Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter Cookies

We love decorating cookies around here. Although Christmas is the traditional time to do it, we always seem to be inundated with other baking projects around that time of year. So we find other times to decorate cookies. Usually Halloween cookies squeeze their way in. It's been a while since we've made Easter cookies. I forgot how colorful and beautiful they are! This was the first time we've made butterfly cookies. I thought they would be fun to decorate, but when it came time to do it, I didn't know where to begin. We both tried to do symmetrical designs. I usually went the way of drawing a silly smily face. Maybe next year we'll do fewer butterflies and more of my personal favorite...eggs!

And here's the whole lot!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Szechuan Sesame Noodles

There's a commercial (I think it's for paper towels) that has one scene of a "husband" running a blender without the lid on and making a huge strawberry milkshake mess in the kitchen. Brett and I always jokingly shake our fists and say, "Husbands!" This of course is a huge stereotype of the incompetent husband trying to cook. Brett is anything but incompetent in the kitchen.

I am the main cook in our household, but Brett does help regularly. He's the one who puts all my prep for fried rice together. He also does most of the assembly for pizza twist. I also prefer that he does all the big pouring jobs. It is rare that he does everything all by himself. But I was a lucky lady recently. I sat on the couch while he made dinner.

He picked the recipe for Szechuan Sesame Noodles out of the Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh cookbook and got to work. He's not used to chopping, I am most definitely the knife wielder in the kitchen, but he took his time, and got the garlic (3 cloves), fresh ginger (1/2 tsp), and red onion (less than half) all chopped up. When Brett is the chef, he gets to make executive decisions. He chose to saute the red onions rather than leave them raw: an excellent choice. He also chose to skimp on the ginger (the recipe called for 2 T): also a good call.

Other than chopping, this recipe pretty much makes itself. Brett cooked half a box of linguine, drained it, and then drizzled it with sesame oil. He sauteed the chopped red onion. When those parts were all done, he heated some more sesame oil in the wok and cooked the garlic and ginger. Then he added 6 T of teriyaki sauce (we love the thicker kind that can be used as a glaze/dip), 1 tsp of chili-garlic sauce, and 2 T of lime juice. Once that was all bubbly, he added in the noodles, sauteed red onion, and a generous amount of peanuts and stirred it all up.

I couldn't help but notice the absence of vegetables in our dinner, so I steamed up a few pieces of broccoli. That was not the highlight of the meal. In fact I had to force myself to choke it down.

The noodles were fantastic. They had just the right amount of spiciness from the chili sauce and definitely some sweetness from the teriyaki sauce. The peanuts were our favorite part. Brett did a great job in the kitchen and did not make a giant "husband" mess. In fact he was was far neater than I ever am.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Puffed Apple Pancake

If you're looking for a good breakfast in bed treat for Valentine's Day, I think this is a winner. Brett found this in our Bon Appetit Fast, Easy, Fresh cookbook and I must confirm that it was indeed fast, easy, and fresh. Brett peeled and thinly sliced the apple (the recipe called for two but we only had one) and I did everything else.

I preheated the oven to 425 degrees and melted 1/4 cup of butter right in the bottom of the 9x13 pan that we were planning to use. I also whisked together 1 cup of milk, 4 eggs, 3 T sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 salt, and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon. I received some Ceylon Cinnamon from Penzey's Spices for Christmas and since it's supposed to be good with fruit, decided to try it in this recipe.

Once the butter was melted, I spread out all the little apple slices in the bottom of the pan and put it back in the oven for 10 minutes.

This is where I almost messed up the entire breakfast. I almost forgot to whisk 2/3 cup of flour into the batter. I was a split second away from pouring the batter over the apples when I realized it. Yikes! After adding the flour, I poured it over the top. I kind of expected the apples to stay at the bottom, but some popped right up to the top. It didn't seem to matter. Then I sprinkled 3 T of brown sugar over the top.

Back in the oven it went for 20 minutes and when it came out it was all puffy and golden and smelled amazing. After a minute or so, and certainly after you cut it, it deflates quite a bit.

The recipe says this makes four servings, so we each started out with 1/4 of the pan. But I will confess that we ate the entire thing in one sitting. We loved it. It is a little custardy, and reminded me of bread pudding without the chunks of bread. It's one of those borderline breakfast/dessert dishes, but when you think about it, the best breakfasts are like that. Try it, you will love it!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Homemade Potstickers

Brett and I came across a bottle of Mae Ploy sweet chilli sauce at the grocery store recently and were immediately whisked back to our college days. Brett and his roommates always had a giant bottle of the good stuff and a family size bag of frozen potstickers on hand. I can't even count how many times we ate potstickers for dinner. It wasn't until several years after college that we realized how unhealthy frozen potstickers are with exorbitant amounts of sodium and sometimes fat. So we decided if we were going to ever have them again, we would make our own. Several years after that, we've finally gotten around to doing it.

