Posts tagged ‘cookies’

Brownies & Broomsticks – a tasty book review

Well, I’ve been meaning to write for a while but life has intervened this year to keep me from getting anything done – one step forward, two steps back, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I have managed to read a lot and have been keeping track of my books on Goodreads.  If you haven’t been there, then I highly recommend it.  You can get book recommendations that are related to your bookshelf and can be used as an addition to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

So… what am I posting about today?  I read a lot of food related non-fiction; however often I read food related fiction, as well.  On Goodreads, you can find a section for people who read food in fiction.  Cooking from these fiction books has only marginally interested me; but, somehow, I just felt moved to try it yesterday.

The book:   Brownies & Broomsticks by Bailey Cates.

Summary:  Katie is left by her fiance and leaves her job to help her aunt and uncle start a bakery.  In a sense, she is starting all over.  Circumstances cause a much disliked woman in the community to be killed outside of the bakery and her uncle is accused of having killed the woman.  Katie is determined to find the killer and clear her uncle’s name.  This is a classic mystery novel scenario; however, a long the way, she discovers that her aunt is a witch and that she may be one, too.

What I disliked:  There was one section right in the beginning that seemed very disjointed.  This may be due to trying to fill in Katie’s background with the current action.

What I liked:  The ending was exciting and the mix of witchcraft did not seem over blown.

The recipes:  There were two recipes at the end.  Both sounded interesting; and, since my sister was bringing lamb chops and I was making sides, these two seemed to fit in with the dinner schedule.

*Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies – These are essentially straight brownies with a peanut butter mixture spread on top. The only change I made to the batter was to add chocolate chips and reduce the amount of sugar.  For the PB mixture, I reduced the butter by one half and mixed in 2 tablespoons of peanut oil.  (This reduces the saturated fat but still leaves the mixture smooth enough to put on top.)  I could not drizzle the mixture.  Instead I made lines of PB mixture across the sheet.  Then I took a knife and went up one way and back down to cover the length.  The pattern caused a lot of oohs and ahs when presented.  The extended family loved it.

*Cheddar-Sage scones:  OK… I don’t like sage – thyme was substituted.  I also wanted more servings and so I cut more triangles.  The baking time was not decreased, however, because I wanted them to be crispy and golden.  The extended family liked the way the cheddar flavor popped and were convinced it was due to baking just a bit longer.  If you try baking longer, be careful; because too much longer can produce a dry scone.  Although the flavor was good the next day, they were really best on the first day.

Take home message:  I think these two recipes were a success.  I think I might now try to make more of the recipes I encounter in the fiction that I’ve been reading.  Hopefully I’ll be inspired by something soon.

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July 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm Leave a comment

Chinese New Year 2012 (including Superbowl Sunday)

Gung Hay Fat Choy – Happy Chinese New Year.

This year was different, as I suppose it is most years; but, of course, it was a bit more noticeable this year.  15 days allows usually for 2 weekends with 2 big Chinese banquets.  Since the whole thing started on a Monday, it was hard to justify stopping everything to do a banquet.  Instead I brought lunch in for mother from Zoe Ma Ma (a great local hole-in-the-wall Chinese place in downtown Boulder).  She was confused until she started to eat the noodles…!  After gymnastics, we met my sister and her family at another non-fancy Chinese restaurant in north Boulder.  It was fun all around and with no cleaning.

~Over the course of the next few days, I incorporated the dishes that needed to be eaten and tried new Asian dishes.  (On the first day, we had dan tart – custard tarts, almond jello with fruit, and CNY candy from the red box.)  We ate steamed fish, long noodles, etc.  We brought in many items for my mother.  I made ji (traditional rice noodle dish), orange beef, gai lan, and almond jello; my sister made lamb and broccoli, walnut shrimp, and a Japanese bean/rice mixture.

The last dessert I made for that big celebration with mom was Pichet Ong’s pineapple tarts – that look like little tangerines. (See The Sweet Spot.) I made them last year but this year I made just a few modifications and it seemed to go a bit more easily than the year before.  They tasted amazing.

