Cookie Season

It’s on! The cookie swaps and bake sales are in full swing. If you haven’t heard by now, it’s time to start baking for the holidays.

I am not a baker. I repeat, I am not a baker. I admire the people who can make a perfectly crisp chocolate chip cookie or a moist banana bread. And I love when my neighbor comes over with some freshly baked loaf of yumminess. (Hint, hint… hope she is reading this!) My own attempts in the baking department are hit or miss. Sometimes we mix everything right and sometimes the formula is off. But that being said a bad batch of cookies is never completely bad. Anything with so much sugar and butter has some redeeming qualities.

Lately my kids are more interested in shooting hockey pucks than cooking with me so it’s been a challenge getting them in the kitchen. But there are still a few things they love to do and mixing cookie batter is one of them. Although I admit I usually have to bribe them with chocolate chips to pull them away from the net in our basement.

For our holiday baking all three boys wanted to try thumbprint cookies. Being able to stick their fingers into cookie dough really sold them. And they very enthusiastically pressed their fingers all over these cookies. Our baking sheets had to be divided by mine, aka the clean (and neat) side, and theirs, aka the not so clean side.

Our cookies won’t be winning any ribbons but they were good enough for us!

All Fingersprint Cookies (recipe adapted from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

1 stick unsalted butter, room temp

½ cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar

1 large egg, separated

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ tsp salt

½ cup blanched almonds

½ cup jam, any flavor

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat butter and ½ cup sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla and mix again for about a minute. In a separate bowl whisk together the salt and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until well combined.

In a small food processor pulse the remaining sugar and blanched almonds. Or roughly chop the almonds by hands for a chunkier texture. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg white.

Form dough into small balls, about 1”. Dip the balls into the egg white and then in almond sugar mixture. Place on baking sheet and make a indentation in the center with your finger.

Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, and repress centers again, as the cookies might have changed shape. Fill the center of each with jam. Bake for additional 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and place on wire rack for cooling.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Okay, not as good as Oreos”

Liam (age 5): “I can’t remember which thumb is mine”

Dylan (age 5): “MMMMMM”

Full disclosure: I forgot to separate the egg! But as I said, anything with all that butter and sugar can’t go that wrong. So for our recipe we used 1 ½ eggs and they came out pretty tasty.

 

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O Is For Oatmeal

Has this every happened to you? You’re shopping in Costco or BJ’s and you see something that you don’t need but the price is so good you can’t resist? So you flex your muscles, lift the 20lb bag, and dump it in your double wide shopping cart. For a split second you think “How will I ever use this all up?” but the thought is fleeting as you spy another amazing bargain!

On my last trip to Costco I had oatmeal on my mind since I had just used the last bit. Arriving at the cereal aisle I spotted an enormous box and calculated the savings of buying the bulk size vs. the small canister at our local market. The cost difference was huge, how could I pass it up? I hefted the box off the shelf and placed it my double wide, proud of my purchasing savvy.

Oatmeal is something we always have in our pantry; the 18oz canister from the supermarket lasts an average of six months in our house. I’ve tried to make breakfast oatmeal with all sorts of toppings but it’s a mutiny every time. So the canister usually sits in the cupboard until it’s needed for cookies or muffins.

Arriving home with my purchase I was faced with a dilemma – what to do with all of this oatmeal– there are only so many cookies a girl can make. I needed to think outside of the oatmeal box and come up with some new ideas. Starting with breakfast made sense so I combined oatmeal with a meal I know my kids love, cheesy eggs. And you know I am adding bacon to this one!

Cheesy Egg Oatmeal Muffins (recipe yields: 16 small muffins)

Ingredients

2 ½ cups oats (not instant)

1 ½ cup whole or 2% milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

4 bacon strips, cooked and finely diced, divided

½ tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp black pepper

 

Method

Place oats and milk in medium mixing bowl. Combine and cover with plastic wrap. Soak the oats overnight in the refrigerator. (See note below on soaking oats)

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a muffin tin with paper cups, non-stick cooking oil, or some butter.

Add eggs, cheddar cheese, half of the bacon, salt and pepper to the oatmeal mixture. Mix until well combined. Fill muffin tins to top (the muffins are not going to rise). Add the remaining bacon on the top.

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Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until muffins are crispy on top and spring back when you touch them. I used a small muffin tin, you will need to adjust cooking time for larger muffins. Serve warm.

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Note about soaking oats: “Soaking” whole grains can make them more digestible and help your system obtain all the nutrients in the food. However, there are lots of people who believe you should and just as many people who say it’s a waste of time. I’m not a nutritionist so I can’t say one way or another. I chose to soak the oats in milk overnight because our muffins came out moister, with better flavor and texture, than without soaking them.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “You’re the best muffin omelet maker ever!”

Liam (age 5): “I want the one with the most bacon”

Dylan (age 5): “It’s too hot, but really good”

I made four batches of these and barely put a dent in my oatmeal supply. Anyone have any oatmeal recipes to share!? Please!

Trattoria Vermont

During a ski retreat with friends this past weekend, not only did we get in great skiing, we also got lessons in the art of making fresh pasta. The kids were so excited -it is one of their favorite foods AND they were going to get to crack their own eggs. I must admit I was a lot happier having them do this in someone else’s kitchen.

