Friday, February 29, 2008
Bobby Flay had a chocolate chip cookie throwdown with Levain Bakery recently. (Levain Bakery is a NYC bakery that makes what they call the world's best chocolate chip cookie. One cookie weighs almost a half-pound and sells for $3.50. Check them out here: http://www.levainbakery.com/) The throwdown has been televised on Food Network several times, and naturally, there's a copykat recipe circulating on food blogs. Cookie Madness has had success in very nearly duplicating the cookie's height and texture. I've made two attempts and both have failed. Levain's cookie looks almost like a scone -- it's that high. A photo of my second attempt is above. I chilled the dough for 2 hours before baking, but they "melted" when they hit the heat. In the first attempt, shown below, they hardly rose at all before melting and spreading. The taste of the first batch was like a typical chocolate chip cookie, no great shakes. Texture is what matters here, and the texture is affected by the height of the cookie, or how it rises. In the second batch, since I'm tired of the typical vanilla-flavored chocolate chip cookies, I used instant coffee granules dissolved in coffee brandy for the flavoring, instead of vanilla; and I have to say the flavor is definitely improved. I can only think of 3 things that would have worked against me on the rising of the cookie: 1. the sugar substitute I'm using has very little volume; 2. I used a higher ratio of brown sugar, which is more liquid than white; 3. the original sugar amounts were reduced because the Levain cookie is overly sweet. Other than that, I followed instructions carefully. One of these days I will make this cookie again using all the sugar, no substitutes, and using the proper ratio of brown and white sugars. Since I need to move on to other things, I'm going to let this recipe go for now.
Copykat Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies, Adapted
NOTE: See my 3/20/08 updated successful copycat version.
INGREDIENTS: 1 stick butter, unsalted, cold, cut into chunks
1/2 cup sugar (I used 1 Tbsp. Stevia)
1 cup brown sugar (recipe actually calls for 1 cup of white and 1 cup of brown sugar)
1 large egg, cold
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used 2 tsp. coffee granules dissolved in 1-1/2 tsp. coffee brandy)
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (Pillsbury unbleached)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
6 oz. chocolate (I used a 5-oz. bar of chopped Hershey's Milk Chocolate with Almonds and 1/4
cup of Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Chips)
1/2 cup toasted whole walnuts
DIRECTIONS: In medium bowl of electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on a medium-low speed till well blended but not fluffy. Add the egg and flavoring and beat again on medium-low till well combined. Do not overbeat, as overbeating creates air bubbles which then deflate the cookie. Add the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and mix on slowest speed till just combined. Dough should not be too sticky nor too dry. It should be a stiff dough. Add the whole nuts and chocolate to the dough and let the mixer blend them in, at the same time crunching the walnuts. This will leave some nice big pieces of walnuts, giving the cookie that rustic, lumpy look. Chill the dough thoroughly, at least 2 hours, and preferably overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375F with oven rack in center position. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Levain measures each lump of dough for a perfect 6 oz. I made myself a note, again, to order a kitchen scale, which I've been meaning to do for about a year now and keep forgetting. Cookie Madness measured out 4 oz. lumps. I used my ice cream scoop for nice rounded scoops of dough and I have no idea what they weighed, but I'm guessing they were 2 oz. Personally, I don't want cookies any bigger than that, but if you have a scale and you like huge monster cookies, go for the 4 or 6 oz. I got 12 cookies out of this batch of dough. Probably the first batch was under 2 oz. and the second batch was over 2 oz. because I had no scale and I was just guessing. (The 2nd batch had some dough left over which I divided among the remaining 6 cookies.) There is much wisdom in owning and using kitchen scales.
Bake the cookies about 8 minutes, then without opening oven door, turn the heat down to 350F and bake for another 7-10 minutes, or till almost set. The cookies will continue to cook after they are removed from the oven. Better to underbake than overbake. You can also bake them at 350F for the whole time (15-20 minutes). Remove cookie sheet to rack to cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.
Here are the cookies nice and mounded, cold from the fridge, just in the oven:
I really thought they would puff up and be huge. But to my dismay, they melted when the heat hit them, and here they are 15 minutes later, nicely puffed, and quite deliciously crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, but not like the Levain cookie:
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Here's my recipe for tiramisu. We had it for Christmas dessert; that's when this photo was taken. If you like using store-bought ladyfingers or the Italian imported lady fingers, then you can skip the sponge cake recipe, but this is an easy and delicious spongecake that Italians have traditionally used for desserts like this for a long time.
Hot Milk Spongecake
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3 eggs (2/3 cup)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. In small saucepan, heat milk until bubbles form around edge of pan. Remove from heat; set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Sift flour with baking powder and salt; set aside.
