Friday, November 23, 2018

(Edible) Cookie Painting 101 - and Week 3 of Giveaways!

I realize that we just got past Thanksgiving, and so eating anything - let alone Christmas cookies - may not be what a lot of us are thinking about. But, that said, "just past Thanksgiving" is the perfect time to start on Christmas cookie baking. This is especially true if some of the cookies in your Christmas cookie repertoire are sugar cookie-type cookies that can hold up to a little "drying" time.

And, while our kitchen at home can be a little small for this kind of work, the kitchen at my parents' house in South Dakota has a huge table and plenty of room. (Though the lighting can be a bit iffy, as you're about to see.)

Speaking of homes... You've probably heard about the massive wild fires out in California. This is the GoFundMe site for my nephew's girlfriend's stepbrother. He's a firefighter out in California who lost his own home while fighting the fires. It would be great if you could help them out as we near the Holidays:
The link to their GoFundMe site is here: Local Firefighter Family Loses Home.

And, as usual, though I'd love it if you wanted to make a donation to them (or to the other two funding sites I've featured in the past two weeks - for Kara or Derek), just by sharing this blog post (and letting me know you've done so) you can be entered into a drawing to win a plate of cookies in the mail from me.

Thanks, in advance! Now, back to the cookies...

This technique for cookie decorating can really work on pretty much any cookies. We, obviously, have always used it on rolled and cut-out sugar cookies. You could use some of the store-bought dough for this, if you have some that you like. Or you could use it on gingerbread. (Or - heck - you could do it on the top crust of a pie.) The main thing is that you're going to want to do it on something that needs to be baked because of the whole raw egg situation.

For me, I start by making rolled sugar cookie dough, which needs to chill for a bit. Then, you need to separate some eggs - you're mainly interested in the yolks for this, so you can set the whites aside for a meringue later (or you can just combine everything again when you're done and make a multi-color omelette).

I start by putting a few drops of the colors in. (This is a good time to let your inner kid out and go a little heavy on the color.)
As you can see, we're using basic drop-style coloring. Nothing fancy.
The yolks can be a little thick (as can the white), so I usually put a few drops of water into each one. (Literally, like 5 drops - but if you go overboard it won't hurt anything.)
Yes, I add color to the yellow one, though I guess you wouldn't really need to.
Here's the first of multiple photos where I was thinking "I should have figured out better lighting" - but it also shows what you get once you beat the eggs a bit.

Next, of course, you need some cookies to paint - and something to paint them with.
Yep. I use cheap "art" paint brushes. I mean... you don't want them to be too cheap, because the brush hairs will come out, but you don't have to spend the money to get any kind of fancy patisserie-grade ones. 
I've been doing this for years, so I kind of feel a little zen about it. It's a great way to focus on something while everyone around you is kind of swirling. (Typically, in fact, these are the final cookies I bake. It's kind of an extended sigh of relief as I put them into the oven.)

And, yes, I feel that way even when working on these with my niece and nephews (and siblings).

I'm a big proponent of painting each one as it feels right. So some of them get fully coated, while others just get suggestions. 
Yes, this is how I spend at least an hour or so every Holiday season.
Consider, though, that the more "paint" that is on the cookie, the glossier it will be when it comes out of the oven.
After a quick look at them all, I'm almost ready to put them in the oven.
Pretty much every time I do this, I find something that I want to add to just before the cookies go into the oven.
In this set, I added some extra paint on a few of them. 
My one caution: If you get too much "paint" on them and it spills over onto the pan, it can be a little hard to remove from the un-greased pan. It's not a big deal, but I felt I should mention it.
One last glance before they go into the oven...
It may seem strange, but I tend to paint one color at a time. That way I don't have to put the brush down. (And, when painting with others, I can keep that one color until I feel like I'm done with it.) (Does that make it too obvious that I was the youngest in the family growing up?)

As I add colors, I kind of just go with what feels right - partially planned, partially haphazard.

By the third color, things are taking shape.

