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Friday, May 31, 2013

Graduation Cookies

I made a little over 6 dozen graduation cookies this past week.  The entire endeavor took about 6 days...a day of baking, another day of baking and making royal icing, a half day of preparing 12 bags of royal icing in various consistencies and colors (at the time I was thinking I'd be decorating Memorial Day cookies too...but those only got base coated and I gave up on them to finish the cookies that needed to be shipped).  The rest of the days were spent decorating, drying, balancing family time, putting on another layer, more drying... and it was very humid.  I had 3 fans going almost the entire time.
It was a labor of love!

Shipping cookies has not been successful for me in the past.  My poor kids and grandkids have received cracked and crumbled cookies when I have tried sending via US Postal Service.  This time, I bubble -wrapped the heck out of them and put them in a larger box.  Mission fairly accomplished. I have heard from both of the moms now.  One batch had only 1 cookie broken...the skinny #1 in the number series 2013.  The other mom reports 4 cookies broke...a tassel on one of the caps, one of the diplomas, and 2 stars...not bad I guess...but not 100%)...here's a picture my niece sent of the survivors.  I'm hoping for a picture from the other mom too :-)


The survivors for Addison - Lago Vista High School grad 2013 - yay!
Photo by Melanie Wiesman


I made several  large cookies to go on a platter, if desired, and a lot of medium-sized cookies and about a dozen or more minis.  I'm not the best at writing on cookies, but I made the attempt anyway.  The more I did it, the better I got at spacing.  That's my downfall...spacing.  I don't have a KopyKake projector, so it is always free-hand for me.  It's another of those things I need to practice on more!

So, to Addison (my nephew) and Karlie (our dear friend) - congratulations on your graduation from High School, I hope you both have wonderful graduation parties, and I hope you know that our family is there with you in spirit.  Hope the cookies are yummy and you enjoy eating them and sharing them with your guests.

The dark brown ones are Apple Butter Sugar Cookies.  I've linked to a post with the recipe.  The light cookies are Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies - you can see the black vanilla bean seeds in the dough - I like them a lot.  They are also a bit more sturdy for decorating and packing.  The Apple Butter are softer (but also tastier and I like the mouth feel better than the crisp sugar cookie).  The recipe for the Vanilla Bean cookie is below:

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Recipe for World's Best Sugar Cookies
by Laurie Mather

Ingredients:
1 cup salted butter - softened
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 Tbsp Vanilla Bean Paste
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp Cream
1 Egg - room temperature
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Method:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the softened butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg and blend until incorporated.  Add the cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean paste and beat until fully incorporated.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together and add about 1/3 of it at a time to the wet mixture, mixing just until incorporated, scraping down to the bottom of the bowl before the next addition.  The last cup can be mixed in by hand but I usually add it and give it a little pulse or two then turn it out on my counter to insure complete mixing by hand - being careful not to overwork the dough - a couple of kneading mixes is all that's needed.

This cookie dough may be rolled and baked immediately, but I find my edges are much crisper if I divide the dough into two or three portions and wrap in plastic, gently patting flat to prepare for easy rolling.  I put in the fridge for at least 2 hours and more-frequently overnight.  This dough also freezes well when wrapped in plastic wrap and then placed in a freezer bag.  I actually try to keep some in the freezer at all times.

When ready to roll out the dough, let sit on the counter for 5 minutes or so.  Prepare your rolling surface with a light dusting of flour on the counter/surface and the rolling pin.  I bake on a silicone baking mat.  Have your prepared pans at hand.  I roll my cookies to 1/4" thickness and work in small batches to ensure the dough stays cool and firm enough to transfer to the cookie sheet without getting messed up.  If anything sticks to the counter, I slide a floured offset spatula gently underneath to release.  I will re-roll twice with flour and then if I have a lot of bits left (which is almost always), I will roll them between parchment paper and put the parchment paper covered and rolled dough on a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer to firm up.  This keeps the dough in perfect cutting condition.  If you keep re-rolling in flour the cookies get tough and dry.  I freeze my cut outs on the cookie sheet while I'm rolling out the next pan and another pan is baking.  This firms up the butter and the cookies don't spread much at all!  I keep alternating into freezer, into oven, onto rack, cool, remove to rack to continue cooling, roll, cut, freeze, etc... it's a process!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes...if a really large cookie, sometimes it takes 11 minutes to get the light brown color at the base of the cookie.  That's what I'm looking for - no color on top, light brown on bottom edges.  That's perfect.  Once they come out of the oven, I take the pan and sit it on a cooling rack.  I immediately take a fondant smoother and gently "iron" the cookies flat.  This ensures a smooth decorating surface.  I allow them to cool on the pan until cool to the touch.  I use a sharp-edged Wilton cookie spatula to remove them to another cooling rack to finish cooling completely, gently cleaning the edges of any crumbs.

