Monday, November 30, 2009

Root Beer Float Cookies

Two great things that  usually do NOT go very well together for me are boredom and imagination. However, what with the weather getting colder today and the rain, I didn't want to go out to the store. And I had just about had it with doing any more cleaning. So having played computer games until my brain fell asleep, I figured I might want to do some baking with the vague intention of bringing some into my coworkers (I keep it vague in case they're really really good in which case I usually do not want to share or really really bad).

So having a taste for something root beer related, I googled for root beer cookies, with part of me hoping that I might be the only person to have ever thought of something like this. Which did not happen as I came across several recipes for the root beer cookies, including  a lovely recipe by KC over at Grandma's Desserts for Root Beer Float Cookies. Which was okay with me. I might like a bit of culinary glory but I like quick guaranteed results when I gotta have my cookies and I gotta have them now.

Now considering I did not have the patience to let the butter completely soften plus having forgotten to set the timer when I put the cookies into the oven, these came out tasting pretty wonderful but a  little on the crunchier chewier side than I normally like with my cookies. Also, I cheated a bit on the frosting and mixed just the powdered sugar, a dash of milk and root beer extract for a glaze instead of a traditional frosting. And to be on the safe side, and avoid a full out cookie frenzy later, I just made 8 cookies, putting the rest of the dough into the fridge to chill before freezing them to make at a later day. My picture does not do them justice...they're actually a very nice looking cookie.

These hit the spot on a nasty weather day for sure.

Root Beer Float Cookies
Preheat oven to 375*

1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tsp. root beer extract
1 tsp. vanille
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp. half and half
4 tsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. root beer extract

In a bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, butter, buttermilk, eggs, root beer extract and vanilla.Combine until well blended.Add flour, baking soda and salt. Bet until a soft dough forms. Drop dough onto prepared cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool complete before frosting.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Dessert: Cream Cheese Flan

I'm not a pumpkin pie kind of girl. I like it in muffins and loafs but that's about it. So left to my own devices, this years thanksgiving dessert ended up being Cream Cheese Flan which I found in one of my cookbooks.

Simple. Sublime. Sweet.

The only problem with it is that with any custard based dessert, it takes awhile to chill. Making it is nice and simple...just throw everything in the blender, then into the baking dish and let it go for around 40 minutes. Most times, I cheat by throwing it in the freezer for awhile to speed up the process. Rather than deal with trying to get the sugar syrup poured into the individual ramekins, I tend to go with making the large flan for convenience sake.

Of course, now that I've made it, I'm thinking about the little tweaks I wish I'd done with it, but that's another day and another flan.Also, come to to think of it, I should have read the recipe a little more closely as it had been awhile since I'd made it and had forgotten how long to bake it for.

Still, slightly underdone or not, it's quite yummy and for me the perfect thanksgiving dessert.

From Nestle Best Ever Cookies.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (12 oz can) Evaporated Milk
1 1/4 cups (14 oz can) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, softened and cut into chunks
5 eggs

Place sugar in small, heavy duty saucepan. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes or until sugar is dissolved and golden. Quickly pour into eight 10 oz custard cups (or a 2 quart casserole dish). Tip cups or dish to coat bottoms and sides with sugar syrup.

Place evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and cream cheese into food processor or blender and cover. Process until smooth. Add eggs and process until well mixed. Pour mixture into prepared container(s). Place in baking pan and fill with hot water to 1 inch depth.

For custard cups, bake in 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Remove to wire racks to cool. If using the casserole dish, bake for 60-70 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean. Cool in refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Invert cups or dish onto platter and serve.

Friday, November 27, 2009

BB: Almost (but not quite) Company Pot Roast

I have a confession.

I completely forgot about this challenge which is being hosted this month by Lisa at Lime in the Coconut until after I'd woken up Thanksgiving Day.

So when I came across another members post on it, I sort of panicked because I suddenly remembered that I'd taken the roast out last week to thaw in the fridge with the intention of cooking  last weekend. .


Since this all went down Thanksgiving day, it meant I had to make do with what I had. And hope that the pot roast was still edible and wouldn't give me food poisoning. Granted I need time off from work but I have to draw the line somewhere.So I threw everything (or close to it) in the crockpot, turned in on high, hoped for the best and told myself that  if tasted at all strange out it went. My rationalization at the time, sleep deprived as I was on Thanksgiving day, was that in the 1800's people managed to survive eating meat without refrigeration..So therefore, mine should be okay.

It should be said that the tireder I am, the more illogical my rationalizations become.

