Gingerbread People Cookies

I made these to share with our playgroup, and we had a marvelous time frosting and decorating them! We also REALLY had a marvelous time eating them, they were SO yummy!

This recipe comes to you from this cookbook, which came to me from Kate:

What you need for the cookie dough:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup golden brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup light molasses
2 large egg yolks
2 1/3 cups flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt

What you need for the icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
4-5 tsp milk

What you do for the cookies:
*In a bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, and molasses. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks and beat until incorporated.
*Sift together remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Divide the dough into thirds, shape into flat disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
*Position the oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Grease 2 large cookie sheets with cooking spray. 
*On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 dough disk to 1/4 inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out gingerbread people shapes. Using a metal spatula, transfer to cookie sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Gather the scraps into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Repeat rolling and cutting with remaining dough disks, one at a time. 
*Bake until the cookies begin to turn golden brown at the edges, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. 
I cannot for the life of me get blogger to turn this one the right way. Sorry about the sideways gingerbread men!
What you do for the frosting:
*In a small bowl, combine the sugar and vanilla. Stir in enough milk to thin to the desired consistency. Decorate the cookies with the icing. Let the icing dry completely before storing cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. 
Erik and his friends decorating their gingerbread men. They were sure yummy!!!

Totally Awesome Biscuits

I'm going to break the rules and not post a picture. Just imagine a biscuit and there you have it. 

Totally Awesome Biscuits
2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 T. baking powder
4 T. shortening
1 c. milk
2 T. butter (do not add into dough mixture)

1.    Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix.
2.    Cut in shortening.
3.    Stir in milk. The dough will still be sticky at this point, that's normal
4.    Dump about 1/4-1/2 cup of flour on the counter and spread it around (about a 1 to 1 1/2 foot circle is plenty) to prepare your floured surface
5.  Place dough on the floured surface and sprinkle a light layer of flour over the top. 
6.  Knead the dough (by folding it in half) 7-10 times. Do not over-knead.
5.    Flatten (either by hand or with a rolling pin...I just flatten it with my hands) to about an inch thick and cut with a biscuit cutter/cookie cutter/tin can. Recombine edge pieces, flatten and cut again (mixing the dough as little as possible). 
7.    Melt 2 T. butter in 8x8 baking pan.
8.    Place each cut biscuit dough in the pan of butter, turning it over so that both the top and bottom are coated. 
9.  Bake at 425 degrees for 12 minutes or until golden brown. You don't want to wait until these are brown to pull them out of the oven as they will be overcooked and hard at that point. To test if they are done, lightly try pulling the top of one biscuit. It should pull up easily and the inside should look flaky. 
10. Store cooled leftover biscuits in an airtight container (plastic baggies work) in a cool place. Can be reheated in the microwave (you only need about 10-15 seconds). 

Potato Soup

Mostly I'm putting this up here because I sorta winged the making of this recipe and really liked the results, so I'm going to record what I did here so I can duplicate it in the future. I had a list of ingredients for my mom's potato soup recipe but no directions, so I found this recipe and kinda combined the two. We gobbled this up with slices of fresh buttered home-made bread to dunk in it and it was awesome! Talk about comfort food!


What you need:
Bacon (a few slices should do)
1/2 an onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced into bite size pieces
3-4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
salt and pepper
3 cups chicken broth (plus extra bullion for added flavor if desired)
1/2 cup milk
2 TBS flour
1/2 can evaporated milk
Grated cheese
Parsley (optional)

What you do:
Chop your bacon into small pieces and cook in a largish soup pot. When the bacon is crunchy, remove from pan onto a paper towel, and discard most of the grease (save about a tsp).
Add the onion and carrots, and cook until the onions start to soften (maybe five minutes?). Add the potatoes and salt and pepper; cook for a few more minutes.
Dump in your chicken broth and bring to a boil. Boil for something like 10 minutes, or until your potatoes are soft.
Mix the flour and milk together in a separate container and then add into the soup. Return to a boil and let cook for a few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in evaporated milk and grated cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Sprinkle in the parsley (this is mostly a garnish, I don't think it did much for the flavor), and serve up a big bowl for yourself. Garnish with a sprinkle of bacon pieces and enjoy!

