Archive for the ‘From the mouths of babes…’ Category

Holiday Baking: Sweets for the Sweet (and my family!)

January 31, 2012

Okay, so I am way behind on my blogging.  Since I last posted, I’ve tried 5 new recipes, not to mention all the batches of old favorites I’ve cranked out (Sour Cream Cookies and Margarita Cookies were back by popular demand).  I found two of my experiments (Brown Sugar Drops from the Betty Crocker book & Buttery Fork Cookies from the 1001 book) disappointing, so I won’t waste time posting them.  However, three of my holiday dessert projects are well worth the making, so here we go!

The first recipe I want to share is one I made with my dear friend in The Kelly Kitchen just before Christmas, in between giving bottles to her darling twin boys!  She’d clipped this recipe from a magazine and bought all the ingredients, but hadn’t had the time to make it what with becoming a mom a bit quicker than expected, so when I came to visit the new arrivals, we carved out a bit of time for baking while Daddy minded the boys.  I’m not sure which periodical published this one, but it was submitted by Carol Stuber, and it was yummy:  a perfect fall treat!

Caramel Apple Bars

Crust:
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional
Filling:
4 1/2 cups coarsely chopped peeled baking apples (see my previous post for tips on good baking apples)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 package (14 ounces) caramels
3 tablespoons butter or margarine

In a mixing bowl, cream butter, shortening and brown sugar until fluffy.  Add flour, oats, salt and baking soda; mix well.  Stir in pecans if desired.  Set aside 2 cups.  Press remaining oat mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan.  For filling, toss apples with flour; spoon over the crust.  In a saucepan, melt the caramels and butter over low heat; drizzle over apples.  Top with the reserved oat mixture.  Bake at 400° for 25/30 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool before cutting into bars.  We were impatient and didn’t follow that last bit of instruction, and they fell apart into a crumbly mess.  They were still delicious though.

Caramel Apple Bars

This next recipe is one I had done previously, but never posted.  We buy fresh oranges from H & S Citrus every winter.  It is by far the best citrus I’ve ever eaten, and with such good fruit on hand, I decided to try the recipe for Orange Drop Cookies from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book when my sister gave it to me last Christmas.  They were delicious, so I made them again this year.  It may become a Christmas tradition, but only if I get faster at it.  Once I promised cookies to my niece and nephew, I couldn’t disappoint, but apparently it was an excruciatingly long wait, if the number of times I was asked “Are they done yet?” is any indication.

The cookies have a cake-like texture, and the refreshing orange flavor really comes through.  I recommend using fresh orange juice for both the cookie and icing.  I know it’s a bit more work, but it’s worth it, and you need real oranges to get the rind anyway, so just do it.  🙂

Orange Drop Cookies

2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. grated orange rind
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Orange Butter Icing (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 400°.  Mix shortening, sugar and egg thoroughly.  Stir in orange juice and rind.  Stir dry ingredients together; blend in.  Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough about 2″ apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until delicately browned on edges.  Mine always seem to brown quicker.  Watch them closely.  Frost with Orange Butter Icing.

Orange Butter Icing

2 1/2 tbsp. soft butter
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. grated orange rind

Blend butter and sugar together.  Stir in juice and rind until smooth.

Orange Drop Cookies

The last recipe I want to recommend is one I came across on Facebook.  It has already been blogged far more thoroughly than I could do it, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll just link to it with this recommendation:  make these!  They are the perfect treat for those of you who eat so much cookie dough that you wind up baking very few cookies.  My darling nephew declared them “one of the best chocolate things I ever ate.”

And on that note, I’ll leave you to your kitchens.  I acquired three new dessert cookbooks recently (Chocolate, The New York Times Dessert Cookbook and Miette), so be on the lookout for new experiments to come!  Next on the docket is Chocolate Hazelnut Drops, from the 1001 book.  Wish me luck!

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Working hard, or hardly working?

November 4, 2011

Today was a good day at work.  And let’s face it:  we all need one of those now and then, don’t we?  For starters I got paid today, which is always a plus.  But the highlight of my afternoon was one of my tiny customers, as is often the case.  Two young women came in, each with a little girl in tow.  One of the girls was a one-year-old named Patience, and the other was a little girl named Morgan who looked to be four or so.  I asked the mothers if they needed a shopping bag to hold their products, and one of them jokingly said “No, but do you have a stroller?”  I replied “No, but I’ve got auntie arms.  I’ll hold her while you shop, if you’d like.”  Fortunately we weren’t busy at the time.

I came around the counter and held my hands out to the baby, and she leaned into my arms without hesitation.  The mother said she’d take her back if I wanted, but I told her I was perfectly happy to hold her if she didn’t mind, and she said that if I was sure, she’d be glad of the break.  So I settled the baby on my hip and started swaying, as all women seem to instinctively do when they’re holding a baby.  She stared at me for a moment, then started playing with my name tag.  After a while, she started squirming to get down, so I set her on her feet and offered her my hand.  She grabbed my index finger in a tight grip, and took off like a shot through the store.  I let her tug me around until she took a tumble, then I scooped her back up and danced with her a little bit, singing along with the Christmas music that was playing in the store.  She stared at me fixedly for a few moments when I was singing, then Morgan, who I think might have been her cousin, started dancing too, and when the baby caught sight of her, she let out the most adorable series of excited squeaks and giggles.  Eventually the mothers finished their shopping and left, taking the girls with them.  But they sure brightened my day.  That’s the kind of customer service I best love to do.

