Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sugar Cookie Bars

Wow! My last post was such a bummer I had to post something fantastic right quick, and these Sugar Cookie Bars are just what we need to get over that sad Pink Lemonade Bundt Cake. These bars are everything a delicious frosted sugar cookies should be, plus more!

They are super fast and easy because they are bars (no rolling and cutting, or even scooping), they are soft and chewy, and the frosting is perfect. This recipe makes a big pan, so you might want to make plans ahead of time for giving some away. Or putting some in the freezer. Or both.

I made these ones for my sister to take to an activity at church, so thankfully I was only left with the edges and a few squares to take pictures of and feed to my kids. I say "thankfully" because I think I might have eaten myself into Sugar-Cookie-Bar oblivion had the whole pan stayed in my house...I totally lack self control when it comes to good frosted sugar cookies.

As always, these bars are formulated for my high altitude, but will also work beautifully at lower altitudes.

Sugar Cookie Bars

for the bars
1 1/2 cups butter, cold and cut into pieces
2 1/4 cups white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

for the frosting
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shorting
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar (sifted if from a box)
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream (you can use milk, but it won't be as creamy)
1-2 drops gel food coloring of your choice (I used 1 drop Royal Blue)
sprinkles, if desired

1. Heat your oven to 350. Line a baking sheet (18x13) with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the salt, baking powder, and half of the flour. Mix well and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining flour and mix well. Let sit for 15 minutes.

3. Use a muffin scoop or large spoon to scoop the dough out onto the prepared baking sheet. Use your fingers to gently press the dough into an even layer, paying attention to the edges and corners.

4. Bake for 28-30 minutes, or  until lightly browned on the top and it feels soft and springy (kind of like a pancake) but not doughy or gooey when you touch the top with your finger. Cool completely before frosting.

5. For the frosting, cream together the butter and shortening. Add the vanilla; mix well and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the powdered sugar and mix well on medium-low; scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining powdered sugar and the cream (1 tablespoons at a time) to make the frosting creamy and spreadable. Add the food coloring and mix well. Spread the frosting on the cooled bars and add sprinkles immediately so they will stick.

Makes about 56 bars

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pink Lemonade Bundt Cake Fail

When I asked for help deciding which sweet treat to make next, the overwhelming majority of people picked the Pink Lemonade Bundt Cake (Sugarcookie Cheesecake came in a close second). I had found the recipe on Pinterest, and like so many other people have discovered after making recipes they find on Pinterest, the cake was a total disappointment. The recipe is from a site called Sugar Baby Aprons, and it was supposed to look like this:

Gorgeous, right? Instead, my cake ended up looking like this:

I'm going to vent for a sentence: Recipes like this, the ones that don't work, really frustrate me because I think they are why some people are convinced they can't cook.

I really wanted to give the recipe a chance and followed it as it was written, but I should have known that the recipe would not have produced the cake in the picture. Take the color alone: the recipe calls for a lemon cake mix and lemon pudding mix, both of which have a lot of yellow food coloring. The recipe also calls for the addition of a little bit of red food coloring. What happens when you add red to yellow? You're right! You get the nasty orange color of my cake, not the beautiful, summery pink of the cake in the recipe picture.(In fact, I'm positive that the picture shown with the recipe is not a picture of what the recipe makes. How on Earth could it be?)

Here are some other disappointments: The cook time was too long. My cake didn't come close to the end of the 60 minutes before I could tell it was over-cooked; between the lemon cake mix, the lemon pudding mix, and the pink lemonade concentrate, the lemon flavor was very artificial and cloying; the texture was heavy, dense, and gummy; the glaze was a disaster, and I even used half the amount of concentrate called for and 3 times the amount of powdered sugar called for.

We were all disappointed, me, my husband, my kids (though my husband did manage to choke down a slice--he's a trooper!).

So, what to do now? I love the idea of a Pink Lemonade Cake, it sounds so wonderful and perfect for summer, so I'm going to take the challenge: I am going to come up with my own recipe for Pink Lemonade Cake. It may or may not be in the form of a bundt cake, so stay tuned--and wish me luck! 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

I know I said Pink Lemonade Bundt Cake would be my next post, but I had to use my new toy right away! I asked my kids what I should make for our first ice cream and Cookies & Cream was the unanimous choice (fairly amazing, actually). I used the basic vanilla recipe that came with the ice cream maker and then added crushed Oreo's when the ice cream was almost ready.

The results? My new Cuisinart ice cream maker worked like a dream, and made the ice cream in 25 minutes. Thrilled! And the ice cream itself was fantastic! So, so delicious. Creamy and just sweet enough, and none of the extra ingredients you'll find in most commercial ice creams. I could maybe stand to have it be a little less rich (though my husband wholeheartedly disagreed), so I might fiddle with the whole milk/heavy cream ratio a little.

And I have to confess, for $23.99 at Costco with the current $9-off coupon, I bought another one today. So I could make two different flavors at a time. Just in case. If the need were to arise. Heehee.

Cookies & Cream (adapted from the Cuisinart Ice Cream maker cookbooklet)
printable recipe

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup crushed oreo cookies

1. Whisk together the whole milk and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the heavy cream and vanilla, and freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions. Add the Oreo's during the last 5 minutes of freezing.

2. Serve immediately for a softer ice cream, or pack into a plastic container with a lid and let harden in your freezer.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts ice cream.

