Shortbread

My former life and marriage had a lot of dark moments, but… I learned a lot of very useful and important things. I can operate a backhoe and chainsaw. I can peel logs, do a full scribe notch and build walls for a log home. I know how to leave space for windows so the settling won’t break the glass. I missed the part about raising the ridge pole and putting the roof on, but I bet I could find someone to do that for me. I learned to grow all my fruit and vegetables and preserve them for winter.  I can pickle, make jam and jellies and can fruit and veg until you think you will never run out of food. I can make quilts, sew clothes, knit and crochet sweaters, blankets and slippers. I know how to change oil, dig a trench (to run power and services from the road to the back of the lot) plus I can water ski, paddle a canoe down rapids and weld. All random things that I now have in my arsenal of skills. If there comes a time that the world might seem to be ending and everything is destroyed, I got you. I know what plants with keep scurvy away and you won’t starve. I can build you a home but not a roof – I am sure I can figure that out.  Come find me, we can start our own village. 

My favourite thing I learned during that time is the recipe for shortbread from the exhusband’s mom. I still make it every year and it is the one thing my brother loves, so I make sure he gets a generous batch. 

I was flipping through Amazon and looking at embossed rolling pins. They are so beautiful I decided to buy one for my shortbread this year.

It hasn’t arrived yet. It might take another 3 weeks. It looks like this:

I was taught to drop the dough onto the baking sheet and sprinkle with coloured sugar or red and green cherries. I did that once and decided …ew. No thanks. Plain is fine. So I use a cookie stamp. I roll the cookie out, stamp it and then use a cutter to get the perfect shape. I have a pottery stamp that I slipped into my suitcase when I left home. My mom wasn’t a huge baker, she is a French style cook and I baked. So I figured she may not notice it was gone until now, Hi Mom!

The stamp itself isn’t particularly beautiful but it is fun to stamp out designs. and I don’t know why I never bought a prettier pattern. But here were are. Now I wait for my new rolling pin.  It is not a Scottish Style shortbread, that is heavier and denser, also great but different.  This is the classic whipped shortbread recipe found on the cornstarch box, or rather you used to find it there, I haven’t seen it for years but I still have a copy taped to the inside of my cookie book. My cookie series has been so popular with you asking for more secrets. Since this recipe is not a family secret, this is for you. 

Idiotstick’s Mom’s Shortbread Recipe 

  • 3/4 cup softened salted butter – this is important – or add a pinch of salt if you use unsalted
  • 1 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch 

Preheat oven to 300 F. 

Sift together cornstarch, sugar and flour. beat together with butter in the mixer or by hand – mixer makes it lighter. I mix it for a long while. You think it will never come together and them, boom, it forms a ball and pulls away from the bowl. Then it is done. 

I roll out on a clean surface, do not flour. 

I stamp and cut the shapes and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. It helps to have an offset spatula to loosen the cookies from the counter. Alternatively, you can form balls and press with a stamp or fork. I bake for 20 minutes. take out just before the start to go golden on the edges. You want white cookies, not brown cookies. These are shortbread but if you over bake them, its not the end of the world. Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry are not in your kitchen. 

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container. I like to freeze them and eat them cold, but I realize I am the only person on the planet who prefers this. 

See? Not the prettiest stamp but they taste amazing. 

Bear Grease and Gingerbread

Nostalgia is hitting me hard and I find myself thinking about the good old days. My Little Gram and my Grandpa W. have been in my thoughts a lot lately. I think about visiting them and where they would sit so we could talk. I now own the sofa my Little Gram would sit on. I would sit on the floor playing solitaire or at her knee while she taught me something important, like counting to 100 or a new card game or even just telling her about my day. She always had time for me. Even when she was sick in bed, she would hold my hand and listen to me talk. She was one of the absolute best people in my life. She taught me to take the time to be present with the people who mean the most to you. Be kind, be polite and always say yes when asked if you have a minute.