4. In small bowl of electric mixer, at high speed, beat eggs until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is smooth and well blended--about 5 minutes.
5. At low speed, blend in flour mixture just until smooth.
6. Add warm milk and vanilla, beating just until combined.
7. Pour batter immediately into an ungreased 9x9x1-3/4" baking pan or 2 greased and floured 8x1-1/2" layer-cake pans; bake 25-30 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
8. Invert square cake by hanging between 2 other pans; let cool completely. Remove from pan. Let layer cakes cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool thoroughly on wire racks. Serve plain, or frost as desired.
Note: If a larger cake is desired, double amounts of ingredients above. Use large bowl of electric mixer. Bake in an ungreased 10-inch tube pan 35-40 minutes. Invert pan over neck of bottle; let cake cool completely.
(There are many recipes for tiramisu. The traditional recipe uses zabaglione in the filling. While the eggs in zabaglione add a depth of flavor, the recipe that follows is a short-cut version that gives a traditional flavor and texture with half the work.)
Espresso Syrup: 1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
1/4 cup Italian or domestic brandy
Mascarpone Filling: 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 lb. mascarpone cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 lb. imported or domestic ladyfingers, or sliced spongecake
Syrup: Combine water & sugar in small saucepan. Bring to simmer, stirring occasionally to
dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, cool. Add coffee and brandy.
Filling: Whip cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold cream into softened mascarpone.
Assembly: Place a layer of the ladyfingers or sponge cake slices in the bottom of a shallow 2-quart baking dish or gratin dish. Sprinkle with half the syrup. Spread with half the filling. Repeat with remaining ladyfingers or cake, syrup and filling, spreading the top smooth, using a metal spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before serving. (or freeze for up to 2 months.) Immediately before serving place cocoa in fine strainer and shake a light coating on surface.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
INGREDIENTS: 5 cups sesame seeds
1-1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
DIRECTIONS: On a rimmed cookie sheet or in a 9x12 baking pan, spread the sesame seeds. Place in a 350F oven and toast lightly for 5-10 minutes, shaking seeds with spatula occasionally. Do not brown. Cool for 20 minutes. Put seeds and oil into food processor and blend to a smooth emulsion. Refrigerate.
I love Sabra brand hummus. It's so smooth and creamy and the flavor combos are great. But I don't like the price. In our local Harris Teeter, Sabra is $4.49 for 10 oz. and it almost never goes on sale. Somehow the Sabra people make their package look bigger than the competition, but it's still only 10 oz. and it disappears so quickly because it's so good. And that's with only me eating it. Guy won't touch the stuff. He loves garbanzo beans (chick peas, or as the Italians call them, "ce ce beans," pronounced chee-chee beans.) But he's stuck on the name hummus and can't get past it. I've explained to him a million times that it's just ce ce beans (I kind of ignored the other ingredients, knowing how picky he is.). At this stage of the game, though, he no longer trusts me. He's caught me too many times trying to sneak healthful ingredients into his food. But back to the Sabra.... I've been buying it at the Greenville, NC Sam's Club -- 25 oz. for $5.59 -- a real bargain price for my favorite hummus. But when the container is empty, it's not that easy to run over to Greenville, an hour away. So when Tahini (basically, ground sesame seeds and olive oil) and garbanzos went on sale recently, I stocked up and decided to try making my own. This recipe is my first, but not my last attempt at making hummus. It turned out really good, was very easy and very quick. This recipe almost filled the above two recycled Harris Teeter containers (they previously held olives and were washed out). I guess it was about 2-1/2 cups total, give or take; and though I didn't do the math, I can roughly figure there was a worthwhile savings. I think I'll try roasted garlic hummus next time.
INGREDIENTS: 1/2 cup black olives
1/2 cup Kalamata olives
1 15-oz. Garbanzo beans, drained
1/3 cup Tahini
3-4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. sea salt (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
DIRECTIONS: Place 1/2 cup black olives and 1/2 cup Kalamata olives in workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade. Pulse till olives are chopped fine. Transfer olives to small bowl.
Without wiping bowl, place remaining ingredients, except parsley in bowl and blend to a smooth, creamy dip. If too thick, add some juice from the olives or more lemon juice. Transfer to small serving bowl. Sprinkle parsley over top. Mound the chopped olives in center. Serve with raw veggies, crackers or pita triangles. Yield: About 2-1/2 cups
Now, if you really want to be frugal, later I will post a recipe for homemade Tahini.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
INGREDIENTS: 4 oz. almond paste
1-3/4 cups flour (I used 1 cup all-purpose and 3/4 cup whole wheat)
1/2 cup sugar (I used 1 Tbsp. Stevia in place of the sugar)
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted
1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
Glaze: 1/2 cup white chocolate (from chips or bar)
1 Tbsp. butter
DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 325F with oven rack in center. Take 2 large cookie sheets and stack one inside the other (the double sheets help prevent biscotti from burning). Line top cookie sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease. If needed, grate almond paste on large-hole side of a box grater. (My almond paste was soft, so I didn't need to grate it.)
