35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 3 – The Deceptively Not So Simple Soft Lofthouse Style Frosted Cookies

O.k., you can totally call me on it.  I made these ones earlier in the week for the sole purpose of making sure I get the post out on time and, well, life happened.  So  here I am in Week 4, writing about my Week 3 conquest.

On  Thursday I was in the store scrolling through my board on the phone.  I was extra exhausted from work  and not in the mood to tackle anything major.  A few swipes in and I found them, simple copy cat Lofthouse sugar cookies.  These are the guiltiest of guilty pleasures of my husband and I.  They are so soft and the frosting is so rich and the recipe (ingredients) seemed so easy….seemed is the operative word here.

I got home later in the evening and went over the steps of the recipe and wanted to cry.  There was dough rolling and chilling overnight and more dough rolling and cutting. Ugh, I was so mad.  But if anyone knows me, I am committed.  I followed that recipe in my zombie state, threw them in the fridge and fell out.

At around 4:50 am the next morning, I started phase 2, The Roll Out.  I got my favorite, handy dandy roller and got to work.  Now, I will be the first to confess I have yet to master the art of rolling out anything.  I think I need a ruler because not matter how much my eyes convince my brain I have reached the appropriate thickness, I end up with double the volume once baking is complete.  As far as cutting out my cookies,  I have every cookie cutter possible except for a simple circle so I used my go to back up….a  drinking glass.  It does the trick to perfection and you don’t have to spend any extra money.

I threw those puppies in the oven and got to work on the frosting.  Now, I know I said I would stay away from buttercream frosting (and that is where it is solely butter), but this time I figured it wouldn’t be so bad being on a cookie and I was correct.  I don’t know if it was the heavy cream or what, but I was soooooooo delicious.  Anyway, wham bam thank you ma’am, the cookies were packed up and ready to be hauled off with me to work.  They came out cute, but the flavor was o.k.  I think the frosting saved the cookie as it tasted more dough like than that who-knows-what’s-in-it Lofthouse cookie you get from the store.  It only matched up with the store bought version by appearance and texture to some extent.

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I’m now going to pull a screenwriter move and go back to the beginning.  Imagine a tape playing back at full speed.  The recipe called for low fat sour cream, I opted for full fat.  This is not because I am some fancy baker that wanted a different flavoring, that is just what I had in the fridge.

I also opted to use the extra amount of flour that is directed to use as needed to flour my rolling surface.  I thought I was so fancy and graduating to a real baker coming up with my own plan.  It really didn’t work.  It was so sticky.  I also just did a dab of orange food coloring because food coloring freaks me out and I think I am going to have to suck it up and pay for the natural mixes they offer online.

For some tips:

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  1.  The absolute best rolling pin, in my humble opinion, are the solid wood pieces.  The ones with the handles that are on a type of roller can break under pressure (I promise I’m not heavy handed) and the full wood ones look nicer.IMG_7901
  2. Whenever possible and o.k., use parchment paper.  It allows you to just keep it moving with several batches.  Just pull the paper (with cookie) off the pan and you’re ready to start your next batch.  IMG_7907IMG_7909IMG_7911
  3. A quick way to get a good frosted cookie with the smooth edge is, as always, using a pastry bag.  It made this so much faster for me. (Ugh I just realized this picture is not in focus)
  4. Use an external thermometer in the oven.  I never do this as I do not have one, but I am definitely planning on purchasing one.  The oven definitely become hotter as I continued to bake and cookies were being done way faster than was called for in the recipe.IMG_7882
  5. I know I have said this before, but I don’t think I can stress it enough.  Always crack your eggs in a separate dish.  I use my custard dish because it looks like the cooks/bakers on t.v.  I will not gross you out with the high school Home Ec. class, but let’s just say I was very glad I was in the group that listened and got to eat my chocolate cake.

