Friday, August 27, 2010

Back to School with Better-for-you-Brownies

 Well, it was back to school for me this week. (I apologize for being derelict in my blogging. It's just that I really can't afford to quit my day job.) Back to teacher's meetings and trainings and setting up a classroom to welcome my students next week. Contrary to all of my protests about going back to work, I do like this time of year. It's a new beginning- another New Year- another January so to speak- just without the cold weather. Like a box of crayons the first time you open them, or a newly sharpened pencil. A new class with new faces and new joys and new challenges. A brand spanking new year. 

 And every New Year should have resolutions, right? Along with my long list of professional resolutions (with which I will not bore you) I have a few personal ones which I'm going to make public just to help myself stay accountable for them. They're not unreasonable- really! They are (in no particular order of importance):

  • Eat breakfast every morning.
  • Take time to pack a healthful lunch. 
  • Take a walk every day. 

So you're probably wondering where the brownies fit into the scheme of things. I was browsing through the new Woman's Day magazine at the checkout line in the grocery store and saw a bevy of bars that looked absolutely scrumptious. They were all made with whole-wheat flour and offered lower fat and sugar than my traditional recipes. So I bought the magazine to try some of them. Teachers get hungry, you know.

 Many of my colleagues are also trying to begin the new year with healthier choices, so I thought that instead of a calorie laden treat in the teacher's lounge I'd bring in these chocolaty bars. They definitely won't entirely replace the traditional gooey fudge brownie in my life, but right now they're an alternative that I can share without all the guilt!

recipe from Woman's Day, September 2010
1 cup (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut up
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
4 large egg whites
1 cup white whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9x13 pan with nonstick foil. (Leave plenty of foil on each edge so you can lift it out later.)
  • Put the chocolate chips and the butter in a large microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until butter and chocolate are melted and smooth. (It only took mine one and one-half minutes.)
  • Whisk in brown sugar, applesauce and egg whites until mixed well. Stir in flour, cocoa and salt just until blended.
  • Spread into foil lined pan. Sprinkle walnuts on top.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
  • Carefully lift the sheet of brownies out by the edges of the foil and place onto a cutting board. Cut lengthwise into four strips, and then cut each strip into 6 pieces.
Per bar: 118 calories, 2 g protein, 17 g car, 1 g fiber, 6 g fat, 5 mg chol, 61 mg sodium

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dinosaur Cookies

At the end of July, my son and his wife moved to Texas. I know, I do that. But they took my grandson with them! My only grandchild, who has never lived more than a few minutes away these last 4 years. It has definitely been an adjustment for me.

When he called and asked, "Mimi, would you please send me some dinosaur cookies?" I did what any sensible  doting grandma would do. I baked.

 I used my favorite cookie recipe to make these. This is the recipe that I always make when I need cut-outs.  (As evidenced here, here and here!) It's an old-fashioned flavor of cookie that just makes me feel all good inside. I got the recipe in a Creative Ideas for Living magazine back in 1989, and it's been my go-to recipe ever since. It reminds me of the soft fat ginger cookies with pink frosting that used to be in the big jar on the counter of our little country store when I was young.

Grandson loves them too. If he were here, he'd have been helping for sure! He'll have them soon enough- they went in the mail today, and they're supposed to arrive by Monday. I bet he'll eat the red T-Rex first.

                        All boxed up and Texas bound!                                 

