Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lemon Swig Sugar Cookies

Lemon Swig Sugar Cookies - made dough May 13, 2017 from The Recipe Critic
I don’t know if Swig Sugar Cookies are more popular or well known in other parts of the country but they’re not that common where I live. I only heard about them through the internet and since I don’t buy store bought cookies (Oreos and Biscoff cookies being the rare exceptions), if they’re sold in the supermarkets in my area, I’ve missed them completely.
So it’s just as well that I’m a cookie snob and prefer to make my own anyway. If you’ve never had a “swig sugar cookie”, they’re best described as a cross between a cakey shortbread and a sugar cookie.  Every recipe I’ve seen makes them large and they’re frosted with some kind of vanilla frosting (not a glaze or a thin icing but an honest to goodness frosting) which can easily be tinted different colors, depending on your preference, mood or occasion. Or you can leave untinted and flavor it instead.
Which is what this version does in making a lemon cream cheese frosting for the cookies. The dough itself is easy to make and great to work with, having a smooth consistency, not dry or crumbly or oily or sticky. Make the dough balls into the size of a golf ball – or thereabouts – then press gently with the bottom of a glass. Not too hard as you don’t want them to be thin and they will spread a little, though not much.

I erred on the side of caution and only pressed so that the top dome of the dough ball was flat and I was left with a thick, chubby disk. Which I then froze overnight. When it came time to bake them, they spread slightly and when I took them out, I dipped the bottom of the glass in granulated sugar and pressed more firmly. You want to get those iconic “edges” to the cookie that comes with all that bottom-of-glass pressing. Plus a very slight indent or well to better hold the frosting. You only want to frost the center of the cookie and leave a ring of outer edge unfrosted and exposed. That makes for easier handling. Plus it’s prettier.

I really enjoyed these cookies. And when I say “enjoyed” and “cookies”, I meant I ate three. Three big cookies. Spaced out over 24 hours but still…. That’s two cookies above my usual taste test ration. So you know I can sincerely tell you these were great cookies. If you’re a vanilla fan or one of those people who “don’t do chocolate” or have nut allergies or simply have a pulse, these are delicious cookies to try out.

If you’re making these for a crowd and don’t want to have such big servings, rather than making them smaller, which I think detracts from the bold-as-brass, look-at-me impression you want them to make, go ahead and make them jumbo or large-sized but cut them in half after you frost them. Then serve with the halves lined up to still look like whole cookies. People can take then take a half as their serving. But after they take a bite, I bet you they come back for the other half.

1 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1/4 cup reserved
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 cups flour

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups confectioners' sugar (or less if you prefer less sweet and more tangy frosting)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, vegetable oil, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar and water. Add in lemon juice and lemon zest and mix briefly to combine. Add eggs and beat until just combined.
  4. Slowly add in flour mixture until just combined. Do not overmix. Roll the dough into golf-ball sized balls and place onto prepared baking sheets.
  5. Dip the bottom of a glass into the reserved 1/4 cup sugar and press onto each dough ball to slightly flatten the cookie.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly brown. Do not overbake. Remove to wire cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.
  7. To make the frosting: beat cream cheese and butter until creamy and well combined. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add confectioners' sugar, one cup at a time, until desired flavor and consistency. Beat until smooth and frost each cookie with frosting.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet

Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet - made May 7, 2017, modified from Primavera Kitchen
It’s been awhile since I made this and I didn’t do the write up immediately after so my memory is a little fuzzy on this dish. I think it was fine as far as cooking my own savory food goes and I liked all the base components of ground turkey, sweet potatoes and (Penzey’s) spices. It was also one of those simple, one-dish meals I like to make so I can’t quibble with that.

From the pictures, it looks a little dry but it isn’t a dish that’s meant to be soupy.  I added a little pizza sauce but mostly because I had a jar from an earlier pizza-in-my-cast-iron-skillet meal and I wanted to use it up. 
Overall, a simple healthy meal. 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound extra-lean ground turkey
1 teaspoon garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup yellow pepper (I left it out)
1 1/2 cups sweet potato, diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of red chili flakes
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup pizza sauce, optional
Parsley for garnish, if desired

  1. In an iron cast skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add ground turkey and garlic, stirring to break up the turkey as it cooks. Stir occasionally until turkey is cooked.
  3. Add onions and yellow pepper; cook until onion is golden brown, Add the sweet potatoes, chili pepper, salt and pepper. Add the pizza sauce if using.
  4. Cover the skillet and cook until sweet potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. When sweet potatoes are tender, add shredded mozzarella cheese and place skillet in oven to melt the cheese. Once cheese is melted, remove skillet from oven. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cookie Butter Thumbprints

Cookie Butter Thumbprints - made dough April 30, 2017, adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies
I loved these cookies. Straight up, no lie. They have a shortbread "shell" and they're filled with cookie butter. I don't think I need to say much more, do you?

