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Chocolate Sugar Cookies

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What do you think of when you think of a Christmas cookie?  I'll tell you what comes to my mind, and maybe some of our thoughts are the same, or maybe they'd be completely different:
  • Sugar cookies, rolled out, punched into shapes like bells, trees, stars, mittens, reindeer, and decorated with frosting or sprinkles
  • Gingerbread men and houses
  • Fruitcake Cookies (I can't believe I've never given the recipe- will try to fix that soon!)
  • Those store-bought slice and bake sugar cookies that are dyed in the middle to look like a Christmas tree or Santa's hat
  • Those small, pre-made butter cookies that have red or green sprinkles and sometimes look like a wreath



Despite all the people who love chocolate, and I am one of them, Christmas is not chocolate's big day.  These cookies, though, just may be its ticket in.  They were originally labeled "chocolate sugar cookies" and Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen changed their name to brownie roll out cookies because she felt the name suited it better.  


These cookies have a solid chocolate taste and have the dense texture of a brownie.  I know!  Deb (I write that like we're on a first name basis or something) thinks they'd be ideal for an ice cream sandwich, and I don't doubt that, but I could see these getting some decorating love and replacing the regular sugar cookie or even gingerbread at Christmas.



Either way, the cookies are tasty, and the dough can be frozen for later use.  They're addictive, so beware!

Chocolate Sugar Cookies
from Smitten Kitchen

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Whisk dry flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in mixer. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.

Roll out cookie dough on floured counter. Cut into desired shapes, brushing extra deposits of flour off the top. (It does disappear once baked, though, so don’t overly fret if they go into the oven looking white.) Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (the former for 1/8-inch thick cookies, the latter for 1/4-inch cookies) until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Ranch Dill Cheez-its

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This recipe was shared with me several years ago by my good friend and former co-worker, Cindy.  Thank you Cindy!  She brought them to a party and I think I could have eaten the whole container.  There's just something about the way the cheesiness of the crackers combines with the dill and ranch dressing mix that really creates a memorable, crave-worthy taste.  Disclaimer: don't eat on a date!

Anyway, if you need something to make for a party, these are perfect.  They're easy and fairly quick (30 mins total time) to make, the recipe makes a lot, and they're very transportable and can be made ahead of time, oh and almost everyone finds them irresistible.

Ranch Dill Cheez-its

2 boxes Cheez-its or other cheese crackers
1/2 c. vegetable or canola oil
1 TB. dill
1 package ranch dressing mix

Preheat your oven to 200.  Pour your cheese crackers into a roasting pan or divided between two 9x13 pans.  Combine the ranch and the dill and sprinkle evenly over the crackers.  Mix to combine and distribute.  Pour the oil evenly over the crackers and also stir/mix to combine.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.  Take the crackers out and stir them around and bake 10 minutes more.

Pinterest Find: Pumpkin Molasses Cookies

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I took these cookies to a Christmas party over the weekend, and they were a surprising hit.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy them, so that's a win.  I wasn't sure how they would be received since they're a cakey cookie.  In fact, I bet they'd make killer whoopie pies.



                                 

The dough uses a lot of pumpkin and not a lot of other fats or a ton of sugar, so I'd bet (hope) they would fall on the healthier side of the spectrum, but regardless, they are a nicely spiced cookie for the fall or holiday seasons.



I tried to show in this picture that the dough is more like a batter.  Even after having it in the freezer a couple hours, it was soft and sticky.  I would definitely recommend freezing rather than refrigerating the dough to make it just a little easier to work with.  Once you roll it in sugar, though, the stickiness goes away and you have these little gems below:




Pop them in the oven and they expand like crazy.  If you hate cookie edges running into each other, I'd recommend baking 6-9 per sheet. 

Overall, though, these are tasty little cookies.  They are very soft baked and nicely spiced, with a good pumpkin flavor as well.  After they're all gone, I thought about the whoopie pie/sandwich cookie idea.  Oh, well.  I guess I'll just have to start another batch!

from My Baking Addiction Blog

2 1/3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp black pepper
8 Tbs butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar, for rolling                                

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and pepper.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar, molasses, and pumpkin puree and beat for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until the flour and spices disappear. If flour remains in the bottom of the bowl, mix the last of the dry ingredients by hand to avoid over beating. You will have a very soft dough.

Divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Freeze for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The dough is sticky, so the longer time it can chill the easier it is to work with.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the sugar in a small bowl. Working with one packet of dough at a time, divide it into 12 pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. Roll the balls in the sugar and use a the bottom of a glass to press down on the cookies until they are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Transfer to cookie sheets. Do not over crowd.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12-14 minutes, or until the top feels set to the touch. Remove baking sheets from the oven. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on the sheets before transferring them to a cooling rack.  Repeat with second batch of dough.

