Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TMNT Sugar Cookies

When you hear someone mention Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo, you immediately think of the artists from the Renaissance.  For kids, however, you are referring to the teenage mutant ninja turtle comic book characters that some of us grew up with.  These green turtles with their colorful eye bandanas, can be turned into sugar cookies, and get handed out for a TMNT-themed birthday party.  Kids of all ages are going to want them.


What I like about this type of cookie is that you don't need to have a specific TMNT cookie cutter or a myriad of designs to create a set.  They can all be iced and finished with one face, and a handful of colors of royal icing.  Whether you cut out round or square sugar cookies, the faces can be outlined freehand in black royal icing.  If you're unsure about doing this freehand, you can always use a food coloring marker to trace out the design before icing.  All that is left to do is to fill in the blanks.


This one cookie shows you the basic design.  I begin by piping the outline of the entire face in black royal icing using a #2 piping tip.  Next, the bandana and eyes get piped, along with the nose bridge and the mouth.  I then pipe black pupils either looking sideways or right at you.  


Fill in the bandana area with either sky blue, purple, orange or red royal icing.  It's then a matter of filling in the whites of the eyes and a red tongue.


As you very well know by now, I like to work with multiple cookies at a time on my cake decorating turntable, and have the royal icings within easy reach.   Since there are four Ninja Turtles, try to make an even number of each character.


The last part of this cookie is to fill in the face with a bright green royal icing.


Do you see how simple this is?  Once the cookies have been iced, I then transfer them to flat baking sheets and stack them in one area so that they dry evenly.

Here's a good tip if you're finding the icings taking longer than expected to dry (humidity in the kitchen is always a problem):  preheat your oven to a very low 175F and then turn it off once it has come to that temperature.  Put the iced cookies, on their baking sheets (stacked crisscrossed), in the oven (make sure that you have turned the oven OFF) and let them sit in there until the oven has cooled down.  That low heat will speed up the drying process.  I leave them like that overnight.

TMNT Sugar Cookie




Once the cookies have dried completely, it is then up to you how you want to hand these out.  You may want to just put them on cake stands or trays for your kid's birthday party, or you may want to put them in cellophane or glassine bags for party favors.  No one will be able to resist a TMNT sugar cookie.  Have fun making them! 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Amaranth Hot Cereal

Considered a power food because of its fiber-rich, high-protein content, Amaranth is a grain that we should consider adding to our diets.  The leafy variety, that I wrote about last year, is highly delicious and very good for you, but it is the grain which makes a tasty, hot cereal for breakfast or for brunch.  We just started making it here at home and I am glad it has now become a part of our menu rotation.


These small seeds, or 'grains', originated in Mesoamerica and were used for festivities and ceremonies throughout the area before the Spanish conquest. Nowadays only a small amount of the global amaranth supply is grown in this region, with India and Nepal cultivating the bulk of what we purchase in the health food aisle.


As I said, cooked amaranth seeds are a good source of fiber, protein, manganese, magnesium and iron.  In addition to this, it is naturally gluten-free, but aside from these healthy benefits, one of the things that appeals to me about cooked amaranth is that it has a natural sweetness to it.  There are times when I feel it doesn't even need any added sweetener, but you can, of course, sweeten this hot cereal with a delicious honey, some pure maple syrup or even agave nectar.  It's entirely up to you.


This is what I do at home.  Everything can be customized to taste at the table once you divvy up the cereal to your family.


Amaranth Cooking Ratios (1 part grain - 3 parts water)

  • 1/2 cup amaranth 
  • 1-1/2 cups water (you can substitute some of the water with milk of your choice, such as almond, soy or rice milk)
Yield: 2 servings
Note: this can be scaled up to serve any amount.
  1. In a heavy bottom saucepan with high sides,  add the amaranth and the liquid and bring to a low boil.  Lower the heat and simmer the amaranth for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to prevent sticking or burning.
  2. Serve hot.

Serving Suggestions:
  • Milk (to thin out)
  • Dried Fruit (raisins, apricots, cranberries, etc.)
  • Fresh Fruit (chopped mangoes, strawberries, blueberries, sliced bananas, clementine wedges, pomegranate seeds, etc.)
  • Spice (sprinkle some ground cinnamon or ground ginger)
  • Cocoa Powder (to taste)
  • Nuts (chopped walnuts or chopped pecans are delicious)
  • Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or some ground flaxseeds can bump up flavor and nutrients)
  • Sweeteners (use pure maple syrup, agave nectar, brown sugar, sugar in the raw, stevia or the best honey available)



You can feel confident in providing a nutritious breakfast to your family if you make some amaranth hot cereal.  There is nothing easier than cooking a pot of it for a weekday breakfast or for a weekend brunch.  I hope you try some soon and discover this healthy, yet tasty grain.  Cheers!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Barnyard Chicken Cookies

As much as I would like to have chickens of my own, I have yet to explore such an undertaking.  In the meantime I can decorate sugar cookies in the shape of these barnyard animals with one cookie cutter, a good sugar cookie recipe and a handful of colors of royal icing.


