Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring to do it: Decorated Cookies

2The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

I love cookies. I don't make them too often though, because I think I am just a little too lazy... It is faster and easier to make bars! So this month's challenge was going to involve as much time management challenge as baking challenge!! Actually, though, the baking aspect was not what intimidated me. The sugar cookie recipe looked fairly straightforward, and Mandy actually gave us some great hints and tips which helped a lot. It was the decorating part that had be pretty well scared. I want to be artistic. I know I am (kind of) creative, but artistic isn't really my thing. Luckily, though, Mandy gave us a lot of freedom in our decorating. She gave us the theme of "September," and we could shape and decorate our cookies in whatever way said September to us.

As you know from the last Daring Cook's challenge, one of the big events for me in September is the Jewish New Year. Apples are part of the celebration, so apple shaped cookies were in order. Also, an apple is one of the (very) few cookie cutter shapes I have, so that worked out well!

I made the challenge cookie recipe as written, except I used part brown sugar instead of all white sugar. That is just my silliness... The dough came together really quickly. Then, as Mandy recommended, I rolled the dough out in three pieces before refrigerating it. I don't know why this idea has never either occurred to me before or been pointed out to me before. It is brilliant! It makes working with the dough so much easier, since it is still fairly soft when you roll it, but you can keep the extras cold while you work with one section at a time. For that alone, Mandy, this challenge taught me usefull baking skills!

When it was time to cut out the cookies I recruited my best kitchen helper, Little Girl. She had a great time using the cookie cutters, and rerolling the scraps to cut again. And I had a blast seeing her have so much fun! She is definitely hired for future cookie making projects!

Once the cookies came out of the oven and were completely cooled it was time to tackle my fears and start decorating. The challenge recipe for frosting was royal icing. This uses raw egg whites. Which I am not generally opposed to, but for the sake of... curiosity? health? keeping on my toes? I decided to find an egg free icing recipe. I used this one which I found on It looked straightforward enough, so I went for it.

First I tried mixing food coloring into a portion of the icing to make the red for the apples. No matter how many drops I added, though, I couldn't get darker than pink. And piping? I made a HUGE mess. (Sorry, I refused to take pictures of the mess... it was sticky...) I then resorted to painting. I put the plain white icing onto the cookies and dipped a (clean!) paintbrush into the food coloring. It worked ok. Or, it would have worked really well if I had any artistic talent. So I made as many red apples as I had patience for (I think it was four), then I moved onto jarred frosting and colored sprinkles... At least they were decorated!

For one last bit of fun, I used the extra scraps of dough to make one extra-special cookie. Hubby and I bought our first house. So I made a celebratory house cookie for us to share... I again used the painting method, and made a cute little house that doesn't really look like our new house, but it got the point across nicely!

Thank you so much Mandy for making me face one of my kitchen fears! I can't say that I have conquored it, but I can say that I now have a better understanding of what I still need to learn! It was totally worth it. If you would like to see the beautiful, creative, artistic creations my fellow Daring Bakers made, take a look here and be amazed!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fuzzy Buddy

A few weeks ago Little Girl and I were wandering around the craft store, as we sometimes do when we are looking for inspiration. I love wandering the aisles and getting ideas for crafts of all sorts, from knitting to scrap booking to baking and beyond. Unfortunately, I can't buy everything I would want to, for a number of reasons (practicality and sanity being two of the top ones!). Even so, I do gather ideas to file away for the proverbial rainy day. On this particular day there was a table set up with an employee encouraging children to try a new craft called Fuzzoodles. True, Little Girl is a little too young to partake on her own, but that didn't stop me from checking things out. And the employee was generous enough to offer Little Girl a package of her own, which she was very pleased about. (Though she might have just been excited to pull at the packaging...) We took our prize home and got to "work" creating.
While the craft is very basic, I wasn't sure how Little Girl would approach it. While I am sure that her playing wasn't exactly what the manufacturers had in mind, she had a blast! She twisted the oversized pipe-cleaners, she played with the eyes, and it really kept her attention for a long time (well, a long time for a one year old!) I had fun making little critters, too, so this was an all around fun craft, especially for the price of free!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Daring to do it: Food Preservation

It's that time again! (I promise, I do make other crafts, not just the Daring Kitchen foods! I just seem to have a hard time getting to the posting thing... I am going to try to be better about that...) Sit back, relax, and read all about it!!

