Sunday, April 13, 2014

How to Freeze (and Bake!) Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Who doesn't love chocolate chips cookies? Especially hot and fresh from the oven! Sure they are good the second day too (and let's not kid ourselves, they don't make it to the third day.) But it's hard to beat a fresh baked cookie. Well, my friends, I have discovered the answer to this problem. Okay, I didn't discover the answer, the much wiser cookie bakers have probably known this secret for years. But I am going to share with you my method of freezing cookie dough.

First of all, use my Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. This recipe is already a doubled recipe so it makes quite a few cookies. (About 50 cookies that are about 2-1/2 inches in diameter.) But feel free to go crazy and make this batch twice. (I wouldn't recommend trying to make a bigger batch in any standard size stand mixer. This about hits the capacity limit.) Once your cookie dough is ready we need to gather some supplies.

  • You will need a cookie sheet or two. (Or something that will fit in your freezer! I use a small cutting board)
  • Freezer paper or waxed paper or parchment paper
  • Freezer bags or freezer quality storage containers.
  • Permanent marker (for labeling)

Cover your cookie sheets with freezer paper. Spoon out the cookie dough onto the cookie sheets to the size that you want your cookies to be. You don't wan the cookies to be touching, but the can be very close together. Now you are going to flash freeze your (raw) cookies. (If you don't know about flash freezing, read "How to...Flash Freeze" by Ree of "The Pioneer Woman") Let them freeze for about half an hour. You want them to be firm to the touch. You can leave them in there longer, just don't forget about them overnight, or until next week when you go to pull something else out of the freezer. You run the risk of them getting "freezer burnt." (Not saying that I've ever done that...)

Once they are frozen transfer them to storage bags or containers. Label them! Label what they are (Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough) and the month and year that they where made! It is also helpful to write the baking directions on the bag.

When you are in the mood for some fresh baked cookies, bake them in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 14 minutes. (Time my vary depending on your cookie size)

It is also possible to freeze cookie without making it in to cookies first. You can just put your cookie dough into a freezer bag or a freezer quality container and freeze it. Then when you are ready to make cookies you thaw it and make your cookies as you usually would. 

You can also freeze already baked cookies. This is also a good option! You can either thaw them at room temperature or you can put them in a preheated oven for a few minutes.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Strawberry-Banana Oatmeal Muffins

We had a couple of banana that were beginning to turn an unappealing shade of brown. Much past the stage where I would eat them. (Who am I kidding, I'll hardly eat a banana when it is in it's prime. I don't like the texture but I look the flavor that banana adds to things, smoothies and banana bread for example.) They weren't mushy yet, but it was only a matter of time. Also I have been wanting to experiment with muffins. So those bananas where calling my name.

I wanted to create something breakfast worthy. Something hearty. Something with fruit in it. I think I came up with a winner!

Strawberry-Banana Oatmeal Muffins with Struesel  Topping

1 Cup of Pureed Strawberries
2 Mashed Bananas
1/4 Cup of Canola Oil
1 Egg
1 Cup of Oatmeal
1/2 Cup of All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup of Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 Cup of Sugar
2-1/2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder

Struesel Topping

1/4 cup ground oatmeal
2 Tablespoons of Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons of Butter, melted
1/4 Cup of Regular Rolled Oats

To Make Muffins:

In a large bowl mix together Strawberries, Bananas, Oil and Egg. Stir to combine. Add Oatmeal and mix. Add Flours, Sugar and Baking Powder. Stir until just combined. Spoon into greased muffin tins.

To make struesel:

In a small bowl add ground oatmeal, brown sugar and melted butter. Stir to combine. Add in rolled oats. Sprinkle the struesel on to the uncooked muffins.

Bake the muffins at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

My Tips

  • I only had about 2/3 of a cup of strawberry puree so I used milk for the remaining 1/3 of a cup.
  • I usually use cupcake liners to bake my muffins (it's easier to clean the muffin tin!)
  • After the muffins cooled, I topped with a glaze made out of powdered sugar and milk. To make the glaze but a 1/4 of a cup of Powdered sugar into a small bowl and add milk (or water or orange juice or lemon juice, etc.) a few drops at t time until it is the desired consistency.
  • I always grind up oatmeal in my blender to make "flour" I often use it in various recipes in place of part of the flour. For the struesel topping you can substitute all purpose flour for the ground oatmeal if you prefer.
  • These freeze well! Just take them out and let them thaw. Or thaw them in the oven.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I haven't made cookies in a long time. As in months. And the last time I made Chocolate Chip Cookies was probably last summer. Or last spring! Regardless, I was way overdue to make them! I mean who doesn't love a good Chocolate Chip Cookie? So when my daughter requested them, I was happy to oblige!

