Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Torie's Cherry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

This is the oatmeal cookie recipe I used on the weekend and I have used many times before. My biggest fans of these cookies are the pastors at Northside Friends who devoured them a few Christmas's ago.
I made them for the first time with my grandma who was very upset at the price of dried cherries and then what little they did for the flavor after shelling out the cash. I use raisins or leave them out altogether, whatever you fancy.
Underbake them for sure and grease the cookie sheet or the toffee pieces will stick and burn. I have yet to make less than 4 dozen with this recipe. Martha Stewart must make huge cookies!

Torie's Cherry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup dried cherries
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
1 cup toffee pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour and baking soda.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice during mixing. Add the egg; mix on high speed to combine. Add the vanilla; mix to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, and mix on low speed until well combined. Add the oats, cherries, chocolate, and toffee pieces; mix to combine after each addition.

4. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of dough onto a lined baking sheet. Repeat, spacing 2 inches apart.

5. Bake cookies until golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Little Black Book

I have very few pet peeves, well mainly three. The first two are fairly basic: lying and gossip. But the third, oh the third!!! No sin is as great as this, in fact it should be on par with murder and ... what are the deadly sins again? Well anyway, the third doesn't have a nice neat name like murder. It is actually an event that I despise. "The unappreciation of the gift of food". Now I know I am no Martha Stewart, Paula Deen or Nigella Lawson (in all her goddess- like glory), but I can cook well enough that my food is edible and, for the most part, down right delish. So would it be too much trouble to say thanks?

This little rant comes from an incident that happened over the weekend and it started with me doing something I naturally do: I give away food. I give it away because I bake and cook so much that hubs and I would be a 1,000 lbs and dying of swollen arteries if I didn't. I also give it away because many - no most - of my family and friends do not like baking or cooking, other than what comes in frozen form from the store. So I figure that in the best interest of both parties (I can feed my addiction to the Kitchen Aid and they can be saved from a slow death due to chemically altered grocery store baked goods) I will bake far more than I need in a household of two and then give away all of the extras. Now normally I find this very rewarding and fun. People are usually pleased to receive and I am equally pleased to hand over my latest creation.

Cut to this weekend where I spent quite a bit of time on my aforementioned banana cake and oatmeal cookies. We were invited over for a party of sorts and I, in my naivete, assumed that a food hostess gift would not go amiss. Half the cake was wrapped lovingly in foil and 2 dozen of the cookies were baked minutes before we left the house and were almost still warm when I arrived at said party. I excitedly handed my offering to the hostess and announced "Banana cake and oatmeal cookies. Your favorite." To wish I received an "oh, ok" and my baking was whisked off into the kitchen and unceremoniously plopped on the kitchen counter. I was shocked, I mean who doesn't at least say thank you? (I have received some terrible gifts, some of them food, in my lifetime and I have never, never, not at least attempted a bit of a thank you and even a tiny compliment.)

It is because of this, and a few other incidents, that I began The Black Book of Unappreciative Baking Receivers. This is for the people who leave my Christmas baking on tables to dry out in their withered plastic wrap, people who expect certain desserts when you offer to bring something and don't allow for any creativity, people who tell you that it looks good but they don't eat sweets so don't bother bringing anything over again, and now the new group: the non thankers. Don't get me wrong, I am not looking for praise or for them to gush and gush and ask for the recipe. I am merely asking for a thank you or a "that was yummy" just so I know my time and ingredients and thoughtfulness did not go to waste on their Nabisco crumbed counter. Is that too much to ask? If I had brought over a bottle of Merlot would that have been honored with a thank you? Maybe it is that people do not like homemade food. Such is their permanent loss because I do not forgive this sin so easily. Poor Rosie is still trying to work her way back out of the pit after a baking event which shall remain nameless.

So there is my rant and I shall now let it go and continue the baking this weekend, only this time I will bestow it upon much more eager recipients - namely Matt and Justin.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Weekend

It was the baking weekend - finally!
Saturday morning we had that yummy french toast just as planned. If you have not been to Prairie Mill Bread in the Northland strip mall, go now. They have amazing bread that manages to taste as good as the day you bought it after two weeks in the freezer. But what I love the most is the Apple Crunch or Cinnamon Swirl. Plain old white bread for french toast just does not cut it anymore. Eggs, and milk is all I use in my batter and then the toast needs to be cut really thick and left on the griddle for a long time. Of course Licia insisted on adding whipped cream to this already calorie laden breakfast and I had to oblige because it is Saturday after all!

