The Smart Cookie’s Guide to Royal Icing

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Royal icing is having a major moment. Seriously. Decorated cookies are almost as popular as Pokemon Go right now.

There is a cookie cutter for virtually anything or any occasion you can think of.

So if you’re planning a party, or just want to do something special for a friend, you can just jump online and order a cookie cutter specific to whatever tickles the person’s fancy, from unicorns to 50s muscle cars to French Bulldogs and saguaro cactus (yes, everything and anything!)

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Of course, I want all the pretty things I see online.  And, I suffer short-term memory loss when it comes to my inability to bake, and whatever my last failed attempt was. So whenever I see some intricately decorated iced works of art on Pinterest or Instagram, I think “Oooooh, I want to do that!”

But royal icing seemed so intimidating! I’m a canned frosting from the baking aisle kind of girl. However, the fancifully decorated cookies you see everywhere right now require royal icing, which has that beautiful, smooth matte finish that makes a cookie look so professional, like it came straight from a wonderful bakery.

I enlisted the help of my go-to baking expert and good friend Mary, and said, “TEACH ME! I want to be your icing Jedi!!!” So she shared her techniques in this video, along with her amazing set of decorating supplies, and we set out on an odyssey of summer cookie decorating adventure.

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I got to do what I do best. Shop. I found adorable summer-themed cookie cutters on Etsy from Frosted. There are a bajillion great shops – just enter your desired shape + the word cookie cutter in the search box on Etsy and you’ll find some really unusual ones. Or, you can request a custom cutter if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Etsy is my go-to for unique and original everything.

I did manage to make the cookies beforehand using the package Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix, although I baked one batch on wax paper instead of parchment. But the real purpose of this exercise was for Mary to teach me to decorate cookies using royal icing. My only other experience with it was a disaster, trying to make my own Ginger Bread House with a store-bought kit containing premade icing. It was too thick and well…see for yourself.

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Needless to say, Martha Stewart chose a different photo for her December issue of Living.

For this icing, my baking Yoda used a recipe from Sweet Sugar Belle which she modifies slightly. Mary used the whisk attachment rather than the paddle attachment on her KitchenAid mixer, and Vanilla Bean paste. We also added additional warm water by the drop as necessary when it came time to ice, in order to get the desired consistency, so the icing would settle when the cookie was gently tapped.

Take a look at the video Mary & I made, and you’ll never be intimidated by making royal icing again.

 

 

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, learned the hard way, NEVER to put plastic cookie cutters in the dishwasher. Special thanks to icing guru, Mary Haehn. 

 

The Perfect Mother’s Day Meal

spring veggies

Was your mother always begging you to “Eat your vegetables!” like mine was? As a kid, I had no interest. Boiled Brussels sprouts and canned green beans? Blegh, no thank you. But between growing up and developing a more nuanced palate and finding new ways to cook vegetables in the current veggie-centric food world, I’ve become a veggie (and fruit!) fiend.

So mama, this one’s for you – here’s your Mother’s Day menu chockfull of those greens and things that abound in spring.

Though technically spring started in March, let’s get real: if you live anywhere in the northern or eastern states, you’re only now getting to really experience this awesome season. The beautiful greenery, fresh flowers, spring vacations, those warm but not hot days, and my favorite part of spring – the produce!

Asparagus, apricots, artichokes, fava beans, leeks, radishes, rhubarb, peas, carrots…  it truly is the best time of year for a fruit and veggie lover like me.

There are so many different options for how to use the spring crop bounty, but where to begin? It feels like for every time I see a new recipe I’m dying to try, the next day I find three new ones, and then they all just get lost in the bookmarks and I never end up making them!

But fear not. You don’t have to suffer the same sad fate as me, where I’ve followed the instructions to a t only to be left with starchy asparagus or smushy peas. Here is a menu collection of my favorite spring recipes – starting with an appetizer, ending with a dessert – that are as tried and true as can be. You won’t be wasting your precious spring veggies and fruits on disastrous recipes…just the absolute best ones.

Appetizer: Cauliflower-Leek Soup

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Photo from AllRecipes.com

I like this recipe for two reasons: 1) it switches out starchy potatoes for cauliflower, lowering the carb count, and 2) it’s pretty much as simple as sautéing a few ingredients and tossing them in the blender. Although this recipe calls for a warm soup, I actually have preferred serving it chilled, but both work.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 leeks, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large head cauliflower, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream (optional)

Directions:

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat, and saute the leeks, cauliflower, and garlic for about 10 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 45 minutes.

