Easter Beer Hunt!

At the Easter Beer Hunt…makes a mama proud!

To be worthy of the term “Family Tradition”, a celebration must have two things: extravagant food and memorable booze; preferably with copious quantities of both. Add fun, persistence, and considerable lack of dignity, and you are probably attending the McKinnon family Easter Beer Hunt!

Buh-bye Peeps, fake chocolate bunnies, and those nasty pastel marshmallow cream eggs that are always the last to be eaten. Once our three kids were all of legal drinking age, Easter brunch became a whole lot more festive. Their friends, our friends, the guy holding the sign at the freeway ramp…anyone who was willing to scrounge for alcohol was welcome to come and hunt for beer (foreign and domestic), little bottles of liquor (oh, so many tasty varieties), and plastic eggs with lotto tickets in them. And of course there were grand prizes for the most enterprising freeloaders.

Our first annual Easter Beer Hunt lasted exactly seven minutes. Competition is at a peak when there’s an incentive like free alcohol! Luckily we had an amazing buffet set up, so the party didn’t end immediately. Bunny shaped dip bowls, glazed ham balls, tiny “jello beans” (made with booze instead of water), quiche, cinnamon rolls…yes, a good time was had by all. Most of the attendees were starving young people trying to make it on their own, so they probably would have eaten chocolate covered dog turds, but their enthusiasm for the spread made my hostess-heart happy.

Easter bunny Bread!

Easter Bread Instructions

Obviously this was not a cheap party to throw, and I wanted to get a little bang for my buck the following year, so the hiding spots were more challenging for the second annual EBH. Beer was hung high up in the magnolia tree. Tiny liquor bottles were buried in the dirt, and under the gravel in the driveway. Lottery tickets were tucked into the depths of the thick hedge. Most were found, but some surfaced months later–sometimes a little worse for wear, but always drinkable! Well…almost always. There was the can of Icehouse I found in the tailpipe of my daughter’s car one summer, which was buried with honors.

When we moved across the state a few years later, I had to wonder what the new owners were going to think when they pruned that hedge!

Now we’ve all spread out in various states, and though there is talk every spring of bringing the Easter Beer Hunt back to life, the logistics are (unless I win the lottery this week and can buy that Lear jet) pretty daunting. It would be so much fun to have a hunt here in the country; the conservative neighbors would be horrified, and I’d love to see people sift through the chicken coop to get to a bottle of Jack.

Easter Beer Hunt - The Rowdy Baker

Go ahead, I dare you!

Stick around. Friend me. “Like” me. You never know…an invite could be coming your way. But just between you and me, I’ve seen what’s on the bottom of my feet after going in the henhouse, and there is no mini bottle of Jack that’s worth digging through that. Just sayin’.


CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES – In Search of Perfection

Chewy or crispy, we all love chocolate chip cookies!

Pick a side here, folks. When it comes to chocolate chip cookies, it seems we have the “thick and crunchy” faction and the poor misguided souls who vote for “soft and chewy.” I guess you can tell which side of the fence I’m on!

I experimented with five batches, using three different brands of chocolate chips. The recipes on the packages were nearly identical, with just minor changes (probably so they don’t waste their profits suing each other over recipe rights) like a little less salt or a little more vanilla, but essentially the same.

My first batch was made by following the Hershey recipe exactly, and the cookies came out the way I like them – which is thick, soft inside, and a little crusty outside. This was a total surprise, because every time I’ve actually followed the recipe on the package I’ve gotten cookies that are flat, flat, flat.

A few of them, however, had sunken centers, and some resembled cow pies (sort of a dark, rippled meltdown on the edges), but they still couldn’t be considered flat.

First batch with craters and “cow pie syndrome”.

Out of curiosity, I chilled some of the dough from the first batch for an hour and tried again. What a difference! There was very little spreading, and no sunken centers.

