30 April 2008
Oh yes, the second cookie...
So there I was baking butterscotch pecan cookies for the workaversary when I was struck by a moment of brilliance...or insanity (it's sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two):
Why make just one kind when I can make two kinds of cookies?
I don't know what made me more excited--the idea of offering my colleagues a choice of flavours or the possibility that I might have some left over for ME (the term "ravenous hordes" has been bandied about).
Okay, but what about the second flavour? I was baking at My Dear Little Mummy's as Beelzebub hasn't yet learned to behave like a good little oven, so I was a bit short on options...except for the tub of Nutella I bought on the way over (along with the butter).
For those of you who haven't been enlightened: Nutella is a food of the gawds.
There, now you know. Pass it on.
So there I was, staring at the 400g pot of Nutella, wondering what to do, when it suddenly dawned on me: Nutella cookies.
It may have been the most brilliant thought I'd had all year.
A quick riffle through my Mum's cupboards procured a part packet of milk chocolate chips--she wouldn't mind--she's told me to use up as much of her food as possible while she's away...and I'm a good girl who always obeys her Mummy :)
The only thing was...I didn't have a recipe. Think think think. Nutella is sort of like peanut butter. It had been a while since I last made PB cookies, but I figured I could muddle my way through.
The cookies that emerged weren't cloying. Truthfully, I was worried that they'd take on the supersweetness brought by Nutella, but because I held back (a bit) on the sugar--totally omitted the brown sugar, and just stuck with brown--and added more salt than I'd normally put in a cookie. These weren't chewy as some pb cookies, but they aren't as crispy-dry-hearty as others. They were a nice cross between the two, with a little teeny cakeyness thrown in. I wound up with a chocolaty, slightly nutty-flavoured cookie that went really well with coffee. In that way they were reminiscent of Dorie's World Peace Cookies.
I think they were a hit--I definitely like them. They were very popular in some circles, but others (those poor, deprived souls who weren't brought up with the joys of choco-hazelnut spread) did not go near them. A couple of people who'd never tried the spread ate a cookie...and then another...and then another (even my very young neighbour, who received some of my biscuitty bounty, came knocking on my door--several times--over the weekend wanting the recipe so she could make them with her mum).
Yields about six dozen cookies, depending upon your cookie spoon.
170g very soft butter
200g granulated sugar
1 dsp vanilla extract
420g plain flour
1 dsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
250g milk chocolate chips (but I suppose you could use an entire packet of 270g)
Preheat oven to 375F/190C and prepare your cookie trays in the usual way.
Stir together the flour, bicarb and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and Nutella until smooth. Mix in the flour and then fold in the chocolate chips. You will get a fairly stiff batter.
Drop by teaspoonful onto the aforementioned prepared cookie trays. Press slightly and bake until done, about 12 minutes.
edit: Thanks Dana! I left out half the info on the sugar and texture...they're in now.
Related Post: A tale of two cookies: part one
27 April 2008
Time travel to 1987: Enter the cheeseypop (a frozen cheesecake lolly) into my head...and immediately dismissed in the aforementioned way.
Time jump to 2008 and the April 2008 Daring Bakers challenge, co-hosted by Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell, Cheesecake pops. Chocolate-coated cheesecake balls on a stick.
Okay...my cheeseypops weren't choco-coated, but the idea is the same. A bite-sized cheesecake portion, frozen onto a stick...perfect for parties.
It's like the dessert version of cocktail weenies...except there isn't any dipping sauce...well there is, but it's frozen onto the cheesecake.
Our lovely hosts let us run free with the recipe to a certain extent--we could flavour it as we wanted and decorate it as we wanted. The only limitations were keeping the cheesecake untinted and keep the lolly to a two-ounce size.
OOPS...on both counts...sort of...
I don't know why, but I've been thinking of pina coladas a lot lately. Maybe it's a latent desire to be somewhere...anywhere...where I can just laze about with a book or two. I even went so far as to buy a frozen can of pina colada stuff...which I intend to use in something...possibly a drink.