At the fourth color, we've reached the end... sort of.
Can you see how I layered blue over the yellow in the middle one on the left? As the first colors dry, you can paint over them. 
But, how do they look when they come out of the oven? 

If you get a bit closer up, you can see how they turned out.
Lots of paint = lots of gloss
Egg whites = slightly blotchy color. (But is it blotchy or lace-like?)
The minimalist ones are also cool - although they leave a bit more to the imagination.

And that second pan?

I really like these cookies, I have to admit. But the time that they take does make them something I pretty much only make once per year (though I have made them at other times - adding in colors like purple and orange).

How did they turn out?

Personally, I think they'd be a great way to personalize a plate for Santa - if you can make enough to save some for him.

Thus, we enter into the Holiday season - and the brightly colored chaos that comes with all of it.

And - if you're feeling thankful for your Thanksgiving and checking your Christmas shopping lists, please consider helping out the folks listed above and their GoFundMe pages. (Even if you can't donate, just sharing their stories could make a huge difference.)

Thanks for all you're doing!
*Disclaimer: I'll be trying to draw a winner each week before the next post goes up. Everyone who shares the post in a way that I can track it (or who lets me know that it's being shared) will be entered into the drawing for the plate of cookies (shipping within the US, only). One entry per share, so feel free to share multiple times. No extra entries for making a donation to the fundraising pages, but don't let that stop you. 

**Week Two's winner is actually two people, because one shared the Week One post, and one shared the Week Two post! Michelle M. from Minnesota and Erin L. from North Dakota will both be getting cookies in the mail as soon as I make my next batch of cookies (which, this time of year, could be at any moment)!

Friday, November 16, 2018

"Bok Choy" Salad - and week 2 of giveaways!

I realize that, considering how much time I spend baking, it would seem like this is the perfect time of year for me to be going to town with recipes for baked goods.

So, of course, I'm going for a salad this week.

Don't forget! As with last week, anyone who shares this post via social media - and tags me in it somehow so I know the share has happened - will be entered into a drawing to receive a plate of cookies in the mail!

Also, in the spirit of giving - and giving thanks - this month, I'm featuring funding pages for people I am somehow connected to. This week, it's a fundraising site for a college friend and his son who is fighting cancer:

The link to the giving site is here.
(If you think your friends would prefer to see the Brownie Bites post, you could also share that this week - sharing either one will get you into this week's drawing!)

Now, back to the food...

I had every intention of this being a good photo-by-photo salad-making event. And I started out that way. See?

The washed out stuff on the left of the photo is three packs of sliced almonds.
But, umm... I kind of got my timing wrong, and thought that it was an hour earlier than it actually was. Which meant that we had to hustle to get to where we were going - the event for which we were making the salad.

Now, here's a photo of the recipe:

You may have noticed - if you compare the recipe to the top photo - that I doubled the ingredients. That's because I was making this for a crowd at a Friendsgiving event.

You may also have noticed that it says that this is supposed to be a Bok Choy salad. But the first few times I made it I kept buying the wrong thing. And then I got used to having the Chinese Cabbage version.

And I liked it.

So that's what I use.

Here's a photo of that cabbage with the green onions:

Of course, the things that make this recipe are the toppings. On top of the greens, you get this (possibly warm) crunchy, nutty topping with a sweet/tangy/salty dressing.

A prep note worth making note of: It is much easier to crush up the Ramen noodles while they are still in their bags than once they're out in the wild. This keeps everything contained - no shrapnel under the fridge or in your eye.

All of the "to be cooked" ingredients go into a big sauté pan (oh - remember - I doubled the recipe), and while that is coming to temp and getting all warm and cozy smelling, you can put together the dressing.

You know I'm all about honesty, here, and I would normally have shown you all of the pouring of ingredients, but the time was beginning to tick away and so Christopher was pouring while I was running around and getting things ready to pack up and leave. (This includes making sure that the Brownie Bites we featured last week were plated and secure.)

Interestingly, we found that if you run out of rice wine vinegar in mid-recipe you can use white wine vinegar for the balance.

