Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pie Time

My family has bad luck with TV shows. Whenever we find a show that we really like, it's doomed. It has only two possible choices. It either gets weird or it gets canceled.

A few examples (and snaps to you if you've even heard of these shows):

- Strange Luck - an offbeat, clever show with the premise of a man who is beset by luck, both good and bad. Whatever he does, nothing normal happens. Whenever he scratches a lotto ticket, he wins. But his car is consistently stolen, or broken into. Intriguing premise, clever writing, good characters. This show was nominated for an Emmy and canceled mid-season.

-Now and Again - take the brain of a family man killed in an accident and put it into the body of a government science experiment - superstrong, superfast. What happens? A mix of action, comedy, and romance and a wonderful show that's canceled after one season.

- Joan of Arcadia - the story of a high school girl who is visited by God. God appears to Joan in various human guises and gives her advice, direction, and tasks to perform. The family dynamics and realities of high school and life are unflinchingly real and are breathed to life by an incredibly talented cast and fabulous writers. Amazing can't-wait-for-next-week first season. Second season started well, then got weird, then got canceled.

This year we found a new favorite that is so wonderful that it's almost certain to get canceled. It is Pushing Daisies.. This is the tale of a young man with a gift / curse. He can bring people back to life with a touch. But if he touches them again, they're dead forever. He solves crimes by chatting with the deceased for 1 minute to discover who killed them. But when the deceased is his childhood sweetheart, he can't bring himself to return her to death. So they face life together, in love, but unable to touch. Each element of the show is carefully blended to bring a visually eye-popping, quirky mixture of humor and charm.

My daughters swoon over the wardrobe of the leading lady and I swoon because the hero's profession is pie-maker. In order to celebrate the show and make memories with our children, I'm making Wednesday Pie Day. My goal is to try a new pie each week. I will brush up on my pie-making skills, expand my baking repertoire (and our waistlines) and celebrate this wonderful show until it's canceled or gets weird.

My offering for Pie Day this week is a heavenly pie, aptly called Angel Pie. Instead of a traditional dough crust, chocolate mousse rests on a cloud of meringue dotted with walnuts. Laced with peppermint, the mousse is at the same time deeply chocolaty, yet cool and refreshing. Just heavenly!

My word of caution, though. It's not a company pie. Once you put the mousse on the meringue, the bottom of the pie gets seriously sticky and it's difficult to cut a slice without shattering the outer meringue rim. (Notice the lack of attractive cut piece of pie pictures?) But, trust me, even if you have to spoon out your pie, your family will not complain. And if they do, they don't deserve any of it!

Angel Pie
adapted from Perfect Pies

Meringue Shell:

4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

Chocolate Mousse:

1/2 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp mint extract
1/8 tsp salt
9 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
2 cups cold whipping cream, divided
2 Tbsp sifted confectioners' sugar

1 3-oz bar bittersweet chocolate, curled

1- Preheat the oven to 275 deg. F. and butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.

2- In a large bowl of an electric mixer, place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat on high until soft peaks form. Gradually add the granulated sugar, 2 Tbsp at a time, and continue beating until the meringue stands up in glossy stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted. Beat in the vanilla.

3- Gently spoon the meringue into the pie plate, building up the sides as high as possible. Sprinkle the walnuts over the bottom and sides. Bake for 1 hour. Peek in the oven after 15 minutes. If the meringue is sinking down the sides, gently push it into place with the back of a spoon. Turn off the oven when the meringue is dry and light toasty brown. Leave the meringue in the closed oven for 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

4- In a small saucepan, heat the milk and stir in the vanilla, mint extract, and salt. Remove from the heat and whisk in the melted chocolate. Pour into a medium-size bowl and set aside to cool.

5- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, with an electric mixer on high, whip 1-1/2 cups of the cream. Fold into the cooled chocolate mixture. Spoon the chocolate creme into the cooled meringue shell, mounding it in the center. Swirl the filling into peaks with the back of a spoon. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours.