I guess I can say if I do choose to make this cookie again, I will try another recipe.  I like the look of this cookie and I can imagine doing fun and creative things with it for the holidays, but try it and let me  know if you had better luck.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 2 – Brown Butter Cake with Vanilla Bean Icing and Salted Caramel

The first thing I have to confess is that, due to my relentless cold, I am behind in posting, but I assure you I am baking in real time.  This cake was made this past Sunday.  I was, once again, able to find inspiration for my baking and this time it was my mother in-law’s birthday.  And what would be more appropriate for a birthday than a cake.  Aside from the gorgeous image of the cake, the words “brown butter” will get me every time.  OMG, I just wiped drool from my mouth.  Brown butter is the process of taking butter to an unimaginable level.  Imagine butter, now image having butter in heaven and you will get a glimpse of what it is to have browned butter.  If you think I am being dramatic, try it.  It attacks all of the major senses involved in eating.  The smell is mind numbing.  It is a cross between roasted nuts and caramel, a smoked caramel if you will.  I also, happen to love the look as well.  It is just a beautiful caramel color and it taste so rich.  As you can see, I can write a post on just browned butter alone, but I digress.  Aside from the naming of this delectable dessert, the beautifully crisp image that I chose to “pin” on my “wall” is what grabbed me initially.  I loved the smooth, seamless frosting underneath the glossy caramel drizzle with tiny little vanilla bean speckles can be seen on the sides of this adorable cylindrical masterpiece. The image below is from the original recipe and the one I chose to “pin”.

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The first task at hand was to get the right sized cake pans.  Since I am the absolute worst at visioning size of an object based on a documented measurements, I was shocked when I went to the store and found the four 6″ cake pans.  They were so tiny.  Anyway, I can now I can make cute little cakes so it was all worth it.

If I am being honest, though this was only Week 2, it was already a bit of a flop.  I started off looking good, I promise.

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As you can see, I masterfully browned the butter (I like to leave in the crust if it will not impact the look) as I have made several recipes with browned butter at this point and I even mentally created an updated version of one of my favorite cookies which I plan to make at the end of the month.  Don’t worry even though it is not part of the 35 week baking, I will still post.  After that, things slowly started to go south, from the forgetting to put in the eggs until after the dry ingredients had been mixed in to the, well, you’ll see later.

Despite the major fails, I do have some tips for this one.

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  1.  I am a master at preparing a cake pan.  Though I grew up making boxed cakes with my mom (which is funny because we never ate processed food for meals), I learned how to properly and thoroughly grease a cake pan as if I was making something from scratch.
    • Put shortening on a paper towel and grease the pan ensuring that you cover every inch including the creases
    • Then take a little bit of flour and dump it in the center
    • Work the flour around the cake pan like you are trying to keep a marble from falling off the edge of a tray (I hope that makes sense)
    • Finally rotate the pan like a wheel so that you get the walls of the pan and tap it to remove any excess flour (maybe I will do a video some day).

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Here is the picture of the finished cake out of the pan (above).  Mic drop.

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  1.  I do know if you are making a layered cake, you level off the top with a knife.  The cake should probably be really cooled at this point so you don’t knock off the edges of the cake like I did.  You are also supposed to  do something similar on the sides, but clearly I went too far.IMG_7845IMG_7846
  2. I saw this online and it worked like a charm.  For the filling layer, use a pastry bag and any circular tip to dispense and then lightly spread it with a flat spatula (any smoothing tool).  That made this step a snap.IMG_7875
  3. Do not, I mean do not substitute vanilla extract for vanilla bean but you can substitute it with vanilla bean paste which is also also quite pricey, but the unlike  billion dollars for the actual bean, it’s a much easier pill to swallow.  The little bean speckles add to the visual charm of the dessert and I believe it is more concentrated as well.  I don’t know, it just has a different flavor that is worth trying.  My husband found this one at Harris Teeter for $10.  But he heard that Trader Joe’s has the same one during the holidays for $4 so be on the lookout for a crazy lady collecting every single tube in November.

