Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Cookies

It's time for Christmas cookies.  This is the best recipe I have ever found for butter(sugar) cookies.  I searched high and low for a good firm cookie recipe for years and finally found this one.  I have two great memories of butter cookies, the first was from my childhood.  There was a little bakery right off the MSCW campus in Columbus and Daddy would stop and let me got a few cookies.  I always got the butter cookies because they had a circle of icing in the middle and they changed the color of the icing for the current holiday.  
Fast forward to 2003 and the Warren Central baseball state championship ring ceremony.  I signed up to bring 2 dozen cookies, no big deal except it was the end of the school year and I was SUPER busy.  So I ordered them from a local bakery.  I didn't ask how much (first mistake) so when I went to pick them up they were super cute, I ordered 3 dozen because I knew my guys would want some to sample before the ceremony and I picked up a half dozen crescent  cookies too.  When the saleslady said $36. I nearly hit the floor.  But I had no choice so I paid the bill and left with my "high dollar cookies".  After that I searched high and low for a recipe so I would never make that mistake again.  A few years later a gourmet shop in Jackson had a cookie workshop and I went and low and behold I found this recipe.
Now the hardest part of this recipe is that it requires 1 Cup of vanilla sugar.  Not hard to do but it must be done ahead of time.  So now I keep at least 2 Cups of vanilla sugar on hand all the time.
How to make Vanilla sugar. 
Use a "good" quality whole vanilla bean.  I got these at Penzey's Spices in Memphis and this is my last one. 
 Just fill a canning jar about halfway with sugar, add the whole vanilla bean, then fill the remaining way to the top with sugar.  Put the lid on and allow to sit in the cabinet a few weeks for the sugar to absorb the vanilla flavor.
Now for the recipe.
1 cup vanilla sugar
1 and 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened.

Softened butter will leave a finger print when pressed lightly.  Too soft and it won't mix with the sugar correctly.  Too firm and it will make a huge racket in your mixing bowl.  
 Now let's measure the 2 Cups of all purpose flour.  Unlike sugar, you don't just dip the measuring cup into the flour canister.  You use a scoop and pour that into the measuring cup.
 Then use a flat sided spatula, level off the top of the flour.  If you use a dinner knife it will dip into the cup and you will not have a full cup of flour.
 Pour flour into a bowl and then add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.  Use the leveling edge of the can to level off the teaspoon.
  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, level this also.
 Using a wire whisk, mix the 3 ingredients together.
 Measure 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
 Crack one egg.  Always crack your egg(s) into a bowl first before adding to your recipe.  Saves time trying to locate a small piece of the shell.
 Now all the ingredients are ready to add.  Saves so much time and you don't leave anything out.
 Now let's get started, place butter in mixing bowl

 Mix just slightly.
 Add the 1 cup of vanilla sugar.
 Cream on low and then increase speed.  The sugar granules will "cut" the butter into tiny particles and make the cookie moist.  This usually takes about 3 minutes to get the mixture pale and fluffy.
 Add one egg, you make break the yolk up slightly, if you wish.
 Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Be sure you use a good brand.
 For the next step I put the splatter guard on my mixer and reduce the speed to low. Add the 2 cups of flour.
 Mix just until combined.
 Another great tip is to run a sink full of hot soapy water to put your used bowl, spoons etc in while you are assembling the cookie dough.
 This speeds up clean up time.
 Scrap the dough from the bowl and place on parchment paper.  Then cut in half.  I used a bench scraper.
 Roll into a ball and place in a zip top bag.  Flatten into a 6 inch disc.
 Do the same with the remaining ball of dough.
Seal bag, pressing as much air out of the bag as possible.  
Place bags in refrigerator and chill for at least 1 hour or up to 5 days. 
If you want to make up and freeze, just chill then wrap well in plastic wrap and put back in zip top bag.  Freeze for up to one month.  Thaw in refrigerator.  
Now while that chills I will clean up the kitchen, then I am off to watch the Christmas parade.  
I'll bake the cookies tomorrow afternoon. 

I love to Cook!!

I love to cook, always have.  I like tried and true recipes and I like trying new recipes.  I read cookbooks like most people read a novel. Lately I have been trying more new recipes. Fortunately I have a very willing taste tester.  Paul is great and he enjoys my new adventures.  Although he does question why I photograph each step of a recipe. I guess it's because I also love to take pictures. So I am going to try to combine the two loves and see what happens. 
Okay here is my latest new recipe.
Chicken Piccata
Select 2 chicken breasts, I use the skinless, boneless flash frozen version.  Place both thawed breasts in a zip top bag and pound until thin and even thickness.
 Season and lightly dredge in flour, shake excess flour off.
Set  chicken aside
Gather the remaining ingredients.
Place 2 Tablespoons butter and 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or EVOO in a large skillet.
Heat oil and butter until melted.  Remember butter has a low smoke/burn point so watch this closely.
Once the butter is melted, mix the two oils together.
Carefully add each floured chicken breast into the oil/butter mixture.
Cook over medium heat until brown on both sides
When the chicken is nicely browned remove from pan and set aside.
Add 1/3 cup chilled white wine, to deglaze the pan that the chicken was cooked in and reduce.
  Stir to loosen the fronds or brown bits stuck to the pan.
Add one cup chicken stock and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice.  Stir.
Add 2 Tablespoons of chopped sun dried tomatoes.  (not the oil packed variety)
Add 2 Tablespoons capers.  
Bring to a boil and reduce the sauce by half.  Turn heat down and simmer
While this simmers, now is the time to cook the pasta.
One of the reasons I selected this dish is that I bought some homemade pasta at our local farmer's market and wanted to use it.  This is Tomato, Basil, Garlic Fettuccine.
Bring your water to a full rolling boil with a teaspoon of olive oil and dash of salt.
Cook pasta until al denta, which means to the tooth, or still has a little chew to it.  
Pasta will continue to cook once removed from the water, so don't over cook it.
Now chop 1 Tablespoon of Italian parsley.  Rough cut, not too fine.
Once the sauce has reduced add 1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream and 2 Tablespoons cold butter.
Mix cream and butter into the sauce
Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Add the cooked chicken breasts back to the pan.
Add the cooked and drained pasta.
Lightly toss to coat the fettuccine.
Garnish with the chopped parsley.
Serve with a glass of white wine and enjoy.