Christmas Cookie Countdown: #7 Sugar Mods

Sugar cookies are silly easy to mod! You can add chocolate, peppermint, orange, hazel nut, or even almond, for flavoring. Add a bit of food coloring for a festive touch or add frost or a nice light glaze.

Software – Sugar Cookie Base

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Software – Peppermint Mod

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

Software – Chocolate Mod

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted (30 seconds to 1 min in microwave on high)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Hardware

  • Electric stand mixer with paddle attachment
  • Medium bowl
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking sheet

First make the Sugar Cookie Base Dough – Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine.

Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half.

Now mix in flavoring! Take the one half of the dough and mix in chocolate and vanilla by hand until chocolate is well incorporated.

Take the other half of the dough and mix in peppermint extract, egg yolk, and crushed peppermint candies.

Chill dough for 2 hours in fridge.

Mod 1:  Here you can do some fancy. Roll out the doughs separately to approximately 1/4-inch thickness between two sheets of parchment paper. Place peppermint dough on top of chocolate and press together around the edges. Using parchment paper or flexible cutting board underneath, roll dough into log.

Mod 2: You can also use each dough separately. I find sliced rounds easier to make than cookie cutters. If you go this route, form each dough into a log.

Wrap the logs in paper and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Mod 3: You can roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness and use cookie cutter shapes. Place out your shapes and press, but before removing the shape, use a spatula to transfer the cookie to a sheet.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

If you went with option 1 or 2:  remove dough from the refrigerator and cut into 1/2-inch slices

Place cookies 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking time. Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes, and then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Mod 4: Decorate with frosting! Or drizzle chocolate or white chocolate over the cookies for decoration.

If stored in an airtight container, they can last for up to 1 week.

Christmas Cookie Countdown: #8 Pecan Crescents

You need superfine sugar for this recipe, but if you can’t find store bought kind you can make your own by food processing regular granulated sugar by pulsing for 30 seconds. I guess you could try confectioners’ sugar, but that maybe too fine for these cookies and you won’t get a cookie that melts in your mouth as with superfine sugar.

If you decide to bake with more than one baking sheet of cookies, be sure to turn cookie sheets from front to back and switching from top to bottom racks halfway through the baking process – this is for even baking as more than one rack of cookies tends to block heat.

Oh yes, if you wait too long while shaping your cookies, the butter starts to soften further and they start falling apart when you form them. Work fast, maybe putting them into the fridge before you handle them will give you more handling time. Try other kinds of shapes for fun! ^_^

Software

  • 2 cups whole pecans, chopped fine
  • 2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1/3 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar for rolling cooled cookies

Hardware

  • Food processor with a steel blade
  • Electric stand mixer with paddle attachment
  • Baking sheets
  • Spatula

Adjust oven to middle rack if you are baking with one sheet at a time; with two sheets, adjust racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix 1 cup chopped nuts, flour, and salt in medium bowl; set aside.

In workbowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process remaining chopped nuts until the texture of coarse cornmeal, 10 to 15 seconds (do not overprocess); stir into flour mixture and set aside. (To finely grind chopped nuts by hand, roll them between two large sheets plastic wrap with rolling pin, applying moderate pressure, until broken down to coarse cornmeal-like texture).

In bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed or by hand, beat butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 1 1/2 minutes with an electric mixer or 4 minutes by hand; beat in vanilla. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula; add flour mixture and beat at low speed until dough just begins to come together but still looks scrappy, about 15 seconds. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl again with rubber spatula; continue beating at low speed until dough is cohesive, 6 to 9 seconds longer. Do not overbeat.

Working with about one tablespoon dough at a time, roll and shape cookies into balls, crescents, rings, or cigar shapes as desired. Bake until tops are pale golden and bottoms are just beginning to brown baking, 17 to 19 minutes.

Cool cookies on sheets about 2 minutes; remove with metal spatula to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Working with three or four cookies at a time, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar to coat them thoroughly. Gently shake off excess. (They can be stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.)

Before serving, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar a second time to ensure a thick coating, and tap off excess.