Also, considering I'd spent an unprecedented $19.00 on the roast (I've never spent that much on meat in my life) I was not about to let it go to waste if there was any way of salvaging it. So after a quick sniff test to see if I passed out, I figured I'd give it a shot. 

So first things first. Let's talk about the substitutions which is why this is almost but not quite company pot roast.

Since all of this went down on Thanksgiving day and I am the person who tries not to go out on the day of T-Day due to the potential for craziness and crazy folks at the store, I had to go looking around the kitchen to see what I actually had and make substitutions as needed.

Lots of substitutions.

Well, maybe not a lot. But I didn't have celery so I substituted celery salt figuring it was close enough (dangerous words for me in the kitchen). And I didn't have leeks, so I had to omit that altogether. Scratch the home made chicken stock as I had some packaged stuff at home. Omit the chicken bouillon cube as I don't usually have that (make that never) in the house. And omit the tied part of the pot roast as I didn't have any kind of twine at home.Also, no fresh thyme or rosemary so I used dried spices sprinkled in the sauce mixture instead.

Actually come to think of it, I think I intended to put dried spices in but forgot about it. And just to be on the safe side, I threw in a large squirt of chili sauce to give it some kick.

What was the most amazing (to me at least) was how good this made the carrots taste good. I have never been a carrot girl. Apart from carrot cake, I don't eat carrots. I eat around them in every recipe. So this is nothing short of a culinary miracle for me if it can get me to voluntarily eat carrots.

I do feel sorry for Mr. Data right now as the smell of this make him yodel for food and I could not give him any due to the onions in the recipe. Right now he's sulking while I sit typing with a full tummy.

I'll have to figure out a way to make this up to him as this was a really good pot roast.

Now what was really great was having the next day off after making this  and catching an episode of Ina's TV show on food network where she happened to cook the company pot roast so I could watch it and learn from some of my mistakes and short cuts. Definitely need to make this again.

Company Pot Roast - Ina Garten "Back to Basics"

  • 1 (4 to 5-pound) prime boneless beef chuck roast, tied
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • Good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
  • 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 cups good red wine, such as Burgundy
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in puree
  • 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 3 branches fresh thyme
  • 2 branches fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Pat the beef dry with a paper towel. Season the roast all over with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Dredge the whole roast in flour, including the ends. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the roast and sear for 4 to 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and sear the other side and then turn and sear the ends. This should take 4 to 5 minutes for each side. Remove the roast to a large plate.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onions, celery, leeks, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned. Add the wine and Cognac and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, bouillon cube, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Tie the thyme and rosemary together with kitchen string and add to the pot. Put the roast back into the pot, bring to a boil, and cover. Place in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is fork tender or about 160 degrees F internally. Turn the heat down to 250 degrees F after about an hour to keep the sauce at a simmer.

Remove the roast to a cutting board. Remove the herb bundle and discard. Skim off as much fat as possible from the sauce. Transfer half the sauce and vegetables to a blender or a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree until smooth. Pour the puree back into the pot, place on the stovetop over low heat, and return the sauce to a simmer. Place 2 tablespoons flour and the butter in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork. Stir into the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened. Taste for seasonings. Remove the strings from the roast, and slice the meat. Serve warm with the sauce spooned over it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My New Baby(Computer) Is Home Now

I bought my old work computer home last night after a work function and I'm a little worried about us living together. Mostly because of the fact that I kind of let the internet take over my life for awhile over the past year. I've posted about that before with spending way too much time online and nothing to show for it. Most of the time, it was random browsing and nothing that I needed to know at all.

So I'm approaching this whole issue of letting the computer back into my life with some reasonable concerns. Especially since moderation has never really been one of my big skills in life with my all of nothing mentality at times.

On the positive side, I can blog with complete freedom and not worry about coworkers coming up behind me wanting to know what I'm doing or trying to come into work early to blog. So there's freedom. And there's the fact that there will be times that I can work from home instead of going into the office and save myself some CTA aggravation as well as a few hours of travel time.

I think I've learned my lessons over the past month of being computerless. I now know I can wake up and get ready for work and get to work on time without a computer. My mind is a lot happier now that I've used some of that wasted time and begun to read more.

Mr. Data has already climbed over the computer once today which does my heart good.

Happy thanksgiving to all. I'm off to search my cookbooks for biscuit recipes for thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Things to Break out the Happy Dance For

This past week has been busy with work so I haven't had a chance to do a lot of baking. Which means I need to think (gasp) when I'm blogging and not just ramble as I'm inclined to do when feeling slightly overwhelmed.

