Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Carrots and Parsnips

Today I have two recipes for you, each featuring carrots and parsnips. Parsnips look like white carrots, and they taste like slightly sweeter, more floral carrots.

Carrots and parsnips 1

It took me a little hunting to turn up parsnips around here, but I finally found them at Walmart (random! We were there for an emergency car kit...).  Look for parsnips that are smaller - no more than 1 inch in diameter. The bigger ones are tougher and more fibrous.

The first recipe features this pairing as the star of the dish - it's great for getting to know parsnips.

The second uses the duo to lighten up a holiday tradition - potato pancakes, or latkes. Although the switch-up makes them less traditional, these cakes add the nutritional punch of carrots and parsnips to the potato, and their flavor is a sweet twist on the classic.

I call for 1 pound of carrots and 1 pound of parsnips in the first recipe, because that's the size bag they were both sold in (and I wanted to avoid awkward leftover ingredients). If you want to make both recipes, but only have one pound of each veggie, you won't hurt the first recipe by reserving one carrot and one parsnip.

In either recipe, you could always substitute more carrots for the parsnips if you can't find parsnips, but the parsnips really do add something different to the flavor of the dishes.

Carrots and parsnips 3

Skillet-Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
Yield: 4-6 side dish servings

1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces on the bias (see photo below)
1 pound parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces on the bias
3/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp oil
Parsley, about 1 tbsp chopped fresh, or 1/2 tsp dried
Black pepper to taste

Carrots and parsnips 2

1. Wash, peel, and chop the veggies as directed.
2. In a large skillet over medium heat, combine the sugar, salt, water, and oil. Add the carrots, and cover (either with a lid or a piece of aluminum foil), and simmer for about 7 minutes, until the carrots are tender.
3. Uncover, increase the heat slightly, and add the parsnips. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates, about 10 minutes. Watch them more carefully now, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the carrots and parsnips are browned but not burnt.
4. Remove from heat, sprinkle with parsley and pepper to taste. Serve warm. 

If you turn up the heat too high during step 3 to try to speed the process, you risk burning your veggies - and they will burn quickly. Don't rush it. (Experience speaking here.)

And now for something we hope you'll really like:
Healthy latkes

Healthy Potato Pancakes
Adding carrots and parsnips to the mix, and using a very light hand with the oil makes these a healthier option over their practically deep-fried cousins. 
Yield: 15 small cakes

1 carrot, grated
1 parsnip, grated
1 russet potato, grated
1 egg
1 tsp whole wheat flour
1 tsp dried rosemary, chopped
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1-2 tbsp canola oil
To serve: Greek yogurt, sour cream, or applesauce

1. Grate the carrot, parsnip, and potato. Place the grated veggies in a bowl, and press down on them with a few paper towels to absorb any liquid that you can.
2. Whisk together egg, flour, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Pour this mixture over the grated veggies, and stir gently to combine.
3. Heat 2 tsp oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Drop about 2 tablespoons of mix per cake into the pan. Don't over-crowd the pan - I was able to fit 5 at a time in a very large skillet.
4. Cook cakes for 4 to 6 minutes, then flip and cook an additional 4 to 6 minutes. If they are browning too quickly, reduce the heat.
5. Remove cakes to a paper-towel lined plate to drain excess oil. Add 1-2 tsp oil, as needed, each time you put new cakes in the pan.
6. Serve warm with Greek yogurt, sour cream, or applesauce.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chewy Triple Ginger Cookies

One last cookie recipe before Christmas. We're finishing up the last bits of baking, wrapping, and other preparation before hitting the road home!

Triple ginger cookies 2

These are a twist on the classic ginger snap, where I tried to really highlight the ginger, rather than making a "spice" cookie. Also, unlike ginger snaps, these are soft and chewy cookies - as much as I've always loved ginger snaps, I always kind of felt like I might chip a tooth eating them. If you want crispy ginger cookies, use white sugar instead of brown, and all purpose flour instead of bread flour. I used honey instead of the classic molasses to let the ginger shine through more; feel free to use up to 1/4 cup molasses instead of honey for a more classic flavor.

