Friday, December 11, 2020

Christmas Past.....MERRY ME!

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 Every once in awhile I made a platter of cookies that even I am like, Wow!  I did that!  This is one of those platters.  I made them last CHristmas when we were partying and socializing.  It's kind of sad to think this wedding probably was postponed or drastically cut.  I personally was uninvited to 5 weddings in 2020!  My directions for this party was Christmas but not Christmas green, and engagement but not "she said yes" cookies as they were engaged a few weeks ago. I know this friend well, and I knew this would be a pretty dressed up party (no blue jeans here), so the cookies needed to be elegant as well.

We decided on gold accents, which I just love with red and sage.  I hand painted the rings because I find gold airbrush to be the strangest color!!  I love some sugar crystals to add a little texture to the platter, and of course a diamond should sparkle.  There might be a dash of disco dust on there.

 I love the way the platters came together.  They originally wanted to do their own platters which I understand.  It's the South, we use Grandma's sterling and fine antique crystal, but I told them I would fill 2, 18" platters and it is doubtful they have anything that could accomodate 5 dozen cookies.  I know people are turned off by disposable plastic, but I am pretty adamant about making the platter myself. I have lots of practice!

A few days before pick up, she texted me and asked if I could add a dozen cookies.  Hmmm.  I usually have some basic blanks, and I had these fat stars.  I just love the Merry Me on them!!! They were a sweet addition, get it, sweet addition?  Yep. 

 I knew she was planning on doing white flowers, and I assumed there'd be poinsettias.  I found a tutorial from Sugarbelle on making poinsettias.  I didn't do so well.  I had the tip, but I made these giant round cookies thinking I could fill it with one poinsettia.  That didn't work.  I made dozens of these smaller poinsettias on parchment paper and put 3 on a round cookie, but I know I will use them all the season.  I improvised and I really love my very organic poinsettias!  I also loved the white background for my poinsettias where I sprinkled a little gold shimmer on the white, I just loved the way everything sparkled!  The hearts were inspired by Clough'd 9 cookies, Amy is super talented.  My pine boughs need a little refining.....

So there you have it.  Another Christmas first in the books.  Ho, ho, ho....what are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake!!!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Blog Continues

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I wrote the other day about pumpkin cookies and my old house in Clinton, Iowa.  I think everyone has a nostalgic view of their childhood, or even just aspects of it. I received a message about my last blog and this reader enjoyed it and shared it with others. Then she went shopping for ingredients, and apparently crystallized ginger is hard to find in Iowa. Blogs are rarely blogs these days. Many of my old blogging friends have given up and moved on.  I hardly recognize many of my favorites still out there, as you have to scroll through miles of ads, photo after photo and finally, somewhere at the bottom is the recipe you wanted to begin with.  Like everything, it's all monetized.  I am not going to lie and say I am not interested in making money, but I refuse to let the easy reading, get to the recipe, and a few pictures get mottled up by click bait.  Even many of my Facebook friends don't post about their kids and vacations, it's what they're selling.  The deals, the groups of happy friends you too can have if you just have this product....and then instagram, lordy.  Don't get me started on the influencers.  But that's the way these days, and kudos for those that jumped in. And admittedly I buy sometimes too. But I am a writer at heart, a cook/baker for the love of food, and this blog is personal to me, so much more than money. I have a lot to say, but even if all you want is the recipe, it's pretty easy to get to!

Today, as the remnants of a hurricane blow through, it seemed the perfect time to bake some amazing pumpkin bread, Brother Boniface Pumpkin Bread to be exact, and to maybe write again. Time really does change everything, and my cooking has changed plenty in the last 5 years as I became an empty nester.  And now, a grandmother.  What an awesome job title!  I still bake thousands of cookies, and I do try and post here so folks can see, but instagram is easier for me, and since I rarely make cookies for someone I don't know, I don't feel bad they have to scroll through baby pics and golf outings.  

I have decided a few new avenues for blogging as I move forward.  First, I am going to revisit the 50 chefs for 50 years, since I am still in my 50's!  I was going to try and power through 50 in one year, but college volleyball, work, Oklahoma football, and so many things got in the way.  I did post 15, and many more are in draft folders, so it'll be fun to knock this out!  Here is the list thus makes for great reading!