For batch number two I used half shortening, half butter, with an extra 1/2 cup of flour, an additional teaspoon of vanilla, and a teaspoon of baking powder. These tasted the same, but looked nicer than the first batch. No cow pies, no sinking. There is the “ick” factor of using shortening, but I sometimes ignore that for the sake of the final product.

Second batch – much better!

Batch number three was intended for those of you who prefer flat and chewy. I used softened butter, but otherwise followed the basic recipe. It was a little flatter, but not much. What the… Do you mean I can’t even make flat cookies on purpose? I’m beginning to think it’s because of my fresh eggs. Could it be that my girls lay such superior eggs that the dough refuses succumb? We’ll see about that.

With the fourth batch I used very, very soft butter – almost to the melting point – and added 2 tablespoons of milk. Ta DA: flat and chewy.

Some like them flat and chewy.

If you’re wondering why the chips don’t stand out of the cookie, it’s because I ran out of regular chocolate chips and had to use the mini chips. But trust me, they’re flat. There, I hope you’re happy!

For my final batch I used my favorite recipe…one I’ve tweaked and adjusted for years. It’s never failed me, and produced cookies that are nice and moist but with a little crunch – the best of both worlds. Yes, it uses shortening, but you can make it using only butter as long as you use a good quality butter and keep it COLD!

cookies from my favorite recipe (shared below)

Here is what I’ve learned from all this:

      • If you want flat and chewy cookies, follow the recipe on the package, but use very soft butter and half the baking soda. If your first pan of cookies isn’t flat enough (make sure to give them a little time…they tend to deflate while cooling), add a little milk to the remaining dough and try again.
      • If you want puffy cookies, make sure to use cold butter, cut into small chunks to make mixing easier. Use a cookie scoop and cold dough. I used frozen nuts, too. If you’re using the recipe on the package, add a few tablespoons of flour. Don’t grease the cookie sheet!

Chocolate chip cookies…thick, with crispy outsides and tender insides.

      • USE A SCOOP! If you just spoon the dough onto the cookie sheet, the edges will be brown. Here’s a picture to illustrate. This was the same dough, baked at the same time. The cookies on the left were dropped from a spoon. The cookies on the right were scooped.

        The cookies on the left were “dropped”. The cookies on the right were “scooped”. Scoop wins!

      • This is just my opinion, but I think the recipe on the package calls for too many chocolate chips! I love chocolate, but I want to taste the cookie, too.

Here is my Grade-ANumberOneAllTimeBestestMostBeloved Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe:

5.0 from 1 reviews
Makes approximately 5 dozen cookies.
  • ¾ cup shortening
  • ¾ cup good quality butter
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 3½ cups flour
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 2 cups chopped nuts
  1. Heat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine shortening, butter, sugars, milk, and vanilla. Mix well.
  3. Add eggs and beat until thoroughly mixed.
  4. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add to creamed and mix until just blended.
  5. Add chips and nuts.
  6. Place rounded tablespoons of dough 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake 8-10 minutes for soft cookies, or 10-12 minutes for crispy cookies. Cool for a minute before moving from the pan to a rack.

So…what to do with all of these cookies? I rarely make a single batch of anything, because I love the feeling of having a freezer full of options – especially when unexpected company comes. Living here in the country I’ve had to adjust to the fact that people just “drop by”! When the cookies are scooped onto a pan, frozen, then placed in freezer zipper bags and hidden in your freezer, they’re easy to grab and plop on a cookie sheet. I can turn the oven on when I see a car come through our gate, and have warm cookies ready to serve in 20 minutes flat.

Cookie dough in the freezer is like money in the bank!

Right about now, chocolate chip cookies don’t sound very tasty. to me. It’s hard to imagine that we will ever be friends again! But when the snow’s falling, cabin fever is setting in,  and I need an emotional boost, those bags of dough will be looking mighty good.

Frozen cookie dough makes great gifts, too. I used to make six different types of dough for my father every Christmas. He loved this, because he could bake just a few at a time when he got an urge for sweets. Cookie dough is also perfect for housewarming or hostess gifts…much more personal than a bottle of wine.

