Recently in Cooking Category

Gingerbread

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While the blog has been quiet, there has been much going on behind the scenes.  Actual knitting has occurred as well as the baking of cookies.  My wonderful daughter is very interested in cooking and very interested in helping.  So she's been my co-pilot on a couple of cookie making adventures.

I have long been in search of a gingerbread cookie recipe that didn't lead to cookies with the texture of particle board (I am not a fan of hard or crispy cookies!) I think I have finally found one!  It comes from the 2011 Cooks Illustrated Holiday Baking and this recipe alone was worth the purchase price.  And the fact that it comes together in a food processor makes it super fast to bring together.

Ingredients

15 ounces all purpose flour
5.25 ounces of dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tblsp. ground cinnamon
1 tblsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
12 tblsp. unsalted butter cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly
3/4 cup molasses
2 tblsp. milk

Put everything up to the butter into your food processor and pulse until mixed.  Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture is sandy.  With machine running, add molasses and milk until dough is a solid mass and evenly moistened.

Remove dough from processor bowl, gather together and divide in half.  *Roll each half to 1/4" thickness between two sheets of parchment paper (parchment paper is my new best cookie making friend).  Freeze for 10-15 minutes.

Remove dough from freezer, remove top paper and replace gently.  Flip over, remove top paper and discard.  Cut out your cookies and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, rotating halfway through.  Do not over cook!  Cool cookies for 2 minutes and then transfer to wire rack.  

Repeat from * until you've used up your dough.

For the icing, I mixed 1 cup of confectioners sugar with about 1.5 tblsp. 2% milk.  I don't have a piping bag, so I used a zip top sandwich bag and clipped a very small hole in one of the corners.   You need to let the icing set until solid before you pack the cookies away.  


This recipe was taste tested by the husband and the kiddo and met with rave reviews.  I cooked my cookies for about 9 minutes and they still have a great chewy texture.  For baking with kids, this is a great recipe because the dough is firm and there are no eggs so it can be consumed raw without concern.

Happy Holidays, All!  

Piece of Cake

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This cupcake may look like an ordinary cupcake created as a kid entertainment/distraction tactic to allow one of her parents some extra time to work in peace.  But it hides a lovely secret guaranteed to entertain children and adults alike.

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Who can resist a cake-y rainbow?  It looks even better when you take a bite.

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The best part?  These are bog simple to make.  Anyone who knows me knows that except for the occasional batch of cookies and my daily caffeine fix, I don't spend much time in the kitchen.  I like to bake, but I don't often have the time or attention span for baking projects that take a lot of time and finesse.  

If you want detailed instructions and video, Googling "rainbow cupcakes" will get you their pretty quickly (you can find the video I watched here).  But all it pretty much requires is the following:

  • White cake mix of your choice
  • Muffin tins(mine are silicone so I can reuse them, but paper works fine, too)
  • Standard red, yellow, blue, green food coloring set
  • Any frosting, decorations you like (Ms. Z selected a pre-made pink vanilla frosting because it was pink)
After you prepare the cake batter according to instructions, divide it roughly equally into 6 containers (I used clear juice glasses because it was easy to tell how well the food coloring was mixed in) and add food coloring until you get the colors you like.  Decide what direction you want your rainbow to go in and add the batter one layer at a time until you have added some of each color to each cup.  Bake, cool, frost and let your kiddo have fun decorating.  

I got about 16 cupcakes out of the box.  I could have used a bit more color in each cup and while I would have had fewer cupcakes (fine in my house) I would have had more even rainbow.  If you want  to have wider color bands towards the top, you need to put more of that color in since the diameter of the cup is wider at the top.  While cake is a little boring (in my opinion) so if we do it again, I might use some of my baking flavor extracts to make it more interesting.

Bottom line: fun, easy and eating them was fun for both the kid and the adults in the house!

Summer Cocktail: Grapefruit Gimlet

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As I have gotten older, I have gotten more interested in cocktails.  It's not that I like wine and beer less, it's more that I enjoy all the wildly different flavors and fantasies that come with a mixed drink.

When I was growing up, in the 70's, my parents, like most people at the time, had a fully stocked bar.  I was intrigued by all the bottles and paraphernalia that went along with mixing drinks -- but I never saw it in action very often.  Mom and Dad seemed most partial to simple drinks like the gin and tonic -- which I still think is the perfect, quintessential summer drink. 

