Category Archives: Cooking

Oh Fudge!

Oh FUDGE – the Holidays are upon us!

It’s official – Halloween is over and it’s time to get ready for the Holidays!

It’s the time of the year when the baked goodies and treats start showing up at parties and the office.

It’s the time it’s finally okay to indulge a little and celebrate!

It’s a time to reflect back on the year and on all the people we love.

And it’s also the time to start panicking as to what the heck you are giving people this year!

Luckily, my friend Carrie Steven’s has made it easier!

She’s just launched her new line of fudge.  You can choose between 6 different flavors and it ships direct, all bundled up in cute packaging!  36 ounces of the best fudge your friends will be thanking you for!

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Dexter Morgan Method of Baking Cookies

Stained Glass Sugar Cookie

Stained Glass Sugar Cookie

Thing 2 needed to bring food to accompany her school Joan of Arc project.  We wanted to do a burned at the stake cupcake but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get 45+ Tootsie rolls in the bigger size.  We decided to go with a stained glass cookie.   As we were rolling out the sugar cookie dough, I started thinking about how Dexter Morgan would approve.  I’ve been asked several times how I make my cookies so perfect.  Anyone who’s attempted to make sugar cookies knows what I’m talking about.  Sugar cookie dough is fraught with challenges.  The dough sticks, its hard to roll out, it cooks uneven – misshaping the cut out design.  A friend of mine recently asked me how my cookies come out so perfect.  So I thought I would readdress the what now shall be referred to as The Dexter Morgan Method of Baking Cookies.

Just like Dexter – I use lots of plastic wrap.  Flour makes the dough tough (and messy but I don’t think Dexter cares about that).  With this method you never have to use bench flour.

Just like Dexter – I have rules that I follow.  And here they are.

Rule #1 – Don’t follow the recipe
This is where every recipe written for rolled out cookies and I deviate.  Ready any recipe – the FIRST thing the recipe instructs you to do, after you’ve made though dough, is to chill it.  This supposedly makes it easier to roll out.  Forget that step.  They’re wrong.  You’ve been lied to.  This just makes it HARDER to roll out.  Yeah, I supposed if you left the cookie dough in for exactly 15 minutes it would roll out nice but if you’ve kids (or a life) it’s going to be too stiff to roll out.  The chilling is supposed to stop it from sticking.  Guess what?  It still sticks – to the rolling pin and counter top or fancy pastry matt gizmo…   The recipe is WRONG.    Rule #1 is ROLL OUT your dough right after you’ve made it.  It’s the perfect consistency.

Rule #2 – Wrap it in plastic
Use two sheets of plastic wrap.  This is the part Dexter and I both love.  First knead the dough lightly on a silpat.  Then place a layer of plastic wrap down, the cookie dough on top, then add a top layer of plastic.  NOW you can roll it out to the perfect thickness.  Slide the plastic wrapped dough onto a thin plastic cutting board or cookie sheet.

Rule #3 – Refrigerate
Stick the cutting board or cookie sheet into the refrigerator.   Don’t worry about how long it’s in there for.  Just leave it covered with the plastic wrap, and when you’re good and ready you can take it out.  If you notice, Dexter doesn’t like to be rushed.  He likes to be able to concentrate his full attention.  I don’t like to be rushed either.

Rule #4 – Cut
Peel off the top layer of plastic and set aside (I’ll re-use it to roll out the scraps – I’m more eco friendly than Dexter).  Then put the right side of the silpat on top of the dough and flip both over.  This puts the silpat on the bottom with the dough on top.  Remove the 2nd piece of plastic wrap.  You may want to lightly roll out any wrinkles (again use the plastic) but if you’re going to frost the cookies – it’s not necessary.  Now cut out your shapes and remove the negative pieces.   The idea is to cut the shape directly on the baking surface – never move the dough.  It’s vital if you are making large shapes that aren’t easily transferable or if the design has intricate shapes.

The Dexter Morgan Method of Baking Cookies

The Dexter Morgan Method

Depending on how long your dough has been out – you may want to refrigerate your dough.  You always want to bake cold dough.  If you’ve just taken it out of the fridge and cut your pieces, you’re good to go.  But if you’ve rolled out your scraps (negative pieces) into a new sheet, get them cold before you bake.  This ensures the shape of the cookie remains just the way you cut it out. Something about warm cookie dough distorts the final shape of the cookie.

For stained glass cookies – bake the cookies for half the time that the recipe calls for.  Then fill with hard candies like Jolly Ranchers.  The complete baking for the remaining time called for.

Stained Glass Cookies

Stained Glass Cookies using Jolly Ranchers

After explaining my method (which is a little fussy) to the interested friend, she remarked that she probably wouldn’t make rolled out cookies.  That’s okay – not everyone is cut out to be a serial baker…..

Drinking the Salted Caramel Kool Aid

I didn’t have a lot of time to myself over the holidays.  Who does really?  But a working single mom leads no glamorous life – I assure you.   I DID have a LITTLE time and in the spirit of the holidays I tried out a new recipe I found on a blog.  Four batches later I’m addicted.