Let it begin!

I'm so excited!! I've wanted an ice cream maker for years, but never felt I could splurge on one (and, to be honest, I've been a tad worried I might actually use it, and make ice cream a little too often). Then Costco had one for a great price, plus a coupon! I have a list of recipes and ideas I've been saving to try and I can't wait to get started on them. Watermelon-Lime Sorbet, Cannoli Ice Cream, Gingerbread Ice Cream, Coconut Ice Cream, Lemon Sorbet, Pumpkin Ice Cream, Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream...the list goes on!

I'm going to have to pace myself, lest I end up with frozen-dessert overload (is that even possible?)... excited...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Vote for the next post!

Happy Thursday! I want to make something sweet for my next post but there are too many choices! Help me decide by taking the poll below. Thanks!

Thanks for the votes! Pink Lemonade Bundt Cake is the winner! Look for the post soon!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


So, I've tried to sit and write this post several times but my writing-mojo just hasn't been flowing. It still isn't, so here's a quick run-down:

  • It took me a long time to try hummus because I thought it was too weird. When I finally did try it I was amazed by how delicious it was, and then I cursed myself for being so lame and refusing to try it for so long. It's great in a wrap or as a dip.
  • Sometimes for dinner I'll make hummus and serve it with various dipping things (cut veggies and pita wedges), and some fruit, and it's fabulous and satisfying.
  • My almost 16-year old daughter will take left-over hummus and dippables to school for lunch, and report that everyone around her was jealous (I would be, too, given the other lunch-room choices kids have).
  • This version has less fat than typical hummus because I replace some of the olive oil with reserved garbanzo bean juice. Feel free to use all olive oil, or whatever olive oil/reserved bean juice ratio you like. Also feel free to add additional olive oil/bean juice to achieve the consistency you want. We like our hummus on the thick side.
  • Some recipes say you can substitute creamy peanut butter for the tahini. Don't. Tahini is sesame seed paste, and you will not get the same fantastic flavor if you use peanut butter. Tahini stores in the fridge for a long time.
There you have it. Quick and dirty. Hopefully my next post will be a little more...fluffy...and entertaining ;)

The tahini I bought most recently came in a tin with a plastic snap-on lid which tore when I opened it, (nice.) so I have it in a glass mason jar. The oil will separate as it sits in the fridge, so stir it well before you use it.

printable recipe

2 15-oz cans garbonzo beans, drained, 1/2-cup liquid reserved
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cloves garlic
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Combine all ingredients, except the reserved bean liquid and olive oil, in a food processor bowl fitted with a metal blade.

2. Pulse three times (3-5 seconds each pulse), and scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the processor running, add the olive oil, and 4-6 tablespoons of the reserved bean liquid. Run the processor until the hummus is very smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl at least once.

Makes 2 1/2 cups hummus. Store any extra in your fridge.
1/4 cup = 3 Weight Watchers Plus Points

Yum! So delicious! 
lol...this is a Where's-Waldo you see it?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Creamy Cajun Shrimp

I got the idea for this recipe from this shrimp casserole I saw on Pinterest. Now, I am not a fan of most casseroles --for a variety of reasons--but I was intrigued by the shrimp and took a look at the recipe. Just reading the recipe made me sad: It called for small amounts of three different colors of bell peppers, which can be spendy, and using just part of each one can lead to waste; I don't like using canned cream soups, with all of their extra yuck ingredients; I think okra is just plain nasty; following the cooking instructions would give you overcooked, tough shrimp (it says to cook the shrimp until they turn pink (which means they are perfect) and then 15-20 minutes more in the oven. Shrimp sadness); and unless you're adding a lovely crust or biscuit topping, I think cooking something through in a pan, and then cooking it more in the oven is wasteful of time when you're trying to get dinner on the table.

But I loved the idea of saucy, spicy shrimp, and came up with this recipe. It's creamy, spicy, comes together fast, and by adding the shrimp to the sauce right at the end, and only cooking them until they turn pink, your shrimp stay gorgeous, tender, and moist.

Note: You can easily adapt this recipe to use chicken instead of shrimp. Cut 2 pounds of chicken into bite-sized pieces. Heat a little olive oil (or spray your pan with non-stick spray) in the skillet, add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides and not pink in the middle. Transfer the chicken to a bowl and cover with foil. Make the sauce and add the chicken at the end to heat through. Voila! Creamy Cajun Chicken.

Creamy Cajun Shrimp
printable recipe

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, 1/4-inch diced (about 1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, 1/4-inch diced
2 medium ribs celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Tony Chachere's original Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups whole milk
2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and tailed removed
Cooked white rice for serving
Chopped fresh parsley, if desired

1. Heat the oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet. Add the onion, red bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the Tony Chachere's, thyme, and paprika, and cook another 5 minutes.

2. Add the white wine and scrape up any browned bits that are stuck to the pan. Simmer until the wine is almost gone, 5-8 minutes. Add the butter and stir until melted.

3. Add the chicken broth and milk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring very often. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer, and cook, stirring often, until thickened (coats the back of a spoon nicely), 5-8 minutes.

4. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, just until the shrimp turn pink, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat immediately. Serve over white rice and garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

Makes about 8 1-cup servings of the shrimp.
1 cup shrimp and 1/2 cup rice = 8 Weight Watchers Plus Points
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