Basic Sugar Cookies

2014-03-12 20.32.26[ Giraffe sugar cookies created using a cookie cutter made in a 3D printer. ]

I brought a bunch of biscotti and sugar cookies to work for the ladies and the gent on Thursday. They were a big hit. One asked for my Auntie Stacey’s Healthy Biscotti recipe I have already posted while another asked for the sugar cookie recipe I haven’t blogged yet, so here it is. Again, another recipe I have adapted from many online over the years and, well, there wasn’t much to teak beyond the variations I have come up with in terms of flavouring the sugar cookies. The base remains the same, year after year. It if ain’t broke, y’know?

Basic Sugar Cookies:
1 C Unsalted Butter, room temp
1/2 C Powder Sugar
1 Large Egg, room temp
1 Tea Vanilla Extract
1/2 Tea Baking Powder
1/2 Tea Salt, fine grind
2 C All Purpose Flour

In a medium to large bowl, dump in the flour, salt and baking powder. Whisk to blend these ingredients well. Set aside.

Cream the butter in a mixer for 2-3 minutes till it turns pale, then slowly drizzle in scoopfuls of the powder sugar on a low speed, and let the mixer run another 2 minutes on a high speed to incorporate as much air as it can to make a fluffy butter mixture.

Drop the speed back down to low and start adding the egg and vanilla. Let that fully mix into the butter before adding the dry ingredients by the spoonfuls, allowing each drop the be mixed into the butter fully before adding the next.

By the last of the dry ingredients, the dough should be balled up and rolling around in the mixing bowl cleanly from the sides and bottom. If it’s not, run the mixer a bit longer till it comes together. It will. Just wait for it. When that happens, stop the mixer and turn the dough out onto a floured work surface to knead gently for a minute or two to form a smooth circular disk you can place in plastic wrap.

Chill the dough for one hour minimum. When ready to get started cutting the cookies, take the dough out and let it sit on the counter for 10-15 minutes to warm up a bit. While waiting, dust your work space again with flour, assemble any cookie cutters and bench scraper needed, as well as preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Tips & Tricks: Some find rolling the dough out between two sheets of wax paper helpful, but I found I didn’t need it since the dough didn’t stick to my rolling pin. I tend to flour the work surface and rolling pin well.

2014-03-12 20.14.32A little trick I use when working with dough that needs to be a consistent thickness across all the cookies in the same batch is to use my chopsticks that are 3/4 square from the top downward to where it starts to round out and taper. I ignore that part of the sticks, and keep the rolling up in the squared off area.

If you don’t have access to similar chopsticks, you can also use to wooden planks (think old wooden rulers we used in grade school). There are commercial versions, but they’re a waste of money if you ask me. One can easily look around their home and make do with two flat objects that have matching thicknesses to roll a rolling pin over to flatten out the dough evenly while cutting out cookies.

2014-03-12 20.27.12Try to aim for 1/4″ thickness when rolling out the dough. I find that is the ideal sugar cookie thickness for small to medium sized cookies (like I made with my 3D printed Giraffe cookie cutter). Bump the increment up to 3/8″ if a bigger cookie is being cut, and allow for a 2-3 minute increase over the standard 6-8 minute baking times for small to medium sugar cookies.

After the cut cookies are moved from the work surface to the baking sheet, the dough can be balled up and rolled out once more for additional cookies before the dough needs to be covered and chilled for another 10 minutes between batches. My hands are always warm, so I don’t push this. If I feel the butter in the dough literally melting in my hands, I will chill it without a second rolling and cutting. I don’t chance it. The cookies wouldn’t come out with a nice crisp edge if I baked a soft cut out.

2014-03-12 20.30.29[ Total loss of giraffe detail after baking the softer dough cookie cuts. ]

If you have cold hands (oh, how I envy you all who do), you can spend more time rolling and cutting out the dough between trips to the fridge. If you do find the cookies are softening while sitting out in the hot kitchen, simply pop the cookie tray into the fridge while it awaits its turn in the oven to firm up the butter again.

Store the cookies after completely being cooled down in air tight containers. And NEVER decorate these while still even a teeny-weensy bit warm. The icing will run like an athlete in the summer Olympics.

Sugar cookies are the #1 cookie to bake during all holidays where gifts are to be given or when guests arrive for an occasion like a wedding or baby shower. Get creative with shapes and icing designs. I have seem some great ones lately. Like this batch for Chinese New Year. How gorgeous are they?! I wouldn’t want to eat them because they look like they belong in a frame in some cookie museum.. ūüôā

chinesenewyear[ Happy belated Chinese New Year 2014 to my bff since Grade 3! ]

Auntie Stacey’s Healthy Biscotti

Eggnog Biscotti I made for Christmas gift giving a year ago.

