The Best Royal Icing for Sugar Cookies (without meringue powder)

One thing I have learned as I read through recipes and food blogs is that my attention span is short and I am impatient. When people have this huge lead-in to a recipe about how they came across it, and adapted it, and how their mother’s brother’s wife’s cousin’s ex-fiancé used it at a holiday party and everyone loved it, I am done. I seriously now just scroll to the bottom until I see the word “ingredients” and a bulleted list. So if you are like me, I am just going to post this awesome royal frosting recipe here with no strings attached. You are welcome. Enjoy.

 

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼-½ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer (or medium bowl and hand mixer) combine sugar and ¼ cup milk on low.  Mix until smooth.
  • Add milk as needed to create a smooth mixture. Add slowly to make sure your icing isn’t super runny, however, I do find that I use the whole 1/2 cup every time.
  • Add corn syrup, almond extract and vanilla extract. Scrape and incorporate.

 

Helpful tips:

To decorate cookies, your outline icing should be the consistency of toothpaste, your flood icing should be the consistency of corn syrup. In my experience this recipe make a good outline icing, so I just remove the amount I want for my flood icing and add in a little milk to that (in VERY small amounts).

If you are coloring your icing, do that first and then make flood icing.

To easily fill a piping bag, place the piping bag into a tall glass and fold it over the sides, then simple pour or scoop the icing into the bag.

I find it a lot cleaner and easier to decorate if you use a rubber band on the top of your filled piping bag.

Keep unused icing sealed until ready to use.

When not using a bag of icing, I keep it sealed in a tupperware on my counter while decorating to keep little crumbs from hardening and getting messy.

This recipe is adapted from The Slow Roasted Italian and she says, “This icing will keep for several weeks on the countertop, in a sealed container. I actually keep mine much longer than that.“

 

The Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

So today I went to a cookie exchange that my friend hosted. It was a lot of fun and a very nice, calm morning with just adult women, sitting around, talking. I honestly don’t know the last time I have had a kid-free morning with friends. It has been awhile.

What I loved about our little cookie exchange is that 1) I got to eat a lot of cookies, duh and 2) I got to try some new recipes without having to bake them myself. Because who has the time to waste on trying a recipe that doesn’t turn out. And bonus, my family is coming in this week for Christmas and I have a huge variety of cookies that I didn’t have to make.

Anyway, my favorite part about baking actually has nothing to do with baking but the decorating. So the cookie that I brought was a simple rolled sugar cookie decorated with royal frosting. One thing I learned today is that the best marketing for a cookie recipe is word of mouth/experience. Several of my friends today had mentioned trying a sugar cookie recipe but they ended up rock hard or “melted” when baking. Plus we live in Colorado and the altitude likes to play tricks on us sometimes. So I promised I would share this “fail-proof” recipe that happened to work out well for me. They cookies were soft, but not too soft, and very, very yummy.

This recipe I adapted from Layers of Happiness

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons. baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Mix in the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat on medium-high until incorporated. You may need to scrape down the paddle and bowl in the process.
  • Add in the baking powder, salt and flour. You may want to add the flour a little at a time and let beat until combined then continue. Continue adding flour and mix until just combined. The dough will be soft.
  • To save yourself some cleanup, lay a piece of parchment paper on your counter as a workspace. Lightly flour parchment paper and dump dough onto paper. Flour the top of the dough and your rolling pin. Gently roll out dough to about 1/3-inch thickness or whatever thickness desired. I would err on the side of thicker cookies, because the thicker the cookies, the softer the cookies will be. Cut out shapes and gently transfer to cookie sheet. In my experience, these cookies do not expand much so you can place then closer together but not touching. About an inch apart should be fine.
  • When one cookie sheet is full refrigerate for 5 minutes, then bake for 8 total minutes. If you have two racks in your oven, it works best if after four minutes you take out, rotate, and then switch racks. They bake more evenly, and trust me, it was worth the extra effort.
  • Repeat with remaining dough.
  • Let cool completely and then decorate with your favorite frosting! Try my favorite royal icing recipe here.

