Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tips to Making Fantastic Cookies

My little man "baking." His accuracy is not so good.

My boss at UK always told me that he wouldn't hire a lab tech who couldn't cook. I remember being like. "What?" Of course it made perfect sense,,,, cooking is simply following instructions. A recipe is like a protocol. It's all about measuring, temperature, timing, and doing things in a certain order. Maybe that's why I like to cook so much now. It reminds me of all the lab work I used to do. Ha ha. No really, while I don't miss my job, I did really enjoy the lab experiments. There was something about going through all those steps and then finding out an answer to a question at the end. Of course there were also the times that I would follow about 500 steps for an analysis that would take 2 days to complete and it wouldn't work. Now that was maddening. But my lab has become a kitchen and my experiments have become cookies.

Really dang good cookies.

 I wouldn't say that my cookies are perfect but I've worked pretty hard over the past couple of years at making them pretty close to perfect. I've always been told that baking cookies is hard. I wouldn't say it's hard. Cookies can be a bit...well...kooky, but you just have to know how to work with them. I've compiled my tips to making your cookies be the best cookies they can be.

- Start with the best ingredients. It doesn't have the be the most expensive, but if you don't like the way store brand chocolate chips taste alone, nothing magical is going to happen in the oven to make them taste better. I personally have no problem with store brand chips, but I like the more expensive brands better and will use them if I'm making cookies for some sort of special occasion. Crappy ingredients in = crappy cookies out.

- Kind of along the same lines...invest in some good vanilla extract. I like Spice Islands.

- Get your ingredients to room temperature before beginning. Everything mixes better and your dough will be better.

-I can't say this enough when it comes to anything baked....measure, measure, measure. Don't just willy nilly scoop ingredients out and throw them in the bowl. Crappy measuring = crappy cookies. Use a knife to level off dry ingredients. If the recipe calls for packed brown sugar, be sure to pack it down into that measuring cup.

- Cream the heck out of the butter and sugar. It could take 5 minutes or more. You will get better results if your butter is room temperature. This is when it's handy to have a stand mixer. I usually get it creaming and then start mixing my dry ingredients.

- Even if the recipe doesn't state for you to do so, mix your dry ingredients separately. This would be your flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt. etc. I use a whisk to stir it. This both combines the ingredients and sifts at the same time.

- Don't overbeat your dough once the dry ingredients are added.

- OK, this one is a biggie. Get some parchment paper. I won't bake a cookie without it. Using parchment has made the most improvement in my cookies.

- Invest in a cookie scoop. It allows you to make uniform cookies and it also cuts down the time and mess.

- I always bake my cookies on the middle rack of the oven.

- Unless you are really familiar with a cookie recipe, do no walk away from the oven and leave the cookies at the mercy of a timer. Check cookies often...starting a couple of minutes before the recipe recommends. Once they look a little brown around the edges take them out. Leave them on the hot pan for a few minutes to cool and then put them on a wire rack. If the cookies are already brown all over, go ahead and get them off the pan to a rack. You will want to put some cooking spray on a metal spatula to do this.

I hope this helps ya'll make some awesome cookies. Now, you know I would rather eat the dough, but there is something so nice about a soft, thick cookie.

I have about 500 cookie recipes to post coming up. And I'm picking the worst time to get them ready.....after Christmas no one will be wanting any cookies. We will all be sick of them!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Little Man is a Natural

I have a born equestrian on my hands. I know the picture is kinda crappy. We made lots of trips around the arena last night. He even did a few by himself with me leading and Michael on "balance" duty. But he hardly needed any help staying up there. Spice has a very animated walk so that's saying something. He already has the riding bug. Spice keeps trying to remind me that she is not a "kid horse" and would appreciate it if we would get him a pony ASAP.

I hope you all are ready for Christmas!! I am enjoying being pretty much done with everything. I made some oreo truffles today and Joseph and I spent the afternoon playing with play doh. This was the first he has shown any interest in it. I was so excited. It's been a good day.

Oh, I have a friend who has started a new blog showcasing failed pinterest projects. I think it's going to be pretty great. Check it out at Your Pin Broke.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What a week!!!