Eclairs

I was in need of something yummy yesterday. And when I say yummy I mean REALLY yummy. OOZING with yummy-ness. Decadently yummy. Do you get the idea? Boring old cookies or something like that just weren't going to cut it, I needed something amazing. But I don't have huge reserves of energy right now (and I'm just lazy) so it had to be something that wasn't going to require a large amount of effort. Or a trip to the store. Ethan helped me swim through mountains of cookbooks and ideas and we finally decided that these would be the perfect thing. And OH BOY were they ever!
What you need:
Pudding (we used this recipe to make our own, but you could use the boxed stuff) or Pastry Cream
   
*For the eclairs:
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
4-5 eggs
*For the chocolate glacé icing
3 squares (3 oz) semi sweet baking chocolate, melted in 1 1/2 TBS water
3 cups confectioner's sugar, SIFTED
3-4 TBS water

What you do:
Make your pudding/pastry cream first and get it started chilling in the fridge.

For the eclairs:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Sift the flour and salt together into a small bowl or onto a piece of waxed paper. Put the water and butter into a fairly large saucepan, bring to a boil, and when bubbling, remove from the heat. Immediately pour in the flour/salt. Beat vigorously for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a ball.
Cool the mixture about 5 minutes, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. If the eggs are large, break the last one into a bowl and beat with a fork. Add this egg slowly to the pastry dough to ensure that it remains firm and keeps its shape--all of this last egg may not be needed, depending on the consistency of the dough.
Beat the dough for 1-2 minutes until it's glossy and very smooth.
Put the dough into a pastry bag (I just use a large ziplock bag and cut off the tip of one corner) with a 1/2 plain tip. Pipe the dough fairly far apart onto a dampened baking sheet in 3 in lengths (I don't know why they have you dampen the baking sheet. It didn't prevent the pastries from sticking, next time I'm going to try just spraying the pan with cooking spray).
Bake for 10 minutes in the heated oven, then raise the temp to 425 degrees and continue baking for 15 minutes. When the eclairs are firm and crisp, prick the sides to release the steam and cool on a wire rack. Slit them open along one side.Fill the eclairs with the pudding, making sure the entire length is filled, preferably using a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip (again, I used a plastic baggie). 
Dip the tops of the eclairs in the icing (recipe to follow) and return to wire rack to set (I didn't dip mine, I just spooned the icing over the tops, it seemed less messy). These were good warm, but we decided we liked them best chilled. 
For the chocolate glacĂ© icing:
In a pan over gentle heat, melt the chocolate pieces in the water, stirring until it's smooth (Remember how I said I didn't want to have to go to the store? I didn't have baking chocolate, so I just threw in three medium size handfuls of semi sweet chocolate chips, and it worked fine). Take from heat and beat in the sugar. Add enough water to make a thick cream. Heat the icing over a pan of hot water until warm to the touch--it should coat the back of a spoon. If it's too thick, add a little more water; if too thin, beat in more sugar.

Now, I do have to warn you that I have a terrible time getting my pastry to come out uniform. There are often several of them that have holes or deformations that make them unfit for filling. Also, my oven has a thing against heating to and staying at the temp you've chosen so my first pan of these didn't cook right. So, I took the ones that would work and filled/frosted them the conventional way, but the rest didn't go to waste. I put a layer of the pastries in a dish, then poured the leftover pudding over the top of them. I added another layer of pastries and topped with the remaining frosting. I ended up with an eclair casserole tiramisu lasagna cake pie thing that was REALLY yummy, though not beautiful. None of the ugly pastries got wasted and I have WAY more good stuff to fatten myself up with. That's a win for everyone!

Vanilla Pudding

Okay, so I didn't take a picture of this one, but we all know what pudding looks like, right? Home made pudding tends to be more mildly flavored than the store bought boxed stuff, but it's SO good!

What you need:
 1/3 cup sugar
2 TBS cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 large egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 TBS butter or margarine, softened
2 tsp vanilla

What you do:
In a 2 qt saucepan (it really does need to be that big, trust me), mix sugar, cornstarch and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute.
Gradually stir at least half the hot mixture into the egg yolks, then stir back into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil an stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla.
Pour pudding into individual serving dishes. Cover (use plastic wrap and push it all the way down onto the surface of the pudding, if you don't a skin will form on top of the pudding, yuck!) and refrigerate about 1 hour or until chilled. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Cam's Chicken and Dumplings

Before church we decided chicken and dumplings sounded amazing for lunch. So I looked up recipes to get the gist of the meal and put together my own concoction. If you don't try anything that we've posted so far, try this! And...I'm a genius. This shtuff is good! -Cameron

This really was amazing. So good, easy, and filling. This is going in our must have fall/winter recipe rotation.