Fit a 7-cup or larger food processor with a metal blade. Add almond paste, flour, sugar, butter baking powder and salt. Pulse until mixture has texture of small crumbs. Add eggs, flavorings and nuts and pulse a few times, then add apricots and pulse till apricots are chopped and dough is well mixed.
Transfer dough by large spoonfuls onto baking sheet, making two "logs," approx. 2" x 10" each, 3" apart. Flatten the logs gently with your hands until they are 1/2 to 3/4" thick. Bake 35 minutes, or until golden, set and starting to crack open. Transfer double cookie sheets, with biscotti still on them, to wire rack to cool (about 1-1/2 hours).
When completely cool, slice into 3/4" pieces, on a diagonal or straight, as you prefer. I cut mine straight this time. Use a serrated knife. Return the pieces to the doubled cookie sheet, cut side down. You can put them right next to each other this time. Bake for 25 minutes at 325F, or until slightly golden. (For softer textured biscotti bake 2-3 minutes less; for drier biscotti bake 2-3 minutes more.) Cool completely. These freeze well. Yield: 32 medium sized biscotti
If desired, dip one end of biscotti in melted chocoate mixed with butter. Here's a photo of the dough ready to go in the oven:
Friday, February 22, 2008
St. Paul Education Center. They were quite thrilled to learn of it. I don't expect to win the Grand Prize for this submission, but I'm thrilled to be a finalist and hope I can get the popular vote. The judges will determine the Grand Prize winner and their decision will be based on creativity and taste.
Crispy Chocolate Sticks
Cookie Layer: 1 square unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 tsp. instant coffee powder (my addition)
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar (I used 1 Tbsp. Stevia)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat)
1/4 cup chopped pecans (I toasted mine before I chopped them.)
Filling: 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine ( I used Smart Balance)
1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar (I used 3/4 cup 10X)
1 Tbsp. heavy cream or evaporated milk (I used 2 Tbsp. condensed milk)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (I used 1 tsp. coffee brandy + 1/2 tsp. coffee powder)
3 Tbsp. peanut butter (my addition)
Glaze: 1 square unsweetened chocolate (I used 1.25 oz. Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate)
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine (I used Smart Balance)
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-by-8-by-2-inch pan.
Make cookie layer: Melt chocolate and butter together over hot water (or in microwave). Add coffee powder and cool slightly. In medium bowl, beat egg until frothy. Stir in chocolate mixture and sugar. Add flour and pecans, stirring until well blended. Turn into prepared pan; bake about 15 minutes. Cool thoroughly on wire rack.
Make filling: In small bowl, blend all ingredients. Spread over cookie layer. Chill at least 10 minutes.
Make glaze: Melt chocolate and butter together over hot water. Pour over filling, tilting pan so glaze will flow evenly. (I had taken the cookie base out of the pan by this point, so I just poured the glaze over and spread it evenly with a spatula.) Here is the cookie layer with the filling and the glaze spread over top:
Refrigerate 15 minutes to harden glaze. With sharp knife, cut into sticks. Yield: 18. (I cut them wrong and wound up with short sticks. To get 18 "sticks" you will have to first cut 9 lengths. Since that's an odd number, I guess the best way to get it is to divide into 3 sections, cutting 3 long slices from each section. Then you can just cut the 9 lengths in half.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Split Pea Soup
1 large onion
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 medium carrots
1 celery stalk with leaves
1 bag split peas
2-1/2 quarts of low-sodium chicken broth
1 nice meaty ham bone (or 2 meaty ham hocks)
Bouquet Garni (several fresh thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 9 peppercorns, wrapped in leek
leaves or cheesecloth and tied with kitchen twine)
1 large potato
DIRECTIONS: Chop the onion into pieces. You can chop it coarsely if you are going to puree the soup. Chop it finer if you are not going to puree. (I never puree because I like little chunks in my soup.) The chopping will be faster and easier if you have a food processor. In a large heavy stockpot, saute the onion in the olive oil. After the onion is wilted, add the garlic. In the meantime, chop the carrots and celery the same as the onion. Add them to the pot. Rinse the peas and pick out any stones. Add the peas, broth, ham bone and Bouquet Garni to the pot after the vegetables are wilted. Bring to a boil. Meantime, scrub, peel and cut the potato in larger chunks than the other veggies. Add to the pot when it boils. Reduce heat and cover pot. Cook this for about 1 hour over a low heat, covered; and then remove cover and continue cooking about another half hour to reduce liquids till veggies and peas are very soft and ham is falling off the bone. Remove ham bone and slice meat into small pieces. Put the meat back in the pot. Taste for seasonings. You shouldn't need much, if any, salt. Add pepper if you want it. You now have a lot of soup to enjoy!
