Monday, May 31, 2010

How the Cookie Crumbles: Sour Cream Vanilla Cookies

I wish that there was a Nobel category for great inventions because there are a few people I’d like to nominate for making our lives so much easier. First and foremost I’d like to nominate the person that thought of putting wheels on the bottom of suitcases…GENIUS! I can’t tell you how many back aches and how much money in airport porter tips these little wheels have saved me.

Next I’d like to nominate the inventor of the microwave oven just on the merits of baked potatoes alone. My children were in awe of the fact that we used to have to plan a day in advance if we wanted to have a stuffed baked potato with a steak; so the brilliant person who freed us all from baked potato bondage earns my #2 spot.

The #3 spot belongs to the inventor of Colour Catcher sheets. They have put an end to accidental pink underwear castrophies in my house. I'm sending my daughter back to college with a boat load of these babies.

My #4 space is occupied by whoever invented the personal computer. I don’t think I even have to expand on the importance of this one although this invention does come with its challenges. Challenges like why does a Spanish translation pop up when I point my curser at anything?! Oh well, maybe I need to learn the twenty Spanish words for “save.”

Coming in at a close #5 is Mr. Poppin’ Fresh or whoever thought of putting cookie dough in a tube. For those of us who don’t enjoy stirring up cookie dough and baking in excruciating batches, this was a major culinary advancement.

Speaking of cookies, last night I decided to do something a bit different and bake a batch of cookies from scratch for my blog. Something most people don’t know about me is that I don’t like… no, let’s be honest; I am a cookie baking hater. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating them, I just think that there are so many good store bought versions out there, why should I get involved in the mechanics of it all.

Last night I was reminded of why I feel this way. My dough making went well enough. I thought it’d be really cute to use some of the vintage pig shaped cookie cutters that my step mom gave me years ago, put a real effort into icing and photographing them and unveil them here. Long story short, cream cheese icing doesn’t work when you use the fat free cream cheese you mistakenly bought at Wal-Mart.

By this time I was fed up and pissed off so I grabbed my keys and headed to the supermarket for more ingredients and a can of ready made frosting, just in case. By the time I got home, I mixed up the new batch of icing, couldn’t find my pink food coloring so I used a color called Paprika (sounded like pink) which resulted in an unappealing fleshy orange/pink. Finally, after throwing batch #2 away, I iced some round ones that I had cut out, smeared the canned icing that I had so wisely purchased and called it good enough; and good enough they were, but they could have been so fantastic with that homemade frosting.

Even with my comedy of errors, this recipe turned out just delicious and all you cookie baking haters like me will find the results satisfying. The cookies are thick, soft and tender yet slightly crispy around the edges. Maybe next time I’ll add a drop or two of orange extract or some zest for something new. That is if there is a next time.

Soured Cream Vanilla Cookies

1-1/2 cups (225g) granulated sugar
8 ounces (226g) butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup (250 ml) soured cream
5 cups (750g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

Place sugar and butter in a large bowl and mix together with an electric mixer on medium high until smooth. Add the vanilla, eggs (one at a time) and soured cream; mix well; set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Mix into the wet mixture 1/4 at a time until it is completely combined, resulting in a thick dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour.

After dough is chilled, preheat oven to 375 degrees and dust a clean dry surface with flour and roll out dough to 1/4” thickness. The proper thickness is really important here. If they are much thicker or thinner, you will have to adjust your cooking time so if you want a different thickness, watch closely until you figure it out. Dip your favorite cookie cutter in flour and cut cookies and place them on non-stick cookie sheet. Place in the oven and cook for approximately 8 – 10 minutes or until cookies are light brown around the edges. Cool before icing (recipe follows).

8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons condensed milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups (520g) icing sugar

Combine cream cheese, butter, condensed milk, vanilla extract and salt in a small bowl, mix well before adding sugar one cup at a time with an electric mixer. Spread on cooled cookies. Decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar.

This recipe makes a lot of icing. Since I prefer using just a thin coating on my cookies, I had quite a bit left over. If you are like me, you might want to reduce the amount of ingredients by 1/4, but if you like decorating have fun because you will definitely have enough.

