Cookie Projects

At this time of year, projects that require little effort seem the most appealing to me. Maybe it’s because I just got done with the HUGE project of planning and executing my sister’s baby shower and flying through creating her nursery, too, but the simple recipes look oh-so-good to me right now. I spotted a few cookie recipes on the internet today that I wanted to share. These are simple, simple recipes. They look slightly different from my “standards” and are worth trying for that reason. Kind of like wearing a different belt with your favorite pants. You already know sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies are going to be good… but it’s fun to experience a different aspect of their goodness. More butter and perhaps even a dusting of orange zest in one case and a generous coating of sprinkles in another… Yum.

Oh Happy Day (Sugar) Cookies

http://fudgeripple.blogspot.com/2010/01/c-is-for-cookie.html

Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Best-Big-Fat-Chewy-Chocolate-Chip-Cookie/Detail.aspx

I’d  be happy to make one (or both!) of these recipes tonight, but Tyler isn’t feeling well and I know myself too well than to give myself THAT temptation- a batch of fresh, delicious cookies all for me… Did I mention my diet hasn’t been going well? Alas… Cookies will have to wait for another day. Feel free to try these recipes out and report back! I will live vicariously through your baking adventures.

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2010 Explorations – Ongoing

-EXPLORATION – Push myself to try new things, go new places, and challenge my routines.

One of my goals for 2010 is to explore. These explorations don’t have to be grand adventures (although I wouldn’t rule one of those out), just small challenges to try something new.

January

  • We took Rory to the Arkansas River to walk, meet geese, and play in the water. This was a new experience for her, too! It’s especially fun to try something new with a friend, whether of the human or canine variety. Witnessing their exploration and experiencing something new together is both fun and stimulating. As it happens, Rory did not care for the geese, although she loved sniffing their poop. We also learned that she is not averse to water, just baths. Even though it was winter, she loved wading into the water and splashing around.
  • I prepared pork ribs and a HAM for the first time. I’ve never been much of a meat-eater, and hence not much of a meat-cooker, but it was nice to add some variety to our weeknight menus, which had fallen into a bit of a winter funk. Next time, we are not buying ribs at Sam’s, though. We ate them for five nights. Two people should probably not buy meat in bulk. The ham was great, too, although I would recommend the same advice. Less is more, people.
  • Tyler and I have been sampling beers. We both enjoy different styles of beers and by sampling each other’s choices, we have been exposed to an even greater variety. I have three new favorites that I can’t wait to buy again. Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat (a stout), Tommyknocker Maple (mmmm…), and Avery White Rascal, a Belgian style wheat beer.
  • Now that Tyler and I are “morning people” as his coworkers call us, we’ve started getting out earlier in the day. Instead of treating ourselves to a late dinner out at a restaurant, we’ve begun splurging on breakfast. I’m totally fine with this as breakfast is my favorite meal. In the past couple weeks, we’ve gone to two “new” places: Jimmy’s Egg and Good Egg. Good Egg is a local breakfast spot. I thought it was a little overpriced, but the pancakes were HUGE. I should have only ordered one because it was at least a foot in diameter. These pancakes were the size of the things you see on Man Vs. Food. I liked the fact that you could choose various “mix-ins” for the pancakes batter and whole wheat pancakes were an option at no extra charge and the flavored coffee was excellent. I can see us going back. The chairs were all park benches, though, and not very comfortable ones, so they do get a demerit for that.

Banana Eggnog Smoothie

Looking for a semi-healthy way to whittle down your holiday eggnog stash? Look no further. I used soy eggnog, and at 90 calories a serving it’s decidedly healthier (and significantly lower in sugar and fat and higher in protein) than the traditional grocery store fare, so for me this was a fairly healthy breakfast. If you’re using the full fat version this recipe might be a better dessert ; ).

Banana Eggnog Smoothie

Makes 2 Servings

1/4 – 1/2 cup eggnog or eggnog substitute

1/2 cup skim milk

1/4 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt

1 banana

pinch nutmeg

handful of ice cubes

Blend top 5 ingredients together, blend in ice to suit your preference.

