Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Holiday baking ideas for 2011...

We're getting into the nitty gritty of our annual Holiday Baking Spree - I can't believe it is that time of the year already! Yes, pounds and pounds of butter, flour and sugar are currently being decimated in the kitchen, being made into a barrage of candy, cookies and treats.

I know things have been pretty quiet around here - I've been having to deal with dietary restrictions (a serious bummer - can't even have a nibble of anything I am making!) from our doctor. This makes it tough to want to talk about any of the food I've been preparing (which has been for Jeff and the weekly treat days), but hopefully we'll figure out what's going on soon and I can get myself back to normal!

Anyway, I thought it would be an appropriate time put up baking ideas from past recipes we've made. Perhaps you'll find a recipe or two to make and share this holiday season!

Will you be making any new treats this year - if so, what tops your list?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies...

We tossed caution to the wind with the Treat Day goodies we made for Jeff's co-workers last week - I mean, who *really* puts raw cookie dough on top of an already baked pan of brownies and then calls it done? Well, in fact, we did just that by making these outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies.

I found the idea for this killer layered sweet from Michelle over at Brown Eyed Baker - it went directly to the back of my mind and sat there, teasing me, until the perfect time came up to make it.

Underneath that thick layer of cookie dough (and yes, it is egg-free and safe to eat by the handfuls, raw) is a brownie that is neither cake-y nor gooey - it fell somewhere in between, best described as moist and a bit chewy. Rich in brown sugar, to give a slight zing and bump up the chocolate factor, I did toss in a bit of espresso powder into the batter. Hang around the lower amount listed if you don't want too much of a coffee bite, or, if you like, knock it up to the full teaspoon and grab a buzz!

While the brownies were off cooling from their short stint in the oven, we had plenty of time to haul out the mixer and get going on the cookie dough topping. You'll find the classic ingredients to chocolate chip cookies - butter, flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt (don't skimp on this since we call for unsalted butter), plenty of fragrant vanilla and instead of the normal eggs you'd find, a few tablespoons of milk to smooth all the ingredients out.

I do suggest you give plenty of time to the creaming step - several minutes, with a couple stops every now and then to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This should hone down the edge of the graininess you get from the sugars in an unbaked dough. You could use mini chocolate chips if you like, but we're fans of robust bittersweet chocolate here - chop the pieces small, but not to dust. About half the size of your average chocolate chip to keep slicing the treats easy.

I don't think they needed it, but if you really wanted to take these over the top (as if they were not already), give them a fancy smear of ganache or, perhaps, a judicious scattering of more chopped bittersweet chocolate. Decidedly rich and decadent, you will want to keep these on the smaller side when cutting - also, give them plenty of time in the refrigerator to chill before taking a knife to them. I wasn't able to have any (more on that on another day... believe me, it nearly killed me not to try them), but Jeff gave his quality control approval by eating two (!) the night before he brought them in!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Severed Finger Cookies...

I had such a good time making those funky Chocolate Tarantula cookies last week, and since they went over so well at the office, we decided to keep the Halloween theme going with our Weekly Treat Day by making these wicked Severed Finger Cookies.

Yeah, really - we went there! You will need to set aside some time to make these as there are a couple chilling steps and it takes a minute or two per finger (and you'll be making about 38!) to shape them. The not-too-sweet dough only called for vanilla to pump up the flavoring, but I happen to dig a slight almond-y note in the background with these types of butter cookies - a quarter teaspoon of almond extract was just about right, but feel free to leave it aside if you prefer.

If you can, only work with 5 or 6 pieces of the firm, yet creamy all-butter chilled dough at a time, keeping the rest wrapped up in the icebox. This makes it a snap to work with, keeping the dough from becoming too warm as it sits around while you pass the time forming many finger cookies. It may become a little redundant, but take a seat, turn up some music or have your favorite TV show on and create lots of severed digits!

With all the manhandling of the dough, I do recommend setting the assembled fingers in the freezer for about 20 minutes or so before baking - not only does this allow you to wait to start preheating the oven until you are ready, it will also help them retain most of their shape. Sometimes all-butter doughs tend to spread more than you'd like, especially if they've been at room temperature for awhile. If you give them those extra minutes to firm back up first, they will puff up and out some, which is what you want to help fill out the fingers, but the cookies won't stray far from the intended shape as much as if you were to bake them while soft.

