Sugar Cookie Decorating Party for Valentine’s Day

Sugar Cookie Hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day!

For many years, I succumbed to the commercialism of this holiday, usually in the form of a depressed single woman with no date for the big day. One year, I realized that I didn’t need a special man in my life to make the day special. Instead, it dawned on me that surrounding myself with my beloved family and friends made for the perfect celebration of Valentine’s Day.

Even though I am now married and have that special man to celebrate with, I still think the essence of love is sharing time with others, especially on this particular day and especially sharing it with others who feel the pressure of this extremely commercialized holiday.

So today, I invited a handful of friends to my place for a sugar cookie decorating party. We had a blast. We learned some new skills. We bonded. We felt loved.

The basic details, in case anyone is interested:

  • I used the Lemon Vanilla Bean recipe from Annie’s Eats. I quadrupled the cookie dough recipe.
  • I made 6 batches of royal icing: 1/3 white, 1/3 red, and 1/3 pink.
  • I filled 6 piping bags, 2 of each color, for outlining and design work. We used #2 & #3 sized tips for decorating and outlining.
  • I also filled 3 large condiment containers with icing for flooding.
  • I placed all decorating materials on a large baking sheet in the middle of the table, along with a small damp towel for each guest.
  • I baked about 100 3-inch heart cookies (so start ahead of time and freeze them!) for four people.
  • I bought aluminum cookie trays at Smart and Final so the guests could store their cookies on them and take them home. At the table, though, we used my flat cookie trays for decorating. Before guests arrived, I filled each cookie tray full of cookies.
  • I collected images from google.com of sugar cookie heart designs, saved them on my laptop, and showed those to the guests for ideas. Then, I had traced the cookie cutter heart on paper for each guest and had them sketch out some designs before we began.
  • The night before, I had flooded a dozen cookies of each color, so each guest started with 4 red, 4 pink, and 4 white cookies. On these, we began our first round of designing. Lots of laughter as our designs often failed, but it was the company and the learning that we cherished, not the final designs.
  • It was time for a lunch break after all that decorating. I served a Southwestern Tomato Soup from Cafe Sucre Farine, Grilled Cheese Croutons from Food Network(smoked gruyere makes awesome sandwiches!), and salad. Later, for dessert, we had Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes baked in mason jars (from Simply Recipes) served with Raspberry Whipped Cream! To die for dessert, I tell ya.
  • For round two of cookie decorating, we watch SweetAmbsCookies videos to learn how to marble using wet icing design.

All in all, the party lasted about 4-5 hours and was a lovely way to spend Valentine’s afternoon.

Now, off to stuff myself with sugar cookies!

Festive Fudge (White Chocolate Fudge with Cranberries and Pistachios)

White Fudge

Festive white fudge studded with cranberries and pistachio nuts

A baking frenzy took place in my kitchen yesterday. All day–from early morning until evening–I whisked, stirred, melted, rolled, filled, dipped, and baked an assortment of cookies and candies. I made ol’ favs: Walnut Pillows, Pecan Balls, Pecan Tarts, and Macadamia Nut Butter Cookies.

And I tried a few new recipes, such as this Festive Fudge: luscious white chocolate studded with green pistachios and red cranberries. Nutty and fruity. Tart and chewy. Perfect holiday fare.

Ever made fudge? It’s a hit or miss situation with me, kind of like my caramel experiences. But this one worked easily enough: dump a bunch of stuff into a pan, boil for 4 minutes, add to chips, mix in nuts and fruit, and voila–lovely, festive fudge!

Now on to today’s project: packing all these goodies to give away as well as freezing some for Christmas day.

Festive Fudge (White Chocolate Fudge with Cranberries and Pistachios)

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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups white chocolate chips
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios (roasting optional)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. If you want to roast the pistachios, heat oven to 350 degrees F, spread nuts onto a pan, and roast for 5-8 minutes. Allow to cool.
  2. Prepare pan by lining with parchment paper. Tip: spraying the pan with a bit of oil helps the parchment paper to stay in place. If you want 2-inch high fudge, use an 8 inch x 8 inch pan. If you want 1-inch high fudge, use a 9 inch x 13 inch pan (I like this option because the pieces feel more bite sized and you get a lot more fudge pieces).
  3. Place white chocolate chips in a large bowl and have electric mixer  or whisk ready. If using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment.
  4. This next step involves boiling, so use a large saucepan (I used my 6 quart Dutch oven): over medium heat, bring the sugar, butter, cream, and salt to a full, rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Once it begins to fully boil, set a timer for 4 minutes, continuously stirring at this point. If you use a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 230 degrees F.
  5. Pour the hot mixture over the white chocolate chips and whisk on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until chocolate is completely melted.
  6. Add cranberries, pistachios, and vanilla; stir until combined.
  7. Pour the fudge into your parchment-lined pan; use a spatula to evenly spread it. Allow to cool, which will take a couple of hours, then cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator to cool for a couple more hours before cutting. When ready to cut, use a pizza cutter to make smooth, even, and straight cuts.
  8. The fudge can be stored in an airtight container, on the counter or in the refrigerator, for about a week or two. Or you can wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then place in resealable bag, and freeze for a couple months.

