Monday, December 10, 2018

Best Ever Rolled Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies seem pretty simple, right? Just flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, and eggs. The ingredients might not vary much from recipe to recipe, but the proportions sure do. I've seen recipes that involve 2 cups of sugar, 5 cups of flour, and only 1 1/2 cups of butter. Also ones with less sugar and flour but also less butter. And none of them seem to have very much vanilla, which should be the main flavor component.

Personally, I'm not a fan of making rolled cookies. Too much work. I'm a drop-by-spoonfuls kinda gal. But Mr Minx had a hankering to make rolled cookies. He even went out and bought a rolling pin. If he was going to do all the heavy lifting (or rolling), then I was willing to go along with it. I even had a recipe at the ready.

Years ago, I had a group of friends that got together at the holidays. One of these friends is no longer a friend because he's a big jerk, but at the time he had a girlfriend who liked to bake. Her contribution to the party that year was sugar cookies...the best damn sugar cookies I have ever eaten. Though I would probably not make them myself due to my aversion to rolling pins and hard work, I asked her for the recipe. It has moderate amounts of sugar and flour, a cup of butter, and a whole tablespoon of vanilla. I think that's the secret right there. They are sugar cookies with actual flavor.

The dough needs to be refrigerated before baking, otherwise it's too soft to roll and cut. But once chilled, it cuts like a dream (especially with sharp, brand-new, cookie cutters like ours) and bakes up into lovely crisp and buttery cookies redolent of vanilla that can be iced or, if you're lazy like us, sprinkled with festive sugars.

Laura's Sugar Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda (or dump it in a bowl and stir thoroughly with a fork). Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 minutes or so. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then add the vanilla and eggs. Beat until combined, another half minute or so. Turn the mixer off and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat at low speed until all the flour is incorporated, another minute or so, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice. If the dough seems too stiff for your mixer, use a wooden spoon and combine by hand.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate dough about 2 hours, until firm. If it's in the fridge for longer and becomes rock hard, allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before rolling.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

On a floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/8-inch. Sprinkle with flour as necessary to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Cut dough with cookie cutters and carefully transfer each to a parchment-lined baking sheet (use a spatula). Sprinkle with colored sugars.

Bake for 6-8 minutes, until firm and only vaguely golden (they should not brown very much). Use a spatula to transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

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Friday, December 07, 2018

Flashback Friday - Scallops with Lavender Honey Brown Butter

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This post originally appeared on on November 21, 2012.

Scallop dishes at restaurants don't seem quite as astronomically priced these days as back then, but they're still not cheap.

Remember when I complained last month that scallops are the restaurant world's biggest rip-off? Here's some proof. I paid $15.95 per pound for U-10 drypack scallops at the local Giant. U-10 means there are fewer than ten scallops per pound - these three babies weighed .37 lb. ("Drypack" means they were packed and shipped on ice without the use of preservatives. They sear quite nicely and don't leach a lot of moisture into the pan.)

I seared the scallops in a bit of olive oil, removed them from the pan, and turned off the heat. To the still hot pan, I added a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of honey, about a teaspoon of dried, food-grade, lavender buds, and a teaspoon of chopped preserved lemon. The honey caramelized almost instantly, creating a rich, lightly sweet sauce for the scallops, which were also garnished with a sprinkle of green onion and a few more lavender buds.

Had I ordered this in a restaurant, it would have cost $35. Cost me around $6 to make at home. And they were damn fine.

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Monday, December 03, 2018

Gingerbread Linzer Tart

I made the original variation on this tart (with chocolate cookies and raspberry jam) 20+ years ago. I have no idea where I got the recipe, but every once in a while I pull it out and make it for dessert. It's pretty simple, and the results are delicious. Last year, I decided to tinker with the flavoring a bit. Rather than chocolate cookies and cocoa powder, I opted to use gingerbread cookies and spices. I almost made a cranberry curd for the filling, but I was stressed out and feeling lazy, so I used a jar of Polaner seedless blackberry All-Fruit. Everyone seemed to like the variation, so I thought I'd share it with you here.

