To New Traditions: Sugar Cookies

The hardest part about growing up is realizing that traditions have to change: The whole family might not make it to Thanksgiving; My mom doesn’t like hanging stockings anymore; My little brothers are too big to have their bedrooms doors wrapped shut on Christmas Eve. Within those lost traditions are ones that remain: My dad reading us The Night Before Christmas (no matter how old we get); Mimosas on Christmas morning; Croquettes for Christmas dinner. Those things stay the same and I believe always will in some way.

Recently I find myself sifting through traditions old and new in order to see what I want to carry on to my own family one day. I will make pies for my own family on Thanksgiving, as I have for years now. I hope to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning for years to come.

As a part of tradition searching, this was the first year I made Christmas cookies from scratch. We had always used pre-made doughs, Pillsbury and the like, but they were never really right. The were often hard and the past few years we didn’t really get into it as much. I took it upon myself to tackle fresh cookies that would be more favorable and softer than in years past. I made the dough by myself, but my family still got into the cutting and decorating. The combination of my baking and my family’s help made it the perfect tradition in my book.

The Recipedsc_1463

I am developing a serious appreciation for Tasty lately because they yet to have a recipe that disappoints me. I used their sugar cookie recipe after looking at the positive comments and liking the attitude of the included video. I followed it exactly, except I included less almond butter and anticipated that it made much more than the 12 cookies that it said it did. I can thank the comments for those good decisions.

With all of my years of baking, I believe I had only made homemade icing once before this. I was not sure how my meringue powder substitute would go, but (surprise, surprise) it went pretty well. I had to add more water than I expected, and I could have probably doubled the recipe overall to make more. It was not the perfect royal icing that I was hoping to have in order to decorate, but I pin that on my inexperience and I only hope to improve it in order to decorate more intricately.

How They Taste

I knew from the second I tasted the dough that these cookies were going to be good. That hint of almond, which my family took forever to guess, was perfect. dsc_1471Even after baking they retained their flavor and remained soft for the few days that they lasted.

The key was to not roll the dough out too thin, because thicker cookies had a slight fluffiness to them that was perfect. I don’t mean make them thick, but not make them too thin either.

The cookies reminded me of pre-made cookies from years past, while also having a homemade comfort to them that you can’t get from the store. I was concerned about the flavor of the icing, but I ended up going for the iced cookies over the plain ones. I could go for one of them as I type.

Reminders for Years to Come

Here’s a mental reminder to myself to start putting together a really nice recipe book. This recipe would be first thing in the “holiday desserts” section. It’s a classic cookies that takes time but pays off in the end. I would save myself the work and make the dough one day while baking/decorating the next day. The combined mental, emotional, and stomach satisfaction was just what I was looking for. Already excited to give these another try during the next holiday season.

 

Casey

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Tried & True: Crab Mac & Cheese

Some people cook on a whim, using the tools their parents taught them or what they’ve managed to come up with for themselves. I, for one, like to follow recipes. It’s what I find comfort in as a baker, so as a novice chef I stick to what I know.

A friend and I recently decided to put our skills to the test (his by far already better than mine considering I didn’t even know how to cut an onion properly) after binge watching some Netflix cooking shows. After some searches, we settled on attempting to make crab mac and cheese. We have Rachael Ray to thanks for our endeavors, as her video and recipe had our jaws dropping at just the site of her finished dish. Let’s just say the results were worth sharing, so here are my thoughts!

What’s Good about this recipe:

  • The veggies: Catch me using this recipe in 10 years to sneak veggies to my kids because the celery and onions in here are just the perfect addition to make me feel a little less guilty for my third bowl.
  • The Panko/Parsley/Hot Sauce combo on top: I grew up hating crumb toppings on mac and cheese, but now I can’t imagine mac without it. I snuck in a bit more hot sauce than called for (I used my trusty Chulula), and it was definitely the right move.
  • How much it makes: In just the first night we scarfed down about 6 helpings worth, and there was easily another 10 to devour. Although the ingredients added up price wise (even with a few things already on hand, it cost us $55 for the rest), we got out money worth.

