Large Batches of Christmas

This year, Phil and I decided to be super serious and spend Christmas together.  This means that we've been in Pennsylvania since last Thursday, and we'll be leaving for Michigan in a day or two to visit my family.  It's been busy and fun, and it's given me good reason to make lots of cookies.  Which is good, because the things I've made have had VERY large yield.

129. Gingerbread Snowflakes
These cookies were supposed to be 7" in diameter, which totally wasn't going to happen.  I used my 3" cookie cutters, and what was supposed to give ~16 cookies turned into some 8 dozen!

If you follow the link on the cookie title, you can look at something very similar to this recipe.  I'm actually a little surprised that things were changed, as the book version turned out quite well.  The differences are the following: (1) my book calls for 5 1/2 C flour, not 6C; (2) no baking powder; (3) no pepper; (4) 1 1/2 C molasses instead of 1C.  Since I used a smaller cookie cutter, I reduced the baking time to 6 minutes, and the result was nice soft cookies.  The icing was a bit sloppy to do, but it was simple to make: it's just powdered sugar, (soy) milk, and meringue powder.  I shared these with my labmates, and a couple friends who were still in town, and still had a couple dozen to bring on our drive to PA.  They were very popular with everybody.

130. Peppermint Meringue Sandwiches with Chocolate Filling
Guys, I've finally done it.  I've made meringues that didn't totally fall, fail, or otherwise disappoint me.  It may have helped that I was using Phil's mom's fancy Kitchenaid stand mixer, but I am just so relieved that I was able to get meringues right for once.

Making these was a little different, as the recipe calls for dissolving the sugar into the egg whites prior to beating them, and then adding peppermint extract after they form stiff peaks.  To make the stripes, I took red gel food coloring and drew lines on the inside of a pastry bag.  The egg white mixture was squeezed through these to give a lovely, minty result.

The thing to remember when making meringues is that they are not so much baked as dried.  These took about 2h in a 175˚F oven to get the appropriate melt-in-your-mouth texture.  After they were completely cooled (I left them in the cooled oven overnight, actually), they were sandwiched with a semi-sweet chocolate ganache.  When I made the ganache, I think I messed up a little, since I bought whipping cream instead of heavy whipping cream, and so I ended up having to add lots of extra chocolate to make it firm up properly.  Nevertheless, these are pretty, impressive cookies, and I am just so glad to have finally gotten this right ^.^


This was a triumph

Last Wednesday was my friend Tyler's birthday, and when I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, his response was "pie."  Therefore, I baked him a chocolate cake with a pecan pie inside.  Incidentally, I decided also to make it look like the Portal cake.

Basically, I baked a pecan pie and then put it in a slightly larger pan with cake batter.  I baked this at 350˚F for more than an hour - basically until the batter was solid - and you can see below for the result.  I was hoping the pie wouldn't sink so much, but it's okay because it still tasted good.  I doubt I'll make this again, but it was a fun experiment, and isn't nearly so gross as the cherpumple.

Now you can try too!

The end of this semester was a little overwhelming, and so I got behind on my posting.  I'm currently in the process of taking care of normal life-type stuff.  Taking care of my backlog is very much included, so here are posts!  You may notice that I'm putting links on the cookie names - well, these are links to the recipes!  I realized a lot of these are available online, so I'll be linking them when available.

I've never been a big fan of milk chocolate - I find it to be too sweet, and prefer the more bitter taste of dark chocolate instead.  The more expensive varieties are a little better, and so I have no qualms about buying Ghirardelli when a recipe calls for milk chocolate.

These cookies were very delicious!  There's chocolate melted into the cookie dough, as well as chocolate chunks in the cookies.  A hefty half teaspoon of salt helps to balance out the sweetness of the chocolate, and the soft texture of the cookies is nice.  If you're looking for an easy chocolate cookie, I highly recommend this cookie.

Since I have less than a year remaining on this project, I realized that I need to get through the Christmas-type recipes now.  As I've said before, ginger is very much a holiday ingredient, and so this recipe was a good kick-off to the season.

These cookie bars have raisins, candied and ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, molasses, pepper, and cloves in them, which means the flavor is potentially very complicated.  However, the recipe recommends waiting a day or two for these flavors to mingle properly (which sounds a lot like instructions for soup or quiche).  I waited overnight to put brown sugar icing and more candied ginger on top of these, and this was enough time for the flavors to mix.  Once again, these were very easy and well-received by my friends, and I recommend this recipe if you have candied ginger on hand.

