Christmas Sugar Cookies

christmas-sugar-cookies
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at 5815 Velasco, thanks to my husband’s very enthusiastic Christmas spirit and the hours he spent on the lights. Christmas lights, Christmas tree, Christmas music….now all we need is Christmas sugar cookies! The Christmas staple, the cookie that every household must have during the holiday season. The truth is that the search for the perfect sugar cookie is about as challenging as getting people to follow me on this blog. Which is hard, by the way.
Anyway – crispy, soft, chewy, crunchy – sugar cookies come in many shapes and textures. And everyone likes theirs differently, like pizza crust. I, for one, am a firm believer in chewy (or soft…), I guess soft, sugar cookies. I still haven’t really figured out the difference in the two textures. These are definitely soft.
I won’t claim this is the perfect sugar cookie, because I have not tried all 4,567,782,001 sugar cookie recipes out there. If I had, I would have to believe these are in the top 10. I have tried a lot of recipes, and these are my favorite so far. Very soft, flavorful, and cute, if you decorate them.
Recipe
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 jumbo eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Icing
4 cups powdered sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
3 teaspoons vanilla
1/2-3/4 cup milk
Food coloring
Start by creaming the sugar and butter.  Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Gradually mix it into the butter mixture, and stir just until combined. Over mixing will make the cookies less soft.
Wrap the dough in saran wrap, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. You can skimp on this a little, but I will tell you it is much easier to work with when it’s cold.
When the dough is nice and chilled, remove it from the fridge and let it rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, flour a flat surface, and get your rolling pin and cookie cutters ready.
Preheat the oven to 375.
Now: the key to softness. DO NOT ROLL THE DOUGH OUT TOO THIN. Seriously, roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thick.
Then, use your favorite little cookie cutters (I got mine at Williams-Sonoma), and place the cut-out dough on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake at 375 for 7 minutes. They should be slightly underdone. This is a good, magical thing. It will guarantee chewiness. If they look WAY underdone, keep them in for 8 minutes. I can’t hold your hand through this one, use your own judgment. See how puffy those look?
Next, on to the icing. Cream the powdered sugar, butter, and 1/2 cup of the milk in a large mixing bowl (I like to use a hand mixer for icing). Add the vanilla. Slowly add a little more milk, until the frosting reaches a thick, creamy consistency.  If desired, divide up the frosting to make colored variations. You probably should, it is Christmas after all. Then, decorate your heart out. I used red and green sprinkles, black and red frosting gel, and colored sprinkles for the snowman noses.
  Oh and coconut for the snowflakes.
If I were 6, that red ginger man would have been left for Santa. Now that I’m 28, screw Santa. I’m eating my favorite one.

Egg Nog Cookies

egg-nog-cookies
MAKE THESE. Seriously, I don’t care if you don’t like egg nog, you will like these. And the best part is, there is no rolling, cutting, sprinkling, or double-boiling involved with these things. They are so easy!
Recipe (makes about 3-4 dozen)
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup egg nog
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Egg Nog Icing
2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup egg nog
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cream the butter and both sugars in a bowl with a standing mixer. Add the egg nog, vanilla, and egg yolks. Mix just until combined.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Slowly add it to the butter mixture. Eat some dough.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and drop the cookie dough in about 2-tablespoon portions, a couple inches apart.
Bake for about 22 minutes…
Yes, I ate half of one as soon as it came out of the oven. I couldn’t help myself.
Let the cookies cool completely, then prepare the icing.  Mix all the ingredients with a hand mixer, adding more egg nog if necessary. You want the icing to be very thin and glaze-like.  Drizzle the icing over the cookies, and eat one immediately.
 This is my first in a series of Christmas cookie recipes….stay tuned. I got a little carried away this weekend.