6- Right before serving, whip the remaining 1/2 cup cream with the confectioners' sugar until stiff peaks form. Spoon the cream into the center of the pie, making peaks with the back of a spoon. (I skipped this step, as I ran out of cream.) Sprinkle the top of the pie generously with the chocolate curls. Store any leftover pie in the refrigerator.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tag, I'm It

I've been tagged by Anne of Simply Anne's for a meme - 5 things.

5 Things in my room:
  • My Bible

  • A box of Kleenex

  • Large pile of books to read

  • Basket full of widowed socks who tragically lost their mates in the laundry

  • Queen-sized quilt that I made and hand-quilted - it makes me happy to sleep under it because it's finally done, no longer a lurking unfinished project.

5 things in my bag:
  • Kleenex (are you seeing a theme here? Yes, I have allergies.)

  • Sunglasses

  • Mints

  • Lipstick

  • Businesss cards

5 things in my wallet:
  • Pictures of my kids

  • Punch card for the bread store

  • Blood donor card

  • Costco card

  • Very little actual cash

5 things I've always wanted to do:
  • Go to Paris

  • Sing back-up with a band

  • Be a ballerina

  • Take a history tour vacation across the country

  • Learn to make good pastries

5 things I'm currently into:
  • Quilting

  • Pie making (more on this in another post)

  • Bread making (I'm trying to figure out sourdough and why every cookbook has a radically different recipe for starter)

  • Listening to online sermons from Mars Hill Church

  • Wedding planning

There, wasn't that fun? I'm not going to tag anyone in specific, but if you've missed out on this one, consider yourself tagged and post your 5 things.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fall Fun Day

When my big kids were little we had a fall tradition. We'd take a day off from schooling (easy to do when I'm the teacher) and have Fall Fun Day. We'd go for a walk and talk about all the signs of fall that we saw. The prettiest leaves were picked up and carried home. We used the leaves for crayon rubbing pictures or made place mats out of them. Then we'd drink mugs of hot cider, read fall stories, and make caramel apples. It wasn't a day of hard learning, but hopefully it made some fun memories that they'll carry through life. And someday when they have kids of their own, they'll think, as the leaves start to turn, "Hey, we should go on a walk and then have some hot spiced cider."

One of the foods that seems very fallish to me is pears. I've not done a lot with pears, though, because I seem to either get pears that are crispy or pears that are mealy. Either way is not good. But on a recent Trader Joe's expedition I picked up a 4-pack of lovely Bartlett pears that turned out to be just perfect. Juicy, flavorful, and delicious. We'd consumed two before I remembered the recipe. The one I'd ripped out of a magazine years ago. The one I'd been wanting to make but never seemed to have all the ingredients at the same time. I pulled it out, praying that two pears would be enough. It was, and I had everything else on the list. Well, almost everything. I didn't have non-fat sour cream, so I used non-fat plain yogurt. They have a similar taste, consistency, and basically serve the same purpose in baked goods. Plus it makes me happier to use yogurt than fake food.

Amazingly, this beautiful little cake is not laden with humongous amounts of calories. It has a light, delicate crumb to go with its gentle pear flavor. It's a perfect cake to pop in the oven when you've got friends coming over for coffee. Or make it with your kids and start a new fall tradition.

Pear Cake with Pine Nuts
adapted from Cooking Light

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 salt
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup 1% milk
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
2 cups thinly sliced, peeled pear

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray.

2- Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl, stir well with a whisk. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Remove 1/3 cup flour mixture, place in a small bowl. Stir in pine nuts and cinnamon, set aside.

3- Combine the flour mixture with the next 7 ingredients (yogurt through egg) in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Pour the batter into prepared cake pan. Arrange the pear slices evenly over the batter. Sprinkle with pine nut mixture. Bake at 350 deg. for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into 8 slices.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Checking into Rehab

With the plethora of stars checking into rehab, it seems to be the trendy thing to do. Not that I'm trying to jump on the bandwagon, but I figure it's time for me to confess. I've done my time in rehab and I'm now clean. Well, most of the time. There are a few days when I skip a shower and end up baking in my pajamas all day.