But I'm a "talker" (or blogger) when it comes to desserts so I'll expound a bit more. First, the dough was easy to make and easy to handle, always a plus when making cookies. I used my smallest cookie scoop to make small cookie dough balls. It's not like the cookies spread much but you don't want big thumbprint cookies. They're more cute when they're dainty, not behemoth.
Use the rounded side of a 1/2 teaspoon to press the indent in the center of the warm cookie, halfway through baking and right when you take them out of the oven. You want a nice size well in the middle of the cookie, not so shallow that you don't have room for a dollop of cookie butter but not so deep that you press a hole into the cookie.
Warm the cookie butter for about 10-15 seconds in the microwave, just warm enough to spoon smoothly into the center well of the cookie where it can smooth out for maximum prettiness. I like the pairing of a vanilla shortbread cookie with the cookie butter filling and this makes for a cute tea cookie.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter, confectioners' sugar, salt and vanilla on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  3. Beat in the flour, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium until just combined.
  4. Form balls using 2 teaspoons of dough for each. Place balls 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake 10 minutes, remove from oven and press thumb into cookies (a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon also works) to make deep, wide indentations. Rotate pan and return to oven beat until light brown at the edges, 7 to 9 minutes more. If the indentations begin to lose definition, remove cookies from oven and press again. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Warm cookie butter slightly so that it's easy to pour. Fill indentations with lukewarm cookie butter and let cool completely.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Snickerdoodle Skillet Biscuits

Snickerdoodle Skillet Biscuits - made May 6, 2017 from Coupon Clipping Cook
This recipe for snickerdoodle skillet biscuits seemed right up my alley. It uses my cast iron skillet, my Penzey’s Vietnamese cinnamon and it’s a bread product. No fail, right? Well, sort of.

Don’t get me wrong; the concept is amazing. I like biscuits, I like cinnamon sugar, I like bread products baked in my cast iron skillet. This was good but I don’t know if I would call it great. And for that, we can blame my inability to make light and fluffy biscuits probably more than the recipe. I’m always (overly) mindful of not overhandling biscuit dough or else you risk developing the gluten, warming up the butter and not getting light-as-air biscuits.
Which means I try to handle the dough as little as possible. Which turned out to be the default for this dough because it was way too sticky and wet for me to get a decent handle on it. The flouring and rolling out part of the directions took a nose dive as I would’ve had to add another cup of flour just to get this to not stick to every surface including my hands. I did the best I could but the dough stuck to everything and I ended up shaping the dough rather than cutting it out.
I don’t know if it was that amount of handling or just that I’m cursed by the baking gods but these biscuits came out just okay. The outer part was good because it developed into a nice sweet crunch from the cinnamon sugar coating and baking in the skillet. But I wouldn’t say the insides were fluffy-soft like a good biscuit. It was simply bready. And these were only good warm. After they had cooled, the cinnamon sugar coating became moist and the outsides lost their crunch. So this is another recipe where it’s best made when you’re going to serve it soon after it’s out of the oven.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grease 8" cast iron skillet with 1 teaspoon butter and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt, milk, sugar, cream of tartar, egg and cubed butter. With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. 
  3. Add beaten egg and milk, mixing the ingredients with a fork until dough forms.
  4. Sprinkle a light coating of flour on a large cutting board and add the dough. Knead the dough a few times until texture becomes sturdy enough to roll. Add a light coating of flour to a rolling pin and roll out the dough to 1 1/4" thick. Using a 3"-wide biscuit or cookie cutter, cut the dough into 4 large biscuits.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Coat all sides of a biscuit with the cinnamon sugar mixture and lay it in the skillet. Repeat for the with remaining 3 biscuits so that each biscuit is leaning against one another.
  6. Bake until the biscuits turn a light golden color, about 16 minutes. Remove from oven and serve while hot, topped with butter.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Bakery Review: Cutesy Cupcakes

Cutesy Cupcakes - visited May 20, 2017
It’s been awhile since I had a new cupcake bakery to review. Actually, it feels like it’s been awhile since I’ve tried or sought out any new bakeries. I’m still having (more than) my share of sweets but I’ve been rolling my own, so to speak.

But a friend of mine told me about Cutesy Cupcakes. Actually, I think our conversation went something like:
Her: Have you tried that new cupcake place?


I think I went there within days of finding out about it. According to their website, Cutesy Cupcakes was a contender on Cupcake Wars a few years ago but they didn’t win. I don’t know which episode they were on but I watch the reruns regularly so I will have to keep an eye out for them.

