Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Munchies - Easter Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

I have a love-hate relationship with sugar cookies.  I love how cute they turn out, and I love the taste, but they require so much work/time to roll out, cut out, and then it takes another few hours to ice them depending on how intricate you're getting.  Honestly, I don't even like icing on my sugar cookies, I'd rather have them plain...and burned, but that's beside the point.  Royal icing doesn't have the greatest taste, but it looks awesome when you're finished!

Last week an older lady from our community group came over to learn how to decorate with royal icing.  The fact that she came to learn from us was a little scary, because I still feel like I need someone teaching me!  But the cookies turned out adorable, so although we don't have it perfected yet (i.e. air bubbles after the cookies are do you get rid of them?), here are our recipes!

Outlined and ready to be flooded
White Sugar Cookies
1 c. butter
1 c. Crisco
1 c. powdered sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
4 c. flour
1 t. cream of tartar
1 t. baking soda
1 and 1/2 t. vanilla

Cream together butter, shortening and sugars.  Add eggs, beat well.  Add dry ingredients, beat.  Add vanilla.  Roll into balls and flatten with a glass dipped in sugar, or roll dough out and cut with cookie cutters.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 min. on greased cookie sheet.

Royal Icing
These squirt bottles work GREAT for icing
3/4 c. warm water
5 T. meringue powder (Wilton brand is rumored to not taste as good, but that's what most of the stores in the area sell.  It works fine or there are several brands available to order online, Ateco is a brand that is highly recommended.)
1 t. cream of tartar
2.25 lbs powdered sugar (You will have to use a kitchen scale to measure out the extra 1/4 pound since powdered sugar comes in 2 lb. bags or 1 lb. = 3 and 3/4 cups.)
1 and 1/2 t. clear flavoring (I always use vanilla, but butter and almond are common as well.  Just make sure they are clear!)
1-2 t. corn syrup - makes the icing have more of a sheen

Put water, meringue powder and cream of tartar into a glass or metal mixing bowl (plastic absorbs oils from what you mix in it and it can mess up the recipe).  Whisk until foamy.  Gradually add powdered sugar and mix until stiff peaks form, about 2-3 min.  Be careful not to over-mix.  Stir in any flavorings you desire and/or corn syrup.

Now, for the actual icing instructions, I'm going to direct you over to Bake @ 350 blog, because she's the real pro!  Her Royal Icing 101 tutorial provides the basic steps (outline with thick icing, flood with icing thinned with water) and Royal Icing 102 tutorial provides some extra tips.  I'd encourage you to read both tutorials before you embark on your cookie decorating adventures!

Recipe Sources: 
Cookies - Family recipe
Royal Icing - Adapted from Karen's Cookie Blog

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Complain?

The graciousness of God amazes me more every day.  I am so blessed, and enjoy so much, but I have been convicted of how often I forget to acknowledge that everything I enjoy is from God (Ecc. 2:25; James 1:17).  It’s actually only because of God’s graciousness that we enjoy anything at all.  As I ponder God’s graciousness, my sin of complaining has been brought to mind, and not just the complaints that come out of my mouth, but an attitude of complaint even when it isn’t verbalized.  In light of how God graciously provides for us, and the price that Jesus paid on the cross, it’s sad that myself, and other Christians are so apt to complain.  If you had a scale and on one side put your complaints, and the other side you put your thankfulness/gratitude, how would you measure up?  I’m pretty sure my complaints would far outweigh my gratitude.

This isn’t a new problem; we see it frequently in Scripture as well.  In Exodus we read about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, we see the parting of the red sea, and God’s sending manna and quail, but the people were back to complaining in a matter of chapters (Ex. 13 is the parting of the sea and by Ex. 17 the Israelites are complaining about being brought out of Egypt).  We read this and think about how foolish they were to complain about God’s provision, but don’t we do the same thing?  I complain about having to wipe off the dog’s muddy feet in the middle of the night because of all the rain we’ve had, but God is using that rain to provide water for us to drink, and to grow the crops that we eat, so I’m complaining about His provision.  People are quick to complain about the weather, jobs, traffic, the price of gas, the president, but Christians are called to be different, we are told to do EVERYTHING without complaining (Phil.2:14-15)  And not only do we complain about the same things the world complains about, we start complaining about the church as well.  The service is too long/short, the music is too loud or not my style, the pastor dresses too formally/casually, etc.

