Easy Sugar Cookies

sugar cookies decorated with colored sugar on a pink plate

Today’s Musings:
A short piece I’m working on for the book – not fully baked yet.

Fishing: Your first kiss caresses my lips gently, yet its current surges through my blood and sinew.  Can I convey all that is wrapped within this one pure and simple gesture?  There’s the “jigging” before the kiss – playful glances, and easy banter about nothing, our attention too focused on the inevitable for meaningful words. Toying touches. A brush of your fingers across my knee. The slightest tickle as my arm grazes yours.  We linger and take our time. Yet, throughout this game, you tug gently, attempting to draw me towards you with your invisible line.  I fight the urge to move.  “Please,” something instinctive and primal cries from within me, “I cannot wait any longer.” I strain against the lure; I cannot look into your eyes.  At last, the slightest stirring animates your being and, with an almost indiscernible shifting toward me, your lips capture mine and I succumb. We’re drawn together; I am caught.  Don’t ask me for permission – I cannot speak now – can’t you see my answer is “yes?”  Kiss me and let me drown in the current of your soft lips on mine.  With your tongue, wrench me from the center of my being.  I am dizzy; I am floating.  A torrent surges through my veins and churns hot between my thighs.  I am languid within your arms. Breathe your warmth into me. Where do I end and where do you begin? I don’t know, I don’t care – just let this kiss wash over me forever.    

Today’s Recipe:
These simple cookies caused a bit of controversy with my taste testers.  I baked three batches using either white sugar, powdered sugar, or light brown sugar.  The powdered and brown sugar versions had an equal number of fans with a 50/50 split (sorry white sugar).  If you are craving a classic shortbread sugar cookie with a crispy snap, the powdered sugar cookies will fit the bill. The brown sugar (see variation) in the other version gives the cookies a buttery, toffee-like flavor and crunchy texture. Since each recipe only makes a dozen cookies, you can bake both and conduct your own taste test.

Easy Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 12 cookies
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When you’ve just gotta have cookies, these buttery sugar cookies can’t be beat and come together in a snap. It’s so simple to whip up a batch of these crispy, shortbread-like babies with ingredients you probably already have on hand. Add whatever optional flavoring strikes your fancy.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • Flavoring such as ¼ teaspoon vanilla or ½ teaspoon lemon or lime zest (optional)
  • ¼ cup sugar for coating (white sugar, turbinado sugar, or colored sugar)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat sheet. Beat together salted butter and powdered sugar until fluffy. Beat in flour in two additions until dough comes together (don’t overmix or cookies will be tough). Beat in flavoring, if using.
  2. Divide dough into 12 equal parts. Form into balls, roll in your preferred coating sugar, and place on baking sheet. Press cookies flat with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup.
  3. Bake for 10-12 minutes until edges are golden.

VARIATION: Replace powdered sugar with ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar and increase flour to 1 cup.

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Chicken Bahn Mi Sandwiches

Two Chicken Bahn Mi Sandwiches with a dish of pickled carrots

Today’s Musings:
Written Eons Ago

The buds of pink jasmine have emerged, proclaiming spring’s arrival. This explosion of blushing trumpets amassed along twining jade filigree never fails to elicit a smile. “Spring has truly sprung,” they croon.  I spy clusters of tissue-pink blooms from my kitchen window, recalling their sweet perfume when I bury my nose within the ephemeral blossoms.  Barefoot, I step gingerly along the overgrown path, gathering clusters as a gift to cheer up the winter-weary house. Back inside those four walls, blooms in hand, the heady, cloying scent is too much. Funereal. A stifled sob escapes from somewhere low and dark inside me. The sunlight through the kitchen window is too dazzling.  The house is melancholy.  We are all in mourning here.

Today’s Recipe:

Chicken Bahn Mi

  • Servings: 4 Sandwiches
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These sandwiches are all about the mouthwateringly-flavorful sauce. Don’t forget to drizzle more over the sandwiches before tucking in. Choose a baguette with a softer crust so you don’t tear up your mouth when you take a big bite.