Across the street from the elementary school I attended as a child was an old historic house that was being used as a halfway house for drug addicts. On the playground we'd scare each other with elaborate tales of the depravity of that place and if we had to go past the house, we'd scurry to avoid the skanky-looking characters dozing on the porch in a (we were sure) drug-induced stupor.

After I got married and had kids, on one of my trips home to visit my folks, my mother surprised me with the gift of a night out with my husband. She said she'd booked us into an elegant bed and breakfast for the night and would watch the kids for us. Wow! Then she told us where it was - across the street from my old elementary school. What? She'd booked us into the drug house???

Yes and no. It had changed hands in the intervening years and had undergone extensive restoration and renovation. The result was a delightful little B & B. Our room was in an upper corner with window seats, angled ceilings, and every convenience that you could reasonably expect from a 100 year old house.

In the morning I felt refreshed, renewed, with a clearer outlook on life. I had a positive direction to my life - to go rescue my parents from their grandchildren. It might have been just the thrill of having a night alone without kids, but I'll chalk it up to my stay in rehab.

Of course, a delightful bedroom is only part of the charm of a bed and breakfast. There is food. Or there's supposed to be. I don't think the people running the rehab B & B got the memo that there was cooking involved. Serving a store bought roll and a thin slice of cantaloupe and trying to pass that off as a "continental breakfast" has always seemed a bit cheaty to me. Which continent are they referring to? One on which famine is in vogue?

The best B & B's are as well known for their food as for their lodgings. After all, a nice room can be found in a chain hotel, but a beautiful, delicious, home-cooked meal is worth coming back for.

Thus I was so pleased to receive a cookbook from my sister, containing the best recipes from
Washington State Bed and Breakfasts. Yes! The recipes from people who's bread and butter is bed and butterhorns. I loved leafing through it, imagining I could actually stay at each enchanting cottage they described. The first recipe I tried from this cookbook is for cookies (imagine that). Not just any cookie, but cookies so popular that I have since seen this recipe in two other cookbooks. Mrs. King's cookies.

They are totally comfort food. Handfuls of deliciousness with just enough batter to hold all the tastiness together. They aren't tidy cookies. When warm from the oven they kind of droop from the weight of the melting ingredients, but that's when it's best to scoop up a plateful and sit with your sweetie in front of a fire with a cup of tea. You'll feel happy, cozy, and delightfully pampered. And you won't need to go through rehab afterwards.

Mrs. King's Cookies
adapted from her recipe served at the Highland Inn in Friday Harbor, Washington

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extrace
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups raisins, craisins, or dried cherries
1-1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
1-1/2 cups good granola, preferably unsweetened
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.

Cream together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, orange juice, orange zest, and vanilla until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter just until evenly blended. Stir in the raisins, nuts, granola, white and semisweet chocolate chips, and oats.

Scoop the dough into ping-pong sized balls and arrange them on an ungreased baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake until firm on top and just beginning to turn brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Check for doneness, rather than going strictly by time, as ovens vary.

Let the cookies sit on a baking sheet for 3 to 5 minutes to firm up a bit. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly while baking the remaining cookies. Be sure baking sheet is cool before using it for another batch.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies, or more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Going Green

My oldest son is shaped something along the lines of a long, skinny tube. He's constantly hungry. Growing up he wouldn't eat a ton at any one time, he'd just eat constantly. A half an hour after dinner he'd come up to me with sucked in cheeks and Bambi eyes, asking for something to eat.

Once a friend from church offered to watch my kids for the afternoon. As I dropped them off I warned her that my son was prone to use the "F" word and the "S" word. When she got a horrified look on her face I hastily reassured her that in his case, those words were "food" and "snack."

Every year on his birthday and Christmas wish lists, he would always have snack items. Chips, candy, even a ham. He loved having a stash of items all to himself to snack on when hunger attacked. One year we gave him a bag of pistachios for Christmas. This was a rare treat, as we normally don't buy them and he adores them. He was thrilled until the next day when his grandparents came over to visit. His grandparents, too, love pistachios. They ate the entire bag.

So this ice cream is dedicated to the boy who watched his Christmas present be eaten by his grandparents, only whimpering slightly.