Fortunately, apart from an incident with one of my neighbors where I had the horrifying insight that I was TURNING INTO MY MOTHER (not a good thing in this case) life has been fairly good outside of that. So in order to consolidate energy and time I'm going to do one giant happy dance for everything that has been going well :
  1. Realizing that I only paid one bill late last month instead of 2 bills so I've saved myself a $39.00 late fee :)
  2. Finding out that I deducted the two bills from my checkbook twice so I actually had about 100.00 more than I had thought I did :)
  3. Being told last week that I no longer have to report to the director who seems to feel it is his destiny to make my life miserable (and yes, I'll accept that I'm complaining major time on that one) :)
  4. Moving desks with one of my coworkers so I have a lot more privacy now :)
  5. Getting a new computer at work and being able to take my old one home to use there :)
  6. Being told it was okay to take Wednesday off so I have a 5 day weekend to look forward to :)
  7. Mr. Data, Kitty Extraordinaire, has gained a few ounces back so he's up to 8 lbs again :)
As weeks go, this was a very good week indeed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cake Slice: Burnt Sugar Cake

There are three words that up until today have never been uttered by me.

"Too Much Sugar."

I have a massive sweet tooth so when this recipe came up at "The Cake Slice" I was all for it. And in the cakes defense, I really liked the cake portion of it. The frosting, however, was way too much for me.

This is greatly upsetting to a sugar/frosting junkie like myself. Back in the day, I could happily eat frosting out of the can and skip the cake altogether. So maybe this is just a cake of my taste buds growing up and leaving the rest of me behind.

I did modify the recipe slightly as I was not up for having that much cake lying around the house waiting to attack me so I made only a single layer cake. Also, I should confess that the bottom layer didn't cook properly and caved in the center before falling apart when I tried to pop it out of the pan after cooling.

I might make the cake again using a different frosting considering the extra steps it would have to be for a special occasion. It's good but very very sweet.

November’s Cake: Burnt Sugar Cake

(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)

For the Cake
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1¾ cups sugar
4 eggs
½ cup Burnt Sugar Syrup (below)

For the Burnt Sugar Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water

For the Burnt Sugar Frosting
3¾ cups confectioners sugar
½ cup Burnt Sugar Syrup (above)
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 – 3 tbsp evaporated milk or normal milk

Method – Burnt Sugar Syrup

Heat the sugar in a cast iron skillet or another heavy bottomed pan with high sides. Heat over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts into a clear brown caramel syrup. It should be the colour of tea. Gradually add the boiling water, pouring it down the sides of the pan so that if the syrup foams and bubbles up, you should be protected.

Continue cooking, stirring often, until the water combines with the syrup and turns a handsome brown syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Store the cooled syrup in a sealed jar if not using straight away.

Method - Cake

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and stir with a fork to mix well. Stir the vanilla into the milk.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer at high speed for 2 – 3 minutes, until they are well combined. Stop now and then to scrape the bowl down. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well each time. Pour in half a cup of the burnt sugar syrup and beat well. Add a third of the flour mixture and about half of the milk, beating at a low speed, until just incorporated. Mix in another third of the flour and the rest of the milk. Finally, add the remaining flour.

Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake at 350F for 20 to 25 minutes until the cakes are golden brown, spring back when touched gently in the centre and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for15 minutes. Turn out the cakes into the wire rack to cool completely.

Method – Burnt Sugar Frosting
In a large bowl, combine the confectioners sugar, the burnt sugar syrup, butter and vanilla. Beat with a mixer at medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl now and then to bring the ingredients together. Add 2 tablespoons of the milk and continue beating until the frosting is thick, soft, smooth and easy to spread. Add a little more sugar if it is thin, and a little more milk if it is too thick.

To Assemble
Place one layer, top side down, on a cake stand or serving plate. Scoop about ¾ cup of the frosting onto the cake. Spread to the edges and place the second cake layer over it, top side down. Frost the sides of the cake, and then the top until it is evenly covered.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cooking Italy: Spinach Soup

I like spinach.

Sometimes. Usually not cooked as it has a chewiness that I'm not very fond of.

So, I tried to keep an open mind about this recipe.

It didn't start out well though when I burnt the onions sauteeing them and figured it shouldn't be too terribly bad in the recipe if I tweaked with it a little bit. Which worked out well even if it did take more tweaking then I had anticipated. I ended up adding another 1/2 stick of butter, garlic, and a lot of cheese before it covered up the bitterness of the burnt onions.

