Category Archives: Food

Summer Entertaining: Guiltless Tapas

Summer Entertaining - Guiltless Tapas

Clockwise from top left: Caprese salad, spicy garlic shrimp, turkey bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, walnut cranberry date balls

Last month, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I made a tapas spread fit for a king…or in this case, my husband. One of our early dating rituals was frequenting restaurants that served sangria and tapas. Nothing is better than sitting outside at a cafe in the summer, sipping sangria and grazing on tapas. Nothing. Except if your dog is haunting you for a nibble…but I digress.

Are these recipes completely guiltless? Well, not really. But, wherever I could, I used lower calorie options, like substituting turkey bacon for regular bacon. You get my drift. But you’ll also see no bread or wheat, so these are all gluten-free.

The great thing about these recipes too is that I made everything in just over an hour.  Plus, if you’re entertaining friends and family, you can keep the dishes coming as you finish. So, to start this meal, I started with something easy– a caprese salad.

Caprese Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 beefsteak tomatoes
  • buffalo mozzarella
  • fresh basil
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

Directions

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices and arrange on a serving plate. Cut similar-sized slices of the buffalo mozzarella and place them on top of the tomato slices. Next, chop up the fresh basil and sprinkle over the tomatoes and cheese. Lightly drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad and serve.

Walnut Cranberry Date Balls

Next, I served up these walnut, dried cranberry & date balls. I know the picture above looks like raw meatballs, but I’m telling you, these are soooo delicious that you’ll want to devour the plate. Also, these are a good snacking option if you’ve been working out as they also have protein powder.

Walnut Cranberry Date Balls

Adapted from the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup pitted whole dates
  • ¾ cup walnuts (unsalted)
  • 1 scoop of protein powder (optional)

Directions

Place walnuts in a food processor and chop until the nuts are finely ground. Remove nuts into a bowl. Next, place the remaining ingredients (dried cranberries, dates and protein powder) into the food processor and mix until a paste forms. In the bowl, combine the cranberry-date paste with the chopped walnuts. Place bowl in refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill. Once the mixture is chilled, roll the paste into 1-inch snack balls and serve. These can also be made ahead.

 

Keep those dates handy, as you’ll be using them for this traditional Spanish tapas recipe, Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo. Yum….

Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo

Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine

 Ingredients

  • 1 small Spanish chorizo sausage (about 2 ounces), casing removed
  • dates, pitted
  • 12 slices of turkey bacon, halved crosswise
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • toothpicks

Directions

Slice chorizo into small, matchstick-sized pieces. Tuck each chorizo stick into a date and pinch the date shut. Wrap a turkey bacon strip around the date and secure with a toothpick. Next, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Place the wrapped dates in the pan and sauté for about 10 minutes or until all sides of the turkey bacon have thoroughly cooked. Serve immediately.

 

Spicy Garlic Shrimp

Spicy Garlic Shrimp

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine

Ingredients

 

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 canned chipotle chile pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pound shelled and deveined medium shrimp
  • Sea Salt

 

In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add garlic, chile pepper and parsley and saute for about 30 seconds. Next, add the shrimp and adobo sauce. If you prefer more heat, add more adobo sauce. Sauté until the shrimp turn pink and curl. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

 

Summer Sangria RecipeAnd where would a tapas meal be without sangria? You can make this recipe the night before since it will need to chill for at least 4 hours. Traditional sangria recipes call for wine and liquor, but to cut the calories a bit, this recipe also uses seltzer, which gives it some fizz.

Summer Sangria

Adapted from Tropical Sangria recipe in Cosmopolitan magazine

Ingredients

  • 1 (750-ml) bottle full-bodied red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
  • 1 orange (unpeeled), thinly sliced
  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 1 (8-oz) can pineapple chunks packed in 100% juice, with juice
  • 2 cups naturally flavored lime or lemon-lime seltzer or club soda

Summer Sangria ingredients

 Directions

Combine all of the ingredients (except the seltzer) in a large pitcher and stir. Chill for at least 4 hours (or overnight) in a refrigerator. Before serving, add chilled seltzer to the pitcher and stir.

