Monday, February 28, 2011

I'm Done With Pies

That's it. I give up. I'm quitting pies. I've tried and I've tried, but I just don't like making pies. I've taken classes on pies, I've practiced making pies, and I still get frustrated. The effort to result ratio is way too high, plus the results are never certain until you cut into the pie.

This past weekend we celebrated two birthdays. For birthdays I am always happy to make a cake, tailored to the tastes of the birthday boy or girl. When asked what they wanted, both birthday boys, independent of each other, requested pie. Sigh.

To accomodate the tastes of all involved (ie, my husband hates peaches), I made two pies - one peach, one apple. I started out two days ahead of time because the pie dough has to be made then chilled. I carefully went through all the required steps, cutting in the butter till pea-sized (no shortening here, all good butter), carefully adding the ice water a bit at a time, chilling the dough disks, rolling out, filling, baking.

I suspect the baking time was the problem. The pies had different baking temperatures and times. And by the time I got the final pie in the oven it was bedtime. My sweet husband volunteered to stay up and babysit the pies. Then when I heard the timer beep I sat bolt upright in bed, remembering that I'd forgotten to turn the oven temp up for the second pie. I ran into the kitchen, cranked the temp, and set the timer for another 15 minutes, hoping for the best.

Well, if hopes were dollars, we'd all be millionaires, right?

The pies looked beautiful, resting on the counter. The birthday boys eyed them appreciatively as they arrived. But looks alone don't make a good pie. When we cut into them, we had.....sigh....pie soup. So disappointing. Everyone said it tasted fine, but this was a polite group. The final word came when I sent some leftover pie home with my sister. Her report? "The peaches were good, but the pie crust Tasted flat, like you forgot the salt."

Now, understand that I really do appreciate honest feedback. I can't improve unless I get those kind of comments. But knowing that I'd served bland pie soup to a birthday boy was the final straw. If you want a birthday cake, call me. If you want pie, go to Marie Calendar's.

(My family isn't panicking about this edict. They're confident I'll forget all about it by Thanksgiving, and will take on three different kinds of pies, just to make everyone happy. We'll see.)

You might have already noticed the lack of pie pictures here today. I was so angry at the pies, I refused to take their pictures. So, instead, I give you the cake I made for Valentine's Day. Yes, the layers did slide a bit as I frosted it. Yes, it was a bit on the sweet side. But at least it wasn't a pie!

Raspberry Chocolate Cake
- adapted from Taste of Home

3 cups sugar
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1-1/4 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup canola oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs
1-1/2 cups strong brewed coffee, room temperature

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons milk
9 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 drops red food coloring, optional (I didn't use it)
4 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, melted

1 package (8 ounces) cold cream cheese
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur
4 cups confectioners' sugar

1- Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Butter the parchment paper. Dust the pans with baking cocoa. Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven.

2- In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking cocoa, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.

2- In a separate bowl combine the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Add this mixture to the flour mixture.

3- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat for 2 minutes. Gradually add the cooled coffee (the batter will be thin.)

4- Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Peel off and discard the parchment paper.

5- For filling, in a small saucepan, whisk together flour and milk until smooth. Cook over medium heat for 1 minute or until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and let stand until cool.

6- In a large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar and mix well. Gradually add cooled milk mixture; beat for 4 minutes or until light and fluffy. (It will look odd, but will eventually come together). Beat in liqueur, salt and food coloring if desired.

7- If the cake layers have domed, using a long, serrated knife, level the tops. Place one layer on a serving plate; spread with about 2 tablespoons jam. Spread one of the remaining layers with the remaining jam. Let stand for 30 minutes.

8 - Spread 1/2 cup filling over cake on the plate to within 1/4 in. of edges. Top with jam-covered layer, then spread with remaining filling. Top with remaining cake layer.

9- In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in cocoa and liqueur. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Frost top and sides of cake.

(If at any point the cake starts sliding around, pop it in the refrigerator to firm up the filling.)

Store in the refrigerator.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Heart My Zo

When life is stressful or I'm just feeling blue, I want to go to my happy place. Sometimes my happy place is a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine, sometimes it's in front of my sewing machine, sometimes it's my kitchen, and some days it's the thrift store.

