2 c. Sugar
2 tsp. Vanilla
2 Eggs
2 1/4 c. All Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Salt
1 c. M&Ms Baking Minis

Preheat oven to 375.
Spray cookie sheet with baking spray or line with parchment paper.
Blend shortening, butter, and sugars in a large bowl.
Beat in vanilla and eggs.
In another bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and salt together.
Add flour mixture to sugar-egg mixture and blend well.
Stir in M&Ms.
Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, drop onto a prepared cookie sheet.
Bake at 375 for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

1-2-3-4 Pound Cake

My work as a pet sitter has some great perks.  Being my own boss and being around the cutest, most adorable pets in the entire universe.  Yes, those are great perks.  But every once in awhile, I get a job that has a few more perks than most. One of those I had not too long ago.  I have a pet sitting job on a farm, complete with large garden, cute dog, and chickens.  Lots of chickens.  In fact, this was my haul when I was there over the summer:

So what do you do when you have WAY more eggs than you know what to do with?  You make a nice, big pound cake.  Nothing says "southern" like a good ol' fashioned pound cake.  I have a very special bundt pan that I use for my large pound cakes.  This thing is older than I am and it's almost as old as my father.  I mean, just LOOK at the color and style of the box!

It belonged to my great-grandmother and I inherited it from her after she passed away many, many years ago.  My grandmother held it for me so that when I moved into my own home, I would have my very first bundt pan to use.  It is perfection itself.  Although Nordic Ware has come out with many different kinds of bundt pans over the years (roses, anyone?), nothing beats the original style that is still so easily recognizable today.  It has been well-loved over the years and I am looking forward to using it for the rest of my days.  (Because it outlasted my great-grandmother and will probably outlast me!)

1-2-3-4 Pound Cake
recipe from The Blue Willow Inn Cookbook

1 c. Unsalted Butter, softened (2 sticks)
2 c. Sugar
4 Eggs
3 c. All Purpose Flour
1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 c. Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350.
Spray your bundt pan with cooking spray with flour or coat the sides well with butter.
Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy.
One at a time, add in the egg, beating well after each addition.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together until well combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture alternately with the milk, ending with the flour, mixing until combined.
Mix in your vanilla.
Pour into your prepared bundt pan.
Bake for ONE HOUR or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan (a cake tester will come out clean).
Allow to cool on a rack for fifteen minutes.
Hold your breath and pray as you flip cake out of the pan to cool on the rack completely.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Strawberry Bars

Wow.  It's been quite some time since I have been on here.  My life has been in a constant state of rush here-rush there-rush everywhere since mid-March.  You see, I worked two jobs.  Well, I have worked two jobs for nine years now (and before that, I worked three part time jobs - you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes).  I have my own business that has always been somewhat in the background while my "day job" took up most of my time.  But my allowing my business to be the sole source of income for me has been a dream long time comin.  Finally, after nine years, I put in my notice, took the leap, and haven't looked back.  Now, I am normally a person who panics at every opportunity and I had been nervous about putting in my notice and taking that first step but once I did, I had this calm settle over me.  I knew this was where I was meant to be.  My entire working life had been working up to that moment.  It's been almost three weeks now that I have been self-employed and it is AMAZING.  I cannot tell you enough about how much better I feel.  I am not as stressed out, working 100+ hours each week is no longer required.  I am telling all you folks out there who are thinking about taking that leap... do it.  There will never be a time where you feel 100% okay with quitting a regular job and going after a job you love, but if its meant to be, it will be.

Just like the marriage of these bars.  Similar to a lemon bar - but in strawberry form.  Let's be honest, strawberries make everything better.  They are sweet but tangy, soft yet firm.  I honestly don't know why in the world no one else has figured this out!  I changed up the original recipe somewhat because I wanted chunks of strawberries in my bars.  I love having some of those delectable berries to bite into when I eat them.  And when those berries come fresh from a strawberry patch on a nearby farm... well I am sure you can understand why you want them a little chunky!  I just took my handy-dandy potato masher and went to town on those berries!  (If you want a smooth, more-like-lemon-bar-type bars, puree the berries in a blender.)  Strawberry season is over in our neck of the woods but I still find myself dreaming of these bars - they will be making a regular appearance at my house every summer for the rest of my days.