 

Breakfast

This week The Ranger is away in Louisiana for training. Any time I have a couple days or a week with my husband away at training my eating habits tend to vary quite a bit. And my new habits tend to heavily lean in one direction… breakfast. You see, The Ranger doesn’t love breakfast because he is a crazy person. But breakfast is by far my favorite meal (well other than second breakfast). I could eat breakfast foods for every meal of every day and be perfectly happy. Truly. I am basically Leslie Knope… minus her enthusiasm for everything. Ok, basically we just both love breakfast foods. Anyway, since The Ranger is gone and I have been eating as much breakfast food as humanly possible I decided to dedicate a post to my all-time favorite homemade breakfasts. 100 Days of Real Food Waffles 1. Whole Wheat Waffles – this waffle recipe from 100 Days of Real Food is SO good. This recipe makes about 7-8 waffles. Now as much as I love waffles I can’t eat 8 waffles in one sitting. So I life-hack these suckers. Freeze the leftover waffles in a ZipLoc freezer bag and throughout the week, when you want a waffle, just break off a quarter of the waffle and pop it in the toaster. Put the toaster on a low setting and toast your waffle once or twice until it is warmed through. Trust me, it is delicious! (And you don’t have to go through the batter and waffle iron process every time you want a warm waffle.)

avocado, egg whites and wheat toast

2. Avocado, Egg Whites & Toast – this is a simple but ridiculously delicious breakfast. Just cut a couple slices of avocado, place on toast (or a toasted waffle if you are feeling crazy) and top with scrambled egg whites. My mouth is watering just thinking about this. I like to salt the avos and put the avos on first because the warm eggs can make the toast a little soggy.

strawberries and oatmeal breakfast

3. Oatmeal With Strawberries, Honey & Cinnamon – this is another very simple breakfast but it perfectly filling and tasty. Oatmeal is healthy but it can be quite bland alone. I love to add fresh strawberries, a little bit of  honey and some cinnamon. Sometimes when I need even extra flavor I add almonds or homemade granola.

Whole Wheat Pancakes From Fifteen Spatulas

4. Whole Wheat Pancakes – this recipe from Fifteen Spatulas is the best whole wheat pancake recipe I have found. The pancakes keep their fluffiness even with the whole wheat flour. I substitute honey for the sugar though. (I make these silver dollar sized and freeze the leftovers like with the waffles, then toast them up when I am in the mood for deliciousness.) I top all of my pancakes with peanut butter and cinnamon and the slightest drizzle of pure maple syrup. If you have never tried peanut butter and cinnamon on your pancakes or waffles please do. Do it for me. Do it for the love of breakfast. It is an unparalleled sensation for your tastebuds and I promise you won’t regret it.

Well now I think I am going to go eat me some breakfast. Even though it is 3 in the afternoon. No judgement.

The Best Granola You Will Ever Have In Your Life

epic granola

Now I realize this is a bold statement. And I will say I am a little biased. But I truly believe this is the best granola I have ever tasted… and it came out of my kitchen. Homemade granola is surprisingly easy, the hardest thing is probably making sure you have the ingredients on hand.

I first decided to make my own granola when The Ranger and I decided to do Lisa Leake’s 10 Days Of Real Food Pledge. Unfortunately even the most well intentioned brands have some nasty ingredients when you read the label. It is funny how many things I have eaten for years without even being able pronounce most of the ingredients on the label. It isn’t always true, but it seems like the longer the name, the more processed the ingredient. Anyway, I always considered granola a “healthy” alternative. But that isn’t always the case. I decided to make my own granola so I would know exactly all of the ingredients I put into it. And the result was delicious. Not to mention healthy… and when I say healthy, I mean it was made with real whole foods. Not a hint of processed.

Here is how it is done….

Ingredients:

3.5 cups rolled oats

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup sliced almonds

1 cup unsweetened coconut (Bob’s Red Mill has yummy unsweetened flaked coconut)

.5 cup whole flaxseed (again from Bob)

1.5 Tbsp ground cinnamon

.5 cup honey (I get mine from the local apiary but any ole honey will do)

6 Tbsp butter (I make my own but any ole butter will do)

2 tsp vanilla extract

.5 tsp salt

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats. I use a silpat all the time, if you don’t have one it is a worthy investment.

Combine the oats, nuts, coconut, flaxseeds and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.

Heat the butter and honey together in a small saucepan over low heat. Once the butter melts stir in the vanilla and salt.

Pour the hot liquids over the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until evenly coated.

Spread the mixture evenly between the two pans. Make sure you have a fairly even layer.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the granola has a nice golden brown color.

Remove the granola and let cool. Then enjoy!

Notes:

– Feel free to add or remove any ingredients. Experiment with different nuts, seeds or spices.

– My favorite way to eat this granola is with half of a cup of greek yogurt and TONS of frozen blueberries. It is maybe my all time favorite snack.

– Or use this granola in an apple sandwich. (See how Lisa makes it.) Apple slice, natural peanut butter and homemade granola! So delish!

P.S. In the spirit of eating real food, instead of giving our friends and family Christmas cookies this holiday season, we gave them Christmas tins filled with this granola. It was a fun change of pace and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Not to mention it was a nice break from the copious amounts “bad” stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ranger’s Birthday

Chocolate buttercream

This year, my husband’s birthday is extra special. He is turning 26. Which isn’t that special in and of itself but we didn’t get to spend his last birthday together because he was deployed to Afghanistan. So this birthday we are celebrating it with double the enthusiasm. Well I am. He could really give or take celebrating his birthday.

