Colorado: Bake these amazing Cowboy Cookies

Our 50-state Christmas cookie challenge continues.  We’re into week 7 of our adventure.  I’ve baked c0okies representing Alaska, Illinois and Wisconsin.  I drew Colorado this week.img_9239

It’s tough to research the Christmas cookie profile of Colorado without landing on some marijuana-related gifts.   Fortunately, Colorado Cowboy Cookies are an oatmeal and chocolate chip based cookie that requires no mind-altering substances.  They are delicious all on their own.

I found this recipe on several sites, but I am linking it to the Epicurious recipe online.

I had my first experience toasting walnuts, and, I think that the crunchy walnut flavor greatly enhanced the cookie, but it might not be a flavor that everyone loves.  My toasted walnuts were two seconds from charred, so I would not let them toast quite as long next time.

I mixed up a batch and made a dozen for my son and his wife.  Then, I left some of the dough (enough for a dozen) at my parents’ house for them to bake later.  I visited my neighbors and baked a dozen for them.  I wrapped up my Cowboy cookie tour with a dozen at home.  If I had followed the recipe and made super-sized cookies, there would have been 20; however, I was able to make about four dozen “regular” sized cookies.

Everyone agreed these are delicious.  They would make great gifts as oversized cookies wrapped in a bandana or some similar cowboy theme–I’ll have to work on that idea.

YIELD

Makes about 20 cookiesimg_9240

INGREDIENTS

    • 2 cups all purpose flour
    • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
    • 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (about 4 ounces)

PREPARATION

    1. Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating to combine. Add dry ingredients and beat until just blended. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Cover dough and chill 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let soften slightly before continuing.)
    2. Arrange 2 racks in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Butter 2 baking sheets. Form dough into balls, using 1/4 cup dough for each. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Flatten with hand to 3 1/2-inch rounds. Bake 10 minutes, then rotate sheets. Bake until cookies are golden brown around edges and firm in center, about 4 minutes longer. Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool completely. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Wisconsin (take two): Famous Wisconsin State Fair Cranberry Cookies

Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

My husband Roger benefits from the state cookie project, so he didn’t put up a big fuss when I decided to give Wisconsin a second chance.  If you read my post last week, my Apple-Cheddar cookies were not a big hit.  These cranberry cookies, though, are going to be made and gifted many times over.

I invited my neighbors in to chat after work, and we stood around the oven eating them hot off the trays.  #norestraint.

In case you are landing here for the first time, my Yule Log partner in all things Christmas, Jeremy, and I decided we work best under extreme pressure.  We set up a challenge to bake a cookie representing each of the 50 states–one state each week–until Christmas 2017.  Each of us draws a state and then searches cook books, the internet and advice from friends, to bake a representative cookie.

When I found this recipe, I also learned my geography lesson of the day:  Wisconsin grows over half of the world’s cranberries, and it’s the largest fruit crop in the state.  I admit.  I thought cranberries had to be raised near the ocean, in flooded fields–I guess that’s the Massachusetts Ocean Spray influence.

I found this recipe in the archives of the  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s cooking pages, “Fresh.”  The same recipe is on the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association recipe pages.  There are many, many more cranberry recipes, so I may branch out in the future.

I tweaked a couple of ingredients.  (See the recipe below.) Also, these were very good–2 1/2 dozen is not enough–I will double the recipe next time.

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

  • 2/3 cup butter Softenedimg_9105
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1-1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1-1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 (6 oz) package sweetened-dried cranberries (The bag I purchased was an 8-oz bag, and I used the whole bag.)
  • 2/3 cup white chocolate chunks or chips (I admit to using  1 cup of white chocolate chips–and next time I may explore the taste of chocolate chunks.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using an electric mixer, beat butter or margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs; mix well.

Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in sweetened-dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 2 -1/2 dozen cookies.

Wisconsin: Cheddar-Apple cookies incorporate Wisconsin cheddar

applecheddarIn our quest to find the perfect cookie for each state, I have chosen three possibilities for Wisconsin.  Jeremy and I are trying to bake one cookie representing each state throughout 2017. Every two weeks, we each draw a new state from a jar. My selection this cycle is Wisconsin.  I love cheese, so it was a no-brainer to check out recipes on the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board website.

The upside of Cheddar-Apple cookies is the batter–I began by tasting the Wisconsin cheddar cheese as I shredded it.  Then, I tasted a little brown sugar and the creamed sugar/cheese/butter blend.  (I was surprised how good that tasted.)