Ingredients

    Pickled Carrots
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • Lime-Cilantro Sauce
  • ½ cup mint leaves, loosely packed
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed, plus more for sandwich
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Zest from 1 lime
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sambal oelek chili paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • Sambal Oelek Aioli
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons (or more) sambal oelek chili paste – depending on your preferred heat level
  • Sandwiches
  • 3 cups cooked, shredded chicken, cooled
  • 4 Tablespoons lime cilantro sauce
  • 1 Baguette, cut into four 5-inch pieces
  • ½ Cucumber, sliced

Directions

  1. Make Pickled Carrots: Combine carrots, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Pour ½ cup boiling water over carrots and set aside.
  2. Make Lime Cilantro Sauce: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  3. Make Sambal Oelek Aioli: Stir together mayonnaise and sambal oelek in a small dish. Set aside.
  4. Make Chicken: In a medium bowl, combine shredded chicken with 4 Tablespoons lime-cilantro sauce.
  5. Assemble sandwiches: Slice baguette pieces in half and remove some of the bread so you have more room for all the good fillings. Spread one side with sambal oelek aioli. Layer cucumber, shredded chicken, pickled carrots, and cilantro. Drizzle with additional sauce and enjoy. The chicken can be served warm or cold, but I prefer these sandwiches cold.

Rice Pudding Tart with Rum Raisins

A rice pudding tart with a piece removed

Today’s Musings:
The other day, I accidentally stumbled upon a photo of an ex-boyfriend. Fucking Facebook. My heart immediately jumped into my throat, my nerves felt jittery and I got a little flushed. “What the heck is this? Why is my body reacting this way?” I wondered.

I extricated myself from this man’s web years ago, processed the damage, recognized the situation for the disaster it was, and moved on. I dealt with that shit.  Today, I don’t care what he’s doing, nor do I care who he is doing it with, or where he’s doing it.

My reaction on seeing his image, made me wonder, “Am I harboring some sort of unprocessed emotion? What the fuck is going on?”

It seems this is an automatic response from my body and entirely normal. It doesn’t matter what my head tells me, my body is going to do its own damn thing.  This reaction is my fight or flight response. It is the same response I would experience if I came face to face with a lion. My autonomic nervous system’s way of telling me, “Danger, bad situation ahead!”  Even though it was just a photo, my body was saying, “Girl, you do not want to go there!”

So, my reaction was automatic and nothing I can influence.  My shit with him is processed, I am in my right mind, and my body is just doing its job.

If this ever happens to you, just acknowledge it and then let it go, which is exactly what I’ll do next time – rather than Googling the feeling to see what it was, ruminating on the flight or flight response and relationships, and writing this damn blog post about it.

However, now at least I know I cannot control what my body does in this situation. I can only control my reaction to it, and that reaction should be to acknowledge it, keep scrolling, and then…Let. That. Shit. Go.

Today’s Recipe:

Rice Pudding Tart with Rum Raisins

  • Servings: One 9” Tart
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Creamy, cinnamon-scented rice pudding dotted with rum-soaked raisins encased in a sugary cookie crust.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked Basmati rice
  • 1 ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup (scant) golden raisins
  • 1 Tablespoon dark rum
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (generous) cornstarch
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, well-beaten
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sweetened whipped cream

Directions

  1. Make Rice: Rinse rice and place in a small saucepan with two cups water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender. Set aside rice in a bowl to cool.
  2. Make Rum Raisins: In a small bowl, combine golden raisins and rum. Heat in a microwave for one minute, stirring once. Set aside.
  3. Make Crust: Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Pat dough on the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake about 25 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and cool.
  4. Make Rice Pudding: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, corn starch, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk in egg until no cornstarch can be seen. Add milk then cooked and cooled rice.
  5. Place saucepan on medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer until pudding is very thick, similar to the texture of thick oatmeal. Take saucepan off heat and stir in rum-soaked raisins and vanilla extract.
  6. Scoop rice pudding into pie crust and cover with plastic wrap, ensuring the plastic wrap makes contact with the pudding surface to avoid a skin. Chill at least two hours. Decorate with sweetened whipped cream and dust with cinnamon. Let tart stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

Beef Stroganoff Sandwiches with Pickled Fennel and Blue Cheese

A beef stroganoff sandwich on a wooden cutting board

Today’s Musings:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt

In my first college writing class, on our initial assignment, the instructor chose me to begin the presentations.   Mortified, in a new classroom surrounded by strangers, my defense mechanism of shrinking violet mode would not save me.  I stumbled through the piece, a poem, my nervous energy escaping through my giggles throughout.  When I had finished, the instructor called out to the class for comments.  The lug-head of a jock sitting three rows away from me said, “I hate it.”  I don’t remember another comment after that.  I eventually dropped the class, not merely because of him, but his comment spurred my decision to give the class up.  I foolishly allowed some 23-year-old blockhead to deter me from a valuable opportunity.