If you're not a member of the thrift store fan club, you might not understand how it can be a calming, uplifting experience to paw through someone else's cast-offs. It's like a treasure hunt. You never know what you might find. It might be a copy of that book you've been wanting to read, a glass soap dish holder that's perfect for the guest bathroom, a comforter to send away to college with your child, a DVD of your favorite movie, a 1,000 piece puzzle that's never been opened, or a sweater from your favorite brand. And you can get it all for under $10!

The truth of the matter is that some people give away ridiculous stuff. Brand new, with tags on, even. I don't find amazing things every visit, but I have found such great deals that I keep coming back.

My all-time, best ever, lucky find happened when I was in the appliance aisle. I was trying to describe to my husband what to look for, a bread machine to replace mine that was old and cranky. In particular, I wanted a Zojirushi, the larger one, that looks just like this one, this.....HOLY COW! It's a Zojirushi! And it looks brand new!! And it's $7! HOLY GRASS-FED ORGANIC COW!!!! I snatched that puppy up and cradled it to my chest throughout the store. No one else could touch this. It was MINE.

I got it home and examined it. It looked almost new, although there were some very light marks inside the loaf pan that indicated it had been used once or twice. What silly person would toss a $200 machine after using it once? Ah, I know what happened. They baked in it. Silly, silly, you never bake in a bread machine. Even a Zo, which has a much better loaf pan. The bread machine is for mixing and rising. Then you take the dough out of the machine, shape it into a loaf, put it into a greased loaf pan and bake it in the oven. It's so easy that I bake all of my family's bread (including hamburger buns) and most of that uses my Zo.

Yes, it is a bit cheaty, to a bread purist, to use a bread machine, but you know what? I don't have time to be snotty about getting food on the table. My life is busy, and it works really well for me to let a machine do the mixing and babysitting of the dough. And it works really well for my family who gets to enjoy fresh bread all the time. Mmmm, warm bread with melting butter. Now that's a happy place for me!

I wish my pictures for this post could be put up in scratch and sniff format. The loaf looks pretty boring. It's just bread, right? Oh, not if you can smell it. There's cinnamon in there and it smells up the kitchen in the most amazing way as it bakes. While it's baking, it wafts an enticing aroma around, drawing hungry, drooling family members to gather around the oven, asking, "When is the bread done?"

WARNING: If you have not been a bread maker, and you get a bread machine, you'll find it's addictive to make bread. And your family will probably gorge themselves on warm, fresh bread. Don't worry, after about 5 lbs, or a month, whichever comes first, they'll figure out that the good bread is here to stay.

Barley Cinnamon Bread
- adapted from Beth Hensperger's The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook (which I love!)

for a 1-1/2 lb loaf

1 cup plus 3 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2-1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp dry butter milk powder
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp gluten
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp salt
2-1/4 tsp SAF yeast

1- Place all the ingredients into the pan, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Select "dough" mode. Press start.

2- When the machine is done (1:50 minutes in my machine), remove the dough from the pan. Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with baking spray. Gently press the dough into a rectangle (I don't use a rolling pin as I want to keep some of the rise), and roll up the dough into a loaf shape, pinching the dough together. Place the dough roll in the greased loaf pan, with the seam on the bottom. Cover the loaf with a towel.

3- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. When the loaf has risen so that the top of the loaf is at least even with the top of the pan, place the loaf in the oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. If you're unsure whether or not the loaf is done, insert an instant read thermometer in the side. If it reads 190 deg. F or above, the loaf is done. If not, return it to the oven for another 5 minutes.

4- Remove loaf from pan and place on cooling rack. Now comes the really hard part. Let it cool - without cutting it! The structure of the bread is much better if the bread is allowed to cool all the way before you slice it. But if you can't wait, slice away, slathering each piece with lots of good butter. Then start another loaf going right away, since this one's toast. (Little bread joke there.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Four More Years, Four More Years

Happy Blogday to me,
Happy Blogday to me,
I can't believe it's been 4 years,
Happy Blogday to me!