Do you remember those cookies I made from 'The Little Red Hen' a while back which were a big hit with some local kids?  These caught the attention of someone I know who wanted a set of chicken cookies in more traditional colors.   


A mix of brown and white chickens were enhanced with nothing more than red combs and yellow beaks.  Aren't they cute?


Using the same cookie cutter (above) I used for the Little Red Hen Cookies, I cut out and altered the original shape to make it more suitable for this particular request.  The arrows in this photo show you how I adjusted the cut outs.  Some back feathers, the extended legs and the wattle were cut out after the cookies were placed on baking sheets.  The shapes were then baked and cooled before icing.  

Note:  some cookies were flipped over to have them facing the other direction.  This made the set of cookies a bit more interesting.


The bodies of the chickens are outlined and flooded with either white or brown royal icing; the combs and beaks are also outlined and flooded with their corresponding colors.  A small black dot is added for an eye to the wet base.  Let the cookies dry completely before enhancing them.  

A bead of icing is then piped around the body in the same color, and small wings are added.  Simple.  Easy!




This gorgeous rooster made of caramel glass, also known as slag glass, is from my collection of Martha by Mail, L.E. Smith Glass.  I love its rich caramel color, its detailed body and how well it complements my kitchen.  If you look closely, you can see variations in color.  


Make some chicken sugar cookies for someone who loves chickens and/or raises chickens.  Line the feathered sweets on a platter or stack them high on a cake stand.  If you wish, you can pipe feathers with stiff royal icing to make them even more unique or you can use various colors to render a very interesting flock.  Don't forget to keep one or two for yourself! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mahjong Sugar Cookies

If you play mahjong with a group of friends or know people who do, you may want to entice them with some sugar cookies decorated to look like the game tiles.  A neighbor and dear friend of mine asked me to make several of these cookies for her mother's surprise birthday party a short time ago, and I have to admit that they were perhaps the most challenging set of cookies I have ever made.  I was a bit nervous about the whole project.


Knowing nothing about the popular Chinese tile game, I scoured online for images of these game pieces, but it wasn't until I was given specific tiles to recreate that I realized I had my work cut out for me.  Rather than making diminutive cookies like the game pieces themselves, I decided to enlarge the images onto 4-inch rectangular cookies.

I hope you're not too disappointed in the fact that I didn't take photographs of my creative process like I normally do.  This project required a bit more concentration and quite frankly, I didn't want to mess them up!  


This is but a small sampling of some of the mahjong tile cookies.  Using only four colors (black, green, red and white)  I followed the examples of each tile given to me, down to the detailed strokes of Chinese calligraphy.  Mahjong tiles are categorized by either of a rank or of a suit.  I was told to create certain renditions from the bamboo suit, the circle suit and the character suit, as well as a few dragons.

Note:  in order to get the right shades of red and green, I added a little drop of black food coloring to each batch in order to darken the tone.  I'm very pleased with the way these colors came out.

Also, it is important to work with one cookie at a time. Everything you see here was piped using the wet-on-wet method. In other words, the bases were flooded in white royal icing, and the images, characters and numbers were piped with the corresponding colors while the base icing was still wet.


The Dragon mahjong tile was perhaps my favorite from the dozens of cookies I made.  What I did was outline and flood the rectangular cookie in white royal icing, and then pipe a rough outline of the dragon with red royal icing while the base was still wet.  With an icing decorating pick, I moved the icing around to create the claws and flames.  

I love the bamboo suit cookies.


With a bit of patience and a very steady hand, piping mahjong tile cookies doesn't have to be a daunting task.  As I said, it's best to work with one cookie at a time.  You don't want to waste one moment piping the images, characters and numbers.  You can, of course, use food-coloring writing pens to trace certain images, but in order to get the white shapes in the circle suits, you have to use royal icing.  If you do decide to make some mahjong sugar cookies for your next gathering or for someone's birthday party, package them up in clear cellophane bags and tie them shut with bright ribbons like I did.  Each one can be given out as a party favor.