Saturday, December 29, 2007

Brain Fluff Soup

I must admit it - I'm not perfect. Wow, I could hear those gasps of surprise all the way from here. But, I assure you, it's true. Every once in a great while I have what can be described as a pre-senior moment, an unscheduled cognitive vacation, or a brain fluff.

I receive so many nice comments on my posts. I really appreciate it when people take the time to leave a note about what I've written. Perhaps some people might be reluctant to leave a comment, fearing it will go to my head and I'll become an insufferable prat, too big for my oven mitts. Never fear, dear friends, never fear. I have far too many real life brain fluffs to think I'm the next big thing.

Here is the tale of one such incident.

I leafed through a cookbook and found an onion soup recipe that called for Applejack, something I had just purchased for another recipe. Score! I quickly scanned through the ingredients and found I had or could substitute for all of them. It started by sauteeing the onion in butter, so I plopped the butter in the pan to start melting while I diced the onion. Then it occurred to me that 4 large onions was a lot of onion, and since it made 8 cups, and my son was likely to turn up his nose at it, we'd have onion soup leftovers for a long time to come. So I quickly adjusted plans and halved the recipe. It worked beautifully.

My family raved about the soup. My husband said, "This is so good! It must have a lot of butter in it." I patted myself on the back and smiled. Then, later, the daughter with a life came home and had some. "Wow, this is delicious!" she said. "Does it have a lot of butter in it?" Hmm, I was sensing a theme here. As I was about to reassure her that I'd halved everything in the recipe, the instant replay in my mind saw the stick of butter falling in slow motion into the pan. Yes, I'd halved everything. Except the butter.

I'll give you the recipe how I meant to make it. I'm sure it's quite tasty that way. And if you want people to rave about it, double the butter.

French Onion Soup with Applejack
adapted from America's Best Recipes - 1988

2 large onions, diced
1/4 cup butter
1 cup Chablis or other dry white wine
1 32 oz. carton beef broth*
3 Tbsp applejack brandy
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp dried whole thyme
1/2 bay leaf (optional)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Large croutons
1/2 cup (2 oz.) grated Gruyere cheese

Melt butter in a Dutch oven. Add onion and saute until tender. Add wine; cook over high heat 10 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring frequently.

Stir in broth, brandy, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, bay leaf, and garlic. Cook over medium heat 30 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.

Place 4 ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet. Ladle soup into bowls. Top each serving with croutons, and sprinkle with cheese. Broil 6 inches from heat 3 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

* I used chicken broth, as that's what I had on hand. French onion soup purists might blanch at that, but it still tasted good.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmouse

Twas the night after Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Except maybe a mouse...or two

I made these delightful little critters for a cookie exchange. My daughter had a great time helping to decorate them (something I don't have the patience for on my own) and when they were baked we wrapped them up on plates to give away. But I think a couple of them got away. We found them lurking under the holly, scavenging cheese, and making merry.

If you have the patience to make all the little faces ( and I recommend tweezers for the holly bows if you don't have long fingernails), these are great cookies. Guaranteed to bring smiles to the faces of the recipients, they are also quite tasty. But keep a close eye on them or they might scurry away.

Peanut Butter Christmas Mice
adapted from Taste of Home

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup peanut halves
2 Tbsp green and red M & M miniature baking bits
Cake decorator holly leaf and berry candies (I used trees on edge)
60 to 66 pieces red shoestring licorice - (2 inches each)

In a large mixing bowl, cream peanut butter, butter, sugar and brown sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine the flour and baking soda; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until easy to handle.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets, pinching each ball at one end to make a nose. I flattened the balls a bit so mine came out like mouse patties. Don't flatten and you'll have a chubbier, mousier cookie.

Insert two peanut halves in center of each ball for ears. Add one M&M baking bit for nose and two chocolate chips for eyes. Arrange holly and berry candies in front of one ear.

Bake at 350 deg. for 8-10 minutes or until set. Gently insert one licorice piece into each warm cookie for tail. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Yield: 4-5 dozen

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Try It, Yule Like It!

Sometimes I need to be talked into things. If I go clothes shopping alone, I usually come home empty handed. I need a buddy there, generally my daughter, to tell me "It's totally cute! You need to buy it." Then I'll buy it and come home happy.

So it was with the Daring Bakers. In the food blogging world, this is the cool kids club. I wistfully eyed their lovely creations every month, but didn't think that I lived up to the name of Daring Baker, so I didn't join.