Yes, four years ago I timidly entered the world of food blogging. I was not ( and am still not) ambitious, thinking that blogging would launch me into a career as a cookbook author or celebrechef. But in a way, a quiet, unspectacular way, it has done that. Not that any publishing house is knocking on my door, contract in hand, but I've created an online cookbook right here. It's a reference for me and my family to locate favorite recipes. You're welcome to use it, too, free of charge.

As to celebrechefdom (isn't that a great word I just made up?), no, you won't be seeing me filling a time slot of the Food Network. I barely have time to get my laundry done and make my bed. Doing a TV show? I don't need that kind of pressure in my life. Besides, when I'm nervous, my voice gets high and squeaky, like Minnie Mouse on helium. Not a good TV presence. But I do occasionally get a jolt of surprise when meeting a friend of my daughter's or a co-worker of my husband's who says, "I love your blog! I just make your brownies. They were soooooo good!" It always surprises me to learn that someone I don't know reads my blog.

Have I made any money from this venture? No. I'm definitely in the red here. But I have gotten some free stuff and I've gotten the confidence to enter a contest which I won (more free stuff!). And more importantly, there are the intangibles of blogging. I now know wonderful people from around the country and around the world who I would never have met without blogging. And I know that even if I never posted another cookie, we'd still be buddies.

The other interesting thing about blogging is how my skills and confidence in the kitchen have increased. I'm willing to take on new challenges and they're not as daunting as they used to be. Also, as I've become more aware of food possibilities, I've branched out from Rice Krispie treats and chocolate chip cookies. It's been fun to have the blog as my playground, where I could experiment with food, mixing flavors, trying new techniques, and giving free reign to my playful side. My family is very familiar with the phrase, "It's for the blog." And they're OK with that.

One of my most popular posts is my Fluffernutter cake , a tribute to Elvis. It was fun to make and killer delicious. I've been toying with the idea of revisiting the fluffernutter theme, and this time I did it as a Whoopie Pie. Yes, all the fabulous deliciousness of the Fluffernutter cake that you can hold in your hand.

Print out the recipe, make up a batch, and let me know what you think. Your comments are my paycheck. They don't spend well at Costco, but they give me motivation to keep posting.

Fluffernutter Whoopie Pies
- adapted from King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (3 medium to large) mashed bananas
2 large eggs
2 cups King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour, white wheat or traditional
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips


2/3 stick (~11 Tbsp) butter, softened
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1-1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp milk
1 cup marshmallow fluff

1- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2- In a large bowl cream together the butter, sugars, and salt until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the bananas. The mixture will look curdled; that's OK.

3- Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

4- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and mix until evenly combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and mix for 1 minute more.

5- Stir in the mini chocolate chips.

6- Scoop the dough by Tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets. (If you want larger pies, you can use a quarter cup measure, but allow plenty of space for them to spread out.)

7- Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, until the edges are very lightly browned and the tops spring back when lightly touched. (If you're making the larger size, bake for 12 to 14 minutes). Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

8- For the filling, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Add the powdered sugar and beat till smooth, adding milk, if necessary to achieve a smooth, frosting consistency.

9- With a rubber spatula, fold in the marshmallow fluff till there are no streaks of marshmallow remaining.

10- To assemble the whoopie pies, spread about 2 Tbsp of the filling on the bottom of one of the cooled cookies. Gently press another one on top.

Store the cookies in the refrigerator in a tightly closed container.

(Notes on the filling - I specified natural peanut butter as I'm trying to cut all hydrogenated fats out of my kitchen. I wanted to see if natural would work here. It was fine, but will need refrigeration to keep it from separating. Also, although you'd think I'd know better by know, I read 2/3 next to the butter and added 2/3 cup, not 2/3 stick. It makes a difference. So if you were one of the recipients of these, know that making it as directed won't give you the same taste you had before.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gone But Not Totally Forgotten

There was a headline in the news today about a graveyard that had bodies stacked up 8 deep in the graves. There was zero organization, so that people would not be able to track down the remains of their loved ones. Sad.

Reading that, I was reminded of the folder on my computer that's labelled "Blog Photos." Although I try to have neatly labelled folders and a list of items to post, more often than not, the photos languish in limbo until I unearth them months (years?) later and say, "What was that??? And why did I think I would ever post that?" Or if I'm really desperate for material to post, "What was that and where can I find the recipe to post it. And is there any way to make those pictures resemble something edible?"