Ooooh, did I say wine? I think I should be rewarded for all of this effort, don’t you?

I can never remember…do you serve red or white wine with chocolate chip cookies?

Maple Bars for Breakfast (Move over, Paula!)


By now you know that I will eat just about anything if it’s dipped in maple, filled with maple, or has maple in its top ten ingredients. I didn’t ask for this addiction…just playing the cards that were dealt me. So (because I’m so rational) to celebrate a two pound loss at the weekly weigh-in of my weight watching club today, I decided to sabotage myself and make MAPLE BARS!

A truly fresh maple bar disappears in your mouth before you have a chance to chew, which is heaven. Pure heaven. I’ve also been known to eat maple bars that were so stale the only redeeming quality was the icing – which is all that matters, really. That’s where the maple flavor is…the pastry is just there to guide the icing to your mouth.

Even if you aren’t stoked about making fresh, warm, succulent maple bars, please scroll to the bottom of this blog. I’ll show you how to make a REAL breakfast sandwich. This started out as a spoof of Paula Deen’s horrifying video about making a hamburger with glazed doughnut buns, and turned into a new guilty favorite. Yummy and disgusting at the same time!

A good way to use those pesky leftover maple bars!

I found a maple bar recipe I liked on Food.com, and of course I tweaked it a bit. A little more sugar, a little more water, a little less cinnamon, rolled out a whole lot thinner…etc. If you have absolutely no trust in me, (pfffft!) here’s a link to the original. Maple Bars  This is probably a really old recipe because it has you scald the milk, which you rarely see anymore in recipes. They did it years ago (mostly to kill any bacteria) but it can make a little bit of difference in the rise of yeast breads, so we’ll do it just in case.

Grab your apron and let’s make some…


1-1/2 cups milk (2% or whole milk is best. I added a little half & half to my 2%)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup shortening
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup warm water
2 packages active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
2 eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour
peanut oil (if you prefer to fry them)

4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon maple flavoring (like Mapleine)

  • In a small pan on medium-high heat, scald the milk. To do this, let the milk heat until there are bubbles all the way around the outer edge, but catch it before it boils. Remove from heat.
  • Add 1/3 cup sugar, shortening, salt, and cinnamon. Allow the mixture to cool down until it’s lukewarm.
  • In a large bowl (I use my stand mixer) combine the warm water, yeast, and ½ teaspoon sugar. Let it sit until bubbly – about 5 minutes.
  • Mix the lukewarm milk mixture into the yeast mixture. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well.
  • Slowly add the flour, mixing until combined. Knead well–5 minutes with stand mixer using the dough hook, or 7-8 minutes by hand on a lightly floured surface.

    Nice, soft, elastic dough.

  • Set the dough to rise in a large oiled bowl, turning once to coat the dough with oil. Allow to rise until double–about an hour. Punch down.
  • Roll out the dough into a rectangle. The dough should be a little less than ½ inch thick. Trim off the rounded edges to get nice straight sides, and cut into 12 rectangles. They will look thin, but trust me…they puff up like crazy when they’re cooked!

    Cutting out maple bar dough with a pizza cutter.

These can be baked or fried – they’re wonderful either way, though I’m partial to the texture and flavor of the fried version.

The bar on the left is baked, and the one on the right is fried. Your call – both are delightful!

If you want to bake them, space the dough evenly on a cookie sheet. cover with a dishtowel and allow them to rise for 30 minutes. They’ll still look a little skinny, but don’t worry! Heat the oven to 425 F.  Bake for approximately 8 minutes, (until golden brown) and move them with a spatula to a baking rack to cool.

