Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

As usual, this time of year is busy and zips by quickly. We had a nice Christmas Eve here with our parents and Googer. It was warm enough that SP was able to grill the leg of lamb. We also had my grandma's ham balls (ground pork & ground ham), roasted cauliflower, asparagus with vinaigrette, green bean casserole, and rolls for dinner. Dessert was  cookies, nut roll, and chocolate covered pretzels. 

After everyone left, we cleaned up, started a load of laundry, and exchanged gifts. Santa Claus was very good to both of us.

Christmas Day we had a lazy morning, eating nut roll and Chex mix and trying the gingerbread coffee we received. Then we went to my parents' place and SP helped my mom make goose. We also had more ham balls, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes & mozzarella, and twice baked potatoes plus cookies for dessert.

It was weird to watch a Steelers game on Christmas. It was weirder to hear the crowd cheering/booing at Heinz Field before we saw the play on TV (my parents live on Mt. Washington and can see Heinz Field from their balcony so we could easily hear the crowd). What a fantastic finish to the game! 

And that was Christmas.

Monday was an exciting day: SP finally got to see Rogue One! The showing we tried to see was sold out so we bought tickets for the next show and just hung out at the theater. The parking lot/shopping center where the theater is located was a disaster of traffic and no parking. We had to park pretty far away from the theater. Note to self: avoid seeing movies around the holidays.

The movie was very good, we both enjoyed it, and that's all I'll say because even though I feel like we were the only ones who hadn't yet seen it, I'm sure there are actually many who haven't.

After seeing Rogue One, it was a little extra sad the next day when we saw that Carrie Fisher passed away. Playing Princess Leia isn't her only accomplishment in life, but for me, she is Princess Leia, the first real female role model I felt like I had. I was 6 years old when Star Wars came out and everyone I knew, including my family, went to the theater many times to see it. Little me never liked baby dolls, hated Barbie dolls, didn't like Disney princess stories. I was so excited to finally see a princess who could kick butt and who wasn't just a silly, simpering damsel in distress, looking for her prince charming to rescue her and marry her and stick her in a castle. She didn't need a glass slipper or a kiss to wake her up - she could grab a blaster and shoot a stormtrooper.

It's a short work week for SP. For dinners, we've been eating leftover lamb, ham balls, and goose. 

Books: I read Turbo Twenty-Three from Janet Evanovich. I still enjoy the books, but I kind of wish the characters would grow a bit. 

Movies: Last night we watched Finding Dory, which was fun. We both liked little Dory and her short term remembory. Adorable! We also recently watched The Nice Guys, which was funnier than we expected, and Florence Foster Jenkins, which was good but goodness her singing was tough to take! 

Magazines: The pile is again growing.

Hope everyone has a great New Year's weekend this weekend!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thursday Thoughts on Saturday

Happy Christmas Eve & Christmas Weekend! Today we are hosting both families here so we're up early because there's lots to do: setting the table, making snack trays (cheese & crackers and veggies & dip), making the meal itself (marinating the lamb, blanching veggies, roasting veggies).

The past week was busy but not too busy. I finished baking holiday cookies. Do we need 10 kinds of cookies? Of course not. But somehow we just can't help ourselves. We'll give a lot of them away to family and friends and keep a few for ourselves. The 2016 Holiday Cookies:
Row #1: Apricot-Pecan-White Chocolate Biscotti, Peppermint Pinwheels
Row #2: Linzer Cookies, Triple Ginger, Cinnamon Spice Cut Outs
Row #3: Butter Spritz, Cherry Chocolate Hazelnut Bars, Pizzelles
Row #4: Butter Cut Outs, Chocolate Dipped Crescents

My favorites are the Linzers & Crescents - of course two very labor intensive, time consuming cookies! I also really like the Triple Ginger, Pizzelles, and Cinnamon Spice Cut Outs. I think those 5 will always be on the baking list.

Hope everyone has a happy holiday weekend!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Cinnamon Spice Cut Out Cookies

I like my Sugar Cut Out Cookie recipe from when I was a little girl, but I know SP isn't a fan plus he likes to make his Spritz Cookies but both cookies are basic sugar and butter cookies, so they taste the same: basic. So I'm always looking for a new cut out cookie recipe. One year we tried a Spicy Chocolate Shortbread cut out that was a little too spicy for me and SP hated working with the dough. 

