Spices, seasonings, and more

The anticipation of growing my summer herb garden is starting to build for me this month.  I attended a gardening seminar a couple of weeks ago, and ever since the excitement of what I will be growing this year in my edible garden has stayed with me.  I always have my regular list of perennial herbs that I nurture every year, but add in a few other edibles, including vegetables, garlic, green onions, and a few tomato plants.

However, during the winter months, I have to rely on my kitchen cabinet of spices, seasonings and more.  I have finally admitted to myself that I must have an addiction, as I really love to try a variety of seasonings when I prepare our meals. I love my collection and have several favorites that I have acquired over the years.

My kitchen has three cabinets devoted to spices, seasonings, and flavorings.  My rolling rack contains a variety of salts, spices that are not used most days, and some baking decors.

My upper cabinet near my stove contains the spices I use most often for seasoning our meals.  Here I have a collection of salts, peppers, herbs, herbal blends, a variety of special blends, and some of my favorite mixes from Pensey spices.

I have found that using turntables in this cabinet has helped with the organization a great deal, as well as some boxes of spices organized by use which easily pull out to be accessed quickly.  I don’t buy my spices in large quantities, as I prefer to have fresh available all the time and would not use enough to justify large bottles of any particular seasoning.

I have a third cabinet for liquid flavorings and baking spices, along with more baking decorations.  Having an organized kitchen has helped me to be more efficient while preparing meals.  It has also helped me when planning to purchase ingredients for a new recipe, as I am able to easily check my current supply as I know where every one is located.

Springtime is a great time to get organized in the kitchen!

 

Cherry Pistachio Shortbread cookies

Every Christmas I like to try at least one new cookie recipe, and this year I found a recipe in Yankee Magazine which was especially delicious.  My cookie tray looked quite festive with the red and green colors that this cookie contains. I did chill the dough overnight and baked them the next day.

Here are the ingredients to make the cookies:  2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, separated, 2 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts, chopped red candied cherries, 1/3 cup white sanding sugar.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and salt.  Beat in the egg yolk and mix.  Add flour and pistachios. Blend until combined. Remove dough from the mixer, and hand mix in the cherries.  Divide the dough into 2 1/2 logs about 12 inches long.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight on a sheet pan.

  

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using parchment paper or silpat mats, cover the baking sheets.  Brush the egg white over the logs after unwrapping and place on waxed paper.  Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the logs and slice the cookies. Place on the baking sheets and bake 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned.

Cool and serve.  These cookies can be frozen and kept to serve at a later time.

salted caramel chocolate chip cookies

Salted caramel “anything” seems to be super popular these past couple of years.  I have seen everything from candy and drinks to cake with this flavor profile.  I recently found a recipe online at the smitten kitchen for these cookies and just had to sample them.  I had a good occasion to try them this week, as a good friend was visiting from out-of-town.  She seemed to like them, and so did my husband.

I made them smaller than the recipe suggested, as I used my smallest cookie scoop.  They could easily be baked in a larger size for any occasion.  I even scooped more smaller sized cookies and froze them on a 1/8 size cookie sheet for over one hour. Then, I took them out of the freezer, placed them in a freezer bag, labeled them and will use them in a week or so, out of the freezer to bake.  This cookie works very nicely for this purpose.  I would recommend baking a couple of more minutes when taking them from frozen.  I like being able to bake only the amount that can be served in a few days.

Make these cookies by first gathering these ingredients:

1/2 cup softened butter, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, 3/4 cup mixture of light and dark brown sugar, and 1 large egg.

Combine these ingredients in a stand mixer.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon baking soda. Mix very well.

Then add 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour.  Incorporate gradually into the cookie batter.  Finally, add 8 ounces of dark chocolate chips.

I used a small cookie scoop and placed the cookie balls on prepared cookie sheets. I used silpat mats. Add a small sprinkle of flaked sea salt to the top of each cookie.  Place into a preheated 360 degree oven.  I baked my cookies on a convection oven setting, and they were perfect.  I did not have to rotate.  Completed cooking time was 12 minutes.  After baking and removing from the oven, I used a flat-bottomed drinking glass to flatten the cookie for a nice presentation. Allow to cool on cookie sheets before removing.

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Suggestion:  The cookie dough is crumbly, so I found that flattening the cookies prior to baking was not very practical.  However, they easily flattened after the short baking time.

Enjoy with lemonade for a summer treat!

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Tom’s Mom’s cookies

Located in Harbor Springs Michigan, Tom’s Mom’s Cookies is a wonderful place to visit.  We heard about this cookie shop when watching a travel Michigan television program.  Having won several awards while being in business for more than 30 years, we decided to visit the shop last week.

The shop was busy when we visited, and the cookies were filling the glass case.  Cookie production seems to take place steps from the counter, with an easy sort of feel to the surroundings.  The atmosphere is very cozy, and the pace equally relaxed.

Just outside of the shop is an eating area, where space is provided for relaxation and enjoyment of a freshly baked cookie.  We bought a dozen to go and my husband has been enjoying each of the flavors over the past week.

