Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

If you're anything like me, you are practically buzzing with excitement now.  Christmas is literally right around the corner!

Now, my blog is all about eating good food.  During most of the year, "good food" means "healthy, local, organic food."  But during the week leading up to Christmas - well, more like the month leading up to Christmas - "good food" means "tasty, homemade, delicious food."  Basically, Christmas is the time of year that my family and I eat all the sweet treats we want; peppermint-y candy, pie (oh, yes, I love pie), Christmas cookies...

Oh!  Christmas cookies!  That's what I've been leading up to.  What better way to spend the next couple days then baking (and eating!) cookies with your family?

Christmas cookies have become a bit of an afterthought, I'm sorry to say.  It's so easy to just pop into the grocery store and pick up some slice'n'bake dough from the frozen foods section - or worse, buy pre-made cookies from the store bakery.  But think about it; do those cookies ever taste as good as the fresh, homemade cookies that you've had?  There's no competition.  And if you do care about ingredients, it'll feel good to know exactly what's in Santa's cookies.

Now - down to business.  I've got a few cookie recipes, tried-and-true, that I absolutely love.  They're great Christmas cookies, but they're also great First-Day-of-School cookies.  Or Columbus-Day cookies.  Or Cookies-for-the-Sake-of-Cookies cookies.

Honey-Oatmeal Cookies
These are, quite simply, the best oatmeal cookies we've ever had.  Thanks to my friend Meridith for the recipe!

  • 1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. butter - don't use shortening or margarine; the real deal is always the best!
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. honey - quick tip: if you grease the cup that you measure the honey in, it won't stick.  Or you can eyeball it, which is what we do most of the time...
  • 2 c. oats
  • 1 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 c. nuts (optional)
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. salt
Heat oven to 375 degrees F.  Mix sugar, butter, eggs, and honey in a big bowl.  Stir in remaining ingredients.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls - well, I know you never actually measure, so you can make 'em as big as you like!  Just space them about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, so they don't all join together into one giant cookie.  (You can use parchment paper if you like, for easier cleanup.)  Bake 8-10 minutes, take the cookie sheet out of the oven, and place the cookies on cooling racks immediately.  Let them cool - or just grab one right away and enjoy!

Gingersnap Cookies RecipeGingersnap Cookies Recipe
This recipe is stolen from, which has a bunch of great holiday cookie recipes.  This one is very popular with my mom and me, since we both love gingersnaps.

  • 3/4 c. butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1/2 c. dark brown sugar - it's basically the same as light brown sugar, just with more molasses.  It's got a stronger molasses flavor that is quite delicious in cookies like this.
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c. unsulphured molasses (which has a lighter flavor than sulphured or blackstrap molasses)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract - no imitation stuff here!
  • 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 2 t. ground ginger
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves
Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes) with an electric mixer.  Add molasses, egg, and vanilla and beat until mixed.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Add to butter mixture and mix until well combined.  Cover and chill the batter for about half an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls.  Place the balls on baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart, and flatten them slightly.  Sprinkle granulated sugar on top (if you want), and bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until cookies feel dry and firm on top.  The longer the cookies bake, the crispier they will be.  Cool on a wire rack.

Cranberry-Orange Shortbread Cookies
We got this one from, searching for Christmas-y shortbread cookies.  You can make plain shortbread cookies by leaving out the cranberries and orange zest, but I personally love the holiday taste.

  • 1 c. butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 3/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla extract - the real kind, please!
  • 1/2 c. chopped dried cranberries
  • 1 T. orange zest
  • 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t. baking powder
  • 1/8 t. salt
Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth.  Stir in vanilla, cranberries, and orange zest until blended.

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl.  Gradually add four mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed until blended.

Shape shortbread dough into 2 7-inch logs.  Wrap each log in wax paper and chill for 4 hours, or overnight. (You can also freeze them in zip-lock bags for up to a month - it's always nice to keep some cookies on hand for when you really need one.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  If your cookie logs are frozen, let them stand at room temp. for 10 minutes.  Cut each log into about 24 slices.  (It's totally OK if you wind up with 23 or 25.  The cookie police won't come and get you.)  Place shortbread slices 1 inch apart on parchment-paper-lined baking sheets.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges of slices are golden.