Brussel Sprout Salad

brussel-sprout-salad
People have very strong opinions about brussel sprouts – they either love them or hate them. I find they are similar to politics, in a way. You don’t want to bring them up in dinner conversation because you will often get a very explosive reaction and people will never agree.  I can’t even mention the word brussel sprout in front of my husband without getting a ‘god those are gross.’ But the truth is I don’t think he has even touched one since he was a kid, when everyone hates them. I certainly did.  Growing up,  I couldn’t believe something so terrible existed in the world.
However, seeing as this is a post about brussel sprouts, I have changed my mind. These cute little things are wonderful, and you can do a lot of fun things with them. If you like brussel sprouts, you will love this salad. If you don’t, stop reading this post now. I don’t want to upset any readers.
Recipe

1 lb fresh brussel sprouts

2 slices bacon
3 T. dried cranberries
2 T. olive oil
1 cup balsamic vinegar
3 T. maple syrup
kosher salt
I think this salad tastes best with crispy roasted brussel sprouts, but you could steam them if you need to save time.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Lay the brussel sprouts on a baking sheet in a single layer, drizzle with 1 T. of the olive oil, and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Roast for about 20-25 minutes – you want them to remain crispy. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare the bacon.
Cook until very crispy. Transfer to a plate covered with a paper towel.
For this dressing I used a balsamic reduction. I mixed 1 cup balsamic vinegar with 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and cooked in a large saucepan on medium until reduced to about 1/4 cup. I love the sweetness of the glaze with this salad, but you could also just mix 3 tablespoons balsamic with 3 tablespoons maple syrup if you were looking to save time.
Break the bacon up into large crumbles, then toss with the brussel sprouts and dried cranberries. Mix in the dressing, and you’re dunzo. How easy!
I think this salad is best served slightly chilled, but you could serve it warm if you prefer.
my-moms-chocolate-chip-banana-bread

I’ve done a lot of independent research on banana bread. I’ve tried several different variations, made minor modifications, added different things and baked it differently. After all this effort, the results are in: my mom’s is the best.

Sometimes I make it in the form of bread, sometimes as muffins. It all comes out the same: wonderful, tasty, delicious, and comforting. The best days I ever had growing up would be when my mom and I were playing a game of Memory and she would surprise me with a piece of warm banana bread straight out of the oven. I just felt really happy all over again thinking about that. Oh, the good ol’ days. Now I have to serve it to myself straight out of the oven, and no one is playing Memory with me.

If you need a Banana Bread recipe (and you do, everyone does), use this one.

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup ripe mashed bananas (2 large)
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • Lots o’ chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350. In a bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, then vanilla.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and soda. In another bowl, mash the bananas with the milk.  With the the standing mixer on low speed, add a little of the flour mixture, then the bananas, and continue to alternate until everything is mixed in. Turn off the mixer, and stir in the chocolate chips with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Or, sometimes I actually like to turn up the mixer to high instead of stirring in the chocolate chips, because I feel like it really smashes the chocolate flavor in there. Up to you.

Grease a bread loaf pan (I think mine is a 9X5), pour in the banana bread batter (is it dough or batter? It looks more like batter), and bake for about 45 min to one hour, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. The edges will begin to look a little darker, but keep it in until the center is done.  If you are doing muffins, they will only take about 25-35 minutes, but keep your eye on them.

Serve warm with butter, or peanut butter, or mashed on top of ice cream. Thank you, mom, for our shared love of board games and desserts!

 

chicken-and-vegetable-pasta-in-white

Thanksgiving is over, and I think I have successfully stretched out my stomach for good. It took a lot of hard work, focus, and teamwork, but I did it. How do I know? Because on Sunday night when we returned home from Chicago, I wanted something light, fresh, and healthy. I arrived at the grocery store with no recipe and an open mind – I wanted the produce section to do the talking. Asparagus? Yes! Mushrooms? Yum! Peas? Definitely! Hm…what could I make with all of these fresh vegetables? It came to me immediately.

Pasta in a cream sauce with chicken and pancetta. And light went right out the window. But, delicious came in. We loved this.

Recipe:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Pancetta
  • Fetuccine
  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 bag frozen peas
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms (portabella, cremini, baby bella, whatever!)
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 T. white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 T. corn starch
  • parsley
  • italian seasoning
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Chop the chicken up into 1-inch pieces and place into a bowl. Drizzle generously with olive oil, then S&P and Italian seasoning. Toss and let sit at room temp for 15 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add a little olive oil (not much is needed), and add chicken. Cook for about 10 minutes, until done. Transfer to a plate.

In a separate skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the asparagus and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring in plenty of salt and pepper (1/2 t. each). Add the mushrooms, cook for another few minutes. Add the frozen peas. Continue stirring, adding more olive oil if necessary, for another 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta.