In case you’ve been living off the grid, the whole Salted Caramel trend is big right now.   I’ve never been a caramel girl – bad memories of rock hard square pieces of Kraft Caramels abandoned in my Halloween loot or waxy drugstore turtles made with tasteless chocolate with caramel inside were my only caramel encounters.  Clearly, I’ve been missing out.

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It was the “Apple Cider” in the recipe that snagged me.  I love to heat up a mug of apple cider over the holidays – just the thing for a frosty cold night or to sooth a sore throat.  So Salted Apple Cider Caramel seemed a perfect treat for the holidays.

My first batch was not a complete success.  It turned out a little on the hard side but it DAMN SURE tasted good.  I used a big Le Creuset style pan, which while heavy duty – was too wide and I suspect threw the temperature off to the higher side.

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I also found I didn’t really have a way to package the caramels when I was done.  I improvised and used non stick aluminum foil – but those looked like discarded gum in the wrapper it came in and it still stuck.  Despite the obstacles,  the flavor was phenomenal so it was well worth another go.

Before the second batch I researched a little more background on making caramels.  I switched to a smaller pan –a vintage “Wonder Ware” pan from a set my grandmother gave me  (I treasure these pans).  Candy requires exact temperatures but I was scared they would still come out too hard I took the pan off the heat at 250.  (You may need to adjust your final temperature for your pan and stove.)

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I also added a dash more cream as I read someplace that more cream makes for softer caramels.  The result of this batch was perfection!  They were the perfect, light caramel brown.  They were ooey, gooey soft, melting on your tongue yet still holding their shape.    I wrapped them in little pieces of wax paper – gently twisting the ends – and bagged them up for New Years treats.

I’m not going to lie to you – cutting caramel into bite size pieces is a wicked bitch.  After they cooled for 10 minutes, I gave them a final light dusting of sea salt.  Then when the caramel has cooled for 2 hours –you move your batch – via the parchment paper that lined your pan with –  to a cutting board.  Then oil your knife – which I presume meant with vegetable oil (that’s what I used) to cut long rows – oiling after every cut.  Next, cut the rows into bite sized pieces.  I used two knives as I found – even with the oil – the caramel would stick to the knife and needed to be cleaned off.   I alternated the knives – soaking the blade in warm water to dissolve the sugar.

For the third batch I experimented with using Pear Apple Cider and pouring a bit of the caramel into a silicone mini muffin pan.  This worked great but the round size wasn’t conducive to pop in your mouth.  This led to a search for mini bar or tiny treat size, high temp silicone pans.   I found some bar shapes are easy to pop out and wrap.   I also invested in some better wrapping papers (from Candyland Crafts)  Wax paper works but still sticks a little and is prone to tearing.  These tips should help make your caramel a success.

So consider me a Caramel Convert – I’m drinking the Caramel Kool-Aid -so to speak.  Here’s the recipe!

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Apple Cider Caramels
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), as I’m referring to it here, is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I occasionally find vacuum- sealed bottles called apple cider in the juice aisle, but none of the bottled varieties that I’ve tried has the same delicate apple flavor as the more perishable stuff sold in the refrigerator section.

4 cups (945 ml) apple cider (be sure to use American made Apple Cider – check the label, you can also substitute Pear Cider – Don’t use cider made in China!)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or less of a finer one
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
(I used a dash more)
Neutral oil for the knife (I used vegetable oil)

Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This takes about 35 to 40 minutes on my stove. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, get your other ingredients in order, because you won’t have time to spare once the candy is cooking. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.

Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, (250 worked for me)  only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it.

(Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)

Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut (trust me!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.

Candy Corn Cupcakes

Thing 2 came home with a birthday party invitation for one of her friends this weekend.  Since my parents are coming down to visit this weekend Thing 2 wouldn’t be able to attend and I felt bad for her little friend who is such a sweet girl.

“Let’s make her some cupcakes” I suggested out of guilt.  Keep in mind – we all just arrived home and it’s already 8:00 PM and we haven’t had dinner yet.  Just a glimpse of the glamour filled life I live.

While dinner was cooking – I looked up on Pinterest some Halloween themed ideas for cupcakes and found this cute idea for candy corn cupcakes.  These cupcakes capitalized on the trend of differently colored layered batter.

The three color combo was an easy feat to pull off last minute.  I had a yellow cake mix and 1 can of vanilla frosting.   I also had just bought candy corn to decorate my entryway (because its colorful and yucky so I won’t eat it)

Candy Corn Cupcakes were going to happen!

First I added yellow food coloring to the already yellow cake mix – making it more vivid and bright yellow.  I spooned the batter into the bottom of the cupcake liners.
Then I mixed the remaining batter with red food coloring, changing it to a deep pumpkin orange.  This is where I switched to a pastry bag.  I started cake decorating with I was just 10 years old – learning this great skill from my girl scouts leaders.  I still have my original frosting bags – the kind you had to clean and wash after use.  The invention of the disposable cake decorating bag is up there on my Top 10 favorite craft items.  You can use it for soooo many different things beyond the intended use.  It allowed me to carefully piped the orange batter into the liner without disturbing the yellow layer.
Then they were popped in my sad excuse of an oven to bake.  Thing 2 frosted them in the morning and added a topping of candy corn.
Not bad for a last minute idea!