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How to Renovate Your Wardrobe for Free {recipe: maple walnut shortbread}

1 Apr

So I have learned some things at work that are completely not work-related. Like how to tie a good scarf knot and how to make stellar cake balls and how to plant a container garden. And how to have a Clothes Swap.

Let’s face it. I just had a baby and those once-tight jeans are now too-tight jeans that would look great on you and the flowy top that you wore twice and now hate? It would look great with my baby-feeders. So, get all your lady friends together, bring the stuff from your closet that you don’t wear anymore, spread it our in a giant room and get your friends to do the same. And then shop. For free. Donate what’s left and go home happy!

Here are the rules for a Clothes Swap that go in an Evite. Just copy and paste them, and send to your own friends!

CLOTHES SWAP RULES:
Bring your old clothes and an appetizer or a dessert or something to drink to the swap, along with a bag or two so that you can haul away your new goodies.

HOW IT WORKS
1. Clean out all of the Clothes, Shoes, Jewelry, Purses and other Accessories you don’t want (all of those things that you need to get rid of because no matter how many times you try them on, they will always be too small/too big/too tight-in-the-wrong-place/the wrong color/wrong material, or just plain ugly);

2. Come to the swap and take new-to-you clothes that you do want (free shopping!); and

3. laugh at what is just plain ugly.

AGENDA
4:00 – Show up and grab a drink and some appetizers while you sort your clothes. We’ll have all items divided into different categories of clothing in different rooms of the house.

4:30 – Go time. Start bagging what you want, try things on, solicit feedback from your peers (ask questions like, “does this make me look fat?” and get told you look fabulous).

5:00 – Have another snack and laugh at what is ugly (perhaps an award will be given for the worst piece?).

Later – Go home. Brag to husband/fiancee/roommate/mother how you just got bags of fantastic clothing and accessories for free, AND got rid of the crap in your closet.

Great, huh? Now go do it with your friends!

You can make these for your snack. They are quick and tasty. Eat the leftovers with coffee on a groggy Saturday morning.

Maple Walnut Shortbread

from Real Simple

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 300° F. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and egg yolk until smooth. Stir in the flour, cinnamon, and salt until combined.
Spread the dough into an ungreased 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch jelly-roll pan or cookie sheet with sides.

Beat the egg white in a small bowl with a fork until foamy. Spread evenly over the dough.

Sprinkle on the nuts and press them gently into the dough.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until the shortbread shrinks slightly from the sides of the pan. Do not overcook; you want them to be a little chewy. Cut diagonally into 3-by-1 1/2-inch bars.

Lots Going On {recipe: quick oatmeal cookie drops}

4 Nov

I have been making and eating things in the past month that have been quick and filling…not so much things that I am extremely proud of or want to share with you 🙂 Quesadillas, chili, soups, pasta, and frozen pizza have reigned our dinner menus, and, sadly, packaged halloween candy and Blue Bell ice cream have been my treat.

Today, I eat a few M&Ms from the package sitting on the kitchen table. I notice on the front of the package there’s a little graphic that reads CALORIES – 210: 11%DV. For a minute, I toy with the thought of just eating nine bags of M&Ms today and calling it a day. I figure that is a lot of artificial food coloring and dismiss the thought, heading to the pantry to figure out what to put together quickly for today’s lunches. Then, its back to other things to think about:

Some of our friends are in the hospital, at 23 weeks pregnant and holding fast to hope for their little baby. Others just got the daughter from Haiti that they adopted years ago, beautiful but difficult. We’re helping lead a class about marriage, also wonderful, but discussion is heavy, at times.

My personal list is decidedly more trivial…refinish the dresser in the nursery, clean out the closets, organize the freezer, cook. Those things aren’t really happening.

I did make these cookies though, they are quick and soft and the whole-wheat flour makes me feel better about the frozen pizza we keep having for dinner.

Quick Oatmeal Cookie Drops

adapted from Homesick Texan

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 T. vanilla
3 cups oats
1 cup whole-wheat flour (use white if it’s all you have)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together butter, sugar and egg.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Place place 1.5-inch scoops of dough on  a greased cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes.

Weddings and Driving and Julie and Julia {recipe: cake mix cookies}

4 May

I only ever post pictures of food! Guess what? I have a video!

Well, it is not my video, but it is  a video of something I think is fantastic.

Ok, so in 2006 I was planning my wedding. Wedding planning for me involved countless  decisions, lovely showers and parties, many attempts of i-will-do-an-hour-of-yoga-everyday-until-the-wedding but then never even unrolling my mat, a last-minute shrunken wedding dress (that’s for another day), and lots of miles on my car. I lived in Austin and we got married outside of Houston, so probably three of four weekends a month, I drove the 6-hour round-trip to H-town for planning bonanzas for a few months.

