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.

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.

Mexican Coffee (Café de Olla)

two mugs of Mexican Coffee

Today’s Musings:
I’m tired of fighting the good fight for a bad man.

I’m sick of men who use their hands, their fists – on walls, on me. Did my father hit?  No, or at least I have no recollection.  He threatened.

“I’m gonna knock your teeth down your throat.”

He was four times larger and ten times older…and I believed him.  A 5-year old child doesn’t understand hyperbole.  I’m tired of these hot-blooded men who loom and intimidate and, conversely, men who shut down and pout, childlike, when boundaries are set. I’m over guys who are incapable of verbalizing their emotions and equally fed up with those who lack feelings to emote. I have no room for strutting narcissists or men with fragile egos, which, on the balance, are two branches of the same tree anyway. I’ve paid my dues tip-toeing on my share of eggshell roadways to nowhere. 

I refuse to spend another minute with someone who lies. I’m done with men who willingly cheat on their partners in exchange for a moment with me and I’m equally tired of boyfriends who unhesitatingly cheat on me for another’s piece of ass, another notch on the bedpost. I won’t waste another minute on available men who flirt but are petrified to make a move, looking towards me to orchestrate each assignation. I don’t have time for men who sacrifice nothing while expecting me to forfeit my dignity, my work, my security, my happy life, in the name of ersatz Love.

What use have I for a man who doesn’t even attempt to appreciate my hobbies or interests or a partner who entertains no passions or interests outside of me?

I’m fed up with men who tacitly insist they own my body, refusing to accept “no” means no, pushing their seed in anyway, and enact laws that steal options for dealing with the aftermath, men who believe women are incapable of informed choice, convinced they must “help” us decide.  I refuse to play nicely in this patriarchal sandbox any longer.

– Dedicated to my own Good Man.

Today’s Recipe:
Raised in Southern California, I grew up steeped in a brew of Mexican flavors, so I was surprised to learn about a traditional Mexican drink I’d never experienced – Café de Olla, a.k.a. Mexican coffee.

When you are served “Mexican” coffee here in the states, it’s a simple combination of regular coffee flavored with a bit of cinnamon.  On my recent stay in Baja, however, I was introduced to traditional Café de Olla.  Traditional Mexican coffee is made in an earthenware pot (an Olla de Barro – hence the name) and is a sexy and complex alchemy of coffee, citrus, and spices. Each morning of my two-week stay, you could find me at 7:00 a.m.  laptop open and a steaming jarrito (a traditional clay mug) of this elixir within arm’s reach.  The hotel even made a “Julie Recommends Mexican Coffee” sign at our daily breakfast and a few coworkers and customers were asking me where I could get a cup (eschewing the ubiquitous Starbucks on property for this exotic blend).

Traditionally, this spiced drink is served very sweet and very black, but I usually drink my morning cuppa unsweetened with just a bit of cream so, in the version below, I’ve dialed the poloncillo way back to allow the coffee and spices to shine.  This recipe may seem like a lot of futzing in this age of pod-coffee; it’s worth the added few minutes – especially on a chilly and rainy weekend morning like this one. 


Mexican Coffee (Café de Olla)

Rich, spice-ladened coffee lightly sweetened with caramelly piloncillo – this updated recipe uses much less sugar than traditional Café de Olla.


Ingredients

  • 4 cups water, divided
  • ¼ cup piloncillo (or dark brown sugar)
  • 4 3” strips orange zest
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, slightly crushed
  • 1 star anise pod
  • ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 rounded tablespoons ground coffee (Mexican origin preferred)
  • milk or cream (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water, piloncillo, orange zest, cloves, cinnamon, and star anise. Bring to boil and stir until piloncillo is fully melted. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes.
  2. Bring remaining 3 cups water to boil. Spoon coffee into a French press and add vanilla. Strain spice syrup over coffee, add boiling water, let steep 3-4 minutes and then press down filter. Pour into mugs, lighten with milk or cream, if using, and serve with a cinnamon stick.