Whole Wheat Bread



Whole-Wheat Bread * how to proof yeast * how to knead bread dough

Whole Wheat Bread

  • 2 packages (or cakes) yeast
  • ½ c. warm water
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 3 c. whole-wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1/4 c. shortening
  • 1 2/3 c. warm water
  • 3 1/2 to 4 c. bread flour or all-purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the 1/2 c. warm water and add honey. Mix, then set aside to proof (about 5 minutes).

In a very large bowl, mix whole-wheat flour and salt. Add shortening and 1 2/3 c. warm water and mix well with a fork. Add yeast mixture and mix well again. Add three cups of bread flour (or all-purpose flour) and mix first with the fork, then with your hands.

Flour working surface well and knead for a full ten minutes, adding more flour as needed (up to another cup). Grease a very large bowl and turn the dough until greased on all sides. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm spot until about doubled in size. Punch down dough, then divide and shape by hand into two loaves. Place in greased loaf pans, cover with a towel, and allow to rise another hour or so. When dough has doubled in size again, place in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Turn out on racks and rub tops with butter. Allow to cool for at least ten minutes before cutting. Makes two loaves.

The dough before and after kneading:

Before and after the first rise:

The dough before and after the second rise:

The baked bread before and after buttering the tops:

Yum!

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make whole-wheat bread.

I’ve been planning this episode for a long time, because everyone should know how to make bread from scratch. It’s not hard, but it does take a lot of time because the dough has to rise twice. This will also be the final episode of Real Life Cooking. The old episodes will remain for you to listen to, though.

This recipe is my mother’s, and as you may remember, she wasn’t actually a great cook. But she could make bread and it was always amazing. I’d like to say this is a family recipe passed down for generations, but she actually got it off the back of a flour bag when I was a kid.

You’ll need two kinds of flour for this recipe, whole wheat flour, preferably stone-ground because it’s coarser and more robust, and either bread flour or all-purpose flour. You’re also going to need a lot of both, so make sure you have plenty. If you bought whole wheat flour during lockdown, thinking you were going to make bread, it’s probably pretty stale by now so I recommend you buy fresh. Just, you know, an observation, no real reason. Also, check the date on your yeast. You need ordinary yeast for this recipe, not quick-rise. You’ll also need a really big mixing bowl and two large loaf pans.

First, clean your working surface and give it a good scrub. Then get out your very biggest mixing bowl, the one you sometimes wonder why you own because it takes up so much space. Give it a wipe to make sure it’s clean if you haven’t used it for a while. You only need one giant mixing bowl even though if you read the recipe, it sounds like you need two. We’ll go over that in a minute.

Get out a small bowl too. A cereal bowl will do. Measure half a cup of warm water into the bowl. The water shouldn’t be anywhere near boiling but it also needs to be more than just lukewarm. Then add the yeast to the water and stir it in until it dissolves, more or less. It’s easiest to do this with a whisk if you have one, but a fork or even a spoon will do. Don’t worry if you can’t get it to dissolve all the way. Add the honey to the mixture and stir it in until it’s dissolved, then set the bowl aside.

This process of adding warm water and honey or sugar to yeast and letting it sit for five or ten minutes is called proofing. Sometimes a recipe will just direct you to proof your yeast, without any further instructions or amounts, or it might say to proof one package of yeast in X amount of water. Even if a recipe doesn’t say so, you have to add some form of sugar to the water and yeast mixture to proof it. What you’re doing is waking up the dormant dried yeast with warm water, then feeding it with the sugar. Don’t use a sugar substitute. After a minute or so a sort of scum will form on the water, or it might look bubbly or foamy. That’s what you want to see.

While the yeast is proofing, measure three cups of whole-wheat flour into the giant mixing bowl and add the salt. Give it a good stir with a fork to mix the salt in, then add the shortening and mush it in with the fork. You don’t have to cut it in or do much more than break it up into smaller clumps. Then add warm water to the flour mixture, about the same temperature you used for the yeast. It should be warm enough to start melting the shortening.

Mix it all up well. It should be really soupy at this point, like bread soup. By this time at least five minutes has probably passed, so the yeast is nicely proofed. Pour the yeast mixture into the bread soup and mix it in. Then you can start adding bread flour, or all-purpose flour if you forgot to buy bread flour. Don’t use whole wheat flour for the whole thing because you’ll end up with a loaf as dense and heavy as a black hole.

Add three cups of flour to the bread soup. After one cup it’ll look more like cake batter, after two cups it’ll be more like muffin batter, and once you mix that third cup in it’s starting to look like bread dough. You should switch from mixing with your fork to mixing with your clean hands about the time you’re adding the third cup of flour. I usually only use my left hand at this point, which leaves my right hand free to measure out more flour and move stuff around as needed without getting bits of dough everywhere.

Once you get the third cup of dough mixed in well, you’re ready to start the kneading. Move the mixing bowl to the side to free up your working surface. Measure out another half cup of flour and spread part of it thickly on the working surface, then pour the rest of the half-cup to the side so you can get your hands in it easily. Then measure out another half-cup of flour but set it aside for later. Plump the dough on top of the floured surface.

The hand you used to mix the dough is stuck all over with dough, so you’re going to take a quick minute to wash your hands again and get that dough off. It’s better to start kneading with clean hands, and you also need to run water into the big mixing bowl so it’s easier to wash later. Fill it with water, but don’t actually wash it yet, just wash your hands.

I know I’m getting really detailed here but this really is the best way to make the process go smoothly.

Dry your hands well, scrubbing as much remaining dough off the backs of your fingers as you can. Then take some of the flour you heaped on the working surface and rub it into your hands really well. Put a lot of the flour on top of the dough too. This isn’t like lightly flouring a surface for rolling out cookies. You’ll be adding the entire half-cup of flour to the dough while kneading, and probably at least part of the other half-cup you set aside. Be generous.

Kneading dough is easy to do, but it’s hard to describe. Basically you’re working the heck out of the dough, and Mom always said you were breaking up the gluten in the dough to make it more effective for a better rise. I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do know it’s not an easy process. Mom always swore that to knead dough correctly, you had to do it for ten minutes by the clock. You should break a sweat and you’ll probably feel it the next day or the day after. I do crunches almost every night but it’s been two days since I made this bread, and I just noticed that my stomach muscles are slightly sore. It’s a workout.

Here’s what you do. Start with a ball of dough and well floured hands. Make sure to rub flour into your skin up past your wrists on the underside of your arms, because most of the action of kneading comes from the heels of your hands. Push the heels of your hands forward and down into the dough hard, as though you were trying to push your wrists straight through to the surface below while also pushing forward in a shoving motion. Then scoop the far end of the dough up with your hands and fold it over toward you so that it makes a ball again. Then repeat for ten minutes.

You’ll need to flour your hands again repeatedly at first, and add more flour to the top of the dough too. It starts out very sticky. Again, be generous about adding the flour. You don’t have to knead fast, although it’s great if you have the energy to do so, but you should fall into a steady rhythm of shove, gather back, shove, gather back, flour, shove, gather back, etc. That’s kneading. As you work, you’ll start to feel a difference in the dough. It’ll start feeling springier and less sticky by the time you’ve added the first half-cup of flour, and you should need to flour your wrists less often.

You shouldn’t need to add all of the other half-cup of flour to the dough. You basically just need a little more to flour your wrists and maybe wipe a little across the working surface occasionally if the dough starts to stick.

When the ten minutes are up, you should be sweating, but the dough should be a nice firm ball that feels good and springy to the touch. It’s ready for the first rise, but you can leave it on the working surface for a couple of minutes while you get the bowl ready. Don’t leave it long or it’ll start to dry out.

Wash the big mixing bowl in warm water. You don’t need to use soap unless you just want to, but make sure you remove any bits of dough and flour left in the bowl. Use warm water so that the bowl will be nicely warm when you put the dough in it. Then dry it out well and pour just a smidge of cooking oil into it, and rub the oil all around the bowl with a paper towel.

All this should have only taken a few minutes. Once the bowl is oiled, plump the dough ball into it and turn it over a few times until it’s oiled on all sides. It shouldn’t be dripping, just very slightly oily. This will keep it from drying out and cracking while it rises. Now put a clean kitchen towel over the bowl and set it aside.