My version made two 8-10 ounce servings, at approximately 100 calories per serving.

Cozy Winter Breakfast

On cold, cold days, sometimes simple things are the best – like a hearty brunch of homemade biscuits and fried eggs. Taking a few minutes to set a pretty table elevates this occasion above the ordinary. Watching the snow fall outside as the candles flicker inside makes this breakfast feel even cozier.

A heart-shaped biscuit for my honey.

Toffee Triumph!

Following a failed attempt earlier in the week, I produced a massive batch of extreme deliciousness. Toffee, like most candy recipes, is deceptively simple. Here is my recipe and my suggestions (learned the hard way) for guaranteeing a shortcut to winter weight gain.

Anne’s No-Fail Super Delicious Toffee

Ingredients:

2 cups granulated sugar

1 lb. butter (4 sticks)

1/2 tsp salt

3 Tbsp. water

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1 tsp vanilla

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1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

assorted crushed and/or toasted nuts for topping

Instructions:

Preparations: Grease a baking sheet, baking pan, or large amount of parchment paper. Your desired thickness of toffee determines the vessel you pour it into– I wanted thin toffee, so I used my largest baking sheet- 17×22 or something like that.

1. Combine sugar, butter, salt, and water in a saucepan and heat on medium.

***Tip 1.) Use a pot that holds approximately twice the volume of your mixture. I think the first time I had too much exposed surface area (ie the bottom of the pot was too large) that helped it burn faster.

***Tip 2.) Use a metal spoon for stirring.

***Tip 3.) DEFINITELY use a candy thermometer

***Tip 4.) DO NOT add vanilla yet. I am not sure how crucial this is to the process- but the first time, I added it WITH the ingredients and there was epic disaster.

2.) Heat to boiling.

3.) Continue boiling until mixture reaches between 300-310 degrees F. Consult your thermometer.

***Tip 5.)  No matter what the recipe says (if you are using a different one), STIR CONSTANTLY. Scrape the sides often, scrape the bottom even more. Stir, stir stir. Do not stop. This is not a time for multi-tasking.

***Tip 6.) Do not use excessive heat. Use just enough to keep your thermometer steadily rising. At all costs you want to avoid burning the mixture. If you burn it, it’s trash. You won’t be able to eat it. Sadness ensues.

***Tip 7.) This part of the process takes 15-20 minutes. If you are done in 5, you did it wrong.

4.) Once mixture reaches your target temp, it will be a nice, bubbly, thick golden-brown liquid. Pour into your prepared pan/sheet.

5.) Allow mixture to solidify for a minute or two.

***Tip 8.) Other candymakers suggested that you blot the excess oil off the top of your toffee at this point. It will help the chocolate adhere. I did not do this, and most of my chocolate fell off. I don’t really like chocolate, so I was fine with this outcome, but you may not be.

6.) Sprinkle your chocolate chips evenly over the top of the toffee layer. Once again, depending on your desired thickness of the chocolate you may with to use more or fewer chocolate chips.

7.) Allow chocolate to melt – wait 4-5 minutes and use a spatula to spread the layer out evenly, covering the entire surface.

8.) Top with nuts, if desired. I used chopped almonds on 1/3, toasted hazelnuts on 1/3, and left 1/3 plain.

***Tip 9.) Gently press the nuts into the chocolate, to make sure they get “glued” on. Otherwise as soon as you break your candy, all the nuts will fall off.

9.) Cool! Yes, it is awesome that you just made coffee, but what I mean is that you need to wait for everything to cool. Mine was ready to eat after 30 minutes in the refrigerator, but you may wish to wait longer in order for it to really firm up. You can also cool it at room temp- it will just take a little longer.

10.) Enjoy. This is the part we are all good at. Breaking the pieces by hand worked best for me.

***Tip 10.) To clean your sticky pot, simply refill it with water and bring to a boil. Most of the candy residue should melt right off. Easy and delicious!