This is my own variation of a recipe I found online years ago. I had to modify it to suit my particular food tastes and baking sensibilities, but it wasn’t that hard and the taste didn’t suffer one iota. One Italian man couldn’t tell the difference. Yields roughly two dozen and total time is 3 hours.

Enjoy!

2014-03-13 09.32.58

Auntie Stacey’s Healthy Biscotti:
1/4 C Margarine or Butter, room temp
1/2 C Sugar
2 Eggs
1/2 Tea Almond Extract
1/2 Tea Anise Extract (or vanilla extract)
1 3/4 C Flour (I use unbleached all purpose)
1/2 C Almond Meal
1/4 Tea Salt
1 Tea Baking Powder
1/2 C Nuts (optional, any kind)
Slivered Almonds + 1 Tbsp Egg White or Milk, for garnish (optional)
Melting Chocolate, for garnish (optional)

Directions
1. Cream the sugar until nice and fluffy, about 5 minutes, and then add the sugar and beat to combine well.

2. Add the eggs one at a time, and drizzle the extracts in as the mixture is running.

3. Combine 1 1/2 C of the flour in separate bowl with almonds, salt, nuts, and baking powder. Sift with spoon and start adding it to the wet ingredients in the mixer bowl as it runs on a low speed. Gently stir in last 1/4 C flour to complete the dough by hand.

4. Cover and chill mixture for two hours.

5. Divide dough into two balls and shape into rectangular logs with squared up ends, then flatten them out to roughly less that an inch in height, taking care to keep the squared off ends of the logs. Place each one of a sprayed cookie sheet or atop of foil on a jelly roll pan. Cover tops of each loaf with egg white or milk wash and slivered almonds for extra taste.

2014-03-12 22.54.456. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees C until center is no longer sticky. Place on racks to cool down for cutting. When each loaf is cool to touch, use a long blade knife and gently but firmly press down each time to cut the loaves into clean strips.

2014-03-12 23.37.007. Turn each strip on its side and bake for another 15 minutes each at same temperature. Take care in the last five minutes on the second side not to dry them out by leaving them “toast” too long. I found it only took 7 minutes on each side in my stove to get a great crunch that won’t break teeth if you’re not a¬†hot beverage¬†drinker. If you are, I recommend the full 15 on the first side and 10 minutes on other side, and leaving them out in the open air to cool completely to get the true hard-as-a-rock biscotti effect.

8. If the flat sides are rough from the knife, once the biscotti is completely cooled, you can micro-plane them smooth before dipping one side into, or drizzling with, melted chocolate.

Flavour Variations:
* 2 Tbsp Orange Zest + 1/2 Tea Vanilla Extract + 3 oz Dark Chocolate Chips
* 2 Tbsp Orange Zest + 2 Tbsp Espresso Powder + 1/2 Tea Ground Cinnamon
* 3-4 Tea Orange Juice + 1/4 Tea Almond Extract + 1 C Powder Sugar (Icing)
* 3-4 Tea Eggnog + 1/4 Tea + 1 C Powder Sugar (Icing)
* 3-4 Tea Lemon Juice + 1/4 Tea Vanilla Extract + 1 C Powder Sugar (Icing)

Best Banana Bread

2014-01-12 11.13.15Before we got sick over the holidays, I made this banana bread with loads of dark chocolate chips. It looks fantastic, no? It was. It really was. So tasty. Especially with a morning latte.

I have been thinking about that bread a lot lately.

I would make it again, but apparently I can’t figure what recipe, if any, I used. It’s like I pulled it out of thin air because I can’t find any link on any of my computing devices that lists what I recall using to make the batter or even the temperature I used since it wasn’t the usual 350C.

Oh, this is so maddening!!!

GRR.

Reusable Cookina Baking Sheet

Cookina

I’ve been using a sheet of Cookina non-stick pan liner¬†that I cut up to line two different size cookie sheets that I’ve been baking cookies on this Christmas season. This is my new alternative to the annoying Silpat that I hate so much.

After using them for several bake rotations, I have to say, these work just as well as sheets of parchment. I’m impressed enough to give up buying parchment paper all together from now on. And I love me some parchment!

I’m so tired of paying for expensive parchment paper I can only use twice before I have to throw it away.¬†I love that I can use it everywhere, that it can be stored compactly rolled up, and I can use it over and over again with a simple clean up after removing the food. (I already learned I can’t wait to clean it. It’s best cleaned when the sheet is still hot.)