Our complaining is a constant reminder of how much we focus on ourselves throughout the day.  I think that focusing on the person and provision of God is a big key to battling an attitude of complaint and replacing it with a grateful heart.  To practically put off an attitude of complaint and put on a heart of gratitude, when I am tempted to complain, I will instead think of something to be grateful for and to pray, thanking God for His continuous provision in my life.  As we dwell on who God is and how unworthy we are to receive His provisions, how can we have anything to complain about?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Munchies - Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

The weather here has been so warm the last couple of weeks, it has me in the mood for summer!  I have been seeing a lot of smoothie recipes on different food blogs I follow and with this warmer weather a smoothie for breakfast, an afternoon snack, or even dessert sounds delicious!  Breakfast is my favorite time for smoothies, but a lot of times a couple of hours later I find myself hungry.  This recipe is one that caught my eye on Pinterest because I always have the ingredients on hand, and it incorporates some fiber and protein that help you stay satisfied until the next meal!

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
1 frozen banana
1/8 c. oats
1 T. peanut butter
1/2 c. milk (nutrition info was calculated using nonfat milk)
3 Ice cubes
1/2 packet of stevia (or whatever sweetener you want - I used Sweet Leaf brand, but keep in mind that the amount of sweetener you need will vary based on what type you are using)
1/2 t. vanilla

Put oats in blender and blend until powdery.  Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until there are no chunks of ice or banana left.  Pour and enjoy!

Nutrition Information: 1 Serving - 250 calories, 9 g. fat, 3.8 g. fiber, 9.6 g. protein. 

Adapted From: This Chick Cooks via Pinterest

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Munchies - Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

Since the Oreo celebrated it's 100th birthday last week, I thought it was only fitting to celebrate with an Oreo related recipe this week.  I've made these cupcakes for several occasions and every time they are a big hit.  The cake part of the cupcake is SO moist and they aren't crumbly (my least favorite thing about purchased cupcakes). I also think they're just adorable and the cookie at the bottom is always a fun little surprise!  If you like to create your own cupcake concoctions, this is a great cake to start with as a base for whatever cupcake you can dream up!

Happy 100th Birthday Oreo!
Cookies and Cream Cupcakes
24 Oreo halves with cream filling attached
2 and 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
8 T. unsalted butter at room temperature (If you forget to take the butter out of the fridge early, as I often do, you can use a cheese grater or food processor to grate the cheese which softens it enough to incorporate like room temp butter would, fantastic for the forgetful!)
1 and 2/3 c. sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. milk
20 Oreo cookies coarsely chopped or quartered (If I'm not topping the cupcakes with Oreo crumbles, I just use however many full Oreos are left in the package, and use the halves without cream for the rest.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two cupcake pans with 24 paper liners.  Place an Oreo half in the bottom of each liner, cream side up (this prevents the cookie from getting soggy).  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir together with a fork to blend; set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Blend in the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Blend in the vanilla extract.  With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Add the milk and beat just until combined, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients.  Gently fold in the chopped/quartered Oreo cookies with a rubber spatula until evenly incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.

Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cook in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
6 T. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 T. vanilla extract
4 c. confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 T. heavy cream

Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.  Blend in the vanilla extract.  Beat in the (SIFTED - made that mistake once!) confectioners' sugar until incorporated and smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Add the heavy cream to the bowl and beat on medium-low speed just until incorporated, then increase the speed to medium-high and whip for 4 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Garnish Options:
Use the 24 Oreo halves stuck into the frosting
Use the rolling pin/plastic bag method to chop them into fine pieces and sprinkle over cupcakes
Top with a mini Oreo cookie (my personal favorite shown at left, it's oh so cute!), also good combined with the previous garnishing option
Don't even acknowledge that there is a surprise inside and top with sprinkles or whatever else you want (see pink valentine cupcakes above)!