So, apart from the rum, the two primary flavours are coconut and pineapple. I've never seen coconut cream cheese in the shops, but I have seen it in pineapple Needless to say, instead of buying a regular, cream cheese-flavoured brick for the challenge, I bought a pineapple-flavoured tubblette of cream cheese. Heck, it saves me from looking for pineapple flavouring. But instead of it being titanium white, it's more of a winter white--a creamy-peachy colour. Well, I'd never bought it before, so I didn't know...oh well...at least it wasn't pink like the strawberry or blue like the blueberry (or, I suspect green, like the chive flavoured) kinds.
The original recipe called for five bricks of cream cheese. Since I wasn't making it for a party and I don't have room in my freezer for 35 cheeseypops, I scaled the recipe down to one brick's worth. It was quite easy, since I pretty much do most things in grams and mls. I poured it into my smallest ceramic round baking thingie and it baked up really nicely--it took about 35 minutes to set properly. I also made a mental note that this quantity is perfect for a small cheesecake for two-four people.
When time came to make the little balls, I didn't have a two-ounce scoop and none of the shops I checked in had them. Knowing they had to be walnut-sized I got out my teaspoon and started scooping balling and impaling. I wound up with 12 lollies from one brick...which tells me they were a wee bit too small, but it just means there are more "servings."
I found stabbing each orb with a lolly stick oddly therapeutic. Maybe there's a hidden acupuncturist inside me, maybe in a previous life I was one of Vlad's armed guards. To my surprise, the sticks stuck and didn't tip to the side--nor did the cheesecake slide off when lifted.
After a couple of hours in the freezer, I dipped them in melted dark chocolate and then plunged them into bowl of shredded coconut, left over from the March Challenge, and popped them back into the freezer.
Yummy yummy yummy...and the perfect size (for me). The pineapple wasn't too strongly flavoured, but it was nice with the coconut.
Which got me to wondering...what about cheesey kebabs? Two little cheesecake blobs on either side of a strawberry or pineapple chunks...frozen, of course... or what about doing these with savoury garlic cream cheese (I do like the garlic bonbons at my favourite chocolatrie)...
Nah, it's probably been done before...
If you're interested in making Cheesecake Pops, read Lemon Pi's post (I really like the little lolly holders).
To read what the other DBs did with this challenge, take a meander through our blogroll.
24 April 2008
That's in the top two best opening lines I've ever read. The other one is from Iain Banks' The Crow Road--"It was the day my grandmother exploded." Now whether or not I'll use the great Mr. Banks' works for titular inspiration remains to be seen.
As apt a present-day commentary as Mr. Dickens' words are this post isn't meant to be a discourse on current events. No, instead it is the first of a two part series on cookies.
This week was one of my work-related milestones: seven years at the company. For whatever reason, the tradition is whenever you have something to celebrate (birthday, engagement, wedding, birth of a child, divorce, whatever) you have to provide the treats...the same goes for workaversaries.
"Harrumph!" I say and "double harrumph!" at that.
Have they not yet realised that they should be fêting me? Didn't they know that they should have laid a rose petal carpet from my prize parking spot to the front door? And what about the balloon bouquets gracing every doorway? How about having Gerard Butler, Colin Firth and Richard Armitage available at my beck and call? Jeans day??
No, apparently not.
So I need to bring a treat in for the workaversary. I usually do a cake or cuppycakes but this year I decided on cookies. The only thing I knew was I didn't want to bring in regular chocolate chip cookies. Not saying anything bad about chocochip cookies--I've had more than my fair share of good ones--I just wanted something different.
What made my cookie making adventure slightly more annoying was the fact we have a Timmys in our office. Which means we have Timmy cookies...and Timmys makes good cookies (IMO)...especially their caramel chocolate pecan ones. Mmmmmmm....caramel chocolate pecan cookies. Not that I'd make caramel chocolate pecan cookies...just be inspired by them
I rummaged through my cupboard and found some butterscotch chips and pecan bits and added them to the basic cookie recipe I use (which happens to be based on the one found on the milk chocolate Chippits bag). What I like about this particular cookie recipe is that you don't have to use a mixer to do the dough--all you need is a bowl and a wooden spoon.