Then, the sweet and talented Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups approached me with the idea of joining. It sounded wonderful, adventurous, and exciting and I wanted to be talked into it. Tanna did, and I'm so glad she did!

This month's challenge is a Yule Log. I was jumping up and down with excitement when I found that out. I've always wanted to make one, but that grand plan always fell to the bottom of the priority list come Christmas time. Now it was a homework assignment! An excuse to get all creative in the kitchen when I could (or should) be cleaning, vacuuming, wrapping presents, or addressing Christmas cards. Yippee!

This month's hostesses for the challenge were Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis at La Mia Cucina. They provided us with the recipe to follow and certain guidelines.

The only way I deviated from the guidelines was that I used melted chocolate in the butter cream frosting instead of coffee. I'm not much of a coffee gal, but I am a big fan of chocolate!

There were some new techniques to try, but it wasn't difficult to make. I loved the arty part of making the mushrooms and decorating the log. I served it up at a gathering of friends and it went down with zero complaints and many compliments.

Yule Log
(from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert)

Recipe Quantity: Serves 12
Cake should be stored in a cool, dry place. Leftovers should be refrigerated


Plain Genoise:
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and turn the cake over onto a kitchen towel. Peel off the parchment paper, fold the towel over the long edge of the cake, and begin rolling the cake at that edge. Let the cake cook, rolled, to room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to cool thoroughly.

10. To frost, remove the cake from the refrigerator. Carefully unroll the cake, peeling back the towel. Frost the top of the cake with half the frosting, then carefully re-roll. If it cracks a bit at this point, do not despair. Frosting covers over a multitude of cracks.

11. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

12. Place the log on a serving platter. Position the pieces on the log, cut sides adjacent to the log, so that it looks most like a log to you.

13. Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

14. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark, then decorate with mushrooms, berries, greenery, or whatever you wish.

Chocolate Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate, cooled

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Add the cooled, melted chocolate and beat till fully incorporated.

Marzipan Mushrooms:

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.

2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.

5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.

7.Smudge with cocoa powder.

( The secret to having really dark, earthy mushrooms like I do is to use very old almond paste. I was pleased to have a reason to finally use that can of paste I'd had on my shelf since the Bush Sr. administration. Good thing I don't like marzipan and didn't plan on eating the mushrooms!)

Thanks, Lis and Ivonne for the fun challenge, and thanks, Tanna, for talking me into joining! Be sure to check out the Daring Bakers' Blogroll to see all the other creative concoctions by the rest of the Daring Bakers.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Southern Hem. Christmas

In my house we have been talking a lot about normals. I use the word in a plural sense because there is no one single normal in the world. Normal is just a word that describes what you're used to. A lot of it is cultural and a lot of it is the traditions within your family.

Because my daughter is getting married soon, she has been exploring what her "normals" are versus what her fiancee's "normals" are in order to defuse conflict. A lot of blazing rows could be avoided by realizing that it's not right or wrong to have popcorn strings on the Christmas tree, it's just what you grew up with.

At a recent family party, Sarah was chatting about Christmas with the aunt from Australia who said that in her mind Christmas is a warm time and everyone goes to the beach on Christmas day. No images of snowmen, mittens, hot cocoa, and sledding associated with Christmas. Definitely no hoping for a white Christmas.

I've been thinking about this and realized that in my blog I've been neglecting my Southern Hemisphere friends. While I'm happy as a clam firing up the oven for two batches of cookies a day, it might not be that appealing in the middle of their summer. So here is a Christmas present for all of you who have balmy Christmas weather. Yes, this is a leftover from our summer, but I hope you'll enjoy it anyway. It's creamy, dreamy, bursting with fresh peach flavor, and easy, peasy to make. No custard to contend with, so less time at a hot stove!

Peach Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1-1/3 lbs (600 g) ripe peaches (about 4 large peaches)
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1/2 cup (120 g) sour cream
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
A few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

Peel the peaches, slice them in half, and remove the pits. Cut the peaches into chunks and cook them with the water in a medium, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, covered, stirring once or twice, until soft and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in the sugar, then cool to room temperature.