The crostini was another matter. I rushed it entirely, just pouring a huge dollop of olive oil in the pan and throwing in the crostini, skipping heating the pan altogether. Also i used brown bread which made it a lot harder to tell if they were toasting so half my crostini tasted okay...the other half tasted like I'd just chugged a bottle of olive oil.

Overall, the soup turned out fairly okay. I'm not a huge spinach person so I don't see making this one a lot but I think I would trot it out fairly frequently for my sister who would love it.

Spinach Soup
from Marcella Hazan "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"
(2) 10 oz packages frozen whole leaf spinach, thawed
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
2 tbsp chopped onion
1 cup canned beef broth diluted by 1 cup water
2 cups milk
Whole Nutmeg
5 tbsp freshly grated parmiagiano-reggiano cheese
Home made Crostini

Squeeze moisture out of spinach when it has thawed and chop coarsely.

Put the butter and onion in a soup pot and turn on the heat to medium. Saute the onion until it becomes colored a pale gold. Add the thawed spinach and saute in the uncovered pot for 2-3 minutes, stirring to coat well.

Add broth, milk and a tiny grating (no more than 1/8 tsp) of nutmeg and bring to a simmer, stirring from time to time.

Add the grated parmesan, stirring it thoroughly into the soup, tasting and correcting for salt and turn off heat.

Ladle into individiual plates or bowls and serve crostini on the side.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cooking Italy: Pan-Broiled Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives

Thanks to general crankiness and an all-around unorganized life, I'm a little late in posting this recipe for Cooking Italy.

Definitely worth the wait.

The one thing that gave me the culinary creeps was the greek black olives. I'd accidentally eaten them before and generally shunned them as I preferred the regular black olives. So part of me was definitely tempted to skip that ingredient.

My other big concern was in flattening the steaks. My gift in life is defnitely not in cooking meat to the right consistency. I'm either overdone or underdone. No middle of the road for me with cooking (or in life in general).

I was totally surprised in how great this tasted. And how easy it was to make. Of course it helped that I went with diced tomatoes and jarred garlic which left it still very tasty. I also was pleased by how good the greek olives worked with this recipe (a lot more than I had anticipated).

 Pan-Broiled Thin Beef Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives
Marcella Hazan "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

1/2 medium onion sliced very thin
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled & sliced very thin
2/3 cup canned Italian Tomatoes, coarsely chopped with juice
1/4 tsp dried oregnao (or 1/2 tsp fresh)
Black Pepper
1 dozen black greek olives pitted and quartered
Vegetable Oil
1 lb boneless beef steaks, flattened thin and notched

Put the sliced onion and olive oil in a suate pan, turn on the heat to medium low and cook the onion, letting it gradually wilt. When it becomes a pale gold, add the garlic. cook the garlic until it becomes very lightly colored, then add the tomatoes with their juice and the oregano. Stir thoroughly to coat well, adjust heat so that the tomatoes cook at a steady simmer and cook for about 15 minutes or until the oil floats free of the tomatoes. Add salt, a few grindings of pepper, and the olives, stir thoroughly and cook for 1 more minute. Turn heat down to minimum.

Heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, until it is hot, then quickly grease the bottom with a cloth towel soaked in vegetable oil (I omitted this and just sprayed with olive oil). Put in the beef slices, cooking both sides just long enough to brown them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper as you turn them.

Transfer meat to the pan with the tomato sauce and turn it 2 or 3 times. Put the steaks on a warm serving platter, turning out the sauce over them and serve at once.

** The recipe can be completed up to this point several hours or even a day in advance. Stop short of of putting in the olives, adding them only after reheating the sauce, before it is combined with the steaks.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

MSC: Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes

This month's recipe for the MSC (Martha Stewart Cupcake Club) was hosted by Karen over at Karen's Cookies, Cakes & More.

Awesome selection.
I had thought when I first went into this recipe that it would be pretty similar in taste to last month's pumpkin muffins. But I think, after having made these, that I would use this recipe more than I would last months.

Now the marshmallows definitely push this over to the winning side for me. I am a marshmallow junkie at heart. Give me a jar of marshmallow fluff and I would be a very happy woman. And give me a spoon and a jar of marshmallow fluff and I would be a very happy and full woman.

I did cheat a little with the recipe and used canned sweet potatoes instead of baking and mashing fresh sweet potatoes. Also, i went with marshmallow fluff for the top instead of toasting marshmallows. I also tried putting some marshmallows in the batter once I'd poured it into the cups with some mixed results. Although that might have been due to slightly overfilling the liners as well as not pushing the marshmallows further down into the batter for some of them.