Strawberry Bars
adapted from A Spicy Perspective

1 stick Unsalted Butter, softened (1/2 cup)
1/3 c. Powdered Sugar
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 c. All-Purpose Flour

1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
3 Egg Yolks
1 c. Mashed Strawberries (or Pureed)
2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1/4 tsp. Salt

Preheat the oven to 350.
Line a 8x11 pan with parchment paper, allowing the edges to hang over.
Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy and well-blended.
Add in your salt and flour and mix into your butter-sugar mixture until incorporated.
Press evenly down into the bottom of your pan using your fingertips (dipped in cold water) or another small piece of parchment.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Mash the strawberries with a potato masher (or blend in a blender to get a smooth consistency).
Mix in the egg yolks, condensed milk, lemon juice, and salt.
Pour over your warm crust.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the center is softer but not set.
Allow to cool at room temp.
Once completely cooled, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours.
To serve, sift some powdered sugar over the top of the bars and cut into squares.
(Keep any leftover bars in the fridge.  Also, the powdered sugar will be absorbed into the bars if left on longer than a couple of hours.)
Enjoy :-)

P. S.  My new job is as a pet sitter :-)  And I LOVE it!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Peanut Butter Pie

How can you go wrong with peanut butter?  I love peanut butter.  My dog loves peanut butter.  (My dog REALLY loves peanut butter.)  Unless you're allergic to nuts, peanut butter can almost be considered a perfect food.  It can be used in savory dishes or sweet ones.  You can eat it by itself or turn it into fudge.  Or pie. Really anything in pie form is just the right thing to do.  I can't think of any time that would be a bad time for pie.  If anyone reading this is a Supernatural fan, then you'll understand the appeal of pie.

You can't go wrong with peanut butter.  Nor can you go wrong with pie.  So whoever thought of putting them together deserves a medal.  And I shall be forever grateful.

Peanut Butter Pie
adapted slightly from The Lady and Sons Too!

3 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
1 c. Powdered Sugar
1/2 c. Peanut Butter (creamy or chunky doesn't matter)
1/4 c. Evaporated Milk
1 1/2 c. Cool Whip
8-inch Graham Cracker Crust

Beat cream cheese until fluffy.
Mix in the powdered sugar and peanut butter.
Slowly add in the evaporated milk and combine until smooth.
Fold in the Cool Whip until well incorporated.
Pour into your graham cracker crust.
Place in the fridge for at least one hour or until chilled.
Eat and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bread Basket: Soft Crescent Rolls

I love yeast rolls.  And I love my bread machine.  I probably wouldn't make nearly as much yeast bread if I had to knead it all by hand.  I've done both and I must admit that my bread machine is vastly superior to kneading by hand when it comes to making a very soft bread.  The point of kneading to put air into the bread which makes it soft and light and airy.  I think I'm too rough on my dough.  But my handy-dandy, trusty bread machine does a wonderful job each and every time.  I don't know how I lived without the "dough" cycle on a bread machine before.

Another secret to a soft roll?  Potato flour.  I absolutely adore this stuff.  I once ran out of potato flour when I was making a batch of hamburger buns and I could immediately tell the difference.  They were more tough than normal.  I prefer my buns to melt in your mouth but these felt like they were fighting my burger for room in my mouth.  If you make a lot of yeast breads, you need potato flour in your pantry.  You won't regret it.

Yeast is not this very difficult thing to work with.  Neither does it take as long as you think.  So many people are frightened of working with yeast because they read "3 hours" in the recipe and freak out.  But most of that time is spent waiting for the yeast itself to rise.  You aren't doing anything.  Sure, you need to make sure that you read the recipe ahead of time and plan accordingly.  No one is going to be making homemade yeast rolls thirty minutes before dinner.  Once you work with yeast a couple of times and know what feeling you need in the dough, soon you'll be a seasoned pro!

Soft Crescent Rolls
from King Arthur Flour The Baker's Companion

3 c. All Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Instant Yeast
1 1/4 tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp. Sugar
4 Tbsp. Butter, melted
1/4 c. Nonfat Dry Milk
1/4 c. Potato Flour
1 1/8 c. Water, lukewarm
3 Tbsp. Dough Relaxer, optional

Mix all of your ingredients together and knead.  (If using a bread machine, put your ingredients in using the manufacturer's guidelines.  Mine is liquid, dry, yeast.)
As your dough is being kneaded, add flour or water as needed to create a smooth, supple dough that is not sticky when you touch it.
Allow to rise for one hour until it's puffy (will probably not double in size).  (If you are using a bread machine, set the machine to "dough" and allow it to finish its cycle.)
Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper and cut in half.
Roll each half into a circle, around 1/4" thick.
Cut each circle into eight wedges.
Starting at the wide end, roll each wedge up, pinching the tip to seal the roll.
Transfer the rolls to a lightly greased baking sheet and allow them to rise until doubled in size.
While they are rising, preheat the oven to 350.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.
Allow to cool and enjoy.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Soup's On: Jamie's Parmesan Tomato-Basil Soup

I have a confession to make.  I've never eaten or even tried any soup until almost seven years ago when the husband and I celebrated our first anniversary in San Antonio.  I don't even remember the name of the restaurant anymore but I do remember that he'd ordered a bowl of baked potato soup while I had a Caesar salad with no dressing.  (Funny story:  The waiter looked over at us and said, "Are you two getting married?"  We looked at each other and laughed and told him that we were still just dating, celebrating our first anniversary.  Maybe he was physic.... :) )  I decided to give soup a try that night, just to see if it was as bad as I'd always thought it would be.  I was surprised to see that it wasn't half bad but I always resisted eating soup until about two months ago.

