Monday, April 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Cookies!

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Happy 16th Birthday!
 So my friend asked me a couple of weeks ago if I would make her non-cake eating son, cookies for his birthday.  I said of course (he is a fan, and we need to keep them well fed), but I asked her to wait until after Spring Fling for Cookiers in case I learned something really cool.  A few days before I left, I spotted a birthday bag leaving Stienmart and told my sister I liked those pennants on that bag.

I spotted this bag a few weeks back and knew pennants would make a cute tray of cookies.

Spring Fling was great fun, and I learned how to do brush embroidery, really the only new technique, but it energized me to adapt better.  So based on the talk by Callye I learned to think outside the box, and I went back and bought that bag and used it as inspiration for these cookies.  I have always used Karen's method of the bullets inside the disposable decorating bags.  I was pretty surprised how many women weren't doing this.  Clean up is a cinch, and all my bags hang with my aprons.

I dry my bags here since I use the magic bullets in them!

I thought about what Mary Ann said about varying sizes and colors to make a platter.  Now mine are not overflowing like hers do, I only had 2 dozen, but I needed those pennants to lay out for the message.  I think it worked out fine.  Then, I took some photos for my blog and thought about Glory and her wise words of open shade.  And they aren't too awful either.  I have a lot to learn with my camera for sure!

So I must say it was fun to get back into decorating mode after Louisville.  I also took a few photos of my work space.  There has been a little discussion about clean vs. neat.  I am pretty neat.

I sketched and planned a little more than usual.

Tips, couplers and color...

That W means it is watered down.

I also shot my box of Americolor gels, and you can see a few have a W written on the color dot on the lid.  This lets me know I couldn't squeeze out another drop, so I added water to use up all that liquid gold.  Another blogger had this on her site this week, and I sort of kicked myself, as I have been doing this for years! The first time I rinsed out one of those bottle to toss in recycling I watched all that color go down the drain and thought, "Hey, wait a sec here!"

So Happy 16th Mckenzie...and here's to the non-cake eaters out there!  Sugar cookiers rejoice!  So, what are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spring Fling For Cookiers!

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Our panel of professionals.

It's a new word.  Cookiers.  Like me and many of you, cookiers are people who bake decorate and give away (and rarely eat) sugar cookies. Spring Fling was an amazing weekend filled with camaraderie among the 70 or so attendees and learning from the amazing panel above.  I am going to mention these amazing people by name and a link and encourage you to take a peek. Starting right to left, I know, backwards.  The photo was added after all the text and I am in no mood to edit!

First, Sweet SugarBelle, an amazing cookier from Texas.  She gave a lecture on finding inspiration and reusing cookie cutters for purposes other than their original design.  Sort of thinking outside the tin if you will.  Her work is nothing short of amazing.  Okay, I said amazing 5 times thus far, (6 really).  I need a thesaurus.
Next was Pam at Cookie Crazie.  She uses glaze instead of royal icing and I have to admit it tastes yummy.  But it is sticky and under the circumstances not easy to use.  It isn't a fair assessment, but for now I am sticking to royal.  She is a cookier with a mission, check out her blog to see how she lives and cookies in a Godly way.  Amazing, yes.
Next was Glory from Glorious Treats.  She is funny and humble and talented.  She talked about photography and I paid close attention.  No more single cookie shots coming from this girl!  (I have one old photo shoot to post first.)  She really had some great ideas, and I was happy to know my new location in my house to shoot, is what she recommends.  She calls it open shade.  So I am hoping to post improved photos here soon!
Next, MaryAnn Rollins, the Cookie Artisan, a cookier from OKC.  Wow is about all I can say.  Her platters are stunning.  She is an artist from start to finish.  Her talk was about platters and themes, I learned a lot as her enthusiasm is quite infectious.  And yes, she too is amazing.  Check out the Halloween platter with all the costumed people.  I could look at it for hours.
Ali from Ali Bee's Bake Shop taught us how to do brushed embroidery with royal icing.  It is a fantastic technique that I cannot wait to put into play!  Did I mention how young she is?  And talent...geesh!
And Karen from Karen's Cookies.  Her website is devoted to the cookier and has just about everything you need.  Except a kopykake, and as you will see shortly, I need one!  Karen has a long background in decorating and decided to get into the business of selling what we need to survive!  Her husband Mike signs all of the orders when they go out and honestly, he got as much applause as the gals with the cookies!  The best part, they gave us great stuff, Karen gave us great info (even if the icing was all wrong for her and for us) and they are the most humble people.  I mean, you want them as neighbors, kind of nice.