50 Chefs For 50 Years

#1 My Mom and Steak in a Bag and Ambrosia Pie  This is a classic midwestern menu, and we loved every bite!

#2 Chuck Williams of Williams Sonoma and Cheese Soufflé I wrote this in my 16th year at Williams Sonoma, and Chuck was still alive at 98.  The following year my store closed and Chuck passed.  It was an honor to be a part of his vision.

#3 Dinah Shore and Crab Cakes with Jalepeño Tartar Sauce These are great, and I make them often.  Dinah would be proud of my new addiction to golf!  A few links are broken in her blog, so if you don't know who she is, it's worth looking her up.  She had some amazing men in her life, George Montgomery, Frank Sinatra and Burt Reynolds. Her cookbook was California cuisine way before its time.

#4 Deborah Madison and Summer Squash Tatines. The expert on vegetarian cuisine.

#5 & #6 Eli and Max Sussman and the Very BEST Autumn Dinner. Side note, I gave this book to my son, and took it back a year later.  It's really that good.  

#7 Ina Garten Chopped Cape Cod Salad  I chose this because I had already made everything else! You have to read the blog about visiting LA for the cookbook signing.  It is hilarious!!

#8 & #9 Julee Russo and Sheila Lukins The New Basics Chicken Puttanesca  My most used book!

#10 Paul Prudhomme and Mirliton Pirogues   I love a blog on an American cuisine that has a pronunciation guide!

#11 Giada's Pumpkin Spice Cookies. I know, you were expecting something Italian....that's the idea here, well rounded chefs.  

#12 Richard Sax and the The Farmer's Market Veggie Soup. He will make a second appearance!!

#13 John Currence and Oven Fried Chicken  

#14 Gilligan's Island Coconut Cream Pie Yep.  I am a child of the 70's. 

#15 Dom DeLouise and Orange Cookies. Don't judge, read it.  

So off we go, 35 left, and I won't waste a minute.  Stay tuned.....

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Pumpkin Cookies with Walnuts, Crystallized Ginger and Chocolate

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I always feel nostalgic in October.  This year especially.  I miss my mom. I miss "normal" life.  After finally coming home after a whirlwind couple of months, I am hoping to stay put for a little while.  Pumpkin was on my mind, and I really was yearning for a little sweet. I decided to go down memory lane.  Let's head to my childhood home.  
I spent my preschool and elementary years in Clinton, Iowa. This house in Clinton, that was full of family, my parents and 5 kids, is the one I pine for. 

It is the house that built me. It was a gorgeous English Tudor sitting on a large hill with views of the Mississippi River. It was once a retreat for an order of monks which explains the cross mowed into the lawn in the above photo.  

It sat on an acre of property, most of it woods, and had a beautiful stone patio, an enormous screened in porch and a balcony from my parents room. The wood inside was heavy and dark, and every room had built in closets, dressers and shelves, some even had solid wood paneled walls. The windows are were all leaded glass (drafty!) and there were 2 huge picture windows. In the spring there were dozens of lilac trees and bushes of peonies. In the summer we would have thousands of monarch butterflies and in the fall we would collect hedge apples and pine cones. 

Christmas was magical. My dad would string the big Charlie Brown bulbs all over the hedges and when the snow would fall the lights would glow in bursts of color. Our huge Christmas tree would proudly stand at the living room picture window. We would have cut it down ourselves at a tree farm just north of Clinton, where the caretaker took the money from an old abandoned bus. One year we brought home a bird's nest in the tree! We decorated our tree with dozens of family ornaments and tossed tinsel all over it. I never thought to look for the Christmas presents hidden on the screened in porch, but many years later I learned that was my mom's favorite hiding place. 

The house had a large creepy basement with a pool table, washer and dryer and rooms full of toys. In the garage there was a large pit in the floor that my brothers used to learn to work on their cars. I remember their friends coming over to change the oil there. 

I had to buy him from my mom's garage sale in 1986!

