The Best Sugar Cookies – Updated

Sometimes even a great recipe needs an update. There are two sugar cookie recipes I use, this one, and one from Sally’s Place that my colleague shared with me years ago.

Out of curiosity, I checked the difference between this recipe and my other go to, and I was surprised to see they are quite similar! The differences are that Sally’s adds the zest of 1 lemon, only 1 teaspoon vanilla and no almond extract, only 1/8 t. salt, and no baking powder. It also has the whimsical advice of wetting your hand with water and flicking whatever is left on it into the bowl.

Oh, and my colleague says to only use margarine in hers. Someday I’ll do a taste test, but for now, I might just use this one (and I use butter). It’s so simple, and I like almond better than lemon – your mileage may vary.

And now, for the frosting. Sometimes (like for the holidays), I’ll do royal icing. But when I need to be quick, this one is really, really good, especially if you like cream cheese. (And really, who doesn’t?) I can get the whole batch in a piping bag, and pipe it on with a star tip, starting in the center and working my way around, in 10 minutes flat (maybe less).

Sugar cookie base:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Pink frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened (you can use block or whipped, as long as you measure by weight)
3 oz. butter (3/4 stick), softened
1 tsp. vanilla
A few drops red food coloring
2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

Beat butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla and red food coloring and mix until combined. (Obviously you can do these any color, but pink is the way I first experienced them, so this is how I often do them. They are so pretty in any color.

Gradually add powdered sugar at low speed until fully combined. (Over-mixing will result in a lighter, aerated frosting–not my favorite with these cookies). More powdered sugar results in a stiffer frosting that develops a satisfying outer “crust” once dry (my preference), less results in a creamier texture that remains satiny.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Roll out each dough piece to approximately 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutter (yield with a round 2 inch cutter is approximately 60 cookies). Place cut-outs on baking sheets 1 inch apart. Refrigerate sheets with cut-outs for 15 minutes (this helps the cookies spread less during baking and retain their shape).

Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, rotating front-to-back and top-to-bottom (if using two sheets) halfway through. Let cookies cool completely before frosting.
Tip: If they aren’t soft and moist, you can add a couple of apple slices in an airtight container and they will soften.

For frosting, beat butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla and red food coloring and mix until combined. (Obviously you can do these any color, but pink is the way I first experienced them, so this is how I often do them. They are so pretty in any color.

Gradually add powdered sugar at low speed until fully combined. (Over-mixing will result in a lighter, aerated frosting–not my favorite with these cookies). More powdered sugar results in a stiffer frosting that develops a satisfying outer “crust” once dry (my preference), less results in a creamier texture that remains satiny.

Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Black Beans & Cheddar

Maybe it’s the quarantine, but this is my favorite thing I’ve eaten lately. Somehow the combination of simple flavors and quick cooking feels just right for the times. Plus Hudson likes all the ingredients, and so it’s a winner. I got this recipe from New York Times.

2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and dried
1 T. olive oil
Salt
1 cup cooked black beans (in pressure cooker or canned, rinsed and drained)
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar

Preheat oven to 425, and line sheet with parchment paper. Halve sweet potatoes lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and massage till evenly covered.

Place sweet potatoes face down on sheet and roast 30-40 minutes, until a fork goes through easily. Turn them over, flatten slightly, then divide half the cheese over the potatoes. Top with beans and more cheese, then bake 5 more minutes until cheese is melted and beans are warm. Season with salt, pepper, or a cajun or seasoning salt is nice here too.

A few notes:

  • This parchment paper is dreamy.
  • Did you know you can freeze sweet potatoes? I make lots extra, cool and freeze individually in plastic wrap. Then microwave when ready to serve; they come out creamy and delicious!
  • Do you have a pressure cooker? I absolutely love mine. Since I finally found black beans in stock, I’ve been making them on the reg like this: Add beans, 1.5 t salt, 5.5 cups water, a little dried minced garlic; sometimes a little cumin, oregano and pepper, and often 2 T rice wine vinegar and 2 T sugar. Cook 36 minutes under pressure and release naturally. Let me know if you want more pressure cooker recipes. 90% of the time, I use mine for beans, but I do that at least once a week.