Puree the cooked peaches and any liquid in a blender or food processor with the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla, and lemon juice until almost smooth but slightly chunky.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

If you like to have actual chunks of peach in your ice cream, peel an extra peach and dice it. Add this peach to the mixture after you've processed it before you put it in the refrigerator or add it in the last 5 minutes of freezing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's A Wrap

One Christmas, a group I was a part of had a gift exchange. We all brought wrapped gifts that were under a certain dollar amount. After the eating and talking and laughing part we placed all the presents on the floor and sat in a circle around them. Then we drew numbers out of a hat. Number One picked a gift. Number Two got to either pick a gift or take the gift from Number One. And so on around the circle. And when everyone had a present, we all opened the gifts.

The first gift to be picked up was gorgeous - shiny silver wrapping paper with a large, glittery silver bow. It was a work of art...that contained a rather lame ornament.

The last gift to be picked was mine. I am not a gifted wrapper and my poor little offering looked like a two year old had helped wrap it (which was probably the case). But, and I say this not to boast, my gift was the best. I had searched long and hard for just the right item for that group and there was a collective intake of envious breath as the last gift-picker revealed her treasure. Each of them had passed over the wonderful gift because of it's appearance.

The moral? Well, the obvious is the one about judging a book by its cover, but the one I'm going for here is that it's all about presentation. This is a lesson I struggle with all the time. I'm in such a hurry to be done that I rush the final step - presentation- and it's the presentation that sells. Whether it's food, clothes, or gifts, you buy with your eye before you reach for your wallet (or fork).

A friend of mine has an amazing gift for making things beautiful. She is the queen of wrapping and has frequently been told she should open up a business doing gift wrapping. But she always says no because it's a labor of love for her to find just the right wrap, just the right gift tag, just the right large ribbon, the right coordinating smaller ribbon, from which hangs the perfect charm.

She gave me a lesson in wrapping once and my packages improved in appearance, as long as I was willing to take the time.

She popped into my mind the other day when I was throwing together a batch of cookies. The son-in-law-to-be is back in town and I wanted to make his favorite cookies. Then I thought, with my friend in mind, why not take it up a notch and make them something special? So to his favorite chocolate and peanut butter cookie I added more chocolate. Then some peanut butter topping. Then a smooth chocolate ganache sliding over it all. The result? A fabulous cookie that was lifted from cookie jar status to first-to-go at the buffet table.

Perfect Presentation Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1-1/4 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Peanut Butter layer:

1-1/3 cups peanut butter
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Chocolate ganache:

3/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate

1- Heat oven to 350 deg. F.

2 - Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

3- Beat butter and sugar in the large bowl of a mixer until it's fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in the chips.

4 - Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8 minutes. Do not overbake; the cookies will puff up while baking and flatten while cooling.

5- Cool for two minutes on the cookie sheet then remove to a wire rack. Cool completely.

6- In a mixing bowl cream together the peanut butter and butter. Add the powdered sugar and blend until smooth.

7 - Top each cookie with 1/2 to 1 tsp of the peanut butter mixture, spreading it to 1/4-inch from the edge. If possible, place the cookies in the refrigerator to set while making the ganache.

8 - Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan till it's steamy but not boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let it sit for two minutes then stir till smooth. Top each cookie with ganache so that just a hint of the peanut butter shows.

Return the cookies to the refrigerator to set the ganache, at least two hours. Store the cookies in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Weather Girl

My family laughs at me because I've become such a weather nerd. I track the weather. Not just the temperature and whether or not it's going to snow, but I track the humidity.

Growing up in an arid desert climate I took two things for granted. One was that if I handwashed a sweater, rolled it in a towel and squeezed all the excess moisture out, then laid it on another dry towel, in a day I'd have a dry sweater. After I moved to Seattle I learned that if I tried the above steps with a beautiful angora sweaterdress that I'd gotten for my birthday, by the third day I'd have a soggy sweaterdress that had mildewed. Euwwww.

The other thing I took for granted was divinity. When I was in high school I got onto a divinity making jag and could churn out the fluffy stuff. Delightful, sweet little puffs with a barely firm exterior, meltingly smooth on the inside. Aaaahhh. I made it so much that my mother said I burned out the motor on her KitchenAid. Since winter is the time to play around with hot, steamy pots in the kitchen, divinity was one of the things I associated with Christmas.

Several years after I'd moved here I got a KitchenAid mixer of my very own and was so excited to be able to make divinity again. Except I couldn't. It turned out like a weird, nougaty sludge, making me cry. Every year at Christmas time I'd try again. Same sludge and I'd cry again.

