31 December 2007

Dessert Sushi


Happy New Years Eve! I'm off in a minute to attend a nice little shindig, but first wanted to share with you my very quick, easy, yet terribly adorable dessert for the evening: dessert sushi. Made the rest of the evening cooking much, much easier to handle. A big thanks to Lolo for the great idea!

Okay, I'm leaving for real. Have a very safe, lovely New Years, everyone! See you in January :)

Dessert Sushi


Ingredients:
Swedish Fish
Fruit Roll-Ups
Rice Krispie Treats

Cut the Rice Krispie treats to shape, either as a "finger of rice" or to wrap around the fish. Wrap around fish, or place fish on top of rice treat. Then cut fruit roll-up to fit, and wrap around sushi pieces. Voila!

30 December 2007

African Peanut Soup


Thank goodness I made several soups in the past few weeks - I have been sick as can be. As in, I think I now know how a crackhead feels. I'm hot, I'm freezing, I'm hot again. My skin hurts and I'm sweating buckets. My eyes burn. My throat hurts so bad I can hardly swallow. Charming, isn't it? Hopefully I'm feeling fresh as daisies tomorrow, because I'm in charge of hors d'oeuvres at the New Years Eve Cocktail Party we're attending tomorrow evening. I even have a rockin' new BCBG cocktail dress and killer stilletos to try out for the occasion. Stupid cold.

And yes, I'm officially pouting through my sweaty hazy fever now.

Anyhoo. Back to soup. I found this recipe at epicurious.com. Once upon a time, I ordered an African peanut soup at Free State Brewing Company. It was soooo good: creamy, slight hint of coconut, and then hot hot hot. I gobbled it up. So when I saw this recipe at epicurious, I was hooked. It turned out quite well: not exactly as spicy as I had at Free State, but pretty good nonetheless. I also sprinkled chopped cilantro on top of the served soup; not sure if anyone would consider that authentic but it sounded good to me. This soup is not as peanut-buttery as I thought it would be, it was really a behind-the-scenes flavor (so if you are worried about this being terribly rich or thick, no worries). Quite good, I think it could really be good for several changes as you see fit - add different veggies, a few new spices, maybe sweet potatoes, etc. Good stuff! I will definitely try it again.


Okay, I'm ready to chug a glass of OJ and then back to my (do I want it warm? Or chilled?) bed right now. Have a lovely evening all! Will check back soon :)


African Peanut Soup




Ingredients:
1 lb. skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4- to- 1-in. cubes
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
3 c. low-salt chicken broth
1 c. coconut milk
1/3 c. creamy peanut butter (do not use natural or old-fashioned)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
5 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 c. chopped onion
2 medium zucchini, diced (we used patty-pan squash instead)
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 c. drained canned diced tomatoes in juice

Combine chicken cubes and hot sauce in medium bowl and toss to coat well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again. Whisk chicken broth, coconut milk, peanut butter, and tomato paste in another medium bowl to blend.

Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and zucchini; sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add chicken and sauté until no longer pink on outside, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally.Add broth mixture and tomatoes to pot.

Simmer until chicken is cooked through and flavors blend, about 5 minutes. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.

28 December 2007

Wild Rice Soup


Every time we head home to Wisconsin for a visit, my family makes sure to stop by the Menominee reservation, to get a big bag of the Indian wild rice cultivated there (the name Menominee actually translates to "Wild Rice People"). Wild rice is a popular product in the Great North, found in Wisconsin and Minnesota and parts of Canada. It is very good for you: high in protein, lysine, and fiber, and contains several vitamins. Click here to learn more about this awesome stuff.
Wild rice tastes nutty with a slightly chewy texture, and is a great substitute for white or brown rice in recipes. I love wild rice personally, so it should be no surprise that this soup is one of my favorites. Creamy and rich, full of veggies and wild rice and chicken. Yum. So warming on a cold winter evening. I originally got this recipe out of Midwest Living, a very old copy. So old, in fact, that I can't find the recipe online anywhere. At any rate, enjoy this one. It's a regular at our house year-round.

Wild Rice Soup


Ingredients:
1/2 c. uncooked wild rice, rinsed
3 (14-oz.) cans chicken broth
1 c. chopped carrot
1/2 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopping onion
2 c. mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. flour
Salt and pepper
1 c. whipping cream
2 c. cooked diced chicken

In a dutch oven, combine rice, 1 cans of broth, carrot, celery, and onion. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer (covered) for 35-40 minutes. Add mushrooms during the last 5 minutes of simmering.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the flour, and some salt and pepper to taste. Add remaining can of broth, and cook until bubbly. Cook and stir for one more minute, then stir in cream.