P.S. Is anyone else shocked at how much butter is in a batch of toffee? That is the main ingredient!! I had no idea… Now all those extra pounds I gained after the wedding are starting to make sense- I ate at least a whole batch on my own in the couple of days following the event.

No. 17 Pretzel Failure

I made pretzel bites this week, hoping to take them to a party. Making the dough was easy. Cutting the dough into bite-size pieces was easy and fun. Boiling them in the baking soda and sugar mixture was also relatively easy, although time-consuming. Brushing them with an egg wash, topping them with salt, and baking them went well. They came out of the oven golden-brown, with a nice firm crust and a soft airy center. They tasted like crap. I don’t use that word often, but it is appropriate in this situation.

Maybe I’m not a pretzel person. I checked and rechecked my recipe – knowing that the “gross” taste came from the baking soda. I’m mystified. I followed the directions- boiled 90 seconds exactly on each side in the soda water bath. I cross-checked, vigorously consulting a variety of other recipes, to find out if the ratio of baking soda to water recommended in this recipe was common- it was.  It is also gross. The pretzels tasted… strong. The doughy center was fine- although with bites this small there is no point to scooping out the edible center. The only thing I can think of is that the ratio of “strong” crust to good center is too high with bites this small and results in your mouth being overwhelmed by a malicious baking soda army. Like I said before, maybe I’m not a pretzel person, at least not in the classic cover in salt and dip in mustard vein. I like the ones they sell at Auntie Anne’s. Does that make me a low-class pretzel consumer? I guess I’ll never know – because it is unlikely I will ever attempt this move in the kitchen again. It really was that bad of an experience.

The photo is actually of day-old pretzel bites – they looked better fresh out of the oven. I only took a picture because I wanted to have visual proof that I attempted Item 17 on my List of 25 Things to do Before 25. I included a link to the recipe above because I wanted you to know which one to avoid.

Focaccia for the Masses

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This recipe was fast and delicious. The entire loaf was demolished within 24 hours. I served the bread at a tres petite dinner party but couldn’t help thinking how delicious it would be for sandwiches. This is an excellent bread for parties or social gatherings and has a lot of potential applications (bread, of course, sandwiches, appetizer ingredient). If you are afraid of yeast, this is a nice recipe to ease you into the bread making process and if you have a stand-mixer, there is virtually no work involved. Try it! You’ll like it. : )

I replaced the chopped onion in the original recipe with garlic powder and parmesan. There are a number of variations you could try if neither of those flavors appeals to you.

Garlic Herb Focaccia – Adapted from the Onion Focaccia Recipe in The Williams Sonoma Cookbook

1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (105*-115*)
1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 1/2 tsp. table salt
4-4 1/4 c. bread flour, plus extra as needed
1/2 cup dried parmesan
1 Tbsp. garlic powder

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
Italian Seasoning (or other herbs) for sprinkling

In a heavy duty mixer with the paddle attachment sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the sugar over 1/2 cup of the water and stir to dissolve. Let stand at room temp. until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining water and sugar, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, the table salt, parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and 1 cup of the flour. Beat on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the flour and beat on medium low speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the onion. Switch to the dough hook. On low speed, beat in the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft, shaggy dough forms that starts to pull away from the bowl sides. Knead on low speed, adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time if the dough sticks, until moist, soft, and slightly sticky, about 6 min. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

Line a heavy rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and brush the paper lightly with oil. Turn the dough out onto prepared sheet. With oiled fingers, press and flatten the dough into an oval 1 inch thick. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour. It will be at least 2 inches thick.

With your fingertips, make deep indentations 1 inch apart all over the surface of the dough, almost to the bottom of the pan. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Cover loosely with plastic and let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Place a baking stone on the bottom oven rack and preheat to 425*. Sprinkle the bread lightly with the sea salt and italian seasoning. Place the pan on the stone and bake until the bread is lightly browned, 20-25 minutes (20 minutes exactly and my loaf was PERFECT). Check the bottom and bake for a few extra minutes if it is pale. Slide the bread onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, in squares or wedges.

 

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A delicious lunch

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