My favorite spot in the entire house was the breakfast room, with its octagonal shape and all the leaded windows. We sat on a hill, and had a sweeping front driveway and a short driveway out the back. When you sat in the breakfast room, no one could come in either driveway without being seen. My first bedroom is the upstairs window on the left.  There was a little window seat, and the other window looked out over the front door, which was on the left side of the house.  There was a big tree out that window and I loved the view.  My last bedroom (I had to wait until the older sisters went to college), had a wall of windows that looked out over the river. We had 2 staircases, unheard of in the 60's, and the tiny little corner window on the second floor was my mom's sewing room.  I learned to make Barbie her wardrobe in that room.  I have so many things from my mom's sewing room, I know she is at my side.  My friends remember the suit of armor at the foot of the stairs, the entry coat closet the size of a small bedroom, the den with its heavy paneled walls and the moose hanging on the wall, and the kitchen with it's cooktop that pulled out from the wall and the 2 ovens that were side by side. It was such a magical place.

I have the photographs and the memories, and this time of year makes me think of a particular cooking memory. In our Betty Crocker Cooky Cookbook that is falling apart, are the many recipes we made. I blogged about it before and decided that it was the perfect time to make Pumpkin Cookies. I made these cookies on September 24, 1976. The note next to the recipe says "couldn't go skating". It was a sad day.

Every fall we had a roller skating party for the school, and 7th and 8th grade went together.  It was the one night a year a 7th grade girl (in 1976) could hold hands to a Shawn Cassidy song and roller skate a memory. But alas, I didn't clean my room. I remember my room had 2 very deep closets flanking my window seat, and I was a slob.  I basically scooped up all the clothes and toys that were strewn about, and stuffed it in a closet.  Needless to say, my mom was smarter than me. That night she was the meanest mom in the entire world and made me stay home. There were many tears, I'm sure I told her some unkind things, and sulked in my room. My life was over.  She came upstairs later and said let's bake some cookies. She probably launched my love of baking and journaling through recipes that very night. I remember it all so clearly. As I thumbed through the Cooky Book I saw notes on many recipes, most in her hand, some in my sister's.  We decided on pumpkin cookies, and I wrote "excellant" next to the recipe with my memory and the date (I did misspell it, and often do to this day!). There was likely a note, and invitation and a photo tucked away in the book as well.  Every cookbook of my mom's, and now in my own kitchen, is a sort of diary, and a place for special mementos.  My stories are told by what we ate!  It is, after these many years, a very happy story. 

I made a few changes to the recipe I used 44 years ago, and they are noted below in the recipe.  The original is in the photo.  Pumpkin Pie spice is a perfect fall blend, but has no ginger.  So when I opted out of raisins and pecans and added chocolate chips and walnuts, I tossed in some crystallized ginger as well.  It was a welcome addition. The cookies are a little spongy, and don't spread.  I did reduce the baking powder, so I am not sure if that altered the final cookie. I iced them with a browned butter cinnamon buttercream, and I know my mom would love every single bite!  

from the Betty Crocker Cooky Cookbook
changed up by SweetiePetitti

1½ cups brown sugar 
½ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs 
1¾ canned pumpkin (this is one, 15oz. can) 
2¾ cups flour 
1 t baking powder 
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2  cup chocolate chunks 
1 cup chopped walnuts
handful of chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 400º  I use convection and set my oven at 380º.
Using a hand mixer, cream brown sugar, butter, and vanilla until mixed thoroughly.  
Add eggs and pumpkin and mix just until it comes together.  
Add flour, baking powder and spices and carefully mix until no dry ingredients remain.  
Add your assortment of chunks.  

Drop by mounds onto parchment lined baking sheets.  Bake 7 minutes and turn sheet and change shelves in oven and bake another 8 minutes. Cookies should be dry but not really browned.  Remove from oven to cooling rack, and remove cookies from sheet when cool to the touch.  Cool completely before icing. 


