Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TWD: Creme Brulee

Approximately 5 or 6 hours a day, three or four days a week, when I am not doing the things I REALLY love, like spending time with my family, food blogging, or creating themed seasonal displays in my frontyard, I work as a bankruptcy lawyer. Now I know, I know, when you hear "bankruptcy lawyer" you think: Dry. Humorless. Socially awkward. Yes, I KNOW those are the stereotypes, so I feel like I need to just go ahead and state for the record that . . . yup, that's pretty much right on the money. We are a dry, humorless, and socially awkward bunch.

Anyway, I mention this only because as we all know, the economy is unfortunately in the tank these days, and that means that it's the busy season for the bankruptcy folks. They don't call us "harbingers of doom" for nothing. And while I have been just a part-time bankruptcy lawyer since having kids, on rare occasions during the particularly busy times I sometimes have to work much longer hours for a short but intense stretch. Well, last week was one of those weeks, as we were getting ready file a large chapter 11 (in fact, Julie and Amanda were here too; Amanda even brought a Dimply Plum Cake to share with the rest of us!). So all week long, I got home late and fell into bed sometime after midnight. I started to have panic attacks that I might not get to make the creme brulee because I simply would not have time to go out and get a torch. Amanda was clearly worried about this too, and so one night at work, we plotted her secret early escape from the office to procure the goods from Bed, Bath & Beyond before it closed for the night. It was touch and go for a while there, because we didn't really leave her much time to get out to BB&B, and I could not concentrate on another thing until an email from Amanda landed in my inbox, Subject: WE HAVE TORCHES AND BUTANE.

At close to midnight on Sunday, after working around the clock all weekend long and having just put 25 car dealerships into bankruptcy, Amanda and I stood together in our breakroom with the instruction manual and tried to figure out how to load the butane into our creme brulee torches. And somehow that seemed like a perfectly normal thing to be doing at the time.

Creme brulee has a very short ingredient list, which often means there is little room for error with that handful of ingredients. But to my pleasant surprise, this came together really easily. It took all of 10 minutes to prepare the ingredients and fill the dishes with the custard. It really wasn't all that much harder to make than instant pudding! Oh, I'll be taking that little secret with me to my grave. Now, I did think that the baking part was a little trickier than the mixing part. Dorie says to bake the custard at 200 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. Sixty minutes in, my custards were still as jiggly as my thighs since joining TWD. I let it go until 90 minutes, when it was STILL JIGGLY!!! I finally gave up and decided to just take it out and hope for it to set up when it chilled, and it pretty much did.

Then it was time to torch. I admit that I was a little afraid of the torch. I'm what some would call "accident prone," and probably not the kind of person who needs to be operating a blowtorch under any circumstances, much less immediately after coming off a weeklong stretch of limited sleep. I made sure to try out the torch for the first time before David got home, so he didn't have to suffer through watching me use it. Like the custard-making itself, the blowtorching was far easier than I ever could have imagined! I assume that it takes a little practice to get really good at it, and I probably overcarmelized certain areas of my creme brulee, but overall, it worked like a charm and I was thrilled with the result.

I rarely order creme brulee in restaurants; I like it, but I usually prefer flour to show up somewhere in my desserts. David, on the other hand, really loves creme brulee and will often choose it if it is on the menu. I was so happy to be able to make this for him after he picked up the slack for me all week, and spent the weekend in the house by himself with three small kids and no beer. THIS MAN DESERVES A CREME BRULEE. And he really enjoyed this one. It probably could have stood a little extra time in the fridge (I took it out and carmelized it right at the three hour mark) and was not quite as "custardy" as I would have liked, but the flavor was wonderful. I expect that the three remaining custards in my refrigerator will benefit from the extra time in there and will be perfect tomorrow night or the following night.

I will definitely be keeping creme brulee in the "special dessert" rotation, especially now that I own a blowtorch and am not afraid to use it. It's a perfect "company" dessert -- it can be made ahead, it's easy yet impressive, and it comes with a live pyrotechnic show. What's not to love? A big thanks to Mari from Mevrouw Cupcake for choosing this classic!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

This week's recipe for Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup was chosen by Chelle of Brown Eyed Baker. I love mushrooms, and sometimes prefer a nice grilled portobello over a good steak, so I was thrilled by this selection. The week I made this, I decided to go straight to Whole Foods to do my weekly shopping, because I was not sure that my beloved Publix would be able to fulfill my wild mushroom needs for the week, and I really don't like going to multiple grocery stores. As it turned out, Whole Foods was not able to meet my licensed-character fruit treat needs for the week, so I ended up back at Publix anyway.

The recipe started with a stock made with mushroom stems, yellow onions, carrots and thyme. Oh, how the aroma of the stock vegetables filled the kitchen with the earthy, fragrant scents of fall!

It almost made me forget that it was 93 degrees outside. I wish that they made "Mushroom Stock" in a scented candle, because the reality is that I probably won't make this soup very often, even though hubs and I both loved it.

Once the stock was done, it was time to get to work on the major non-liquid components of the soup, namely, leeks and wild mushrooms. I bought two ginormous, tree-like leeks at Whole Foods. Note how they dwarf my cutting board.

