Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Pinwheel Cookies

There are many sugar cookie recipes out there, all of which claim to be the very BEST. Well, I guess one would have to taste ALL of them in order to come to that conclusion, so I'll just say these cookies are pretty darn good! Fair enough?  I was browsing on FB and saw a video of how to make pinwheel cookies. I figured, ok, that looks festive, let's give it a go! The thing is, you can really use any rolled sugar cookie dough, so I set out to find the right one for me. I decided I wanted one with almond extract in it (because that's a classic flavor when it comes to sugar cookies), and I found this one on a blog called The Slow Roasted Italian. They seemed very classic and homey and basic, so I went with it! They tasted exactly the way I hoped they would! Soft and chewy with rich vanilla and almond flavor, and they're pretty enough to jazz up any tray of cookies. They do take a little extra time, but you can do them a step at a time so it's really not that bad. When I made them, I mixed up the dough one day, rolled them into logs the next morning, and then sliced and baked them the following night. See? Easy! You can even roll the entire log of dough in colorful sprinkles or red or green sugar to add an extra little pop of color around the edges of your cookies. Also they don't spread out to much so you can literally bake an entire batch in one go. Definitely place a tray of these little gems in the center of your dessert table, and you'll surely get lots of OOs and AAHHs!

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3-4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
red and green food coloring

 In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar, on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
Add the eggs, vanilla, and almond.  Beat until combined. Add the salt and 3 cups of flour; beat until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is sticky (meaning when you touch it and pull your fingers away the dough sticks to you), add more flour a tablespoon at a time until it comes together.
  Separate prepared dough into 2 halves. Add 1/2 of your cookie dough to a stand mixer and add red or green food coloring until your mixture reaches your desired color. You can also knead food coloring into dough until completely combined if you do not have a stand mixer. Wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.

   Place red cookie dough on parchment paper. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Set aside. Place plain cookie dough on a sheet of parchment paper. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Stack cookie dough sheets on top of each other with the parchment on the outside. Remove the top parchment and roll over the dough gently with a rolling pin (to help the 2 doughs become one). Beginning on one of the long sides, roll the cookie dough into a log (removing the remaining paper as you go). If dough is too soft to work with, refrigerate for 30 minutes and then try again. Once dough is formed into a log, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 hours to overnight.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Slice cookies and place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 9-11 minutes or until the cookies feel set. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

It's your choice whether to make white cookies with a colored swirl, or colored cookies with a white swirl. Before you roll up the log, your dominant color should be on the bottom, and your swirl color should be on top. Savvy?
If you're not a fan of almond extract, use any kind of flavoring you like! I've used orange extract and also rum extract, you could use lemon extract, or just use twice as much vanilla. It will all work!
Be sure to give it time to chill in between steps. It makes it MUCH easier to slice when the log is completely chilled and firm. Also be sure to keep the log as round as possible, otherwise your pinwheel design will have flat edges.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cocomia Cookies

 Many many years ago, I bought a Mrs. Fields cookie cookbook. I'm pretty sure I was at a mall doing some Christmas shopping and I happened to see the book on display at a bookstore. I figured, "well, obviously I deserve to buy MYSELF a present as well!" so I bought it. Now, one thing you may not know about me is that I LOVE to read cookbooks. Like, not just turn to whatever page to look for a specific recipe. I mean just like some people like to curl up on the sofa with a nice juicy novel, I like to curl up and read a whole cook book. What can I say? I like to learn the back story of a recipe, where it was developed, and what the inspiration for it was. I also like to read the recipes from beginning to end and look for interesting combinations of ingredients. It may sound silly, but you'd be amazed at how often I'll be looking for ideas and I'll remember seeing a recipe that paired two seemingly odd ingredients that you'd never think of putting together. (Pineapple Basil Jam, anyone?)
 Aaaaanyway, as I was reading through my brand new Mrs Fields cookie book, I happened upon this recipe for cocomia cookies, which is short for coconut macadamia nut cookies. I thought, "ok, THIS will be the first recipe I try!" and they've been my absolute favorite Mrs. Fields recipe ever since. Actually, if I'm being honest, there wasn't a single recipe in that book that I didn't love, but the cocomias were still my favorite! (Side note, this is also one of those recipes that I've used for years and years, and THOUGHT I had already posted it, but then when I recently went looking for it, I discovered that somehow it slipped by me! Ah well, better late than never!) Oh, and one other thing... Yes, yes, I know it's a bit of an investment to buy the macadamia nuts, but seriously, they're worth every single penny! This is DEFINITELY one to add to your holiday cookie repertoire. Bring a batch or two to your next holiday cookie swap! Come to think of it, you should probably make a couple extra batches because they won't last long! Not even kidding.