Triple ginger cookies 1

To make these "triple" ginger, I used three kinds of ginger: ground ginger, candied ginger, and ginger syrup. The candied ginger and ginger syrup are both the product of the same recipe.

Candied Ginger and Ginger Syrup
Make leftover ginger syrup into ginger ale by combining three tbsp syrup with seltzer and ice cubes in a pint glass; stir.
Yield: about 1-1/2 cups candied ginger, about 1 1/2 cups ginger syrup

8 oz fresh ginger root (a piece about the size of my hand), peeled and cut to a 1/4 inch dice
2 cups sugar, plus 1/4 cup
2 cups water

1. Combine ginger, 2 cups sugar, and water in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until sugar mostly dissolves. Simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, until the ginger is tender, stirring occasionally.
2. Spread 1/4 cup sugar on a rimmed cookie sheet. Remove ginger from syrup with a slotted spoon, and toss with sugar. Let this sit out until dry, probably overnight. This is your candied ginger. Store in an airtight container.
3. If the ginger syrup is not thick enough, you can let it simmer for a few more minutes; remember it will thicken more as it cools. Pour syrup through a mesh strainer into your storage container - a  mason/ball jar works great. Store in the fridge.

Triple ginger cookies 3

Chewy Triple Ginger Cookies
These cookies will stay soft and chewy. If you don't have ginger syrup, you can substitute more honey, but you might need a bit more ground ginger. 
Yield: about 2 dozen cookies

6 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ginger syrup
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
Zest of one orange
1 3/4 cups bread flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 cup minced candied ginger
Optional toppings: white chocolate, festive sprinkles

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in ginger syrup, honey, egg, and orange zest.
3. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and ground ginger. Add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Stir in the candied ginger.
4. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the sheet. Flatten the cookies with your hand; these do not spread very much. Leave about an inch between cookies.
5. Bake for about 12 minutes, until the edges turn golden brown. Let sit on cookie sheet for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Once cool, drizzle with melted chocolate and sprinkle.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sweet Wine Cookies

 Wine cookies

This recipe is based on one from my second-favorite bakery in Columbus, Ohio - Pistacia Vera. (For the record, my first favorite is, and will always be, The Goodie Shoppe.)  The owner of the bakery gave the recipe for these cookies to the local newspaper. I was dying to make them at home - I'd had them from the bakery before, but they're a seasonal item.  Plus, I live about a thousand miles away from this bakery, so the ability to make these at home is a huge win in my book.

Wine cookies 1

I made a few changes to the recipe. First, the recipe calls for marasla wine, which is a type of sweet Italian fortified wine. I just used some Malbec that we had leftover from the wedding - I think any "big" red wine would work. You want something with a lot of good fruity flavor, and you definitely want it to be something you'd drink by the glass. I don't think sweet versus dry matters too much here - my wine was pretty dry. If you think your wine is too dry, you can always add a pinch more sugar.

Second, the recipe calls for anise extract. While some people love the stuff, and it is certainly more traditional, my family doesn't care for it very much. What they do love is vanilla, so I used that instead. If your family loves anise, or almond extract, feel free to try those.

Finally, I changed up the method. I found the original recipe a bit fussy, and I thought I could just do this all in the bowl of my stand mixer. The cookies turned out great.

Wine cookies 5

I can't say enough about how delicious these are - delicately sophisticated, yet easy to love - the flavor combination is both complex and well-balanced. I promise you'll love them.

Sweet Wine Cookies
Although the directions here are given for using a stand mixer, you could easily make these by hand - just use a whisk for the first part, then switch to a large wooden spoon. For the chocolate, I just ran my knife through some chocolate chips a few times - you want the varied size pieces from shavings to chunks to get a good distribution of chocolate flavor.
Yield: about 30 cookies

1 egg
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup red wine - use one that you'd drink by the glass
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, lightly beat the egg. Add the sugar, and continue beating until the mixture becomes lighter and color and slightly fluffy. Zest the lemon and the orange directly over the bowl.
2. Add vanilla, canola oil, and wine, and whisk until combined.
3. Switch to your paddle attachment (or spoon). In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon and baking powder, and stir together. Add the flour mixture, stirring until the dough is just combined. Stir in the chocolate.
4. Line cookie sheets with parchment or silicone liners. Put a little bit of sugar in a bowl. Scoop about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball. Roll the ball around in the sugar to coat, then place on the baking sheet. These won't spread too much during baking, so leave an inch or so between cookies.
5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to show signs of browning. (My cookies took 20 minutes.) Remove to wire racks to cool.