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What To Change:

  • More Cheese! We just about doubled all of the recommended cheese amount and for the better.
  • More milk! Use a bit more milk than called for, and whole milk at that, for the creaminess everyone dreams of.
  • The crab! Either be very thorough with how you stir it, or add less. I had a few bowls that were just way too crab heavy. You could even do without the grab all together if it isn’t your thing.
  • Although the veggies made me feel healthy, I am curious how this would turn out with healthy alternatives—meaning skim milk and whole wheat pasta. This mac is meant to pig out on, but it’s always a good thing to consider.

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Overall Verdict: It’s a keeper

According to my instagram followers, this mac looked professional when all was said and done. The many ingredients were worth the price because it was just about as intricate in flavor as mac can get. I was proud of myself for kicking butt in the kitchen —even if I had help. Here’s hoping I get to cooking more because I really missed creating (edible) things that I’m proud of!

But really who knows when I’ll post again,

Casey

 

 

 

 

Fruit Smoothie Recipe with Healthy Fats for Days

With a month left of summer and my remote internship over, I have more time to enjoy the simple things in life. Those things being homemade hearty smoothies and food photography. Luckily those both brought me to a fruit smoothie recipe that I could never get tired of. It’s sweet without being overwhelming, plus it keeps me full longer than most due to the healthy fats and seeds.

Enjoyed in moderation (my one true motto), healthy fats can be really good for you. Thanks to the help of some friends and a summer of food research, I’ve learned that adding things like avocados and coconut oil can really enhance the health benefits of a meal. At the same time, I am cautious not to overindulge considering there are other nutrients that I need room for. A fruit smoothie is perfect for getting my daily dose.

Here’s the fruit smoothie recipe that I’ve had a lot of luck with recently.

Ingredients (Single Serving; approximate amounts)

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  • 1/2 an avocadoDSC_0498
  • About 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil
  • Spoonful of Chia Seeds (Plus a bit more for on top)
  • About a cup of frozen mixed berries
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • About 3/4 of almond milk
  • Several drops of lemon juice
  • About a teaspoon of ginger paste
  • Granola (for on top)
  • Water (depending on how thick you want it)
  • Pinch of brown sugar (if you like it sweet)

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Blend It Up!

Blending a smoothie is different each time. A smaller blender, like my single-serving one, can make it hard it put everything in at once. I always end up adding more water and berries as more room is created for them, but the best part about making a smoothie is that it is hard to mess up. Even if the taste is off, it is easy to go back and adjust.

The key is to be cautious of air pockets in the blender, add water or almond milk with
caution as not to make it too thick or thin, and add more of whatever ingredients you find that you like.DSC_0515

This fruit smoothie recipe is not exact and can easily be personalized. The granola and extra chia seeds on top are for those who like it crunchy and more aesthetically pleasing, like me, but you could easily leave it topless or add fresh fruit. Next time I’m freezing my smoothie for a sweet, ice-cream-like treat.

It’s good to be back. Enjoy!

With Love,

Casey

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Life Lessons From Baklava

Living with a chronic sweet tooth can simply only be soothed by trying every new dessert in sight. I never thought this would lead me to a new obsession with baklava, or finding out my grandpa made baklava every Christmas eve for years after trying it in Greece, but nothing tops the life lessons I learned when making baklava itself with my dad.

1. Sometimes you can actually have too much butterdsc_0049

I’m the first one to jump off the healthy eating train, but if there was one thing I would
change about my final baklava product it would be how much butter i slathered on there.

2. Everything can be fixed.

Next time i’ll use my butter more sparingly; The phyllo dough can be re-arrranged; Toss those almost back in the food processor. Nothing is permanent, in the kitchen anyway.

3. It’s the simple things in life

Square baklava is nice, but the simple act of cutting them diagonally is the perfect touch.

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4. Teamwork makes the Dreamwork

My newest cliché motto that is so essential to putting together baklava at a decent pace. Simultaneously keeping the dough moist and laying it with the butter is so much easier with a two person team.

5. Don’t Rush

I always insist on using convection bake instead of regular bake, which we thought cut off 20 minutes of the cooking time. Turns out, it could’ve used a few more minutes. The baklava holds for several days, letting the dough soak up both the butter and syrup, so you can easily set aside 15 minutes a day for the next week to enjoy this.

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6. The biggest surprise is in the syrup

While what led me to this masterpiece of a recipe was a combination of family and friends, the simple syrup made it worth it. It was a small detail but the finishing piece and essential element.

