Thursday, December 8, 2011

My New Favorite Sugar Cookies - Sugar Cookie Squares

I know I just recently posted my favorite cutout sugar cookie recipe, but now I think I may never make them again. I found this recipe on Pinterest, credit goes to fellow blogger Jaclyn at It is super easy, super delicious, and super easy... did I already say it was easy? Every year I get all excited about all the goodies I'll make, and then before I know it I've run out of time, so I was thrilled to find this recipe!

I have to admit I briefly entertained the idea of using store-bought cookie dough for this, and I suppose you could do that in a pinch, but making your own is really so much more satisfying. I adapted this just a teeny bit because I wanted to try a new product I found - Princess Cake & Cookie Emulsion - in place of vanilla extract. If you have never tried using emulsions in place of extracts, you really should. Emulsions are alcohol-free, give a more robust flavor, and will withstand the heat of baking. You can purchase this from The Princess Emulsion gives a rich, creamy, nutty flavor - the taste was similar to a bit of almond extract.

I also used their Butter Vanilla emulsion when I made the frosting. Yum!

Here's the recipe:


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg + 1 egg white

1 Tablespoon sour cream

1 tsp vanilla extract (here's where I substituted the Princess Emulsion)

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

2-tsp half & half

1 tsp vanilla (I used 1/2 tsp Princess Emulsion and 1/2 tsp Butter Vanilla Emulsion)

Pinch of salt

Food coloring as desired

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9x12 pan or use baking spray. I love the baking spray! In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt - set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, whip together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in egg and egg white. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until blended. Slowly add the dry ingredients and stil until well combined.

If you don't want to mess with separating an egg and dealing with the leftover yolk, you can use the egg whites in the carton. I was doing this in the morning so I saved the yolk and made scrambled eggs while my pan was in the oven.

With buttered hands, gently pat the dough into the prepared pan. I hate buttered hands, so I keep a box of disposable gloves on hand and butter those instead. I thought of doing that about 8 years ago while making 8 million Rice Krispie treats for the concession stand when my son's high school was hosting a Speech and Debate meet, and it's one of my favorite kitchen tricks ever since.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Don't let it get too brown, the edges should be just slightly golden like this:

Cool completely before frosting, then decorate if desired and cut into squares. I cut mine diagonally across and straight up and down lengthwise so my bars ended up a cute diamond shape - just to be a little more festive.

I used green for Christmas, but you could use this recipe for any occasion throughout the year.

One thing I learned - I added a little extra powdered sugar and a teeny bit more liquid to get more frosting. Because I love frosting... but when you make the frosting, be sure and leave it a little bit stiff. I found that I had to let the pan set overnight before I could cut them because the frosting didn't want to set up.

My husband tasted these and the next day he was talking about them at work, so this is definitely a keeper!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Christmas Cookies!

I just spent a fabulous 4 days in Charleston, SC, so I have a ton of pictures to download and organize for another post about eating my way though the city. While that is in progress, I thought I would share a few of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes that I'm planning to make this year. I will take some pictures of the finished cookies when I make them and post later.

I like to take a whole day and do nothing but make dough. One big day of trashing my kitchen and massive cleanup, and then when I'm ready to bake it's not such a mess. I scoop the finished dough into large Ziploc bags that I've labeled with the name, oven temp, baking time, and any other unique instructions, so when I'm ready to bake I can dig right in without having to pull the recipes again. Flatten the dough inside the bags, and they will stack up nicely in the freezer. It works best to thaw them out in the fridge when you're ready to use them, so allow enough time for that if you decide to go that route.

Here goes:


I'll start with this because it works with 2 of the recipes I'll post. If you are uncomfortable with using raw egg white, you can substitute meringue powder (the icing won't taste as good) or use the egg whites in the carton. Eggs in the U.S. are pasteurized, and there is some process with the sugar that "cooks" them, so there really isn't anything to worry about... I have been making this for many years and nobody has ever gotten sick from eating my cookies.