A baking note: The butter tends to ooze out of the bottom of the pan, so it's a good idea to bake this on a foil-lined baking sheet. If you use a tart pan or baking dish without a removable bottom, you won't have this issue, but it will also be a little harder to cut into wedges and serve.

Gingerbread Linzer Tart

1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 1/3 cups gingerbread cookie crumbs (I used Pepperidge Farm Ginger Family cookies)
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 whole egg
1 jar Polaner All-Fruit seedless blackberry jam, or your favorite blackberry jam
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Place ground almonds, cookie crumbs, flour, sugar, ginger, and cloves into a large bowl and mix well. Distribute the butter over the mixture and add the egg. Work the dough with your fingertips, rubbing in the butter and making a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Pat about 3/4 of the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the a 9" tart pan with removable bottom. Spread the jam thickly over the crust but not quite to the edges. Roll pieces of the remaining dough into strips and arrange on jam in a lattice pattern. Sprinkle on the chopped almonds.

Bake for 35 minutes. Let the pastry cool completely in the pan.

Carefully remove the sides of the pan. The crust is fairly sturdy, so this shouldn't be a problem. You can use a knife to coax the bottom off the tart, but I usually just leave it there. Place the tart on a serving plate and cut into wedges.

Serves 12.

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Friday, November 30, 2018

Flashback Friday - Farro Risotto

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on September 18, 2012.


When my dad and I went to The Fork & Wrench a couple of months back, the best thing I ate was the farro risotto that accompanied my fatty and under-seasoned duck breast. (Yes, I am still bitter about that. I wanted the scallops, dammit.) I fell in love with the pleasantly chewy texture of farro and vowed to recreate the dish at home.

Unfortunately, farro isn't one of those things available in just any grocery store, so I had to turn to teh Innernets to find a source. Farro ain't cheap, because in most cases, it has to be ordered in bulk. However, I did find one company, Capri Flavors, that let me order a single pound of the stuff for a relatively mere $4.44. (I also bought some other Italian goodies and was pleased that my order shipped so quickly.)

Despite being pretty gung-ho to make the risotto...err...farrotto...I put the stuff in the cabinet and forgot about it for several weeks, digging it out only recently to play with it.

I wasn't sure how long it would take to cook the stuff - would making a farrotto take longer than a risotto made with rice? or steel cut oats?  So I consulted the Google. Giada the Human Lollipop suggested soaking the farro in water for 30 minutes, which softened the stuff up nicely. After draining, the farro only needed about 2 cups of stock to make it tender enough to eat, but I used three. I used only onion and salt and pepper as seasonings, but that was adequate--the result was quite tasty. Next time though, I think I'll try adding some mushrooms.

Here's a recipe of sorts...I don't think this sort of thing is rocket science, since I didn't measure anything and it came out fine. You might want to read it all the way through before you start cooking.

Saute 1/2 cup chopped onion in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt. That seems like a lot of oil, but once the onion has softened, toss in 1 cup of farro that has been soaked in 3 cups of water for 30 minutes and drained. Stir until the farro is coated with oil (add more if necessary) and starts to brown, 5 minutes or so. Meanwhile, have 3 cups of chicken stock warming in a saucepan nearby. When the farro is toasty, put in a cup of stock. Stir regularly until stock is mostly evaporated, then add another cup. Hell, put the rest in - it won't matter. Cook over medium heat until there's just a bit of moisture left, then put in a couple tablespoons of butter and a splash or two of cream (heavy, light, half-and-half - whatever you have). Cheese is nice, too - I added a half cup of shredded Muenster, because that's what I had. Stir until it's all nice and creamy, season with salt and pepper, and then eat. Right out of the pan, if that's what floats your boat.

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