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Great Gift Ideas, Kitchen Tools, Tips

Favorite Kitchen Tool #4 – Timer

I get distracted fairly easily.  I’m often fixing dinner while preparing something for the next day so there are a lot of things going on in the kitchen in parallel.  A timer is what saves me from having to regularly reset the smoke alarm. When I have friends over and have a number of different things cooking at once I have multiple timers going at once. I place one of my three timers by each of the foods I’m cooking. This works because my stove, oven and vent hood are made of a stainless steel that attracts magnets. Each timer has a magnet on the back so I can slap them on the oven door or right above what’s cooking. The timers’ display is big and the buttons simple.  Here is one similar to mine that has gotten good reviews.

I have another use for a timer.  When there is a project I need to do but don’t want to – like filing, cleaning out a closet or folding clothes, I set a timer for 30 minutes so I know I only have to do the dreaded task for that amount of time.  I can do anything for 30 minutes.  It really helps me get projects I don’t enjoy done so I can go play.

When we get to the after-holiday let down, clean-up, and carry on, I’ll be using my timers and feeling virtuous about getting my least favorite items on my to-do list done with the help of my timers.

Cookies, Great Gift Ideas, Kitchen Tools

Copper Cookie Cutters – Snow Flakes

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Old copper cookie cutters – great for baking and decorating

This year I’ve had time to make Christmas cookies – until now my day job has been too intense in November and December.  See Gingerbread Snow Flake Cookies for my recipe. I found these lovely old copper cookie cutters and decided they were perfect for what I wanted to make.

I took a whole afternoon and had a wonderful time making the simple dough and even decorating them, though I don’t do that as well as I’d like to.  The intricately-decorated cookies in the magazines make it all a bit daunting. My motivation is the joy of figuring out the flavors and sharing them with friends – dribbles and all – not perfection.

For the past several years a few friends have come over for dinner and helped me decorate my Christmas tree. Each got a cookie cutter this year. The cookies were a hit, with their strong ginger and spice flavor, and the cookie cutters  were a perfect thank you.

Chocolate, Desserts, Great Gift Ideas, Treats

Chocolate Bourbon Balls

bourbon chocolate 201512010-_MG_3377.CR2

I promised you Chocolate Bourbon Balls that are irresistible.  Here they are.

I’m a Tennessee girl – bourbon seeps into what I cook. I think these Chocolate Bourbon Balls are going to replace the Bourbon Ball recipe my sister-in-law gave me many years ago. I use to make bourbon balls every Christmas and keep some frozen for those times when only a hot bath, a good book (probably not high literature) and bourbon balls would suffice.

The old recipe took two days and used paraffin. This Chocolate Bourbon Balls recipe is easy enough to make throughout the year when the need arises!

Chocolate Bourbon Balls

Makes about 40


1 c          heavy cream

8oz             dark chocolate, chopped. Use a high quality chocolate, with around 70% cocoa. You can usually find Lindt in the grocery store or look for Valhrona, Callebaut, or Scharffen Berger

1 -1½ T     Bourbon You can use Grand Marnier for an orange/cognac flavor.

Coating the Chocolates:

8oz             dark chocolate ,chopped  If you like chocolate a bit sweeter, you could use semi sweet dark chocolate.

2T              flavorless oil


Medium heavy saucepan, scale, measuring spoons, mixer with a medium bowl, wooden spoon, parchment or wax paper, cookie sheet, two forks, wire rack


In the saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream to a simmer. Take off the heat and add the chocolate. Stir with the wooden spoon.

Pour the cream mixture into the mixer bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, add the liquor and beat with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Don’t over-beat it.

Using a piping bag with a small tip (3/8in) or a baggie with a corner cut away, pipe small blobs about 1” across onto a tray lined with wax paper or parchment.

Smooth the top of the chocolate with your finger to make a ball. (I have also dipped my finger in the liquor and smoothed the top off the chocolate.)

Refrigerate till cold.

Coating with Chocolate:

Melt the rest of the chocolate in a heavy pan or a double boiler. Add the oil.

Pick up the cooled chocolate pieces with two forks and dip them in the melted chocolate. Put the dipped chocolates on a wire rack or a fresh sheet of parchment to set.

Store in a cool place. These Chocolate Bourbon Balls will keep for 3 to 4 days.

Ideas: Pour the last of the melted chocolate over the dipped chocolates to add another layer of chocolate. You could also shake cocoa powder over the chocolates as they set.



Great Gift Ideas, Tips

Favorite Kitchen Tool #3 – Kitchen Scale


Holiday baking time has me thinking about my kitchen scale, one of the tools you really need in the kitchen.

Being off a bit with quantities is more consequential in baking than in any other form of cooking. Baking recipes do not tolerate approximate amounts well. Often, a less-than-stellar outcome stems from using volume measurements instead of weight measurements.  For example, if you measure flour by filling a cup, then the amount of flour you end up using will vary depending on whether the flour is sifted or hard-packed and on whether you scoop or pour. The solution: do not measure by volume, measure by weight – put away the cup, get out the kitchen scale.

