The BEST Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

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Last week we had a cookie decorating play date. We had so much fun decorating our gingerbread people and our sugar cookies. Many cookies were “lost” during the decorating process. Our little friend M concentrated so hard on completely covering her Christmas tree cookie in yellow frosting that I don’t think she decorated that many cookies. Sasha and Penelope were more into eating the cookies than worrying about whether or not they were adequately covered in frosting.

I found my sugar cookie recipe on one of my favorite blogs (Pinch My Salt). Nicole made her recipe for Halloween cookies. She uses powdered sugar and a tiny bit of almond extract, which I believe makes these cookies the BEST COOKIES EVER! I will be using this recipe for my Christmas cookies from now on; I may even use them for my Valentine’s day cookies, St. Patrick’s day cookies, April Fool’s day cookies, and every other holiday they are THAT good. Thank-you Nicole, we now have a family favorite that I am sure is going to become a tradition. I am sure her recipe for cream cheese frosting is lovely, however I decided to use a powdered sugar frosting that would harden. You must make these cookies, at least once. ENJOY!

Check out her recipe here.

If you want to read more about our gingerbread people check it out here.

Here are some photos of our decorating.

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Here is M concentrating so hard on her yellow Christmas tree.

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Sasha enjoying her hard work!

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Penelope ate her cookie so fast. I told you these cookies were good!

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Here are some of our sugar cookies and gingerbread people.

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Here is M’s cookie that she worked so hard on. More sprinkes ended up on the plate than the cookie, oh well.

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Gingerbread Men and Women

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This year I made real gingerbread people. Last year I made them from a dry mix I bought in a box. The real deal is no comparison, these little cookie people get better each day. The girls and I had some friends over for a cookie decorating extravaganza. I think everyone involved had lots of fun. I told the girls that we were going to “paint” the cookies with frosting, this excited Sasha (2 1/2) and our friend M (almost 2). We used popsicle sticks as our paintbrushes, which worked wonderfully for our needs. The cookies may not win any awards for beautiful design, but I think they are the best looking gingerbread cookies I’ve ever seen.

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My girls kept eating the cookies. As you can see Sasha hardly has any frosting on her cookie, just enough to say she frosted it.

I got the recipe from Martha Stewart’s website, and it was delicious. This week I will be making more gingerbread people for our families. We also made cut out sugar cookies, I will post the recipe tomorrow.

Martha’s Gingerbread People

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The frosting is a powdered sugar, a tiny splash of vanilla, and a splash of milk. I used Wilton’s Icing Color in red, blue, green and yellow.

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Low Fat Pumpkin Bars

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Tis the season for stuffing our faces. Sounds pretty doesn’t it? From October 1 until January 1 is when my willpower is tested constantly.  In October I had celebrated  three years of marriage with my husband, two birthdays (next year it will be three), and Halloween. November brought three Thanksgiving dinners (eek!), now December we celebrated my SIL’s 30th birthday, and we will have a Christmas Eve dinner and three Christmas dinners. Now I wish I could say that I did not over indulge; I did however, try to eat consciously. It must have worked because the first time in a long time I am actually losing weight during this long holiday season (WOOP WOOP!).

We currently live in an apartment that does not allow for entertaining the whole family, so until I am able to host my first holiday meal, I will have to bring something to the dinner table that I know will not completely sabotage my waist line. These pumpkin bars are fabulous if I do say so myself, and they are a dessert that isn’t going to ruin your diet.  This recipe was emailed to me from Sparkpeople.com recipe of the day. These bars are delicious and moist, a great alternative to pumpkin pie. No one will know that they only have 67 calories per serving if you don’t tell them! ENJOY!

PUMPKIN BARS
serves: 48

2 cups flour
1-1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light butter or margarine, softened (I used Smart Balance)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 large egg whites
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin pie filling
1 cup carrot, finely shredded

Cream cheese topping:
4 oz light cream cheese, softened (I used fat free)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon skim milk

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 15 x 10 jellyroll pan.
Prepare Filling:
In small bowl: combine flour, pumpkin spice, baking powder & baking soda.
In larger bowl: Beat sugar, butter and brown sugar until crumbly. Add eggs, egg whites, pumpkin pie mix and carrots. Beat until well blended. Add flour mixture and mix until well blended. Spread onto greased pan.
Prepare Cream Cheese topping:
Mix together cream cheese, sugar and milk until thoroughly blended.
Drop teaspoonfuls of topping over pumpkin batter and swirl mixture with a butter knife.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cake tester (inserted in center) comes out clean.
Cool in pan completely on wire rack before cutting into 48 squares.

NUTRITION INFO (per serving)
Calories: 67.2
Fat: 0.9 g
Carbohydrates: 13.6 g
Protein: 1.4 g

Easy Peasy Pizza Pie

I love homemade pizza. My husband got me a pizza stone awhile back, and I love it. I find more ways to use it almost every time I bake. Hands down though, my favorite way to use my pizza stone is to bake pizza. We love homemade pizza at our house. When we first started making pizza I would buy either the premade pizza crusts or the pizza dough packets (where you add water and stir). Both of these yielded good pizzas. Awhile back a Daring Bakers challenge was pizza dough. This was a great recipe, but it took planning, since the dough had to sit in the fridge for 24 hours.