These German Christmas cookies have so many ingredients in them!  I had to buy candied orange and lemon peel, almond paste, almonds, hazelnuts, apricot jam, and mace (the spice, not the spray) for these cookies, as well as using dates and various other spices I had at home.  I couldn't find whole blanched almonds at the grocery store, so I bought whole almonds and removed the skins by letting them sit in hot water for a minute and then rubbing the skins off.  These blanched almonds are in the cookie dough, and on top of the cookies, with a confectioners' sugar and milk glaze on top of them.

With 10 or so distinct flavors mixed together, it was pretty much impossible to notice each one when eating these cookies.  I usually don't like it when I can't tell flavors apart, but this mix was superb.  The cookies themselves are soft, and the glaze on top adds just a bit of crispness and sweetness, which was well appreciated at bible study this week.


Prep Work

When I was in elementary school, I never had to study for anything.  In middle school, I had my first experience where I actually had to think ahead and prepare for a test the night before.  It took me until my third year of college to learn to start my homework more than one day in advance, and until graduate school to start it once it was assigned.

Now, it wouldn't have made sense for me to memorize all the countries in Europe a week in advance in sixth grade, but as my assignments (and chores, and sewing projects, and kitchen experiments...) have become more complicated, I have realized that prep work is crucial in order to ride the wave of chaos.

Today's prep work has been for a self-caused problem - I am going to visit my parents for Thanksgiving, and they're not at all equipped to deal with my mostly-vegan habits.  Thus I have been getting things together for snacks/lunch on the road tomorrow, and have started collecting simple recipes that hopefully won't scare my family off of the interesting foods I eat.

I confess that I am making something strange for my own consumption, but that is in the hopes that it will be able to fill in if I feel like a meal needs some meat texture.  I think I'll talk about that more in another post, though.

For now, I am working on catching up on my slight posting backlog.  Thus, here are the past two week's cookies:

Oh. My. Goodness.  It has been quite some time since a recipe from my cookbook has left me so impressed.  But this one has, and I had a hard time not eating them all up myself (which would have been a bad idea).

These cookies/waffles are super full of chocolate - they have unsweetened chocolate melted into copious amounts of butter, as well as a hefty serving of Dutch-process cocoa.  Aside from the regular other ingredients, these have half a tablespoon of cinnamon, giving them a nice Mexican Chocolate flavor.

The batter for these is cooked in a waffle maker, which means each batch (of 4) only took about 2 minutes to be done, and looked very pretty too.  Finally, the cooled cookies are dipped in a chocolate icing so that only the ridges are covered, and sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.  The result was a delicious cakey cookie, with a rich chocolate flavor.  I'm not sure if the icing added any extra flavor, but it made them look so very pretty.

These were very easy to make, but still very impressive.  They'll definitely be making a reappearance.

I'm not exactly sure why I chose these cookies this weekend, except perhaps that they needed to be done.  These cookies are made with Marsala wine as their main liquid, and are further flavored with chocolate chips, toasted almonds, candied orange peel, and cinnamon. The mix of flavors is interesting, and was pretty good a day after I baked the cookies.  However, when I was making these I was very concerned that there wasn't enough liquid in them... adding honey as instructed provided enough liquid to make the dough stick together.  Still, I think these cookies are too dry for my preferences.  In the meanwhile, I will be making more Tofu Marsala, and trying to figure out why blogger wouldn't upload the brighter version of my cookie picture.

Aright, that's all for me, I'll maybe have adventure stories later.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!


the hippie food store

I think most of my family would be surprised by the kinds of foods I've been eating lately: grains no one knows how to pronounce, mysterious home-grown sprouts (they're just mung beans, don't worry), and even (*gasp*) tofu.  I come from a classic American - meaning Irish and German and a few others thrown into the mix - family that eats meat and potatoes for dinner, and so every time I go to Strawberry Fields, the local (i.e. non-chain, and smaller) equivalent of Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, I think about how my culinary explorations lead me to places I had never thought I might visit, much less frequent.