Cookie selection ranges from chocolate chunk to oatmeal raisin with every old-fashioned cookie in-between. Be sure to stop in when traveling to Harbor Springs.  It was one of those fun experiences that make the day special. For more details, check out their website:  http://www.tomsmomscookies.com/

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Red velvet cookies

Do you ever have a cookie craving?  Anyone I ask always seems to be able to tell me an answer to this question–what is your favorite cookie?  I haven’t met anyone who says they don’t like cookies.  Over the past 35 years, I have baked so many cookies I can’t even begin to list them.  But, I can tell you that I do have some favorites of my own.  One of my favorites happens to be this one. A red velvet cookie.

Recently, in December 2014, the Food Network published a recipe for red velvet crackle cookies.  I tried this one as a “lead-in” for Valentine’s day, and it is a wonderful recipe.  It does take a bit longer than just a mix, scoop and bake cookie, but it is worth the extra time.

 Here is the recipe:

Gather these ingredients:  2 ounces white chocolate, 1 1/4 cups flour, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 large eggs, 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, red food coloring, 3/4 granulated sugar, and confectioners’ sugar

Melt the white chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave 20 seconds at a time until melted.  This will take about 60 seconds. Stir between intervals.  In another medium bowl, mix flour. cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

In a third bowl, mix eggs, oil, and either 1 1/2 teaspoon liquid food color, or about 1/4 teaspoon of red gel food color.  (i use the gel)  Add sugar and melted white chocolate.  Mix well.  Next, add the dry ingredients until well blended.

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In a quarter sized sheet pan, place plastic wrap to line the pan.  Place the dough on the pan and cover with the wrap.  Flatten the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or longer.  When ready to bake, remove from the oven and form into small balls.  This recipe makes 24 to 30 cookies.  Dip the cookies in confectioners’ sugar and then flatten.  Dip again in the sugar to coat.

The cookies will crackle when baking.  Place the cookies in a PREHEATED oven set at 300 degrees.  (Yes, only 300)

Bake for 16-18 minutes, rotating.  I used a convection oven, so they baked perfectly without the rotation halfway through the baking process.  Cool completely before removing.

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Double Chocolate cookies

Are you ready to try a gooey creamy chocolate cookie?  This recipe from Cooking Light magazine, November 2014 is wonderful. The secret to this recipe is not to over bake the cookies.  For the rich, creamy soft cookie, only bake this one 8 to 9 minutes maximum in the oven. And then, allow to cool on the baking sheets. The cookie has a brownie taste, rich with chocolate.

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In fact, I added some extra chocolate drops to the tops of the cookies right out of the oven, and they melted just perfectly enough to have an added layer of double chocolate taste.  I am sure that Cooking Light magazine wanted to keep the calories down, but I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to turn up the taste with this recipe.

Gather the following ingredients.  1 1/2 cups flour, 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, 3/8 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup softened unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 2 eggs, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

Next, place sugar, butter, and oil in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well blended.  Add eggs, and vanilla.  In another bowl, combine flour, cocoa, and salt.  Mix.  Then, while beating the wet ingredients, add the flour mixture until well combined.  Add chocolate.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill the batter for one hour.

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Drop the cookies with a cookie scoop onto cookie pans covered with Silpat or parchment paper. Space two inches apart.  Bake for ONLY 8-9 minutes.  Allow to cool on the pan.  While the cookies are beginning to cool, add additional chocolate pieces to the top of each cookie.   These are truly YUMMY. Be careful when transferring to a plate or to a storage container.  Use a firm spatula, since these are softer cookies.

 

Kitchen tool: cooking thermometer

One of the most important tools to have in a kitchen is a cooking thermometer.  Under-cooked foods can be dangerous. Meats, such as, pork, chicken, and beef have precise done temperatures.  With various sizes and cuts of meat, it is often just a guessing game to determine if the cooking is complete.  The best way to know when meat is fully cooked is by using a food thermometer.

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Other uses for a cooking thermometer include checking on egg dishes or casseroles.  Egg dishes are not done until the internal temperature is 160 degrees, and casseroles should be 165 degrees for proper safety.

Most of us use the suggested cooking times in a cookbook, or simply look at the food and presume it is fully cooked.  Food borne pathogens cause many illnesses.  And, for that reason, check food temperatures.

I used this thermometer for another reason this past weekend.  I was baking bread, and to avoid a bread failure from using the wrong water temperature–I used this tool.  Proper water temperature for adding to yeast is 105 to 115 degrees F.  If using melted butter in a bread recipe, the butter temperature must be cooled to 85-90 degrees F.  Adding water that is too hot will kill the yeast, and adding water that is too cold will not stimulate the yeast to proof for rising.  It is amazing to me how hot the temperature of the water is flowing from my kitchen tap.  I tested it several times at various settings.

I love this thermometer, and will recommend it to anyone. It is precise and fast reading.  No more bread failures for me.  I plan to check my ingredients every time before the rising step.

For more information on the Measupro, please follow this link:

http://www.amazon.com/MeasuPro-DCT250-Ultra-Fast-Instant-Thermometer/dp/B00QAVJT32/ref=cm_aya_orig_subj