Fresh from the oven they are a little poofy, but chewy and just so buttery good. Cooled they are on this side of butter-pecan. By far, they were a hit at the office...
Butterscotch Pecan Cookies
Yields about 5 dozen cookies, depending upon your cookie spoon.
150ml melted butter
340g light brown sugar
1 dsp hot water
1 tsp vanilla extract
375g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
250g butterscotch chips
150g pecan bits
Preheat oven to 375F/190C and prepare your cookie trays in the usual way.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, mix together the butter, sugar, eggs, hot water and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the flour and then fold in the butterscotch chips and pecan bits.
Drop by teaspoonful onto the aforementioned prepared cookie trays. Press slightly and bake until done, about eight to 10 minutes.
Related Post: A tale of two cookies: part two
21 April 2008
So this month's Milk Calendar Monday recipe let me dive into one of the extra eight recipes. I really wonder why they separate these out from the others. I mean, yes, it's always good to give your customers more than they asked for (well, more in a good way... higher prices, unending telephone trees, days of headaches to get a simple thing done are NOT examples of this), but these...um...hidden...recipes always look more interesting and tasty than the monthly spotlights. I'd have been happier if the Easy Jambalaya recipe (yes, I do drone on about that one) was hidden on one the back pages and the recipe I chose instead was on a calendar page.
I must admit, after reading Brilynn's comment about the carrot cake I was more than a little trepedatious about trying the extra recipes. I mean, were these the ones that (in some wise person's mind) weren't good enough to be the monthly pin-up: you know, passively attractive with a good personality? Knowing I had to pick something, I went with the Cinnamon Crunch Raspberry Muffins.
This is a muffin that uses whole wheat flour, which in my mind is a travesty of an inclusion in muffin or cake recipes. I simply don't want those nubbly little bits in my crumb, thank you very much. I want more of a cakey crumb, with texture coming from fruits, nuts or some sort of topping...not from the flour itself.
Luckily for me (and the calendar and anyone reading this) I can carve off that part of my brain that would normally taint my final opinion, stick it into the freezer and just evaluate something on its merits as-is.
Which is a good thing for this recipe.
I liked this muffin. I liked the crumb, really liked the lemony-raspberry flavour and thought the crunchy topping's texture was pretty bang-on. The only thing I didn't really care for was the lemon juice in the crunchy topping--there's more than enough lemon in the cake so there's no need to use it on top. I think I know why it's mixed with the oats and sugar, but I'd rather use water (okay, I'd rather use butter, but this is supposed to be "healthier" than that).
Why did I like this, even thought I don't like wheatie nubblies in my cakes? I think it's because the oats disguised the nubblies and texturally tricked my tongue into liking the muffin. Hey, that's perfectly okay...I'm one for feeding people unfavourite food and then rejoicing when they tell me they like it before they find out it was aubergine or it contained fish sauce (I don't let them rescind their yums when they find out it's a food they don't like).
So, in my humble opinion, we've got a good recipe with this one. So much so that I'm seriously considering changing some of my favourite muffin recipes to include whole wheat and the crunchy topping....
19 April 2008
When she announced Taste of Yellow 2008 I knew I wanted to participate, but wasn't sure if my schedule would alow it. During the past week, when I caught up with my backlog of blog reading, I saw so many wonderful posts like Bron's, Annemarie's, Paz's and Ivonne's, I knew I had to carve some time out for it.
Most of us know someone who was afflicted by it or know someone cared for a sufferer. Some of us have had our own scares--as some of you know, I've had two breast cancer scares in ten years--I'm fine, but they were life-defining moments.
My contribution to this year's event is a favourite side dish that I usually make with ribs or pork chops, Nigella Lawson's Sweetcorn Pudding. It's tasty and easy and wonderful to eat on its own, especially after a very long day...
