Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lofthouse style soft sugar cookies

There's this cookie store in Indiana called Blondie's Cookies that sells these delicious, rich hybrid shortbread/sugar cookies that are covered in a vanilla buttercream icing and topped with sprinkles. Not surprisingly, they're called "Sprinkles" cookies. These cookie shops are ONLY in Indiana so whenever I go home to visit family, I try to stop into the cookie shop and pick up some of the cookies that I crave once I leave. Ever since trying those cookies, I've tried sugar cookie recipe after sugar cookie recipe looking for the one that replicates Blondie's version. They were all too hard, not sweet enough, not rich enough, and just not right. Then, I saw one of my favorite bloggers, Brown Eyed Baker, post her recipe for Lofthouse style cookies. You know, those uber-soft cookies they sell in the bakeries of grocery stores, usually covered in some fluourescent colored icing? I figured I'd give them a try and see how close they come.

Long story short. They work! While not exactly the same as Blondies, they'll certainly satisfy my craving. These cookies puff up wonderfully. They are super soft and still rich. Not too sweet, but not too plain either. And, oddly, they actually taste better the day after you make them! So resist the urge to stuff your face with these the night you make them.

One tip when making these...make sure your dough is COLD. It will make rolling these out so much easier because the dough is quite sticky. And, to make it easier to roll out once the dough has chilled, flatten out into a rectangle before putting into the fridge. I made these cookies on christmas day using cookie cutters, and the dough worked very well for cut cookies! I would not hesitate to use this recipe for all my future sugar cookie needs.

Ingredients, as written on Brown Eyed Baker (makes 5-6 dozen cookies):
For the Cookies:

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream


For the Easy Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 tablespoons heavy cream


Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the flat beater attached, cream the butter and granulated sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat at low speed until combined.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Dough will be a bit “sticky”. Divide dough into two sections. Flatten into rectangles about 1½ inches thick, then wrap with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator overnight or at least two hours until firm.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  5. Flour the countertop and the top of the dough. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for 7 minutes, until pale golden. Immediately transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Cook cookies completely before frosting.
  6. To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and vanilla. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar and the pinch of salt. Once smooth and creamy, add in heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, then beat at medium-high speed for a minute or two until light and fluffy. If desired, add food coloring and beat until combined.
  7. Once cookies have cooled completely, frost and add sprinkles. Allow frosting to set, then store in an air-tight container. Let cookies sit for several hours before serving to allow the flavors to develop.

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Pear Butter

Every holiday season, I get a gorgeous box of Royal Riviera Pears from my father in law. Usually, Chris and I can work our way through a good number of them before the turn, but sometimes a few seem to end up past their prime and we have to throw them out. This year, I wanted to figure out a way to use them up before they went south, since they are such delicious pears. I could poach them, but I don't really get the appeal of that. I could turn them into a tart, but then I'd have to eat a whole tart in a short amount of time. But then I remembered the delicious, refreshing pear butter I had at the Dahlia Lounge in Seattle and my search for a pear butter recipe started.

Googling for "Pear Butter", I came across a blog that I follow, Simply Recipes, and their recipe with lots of great pictures to help me along. Trying this new recipe also gave me the opportunity to try canning for the first time.

The recipe itself is quite good and the use of ginger and cardamom with a little lemon zest really make the flavor very refreshing and light. The only tweaks I made to the recipe were to omit the star anise (one of my least favorite flavors in the world), and add just a little cinnamon.

I also did not have a chinois or a food mill, so I had to modify the recipe a little bit. With a food mill, I wouldn't need to worry about removing the peel, seeds, stem and all that stuff. Without those devices, I had to peel the pears, remove the stems, seeds and tough parts. Then, once the pears had cooked down, working in batches, I used a wooden spoon and pressed the softened pears through a fine mesh seive to achieve a smooth puree. If I find that I'm frequently making fruit butters and other pureed foods for canning, I may invest in a fancy food mill, but for making this small batch, this method worked just fine. I just needed some patience and arm strength.