Wine cookies 2

Suggestion for leftover citrus: slice and enjoy in still or sparkling water.
Lemon orange water

Suggestion for leftover wine: I think you can figure this out yourself.
Leftover wine

Friday, December 16, 2011

Simple Avocado Soup


With the rush of the holiday season, cooking at home may seem out of reach. But with this simple cold soup, all you need to do is dump everything in a blender, and a few minutes later dinner is served. The soup is very filling, despite not being hot.


Simple Avocado Soup
We made this curried, but try substituting lemon for the lime, basil for the cilantro, and a clove of garlic for the curry powder for a lighter flavor. The curry powder we used has a bit of heat to it; if yours is completely mild, you might want to add a pinch (or more) of cayenne.
Serves 2-3.

1 avocado, pit removed and scooped from skin
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 handful cilantro
1 tbsp curry powder
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup veggie broth
Salt to taste

1. Combine all ingredients except lime zest in a blender. Blend for a minute or two, until the soup is smooth. Taste, and add salt as needed.
2. If you have time, stick it in the fridge for a few minutes to get colder.
3. Serve, topped with lime zest (and a little more cilantro if you like) and with bread for dunking on the side.


We ate this with a failed attempt at naan - the bread tasted great, but the texture was totally wrong - naan should be soft, with crisp spots where the bubbles darken, and these were crispy all over. I'm still trying to find a simple naan recipe that works.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As easy as...macaroons?

Macaroons were not something I ever expected to be able to make at home, and I certainly didn't expect that they'd be quite this easy. That said, this recipe requires a decent amount of attention to detail, and baking experience will make it easier to follow. But I promise, you can make these too - I'm not some kind of culinary wizard.  And you efforts will be deliciously rewarding!

Vanilla Macaroons
This is a basic recipe for macaroons, with a few flavor suggestions below. Feel free to experiment with other extracts and spices to make different flavors. I used both Bob's Red Mill almond flour (made from blanched almonds, so there are no almond skins in the flour) and Trader Joe's almond meal (which has almond skins left on). Both worked equally well. Additionally, you can make your own almond flour by processing almonds in a food processor until a flour-like consistency is reached (but don't over process, or you'll end up with almond butter!).
Makes about 40 cookies, enough for 20 completed macaroons

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 c almond meal (see notes)
3 egg whites
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
dash salt
4 tbsp granulated sugar

To fill: about 1 cup butter cream frosting (recipe below), or Nutella.

For Chocolate Macaroons, reduce vanilla to 1/2 tsp, and add 2 tbsp cocoa powder with the nut mixture.
For Cinnamon Macaroons, add 2 tsp cinnamon with the nut mixture.

1. Combine powdered sugar and almond meal in a bowl. Whisk together with cocoa powder or cinnamon, if using.
2. In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or using a hand-mixer, beat egg whites with vanilla and salt on medium speed until foamy.
3. Add the granulated sugar 1 tbsp at a time, while continuing to beat. Continue beating until soft peaks form (the tips of the peaks should curl).
4. Stir the nut mixture into the egg whites. Don't over-stir, but don't under-stir either (see note below).
5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat-type liners (This is a MUST!). Using a 2 tsp or 1 tbsp measuring spoon, drop level measures of mixture onto the sheets, leaving about an inch between the cookies. Alternatively, you can use a small cookie dough scoop. Or use a piping bag to pipe 1 1/2 inch circles (I tried this method, and found it sticky and frustrating).
6. Let rest for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until set. Set cookie sheets on wire racks. Let cookies cool completely before removing from sheets.
8. Spread filling on one cookie, and top with a second cookie. Keep refrigerated, especially if using butter cream filling.

