I hate sugar cookies

Okay, maybe hate is a strong word.  But sugar cookies and I? We have beef.

When I first started playing around with cookie cutters and new recipes, I was excited to dabble in this venture; however, I am slowly learning that sugar cookies and I are currently intertwined in quite the love/hate relationship.  Or, maybe I am just grumpy from this week’s baking escapades.  Or, maybe I’m just grumpy in general? It could really be either option. 

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On a random side note: I swear, I will go bankrupt from buying butter – but I digress!

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Tomorrow, my manager and I have our Annual Volunteer Appreciation Brunch; although the event is catered, staff have the chance to bake dessert to help show our appreciation for all of the work our volunteers do.  Naturally, I was walking into this week excited to bake my brains out!  This year’s theme for Volunteer Appreciation Month is Volunteers Make the World a Brighter Place, and a reoccurring symbol within our brunch is a butterfly.  My plan was set: I was determined to make butterfly shaped cookies.  Unfortunately, this feat did not go as well as I had hoped.

All week, I had three trays of cookie dough chilling in our fridge.  The first tray was great, chilled to perfection and ready for cutting.  The second tray did not mix well at all.  Sometimes when I double my batch of sugar cookies, the dough at the very bottom of my mixer fails to blend completely, leaving behind a wet and sticky dough.  This tray did not work out.  The third dough had chilled well; however, our refrigerator had dripped water onto the pan, which seeped through the parchment paper spoiling the dough.  Luckily, I was able to salvage the first tray and I began to brainstorm other dessert options.

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I quickly whipped together a chocolate chip cookie cake, and as long as I am able to successfully transport it, it should be brunch ready!  Although this week’s baking adventures did not go as well as I had anticipated, I am still happy about the cookies I was able to salvage and I hope our volunteers enjoy them as well!

Easter Sunday Kitchen Custody

What do you get when you mix three Italians, preparing three different meals and one kitchen?

World War III 

Okay, maybe it’s not that drastic, but it isn’t pretty!

This weekend, we had a Saturday and Sunday full of familia festivities.  Despite my mom purchasing desserts of her own, I was determined to contribute to our Easter Sunday gathering.  I cannot cook to save my life. I can barely microwave a steam-able bag of vegetables without burning them; therefore, baking is my go-to.  Baking for others is important to me, and I was excited to share this with my family.  However, trying to reserve time in the kitchen while my mom and grandma were preparing their Easter dishes proved challenging.

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On Saturday, my brother and sister-in-law visited with Peanut. Although I wasn’t baking for their visit, trying to bake while Peanut napped proved to be an interesting feat.  My lemon bars were easy enough to prepare, but the real challenge was my caramel stuffed cookie bars.  When it comes to our oven, baking can be a little tricky.  If I try to bake cookies at 350 degrees, within six minutes the bottoms burn and the middle is left raw.  Anytime I bake, I have to reduce the heat and cook it for longer.  Heading into this recipe, I knew a thirty minute cookie bar wasn’t going to be a thirty minute cookie bar.  My reserved time slot in the kitchen was ending, and I felt bad that I was missing out on Peanut time.  Hoping for the best, I removed the caramel bars from the oven.

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Unfortunately, as good as the caramel bars looked, upon cutting them, the entire top-half came pouring out.  Frustrated is only one of the emotions I was feeling, but I wasn’t going to give up, especially with Easter just a day away.  There was only one problem: I was completely out of caramel (and there was no way I was running out to the grocery store the day before Easter)!

Early Sunday afternoon, I made sure to reserve my spot in the kitchen.  My mom and I came to an agreement: if I was going to bake another dessert for Easter, I needed to be out of the kitchen by 2pm.  Walking into this challenge, I figured I would make a chocolate chip cookie cake: it was quick, simple and I had all of the ingredients.  But then, I had an idea! Maybe I couldn’t stuff my cookie bars with caramel, but I could stuff it with cheesecake!

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I had never made cheesecake cookie bars before, and with time against me, I did not want to make the same mistakes as the caramel bars.  As the clock continued to tick, my anxiety grew as I removed the cookie bars from the oven and found the middle still jiggly.  The only thing I could hope for was that it would settle after chilling.

A few hours of chilling and a very messy cutting session later, the cheesecake cookie bars were ready to serve (and they were edible)!  All of the stress was completely worth it.  I have never had the chance to contribute to any holiday meals; being able to be apart of our Easter preparations, even if it was just for dessert, truly meant a lot to me.  Perhaps I’m one step closer to hosting a holiday of my own.  Almost. Maybe? One day! 

Kiss me, I’m Sicilian.

This weekend, while many were heading out in shades of green and shamrocks, my grandmother was steaming her artichokes.  Happily established in her new apartment (that was built onto the second floor of our home), my grandmother, wrapped cozily in her purple bathrobe, bustled throughout her small kitchen and tended to her teal saucepan, with only a few intrusions of her sleeve.

When I describe my grandmother to others, they often believe I’m describing a character from a novel, performing said descriptions with an exaggerated New York accent.  She has certainly coined a few hilarious (yet wise) Nanny-isms.  Being the matriarch of a family is no easy task, and my grandmother is surely an Italian force to be reckoned with.  There are several qualities in her that I admire (and dare I admit, similarities between us as well):

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We’re both independent (and stubborn as hell):  One of the reasons my grandmother and I probably bump heads so much is that we’re cut from the same cloth.  Despite our differing styles and beliefs, we’re not afraid to be our own person.  Something I do admire in my grandmother is that she’s not afraid to go after what she wants.  While I tend to step back and accept what has been dealt to me, my grandmother isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and speak her mind.

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We’re both daydreamers:  As a fan of all things Turner Classic movies, my grandmother will describe several outings and adventures that she wishes we can take part in; however, these outings often sound like a scene from a movie.  As far-fetched as some of her ideas may seem, I recognize the same meanderings of the mind within myself.  My mind is constantly moving, constantly dreaming, most likely in an unrealistic fashion; still, I love our ability to dream and hope.

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She’s generous: The number one thing I admire the most about my grandmother is her willingness to always help her family.  Whether it was when we were young children or even now as adults, she never stops worrying and never stops caring (even if that means waiting up until 11pm for me to come home. Yes, at 27 years old, that is late for me!).

Seeing as this past Sunday was Saint Joseph’s Day, and we were celebrating with a lounge around the house, I knew I wanted to prepare something special for my grandma.  Another similarity between my grandmother and I is our need to feed people, to make others happy through our cooking/baking and to bring others together through our meals.  While she was gifted with the culinary talent, I stuck to my baking roots (because I can’t even cook vegetables in the microwave without burning them) and prepared her favorite dessert: Zeppole di San Guiseppe.

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Unable to fry zeppoles in my kitchen, I was unsure of how well these pastries would bake.  The recipe itself was simple enough to follow, but every step was met with bated breath.  As I removed the pastries from the oven (on my second attempt), I was relieved to see a light and fluffy puff before me.  The dough had baked with a slightly eggy consistency, but I felt more confident after hollowing out the pastry.

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The next step would be executing the cannoli cream; every Italian understands the importance of a perfect cannoli cream, so the pressure was on!  Although I forgot to strain the ricotta cheese, I was pleased with the way the cannoli cream turned out.  It was smooth and rich, and the cinnamon gave it a nice (but subtle) kick.

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After a quick assembly and a dash of powdered sugar, these pastries were good to go!  My grandmother has done so much for me over the years, more than I can ever hope to repay her for; if one small thing I could do was bake her favorite dessert on Saint Joseph’s Day, then I was happy to oblige.