 

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Cherry, Chocolate & Pistachio Cookies

Cherry Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies

It’s that time of year again and it’s time to make cookies! This year I’m attending a friend’s cookie swap party. And this friend is a professionally trained baker. No pressure or anything!

I came across this cookie recipe in Self magazine’s December issue. The photography drew me in (my cookies in no way look like the magazine photos!) and then I read the recipe and I was sold.  It’s the perfect blend of salty and sweet. And it’s very easy to make—perfect for a cookie swap!

Cherry, Chocolate & Pistachio Cookies

Adapted from Self magazine, December 2013

Yields 40 cookies

Ingredients

  •  2-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 oz dark chocolate (60-70% cacao), chopped
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup pistachios, shelled and finely chopped

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Separately, using a standing mixer, combine butter, sugar and olive oil until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Slowly add flour mixture in small batches. Stir in chocolate and cherries.

 

Divide dough in half and roll into two logs, about 2” by 8” long. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 45 minutes.

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spread chopped pistachios on a cutting board and roll the chilled cookie dough. If the nuts do not stick to the dough, press the nuts into the dough.  Cut each log into 20 cookies and spread evenly the cookies sheets. If there is any left over chopped nuts, sprinkle them on the cookies. Gently press the cookies so they are flat and round. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool.

If you are making these cookies as gifts, I typed out the name of the cookies and printed them on 65# card stock. If you would like to print them out, you can download my PDF here. Then, using a 1.5″ circle punch, I punched out the tags and used a hole punch at the top. I ran out of ribbon so I used some yarn I had on hand for a rustic touch.

Once you and your friends taste these cookies, you will die and go to heaven. Happy Holidays!

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It’s Greek To Me Mahi Mahi

 

Five years ago this month, my now-husband and I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip with friends to Greece. One of our friends had been organizing sailing trips for years and this was our first trip.  And what an adventure! After flying to Athens, we rented a catamaran and sailed like Odysseus to the Cyclades Islands.

I won’t lie– the sailing was a little rough at first, but once we got our sea legs, we were almost like pros. We definitely felt like we accomplished something major every day as we sailed into a new port. And our reward was the amazing food! For me, the highlight of the trip was the couple of days we spent in Mykonos. Everywhere we turned looked like a postcard–from the whitewashed buildings to the beautiful Aegean Sea. I have never seen the water so blue.

 

So last night, while I was trying to figure out what to make with the frozen mahi mahi I had picked up from Trader Joe’s, I came across this Greek recipe from Epicurious’s site. While enjoying our dinner, it felt like we were transported to one of the many Greek tavernas we visited. Yum!

Greek-Style Mahi Mahi

Adapted from Greek-Style Mahi Mahi recipe from Gourmet, June 2009 

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 medium tomatoes (about 3/4 pound total), each cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 medium cucumber, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • 4 (6-ounces) pieces mahi mahi fillet with skin
  • 1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 8 very thin lemon slices

Directions

Preheat broiler.

In a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, cucumber, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and vinegar. Set aside.

Line a broiler pan with parchment paper and lay the mahi mahi fillets skin-side down. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, mix the Greek yogurt, feta, mint, dill and lemon juice. Once smooth, spread the yogurt mixture over each fillet. Place two lemon slices on each fillet, overlapping slightly. Then drizzle the fish with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil.

Bake fish in the broiler for 14-16 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Serve with the tomato cucumber salad.

 

To round out the meal, I also sautéed fresh spinach and garlic in olive oil. Delicious!!

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Need Workout Motivation? How About Fitocracy?

Key lime pie aside, I’m constantly searching for tools to motivate me to workout and lead a healthier life. I don’t usually recommend apps on this blog, but I recently discovered this free app and website called, Fitocracy. I had been using Map My Run for a while, but I felt it was kind of lacking. I liked the calendar and GPS aspects, but in order to get to the cool bells and whistles, you have to pay.

