I have a cheat that I can teach you. It’s called “healthy” desserts. See, my brothers always give me a hard time about having to eat certain desserts that I make for my posts all by myself. How do I mitigate their teasing? Well, I put fruit on my dessert. That dessert then technically becomes a “healthy” dessert at that point. So, they can’t say much and I feel less guilty. One of my favorites “healthy” desserts to eat is a tart. Some people are daunted at the thought of making tarts, but that’s something I’ve never understood. Tarts are very easy to make and man are they delectable. Normally, tarts are filled with pastry cream. However, I chose to fill this version with lemon curd filling and top it with blueberries and strawberries. Like I said….healthy! Lemon and berries just works. It’s a match made in heaven. And man oh man do the angels sing when I take a bite of this healthy dessert.
What says “I love you”, better than chocolate? Not much that I know of. Come to think about it…nothing. Nothing says “I love you”, better than chocolate. So, when I want to really treat myself AND satisfy my chocolate addiction, then this recipe is my go-to. It’s really easy to make…it takes less than twenty minutes for the entire process. There are very few ingredients that are required…actually less than ten. Lastly, it’s so freakin’ good. Chocolate to the tenth degree. A baked cake on the outside and molten fudgy chocolate in the middle. God, I’m salivating just thinking about it. It doesn’t get much better than that. So, whether you’re treating yourself with a girl’s night in or you’re treating your loved one, this is definitely something you’re going to want to try.
The sun is staying up longer, birds are chirping and we can be outside without a huge winter coat. That only means one thing. Spring is right around the corner! What represents spring better than raspberry and lemon? Not much. That’s why when I wanted to celebrate surviving another long winter, I decided to make these easy no-bake lemon raspberry cheesecake bars.
Nothing quite says comfort food like macaroni and cheese. The pasta wrapped up in a cheesy coating, slathered in butter and topped with breadcrumbs. Yeah, you’re speaking to my soul now. Who cares if you’re on a diet? This mac and cheese is slap your mama good and it’s worth the cheat meal. I’m no southerner, but I’ve done my research. I’ve combined all my favorite recipes and elements to make an ultimate baked macaroni and cheese. This is stick to your ribs good and it’s worth the effort of making it the right way.
I absolutely despise coffee. I don’t like the strong smell. I certainly don’t like the strong taste. I just don’t get the hype. Nope…I’m definitely more of a hot chocolate girl. Give me a cup of homemade hot chocolate, an episode of One Tree Hill, a cozy blanket and I’m a happy girl.
If you’ve never had homemade hot chocolate, you’re seriously missing out. Not only can you whip it up in under ten minutes, but the taste is out of this world. I’m not exaggerating. Homemade cocoa puts that powdered stuff to absolute shame. For a rich, tasty homemade hot chocolate, this is the recipe you’ll want to try. Top it as you please and enjoy with your binge-watching.
I absolutely love Italian food. I am fluent in sauce, cheese, meat, and herbs. How could you not love it? One of my favorite dishes is lasagna. As much as I love it though, it’s not exactly the dish I think about making when I come home from a long day of school or work. That’s the beauty of this recipe. I get all the aspects that are so delicious about lasagna with half the work and time. On top of that, this dish is very filling because it’s more of a stew. I use a lot of cheese and sauce which adds a bit of a tasty broth to the dish. It’s so good and just as easy. One pot on top of the stove. No baking in the oven, no layering, no making cheese mixtures. There’s just no need. There is an easier way…this way. After a long day, this is what gets me back to being at peace. I’m sure it’ll do the same for you.
Meat and potatoes are at the center of comfort food. It doesn’t get much simpler or much better than that combination. However, many of us overcomplicate it. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting in the kitchen, but sometimes it’s better to stick with what you know. That’s where steak and fries come in. So simple, yet so filling. Many overcomplicate steak. In reality, steaks are one of the easiest things to cook. You just have to know what you’re working with and what you’re looking for as an end result. This recipe for steak is meant to be easy. It doesn’t overcomplicate the method of cooking the steak. It doesn’t overcomplicate the flavor of the beef. This is one of my favorite ways to make steak because meat and potatoes should be easy and delicious. This recipe achieves that.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve picked up a new hobby. Sugar cookie decorating! However, being the perfectionist I am, I can tell you the learning curve initially was very steep and aggravating for me. I know many of you are in the same shoes. You see these cool pictures on Instagram and Pinterest of different decorated cookies and you want to join in on the fun. However, it’s not that simple. There is a lot to learn. My intention here is to create an all-in-one comprehensive beginner’s guide to sugar cookie decorating.
It only makes sense that we start with the tools required to get started on this journey. Below is a list of recommended tools. Do your research. Some are essential, while others you can do without, to begin with.
