Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Spiced Speculoos Cookie Butter Cookies

Spiced Speculoos Cookie Butter Cookies

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2014

I was honored, along with almost 500 other food blogger participants world-wide, to be a part of The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap this year. It's a great and fun event organized by Lindsay and Taylor at Love and Olive Oil and Julie at The Little Kitchen where food bloggers sign up and get matched up with 3 other food bloggers. As part of the event, you send the bloggers each a dozen of your homemade cookies, and in turn you get to receive 3 separate dozen cookies from other bloggers. In addition to the opportunity to meet other food bloggers and taste their goodies, the Swap is also a fund raiser, and partners with Cookies for Kid's Cancer. It's a national non-profit organization committed to funding new therapies used in the fight against pediatric cancer. It's a win-win-win!

I was fortunate to be matched up with three great ladies- Christina from Straciatellabella; Kelly from Long Distance Bakin; and Amanda from From Me to Vuu and sent them each a dozen of my Spiced Speculoos Cookie Butter Cookies.

Thank you too to the three bloggers who sent me goodies. I received dark chocolate salted caramel dipped biscotti from Take Two Tapas , absolutely delicious caramel chocolate chip bars from Karen at InTheKitchenWithKP, and chocolate chip and caramel cookies from Momma Told Me.


These Spiced Speculoos Cookie Butter Cookies are pretty awesome, and are one of my favorites. They're unlike any cookie I've ever had, and the only way I can describe them is that they are crispy, crunchy, spicy, and taste like a cross between an old fashioned iced oatmeal and a gingerbread molasses cookie. The cookie butter for the recipe can be found at Trader Joe's, and after coming up with this recipe, cookie butter has become a pantry staple in my house.

Loaf tray- HomeGoods
Polka Dot ribbon and food safe cello bag- FabricBarn
Gift tag- HomeGoods

Packing notes:
- To pack these cookies, I took a small loaf tray from Christy Designs (found at HomeGoods) and placed a dozen cookies upright in the tray. They were nice and snug. I then placed the tray of cookies into a food safe clear bag and affixed tape to the open end so it was sealed airtight. Ribbon and a cute tag completed the wrapping.
- Anytime I ship out cookies in particular, I always add a layer of bubblewrap lightly around the package and affix it to itself with scotch tape. Once you place the cookies in a box to ship, you should also use bubble wrap or some other filler in the box to ensure the cookies won't toss around during the mailing process.

Spiced Speculoos Cookie Butter Cookies
Makes 42- 3" round cookies

1 14oz jar Speculoos Cookie Butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 tsp vanilla paste
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking oats)
2 cups all- purpose flour
3/4 cup sliced honey roasted almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

- Beat together the cookie butter and butter in a mixing bowl until creamy, 3-4 minutes
- Add in the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla paste, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix to combine thoroughly
- In a separate small bowl, stir together the salt, soda, oats, and flour
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in the mixing bowl and mix just to combine
- Mix in the almonds by hand with a large spoon
- Using a medium-sized cookie scoop, scoop out dough and spread out evenly a dozen dough balls on each parchment lined cookie sheet
- Bake for 11- 14 minutes, until the cookies start to brown around the edges and are cooked thoroughly in the middle. Do not overcook
- Let cookies cool completely on wire racks before packaging or storing in a container with a lid

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Great Holiday Treats- Whole Shebang Cookies

Snowman ceramic bowl- HomeGoods, snowman towel- Target
My favorite chocolate chip cookies are cake-like, not dense, and full of nuts and chews. Not much can beat a warm cookie right out of the oven. Dunk it into a glass of super cold milk (or in my case- almond milk), and it's pretty much heaven in a bite. Am I right?

These Whole Shebang Cookies are hands-down my favorite chocolate chip cookie. Chock full of chocolate and peanut butter chips, chewy coconut, and pecans. So good, I'm telling you, you're going to need to make a double batch if you want some left over to actually give away.

Aluminum foil container with patterned lid- ChristyDesigns, ribbon- Fabric Barn, tag- HomeGoods
Polka-dot loaf tray, towel, and tag- HomeGoods, ribbon and cellophane bag- Fabric Barn
Whole Shebang Cookies
Makes 30 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
2 cups + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup shredded coconut (I had sweetened on hand)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

- Cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes
- Add eggs and vanilla paste, and mix another 2-3 minutes
- Add in the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix just until combined
- Mix in the chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, coconut, and nuts with a large spoon
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper
- Using a medium sized (2 Tbsp) cookie scoop, scoop dough out one dozen per cooking sheet
- Bake for 10-11 minutes, until the cookies just start to brown around the edges
- Remove cookies from baking sheet, and cool them on a wire rack

Dairy free option- Use Earth Balance instead of the butter, replace the peanut butter chips with 1/4 cup peanut butter (add the peanut butter in the mixer with the butter and brown sugar)

Gluten free option- Use 1 1/2 cups cup for cup gluten free flour (I like Domata brand) in place of the all-purpose flour, and increase the baking temperature to 375 degrees.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Great Holiday Treats- Snowballs

Snowballs are my husband's favorite cookies. It's a given that if I make a batch them, I need to double the recipe because he will nibble.. until half of them are gone.

