Thursday, December 12, 2013
I like to start my Christmas cookie baking each year with a big, sturdy, bold cookie for my husband. I don't want him to feel trepidation about digging into as many freshly baked cookies as he wants to eat.
Knowing him as I do, I know he would hesitate about seeing some prissy and fragile looking little dainties that appeared like they were difficult to make. I'm not saying he doesn't enjoy and savor those cookies--oh he does. I just like to start the season with a no holds barred eat with enthusiasm and vigor model.
I am not one to bake cookies and forbid anyone from eating them--saving them for gifts, planning to serve them another day. I plan for those things and plenty to "sample" all along the way. Can you imagine coming into someones home, seeing cookies and smelling cookies, and not being able to EAT any cookies? Or someone grudgingly saying, "Well OK, but just one".
Nope, not happening in Rocquie's kitchen. When I bake cookies, we eat cookies.
This is a very flexible oatmeal cookie recipe. I added dried cranberries and chopped roasted walnuts, then dipped them in melted dark chocolate. And I made them big. You can make them smaller and thinner if desired. You can add any nuts, fruit, or chocolate chips you wish, or you can leave them plain. Bake them a little longer if you like them more crisp. Add spices if you like. I've done all those things very successfully with this basic recipe.
Crisp Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup milk
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup dried fruit
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream butter, shortening, and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs, then beat until the mixture is light.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Stir in the oats until combined well.
Add one third of the oat mixture to the butter mixture, then add the milk. Blend well then stir in the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in nuts and fruit.
Drop dough by teaspoon for smaller cookies or tablespoons for larger cookies. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, depending on size, until the edges and tops are beginning to brown.
Let cool for a couple of minutes on the pan, then place on racks to cool completely.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
I am not a breakfast eater and never have been. I am not hungry and I don't like the fuss involved. I like to awaken slowly and quietly, sip my cup of tea, and think my thoughts. Morning, when undisturbed, is when I remember my dreams.
A beautiful Ruby Grapefruit on a cold and dreary winter morning is a breakfast I can embrace. I enjoy the preheating of the oven and the brewing of the tea as the chilly kitchen warms for the day. As I slice the grapefruit sections free from the membrane and sprinkle brown sugar atop, the cheery citrus aroma is gently released, with a sweet, tart, juicy promise.
A fantastic way to ease into your day.
Broiled Ruby Grapefruit
2 - 3 teaspoons brown sugar (to taste)
Preheat your oven's broiler and position a rack so the cut grapefruit will be about 3 inches from the heat source.
Cut the grapefruit in half horizontally. Cut each section free from the membranes. Sprinkle with desired amount of brown sugar.
Place the grapefruit halves on a small baking pan and broil for about 10 minutes, until the sugar is melted and the edges are beginning to brown.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
My 4-year-old Sous Chef had spent the night and when I asked her what she wanted for breakfast, she declared, "French Toast"!
I knew I had some leftover pound cake from one of my cake classes, denuded of its frosting, hiding in the back of the refrigerator for just such an occasion.
Little Sousie is getting quite good at her cooking skills. She stands on a chair at the kitchen counter. She cracked 6 eggs and only got one bit of shell in egg #1. I gave her a cutting board and a butter knife to cube a few pieces of pound cake and she did a fine job while I worked on another board making the remainder of the cake cubes.
I measured the milk (carton is still heavy for her) and she poured from the cup into the bowl with the eggs. Then she whisked to blend. I handed her a half bag of chocolate chips and suggested she add as many as she wanted. She made herself a little pile of chips on her cutting board to sample and dumped the rest into the egg mixture.
I poured in a little vanilla and asked (silly question) if she wanted cinnamon. She loves sim-a-non! Again, I let her decide how much to add. Lastly, we tossed in our cake cubes and stirred to coat them. A couple of little hands might have been used.
After the muffins came out of the oven, and we waited a few minutes for cooling, she enjoyed sprinkling them beautifully with powdered sugar.