Gravy/Soup Ingredients:

  • 18 oz. chicken broth (I used low sodium broth because that's what we had on hand)
  • 1 can Cream of Chicken/Cream of Mushroom soup (I used the Campbell's soup combined can)
  • 2 large chicken breasts (can use thighs), cut into big bite size chunks
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped
  • 1 scant tsp. celery seed (I didn't have celery on hand but wanted the celery flavor, so I used the celery seed instead)
  • 1/4 tsp ground sage
  • 1/4 tsp ground thyme
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp of cumin
  • 1/4 tsp parsley flakes
  • 1/4 tsp basil leaves
  • 3 1/2 tbs unsalted sweet cream butter (substituting margarine may work, but butter will taste better)
  • 7 small green onions, chopped
  • 3 large carrots (quartered coins)
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. half and half
  • 1 c. milk 


Directions:
  1. Combine broth, soup, chicken chunks, garlic, onion, and spices/herbs (celery seed, sage, thyme, cumin, parsley, and basil)
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until chicken is cooked. 
  3. Add the butter, vegetables, and salt. Let simmer while you mix up the dumplings. 
  4. Simmer until vegetables are nearly done (or all the way done if you like your veggies a little more mushy), add the cream cheese and stir until melted into the soup. 
  5. Drop dumpling dough by heaping tablespoon (or fork full) onto top of soup.
  6. Cover (leaving the lid cracked) and simmer for 15-20 minutes. 
  7. Spoon into bowl and devour. 

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

So this recipe came from a super cute cook book that was given to me forever ago (by someone amazing, by the way). I've looked at the pictures and thought "hmmm, there's some yummy looking stuff in here", but I've never actually gotten around to making any of the recipes. I was trying to decide what to make for FHE treats yesterday and decided these looked really yummy and not too complicated, so here you go.

These are super chocolatey and stay soft and chewy even after they cool, which makes them amazing.

What you need:
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I never have this on hand, so I use the substitution guide in my Betty Crocker cookbook that says to use 3 TBS baking cocoa plus 1 TBS melted shortening or butter for each oz of baking chocolate you're replacing. So for this recipe that comes to 3/4 cup baking cocoa and 4 TBS melted butter)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process (I just used regular)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips (I didn't have mini ones, I just used regular ones and they worked fine)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

What you do:

*Add the unsweetened chocolate (or above mentioned substitute) and butter to a heatproof bowl placed over (not touching) a pan of simmering water. Warm, stirring often, until the butter and chocolate melt and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and let the mixture cool slightly. (I just threw the butter in a sauce pan, melted it over low heat, and then stirred in the cocoa powder)
*In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until the mixture is light in color and thick, about 3 minutes. Add the melted chocolate mixture and stir with a wooden spoon or beat on low speed until blended.
*In a bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and beat on low speed until blended. Add the chocolate chips and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is firm enough to roll into balls, about 2 hours (ok, sometimes you can ignore the refrigeration step in a recipe, but DO NOT skip it this time. The dough is VERY SOFT and needs to firm up in the fridge so you can work with it).
*When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper (I never have this either, I just used tinfoil). Sift the confectioner's sugar into a bowl.
*Roll a rounded TBS of dough between your palms into a 1 1/2 inch ball, then roll the ball in the confectioner's sugar to coat it completely. Place on a prepared cookie sheet. Repeat to shape and coat the remaining dough, spacing the balls 3 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Press each ball down slightly so that it stays in place on the cookie sheet. (I found that I had to put the dough back in the fridge to set back up every few minutes or it got too soft to work with)
*Bake 1 sheet of cookies at a time, until the tops are puffed and crinkled and feel firm when lightly touched, about 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temp. for up to 3 days.

Ricotta Cheese

Yep, that's right. I made ricotta from scratch! (Although this was way back in January, so I'm a bit lazy getting this posted here)
I found the recipe from this site via Pinterest, and was way excited to try it. It was pretty quick and easy just like the pin said.
I will say that this recipe didn't make quite as much cheese as I thought it would, so I went back to the store to do a cost analysis to see if it was worth it to make my own cheese. I compared the sum of the cost/ounce of each ingredient with the price of store bought ricotta and found that the home made ricotta is two cents more expensive per ounce than the store bought. It is WAY superior in taste and texture, but a bit more money. So it's up to you, is two cents worth it to have AMAZING cheese? 
Besides the price, my other hold up about making this regularly was the fact that you have to buy a whole big thing of buttermilk, but then you only use 1 cup of it. Same problem with the cream that you buy for this. It wasn't until a month or two later that I found this gem on Pinterest and discovered that I can freeze my buttermilk and my cream for future use so I could buy the ingredients for this cheese when they're on sale, portion and freeze them, and then be able to make cheese whenever I want. That might even make up the cost difference.  
The original blog has some pretty great instructions and pictures, so I'm going to just copy in the recipe and maybe add a few notes and pictures of my own. From here on anything that is italics is from me and the rest is from FramedCooks.

