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 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, enclosing a moist and chewy interior. And while these are not the Harris Ranch macaroons, they are certainly, by far, the best I have ever made myself. So for now, second best is as good as it gets. Enjoy!
[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 still 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 generous 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. Seriously, I could do it in my sleep at this point. 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 (a shocking 4 tablespoons!), dried cranberries, toasted almonds, vanilla, and 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 a heaping cup of sugar, 4 eggs, a big splash of vanilla, the almond extract (4 tablespoons….which I realize sounds like a shocking amount, but it really fades with baking in this recipe…. trust me), and the zest of one large orange. I then beat the egg mixture for about five minutes until it is pale yellow and forms a ribbon. Meanwhile, I combine the dry ingredients: 3 cups of flour, two teaspoons of baking powder, and a large pinch of salt. Once the egg mixture is at the ribbon stage, slowly add the dry ingredients along with just enough extra flour to form a dough that is tacky, but no longer sticky (which on any given day might be another cup or so), then mix in a heaping cup of whole almonds, and a heaping cup of dried cranberries (which I combine in a bowl before hand and toss with a tablespoon of flour). I form two long, flat logs on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper, 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 lay the slices cut side down on the baking sheet, and return to the oven for about ten minutes at 325º, at which point I flip them, and bake them for about ten minutes more. (They should be dried, but not necessarily browned.) Once cooled, dip one side in melted white chocolate and let in dry on parchment paper. Stored in an airtight container these cookies will last for months. And wrapped up in a cellophane bag tied with raffia or a pretty ribbon, I can’t imagine a more perfect hostess gift or holiday treat, that anyone is bound to appreciate. Enjoy!
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, and buttery shortbread crust combine together into something magical. 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, no matter how good they smell, and no matter how decadent they taste. These bars can be made up to two weeks (or dare I say, even a month?) in advance, wrapped tightly and stored in the refrigerator, which makes them perfect for entertaining. One pan of bars can be cut into anywhere from 20 to 75 pieces depending on how you are serving them (using a sharp chef’s knife, and keeping in mind that the chilled bars cut much more beautifully – that’s how I get those perfect, sharp edges). And if you are feeling a little extra indulgent, you can dip half of each bar in melted dark chocolate; for a treat that is sure to satisfy the sweetest of teeth.
I use a variation of Ina Garten’s Pecan Square recipe, which I’ve tweaked a little over the years, the most important differences being the addition of extra orange and lemon zest into the filling mixture, and the use of salted butter throughout [because no matter what your recipe says, or what they like to tell you on TV, your baked goods are simply going to taste better with salted butter...period... it's what your grandmothers used, it's what my grandmothers both used, and it's what I still use today in everything that I bake....so pick a brand and stick to it (I always use Tillimook because it's made locally), and you won't ever have any problems...I promise you]. The honey, orange and lemon zest really make these bars special, and add a floral like quality to them that is deeply delicious. Know that the pan will bubble over and make your oven smoke (don’t be alarmed!)…. so it is imperative that you line your oven wrack with a thick layer of aluminum foil to prevent any unfortunate oven messes. I also find that the crust needs to be compacted while still hot from the oven (carefully pressed down evenly with the flat bottom of a water glass or metal measuring cup wrapped in paper towels) which I think makes for a better final texture, and allows the bars to slice more beautifully in the end.
Make these. Seriously. Right now….