Now that is all the tips I am giving because I botched the other tips and ended up mutilating the cake.  Yes, a cake was hurt while filming this process.  But none was wasted!  The kids, my hubby and I gobbled up every little crumb that did not make it to the finale.

There were also a couple of steps I skipped as I was in a rush to get the cake to the birthday girl.  When you initially frost a cake, it is called the “crumb layer”.  Apparently this is a thin layer of frosting that is applied to the cake in order to “catch” the crumbs that magically appear.  This recipe went a step further and had you chill the cake after the crumb layer for 30 minutes.  I think this would have really locked in those crumbs.  This is where I almost lost the cake, again likely due to it not being cooled enough.  I actually started breaking off cake.  After a while I just pretended like I was working on dry wall and the frosting was my caulk.  I actually saved it…well at this step.

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Once I added the frosting, it started going south and it took forever just to get this look.  My final thoughts after making this cake are, one, I absolutely do not like butter frosting.  I said butter, not butter cream which has cream cheese in it.  I need more time and practice for making cakes as they are so much work.  I also dare anyone to ever ask me to make a cake because I will karate chop them.  It is so much work and you would have to charge a lot to make it worth it.

It was pretty good, but the most important part is the birthday girl loved it!

 

Here is the image on my Pinterest wall.

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See, just like the original.  I bet you can’t tell which one is mine.

Mail Order Meals?

Before I even get into my evaluation, I have to just say right out of the gate, it is, without question, more expensive than shopping for ingredients yourself.  There, mystery solved.  If that is what is holding you back from trying out one of the slew of food delivery companies trending in the world, then read no further.  Now, for those who still want to make sure or for those who have money to spare I may be able to give you a little tiny bit of insight.

Thanks to some very generous subscribers, I was able to try both Hello Fresh and Blue apron at little to no cost.  And let’s be honest, that would be the only way I would ever try something that I deemed a luxury for the wealthy.

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Let’s start with Hello Fresh since that is the first service I used.  I had a $79.99 coupon and decided to get the Classic Package for a family of 4 for 3 meals for the entire week.  I ended up having to pay an additional $39.99, but for what I was getting that felt almost free.  I opted for a Saturday delivery and when the FedEx truck met me in my garage, I literally squealed and jumped like toddler getting ice cream.  I assume it looked funny because the driver laughed at me.  Once the truck drove off I found I was still holding the box in the driveway checking to see if my neighbors could see me (Note: the box is clearly labeled with the Hello Fresh logo) as I wanted the world to know, I was receiving food from a meal delivery service like the fancy people.

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When I tell you they spare no expense with their packaging, I mean I would have been sold without tasting a bite.  It seemed so elaborate and organized, I felt like I was on Life Styles of The Rich And Famous for a moment.  I mean really it was like I had been transported to The Real Housewives.  Before you laugh and judge me, there is something to be said about how a product makes you feel.  I genuinely felt special and glamorous handling the Hello Fresh items.  Not to mention, the packaging fits perfectly and neatly in the refrigerator.

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Now, before I tell you about the taste of the meals, let me get rid of a few more curiosities…if you are not one that enjoys cooking, move along.  This product is not for you.  And I will tell you, making grilled cheese, boiling a hot dog or even making basic spaghetti would not qualify you.  These meals force you to really cook, I mean making and working with foods you may have never even heard of before.  I think it would even challenge the culinary gifted.  Let me be clear before everyone runs for the hills.  It is not too challenging for one that cooks often and cooks a variety of different types food.  Another point to take into consideration is that you also need a lot of supplies (cutting, chopping, and dicing required), but they do cover you on all of the ingredients.

