Saturday, May 24, 2014

Garden Update: Hardening off

Today, I put my seedlings out to harden off, finally.  It was so cold last weekend, and I was so busy, I didn't bother.   Here's where I think I stand with the seed starting:

  • 12 Starlight Echinacea plants - I already have a ton of echinacea in my garden; it self seeds to wild abandon! I am hoping to get some different color out of these Renee's Garden seeds, but they may look like the pink ones I already have.  
  • 0 Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes - I got these from Johnny's Seeds.  Epic fail
  • 6 Jasper - these did the best out of all my tomato starts....from Johnny's.   They are cherry tomatoes that are supposed to be fairly blight resistant.  I had horrible late blight last summer
  • 5 Mountain Magic - also did all right, these are full size tomato from seeds from Johnny's
  • 8 TBD tomatoes - I lost track of what these are - I think they might be more Jasper.
  • 10 Lavender Vincenza - these were from Fedco.  They did much better than...
  • 6 Lavender Munstead - from Johnny's.   
  • 26 Mexican Sunflowers - from Johnny's, I almost killed them when we went to Nashville last month and I forgot to water them before I left. I got these from Fedco.
  • 14 Exotic Love Vine...i.e. Spanish Flag...or Firecracker Vine  - I grew these years ago and they did great.   I'm going to have to build a trellis or something for all my climbers I have.  These were from Renee's Garden.
  • a couple mallow plants - Old seeds I had kicking around
  • some moonflower starts in the egg carton and take out food containers - I will put these down by the mailbox with my morning glories

Looking at my seed bill  from Johnny's, which doesn't show the additional $7 in shipping I paid, you can see that they weren't cheap.  My total was $25, and it looks like I got 43 plants total out of the deal, so I guess I paid 58 cents per plant, not counting the seed starter and the potting soil.   I have too many tomato plants for what I will actually need, which is 8. It's definitely not cheaper for me to start my own plants from seeds; I do it so I can get more varieties.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Prom Cookies

Tonight, it's Dexter High School's prom.   For the first time in history, it will be held outside of the school.   The venue is the U of M Football Stadium, which is pretty exciting!  I signed up to the a chaperon, and I get to monitor the students when they tour the football field and the locker rooms.   I figure I will never have the chance to be on the the football field in my life, so I am going to check it out!  The theme for the prom is "Under the Stars" and so we were asked to make star shaped cookies and decorate them in blue, white and silver, which are the prom colors this year.

I had a bunch of cream cheese in the fridge so I looked around the internet for  a cookie recipe that used it and I found this one on Taste of Home's website.   Boy, I sure miss the the old style TOH magazine that featured family style recipes from home cooks and no advertising.  That magazine has totally sold out and has become nothing but a marketing opportunity for food companies.  I am always buying vintage TOH cookbooks whenever I can find them at garage sales.

Old School TOH

I'm betting this recipe came from the old days, when all of their recipes were winners! You can trust recipes made from women with hair like that!   I modified it to use my stand mixer, but the recipe was originally written to be mixed by hand.   Here's how I made them:

Cream Cheese Cutouts
1 cup butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, cream cheese, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla, using the paddle attachment.  Gradually beat in flour. Refrigerate, covered, 1-2 hours or until firm enough to roll. Preheat oven to 375°. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with floured cookie cutters. Place 1 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 7-8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on pans 1 minute. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes about 2 dozen large or 4 dozen small cookies.

The challenging part of making these cookies is actually getting the icing the right texture for this type of decorating, called "flooding".   You can use a icing bag with a Wilton #3 tip, but what I have found works perfect for large cookies like these (2 inch diameter) is a plastic mustard and ketchup squeeze this: 

They are easier to fill than an icing bag.  Note that for more delicate cookies or for smaller dots, I'd use the icing bag and a smaller gage tip.  

Royal Icing Recipe


3/4 cup warm water
5 T meringue powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2.25 lbs powdered sugar


In mixer bowl, pour in the warm water and the meringue powder. Mix it with a whisk by hand until it is frothy and thickened…about 30 seconds. Add the cream of tartar and mix for 30 seconds more. Pour in all the icing sugar at once and place the bowl on the mixer.  Using the paddle attachment on the LOWEST speed, mix slowly for a full 10 minutes. Icing will get thick and creamy. Add just drops of water at a time to make the icing runnier.  If you add too much water at a time it’s more difficult to thicken it with icing sugar than it is to add water to it.  To make sure the icing is the right consistency for flooding, try the “10 second rule”.  Drag a butter knife through the surface of the icing and count to 10.  If the icing surface becomes smooth in anywhere between 5-10 seconds, then the icing is ready to use.  If it takes longer than approximately 10 seconds, the icing is too thick.  Slowly add more water.  If the icing surface smooths over in less than 5-10 seconds, it is too runny.  Mix the icing longer or slowly add more sifted icing sugar to thicken it.

Cover the bowl with a dampened tea-towel to prevent crusting and drying.    The best website I've found about how to do the decorating is this one....after some practice, I got the hang of it.  Give yourself at least a couple days to make cookies like this, because they need to dry overnight.   Happy baking!