Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TWD: Honey-Wheat Cookies

How exciting, this is my first post with Tuesdays with Dorie, following along their schedule.  This week, Michelle of Flour Child chose Honey-Wheat cookies on page 84.  Like I said in my previous post, joining TWD will definitely cause me to bake things I normally wouldn't pick out on my own.  For instance, these cookies...wheat germ, lemon zest, honey?  Sounds good, but not like a cookie I would bake for just any occasion---maybe a tea party?  I used to LOVE to eat wheat germ on yogurt when I was a kid, but can't say that I've ever bought it since I moved out on my own.  I even had a difficult time finding it at the store because it was tucked away in a random corner of an aisle. Not going to lie- wheat germ is kind of an expensive ingredient for just one batch of cookies.  I wish I had a grocery store with a bulk area near me where I could just scoop out the amount I needed, but no such luck in the area I live in and didn't plan enough ahead. So, I have enough wheat germ to last me a very. long. time.

Compared to the brownies I made from this cookbook, these cookies were so SIMPLE. Came together in no time and despite requiring "room temperature" butter, I thought ahead (for once) and put my butter out on the counter before going golfing, so when I came home it was nice and "room temp."  The dough is really sticky and soft, so Dorie has you wrap it in saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling it in balls and placing on a cookie sheet.
I have to say, while these cookies are tasty, I doubt I would ever make them again.  They don't exactly satisfy my "cookie cravings." At least they taste healthy. Definitely a treat to eat with tea, not too sweet.  Check out Michelle's page for the recipe!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Batter Brownies and Soup to clear your sinuses

After 6 long months of training, running through extreme temperatures (from 100 to 19 degrees), through rain and snow flurries,  I finally completed the Austin Marathon! Last Sunday, I ran 26.2 miles through the heart of Austin.  The race was difficult and painful and I can't wait to do another one! :) This was my third marathon to run and while my ultimate goal was to just to finish the marathon, my secret goal was to run it in less than 4 hours.  My first marathon I ran in Austin in 4 hours flat and after training long and hard (and fast) for this marathon, I was sure I could beat my time with no problem.  Sadly, it wasn't my day.  There are so many things I could say "I should have done this..." regarding the morning of the race, dressing for the race, starting the race, running the race, but when it came down to it, my quadriceps started cramping about mile 14 and from then on I ran in pain and tired.  I still finished the race in 4:11 and honestly, I'm happy with the time, but now I am even more determined to train harder and faster and try to run another marathon next fall.  I'm thinking the Chicago Marathon...we'll see. This picture below is my wonderful family and boyfriend who came to support me during the race.  Starting from the left, Ryan (boyfriend), Steven (brother-in-law), holding Aubrey, Brandy (sister) holding Owen, Meredith (little sister), Gordon (younger brother), me, and my mom.  I also had some AMAZING friends who navigated the course and cheered me on the entire way.
Unfortunately, after running that much on Sunday, I was sore and exhausted all week, and I had entirely too much food and sweets and not enough exercise to balance it out. Oh well, we'll call it an off week.  Regardless, let's move on to the food I did make this week.  

I decided I wanted to join a food blogging group called "Tuesdays with Dorie."  Members of this group buy the book "Baking: From my home to yours" by Dorie Greenspan, and rotate choosing recipes from the book, then everyone makes the same recipe and blogs about it on the same day weekly.  Sounded like so much fun and what better way to experiment with baking, than to be required to make recipes I wouldn't necessarily pick myself.  I applied to be in the group and while I am not "officially" a member yet, I'm going to continue baking as if I am already and wait for my membership to go through.  The first official recipe with the group will be posted on Tuesday, but since I had my book, I decided to make some brownies I had seen on previous bloggers post that looked amazing.  
The recipe is on page 91 of the book and are called "Rick Katz's Brownies for Julia" (as in Julia Child, as in Julia&Julia).  It's safe to say that I have never made a homemade, from scratch, brownie.  Box brownies, sure, but never a measure flour, melt chocolate, add sugar, type of brownie.  Not only did I make these from scratch, but I REALLY made these from scratch, meaning I actually "coarsely chopped" two kinds of chocolate to melt over a double boiler...not the -I measured cocoa powder and added it to flour-type of brownies. I felt so professional.
After you melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler, you whisk together the eggs and sugar, then add half of the mixture to the chocolate, whisking constantly so you don't cook the eggs.  Here's the kicker though.  You continue to beat the rest of the egg and sugar mixture until doubled in size and fluffy, then "gently fold" the mixture into the chocolate.  Complicated much?
Then to top it all off, "sprinkle the flour mixture" over the top of the chocolate and fold it in little by little until just barely mixed.  Goodness, I felt like I could make a mistake at any second, but this batter was amazing.  I could eat it by the spoonful (and I did). Now the recipe says that the brownies will be "delicate" once cooked and not to overcook them, but just to bake until "set."  I had read on other bloggers pages that made this recipe, that their brownies seemed to come out "undone." Some said they tried cooking them for longer, freezing them before cutting, adding more flour, etc. I decided to follow the recipe, see what I ended up with, and go from there. After 28 minutes in the oven, my brownies were definitely not done or even set. They jiggled when I touched the pan.  I decided to leave them in the oven for 10 more minutes and when I took them out they seemed set.  I let them sit overnight and cut them in the morning so I could take pictures.  They cut easily enough, but when I tried to take a middle piece out, it was....gooey.  Not cooked.  Slightly thicker batter. So, I stuck the brownies in the fridge to try to firm them up.  Ugh, still no help.  The edges cooked just fine and tasted great, but the middle was ooey-gooey batter with a crispy top crust. Next time I will cook even longer.