My usual process is make the dough(s) on one day.  Refrigerate overnight.  Bake the cookies the next day and allow to cool all day then put in containers with wax paper between each cookie.  Make the basic extremely thick royal icing batch and let it sit, covered with plastic wrap on the surface, to release air bubbles.  While I'm waiting on that, I write out my plan for each cookie, drawing my idea, identifying the consistencies and colors I need then I go mix and color my icing and place them in piping bags.  I used to only use squeeze bottles...I've gotten away from that and am back to piping bags.  The next thing is to lay down the base coats and leave them to dry overnight under a fan.  Depending on the number of layers, decorating can take 3 days total.  Then, I individually bag all of my cookies.  They stay fresh longer.  It's quite the endeavor.

Unfortunately, I had already bagged up a LOT of the graduation cookies by the time I realized I had no photographs!  I was quite tired and it was Monday night.  I grabbed a few photographs and finished individually wrapping all 6 dozen cookies then wrapped them in bubble wrap and boxed them for delivery to the post office.  Here are the few I photographed!  I think I got a sample of each type of cookie I made...graduation caps, rolled diplomas, some shooting stars, some plaque cookies, a lot of mini and mid size stars, a bunch of scallop-edged rounds and each set had number 2013 cookies in their package...all done in their school colors (or as close as I could get to their school colors).

A basic sampling of the items included in each packet (obviously multiples
of each cookie...except the number set).



I stenciled a few of the cookies (with varying degrees of success).
It was helpful that the two grads had similar school colors!
I talk about this stencil in my post on stenciling
trials and tribulations.  You can click here to
check out that post.

Another cookie featured on my stencil post.  Hopefully,
my fighting Viking, Addison, didn't think it was too girlie looking.
That boy can put away the cookies...I doubt he cares what is on top!!!
I wonder if he will share???  Of course he will...he's an awesome person.

Well, that's all the photos I took.  I can't believe I didn't do more...but I was NOT unpackaging a ton of cookies!  Photos of cello-bag wrapped cookies are never good - too reflective.  I hope the kids love the cookies and, again, Congrats Grads!!!

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Stencil, Stencil, Toil, and Trouble...

This has been another week of experimentation, projects unfinished, and unexpected projects finished.  The Memorial Day cookies never got finished.  I got base coats on them and then I put an extra project on myself that needed to be finished by Monday night...so my husband got to eat the base-coated Memorial Day cookies.  I'm sure he was quite happy about that!

I completed two sets (6 dozen) graduation cookies for a friend and a family member.  Once they receive them, I'll post photos.  I made extra plaque cookies and ran out of decorating time...but I knew I would use them to practice with some of the cool stencils I have acquired as well as some new powdered food coloring I ordered from DesignerStencils.com.  The use of those plaque cookies are the subject of this post.

With anything new, you have trial and error.  I did watch a youtube video from Designer Stencils which described the many ways to decorate cookies using their stencils and other products...as well as pie crusts, cakes, and chocolates.  Unfortunately, I apparently have retention issues!  It wasn't until I was trying to figure out what I'd done wrong that I went back and re-watched the video...head smack...well, there it was...my glaring misconception!

So, I think the easiest thing is to post a picture and underneath, I'll describe what I was going for, and what I ended up with!  Some mistakes are here and some mistakes are in my husbands tummy.

A swirls and stars stencil with royal icing
This was take 3 on using this stencil.  I have used small stencils with royal icing a few times in the past.  I find I do better with the smaller adhesive stencils.  This particular stencil is quite large, so holding it in place while I "troweled" the icing caused me to break the first cookie, smudge the second cookie when the stencil moved, and 3rd time was the charm.  I embellished it with some dots and it actually ended up being part of the graduation cookie package because it was the proper school colors of one of the graduates!

A powdered food color, dabbed on dry royal icing
with a stencil daubing brush on a cookie using a Karen's Cookies Exclusive Cutter
This, too, will be found in the grad cookie packet.  I almost didn't send it because it was the first one I tried using dry food color (which I thought I remembered was okay to do).  I ended up liking the soft look, despite the few streaks caused by the barest stray bit of powder.  There's nothing to really make it adhere...but I think the coastal air was so humid that it allowed it to "set" somehow...and so, I embellished it for the grad with the year and her name and an outline and I liked it...so it's in the package.

Large Scalloped Cutter from Karen's Cookies base coated with RI
and dry powder stenciled with the same "technique" described above
This was the second cookie I stenciled using the powdered food color and a pounding brush.  I was trying to make this orange and yellow but in the end you can't really see the yellow in the photo...it's on the outer edges of the frills and a lot of the embellishment covered up the delicate color.  Also, there was so much excess powder (it was less humid the day I did this) that I ended up sort of "coating" the cookie with a pale orange using a big fluffy paint brush...one that almost looks like a make-up brush.  Again, I know it's not the proper technique...but I liked it anyway.