Recipe Source: Annie's Eats
Teacup Cake Mold: Fred and Friends - I got mine at Borders but you can get them on Amazon and other stores as well.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Munchies - Quiche and Pie Crust

The last couple of weeks have been CRAZY here at the Hoffman household which is why Monday Munchies (and the blog in general) has been completely neglected.  The short version of the story is that I'm still trying to move, but two weeks ago my brother came back from DC for the weekend, found out Feb. 20 that he would be relocating to Jeff City for the summer and starting his new job on March 1.  I flew out on the 25th to help him pack up his stuff, then we drove 940 miles and arrived in Jeff City on the leap day (thank goodness for that extra day this month!) went apartment shopping for two days and got back home on the March 1!

So, that's what I've been doing the last two weeks, and because I've been behind, you're getting a two-for-one today - pie crust and quiche!  The quiche is delicious and really you can put anything you want in it.  Use whatever cheese you want, throw in some broccoli or spinach, use sausage instead of bacon, or don't use meat at all - make it your own, you pretty much can't go wrong!

Pie crust used to intimidate me.  I'd made pies a few times, but the crust never turned out well.  I'm not very patient with kitchen blunders, and I don't even like pie crust, so it seemed easier just to buy a crust (or even better, let my mom make it)!  However, before thanksgiving this year I decided I wasn't going to let crust get the best of me, I would work at it until I could make a tender, flaky and tasty crust consistently, maybe not perfect, but at least acceptable to serve to non-family!  Once I realized that my main mistake was following the recipe exactly (Mrs. Taylor, my food science prof. is probably somewhere crying right now) instead of going by texture, every pie crust has turned out great!

Pie Crust (yield: 2 crusts) 
3 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 c. Crisco
1 egg (beaten)
2 T. vinegar
5 T. COLD water (A key part of the crust is making sure the water is cold enough, so the first step I do in this recipe is to put two ice cubes in a cup of water, and put it in the fridge while I'm mixing the other ingredients.  This ensures that your water is good to go by the time you're ready to use it!) 

Sift flour and salt, cut in shortening.  Combine beaten egg and vinegar and add to flour mixture.  Add enough water to moisten. (This is where I had gone wrong in the past.  The recipe called for 5 T. so I put in 5 T.  For whatever reason, you need different amounts of water each time you make a crust.  Sometimes you need 3 T., sometimes you need 7 T.  I haven't figured out why there can be such a big difference, but the size of the egg has something to do with it.  Add enough water so that as you work it into a dough ball, the majority of the dough sticks together and the crumbs left at the bottom can be worked in with a little effort.  If you have a bunch of dry crumbles at the bottom add some more water directly to that spot.  Basically add just enough water that the dough sticks together and not so much that it is as moist as cookie dough or other dough similar to that.)

Pie Rolling 101: Make sure you are generous with your use of flour as you're rolling out the dough.  Flour the pastry board and the the top of the dough ball, roll a couple of times to flatten, then pick the dough up, spread more flour on the board, and flip the dough over.  Continue rolling until flattened to the correct size.  Roll the dough over the rolling pin to transfer to the pie plate, and before you know it, you have a practically perfect pie crust in front of you!

Quiche Lorraine
1 unbaked pie shell
6 slices bacon
1/2 c. diced onion
1/2 lb (2 c.) shredded cheese
1.5 c. frozen peas
4 eggs (beaten)
1 c. milk
1 c. cream (I just use all milk and omit the cream)
1 t. salt
1/8 t. pepper
1/4 t. nutmeg

Heat oven to 450.  Cover inside of pie shell (which should have holes poked in it with a fork) with waxed paper then fill with dry rice or beans.  Bake 10 min.  Remove beans and waxed paper and cool.

Fry bacon till crisp.  Drain and crumble.  Cook onion in 1 T bacon fat just until transparent.  Put shredded cheese, bacon and and onion in the pie shell.

Combine eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and pour into pie shell. (Tip from my mom: If you microwave the egg mixture at 1 min. intervals until the mixture is warm but not scrambling the egg it cuts down on the cooking time).  Bake 15 min. at 450 then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake 10-15 min. more (this was more like 20 min for me, even with microwaving the egg) or until thin metal blade inserted into the middle of the quiche comes out clean.  Let stand 10-15 minutes before cutting.