One of the nice things about the kind of store that sells organic stuff, bulk grains, and so on is that I am almost always able to find any unusual natural ingredients I might need for my baking or cooking projects. Honestly, between Strawberry Fields and World Harvest I am able to find pretty much every specialty ingredient I might need.  It's pretty awesome.  It's also pretty encouraging that I've been around town long enough to have a reasonable idea of where to find more obscure ingredients.

Yesterday's expedition was for Grade B maple syrup, which is darker in color and "more robust" (according to my cookbook) than Grade A.  Having found that ingredient, I present for you this week's cookie:

I am not sure if these are rightfully called 'shortbread,' as their consistency is not quite the same as a traditional shortbread cookie, but these cookies are delicious nevertheless.

In this recipe, maple syrup, maple extract, and finely chopped pecans are mixed into a buttery dough made with a mix of all-purpose and cake flour.  The dough is chilled and later rolled out and cut into circles.  After brushing the cookies with an egg wash, a half pecan and sugar in the raw (cane sugar) were place on the top, and then the whole ensemble was baked.

These cookies are pretty fantastic.  The pecan pairs beautifully with the maple, and both flavors are immediately evident.  The texture is a little more chewy than a shortbread cookie, but the abundance of butter in the recipe does make these fall apart a little bit as you bite into them.

All in all, I'm really happy with these cookies.  I think I probably could have done just fine using regular syrup, but now that I have this Grade B stuff, I'll have to make more robust pancakes.  Or just more cookies.


Interlude -- Kitchen Overachiever, Part 2

I've been playing around with exploring more vegan recipes, and tonight I tried one that was quite good.  Thus, I will share it here (and put up a picture when I make my second batch).  The trick with vegan food is to cook things that are good without meat and dairy, rather than cutting them out of normal recipes and lamenting the loss of flavor/texture.  Since I've had to look into cooking more things from scratch, I've started to learn what more herbs and vegetables are for, and have by now explored nearly all of what is offered in Meijer's produce section.  Muah ha ha!

The following is from Supermarket Vegan, which is an interesting book, although I prefer to buy less canned stuff and find a lot of the recipes in the book have higher fat and sodium than I like.  This recipe is good: with 350 calories per serving, there's 13g protein, 9g fat, and 4g fiber (and nearly 600mg sodium... you can't win 'em all).

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Long Grain and Wild Rice, Pecans, and Cranberries

(makes 4 main dish servings)

2 medium acorn squash, halved, seeds and membranes removed
1T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 C chopped onion
2 T dry sherry or cooking sherry
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
2-1/3C low-sodium vegetable broth (chicken broth works too, if you're not vegetarian)
3/4 C wild rice mix (I like Lundberg Jubilee)
1/2 C dried cranberries
1/4 C pecans, slivered almonds, or walnut pieces
2 T chopped fresh sage
1/2 t salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425˚F.
Cut a very thin parallel slice on the uncut sides of the squash to help them sit upright without wobbling. Place the squash, cut sides down, in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add about 1/2" water to the pan. Cover and bake 45 minutes, until flesh is fork-tender. Remove from oven, pour off water, and turn the squash cut sides up; set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350˚F.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the sherry and garlic and increase the heat to high; cook, stirring constantly, until the sherry has evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth, rice mixture, cranberries, pecans, sage, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to between low and medium-low, cover, and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, but the mixture is still quite moist (follow the time guidelines on the rice you bought). Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.

Mound equal amounts of the rice mixture into the squash halves. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve warm.

This is a really tasty recipe, especially if you like squash.  It's important to actually go and pick up fresh sage for this recipe - it really sets the aroma, and hence the flavor, of the rice.  The smell while the rice is cooking is really quite fantastic, it kind of reminded me of the way breakfast sausage smells, which leads me to suspect that sage has a place on my dinner table, and not just at Scarborough Fair.  Also, be careful about adding too much salt, especially if you use cooking sherry, since it has a lot of salt already.

Too distracted to sleep

I have this problem where I keep meaning to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and then the internet distracts me.  It is bad news.  So that I don't get too distracted and won't be too loopy when teaching my students tomorrow morning, I'll keep this post short.

121. Dulce de Leche Bat Cookies
Okay, so I realize the shapes in the picture aren't bats.  It would have been fun to follow the recipe, but I just didn't have the time or inclination to go searching the few baking stores around town for aspic cutters (which are basically very tiny cookie cutters).  Instead, I used my linzer cookie cutter, which has a little insert for the middle shape.  Yes, hearts are very different than bats.  They weren't my only choice, but hearts are happier than stars, triangles, diamonds, or circles.  So there you have it.  Happy brown hearts.

