Post 105 – Snowflake Cookies and Bacon Fat Gingersnaps

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With all of this snow falling here in the Northeast I’ve had several of my relatives checking in with me to see how we’re holding up. Are you guys buried in snow? Are you staying warm? Do you have enough food? Do we have enough food? Ha! In my house we always have enough food.

These snow storms have generally caused a decrease in productivity here in Boston as public transit has been shut down for full days more than once, businesses have had to close, and schools have racked up snow days to make up in the warm months of summer. For me, it has been a very productive time.

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There is something about being stuck inside with white flakes falling down that makes you get down to business (or makes you start to go crazy!) For me that has meant making significant progress on a quilt I started probably fifteen years ago (no joke) and baking and cooking many of the delicious recipes I’ve been wanting to make. It has also meant being continually well-stocked on all types of food – breakfast, dinner, dessert.

As I mentioned in my last post I’ve made Cincinnati Chili, Cinnamon Swirl Bread, and Homemade Hamburger Buns. During storm #3 I made bacon fat gingersnaps. This recipe was a combination of looking-for-an-excuse-to-make-cookies-of-any-kind and wanting-to-use-up-the-bacon-grease-in-the-fridge. (I’ve told you before about my obsession with using things up). I found it in the New York Times cooking section and had been eying it for what felt like forever. So I made a small batch.

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The cookies turned out savory, ginger-spicy, and salty – a little too salty, we decided after a few cookies (and I even reduced the salt it called for!) Always looking to improve rather than waste, I decided if they were too salty then they needed more sweet to balance. So I sandwiched them together with a maple butter cream frosting. They were better… I mean I ate them! Next time we’ll try again with less salt.

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Post storm #4 I opted for some snowflake sugar cookies. To be honest I felt quite sugared-out for the moment thanks to a delicious Valentine’s day chocolate mousse my husband made for me and the salted caramels he bought me, but I had an ulterior motive. After six official snow days (plus the weekends) I had still not gathered the courage to meet my neighbors across the hall, something I’d been telling myself to do for weeks. With encouragement from others, I decided making snow-themed cookies was a perfect way to introduce myself and break the ice (haha, pun totally not intended).

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I baked a small batch of cookies, cooled and frosted them (barely making it by using up the last crumbs of powdered sugar) and knocked on their door, my heart beating. No answer.

Unfortunately, my great cookie act of kindness mission did not succeed. I made Sam take the cookies to work today because I know they would enjoy them there, having made the cookies with the intention of not eating them myself. I will have to try the neighbors another time.

This recipe is my favorite sugar cookie recipe lately. It makes soft, lightly-colored cookies that roll out beautifully. Be warned that if you use a snowflake cookie cutter, they can be a little fragile with the points. I hope you make some cookies for your neighbors or at least make friends with them. We never know when we might need a friend nearby.

 

Erin’s Favorite Sugar Cookies

(apologies to my grandma’s recipe, which I know is the favorite for a few in my family)

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Cookbook

2/3 cup (almost 11 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg, room temperature

1 T. milk, room temperature (I often forget to leave this out to “warm” up)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt and beat for a minute or two until light and fluffy, scraping the sides every now and then. Add the egg, milk and vanilla and beat to incorporate. Add flour and beat or fold in with a spatula. If the dough is too soft or sticky, divide it in half, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Otherwise continue by rolling out your cookies on a floured surface, making sure to keep the thickness consistent. Transfer cookies to a parchment lined sheet and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, depending on softness of cookies you desire and the thickness you’ve rolled. They should be lightly colored and slightly soft to the touch. Cool and frost with your favorite homemade frosting.

IMG_0567Share with a neighbor or a friend. Stay warm!

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Post 104 – Homemade Hamburger Buns

IMG_1195I’m not even sure what day it is anymore. Tuesday? Saturday? Snow day? My long weeks have turned into long weekends and I’m beginning to lose track of what the real world is like. Is anyone else feeling that way with all this snow? Isolated? Stuck in a time capsule?

This kind of weather can bring out the best and the worst in people. Here in Boston the T has been shut down, traffic has been backed up for hours, the roads made narrower by heaping snow piles and pedestrians avoiding un-plowed sidewalks. All this snow can make a person grumpy. And let’s face it, Boston isn’t known to be the friendliest city.

IMG_1197But despite the countless feet of snow (I’ve lost track anyway) I have been pleasantly surprised. On the days when the snow keeps piling up and Sam and I decide to venture out into the white wonderland to relieve our cabin fever, we have gotten more hellos and smiles than on any sunny day. People make eye contact and nod, even say a hello and how are you? It’s as if those brave enough to go out in the snow get a special recognition from other like-minded people. That happens with runners sometimes, I find, especially in the morning. You’ll be out for an early morning jog and you get the smile and nod from another runner as if to say: “Look at us. We made it out to enjoy the natural world before anyone else.”