Iced Spice Cookies
(printable page)

recipe adapted from Patti Paige, Creative Ideas for Living Jan/Feb '89
2/3 cup shortening (I use butter)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt (I only use 1)
1 large egg (from a happy hen if you can find one-mine aren't laying right now)
3/4 cup molasses
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Cream together the first six ingredients. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Add the molasses and mix again. Set aside.
  • Sift together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Add to molasses mixture and mix until dough forms.
  • Divide the dough into two balls (flattened), wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least three hours. (I chilled it overnight) This dough is hard to work with unless it's chilled.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Roll out one ball of dough to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. The original recipe calls for rolling the dough out between two sheets of lightly floured wax paper or a floured pastry cloth. I didn't have those so I just checked my dough frequently to make sure it wasn't sticking to my surface.
  • Cut out desired shapes. Gather scraps into a ball and put in the freezer while you repeat with the rest of your dough.
  • Transfer cookies to parchment covered (or greased) baking sheet.
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes, making sure edges don't burn. Cool completely on a rack before frosting. (recipe below) For me this recipe made about 4 dozen small cookies.
Royal Icing
In a large bowl, mix together 1 pound of confectioners sugar, 3 tablespoons meringue powder and about 1/2 cup water. (Reserve a couple of spoonfuls of the water-wait and see if you need it. Royal frosting is kind of tricky in that it depends on the humidity as to exactly how much water you'll need.) Mix until soft peaks form. (I did mine about 8 minutes.) Use this "stiffer" frosting to outline your shapes in whatever colors you want. (I colored my frosting with gel food color and used a Wilton #3 tip to pipe the frosting around the edges.)

After the edges are set, thin the remaining frosting (a few drops of water at a time) to a pouring consistency. Use this thinner frosting to fill in your outline. You can put this thinned frosting in a freezer baggie with the corner cut off to drizzle onto the outlined cookie. Your set edges will keep the frosting where it should be. For the dinosaurs, I filled in the base color first. While the frosting was still wet I piped on the designs and details with contrasting colors. The thinned frosting sort of "melts" into the background color. Let your frosted cookies dry overnight.

I'm posting this to Foodie Friday, on Designs by Gollum.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Seedless Blackberry Jam

"Quickberry! Quackberry! Pick me a blackberry!"

 Can you name that book?  It's Jamberry, by Bruce Degen. I only read it hundreds of times when my boys were small. It sure came back to me yesterday when I saw the rows and rows of loaded blackberry canes stretched out in front of me, loaded with plump ripe berries.

Twelve pounds I picked. One dozen pounds of shiny purple berries. And I had a hard time stopping at that! On my way back to my car I kept seeing berries I had missed, berries that I just couldn't leave on the canes. But I did. Just so there would be some left for you. So you could make this.

I picked my berries with the idea of making jam with no added pectin, but when I got home with my gorgeous haul, I read that slightly under-ripe berries were the ones I needed. Not enough pectin in the fully ripe ones. (I guess I should have researched a little bit before hand, but that would have been too logical.)

Looking further, I found a lovely recipe that uses fully ripe berries but adds a little bit of tart apple to supply enough natural pectin. It set perfectly! Not only scrumptious for your morning toast or scones, it would also be a lovely filling for your favorite layer cake or thumbprint cookie.

Seedless Blackberry Jam (no added pectin) printable recipe here
Recipe from Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty, and found on astray recipes
yield: about 6 half pint jars

6 cups ripe blackberries, washed
2 1/2 cup tart apples, coarsely chopped- include skins and cores (I used small "not quite ripe" apples from our tree) The pectin is found mainly in the skin and the core of the apples.
1 cup water
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I doubled this)
5 cups sugar (approximately)

  • Prepare jars and lids (per manufacturer's instructions) for canning- 6 half pints
  • Put half of the blackberries in a large pot and crush with a potato masher. Add the rest of the berries and crush. Add apple pieces and water to the crushed berries.
  • Cook mixture over medium heat until apples are soft, about 20 minutes. Stir often to prevent sticking. You may add another 1/2 cup of water if the mixture gets too thick.
  • Once fruit is very soft, run through a food mill or press through a fine sieve, using a large spoon or spatula. Discard the skins and seeds that are left.
  • Rinse out your pot. Measure the fruit pulp and put it back into the pot. You should have about 5 cups.
  • Add enough lemon juice to make the mixture pleasantly tart. Heat over medium high heat, dissolving sugar.
  • Increase heat and cook rapidly, stirring often. Cook until mixture reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit, or until the mixture falls in a sheet off of your spoon. You can also try putting some of the mixture onto a cold dish to see if it is jelling.
  •  Once mixture is ready, remove from heat and ladle into hot prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headroom at the top of each jar. Position lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from boiling water bath and set aside to cool and seal.
 This post is linked to:

