Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Homemade Lard

I know what you're thinking...lard?!  Really?  Yes, really.  Lard so often gets a bad wrap as this terrible, awful, artery clogging fat that is the worst possible thing you could ever add to a dish.  This was my train of thought for the majority of my life at least.  Okay, that was my train of thought until last week.

But not too long ago when I made my Southern Buttermilk Cat Head Biscuits I asked my grandmother how I was supposed to get my biscuits to be as soft and tender as possible.  "Oh honey, what you need is lard.  That makes biscuits melt in your mouth good".  Hhhhmmm.  Did I really want to go that route?

After a little research I surprisingly found the answer to that question to be "yes".  Unbeknownst to me, homemade lard made from fat that you render yourself is actually the most healthy fat when stacked up against butter and vegetable shortening.  True lard contains less bad fat and more good fat than butter, and is still better for you than the vegetable shortening due to the process of hydrogenating the shortening to make it able to withstand sitting out un-refrigerated.

But hold your horses before you get all excited and rush out to buy the packaged lard sitting next to the crisco thinking it's your new, healthy go-to.  You can certainly buy this, but it won't be anywhere near as healthy as the kind you render at home due to the hydrogenating process I mentioned.  I've never seen any, but the kind of lard that is the healthier option is the kind that would be sold in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

To make your own lard all you'll need is some fat back.  Sounds delicious, huh?  But the good news is that this is super easy to make, and once you use it to make biscuits or pie crusts you'll never want to go back!

Homemade Lard
fat back

Rinse fat back of any salt used to cure it.  Dice fat into small cubes (the smaller the pieces, the more fat you'll be able to render) and add to stock pot along with just enough water to cover bottom of pot by 1/4 inch.  *I used an iron skillet, but I believe it would have been easier to use a deeper pot.*

Turn heat on medium high.  Make sure to stir the fat about every 10 minutes to ensure that it's not sticking to the bottom.  After about 20 minutes the fat will begin to melt and the water will evaporate.  Continue cooking for an additional 30-40 minutes (50-60 minutes total).  By this point "cracklings" will have formed (small brown bits that are left once all of the fat has been rendered).

Remove cracklings with fine mesh strainer and set aside.  These bits serve as divine additives to other dishes as a source of flavor.  It's kind of like adding bacon bits.

Place a cheesecloth over a glass jar (I used a coffee filter because I didn't have one one hand) and secure with a rubber band.  Pour melted fat over the jar.  The cheesecloth will catch any residue so that you are left with pure lard.

This may take a while for the melted fat to pass through the cheesecloth because it's much thicker than water.  Just be patient though :)

The melted liquid will be a brown color, but will lighten after it cools in the fridge.

Ta da!  The final product

Keep stored in a tightly seal container in the fridge.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday's Tips, Tricks and Tid-Bits ~ Cake Flour

Cake flour versus regular all-purpose flour.  What's the difference?  If there was a red velvet cake throwdown who would you want in your corner?

Like the Instagram photo effects??

Well, my answer to that now is much different than the answer I would have given you 2 years ago.  2 years ago I would have said that it didn't matter in the least and that any time you see "cake flour" called for in a recipe it means that the recipe author must be a completely unrelateable person who thinks you also have milk in your fridge that came from your grass fed cow Bessie in your back yard.  Hmph.  Hoity-toity.

As I came to find out, though, there is a difference after all [sheepishly shrugs].  All-purpose flour is a blend of two wheats: low gluten soft wheat, and high gluten hard wheat.  Cake flour is all low gluten soft wheat with a very finely milled texture.

Also related and important to note is the percent of protein in all-purpose flour and cake flour.  Regular all-purpose flour has anywhere from 10-12% protein while cake flour only has around 6%.  *Some southern brands of all purpose flour (such as White Lily) have around 8% protein.*

Fun extra credit tid-bit:  Bread flour has an even higher protein 
content, around 12-14% and 
is used to give bread it's chewy texture.

Okay, that's great and all, but what the heck does it mean?  In layman's terms this means that when you use cake flour you end up with a much lighter, more tender crumb.  The lower the gluten/protein is in a flour the more tender your end product will be.