I can’t tell you how long it will take for your dough to rise, because I don’t know how warm your kitchen is. It’s going to take at least an hour, though. I ended up taking my bowl of dough outside on the porch for a while because with the air conditioning, it was too chilly in the kitchen and I was impatient. If you do the same, make sure the dough isn’t in direct sunlight and put a second towel over it to help keep bugs out.

If your dough rises too fast, you can end up with air pockets in the bread, and if you set it too near a heat source, like a stove eye that’s on, it can start to cook the dough, which will kill the yeast.

At some point during the first rise, get your loaf pans out and grease them so they’re ready. This is also a good time to clean up the kitchen, especially the working surface since you’re going to need it again soon and you don’t want the dough to pick up any more flour or hardened bits of dough stuck to the countertop.

When the dough has about doubled in size, and you press a finger into the dough and it doesn’t spring back, it’s ready for the next step. Punch the dough lightly with your fists, which will cause it to deflate a little and make you feel really tough. Then take it out of the bowl and set it on the working surface again.

You don’t want to work the dough much at this point, but you also don’t need to be too careful with it. I like to sort of roll it into a long thick log, then double the log over and use my fingers to separate it into two roughly equal parts at the point where it bends.

Then take one of the halves and press it down into a roughly rectangular shape with your fingers. You don’t need to flour your hands or the working surface, by the way. If your dough is sticky to the touch, you didn’t add enough flour while kneading, but it’s too late now. Work with what you’ve got. Roll the dough up tightly and tuck the edges under so that you have a roughly loaf-shaped ball of dough. Set it seam side down in one of the loaf pans, then do the same for the other half of the dough.

Cover the pans with a towel and set them aside to rise again for another hour or so. This is why it takes so flipping long to make bread. I have a recipe from my great-grandmother for bread that has to rise three times, but it makes two loaves but only uses one packet of yeast.

When the dough has roughly doubled in size again, it’s ready to go in the oven. Keep in mind that it will probably still spring back when you press a finger in it, but ignore that. You don’t want loaves the size of pillows. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and when it’s done preheating, pop both loaf pans in and set the timer for 40 minutes. Your house is going to smell so good.

After the 40 minutes are up, take the pans out of the oven and turn them out onto a rack if you have one. If not, you can set them across the top of small pots or something. Basically you want air to be able to circulate underneath the loaves if possible so they’ll cool evenly and won’t sweat against the counter. Rub the tops of the loaves with butter—but don’t use your hands to do this because the bread is really hot and you’ll burn yourself. Mom used to take a stick of butter from the fridge, unwrap one end like a popsicle, and run the end of it over the top of the bread. Buttering the top helps soften the top crust a little.

Then—and this is really hard—walk away for at least ten minutes. Don’t cut into the bread yet. I mean, you can eat it now and it’ll be good, but it’s actually still cooking from the heat inside it and it doesn’t develop the right texture for at least ten more minutes, fifteen or twenty if you can hold off that long.

Mom taught us to turn a loaf onto its side to cut instead of cutting from the top. This keeps you from squashing it down. I don’t know if that’s really the case, since if your bread knife is properly sharp it shouldn’t be a problem, but I always cut bread by turning it on its side.

This bread is firm with a strong crust, and it has a neutral or very slight honey flavor so it goes well with anything. You can toast it, make sandwiches out of it, or just eat it plain with butter or jam or honey or anything else you want to put on it. It keeps for several days if you wrap it up well in tinfoil so it doesn’t dry out. I usually give away the second loaf, since everyone loves homemade bread and I don’t need two big loaves.

So that’s it! Now you know how to make bread, and it turns out it’s really easy. The hard part is not eating half a loaf in one sitting.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.


Grilled Cheese



Grilled Cheese * how to use a broiler

Grilled cheese ready to broil, before (left) and after (right):

 

Leave the oven door propped open a few inches while the broiler is on:

Butter the skillet and the bread. You can put cheese on both slices or just one:

Flip one slice onto the other:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make grilled cheese two different ways: under a broiler and in a skillet.

I made grilled cheese for myself today and realized that not everyone knows how to do it. It’s really easy, so let’s go over it.

Let’s start with the slightly less bad for you version of grilled cheese. This one requires you to use your oven’s broiler, and there are a few specific things you need to know about how to do that.

Most ovens have a setting that says broil. What this means is that only the top heating element will turn on, and it will get very hot. It’s used for searing certain dishes, often to finish, but you can use it to cook steaks in a pinch. I’ve never been too good at that so pretty much the only thing I use the broiler for is to make grilled cheese.

First, before you do anything else, move the top rack in your oven up to the very top slot. Do not turn on the oven yet!

Next, get out your bread. I just use ordinary sandwich bread. Then get out your cheese. You can use presliced cheese meant for sandwiches, the kind my brother and I called smashed cheese when we were little, or you can slice thin pieces of any kind of cheese so that you have enough to nicely cover the tops of both pieces of bread. I’m assuming you’re only making two slices, but of course you can make more at once if you like.

Now you have a choice. If you like your grilled cheese toasted on both sides, it takes a little more work. If you’re fine with just toasting the top and having the bottom still soft, it’s easier and quicker. We’ll go over both ways.

If you want to toast the bottom first, slice your cheese but set it aside. Don’t put it on the bread yet. Instead, set your bread slices directly on the oven rack, but near the front so you can keep an eye on them. Do not shut the oven door all the way. You’ll notice that the oven will naturally stay propped open a few inches if you don’t shove it all the way closed, and that’s because it needs to stay open while you’re broiling.

Turn the oven on to the broil setting and for approximately two minutes, do something else while it heats. After just about two minutes, look into the propped-open oven door and look at your bread.

It’s probably starting to toast. Watch it like a hawk until it’s as done as you want it, then turn the broiler off and open the door all the way. Carefully remove the half-toasted bread, and I usually use a spatula or metal tongs because if you use a cloth to grab them, it’s easy to accidentally knock the bread through the bars of the oven rack so it falls into the oven.

When you’ve got it removed, set it down on the counter or plate or whatever toasted side down. Arrange your cheese on the untoasted side. Obviously, if you don’t want to toast the bottom you can skip straight to this part.

Once you’ve got the cheese on the bread, put it into the oven again directly on the top rack, cheese side up of course. Prop the oven door open again and turn the broiler on.

After a few minutes, the cheese will start to get melty and bubbly and the edges of the bread, where it’s not covered by cheese, will start to brown. Watch it carefully and as soon as it’s as done as you want it, turn the broiler off and remove the toast from the oven carefully. Tada, you have made grilled cheese! It makes a lovely snack on a chilly day, or the perfect accompaniment to tomato soup.

It does not keep at all, but only a monster or a very small child would leave grilled cheese uneaten.

You can use any kind of cheese you want, whether or not it’s supposed to be a type of cheese that melts. You’re basically just heating the cheese up and maybe toasting it just a bit. I usually use cheddar.

Before you sit down to eat your delicious grilled cheese, make sure you turned the broiler off.

Some people get really fancy and butter the bread first, but while I am all for buttered toast, it just seems superfluous. Save the butter for making grilled cheese in the skillet, which is also yummy but requires more cleanup than sticking it under the broiler.

To make grilled cheese in a skillet, you will need a skillet big enough to hold two pieces of bread at once. Put a little butter in the skillet and heat it to about medium-low or a little hotter, but not more than medium or you’ll burn the bread. Butter the bread and set it butter-side-down in the skillet. Then put cheese on one of the pieces of bread. Again, you can use any cheese you like, but I almost always use shredded cheddar in this case because it melts more quickly and more completely than cheese slices. Again, you can use pre-sliced cheese if you like and it works just fine.

Use a spatula to nudge the pieces of bread occasionally to make sure they aren’t sticking, although if they do start to stick you need to turn the heat down. You can also use the spatula to lift up the slice of bread that doesn’t have cheese on it, so you can check to see how brown it’s getting. After about two minutes, the bottoms of the bread should be getting golden brown and the cheese will be starting to melt.

Use the spatula to flip the non-cheesy piece of bread on top of the cheesy bread, cooked side up. Then continue to cook for another minute or two so that the cheese can finish melting. That’s it, it’s done! Turn the skillet off and move the grilled cheese to a plate. It’s traditional to cut it in half, which I usually do with the spatula.

Again, it doesn’t keep, but you’re going to eat it as fast as you can while it’s still hot anyway. While you’re at it, make one for your little brother who isn’t allowed to use the stove yet, and then you can both go watch cartoons.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. Now get out there and enjoy your food.