I also did try to make the candied pecans with limited success but that was due to not letting the sugar syrup fully carmelize and dipping them in the syrup a little too soon.

Overall, a great recipe for the fall. I'm looking forward to next month's recipe!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese (From a A Former Kraft Mac&Cheese Gal)

I know it's not good for me but I've gotta say that Kraft is still winning the mac and cheese contest right now. I tried hard to like this recipe. I even had it several days as leftovers hoping the flavors would deepen. But as taste goes, this recipe was so mild as to barely register on my junk food influenced taste buds. However, that glow in the dark shade of orange with Kraft is a little scary as an adult so I'm going to have to try again with another recipe. I haven't found it the actual recipe yet, but Ina had made mac and cheese on her show that involved 3 types of cheese (including blue cheese, my fave) and bacon so that's has got to be my mac and cheese destiny.

Still, gloating just a little that I have made homemade mac and cheese. Okay, so I'm strutting around a little bit. Trying all of these new recipes does provide a boost to my self esteem, proving that I'm capable of a lot more than I used to give myself credit for with cooking. Hey, if I can overcome my fear of egg whites, I can do anything.

Except for liver. I'm not that brave.

 Macaroni and Cheese
from "New Recipes from Quilt Country" by Marcia Adams

8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) butter
3 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups milk
3 tbsp worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp ground dry mustard
2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely miced fresh parsley
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 2 quart flat baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large saucepan, over high heat, bring water to a boil and then add the macaroni and cook until tender, about 6 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and pour the macaroni in prepared dish; set aside.

In medium saucepan, melt 4 tbsp butter, add flour and whisk and cook over low heat until mixture bubbles.  Add milk all at once, plus onion, worcestershire sauce, celery salt, pepper and mustard.  Increase the heat to medium and continue whisking until mixture bubbles up in center. Add cheese gradually and return to a boil, whisking smooth.

Pour sauce over macaroni & mix well. Combine parsley and bread crumbs, sprinkle over top of macarconi; dot with remaining butter. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, 30-35 minutes. Serve hot.

Back on the (Weight Loss) Wagon

So, I have had a bit of a backslide with my weight these past few weeks. I can honestly blame it mostly on feeling sorry for myself. My way of dealing with stress and the issues I can't fix at work was to eat. At one point, I was back up to 193.5 lbs which was horrifying as I was over halfway back to being where I was before.

And then it hit me. The last time I successfully lost weight was when I was doing this weight loss contest at Kmart last year and lost about 35 pounds. Now part of the reason I was doing so well was because I was using slimfast for some meals instead of junk food, but I'm still convinced that the primary reason was because they gave out rewards. Every time I met goal, I got rewards. Some of it was stuff I would never use like microwaver steamer bags (I don't have one), but for the most part, I got some pretty good stuff like conditioner or a exercise dvd or a pedometer and it was great motivation to stay on track because I wanted the rewards.

Then it hit me.

I could do the same thing myself. Except this time, considering my minor obsession/hobby of cooking, I would use bake ware as my rewards.  For every 5 pounds I lost, I get to buy myself something that I could technically live without. Cookbooks, cake pans, kitchen blowtorches etc etc.I spent an hour the other day going through my King Arthur Flour Catalog and picking out rewards :)

This may just be  the missing piece I needed in the weight loss puzzle. I've already picked up my first reward for losing 5 pounds - a new cake pan. Just in time for a recipe I've got to make for The Cake Slice group on the 20th.

Oh happy dance. 5 days of eating better behind me. 5 pounds of junk food weight off me (okay, a little water weight in there too).

Life feels a lot more balanced today with some discipline in my life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

BB: Creme Brulee (Part Deux) - Bruleeapalooza!

So two days after making creme brulee for the first time at home, I discover I'd be making it again for the Barefoot Bloggers.

I guess practice truly does make perfect. Although in a way, familiarity may also breed a slight bit of culinary contempt as I think creme brulee has been one of my all time favorites because I don't have it very often. Eaten it several days in a row takes away some of the special exclusivity that made it so appealing to have whenever I went out. Ina's version is great, actually easier than the previous recipe I tried and tastier too. But after having had creme brulee several days in a row, I realized it wasn't giving me the same sense of satisfaction. It still tasted great, but there's something to be said for moderation. Now if only i could get this to happen with cookies and cakes and all other sorts of sweets!

Biggest problem with making it was a flaw in my technique and nothing to do with the recipe. Note to self: pour the cream a lot slower next time. I found after pouring the mix  into the ramekins that I had traces of what looked like scrambled egg at the bottom of the bowl . 

from Ina Garten's "Barefoot in Paris"

1 egg
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar + 1tbsp sugar for each ramekin
3 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp Grand Marnier

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

My $60.00 Oops

Realized this morning once I got to the library that I'd miscalculated the date two of my bills were due.

As in, I now have two bills that are late and am dealing with late charges next month.

Not exactly the sort of thing that puts me into a good mood to start out my week, but it is my own fault. I'd forgotten about the one until this weekend. And the other I had plenty of time to pay it online at work but kept putting it off until I forgot about that one as well.

Puts a bit of a damper in my goal to pay off my bills but it's something to learn from. I can't keep living a disorganized life mentally and physically and not expect it to catch up with me.

So it's probably about a $60.00 mistake to learn from. Ouch.

On the positive side, I did hunker down at home this weekend and cleaned my house. I now have a clean living room and kitchen and it's amazing how much better I feel.  Although I was motivated more by staying warm once the weather turns cold again as I had to clean in order to feel comfortable letting our maintenance guys in to fix the thermostat as the knob broke off last week.

Now I need to get myself back out into the world and start socializing again as I'd let that slide for awhile when things were so busy at work. I have a feeling that I'd be a little less crabby and complain a lot less if I had a life outside of work. It's hard to rely on them as being a major point of social contact without resenting them for it later.And that's not fair to them or me.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Apple Butterscotch Cookies

This is probably not the best recipe to make if one is borderline psycho pms'd because you will, as I was, be gobbling these down off the rack and then when you're thinking you can't possible eat one more bite, realize that you are in love with the butterscotch frosting. And not only are you in love with the butterscotch frosting, you somehow find the room to eat another 4 cookies because the frosting makes them impossible to resist.

It's actually a fairly easy recipe to make all things considered but bear in mind this is a sticky dough when you're dropping it on the cookie sheet so they won't be perfectly formed. Also I made the glaze a little thicker so it was more of a frosting and skipped the walnuts in the frosting (mostly because I forgot them).

These are really rich cookies, so in theory a little goes a long way. And by a long way, I mean that I will be bringing the rest of them to work tomorrow with me to get them out of the house and far away from my greedy little hands.

Butterscotch Apple Cookies
from "Nestle's Best-Ever Cookies"

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1 egg
1/2 cup apple juice
1 2/3 cups (11 oz pkg) Butterscotch Morsels, divided
3/4 cup (1 small) unpeeled, grated apple (I used diced)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (divided)
Butterscotch Glaze (Recipe Follows)

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Beat brown sugar and butter in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in egg. Gradually beat in flour mixture, alternating with apple juice. Stir in 1 1/2 cups morsels, apple and 1/2 cup walnuts. Drop by slightly founded tablespoons onto lightly greased baking sheets.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand for 2 minute; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Spread with butterscotch glaze; sprinkle with remaining walnuts. Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

For Butterscotch Glaze:
Melt remaining morsels and 2 tbsp butter in small heavy duty saucepan over lowest possible heat. Remove from heat; stir in 1 cup sifted powedered sugar and 1 to 1/2 tbsp apple juice until smooth.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Living a Complaint Free Life Challenge

I'm starting to realize that I am a complainer.

I don't always do it out loud, because I am actually more introverted by nature. But sometimes it feels like my brain is going 24/7 with worrying or fretting or just outright complaining.

Now I found a book I'd picked up somewhere awhile back about living a complaint free life. Which has a very intriguing concept. You start out wearing something on one of your wrists, like a bracelet or whatever, and every time you catch yourself complaining you move the bracelet or whatever to the other wrist in order to raise a conscious awareness of when you are complaining.

The promise of the book is that you will see big changes in your life just by breaking the habit of complaining for 21 days. If you do complain and have to move the bracelet, the challenge starts over again from that point.

Now I can definitely go for this. I've seen things start to fall apart at work, my weight start to creep up again and overall mood scatter all over the place since I starting picking at everything that was wrong in my life. What the boss did or didn't do. What my coworkers did or didn't go. What my family did or didn't do. My noisy downstairs neighbor, the neighbor who throws his cats on the balcony for several hours in the morning despite the weather.

In a nutshell, I think I've been complaining about pretty much EVERYTHING. And I do NOT like the person I've become in the last month.

