C is for Cookie

OMG CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE IT’S SO CLOSE I CAN TASTE ITTTTTTT!!

Ahem.

So, hey guys! I know it’s a little unusual for me to post on a Saturday, but since my schedule is all messed up due to the impending holidays and whatnot anyway, I figured what the heck. Besides, I needed to document my culinary achievements from yesterday before too much time has passed anyway. Because, yes, yesterday, I made something MAGICAL. Spoiler alert, the end of the story looks like this:

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A little backstory. My Aunt Joanie makes the best sugar cookies in the entire universe. Not just the entire world. The universe. Like, The Doctor himself would agree that these are the best sugar cookies ever. And each year, she mails a tin of said cookies to my parents, and I greedily consume over half of them myself (and we all wonder why I have issues maintaining my weight over the holidays, hahahaha). My family has long tried to recreate what I *thought* was her epic cookie recipe, and year after year… we failed. So, last year after Christmas I finally, FINALLY wrote my Aunt Joanie asking her for the recipe, STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE. And a week or so later, what to my wondering eyes should appear?

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That’s right — the handwritten source of all deliciousness. So I’ve been delicately sitting on this treasure map to sugary goodness for the past year (and may or may not have had a sliiiiight freakout when I thought I lost it…) and yesterday, I headed over to my parents’ place and got down to work!

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As you can see from the photos above, these are REAL sugar cookies. These aren’t dumbed-down, healthified-up, or any other such nonsense. These are I-hope-you-have-a-lot-of-people-coming-for-the-holidays-cause-otherwise-you’re-gonna-get-really-fat cookies.

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Now, I should preface this whole thing by saying that this was an incredibly harrowing cookie-baking experience for me. I was so dead-set on getting the cookies EXACTLY right, what with the amazing taste of Aunt Joanie’s cookies eternally emblazoned in my brain and tastebuds, that I kind of went a little crazy after the first couple of trays came out of the oven less than perfect. The taste was there but they were far too crisp and crunchy. Sugar cookie fail! Sure, it was all smiles at first…

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But seeing as how this was my helper:

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It wasn’t long before the entire process started to get to me.

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Luckily, I eventually worked out the tweaks and adjustments needed to accommodate for my mother’s super-hot oven and the fact that I was simply rolling the cookies too thin. And soon, I was pulling tray after tray of cookie perfection out of the oven!

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Huzzah! This means I was done, right? It was over?

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WRONG.

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After an intermission where we were able to, like, eat dinner and stuff, it was time for Act II: decorating. My sister and father had already baked up the necessary pieces for our family’s traditional gingerbread house earlier that day, and those PLUS the plethora of naked sugar cookies I’d just created meant we definitely had our work cut out for us.

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Luckily, I had more than a few willing helpers for this part.

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I was actually pretty amazed at my family’s ability to get through decorating the scores and scores of cookies we had. Sean was an AMAZING sport (and a surprisingly awesome cookie decorator. I was actually getting a little jealous of his skills, hahaha) and we ended up with tins full of delicious cookies, many of which rival the deliciousness of my Aunt Joanie’s (though, of course, I’ve simply come to realize that they really will never be quite as good.) And we all definitely made sure to continue the tradition of creating tiny cookie versions of ourselves (Jenny even made hers a pregnant profile version of herself, hahaha). For us to eat. Hmm. There may be something psychologically telling somewhere in there.

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It’ll probably take another round of cookie-making at some point before I deem this recipe (and the subsequent tweaks I needed to make) suitable for sharing, since only the latter half of the cookies turned out really good. And, of course, some more taste-testing. Heheheheheheheh. Baking and decorating cookies and our family’s gingerbread house is absolutely my favorite family Christmas tradition. (Well, outside of the actual Christmas morning stuff. Cause, I mean, c’mon. Presents.)

I hope you are all having an absolutely amazing pre-Christmas weekend! Try not to get blown away — the wind has been CRAZY around here today!!

Almond Tea Cookies

The Christmas countdown continues!

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To celebrate the fact that there are a mere FIVE days before the best holiday evarrrr, I baked!

Have a cuppa

I started with something simple, easy, and delicate. These almond tea cookies were inspired by ones that I had the last time I was at Natalia’s, and are the perfect compliment to a cup of Christmas cheer tea.

Delectable

As I’ve alluded to many times, I LOVE the flavor of almond extract, so these cookies are pretty much the best thing ever to me. They’re not as sweet as a typical cookie either, which, given the nonstop sugar rush I’ve been riding since December 1st, is actually a welcome change.