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I have been enjoying our wintery walks as a way to get out, but I’ve also been enjoying the snow days as an excuse for lots of cooking and baking. During the first storm we had a pot of Cincinnati Chili ready to go and leftover Cinnamon Swirl Bread. The second storm started around the Super Bowl. As usual, Sam and I went to the store well before the predicted blizzard to stock up on food for the week. There was no Super Bowl party on our agenda, but we still wanted a tasty meal to enjoy while we watched the game. After deciding on pulled pork and more delicious sweet potato salad (we’re a bit obsessed – thanks, Sister) we found the store was out of our favorite hamburger buns. They had another brand, but we decided not to risk it. “It’s okay,” Sam told me. “We can go without.”

We could go without OR I could make them. I mean, how hard could it be? So I looked up a few different recipes online, considered my ingredients and went to work. And actually it’s really not that hard. It’s like baking any other loaf of bread in that it takes time and patience and a little bit of technique. I used this recipe (which provides tips and technique help as well) and within a few hours we had the delicious smell of homemade bread, soft, warm buns and a salty, savory pork to pile on top of them.

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The buns that we didn’t eat that night, we put in the freezer to keep them longer. A few weeks later we are down to only one! If you’re home on a snow day and looking for something warm and delicious to make, give these a try. You’ll thank yourself later.

Post 70 – Reverse Hot Chocolate

I can picture the hills that we rode down on our sleds, my sisters and I. There was the one across the street in the neighbor’s yard that was short and sweet and easy to climb back up over and over, and the hill in Miamisburg whose descent landed you near a frozen pond and patch of trees.

photo 1(18)On snow days Mom would get the call around 5:00 am that school was closed and she’d call her chain of other teachers to share the news. We three girls were thrilled at the idea of a snow day not only for the sake of missing school, but for the joy of playing in the snow. We built snow couches and igloos and rolled around outside, our cold cheeks turning the color of blush as we rolled in the soft white powder.photo 2(15)

As part of any good snow day, we would come inside to warm up with a good cup of hot chocolate. Mom stirred the milk, sugar, and cocoa on the stove and ladled it into our cherry and raspberry-painted mugs. My mom doesn’t like marshmallows – I guess it’s the texture – so we rarely had them in our hot chocolate. I told myself I didn’t miss them. They always melted anyway.

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Aside from hot chocolate, my mom would often fix us another comforting, warm drink when we were little: vanilla milk. We would drink it at night to help us sleep, slurping from our green and blue plastic cups that once had sippy lids. For this simple treat, she warmed milk with a drizzle of honey, a dash of cinnamon, and splash of vanilla extract. Simple, sweet, and pure.

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I have been dying to make this recipe for Chocolate Marshmallows ever since I read The Sweet Life in Paris because who has ever had a chocolate marshmallow (?!). Since today was a snow day it seemed the perfect occasion to tackle this recipe. Inspired by my mom’s warm vanilla milk and these already chocolate-flavored marshmallows, I made a Reverse Hot Chocolate to comfort me on this snowy day. As the marshmallow melts into your warm vanilla milk, it becomes its own form of hot chocolate and the cinnamon gives it a wonderful upgrade. So I give you the Reverse Hot Chocolate. Now go earn it first by taking a long walk in the snowy wonderland. You’ll feel all the better for it!

photo(59)Cinnamon-dusted Vanilla Milk

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Chocolate Marshmallows

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris

3 egg whites

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup + 6 T. cool water, divided

2 packets unflavored gelatin – 15 grams each (such as Knox)

6 T. cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy

pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla

powdered sugar, cornstarch or 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Now’s the time to put your mise en place to work. Measure out all of the ingredients. In a small bowl, measure out 6 tablespoons of water and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let sit. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan melt corn syrup, sugar, and 1/3 cup of water over low to moderate heat. If you have a candy thermometer, attach that to your pan. If not, get a digital thermometer on hand.

In an electric mixer put your egg whites and a pinch of salt. Begin to beat the egg whites on low as you let you sugar mixture come up to temperature. You want the syrup to reach 250 degrees before removing it from the heat while the egg whites beat enough to begin to hold their shape. Once the syrup has reached 250 degrees, remove it from the heat and stir in the gelatin and water mixture until completely dissolved. Carefully whisk in the cocoa powder.

With your electric mixer on high, carefully pour your chocolate syrup mixture into the egg whites as it beats. Make sure to pour it closer to the side to avoid hitting the beater and whipping the mixture around. Continue to beat on high as your prepare your pan.