Cranberry Coffee Cake



Cranberry Coffee Cake * how to make substitute buttermilk

Cranberry Coffee Cake

  • 1/2 c. half and half
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp almond extract
  • 2 c. frozen cranberries (do not thaw), plus a few handfuls more for topping
  • 2 Tbsp Turbinado sugar or other large-crystal sugar

Grease and flour 9×9 pan. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, mix half and half with lemon juice and set aside. (You can substitute 1/2 cup buttermilk for the half-and-half/lemon juice mixture.)

In a medium bowl, mix flour with salt and baking powder and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add egg and extracts. Mix well, then add flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the milk mixture. Fold in 2 c. cranberries last. Spoon into prepared pan and top with reserved cranberries and turbinado sugar. Bake about 45 minutes. Cool in pan about 15 minutes before turning out.

Batter will be stiff:

Yummy!

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make cranberry coffee cake. The whole reason I’m cooking with cranberries in May is because I discovered a bag of frozen cranberries in the freezer the other day, left over from fall. I found this recipe to use them up without needing to thaw them. If I had more frozen cranberries I’d tinker with the recipe and try to get it to work in a loaf pan, but it’s quite good as it is.

For this recipe you’ll need a 9×9 pan, two large mixing bowls or one large and one medium, and a small bowl. This makes it sound complicated but it’s actually not.

First, turn the oven on to preheat. Then grease and flour the pan. The initial recipe just said to grease it, but you’ll get a better result if you grease and flour it the way you would for a cake. If you’re not sure how to do that, check out the zucchini pineapple bread episode from August of 2019.

Next, measure the half and half into the small bowl. This can be a cereal bowl; it doesn’t have to be big to hold half a cup of milk. Add the lemon juice and stir it in. Basically what you’re doing here is making substitute buttermilk, so if you happen to have buttermilk on hand, you can use it instead of the half and half and lemon juice. Ordinarily a recipe that calls for buttermilk or its substitute also calls for baking soda, because soda neutralizes the acids in foods like buttermilk, but in this case those acids give a lovely sour flavor to the bread that goes well with the citrusy flavor of the cranberries.

Set the milk mixture aside. You may notice it getting kind of weird and clumpy-looking, but that’s fine. The lemon juice curdles the milk slightly, giving it the acidic tang you want.

Next, measure the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium or large mixing bowl. Whisk it well or blend it with a fork, then set it aside too.

Next, cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until it’s light and fluffy, then add the eggs and extracts. If you don’t have almond extract, you can use a full teaspoonful of vanilla, but almond really brings out the flavor of the cranberries.

Now you just need to add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the milk mixture, just as you would for an ordinary cake. The batter will be thicker than cake batter, more like cookie dough. Once it’s blended, you need to fold in the cranberries.

Until now, you should have the cranberries in the freezer. You don’t want them to thaw out because they need to remain frozen until they’re in the oven. Measure them out now and toss them on top of the batter, but then—and this is important—mix them in as quickly as possible. You don’t need to be careful with them, since they’re frozen solid and won’t mush up, but as soon as they touch the batter, the butter in the batter cools and solidifies, which makes it stiffen and become hard to mix. The faster you can get the berries mixed in, the easier it will be.

Once you get the berries more or less incorporated evenly into the batter, spoon it into the prepared pan and press it into the corners, smoothing the top down a little if necessary.

You probably had more than two cups of cranberries in the bag. Take the leftover berries and press them into the top of the batter, or at least use a few handfuls of them. Then, if you have some kind of large crystal sugar, sprinkle a tablespoonful or two across the top too. This gives the bread a nice bit of crunch, although if you don’t have large crystal sugar you can just leave this off. I have Turbinado sugar in little paper packets, meant for adding to coffee, but I only use it for baking. I know it’s at least ten years old because my mom bought a big box of it for her coffee, and she passed away more than nine years ago. The sugar’s still fine, though, and every time I open a little packet of it I think of her.

Put the pan into the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes, or a few minutes less if your oven tends to run hot. When the timer goes off, the edges of the cake should be browned and starting to pull away from the pan, while the center should look done. If it’s not, put it back in the oven for a few more minutes.

Set the pan on the stove or somewhere else where it can cool. After about 15 minutes, turn the cake out of the pan. It’s ready to serve! The cranberries give it a lovely sweet-tart flavor that cuts the sweetness of an ordinary cake, and they keep it incredibly moist too. It’s perfect with coffee or tea.

This cake keeps well for several days without getting even slightly stale, as long as you wrap it up well. You should keep it in the fridge instead of on the counter since it has fruit in it, especially if it’s warm in your kitchen. It’s a fairly dense cake so you can take a square in your lunch without worrying about it becoming a little baggy full of cake crumbs.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.


Cream Cheese Tarts



Cream Cheese Tarts

  • 8-oz package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 6 vanilla wafers
  • 1/2 can (21 oz can) cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin pan with cupcake papers. Put one vanilla wafer in each.

Mix the cream cheese and sugar together until fluffy, then add egg and vanilla. Beat well. Spoon the mixture into each cup on top of the vanilla wafers.

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove and allow to cool. The tarts will deflate and form a dip in the middle. Spoon cherry pie filling into the dips. Chill. You can double this recipe to make 12.

The batter before and after baking:

Add topping and chill:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make cream cheese tarts.

Okay, finally, yes, this is the start of our third season. I’m going to try to release two episodes a month, but I can’t promise that I’ll manage it every month. We’ll see. The episodes themselves are usually pretty quick to record and edit, but it takes time to actually make the recipes and record all the details properly. Anyway, let’s learn how to make cream cheese tarts.

I have a vague memory of finding this recipe in a cookbook I got from the library, but I don’t remember which one. It makes a pretty and unusual treat that’s showy enough for office parties or holiday parties while being easy to throw together quickly. You just have to have enough time to let the tarts cool completely and then chill in the fridge after they’re done.

The recipe as listed in the show notes is halved from the original, since I rarely need to make 12 of these things. They’re rich, and since they’re made in ordinary muffin pans, quite large. They taste a little like cherry danishes and a little like cheesecake, but with a lighter texture. You can easily double the recipe if you like, in which case you’ll need a larger mixing bowl.

You only need one mixing bowl for this recipe, and if you’re only making six you can use a medium mixing bowl instead of a large. You’ll also need a muffin pan and some cupcake liners. If you remember to get the cream cheese and egg out of the fridge a few hours beforehand to warm to room temperature, it’s much easier to make these.

Put the cupcake liners in the muffin pan and turn the oven on to preheat. Then place a single vanilla wafer into the bottom of each cupcake liner, flat side down. Yes, it looks too small. No, do not put more than one in each cup. The vanilla wafer just adds a little bit of texture to the finished tart and implies the existence of a crust without you needing to actually make one.

Next, cream together the cream cheese and sugar just like you would cream butter and sugar to make a cake or cookies. If you started with room temperature cream cheese, it shouldn’t take much time at all to get the sugar fully incorporated. Then add the egg and vanilla extract and mix it up thoroughly, until it’s light and fluffy.

Hopefully by this time the oven is ready, because you are done and just about ready to bake it. I told you this was easy. Fill each muffin cup with the cream cheese mixture, plopping it on top of the vanilla wafer. You’ll fill the cups pretty much all the way to the top.

Then put the pan in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. When the time is up, take it out and set the pan on the stove or sink to cool completely.

When you first take them out of the oven, the tarts are puffed up like little soufflés. Just like a soufflé, they’ll start to deflate and crack almost immediately, and that’s fine. They’re supposed to. They’ll form a dip in the middle as they sink, and once they’re cool, that’s where you’ll spoon the cherry filling in.

Cherry filling is canned cherries cooked down with sugar and a few other ingredients, like lemon juice, and thickened with cornstarch to make a gloppy, sweet-tart filling for pies and other recipes. You can make it from scratch, but for this recipe you just want the canned stuff. It doesn’t really matter what brand, although the cheaper brands have fewer cherries.

Once the tarts are cool, or mostly cool, spoon cherry filling into the dip in each one. Add lots since otherwise the tarts are kind of boring. Then put the pan in the fridge to chill. You don’t need to cover it unless you don’t plan to serve the tarts for a day or more. If you put plastic wrap over the filling, it’ll stick to it, but if you leave the tarts uncovered for too long, the cherry filling loses moisture and gets rubbery on the outside.