We also used soy sauce packets from delivery to supplement our bottle of soy sauce which was about 1/4 cup short.

All of that goes into a bottle of some kind so that you can shake it up when it's time to use it.
We usually use a pint-sized jar, but a pint-sized jar is too small for a double recipe, so this went into a freebie water bottle from work - which happened to be tinted gray, so this looks a bit ominous.
(Is that showing up centered on your screen? On mine, the photo is on the left and the caption is on the right. Weird.)

Back on the stove, things were doing great. I mean... doesn't it toast up and look beautiful?
Okay. Yes. This photo is from when it was already off the stove - the towel would not have survived on the burner.
Unfortunately, when I went to stir it, I found that I had left it on the heat a little too long and parts of this had gotten a tad dark brown. So, before packaging it up for transport, I did a quick "sorting" to get rid of the darker bits.

This is when I should be showing you the glorious plated photo. And I thought I had taken one when we delivered the salad to Friendsgiving. But when I opened my photos to upload it, all I found was this:

Yes, that's the salad in the upper-left corner of the photo. You get the idea, though, right? It's a base of greens with crunchy topping and then a sweet/salty dressing.

Let me summarize...

Though Thanksgiving is next week, I'll be back with Week 3 of the giveaway - as well as another fundraising page.

Thanks for all you're doing to help share these stories!
*Disclaimer: I'll be trying to draw a winner each week before the next post goes up. Everyone who shares the post in a way that I can track it (or who lets me know that it's being shared) will be entered into the drawing for the plate of cookies (shipping within the US, only). One entry per share, so feel free to share multiple times. No extra entries for making a donation to the fundraising pages, but don't let that stop you. 

**Week one's winner was Jennifer S. from out in Maryland! So as soon as I make my next batch of cookies (which, this time of year, could be at any moment), a plate of them will be on their way to her!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Brownie Bites - and a giveaway (finally!)

Happy November!

I've got to admit that I was a little stressed before last week's elections, which is a large part of why I didn't post last week. I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the world, and wasn't sure how to either put that into words or do something about it.

My first thought, obviously, was baking, but that only gets you so far. (Even when it turns out as adorable as this.)

I mean... There's just *so* much going on that it's hard to focus on anything. So I took some time to kind of unplug for a couple of evenings, and came up with a plan that combines baking, that giveaway I keep thinking about, *and* something that we can all do. 

Let me explain: 

So, that makes sense, right? Beginning with this post, each of this month's blog posts will include not only a recipe but also a link to a GoFundMe page that is not mine, but that I've heard of through one way or another. And - in the week following the posting (so, from today - 11/10 - through next week's post on 11/16 or 11/17, for instance), each person who shares the blog post with that week's GoFundMe page in it will be entered into a drawing for the chance to receive a plate of cookies in the mail from me.*

With that in mind, in case you're not interested in the Brownie Bites, and want to cut to the chase with Kara's GoFundMe page, the link is here: Help Kara Walk Again.

Remember: Every time you share this blog post via social media in some way that I can be notified - by forwarding my original Facebook post, Tweet, or Instagram image related to it, for instance - you'll be entered into this week's drawing for a shipment of cookies. (If you share this directly from the blog, I'm not sure that I can track it. So maybe just put a message at the bottom letting me know you did.)*

Now, to the Brownie Bites. 

I started making these mini brownies a number of years ago. I was trying to figure out a "tidy" way to serve brownies. And this was - oddly enough - before all of the grocery stores had started putting out mini desserts. So it seemed really revolutionary to me. And - even though they're kind of omnipresent these days, I still really like them. 

You can make them from scratch (like from the 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook): 

Or use a mix (my favorite is the Ghirardelli mix you can get at Costco): 

Or you could even just buy mini brownies from your local grocery store. 

