Tips for Obsessively Packaging and Shipping Cookies

When I shipped my cookies for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap this year, I did a little research on the best way to ship baked goods.  I’ve shipped cookies, fudge, peppermint bark, and other delicious treats before, but I haven’t always been as careful as I should have about how I mailed them.  For example, when I shipped sugar cookies in the shape of cowboys, longhorns, and the state of Texas to the girls I was asking to be my bridesmaids several years ago, I suspect the cookies were fairly unrecognizable by the time they arrived at their destination.  Granted, that was partly due to my complete cookie decorating ineptness, but I don’t think I packaged them very well either.  Thus, I was very nervous about sending my cookies for the swap and wanted them to arrive on my cookie swap matches’ doorsteps in pristine condition.

So, I did a little research and relied on the tips Lindsey at Love and Olive Oil offered on the best methods for mailing baked goods.  I thought I’d share the links to some of the tips and tutorials I came across:

1. Cookie Swap Packaging and Shipping Tips @ Love and Olive Oil
2. How to Package Cookies for Shipping: A Video Tutorial @ University of Cookie
3. Shipping Cookies…Works for Me Wednesday @ Bake at 350 (a picture/written version of the above video tutorial)
4. How to Ship and Package Cookies @ i am baker
5. Christmas Cookies: How to Ship Cookies @ marthastewart.com (not the most useful information, but pretty packaging ideas!)
6. How to Ship Cookies and Other Treats for the Holidays @ chow.com

And here’s how I packaged my cookies this year:

1. I loaded up on shipping supplies at Office Depot.  I bought bubble wrap and 12 in. x 9 in. x 2 in. boxes.  They were having a sale for $5 off a $20 purchase, so I bought even more bubble wrap.  I also picked up some medium-sized flat rate USPS boxes that ship for about $11.

2.  I layered a couple of sheets of bubble wrap in the smaller boxes, placed my cookies in gallon-sized Ziplock bags, and set them on top of the bubble wrap.  A couple more sheets of bubble wrap on top, some rolled up tissue paper along the sides of the box, and voilà!  An obsessively, overzealously packaged box of cookies!

3.  I put a cute red spatula with a note inside the box.  I should have included a little information about what I was shipping in my note.  Obviously, the cute red spatula is optional, but it is highly recommended.

4.  I then wrapped the entire box in more bubble wrap and placed it in the flat-rate box with a few packing peanuts.  I probably could have skipped the additional bubble wrap and used more peanuts or tissue paper, but I was running out of both and was really excited about using bubble wrap.

5.  I went back to Office Depot to ship the boxes.  Apparently, they are also offering 20% off shipping services over $20, so I got a pretty good deal.  I’m still not sure if the flat-rate boxes are always more economical, but I’m a fan of how convenient they are.

I have quite a few more boxes of goodies to ship before Christmas, so this shipping experience was excellent practice to make sure all of my holiday treats arrive in beautiful shape!

Also, be sure to check out the cookie swap round-up posted at Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen:

Part 1
Part 2

There are approximately a trillion cookie recipes collected in these round-ups.  Enjoy!

Advertisements

Raclette: An Interactive Feast

3.5 pounds of beautiful raclette cheese

Have you ever had fondue?  Raclette is a similarly interactive and originally Swiss meal involving lots of cheese.  We had a raclette party with three other couples Saturday night, and it was amazingly decadent.  The word raclette comes from the the French verb, “racler,” meaning “to scrape.”  Apparently, cow herders in Switzerland used to take wheels of cheese with them during the day and then melt the cheese over the campfire for their evening meal.  They’d scrape off bits of melted cheese over their bread and enjoy them together.

raclette grill in action with cheese trays underneath

Raclette has come a long way since then.  I own a raclette machine, a tabletop electric grill under which you place small trays, just the size for melting slices of raclette cheese, which is semi-firm and made from cow’s milk.  You pour the rich melted cheese over the tops of the meat and vegetables cooked on the grill.