So what do you do when you suddenly decide to whip up a tasty treat that calls for cake flour but you're in your jammies (even though it's 3 pm) and you don't want to get dressed and run to Publix?  *disclaimer: I only cite this scenario because it's basically the story of my life.*

The good news is that you can substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour by just slightly altering the amount you use.  Simply remove 2 tablespoons of flour from every one cup of regular all-purpose flour.  And tada!  That's IT.

PS  If you're really a science nerd and want the nitty gritty on all this you can check out this awesome article from Joy of Baking here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Seared Scallops over Corn

Scallops are one of my all time favorite foods.  If I go to a restaurant that features them on the menu you can bet I will order them.  One of my dear friends even commented this weekend that when I went to the beach with her I ordered them all three nights that we were there.  What can I say??

If you remember from my post last week, I thought I had purchased a spaghetti squash which I intended to pair with some scallops.  When that didn't turn out exactly as planned I had to go to Plan B.  In this case that meant taking a peak in the freezer.  The only thing that I could find was some frozen corn (Trey lived here as a bachelor just 4 short weeks ago) so I opted for a recipe courtesy of Rachel Ray.

This turned out to be a wonderful dish, filled with an array of flavors and textures.  And while I did end up pairing it with another vegetable for dinner, it was surprisingly filling on its own as well.

Don't be afraid to get creative and play around with other vegetables in the place of corn.  I might try spinach next time!

Seared Scallops and Corn adapted from Rachel Ray
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Tbsp Butter
4-5 ears fresh corn (2 cups) cut off the cobb *I used frozen*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 large scallops
3 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
6 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped and divided
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
1/2 dry white wine, preferably sauvignon blanc

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in skillet over high heat.  Add corn, a dash of salt and 2-3 turns black pepper.  Toss corn to coat and cook until lightly brown and caramelized, approximately 2-3 minutes.

While corn is caramelizing pat scallops dry with a paper towel.  Score them on one side with a sharp knife (aka make a small slit) and season with salt and pepper.

In separate large skillet over medium high heat melt 2 Tbsp butter.  Sear scallops, score side down first, until browned and caramelized, approximately 2 1/2 minutes.  Flip scallops and cook for additional minute.  Remove from heat, as scallops will finish cooking in corn mixture.

Reduce heat under corn to medium high.  Add remaining olive oil to pan and add shallots, garlic, 5 Tbsp parsley, chives and thyme.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste, toss mixture and cook until shallots are translucent.  Deglaze the pan by pouring in white wine (slowly) and craping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits.  Cook for one additional minute.

Cut remaining butter into small pieces and scatter over corn.  Nestle scallops into corn (darker brown side up) and scrape any remaining butter and brown bits from the scallop pan into the corn.  Cook until wine is reduced by half.

Top with remaining parsley and serve immediately.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fluffiest, Chewiest Best Chocolate Chip Cookies EVER

So I know that Friday is supposed to be all about my Friday Links posts, but I had a few extra entries this week that I wanted to share.  Hopefully you don't mind :)

Do you think my title is convincing enough?  I tried.  But seriously, these are some of the best cookies you will ever eat.  I know lots of people claim to have great chocolate chip cookies, but these really do take the cake (or the cookie).   They are chewy, moist, and fluffy.  I use the word fluffy a lot when describing foods I love.  I think that might be because if a food is fluffy it means there is more of it.  And that, my friends, is always a good thing.

I originally saw these on Pinterest and hopped on over to Kelsey's Apple a Day blog to see what these rounds of sugar were all about.  They had received rave reviews, so I decided to take a go at them.

Oh dear were they fabulous!  It took a while to figure out exactly how to bake these things in order for them to come out just right, but once I got that part down the rest was smooth sailing.

One key difference in these cookies is the addition of cornstarch.  I did some research, and apparently it's the cornstarch that gives the cookies their fluffy, chewy texture.  And that's all good in my book!

A nice big glass of milk makes
any baked good taste better



Fluffiest, Chewiest Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever.  Ever.  courtesy of Kelsey's Apple a Day
3/4 C butter, softened
3/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C white sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
2 C all purpose flour
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 C bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes usually).   Add egg and vanilla and blend.

Mix in flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt.  Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Use a standard size cookie scoop to distribute dough onto prepared pan.  Bake 8-10 minutes, or just until the edges of the cookie begin to turn a light golden brown.

