Monday, April 4, 2011

Dear Blog, It isn't you, it's me...

Dear Blog,

I don't know where to start. I've thought a lot about you, but I just couldn't bring myself to write until today. It's not that I haven't been baking, I just haven't been baking from the Gourmet Cookie Book. I hope that doesn't make things worse between us.

I have a lot of other interests, and I take good care of my family, and I got a promotion at work recently...  and really, there is so precious little time in every day. I'm going to make it up to you. In time you'll see that I have it in me to honor the commitment I made. In the meantime, I wanted to show you a few things...

For Christmas, my dear cousin Jennifer gave me the Cookie Pro Ultra II Cookie Press. This toy tool has completely changed my life. I use it ALL THE TIME. The son and I love to add food coloring to the dough and make fun colors and shapes. These cookies are made and eaten faster than you can say Cookie-Pro-Ultra-II-Cookie-Press, but I managed to snap a quick picture a while back.

The pictures doesn't do the process justice, but the cookie press knows how I feel about her. That's all that really matters.

This is what I made for St. Patrick's Day. One platter for the son's classroom, one for the husband's work-suite, and one for my lovely coworkers.

Four leaf clovers and rainbows with gold pieces at each end. I didn't think this up, I got the whole idea here. I loved the concept and will do it again. I didn't love the recipe as much, but I have other refrigerator sugar cookie recipes to work with.

Here is my last offering. This comes from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day cookbook that my sister gave me.

I've talked about this cookbook before, and it has Changed My Life. Seriously.This piece of beauty is the brioche bread recipe turned into cinnamon pecan rolls. They are delicious. I plan to double the filling (butter, sugar, spices) next time, and they will be heavenly.

So... I wanted you to know that I still think about you and I'm trying to arrange things in my life so we can spend more time together. Even the son wants to bake from the GCB again soon.

OK. That's all I have for now. Bye bye bye bye bye.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Brandy Snaps

First of all, look at the picture on the left and answer me this: What's missing from the ingredients?  That's right, BRANDY! 

That was Disappointment #1 for me with this recipe. 

(The editors assured me the brandy didn't add much flavor and it's cheaper to make virgin Brandy Snaps. But I would have liked a good reason to buy some, that's all I'm saying.)

Disappointment #2 would be the way they looked compared to the description and photos in the book. "Ultrathin, these cookies melt in the mouth..." The book shows light nearly passing through these delicacies, and you could practically hear the "snap" when you turned the page. 

Disappointment #3? The taste. The flavor was in-your-face strong and I expected something far more delicate.

My Brandy Snaps were thick when they should have been thin. Chewy when they should have been snappy. And I didn't have a clue how to roll them. The tips offered by the editors were sparse, to say the least. 

I found two good write-ups online only AFTER I'd made mine. It was reassuring to learn that someone else thought the recommended baking time was too brief. Mine didn't spread all melty-like when they were in the oven, they just kind of puddled. Maybe mine had to much flour? Maybe the batter cooled too much before going in the oven? Who knows. I'm not sure I care. 

The instructions said to roll them over a dowel immediately after removing them from the oven. I burned my fingers with every single batch, even after I decided to let them cool a few minutes before handling because they are 99% sugar and do you have ANY idea how much heat sugar retains? A LOT, let's just leave it at that. 

They looked so yummy in the book and were so far from what I expected. I might do a little research and try again because I'm stubborn like that. Here's what they looked like at the end of it all: 

Better luck next time. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

1/1/11 Wedding - Wee Wookies

 Let's refresh. Wookie = Wedding + Cookie

The bride and groom were planning to slice the 9" wedding-theme decorated Wookie, so the mini-treats served individually to their guests came to be known as Wee Wookies. There's a lot I could say about the process and the growth opportunity it became for me, but I think pictures are best now.

Start with brownies (yes, that's really the recipe I used, minus the nuts, with a squirt of Hershey's syrup added). Spread the batter thin-ish on a baking sheet instead of filling a 9x13 pan. Feel free to slightly underbake these, since they will see the inside of an oven again soon. After cooling, use a round cookie cutter to cut them into disks.

Why disks? They're not entirely necessary, but they look nice later on. You'll see. You could use a knife and cut squares, or I suppose you could just break them into pieces, but the circles work better in the final product.

Now you need chocolate chip cookie dough. I needed Wee Wookies for 60+ people, so I made A LOT of dough. 

Scoop large balls of dough, you need one ball per Wee Wookie.

Wet your hands and flatten the cookie dough.

Insert one brownie disk and wrap the dough up around the edges...

... and over the top.

My young helper took those last two pictures. They're a little blurry, he's still learning. But they're good enough to tell what I'm doing. Bravo, little helper!

Plop the dough balls into muffin tins that you've greased, greased again, and then greased one more time.

Catch your breath now. It might feel like you're nearly done, but don't be fooled. They will be delicious at this stage, but you have decorating ahead of you and that really makes them sparkle.

As soon as they come out of the oven...

...turn them over onto a cooling rack. And I can't overemphasize this. They need to come out of there ASAP!


