Perfect Cut-Out Cookies

Ok, I know that cut-out cookies are traditionally a Christmas thing and February is… well, not Christmas. But I kept seeing a tutorial by SweetAmbs going around Facebook on cute and easy royal icing for Valentine’s Day cookies. I couldn’t help myself. I have a lot of free time right now (see: this blog) so I figured maybe I could learn a new skill. I called up a friend in town who is awesome at decorating cakes (you can check out her fab work over at APieceofCakeBend.com) and asked if she knew how to do royal icing and of course she did and said come on over! She’d make the icing if I bring the cookies. Fair deal!

Except, I hate making cut-out cookies. Every year, I make so many different kinds of Christmas cookies, and every year, I avoid cut-out cookies. I hate the rolling, the refrigerating, the re-rolling, and then most of all, I hate spreading thick messy frosting all over those cookies. Honestly, I don’t even think they taste all that great.

Too bad, so sad, get over it, Emily. If I wanted to learn to decorate with royal icing (a much prettier option than smearing regular frosting on top, in my opinion) I was going to have to suck it up and deal.

I searched Pinterest for a cut-out cookie recipe (of course) and very quickly I realized another reason I hate making cut-out cookies. They look so cute as dough, with their pretty, crisp edges, and then they morph into bloated images of their former selves as they bake. It’s always so disappointing.

I found a recipe for No Fail Cut-Out Cookies by Home Stories A to Z that promised perfect, non-exploding cookies that also taste great.

cookies
This photo belongs to HomeStoriesAtoZ.com

Skeptical, I tried it.

Triumph! Success! As promised, perfect cut-out cookies that kept their shape beautifully AND tasted good. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll never use another cut-out cookie recipe again.

A word to the wise, though: This recipe makes A LOT of cookies. You can halve the recipe easily for a more manageable amount. Seriously though. It didn’t all fit in my Kitchenaid mixer.

Ratings

Flavor: Five Stars – Perfectly tender and not too sweet. Hubby says they’re like the Lofthouse cookies you can buy in the store! But without all the sugary frosting on top.

Skill Level: Low/Moderate – If you’ve baked cookies from scratch before, these are on par with anything else, though cut-out cookies are inherently more work because of the, you know, cut-outs.

Overall: Five Stars. Fifty stars. Great cookies. Get rid of your Nonna’s recipe and make these this year. (I’m kidding. …Or am I?)

cookies 2
Look how perfectly non-bloaty they are!! Gorgeous.

And just because I know some of you will be curious as to how the icing turned out:

cookies 3
They’re pretty dang cute. The best ones, though, were all my accomplished friend.
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Butternut Squash Pasta with Kale and Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Sauce

I am a sucker for all things butternut squash, or any squash really, and Hubby really loves leafy greens like kale. Plus, who doesn’t love pasta? So when I saw this recipe I was pretty excited.

When I do my meal-planning, I always try to include at least one day a week of a vegetarian meal. It’s healthy, it’s easier on the wallet (or at least it was when I didn’t live in the desert…), and actually it’s good for the environment. Meat production takes a lot of resources, and just by cutting meat one day a week, you can really make a difference in helping our planet.

This recipe for Butternut Squash Pasta with Kale and Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Sauce from GoDairyFree.org takes it a little farther than I’m used to since it’s actually a vegan recipe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

squash pasta
This photo belongs to GoDairyFree.org

I had such high hopes for this dish. It looks pretty yummy, and includes lots of things that I like. The problem was, it took too long to put together (you have to roast your squash and cauliflower first, then blend up your roasted cauliflower to make a sauce, boil your pasta, etc.), and when I take a long time to make a recipe, it darn well had better be delicious.

This recipe wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t delicious. The sauce was flavorful and as creamy as a vegan sauce is going to get. Pasta is good, squash is good, kale is good (actually I used Swiss chard because Hubby always asks for it, but I consider them fairly interchangeable), but altogether I wasn’t wowed.