2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg white
1 Tbsp water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Food coloring as desired (The paste coloring in the little jars works best, you can control the intensity of the color very easily and get darker colors if you want.) The icing is a nice white color, so it's not necessary to color it if white is what you need.



These are cute little star-shaped delights. I got the recipe from a magazine page that someone had brought to work - I have no idea what magazine it was because it was probably close to 20 years ago. You can dust the finished cookies with powdered sugar, but I like to ice them with the Decorative Icing recipe above with a little coffee added for flavor.

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon water

2 cups flour
Beat 1 cup unsalted butter or margarine, 1 cup white sugar, 6 tablespoons cocoa powder and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon in a large bowl . Beat in egg. Stir 2 teaspoons coffee powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon water in a cup to dissolve coffee. Beat into butter mixture. On low speed, beat in 2 cups flour just until blended.
Divide dough in half and shape into a disk. Wrap and chill until firm.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Have ready a 3 inch star cookie cutter. Roll dough on a well floured rolling surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out stars and place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. I know that may sound a little too close together, but they will not spread while they're baking, so it's okay. Bonus is that you can get a lot of cookies on the sheet. Bake for 8 minutes or until crisp.
Frost with Basic Decorative Icing flavored by using strong coffee instead of the water.



This is a great variation on the old stand-by Peanut Butter Blossoms that everyone makes. The cookies are very festive looking with their pretty pink color and little bits of cherries throughout, and we all know chocolate makes everything better! It's nice if you can find the bags of unwrapped Hershey's Kisses, otherwise have fun unwrapping. I have also made these with Brach's chocolate stars.

1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp Maraschino cherry juice
½ tsp almond extract
3-4 drops red food coloring
2 ½ cups flour
½ tsp salt
½ cup chopped Maraschino cherries
48 Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped

Heat oven to 350F. In large bowl combine butter, powdered sugar, cherry juice, almond extract and food coloring; blend well. Stir in flour and salt. Add cherries; mix well. Form dough into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately top each cookie with a chocolate kiss. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on rack - the kisses will melt but will hold their shape and firm up again while they cool.



This recipe came from a lovely lady named Opal that I knew when I lived in McCook, NE back in the early '80s. I've seen this recipe called "Reindeer Poop", but I am not going there. "Haystacks" may be another name for them. I cannot stress enough to work quickly when you are spooning this onto the waxed paper, it sets up really fast.

3 cups quick oats
¾ cup coconut
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
½ cup evaporated milk
½ cup butter (1 stick)
1 tsp vanilla

Mix oats and coconut in a large bowl, set aside. Mix sugar, cocoa, evaporated milk and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in vanilla. Pour over oat/coconut mixture, mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper – work quickly!



Back in 1991 I spent the first half of the year in Sioux Falls, SD, studying to become a nurse practitioner. This recipe came from Teri, a fellow student. It was from one of our many get-togethers where we shared our favorite treats and recipes, and the gatherings usually involved adult beverages. We had to fit in some fun somewhere in between the hours spent in the medical library and the classroom! This makes wonderful melt-in-your-mouth shortbread that is not too sweet, which is a nice change from the onslaught of sweetness we subject ourselves to during this time of year.

3 cups flour (sifted)
1 cup rice flour
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp sugar
1 lb. salted butter
½ tsp salt

Heat oven to 390 degrees (I know this sounds weird, but I swear I copied it correctly. My oven has digital setting, so it will do this, otherwise just set it at 400 and watch it so you don't overbake.)

Cream butter and sugars. Mix in flours and salt. Spread in 10 x 15 inch pan leaving a ½ inch rim around the edges.

Bake at 390 degrees x 5 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake an additional 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from oven and immediately prick all over with a fork. Cut while still warm.



This is my go-to recipe for whenever I need cutout sugar cookies any time of the year - I love that they are like little blank canvases to be filled with whatever your imagination desires. You need to make the dough the day before you bake so it can chill in the fridge overnight. I will often bake them one day and then frost and decorate the next, or freeze the undecorated cookies to use later. Just make sure they are completely cooled before you ice them.

