Lemon Square Cookies

Lent is approaching all too quickly. Time to think of a few sweets to soften the blow before the ‘give-ups’ begin! We don’t overdo our Fat Tuesday but a batch of fresh cookies made on the preceding Sunday to last through Tuesday always seems the best way to go for us.

Lemon Square Cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into small squares
2 teaspoons finely-grated fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix together the dry ingredients, place into a mixing bowl. Add half of the pieces of butter, the lemon zest and mix to form buttery crumbs. Add the second half of the butter and mix until no flour is visible. Add the extracts and lemon juice until the dough just holds together.

Lightly knead the dough and then divide into two portions. Place each on a square of waxed paper and form into about 1 1/2-inch square logs about four to five inches long. Wrap the waxed paper around the logs and refrigerate 3-4 hours or overnight. Remove the dough rolls about 30 minutes before baking to soften a bit.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, carefully slice 1/4th thick slices from the logs and place about an inch or so apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies for approximately 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. They should be firm to the touch and golden brown around the edges. Remove them to a rack to cool before icing.

Lemon Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
Enough fresh lemon juice to form a medium-thick icing.

I’ve never heard anyone say no to some colorful sprinkles scattered over the cookies before the icing dries.

*A thought . . . If you have some walnuts or pecans on hand, you can toast a cup of them then finely grind them. After you form the log squares, you can roll and press the nuts all around the logs before you refrigerate them. That way, you get an extra bit of crunch and the flavor of the nuts goes well with lemon.

 

 

Christmas Baking Completed!

My daughter and I finished off making the last of the Christmas cookies yesterday. We have been watching way too many baking shows so attempted, with a bit of success, to make some better than average versions of the experts’ cookies. We put on Christmas music and spent four hours noting that the first six or seven cookies we decorated were not all that great while one could see our expertise grow with the middle group. The last twenty or so ended up much simpler as we got tired of all the sticky frosting joy. Anyway, this batch along with the 15 other kinds I baked during the week will easily fill up our cookies gift plates for our friends.

HOWEVER, when I say I’m done, I’m talking about the ‘normal’ cookies. My younger son in adamantly vegan so I still have five cookie recipes to bake for his Christmas treats. I asked him once if his three roommates were vegan, too, and he said, “Only when I’m doing the cooking!” I guess that will be the same situation if they want one of his Christmas cookies!

Christmas?

My kitchen is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas but it was only a preliminary baking session for an event at my husband’s office. When I’m only doing small batches, I often try some new recipes. This morning, I tried a new one that might be a keeper for the future. They are called Gooey Butter Cookies but are not all that gooey but smelled really good. Very easy and adaptable recipe. The version I tried today:

Gooey Butter Cookies

1/2 cup softened butter
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling the cookies in before baking)

Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, zest and spices. Mix in the cake mix and refrigerate the dough until cold. It will still be sticky but somewhat easier to work with!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It’s a good idea to use parchment paper on your baking sheets.

If you have a cookie scoop, it would be handy but basically roll balls of dough into 1-1 1/2-inch. Roll in the powdered sugar. Place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on the cookies after around ten to determine how hot your often might run. Cookies should still be somewhat pale with golden edges. Let rest on the baking sheets a few minutes before putting them on the cooling racks.

After I finished these cookies, I realized it could end up being a real timesaver when I’m suddenly informed that someone in the family needs cookies for work! Also, what’s to stop the cookie creation at a yellow cake mix? I’m thinking chocolate, carrot, lemon . . . Adding some chopped nuts or chocolate chips might be an interesting addition . . . By the way, the gooey ones are the light ones in the middle of the picture with the patches of powdered sugar.

Gluten-Free/Lactose-Free Crackers

Besides being gluten-intolerant, my husband is sensitive to lactose, too. He can have cheese and butter but needs to take pills to totally enjoy them. He also likes to have some snacks on hand when he braves the Los Angeles traffic coming home as his hunger pangs tell him that traffic is putting his evening meal way off schedule AGAIN!

Most cracker recipes have butter or wheat in them. It took me awhile to come up with something that would stay the onset of starvation on the long drive home but wouldn’t incite digestive problems. I finally came up with the following recipe which has protein, fiber, vitamins, no baking powder, and the right kinds of fat.

Homemade Crackers

3 1/2 cups of gluten-free flour blend (I like Pamela’s Gluten-Free Artisan Blend)
5 tablespoons nutritional yeast (My favorite is Bragg – in imparts a mild cheesy flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Hemp Hearts*
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 eggs
3 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee*
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (or 2 water/2 lemon juice)

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Combine the coconut oil (or ghee) with the juice and the eggs and mix well.

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and gently mix until a workable dough forms. The weather seems to play a huge part so, if necessary, add bits of water or juice along with teaspoons of ghee or coconut oil until the right consistency is reached.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To save time and mess, divide the dough into fourths. Roll out one fourth between two sheets of parchment paper until about an 1/8th inch thick. Using a small round cookie cutter, cut out the crackers and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet about a quarter of an inch apart. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes or until golden. Remove to a cooling rack, wait a few minutes, and try one!

