Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chocolate Mint Snowflake Cookies

If you know me, then you'll find it hard to believe that I have never been to a cookie exchange before this year. I'm not sure how this is possible, but it's true. So, when the invite came for a cookie exchange at a good friend and neighbor's house this year, I agonized over what to make. My favorite holiday cookies to make are usually ornately decorated sugar cookies with an assortment of brightly piped royal icing colors. But I wanted the actual cookie to be more unique since this was meant to be a fun exploration of everyone's recipes.

Eventually I settled upon 3 factors in my cookie making pursuit: I wanted to do a chocolate cookie since they are not as common as butter or sugar cookies, a pairing of mint would somehow be nice, and a sandwich style cookie would be different (hopefully) than the norm. Regardless of what I made, I knew the decoration would be my favorite part, so piping something was a given. I stumbled upon a nice, chocolate sandwich cookie recipe from Martha Stewart and I had my base ( The main tweaks were adding peppermint extract to the white chocolate creme filling and using small snowflake cookie cutters instead of just cutting into squares. Also, I did pipe snowflake patterns on with royal icing (peppermint flavored as well) instead of drizzling with white chocolate.

The results were wonderful! These little snowflakes were just the right size for a party where you're eating lots of cookies. The chocolate mint pairing was delicious and I'm trying not to eat anymore as I type this blog entry.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkin Seed Packets

Jonathan's kindergarten class held an Halloween party this year. All the parents were asked to bring in a 20 items to put in a favor bag so that each child would get a collection of fun trinkets at the end of the party. We were asked that the item not be candy as they would get plenty of sweet stuff at the party. I went to Target thinking I might get stickers or glow sticks but when I got there I was just unimpressed. Everything was stamped "Made in China". I knew things would either break in five minutes or just add to the collection of junk that every parent hates. I went back home frustrated. Then I went online and found a website that listed "green" alternatives to candy treats at Halloween. Band aids, cookie cutters, coins, acorns . . . seed packets! I knew I had it! Jonathan LOVES to plant seeds. This was a perfect idea. But when I looked up seed packets they cost about $1 to $3 a packet which was too steep for my budget. Then I hit on a great idea. I could make them! We had seeds air-dried from a pie pumpkin. I'd been meaning to salt and roast them but never had gotten around to it. I found a template for a little seed packet online and cut them out of an old paper bag. These I glued together and then wrote on them with a permanent marker. The pumpkin was a quick outline that I then dabbed with orange finger paint. On the back I wrote directions for planting and watering. No plastic! No chemicals! No candy! Just pure fun of planting pumpkins. Now that's a treat!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Easy Donuts

Lest you think I'm all about homemade, fresh, from scratch all the time, let me show you what I made today. Easy donuts. I saw this "recipe" in Real Simple a while ago and when my son asked me to make donuts today I was thankful it popped into my head. I took some Pillsbury biscuits from the refrigerated section of the supermarket, cut holes in the middle with a little biscuit cutter, and fried them up in some vegetable oil. Easy peasy. Well, it would have been easy if I'd not made my oil quite so hot. The outsides cooked faster than the inside so a few were a little underdone in the middle. Oops. The ones we ate, though, were delicious. Almost as good as an HOT-AND-NOW Krispy Kreme donut. I made a glaze out of powdered sugar and milk and then sprinkled them with sprinkles, of course! Yum!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mini Apple Pies

As a fan of Bakerella and a follower of her blog, I knew I would eventually find a good reason to attempt the Luxirare inspired Pie Pops on her site. With Fall Family Fun night on the horizon at my son's preschool, I knew I had the perfect excuse to delve into creating these little goodies. Apples were the theme for the night, so deciding my filling was easy. I found an apple shaped cookie cutter and set to work. I wanted to put more filling in these mini pies based on Bakerella's note that the crust overshadowed the filling. To avoid potential disaster with a top heavy pop (ie. one bite and it's on the floor), I eliminated the lollipop sticks taking a hit on the cute scale. To make up for the sticks, I pulled out my powdered food coloring and lemon extract to paint my mini apple pies. A few minutes to dry, a coating of egg white and a generous round of matching color sprinkles and they were ready for the oven. They came out tasty and adorable with just the right amount of filling. I took the easy route with pre-made crust and canned filling to save time, but these would be even more heavenly if they were homemade.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Pies

