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Sunday, December 18, 2022

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

I am going to add photos of the finished cookies next time I make them. I don't have photos because WE EAT THEM ALL.

This is how they look rolled in cocoa and ready to bake

The original recipe from Mel's Kitchen Cafe says to dip the cookies in powdered sugar, but I think they are much prettier (not to mention more rich and less sugary) when you dust them with powdered sugar instead.  But maybe it's because I love any excuse to use my OXO powdered sugar wand.  It's the most fun kitchen gadget you can own.  

Friday, December 2, 2022

Soft Ginger Molasses Cookies

Last year, Allen's parents stayed with us for Christmas, and his mom asked me before they arrived if I had molasses and ground ginger on hand.  I did.  But I never guessed that these two pungent ingredients could combine to make the most heavenly Christmas confection known to man.

They are beautiful and crackly and festive.  They are soft and rich.  They are so fragrant and chewy and sweet, with the perfect hint of spice.  They may have actually TIED WITH CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (gasp!) as my favorite cookies of all time.  In fact, these ginger molasses cookies differ specifically from CCCs in that, once I have eaten one, all I can think about is having another.  I can limit other kinds of cookies to one or two, but I feel like I never want to stop eating these.

This particular holiday treat comes with a pretty sweet story, too.  My mother-in-law clipped this recipe from her local paper years ago and everyone raved about the cookies . . . but then she somehow lost the clipping. Years later (tortured years of pining for the most-perfect-holiday-cookie-ever, no doubt) she went to the library and used the microfilm machine to look through years' worth of the Northwest Arkansas Times until she found it again.  The librarian copied it for her, and the rest is Renfroe family holiday history!
I love how Mom wrote out the triple-batch
amount to the side, which is what I put on the
recipe card below.  Go big or go home, people.

Mollie and I had so much fun making the cookies with Mom last year, made more fun by the adorable, matching, chicken-print aprons she sewed for each of us as an early Christmas present.

She gave me the recipe while she stayed with us, but then history repeated itself and I misplaced it.  Fortunately, I didn't have to use a microfilm machine--Mom just used her telephonics machine (read: iPhone 6) to snap a picture of her well-used recipe and send it to me via electronic mail . . . all taking about three seconds and zero research trips to the library.

I have made this tripled-recipe twice this December and am going for a third time tomorrow.  If you're going to make 24 dozen of any cookie during Christmas, this is the one . . .

My cookie helpers!
Brer Rabbit never tasted so good . . .
I hope we'll have some left for Santa--he might have to settle
for Oreos if we scarf through all seven dozen in the next four
I wish I was kidding . . .
My house smells like Christmasy heaven . . .
Perfect cookies for large family / social / holiday functions!

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Best Pizza Dough Evs

I used to think that you couldn't make pizza at home as good as at a pizza joint, but am glad to admit that I was totally wrong.  I think the things that make all the difference are:
A) cooking on a stone at a very high temperature 
B) homemade dough and sauce 
C) quality mozzarella, the kind you have to tear into chunks yourself (but don't worry--I make it all the time with pre-shredded mozzarella and it tastes great)
D) (if you really want to put it over the top) veggies and herbs from your own garden--fresh basil is THE BEST, and dry basil will do, but if you don't have either, don't make pizza.

In fact, if you always use the freshest ingredients possible, you're own house will become your very favorite pizzeria.
The "deep dish" stone: before

Deep dish: after

This is the yummy "grownup" pizza I
made with tomato, Canadian bacon, and
oregano from our windowsill herbs.
If you want to have meat on your pizza,
Canadian bacon is the healthiest choice.

I love it that my husband doesn't like pineapple
on pizza . . . because that means MORE FOR ME.
I have pizza greed.

I had an all-wood pizza peel for not quite two years--it split into two pieces and I limped along with that for another year, awkwardly using both halves until I finally bought a metal one with a wooden handle--I've been using it for EIGHT years now.  I also use it for artisan bread, for grilling pizza, and for spatula-ing up other big things on the grill.  

I've tried so many different recipes for pizza dough, but I always come back to this one from my friend Jessica: it's the easiest and the yummiest, and honey is a MUST.  I make pizza at least twice a month, and this recipe can't be beat.  Use olive oil and as little flour as possible for a soft crust.  I usually make three thick crusts instead of four regular crusts.

Here are some step-by-step photos I took of the kids' cheese pizza.

Complement this recipe with Best Pizza Sauce (and topping) Ever.

Best Pizza Sauce (and topping) Ever

You can't go wrong with fresh basil.  And fresh mozzarella.  And homemade pizza sauce.  Mmmm.  No wonder I make pizza so often--just writing this is making me hungry.  I love this sauce because it is easy, cheap, and packed with flavor.  (Use Best Pizza Dough with this recipe--the tomatoes can drain while the dough is rising).

*You really do need to let the tomatoes drain in a fine mesh strainer after you puree them--then the sauce is nice and thick.  When I don't have fresh basil, I use liberal amounts of dried basil in the sauce.

I made yummy "grownup" pizza tonight,
with ham, tomato, and fresh oregano

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Flakiest Pie Crust

Homemade apple pie is my very favorite food in the world.
This is more fragile than Never-Fail Pie Crust (which I recommend if you are a beginner--it's the recipe I used all through my college years).  The finished product here is so beautiful, flaky, and delicious I can hardly stand to write about it.

