Monday, May 18, 2015

Irresistible Lemon Cookies

This is another recipe passed down to me from Sandi this year.  (I wrote about her and her delicious Nana’s Cake and Apple Coleslaw recipes in an earlier post).  Sandi had told me about these cookies, that she found on the blog, Chef in Training.  She explained how delicious and irresistible they were.  She brought them to small group one week and we all went crazy…to the point that we were driven to do math to figure out how to slice up the remaining few cookies on the plate to divide evenly amongst the group members! 

These cookies have a lot going for them.  They have a great texture: a little crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  They are buttery.  They are lemony (with zest and fresh lemon juice). And they have a lemon glaze on top!  They are zippy but not too tart! (My tart-sensitive child loves them, which is a good gauge.  She is pretty much the barometer of most things in our home.*)

When I made them a couple of weeks ago, I ate one and then another.
And then I packed some up in a to-go container** to share with friends, the Joneses, as they were headed on a journey.  And then I ate another one.  So then I put 4 on a plate to take two-doors down to Lindsey for her family of 4, so there would be less temptation in my house. 
The hilarious part was that I later got a text from Matt, her husband, that said,
“I ate 3--yes, 3—lemon cookies last night. So, so good.  Thank you!”
To which I replied, “I love it! I’m honored. Who was the recipient of the one other cookie I gave you all?”
To which he replied, “Lindsey! We opted against sharing with the boys.”

Sounds like a strategic parenting decision.

Here's the recipe:

Cookie dough
1 cup butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
2¼ cups flour

Lemon glaze
1½ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. milk
¼ tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together.
Add egg and beat in well.
Add lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla and mix until well blended.
Add salt, baking powder and flour and mix until well incorporated.
Chill dough or use immediately.  ( I find they have a nice shape if you refrigerate the dough until firm).
Roll/Scoop cookies into 1 inch balls and place on greased cookie sheet.
Space cookie dough balls about 2 inches apart from each other.

Bake at 350 ˚ for 8-10 minutes or until lightly golden on the edges of cookies.

Combine glaze ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth glaze is formed. Drizzle as much as desired over slightly warmed cookies and let finish cooling completely before eating.
*If you are curious about this comment, about my daughter being the barometer of our family, here’s a little more on that topic.

I was introduced to this concept from Mary Sheedy Kurchinka in Raising Your Spirited Child.  It has helped me to understand her more (and pay more attention). 
According to the dictionary:

barometer |bəˈrämitər|
·      an instrument measuring atmospheric pressure, used esp. in forecasting the weather and    determining altitude.
·      something that reflects changes in circumstances or opinions: furniture is a barometer of changing tastes.

So, when tensions are high, she is the instrument that “measures that” and then “indicates that”.  When it’s hot, or cold, or tense, or sad, or intense, or scary, or hostile, or sweet…she’s my sensitive one that feels all the feels and lets us know! So, when I see/hear/learn from her how it’s feeling to her, I can predict that she is giving the read on the situation. 

**To-Go containers.  My mom taught me this tip.  If you are someone who enjoys sharing food with people, this is a tip that I recommend.   Save your plastic containers from to-go food, or yogurt, or lunch-meat, or hummus, or whatever you buy in plastic containers.  And save them for when you are giving away food.  I personally don’t like to use them in my fridge for my leftovers because the labels confuse me! To see a  Greek Yogurt container in my fridge leads me to believe that I have Greek yogurt, when in fact, it is filled with homemade hummus.  However, they are great for giving food away! And… you don’t have to spend money on “disposable plastic wear”.  Our favorite is when we get Pei Wei to-go containers.  They are perfect for packing baked goods or anything really. 

Speaking of lemons…I am loving putting lemons, limes and mint (from my
yard) in my ice water these days! Refreshment!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Blueberry Cheesecake Bars and the Summertime Classroom!

I am so excited that there are no more papers to grade or classes to teach for 3 months! I am breathing a deep sigh of relief.  I have been busy, busy with the end of the semester of teaching and my summer has now begun.

As we celebrated our graduating Seniors at a gathering and gave our parting words, I told them that they were ready-  that they have what they need to do the next thing in their Social Work careers.  I also challenged them to be life-long learners…to never stop learning! Be humble, knowing that they always have much more to learn!  I am struck by how much I learn every year.  At school- new students, new courses, new articles, books and workshops all enrich my life and enliven me.  And at home- new skills and recipes and stages of parenting keep life dynamic and keep me as a student always!