Ring Sandwich for a Crowd

I can’t believe this hasn’t been posted earlier. It’s a recipe I’ve made so many times, mainly because it’s so easy, includes Boursin cheese and is pretty because of the way you assemble the bread in a ring. I’ve put lots of things on it, so choose your own adventure!

Ingredients:
2 Pillsbury Italian bread tubes
Olive oil
Italian, bagel or other seasoning

Plus any of these things to taste:
Deli turkey or ham
Salami or bacon
Roasted red peppers
Pesto
Lettuce
Tomato
Avocado (I mash up with a little salt and lime)
Cheese
Boursin

Remove the italian bread from the tubes, and pinch together to form a ring. Brush on a little olive oil and seasoning. Put some diagonal slices into the top of the dough if you’re feeling fancy. Cook according to package directions (on parchment so you don’t have to wash the pan) and let cool. 

Slice bread horizontally, spread with boursin on both sides (or avocado or pesto on one side), then pile on the ingredients. If serving later, cover with foil and put in warm oven. Maybe do lettuce and tomato on the side or add at the last minute.

Poppy Seed Dressing

My beloved Bon Appetit has printed its final issue, and they replaced it by sending me Eating Well. The timing was perfect – I had a Strong Family Alliance board meeting, and I had agreed to bring a salad.

Everybody knows that the stuff on the salad is the good part, definitely not the greens. And that includes the dressing. I served this dressing on a salad of baby spinach, rotisserie chicken and sliced apple. Simple and delicious.

2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. buttermilk
2 T. honey
1 T. cider vinegar
1 t. poppy seeds
1/2 t. Dijon mustard
1/2 t. salt

Mix all ingredients and toss with salad. Serve with yummy bread.

Fajita Marinade

It should be no surprise if you’ve followed this blog that my son is picky. But he loves steak – who knew! So we are living our best lives more often and having fajitas and other forms of steak.

I recently found this marinade on AllRecipes. It’s easy and good. I go light on the pepper and leave out the cayenne for my boy who thinks ranch dressing is spicy.

1/4 cup lime juice
1/3 cup water
2 T. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 t. soy sauce
1 t. salt
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large resealable plastic bag, mix together the lime juice, water, olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, salt, and liquid smoke flavoring. Stir in cayenne and black pepper.

Place desired meat in the marinade, and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight. Grill or saute in an oiled skillet.

Beef Bulgogi Tacos

I’ve always loved Smitten Kitchen, my go-to for recipes that are sure to be good. We were in Dallas this weekend, and I stayed up too late with my sweet niece and mom; so I needed something quick for dinner last night. I opened up the awesome Smitten Kitchen Every Day cookbook, and I found this recipe.

Bulgogi tacos are like an asian taco. This recipe non-traditionally uses ground beef, but instead of taco seasoning, you add a sweet and savory soy/ginger/garlic to the beef, then put it all in a taco – low carb tortillas for me, homestyle H-E-B for the rest of the family. They come together in about 20 minutes.

I roasted some sweet potatoes and carrots, and I put them on the tacos with cilantro and sriracha sauce, but there are other ideas below. My son preferred cheese. 🙂

1 pound ground beef
1 large garlic clove, minced
1-2 inches fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 T rice vinegar
2 T brown sugar
1 T sesame oil
Flour tortillas

Topping ideas
Lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, sesame seeds, kimchi, roasted sweet potato cubes, cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add ground beef. When cooked, drain and add the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Let simmer for a couple minutes, then add sriracha or red pepper flakes if your family likes spicy (or add your own later if they’re crazy and think ranch is spicy).

Put beef in tortillas, garnishing with your toppings. This is also good in lettuce wraps.

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

This is another recipe from Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite online recipe sources. We love banana bread in my house – it’s a great before-bed snack for Hudson to squeeze in a few more calories. Add chocolate, and you have a total winner. I’m shortening the cooking time – I’d start checking it at 45 minutes instead of her recommended 55. Can’t have a dried-out banana bread!

3 medium-to-large very ripe bananas
1/2 cup (115 grams) butter, melted
3/4 cup (145 grams) brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup (about 6 ounces) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a nonstick baking spray.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. (You’ll have a little over 1 cup mashed banana total.) Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), flour and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients. Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks or chips.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 45 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free. (A melted chocolate chip smear is expected, however.) Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The banana bread will keep for up to 4 days covered at room temperature.