Cream the brown sugar, butter and cheddar cheese.

Cream the brown sugar, butter and cheddar cheese.

The batter was marvelous, and I admit to licking my fingers throughout the cookie-baking process.  The baked cookies, however, are not my favorite.  I tend toward more sweet, and these are a little less sweet.  I didn’t hesitate to eat two or three (on top of my tummy ache from all the raw dough), but I wouldn’t sneak these in the middle of the night.  I think it’s more a matter of personal taste.

The cookies were light brown and the perfect size.  If I adjusted the recipe and made these again, I might add a little cinnamon and sweetened applesauce.  (We had only unsweetened in the cupboard.)

Cheddar-Apple Cookies

Servings:  3 dozen (Our recipe made a few more.)

INGREDIENTS

1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, unsalted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (2 ounces) Wisconsin cheddar cheese, shredded
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup prepared applesauce
3 cups rolled oats
COOKING INSTRUCTIONS
Heat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and cheese. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture. Add the oatmeal and applesauce, stirring well. Drop small spoonfuls of batter onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

I’m moving on to two other Wisconsin recipes before I leave the state.  I’ll keep you posted.

Alaska: Earl Grey Cookies (two delicious versions)

earlgreycookiestackIn The Yule Log 365’s year-long quest to make one popular cookie from each of the 50 states, I drew ALASKA from the jar of the 50 possibilities.  Hallelujah!  I was excited to make Earl Grey Tea Cookies, first suggested by my dear friend, Lauren Vint.  I found a recipe on “Alaska from Scratch,” and the same recipe was published on Alaska Dispatch News.  I served the cookies with tea to my mother, my dad, and my sister.  The vote was three thumbs up.

One stumbling block was the scraped vanilla bean.  I admit that I thought a vanilla bean was like a coffee bean, and I would need to use a grater, like a coffee grinder.  After research and a YouTube video, I figured out that a coffee bean is an elongated, thin pod that must be cut and scraped. The flavor beats vanilla extract. Mel’s Kitchen Cafe posted a YouTube video with simple instructions for scraping the pod. Amazing!  (Obviously, my experience level is basic.)vanillabean

We rolled the cookies in tablespoon-sized balls dipped in Turbinado sugar.  The resulting butter cookie with a light tea flavor was amazing.  We used the same dough, refrigerated and rolled with flour to 1/4 inch think, for a lemon frosted cookie.  Both had delicious flavor, and the taste of each was distinct.  I tested them on Jeremy, Roger, Lauren, and a few random students–all agreed that eating just one or two is impossible.

We are sure to add them to our Christmas cookie plan next year.lemonfrosted

The 50-state Christmas Cookie Challenge: Chicago Public Schools Butter Cookie Recipe

butter-cookie-finalAfter five years of Merry Christmas partnership, Jeremy and I decided we needed something to inspire us to revitalize The Yule Log 365.  Jeremy saw a list of 50 Christmas cookies unique to the 50 states and sent it to me through Facebook. It was an interesting list, and it gave us the idea that we should launch a challenge for ourselves–50 weeks of cookies, state by state.

Here’s our plan.  Every two weeks, Jeremy and I will draw two states from a reindeer-decorated jar.  Each of us will research and bake a Christmas cookie, connected to that state, in the 14-day window.  Then, individually, we will post our results and the recipes, offering a review of the cookies and their potential for being added to your favorites for Christmas 2017.

I pulled Illinois.  To be honest, I was thinking of a state a little more exotic–Alaska, Hawaii, Alabama.  A search of Illinois cookies revealed multiple hits for “Chicago Public Schools Butter Cookie Recipe.”  That intrigued me because I am a public school teacher, and I love the cookies our cafeteria employees bake.  Many people referenced the nostalgia of the smell and taste of these cookies.  I found a video on YouTube that illustrates the very simple steps.

To celebrate Illinois and my cookie choice, I invited my dear friend Lauren Vint to bake our recipe.  The ingredients are simple–deceptively simple for a Christmas cookie.

Chicago Public Schools Butter Cookie ingredients.

Chicago Public Schools Butter Cookie ingredients.

We used the KitchenAid mixer, which is an excellent mixer, but I don’t know if we got “cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy” to the degree that it should have been creamed. I remember my grandmother describing the creaming process as key to success, and often she used her hands to incorporate and melt the sugar and butter. I think the batter was a little sticky, and pressing the cookies down with a glass dipped in sugar was challenging.