I remind myself often, “it doesn’t matter what they think. It doesn’t matter,” but my prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part, and my limbic system, where my emotions and these negative comments reside, aren’t always on the best of terms.  Too often, I allow the shouts and epithets from the knuckleheads in the nosebleed seats to kick my limbic system into high gear.   No, I didn’t win, I wasn’t recognized, my effort wasn’t the best, but I tried – and the mere act of stepping into the ring is succeeding. 

Yeah, I know, you claim that you are so emotionally evolved that you don’t care what anyone thinks.  Brené Brown claims that’s impossible.  She maintains that we are literally hard-wired to take heed of what others think of us.  The trick, and the crux of my struggle, is to disregard the opinions of “those cold and timid souls” outside the ring.  

These critics admonish me for oversharing on this blog, caution me that my ugly truth is unappealing, could ruin relationships, could affect my career.  Why, they ask, put myself out there when what I’m writing is inconsequential and, “Once it’s on the Internet, you can never remove it.” On certain posts, like this one, I’m sick to my stomach after hitting the “post” button.  I’ve come to believe it’s a sign I’m at least in the arena, even if these attempts aren’t “valiant” or a “worthy cause.”  This sometimes raw and ugly honesty arises from my desire to ‘write what I know.’  And the depths of my psyche that I want to unearth and examine are not the light moments, not the easy moments, not the happy moments, but my cringeworthy worst.  I put myself out there, exposing my scars, both self-inflicted and perpetrated by others, while simultaneously assuring myself and others that I’m still okay.  If one reader can relate to the rocky path I’ve been forced to walk or the uncharted road I’m paving before me, if they can relate to my thoughts, both troubled and hopeful, if they see that I struggle, just like them, to figure it all out, then it’s worth it. 

Criticism, on the whole, isn’t bad or wrong.  No one likes a critique of what they hold dear, and, I’ve discovered, alas, that I’m more sensitive than most.  It’s difficult to be served up a dish of criticism with an open mind, especially when it flavors my intimate revelations, my personal scars, or projects and passions that reside close to my heart. I’m trying to learn to mindfully chew the bites I need to swallow without choking, while pushing the rest of the plate away.   I’m not looking to surround myself with a crowd of sycophants. When I bake and ask for opinions – I am TRULY looking for feedback, what worked and what didn’t, so I can step back in the ring with an improved recipe.  My struggle is separating the opinions of people I value, people who have been in their own ring, from the spectators who can only watch and critique.

As an event planner, one of my often-used quotes is, “everyone thinks they are an event planner.”  For 20 years, I’ve listened to spectators who believe they can do it better.  In my career, I adopted the idea of kaizen – continuous improvement.  There are clients of mine, trusted and respected, who provide me with important feedback on my events.  I listen and adjust when I can.  However, an attendee’s spouse, who complains to me, almost in tears, because they didn’t see any fish on their catamaran and snorkel excursion, is decidedly outside the arena.  No one, except a planner, understands the number of items one needs to get “right” to make a successful event – big things like flights, hotels, ground transportation, and food are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are pages and pages of details on my project plans. My other planner’s quote is, “Thank you for your feedback,” which essentially means, “Unless you’ve planned one of these yourself, your critique is meaningless.”

As I reread Roosevelt’s words and acknowledge that I spend too much time reacting to opinions from the peanut gallery, I decided to adopt a new strategy when faced with this feedback:  I will close my eyes, imagine myself escorting these unwanted critics to their appropriate seat, Row ZZ with the other “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”, and then walk back down the stairs and continue to get on with my fight in the ring. 

Today’s Recipe:
This is my second entry for the theme of Sandwiches in January, combining all the comfort of Beef Stroganoff in a sandwich, perfect for a casual dinner or a filling lunch on a cold and rainy January afternoon, like today.


Beef Stroganoff Sandwiches with Pickled Fennel and Blue Cheese

  • Servings: 6 sandwiches
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A comfort food favorite reimagined into a hot, hearty sandwich.


Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ lbs. beef tenderloin or boneless ribeye
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced and ¼ cup chopped fennel fronds
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, slightly crushed
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 lb. assorted mushrooms (such as oyster, cremini, shitake), chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup plus 1 Tablespoon red or white wine, divided
  • 1 ½ cup beef broth
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 6 rolls (I use Bolillos)
  • Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups arugula
  • ½ cup blue cheese, crumbled

Directions

  1. Marinate Beef: Prick meat all over with a fork. Place in a baking dish and rub with soy sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  2. Make Pickled Fennel: Combine thinly sliced fennel, fennel fronds, white vinegar, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, and fennel seeds. Add boiling water to just cover fennel and set aside.
  3. Make Stroganoff: Place chopped mushrooms into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave 4-5 minutes to release liquid. Mix together 1Tablespoon of mushroom liquid with dry mustard, sugar, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Drain mushrooms.
  4. Pat meat dry and cut into ½” cubes. Brown meat on all sides in a skillet over high heat. Do not overcrowd pan and reduce heat if fond at the bottom of the pan begins to burn. Transfer meat to a plate and set aside.
  5. Return skillet to heat. Add drained mushrooms, chopped onion, and a pinch of salt to skillet. Cook until vegetables begin to turn golden. Add tomato paste and flour and stir until mushrooms are coated. Add wine, beef broth and mustard paste, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce is very thick. Add beef with any accumulated juices and warm through. Remove from heat and left rest for a minutes before stirring in sour cream and remaining Tablespoon of wine. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  6. Make Sandwiches: Toast Rolls, spread one side with a thin layer of Dijon mustard, layer with arugula, beef stroganoff, pickled fennel and crumbled blue cheese. Tuck in!

Chicken Tinga Sandwich

Today’s Musings:

Written December 30, 2022

I’m dangling; my fingers grip the few remaining crags of 2022 as I tentatively swing my leg out, searching for a foothold on the new year.  As I inch my way towards 2023, I take a long look over my shoulder at the past 365 days to measure my progress, measure the length of winding paths I’ve negotiated – and there is nothing there. Zip, zilch, nada.  In 2022, I accomplished nothing – unless you call staying alive an accomplishment, waking up to face each morning an achievement, doing my best at my job a success, keeping the weave of relationships together an accomplishment.  No, no, I’m not soliciting you to provide me with a list of my achievements.    I’m sure, if I concentrate, if I was forced to produce an annual self-review of 2022 for my merit increase, I’m sure I could think of triumphs, but as I take this moment to pause and reflect, nothing substantial bubbles up…and that’s alright.

Next year, just a few short days away, I begin navigating my way towards retirement.  Next year, I’m cutting back work hours to focus on my passions and my pleasures – and my head is overflowing with fresh ideas and long-lingering projects.  At the end of 2023, I will glance over my shoulder and say, “Ah, yes, I’ve traveled far.”

Before I move on to my recipe, however, I wanted to take a moment to thank the executives that I’ve worked with who allowed my dream of semi-retirement at 55 to come to fruition.  I understand my situation is unique; I know these are untested waters and this initial ride may be a bit bumpy.  I appreciate you taking the chance.  This same flexibility allowed me, in 2009, to go to Culinary School by day (a life-long dream) and work nights and again, in 2017, when I became an “Implementation Consultant” and returned to the fold when my reporting situation became untenable.  I know you’ll never read this post, but I would be remiss if I didn’t voice my gratitude.  20 years and counting.

Today’s Recipe:


Chicken Tinga Sandwich

  • Servings: 6 sandwiches
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I created this sandwich in 2013, after I made Chicken Tinga in a Phoenix cooking class. I’ve taken my original complicated recipe and simplified it into a 30-45 minute meal.


Ingredients

  • 1 onion, ½ thinly sliced and ½ chopped
  • ½ cup vinegar (white vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ½ – 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes (OK if the tomatoes include garlic or chilies)
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped with 2 Tablespoon adobo sauce, divided
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican oregano preferred), divided
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 cups shredded chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken)
  • ½ cup chicken broth or water
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 6 rolls (I used Mexican Bolillos)
  • cilantro (optional)
  • guacamole or sliced avocados
  • Cotija cheese

Directions

  1. Make Pickled Onions: In a small bowl, combine sliced onions, vinegar, sugar, orange juice, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour boiling water over onions to just cover and let sit for about 30 minutes.
  2. Make Chicken Tinga: Sauté chopped onions in oil in a large sauté pan until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add tomatoes, chipotle chile and 1 Tablespoon adobo, oregano, bay, cumin, cinnamon, chicken, and broth or water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook about 20 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Make Chipotle Mayonnaise: In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise with remaining 1 Tablespoon adobo.
  4. Make Sandwiches: Toast rolls, spread with Chipotle mayonnaise, guacamole, chicken tinga, pickled onions, cilantro and cotija cheese.