*DO NOT, I repeat, do not overbake!  You will think that they are not done yet, but they will set up very nicely once you let them rest after their baking session.  If you bake them for longer than 10 minutes for any reason they will not be chewy or soft.

Did I mention that you shouldn't bake them for longer than 10 minutes (or probably 8)?  Okay, good.

Scoops of love

*This is where I deviate from the original recipe.  Kelsey's says to use a standard sized cookie scoop to place small mounds of dough on a baking pan, but that didn't work out too well for me.  The cornstarch (while it keeps the cookies fluffy), also kept mine from spreading AT ALL.  So I was left with big, round heaped over cookies.

So I tried again thinking I had made the scoops too big.  Nope, same problem.  Frustrated, I patted these down with a spoon with 2 minutes to bake, but still to hardly any avail.

My last batch turned out just how I wanted.  Instead of scooping the dough, I formed "patties" just like you would with a hamburger.  I pulled together a ball of dough, flattened it to the exact thickness that I wanted in the cookie, and then smoothed around the edges.

I was also able to place my cookies fairly close together since they didn't spread.

My 3 batches from left to right...large and domed, squished down at the end,
and then just right.

Some reviewer's on Kelsey's site said that the scooping method worked great for them, and others even said that theirs fell flat.  But that wasn't the case with me, and the patty method was my answer to prayers.  I would suggest putting in a very small batch of maybe 2 cookies to see how yours turn out before selecting your method of prepping these wonderful guys.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

CCK Got a Facelift!!

Notice anything different around here??  Unless you're a first time visitor you better say yes!

Confections from the Cody Kitchen has been given a new layout and design, and is now on Facebook and Twitter.  I've never used Twitter before, so I'm still getting used to it....bear with me :)

Make sure to "like" us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  I'm also on Pinterest as well and frequently pin amazing recipes from around the web.  All of these options have been made easy via the social media icons at the top of the right column of the blog.

Please let me know if you notice anything that is not functioning properly (links not working, etc) and I'll make sure and get it fixed.

Thank you all so very much for supporting this little endeavor.....I look forward to bringing you lots of yummy recipes each day!

Roasted Butternut Squash

When someone mentions butternut squash the first thing that comes to mind is butternut squash soup that restaurants will often feature.  Unfortunately it has never sounded appealing to me.  I have this mental image of the squash being pureed like baby food and then heated.  And that's coming from someone who LOVES veggies, so I positively can't imagine what it's like for someone who won't eat their peas and carrots.

But I decided to venture into the butternut squash realm this past week when I went to my local produce market, Jaemor Farms, and saw heaping piles of the in-season vegetable.  Okay, well actually I picked it up thinking it was spaghetti squash (which I love), and was highly disappointed when I got home.  But we'll just say that I purchased it on purpose :)

Now what to do with it?  I scoured the internet for a recipe that looked interesting and finally came across one on one of my favorite sites, AllRecipes.  The recipe simply added a bit of flavor directly to the diced squash, but then let some roasting time in the oven take care of bringing that flavor to life.

While I still couldn't say that I like butternut squash more than regular squash or zucchini, the hubby and I were pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.  Hopefully you will be too!

Roasted Butternut Squash via AllRecipes
2 Tbsp fresh minced parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/3 C finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large bowl toss butternut squash with parsley, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Spread out onto lined baking sheet.  Bake 25 minutes and then sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Continue baking for approximately 20-30 more minutes, or until squash is just tender.

*Make sure to check on the squash periodically.  I cubed mine a bit smaller and they only took ~40 minutes to cook.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Southern Buttermilk Cat Head Biscuits

Wait, WHAT?!  Cat head biscuits?  Yep, you read that right.  Cat head biscuits.  If you're from the south you've probably heard of these.  If you're not, then I'll bring you up to speed.

Cat head biscuits are named as such because the biscuits are as big as a cat's head.  Why a cat head as the size comparison?  Well that I'm not sure of.  But the point is that these biscuits are BIG.  Big and fluffy.  They don't taste any different, per se, but rather it's simply the size of them that warrants the name.

My grandmother has always made wonderful biscuits, but it was always a bit hard for me to learn how to replicate them because she never measured anything.  "Just add milk until it looks right", she would always say.  Sigh.  You know someone is a good cook when they never whip out a measuring spoon or cup.

