All kinds of fun times

 Oops... I guess it's been way too long since last posting.  Um... Oops!  I guarantee that there's a perfectly good reason why I stopped posting mid-October, and here it is: in mid-October I met the guy that I am now dating (and if people have interest in knowing more, I can tell about it but not in a public post).  He's pretty cool so I tend to take my free time and save it to spend with him, and so although I've been baking a lot, I have completely neglected to post.

Until now.

I'm right in the middle of my very long Winter Break - they give us a month off from classes - although I'm not going to be taking the whole time as vacation proper.  Half of my "vacation" time will be spent back in the cornfield, working hard to finish up my current research project.  I spent the semester working on a starter project in the lab, and want to finish it up so I can move on to bigger, better, and more Physics-y things.

But for now I am still taking vacation, which means I had darn well better get caught up here!  As it's been some time since making several of these, I will be using my cookbook to remind me of what is worth saying.

These look like regular chocolate chip cookies, and, to be honest, I was so busy working on my Halloween costume (I got myself a sewing machine and pieced together a Belle costume.. but only the blue dress, none of the gold dress nonsense) that I didn't want to spend much time on baking them.  Fortunately, these were a quick cookie to put together.

The title explains pretty well what went into these cookies, aside from the usual flour, brown and white sugar, eggs, and so on.  In addition to peanuts, the recipe included a hefty helping of peanut butter.  I was skeptical at the idea of peanut butter and cinnamon together - at some point when I was younger I had them together and the memory still strikes me as A Bad Taste - but it turns out that the cinnamon was sufficiently subtle and paired with the chocolate chips to make these pretty good cookies, as far as the simple ones go.

This recipe represents yet another foray into the expensive world of dried cherries.  It's also one of my seasonal picks.  Here, dried apples and cherries are simmered in apple cider until they're properly rehydrated and soft.  The fruit is then used as a middle layer for a typical oat, butter, sugar, and salt crumbly mixture that you expect in any kind of fruit bar.

I enjoyed the flavor of these, but once again found the cherries to be too understated for the cost (although less than in those chocolate cookies I made in July).  I liked the oats in the crust, though, and used them again a couple weeks later when challenged to improvise a quick apple cobbler.  I consider this a small triumph, since the actual goal of this project is not to make tasty things, but to learn what it takes to make tasty things.

One week I went on a fennel kick and, in the spirit of things black licorice-flavored, whipped up these cookies.  For those of you unfamiliar with fennel, it's a root used in Italian cooking, and the seeds are one of the definitive seasonings in Italian sausage.  Anise is a different herb, but it has a similar flavor.

As I mentioned above, the anise extract in these cookies made them taste like black licorice, but not in a particularly overpowering way.  Otherwise, these are very light cookies - there's no butter in them, so the texture is due largely to the baking powder and the fact that they had to be whipped for upwards of 6 minutes.  All in all, I think these are good, if a bit unusual, cookies.

71. 11/07 - Rocky Ledge Bars (marked as a best cookie)
These bar cookies were so good: imagine for a moment that you have chocolate chip cookie dough, and then you add to it miniature marshmallows, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and pieces of caramel.  If your mouth isn't watering then your imagination might be broken.  These were decadent and delicious, what I like to call "full of bad for you", and the flavors fit together so nicely that even I, with my disdain for all things caramel, thought they were wonderful.  I suspect these might make a reappearance sometime next summer....

When it gets to be November, I like to start sneaking things like ginger and and nutmeg into my recipes.  And so in this case fresh ginger, ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves are mixed with bittersweet chocolate and Dutch cocoa to make surprisingly good brownies.  For all that I was afraid my friends wouldn't like these, they were also surprised to find they really enjoyed the mingling of flavors, especially a day or two after these had been baked, so that the flavors could actually mingle properly.  When that had happened, the ginger taste was very strongly present, but didn't overpower the chocolate.

My cookbook describes these bars as being similar to Black Forest cake, which is not something I really know anything about.  Nor did I know where to pick up any of the optional kirsch (cherry brandy), so that had to be left out of the recipe.

This is a 3-layer concoction, with toasted coconut, cocoa, sugar, butter, and flour mixed together to make the top and bottom (very crumbly) layers, and a center layer of dried cherries, sugar, and lots of egg.  As you can see in the photo, the center was pretty gooey.  This is the first dried cherry recipe that I have been satisfied with - for once the cherries had a solid place in the flavor palette, and I'm a big fan of gooey chocolate-y stuff.