When I think about Grandpa I can smell ink and tobacco. I think of flannel and some made up story he was trying to convince me that was true. I knew when he was teasing me because he would smile like he swallowed a canary and his eyes would get all sparkly. He taught me about making great kites and how to identify birds. He made things so extra. That is a trait I get from him. If you want a shed, make it an edifice. If you make a birdhouse, make it a condo. Go big or go home. Add details that are hilarious and creative. Hide Easter eggs that only you know about. Do nice things for yourself because you deserve it.

Since I have been on this nostalic kick, I have been reviving recipes from my childhood. I made meatloaf and goulash. I think about fried macaroni in bear grease because grandpa said it was good. I pulled out my gram’s Ginger Sparkler cookie recipe. My uncle called them Molassios but he was wrong, they were Ginger Sparklers. The first time I saw the recipe it was in a faded and yellowed cookbook from the 30’s. It was a publication Robin Hood flour put out. Gram made these cookies every year at Christmas time and I can tell you they are the best when dunked in tea. I made a batch last week and they lasted 3 days. They were the very first cookie I ever made for my children. My son loved them and could eat an entire batch in one sitting. He prefers chocolate chip to these, but he never complains when these cookies fill the jar on the counter. One bite of these cookies and I am back having a tea party at the big round table at my gram’s house on Evergreen Street. I would go there after kindergarten and we would have tea and cookies. Sometimes digestive biscuits and cheese and sometimes ginger sparklers. The conversation was always divine.

Because I love you, here is the old Robin Hood flour recipe. If you love yourself, only use butter, not shortening or margarine. This recipe doubles well and freezes beautifully if you need to hide them for Christmas.

  • 1 cup (250 mL) butter
  • 1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (50mL) molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups (500 mL) Robin Hood  All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) ground ginger
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) salt
  • ½ cup (125 mL) coarse sugar
  1. reheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add molasses and egg. Beat well.
  3. Sift flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a separate bowl. Add to butter mixture. Beat until mixture is well combined.
  4. Roll dough into 1” (2.5 cm) balls. Roll into sugar. Place on prepared baking sheets about 2” (5 cm) apart.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes ( I bake for 10 minutes to get the perfect chewy/crispy combination) Cool for 2 minutes on baking sheets; transfer to cooling rack to cool completely. (Or eat before they cool – warm cookies are a gift!)
  6. Dip in Red Rose Tea (steeped for 4 minutes) with milk for the authentic Little Gram experience.

cracked-top-ginger-cookies-19.jpg

Once upon a time there was a little girl who could make babysitters cry…

06443029462bcbe897d59a3467928dc4_answer_6_xlarge10 o’clock at night and my girl is upstairs blasting Time Lord Rock while baking Rose Tyler esc cupcakes for a dear friend and fellow Whovian’s birthday. I have been told that she is quite capable of following the instructions and baking on her own. Agreed.

Then I hear “Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom, can I have your opinion on these cupcakes please? They are giant but liquid in the middle. How long should I put them back in for? And why do they taste like Cherry Cough Syrup?”

Good Question… Ask Grandma.

My mom was a good egg in lots of ways. She always let me listen the radio station of my choice when we were in the car. She didn’t care. Dad on the other hand would say “This stuff is utter crap, I can’t listen to this.” And the station would change to some oldie station playing Peter, Paul and Mary or the Limelighters. This would account for my obscure and amazing talent of knowing every song ever written between 1948 and 1989, this includes jingles and TV theme songs. It’s a handy talent for some great trivia games and for radio quiz shows where I get to win tickets to The Who and The Rolling Stones.

Mom would also encourage me to experiment in the kitchen. I learned the basics from her and my Aunty Mary Poppins, but the fine tuning I did on my own. I dad would eat ANYTHING I put in front of him and he would always say, “That is the best I ever had! Did I make it?” Between both my parents, that made me fearless in the kitchen. I am not a swell cook – but I am an AMAZING baker. There is a difference. I think some people can be great at both but often they are only good at one or the other.

My girl is a self proclaimed distraction in the kitchen. I let her do all kinds of baking and cooking experiments but there is usually some disaster that happens and we need to figure out how to fix it. To be honest, it isn’t always fixable, so we pack it up and give it to her Grandpa (my dad) who will eat ANYTHING and say it’s the best ever.