Here is a case in point. I don't even remember making this cake. It looks good, though, doesn't it? I can't tell if I put cocoa in the whipped cream, or maybe folded some pudding in there to make it kind of like a mousse. Did I bake that cake in a half-sheet pan, or two 9x13's? I don't know.

And why were there pictures of pudding in the same folder? Oh, light begins to dawn. I was making a chocolate trifle with the leftover cake. Cake, pudding, whipped cream. See? But still no recipe.

Well, you're all big boys and girls out there. If this calls to you, I'm sure you can figure it out yourself. And then post the recipe. Because I'd like to make it again, and I'm clueless.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Baking With Kids

Several years ago my I bought a book called Drawing With Children. Every time he saw it my husband liked to joke that he'd draw with children, but he couldn't find a sharpener big enough to fit their heads. (yeah, he's warped, but I love him anyway.)

That was what came to mind when Aimee, the editor of Simple Bites and the author of the blog Under the Highchair, asked me to write a post about Baking with Kids. To get the answer to the burning question of whether it's better to used minced or diced kids, when baking with kids, head over to Simple Bites. (Yes, I'm warped too. Didn't you know that by now?)

Because I've been feeling a bit swamped lately (can you tell by how infrequently I post?), this will be my last post for Simple Bites. But not to fear, they've got some wonderful new writers who will more than fill the void. Be sure, if you haven't already, to sign up to subscribe via email or RSS feed.

And the picture? That's my son and the armpit butter. Why? Well, go read the post and find out.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love, Love, Love

English is an imprecise language. When you say, "I know," does that mean you know it in your heart, you have it memorized, or you've heard it vaguely somewhere sometime? When you say "Run," are you referring to a marathon, an errand, a nasty snag in your stocking, or a political campaign? And if you "shot" someone, it had better be with a camera or a bottle of tequila.

The word "love" is another imprecise word. We can love a car, a pet, a pair of shoes, a spouse, an ice cream flavor, a class, a grandmother, or just about anything (except okra, but that's a post for another day). But we don't mean the same thing each time. You don't love your grandmother the same way you love Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia (I hope, for your gramma's sake!).

In the original language of the New Testament, there are three different words for love. There is philios, which is brotherly love, eros, which is sensual, romantic, or erotic love, and agape, which is selfless love.

The kind of love that gets the most attention in our culture is eros love. It sells cars, it earns ratings on television, and makes people buy overpriced lingerie. But the kind to look for is agape love. That's the quiet love that does things for another, expecting nothing in return. It's the new mother who gets up 5 times in the night to nurse the crying baby. It's the son who takes out the yard waste bin when it's full, without even being asked to do so. It's the daughter who cleans up the kitchen after dinner as a special surprise. And it's the husband who sets his alarm and gets up at oh-dark-thirty every morning to go to a job he hates but is grateful to have, so that he can pay the bills for his family.

There's nothing sexy or flashy about agape love, but it's the kind of love that's most worth celebrating on Valentine's Day. So do something selfless for those you love. Make waffles. Pumpkin waffles. With amazing butter. It's a love letter on a plate. And even though it wasn't your motivation for doing it, you'll probably get a hug for making them.

I Love You Pumpkin-pecan waffles with maple-cranberry butter
- adapted from Williams Sonoma Breakfast

For the butter:
1/2 cup (2 oz) fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1/4 Cup (2-3/4 oz) pure maple syrup
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

for waffles:
1 cup ( 5 oz) all-purpose flour,
1 Tbsp firmly packed dark brown sugar,
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz) whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1-1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Warmed maple syrup for serving

1- The night before make the maple-cranberry butter. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the cranberries and maple syrup and cook, stirring frequently, until the cranberries have softened and popped, about 5 minutes. Let cool, then place in a large bowl and add the butter. Beat with a wooden spoon until just combined. Cover the maple-cranberry butter and refrigerate until ready to serve.

2- Preheat the waffle iron. In a large bowl, sieve together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt, and whisk until well mixed.