After an hour or two, though, the tarts should be nicely chilled and ready to eat. If you eat them before they’re chilled, they don’t have a very nice texture and the flavors don’t work together nearly as well. When they’re chilled through, though, they’re absolutely delicious and look much fancier than any recipe that calls for vanilla wafers has a right to be.

These keep in the fridge for a few days, but make sure to cover them after the initial chilling if you don’t eat them within a day.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.


Double Chocolate Cookies



Double Chocolate Cookies * cooking with cocoa powder

Double Chocolate Cookies

  • 1 c flour
  • 1/3 c cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c plus 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c chocolate chips
  • 2/3 c. walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, blend well. Add the dry mixture to the butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. Dough will be thick. Add the chocolate chips and mix in well.

Bake on lightly greased baking sheets at 350 Fahrenheit for 9-11 minutes. Makes about two and a half dozen.

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make double chocolate cookies.

I found this recipe online while I was looking for something else, but it made something like five dozen cookies. I don’t need five dozen cookies. I halved the recipe and made a few tweaks, and the result is a more manageable two or two and a half dozen.

You make these cookies the same way you make ordinary chocolate chip cookies, but you use cocoa in place of some of the flour. The cocoa in question is unsweetened cocoa powder. Don’t substitute any kind of sweetened cocoa mix or the result will be horrendous. These cookies are plenty sweet on their own, trust me.

For this recipe you’ll need two mixing bowls, one large, one medium, and at least one cookie sheet. You can use butter and an egg straight from the fridge, but it’s a lot easier to make the dough when all the ingredients are room temperature, so if you think of it earlier in the day, take a stick of butter and an egg out of the fridge and set them on the counter. You’ll actually need two tablespoons more of butter than one stick, but I’m assuming that you already have some butter out next to the toaster.

In the smaller mixing bowl, blend the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon with a fork or whisk. Be careful with the cocoa since it’s very fine and will poof everywhere if you try to handle it quickly. It’s hard to measure and easy to inhale. Once you get it mixed with the flour it will settle down some, though.

Set that bowl aside and put the butter and sugar in the larger bowl to cream together. This is also a good time to grease the baking sheets and turn the oven on to preheat. Once the butter and sugar are creamed together until they’re light and fluffy, add the egg and vanilla and mix them in well.

I’m going through this quickly because it’s so similar to my chocolate chip cookie recipe, which was our very first episode. If you need to brush up on how to measure flour or how to cream butter and sugar, listen to that episode because it walks you through the process.

Once you’ve mixed the dough except for the chocolate chips (and nuts, if you decide to add them), the dough will be extremely thick. You’ll wonder how on earth you can mix in those chocolate chips, but it’s actually not hard.

Place spoonfuls of dough on the cookie sheet. These cookies don’t spread very much so you can put them pretty close together without ending up with one big cookie. Pop the pan in the oven and set the timer for ten minutes, or nine if you made your cookies very small.

When the timer goes off, take the pan out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. You’ll notice that the cookies are a little puffed up when you first get them out of the oven, but they shrink and crack a little as they start to cool. After about five minutes or so, use a spatula to move the cookies from the pan to a wire rack if you have one.

Depending on how big or small you make the cookies, you’ll get between two and three dozen from this recipe, so it’s easier if you have two cookie sheets and can put the second batch in the oven as soon as the first batch comes out.

I recommend that you make these when you’re hungry and really want something sweet, because these are best when they’re fresh out of the oven and still a little chewy. They taste just like brownies, although once they cool they have a taste and texture more like cookies. This is a good recipe to use if you want chocolate chip cookies but don’t have any brown sugar. They keep well for several days if you wrap them up well. I’ve been taking them in my lunches and they hold up pretty well, although they do tend to get crumbly. You can warm them up a little in the microwave to melt the chocolate, although they’ll never be quite as perfect as they are when they’re still fresh from the oven. This is the case for most cookies, though.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.


Corned Beef and Cabbage



Corned beef and cabbage * how to prepare cabbage

Corned Beef and Cabbage

  • about 2 to 3 lb piece of corned beef brisket
  • one cabbage, cut into chunks
  • 1 lb carrots, scraped and cut up
  • 1 onion, diced (optional)
  • some potatoes, peeled and cut up (optional)
  • peppercorns (optional)

Place the meat fatty side down in a very large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer about one hour per pound of meat. Add peppercorns if you’re using them. Add water as needed as it steams off.

About half an hour before the meat is done, add all vegetables except the cabbage. Ten minutes later, add the cabbage. Continue to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the cabbage is fork tender.

Cut the meat into thick slices across the grain. Serve hot with the vegetables.

Cutting up the vegetables:

Hopefully you can see the top part of the stem here that still needs to be cut out:

Cabbage when it’s first added and after it’s been cooking a while:

The finished product:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make corned beef and cabbage.

I’m not officially out of the season hiatus but it is spring break and I’m taking the week off work. Since I was making corned beef and cabbage anyway, I thought I’d do an episode about it.

Corned beef is not to everyone’s taste, and cabbage certainly isn’t. I cannot stand cold corned beef on a sandwich, and I’m not a huge fan of cabbage in general, but for some reason I love the combination of corned beef and cabbage. The salty, fatty meat contrasts beautifully with the mild, clean flavor of cabbage. I also add carrots, and if you want to throw in an onion too I approve although I don’t usually bother. You can also add potatoes, but if you do, you’re going to need a really big pot, more of a cauldron.

For this recipe you need to be able to keep the meat submerged while it boils, while still having room at the end for the cabbage and other vegetables, so you need a really big pot. Try to find a piece of meat that’s under three pounds or so in weight, because while it doesn’t look so big in the store, once you get it home and stick it in the pot, you realize just how enormous that thing is. Also, just a heads-up, corned beef and cabbage is considered traditionally Irish although it’s actually not, so in the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day prices are high, but they often drop afterwards. I ended up paying $2 for a head of cabbage and that is just highway robbery.

Anyway, this is a really easy recipe to make. It just takes a few hours to cook, so about three hours before you plan to eat, you need to get started.

Open the package of meat and discard the little packet of spices that is usually included. I’ve used them before and found they don’t add anything to the dish and just get all over the cabbage, looking gross. If you like little seeds and crap stuck to your cabbage, that’s fine. I throw that mess out. The corned beef is already highly flavored as is and doesn’t need any help beyond maybe some peppercorns if you have them.

Put the meat fatty side down in the pot and add as much water as the pot will safely hold. Ordinarily I’d say “add water to cover,” but you’re going to have to add water as it steams off so start with plenty.

Turn the stove on high and bring the water to a boil, then turn it down to about medium or just above so it simmers briskly. Whatever you do, don’t turn it on to high and then wander off to hang pictures in your newly painted bedroom, only remembering the stove is on when you hear the violent sloshing and hissing as water hits the burner.

After you turn the heat down, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of gross whitish foamy gunk floating on the water. That’s just fat that has rendered out of the meat. Skim it off with a spatula or something and throw it out.

You want to boil, or rather simmer, the meat for about an hour per pound. My piece of meat is two and a half pounds exactly so I simmered it for two and a half hours. Actually, I have no idea how long I really simmered the meat because I forgot to take note of the time I started, so maybe take note. Keep an eye on the pot and add water every so often as it steams off. Every time you add water, or later when you add vegetables, it will drop out of a boil and take a few minutes to warm up again, but that’s fine. You can also turn the meat over after half the cooking time has passed (or thereabouts) to make sure the top gets plenty of time in the water too. Once it starts to cook through, the meat will float anyway.

While the meat is cooking, get your vegetables ready. If you want to add an onion, dice it up. Clean and cut up your carrots, or pick over the baby carrots if you’re using them instead. Peel and cut up the potatoes if you want to use them, although truly, you probably do not have room for them in that pot. Look how full it already is. Set that head of cabbage next to the pot and ask yourself, can I fit this into the pot without it overflowing? Maybe you should cook the potatoes separately.