I've seen Snowballs sometimes called Mexican wedding cookies. It's not my own recipe, but I have put a twist on them.. I roll them in powdered sugar that's been sifted along with colored sugar crystals (sprinkles). I usually use blue.. and they look like Snowballs. Hence the name.

This recipe is a great one to make with kids. It's really easy, and kids like rolling the dough between their palms to make the balls. And the sugar sprinkles are just fun.

Gift wrapping:
- Baking cups (Homegoods)
- Cello bag and ribbon (Fabric Barn)
- Small bell (Target)

Treat #5- Snowballs
A single batch makes about 2 dozen 2" cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour

2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup sugar crystals (sprinkles)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Cream together butter and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl for 3-4 minutes
- Add in vanilla extract and mix another minute or so
- Add in pecans and flour and mix until combined
- Chill dough in fridge (in bowl) for about 15-20 minutes (If the dough is warm, the cookies will spread)
- Roll dough into 2" balls with the palms of your hands and transfer them to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (I fit 16 per sheet)
- Bake for 12- 15 minutes until the cookies start to brown around the edges
- Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes
- While cookies are cooling, sift the powdered sugar with the sugar crystals into a shallow baking dish
- Take cookies one at a time and roll them into the powdered sugar until coated

Dairy free option- Use Earth Balance in place of the butter

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Great Holiday Treats- Candied Cinnamon Pecans

This candied cinnamon pecans recipe is one of my favorite bake and give treats for the holidays. That is, what's left over after I pop more than a few of them into my mouth. They are quite addicting- fair warning!

The recipe requires NO candy thermometer. A wooden spoon, measuring cups, and a saucepan are all the tools you need to make some darned delicious nuts. I've tried making these with different types of nuts, but my favorite nut for this recipe is pecan halves.

Double the recipe so you actually have some to give to your neighbors. The rest you'll eat yourself.. trust me on this one.

Crunchy, sweet, and lots of cinnamon.. so good right out of the pan. They're also great for sprinkling on ice cream, and chopping up and putting on top of a pie.

I wrapped them for gift-giving two ways:

1. A small mason jar (Target), affixed a round to/from sticker (HomeGoods) to the top of the jar, and tied on a polka dot ribbon (Fabric Barn), and small bell (Target)

2. A food-safe cello bag adorned with little birds (Cost Plus WorldMarket), wrapped with baker's twine (Cost Plus WorldMarket) and added a cute gift tag (HomeGoods)

Treat #4- Candied Cinnamon Pecans
A double batch was enough nuts for two small mason jars, and two cello bags

Single batch:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mixture gets thick and syrupy

.. then the sugar hardens, and the nuts are ready to be spread out and cooled

- Put sugar, cinnamon, and evaporated milk into a medium sized saucepan, and heat over medium heat
- Constantly stir the mixture for 2-3 minutes until all of the sugar dissolves and it starts to simmer
- Add in the pecans and vanilla, and continue to stir constantly about 6-8 minutes. You'll see the mixture first turn into a thick syrup, then into a crumbly mixture
- Take the nuts out of the pan once all of the moisture (syrup) is gone, and the nuts are fully coated in a hardened sugar coating
- Transfer to a sheet of parchment paper on your counter, and cool completely before storing

I haven't tried to substitute the evaporated milk in this recipe to make it dairy-free

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Leftover's Club- Cranberry and Lemon Shortbread Cookies

I have an apology to make- I meant for this post to be on hold until the December Leftover's Club posting day, but it somehow got posted and I didn't notice. I've had a challenging couple of weeks, and haven't been able to update the blog as much as I'd like to.

I had the privilege of sending Elizabeth at Cooking With Milton a batch of these really tasty Cranberry and Lemon Shortbread Cookies. They are one of my family's favorites, and ship well.
Give them a try- you won't be disappointed.

If you're a food blogger, and would like to join the Leftover's Club, check it out at www.leftoversclub.com. It's a lot of fun to touch base with fellow food bloggers and try everyone's treats.