Then over the whole course of the 2 weeks: dan go (egg steamed sponge cake), almond cookies, Japanese Wagu hamburgers, steamed whole fish, peanut noodles, and steamed fat go little cakes.

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~Between Superbowl Sunday and Chinese New Year this year, we also celebrated National Chocolate Cake day!  Here are the cupcakes I made:

~Superbowl Sunday fell the day before the end of CNY.  We (my sister’s family and my family) have a great time making all sorts of bad-for-you-foods – noshing and watching the game and commercials.  This time only one of us was truly invested and so it was a bit more relaxing.  We could enjoy the exciting ending without getting knots in our stomach.  Anyway, my sister used her new 3 crock crockpot for queso, vegetarian chili, and regular chili and she brought 3 other dips with chips.  My daughter made a shortbread sandwich cookie – the first time she did everything with just coaching and hints from me….(She even made her own homemade vanilla pudding mixture to use in the cookie recipe.)

~I made 3 types of wings – 2 different Asian wings and 1 very hot Tobasco wing (using the Tobasco wing sauce, along with another secret mixture) and non-alcoholic sangria.

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I also made Boston cream pie (because it was suggested on some site) using Gale Gand’s cake, a pastry cream from some where else, and my own chocolate glaze.  Finally, I usually make regular nachos but decided to make a sweet nacho… crisped tortilla triangles with cinnamon sugar in the oven, sprinkled melted milk chocolate and homemade dulce de leche sauce, finely chopped fruit, and shavings of white chocolate…. The last was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

This was in some ways a more relaxing way to do things and very much more multi-cultural due to Superbowl Sunday coming at the end.  It did feel very much like we celebrated the whole time and everyone left with good feelings…  Gung Hay Fat Choy — I hope your year will be a good one.

February 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm 2 comments

Gingerbread lighthouse and cottage 2011/2012

The last time I posted a gingerbread house, it was Jan 2010.  Needless to say, with my mother’s illness in Dec of 2010, things went a little crazy.  We still got one done but I didn’t have time to post.

*Here are a few pictures from Dec 2010/Jan 2011. 

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*So, this year I was still dragging.  I love that my mother is now in a care facility nearby and am grateful to have the extra time with her, but it does add extra time. Anyway, my niece saw this cute little tin with a lighthouse and wondered whether I could do one for our annual tradition.  (See other posts, more on gingerbread houses and gingerbread houses).

*The first problem to tackle was the idea that the lighthouse needs to be near the water.  Unlike previous houses, we needed to have a setup where the water made sense and played a part.  I decided to use the rice crispie treat idea to design a landscape – chocolate rice crispies for the land and regular for the sandy beach.  I crushed regular cheerios and chocolate cheerios and blended them to make the rest of the sand that would cover the beach.  Later I mixed a darker mix of the crushed cheerios to make the path.

*Another complicating factor was the light placement.  Every year we would build a house around a hole in the board where we could put the light and then pull it out before the breaking.  This year I had to run the wires under the rice crispie treat landscape.  The placement had to be indicated before I started and then before the treats became too hard.  (Before the breaking, the wires were cut to remove the LEDs.)

*I adapted a pattern for the lighthouse from the web – What I needed was a good top.  So, I made an aluminum foil ball, sprayed it with non-stick spray, and placed on the cookie sheet.  Then I draped a piece of gingerbread over the top.

*I also adapted a house from  The Gingerbread Architect.  Oddly, it was a little more difficult to make the smaller house because the cutting actually has to be more refined – smaller windows, doors and decorations.

*As usual I poured caramelized sugar for the windows and attached them to the building pieces before we raised the buildings.  (We also decorate the walls.)

*For the water, I molded the aluminum foil around the bay and poured the sugar syrup into it.  Then I let it cool until it was hardened.

*The roof for cottage was regular sized M&Ms, while the lighthouse had mini M&Ms.  I also piped with icing sugar the railings, let them dry, and then carefully piped them into place (with all sorts of little bottles to hold them while they dried).

*All that was left was to make it snow.

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…and, of course, we had our usual breaking party…  Buddhist non-attachment and a lot of fun for all the kids.