Ryan took me to my favorite restaurant for my birthday, Mia Francesca.  That night, one of their specials was a tomato-basil soup.  So Ryan and I decided to order a small bowl and share it.  I wanted to have something different and since nothing I've ever gotten from there has been bad, I figured I'd give soup another try.  And I am SO glad that I did.  I'm telling you, I was considering not letting Ryan have any at all.  I'm pretty sure I could've eaten the entire bowl myself.

Now even though, for years, I've never liked soup, I don't mind making soup.  I'm happy to make soups and chilis for other people.  Ryan loves it when I make his favorite broccoli-cheese soup (even if I despise how cooking broccoli makes my kitchen smell).  And I make a killer slow cooker chili.  But I've never really had the desire to make soup for myself.  Because I didn't eat it!  (Go figure.)  After I'd had that delicious soup from Mia Francesca's, I knew I had to try and recreate this soup.  So I got right on it and I think I did a pretty good job.

(Yes, we have a new series starting.  Which I find slightly ironic since I love sharing recipes that I adore and I'm still not too crazy about soups.  Except this soup.  I'm sure world peace could happen with this soup.)

Jamie's Parmesan Tomato-Basil Soup
created by yours truly

2 - 28 oz. cans Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 c. Chicken Broth
1/3 c. Fresh Basil Leaves, finely chopped
1 c. 1% Milk
1/2 c. (4 oz.) 1/3 Less Fat Cream Cheese, softened
1 c. Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper

Combine crushed tomatoes and chicken broth in a large stock pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Mix in your finely chopped basil, milk, and cream cheese and cook over medium heat until the cream cheese melts and the soup thickens (around 5 minutes).
Remove from heat and add in the parmesan cheese, stirring until its all melted.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour into bowls and serve alongside your favorite grilled cheese.  (No, the grilled cheese is not optional ;) )

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Snickerdoodles: A Dedication

On August 30, 2001, a chocolate lab named Daisy gave birth to a litter of black and white puppies.  Six weeks later, I was driving home with the runt of the litter - a little female with a white star on her chest, whose top point extended all the way up to her chin.  I named her Liz.  I'm notorious for giving nicknames to EVERYTHING and she was no different.  Her very first nickname was "Snickerdoodle".  I distinctly remember my dad telling me that if I kept calling her that, she wasn't going to learn what her real name was.  Even though I did start using her real name, I would end up calling her so many nicknames that I'm not even sure of them all (and she answered to every last one of them, thank you very much)!  But that very first one stuck and I've called her "Snickerdoodle" and "Doodle" her entire life.  Speaking of life...

On June 20, 2007, she barked ONE TIME when she met my boyfriend for the first time.  She never barks ONE TIME at anything!

My then-boyfriend hid this on her collar on November 25, 2009:

Then she did this on October 16, 2010:

(a candid shot of us)

When my husband and I purchased our first home, we said that we were really buying it for her.  We made sure it was carpeted (since she hated hardwood floors), had minimal steps to get in and out (because she had arthritis in her elbow and knee), and a BIG backyard for her roam around in (because she loves to be outside and smell everything).

She was a big foster sister to three rabbits, who she tolerated with no problems (even if one of the rabbits kept trying to jump onto the couch with her).  Then on November 1, 2014, we took her to the SPCA of Wake County to see how she would like having a little brother.  So then she became a big sister to a 5 year old Hound mix whom we named Chief Inspector Japp:

And then, on December 17, 2014, we lost her to nasosinal cancer.  There is this huge void in our lives where she should be.  We don't regret the decision to end her suffering because, in the end, that's what was happening - the cancer was affecting her ability to breath normally, terrible nosebleeds that were harder and harder to stop, losing weight, and affecting her sense of smell (which, for a dog who is half English Pointer, is tragic).  We were able to end her life on her terms - she walked into the vet's office with her head held high, gave everyone one last hug, and laid in my arms until the end.  Which is exactly how she would've wanted it.  And that's how we wanted it.

So to my dear, sweet, beautiful girl, my little Snickerdoodle, I love you.  I miss you.

adapted slightly from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

1/2 c. Shortening
1/2 c. Butter, unsalted
1 1/2 c. Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 3/4 c. All Purpose Flour
3/4 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 Large Egg

2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 c. Sugar

Preheat oven to 400.
Lightly grease your cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
Using a mixer, cream together the shortening and butter until smooth.
Add in your sugar and vanilla, mixing well.
Mix in your egg until well combined.
While that's working, whisk together your flour, salt, nutmeg, and baking powder in a large bowl.
To your creamed butter and shortening mixture, slowly add in your flour mixture, scraping the bowl every once in a while.
Now you need to mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl.
Using a Tbsp. measuring spoon, take some dough and roll into balls.
Then roll your dough ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Place on prepared cookie sheets and, using the end of a drinking glass that's been dipped into your cinnamon-sugar, press lightly until each dough ball is flattened.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
Cool on rack and store in air-tight containers.

(all professional photos are copyright Diane Lewis Photography.)