Canning presented a unique challenge for this recipe. I found the website put together by Ball Jars very useful for canning 101: PDF of Intro to Canning. All in all, the process was pretty easy. Again, I didn't have an official "canner" with a rack, but I did have a gigantic multi-pot with a pasta insert that worked just the same.

So, if you find yourself with a lot of pears and want to be able to keep them around for a lot longer, give this recipe a try. It's great spread on any kind of bread, or even stirred into yogurt, cottage cheese, or as an ice cream topping.

Here's the recipe I used, adapted from Simply Recipes:

Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 lbs chopped pears, peeled & cored (Bartlett or other). If using a food mill, no need to peel or core. 
  • 1 1-inch nob of ginger (not chopped, so you can fish it out later)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 3-4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

Directions:

  1. Put chopped, peeled & seeded pears and ginger into a large pot. Add water and lemon juice, bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the pears are completely soft, anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat. 
  2. Fish out and discard the ginger from the pear mixture. Ladle the pear mixture (liquid included) into a fine mesh sieve using a wooden spoon to press the pear through the sieve into a bowl. 
  3. Measure the resulting puree and pour into a large pan. For every cup of pear puree add 1/2 cup of sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon zest. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. 
  4. Cook on medium heat, stirring often to prevent the puree from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Cook until the mixture is quite thick, and a small bit placed on a chilled plate is not running. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the batch. 
  5. While the mixture is cooking, sterilize the jars for canning. To sterilize the jars, either 1) run them through the short cycle of the dishwasher, 2) rinse them and place them in a 225 degree oven for 10 minutes, or 3) place them on top of a steaming rack in a large pot of water which you bring to a boil for 10 minutes.
  6. When the pear butter is ready, pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal, allowing for 1/4-inch head space between the pear butter and the rims of the jars. If you plan to store the pear butter outside of a refrigerator, follow proper canning procedures. (Use Intro to Canning). Before applying the lids, sterilize them in a bowl by pouring boiling water over them. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying lids. Use a hot water bath for 10 minutes (remember to adjust time for altitude!)  to ensure a good seal. 
  7. Remove jars from boiling water, set aside to cool and don't touch them for 8-12 hours. Test that the jars sealed after 12 hours by pressing the top of the can. If it pops up, it didn't seal and should be reprocessed immediately, or stored in the refrigerator. (Or, remove some of the pear butter to allow an inch and a half head space and store in the freezer for up to 3 months). 

Makes 6 to 8 half-pint jars.
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Pasta with Sun Dried Tomato Sauce

I recently started using Pintrest...a highly addictive online time waster. The gist of it is browse Pinterest for pretty pictures of whatever (food, clothes, funny quotes, decorating ideas) that others have pinned to their boards, "pin" the pictures you like to your various boards for quick reference later. Sort of like visual bookmarks. For me, aside from a great way to waste some time, Pinterest has become a good source for new recipes to try. This recipe is one that struck me as looking quite tasty when I saw the pin on someone's board. When I clicked through to the actual recipe, which comes from Carnation Milk, the recipe itself was very simple.

To sum up the recipe, it was very creamy, very rich. I could have used a bit more sun-dried tomato flavor as the cheese and creaminess of the sauce tended to overwhelm all the other flavors. For a quick weeknight meal, this one is an easy one to add to the arsenal.

Here's the original recipe from Carnation: Pasta with Sun Dried Tomato Sauce
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (8 oz.) dry penne pasta
  • 8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 can (12 fl. oz.) Nestle Carnation Evaporated Lowfat 2% milk
  • 2 cups (8-oz. pkg.) shredded Italian-style four-cheese blend
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


Directions:

  1. Prepare pasta according to package directions, adding sun-dried tomatoes to boiling pasta water for last two minutes of cooking time; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, combine evaporated milk, cheese, basil, garlic powder and pepper in medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted. Remove from heat.
  3. Add pasta and sun-dried tomatoes to cheese sauce; stir until combined.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fire Roasted Tomato Soup


A couple weeks back I wanted to eat a grilled cheese for dinner. But, knowing that wouldn't be enough to make a substantial meal for both of us, I decided to try a soup recipe that I saw pop up in my google reader from the Beantown Baker.