Remove the soup from heat. Blend the soup with an immersion blender or hand mixer. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the heavy cream, and continue blending until smooth.

 

Entrée: Crispy Catfish Sandwiches with Quick Cabbage Slaw, Plus Simple Spring Salad

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Yes, there is a bite taken out of the sandwich. Don’t judge me!

This is a personal recipe I based on a dish I had at a restaurant, and I’ve tweaked it over and over just to my liking. What’s great about it is you could totally substitute another flaky fish if you’d like, or even thin chicken cutlets, and although it is fried, the batter is so light it feels just indulgent enough without being heavy.

Plus, the salad is more than flexible – I’ve swapped radicchio for romaine, fresh French beans for radish, and tried a variety of dressings, though I’m partial to this vinaigrette.

Ingredients:

  • 1-3 whole French baguettes, or individual sub rolls per person depending on size of party
  • 1 catfish fillet per person
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon creamy Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon each cayenne, garlic powder, onion salt, paprika, and cumin
  • 2 hearts of Romaine (or lettuce of your choice)
  • 4-5 thinly sliced radishes
  • Handful of multicolored halved cherry tomatoes
  • Simple lemon vinaigrette dressing
  • Note: will use extra mayonnaise from side dish in this dish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the flour, 5 tablespoons of water, and half of the spice mixture, plus salt and pepper. In another bowl, mix shredded cabbage, the juice of the lime, the apple cider vinegar and the mustard, stirring well. Then place in fridge. On a dry plate pat the catfish dry. In a nonstick skillet, add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan on medium heat. Test the temp of the oil by adding a tiny drop of water; if it sizzles, you’re good to go.

Dredge the catfish in the flour mixture, then add to the nonstick skillet. Cook the catfish 4-7 minutes on each side, checking that it’s not burning or sticking but just turning golden brown and crispy. Once cooked, place on clean, paper towel-lined plate, and season with salt and pepper again.

Cut the bread of your choice, and toast in preheated oven gently, just until edges are turning a warm brown. Add the cleaned romaine (or other lettuce), thinly sliced radishes, and the tomatoes to the plate. Drizzle vinaigrette on top; add a grind or two of fresh black pepper. I like to garnish with finely chopped herbs, such as oregano, chives, or basil, but feel free to leave out.

Spread mayonnaise on toasted bread, add catfish fillet, topping with the quick cabbage slaw and serve warm with the side salad.

Side Dish: A Cozy Kitchen’s Roasted Asparagus

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Photo from A Cozy Kitchen.

This is an easy to make side that truly stuns (if you like asparagus, that is). Here, we’re doubling the recipe for the hazelnut mayo, adding half to the catfish sandwich. Trust me, it works, but if you have nut allergy concerns, just omit the hazelnuts. Also note: she calls for white asparagus, but I made it with only green and it works wonderfully; though she uses an immersion blender, I’ve used a regular blender and everything turned out fine.

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole large eggs
  • *1 cup sunflower or grape seed oil (a clean, mild-tasting oil)
  • *1/4 cup hazelnut oil (optional – if not using, then add 3/4 cup sunflower or grape seed oil)
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 4 teaspoon whole grain mustard
  • Salt
  • 3/4 pound green asparagus, washed and ends trimmed
  • 1/4 pound white asparagus, washed, ends trimmed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet and transfer to the oven to toast for 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately transfer warm hazelnuts to the center of a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the kitchen towel around the hazelnuts and rub them vigorously until all of the skins have fallen off. (A little bit of skin staying on is normal and totally fine.) Set nuts aside to cool.

Meanwhile, add the large eggs, sunflower or grape seed oil, hazelnut oil (if using), juice from lemon, mustard and a few pinches of salt to a tall plastic cylinder (note: most hand immersion blenders come with a tall plastic cylinder for blending). Allow the egg yolk to settle to the bottom. Using a hand immersion blender, stick the blade to the very bottom and blend on high for about 30 seconds; you’ll immediately see the mayonnaise begin to form. Slowly raise the immersion blender near the surface to incorporate all of the oil and until very thick. Salt to taste. In a food processor or using a knife, pulse the hazelnuts until they resemble a coarse meal, about 30 seconds. Add the aioli to the food processor and blend until completely incorporated and smooth(ish).

