This is my new favorite cookie.  It is for this week, anyway.  My kids and I invented cookies for a bake-off at the state fair, and this is one of the results.  One of the others we made took first place, but this one is my personal favorite.    
Contests are funny things anyway:  you'd think the best-tasting item wins, but that's not necessarily the case.  First of all, "best taste" always depends on who's doing the tasting. Or the judging, in this case.  Secondly, cookies are given a score, and in this contest, only 40% of it is from how the cookie tastes.  30% is how attractive it ('and its surroundings) are, and 30% here was 'creativity', which, like taste, is very subjective.  

This cookie was dreamed up by a daughter who loves key lime pie, and wanted a cookie that tasted like it.  You'll have extra frosting; you can make a half batch, or it can be frozen, or used to frost cupcakes, or spread on graham crackers... or eaten on a spoon!
My friend who dislikes frosting, likes this  frosting.
Creamy Lime Pie Cookies 
Makes 2- 2 ½ dozen

Graham Cracker Sugar Cookie:

¾ c. granulated sugar 
½ c. butter or shortening or coconut oil
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 sleeve graham cracker, finely crushed (about 1 ½ c.)
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1 c. flour
¼ c. limeade concentrate, thawed.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cream shortening and sugar, add egg and vanilla.  Add cracker crumbs, salt, and baking soda; beat well. Mix in flour. Drop by heaping spoonful on lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake 7-8 minutes.  Let cookies cool two minutes, then brush with the limeade concentrate.  All of it should be gone once all cookies are brushed.  Cool completely before frosting generously with Creamy Lime Frosting.


Creamy Lime Frosting

1 cube butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
1/16 tsp. salt
4 drops green food color, optional
¼ c. limeade concentrate, mostly thawed
8 oz. cream cheese, still cool, cut in 1” cubes

In a medium bowl, combine butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and green food color.  Beat until fluffy.  Add limeade concentrate and whip the mixture.  Add cream cheese, a couple cubes at a time, and beat until mixed thoroughly.  Beat on high until light and fluffy, but don’t overbeat or it will go runny.



 
 
To make cookie pops like the photo above, set the unbaked cookie on top of a craft stick before baking the cookies.  Be sure to cover at least 1 to 1 1/2 inches of the craft stick; press down gently on the dough.  

This recipe makes about two dozen, 3" round cookies.

Soft Sugar Cookies
1 stick butter (1/2 c.), softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1/3 c. buttermilk, kefir, OR sour milk (add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to fresh milk to make 1/3 c.)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Cream the butter with sugar; beat in the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Combine baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour; stir in to the other ingredients.  Grease or spray a cookie sheet.  

Put half the dough on a flour-sprinkled counter top.  Sprinkle a little flour on top to prevent your rolling pin from sticking, then roll about 3/8" thick.  Cut out with cookie cutters or canning jar rings.  (I used a ring from a regular-sized canning jar.)

 Bake for 7-10 minutes, depending on size and thickness, until  light golden brown on edges and underside.  Cool completely; frost with your favorite frosting if you like. 

This recipe also makes a great base for a Cookie Pizza.

To make the rose leaves, sprinkle some sugar on a flat surface, roll a gumdrop flat, a little bit at a time, flipping the gumdrop often so it stays coated with sugar as it flattens.  Trim with a knife or scissors.
 
 
The monthly envelope full of local ads and coupons arrived a couple days ago.  As I flipped through it, one summery dessert caught my eye:  a dessert pizza.  It was an advertisement for a local pizza buffet, "only" $5.99 for the buffet.  
Well, we have 7 people at home, so $6 x 7 is not something we're willing to spend very often.  :)  Instead, I could make this for under $4 with what I had on hand.  Frozen blueberries and strawberries are always in the freezer here; I get them at DollarTree in the frozen section.  Cream cheese stores way beyond its sell-by date, so I stock up when it's $1 for 8 ounces.  A local store recently had whipping cream at $.33, and it stores quite a bit past the sell-by date, plus it can be frozen.  And I stock up on butter when it's on sale, then keep it in the freezer.

What are some of your must-have-on-hand ingredients?

