Christmas Sugar Cookies

These cookies are required for Christmas. These are also forgiving and amazingly good. They are crisp and believe it or not, not that sweet. I use them many times a year. You can make ahead and divide dough into pieces to bake a little at a time.

D&D_25491 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Over a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer,  cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time and then the vanilla. Sift flour into butter mixture, 1 cup at a time until just combined. Dump out onto plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Cover with plastic and chill 3 to 4 hours.*

Roll out dough until 1/4 inch and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Brush and sprinkle with colored sugars. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 – 10 minutes until edges are slightly golden. Remove cookies to a rack to cool completely.

December 2002 – best sugar cookies ever
January 2003 – bake on parchment, spilled sugar comes off easier than a Silpat – for cast boy – granulated sugar is pretty too.
24 December 2003 – 8 minutes, to D&S for Christmas Eve
24 December 2004 – vvg as always
24 December 2006
December 2007
December 2008
February 2012 – Mardi Gras
28 January 2014
19 January 2016 – Mardi Gras practice

30 December 2016 – new Moravian cookie cutters

22 December 2017 – made dough; 23 December baked. Made a few St Pat’s day too.

*Or overnight. This dough keeps pretty damn well for a few days as long as it is properly wrapped.

Pan Roasted Pears with Caramel Sauce

Super easy, quick, dessert – I mean I had everything on hand and could also see doing this with two apples as well. Sometimes the simple things are just the best. I could have this for dessert, but would also enjoy for breakfast. Next time – this just occured to me – toast an English muffin and spoon the pears/sauce over it for a nice crunch, mostly healthy, breakfast. Yep. The English muffin would soak up all the caramel sauce. Just another excuse to make it again – like I needed one.D&D_2462

3 pears, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
pinch of Maldon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
garnish – whipped cream, or nothing at all, maybe some chopped nuts
finishing salt

Melt butter in large skillet on medium heat. Saute pears for several minutes, turning over with tongs or lifter (a what??) during the process.  Remove pears gently from pan once they are of desired doneness.

Add sugar to butter in pan and cook until melted, while stirring. Reduce heat to low.

Gradually stir in sour cream; cook 1 minute stirring occasionally.

Add pear pieces to caramel sauce and cook just until pears are heated through.

Spoon pears and caramel sauce into four dessert dishes.

Top with whatever kind garnish suits you – for me, it was unnecessary, excepting a little black lava finishing salt – now that was pretty and tasty too.

Source: Mennonite Girls Can Cook

Lemon Snowballs

These kind of tasted like lemon coolers to me. Do you remember them? I have a vague recollection that they were a cheap-ish store (Winn Dixie) brand, but I liked them because they were, 1) lemon, 2) tart, 3) powdery.

You cannot make this recipe with out the lemon juice powder. Well, I would not anyway. I bought it a couple of months ago because I figured I could make it work into all the kinds of lemon things that I love – and there are a lot of them. And it does – it add lots of lemon flavor without any liquid. Don’t get me wrong, I like lemon extract, but there is sometimes something a little chemically that I do not care for. I prefer fresh lemon juice and fresh lemon zest and now lemon powder is add to the bullpen.D&D_2396

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups confectioners’  sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice powder (King Arthur Flour)
lemon sugar (also, King Arthur Flour)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and salt until soft and fluffy. Mix in the confectioners’ sugar, and lemon zesst. Add the flour, mixing until well combined, but do not overmix.

Form the dough into 1″ balls using a small cookie scoop #40. Place the balls on an parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes. They should be very light brown on the bottom, and feel set on top. Remove the cookies from the oven. Let them cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes before disturbing; Caution: fragile when warm.

Sift the confectioners’ sugar with the lemon powder and place in a shallow bowl. Roll the warm cookies in the sugar/lemon coating. Let the cookies cool completely, then re-roll cookies in the sugar mixture and top with a little lemon sugar.

When completely cool, store cookies in airtight containers for 1 week. Mine did not last that long.