I then battled the leeks, and the leeks won. Any leek farmers reading out there? Please consider sending instruction manuals with your stalks. Thanks.

Mmmmm, mmmm . . . feast your eyes on all that buttery leekness. Or should that be "leeky butterness?"

Ina is many wonderful things -- multi-talented, hugely successful, genuinely likeable. But afraid of butter and cream, she is not.

The soup was lovely. It had a complex mixture of flavors, and somehow managed to be both delicate and uber-rich at the same time (perhaps the white wine and cream combo?)

Please check the Barefoot Bloggers blogroll to see an attractive picture of this soup. I would hate for you to not make it just because of my ugly picture, and there are so many super-talented food photographers out there who have no doubt captured its creamy, wild mushroomy, soupy essence much better than I ever could. I tried, I really did. I even broke out the fine china in my attempt. But while I adore this food blogging thing, I am still a really, really bad photographer. Maybe Santa Claus will bring me an SLR camera and some photography lessons (I better start writing my letter!), but in the meantime, you should look elsewhere for the photographs. Phew, I feel so much better getting that off my chest.

This would be a special occasion soup for us, a soup I'd make for an appetizer course at a sit-down dinner party in the cool weather months. We have three small kids, however, and most of our friends have little ones as well, so most dinner parties that we throw (a) are not sit-down dinners, to put it mildly (b) might just involve breaking out the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for the kiddies; and (c) will most definitely involve squeezing ketchup into the ears of a Zoo Pals plate:
A soup this exquisite would be offended that we invited it to such a low-brow gathering. We're sort of in that very casual "big pot 'o chili" phase in our lives right now. I am confident that we WILL get to the "soup course" phase in our lives someday, and when we do, I will run-not-walk straight to this recipe.

2006, Barefoot Contessa at Home, All Rights Reserved

5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
5 ounces fresh portobello mushrooms
5 ounces fresh cremini (or porcini) mushrooms
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/4 pound (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 carrot, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme plus 1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a dry paper towel. Don't wash them! Separate the stems, trim off any bad parts, and coarsely chop the stems. Slice the mushroom caps 1/4-inch thick and, if there are big, cut them into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
To make the stock, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large pot. Add the chopped mushroom stems, the onion, carrot, the sprig of thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add 6 cups water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid. You should have about 4 1/2 cups of stock. If not, add some water.

Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat the remaining 1/4 pound of butter and add the leeks. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the leeks begin to brown. Add the sliced mushroom caps and cook for 10 minutes, or until they are browned and tender. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine and stir for another minute, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add the mushroom stock, minced thyme leaves, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the half-and-half, cream, and parsley, season with salt and pepper, to taste, and heat through but do not boil. Serve hot.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TWD: Dimply Plum Cake

I could not wait to get started on this week's recipe for Dimply Plum Cake, chosen by Michelle of Bake-en. As you all know, we've been on quite the cookie streak here at TWD, and nothing screams "not a cookie" quite like a dimply plum cake.

While Dorie lists several other fruit options to use with this cake instead of plums, I knew right away that I was plumming it. Growing up, my mother bought plums all the time in the summer. Peaches and plums shared the top status as Favored Summer Fruit in the "Fruits with Pits" category (not be be confused with the "Fruits with Seeds" or the "Berries," all of which were also much-loved by us in those sweet June through August months). But somewhere along the way, I forgot about plums. It's not like anything "happened," we just kind of drifted apart. It was me, not the plums. So when I saw that Dimply Plum Cake was chosen for this week, I knew that this was the chance for me and plums to be right again.

And so what did I go and do when it came time to choose the plums? I let my three year old, who loves picking out the produce, choose ten plums and drop them in the bag, without giving them so much as one discreet little squeeze before she let go. What was I thinking? How could I give a three year old complete control over something as important to my plum cake as the plum selection process? I guess I was distracted by the sample of Allouette on Sociables with Peach Preserves that they handed me on the way into the store. Oh, did I ever pay the piper for that little mistake.

As soon as I got home I realized that my plums were overripe. Way overripe. Not quite rotten, but most definitely well past their plummy best. But I decided to make the cake anyway, thinking that the plums would get all soft when baked anyway, and maybe overripe plums would be to dimply plum cake what overripe bananas are to banana bread.

I prepped the plums, and then got to work on mixing the dry ingredients, including flour, brand-spanking-new baking powder, salt and cardamom. Once my dry ingredients were mixed, I thought about driving straight to the bank to put the cardamom in my safe deposit box, because at $14.99 for a tiny 1.9 ounce jar, I knew that it had to be very special, and I didn't want to just leave it hanging around the kitchen, being taught dirty words by the other spices.

The world's most expensive scant 1/4 teaspoon:

I mixed it all together, poured the batter into the pan and assembled the plums on top, and then thought what I think every week: this doesn't look nearly as good as Dorie's.

The cake smelled great baking, and looked pretty good when it came out of the oven. I thought it was sufficiently "dimply."

My secret ingredient: plum label.

Ooops! Rookie mistake. Glad that was my piece! It reminds me of that time in high school when I baked fortune cookies for the International Food Fair, and then asked Senor Pelosi, my Spanish teacher, what his fortune was, and he said "THERE WAS A FORTUNE IN THERE???" I think I got a B in Spanish that semester.