Just in case her mother is reading this, I want it to be known that we drank a smoothie made with fresh pineapple, banana, pear, yogurt, and almond milk while we waited for the muffins to bake.
Pound Cake French Toast Muffins (with Chocolate)
8 - 10 cups cubed pound cake or dense bread
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
Chocolate chips, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 12 cup muffin pan.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Mix in the vanilla, cinnamon, and cake cubes. Divide into the muffin cups.
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until set and golden brown. Let cool in pans for about 10 minutes. Remove muffins to a cooling rack and dust with powdered sugar.
Friday, November 15, 2013
When I was a small girl, my parents bought their first home, a fixer-upper. It was a rather wild place and they set about taming it. The yard was overgrown and included a couple of abandoned "out buildings". I believe the one I adopted as a playhouse had been a storage shed, with two rooms and a primitive wooden latch which spun on a nail to keep the door closed. There was also an old hen house; that one was unmistakable.
While workers came to do extensive work on the actual house, I set about exploring the very large yard which was on a dead-end street right next to some woods. As carpenters dropped scraps of lumber, I confiscated them. For my playhouse, I made old wire spools into tables. I made "seats", "lamps" and more. With an old straw broom from the shed, I swept pine straw into a perimeter for my yard.
Nearby was a great fig bush laden with delightful, ripe, purple, succulent figs. I would sit underneath the shade of that bush, in the hot Alabama afternoon sun, and help myself to fig after fig. I can remember my fascination as I tore open those figs with my bare hands, to reveal the peculiar pink insides which were oozing with nectar. I would eat the soft flesh, toss the rind onto the ground and pull another. And another.
I was so sad when Mama had those unsightly old sheds torn down. I was heartbroken when she cut down my fig bush. I cried and I begged but she would have nothing of it. That old abominable thing did not fit into her proper landscaping plans.
In fairness, my parents really did turn that old house and property into a show place. But I will never forget the precious hours of innocent happiness in my playhouse shack and the aroma and taste of those tree-ripened figs still warm from the sun.
Fresh Fig Compote
8 ounces fresh figs
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. honey
Pinch of salt
Cut stems off the figs and cut into quarters.
Combine butter, brown sugar, and honey in a medium cast iron skillet. Cook, over high heat, stirring until syrup begins to bubble. Add figs and stir to coat well.
Place the plan under the broiler for about 5 minutes to caramelize the figs.
Delicious served over oatmeal, French toast, pancakes, toasted pound cake, or ice cream.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
I took a cake decorating class at our local community college. Nineteen people started the class and ten finished it. People gave differing reasons for being there; some wanted to earn money making cakes. The instructor is a professional baker who specializes in wedding cakes. Myself, I was looking for a social outlet, creativity, and fun.
Some of my former coworkers would probably find the concept of me, Rocquie, taking a cake decorating class confounding. You see, I have always shunned those supermarket birthday cakes everyone at the office loves. You know the ones, the garish, brightly colored concoctions made completely of sugar, and artificial flavorings and colors that taste horrible. And let me not get started on the grease factor. (I have cleaned the break room after those birthday parties--it takes much soap and hot water to clean that
I have always wanted to say that.
Now I have the tools and skills to pipe. I can pipe out those beautiful deviled eggs, that basket weave of mashed potatoes on the shepherd's pie, the twice baked potatoes, and most importantly and what I really wanted to learn, is decorating beautiful Christmas cookies.
For my final project, I made an old fashioned pound cake (posted here) and piped rosettes with gingerbread flavored Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. No artificial anything.
Gingerbread Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
4 ounces liquid pasteurized egg whites
10 ounces dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. molasses
12 ounces soft unsalted butter
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Whisk together the sugar and egg whites. Add pinch of salt.
Heat, whisking constantly, with mixing bowl over simmering water until mixture reaches 160 degrees or until all of the brown sugar has dissolved.
Place the mixing bowl on mixer fitted with whisk attachment and beat on high for 10 minutes.
Switch to paddle attachment, add the butter, and mix on low speed until thick.
Add vanilla and spices; continue to beat on low speed until combined.