Meatless Mondays: Spicy Stir-fried Cauliflower

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Happy December!  Did you have a good Thanksgiving?  So, today's recipe is a nice, lighter and vegetably offering that will likely stand in stark contrast to everything else you've been eating.  I saw it a while ago on Pioneer Woman's website and since I've had this 1 or 2 year long love for cauliflower, I decided to try it a couple weeks ago.  It's a keeper!


Since the cauliflower stands up well to heat, it still retains a nice bite to it that sort of mimics the texture of meat.  Not that you will fool your tastebuds, but it's a nice texture and flavor.  I really believe the secret to vegetarian or vegan dishes, though, is not to sub in a vegetable for meat and expect the same result.  You will 100% of the time be disappointed if you're expecting the flavor of chicken, shrimp, or beef, and you're eating cauliflower or beans or whatever.  The secret is instead to prepare the vegetable in such a way that it is the star and not a stand-in.  This dish does a really good job of doing just that.  The cauliflower has a good amount of fiber, so it's filling, and when paired with a grain, such as quinoa or rice, it's a good meal in and of itself.

Being a stir fry, this is a quick and easy to prepare dish, so you can have this meal in about 15 minutes, not counting the time it takes you to cook your grain.

Spicy Stir-Fried Cauliflower
from the Pioneer Woman

serves 2

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
2 tsp. vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb. soy sauce
1 lime, juiced (or about 1-2 Tb Rice Vinegar)
2-3 green onions, sliced thin
1 Tb. Sriracha or hot sauce

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add the oil, then the cauliflower and garlic. Stir the cauliflower around the pan, allowing it to get very brown in some areas. Cook for 3 minutes, then turn heat to low. Add soy sauce, squeeze in the juice of the lime, and add most of the sliced green onion, reserving the rest for serving. Stir and allow to cook for 1 minute, then squeeze the hot sauce over the cauliflower. Stir until the hot sauce has been incorporated. Add a little more hot sauce if you want a deeper color and flavor.
Serve hot in a bowl. Sprinkle extra sliced green onions on top, and serve with a lime wedge.

For a more filling meal, serve with 1 cup quinoa or rice.


Orange Pumpkin Cloverleaf Rolls

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I realize that there are probably 835 other things you need to do before you worry about making your Thanksgiving bread from scratch, but allow me to make the case for these rolls.

These rolls were a big hit at my family's Thanksgiving dinner last year.  They're bready and a nice accompaniment to the turkey and other sides, but they're lightly flavored with orange and pumpkin, so there's this depth of flavor and even brightness you don't get with most other rolls.  In other words, they will stand in for the average dinner roll and raise the flavor stakes about 300%.  

If you're used to making breads, these are easy.  Heck, even if you're not used to it, you should be able to follow the recipe and end up with no problems.  I use a stand mixer to knead my dough, and these can be made ahead of time and frozen for later use.  

Orange Pumpkin Cloverleafs
from Gourmet Magazine

3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted, divided
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (from a 1/4-ounce package)
1/4 cup warm milk (105–115°F)
1 tablespoon mild honey or sugar
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus more for kneading and dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup canned pure pumpkin
2 large eggs, divided, plus 1 yolk
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon water

Butter muffin cups with 1 tablespoon melted butter.

Stir together yeast, warm milk, and honey in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)

Mix flour, salt, pumpkin, 1 whole egg, yolk, orange zest and juice, and remaining 5 tablespoon butter into yeast mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a soft dough forms. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead, dusting surface and your hands with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is elastic and smooth, 6 to 8 minutes. Form dough into a ball.

Put dough in an oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Roll half of dough on a lightly floured surface with lightly floured hands into a 12-inch-long log (keep remaining half covered with plastic wrap).

Cut log into 6 equal pieces, then cut each piece into thirds. Roll each piece into a 1-inch ball by cupping your hand and pushing dough against work surface as you roll in a circular motion. Put 3 balls side by side in each of 6 muffin cups.

Make more rolls with remaining dough in same manner. Cover rolls with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until dough is about 1 inch above rim of muffin cups, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Whisk together remaining egg and water and brush on tops of rolls. (You will have leftover egg wash.)

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer rolls to a rack and cool at least 20 minutes.

recipe note:
Rolls are best the day they’re made but can be frozen (cool completely, then wrap well) 1 month. Thaw, then reheat on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven until warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.