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

This challenge was a true learning experience. I have never canned food before, and the freezing that I do is mostly reserved for leftovers... (That's still food preservation, right?) My father-in-law cans, though, making the best pickles in the world, as well as a variety of other pickled vegetables (from his garden, no less). I was excited to see if he would let me in on the family secret for this challenge. John, though, made what could have been an unbearably daunting challenge something so great. He provided more than just a recipe, more than just a new method, he provided a ton of information. His challenge layout really was a lesson in science, in cooking, and in sociology! It was a lot of fun to read, and the cooking process was just that much more fun, knowing the science and reasoning behind what we were doing!!
Before I got to cooking, though, I had to conquer what might have been the most difficult aspect of this challenge - the logistics. I do not have a canning set up at home. Heck, the largest stock-pot I have is only five quarts. And the food to be preserved is supposed to go into the jars warm, so how could I make a lot of food and then can it in the same pot? Then I had to find jars! I could have borrowed some from my father -in-law, but I was pretty sure I wanted smaller jars than he had available. I finally found the right size jars, and figured out a way to use my crock-pot in conjunction with the stock pot, and I was ready to cook and can!
One of the recipes which John gave us for this challenge was apple butter. I know a lot of people who love apple butter, but I honestly don't think I had ever had it before. And I know I have never made it before! I have made applesauce, and apple butter seemed to be pretty much the same, just cooked down longer. This being September, the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanna, was going to fall during this challenge. What perfect timing! Apples and honey are traditionally eaten to celebrate the new year. So why not make honey-apple butter? So now I was excited for this challenge on yet another level!

I made my apple butter in the crock-pot, using a recipe which was based on a bunch of different ones I had seen in my searches. I know John wanted up to credit our sources, but unfortunately I kind of can't... I did what I do for my applesauce, substituting honey for a large part of the sugar. I then let it cook all day. The apple smell filling the apartment was so good!! After about six hours I opened the pot to start the mashing. It was great, and I was so excited to see how the finished product would turn out!
With the apple butter well on its way to being ready it was time to prep the jars. They have to be carefully washed and dried before being filled, then they should be warmed before the warm food is put in. Washing was no problem. For warming? A low oven did the trick perfectly!!
Finally I was ready. I filled my stock pot, lined the bottom with some towels to buffer the heat from the jars, and started boiling away. As silly as it seemed, I was really excited. And as the jars cooled, I was rewarded with the amazing little "ping" sound which indicated that the jars were properly sealed! It was so cool!
This apple butter was so good! My mother-in-law ate it with a spoon straight from the jar! So did I... So did Little Girl... For this alone, this challenge was a HUGE success.

But I wasn't done. I couldn't do a canning challenge without seeing how my father-in-law works his magic. His willingness to share his process and his recipe with me really made me know in a whole new way just how much a part of this family I have become. It was a really special day for me...!

The weekend we were there, my father-in-law had planned to make pickled green tomatoes. And these green tomatoes started the day on the vines in his garden. You don't get any fresher than that!!

After the tomatoes are cut they are loaded into the jars. My father-in-law does not heat the jars before filling them. He does, though, heat the lids and bands. The room temperature tomatoes are covered with hot brine. Once they are sealed they go into the canner to cook and to set.

This was traditional family canning at its very best. And I was so flattered that my father-in-law included me and shared his family "secret" with me!!

Thank you, John, for introducing me to canning, and for giving me the opportunity to learn new ways of celebrating the New Year and my amazing family! This challenge taught me a lot. And about food preservation, too!

To see the amazing creations my fellow Daring Cooks came up with, take a look here. Try not too drool on your keyboard!!