I'm starting my Great Holiday Treats posts today. over the next couple of weeks,  I'll be sharing my favorite tried and true holiday treat recipes with you. They're all delicious, and I've made them many, many times for people.

Treat #1- Cranberry and Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread cookies have no eggs.. don't know how this information has escaped me, but there it is. It's incredibly easy to make shortbread a vegan treat by substituting Earth Balance for the butter. I highly recommend Earth Balance because, while it contains no dairy, it tastes just like butter.

These shortbread cookies are so incredibly easy to make. Minimal refrigeration of the dough, and no rolling pins needed. Less mess, less fuss.

It's no secret how much I love lemon. These Cookies are just the right balance of tart, fresh lemon flavor, sweet cranberries, and are so buttery. They melt in your mouth. So, so good!

I would recommend making little baby-sized cookies as I did for portion control, but yeah, like that worked as I ate 10 of them. What the heck- it's the holidays. Eat as many as you'd like- YOLO.

Packaging tips for holiday treats:
- I think a homebaked treat becomes extra special with cute packaging. It just makes the thought even more special.
- I collect small plates and bowls throughout the year when I see them on sale at HomeGoods. It's great you can buy just one plate, and usually for $2- $3.
- I discovered that the little loaf tray by Simply Baked (same company that makes the muffin cuos I use, and also available at HomeGoods) perfectly hold a dozen medium sized cookies. Simply cover the cookie filled tray with a food safe clear bag, and tie on your favorite ribbon.
- If you're in SoCal, Fabric Barn in Long Beach is worth the trip for cellophane bags and ribbons. A whole spool of grossgrain ribbon is only $4 or so- a huge bargain!

Food safe waxed tissue- The Container Store
Treat box- Target
Tag- HomeGoods
Ribbon- Fabric Barn

- If you are shipping treats, you want to make sure they are not only snug in their container (so they don't get broken), but are also airtight. To create the packaging above, I figured out how many cookies I could fit snugly into the box. I lined the box with a piece of waxed food safe paper, then set out 2 stacks of 5 cookies, and 1 stack of 3 cookies. Each stack was wrapped in SaranWrap, then placed in the box. The two stacks of 5 went in the up/back direction, while the shorter stack went horizontally on the side of the two other stacks. Airtight and ready to be shipped :)

Cranberry and Lemon Shortbread Cookies
Makes 30 small cookies
Doubling recipe will yield 5 dozen small cookies

10 Tbsp ( 1 stick + 2 Tbsp) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or scraped vanilla bean
1 Tbsp lemon zest (about 1/2 lemon)
1 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1 cup + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
Granulated sugar for pressing on cookies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
- Mix together butter and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl 3-4 minutes until light and creamy
- Add vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon peel until mixed in
- Scrape down bowl with a spatula
- Add in the flour and mix just until combined
- Stir in cranberries with with a large spoon
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper
- Scoop out dough with small cookie scoop, and roll into balls
- Place the dough balls about 2" apart on sheets and put them in fridge for about 20 minutes to chill dough
- Place a few atbsp of granulated sugar on a small plate and set aside
- Once dough has chilled, lightly flatten each dough ball with the bittom if a drinking goass dipped in the sugar
- Bake for 12- 14 minutes until the cookies just start to briwn around the edges, and are cooked through
- Cool on a wire rack completely before you package them

Dairy free option- use Earth Balance in place of butter. Replacing the butter also makes these cookies vegan.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sweet and Tangy Meatloaf and Smashed Yukon Potatoes

If I were asked to name my 5 favorite comfort foods, meatloaf and mashed potatoes would definitely be on the list. You can't beat a moist meatloaf topped with a sweet and tangy sauce paired with creamy smashed potatoes. Love on a fork.

One of my goals with starting this blog was to focus on making more of our family's food from scratch. I'm all for a spice pack or creamed soup in a can in a pinch, but there's nothing like knowing exactly what's in your food; being able to control the amount of salt and sugar and to pronounce all of the ingredients.

Truth be told, this is the first time making a meatloaf without that little meatloaf seasoning pack from the grocery. I studied this recipe for inspiration from Ina Garten (you can't go wrong with Ina), and what I ended up with was a very tasty and MOIST meatloaf. It was a bit of a leap of faith as you can't taste raw hamburger to check for seasoning, etc. but it came out great and I wouldn't change a thing.

Give it a try- you won't be disappointed!

Recipe Tips:

- This is a recipe that is best to use a meat thermometer. I have one that plugs into my stove, but checking the loaf with a stick-in one is fine too. You want the loaf to reach 165 degrees in the center.