And it isn't even over yet!! But I have made it to Tennessee so I expect things to get immensely easier. We will be celebrating Christmas with my mom's family Saturday and then we will celebrate with my parents Sunday night before we head back to Frankfort on Monday. Getting here was no easy task. As you well know, I did mostly crafty gifts this year..and I got most of them done well in advance. That didn't mean they were wrapped in advance. So add that to the to do list for this week along with baking 5 different kinds of cookies...I don't even want to think about the amount of butter I've gone through. Luckily I did get a pretty strenuous workout in this week to offset some of that cookie dough.

Man, I love cookie dough....

Luckily, Joseph, who has been rather clingy and moody lately, decided to be a big boy and entertain himself (at the expense of Smokey) most of the time. He did help do some stirring, and his new thing is putting salt in stuff. He's really gotten interested in cooking...which is good. So, although baking took way longer than usual, it got done without a crying child and/or..well, let's just be real....a crying me. I started making dough on Monday which helped a lot and then baked everything on Wednesday. If you are wondering why, it's that I am giving away cookie baskets. Surprise to those of you reading this that will be in Savannah! Hope you like cookies!!

So, cookies are are made and wrapped..I'm good, right? WRONG. I completely forgot about one person...and they are not the kind of person you can craft Joseph and I were off to shop. Oh and did I mention that Joseph and I had been out running errands both morning and evening for the past few days since Michael has been out of town...what? I didn't mention that I was all alone? I don't see how single moms do it. Those of you with toddlers know that running errands takes about 2 to 3 times as long when you have the kid in tow.

Shelby was out of dog food on Tuesday so we went to get it. He eats special food for dogs with allergies, but I didn't want to go to Petco to get it because then we would be there for a long time while Joseph was hanging with all his animal friends. Luckily, I found some at Tractor Supply. SCORE! I had needed to get Spice a mineral block and some treats anyway.

I finally get home and realize that I don't feed Shelby that kind of dog food anymore (I swear, baby brain never goes away)...I switched him to IAMS....which they don't have at Tractor Supply. So, off to Petco we went right at bedtime (and this was our 3rd trip out in one day). We were there for probably a good half hour, but Joseph was pretty good about telling all the animals "bye" one at a time and then leaving with no fuss. I don't guess I've mentioned how good Joseph has been during all this running around.

So last night at about midnight, I gave up and went to bed. The house was not as clean as I had wanted it to be and I wasn't as packed as I would have liked to have been, but I was walking death at that point. I don't think I had sat down for more than 10 minutes in the past 3 days (except to sleep of course).

This morning, I realized we had no kitty litter. UGH. Do you know how many places I've been in the past week that sell kitty litter?! So I got the house pretty well tidied up, the car loaded (so glad Michael was meeting me at my parents bc there was no room in the car), threw J in the back...didn't even buckle him in...I kid I kid...of course, he was strapped in...and headed to buy some kitty litter...and some blueberries (not related, Joseph just wanted them and then proceeded to eat the entire pint!!). We got home, I threw the litter in the litter box, threw the dogs in the car and said sionara to chaos!!!!

What am I talking about? I am traveling with a toddler...and that toddler is Joseph...chaos is a part of my life now. But he's a pretty cool chaos...and he bought himself a lot of lenience this week since he was so good while I was being a single mom this week. Now I'm just happy to be with family and excited to see even more family and friends during this whirl wind trip.

I hope you are all having a nice calm holiday season...although I know you aren't. I'm going to have one starting now....and if I haven't bought you a gift by now, you aren't getting one...because I am DONE! :)

Oh and get ready for a lot of cookie posts....I'm going to be doing a cookie week hopefully starting Monday!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bacon Cheddar Ranch Pull Bread

This is a horrible picture, I know. The bread was much prettier before it was mostly eaten. I made it for MOPS this week and it was a least from what the ladies at my table said and from the looks of what I brought home. It's super easy and would be great to take as an appetizer to a holiday party. I found it on Pinterest (imagine that) and you can find the recipe here.

Also, if you want to follow me on Pinterest, feel free. I don't mind. I would also love to have more people to follow back. If you aren't on Pinterest yet, don't go is a true time suck. No really, it's pretty awesome and there are some great ideas floating around out there, but will suck you in and you will be pinning for hours upon hours...or minutes upon minutes depending on how busy you usually are.