About stirring: A few stirs makes a big difference. While you don't want to over-stir, make sure you stir enough - the mixture should flatten/spread slightly when placed on the cookie sheet. You want cookies that look more like the ones on the left than the ones on the right: (the difference  is about 10 seconds of stirring [well, and they're different flavors])

Cookies waiting to be filled:

Cookies waiting to be eaten: (I didn't make them wait long)

Butter Cream Frosting
This recipe is based on a Swiss-style butter cream. (There are also French, Italian, and American styles, if you're curious.) It combines recipes from Joy of Cooking and Good Eats 2.  You will need a quick-read thermometer to make sure your egg whites are safely cooked. 
Yield: about 3 cups.

4 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or extract of choice)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into about 1 tsp chunks (that's 24 pieces per stick)

1. Using either a double boiler, or a metal mixing bowl placed over a pot of water (be sure it fits so that the bottom does not touch the water), bring about 1 inch of water to simmer in the lower vessel. In the top vessel/bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar, water, and cream of tartar. Over the water, whisk constantly until the mixture becomes foamy and reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. My set up was stable enough to whisk with one hand and hold the thermometer with the other, but use caution. 
2. Carefully (your bowl will be hot!) transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer). Add vanilla. Beat on high speed until the mixture cools, thickens and increases in volume, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Continuing to beat at medium speed, add the butter one piece at a time, letting each piece incorporate before adding the next. (My recipe notes that this process should take about 6 minutes, and I found that accurate). The mixture may appear to curdle (this happened during the second stick for me), but continue anyways - it should come together. 
4. Once all of the butter is incorporated, increase mixer speed to high and beat for another minute until the butter cream is smooth. 
5. Use immediately, and store all frosted items in the fridge. Lick the bowl.

Note that you may be able to store the frosting in the fridge, and use it again later by returning it to room temp, but when I tried to do this the frosting "broke" - i.e. the liquids and solids separated, rendering it useless.


Monday, December 12, 2011


Why bagels? Because they're delicious. And they're even more delicious when they're freshly baked. Seriously, try keeping your paws off of these for the whole cooling period after they bake - I dare you!


So what's the difference between baking bagels and baking normal bread? Bagels are boiled before they're baked - that's why the exterior is chewier than regular bread. I remember going to a bagel shop when I was younger - it had a window where you could watch them make the bagels. There was a giant cauldron of boiling water that they dropped the bagels into briefly before putting them in the oven. Their oven was probably my favorite part: the bagels went onto shelves that slowly rotated, so that after a few times around the oven they were ready to be removed. It was like a Ferris wheel of baked goodness!

My oven, of course, is not fancy like that. And you don't need any fancy equipment to make bagels - your hands, a pot of boiling water, and an oven are really all you need. Now, the procedure for making the bagels may seem involved, but none of the steps are difficult, and there is a lot of down time while the bagels rest (or bake).

You really have to use bread flour for this recipe. It has a higher protein (gluten) content than regular all-purpose flour, which is essential to bread (and bagel) making.


Whole Wheat Bagels
These are fully customizable - you could add nuts, or raisins and cinnamon, or whatever you please. You can add toppings to your bagels by dipping the top on a plate of your chosen topping immediately after boiling. Below this recipe I've given directions for an alternative I really enjoyed. These bagels are a little bigger than most store-bought, but still fit well in the toaster.
Yield: 8 bagels

2 cups bread flour
2 cups whole-wheat bread flour
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c flax meal (ground flax seeds)
2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups warm water

1. Combine all of the ingredients except the water in a bowl. Mix well. Make a well in the center and add 1 1/4 cups of the water. Stir (or just use your hands) until all of the flour is incorporated. Add the additional water if you need it to incorporate all the flour. If the water is still not enough, add more 1 tbsp at a time until you have a stiff, not sticky, but not overly dry dough.
2. Knead the dough on a clean surface for 5 to 10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. If the dough is sticking too much, lightly flour your surface.
3. Divide the dough into eight pieces (I use a sharp knife to cut it), and roll each into a ball. Leave a little space between each ball (they'll puff up). Let rest, covered with a towel, for about 15 minutes.
4. Shape the dough into bagels. This can be done a number of ways, but the best way I've found is to make a hole in the ball with my thumb, then use my thumb and fingers on one hand to lightly squeeze the dough into shape, rotating the dough around my thumb. Let rest again, covered with a towel, for 20 minutes.
5. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Using a slotted spoon or spider, place a few bagels at a time into the water (I fit three at a time) and boil for one minute per side. Remove to paper towels (or the towel you used to cover them while they rested).
6. Lightly oil a baking sheet, and arrange the bagels on it. It's okay if they are very close together, they don't expand much during baking.
7. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown. Tap the top to check if they're done - they should sound hollow when fully baked. (Note: all the recipes I read called for the bagels to be flipped halfway through. Feel free to do this, but I found it unnecessary - both the top and bottom browned well without flipping.)
8. Remove bagels to a rack and let cool about 20 minutes (good luck!). 