We haven’t talked about preparing cabbage before so let’s do that now. Cabbage looks like lettuce but it’s tougher and needs more cooking to make it tender. You should buy a cabbage that feels heavy for its size, which means it has lots of densely packed leaves. The outer few layers of leaves are dirty and leathery, so pull those off and discard them. Then get a sharp knife, maybe the really nice paring knife your cousin gave you for Christmas, and cut the stem of the cabbage out. I do this just by cutting out a sort of pyramid shape around the stem, then cutting up from the top of the pyramid to slice the cabbage in half. Pull it apart and finish cutting out the stem, then cut the remaining cabbage into chunks. You don’t need to dice it or anything.

When you’ve got about half an hour left of cooking time, put the carrots in around the meat, and potatoes and onion too if you’re using them. Ten minutes later, add the cabbage. Your pot is going to be incredibly full at this point but get the cabbage submerged somehow, even if it means the meat is actually on top of the cabbage pieces. The meat is mostly cooked at this point anyway. You may need to take some water out so the pot won’t overflow, and that’s fine. You’ll be throwing the water out anyway. Use a metal measuring cup or something else that’s not plastic, and which has a handle, and dip water from the top carefully. Don’t try to pour the water off—it’ll make a huge mess.

Once the cabbage is tender enough to pierce easily with a fork, everything’s ready to eat. Your house will smell appalling but it’s worth it. Remove the meat to a big plate or carving dish and cut it in thick slices across the grain. I usually remove some of the fat at this point too. You may be concerned when you cut the meat and find it’s still pink inside. It doesn’t look done. This is because corned beef has been salt-cured until it’s basically pickled. Don’t worry, it’s fine. If you’re wondering, corned beef is made from a cut of meat called the brisket, which is the part on the cow’s chest between its front legs.

I usually use the spatula to dip the vegetables out of the hot water. Either remove them to a serving dish or put them directly on plates. After I’ve eaten and I’m cleaning up, I pour off the rest of the water through a colander, catching the remaining vegetables in the colander. I know I probably shouldn’t pour that greasy water down the drain, but it’s still really hot at this point and I flush it afterwards with more hot water from the tap.

Serve this hot with plenty of cabbage and carrots. It keeps well for several days and you can heat it up without drying it out by throwing it in boiling water for a minute or two.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. Now get out there and enjoy your food.


Chocolate Butterscotch (or maybe it’s toffee) Cracker Cookies



Chocolate Butterscotch Cracker Cookies * how to make butterscotch

Chocolate Butterscotch Cracker Cookies

  • saltine crackers
  • 1 c butter, unsalted
  • 1 c light brown sugar
  • 1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips (12 oz, or about 2 cups)
  • 1 c M&M candies (optional)
  • 1 c chopped nuts (optional)
  • sprinkles (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil and grease. Place crackers all over it in a single layer, touching. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and stir constantly while boiling for about four minutes. Pour evenly over the crackers. Bake 7 minutes.

Remove from oven and pour chocolate chips evenly over the pan. Allow them to sit for a minute or two to melt, then spread with a knife. Sprinkle with M&M candies, chopped nuts, decorative sprinkles, etc., as desired.

Allow to cool for several hours or until the chocolate hardens, then break apart and serve.

The butter and sugar melted together (left) and boiling (right):

Spread the butterscotch as evenly as possible over the crackers:

Just after decorating (left) and after they’re completely cooled and broken apart (right):

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make chocolate butterscotch cookies. I don’t actually know what else to call them. The butterscotch does not taste like butterscotch flavoring, fortunately. It’s much, much better. [It may actually be toffee by the time it gets out of the oven, now that I think about it. Toffee is just butterscotch that’s been cooked longer.]

This is the recipe you make when you remember late at night that you promised to bring cookies for the office meeting the next day. You don’t have time to do anything fancy or run to the grocery store, but you want something everyone will like.

This recipe only really needs four ingredients: saltine crackers, butter, brown sugar, and chocolate chips. That’s it. You can put these together in half an hour, literally. The only drawback is that they need to cool completely before you can break them apart, which takes at least two hours. But they’re just fine sitting out overnight while they cool and while you sleep, and in the morning you just grab them and go.

For this recipe, you need a baking sheet and a pot. That’s it. No mixing bowls to wash. You don’t even really need to measure out anything but the brown sugar.

First, line your largest baking sheet with tinfoil and grease the foil. This is one time when it really is easiest to use the spray stuff, but you can also grease it with just a bit of vegetable oil, shortening, or butter. As soon as you’ve done that, get the saltine crackers out. Yes, just ordinary saltines that you eat with soup or chili.

You’re going to need at least one sleeve of crackers, depending on the size of your baking sheet. Mine fits 48 crackers. Place them on the tinfoil in a single layer so that they’re all touching on all sides. If you have the kind of crackers that are joined together in pairs, you can either keep them in pairs or snap them apart, it doesn’t really matter. Once you have the baking sheet covered, set it aside, but make sure it’s somewhere you can get to easily.

Next, turn the oven on to preheat. Then put two sticks of butter and a cup of light brown sugar into a pot. The recipe says saucepan, but that’s basically just a fancy word for a pot. Remember to pack the brown sugar firmly into the measuring cup. You don’t need to soften the butter before using it, because you’re about to boil the heck out of it with the brown sugar to make butterscotch.

Butterscotch is related to caramel and toffee, but it’s richer than caramel and softer than toffee. But don’t be nervous—you don’t need a candy thermometer or anything. Just throw the butter and sugar into the pot together and turn the heat on to about medium, or maybe a little higher. Unsalted butter is best but if you only have salted butter, that’s fine too.

Heat the butter and sugar together, stirring with a spatula. The butter will melt quickly and after a few minutes the mixture will start to boil. Don’t turn the heat down. Let it boil, but stir it constantly with the spatula. It doesn’t boil like water, it foams and heaves and basically looks horrific, like you’ve made a terrible mistake and surely this will not be edible when you’re done. But you’re doing fine, don’t worry. It’s supposed to look like that. Continue to stir while it boils for a solid four minutes by the clock.

Then lift the pot from the stove and carry it to the baking sheet of crackers. This is why you need that pan to be easily accessible, because you need to pour the butterscotch over the crackers while it’s still really hot—and it starts to cool almost immediately. Try to pour the butterscotch evenly over the crackers, but don’t try to get every inch. You’ll notice that no matter how fast you work, the last little bit will have cooled enough that you have to scrape it out of the pot with the spatula. That’s fine. Just drop the hardened piece onto the crackers with the rest of it.

Then pop the pan in the oven, just like that, and set the timer for seven minutes. While it’s in the oven, cut the package of chocolate chips open and set them aside, then wash the pot that you made the butterscotch in, or at least run some water in it to wash it later. It actually won’t have made much of a mess, since the butter kept the sugar from sticking. If you’re using chopped nuts or M&Ms for the topping, get them out too.

When the timer goes off, remove the pan and set it on the stove, but not on the burner that is probably still hot. Well, you don’t have to set it on the stove if you have somewhere else to set it where it won’t scorch anything.

Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips across the surface of the crackers. You’ll notice that the butterscotch has spread and partly melted into the crackers, partly sunk between them, and it should still be bubbling when you take it out of the oven. Once it cools, it will make a nice flaky layer of sweetness on the bottom of the cookies. Try to sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly, but again, don’t stress about getting them exactly even. Just try to keep them in a single layer and not piled up. You do this immediately after the pan comes out of the oven because it’s still hot enough to melt the chocolate chips.

Wait a minute or two, then use a knife to spread the melted chocolate over the cracker layer. This is where you cover any gaps and spread the chocolate all the way to the edges.

Once that’s done, add the toppings. What you add is up to you. I like colored sprinkles and milk chocolate M&Ms, either regular sized or the mini size they sell for baking, just because they look so cheerful. You can also use chopped nuts, colored sugar, and even chopped dried fruit like cranberries or raisins. Whatever you decide to use, add it now while the chocolate is still soft so it will stick.

That’s literally it. The cookies are done. They just have to cool completely. Specifically, the chocolate has to cool completely, and this takes a couple of hours. But once the chocolate is cool enough that you can snap the pieces apart into cracker-shaped cookies, they’re ready to eat.

Once they’ve cooled completely, lift one side of the foil up so that the layer breaks in the middle. Then you can just break off rows and break the rows into cookies. They shouldn’t stick to the foil, and while some of the butterscotch may have leaked underneath the foil, cleanup is still very easy.