If you get an entire pan to come out smooth and beautiful like these above, pour yourself a drink and toast your success. Celebrate like it's 1999. Dance until the cows come home. It's a lot harder than it looks, and I lost at least one in every batch to extraction-related injuries. 

Who am I kidding? In one batch I lost 9 of 12 because the bottoms stuck in the pan. I wept. I've put that behind me and don't want to talk about it. I didn't take pictures. It was sad and heartbreaking and cause for panic - this is a wedding after all - but I'm over it. Really. Totally. Over it. Sigh.

While they're cooling, make some Chocolate Satin Frosting from the Joy of Cooking. Add a heap of cinnamon just to make it yummy. Dip the Wee Wookies upside down in the frosting and swirl 'em around a bit. Shake off the excess and set them back down so the frosting can set up nicely. Don't worry about the shaggy edges showing at the bottom, the frosting will drip down and cover that. 

Pipe a whipped cream frosting star on top and VOILA!

I had an entire dining room of these goodies:

Aren't they beautiful? 

Inside, there's a brownie baked inside a chocolate chip cookie. Just like I promised!

The reception was fantastic. The bride was beautiful, the groom was charming. The food was all home-cooked and the Wee Wookies were delicious. Many, many congratulations to Fawn and Ryan, it was an honor to be such a special and yummy part of your celebration. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  - - - -
p.s. i made and decorated the (big) Wookie for the bride and groom but didn't take pictures of it. several people at the reception took pictures for me, and when I get a good copy I will post it here and tell you about it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

'Tis the Season... bake as if you suffered from a life-threatening nutritional deficiency of butter, sugar and vanilla.

The top goodies were made for a friend from Ohio (Buckeyes, get it?) and the bottom goodies were made for my son's holiday celebration at school.

Frankly, I thought six year olds would get more of a kick out of dark chocolate and mint chip cookies, but I think they were pretty overwhelmed with holiday cheer  by the time parents showed up with treats at 2:00. I dutifully plated them out and an hour later put 90% of them back into their air-tight portable home and handed that to the room mom with my holiday blessings. She really wanted them, but I felt a little cheap. She's been an awesome room mom and deserves more. I'll try to make it up to her by the end of the year.

Last weekend the son was in a holiday performance and the parents were asked to provide cookies for the reception afterward. If I'd known how many people were involved in the performance and reception, I would have gone down to Costco and bought 5,000 commercial somethings. Instead, I baked my heart out and made over 10 dozen Chocolate Chip Oatmeal and Old Fashioned Christmas Butter Cookies:

I don't regret it, of course, but I like a more intimate setting when I and my cookies meet new people. We just want to build a relationship, you know?

I have high hopes for finishing the 1940s in the Gourmet Cookie Book tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

June 1948: Jelly Centers

These are a keeper, if you ask my son. I'm not a fan of jam except in the close company of peanut butter, but these were a huge hit with everyone else.

The cookies are buttery rich with a hint of lemon, and I substituted toasted coconut for chopped blanched almonds on top. No reason for that really, except I had some toasted coconut sitting around and wanted to use it up.

You could mix up the flavors in any combination, really. Raspberry jam tasted delicious with the lemon/coconut cookie, but lemon curd might have been fun to try also. I have apricot/pineapple jam in the fridge that probably needs a simple vanilla cookie underneath. Almonds optional on that one.

They are really pretty and once again my photos don't do them justice. I'd happily and proudly serve these to guests, they look and taste great.

The Universe Wants Me to Exercise

From my horoscope today: "Physically, continue to do sport, given that regularity is much more important than intensity."

Thank you Master Rao for that sage advice. If you give me a housekeeper, a cook, a second car, AND a chauffeur I might have the time, energy, and inclination to "continue to do sport."

OK. Thanks. Bye Bye.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Weigh In - First Things First

Two week net: -2.2
Total: -12

You may have noticed I skipped a week for weigh-ins. I was in Chicago on Sunday and my tall and naturally thin sister doesn't own a scale. In typical weight-denial fashion, I decided to give myself a break and skip the weigh-in. That, coupled with the cookies, bread, and homemade ravioli in Chicago, resulted unsurprisingly in a net gain that, quite frankly, I didn't want to write down.  

That's a long way of saying that you can ignore the man behind the curtain and just go along with me here. Since I last weighed in here, I have lost 2.2 pounds (moderately sarcastic YAHOO!) and since I began tracking I have lost 12 pounds (bigger, more realistic YAHOO!). 

The funny things about all these numbers is that you can only go so far with them. I want to calculate my per week average loss (ok, I DID calculate that and it's about 1.3 pounds per week) but that doesn't tell me anything helpful because the goal is the bottom line (12 pounds of approximately 60). Looking at it per week treats all weeks equal, and that's just not real. Some weeks are up and some are down, and sometimes I have control over that (points baby, points) and sometimes I don't (hormones, namely). 

Bottom line: It's all about the bottom line, and the ends DO justify the means. I have a net loss of 12 pounds so far and that's 12 pounds more than if I'd done nothing at all. I'm eating better and exercising more and those are accomplishments worth celebrating. So YAHOO for me and for all of us working hard on personal goals, whatever they may be.