Then after all of this yumminess, I decided to get out the Kitchen Aid and finally try a few recipes that I have found on other foodie blogs. The first was a white chocolate blondie for my Sunday lunch party. The idea was to top it with vanilla icecream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce a la Moxies. The blondie was yummy but not so good that I would post the recipe and insist everyone try it. I still want something with a bit more thickness and substance to it. This, ended up with the right flavor, but the texture was off and left me wishing for Moxies. My guests didn't seem to mind though so I will chalk it up to a success.

I also made Torie's Chocolate Chip Cookies, a Martha Stewart staple recipe that I have used for years with great results. This time I left out the dark chocolate chips and raisins and added white chocolate chips along with toffee bits (got to use up those leftover Christmas ingredients somehow!). I just need to remember to underbake them because I hate hard oatmeal cookies.

The final creation and the yummiest of them all was the Banana Cake. Licia has a weakness for anything banana and I thought she would love this cake - plus it gave me a chance to use my new Bundt pan. The pan worked really well and left the golden brown crust on the outside and kept the cake moist with a good crumb. I have included the recipe and pic because it was just so good! It is always nice to have a beautiful Bundt cake as reward for all the hard work. You won't be disappointed with this one and it uses up a common item in my kitchen - brown bananas. This recipe is from Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger.

So there you have it, I slaved in my insufferably hot galley kitchen all evening and ended up with quite a bit to show for it. Enjoy the recipe!


Banana Bundt Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 large eggs
1-1/4 cups vegetable oil
1-3/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
3 oz. chocolate chips
3 ripe bananas pureed

Butter and flour a tube pan or a bundt pan.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt and baking soda).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, oil and sugar. With the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that the sugar has been incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and mix for another 30 seconds.
With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients a bit at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl every now and then to ensure everything is incorporated.
Once the dry ingredients have been added, remove the bowl from the stand mixer and add the pecans, chocolate and bananas. Gently fold them in with a spatula or a wooden spoon. Don't over mix.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes and then test the cake to see if it's done by poking a toothpick or cake tester into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done. If not, bake the cake for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sweet Bribery

As I mentioned yesterday, Matt came over last night for some work on the wedding pics and, in exchange, I served the marinating steak. I must say that Cattleboys for 24 hrs works wonders on any beef but to top sirloin, it is absolute heaven.

These were thick steaks - 1 inch at least. And the smell of them sizzling wafted down to the elevator and, perhaps, to my neighbors. I know I have smelled Indian and Chinese food in the halls so I am certain that my culinary exploits have reached their noses by now. Anyways, the steak turned out raw and wriggling in the middle, seared and grill marked on the outside and just plain unbelievable in every way. I overcame my fear of falling short in the side dish department and decided that nothing beats a baked potato, even if I did cook it in the microwave. (Shame, Emily, shame!) They turned out heavenly, although I am of the mind that anything slathered in sour cream and aged cheddar cheese is delicious in every way. I figure that if a steak house uses baked potatoes, then they can't be all that bad, though not creative in any way. Neither were my veggies which happened to be a few crowns of broccoli and a beautiful yellow zucchini squash. I steamed the broccoli and then added it to a fry pan with the squash, olive oil and a liberal dash of Montreal Steak Spice. I don't usually like this spice on steak, it seems rather predictable, but on veg it really can't be beat.

So I managed to crown my goddess like steak with two quite acceptable and tasty side dishes to make a meal that looked equally appealing. It must have worked its charm because Matt worked on my photos for 3 hours without a break and only witty and wonderful Frasier episodes to keep him company.

Now I will spend tonight grocery shopping for a weekend of entertaining which I have managed to keep fairly simple and, yes, carbohydrate laden because I have been good for far too long and people might begin to talk!