If you want to fry them, just leave them right there on the counter. Cover with a dishtowel and allow them to rise for 30 minutes. Pour at least 2 inches of peanut oil in a large pan and heat to 350 F. Drop in a few pastries at a time, giving them lots of room to move around. Once the bottom is golden, flip the bars over. If yours are like mine, they’ll have minds of their own and might insist on flipping right back over. Don’t let them win! When both sides are brown, remove and drain on paper towels. Move to a baking rack to cool.

Fry, baby…fry!

To make the icing, mix the powdered sugar, butter, salt, and Mapeline in a medium bowl. Slowly stir in milk until it’s the consistency you want. (Make it thick for spreading, or make it thin for dipping.) I really like to use an electric hand mixer for this…it comes out so smooth and creamy that way.

Maple frosting makes me swoon!

Ice the bars (if you haven’t already eaten the icing) and leave them uncovered so they can dry a bit. If you plan to store them, cover them loosely; they’ll get really gooey if they’re covered tightly with plastic wrap or foil. My guess is they won’t be around long enough for that to happen!

Barely warm and beckoning to me…I obey.

So…I was watching this video of Paula Deen making a hamburger. She used two glazed doughnuts for the buns and added a fried egg and bacon. If that wasn’t funny enough, I saw her lick her finger while she was putting it together, and then she gave it to the other gal to eat. Here’s a link:  Paula Deen’s Mess  Even as I was busy being grossed out, I was thinking: “now if she had only used breakfast sausage…” Oh-oh, you know what’s coming, don’t you?

Oh, yeah. Slice the maple bar. ADD SAUSAGE!


And BACON! Over the top? At this point, does it really matter?

A breakfast masterpiece! Move over, Paula!

Pimping out my Blog

Okay, folks…I’m going to shamelessly pimp out my blog, and try out for Blogger Idol.

There are amazing prizes, of course, but best of all is the chance to encourage thousands (dare I say millions?) of people to crack out the butter and cream and let the flour fly!
Did I mention prizes? There’s a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, Blog 2 Print voucher, Ghiradelli chocolate package, a premium edition of Dragon, a Newman’s Own organics package, and more.

I’ll do anything for chocolate!

Check it out! And if you’re feeling kindly, jump right in there and leave a comment on Blogger Idol. You aren’t voting, exactly – it’s more like a show of support. OK, it’s actually more of a popularity contest. But remember the important thing: one of the prizes is CHOCOLATE (which is almost as good as a blue ribbon!) Here’s the link:
Blogger Idol

I’ll keep you posted on Facebook!

Will Blog for Bagels!

Perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, bagels are versatile and satisfying. Today I actually may have gone past “satisfying” and be on the road to “sick”, because I just can’t stop at one, especially when they’re warm and tender.  Well, the inside should be tender; the outside must be very chewy.

Fresh from the oven, and irresistible.

I love them toasted in the morning, with a fruit and cream cheese spread. I love them for lunch, piled with turkey breast, tomato, cream cheese and avocado. I love to turn them into little mini-pizzas for dinner. I haven’t come up with a bagel dessert yet, but just give me a moment…

The best bagels take time – preferably with an overnight rest in the refrigerator before being boiled and baked the next morning – but the recipe I am giving you is an easy one and can be completed in a couple of hours. It’s a tough dough and can withstand a little abuse, so you won’t have to hurry, or worry about keeping things chilled, or try not to “overwork” it.

If you are a bagel virgin, you might want to make them plain the first time, just to get the hang of it. Next time (and there WILL be a next time) you can add goodies to the dough: raisins, cinnamon, cheese, onions – whatever you like. The plain bagels can be topped with sesame seeds, cheese, poppy seeds, garlic, or onions, or brushed with an egg wash to make them shiny. They can also be left “au naturale,” which would be my bagel of choice.

Without further ado, I present:

Makes 12 large bagels.