2 ½ cups flour
1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 ½ tsp grated lemon peel
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla

Combine butter and sugar, cream until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, lemon peel, and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients just until combined. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat oven to 350F. Grease 4 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. Divide dough into quarters, working with 1 quarter at a time. Place between 2 pieces of waxed paper and roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into shapes with floured 2” cookie cutter. You can place them fairly close together because they should hold their shape and not spread out when they bake.

Bake 8-9 minutes until edges are barely golden - it's best if the edges don't brown at all. Cool on wire racks. Makes 7 dozen - depending on the size of your cookie cutters. Ice with BASIC DECORATIVE ICING and decorate as desired.



This is one of my dad's favorites. I got the recipe a couple of decades ago from a friend and co-worker, Peg. The cookies are spicy, chewy, and so delicious. To dress them up, dip about 1/3 of each cookie into melted white almond bark and sprinkle with some colorful edible glitter, sanding sugar, or finely chopped candied ginger.

2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp cloves
1 tsp ginger
¾ cup Butter Crisco
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses

Mix Crisco and sugar. Add egg and molasses. Sift all dry ingredients twice, then add to mixture. Shape into tablespoon sized balls and roll in sugar.
Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.


Alright then, that should be enough to get you started if you want to try these. More to come later!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Part 2 - Eating Our Way Through Boston; Fall Foliage Tour and Little Italy

Thursday was an all day "fall foliage" bus tour that started in Boston and took us to a state park in north central Massachussetts and ended up at a fruit farm in southern New Hampshire. There wasn't as much color to see this early in the season, but that was the price we paid for booking around the Red Sox rather than our actual anniversary in early October. It was still beautful nonetheless. Here is one of the better photos:
Our first stop was at a little place near Groton, MA called Johnson's Dairy Bar.
It's too bad this wasn't our lunch stop, because they were serving up some fried clams in paper bags with a bit of the grease soaking through that smelled absolutely divine. This was just a quick 15 minute stop though, so I settled for a scoop of their homemade pumpkin ice cream. If you love pumpkin pie, just imagine how good the first bite of the season tastes, then multiply that by about 1000. Just the right amount of spice packed into a scoop of creamy, frozen goodness. My straight-as-an-arrow-steady-as-a-rock husband had vanilla. It was a delicious vanilla beany vanilla, but vanilla just the same. They must have had at least 30 flavors to choose from, but the pumpkin definitely rocked.
We piled back into the bus and headed north through the beautiful tree-lined back roads into southern New Hampshire and a town called Rindge. This was our lunch stop, a rustic little restaurant called J.P. Stephens Tavern. When we first boarded the bus that morning, we were handed a menu:
Take note of the background photo on that menu - it's the farm we will visit later in the day. The bus driver came around and took our orders before he even started up the bus, then he called ahead so they would have everything ready for us. He makes that same trip several times a week during the season, so he was on a first name basis with everyone up there. We were running a little late on the tour, so we didn't arrive for lunch until close to 1:30. At first glance, the place doesn't look very exciting:
That's my husband Brad, and Francis the bus driver/tour guide in the parking lot. They had been chatting after lunch. The inside of the restaurant was a lot better, I loved the stained glass windows.
There were 18 of us on the bus, which was fun because it was a pretty diverse group. There were people from Israel, England and Scotland, and also folks from Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma. When we arrived we were welcomed by Lisa, the owner. It was formerly known as Lily on the Pond, but she bought it several years back and named it after her two sons. Sadly, our driver told us she recently lost one of them in a car accident. They had a private room all set up for us, and our meal started off with a small glass of apple cider and a basket of warm breads which included some delicious applesauce bread. We were served an incredible amount of food, and the price of $14.50 included tax and tip. Brad had the roast beef, it looked perfectly cooked and probably didn't need the gravy:
My Apple Brandy Walnut Chicken was delicious, even though the sauce looked a little funky at first glance:
I actually think I would have liked it better without the walnuts though. I was a big fan of the green beans, they were pretty and perfectly cooked. Our dessert was a peach/apple crisp topped with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Small as in a 1-1/2 inch melon ball sized scoop.
I felt a little guilty having ice cream again since I had just had some at 10 o'clock in the morning, but what the heck - I was on vacation! The whole dessert was the perfect sized serving, not too much after such a big meal. The "crisp" was more chewy than crisp, but it was tasty anyway. We boarded the bus again and headed to another small town, Hollis, New Hampshire.