Store in a tightly lidded container. I usually divide the cooled crackers into three or four containers: One for easy snacking and the other ones in the freezer to keep fresh.

*Ghee is merely the solids removed from butter. I make mine my putting two sticks of butter in a large, glass measuring cup and gently melting them in the microwave. Once the butter is completely melted, let set until it separates and then carefully pour off the clear part into a small container being careful to avoid getting any of the cloudy residue into it.

*Hemp Hearts are at Costco and they have the best price I have found. They have a mild, nutty flavor.

Bargain Baking . . . Sort Of!

In the pursuit for savings, we all know the less we frequent the grocery stores, the more we save! However, we often need that certain cake, cornbread or muffin mix. Now, not only are these boxed conveniences expensive when you are counting pennies, the temptations you pass in the aisles can put some items in your shopping cart you didn’t even know you needed.

I have found that premixing packages of baking mixes saves time in the long run and last-minute trips to the store. The concept is simple, you mix up the necessary dry ingredients for your recipe, seal it in a bag along with a stapled on note card with what you will need to finish it. Start simply. Make up one supply, try doing it a week later and see how it works into your schedule. You increase your supplies as you begin to include them into your family’s requirements.

A good, nutritious breakfast or lunch bread is easy to have on hand.

QUICK FRUIT-NUT BREAD

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons salt (Can be reduced if you are watching salt intake)
4 teaspoons baking soda
4 cups rolled oats
4 cups raisins (or a mixture of your favorite dried fruit, coarsely chopped)
2 cups coarsely chopped nuts, your choice

Sift together the flour, salt and soda and divide into 4 strong plastic bags or air-tight containers. Add one cup of the oats, one cup of the fruit and ½ cup of the nuts to each container and shake well to mix. Store in refrigerator or freezer until needed.

Additional Ingredients required for baking one loaf:

½ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Beat the sugar and egg until fluffy. Stir the lemon juice into the milk and set aside to sour. Add the soured milk to the sugar and egg and beat until smooth. Add the contents of one bag of your baking mix to the milk-sugar mixture and stir gently to combine. Stir in the oil. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake in 350 degree preheated oven for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, slice and serve.

The best part of having a homemade baking mix on hand is your ability to whip up another loaf of bread immediately since your first one is sure to disappear within seconds of leaving the pan.

Many of the recipes we make from scratch can be broken down in the same manner as the above bread mix. The trick is combining the dry ingredients ahead of time and attaching a note of what you will need when you want to bake. Think about the cake mixes I know many of us use. We bring home a box of flour, baking powder, spices and flavoring at a cost of over a dollar. And when we come home, we have to add our eggs, water and oil. We can drop the fancy box and the brand name and start using the house brand—our own!

Frugality is a handsome income. (Erasmus: Colloquia 16th century)

Cheatin’ Cookies!

I don’t think there is a mother who has never been informed ten minutes before bedtime that their child just remembered they were supposed to bring cookies to school the next day. My favorite and a popular solution that’s been around for awhile follows! The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use any flavor cake mix you like or have in the house. You can add chocolate chips, nuts, coconut to the mixture and come up with some ‘homemade’ (hey! you DID make them at HOME!) cookies in a minimum of time and effort. Remember an extra drop of vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spices for a spice cake mix and such would work well.

Cheatin’ Cookies!

1 package (18.25 ounces) favorite cake mix
½ cup butter (1 stick) melted
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cookies sheets should be greased or sprayed with vegetable spray.

In a medium bowl, stir in all ingredients until well combined. Drop by tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets, about 3 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes until edges are brown. Let cool on cookie sheet a few minutes before transferring to racks to finish cooling.

Easy Cheesecake!

Although we always called this a holiday cheesecake, I think it appeared many times at dessert time on ordinary days of the week. Naturally, any time cheesecake showed up after dinner, could be declared a holiday!

EASY HOLIDAY CHEESECAKE

Crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup melted butter or margarine

Combine above ingredients and press into a spring-form pan. The crust should come more than halfway to the top of the pan. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pan requirement: seven to nine-inch spring form pan.*

Cheesecake Recipe
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups granulated sugar

Place softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. using an electric mixer, beat at medium speed until cream cheese is thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well combined. Add vanilla. While running the mixer gradually add sugar, beating well. Mixture should be thick and smooth. Carefully spoon mixture into crust. smoothing evenly.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 50 minutes. Top will brown and crack. Cool and refrigerate eight hours or overnight before serving.

You can strike a festive note by spooning a puree of strawberries over each serving and garnishing with a mint sprig. Crushed pineapple also compliments cheesecake. Prepare about an hour ahead, a cup and a half of crushed pineapple combined with the zest of a lemon. Spoon over individual slices just before serving.

*A spring form pan is pictured above. Walmart usually sells them, three to a set for a budget-friendly price considering how often you will be baking cheesecake now!