A Cookie is NOT a Dessert

First and foremost, let’s get one thing straight.  A cookie is not a dessert.  Yes, it’s sweet.  Yes, it’s most likely full of butter, and sugar, and maybe chocolate, and possibly even a few nuts, but if you tell me you’re bringing dessert and you hand me a cookie, I’m going to smirk at you—maybe not in your face, but most definitely in my head.  Is this polite?  Of course it isn’t.  But if you’re going to call a cookie a dessert, crumble it over some ice cream, or sandwich some ice cream between two cookies, or make one giant cookie and decorate it.  Just don’t hand me a solitary cookie and call it dessert, ‘cause, you know, I’m not three.

That said, today is National Cookie Day!  Is there a better month for cookies than December?  I think not.  Sadly, I don’t seem to have a single cookie recipe in The Pantry.  What’s up with that?  The closest I seem to come are these Chocolate Dipped Macaroons and this three year old post about cookies where I link some of the recipes below.

Here are some links to my favorite cookies– the ones I wish I could take credit for, but totally can’t– that I can’t do without over the holidays.

Original Nestle Toll House Cookies (Nestle)– for real– the BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe

Buttered Rum Meltaways (Martha Stewart)

Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies (Martha Stewart via Delish)– pictured in that old post referenced above

Pecan Bars (Martha Stewart)

Giant Sugar Cookies (Martha Stewart)

Thick, Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (Smitten Kitchen)– also in that old post

and my favorite sugar cookie for decorating:

Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe (Sugarbelle)

That particular one is a temperamental pain in the…okay, you get where I’m going here.  However, if you keep the dough chilled, roll it on the cookie sheet and just pull the excess dough away from it, life is much easier.  For me, it is the best tasting recipe I have found so far– worth the frustration.

 

Daring Cooks’: Beef Bourguignon (in a Crock Pot!)

It’s been far too long since I’ve shared a challenge from the Daring Kitchen–one more thing in my life that I’ve put on the back burner. I’ve kept up with what’s happening in the Kitchen, and I’ve even completed a couple of the challenges.  However, for one reason or another I haven’t shared what I’ve been doing, and I certainly haven’t been around much here to share them.

The Kitchen is currently undergoing a bit of a renovation, and during the months of November and December, Rachel from pizzarosa has issued a Better Late than Never challenge in which we have been offered the opportunity to go back and choose and complete one or more challenges that we missed in the past.  In addition to the chance to try any of the challenges, we’ve been granted the freedom to post these at any point during the month instead of the usual posting date of the 14th for the Daring Cooks.

So with the opportunity to jump back into the kitchen, the only question became one of which of the sixty-plus recipes to choose.  Since we were in the midst of yet another bizarre cold snap and we had a bottle of delicious red wine that I wasn’t going to drink all by myself, I opted for Beef Bourguignon.   After all, what’s more warming that Beef Stew with red wine?

Perfect choice, but I had a problem:  no Dutch oven.  That’s right.  I don’t have one.  And that, well, that’s just wrong.  Not that I don’t own one, but that so many wonderful recipes require one.  And did you ever look at a recipe where a third of the commenters insisted that the recipe just didn’t work at all for them?  I’ve come to believe the reason it didn’t work in at least 85 percent of those cases is because those people don’t have good pots and pans.  I don’t think it is user error; I think it’s a lack of good equipment.  As someone who only recently acquired an All-Clad skillet to replace a thirteen year-old Revere Ware one, I can tell you honestly that it makes a difference—a big one.

Now watch a cooking show—America’s Test Kitchen, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, Barefoot Contessa—and look at what they use: All Clad, Le Creuset, etc.  Does this mean that you can’t cook with what you have?  No, absolutely not.  It means you have to know what the differences are.  If you have a thin pan, the caramel you’re trying to make is going to cook much, much faster than those eight minutes the recipe’s instructions indicated.  Eight minutes in All Clad versus eight minutes in Revere ware is the difference between perfection and a dark brown, bitter mess.  But you have to know that the equipment changes the recipes’ instructions.  If you don’t, you’re out-of-luck before you’ve ever begun to measure your ingredients.  Sometimes it isn’t feasible to buy those high end pieces, especially when one All-Clad pan is the same price as a ten piece set of Revere ware.

So where was I?  Oh, yes.  No Dutch oven.  But, man, I wanted really wanted to do the Beef Bourguignon, and there had to be a way to do it according to the challenge instructions without begging for and borrowing that enameled pot.  And my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook provided the answer with Slow Cooker Beef Burgundy.  With some adjustment and a little daring-do, I could make this work for us.  And I did.

DSC_0208_edited-2

Crock Pot Beef Bourguignon

adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook (335-6)

Note: There is no onion and mushroom garnish in this version.  Despite every attempt to introduce them to the deliciousness that pearl onions and mushrooms can add, my family just isn’t having it.  I can usually hide them, but in this case, I had to simply leave them out.  It was that or have a pot of stew that all parties refused to touch. I chose to leave them out.

Ingredients:

4 slices bacon, cut into 1 inch chunks

1 3-4 lb. Chuck Roast, fat removed & cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

1 small yellow onion, chopped

2 medium sized carrots, chopped

3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1 ¼ cups Merlot (I used Noble Vines’ 181 Merlot)

¾ cups no salt added chicken broth

2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

4 tbsp. butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

Set up your crock pot– mine is 4 quarts.  Don’t turn it on– just put it together so it is ready to go.

