All the Rest of the Christmas Cookies.

I had this great idea.

I was going to write three posts featuring the 12 cookies I baked for Christmas this year. They were to feature 4 cookies each. It was a good idea. I even started it. I wrote one post featuring the first four cookies.

Then….life.

I was too busy working, preparing, visiting, baking, shopping, and celebrating. Not that I’m complaining about that. I loved doing all of those things. But now that it’s January 15th, my great idea is no longer relevant. No one is interested in baked goods in January. I made brownies the other day just because. No one wanted to eat them. Not because there was something wrong with them – they were perfectly tasty. They even had extra chocolate and caramel drizzled on top.

brownies

the brownies that nobody ate.

But January is not the time for brownies. Or cookies. Or cakes (unless it’s your birthday). It’s the time of year that the gym is packed, and the over-indulgence of December is weighing heavily on everyone’s mind and/or stomach.

I get it – I’m a huge proponent of eating right and treating your body with respect. I’m also a huge proponent of baked goods. So January, for me, stinks. Did I mention that I don’t like cold weather?

So, for everyone out there, who, like me, still wants to eat brownies, cookies and cakes, here’s a quick glimpse of all the rest of the 12 cookies I made for Christmas. If you just can’t look now, maybe by next December you’ll look at them and feel inspired. I’m certainly giving you plenty of time. ūüôā

#5. Cream Cheese Cookies. (recipe here.)

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#6. Chocolate Cottage Cheese Cookies.

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#7. Marzipan Mice. 

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#8.¬†Jeanine’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies. (recipe here.)

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#9. Peanut Butter Hershey Kiss Cookies. 

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#10. Peppermint Bark. (recipe here.)

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#11. Cornflake Christmas Wreaths.

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#12. Honey Whiskey Balls. (recipe here.)

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So there they are. Enjoy them at your leisure, whenever the time is right. You have all year….

The 12 Cookies of Christmas – Part 1.

I’m not sure if I ever shared this before, but my favorite things to bake are cookies. I think it’s because they are small, and the options are endless. You can make a cookie using almost anything. I could experiment with cookies all day, if I only had the time (and a dishwasher).

Every year, I bake a whole slew of cookies for the Holidays. I have a few recipes that I do every year РChocolate Chip, Cream Cheese, Cottage Cheese  Рbut this year, I really wanted to add some new players to my lineup, and bring some new life to the team. I also brought some golden oldies out of retirement, and in the end, wound up with a perfect, well-rounded team of 12.

Cookie #1: Cornbread Cookies.

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I had picked up a box of Jiffy Cornbread Mix and planned on making corn muffins for Thanksgiving. Well, that didn’t happen, so I had this great idea to turn the mix into a cookie. So I started doing some research, and found this recipe, which sounded easy and delicious! The only thing I did differently was leave off the icing. The cookies were more like corn muffins that way, and I do love corn muffins.

 

Cookie #2: Pumpkin Spice Drops.

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My mom knows better than anyone how much I love experimenting with new cookies. She had bought me a book that she was going to give me for Christmas, but decided it would be better to give it to me now, in case I wanted to try something from it. Good call, Mom. The book was called “Old -Fashioned Cookies.” It looks like this:

book

In the book, the recipe is called Iced-Pumpkin Drops. I again omitted the icing. The cookies didn’t really need it. They were soft, chewy, pumpkin-y, and yummy, all by themselves.

 

Cookie #3: Breakfast Cookies.

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I actually make these every year, and have for some time. They’re like oatmeal cookies, but with cheddar cheese and cinnamon chips. This year, about half-way through production, I realized I had no oats. I had sworn there was a whole un-opened container, but there wasn’t. I really didn’t feel like running out in the midst of mixing, so I started trying to think of something else that I could use, that I did have already. I found a box of farro. I used it. It worked. I also upgraded the cheese selection from processed shredded cheddar to MontAmore (my new favorite cheese). ¬†They’re more like a champagne¬†brunch cookie now.

 

Cookie #4: R2D2 Ready to Bake Cookies. 

