Sunday, September 07, 2008

I'm Alive! Baking Almost Daily, Just Not Blogging!

I just can't get it all done!  It's the blogging that's getting me.  I WANT to get it done, I just can't do it.  Busy, busy with these boys!  Oh yeah, it's all good! 
Darn, it's hard to tell in the picture, but we were playing outside one night last week and this little guy rubbed his dirty hands (he'd probably touched my car!) on his snotty face and it was yuck all over!  But darn it all, could he be anything cuter?  I don't think so.  We played more, then went in for a nice warm bath!  And again, just look at that hair!  Here's a shot of the back of his head this morning!  He's got some fun bed head in the mornings, you can't even tell in the picture, it just looks cute, but look at the big curl hear the front of his head--that's not usually there. 
We had a birthday yesterday.  Parker turned seven!  The boys really are growing up so fast!  I can't believe Parker is seven.  He was born days before Sept. 11, 2001 and was actually in the hospital (with a bad case of jaundice) when all the Sept. 11 news was on--remember, Mom?)
Happy Birthday, Parker!  We love you.  You are amazingly smart and take on the world by storm every day.  We are so happy you are part of our family!
Parker just started first grade.  And while they didn't really teach the kids how to read in kindergarten, they did teach phonics.  But this summer, Parker became a reading beast!  He pretty much taught himself and just began sounding everything out as we'd read simple little books.  By mid-summer, he was reading Magic Tree House chapter books.  He's now enjoying 200 page novels and read through one recently in about two days.  We are LOVING that when he wakes up in the morning (he's usually the first of the boys up--sometimes 6:30), he reads.  Sometimes he'll come home from school and want to read.  Sometimes we can't find him and he's been on our bed (away from all the noise) and reading.
Well, okay, most of the time he's reading.  He said this time that our bed was just too comfortable and he fell asleep.
Scott does NOT enjoy reading and we are really excited that Parker has run away with it and LOVES it.  He loves to come tell us what is happening in the stories he is reading.  Kevin told him a few weeks ago that he'd start paying him $5 per book he reads.  (The same deal applies to Scott, but that won't even get him to read and I think the deal for Scott is for every 100 pages, $5.)  We have owed Parker $25 in about two weeks and I think Kevin decided the last book he read that was about 200 pages that he deserved $10 for that one.  Go, Parker!  And just today I caught him way too easily figuring out how multiplication works.  Hey, Park, we better get the addition and subtraction down first!
Parker learned to ride his bike this summer and was riding a bike that was way too small for him, so he got a nice new bike for his birthday.  We haven't taken any pictures of that yet.  I also gave Parker my old IPod Shuffle and some kid music to listen to.  We got Scott a Shuffle a year or so ago and Parker has wanted his own since.  He was happy to have it!
We did our usual ice cream sundaes for his "birthday cake" and Parker will have a party with some friends next week going bowling and having cake-maybe, not sure about cake yet.  Probably will just do some cupcakes.
For his school birthday treat on Friday, I made these fun M&M Cookie Pops.  I got the idea partly from Anna at Cookie Madness with her Scary City Cookies she made recently and from an email I received from Family Fun for M&M Cookie Pops.  I thought they looked like fun for school kids.  Parker said the kids loved them.  I thought the recipe at Family Fun was just okay, in fact I did follow the recipe, but after some of the cookies baked too thin, I added about 1/4 cup more flour and about 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.  They baked up great after that!  I wrapped each one in plastic wrap and tied it at the stick. 