Feeling slightly defeated, I decided to counter the sweetness of these brownies by making a delicious soup that my mom gave me the recipe before.  She has literally made this soup twice in the past two weeks and I made it a third time this week. It's just that good.  The soup is called Caldo Tlalpeno and is a spicy chicken, rice, potato soup that is sure to clear your sinuses.  It has hot and spicy chipotle peppers with adobe sauce in it, with new potatoes, carrots, rice, chickpeas (or in my case, I added hominy), and topped with avocado.  The recipe can be found here.  I took some shortcuts, like buying a rotisserie chicken, box chicken broth, can chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, and just threw it together.  Essentially, my soup goes like this.  Pour 2 boxes of chicken broth into a large pot, add 4 cubed new potatoes and 2 chopped carrots.  Boil them until they are soft.  Add half of a shredded rotisserie chicken and 2 chipotle peppers and tablespoon of adobo sauce.  Add 1 1/2 cups cooked rice and hominy (or chickpeas).  Let simmer. Serve with avocado on top.  Delish!
Spicy. Tasty. Healthy. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

It's raining. Again. And cold. Bitter cold. I prayed for cold weather for this weekend, but I never intended the rain to come with it.  C'est la vie. On another note, the rain is supposed to pass by Sunday and just leave the cold, so hooray! Perfect marathon running weather-just like I asked for it.  I decided to post my Valentine's recipe today since I thought I might not have the time to post anything on Sunday, mainly because I'm spending the first part of the day running copious amounts of miles (26.2 to be exact), the next part eating to refuel myself after copious amounts of miles, the next part icing and resting my legs after putting them through copious amounts of miles, and the last half sleeping.

First off though, I want to rewrite my review of the Buffalo Chicken dip I made last week.  I didn't think too highly of the dip last week whenever I was trying it and so didn't recommend it.  I was wrong.  I decided to give the dip another try a few days later and I really like it.  It's slightly addicting actually, which is exactly how Christy describes it in her blog. Here's why I think I didn't enjoy it last weekend. First, the night I made it, I had just eaten a huge pizza dinner and wasn't really hungry, so didn't take very big bites of it to taste.  The next day, I hadn't bought tortilla chips to eat with it yet (planning to buy them on the way to the Superbowl party), so all I had were little half-chip-crumbs of some flavored Hatch green chili chips---the flavors did not combine very well, and once again, didn't take big enough bites.  Had I really tried it with a nice big tortilla chip, I would have loved it.  It's salty, spicy, and cheesy, all on top of a nice crispy chip.  I still think I would sub rotisserie chicken in for the canned chicken, but that's just a texture preference. Otherwise-yum.

Now, on to my Valentine's day treats.  My friend Ellie's mom gave me this sugar cookie recipe years ago.  I believe 14 years, to be exact, when we made dozens of these sugar cookies for my little brother's baptism party.  The cookies are delicious and really fun to decorate with a glaze rather than a frosting.  My mom and I tend to make this recipe for every occasion...Valentine's Day=hearts, Fall=pumpkins, leaves, and a moose (yes, a moose), Christmas=Christmas trees, reindeer, angels, santas, Easter=eggs, ducks, and bunnies, Summer=flamingos...you get the idea.  It's just an all around good recipe and the cookies smell amazing while they're baking---I think it's the almond extract.
Do you ever decide to decorate cookies, then get halfway through it and decide you don't want to decorate them anymore because you're sick of them?  That's how I am.  Here's how my cooking day goes: I get the dough made (eat dough while making).  Let it firm up in the refrigerator (eat other food to get sweet taste out of mouth).  Roll the dough out (eat scraps of dough). Bake cookies.  Try baked cookies.  Make icing. Decorate cookies. Eat broken cookies while icing. Feel sick. Never want to eat another cookie again (at least for a few hours until I've had real food). Truth be told, I always eat another cookie, and these cookies are actually better the next day when the glaze has really set.
 The first time someone showed me how to made the pretty designs in the cookies, I was floored. It's really that simple to make cookies look semi-professional?  That was the last time I ever spent $5 on a decorated cookie from a bakery.  For the streaky looking ones, you just drizzle flat lines of a different color of icing across a freshly glazed cookie, then take a toothpick and run it vertically down the cookie all the way across.  Voila! The others I just did swirls and zig-zag lines.  Even if they don't look perfect individually, on a plate all together they look really neat.
I decorated these cookies with my younger sister today and after I had enough of decorating with the glaze, I switched to the vanilla jar icing with her.  With the scraps of dough, I had used my new shark cookie cutter (random fact about me: I love sharks!) to make two cookies to incorporate somehow into my Valentine's treats.  Somehow I ended up with a make-shift family tree with two love sharks in the middle.  :)
Happy Valentine's Day!