Basically, I wanted something creamy, and tomato-ey, with a little kick to go along with my grilled cheese. Beantown Baker's recipe seemed like it'd get me pretty close, and it was using canned tomatoes too which is a plus when it's winter in Wisconsin. Since this was essentially a "pantry" meal, meaning I was using up what was in my pantry instead of buying new groceries, I had to omit a couple of things...the fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles (I just used regular diced tomatoes) and the smoked paprika (I used regular paprika).

This soup was easy to make, but because it was very garlicky it ended up tasting like one of our favorite pasta sauces. It still made a great soup for dipping your gooey grilled cheese in. When I make it again I'll plan ahead so I can purchase the smoked paprika and the tomatoes with chiles, and will be sure to reduce the amount of garlic.

Here's the recipe as it appears on Beantown Baker's website.
Ingredients:

  • 1 roasted red bell pepper*
  • 1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes with green chilis
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced (You may want to cut to 3 cloves garlic)
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt (make sure to taste as you go. Canned tomatoes are salty, and so you may not need this)
  • 1 tsp cumin


Directions:

  1. On the stove top, heat olive oil and the minced garlic. Cook for a minute or two and add the tomatoes and cream. Stir, then add salt, cumin, and the paprika. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Add the roasted red pepper to the soup and then puree with an immersion blender (or food processor/blender).


*To roast the red bell pepper, place pepper under a broiler until skin is charred, about 10 minutes. Place in a ziploc bag and seal the top. When pepper is cool enough to handle remove the skin, rinse under cool water, and coarsely chop).
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Zuni Cafe's Roasted Chicken


I bought a whole chicken to roast for the first time this last week. I know that it's fairly easy to over-cook a chicken so I figured I'd turn to brining to ensure a moist roast chicken. In my search for a brine for chicken I came across something known as dry brining. Essentially, rub salt and herbs all over your chicken and let it sit in the fridge for a couple days.

In searching for dry brining technique, the Zuni Cafe Roasted Chicken was referenced over and over by other bloggers. I've heard that the Zuni Cafe, and the associated cookbook are phenomenal, so I figured this recipe would be worth a try. The recipe I used I found on the Smitten Kitchen. She has simplified the recipe from the cookbook to a more digestable length and her photos really do the food justice. She serves hers over a bread salad, which I am sure would be a delicious way to eat this wonderful piece of meat.

Frankly this is the best chicken I've ever made. EVER. Dry brining is only the beginning of it. Once you've let the chicken sit in the fridge for a couple days, you start the cooking process by heating the oven to a super high temp (475), and heating a saute pan on the stove (I used a cast iron skillet). Then, you sear the bottom of the chicken, place it in the oven, then let it roast up for 15-20 minutes. Then, flip the bird over for another 10 minutes, sear the breasts to get that beautiful golden color. Flip the bird back over and let the breast skin crisp up for the last 5 minutes of cooking. As you let the chicken cool, the juices will re-distribute in the bird, and make your chicken one of the most moist pieces of chicken you'll ever taste.

So while there's a little bit of work involved in getting that gorgeous color and the juciness that'll keep you drooling for days when you reminisce about the chicken you cooked, it is totally worth it.

Here's the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.
Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients:

  • One small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2-pounds
  • 4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • A little water


Directions:
Season the chicken: (1 to 3 days before serving; give a 3 1/4 to 3 1/2-pound chicken at least 2 days)
Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough — a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.
Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Prepare your oven and pan: (Day of, total time is 45 minutes to 1 hour)
Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2 pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Roast the chicken:
Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Rest the chicken:
Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. You can let it rest while you finish your side dishes (or Bread Salad, below). The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Serve the chicken:
Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two. Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste — the juices will be extremely flavorful. You can make this into a gravy, or save it for chicken pot pie or other uses. Don't waste this liquid heaven!