Nov 25, 2009

Cut-Out Cookies

(Decorated cookies and photo courtesy of my sister Emily)

I'm guessing that it's probably difficult to persuade people to try a new cut-out cookie recipe. Everyone has their own recipe or their own preferences about what makes a good cut-out cookie. And I think that these preferences run deep, even if people aren't fully conscious of them. But I'll throw caution to the wind and share my family's traditional cut-out cookie recipe. I LOVE these! They are thin and crisp and delicious!

I have a lot of wonderful emotional associations with these cookies. This is one of my mother's specialties. Mom makes these every Christmas and decorates them beautifully. Seeing them makes me think of Christmases past--family (immediate and extended) parties, neighborhood gatherings, caroling, sledding, tubing, and cozy winter evenings.

To be honest, I haven't made these cookies very often. The main reason is that I'm generally too lazy to bake and frost cut-out cookies of any kind. And I'm too daunted by the thought of having to live up to my mom's aesthetic standard when it comes to frosting them. But maybe I'll give this recipe a try again sometime.

1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2-3 tablespoons milk

Thoroughly cream shortening and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk and mix thoroughly. Roll out dough 1/8" thick on lightly floured surface. Cut with floured cookie cutter. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes. Makes 1 1/2 dozen large cookies.

Orange Oatmeal Cookies

1 3/4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups butter or margarine
1/4 cup grated orange peel
2 cups sugar
1 egg
2 cups uncooked rolled oats

Blend the first four ingredients and set aside. Cream butter and orange peel together. Blend in sugar gradually, creaming until fluffy. Add the egg and beat thoroughly. Add dry ingredients in thirds, mixing until blended after each addition. Stir in the oats. Drop by teaspoonfuls about 3 inches apart on lightly grease cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Peanut Butter Cookies

This is a family recipe, one I've enjoyed my whole life. I'm not sure how to describe the end result. These peanut butter cookies seem less dense than most others I've tried. And perhaps slightly sweeter. They can be soft or crisp, depending on the baking time.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter (I like to use chunky peanut butter, but that's just a personal preference)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in scant 1/3 cup hot water
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour

Cream shortening, peanut butter, and sugars. Beat in egg. Then add water and baking soda with the dry ingredients. Roll the dough into balls, flatten with a fork, and bake at 350-375 degrees until done, about 12 to 13 minutes.

Nov 21, 2009

Christmas Gift Ideas

Christmas is around the corner, and finding just the right gift for a friend, neighbor, or coworker isn’t always an easy task. So I thought I’d share a few Christmas gift ideas in the event that you’d like to give a gift of homemade food this year, which I think many people appreciate. And given the state of our economy right now, if you’re like me, you may be looking for ways to show that you care without spending a lot of money.

The items below can all be made from recipes on my blog. I’ve chosen these because they are all delicious and can be made with relative ease. Also, once you’ve made one of these items, all you need to do to make it festive is to wrap it in a cellophane bag and tie it with a beautiful holiday ribbon. You can also include a copy of the recipes along with a personal card.

Cinnamon-Roasted Almonds
Caramel Popcorn
Uncle Antone and Aunt Gretta’s Easy Candy Popcorn

Cookies/Cookie Dough
French Swiss Cookies
Aunt Joan’s Toffee Squares
Orange Oatmeal Cookies
Cut-Out Cookies
Frosted Lemon Butter Cookies

(I’ve got a lot more cookie recipes to add to my blog. I’ll try and get around to that task soon.)

With either of the recipes below, you could give a roll of cookie dough, along with the baking directions, so that the recipient could make these cookies at their leisure, perhaps after the flurry of holiday treats has passed.
Oatmeal Cookies
Chocolate Chip Cookies

Banana Bread
Applesauce Nut Bread
Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Dill Bread
No-Knead Bread
(you could include a small jar of honey or jam with a loaf of this bread)

Salad Dressing
I think many people would love a jar of homemade salad dressing for the holidays. It would certainly be a more unusual gift. Also, you could turn these into a larger gift by combining them with other items. For example, you could give the bleu cheese dressing with some beautiful pears. Or you could give a “salad basket” to a friend, including salad dressing, greens, fruit, pine nuts, etc)
Bleu Cheese Salad Dressing
Homespun German Salad Dressing

Granted, you can’t put soup in a cellophane bag very well, but a jar or other decorative container might work. It doesn’t have to be an entire pot of soup. Just enough for a serving or two. The idea is simply to show someone that you are thinking of them. And why not give something that isn’t sweet during the holidays, something that could help make a meal during the sometimes hectic Christmas season?
Butternut Squash Soup
Taco Soup
Carrot Chowder
Easy White Bean Soup
Chicken Chili

Happy Holiday Giving!