Add cream mixture to rice mixture, stirring constantly. Stir in chicken and heat through. Serve with a nice slice of crusty bread.

25 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

Sous Chef Mahni: A Pictoral Food-log of the Holiday

Gratiutious cookie decorating shots.




Testing the cookie frosting.



Enjoying Nemmie's Christmas Eve soup (okay, okay, to be honest: Nemmie brought the recipe, Hubs made the soup).

Decorating a gingerbread house.




Showing off the finished product.




First Chore of Christmas morning: makin' cheese balls with Nemmie, for the afternoon cheese trays.



Enjoying the fruits of our labor later (who knew the kid had a thing for feta).




Is that Santa I hear?? Gotta go!




A very Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope it was as fun and food-filled as ours!

23 December 2007

Mincemeat Cookies

First off: enjoy this image of chopped figs in all their glory. This was the only picture I could snap off before the winter storm blew in, blocking any natural light and dumping sleet and snow everywhere. Should make for a fun drive to my parents' house later today. Super. Can't wait to scrape all the ice and snow off the car and freeze my butt off and potentially drop presents in the white stuff while trying to pack up the car and then forget something in my rush to get out of the weather...

Anyhoo.

Mincemeat seems to scare a lot of people, but I've always been fascinated by it. The first time I heard there was actual meat involved, it had me hooked. Meat in a fruit pie? Wha...? Can you taste the meat? Is the texture there? It's difficult to actually figure this out, though, because it seems like no one makes mincemeat anymore.

Mincemeat was first made centuries ago in England, as a method to stretch a small amount of meat by adding fruit (therefore creating a sweetmeat mixture). This mixture was preserved with warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as brandy. Today most mincemeat is made with fruit and spices only (not a speck of actual meat in sight). And yet people still won't touch the stuff when it's presented to them. To be honest, the thought of meat in pie is very interesting to me but I can't promise I wouldn't eat more than a bite or two. Certainly not worth making an entire pie.


However? That whole fruit/spice/citrus combo in a not-meat product sounds rather good! So this year, I have taken up the challenge to bring mincemeat to the masses. I was making some for Christmas this year, and people were going to eat it. Even if I had to fool them into it.

Instead of breaking out an actual mincemeat pie (which I am almost certain only my father would touch), I decided to ease the family into it by hiding the mincemeat in cookies. I found a fig and walnut cookie recipe, and altered it from there to replicate mincemeat filling. These cookies taste like figgy-apple-citrus mini pies. The lemon and figs really stand out the most, which I love. And I'm only telling my family about the mincemeat after these cookies have been gobbled up...



Mincemeat Cookies
(Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)



Pastry Dough:
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c.) unsalted butter, room temperature


Filling and Cookies:
9 oz. dried Mission figs, stems discarded
1/2 c. dried currants
3/4 c. honey
1/4 c. orange juice
2 Tbsp. applesauce
3/4 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
A generous pinch of the following ground spices: cloves, nutmeg, and ginger
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
Splash of rum
1 c. almonds, chopped
1 large egg, beaten to blend

For the pastry dough: Whisk the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend. Mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingers until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the egg mixture and mix with a fork until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball. Divide the dough in 2 and flatten into disks. Wrap the dough disks in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.



Preheat the oven to 350 F.



Line 2 heavy large baking sheets with parchment paper. Finely chop the figs and currants in a food processor. Add the honey, orange juice, applesauce, spices, rum, and lemon zest, and pulse just to blend. Scrape the fig mixture into a medium bowl. Stir in the almonds. Transfer the fruit mixture to a pastry bag.



Roll out 1 disk of dough on a floured work surface to 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch diameter biscuit cutter, cut out dough rounds. Gather the dough scraps into a disk, then cover and refrigerate while assembling the cookies. Spoon the fruit mixture in the center of each dough round. Lightly moisten the edges of the dough with the egg wash. Fold the dough over the filling and press the edges to seal. Arrange the cookies evenly apart on the prepared baking sheets. Brush the tops of the cookies with egg wash. Bake until the cookies are pale golden, about 18 minutes.



Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely. Repeat with the refrigerated dough scraps and remaining filling.

22 December 2007

Yule Log (Buche de Noel)


So, I finish this baking project. I carefully set it up for photos. Hubs curiously watches from the corner of the room. I snap away, from several different angles. I shift the lighting, I move around some mushrooms. After several shots, I am fairly satisfied that I've got what I need.

I step back finally finished, with Hubs next to me. We both stare for a moment more, and then both start snickering uncontrollably. Spurts and giggles and doubled over, even. "This is officially the weirdest thing you've ever baked", he blurts out while gasping for air. Oh yes, my darling, this is not my usual boring cookie or cake recipe. This is Yule Log.

So I'm now a member of the Daring Bakers. Yup. It's official. And the first challenge, thankfully, wasn't some intimidating pastry or uber-complicated cake. It was, instead, the Yule Log. Woohoo, Yule Log! While my father (who was the first to hear of this challenge) claims our family has made this before, I most certainly have never made one. Ever.

Also known as the Buche de Noel, the Yule Log is a long-standing Christmas tradition in many countries. Originating in France, it is basically a genoise cake rolled and frosted with buttercream, then decorated to resemble the fireplace yule log. Legend has it that Napoleon I disallowed French residents from lighting their fireplaces during the winter (it was said at that time that the cold air spread disease). So the French residents compensated for their loss of Christmas logs by baking up this delicious dessert, a replacement to gather around and warm themselves with holiday cheer. Interesting theory, I gotta say.

Where was I again? Oh, yes. The recipe. Now, about my Yule Log: I actually loved making this. So much fun! The mushrooms were no problem. The genoise: it turned out fine, although I must admit - I was so busy following the recipe, that I forgot to add any fun flavorings. So mine is quite plain. I did, however, remember to add chopped hazelnuts to my roll's buttercream. Yum, that's all I can say. The buttercream for this recipe didn't give me any trouble while making it, and it is the most delicious buttercream I've ever encountered. The issues I had: first off, my roll was terrible. I spread my buttercream over the entire cake, no room along the edges for rolling, so my roll is pretty novice-looking. First timer alert! Also? I stuck my outer-frosting buttercream in the fridge, to chill while my Swiss roll chilled. Not. Good. At all. I tried whipping it with a fork after bringing it to room temperature, then adding some cocoa powder, but that didn't help much. It turned out very... chunky. Oopsies. Guess I should have whipped it back to shape with the beaters. But no bother! Still tasted like a dream!

All in all a winner. Can't say that I'll be making another in the recent future, but definitely a recipe to file away. And I must admit: so excited to finally be a member of the amazing group called the Daring Bakers. Looking forward to future challenges, ladies! Thanks for having me! And bring on January, I think I'm ready.


Yule Log

(from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert)

Ingredients:
Plain Genoise:
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ c. of sugar
½ c. cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off
¼ c. cornstarch
(1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

Coffee Buttercream:
4 large egg whites
1 c. sugar
24 Tbsp. (3 sticks, or 1-1/2 c.) unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
2 Tbsp. rum or brandy

Marzipan Mushrooms:
8 oz. almond paste
2 c. icing sugar
3 to 5 Tbsp. light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

To make the Genoise:
Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 F.

Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream. Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.



To make the buttercream:
Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

To make the marzipan mushrooms:
To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed. Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth. Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms. Smudge with cocoa powder.



Assembling the Yule Log:
  • Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
  • Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
  • Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
  • Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
  • Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
  • Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
  • Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
  • Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
  • Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
  • Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
  • Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.




21 December 2007

Strawberries and Cream Cookies


I got this recipe out of the Washington Post's Food section. Very different, I thought. Plus I absolutely adore the dried strawberries I can pick up at my favoritest market in town, The Merc. So off I went, spent my pennies on some good white chocolate and strawberries, and hit the kitchen.

And then the problems began.

First off: do yourself a favor, just buy some superfine sugar. I was out and didn't restock, thinking a quick whirl in the food processor (as the recipe instructs) would be quick. Around and around spun my sugar, but it never really got fine. Instead all I got out of it was (1) regular sugar mixed with (2) powdered sugar. No super-fine anything.