This year we decided to try Simple Christmas Cookies from the December 2016 issue of Bon Appetit. I like that even though they're called simple, they include ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and cardamom, cloves, or nutmeg. I chose nutmeg because we don't have cardamom and I thought cloves might make them taste too much like the Triple Ginger Cookies. I also liked that the dough is made in the food processor. Kind of a nice change from the stand mixer and somehow it seemed easier/neater. Probably wasn't. 
We are very pleased with these cookies and like them a lot. By this point in the cookie baking, we had managed to figure out the cookie sheets and baking times and were remembering to pay attention to which cookie sheet (light or dark) was going into the oven. These got a nice golden, crisp color. I really like the cinnamon spice flavor. Definitely a make again cookie.

Also, I renamed them Cinnamon Spice Cut Out Cookies because while they are simple, they aren't regular sugar/butter cut outs. They a lovely, warming, cinnamon spice flavor.

Recipe here.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Butter Cut Out Cookies

Last Saturday was a bad weather day that turned into cookie baking day. The driveway was covered in ice, the holiday party plans we had were cancelled, it was just a disgusting day outside. But inside, we were baking cookies and sipping tea while sampling the finished results. Since we had unexpected extra time, we decided to make the same butter dough as the Cherry Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies but turn it into cut out cookies decorated with sugar, not glaze. Neither of us really likes glaze on cookies.
The dough is pretty easy to roll out. Our "problems" were that we got new cookie sheets that are lighter in color/aluminum and all our other cookie sheets are dark, non-stick metal. They definitely bake differently. We kept extending baking times on the new, light colored cookie sheets, sometimes by quite a bit, but then sometimes we'd forget to decrease the time again for the dark sheets and leave those cookies in too long. It was a little frustrating. Some of the light sheet cookies are baked but not as much/as golden brown as we would like. So I'm not sure if I'm lukewarm about these cookies because we weren't baking them long enough or if it's the cookie itself. I'm pretty sure it's the former.
Plus, if you let your husband decorate, sometimes you get creepy looking cookies. This red guy looks like he could sneak in and murder you. He also has a puffy potbelly. I wanted only stars and bells, but nooooo we just had to use the gingerbread man cutter. Now we have creepy cookies.

Recipe here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Peppermint Pinwheels

Every year I try a mint cookie. With the exception of the Mint Chocolate Chunk Cookies, every year I end up disappointed. This year, I tried the pretty red, white, and green Peppermint Pinwheels from Food Network Magazine. The dough is easy to make. It's takes a bit of time to divide it into thirds and tint one third red and one third green. The hard part is rolling the three doughs out into rectangles and stacking them and rolling them into pinwheels. There's also a lot of chilling time involved: before rolling into rectangles, after rolling into rectangles/before stacking, after stacking & rolling into a pinwheel. It's definitely time consuming. Rolling 3 doughs into the same 9 x 12 size rectangle for stacking is tough. SP was not having a good time.
It's a lot of work for a bite-size cookie that is tasty with a nice, not overpowering mint flavor and a cookie that looks very Christmas-y and adds color to the cookie tray. But for us personally, I'm not sure the effort is worth the payoff. These are good, but not great. I think in the future, I'll stick with the mint chocolate chunk bits for a minty cookie even if they aren't as colorful & pretty as these pinwheels. There's just too many other cookie options that we like more than these pinwheels.

Recipe here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cherry Chocolate Hazelnut Bars

This cookie was a last minute addition to the cookie baking list: Cherry Chocolate Hazelnut Bars. I was flipping through Baking Illustrated looking for the biscotti recipes because I thought that the Apricot Pecan Biscotti recipe was in Baking Illustrated. It's not. But as I was flipping, I saw this variation on a recipe for Glazed Butter Cookies and I got a little excited. Maybe SP would get his dried cherry & nut cookies after all, just not as biscotti?
They sounded simple to make: make dough, press into cookie sheet, bake, sprinkle with chocolate chips, spread melting chips, top with nuts, cool, cut, eat. It makes about  4 dozen bars, which meant he could take some for his work cookie exchange and we'd have some for ourselves. Plus I was attracted to the pretty diamond shape. SP agreed that these sounded like a good idea.

They're a little different. For one, the recipe calls for superfine sugar, which apparently helps achieve a fine, even, delicate, crisp texture. There's a bit of cream cheese added to make the dough flavor and richness without affecting the texture. Finally, it uses a reverse creaming method in which the butter is beaten into the flour and sugar (rather than the usual creaming method in which the butter and sugar are whipped together and then the flour added). This produces flat, non-puffy, crisp cookies without airy pockets. Good for glazing or decorating. Of course, we weren't going to chill, roll, and make glazed cut out sugar cookies. We were going to try one of the 3 variations.
A cup of chopped dried cherries is added to the flour mixture before creaming. That seems odd, too, since usually dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts are added as the last step in making dough. SP had a tough time getting the dough spread fully into the corners of the cookie sheet, so our edges were misshapen. The edges got a beautiful golden color.
After baking for 20 minutes, he sprinkled the chips on top, waited a bit and spread the melting chips with an offset spatula, then pressed toasted & chopped hazelnuts on top. He let it cool completely before cutting the bars. Our diamonds are a little elongated. Only the smaller bars look like diamonds. Maybe next time we should get a little more precise and use a ruler?!
I like cherry and chocolate cookies like the Cherry Chocolate Shortbread we make. These are good, and a little easier (but not much easier). SP really likes the addition of hazelnuts. Me? Well, as usual, I could do without them, but most people probably like the hazelnuts on top.

