Thursday, 30 August 2012

Is This The Perfect Sugar Cookie?

I was born and raised in Missouri, the 'show me' state.  Don't ask me why, but that's what Missouri is called.  So when I saw a recipe called 'THE PERFECT SUGAR COOKIE', I though, oh yeah, SHOW ME!  

I've been baking for years, actually, decades.  Hey, I started really young!  So when I read the ingredients I thought, 'this ain't no sugar cookie'!   Sugar cookies are similar to shortbread only a little softer and less crumbly.  They are the kind of dough you can roll out and decorate for Christmas cookies.  There is no way this dough fits that description.  Still, it looked tasty and it had an irresistible ingredient, CREAM CHEESE!  So let's make a batch and see what we get. 

The list of ingredients contains the usual suspects with the addition of 2 ounces of cream cheese.  Ready?  Here's what you need:

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white flour
2 ounces cream cheese - room temp.
6 Tablespoons butter - melted
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese.  Add the sugar and mix until totally combined. 

Pour in the egg, oil and vanilla, beat together until smooth.  Add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the dry ingredients are incorporated into the dough. 

At this point, I put the cookie dough into the fridge to chill while I heated the oven to 350 F/180C. 

The recipe says to line two baking sheets with parchment paper but the dough is so rich with butter, oil and cream cheese that there is no way the cookies will stick. So it's up to you!  I did half with baking paper and half without!  

To bake the cookies, place about 1/3 cup sugar into a little bowl.  Use a small scoop or take about 2 tablespoons of dough, roll it into a ball and drop the dough ball into the bowl of sugar.  Roll it around to coat it with sugar, place the dough ball onto the baking tray.  With a glass or a fork, gently flatten the dough ball just a little to make a cookie shape.   Be sure to leave a couple of inches between each cookie on the baking sheet.  They will spread when baking. 

Bake the cookies for 10 to 13 minutes or until they are set and start to slightly brown around the edges.  Let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the baking trays before placing them on a wire rack to cool completely.  Be sure to store them in an airtight container.

So are these the Perfect Sugar Cookie?  Well, in my opinion NO!  They aren't a sugar cookie at all.  They are a lovely, chewy, soft vanilla cookie.  When I make them again, and I will make them again, I am going to add white chocolate chips.   Then I think they just MIGHT be the Perfect White Chocolate Chip Cookie!  

Give them a try, if you turn them into White Chocolate Chip Cookies, please SHOW ME!  I'd love to know how they turn out!    

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

1950's Sweet Muffins, a Snap Decision

I have to apologise for the state of this entry.  I didn't plan to give you this recipe.  I baked these muffins for breakfast and as I was about to take the tray up to the bedroom - yes, we eat our breakfast in bed each morning- I thought 'Why not!'

So I quickly snapped a few photos of our breakfast tray before trundling upstairs.  I didn't want my muffins and tea to get cold and I wanted to watch the morning news on the telly.

These Sweet Muffins are from the 1950's Betty Crocker Cookbook, when muffins were truly a quick bread not the cake-like confections we now know.  These are lovely warm from the oven served with butter or preserves.  They take less than 30 minutes to bake so they are an easy breakfast treat.  

Here's what you need to make a batch of Sweet Muffins:

1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 salt

Heat the oven to 200C/ 400F.  Place paper muffin liners into a muffin tin.  The recipe says it makes 12 muffins but I usually get about 10.  I like FAT muffins! 

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.  In a large measuring cup or jug, mix the wet ingredients and egg.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Stir until JUST combined, DO NOT OVER MIX.  

Spoon the batter into the muffin liners (2/3 full).  Bake for 20 -25 minutes or until the muffins are golden brown.  Remove from the pan and serve immediately!   

See what I mean, obviously this wasn't staged for the photo, just a pot of butter, a jar of raspberry preserves and a jar of my homemade apple jelly.  This is real everyday food!  

Betty Crocker says, if you have left over muffins, split them and reheat in the broiler.  We were about 30 years away from the microwave oven when this recipe was published.  Still, I think the old recipes are often the best!  

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Allotment Ladies

I don't know why, but in the U.K. allotments are generally populated by mostly men.  I've seen it changing, gradually.  There are several husband and wife teams who have allotments directly behind my house.  There are even a few ladies who have allotments, but by and large it's a man's world at Hamilton Lane Allotments. 

The exception to the rule are the girls I call, the Allotment Ladies!

These gorgeous ladies are lovingly cared for by three gents, Allen, Arthur and Alan.  

As the sign says, the allotments are off limits to all but the allotment holders.  But Arthur was kind enough to let me come in, visit the girls and take some photos.  

I have never seen such well loved chickens.  Alan, Arthur and Allen dote on the ladies and have made them a HUGE chicken palace to live in. This is their day room.  They have a big shed and another enclosure with branches for roosting on at night.

They dine on a gourmet diet of fresh vegetables, corn, oats and all the slugs and snails they can hold.  On the menu in this photo was an organically grown cabbage!

They are beautiful chickens.  Just look at their lovely faces and bright eyes.

Lovely as they may be, chickens don't make very good photographic models.

They never stay still long enough to focus on them....

and you generally get more photos of fluffy bottoms than faces!  But they do have beautiful, feathery bottoms!  Happy hens lay delicious eggs and these girls are very productive.  They have been know to make a double yolk-er or two. 

Thanks to Arthur and the Allotment Ladies for welcoming me into their home.  I had a wonderful visit.  I hope you enjoyed meeting them, too.  

Friday, 24 August 2012

Chocolate Biscotti

I am frantically baking biscotti, well as frantically as biscotti can be baked. In our house there is no such thing as an empty cookie jar.  Andy is on his way home from London and I have given away most of the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies and eaten all but four of the cookies I kept.  Stocks must be replenished NOW!