Sugar Cookies
1 c butter
1 c sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp milk (or orange juice)
2 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
3 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Cream butter and sugar together and add egg, vanilla, almond, and milk.  Add dry ingredients. Dough should be very soft.  Refrigerate in Saran wrap for at least 2 hours.  Roll out on floured surface and cut into shapes.
Bake at 325 degrees for 8-12 minutes (depending on the thickness of the cookie. Let cool before icing.

1 tbsp corn syrup
1/4 c warm water
1/4 tsp almond extract (or flavoring of your choice)
3 c powdered sugar
Dissolve syrup in water, add extract and powdered sugar.  Mix until smooth. Add food coloring if desired.

Side note:  I always make at least a double batch for a couple dozen cookies.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Party Food

Superbowl Sunday was yesterday and while I am honestly not a huge pro-football fan and really didn't care which team won (though I was secretly going for the underdog team-Congrats Saints!), I do like to make party snacks.  One of Ryan's buddies from work invited us over for the big game and so on Saturday, I started flipping through recipes trying to find good game food ideas.  

I recently printed out a recipe for Buffalo Chicken Dip from Christy at The Girl Who Ate Everything.  Sounded interesting and I really like the flavor of buffalo wings, so I thought I'd give it a try. Saturday night, I mixed up all the ingredients, cooked it accordingly, tasted it, and.......wasn't so sure I liked it.  Now, if you know me, you know that I won't take any food anywhere that I'm not 100% (or at least 90%) happy with.  If I don't like the way it looks, if the taste is slightly off, I'd rather just not take anything that put my name on a dish I'm not proud of.  So I wrapped this dip up and told myself I'd try it again the next day and maybe it would be better.
Next day, reheated it in the oven, tasted it, and still wasn't 100% sure. So this dish did not make it to the Superbowl party.  The taste was good, but I'm not so big on the texture of the chicken.  If I ever made it again, and that's a big IF, I would probably use shredded rotisserie chicken and not canned chicken like this called for.  But now what am I supposed to do with all this dip? Oy.

Next up, I decided to make something sweet to take.  Most people always bring chips, dip, sandwiches, pizza, etc. All the salty goodness, but not as many sweet things.  I picked Marshmallow Blondies from Christy's site again, because who doesn't love something with marshmallows and chocolate in them.  The recipe says to melt butter and butterscotch chips in a pan over the stove until creamy and mixed.  It also explicitly says "Don't over heat the butter and butterscotch chips or they will separate, so make sure you watch them carefully and don't cook them too long."  So what did I do the first time? Of course. Overheated them.  Good thing the bag of butterscotch chips has exactly 2 servings so I had just enough to start over, the next time getting it just right.  

The batter of this stuff was thick and sticky, like cookie dough, but tasted amazing.  They looked good when they came out of the oven and tasted good that night when I cut into them.  They looked exactly like Christy's do in her picture---gooey and delicious.  I was excited to take these guys to the party.  Problem though.  The next day when I went to plate them up and take pictures, they looked different. The blondies looked like they had dried out!  They still tasted okay but not gooey and delicious like before.  I tried microwaving one (since everything is better heated up) and alas, they were gooey and delicious like before.  Still, how could I take a dessert to friends and say "They're good, but stick them in the microwave before you eat them!" So, I'm afraid to say, these did not make it to the party either.
Now with only an hour and a half until kickoff, I had just surrendered to the idea of not taking anything until I thought of a surefire back-up plan----Sausage Balls.  Always a crowd pleaser and quite possibly the simplest recipe in my book.  
Sausage Cheese Balls
1 package spicy sausage
1 lb. shredded cheddar cheese
2 c. bisquick
Mix together, form little balls, bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

I quickly whipped up a batch of these and took them to the party and a hit they were.  Wish I had a better name for them, but sadly I don't.  
So, lesson learned. Don't try new recipes the night before to take to a party, unless it's a family party and they understand you "trying a new a recipe." Next time, I'll stick to tried and true recipes like snickerdoodle blondies and spinach artichoke dip. Hope everyone enjoyed their superbowl party snacks!