And the icing on the cake was an older woman I waited on just before I left.  She had some questions about different fragrances.  She was trying to find a substitute for a favorite of hers that had been discontinued.  I showed her some other options, and let her know of another outlet store where she could try to find her old favorite, and we got to talking about various things:  our favorite scents, the different notes in them, how much we disliked change, etc.  When I had to break away to answer another customer’s question, she thanked me, and said I’d been very helpful.  She said it was a relief to talk to someone who actually wanted to help, and wasn’t just trying to get her to spend more money.

It was equally nice for me to wait on someone who actually recognized what I was trying to do.  When you’re in sales, customers tend to make assumptions about your motives, but my goal is to help people find what they actually want, and to get them the best deal I possibly can.  I know the coupons and the sales, and I know how to combine them so you get more for less.  It’s always a pleasure to help someone who is genuinely grateful for that.  I need more days like this.

Baking Challenge: Margarita Cookies!

July 14, 2011

Number 312 from my “1001” cookbook turned out to be a delightfully refreshing summer treat.  These shortbread-like cookies are just bursting with citrus flavor, and are so quick and easy to make!  Everyone in the house liked them a lot, and we’re a finicky bunch.  My nephew, who is a big fan of Guy Fieri and his show “Triple D” on Food Network, took one taste and said they were “killer.”  But no worries; you won’t die.  In fact, they were so good I’m going to bake another batch.  I recommend you double this recipe, because it isn’t going to make nearly as many as you’ll want.  There are two variations:  one with alcohol, one without.  I did the latter since I’ve got a 7-year-old under my roof, but I’ll post both for the more adventurous palates among you.

Margarita Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar (again, I used regular granulated; works fine)
finely grated rind of 1 lime (a microplane is handy for this)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp orange liqueur or 1 tsp orange extract (I used the latter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place the butter, sugar, and lime rind in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and orange liqueur.  Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture and stir until combined.  Scoop up tablespoons of the dough, place them on the baking sheets, and flatten gently.  The bottom of a glass dipped in sugar is a simple, non-sticky way to do this.  However, make sure said glass has a flat bottom and is not even slightly concave.  I chose a beer glass I thought to be flat once, but I realized later it was slightly inset after it yielded cookies with a sort of hollow in their bottoms.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown.  Let cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then carefully transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Icing

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp white tequila OR two tbsp fresh lime juice (again, I used the latter)

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl, and stir in enough tequila or lime juice to give the mixture the consistency of thick cream.  Leave the cookies on the wire racks and drizzle the icing over them with a teaspoon.  Let set.

Join me again next week, when I’ll attempt to unravel the secret of sour cream cookies!

Astute Observations…

June 4, 2011

…from a four-year-old:

“Sometimes boys are just bad and do things girls don’t like.”

Amen, sweetie.

Color my World

May 26, 2011

The company I work for expects us to “make each customer’s day.”  Despite our excellent customer service skills, none of us ever did that so well as the little boy who was in Jing Jing Garden when I went to get some takeout last night.  He’s the son of the couple who operate the restaurant, and he spends a lot of time there while mom & dad work.  Consequently he often amuses himself by involving customers in his games and activities, and last night was no exception.

I placed my order and sat down to wait.  He came over and peered unabashedly into the shopping bag I’d placed on the table.  It contained three books (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in German and English, plus my German dictionary).  He gave me a puzzled look and said, “What do you need those for?”

I replied that I liked to read them.  He then informed me that he liked to color, and pushed my bag aside to make room for a coloring book and a box of markers.  Then he asked, “Do you want to color with me?”  I said, “Sure.  Why not?”  He flipped to a page with a picture of a cement mixer, handed me a lime-green marker, and told me to color the barrel, but to stay in the lines.  So I started coloring.

The marker was clearly long-used; the felt tip was smashed flat, and it was nearly dry.  I remarked on that last point, and was informed that, no, the marker was not dry, I just had to press hard, which he demonstrated for me before handing the marker back and allowing me to continue.  Thus chastened, I suppressed a smile, pressed harder and finished the barrel, then asked which part I should do next.  He gave me a dark green marker and pointed out the sections I was to color:  the windshield, cab, front bumper, and the one tire he had not already colored gray.  I finished the first three and moved on to the tire, at which point he looked down and exclaimed in exasperation, “No!  Not that part!”  Fortunately at that point his mother announced that my order was ready.  So apparently I won’t be getting high marks for following instructions, but at least I stayed in the lines.

Rock, baby!

July 3, 2010

Scene:  I’m sitting in a plastic wading pool in the backyard with my six-year-old nephew and his dad, surrounded by bits of broken water balloons.  My nephew (who knows his way around an iPod) suddenly sings a fragment of “Fire and Ice” with all the enthusiasm, styling and mannerisms of a stage pro.

Me:  My nephew’s gone pop star!

Him:  I’m singing rock, baby!