Our hostesses were from Cookie Two Shoes and my fellow attendees were as amazing.  They had a little contest of Kentucky themed cookies, and here are the platters (arranged by Mary Ann) of all the cookies that entered.  To my friends I bake for.  I'm sorry.  Really, these cookies are over the top gorgeous, and not the sort of thing people get a dozen of.  Most of these decorators have a kopykake, and I am ordering mine today.  Really, it is that impressive.  So have a peek, and come back.  There will be nothing but improvements in my cookier capabilities!  Remember, I made NONE of the following cookies.  I am not sure who made most of them as it was anonymous.  But enjoy them.  So, what are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Enlightened Happy Joe's Taco Pizza on The Grill

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Hot off the grill and delicious!
So I have had sister week, and what fun it has been.  My sister Lori has been here and we have been busy sewing (blog coming on that project), making cookies (yep, a blog on those), shopping and watching movies.  Her last night here I really wanted to take her out, but she insisted we cook, so I made a nostalgic dinner.  Happy Joe's Taco Pizza is one of my most popular blogs.  Anyone who grew up in the area around the Quad Cities knows this pizza, and likely has a hankering for it, right now!  The original recipe I made is at the above link on the earlier post.  We made it lighter and threw it on the grill, and honestly, we didn't miss anything.

Lightened Up Taco Pizza
1 whole wheat crust
1/2 can refried bean (no fat added)
1/2 can pizza sauce
3/4 # ground turkey breast
1 T taco seasoning
1/2 cup cheddar/monterey jack cheese, shredded
chopped lettuce
chopped tomato
1/2 avocado, chopped
Classic Taco Doritos, crushed
Happy Joe's Spicy Taco Sauce
Cook only one side to start.

The dough I buy is frozen, so after thawing I stretch it out on a floured pizza peel. You can also use a rimless cookie sheet.
Brown the ground turkey breast and add a little taco seasoning and water to moisten it.  Preheat the grill to high and oil the grates well with canola oil.  Mix the pizza sauce and refried beans together.  Turn the heat on the grill to medium and slide the crust onto the grill.  Close the lid, but keep an eye on things.  The crust should bubble up and dry out.  You don't want it burned.  When it is nicely browned, slide back onto peel. 

This is the bottom after the first time on the grill.  Put the toppings on this side.

In the kitchen, you are going to flip the crust over.  Your sauce and toppings are going on the cooked side.  We put everything but the Doritos, lettuce and avocado.  Now, slide back onto the grill to brown the bottom.
Cook on low this time to brown the crust and melt the cheese.

I usually drop the heat to low, and close the lid.  You want the cheese to melt.  Carefully slide back onto the peel and add the toppings.  We really, really skimped on the Doritos, but really, they are so flavorful we didn't miss mounds of them.  The taco sauce, which I buy 6 at a time when I get to Iowa is the key.  There really is nothing like it. It is Happy Joe's original sauce.  I didn't bother adding up all the WW Points, the wine was opened, the night was gorgeous and we were hungry!  So, what are you waiting for?  Get in there and cook!
Lighter but still delicious!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps SRC

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Dinner is served, and was it good!
So this month for the Secret Recipe Club I was assigned The Yummy Life.  Monica is a great blogger and shares lots of insight into her life in St. Louis.  Monica even has an e-book of salads and salad dressings, quite impressive.  Even more impressive is her Facebook friends list.  Yikes, over 2000 on Facebook!  I am a terrible Facebooker when it comes to my blog.  I use it to check on my college kids:)  Monica also has this funny section in her About Me that lists her likes and dislikes.  We have a lot in common!