Italian Herb and Cheese Bagels
This is a variation on the Whole Wheat Bagels recipe above.

Use the same ingredients as above, but:
Reduce: sugar to 1 tbsp
2 tsp italian seasoning (dried herbs)
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese (divided)

Follow the directions above, but:
1. Add the italian seasoning and 1/2 cup of cheese to the dry ingredients.
6. After boiling but before baking, top each bagel with about 1 tbsp cheese.


I've been enjoying these bagels topped with cheese and a fried egg. I store them in the fridge to increase the shelf life, but you could also freeze them. I would slice them first, so you can stick them straight into the toaster to thaw. (I've done battle with un-sliced frozen bagels before - not fun.)

Stay tuned - later this week I'll be posting about my first (and, amazingly, successful) attempt at making real French macaroons.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Homemade Pizza

One of the items Nick was most excited for on our wedding registry was our pizza stone. I'll admit I was more excited for other things, but I've since become a convert. For me, pizza was always a take-it-or-leave-it food. Blasphemy, I know. Occasionally I would crave it - I do love cheese a lot - but I almost never ordered it, and even less often cooked it at home. Nick, however, is a normal human being who wants pizza on Saturday nights. To keep our budget under control, making pizza at home was a better option than buying frozen or take-and-bake at the grocery store, and a much cheaper option than delivery. Plus, at home, you can have all the crazy toppings you want (without skyrocketing the cost of your pizza). And there is no sacrifice in taste with homemade - this pizza could stand up to any delivery pie.

Using the pizza stone allows us to get a really good crisp crust that stands up to the piles of toppings we like to add. You can also apparently grill pizza, but that's a foray we haven't made yet.

Whole-Wheat Pizza Crust
This makes enough for two 12-14 inch crusts. I've tried several pizza dough recipes, and this is by far my favorite. The bread machine makes it fairly hands-off, and the dough was very easy to work with. The crust also stayed crisp, even when re-heated in the microwave. Adapted from The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook.

1 1/3 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat spelt flour
1 cup white-whole wheat flour
2 tsp active dry yeast

1. Combine ingredients in your bread machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Set for the dough cycle, and remove when the machine beeps at the end of the cycle.
Alternatively, combine the water (use warm water for this method) and yeast, and let stand until frothy (about 5 minutes). Combine flours in a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the middle. Add oil and yeast mixture, and stir until combined (you can just use your hands). Knead until you have a smooth, elastic ball. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place 1-1.5 hours, until almost doubled in size.
2. Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a disc by tucking the edges under into the middle. Set on a clean surface, and cover lightly with a clean dish towl for 30 minutes, until slightly puffed.
3. Preheat oven and pizza stone to 450 degrees.
4. Roll out one dough round out until about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle your pizza stone with cornmeal. Transfer the dough to the stone (I use my rolling pin for this, but a pizza peel would be ideal). Bake for about 8 minutes, until the bottom begins to turn golden brown. During baking, pop any bubbles that form with a fork.
5. Remove the pizza skin from the oven (you can put the second one in to bake now). We use tongs to do this. Place the skin on a pizza tray or very large plate, and top as desired (see below for ideas).
6. Return the pizza to the oven for 12-15 minutes, until the toppings are cooked and the cheese is starting to brown. (Top your second, now baked, pizza skin while the first one cooks, the stick it in when the first one is done.)
7. Let cool for a minute or two before slicing, and enjoy!