We went peach picking again this August and picked twice as many peaches as we did last year. I froze a bunch of them so we could have peach pies and cobblers this winter but I also tried out two new pie recipes.
This one was called Honey Bourbon Caramel Peach Pie and I snatched the recipe from Sassy Radish, a great food blog. I left out the bourbon only because I didn't have any. It was a great pie. I loved the crust. But the honey overpowered the taste of the delicate peaches. Plus, it was a bit runny.
This pie was my favorite. It's from Martha Stewart and is called Peach and Creme Fraiche Pie. It couldn't have been easier to make. You don't even have to peel the peaches. I used two more tablespoons of sugar than Martha calls for because I like my pies a little sweeter. So yummy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Coconut Quilt Cake

The week after Sam’s 5th birthday, we celebrated my grandmother’s 90th birthday with a gift from the entire family of a special family tree quilt. To go along with the quilt theme, I created a three tiered coconut layer cake with coconut buttercream between the layers and a thin layer of fondant on top of each tier. Once I got my fondant in place, I pressed the pattern onto the sides with a combination of cookie cutters and a rolling wheel tool to give a stitched impression. I transported the cake 3.5 hours away to WV where my grandmother lives and then painted the yellow flowers and blue diamonds with lemon extract (which is mostly alcohol–the key) and powdered food coloring. I assembled the day of the party, piped stars to connect the tiers and placed some simple flowers on top for an elegant finish. The cake recipe is from Cooks Illustrated and it is dense, moist and had the most wonderful flavor and texture a few hours after we cut it open. We all agreed that the second piece was even better than the first. Fondant is wonderful for keeping a cake fresh.

"Tractor Mower" Birthday Cake

We just celebrated Sam’s 5th birthday John Deere style and he asked for a “tractor mower” birthday cake. After a bit of looking on the internet, I was able to find a tractor pan that looked enough like a lawn tractor and went to work. The trouble with these kinds of cakes is that there is no good place to write a Happy Birthday Message on the cake. Plus, I like to incorporate the birthday year into the design instead of just using candles. So, I decided to add a utility cart off the back and write my message on the cake board. I used my tried and true Vanilla cake recipe from Williams-Sonoma and tried some new frosting recipes that I don't recommend. They were ok, but I'll stick to traditional buttercream next time and leave Wilton out of it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blueberry Tart

I don't think this post needs any explanation other than the picture. It looks so good even I just want to take a bite out of my computer screen. This blueberry tart is so easy to make and so impressive when served. You really must make it while blueberries are still in season. Go. Now. Make it!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Apple Danish

About a month ago, I ambitiously made some Danish dough from Martha's baking cookbook. I had planned to make the Sugar Buns from her cookbook but never found the time to make the pastry cream that was to go in the middle. So I froze the dough and saved it for another day. Well, that other day came. My husband's cousin was coming to visit but we weren't sure what time of day so I thought danishes would be perfect to serve either with tea or as a dessert after dinner. I thawed the dough and then followed the Daring Bakers' recipe for apple filling. Each danish got filled and shaped and egg-washed. Then I put them in a warm place to rise. When I looked back at them two hours later they had risen properly but escaped from their perfect shapes. Oh well. I slid them in the oven and 20 minutes later they looked and smelled divine, shape or no shape. I whipped up a glaze made of powdered sugar and milk. Once that was drizzled on top I sprinkled a few almonds on each one. These were scrumptious! It was hard to eat just one even though I KNEW how much butter each one contained. Now, I have another batch of Danish dough in my freezer and I can't wait to make these again.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Red, White, and Blueberry Revamped

So, last year my very first post on this blog was Red, White, and Blueberry popsicles just in time for the 4th of July. This year we were having a guest for dinner and I wanted to make something just as patriotic and a little more impressive for dessert. Inspired by some recent viewings of the Food Network, I decided to try making some meringue shells. I had never made these before, although I've made meringues for other reasons. I followed my recipe in my trusty old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It was so easy to pipe into little bowls and then I had lots leftover so I made some stars. For a perfect star shape I traced a star cookie cutter onto parchment and then turned the parchment over. When I was piping the meringue, all I had to do was follow the design. I baked these and let them sit overnight in the oven.