Cookie base
1 stick butter (1/2 c.), softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1/3 c. buttermilk, kefir, OR sour milk (add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to fresh milk to make 1/3 c.)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Cream the butter with sugar; beat in the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Combine baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour; stir in to the other ingredients.  Grease or spray a 10x17 rimmed cookie sheet or 14" or 15" round pizza pan.  Drop cookie dough on top and pat into an even layer; wet your fingers so the dough doesn't stick so much to you.  Bake for 14-20 minutes, until light golden brown on edges and underside.  Cool completely.  

Topping/Frosting 
3 oz cream cheese
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla

2-4 cups berries or other fruit (I used 1 cup frozen blueberries, about 1 1/2 c. frozen strawberries)

Spread the topping over cooled cookie, cut into squares, and then sprinkle or decorate with fruit.  Serve; cover and refrigerate any leftovers.
 
 
Salty, sweet, crunchy, and chewy!  Makes one 8x8 pan.

Crust:  
3 oz pretzels (about 1 cup), crushed 
3 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp c. sugar
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until it starts smelling delicious.

While it's baking, make the filling: 

Filling:
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/4 c. corn syrup*  (or use mild molasses and sub light brown sugar for dark, above)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 C. pecans, toasted and chopped coarsely
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Mix in the brown sugar and salt, stirring until the butter is absorbed.  Beat in the egg, corn syrup/molasses, and vanilla.  Continue to cook and stir the mixture until it is shiny and hot to the touch but not near boiling.  Remove from heat; stir in pecans.  Pour onto the hot crust.  Bake at 350 about 25-30 minutes, until it jiggles like Jello and not like water when shaken.  Cool at least 20 minutes before cutting if you want them to keep their shape.
 
 
A friend sent me instructions for making Easter Story Cookies.  I tweaked the ingredients, tweaked the instructions, and changed some of the scriptures to ones I thought my younger ones would relate to.  (In other words, I don't know whose idea this originally was, but should no longer be considered plagiarism.:) 
This is a sweet way to bring some of the real meaning of Easter into your home!  For more Easter ideas, click on the "Easter" category on the right.

Mix these cookies the evening before Easter, they sit in the oven overnight, as an Easter morning surprise.

You will need:
  • 1 tsp. vinegar
  • 3 large egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup pecan pieces
Wooden spoon
Waxed paper or parchment
Masking tape
Bible

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. (This is important, so don’t wait until you’re half-way done with the recipe).

Smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. into the mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, He was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30 or Psalms 69:21

Add egg whites to the vinegar.
Explain that eggs represent life. Jesus gave His life to give us life. Read John 10:9-11.

Sprinkle a little salt into each hand. Taste it and brush the rest into the bowl.
Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and bitterness of our sins.  Show the wooden spoon, it represents the cross he carried and was nailed to.
Read Luke 23:27.

With a mixer, beat on high speed until soft peaks form.
Explain that the color white represents the purity of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3.

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 3/4 cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, as you continue to whip.  Keep mixing until they reach stiff peaks.
Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. It wasn’t the nails that kept Him on the cross because nothing earthly could have. It was His love for us! Read Ps. 34:8 and John 3:16.

Fold in the nuts using the wooden spoon. Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60.

Put the cookie sheet in the oven and close the door and turn the oven OFF! Each person places a piece of masking tape and seals the oven door. Read Matthew 27:62-66

Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20, 22.

On Easter morning, watch the 4-minute video “He is Risen”, then open the oven and give everyone a cookie.

Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow!

Explain that on the first Easter, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.  Suggested scriptures to read: John chapter 20 (5 minutes), 1 Corinthians 15:22 (two lines), Mosiah 16:6-9 (one minute).

Happy Easter, Everyone! Christ Lives & Loves Us!

 
 
Apparently these have been popular in the food world for about a year... but I first saw them last week.  My oldest son, the pickiest eater in the house, had noticed the printed recipe sitting on the counter for several days, grimacing everytime he walked past it.  So when a batch of brownies appeared out of the oven, he cocked an eyebrow at me, asking "Are these what I think they are?", then declared he would NOT eat them.
After everyone else begged for seconds, though, he decided he'd try just one bite.  Then a whole brownie.  Then he had seconds too.
(YEAH!)