These cookies are super crunchy and full of chocolate.  The dough has both Dutch-process cocoa and melted semi-sweet chocolate mixed into it, and not very much sugar.  It's also quite salty, with 3/4 teaspoons of salt in it (a usual amount is 1/8-1/4t).  The filling is simply store-bought dulce de leche.  Again, I didn't have the time or inclination to make my own, as it involves cooking sweetened condensed milk for five hours.  The canned stuff is pretty good, I think I'll try to use the rest of it on apples.

Overall, these cookies are quite delicious.  I had concerns that the dulce de leche would make them taste too rich, but the dark chocolate flavor and saltiness of the cookies counteracts the sweetness of the filling very nicely.  I think that these cookies are perhaps a little too salty, though, so maybe if I try these again I'll have to reduce the salt to 1/2t.


Good for the soul, bad for the heart

As a self-confessed foodie, I am very aware of the fact that some of the most delicious foods are full of sugar, salt, and fat.  In large quantities, these three wreak havoc on the body, and but cutting them out of our diets means that food becomes much blander, or is full of artificial ingredients to imitate their flavoring effect.

It's actually not that hard to adjust to a reduced salt/sugar diet - over a short period of time, one becomes more sensitive to these ingredients in food.  The only problem with this is that it also means that food made for people on the normal high salt/sugar diet tastes too salty or too sweet (my boyfriend makes fun of me for this, actually).  As for the reduced fat diet, well, the body gets used to that too, and isn't so happy if you suddenly eat a falafel sandwich and fries for lunch.

That said, I think the important thing for taking care of yourself is to enjoy these less healthy things in moderation.  It's good to enjoy the things you are eating, and so I hold that flavor is good for the soul.  However, when your cookies take three sticks of butter to make, it's probably not so good for the heart.

Just look at those pecans.  See how they glisten?  That's the butter, honey, and heavy cream making them shine.

These cookie bars start with a simple crust - butter, brown sugar, and flour - and are topped with a somewhat unusual but delicious caramel concoction.  The topping is made with butter, brown sugar, honey, cream, vanilla, and salt boiled together for a few minutes.  The boiling is mostly done to melt everything together, but the brown sugar caramelizes a little as well.  When this is mixed properly, pecans are added and the whole mess is poured on top of the pre-cooked crust, then baked until it bubbles.

The result is a decadent, buttery bar, with a sticky sweet topping.  The honey and brown sugar add character to the flavor - it kind of makes me think of trees, but in a good way.  These were very popular both in my office and at bible study, but I made it a point to share with both groups - one or two of these is fine, but it's too easy to lose track of the whole "moderation" thing with cookies that taste this good.


Mexican Hot Chocolate in cookie form!

This has been a pretty busy weekend, and since I need to get to bed soon, I will skip the usual small-talk and get to the cookies.

I realize pepper usually ends up in cookies as a cruel practical joke, but these cookies are actually very good!  These icebox cookies are flavored with dutched cocoa, instant espresso powder, cinnamon, and black pepper.  The cocoa and espresso dominate the flavor palate, giving a nice dark chocolate taste.  The cinnamon is, well, apparent, and the black pepper adds just a bit of spiciness, which comes as a bit of a surprise, but I really like it.  The flavor of these cookies very closely matches that of Mexican hot chocolate (the creepy background grandma is my hot chocolate box), which gets its unique flavor from the addition of cinnamon and chili powder.  The cookies are somewhat soft, and altogether tasty.

I expect I will make these again when I want to surprise someone with a spicy flavor and secret caffeine.

Interlude -- Kitchen Overachiever

I have been following a (mostly) vegan diet since mid July of this year, and I have been working hard to convince my friends and family that this does not just mean eating tofurkey and celery sticks all day.  The easiest way to follow a diet like this is to search out recipes that use lots of vegetables, beans, and whole grains, rather than trying to replace meat and dairy with expensive fake versions.

The hardest part about this, however, is making food that impresses other people, without being labeled as "weird vegan food."  Last night a group of my friends had a potluck, and I am pretty sure I succeeded in supplying really tasty vegan food for their consumption.