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HF3Now for the results…drum roll please…holy shamoly everything was amazing!  Even my picky monsters loved 2 out of 3.  When I plated the meals I remember thinking, “Oh snap, when did we hire a gourmet chef” and the best part was I didn’t have to spend hours searching for new recipes, listing the ingredients, and then shopping for them.  Another big feature for my tendency to be messy when cooking is it is so much easier to keep the food organized and neat due to the smart packaging.

The one final aspect for which I must prepare you, are the portions.  If you need a diet and still want variety, look no further than a mail order meal.  There are no leftovers and depending on how deeply imbedded into America’s new cultural food portions, you may find yourself snacking before bed as you will be sure to not overeat without stealing a family member’s portion.

Overall, Hello Fresh received two thumbs up on quality, presentation, variety, and user friendliness of their website.

 

Now on to Blue Apron which I wish I tried first so I would not have had such a high standard and ultimately end up with a skewed view.  I mean, I already wanted a user friendly website, many food options and pretty packaging.   Unfortunately that was not exactly the case.  I had to ask for help on how to convey we could neither have seafood nor peanuts.  I also couldn’t figure out the food options.  Eventually I was able to order and, I was once again excited.

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The food arrived in a nice box, but upon opening the package, I was not greeted with perfectly organized and sorted boxes.  The produce were all jumbled together with the exception of the seasonings and extras which were in clearly labeled brown paper sacks.

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It did also come with the very picturesque recipes similar to Hello Fresh.   I did like how their seasoning and liquids packaging was premeasured which added major value.  You would just open a container and pour it all in.

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Now for the review, the first two meals were delicious and my husband made one, sticking directly to the recipe (trust that was a smart move on his part) and it still came out fantastic.    When we got the 2nd set of meals arriving, it was very similar to the previous meal as it had the same meats.  One of two of those were really really really delicious, but the other was just o.k.

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Blue Apron is $70 for a family of four for 2 nights or $140 for 4 nights, but there is no 3 night option.  Hello Fresh has dropped their price to $119 for 3 nights of meals.  So overall, it is not that much cheaper than Hello Fresh.

Before I go on and on, because you know I love talking about food, I will leave you with my final overall review of this new craze.  I think this is an amazing concept and clearly developed by someone or some people who found a way to capitalize on a need that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.  This is not for a family on a tight budget.  It is not for a family that has a culture of making one pot meals and it is not for a family who barely has time to eat let alone cook.  Who then, is it for you ask.  I think it is for those families that have a significant grocery budget.  I think it is for power couples without kids and I think it is for financially sound singles that have a distinguished palette, a love for cooking and little time to go out to eat or plan fancy meals.  The best utilization of these mail to order meals would be a power couple getting the 2 to 3 days of meals for a family of four package and using that extra two meals for leftovers and then eating out for the rest of the week or doing  a simple salad or grilling a non-MTO meal (oh yes, I did create my own acronym) days.

I must say, I did get a phone call from Hello Fresh and got reeled in for a bi-weekly family of four meal package.  I am excited and ready with an Excel table for comparison (Hello Fresh v. Grocery store).  I know that it is more, but it is delicious, healthy, and gives me back my time to bury myself in other work.  Whether you call it a splurge, a necessity, a working mom’s savior, it is definitely a something worth a conversation.

An Old Fashioned Treat Gets a homemade maker-over

In an attempt to have one last get together for my son and his kindergarten mates before they transition to 1st grade.  I wanted to just do a little something with no bells and whistles.  No days and days of little sleep trying to execute some insane design my meddling brain created.  Just playing with water in the backyard or whatever they find around the house, pizza that will be delivered and homemade ice cream sandwiches.

I tried sooooooooo hard to be simple, but I mean, there had to be multiple flavors of ice cream and there HAD to be different cookie options so that there can be different sandwich combinations and how could they possible know what to pick without a menu and what kind of menu would it be if it wasn’t a chalkboard menu and how would they know it was a menu if I didn’t give it a title.  That is pretty much how my brain works and why things constantly spiral out of control.  Oh well, what’s done is done.  I kept it as simple as I am capable of keeping it and the kids had a blast.