These are really good. The sugar cookie part is yummy. I'd like to try chilling and then rolling this dough for sugar cut out cookies. Definitely a make again cookie dough, whatever variation we try in the future.
Oh, and next time we'll smush the nuts into the chocolate more - they easily topple off!

Cherry Chocolate Hazelnut Bars
from Baking Illustrated / The Science of Good Cooking

Butter Cookie Dough - recipe here or here

1 cup chopped dried cherries
1.5 cups chocolate chips
1.5 cups toasted, skinned, and chopped hazelnuts

When making the dough, add the cherries with the flour and other dry ingredients. Press the mixed dough into a parchment lined/silpat lined 12 x 18 or 11 x 17 or 12 x 17 cookie sheet (I can't remember which cookie sheet we used, but I know it wasn't the exact same size as was listed in the book). Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until edges are golden. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top and allow them to start to melt. Spread the melting chips in an even layer over top the cookie. Sprinkle hazelnuts evenly over top, pressing in so they stick. Let cool then cut into desired shape (squares, rectangles, diamonds).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Apricot-Pecan-White Chocolate Biscotti

Usually, we make Dried Cherry & Almond Biscotti for Christmas. This year, I wanted something different. SP was sad and protested when I said I wanted to try a different biscotti. When I suggested these, he was suddenly OK with it. Dried fruit and nuts - his kind of cookie. I had been wanting to try the Apricot Pecan Biscotti in our copy of Sweet Maria's Italian Cookie Tray Cookbook, but I wanted to add white chocolate. I'm not sure where that hankering came from, but it was there. They had to have white chocolate. Some online recipes simply drizzled melted white chocolate on the biscotti, some dunked the biscotti in melted white chocolate, some said to melt the chocolate and stir it into the dough. I don't like biscotti drizzled or dipped. I like them plain. We opted to add 2 oz chopped white chocolate to the dough.
This recipe calls for diving the dough into 3 logs. We baked them longer than 20-25 minutes (for about 32 minutes) and they turned out a lovely golden color.
Beautiful golden loaves studded with dried apricots, chopped pecans, and chopped bits of white chocolate. 
We think these are really, really tasty. My dad really likes them, too. Chewy apricot bits, creamy white chocolate, crunchy pecans, not too hard of a biscotti. Definitely a make again biscotti.

Recipe here. We added 2 oz chopped white chocolate and decreased the pecans to 1 cup chopped.

Apricot-Pecan-White Chocolate Biscotti

1.5 cups chopped dried apricots
1 c chopped pecans
2 oz chopped white chocolate
2 & 3/4 c flour
1 stick butter (1/4 lb), softened
1 c brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350. Mix apricots, pecans, white chocolate bits with 2 tbsp flour. Set aside. Cream butter & brown sugar. Add eggs & vanilla. Mix well. On low speed, add remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix just until blended. Stir in apricots, pecans, white chocolate. Divide dough into 3 pieces. Shape each piece into a 12 inch log. Place 3 loaves on a large cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Bake 20-25 minutes (ours baked 32 minutes). Transfer loaves to cooling rack and cool.

When cool, slice loaves into 1/2 inch slices. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake the slices for 10-15 minutes (until lightly browned). Transfer slices to cooling rack and cool.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower

Cauliflower is one of our favorite vegetables. When I saw this Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower recipe in the November 2016 Food & Wine, I knew we had to try it. Cauliflower, Pasta. Cheese. Capers. Fresh sage. Just a few of our favorite things (though SP likes capers much more than I do). The recipe is from Ina Garten.
The casserole is topped with crunchy bread crumbs, Yum!
Under the crunchy bread crumbs is fontina & ricotta, lemon zest, chopped sage, capers, and the pasta & cauliflower. We omitted the garlic & red pepper flakes. We're not as fancy as Ina, so we used Costco fontina and parmesan. I think we had only 1 tbsp capers, not 2 tbsp, and that was fine, but if we had the full 2 tbsp, that'd be fine, too.
This is another make again dish. Next time, I'd up the lemon zest a bit. I like that, even though this dish is cheesy, it's not overly cheesy and it's not a cheese sauce with milk and butter and flour. Next time I might suggest we divide it in half before baking so SP can add garlic and/or red pepper flakes to "his" casserole.