French toast made from the amazing Prairie Mills Apple Crunch bread (I dare you not to love this loaf!), and turkey bacon for tomorrows breakfast with Licia. There will not be a scrap of fruit or vegetable in sight, but the eggs and milk in french toast must count for wholesome nutrient content. Then onto wings for dinner which dear hubs will prepare because only he can mix Chipotle hot sauce and Teriyaki sauce together in theright amounts. As for veg and starch, God only knows. Hopefully something gorgeous will leap out at me from the produce section. Though I doubt it. I don't have that good of a relationship with veggies.

Finally a lunch party on Sunday and that is where the real junk food will debut (as well as my poor neglected Kitchen Aid). I am hoping to keep the veggies and protein to a minimum and fill our stomachs with sweet, sweet carbs. After all, a cheat now and then never hurt anyone.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

And now for something yummy...

Because I love cake and I am forcing myself to not bake in lieu of healthier food, I am just going to post every yummy recipe I want to make but can't. So there!

Ina Garten’s Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake
½ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
¼ cup grated orange zest (from 4 large oranges)
3 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¾ cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups good semisweet chocolate chunks
¼ cup sugar
¼ cups freshly squeezed orange juice
8 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.
2. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the orange zest.
3. Sift together 3 cups flour, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine the orange juice, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately in thirds to the creamed butter, beginning and ending with the flour. Toss the chocolate chunks with 2 tablespoons flour and add to the batter. Pour into the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, make the syrup. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, cook the sugar with the orange juice until the sugar dissolves. Remove the cake from the pan, set it on a rack over a tray, and spoon the orange syrup over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely.
5. For the ganache, melt the chocolate, heavy cream, and coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of the cake.

Why is this so hard?

What is it exactly about downtown dwellers? Are we so scarce for food in this concrete jungle that we have to run people over to get at it? Doesn't it make sense that if the store has an onsite butcher shop, chances are they can cut more steaks?

I went to the Market Co-op last night to pick up dinner for tonight. (Yes, everyone who attended our wedding and will not stop pestering me, YES we will have your studio portraits for you tonight!) So dinner, with Matt, who will eat anything I make and tell me all those ego boosting things I love, and that is why he gets steak tonight.

Normally I love grocery shopping. I get excited and creative and happy all at once. But not when I have to pick out red meat. Beef seems to be the bain of my cooking existence. I think I really need to practice more in order to be less intimidated by its rawness. So I plucked up my courage, called Josh to get the cut name right, and began sifting through the packages on the shelf. And of course, because I couldn't be more confused and stressed than I already was, a man was standing next to me, glaring at my obvious failure to choose a package in under 30 seconds. I know he wanted what I wanted, I know this because he made me so nervous that I finally walked away to search for marinades. I watched him from the aisle - mainly to glare right back at him - and sure enough he picked the first package from the top sirloin stack as if he had been picking meat all his life and I was just too dumb to realize that the top pack was perfect in all its marbled meatiness. So fine, I grabbed my trusty Cattleboys bottle and marched right back to the stack, determined not be stared down again. Sadly, there was another "comfortable with choosing beef" shopper and he too, seemed to be impatient. So I grabbed the pack that looked the least disgusting (and held enough for 3 people) and I bailed out of there as fast as possible to be stared down in the produce aisle. Sometimes I hate urban life!

The beef thing, it's so weird that I would find it difficult. I don't think it should be difficult, it is after all, fairly straightforward to cook. So long as it is not all grey and rubbery, you cooked it right, right? Or not. I think it is because the flavor of beef is so robust that I am concerned my side dishes will not measure up. How can sad bits of steamed broccoli and yellow zucchini drizzled in olive oil possibly sit side by side with yummy tender steak that has been marinating for ages in the fridge under a blanket of Cattleboys? And what exactly must I do to potatoes to make them stand out, all white and bland? See if I could serve the steak triumphantly alone in the center of the plate, I think beef would be my favorite thing. But you can't do that, not when you are trying to follow the insufferable rules of healthy eating. Damn you healthiness! So I now have to come up with two side dishes that will look yummy, and not be cold by the time the steak is ready.