I remember baking on Friday nights when we had a babysitter because Mom and Dad were off Dancing  – I know…it was the olden days when people went dancing at the club – (as in country club) It sounds fancier than it was, but my parents loved it. We went through babysitters like some people go through socks. My brother and I were THE WORST KIDS EVER – not true  – were only bad if we didn’t like the babysitter. I liked the weak ones. The ones that were nice on the outside but I could make them cry in an instant. One time we had this gal, a neighbor of my grandma, she came over and wanted to play games or watch TV and I would say – no. I am baking cookies.

“Are you allowed to do that?”

Me: NO – are you kidding? Mom is going to kill you. “Yes, my mom lets me all the time.”

“Okay – call me if you need help”

Me: pfffff whatever – “okay”

I went into the pantry and pulled out all the ingredients for Quaker Oatmeal Cookies. The Just Add Water kind of cookie mix that mom would buy and add a billion things to for granola bars. I used an entire package (enough for 1000 cookies) and a gallon of water. I think it said one cup but the measuring cup was really big – I think it was 8 cups. But I filled it because it was still only one cup.

I had made cookie cake. It was liquid porridge. I couldn’t spoon it onto a cookie tray, it would run all over the place. So I left it in the bowl, put all the dirty dishes and baking garbage into the oven and shut the door.

I went to join the babysitter and my brother and said I changed my mind. I didn’t want to bake.

Later while I was fake sleeping, my mother called me into the kitchen.

She had the keen sense of Sherlock Holmes. There wasn’t a dish left out, yet she knew.

“What happened in here tonight?”

Me: I was fake tired and said “What???’ in my sleepy fake voice.

“This kitchen is a disaster!”

Me: What are you talking about? I hid the evidence. I knew I needed to stay silent.

“Were you making cookies?

Me: How does she know this stuff? Silence…………

“Where did you hide the stuff?” She looked around and likely saw a fingerprint on the oven door.

Then I remember the oven door opening and the angry voice lecturing me for what seemed like a week. But thankfully dad came home and sent me to bed.

Now that I am a parent myself, these are the thoughts that run through my head:

  1. Why would the babysitter let an 8 year old bake cookies unsupervised?
  2. Obviously mom saw the flour dust all over everything. What is clean to an 8 year old is not clean to a mom.
  3. Why didn’t my parents just lock us up under the stairs to go out? We tortured babysitters for fun. How we make it out of our childhood alive is beyond me.
  4. I always thought my mom was crazy about cleanliness – I still do.
  5. Why did my parents change babysitters so frequently? Did the girls just say no? I would – but to be fair, I could talk those girls into anything and I think they didn’t expect that from a kid. I was the evil emperor of kids needing supervision. Let’s face it, after every girl in Sherwood Park failed and became brainwashed by my charms, there wasn’t a whole lot for them to do. They became powerless. I would put my sister to bed, I would talk my brother into running away or hiding or really – anything to make the sitter never wanting to come back. I’m sure my parents paid well, but sometimes no job is EVER worth it.

Meanwhile, my daughter just made cupcakes that taste like cough syrup and I am proud like I am raising a little me. Luckily her grandfather lives a block from the school, so when her friends don’t eat the cupcakes – he will.

And the family tradition continues….only the dirty dishes better not be hidden in the stove.

Hey! My Mom is a Gazillion!

Hey! It’s my Mom’s Birthday!

Happy Birthday Mom!Don’t ask me how old she is, I think she is a gazillion. Don’t be giving me THAT look! This is what she tells people so they say to her “You look FABULOUS for a Gazillion! How do you do it?” She twitters back all flattered and replies, “oh stop…it’s just good genes.” It’s true, her mom and sister look fabulous too.

I had my parents over for dinner on Saturday night to celebrate mom’s Gazillonth birthday. I made Thai Chicken and Birthday Cup Cakes. Why thank you! I am her favorite daughter…how did you know?

I often brag about my baking skills because, who are we kidding, I am an awesome baker! Except I have a tiny confession. I have never made Cup Cakes from scratch. I have made them from a mix, I make cookies and squares from scratch, heck, I have even baked a cake or 3000 from scratch. But never cup cakes.

I figured this would be a great thing to add to my 52 new things list so away I went.