Recipe here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Chocolate Dipped Crescent Cookies

Every year we make Chocolate Dipped Crescent Cookies for Christmas. They're my mom's favorite cookie. Every year, I take a photo of the cookies and put it in a post(s) about holiday cookies. I wrote a post about them here but didn't include a recipe or a link to a recipe. The recipe is from Great American Favorite Brand Name Cookbook. My mom had this cookbook and when I lived in NH with them for 3 months, we decided to try these cookies. The sole reason I still have this giant, heavy cookbook is for this cookie recipe.
Yes, they're a bit time consuming to make. That's because they're labor intensive - rolling tablespoons of dough into a ball and then into a crescent shape. Baking & cooling. Then melting chocolate and dipping in chocolate. Chilling to set the chocolate. Then sprinkling with powdered sugar and packaging. I made the dough and shaped the cookies. Mom was in charge of baking then transferring the cookies to the cooling racks. I melted the chocolate and "dipped." It seems to work better when I use a spoon to glop the chocolate on and smooth it around and then scrape off excess chocolate rather than dipping. Dipping seems to leave too much chocolate glopped on in an unattractive manner. Mom monitored my "dipping" and put the cookie sheets of dipped crescents into the refrigerator to chill. She also washed and dried all the dishes.  
Much as I grumble about making these, they are worth the effort. I won't say these are my favorite because my favorite cookie/favorite food often depends on my mood or the season, but these are definitely way up there. They're good year round, we just seem to make them only at Christmas time. Soft cookie, half coated with chocolate and with a hint of almond.

Chocolate Dipped Crescents

1 and ½ cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 and ½ tsp almond extract
2 and ½ cups flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
Powdered sugar to sprinkle

Heat oven to 375. In large bowl, combine 1 and ½ cups powdered sugar and butter. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Add egg and almond extract. Beat until well mixed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour, cream of tartar, and baking soda. Beat until well mixed. Shape into 1 inch balls; roll balls into 2 inch ropes; shape ropes into crescents. Bake 8-10 minutes or until set. Cookies do not brown. Cool. Dip half of each cookie in melted chocolate. Sprinkle remaining half with powdered sugar. Refrigerate until set. Makes about 4 and ½ dozen.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

And once again a week has gone by without blogging. Here's what we've been up to since the last Thursday Thoughts:

Friday: I waited until mid-afternoon for the wheelchair people to show up with replacement parts. Of the three parts, two were the wrong size. I try to be patient with the guys they send because it's not their fault, but seriously, how hard is it to pull my account, see the original parts order, and then order the exact same thing to replace the old/broken part?

While waiting, I researched where to buy goose and how to cook goose because we were considering making goose for Christmas Eve. Down the internet rabbit hole.

In the evening we watched X-Men: Apocalypse. It was fun but I can see why it didn't review especially well and am glad we didn't go see it in the theater.

Saturday: We were out doing errands and chores from 10 am until a bit after 3 pm. Then we unloaded the car, put stuff away, and warmed up with tea. It's not just that it was cold outside - it's that we recently discovered the heat in the car isn't really heat anymore. So add that to the chore list. And expense list.

Dinner was Burgatory, but no shake because it was too cold. Then we went home and snuggled under blankets while watching Free State of Jones, which was interesting mostly because I didn't know much about this part of Civil War history. While we enjoyed the movie it seemed at times a little too slow and I kept wishing for things to move along.
Sunday: Cookie Baking! We baked 2 kinds of holiday cookies and made a pot of meatball & sausage sauce for over angel hair pasta while watching the Steelers game. It also was laundry day, and ironing day (ugh!), and in the evening we watched some holiday baking shows.

Monday: My mom came over and we made her favorite holiday cookie. They're so labor intensive. I shaped 5.5 dozen crescents. After they baked & cooled, I dipped them in chocolate. After they chilled, I dusted them with powdered sugar and arranged them in their container for the freezer. Thankfully, mom did all the clean up.

Tuesday: M came to clean, and as always, we chatted almost the entire time she was here. That was the afternoon it started snowing & I watched the yard turn into a winter wonderland. SP came home early from work because of the winter wonderland. I spent the afternoon & evening reading The Bone Collection: Four Novellas from Kathy Reichs because it was due the next day. The 4 novellas were good and I liked learning more about Brennan's start in forensic anthropology.