Our last stop of the day was at the Brookdale Fruit Farm. It had been raining off and on all day and had just stopped when we arrived at the farm. I love how everything looks so washed clean and fresh after a rain, the colors seemed to pop even more than if the sun were shining.
I loved this place, it was absolutely beautiful! We shopped inside and came away with jams, maple syrup, apple cider donuts - I can't wait to try the MacIntosh Apple Jelly I bought. They had homemade breads, muffins, salsas, pies, honey, fresh veggies and of course, lots and lots of apples and pumpkins.
The rain started up again as soon as we boarded the bus to head back to Boston, but all in all it was a really fun day. After all the walking we had done the day before in Boston on the Freedom Trail, and then walking to and from Fenway Park, it felt really good to relax on a big, comfortable bus and just enjoy the day.

Our last outing was on Friday. We had missed seeing some of the places on the Freedom Trail either because of the rain or just didn't have time, so we decided to take on Boston public transportation. With the help of a map and the Sheraton concierge, we braved the subway and found it to be not only a cheap way to get around the city, but it was also easy and pretty fast. Our first stop was back to the North End neighborhood, where we walked through Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church. The North End is also known as "Little Italy", and just about every other business is an Italian restaurant. We stopped and looked at many of them, read their menus, and found that we really weren't in the mood for a sit-down-white-tablecloth type of place. The next place we saw was called simply "Express". It looked like more of a fast food place but in a nice open setting with no windows. Our clue that this was our place was the guy behind the counter in the white t-shirt and apron. I took this picture from across the street:
A nice, casual place that seemed to be a popular spot for the locals.
I chose a sub called the Panino. If I had known how big it was I might have reconsidered, but Brad helped me eat it. We ordered at the front counter and then they called our name when our food was ready, so there was no need for tipping. Another plus was that they made everything right there. That gorgeous, homemade roll had proscuitto, tomatoes, homemade fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil. What more could you ask for?
Is that not a thing of beauty? The bread was chewy in a good way, and everything was so fresh and good. Did you notice the cheap paper plates this was served on? It's a good thing we had trays available because there's no way that plate would have held that beast of a sandwich. Brad had a big slice of pizza, and with drinks I'm pretty sure we got out of there for less than $20. This was definitely a great way to end the week! My husband is already talking about going back to Boston someday... and I know there are many, many more yummy posibilities waiting for us when we do.

Vacation and Eating Our Way Through Boston - Part 1

We've been planning and looking forward to this trip since earlier this year, and then all of a sudden in the blink of an eye it's over. Last week we spent 5 days in Boston to celebrate our 30th anniversary... my hubby likes to joke that he adds 10 years for "wind chill", but yep - we've been married 30 years. I was hoping to talk him into going to Hawaii, but he's not a fan of long flights so he put the smackdown on that pretty quick. I loved Boston when I was there about 8 years ago, and he loves history, so it seemed like a pretty good compromise - and we had a great time. He's already talking about going back. Our actual anniversary is October 9, which would have been perfect for the fall foliage bus trip I booked for us, but he really wanted to plan the trip around a Red Sox game, so we looked at their schedule and planned accordingly. Half of the planning went into all of the different restaurants we wanted to try, so I guess you could say one of the best things about vacation is eating - so this will be about a few of the places we visited while we were there.

