Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Post Holiday "Family" Dinner Party

I really wanted my parents to get to know my "adopted" parents (and sister), so I decided to host a dinner party for everyone. It worked out nicely that Brad was back in Mississippi visiting his family for the holidays b/c my teeny apartment really couldn't hold anymore people! Christy doesn't really eat much so I was really worried what I would serve that she would like, but I was convinced not to let that limit me! I also wanted to try some new recipes (despite that my mom tells me you should never do that with company), so I prepared the following menu:

Spinach and Blue Cheese Gratin w/ Crackers

Mixed Vegetable platter w/ Ranch

Sourdough Rolls
Mixed Green Salad*
Cauliflower Soup

Carrots w/ Garlic and Maple Sauce*

Main Dish:
Parmesan Crusted Chicken w/ Sage Butter Sauce

Lemon Meringue Tarts**
Riesling Wine

* Made by my mom
** Made by Christy

The food was superb (if I do say so myself), and we really enjoyed each other's company!

After dinner we played a rousing round of Pittsburgh Rummy. It was a lot of fun and we all hope to do it again soon!

I am willing to share any of the recipes if you so desire!

Friday, December 19, 2008

On the 7th Day of Baking...

Day 7 -
Another thing Brad has requested me to make was haystack cookies (candy?) as his mom used to always make them for him. I had been given many different variations of this recipe over the years (and could eat them until I made myself sick) but had never made them before. Turns out they are beyond simple, so Brad and I whipped up a quick batch before heading out to dinner with a friend Friday night.

1 package butterscotch chips
3/4 cup peanut butter
2 small packages of chow mein noodles

  • Heat peanut butter in deep pot at medium heat. Then stir in butterscotch chips, reducing heat to low.
  • Remove pot from burner, adding in noodles a little at a time while stirring the mixture.
  • Once all ingredients are coated, spoon out onto wax paper and allow one hour for them to set.

Notes of Interest:
--- A lot of people like peanuts and / or marshmellows added to these. Personally I would have loved some marshmellows but Brad said they were best plain.
--- Whatever you do, keep stirring this mix. If you don't it will burn and be funky. I was actually think doing a double-broiler would have been better than just straight heating this, but I figured I would follow the recipe.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On the 6th day of Baking

Day 6 -
Since a crazy snow storm stopped me from returning home to my kitchen to bake last night, I missed the official day 6 of baking (chronologically anyway). I am, however, back safely and baking with zeal! I was excited to try some new cookies I found on the Food Network (have I ever mentioned how obsessed I am with the Food Network - or perhaps I should say was, as I no longer have cable) that got 4 stars. I was pretty exhausted and a bit skeptical of these since they had coconut, but I dove in anyway.

Toffee Crunch Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 (10-ounce) bag toffee candy bits
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup sweetened flake coconut
1 cup chopped whole, skinned almonds

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla.
  • Beat the eggs slightly; then add to the butter mixture and mix well.
  • In a medium bowl, sift flour, salt and baking soda; then add slowly to the moist ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Mix in the toffee bits, oatmeal, coconut and nuts.
  • Drop dough by the teaspoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Notes of Interest:
--- Out of personal preference I substituted pecans for almonds and it worked just fine.
--- This dough may possibly be the best dough I have ever tasted. I should stop and say this is not implying that anyone should ever eat raw dough with eggs in it. I know this is a very bad habit (and completely grosses Brad out), but alas it is my favorite part of making cookies. Anyhow, this dough is like soft granola bars... with toffee... and brown sugar, and, well, it's pretty much heaven. I was so excited that I had found my new favorite cookie. Sadly, when it cooked it just got too hard (or more literally crunchy) for my preference (I'm a soft fluffy cookie person) -- it still worked for me while the cookies were hot, but once cooled the cooked toffee spreads through the cookie and hardens it up. It is still a great tasting cookie though.
--- Ignore the listed direction to bake these cookies for 15 minutes. Whoever wrote that should be kicked out of the kitchen! I personally believe most baked goods (brownies, cookies, pies) taste best slightly undercooked - so these worked for me about 11 minutes, but if you didn't I wouldn't leave them in any longer than 13 minutes max. The toffee will burn quickly and it will make the cookie rock hard.