I believe that the original copy of this recipe came from the back of a Great Value (Walmart's store brand) bag of Chocolate Chips. I have modified it somewhat to suit my taste.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

4-1/2 Cups of Flour
2 Teaspoons of Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
1 Cup of Butter, Softened
1 Cup of Crisco
1-1/4 Cups of Brown Sugar, packed
1 Cup of Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
2 Eggs
4 Cups of Chocolate Chips

Cream Butter, Crisco, and Sugars until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs and beat well. Add 1 cup of Flour, Baking Soda and Salt. Mix. Add in remaining Flour 1 cup at a time mixing between each addition. Add Chocolate Chips and mix until combined.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10-13 minutes.


My Tips

  • I usually use 1/2 all purpose flour and for the remaining 1/2 I use a combination of whole wheat, pastry whole wheat, oatmeal and ground oatmeal
  • I will often use a combination of chips such as butterscotch, chocolate and cherry

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Baby Shower Cake

There are two types of cake designs that I struggle to come up with. One is a generic guy's birthday cake and the other is a generic baby shower cake. For a lady's birthday cake you can always do flowers. Even if you don't know anything about her, you can do flowers and it will look beautiful and appropriate. Kids' birthday cakes? There are endless options. Bridal shower? The ideas are endless! But give me a guy's birthday cake and I'm stumped. Unless he likes hunting or fishing or sports I usually struggle to come up with a fun cake idea. Usually they and up looking something like this "present" cake. There is nothing wrong with it. But it really isn't anything special!

Then there are baby shower cakes. There are tons of great cake ideas out there. Just check out the Baby Shower gallery on Cake Central. You could be stuck there for days. Literally. At the time of this post they have 64,000+ pictures of baby shower cakes. And that number grows every day! The problem comes with trying to make a gender neutral cake! There is only so much you can do with yellow and green! Yes, I know there are plenty of other colors you can use that are also neutral, but then you start running the risk of it being too modern or to girly or too boyish. You could always go with an animal theme. There are tons of beautiful owl cakes, duck cakes, monkey cakes and jungle animal cakes. But if you don't know the mother that well, it's hard to know if she's really into the whole owl craze!

So, I'm still trying to come up with a baby shower design that is generic enough to fit any baby shower yet fun enough to have the "WOW!" factor. If you have any ideas, please let me know! For know, this is my generic cake. (Yes, I know, this one is boyish. But the design can easily transfer to girl or neutral to fit the celebration.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Soft Pretzels

I'm not a fan of pretzels. Soft pretzels, crunchy pretzels, they're just not my thing. They would be okay if it wasn't for that whole pretzel-ly taste! I know, that's what makes it a pretzel. So as I said, I'm not a fan of pretzels. However, my 6 year old son is. And I promised him that I would try making some. So, when I came across this pretzel recipe at Sally's Baking Addiction, I thought I would give it a try.

It turns out that pretzels are easy to make. They are also fun to make! Plus seeing the big smile on my son's face totally made it worth it! And I have to say, if it wasn't for the whole pretzel-ly taste thing, I probably would have liked them myself.

Making pretzels is a lot like making bagels. In fact the difference between the two recipes was that the bagels had oil in them and the pretzels did not. The procedures also varied slightly. The bagels needed to rise for 20 minutes after shaping them and the pretzels did not. Also the shape they were made into was different (obviously) , but the procedures for making the shape (roll, stretch, pull into a rope and shape!) were the same. The bagels were boiled in plain water and the pretzels were boiled in baking soda water (to give them the golden brown pretzel look and taste.) Finally the pretzels where dipped into an egg wash after boiling and then the toppings were added (coarse salt, cinnamon and sugar) and any toppings added to the bagels (sesame seeds, poppy seeds) where added directly to the bagel after boiling. No egg wash required!