Nov 15, 2009

No-Knead Artisan Bread

(photos courtesy of Aaron Thompson)

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes! Delicious, crusty European-style bread that you can make at home! New York Times food editor Amanda Hesser calls it "easily the most famous recipe ever to run in the Times." It comes from Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City and baker Jim Lahey. What I love about this recipe, besides the end result, is that it is simple to make. The dough takes quite a bit of time to rise, so it's not something you can do at the last minute. Better to start the day before. However, very little active time is required on your part. Besides having enough time, the only other thing you need is the right type of pan to bake the bread in. The pan needs to be the appropriate size (a 5- to 7-quart pot), be able to withstand high temperatures, and have a lid. I have successfully used enamel-coated cast iron, a Dutch oven, and Pyrex pans. Ceramic can also work, provided it meets the above requirements.

For more info, read this article or watch this video that depicts the process. There are a few slight variations between what you see in the video and what is described in this recipe, but I've adapted the recipe to what works best for me.

4 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid rising yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups water at about 70 degrees

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add 2 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 14 hours, and preferably about 18 or more, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, fold it over on itself once or twice, then gently and quickly shape dough into a ball, seam-side down. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. Cover the dough with the plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 additional hours.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 5- to 7-quart heavy covered pot in the oven while it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven and take off the lid. Then gently lift the dough and set it in pot, seam side up. It may not look neat, but that is okay. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One loaf.

Nov 14, 2009

Lemon Bundt Cake

This recipe comes from my friend Kathy, who also has a recipe blog. I made this cake for another friend's birthday last week, and it was a hit. This cake is moist and lemony, and it looks quite attractive.

1 box Betty Crocker or Pillsbury lemon cake mix
1 3-ounce box instant lemon pudding
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease and flour a bundt pan. Mix all ingredients and pour into the pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool ten minutes, then invert the pan to release the cake.

Lemon Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
Mix sugar and lemon juice with electric mixer. Pour over cake while it is still hot so that a lovely lemon crust will form. Hint: It is much easier to do this if the cake is on a wire rack with foil or wax paper underneath to catch the drippings.

Note: This cake can be frozen for up to a month.

Nov 9, 2009

Mushroom Chicken

I don't usually like to include recipes without measurements, but that's how this recipe came to me, and I haven't taken the time yet to get the proportions just right. Instead, I simply estimate the amount of each ingredient and go from there. But this is a dish I make quite frequently.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice
Mushrooms, sliced
Heavy cream
Parmesan cheese, shredded
Parsley, chopped finely

Pound out chicken breasts with a meat mallet until thin. Combine flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and coat chicken breasts in this mixture. Fry coated breasts in butter and sprinkle both sides very lightly with lemon juice. Then put chicken breasts in a casserole dish (chicken should be in a single layer, not stacked up).

Saute sliced mushrooms in the meat drippings, or use butter if necessary. Cook until soft. Put sauteed mushrooms on top of cooked chicken breasts and pour cream over the top. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. About five minutes before chicken is fully heated, sprinkle shredded Parmesan cheese over the top and finish cooking. Once the casserole dish is removed from the oven, garnish the top with chopped parsley.

Nov 7, 2009

Beef Stroganoff

I'm not positive, but I believe that this recipe comes from my late Aunt Donna Fae Wheeler (my dad's sister). Stroganoff is definitely comfort food to me.

1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix and form into little balls. Brown in a little shortening. Remove from pan.

To brown bits in pan add:
4 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 can mushroom soup
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons ketchup

Add meatballs and simmer 5 minutes. Blend in 1/2 cup sour cream. Serve over noodles or rice.

*Note: I often prefer to use strips of cooked steak in this recipe rather than meatballs. The steak is easier and quicker to prepare, and I like the texture of steak more than ground beef, but both will work.