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I had to bake these. Sure, they’re easy. But with all this Star Wars talk, I felt like these needed to be part of the line-up. They came in this box, and they were pretty tasty, not to mention pretty cute. Beep boop boop beep! There was one issue – some Dr. Who enthusiasts seemed to think they looked more like Daleks then R2D2. You know what I say to that? EXTERMINATE!

 

Stayed tuned for the next installment of the 12 Cookies of Christmas, coming soon to a computer screen near you!

 

Thanksgiving Leftovers Quiche.

quiche done

Thanksgiving is wonderful – full of food, family, gratitude….and leftovers. So many leftovers. No one wants to see all this delicious food go to waste, but after a few days of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and whatever else, you just can’t even pretend to want to eat it anymore.

If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s wasting food. I do everything I can to use up leftovers. I admit, there are things that occasionally wind up getting pushed to the back of the fridge, only to be discovered a few weeks later when the door is opened with a blaring “What’s that smell?!” But, alas, I do try.

We had a ton of Thanksgiving leftovers as usual. After two nights of eating them as-is with just a mere reheating, I wanted to think of something more creative to do with them. And suddenly, I did: a Thanksgiving Leftovers Quiche!

I’m sure I’m not the first person on the planet to think of this very idea, but I thought I’d share my version, in case there are others out there who have tired of turkey but can’t bear to toss it.

I started with a from scratch pie crust (10 oz AP flour, 7 oz shortening Рcut in, 3 oz cold water with 1 tsp kosher salt dissolved in it) pre-baked at 375 for 10 minutes.

quiche crust

Where the magic happens.

Next, I threw in some leftovers. We had turkey, mushrooms and asparagus.

quiche filling

Insert your leftovers here.

Next, I shredded (ok, my husband did the actual shredding) some MontAmore cheese, and sprinkled it on top. By the way, MontAmore is my new favorite cheese. You need to try it. I don’t mess around when it comes to cheese.

quiche cheese

MontAmore = love.

Finally, I made a simple custard (3 eggs, 1 cup milk, a little bit of salt), and added that to the party.

quiche unbaked

Party in a crust.

Next, I baked it for about 40 minutes at 350.

quiche done

A quiche to build a dream on.

Finally, we ate it. And it was better than any Thanksgiving leftovers I’ve ever had before.

quiche eaten

Looks like Pac-Man, tastes like heaven.

The Easiest Pumpkin Cake in the Universe.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to bake a pumpkin cake, because I can. so I did. It was a pumpkin-shaped pumpkin cake, to be precise. It ended up looking like this:

Pumpkin shape; pumpkin cake.

Pumpkin shape; pumpkin cake.

It started off looking like this:

It's a cake in a box.

It’s a cake in a box.

Yes, that’s a boxed carrot cake mix. I told you this was easy. You open the box, pour the mix into a bowl, and blend in the three ingredients on the back of the box:

Mix as directed.

Mix as directed.

In addition to these, all you need is 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree, so add that in, too, and mix well. Pour the batter into two greased 8″ pans, and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. While the cakes are cooling, make the pumpkin frosting, which is also super easy:

2# conf sugar

1 cup shortening

1/2 cup pumkpin puree

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tblsp water

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, until smooth and creamy. The frosting will be the perfect orange color as is.

When icing the cake, keep the layers rounded, and keep the rounder one on top.

waiting to turn into a pumpkin.

waiting to turn into a pumpkin.

Add your decorations (stem, leaves, whatever you desire) and there you have it. A pumpkin-shaped pumpkin cake.

Easy and delicious.

Easy, festive, and delicious.

I love fall baking.¬†So much pumpkin, so little time…

When Life Gives You Lemons.

Last week was a full moon. Last week, I was very emotional. Maybe the two are related, maybe not. But either way, I was feeling a little “life is giving me lemons-ish” all week. I tried talking to people about it, and although that helped in the moment, as soon as I was alone again, the lemons returned. Usually, I’d go for a run when I can’t shake that feeling, but I recently was diagnosed with Tendonitis in my left ankle. That means no running. For a while. This might have been the biggest lemon of all. Not being able to run is the most frustrating thing that has ever happened to me. So, what did I do? I started riding my bike and swimming.