So I see nothing to lose by taking a challenge like this.

Although I have to disagree with the author on one point as he says this challenge is to watch the complaining that comes out of your mouth and says at this point, thoughts are free and don't count as dropping the challenge and having to start all over again. As an introvert, I tend to think a lot more than I speak anyway. And as long as those thoughts stay bouncing around in my head, it's just as damaging as if I was saying them out loud. Because I may not be complaining to other people but I am most definitely complaining to myself every time I indulge in one of those critical thoughts.

So I'm starting day 1 today. And for whoever reads my posts, if you catch something that sounds like I'm complaining, please let me know. I need to change my life and this is where it needs to start.

Skillet Puff Pancake

I may at last have found a pancake recipe that is foolproof for those mornings when I'm tired and prone to grabbing baking soda instead of baking powder.

To top it off, it's yummy.

I have a friend who always orders these when we  go out to breakfast but I was never tempted to try it until today.

In my case, laziness is the mother of invention. One bowl, one pan, leave it alone and it's ready to serve. Just my style for pancakes. The original recipe did call for 2 oz/4 tbsp but like I said, mornings are not my thing so I read it as 2 tbsp butter. Still very good and it was very cool to pull it out of the oven all puffy and browned.

Skillet Puff Pancake
Adapted from Fine Cooking's Sweet Cakes: Holiday Baking Issue 

2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
dash salt
dash of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
2 tbsp butter

Place oven proof skillet in oven and heat to 450 degrees. Once oven has heated, place butter in skillet and allow it to melt. Meanwhile, mix eggs, flour, milk, salt and spices in bowl and mix well. Pour batter into skillet and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes. Drizzle with syrup and serve immediately.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spicy Maple Cookies

In my valiant quest to bake but not break the bank with buying new cookbooks since life without the internet at home, I've been resorting to flipping through my old cookbooks. I wasn't sure what I wanted to make but I knew there had to be maple involved with it. Just because sort of thing.

I wasn't quite sure how subsituting maple for the molasses called in the recipe would turn out, but four thumbs up (if I had them so which I don't  I'll have to borrow someone elses).

The original recipe called for a vanilla almond frosting but in my effort to be lazing and still produce something delicious, I settled for beating some powdered sugar mixed with brandy, vanilla extract and milk by hand with a fork until I got a nice thick glaze to pour over the cookies.

adapted from Better Homes & Gardens Complete Book of Baking

1/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 cups flour
1 tbsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg

  1. Grease cookie sheet; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed about 30 seconds or until softened.  Add brown sugar. Beat until combined. Beat in the egg and maple syrup until combined.
  2. Stir together flour, allspice, baking soda and nutmeg. Beat as much of the flour mixture into the maple syrup mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture. Cover; chill 1 hour or until easy to handle.
  3. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until edges are firm. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.  Frost or glaze if desired.

Crockpot Amish Beef Stew

At long last.

I'm am finally finally trying out other recipes from some of my cookbooks.

Growing up, we made stew (sort of). My mom would buy this product called "Soup Starter" and all she had to do was dump water, meat, and this freeze dried veggie/spice thing and viola, soup.

Beef Stew from scratch is another matter altogether. But, emboldened by my successful foray into the world of soup via the Corn Chowder over at Barefoot Bloggers, I  figured it was time to get past this.

I did take a few shortcuts by cutting out the steps of browning the meat as I was going to be making this in a crockpot (and I didn't want to dirty more dishes.).

With this stew, the flavor definitely improves the next day. The first day is fairly good. Letting it sit overnight makes the spices in it pop a lot more.

Amish Beef Stew
adapted from "New Recipes from Quilt Country"

3 lbs lean chuck roast, cut into 1 inch cubes

5 cups beef broth
1 cup strong brewed coffee
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp ketchup
6 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium onions, quartered
6 medium carrots, peeled and quartered

 Place ingredients in crockpot and simmer on low for 6-8 hours. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cooking Italy: Amatriciana (Tomato Sauce with Pancetta & Chile Pepper)

This weeks recipe for the Cooking Italy Group was Amatriciana (Tomato Sauce with Pancetta & Chile Pepper). 

Before we talk about the recipe, I should explain. I grew up a Chef Boyardee kind of girl. Canned, jarred, it made no difference. Just dump it in a pot, heat it up dump it on a plate and call it dinner. After I read the recipe, I was a bit underwhelmed by the ingredients and pretty sure it was not going to taste all that great.

I am happy to be very wrong.