Mixed

I did learn a few valuable lessons with the creation of this recipe. Namely, if you put these cookies on a baking sheet in haphazard, shapeless lumps…

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… you end up with haphazard, shapeless cookies.

Hot Mess

Food presentation fail.

Shapeless

Not to worry. though! A little rolling and some fork-scoring, and all was well with the world.

Rounded

Look how cute!

Almond Tea Cookies

Doubleplusbonus? They’re superduper tiny, so you don’t have to feel guilty about eating a lot of them, hehe. Well, okay, that might be wishful thinking on my part. I mean, they’re still like 40 calories per cookie for being such tiny little things. But still! Make them!

Ingredientastic

Almond Tea Cookies
Print this recipe!

Makes ~40 mini cookies.

These adorable miniature cookies are light and airy, soft but crisp, and simply delightful! Feel free to decrease the amount of almond extract if you aren’t as obsessed with it as I am, but don’t skimp on the lemon zest — it adds a clean and bright flavor and makes these little cookies addictive!

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 teaspoons almond milk
½ cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 heaping cup flour

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a standing mixer (or with a hand mixer), combine butter, extract, and milk. Add sugar and cream together on medium-low speed. Mix in lemon zest.

2. With the mixing speed on low, add flour in small batches until dough is fully combined. It should have a somewhat sticky consistency, so if you find it is too dry, add a tiny splash more milk.

3. Roll into half-inch balls and place on a nonstick cookie sheet. Flatten slightly and score with a fork. Bake for 12 minutes, or until edges are crisp.

4. Let cool, then dust with powdered sugar if you like. Enjoy!

Nutritional info per cookie: 42 calories, 2 g fat, 5 g carbs, 0.4 g protein. WW Points+: 1.

Stacked

With such a short bake time and the fact that you essentially a million of them at once, these would make a great edible gift. Stack them inside a teacup, wrap in cellophane and pair with a box of teabags — but don’t forget to save a few for yourself!

Epic Cookie Fail

Maaaaaaaan.

I was really excited to kick off this Wednesday with a fantastic cookie recipe that would change your life. Not a health-food “cookie”, but a real, honest-to-goodness, made-with-butter-and-everything cookie that would make you the star of Labor Day parties country-wide.

Ingredients for Success

I was, in fact, so confident in this cookie that I even took the time to set up an Oh She Glows-style ingredient photoshoot.

Packed.

It seems I should really stick to what I know.

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I was convinced that I needed to share these cookies with the world after the success of my hurricane cookies (or not-success, depending on how you see my weigh-in, haha), for which I had used this recipe.

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Except that recipe originally called for 6 DOZEN cookies (er, that’s 72 cookies, my friends) and, errrr, that’s a lot. Even for me. Plus, I wanted to make it my own. Put my own Gretchenesque-spin on things, y’know?

Bake me!

Weeeeeeeell, I guess that my, er, creative cooking approach does NOT lend itself well to baking. Turns out I was off on my ratio of dry-to-wet ingredients by a mere quarter-cup! Guess it was enough though:

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Sigh. Flat as a board. NOT the full, round, chewy cookies I was supposed to pull out of the oven. I die. At least they still tasted great! Well, those that survived, that is…

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They were so soft and thin, that most of them were completely obliterated in the process of removing them from the pan. It wasn’t a total loss though. I see many deliciously topped bowls of oatmeal in my not-so-distant-future.

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Hopefully, despite the not-quite-intended-result, their deliciousness will still get me suck-up points with my coworkers, hehe.

Are you a cook or a baker? Any epic fails in experimenting with either?

Getting School’d

Last night I got to do something really fun.

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Any guesses as to what that was?

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How about now?

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You may have already seen me tweeting about it, but last night I got to audit a culinary school class at Stratford University!

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Culinary school has been something that has been percolating in the back of my mind since I was still an undergrad, although it definitely took a backseat to other things once I graduated. Since seeing fellow blogger Amanda take the leap and follow her culinary dreams (as well as a few encouraging comments from family members) it’s something I’m starting to look back into.

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Honestly, when I asked if I would be able to observe a class I expected them to tell me no. Who needs someone standing over everyone’s shoulder while they’re all trying to learn? But Stratford agreed and was more than helpful in arranging for me to audit an evening Fundamentals of Baking class, taught by Chef Logan.

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It started off in a classroom where the 8 students in the class had to take a quiz to review what they had learned the last time. Time spent in the classroom was very shortlived, however, and after passing out the recipes that they would be working with today, we hopped over to the kitchen! On the docket?

