Thursday, February 4, 2016

red velvet white chocolate chip cookies

I love February!

Three of my four sweet blessings were born in February. It's a month of celebrations for our family!

Valentine's Day is the icing on the cake for us. It's like a bonus celebration day filled with sweet notes, extra hugs & kisses, and cupcakes & candy.  Add all that to birthday celebrations EVERY weekend in February . . . and you have a fun-filled month

Okay, so how fun (and pretty) are these red velvet white chocolate chip cookies!?!

My husband and Littles inspired this sweet creation.   

They had been asking me (bugging me, actually) over the course of several days to bake home-made chocolate chip cookies. When I finally got around to baking them, I thought it would fun to surprise them with something fun and festive. So I adapted my basic chocolate chip cookie recipe to make these red velvet cookies. 

It was as simple as decreasing the flour and adding cocoa powder in its place, and then adding red coloring gel for that signature hue . . . and voila, you have a simple recipe for a festive and yummy Valentine cookie! 

They're tender, moist, and chewy! 

I made half with only white chocolate chips, a quarter with only semi-sweet chocolate, and another quarter with a combination of white and semi-sweet chocolate. 

Our youngest daughter, Lauren, LOVES white chocolate, so her favorite was the all white chocolate red velvet cookies.

Since I'm a big fan of DARK chocolate, I knew that the semi-sweet ones would be my favorite; BUT I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked the white and semi-sweet chocolate combination.

We rolled them in pink, red, and white non-perils . . . and then added big red heart sprinkles to the tops for a little Valentine fare. We loved how they turned out . . . and the best part is that they're not only pretty, but yummy, too!

Wishing you a sweet (and fun-filled) Valentine's Day!

red velvet white chocolate chip cookies
makes 15-18 cookies
.     .     .     .     .     .     .
1 1/2 cups, PLUS 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 Tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2  1/2 teaspoons red food coloring (liquid or gel)
1 cup chocolate chips, semi-sweet, or a mix of white and semi-sweet 
*non-perils or sprinkles, optional 
.     .     .     .     .     .     .

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on high speed until smooth and light colored, about 1 minute. Add the sugars and mix until well combined, scraping down sides as needed. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla and mix well. Mix in the food coloring.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Scoop the dough in 1.5 Tablespoon mounds and form each into a ball. 

Press decorative sprinkles into the sides of the dough balls.

Bake for 10 - 11 minutes. If the cookies don’t spread all the way, gently press on the warm cookies with the back of a spatula. 

Try NOT to bake them longer than 11 minutes!

Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 3-5 minutes. Place a few chocolate chips on top of the warm cookies. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

heart-shaped cut-out sugar cookies with strawberry jam

Every January my family gathers at Buca di Beppo's for a fun family dinner to honor my dad.

I look forward to this special dinner every year. My mom, siblings, and lots of grand-children gather to celebrate my dad, catch-up, enjoy one another's company, LAUGH, and eat amazing family-style Italian food.

~ Do you see the specks of orange zest? ~ 

One of the ways I celebrate/remember my dad is by sharing a memory of him. Food and family seem to go hand-in-hand for me, so that last few years I've shared some of my dad's favorites with my mom and siblings.  

Last year I brought everyone a jar of home-made Caramel Sauce (my dad's favorite topping). The year before that I gifted everyone a jar of home-made Strawberry VanillaBean Jam (dad's favorite jam). I've made everyone mini angel food cakes. It was his favorite cake! And I've even made home-made divinity candy . . . his favorite candy.  

This year marks 10 years since my dad returned Home to our Creator; so needless to say, I've prepared many things over the years, from desserts to CD's to 'fun bags' that were all intended to stir happy and loving memories of our Dad.   

This year I felt inspired to make my version of a Linzer Cookie. I have happy memories of going to our local German Village with my family for dinner, and then visiting the bakery to enjoy Linzer Cookies (and other sweet fares) for dessert. I always thought that the jam-filled centers were so pretty!

Linzer Cookies are traditionally made with almond shortbread and filled with raspberry preserves, but because I wanted a softer textured cookie and strawberry preserves, I opted to use my favorite, trusted sugar cookie recipe and organic strawberry jam (my dad's favorite!).  

And because my dad LOVED Fig Newton Cookies, I filled several with Fig Butter! They were so pretty . . . and even tasted like Fig Newtons. He would've loved them!