We wanted to get as much as possible out of the first day of our trip, so we boarded a plane in Omaha at 6:45 a.m. and arrived in Boston around 1:30 p.m. We had a very brief layover at Ronald Reagan National in D.C., but it was great because we were able to catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument and the dome of the Capitol, and then we flew right over the Pentagon. I've never been to D.C., so I was really in awe getting to see our national landmarks even if it was only for a few seconds. I was able to snap this photo out of the window of the plane:
That's not edible though, so on to the FOOD! We made a quick run through McDonald's at about 4:30 a.m., so the only other thing we had eaten were those airline cookies and pretzels, so by the time we got our luggage and caught a cab to our hotel, we were starving. We stayed at the Sheraton in Boston, which is connected to the Prudential Center - which is connected to the Prudential Center Mall, which means numerous restaurants and a big food court. We wanted something quick, so we ventured down to the food court. My husband found a burger place that looked good, but I was holding out for something I couldn't get back home, so I headed over to Boston Chowda. They got my attention with their giant photo of a lobster roll. I got the small one with a cup of clam chowder. Go back and look for my "Lobster Salad... Not!" post from earlier this year, and you'll see that this is exactly what I had in mind when I destroyed those $3.99 frozen little beasts.
Huge chunks of lobster on top of what looked like a mini loaf of bread. The roll was soft and warm, and the lettuce gave it just enough crunch. Yum! The chowder was good as well, with a nice amount of clams and not too many potatoes. The small lobster roll/chowder/drink combo cost me about $17.00, which seems a bit high for fast food, but normal fast food isn't lobster! After lunch we ended up napping for a few hours in our 29th floor hotel room. We had a corner room with amazing views of the city, and the beds felt like heaven!

That evening we headed back to the mall for dinner at Legal Seafood. I ordered the crab cakes, which came with a small salad of arugula on the plate. I completely forgot to take a picture of it, but I can tell you that while the crab cakes were very good, I prefer the ones at Bonefish Grill. I didn't care for the salad either. I'm not a fan of arugula, don't like the bitterness of it - and it had golden raisins in it, which just seemed wrong, so I picked them out. Hubby had Boston Cream Pie for dessert because 1) it's his favorite, I had just gotten him one for his birthday cake, and 2) we were in Boston so it seemed like the right thing to do. This was a pretty unique looking version of it though.
There was a very thin layer of cake on the bottom, and a thin layer of chocolate ganache on top, and the rest was cool, creamy custard. The whole thing rested on the edge of a pool of chocolate syrup. I had never seen it done where the custard filling was the star of the dish, but it looked beautiful. I had the chocolate layer cake which was good, but nothing special. We went back there for dinner later in the week and this time we both had the Boston Cream Pie. Delicious!

On the second visit I ordered the fried haddock because hubby had it the first time and I was jealous because it looked way better than my crab cakes. Instead of fries and coleslaw, I had mine with zucchini and a baked potato. This time I remembered to shoot a quick pic, but not before I had smeared sour cream all over my potato:
Our dinners ran us about $60 total, but that was cheap because we not only ordered dinners under $30, but we didn't order wine or lobster. The haddock was about $21 and my crab cakes were about $28. The desserts were all $6.95, and on the first night they were donating all the proceeds from the Boston Cream Pie to a charity. Even more reason to indulge!

The next day we ate breakfast at the hotel, which consisted of a buffet containing the usual breakfast items. We figured if we had a decent breakfast we wouldn't need much for lunch since we planned to spend the day on a trolley tour of the city. Unfortunately, it rained all day and we finally just gave up, but the deal was for a second day free so we were able to hop back on the next day when the weather was better.

It was so nice to have the mall there and have access to all the restaurants without having to go outside. We decided to try a place called Five Napkin Burger. The place was pretty cozy with low lights and a candle on each table. The menu had a pretty good variety of appetizers, and you could have your burger made from ground beef, turkey, veggies, lamb, or even Ahi tuna. I tried the "5 Napkin Burger", which was a 10 oz. beef patty topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, and rosemary aioli on a big old white bun.
The fries came in a cute little dish rather than piled on the plate. It makes me a little nervous when they asked how I wanted my burger cooked because I thought having a partially rare burger wasn't the safest thing these days, so I went with medium because I also don't like it overcooked. I still think this was a bit more rare than it should have been.
At any rate, it was a unique and delicious burger, and I ended up removing part of the bun because it was so huge. The table next to us had ordered a plate of hot wings, and the smell was getting to me - but in a good way because I've been craving hot wings ever since.

