Monday, January 31, 2011

Crossed Greenish Eyes

I have a child that has very firm ideas about the way life should be. There is a right way and a wrong way. Period. No room for discussion.

One day he had my face in his hands and he was gazing into my eye. Do you know what he said? Did he say how much he loved me? Did he say that he loved my cookies more than life itself? No, he said, "Mama, your eyes are kind of greenish. All of our eyes are brown. So we will have to find a new house for you to live in." Well, geez, I get kicked out for my eye color?!

I myself get unhappy when things aren't precisely right. Like these pictures. I will straight up confess that it's painful for me to post these pics. They're so bad they make me want to burn the negatives (good thing they're digital). But the chimichangas are delicious and I really wanted to share the recipe. This is one of my favorite ways to use up the chicken leftover from a roast chicken dinner.

So can you forgive me for the bad pics? I promise I'll reward you for your leniency with a lovely cookie next time. Because I really need the grace. I'm already searching out homes for slightly ditzy, greenish-eyed bakers. There aren't that many that allow me to come with a kitchen full of appliances and a freezer stocked with unsalted butter, nuts, and 16 different kinds of flours.

Roast Chicken Chimichangas
- adapted fromCooking Light

2-1/2 cups shredded roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or just buy a roasted chicken and shred up that much meat)
1 cup (4 oz) crumbled queso fresco cheese (or shredded Monterey Jack cheese)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles, drained
1 (16 oz) can fat-free refried beans
6 (8-inch) flour tortillas
Cooking spray
1/2 cup bottled green salsa

1- Preheat oven to 500 deg. F.

2- Combine first 7 ingredients (chicken through chiles) in a large bowl; toss well.

3- Spread 1/4 cup refried beans down center of each tortilla. top each tortilla with 2/3 cup chicken mixture; roll up. Place rolls, seam sides down, on a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Coat tops of chimichangas with cooking spray. Bake for 7 minutes. Serve with salsa.

Yield: 6 servings (1 chimichanga and about 4 tsp salsa)

PS - As I was going to post, I chickened out and just couldn't publish the full-on ugly pictures. Instead you get the semi-ugly peep show shots. Can you trust me that they're good and try them anyway?

Friday, January 28, 2011

High Maintenance By Choice

I think I was one of the last people on the planet to see the movie When Harry Met Sally. I didn't see it in theaters. I didn't rush to rent it when it came out on video. I didn't even request it from the library. I think I taped it when it aired late night on TV. And then I laughed. A lot. Because I finally got the joke.

Several years ago, when my sister got married, she had a lovely chocolate wedding cake, with a large tureen of chocolate sauce on the side. Not knowing I hadn't seen the movie, she didn't understand why it didn't make me laugh. In case you've never seen the movie, with the scene of Meg Ryan ordering a chef salad and pie in a restaurant, the sauce on the side signified that my sister was high maintenance.

In my own way, I'm high maintenance, too. I order my salad with the blue cheese on the side. It makes me gag, but my husband loves it. I bring my own hot water along because I use filtered water and the nasty chlorine taste of tap water spoils my tea. If the toast is brown at all, it's overdone. And don't even get me started on bad cookies- I can't bear to waste the calories on yucky baked goods.

Those are all matters of taste, though. There are some people who are high maintenance and just can't help it. Allergies and medical conditions make it necessary for them to politely, sometimes apologetically, ask for special treatment. One of my favorite people to bake for, my chiropractor, is one such person. He's on a restricted diet and can't have gluten. Does that mean that he's a second class citizen, restricted to nasty, cardboardy baked goods? Not if I can help it!

I wanted to try to make a gluten-free version of a cupcake and since he's a huge peanut butter fan, I remade a recipe from Cupcakes to fit the bill. I substituted Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free Flour for the all-purpose flour. I hadn't worked with it before and was surprised at how different the batter tasted. It was strongly bean-flavored and I was afraid the whole batch would have to go into the garbage can. Surprisingly, though, baking dissipated the bean flavor, and any that lingered was covered up by the delicious peanut butter frosting. All in all, I would call them a success.

Sadly, though, I can't make them again for the good doctor. He's been put on a no yeast, no sugar regimen. Sigh. If you have a yummy recipe that's gluten, yeast, dairy, and sugar-free, let me know. Because otherwise he's on his own!

Gluten-free Peanut Butter Cookie Cupcakes
- adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

for the cupcakes:
1-3/4 cups Bob's Redmill Gluten-free Flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp xantham gum
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

for the frosting:
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter

1- Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners (about 20).

2- Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and xantham gum.

3- With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Beat in peanut butter until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Beat in sour cream.