I realize it's a bit overboard, but I have always been an overachiever in the kitchen (duh.. I'm spending every weekend for 3+ years making cookies), and since this recipe I found in the Veganomicon was so good, I will share it with you:

Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Rice Paper Rolls

This was a time-consuming but fun recipe to make.  The colors of the squash and cilantro go very well together, and the pumpkin seeds add a nice salty flavor.  I suggest adding more squash and less rice noodles, but that may just be my American tastes poking through
(makes 12)

1lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4" cubes
2-3 t olive oil
12 round rice paper wrappers
4 oz rice sticks
1 C fresh cilantro, in bite-size pieces
1/3 C roasted, salted pumpkin seeds, chopped coarsely

1. Prepare the squash: Preheat the oven to 400˚F.  Place the butternut cubes on a baking sheet and rub them all over with the oil.  Arrange the cubes in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven, toss, and cook for 10 more minutes or until tender and slightly caramelized.  Transfer the squash to a plate to cool.

2. While the squash is cooking, prepare the noodles: boil a large pot of water.  Once it is boiling, turn off the heat, add the noodles, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain in a colander and run cold water over them to prevent further cooking.  Set aside until ready to use.

3. To assemble: Fill a large pie plate with very warm water.  Place two rice paper wrappers in the water at a time, completely submerged and let sit for about a minute, until they have softened.
Handle each wrapper gently as you place it on your work surface.  Place about 1/4 C rice noodles in the lower third of the wrapper, leaving about 1 1/2" of margin from the far edges on either side.  Place a layer of butternut squash above the noodles.  Sprinkle with the cilantro and pumpkin seeds.  To roll, snugly fold the left and right sides of the wrapper over the filling.  Lift the bottom of the wrapper over the filling and tuck it underneath the filling, then roll firmly but gently.  Place the rolls seam side down on a plate and cut in half when ready to serve.

I served these with a spicy cranberry sauce, but they should also go well with a soy dipping sauce.


two-tube model of the vocal tract

I realize this confession will shock no one at all, but I have to say it anyway: I am a huge nerd.  Although there are plenty of things that frustrate me about my Speech Processing class, I am still pretty excited about my current homework assignment.  In this assignment, I have to model the vocal tract as two uniform tubes and vary their length and cross-sectional area in order to produce rudimentary vowels - that is, sound files that go "oooh" and "aaah" and so on.

Speech is characterized by duration and frequency of sounds.  Vowels, more specifically, consist of some fundamental frequency band (the pitch of one's voice, generated at the vocal folds) with several overtones which are the product of tuned resonances in the vocal tract.  These resonance frequencies are tuned via motion of the jaw, tongue, and velum (or soft palate), so that the first and second harmonics in speech give us our vowel sounds.  Higher harmonics depend on things we cannot control, such as facial structure, and are responsible for the unique tone of an individual's voice.

My homework is not nearly so complicated as the real system - for one thing, it completely excludes the nasal passage - but I'm looking forward to programming my computer to sing the mahnamahna song to me.

To help with my programming endeavors, I went ahead and chose a caffeinated cookie recipe for the weekend:

By this time in my cookie project, I'm getting to the recipes I've been putting off for some reason or another.  I'd been delaying this recipe because, quite frankly, I'm not a big fan of Earl Grey tea, but I had to do it at some point, and so here they are!
These cookies consist mostly of butter and flour, and a little bit of confectioner's sugar, so they have a shortbread-like consistency, and basically fall apart when you take a bite of them.  They get their flavor from orange zest and about 4 teabags worth of Earl Grey.  Now, when I went to the grocery store I could only find decaf Earl Grey, so these cookies are caffeine-free and won't keep me awake as I study.. oops.  These are icebox cookies so once I made the dough I rolled it out into tubes and froze it, then sliced it into 1/4" pieces to get a nice uniform result.

I really like the consistency of these cookies, anything that is melt-in-your-mouth is good in my book, and I find that the orange zest is the dominant flavor, so I don't have to deal with the bergamot that I don't like very much.  I'm not sure if I would repeat this recipe because it's kind of strange, but I think the idea of putting tea in cookies is interesting.

Also, would anyone in C-U like 16 bags of Earl Grey?  I don't plan on drinking the stuff and hate to throw it away.