Our next big food outing was the next day in Fenway Park at a Red Sox game. I won't get into it much here because what can you say about a hot dog in the ball park other than there's nothing else like it. It's amazing how good a plain old hot dog tastes when you're sitting on the first base line, watching the lights change in the Citgo sign while someone hits a home run over the Green Monster...almost heaven!

That was just the first half of the week! I'll stop here and continue on with part 2 where we board the big tour bus and head out in search of some early fall color.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Quick One: Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Well, I'm back. I never expected to let this much time go by before posting something new, but sometimes real life just says no. I won't go into the grizzly details of what has kept me away, but lets just say I am feeling much better now! I've still been collecting new recipes and even trying a few, so I'm going to start here with a really quick and easy one - Buttermilk Ranch Dressing.

I have yet to run into anyone who doesn't love ranch dressing. We love it on our salads, and we dip almost everything in it - veggies, fries, chicken strips, wings... seriously, when was the last time you had "bar food" and didn't have something that just screamed for a side of ranch? Except for desserts, there isn't much that doesn't taste better with ranch dressing.

Ranch dressing is actually about as old as I am, it was served at a dude ranch that opened in 1954 near Santa Barbara, California called... betcha can't guess... Hidden Valley Ranch. I can attest to the fact that 1954 was simply a magical year because I was also born in 1954. Need I say more? Anyway, the owner served his own concoction of buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, yogurt, onion, garlic and a bunch of other unknown seasonings. It was so popular they started bottling and selling it to guests, and it took off from there to become the best selling salad dressing in the U.S.

When I think of salads in general, what I really want is to have fresh, crisp, healthy ingredients. You can have a bowl of plain, iceberg lettuce - yes, boring I know - but if it's fresh, it's not only beautiful, but it tastes wonderful - and to douse that pretty, fresh salad with something out of a bottle filled with chemicals and preservatives is really almost criminal. So, in my quest to get away from processed foods, I went on a search for a good homemade ranch dressing recipe. If you do a Google search for "ranch dressing recipe", you will find a long list of options to pick from. I looked them all over and chose the one from (under American Food) called Classic Ranch Dressing Recipe by John Mitzewich. It's easy, it's delicious, and the best part is that you can pronounce everything you put in it.

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Hellman's/Best Foods brand, but for the love of all that is holy, no Miracle Whip!)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme (I threw in a little extra fresh thyme since I had it in my herb garden)
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley.

If you don't want to mess with fresh herbs, Litehouse makes a great freeze dried parsley that you can find in the produce section at Target - thanks to my friend Georganne for that tip!

All you do is combine everything in a bowl and whisk it into submission. Cover it up and throw it in the fridge for a couple of hours to thicken up and mesh the flavors before serving. This will make about a pint of thick, delicious, creamy goodness, so I like to store mine in a pint canning jar for easy pouring. You could also change this up by blending in a small avocado or a little bit of thick, spicy salsa just for something different. Go wild and enjoy!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Best Homemade Trail Mix Ever!

Occasionally I will tune in to the Food Network at an odd time of day and come away very pleasantly surprised. This time it was a show I had never heard of, it was called Five Ingredient Fix. The host is a pretty young lady named Claire Robinson, and not only did she have me glued to the TV for the full 30 minutes, but I came away from just one show with 3 different recipes that I couldn't wait to try. One of them was a whole wheat penne pasta dish with turkey and asparagus made with garlic infused oil and white balsamic - it was so delicious my husband even liked it. Screw Rachael Ray, this chick is hot! She's on at 4:30 Central if you would like to take a peek. This trail mix is one of her recipes from that same show.