Then: chopping dried strawberries is not a pleasant task. I tried sprinkling them with powdered sugar and going at them with a knife. I was lucky I didn't cut my finger off, that knife just rolled all over the place and really didn't chop much. Then I threw them in the food processor (HA! That was a gummy mess). I tried a nut chopper, I went at them with the mezzaluna; then I became desperate and began tearing those sticky suckers apart by hand. I did everything short of gnawing on them with my teeth (I'm sure my family and friends are appreciative that I stopped there). Then I gave up and just tossed the biggish chunks in the dough.

And finally? The cooking portion of this recipe is rather odd. Maybe it's because I'm a novice, but - why the two sheet pans? And I always had to pull my batches early, like 20 minutes early. Plus they weren't supposed to spread - I had chilled dough, I didn't flatten it - but mine sure did a lot of spreading (hence the blobby strawberry-ish shaped cookies in the photos, instead of the nice neat strawberries like my dear cookie cutter usually produces).

These issues withstanding: the cookies are still The Yum. Still worth it, dear readers - just keep in mind the above notes. Crunchy, creamy from the white chocolate, and nice chewy bits of strawberries. Mmmm. Very different for the wintertime and holidays, and yet just special enough to be perfect for Christmas time. And yes: I'd still totally make them again.


Strawberries and Cream Cookies

Ingredients:
3/4 c. sugar (may substitute superfine sugar)
16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c. flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/4 Tsp. salt
1/2 c. finely chopped white chocolate
3/4 c. dried strawberries, finely chopped

Finely pulverize the sugar in a food processor, letting the machine run for about 10 seconds. (Skip this step if using superfine sugar.)

Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or a hand-held mixer; beat on low speed for several minutes, until fluffy. Add the flour, vanilla extract, cream and salt; mix well. Stop the motor and stir in the white chocolate and dried strawberries, mixing until evenly distributed. The dough should be firm (if not, add up to 2 tablespoons flour and incorporate well). Transfer to a lightly floured work surface; knead gently for about 1 minute, until it holds together and becomes firmer. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and as long as 12 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 F. Stack 2 baking sheets together and line the top sheet with parchment paper.

Gently roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/2 inch; use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut out the cookies. Place at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheet; reduce the temperature to 300 degrees and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges. Let cool on the sheet for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer carefully to a wire rack to cool completely.

20 December 2007

Cocoa Cappuccino Cookies


One problem that I tend to have while Christmas shopping is that, well, I find lots of fun things for myself. Usually not of the apparel or electronics kind, though – more of the cooking/baking supplies kind. Christmas is the one time of the year when I’m baking for a distinct gift-type purpose, and I take full advantage of that fact! Anytime we’re out shopping for holiday presents, I make a point to check out the baking products if possible.

Hubs made the mistake of walking into World Market with me a few days ago, and we came out with a nice supply of baking paraphernalia (er, and no gifts for anyone else). Aside from the decorator’s chocolate and paper loaf pans and other baking toys, I had picked up some Guittard cappuccino chips. Armed with a new recipe from dianasdesserts.com, I set to work (although I changed it a wee bit so I could incorporate my new cappuccino chips).

I didn’t roll the cookies in sugar as in the recipe below; instead, I added about a cup of the chips to my dough. One thing I must say about these cookies: I’m not fond of the cinnamon in them. I love love love me some cinnamon, but I do not like it paired with chocolate. The taste just doesn’t do anything for me, so these cookies weren’t a favorite of mine. No matter though: Hubs gobbled up my test cookies, so I figure they can’t be half bad. They are very very cakey, so I recommend storing them in an air-tight container with parchment or wax paper between layers (otherwise they will stick like mad).

Cocoa Cappuccino Cookies

Ingredients:
1/3 c. butter, softened
1 c. packed brown sugar
2/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. instant coffee granules
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 large egg whites
1/3 c. vanilla yogurt
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, cocoa powder, coffee granules, baking soda, and cinnamon. Beat until combined, scraping sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in egg whites and yogurt until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour with a wooden spoon.

Place granulated sugar in a small bowl. Drop dough by heaping teaspoons into sugar and roll into balls. Roll again in sugar. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm. Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool.

18 December 2007

Jam Thumbprint Cookies


What does a lady do when she has little time but needs to bring cookies into the office for a party? And therefore needs an easy, delicious, and impressive cookie recipe? Why, she turns to the lovely Barefoot Contessa, of course!

Another goodie from Ina Garten. The dough reminds me of spritz cookies, for some reason: firmer than a spritz dough, but the flavor is similar. The coconut is the perfect flavor match to the jam. I used raspberry jam and cherry preserves (all I had on hand), and they turned out great; use whatever jam/preserves you love, I'm sure they'll all turn out perfectly too.