If you're baking your own, I highly recommend not using muffin papers, but instead using a spray that has some kind of flour-type ingredient in it. I really like this one: 

And, to make them more interesting, you can add some fun frosting. I've been in kind of a cream cheese frosting mood, lately, so I did some online research and found out that there are basically four ingredients in a chocolate cream cheese frosting: cream cheese (duh), butter, powdered sugar, and cocoa. 

Amounts varied across all of the recipes I looked at, so I went with my gut and worked toward what felt good - both from a recipe standpoint and from an actual "feel"/texture standpoint. 

I started with 8 ounces of softened cream cheese and 4 ounces of softened butter. I creamed those together...

Then I added a half cup of cocoa. 
I added this before the powdered sugar because I knew I wanted to have that much cocoa, and I wanted to be able to adjust the density of the frosting by using more or less powdered sugar - not more or less cocoa. 
Next came the powdered sugar. This was a little bit of a guessing game, because I wanted to be able to pipe the frosting, so I didn't want it too stiff. But I also wanted it to hold up and not just ooze everywhere. 
The initial mixing was not looking promising - I think the dairy ingredients weren't warm enough.
I worked my way up to two cups of powdered sugar. This gave me an okay consistency, and yet the frosting was still a little tart from the cream cheese. 

Christopher did a quick taste test for me at this point, and because the frosting was a little "flat" - as well as being just a bit grainy - we reached for half a teaspoon of an old standby:

Which, after a good beating (I think I should have used a mixer, honestly), gave us this silky consistency:

Next step: Getting the frosting onto the brownie bites. 

For this, I turned to one of my oldest, best, kitchen friends: the Mirro Decorating kit and its 6 possible decorating tips. 

I chose the one in the upper left, because it is the larger of the two star tips, and I wanted to put a decent amount on each brownie.

I have no action shots of filling the tube or putting the frosting on the brownies, in part because I was using both hands to do each of those things. These are pretty basic steps, though. You put the frosting in through the plunger end, and then you use the plunger to extrude (yeah - probably should have thought of a better-sounding word for that, sorry) the frosting. Each filling of it probably frosted about 8-10 brownies. 

Here's the only shot that I have from that process:
Yeah. I said the gun made it easy - I didn't say I was perfectly tidy!
And, when all was said and done, that batch of frosting covered about 6 dozen mini-muffin-sized brownie bites (in the span of about 10 minutes - not including prior baking time, obviously).

At this point, I feel that I should remind you that there is a giveaway going on but - more importantly - for the rest of the month I'll be sharing some important fundraisers that you can get involved in. Remember: You don't need to make a donation to be included in each week's giveaway drawing, you just need to share this post in a way that I can know about it.

And, again, this is the GoFundMe page for this week, and you can get to it via the link in the caption:
Help Kara Walk Again
Kara is a friend of mine from college whose calling in life is to serve others through nursing - but also through just being a really good person. She's the kind of person who learns a foreign language just so she can speak to an elderly patient who doesn't know English. She honestly feels bad when she doesn't donate to someone asking for help on the street. And she just wants to be able to afford surgery on her hip so that she can walk without pain so that she can continue to lead her best life. (Her full story is on the GoFundMe page: Help Kara Walk Again.)

Donate if you can. Share whether you can donate or not. (And if you share via my social media, that's what'll get you into my giveaway drawing.)

(Fair warning: If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I'm not great with tech. So please be as obvious as possible when sharing. If you share directly from my Facebook feed, tweet, or Instagram posting, I should be able to tell, but feel free to tag me in those shares just to be sure. And if you share directly through Blogger, just let me know so that I can make note.)*

Did they taste as good as they look?

I hope you're staying warm and cozy wherever you are - and thanks for helping to spread the word for Kara's sake!

Finally an excuse to use these tiny sauce bowls for baked goods!
*Disclaimer: I'll be trying to draw a winner each week before the next post goes up. Everyone who shares the post in a way that I can track it (or who lets me know that it's being shared) will be entered into the drawing for the plate of cookies (shipping within the US, only). One entry per share, so feel free to share multiple times. No extra entries for making a donation to the fundraising pages, but don't let that stop you.