I have to say, when I woke up this morning my mood ring was a filthy brown. I was tired, anxious, and uninspired. It was one of those rare mornings where baking was the last thing that I wanted to be doing. But, being a baker, I sucked it up, strapped on my apron and went about measuring my ingredients. I did something yesterday to strain my right shoulder, so I was sore and achy on top of being a horrible crab. It was the kind of morning that makes you just want to draw the curtains, climb back into bed and pull the covers over your head (hey, look, that rhymes!). On the agenda this afternoon I was testing out a recipe for blondies, after it came to my attention the other day that blondies were actually not apart of my kitchen repertoire. So much so, in fact, that, when asked, I couldn’t actually recollect ever even having eaten a blondie. How could this be possible? I mean, I like brownies. I like chocolate chip cookies. Why not cross breed the two? It’s genius. As I always do when testing a new recipe, over the next couple of weeks I will likely make numerous different blondie recipes (searching for the one which has the most flavor, and tweaking them along the way), before adding it to my menu. Today I decided to make this blondie recipe from the fine people at Everyday Food. And, in a shocking twist, I did something that I very rarely do, and prepared them (gasp!) exactly as written. Well, minus the walnuts, since we all know by now that I am allergic to them (and bitter about it!). In the end, these blondies are quite good. They have a nice chewy consistency, and a good balance of flavors. The brown sugar gives them an almost caramely taste, and the chocolate chunks (which I added in place of chocolate chips), add a nice richness. They are actually very much like eating a big, thick, chewy chocolate chip cookie. Who knew? The good thing about this recipe, too, is that it mixes together all in one bowl, and takes only about five minutes from measuring your ingredients to popping them into the oven. And the best part is that when they are baking the house fills with an absolutely intoxicating aroma (note to self: create baking blondie flavored air freshener!). I am not sure that I ever really got over my moody Tuesday morning blues, but who can possibly be cranky when staring down a big plate of these blonde beauties? Happy eating everyone! Don’t forget to enter for your chance to win my first giveaway- a $50 Williams-Sonoma gift card!!! Time is running out!
Category Archives: Cookies/Bars
Chocolate and peanut butter are a natural flavor combination, and I make a lot of things that incorporate both. Somehow, in some inexplicable, egregious oversight I have never thought of adding chocolate to my peanut butter cookies. Um, hello, where exactly have I been? Such a simple idea. I was watching little mini episodes of Martha Stewart on the in demand portion of my cable last night, and saw her making peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies and nearly fell out of my chair. It is a mystery to me why no one out there in the world has come up to me on the street and slapped me across the face for not making these delicious cookies?! Luckily, because I have a strong belief that fortune favors the prepared, I already had some homemade peanut butter cookie dough in my freezer, so I immediately pulled it out to defrost over night in the fridge knowing that today I would finally resolve this cookie travesty. I always have numerous bags of Nestles chocolate chunk morsels in my pantry, because I like that they, like chocolate chips, retain their shape during baking, and don’t simply melt into the dough. I think that they just make for a more beautiful presentation (and, let’s face it, they are much less expensive than the hand chopped Valrhona chocolate that Martha chose to use). And being a foodie, but not a food snob, I find them to be perfectly delicious. I started with my peanut butter cookie dough and gently kneaded in about a cup and a half of chocolate chunks. The delicious, chewy, nutty cookies, are only enhanced by the sweet, rich, creamy chocolate. In fact, as I type this, I am imagining these cookies used to sandwich together a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. I mean, hot damn! It’s like a whole new world has been opened up before my eyes. It is amazing to me what that one extra, special ingredient can do in a recipe. It can so easily turn the whole thing on its head and ignite the senses. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a plate of cookies calling out my name. Happy Wednesday everyone!