It will sound funny to say, but some of my fascination has to do with the martini glass.  I love the shape.  It is sensual, fragile and a touch exotic all at once. It just looks so lovely when you hold it.  It's the kind of glass you can look knowingly over at your date and create some happy innuendo for the evening.  My first exposures came via the now somewhat overexposed Cosmopolitan (Sex and the City or no, this is still one of my favorites, if made well) and the Blue Agave Margarita that is made at Frontera Grill -- which I like to think of as the martini of margaritas.  Drinks that come in martini glasses are all the rage these days, and fashionably expensive in most of my favorite restaurants.  I began to wonder if it was possible for me to tackle some of these on my own.  After browsing through Epicurious, it became clear that quite a few yummy looking drinks could be made with pretty simple tools. So, tonight I finally got my act together and purchased my first two martini glasses ever -- along with as cocktail shaker -- so that I could try out a first drink: a Grapefruit Gimlet.

20100614_GrapefruitGimlet.jpgGrapefruit Gimlet (serves 2)
 
1/4 cup Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tbsp. simple syrup
2 lime slices
Ice

Put the first 4 ingredients in the shaker and add ice.  Shake for 8 seconds and strain into glass.  Garnish with lime slices.

If I had been a wise woman, I would have chilled the glasses before I poured the drinks, or doubled the portions, because it only works out to about 4 ounces of beverage/glass, and the glass itself warms the drink up pretty quickly.

Otherwise, this drink earned a thumbs up from both the consenting adults in the house hold.  If you like grapefruit, this one is worth trying out!  


I thought I would start the week off with something warm and yummy -- something about snowy grey days always makes me want to reach for something sweet.

20090405_BananaWalnutChocol.jpgThese are the Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chunk Cookies from Martha Stewart's Cookies .  Got an extra just-a-little-too-ripe banana that you don't know what to do with?  Like chocolate and toasted walnuts?  This recipe is for you!

Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chunk Cookies
(makes about 3 dozen)

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces semisweet chococolate in 1/4" chunks
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 375F.  Blend flours, salt and baking soda in a bowl with a wisk.

Beat butter and sugar together on medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Reduce speed.  Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined.  Add in banana.  Add in flour mixture and mix until just combined.  Add in oats, chocolate chunks and walnuts.

Drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment (Silpats work nicely as well) with about 2" spacing -- I used a little over a tablespoon of cookie dough.  Bake cookies, rotating half-way through.  Cookies should be golden brown and just set -- should take around 12-13 minutes.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks -- this is necessary because cookies will be structurally unstable until they have cooled a little bit.

20090405_BananaWalnutChoco2.jpgThe finished cookies should still be a bit on the soft and chewy side, even after being cooled. 

I made the mistake of adding about twice as much vanilla as I was supposed to and I had to supplement a little of the butter with margarine after finding out that John had used the butter I thought I had for clarified butter for the lobster tails he made the night before (I am absolutely not complaining -- any man who makes me lobster and knows how to clarify butter gets a complete and total pass on not reminding me to get more).  Even with those little issues, the cookies were quite good.  Both John and I thought that a little more banana flavor might have been nice - next time I might increase from one banana to 1-1/2 bananas or use a larger banana.  As far as I can tell, the extra vanilla didn't have much of an impact.

You might be wondering if toasting walnuts is worth it.  I'd say yes -- especially since all it entails is chopping the walnuts and then putting them in your toaster oven for 10 minutes.  The toasted flavor was lovely.  I actually wished that I'd added more walnuts than called for in the recipe.

This cookie got a big thumbs up from both John and Z* and I would definitely make it again. So we're 2 for 2 as far as Martha's recipes are concerned.  Maybe the only bad thing about this recipe is that 3 dozen cookies don't last too long around my house...

*For anyone thinking "quelle horreur! she's letting her baby have nuts!"  The answer is: definitely.  We've let her have peanut products and walnuts and pecans without any problems.  It happened by accident the first time, but when nothing bad happened, I saw no reason to maintain the ban, especially since nuts contain so many good oils. 

