Friday, September 23, 2011

Cookie-Press Orange Spritz Cookies

Did you know that children's TV channels often advertise things that are not geared toward children as well as things that are annoyingly interesting to children? I don't mean just toys, Skechers, and movie advertisements. I mean stupid thing like aluminum wallets and bacon-cooking devices for the microwave.

First, ages ago, Eric was enthralled with the Baby Bullet.  Are you familiar with the Magic Bullet blender/food processor? Well, this device is the same thing aimed at mothers who would want to make baby food from scratch.  Eric insisted that I needed one to make healthy food for his baby sister. (I did not buy this already owning two food processors, a blender, a manual baby food mill and no desire to spend more $$$.)

Shortly, actually perhaps a year later, he saw a puppy house-training pee pad. Since we had just brought Topaz home and he was having serious issues with going everywhere we didn't want him to go, all the time, Eric insisted that we needed one. (I didn't buy that either. I just made sure the doggie got lots of time outside.)

The latest TV commercial to catch Eric's attention is a cookie press, the Cookie Factory as he calls it (not the real brand name). Conveniently, I inherited a very old cookie press from Gram.  After she had passed. I sifted through piles of kitchenware in her basement. So to Eric's delight, I pulled Gram's cookie press from the cabinet. For months since then, he's been begging to make cookies.

Last night, I had both kids in the kitchen as I mixed the dough and I fumbled with press. Did you know it's harder than it looks to make nice, even, flat, extruded cookie dough? It was easier to make the shaped cookies like the swirly flower. Gram's press had some pretty interesting shapes. I used the swirly flower and the grooved bar for this, but it also had a spade, club, camel, puppy, sun, Christmas tree, among others.

Anyhow, it was a start. Both Eric and Haley were giggling and poking at the dough as I tried to squirt it onto the cookie sheet. They soon lost interest in the process and ran off to play.  By the time I ran out of dough, I had figured out how to turn the press crank and lay long ribbons of dough on a cookie sheet.

After they had cooled and we started eating them, I realized that these cookies are a lot like the Danish butter cookies in a blue tin that you can find everywhere around Christmas-time here in the US. If you want to duplicate those, you may want to sprinkle some decorative sugar crystals on top of some shaped into pretzels or fluted rings. Otherwise, they are tasty just plain.

Spritzgeback Ingredients
1 1/3 cup softened salted butter
1 egg yolk
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine all ingredients and beat with an electric mixer or with a wooden spoon. Beat until well mixed.

2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is cool, up to 1 hour.

3. Put dough into the cookie press tube. Try to get it smooshed in evenly because this will make it squeeze out more evenly.

4. Press/squeeze/turn the crank to extrude cookie dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. If you're doing ribbons, use a knife to score across about every 2" down the ribbon. If you make individual cookies, you can place dollops about 1" apart. They won't spread out very far.

5. Bake at 350F about 11 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. For ribbon cookies, use a knife to re-cut where you scored them while still warm on the cookie sheet.

6. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Easy All-Butter Vanilla Buttercream Frosting and Filling

Sometimes I find myself very disappointed with cakes when I buy them from bakeries and grocery stores. They just taste like they are loaded with artificial flavors, preservatives, and who knows what kind of fat is in there.

I know butter is not the best thing for heart health, but at least it's natural. And it tastes so good! Sometimes I do use a combination of shortening and butter, but that is when I decorate the exterior with piping and it needs to set up firm and hold well. Using only butter here, makes this work well as filling too.

No, I don't use egg in my buttercream. I know some recipes call for egg, but honestly I don't want to worry about salmonella contamination every time.

You should get about 3-4 cups of frosting from this recipe.

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
4 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (clear if you want it really pure white)
2-4 Tablespoons milk

1. With an electric mixer, beat the butter until really creamy. Add vanilla extract. Mix.

2. Add one cup of powdered sugar and beat until combined. Repeat until the powdered sugar is all mixed in, using one cup additions.

3. Add 2 T milk and mix. Scrape down the sides and mix again. Beat on medium or high to get it fluffy and light.

4. If you want it thinner, add a little more milk. If you have a very delicate cake, thinner icing will spread easier. I like to use an offset metal cake decorating spatula to get it nice and smooth.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rustic Tomato Sauce for Polenta

I picked up this recipe from my hubby's grandmother. The first time I had polenta, I couldn't believe how good the sauce was. 

I have made a few small changes to her recipe, but it's pretty much like hers.  I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned. I chose Roma tomatoes, since they are plump and sweet, and a few vine-ripened regular tomatoes. They cooked down nicely. Make sure to use regular onions. As much as I like sweet onions, they don't taste right in tomato sauce like this.

I was too starved for dinner to make my polenta formed and toasted, so I scooped it into bowls, added some of the sliced meat, then poured about a ladle-full of sauce on top.

It was fantastic! This sauce it worth the effort.

One more thing, I have heard from dear hubby that this is also great made with wild birds instead of chicken. Since hunting season is coming up, I will have to wait and see if he brings home any chukar or sage hen for me to cook up.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 pork shoulder steak, about 1lb
1 large white onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 tomatoes, mostly Roma, some on the vine
3 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
7 stems chard, stems removed, leaves chopped (I used rainbow chard)
1/3 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
1 8oz can tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt, black pepper, dried red pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, begin your sauce by cooking onion, celery, garlic, chard, sage, parsley, thyme together until they start to cook down. This should take about 10-15 minutes.

2. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot. Let it come to a boil, and continue a low boil for about 10 minutes.

3. Add the tomato sauce, wine, and season to taste with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Let simmer about 30 minutes.

4. Season the chicken and pork with salt and pepper. In a separate frying pan, heat the olive oil then brown the pork and chicken.  They should be mostly cooked through.

5. Add meats to the tomato sauce. Make sure they are submerged. If not, add the water, stir, and poke the meat into the sauce so it is covered by the sauce.  Cover the pot with a lid and let simmer at least1 hour. I let this go for about 1.5 hrs. The flavors turn out better and the sauce thickens more when you aren't in a hurry.

6. Remove meats and slice up. 

7. Serve sliced meat over polenta with the tomato sauce on top.