This recipe is so, so easy, even a... okay, that's not even funny anymore... was it ever? Seriously though, this is super easy, and it only has 5 ingredients - 6 if you count the light sprinkling of salt. This is a wonderful snack because the combination of these nuts, seeds and cherries packs a nutritional powerhouse of antioxidants, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, plus there is no added fat except for what is naturally found in the ingredients. The pumpkin seeds even have cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. I don't want to shock you, but I do know some big words.

The cherries I used are Montmorency dried cherries which are tart pie cherries. This is some added sugar in these, otherwise you wouldn't be able to eat them because your face would shrivel up and fall off from the tartness - 1/4 cup of these has 34 grams of carbs. If you don't like cherries you can always substitute raisins or dried cranberries, or any other dried fruit you like. Go wild.

I got the cherries at Costco, but just so you know, I was in there the other day and the packaging is a little different now. I got this cute jug of Grade B maple syrup along with the rest of the seeds and nuts at Whole Foods.

Grade B maple syrup is darker and has a sharper maple flavor than the lighter Grade A syrups, and is used primarily in cooking and baking. I just want to tip up the jug and drink it. Maple syrup makes everything better. The name of the recipe is Pumpkin Seed Dried Cherry Trail Mix, and here's what you will need to buy:

2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas)
3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup slivered blanched almonds
6 Tbsp pure Grade B maple syrup
1 cup dried cherries
Coarse salt (I use Kosher salt for everything)

First, heat your oven to 300 degrees F. Next, line 2 large jelly roll pans with parchment paper. I refuse to be without parchment paper in my kitchen, it saves so much time and makes both baking and cleanup so much easier. Just roll it in the opposite direction to flatten it out because it has a mind of it's own and likes to curl up when you try to lay it down on the pans. Measure your seeds and nuts and dump into a big bowl. The package of pumpkin seeds I had was a little less than 2 cups, but I overfilled the bag with sunflower seeds, so I just made up the difference with those. I always do that when I'm scooping out of those huge bulk containers. I swear it looks like I hardly have any in my bag and it always ends up being enough to feed a large army.

Add 6 Tablespoons of maple syrup and mix until everything is evenly coated. Spread the seed and nut mixture in a single even layer, divided so half goes on each pan. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt to taste. Don't skip this step, the light saltiness along with the deep flavor of the maple syrup is pure bliss.

Bake for 20 minutes, stirring several times with spatula or wooden spoon, until just golden.

Confessional time - I went rogue and used a stainless steel spoon. I tried to do the stirring thing, and the first time I did it I inadvertantly shut the oven off when I thought I was turning off the timer. Good thing I went back to stir again 5 minutes later! I ended up leaving it in the oven for a full 15 minutes after that without stirring, and it really made no difference. It wasn't sticking together and it wasn't sticking to the parchment paper, so I wouldn't worry too much about stirring. Just check on it periodically during the 20 minute baking time.

Doesn't this look good? Nice and lightly golden brown, and it smells wonderful!

Leave the pans alone and let this cool completely. Go do something else for awhile. When it's cool, the stickiness of the syrup is gone and you are left with clusters of lightly sweet & salty, crunchy, nutty goodness. I carefully lifted up the parchment paper and let it all slide into a clean bowl, but I can see where this could be just asking for trouble. Fortunately, it all landed in the bowl and not on the floor, much to the bitter disappointment of my dogs. Stick your hands in it and break up the chunks - this is so easy, it breaks apart perfectly so not one single seed is stuck together. Mix in the cherries and toss to combine.

This makes 4 cups. Store it in an airtight container at room temperature, but I think I'll have to bag it up into individual servings, because it's really hard to stop once you've tasted it. Enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ultimate Comfort Food... Chicken & Dumplings

I never thought dumplings sounded good at all until my sis-in-law Sara made this yummy Food Network recipe when they were back for a visit. Credit goes to Tyler Florence for this one. These dumplings were light, and fluffy, and so, so good... it was hard not to bend over and stick my whole face in the bowl. I'm a little late with publishing this because it was super cold and wintery when I made it back in January, but it's snowing today - on April 15 - my car is in the shop so I can't go anywhere, so I kind of wish we were having this for dinner tonight.