3- In a large bowl or measuring pitcher, whisk together the milk, egg, and butter. Stir the milk mixture and the pumpkin puree into the dry ingredients until just blended. The batter may be slightly lumpy; do not overmix. Stir in the pecans and transfer the batter back to the pitcher.

4- When the waffle iron is hot, pour batter evenly over the center of the grid, easing it towards, but not into the corners and edges with a wooden spoon. Close the iron and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until the waffle is golden brown and slmost crusty on the outside and the inside is soft, light, and springy, about 4 minutes.

5- Either serve each waffle as it is finished, or keep them warm on an uncovered platter in a low (200 deg. F) oven while you cook the rest of the waffles.

6- Serve the waffles on warmed plates. Using a small ice cream scoop, place a ball of cranberry butter on top of each waffle and serve at once with warm maple syrup, if desired.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

If The Pants Fit...

A great party conversation starter is the question "If you could be in a movie, what movie would it be?"

Contrary to what some might think, my automatic answer would not be Pride and Prejudice. First of all, it's a television series, not a movie (at least the correct version is). Secondly, Mr. Darcy only has eyes for Elizabeth Bennet, so what would be the point?

No, my pick would be for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Surprised? You don't think I have much in common with a clique of whiny, self-centered, teenagers, out looking for fun? Well, I might, but that's not the reason I picked that movie. You see, I'd be in the opening scene where they're shopping in the thrift store and they find the amazing pants that magically fit any body. You would spot me in the background as the girls are walking in the door; I'd be the one at the cash register BUYING THOSE JEANS BEFORE THEM!

I hate jeans shopping more than I hate going to the dentist. I get weary of taking pants on and off and on and off and looking at myself in the mirror with all of my bumps, lumps and bulges prominently displayed. And my panty line, too, if they're particularly tight jeans. I get so tired of the process that I end up grabbing a pair and saying, "Fine, these are the least loathsome. I'll buy them."

Then I take them home and the minute I put them on I realized I've made a huge mistake. Again. That's why there are 12 pairs of jeans in my bedroom, but when it was time to run a jeans load in the washer, I took off my jeans and walked around the house in my socks and a jacket. It's a longish jacket, but my son still covered his eyes with his hands. (Too much information?)

Anyway, the point is that I want magic jeans. Awesome jeans that fit right no matter what time of the month it is. Jeans that don't sag in back, making me look like a plumber's helper. Jeans that don't bunch at the top of the legs. Jeans that don't allow strangers to know what brand of underwear I buy. Is that too much to ask for?

You see, if I had magic jeans, I'd be able to eat as much of these wonderful bars as I like and still be able to have pants to wear. That's saying a lot because these bars are addictively good. Trust me, just one will not suffice. One is like the prelude. You'll come back again and again for that hit of shortbread, nuts, and chocolate. And then you'll be fighting me at the thrift shop for that pair of magic jeans!

Toffee Squares

Adapted from Very Merry Cookie Party
Yield: 48 squares

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

7 to 8 ounces milk chocolate, broken into pieces
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment.

2. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolk, vanilla, and salt. On low speed, gradually beat in the flour just until mixed. The dough will be stiff. Pat the dough evenly over the bottom of the baking pan. The dough might be a bit sticky. Use the butter wrapper to press the dough down into the pan.

3. Bake in the center of the oven until pale gold on top, about 20 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the chocolate pieces evenly over the crust. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute. Remove the pan again and, using a knife, spread the chocolate evenly over the crust. Sprinkle evenly with the almonds.

5. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Using a sharp knife, cut into small squares, then carefully remove from the pan with a small offset spatula or an icing spatula.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My Favorite Whine

The weather's getting me down. I think I'm not alone here. Although the Pacific Northwest isn't being hit by the epic amounts of frozen global warming that the East and Central areas are (including Texas, freaking hot Texas almost couldn't host the Super Bowl because of drifts of the stuff!), we are under a cloud. Actually, lots of them. We're in that bleakest month of the year, February, where the predominant color theme is grey.