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Pucker up! Lemon Cookies with White Chocolate Drizzle

    Need something to take your mind off of the heat?  These lovely lemon gems might just fit the bill. They  have the perfect blend of sweet white chocolate and tart lemony goodness and are perfect with a tall glass of iced tea. Each one leaves you wishing for "just one more!"

    I saw these Lemon Cookies on Jamie Cooks it Up! the other day when I was searching for something quick and easy to share with my thrift shop volunteer buddies Saturday morning. They all gave them a "thumbs-up," but what's not to love? Tart lemony cookie punctuated with white chocolate nuggets- yum!

    Disclaimer: Even if you're a purist and can't stand the thought of using a cake mix, you might want to reconsider and try these anyway. They won't disappoint! If you love a quick and easy cookie with the bright sunny taste of lemon, don't think twice- just go ahead and mix 'em up!

    Lovely Lemon Cookies with White Chocolate Drizzle
    Recipe slightly adapted from Jamie Cooks it Up!
    1 box lemon cake mix (dry)
    1 stick of butter, softened or melted
    1 egg
    1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    zest from 1/2 lemon
    6 oz. white chocolate chips
    confectioners sugar (optional)
    • Mix together the dry cake mix, butter, egg, lemon juice and lemon zest.
    • Stir in all but about 1/4 cup of the white chocolate chips.
    • Roll the mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls. (Golf ball size).
    • Place balls of dough onto parchment lined baking sheet. I flattened mine just a bit.
    • Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 8 to 9 minutes. You want them set, but not browned.
    • Remove to cooling rack. Cool completely, then drizzle with melted white chocolate.*
    • *To melt white chocolate, put it in a microwave safe bowl and microwave about 20 seconds. Stir and repeat. Don't worry if all of the chips aren't completely melted at this point. Keep stirring and they will melt. If they are still not a good "drizzling" consistency, stir in about 1/4 teaspoon of shortening.
    • If desired, sprinkle with confectioners sugar either in place of or in addition to the white chocolate drizzle.
    • Yield: About 18-20 large cookies, more if you make them smaller!

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    My Affinity for Chickens Explained

    The above photo is of my Daddy and my Aunt Dorothy, taken circa 1940. My aunt Dorothy just recently passed away, and this was one of her photos that my cousin shared with us. As I was looking at the photo, I wondered aloud about the object prominently displayed on my dad's vest- a watch maybe? Not a watch, shared my mom, but a medal. A medal that he won in a statewide poultry judging contest for Future Farmers of America when he was in high school. Poultry! A few minutes of rummaging later, my mom produced the medal above. See that rooster? I knew there had to be some reason lurking in my background for my affinity for those cackling creatures.

    My fascination with chickens began many years ago. We kept chickens on our farm when I was growing up, but most of them were the kind you really didn't want to get attached to- the kind that would eventually wind up on the dinner table.

    We had two bantam hens named Speckles and Desmond that were considered pets, and then there were the roosters Carrot Top and Rojo. I learned early that roosters don't just crow when the sun comes up. They've got to crow all day long just to make sure it stays there!

    I now have my own motley crew of chicks and chickens and enjoy eating the eggs they produce and watching their antics. (Well, all of them except one rogue rooster who is no longer around to attack my grandson. But that's another story.) I can't help but wonder what my dad would think of my little flock. He was a champion poultry judge, you know!