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Chai Orange Raisin Drops
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used half AP, half whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. McCormick Chai Spice Blend
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup quick rolled oats
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (3/4 cup)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (I used 1/2 cup brown sugar + 1 Tbsp. Stevia)
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. grated orange rind
2 Tbsp. orange juice (I used 4 Tbsp.)
1 cup dark raisins coated in 1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (I used Smart Balance buttery spread)
2-4 Tbsp. orange juice or milk
1 cup 10X sugar
1 tsp. McCormick Chai Spice Blend
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper that have been greased. In medium bowl, combine flour, soda, spice blend, salt and oats. Set aside. In large mixing bowl of electric mixer, cream butter and sugar till well blended. Add eggs, orange rind and juice and beat well. Stir in the dry ingredients; mix thoroughly but do not overbeat. Fold in raisins and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, or till cookies are set. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.
Spice Icing: In small microwaveable bowl, melt butter with 2 Tbsp. juice or milk. Whisk in sugar, spice and vanilla and whip well by hand or with electric mixer. Add additional liquid, if necessary, to make a thin frosting. Drizzle over warm cookies and let icing set while cookies continue to cool. These freeze well. Yield: About 3-1/2 dozen
Monday, February 18, 2008
Bolognese Meat Sauce (Serve this over spaghetti, fettucini or stuffed shells or use as the sauce for lasagne; it's quick work if you have a food processor.)
INGREDIENTS: 2 cups onions (3 small)
1-1/3 cups carrots (3 small)
2 cups celery (3 stalks with leaves)
hearts, livers, gizzards, necks from 3 chickens (if you have them; I only had one chicken, so
consequently, I only had 1 of each; you can add chicken wings if you want.)
1 lb. lean twice-ground beef
1 lb. mixed twice-ground beef, veal, pork (I used 1 lb. pork)
1/2 lb. twice-ground lean turkey (my addition)
1 cup dry red or white wine (I used Barefoot Chardonnay; it's what was in my fridge)
4-5 tsp. salt, or to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
2-28-oz. cans crushed low-sodium tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
DIRECTIONS: Chop vegetables coarsely and pulse in food processor till they're very finely chopped, almost a paste. Saute' gently until golden in a big heavy pot, the bottom of which you cover with olive oil. Skin and chop the gizzards; add to workbowl of food processor with the other chicken parts (not wings of course); pulse till finely ground. Regrind the meats if they haven't been twice ground. When the vegetables are golden and limp, put in all the meats and the chicken necks (if you have them) and brown thoroughly. Work the meats over with a wooden spoon, breaking up any possible lumps to ensure a smooth sauce; and when the meats are well browned, add the wine and let it evaporate. Add the salt and a good grind of pepper, and then the tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. Bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat. Simmer for 2 hours.
Remove the chicken necks, taste the ragu' for salt, adding more if necessary. Simmer another hour without cover to reduce the liquid. If the ragu' turns out to be fattier than it should be, you can skim off the fat at the end of cooking, or chill the ragu' and then easily slip off the congealed fat. The less fat in your sauce, the better your pasta dish.
There are many variations of lasagne out there. The Romans use ricotta instead of a besciamella sauce (white cream sauce), so I guess this recipe is Roman. But instead of the traditional green and yellow noodles which are homemade, I use regular store-bought lasagne noodles and mix the spinach with the ricotta. There is no doubt that homemade noodles will make a better end-product, but I have yet to tackle them. If you like the lazy way of making lasagne (using the no-boil noodles), then I am happy for you that you are so easily pleased and sorry for you that you can't taste the difference. I can't eat the no-boil noodles. They have no texture; they taste gummy. Yes, it's more work to boil the noodles. What a pain! I put in 1/3 of a box at a time so they have plenty of room. I transfer the boiled noodles to a baking pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and spray the tops lightly before adding more noodles over them. I get all the ingredients ready and form an assembly line, as below:
1 lb. Lasagne noodles (the thinner the better -- I used Barilla this time)
15 oz. part-skim Ricotta cheese (If you like cheese, double this; Guy doesn't like cheese so much; and I'm somewhat, but not totally, lactose intolerant, so I go light on the cheeses)
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1-1/2 cups frozen spinach, cooked, drained and chopped
1/4 tsp. grated fresh nutmeg
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup 6-Cheese Italian blend, pre-shredded cheese
1 cup Mozzarella pre-shredded cheese
2-1/2 cups sliced mushrooms sauteed in olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
DIRECTIONS: Boil the lasagne noodles, 1/3 package at a time, according to package directions. Transfer boiled noodles to a baking pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Spray the tops of the noodles before placing more noodles over them.