1 package active-dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon salt (I use Kosher)
4 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon baking soda (for boiling the bagels)

      • In a large bowl, gently stir together the yeast, granulated sugar, and warm water. Let sit until bubbly (about 4-5 minutes.)
      • Stir in the brown sugar, salt, and 2 cups of the bread flour. Mix well. If you’re using a stand mixer, switch to your dough hook. Add the remaining bread flour slowly, mixing well. This will be a very stiff dough, but you don’t want it too dry OR too sticky, so feel free to adjust the amount of flour or add a little more water if necessary to get a nice, elastic dough.
      • If you are working by hand, put the dough on a floured board and knead for 7-8 minutes. If you are using your mixer to knead, allow it to knead for 5-6 minutes.

        Bagel dough, ready to rise.

      • Place the dough in a well-oiled large bowl, turn the dough to coat with oil, cover with a dishtowel, and allow it to rise for approximately an hour–or until doubled.

Bagel dough, ready to roll.

  • After the rise time, punch the dough down and separate it into 12 equal pieces. Take each piece and make it into a ball. It’s hard to explain, but I keep tucking the messy parts under, and kind of “scooch” the ball across the surface of the counter (don’t you hate it when I use these technical terms?) to make it as smooth as possible on the top. You can roll it around like clay, too…whatever works for you. The goal is to get 12 smooth balls that are at least close to the same size! Don’t worry if it takes a while and the first few balls look like they might be growing; that won’t hurt a thing.

“Scooching” the dough into a ball.

  • Oil or grease two cookie sheets. Lightly coat one sheet with cornmeal. (Keep the cornmeal out – you’ll need it eventually for the other cookie sheet.)
  • Ready? Flour your thumbs. Uh huh, that’s what I said. Poke one thumb right through the middle of a dough ball, put your other thumb through the hole from the other side, and…twiddle your thumbs so they’re going around each other, stretching out the bagel hole. Now stretch the bagel gently to make the dough as even as possible all the way around. Make the hole big– at least an inch and a half across–because when the bagel bakes it will puff up and most of the hole will disappear.

    Make a hole with your thumb.

    Twiddle those thumbs!

    Stretch the dough out evenly.

  • Place each bagel on the cookie sheet without the cornmeal. Cover with a dishtowel and allow the bagels to rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime:
  • Heat the oven to 450 F.
  • Fill a large stockpot more than halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the baking soda.
  • Drop a few bagels in at a time, making sure they have plenty of room to bob around. I can comfortably cook 4 at a time in my stockpot. Let them cook for about a minute and a half on one side, then flip them over to cook on the other side for another minute and a half.

    A plump bagel, dropping to its doom.

    Dance, Bagels…dance!

  • Using a slotted spoon or a “spider” (see picture), place each bagel gently on the cornmeal covered cookie sheet.

    Lifting the bagels onto the cookie sheet, using my “spider”.

    If you are adding any toppings (sesame seeds, cheese, poppy seeds, etc.) sprinkle them on while the bagel is still wet. If you decide to skip the toppings and want a shiny appearance on your bagels instead, brush them with an egg wash (one egg and a teaspoon of water, mixed well) at this time. You will put 6 bagels on each sheet, so when the first cookie sheet is filled, sprinkle cornmeal on the other cookie sheet as the bagels disappear into the pot of boiling water and space becomes available.

  • Bake for approximately 15 minutes, turning the pan once halfway through the bake time. They should be a nice light golden color when ready. Cool on a rack.

Want to see what happens when you space out and let the bagels bake for 5  minutes too long?They’re still yummy, but definitely too dark. 15 minutes should be just right!

Well, I refuse to cook dinner tonight because I’m stuffed from “sampling” bagels. Hey, it’s an occupational hazard. Not sure that’s going to fly with the spousal unit; (who is pathetically eating a slice of cheese right now because he “HAS to eat SOMEthing”) but I say…let him eat bagels!


Shortbread Heaven

Freshly baked shortbread.

“Do as I say, not as I do” never applied more perfectly than at this moment. I’ve been making shortbread cookies for decades, yet still managed to totally screw up the directions today. I was busy baking something else and thought it would be wise to multitask by measuring out the shortbread ingredients at the same time. Hah!

