Monday, December 29, 2008

Molasses Sandwich Cookies

Okay, between Ginger Chewies, and now this recipe, I am going through molasses just as fast as sugar!  No, mine aren't as pretty as Martha Stewart's (but really, is that even possible?), but all I had was dark, bold molasses and not the "Light" molasses that the recipe called for.  I added just a little bit of vanilla to cut into the molasses flavor just a bit, and mine only took 8 minutes to bake in the oven, not the 12-15 as the recipe states.  When making the frosting, I had to add a little milk to mine as I mixed it to make it a bit creamier - and I wouldn't suggest using a whisk if you are following the recipe, it turned into a bit of a pain when the butter clumped with the sugar inside the whisk - just use an electric mixer.  In the end, they tasted, well, incredible!  I love it when I try a new recipe and upon sharing them, people go ballistic over them.  The same thing happened with the Ginger Chewies.  Which makes me wonder - you really don't see that many cookies or recipes with molasses anymore.  It certainly isn't as "hip" as Green Tea or Candied Ginger, but there is definitely something comforting and welcoming about it - a hug for your tummy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Almost Spring?

Honestly, how much snow can one state possibly need, really?!  
I really think we are already almost up to the amount of snow we had all last winter - and we still have at least two more months to go!  While shoveling every two days is keeping my arms in better shape, it certainly isn't very much fun!  And before the snow plow comes through the alley, I pray pray pray that the blade is facing the opposite direction of our driveway, so we won't have to shovel out another couple of feet!  Today God chose to bless our neighbors, 
but at least it came through early and we were able to shovel it right away before it froze into a solid mass of evil ice-snow.  But really, it is incredibly pretty at certain moments.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Time with Family

I hope you are enjoyed a very Merry Christmas.  
We certainly had a great time visiting with many of our family members.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oooh Baby...

What is it about cinnamon rolls?  Warm from the oven, covered in icing, that sweet spicy smell in the air that has the power to cause men to swoon cinnamon rolls.  I have tried several cinnamon rolls recipes in the past, and they never quite turn out.  The filling is awesome, but the dough leaves something to be desired, or vice versa, or the dough fails to rise (it is so hard to throw away what seems to be a perfectly good jar of yeast, just because it is getting up in age...).  But I think I've finally got it.  These are amazing.  And I have to admit, I didn't even make the icing Ree does, I just did a vanilla icing, rather than the maple.  Still.  They rock.  And even after I made a ridiculously messy mess while rolling them up (every spill a cup of melted butter on the floor?), I still promise to make these again.  I made half the recipe, and got three round pans out of it.  One was made the next morning, and the other two are being saved for Christmas morning.  Family, Presents, and Cinnamon Rolls.  Can life get better?  I submit that it cannot!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Help Wanted

One thing about baking so much lately, is that I feel like I am almost constantly washing, drying, and putting away dishes, only to take them out and make them dirty again (and again and again).  Even right now, at 9:43 pm, there are dirty dishes to be done, mainly because I have reached my limit of doing dishes today and couldn't stand to put my hands in that scalding hot water again.  But honestly, the amount of dishes that today's recipe produced was worth it.  This is definitely a great recipe to have on hand, and I know I will make it again.  I love using vanilla beans.  Splitting them open and scraping out the tiny black seed paste inside is somehow satisfying - and the wonderful fragrance that fills the workspace is one that makes you close your eyes, lean forward, and breath in as deeply as your lungs allow.  I loved seeing the bits of vanilla throughout the sugar, and then mixed into the cake dough.  There is something exotic about using vanilla beans in a recipe - and one of the few times that "black stuff" is okay in a cake!  I would have certainly offered up some of this ridiculously good Cranberry Vanilla Coffeecake as payment for someone willing to do some dishes!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Finally, a new jar of yeast, and properly risen dough!  The little critters acted exactly as they should have, and the recipe for Dinner Rolls by the Pioneer Woman came out wonderfully.  I only made half a batch (which still made 20 rolls), and I will soon enough be making them again.  Very easy, no kneading and yummy, fresh, buttery rolls coming out of the oven for dinner.  Before I put the pans in the oven, I brushed the tops of the rolls with a little melted butter, and then sprinkled just a bit of kosher salt over each.  Yum Yum Yum... I think I need to go eat another one, just to make sure they're still good!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Two New Cakes

Two recipes for the price of one today, and two good ones, for that matter!  Via a link on Joy's blog, I felt an urgency to make this Butterscotch Banana Chocolate Swirl Cake.  I threatened Justin and Trav away from the last of the bananas on our counter, and had all of the other ingredients on hand.  As you'll notice if you follow the link to the recipe, it only calls for half of the recipe for the yellow cake.  As I didn't threaten hard or fast enough, by the time I got to the bananas there was only one left, so I couldn't just double the recipe.  Instead I took Peabody's advice and made the Pecan Pie Cake with the other half (I had all the ingredients for that on hand as well).  To make them perty, I drizzled some butterscotch and chocolate ganache over the banana one, and poured the remaining chocolate ganache over the pecan one.  Both turned out great, though Justin declared that the Butterscotch Banana one as his favorite, and requested four layers of it for his birthday.  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stupid Yeast