January 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm Leave a comment

Daring Baker’s Challenge Multi-layer Panna Cotta & Florentines

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

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I love puddings.  Panna cotta is wonderful version.  It’s usually made with gelatin rather than cornstarch and this gives it often a lighter feel.

~ For this challenge, I had never made a multi-layered panna cotta and was very excited for an excuse to do so.  Here’s a picture of the 2 and 3 layer versions made with the 2 types of gelatin and 1 type of gelée that I made.

~You can find the recipe on the Daring Kitchen site.  First I made the chocolate panna cotta.  I used 60% Ghiradelli (because I always have this in my house).  I checked it after 1 hour but it took a little more than 2 hours to set.

~While the panna cotta glasses set, I made the Nestle Florentine cookies.  For one set, I flattened as per instructions but parts remained less cooked than others.  Then I made the inside less dense than the outer edge.  This worked fairly well for one batch.  The final batch with only slightly more on the edge was the best.

After 2 hours, I made the almond panna cotta.  The recipe supplied is a vanilla panna cotta.  I replaced the milk with almond milk (unsweetened).  What’s amazing is that the recipe has a vanilla essence without adding any vanilla extract.  To boost the almond flavor a bit, I added ¼ tsp of almond extract.  I let the mixture cool (almost 25 minutes stirring every so often.)  Then I carefully poured the mixture on top of some of the glasses with 2 glasses reserved for just a little of this almond mixture.

~Because the layer was not as thick and the glass/chocolate panna cotta was so cold, it didn’t take as long to set.  I waited about 1-1 ½ hours.  I then made a raspberry gelée.  First I took some frozen raspberries (10 oz although a larger amount would have been better).  I put it through a sieve in order to remove as many of the seeds as possible.  After getting about 8 oz, I made the recipe.  (I did just barely heat the raspberry/sugar until it was melted and heated for 2-3 minutes rather than 5.  I also melted the gelatin and water mixture separately and added to the fruit.  This allowed it take a lot less time to cool.)  After cooling I carefully poured a thin layer on top of the all the glasses.  (I had a lot of extra chocolate mixture and didn’t quite have enough raspberry gelée to give a thicker layer.)

~While waiting for the gelée to set, I drizzled chocolate on top of the cookies.

~I was so excited that I used different types of glasses.  Here’s my picture that is similar to the one in the challenge.

We enjoyed the flavor of all of these panna cotta.  If I made the chocolate one again, I would put the chocolate/cream mixture through a sieve before adding to the gelatin/milk mixture.  I’m not sure I’d make the Florentines again.  I might make some other type of cookie that matched what I was doing in the panna cotta.  The look of the multi-layer was fantastic but took a long time –  Clearly the almond/raspberry was good enough.  The whole challenge was definitely worth the effort.

Here’s a picture with the cookie balanced on the edge – it almost looks like it’s floating above…

February 27, 2011 at 7:50 am 1 comment

Daring Baker’s Challenge 9-2010 Sugar Cookies

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

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Well, I’m a bit late.  Sigh.  We made the cookies and everything yesterday but I had no time to create a post.  Hopefully this made it in on time…  So, I’ll use few words and mostly pictures this time….

When my daughter found out that I was making these cookies, she really wanted to help decorate.  I used the recipe but added some almond extract to the dough.  I used a lot more lemon juice and no almond extract in the icing.  My daughter and I liked these sugar cookies better than other sugar cookie recipes (and other people’s sugar cookies) from the past. 

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*We had a blast decorating.  It’s extremely time consuming but a lot of fun. The one below was my daughter’s favorite.

September 27, 2010 at 7:14 pm Leave a comment

Daring Bakers – Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.

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~I think that everyone needs to feel like part of something outside of herself.  Things changed drastically last year and so it’s been nice to have so much baking to keep my mind active.  Certainly, there have been many more wonderful people around me and they have been happy to taste.

Vancouver 2006

~This challenge is based on the Nanaimo bar – from British Columbia.  My cousin lives in Vancouver and she has sent me many pictures of her family vacationing in Whistler where the Olympics will be held soon.  I love visiting her because there are so many fantastic places to eat.