Jam Thumbprints
Ingredients:
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg beaten + 1 Tbsp. water, for egg wash
7 oz. sweetened flaked coconut
Raspberry and/or apricot jam (or anything else you like)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until just combined, and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together.

Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale, they should each weigh 1-oz each.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 tsp. of jam into each indentation.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.

16 December 2007

Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies


Is anyone surprised that I have a Christmas cookie recipe with dried cherries in it? I mean honestly? You should be aware at this point that I salivate at the mere thought of cherries.

This goodie comes from the book Baking Boot Camp. It's actually more of an instructional book, and very cool. It's a diary of sorts of one woman's experience attending a CIA Baking course, including the disciplines of baked-good recipes, the science behind baking, and some wonderful recipes at the back of the book. Hubs gave me this book (and a few other cookbooks) for our anniversary this year, and for that I'm eternally grateful. I highly recommend this sucker if you don't have it already!

Anyhoo, wouldn't you know - the author's recipe for chocolate chunk cookies also happens to include dried cherries(!). Perfect, considering I have quite the stash of dried cherries at my disposal for such a thing. And I wanted to make a chocolate chip-ish cookie for Christmas. This one is good, a nice basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. The cookies end up very soft and the use of bittersweet (instead of semi-sweet) chips is a nice surprise. It plays off the cherries quite well!

So here you go, you knew the cherries were going to be included in a recipe somewhere this holiday season. And they are perfect in this recipe.



Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Ingredients:
3 c. all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. granulated sugar
¾ c. packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips
1 c. tart dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Blend until incorporated.

Mix in the sifted dry ingredients, the chocolate chunks, and cherries. Use one of the following methods to shape the cookies: use two spoons to drop the dough onto cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. If desired, slightly flatten the cookies before baking. Or, roll dough into a log, chill until firm, then slice and place on prepared baking sheets. Bake about 12-14 minutes, and transfer to wire racks to cool.

14 December 2007

Molasses Cookies

I read a wide variety of food blogs on a daily basis (an addictive habit, I must admit). When I found out that Susan (at FoodBlogga) was hosting a blog event called Eat Christmas Cookies, I decided that I had to make something. Seemed too fun to pass up. And I wanted to bake the most amazing cookie. I thought of making the rosemary-mint cookies I read about in the LA Times, or maybe something delicate with lots of icing detail. Or perhaps a rolled cookie that would photograph well. To be honest, a million different "impress the masses" recipes were floating around in that brain of mine.

I pondered it for awhile, but it was yesterday when the perfect recipe finally came to me: the molasses cookie. Yup, the very same molasses cookie that everyone makes this time of year. No ma'am, no gourmet twist. No icing, no fancy cookie cutting action. Nothing out of the ordinary, just my regular old recipe. But hear me out.

Yesterday was a terrible day. Work was quite stressful and I was exhausted after a very long day at the office. And yet still behind on my deadlines, ugh. The house was a mess, I still had loads to do before the weekend, and it was dark and cold outside. An icky day that was turning into a yucky evening as well. However: I put aside the cleaning, the dinner-making, the million other chores. Instead, I put on some Christmas music, rolled up my sleeves, and started pawing through the cabinets for my jar of molasses. Days like this can almost be salvaged by the presence of warm molasses cookies.


I've always loved the taste of ginger and molasses together, the spicy and sweet combination. Gingerbread cake, bars, gingersnap cookies, I enjoy them all. I even have a great recipe for gingerbread waffles that I'm dying to try this winter. But most of all, I love the molasses cookie. Soft and chewy with crispy edges and a nice sparkly coating of sugar. My mother always imprinted hers with wooden cookie press, so they came out of the oven with a pretty concentric-circle pattern.

Molasses cookies are definitely a family favorite, and probably why I find them so comforting. I try to make these as close as possible to my Mom's recipe, although I don't have that fancy schmancy cookie press she uses. I tend to add an extra bit of ginger (spicy spicy spicy!) and I like to roll my cookies in raw sugar – just a bit more glittery and festive that way, methinks.

So here's my entry, my favoritest cookie of them all: the humble molasses cookie. A basic, uncomplicated, and yet oh so soothing and homey recipe. Totally satisfying. There's a reason this cookie is a Christmas classic, my friends. And that's why I went personal for my entry instead of flashy.

Enjoy!


Molasses Cookies

Ingredients:
2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ginger
¾ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. allspice
¾ c. shortening
½ c. dark brown sugar
½ c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 c. molasses

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a medium bowl, sift and mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugars, until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add the egg, vanilla, and molasses. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Roll dough into small balls, and roll balls in sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake 11-13 minutes, then cool on racks. NOTE: be careful not to overbake! They are done when the centers are still soft and puffy.

12 December 2007

Chocolate Mint Brownie Cookies


I figured I'm going to fill out the rest of the month with my Christmas cookie recipes for this year. Festive! Topical! And makes my life oh-so-much easier, given how hectic things are right now. Heh. Although I have also made a few stellar soups, if I do say so myself, so those will be posted once I get through all my goodies.

So, this cookie. Even the Abominable Snowman adores this cookie. I originally found the recipe at this site, and I actually enjoy this cookie a lot too. First and foremost, they taste exactly like Girl Scout Thin Mints. Seriously, it's uncanny. Only they are poofy and soft and oh so much nicer. And not to mention: much, much cheaper than Thin Mints. And you can have them year-round. Which is a total win in my book.


Chocolate Mint Brownie Cookies

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. (9-oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3/4 c. chopped nuts

Melt 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips in small, heavy saucepan over lowest possible heat. When morsels begin to melt, remove from heat; stir. Return to heat for a few seconds at a time, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature. *Or, you can do what I did and melt them in your own beloved microwave.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, peppermint extract and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in melted chocolate. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in remaining morsels and nuts. Drop dough by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake in preheated 350° F. oven for 8 to 12 minutes or until sides are set but centers are still soft. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

10 December 2007

Lemon Slice Cookies


It's freezing rain outside, Kansas is supposed to really get walloped by the weather tonight and tomorrow. And clearly, we aren't alone. All of the States, it seems, are getting battered by the chilly weather. And thus my inspiration: how about a batch of sunny little cookies to help brighten up these frigid winter days?

This recipe is from a REALLY old copy of Good Housekeeping. A little more time-consuming than your usual cookie, but oh so worth it! I love the lemony flavor (in fact, a secret: I usually juice my zested lemon into the dough as well, for an extra lemony punch). This time I didn't have any yellow sparkling sugar and was too lazy to make some, so I used the pink sugar in my cabinet. Think of them as pink lemon(ade) cookies.

Thoughts and prayers to all my fellow winter warriors! Hang in there.

Lemon Slice Cookies


Ingredients:
3 c. All-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. Powdered sugar
1 1/4 c. Butter, softened
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 Large egg
2 tsp. Lemon extract
1 tsp. Lemon zest
Yellow food coloring
Egg white
Yellow sparkling sugar

In a large bowl, mix together flour, butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and egg. Reserve 1/4 of dough (cover and refrigerate).

Knead lemon extract and zest as well as yellow food coloring into dough. Roll dough into a thick (4-in. long) log. Roll out reserved dough so that it is long enough to wrap around log. Wrap rectangle around log. Wash outside with egg white, then roll in sparkling sugar. Wrap tightly in Saran Wrap and chill at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

To bake: cut log in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/8-in. thick slices. Place cookie slices on greased cookie sheets (or sheets lined with parchment paper), then with a butter knife add 5"spokes" to each slice. Bake about 6 minutes and cool on racks.

08 December 2007

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies


I had some leftover hazelnuts from a prior baking experiment (posted soon my dears, I promise). I decided to make some hazelnut cookies. Found this recipe at allrecipes.com and adapted them a bit. I actually think this came from a Giada DeLaurentiis recipe to begin with (I recall her making a cookie strikingly similar to this, on a long-ago episode on Food Network).

I made these these early this morning around breakfast time, and let me just say: these suckers are perfect with a nice hot cup of coffee. Thin and crunchy, full of hazelnut flavor with a nice drizzle of chocolate on top. Yum. A crispy cookie form of biscotti, essentially. Dunk away!

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies



Ingredients:
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, cubed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped
2 (1oz) squares semisweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).

Blend flour, brown sugar, cornstarch, espresso powder, and salt in a food processor. Add butter and vanilla. Using the pulse cycle-or pressing on/off button on your food processor, process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add nuts; blend until finely chopped. Transfer dough to floured work surface. Knead just until dough comes together.

Divide dough in half. Press each half into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom.
Bake at 350 F (175 C) until deep golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 2 minutes then remove sides of pan. Cut each shortbread round into 24 wedges. Cool completely. (Or! Use cookie cutters like I did.)

Stir chocolate in a saucepan over medium-low heat, until chocolate is smooth. Remove from heat. Cool slightly. Drizzle chocolate mixture over cookies. Let stand until chocolate sets.

06 December 2007

Pasta Carbonara


It's been a carbonara kind of week. You know that week: when you're baking like a fiend and doing holiday cards and running everywhere shopping and have a million engagements? And tired of inhaling fast food or scrounged up leftovers while standing over the sink? A week like that calls for a nice carbonara - warm, easy, homey, and comes together in the time it takes to boil a pot of pasta.

This recipe is from Ruth Reichl's memoir Garlic and Sapphires. Better known as the Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet (as well as restaurant critic), some don't know just what a talented storyteller Ruth Reichl is, and what a fascinating life she has lived thus far. I really do suggest you check out her memoirs, all three of them - great reads, all among my favorite books ever read. Start with Tender at the Bone. And a big thank you to my darling Beah, who put R.R.'s books on my radar.

Back to the recipe: oh so comfy, I love a good pasta carbonara. Insanely simple, quick, yet also mouth-wateringly delicious. Note to first-time carbonara makers: stir that mixture quickly after adding the pasta to the eggs! The heat of the boiled pasta will cook the eggs but you certainly don't want any curdling; you want a nice, creamy sauce.


Pasta Carbonara
(from Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires)


Ingredients:

1 lb. spaghetti
1/4 to 1/2 lb. thickly sliced bacon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 large eggs
Black pepper
1/2 c. grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table

Cut the bacon crosswise into pieces 1/2 inch wide. Put them in the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes until the fat begins to render. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook about another 5 minutes, until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp. Do not get too crisp, otherwise they will not meld with the pasta.

Beat the eggs in the serving bowl, and add pepper.

Remove the garlic from the pan. If it looks like too much fat to you, discard some, but you're going to toss the bacon with most of its fat into the the pasta.

When it is cooked, drain the pasta and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of the spaghetti cooks the eggs and turns them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat and toss again. Add cheese and serve.

04 December 2007

No-Churn Pomegranate Ice Cream


The problem with getting involved in the blogging world: it's almost kinda sorta embarrassing when you try out other bloggers' recipes and post them on your own blog; it feels like cheating somehow. But regardless, I decided this one was worth any potential embarrassment, considering (1) it uses pomegranates, (2) it's ice cream, (3) it looks gorgeous on Lynn's blog, and (4) it's ice cream.

I got this one from Lynn, a talented baker that I found through tastespotting.com. Have you been to tastespotting.com, by the way? I highly recommend it! I've been known to find many a recipe that way.

Anyhoo, back to the story. Pomegranates are such a strange but lovely fruit: when you cut them open, you realize the edible portion is actually in the form of arils, connected to the fruit skin itself in clusters. They look similar to corn kernels, except are translucent with a deep ruby hue and a seed in the middle. A very photogenic fruit! The pomegranate fruit is very tart but sweet; think cranberries with a little bit of sweetness. Pomegranate is great in any number of things (or by itself); it was the gorgeous bright pink ice cream that fit the bill.


The ice cream is incredibly easy to make. The finished product very creamy and tangy and sweet sweet sweet. Perfect. The ice cream doesn't get too terribly firm (resulting from the lack of churning, I'd imagine), but I am already planning to make it again, except perhaps adding some goodies like chopped pistachios, or dark chocolate, or blueberries...

No-Churn Pomegranate Ice Cream
(adapted by Lynn, from Nigella Express)



Ingredients:
1 large pomegranate or 2 small ones
1 lime
1-1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 c. heavy cream


Place about 3/4 of the pomegranate seeds into a sieve placed over a bowl. Reserve the rest of the seeds in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Using a spoon or your hand, crush the seeds down to release their juices.

Add the lime juice to the bowl through the sieve.

Add the powdered sugar and whisk to dissolve.

Whisk in the cream and keep whisking until soft peaks form in the dainty pink cream.

Spoon and smooth the ice cream into a rigid plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight (I recommend overnight). Scatter the reserved pomegranate seeds over the top when you serve it.