As the kids lined up at their cooking stations I photographed and documented the proceedings. Our host/teacher is a proud graduate of the Mario Batali’s YouTube Culinary School and he led the class with the confidence of a seasoned culinary instructor.

The first step he taught us was to make a well in the flour for the eggs to go into. Next all the kids enthusiastically cracked their eggs and attempted to have it land in the well. This went surprisingly smoothly considering the age of the students. Everyone mixed his or her egg and flour until it formed a small ball of dough. And then, a crucial step, a cartoon was put on while the dough rested and the parents enjoyed some wine.

After the dough rested, we rolled it out flat and cut it into ribbons with a pizza cutter. Not the most efficient way to make linguine but a great substitute if you don’t have a pasta machine. With students all under the age of seven, the pasta turned out to be some unusual shapes and sizes, but tasted absolutely delicious. It certainly didn’t hurt that we topped it with a killer “gravy” that had been simmering on the stove all day!

Marc’s Pappardellesque Pasta

Ingredients

3 cups flour

4 large eggs

– This will make enough for 4-6 people, depending on portion size

Method

Form the flour into a mound on a cutting board surface or in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and crack the eggs into it. Then take a fork, crack the yolks, and gently start swirling the eggs so the flour gradually combines with the eggs.

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When the eggs have enough flour mixed in to not spill over the edge of your mound switch to using your hand to do the swirling. You can also do this in a food processor but will miss out on all the fun and mess of mixing it by hand.

Once the dough comes together it can be kneaded and formed into a small ball. To knead the dough press it out with the heel of your hand, fold it over, repeating this process until the dough is smooth, not sticky or tacky. This will take several minutes.

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Before rolling, it needs to rest for at least 10 minutes. If you don’t intend to roll the dough within an hour, it can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 24 hours before rolling.

When you are ready to roll, cut the dough into four equal pieces to make it more manageable. Sprinkle a bit of flour on your surface and roll the dough to the desired thin-ness, the thinner the better. Then take a pizza cutter, or a very sharp knife, and make ribbons of equal size. Lay the ribbons on wax or parchment paper as you cut them.

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Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ribbons of pasta and cook for about 2 minutes. Fresh pasta cooks fast, be careful not to overcook!

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Drain and serve with your favorite sauce. Or just toss with a little olive oil and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

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And the VERDICT is:

Everyone loved it and agreed that after a long night of cooking they deserved a dip in the hot tub!

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Flour Eggs & Butter

My sister just sent me a great book called Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman. The premise of the book is that cooking is not about knowing thousands of recipes but rather about learning the proportions of one ingredient to another. If you take flour, fat, milk and eggs and mix different combinations of these ingredients they will yield an entirely different result. In one case you will end up with muffins, mix the same ingredients in different proportions, end up with a pancake, add more eggs, and end up with a crepe.

I started with the cookie dough chapter. The ratios were broken down so easily even my kids could follow them. I learned that adding lots of butter would give you a crisp flat cookie. If you change the ratio to 1/2 of the butter then your cookie, although just as tasty, will instead end up as a lumpy mound.  Now I am sure anyone who bakes on a regular basis would know this simple fact but to me it was news.

Next, I tackled the popover. They were so simple to do and one of the most fun things we have ever made. The boys went nuts when they poofed! in the oven. There is a restaurant on the Upper West Side that specializes in popovers and I used to wait in line for them – but now I can just make these at home!

A few weeks after baking popovers we took the boys on a pilgrimage to Popovers Café. I wanted to see if they were as good as I recalled. Funny how your memory works… The popovers were as big as I remembered (the size of Liam’s head) but they were slightly burnt. Amazingly, my little popovers, made in a makeshift popover tin, were just as good, if not better. Would I wait in line for them? Probably not, but luckily I don’t have to anymore.

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Basic Popovers

Ingredients:

8 ounces millk

4 ounces eggs (2 large eggs)

4 ounces flour (a scant cup)

1 tsp salt to taste

2 ounces butter (1/2 stick) melted

Note: If you don’t have popover pans – ramekins or muffin tins work as well.

Method:

Place your popover pan or muffin tin in oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the milk and eggs in a bowl and whisk until combined. Add the flour and salt and stir until combined. Allow the batter to sit for a minimum of a half hour.

IMG_7055Remove the pan from the oven and pour about a teaspoon of butter into the bottom of each cup. The pan should be so hot that the butter will sizzle. Then fill each cup with batter and bake for 10 minutes.

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After 10 minutes, reduce the oven to 375 degrees and continue baking until done, about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your pan. I used a mini muffin tin so I kept them in for 20 minutes since they were small.

Note: No matter how much you want to look in the oven to check on the popovers – don’t! It is tempting but if you do open the oven they will deflate – trust me on this.

Remove from pan and serve immediately with butter or jam.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “These smell kind of funny”

Dylan (age 4): “Are you sure you didn’t peek???”

Liam (age 4): “Oh, these are so yummy!”

Although not all our popovers looked as pretty as the one in the above picture they all tasted great!