Okay.  The jar of yeast is officially going in the garbage.  I made these yesterday.  Helen's look pretty incredible, eh?  Ha.  Not when you have crummy yeast like I did.  The problem with mostly bad yeast, and not completely bad, is that when you mix it with warm water, it still foams a bit and looks okay.  And then you mix it into your flour and eggs and butter and all sorts of other wonderful things, and it does diddly squat.  The little punks just wouldn't do their jobs.  Rise!  Grow!  Release your yeasty gases!  Nope.  Nothing.  I still went ahead and rolled out the (dense, flat) dough and spread on the dulce de leche and cream cheese, pleading with it to do something, anything, in the fridge overnight.  They didn't, couldn't really, as they very obviously had passed on.  So I baked the pan, still with (completely illogical) hopes that in the oven they would *poof* come alive and look magnificent coming out.  They didn't.  The rolls looked okay.  And they tasted okay, but not wonderful and yeasty and, well, you get the picture.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Angel Biscuits

I decided to pull out a couple of bread/ biscuit recipes to try these next few days, so we'll see what turns out!  Tonight's attempt was Angel Biscuits, from Cooking Light September 2007.  I think I had two things against me - the biscuit cutter is getting rather dull (which kind of "squished" the sides down and didn't allow the biscuits to puff up straight and tall) and I think I need a new jar of yeast (the dough never really rose).  However, even with both those (pretty major) things against me, they tasted really great.  The buttermilk definitely gives a bit of a tangy flavor, great with strawberry rhubarb jam or honey, or dunked in a creamy soup - like the white cheddar asparagus soup we had for dinner!

Angel Biscuits (adapted from Cooking Light)

1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar**
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening
2 cups buttermilk
1 Tablespoon butter, melted

1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water in a small bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt in a bowl.  Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add yeast mixture and buttermilk to flour mixture; stir just until moist.  Cover and chill 1 hour.  
3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
4. Turn the dough onto a heavily floured surface; knead lightly 5 times.  Roll dough to a 1/2-inch thickness; cut with a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter.  Place the biscuits on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Brush the melted butter over the biscuit tops.  Bake for 12 minutes or until golden.

**I JUST realized that I forgot to add the sugar!!  They still tasted really good, but this would also contribute to the reason that I ended up with flat biscuits!  I will definitely be making these again soon (the right way!).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Messy (and Tasty) Fun

This past weekend I made a giant batch of sugar cookies (I added a bit of lemon zest this time - YUM!), and then the King family came over to help decorate them all.  I mixed up five colors of frosting to keep everyone busy, and had plenty of colored sugars, jimmies, nonpareils, dragees, etc.  The seven of us crowded around our table and proceeded to eat too much sugar, oh, and decorate the cookies!  As you can see, Justin and Travis still had a little bit too much fun being creative with the cookies.  We all agreed this is a great holiday tradition to start together!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I drove up to Wausau today and met up with my mom and Grandpa for lunch.  It was a good, but short visit, and it got me thinking about what a substantial life he has lived, and how many people he continues to impact.  He was 18 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, shortly after which he joined the Marines.  He fought with his regiment in the South Pacific, including Guadalcanal and Okinawa.  When he returned home, he met and married my Grandma.  The two lovebirds went on to have TEN kids, who all managed to turn out alright (the verdict is still out on Ruth though... ;).  Ervin and Dorothy moved all their kids up to the middle of nowhere in North Central Wisconsin (outside of Marathon) and lived on and operated a veal farm for much of their lives.  After all the kids grew up (for the most part) and moved out, my grandparents moved into a house in Marathon proper, and then later into Wausau.  One of the silly things that I will always thank my grandpa for - my appreciation for sardines packed in olive oil on saltines. 


Friday, December 12, 2008

Russian Tea Cakes

As promised, I made Russian Tea Cakes to compare to the Hazelnut Tea Cakes I made earlier in the week.  And yep, I'd have to say I like them a little bit more.  And they are a cinch to throw together - WAY easier than pie!

Russian Tea Cakes

1 Cup Butter
1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 1/4 Cups Flour
1/4 tsp. salt (I used a 1/2 tsp salt and unsalted butter)
3/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts

Combine ingredients and shape into 1-inch balls.  Place on cookie sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Allow cookies to cool on the pans for 5 minutes, then roll in powdered sugar.  Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Well-Traveled Ornaments

Justin and I started a tradition on our honeymoon to pick up a Christmas tree ornament when we traveled somewhere new (by plane).  After our wedding, we took a Caribbean cruise to San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Croix and found this funny shrimp ornament.  Since that first trip we have found ornaments in Costa Rica, Panama, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Hawaii and Peru.  It is fun to search for a small, meaningful souvenir while we are on a vacation, and it then reminds us of those fun travels when we hang it on the tree each year.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Peanut Butter Blossoms