Related: Taste of Yellow: Cornish Saffron Cake and Happiness Soup
15 April 2008
Or....don't go shopping when you're hungry.
Or...read the ENTIRE label before you commit something to your shopping trolley...or better yet, before you take it home.
And no, I'm not intentionally jumping onto the pinhead/steelcut/Irish/Scottish oats bandwagon. I accidentally fell into it.
A few weeks ago I was in a crunchy mood and wanted to make some granola. Unfortunately, I was weak with hunger when I went shopping and and didn't read the cannister label carefuly enough: I saw "oats" on the label and simply found a home for the can in my shopping cart. It was only when I got home when I saw the error of my ways.
It wasn't a lovely container of rolled oats (quick cook or regular). It was a can of pinhead oats.
I suppose another sort of person would simply get back into her car and sheepishly exchange it for what she really wanted.
It would have been, in some weirdly inexplicable way, admitting defeat. I mean pinhead oats are a perfectly wonderful foodstuff so why should I return them?
Yeah, I'm stubborn.
And my crunchy mood was pushed aside to figure out what to do with something I think of as...mushy.
I was also a pinhead virgin. Before now, I've only eaten oatmeal made with rolled oats--and usually the instant kind (peaches and cream, if you're interested). My dad, who eats a tureen of soupy oatmeal every morning, also limits himself to rolled oats, so he wouldn't have been of much use.
Did I mention that these things have a nine-year shelf life? I was bound and determined to put them to use before 2017.
Thank goodness for the Web. After paging through what seemed like an unending list of porridgy variants, I found various other uses for these pelletty pieces, including
- rice substitutes,
- baked goods
- burgers and stirfries
But with all these choices, what did I do?
I made porridge--not just "any" porridge, but Duncan Hilditch's porridge. If I'm going to learn how to make a good porridge, it might as well be using the directives of a porridge making champion.
I'd like to say that I wanted to try it in the way it was supposed to be eaten, but in fact I read somewhere that I could make a pot of it, stick it in the fridge and then microwave servings in the morning. In other words, an instant, homemade, hot and healthy breakfast. I was also weary of muffins, scones and other bready baked goods and needed a bit of a break.
Each morning that week, I spooned a serving into a bowl, microwaved it and poured buttermilk on it and stirred in a spoon of marmelade.
Maybe it was the vague similarities to the cream of wheat my mum made when I was little(r), but I think I actually prefer pinhead oats over rolled oats: it was nutty tasting, with a tapioca pudding-like texture (and I really, really like tapioca pudding).
Needless to say, you may notice steel cut oats showing up in recipes over the next little while.
Which only means...I'm a pinhead.
12 April 2008
Nine funny and creative people sent in more than 30 punny recipe titles in hopes that they'd be one of the four to find a copy of Greta and Janet Podeleski's Eat, Shrink and Be Merry in their post box. Let's just say, I'm glad this was a random draw because I wouldn't be able to narrow down this creative group down to four...I was laughing that hard.
Laura G., Canada
09 April 2008
When I get this...angry...I don't grumble--grumbling is a sign that I just need to talk things through and sort things out and all's good.
When I'm truly irate I get incredibly placid.
Apparently, for those attuned, it can be quite unnerving. They'd feel better if I yelled, sent objects hurtling through space or even if I scalpeled them so precisely with logic, they haemorrhaged from mere ego.
But they get nothing like that.
What they receive is extreme politeness, relatively few words and a timed exit. Those who aren't attuned think I'm pensive or simply taking things awfully well.
Regardless, when suppertime came, I wanted something that took no effort, had good doses of salt and fat and meat. Definitely meat. What this strata of mood brings on is my decidedly carnivorous side's blind desire for something to die for me to be satiated. Sometimes it's greasy steak fajitas, sometimes its a steak sandwich, sometimes it's a beefy burger. This time it was quite simple--a big bacon cheeseburger with everything (less tomato slices) and poutine...which was put off until tonight. Some of the &&(*?%"@ mood remained today...so perhaps this fast food fare may help to lift this cloud.