Source: King Arthur Flour, obviously.

Creamy Macaroni & Cheese – NYT

It is highly (highly!) unlikely for me to try a new mac n’ cheese recipe since the one I have been make for eons is just about my idea of perfect. But you know, I decided to try this out of pure curiosity. Curiosity is a little bit of a blessing and sometimes, a little bit of curse too. Odd, isn’t that?D&D_2448

I saw this not long before Thanksgiving, but just could not manage to force it into the menu that I already had – ie: too many dishes and no where near enough time. So I thought let’s give it go in between the big ol’ food holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is never anything wrong with a warm comfort food when the weather gets cold (yes, it is cold – for us anyway – don’t judge). This also does not cook the pasta ahead of time –  a step removed – already a big fan. Now let us see if the whole thing can live up to the hype. Opinions reserved until me and the Boy try it. Proof in the pudding, as it were.

modified by me from the NYT recipe

cooking spray
1 cup small curd cottage cheese (full fat, if you please)
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp dry mustard (Coleman’s)
pinch cayenne
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound extra sharp cheddar, grated (Cabot)
1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked

2 Tbs unsalted butter

Heat oven to 350 degree and position rack on upper third. Use cooking spray on a 9″ round or square baking pan, or a 9.5 deep dish pyrex dish, like for a pie

In a large bowl, mix together puree cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, and pepper together with an immersion blender. Grate extra sharp cheddar and reserve 1/4 cup grated cheddar for topping. Add to the bowl the remaining cheese, and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan making sure pasta is covered in liquid, cover tightly with heavy duty foil and bake 30 minutes.

Uncover, stir gently, sprinkle with remaining cheddar and dot with remaining butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Source: NYT – need to give credit to the author at the NYT food section [Julia Moskin]. Will be difficult now since everything, mostly, is behind a pay way. Too bad, but there are other resources if you know where to look.

Because I was using a glass Pyrex plate, I lowered the temperature to 350 degrees. I think I will decide what to do once the first 30 minutes goes by and I get a sense of how things are going.

Must admit it did not look so pretty going into pie plate, but even ugly ducklings can turn into swans. Didn’t take a picture out of embarrassment for the mac n cheese, not me.

After the first 30 minutes, the pasta was still more tough than I would like, so 15 more minutes in the foil. That said, the flavor was spot on. I could taste the Coleman’s mustard and the cayenne came in at the end. Not much in the nutmeg department even though I only ever use freshly grated nutmeg (so simple and so worth it).D&D_1473_iPhone

When I opened the dish after 45 minutes you could really smell the nutmeg, and that was great, but perhaps a bit more next time. I stirred again and then added the mixed white & orange Cabot seriously sharp cheddar to the top, turned the pan half way around and baked for 30 more minutes. Just divine. Sampled while not making a total mess of the top of the dish. Needs more black pepper to serve, but that is the case, in my opinion, every mac n cheese – I blame appreciate my mom for that even though we only had that pre-ground stuff you get at the store. It still made a significant difference.

Do you get the giggles when a recipe just totally exceeds expectations? I sometimes do and I did tonight. Part of that might be beer but the rest was just “oh, holy cat, this is amazing.”

Right now, I am writing while the mac and cheese cools. I want to have that for breakfast but will wait for a day until the MotH can take some great pictures.

Guess someone didn’t want to wait, ah well. Can quite blame the Boy for that. D&D_2439

Duke – The Best GSD Ever

DSC_0089I cannot reconcile myself of how to write this without sounding maudlin. Duke was the best German Shepherd Dog, and also the best dog period, um, ever.

Today is his birthday. And as much as that is so very important to me, it makes me sad because, even now, I still miss him so much. I want another German Shepherd Dog, but I go back and forth on the idea. There will never be another Duke, but the breed is so amazingly great. I guess, at some point in the future, I am just going to have to do it and promise the new GSD that I will not constantly compare him (always a him) to Duke. And do my best to keep that promise. Unfortunately, every dog we have had has always been compared to the Big Dog. I guess you just can not help it when you find your forever dog.