After feeling pretty crappy the past couple of days, today has been pretty great. I took Joseph and the dogs out to the barn this morning to hang out with Spice. The dogs (and Joseph) came home incredibly muddy and went straight to the bath (one at a time otherwise it would be a very full bathtub!). Joseph even put himself to sleep for his nap which he has not done since he moved to a toddler bed. I've had to rock him to sleep which is much like wrestling a 20 lb bag of snakes for 20 minutes. I've tried to get him to go to sleep on his own but he just sits in there and plays and parties and I end up going back in after a while and rocking him. Today I put him in his bed and told him it was time for a nap and left. He played for a few minutes but he's asleep the glider, not the bed, but whatever. So I have 2 clean sleeping dogs and 1 clean sleeping child. And I'm making another pair of glitter shoes. My productivity is way up from yesterday!!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

 Here are the little monsters all finished!
 They have been Daysie inspected and approved.
 Cute little cross stitches
 This one is for one of my friends who is due the end of the month..if you are reading this, consider this a preview bc i's much cuter in person. Hope to get it out early next week.
 I have been doing these little bear cross stitches for probably 15 years now. These are some of my earliest ones. I put together one for Joseph before he was born and hung it in his room. It has little boy bears. This one is going to my best friend's little girl.
 Joseph "helped" me make cookie dough truffles yesterday.
 He actually did "roll" out a couple...they were fairly oblong...
As photos please!

I've been a bit under the weather today...and I've had a horrible crick in my neck for a couple of days. Those just about debilitate me. I was actually about to go to the gym and work off some of those holiday calories when my neck just kinda went out. Don't have a clue what I did. 

Yesterday I begged Joseph to just take 24 hours off from trying to destroy the house. He declined my request. Today he has been good, though. He has still done a fair amount of destruction, but not as bad as usual and he's pretty much entertained himself. I am thankful for that. As Michael informed me earlier...this is a horrible time of year to get sick. Thanks for reminding me. We will be having Christmas with my family and my mom's family next weekend so I will be crazy busy next week. I better get over this crap by then. 

I hope you all are having a great holiday season!! I know I haven't done a recipe post in a while. I promise I am no abandoning just may be January before I pick back up with the blogging thing. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

 I made a feeble attempt at taking some pictures of Joseph to put on our Christmas cards yesterday. I bought him a new Christmas outfit and everything. As usual, it was extremely difficult...the one above is about as good as it got...even with a paint sponge and my pant leg in the picture. It has a striking similarity to last years' picture:

I'm gonna try again soon. I might just use a non-Christmas picture. I just don't do so well taking pictures inside. I hate the way a flash makes the picture look. My camera does ok without a flash but the target and the camera need to be pretty still....and my child is never still.

We went to Michael's work Christmas party this weekend. It was 20s themed this year. They encourage you to wear attire that goes with the theme, but I have never done that. I thought the 20s would be fun though. I had originally planned to use one of my black dresses and put fringe on the bottom and stuff to transform it into a flapper dress. Then I decided I didn't want to do that and that I would make my own dress. Well, I had trouble finding a pattern that suited me and the fabric I wanted was $10 and up a yard. Luckily the trim was 1/2 off when I went to buy it! I ended up deciding to use 2 tshirts to make the dress. The top was a large tshirt with the collar cut out and sleeves cut off. I kept putting it on a tweaking the neckline and arm holes. I ended up putting a couple of darts in the bust area. Then I used an XL tshirt (I've got sizeable hips and didn't want the dress to cling) cut just below the armpits straight across to make the bottom of the dress. I sewed the top to the bottom and used some sequined elastic to make a "belt" to cover the seam. I sewed fringe to the bottom and some pretty sequin embelishment to the the neckline. Add in a 20s style necklace, head band, and boa and here you go:

Well, tonight Michael and I are going to go to Lexington and draw a name off of the Angel Tree and shop for the kid that we draw. I'm pretty excited. I've wanted to do this for a long time. I don't have an excuse on why I never did. We actually drew another family off the Angel Tree at church yesterday. I went to do a little shopping for them while I was out this morning but Joseph was in a heck of a mood and kinda dampened the spirit. We will just shop for them tonight too. Michael and I just feel like we've been so blessed this year especially and hope to make the Angel Tree shopping trip a yearly tradition and get Joseph in on it in a couple of years when he understands what it means a little more.

I hope you are all having a great December so far! I know I haven't posted much lately and I doubt it will get any better until after the New Year! Hang in there with me!