The same stencil used in picture #1 with a wet technique
using powdered food color made into a paste with vodka
(or you can use any alcohol based clear extract)
By the time I did this cookie, I had gone back and re-watched the videos on youtube and on DesignerStencils.com's web page.  I knew, by this point, that the dry powdered decorating was generally done straight on the dough and it was baked in (duh - that would be why the powder didn't stick well to an iced cookie) and I realized I should be making a paste or paint-like consistency if I was using the powdered colors.  I used, for this blue based cookie, a Crystal Colors brand powdered food color called Poinsettia.  The blue base really deepened the red.  I used a small flat stencil brush with fairly good results for a first attempt.  Again, the large stencil (and my attempts at not getting red food coloring on my fingers) made it difficult to hold the stencil in place...I see some smudges - but not bad for a first attempt.  I had leftover red in my palette so I decided to brush the edge of my cookie which was not iced.  Then, some outline and dots accented it nicely.  I was happy with it...for a first try.

Another of my new Karen's Cookies plaque cutters - stenciled with
Crystal Colors Charcoal and Lime.
This cookie was an attempt at using up some of the leftover green and black piping icing...so I stenciled two colors using an adhesive stencil.  I think it is a Martha Stewart stencil.  I used the powdered color with vodka and made the paste a little thinner this time. Better.  I wanted to make a Thank You cookie for someone...and this didn't exactly turn out the way I wanted but it was a pretty decent stencil job, so I am including it in the post.  If my green icing had matched the green stencil coloring, I'd have been pretty happy with this cookie!  Oh well.

My first ever attempt at painting a "scribble rose"
I had this rectangular scalloped edge cookie with a base coat of blue sitting in front of me waiting for inspiration.  In walks the teen, asking what I was going to do with that cookie.  I said I was thinking about trying to paint some scribble roses.  He, who never shows much interest in my cookie activities, perked up and moved in...suggesting white roses.  I told him I didn't know if I had white food color and, if I did, how it would look with the blue showing through.  I found a small bottle of AmeriColor bright white so added it to my palette.  The first scribbles resulted in a look of horror from my "helper".    I told him they were SCRIBBLE roses.  I did the 5 on the upper right side (just white - and added some vodka to thin it out and make it less startling white) and it just looked wrong.  I let it dry and went off to read some of my book and relax my head and my hands for a bit.  When I went back to it, I knew the white was not going to work for me so I got a bright pink color and used it both diluted and straight up for some shading.  My leaves were then painted with leaf green and lined with forest green, each with a drop of vodka to thin them out. All of this cookie used AmeriColor gel colors.  I used some of the bright pink color and painted a line around the base of the blue and then added my usual dots.  After they dried, I decided I needed a heart, so I used some leftover royal icing.  I also made a shaky attempt at some scrolls by the heart.  It is the bane of my existence that I can't do scroll work.  I need to just get some parchment paper and practice...so far too lazy.  Again, oh well. (When this was almost finished the teen walks in again and informs me that I did it wrong.  He instructed me in how he learned to paint roses...5 years ago as a Freshman in art class.  Now, this is the "child" in a man's body who can't remember to take out the trash, and other daily activities...but he can clearly articulate how to paint a dang rose.  Hmmmm.....)

Another Martha Stewart stencil with royal icing

I though this looked familiar when I pulled out the stencil...sure enough, when I was looking back at the graduation cookie pictures, there it was...I had used it on one of those cookies.  It works very well because it, again, is adhesive and doesn't have a lot of big space to smooth down.  Some dots around the edge and viola!

The last cookie of the day - Martha Stewart adhesive stencil with
black royal icing
As with anything, the more you practice the easier it gets.  By the time I got to this cookie, I had the stenciling down - the right pressure, the right amount of icing...but still, I see several spots where things went awry.  My husband tells me if I would quite pointing out the things that are wrong, most people will just go "oh, pretty cookie" and take a big bite out of it and there go any mistakes - not to be worried about ever again.  I know he's right, but, I also know that my cookie decorating friends are surely seeing the same things I see. My current mantra is a simple "it is what it is" as I try to accept that which I cannot change.  Some days it is harder to live by than others!!!

Thanks for reading along.  I hope you try stenciling your cookies.  You really don't even have to go to the effort of baking...you can turn over a store bought cookie, pipe and flood the flat bottom, and practice on that after it has dried.  For some reason, that would make me happier than practicing on parchment paper.  At least my family would get to eat my learning projects!

If you have any comments or constructive suggestions - I would love to hear them...I do moderate comments, so you won't see them immediately.  I try to reply to all comments!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

7-Up Biscuits

7-Up Biscuits hot from the oven

I saved the 7 Up Biscuits recipe one of my friends posted - it had been repeatedly shared on Facebook. I shared it to my wall (or whatever the heck it's called now) so I could access it easily because they sounded so simple and yummy.  I am not a good biscuit baker.  I don't know why, but I just have issues with biscuits.  They don't rise, they aren't flaky or soft, they are too dense...all kinds of problems likely caused by over-use of egg wash and over working the dough.  I have not, however, tried biscuits from scratch for a couple of years.  Saved this recipe in case I wanted to change my mind. (I know Bisquick base is not baking from scratch - sue me, I don't care - if it doesn't come out of a can I reserve the right to call it baking from scratch)

I've been working on cookies for 4 days now.  Two days of baking, icing preparation, base coats, and the beginning of some of the detail work.  (I still have a lot to go)  When my thin piped lines started consistently breaking this morning I decided I needed a break.  It's Saturday morning (well, okay, it's really "barely" Saturday afternoon...but my husband and son didn't get up until after 11:00...so it's still morning for them - I've been up since 7:30ish).  I decided to make the 7-Up Biscuits in hopes that something that appears quite simple really is!