Christmas Cookie Countdown: #9 Jelly Walnut Tea Squares

Since the previous cookies were so fairly sweet, I wanted to try something subtle but with a bit of a kick. I love tea, so having a biscuit or shortbread like cookie is what I was looking for. This is a slight variation on a Czechoslovakian Shortbread, also called a cukrovi or susenky. Best to store these tasty morsels under a tight lid, else they may lose moisture and become too dry. Don’t worry if they come out ugly looking, I think they happen that way because the dough ends up so soft. If I were to do this over, would have cooled the dough down even more in the fridge, and included it in the instructions below.

Software – Level 1, Shortbread

  • 1 cup walnuts or almonds
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
  • Pinch fine salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, diced and slightly chilled
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or vanilla

Software – Level 2, Jelly Filling

  • 1 cup cherry jam or your favorite
  • 1/2 lemon, zest finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 egg white, for brushing

Hardware

  • 9×12 ½ – inch baking sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Food Processor

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 8 minutes. Cool completely.

Butter a 9×12 ½ – inch baking sheet pan, and then cover bottom with parchment paper.

Pulse the walnuts with the sugar, in a food processor until fine and powdery, about 2 minutes.

Slowly add the flour, spices, and salt, pulsing until evenly combined.

Add the butter, yolks, and brandy and pulse until the mixture starts to come together. Stop mixing and pull the dough together by hand, press and roll into a thick log about 8 inches long.

Often the dough end up very sticky, so refrigerate it until easier to work with, about 30 minutes.

Cut the log crosswise into 12 equal pieces. Lay 8 pieces of the dough on the bottom of the pan. Press and spread the pieces together with your fingertips to cover the pan evenly.

Stir the cherry jam, lemon zest and juice together in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the surface of the dough with the back of a spoon.

Roll the remaining dough out on a well-floured surface about 1/8-inch thick. Use a small decorative cutter, such as a leaf, tree, or star, to cut the dough into 24 pieces. Evenly place the pieces on top of the filling in 6 rows of 4.

Alternatively, you cut the dough into long strips with a pizza wheel or knife, and place them on the filling in a lattice pattern or even cut the dough into ovals and lay them on the filling in a decorative pattern.

Brush decorative layer of dough with egg white.

Bake the squares until golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Cool completely in the pan on a rack. Cut with a serrated knife into 2-inch squares.

Christmas Cookie Countdown: #10 Chocolate Capped Macaroons Mountains

Wow, “Gingerman Army” and “Nut Lords” disappeared before 10 AM at the office!  I hope these ones will go as fast ^_^ its been a super fun baking cookies!

I usually hate coconut and found the store and girl scout coconut type cookies too sweet and muddled. These are kind of delicate and require a bit of care during transport. I put each cluster into mini paper cupcake liners and separated each layer with wax or parchment paper in the cookie container.

Software

  • 2 (7 to 8-ounce) packages sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 5 ounces granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 ounce vegetable shortening
  • 2 ounces finely chopped dry-roasted macadamia nuts

Hardware

  • Electric mixer with whisk attachment
  • Medium bowl
  • Spatula, for folding
  • Kitchen Scale – to measure out ingredients
  • 4-quart pot
  • Small metal or glass mixing bowl

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the coconut with the sweetened condensed milk, salt and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to whip the whites until medium peaks form, 6 to 7 minutes.

Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. Scoop tablespoon-sized mounds onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately transfer the parchment with the macaroons to a cooling rack. Cool completely before topping.

Fill a 4-quart pot with enough water to come 2 inches up the side, set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Combine the chocolate chips and shortening in a small metal or glass mixing bowl and set over the simmering pot. Stir occasionally until melted, then remove from the heat.

Dip the cooled cookies in the chocolate mixture, sprinkle with the chopped macadamia nuts and place on parchment paper to set, about 30 minutes.

Christmas Cookie Countdown: #11 Chocolate Mint Chip Nut Lords

This one was requested by my husband who wanted 4 kinds of nuts.  To add a bit of contrast flavor I added mint chips along with the chocolate ones. They are called “Nut Lords”, because Sig said “Lord these are nutty!” after taking a bite!