Nov 4, 2009

Dueling Pecan Pies

Well, this is my 100th blog post (Yahoo!). So in honor of this landmark event, I'm offering two recipes for the price of one. And today's subject is pecan pie. I didn't grow up eating pecan pie because it wasn't something my family ate. Even now, it would be futile to try getting members of my family to include pecan pie in the Clark family's pantheon of favorite pies. But pecan pie is one of my favorites. And here are two recipes to try.

Dear Abby's Famous Pecan Pie

I clipped this recipe out of the newspaper years ago from a Dear Abby column. This is the recipe I've always used in the past and liked.

1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
9-inch unbaked pie crust
1 heaping cup pecan halves

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, and vanilla; mix well. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust; sprinkle with pecan halves. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until center is set. If crust or pie gets too brown, cover with foil for remaining baking time.

Pecan Pie #2 (adapted from the New Doubleday Cookbook)
I confess that I've never made this pie myself, but my friend Whitney has, and she let me try a piece or two recently. It is terrific! This pie is less gooey, and it holds its shape well. I think that this pecan pie may become my new favorite. Thanks to Whitney for sharing this recipe.

1 unbaked pie crust (in a 9-inch pan)
1 cup pecans
1 pound light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange pecans in concentric circles. In a mixing bowl, blend sugar, flour, and salt. Then mix in milk and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time, using a whisk. Mix in butter a little at a time. Gently pour over the pecans. Bake pie 75 minutes, or until filling is puffy and crust is golden.

Nov 3, 2009

Hershey Almond Pie

This pie is always a part of our family Thanksgiving menu. It's as simple as can be to whip up, and everyone likes it. You can use a traditional pie crust for this pie, or a graham cracker or chocolate cookie crust work well, too.

15 large marshmallows
1/2 cup milk
1 8-oz Hershey Almond Chocolate Bar
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
1 pie shell

Heat the marshmallows, milk, and chocolate bar over a low heat until the marshmallows and chocolate have melted and blended with the milk. After this mixture has cooled, fold in the whipped cream and pour the combined mixture into a pie shell. Chill until set. Garnish with chocolate shavings, sliced almonds, and/or a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. Note: This past Thanksgiving, I lost track of what I was doing and accidentally added 2 cups of whipped cream instead of 1. The end result was that there was too much filling for my pie crust. However, I liked end result better (it tasted more like a chocolate silk or chocolate chiffon pie) and the filling still set up. A fortunate mistake! Anyway, going forward, I think I'll add at least an extra half cup of whipped cream to the recipe above.

Nov 2, 2009

Pumpkin Praline Pie

This is a nice variation on traditional pumpkin pie. There's a praline layer on the bottom and a pumpkin layer on top. I like the combination of flavors and textures, though I haven't been entirely successful in keeping some of the praline layer from floating to the top.

1 unbaked pie shell

Praline layer:
1/3 cup finely ground pecans, firmly packed
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons soft butter or margarine

Pumpkin layer:
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half

Prepare pie shell. Refrigerate until ready for use. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make praline layer, blend all ingredients in a small bowl. Press gently onto bottom of pie shell with back of spoon. To make filling, beat eggs until frothy in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients in order. Then beat only until well mixed. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake 55 to 60 minutes or until tip of knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool thoroughly on wire rack. Serve with whipping cream.

Nov 1, 2009

Lemon Chiffon Pie

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, it's time to be thinking about pie. So the next several posts will be dedicated to that subject. I've always been a fan of pumpkin pie, and the basic recipe that you find on the side of a can of pumpkin usually suits me just fine. Warm pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream is heavenly. But if you'd like to try something new or something in addition to traditional pumpkin pie, stay tuned. Also, anyone who'd like to post their own favorite pie recipe on this blog can just let me know.

This first pie recipe is one I haven't made for a number of years, but it is so good that I can recreate the taste in my mind with little conscious effort on my part. Lemon Chiffon Pie--sweet, tart, light, and fluffy.

1 envelope unflavored gelatin (1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, with whites and yolks separated
1/3 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped

In saucepan combine gelatin, sugar, and salt. In a small bowl beat egg yolks, lemon juice, and water; then stir this into the gelatin mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat just until mixture comes to boiling. Remove from heat and stir in lemon peel. Chill, stirring occasionally, until partially set.

Beat egg whites till soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating till stiff peaks form and sugar has dissolved; fold in gelatin mixture. Now fold in whipped cream. Pile filling into baked 9-inch pastry shell; chill until firm. Serve with a dollop of extra whipped cream.