SOURCE: adapted from Chocolate, Chocolate and More

Dark Chocolate Fudge Pops

fudgesicle

rich, decadent fudgepops!

Happy Labor Day!

I awoke before 6am, and after reading emails and a few blog posts, I remembered the fudgesicles I had whipped up yesterday afternoon. So yes, at 6:30 a.m., I ate a fudgesicle. Oh-so-very healthy of me, huh?

And it tasted yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuumy!

I’m using a HUGE amount of willpower right now to not eat another. And another. ‘Cause I easily could.

I took one bite, then a second, followed by a third. I really wanted to devour it pronto. But I made myself stop long enough to snap a quick picture. Luckily it came out okay enough to share on the blog. And then I promptly devoured the remaining frozen treat!

It has taken me over a year to find a fudgesicle recipe that I like. This one works. And it works well. The others tasted grainy, powdering, chalky… But this one? Creamy. Rich. Decadent.

And it uses NO added sugar. None. Can you believe that? I’m still stunned by that one. Granted, the chocolate has sugar in it, but not one spec of added sugar to the ingredients list.  So cool.

Heavy whipping cream plus milk plus a bit of cocoa plus finely chopped chocolate and a bit of vanilla. That’s it. Only that. And it produces a rich, chocolatey scrumptious frozen treat. I’m in awe right now. And so darn excited.

And really annoyed that my impatience last night caused me to lose one of the fudgesicles. I pulled the cap off the popsicle mold only to have the not-yet-frozen chocolate spill ALL OVER the kitchen floor. Into far corners. Little dots of chocolate mess speckling the tiles. Not happy. About the mess. And now about losing a darn yummy fudgesicle.

I had planned to use a bar of Ghirardelli baking chocolate in this, but I only had chocolate chips in the pantry. And I grabbed the container of Hershey’s Dark Cocoa so I used that. Both worked out just fine. Very fine, actually.

So, I guess we can call this a Dark Chocolate Fudgesicle. Or maybe Darn Delicious Dark Chocolate Fudgesicle.

I just had a thought. Is “fudgesicle” a brand name? If so, then I guess I should label these fudge pops instead?

Dark Chocolate Fudge Pops

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INGREDIENTS

DIRECTIONS

  1. Finely chop the chocolate, then place in a 4-cup (or larger) bowl with a spout (makes pouring into the pop molds much easier).
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, and sifted cocoa (to break up lumps). Place over medium heat, whisking until cocoa dissolves and mixture comes to a simmer. If you go beyond a simmer, you risk creating a grainy texture for the pops.
  3. Remove from heat; pour over the chopped chocolate and allow 2-3 minutes to pass before mixing. Then whisk gently until the chocolate melts and is thoroughly mixed in.
  4. Add the vanilla and mix.
  5. Pour the mixture into ice pop molds and place in freezer until solid.
  6. To unmold, place pop in lukewarm water for 1-2 minutes until it easily releases from mold. Now, enjoy every last rich and decadent bite!

SOURCE: Alton Brown’s Fudgepops from Foodnetwork.com

 

 

Parsley Log

Do you have an excess of parsley growing in your garden? Need a method for saving it? Then read on…

I spent a few hours playing in the dirt today. (That means I gave my garden some lovin’ and my arms a sunburn.) Since I have to start teaching again in two weeks and won’t have as much free time as I do during the summers (big boo hoo!), I had to pull out the spring/summer plants and get the veggie beds ready for fall planting.

I had an excess of parsley in one area and wanted to make room for growing cilantro instead, which we use more often. However, I didn’t have the heart to just throw it all away (but considered it), so I brought it into the house with plans to just toss it in a baggie and freeze it.

Parsley

Abundance of parsley

Then the stars aligned! As I read my email from the gals at kitchn.com (love their site), they had a link to a method for saving loads and loads of parsley in a small package: the parsley log. How oh-so-very convenient for me!