Mix the Ricotta, parsley, spinach, seasonings and other cheeses in a medium bowl till well combined. Make an assembly line with all the ingredients: noodles; Bolognese sauce; Ricotta mixture; mushrooms; Parmesan cheese. Lay out your baking pans; spray them lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
Spoon a small amount of Bolognese sauce in the bottom of each pan. Cover with noodles. Spoon dabs of Ricotta mixture and Bolognese sauce over noodles. Scatter some mushrooms over. Repeat layers, ending with Bolognese sauce only. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over tops of all.
Cover and freeze those pans you won't be using in the next few days. Freeze small containers of extra sauce (you should have sauce left over) to serve with the lasagne when you bake it. If you use the sauce sparingly in the lasagne, you will have enough left over that you can heat separately and serve over each lasagne slice. (There is no sauce over the photo at top because I again forgot to take the photo at dinner time. The photo shows the slice of lasagne straight from the fridge, not heated up, later when I remembered.) When you are ready to bake the lasagne, take it out of the fridge 1 hour ahead of time (If frozen, put it in the fridge the night before.) Preheat oven to 350F. Bake the lasagne for about 45 minutes - 1 hour, or till bubbly and cooked through and hot in the middle. (If you are using glass pans and the glass feels very cold when you are ready to bake it, then you should start with a cold oven instead of preheating.) Transfer to cooling rack for 15 minutes-1/2 hour before cutting, or it will be runny and gooey. Serve with extra sauce.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
The housekeeper at the Holiday Inn Express, Downtown San Diego, left us 2 bags of Hershey kisses during our recent stay. I brought them home to make cookies, and peanut blossoms were my logical choice. Since I only had 14 kisses and the recipe made 24 cookies, I needed something else for 10 cookies. A half jar of Nutella did the trick. (BTW, have you tasted Nutella? Where are the hazlenuts? All I taste is sugar and chocolate. Frankly, I like chocolate peanut butter better; at least you can taste the peanut butter.) I have to say I was a little disappointed in this recipe. Now, I will admit I tweaked it a bit, switching out the sugar for Stevia, upping the vanilla, and subbing 1 cup of whole wheat flour for part of the all-purpose flour. But still, my two biggest disappointments with this recipe were not getting enough peanut butter flavor in the cookie and biting into a very hard kiss. They're not bad, but for me they are just ok and there are better peanut butter cookie recipes out there. I'm going to assume that they are popular because they look cute on a cookie tray. I would rather eat something that tastes really great, even if it doesn't look spectacular. Here's the recipe for those of you who like cute cookies that taste ok:
INGREDIENTS: 1/2 cup white sugar (I used 1 Tbsp. Stevia)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla (I used 2 tsp.)
1 large egg
1-3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat flour + 3/4 cups all-purpose) 1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
extra sugar (about 3 Tbsp.) for rolling
DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 375F. In large bowl, beat sugar, brown sugar and butter until light and fluffly. Add peanut butter, milk, vanilla and egg; beat well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Add flour, baking soda and salt; mix well. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in sugar. Place 2" apart on ungreased cookie sheets; do not flatten. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and set. Immediately top each cookie with a milk chocolate candy kiss, pressing down firmly so cookie cracks around edges. (First, lightly press the kiss into the cookie top. Do all the cookies, then go back to the first one and press in further. If you just press the kiss in all the way at first, the cookie will split apart.)
For Nutella filling, after you shape dough into 1" balls, roll in sugar and place on cookie sheet. With your thumb, make an indentation in center of cookie. This indentation will partially fill in as cookie bakes. When cookies are done, immediately fill centers with Nutella. (I liked these better than the kiss center, because the Nutella is not hard like the kiss, and so it's much easier to eat.)
Friday, February 15, 2008
Apricot-Orange Shortbread Bars
1 cup apricot preserves (I use the fruit spread with no sugar, just fruits)
3 Tbsp. orange liqueur (I used Bols Triple Sec)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup sugar + 1 Tbsp. Stevia)
1 tsp. almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup AP + 1 cup King Arthur whole wheat flour)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup (packed) almond paste, crumbled
1/2 cup sliced almonds, divided
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 325F. Butter a 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan; line bottom and sides of pan with parchment paper, extending over sides. Butter parchment. Mix preserves and orange liqueur in small bowl; set aside.
Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Beat in almond extract. Add flour and salt; beat just until blended. Transfer 1 cup of dough to another small bowl; add crumbled almond paste and mix with fingertips untill small clumps form. Mix in 1/4 cup sliced almonds; set aside for topping.
Press remaining dough evenly onto bottom of prepared pan. Spread preserves mixture evenly over. Using fingertips, coarsely crumble topping over preserves, then sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup almonds over top. Press topping lightly into preserves.
Bake shortbread until top and crust edges are golden brown, about 1 hour (mine only took 50 minutes, so be sure to check them for doneness starting at 45 minutes.) Cool completely in pan on rack. Using parchment paper as aid, lift shortbread from pan. Cut shortbread into 4 equal strips, then cut each strip crosswise into 8 small bar cookies. (Can be prepared ahead. Store in single layer in airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.)
Yield: 32 bars
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Judy's Ranch Deviled Eggs
8 eggs, room temperature
2 Tbsp. cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese (I used Neufchatel)
1/3 cup thick ranch dressing (I use the Ranch dressing packets and mix my own so I can control the fat content -- make it with light or nonfat sour cream)
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. mayo (I used Smart Balance)
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (I used Italian flat leaf)
smoked paprika (McCormick's)
DIRECTIONS: Pierce a hole in the end of each egg with a pin or thumb tack. This will help the egg not to crack in the water. Place room temperature eggs in a heavy nonreactive pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn off heat. Let stand for 1 hour. Peel eggs and cut in half. Spoon yolks into a medium bowl, food processor or blender and place whites on your serving dish.
Add cream cheese to yolks and mash by hand, with electric mixer or in blender or food processor till lumps are out. Add ranch dressing, salt, pepper, and mayo and beat till smooth and fluffy. (If desired, you can add some of the chopped parsley to the egg mixture, or you can just use it all for sprinkling over the tops.)
Spoon egg mixture into resealable plastic sandwich bag, pushing it down towards one corner. Seal bag, pressing out air. Snip corner of bag and squeeze mixture into whites. Sprinkle paprika and parsley over eggs for garnish. Yield: 16 deviled egg halves
Note: You can cut the corner of the bag first, then insert a decorative tube, then add the egg mixture. You will have filling left over and it will make a great sandwich spread.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup mayo or salad dressing (I used Smart Balance Mayonnaise)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup diced green pepper
DIRECTIONS: Place shredded cabbage in large bowl; sprinkle with sugar; toss till mixed; cover. Chill 30 minutes.
Mix lemon juice and mayo in small bowl; pour over cabbage. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Add carrots and green pepper; toss to mix well.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Margaret Jordan's Grilled Vegetable Salad, Adapted
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar (I used Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar instead of white)
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning (I substituted 1/4 tsp. garlic powder + 1/2 tsp. dried basil +
1/4 tsp. dried oregano + 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley and 4 sprigs fresh thyme, since I didn't have Italian seasoning)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1-1/2 tsp. molasses
1/2 lb. carrots, scraped
1 sweet red pepper, seeded
1 sweet yellow pepper, seeded
2 yellow squash
1 large sweet onion
1 lb. asparagus
DIRECTIONS: Combine marinade ingredients (everything but veggies) in large bowl or gallon size resealable plastic bag (I used a bag placed in a bowl to catch any drips or leaks). Set aside. Cut veggies in large pieces. (I sliced the carrots and squashes on a diagonal thinly; the peppers in 2" slices; and the onions in 1" wedges.) Add veggies (except asparagus) to marinade, tossing to coat. (I was afraid the tossing to and fro in the marinade would bruise the asparagus tips.) Let veggies stand at room temp in the marinade for 30 minutes, stirring or tossing ocassionally. (I marinated for several hours, turning the bag over 3-4 times.)
Drain veggies, reserving marinade. (I used tongs to remove veggies from the marinade, then I put the asparagus in the bag by itself.) Arrange veggies in a grill basket. Cook, covered with grill lid, over medium-hot coals (350F to 400F) 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally. When veggies are done, transfer to serving dish. Add drained asparagus to grill basket and cook for 10-15 minutes. Add the asparagus to the serving dish, along with the reserved marinade. Toss gently. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Monday, February 11, 2008
First, these delicious chocolate chip cookies, courtesy of Diana's Desserts, who got the recipe from Cooks Illustrated. If you want all the info on why these cookies are big and fat, and the science behind them, plus the original recipe, go to http://www.dianasdesserts.com/ and search for "Chewy and Thick Chocolate Chip Cookies." (The housekeeper at the Palazzo in Las Vegas generously gave us extra Belgian milk chocolate squares which prompted me to look for a new chocolate chip recipe to use them up.) I've made so many changes to the original recipe, it's easier for me to just post my adapted version. The only thing I would change is to take out the Hershey's Symphony and replace with a regular Hershey's or a Hershey's with Almonds. I discovered that I don't really appreciate the taste or texture of toffee in a chocolate chip cookie, or anywhere else for that matter. If you like toffee, then keep the Symphony in. These cookies are great and definitely worth your attention.