When we picked the Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop
to make, it was with the tantalizing pistachio flavor in mind. What we got was a very apricto ice cream, studded with pistachios. Disappointing. If I'd wanted apricot ice cream, I would have made that. Well, in actual fact, I did make it. It just wasn't what I'd wanted.

I searched for another recipe for straight pistachio ice cream in many cookbooks, and finally I found one in a cookbook from the library. I modified it a bit to incorporate David Lebovitz's technique of steeping to extract the most flavor possible.

It has a very subtle flavor, but I enjoyed it a lot. After I'd made it, David posted a recipe for pistachio gelato using imported pistachio paste. It has much more of a green tint and, I'm sure, a much fuller taste. But if you can't get a hold of pistachio paste, try this recipe. I think you'll like the results. It's especially delicious drizzled with honey.

Pistachio Ice Cream
adapted from Ice Cream! by Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Cameron Wilson

DSC_13743-1/2 oz (100 g) shelled unsalted pistachios
1-3/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
Scant 1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (70 g) shelled unsalted pistachios, chopped

Process the pistachios in a food processor to a fine powder, being careful not to overprocess.

Warm the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan to a near-boiling point. Remove from the heat, stir in the ground nuts, cover, and set aside to steep for one hour.

Place the cream in a large bowl and set a strainer over it.

Place a sieve over another bowl and strain the milk through the sieve, pressing with a spatula to remove the maximum flavor from the nuts. Return the milk to the saucepan and warm over low heat.

Beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Place the bowl on a rubber glove so it won't skip across the counter and slowly pour the warmed milk mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat till the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer into the cream in the large bowl to remove any cooked egg bits.

Allow it to cool over an ice bath. Refrigerate for 2 hours then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream is finished, stir in the chopped pistachios.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Crazy Thrifty

One of my favorite Reader's Digest jokes goes something like this:

A woman was helping her friend with some cleaning. She volunteered to sort through the freezer and pitch whatever was old, freezer-burned, or would never get eaten. She was about to throw out a plastic container filled with an oozing, dubious, dark, chunky liquid. Her friend shrieked, "No, don't throw that out! That's my Going Out to Dinner Stew." Answering her friend's puzzled look she explained that whenever she wanted to go out to dinner, she pulled that out of the freezer to thaw on the counter. When her husband came home from work and saw it sitting there he invariably said, "Hey, let's go out for dinner tonight."

I don't have that particular stew in my freezer, but I do have an amazing assortment of stuff stashed in drawers, crammed in cupboards, and accumulating on the counters. I have a hard time throwing anything away. It just might maybe, someday, be just what I need and it would be so annoying to have to go out and buy it when I'd just thrown it away. After all, who knows when you'll need a 4" strip of Velcro, a scrap of gold lame, or empty yogurt tubs? I've saved them and I've used them.

As any student of Psych 101 knows, it's the intermittent reward that reinforces a behaviour. So for every 10 widgets, thingymabobs, or dwingles that I put in a drawer because you just never know, 1 gets used. The rest fill up the drawer. But because I did use one, I keep saving them because.....you never know.

What I like best is when you get to use a leftover end bit right away. Then you can be thrifty and tidy, too. I did this recently because I had cream to use up before its' expiration date. Of course I turned to The Perfect Scoop. The Gianduja Gelato, one of my top 5 favorites from that book, called to me. I love making this ice cream. The aroma is heavenly when the ground hazelnuts are imparting their flavor to the cream. And it is no harsh punishment to lick the spatula, either. Yummm.

But after pouring the cream through the seive, I have a bowlful of ground hazelnuts sitting on the counter. David Lebovitz says to toss them. What? Toss them?? Perfectly good only slightly used nuts? Last time around I used them in the streusel topping for a coffee cake. But this time I had a new cookbook from the library that happened to have a recipe for Hazelnut Mocha Torte that calls for......ground hazelnuts! Now I'm sure no self-respecting bakery would make this torte from used nuts, but mine still had plenty of flavor and it made me happy to get another dessert out of them.