one of two trays of vegetables

We grilled marinated flank steak, marinated shrimp, squash, zucchini, mushrooms, and red and green bell peppers.  The grilled zucchini was a surprising hit, and I think everyone loved the addition of shrimp to the mix.  Personally, I thought the steak and mushrooms were delightful.

shrimp and boiled potatoes

Our friend Shea boiled some potatoes, a traditional raclette accompaniment over which you lovingly pour more melted cheese, and also made a magnificent salad involving bacon, avocado, strawberries, and red bell pepper.  We had fresh bread as well, and Shawn, who brought the cheese from the cheese shop where he works, picked out a nice red wine to complement the meal.

smokin' steak

I first enjoyed raclette at a dinner party with my host family in Paris, and I just loved the experience of spending hours preparing your own food at the table and chatting about who-knows-what until late into the night.  While the meal, of course, was out-of-this world fabulous, a medley of flavors that melded together perfectly, the true pleasure of the meal was time spent lingering around the table in conversation with friends.

Cookie Swap Round-Up

Last week, I was thrilled to receive cookies from three different bloggers as part of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  Catherine at The Cat Dish sent me these adorable and deliciously addictive kakimochi chocolate sweetheart cookies all the way from Hawaii!

Catherine gave me a little background on the cookies: she said, “The crunchy stuff (kakimochi) is Japanese rice crackers. They’re flavored with soy sauce. So it’s a bit unusual. But in Hawaii it’s a popular snack. We eat them in buttered popcorn at movie theaters. Seriously.”  I hope I can find some here in Austin to try making these delights myself!  Check out Catherine’s recipe for the cookies here.

Next, I received Katherine’s Red and White Sugar Cookie Pinwheels.  She says on her blog, Red Rover, that got the idea for these cuties on Pinterest!

She rolled the logs of dough in non-pareils before baking and dipped half of the cookies in melted white chocolate and crushed peppermint after baking.  So yummy!  Here‘s her recipe.

Finally, Gabby at And I Have to Live With a Boy! sent these Dark Brown Sugar Cinnamon and Pomegranate Craisin Oatmeal Cookies.  Phew, that’s a mouthful of tasty goodness!  These cookies contain the perfect balance of sweet and tangy.  My husband is obsessed with them!  Stop by Gabby’s blog to see her recipe for these treats.

I hope you’ll consider signing up for the swap next year.  Don’t forget to subscribe to hear about the event in 2012 here.  And stay tuned for the massive cookie swap round-up at Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen on Thursday!

If you found my blog through the cookie swap, please take a second to say “hi!”  I love hearing from my readers and hope you’ll drop by again soon!

Italian Cookies: The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Over the past two weeks, food bloggers have shipped more than 22,000 cookies worldwide as part of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  I’m thrilled to say I contributed thirty-six of those cookies!  When I heard about the swap while reading over at Love and Olive Oil, I immediately knew I’d be making my family’s fabulous Italian Cookies.  My grandmother and great-aunts made these when I was growing up.  I can clearly remember traveling one December with my grandmother, accompanied by a tin of the brightly-colored beauties on which my grandfather snacked throughout the trip.

Last Christmas, I made these Italian Cookies for the first time, and I think I’ll continue my tradition of baking them for years to come.  I’ve seen a couple of similar recipes across the internet, but most contain fig or anisette.  My Italian cookies are simply flavored with vanilla and almond extract.  Of course, a variety of flavors could be substituted.  I love making different variations on the effortless glaze, swapping, for example, lemon extract for the almond extract.

A word of warning: this recipe is HUGE.  I don’t even own a bowl big enough to hold all of the ingredients, so, after creaming the butter and sugar, I had to mix the other ingredients by hand on my kitchen table.  My mixer was angry at me for making it cream over six sticks of butter!  I’ve never been quite certain what makes these cookies particularly Italian, but I will say one thing: this recipe is sure to feed a stereotypically enormous Italian family like mine!