I appreciate that summer is a time to learn creative things.  It's like summertime is another kind of classroom.  I like to try new recipes, and read books, and try to develop skills.  I am hoping my summer will be filled with these things.  I have my book stack (an annual ritual) which I will attempt to chip away at these next couple of months. [And yes,  I'm aware that it is way too tall a stack to accomplish in a summer.] I hope to also practice Calligraphy, and ukelele playing with my girls, studying more about the Enneagram (which I am hoping to incorporate into one of my classes in the fall) and hopefully have time to share lots of recipes on the blog.  (And learn the Spanish language and learn how to sew alongside my daughters and...)

I have been cooking up some things these past weeks that I've been anxious to share with you.
The first is this delicious recipe from my student, Rebecca.  My students teach me all of the time.  I love learning from them!  This time it was a recipe.  She surprised our class, with homemade blueberry topped cheesecake bars.  We were all ecstatic before we even tasted it!  When we dug in, there were many "mmms and yums"!  She shared the recipe with the class after we all requested it.  I was excited to go home and make it.

I made the recipe the next week for my small group since I knew when I tried this recipe I would need some eaters, because if not,  I would be tempted to eat the whole pan.  I decided to double the recipe, since the original recipe is for an 8 X 8 pan and I was making it for a group of 15.  So, I thought I would use my large glass baking dish rather than the square one.  However, as I was making the crust I realized that I had too much crust for this size pan.  It was going to be too thick. So I scooped some out into a shallow dish.  Then I made the filling.  It filled my mixer to the top and was too much for the pan as well.  So, I plopped a few scoops of it on top of my mini crust before spreading the rest into the pan.  Lesson learned.  Use the correct size pan! The silver lining was that Dave and I got to have a mini cheesecake to share that night and didn't have to wait until small group to indulge!

This recipe is simple and delicious and no bake! The baking part of cheesecake-making has always been my challenge.  You want to make sure it is fully baked so that it doesn't goo, but not get too done, and not crack! With this no-bake recipe, you don't have any of those worries.

It is so delicious! BEWARE, however, this is not a healthy recipe… you can tell that by looking at the list of ingredients.  But it is so delicious and simple to make.

Borrowed from

12 graham cracker sheets, blended to make 2 c. of crumbs
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, melted (or less, this is a lot of butter!)

2 (8oz) packages of cream cheese
1 c. powdered sugar
2 c. (1 pint) of HEAVY whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract

(adapted from Martha Stewart)
2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla.

CRUST: Using a food processor, blend graham cracker sheets until turned into crumbs (or do this in a ziplock bag with a rolling pin).
Add sugar and melted butter; blend until well mixed.
Press into an 8×8 pan lightly greased with cooking spray.
FILLING:  Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, mix cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth.
Add heavy whipping cream, vanilla and almond extracts.
Mix on medium-high for 2-3 minutes or until thickened.
Pour filling over the crust.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

SAUCE: Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan.
Cook over medium high heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
The blueberries will breakdown and the sauce will become thick.
Let cool and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve the cheesecake.

Pour on top of cheesecake.
Serve and enjoy!

Here's to a season of learning and cooking and enjoying the tastes of summer! 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Energy Bites: Healthy & Delicious (For Real!)

I don't know if you have made energy bites of some sort, but I have become a fan of these yummy and healthy snacks.   A while back, my friend Connie gave me a few of these she had made to sample.  After I had one, I immediately texted her, "YUM! I tried them and I need the recipe!"  Then, a few weeks ago it was my snack-bringing week for church and I felt the need to make something a little more substantially nutritious than the biscuits and coffee cake I had made the previous months.  I looked on my Pinterest breakfast board and found this recipe that was pretty much Connie's recipe but with peanut butter instead of almond butter. I had forgotten about the recipe! 

I made a double batch- which yielded 40 something balls.  They were all gone within a few minutes of serving them.  I don't know if people were desperately hungry or they really liked them.  We have lots of kids that congregate around our snack table at church, so I think we can call these delicious when kids and adults ate them, and we can call them healthy since they are chock full of flax seed, chia and oats! 

I made them again for my family this week and we have enjoyed having them for a quick snack or for a breakfast on the go.  I even had one for dessert the other night (though my son believes that despite that fact that they are laced with chocolate chips, they do not qualify for dessert) !