Parsley Log

Yep, all that parsley from the photo above got squeezed into this bag

The method involves pulling all the leaves off the parsley, stuffing them tightly into the bottom of a resealable bag, then tightly rolling  up the bag and securing with rubber bands, and finally popping it into the freezer. When a recipe calls for parsley during the winter season, just pull out the log, cut off a slice, and voila! Brilliant method!! Now I know it won’t provide fresh-from-the-garden parsley, but it sure beats having to pay a few bucks for a small bunch of parsley at the market every time I need some for a soup or stew recipe.

So, my parsley didn’t go to waste and I am a happy camper.

Definitely check out the pictures on Margaret’s A Way to Garden blog for making these parsley logs. My pics are limited (in both quality and process) while hers clearly show all the steps.

Lemon Love: A Roundup of Lemon Recipes

Lemons and I hooked up in my early childhood. Its tart personality sucked me in and I was completely smitten. 

In my youth, my mom used to set up a small kiddie table in the middle of our kitchen, cut lemons into wedges piled high in a bowl, and place them along with a bowl of sugar in the middle of the table. Oh, how I adored dipping my wedges into the sugar, then sucking the combo of lemon juice and sweetness. Pure and absolute delight for my little gal self.

I also loved the game my older brother and I would play. Sitting opposite each other, we would proceed to have a Pucker Face Contest. The game was to see who could suck on the lemon wedge the longest without making one of those squishy, squinty eyed puckered-face looks generated by the sourness of lemons. You know, a face similar to this one:

These memories inundated my mind the other day after a friend of mine gifted me some Meyer lemons from her tree (sweeter than the ultra-tart ones I pick from our backyard tree), and I thought about sharing a post highlighting all the lemon recipes I’ve posted–both of the sweet and of the savory variety. And I have a few recipes coming your way in the next few weeks… Anyhow, click the links below to view the recipes.

What are your favorite recipes that use lemons?

IMG_5618

Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Muffins

StrawberryBasilLemonade

Strawberry Basil Lemonade

P1030559

Lemon Pasta with Roasted Shrimp

IMG_5344

Watermelon Lemonade Sorbet

lemonbars

Lemon Bars

P1020213

Lemon Thyme Sorbet

LemonMousse1

Lemon Mousse

BrwnBttrAsparagus

Garlic Lemon Green Beans

Lemonade2

Lip-Smacking Lemonade

CrnbryScns3

Lemon Curd

sugarcookies

Lemon & Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

QuinoaEdamameSalad

Edamame Quinoa Salad

Artchkbrschta

Artichoke Heart Bruschetta

BasilPesto

Pesto

IMG_4821

Herb-Roasted Whole Chicken

RoastedVeggies

Roasted Veggies with Caper Gremolata

And I couldn’t locate the picture for this recipe, but here is the link:

Spicy Lemon Trout

“Caramelized” Onions in the Crockpot

CaramelizedOnions

I recently had the yummilicious experience of an appetizer involving caramelized onions. Although I detest onions and even though I picked every last speck of them off my appetizer, I thought I would make some to recreate the recipe. Besides, I had saved directions for making caramelized onions in the crockpot long ago, knowing I would one day make them for hubby, who loves onions.

I found the instructions I had saved, but I searched online for others just to see what I could find. Lo and behold, I came across one from a site called Shockingly Delicious. Now, I had just come back the night before from an inspiring food blogger’s conference, Camp Blogaway (post coming soon about that), and the blog name sounded like one I had heard at camp. Reading the author’s bio, I realized I had met the blogger, Dorothy Reinhold, at camp. Not only that, but I remembered her as one of the first persons I had encountered, and she so kindly informed me about the local Food Bloggers LA, encouraging me to look it up on Facebook and to join the group. What a coincidence! Needless to say, I looked no further for recipes. Do check out her post, for she includes lots of pictures of the very easy process as well as info about onions and caramelization.

As I said, I lack a fondness for caramelized onions. However, I can envision hubby spooning these atop his broiled venison steaks; adding them to his favorite soups; layering them on his beloved burritos; smattering them atop his favorite pizza, pepperoni and mushroom; mixing some into his green beans; or topping his baked potato with a spoonful of them.

If you love caramelized onions, this is the very easy route to go. Just bear with the tears during the chopping of the raw veggie, but once you dry your eyes, all you have to do is mix in a bit of olive oil, plug in the crockpot, and go about your day’s business. Or, go to sleep and let the magic happen overnight. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about gobbling these up all at once; instead, just pack into airtight containers or ziploc bags, then store in the freezer for later use. Talk about ease and usefulness!