These transport well and keep well. Just wrap them up so the cracker part won’t get stale. The crackers give the cookies structure and a nice little crunch, while butterscotch and chocolate are delicious together. Everyone loves these cookies, and you don’t have to tell people how incredibly easy they are to make.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Happy holidays to all my listeners, and I hope you are all safe, healthy, and well fed. Now get out there and enjoy your food.


Sugar Cookies



Sugar Cookies * coloring dough * rolling out and cutting cookie dough * coloring sugar

Sugar Cookies

  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • food coloring (optional)
  • cinnamon candies (optional)
  • sparkle sugar (optional)

Mix dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then add egg and vanilla and blend well. Add a generous squirt of food coloring to the butter mixture and blend it in well. It should be really green (or whatever color). Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Divide dough, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least half an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F and grease two cookie sheets. Roll out chilled dough on a lightly floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on cookie sheets and decorate with sparkle sugar and cinnamon candies (if desired). Bake for 9-11 minutes. Makes about two dozen.

The butter mixture with food coloring (left), the dough after flour is mixed in (middle), and the dough wrapped up to put in the fridge (right):

 

The dough before and after baking (left), showing the difference in color; cookies rolled too thin, where the red hots have melted from touching the pan (middle); and cookies showing increasing evidence of wrinkling, caused by putting the dough on a pan that has not cooled completely:

 

All done! (These were actually a little overbaked because I rolled them too thin):

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make sugar cookies! This is hands down the best sugar cookie recipe I’ve tried, and my family has made it for many, many years. We call them holly cookies because we use food coloring to dye the dough green, then cut them out in holly leaf shapes and decorate the tops with green crystal sugar and cinnamon candies like holly berries. I’ve included all the steps to make holly cookies, but if you don’t have a cookie cutter shaped like a holly leaf, you can use any shapes you like or just cut them out round.

For this recipe, you’ll need a large mixing bowl, a medium mixing bowl, a surface where you can roll out the dough and something to roll the dough out with, and at least one cookie cutter in a shape you like.

If you want to make holly cookies the way I do, you’ll also need some cinnamon candies, and that can be a problem. These are the small round pieces of red candy that are cinnamon flavored, usually called cinnamon imperials or red hots. You can get them specifically for baking, but those are actually not very good for this recipe. The best red hots you can find are sold by Brach’s, but they can be hard to track down. I was going to order them online this year and actually went to the Brach’s website to find them, but when I followed their link to buy, it took me to an Amazon page that said they were sold out. In the end, I lucked out and found them in a small grocery store I almost never go to. Brach’s are better than the ones sold for baking because they’re much cheaper, but also because they’re flattened instead of round. Those big round baking ones tend to just melt into goo in the oven. But you can use any kind you can get your hands on, or, of course, you can leave them out. But they do really contribute to the overall flavor of the cookie.

A few hours before you start the recipe, it’s a good idea to get the butter out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature. You can do the same with the eggs too. If you forget, though, no problem.

These cookies follow the same basic method for most cookies, including the chocolate chip cookie recipe from our very first episode. If you haven’t listened to that one, you might go back and do so for basics about measuring flour and mixing dough.

First, grease your baking sheets and set them aside. I use a little butter to grease the pans, since I have a theory that greasing the pan with the same fat you used in the recipe gives better results, plus I already have the butter out. When you unwrap the butter, especially if it’s at room temperature, there’s often some left on the paper wrapping. I put the wrapper face down on the pan and rub it around as an easy way to grease the pan.

It’s best to use two pans minimum for this recipe. It should make just enough to fill both pans, and with two you can be working on the second batch while the first is in the oven. I’ll go over some more considerations about pans later on, though.

In the medium mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt, then set it aside. Then in the large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until the two ingredients are fully combined and the butter is smooth and has an almost fluffy texture, but gritty because it’s full of sugar. Then you’ll add the egg and vanilla and mix it again until everything is blended well and the mixture is creamy again.

Next you need the food coloring, because you get a more consistent color throughout the dough if you add the food coloring to the butter and sugar mixture before you add the flour mixture. Decide what color you want, and I recommend you don’t go for anything fancy that requires a certain ratio of one color to another. Let’s assume you’re making holly cookies, or Christmas tree cookies, or something else that requires only one color. Take the little plastic squeezy bottle of food coloring and give it one solid squeeze into the butter mixture. You’re not counting drops, you want a full squeeze of the bottle to go in. This is probably at least ten drops, probably more like 12 or even 15. Mix it in well. The mixture should be quite bright at this point. If it’s barely colored or very pale, add more food coloring.

Once the color is blended in, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Remember to add only part of the flour first, mix it in well, then add another part of it, mix it in well, and then add the rest of it. The dough will be fairly stiff but not impossible to mix with just a big spoon. You’ll note that once you have the flour mixed in, the dough is much less brightly colored. It will fade even more in the oven, which is why you want to use quite a bit to start with.

Before you can roll the dough out, though, you need to chill it. Sugar cookies are largely made of butter, and the butter is much easier to work with once it’s hardened in the fridge. Divide the dough into two lumps and put one lump each on a piece of plastic wrap. Place another piece of plastic wrap over it and press it down gently from the center to the sides, flattening it. You don’t have to make it super thin, but it will cool more quickly if it’s a disc shape and not a ball. Then wrap the plastic over the edges and put both discs in the fridge for at least half an hour.

You can keep the dough in the fridge for a couple of days if necessary, so you can prepare the dough ahead of time and roll it out to bake the cookies just before friends or relatives arrive, for instance, or when you have more time to cook.

Rolling out cookie dough is similar to rolling out pie pastry, but the cookies need to be thicker than pastry (but not as thick as biscuits). You also need to work quickly since your dough will start warming up immediately, and use as little flour as you can manage. You shouldn’t need to use much flour, just a thin layer on the surface you’re using to roll out and a little on the rolling pin so it won’t stick. I typically flour my surface and put a little pile of extra flour to one side. I place the palm of my hand in that extra flour and rub it on the rolling pin as needed. Roll the dough out so that it’s maybe a quarter of an inch thick, maybe a little thinner. Remember to work from the middle of the lump of dough out to the edges.

When you have the dough to the right thickness, it’s time to cut out shapes. The best cookie cutters are made of metal. The plastic ones are just too thick and dull to get a good cut. Press straight down without jiggling the cutter, then pull it straight back up. Sometimes the cookie will come up with the cutter, but usually not. If it does, just shake the cookie out onto your hand gently and place it on the greased pan.

Quite often the cookies will stick to the surface despite the flour, and it’s easiest to use a spatula to get them up. If you’ve worked fast enough, the cookies will still be cool at this point and they shouldn’t deform too much when you shove the spatula under them. The warmer the dough, the stickier it gets and the more pliable it is, resulting in misshapen cookies. If your dough gets too warm to work with, resulting in floppy cookies that stick to the cookie cutter as well as everything else, it’s easier to mush the dough back into a disc, wrap it up again, and put it back in the fridge to cool properly. I’ve tried to work with overly warm cookie dough and it’s nothing but frustration, while nicely chilled cookie dough is easy to work with.

Anyway, place the cookies on the baking sheet so that they’re close together but not touching. You’ll still have lots of dough left, so just ball it up and roll it out again if it’s not too warm. If it is too warm, put it back in the fridge and get the other half of the dough out. (That’s why you divide the dough.)

While your raw cookies are in the pan waiting to be decorated and then baked, remember to set the pan somewhere other than on the stove. You don’t want them to get too hot or they won’t look as pretty when they bake. If you don’t have anywhere but the stove to set the pan, at least balance it on top of a pot to raise it off of the stove and let air circulate underneath. This will help keep the cookies cooler.

Finally, you have the cookie sheet filled with cut-out cookies. Now you get to decorate them! You can get as fancy as you like or you can just put them in the oven as is. If you want to make holly cookies, place two or three red hots near the stem end of the holly leaf, or what you interpret as the stem end, to look like berries. Then you can sprinkle the rest of the cookie with green sugar. If you forgot to buy any green sugar, you can make your own by adding a drop of food coloring to a little saucer of regular sugar and sort of rubbing it into the sugar with your fingers. Your fingertips will turn green if you do this, and of course it’s going to be ordinary sugar and not the larger crystals, but it will be nicely green and look good.

If you use red hots, make sure not to push them down too far. You want them dimpled into the dough, but not so deeply that they’re too close to the pan or touching the pan through the cookie. They’ll melt if they’re too close to the hot pan. That won’t affect their flavor, but they look nicer if they don’t melt.