Which got me wondering...
When I'm stressed or inconsolable I want comfort food. Over the years I've vacillated between this food and that food, but I usually want something that is palpably cared for and doted over. Give me a nice piece of roast beef with gravy, mushrooms and garlicky mashed potatoes and much seems better. I want to taste that someone actually cares about feeding me.
But when I'm in a &(*?%"@ mood I want much the same foodish items, but not so fussed on. I want fast. I want hot. I want food that's slammed on a griddle, plunged into sizzling hot fats and dumped on a plate. I don't want delicate victuals. I don't want something that needs exact timing or precise temperatures.
So...here's a question for you...when you are angry and need feeding, what do you crave? Does it, in any way, resemble your comfort food?
06 April 2008
April's first Saturday is when people from far and wide descend upon Elmira, Ontario to celebrate all lovely mapley goodness at The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. As I wrote in a previous post, I head up every couple of years and load up on the sweet stuff. Yesterday I got up early (for a Saturday) and headed in with a friend.
I'm always a little surprised at the variety of food available there. Yes, there's maple candy, maple taffy, maple fudge, maple butter, maple glazed goodies (buns, funnel cakes, etc) and of course) maple syrup on pancakes. But there's also back bacon sandwiches, sausages, turkey, souvlaki, jams, jellies and all sorts of things. I try and pace myself, but I'm not that good at it--had the pancake breakfast and then later I just HAD to get a backbacon sandwich...while I was waiting for a nice fluffy bun crammed full of yummy yummy bacon, that booth ran out of sausage...70kgs (150lbs) in three hours...
Here are some of my snapshots...
(l) crates of corn waiting to be roasted
(r) sticky maple syrup buns
(l) funnel cake in strawberries, maple syrup and whipped cream
(r) all sorts of lovely jams and jellies
(l) skewered meats
(r) the longest spring rolls I've ever seen
(l) the Gingrichs' maple syrup table (I always get my syrup from them)
(l) toffee apples
(l) pancakes pancaking on one of th big breakfast grills
(r) all that's left of my brekkie plate
02 April 2008
Many thanks to the good people at Harper Collins for sending this book to me. In interest of full disclosure: I've met Trish, taken classes at her cooking studio and was part of a group recipe testing for this publication. My photos of that cooking session can be found here.
Dish Entertains: everyday simple to special occasions
By Trish Magwood
256 pages; $44.95
I think a telltale sign of a good cookery book author is how they position food. I’m not talking about food primpery, nor anything along the lines of food politicking, but instead for me it boils down to feeding your loved ones—friends, family—tasty food that combines familiar dishes with interesting flavour twists in a way that doesn’t make you resent the efforts spent feeding them. I don’t tend to return to recipe writers who over analyse food or seemingly place an almost clinically prescribed regimen that borders on ceremonial fuferah on the acts of meal preparation than the finished food itself. Instead, I prefer making foods under the direction of those who enjoy feeing people. Trish Magwood, owner of Toronto’s Dish Cooking Studio and host of Party Dish, realises the social and familial importance of food; because of this, her first tome, Dish Entertains: everyday simple to special occasions, is a book I happily return to time and time again.
Dish Entertains celebrates people who gather around food, ranging from informal weekday family suppers to larger gatherings where you want to socialise and not be chained to a hob. It also recognises that not all parties are planned weeks or days in advance, but can be impromptu gatherings with just a few hours to whip up nibblies or a full meal for your guests. She also reminds you of the all important fact that entertaining need not mean a crowd of people, but “can even take the form of a meal at the kitchen counter with your spouse.”