Now, go buy a few pounds of onions and try it out. And let me know how else you use caramelized onions so I can open my cooking eyes to some new ideas.

P.S. I just took time to read the comments on Dorothy’s post, and one reader explains that this process doesn’t really caramelize onions in the true sense; rather, it just slowly browns them because most crockpots don’t reach the 110 degrees F temperature needed to caramelize foods. Interesting. Nonetheless, the final product produces a very sweet and soft onion (yes, I did venture a taste but just a tiny one).

Caramelized” Onions in the Crockpot

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INGREDIENTS

  • 4 pounds (about 6) yellow onions (however, I have a 6 1/2 quart crockpot and I could have easily fit more into it)
  • 2-3 tbsp. olive oil (or butter)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Prepare crockpot by rubbing or spraying sides and bottom with a bit of oil.
  2. Cut off roots and top ends, then peel onions (and save skins/tops/bottoms for making broth). Cut them in half from roots to tops (“pole to pole”). Place halves cut side down, followed by thinly slice the halves pole to pole.Place sliced onions into crockpot.
  3. Pour 2-3 tbsp. olive oil (or melted butter) over onions, then toss to coat.
  4. Plug in crockpot and set to low for 10-12 hours, until onions have cooked to a lovely deep brown color.
  5. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Yield: about 3 cups

Note: I had a lot of juice collecting several hours into the cooking, so I drained the juice to allow the onions more opportunity to brown during the slow cooking. If you want them browner and truly caramelized, consider sauteeing them in a saucepan for a bit after they are finished cooking in the crockpot.

SOURCES: Shockingly Delicious and The Slow-Roasted Italian and Simply Recipes for the saute method

Orange-Glazed Chicken

OrangeGlazedChicken

Despite all the chicken recipes I have posted, hubby and I actually eat a lot more red meat and fish than the blog showcases. You see, my hubby is a fisherman and hunter at heart, a person born in the wrong era. He should have been a pioneer frontiersman.

He also usually cooks the meat and fish, liberally sprinkling on a variety of spices–whatever he is in the mood for. I, on the other hand, am a recipe follower. And I’m the one who experiments with the chicken recipes. Although we have freezers full of the game and ocean fish he brings home, we buy chicken just for the sake of having variety in our meals.

We had some drumsticks hanging around the freezer a few weeks back, and this Orange-Glazed Chicken recipe crossed my path around the same time I decided they needed to be cooked. Wow! This marinade packs a flavorful punch. It’s sweet from the orange juice and brown sugar; savory from the garlic and green onion; packs on more subtle spicy flavor with the ginger, anise, and cinnamon; and the addition of soy sauce and rice vinegar creates an Asian flair. Oh, and the final glaze of honey provides one more layer of sweetness.

I can’t get enough of these sweet things. They are so darn delicious that you just keep going back for more! I knew I would be making them again soon–both because I craved them and because I wanted to take photos for the blog (didn’t get around to that the first time).

Although I made these using only drumsticks, the marinade would work with all chicken cuts as well as with an entire roast chicken.

OrangeGlazedChicken2

Orange-Glazed Chicken

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INGREDIENTS

  • 10-12 chicken drumsticks (or one chicken, whole or cut up)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • orange slices for garnish

Marinade Sauce

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. freshly grated ginger (TIP: I keep 1-inch pieces of peeled ginger in a resealable bag in the freezer for recipes calling for grated ginger)
  • 1 tsp. ground anise
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • zest of one medium-sized orange
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 3 medium oranges)
  • 3 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 4 green onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer all marinade ingredients except the sesame oil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, allowing marinade to thicken, then remove from heat.
  2. Stir in sesame oil and allow marinade to cool completely.
  3. Set aside (refrigerate) 1/4 – 1/2 cup marinade for basting during roasting, then pour remaining marinade into a resealable plastic bag. Add chicken pieces and coat well. Seal bag, place in refrigerator, and allow meat to marinate anywhere from 2-24 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking pan with foil (otherwise you will have quite the mess to scrape up during cleaning time), and evenly spread chicken pieces onto pan. Sprinkle with ground black pepper, the place pan into preheated oven.
  5. Roast chicken for 45-50 minutes, turning and basting 2-3 times with the marinade you set aside. During the final basting, brush with honey (TIP: if  honey is too thick to brush onto chicken, microwave it for 15-30 seconds).

SOURCE: Season with Spice