I discovered Fitocracy through Tumblr fitness blogger, Back on Pointe (you should check her out too). Fitocracy is an online fitness social network and it uses gamification to induce users (or Fitocrats as they’re called on the site) to workout. You gain points for every activity that you track and level up. On the site, the founders Brian Wang and Richard Talens write that they thought that the “addiction games create was the same exact addiction that drives their fitness efforts every day.” I’m a bit of a gamer too, so this great motivation for me.

There are also quests and challenges to motivate you as well. For example, I’m working on the “Push the Earth” quest which consists of a minimum number of lunges, squats, pushups and jump squats that you need to complete in a single day. There’s no prize at the end, except feeling good and healthy. Oh yeah, and being awesome.

 

As far as the social aspect, you can follow other Fitocrats and join special groups. My favorite group is Couch to 5K, which is based on some apps with a similar name (I use the 5K Runner app). In the group, members update everyone on their program status and they can also give other members “props” on their progress and notes of encouragement. It’s really inspiring and positive!

The site is less about weight loss and more about being healthy. Plus, I found that you earn more points for strength training than you do for cardio. It makes sense too, since studies have shown that adding strength training to your fitness routine boots your metabolism more than cardio. You may burn more calories initially while huffing and puffing on an elliptical machine, but you’ll burn more calories overall through lifting weights. I know that for me, I have always looked and felt better after I’ve been on a consistent strength training plan. Also, as I get older, I know I’m losing muscle mass, so this helps combat it.

The site has been rapidly gaining members too. As of March 2013, there are already one million Fitocrats – it’s a revolution! If you’re looking for a fitness tracking tool, I definitely recommend this site and app.

*P.S. This is not a sponsored post.

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Key Lime Pie Squares

Lately, I’ve been mysteriously craving Key lime pie. Maybe it’s the recent Florida-like summer storms that remind me of tropical fruit, like limes, which inevitably leads my mind to thoughts of Key lime pie. Or maybe it doesn’t take much to get me thinking about Key lime pie!

The taste of limes is one of my favorite summertime flavors. Their taste quenches your thirst and eases the heat. Makes sense then that they’re used in margaritas! Whatever it is, I decided to embrace it yesterday and make Key lime pie squares.

Key lime pies also remind me of living in Florida when I was a kid.  It’s such a quintessential Florida dessert. So while I was baking the squares I couldn’t for the life of me get Kenny G’s “Songbird” out of my head—ugh! Let me explain…That song played on constant rotation at every South Florida shopping mall and Publix supermarket from 1986 to 1990. It was also heavily used on The Weather Channel’s Local Forecast, which my mother would keep on for hours for “ambient” noise. At least Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” was only on major airplay for about a year.

A lot of the key lime pie recipes I found online were pretty similar. However, I loved how the recipe on Sally’s’ Baking Addiction used cream cheese to give it more of a cheesecake consistency. I cannot begin to tell you how out of this world these key lime pie squares taste! Also, instead of a graham cracker crust, gingersnaps are used instead, which gives this dessert a layered flavor.

Photo by Shaw Girl, via Flickr

One note—you need to use key lime juice, like Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice (above), for this recipe. Regular lime juice will not work. I found key lime juice in the baking aisle at my supermarket. Fun fact–in 1965 a Florida State Representative introduced legislation calling for a $100 fine to be levied on anyone advertising Key lime pie not made with Key limes. Sadly, this did not pass.

Key Lime Pie Squares

Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe

Serves 12

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 cups finely crushed crunchy gingersnap cookies
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Filling

  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk (not fat-free)
  • ½ cup key lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest (1 lime)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8×8 glass dish with aluminum foil, making sure to leave some foil hanging over the edges. This will make it easier to remove the squares from the dish later. Lightly spray foil with cooking spray.

In a food processor, grind the gingersnaps to the point that they have the consistency of sand. Then, pour the gingersnap crumbs into a medium-size bowl and mix with the melted putter. Pour gingersnap and butter mixture into the prepared glass dish, pressing the mixture down firmly. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer beat the cream cheese until it is smooth and malleable. Beat in the egg yolks until thoroughly mixed. Then add the sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice and lime zest. Mix until blended and then pour into the crust.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges near the foil turn slightly brown. Cool the dish on a wire rack until the dish is room temperature. Then, chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Once chilled, pull up the edges of the foil and carefully remove the key lime pie from the dish to a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Enjoy and soak in the taste of summer. Word to your mother.