The baking time was exact, and the cookies were a beautiful golden brown around the edges.  Plain, but pretty.  The taste was satisfying, but not spectacular.  These are good butter cookies, but I wonder if I should have used salted butter, rather than  unsalted.  The taste was a not quite as rich as I had expected, and the aftertaste was not memorable.

I think the cookie would be more excellent if it was frosted–more like a sugar cookie.  Maybe I just like more sweet than the simple cookie delivers. Maybe I need to be the student product of Chicago Public Schools?  I am saving some butter cookies for Jeremy to taste and pronounce his judgement.

I’m looking forward to 49 more weeks of cookie adventure.  Does anyone have any experience with this recipe?  Tell us what you think.

Christmas trees and fire safety

mc-btbonfire-1-013114-nn-tifA North Jersey site published a story today about an annual Boonton Township celebration involving a bonfire of burning Christmas trees, complete with a chili cook-off.  That’s a great way to safely enjoy a tree on fire, under the supervision of the local fire department.  Unfortunately, Christmas trees can be the fuel of much greater disaster.

Closer to home, we read about the recent devastating fire that destroyed a beautiful Annapolis mansion, and, more important, the lives of a loving family, was made more sad when fire investigators determined that the catastrophic blaze was caused by an electrical problem that ignited the 15-ft. Christmas tree skirt and tree.

The key is hydration.  A dry Christmas tree can ignite and burn much more quickly than a well-watered tree.  When a tree begins to lose its needles, that’s when it’s time to take it down.  The National Fire Protection Association demonstrated the very real danger with a video contrasting a fire started with a dry tree vs. one that is hydrated.

PBS News Hour produced a segment about Christmas tree fires that explores a much more scientific explanation about why a tree fire can happen so quickly and be so dangerous.  The video illustrates that tree can ignite and spread in 18 seconds.  Although only a tiny percentage of trees (about 250 of the 30 million sold anually) are involved in fires each year, the cost of the property damage is in the millions of dollars.

All of the safety tips emphasize that trees do not spontaneously combust.  There must be a heat source.  In addition to keeping the tree watered, it should not be set up near a heat source–like a fireplace or heating vent.

When Roger and I light our Christmas tree on fire in the fire pit sometime this summer, the same enthusiasm that I have for the 20-foot blaze will be tempered with my memory of how this same uncontrolled fire can wreck lives.

No snow? Make your own!

2014-12-10 16.59.31This story begins nearly a year ago when Roger proposed to paint our living room a deep red–the kind that some might associate with brothels or blood.  At first, I was firmly against it, but then, I began to think that a red and white theme could be a tremendous advantage in my Christmasy world.  I agreed, maybe a little too enthusiastically, because he tried to change the plan.

The painter didn’t help because he shook his head when he saw the color.  “I don’t like to paint with red,” he said.  “It’s very difficult.”

2014-12-02 22.27.50

The four-sided snowflake to the far right was contributed by my son, C.J. True to his nature, he said snowflakes did NOT have to conform to the hexagonal shape.

Now, with a long stretch of red wall above a white wainscot, I have a perfect empty palette.  Too empty.  Roger doesn’t want to mess the wall up with pictures.  I had to wait until he went on his annual hunting trip to put my secret plan into effect.  I had seen some popsicle stick snowflakes on Pinterest and envisioned a wall of giant falling snow for the entire winter season.  With red and white tree and house decorations, I would have “House Beautiful.”  Photographers line up at the door.

Popsicle stick snowflakes, purportedly easy enough for a child to make, are little devils.  They are a little more delicate than I expected, and I found myself making some routine repairs throughout. The symmetry was difficult, too.  Cutting and matching them was just a little more exactness than I usually have.  (I could have benefitted from a pencil and a sharp knife to measure and cut more carefully–I am sloppy in that area.)   I spray painted the first two but that was messy.  The last five or six were painted with craft paint and a brush.  Much better. My friend Lauren suggested that I add whimsical large and medium white buttons as the center and linking joints of some.

I wish I had read Amy Bellgardt’s blog before I started.  Her tutorial is excellent, and she had some of the same experiences with cutting the little buggers that I did.  I love that she wrote, “And the whole angle thing was irritating me and turning a project with elementary school level crafting materials into a college level course in bad attitude.” Her step by step directions would have saved me a lot of cussing and experimenting.

If you are thinking about trying these, hanging red, blue or green snowflakes against a white wall would work just as well.  Choose the color to match your house decorations.  Even when Christmas is over, the snowflakes can “hang around” through January and February.