There are 4 parts to this recipe, so plan to make it when you have nothing else to do all day. If you find it too labor intensive you can cut some corners by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken and you can buy cartons of chicken stock in the store, but trust me when I say the effort of making everything from scratch is so, so worth it.

I will list the ingredients and instructions for each part, and then give you a complete shopping list at the end.

Roasted Chicken

1 (3 pound) whole chicken
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened (I only had salted butter and it was fine.)
1 lemon halved and juiced, halves reserved
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and parsley
1 onion, halved
4 garlic cloves, smashed
Fresh whole herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and parsley sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity of the chicken and discard. (Really? I saved them and threw them in the pot when I made the stock.) Rinse the chicken under cold water, inside and out. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.

In a small bowl, mash together the softened butter, lemon juice, and chopped herbs. I had a hard time getting the juice to mix with the butter, so make sure your butter is really soft and the juice is slightly warm.

Rub the herbed butter all over the chicken, as well as under the skin. Stuff the lemon halves, onion, garlic, and whole herbs inside the chicken cavity.

Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. (I skipped this step because after I stuffed everything inside I couldn't get the legs together, so don't worry if you can't do it either.) Okay, those of you with vivid imaginations - stop it. Place the chicken, breast side up, in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. I didn't have a rack, so don't worry about that either, it doesn't make that much difference in the end. Here's what mine looked like before I put it in the oven:

Roast for 1 hour until the meat is no longer pink. Try your best to resist diging in to this gorgeous, delicious bird at this point, because it will be really tempting. Don't do it.

When cool enough to handle, shred the meat, discarding the skin and set aside. (Again, I don't know why you would throw the skin away when you could use it in the stock.. I did.) Reserve the bones for the stock.

Chicken Stock

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, cut in large chunks
2 celery stalks, cut in large chunks
1 onion, halved
1 garlic bulb, halved (cut it in half horizontally across the center)
Reserved chicken bones (throw in the skin and giblets)
2 quarts cold water
4 sprigs fresh parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves

Coat a large stockpot with the olive oil and place over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic halves and saute for 3 minutes.

Add the reserved chicken bones, water, and herbs; simmer for 1 hour.

Strain the stock to remove the solids and set aside.


2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder (that isn't a typo, you really do need a full Tablespoon)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 - 1 cup buttermilk

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and buttermilk together; pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and gently fold. I did this wrong - I put everything into the bowl and then mixed it. I've done it both ways, and the dumplings turned out just as good either way.

Mix just until the dough comes together, the batter should be thick and cake-like.

Supreme Sauce

2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon oil
1 Tablespoon salt
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper for garnish
Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

This is where the whole dish comes together.

In a Dutch oven, melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, garlic and bay leaves.

Saute until the veggies are soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the flour to make a roux. Continue to stir and cook for 2 minutes to coat the flour and remove the starchy taste.

Slowly pour in the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.
Let simmer until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in heavy cream. Don't panic if your sauce seems runny, it is not supposed to be very thick.

Fold in the shredded chicken into the sauce and bring up to a simmer. Using 2 spoons, carefully drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dumpling batter into the hot mixture. The dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching or crowded. Mine are a little crowded because there was more dough than there was room in my very large Dutch oven, and I didn't want to throw it out.

Let the dumplings poach for 10-15 minutes until they are firm and puffy. This is why you don't want to crowd the dumplings. They really do puff up and turn out really light and fluffy.

Season with the pepper if you like and garnish with chopped parsley before serving. If you are not a fan of black pepper like me, stop by Penzey's and pick up some of their 4-color peppercorns. They have great flavor but don't burn your mouth. This serves 6 people, and the leftovers are still good heated up the next day.


Shopping List

1 3-lb whole chicken
1 lemon
2 whole bulbs garlic
olive oil
vegetable/canola oil
2 onions
4 bay leaves
2 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream