Bonus post! Our basement flooded after running the post-cookie dishes through the dishwasher, so we called in a plumber. Turns out our mainline was clogged. When clearing the line, his blade got stuck, because our pipe is damaged, collapsed, or crushed. It wasn’t clear which. What was clear, and kind of amazing is what came out.

Those are tree roots. Probably about two feet of tree roots. It’s kind of a miracle it came out. On the plus side, it gives us running (draining) water….for now. On the negative side, our pipe needs repair and I’ve never heard anyone be happy about having to repair a sewer line. Aren’t we lucky.

Feel free to send donations. Just kidding. Kind of.

It’s all cookies, all the time around the BurbEx. This is the season we just plain go to town with them. Yesterday Katie posted about peanut butter cups and dipped pretzels. Today, I’m going to talk about sugar cookies.

I love sugar cookies, but I hate making them. I feel like they’re a lot of work for things that I just plain like better. I guess what I’m saying is that I love the idea of sugar cookies a lot.

This year, to make it more interesting, I thought I’d take my hours of watching ‘Unwrapped’ and apply it to my sugar cookies.

Starting with a generic sugar cookie dough, I split one third off in to another bowl, a small chunk half the size of my (small) fist, and the rest I left alone. these are going to be my three colors.

I re-chilled the dough before I colored it. When coloring, I prefer the gel-based colors because they don’t add weird texture issues to your dough. I made the small chunk red, the medium chunk green, and left the rest “white.”

I then re-chilled the dough. It gets quite sticky when warm, and because it has some butter in it, it warms and melts fairly quickly because of the heat from your hands.

So the pattern that I chose is a wreath pattern. I started with a log of the white.

I made mine kind of large. I’d suggest rolling one that is about 1/2″ wide or so. This forms the center of the wreath. I then rolled out the green, to wrap around the log. This will make the actual wreath.

To prove that we have bad days too, you can see that my logs look kind of sketchy. Between it being to warm and sticky, and too cold and not sticky, I had a hard time getting them to play nicely. Eventually though, I bullied them together.

The final step is to roll another white log to go around the outside. The red I rolled in to two thin snakes and put them next to each other to create a bow, which will go next to the green and inside the white.

As you can see, the layers come through and it at least resembles a wreath, even if it’s not Martha-worthy. The ends get ugly, so just slice off enough to find the pretty stuff.

Yes, I used a meat cleaver to slice them. So sue me. Actually, please don’t. We’re poor.

You can see that my dough wasn’t sticking well to itself. However, I muscled through it and got:

I made the sad attempt of rolling the log in red sanding sugar, to make them prettier, but obviously that didn’t go so well either. Le sigh.

At least the end product was tasty.

Until we make more cookies….check in tomorrow. Same bat-time, same bat-channel.

xo

Rach

Tis the season for cookies!

December 17, 2011

So everyone knows that the holidays are really just an extended excuse to bake and eat. Basically for a month, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, diets, as well as common sense is suspended in favor of childhood memories. We always make a LOT of cookies-mostly to give away, but there’s plenty of eating too. Two childhood favorites of mine are dipped pretzels and peanut butter cups. These recipes are both fast and easy, as long as you know how to turn on your stove, you can probably do both of these things, but they look fancy enough to give away.

To make the peanut butter cups, you start by melting together 9 oz white chocolate with 3/4 cup of peanut butter in a double boiler or mixing bowl over a pot with a little boiling water. While you’re waiting for that to heat up, chop a decent handful of roasted, salted peanuts. Once your peanut butter and white chocolate is melted and combined, fill the bottom half of mini cupcake papers in a cupcake pan. Then sprinkle with the chopped peanuts.

After that, combine 8 1/2 oz milk or dark chocolate with 3/4 cup peanut butter and melt together. I generally use the same bowl as I used to melt the first half. It doesn’t matter if there’s a little left over in the bowl since you’re going to be eating it together, and the darker color of the chocolate will cover the color of any white chocolate left. Once that round is melted together, fill the top half of the papers. Stick them in the fridge and let them set. If you can’t wait, try not to burn yourself.

In this picture, you can see the two layers, as well as one of the sprinkle of peanuts. Having the peanut layer in the middle gives you a little texture, and helps make these a step above other peanut butter cups. I also put a few holiday sprinkles on top just to make them look festive.

Dipped pretzels require the same skills as peanut butter cups. The candy coating goes by various names in the grocery store. Some times it’s called “bark” or “vanilla bark.” It also gets called just “candy coating” or “vanilla candy coating.” All of these products are basically the same thing. Break off a few squares, and melt them in your double boiler or mixing bowl. I generally use at least 3 squares to have enough melted candy to dip into, and not more than about 6 so I can fit it all in a bowl.