Dust an 8-inch square pan with a mixture of half cornstarch, half powdered sugar OR unsweetened shredded coconut (David Lebovitz’s recipe). Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl, adding your vanilla. Continue to beat until the mixture thickens slightly and the outside of the bowl no longer feels warm. (Do it longer than you think, because if you don’t your marshmallows will be wet on the bottom, like mine!) Carefully pour your chocolate mixture into your pan and dust with another layer of powdered sugar or coconut. Allow to dry uncovered at room temperature for at least 4 hours.

When dried, remove from the pan on to a cutting board and cut with a knife or scissors into squares, dusting with more powdered sugar or coconut as you go to dry out the sticky edges. Serve in your favorite form of vanilla or dark hot chocolate! Store in an airtight container.

For the Vanilla Milk, heat a mug of milk in the microwave or on low on the stove with vanilla, and honey. For about 1 cup of milk I would start with a teaspoon of honey and a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add more honey if you like it sweeter. Top with a dash of cinnamon and a few chocolate marshmallows.

Happy Snowing!

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Post 68 – Gluten free Baking Day

Snow days: a good excuse to bake and cook all day (if that’s what you like to do of course!). So today that’s exactly what I did.

First I sent Sam off to work with some coffee cake streusel muffins. I figured since I got the day off and he didn’t, I should reward him and his fellow employees for going to work despite the nasty weather. Next I used the overripe bananas to make myself a treat: gluten free banana muffins. (Side note: Thanks to my GERD issues, I have decided to go gluten-free for a few weeks as an experiment. It’s tough saying no to homemade chocolate chip cake and ham and cheese croissants, but luckily in this day and age gluten free is totally do-able.) I made these muffins with coconut flour and almond meal and the bananas kept them nice and moist.

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Recipe adapted from here. I baked them for half the amount of time and left out the chocolate chips.

photo 3(9)Great texture and flavor – chewy and crunchy, just like I like.

Next I made dessert, also gluten free. First you start with some chocolate…

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Now close your eyes and don’t look while I add the secret ingredient.

 

 

 

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Ok you can open them now 🙂

photo 2(9)Spread out into a greased loaf pan, dot with chocolate chips and bake.

photo 1(11)Mmm fudgy, dare I say, healthy brownies.

Truth be told, they were slightly disappointing. I found them to be a little too thick and dry (the batter was really more like dough) so I might sub out milk for the Greek yogurt next time or add another egg. I will have to experiment with this recipe again. Recipe found here.

I continued my day of baking in another house, cooking for my favorite twin toddlers. Though I know they love chicken nuggets, I have been slightly disappointed in the latest chicken nuggets I’ve made for them. Their mom also commented (kindly) that she thought they’d eat more of them if they were a little more golden brown. So I switched recipes to achieve a better flavor and color and I’m hoping this one will be a hit! They come from a healthy comfort food cookbook and have a nice color, flavor, and crunch. I’ll share the recipe below. Hopefully the twins will like them.

The chicken nuggets ready to bake

The chicken nuggets ready to bake

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And ta – da!

photo 3(10)Cheesy and crunchy and golden!

And here are their chicken nugget lunches. I have learned that in general these guys don’t eat a lot (they do have very small bodies to feed) so I try to keep lunch portions small. Lately I’ve been using the cutters their mom bought to make fun-shaped fruits and veggies. Why eat regular carrot slices when they can look like flowers?

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I also made them pizza rolls for dinner, which is one of their favorites, so I know these guys will eat well tonight.

Now <sigh> the only thing left to make is dinner for Sam and me. Ah well, I do enjoy a good day spent in the kitchen at least.

Crispy Chicken Nuggets

adapted from 150 Healthiest Comfort Foods on Earth

1.5 lb. chicken breast, tenders, or fillets, cut into bite-size pieces

1 egg

1/2 tsp. salt, divided

2 cups cornflake cereal (gluten and sugar free if possible)

1/4 cup + 2 T. grated parmesan

1.5 T. flax seed meal

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare two sheet pans lined with parchment paper, sprayed, or lightly oiled. In a wide dish, mix egg and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. In a processor pulse corn flakes until fine, then add in cheese, flax, the remainder of salt, garlic, and pepper. Pulse to mix. Alternatively crush in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Pour into a wide dish. Dip chicken cubes into the egg and salt mixture and then bread in the cornflake mixture. Place on cookie sheet. When all nuggets are breaded, put the cookie sheets in the oven and bake until heated through and golden – about 15 minutes depending on the thickness of your chicken cubes. Be sure to test the temperature to reach 165 especially if feeding to small children! Cool slightly and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

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On another note, one year ago I started this blog! How much has happened in a year and how fast time flies! Thanks to all of you who follow my adventures. I am grateful to you all.