A whole new world.

A whole new world.

These things are great, but the problem is that I’m not very good at them, and I was pretty good at running. So it’s like starting all over again. After a few bike rides though, I am really starting to enjoy it. So much so, that I want a new bike now. So maybe this particular lemon can become lemonade after all.

Even so, I still had the full moon blues, as I like to call them. I needed something else to help me break out of this funk. So, I turned to the only other thing I could think of that always helps me feel better – baking. And not just random baking for the sake of baking; this called for the big guns – baking with purpose.

I thought about who might want/need some baking in their life. I immediately thought of two people, and went to work. The first project was a Pink Lemonade Cake. I found the recipe here, however I made a few changes, as usual. I used pink lemonade concentrate, I omitted the lemon juice, and I had no milk in the house whatsoever, so I used the one cream-based product I always have on-hand without a doubt – vanilla ice cream. I used 1/3 cup ice cream blended with 1 cup of water. It worked perfectly.

An experiment in pink.

An experiment in pink.

The cake was well-received and devoured by all. I was feeling happy because others were happy. This was helping.

All that remained.

All that remained.

Baking project #2 was a beer bread. I’ve made beer bread before, and it has yet to turn out anything other than delicious, so I picked up some beer (Chocolate Pumpkin Porter by Evil Genius Beer Company, to be exact), and made yet another good-lookin’ and equally good-tastin’ Beer Bread.

The beer makes the bread.

The beer makes the bread.

The bread was a hit, too, and I was then able to surf the emotional wave right out of the end of the week and safely back to shore.

For now.

Zen and the Art of Grandfather Clock Maintenance.

This past weekend, my husband I inherited this Grandfather Clock from my Aunt. It was originally my Grandmother’s, and my mom says she remembers when she was little and hearing the chimes ringing throughout the night (in a good way). The clock is about 66 years old. It looks like it’s brand new.

Looks like no time has passed.

Like no time has passed.

It also still works. We got it to chime at 8pm the other night.

We still haven’t gotten it to continuously keep time – the pendulum eventually stops swinging. According to the manual that was still tucked inside the door of the clock, its trial and error – you just have to keep adjusting the pendulum until it works. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

But at some point, somebody did. 66 years ago, when this clock and others like it were brand new, somebody bought it, read the manual, and set it, trying over and over to get the screw on the pendulum adjusted exactly right so it would keep time. I tried three times. And decided I’d rather pay someone money to come out and set it rather than sit there and adjust the darn thing myself.

Had I been a single lady when I inherited this clock, I also would not have dusted the chimes and reattached them after stringing them with new strings, attached the weights (in proper order from heaviest to lightest), or even bothered to figure out the part of the pendulum and the screw at all. All these acts were meticulously performed by my husband. I did sit and read the manual so we could figure out how to set the time without breaking it. But honestly, I think I only did that because he was doing all these things and I felt like I needed to contribute.

I’m not sure what it is, but technical details such as these do not interest me. I love the clock. I love how it looks. I love how it sounds. I cannot pretend to care how it works or even want to learn. Is it because I’m lazy? I started to wonder.

When I have to figure something out, I can and I will. I know deep down inside that I could have set the time, and the chimes and the weights and even the pendulum if i keep trying. But I just don’t want to. I don’t want to know how things work sometimes. I just want them TO work. And to be beautiful and bright and perform with precision and grace.

I don’t think I would have given my lack of desire to study the inner workings of the clock any thought had I not recently also started reading this book:

zenbook

One of those books that changes how you think.

I’m not finished it yet, but I am intrigued by his idea of Romantic understanding vs. Classical understanding:

“A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance.”

I am definitely from the romantic school of understanding. I don’t think it’s because I was born that way or have something in my brain that makes me that way. No, I believe I chose to be that way. I remember taking the SATs in high school, and scoring higher on the math section then on the verbal section (this was back when there were only two sections). I considered myself and arts person, not a math person. I was angry that I scored higher on math. Math was boring. I did not want to be associated with it in anyway. So I chose not to be.

I chose poorly.