Chewy and Thick Chocolate Chip Cookies, Adapted
INGREDIENTS: 2-1/8 cups (2 cups plus 2Tbsp.) unsifted bleached all-purpose flour, such as
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup), melted & cooled until warm
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar (or 1 Tbsp. Stevia or Stevia Plus)
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. Creme de Almond liqueur
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1-3/4 cup chocolate of choice (I used 1 cup chopped Belgian milk chocolate squares + 3/4 cup chopped Hershey's Symphony bar)
1/4 cup toasted chopped almonds
2 cups Krispy rice cereal
DIRECTIONS: Mix flour, salt and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
Either by hand or with electric mixer, combine butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Mix in egg, yolk and flavorings. Add flour mixture; mix lightly just till combined. Stir in remaining ingredients. (At this point, I refrigerated the dough overnight so it would set up better.)
Remove batter from fridge 1/2 hour before baking. Preheat oven to 325F. Adjust oven rack to center position, and only bake one pan of cookies at a time.
Form about 2 Tbsp. dough into a ball. (I used my small ice-cream scoop -- see photo below.)
Holding dough ball using fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces exposed, join halves together at their base, again forming a single cookie, being careful not to smooth dough's uneven surface. Place formed dough onto parchment-paper-lined pans, spacing cookies about 2-1/2" apart. (I placed 12 cookie balls onto my 12" x 17" pans that I bought from Wal-Mart. They were 2/$10, and they're heavy duty.) You can also make bigger cookies if you want. I prefer a 3 to 3-1/2" cookie. 2 Tbsp. of dough will give you about a 3-1/2" cookie. If you use more dough for a larger cookie, you will have to adjust baking time. Bake until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden, yet centers are still soft and puffy, 12-15 minutes (Start checking at 10 minutes). I like to use the toothpick test to see if cookies are done. Cool these cookies on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks. They look quite flat in the photo below, but they really were nice and thick, but not cake-like. The edges were crispy and the insides were fat and soft. A very good cookie with wonderful flavor. Yield: About 2 dozen 3-1/2" cookies.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Hotels: We initially stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Downtown, an old hotel, newly renovated. This hotel gives you a good bang for your buck. A free breakfast that includes eggs, bacon and sausage with all the trimmings is part of the deal and the staff goes out of its way to accommodate your every request. If you want to tour the Gas Lamp District, this hotel is a good choice. You can walk from there, because you're not dealing with highways, just city streets. According to my son, the city has cleaned up the area so it's safe to walk now, but I wouldn't walk it at night. And you had better have really good walking legs to walk from this hotel to the Gas Lamp District, because it's hilly, and it's a good long walk. We stayed at the Holiday 3 nights, then stayed at the Doubletree Club on Hotel Circle for the other two nights. Hotel Circle is a good location because it's near the Zoo, Sea World and the Fashion Valley Mall. The Doubletree Club was built in 2001 and just recently renovated. It's more spacious than the Holiday Inn Express Downtown, and the staff is very nice. Here's the big shock: Almost all the hotels in San Diego charge for parking. So if you're paying $125/night for the hotel and $14 for parking, you're really paying $139/night. I guess this is their sneaky way of upping their prices, because when they separate it like that, psychologically you think you are paying the lower price. And there seems to be some collusion, because they all charge $14/night for parking. They must have had lunch together and jointly decided that $14 was the right price to charge. I hate San Diego.
This time Jim took us to all the places the tourists don't know about. We ate at Phil's Barbecue, a really nice barbecue joint, super clean with good food. Instead of an iceberg lettuce salad, Phil's serves a Spring Mix salad. Still, Phil's prices are twice as high as our best barbecue joint in New Bern.
The Supper Club is the locals' answer to the Strip Joint in the Gaslamp District, where you cook your own steak. (P. S. I thought Rachel Ray ate where the locals eat. She recently did a show on San Diego and she ate at the Strip Joint.) The Supper Club is half the price of the Strip Joint. $15.95 for a filet mignon, garlic bread, and salad. $5.95 more gets you a potato-vegetable kabob for two. You grill everything, not just the steak, on a communal grill where everyone is friendly and polite and the more experienced grillers help the less experienced ones. My ears rang for a good half hour after we left because the noise level was about 300 decibels.