Vitamin D deficient, we stumble down the street clutching our coffee, hoping to find a lifeline in a paper cup of caffeine. It gets us through the day, but just barely. What we need is sunshine. Beautiful, warm, light sunshine.

What I want is a beach. A warm sandy beach where the sand is so soft it's like stepping on pillows. And, although the temperature is in the 80's (F), it never feels too hot because of the soft breezes that waft the elusive scent of plumeria over you. When the gentle warmth has seeped all the way into your bones, you can get up and take a few steps to the edge of the water, wade in, and cool off. The water is just the right temperature, cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough that it doesn't take your breath away.

You see, what I really want is to pack my bags and go to Hawaii. What I did instead was make muffins. Tropical muffins. I threw together the flavors of the tropic - bananas, pineapples, would-have-been-coconut-but-I-couldn't-find-any-in-my-cupboard, and macadamia nuts. Then I could drape a lei over my neck, put Tiny Bubbles on my iPod, crank up the house heat, light a floral candle, and hula my way around the house, eating the taste of the tropics. My husband draws the line at importing a beach, though. The sand is a booger to get out of the carpet.

(I also put quite a bit of bran in the muffins. Hopefully that will help me live long enough to actually get to Hawaii! Or at least to outlive winter.)

Tropical Branana Mini Muffins
- adapted from The Complete Muffin Cookbook
makes about 36 mini muffins, or 12 regular ones

1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup chopped dried pineapple
1/4 cup dried coconut
1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
3 ripe bananas, mashed (1-1/2 cups)
3/4 cup water
1 large egg
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon peel OR 1/4 tsp lemon extract OR 1/8 tsp lemon oil

1- Preheat the oven to 375 deg. Lightly grease the insides of a mini muffin tin.

2- Into a large bowl sieve together the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the wheat bran, pineapple, coconut, and macadamia nuts.

3- In a medium bowl whisk together the bananas, water, egg, vanilla, and lemon flavoring.

4- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture. Stir just until mixed. Do not overstir!

5- Spoon the batter (I used a small cookie scoop) into the prepared tin. Fill each cup to the the top.

6- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool muffins in the pan for 8 to 10 minutes before removing from the tin. (At this point I had to wash out my tin and regrease it for the second batch. If you've got more than one tin, lucky you!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Let's Give Grace

(Note: this post is irrelevant to the sweet people who leave me comments. But maybe the thought will make it's way to the people who need the upbraiding. And my gentle readers get a bonus good cookie recipe. Plus pretty pictures like I promised.)

A blogger friend of mine has recently been going through some tough times. Due to unfortunate circumstances, she's had to make some changes to her blog. Has there been love, understanding, support and encouragement? In some cases, yes, but in a lot of cases, I've been astounded at the hater-ade poured out in the comments section.

What ever happened to "if you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all"? Remember that is a real person with feelings that you're writing to. It's not an impersonal corporation; it's a somebody who's doing the best they can with what they've got. Would you really say those things to that person if they were standing in front of you? It's easier to be brusque, snarky, or unkind when you're looking at a monitor. Remember that there's a human being on the receiving end of your comments.

Try picturing what comes out of your mouth (or your keyboard). Is it a bouquet of flowers that uplifts and puts a smile on the face of the recipient? Or is it a flaming bag of dog turds?

In order to make the blog world a happier place, I encourage you to make your comments sweet and tasteful - just like these cookies. Whether you give cookies in a comment, in a box, or on a plate, you will make someone smile. And remember, what goes around comes around. Would you rather receive the cookies or the flaming turds?

Grace Cookies
- adapted fro Bitterweet by Alice Medrich

2 cups (9 oz) whole wheat pastry flour
14 Tbsp (1-3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (3-1/2 oz) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup (about 1-1/4 oz) roasted cacao nibs

1- In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth and creamy but not fluffy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and add the nibs.

2- Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Scrape the dough into a mass, and, if needed, knead it a little with your hands to make sure the flour is completely incorporated. Form the dough into a 12-by-2-inch log. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

3- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4- Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place the cookies at least 1-1/2 inches apart on the prepared sheet pans.

5- Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking time.

6- Allow the cookies to cool for a minute on the pan and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

These cookies are good the first day, and even better the second or third day. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a month.