I'd bought a bottle of 7-Up (because the teen drinks Sprite and I was hesitant to substitute...so 7-Up it was!) and some sour cream...knew I had Bisquick and butter...and that's all there is to it.

My two comments regarding this recipe are:
1.  Sounds easy - makes a freaking mess!
2.  Possibly the best biscuits I've ever eaten - worth the mess!
This was AFTER I had washed my hands
once...and was now patting the remnants
for cutting...you end up with doughy monster hands!

The Facebook post/picture said it was a difficult-to-find recipe.  I'd heard of 7-Up cakes, but never 7-Up biscuits.  I'll share my experience...with some additional steps I found helpful, not mentioned in the original post.


7-Up Biscuits
From Tonja Busch Facebook Post

Ingredients:

4 cups Bisquick Baking Mix
1 cup sour cream (I used regular - not reduced fat)
1 cup 7-Up
1/2 cup melted butter (real butter - it was delicious)

Extra Bisquick for countertop

Method:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

I used a 9x13 glass (Pyrex) baking dish (I've always been told not to bake above 375 in a glass dish but the picture in the post showed them made in a glass dish so I hoped my old-school info was wrong and that I wouldn't end up with an explosion of glass in the oven...which, of course, I did not have).

I placed the stick of butter into the glass dish and microwaved it for two 30-second intervals sitting on the rack, turning dish before second interval.  Remove and let it be ready for you when you get the dough prepped.  It needs to be right next to the dough - it is not a sturdy dough.

Mix Bisquick, sour cream and 7-Up in mixing bowl until the ingredients are a sticky mess. (my words).  Do not over-mix. (NOTE ADDED 5/27/2013...another blogger recommends cutting the sour cream into Bisquick and THEN adding the 7-Up.  If anyone has any suggestions on this method, please comment)
Sticky, sticky dough - in retrospect I might have let
the sour cream come to room temperature.
It was quite hard to mix in evenly

Sprinkle extra Bisquick onto counter top and gently knead and fold dough until coated with baking mix.  Don't over-work.  It's a sticky mess.  Just get to the part where you can gently pat dough into your desired shape (I used a square cutter so I patted into a rectangle).  I tried to dip my cutter into Bisquick to help release it for transfer.  I don't think there's enough Bisquick in the world to make them release easily.  I found it easiest to let the pieces stick to the cutter, pull away the excess, and move the pieces individually to the pan.  You just place them on top of the melted butter.  I ended up with enough remnants to re-pat and cut a total of 13 biscuits (the end two were "half size").  A baker's dozen - nice.
Ready to go into oven - they look a mess - but all turns out well!

As you can see - gunky cutter.
I really appreciate a granite counter top
and a bench scraper when I make this
kind of mess!


Bake for 12-15 minutes or until brown at 425 degrees.  I baked 17 minutes.  I set the timer for 12 minutes - at the 10 minute mark I knew they would need more than that so I added 3 minutes.  Then, they didn't look very brown, at 15 minutes, so I added 2 more minutes...as Goldilocks says, they were "just right" at 17 minutes in my oven, in a glass dish.  Much of the cook time depends on the type of pan you use.  The original post said to use a cookie sheet pan or 9x13 casserole dish.  Baking times for the two of those are really different.  Keep an eye on your biscuits!

The house smelled awesome while they were baking - I could smell the richness of the sourcream and butter and the 7-Up did its' thing by making the biscuits light and fluffy.
You can see the bubbly butter when the biscuits come out of the oven.

I let them sit in the pan on the cool cook top while I fried up some sausage pieces and prepped some fruit for the men.  They came out of the pan very easily with a silicone pancake turner.
All that butter makes for easy release from pan!

Mr. Flip Flop gave the highest compliment..."these taste almost as good as my Mom's".  For Ms. Makes-a-Bad-Biscuit, that was high praise indeed!!!  I literally clapped my hands in glee.

The teen, who doesn't like to try new things, declined biscuits and sausage.  He was leery of the entire "experiment"...who the heck puts soda water in biscuits?  Well, from now on, guess we do!  I brought him a "bite" and encourage him to try it and he, hesitantly and with "a look" did so.  He smiled.  He said "I'll take some!"  Duh...of course he will.

Mr. Flip Flop had his with a berry-blend jam, sausage, and a bowl of watermelon.  He polished off two and went back for two more.  The teen went "no jelly or jam" and had sausage and a bowl of sliced apples (got to get something healthy inside him).  I went for just biscuits and apple butter.  DELISH!  You don't need to butter these biscuits - they have absorbed the entire 1/2 cup of butter in the baking process (and it bubbled up around them, getting the sides as well).  The sour cream also adds enough of that awesome mouth feel to negate further addition of butter.