7. Sometimes you have to just let the food speak for itself

Not matter how much I described this dessert to my little brother, he didn’t seem to grasp the beauty of baklava until he tasted it for himself. He was speechless himself after that. The sound of nothing but forks hitting plates might be one of my favorites.

Constantly eating,

Casey

Peep my other eats on Instagram! @penneformythoughts

You Can Call Me The Girl Who Ate the World

It was my creative writing class this semester that gave me the final push to return to my abandoned child of a blog. It reminded me that it’s not about what exactly I write but that fact that I am writing at all. The following personal narrative, and my final for the class, brings me nothing but pride and hunger for both food and adventure

Of all the posts to return to CC with, I think this is a curveball for all of us but enjoy!

The Girl Who Ate the World

By Casey Irwin

I plan on eating the world. Our planet we love and live for, I plan on devouring—and I don’t just mean I’m going to eat at the “Top Ten Restaurants in Rome”.

I am going to eat Rome.

Devour Moscow.

Consume Toronto.

Throw in some Hong Kong and even Vienna for dessert. I am going to eat the world until nothing remains.

I left Chicago because there was nothing left of it. I was eating away at it as I grew up, really learning the best mindsets when setting out to explore my city, person, or plate before me. My family nurtured me with putting experiences over everything, which showed me the best approaches to satisfying my hunger. I started off slow, not completely taking it in until the picky eater in me faded away and a big appetite took its place.  Even as I visit, returning only after it has had a chance to rebuild itself in my absence, I eat all that I missed and more of the surrounding areas. Eat one city and it is as if two grows back in its place. There is always something new to try while too much of the same also remains.

Next I will be on to Spain. I go. I try the Paella. The Jamón. The Tapas. But I don’t stop there. I consume the smiles that join me for every meal. I am given energy by the flowing conversation around the table. I snack on the satisfaction of a meal out, with a buzz from a coffee and a life-high hangover. Every element of Spain fuels me for my next trip, repaying the meals that my host family feed me with the filling feelings of appreciation and love. I leave without a regret; not a corner unturned.

Maybe India is next. India might be a bit harder to swallow, but I will take on any challenge if it means a full stomach. To some people it isn’t as pleasant as other places, but throwing enough spices on anything will make it tasty. I will be bloated by the rivers, and I’ll need to run off those festivals and traditions later. Social media will capture it all before there is nothing left to capture. Consuming India is a more intimidating idea, more than just the different table manners that come with a different place. It can take a lot of energy to step into a place without letting expectations and other people’s judgments take over, but what you get out of it is so much more. I won’t let the over crowded streets clog my arteries when there is something so satisfying about sharing a meal or traditional chai tea with someone that expects nothing from you except a smile.

Again I will be forced to question myself as I make my way to Egypt. History is like the bran muffin of subjects to some people, while to me the thousands of years of being marinated in conflict and culture have left Egypt ready to be cooked and consumed like a fine steak. My tongue may grow tired from trying to speak the native language, only to have my appetite grow with the humorous conversation around my mispronunciations. The tourist filled pyramids won’t stick with me, like how carbs never manage to keep me full for long. It’ll be the authentic restaurants and people that will carry me from one adventure to the next.

It’s then that I am ready for Melbourne, Australia. One of my high school best friends was from here, but I would like to think she would be encouraging and even helpful as I nibble away at it. The artistic support that has been created by the beautiful city, whether it be through the discussion around cafés or street art, will make it go down so smoothly. The intriguing thoughts brought up enrich my body more than any vitamin could.

Can’t leave out South America. I’ll make my way through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile,

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela by way of the Andes Mountains. The rough terrain has nothing on my chompers, making my way through small villages and vast cities. You would think that I would get tired of it after so many countries, but people tend to forget just how different the Latin American countries are. Only once I take a sip of satisfaction where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet will I move on.

To Baklava in Athens.

Korean Barbeque in Seoul.

Matriarchy in Mosuo, China.

The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

Equality in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Only the penguins of Antarctica are safe. One sided conversations leave a bad aftertaste.

I will travel them all, picking my teeth clean of them one by one, until I have licked my plate clean and eaten it too.

~          ~         ~

 I would eat the world if I could; for I think it would taste pretty damn good.