4- Fill each lined cup about 2/3 full. Bake until pale golden and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 13 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely before removing the cupcakes.

5- With a mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and butter until pale and fluffy. Stir in peanut butter by hand.

6- Spread 1 to 2 Tbsp frosting onto each cupcake. Refrigerate until frosting is firm, about 10 minutes. Using a fork dipped in confectioners' sugar, make a crosshatch pattern in the top of the frosting.

Store cupcakes in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Randomness

I have entered a cupcake contest over at The Middlest Sister. Check it out and vote. I'd appreciate it if you give me a sympathy vote because I 'd love to win the sweet prize package Libbie has put together, but if you chose to vote for one of the other cupcakes, I'll totally understand. They're way cuter than mine! Oh, sigh, me and my decorating skills. At least you can be assured that mine were delicious.

And now on to today's post!

One of the things I like to do when I'm bored is go check my blog stats. It's fascinating to me to see little dots on the map representing people around the world who somehow find their way to my blog. My own mother doesn't read my blog; what would someone in Thailand, Spain, Lebanon, or Denmark find interesting about my blog? Well, apparently not much in Denmark. They only stayed 0 seconds. Oh my, fame is fleeting.

Another interesting part of the stats I check out is the downloads. I can track which pictures are the most downloaded. I feel embarrassed about my lame photography skills, so it's a little ego boost to see if people like pictures enough to jack them. What was disturbing to me was that for a while this picture was leading the hit parade.

Really? What are you people doing with a picture like this? Making it your laptop background? Printing a poster for above your bed? Putting a framed copy on your desk at work as your pretend family? I find this a little troubling.

A current favorite download right now is this diptich my husband put together for me when I wrote the post comparing shoes and cakes.

He listened and paid attention when I was researching, comparing Jimmie Choos and Christian Louboutains. Thus it was that when he was walking down the hallway at work and spotted a picture of Christian Louboutains as someone's desktop wallpaper, he knew right away what they were.

He said to the woman, "Ah, Christian Louboutains!" Her jaw dropped open and she said, "Are you .... a fan of his shoes?" (Unasked question - "Do you have any in your closet and/or are you gay?"). He assured her that it was his wife that liked the shoes and she was relieved. Finding out a male co-worker has a thing for designer high heels - awkward!

What isn't awkward is cookies. (Yes, I'll have to check the archives, but that might possibly be my worst segue ever. Deal with it.)

Cookies are always appropriate - an ice breaker at social gatherings, a great way to meet the new neighbors, an appreciated gift that says, "I'm thinking of you!" Even if you have the decorating skills of a donkey (did you vote for my cupcakes yet?), you can whip up a batch of cookies that will brighten the day and bring smiles to the faces of the lucky recipients. And if a few of the cookies don't make it out of the house, I won't tell. You deserve a happy day, too!

Happy Day Cookies
(aka Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Adjust oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

2- In a large bowl beat butter and sugars together until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat well.

3- In a medium bowl combine the flours, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix well.

4- Stir in the oats, cherries, and chocolate chips. Mix well.

5- Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes, rotating sheets top to bottom halfway through. The cookies should be browning around the edges and the tops set, not gooey-looking.

6- Cool the cookies for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Am Well-Tempered

It was a tradition in my family for our Christmas stockings to always have a mandarin orange in the toe of the stocking. Why? I'm not really sure. You'd have to ask my parents that question. But to me it was normal. So when I got married, our first Christmas together, I put a mandarin orange in the toe of my husband's hand-knit stocking. "What are you trying to do? Stretch it all out?" he exclaimed (which really was kind of foolish as his mother, when knitting it for him, had doubled the pattern to make it extra long. The Santa has a very droopy face.)

The next year, I knew better. I put the mandatory orange in the toe of the stocking, but carefully supported the stocking's weight on a stool, so it wouldn't stretch out (more).

When I first saw a chocolate orange, that chocolate treat that is shaped like an orange and cleverly break apart into segments, I was intrigued. I was excited to buy one as my husband loves the combination of dark chocolate and bitter orange together. He loved it and it became a Christmas tradition for the toe of his stocking. He didn't complain nearly as much about the stretchage (that's a word, right?) when it involved chocolate.

This past year, though, I skipped the orange and instead I made these chocolate covered marshmallows. I was in the mood to make marshmallows and the idea of orange marshmallows was intriguing. I put three kinds of orange flavor into the marshmallows, and dipped them in my darkest chocolate (72% cacao). My husband pronounced them heavenly and had an anxiety attack when I tried to give some away. Luckily, I have the secret recipe and can make them again. It could be that the stocking will be a little less stretched next Christmas morning, but we'll have amazing hot cocoa with marshmallows!