Black Bean Brownies

1 1/4 c. cooked black beans, rinsed (about a 15-oz can or 1/2 c. dry beans- cook first)
3 eggs
1/4 c. melted coconut oil or vegetable oil
1/2- 2/3 cup honey OR 3/4-1 cup sugar (brownies with the higher amounts are sweeter and more moist)
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup whole wheat flour, OR 1/2 c.gluten-free flour plus 1 tsp. xanthan gum
½ teaspoon almond extract or orange extract, optional
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
½ cup chopped walnuts, optional
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips, optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a 9x13 pan.  Combine beans, eggs, oil, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and almond/orange extract (if using) in a food processor or blender.  Puree until very smooth.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.   Pour the puree over top, then mix both together.  Stir in walnuts if using.  Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.  Bake about 25 minutes or until center tests done with a toothpick.  
Cool.  
To make these into Chocolate Truffle Brownies, omit the chocolate chips and frost with my favorite-ever chocolate frosting: creamy, soft, oh-so-smooth Chocolate Blender Frosting!
 
 
NOTE:  If wheat is not a problem for you (and it's not for me, that I know of...)  this recipe can be made using regular all-purpose flour.

I've been playing around with gluten-free foods for a while now, and sometimes the food is a   little disappointing.  Not so with these.  They were soft and chewy in the center, crispy on the edges, with good texture and flavor.  The recipe was adapted from two nearly-identical recipes from "Life Tastes Good Again" and from the box of SunFlour Mills gluten-free Pastry Flour.  The only thing was, the recipe called for butter and a box of vanilla pudding mix, both of which contain dairy.  Here's the gluten-free AND dairy-free version:

Soft and Chewy GF CF Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup dairy-free 'butter', like this recipe (or use real butter if you're OK with it)
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. Ultra Gel (a no-cook food starch)
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 c. gluten-free flour blend, like Sunflour Mills GF Pastry Flour  or whatever you prefer
1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if using regular all-purpose flour)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. chocolate chips (dairy free, gluten free) OR 1 c. each nuts and chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Cream together the butter, both sugars, and Ultra Gel (or pudding mix).  Beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Add 1 cup of the GF flour, the xantham gums, salt, and baking soda.  Beat until smooth, then mix in the remaining 2 1/4 c. GF flour.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts if using them.

Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake about 7-9 minutes, or until just browned on the edges and centers still look wet.  Let cookies sit on cookie sheet for 4-5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.  (They'll fall apart if you move them too soon.)  Makes about 30 cookies.   Store any extras in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer.
If you like cookies crispy, cook them until the centers look done.  If you want them chewy, it's critical to essentially underbake them a bit, hence the wet centers.  Baked goods continue to cook even after they come out of the oven. 

*If dairy is not a problem for you either, then you can use a box of instant vanilla pudding in place of 3/4 cup of the sugar, 1/8 tsp of the salt, 1 tsp. of the vanilla, and 1/4 c. Ultra Gel. 

 
 
While standing in line at the supermarket one day before Christmas, I picked up a cooking magazine that had some gorgeous cookies on the cover.  As I studied the picture, the cashier noticed, laughed a little, and said, "they have nice pictures, but do YOUR cookies ever look like that?"

She was shocked when I answered, "Um, actually, yes."

You don't need to be a professional baker.  You don't even need fancy decorating equipment, though I really appreciate a good pastry bag and frosting tips.  (If you don't have these- you can buy a small set for under $10 at Walmart, ShopKo or hobby stores- a ziptop freezer bag with a corner snipped off will work.)   

The trick to making those beautiful, glossy cookies is to use two consistencies of frosting- one thin, one thick, and to give yourself enough time to let one layer dry a bit before adding the next.  The thin frosting becomes your canvas, the thicker one is used to make the details.  Make it easy on yourself by only mixing two or three colors.  Rather than using the liquid food color drops, try paste or gel food colors.  They are much easier to work with because a little goes a long way and they won't make your frosting runny. 
******
The thin frosting can be as simple as powdered sugar and water, or if you want the surface to be shiny when dry, make Royal Icing. A regular batch produces a thick icing; to get the thin frosting, mix in water a little at a time to get the right consistency. The recipe below is for the Royal Icing, which also dries very hard, making your cookies a little less likely to get damaged.  This is the same frosting I use on gingerbread houses.