Once the cookies are decorated, put the pan in the oven and set the timer for nine minutes. This is usually enough time for perfectly done cookies, but if your oven tends to run a little cool or if you made your cookies really large and thick, they may need another minute or two. Thinner cookies cook faster than thick ones, of course, and any pieces that stick out from the main cookie, like reindeer antlers, will cook faster too. That’s one reason why I don’t like cookie cutters that have fiddly designs. It’s too easy for those narrow pieces to burn before the entire cookie is fully done, plus those little thin sections tend to deform more easily when you’re cutting the cookies out, plus the cutter itself tends to get clogged and you have to scrape dough out of it with the tip of a knife or something before you can cut the next cookie. My favorite cookie cutters are simple shapes, like stars.

You can tell when the cookies are done because the edges will be just barely browned. Take them out and set them somewhere besides the top of the stove, because you want them to cool quickly. I often set the pan over the sink.

Hopefully, while the first batch of cookies was in the oven you were able to get the next batch ready to go. Usually it takes me longer than nine minutes to cut out the second batch and get them decorated, though. It depends on how efficient you are and whether you have someone else in the kitchen to help you.

Once the first batch of cookies has been out of the oven for a few minutes, remove them carefully from the pan with a spatula and place them on a wire rack to cool the rest of the way, if you have a wire rack. If not, you can set them on a paper plate or a regular plate.

These cookies really are easy to make, and they’re pretty forgiving even if you’ve never rolled out cookie dough before. You’ll get the hang of it quickly, and even if you burn the first batch a little they’ll still taste good. The main thing to remember is to keep your dough chilled, even if it means repeatedly returning it to the fridge, or even the freezer for short lengths of time, so it can cool down.

I don’t recommend you double this recipe. It’s easier to make one batch of dough, put it on to chill, and then make a second batch. You can even reuse the same bowls without needing to wash them out, as long as you’re going to make the second batch the same color as the first.

I have good memories of making these cookies right before Christmas, me and my mom working together to produce enough for our family get-together with extras for neighbors, friends, coworkers, and anyone else we could think of. Wrap half a dozen holly cookies in wax paper and tie it with a ribbon, and you’ve got a nice little gift that costs almost nothing but time and doesn’t make the recipient feel like they should have gotten you something. There were years when Mom and I made more than eight dozen cookies in a single night, which is exhausting, by the way. If you make more than one batch of this dough, and plan to bake it all up in one day, you need to use three baking sheets—or more if you have more. One pan will be in the oven, one pan will be the one you’re working on, and one pan will be cooling down before you use it again.

If your cookies get too warm before they go into the oven, whether it’s because you set the pan on the oven while you were decorating the cookies or because you put the dough on a pan that hadn’t fully cooled, your cookies will come out of the oven looking wrinkled. The warmer the cookies were before baking, the more wrinkled they end up. The pan can feel cool to the touch and still actually be quite warm where cookie dough is concerned. Of course, wrinkled-looking cookies still taste just fine, but if you’re giving these as a gift it can be frustrating if they don’t look pretty.

These cookies aren’t just for Christmas or other winter holidays, of course. Everyone likes sugar cookies, and they make a pretty addition to any gift or potluck. Or you can just make them for yourself.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. I will be going on hiatus for a while with this podcast, although I may release an episode here and there. Until season three rolls around sometime in spring of 2021, get out there and enjoy your food.


Cranberry Relish



Cranberry relish * cooking cranberries

Cranberry Relish (small amount)

  • 1/2 c. orange juice (or apple juice)
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 c. fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 tsp allspice

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and heat to a boil. Turn heat down to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Cranberry Relish (large amount)

  • 1 c. orange juice
  • 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries

Dissolve sugars and cinnamon in juice over medium heat. Stir in cranberries and simmer 10-20 minutes. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Just putting the cranberries on to cook:

The cranberries after cooking for a while:

The finished relish after cooling to room temperature:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make cranberry relish, also called cranberry sauce, just in time for Thanksgiving.

I know many of us grew up with the cranberry relish that comes in a can, and which comes out of the can can-shaped, at which point an aunt or somebody slices it carefully into thin discs and arranges it on a plate, where it looks festive on the table and almost no one eats it. But you can make your own cranberry relish very easily from fresh cranberries that’s not only delicious, but it looks lovely in a glass compote if you own such a thing. It also takes very little time to make and can be done ahead.

I’ve included two recipes in the show notes, because I have two recipes that are very similar but make different amounts. You can also half or double the recipe you prefer or just tweak it to fit your own taste.

First, you’ll need fresh cranberries. These show up in the produce section of the grocery store right before Thanksgiving and they’re pretty cheap, two dollars for a 12 ounce bag in my local Walmart this year. You can sometimes get them on sale. Keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them. Before you start the recipe, pour the cranberries into a colander and give them a good rinse, and pick out any berries that are under- or over-ripe. Sometimes a bit of leaf or stem makes its way into the bag and you obviously want to remove that too. Fresh cranberries should be a nice red color and should be firm to the touch. If you cut one open, you’ll see that it’s mostly empty inside except for thin membranes that separate little round seeds.

For this recipe, you’ll need a saucepan. That’s it.

Start by deciding whether you need a lot of cranberry relish or just a little. The recipe that makes a lot uses the whole 12 ounce bag of cranberries, the recipe that makes a little uses two cups of fresh cranberries, which is half the bag. If you don’t have any use for the remaining half a bag, go ahead and make the larger recipe.

Measure the orange juice into the pot and add the sugar or sugars along with the cinnamon or allspice. One note about how much sugar these recipes call for: I think you can half it. I didn’t this time, but when I tasted the finished relish it was just so super sweet that I wished I had. Then again, as you know, I have been trying to eat a lot less sugar so everything tastes sweet right now. Also, one recipe calls for allspice and the other calls for cinnamon, but it doesn’t matter which you use. They’re both good. I think the allspice has a richer, more complex flavor, but cinnamon is always a winner.

Turn the heat up to about medium high and stir the orange juice and sugar as it heats, until the sugar has mostly dissolved into the orange juice and the mixture is starting to boil. Then turn the heat down to about medium and add the cranberries. Set the timer for fifteen minutes and let it cook, stirring occasionally. The liquid shouldn’t be at a full boil but at a brisk, energetic simmer.

An important thing to remember about cranberries is that they pop while cooking. Do not be alarmed, but do be careful, because they will sometimes spray you with a little bit of hot liquid. So, you know, don’t put your face right over the pot.

Once the timer goes off, remove the pot from the heat. The relish is done, but it does need to cool since it thickens as it cools. You can pour it directly into the serving dish and set it aside, because it’s fine just cooling to room temperature. You don’t need to refrigerate it if you plan to eat it right away, although of course you should if you make it a day or two ahead. At room temperature it’s thick but goopy, sort of like homemade fruit preserves, while after refrigerating it thickens to more of a jelly consistency. Either way it’s really good and makes a sweet-tart accompaniment to turkey or ham.

You might also try adding some orange zest if you want to get fancy, which will add a touch of color and extra orange flavor. I wish I’d thought of it myself, but yesterday a coworker mentioned that his mom adds orange zest to her cranberry relish and I’d already made mine.

This keeps well for several days in the fridge. You don’t have to save this for holidays, though. It’s delicious any time you can get fresh cranberries, and by the way it’s quite good on buttered toast.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my listeners who are in the United States! I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday. My family is not holding a get-together this year so I’m staying home with my two cats and plan to try all new recipes, just for fun.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.


Mashed Potatoes



Mashed potatoes * Cream Cheese-Garlic Mashed Potatoes * what “water to cover” means * parboiling

Cream Cheese-Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • 2 ½ lbs baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick salted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • about 1/4 c. milk

Boil potatoes until tender. Drain. Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Add all other ingredients to the potatoes and beat until fluffy. Add the milk last so you can adjust the amount; the milk is just for consistency. The potatoes should be creamy enough that they won’t dry out in the oven.

Grease a 9×9 baking dish and spoon in the potato mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until heated through.

Mashing the boiled potatoes with a fork:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make honest-to-goodness mashed potatoes from scratch. They won’t be lumpy, I promise.

Instant mashed potatoes are pretty good and they’re definitely fast, but homemade mashed potatoes are really easy to make. All you need is a few ingredients and some time. And a pot big enough to hold the potato pieces.