Decadent Dipped Orange Marshmallows

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold, fresh-squeezed, sieved orange juice, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup*
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp orange liquer (Grand Marnier)
1/4 tsp orange extract
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

1- With a sieve, generously dust and 9 x 13 inch baking dish with confectioner's sugar.

2-Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold orange juice in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow to sit while you make the syrup.

3-Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup orange juice in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.

4- With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Add the orange liquer and orange extract and mix thoroughly.

5- Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, smooth the top, and dust with more confectioners' sugar. Allow to stand uncovered overnight until it dries out.

6- Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the marshmallows. Turn the marshmallows onto a board and cut them in squares. Roll them in confectioners' sugar and store in an airtight container.

* If you wish to avoid using corn syrup, try this recipe here, replacing the water with orange juice and adding the orange flavorings at the end.

For tempering the chocolate, I used the instructions in Field Guide to Candy, by Anita Chou.

To dip the marshmallows, you'll need about 1-1/2 to 2 lbs of dark chocolate, even if you don't plan on using it all on this project. Using smaller amounts makes it difficult to control the temperature.

1- Finely chop the chocolate. Place 2/3 of the chocolate in a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Place an instant read thermometer in the chocolate and stir frequently with a rubber spatula.

2- For dark chocolate you want to keep the temperature under 120 deg. F. When the chocolate has fully melted, remove the bowl from heat and wipe the bottom of the bowl to get rid of condensation. Be careful not to allow any steam or water to get into the melted chocolate, as this can cause the chocolate to seize up.

3- Stir in the remaining third of the chocolate, a little at a time. Let it melt before adding more.

4- Let the chocolate cool to about 82 deg. F, stirring occasionally till it reaches that temperature.

5- Once the chocolate reaches 82 deg F, place it back over the simmering water. Reheat it to 88 - 91 deg. F. (This is for dark chocolate. Milk or white have different temperature requirements.)

6- Spread a small spoonful of chocolate on a piece of wax paper. If it dries quickly with a glossy finish and no streaks, the chocolate is in temper. If it looks dull or streaky, re-temper the chocolate, starting with step 1.

7- Brush excess powdered sugar off a marshmallow. Using two forks, dip the marshmallow into the chocolate, covering it completely. Scrape excess chocolate off and set the marshmallow on a piece of parchment or wax paper to cool and dry thoroughly. Do not disturb until the chocolate is fully cooled and hardened. Repeat with remaining marshmallows.

If the temperature starts to dip, put the bowl back over the simmering water to bring it to the appropriate temperature.

If you have just a bit of chocolate left over, scrounge the pantry for dippable items. Graham crackers, dried fruit, and fresh strawberries are all good.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sweet Clouds

My kids and I once did a unit study on weather. We had a chart to track the weather with places to mark the temperature, barometric pressure, and what type of clouds we saw. We learned the names of the different types of clouds and what type of weather they presaged. I might have become a really good weather watcher except for around here the forecast is usually "it's raining," or "It's going to rain," or, "It's just finished raining." With almost constant grey cloud cover, there's not a lot of cumulonimbus action hereabouts.

If I want to see puffy, soft clouds, sometimes I have to make them myself. Meringues always remind me of clouds; sweet, crisp-chewy clouds of deliciousness. They're the perfect dessert for when you want just a bit of sweetness without feeling weighted down. And to balance out the sweetness of the meringue, these have just a hint of bitter chocolate nibs, making them even better.

Be forewarned, though, if you have cumulonimbus clouds piling up in the sky, it's probably not the best day to try making meringues. They fare best in dry weather. If it's wet or humid, your meringues won't dry out and crisp properly. Wait till the sky is clear and make clouds of your own.

Caco Nib Meringues
- adapted from Baking For All Occasions by Flo Braker

2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons finely ground cacao nibs

1- Preheat oven to 224 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip together the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. At the same speed gradually add the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until glossy, white, stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. In the final moments of whipping, add the vanilla.

3- Remove the bowl from the mixer, tapping the whisk against the side of the bowl to convince the clinging meringue to join the meringue in the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the cacao nibs. Be very gentle, so as not to deflate your carefully whipped meringue.

4- Spoon the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain open tip. If you don't have that, you can use a gallon-size zip-loc bag. Spoon the meringue into it, zip it shut, then cut a small hole in one bottom corner to make a 1/2-inch opening.

5- Pipe a dab of meringue under each corner of the parchment paper to secure the paper so it won't slide. Pipe dainty blobs of meringue, about 1 inch wide and 1 inch apart, onto the prepared baking sheet.