Want to up the stakes on these cookies? Think about brushing some red food coloring on the almond "fingernails" or take red gel icing and pipe it around those sickly blonde nails. I also thought about taking some of the smaller broken almonds and sticking them out of the opposite side of the nails, creating a broken bone-like appearance. Perfect with the blood, no? However, we decided against that for now (Jeff thought that might be taking them too far... hee hee!) and will save the idea for another time!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tarantula Cookies...

I know it may be a couple weeks early, but since we always make those Butterfinger Eyeballs for the Wednesday Treat Day just before Halloween, I thought it might be fun to sneak in an extra themed goodie beforehand. Chocolate spiders anyone?

I couldn't wait to give these cookies a try, but note they are fairly labor intensive, at least in the decorating department. The faintly chocolate (there is only 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder added) cookie dough comes together in a snap and is easily workable without needing to chill the dough first. The original instructions would have you roll the dough into rounds balls, then insert the pretzel legs - however, I found it was a bit tough to fit in eight legs. Shaping the two dozen pieces into rounded rectangles was much easier - think a fat, slightly flattened Tootsie Roll.

Instead of using the thin pretzel sticks as they were (perhaps ours were extra long?), I did snap off about 1/4" worth of each on one side. I did this because they seemed a bit too long sticking out of the dough. I'm glad I did this because the weight of the melted chocolate poured on top may have given them a reason to snap off while decorating if I had kept them that long. When these go into the oven, I found the easiest way to check for doneness was to watch for one or two small cracks to form on the top and if you gave them a gentle press in the center, the cookie would spring back. It can be hard to tell since the dough is stained from that dark cocoa powder.

When you go to drench the completely cooled cookies in melted bittersweet chocolate, what I found that worked for me was to place the cookie on top of a fork, hold it over the bowl of chocolate and use a small ladle (or spoon) to cover the top of the cookie and pretzel legs entirely. While the original directions asked you to line the baked spiders up on a wire rack and pour the chocolate over (faster to do, yes), I think this would have been more messy and then you'd have to deal with the giant amount of excess chocolate that created a flood below. Also, you would have a bunch of sprinkles mixed into all that chocolate left behind!

I found that coating three or four cookies at a time, then going back to give them their "hairy coat" with a blizzard of chocolate sprinkles, gave the chocolate enough time to barely begin to set, leaving the tops sticky enough to hold the sprinkles. The first spider I coated I watched in disappointment as some of the sprinkles (and Red Hot eyes!) drooped off. Depending on the temperature, it may take a few hours for them to completely set - I was able to pick up them without touching wet chocolate in about three hours. I did end up with plenty of pretzel sticks and melted chocolate leftover, all which ended up together (perhaps a few Oreo's went in for a dunk too, but I'll deny that) for a salty/sweet snack over the next few days!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Way overdue...

Can it have really been over 2 months since I've last posted? Yikes! I apologize for the lack of information over the past few weeks - life here is fine for the both of us and the pups, but we've been extraordinarily busy. Sadly, we haven't been on an extended vacation or taken jobs in Disney World (Jeff's dream!).

While Dora is being a complete sweetheart around us, she still tends to go a little wacko when it comes to strangers and other dogs (inside or out of the house).

Our trainer suggested we may have better luck going the route of using a clicker - we have been doing that for only a couple of days now, but we think we've already see improvement in her reactions. What about Gus? He is still his silly, cute self as always - now that is seems to be cooling down outside, he is spending plenty of lounging around in the grass, soaking up the sun.

Jeff is finally done with all of his surgeries (3 total in less than a year - neck, knee and shoulder!), along with all of the physical therapy that goes with it, which is a nice relief. It was getting a bit tough shuffling schedules around to make sure he had enough time for all of his appointments. Now that he is Mr. Bionic, hopefully we can make it through the rest of the year with no more surgeries!

Where's all the food? I have been pretty firm about setting enough time aside to continue our constant flow of new recipes each week, though maybe not as many as we used to. What I have been lacking is time and energy to snap pictures of said food, along with sitting down and siphoning all my thoughts about the meal into a coherent post. I don't know whether or not this means we're done with this encompassing project we started six years ago back in Phoenix - only time will tell I suppose, but I hope we can manage to settle into a slower groove.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Six years?