That is the thing though. Food isn’t just food. We don’t just consume and grow from what we put in our mouths. Food is the conversation around the table. Food is the energy of whoever you care to share a meal with and the culture that surrounds its roots. Meals are remembered by the place they are eaten and who they are with. Food is an experience that can be done alone, but is so much better with people by your side to complete the experience.

Tried & True: Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies

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Finally back at it again with the #FoodieFridays! Food has been such a big part of my life lately but not in a way that I could write about it on my blog until now. Thanks to my lack of warm weather plans, I took to the kitchen during my few days back at home this past week.

I wanted to make something different, but not too timeIMG_0908.jpg
consuming. Cookies seemed like a good way to go, but I wanted something more than my basic chocolate chip cookies. This led me to deciding to make yet another Pinterest find, Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies from Betsylife. Luckily for all of us and my family, I was very happy with how they turned out.

Highlights:

  • Dark chocolate is really underrated and I used to consider caramel overrated, but the combination is perfect. These cookies specifically have a great ratio so that you’re never stuck with a caramel-less bite.
  • These cookies still manage to not be over chocolate-y, so you can shovel down more than a few without immediate guilt or that death-by-chocolate kind of feeling.

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Tips:

  • IMG_0848.jpgUse the full 9 oz bag of Toll House DelightFulls. It seemed like too much so I did not initially add all of them, but after doing my first batch I added the rest of the bag to the dough I had left and it really added to the rest of the cookies
  • Be cautious but generous with the salt. I personally do not like a lot of salt with caramel, but I was a little too cautious with these cookies.
  • Judging these cookies in the oven was tough because they start out dark anyway, so I personally just trusted my gut. They do not spread very much, but you will start to see them almost crack open a bit like a load of bread when they’re done.

My family found the appearance of these cookies in relation to how appetizing they are debatable, but we all loved them for their taste. Heated up and mixed with vanilla ice cream is an extra special treat!

Let me know if you try this recipe! Also, does anyone have any tips for how to come up with my own recipes? I can’t just talk about other people’s creations forever!

Crazy for Caramel,

Casey

Why and How I Photograph Food

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I have a confession to make: I took a picture of a majority of the meals I ate over winter break. It was not because I happened to have my phone out, but rather I was proud of how good the meal looked. I think a colorful and well presented meal is a good tell of how well it is going to taste and sometimes even how healthy it is. You probably won’t see a lot of my dining hall meals on Instagram because they just are not worth my time (or even tastebuds recently), but I do not see any shame in whipping out your phone to capture meals worth remembering–which is my foodie case is most of them.

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Do It For the Insta?

I don’t take pictures just to post. Even before I really got into social media and blogging, I was taking picture of my food. Now I’ll admit it’s nice when it turns out to be Instagram worthy, but at the end of the day I am happy with all of my food pictures.

Memories May Be BeautifulIMG_0128.JPG

I am all for some good old nostalgia. Pictures of food,  like any pictures, can remind you of both the deliciousness of the meal and the event around it. This stands for life in general as far as photography, so food is just another part of it that people sometimes neglect. Remembering my eighteenth birthday as special is easy, but seeing the picture of my colossal cake brings back specific memories of my family laughing at its unanticipated size.

Rewarding

On the occasional days that I eat a healthy meal, I find it rewarding to capture it. It helps me to remember to eat healthy when I look back, and it makes the whole idea of eating healthy more appealing when the food is so beautiful!

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What I keep in Mind:

  • Lighting: Dark, romantic lighting may set the mood for date night, but that chocolate cake might just look like mud. I’m not personally a fan of flash, so check your settings.
  • Editing: Don’t over edit your food, whether you’re posting it or not. Food isn’t necessarily all natural anymore with rainbow bagels and ice cream sandwiches, but the photos shouldn’t make them look cartoon-ish.
  • The Surroundings: Depending on your intentions, the setting is everything! *Queue brunch pictures*
  • Take some pictures, then put you’re phone away! I’ve always wanted to play that game where everyone’s phones go in the middle and the first person to grab theirs has to pay. I am obviously for capturing memories, but enough is enough sometimes.

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Now I feel like I need to have this post printed out with me whenever I feel like people are staring at me when I take pictures of my food, which is even more necessary now that I write for Spoon University.

Do it for the Food!

Tweet and tag me in  your food pictures! 

Constantly Capturing,

Casey