Friday, February 5, 2010


After a horribly long drought this last summer, I think mother nature is finally trying to make up for it this winter.  Texas weather never ceases to surprise me.  One weekend it's a beautiful 60 degrees, sunny, and perfect. The next weekend it will drop down into the 30's for a high, yet still sunny, despite the chill.  And then, "warm up" to the 40's but rain, and rain, and rain, for days.  I don't mind the rain so much, but Nelly hates it.  Correction, she doesn't hate being outside in the rain.  She hates me for making her stay inside all day, rather than let her get muddied up and slip and slide in my teeny, tiny backyard, then come back in, then back out, then back in.  Therefore, she sits at the back door and looks longingly outside.  Kind of heart-breaking, but not so much that I let her stay outside.

  This week, I decided to go back to savory.  Italian food is one of my favorites, right up there with Mexican.  I spent a good part of three summers in Italy when I was in high school, being a nanny for my Latin teacher from middle school.  I stayed in a beautiful villa in Tuscany in the town of Lucca, the only city in Italy that still has its intact medieval fortress walls surrounding it.  Now that I'm older, I wish I had been more adventurous while I was there and taken some authentic cooking classes.  I have a few dishes that I picked up while I was there, but would love to add more to my repertoire.
One of my favorite dishes there was gnocchi, a potato dumpling-like pasta.  Gnocchi is delicious with practically any type of sauce but some of my favorites are basil-pesto, tomato cream, and the one I made today, brown-butter sage sauce.
Once you've been to Italy, Italian food just doesn't taste the same anymore when you come back to the States.  You constantly compare your Americanized food to your authentic food from Italy, at least that's what I do.  Each part of Italy has a very different style of cooking and menu.  When I came back to Austin, I was determined to find a restaurant that had comparable food to what I was served in Tuscany. It wasn't until I was in college when friend, with whom I had taken Italian classes with in school, took me to a restaurant called Primizie, that he was convinced I would love.  Right, he was.  Their food was fresh and authentic and delicious.  Sadly, I just learned that they are closing down, not because their food isn't amazing, but they couldn't renew their lease in the building they were in.  My absolute favorite dish at the restaurant was a gnocchi with brown-butter sage sauce with mushrooms, corn, and shallots--YUM! Along side it they served freshly made rosemary flatbread.
I was feeling ambitious this week and thought I would make my own gnocchi AND rosemary focaccia, but then my cookbook intimidated me with the gnocchi instructions and I could foresee a gnocchi disaster.  So, I'm going to save that adventure for another day and just make homemade rosemary focaccia alongside my store bought gnocchi.
I don't have the "actual" recipe that Primizie used for their dish, but the title and description pretty much summed it up and I have made this dish multiple times and it continues to be a favorite.
So first, the rosemary focaccia.  I'm using a recipe from Teanna at Spork or Foon.  Recipe seemed simple enough and it was a good opportunity to use my dough hook on my pink Kitchenaid!
Along with recipes that call for butter at "room-temperature," I'm not a big fan of recipes that call for the bread to "rise until doubled."  But today is rainy, so what better way to spend your time than reading a good book with a hot cup of peppermint tea, waiting for your bread to rise.
Waiting for the dough to rise, not once, but twice, was the longest part of making this bread.  It only took 21 minutes to bake.  I ended up putting a piece of foil over the top about 12 minutes into it because it was already getting golden brown and didn't want it to be black by the time it was cooked all the way through.
The focaccia is delicious. Not Italy delicious, but very close.  The coarse sea salt and rosemary are the perfect blend.

Now for the gnocchi... Unfortunately, it was dark by the time I made this, so I wasn't able to get any natural light shots, so this first picture here is with a flash and the one below is without.  I really like the natural light for photos better. But without further ado, here is my makeshift recipe.

Gnocchi with brown-sage butter sauce
1 package gnocchi
1 can corn
1 stick butter
8-10 leaves fresh sage
1 shallot
1 1/2 cups mushrooms of your choice (I like baby bellas), sliced
parmesan cheese

Melt butter in pan over medium heat and add shallots, cook until butter begins to turn brown then remove from heat and add sage.  In another pan, cook mushrooms (I add a little olive oil) until they are still slightly firm. (Can "al dente" apply to mushrooms, too?) Add corn and heat through.  Add together with butter sauce.
Cook gnocchi according to package directions and when finished toss in butter sauce.  Serve immediately and sprinkle shredded or shaved parmesan on top.

Like I said before, one of my favorite meals.