The box containing one sheet is on the pricey side at $10 a pop, but the sheet is so large I could easily cut it up to fit two standard ¬†oven jelly roll pans, or a few non-standards. I’m calling this non-stick paper a keeper.

(Note: This is not a paid product endorsement.)

Espresso Ganache Filling for Cookie Sandwiches

While toiling away in the kitchen today, I made up an Espresso Ganache recipe to use as a cookie sandwich filling. I really liked the way it turned out. If you’re interested, here it is:

1/4C heavy cream (I used eggnog)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Melt the butter in the cream over medium heat till it comes to a simmering boil.

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped up

Pour the boiling cream mixture over the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl, and let it stand for two minutes before slowly whisking the ingredients in small circles. Let this cool down and thicken up before adding the next two ingredients.

Note: If you need the cream and chocolate mixture to cool down rapidly and thicken up a bit, place the bowl in the fridge or freezer for ten minutes, and then give it a stir.

3 Tbsp instant espresso powder
1 1/2 – 2 C powdered sugar (more or less -I was eyeballing it)

After mixing the cream mixture with the chocolate chunks to blend it all, add the espresso powder and powdered sugar. Mix well till it’s all combined and the mix thickens to a lovely spread consistency.

Using a spoon, knife or offset spatula, spread a liberal amount between the cookies and let it rest to set, or eat immediately.

Should yield enough for 4 dozen sandwich cookies.

Dilled Mushroom Stroganoff

PickleJuice PickleJuice2

This is a recipe I’m working on currently. I love it as is because it’s so quick, easy and flavourful without a lot of ingredients needed, but I still want to tweak it to see if I can make it better in the future to suit my moods. But, for now, this is the basic idea. Try it at home and let me know what you think.

The twist to this classic is that instead of wine (we don’t drink it here), I use dill pickle juice.

I know, right?!

At work I’m fortunate enough to have access to pails upon pails of pickles where the brine is left behind after we slice up the pickles for garnishing. I took a half pail home one night and as you can see in the above pic, it filled up a lot of my mason jars quite nicely. I am currently dreaming up uses for all of that delicious dill pickle brine. If you have any ideas, please leave them for me in the comments!!

Auntie Stacey’s Dilled Mushroom Stroganoff:
1 C Mushrooms, thinly sliced and washed
1/2 C Red Onions, thinly sliced
1 Tea Bacon Fat
1 Tbsp Oil

1/2 C Pasta

1/2 Tea Paprika
S&P, to taste
1 Tea Basil, dried (or 1 Tbsp fresh, chopped)
3/4 C Dill Pickle Juice

1/2 C Full Fat Sour Cream (or plain cream cheese if you prefer)

Put a pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta. In the meantime, heat up a large frying pan. Wash and sliced up the mushrooms, and then sliced up the onions. When the frying pan is hot enough, add the bacon fat. Let that melt before adding the oil. When those two are hot enough, place the onions into the pan and let them soften a minute or two before adding the sliced mushroom. Toss them around in the fats to coat before reducing the heat to med-low and cover the pan with a lid to slowly cook the veg down.

Salt the pasta pot and add the noodles. As the noodles cook, add the paprika, basil and S&P seasonings, as well as the pickle brine juice, to the onions and mushrooms. Again, toss to coat all the vegetables completely. Return the lid to the frying pan to cook till the pasta is done. At that point, add the sour cream to the pan. Stir the cream into the brined vegetables fast so it doesn’t scald or burn. Take both the pot and pan off the burners, and turn off the stove burners.

Drain the pasta a large bowl and top with the stroganoff, stirring to incorporate both into one before plating, or simply add the cooked pasta to bowls and top with heaping spoonfuls of the stroganoff. Top each bowl with a bit more basil if using fresh leaves.

Mixed Fruit Brown Betty

This is a cobbler (A.K.A.: crumble, Brown Betty or crisp) I made the other night after work when I was especially burned out and in need of a great comforting dessert that I could put together without having to read or follow a cookbook or an online recipes. Basically, I used the formula I always do for my fruit cobblers, and threw in whatever I felt would work that was kicking around at the time.

I used a bag of frozen mixed berries I bought at the grocery store back when they were on sale for this very type of occasion. It was a mix of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. I cut the bag open at the top and down from sternum to tailpipe, and dropped the frozen lump into my baking pan. While that came up in temperature enough that I could break it up with my wooden spoon, I assembled the rest of the filling in a small bowl, and then assembled the topping ingredients in a slightly bigger bowl. When everything was prepped and the fruit was softened up enough, I took the butter out of the fridge and diced it up into half inch cubes, and separated them into two piles – one for the top, one for the bottom of the cobbler.