This is why I love to bake, because a brownie in the middle of a plate right now, would not be amiss.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chocolate Coconut Buttercream Cupcakes

Of all the yumminess in the baking world, I think cupcakes are pretty far up the list. This flavor is our favorite. It was discovered while trying Crave in Kensington for the first time. Their cupcakes are heaven and big and expensive. So if this is anything like that one was, then Josh will love me forever and I won't need Crave anymore... and all that from a cupcake.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cupcakes
24 regular cupcakes / 350 degree oven
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1-1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds after each addition.
3. Measure the flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, and espresso powder into a medium sized bowl and whisk to combine.
4. Measure the milk and vanilla into a measuring thing.
5. Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar and beat to combine. Add about a half of the milk/vanilla and beat to combine. Continue adding, alternating between dry and wet and finishing with the dry.
6. Scoop batter into cupcake cups about 3/4’s full. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting
1-1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1-1/2 cups coconut, sweetened flaked
1. Beat butter briefly, scrape bowl.
2. Add the sifted powdered sugar and milk. Beat until smooth.
3. Add coconut and mix until combined.

Tossed salad and scrambled eggs...

We made dinner last night. Not that we don't make dinner most nights. No, we are not that "dinkish" in our downtown world that we would order out every night. But lately it seems that a quick and easy dinner is in order. And who really could object to poached eggs on toast? I think that Josh makes possibly the best poached eggs ever. Piercing it with your fork so that the gooey lava yellow center spills out.... Pure heaven!
So I had decided to be very organized on Monday and marinate some salmon. Sadly for me, the teriyaki sauce was down to the few tablespoons that tend to stick to the bottom of the glass bottle. Rather than run across the street to Co-op and remedy the problem, I decided to build the marinade in the bottle. A little lime juice, a little orange juice, and the last of the maple syrup. Shake shake shake, add some minced garlic, pour into freezer bags. It looked terrible and smelled wonderful and my only hope was that Josh's grilling skills would save it.
Last night then, we grilled all 4 filets with the idea that I could build the leftovers into lunch for today. (Mandarin oranges, romaine lettuce, slivered almonds and Krafts new peanut dressing - thank you Rose for suggesting it). Let me be the first to say that salmon on the grill is one of those foods that instantly puts me into a better mood plus I think it is quite healthy - bonus!
A quick-cook couscous as a starch, but what for a veg???? Thank goodness that squash manages to stay relatively fresh in the fridge for weeks on end. A little butter, a little drizzled honey and about 45 minutes of roasting.
So after very little prep, but a fair bit of waiting, healthy dinner was served and enjoyed and left us feeling very full. Sometimes goodness is worth the wait!

In other news, this is almost the end of week 3 of the healthy kitchen. January 2nd I spent purging my cupboards and freezer of anything prepackaged and deamed "junk" by Paul Plakas on "X-Weighted". No more packaged hot chocolate, chips, pop, icecream, cookies and on and on it goes. Instead I am now really trying to make apples a snack. However, I don't think apples were intended as a snack, more a healthy food that moms make you eat before dinner. And who would have thought that I would have so many colors and exotic veggies in my crisper? Certainly not me. I don't like veg at the best of times and definitely not at lunch when Wendy's would suffice. But I made us try Kale and squash and zucchini and mushrooms, peppers and onion sprouts. I think it is all staying, at least for now. We both feel better and we are getting so much more creative in the kitchen. Maybe I can learn to enjoy cooking as much as I enjoy baking. Nah....

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

And into the blogging world....

Of all the things I thought I would never do, having a blog is at the top of the list. I love blogs - I love reading blogs, bookmarking blogs to check several times a day and searching for blogs when I am bored. But I think a blog is a bit like airing dirty laundry, something you do when you are completely ok with being vulnerable to the entire online world. That is something I am not ok with. I am a self confessed internet lurker. I belong to several chatrooms, blog lists etc and yet I never sign in or leave comments or engage in anything remotely interactive. It is so much more fun to be a voyeur in ones head than on the screen.

This all being said, I have now learned two things about blogs. One, they are extremely useful to other people who are searching for random reviews of things I love - things like restaurants, books and magazine articles. Two, they are very therepeutic for the writer, much like a journal only somehow more accessible.

So I have set aside all gut instinct that says blogs are for the shameless and decided to dive in. It seems very daunting (esp. the bits about adding digital camera photos!!!) but I think that this is something the internet world is almost demanding of its participants - so I will follow, probably like a lamb to the slaughter. That, or I will get quickly bored of this entirely, and will not log on again - or lose the password.