I’m Baaacckk and Blogging for Mental Health 2015

Hi all, It has been almost a year since I have been on this site.

It is absolutely ridiculous for me to think about that.

Luckily it has not been almost a year since I have baked anything – that would have been ridiculous. 🙂

Life has been incredibly busy – since last year this time I have gotten two promotions at work, gotten engaged, gotten married, moved to a new house, tried to decorate said house, and a whole lot of other amazing things.

Now I am back and I hope to keep it going for a little while.

With that I am going to make some pretty delicious cookies. At least I hope they will be – I am writing while I mix these little guys up and we will see how they turn out.

Also, while I write and bake I have been watching these awesome videos from Brene Brown. Love her and her thoughts.

Have you guys seen these yet? They are incredibly adorable and spot on.

The first one is empathy vs. sympathy and then the second one is on blame and how it corrodes empathy.

Mind = Blown.

Also as a part of this blog post I am renewing my pledge to blog for mental health.

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

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I have done this pledge the past two years you can read those here and here. If you are interested in the campaign (click here) you should definitely do it as well. As many people we have speaking out against the stigma against mental health the bigger our impact will be!

Now that you have these in your thoughts. Pop some of these cookies in your mouth and I will be back soon!


nutty thumbrints

Nutty Chocolate Thumbprints (from Southern Living January 2015)

Yield: 42 cookies

For the cookies:

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the filling:
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 (4-oz.) 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking bar, chopped
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 to 3 Tbsp. milk, at room temperature
To make the cookies:
Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat 1/2 cup butter at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add brown sugar and 3/4 cup powdered sugar; beat until well blended. Beat in 3/4 cup peanut butter, scraping down sides as needed. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to medium-low, and gradually add flour mixture, beating just until blended. Scoop the dough onto cookies sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb into each ball, forming an indentation. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until set; cool 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack, and cool 15 minutes.
To make the filling:
Beat 1/4 cup peanut butter and 2 Tbsp. butter at medium speed until smooth. Microwave chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 1 to 2 minutes or until smooth, stirring every 30 seconds. Add melted chocolate to peanut butter mixture, and beat at medium speed just until blended. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar to peanut butter mixture alternately with 2 Tbsp. milk, beginning with sugar. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Beat in up to 1 Tbsp. milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Spoon filling into a zip-top plastic bag; snip 1 corner of bag to make a small hole, and pipe filling into indentations in cookies.

Valentine’s Heart Sugar Cookies

First, Happy Valentines Day!

heart cut outs

Second, I have accomplished my goal of the sugar cookie quest (almost – not quite cookie cutter perfect but close enough) – you should most definitely make these slice and bake cookies. They are the most adorable thing ever. Even if some of the hearts look a little blob-ish. In this case for me, it is the thought and effort put into these little guys that count. Not to mention now I never need to buy the store bought ones again. (Not that I ever have in over 8 years.. but I always wanted my sugar cookies to have a little flair!)

Think of the possibilities of what you can put in this little sugar cookie!! You want colored dough on the outside?!? Go for it. You want to make them for every holiday that you can Google? Do it… I may just because I can now.

finished hearts

Now that I have the technique down, the fun I can have with making these little guys is endless.

The endlessness of the cookie possibilities is astounding. Much like the endless possibilities of using suicide prevention techniques (yes, I am getting incredible at these segues). That is what I have been up to these past weeks.. Learning about suicide prevention and going to trainings to become certified to prevent suicide in those that are having active suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

I did it through an amazing organization that works in all types of trainings for suicide prevention for all types of people. You should look into one of them if you are at all interested.

I heard a recent statistic that said that people who receives some type of suicide prevention training, feel more competent when helping someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. That increased feeling of competence  is proven to get the person in need to resources that will help them. This may sound rather like.. umm duh. But the coolest thing about this point is that you don’t have to be the person who is taking all of the responsibility for the person’s life. All you have to do is learn to ask the question “are you feeling suicidal?” however you want and then be the bridge to resources. Those resources could be 911, a crisis hotline, or even an emergency room.

prebaked cookies

The best thing you can do is ask and then redirect to someone that can really help. The pressure to keep watch over the person or be with them through the entire crisis can now be relieved.

Just ask.

I hope you have a lovely Valentine’s Day. If you are at all interested in any of the trainings that are in the link above. Do the quick Google search and see the options around you.

sugared cookie

Oh and make these cookies. You will be greatly rewarded for your effort (fortune cookie sounding?).