These are company-good biscuits.  I will be keeping some 7-Up on hand whenever we have visitors or I plan a special breakfast.  These will definitely be part of it from now on!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Protein Soothes My Savage Beasts

Alert!  This is a commentary about my morning, and there are no pictures or recipes.  Just a simple sharing of my morning.



We are not morning people in our household.  I used to be, but I have "devolved".  I am a mid-morning person now :-)

My husband works evenings and my teen-ager has a strange sleeping pattern (just one more strange thing in his life) - both of them sleep as late as possible.  Since I work from home, I tend to wake up a bit earlier than either of them and I enjoy my "alone time" with a cup of coffee, a look at the bay, and maybe a little Good Morning America.

Today, as the result of a very wakeful night with the few sleeping hours filled with strange dreams, I slept mostly from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. - very odd for me!  I was really tired from a day of doing my paid job, deep cleaning my kitchen counters and appliances, shopping, baking cookies and making royal icing in preparation for two projects I have coming up that I was really surprised I didn't fall into a hard and long sleep.   My husband rolled out this morning about 10 minutes after me, just as the coffee was ready.  I'd checked my email and Facebook and was just going for the first cup.  In the very nice rhythm of two people who have lived together a long time, he got down two cups, grabbed the Half & Half and poured some in both cups, I grabbed my sweetener while he put the cream away, and I poured the coffee...we weren't making much conversation but he was wondering why I hadn't had my first cup of coffee yet.

I explained my up and down activity last night (while he gently snored, soundly sleeping) and the memories and thoughts that were eating at my brain.  He, in his wonderfully therapeutic manner, started prompting me to figure out the problem and to tell him my dreams.  I did all of that and drank my coffee, talking, while he checked email and surfed the internet for the weirdness that he enjoys reading.  I have to say, he doesn't really LIKE to talk first thing in the morning and he'd really PREFER not to hear ME talking.  He could tell, however, that I was not "right with the world" today and let me rattle on, processing, to get to the right place. 

At some point in my soliloquy, I realized he was not really paying any attention whatsoever and was beginning to struggle with something computer-based and his face began to look quite irritated.  I asked what he was trying to do and he explained his irritation over things not being the way he thought they should be (a frequent occurrence).  I made some mild suggestions but didn't offer to "do it for him" because he likes to just vent...and since I had spent nearly 45 minutes of his slow-wake-up time yammering, I figured he had the right to vent.  He doesn't want me to fix things...he just wants to be able to bitch about it.  I understand.

He finally got on the phone, as I had mildly suggested, and called an 800 number to ask a simple question.  In the meantime, now that I had discerned from his grumpy self-talk what the problem was, I found the solution fairly quickly.  I tried to talk him through where I found it, he couldn't see it (which made him more irritable) and "loudly" requested I slow down.  So I suggested I come look over his shoulder to help him see what he was missing.  He's a very, very smart man...but he and technology frequently do battle.

I finally realized that his irritability was likely enhanced by his lack of food....probably needed some protein in his system.  He is a carb addict and tends to fill up on carbs...but he needs protein to be centered.  I see it time and time again.  So, I told him I thought maybe he needed some protein and could I make him an omelet or some other protein-based item?  He said an omelet would be great.  Then I kissed him on the forehead.  Bless his heart, while fiercely independent, he sometimes just needs someone to take care of him...that's where I try to step in.

Then, in walks the teen (it's like he knows when he smells butter hitting a pan to hurry into the kitchen).  I ask if he would like some breakfast, and if so, what?  He answers with a desire for breakfast tacos. 

A quick sausage and provolone omelet, and, a sausage and egg breakfast taco later...both of the males in the house are smiling and relaxed.  It's the protein breakfast miracle!

No pictures for the blog (which is a bummer because that was a pretty omelet!), nothing fancy on the plate, but two quite appreciative men in the house. 

I am now centered and ready to start on my projects.  Memorial Day Cookies will be the first project.  I'll see you on the other side!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!



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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lady & The Pit

UPDATE DECEMBER 2014 - 
CLOSED AT THE PORT ISABEL LOCATION - ANNOUNCED MOVING TO BROWNSVILLE - NEVER REOPENED IN RGV.  HEARD OWNERS MOVED AWAY.

I haven't been to a new restaurant in a couple of months so the reviews have been a bit skimpy lately.  I have, however, been hearing wonderful things about Lady & The Pit in Port Isabel and FINALLY I stopped in to give it a try on Friday night.

I am a bit of a BBQ snob as I've mentioned before.  My first job in high school was forced labor working in the pit side of the family Meat Market in Austin.  I wasn't given a choice and I hated smelling like wood smoke at the end of every Saturday....but it gave me a life long appreciation of good smoked meats and yummy sides.