I knew that the butter and sugar were supposed to be mixed first and then everything else  added, but I was moving like a whirling dervish and went right ahead and dumped all of the dry ingredients together into one bowl. That meant the butter and sugar weren’t mixed until fluffy, and it was hard to get the dough to come together, so I had to add a couple of teaspoons of milk to coax it into cooperation. But (you know what’s coming here, right?) it still turned out fine!

Here is a recipe for basic shortbread, which has a sweet buttery flavor and a delicate texture that melts in your mouth. Perfection. But because I can’t help tinkering with perfection, I was compelled to dip the cookies in dark chocolate and sprinkle some of them with nuts. They look very elegant, and taste like sin.  (And yes, I’m leaving the two teaspoons of milk in the recipe because it made it easier to handle and didn’t affect the texture.)

Chocolate dipped shortbread. (Or…gilding the lily!)


2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups butter, softened
2 teaspoons milk or half & half
2 egg yolks
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cornstarch

  • Heat the oven to 350 F.
  • In a large bowl, combine powdered sugar and butter.  Beat until light and fluffy.
  • Add egg yolks and milk, and blend well. (If using a stand mixer, you may want to switch to the dough hook at this point.)
  • Add the flour, cornstarch and salt. Stir just until the mixture forms a smooth dough.
  • Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut with a cookie cutter.  Alternately, you can also roll the dough into small balls and press with a cookie stamp, or put the dough through a cookie press. These will not spread on the cookie sheet, so you can put them close together.

    Using a cookie stamp with an apple design.

  • Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 9-12 minutes, just until golden brown around the bottom edges.  Cool on the pan for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

It’s almost impossible to guess how many cookies this recipe will make; it depends on the size of your cookie cutters and how thinly you roll them. I can confidently say that it makes a buttload ton of cookies! At least 48 good sized ones – probably more.

If you want to jazz them up a bit, you can sprinkle them with coarse sugar before baking, or wait until they’re baked and cooled, then dip each one in melted chocolate, lightly scraping the bottom of the cookie against the bowl to remove excess chocolate. Place them on a waxed paper covered baking sheet to harden. I always pop mine in the freezer for just a few minutes, which speeds things up and helps keep the chocolate from “blooming” (getting little light colored spots on it.)

Dipping the shortbread in dark chocolate.

If chocolate covered shortbread isn’t enough to make you deliriously happy, here is one more variation. Because of my love affair with maple, I had to try making a maple flavored shortbread, and am tickled with the results.

Frosted maple shortbread cookies.

To make these, use the shortbread cookie recipe above, except substitute 2 teaspoons of Mapleine (maple flavoring) for the 2 teaspoons of milk. When the cookies are baked and cooled, cover them thinly with icing and drizzle them with a brown maple accent. Here’s the icing recipe:


3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon powdered egg whites (“Just Whites” or Wilton’s “Meringue Powder” work well)
1/2 teaspoon “Mapleine”
small pinch of salt

  • In a medium bowl, beat together the powdered sugar, water, and powdered egg whites with a mixer for 2-3 minutes. Remove 2 rounded tablespoons of icing to a small bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon of Mapleine, and set aside.
  • Add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to the white icing in the medium bowl until it’s thin enough to spread onto the cookies easily. You may use a knife, but I prefer a pastry brush.

    “Painting” the cookies with icing.

    Because of the powdered egg whites, this icing will become very firm, so only use enough to cover the cookie with a thin layer.

    • Put the maple icing from the small bowl into a zipper bag and cut a tiny bit off of one of the corners. Drizzle or pipe a design on the cookies, and allow them to harden completely before storing in an airtight cannister. These can also be frozen.

      Piping maple accents on iced shortbread.

    I think my culinary trip to Scotland is over for now. Be glad this is a baking blog, not a cooking blog, or I’d probably feel honor bound to give you a recipe for Haggis!

    Guid cheerio the nou!