I love coconut. Coconut anything, really. Whether savory or sweet, coconut adds a deliciously sweet, nutty, exotic flavor to just about anything. My family has always been big on the coconut macaroons. While no one in our family made particularly great ones, we often bought them on our expeditions to different little bakeries here and there. The best coconut macaroons I have ever had, hands down, are the preposterously enormous ones sold at the little bakery at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, California (on the drive up from LA). They are huge, but light, almost cakey, and packed with a punch of coconut flavor. I feel like I am forever in search of the perfect coconut macaroon recipe, having tried desperately to replicate the Harris Ranch cookies over the years, to no avail. What I definitely do know is that they add both almond and vanilla extracts, and the coconut they use is ground into little pieces, and not long shreds, which I think makes the texture especially good. Now some people like to dip their macaroons in chocolate. And while I agree that it does make for a beautiful presentation, I find the addition of chocolate to be overwhelming. It is far too sweet, and in the end all it really does is mask all of the great coconut flavor that you have worked so hard to achieve. These last couple of years I have been successfully using the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for their triple coconut macaroons, with a few of my own little twists. The dessicated coconut that I buy is already in fine pieces, but I take the sweetened shredded coconut and grind it in the food processor until it, too, is in nice, small pieces. I then add a teaspoon of almond extract, which the recipe does not call for, and also as much pure coconut extract as I dare (usually about two teaspoons). I have made the recipe without these adjustments, and I have found that while they are perfectly delicious, they don’t really have that punch of coconut flavor that I am really looking for (curse you Harris Ranch and your damn delicious cookies!!!). I prefer the hockey puck shape (which I achieve by using a medium-small ice cream scoop and flattening the mounds out with the palm of my hand) to the little pyramids (which I just don’t have the patience for). I typically also bake my cookies for a couple of extra minutes (about 19 rather than 15) because I like them to get as browned and toasted as possible, which forms a delicious crunchy exterior, which encloses a moist and chewy interior. And while these are not the Harris Ranch macaroons, they are certainly the best I have ever made myself. So for now, these are as good as they get. Happy eating!
[UPDATE: I have been informed that Harris Ranch is under new management and that the coconut macaroons are now less than amazing... this, of course, will not prevent me from dreaming of the perfect macaroons of yore. But I thought I would share this news in case any of you happened to be traveling that way. Have you tasted them recently? What were your thoughts??? - Jacob ]
I am often asked to do hors d’oeuvres tables for events of all different sizes. And, I have to say, there is something about little, bite sized food that really speaks to me. It’s like cupcakes, or individual desserts served in ramekins. Somehow it just feels special. For this particular event, for two hundred, I decided to go with the following menu: shrimp cocktail (because, no matter how simple it is, people really love it), chicken satay with a spicy peanut dipping sauce (which is one of my signature hors d’oeuvres), hummus with pita and assorted crudités, Prosciutto di Parma and cantaloupe, a cheese board [Brie (Fromage de Meaux), Aged Cheddar (Barber's of England), Bûcheron (Chevre du Poitou), and Shropshire Blue (Colston Basset)] , pecan bars, palmiers, and strawberries. Like a little mini meal in one to two bite portions. I usually always forget to bring my camera, or when I do, as was the case last night, I am usually in a rush, and typically only wind up with a few hurried (which is to say blurry)shots. But you get the idea. I find that several things are important when putting together a table like this. First, I like to use big white platters, because we all know that white really makes the food the focus. Second, whenever possible, I like to add height to the table, which just makes it more visually interesting, by adding pedestaled bowls, or elevating a tray or two. Some green leaves (like lemon or galax leaves ordered from your florist) really make a table come alive (I also happened upon some fresh grape leaves, which always make a cheese board look especially delicious). And finally, when designing a menu, choose as many dishes that can be made in advance as possible, leaving items that only really need to be assembled for the day of the event. This makes life a lot easier, and limits the amount of last minute stress. And there you have it. An easy, beautiful, delicious spread for two hundred people. Happy Eating!
Peanut butter cookies are quintessential American food. So charming, with their characteristic cross hatch top, soft, chewy texture, and delicious nutty flavor. I have tried many recipes over the years for peanut butter cookies, and each time I find myself going back time and time again to the old recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook that my grandmother always used. They are exactly what peanut butter cookies should be. Exactly what we all remember. In the recipe it calls for using half shortening and half butter. I use all butter, and I also add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, which the recipe doesn’t call for. They are perfectly delicious, and people really go crazy for them. To take them to the next level, I like to take two cookies and sandwich them together with either honey roasted peanut butter, or even better yet, a decadent peanut butter icing. I love the recipe Ina Garten uses for her chocolate cupcakes. It is creamy, rich, and not too sweet. Spread about a tablespoon or so of the icing onto the back of one cookie, and top it with another. It’s simple, quick, and over the top, which is right up my alley. Enjoy!