I think next time I will make bagels and pretzels at the same time. I'll alter the recipe slightly so that it is combination of the two and I'll make a bunch into bagels and a bunch into pretzels! When I get around to it I'll let you know how it turns out.

We ate our pretzels fresh out of the oven with a side of nacho cheese for dipping them into. If you put enough nacho cheese on it, the pretzel-ly taste was covered up just enough so that someone like me, who doesn't like the pretzel-ly taste (okay, get the point. I don't like pretzels. I'll stop telling you that!)

My Tips
  • Read through Sally's entire post on making pretzels BEFORE making them. I just skimmed it over, printed out the recipe, made my pretzels and then came back and read her article. I missed a few important points, like the broiling is only necessary if you didn't first boil your pretzels!

  • Be generous when sprinkling the salt on the pretzels. Pretzels are supposed to be salt. My son kept asking if he could have one of the pretzels that was sprinkled with salt. I told him they all were. He didn't believe me. I might have been a little stingy with the salt.

  • I made the recipe into 12 pretzels. They were the perfect size for kids.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Deep Fried Bread Sticks

A local restaurant sells these bread sticks that are delicious. In fact the bread sticks are on of the reasons main reasons that I go there. I have never seen bread sticks like that anywhere else. Well, I finally came to the conclusion that they are deep fried. So, I've been thinking that I should give a try at making them. But it sounded like a lot of work.

I had some left over dough sitting in my refrigerator from when i made my Ham and Cheese Hot Pockets the other day, so I thought I would try making deep fried bread sticks. I haven't worked with refrigerated dough much so I'm not sure what the correct procedure is for using it, but here is what I did. I took the dough out of the zippered bag that it was stored in and set it on the lightly floured counter top. I let it sit there for an hour or so to "warm up." 

After the dough had warmed up enough that I could work with it, I rolled it into a rectangle and sliced it into bread sticks using a pizza cutter. Then I cut each bread stick in half length-wise so that it would be about 5 or 6 inches long. (You could leave them long, but I wanted them to fit easily into the frying pan.) The dough was still cold, so I covered the bread sticks and let them sit for another 30 minutes.

At this point, I poured about an inch of canola oil into a frying pan and heated the oil over medium heat. To test if the oil was hot enough, I tore a small piece off of one of the bread sticks and tried cooking it. (If the oil is hot enough the bread will immediately rise to the top and began to puff out.) The oil was ready, so I put in one bread stick to test how long they needed to cook. THEY COOK VERY FAST! They only need to cook for about 10 seconds per side! Anything over 12 seconds and they start to over cook. So the method that I found to work the best for me was to add the bread sticks 3 at a time. By the time I added the last bread stick to the oil, the first one was ready to flip over. After they finished cooking on both sides, I removed them from the oil and put them on a plate covered with a couple of layers of paper towel to cool. We ate them while they were still warm. 

They turned out pretty good, but not quite like the restaurant's. I think next time I will use a dough that is a little bit sweeter. Also I might try brushing them with melted butter and sprinkling them with garlic powder and Parmesan cheese. 

My Tips

  • The grease will splash and splatter when it is hot. Use care and keep kids away from it. (Okay, you already knew that.)
  • Serve with marinara or pizza sauce for dipping. Garlic butter or ranch would also be great dipping sauces.
  • You could probably freeze these, but I'm not sure if they would be as good after. A better solution would be to freeze your excess pizza dough. Kalyn over at Creative Savings talks about how to freeze pizza dough and how to use it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Paper Mache Easter Eggs Part 1

If you have never done a paper mache project with your kids, you should. It is the perfect kids project, it is cheap, fun, easy and messy. However, take note that it may not be the perfect project for parents, it's messy and usually tends to stretch into more than one day! But as I said, it's easy and cheap. Plus you probably have the needed supplies on hand.