I knew there had to be a pizza dough recipe that was instant. After all, those dough packets I got at the store called for only a 5-10 minute rise time. I wish I could take credit for developing this recipe that has become my “go-to” when we get the hankering for pizza. Erin from Lee Lou  Ann had the perfect recipe I had been searching for. It takes 10 minutes of knead time and 10 minutes of rise time. This allows you 20 minutes to shred your cheese, brown your meat, mix your sauce, preheat your oven, have a beer or a glass of wine, whatever you need to do to get ready for pizza time.

Easy Pizza Dough
(from Always in Season)
4 to 4 1/2 c. flour
2 envelopes fast-rising dry yeast
1 t. sugar
2 t. olive oil
1 3/4 c. warm water (110 degrees)
1 t. salt

Put water in mixer bowl. Add yeast and sugar, stir with fork and let sit until creamy. Add oil and half flour and mix with kneader hook. Add remaining flour and salt, knead for 8-10 minutes. Let rest, covered with towel for 10 minutes. The dough may be punched down, placed in a resealable plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator for 12 hours or frozen at this point; return to room temperature before proceeding.
Divide the dough into 8 portions for 6″ crusts or 2 portions for large crusts. Top with sauce, cheese and other toppings. Bake on pizza stone or cookie sheet at 450-500 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

TIPS FOR PERFECT PIZZA:
* Roll your crust thin and dock (poke wholes) with fork. Brush lightly with olive oil.
* Crank up the temp on your oven. I preheat my oven and pizza stone to 550 degrees F.
* Par-bake your crust for 5 minutes before topping.
* Limit your toppings to no more than four. Too many toppings will make your dough soggy.
* Use sauce lightly. I like to do cheese down first, then meat and veggies, sprinkle of Parmesan and pizza spices
* Once pizza is topped bake for another 8 minutes, or until cheese is melty and bubbly.

If you follow these tips you will have a delicious crispy crust pizza. My husband thinks that this is the best pizza ever! We are looking forward to giving it a try on my in-laws BGE!

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

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My most recent trip to the library I brought home Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. After flipping through it several times I realized that this is a book I need for Christmas (hint, hint). I made only the Master Recipe, in two different shapes: Boule and Baguette. I have renewed the book several times, because there are so many other recipes I want to try. I know soon I will have to return it, it would be so nice to have a copy of my own (hint, hint).

The bread is truly easy to make. It is a wet dough that you store lightly covered in your refrigerator, you pull off a hunk of dough when you are ready to bake. Last month we went over to a friends house for dinner, when I asked what I could contribute to the dinner, I was asked to bring bread to eat with the chili. It was so easy, I grabbed a couple grapefruit-sized hunks of dough from the fridge, shaped into baguettes, let rise and bake. It really took no effort on my part. How wonderful is that? Homemade bread without all the effort. The authors say that the master recipe can be stored for up to 14 days and it will become more sourdough flavored the longer it sits. I can not tell you if this is true, because the bread is so good, I used up all my dough after two days (actually less than 48 hours).

The Master Recipe: Boule
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

Makes four 1 lb loaves
3 c lukewarm (100 degrees F) water
1 1/2 T granulated yeast (I used dry active)
1 1/2 T kosher salt
6 1/2 c unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Mixing and Storing the Dough
In a large, resealable food storage container, mix water, yeast and salt. Add in all the flour (no kneading required!). Mix together (I used a strong wooden spoon) until everything is moist. You should be able to mix the dough together relatively quickly. Allow dough to rise in bowl on the counter for 2 hours (up to 5 hours), you could use the dough after this rise if you wanted to. Refrigerated dough is less sticky, so, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Ready to Bake
Cover your pizza peal with cornmeal (I do not own a pizza peal, so instead I use parchment paper). Sprinkle your dough with a little flour. Pull up and pinch off a grapefruit sized (1 lb) blob of dough. Add a little more flour, so the dough won’t stick to your hands. Stretch the dough around to the bottom to make a ball shape, this will take a few seconds to achieve. The end result will be a smooth ball of dough.  Put your ball of dough on the pizza peal to rise for 40 minutes (does not need to be covered).  Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Place your baking stone in the lower third of your oven, and a empty boiler tray on the top shelf. Once the bread is ready to go into the oven, dust the top with flour and make 1/4 in. slash marks in the top with a bread knife.  Quickly transfer bread to pizza stone, and add 1 c hot water to boiler tray. Quickly close the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until bread looks brown and crusty. Cool completely before slicing.

Apple Pie with Strudel Topping

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What’s more American than apple pie? Apple pie is probably one of my favorites pies. There are all sorts of variations of this pie. You can find double crust, lattice top, strudel top, crumble top and so on. I have never made my own pie crust, this is something I want to try and have several recipes bookmarked. For this pie, I used store bought pie crust, the kind you unroll and place in your pie dish. I did however, make my own studel topping. This is a great dish to serve during the holidays.

APPLE PIE WITH STRUDEL TOPPING
1 (9 inch) pie shell
5 cups apples (it is nice to use a variety)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

STRUDEL TOPPING
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Unroll pastry shell into pie pan and place in freezer. Place peeled, cored and sliced apples in a large bowl. In a separate bowl combine 2 tablespoons flour, white sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Toss with apples until they are evenly coated. Remove pie shell from freezer. Place apple mixture in pie shell. Cover lightly with a sheet of aluminum foil, do not seal. Bake 10 minutes.

Make Strudel Topping: Combine flour, cinnamon, brown sugar, and oats. Mix thoroughly, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Remove filling from oven and sprinkle strudel on top.

Reduce heat to 375 degrees F. Bake pie 35 to 40 minutes, until strudel is browned. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent excess browning.

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