I can't believe it sneaked past us... a couple of days ago, the 6th anniversary of this site passed us by. Yikes, boy does time fly! I didn't actually realize it until a reader sent us an e-mail asking if we were going to make anything special for it - oops, guess not! Even though we didn't make a new dish to celebrate, I do have a couple new recipes we've made recently that are worthy of being noted. The first being what we made for this week's Wednesday Treat Day - Mini Cheesecake Tarts.

You will need a fancy pan for these, but I suppose you could always try and use a muffin tin - if you go that route, you would want to line that pan with paper liners to ensure the tarts will pop out. The almond-laced crust is lovely - crisp and nutty, but still tender to cut through with a fork. You can top the individual creamy vanilla tarts with whatever suits your fancy - we went with raspberry jam and three plump fresh raspberries on each. Blueberries are flooding the farmers' market here and I imagine a blueberry compote with some sort of lemon infusion would make a killer topping.

I'll link you directly to the site where we found the next recipe - Black Forest Ham Rolls. I have Dan's site loaded into my rss reader and saved this idea aside just as soon as I finished the post.

These cheesy spiral rolls are prepared using a homemade dough made with bread flour and one of Jeff's favorite flours - rye! To boost the flavor in the dough, butter softened onions, seasoned with caraway seeds to toast along the ride, slide into the dough to mix in with the other liquids. When the dough has rested and been stretched out, a solid layer of grainy mustard is slathered on, followed by shreds of Emmental cheese and chopped pieces of Black Forest ham.

Rolled up (à la cinnamon roll fashion) and sliced into chunky rounds, you can arrange them on the baking sheet a couple of ways - while we did them single file (about an inch or two away from one another), you could also shingle them together in two lines or a large ring. There are no measurements for the fillings, so we just followed our instincts - you don't want too much of any single ingredient as you may have a hard time rolling the log or keeping them together while slicing. Jeff and I both thought these were exceptional, especially hot out of the oven with the golden gooey cheesy oozing all over - they also reheated well, making for a snazzy lunch the next day!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Good day to play catch up...

Happy Fourth of July!

Jeff, the pups and I decided to just hang around the house today - it's pretty sticky and hot outside, so we decided to grab some movies and keep cool. I did make another batch of those Root Beer Float Cookies to snack on, but only a few - the rest will go into Jeff's PT office tomorrow morning. He's recovering well from his rotator cuff repair, but is still pretty sore with all the stretching he needs to do everyday.

I do have a couple recipes to share with you today, but we definitely did not make either of them within the past couple of weeks - the weather has been the same over that time... a blazing heat with plenty of humidity! We prepared them several weeks ago, when there was a cool(er) snap and we had a chance to breathe the fresh air flowing through the open windows. Up first was this hearty dish, a take on Pasta e Fagioli, that Jeff and I both enjoyed for not only its simplicity, but how little we had to do to get it in the pot and going!

There was a little chopping involved, but only a few celery stalks, a couple carrots, a small red onion and a trio of zippy garlic cloves. Given a chance to weep and soften, to those vegetables went in a fragrant sprig of fresh oregano, a large can of fire-roasted tomatoes, vegetable broth and what I thought was one of the key ingredients, the stocky heel from a salty wedge of Parmesan cheese! Rather than toss those edges away, I stick 'em in a bag kept in the freezer for safe keeping - the cheesy nubbins are always good to drop into all sorts of soups and stews.

As soon as the liquid hits the boiling point and begins to thicken, small pasta, ditalini in our case, are stirred in to cook through, followed by a can of rinsed and drained chickpeas to heat through. Now, if chickpeas don't make sense to you in this, by all means do a switch-a-roo with cannellini beans (which is what the original recipe called for). This was really just catering to Jeff as he doesn't much care for the softer, more creamy white bean - he thankfully doesn't have any objections to the firmer garbanzo. This dish is quite thick, but you can just as well thin it out if you like - stir in a bit of extra broth just before serving.

We happily cleaned our bowls the first night, but I wondered how it would hold up overnight for lunch the next day. The noodles were a little softer, as expected, but overall it was still pretty darn tasty as the flavors had a chance mix and mingle. I do plan on making this again, but perhaps later in the year when the temps start to take a nose dive!

The next recipe? Ancho-Chipotle Turkey Chili! Yes, another one that probably probably would have been more suited for the fall or winter, but after I read through the ingredient list with Jeff, he gave the thumbs up and said go for it! I guess I'll just close my eyes when the electric bill comes... the AC has definitely been workin' overtime!