But luckily for me (and you), I found a trusty recipe which I have shared below.  The only thing I would do different next time is that I would use lard in place of the shortening.  You can buy lard in the same section as Crisco and it makes the biscuits much fluffier and provides a better taste in my opinion.

Oh, and I would also have made 5 biscuits instead of 6.  These were large and fluffy, but I would do them even bigger.  And maybe add some bacon, an egg and a slice of cheese :)  I'll remake them with these edits sometime soon and post a comparison.

Buttermilk Cat Head Biscuits
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 C cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 Tbsp shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/4 C buttermilk

Adjust oven rack to upper middle position and preheat to 425 degrees.  Grease 9 inch cake pan.

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in bowl.  Cut butter and shortening into mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal.  Stir in buttermilk until combined.

Carefully form biscuits.  You should end up with six.  Make sure not to pat them too flat either so that they will fluff up.

Arrange 5 biscuits around perimeter of pan and place one in the middle.  The biscuits will be touching, but you want them this way so that they will cook up rather than out.

Look!  They love each other.

Bake until puffed and golden brown, approximately 20-25 minutes.  *I also brushed some melted butter on mine when they had about 5 minutes to go.*  Allow to cool for 10 minutes in pan before removing.

Fluffy, buttery deliciousness

Biscuits will keep for 2 days in air tight container.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesdays Tips, Tricks and Tid-Bits ~ White Balancing

Today's post isn't exactly about food per se, but rather the photographing of food.  So often poor lighting conditions can hamper even the best efforts to get a nice photograph of something you've whipped up.  You spend several hours preparing this amazing meal, only to find that it doesn't look anywhere near as appetizing in the photo.  And if you snap the pic indoors (which I do 99.9% of the time), then you are often left with a yellow, dingy cast to the photo.

So what's a girl (or guy) to do?  Well, [insert drumroll]......white balance!  I'm slightly embarassed to admit that I have had my wonderful and handy Canon Rebel T1i camera for about a year now and have just this past week figured out that you can white balance on the camera.  I think I may have known this, but just never played around with the camera to figure out exactly how to do it.   For some reason I assumed that since my camera was what I would call "fancy" that it would magically produce phenomenal photos on its own.  Not so.

In layman's terms (because I don't possess the knowledge to explain it any other way), white balancing cues the camera in as to what should be the color white despite poor or harsh lighting.   As a result your photo will then look like it would have had you taken it in optimal lighting conditions.

Below are two photos taken of the same vase of flowers in the exact same lighting conditions about 30 seconds apart.  The photo on the left was taken with my camera set to "auto white balance", and the photo on the right is after custom white balancing.  Some difference, huh?

To white balance on your DSLR camera just snap a photo of something white within your desired shoot setting.  For me, this meant taking a quick photo of our white duvet cover.  *Make sure it's a true, bright white!*  Then go to the Menu on your camera and look for the "Custom WB" option.  On my camera this is the second camera settings menu.  You can then flip through your photos stored on your camera and select your desired "white photo" that you just took.

At this point make sure that you have updated the WB option on your quick control function buttons that are located just to the right of your LCD screen.  When you press the WB button you will want to make sure that everything is set to the custom WB option that you just set up, as the camera defaults to the "auto WB option" unless it is set otherwise.

In closing, I promise that my photos will be more vibrant and true to color from here on out.  I'm not saying they will be able to rival The Pioneer Woman's, but at least I won't be posting any more photos where the cream colored frosting looks tan :)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Apple Fritter Bread

I was going to blog this amazing apple fritter bread last week, but figured it was much more fitting to share some Valentine's Day recipes with you.  We had an entire bowl full of nice, crisp organic apples sitting in the kitchen, and I knew that there was no way that just Trey and I could eat them all before they went bad.  What to do.......That's when I remembered this apple fritter bread I had mentioned in one of my Friday Links posts.

This is a yeast bread that (oddly enough) does not have to sit and rise.  It's a somewhat time consuming process still, though, because the dough must be cut into squares and stacked.  But oh my dear is it worth it!  Dare I say this is one of my favorite things I've ever made?  I think so.

Sitting there in all it's glory with glaze still 
dripping off of it...sigh

I'm sure you could also substitute other fruits for the apples depending on what you have on hand.  Next time I might try peaches.