Software

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of mint chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts nuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Hardware

  • Electric stand mixer with paddle
  • Medium bowl
  • Baking parchment paper

Heat over to 375 degrees F.

In the electric mixer bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and until creamy.

Add eggs one at a time, mixing well before adding the next one.

In the medium blow, mix together flour, kosher salt, and baking soda.

Slowly add flower mixture to butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Add chocolate chips, mint chips, and nuts to batter. Fold until well incorporated.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet. I like to use non stick parchment paper.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Cool slightly before remove from cookie sheet to wire rack to cool fully.

Christmas Cookie Countdown: #12 Invading Gingerman Army

I made these on Monday night. They turned out quite well for a cookie.  The thin ones are like ginger snaps and are great with tea, The thick ones are of chewwie goodness. The frosting I originally found was awful, but I found a better and simpler frosting as an optional accompaniment.

Software

The foundation:

  • 1 1/2 sticks lightly salted butter, softened
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 orange, zested

The dry ingredients:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground dry ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

The wet ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 1 lemon, juiced

Hardware

  • Electric Mixer with paddle
  • Baking sheet
  • 2 Medium  bowls
  • Rolling pin
  • Spatula
  • Flower sifter or sieve
  • Parchment paper
  • Plastic Wrap

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, add the butter, sugar and orange zest and beat until smooth, 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, dry ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Whisk to blend. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses and lemon juice.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the butter and sugar are integrated, lower the speed of the mixer and add the dry ingredients. Add the egg mixture and when blended, remove the bowl from the machine. Divide the cookie dough in half. Press the first half of the dough in between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and chill for 15 minutes. Repeat with the second half. This step will make it easier to finish rolling out the dough when it has chilled. It will also mean you only have half of the dough getting warm as you roll it.

Between 2 sheets of parchment paper, use a rolling pin to gently roll the first half of the dough about 1/2-inch thick. You can go 1/4-inch cookies if you want a crisper cookie. Lightly flour the cookie cutter(s) and cut the shapes, making as few scraps as possible. Use a metal spatula to gently transfer them, cookie by cookie, (the cookies should be similar size) to a baking sheet.

Repeat with the other half of the dough and transfer them to another baking sheet.

IMPORTANT: these particular cookies can spread a little. Leave room between the cookies. Better to use 3 baking sheets with fewer cookies than to crowd them on 2 trays. Bake until brown around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes.

Cool cookies completely before frosting.

Sugar Frosting

Software

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 5 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • food coloring, optional

Hardware

  • Large bowl
  • Electric Hand Mixer, or a strong arm and a whisk
  • Icing bag with tips, optional

In a large bowl, cream together the confectioners’ sugar and shortening until smooth. Gradually mix in the milk and orange extract with an electric mixer until smooth and stiff, about 5 minutes. Color with food coloring if desired. Spread frosting on to cookie with a butter knife or scoop frosting into a bag and decorate cookies!

A Filipino Christmas: Suman

I was born in the USA and I consider myself 100% American, but that doesn’t mean I won’t honor my heritage and where my parents came from: The Philippines.

The Christmas in the Phillipines starts on Dec 16th and ends on Epiphany (January 6th). I imagine that this long period of Christmas celebration tradition came from the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. Though I was told by a friend, that the in the Philippines they started ending Epiphany on the First Sunday of January instead of the 6th.

As a child, I recall seeing parols or Filipino lanterns in the shape of stars, attending the Christmas caroling groups, a decorated Christmas tree, midnight mass, visiting extended family members, parties, and lots of food.

Of the food my favorite was suman, a kind of sweet rice roll wrapped in banana leaves.

Suman sa Gata (Sweet Rice Rolls with Coconut)

Software

  • 2 cups white glutinous rice
  • One and one-half 13.5-ounce cans coconut milk (2 1/2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 to 3 banana leaves, fresh or frozen

Hardware

  • 4-quart heavy bottom pot, like a Dutch oven
  • Steam rack or 14 inch Bamboo Steamer
  • Kitchen twine

Rinse rice 3 to 4 times until water runs clear. Drain.