I have long since given up on trying to figure out what to get my husband for Valentine's Day.  This year, I decided that instead of trying to find something sentimental that he would tuck into a drawer, I would just get him something completely perishable that I knew he would enjoy:  cookies.

But instead of my usual chocolate chip cookies, I let him pick out of a new book I picked up.  I don't buy many cook books, because I don't cook much.  But I do bake cookies, so I couldn't resist Martha Stewart's Cookies when I found it at Costco:



One of the nice things about this book is that the front pages contain glossy pictures of all the cookies, grouped by type so that you don't have to page through the book to find something you like -- ideal for the cookie monster in your life who doesn't have a lot of interest in digging into cook books.  What did he pick?

20090224_CookieOnPlate.jpgDouble Chocolate Coconut Cookies.  Which pretty much puts all my favorite sweets in one place!  Whenever I try a new recipe, I always worry about how it will turn out.  These turned out  fabulously.  Normally John gobbles through any cookies I make as fast as he can, but these, he told me, were so good that he was actually trying to eat them slowly so that he could savor them.  He estimated them to be in my top 5 batches of cookies ever made.  So I figured that that was worth pictures and sharing on the blog.

The base for this recipe is pretty close to my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe.  It's the extras that make it a winner.

Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen

1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs*
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 cups white chocolate chunks**
1-3/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1-3/4 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Put butter and sugar in mixing bowl, mix on medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes).  Mix in eggs one at a time.  Stir in vanilla.

Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Mix into butter mixture  on low speed until combined.  Stir in chocolate, coconut and walnuts.

Using a small ice cream scoop, drop batter onto baking sheets, spacing about 2" apart.  Flatten slightly.  Bake until set (10-12 minutes).  Let cool a bit before transferring to wire racks to complete the process. 

20090224_ChocCocoCookies.jpgThese cookies are like eating the cookie version of German chocolate cake.  But if you don't like any of the ingredients, the dough is a great chocolate base dough, and you could easily substitute in dark chocolate chunks, dried cherries, or other kinds of nuts -- or many other cookie fixins.

Even with significant savoring efforts, these lovelies are long since gone.  And given the success of this recipe, it's a pretty surefire bet that I will be trying out more of the cookies in the future.


* I found some pasteurized eggs at my grocery store and used them -- that way we could all sample while we were making them.  Since I had a baby helping me, I figured this was the best way to keep little tastes safe from Salmonella.
** a note about white chocolate... I was going to get white baking chips, then put them back when I realized that they did not have any real cocoa butter in them -- which is what defines white chocolate for me (this was true of all the baking chips at my grocery store -- even the Ghiradelli ones) -- so I bought three Ghiradelli White Chocolate Bars and chunked them up myself.

Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies Redux

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It is a rare occasion indeed when I get to baking twice in two weeks. Honestly, though, I just couldn't handle that my holiday cookies hadn't turned out exactly the way I had envisioned them.  Not enough lemony flavor and not sandwich cookie enough.  When I have a problem to solve and I think I know the solution, my brain just doesn't let me leave it alone.  I just have to know whether my solution works.  In this case, it leaves my husband with the happy accident of getting more Christmas cookies.

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Yes.  I did take these cookies up onto my sunny upstairs deck for their photo shoot.  Is anyone surprised?

I was much happier with this batch.  What did I change?  Well, my Mom got me a microplane for Christmas after reading my first cookie post (thanks, Mom!), so zesting those lemons got a lot easier (lemons will have to live in fear of me and my new cooking tool, now!).  Second, I got a 5 lb bag of lemons from Costco so that there would be no lemony limiting reagent.  Third, I put in twice as much zest into the cookie dough (2 tbsp!) and, finally, I let the dough incubate overnight in the refrigerator.  When tasted the next day, all agreed it was much lemonier -- and in a good way.

While out doing a little craft store shopping with my Mom and Z, I picked up the blue, orange and purple sprinkles.  I guess they are a bit more Easter-y than Christmas-y, but I like to think of them like shiny glass holiday ornaments.  In order to get them to be a bit more like sandwiches than the previous batch, I used less dough per cookie and also flattened them down a bit before baking. 

I also added just a skosh more lemon juice to the buttercream frosting for the centers, and that also helped pick up the flavor a notch.