These guys are on the cover of my book, and the introduction says something about how they're just about the most amazing thing ever.  I am inclined to disagree with Martha Stewart in yet another thing (there have been some interesting and some misleading typos in the book).  These cookies are basically a molasess cookie with cocoa in the dough and chocolate chips added.  It sounds kind of like the brownies I made a couple weeks before these, except that where the brownies had the ginger as a background to the chocolate, these cookies set the chocolate as a background to the ginger and molasses, which left my tastebuds confused.  These tasted much better after a couple days (again, flavors needed to mingle), but I think if I want to make a dominantly ginger cookie, I'll be sticking with the recipe I first used last February.

I have been copying the recipe titles from my cookbook, but I do not copy all the directions exactly when I think they're wasteful.  One such wasteful instruction is using cookie cutters to make shapes out of things that have already been baked.  So my choice of shapes was triangles.  I made these late on a Sunday night, desperate to get something made quickly so that I could study for quickly upcoming final exam without missing a weekend.

I know I've discussed shortbread before, but I'll do so again as briefly as possible.  Shortbread is made from butter, confectioner's sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla, plus whatever you put in it to give additional flavor.  Basically, that means that whatever you add has to go well with vanilla and butter.  Cranberries definitely fit the bill, although other dried fruits or chocolate chips would work too.  But I liked the cranberries in this shortbread, and might not bother with putting in other flavors.

Oh, these were good.  These cookies are made with dark rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves as their flavoring.  When baked, the alcohol evaporates, and the lack of baking soda or powder keeps them from rising, thus resulting in a warmly-spiced dense but kind of crumbly cookie.  After they had cooled, I had to toss them in confectioner's sugar, which added just the right amount of sweetness.  The nice thing about these cookies, aside from the flavor, is that the dough keeps for a long time - once prepared, it's formed into rolls and can be kept in the freezer for a month or so.

These look pretty fancy, and they should because rolled-up cookies are really difficult to make.  The dough for these is very basic, with only sugar and vanilla as flavoring, and it's pretty runny, too, so that it can be spread thin.  I separated some of this dough and added food coloring until it turned red.  In order to make the appropriate rectangular shape, a cardboard stencil was made, so that the white batter was spread to fill the stencil.  Then I used a pastry bag with a circular tip to pipe the red stripes on top.  However, the sugar I was using was old and clumpy, so the batter kept getting stuck in the tip, leading to a few kitchen adventures, my favorite being the one where the tip flew off and red batter ended up all over my stove.

The other tricky part about these is that they had to be rolled immediately after they were taken out of the oven.  While this type of cookie is hot it is still pliable, but once it cools it hardens.  And so, with much cursing and slightly burned fingertips (and much appreciated help from the boy, as well) these cute cookies were achieved.  Take a good look, I don't think these will be coming back again.

I made these a little early because I knew I would be busy Christmas weekend, and because I wanted to have another nice thing to offer for my family to eat.  As the title suggests, these are biscotti made with dried cranberries, pistachios, and cornmeal.  There's also a lot of lemon zest in them, which provides a lot of the flavor.  I really like the use of cornmeal in these, as it makes them a little more crumbly than usual biscotti, and thus a bit easier to eat.  All in all, I find these to be delicious and appropriately festive.  Oh, right, and nice to have with tea.

Well, that's a lot of cookie summaries.  I should just close out this post, but there's a couple books I wanted to post about too, since they're interesting.

The first, Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross, is one that was given to me (and the other people on the exec team) by the Graduate Christian Fellowship staff worker at UIUC.  It is basically a devotional guide to following the Liturgical calendar - that is, the church seasons like Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and so on.  I grew up in various church backgrounds, having moved around a lot, and so while I'm aware of these seasons, they haven't really had much meaning to me.  However, it looks like this book might make a good guide for going through the Christian year while trying to keep the focus of my everyday life very firmly set on Christ.

The other book is one my mom gave me for Christmas, Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan.  It's a book of 150 hymns and a one-page summary of their history, particularly concerning the history of the music and lyrics.  Since I am secretly a Musicologist, I think this book is super cool - few things make me happier than taking music and connecting it with people's thoughts and ideas about life.  In fact, I am seriously considering doing a research project on music in the Church, particularly focusing on reasons for and reactions to new types of music, and going back to the first inclusion of singing as a method of memorizing Biblical text as early as the 5th century.  This may be too much of an undertaking, but at least what I can get done will be fun and maybe even edifying.

Alright, now that I've written far more than any sane person is willing to read, it's time for me to stop and do something else.  I hope you all are having great (or at least bearable) holiday times!

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