So I decided to take Hershey's prize basket's suggestion and just go ahead and make Peanut Blossoms with everything that was sent.  I followed the recipe almost to the tee - I used butter-flavored shortening and doubled the vanilla (as usual).  And just as I was mixing them up, I got a call from Claudia, who was in town - all the way from Peru!  She is working at Cascade Mountain ski hill in Portage over the winter (her "summer" break - poor girl) and had a friend drive her into Stevens Point to visit with some people from Woodlands who she had met in Peru.  The cookies came out of the oven just as she arrived, so we were able to catch up a bit over glasses of milk and warm Peanut Blossoms (that's when they're the best - the Kiss is nice and gooey!).  It was fun to laugh and remember moments from Peru, as well as tease her about willingly coming to Wisconsin in the middle of winter!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


This evening I drove up to Wausau to make Christmas candy at my Aunt Phyllis' house.  Ruth, Michelle and Mom were there, as well as Mark, Philip and Joseph (but only because it was their house).  Us girls had a fun time making WheatThin candy (peanut butter sandwiched between 2 WheatThins, dipped in a mixture of semi-sweet & white chocolate), White Clusters  (melted white chocolate mixed with peanut butter, Rice Krispies, mini marshmallows, and peanuts), Peanut Butter Balls (peanut butter, butter, powdered sugar and graham cracker crumbs formed into balls and then dipped in semi-sweet chocolate), Angel Food candy (sugar heated to soft-crack stage, then baking soda is added to "puff" it up, then once it hardens it is dipped in chocolate), and Peppermint Candy (melted white chocolate mixed with crushed peppermint sticks).  Lots of stories shared and plenty of laughing, all the while making fantastic candy to share and take to holiday festivities.  

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hazelnut Tea Cookies

I couldn't really decide whether to blog about these cookies or not.  I was leaning away from it, as I thought they were just okay, but other people have given them two thumbs up and so now I feel it is worth it to share.  It really comes down to the hazelnuts.  If  you love hazelnuts, you will flip over these.  If you aren't the biggest fan of them (which I guess includes me), they'll just be so-so.  As the hazelnuts are toasted and then finely ground, the flavor is very much in the forefront.  The buttery shortbread-type cookie dough is the secondary player.  My favorite part is the powdered sugar coating.  I like my family's "Russian Tea Cakes" a bit better, but they are made with walnuts or pecans and that's the main difference.  I'll make those in a few days to let you compare.  

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Note to Self: Increase Vitamin C Intake.

When you aren't feeling the greatest, it seems to make you appreciate the little things a little bit more.  For me, it is a box of Puffs tissues and Clementines that are in season.  These little Cuties are just what us Wisconsinites need mid-December.  Colds are running rampant, it is bitter cold outside, and drier than the Sahara inside.  And along comes a bright, juicy, sweet, easy-to-peel and immune-boosting snack.  Better than any cookie that can be baked (just this once!).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Banana Man in Japan

Our friend Doug Allord obviously has too much time on his hands and has made me the "Banana Man in Japan, named Stan who ran for a plan for a bran fan that can ban a tan crayon from the van". I hope this isn't a trend of putting me in strange photos (hint hint) :)

Other People Running

Today was the YMCA's annual Frostbite Run.  And the weather lived up to the race's name - it was only about 18 degrees outside.  Aunt Ruth and Cousin Laura ran the 5 mile course in great time, and Justin and I came out to show our support for their craziness.  Lots of runners definitely had spirit and ran with santa hats or jingle bells, but this trio really went all out!  After the race, Justin wanted to pretend that he had just finished running it too.  Which, I guess, means to hold a banana and look, um, exhausted?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Step Away from the Cookies...

So I was feeling pretty crummy yesterday.  And the sick 11-year-old kid in me wanted to curl up on the couch with a blanket and watch movies.  As in, watch movies I watched when I was 11.  So while Justin cued up two that I ADORED when I was younger - The Little Mermaid & The Lion King- I produced a batch of these little darlings.  These browned butter brown sugar shortbread cookies are eye-brow raising good.  They're cookies that won't make it as the centerfold of a cookbook - but it will be on the page that is splattered with butter and flour and crusted with sugar. 
Eventually I got to do just what that little girl in me wanted - to lay on the couch with a big blanket, nibble on something sweet, and watch what I wanted (and yes, I still know all the words to all the songs!).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sweet Surprise!

I won!  I can hardly believe it!  A couple of days ago Anna, over at Cookie Madness, ran a contest on her blog giving away some Hershey's promotional gifts.  Come up with new flavor Hershey's Kiss, huh?  And even better - it could have a mysterious power?  I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring with a chocolate-gingerbread kiss that could string up Christmas lights.  And the judges picked my entry, along with two others!  And then the doorbell rings today, and here is Mr. UPSGUY bearing a huge box filled with goodies!  
Peanut Butter!  Flour!  Sugar!  Brownie Mix!  Hershey's Cocoa!  Hershey's Kisses!  Plus the bowl, spatula, and oven mitt!  Can you tell that I am just an itsy bitsy bit excited?!  Thank you to Hershey's, Anna, and her friends the judges!