Lady & The Pit lived up to the local accolades - with flying colors I must say!  I only had my cell phone and for that I apologize.  These plates the teen and I had were "picture perfect" and deserved a high quality camera to capture the yumminess.  You'll just have to take my word for it...and my cell phone pictures will give you an idea.
The Pork Rib Plate

I had a pork rib plate with sides of potato salad and some of the best baked beans ever.  The rib meat was succulent and falling off the bone tender...smoked to perfection.  Ooh la la!  I was happy.  BIG, meaty ribs folks.  Delish with a capital D!  When I took the first bite of potato salad I thought "this tastes almost as good as my mom's"....and the baked beans...well, they were worthy of a meal unto themselves.  They taste like "cowboy beans" with the sweet, smoky, meaty flavors I love.  May possibly be the best baked beans I've ever had.  Can you tell I was a happy customer?  Yep, I was.

The teen was not enamored of the previous inhabitants of this space so he was hesitant to try the new business - he didn't like the previous joint's sausage (he's a connoisseur).  HOWEVER, his first words after he tried his first bite were "Mom, this is good sausage!"  and he proceeded to pile up sausage on slices of white bread and ate it with gusto.  His pile of sliced sausage was so big he couldn't even finish it all with the two sandwiches he made.  He said the mac and cheese was quite good too...but he didn't like the beans.  What the heck is the matter with him?  I could have told him he wouldn't...he doesn't like baked beans in general and was expecting the more typical BBQ joint pinto beans.  Lucky me - I got to bring his uneaten serving home.  He could only eat half of his mac and cheese...so I brought that home too!  Saturday lunch will be these wonderful leftovers along with the two ribs I couldn't put down.  I filled my belly with an entire bowl of beans and most of the potato salad and two huge ribs... these are generous plates I tell you!


The Sausage Plate


Also, if you've read my previous BBQ reviews - you know I have to have good sauce.  YES, this is good, thick delicious sauce.  Two thumbs up!

I can't wait to take my husband in - he will enjoy the variety of sides and the generous portions of meat.  The man likes his protein!  I must say thank you to Jackie Wilson - her Facebook photos of the ribs are what drew me in...that and the 100% positive word-of-mouth from all of the locals who have eaten there.  They were 100% keeerect!

I'm so happy to have a really excellent BBQ place in Port Isabel.  Welcome, welcome, welcome Lady & the Pit - you are a fine addition to the offerings on this side of the causeway.  Hooray!!!


SPI FLIP FLOP FOODIE RATING:
(on a scale of 1 to 5)

5 – OMG – that was an outstanding meal!  I can’t wait to go back J

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Three-Kinda-Chocolate Chip Cookies



Yesterday afternoon my son walks into the kitchen and notices a pound of butter out and softening, some vanilla bean paste out, and a few eggs laying on the counter coming to room temperature.  His eyes lit up and he said "what are you making Mom?".  When I said "cookies" - he smiled and asked what kind.  I knew that smile would dim when I said I was decorating cookies...so I decided, instead, on the spot, to make some cookies that the men of the household would pounce on.  They tend to hold off from pouncing on the decorated sugar cookies.  Neither are overly fond of royal icing at this point.

I slid over to my stash of chips and found a bag of chocolate chunks, a 3/4 bag of milk chocolate morsels, and a bag with about 1/3 of it filled with white chocolate morsels.  I grabbed them all and decided to just make a "dump in what I have" cookie!

I've said before, and I'll say again, I like the base mixture of a Toll House Cookie - really, it's hard to beat!  So, you'll notice the basics of this cookie are just that...with a few tweaks that really, IMHO, make it special.

Here it is:

THREE-KINDA-CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Adapted from Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe


Printable Recipe Here

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour (I am a King Arthur flour fan)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (brings a wonderful warmth to the cookie)
1 teaspoon baking powder (Toll House recipe uses baking soda - but I went from memory and didn't check and already had the baking powder out for my sugar cookies...it seemed to work okay!)
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt (I don't use kosher salt in these cookies)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (I use salted butter - usually do, because that's what I grew up with)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp vanilla bean paste (needed a stand-up-to-the-chocolate flavor)
2 large eggs - room temperature
12 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chunks - Nestle Toll House brand
8 ounces Milk Chocolate Morsels - Nestle Toll House brand
4 to 6 ounces White Chocolate Morsels - Ghirardelli brand (I didn't measure and would have been happier with 8 ounces - to equal the Milk Chocolate volume)

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.  I prefer the mats.

Whisk dry ingredients in large measuring cup and set aside.

In bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and both sugars until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, while beating, and then add the vanilla bean paste and the vanilla extract.

With mixer on low, add the whisked dry ingredients about 1/3 at a time, mixing between each addition. Stop mixer to add chips and chunks.

Add the chunks and, on low, mix just until barely combined.  Stop and add the other two morsels and pulse a couple of times to mix gently.  Remove the beater, scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl and gently mix a couple of times with a sturdy spoon.

This batch made 2 dozen that I baked...and I froze twenty balls of cookie dough for later use.  I used a medium size cookie scoop to get that number of cookies.