After rummaging around her blog for a week or so, I decided to try her Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps.  I have had lettuce wraps at a few Asian restaurants, but have never made them at home, and I knew Scott would love them too!  She also has the Points value for a half cup serving, only 4.  So that was a huge selling point for me.   My ingredients are pretty much the same,  a few changes.  I used ponzu instead if soy sauce, it has a lighter flavor, kind of citrusy.  I also had no sherry, so I used seasoned rice wine vinegar. I had leftover mushrooms so tossed them in. Monica also suggests a peanut sauce and or rice.  We didn't miss the rice at all, and my family is not a fan of peanut sauce.  Her recipe makes 20 servings, so I really slashed the recipe.  I just modified for our empty nest and our disdain for leftovers!
Some of the gadgets that make cooking easier.
I had a helper with the chopping!
Asian Lettuce Wraps

1 # ground white meat turkey
2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced
about 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
4 carrots, minced
4 oz. baby bella mushrooms
5 green onions, sliced thin, green and white parts
4 oz. water chestnuts ( half a can)
4 oz. bamboo shoots (half a can)

6 T hoisin sauce
3 T ponzu sauce
3 T seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 T Siracha
fresh cilantro
Bibb lettuce
Look at the beautiful colors...

I chopped the carrots, mushrooms, chestnuts and bamboo shoots in a counter top chopper that dices them small and uniform.  I added the ginger and garlic, and the sliced green onions.
Heat olive oil in large pan and cook the ground turkey slowly.  Crumble well.  When meat is no longer pink, add all the veggies.  Stir frequently, I cooked them about 5 minutes, we kept them still a little crunchy.  It was really dry.  So add the sauce and cook until it thickens, just a few minutes.  Add the fresh cilantro and serve in lettuce leaves.  It is messy and really delicious!
Lots of stuff in the sauce, delicious!

I seriously ate about 5 times this amount!

My recipe builder on Weight Watchers says the entire recipe is 32 points+.  We figured it was 6 servings, so 5 points a serving.  I ate 2 servings after a long day of decorating sugar cookies.  It was amazingly delicious!

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Sweet Easter

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So yes, I have done some Easter cookies.  Here are a few examples, nothing new or exciting!  The decorated ones are my traditional cookie recipe, and the tiny sanded ones are the lemon buttermilk cookies that one of my friends adores!  I have a huge order coming up, just iced cookies, nothing show stopping.  But my big news is the Spring Fling of cookiers I am heading to at the end of the month.  I am so excited to learn from some of the most talented decorators out there!  Have a blessed weekend!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This Foodies Favorite Tools

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Ok, yes, I do work at a kitchen store, but you know beyond my great co workers here in Tennessee, no one from this company knows I exist, let alone endorse my opinion.  I don't love everything, and maybe I will write a clunker blog; the tools that are stuffed way in the back and never see the light of day, I have plenty!  But I do have favorites that I use ALL the time.  Here is just a small selection, I will blog more soon!