The next day when it was time to serve dessert, I spooned homemade strawberry jam into the shells and topped it with homemade whipped cream. Then I sprinkled blueberries and strawberries on top. Each meringue creation received a star and was served. They were a hit! Sweet, cool, creamy, fruity, yummy, and patriotic too!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Father's Day Treat

This Father's Day I was inspired by the blogger Bakerella. When my son saw her Father's Day idea he just had to do it so I put together my shopping list and went to work. First let me show you how cute they are . . .
Now let me tell how much work they are! Bakerella used premade mixes for all her recipes but I like to go 100% homemade. So, first I made a batch of sugar cookie dough. Rolled it out. But it into french fry lengths and sprinkled with sugar. That was easy. No problem. Then I made a double batch of homemade brownies since my usual recipe fits in and 8x8 and I needed to fill a 9x13 pan. I used a biscuit cutter to cut out the circles and nibbled on the leftovers to give me energy to finish. The next day I baked up my cupcakes courtesy of Cook's Illustrated which makes 12 cupcakes. I mixed my homemade buttercream and tinted them red, yellow, and green. Then I sliced my cupcakes in half and invited Jonathan to help me assemble them. He loved doing this!!!! Finally we brushed the tops with water and sprinkled on the sesame seeds. Bakerella had templates for the fry bag and the paper dish. I printed them up on plain old printing paper and taped them together.

For dinner we served real burgers and fries to my husband. After we were sated, we served up these tiny little versions. They were yummy. But very rich and very filling. Cute as they are, I don't think I would make them again. Too much work and not really my "style."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Strawberry Pie

Strawberry season is fleeting here in Maryland. I waited with eager anticipation because I love to make strawberry freezer jam. When I opened my new Cook's Country magazine I knew I'd be making a strawberry pie too. So, when the nearest pick-your-own strawberry farm was open the family hopped in the car. We filled our bellies and baskets with sweet juicy berries and came home to turn them into yummy goodies. The jam is currently in the freezer waiting for a cold winter day. The pie, however, was polished off and only remains a memory. It was fantastic.
Now, my grandmother's strawberry pie recipe calls for strawberries and strawberry gelatin poured into a graham cracker crust. I've never been a big fan of fake red jello but had never gotten a nice firm pie when I just used strawberries and cornstarch called for in most recipes. Cook's Country, though, has you make a homemade strawberry gelatin out of 2 pounds of strawberries, some sugar, and unflavored gelatin!!! Perfect. Another pound of sliced strawberries is stirred in and then the whole mixture gets poured into a prebaked pie crust. After it sits in the refrigerator for a few hours it gets firm enough to slice. It is soooooooooo good. I'm still having dreams of this pie. As you can tell, I'm not the only one who loved this pie!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Little Peach Pies

These little peach pies from Cooking Light were part of the menu for tonight's dinner. The recipe made 12 little pies. Six went to a friend who just had a baby. Six stayed home with us. Needless to say, they are ALL gone now.

CL's recipe calls for a sweet cream cheese pastry dough. It has less fat in it than regular pastry and is pretty easy to put together. The food processor did all the work. The hard part was rolling out the 12 little circles. So that you don't have to add lots of flour and make the pastry tough, the recipe tells you to roll each circle out between two sheets of plastic wrap. Let me tell you . . . that's a lot of plastic. It almost felt wrong to use so much plastic just to save a few calories. Not good for the earth. Not good for my pocketbook, either. Now I need to go buy a new roll of the stuff! Argh!