Magwood collects more than 120 recipes to take you through many levels and layers of eating. Most of her chapters (hors d’oeuvres, soups, salads, mains, sides and desserts) are further divided into two parts: everyday simple and special occasion. Everyday simple is, as its title indicates is food that can easily be prepared during the week, after you’ve come home from work, school or wherever your day-to-day commitments send you rushing home from. Special occasion recipes are foods that are just as easy to prepare as everyday simple ones, but are a bit grander and easily lend themselves to your own individually defined bit of zhuzhing.
The book is simply designed—large, clean white pages with an unfettered typeface. Magwood’s language is just as uncluttered. Her well-written and logical recipes along with her suggestions and observations (“Who really likes their broccoli raw anyway?”) are direct and informal and read as if she is speaking to you and not at you. She also provide very good cooking and entertaining tips (including portioning food, party rentals and staffing for cocktail parties, and basic information about stocks, fats and tools for soups) and what I call “unrecipes” such as the how to put together a pizza bars—quantities aren’t given, but suggestions as to how to combine flavours on shop-bought breads are just as useful as fully measured and timed recipes.
The recipes are well written and logical and many are accompanied by gorgeous photographs. Magwood provides what she’s become known for: stylish food made with flare. Elegant Cremini Mushrooms Stuffed with Chèvre and Leeks (p28) easily transforms itself to an easy mid-week pasta supper. Her Fresh Pea Risotto (p146) includes key tips to making risotto, along with five just as easy and very tasty looking variations.
Quite honestly, I can’t find much—if anything—to fault with this book. All the foods I prepared at home and during a recipe testing session at Dish Cooking studio about a year and a half ago worked incredibly well and were absolutely delicious. Because I was involved with testing some recipes prior to print, I only cooked a couple of recipes for this review.
Sweet Potato Chipotle Soup (p86)
The only problem I had with this recipe was in finding chipotle peppers in adobo sauce—I went to several shops and finally found a tin tucked away. It was definitely worth the hunt. The soup was easy to make, hearty and combined sweet, smoky and slightly spicy flavours. I served this to friends and they all loved it.
Sautéed Winter Greens (p190)
Incredibly quick and adaptable to any dark winter green that normally scares small children. I made it with rapini and it was devoured by those gathered…
Here are the hors d’oeuvres I worked on during the recipe testing session:
Easy Smoked Trout and Avocado (p 34)
Quite honestly, “easy” is the word for this. Mash the avocado and other flavourings, and then plop onto a cracker and top with the smoked fish. I recall the flavour combination: relatively mild avocado, spiked with heat, paired with the deep, rich smoky trout. Very, very good.
Asparagus Wrapped with Crispy Pancetta and Parmesan (p20)
Easier to do than turning on the tap for a glass of water. Normally I’m not much of an asparagus person, but I’ve made this several times since, preferring the spindly baby spears than the thicker ones.
Here’s what the other testers worked on:
Sourdough Rosemary Boule (p 56) and Baked Olives with Orange and Oregano (p66)
Highly, highly addictive…
Cremini Mushrooms Stuffed with Chèvre and Leeks (p28)
Again, easy and elegant.
Baby Arugula with Baby Beets, Feta and Pistachios (p126)
The colours are gorgeous and the sweetness that emerges from roasting the veg is amazing. When paired with the briny feta, this salad can easily be turned into a dinner.
Quick Marinated Flank Steak (p 142)
This very simple marinade provides so much flavour. I remember thinking this steak tasted better than many restaurant steaks I’d had.
Chocolate Pots (p 224)
Normally I shun everything made with rum because of an allergy, but I had to try the teeniest little bit…which, if I recall correctly, turned into me finishing the dessert. Swollen tongue be darned, it was that good.
Regardless of which section or part you cook from, Dish Entertains lets you easily attain delicious food you would be happy to feed family, friends or pretty much anyone who shows up on your doorstep, napkin tucked under chin.
So how does it rate?
Recipe Selection: 4.5/5
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Yum factor: 4.5/5
Kitchen comfort-level: Novice-intermediate
Pro: Good selection of easy, stylish and very tasty dishes
Con: People in smaller communities may have difficulties sourcing some ingredients.