My kids didn't understand this. To them, this was what divinity was. You scooped it off the wax paper with a spoon and it glued your mouth shut. This frustrated me even more; that my children should not know proper divinity!

I went on a quest. Was it the syrup temperature? Were my egg whites too stiff? Not stiff enough? I even had my mother send me the recipe from her cookbook that I'd used all those years, in case it was different from Joy of Cooking.

I'd read the instructions that said this should only be attempted on a clear day. I made it on a rare clear day and still ended up with a sticky puddle of sugar ooze on the counter. I even stumped a call-in cooking show and won a cookbook with my question of why oh why my divinity failed.

Then, I searched the internet and found a children's science fair project on divinity. I guess I don't know as much as a 5th grader! The key to divinity making is the humidity. Just a clear day won't do. You have to have low humidity. Maximum of 60%, preferably below 40%.

Well, a day like that was a snap where I grew up. There, rain was an occurrence, not a way of life. Here, even on a clear day, the humidity is likely to be above 70%. So I check the forecast regularly and if there's a chance of it dipping below 60%, I'm making divinity.

This past weekend the humidity hit 62% and I sprang into action. This was as close as it's likely to get here. Fearfully, hopefully, I hovered over the mixer, and Yeah! It worked! My kids were disappointed, though. It wasn't all sticky and gloopy, like they think it's supposed to be.

Don't attempt this recipe unless you have a candy thermometer and a heavy-duty stand mixer. It was made without either of those in the dark ages of baking, but those women (and men) must have had arms the size of logs. Of course, if you tried that, you might burn off the divinity calories before you even eat any!

Snowdrift Divinity
my grandmother's recipe

makes about 1-1/4 lbs.

2-1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Place the sugary, corn syrup, and water in a saucepan over low heat.

Stir until sugar is dissolved. When the syrup starts to boil, cover the saucepan with a lid for two minutes. This helps to wash the sugar crystals off the sides. Cook without stirring to hard ball stage on a candy-making thermometer (252 deg. F).

While the syrup is heating, in the large bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites till stiff. It doesn't take as long to beat the egg whites as it does to heat the syrup, so start once your syrup about halfway to 252 deg.

Once the syrup reaches hard ball stage, remove the pan from the heat and pour it in a thin stream over the stiffly beaten egg whites with the mixer on medium-high.

Continue beating until the mixture loses its gloss and starts to hold its shape (it looks kind of streaky). I timed this and it took 13 minutes, so don't give up hope after 5 minutes. I think this was where my mother's KitchenAid motor suffered a seizure. Now, if it feels hot on top, I place a cold (not dripping!) compress on top of it to cool it off.

When the mixture looks done quickly add the vanilla and nuts. Remove from the mixer and drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper* in individual mounds.

(Note: my husband and I got into a long, geeky discussion while I was making this about sugar solutions, viscosity, boiling points, and the changes a syrup makes as it is heated. After consulting multiple websites and much discussion, we decided that probably the temperature at which the syrup was heated was irrelevant. The recipe says over low heat, but if you turn the heat to medium high, it should achieve the same effect in a shorter time. The syrup won't reach hard ball until a certain amount of the water has been driven off as steam.)

(Subnote: yes, my family is that exciting to be around. Jealous?)

* Eco-tip for the day: If you eat boxed cereal, save the waxy wrappers that the cereal comes in. It's a food-grade material that's tougher than waxed paper. I love to use them for covering chicken breasts that I'm pounding (doesn't shred like waxed paper) and for candy making (it doesn't stick like waxed paper). I also will cover spattery foods that I'm reheating in the microwave (doesn't wilt like waxed paper). So, you get to re-use an item you already bought and you don't have to go buy waxed paper! Thrifty and green!

And just one more thing - if you're going to whine about not having a KitchenAid mixer, trot over here to see how you can bid to get one for just $10!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Double Chocolate Goodness

Time is short. We're almost halfway through our chocolate advent calendar and there's still so much baking to be done. New cookies to try, old favorites to produce, and somewhere in there get my kitchen cleaned to the point where I can actually see the counters again. (Too many bookmarked cookbooks piled everywhere!) So today I'm not going to bore entertain you with a rambling anecdote. We'll get right to the meat of the matter. Or, more appropriately, the chocolate of the matter. Double chocolate in fact.