The filling was pretty easy - dried apricots, frozen peaches, some spices, sugar, lemon juice. The filling is precooked since the pastries only spend 18 minutes in the oven. The best part was glazing them after they came out of the oven and cooled. You all know how I love icing!

These were pretty good. Three of us ate two apiece. So much for less calories! Even Jonathan thought they were tasty which is impressive for a 5-year-old, I think. I'm not sure this recipe is a keeper. We'll have to see what my friend says after she tries her batch tonight.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Pigs

A few years ago I purchased some knitting kits from Magic Cabin. With the kits I was supposed to be able to knit a pair of cats, a pair of pigs, and a pair of horses. As a new knitter I really only knew how to cast on, knit, and bind off. The only kit that promised a creature for such simple skills was the cat - so I did that. My first cat is still laughable to look at. The second is much cuter but has lost his tail in the ensuing years. Anyway, this Easter I was determined to put something cute and homemade in my sons' Easter baskets so I pulled down the kit for the pigs. This one was much more complicated, requiring me to knit, purl, increase, and decrease. Yikes! Never fear, though. One can find directions for anything online. I went to a few sites and watched a few video demonstrations. And tah-dah, some piggies appeared. I think they are adorable. My five-year-old was delighted with his. My one-year-old could have cared less. I'm mighty proud of them. Maybe in a few years I'll tackle the horses.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pillsbury Bake-off

So, Anne has convinced me to enter the Pillsbury bake-off. I decided what flavors I want to work with - maple, walnut, whole wheat. So, for a month or two I've been playing with different ideas and different recipes. I couldn't resist letting you take a peek at this one. I don't think it will be my entry for the contest but it was pretty yummy and tasty too. It is sort of a yeasted coffee cake. Jamie's taking one to work tomorrow to see what his coworkers think. I wonder what Anne is working on . . .

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ships Ahoy!

Not to be outdone by Anne . . . I too made a cardboard creation. Jonathan wanted a pirate themed party for his 5th birthday. Anne had sent me to the site that inspired her train and I noticed a pirate ship there so I got the plans and started work. My husband procured bike boxes for me instead of the requisite refrigerator boxes so I had to scale the ship down a bit and rework it but after a few days of work the results were totally worth it. I surrounded it with blue balloons which, with a little imagination, was to be the sea. Inside I stashed black balloons to act as cannon balls. All eleven children had a blast with the balloon fight, lobbing cannons at each other and trying to "sink" the ship by filling it up with blue balloons. The cake was a pirate ship, too, courtesy of Martha Stewart. It tasted great! My only complaint is that the chocolate chips were supposed to just get pressed in but they didn't stay. So, I melted chocolate and made them stick. Unfortunately all that melted chocolate was very hard to cut at a moment's notice. Other than that, it was a yummy cake, a fun party, and a jolly good success!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A first birthday flower cake

A first birthday is always special, and it comes with the tradition of giving the birthday girl/boy the cake to explore, destroy, devour—basically do with as she/he pleases. But are guests as excited to eat a baby-palmed cake as a fresh, clean one? Hmmm... Not sure.

One way to make the cake palatable for party guests while following tradition is to give the baby a smaller cake, keeping the larger one for everyone else. But the designer in me wondered, was there a way to make both cakes work in one, fun, colorful design? As it turns out, there is, so that's what I did.

For Lydia's first birthday I made a 5" cake plus cupcakes and arranged them into flower shapes. The flower cake turned out to be the perfect solution. We gave Lydia  a cupcake to play with. Plus the cake was colorful, fun and easy to serve. All in all, a perfect cake for this very special occasion.

By the way, I used the Martha Stewart's Yellow Butter Cake recipe, which yielded 20 cupcakes plus the 5" cake. I made 2.5 batches of Betty Crocker Creamy Vanilla Frosting and found it very easy to make and use.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Easy Vanilla Cupcakes

This cupcake recipe published by Cooks' Illustrated is the best cupcake recipe I've ever made. Perfect for birthday parties. Great flavor. Tender texture. Very vanilla-y. I made their Yellow Cupcakes with Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream. The sprinkles are green and blue dolphins from our local Amish store. Oh, and by the way, my husband has a new camera. It has "food" mode for taking pictures of my baking creations. Doesn't it look fabulous?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ooo! Cake!