Oh don’t worry, I will not conclude this post without talking about the treats that inspired this whole thing.

I am quite particular with the quality of food that my little monsters consume (until I am exhausted and you hear “Welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order”) so if I allow ice cream in the house, it is only with a label that says cream, sugar, and maybe 2 or 3 more ingredients that I am able to pronounce and don’t recognize from a reagent label at work.  Harris Teeter was having a buy 2 get 3 free on Turkey Hill (don’t ask me, it’s a brand they carry here in NC) so I thought, this is totally a sign that ice cream sandwiches are the way to go.  Next was deciding on which cookies, but before I even went there I had a matter of business to resolve.  My cookies have not been performing as well as I would like so I Googled and found some awesome tips that had my cookies looking and feeling like something from a professional bakery (taste has never been an issue).  Here are the tips:

  1.  All ingredients must be at room temperature (I have shared that one before)
  2. Beat butter and sugar for 3 – 5 minutes.  This is for real.  It gets that air inside so you have nice plump, fluffy cookies.
  3. Rotate you pans midway through cooking (change racks as applicable but also a 180°)
  4. Parchment paper!  – This is the best and most important tip I have ever used.  It made clean up a sinch.  Helped the cookies have a gorgeous color on the bottom, but also helped speed up my process as you are able to set cookies up on the parchment paper while one/two batches are in the oven!

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The cookies turned out the best I ever made.  I chose my go to chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies although no one chose that one, sugar cookies, and brown butter cinnamon with white chocolate chip.  You can see the combinations on the menu.

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The menu was such a fun touch, the kids were so excited and perplexed trying to decide which to choose.  One of the moms who stayed took orders and it was really like an Ice Cream Shoppe (what the h is a shoppe?).  I am pretty sure I enjoyed it the most as I, for a brief moment, got to experience having my own bakery without leaving my own home and the kids got a nice end to their summer break which I hope goes in their history books.

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What To Do With That Turkey?

Halt, stop what you are doing!  Do not throw away that leftover turkey or take it out of the freezer, I know what you can do with it.  Before I begin, let me give you a moment to grab a napkin to wipe off the drool that will inevitably ensue after reading this recipe……O.k. I hope you got it.  I found this recipe for Turkey Enchilada on Pinterest, of course.  The image alone had me falling out.  I mean, whaaaat, cranberry salsa!  I made this and found myself scrapping the plate.  The Enchilada is delish and, if you have flavored you turkey to perfection, you won’t be able to stop.  The cranberry salsa, with that cilantro bite just pushes you to the edge of flavor country so be prepared to start scraping pots for any leftover turkey you can gather.

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I did make a couple of changes to the recipe.  Instead of butternut squash, I used sweet potatoes, because of course that is what I would have leftover after my favorite holiday.  I also did not have any Gouda on hand so I replaced that with mozzarella cheese.  I wanted the kids to be able to enjoy it so I stuck only with the more mild green sauce as the red can get a little spicy for miniature taste buds.  Other than those few swaps, I pretty much stuck to the recipe and it was heaven.  Now if you will excuse me I need to do the, I-ate-too-much side lean to make space for my fully belly. Enjoy!!!

Cooking Tip That You Should Not Ignore: Don’t take the shortcuts in baking

In my post last week, I kind of pretended like this didn’t happen, but this time I will bring it up.  I have been gone for quite some time which according to successful bloggers, is not a way to keep interest.  I was transitioning back to working mom and it has not been easy to say the least.  Yet, I have made it my goal to at least post one blog per week in the thick of all the chaos that is my new life so I am hoping that I am  not being overly ambitious.