Apple Fritter Bread adapted from Flour Me with Love
3 C flour
1 package instant yeast (it also might say "bread machine yeast")
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 C water
1 egg, beaten
3/4 C milk
1/4 C butter

6 apples, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 C brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 C powdered sugar
3 tsp half and half (or milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 9x5 bread pan.  In skillet, cook all "filling" ingredients until mixture is thickened.  Set aside to cool.

Apples peeled and ready for dicing 

Thickening the mixture...

Heat milk (from "dough" portion of recipe) in a small saucepan until it bubbles.  Remove from heat and add butter.  Stir until melted and combined.  Set aside to cool.  

Put flour, yeast, brown sugar, and salt into bowl of a stand mixer and mix well by hand.  *Note: I was very confused by the orignal recipe, because normally you have to let yeast bread rise.  Not the case with this bread.  Just follow the rest of the recipe as stated and then you can immediately stick the prepared bread in the oven.  No rising time required!*

Add water, egg and milk/butter mixture to flour mixture.  Make sure that the milk/butter mixture has cooled enough so that it doesn't cook the egg!

With the hook attachment in place on your stand mixer, mix dough until it forms a ball.  Knead in stand mixer for an additional 5 minutes.

On well floured surface roll dough out into rectangle shape.  The dough should be fairly thin after being rolled out.  Evenly spread apple mixture over dough, making sure to spread mixture evenly.

Well, it's sort of a rectangle.

Cut dough into even squares (I got twenty).  To make this easier I used a pizza slicer.

Carefully stack dough squares onto each other, forming 5 piles.  Using a spatula makes this SO much easier!

Place piles of dough into prepared pan.

Ready to bake!

Bake 45-50 minutes or until golden brown.  The only tricky part is making sure the middle is done without getting the edges of the bread overly done.

I'd like to also note that you need to make sure you don't leave an additional oven rack too close above your bread like I did....


Delicious.  Check out that cinnamon and brown
sugar bubbling over the sides...

Immediately remove bread from pan.

Mix butter, powdered sugar and vanilla in a bowl (*make sure your butter is soft enough or it won't combine well).  Gradually add in half and half until you reach creamy consistency.

Pour on glaze and allow to set for a few minutes.

Drip, drip, drip....

Enjoy!  This stuff is DIVINE when eaten warm :)

Pulling it apart....

or just taking a fork and digging in!

If you want to store the bread simply wrap in plastic wrap and then place in a zip loc bag.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Links

It's time for Friday Links again! I decided to switch it up this week and obtain some ideas from Food Gawker instead of just peppering you guys with Pinterest ideas :)  By the way, have I told you how much I love Pinterest?  I love it.  A lot.  If you haven't yet become addicted I would encourage you to.

Baked Garlic Cilantro Fries
I have still yet to try my hand at home-made
 baked fries and these look like the
 perfect little guys to have as my guinea pig. The
  cilantro looks like it would add the perfect punch.

Cauliflower in Cheddar Mustard Cream Sauce
While I absolute love cauliflower, my husband most
certainly does not.  Maybe this will do
the trick.....

Gooey Butter Cookies
The descripion says it "tastes like baked
cream cheese".  Oh dear.  This could be bad.  I'm

Banana Bites
So these appear to take about 5 minutes
to make, and I'm pretty sure they
would take me about 5 minutes to devour as well.
Anything with bananas AND chocolate
is always good in my book.

from The Family Kitchen
While these are quite easy to order-in, I might
try my hand at them if I have the time.
I'm sure you could also switch things up and
use shrimp too!

What's on your menu for next week?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine's Day Conversation Heart Cookies

When I think of Valentines Day I always think of those little conversation hearts that bombard you at every corner in every CVS, Walmart and Dollar General all throughout the first half of February.  You received them in  elementary school from your classmates, and it was always a big deal what the message written on them was.

You know the ones I'm talking about.  Back in the day they had things like "Love U" printed on them, and as the years have progressed things like "Sexy" and "Text Me" have been added to the candy's vocabulary.  How wholesome.

Well, I was trying to think of something cute and sweet (sweet thought-wise, but more sweet taste-wise) to make for Trey.  And that's when it dawned on me that these would be cute to make into cookies.