I googled a cup cake recipe that required cake and pastry flour. Again something I have never used. I mix all the ingredients and the batter is thick like cookie dough….WARNING WARNING! I am not green enough to think this is okay. I know cake batter should be runny, not stiff. I rechecked the ingredients and everything was correct. Hmmmm now I’m worried.

I decided I would leave the batter as is and continue to follow the directions. All bakers know that baking is kitchen science, so messing with amounts usually – not always…no hate mail please – can create an odd result.

I did add my own flair to the tiny cakes. I stuffed each cake with a tiny Lindor chocolate.While these were baking and cooling, I made the butter cream icing.

Now, you can ask ANY woman whats in her freezer. Any gal worth her salt will have a tub of icing, cookie dough or ice cream in her freezer. The best gals have all three. Sadly…since I have got on this new Lifestyle kick…I have none of the above. Well that is not entirely true, I keep the Boy’s favorite ice cream in there. He is almost 16 and truthfully, the container is almost ALWAYS empty…so that doesn’t count.

I was the girl who Loooooooooooooved icing. Any flavour, any brand but have a weakness for homemade icing. It is simple to make. Butter (the real stuff) Icing sugar, vanilla and milk or cream. Yum yum yum…or so I thought…

Something very concerning has happened to me. I am quite worried actually. I licked the beater and ewwwwwwwwwwww.

All I could taste was butter. It was the actual correct taste, but to me it was just butter. Then I thought “Gross, butter and sugar. Who thought THAT was a good idea?” Good right?

Then I iced the cupcakes.

I made the mistake of inviting my sister over for cake. She is the Cake Baker extraordinaire. I want to hate her, I really do. But…she is to nice and too fabulous. I just can’t.

As with my entire family, everyone was really supportive. “Oh Robyn this is soooooo gooood” Are you kidding me? You big fat liars! The cake is DRY and the icing tastes like butter. This thing is disgusting! The only redeeming feature was the chocolate nestled inside.

Whatever….

My brother did nothing, I win again!

Happy Birthday Mom!

Martha I am NOT

I won Wilton Cookie Press from hanging around Chef’s MidniteChefs blog, facebook page and her twitter @midnitechef . (Chef is a local girl who transplanted to Texas. Her recipes are delicious! How do I know? I have made quite a few!) It arrived in the mail today!

I busted open the package because I was so excited to give it a try! I love baking and am pretty darn good at it! Cooking…not so much in spite of the fact I had a fabulous teacher – my mom – cooking is just not my thing. I think it is important to enjoy what you are doing, it becomes obvious with the result. my cooking won’t kill you, but I’d rather do dishes thanks. When it comes to baking, that is a whole different story. Cookies are my specialty, but pies, tarts, custards, cakes, squares…and anything else you can think of, I am pretty darn good at if I do say so myself. What my Aunty didn’t teach me, I learned from Martha Stewarts baking 101. So when the Cookie Press arrived in the mail, I was pretty cocky. I was damn sure they would be fabulous! I even took pictures to brag blog about it!

I pulled my girl out from her home in the pantry and plugged her in. Creamed the butter and sugar together, then added an egg and vanilla. REAL Vanilla, not artificial stuff, and I go a step further and use Mexican Vanilla. The stuff you bring home from Mexico. Really People, leave the Tequila there, or better yet, drink it. Save room for the vanilla, you will be glad you did!

When I looked at the recipe, I saw it needed 1 1/2 cups of butter. Holy Heart Attack on a Plate Batman! In my head I was thinking a pound and a half…I am glad that didn’t make sense to me and I re-read it. By the time all the rest of the ingredients were added, it smelled like sugar cookies should.

The next part was stuffing the cookie press full of cookie dough…simple enough! Then choosing the end I wanted. I chose a few different ones and changed it out each time I re-filled the press.

I was able to squirt an entire cookie sheet with one fill. The problem was, that cookie press was finicky! Inconsistent pressure made for inconsistent cookies. I HATE THAT! I use a ice cream scoop or a melon baller to make all my cookies the EXACT SAME SIZE. It has long been established that I am OCD about such things. My cookies came out in blobs or squirts missing sections. I finally got the knack of it, then I would change the tip. For every tip, the pressure was different and I needed to start again with the practice….