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Dinner Tonight: Fish and Veggies in Parchment

Over the last two months, in an effort to eat healthier, I’ve been adopting some clean eating habits. It all started when a friend recommended Tosca Reno’s book, The Eat-Clean Diet Recharged. Not only am I feeling great, but the small changes I made are starting to show up on the scale too (woo-hoo!). Honestly, it’s just common sense stuff – it’s what we all know we’re supposed to do to stay healthy. Things like avoiding processed foods, eating more veggies and drinking water.

One of the first things I did was swap out my breakfast routine of cereal or a bagel with cream cheese for oatmeal with raisins. Next, I eliminated diet soda and started drinking unsweetened iced tea or water instead.

Now that my husband is on the bandwagon too, we both agreed that we should eat more fish. So this weekend, I made this fish recipe from Bon Appetit. Neither my husband nor I are big squash fans, so I used green and orange bell pepper instead. This recipe is soooo light and fresh.

Fish and Veggies in Parchment

Adapted from Fish Fillets with Tomatoes, Squash and Basil in Bon Appetit, June 2012

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup very thinly sliced green bell pepper
  • 1 cup very thinly sliced orange bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, divided, plus 1/4-cup basil leaves
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
  • (4) 6-ounce skinless white flaky fish fillets (such as Atlantic cod or halibut)

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Tear 4 pieces of parchment, about 14” x 12” and lay them flat on your work surface. Next, spoon a thin layer of the bell peppers in the center of each piece of parchment, dividing evenly. Do the same with the shallots and basil. Then, make a circle around the veggies with the cherry tomatoes. Drizzle each veggie mixture with a tablespoon of the white wine and a 1/2-tablespoon of olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Then, place 1 fish fillet on top of each veggie mixture. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle a ½-tablespoon of olive oil over each fish fillet.

Fold each parchment packet and tuck the ends under. Make sure each packet is sealed securely. Place each packet on a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Bake fish until just cooked through, about 10-20 minutes, depending the on the fillet thickness. You should be able to easily poke a toothpick through the parchment and remove it clean. Carefully open the packets and garnish with fresh basil.

Serve with brown rice or quinoa and a leafy dinner salad and you’ve got yourself a great meal!

P.S. I dare you to NOT sing this song while making this dish! I’m in no way recommending going to McDonald’s, but man I like this song.

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Christmas Cookies, Part 2: Peanut Butter-Butterscotch

Welcome to Christmas Cookies, Part 2! I decided for the other batch of Christmas cookies, that I would bake a peanut butter recipe. Peanut butter cookies are verrrry popular with my family. And these cookies are simply divine. When my husband sampled one, I swear his eyes rolled into the back of his head! They are very easy to make–especially compared to the sugar cookies with royal icing. It’s also a great recipe to make with your kids. I remember being as young as 8-years old and making them for my Brownie troupe. They were good then and they are amazing now.

This recipe is a tad different in that it also has butterscotch morsels, which give an added richness and decadence to the cookies. Yum!

Peanut Butter-Butterscotch Cookies

Adapted from All You, August 2009

Yields about 2-1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups chunky peanut butter (not “all natural”)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 11-oz. package butterscotch morsels

Directions

In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Separately, using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment set on medium, beat butter and peanut butter until smooth. Next, slowly add the sugar and mix until well-blended. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Once thoroughly mixed, add the flour mixture and butterscotch morsels.

Remove batter from bowl and form into a large flat disc and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Carefully using your hands, roll dough into little balls, about 1-1/2″ in diameter. Place balls about 2″ apart on the cookie sheet. Then, carefully press a fork into the dough and create a criss-cross pattern (see above). Bake cookies for 15 minutes or until they are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with any leftover dough.

These cookies are so good, they could have been used in that “Got Milk” ad from the 90’s. Do you remember it? Oh, I loved it! Let me refresh your memory below.

So, pour a big glass of milk, put on some elastic-waisted yoga pants and dig in!