I was overly pleased with the end result, but I will say that these little guys took WAY longer to make than I had anticipated.  You have to make the dough, let it chill....make the royal icing, then mix all the different textures and colors....fill and flood the cookies, then let that first layer harden.....pipe the text on, then wait several more hours for all of it to dry.

Whew!  Still want to make them?? :)  I'm not trying to discourage you, but rather give you a heads up that, while these cookies turn out adorable and are so fun, they do require a lot of free time and patience.

Conversation Hearts adapted from Martha Stewart
2 C all purpose flour, sifted, plus more for surface dusting
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 C sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

*Royal Icing recipe below

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl.  Set aside.

In stand mixer, beat sugar and softened butter until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes.  (*If your butter isn't softened yet this won't work because the butter will be too hard to combine with the sugar properly.)   With mixer running, add egg and vanilla.  Turn mixer on low and add flour mixture gradually, beating until just combined.  

Divide dough in half.  Flatten each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Remove dough from fridge and let stand at room temp for about 10 minutes so that it will be easier to roll out.  Roll out to 1/4 inch thick on floured surface.  Cut out cookies with 2 inch heart shaped cutter.  Place 2 inches apart of parchment lined baking sheet.  Take any leftover scraps, roll out again, and cut out cookies.  Repeat this process with second disk of dough.  Place baking sheet(s) with cookies in freezer for 15 minutes to allow cookies to set up and firm.

Instead of parchment paper I decided to try
out my new baking mat.....ahhhhh (angels singing)!! It
is the best.thing.ever.  Period.  Buy yourself one.  Or two.

Bake cookies 12-14 minutes, rotating once half way through.  *The original recipe calls for 14-16 minutes, but I found this cooked the cookies too much for my liking.  I know they need to be firm, but I like them to still have a bit of softness.*  Adjust to suit your tastes.

Remove from oven and place cookies on wire rack to cool.

2 large egg whites
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 C confectioners sugar, sifted

Royal icing can also be make using meringue powder, but I didn't have that on hand so I used egg whites.  If you want to use meringue powder, simply click on the link to Joy of Baking for that recipe.  Also, make sure to sift the powdered sugar!  If you don't the icing will be lumpy.

In bowl of electric mixer, mix egg whites and lemon juice until just combined.  Gradually add powdered sugar until it reached "border consistency" (where it will be thick enough to pipe a border).  I had to add a bit more than 3 cups to get to this point.  It will have reached this point when you drop a small blob of it back down into the bowl of icing and the blob sits on top for a while before melding into the rest of the icing.

The icing may seem too thick, but you need it this way in order to pipe a border that will be stiff enough.

Separate the icing into 4 different plastic containers that have lids.  The largest portion will stay white for the borders and the text.  The other 3 should be smaller amounts that will be colored and used to "flood" the cookies.

You'll need at least one plastic squeeze bottle (which can be found here) and 3 plastic icing/piping bags.  If you don't have icing bags you could definitely use 3 zip loc bags.

The large portion of the royal icing will stay as is.  The other 3 containers should be colored (I prefer gel coloring), and will need to be thinned out a bit with just a very small amount of water.  This will ensure that the consistency is much thinner and that the colored royal icing will spread more easily.  Go ahead and mix these up and thin them out.  If you get the icing too thin simply add in some powdered sugar to thicken it back up.

*Make sure to always, always keep all of your royal icing covered since it will harden and dry out very easily.

Assembling the cookies....
Once the cookies have been cooled it's time to pipe the border.  Fill your plastic squeeze bottle with some of the original white royal icing.  Carefully pipe a border around the edge of the hearts.  You'll want to go slow enough so that the border is thick/high enough to contain the "flood" of colored icing that you'll add later.

I used the squeeze bottle for the border and text because it allows for much more control than an icing bag will.  

Once the border has stiffened up a bit you can flood the cookies.  Simply fill your icing bag with one of the colored icing portions you set aside earlier, snip a very small hole on the end, and carefully pipe some of the icing inside the border of the cookies.  Be careful can always add more icing, but if you add too much it will spill over your border.

Use a toothpick to smooth together the icing and push it towards the border.

Allow the cookies to sit for at least 2-3 hours until the flooded icing has firmed up.  Then add your text as desired.  Get creative!! :)

Down for the count....

Notice that the pups got their own cookie too!

Allow the cookies to sit out overnight to ensure that they have completely dried.  They can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.