In 4-quart heavy bottomed pot, combine rice with remaining ingredients, excluding banana leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to medium. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring constantly especially during the last 15 minutes of cooking. You don’t want rice to stick to the bottom of the pan and scorch. Reduce heat if rice mix starts to burn.

After about 20 minutes, expect the oil from the coconut milk to separate from rice mixture and coat wok with a thin film. The rice mixture will pull away easily from the sides of the pan. When done, rice mixture is shiny, almost dry and very sticky, like risotto. Let cool in the pot.

While the rice is cooking, clean the banana leaves by wiping away any white residue with a damp cloth. Remove “spine” or stem. Trim to 4×7 inch rectangles with the longer edge going along the grain.

NOTE:  Banana leaves are available frozen in 1-pound packages (and sometimes fresh) at Asian or Latin markets. Partially thaw frozen packages first before prying the leaves open. Using a pair of scissors, remove what you need and refreeze the unused portion. Always remove dark brown edges and the tough spine. Before using, rinse under hot running water or dip into boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds to soften and make pliable.

Wrapping the rice

  • Place a banana leaf rectangle on a dry work surface with the smooth, matt side up (the shiny side has faint ridges) and longer edge parallel to your body.
  • Drop 1.5 tablespoons of rice mixture in the middle of the leaf. Mold rice into a mound about 4×1.5 inches. Take the leaf edge closest to you and fold it over rice.
  • Using both sets of fingers, tuck leaf edge under the rice and roll to enclose filling completely. Roll as tightly as possible into a compact cylinder. With the seam-side down, smooth your fingers across the cylinder to gently flatten and fold both ends under to form a snug packet.  Instead of folding the ends under, you can also tie the ends with kitchen twine or banana leaf threads torn along the grain.
  • Place seam-side down directly in a steamer rack. Repeat until rice mixture is finished, layering packets neatly in a single layer and one on top of the other if necessary.

Fill pot bottom with a generous amount of water, about 2 to 3 inches, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-high.

Place bamboo steam rack with rice rolls into the pot of water, make sure that the rice rolls don’t touch the water line. Cover and steam over medium-high heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour. You should see steam escaping from underneath the lid.

Halfway through the cooking process, reduce heat to low and carefully take a peek at the water level and replenish, if necessary, with boiling water. Raise heat back to medium-high.

When done, turn off heat and wait for steam to subside before lifting lid. Lift it away from you to prevent condensation from dripping onto rice rolls or scalding yourself.

Carefully remove steamer basket and cool on a rack before removing rice rolls.

The rice rolls keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. Do not refrigerate or they will harden.

Online Sweepstakes outside the USA are a Pain in the Butt

Online sweepstakes or giveaway sponsors must be cautious of foreign laws governing sweepstakes, as users in virtually every country in the world may have access to your Web site. In many foreign countries, sweepstakes are either prohibited, while other countries require complex registration and approval. To avoid the consequences of violating these laws, sponsors often restrict participation to residents of the U.S. and those countries in which local laws have been reviewed and with which the sweepstakes is in compliance.

Of course such laws are there to protect people from scams or to prevent gambling schemes, but different rules and regulations associated with games of chance in other countries often lead to administration complications: keeping track of an entrant’s residence, their age, their official documented nationality, what is the maximum prize limit they are allowed to receive, etc. On top of that, an organization must list the rules of the giveaway for every country involved and proper definition of the event – on county’s sweepstakes is another’s contest, and another’s lottery or giveaway. One mistake can result in legal fines.

For a US company, it is simply beyond their scope (limits in cost, man power, and management) to comply with contest laws around the world. Larger international companies will include one other country, but only after hiring a third-party company or “Sweepstakes Managers” to handle legal requirements and the logistic work needed for support for the giveaway in that country. When other countries simplify their requirements for online contests, it would allow giveaways to cross international borders.