There are a few special things to note about these cookies . . . I added orange zest to the dough, as it's an amazing compliment to the strawberry preserves and fig butter! And . . . I rolled out the dough to 1/8"-inch (instead of 1/4"-inch) so that they wouldn't be too cakey when the two cookie hearts were sandwiched together.  The orange zest and thinner cookies are a WINNING combination!

Since I wanted to make extra large heart-shaped cookies, they were too big to fit into cello bags, so I wrapped them with cello paper and then tied them with satin ribbon. I love how they turned out . . . and they were so yummy, too!! 

I gifted the small heart-shaped sugar cookies to my nieces and nephews, since I knew that they wouldn't be a fan of the jam-filled cookies.

I'm so grateful for my family . . . and our Annual Memorial Dinner. It warms my heart beyond words every year! 

I hope my simple and quick recipe and tutorial (below) inspire you to bake these heart-shaped cut out sugar cookies for your loved ones.

Happy baking!

orange (zest) sugar cookies
makes about 10-20 cookies depending on size
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .   
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons (1 ½  sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 small orange
1 egg, room temperature
strawberry jam for filling, or whatever jam flavor strikes your fancy
sanding sugar for sprinkling
 powder sugar (instead of flour) for rolling out dough 
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .    

To make the dough: Beat the butter, sugar, and zest until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed, about 3 minutes. Add the yolk and vanilla and beat until combined.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix until just combined. Don't over-beat.

Divide the dough in half, and pat each half into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

To assemble: On a lightly floured surface, roll one disc of dough out about 1/8"-thick. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Transfer hearts to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gather the scrap dough, roll, and repeat. Place the cut cookies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

While the first half of cookies is chilling, cut hearts from the remaining dough. Once you've transferred these cookies to a baking sheet, use your smallest heart-shaped cookie cutter to make a peekaboo cutout in the center of each. Sprinkle tops with sanding sugar. Place cookies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill.

To bake: Bake all of the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to turn brown. Let them cool for 5 minutes on the pan, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

To fill the cookies: Place the sugar topped cookies with the holes in them on a cookie sheet. Turn the remaining cookies flat side up and spoon 1/2 teaspoon of jam into the center, spreading it slightly, and leaving a 1/4" border. Top with the sugar-topped cookies.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

whole-wheat blueberry muffins

We LOVE this whole-wheat muffin recipe from Cook's Illustrated!

It's NOT a new recipe in my baking repertoire, but it is my first time sharing it on the blog.

I've tried many whole-wheat recipes over the years that were too heavy, and worse yet - DRY. So I was excited when I found Cook's Illustrated's recipe for 100% whole-wheat blueberry muffins.  They boasted that their whole-wheat muffins were moist and tender. Really? A 100% whole-wheat muffin that's both moist and tender!?

Well friends, it's TRUE! 

I know I say it often, but Cook's Illustrated has delivered yet another amazing recipe. 

Because these muffins are 100% whole-wheat, they have the most delightful nutty flavor.  The crumb is tender and moist (a WIN-WIN in my book!); and the streusel gives just the right amount of sweet and crunch. YUM!

Although the recipe calls for blueberries, I've also used fresh (and frozen) blackberries, and mini chocolate chips. They're all great! 

I alternate making these - and whole-wheat pancakes - on Sundays so that we can enjoy them hot out-of-the-oven as a special treat on the weekends. I individually wrap the extras, and send them with the Littles to school for a snack throughout the week.

I can't tell you how happy I am to have found such a healthy and yummy treat for my family.  I even add 1-2 Tablespoons of white chia powder to the batter for extra nutrition; and the best part - no one knows I added it!

I hope I've inspired you to make a batch this weekend to share with your family and friends!

Whole-Wheat Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12-15 muffins
You can substitute frozen (un-thawed) blueberries for fresh in this recipe.
.     .     .     .     .     .     .
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
Pinch salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
7 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) blueberries
.     .     .     .     .     .     .

for the streusel
Combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, and salt in bowl. Add melted butter and toss with fork until evenly moistened and mixture forms large chunks with some pea-size pieces throughout; set aside.

for the muffins
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 12-cup muffin tin, including top, generously with vegetable oil spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl. Whisk sugar, eggs, melted butter, and oil together in separate bowl until combined, about 30 seconds. Whisk buttermilk and vanilla into sugar mixture until combined. Do not over-mix!