What I didn’t realize until reading this book and seeing the Grandfather Clock, is that math is just as beautiful as Art. And just as creative. I should have realized this when I was in pastry school. It was not the finished look of the dessert that most interested me – it was what made it happen: what reacted with what and in what amount to create that perfect chemical reaction of a dessert. I love baking because I LOVE chemistry.I always have. And I’m not ashamed to admit it anymore.

I’m not the best cake decorator. I’m not neatest pastry chef. I am, however, pretty darn good at creating new and delicious desserts.

Just another baking experiment gone right.

Just another baking experiment gone right.

And I WILL get that pendulum to swing again – I promise. But first, I have this great idea for a pink lemonade cake that I need to try out. ūüôā

Kosher Brownies vs. Jewish Apple Cake: a Dessert Duel.

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So here’s a little story for you.

Last week, my fiance and I were invited to a Passover Seder. The hosts, knowing that I was a baker, asked us to bring a dessert. I of course jumped at the chance to make something for this special occasion, and I started going through some recipes, thinking of what I could bring. I settled on a Jewish Apple Cake, since not only do I love it, but I hadn’t made it in quite some time! The one thing I love about my recipe is that it always turns out perfect! I was so pumped to present it as our contribution at Seder.

Perfect for Passover.

Perfect for Passover.

It started off excellent. The batter was perfect, the apples were crisp and tasty. It looked great when I put it into the oven. As it was baking, it still looked great, but it seemed to be taking a long time to cook all the way through. I took it out, and had to put it back in the oven, because it wasn’t done yet. Finally, it was done, and it looked a little….flat. This wasn’t the end of the world, since it wasn’t supposed to be super fluffy – the apple cake is very dense. I let it cool in the pan for a bit, and then went to flip it out onto the cooling rack, and nothing. The cake did not come out. It was stuck in the pan, like REALLY stuck. I did what I normally do in this situation – I ran a knife along the sides and center. Bundt pans seem to be the worst at sticking, so I wasn’t too surprised at this. The knife usually does the trick. Not this time. After going around the perimeter multiple times, the cake still would not budge. Finally, after one more time around and practically digging the knife completely underneath the cake, it began to come loose. And then, boom! Half of the cake fell out. And then a bunch of crumbs. And then the other half (in pieces, I might add). And just like that, my perfect for Passover Apple Cake was ruined.

The good news – I had made the cake a day early, so I had time to try again. I really didn’t feel like making a whole new apple cake, though. So what should I do? I suddenly remembered seeing this box of cake mix in the kosher section at the grocery store, so I snagged it.

a quick mix fix.

a quick mix fix.

Now I knew this cake mix would not equate to the glory that is my scratch Apple Cake, but it looked good, and I was getting short on time. The next morning, I opened the box, ready to create an easy second cake for the dinner that evening.

Yes, it was easy.

Yes, it was tasty

Yes, it was way too small.

Not much bigger than an apple.

Not much bigger than an apple.

There was no way I could show up with this tiny cake! It would barely feed just me and my fiance! Now I was starting to panic. I had started becoming comfortable with the resignation that I would ¬†have to actually purchase an already made dessert, when I had one last idea. Brownies. I don’t know where it came from, but there it was. I googled “Easy Kosher Brownies” and sure enough, found what I was looking for. And to top it off, I just so happened to already have all of the ingredients. I headed back into the kitchen for the third time, and hoped that three times really was the charm.

once, twice, three times the brownie.

once, twice, three times the brownie.

It was. The brownies cooked perfectly, were big enough, and when I cut them and removed them from the pan, they retained their shape perfectly.

redemption.

redemption.

I had been redeemed. My faith in my baking had once again been restored. As an added unexpected bonus, a few people wound up telling me these were the best brownies they ever had. So I guess it was meant to be in the end.

brownies for the win.

brownies for the win.

The brownies were the clear winner here, and I can honestly say that I’m glad the Apple Cake fell apart. Sometimes things fall apart for a reason. We just have to be patient and remember to never give up, because Good Things Come to Those Who Bake. ūüôā

A Celebration of Pi (with Pie).

pie slice3

Over the past weekend, on 3/14/15 to be exact. I went to a Pi Party. How does one celebrate Pi? With pie, of course! Everyone contributed a pie of some sort in honor of Pi. As you can imagine, there were so many pies there, I almost couldn’t handle the deliciousness. Almost.