Okay, got that baking project done, then I needed to make one for snacks for Parker's first soccer game that was yesterday.  Since it was his birthday, I volunteered to bring the snack for that.  Parker decided he wanted frosted sugar cookies and since they just decided their team would be called Lightning, he wanted lightning cookies.  Now, I haven't seen too many lightning shaped cookie cutters, okay--I haven't seen any and I even have over 101 cookie cutters!  But I'm always up for a challenge, so I made up the sugar cookie dough and here's the recipe, because I've seen many recipes in the past and have tried enough, that this is the one I will always make.  Not sure where my mom got it, but we've been making it in my family for years.  Big, thick sugar cookies, with very buttery creamy icing, is probably my mom's favorite (underbake the cookies, please! -says Mom).  She even makes a big, giant pink cookie (like the Grandma ones that sell in convenience stores) and sells them at their local farmer's market.  You put a few sprinkles on anything and kids gotta have it.  Anyway, here's the recipe for these cookies.
I'm Gonna Call These My Mom's Sugar Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks, or 8 oz.), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cream (I almost always use milk and this time just for kicks used sour cream)
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the vanilla, egg and cream (or milk).  Beat until fluffy, scrape sides of bowl at least once.  Add the dry ingredients until it comes together.  Turn dough out on floured surface, knead it into a ball, just a few times.  Do not over knead the dough.  Making sure there is enough flour on your surface that it doesn't stick, roll out dough until desired thickness.  I always do about 1/4 inch.  Cut dough into shapes with cookie cutters.  Laying on baking sheet lined with parchment paper, bake cookies at 400 degrees for 7-10 minutes (until desired doneness.)
Transfer to cooling rack.  When cool, frost cookies. 
I took a whipped topping lid (I have way too many of those), drew a lightning bolt on it, cut it out and had a template to use for the lightning cookies.  While it's not that fun cutting out cookies this way, I made it through and came up with these.  I thought they turned out pretty good.  Before frosting them, I took Parker to the doctor and told him the cookies were done but I hadn't made the yellow frosting yet.  He exclaimed that he wanted blue lightning!  Whew.  So I made blue icing.  I do like a sugar cookie better with the usual buttercreamy icing, but also have this recipe that I LOVE.  It makes a shiny, dried icing and is SO easy.  It dries within 20 minutes or so and then the cookies can be easily stacked.  I usually always make these cookies at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas with all my hundred plus cookie cutters.  The kids sure like them.
Sugar Cookie Icing
1 cup powdered sugar (I usually double it for my cookie recipe above)
1-3 teaspoons corn syrup
1-3 teaspoons milk
pinch salt
vanilla extract to taste
food coloring
Beat all together well with electric mixer until smooth adding one teaspoon of corn syrup and milk at a time until you get the consistency you want.  It's pretty runny, but not TOO runny.  It still needs to be spread on with a knife, but it sort of "floods" into place on its own.
Also on Thursday as I made the M&M Cookie Pops, I also made some homemade bread.  It was YUMMY and turned out great.  I don't make bread ALL that often, but have felt like I usually do pretty good when I do, aside from every now and then having bread that just doesn't rise well or that falls shortly after putting it in the oven.  This was a Whole Wheat Raisin-Nut Bread, but I followed most of the recipe, except left out the raisins and added sunflowers seeds instead.  I also added some vital wheat gluten that I think was the key to this bread rising so beautifully.  Here is the recipe as I made it.  It was called whole wheat bread, but I'm not sure why as it wasn't WHOLE wheat.  But it was GOOD!
Wheaty Nutty Homemade Bread
2 tablespoons active dry yeast (I used scant tablespoons, so 2 little 1/4 oz. envelopes of yeast would work, just make sure it's active dry not rapid rise yeast)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
4-5 cups unbleached all purpose flour
8 teaspoons vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups hot water (not too hot, 120 degrees max)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
Combine yeast, sugar, salt, whole wheat flour and 2 cups of the all purpose flour in mixing bowl.  Add melted butter and water and beat 2 minutes.  Add the nuts and seeds and the gluten and combine.  Gradually add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough forms a ball as it mixes and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.  Turn out on a floured surface and knead 6-8 minutes adding a little flour as needed so it doesn't stick to work surface. 
Set dough in a large oiled (I spray it with cooking spray) bowl.  Turn it once to coat the whole ball of dough.  Cover with damp towel or plastic wrap.  Rise in draft free place for 1 hour.   Punch down dough.  Grease two bread pans.  Divide dough equally, shape and set in pans.  Cover with damp towel.  Rise until doubled in size about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cool on wire rack. 
The bread was delicious!  I've never used vital wheat gluten before and this was about the nicest I've had bread rise, so I don't know if that is why, but I really liked it.  Next I can't wait to try a more WHOLE wheat bread or using more grains with the added gluten.  I really like a whole grain bread.
And finally for today (although, I still have more) I made the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie again--I know, I know, enough already.  Really, I just like this recipe.  I like how the cookies turn out and I didn't even chill the dough for these.  But I've been wanting to try this combo for a while now.  Instead of the bittersweet chocolate that the recipe suggests, I used Hershey's milk chocolate bars with almonds and added some additional toasted almonds.  They were YUM!  Instead of always linking to the recipe, here it is as I made it and really the only change is the chocolate and that I only made half a batch.  I also saved half the dough for chilling, mostly just to have some another day!  I really like that method of having some dough in the fridge, whether the chilling does much to the flavor of the cookie or not.
New York Times (Jacque Torres copy) Chocolate Chip Cookie with Milk Chocolate and Almonds, adapted
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup bread flour (4 1/4 oz.)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon cake flour
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3.5 oz. bars Hershey's Milk Chocolate w/almonds, chopped
2-1.55 oz. bars Hershey's Milk Chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup toasted chopped almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside.
Measure flours using a kitchen scale (amounts in cups are above if you don't have one, but I like the consistency and ease of measuring in ounces).  Add flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt to medium sized bowl, combine with wire whisk.  Set aside.  In bowl of mixer, beat butter until soft, add sugars and beat until fluffy and well combined.  Add vanilla and egg, mix well.  Scrape sides of bowl and mix again.  Slowly add the flour and mix just until combined.  Stir in chopped chocolate and almonds.
I did some 1 1/2 ounce balls of dough and some 5/8 oz. balls of dough.  The larger ones baked about 11-13 minutes.  The smaller ones baked 9-11 minutes.  Let sit on baking sheet for five minutes.  Remove to wire racks to cool.
These are yummy and have a great extra crunch from the almonds.  Okay, that's enough for now.  