Valentine (or anytime) Slice and Bake Cookies

Inspired by: Lauren’s latest

Ingredients:

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2 sticks butter

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

a few dabs of red gel food coloring

extra sugar for dusting

Directions:

In a small bowl stir flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together. Stir in egg and vanilla. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients. Once dough has come together, remove 2/3 of it to a separate bowl. Stir in the red food coloring to the remaining 1/3 of the dough until uniform in color.

Roll red dough out into a 1 inch slab. Cut out heart shapes and stack them together. Chill to harden to prevent smooshing (yep that is a technical baking word) of the cut out shape.

Roll remaining regular colored dough out and cover each row of stacked hearts being careful to keep them together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and set aside. Remove cookie dough logs from fridge and slice into 1/2 inch rounds. Spring top of cookie with sugar. Place onto prepared baking sheet leaving 1 inch around each cookie. Bake 10-12 minutes or until cookie is barely golden brown on the bottom and isn’t shiny. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before cooling completely on wire rack.

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookie

batter and white chips

So I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions… Wait, what?! Am I still on this topic?!.. it’s almost February.

Yeah, I know. It is a little late to be bringing this up but just hear me out.

Instead I made a list of 25 things I wanted to do with my 25th year on my birthday last year. I am a little more than halfway through my list and my 25th year. And the twelfth thing on my list was to make 12 small monthly goals. My goal for January, you ask?

Prioritizing my life. Sounds a little out there I know, but it was something I needed to do.

sugars

Mainly because I had four jobs, two of which were not in any way related to my career aspirations but I was keeping them on because I “liked” them and I am was not really good at quitting things (or being an adult).

But by prioritizing my life I have become a better adult (at least I think so). What are my priorities?

My career.

My relationships (especially with that special boy in my life).

And my health.

I decided if I am doing something that does not support these three things then it is out of my life. At least for the mean time. So I quit one job, a hobby (yeah you can do that), and stood up for myself in my relationship with my room mates. Yeah it has been an adult filled week for me.

Cocoa and flour

But something this week and (new-ish) year has caused me to focus on is mindfulness. Something I have always struggled with.. especially in the realm of compromising myself and my goals.

So yes this is still going to be a mental health post (and luckily I consider this blog in the priority realm of my career). Mindfulness is something that I have come to realize is a huge gigantic concern when you think of mental health. I consider it a step beyond awareness. In a sense, the practice of awareness.

So mindfulness is what I have been doing. That is how I am now approaching life and all that I do, including my baking! (and can I just say that it has been a huge help in the kitchen?!?)

Mindfulness in the kitchen (and in life) requires you to get off autopilot and actually approach things with a different perspective. It causes you to think and plan and assess at every stage. It is also is a huge stress reliever – especially when it comes to baking.

The first thing that I began practicing when it came to mindfulness in the kitchen is just slowing down. I began prepping my ingredients (think mise en place) and making sure I actually had everything I needed before I started. Yeah, because running to the store to get some more sugar, butter, and/or eggs in the middle of mixing things together is not ideal (see above – serious stress reliever).

finished cookie

You would think this process would cause more stress. I always did. “Do I seriously need to measure everything out and put it in separate bowls so that I can add the right ingredient at the right time. I don’t want to do all of those dishes! Yeah I am just going to throw things in and see what happens.” Cue forgetting to add the vanilla, salt, and/or oil to a recipe and being more than a little upset it didn’t come out the way I wanted. Not to mention cleaning up the flour that was all over the kitchen and myself because I was flying through the baking.

No more flying. I actually enjoy the process of baking. Why was I trying to speed through it? Begin serious life reflection. (And to be perfectly honest clean up is significantly easier than before!!! BONUS!)

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookie

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 (12 ounce) package white chocolate chips

To make cookies:

Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until blended.

Combine flour, soda, cocoa powder, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating well. Stir in white chocolate chips.

Refrigerate dough for one hour and up to 24 hours.

Scoop dough with an ice cream disher (you can use any size, I prefer a bigger one) onto prepared baking sheets (either use parchment paper or silpat).

Bake at 350 F for 8 to 14 minutes, depending on how done you want them. Enjoy!