Wednesday: I spent the day reading The Tea Planter's Wife because it is due today. I liked the book a lot more than I expected.

And now it's Thursday again. Tonight we are baking cookies for SP's work cookie exchange tomorrow. This weekend he has to get his snowblower ready. He didn't yet do that and wasn't super happy that he had to shovel 4 inches of snow instead of snowblowing it! We also have a holiday party on Saturday, so we'll spend part of the afternoon cooking something to take. In addition to the usual weekend stuff, we have to start getting ready for Christmas Eve. We invited both families here and just last night finalized the menu. It's not goose - it'll be lamb. I spent some time this morning making a grocery list so we can buy as much as possible this weekend.

Hopefully I'll have some time to blog about cookies next week. We are making 4 new-to-us kinds in addition to some of the usual cookies.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Thursday Thoughts on Friday

The past week has been quite busy plus I've been a little under the weather. I've definitely not had time/interest in the blog.

We went to SP's holiday work party. It was at the zoo and it was a good time. It was in the aquarium and we had "encounters" with some animals, like a baby alligator and an owl. We hadn't been to the zoo in a long time and I didn't really remember the aquarium so it was nice to be able to see it.

I've been busy doing holiday cards, online holiday shopping, wrapping, etc. I am always surprised how long some of this takes. Like if I have a gift idea for SP and I start researching and I seem to end up spending many, many hours going down many rabbit holes.

Lots of other things going on, too, and while I have some new recipes for the blog, I just haven't found time. Soon, I hope, but next week cookie baking begins, so... we'll see.

Meals This Week: Peach Pulled Pork. For 4 dinners. One night I was on my own and I had grilled cheese. Tonight is eggs.

Movies: I watched Hands of Stone which was OK.

Books: Nope. I have 2 due in a week so I guess I better make some time to read.

TV: I watched the season finale of Westworld because there was nothing else on and because SP wanted to stay upstairs where it's warmer. It took a supreme effort to not offer my not so flattering commentary. Just not my thing.

Meanwhile, we've been watching various holiday baking shows, including the Great American Baking Show on ABC.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

It's already been a week since the Thanksgiving holiday. We had a nice holiday at my parents' place. The usual: turkey, stuffing, cranberries, green beans, Brussels, pumpkin pie, apple pie. Yum! Mom sent us home with lots of leftovers.
The pumpkin pie was our usual, but this year we added something new to the apple pie: crystallized ginger. Oh my gosh it made such a difference! I like the pie much more with the additional ginger. It was really good for breakfast & dinner (someone had to eat all the leftover pie).

Friday was holiday decorating day. Our tree is up, all the Christmas decorations are out. We're ready for Santa. That day we also got together with friends from out of town. It's always great to hang out with close friends (and their spouses & kids) from high school and catch up. We ordered pizza and ate leftover pie from our Thanksgivings.
Saturday we went to see A Christmas Story-The Musical at the Benedum. I didn't like the movie, and I didn't much enjoy the show, but SP really likes both. After, we went to dinner at Meat & Potatoes where we ate a lot of yummy food but after all that Thanksgiving eating I filled up quickly. We took home lots of leftovers. We ordered all the usuals (fried pickles, fried Brussels, 3 little pigs sandwich, old fashioned) and we tried the pimiento mac & cheese, which was sooooo yummy.

The mac & cheese was a new version. This time, it was Pimiento Cheese with Pulled Pork.
It was so good. We both scraped up as much of the delicious cheesy sauce as we could.

My favorite sandwich ever, The Three Little Pigs:
Pork milanese, bacon, ham, fried egg, Swiss, a slightly spicy mustard sauce, toasted bread.

SP tried a special of the day, a Quail dish:
He said it was excellent.

What We're Eating This Week: Thanksgiving leftovers for 4-5 dinners and Chicken Marsala for the other 1-2. Dessert has been leftover pie or Sarris chocolate covered pretzels (a gift).

Books: I read Before the Fall by Noah Hawley and enjoyed it a lot. More than a lot. One of the best books I've read in a while. I definitely suggest reading this one if you enjoy reading.

Also this past week, I tried to read Where'd You Go, Bernadette but I just couldn't deal with the style/formal of the book (it's written in many formats: as e-mails, letters, F.B.I. documents, correspondence with a psychiatrist and an emergency-room bill).

Movies: We watched Sausage Party. Ummm... It was so wrong, But so funny. But I felt dirty after we watched it. All that animated food porn.

Magazines: The holiday issues have arrived and I'm trying to figure out the holiday cookie baking list for this year. I'd like to not bake as many as usual, but everyone has their favorite and loudly requests it, so... we'll see.