First, you need some potatoes. This is when you want to buy a bag of potatoes. White or yellow-fleshed potatoes are fine, but if you have red potatoes those will work too. Basically any potato will do. You can usually get a three or five pound bag of potatoes for a few dollars, and definitely go for what’s cheap. Don’t buy those individually wrapped potatoes meant for baking. They’re overpriced. Just buy a bag of cheap potatoes.

Bagged potatoes are usually pretty small, but you’re going to chop them up and then mash them anyway so it doesn’t matter. Generally, grab two small to medium potatoes per person to make mashed potatoes. If you ended up with big potatoes, more the size of ones you’d expect to get if you ordered a baked potato in a restaurant, then one per person will do. When I’m making mashed potatoes just for myself, I’ll usually use four small potatoes, since that gives me plenty for leftovers.

You need to peel the potatoes first. You can do this with a paring knife if you don’t have a potato peeler, but really, a potato peeler only costs a buck or so and will literally last you your entire life, so it’s worth buying one. That said, I did go through a phase when I was in my late teens where I wanted to feel rustic, so I peeled potatoes with a knife. It’s not hard, and you can pretend to be a pioneer woman or Cinderella or a captive of pirates who have put you to work in the galley, only the pirate captain is secretly a kind man who falls for your honest beauty and your cooking skills, and eventually you become a pirate too, but you only steal from bad people. Also, the pirate captain is super handsome.

Anyway, peel the potatoes using your method of choice. It’s easiest to peel them over a trash can or bowl so you can just let the peels fall without worrying about clean-up later. If you’re using a knife, you can go ahead and trim off any bruised or rotten places while you work. If you’re using a peeler, you’ll need to trim the potatoes once you’re done and have switched to a knife to cut them up.

Potatoes, of course, are roots of the potato plant that grow underground. That means they’re dirty. Don’t worry that your hand holding the potato gets all grotty and the potato gets covered in muddy handprints. Once you’ve finished peeling, take your naked potatoes to the sink and rinse them and your hands. Then cut the potatoes into pieces. The pieces shouldn’t be too small. You want chunks about the size of, I don’t know, an egg—several inches across, don’t dice them up tiny.

Drop the pieces into your empty pot as you cut them. Once all the potatoes are cut up and in the pot, add enough water to just cover the potatoes.

When a recipe says “water to cover,” this is what it means. You don’t want so much water that there’s room between the ingredients and the water’s surface, you want just enough that the ingredients you have in the pot are mostly submerged. Bits and pieces may be sticking above the water, but only barely. If the ingredient to be covered is something that floats, it should still be touching the bottom of the pot, or just barely floating above it.

So, add water to cover and put the pot on the stove. Add some salt too—just throw some in, maybe a teaspoonful. Turn the heat up to high and bring the water to a boil, then turn it down to about medium. You want the water to stay at a brisk simmer, meaning the water is moving the potato pieces around just a little but the water isn’t bubbling violently. Give the potatoes a stir to make sure none have stuck to the bottom, and if any pieces are sticking up out of the water, press them down so they’re submerged.

Let the pot simmer uncovered for a while, checking the potatoes frequently. Give them a stir, check to see if they’re starting to get tender, adjust the heat up or down as needed. As they cook, you’ll notice that a lot of white foam collects on the water’s surface, but don’t worry about that. It’s just starch and will eventually mostly melt back into the water.

This is a good place to explain what parboiling is. When the potatoes start to get tender but aren’t completely soft, they’re parboiled. Parboiled just means partially cooked by boiling. Some recipes call for parboiled potatoes or other ingredients, so now you know what that means.

I can’t give you a cut and dried time for when your potatoes will be done through because I don’t know how many potatoes you’re cooking or how small or large the pieces are. It’s going to be at least an hour, because you want your potatoes cooked thoroughly. No hard nuggets of undercooked potatoes for you!

Do not add any water to the pot. As the potatoes absorb water and some of it steams off, you’ll start to get antsy and worry they’re going to burn. Just turn the heat down and continue to let them cook.

Your goal is to cook the potatoes until they start turning into mush. If you go to stir the potatoes and they’re literally falling into pieces and mush under the slightest pressure, they’re done. Turn off the heat but don’t take the potatoes out of the pot.

Take the pot over to the sink and very carefully pour the excess water out. Don’t try to get all of it out. You don’t want to accidentally dump your potatoes into the sink. Just pour off the excess, then return the pot to the stove. Make sure the burner is off.

You want to turn your potatoes into mashed potatoes while they’re still hot, which will result in the best texture, so let’s go.

First, add a knob of butter directly to the pot. You don’t really need to measure, but I typically use about 1 Tbsp of butter per potato, or per two potatoes if they were small. You can use butter straight from the fridge. It’ll melt pretty quickly once it touches the hot potatoes.

You don’t need a special potato masher. You don’t need to put the potatoes in a blender or anything weird like that. You just need a fork. Use the back of the fork to break up the pieces of potato and blend them around, heaping the mashed-up pieces over the butter to help it melt. Keep doing this, mashing the potatoes with the fork, moving them around, blending in the butter as it melts, until the butter is completely melted. Add some salt, stir it in, and then add a splash of milk. Go with less milk at this point, because it’s easy to add more if you want fluffier potatoes but you can’t take milk out if you add too much.

Continue to mix the potatoes until the milk is incorporated completely. Taste them, add more salt and more milk if the potatoes are stiffer than you like, then taste them again and add more salt if necessary. By now the potatoes should be 100% mashed with no lumps, and the reason there are no lumps is because you cooked the everloving heck out of those potatoes and that did most of the work for you. The lumps in lumpy mashed potatoes are mostly bits of undercooked potato.

You can now move the potatoes to a serving bowl if you like, or just serve them from the pot. You’ll probably want to add pepper. Leftovers keep well in the fridge in a covered bowl.

So that’s mashed potatoes.

But suppose you want to dress those mashed potatoes up. Suppose you want, for instance, some garlic cream cheese mashed potatoes for a holiday dinner or part of a special meal. Well, that’s easy too but it requires more ingredients.

This is my cousin Molly’s recipe and the family makes it for big holiday gatherings. The recipe calls for 2 ½ pounds of potatoes, but you can double the recipe if you want. Make sure you have a really big pot if you do double it, though, because five pounds of potatoes is a whole lot of potatoes.

You prepare and boil the potatoes the same as you do plain mashed potatoes. Follow the above directions until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart, which takes less time but means you will need to be more aggressive about mashing them. Drain them well, then return them to the pot. You’ll notice that these are really rich potatoes. You’re adding an entire stick of butter and 4 ounces of cream cheese. It’s good to soften both before adding them, either by taking them out of the fridge a few hours before, to warm to room temperature, or by warming in the microwave for 10-second bursts.

Turn the oven on to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9×9 pan. My 9×9 pan was dirty when I made these so I used a two-quart casserole and it worked just fine. Set the pan aside.

Add everything except the milk to the potatoes and then either beat them with an electric mixer or just mash the heck out of them with your fork. Mash it until it’s thoroughly blended so that when you take a little taste, it’s completely creamy and there are no lumps. This will take a while if you’re doing it by hand, but it’s worth the effort.

When I made these, I read the recipe wrong and instead of 1 ½ tsp of sugar I put in 1 ½ tsp of garlic powder. Then I realized what I’d done and tried to scrape some of it up, but of course that never works. But the end result was really good, so if you’re a garlic lover, you can be more generous with the garlic powder. (But let’s be honest, you probably were going to anyway, right?)

As the recipe says, you only want to add enough milk to give the potatoes a creamy consistency. Don’t overdo it. The original recipe calls for about 3/8th of a cup of milk, but I don’t have a measuring cup that measures in eighths so call it between one quarter and one third cup of milk.

Once everything is mixed up well and the potatoes are smooth, pour them into the greased pan. You’ll need a rubber spatula to get them all out and smooth the top. Then pop the pan into the oven and set the timer for 25 or 30 minutes. If you had to wait to make these and the potatoes cooled before you mashed them, you definitely need to bake them for a full 30 minutes. If they were still hot when you made them, you can get away with a little less time.

When the timer goes off, take them out of the oven and they’re ready to serve! They keep for several days in the fridge if you cover them up or put them in a closely sealed container. Heat them up before eating them.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.