The cake was okay, notwithstanding the mediocre plums. David thought that it had a slightly bitter aftertaste, and I could see what he meant -- I'm not sure if that was the rotten, er, overripe plums, or some flavor in the batter (probably the cardamom). We served it to my parents, and they seemed to like it fine. It didn't make anyone do backflips or anything, but that's probably for the best, because we don't need any injuries over Sunday dinner. I probably won't make this again, just because Dorie has a zillion other coffee cakes in her book, and I assume I'll like another one better. I do feel like I am a little further down the road to reconciliation with the plums, so making this was definitely a positive exercise anyway.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pictureless Sunday Dinner, and An Award

I still haven't come out to my extended family yet as a completely obsessed and borderline psychotic food blogger. Oh, they know I have some little blog. They read it once in a while, I'm sure. But they don't yet realize the extent of my consuming devotion to my new little hobby. So they will be surprised, no, shocked, next time they are over for dinner and I say "step aside, folks. I need to photograph that roast."

David realizes what has happened, I believe, but he is still getting used to the idea. When he saw me taking pictures of my Chewy, Chunky Blondies, he said: "Wait, what's that for?" When I told him I was taking pictures of them just because I felt like it, he said "are you going to start doing this for everything?!?!" I just might, sweetheart. I just might.

Yesterday, we had my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and my two nieces over for dinner. We live in the same neighborhood, yet we don't see each other nearly often enough, so we decided that we are going to fix that by alternating houses and having dinner together every other Sunday. This was our week to host, and for dinner I made a pork tenderloin in a citrus marinade from Tables of Content, a Junior League of Birmingham, Alabama cookbook; Ina's garlic roasted potatoes; simple grilled vegetables from Cooking Light (I added zucchini and squash in addition to the veggies listed in the recipe); and Ina's apple turnovers for dessert. I thought it made for a beautiful presentation, with the potatoes and the colorful vegetables together on a platter. And I would love to show you a picture, but I must reluctantly confess that I chickened out at the last minute and could not quite bring myself to break out the camera and start snapping in front of the gang. I feel like you can't just spring this sort of thing on the people you love. You need to sit them down ahead of time, tell them what's happened to you, and explain that while you will always love them and continue to make meals for them, from now on you will first stage the food and take pictures of the meals before serving them, and quite possibly publish on the internet any remarks they make about the food.

I AM going to tell them, and soon -- I promise. I am just trying to find the right time. Meanwhile, I might just come back and post pictures of this dinner next time I make it, since it was MIGHTY pretty, if I say so myself.

Meanwhile, imagine my surprise and delight this morning, when I jumped onto my blogger account and saw that two of my favorite food bloggers, Laura of she's cookin' now, and Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs, left this fantastic award for my blog:

Laura and Nancy both have fun and informative blogs that I check daily. I know that I will never be without a dinner idea again with blogger friends like Laura and Nancy providing the "aha!" moments for me many times a week. The fact that talented bloggers like Laura and Nancy would think of my blog in passing out this award is truly an honor! Thank you, Laura and Nancy!

There are so many blogs out there that I love and enjoy regularly. So I will pass this award on to a few of my favorites.

1. Prudence Pennywise. Prudy has already been given this award, but honestly, I will never get an award that Prudy doesn't already have, as she is one of the hands-down best in the business. I adore her blog so much that I will share this with her anyway. Prudy's stated goal is to feed her family of four "scandalously good food" on a budget of around $100 a week. In pursuing her goal, she serves up the complete package -- mouthwatering recipes, gorgeous photography, and fun, witty posts. I read her blog daily and find myself feeling rather blue on the (rare) day that she doesn't post.

2. Lisa of Lisa is a Baker. Lisa is new at this blogging thing, but is clearly a natural. She can weave together baking tales and pop culture references with the best of them. We can all expect to enjoy a rollicking good time with Lisa on Tuesdays with Dorie!

3. Pamela of Cookies with Boys. Pamela deserves this award for this amazing zucchini squash casserole recipe alone. But she deserves it for many more reasons than just this rockin' casserole -- like for her consistently enjoyable posts and excellent recipes.

4. Marie of Proud Italian Cook. I feel head over heels for this blog from the moment I first laid eyes on it. I have my own Italian grandmother to thank for my love of the kitchen, and Marie's casual, conversational writing style makes me feel like I am back in the kitchen with my own grandmother as she chats with me about what she's doing. I have to be careful about when I read Proud Italian Cook, because I know that I am in danger of being distracted for the rest of the day by Marie's recipe choices and pictures. Marie is another highly decorated blogger who already has this award, but I am sharing it anyway as a little way of saying "I love your blog."

5. Maria & Josh of Two Peas and Their Pod. Every once in a while you find a blog that makes you say "bookmark!!" before you even finish scrolling past the first couple of posts. And for me, this is one of those blogs. From roasted pepper soup to lime sherbet, tell me you don't start making your grocery list from the recipes on this blog.

"Award rules" as I understand them include passing the award on to up to ten of your favorite blogs, letting your recipients know that you have given them an award, blogging about the award, and letting me know that you've passed it on. But as far as I can tell, this whole award thing is, at its core, really just a way for bloggers to let other bloggers know that we love what you do. And I promise you that I will still love you even if you do nothing more than add the cool "E" to your sidebar!