This torte looks elegant but is so easy to make. You mix in a blender, pour into cake pans, and bake. My torte layers puffed up alarmingly then deflated to look like a postpartem belly. Spread with the heavenly mocha filling and frosted with whipped cream, it's lovely and a wonderful way to avoid throwing those nuts away. Or, you could really splurge, and use brand-new, never before used, fresh out of the package hazelnuts. That works, too.

Hazelnut Mocha Torte
- adapted from The Best Places Northwest Dessert Cookbook
from Beddis House Bed and Breakfast, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

4 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup toasted skinned hazelnuts
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2-1/2 tsp baking powder

Mocha Filling:

1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbsp espresso or very strong coffee, at room temperature
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Butter two 8-inch cake pans and line them with parchment paper.

Combine the eggs and granulated sugar in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the hazelnuts, flour, and baking powder and blend at high speed until the hazelnuts are finely ground and the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Unmold and peel away the paper.

For the mocha filling, cream together the powdered sugar and butter in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in the espresso, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Chill briefly to thicken. Set a layer of the cake on a serving plate, spread the filling over, and top with the second cake layer.

For the frosting, whip the cream to medium peaks, add the powdered sugar, and continue whipping to stiff peaks. Spread the whipped cream over the top and sides of the cake. You can garnish with extra hazelnuts or chocolate-covered espresso beans. Serve right away.

Serves 8.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Clipboard Magic

It's been said that some people are born organized and some are not. My sister is a B.O., I'm a not. As a child she truly puzzled me. She would vacuum her room - without being told to! My idea of cleaning my room was shoveling everything on my floor under my bed and hoping my mother wouldn't lift the dust skirt to check.

I once went to a women's group seminar with many options of classes to take. Two that I signed up for were organizing your time, and how to quick-clean your house. The time organization class handed out charts to copy off and fill in daily with to-do's, errands, and appointments, scheduling in chores, breaks, and personal time. What a great idea! Or it would have been if I hadn't put the piece of paper in a stack of other "important" papers and then lost it.

I had high hopes for the quick-clean class. My house was always a disaster area. With two little kids at home my living room was always wall to wall toys, my laundry room looked like a bomb went off in it, and my bedroom was central headquarters for anything without a home. I was lucky to be able to find the bed to crawl in at night.

With anticipation that this woman could solve my pigsty dilemma, I sat with pen and notepad in hand. Instead of rocking my world with the magic words that would clean up my house, she gave tips like, "When company's coming over in 5 minutes and you haven't had a chance to really clean, give the vacuum cleaner a quick run around the floor and go under the chairs. The tracks will look like you've moved furniture to vacuum when you haven't really." Hellooooo - I couldn't find the floor to vacuum it. If company was coming over in 5 minutes, I'd just have to lock the door and pretend we weren't home!

I did eventually learn, with the help of this lady, that even if you're not born organized, you can learn it. And once you've conquered the towering mountain of laundry, tamed the toy monster, and put all the dishes back in the cupboard where they belong, you can invite guests over. Which involves more organization. Enter the clipboard.

My B.O. sister showed me this one when we hosted the 50th anniversary party for our parents. She wrote down the party start time on paper, worked backward for each recipe and wrote down start cooking times, start marinating times, peel shrimp times, etc. Then throughout the day she'd check the clipboard and bark instructions at the appropriate time. Everything went smoothly with very little stress. Sarah has already tagged her aunt to be Clipboard Captain for her wedding.

If you're a B.O., this will seem like, "Yeah, so?" But for a non-B.O., such as myself, it's a lightbulb moment. Get organized, get it on paper, give the paper a place to live (clipboard) so you don't lose the paper, and all you have to do is follow the instructions. Brilliant!

So what does that have to do with today's recipe? It's a fabulous dessert, perfect for pampering your family or impressing guests. You can easily put this together at the last moment, or, if you've taken the time to plan, make it early in the day so you can relax with your company and then pull this showstopper out of the refrigerator after dinner. So whether you're organized or not, you can still have a great dessert with friends.

Mousse in Minutes

1 Cup milk
8 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups whipping cream

Place the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl.