This is about 6 squares, just starting to warm up. Once you have your candy melted, you can turn down the heat a bit. This isn’t actually white chocolate so it’s not overly temperature sensitive, but you can make it too hot and cause it to seize. If everything seems to be going fine, and all of a sudden you start seeing lumps, turn your temperature down! Similarly, if the bark is starting to just run off or puddle, your bark is too hot.

Another trick I learned from Rachel is to place a skewer between the bowl and the pan to let steam out. It keeps the bowl from bumping around as the water boils, as well as to keep moisture from bubbling up the side.

Once the candy is melted, take a handful of pretzels, and dip them in. We typically use stick pretzels, and dip them about halfway. This is easiest, because you’re not trying to fish around and make sure you got all of the pretzels out of the candy. Also, the sticks break less then the twists, so you’re not digging around for nice looking pretzels. Once they’re dipped, lay them out on a wax- or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet.  I put holiday sprinkles on these while they’re warm too, because why not? Pop your cookie sheet into the fridge for a few minutes, until they’re set.

So pretty! We also have a few other kinds of cookies in the works, but in a vain attempt at holiday rationality, we’re trying to limit ourselves to two kinds a day!

A Rose By Any Other Name

December 12, 2011

So first, a quick note of business.

What do YOU, dear readers, want to see more of on BurbEx? Refinishing projects? Embroidery and sewing? Food?  What turns you on and keeps you reading. What can we teach you, or ourselves? We’d love to get some feedback.

Until then, we’ll keep plugging away.

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Yesterday Katie and I attended a cookie party. Yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds. Everyone brought or made cookies to share. We, of course, had to be different. I went back to my roots and decided to try something I hadn’t done in a long, long time.

Rosettes.

The idea of deep-frying can be a little daunting. We’re not super sophisticated at it either, so getting the oil stable at the right temperature took a little finesse.

So down to rosettes. These are basically a fried dough, made on a set of shaped, hot irons. Think a fancy funnel cake. The irons come in several designs, and usually look about like this:

These irons are what the dough is dispersed on, so that it cooks in the shape of the iron. Some of them make cups, some are Christmas themed. These are the original 1970s version, found at Goodwill for $0.69. Yep. Under a buck.

Heat your oil to about 365 degrees. We used our candy thermometer because it goes up to deep fry. It’s important to monitor your oil temperature closely, because it impacts how the dough cooks. If it’s too cool, the dough will absorb the oil and become spongy and laden. Too hot and they will become too crispy and burn. It took about 15 to 20 minutes for our oil to heat up to the right temperature, then a little fiddling around with it to get it stable.

Then…the frying commenced.

First, make your batter:

1 cup flour

2 Tbsp sugar

salt

2 eggs lightly beaten

vanilla

1 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients, combine the egg, vanilla, and milk, then combine it all until smooth. Ours was lumpy at first but smoothed out. This recipe makes about 60 rosettes. Prepare a tray or rack with paper towel, and place your batter in a shallow dish for dipping.

When the oil reaches the magic temperature, dip your irons in to the oil for a few seconds – 10 to 20 or so, to allow the irons to heat up. The oil also coats the irons so the batter doesn’t stick once it’s fried. Dip the irons in to the batter, being careful NOT to cover the top of the irons. Getting batter on the top makes it hard to remove the rosettes nicely after cooking.

If your oil is appropriately hot, the rosettes will immediately bubble a lot. Don’t be scared, just let them do their thing. It will take them about a minute or so to cook. Take them out when the dough is nice and chicken-brown.

Give them a moment to drip the oil off, then zoom them over to your landing zone – paper towels on a tray or rack. This will allow the excess oil to drain away. The rosette should pop off easily with a fork. After making several, I found that a couple things happened. First, our oil began to cool off because we placed cold batter in it. Monitor your oil temperature and allow it to come back up to temperature when it cools off. Also, not all of our rosettes turned out. It’s okay! Just try again. We did find that once our irons were nice and screaming hot, they would cook the batter immediately, which would then fall off in to our pie plate.  Let your irons cool off a bit if that’s the case.

As you can see, our rosette is nice and brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and enjoy. They’re best served hot. They’ll hold for about a day, or three days in the fridge, or frozen up to about three months. However, I think they’re best for immediate consumption. It’s a good party trick to impress your friends.

For about a buck and a half, we had a great dessert to share with our friends. Deep frying can be as simple as that!

xo-

Rach

 

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Update! Upon reflection, I really should have included something about fire safety. I don’t use a lot of things that have only one use, but a fire extinguisher is one of them. When deepfrying, there is the possibility of a grease fire. NEVER put water on a grease fire as it will spread the fire over a large surface. Instead, find something like a pot lid to smother the flames, or use a fire extinguisher. Please be safe.

Catching Air

December 9, 2011

Air. It’s one of those things we need.

See also (at 1:19):

Anyhoo, air is awesome for a number of reasons, none less than because it is the essential ingredient to many other delicious things. (Marshmallows, meringue, or nougat anyone?)