- If you ever find this meatloaf pan, I highly recommend picking it up. It's a two-layered pan with the bottom looking like a regular loaf pan, and a top layer that fits over the bottom one and sits up a little higher. The top layer has holes in it to allow the meatloaf to drain off fat as it cooks. No more soggy meatloaf. Genius.

- I'm not the biggest fan of raw onion flavor in hamburgers or meatloaf. Sautéing the vegetables (onion, red pepper, and garlic) for a couple of minutes before adding it to the meatloaf mix keeps the flavor of the vegetables without the raw bite. Just make sure to let them cool a bit before mixing into the loaf so the eggs don't start cooking.

Sweet and Tangy Meatloaf 
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion (about 1 small onion)
1 cup diced red bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
pinch cracked black pepper

2 lbs ground beef (I used 1 lb. of 4% fat and 1 lb. of 15% fat)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup beef or vegetable broth
1/2 cup plain Panko bread crumbs
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (it's a lot of meat.. this amount is perfect)
1 tsp cracked black pepper

1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp ketchup (I use organic- no high fructose corn syrup)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried mustard

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Heat a saute pan or dutch oven over medium high heat, then add the oil and heat it up as well
- Add the onion, garlic, and red bell pepper and sauté for 3 minutes or until the onion starts to turn translucent, set aside to cool for a few minutes
- In a large glass bowl, add the beef, thyme, sage, Worcestershire sauce, broth, Panko bread crumbs, beaten eggs, salt, pepper, and cooled sauteed vegetables
- With hands, carefully combine the ingredients without squeezing together too much (you don't want it to be too dense)
- Transfer the loaf to the meatloaf pan. Again, careful to not pack down the loaf
- In a small bowl, stir together the light brown sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and dried mustard until combined
- Pour the topping over the top of the loaf and spread out evenly
- Place the loaf pan on a cooking sheet and put it in the middle of the oven
- Bake until the internal temperature of the loaf is 165 degrees (it took my loaf about 70 minutes to cook through)
- Let the meatloaf sit for a few minutes before cutting into portions

Dairy free recipe!

Smashed Yukon Potatoes
Serves 6

- Peel 3 lbs (small bag) of Yukon potatoes and cut into 3" pieces
- Place cut potatoes in a large pot with enough water just covering the top of the potatoes
- Heat pan over high heat for about 20 minutes until the potatoes pierce easily with a fork
- Drain potatoes and pour them into a large glass bowl
- Add 1 cup milk (I used non-fat), 1 stick of unsalted butter, a healthy pinch of kosher salt and pepper
- Mash the potatoes by hand with a potato masher (I don't like using a mixer- the potatoes come out gummy) until they are almost smooth
- If the potatoes are too thick, add a little more milk
- Taste, and adjust salt and pepper to taste

Dairy free option- use almond milk in place of dairy milk, and Earth Balance in place of the butter

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lemon and Chicken Pasta

Sometimes "mistakes" in the kitchen end with happy results. I had envisioned making a white wine pasta with sauteed mushrooms, artichoke hearts, chicken, some sundried tomatoes...

When I got home from the grocery store, I realized I forgot to buy mushrooms. Then, when I looked in my pantry, saw I only had vegetable broth. To top it off, I'm out of white wine.

Think, think, think. Okay- I still have sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and chicken. I have a lemon in my basket- maybe use the lemon as the acid in place of the wine?

Even with the missing ingredients, this turned out to be a delicious pasta. Chicken, artichokes, and sundried tomatoes taste so good together. The sauce is delicious and light- who knew lemon and veggie broth together could create such a punch of flavor?

I even sauteed extra chicken breasts to use for salads for my husband's lunches this week. You've got to love shortcuts!

Lemon and Chicken Pasta
Serves 6

1 lb  boneless and skinless chicken breasts (2 large breasts)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper

1 lb spaghetti, cooked according to package
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
kosher salt

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
Zest and juice from 1 lemon (about 2 Tbsp each)
1 jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper

- Place chicken breasts between saran wrap and pound to about 1/2 inch thickness
- Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper
- Heat sautee pan over medium/high heat and add oil and butter
- Once butter has melted, add chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until seared and cooked through
- Remove chicken to a clean plate and set aside
- In sautee pan, add vegetable broth, lemon zest and juice and simmer for 5 minutes until it starts to bubble and thicken
- Adjust seasoning with kosher salt and/or pepper
- Add in artichokes and sundried tomatoes and continue to heat another couple of minutes
- Dice the chicken breasts and add them back to the sautee pan, along with any juices from the plate
- Add in the cooked pasta and simmer another couple of minutes to meld the flsvors
- Use some of the reserved pasta water if needed

Dairy free recipe!