4 T butter
1 t vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar (more if it gets too thin)
a little milk or cream as needed

Place butter in a small pan (very small if you have a butter pan!) and gently bring the heat up to medium as the butter melts.  You need to watch very carefully, and as the butter takes on a golden brown color you will smell the heavenly scent.  Remove from heat before anything burns!  Let the butter cool to a soft consistency before whipping with vanilla and adding powdered sugar and milk to get the proper consistency.  You want it spreadable.  Taste it often, trust me.  If it's humid it'll need more powdered sugar, if it's a dry day, more milk.  Ice the cooled cookies and chill until firm enough to stack in airtight containers.  Make coffee and call me....I'll be right there!  What are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Quarantine Baking Nespresso Toasted Pecan Bread

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A match made in heaven
Ahhh 2020, I am pretty much over you.  I have been absent from my blog but I am back.  January started as usual.  I was cleaning and organizing, I got the worst cold, and then I got the worst phone call.  My mom fell in Florida and as happens with the elderly (although I never considered her elderly) she broke her hip, her arm, and then went into kidney failure.  I can't retell this chapter, but I lost my sweet mom who was really the center of my day, everyday.  We talked a minimum of once a day.  I sure hope she can still hear me, because my conversations haven't stopped.  I now call my dad everyday, and he is kind of loving it, which makes my heart soar. 


There were rumblings of COVID during the January and February trips back and forth to Florida.  And honestly when the shutdown came, I was ready to hide in my house.  Well, now I want out!!!!  In the meantime, I have been baking, and sewing and quilting, and walking!!!   I'm kind of a recluse anyway, so no issues for us.  I sure miss Pure Barre and golf....I do need those!

It's really not a bread. It's cake baked in a loaf pan!

Last week I was scrolling through Instagram and Nesporesso had a little photo of its amazing coffee and this bread, with frosting and pecans.  Everyone, including me wanted that recipe! Advertising works....I ordered another 80 capsules for my machine and I made the closest version to that beautiful bread I could.  I have every church cookbook from my mom and found many pecan breads within.  I did a little tweaking and I think I found a winner!!!

The ad that made this happen!

My icing is much whiter than the Nespresso bread!

Pecan Bread With Toasted Pecans and Browned Butter Icing

Makes 2 loaves 5x9 pans

Spray the pans liberally with Baker's Joy and preheat oven to 350.  I bake convection so I preheat to 330. 

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. 

In a large skillet over medium heat, toast 1 1/2 cups of chopped pecans.  I dump into a dry cast iron pan and shake around until I smell them toasting.  Keep an eye on them so they don't burn.  Turn off the heat. 

In a stand mixer with the flat paddle, mix

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter at room temp
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add one at a time mixing each in,

3 eggs
and add
1 cup plain full fat Greek yogurt (I use Fage 5%)

Add dry ingredients and when fully mixed add the warm pecans.  Divide among the 2 loaf pans, it will rise significantly when it bakes!!

Bake.  I set timer for 20 min and move around in the oven.  Set timer another 20.  If the inside is still gooey, drop the heat 10 degrees and give it another 10.  It should be cooked through.  Cool on a rack before popping out of the tins. 

As soon as the bread is out of the oven, (let's be honest, it's a cake!!!) brown your butter.

6 Tablespoons butter (I like salted for icing)

I use a small saucepan, you can use a skillet, just make sure its stainless steel and not dark.  You want to see it brown so it doesn't get overdone!!!  I put the pan on med high heat and when it starts to bubble, slide off heat and swirl until it stops bubbling. Again, put on heat until it bubbles, slide off and swirl.  You will be able to smell that amazing browning happening (think caramel) and see small specks on the bottom of pan.  It should be golden, not dark. You can always cook longer but if you burn it, you have to start over! 

Transfer to a small dish and put in fridge while the bread cools. 

pinch of salt if using unsalted butter
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 Tablespoons milk (if you want decadence use evaporated milk!!!)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 

When the bread is cooled and the butter is not warm, but not hard as a rock, whip butter in a mixer adding salt (optional) vanilla, and add the confectioners sugar 1/4 cup at a time until icing is spreadable and smooth.  Ice the cakes, decorate if you like!
Perfect for 3 o'clock Nespresso during quarantine or anytime!  What are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake!