Monday, December 31, 2007

Saag Paneer

When opportunity knocks it is important to answer. So what opportunity could be knocking in my grocery that has decided to close it's doors at the beginning of February? Paneer showed up. I have no idea why Paneer, that lovely creamy Indian cheese, would show up out here in the middle of northern Ohio. This is just a bizarre and lovely happenstance. I stood there at the cheese kiosk gazing helplessly at the little boxes of Paneer. If it wasn't price prohibitive, I might have bought them all. Immediate memories flooded back to eating at Shalimar in Ann Arbor with my good friend S. Memories of drowning my sorrows of being so far away from family and friends in Indianapolis at the Indian restaurant around the corner from work.

I happen to love Saag Paneer. A dish of spinach and cheese that's smooth goodness immediately soothes me into a state of calmness. I even have the Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking cookbook. And it has a recipe for Saag Paneer. Up until now I haven't found Paneer and thus haven't had a chance to make Saag Paneer. And I'll admit it. I'm a chicken when it comes to actually making the Paneer myself.

But this dish, although not terribly pretty, In fact it is downright ugly, is so yummy and delicious that I may have to go to my grocery and buy out what's left of the Paneer and then learn how to make it myself so I can eat this again and again. And yes its embarrassing that I don't have a recipe from some elevated Indian cookbook. But this Betty Crocker version is surprisingly good. Warm and soothing with a little bit of a kick.

The only problem I had was that it got a little dry in the spinach simmering time, so I added a cup of water. Also, I pureed my spinach before adding my cheese. And once the holidays ended, so did my supply of heavy cream. So I added whole milk and it turned out just fine.

Saag Paneer
From Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking

2 Tbsp olive oil
5 medium cloves garlic finely chopped
2 Tbsp finely chopped gingerroot
1 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
2 (10 oz) packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed and undrained
1 cup water
2 cups 1/2 inch pieces of paneer sauteed until golden in olive oil
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp Garam Masala

1.) Heat oil in 3 quart saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic and gingerroot; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until garlic is golden brown.

2.) Stir in tomato sauce, ground coriander, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt; reduce heat to low. Partially cover and simmer 7 to 8 minutes or until a thin film of oil starts to form on surface of sauce.

3.) Stir in undrained spinach and water. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until spinach turns a light olive green. Transfer spinach mixture to food processor and puree; return to pan.

4.) Stir in cheese. Cover and simmer 3 to 4 minutes of until cheese is hot; remove from heat.

5.) Stir in milk and Garam Masala.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Squash Soup

Our marathon Christmas celebration is finally over. This morning, exhausted, I surveyed the damage. We had Christmas presents in little piles all over the house. The cookie tins had taken over the kitchen. Dishes needed to be done. And I'm not sure which pile was bigger; the dirty laundry pile, or the ironing pile. Our house is too tiny to be so disheveled.

So I did the only thing that could be done. I started on one end and worked my way to the other. Its like that old joke about how do you eat a whale? One bite at a time. So the ironing is done. Most of the presents are put away. The bed is made. The laundry is downstairs. The sideboard and dining room table are uncluttered and the coffee table is bare. I even got the grocery shopping done and I have a plan for the week. I'm nothing without a plan.

It feels good to get things back in a little bit of order. The house isn't there yet, but its definitely much calmer now that I'm not worried about tripping and breaking my neck in the middle of the night anymore. Of course that doesn't mean I won't get up in the middle of the night and run into a wall. I've done that a couple times. My eating habits over the last two weeks have been like my house. In total disarray. I knew there was a problem, but when I was grocery shopping I had no desire to go down the ice cream or cookie aisles, but parked my cart in front of produce and pretty much drooled. A big slobbery drooler. Cleanup in produce.

So dinner tonight is a happily vegetarian, low fat, high fiber, delicious bowl of yumminess. It's Pinto Bean, Tomato, and Butternut Squash Soup. Its just a little spicy and yet so filling and comforting. I'm lazy and feel no need to puree any of it. I also find it has more flavor if you can find celery with the leaves on it too. This is my go to soup for wanting to feel better and healthier in an instant.

Pinto Bean, Tomato, and Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Bon Appetit

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 (15 oz) cans pinto beans, drained
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 cups 1/2 inch pieces butternut squash (peeled and seeded)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and celery; saute until onions are golden, about 7 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add broth, squash, beans, tomatoes, oregano and cayenne pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ah Relief

We are home. Temporarily in between Christmas celebrations. Last weekend we had a 90th birthday party, a wedding reception, and 2 Christmases with my family. This weekend we have a Christmas celebration, a birthday party and a baby shower. Celebrations and family happiness abound. But I have to say, I love my quiet little house and my nice firm mattress. I can lay awake in the early morning hours and listen comfortably to the nothingness.

I digress. After all that rich food in Michigan, and with the expectation of rich food to come, I am craving vegetables. But I'm not really cooking this week. (We're playing "what leftovers are in the freezer" for the 2 nights I actually have to think about dinner.) So I've made do with some very tasty bran muffins. I got some pretty cool silicone cupcake liners in both heart shapes and squares as a Christmas present and I wanted to try them out.

This recipe is loosely based on this recipe here. But I don't keep buttermilk on hand, so I substituted yogurt. And the reviews said it was dry, so a little applesauce couldn't hurt. And really when I was cutting up the apricots and prunes and I just kept finding more dried fruit in my cupboards, I couldn't help adding raisins and currants and craisins and adding an entire 1/2 cup more dried fruit than I was supposed to. I don't know what the original recipe tasted like, but my recipe made 18 muffins (in both heart and square shapes) and tasted darn good.

And a little relief is a good good thing.

Bran Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup oat bran
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups plain non-fat yogurt
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup applesauce
1 1/2 dried fruit, chopped if big pieces, (I used prunes, apricots, golden raisins, currants, and craisins)
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degree F. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners (or use silicone ones without liners).

Whisk flours, oat bran, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Lightly beat the eggs and egg white in a medium bowl. Stir in the yogurt, brown sugar, applesauce, and oil. Stir the liquid mixture into the flour mixture until blended. Fold in the dried fruit and the nuts. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until firm when pressed gently and a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Turn the muffins out of the cups and cool on rack. Serve warm or room temperature.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tradition, Quilts, and Flaming Desserts

Christmas this year was a big occasion. Christmas every year is big. When you have 3 brothers, 2 sisters, 3 stepbrothers, and 1 stepsister, every occasion is a big occasion. Christmas fortunately is split into 2 days for my side of the family. My dad and my stepmom always have the Brain and I over to celebrate Christmas and my stepbrothers and their wives are terrific people and we all get along great. This year was a little different than usual and I'll post on that later.

Christmas at my mom and my stepdad's house happens every Christmas Eve. My mom is big on tradition, and just like when I was a little girl at my grandmother's house, we celebrate with a big fancy dinner on Christmas Eve. We have pickled herring as a starter and it is always my job to cut the pickled herring into bite sized pieces. I LOVE pickled herring and frequently feast on it while cutting it into pieces. Then we have a delicious meal with green bean casserole and twice baked potatoes. Last year we had a crown roast of pork. This year we had chicken cordon blue. My stepdad is a really really good cook.

After we've eaten dinner on the fine china and we are all stuffed to the gills, the adults all help clean up all the dishes, put away one of the extra dinner tables (12 adults and 4 children need two tables), and get things ready. One adult gets the job of working the DVD player and keeping the kids occupied with a Christmas video and somehow Santa always comes to our house first on Christmas Eve. After the dishes are done and the adults are finished cleaning up from dinner, Santa yells "HO HO HO!" and slams the front door. By the time the kids get to the door he's all gone, but he's left a mammoth pile of presents under the tree. It's really cute.

Then we draw presents from youngest to oldest where you can't pick a present for yourself, it has to be for someone else. This way we all get to see what everyone else got. Opening presents can get a little tedious and has lasted well into the wee hours of the night. Not so much now that the adults all draw names so we have far less presents under the tree.

This year, my favorite present is a quilt my mom made the Brain and I. It is a quilt that I started with her and I put 4 squares together. Now that I have a sewing machine and I have successfully put together my apron I was ready to finally come up to Michigan and collect the quilt pieces and do it myself and maybe sometime this century I'd have it finished. Apparently when Mom made our wedding quilt, we had asked for king sized, she felt bad because it is much bigger than our bed. So over the summer she finished the melon ball quilt I had started. Quilts are really hard work and I was teasing my sisters that Mom likes me best because I got 2 quilts in one year. The wedding quilt is the picture here and the Christmas quilt is the one above this paragraph.

After all the presents were unwrapped, we had dessert. Dessert, as tradition dictates, is Rice Bavarian. Rice Bavarian is a delicious dessert of whipped cream and rice and gelatin. it's really really tasty. Then on top we pour brandied cherries and light them on fire. My grandpa would always put loads of brandy in it so it would really flame high. Grandpa was quite the character. As our family has grown bigger we now also accommodate the vegan and lactose intolerant members of our family with a pineapple upside down cake made without milk or eggs. But really it's all about the flaming Rice Bavarian.

Rice Bavarian
Dorothy Hunter

1 1/2 pints whole milk
lemon peel*
1/2 cup rice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 oz granulated (unflavored) gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup heavy cream whipped

Put milk and lemon peel in double boiler, when hot, stir in well washed rice and salt. Cook until rice is perfectly tender. Add to hot cooked rice; flavoring, sugar, and gelatin which has been dissolved in water. Mix carefully.
When mixture is beginning to set, fold in cream, whipped stiff. Pour into mold and chill.

"Grandma like to use canned cherries mixed with Cherry Kiafa and set aflame."

* What can I say, it's another family recipe. I asked my mom how much lemon peel and she pulled out of jar and added a couple shakes.

Cherry Kiafa is some kind of cherry liquor. Something with a high proof burns the best.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Log

So I joined this super group of Daring Bakers. The whole reason I started a blog was because I wanted to join this really cool group of bakers who stretch themselves with exciting and difficult pursuits. They have secret rituals too. And a really cool logo. Its like a cross between two of my favorite things. Baking and James Bond. It is entirely possible that I may have been humming dum da da dum da da da dum da da dum, (the James Bond theme song) while I read our super secret instructions. To make a Yule Log.
Of course making a yule log has never been high on my list of things to do while trying to get everything else done before Christmas. I mean, really, I make a ton of Christmas cookies to send to my friends, and now apparently to the Brain's good referral sources, and then I try to make a gingerbread house. And we can't forget the sauerkraut balls. And frankly, rolling up a cake sort of scared me. After watching Tyler Florence screw up rolling a cake on Iron Chef America (love that show) I was more than nervous that the cake would crack up and die.
So I soaked it brandy. OK maybe soaking isn't right. I brushed the outside of the cake with brandy and then I flipped it over and brushed the other side. Then I rolled it up around a dishtowel on one side and parchment paper on the other and left it for the night because I completely forgot to take the butter out of the fridge and let it get super soft and squishy so the frosting/filling would turn out OK. Cold butter = ruined frosting. There's a lot of Daring Bakers who could tell you that. The next day, the butter was soft, the frosting came together beautifully. The cake unrolled and rolled back up again. I was SO relieved!
Then came the hard part. The meringue mushrooms. Perhaps I've mentioned the effects of humidity in my cozy little house. It makes things squishy. Meringue mushrooms are not supposed to be squishy. I made the tops and the bottoms and they were great. I put a couple together with melted chocolate and satisfied everything would be OK, I went to bed. The next morning I went to take a shower and brushed my robe against the tray of mushroom bottoms and realized I had half a dozen mushroom parts stuck to my robe. They were tasty, but they were squishy. I reread the recipe and realized I was supposed to store them in an airtight container. So I stuck them back in the oven for a while and then popped them into a Ziploc. Problem solved.
I happily decorated the log with snowflake sprinkles and some cacoa nibs (like little wood chips) and my meringue mushrooms. I like to think its like a log in winter.

And now came the SUPER challenge. Today was my grandmother's 90th birthday party. In Michigan. We live in Ohio. 2 hours away. (well the way we drive). So now I had to transport this log. And not kill it. I stuck toothpicks in it so the cling wrap wouldn't mess up the frosting. I packed spare mushroom parts and the leftover frosting.

I held it carefully in my lap the whole drive up. I may be stretching the truth here, I did fall asleep after Toledo for a couple of snores. Once here I unwrapped, fixed a couple mushrooms and tidied it up. After cracking several jokes with my sister G about wanting to see my log, we declared it done. I'm pretty darn pleased with myself. I thought that there was the distinct possibility that I would completely bomb this challenge. Whew!

You can get the recipe for the Yule log here. The only changes I made is that I stuck the mushroom parts together with chocolate and later frosting, and I added 2 oz. of melted bittersweet 62% chocolate to the buttercream because my sister M was annoyed at the lack of chocolate in the yule log.
Check out the rest of the Daring Bakers here. There's something like 300 people posting about Yule Logs between today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It must be an Ohio thing

I have to admit, in preparing to move to Ohio. I could come up with a whole lot for the minus column. No job for me. Ohio State fans. Shopping at Walmart. I prepared for things I've never before up close experienced. Small town life. Farmers. I knew there were regional foods here. Biscuits and gravy (ew). Buckeyes (yum). But I in no way could have prepared myself for sauerkraut balls.

After we went to a party last year where sauerkraut balls were served, I asked my mother in law about them. In case you haven't noticed she's an EXCELLENT reference for me. It turns out she has a recipe for them from a very old Joy of Cooking. We made them last year for Christmas and this year we made a double batch to share with my family when I go up to Michigan for Christmas. They've never heard of them either.

What are sauerkraut balls? They are sauerkraut, pork, ham, corned beef, cream sauce, and dry mustard. The cream sauce is made with milk and flour- my mother in law says it's way better than the cream cheese variety. Who am I to argue? Then they're chilled overnight and the next day we roll them into balls. The balls then get rolled in flour, egg wash and bread crumbs. Then my mother in law deep fries them and they're done. And yummy to boot.

Even though I love them, I think it would be physically impossible to eat an entire batch in one sitting. Fortunately, they freeze well and then can be reheated in the oven. This makes them the perfect party snack because you can make them ahead of time.

I realize by now your mouth is watering and you are ready to try these tasty delights and are just reading this to get to the recipe. Well. I don't have it. Sorry. I don't really want it. I like making them with my mother in law and as long as she has the recipe I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What's in the cupboard?

I have a stuffed up nose. I also left work this evening with a long list of gift buying to do. The combination of the two didn't really make me want to hop into the kitchen to make something fabulous with subtle overtones because A) the gift buying involves going to the next coutny to get to Home Depot, Target, and a Borders; and B) I can barely taste anything. And really the idea of going to the grocery store tonight was about as enticing as walking down Main St. naked.

It just wasn't going to happen.

So I came home and looked in the pantry and the fridge and I looked at a couple recipes and I Iron Cheffed it. I'm so ridiculously proud of myself I can't even tell you. Remember my OCD tendencies? Need I point out that the cashier at Borders asked me if I was trying to short change her because I had to give her the closest to exact change I had and all my bills had to be facing in the same direction? (She was just teasing, I was obviously flustered by a $20 bill that was out of whack.) SO, for me to not follow a recipe is HUGE! And it turned out pretty tasty. Woooo! Yay me!

OK enough of that. I would tell you what the Brain thinks of it, but he went to bed early because apparently his wife has a unbelievably loud, wake the dead, sort of snoring problem when she has a stuffy nose and she kept him up all night. What can I say, I take after my mother. My poor poor husband!

Basically I made a sort of vegetarian cold pseudo Asian noodle dish. I'll call it Spicy Peanut Noodles with Vegetables. I am so glad there's leftovers. I think it's crazy good and spicy enough that it unstuffs my nose! And I like to think it's healthy too. Well sort of. The fat content is probably a little on the high side with the peanut butter and all, but it's probably good fats. And I think adding even more vegetables would be great, but I was working with what I had on hand. Something like water chestnuts would be awesome in it, but I don't keep those in the pantry. Feel free to take it, and make it yours.

Spicy Peanut Noodles with Vegetables

1 pound whole wheat spaghetti

2 large carrots, peeled and diced small
1 large red bell pepper cut into matchsticks
1 12oz bag frozen brocolli cuts, thawed and brought to room temperature
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

6 Tbsp smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup low salt chicken broth
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp sesame oil
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (about)

1/2 cup peanuts (dry roasted)

Combine the peanut butter, broth, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, ground ginger and cayenne pepper. Heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds or until the peanut butter whisks easily and you can really mix up the dressing. Set the dressing aside and let cool.

Cook the pasta until it is just tender. Drain the pasta and rinse for several minutes in cold water so that it's room temperature or a little chilled. Transfer the pasta to a big bowl. Add the chopped red bell pepper, carrots, cilantro and the dressing. Toss to coat. Sprinkle individual servings with peanuts.

Monday, December 17, 2007


After falling down the stairs at church on Sunday and deciding to reward myself with a Spin class tonight, I'm ever so grateful that my mother-in-law decided to send over leftovers from a luncheon she had today so I didn't have to cook. As much as I want to spend the rest of the night in a hot bath, I still have Christmas cards to write and cookie packages to pack up. I wonder if I can do it all standing up. I have a bruise on my hiney.

But the cookies at least are finished and I can share my little round up with you...

I'll list them off top to bottom, left to right:

Top Row: spritz, double chocolate walnut biscotti, 7-layer bars (aka Hello Dolly bars), Aunt Nicky's butter cookies, snickerdoodles.

Second Row: gingerbread man, rumball, chocolate mint cookie, shortbread cookie, Laura Bush's cowboy cookie (ok I'm totally embarrassed about it, but I really like these cookies).

Third Row: peanut butter cookie, Hershey macaroon kiss, oatmeal craisin, lemon coconut pixie, chocolate chip cookie.

Fourth Row: Mexican wedding cookie, pumpkin cookie, Mrs. Eder's toffee bars, golden biscotti, billy goat.

Now I just have to box them up and send them out. Yay! The cookies will be out of my house in less than a week. Be prepared for a January full of vegetables.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lafcadio and his Marshmallows

One of my favorite books as a child was Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back by Shel Silverstein. It's the story of a lion who a hunter tries to shoot so he eats the hunter and learns how to shoot his gun. The lion becomes the greatest sharpshooter in the land and joins the circus. I'm not going to tell you the ending because I love this book so much that I want you to read it too. I'll give you a hint though that the ending involves a hunting trip.

Anyhow, Lafcadio, the sharpshooter lion, really really likes marshmallows:

"A Marshmallow?" said the waiter. "We don't serve Marshmallows here; this is a very fancy restaur-"
said the lion.

"Yes sir," said the waiter, and he hurried off to the kitchen.

And in a few moments he came back with a beautiful marshmallow on a flaming sword.

"Ah!" said the lion. "A marshmallow at last, at last a marshmallow, at mast a larshmellow." You can see how nervous and excited he was.

And he picked up the marshmallow. "It's as light as a feather," he said.
And he put the marshmallow on his tongue. "Ooh, it's crispy on the outside," he said.
And he bit into it with his big teeth. "Ooh, it's creamy on the inside," he said.
And he chewed it up.
"Oh," he said, and he closed his eyes and smiled.
And he swallowed it.
"It's delicious," he said. "It's better than rabbits any time."
"More marshmallows," cried the lion. "More, more, more, more marshmallows."
"Yes, sir," said the waiter, and he hurried off and he brought the lion a whole platter of marshmallows.

So I made some homemade marshmallows. This is a very late entry for the Retro Recipe challenge hosted by Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried where we had to find inspiration from a childhood book/story and then find a recipe printed prior to 1980 and make and post about the dish and the story. My recipe comes courtesy of my mother in law's mother's (or the Brain's grandma's) cookbook The American Woman's Cookbook published for the Culinary Arts Institute in Chicago in 1942. I'd call that vintage.

This was a really fun project for me to do. It would be a really fun thing to do with a kid who had just read the book too. They weren't hard at all and it was pretty neat to watch the crumbly gelatin turn into such beautiful fluffy white marshmallows. They're darn tasty too!

The American Woman’s Cookbook

2 Tbsp gelatin
¼ cup cold water
¾ cup boiling water
2 cups sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Confectioner’s sugar

Soak the gelatin in the cold water until it has taken up all the water. Boil the sugar and water to the soft-ball stage (238 degrees F.) Add vanilla and salt to gelatin. Pour the sirup slowly over the gelatin, beating constantly with a whisk until cool and thick. Butter a shallow pan slightly and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Turn the marshmallow mixture into the pan and smooth the top evenly. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Let it stand over night. In the morning cut it into small squares and roll in confectioners’ sugar.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Gingerbread House that Wasn't

I don't quit easily. But I think the time has come to admit that the gingerbread house has gotten the better of me. First there seems to be something like 4 billion pieces to this thing. Then it's been raining for a week. Well, now there's snow. And a lot more on the way. And there's that whole powdered sugar shortage going on. But I digress. Once the pieces were baked, I noticed they were getting squishier by the day. This is not a new gingerbread recipe for me and the house I built last year was happily destroyed by a bunch of little kids.

I bravely attempted to put the roof together. That didn't work.

OH the crumbling. the horror.
And then I started putting in candy cane reinforcements and plastering the walls with royal icing. But the walls started breaking.
I patched some together.

But you know how I can sometimes take things as signs from God...

I have decided this is the house just isn't meant to be. This time of year can be so stressful and there's no need to stress myself out over some silly house that nobody's pressuring me to make. It's supposed to be a fun season and there's some fun fun stuff coming up in the next week or so. There's the very challenging Daring Baker's challenge (I'm not telling what it is. It's a secret.) There's something very exciting for tomorrow based on a story about a sharpshooting lion. And there's also going to be a yummy goody that I've never had before moving to Ohio. So who needs this silly little house anyway?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Gingerbread men

I had made my gingerbread earlier this week and was planning to decorate them yesterday after dinner. SO I'm in the middle of making the royal icing and realize that I am one cup of powdered sugar short. I thought I had another bag in the cupboard, but sadly, I was mistaken. I then decided to hop in the car and run over to Walmart. Although I really don't like to support Walmart, at 9:30 at night my choices are limited. To my surprise, Walmart was out of powdered sugar!

I took it as a sign from God after a long long long day that I should just go home and go to bed. I wasn't going to drive to the next county for powdered sugar.

SO today, I go to my normal grocery after work to buy powdered sugar. And they were out too! I don't understand rural life that there is a run on powdered sugar 2 weeks before Christmas. it's just unreal that there is no powdered sugar in town.

I did manage to find 3 half pound boxes that were hidden behind some sugar cubes at the grocery. Of course, I was so flustered by the powdered sugar shortage that I forgot to buy the flour to rebake the gingerbread house. The gingerbread house is in bad shape. Interestingly, Walmart still has no powdered sugar. I wasn't going to go right back to the same grocery I came from to get the flour and I was curious to see if Walmart had restocked.

But this is my favorite gingerbread recipe and I could sit here and eat these little tiny ones I cut out all afternoon. It's from Rose Levy Beranbaum's cookbook, Rose's Christmas Cookies. When I moved here in January, about 10 pages were lost from the cookbook. Unfortunately the gingerbread recipe was on them. I went into complete panic mode. Fortunately, the local library had a copy and I was able to copy it down and go on with my life. I found the pages the day before yesterday. After I made the cookies.

Gingerbread Men
Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
12 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsulfered molasses
1 large egg

Soften the butter. In a small bowl, sift together the flour salt baking soda and spices, then whisk together to mix evenly. In a mixing bowl cream the brown sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the molasses and the egg and beat in the flour mixture until incorporated.

Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and use the wrap to press the dough together to form a thick flat disk. Wrap it well and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours.

Place 2 oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness and place on greased cookie sheets 1 inch apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until firm to the touch and just beginning to color around the edges. Cool on the sheets for 1 minutes and then transfer to cooling racks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yes more cookies...

Most biscotti, although I love it, is bland and crumbly and needs to be eaten with coffee. This biscotti is different. It's decadently rich and chocolaty. There's a generous amount of cocoa in the cookie and it's studded with chocolate chips. This is no subtle cookie. It screams out chocolate. The walnuts deliciously cut through the chocolate so they aren't too sweet or overbearing. These biscotti are rich enough that just one or two will do so you don't have to worry about eating the entire batch and then having to bake more before Christmas. And really although they don't need it, they're great with a cup of coffee..
Oh yeah, and we got the tree up!

Double Chocolate Walnut Biscotti
from Bon Appetit

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 stick (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup walnuts
3/4 semisweet chocolate chips
1Tbsp confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter and flour a large baking sheet.

In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until combined well. Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips.

On prepared baking sheet with floured hands form dough into two slightly flattened logs, each 12 inches long and 2 inches wide, and sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Bake logs 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. Cool biscotti on baking sheet 5 minutes.
On a cutting board cut biscotti diagonally into 3/4-inch slices. Arrange biscotti, cut sides down, on baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool biscotti on a rack.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Armed and Delicious!

As its December, I spend most of my time in the beginning of the month baking Christmas cookies. I make around 20 different kinds and I try to have them all done by the 15th so that I can mail them off to various friends that have become dear to me over the years and the places I've travelled. A lot of my Christmas cookie recipes are standard. So, I've decided to only blog about the "special" ones. And oh yeah, the yummy ones.

These lovely crisp, yet melt in your mouth, buttery spritz cookies came to me in a doctor's office waiting room in Indiana. I was the first appointment of the day and the doctor was already running half an hour late. I later decided he was a quack. But as I was sitting there that December morning, annoyed at the doctor, I leafed through a current-ish issue of Good Housekeeping. Kelly Ripa was on the cover and I figured as long as I was annoyed, I might as well learn about how this overly perky woman, who seems to have her life all put together, celebrates the holidays.

There at the end of the article was her grandmother's Spritz cookie recipe. Holy Crap! The woman is a twig. I find it hard to believe she snacks on cookies. Cookies with a whole cup of butter in them none the less. I had already gotten my cookie baking done and was making a highly successful gingerbread house (not like this year's model) and I decided I'd give them a shot. Wooo Yay! yummy!

My mom had given me the Super Shooter cookie press several years before, but I didn't really have a good recipe. But now, thanks to Kelly Ripa, I have a delicious recipe. And Spritz cookies always come out so cute.

Grandma Esther's Spritz Cookies
courtesy of Kelly Ripa through Good Housekeeping magazine

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract

Heat oven to 375° F.
Combine butter and sugar, then add remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly.
Load into cookie press. Place dough 1/2 inch apart on cookie sheet.
Bake about 8 minutes or until edges are golden.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mint Chocolate Cookies

I have to admit these aren't my favorite of the Christmas cookies. My favorite are the plain old peanut butter cookies. But I don't really have a special recipe for peanut butter cookies. Really I just use the Betty Crocker recipe out of that ubiquitous red cookbook. It's the same cookie recipe everyone else has. It's the cookie I'm most likely to sneak out and snack on. The cookie that will most likely run short when I make the cookie packages to send out. But I can make peanut butter cookies any time I want. There's really nothing special or Christmassy about them.

Now these Chocolate Mint cookies are only brought out at Christmas and I really don't have a clue where the recipe came from. As I said before, the Brain and I aren't huge mint fans, but I can tell you that I almost discontinued these cookies in the past and it was met with an outcry. These are a couple of my friends' favorite Christmas cookie. And really, in a plate of sweet and golden buttery cookies the mint holds its own and the entirely chocolate cookie stands out.

Other than the 4 hour chilling time these cookies are ridiculously easy. I don't even use a mixer to make them. They're festive and a couple of them on a cookie plate really round out a collection. In spite of themselves, these cookies really spell Christmas to me and so I'm sending them in to Food Blogga as my entry for Eat Christmas Cookies.

Mint Chocolate Cookies

2oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp mint extract
2 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
powdered sugar

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl. In separate bowl, mix together melted chocolate, oil, sugar and mint. Add eggs one at a time stirring until blended. Add flour mixture into chocolate mixture. Cover dough and chill for at least 4 hours (no more than 2 days). Scoop out 1 tsp at a time into small balls and roll in powdered sugar. Place balls about 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on the pan for a minute before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Snow and Ice Cupcakes!

Another month has gone by and that means it's time for another Cupcake Hero event over at Quirky Cupcake! (She's also paired up with Bake and Destroy)! Yay! I have so much fun with these! This month's secret ingredient is mint. That was kind of a toughie because the Brain doesn't like mint and I have to admit I'm a little picky about it.

While I was sitting at work watching the post office. (I have the best seat in town because I know when everyone's at the post office and if I knew who people were I might know some serious gossip. Someday...) I began to think about mint things that I enjoy. I started thinking about peppermint ice cream and its creamy mint flavor. Then I started thinking about those commercials from a long time ago where people bit into a York Peppermint Patty and they got the feeling of skiing naked through the Alps (or something like that). And then I was thinking about all this snow and ice we have on the ground now. And then I started thinking I better get some work done so the Brain doesn't yell at me again.

So I present my Snow and Ice Cupcake. It's a white chocolate mint cupcake with a white chocolate mint buttercream and a peppermint candy brittle piece as garnish. I think the cupcake and frosting really capture the creamy mellow mint flavor I was looking for. Mint can be ridiculously overpowering. The fluffy softness of the frosting makes me think of snow and the peppermint candy brittle has that powerful icy mint flavor. (I have to admit that when I saw the photo of the Peppermint Ice Cream Candyland Cake in December's Bon Appetit, I thought it was really cool and when the secret ingredient was revealed I knew I wanted to make the candy brittle with just peppermint candies.) I found some really cool edible glitter, so I had to sprinkle that on top too. They're so pretty!

I also know that Catholic Charities is getting a dozen of these and the County Recorder's office is getting 6 of them. I have to set them aside because otherwise I might just eat them all for breakfast!

White Chocolate Cupcakes

8 oz. good white chocolate, chopped
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp mint
1 1/4 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°. Stir white chocolate in top of double boiler set over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Leave white chocolate in pot and turn off heat. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk in 3 additions, blending well after each addition. Add warm white chocolate and beat just until blended.

Scoop batter into muffin tins lined with cupcake papers. Bake for 15 minutes or until just lightly golden and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on racks.

White Chocolate Mint Buttercream

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
12 oz. unsalted butter (very soft)
1/4 tsp mint extract
2 oz. good white chocolate, melted

Place egg whites, sugar and salt in medium sized heatproof mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk gently and constantly until egg whites hit 140° and sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whip by machine until thick and cooled, about 5 minutes. Beat in butter a little at a time and continue beating until buttercream is smooth and spreadable. Add mint extract and continue beating. Slowly add melted white chocolate and beat until incorporated.

Peppermint Candy Brittle
adapted from Bon Appetit

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 Tbsp light corn syrup
about 30 peppermint candies smashed in a Ziploc with a meat tenderizer

Place a large sheet of foil on work surface. Stir sugar, water, and corn syrup in small saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Increase heat and boil without stirring until candy thermometer registers 300°F.

Being very careful, pour syrup slowly onto foil on work surface going up and down the length of the foil so it doesn't spill onto the counter. Using heat proof spatula smooth the syrup into thin. Sprinkle broken peppermints onto syrup. Press the big pieces in without touching the hot syrup. Let cool completely.

When cool break into jagged pieces and stick in frosted cupcakes. This makes way more brittle than needed, but it's pretty good to eat all by itself too.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Baby it's cold outside

Ah, winter has arrived. We have some pretty white snow. My old little Ford Focus needs time to warm up before I drive it or it gets annoyed with being cold. And temperatures this morning were in the single digits. brrrrr.

What better to do after a day of prancing along icy sidewalks, admiring Christmas light displays that would make the Griswald's proud and stomping my feet to get feelings back into my toes (damn my aversion to dress socks!) than to make some hot chocolate?

This hot chocolate recipe is from The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg. It's not like the sickeningly sweet kind that comes in the little packets at the grocery store. It's rich and chocolaty and totally hits the spot. The flavor of the cocoa really comes out, so probably the better the cocoa, the better the hot chocolate will be.

The Brain, who had a little taste, said that it's not sweet enough for him. I'm okay with that. More for me. This would be really good spiked with some liquor too. Maybe some peppermint schnapps...

Factory Store Hot Chocolate

1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp plus 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
2 cups whole milk

In a small saucepan, whisk together the cocoa powder and sugar. Whisk in the milk and heat over low to medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium and continue stirring for another 3 to 5 minutes, or just until steam begins to rise from the top. Do not boil.

so a little about me

This has been going around and it looks like fun...
The way it works is I put in bold the things I've done on the list.

"Bold" things I've done in my 35+ years:
01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said "I love you" and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby's diaper
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight (and went to confession for it!)
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster
35. Hit a home run
36. Danced like a fool and didn't care who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
42. Had amazing friends
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched whales
45. Stolen a sign
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing
49. Midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger's table and had a meal with them
54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow
56. Alphabetized your CDs
57. Pretended to be a superhero
58. Sung karaoke
59. Lounged around in bed all day
60. Played touch football
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain
65. Gone to a drive-in theater
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business (the Brain did and I think that counts. We're a team.)
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
72. Gotten married
73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Snake River
82. Been on television news programs as an "expert"
83. Gotten flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage
85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark
88. Kissed on the first date
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one/both of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently
95. Performed in Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
98. Passed out cold
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn't stop when you knew someone was looking
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn't have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication
106. Lost over 100 pounds
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Touched a stingray
110. Broken someone's heart
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a T.V. game show
113. Broken a bone (many)
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper
129. Changed someone's mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school
131. Parasailed
132. Touched a cockroach
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes
134. Read The Iliad - and the Odyssey
135. Selected one "important" author who you missed in school, and read
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating (fish)
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you're living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn't know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair
147. Been a DJ
148. Shaved your head
149. Caused a car accident
150. Saved someone's life

So I've done 68 "bold" things in my life. What a fun way to look back and think about my "accomplishments. If things like falling off a bicycle can be considered an accomplishment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A family recipe (and effort)

Billy Goat cookies are synonymous with Christmas in our family. They're a cinnamon spiced, almond and candied citron cookie. Unfortunately, as the recipe is from my great great grandmother it leaves a little bit of figuring out. I spent some serious time on the phone with my sister G, and my sister M, and my mom, trying to figure out the best way to make these cookies.

See, if you cook them wrong, they turn out like beautiful little rocks. Something like the everlasting gobstopers on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I get very nervous about German cookies that turn into rocks. I broke a tooth on a Springerle and I'm never making them again. Teeth are expensive.

So the recipe for these cookies is at best vague. There's a German name for them, but I don't know it. My sister M does, but my mom says that she thinks the spelling is wrong. To top it off, the directions I have are:

"Try 350° and a greased cookie sheet."

That's it.

What the hell?

My mom said she wrote it down, but she didn't really have any directions. My sister G, who has a super blog here, says that she always weighs the sugar and the ingredients listed in weights. She also pointed out that a hotter oven is better. She said that if the oven is too cold then they have to cook longer at the lower temperature and it basically dries them into hard little rocks. Her oven runs cold and she said to make sure that the cookies only take about 10 to 12 minutes. Good. Didn't have a time before.

My sister M and my mom contributed that cooking the cookies on parchment paper works better than anything else, because they don't stick to parchment paper. M also added that it's better to start off too hot. You can tell that the oven is too hot because they start to spread and the edges get dark, but the center is undercooked and then when they're cold they turn into rocks. My mom also pointed out not to use the Kitchenaid to mix in the citron or it would turn to brightly colored mush. The citron has to be folded in.

I was not to be intimidated. I am joining the Daring Bakers after all. I can do this.
They turned out lovely. I didn't overcook them, I didn't undercook them. I watched them constantly. I kept my oven at 350°. I bumped it up to 375° to be on the safer side. I bumped it back down to 350°. And then when it was all said and done, I worried. They were a little crunchy last night. And then I became brilliant! I remembered the bread trick. I stuck a piece of bread in the tin with the cookies last night. Today they are nice and soft and chewy and delicious.

I am bringing these cookies to Peabody's virtual housewarming party. Peabody is this really cool food blogger who makes unbelievably delicious things. Her pumpkin butterscotch cake is seriously delicious. I really wasn't planning to bring these, or any baked good really. That's like playing tennis with Martina Navratilova. But I figured, baked goods are something that Peabody would appreciate. And this is a special old family recipe.

And I just caught my oven on fire. Something I seem to have a talent for. This is the 4th state I've caught either the stove or the oven on fire in. Michigan. Kansas. Indiana. Ohio. It's not something I advertise to landlords. No damage done. I calmly put the fire out with salt, but now I have to wait for the oven to get cold to scrub it out. By the way, If you end up using a fire extinguisher on an oven you render it permanently useless. Try salt first.

Good thing the rumballs are done. They're nice and potent. yummmmmmm.

Billy Goats
Amelia Kern (my great great grandmother)

1 pound sugar
2 eggs
1/4 pound butter
1/4 pound almonds*
3/4 pound lemon peel, citron, orange **
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder

Try 350° and a greased cookie sheet.***

*I used slivered almonds. G uses chopped almonds. Mom and M use whatever almonds they have on hand. They've even used walnuts, but M says that they taste better with almonds.

** This means the candied citron fruitcake mix you find in the grocery store. Yes. The bright yellow, green, and red stuff that's obviously not naturally colored.

*** I TOLD you the directions were funky. Use a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake around 350° watching them closely. Only cook for 10 to 12 minutes. If it takes more or less time than that adjust the oven temperature.

Oh and mix the wet ingredients, then add in the dry ingredients (which have already been mixed together). Then fold in the nuts and citron.