Thursday, January 30, 2014

When the power goes out...

...and it's -10°F.

Monika got a crash course in electrification last Thursday. Our power went out mid-way through my shower. So while I tried to make the most of the afternoon – with conditioner in my hair, all wrapped up in a towel – Monika peppered me with questions. Excerpts from the electricity lesson, not necessarily in chronological order, included:

Monika: So does that mean you can't wash dishes?

Me: Nope. We don't have any water right now because we need electricity to run the water pump.

Monika: Oh! Does that mean you can't cook supper?

Me: Nope. The stove uses electricity, too.

Monika: Ohhhhh! And that means we can't get anymore milk from the cows either.

Me: Right, we need electricity to milk the cows.

Monika: Does the television work? How about the radio?

Me: Nope.

Monika: Does the garbage can still work? Does the door work (pointing to the front door)?

Me: Yes, they work. They don't need electricity.

Monika questioned the function of just about every appliance and device in our house during the outage, which lasted about three hours.

We've had outages in the past, but Monika must have been too young to understand what was happening. And, we usually start up the generator if the outage lasts more than a couple minutes.

But, starting up the generator didn't work last Thursday. The tractor which runs the generator hadn't been plugged in long enough before the power went out, so it was too cold to start. Even if we could have started the tractor, we wouldn't have been able to get to the generator. The skidloader was parked in front of the generator and it was too cold to start, too, even though it had been plugged in for several hours.

So, without electricity from the generator, the fans in the barn didn't run and the heaters in the outdoor waterers didn't heat.

I told Glen to take a nap until the power came back, but he was too frustrated with the situation to settle down, so he went to town to buy a gas-powered generator so he could plug the tractor and skidloader in.

But, wouldn't you know, ten minutes after he got back from town and had the new generator running, the good people at our electric cooperative resolved the problem and we had electricity again.

A pail of hot water thawed out the waterers and the air cleared in the barns rather quickly once the fans started up. The tractor and skidloader started after being plugged in for awhile and Glen was able to finally start mixing feed. I rinsed the conditioner from my hair, loaded the dishwasher, and started supper.

And when Dan got home from school, Monika told him all about how we use electricity.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Best Sugar Cookie Frosting

This frosting was actually an accident, but more about that in a minute.

First, the recipe.

The Best Sugar Cookie Frosting
(Technically, this is icing, not frosting. Call it what you want. I call it frosting.)

2 cups powdered sugar (don't worry about sifting)
2 - 3 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tbsp milk or water
1/16 tsp - 1/4 tsp flavored extract* (almond, raspberry, orange, vanilla, etc.)
pinch salt

*start with the smaller amount of extract and add more, as desired, so that the extract doesn't overpower the recipe

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until completely blended. Add additional milk or water, by the teaspoon, if necessary, to adjust consistency for spreading.

Frost cookies. Immediately add sprinkles. Press sprinkles down gently with fingers or spatula. Allow frosting to dry. Frosted cookies will be ready to stack after a couple hours.

Frosting will keep in refrigerator for several days, but will lose it's 'whiteness' over time.

What I love about this frosting...

The flavor of this frosting is the perfect complement to my favorite sugar cookies.

Preparing this frosting doesn't require a mixer – just combine and stir!

It spreads easily on cookies.

This frosting dries quickly and dries hard enough to stack frosted cookies, even if you spread a thick layer. But the frosting doesn't dry completely, so when you bite into a frosted cookie, the frosting is still a little creamy underneath the sprinkles.

The story behind the recipe...

For me, sugar cookies aren't complete without frosting and sprinkles. Mostly, because I happen to really like frosting. Which is great, and all, but not so much for my figure.

I also have high demands for frosting. It must look great on the cookies, adequately keep the sprinkles in place, dry hard enough to stack, and taste great, too. Believe me, I have tried multiple frosting recipes in search of the best frosting for decorating sugar cookies. Glen and the kids have greatly enjoyed all most of my cookie frosting experiments.

I used to think that all good frosting recipes were made with real butter – and, truly, they are – but I have also found that while butter frosting tastes great on sugar cookies, it doesn't dry well enough to package those frosting cookies. But all of the frosting/icing recipes I tried making without butter tasted downright awful. Until I concocted this recipe.