I have to say, I make a lot of biscotti. They are pretty easy to whip up, they keep well for a long time, and are nice to have on hand for dipping in coffee in the morning, or in wine for dessert. A couple of years ago, this particular flavor won a blue ribbon at the Oregon State Fair. They are flavored with lots of almond extract (4 tablespoons!), dried cranberries, toasted almonds, vanilla, and a little bit of freshly grated orange zest. Dipping them in white chocolate not only makes them more beautiful, but also adds a nice sweet, vanilla creaminess which is a nice compliment to the other flavors. For me, biscotti is more of a method than a recipe. I don’t really measure the ingredients, but I have made so many of them over the years that I have a good feeling of what the dough should look and feel like. I combine about a heaping cup of sugar, 4 eggs, a splash of vanilla, the almond extract, orange zest, a couple teaspoons of baking powder, a large pinch of salt, and just enough flour to form a dough that is tacky, but no longer sticky. I form two long logs and bake at 350º for about thirty minutes, until they are firm to the touch. Next, after they have cooled completely on a wire rack, I slice the logs on the bias using a sharp serrated knife (I like mine pretty substantial, but you can cut them any size you want). I then return the slices to the oven for about ten minutes, at which point I flip them, and bake them for about ten minutes more. (They should be dried, but not necessarily browned.) Wrapped up in a cellophane bag tied with raffia or a pretty ribbon, I can’t imagine a more perfect hostess gift, that anyone is bound to enjoy and appreciate. Happy Eating!
These are the amazing, the delicious, the irresistible Pecan Bars of happiness. A couple of years ago these bars walked away with a blue ribbon at the Oregon State Fair, and with good reason. They contain all of the wonderful flavors of pecan pie, and then some. The thick fudgey texture, toasted nutty pecans, the sweet caramely filling, the buttery shortbread crust. It really is magical. And while we all have recipes that we will hand out on the street, there are also others that we hold close to our chest, and for me these bars are one of them. It is a coveted recipe that I have made for as many years as I have been baking. And people really go crazy for them. It may make you feel a little bit better to know that while I was granted the ability to produce these fabulous confections, unfortunately, (through some horribly evil, cosmic, voodoo curse) I am allergic to pecans. I therefore cannot, must not give in to their siren song, no matter how delicious they may look, and no matter how good they might smell. These bars can be made up to two weeks in advance, which make them perfect for entertaining. And if you are feeling a little extra indulgent, I like to dip half of each bar in melted dark chocolate. For a treat that is sure to satisfy the sweetest of teeth. Happy eating!
I love a good spicy cookie. But too often the spiced cookies are relegated to the holidays. But, as far as I am concerned, they are equally good on any day of the year. These ginger cookies (which I have spend some time perfecting) are hands down the best I have ever had. No lie. Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, the layers of spices in these cookies hit you in waves, none overpowering the others, with a distinct, almost smoky hit of molasses, and then it finishes off with the slightest heat from the chunks of crystallized ginger. I am telling you, (to borrow a phrase from Paula Deen) they will make you sass yo’ mama! I love how they look, with that perfect, rustic crackled top, and the slight sparkle from their roll in granulated sugar before baking. These cookies are great with tea, or, for an especially decadent summertime treat, sandwich two of these cookies together with vanilla, cinnamon, peach, or chai flavored ice cream. I mean, who wouldn’t love that? Happy eating!
Shortbread dough is amazing. With just one recipe you can make numerous variations (jam thumbprint cookies on their own or with coconut or nuts, pecan shortbread, lavender shortbread, fruit tart shells, etc), and have a whole assortment of sweet treats. People will think that you have slaved in the kitchen all day, and there is no need to set them straight. Here is yet another classic use for shortbread. These linzer cookies are simply rolled out and cut shortbread dough, sandwiched together (after baking) with good quality, seedless raspberry jam. The tops (which are dusted with powdered sugar before sandwiching) can be cut out with any number of different shapes, to allow the jam to peek through the top, making it easy to personalize them for any occasion. They are buttery and sweet, crisp, and crumbly. Pretty enough to be sophisticated, and yet easy enough to throw together any old time. Perfect for a tea party, or after dinner treat with coffee, and people really go crazy for them. Enjoy!
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I think we all have some sort of childhood memory of making thumbprint cookies. They are definitely an all American cookie classic. And why not? They are perfectly charming, delicious, and easy to make. Here I used my favorite all purpose shortbread cookie dough rolled into balls (though you could use sugar cookie dough, if you prefer). I dipped each ball into an egg wash, and rolled them in sweetened shredded coconut. I then made a finger (or thumb) print indentation into each one, and filled them with a half of a teaspoon or so of raspberry jam and orange marmalade (though any jam or jelly you have on hand would be equally delicious: strawberry, blackberry, apricot, fig, grape, etc.). I finished them off by baking the cookies in a 350° oven until the coconut was a beautiful golden brown. Buttery shortbread, sweet jam, and toasted coconut, I mean, what more could a person want? Right? These cookies are perfect with tea or coffee, and make an easy addition to any holiday cookie exchange. I know I love them, and I think you will too. Enjoy!
This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!