~So, this month’s challenge was actually the Nanaimo bars plus an added gluten-free graham cracker.  While I have been interested in trying (and have been trying) to make gluten free, I also think you should understand what the standard is before embarking on something different.  I decided I’d try a few recipes for graham crackers – using graham flour available from Bob’s Red Mill.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of all my attempts.  I can tell you that one of them was such a spectacular flop that it was a little like the recipe author didn’t write any part of the recipe correctly (or maybe scaled it incorrectly from her bakery.)

The Graham Crackers:

1.  I did manage to take pictures of two of my attempts.  The first was interesting because it puffed up in the oven and then fell back – just like our very good gingerbread.  It also reminded people of gingerbread, even though no ginger was present.

2.  The second was a recipe from Martha Stewart’s site.  This one turned out to be the most like a real graham cracker.  The technique was a little fussy; but, because the timing only required minutes rather than hours, it was easier to plan.  My sister thought they tasted like a graham cracker version of butter cookies.  These are the ones I eventually used. The techniques used were different (cutting them into squares first and baking as one large square) and may have also made a difference in the final product.

3.  I also purchased a box of organic graham crackers to compare.  Although I’ve had great luck in the past, this particular brand was not good at all.  I ended up composting it.

What will I do with the leftover grahams? Well, the really good ones may get eaten just straight.  For the others –  S’mores, of course.  Maybe some cheesecake base….

The Nanaimo Bars:

1.  I used the recipe as written with the following choices:  I could not find the Bird’s mix (although  our local store used to carry it).  So, I used organic vanilla pudding by Oetker. (If I were to do this again, I would skip the pudding and use just straight vanilla flavoring.)  I also used Ghiradelli semi-sweet bar chocolate and cocoa.

2.  For the base, you’re asked to melt chocolate, sugar, and cocoa and then add in a beaten egg.  The consistency looks all wrong at first but then suddenly comes together into a nice smooth chocolate paste – if you keep whisking over the heat.  It’s really great.

What did people think? Everyone seemed to like it a lot.  One person thought it tasted like an elaborate fudge bar.  I am certain that the homemade graham cracker is lost in all the flavors of the base.  In some ways, I think you could easily substitute any graham cracker.

This is a really fun, easy recipe, but definitely high in fat and sugar.  Now that I know how these are supposed to taste and have made them a few times, I will likely return and try it with my own gluten free mixture.

{The picture to the left gives you a better side view.  You can see the layers.  Even when you dip and wipe your knife, it’s still hard not to have some bleeding of the chocolate top layer. Each layer has a different texture and flavor.}

January 27, 2010 at 8:27 am 2 comments

Snickerdoodles 2: Butter & Earth Balance

After making 5 batches of Snickerdoodles testing sugars, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know how Earth Balance compared to the regular Crisco/vegetable shortening suggested in most Snickerdoodle recipes.  So, using the same method as the sugar testing, I used all Earth Balance, half-half, and all butter.

*You can see the difference between the Earth Balance and the butter.  Earth Balance looks a lot like Crisco but it’s actually quite different.  First, it’s made with healthy fats.  Second, it has a lower fat content.  Earth Balance is closer (79%) to margarine (80%), while Crisco is 100% fat.  This is also close in water content to butter.

*I used organic cane sugar; however, due to the results in the last test, I decided to whirl it in the food processor after weighing.  All 3 conditions were created using the same ingredients & procedures (down to the same creaming time and baking time).

*The butter version had to be baked 2x, though.  The first batch came out too dark due because the butter fat browned more quickly.  The second batch reduced the baking time by a full minute to achieve the same color.

*You can see the difference between the 3 versions.  The half-half version baked just like the Snickerdoodles in the original test.  It had the characteristic look and flavor.  The all Earth Balance tasted flat and just had less umph overall.  The all butter was fantastic but was more like a sugar cookie with cinnamon or a shortbread with cinnamon — It didn’t have the characteristic look either.

*Bottom line:  If you don’t have butter, I wouldn’t make Snickerdoodles.  While the all butter version tasted great, the all Earth Balance just wasn’t as good.  (On the other hand, when my sister brought them to work, there weren’t many complaints.)

January 20, 2010 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

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