So I decided to bake him a cake. Which I haven’t ever done for him. I used to bake cakes all the time. I used to make wedding cakes. I used to work beside a bonafide pastry chef. And now… I don’t bake cakes anymore. I’m somewhere between not having time and getting a little burned out by it. Not to mention the cleanup involved. It just has to be really worth it. And my husband’s birthday… Worth it.

He requested a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, which in my opinion is not a proper pairing but what The Ranger wants on his birthday, he gets. So I set out to make a four-layered yellow cake with chocolate buttercream, coated in a rich ganache. (I later decided to scrap the ganache because my husband isn’t necessarily in love with rich foods and this cake would have been gluttonously rich.) I substituted the ganache for chocolate curls. Big, manly, chocolate curls. Chocolate curls are so fun and easy. If you haven’t tried it, you need to. Now. (The wonderful and talented, Ree Drummond has a lovely chocolatey post on the process. Impress all your friends with some French patisserie-esque chocolate curls.)

And the outcome of the cake? Based on the spoons I licked post-production it will be divine. I will let you know once we have cut into the sinful treat.

Chocolate Curls Cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog People

Dog people, dogs

I am from Colorado. If you have never been to Colorado, I have a little factoid for you. The dog is the unofficial state mascot. Everyone in Colorado has a dog. Truly. Not only does everyone have one, they are allowed everywhere.  I came to Kansas and they wouldn’t let me bring my puppy into the grocery store. Shocking. I had no idea.

So I am a dog person. My family has always had a family dog or two. They really are extensions of our family. Our dogs went everywhere with us. I have met people who aren’t dog people. Few, but they exist. However, I have never met a single person who wasn’t a “Boomer person”. My sweet Boomer has the ability to win over even the most hard-hearted anti-dog people. It is true.

One thing I have always enjoyed about having lovable canines around is their ability to brighten your day. In fact, there have been studies that show people who own dogs are less stressed, make fewer visits to the doctor and are overall happier people. Which, in my experience, I can’t find any evidence against. While my husband was deployed I don’t know what I would have done without Boomer. He has the power to make the worst days, better, the saddest moments, happier and the loneliest times, more bearable.

Colorado, dog, dog people

sparkler writing

Sparkler Writing

sparkler writing

I don’t care much for lighting fireworks. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE firework season. There is nothing like looking up into a sky bursting with beautiful colors. But the actual lighting of fireworks I don’t really dream about. Except for that is…. Sparklers. Who doesn’t like a good sparkler?

Well this Fourth of July, my cousin was playing with her new camera and I thought I’d show her a neat little trick I learned in photography class in college. By playing with shutter speed and sparklers you can have a lot of fun with “light writing”.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is the exposure time on your camera. So when you hear that fast “click-click” you have a fast shutter speed only letting in a small amount of light. You want a fast shutter during the day when there is a lot of light. Slower shutter speeds are usually used when there is less light. The problem with a slow shutter though is that pictures are easily blurry. So if you are taking photos at dusk with a slow shutter, the camera has to be so still otherwise you will get a blurred picture. This is because the camera needs a lot of light to make the picture visible.

The reason you have a slow shutter for light writing is because you need that time to write and the camera needs all that light to come in through the shutter. It needs to be dark when you light write because otherwise the camera will capture too much light and not just the light from your sparkler.

Here is what you do…

Grab your camera and set it on “Manual”. (You want to be able to adjust shutter speed on your own. Not all digital cameras can adjust shutter speed manually. This is perfect if you have a fancy SLR though.)

Grab a sparkler, flashlight, laser pointer etc. (Remember to wait until it is really dark.)

Set your camera on a tripod or very steady surface and make sure you know where to stand to get in the shot.

Set your shutter on a really slow speed. Your camera will say something like 1/1000, 1/500, 1/100 etc. (1/100 means that the shutter is open for one one-hundredth of a second… So not long enough for you to write something…) Keep decreasing your shutter until you see 5″, meaning five seconds. You may need to play around with timing. You might need more than five seconds.

Let the sparkler writer stand in place, facing the camera, then snap a photo and tell them to start writing. You just need to press the button once. You will hear a “click” when the shutter opens and then five seconds later you will hear a “click” when the shutter closes.

When the shutter closes you should have a picture of whatever you have written with your sparkler!

(Keep in mind that the writer is facing the camera so if they want to write words they will have to write the letters backwards. Also, wherever the sparkler goes you will see it on the photo, so cursive writing works best.)

light writing, slow shutter speed