Prep everything.   Cut, chop, pour, measure, and lay everything out.  Get Frenchified (totally a word) and go all mise-en-place (totally not proper grammar) in that kitchen of yours for this recipe.  This includes patting the beef dry with paper towels, and seasoning the meat well with salt and pepper.  Trust me, it’ll make your life much easier.  Oh, and these photos aren’t my usual style.  I’m having some technical issues that I hope to rectify soon.

prep 1_edited-1Start by cooking the bacon in a skillet over medium heat.  Remove the bacon for another use, but keep the fat in the skillet.  Okay, yes, after going on and on about using good pans versus using serviceable ones, you do see that I am using my All-Clad here.  I could have just as easily used my thirty dollar T-Fal (a great pan, by the way), but I really wanted to use the All-Clad.

DSC04999

There should be about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan.  Add a just a little vegetable oil if there doesn’t seem to be enough fat.  Turn the burner up to medium-high heat and add half of the seasoned beef to the hot bacon fat in the pan.   Brown the meat on all sides– don’t cook it all the way through.

cook half beef_edited-1

In the bottom of the crock pot, place the uncooked meat followed by the browned meat.

crock pot beef_edited-1The skillet should have crumbs and what not (fond is the technical term) on the bottom of it– leave them.  Turn your heat back down to medium.  To the hot pan, add the onions and carrots and a pinch of salt.  Cook them down for a few minutes until they are slightly tender and brown.

veg 1_edited-1

Add the minced garlic and thyme leaves and cook them for about 30 seconds or so– much more and the garlic will burn.  Burned garlic is bitter and not at all tasty.  The sheer speed at which all of these steps take place is why you need to prep in advance.

veg 2_edited-1

Now add the tomato paste and stir it all together and cook it for another 30 seconds or so.  Not the prettiest dish in the world, but oh it is delicious.

veg 3_edited-1

Remove the pan from the heat and put the mixture in the crock pot on top of the browned meat.

Return the pan, which should be really covered in fond by now) to the burner and raise the heat back to medium-high.  Quickly and carefully add  the wine, broth, and Worcestershire sauce, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan.  If you are using a non-stick pan, you may not have any stuck on browned bits at all.  That’s really the benefit of using a regular skillet.  Let the mixture simmer for about a minute.  I didn’t photograph this part.  Sorry.

Pour it over the vegetables in the crock pot.

crock pre cook_edited-1

Put the lid on, and cook everything on low.  If you plan to eat the meal that day, cook for eight and a half to nine hours.  If you plan to make the dish ahead and serve it the next day- which is what I did– cook for eight hours and leave it in the crock pot until cooled to room temperature.  Then refrigerate the stew until the next day.

The pictures I have show the cold stew being defatted.  This is harder to do with a hot stew, but not impossible.  Just skim the top fat with a spoon in wither case.  With the hot stew, the fat will be a little shiny and liquid.  With the cold, stew, it’s solid and at the top and very easy to move.  And, oh, yuck.

Defat the stew and strain the liquid into another bowl.

strain beef_edited-1

In a clean skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Sprinkle flour evenly over the butter, whisking the two together until you have a light brown roux.

roux 1_edited-1

Then carefully whisk the reserved liquid from the stew into the roux.   Simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly.  Add the meat back to the sauce.  Simmer until it is all heated through.

roux 2_edited-1

Serve over rice or potatoes or bread or all by itself.

DSC_0208_edited-2

Yield: 10 servings was what we got out of it.  You may or may not get more depending on your portion sizes.  It fed us for a couple of days.

Bakery Style Icing

If healthy eating is your thing, then you should step away from this post right now.  Don’t read any further, just walk away.

If sweet icings on cakes aren’t your thing, yet again, I urge you to just walk away.

If you like bakery style white cakes with a light yet sugary sweet frosting, and you’re open-minded about how to get that taste and texture, stick around.

This is bakery style frosting after all, and just like the Bakery Style White Cake, this recipe calls for high ratio shortening (look for store brand shortenings containing some—not a lot, just a little—trans-fats).  As an anti-shortening girl, I originally made this recipe with butter only and it was never ever quite right.   Then I tried in vain to make this frosting using trans-fat free shortening, and every single time I made it that way the frosting was utterly inedible and had to be thrown out.  Oh, heck.  I’ll be completely straight with you– it was flat-out nasty.  As in take a bite, make a face, and spit it in your napkin nasty. Following a tip given to me that was reiterated on numerous professional cake-baking message boards, I made one last attempt out of sheer desperation and swapped to a mixture of high ratio shortening and butter.  That switch turned out to be the key.  I don’t know why, and I don’t want to know why, but it was.  This recipe produces a frosting that is nearly identical to what you’ll get from a bakery cake.  It also works beautiful for decorating, which, sadly, my favorite cream cheese icing does not.

DSC03282_edited-2

Bakery Style Icing

Adapted from Wilton’s recipe for buttercream icing

Ingredients:

1 cup high ratio (read trans-fat is in here) vegetable shortening

1 cup butter, softened

2 tsp. vanilla extract

6 tsp. heavy cream

7-8 cups sifted powdered sugar

½ tub (8 oz. of a 16 oz. tub) premade vanilla frosting (Duncan Hines or Wilton’s Decorator’s Icing) (optional)

Directions:

Cream shortening & butter together, and then mix in vanilla and cream.  Carefully mix in powdered sugar a half cup at a time.  Once everything is fully combined, then mix in the premade frosting.  You don’t necessarily need the premade frosting, but it works a little better when you do.

Yield: 5-6 cups approximately at a medium to stiff consistency; add more water or cream to get a thinner consistency.  I prefer to add heavy cream.

This is more than enough to frost and fill a 2-layer 9-inch round cake or 24 cupcakes with some left over for decorations. The recipe can be easily halved to produce 2-1/2 cups frosting.

Color as desired with gel food coloring.