And I am now forever spoiled when it comes to Italian food now thanks to Marcella Hazan.

The only mistake I would say I made was starting to cook the sauce before i had the water boiling but that's because my pots take forever to boil water, even if i crank it to high. So I had the sauce done before the water even began to full boil and had to wait another 15 minutes with it simmering before I had cooked pasta.

The biggest surprise though was how good it tasted. You have to realize that I have flirted with cooking before so I know how good some things can taste homemade versus processed. But I think this was the first time that I've made pasta sauce from scratch that didn't involve sugar and a lot of ingredients.  The Amatriciana just had tomatoes, bacon (BACON! BACON! BACON BACON BACON!), onions, salt, white pepper, parmesan cheese and  romano cheese.

Seriously though. Real food tastes amazing when you just eat it as it's supposed to be. Only shame is I didn't discover this earlier.

Even more amazing was that it wasn't too difficult to make. I cheated a bit by using regular bacon instead of pancetta. Also I am not a chile pepper girl (or spicy foods in general) so I used white pepper in its place.Also, I used Penne pasta in place of the bucatini as it was a lot easier to find at Jewel. But this is still a keeper in my house now.

Amatriciana Sauce with Penne Pasta
from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion chopped fine
1/4 inch slice pancetta cut into 1/2 wide/1 inch long slices
1 1/2 cups plum tomato(drained & cut)
pepper to taste (original recipe called for chili pepper)
3 tbsp parmigana reggiano cheese
2 tbsp romano cheese
1 pound penne pasta

Put oil, butter and onion in saucepan and turn heat to medium. Saute onion until pale gold, then add pancetta. Cook for one minute, stirring once or twice. Add tomatoes,pepper and salt and cook in uncovered pot at a steady, gentle simmer for 25 minutes. Toss pasta with sauce then add cheeses and toss again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Creme Brulee

I am a creme brulee junkie.

Any time it's on a menu and I'm eating out I have to have it. In a pinch I'll settle for the overpriced Whole Foods version and in desperate times, I'll eat the mini creme brulee tarts that show up at work for some of our events from a caterer that is not really the real thing.

This weekend was my time to square my shoulders, march into the kitchen, and show the creme brulee monster that I'm boss by making it myself.

In the delusional hope that by making it myself and being able to make it at any time the lure of creme brulee might lose its power over me.

In a perfect world at least.

So even I found this easy enough to make on my own, but not so easy that I would whip it up at a moments notice on impulse. The biggest pain is really melting the sugar and pouring it over the custards. My mistake was pouring directly from the pan instead of spooning it over so the sugar covering over the custard required a bit of a good smack from the spoon to shatter the topping because I had poured it on pretty thick. But apart from that it was pretty good. And I'm sure it will be even better when I try it again tonight as I didn't really wait as long as I should have last night to let it cool before eating it.

The other thing I need to figure out is how to get the brulee to look a little more finished. The brulee on the other 3 custard cups had bits of undissolved brown sugar floating and this one just started to bubble from the beginning (which the other ones did not). Still, flaws aside, pretty yummy.

Better Homes & Gardens Complete Book of Baking

2 cups half and half or light cream
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar (for custard)
1/3 cup granulated sugar (for topping)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

  1. Place (4) 4 inch quiche dishes or oval or round  tart pans without removable bottoms in a 13x9x2 inch baking pan. Set aside.
  2. In a small heavy saucepan heat half and half or light cream over medium low heat just until bubbly. Set aside.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl use a rotary beater or wire whisk to lightly beat egg yolks just until mixed. Then beat in the 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt just until combined. Slowly whisk or stir hot cream into egg mixture.
  4. Place baking pan with dishes on the oven rack. Pour egg mixture evenly into the dishes. Then pour boiling or hottest tap water into the pan around the dishes until it's halfway up the sides.
  5. Bake in 325 degree overn for 18-24 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center of each dish comes out clean. Remove dishes from water in pan. Cook on a wire rack, then cover and chill for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
  6. Before serving, let custards stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a large heavy skillet. Heat skillet over medium high heat until sugar begins to melt, shakingskillet occasionally so sugar will melt evenly. Do not stir. Once sugar starts to melt, reduct heat to low; cook until sugar is completely melted and golden (3-5 minutes), stirring as needed.
  8. Spoon melted sugar quickly over custards in a lacy pattern or in a solid piece. If melted sugar starts to harden in pan, return pan to heat, stirring until sugar melts again. If it starts to form clumps, carefully stir in 1-2 teaspoons water. Serve immediately.