Sunday, May 15, 2016

Prom Cookies 2016

Even though I no longer have any kids at Dexter High School (my nest is empty) I was asked to make prom cookies again this year.   I enlisted my friends Julie and Jen to help; both of their sons are seniors this year.  The theme was "Candyland".

I'm not a great designer of cookies, but I do a pretty good job of execution.  I keep a Pinterest board of cookie decorating ideas and when I see something I like, I pin it there to try later.  For these cookies, I adapted an idea I saw for peppermint candy cookies.  Since I got a late start, I didn't have the chance to order a cutter so I just went with round cutters.   A drinking or shot glass could also be used in lieu of a cutter, too.   I tried to capture the prom committee colors as best I could with colors I had on hand.   It's a good time to share a lesson I learned last year when making high school graduation cookies: the purple and maroon colors often are finicky for reasons I don't fully understand.   Our high school colors are maroon and gold, and I found out the hard way that maroon color seems to change the royal icing texture in unexpected ways.   I asked my friend Heather who decorates cookies and cakes professionally at her lovely cake boutique in Ann Arbor Sweet Heather Ann and she told me this is common and so she very often will hesitate to take on requests for purple colored wedding cakes.    She recommended I use Americolor soft gel pastes for best results.  Nothing I have ever tried equals the coloring strength of these amazing colors. They can be found locally here at Baker's Nook in Saline.  

So I was nervous about the purple, but it came out just fine.  We made about 100 cookies this year using this recipe - my tried and true best tasting sugar cookie recipe I've ever found in an old Taste of Home magazine.   The ingredients are relatively inexpensive and it has an excellent texture for rolling out and cutting.  The flavor is superb on its own, or flavor oils can be added.  Last Christmas, I added anise flavor and it was delicious.   We piped out the outline and white lines with Wilton #2 tip and flooded with a ketchup bottle.

I was happy to stay home last night instead of chaperoning the prom; It was 34 degrees F and it snowed this morning.   Insane!  But the cookies looked good in Candyland.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cookbook Club: Pok Pok by Andy Ricker

Last weekend, our cookbook club had a potluck featuring restaurateur Andy Ricker's cookbook Pok Pok.   His Oregon restaurant started out as a food cart....and it's touted as "quintessential Portland".

I got the book out of the library and was immediately put off by the hard to find ingredients and cooking utensils required for each recipe.   I scanned through the book looking for a recipe that I might be able to make from ingredients I could buy at Meijer, to no avail.   The closest I could find was stir fried Yunnan ham with chiles.  The recipe called for a Chinese ham but said "smoky Serrano or country ham" could be substituted.   Oddly, Serrano and country ham aren't typically smoked, but okay, I decided to go for it.   Meijer didn't have the ham, so I trekked to Morgan and York  to purchase the 1 1/2 oz. piece required for the recipe.   I was aghast to discover that this small amount of ham would cost me $8.   This better be good!

I got home to prepare the recipe and it was an odd conglomeration of units....tablespoons, ounces, grams, and cups were all called out.  Really? Exactly what does a "scant tablespoon" mean when in the next line, I am asked to weigh out 7 grams of something else? Furthermore, the recipe said it served "2 to 6 as part of a meal".   That's a pretty big variance.   How much should I make?  I didn't really know for sure. Also, it called for Thai thin soy sauce (not available at Meijer) but it was diluted with water so I just used the soy sauce I had in the pantry.  The recipe was written in a tone that sounded like the author had a strange combination of ADD and OCD.  It careened around in a crazy fashion, requiring many dishes to be dirtied, and then required unnecessary precision, such as cooking something for 45 seconds.   I didn't have my stop watch handy, or the required wok or Thai mortar and pestle, so I decided to wing it.   I was fully expecting to find the recipe to be a complete disappointment, but it surprisingly wasn't.  I'd definitely make this dish again, especially when the summer sweet corn is at the farmer's market.   I'd also make it with regular old smoked ham...the $8 worth of Serrano was totally lost in this dish.   Here's my interpretation of how I'd make it again, no special ingredients or equipment required.

Stir Fried Yunnan Ham with Chiles

1/4 c. water
1 T. soy sauce
1 t. sugar
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 inch slice of smoked ham (a couple slices of fried bacon would be great option, too!) diced
2 large Hungarian wax peppers, seeded and diced
1 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into match sticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ears of sweet corn raw kernels cut off the cob
2 oz. oyster mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced against the grain
2 peeled carrots,sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 bunch green onions, but into 2 inch lengths.

In a measuring cup, measure water and add soy sauce and sugar to make a sauce.  Whisk until dissolved.   Heat oil in large skillet, when it begins to smoke, take it off the heat and add the ham, chiles, ginger and garlic and stir fry for about a minute.   Return to the heat and add all the remaining vegetables, reserving green onion and stiry fry until the carrot is cooked through.  Add the sauce and stir until the sauce is reduced until it's almost gone, a few minutes.   Add green onions and stir.

I was surprised at how tasty everything was....despite it all.   Some folks in the group went out of their way to find the unusual ingredients and they deserve extra credit.  It was a delicious meal!   Despite the poorly written recipes, the cookbook itself was a very interesting read.   Lots of background on Ricker's time in Thailand.  It's also beautifully photographed.   Would I recommend this cookbook?   It depends - do you buy cookbooks to cook from, or do you like to read them?   This is definitely one for the "reader type" that is an ambitious cook that likes the challenge of hunting down odd ingredients.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter Cookies

I wanted to try out making cookies in the shape of Jesus for church things and why not try it out for Easter?  I made these with a gingerbread woman cutter.  I had some spare icing left, so I decorated some butterflies.   I tried a different recipe than I usually use, and it's one I won't use again for cutout cookies.  It was from Maida Heatter's great cookie cookbook Brand New Book of Great Cookies.   It was a tasty cookie but difficult to roll out.    Instead, I'll stick to this tried and true recipe.   Also click on that link to learn more about technique. Happy Easter everyone!