Look at all of those ingredients! The shady-looking bottle in the back is my Mexican vanilla. The wine doesn't go into the cookies but is recommended to increase your baking enjoyment.

Don’t be scared off by the size of the recipe.  I often make all of the dough, then freeze whatever I don’t want to use at the time.  You can divide the dough into logs, then wrap them individually in foil, place them in freezer bags, and save them for months.  If you wanted to split the recipe (I never do this because I always freeze any leftover dough), try subbing orange juice and extra sugar for the container of frozen orange juice, so you don’t have to worry about dividing up the can.  The variations on this recipe are endless: you could use other festive hues for different seasons, add color to the dough instead of the glaze, place sliced almonds on the top, and substitute all sorts of extracts.

Cookie Glaze Art: Jackson Pollock only wishes his paintings were this tasty and festive.

Later this week, I’ll be sharing some tips for shipping cookies, as well as a round-up of the beautiful cookies I received from Catherine at The Cat Dish, Gabby at And I Have to Live With a Boy!, and Katherine at Red Rover.  Thank you for the gorgeous goodies, ladies!

If you are interested in hearing about next year’s swap, be sure to sign up here to get on the email list!

Italian Cookies
Makes about 10 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
6 1/4 sticks of unsalted butter
4 cups sugar
5 eggs
5 egg yolks
5 lbs flour (I used White Lily)
5 Tbsp baking powder
4 tsp salt
1 small can frozen orange juice, thawed (12 fl oz)
1/2 cup milk
5-6 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp almond extract
1 Tbsp lemon juice

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 10-12 minutes. Add eggs and egg yolks, mixing to combine throughly.

2. Meanwhile, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. I mixed my ingredients together on a table.

3. Make a well in the dry ingredients, then add butter, sugar, and egg mixture and work everything together by hand to combine.

4. Gradually add frozen orange juice, milk, extracts, and lemon juice. Mix well by hand. Dough will be fairly sticky.

5. Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours. You can also refrigerate dough overnight (it will stay fresh in the fridge if well covered for over a week), but be sure to let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking if you leave it in the fridge for more than an hour or two. Pre-heat oven to 350°. Line cookie sheets with Silpat or waxed paper.

6. Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheet. If you are a perfectionist like me, feel free to weigh each lump of dough before gently but quickly rolling it between your hands to form a flawless ball and placing it on the cookie sheet. Each of my cookies weighed approximately 1.25 oz or .078 lbs.

7. Bake for 12 minutes, or until bottoms of cookies just barely start to brown. I like baking my cookies for 6 minutes, then rotating the cookie sheet 180° to bake for the last 6 minutes to ensure that the batch bakes consistently.

8. Let cool completely on cooling rack before icing.

Glaze
frosts about 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp milk, lemon juice, or water
1-2 tsp almond extract (try substituting lemon or other flavors!)
gel food coloring

1. Combine all ingredients except food coloring. Add more sugar if glaze is too runny and more liquid if too thick. Add food coloring, and keep adding until desired color is achieved.

2. Dip tops of cookies into glaze, shaking off extra glaze. Place cookies on cooling rack with waxed paper underneath.

3. Wait a minute or two for the glaze to start to set, but not so long that the sprinkles won’t stick, then add sprinkles if desired. I discovered that I like the effect of the large sparkling sugars I used last year much better than the tiny sprinkles I used this year.

4. Share with friends and family and enjoy!

Follow me on Pinterest!

When everyone was getting on Pinterest earlier this year, I purposely avoided joining because I’d heard how addictive it is.  And now I’ve learned that yes, it is indeed as habit-forming as everyone said.  So, if you’re on Pinterest, be sure to follow me!

Follow Me on Pinterest

And if you’re not on Pinterest yet and want to join, let me know by email or via the comments, and I’ll send you an invitation.  Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board onto which you can “pin” all sorts of inspiring, beautiful, and practical ideas.  I’ve created virtual boards for recipes I’d like to try, photography tips, and handy ideas to make life just a little easier.  (Ever want to know how to fix that gap in that back of your jeans or make a disposable cupcake carrier?  Those are just a couple of the ideas I’ve “pinned.”)