I've had a copy of this recipe from the August issue of Gourmet sitting on my pile for months. When I finally got around to making them, I wondered why on earth I'd taken so long. They are fabulous! Moist chocolatey cookies with chunks of chocolate, pecans, and dried sour cherries. They're wonderful fresh, but they mature nicely in the cookie jar. The dried fruit keeps the cookie soft and chewy for up to a 5 days in an airtight container, if for some reason they hang around that long.

If you wanted to dress them up for a party, you could drizzle a little ganache over the top, but for taste, they are delightful as is. Lots of chocolatey goodness with the crunch of nuts and the tangy counterpoint of sour cherries. Mmmm. This recipe is staying in my keeper pile!

Cherry Double-Chocolate Cookies
adapted from Gourmet

makes about 2 dozen cookies

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
Scant 12 tsp salt
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
3-1/2 oz. fine-quality milk chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup dried sour cherries

1- Preheat oven to 375 deg. F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

2- In a small bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

3- Beat together the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Add chocolate chunks, pecans, and cherries and mix until just incorporated.

4- Drop 2 level Tablespoons of dough per cookie about 2 inches apart onto 2 ungreased large baking sheets. With dampened fingers, flatten cookies slighty.

5- Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, top to bottom and rotating the sheets. After 12 to 1 minutes the cookies should be puffed and set. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Warning: Hazardous Material

Normally I try to be nice and post things that you can make to delight your family, friends, and co-workers. I don't know what it is about me today, though. Too much to do? Not enough sleep? Whiny kids who don't understand the concept of "18 more days till Christmas?" Whatever the reason, I'm feeling evil. Not just cranky, but kicking the dog, taking candy from babies, and putting plastic jugs in the yard waste bin evil. (A little Seattle joke there.)

So I'm going to introduce you to the crack cocaine of the candy world. This stuff is seriously addictive. You cannot take one small nibble and walk away. You will eat a whole piece. And then another. And then another. Till the pan is licked clean and the medics have to come drag you out from under the table where you're huddled in a whimpering ball. You know it will make you feel rotten to eat it all, but you just can't help it. And it doesn't make a wimpy little 8 x 8 panful, it makes a big 9x 13 panful!

Small children should definitely not be introduced to this stuff. It's free-basing sugar and they'll climb the walls and swing from the curtains, only coming down to beg and whine for more.

Adults should stay away from it. It's a train-wreck for any diet, packing more calories into a piece than most third world nations consume in a month. And that's just one piece. And it's impossible to have just one piece.

The only reason that I can think of that you should make this is if you have an annoying neighbor who complains about your dog or your children. You can take them a big plate of it. And then chuckle evilly when you see the flashing lights of the aid car. Or if you have a contractor who's made a gaping whole in drywall and you absolutely want to insure that they come back to finish the job. Give him just one piece.

In fact, there might even be a ban on this stuff, it's so addictive. So if you're ever foolish enough to make it, keep a wary ear listening for heavy boots and pounding on the door. If the drug enforcement officers show up on your doorstep, hide under the bed till they leave. But take the pan with you. You wouldn't want them to take it as evidence. Especially not if there were four more pieces....

Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge

3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup JIF peanut butter
1- 7 oz jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla

Combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk in a heavy 2-1/2 quart saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, stirring until melted.. Add marshmallow creme and vanilla; beat until well blended.

Spread in a buttered 9 x 13 x 2 - inch pan. Cool at room temperature, then refrigerate. Cut into squares when firm.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Modern Art Cookies Modern Art Cookies
I am not a patient person. It makes me crazy to wait in lines, especially with a slow clerk at the head of the line who's barely able to figure out which end of a ballpoint pen goes down. I want to charge up to the head of the line and shriek, "Give me the darn thing and I'll clear this line out in 2 minutes!"

I recently made cut-out cookies for my daughter's piano recital. I had visions in my head of lovely, decorated cookies, like those seen in catalogs, bakeries, and artful blogs. Of course, what happened was I made frosting and slapped it on. I got really creative and put two colors on one cookie, but that really tested the boundaries for me. I just don't have the patience to delicately hand-paint each cookie. They're going to get eaten, not framed!