Pour the wine into the vegetable pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and let it reduce a little. Reduce the heat to low.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and chicken broth, stirring until melted. Pour in the cream and milk, cooking for a few more minutes. In a separate bowl whisk together the corn starch and 1/4 cup water…add to the pan, stirring and cooking to thicken.  Add the chicken back into the vegetable mixture now, and stir to combine. I would add the crumbled pancetta here as well, but Central Market was out!! Stupid Thanksgiving over-eaters.

When the pasta is done (I used fresh fetuccine from Central Market, it only took about 4 minutes after boiling) – drain it then return to low heat for a minute to dry them out a bit. Pour the cream/vegetable mixture into the pasta. Stir to combine, then top with parsley.  I added a pinch more half and half here, because we wanted it extra creamy.

Don’t worry, this was only half of my serving. A full plate of it looked a little excessive and disgusting for public display.

Add plenty of parmesan.
Then serve it with a fresh green salad, bread & butter, and fall in love with the world.

Braised Short Ribs

braised-short-ribs
Oh boy. If you haven’t ever experienced the pure bliss that is short ribs, do it now. I made them for the first time on Sunday night, and now I’m having an affair. Cheating on my husband with short ribs…is that allowed? I can’t stop thinking about them. And all they did was slow roast down into a tender, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth meat…how is that for courtship? I think John tried a lot harder.
The funny thing about short ribs is the price. Have you ever ordered them in a restaurant? They’re not cheap. But in a grocery store, they’re one of the cheapest things in the meat case. What a pleasant surprise.
Recipe:
  • 2 lb bone-in short ribs
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2-3 cups beef broth
  • Sprig of rosemary and thyme
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
Here they are, the new loves of my life:
Amazing, cute little fat short ribs. About to rock your world. Just kidding, that was weird. Let’s get to the point…
Start with the bacon. Cook the bacon in a dutch oven over medium heat until very crisp.
I used this very heavy cast iron pot that seals very tightly – it was perfect for this. Plus it looks good.
You’ll notice my oven is pulled away from the wall. It broke. I don’t know what happened but I think I made it work a little too hard. So, I ended up having to make these stovetop, but normally I would do the long slow-roasting part in the oven.  Anyway, back to the bacon.  Cook the bacon until very crisp, to render all the fat. Meanwhile, salt, pepper, and flour the short ribs (skip this if cooking GF). Transfer the bacon to a plate, and turn the heat to med-high. Place the floured short ribs in the hot pan to brown all sides….about 45 seconds on each side. Add a little olive oil if there is not enough fat in the pan from the bacon. That’s a gross sentence. But do it, add more fat. We all know this dinner isn’t on the Weight Watchers meal plan.
Once the meat is browned on all sides, transfer to a plate and reduce the heat to medium.
Add the carrots and onions to the pot, cooking for about 15 minutes.
 Keep stirring…
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Now it gets fun. Take out a bottle of wine.
And start pouring, about 2.5 cups.
Pour yourself a glass, preferably by a fireplace.
Those are both for me.
Continue cooking and stirring, bringing to a boil and then reducing it down…about 5 minutes.  Add an equal amount of beef broth, about 2 cups. Stir and cook for a couple minutes.  Add the meat back in the pot.
Then I picked some fresh thyme and rosemary from my herb garden.
And threw them in…
 Then the magic begins. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and simmer for a solid 2 1/2 hours. Or, you can put the pot in the oven at 350 degrees for 2 1/2 hours. That is probably easier, and the method I would have used had my oven not protested. Walk away, and leave it alone. The smell will make you want to sing from the rooftop, if you’re into that.
2 1/2 hours later…
Tender, fall-off-the-bone deliciousness….some of them will come right of the bone, by the way. That’s a good thing. Remove the meat to a plate. You’ll want to let it sit for about 15-20 minutes before serving, to let it settle.
Place the pot on the stove top and turn the heat up to medium-high to boil and thicken. Ladle out any fat that rises to the top. Mix the corn starch with about 1/4 cup water, and add to the gravy. It should really start to thicken up. If not, you can add more corn starch (always mixing with water first to avoid lumps).
Finally, it’s time. These should be served over something like mashed potatoes, to soak up the gravy and make this the best meal you ever had.
Get ready to eat your face off.
PS…these might even be better the next day, so if you need to make ahead, do it.
1596061626368