Thanks again, Laura and Nancy!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chewy, Chunky Blondies

One unanticipated side effect of joining Tuesdays with Dorie and Barefoot Bloggers is that suddenly it seems just plain wrong to cook or bake ANYTHING without taking pictures of it, waxing poetic about its good, bad and ugly, and sharing it all on the World Wide Web. This food blogging thing kind of gets under your skin that way, it really does. So when I realized that my daughter's wonderful teacher was having a birthday, I said to her: "I'm a baker now, you know. What do you like to eat?" She replied "Fudge. Brownies. Chocolate chip cookies. Coconut." I figured that gave me all the information that I needed to find something suitable in the ultimate baking bible:

I considered making one of Dorie's many yummy-looking chocolate brownie recipes, but I really wanted to find something David would eat (i.e., not chocolate) since we're coming off a bit of a chocolate cookie streak that did nothing for him. I thought that something with coconut would be perfect, because it was specifically on the teacher's wish list, yet I wouldn't eat as much of it because I'm not a huge coconut fan. When I found Dorie's Chewy Chunky Blondies, I knew that I had hit the jackpot. Brownie-ish? Check. Chocolate chip cookie-ish? Check. Coconut-y? Check. Fudgey? Er, maybe if I undercook them a bit. Plus, I could omit the chocolate chips from part of the batter, which would leave a few for my sweet husband, who never, ever complains, even when I bake chocolate cookies every night for a month, or send him on missions for exotic ingredients like frozen puff pastry sheets.

These came together easily. They're brown sugar based, with featured ingredients such as walnuts, coconut, chocolate chips (which I swapped with white chocolate chips for David's side of the pan) and butterscotch chips. The result? A chewy, chunky blondie.

The birthday teacher gave these rave reviews. And when I was picking up the kids in the afternoon, other teachers stopped me in the hallway and said "Did you make those brownie things? They were awesome!" Oh yes, I was a rock star that day.

David liked his too. He said that all of these desserts are starting to blend together a bit, but in general, he'd rank these ahead of the Chipsters, but behind the Apple Cobbler and the Peach Galette. Still, this is a great pan cookie/brownie option for those times that you feel like easing up on the chocolate a bit, while still enjoying plenty of chewy, chunky goodness.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Apple Turnovers

This week's "bonus" Barefoot Bloggers recipe for Apple Turnovers was selected by one of my favorite food bloggers, Anne Strawberry. I had no doubt that Anne would choose a great one for us, and oh my, did she ever!

The recipe says to start with frozen puff pastry. I was not familiar with "frozen puff pastry," because I usually make my own puff pastry from scratch [insert canned laugh track here]. I could not find frozen puff pastry at Publix. I tried to flit back and forth between the refrigerated dough section and the frozen dough section to search for it, but it is hard to "flit" when you are pushing around one of these behemoths:
I finally decided that I must have been confused, and maybe what I really needed was frozen pie crusts, like the kind I used to buy before becoming an online baker and discovering Dorie Greenspan's superb pie crust recipe.

Anyway, I finally gave up on the frozen puff pastry and returned home with frozen pie crusts, but then did what I should have done to begin with and sat down at the computer and googled "frozen puff pastry," and voila! I found exactly what I needed, with an accompanying picture, no less. Going to the grocery store more than once a day makes me cranky, and you know what they say: "if mama ain't happy ain't nobody happy," so I sent David back to Publix, armed with a photograph of Pepperidge Farm Frozen Puff Pastry Sheets. My favorite hunter/gatherer returned shortly with the aforementioned frozen puff pastry sheets.

And that was the hardest part of making these turnovers.

Other than that, it was just a matter of mixing together a few cut up apples, some orange juice and grated orange rind, dried cherries, and a few spices. I left out the nutmeg, because I never regret the nutmeg I don't use, but I sometimes regret the nutmeg I do use. Unroll the puff pastry, scoop in some of the fruit mixture, brush edges of pastry with egg, fold into triangle, and brush the top of the pastry with egg. Sprinkle the top with sugar (I added a little cinnamon too). And stick it in the oven. That's it. It would have taken me longer to find the Oreos behind all the cereal boxes in my pantry.

Ready to go into the oven:

The result is a superb dessert, special enough to serve to your fancy friends, yet homey enough (and easy enough) to make for your nearest and dearest on any old weeknight. I served this with vanilla ice cream, as that somehow seemed like a necessity. David and I both loved it (and David liked it cold the next day, too). The kids didn't like it, of course, but then their idea of a great dessert is gummy bears on chocolate ice cream, so I tend to discount what they think.

The finished product:

NOTE TO MY REAL LIFE FAMILY AND FRIENDS: The question is not "whether" I will serve you these apple turnovers, it is: will I serve them so often that you start saying "No, wait, let me guess! Apple turnovers for dessert?" as soon as you arrive on our doorstep? I hope you don't get sick of them, but I doubt you will. Thank you, Anne, for picking a dessert that I will make over and over (and over) again!