Let’s just say I listened to a lot of books on tape. In four months I listened to probably four times as many books on tape as books I have actually read in the past four years. Pathetic.

This book was my favorite. It’s about a girl who’s over her crappy desk job and decides to cook through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one recipe at a time. She has to boil live lobsters and search Manhattan to find parts of pigs that I have never heard of to include in recipes, and she and her husband sometimes don’t eat dinner until 1am because it really just took that long. There are a lot of cuss words through her trials…but in a stick-it-to-the-man kind of way, that makes you want to read (listen?) more.

Here’s the trailer, I hear it opens August 7.

Oh, yes and a recipe. Well, to contrast Julia’s time-intensive recipes, I have the easiest cookie recipe ever.

From Easiest Cookies

Cake Mix Cookies

makes 24 cookies.

1 cake mix (any kind)

2 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cup mix-ins (optional, see below)

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix ingerdients.

Drop dough by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes.

Ideas for cake mixes and mix-ins:

  • yellow cake with chocolate chips (pictured)
  • carrot cake with pecans and coconut
  • red velvet cake with white chocolate chips
  • chocolate cake with mint chips
  • white cake with butterscotch chips and walnuts
  • pineapple cake with orange peel
From Easiest Cookies

A Case of the Mondays {recipe: olivia’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies}

19 Mar

Olivia and her husband, Todd, have us and four other couples over every Monday night. Olivia makes one fantastic dessert after another, week after week, but that’s not really why we’re there. It’s their cute kid. No, not really. We spend time talking about life and marriage and all the joys and challenges that those bring, amongst other things. It’s great.

These are Olivia’s cookies. Also great:

From Olivia’s Cookies

She would probably give the credit to someone else, but for our purposes here, they are Olivia’s cookies. Thanks Olivia. I love your cookies. I am cheating on my once-favorite cookies with yours. Can we say, “Flavor of the week?” Yes. Yes, we can.

These cookies are thin and soft and gooey. Thin and soft, you ask? I know, I know. Until this recipe I would deem those two words an oxymoron in its finest sense. I do not like a crunchy cookie.

From Olivia’s Cookies

Now, a word to the wise: When I made these, I knew what I was aiming for. I had eaten one (or four) of Olivia’s cookies weeks before and I was stoked about this recipe. I made the cookies, and when I pulled them out of the oven I was crushed. They had poofed up in all the wrong places and looked like “those” cookies. You know the ones. The cookies that are a bit airy and crunchy as a cracker. We had people over hanging out and I had to go un-hype the cookies that I had just hyped up for 10 minutes while making the dough. So we finished dinner and I went back to the kitchen to get said crappy cookies. And they had sunk, much like my heart had about 5 minutes before. But this time it was good. The cookies had deflated and redeemed themselves. They were flat and chewy and gooey all at the same time. A dream come true.

From Olivia’s Cookies

Olivia’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes 20

Cream:

1 c. butter

1 c. white sugar

1 c. brown sugar

Add:

2 eggs

2 t. vanilla

Blend in:

2 1/2 c. oats

2 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

4 oz. grated milk chocolate Hershey’s bar

Drop 1/4 cup dough on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 for 8 minutes.

Remember the note ablove about how the cookies will sink.

Enjoy.

Another Kind of Doodle (recipe: the best snickerdoodles)

12 Jan

 

From Snickerdoodles

When we got married, wee quickly moved onto the stage of wanting a dog. But, in our 700 sq. ft., second floor apartment, it just wasn’t happening. The woman above us had three dogs. A boxer, some sort of wolf/dog and a lab mix. It was miserable. Not so much for us, but for her. Those dogs were always barking, and their only contained outdoor space was on their 6×4 ft balcony. She would take the three dogs up and down three flights of stairs on three leashes probably 8 times a day. If those were anything like our dogs now, I am sure she made a lot of extra trips because one pup did the but-i-don’t-have-to-go-right-now routine, but then he really had to go 20 minutes later. It did not seem fun.

Anyways, so we were going to wait until we were in a house. Then we started looking at houses and dog conversations surfaced again. Jon wanted a bigger dog, something to run with (practical). I wanted something small and fluffy (pretty). I came up with the brilliant idea of a Goldendoodle after we visited some friends who have one. Sweet and good with kids like a golden retriever, and with that soft, curly hair of a poodle. Fantastic. I presented the plan with Jon who brought up the fact that perhaps that wouldn’t be the best dog to run with…because they don’t have the greatest endurance, the big ones are huge, and well…perhaps no dog called a ‘doodle’ would be a star athlete. And with that, it was out with the doodle. 

We compromised not on one dog, but on two. One: high-energy, could out run either of us, and highly affectionate; the other: small and fluffy, a bit thick, and cute as a button.