Andy loves traditional biscotti so I am taking a risk baking chocolate biscotti.  I've tested them and I think he will approve.  These are not cookies for children. These biscotti aren't too sweet.  They are full of cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips. If you like rich Italian coffee, you will probably like these, too.  We must start baking, there isn't a lot of time to spare!  

You will need the following ingredients:

2 cups (280g) flour
3/4 cup (75g) good quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs - room temperature
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract- optional
1 cup (125g) toasted almonds (I used sliced almonds)
3/4 cup (120g) chocolate chips (I used 1 cup just because I love choc chips)

Preheat the oven to 350F or 180C.  

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. 

In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, 3 eggs, vanilla and almond extracts. Stir in the dry ingredients.  Add the almonds and chocolate chips and stir until they are evenly distributed in the batter.  

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and divide the dough in half.  Lightly flour the work surface and your hands and roll the dough into two, long logs.  Place one dough log in the centre of each baking sheet.  

Beat another egg and brush the tops of the dough logs with the beaten egg.  Sprinkle granulated sugar over the egg wash.  Bake for 25 minutes or until the dough has risen and feels firm to the touch.  Remove the baked dough logs from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes.

Place on a cutting board and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices.  A serrated knife works best for this step.  Place the slices, cut side down on the baking sheets and return the biscotti to the oven.   Bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes until the cookies feel firm and have that 'biscotti' look.  

Transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool completely.  If you feel really naughty, you can dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate.  I think they are very tasty just as they are.

Whew!  We did it with time to spare.  Andy isn't home yet and the biscotti are safely tucked away in the cookie jar.  All except this one which I am going to have with my coffee right now!  Remind me to stop at one, there isn't time to bake another batch!  

Thanks to David Lebovitz for this lovely recipe.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Dahlia Named Jessica

John grows Dahlias.  John is another of my allotment neighbours. Actually, he is the president of the Allotment Committee and is on his plot early every morning, almost every day of the year. 

Know when he is about by his bike, sometimes I hear him coming down the path.  It's reassuring seeing his bike parked in the grass. I like knowing he's there.  

John has been growing prize winning Dahlias for over 30 years.  Not only does he grow prize winners, he develops his own spectacular Dahlias.  This one is Jessica, named for one of his granddaughters.

John has five granddaughters and each of them has a special Dahlia named after them.   I can't keep them all straight in my mind.  Jessica sticks because  of my niece, Jess.  

This is another Dahlia developed by John ...

And this...

And this.... amazing!  You might have one of John's Dahlias in your garden.  His plantsmanship is THAT good! 

These blossoms are huge, the photo doesn't do them justice.

This Dahlia is such a delicate colour, it reminds me of the orange sherbet ice creams we used to have when I was a child.  

This flower is like a living firework!  It explodes into garden.

The bees adore John's Dahlias and so do I.  I am so glad John is my neighbour!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Anyone who has ever eaten a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup knows that chocolate and peanut butter tastes great together.  So no further explanation is required for this recipe, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies!

With these cookies you get the best of two old favourites and they only take a few store cupboard ingredients.  

Here's what you will need:

1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter - room temperature
1 cup peanut butter - you can use smooth or chunky
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg - room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, peanut butter and sugars until they are light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat again until they are well incorporated. 

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add this to the creamed mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients are combined.  

Stir in the chocolate chips, have a little nibble of the dough for quality control, and place the cookie dough into the fridge while you heat the oven to  350F or   180C.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, place a tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl.  Take tablespoons of the dough and form them into balls and roll them in the sugar.  

Place the sugar-coated dough balls on to ungreased baking sheets and gently press them with a fork to slightly flatten them.  Bake for 10 -12 minutes until the edges of the cookies are very lightly browned. 

Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for a few minutes to firm up a bit before placing them on a wire rack or baking paper to cool completely. 


This bag is a thank you gift for my allotment friend, Arthur.  He gives me eggs and lots of lovely veg from his plot.  He isn't getting all the cookies!  I have to keep a few to make sure they are good enough to give as presents!  I think they'll do, don't you?

Monday, 20 August 2012

Blue Skies

I was sitting in the garden, cat at my feet, cup of tea in hand, not really thinking of anything much when it struck me - how blue the sky is today!

I mean, really blue!  The clouds look like they were painted by a child, perfect, round and fluffy.  They mirror the treetops in shape.

You know how it is, once you get an idea or concept in your mind, you can't shake it.  Blue was lodged in my head and I started to see blue in every corner of the garden.

So for fun, I grabbed my camera to see how many blue things I could find in the garden.   Like this little bunny hiding under the blue lobelia flowers...

And the blue flower pots.

I've planted lots of lobelias.  It's one of my favourite annual flowers and they are very blue against the yellow of the nasturtiums.  

I even have blue gardening clogs!   It really is a 'Blue Monday', but in the nicest way.  And the sky.... it's SO blue!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Great Crunchie Game

The Dust Bunny loves games!  There are several that we play. One of his favourites is the Crunchie Game.  The crunchies we use are a very smelly cat treat.  You throw the crunchie up in the air and the Dust Bunny either catches it in mid-air or has to find where it lands.  The Crunchie Game is lots of fun and for the Dust Bunny, delicious!   

Here are some photos of the Dust Bunny in action....

You can see the crunchie is in play.

And he's off!

Crunchie number two is in the air...

The Dust Bunny leaps into action!

He nearly hooks it before it hits the ground....

but the crunchie has landed in the grass.

One last toss of the crunchie, it looks like a high one.

The Dust Bunny launches toward the flying crunchie.....

Did he catch it before it hit the ground?  I'm not sure, we will have to wait for the instant replay!