We don't have a sauce recipe nailed down yet, but we're working on it. For cheese, we use a blend of mozzarella and whatever else we have in the house - a recent favorite is aged provolone.

Topping ideas: 
Veggies (pictured above) - mushrooms, grilled bell peppers, and thinly sliced onions, topped with chopped cilantro (or basil) after baking. Layer half of the cheese under, and half of the cheese on top of the toppings to hold them in place. Sprinkle the top with Italian seasoning. You may need to dab up extra veggie juice from the top of the pizza after baking (to keep it from making the crust soggy later on).
Hawaiian - Nick's specialty, this has sliced almonds, diced ham, and chunks of pineapple (fresh if you can get it!), sprinkled with cinnamon. I only got one slice out of this whole pizza. It's mega delicious.

How do you top your pizza?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like...


Bust out the garland and icing, people, it's that time of year! We put up our tree last week, and I've been in a baking mood ever since. Even if you don't celebrate the holiday, this time of year is full of baked goodies that people often don't otherwise take the time to make. (Unless they're crazy like me.)

 Our massively impressive [four-foot-tall] tree

This is a basic cut-out cookie recipe, which I tried to health-ify by using white whole wheat flour. You can sort-of taste the difference, but the nuttiness of the flour is nice with the sweet icing. I imagine I'll be making these with plain old all-purpose flour for my family, but I'm enjoying them this way quite a bit. The cookies only have 1/2 cup of sugar in them, so the result is not-too-sweet - a key aspect of any cookie you plan to ice.

For icing, I highly recommend using royal icing. It's the kind the gets really hard; it's often used in gingerbread-house making. You can make it using fresh or powdered egg whites. I haven't bought powdered egg whites yet, so I used fresh. Don't worry, it's safe - the eggs are heated to at least 160 degrees farenheit, which is the FDA-approved safe temperature to kill off any germs.

Christmas Cookie Cut-Outs with Royal Icing
Makes 40-60 cut out cookies, depending on size.

For the cookies: Feel free to use all-purpose flour here, or half whole wheat and half all-purpose, instead of the white-whole wheat. I found my flour at Trader Joe's, and have been using it obsessively in baked goods ever since. To soften your butter quickly, microwave the stick for 15 seconds. This recipe is adapted from Joy of Cooking

1/2 cup sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened (see note)
1 tsp real vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups white-whole wheat flour (or other, see note)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
about 1 tbsp water, as needed
1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer, or by hand), cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Add vanilla, eggs, baking powder and salt, and mix until well incorporated.
3. Add flour and mix until just combined. If the dough is too dry (mine consistently is), add about a tablespoon of water, mix again, and decide if you need more water. Don't add more than a tablespoon at a time.
4. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour. At this point, you can freeze the dough to use later if you want.
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
6. Divide your dough into two pieces; put the second piece in the fridge while you work on the first piece. Roll out the dough on lightly floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into desired shapes.  Place shapes on a cookie sheet.
7. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes (mine took 8 minutes), until the edges are just turning golden brown. Remove to wire racks, and let cool completely before icing.

For the icing: This makes enough to ice an entire batch of the cookies above generously. I prefer making a bit too much icing to making to little. Increase or decrease by a 1 egg white to 2/3 cup sugar ratio, according to your needs.

4 egg whites
2 2/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted and divided
Food coloring

1. Whisk together egg whites and half of sugar in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 1 to 2 minutes on high, until a quick-read thermometer registers at least 160 degrees (but don't go higher than 175 degrees). The egg whites will be opaque and puffy when they're around the right temp. Stir.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl, using a hand mixer), combine egg white mixture with the rest of the sugar. Beat on high for 8 to 10 minutes, until the icing becomes fluffier and forms stiff peaks.
3. Divide into bowls and color as desired. You can leave the icing at its original consistency (for piping), or water it down a bit. (See below.)
4. Let cookies set for several hours until icing is dry. If you have to store them before the icing is set, store in a single layer in a plastic container. Once the icing is set, it will be quite durable and the cookies can be stacked for storage.