Preheat the broiler. On a baking sheet (you can use the same one you toasted the hazelnuts on), add the green asparagus in an even layer. Rub the asparagus with the olive oil, lemon juice and a few pinches of salt. Place the baking sheet under the broiler and roast for 5 minutes. At the 5-minute mark, add the white asparagus to the baking sheet. Place the baking sheet back under the broiler and roast for an additional 10 minutes. Serve the asparagus alongside the hazelnut mayonnaise.

Dessert: Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Photo from Smitten Kitchen.

You just have to end your meal on a sweet note. I tend to like more delicate little bits and pieces of treats, but my mom is a pie fanatic. This one perfectly walks the line between sweet and tart. Plus, it can be made up to 3 days in advance and left at room temperature, so you don’t have to worry about dessert the day of.

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough or double-crust pie dough of your choice
  • 3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds, untrimmed) rhubarb, in 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 3 1/2 cups (about 1 pound) strawberries, hulled and sliced if big, halved if tiny
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a well-floured counter, roll half of pie dough into a 12-inch circle and carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. (I like to fold my gently into quarters, to transfer it more easily, then unfold it in the pie plate.)

Stir together rhubarb, strawberries, sugars, lemon, salt and tapioca in a large bowl. Mound filling inside bottom pie crust and dot with bits of unsalted butter. Roll second half of pie dough into an 11-inch circle and cut decorative slits in it. Transfer it to center over the pie filling. Trim top and bottom pie dough so that their overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath itself and crimp it decoratively.

Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush egg yolk mixture over dough. Bake for 20 minutes then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until the pie is golden and the juices bubble visibly.

Transfer pie to wire rack to cool. When full cool (several hours later) the juices gel.

So, just to recap: This menu has cauliflower, leek, cabbage, lettuce, radish, tomatoes, asparagus, lemon, strawberries AND rhubarb. Is that enough veggies (and two fruits!) for you, Mom?

Whether you make this full meal or just some of the recipes, you’re sure to host a home-run Mother’s Day luncheon. Just don’t forget the wine and spritzers!

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Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, wishes all mothers a wonderful Mother’s Day.

 

Mallo Nut Fudge Cake = True Love

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Sunday is Valentine’s Day. You’ll have the whole day to work on this masterpiece. Because nothing says I love you like a rich and gooey chocolate cake!

Mallo-Nut Fudge Cake
3 oz. chocolate, cut very fine
¾ cup boiling water
1 ¾ cup sifted cake flour
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp soda
½ cup butter or shortening
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, unbeaten
18 marshmallows, cut in half
½ cup chopped walnuts

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Put chocolate in mixing bowl. Pour boiling water over chocolate and stir until melted. Cool. Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda into chocolate mixture. Drop in butter. Beat 2 minutes in mixer at low speed. Scrape bowl and spoon. Add buttermilk, vanilla and eggs. Beat 2 minutes on mixer at low speed. Bake in 2 two square 8 x 8 x 2-inch coated pans, 30-40 minutes.
While cake is warm, press marshmallows on one layer, turned bottom-side up. Spread with Minute-Boil Fudge Frosting; put other layer on top. Add nuts to remaining frosting, spread on top of cake. Decorate each corner with a quartered marshmallow.

Minute-Boil Fudge Frosting
2 oz. chocolate finely cut
4 tbs. butter
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tbs corn syrup
7 tbs milk
¼ tsp sale
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbs water

Directions:
Place chocolate, sugar, milk, butter, corn syrup and salt in saucepan. Bring slowly to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil briskly 1 full minute. Cool to lukewarm. Add vanilla and beat until thick enough to spread.

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Recipe Notes
For the chocolate in the cake portion of the recipe I used 3 ounces of a fine dark chocolate bar (70% cacao Lindt). It was not very chocolatey so I added 2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.
For the chocolate in the frosting portion, I tried using the same chocolate as above and again it was not enough chocolate so I added an ounce of bittersweet chocolate.
There are some errors with the frosting portion of this recipe. Water is listed as an ingredient, however it is not mentioned in the instructions. I added it in the beginning with all of the other ingredients.
Bring the frosting to a boil very slowly to allow the sugar to melt properly and mingle with the rest of the ingredients. As it nears boiling, stir constantly and briskly. The frosting will look very liquid-y as it cools. I gave it a brisk stir every few minutes to help it thicken.

Guest Blogger,  Joanne M., a Smart Perks employee,  has a daughter interning as a pastry chef! The apple pie doesn’t fall far from the family tree.