There are plenty of paper mache recipes out there, but I have only ever used one. It's simple and takes about 2 minutes to make. That's including getting out the ingredients. To make paper mache paste add one part flour and two parts water. Mix thoroughly. There should be very few lumps left in the paste. If you prefer a slightly thicker paste add additional flour (in very small amounts at a time!) until you get the desired consistency. The paste that we used was pretty thin and I have always found this to work well. Unused paste can be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for a few days. However, I prefer to make fresh paste every time. (It is cheap and easy to make after all)

Materials needed to make Paper Mache Easter Eggs:

Paper Mache Paste (1 part flour:2 parts water)
Paper ripped into strips
Balloons (blown up to the size that you want your eggs)
Large Garbage bag or a sheet of plastic to cover your work surface

First start by covering your work surface! If you are doing this with kids, it will get messy! Take a strip of paper and dip it completely into the paste. Pull it out immediately and run it between two of your fingers to remove excess paste. The strip of paper should be completely covered with paste but not dripping. Lay the strip of paper over the balloon. Keep repeating this process, slightly overlapping the paper strips on the balloon. Continue until you have completely covered the balloon with paper strips. 

Now you are going to keep adding more layers of paper mache to the balloon, but you want to change the direction of the papers that you are laying down. Also try to change up where they overlap. Basically after you have the balloon covered in one layer of paper, add the rest in random patterns. Just try to keep the layers fairly consistent.  (Example: you don't want 8 layers of paper in one spot and only 2 in another) I recommend making it at least 5 layers thick. At this point you are going to want to let dry. 

Drying time will be dependent on a few different things. First, how much paste you put on each strip of paper. How many layers you put on. Also by the humidity level. I recommend letting it dry for a couple of days. Then you can determine if you want to add more layers of paper mache. The more layers you add, the stronger it will get. Just keep in mind, that you need to add thin layers so that they can fully dry.

My Tips

  • Have your kids wear old clothes. It sounds like an innocent enough project, but once the paste dries it is a pain to get out!
  • Newspaper is the best paper to use, but any paper will work. We use lots of old scrap paper, office paper or even old phone book pages.
  • Clean up your mess immediately when you are done. As I said earlier, once the paste dries, it becomes very difficult to get off of things.

Check back in next week for Part 2 off our Paper Mache Easter Eggs!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ham, Cheese and Broccoli Hot Pockets

I made pizza pockets awhile back and it has been at the back of my mind to make them again. But I never seen to have all of the ingredients on hand at the same time. So last night I thought I would try a little variation. Last night's supper was Hot Pockets with ham, cheese, broccoli and grilled onions. They were very good, but they still didn't quite satisfy my craving for pizza pockets. I'll have to pepperoni and pizza sauce to my shopping list! In the mean time, I'll tell you how I made my Hot Pockets.

First lets start with the crust.

3-1/2 Cups of Warm Water
1 Tablespoon on granulated Sugar (or Honey)
4-1/2 Teaspoons of active dry Yeast (or 2 packages)
4 Cups all purpose Flour
3 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

Dissolve the sugar in 1 cup of the water. Add yeast and stir. Let the mixture sit until it is foamy (about 10 minutes) Put the flours in a large bowl and form a well  in the center. When the yeast mixture is ready, pour it into the well in the flour. Add the additional 2-1/2 cups of water and stir. Stir until you have mixed all of the water in. There will probably be excess flour in the bowl still. Dump the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Put the dough back into the bowl and cover with a clean towel. Let the dough rise until it is doubled in bulk (about 35-45 minutes.)

While your dough is rising, start preparing your fillings. I used deli ham, mozzarella cheese, grilled onions with garlic and broccoli.

1 Large Onion
2 Teaspoons Garlic (or to taste)
8 Ounces of Mozzarella Cheese
1 Pound of Ham

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a medium frying pan. Slice the onion and add it to the frying pan. Add the garlic. If you want to add any additional spices, this would be a good time to add them. Some good additions would be basil or oregano. Saute the onions until they are tender. Chop up the broccoli into small pieces and add it to the pan. Cover and cook for about 4 minutes. Cook just until your broccoli starts to soften.

Now it is time to prep your ham and cheese. I used thin, shaved deli ham so there was no need for prepping, but I you are using ham from a whole ham you will need to slice it or dice it into small enough pieces to fit into your hot pocket. For the cheese, I started with an 8 ounce block of Mozzarella cheese and cut it into thick slices. But you could definitely use shredded cheese or string cheese sticks cut in half.