Iced Gingerbread Men

Christmas does not feel complete without a cookie shaped into a fun holiday shape and decorated with icing.cutter and dough

This year my cookie of choice is the gingerbread man cut with a vintage cutter given to by my grandmother a few years ago. I haven’t quite given up on my sugar cookie quest, but I need to rethink my approach.

I have actually not been a fan of gingerbread for the majority of my life, with the exception of the houses that I always decorate to my heart’s content. Up until last year I would immediately spit out any gingerbread cookie, but I finally tasted a recipe that I fell in love with.

cut gingers

Now I am sharing it with you and I don’t believe any Christmas will be complete without this recipe from now on.

There are a lot of fun Christmas traditions around the world in this article and it definitely makes me want to include fun new ones next year.

Decorated gingersMerry Christmas Eve! Have fun baking up these delicious little guys!

Gingerbread Men

Yields 2 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1 egg yolk

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

To make the cookies:

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg yolk. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg; blend into the molasses mixture until smooth. Cover, and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. Frost or decorate when cool.

Royal Icing

Recipe by Alton Brown

3 ounces pasteurized egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

To make the icing:

In large bowl of stand mixer combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy. Add confectioners’ sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and mixture is shiny. Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add food coloring, if desired. For immediate use, transfer icing to pastry bag or heavy duty storage bag and pipe as desired. If using storage bag, clip corner. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Halloween Leftovers, Part Two – Candy Corn Cookies

So I know that this post has the implications that I am making something out of leftovers.

But that’s not true. I bought these candy corn explicitly for these cookies.

candy corn

They were earmarked for these cookies and the leftovers were actually a bonus because I got to eat them all. I am lucky enough to not know anyone that likes candy corn.

Well if they do then its not really around long enough for me to find out.

However, these candy corn cookies did not turn out like the pictures on this blog. It was actually quite unfortunate how badly these cookies turned out aesthetically.

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I am not going to edit this picture because I want to show how truly pitiful they came out. I tried multiple times to make these cookies. I even put the candy corn in the center of the dough ball like the previous blog mentioned to do.

But they came out like the above picture with blobs of melted candy corn oozing from the sides of the cookies. The one good thing that came from these little guys is that I found out that I love melted candy corn. Chewy, melty goodness.

Candy Corn and White Chocolate Cookies

Attempted reproduction of this recipe here

1/2 cup unsalted butter, soften

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons half-and-half

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons corn starch

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups candy corn

1 cup white chocolate chips

To make the cookies:

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and electric hand mixer), cream together the first 5 ingredients (through vanilla) on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the next 5 ingredients (through optional salt), and mix on low speed until just incorporated, about 1 minute; don’t overmix.

Add the candy corn, white chocolate chips, and mix until just incorporated.

Using a medium 2-inch cookie scoop, form heaping two-tablespoon mounds (I made 20). Place mounds on a large plate, flatten mounds slightly, cover with plasticwrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 5 days, before baking. Do not bake with warm dough because cookies will spread and bake thinner and flatter. Important note – Strategically place candy corn so that it’s not baking directly on cookie sheet because it will melt, burn, or turn runny if it is. The candy corn pieces need to be in the interior of the cookies, shielded and buffered by dough.

Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a Silpat or spray with cooking spray. Place mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart (I bake 8 cookies per sheet) and bake for about 9 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just beginning to set, even if slightly undercooked, pale and glossy in the center.

Buttermilk Sugar Cookie: The Saga Begins

What makes a tasty sugar cookie?

The flour? The sugar? The special secrets like cream cheese, sour cream, or maybe even buttermilk?

sugar cookie dough 1

Well I am making it my mission to find out. I want my cookies to come out like the kind from the tube. Soft, chewy, sweet. Unfortunately, I am biased against prepared dough’s, mixes, and the like although I have eaten (and enjoyed) more than my fair share of these treats.

I have had issue with sugar cookies. They are so simple but mine always come out tasting a little off. I thought it might have been one of my ingredients but I have changed all of those things. I am starting to think it is my recipe so I am on a mission to find a new one.

cookie flour

In honor of my two monthiversary of this blog, I am going back to my very first post where I got the inspiration to put buttermilk in my sugar cookies. How? I ate the little cut out of dough for my pie and it was surprisingly delicious.