This citrus juicer is great.  It squeezes so much juice from a lemon or lime, rinses clean, back in the drawer.  The zester is a rasp grater from Microplane. Made in Russelville, Arkansas.  I love that.  I use it for zest, I shred ginger, garlic and parmesan too.  Again, a quick wash in the sink, done.  Notice, I do NOT put my gadgets in the dishwasher.  Really people, it is hard on stuff!
Ha!  Its a banana slicer.  I bought it as sort of a joke, and we use it all the time.  I love all my banana slices perfect.  I'm a bit of a control freak, wouldn't you say?
This spoon is not big, maybe 6".  It is sized to get into a jar of olives.  We love olives on our nightly salad, and I use it pretty much daily.  Under no circumstance should you ever, ever put anything made of wood in your dishwasher.  Honest.
Why would anyone buy garlic in a jar?  I mean really, how hard is it to pull off a clove, whack it on the counter, peel off the skin and press it thru something like this?  If you hate touching raw garlic and making your hands stink, let it dry out on the counter, the garlic will flake right out of it.  You know how to wash this I'm sure.
This peeler was around $3.50.  I love it, no fuss, makes quick work of cukes, carrots, potatoes.  The blade is aluminum I am sure, so if you put it in the dishwasher it will rust.  But seriously.  How dirty are carrots?  Soap and water people!
Oh, oh, oh.  This is my newest and most favorite thing ever.  It is a pineapple slicer.  Wait until I blog my favorite smoothie and you see it in action.  Basically you cut the top off the pineapple, put the rod on the core and twist.  It slices the pineapple as it goes down.  If you stop before you hit the bottom, you can make a pineapple cup. You know for a tropical party where you drink too much rum and wear a grass skirt.  I have done this.  Some things we are meant to outgrow!
And this little guy.  The lonely chopper.  You've seen them on infomercials, they sell them at junk stores.  They will chop veggies and fruit in uniform dice.  Some things require a pretty hard whack to get it through, but my salsa is gorgeous and uniform.  My Thanksgiving stuffing has perfectly diced onions and celery, and even a fruit salsa works in this.  It is the ultimate cheating machine, but it makes quick work in the kitchen!
How exciting is that?  I know, but I wanted to share some things with you.  Back later for some Easter cookies!  I have been baking up a storm!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Post Pizza Enlightened Frittata

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So last night we had friends over for pizza.  Grilled pizza, so delicious! So as we clean up, I am left with little ramekins of leftovers: chopped mushrooms, onions, sweet peppers, artichoke hearts and some grated Italian cheeses.  I also found some fresh spinach and there was a smidge of chicken Italian sausage from the Fresh Market (a favorite ingredient of mine!) So I decided it would make the perfect frittata!

Basically a frittata is an open faced omelette.  I approach it like my Pantry Raid Cookies, a great excuse for cleaning out the odds and ends.  Lucky for me and my Points, vegetables are virtually no Points, and I am using mostly egg whites (much to the delight of my dog, who gets the yolks!), so the fat content stays relatively low.  Although I am using the fancy-schmancy frittata pan from WS, I always use some sort of fat.  There are very few pans that will release an entire open faced omelet like this, and I am not going scrape it off! And cooking it low and slow is really key.  You cannot hurry this!  I know my pans are cruddy looking.  But I treat them like a seasoned pan, they can't be scrubbed slick or they will never release again.  They need to be cooked on and washed.  The only pans I scour are stainless steel.  To see the pans all shiny, look here.

Post Pizza Frittata

1 egg
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups mixed veggies, onions, peppers, mushrooms, artichoke hearts
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 link chicken Italian sausage
1/4 cup Italian shredded cheese
1 oz. fresh mozzarella
1 teaspoon olive oil

I sprayed both frittata pans, and put the oil in the bottom pan, They're marked to tell you which pan to begin the frittata in.  Beat eggs well, and add all other ingredients.  I also added some Tuscan Sunset, for a little Italian herbs. Over med-low heat, warm up pan and add egg mixture.  As the egg mixture cooks, place the top pan on bottom pan and continue cooking until the eggs are no longer runny.  Flip pans and continue cooking.  Total cooking time will run about 8-10 minutes.  Slide frittata onto plate and serve with fruit and salsa if desired.
Points+ 12  Not bad for brunch if you cover 2 meals with this, but even better if you make it for 2 people and share!  So, what are you waiting for?  Get in there and cook!