*** Pics are coming soon of the last few cookies -- I may have lost my card reader and 1 of my SD cards on my work trip. I hope to update at least this one soon but I have to find another card reader first. =(

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the 5th day of Baking...

Day 5 -
I have become sort of "known" at work for my brownies. I find this amusing as they are so much easier to make than say, homemade Nestle-Toll House chocolate chip cookies, which I used to make for co-worker's birthdays. But, the people have unanimously prefered brownies, so that is what they get. My good friend's birthday is this Saturday, however, he is a celiac (AKA cannot eat wheat). He was kind enough to buy me gluten-free brownie mix to make him some anyway. I also had planned to make a batch of gluten-filled peppermint brownies (from one of my favorite blog sites) for Day 5, but work would end up getting in the way. I found at at the last minute that I had to go on a work trip leaving that evening, so my baking would have to suffer for the night. Therefore, both batches ended up box made. I felt like Milli-Vanilli making boxed baked goods, but there really was no other choice. They did come out fab. though, I must admit.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On the 4th day of Baking...

Day 4 -
I'm not sure how or why it is so much fun to make cookies with cookie cutters and then decorate them, but it really is. It makes me feel a tad juvenille, but I really don't care as I grin from ear to ear and make an absolute mess. It is divine. My only minor complaint was that I made them alone, I really should have waited for Brad to join me as I'm sure he would have enjoyed it too! Oh well, 8 more days of chances for that! (Plus he has some he has requested to join in on.) =)

Alton Brown's Sugar Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

  • Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  • Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color.
  • Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill.
  • Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat.
  • Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time.
  • Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack.

Notes of Interest:
--- Since I didn't have a whole lot of time, I actually didn't make the frosting myself (I know, it should be a sin), but I found the greatest frosting in a little container that worked fine. It also sets SUPER fast, which was good for stacking the cookies for storage, but it was so fast I thought I could ice them all and then come back and add sprinkle them - I was sorely mistaken. I learned my lesson fairly quickly though and was able to fix the rest.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On the 3rd Day of Baking...

Day 3 -

After weeks of drooling over the Peppermint Bark on the cover of the Williams-Sonoma catalog, I almost gave in on a weak moment and ordered some. That is, until I saw the price -- $26 a tin! Holy cow! I mean I know this stuff is truly to die for and peppermint oil/extract is not cheap, but seriously? Especially since I happen to know bark is possibly the simplest thing in the world to make (my dark chocolate pistachio bark is yum-o), I was not going to give in, I was going to make my own.

Layered Peppermint Crunch Bark
17 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
30 red/white striped peppermint candies, coarsly crushed
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 Tbsp. whipping cream
3/4 tsp. peppermint extract

  • Turn baking/cookie sheet bottom side up, and cover with tin foil.
  • Mark a 12 x 9 inch rectangle on the foil.
  • Stir white chocolate in a double boiler until candy thermometer reaches 100 degrees. (chocolate will feel warm to the touch)
  • Remove from water and pour 2/3 cp. melted white chocolate onto rectangle on foil.
  • Using an icing spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cp. crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.
  • Double boil dark chocolate, then stir in peppermint extract and cream until just smooth and melted. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes.
  • Pout bittersweet chocolate mixture over white chocolate rectangle and spread. Refrigerate until very cold and firm, about 20 minutes.
  • Re-warm white chocolate until candy thermometer reaches 110 degrees. Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet layer and spread to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.
  • Lift foil with bark onto work surface; trim edges. Cut bark lengthwise into 2" strips. Using metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto work surface.
  • Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections and each section diagonally into 2 triangles. Keep refrigerated until 15 minutes before serving.