Today, however, I want to talk about pitas. They are amazingly easy to make, and amazingly fun to watch. Here is the basic recipe:

Pita Bread

Makes 8 pitas

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
1 packet yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water, roughly at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, or shortening

If you are using active dry yeast, follow the instructions on the packet to active it (see the note on yeast above). Otherwise, mix the yeast in with the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the olive oil and 1 1/4 cup water and stir together with a wooden spoon. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour will not stick to the ball, add more water (I had to add an extra 1/4 cup).

You might have to play with the flour/water ratio until you get a good consistency (springy), especially depending on climate. We usually need more of both in Denver.

Once the ingredients are balled up, knead the dough by hand or machine for about ten minutes. Not only does this combine the ingredients well, but it helps develop the texture of the dough.

Place it in a bowl that has been lightly coated with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes.

When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, cover the balls with a damp kitchen towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the dough to relax so that it’ll be easier to shape.

While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to preheat as well. If you do not have a baking stone, turn a cookie sheet upside down and place it on the middle rack of the oven while you are preheating the oven. This will be the surface on which you bake your pitas. It’s important that this is screaming hot so that your pitas cook quickly.

After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, spread a light coating of flour on a work surface and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough and use a rolling pin or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough.

Spray a light mist in to the oven when you are ready to begin baking your pitas to reduce blisters on your pita.

The pitas will only take a couple minutes to cook- you should see them start to expand and then pop!

That picture is blurry, but you can see it puffed up with air. When you take the pita out it will immediately deflate. Not all will pop nicely so don’t be bummed out if a few don’t work. They keep well for several days.

xo-

Rachel

So riddle me this.

French knots are a key point (ha) in embroidery. They represent dots, eyes, anything small and round. I cheat and just make small * shapes because I can’t, for the life of me, tie a french knot.

It’s supposed to look like

However, a quick search reveals these instructions:

  
  

Books, the Google, everywhere has this same illustration. And I still have the same problem that I. Don’t. Get. It. Every time I make one, it pulls through. I wrap more times, no change. I use tighter-weave cloth, it still pulls through. How do you make a bloody French knot?

Here is the gist of how to make one.

  1. Pull your thread through and toward you with one hand, needle in the other.
  2. Using your non-needle hand, wrap the thread twice or so around the needle.
  3. Using your non-needle hand, hold tension against the thread so it does not unwind from the needle. If you pull too tight, you will make it hard to pass the needle through the knot, too loose and it won’t be a nice knot.
  4. Use one finger to hold the thread and pass the needle down next to where the thread comes up. This was key for me- when I say next to, I mean one space/square/thread away. You want to have that thread between the two needle passes so that the knot doesn’t fall through.
  5. Hold the tension as you bring the needle through and let go as it gets close to the fabric and (allegedly) voila!

I’ll have to try this when I get home, but here is a video tutorial.

Until then, keep calm and french knot on.

Rach

It’s that time of year

December 5, 2011

Winter. Holidays.

I hate snow. I kind of hate winter generally. However, I do get sucked in to the holidays. Now, my parents stopped celebrating Christmas as a corporate abomination when I was pretty young. It was something like. There’s no Santa, p.s. there’s no Christmas either.

I grew up loathing all things Christmas and was righteously offended by anything Christmas. You’d think it was eating children or something. However, it eventually became the doorway through which I became part of Katie’s family, so it now holds a lot of meaning for me. I love their traditions. I love the visiting and the food. I love being a part of something bigger, and welcomed so thoroughly.

And of course, I love presents.

Last year we started what might become a new tradition for us – our friends introduced us to the idea of acquiring a permit to go cut our own tree down from the National Forest. Given our love of doing things on the cheap, $10 for a permit and an adventure sounds like a good deal.

It starts by meeting up for breakfast and ridiculously fancy coffee. We then drive in and tromple around up a mountainside looking for just the perfect tree.  It’s harder than you might think.

First off, there are several requirements about size, there is shape and density to consider, and then you cut it down. Mountainside forest trees are just not lot trees. They’re a little more Charlie Brown. Anyhoo, once you cut it down, you then have to drag it back out the half mile, hopefully without falling, and strap it up to the car.

This year, we decided to lop down a 19′ tree for our 6′ ceiling room. Since you can’t “top” trees and leave the stumps, we cut it in two and dragged both pieces out. It was heavy. And hard. And there were several inches of snow on the ground. All in all, a good time, if you like noodley appendages.

However, we got the tree out and it was graciously driven home by our friends’ parents. It was during this time that I realized the tree was about 6′ across at the bottom and still about 13′ tall.  More lopping. Then I had to get it through the door, downstairs, and manage to fit under our lower-than-average basement ceiling. I knew I shouldn’t have bought the 18″ tree topper.

Anyway, it’s all set up now and I find that lots of lights and dangley things help take up the CB space, but really, it’s about the best tree you could ask for.