I am so ready for this experiment because for one it is going to be delicious (duh!). And it also happens to be just in time for baking season and prime sugar cookie eating time. Not to mention I am so beyond ready to find a good sugar cookie recipe.

cookie cutters

Another pretty important thing that is happening today is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. In order to reduce the amount of teens and adults abusing prescription drugs, there have been thousands of organized collection points across the U.S. to drop off your no longer used prescription drugs.

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If you are interested you can go to this website to find out where there are collection sites near you. Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem for teens and adults. If you or someone you know is abusing prescription drugs, you can go here for a list of numbers to call for help.

So on your way back from dropping off all your unused/expired/unnecessary prescription drugs pick up some buttermilk and bake these cookies.

These cookies have some great flavor which fixed my original problem, but there will need to be some work on the texture and spreading issue.

cut cookies

Buttermilk Sugar Cookies

yields approximately 3 dozen cookies

2 3/4 cups of all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of butter

1 3/4 cup of sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla

3-4 Tablespoons of buttermilk

To make the cookies:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, stir together flour and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Add enough of the buttermilk to moisten the dough and make it soft, not wet.

Flour countertop and roll dough out. Cut cookies with desired cutters and place on a ungreased cookie sheet. With a brush or fingers, moisten the top of each cookie with the remaining buttermilk. Sprinkle with raw sugar or colored sprinkles.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly golden. Let stand for 2 minutes before removing to cool on a rack.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Perfected

Cookie dough

The last two posts have been about the helping others with what they might be dealing with, whether that be alcohol/drug recovery or suicidal thoughts.

So how do you do that?

These are pretty difficult things to talk about with someone, especially suicide.

Some of you may even be asking how do you make an excuse to go over to someone’s house when you know they aren’t really feeling like having visitors.

My solution: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

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You can do this one of a few ways.

First, take all the ingredients over to your friend’s house and prepare them together. The act of doing something small, especially when using your hands, helps conversations flow and get a small task accomplished (which can also help someone who may be depressed). Second, prepare the dough and take that over to their house and bake them there – more of a chance to get a little more time out of the conversation, if it feels forced or scary. Third, completely prepare the cookies (this could be a sly way of stopping by saying you baked too many cookies and wanted to share) and take them over to your friend’s house.

Not too sure what to say when you actually get there? I suggest this app (there is literally an app for everything!).

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It has so many options and a really great interface. The app even has a “get help now” button and the link to a help line available 24/7.

If you don’t have a smart phone, asking them out right “if they feel like killing/hurting themselves?” is not something that will make them angry or contemplate suicide if they have not already had those thoughts. They will most likely be relieved that someone asked and the conversation could take off from that.

Now I know every recipe says that it is the perfect chocolate chip cookie, but this recipe has been tinkered with over a couple of years and just got the final touch in the past 6 months or so – by “accident” of course. My boyfriend went out to pick up some chocolate chips so that I could make a few cookies for us. He says he meant to pick up the mini chocolate chips, and I will admit I was very a little upset when he brought the mini ones back. But OMG did it complete my recipe I have been working on for years – and is now completely essential to my recipe and what I think absolutely makes my recipe – so kudos to him for his intentional mistake.

What makes this the perfect addition? There is literally chocolate gooeyness in EVERY SINGLE BITE!

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I like my cookies a little under-baked in the middle – a nice crunchy outer edge and almost oozy dough in the middle – absolute chocolate chip cookie perfection!

Baked Cookies

Yep I forgot to take a picture before I couldn’t resist ripping a piece off.

Just to be clear, I do not believe that suicide can be prevented by chocolate chip cookies. My intention is getting you to talk. Talk to someone who you think has been feeling a little down lately and could be at risk for suicidal thoughts, talk to others about suicide prevention, just talk about suicide. This is the only way to reduce the stigma surrounding suicide.

Chocolate Chip Cookie, Perfected

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 (12 ounce) package mini semi sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle Real Semi Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels)

To make cookies:

Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until blended.

Combine flour, soda, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating well. Mix the two tablespoons of flour into the chocolate chips (I do this by pouring it in the bag and gently shaking it around to disperse – no need to mess up another bowl). Stir in floured mini chocolate chips.

Refrigerate dough for one hour and up to 24 hours.

Scoop dough with an ice cream disher (you can use any size, I prefer a bigger one) onto prepared baking sheets (either use parchment paper or silpat).

Bake at 350 F for 8 to 14 minutes, depending on how done you want them. Enjoy (and get talking)!