Royal Icing  (thick frosting)
3 egg whites (use clean eggs with absolutely no cracks in them)
1 16-oz bag or box of powdered sugar (about 4 3/4 cups)
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla, lemon, or almond extract

Put everything in a large, absolutely grease-free mixing bowl.  Beat on high speed using an electric mixer until very stiff, about 7-10 minutes.  Use right away and keep the bowl covered at all times with a damp kitchen towel, to avoid drying it out.  Makes about 3 cups.  To color it, divide into smaller bowls and stir gel or paste food color into it.  For the cookies below, I divided into three bowls; one remained white, one was tinted pink, the last colored red.

Thin frosting
Put the amount of frosting you think you need, already colored, in a bowl.  Add water a little bit at a time, stirring until smooth.  The right consistency is when a little bit of frosting drizzled from a spoon takes from 5-10 seconds to disappear back into the rest.

Spread a thin layer of frosting on each cookie.  If adding sprinkles or edible glitter, add it while the frosting is wet so they'll stick.  Let the cookies sit until a crust starts to form over the frosting, then decorate using the thick frosting in a pastry bag.    

If you're new to frosting, tips, and pastry bags, Wilton has a great getting-started page
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Start with white as the base, let dry. Next use pink with a basketweave tip like #47. Finish off with tip #3 grids and squiggle border.
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Just like the previous one except simpler: white base, let dry, add tip #3 grids in pink, then a tip #3 red squiggle border.
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Or how about that same white background, but using only red and tip #3?
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White base, sprinkle with edible glitter, dry. Add tip #3 dots in white, then a red squiggle border also using tip #3.
 
 
It's that time of year again!  

I started homeschooling one of my children just a couple weeks ago (taking a bite of the elephant at one time- this is also the reason I haven't been posting as often), so I'm looking forward to making some adorable things with her for Valentines' Day-  and not having the normal glut of candy (hurray!)  

My mom wasn't much for celebrating many things- but we always woke up Valentine morning to find a giant (to us kids) cookie with a pretty border and our name written in flourishes of pink frosting.  

Below are some of the ideas I love for this year, some are mine and some are from other sites.  There's also this post for more ideas, including how to make heart-shaped muffins with a regular muffin tin, some liners, and several marbles.
 
 
A few years ago, I opened up the Foods section of my local newspaper and spotted a recipe called "Just-the-Best Cookies".  The version there was intended to be a healthier one, having reduced the nuts, coconut, and switching to oil instead of butter.  Well, I've reduced the sugar and changed it to use honey, then added back the bigger amount of coconut and nuts, since we know now that healthy fats are, well, healthy!  In moderation. And I love the crunch and flavor of coconut and nuts.

We have two breakfast times at my house- one for my highschoolers and husband, who have to be out the door by 6:45, and one for the rest of us, because some of them leave at 8:00 for the elementary school and Jr-High.  These cookies make a fantastic, no-work breakfast for that earlier group- I make a batch, put them in a big ziplock bag after cooling, and pop them into the freezer. Then my early group can even grab and go, when needed.

These cookies are high in fiber as well, and lower in sugar than most.  Two cookies are about the same nutritionally as one homemade, normal-sized muffin, and much better for you than commercially-made muffins!  Two made without raisins contain 16 grams of sugar, which is less than you'd get in a bowl of cereal with milk. Especially if you count the size bowl my teenagers think is a serving.  (I keep hiding the bigger bowls...)

Enjoy!

Just-the-Best Breakfast Cookies
1/2 c. coconut oil or butter
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. water
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. quick-cooking oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 c. chopped pecans or other nuts, optional
1/2 c. chopped raisins, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease or spray two cookie sheets.  In a large bowl, beat together coconut oil and honey, then mix in egg, vanilla, and water.  Add the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt and mix well.  Stir in coconut, nuts, and raisins.
Roll into 1 1/2" balls, a little larger than a ping-pong ball.  Place on cookie sheet, flatten slightly, and bake for about 12 minutes.  Let the cookies cool 2 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to a cooling rack. Makes about 36.

To make breakfast bars instead, spread all the dough onto one well-greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 for probably 25 minutes.  I don't know for sure because the idea popped into my head just now...    Cool and cut into whatever size bars you like.