Remove shortbread from baking sheets, place on wire racks, and let cool completely.  It'll take about 20 minutes, if you can wait that long!  Store in airtight containers on the counter or in your pantry.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all of you!

Monday, December 12, 2011

So What About that Dog Food?

This is Murphy.  Murphy is my grandfather's black Labrador Retriever.  He is about ten months old, and he is adorable.

Murphy has a good life.  He goes the the dog park every day.  He spends a few hours either jumping off the dock into the lake (remember, he's a Lab) or running around and just being a dog.  When it's time to head home, he's ready for dinner, and then sleep.  His life is full of people who love him.

Murphy is a lucky dog.  My grandfather really thinks about what goes into Murphy's food bowl, which is more than can be said for most dog owners.  I'm not throwing anybody under the bus - I'm just stating a fact.  They may think they know what they're feeding their dogs.  But most of them have been brainwashed by advertisements telling them that their brand of dog food is amazing.

If you have a dog, think back to the last time you bought dog food.  Did you even bother to look at the ingredients list?  If you didn't, go to your brand's website and check right now.  I'll wait for you.

... Have you checked yet?  No?  Go do it.

Alrighty, then.  Did your dog's food have chicken as the first ingredient?  Or maybe lamb?  Or fish?  If so, good for you - and, more importantly, good for your dog!  If not, it was probably a corn or soy product.  I'm sorry to say that that is bad news.  Corn and soy are both inflammatory in dogs.

Now look at the second ingredient.  Depending on your brand, this could be anything from "Ground rice" to "Chicken meal" to "Meat by-product meal."  (Just so you know, a lot of the meat in dog food is in "meal" form. All this means is that the meat has been concentrated and dehydrated, so that there is less fat and more protein packed in the food.  It's obviously a process, but it's one of those things you just can't avoid, and it's certainly not the worst thing you could feed your dog.)  One thing to think about - the type of meat should always be listed, be it chicken, duck, fish, beef, whatever.  If it just says "meat," then that means the manufacturers don't want to disclose what kind of animal is in their dog food.  It's like the mystery meat in the cafeteria - nobody wants to eat that.  If your second ingredient is another corn or soy product, you'll probably want to research another brand.

What's the third ingredient?  If you haven't found an animal protein source yet, you should definitely see one now.  If the first two ingredients were animal-sourced, then this third ingredient will probably be a grain - rice or  barley.

The fourth ingredient will be another grain, and the fifth will probably be some form of animal fat.  Like before, you'll want to know what kind of animal.  It might say "preserved with mixed tocopherols" - that's okay.  Mixed tocopherols are antioxidants that keep the fat from spoiling.

Now, if your dog food was mainly quality meat and whole grains, then you - and, more importantly, your dog - are good to go.  However, if you found a bunch of corn, soy, and mystery meat, you might want to look at some other brands.  Blue Buffalo, which is what Murphy eats, is an affordable brand with minimal fillers and no artificial stuff.  My grandfather swears by it, and I can certainly vouch for it.  It may not be the "perfect" dog food, but it is definitely good.  (I promise that I am not being paid to advertise Blue Buffalo.  I am just a fan of their dog food.)

Really, this whole post was just to get you in the habit of reading ingredients.  Maybe you already read the ingredients on your food, or your family's.  If you do, that's great - keep up the good work!  But if you have a dog, it's part of your family, too.  You should definitely treat it that way.  It is more expensive, but by investing in quality food, you might be saving yourself a lot of money on vet bills.

Up next on the pet food frontier: cat food!  We do not actually have a dog, although that will hopefully change some time this year, but we do have a cat named Gus.  Gus is a great cat.  He's sweet, he never bites or scratches, and he even puts up with my baby brother - no easy task, since my brother is a three-year-old who likes to use Gus as a pillow.  My whole family loves Gus, and we'd only do good things for him.  (Can you guess where this is going?)  While I was researching this post, I learned something about Gus's food, Hill's Science Diet.  We'd always thought that it was a good food - it's got the words "Science" and "Diet" right in the name!  Turns out that it's not that great.  It's one more thing to think about - and of course I learned this just after we bought Gus a new bag of food.

Gus and Murphy chillin' out