Beginner’s tools (things to get you started): Baking sheet or cookie sheet, microplane, cookie cutters, offset spatula, pastry bags, squeeze bottles, pastry tips, scissors, parchment paper, silicone mat, rolling pin, scriber or toothpick or turkey lacer, food coloring, wire racks, paint brushes, rubber spatula, plastic spray bottle, mini drywall scraper, x-acto knife, rubber bands or Wilton ties, plastic wrap.
Advanced tools (things to get you to the next level): Pico or Kopykake projector with stand, airbrush kit, food-safe colored markers, tipless pastry bags, heat sealer, poly bags, cookie stamps, fondant, stencils.
**Trends and tools change every day in this industry. I’ll add to this list as things change.**
Perhaps the most important component is the cookie. A good sugar cookie is a bit sweet, buttery, a bit tangy (in my opinion), soft and chewy. That’s where my go-to sugar cookie recipe comes in. It’s a wonderfully versatile recipe that can be used as mini tart shells, pie dough or of course, sugar cookie dough. It hits all the flavor marks and they don’t spread as they bake!
You can find the sugar cookie recipe here.
After letting the dough rest, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Use a dough scraper to cut the dough ball in half. Lightly flour the top and begin to work the dough into a ball. It is normal that it will be pretty crumbly, to begin with. Keep working it and it will become slightly darker in color and smoother in texture.
Work in as much as the crumbs as you can until you have a uniform ball. It’s fine to push some of the crumbs to the side and work them into a second ball. As you get a uniform ball, begin to flatten out with hand until it’s a circular shape. Lightly flour the top. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. Roll and turn, roll and turn. I like doing this with a fondant roller, but you can use a regular rolling pin as well. I use a fondant roller because I don’t form huge circles. I cut the dough in half and then make two circles out of that one half. Roll with what you please. It’s really not a big deal, just giving you an idea of why I use the tools I do. I roll out the dough until it’s about 1/2″ thickness. I want a good cookie to icing ratio.
Dip your cookie cutter into flour. Shake off the excess and place your cutter firmly into the dough and press down.
Keep pressing down the cutters until you have enough from that one sheet of dough. Remove the excess dough surrounding the cutters or lift up the cut-out dough after you press down. Either method is fine.
Use a flat spatula or drywall scraper to move the cut-out shape onto a prepared baking fan. Using a spatula or something flat will allow you to move the cookie without distorting the shape. Continue to place the cut-out cookies onto the baking sheet. I have a regular half-sheet pan lined with a silicone mat that has been sprayed with cooking spray. You can also use parchment instead. Place the cookies a couple of inches apart. These cookies don’t spread, however, space around the cookies will allow them to bake better, because of the air circulating around them. Use a non-silicone pastry brush to brush off any excess crumbs or flour off the cookie tops and sides.
Bake at 350°F for 9-12 minutes, depending on the shape. The bottom edges should be very lightly golden brown. Understand that different shapes bake at different times. For example, the smaller flower and heart cookies finished a couple minutes before the other shapes, so I took them off the sheet and moved them to the wire rack sooner. Then, I let the rest finish baking. Just be aware of that. Also, once all the cookies are baked off, you can pop any bubbles that formed on top with a toothpick or scriber tool. Poke underneath the bubble and flatten out with your fingers. Do this a few minutes out of the oven so you don’t burn yourself, but the cookies are still warm enough to form.
After allowing the cookies to rest on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes, move the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. The picture below shows the color of the bottom of the cookie. Any darker and you’ll have a crunchy cookie. I don’t know about you, but I’m a soft cookie girl. Any lighter and you won’t get as much flavor as possible. This is the ideal color of the bottom of the cookie. I’d even accept just a tad bit lighter.
Our cookies are cooling and we’re all set. Now let’s focus on the icing.
Sugar cookies are typically covered with an icing called royal icing. This icing is made with only a few ingredients and it’s very easy to make. Royal icing allows you so much decorating flexibility. I have a go-to royal icing recipe as well. The reason why I like my icing is that it not only tastes great, but it doesn’t dry super hard, which is something royal icing is known for. Once you bite into the cookie, the icing somewhat melts in your mouth. It’s absolutely delicious.
For the full royal icing recipe, go here.
My royal icing uses pasteurized egg whites. I’ve never had an issue using them. However, there are many that still worry about possible health hazards of raw egg whites. They prefer to use a product called meringue powder, instead. Meringue powder is just dehydrated egg whites, along with some stabilizers and sweeteners. I’ve attached my meringue powder recipe in my royal icing post if you prefer to go that route. If you want your icing to be even softer but still stackable, you add a bit of corn syrup also. I don’t recommend doing this until you’ve made the royal icing recipe a few times so you’re familiar with the original texture of the icing.
Once you make your royal icing, place some into separate bowls and cover them with a single piece of paper towel. Obviously, you want to plan out what colors you’re using and how much of it, so you know how much to separate. Use a spray bottle, full of water to spray some water over the top of the paper towel. Cover the bowls with plastic wrap. Set aside.