1 teaspoon grated orange zest
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/4 pounds tart apples, such as Empire or Granny Smith (3 apples)
3 tablespoons dried cherries
3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra to sprinkle on top
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
1 package (17.3 ounces, 2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine the orange zest and orange juice in a bowl. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and then cut them in 3/4-inch dice. Immediately toss the apples with the zest and juice to prevent them from turning brown. Add the cherries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

Flour a board and lightly roll each sheet of puff pastry to a 12 by 12-inch square. Cut each sheet into 4 smaller squares and keep chilled until ready to use.

Brush the edges of each square with the egg wash and neatly place about 1/3 cup of the apple mixture on half of the square. Fold the pastry diagonally over the apple mixture and seal by pressing the edges with a fork. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush the top with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, make 2 small slits, and bake for 20 minutes, until browned and puffed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Chunkers

This week's Cookies with Dorie recipe is for Chocolate Chunkers, selected by Claudia of Fool for Food. Okay,okay, it's really Tuesdays with Dorie, although since I joined this awesome club, four out of my first five recipes have been cookies. That's fine with me, of course, because I love cookies! And cookies don't frighten me in the way that, say, brioche does. As it turns out, this week's recipe is not really a cookie at all, but an insanely decadent cluster of fine chocolates, nuts and dried fruit. When I first read the recipe, I thought it was the oddest cookie recipe that I had ever seen. Now granted, it is not like I am some cookie-recipe connoisseur. Before joining TWD, I would have characterized my baking habits as "quarterly," not "weekly." But I know an unusual cookie recipe when I see one, and this, my friends, is an unusual cookie recipe. Only one third of a cup of flour. And a measly three tablespoons of butter!! I am certain that the spell checker on Dorie's cookbook typewriter started smoking, convulsing and beeping furiously in confusion when it encountered a quantity of butter that small in one of Dorie's recipes.

What this recipe has is chocolate, and lots of it. While I do not like single-purpose grocery runs, I ended up making one to pick up the chocolate that I needed for this recipe. I had forgotten my list and was not 100% sure of exactly what kind of chocolate I needed, but I was pretty sure that it was something like "every kind of chocolate," and I was right! Bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, powder chocolate, solid chocolate, chocolate bars, chocolate chips -- all in my shopping cart. And that's ALL that was in my shopping cart. Just chocolate. I got several strange, concerned looks from fellow shoppers, and even though I happened to be in a very peaceful place emotionally while doing this shopping, the whole experience got me thinking that this should really be a Life Rule: if you see a woman alone at the grocery store with nothing but 42 different kinds of chocolate in her cart, slowly . . . back . . . away.

Chocolate, as far as the eye can see:

I am so glad that I followed the tips on the P&Q board and melted really good quality bittersweet chocolate with the unsweetened chocolate and butter. I used Sharffen Berger. This forms the foundation of the cookie, so I'm glad that I didn't skimp here. On the other hand, I used regular old Toll House white chocolate chips, and they tasted great to me.

Look at this dough. Are you kidding me?

It was amazing. I got a little dough happy, and had to walk away and pop an Altoid to make me stop.

The finished cookies were irresistible.

After producing a string of flat cookies (and flat cakes, for that matter) since joining TWD, I am proud to present photographic evidence that my cookies were not flat:

As you can see, they measured in at a generous 1 1/4 inches high, although I will officially list them at 2 inches for NBA draft purposes (that one's for you, David).

I was rather, um, effusive last week discussing the Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops, so I'll try to restrain myself a bit here so as to not get the reputation of being the yappy little puppy dog who loves anything. These are truly spectacular cookies, however, and it is killing me to remain cool about them when what I really feel like doing is renting a plane with a banner on the back that says "MAKE CHOCOLATE CHUNKERS. PAGE 70, DORIE GREENSPAN'S 'BAKING'," and flying it back and forth along the shoreline. The recipe is not a normal cookie recipe, and the finished product is really not a normal cookie. It is rich, complex, and as elegant as a cookie can possibly be. The nuts and raisins add interest and balance out the intense chocolate nicely. I used toasted pecans, but I have no doubt they'd be wonderful -- heck, maybe even better, if that's possible -- with salty peanuts. Warning: this cookie is extremely chocolatey, and richer than Warren Buffet. I would not dream of eating one of these without a tall glass of milk at the ready to chase it down. Thank you for picking these, Claudia!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Grown-up Mac & Cheese

This is my first Barefoot Bloggers post, and I could not have been more excited about this week's recipe for Grown-up Mac and Cheese, which was chosen by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl. I love even bad mac and cheese, and for many years thought that all mac and cheese started with tearing open a cheese powder packet. Then I learned that no, that's not true -- you can also get mac and cheese in the freezer section. Eventually, I started cooking myself and realized that you could actually make this stuff all by yourself! Who knew? I've made several different mac and cheese recipes over the years, some better than others, but all of them pretty darn good, in the way that things drowning in butter and mounds of cheese tend to be. I knew that Ina's version would have to be great.

The recipe starts out by saying "Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack." Well, wouldn't you know it -- I got all confused right from the start! What does she mean by "baking rack?" All I could think of was a cooling rack, like the kind you'd put cookies on right out of the oven. I couldn't quite visualize the setup that Ina had in mind, and once I saw that the bacon was just going to get crumbled in the end anyway, I did it the old-fashioned way:

The other thing that kind of tripped me up was the processing of the breadcrumbs and basil for the topping on the casseroles. She said to process the bread into "coarse crumbs," but I am still a food processor novice and think that I produced "fine crumbs." What do you think?