As you may remember from last week I am implementing a series of posts on cooking tips I have read about and am trying and that work.  The first part of this tip comes from internet posts, cooking channels and you name it.  The second part is my own spin on what I have heard previously and seen recently.  Have you heard or read about the room temperature demand in recipes?  Well, I have and I took it like more of a suggestion.  I mean, I am normally baking spontaneously or (the norm) I am rushing and trying to squeeze it into a small window of time so who in the world would remember to take out the butter, eggs, or whatever to bring to room temperature.  I mean, this has to be a suggestion, right?  Wrong!  For the first time I actually decided to bring the eggs, liquid and butter to room temp  and let me just tell, it made a world of difference.  My cupcakes came out so even and beautiful.  I just stared at them through the oven door drooling.  Another contributor to the beautiful specimens that were my cupcakes was the ice cream scoop method.  I have watched countless baking shows or shows that interview successful bakers in house and they all were using ice cream scoops to dispense their cupcake batter into the liners.  Once again, I ignored it because, well I don’t happen to have an ice cream scoop.  One day, recently  I saw the owner of Magnolia’s (if you haven’t heard about it, Google it.  It looks awesome) level off her ice cream scoop of batter before she put it in the pan so I thought hmm and the light bulb went on.  The next time I baked, I grabbed my 1/4 C measuring cup and went to town.  Just scoop up the batter and level it off with a butter knife and voila.  Incorporating those tips produced cupcakes I had never seen before outside of an expensive bakery.  They just looked so pretty and of course, as always, they tasted delicious!

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I am telling you when you are looking at recipes, don’t write off the tips and preparation.  It can make something go from pretty good to something amazing!

Cooking Tips That You Should Not Ignore: Making It Last

How many times have you spent 10 billion dollars on produce, usually herbs and berries only to have it become engulfed in mold or wilt before you have a chance to use it?  O.k. pricing is no where near 10 billion dollars, but some produce pricing is just as ridiculous.  Despite the cost, I found myself having to toss nearly half a container, because you know I don’t really like my produce with a side of mold.    My initial attempts at preventing this waste, eating it super fast or  putting it with all of my children’s meals since they are the berry lovers, never worked.  I could never eat it fast enough.  I got to the point where I was accepting that only the top layer (referring to the plastic container in which they are stored) would be eaten.  I mean, it was molding around two days after purchasing.

I began to look up options on saving them since they are so healthy and my kids love them, but internet searches would bring me to processes that I believed were preposterous. I imagined some no shoe wearing (I have a thing about bare feet, but that is for another day and another time) pixie frolicking in a field of produce making a meal right out of their own garden.  You know the person that grows all of their food, uses organic cloth diapers, has never touched a piece of processed food, etc. etc.  I am not trying to bad mouth those people at all.  I actually think that is awesome.  I just have always felt that their way of life was impossible for the average person and by average person, I mean yours truly.  Anyway so I ignored those tips until one day cilantro was nowhere to be found due to a recall and when I finally did find some, it was organic and cost a mint (well it was expensive to me).  I decided to buy it since I really wanted it.  This time I was like “I’ll be damned if I am going to let this golden cilantro wilt and spoil in a few days” so it pushed me to try, what I thought was, some hare-brained scheme.  Treat the cilantro like a plant…that you have to keep in the fridge.  When you bring it home, rinse it and dry it thoroughly.  Next place it in a cup filled with water and cover it with a ziplock bag and put in the fridge.


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It freakin’ worked!  My cilantro lasted for ever!

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And once that worked, I decided these food tips are not crazy after all so I tried the berry trick and that worked as well.  My cilantro lasted more than 2 weeks and my berries lasted a week or at least long enough for us to finish it at our own pace.

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  For the berries instead of just rinsing it with water.  Rinse it with vinegar. Yes, vinegar!  For every cup of water, use about 2 tablespoons of vinegar.  I do not have a particular amount of time to rinse in the solution, you just don’t need to soak it long (30 seconds should be sufficient).

I could not believe it actually worked and so well.   Shows me to judge.  So I say, do not ignore tips, try them out.  You never know what might happen.