The verdict?  Yummy and much more lemony goodness.  I made a side by side batch with dried orange zest and discovered that it didn't work anywhere near as well as the lemon zest.  Although the orange-y ones turned out to be John's favorite because they were more "buttery" -- which translates to "had less citrus flavor" because both batches were made with an equal amount of butter. 

That said, when I suggested he take some into work, his first comment: No way! Do you--

My response: For you, not for your office mates.

Oh, okay.  
Grin. For me.  I don't mind taking them for me.  But I'm not sharing*.

So, lemony or buttery, apparently whatever they are, they are too good to share.

*Just to be clear, John is hardly the selfish type, but if he could hoarde any one particular food, it just might be homemade cookies.  And it's really hard for the maker of said cookies to get all that upset with him for loving what she makes.

Cookies for Christmas

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I'd like to introduce you to one of my prized possesions.

20081218_StandMixer.jpgThis old mixer was on Christmas cookie duty when I was a child.  It is certainly nearing 30 years old and it still runs like a champ.  When my Dad decided to help my mom "upgrade" one Christmas to a newer model (Kitchen Aid stand mixers being one of the few things with a motor that you can get a woman for Christmas without getting into trouble) I jumped at the chance to bring this old treasure into my house.  Generally, it's my brother who inherits my mother's cooking tools -- he's the one who really learned to cook -- but my closet baker couldn't let the mixer head to Houston.  It may lack the beauty of a new mixer, but what it lacks up in beauty, it makes up for with character and good memories.  I can remember so many batches of Christmas sugar cookies and gingerbread helped along by this mixer.  It always makes me happy to bring it up onto the counter.

Every year John and I have a holiday party.  It's our one big "do" of the year and one of it's central features (other than yummy catered Polish food) is the cookie exchange.  Most of the time my cookie making adventures stay close to the chocolate chip cookie genre, this being the cookie that makes John happiest.  But at Christmas, I always look for a new recipe to try.  Something pretty, something I haven't tried before.  This year I indulged myself in almost every cooking magazine I could find that featured holiday cookies (this will certainly be a good investment for the future) and settled on the Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies featured in the December 2008 Gourmet magazine.  The old mixer was only too happy to help me out for this project.

As a part of the cookie making process, I learned a couple of things:

  • I actually do own a lemon zester
  • Zesting lemons is more challenging than I thought it would be -- at least to do without bleeding.
  • One lemon does not generate that much zest
  • Fresh lemon zest smells absolutely enchanting.
  • The warming tray of an espresso machine is an excellent place to put butter that needs help softening.
  • Sanding sugar is a lot of fun to play with
  • Cookies just taste better when made with my 30 year old KitchenAid mixer
This recipe is actually pretty easy.  Their time estimates are definitely on target and I finished making a batch in one afternoon nap interval.

20081218_SugaredBalls.jpgSanding is a little time consuming if you want to get good coverage, but it's lots of fun, especially done to the beat of 80's pop music.  I wish I had found some blue and purple sugars to play with.   While this recipe isn't young toddler friendly, I do think it could be child friendly in general -- what kid wouldn't enjoy rolling dough balls around in brightly colored sugar?

20081218_FinishedCookies.jpgThe finished cookies are "glued" together with a lemony cream center.  Pretty, are they not?

I am mostly pleased with the results of this cookie project.  In fact, it's very likely that I will make another batch of these.   Given the range of sanding sugar colors, they could be used for almost any holiday.  I would make a few changes for "next time" though.

  • When the recipe says "scant teaspoon" they really mean it.  In order to be bite sized, my cookie balls needed to be much smaller than they were.  Also, I would flatten them a little more before putting them in the oven to make them a little flatter on completion.  They didn't change shape all that much with baking.
  • I think I would let the dough sit for a while and let the lemon oil in the zest have more change to work through the dough.  I would also add more zest, since I would have liked the cookie part to be more lemony. 
  • Ditto for the buttercream center.  More zest for sure.  Maybe more lemon juice. 
That said, when they were sampled by the husband, he felt that there was a lemony quality to them.  So if you make this recipe, you might want to go with the recommended amounts for your first batch and adjust to taste later on.

Now I just have one last thing to figure out...

... what does a girl do with left over zested lemons? 



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