The biggest problem was that when I put everything together and tossed it in the oven to heat up evenly, the pasta soaked up ALL the sauce! So my dish was kind of dry and not all that flavorful. Bummer.

I will say, though, that if you actually are vegan, this recipe is probably worth making. It was good, just not what a non-vegan is used to, I guess.

Ratings

Flavor: Three Stars – The sauce is pretty tasty, but I wish it had been creamier and coated the ingredients better instead of soaking into the pasta.

Skill Level: Moderate/High – It’s not so much that anything is HARD to do, it’s more that this takes a LOT of time and effort. You have to peel and cube the squash, which, if you’ve never done it before, is pretty labor-intensive. You have to roast the squash and the cauliflower in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour before you can even think about anything else, then you have to take the cauliflower you just roasted and blend it up in the blender with a bunch of other stuff to make the sauce, you have to boil the pasta, tear up your greens, and then you have to toss the whole thing back in the oven to warm through. It just has a lot of steps.

Overall: Three Stars – Too much work for not enough payoff. I probably won’t be making this one again.

EB squash pasta
Here’s mine

Blueberry Orange Oatmeal Muffins

Guys. I am serious about breakfast pastries. Nothing says “Leisurely weekend breakfast” to me more than muffins or croissants or cinnamon rolls, etc. I also am particular about my muffins because all too often they’re really just cupcakes masquerading as naked, fruity breakfast foods.

Not these bad boys. Blueberry Orange Oatmeal Muffins by DamnDelicious.net are flavorful AND healthy!

blueberry muffins
This photo belongs to DamnDelicious.net

I’ll let you in a little secret. I have a lot of recipes pinned for muffins. Lots. But I keep coming back to this one. I’ve made it a few times now. It’s always great, and I like it, too, because when I make these I tend to wake up that morning (as I did this past weekend) and say, “I need muffins now” and I already have everything I need in my pantry!

I really love the oaty texture of these, and the orange zest (do not under any circumstances skip the orange zest in these!!) make them extra flavorful and bright. Second secret: I’ve made these with blueberries before, and they’re excellent. But this time I didn’t have blueberries, I only had a triple berry blend in my freezer (pretty sure it was blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry) so I used that instead. Still delicious! Pretty much any berry will work in these, though I wouldn’t recommend strawberries.

Ratings

Flavor: Five Stars – Hearty, juicy berries, bright orange

Skill Level: Low – I mean, I guess it’s true that they aren’t easy easy as opening a package and mixing it up. But they’re still pretty easy and many people will find that they already have all or most of the ingredients in their pantries. Hardest part: zesting the orange.

Overall: Five Stars – Easy, delicious, and a perfect treat for a nice weekend breakfast. Plus they keep well for a few days to eat throughout the week, or you can freeze them and pop one in the microwave whenever you want.

Like I said, I keep coming back to these muffins. They’re so yummy!

muffins
Here’s how mine turned out. Yum!

 

Crockpot Zuppa Toscana

You know that delicious soup you get at Olive Garden with the sausage and the potatoes and kale swimming in a light but creamy broth?

This soup is not that.

So many recipes claim to be “copycat” recipes of favorite restaurant foods, and so many fail. Why is that? I’m sure I can’t say.

Anyway, this looked really good when I pinned it. “Mmm!” I said to myself, “I love Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana!”

zuppa toscana
This photo belongs to recipesthatcrock.com

 

I did not love this soup.

I found this pin for Crockpot Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana by RecipesThatCrock.com (with a name like that I should have known better).

To be fair, this soup isn’t bad. It’s just not very good.

I thought it was greasy and it all tasted the same and I think it could have been done better on the stovetop in a half hour.

Ratings

Flavor: Three Stars – All the flavors melded together in the crockpot. Not to mention that the bacon in this made it seem just incredibly greasy.

Skill Level: Low – This recipe required browning some sausage and bacon before dumping things into the crockpot. Pretty easy.