When I am cooking, I usually spend a lot of time worrying about this kind of thing, and it never matters in the end. The things that end up mattering in the end are always the things that I never even think to worry about.

The cheese grating came along just fine, and then it was time to make the sauce. You're supposed to heat up the milk in a small pan, and then whisk together butter and flour in another pan, add the milk to it, and whisk until thickened. Ina says that this should take about two minutes. Well, 2 minutes came and went, and my sauce was thin as the moment it all came together in the pan. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Fifteen. Still thin. I felt like I was making risotto with all that standing and stirring. I started thinking that if I had planned my day better, I could have run down to the DMV and gotten my license renewed in the time that it took this sauce to thicken.

Then my husband, who has not cooked more than a Tostino's frozen pizza in the nearly 10 years that we've been married, walked by, and heard me complain that the sauce was just not thickening. He took one look at my pan, and told me that my problem was that I was using such a large pot, which meant that the liquid was spread over too large of an area, which would slow down the thickening process. Of course he was absolutely right, I switched to a medium pan, and that sauce got right with the thickening program. Humbling. Very humbling.

I added the cheeses, bacon and pasta to the sauce, and transferred everything to a couple of gratin dishes:

And that's when I snuck a little taste, and knew right away that it was going to be too blue-cheesy for my taste. There is less blue cheese in this recipe than cheddar or gruyere, so I was hoping that the blue cheese would not dominate. But it did. I then hoped that the blue cheese would mellow a bit when baked, but no such luck. Blue cheese is a little bit like Britney Spears when she's off the wagon -- it's really really hard not to notice it. This dish wasn't bad, and it would be fabulous if you love blue cheese, but if you aren't a huge blue cheese fan, this is just not the mac and cheese for you. My husband dislikes blue cheese even more than I do, and I could see the pain on his face when he realized it was chock full 'o the stuff, because I think he had been really looking forward to dinner. He ate a few bites of it, and diplomatically told me that he could tell that it was very well done, but as would be the case with very well done liver and onions, the fabulousness of it was lost on him because he doesn't like the dominant ingredient. Isn't he sweet?

Anyway, if I make this again, I will either omit the blue cheese, or use just a tablespoon or two of it. I love gruyere and cheddar, but honestly could not taste them over the raging blue cheese. But I bet that all you blue cheese fans out there have found your new go-to mac & cheese!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops

I am beyond excited to introduce my very first recruit, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Lisa of Lisa Is A Baker! Lisa and I are old college buddies -- we shared a house senior year with four other friends. One of our now-husbands nicknamed our little group "The Hens" because we apparently cluck and peck a lot when we are together. Anyway, I am thrilled that we get to bake "together" even though we now live a thousand miles apart and see each other way too infrequently. Lisa is a true renaissance woman and super fun -- she once partied with Jack Klugman. So go check her out!

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie challenge comes from Rachel of Confessions of a Tangerine Tart. I actually thought about skipping this week because I knew that I hate, and I mean hate, chocolate malt balls. It goes all the way back to Easter Sunday when I was six years old. I remember tearing into my Easter basket, and eagerly unwrapping the pretty pastel foil wrapper on the little chocolate egg, and then biting into what I was sure was a solid piece of sweet chocolate goodness, only to be shocked by crunchy, bitter malt. Blech! I cursed the Easter Bunny that day, I tell you. Fast forward thirty years, and I have not willingly bitten into a chocolate malt ball since that fateful day. In fact, the only foods that I will categorically not eat are chocolate malt balls and sauerkraut.

So I found myself in a bit of a pickle, being an eager-beaver new baker and all, yet finding myself eyeball to maltball with Whoppers, of all things. But I just couldn't sit out the week, so I thought about alternatives. Twix? Kit Kat? But seeing as I am coming off a string of disasters that occurred even while following the recipes to the letter, I thought, "eeeeeeasy, cowgirl." Also, I know several grown men who still won't eat vegetables and prefer Wonder Bread because that's how they ate when they were six. I worried that I would lose the right to make fun of these friends if I didn't give chocolate malt balls another chance. I decided to just go ahead and follow the recipe.

The moral of this post is that you cannot always trust your inner six year old. Because oh, dear sweet mother of Ovaltine-Whopper confections, I wept when I took my first bite of this cookie. Oh sure, I have "loved" cookies before. I've flipped through plenty of cookbooks in my day and thought, "my my, don't you look yummy." I've cast more than a few sideways glances at the cookie jar that contained my current flavor of the week. But I have not truly been "in love" until I tried these whopper drops. They say that you'll just know it when it's the real thing, and that is so true. This cookie is The One.

Let's start with ingredients. I went with the Whoppers, and popped one before making the cookies, at which point I realized that they weren't so bad after all.

Can you ever forgive me, Whoppers?

I used Ghirardelli's Unsweetened Cocoa Powder. I combined bittersweet chips and semisweet chips, but next time might either do all semisweet, or just do 1/4 bittersweet. I purchased chocolate-flavored Ovaltine rather than malted milk powder, because I hate malt, remember? Loved buying the Ovaltine. Made me think of Ralphie.