This recipe, which is, by far, my best sugar cookie frosting creation yet, was not originally intended to be sugar cookie frosting. I was looking for a simple icing I could use to affix sprinkles to spritz cookies, so I started with the icing recipe on this page. But I didn't have half-and-half cream, so I tweaked the recipe and then tweaked it some more. The frosting I ended up with tasted pretty darn good, almost as good as butter frosting, but when I piped it onto the spritz cookies, it dried so fast that I didn't have time to add the sprinkles.

I stuck the frosting in the fridge to use for something else. I ended up gluing the sprinkles to my spritz cookies using diluted corn syrup and a paint brush – which worked very well.

When it came time to frost sugar cookies, I remembered the frosting in the fridge. I figured it was worth trying, so I frosted and sprinkled a couple test cookies and let them dry. (Poor Glen, every time he walked through the kitchen, he would ask if the cookies on the cooling racks were fair game, and I had to tell him no. I needed to know how the frosting dried.)

I figured right. The frosting set up perfectly and tasted amazing when paired with the cookies. I ended up making several batches of this throughout the holiday baking season and each batch turned out as great as the first.

My search for the best sugar cookie frosting is over. Sometimes accidents are a good thing.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Christmas Cookie List

This year was the first year in many years that I made several types of treats for Christmas. I'm not sure where I got the crazy idea to bake all these cookies, but it was fun (and crazy). The kids helped as much as they could, especially with taste testing and decorating.

I gave cookies to the kids' teachers, brought a plate of treats to the Dairy Star, delivered cookie plates to some of our friends and neighbors, and brought three trays of treats to my extended family's Christmas gathering.

spritz cookies, cream cheese sugar cookies

All the craziness was worth it when my sister said, after our Christmas gathering was over, that having a table full of treats helped make it feel like Christmas.

peanut butter cups, peanut butter bon-bons, raspberries, rolo turtles, buttercreams,

This is the 2013 Christmas Cookie List:

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
This is the recipe I got from Glen's mom. They turned out great. And I accidentally came up with the best recipe for frosting them. I'll share it soon. Here's the recipe.

Spritz Cookies
This is the first time I've ever attempted to make spritz cookies. I used my grandmother's recipe and they tasted just like the ones I remember my dad and mom making. When the first pan of cookies came out of the oven, I was overcome with emotion – with both pride and a connection to a grandma I don't remember. I'll be practicing more next year. 

Peanut Butter Cups
These are miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups pressed into peanut butter cookies baked in mini-muffin tins. I decorated them with red and green M&Ms. The kids got to help by unwrapping all of the candies. I'm glad they thought it was fun and not child labor.

Peanut Butter Bon-bons
My version of Buckeyes. I dipped them completely in chocolate this year. I tried really hard to dip them in just tempered chocolate, but it didn't work so well, so I added a little coconut oil to the melted chocolate.

These little treats are my variation of a treat my grandmother made. She made them as strawberries. Since I love anything and everything raspberry, I tweaked the recipe to make them into raspberries. Plus, shaping them into bon-bons is easier than shaping them into strawberries. My grandmother decorated her strawberries with green frosting; I tinted white chocolate green and dipped the tops of the bon-bons.

I experimented with a less sweet version of this recipe. I also left these in the shape of my cookie scoop, dipped them in white chocolate and drizzled them with dark chocolate. After making these this year, I decided I wasn't going to make them again next year. Until, that is, both Dan and Monika declared that these little treats taste just like ice cream and they are their favorite. I guess I'll be making them again next year, but I won't be making a double batch.

Rolo Pretzel Turtles
These have to be one of the quickest and tastiest holiday treats ever dreamed up. I made some of these without the pretzel, too. I definitely need to make more of these next year. Dan and Monika were a great help: they unwrapped all of the Rolos for me.

I needed to do something with all the egg whites I had left over from the sugar cookies and spritz cookies. So I decided to try making meringues. I made these once before we started farming and I thought they turned out pretty well. The meringues I made this year were a disaster. They went right in the trash. Next year, I'll try making macaroons with the egg whites.

Gingerbread Men
These were on my baking list for Christmas, but I didn't end up making them until New Year's Eve. We decorated them on New Year's Day. I used regular whole wheat flour and they turned out great. Next year I'll try using white whole wheat flour just to see if it makes a difference.

I also made Doubletree Hotel Copycat Chocolate Chip Cookies, Kathy's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies to give as gifts.

After I first finished all of these cookies, I told myself that next year's Christmas cookie list needed to be a bit shorter. Maybe it will be. Or maybe I'll just start baking earlier. It's hard to beat the heartwarming feeling of sharing Christmas cheer with homemade treats.