To ice your cookies, you can (1) pipe designs, (2) dip the top surface in slightly-thinned icing (flip carefully - if you get the consistency right, the icing won't run off the edges), or (3) piping a border on the cookies, then drizzling well-thinned icing to fill in the border. Add sprinkles or colored sugar while the icing is wet, and add piped designs to methods 2 or 3 once the icing has slightly dried. I suggest setting iced cookies on cookie sheets to dry - the rimmed edge will catch any stray sprinkles, and the trays can be moved around easily.

If you don't have a piping bag, you can add icing to a zip-top baggie and snip a small hole in the corner.

I made another batch of these, but ate them before I took photos...I guess I'll just have to make more, so I can give you a post demonstrating the various icing techniques! Oh, the sacrifices one must make...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Soup and Beans

I love soups in the winter. Truthfully, I love soups all the time, but especially in the coldest months of the year. And it has been COLD here lately - as in single-digit cold. So I've been on a soup kick these past few weeks, in some kind of effort to stay warm. This soup is mostly veggies, but thanks to the addition of a little bread and milk, it is quite hearty.
Creamy Veggie Bisque
For broth, I used 1 tsp of this home-made bouillon per cup of water - it works great here and in the bean recipe below. 

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
5 carrots, diced
5 ribs of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
2 14.5 oz cans tomatoes (diced, whole, or whatever you have)
2 tsp dried Italian herb seasoning, or 1 tsp each dried basil and oregano
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/2-1 tsp salt, to taste
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk (almond milk or cow's milk)

1. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat, and add the onions. Sautee for about 3 minutes, until the onions are soft.
2. Add celery and carrots, and saute 5 to 10 minutes more, until the veggies begin to brown the bottom of the pot. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
3. Add broth, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper, and stir well (scraping the bottom of the pot).
4. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Puree the soup. Use an imersion blender if you have one, or let the soup cool slightly and blend in batches.
6. Stir in the bread crumbs and milk. Bring back to a simmer, and simmer for a few minutes while the bread crumbs thicken the soup.

We enjoyed this soup with grilled cheese sandwiches (naturally). For a side dish, I tossed this kidney bean recipe in the slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Kidney Beans
Did you know the slow cooker was initially invented to be a bean pot? It works super-well for cooking beans - you don't have to worry about boiling over, and I find the beans come out much more evenly cooked than on the stove top.

1 cup kidney beans, soaked over night, drained, and rinsed
3-4 cups water
3-4 cups veggie broth
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (but still whole)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp dried italian herbs
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander

1. Spray a 3.5 quart crock pot with non-stick cooking spray. Add all ingredients, using enough liquid to cover the beans by 2-3 inches.
2. Cook for 3 hours on high.
3. Drain beans, and discard bay leaf and garlic cloves.

I suggest re-heating these in a non-stick skillet sprayed with a little olive oil - let the beans and onion brown a bit.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...which has me in the baking mood! Recipe for iced cutouts is coming later this week. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Creamy Avocado Pasta, Cilantro Lime Edition

For dinner tonight, we tried a twist on a recipe I made for the first time last week. This Creamy Avocado Pasta Sauce comes together in less time than it takes to cook the pasta, making it a perfect week-night dinner option.  Last time, I followed the original recipe. The result was amazingly delicious.

This time, I made two switches. One was to try a different method for making the sauce. The original recipe calls for the use of a food processor, which not everyone has access to, and sometimes you just don't feel like cleaning it (for the third time that day). I thought if I put the garlic through my garlic press (you could also mince it), chopped the herbs, mashed the avocado with a fork, and stirred everything together, I'd still get a similar consistency. Although I'd call the result satisfactory, this more rustic version lacked the superb creaminess of the original. But, if you don't have a food processor, you can certainly still make this sauce. For me, in the future, I'll bust out the food processor.

The second change I made was to the flavor profile. Instead of lemon, I went with lime. Instead of basil, I decided to try cilantro. Why? Because that's what I had in the fridge, silly. Our basil plant sadly died over the holiday break, so we only have whatever herbs we buy at the store until the new seedlings mature. I'd say this second change was more successful than the first. I used the juice of a whole lime (instead of half of a lemon) because the lime was fairly small.
We ate this over quinoa rainbow veggie pasta curls. The flavor twist was a total success, and I see us eating this recipe again and again.


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