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Sour cream pound cake. Mmm.

Sour
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Hey batter batter batter!

One thing that I would have to get used to if I did decide to go to culinary school?

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Holy heart attack. The butter. Butter in the cake, butter in the icing, butter, butter, butter. It probably sounds really lame, but one of my serious hesitations about whether I’d want to take this leap revolves around the fact I’m not sure how my weight loss would fare in a situation like this.

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Fundamentals of Baking is one of the core culinary classes that all students have to take at Stratford, so the class was a mix of Baking & Pastry concentration students as well as Culinary Arts students.

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Chef Logan told me that each chef instructor is different, and structures their class differently. Some might have more time spent in lecture, but she preferred to do her demos in the kitchen. The evening classes go from 6 PM to 10:30 PM, so best to make use of that time! And even though I was just observing and not actually handling any food, the time still flew by. The first part of the class was spent with each student baking an individual pound cake.

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Cake me.

Which I didn’t actually end up getting to taste because I left just before the very end of class (while they were all cleaning, so I didn’t want to be in the way.) I’m sure they were delicious though!

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Don’t be sad for me though, folks. I got to do more than my fair share of decadent eating! After the pound cakes were in the oven, the class set off to make cream cheese icing for the carrot cakes they had baked the class before! So I did, in fact, learn something new even just as an observer.

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Like how to properly layer and ice a cake!

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Start by slicing the top off of your cake for an even surface (the top part is henceforth labeled your “yum-yum”, and is yours mine for the snacking!)

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Hehehe.

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You then eyeball slicing your cake into thirds (I need one of those spinny-cake-platter things like whoa) with a serrated knife, and ice the middle layers individually.

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Another thing I learned? You use the bottom of the cake as the top of the cake by flipping it around! That way you know that your cake top will be perfectly flat. Who knew?

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The final prep-step is to give your cake a very thin crumb coating. This is a super fine coating of icing that’s sole purpose is to fill in any extra cracks and trap all loose crumbs on the cake’s surface. That way, you won’t get crumbs in your final layer of icing at the end! You have to put your cake back in the fridge at this point for all the icing to set, so I didn’t actually get to see the final stage of icing. I did, however, get to see how marzipan gets made, and enjoy watching the students make decorative carrots out of it.

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Marzipan = almond paste + confectioners sugar + light corn syrup. I tried a tiny little ball of it (I don’t think I’d had marzipan since I lived in Poland!) and it was so sweet I almost died. But hey, it was almond-y, so I survived. 😉

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Don’t worry, along with all the carrot cake, icing samples, and marzipan nibbles, I still worked in some kind of nutrition:

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Hehe. Carrot cake… and a carrot! Tina, aren’t you proud?

All in all, it was an awesome class, the students were all really fun and welcoming, and Chef Logan is awesome. She was a career-changer (in government contracting, no less!) when she decided to go back to school to pursue a culinary career so her experience really resonated with me. Honestly, from reading other bloggersexperiences with culinary school, I was expecting to be totally rattled and overwhelmed, and for my desire to go myself extinguished but I have to say, I feel like it’s the opposite. I feel like perhaps the culinary classes might differ from the baking classes as well in terms of general hecticness, but everyone I talked to in the class just seemed so, well, happy. And while I’m not in any position to be going in the NEAR future by any means, this experience has definitely put the whole kit and caboodle back on the table.

Have you ever considered going to culinary school? Or considered starting a career in the food or nutrition industry? Are there other people out there that, like me, are torn between the food-side and the nutrition-side (i.e. culinary school vs. becoming a registered dietitian)? That’s where my mental struggle still lies. Last night’s experience was so eye-opening, and was definitely encouraging, but it’s still so hard to convince myself that this is a leap I could potentially take.

Cupcakes and Pizza and Panda, Oh My!

Almond Cupcakes with Vanilla Coconut Buttercream.

Prep
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Cake = Love

So, maybe my makeshift piping needs work, haha. But these were the most delicious thing I’ve ever baked.

Cuppycake

Baked.

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Bitten.

Delicious & Done

Bye-bye.

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Viva la Pizza!
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Pizza time!

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Pizza made with Panda!

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TJ’s whole wheat dought, mini heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, chicken sausage, fresh basil. Nom.

PizzaPIzza

Panda enjoyed.

PANDA EAT.

‘Twas a good Friday evening, if I do say so myself! Just came back from the farmer’s market with Jenn, and Panda and I are off to see Mamma Mia @ Wolftrap this afternoon! Updates tomorrow. Don’t forget to enter my scale giveaway! Happy Weekend!