Bake 12 at a time on the baking sheet and bake 10-12 minutes for a chewy cookie.  For the frozen ones, I will generally bake at 350 for 11 to 13 minutes from a frozen state.  I don't thaw or put in fridge first.  They turn out beautifully straight from the freezer.
Frozen bag of cookie dough balls are great to keep in the freezer.
I allow to freeze on a smaller cookie sheet in the freezer,
then remove them to a freezer zipper bag.
Remove as much air as possible before freezing.
Double bagging won't go amiss! 

The men in the house were very pleased and I notice there are less than a dozen left...that's a good thing!

Dark, Milk, White...a great combination of chocolate with
the underlying cinnamon and vanilla flavors.
Made a really tasty cookie!


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Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Cookie Decorating Experiment

My second attempt at painting a cookie
This week has been "experiment" week.  I have learned many lessons!  Good lessons and "eek" BAD lessons!

I tried using Karen's Cookies Meringue Powder Buttercream this week...I had printed her recipe - but it's been over a year since I watched the video...and I missed some key things this time around...now duly noted on my printed copy. 

1.  Need to measure loose powdered sugar, not packed (I was in a hurry and dug it right out of the bag).  Which follows rapidly with, don't make anything at midnight right before going to bed - the reason "I was in a hurry"!
2.  Those living in more humid areas were advised to use extra meringue powder.  I did not.  Two days of being under the fan and I still have a softness under the crust. (not me, silly, the COOKIES).
3.  Either #2 is in play, or you cannot use food color markers without breaking through Meringue Powder Buttercream. 
4.  Air brushing is different on MPB than on RI...I guess the buttercream aspect makes it slick and much harder to use a stencil.  I wrecked a couple of cookies trying to work that out.  I'll stick to Royal Icing for stenciling and air brushing in my immediate future!  Here's a photo of a couple of the fails (my friends tell me they want to see the fails too - so I am begrudgingly showing the ones that have not been eaten yet - the hubs gets the fails). 

Mr. Flip Flop said (as he was biting into the sister failure of this cookie)
that it looks like a tile - kind of an old tile...he thought I did it on purpose.
In reality, I used an adhesive back stencil (which never has damaged
a RI cookie) and it ripped the crust right off the cookie after
I airbrushed it.  Yikes.

I used a lot of "stuff " to cover up the defects
in this cookie.  The pearl sheen pink air brush color
on a vinyl stencil seemed gummy...and then I touched it...
after I mushed the not totally crusted white base.  This
cookie didn't have a chance.  So, I over-decorated it with
some dots and royal icing ribbon roses I had on hand.
It ended up being "okay" - but a wee bit too busy!


5.  MPB works beautifully for flowers - I have not had much luck with getting my royal icing to an appropriate consistency to hold up well, yet not cramp my hand while piping it.  The blue cookie flower was RI and the orange one below was MPB - you can really see the difference in how they stood up - same tip was used (#102 or #103 Wilton - can't recall which one I ended up with)

Royal Icing flower accented with a RI transfer I made last month

The Meringue Powder Buttercream really held
the shape better although it did not do so well with
the border piping...I used a PME 1.5 tip so I know
it was the icing that was the issue.

I wanted to make some Zinnia's to honor my late sister and they turned out pretty good.  They do, however, have a LOT of icing on them.  Who knows how long it will take for these to dry!!!  I also did some mini leaf cookies topped with royal icing that I had left over in the fridge.  I managed to use up the last of all I had saved via several of these cookies.
MPB Zinnia and RI leaves!


I also experimented with the airbrush (as noted above) and used the technique learned from Montreal Confections wherein one places a piece of lace over the cookie and then airbrushes over it.  I tried it on mini butterfly cookies - they turned out cute!  Was able to do 4 cookies at a time under one piece of lace.  The lace was light enough not to disturb the crust and it cleaned up beautifully after the experiment too.  I went ahead and embellished afterwards - not my best piping, but again, working late at night is not my best time for keeping an even hand.  Note to self...when spraying straight downwards, don't tip the air gun to the point food color runs out onto your cookies - not pretty.  Lots of blue splatter on one cookie...which was eaten before anyone saw the evidence.

Lace Airbrush Butterfly Minis

The larger butterflies were all airbrushed with pink sheen air brush by AmeriColor.  It took a long time to dry.  My completion of the butterflies was at a point where I just wanted to use up some of the colored icing I had on hand.  I actually like the pink,gray, and white theme I ended up with...maybe not so much the blue one - it was a bit "busy"...but...week of experiments, right?


I made some Sea Gulls with fairly basic feathering...couldn't seem to get the perspective right though.  I've seen different Sea Gull cookie cutters - I may have to get one so I'm not making this so hard on myself.