Stir sugar mixture into flour mixture until just combined. Gently stir in blueberries until incorporated. Using heaping 1/4-cup dry measuring cup, divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups (cups will be filled to rim); sprinkle muffin tops evenly with streusel.

Bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out with few crumbs attached, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking. Let muffins cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from muffin tin and let cool 5 minutes longer. Serve.

Courtesy Cook's Illustrated

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Winter Wassail!

Friends of ours bring us a LARGE mason jar filled with home-made Wassail every year around the holidays. It's my husbands absolute favorite gift!  And even though it's a family gift, he's terrible at sharing it with us!

Given how popular this bright and cheery spiced mulled cider is in our HOME,  I thought it would be fun to create a crock pot version for our family, so that we can enjoy it through the Winter months (and not just a few weeks in December). 

Our friends were so gracious to give me their Wassail recipe, and I'm so happy to have it!  

It's more of a traditional English version, which needs more preparation. 

I was (secretly) hoping that it was going to be a simple recipe, and one that required little time to prepare; but it has more steps than I'm willing to do during the busy holiday season. So I researched Wassail recipes. There are so many! So so many! I even found some that call for alcohol, tea, and even eggs. 

After researching (and taste-testing) lots of recipes, I finally created this one. It's a combination and tweaking of three Wassail recipes that I found on-line.

I'm really excited about it because it's so dang close to our friends' version, except mine is much easier (and faster) to make.

It's as easy as combing all the ingredients in a crock pot, and then letting the flavors marry together. 

OK, so what are the ingredients?  Apple cider, orange and pineapple juice . . . a squeeze of fresh lemon to cut through the sweetness . . . and then spices (cinnamon, cloves, and fresh ginger root - HELLO!) to 'warm/spice' it up! It's a winning combination!

I'm so excited to add - what I'm calling - Winter Wassail to our family holiday traditions!

There's something so comforting (and delicious) about a big pot of hot mulled cider simmering away in the kitchen. The scent of warm spices beckons for those wanting to be warmed up from the inside out.  

It's a wonderful drink to share at a holiday Open House or party . . . or even on a weekend with family and friends who might be stopping by for a visit. I served it to our family at our New Year's Cookie Decorating party a few weeks ago . . . and everyone loved it!

I hope you and your family enjoy my version of this old-fashioned drink as much as we do! 

Winter Wassail
.     .     .     .     .     .
2 quarts apple cider (or spiced apple cider)
1-1/2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks (3 inches)
dash ground cinnamon
dash ground cloves
1.5- 2-inch piece of whole, fresh ginger root, skin removed
Note: Ginger gives this drink a little kick/zing. 
If you want more of a kick, you can add a bigger piece of ginger.
.     .     .     .     .     .     .

In a large saucepan, combine all of the ingredients. Stir well.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. 
Serve hot in mugs. 
.     .     .     .     .     .
Crock pot version
In a crock pot, combine all of the ingredients. Stir well.
Set on HIGH for 1 hour, then reduce heat to LOW for up to 8 hours.
Serve hot in mugs. 
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

frosted ferns . . . my Winter love!

I didn't plan on dedicating a post to my Frosted Ferns, but I've received a dozen - or more - emails and Facebook messages on these beauties since early last month, so I thought I'd take the time to share a few more photos and a little information on caring for them.

So where did I find my frosted ferns? 

I was so excited when I saw them at our local Trader Joe's!  I think they were $3.99 each. Although they were tucked away, it was their pretty creamy white leaflets that shown through the shade - and caught my eye.  I bought several of them )over the course of a few weeks) to enjoy through the holidays, knowing that I would probably get to enjoy them through Spring (and hopefully longer), as well.

Since the start of January, I transferred them from creamy white pots to warm, natural-colored baskets . . . and I just LOVE them in baskets!


If you're lucky enough to find them too, here are a few tips to keep yours happy . . .

.     .      .      .     .     .
Frosted ferns love the shade! Keep out of direct sunlight. The sun (and even indirect sunlight) can burn the fern.
Water at least twice a week.
Good drainage is important, so be sure and remove the plastic sleeve from the pot.
Keep away from dry heat, as frosted ferns LOVE a humid environment.
additional information, here
.     .      .      .     .     .

Although I have plans to enjoy them indoors long-term, I would love to plant a few outdoors to see how well they'll do. Apparently, they can grow up to a foot in height. The thought of a LARGE one makes my heart skip a beat (smile). I'll let you know how it goes!

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I love reading your comments and appreciate them so much!

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