Notes of Interest:
--- The key to any good chocolate baked good (be it pie, candy, cookie, etc.) is GOOD chocolate. I know this seems like something silly, but I have seen too many people buy the cheap chocolate thinking it won't make a difference, but it really does. If you are going to take the time to make it, do it right, buy the quality chocolate.
--- There are a thousand slightly different variations of peppermint bark out there to choose from. Don't be overwhelmed, choose one that suits your comfort level in the kitchen, your personal preference in ratio of white/brown chocolate, and your preference of chocolate sweetness. I personally like the really bitter chocolate since the peppermint and the white chocolate already sweeten the bark so much, but that's just me. I also liked this recipe because it kept the middle layer sort of creamy, almost truffle-esque.
--- I found that cutting the pieces into triangles tended to make the edges crack. Therefore, I resorted to cutting mine in rectangles. I think they still look pretty!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On the 2nd day of baking...

Day 2 -

My "little sister" Christy makes these INCREDIBLE cookies that I finally stole the recipe for. Since I love them so much it was only fair that they made it into the 12 day baking marathon. I must admit, I was a bit afraid of the idea of sour milk going into anything tasty, but I am an avid fan of these cookies (even though I don't really like butterscotch), so I followed the recipe. Christy says if you don't sour the milk the cookies will be too sweet.

German Butterscotch Jumbo Cookies

1 1/2 cp. milk
3 tsp. vinegar
2 cps. sugar
1 cp. shortening
2 eggs
4 cps. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
1 bag (12 oz.) butterscotch chips
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a small bowl combine milk and vinegar. Let sit 5 minutes for milk to sour.
  • In a large bowl, mix together sugar, shortening, vanilla and eggs.
  • In another small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.
  • Slowly mix in the dry ingredients and the milk to the wet bowl.
  • Add butterscotch chips and mix well.
  • Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet.
  • Mix together cinnamon and sugar topping; sprinkle on each cookie.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 13 minutes.

Notes of Interest:
--- The cookies are SO moist and delicious, but truthfully I would add more butterscotch next time. The cookie can handle more.
--- I don't believe these cookies have any true German origins. I believe they were named as such because Christy would make them for her German class in High School!

Friday, December 12, 2008

On the 1st day of baking...

Day 1 -

Brad had been dreaming about Oatmeal Cookies lately, even going so far as picking up the Quaker Oats container (in the supermarket) and telling me that the world's best Oatmeal Raisin cookie recipe was under the lid so we should buy it. He's subtle, eh? Well, not one to resist any baking feat of "worldly" deliciousness, they got chosen as the first days baking. Brad helped me make them, which was fun, and they came out pretty darn well -- once we decided we needed to adjust the oven rack anyhow. The hardest thing may just be getting any left after the 12 days if Brad keeps eating them all!

Quaker Oat's Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
1/2 pound (2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup raisins

  • Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat margarine and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.

  • Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

  • Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Notes of Interest:
--- I decided not to add in the raisins as I know a certain amount of people don't particularly care for them. I really wish I had though, I think it would have helped with the slightly baking soda taste in the cookie.
--- Brad says these were good, but they weren't the recipe he remembered -- will have to try the other one on the Quaker Oats website next time. It is slightly different enough (shortening vs. flour, etc.) that it may be just the key.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

12 Days of Baking

Somehow Christmas time always seems like such a good time to bake. If nothing else it's a great excuse to heat my apartment without turning the heater on! After debating on what to bake this year and being so overwhelmed with great choices, I decided I'd bake them all. Ok, not all of my favorites, but 12. Sort of symbolic, I thought it would be fun! I'm just hoping I didn't bite off more than I can chew! Figured plates of goodies would make great gifts for some of my coworkers, friends, and such... not to mention the added bonus that I get of snagging some for myself along the way!

Wish me luck!