My helpers were back in the kitchen this week, after sitting out the Chocolate Ice Cream Torte and the Chipsters.

While this was your typical "mix the dries, mix the wets, add the dries to the wets" sort of deal, the recipe says to sift the dry ingredients together first. I can think of few kitchen tasks that are more ill-suited to my personality type than sifting ingredients through a sieve. That is the kitchen equivalent of "lightly sand between coats" as far as I'm concerned. Don't wanna do it. Not gonna do it. So I assigned this task to my six year old. He is a sweet boy, a sensitive soul, a really good kid. He also has had the misfortune of inheriting several of my less desireable attributes, such as lack of patience. So I figured that I would only get one chance to pawn off dry ingredient-sifting on him before he realized that it was terribly tedious and refused to do it ever again. Here he is, diligently sifting, while the three year old tries to jazz things up a bit by offering a bite of the poison apple.

The batter. Don't you just want to dive right in?

I got flat cookies again. I clearly have issues. But you know what? These were so amazingly good that I didn't even care.

You complete me.

I. Love. These. Cookies. They were perfect -- chewy, chocolatey, with yummy bits of candy exploding with every bite. I am happy to report that not only do these cookies freeze well, but they taste great frozen (because who can wait for them to defrost?) Thankfully, my husband does not eat chocolate, so there were more for me. I did bring a plate over to my parents' house, since my aunt and uncle were visiting from Connecticut -- good reviews all around there. My 11 year old niece loved them and came back for more, which was THE highest praise I could have received, as my niece is the coolest 11 year old EVER.

I can't believe I almost skipped this recipe. This is why I love TWD. It forces me to make recipes that I might not have otherwise chosen. A million thank yous for picking this, Rachel.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers

I'm having so much fun with Tuesdays with Dorie that I decided to broaden my food blogging horizons a bit and join the Barefoot Bloggers, a group that cooks and blogs about recipes from the Barefoot Contessa's cookbooks. Joining a cooking group makes lots of practical sense for me -- I love to cook, but I hate deciding what to cook. I am not a Decider, I am a Hemmer and Hawer. My inability to decide what to cook can be so immobilizing at times that I just won't cook anything, and then feel defeated when I find myself counting out my $5.42 for yet another Little Caesar's Hot & Ready. Or alternatively, I will choose a recipe, but one that falls squarely within my comfort zone, so I never really challenge myself to become a better cook with a more expansive repertoire. So this format is just perfect: I just need to make whatever someone else tells me to make -- I can do that! And I can see already based on completed BB recipes that fellow bloggers will select a very interesting and diverse group of recipes!

I have loved Ina Garten every since I first looked through David's mom's "Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" and made the lemon grilled chicken recipe from that book. It is the simplest recipe ever, and delicious every time. That seems to be a common theme with Ina's recipes -- simple and delicious. And I find myself nodding vigorously and "Amen, sister!"-ing whenever I hear Ina share her philosophy about cooking and entertaining. She's all about enjoying fresh, simple food, making her guests feel comfortable, and having fun. I can't imagine a series of cookbooks that I'd rather cook my way through!

I can't wait to get started!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Thank you, Jamie!!!

I have not been doing this baking and blogging thing for very long, but I have been having an absolute ball in the short time that I've been doing it. And now here I find myself, for the second time today, completely floored by the fact that a fellow baker has bestowed an award on my little blog!! One of my very favorite bloggers, Jamie from My Baking Addiction, has chosen me as one of her recipients for the Brillante Weblog Award!!

Thank you, Jamie!!! I am honored that a blogger as talented as Jamie would think of my blog! Jamie's food photography is simply stunning. Even in a group with many amazing photographers, the beauty and simplicity of Jamie's pictures really stand out. Be sure to check out her blog!

Now, I must follow the Award Rules, which are as follows:

1. when you receive a diamond, make a post about it on your blog.
2. name the blogger from whom you got it.
3. award the diamonds to seven other bloggers.
4. link them.
5. and tell them they got one.

My recipients: a group of super-talented bakers, writers and photographers! Some have been doing this for a while, some are relatively new at it. I count all of them among my favorite reads!

1. Laura from she's cookin' now!
2. n.o.e. from The Dogs Eat The Crumbs
3. The Del Sisters from The Del Sisters Kitchen
4. Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake
5. Julie of Peanut Butter and Julie
6. Peggy of Pantry Revisited
7. Jules of Someone's in the Kitchen

Thank you again, Jamie!

Thank you, Laura!!!!

I was shocked when I logged onto my blogger account and saw that Laura of she's cookin' now! had sent a blogging award to my blog:

Laura's blog is just downright yummy to look at, her posts never fail to entertain, and she does it all with four little ones to boot. I am truly honored that Laura would think of my blog when passing out this award, especially considering that she included me in the company of blogs that I count among my very favorites. Thank you, Laura!

Now, I get to pass this award on to ten more of my favorite blogs!

Anne of Anne Strawberry - Anne's gorgeous presentation and truly stunning photography always makes me really, really hungry.

Pamela of Cookies with Boys. Pamela is racking up the awards lately, and she deserves every one of them!! Her blog is always a great read. Plus, we both bake while dodging tiny people, so I feel a kinship.

Andrea of Nummy Kitchen. Andrea's profile description has got to be my hands-down favorite ever. She loves cookbooks and small kitchen appliances, and I believe she may have coined the phrase "unitasker." Her margarine confession is a true classic.

Amanda of Beckett Bakes It. I am lucky enough to work with Amanda in real life and count her as a friend. Amanda is the one who introduced me to TWD, and if it weren't for her, I never would have known how much fun baking and blogging could be! Amanda is a real giver, and she bakes something for everyone's birthday in our large law firm practice group. I think it is time for her to change her blog name to "Bake It Like Beckett," but she's too humble.

Teanna of Spork or Foon? Teanna never fails to make me laugh. I particularly love how she is horrified by all the butter that Dorie throws our way, yet continues to bake with abandon. I can SO relate!

Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies -- I love Natashya's fabulous pictures and reading about the wide range of culinary delights that she prepares . . . in the kitchen . . . with puppies.

Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef. (1) I love her blog name. Because aren't we all really just repressed pastry chefs at heart? (2) Tell me you don't look at Em's pictures and just want to stop what you are doing and go bake. right. now.

Jamie of My Baking Addiction. I am such an amateur photographer -- I don't even know how to begin to stage my food for pictures. So I get inspired by photography like Jamie's (although I still can't pull it off!)

Lori of Luscious. Lori and her co-conspirator, Darling Chef, cook and bake it all, and have helped me steel my resolve to break out of my kitchen rut.

Mike Spoodles of Ugly Food For An Ugly Dude. Mike's profile says that he's "card player, gambler, scoundrel. You'd like him." I like him.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go read these great blogs!

Thank you, Laura, and congratulations to all!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

I decided that I am going to try to reign in some of that new-baker enthusiasm and be a little less long-winded with the blogging this week. I'll try to just let my cookies do the talking.

These chipsters were chosen by Stefany of Proceed with Caution. I thought these cookies sounded great. Peanut butter? Chocolate chips? What's not to like? My husband does not eat chocolate, however, and I really AM serious about trying to lose the last of the baby weight, notwithstanding the fact that I chose online baking for my hobby. So I decided to make half of the recipe with some other kind of chip besides chocolate so that I would not eat too many cookies. I thought about butterscotch or peanut butter chips, but ended up going with white chocolate chips because I found some in my pantry. Yes, he will eat white chocolate. He is a complex man.

There is really not a whole lot to making these -- it was a pretty typical cookie recipe. I used creamy peanut butter because I had several Costco-sized jars of it in the pantry, and I knew that crunchy peanut butter would get about as much use in this house as wheat germ and chambord. The dough mixed up REALLY wet and sticky:

so I decided to chill it as Dorie recommends. Chilling for the minimum recommended time (2 hours) would have brought me smack dab in the middle of my nighty-night time, so I waited until the next night to bake.

My cookies spread out and seemed kind of thin to me:

Does that mean my baking soda has lost its mojo? I admit to being completely ignorant about the science of baking. I still feel a sense of awe and wonder over the fact that the same white substance that does . . . something . . . in my cookie recipes can also clean my bathtub and eliminate odors in my refrigerator.

So my cookies were thin, and rather crispy. I have to be honest, I didn't love them. I mean, don't get me wrong -- they contain two sticks of butter, eggs, mounds of sugar, chocolate chips and peanut butter -- I sure didn't hate 'em. But to me, there was something vaguely weird about the flavor combination. I really think it was the cinnamon and nutmeg. They just didn't seem to work with the peanut butter, in my opinion, even though the peanut butter flavor was pretty subtle. It was like the cookies were having an identity crisis. Is it a peanut butter cookie? Maybe, but I had to close my eyes to be sure that I was tasting peanut butter. Is it a spice cookie? Perhaps, but then what's up with that peanut butter that I think I taste? Peanut butter and nutmeg is not the new peanut butter and chocolate. Just my opinion.

We look better than we taste:

My hubby really liked his white chocolate chip version, though, and some of my other tasters gave me positive feedback as well. I brought the chocolate chip ones to the mom with whom I share carpool duties. Now, I promise you that I am not the kind of person who says: "Thank you for all you do for me. Here are some crappy cookies." I think other people will like these cookies just fine -- I just personally did not love the spices with the peanut butter, and would omit them if I ever make these again. I am really interested to hear what the other TWDers thought of these. Maybe it was just me.

Also, I should mention that I tried to make the "Perfect Party Cake" on page 250 for my parents' birthdays this past weekend, and it totally flopped. It didn't rise and was really dense. I tasted it to see if maybe it would just be an aesthetic issue, but nope -- blech! Into the trash it went. I ended up picking up a carrot cake at Publix, where they actually know how to bake a cake. I sure wish I knew why I can't get my baked goods to rise.

So, this was a thin cookie and flat cake week around here. I had a few moments, when the clock was nearing midnight and I was faced with a sink full of dirty pans and an inedible cake, that I was tempted to hang up my apron for good. But, no -- must forge ahead. On to the Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops!

[And for me, that's "a little less long-winded."]

Blog Design By: Sherbet Blossom Designs