Makes approximately 36 large cookies.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Just a Couple of Things

Ok, you guys read about my dream Mother’s Day, now I’m going to give you a post-mortem on my REAL Mother’s Day. It started off innocently enough with a lie in for an extra 30 minutes or so. Since it gets light at 5 am these days that means that I was able to sleep until 5:30. I got up, had a cup of coffee and read my normal loop of info on the web, and took my shower. After getting all clean and shiny and banging around loudly enough, I was able to finally wake up everyone in the house so they could join me in a proper celebration. I decided to make my family breakfast and got started. Just about the time the bacon started to sizzle, I remembered that forgotten bottle of Mrs. T’s Bloody Mary mix that I had seen a couple of days ago. Mmmmm, a Bloody Mary for mama! Now that’s what I’m talking about! I filled my goblet (red pimp cup to my children) with ice and eyeballed an appropriate shot of vodka in perfect proportion to compliment the Mrs. T’s I topped it off with. After drinking about half of it I came up with the most brilliant idea for a hysterical blog story but I had such a good buzz that I really can’t remember what it was. Oh well, maybe if I replay the whole thing this weekend, it’ll come back to me. Anywho, by the time breakfast was served my sweet buzz had turned into a bit of headache and a touch of nausea. To make a long story short, I did get that Mother’s Day nap after all and my family did clean the kitchen just like I planned but not for the reason I planned. I’ve always been a happy hour lightweight. When will I learn?

The other thing on my mind is this oil well blow out in the gulf. Ok, I know first hand about marine disasters. I've had containment and clean up duty a time or two after my baby pooped in the bath with his sister and a couple hundred toys in there with him. It’s not easy clearing up what you want and getting rid of the muck, so I’ve given BP a bit of latitude in all of this but three weeks later they are still working on it! Please!!! Don’t tell me that they never had a contingency plan if this were to ever happen. My goodness, I keep an extra pair of panties and a toothbrush in my purse when I travel “just in case.” The least they can do is get in there and stick a cork in it. I already can’t afford shrimp in this economy. I think they should be made to subsidize gulf seafood prices so those of us who love to cook can still enjoy a little gumbo every now and then. I may just have to start a movement. Since I feel I might not be able to afford shellfish much longer, I thought I’d cook a little up and share the recipe with you.

Mexican Technicolor Summer Salad Rolls With Spicy Chipotle Drizzle

This is very similar to the recipe that won me the Committe's Choice Award at last year's Gilroy Garlic Festival. What a blast! I hope you enjoy it as much as they did.

Chipotle Drizzle, Dip or Dressing:
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers
½ chipotle pepper, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
¾ cup light olive or vegetable oil
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon mild chili powder

Technicolor Salad Rolls:
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup jasmine rice
½ teaspoon mild chili powder
¼ teaspoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon light olive oil
1/2 pound medium size shrimp, peeled and devined then chopped into small bite size pieces
2 cups chopped iceberg lettuce
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup canned yellow corn
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese
1 large avocado, sliced into 16 thin slices
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced into rings and sliced into quarters
1 small bunch cilantro, stems removed, coarsely chopped
12 – 8” round rice paper wraps
1 large bowl ½ filled with warm water

Place red wine, honey, lime juice, adobo sauce, chipotle pepper, salt, black pepper, cilantro, oil, garlic and chili powder in a blender. Blend for approximately 15 – 20 seconds or until contents are smooth and emulsified. Set aside until ready to use.

Place chicken broth in a saucepan to a medium high heat and bring back to a simmer; add the ½ cup of rice, chili powder and granulated garlic; stir. Cover and cook until all water is absorbed, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool until ready to use.

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a medium size non-stick frying pan. When the pan is hot, add the shrimp and saute for a few minutes or until they just start to turn opaque. Transfer to a plate and cool.

Before assembling wraps, set out all ingredients in the following order; lettuce, black beans, corn, red cabbage, cheese, avocado, red onion, cilantro, cooked rice and shrimp.

Place the bowl of warm water next to a clean work surface. Submerge one rice paper wrapper into the bowl for approximately 5 seconds or until it starts to soften. Remove it from the water, shake off residual water, and place onto the work surface. To assemble, working quickly, place two heaping tablespoons of the lettuce in a thin strip down the middle of the wrapper leaving 1” border on each end. On one side of the lettuce, place one heaping tablespoon of black beans in a strip, then on the other side, place one heaping tablespoon strip of corn, leaving the same 1” border on each end. Follow the same procedure with the red cabbage (1 heaping tablespoon), cheese (1 rounded tablespoon) and avocado (2 slivers end to end), placing them in strips on alternating sides. Vegetables should appeal to be in stripes when done. Follow this with 2 rounded tablespoons of each of the cooked rice, approximately 2 tablespoons of the sautéed shrimp, carefully sprinkled a bit of onion and cilantro over the top without disturbing the stripes. To roll up, bring the 1” borders on the ends towards the center, up to the ends of the ingredients. Holding the ends in tact with your middle, ring and pinky fingers, pull the sides up with your thumbs and fore fingers, and tuck the ends under as you roll the contents up “cigar” fashion. As you roll, gently compress the filling to “tighten” the rolls and make them slightly firm. The rolls will easily seal themselves at the end. Place each roll side by side on a serving plate until you have 12 rolls. Serve immediately or, if desired, cover the rolls with a damp paper towel and then with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving. Cut in half diagonally and serve with equal amounts of sauce for drizzling into the cut ends as they are eaten.