My scale measures ounces, kilograms, grams, and pounds on an easy-to-read screen.  One feature I use all the time is the “Tare”, which zeros the display regardless of what is on the scale, enabling you to measure only what you put in the bowl.  This scale is big enough to weigh a variety of bowl sizes and since the scale is thin, it is easy to store and to stack. I stack my big measuring cups on top of it. Great when you don’t have a lot of storage room.  This kitchen scale, the EatSmart Precision Pro Digitalis also priced at $19.95 right now (12/15/15) on Amazon.  It usually costs between $30-$40.

Cookies, Desserts, Great Gift Ideas, Snack, Treats

Gingerbread Snow Flake Cookies

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Gingerbread Snow Flake with Royal Icing. Bring on the Yuletide Spirit!

I’ve started baking for the holidays. It is 70F outside so it is not feeling like the Yuletide inside. I figure making some gingerbread snowflake cookies and chocolate Grand Marnier bites will make the house smell of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and orange.  My Christmas tree is up and friends are coming over to help me decorate it. I may even turn on the AC and light a fire, Texas-style. That should get the holiday feel started.

My first project is to bake a really great gingerbread cookie.  I want it spicy and a little hot on the tongue.  I really don’t bake a lot of cookies so I went to Fine Cooking and looked at several recipes.  What I came up with is one of the best doughs I’ve tasted! Decorating these cookies is fun but you don’t have to – the cookies are great on their own.

Don’t be discouraged by the long text. Read through it. It is very simple. Make the dough a few days before you bake and it is a cinch!


Gingerbread Snow Flake Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen



3½ c          All Purpose flour (You’ll need more when you roll out the dough)

1t               baking soda

1t               cinnamon (I use the Vietnamese cinnamon which is strong)

3t               ginger powder

¼ t             cloves ground

1/8 t           pepper, finely ground

¼ t             salt

¾ c            light brown sugar, hard backed

1½ c          butter, softened

¾ c            molasses or trecal

1                large egg

1½ T          orange zest


2c              confectioners’ sugar

2t               powdered egg whites or meringue powder

¼ t            cream of tarter (optional)

4-5T          water


Mixer with a medium or large bowl and a paddle attachment; scraping spatula; measuring cups and spoons; medium bowl; wooden spoon; fine grater; two cookie sheets lined with parchment; plastic wrap; rolling pin (or a wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin); flour scraper; cookie cutters; racks for cooling (if your stove has removable burner covers, you can use those – you just want air to flow around the cookies to cool them quicker); several small plastic bags sized for sandwiches.


Put the flour, baking soda, spices and salt and pepper in the medium bowl and stir.

Nutmeg pod with the nutmeg seed you cook with. The nutmeg is from Grenada.

Nutmeg pod with the nutmeg seed you cook with. The nutmeg is from Grenada.

In your mixer at medium speed, cream the butter and brown sugar until it is light and fluffy. It really will look different towards the end so be patient. Add the egg and a tablespoon of the flour mixture. The flour keeps the egg from curdling the sugar mixture. If it curdles, don’t worry, just keep going.  Add the molasses and orange zest and beat until the mixture is smooth. Remember to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredients, either by lowering the speed of your mixer or by stirring them in with a spatula or wooden spoon. Mix until just incorporated. It will be stiff and sticky.

Put a piece of plastic wrap on your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Pat the dough into a circle about 1” thick. Wrap in the plastic wrap and freeze for an hour or a few days. This allows the gluten to relax so your cookies will be tender.

 To bake the cookies:

Preheat your oven to 350F. Put one rack in the lower third of the oven and one in the upper third.

Take the gingerbread dough out of the freezer and cut into 4 pieces. Put one piece on a floured work surface and put the rest back in the freezer.

Roll out the piece of dough until it is about 1/8” thick. Dip your cookie cutter in flour and begin to stamp out cookies. Gently move the cookies to the parchment-lined cookie pan. Place them about ½ “ apart.

Old copper cookie cutter from Old River Road
Old copper cookie cutter from Old River Road

Bake for about 10 minutes. The cookies will be lightly browned and firm. Slide the cookies onto a cooling rack, leaving them on the parchment to make this easier.

Repeat with the rest of the dough.

If you want to decorate your cookies:

Royal Icing to decorate the cookies.

King Arthur Flour has great information about making and using Royal Icing.

Attach a whisk to your mixer. Put the sugar, egg white and cream of tarter in the mixing bowl.  Start by mixing together on low speed then increase speed to medium and begin to add the water a tablespoon at a time.  Scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat till the mixture becomes smooth, glossy and thick, 6 to 7 minutes.

A test to see if the consistency is right is to put a small plop of icing on the counter.  Dip a toothpick in the plop. When you pull it away a peak should form and then gently flow back into the icing. If it is too thick, add a teaspoon of water and beat a bit more until its morale improves.

Put the icing in a bag and pipe your favorite decorations onto the cookies.  If you don’t have a bag and tips for decorating, no problem. Fill a baggie with some icing, cut a small corner off and you’ve got it. Keep unused icing covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap or it will dry out.  If it gets too stiff, just add a bit more water and beat again.