Place whipping cream in a separate large bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, chocolate, sugar and cocoa.

While the chocolate is melting, beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Don't overbeat, or you could be on your way to making butter.

When the chocolate is melted, pour it over the cream cheese. Beat this well and scrape bottom and sides of mixing bowl a few times to be sure all lumps are dissolved. When the mixture looks like rich chocolate syrup, gently fold in the whipped cream. Scrape bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure your mousse is well-blended.

Put it into a clear glass bowl or individual serving dishes. Garnish with your choice of whipped cream, candied violets, chocolate shavings, truffles, or edible flowers. Or you can put it into a chocolate crumb crust for a double chocolate mousse pie. Store it in the freezer, then pull it out an hour before serving time.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cookie Lovin'

Cookies are little circles of love, even when they are squares. As I've mentioned before, I love giving cookies away because the love always comes back. One of my favorite people to give cookies to is my chiropractor. He is such an appreciative receiver, moaning, whimpering, and saying, "Oh my gosh, this is sooooo good!" This must be interesting for the people in the next "room" who can hear perfectly well over the half wall.

There was, of course, the chance that he's an extra nice person and fakes it so as not to hurt my feelings. But I knew he meant it when he asked me to provide cookies for a party he was having. I was thrilled! What an honor to be asked. And I was even more thrilled when he offered to trade services. A massage? Hmm, let me think - YES!

So I made two cookies I've previously posted and his new favorite, peanut butter raisin bars. These are super easy to throw together and they always turn out great. If you like a moist bar cookie filled with fat raisins, humming with a gentle peanut butter flavor, then you really need to try these. They might not get you a massage, but you'll definitely feel the love.

Peanut Butter Raisin Bars

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
1-1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate (optional)

1- Combine peanut butter and butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat until melted. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder; stir into mixture. Stir in raisins.

2 -Spread batter in greased and floured 13 x 9: pan. Bake at 350 deg. F for 25 min or until toothpick comes out clean. The top should be golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

3- If desired, melt the chocolate in a microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring often. Drizzle over the top of the bars. Cool then cut into 32 bars.

Also, along the lines of what goes around comes around, the fabulous Blue Zebra of Mulligan Stew Me awarded me the "Nice Matters Award." Thank you so much! I'm pleased and honored that you chose me as a Nice Blogger. Now I have the pleasure of picking seven bloggers who I think are nice. Because they always have kind things to say, reply to the people who take the time to leave comments, and encourage other bloggers, I pass this on to:

Gigi of Gigi Cakes - A talented baker with nice things to say for everyone

Fiona of Wok And Spoon- Thoughtful and generous

Melinda of Melinda's Online Diary - Funny, real, and nice. I'd like her for my next-door neighbor.

Belinda of What's Cooking in a Southern Kitchen - All the warmth and kindness you'd expect from a southern kitchen

Anne of Simply Anne's - Busy mother, amazing baker who takes the time to be kind to others

Aimee of Under The High Chair- Another busy mom with little ones who takes the time to be kind

Fanny of Foodbeam - Talented baker with a gorgeous blog who remembers that being nice is important, too

Friday, October 5, 2007

Baking Blind

Why does anyone bother to make a cookbook that has no pictures? Cooking from a cookbook without pictures is like shopping in a bakery that has no diplay cases. You have to know exactly what you want going in, and there's zero chance of coming out with a little something wonderful and unexpected just because it called to you.

Can you imagine your favorite cooking show without pictures? Can you imagine Emeril sitting in a comfy chair describing how he'd make a dish? Where's the zip and sizzle when you're listening to a description?

Have you ever been in a restaurant and watched someone else's dinner go by and told the waiter, "That's what I want!" That's because, rather than just reading a description in the menu or having your waiter tell you about it, you saw it.

I'd seen several blogs with wonderful posts about baked goods made from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. Needing to get in on this action, I requested it from the library. When it came I thought, "Wait a minute. I've already checked this one out. And never made a single thing from it!" Sure enough, same book. No pictures.