Yep, maudlin. Can not seem to help myself.

That said, here are some great stories about Duke and his totally goofy self.

We got Duke from a breeder in, of all places, Houma, Louisiana*. The breeder was a young guy that still lived with his mom and worked at the NOLA airport. Now, if you do not know the area, living in Houma and working at NOLA airport was better than living in NOLA and working at NOLA airport.  Houma was just closer. Either way, Jeff loved German Shepherd Dogs and we got a recommendation for him from here in town. He was just lovely and you could tell he cared about the dogs.

The litter was born on December 14, 2003 and we had to wait eight long weeks. We knew several dogs would be sold for confirmation, but there would be three males that would be available to be family dogs and that is what we wanted – a family dog. When we got there, after a very fun night in Houma … (see: Boudreau & Thibodeaus’s. A place we never would have gone without going to Houma. If you ever find yourself in Houma, just go, no really, just do it. There are many other little places in Louisiana we can suggest, but that is another post entirely.)

… [back to Duke] – we went on Saturday to see the pups. He wasn’t timid, but it took time for Duke to warm up. He was a black/tan which is what the MotH wanted and he was just so lovely. His mom, not so much. When she stood on her back legs, she was almost as tall as me. And she sure did not like having the Boy around. I thought about feeling bad for her, losing the pups and all, but then thought we might be doing Duke a favor. Rationalization, I know.

So we got him on a Saturday and drove home. The MotH held him, in a towel, all the way home from Houma. I was driving – through NOLA proper on I-10, not my best moments, especially since it was the MotH’s Jeep and I was not used to it.

There was this big bridge in NOLA on I-10 and I was not having a “happy” time driving on it, when I heard it: the little dog was puking on the towel. Poor thing. Poor MotH. Now, it’s funny, at the time, not so much. I also think we stopped at every rest stop on the way home, but he was only 8 weeks old.

*We heard this week that with the freaky winter weather that we had last week that Houma, Houma! of all places, got snow. Go figure.

More Duke stories to follow – and there are plenty of them.

Asparagus Mushroom Pasta w/Pecorino

I just keep modifying this recipe with the hopes of perfection, but to be honest since it includes two of my favorite vegetables, asparagus and mushrooms, along with some melty cheese and some salty cheese, it starts out pretty far ahead of the game.

D&D_1340_iPhoneThis is also great left over for lunch, but you must heat it very slowly in the microwave and stir very often or heat up the oven feature on the toasted oven and put it in there to reheat. Otherwise, the sauce breaks – it still tastes good, but it is not the same.

olive oil
2 Tbs unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small-ish yellow onions
1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, sliced*

8 ozs penne pasta
1 pound asparagus,  trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
8 ozs mascarpone
Parmesan, for serving

Heat a pot of boiling water, and salt well. Add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender – kind of the al dente of asparagus. Remove asparagus from water and set aside. Once the asparagus is finished, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

In a sauté pan, melt butter and add a little olive oil and then add garlic and cook over low heat while garlic softens and flavors the oil/butter. Add the sliced mushroom and sauté on medium until they’ve released their juices and most of that liquid evaporates.

Add the asparagus to the mushrooms. Turn the heat to low. then add the container of mascarpone cheese. Stir until it is melted and coats the vegetables. Add cooked pasta and mix together. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and then add a handful of freshly grated Pecorino cheese and stir again.D&D_2242

Serve with extra Pecorino and more lemon wedges for serving.

*Buy whole mushrooms and slice yourself. Pre-sliced mushrooms are an abomination.

When I know I am making this dish, or one similar, I usually cook the asparagus/pasta one day, typically when I’m cooking pasta for something else too. Then the bag of pasta/asparagus is ready when I’m ready for pasta. I drop in in a colander and run very hot water over it for a minute or two and let drain completely. D&D_1318

Modified several times based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis.