Friday, December 31, 2010

Product Review: Trader Joe's Sugar Cookie Workshop

I stopped at Trader Joe's in search of macadamia nuts and came out with this Sugar Cookie Workshop--for 99 cents! I bought the Sugar Cookie Workshop because it was such a ridiculously good deal. By that time, I had already baked my socks off but I figured I'd have a chance to do these before the new year.

And I did that in the nick of time! This workshop really is a good deal. For 99 cents, I got sugar cookie mix, 3 cookie cutters, 2 packets of vanilla frosting and 4 different colors of sanding sugar. If you wanted to buy all these things separately, it would be well over $10. The mix for me yielded about 60 cookies. The cookies are delicious, but I still have some tips for you if you get this mix in the future.

1. There was not enough frosting for the amount of cookies the mix yielded. Don't fret. There are several ways to make your baking experience a success if you know ahead that there will not be enough frosting. There is plenty of sanding sugar, even if your kids have a heavy hand with sugar. I only had enough frosting for about 40 cookies. So, before you bake the remaining 20 cookies, make a little egg wash (beat one egg in a small bowl), and brush it onto the unbaked cookies. Then sprinkle some of the sanding sugar onto the egg washed cookies and bake as normal. These cookies are great for people watching their weight because it doesn't have the added frosting.

2. The frosting works better in the beginning than later, so frost and then decorate. It would be great if you had someone else helping you make your cookies. An assembly line would be great. Have one person squeeze the frosting promptly after the bag is kneaded and cut onto the cookies. Have another person spread the frosting around. If you are thinking you can use this box mix to make something like this, think again. This frosting doesn't work that way. So you can use the cookie mix and cookie cutters--but not the frosting. Use this frosting if you aren't really worried about a finished look but more of an artists take. This mix would be great for young children.

That's it, everything in the mix was great (I love that you can make the cookies with melted butter so you don't have to worry about getting it to room temperature) except the frosting wasn't as great. Lucky for me, I did my share of decorating this Christmas and had some extra frosting lying around so I used that in a pinch. You could also make your own really quickly if you were running low, but again, you'd have to have room temperature butter already on the play it safe and bake a few with sugar and no frosting.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Product Review: Marie Callender's Rigatoni Marinara Classico

My husband wasn't available for dinner tonight and I didn't feel like cooking or having the leftovers, so I pulled out a frozen meal. And you know how I feel about frozen meals.

This meal steams the meat and pasta over the sauce so the pasta is still al dente in the end and not soggy like some frozen pastas. This only takes 4 1/2 minutes to make and comes in a really solid plastic bowl.

The pasta and flavorful sauce is mixed with sausage coins and meatballs. I thought the flavor was good and relatively filling with the addition of a roll and a mango.

I would buy this meal again.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Caramel-Chocolate Macadamia Nut Tart

This Christmas Eve we brought dessert. We assumed we would be one of many desserts, but for the first time ever, we brought the only option. Thank goodness it was delicious!

We decided to make this caramel-chocolate Macadamia nut tart but we didn't really get started first thing in the morning (or the night before). So, as a result the tart took all day to make and we finished it just before we had to leave for the party. However, after rushing to make it, we could only think of one step we could've made ahead--the crust.

The reviews on Epicurious for this recipe said the crust was blah. Having made a pear & almond tart for Thanksgiving, we decided to use the almond tart crust instead. A lot of people thought that crust was shortbread in the finished product. It also comes together quickly in food processor and we knew it would work. After we had our tart crust chilled, rolled, baked and cooled, we got started on the chocolate ganache. We used Ghirradeli Bittersweet Chocolate and I would definitely not use anything more bitter. The ganache was very rich. It was offset by the caramel sauce we made in the finished product.

Also, macadamia nuts are hard to find and not cheap. We bought 10oz unsalted at Trader Joe's and toasted them briefly in the oven before chopping them. We used only the amount the recipe called for. We think salted macadamia nuts (which are not as hard to find) would have been a fine substitute.

This dish was delicious and rich. We served it with vanilla ice cream and the extra sweetness was much needed. We were able to serve 10 with this tart, but our slices were small. I think we could've used another dessert or maybe two of the same. Even the people who aren't chocolate fans (I know, seriously.) enjoyed this pie. It is a make again when we have lots of time treat!

Monday, December 20, 2010

California Snowmen

This Christmas season I have had entirely too much time on my hands. Yesterday, I was browsing through a few blogs looking for last minute crafts (yeah, I know.), and I came across two food related crafts that I thought fit the bill. One of them was these adorable melted snowman cookies. Not only did these scream adorable, but also perfect for California, cause when was the last time you saw a real live snowman in the Los Angeles sunshine?

I found the tutorial of how to make these over on Crazy Domestic (she's a better frosting piper than I am so click on the link to see), I should've known by the name of the blog what the project entailed. I sure am glad I undertook this project, but while I was doing it I thought of who else I know that might take the time (3 hours I think) to embark upon a decorating project like this. I couldn't really think of anyone. But, perhaps some of you are decorating experts, or, like me you think these are too adorable to pass up. Then go for it!

For this project, I followed the recipe for Royal Icing from Bake at 350's blog which was featured on the Pioneer Woman's blog a few weeks ago. I made a half batch which was still too much for my 14 cookies, and I made what is called Flood Icing which is made by adding tiny increments of water until it runs like syrup. I think I probably still made mine a little thick. Also, this frosting is particularly tasty but I didn't want to turn it brown with vanilla, so I left it as is.

For the red & brown frosting, I used Wilton decorating frosting that comes in the tube (cheaper at Michael's than Ralph's) and the Wilton decorating plastic tips that you can buy specifically to use with those squeeze bottles. The brown frosting is chocolate and adds a lot of flavor to the cookies. The red frosting has a nice taste too. For the blue frosting I used Betty Crocker's Decorating Pressurized can frosting and one of the tips that comes with it. For the orange frosting, I used Wilton Gel frosting which comes in a tiny squeeze bottle and is much easier to handle because of the precision tip. I might have gotten more gel frosting if I had known it would be easier to handle. For the green frosting, I used liquid food coloring and mixed a green with the white flood frosting--it was kinda runny but I liked how it came out on the finished project.

The cookies are sugar cookies--I used the Pillsbury kind that comes in the roll. I got 14 cookies and they are gigantic. I think you could probably make them smaller. I recommend following the directions on the package and cutting 1/2 inch rounds. I made the first 6 golf ball size and flattened them and they were enormous when they came out of the oven. However, if you are going to make your snowmen with kids, the bigger size might be easier to decorate. The heads are marshmallows that are heated slightly in the microwave so that they look deformed and melty.

I can't imagine that I will ever have time to make these again, unless I become some sort of expert decorator or have helpers. Even though I cheated on the cookies it still took several hours. But I found it fun and rewarding, and look how cute they are!!! Now to store them until Christmas...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark

This month's Martha Stewart Living talked about homemade Christmas gifts. I thought I'd give the chocolate bark project a try. I didn't follow the recipe really because I wanted to make a half batch--but then I botched that and only halved the dark chocolate portion. The result was a very thin sheet of melted chocolate with a nice swirly pattern. Since I used more milk chocolate & peanut butter than chocolate that is exactly how it tastes. I like my chocolate bark a little thicker so next time I will follow the directions--and also aim for a pan similar to the size requested. I am such a rogue! Besides my mistakes, this bark is the cat's pajamas.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark
12 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate (I used Hershey's Special Dark bar)
4 oz milk chocolate (I used Nestle milk chocolate chips)
1/4 C creamy peanut butter
parchment paper
Baking spray

1. Spray 9x12 pan (I think 9x13 would be fine) with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
2. Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler until smooth. Spread with a spatula evenly across the parchment lined pan.
3. Melt milk chocolate & peanut butter in a double boiler. Drop spoonfuls of the milk chocolate mixture onto the dark chocolate mixture and swirl with a chopstick or skewer.
4. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Peel off the parchment paper and break into pieces.