2 cups all-purpose flour                      
1/2 tsp baking soda                          
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar                          
1/2 cup granulated sugar                
3/4 cup softened butter
2 large eggs                                           
2 tsp pure vanilla extract                  
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup macadamia nuts                       

Preheat oven to 300º F. 
Cream sugars with butter. Then add eggs and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Mix flour, baking soda, salt together, then slowly add mixture to butter mixture.
Add coconut and macadamia nuts until just combined.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.
Bake for 23 minutes at 300º F. Remove to a flat surface to cool.

There's really nothing I can add to this recipe because it's perfect just as it is. The one thing I will say, though, is to make sure you include the salt. I can't say enough about how much of a difference it makes to add salt to your baked items, especially ones that contain any kind of nuts. The salt is what makes it!! I use salted butter for everything, and I STILL add the salt listed in the recipe. It makes all the difference in the world!
 If you're just like me and you can't leave a recipe alone no matter how perfect it is, you can add a a few white chocolate chips to the cookie dough. I'm sure Mrs. Fields won't mind!

Monday, November 27, 2017

German Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

Here's a crowd pleaser of a dessert that is the perfect thing to make for your next party. They're VERY rich with chocolate, crunchy and nutty from the pecans, and sweet and gooey all at the same time!
 I made them for Tory and Ryan's house warming party and they were an instant hit. Ryan was the first to sample them (an immediate thumbs up), Gregg was a HUGE fan, Kelli said they were "Slammin'", and pretty much everyone wanted to know when I would be sharing the recipe! Well, everyone, here you go! The recipe is from a blog called Bake or Break, and it's pretty awesome. Make them for your next party and I promise you'll have everyone asking you for the recipe!!

3 cups pecan halves
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3 large eggs
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange pecans in a single layer of a shallow baking pan. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Stir halfway through baking. Line the bottom and sides of a 9″x 13″x 2″ baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on two short sides. Grease foil. Whisk together the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and cocoa. Add the cold butter, and combine with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press the mixture into the bottom and about 3/4-inch up sides of prepared pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over crust. Allow to cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes.
 Place the eggs in a large mixing bowl, and beat lightly. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and melted butter. Whisk together until smooth. Stir in the coconut and pecans. Pour evenly over the partially baked crust. Bake 28-34 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the filling has set. Cool completely on a wire rack. 
Then, refrigerate for an hour. Using foil overhang, lift the bars from the pan and place on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut into bars.

 I used a food processor to cut the butter into the flour mixture. It was SO much easier. I also used parchment paper instead of foil to line the pan. Either one will work!
I think the next time I make them, maybe I'll use Hershey's milk chocolate instead of semisweet chips. I found them to be quite rich, almost too chocolatey for me. (I said this to Carly and she said "is there such a thing???"). I also wonder how butterscotch chips would be... hmmm...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Glazed Cranberry Bundt Cake