When the dough is ready, you have a couple of different options for preparing it. You could roll the whole thing out and cut it into rectangles (cut to the size you want each hot pocket.) Or what I did was pull off a chunk of dough as I made each hot pocket, rolled it into a rectangle and added the fillings. When adding the fillings, put it all on one half of the dough and then fold the other side over the top and seal the edges together. I first added the ham, then cheese and then put a scoop of the onion/broccoli mixture on top. The proportions you use will depend on your personal taste, but I recommend about 1 ounce of ham, half an ounce of cheese and a good sized spoonful (real scientific, I know) of the onion/broccoli mixture. I don't measure anything, I just guess, so they all come out a little different. 

Bake in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for about 15 minutes.

My Tips

  • If you have any dough left over, you can use it to make breadsticks, or mini-pizzas, or freeze it for later use. Or bake it and top it with butter, cinnamon, sugar and a frosting made up of powdered sugar and water.
  • Substitute the fillings to suit your taste. Turkey or chicken make great substitutes.
  • These are great for freezing. To reheat them, but them in the oven frozen for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Blueberry Pie Oatmeal

It might be spring, but here it was a cold, snowy morning. There is no better way to start a cold, snowy morning than by having a hot filling breakfast and a cup of coffee. This Blueberry Pie Oatmeal is so tasty that it will seem like you are having dessert for breakfast.

Blueberry Pie Oatmeal
(Makes about 4 one-cup servings)

2 Cups Milk
3 Tablespoons Brown Sugar (or Honey)
1 Teaspoon Butter
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
2 Cups Blueberries (Fresh or Frozen
1-1/2 Cups quick cooking Oats

In a medium saucepan combine all the ingredients except for the oats and bring to a boil. Add the oats and cook for an additional 2 or 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.

My Tips

  • Can substitute apples for the blueberries or use a combination of blueberries and apples.
  • Serve with plain yogurt or Greek yogurt for an added protein boost
  • Can also be served as a dessert. Just add Ice Cream!
  • Decrease the amount of Brown Sugar if you don't want it to be sweet.
  • I add more frozen blueberries to my kids' bowls of oatmeal to help the oatmeal cool faster

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Corn Meal Waffles

A few years ago I made some Corn Meal Waffles and they were really good. I know that I found the recipe in of one of my cookbooks, but I have searched for it over and over again and I have not been able to find it. The only recipe I had called for creamed corn. I know I did not put creamed corn in my waffles. So I have not made Corn Meal Waffles since then. Until yesterday.

I had come across this recipe for Savory Waffle Sandwiches by A Spicy Perspective. This sandwich is made up of eggs, bacon, cheese and tomato using savory corn waffles for the bread. They look and sound amazing! There was a few problems though. I didn't have bacon on hand. Or tomatoes. Or really any appropriate substitute sandwich fillers. It's been awhile since I've been grocery shopping. So I used the waffle recipe and made a few substitutions and a few omissions and I came up with a really delicious Corn Meal Waffle recipe. But my mouth is still watering over the Savory Waffle Sandwiches so I am going to have to try them. Soon!

Corn Meal Waffles

2-1/2 Cups all-purpose Flour
2 Cups Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Cornstarch
6 Tablespoons granulated Sugar
4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
4 Eggs
3/4 Cup Butter, melted
4 Cups Sour Milk (or Buttermilk if you have!)

In a large bowl, first add the dry ingredients. Whisk to incorporate. Then add eggs, melted butter and sour milk. Stir until just mixed. Cook in your waffle iron as directed by manufacturer. Serve hot with pure maple syrup. 

We had a side of spinach, egg, Parmesan and cheddar cheese scramble to round out our meal. 

My Tips

  • To make a cup of sour milk: put 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice and add milk to equal 1 cup. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes to allow it time to sour. If you need it faster, you can heat it in the microwave for about a minute.
  • You could probably use less sugar. Next time I will probably use 2 or 3 tablespoons. 
  • I have no idea what the purpose of the cornstarch is in the recipe. If you know, please tell me! Next time I will probably try it without.
  • Leftover waffles are great for putting in the freezer. To use them, we stick them straight into the toaster from the freezer. You could also microwave them or heat them in the oven.