Here is what I came up with the other night for ingredients. The overall taste was spot on my target, and the husband was really into it. WIN!

Auntie Stacey’s¬†Mixed Fruit Brown Betty:
1 Bag Frozen Mixed Fruit, enough to fill a 6-8 serving medium size baking dish
1 Pinch Salt
1 Tea Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Tea Ground Cardamom (optional – I happen to always have it on hand)
1/4 C Brown Sugar, lightly packed
4 Tbsp Cornstarch
3 Tbsp Cold Butter, cubed
Juice of half a Lime

Mix this into a small bowl and toss it over the fruit. Use a spatula to mix everything enough. None of the ingredients have to be perfectly incorporated, and there’s no need to work the butter cubes into the filling’s dry ingredients. This is a rustic dessert, not a sophisticated Cherries Jubilee.

1 1/2 C Old Fashioned Oats
1/2 C Flour
3 Tbsp Cold Butter, cubed
1/4 Tea Ground Cinnamon

Using a butter cutting gadget, or two knives, or your fingers, cut up the butter and incorporate as much of the finer dry ingredients for the topping into the butter as you want. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect or even all smooshed up. It’s a rustic dessert, so leave some clumps untouched and unsmooshed.

Top the filling with this crumbled mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes uncovered. Leaving it uncovered will allow the oats in the topping to crisp up nicely as it deepens in colour.

Let it rest at least 20 minutes before you dig in. At least! I let mine rest up to a full hour sometimes. What the rest period does for the dessert is to allow more time for the mixture of cornstarch and brown sugar in the filling to cook down all liquid coming out of the fruit into a love thickened syrup. That syrup, by the way, is great spooned over some ice cream or whipped cream should you serve that alongside this dessert. (And I highly recommend that you do.)

PS: I was so frazzled from work the other night, we ate it all over two days and never once thought about taking a picture for this blog entry. My apologies. You all know what cobblers look like, right? If not, and you don’t or can’t wait till I make this again to photograph, you can always use Google images to see what these desserts looks like.

Enjoy!

Korean Beef & Noodles

Korean_Beef_Udon_Noodles_001

[ Placeholder picture from “You Gotta Eat Here!” until I get a chance to snap my own. ]

Following the same theme as the last post about watching “YGEH!” and foods features in some of their segments, here is my version of their Korean Beef & Noodles that I made for the husband and myself the other night. I forgot the sugar, and it was sorely missed. The sauce is too acidic without it for my liking. Though, having said that, I’m not a fan of sugar in savoury sauces, so I will probably scale the sugar back to 1 – 2 tablespoons when I make this again. And I will make this again. It’s fast, it’s cheap and it’s easy. This is exactly the kind of dish I love to make after a long day at work, and dinner needs to hit the table in under 40 minutes. (I let meat rest for 30 mins to come up to room temperature before I cook it.)

I think the meat cost me $2.50, the noodles were $1.25 a pack, and the rest of the ingredients added up to, maybe, $2.00? Again, dirt cheap to make. And fast. And packed with flavour. Feel free to add more vegetables if you like to bulk this dish out. I know that’s what I’m planning to do.

Korean Beef & Noodles:
Sauce
1 TBSP Garlic, minced
1/2 T Ginger, fresh (I used 1/4 T ground)
1/4 C Brown Sugar (I’ll use 1-2 TBSP max)
1/4 C Soy Sauce
3-4 TBSP Sesame Oil
1/4 T Red Chili Flakes

2 TBSP Oil (any nut based oil will work fine)
1/2 C Beef, cut into strips
1 Portabello Mushroom, sliced
1 Carrot, grated
2 Green Onions, rough chopped
S & P
1 Pkg Udon Noodles
Sesame Seeds

1. Mince the garlic and chop or grate the ginger. Place in a large bowl. Over that, pour the sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil and red pepper flakes. Whisk up and set aside.

2. Heat up a pan, and then add the nut based oil to it. When the oil is hot enough, drop in the beef and Portobello slices, and ladle about 1 cup of the sauce over top. Toss and stir to coat the sauce over everything in the pan, and then let everything cook long enough to brown the meat and slightly soften the mushroom. (About 3 minutes.)

3. Add the uncooked udon noodles to the pan, along with the salt + pepper. Stir to coat the noodles before grating the carrot over the pan and adding the rest of the sauce. Cook this all together over med-high heat for another 3 minutes or so (the noodles don’t take long to heat through, so take care not to burn the sticky sauce by leaving them in the pan too long).

4. Plate the mixture into serving dishes, and top each serving with the green onions and sprinkles of sesame seeds.