Serves 6 people, 2 rolls each as a meal or 12 people, 1 roll each as an appetizer.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Mother of All Sundays

After a week of staring at my dead computer, I finally received my new power adapter and I’m back in the saddle again (curse you Dell). It wasn’t easy using my husband’s baby PC for these past few days. Truth be told, he didn’t like me using it anymore than I did but he didn’t complain about it, not even once. He’s no fool; I am responsible for his supply of clean underwear after all. Since I’ve kind of been in crisis mode for awhile, I find myself with so much to say that I really don’t know where to start. I guess the first thing I should do is remind my loving little family that Mother’s Day is around the corner and unless you all want to feel the effects of my own version of passive aggression, you might want to start making your plans. I reference the above mentioned clean underwear you all enjoy so much. I’m really pretty easy to please when it comes to this most revered of all days. I don’t like to go out to eat because the last thing I want to do is shove my feet into a pair of high heels and wait for our name to be called over the intercom at an over crowded restaurant. I don’t even mind doing the cooking for everyone. I just don’t like the clean up. I love fresh flowers, a cold glass of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc and an imported copy of the latest Hello magazine. I hope that makes things easy for you.

I’m pretty blessed in the mother category myself. The woman that gave birth to me was a pretty little bit of a thing with the heart of a lioness. Her hair was really dark brown, but to know this you’d have to look quickly at her roots before she’d drag out her plastic squeeze bottle and drench them in a magical lavender cream, that after about 30 minutes, would restore her to her “naturally” beautiful state of platinum blondness. I inherited her love for this lavender cream as evidenced by the Warm Caramel #4 streaks which appear in my hair every six weeks like clockwork. My mom is also responsible for my love of cooking. There wasn’t much of anything that she couldn’t skillfully cook with or without a recipe. She was also a master of kitchen improvisation. She could make a three course meal out of a can of tuna, a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of mayonnaise. I am so sad to say that I lost her when I was only twenty-one which left me with a truckload of leftover guilt from my turbulent teenage years. I can’t thank my own children enough for unknowingly helping me deal with this pain, for with their births came an understanding of a mother’s unconditional love that assured me there were no hard feelings.

Standing in the wings up until this time was the woman my father married after he and my mom divorced. Believe me when I say that I tried my best to run her off, but she was a pretty stubborn little thing herself (my father obviously had a type) and let it be known that she wasn't going anywhere. She never wanted or attempted to take my mother’s place but was always there in her absence when a mother’s presence was required. She held my hand during the preparations for my wedding and the birth of both of my children, and then we held each other’s hands when we lost my dad much too soon. She is the only maternal grandmother that my children have ever known, and what a great one she is to them. Now, almost ten years after we lost my father, she is still just as much of a part of our lives as she has ever been. I guess she must have really meant that message she sent out all those years ago. She really is here to stay.

This Sunday, as the matriarch of our little clan, I will gracefully accept all of the fanfare and adoration that my family is willing to bestow upon me. I will hopefully smell my flowers, drink my wine, read my imported Hello magazine and go take a nap while my family cleans the kitchen. Oh don’t worry; I won’t be too hard on them and do my best to keep the dirty dishes to a minimum. I’m planning on preparing one of my favorite meals; a nice big wedge salad (photo and recipe follow), some grilled prawns and a yet to be determined decadent dessert (unless someone would like to buy me some Godiva chocolates). I hope everyone has as great a Mother’s Day as I surely will, whether you are a mother or love someone who is.

Bacon Blue Cheese and Pear Wedge Salad

1 medium head of iceberg lettuce, cut into 6 wedges of equal size
Herbed Bleu Cheese Dressing (recipe found under the Dressing heading on the sidebar)
2 large ripe pears, cored and chopped into bite size pieces
1 small orange bell pepper, chopped
8 large roasted tomatoes
6 thick rashers of smoked streaky bacon, cooked to crispy and chopped
Candied Pecans (recipe found on the same page as the Herbed Bleu Cheese Dressing)
4 green onion tops, sliced into ¼” slices across
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place lettuce wedges on chilled plates. Top each with desired amounts of the dressing and then the listed ingredients in desired order and enjoy.

Serves 6.