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Christmas Cookies, Part 1: Sugar Lemon

This year, my husband, parents and I are traveling up to Boston to celebrate the holidays with my sister. Soooo excited! We haven’t been all together for the holidays in at least two years. Maybe we’ll have a viewing of White Christmas?

Or playing “Here We Come A-Caroling” multiple times? I sure hope so! By the way, I only just discovered the 1965 Ray Coniff Christmas Special. It’s just so epicly awesome in a campy way. Like, Lawrence Welk awesome. See below…

My husband and I can’t come empty-handed, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to make Christmas cookies and try out royal icing. Last year, when I made the Star Wars gingerbread cookies, I stayed far away from royal icing. But now that I’ve attempted macarons and fondant, I’ve been feeling a little more adventurous.

I’ll be honest–I should have researched a little more before attempting the icing. The icing turned out a little dull instead of shiny. But, they do taste really good! I will definitely try this again.

Sugar Lemon Cookies

adapted from All You, December 2006

Yields 4-5 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1-2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons, finely grated lemon zest

Directions

In a stand mixer on medium, combine butter and sugar until fluffy. Next, add vanilla, baking soda and salt. After that has been mixed in, add the eggs and beat thoroughly. Switch to a low-speed and add the flour and lemon zest. You may need to scrape the sides a couple of times.

Divide the dough into two flat discs and wrap each with plastic wrap. Chill dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to two days.

After dough has been chilled, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured cutting board, roll dough to about 1/8″-1/4″ thick. Chill any dough that is not being used. Using various cookie cutters, cut our shapes and transfer cookies to the cookie sheet. See any familiar shapes below? Hee hee!

Once the cookie sheets are filled with cookies, chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Bake cookies for about 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cookies. You may want to rotate the cookie sheets halfway through. When the cookies have turned slightly golden, remove from the oven and cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack.  Continue process until all of the cookies have been baked.

For the royal icing, I relied on a couple of baking bloggers for their expertise–most notably Sugar Belle and Bee in Our Bonnet. They have a wealth of knowledge and lots of experience–definitely check them out.

Royal Icing

  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder (like Wilton’s, which you can find at most craft stores)
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of warm water

Directions

Using the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, combine the meringue powder, sugar and cream of tartar. Once combined, add water and vanilla extract (or whatever flavoring you choose). Mix on medium for about 5-6 minutes, until the icing has the consistency of pudding. Scrape the sides with a rubber spatula if any sugar is sticking. Then, switch the setting to high and mix for 3-4 more minutes. At this point you should start to see stiff peaks forming. When you turn the mixer off, the icing should be so stiff, that it doesn’t come off the whisk (see below).

Next, plan out which cookies should be be iced which color. For my cookies, I planned on using green, blue, red and white icing. I’ll defer to Sweet Sugar Belle for her great tutorial on how to color the royal icing. Like her, I also used a Pyrex measuring cup to color my icing.

After you have dyed your icing the desired color and removed any bubbles, fill a pastry bag with the icing and use a #2-#4 round tip. Carefully outline each of your cookies. If you do not want the outline to stand out, directly proceed to the next step. Otherwise, wait until the outlines have dried before filling.

Add water to the dyed icing, a teaspoon at a time, and mix. You do not want this to be runny. Bee in Our Bonnet has great tips on this. If I had done more research before starting to ice the cookies, I would have bought some squirt bottles from the craft store. I ended up spooning icing on the cookies and spreading the icing to the edges using a toothpick. I don’t recommend this, though. The squirt bottle would have been more precise. This part of the icing process is called “flooding.”

I won’t lie— the entire process is very time-consuming! The drying time takes a long time as well. Most of my cookies dried overnight, but some were still a little sticky–especially if the icing was a little too thick.

My end result wasn’t exactly what I desired, but practice does make perfect. Next time, I’ll research how to make them dry shinier. Oh, and I’ll take my time icing them. You really can’t rush through it. After the second dozen, I was getting tired! There are some really great royal icing ideas out there–I’m inspired!

Stay tuned for Christmas Cookies, Part 2.

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