The key to any good pastry is to handle the dough as little as possible.  You want gluten (stringy strands of protein) in your breads, which is why you knead bread dough so much.  But since you want a flaky, airy pie crust  (not rubbery or tough) you don't want gluten to form.  That's why you use ice water, and why a food processor can do the job better than a pastry cutter--you won't be handling the dough as much, therefore it won't warm up, therefore little gluten will form.

I got this recipe from Every Day FOOD magazine (that Reader's Digest-sized Martha Stewart cooking mag) and it was photographed and explained so well that I was sold before I even took a bite.  So I tried to be as good about taking pictures for you.

After the dough comes together, form a ball, wrap in plastic,
then flatten into a 1-inch disk and chill for at least one hour
This is my best pie-crust tip ever: before you roll out the chilled
dough, indent the edges with your knuckles--it makes it so cracks
don't form and you end up with one big, round, pretty pie crust


Another tip: carefully roll the dough around your rolling pin,
then unroll it over your pie dish--it makes transferring the
dough from counter top to pie pan a cinch.
I didn't take pictures of the actual apples.  I used my peeler/corer/slicer to prepare about nine apples.  Most were Pink Ladies, but I think there was a Braeburn and a Fuji in there as well. (People always say to use Granny Smith apples for pie--but they are not my favorite.  Pink Ladies are delicious and crisp, and won't go soggy like a Red Delicious . . . I almost always use three different kinds of apples).  I sprinkle about 2/3 cup of cinnamon sugar over the sliced apples (2 tsp cinnamon to 1 cup of sugar) and coat the apples evenly, then let them sit while I roll out the dough.  You can use a little bit of lemon juice to keep the apples from browning, but I never do. 
I bought this pie top cutter in an Amish village in Missouri--you can
get all kinds of designs online . . . just google "pie top cutter."
It's fun to make a pie that looks so perfect--but it is also a PAIN
to carefully cut out the shapes and remove the stencil.  Fortunately,
this one turned out without cracking the crust. 
Especially for the top, I recommend rolling
up the dough and then transferring.
You don't have to add the "cut-outs"--it looks pretty just like this.
I add the apples because my kids love eating them off the top after
it has baked (some people have a harder time waiting, obviously)
Before I put the dough-apples on top, I brush the whole crust with ice water, using a pastry brush.  It helps the apples stick.  I didn't use an egg wash on this particular pie--just the water.  Then I very lightly sprinkled cinnamon-sugar over the top before placing the pie in the oven.  Here are some tips for the tops of your pies:
My husband was strictly a chocolate dessert kind of guy before he met me.  I love chocolate, too, but nothing really beats a made-from-scratch pie.  He recently told me, in a reluctant-but-satisfied tone of voice, "I hate to admit it, Bec, but I think I like your apple pie just as much as chocolate cream pie."

I have arrived.

(Also, I wish I had the apron that happy housewife is wearing).

Never-Fail Pie Crust

This is not the crust I use anymore (check out my Flakiest Pie Crust recipe), but it was my go-to recipe for years. It's a beginner's crust, and perfect for helping you feel confident about baking pie. It's not a fragile dough and can be re-rolled. With any pie crust or pastry, though, you want to handle the dough as little as possible to prevent the formation of gluten, long strands of protein that are desirable in breads and other "kneaded" foods, but which make your pie crust heavy, tough, and not flaky.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Nanking Cherry Jelly

Old recipe card, do not use
scroll down for new one

This is my very favorite childhood jelly. My dad, who always tours my yard before announcing his arrival when he comes to visit, discovered a few years ago that we have a Nanking cherry tree. A loaded Nanking cherry tree (oops--when I saw it flowering in the spring, I assumed it was another plum tree).

Nanking cherries are small and tart--they are the size of blueberries and have a very small stem. If you have jelly or syrup made from them, you won't be using maple syrup on your pancakes until the last drop drop of Nanking jelly has been devoured. It's that good. And I don't even like regular cherries.

The length of my parents' property is still bordered with about fifteen Nanking cherry trees that my dad has artfully pruned to "bush" size, for easy picking. It's funny how I readily (and wrongly) reminisce that I loved picking cherries as a child, when really I loathed it. My sisters and I would be sent to the side of the house to pick until our buckets were full, and we hated spending our precious July afternoons in such forced labor.

Now that I'm the grown-up, it's easier to see that picking really is the fun and easy part . . . canning the fruit is where the real labor lies: spending your July afternoons indoors, pitting and mashing cherries (with this amazing Food Mill) over a hot stove, is infinitely worse.

 And thanks Mom, for walking me through your fabulous recipe!

It's so worth it.

I'm passing on the tradition of "forcing" my own kids to pick. We don't have fifteen trees (yet), but I hope that they'll be the ones canning some day, looking back with fondness on the July afternoons spent picking, and looking forward to a whole winter (if it lasts that long!) of savoring the fruits of their labors at breakfast time.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Buttermilk Baking Powder Biscuits

These biscuits are part of my husband's favorite breakfast (along with sausage and eggs). I always make them on Father's Day, Allen's birthday, and whenever I am about to make a large purchase.

I joke, I kid.

I replace the "buttermilk" (milk+vinegar) with kefir (Click here for my What is Kefir? post) for pretty much any recipe on this site that calls for buttermilk, because I always have kefir, and it tastes just as good and costs next to nothing when you brew it yourself.
These are extra yummy and flaky when I bake them in my deep-dish pizza stone.

Sourdough version:
I just make the biscuit dough like normal, then mix in my sourdough discard (it was a whole cup for the ones below--it adds a great sourdough flavor, but they still rise as fluffy as ever because I don't omit the baking powder.