That's why I love bar cookies. They're usually easy with little wait time till hungry scavengers can pop one into their mouths. And no time-consuming artistry is involved. Unless you so choose. Modern Art Cookies
I was looking at a new recipe to try for December and thought it looked good but needed a little something. Chocolate? No, my daughter said. White chocolate. White chocolate should always be in a recipe with cranberries, she said. So I drizzled white chocolate over the top. It turned out kind of artsy. Not in a Renoir or Rembrandt kind of way; more in a Jackson Pollock kind of way. But hey, it's still art, which is a big accomplishment for me. Plus, they're wonderfully delicious. While I was cutting the bars into squares, two of them just leapt out of the pan and into my mouth. Mmmmm. Tart cranberries and sour cream, chewy crumbs, sweet chocolate. One just isn't enough!

Cranberry Pollack Bars
adapted from Taste of Home

1 cup butter, Modern Art Cookies
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1-1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups Craisins or dried cranberries
1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp grated lemon peel
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vanilla milk chips (white chocolate chips)

(Note: I used Craisins, because that's what I had on hand. If you use the dried cranberries, the bars will be slightly less sweet.)

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Combine oats and 1-1/2 cups flour; add to creamed mixture until blended. Set aside 1-1/2 cups for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture into an ungreased 13 x 9 x 2- inch pan. Bake at 350 deg. F. for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the cranberries, sour cream, sugar, egg, lemon peel, vanilla and remaining flour. Spread evenly over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Microwave the chips on high in a glass dish for 30 seconds. Stir until all the chips are dissolved. Use a spoon to drizzle the melted chips over the bars in the pan. You can get creative here and get in touch with your inner Jackson Pollack.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Life On The Treadmill

My parents didn't approve of television. I remember when we got our first television set. I was probably 4 or 5 years old. The set was black and white. And my parents didn't upgrade to color till I moved away to college. It blew my mind when I found out Star Trek was in color.

We were limited to one hour of TV time a day, so we had to plan and prioritize our shows that we wanted to watch. As an adult I can see the advantage of limiting the brain rot, but as a child I resented having to choose between The Flintstones and The Jetsons.

One scene in The Jetsons has stayed in my mind. George Jetson goes out to walk the dog on the treadmill, the dog chases the cat, the treadmill goes haywire, and George is running for his life on the treadmill, getting sucked into it, and coming out running, over and over, screaming, "Jane, stop this crazy thing!"

For me, December is that treadmill. I always seem to hit December 1st running, with a to-do list a mile long. Shopping, wrapping, mailing, cards to make, write, address and send, and, of course, baking. And baking in December means cookies. Lots of cookies. Cookies for neighbors, cookies for the office party, cookies for the cookie exchange, and cookies for my family to snork up. I'll be posting all (or mainly) cookies in December, so today is my last pie post for a while. (This also fits in nicely with the writer's strike since there will be no new episodes of Pushing Daisies until that's resolved.)

This is a fabulous pie. It's easy to put together, it's dressy enough for company, and it's totally delicious. If you choose to use a pre-made crust it's even faster to make. When I made my glut of Thanksgiving pies I had enough pie dough left over to roll out a single pie crust. Dorie's instructions for making a single pre-baked crust were different than I'd ever used before and I had such good success with them that I'll include them for you.

Raspberry Ribbon Pie
Adapted from Taste of Home

1 pre-baked pie shell
1 package (3 oz.) raspberry gelatin (Jello)
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Dash salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream

To make a pre-baked pie shell, use a 1/2 recipe of Dorie's Good For Almost Everything Pie Dough from Baking and chill, wrapped in plastic, for an hour or more. Roll out the dough and place into a 9-inch, buttered pie plate. Trim and finish the edges. Refrigerate the crust, covered with plastic wrap, while you preheat the oven to 400 deg. F.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil, fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust and fill with dried beans or pie weights. (I use old kidney beans and store them in a jar labeled "Pie Beans." You don't want to try cooking those beans afterwards.)

Put the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and beans. If the crust has puffed, gently press it down with the back of a spoon. Return the pie plate to the oven for another 10 minutes, till the crust is golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool to room temperature before filling.

To make the pie filling, place the gelatin in a bowl and dissolve it with the boiling water. Add the sugar, raspberries and lemon juice and stir till the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate until partially set, about 1-1/2 hours.

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and salt. In another mixing bowl, beat whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into cream cheese mixture. Spread 1/2 of this mixture over the bottom of the crust.

Spread 1/2 of the raspberry mixture over the top. Repeat the layers. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.

Yield: 8 servings.