Last, but not least, I took the scary, heart-pounding leap and decorated two cookies by hand painting them.  I am so NOT an artist.  The first one is a better bird, with a kindergardenish sun in the background...the second one the bird's beak is way too big and his legs are too fat...and I messed up by painting yellow into blue...which magically became green (duh)!  I love looking at the blue herons wading in the shallow bay outside my window.  This was my homage to herons.  I need to take an art class - I need help with perspective and simple "how to draw things".  It does not come naturally to me at all!


Well - that's this week's enterprise.  I'll be seeing family this week-end so I hope they are willing to eat the experiments!

All cookies used this week were Apple Butter Sugar Cookies (recipe linked here).  It is a wonderful spicy cookie and is tender to the tooth.  I do bake the large ones a little longer so they don't break - better to be a little hard than too soft when decorating.  My icing was flavored with pure vanilla extract and 1/4 tsp cinnamon extract.  The combo goes beautifully with this cookie.

Thanks for sticking with me, I finally feel like I'm getting back into the swing of baking and decorating after several months of not being able to gather the energy... and that is a VERY good thing!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!



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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dulce de Leche Banana Pie - Take Two!

A couple of summers ago I made a big recipe of Dulce de Leche Banana Cream Pie for a group of friends visiting the coast.  My husband was working out of town and could not join us and I just realized he had never had this pie.  As I searched my brain for a make-ahead dessert for our dinner, it popped into my mind because Cinco de Mayo (which is tomorrow) is always celebrated in our area.  This celebration of Mexican heritage always includes lots of yummy food so I was leaning towards finding something that might fit into such a celebration.  We live only 30 or so miles from the Mexico/Texas border...so we Caucasians are definitely in the minority here, but I try to embrace the culture of the area where I live because they have all embraced our family so very warmly.

I saw Marcela Valladolid make this on Food Network  back in 2011 and adjusted her recipe to suit our family.  This one is more like hers - the one I linked above was enlarged for a crowd!  I'll be serving it for dinner tonight after we get back from the beach - I have a roast in the slow cooker and this pie in the fridge... add some green beans, brown rice, and yeast rolls and our dinner will be a fast fix when we get back!

So, here's the smaller pie version of this delicious dish!


Dulce de Leche Banana Cream Pie Take Two
Adapted from Marcela Valladolid's recipe

Ingredients:

Crust:
Two 3.5 ounce packages of Maria crackers (I used a local store brand)
1 stick salted butter, melted (8 Tbsp)

Filling:
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) butter, room temperature
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
One 13 ounce can Nestle La Lechera Dulce de Leche
3 medium bananas, sliced

Method:

First prepare the crust so it can chill.  Place the Maria crackers in the bowl of a food processor and process until well ground - I had to break a few cookies by hand to finish the process.  I tried to use the small bowl and blade of my KitchenAid food processor, but it wasn't a big enough blade to chop them all up... so I had to change bowls and blades (irritating).

Add the melted butter and pulse until well combined - scrape any butter that gets thrown on the side.  Pour the buttery crumb mixture into a glass pie dish, pressing the crust evenly across the bottom and up the sides with a flat bottomed metal measuring cup - it makes this a very easy process!  I held my fingers at the top of the pie dish so it didn't push up over the edge.  Be cautious not to over-pack the crust or it will be a challenge to cut through it when it is time to serve. 

Refrigerate for 20 minutes to solidify the butter.

Next prepare the cream filling.  I used my stand mixer.  Beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy with minimal lumps.  Add the powdered sugar and cinnamon, whipping at low speed, until combined.  Scrape the bowl with a spatula and hand mix any lumps you still see.  Add the cream to the butter/cream cheese mixture and put on your whisk and whip to soft peaks.  It's a thick concoction so don't expect a texture of whipped cream.

Open your can of Dulce de Leche and get a small offset spatula ready then get your crust out of the fridge to assemble the pie.  Begin by spreading the dulce de leche on top of the chilled crust.  I worked straight from the can and was careful to not "lift" the crust - it works very well with a cold crust and an offset spatula.


Once the dulce de leche is completely covering the bottom of your pie crust (and you have about 1/4 cup still left in the can for decorating the top), peel and slice your bananas, arranging them in an overlapping manner around the pie.  If you really love bananas, add a couple of more and make a double layer.  I kind of wish I had done another layer - I love the bananas in this pie.  

Next spread the whipped cream topping evenly over the banana layer being careful, again, not to pull the bananas up.  Another offset spatula, or even a rubber spatula, works perfectly for this.  

Place the remaining dulce de leche in a sandwich or piping bag and microwave it for just a few seconds until soft enough to squeeze.  Snip a bit off the sandwich bag and drizzle over the top of the pie.  If you don't think it is "drizzly" enough, you can warm the dulce de leche in a small pan on the stove top.  I was in a hurry and didn't get mine soft enough for the thin drizzle I desired.

Refrigerate and chill until set.  Remove from refrigerator 30-45 minutes before cutting - if the butter in the crust is slightly softened it will help the slices release from the pie plate.

This is a deliciously different banana cream pie - I hope you enjoy.  Thank you to Marcela Valladolid for such a wonderful recipe.  Her original version includes peanuts and you may find it on the Food Network website.

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

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