What attracted me to this specific recipe was the use of several dried ancho chiles, rehydrated in warm stock until pliable and soft. Not that this is a radical new method, but in the times we have done this as a base enhancer to a stew or chili, we've always been more than pleased with the robust results!

Getting down to the nitty gritty of this chili involves browning a few slices of bacon (you know it's going to be good if that's how we start!), then reserving a couple tablespoons of its useful dripping to start cooking a pound of ground turkey. Once crumbled and beginning to take on some color, into the turkey meat went chopped onions, spicy chipotle in adobo, paprika, cumin and coriander. There are also a couple ingredients tossed in that some may turn their nose to - cocoa powder and cinnamon - but I highly suggest you don't leave them out! With several cloves with of minced garlic added, tomato paste joined the party - at this point, be sure to give the paste a solid minute or two to cook, while stirring. This gives it a chance to bloom, bringing the essence of tomato back to life.

With the smoky chile puree stirred in, there is one more piece to the puzzle - a bottle of Mexican-style beer! This won't make it taste boozy in the least, but the malt-y undertones make a mild appearance and work to enhance the lingering background notes. If you just don't like, or can't cook with alcohol, that's fine - I see no reason why you couldn't use stock or broth instead.

The bacon that was crispy at one point won't stay that way; rather than being used as a garnish on top, the bits are added right into the pot with the pureed chiles and beer, along with a couple scoops of red kidney beans to simmer and thicken. Not a fan of beans in your chili? Take 'em out and increase the turkey by another pound to fill out the dish. While spicy, this chili wasn't slap-you-in-the-face hot - if you'd like to turn up the fire a bit, don't remove the seeds from the chipotles. To give our tongues a break from the heat that was there, we served each bowl with a droopy dollop of sour cream on top. We left it at that, but feel free to smother the top with your favorite chili toppings!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ginger-Lemon Bars...

Fresh ginger, ground ginger and crystallized ginger - you'll always find these three lurking somewhere in our house, be it in the freezer, the pantry or spice drawer. We're crazy about its zippy bite, used either in savory or sweet dishes - most especially though in that addictive Gingerbread Popcorn. For this week's Wednesday Treat Day, two of those ingredients found a home into these Ginger-Lemon Bars I made today.

The whole process of making these bars is rather intriguing and on the bonus side, you don't even have to haul out the mixer if you don't like (I didn't!). The dough can be prepared using one bowl and a sturdy wooden spoon. Rather than using the traditional method of creaming together softened butter and sugar, you'll be combining all of the dry ingredients (flour, granulated sugar, two full tablespoons of aromatic ground ginger and a bit of baking powder) together, then mixing in a couple sticks worth of melted butter. Once that golden slick is worked in, an egg, a generous scoop of finely chopped crystallized ginger, sticky honey and tiny bits of brilliant lemon zest complete

Kind of an odd order, but it does come together! Do note that once you start patting the dough into the pan, you'll start to notice glistening butter oozing out - this is to be expected and will not be a problem. Rest assured, the butter will reabsorb as the bars bake. When the top is golden, the sheet of dough is firm to the touch and your nose perks up as the distinct ginger-y scent seeps from the oven, it's time to pull the pan out from the oven.

Be prepared to work with these right away as they get their shiny, tart topping not when they have cooled, but when they are pipping hot fresh out of the oven! Being very careful, you'll be turning the flat of bars out onto a board, then smearing on a thick, yet runny, glaze made from confectioners' sugar and enough fresh lemon juice to thin. If you are at all worried about the bars sticking, feel free to line the baking pan with parchment paper or foil (and of course, coating with either nonstick spray or butter).

These scream to be stacked on a holiday cookie platter - Jeff said they are a strong contender to make the list for our annual Holiday Baking Spree! I think the best way to describe these bars is that they are like a cross between shortbread and thin ginger blondie (minus the brown sugar, of course) - dense and chewy, with this addictive light crispness to them that got my attention. The ginger is definitely up front and center, but both the lemon and the added sweetness balance its spicy, sharp bite. As I mentioned, the bars can be stacked when serving as the icing sets to a firm shell - however, if you are storing them for a length of time stacked, lay sheets of parchment or wax paper between the layers to separate them.