My personal contribution was a Key Lime Pie. I started off with a cornmeal crust made from scratch, baked it for about 8 minutes, filled it with pie, and baked it for another 15 minutes. And although I absolutely love this particular Key Lime Pie recipe, I feel like it’s not green enough. So…I helped it reach maximum greeness with a couple drops of food coloring.

it's not easy being green.

it’s not easy being green.

I wanted to put some kind of topping on it, but I didn’t have any heavy cream. I did however, have all the ingredients to make a meringue, so I started whipping one up.

do the meringue.

do the meringue.

It was going really well, until my hand started getting really really tired. Then I remembered just how long it takes to whip meringue, and realized I should have used the stand mixer, ¬†not the hand mixer. But it was too late to turn back now, so I whipped on, as best as I could. The result was not the best meringue I’ve ever made, looks-wise, but it sure was tasty.

beautiful on the inside.

beautiful on the inside.

I really really really wanted to add a slice of lime to the center, but at this point, I was crunched for time, so it would have to go lime-less. I brought it to the party, feeling sightly disappointed. I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my desserts, but there was no way I could redo the pie and still make it to the party in time. And showing up to a Pi Party without Pie was just unthinkable.

The party was a blast. The pies were all a huge hit, including mine. So much so, that by the end of the night, my faith in my desserts had been restored.

things are looking up.

things are looking up.

The best part about the pie party? We got to take home slices of all the pies, in what I affectionately dubbed a “Super Pie.”

the super pie.

best. pie. ever.

The moral of the story is no two pies are exactly alike. But that doesn’t make them any less delicious. Pie to¬†infinity!

The Best Sweet Beer Bread.

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Ok, so I know I said that last week I made the Best Beer Bread, and I still stick to that claim. However, the other day, I tried again, with a different beer this time – something just a little more dessert-like. What was the beer, you might ask? Why, it was Creme Brulee Stout, by Southern Tier Brewing Co.

a sweet, sweet beer.

a sweet, sweet beer.

The only problem here, was that the recipe as you may remember, calls for 12 oz of beer, and this bottle was, alas, 16 oz. Oh darn. The only solution was to drink the remaining 4 oz. Oh the perils of being a baker. ūüėČ

more beer than bread.

more beer than bread.

Well, needless to say, the beer was delicious, and I was even more excited now to see how the bread would turn out! It smelled amazing, and it appeared to have been baked to perfection. Now, the hard part – waiting for it to cool, so I could try it.

hurry up.

hurry up.

Finally, the cooling hour had come. It was time. Time to slice. Time to taste. Time to judge and be judged.

worth waiting for.

worth waiting for.

Well, it was definitely worth the wait. It’s hard to say at this point which beer bread was the actual best – I think it all comes down to personal preference. This one was a little sweeter, which, anyone who knows me would know that sweeter is my bag. Not everyone digs on sweeter though, so let’s just call it a draw. This one shall be bestowed with the title of Best Sweet Bread Bread. If you’d like to try is, use the same Beer Bread Recipe as previously posted, but use the Creme Brulee Stout. Remember to only use 12 oz – and to drink the rest. Never let great beer go to waste.

Recipe: The Best Beer Bread.

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Here’s the recipe for the Sweet Baby Jesus! Beer Bread I posted the other day. Keep in mind, you don’t have to use Sweet Baby Jesus! beer (although it really was super delicious) – you can use whatever beer you like! I plan on doing a lot more¬†experimenting with this one…

The Best Beer Bread.

What you’ll need:

3 cups flour, sifted

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 12 oz can of whatever beer you like

1/4 cup melted butter

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a Large mixing bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Pour in the beer, and mix with a spatula until it gets thick, then finish mixing it by hand, until it forms a somewhat flaky-ish ball. Grease a loaf pan, and pour dough into the pan, spreading it out evenly with your hands. Pour the melted butter on top. Place the loaf pan on a sheet pan (sometimes the butter overflows while baking) and bake for approx 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.