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Mini Brownie Bites

     Did you ever have one of those days when you just needed a little bit of chocolate?  Today was one of them for me. School is starting back up soon, and I feel like I haven't gotten anything accomplished that I wanted to. Back in June, when I looked at the weeks spreading out before me that I would have off, I made grandiose plans of cleaning my basement, baking and blogging, making jam, canning tomatoes, reading that stack of books that just keeps getting taller, know how it goes. Now I'm looking at just a couple of weeks left. Will I have time for it all? I don't know, but I did have time to make these. These didn't solve my time management issues but they sure were tasty.

     Little nuggets of chocolate nutty goodness that were ready in a jiffy, these were probably the quickest and easiest cookies that I've made in a while. Six ingredients and about 10 minutes were all I needed to have these cooling in my  kitchen. I made these this afternoon, and I'm having trouble keeping myself from picking up one of these two-bite cookies every time I pass by them.

     I found this recipe scribbled on the back of an envelope stuck in my "try this" file. It was originally called Seven Minute Chocolate Cookies, but after making these I took the liberty of renaming them. They were so much like a brownie in taste and texture that I thought their new name was much more fitting. Enjoy them with a cold glass of milk and say "Thank you very much." (You're welcome.)

    Mini Brownie Bites
    Recipe found scribbled on the back of an envelope in my "Try this" file. If you happen to know where it came from originally, please let me know!
    1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
    1 pkg. (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate morsels
    1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 cup all purpose flour
    1 cup chopped pecans ( I used about a cup and a half, because I didn't want to put such a small amount back in the freezer. I liked the extra nuts.)

    • Combine the butter (cut into chunks), semisweet morsels and condensed milk in a heavy bottom saucepan.
    • Gently cook and stir over low heat until butter and morsels are about 3/4 melted. Remove from heat and stir until butter and morsels are completely melted. 
    • Stir in vanilla and flour. Fold in pecans.
    • Drop by level Tablespoons onto a parchment covered baking sheet. (I used a tablespoon cookie scoop.) If you do not have parchment, lightly grease your cookie sheet.
    • Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 7 to 10 minutes. Do not over-bake. Cookies should lose some of their shine when they are done. They will still be soft, but will have a bit of a crust. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet and remove to rack to finish cooling.
    • note: As the batter cools, subsequent batches may take longer to bake.
    • yield: about 5 doz small cookies

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Very Berry Pie

    Pie crust intimidates me. I don't know why it does, but I've always been insecure about making my own crusts. I have to admit to all that in the past, I've relied on the little Poppin' Fresh guy to do my dirty work in the pie department. But this month I have decided to try to overcome my pie crust phobia. I am determined to make a good pie crust, and make it I will!

    My first attempt was this Very Berry Pie. Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries all together in a thick luscious filling. It was magnificent. This filling was so good in fact, I was afraid that it would all be eaten out of the pan before it got into the pie crust! The pie crust? It was okay, but nothing to write home about. I guess I'll just have to keep trying.  Any volunteer pie testers out there? It's a rough job, but somebody's got to do it!

    Very Berry Pie
    Pastry for a double crust pie (Use your favorite- I haven't found mine yet!)
    1 quart fresh blueberries
    1/2 pint fresh blackberries
    1/2 pint fresh raspberries
    1 and 1/2 cups sugar
    3 tablespoons lemon juice
    4 Tablespoons cornstarch
    3/4 cup cold water
    egg wash: 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tblsp. half and half

    For filling:
    • In a large saucepan, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Add water and lemon juice and stir until combined.
    • Add blueberries and stir gently. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Gently cook until thickened and mixture is no longer cloudy with cornstarch.
    • Gently stir in blackberries and raspberries. Allow mixture to cool while you make your crust.
    • Line a deep-dish 9 inch pie pan with a bottom crust. Add filling.
    • Cover with top crust or lattice. (If you're not making a lattice, cut several holes in your top crust.)
    • Seal and crimp edges of pie.
    • Cover edges loosely with foil or pie crust protector.
    • Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and remove foil. Bake 40 minutes longer or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.
    • Brush crust with egg wash. Return to oven for a few minutes to brown.
    • Cool completely before serving.

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