Hope to see you all on Pinterest!

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap Sneak Peek

Lindsay at Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen have organized the first annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  I’m very excited to participate this year!  This evening I’ve been whipping together a giant (and I mean GIANT) batch of cookies, three dozen of which I plan to ship to three other food bloggers in the US.  Tomorrow I’ll be putting the finishing touches on my cookies and sending them off to my cookie swap matches hundreds of miles away.  Here’s a sneak peek of what I’m making this year.

This is a photo from last year when I made a version of these tasty treats.  I included them in our cute little boxes of baked goods that we traveled to Virginia with and gave as Christmas gifts, and they were a hit!  I’ll be posting the recipe and updated photos this week.

Be sure to check back in on Monday, December 12 to discover what became of the five pounds of White Lily flour and over six sticks of butter that succumbed to my culinary whims today!

Heather’s Hellfire Tequila + Killer Margaritas

At our belated Thanksgiving gathering Saturday, we finally tried margaritas made with some tequila I’d infused with jalapeno several weeks ago.  I wasn’t quite sure what the level of spiciness had turned out to be in the infusion, but wow, these margaritas were perfect!

I became interested in experimenting with infusions this summer after Tracy from Shutterbean posted about the fabulous strawberry-infused vodka she made.  I made some as well over the summer and then dreamed up concoctions like sparkling pink lemonade with strawberry vodka and a splash of lime juice.  After the success of the strawberry vodka, I began to wonder what other infusions I could make.  Tracy and Nathan gave me some pointers and a few warnings about how to tap into the power of peppers when infusing liquors.

Jalapenos can indeed be potent.  I would have cut up the jalapenos, filled the jar with them as you would do with strawberries, covered them with tequila, left them to sit for a week, and then died an infernal death sampling the infusion if it hadn’t been for Tracy and Nathan’s advice: be sparing in your pepper usage and don’t let the infusion go for too long.

One pepper for every cup of tequila did the trick.  I found that 48 hours was the perfect infusion time; you may want adjust this as well as the jalapeno-tequila ratio to suit your tastes.  My tequila was very spicy; you’ll need to decrease the amount of jalapeno and the infusion time if you only want a hint of that peppery flavor. You’ll find the recipe for Heather’s Hellfire Tequila (I can’t take credit for the name; my husband thought of it) and a killer margarita (also to my husband’s credit) below.

Margaritas may once have been a spring/summer drink with their citrus-y goodness (outside of Texas, that is; here we drink them year-round), but this peppery take on the beverage makes them perfect for a cold winter evening.  You’ll be warm in no time!  Next stop: jalapeno-infused vodka for Christmas morning Bloody Marys.  A sure way to spice up your holidays!

Jalapeno-Infused Tequila
makes about 4 cups

4 jalapenos
4 cups tequila (We used silver tequila.)

1. Slice jalapenos. Add to jar. Pour tequila over top of jalapenos.

2. Leave infusion for 1-2 days, checking after one day to see if desired level of flavor has been reached. Strain and serve!

Killer Margaritas
makes 1 margarita; I highly recommend doubling the recipe!

2 oz. Heather’s Hellfire Tequila
1 ¼ oz. Rose’s Sweet Lime Juice
½ oz. triple sec
1 splash orange Curacao or Cointreau
3 lime wedges

1. Pour liquid ingredients into shaker. Add the juice of two of the lime wedges.

2. Wet the rim of glass using one of the squeezed lime wedges. Rim glass with salt.

3. Add ice to shaker and shake thoroughly.

4. Strain over ice and squeeze the last lime wedge into glass, dropping the rind into the drink. Garnish with a fresh jalapeno!

Adapted from Jimmy Buffett’s Perfect Margarita