But since it had gotten such glowing reviews from other bloggers I flipped through the barren pages to see what it had to offer. By the time I returned it to the library (after renewing it once) it was bristling with bookmarks. Everything in there sounded amazing.

With a name like Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies, I just had to try them. What separates them from the masses of p.b. cookies out there? Peanut butter chips for extra punch. Yes!! As I made the cookies I had a wonderful idea. I had a quart of Roasted Banana Ice Cream in the freezer (from The Perfect Scoop, of course, and it's totally worth making, even if just for the heavenly aroma of the bananas and brown sugar roasting in the oven) and bananas and peanut butter are one of my favorite pairings. Ta Da - Peanut Butter Roasted Banana Ice Cream Sandwiches. Delicious! And I'll show you the pictures to prove it.

Peanut Butter Roasted Banana Ice Cream Sandwiches
adapted from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup chunky-style peanut butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp (for sprinkling) sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In another large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Using a fork, lightly indent with a crisscross pattern, but to not overly glatten cookies. Lightly sprinkle cookies with sugar. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Allow Roasted Banana ice cream (or other favorite) to soften a bit, spread a generous amount onto the back (flat side) of one cookie. Press the back of another cookie onto the ice cream, so that the two cookies encase the ice cream and the fork-patterned sides face out. Wrap each sandwich individually in plastic wrap and place in the freezer to harden. You might want to hide them, otherwise they'll disappear quickly!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Health Food

I like to think of myself as a healthy person. I try to eat moderately, I think about exercising almost every day. I try to include something green on the menu at least once a week.

Thus it was that when I packed for our marathon road trip last week that I put in yogurt and granola for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and apples and granola bars to snack on. I know from experience the perils of having tasty snacks in the car - you end up snorking them all up out of sheer boredom. So much better and more sensible to pack light, healthy foods.

That's what I was thinking right up until about hour #8 of the drive. Then I started thinking, "Why didn't I pack some cookies? Cookies would be good about now." Hour #10 I started getting seriously itchy for some chocolate. "Why didn't I pack chocolate? What was I thinking making a drive like this without chocolate?" And by hour #11 I was gripping the steering wheel tightly screaming (inside my head, so as not to freak out my children in the back seat), "Where is the sugar? Why is there no sugar? I need sugar!!" Thankfully, hour #12 was spent navigating construction traffic cones in pitch black through a torrential downpour, so I had no extra thoughts to spare on the appalling lack of sugared items in the car.

I'm back home safe and sound. I can go back to pretending to be healthy, feeling smug because I don't eat Cap'n Sucrose for breakfast. But the veneer has been stripped off. I now know I'm only eight hours away from taking candy from small children, knocking over little old ladies for their chocolate cake, or holding up a bakery for some sugar cookies. So, if you're coming to visit, you might check that I've baked recently. Or it could get ugly.

Deep Dark Chocolate Truffles
adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz

3/4 cup heavy cream
8 to 10 oz (225 to 285 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 to 3 tsps cognac, to taste (or other favorite liquor)


4 oz (115 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream just to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until melted. Add the liquor and pour into a bowl. Let stand for at least 2 hours, or until firm. Alternately, you can cover and refrigerate it until firm, but you'll need to let it warm slightly before scooping.

Dip a melon baller into very warm water, tap off the excess water, and scoop the truffle mixture into 3/4-inch (2-cm) balls and set them on a plate. Once you've scooped all the mixture, roll each one with your hands until it's round.

Chill the truffles thoroughly.

Melt the remaining 4 oz (115 g) chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Spread the cocoa powder in a pie plate.

If you're right-handed, spread some of the melted chocolate into your right hand. (Reverse if left-handed). Pick up a truffle with your clean left and hand place it into your chocolate-covered right hand. Smear chocolate all over the truffle and drop it into the cocoa powder. Repeat until the truffles fill the pie plate, keeping your left hand clean. Shake the pie plate to cover the truffles with cocoa powder, then place them in a strainer to shake off the excess cocoa powder. Repeat with the remaining truffles.

The truffles can be served immediately or kept in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Remove them from the refrigerator 1 hour prior to serving.