Just how complicated are rules outside of the USA? When Starbucks held a giveaway for $1000 USD, a visiting Canadian happened to be the randomly selected as the winner. To allow the Canadian to get his winnings, they created a loophole in the rules:

If a resident of Canada is selected as a winner, they will be required to correctly answer, without assistance of any kind, whether mechanical or otherwise, a timed, mathematical skill-testing question, to be administered by Marden- Kane, Inc. either by mail, telephone, e-mail, or fax (at its sole discretion) before the awarding of the prize.

Starbucks has to do this because contests of pure chance aren’t allowed in Canada.

In short, it comes down to risk versus reward:   it’s not worth a small or even large company losing their business or potential loss in fines, or even imprisonment, because of a sweepstakes.

The Silver Flame

Eberron Days: Aryth 24th – Rampartide

silverflame

Rampartide

Earth Day: November 24th
Location: Silver Flame Churches across Eberron

As the world turns towards winter and longer nights, the Purified steel themselves against evil, both without and within. They follow the scriptures, which say, “Make thyself a bastion, a rampart against wickedness.” This is a day of fasting and repentance; Rampartide is a time to atone for the evil within. Children, the sick, and the elderly are not required to fast, but merely to give up their favorite foods for the day.

Things that Every Modern Day Delta Green Character Should Have

I’m rather obsessive compulsive when it comes to planning out a RPG character. Call of Cthulhu under a Delta Green campaign setting that makes it hard for me to resist, especially when I’ve got modern day items at my disposal.

This time I was making an ex-army US Fish and Wildlife Special Agent character, who was fresh from a wilderness stake out and took a small break to help some out of town Delta Green Agents. I was curious as to what kind of gear that they would have and looked up some info at http://www.lab.fws.gov/. I didn’t go far as to have an evidence lab kit, but I’ve been hunting before, camped in Alaska for 2 weeks straight, and have been to Washington Arms Collectors Shows at the Puyallup Fair Grounds (really fun show, you should try it), so coming up with up with a basic gear list for wilderness camping is fairly easy and fun.

I don’t go camping much these days, but I’ve learned that Home Depot online and Joe’s Sporting Goods online are great places to make a list. And it’s always joy to go pretend shopping. I won’t include weapons and guns, since the game has special rules for that.

Truck – something like a Ford F-250 XLT (extra long bed) with a Truckbox installed. Storage on the go is important.

Hunting Knife & hatchet – very important.

10 foot aluminum ladder – good for vertical movement, but its also good for helping you hang up game or fresh kills.

3/8 in. x 75 ft. Camouflage Rope – water resistant and it floats

Tool box – filled with standard hand tools such as a hammer, wrenches, screwdrivers, utility knife, sharpening kit etc

Bolt Cutters – 24 inch, good for getting out of tight jams

Crowbar – these things are just handy where ever you go

Slim Jim – not the jerky sticks. It’s a tool used for lock picking cars and works like a charm older than 1992. On newer cars, you have to know where the lock rod is.

Hunting Blind – surprisingly, modern ones are really built for comfort

Folding chair or Hunting stand – you need to sit on long stake outs

Binoculars – they even have ones with built in digital cameras now

Flashlights – a mag-light and water proof floating browning

Cameras – you can go digital hand held, but they also make game cameras which are automated and detect movement

Handheld GPS – they have ones that will transmit your location to a website service

Camping Cast iron Dutch – for cooking on the go

Mess kit – how you going to eat?

Low profile burner stove – they make ones that are light weight and conserve fuel.

Digital Recorder – really this is good for keeping notes

Laptop – for when you’re in town

Cellphone – who doesn’t have one these days?

Winter tire chains – really this should always be in your truck, especially if you’re traveling in heavy snow conditions

4 weather Sleeping bag and pad – camping, duh

Hand warmers – these are chemical hot packs which keep your hands warm.

Portable Pisser Cup – yeah they make these and they sound funny, but they really handy for the woods. They even got a girl attachment.

Personal Cleaning kit – unscented is best so you won’t attract animals or bugs; Includes TP for your bum.

Tarp or truck cover – for protecting your gear.

Hunting dog – optional, but a really good companion to have with you if you’re soloing