This can be the messy part, so wear gloves if you prefer. To color your icing, remove the plastic wrap and paper towel, begin by adding in a few drops at a time of food coloring. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Once it’s done, it’s done. So, please be careful. After adding in a couple of drops of food coloring, begin mixing the icing. The more you mix, the more air bubbles you’ll get. Be mindful of this. Once you get the color you are happy with, begin spraying water into the icing, bit by bit, mixing until you reach your appropriate consistency. When you’re done mixing, tap the bowl against the table a few times lightly. Let it settle for a minute. Pop any air bubbles you see with your toothpick or scriber tool.
The key to decorating is consistency. No, I don’t just mean keep doing it. Yeah, practice is important and the more you do something, the better you will be at it. There is no denying that fact. However, I’m talking about icing consistency. Let’s dive into that topic for a bit.
There are four basic consistencies of icing-thin, medium, thick and extra thick.
The thin icing is the consistency you’ll use most often. This is also known as “flood” consistency. It’s called “flood” consistency because it’s thin enough to move around wherever it wants to. It settles out quickly. This consistency is ideal for filling in large areas of the cookie, such as a base coat. This consistency typically gives you a bit of leeway because it doesn’t dry as quickly as the other consistencies. If you need help visualizing it, it looks like the consistency of Elmer’s glue. Very thin, but still workable. [10-second]
Medium consistency is sometimes referred to as “one-consistency” icing. Many use this consistency for both outlining the cooking and filling it. This will work with a cookie that isn’t larger than 3″. The downside of this icing is that it tends to dry pretty quickly, which is why we have the size limit for the cookie. You also use this icing when you want to add dimension to a cookie. [15-second]
Thick icing is for details and outlining cookies. Think of it as the “piping” consistency. It will stay where you put it, which makes it perfect for details and piping letters or words. [20-second]
Extra thick. Well, it’s how the name sounds. Very thick and not commonly used in royal icing applications. However, you can use this consistency to spread on with an offset or to experiment with. It doesn’t give you much flexibility in terms of decorating though. [25-second]
Besides the descriptions of the icing, you also determine the consistency by time. There is 10-second, 15-second, 20-second consistency. The ideal for flooding is 10-second consistency. What this means is after you ‘re done mixing your icing and you’ve popped the air bubbles, run an offset spatula down the middle of the icing. Does the icing “heal” in 10 seconds? Meaning does that mark down the middle disappear in 10 seconds? 10 seconds corresponds with flooding. 15 seconds corresponds with medium and so on. It goes up to 20-25 seconds at the most. Play around with it and decide what works best for you. Once you nail down the consistency, everything is gravy. Believe me on that.
I believe this is crucial. When you first get started, you have no idea what to do regarding storage. I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve worked hours on cookies and then they get ruined in minutes due to terrible storage techniques. The key with storage is you want to keep the cookies covered because you want them to stay moist and you don’t want them to dry out. However, we need the top to dry to the touch. So, here’s our dilemma.
You have a few options. One route is to buy a dehydrator. This is more advanced and pricy, but it does do the job. There are two types of dehydrators. There is one that blows the air back to front and one that blows up and down. Typically, the front and back one is pricier. Both do the job, but do your research and decide on one if you want to choose this option. The option I’d recommend when first starting out is using catering aluminum pans. The pans are deep enough so you can cover the cookies, without the tops touching the plastic wrap or foil you’re using to cover it. However, the downside to this option is that you can’t stack the cookies while they’re wet, so it’s not practical for a large order. You can also use a baking sheet that is deep enough to have the plastic wrap not touch the wet icing. There are a few options, but you just have to see what works for you.
What causes color bleeding?
Color bleeding is a no-no. It messes up you’re cookie design completely. Google it if you don’t believe me. There are many causes. It can be anything from humidity to placing darks on whites too soon to thin icing. The best way to prevent color bleeding is to allow the first color to completely dry before adding the next color. For example, I flood a cookie with white icing. I will allow that to dry completely for a few hours, then I’ll add my black design. If I have another dark color such as red or purple, I have to let that black design dry completely too, before applying them. You see. It’s like we’re doing layers. This will prevent color bleeding as much as possible.
What if my icing is too thin?
If you overdid it with the water and thinned out your icing too much, all you have to do is add in some sifted confectioners sugar to thicken it back up. Add a spoonful at a time and mix until your preferred consistency is reached.
What if my icing is too thick?
Continue spraying water into the icing bit by bit until the preferred consistency is reached.
How do I store my icing?
Place a paper towel over the top of the icing and spray with a bit of water. Cover the icing with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for up to two weeks or freeze for up to a month. When you want to use, allow to get back to room temperature and mix for a bit until proper consistency is reached.
How do I store unused cookie dough?