Even though Jim and Trinh have been without heat and have only had partial electric for a month because of a fire in their apartment building, for me, the best meal of all was the night we just got a rotisserie chicken and a bag of Spring mix from Albertson's. We rented a movie (Gosford Park) and watched it at Jim's apartment while we ate. It was most like home. And speaking of home, I'm glad I'm back eating my own cooking and sleeping in my own bed. We really enjoyed being away, seeing our son, meeting his significant other and trying to enjoy a city we very much dislike, but like Dorothy said, "There's no place like home." Happily, the next time we see our son, it will be on our own turf; and we won't have to go back to San Diego for at least another year.
We thought the Palazzo hotel room was beautifully appointed, until we met a couple in the airport who said they much preferred the Venetian because it was brighter, more cheerful, and more elegantly appointed. They felt the Palazzo was stiff and dark and the rooms were somewhat bare. Since we didn't see the Venetian rooms, we can't say. We liked our room a lot. The bath had a glass-enclosed oversized shower with an adjacent soaking tub (complete with loofah and lemon-verbena scented bath salts); a double-sink vanity and a separate toilet room. The lighting in the bath was not the brightest, but that's the worst I can say. It's almost a joke that our suite had 3 TV's (1 in the bathroom, 1 in the bedroom and 1 in the living room). Who stays in the room? C'mon, now, does anyone go to Las Vegas to watch TV in their room? The rooms are not cheap, but we thought we got a good deal at $249/night, since the usual rate is closer to $400.
Guy was disappointed in the casinos. He expected to see well-dressed clientele. Instead, people were dressed in jeans -- not even always nice jeans. There aren't as many high rollers as there used to be in days gone by. It's a lot of people like Guy and me with a couple hundred for entertainment. When it's gone, it's gone, and the gambling ends. So Vegas is changing its image. Now they're not just a family vacation spot, they're also trying to be the culinary capital of the world. Famous Chef restaurants are popping up all over the place. And they're not cheap. Not wanting to drop a couple hundred on a meal, we ate in the Palazzo Grand Lux (run by the Cheesecake Factory) one night, and Canaletto (in the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes) the next night. The Grand Canal Shoppes are upstairs on the retail level, and I was surprised at how pleasant the place is. First of all, they have a pseudo-canal running through the entire area, complete with Gondolas and singing Gondoliers. People were lined up to take their $30 rides. In the section that is supposed to be a replica of St. Mark's Square in Rome (who would know, I've never been there), 3 restaurants with patio dining empty onto the square. Canalleto is one of them, and we asked for and got a patio table. In the middle of the square, shows are performed on the hour. Costumed singers give authentic Renaissance-period performances and then mingle with the crowds. It's quite charming, and creates a festive mood. It doesn't hurt to see the bright painted sky above, either.
We had tickets to LeReve (a very visually stimulating show) and I had visions of walking forever to get to the Wynn Hotel for the show. Instead, an escalator in the Palazzo took us to a walkway that led right to the Wynn and the theatre was a short walk inside the hotel. I noticed that other hotels were joined together by walkways also. Since we were only there for 2 days, we didn't get to see as much as we wanted. On our second day, we took a taxi to the Silverton Casino across town to meet some old friends that we knew from St. Lucia. It was so good to see them and get caught up on the last 15 years.
Will we go back? Yes, when we can get together another couple hundred that we can lose and when we can find a cheap hotel/air package. For now, we're pretty broke.
Here's the cherub's mate, trying to catch her kiss. Now she's gone. I'm sure he's sad.
Above, the cherub sat in the ivy with her legs dangling over the edge.
Vacation is over. Since our return in the early morning hours last Wednesday, the week has been consumed with jet lag, then getting ready for our Super Bowl Party. While I was in the kitchen today baking cookies, I heard a crash. "What broke?" I yelled into the living room. "The angel," Guy replied. Guy was trying to put his Budweiser sign on our mantel and knocked over the little cherub that was blowing a kiss to her mate on our antique tier table. It fell on the marble hearth and smashed to smithereens. I guess you could call this fall-out from the Super Bowl. Guy has promised to find me another cherub. In spite of this pre-game incident, our party was a success; and, since we are all Giant fans, suffice it to say we were happy at the end. A Super Bowl upset is always exciting, especially when it's your team doing the upsetting.
I have some party recipes to share with you from the last few days of cooking and baking: lemonny coleslaw, deviled ranch eggs, Krispy Toffee Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies, apricot almond shortbread bars, and tonight's super easy and super good recipe, Peanut Butter Mousse Brownies.