Mint-Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

These cookies come from the September 2010 issue of Everyday Food. Crisp little chocolate mint sandwich cookies...perfect for dipping into a mug of hot cocoa.

Mine tasted like a to work on getting them to look like a Milano.

1 1/4 cups flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
4 oz semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp pure peppermint extract

Preheat oven to 325, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar on high, scraping down bowl as needed, until light and fluffy, four minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine. Add egg and beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat just until combined.

Transfer dough to a quart-size zip-top bag. With scissors, snip a 3/4-inch hole in one corner (or use a pastry bag with a plain tip). Pipe 54 cookies (3/4 by 2 inches), 1/2 inch apart, onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. (Mine didn't pipe out so pretty, so I had to reshape them a bit by hand.) Chill until firm, 20 minutes.

Bake until cookies are light golden at edges, about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer immediately to wire racks and let cool.

Place chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until melted, 2 minutes. Remove bowl from pan. In another medium bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar, peppermint extract, and 4 teaspoons water. With a small offset spatula or table knife, spread chocolate on flat side of half the cookies and mint glaze on the other half. Sandwich cookie halves together.

Strawberry Mascarpone Cupcakes (for Bunny)

Many of you are familiar with the tragic accident that took my dear, dear friend and sister-in-law, Bunny last month. I can't tell you how much I miss her.

She was my go-to girl when I wanted to talk baking. I loved working out a recipe idea with her. I loved getting random emails and phone calls from her telling me about a foodie blog that I had to check out. I loved to hear about what she had planned for her weekly "baking Thursday". I admired her ability to eat just one treat every Thursday and pass the rest out to her neighbors. That's why she was able to bake like she baked, and look like she looked!

She was a favorite running partner. She could push me up a hill better than anyone (I should say pull--she was always in the lead).
If you were lucky enough to know her, you loved her. If you didn't know her, well, I wish you had.

She left behind a sweet and good husband, and two adorable little girls. Boy, do they miss her.
I have learned so much this past four weeks.

I have learned the power of service. As a family, we have been utterly humbled by the incredible outpouring of love and support that we have felt. I can't count how many times we came home to a plate of cookies on the front porch, or a sweet note in the mail. Phone calls, drop-by's, flowers, hugs, prayers...people were inspired.  

I have learned the value of having people to mourn with you as you mourn, to help you bear your burden. I hope that I have become a more empathetic person.  We have been surrounded by so many good people.  

I have learned that I need to live every day so that I don't have any regrets. That's how Bunny lived. Everything she did, she did her best. She was a wonderful wife, mother and friend...someone who will never be forgotten.

These cupcakes were brought to us by a kind cousin. They were so delicious, I had to make them and share the recipe.
It is based on a Giada recipe, but Giada used a cake mix. Cousin Katelyn went above and beyond with this fantastic homemade cupcake batter. (Seriously, if any of you are batter lovers, don't even lick the spoon, or you'll find yourself making only 12 cupcakes, because you've eaten half the batter like it was pudding. Not that I did that.)

Strawberry Mascarpone filled Cupcakes
makes 2 dozen
1 cup butter
1 cup water
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter with water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Pour in butter and water and mix with mixer on slow speed. Pour in muffin cups/tin and bake for 13-15 min. Wait til cupcakes cool to fill and frost.

(8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese, chilled
1/2 cup thawed and drained frozen strawberries (if using fresh strawberries, use 4-5 large berries, sliced)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a food processor combine the mascarpone cheese, strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Process the mixture until smooth. Transfer the strawberry mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a small tip. Push the tip gently into the bottom of a cupcake and squeeze in the strawberry mixture until the cupcake plumps. (I baked mine in cupcake cups, so I filled from the top of the cakes. They are probably prettier if you fill from the bottom.)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners' sugar

In a small saucepan make a vanilla syrup by bringing the 1/2 cup sugar, water, and vanilla extract to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved. In a medium bowl combine the vanilla syrup with the confectioner's sugar. Stir until smooth. Working quickly, use a rubber spatula spread the icing on the top of the cupcakes. If the icing begins to firm up, place in the microwave for a few seconds to warm up again.

Bunny would have loved these cupcakes. And if she made them, they would have tasted better and looked prettier than mine. I promise.

P.S. Thank you all for indulging me in a long, and personal post.

Zucchini Cranberry Bread

I am always looking for ways to use up zucchini. This bread is delicious.

recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup finely grated zucchini (I got more than enough from one medium sized garden zucchini)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries (I always buy a few extra bags during the holidays and toss them right into the freezer for later use. I think you can find them in the freezer section of your supermarket. If not, substitute blueberries, sour cherries, use your imagination...)

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a bread pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla. Stir in the zucchini. Add the flour mixture, and stir to combine; do not overmix. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the cranberries.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake, rotating halfway through, until top is golden and cake tester comes out clean (45-50 minutes). Transfer to wire rack to cool before serving.

Can also make 12 muffins with this batter, just decrease the baking time to 25 - 30 minutes.