A quick search on the Food Network's website gave us a recipe and we set to work. We have honestly never bought Napa cabbage before. I actually had to ask the produce guy just to be sure I had the right thing! I chopped up an entire mixing bowl full! I also chopped up some green onion that we had on hand (instead of leeks), some garlic, and some ginger, and I grated a handful of baby carrots.

Next I got to cooking. Unfortunately I didn't read the directions closely enough and ended up cooking the filling in three tablespoons of oil instead of two. The third tablespoon was supposed to be saved for cooking the potstickers in once they've been assembled. Oops. So our filling was a touch oily, but it tasted OK.

In addition to the cabbage, green onions, garlic, ginger, and oil I added rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. The carrots go in once everything is all cooked down and off the heat.

Then the fun part starts. We laid out a whole bunch of won ton wrappers, got a little bowl of water and a fork ready, and started spooning the filling onto the center. We wet a finger with water and trace around the edge, fold the wrapper over the filling, and then seal it all up with a fork. With two people working, this job actually goes pretty quickly.

In college, the method we used to cook potstickers was pour a little water in the frying pan, cover them, and when the water had evaporated off, add a little oil and crisp up the outsides. This recipe, perhaps because the potstickers were fresh and not frozen, recommended the opposite. Fry them in oil first, then add the water and cover.

They turned out quite beautifully actually. I was a little impressed with my own handiwork.

They tasted good too. They were little bit oily (entirely my fault) and a little bit vinegar-y, so we may play around with different fillings in the future. If any of you have any recommendations, I'm happy to hear them. And, of course, the sweet chili sauce was just as good as I remembered. There will definitely be more homemade potstickers in our future.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Monkey Birthday Cake

Our youngest nephew celebrated his first birthday while we were all together for Christmas. So of course I volunteered to make his birthday cake. When I thought about it, I had never made a kid's birthday cake before. But it was not that hard to think of a design. At first I thought Star Wars, but then I chickened out. (It would have need excellent execution plus a black cake does not really scream one-year-old.) Then I thought about animals and almost immediately came up with a monkey. Monkeys are funny. They have big ears, a big smile, and not a whole lot of detail.

Here's the sketch I came up with.

Brett and I baked the cakes including two cupcakes for ears. The next day, I mixed up the frosting and got to work.

I used the regular star tip for everything except for the whites of his eyes. It took a lot of patience and I had to rest my hand every once in a while.

I think it turned out pretty darn cute, if I do say so myself. And the birthday boy seemed to like it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Peppermint Bark Cookie Bars

Happy New Year! If you are anything like me, you've had more than your fair share of sweets lately. I've certainly overdone it on candy and cookies. But if you haven't had enough, or if you're not sure what to do with a few leftover candy canes, this is a tasty and easy dessert to try.

I found this recipe from the Cookin' Canuck linked on the Pioneer Woman's website. I love peppermint bark and I love cookies, so this seemed like a perfect recipe to try.

I mixed up the dough (2 sticks butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 egg yolk, 2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp salt).

I pressed the dough into a 13x9 pan. Next time I might take more care to press evenly. There ended up being some distinctly thicker pieces. But then again, I might not. It really didn't matter all that much.

I baked it for 25 minutes at 350 degrees and then sprinkled (my favorite) Tollhouse semi-sweet chocolate chips all over. After just a few minutes, spread the chocolate evenly.

Crunch up a few candy canes in a ziplock bag while the cookie is baking and then after the chocolate is spread, sprinkle the pieces all over the top.

Then melt some white chocolate chips and drizzle it all over the top.

Put the pan in the fridge so that all the melty chocolate will harden and then take it out and cut it up into bars.

These are really good. After one bar on that first night, I was done. Later in the week I started eating two in one sitting. Before I knew it, they were gone.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gingerbread Extravaganza

Brett's gingerbread house got a little more intense this year. Not only was it a house with two gables, which required a lot more engineering and calculation, but he also decided to add a second, rather large lighthouse... that actually lights up. Ambitious, yes. But when Brett puts his mind to something, there is no stopping him.

He stayed up late for two nights working on blueprints. He calculated angles and lengths using stuff he learned in trig back in high school. (If you look closely you'll see something involving cosine.) He figured out specific measurements for each piece.

Then he stayed up late for two nights rolling out the dough, meticulously measuring and cutting out each piece, and then baking them. He used Life Savers this year instead of Jolly Ranchers because Life Savers have the clear pineapple flavor. He used these for the lighthouse windows so that the light could shine out brightly. Unfortunately the sugar darkened a little bit and ended up being kind of a brownish yellow.

Then construction began. I tried to help, but my poor hands were way too shaky. I was quickly relieved of my duties.

Sometime in the middle of the night, while I was fast asleep, Brett piped fences for the house and lighthouse on a silpat.

The next night was for finishing touches. I applied the M&Ms to the roof, Brett did everything else... mostly while I was in bed fast asleep. He created a special compartment for the battery-powered tea light and made a removable roof so we could turn the light on and off. He also dyed a little icing green and piped some wreaths and bushes.

AND... it lights up!

I could not be more proud of his gingerbread house skills!