INGREDIENTS
4 cups whole milk
One cup buttermilk
1/3 cup heavy cream
Coarse salt
DIRECTIONS
1. Line a fine mesh strainer with several folds of cheesecloth and set it in your sink.
2. Combine milk, buttermilk and cream in medium heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil until cooking thermometer registers 185 degrees...if you don't have a thermometer, keep an eye on it to see when the curds (the solid white parts) are mostly separated from the whey (the cloudy liquid). This will take about 10 minutes...stir a couple of times during the boiling process.(I ended up adding a small splash of lemon juice to get a few more curds out of the batch than the buttermilk alone produced. It wasn't a ton more, but every little bit counts, right?)
3. Remove from heat and using a slotted spot, scoop spoonfuls of the curd into the cheesecloth-lined strainer, sprinkling with a little salt every few spoonfuls or so.
4. Let the ricotta drain for about 5 minutes and then taste to check the consistency. If you like it drier, then let it drain a little more. If you like it moister, stir in a tablespoon or two of milk. This ricotta is best used right away, but will keep for a day or two in the fridge.
That's all the cheese the recipe made, but it was enough for some awesome home made lasagna for our dinner that night! 

Ratatouille

I know...the pan looks gross...but it's just the juices and olive oil that splashed up. I thought you should know it looks a little messy straight out of the oven, but it wiped up really easily and then it looked pretty.

We got all the ingredients we needed for Ratatouille except for the yellow squash and red bell pepper in our bountiful basket this past week. I've been wanting to try this for years now and finally we did! It was really yummy and Cameron even liked it (he's not a squash or tomato fan). Give it a try!

I got my recipe from http://www.thecomfortofcooking.com/2010/08/layered-ratatouille.html but I modified it slightly. Here's what I did:

Ingredients: 
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced (I'd never sliced garlic before, but it's not hard)
1 cup tomato puree (this was about 5 roma tomatoes worth chopped up in my mini food processor)
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 TBS olive oil divided (I discovered we're out of olive oil...so I just used my olive oil cooking spray and it worked fine)
1 small eggplant (the one we had was kinda fat...this'll work better if you have a longer/skinnier one)
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 long red bell pepper (I goofed and got a green one at the store, but it worked fine)
Thyme (the original recipe called for fresh...we were all out of fresh so I used dried)
Salt and Pepper
Queso Fresco, Parmesan, or some other cheese (the recipe called for crumbled goat cheese, we used the two I just listed)
1 roma tomato, sliced (this wasn't in the recipe, but I had 1 tomato left and I thought it'd add color...since I didn't have a red bell pepper)
Parchment Paper

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Spread your tomato puree in a baking dish that is around 10 inches long. Mine was a little shorter, but we made it work. Spread the garlic and onion around in the sauce evenly (I laid mine on top and then used a wooden spoon to push it down in the sauce) and then sprinkle on the oregano, crushed red pepper, 1 TBS olive oil, and salt and pepper.
3. Slice the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and bell pepper (cutting off the ends and coring the pepper of course). Leave all the skins on! Slices should be approximately 1/16-inch thick. Pretty much to me that meant as thin as I could get them (since I don't have a fancy slicer that measures for me).
4. Layer the slices of veggies (eggplant, squash, pepper, then zucchini, or whatever order you want to maximize the color combo) starting at the outer edge and overlapping them so that just a small edge of each surface shows behind the next. Spiral them all the way around the edge and to the middle of the pan.
5. Drizzle/spray the veggies with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a small amount of thyme over the veggies.
6. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit in the edge of the dish and place on top of the veggies. I wasn't careful with how I cut it and it was a little small. I think that's why my pan was so dirty on the edges.
7. Bake for 40-55 minutes (until the veggies have released their liquids and are cooked all the way through, but not until they are completely limp and lifeless). The tomato sauce should be bubbling and the veggies should NOT be brown (mine were a little overcooked, but still tasty).
8. Serve with cheese of choice on top. This can be eaten with crusty bread, on top of rice or couscous, or plain (we did plain and it was great).

Mater Cake


I decided to make a Tow Mater cake for Dad for his birthday. Here was my inspiration:

Bakerella's:
http://www.bakerella.com/howdy/
And here's how it turned out:

Mine:

I tried to follow the ingredient list and instructions as closely as I possibly could. I couldn't find the mini grasshopper cookies, so I just went with full size and cut them down with a paring knife. The cut edges looked kinda bad on the tires so I added splotchy chocolate frosting on the tires to look like mud and that helped. I'm still not very good at spreading the frosting smoothly, but I'm learning. 

So...it's not beautiful, but Dad got a good kick out of it anyway.