6- Bake the cookies until dry and crisp, yet still white, about 1 hour. If it's a humid day, it will take a longer time than on a dry day. If necessary, reduce the oven heat to keep the meringues from coloring. Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool in the oven for 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely on the pan. Once they are cooled, the cookies will lift off the paper easily.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Easing Back Into Life

Having a baking blog is tricky in January. For my readers, all of the baking, partying, and indulging that went on in December suddenly catches up in January and it's a month of lean deprivation, trying to atone for past dietary sins with trips to the gym, nasty weight-loss shakes, and dinners of clear soup and a plateful of kale. The last thing needed is the temptation of luscious brownies, cupcakes, and cookies, so common sense says to just stay away from baking blogs.

But as the month wears on and the resolutions wear down, instead of giving up totally and letting the pounds settle where they may, might I suggest a gentler solution? Give in, just a little bit, once in a while, in a way that's better for you. Instead of caving in to temptation at the grocery store checkout line and buying a candy bar, how about baking some bars? Whole grains, bananas, nuts. Have I got your attention yet? And, of course, chocolate, because we all know that chocolate is necessary for good health and mental well-being.

So splurge just a tiny bit. You'll enjoy the reprieve from diet purgatory, plus with a whole pan full, you'll have plenty to share with your gym buddies! And because they've got bananas in them, they just keep getting moister and better as they sit, so you don't feel like you have to gobble them all the day they're made.

Live a little! Life's too short to drink your meals from a can. Besides, have you ever read the ingredients list on those? Ugh. Read these ingredients and I think you'll agree that it's not such a bad thing after all.

Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Banana Squares
- adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups packed light or dark brown sugar
3 very ripe medium bananas (about 1 cup), mashed
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
r2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1-3/4 cups whole spelt flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts*

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan.

2- In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar till smooth. Beat in the bananas, lemon juice, vanilla, baking powder, salt, and spices, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the egg. Beat till smooth, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl again.

3- Sir in the flour, mixing thoroughly. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes; the batter will thicken as it rests.

4- Sprinkle the chocolate chips and nuts on top of the batter.

5- Bake until the center is no longer liquid, but still moist, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. For best texture, cover the cooled pan and let the bars rest overnight before cutting and serving.

*Note - if the slightly bitter taste of walnuts bothers you, try soaking them for about 4 hours in salted water. Drain, rinse, and dry in a food dehydrator or oven set on it's lowest setting till they are crisp (10 hours, or so). This also makes them more digestible, so they don't leave a heavy feeling in your tummy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Resolve To Be Well-Tempered

The beginning of the new year tends to be when people post their resolutions. I don't do resolutions. I'm not big on resolutions. I've made enough resolutions that I know resolutions like "get a job" or "get a boyfriend" or "lose 10 lbs" aren't worth the paper they're written on, unless you wrote them on toilet paper, when, at least, they are good for one purpose.

Instead of resolutions, I made cookies. And cakes. And pies. And, well, you get the point, I make lots of desserts. And what springs out of that are my goals for the year.

1- Find a home for my cookbooks. Keep the cookbooks there when not in use. And get rid of cookbooks I don't use.


2- Exercise 5 to 6 times per week.

Pretty simple, right? You might think the exercise will be the tough one for me. Those who know me are laughing, though, at the idea that I can keep my counters free of cookbooks. You can check back with me at the end of the year to see how I did. See the secret to success is setting the bar so low you can step over it. Of course, it's always possible to trip over it, but still, you're getting over it. Right?

Also simple is this gorgeous treat. I know, I know, you're all on diets (I put diets in the same category as resolutions), and you can't bear the thought of something sweet. Bookmark it for next December. You will amaze your friends if you give them a gift box of these.

I started with a gift I received. My amazing and talented sister gave me a tub of homemade, organic, candied citrus peel for Christmas. It was a sparkling array of jewels from lemons, oranges, and grapefruits that my family eagerly tucked into. But me, being me, viewed it as a springboard for something else. As my husband's hand hovered over the tub, selecting his next nugget of deliciousness, I thought out loud, "I wonder how those would be dipped in dark chocolate." Slam went the lid on the tub. "Yes, please!" he said.

I've been working on my chocolate dipping skills lately and I'm getting better. I'll post all about my adventures in tempering some other time. For today you just get pictures and a "recipe" because I've got to go work out.

Chocolate Dipped Citrus Peel

Candied organic citrus peel (you can make this yourself, but it's preferable if someone else gives it to you. It saves lots of time)
Dark chocolate, melted and tempered

1- Hold a piece of citrus peel by one end. Dip the other end in the tempered chocolate. Gently wipe excess off with a fork or spoon. Lay the dipped peel on a piece of parchment or Silpat. Let cool and harden before removing.