The doctor informed me a few months ago that I had high cholesterol. Very high cholesterol. No cheese. No butter. No eggs. Lots of oatmeal. That is supposed to be my diet. But as you can tell by my posts . . . I haven't been that successful. I have been searching for recipes that use olive oil instead of butter so that I can satisfy my sweet tooth with a little less guilt. So, when I saw the recipe for Olive Oil Bundt Cake with Tangerine Glaze in my Cooking Light magazine, I tore it out and put it in my recipe file. This week, I finally got around to making it. Since tangerines didn't seem available at my market, I substituted fresh-squeezed orange juice in the recipe. And, since I thought it would boost the flavor, I added the zest of one orange to the cake AND the zest of another orange to the glaze. The cake received mixed reviews in our house. At first bite, my four-year-old pronounced it disgusting. But then in the ensuing days he ate four pieces. My husband thought the extra-virgin olive oil was a little strong. I thought it's flavor was very delicate and not too sweet, more like a quick-bread than cake really. The glaze was the best part (which, by the way, I had doubled because I LOVE icing). Not sure I'll make it again, but it was tasty and healthier than most cakes!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Football Krispy Treats

I needed an easy, kid-friendly dessert for Super Bowl Sunday. Rice Krispy treats always seem to go quickly, so I did two regular batches and one chocolate by adding 1/4 cup of cocoa powder to the melted butter and marshmallow goo. I didn't have a football cookie cutter, so I improvised with a tin can by bending it into the shape needed. After cooling, I coated the tops with melted chocolate chips and then piped laces with melted white chocolate. Yummy! (If you are wondering, that IS a Terrible Towel in the background.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

The story for these cookies begins with a bit of buttermilk and a gallon of milk. You see, I like to make my own ricotta cheese. It's really easy! I'll show you sometime. Anyway, it is sooooooo much better than the stuff you can buy at the grocery store. I made some ricotta cheese for a savory recipe (Jamie Oliver's ricotta fritters which I don't recommend) and I had some ricotta leftover. "What to do with it?" I wondered. It wasn't enough for a cheesecake and I wasn't in the mood for ice cream. Then I stumbled on this recipe for lemon ricotta cookies. Here's the link.

I don't think I had enough ricotta for this recipe either but I didn't figure it really mattered. I had some leftover lemons from the lemon tart so I went to work. The cookies baked up light and fluffy, almost like little tea cakes or scones. The glaze was literally icing on the cake. Unfortunately half of it drizzled off the cookies when I spooned it on top. Next time I think I'll dip the cookie tops into the icing so I don't waste all the lemony goodnes on my countertop. These cookies are the perfect way to brighten up a cold afternoon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Luscious Lemon Tart

I have learned to NEVER order lemon desserts when I go out to eat. They are certainly to be made with too much sugar. They never have the "pop" that lemon things should have. So, I've collected my share of lemon recipes in an attempt to satisfy a craving when it hits me. My favorite is this lemon tart.

First, a sweet cookie-like dough (the French call it a pate sucre) is whirled in a food processor. I rolled it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and then fit it into the tart pan. A square of parchment paper was placed on top and filled with beans. I baked this at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Then I removed the paper and beans and cooked it a few more minutes until golden.

While the shell was baking, I made a lemon curd. 2/3 cup lemon juice, 1 cup of sugar, 7 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs, a pinch of salt, and lemon zest from 4 lemons. I cooked this until it reached 170 degrees and then poured it through a fine seive to get all the solids out. A few tablespoons of cream was stirred into the curd. The curd was poured into the hot tart shell and baked in the oven for 15 more minutes.

Once cooled, this tart is fantastic with a dollop of whipped cream and a cup of tea.