I'm trying to have things on hand that are protein-rich, as my kids tend to reach for crackers, chips, and starches for snacks.  Lately, I've made Hummus and Texas Caviar to have in the refrigerator and try to always keep yogurt and smoothie-making supplies on hand.  If I get my act together to have the good stuff within reach, and prep a couple of things for the week, they have good, tasty, healthy things within reach.  


Energy Bites
Makes about 20

1 cup (dry) old fashioned oatmeal
2/3 cup coconut flakes
½ cup peanut butter (or almond butter- take your pick)
½ cup ground flaxseed
½ cup mini chocolate chips
1/3 cup honey
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl.  Let set in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  
Form into small balls (about golf ball size).  
Put in an air tight container and keep in refrigerator. 

If this inspires you to get into healthy oatey bar/bite making, I have two granola bar recipes I love that I wrote about HERE and HERE and my favorite go-to granola recipe HERE, oh and the lovely chewy peanut butter granola HERE.  If you are short on time, these simple but nutritionally dense bites are super easy and quick to put together.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Turtle Back Cookies

Our friends, the McCulloughs, started a tradition several years ago of bringing our family pizza dinner, from Pizza Perfect (a yummy local Pizza shop) on the night of my first day of class each year.  What a gift to have someone else take care of dinner after day 1 of class.  How thoughtful is that?  I love this tradition for many reasons, including that they stay and eat with us and that Lindsey usually brings homemade cookies!  A couple of years ago, she brought these incredible Turtle Back Cookies.  I love good cookies, and I am tempted to eat more than I should.  However, these were on an entirely other level.  They were like cookies meets spice cake with caramel frosting! Trouble!  I loved them…maybe too much!

I asked Lindsey for the recipe.  She said she was still trying to find the right recipe.  She is attempting to recreate a favorite cookie from a bakery (Traeger's Bakery) in Demopolis, Alabama.  Visiting the bakery was a tradition in her family.  When visiting their grandparents, they would always go get these Turtleback cookies, as would many people in that community.  (She also shared that her grandmother would always get Easter Egg Cake there at Easter time. Fun!)

The bakery has since closed and the Turtle Back Cookie fans are left scrambling to recreate these special treats at home.  Unfortunately the owners haven't shared their secret recipe. If you google "Traeger's Bakery Turtle Back Cookies" you will find many attempts at the recipe. This is Lindsey's favorite recipe thus far.  I told her she can stop the search!  I have never had the originals, so I can't compare them, but I can say that they are one of my favorite cookies/desserts!  The texture of the cookie is lovely. It is chewy, with a good cinnamon/brown sugar/nutty flavor and a nice crunchy edge.  The thick caramel frosting on top makes them more of a dessert than just a cookie.

From Lindsey McCullough

Spice Cookies
2 cup shortening (I used 1 cup butter & 1 cup Crisco- since that’s what Lindsey did)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

5 1/2 cup sifted flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup pecans (plus additional ¼ cup to press on bottom)

Sift together flour, cinnamon, soda and salt; set aside.
Cream together shortening/butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla.  Stir in other dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, soda and salt).  Add pecans.  Chill dough several hours or overnight.
Drop with 1 5/8 inch cookie scoop onto foil or parchment paper, which has a layer of chopped pecans.  Press bottom of cookies onto pecans.  Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 12 minutes or until fully cooked when touched.  Cool before icing.

½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 box (4 cups) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
4 to 5 Tbsp. evaporated milk (or cow’s milk if you don’t have evaporated)
Bring butter and brown sugar to a boil and simmer 2 minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.  Alternately add sifted sugar and milk.  Add cinnamon to some of the sugar as it is sifted.  Beat with wire whisk or mixer.  Adjust sugar and milk to spreading consistency. (It might not take all the sugar or all of the milk.) You want it spreadable but thick.  You can put it back on the burner if it starts to solidify   

I have made them twice and one time the dough felt dry and crumbly.  They turned out thick and puffy, which looked good, but they were drier and crumblier.  If this happens to your dough for some reason, add a little milk or water to your batter to soften it up a bit.  

toasted coarsely chopped pecans
pecans are pressed into the bottom of the cookie
as well as stirred into the dough
the carmel frosting that is quite addictive

This is a with and without frosting photo.  If you don't love the richness of the thick caramel frosting,
the cookie itself is an an excellent spice cookie!  
Make someone's day by baking them some of these lovelies.  It makes a nice big batch, so there are plenty to keep and share.  And while you're at it, maybe offer to bring a pizza over too and sit down and enjoy it with them.  And make their entire week brighter!