 If you're looking for an easy dessert that screams HOLIDAYS, this is it! I found this recipe on the back of a bag of fresh cranberries and immediately set it aside. I cut it out, and stuck it to my fridge with a magnet for a year until I was ready to try it. Well, I finally tried it! OMG, it's seriously delicious. The cake is dense but light, and it's so moist, I'd say this is one for the books. Add a few fresh cranberries and an orange glaze and you have the makings of a showstopper!
 TBH, the cake was supposed to bake in a 9x13 pan, and the recipe said nothing of a glaze. But I like how a Bundt looks, and I love a rich and creamy glaze drizzled over the top, so I went with it!
 At first I couldn't decide if this was more of a Thanksgiving thing or a Christmas thing, but basically decided that it's great for both! Yes, it's red and white and looks very Christmasy, but Thanksgiving is the official holiday season kickoff, right? So, it works there too!
 Regardless of when you decide to make it, or in what pan you decide to bake it, one thing is absolutely certain.. Everyone will love it! Definitely add this one to your holiday repertoire!

3 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 (12oz) bag fresh cranberries

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Beat the eggs and sugar until slightly thickened and the mixture has almost doubled in size, about 5-7 minutes. Add softened butter and vanilla extract and mix for 2 more minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Add the rinsed cranberries and stir until mixed throughout. Spread into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake 50-60 minutes or until lightly browned and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool almost completely in the pan before turning out onto a plate.

For the glaze:
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream (plus more, if needed)
1/4 tsp orange extract

Using a wire whisk, combine all glaze ingredients until smooth. Add more heavy cream if needed to make just the right drizzling consistency. I like to use a big spoon to scoop big blobs of the glaze across the top and then just let it ooze down the sides.
Yup. blobs and ooze. definitely culinary terms.

 -To keep your cranberries from sinking to the bottom of the cake, take a 1/4 cup of the flour for the recipe, and toss the cranberries with it until they're coated. Then stir them into the batter as directed. The flour coating will help them stay suspended in the cake!
-I think the next time I make this, maybe I'll add a little almond extract. Just sayin!
-If you'd like to bake it in a 9x13 pan, you only need to bake it for 40-50 minutes. And instead of the glaze, you could use any other favorite icing (cream cheese icing maybe?) or just simply dust with powdered sugar.
-Oh, another thing that's worth noting.. Yes, you read the ingredients correctly. This recipe has no leavening agent in it. No baking soda, no baking powder, no vinegar or lemon juice, no ingredient that will make the cake rise (which is why it comes out so dense and fabulous). It's that first step of whipping the eggs and sugar the gives rise to the cake. Make sure you don't skip it!!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Kale with Bacon

 Ok, this one's quick and easy peasy. I know kale is very trendy at the moment, but when you get right down to it, there are many reasons why everyone is going crazy for it. Well, for one thing, it's like super crazy good for you. It has a ton of vitamins C and K and beta-carotene and antioxidants and about a bazillion other nutrients that I can't even pronounce. And on top of all of that, it's delicious!!! It's hearty enough that it still keeps its integrity when you cook it (instead of just turning to mush), and it doesn't disappear in the pan the way fresh spinach does when you cook it.
 This recipe is from Taste of Home, and I knew it was a winner at first glance. Frankly, you can cook anything with bacon, onions, and garlic, and I'm in heaven. When I made it for my Friendsgiving dinner, it was a big hit! But no one needed to know how easy it was. And remember, your Mom always said to eat your greens, right? She was absolutely right!
 I think maybe Popeye would have eaten kale instead of spinach if he had cooked it with bacon and onions and garlic. Just sayin!

2 pounds fresh kale, trimmed and torn 
8 bacon strips, diced 
2 large onions, chopped 
4 garlic cloves, minced 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon pepper

 In a large saucepan, bring 1 in. of water to a boil. Add kale; cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove to paper towels; drain, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings. In the drippings, saute onions and garlic until onion is tender. Drain the kale; stir into onion mixture. Add salt, pepper and bacon; heat through. 

If you're not a fan or pork, try turkey bacon instead!!
For a little extra added flavor, try cooking it in chicken broth instead of just plain water!