We didn’t get the doodle dog, but I do have these doodle cookies. Snickerdoodles are awesome because they’re that cookie you can make when you’re out of chocolate chips, or oats, or nuts, or peanut butter, or anything else that goes in the cookies you usually think of. This recipe doesn’t have nasty shortening or too much flour, and refrigerating the dough makes the cookies stay poofy!

 

From Snickerdoodles

The Best Snickerdoodles

2 tsp cinnamon

1 3/4 c. white sugar

1 cup softened butter

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

2 3/4 c. flour

2 t. cream of tartar

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

Preheat oven to 375. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 c. sugar and cinnamon, set aside. 

Whip butter with an electric mixer until light in color and fluffy. Add remaining 1 1/2 c. sugar and mix. Add in eggs one at a time and mix thouroughly. Next, add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt and mix well. Shape into 1 1/4 inch balls and roll in cinnamon sugar mixture

Mix sugar and cinnamon together thoroughly. Roll balls in the sugar/cinnamon mixture until covered. Refrigerate dough balls at least one hour and up to 24 hours.

Place on an ungreasedcookie sheet 2 inches apart and bake about 10 minutes – outside of cookie will be a pale crust and inside will be soft. Let cook on cookie sheet for 3-5 minutes and then move to wire rack.

From Snickerdoodles

Repeats

25 Aug

The only reason I have ever made a recipe again, exactly the same way as the first time, is if I am trying to conquer it. If, and only if, I think I have followed a credible recipe to every detail and it doesn’t [insert problem: set, taste right, bake through, retain moisture], I will make the dish, again exactly following the recipe, thinking that some circumstance I was unaware of [insert conundrum: accidentally set timer wrong, baking soda had gone flat, mixing bowl wasn’t totally dry to begin with] sabotaged my first go.

If I am making a recipe for a second time simply because I liked it, I always change it up somehow, first for sheer variance, and second for experimentation. If this was so good to begin with, think of how much better it would be if I added [cinnamon, cilantro, more nuts, less nuts, fleur de sal] to it.

I pride myself in these characteristics of stubborn determination and drive for narcissistic improvement. I humbly admit that the cookies I am going to share with you now…I have made five times in the past three weeks. FIVE TIMES. Four times with the exact same recipe, and once when I didn’t have brown sugar so I went with all white sugar instead and they just weren’t the same. I have thought about adding cinnamon or changing up the flavors, but each time I go to make them, all I can think of is why take such a risk on such an impeccable cookie? I come up with nothing, and I make the same recipe again.

These cookies are a result of the NY Times doing a study on cookie dough, and figuring out the optimum time of cookie dough refrigeration prior to baking. The NY Times came up with 24-36 hours, and for reasons I am just explained, I am not going to mess with that timing. Refrigerating cookie dough makes the outside of the scoops of dough on your cookie sheet bake faster than the inside, giving you cookies with a crisp, done outside and a soft (less-done) inside. Freezing balls of dough gives an even more drastic difference between the inside and outside of a cookie (but don’t do that for this dough. Just follow the recipe. Please?)

One thing I am not sure about is the flours. This recipe calls for cake flour (low protein, makes cakes soft) and bread flour (high protein, makes breads more firm and tough than cakes). I am not sure why it doesn’t just call for all purpose flour (middle-of-the-road protein content) but I haven’t brought myself to try it with just all purpose flour.

I use the Whole Foods 365 Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips–they’re rich, not too sweet, sans high fructose corn syrup and still so chocolatey. I also end up with about three less cookies than expected, as I eat that much dough over the 24-hour period. It’s the salt that brings out and ties together these flavours, so don’t negate it!

Chocolate Chip Cookies.

From The New York Times

Makes about four dozen.

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)

Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Dark Chocolate, White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

16 Nov

Some cookies are pretty, others are not, some are homemade and others store-bought (just had to keep going there). These cookies are dark–an Oreo-Cookie-how-did-you-make-chocolate-that-dark? kind of dark. They are very tasty though, like the dark chocolate truffle cream that is inside of a milk chocolate candy in a box of chocolates.

This recipe is void of eggs, so the cookies spread apart a lot and are prone to breaking (leaving me to be prone to unnecessarily eating all broken cookies).

Dark Chocolate, White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

img_1740.jpg

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2/3 cup Hershey Special Dark Dutch-Process (this is essential for the dark-chocolateness of the cookie

1/2 cup butter, cubed and room temp

3/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla

1/3 cup milk

1 1/2 cups chopped white chocolate, white chocolate chips, or white chocolate chunks.

Preheat oven to 325 and place oven racks in the upper and lower middle position.

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa.

Beat butter until light and add sugars, creaming well.

Add vanilla and beat until smooth.

Add flour mixture in 2 batches, alternately with the milk.

Chill dough for 15 minutes.

Scoop dough into balls and bake 10 minutes.

img_1739.jpg