Their location provides both cupcakes and ice cream as well as various drinks and their prices for cupcakes are on a sliding scale. The more you buy, the cheaper the individual cupcakes are. I limited myself to two. At least for this initial visit. Since my Boston sojourn last year, I’ve been sampling vanilla cupcakes more than chocolate whenever I try a new bakery. I’ve discovered that vanilla cupcakes are so simple that it’s a mark of a good bakery to have an excellent vanilla cupcake. There’s no disguise you can make that wouldn’t be apparent in a bad vanilla cupcake. But a good one will stand on the simplicity of its ingredients.

The shop itself was cute. It’s not meant for a big crowd as there weren’t many tables or places to sit but if you wanted to swing by for a cupcake or ice cream with a friend or two, it’s a good option. The ladies behind the counter were very friendly and quite nice, happy to provide service with a smile and a cupcake.
My other flavor choice was a salted caramel chocolate cupcake with caramel buttercream, a drizzle of salted caramel, sea salt sprinkles and a chewy caramel on top. Is that a cupcake that spells my name in glitter or what?

Each cupcake was in its own specialized cupcake to-go container which I thought was clever and pretty packaging. It not only allowed you to transport them safely but the clear plastic clam shell case showcased the cupcakes in individual glory. It was definitely a step above those cardboard cutouts meant to anchor cupcakes in place but then covered them in a box.

The cupcakes themselves were also pretty good. I don’t know if I would necessarily be able to distinguish them from another typical cupcake bakery. That status is reserved for Crumbs Bake Shop, Sprinkles and Sibby’s. Cutesy Cupcakes had more frosting than I care for (I scraped off half of it) but they’re better than I could make. I don’t have a light hand with cupcakes and tend to underbake them so I can’t achieve the soft fluffiness of a Crumbs cupcake, for instance. But Cutesy’s vanilla cupcake was good and attested to pure quality ingredients that could make a vanilla cupcake stands on its own. The salted caramel was good as well even if I scraped off more of the frosting and just went with the cake and caramel candy on top.

Next time I go back, I want to try the red velvet. They were out when I visited and had only put out a new tray just as I was leaving. I can’t eat three cupcakes so I’ll save that for next time.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake - made May 7, 2017 from Southern Bite
One of the common themes on my blog for the recipes I try is to use up an ingredient I have before it expires. That’s often a dairy product like milk, buttermilk or sour cream. Sometimes it feels like 90% of the time I post a recipe that uses buttermilk is because I’m trying to use up buttermilk. I’ve heard of the tricks like freezing it and only thawing when you need it but I’ve never done it. I don’t know why. I used to use powdered buttermilk and just rehydrate however much I needed when I had to but that version never seemed as good as fresh buttermilk. But now, I just try to plan ahead and when I do buy buttermilk to use in a recipe, I line up several more recipes to use up the rest.
This is one of those “use up my buttermilk” recipes. Pinterest is a treasure trove of such recipes since you can search for what has the ingredient in the title or the recipe. Pictures say a thousand words and I liked how this looked on the original blog that I got the recipe from so it was an easy decision to try this out.
This is almost like a standard Texas sheet cake recipe that yields an easy-to-make chocolate cake that’s then frosted with an easy-to-make icing. Both of which are delicious and easy to serve to a crowd. I cut the original frosting recipe in half since I don’t like a lot of frosting. You can see from the pictures the thin layer of frosting coating my cake. Yup, that’s about as much frosting as I like. If you’re not me and prefer a thicker layer, make the frosting recipe below as is.
The cake texture on this one was fluffy and soft and the (thin layer of) frosting complemented it perfectly. I gave some of this to my parents and brought the rest into work. The highest accolade from my mom and several of my coworkers? “I like this; it isn’t too sweet.” Almost verbatim from at least 3 different people. Although I laughed when my coworkers said it since they matched my mom’s tone of praise and sincerity, I know what they mean. Chocolate desserts often aren’t “too sweet”; chocolate triggers a different flavor signal than more sugary desserts. Even though you use sugar in chocolate desserts too. Thanks to the Pernigotti cocoa I used in this cake and frosting, the dark rich cocoa offsets any sweetness from the sugar to provide a full-bodied chocolate flavor.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
6-8 tablespoons buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together four, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, then stir in the cocoa powder, oil and water. Heat  to a boil and let boil for 1 minute.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. 
  5. Pour the heated mixture over the flour mixture and stir. Add the eggs and buttermilk mixture and stir until well combined. 
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Cool for at least 30 minutes before icing.
  7. Make the icing: Combine the butter and cocoa in a small saucepan. Cook until the butter is melted completely. Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
  8. Pour the confectioners' sugar into a large bowl and pour the hot mixture over the sugar. Stir to combine. Add 1 tablespoon of buttermilk at a time until you get the icing to a pourable consistency but not too thin. Pour over the cake and spread to coat.