Store the unused dough in the fridge for up to two weeks or the freezer for a couple of months. Make sure it’s really well wrapped so the moisture and flavor are retained.
What do you recommend using for flooding the cookie?
This is a personal preference. I have used squeeze bottles and hated them. Some swear by them, though. I have used regular pastry bags or ziplock bags to get me by. You can use pastry bags with a hole cut or a 3 tip. Some even use paint brushes and just blob the icing on. I’ve never done that, but I’ve seen it done. Personally, I now use tipless pastry bags. They seem to work best for me and I can get them pretty cheap here. Try everything, a see what works best for you.
What food coloring do you use?
Always a gel-based food coloring. They work best and you use less to get the color you want. I typically use AmeriColor. However, in a bind, I’ve used Wilton gel food coloring and it’s ended up fine.
What if my cookie has an ugly edge with stragglers?
I use a microplane or lemon zester to sand my cookie edges sometimes. Don’t overdo it and be gentle, but it can help with situations like that.
What if I want to copy an image onto my cookie?
First, wait until your cookie icing is completely dry. Then, you can print out your image, cut out the pieces with an x-acto knife and trace the image on with an edible marker. As you advance, you can purchase a projector and use that to do the job. Typically, food markers come in handy with this.
What’s that needle thing people use to move the icing?
This is not optional. You need something to move the icing around when it’s in “flood” consistency. This can be a toothpick, turkey lacer or cookie scriber tool also known as a cookie pick. It’s up to you what ultimately choose, but all work well.
I will end by saying this. Cookie decorating will be very frustrating at first, but just remember, you’re decorating cookies. It’s all in good fun. The first step is to just do it. Don’t be scared. Worst comes to worst, you get to enjoy a cookie!
Remember, you will get better each time you do it. Trust me. Read, watch and practice and you’ll get to where you want to get to with this. Good luck on your cookie decorating journey and let me know if you have any questions!
Fried mozzarella sticks are definitely one of my guilty pleasures. Gooey cheese, crunchy breading, sauce or ranch to dip in…you had me at hello. However, ever since culinary school, my preferences have changed. I do my best to avoid processed foods. Not only are they unhealthy, but they are severely worse in quality when compared to homemade food, obviously. Unfortunately, that meant that I went a few years without eating one of my once favorite foods, mozzarella sticks. It was all bad. Until, one day, I found out just how easy they are to make at home. Not only that, but the real deal homemade variety is 100x better than the frozen stuff. Once you bite into a homemade mozzarella stick, you’ll know what I mean when I say, you can’t go back.
Add salt, black pepper, and Italian seasoning to the flour and mix until combined. In a separate bowl, combine the Panko, Italian breadcrumbs, salt, black pepper, and Italian seasoning and mix until combined. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs and milk and mix until combined.
Unwrap and cut the mozzarella sticks in half. Set them aside.
Place a couple pieces of the cheese sticks at a time in the flour, shake off the excess. Dip the sticks into the egg mixture and shake off excess. Dip into the bread crumbs and make sure it’s well coated. Repeat this dredging process so that you’re doing it twice for each stick. Do this dredging process to all the sticks and set aside. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour.
Pour the oil into a pot or deep fryer and drop a few at a time into a fryer that is set to 375°F. Give it an occasional stir with the tongs. Fry until golden brown and just as a bit of the cheese oozes out the sides. That’s when you know they’re done. Pull them out and let them drain for a minute or so on a paper towel lined tray. Sprinkle with black pepper and pecorino romano. Enjoy warm!
See how I do it:
- 6 Cheese sticks
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- oil for frying
- 1/8 cup Grated Pecorino Romano
In a small bowl, add salt, black pepper, and Italian seasoning to the flour and mix until combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the Panko, Italian breadcrumbs, salt, black pepper, and Italian seasoning and mix until combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the eggs and milk and mix until combined.
Unwrap and cut the mozzarella sticks in half. Set them aside.
Place a couple pieces of the cheese sticks at a time in the flour, shake off the excess. Dip the sticks into the egg mixture and shake off excess. Dip into the bread crumbs and make sure it's well coated. Repeat this dredging process so that you're doing it twice for each stick. Do this dredging process to all the sticks and set aside on a big plate or tray.
Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour.
Pour the oil into a pot or deep fryer and drop a few at a time into a fryer that is set to 375°F. Give it an occasional stir with the tongs. Fry until golden brown and just as a bit of the cheese oozes out the sides. That's when you know they're done. Pull them out and let them drain for a minute or so on a paper towel lined tray. Immediately sprinkle with black pepper and Pecorino Romano. Enjoy warm!
You can use fresh breadcrumbs, Italian only or Panko only or any combination. Season to taste at the end of the frying process. Must freeze for at least 30 minutes. You can sub the Pecorino for Parmesan. Enjoy warm!