Clumbsy Cookie said...

So many things! Where should I start? First happy b'day to the reading kiddo! Are you putting baking powder in their food as well? I can see them growing from the pictures, specially the little one!
Now that bread looks amazing!!! I'm sure a WHOLE wheat one would be great!
The M&ms cookie pops are adorable and the lightnings as well! I also own a lot of cookie cutters but sometimes I make my own. I have allways thick cardborad for that. Once I decided to make cookies shaped as my country. I don't know if you're familiar with Portugal's shape, but let me tell you, that was NOT fun, lol!
Those NY Times crunch cookies, yummmmmmy! Try adding cinnamon next time, you'll love it!

Jersey Girl Cooks said...

Wow, you've been busy! I love your son's curls. Both of them are adorable. My son is in 1st grade also. He loves the Magic Treehouse, too.

Anne Marie said...

I LOVE Sam's curly hair. It's awesome. Happy Birthday to Parker. Love the pic of him asleep with the book. What a cutie.

The City Sage said...

What a beautiful flurry of recipes! Those M&M's pops are perfect for a kids' party (though I'd just as soon serve them to adults, too!) And that bread rose so beautifully. Looks like you've been having lots of fun in the kitchen lately.
Happy birthday to your little guy!

Pamela said...

Sending late HAppy Birthday wishes to Parker!! How amazing that he is such an avid reader. And I love the picture Sammy! He's so cute and I LOVE his curls.
I think the M & M pops are a great idea. Do you think any chocolate chip cookie recipe (with M & M's tossed in) would work for these? My oldest has a birthday this week and I thought they would be fun for preschool.

Katrina said...

I do think most recipes (not thin, crispy recipes), but a puffier, thick ccc recipe of most kinds would work for these cookie pops, I just had to make sure they were baked enough (I guess more than I usually bake ccc's) so that they were sturdy enough to hold up.
In fact, as I was baking off some leftover chilled NY Times dough today, my four year old asked me to put sticks in a few so they'd be pops. It worked great.

Lori said...

Can I say that I love Parker? Anyone who falls asleep reading the way he did is A#1 in my book. That's my kind of guy.

Sarah Beck said...

Tell Parker Happy Birthday for me! (I was his primary teacher for a little bit!) And I love love LOVE Sammy's hair--don't ever cut it!