Time: Medium/Low – Realistically this doesn’t take that much time, but one of my pet peeves is having to cook things before I put it in a crockpot. Isn’t that the point of using a crockpot? I can just dump stuff in there before walking out the door to work? This ain’t that kind of recipe, y’all.

Overall: Three Stars – Not bad, but not a good recipe either. I’m tempted to bump this down to two and a half stars because Hubby and I both felt it sat really heavy in our stomachs afterwords.

Emily Zuppa Toscana
Here’s how mine turned out

Suggestions

If you really want to make this recipe, I do have some suggestions for making it better.

  1. Replace the regular sausage with spicy sausage. I actually did this already for mine because I seemed to recall the Olive Garden version having some zip to it.
  2. Don’t follow the directions for the bacon. When I cooked the bacon and the onions together, my onions started to burn before my bacon was anywhere near ready. Either omit the bacon altogether and brown your onions with your sausage (probably what I would do), or cook the bacon so that it is nice and crispy then drain off most of the grease and cook your onions in what remains.
  3. Skip the crockpot altogether. Honestly, if you’re going to the trouble to brown your sausage before putting it in the crockpot, simmering it on the stove for 20 minutes is faster and just as easy.

Those are my suggestions for doctoring up this recipe, but truthfully if a recipe requires more than just a little tweak, I’m not likely to make it again. Too many good recipes, not enough time!

 

 

 

Cheesy Ham and Scalloped Potatoes

I know, it’s cliche to start a food blog. I’m sorry.

With that said, this one is a little different. I’m the kind of person who spends a lot of free time scrolling through Pinterest. Maybe you can sympathize. It seems like a common occurrence, though, that people pin things (recipes specifically) and then never make them, or do the project, or whatever. I, on the other hand, do probably 90% of my cooking based on Pinterest recipes that I have found. I’m addicted. I love to try new recipes, and Pinterest feeds this addiction.

The problem with Pinterest cooking, though, is you never really know how a recipe will turn out. After all, anyone can post recipes or anything else on the web. No publishers or chefs to verify and taste test, “Yes, this recipe belongs in the book.”

That’s where I come in.

Yes, I am making recipes I have found on Pinterest and then posting them here with my review for all the world to see.

My first recipe, I’m pleased to say, was a real winner.

The original recipe is for Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes with Ham over at lovegrowswild.

Here’s the image that sold me on trying it. Mmm, looks good, right?

Cheesy-Scalloped-Potatoes-with-Ham-final
Photo belongs to lovegrowswild.com

Here’s the image that sold me on trying it. Mmm, looks good, right?

I’m not going to put the recipe here in this post because that feels like plagiarism and, to be clear, this is not my original recipe. I promise that if you click on the link above the photo, you will be swiftly taken to this delicious recipe.

One thing I did differently than the original recipe is I swapped half of the 3 cups of milk out for almond milk because I’m pretty lactose sensitive and I worried that 3 cups of regular milk would make me quite sick. I kept half the regular milk, though, because I didn’t want to possibly lose the creaminess of the sauce. I will say, though, that the almond milk did not affect flavor and if you’re more lactose sensitive than I am, go for subbing all almond milk. If dairy doesn’t bother you, by all means, do 3 cups of regular milk.

Ratings

Flavor: Five Stars – Cheesy and delicious

Skill Level: Low/Moderate – Can you slice potatoes? Can you sautee onions and melt cheese into milk? Yes? Then you can make this recipe.

Time: Medium/Low – This takes more time than your traditional Ham and Scalloped Potatoes, mix milk with cream of mushroom soup, recipe. That said, it’s totally worth the extra few minutes to make the sauce. If you’re a real novice, you should know that this recipe requires about an hour baking in the oven, plus maybe a half hour of prep work.

Overall: Five Stars – This recipe will definitely be back on my table again.

Cheesy Ham and Scalloped Potatoes

Here’s how mine turned out. Forgive the crappy lighting, it’s dark by dinnertime here, now. As you can see, I served mine with a big side salad. Yum!

I hope hearing that this recipe was good inspires you to give it a try.