By the time I was ready for the last fill, I had it down pat. I chose a square pattern that squirted out little balls. This is where I REALLY messed up. The last sheet of cookies are loving refered to as Cookie Niblets. I didn’t put enough pressure on the press to have the cookie stay together. That’s okay, cookie niblets will go good on ice cream or in trail mix…or for midnite munching.

I will have to give this thing another try, possibly use a different recipe to see if that makes a difference. Never fear Martha, your empire is still safe. Meanwhile…I have 7km to do tomorrow to make up for the cookie sampling I did tonight 🙂

*Editors Note: Fancy speak for did I screw up and now I am fixing it! So after clean up, I discover there is a ratchet that I did not engage…no WONDER it was so hard!!!! Next time…I’ll get it right next time…

Fa La La La LAAAAAA La Laa Laa Laaaaaa

Winter came to town this week! Not the fake, fool you into thinking it is winter, but the honest to goodness staying until May kind of winter. You can tell because the snow is dry and fluffy, not heavy and wet. That snow gets you in the mood then laughs at you as it melts away. This kind of long term winter puts me in the mood for Christmas!

It has been a very long time since I have felt like celebrating Christmas. I put up a good face, go through the motions for my offspring, but my heart just wasn’t in it. This year something is different, maybe it is because I am so busy. I tend to do more the busier I get. Maybe it’s because I am reading about RAC – Random Acts of Christmas from Aunt Bethany. Maybe its because Chicken Hawk has her Tree up already. Maybe it’s because I went to Christmas on the Square and watch the lighting of the Tree. OR MAYBE its because I have a new tourist attitude!

It doesn’t really matter why, the point is I am itching to start baking! That is a word my family has not heard in a while from me. I must admit, I rock the kitchenaid mixer.

A few years ago Honey broke the #1 Christmas Gift Rule:

NO APPLIANCES FOR YOUR WIFE- NO EXCEPTIONS!

I wanted a Kitchen Aid Mixer. I wanted it BAD! One of my hobbies was watching Food Network, everyone had one. I was mixing everything by hand. Very hard to be Martha Stewart without a Kitchen Aid. I had the best ingredients, the correct methods, even the island where I could pretend I was a cooking show just like my mom did.

Then I got the question, ” do you want your present early or on Christmas Day?” What kind of question is THAT!?!? Christmas Day thank you very much. I don’t get a pile of gifts as it is, so everyone counts! I guess Honey called my mom, told her what it was and she agreed, give it to me for Christmas, early means you must get me a replacement gift. Thanks for having my back mom!

This Black Kitchen Aid was glorious! I loved it more than the offspring. True story. I am going to brag a bit here, but I make fabulous cookies. Kitchen Aid made them better, if that was even possible. I baked up a storm and Genetic Offspring wept with joy, he loves my Chocolate Chip cookies more then me. True Story.  Sadly, Kitchen Aid is sitting in my pantry being lonely. It misses me. To be honest, I miss it too.

I have begun to compile a list of baking I want to do for the holiday season. Grey Cup is coming up and I traditionally kick off the cookie season by baking on that day.

I am blessed with family and friends old and new who are as talented in the kitchen as me. Since I have ZERO time left for a Hen Party Cookie Exchange, I would like to invite you to post your best recipe HERE. It is my new page dedicated to the Best Christmas Food EVER!  I’ll start the ball rolling:

Honey Popcorn

3 qt popped popcorn

1c nuts (almonds, pecans peanuts etc)

1/2 c of butter (no margarine!)

1/4c honey

1 tsp vanilla ( the good stuff – not imitation!!)

Place popcorn and nuts in a shallow roasting pan. Melt butter, sugar and honey. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil gently 5 minutes, without stirring. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Pour over popcorn and nuts, stirring until coated. Bake at 250F for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir while the Honey popcorn cools. Store in an airtight container.

Try not to let it cool completely in the roasting pan…you’ll be sorry!

I hope you like this idea and share too. This way we won’t end up with 52 dozen shortbread cookies. Bring on the Seasonal Treats!