Retro Thanksgiving: Sweet Potato Balls

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Did you have sweet potato balls in your Thanksgiving traditions past?  Not the most flattering name, mind you, but these were at my grandmother's house every Thanksgiving as far back as I can remember.  At some point my aunt started making sweet potato casserole, and the sweet potato balls faded into obscurity.  

As a kid, I didn't entirely love sweet potato, and I absolutely hated coconut, but somehow this dish was something I looked forward to every year.  If I'm really honest, I think it was the marshmallow inside.  Yes, I said a marshmallow.

I'm guessing that me making and posting this dish is pretty much fate, because I hadn't eaten or thought about sweet potato balls for years, and then for some reason last week I did think about them, and then I saw a recipe from David Leite for something similar, but deep fried.  No, thanks.  I then Googled it and found today's recipe from Paula Deen.  It's the same beloved idea, but a bit updated with a flavorful orange twist. 

These are really tasty, easy, and they waddle down that fine line between side dish and dessert.  Oh, and the coconut mixed with cinnamon and sugar?  What falls off during baking becomes this coconutty soft candy.  Enough said.

from Paula Deen

serves 6-8

4 large sweet potatoes
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Large marshmallows, 1 large per sweet potato ball (about 8 total)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Bake the potatoes until tender, then peel and mash them. Stir in the brown sugar, orange juice, zest and nutmeg.

In a separate bowl, toss the coconut with the sugar and cinnamon. Press mashed potatoes around each marshmallow, creating a 2 to 3-inch diameter ball. Roll the balls in the coconut mixture. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Watch carefully for the last few minutes of cooking; the expanding marshmallows can cause the potato balls to burst open.

Notes
  • I had 3 large sweet potatoes and still got about half a dozen balls out of it.  
  • Next time I will cut back a bit on the sugar, and even just a bit on the orange juice.  It was very good, but cutting back on the two will make it a little more savory.  

Egg Muffins

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As the holiday season (i.e. Season of Eating) has kicked off, we often find ourselves trying to do what we can to avoid or offset the dreaded holiday weight gain.  We go from Halloween candy to turkey and sides, to Christmas parties.  Some of us throw all caution to the wind and just enjoy ourselves, while others try sort of crazy quick fixes, and then of course there's the rest of us, who just try to find that balance between indulgence and temperance.


While I can't offer a one-dish-solves-all solution to your efforts, I can offer you this breakfast.  It's quick, easy, and very customizeable.  Known as egg muffins, these crustless mini-quiches or mini frittatas are a great make-ahead breakfast that are a good source of protein and are low carb.  These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and do express the minimal nutritional knowledge possessed by the writer.  Is that an OK disclaimer?

I made these for the first time last week, after perusing my Pinterest breakfast board for a breakfast item that would be quick and nutritious and a little bit of a departure from my normal breakfasts.  They are good for making ahead and storing in the fridge or freezer.  Reheat 1-3, depending on your appetite, for a nice breakfast.  I enjoyed them, Drew enjoyed them, and they will likely become a fairly regular item in the Givens household, especially on those mornings when you need a quick, grab and go breakfast.  

Egg Muffins
adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen

To fill a standard egg tin, about 12 egg muffins

10 eggs, beaten
Salt and Pepper
1/4 cup half and half (optional)
3/4 cup grated cheese- I suggest cheddar
1/2 bunch (4 standard size) green onions, sliced thin, white and green parts (can use about 1/4 cup diced yellow onion if no green onion)
1 1/2 cups assorted other ingredients, such as small diced bell pepper, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, and spinach, sauteed or sweated (optional)
1/2 lb breakfast sausage or bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled (optional)


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Well oil or line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.  If you have not already done so, saute or sweat your veggies of choice except for the sliced green onion.  Beat your 12 eggs with about 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt and several grinds of pepper, as well as the half and half.

Place your onion, vegetables, meat and cheese into the wells of the muffin tins and then fill about 3/4 of the way with the egg mixture

Bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes (varies on oven) or until the eggs are just set.

Notes

  • Learn from my mistakes.  Oil or line your muffin tin if it is not "non-stick."  Even if it is, it's still not the worst idea.  I spent FOREVER cleaning out that tin.
  • These work in mini muffin tins too- baking time is shorter
  • The base of this muffin is the egg.  All other add-ins are optional.  What else might you try?  Olives?  Jalapenos?  Feta Cheese?  I had a combination- some contained cheese, greens, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and sausage, while others had just cheese and slow roasted tomatoes
  • These are good, and I loved that I can store them in the fridge or freezer and reheat them.  I am not completely convinced that they're at optimum, but I could have overbaked them or maybe they need a little more to be perfect textured.  Either way, they're pretty good.