Okay, that's it for now.  I'll be back next week, perhaps with new musical theater shenanigans, depending on if a good friend of mine can visit.


and it's cool, and it's totally awesome!

For any of you who haven't yet seen the Harry Potter musical, you really should check it out.  I've had the first song stuck in my head all evening.  It is amazing and hilarious and, most importantly, people like me who were never into the books/movies can love it too!  Just a warning, though: this is a full-length show, so you may end up losing a lot of time.

Lately, I've been losing what little time I can find by making crazy upcycling plans.  What is upcycling?  I'm glad you asked.  It's basically the process of taking clothes you don't want and using the fabric to make something you do want.  I have several shirts that I can't wear anymore, some because they are worn out and some because they are too big, and so I've been trying to find interesting things to do with the ones I can't bear to throw away.  Well, that and trying to screw up some courage to resize my big stuff, now that I have a sewing machine.  A couple weeks ago I made a t-shirt quilt out of a bunch of my old Threadless shirts.  My next project is to make a little shrug.  Hopefully it'll be totally awesome ^.~

 116. Fig Bars
These cookies look a lot like the ones I made the week before, but they aren't the same!  The filling for these is made with figs, red wine, cinnamon, honey, and pepper.  I used a cheap cabernet for the wine, because I try to use up the things I buy and have never really liked merlot much.  The cookie part is a simple white flour dough with lemon zest in it.

These cookies were alright at first, although I think the cabernet was a bad choice - I guess the thing about red wines is that they are meant to go well with savory things like steak or pepper, but some go better than others - it probably would have been a good idea for me to think about what kind of wine to buy rather than to pick up something with a kangaroo on it.  The strange and cool thing, though, is that after a few days the cookies became a little softer and the flavors mellowed out, and all of a sudden these cookies were really delicious.

 117. Cassis Chambord Crisps
These are very simple cookies.  In short, they are low-butter sugar cookies with a hefty dose of Cassis, a blackberry liqueur, to give it flavor.  The recipe suggested Chambord, a raspberry liqueur, as a substitute, and since I love raspberry and couldn't find any creme de cassis on short notice, I made the suggested substitution.  Little did I expect, however, that I would end up having to buy a holy hand grenade filled with liqueur!  Or that it would set me back $30.

The holy hand grenade of raspberry liqueur.
These cookies just came out of the oven about half an hour ago, and I'm not entirely sure what I think about them yet.  They aren't particularly crisp, and I can't detect any raspberry flavor in them.  I'm hoping that they might taste better in the morning, but we'll see.  I suppose I'll have to update again then to let you know.

Edit: the raspberry shows up after about two bites, hooray!

I think that's it for now.  Perhaps in a future entry I'll post some of the products of my sewing adventures, but that will all depend on how they turn out.


when a snowball becomes an avalanche

In what shouldn't be any surprise whatsoever, I've found this semester to be nearly overwhelming in its demands on my time and energy.  I alternate between telling myself that this is just how graduate school is and that graduate school doesn't have to be this way.  Most recently, I'm starting to think that it's actually some combination of the two: graduate school is very demanding by design, and so I (still) need to learn to deliberately choose and limit my other activities in order to actually rest sometimes and not burn out again.  It's not easy to give things up, but I'm praying about it, and I have to trust that God knows what's best for me.

Now, without any appropriate segue, here are the past three weeks of cookies!

113. Oatmeal Bars with Dates and Walnuts
Lately I've been going after some of the healthier recipes in my cookbook, but after years of eating over-sweetened granola bars and poorly devised whole wheat concoctions, I am always skeptical of such recipes.  Especially when the little blurb under the title describes the cookie "like soft granola bars."  It turns out these cookie bars were really good!  Like, so good that my friends demanded the recipe.

The key to these cookies is oatmeal.  There's nearly 3C involved, half of it ground up before being mixed into the dough, which has a whole wheat (I used white whole wheat) and brown sugar base, along with cinnamon and allspice.  Finally, dates and walnuts give more flavor and texture.

These bars turned out soft and chewy, with a nice sweetness from the dates juxtaposed with the salt added to the dough.  They were amazingly easy to make, and a big hit with my bible study group, who thought I was lying when I told them that these were actually healthy.  I guess I'm not the only one who doesn't trust health food to taste good.

114. Hazelnut Cookies
I discovered, while making this cookies, that I still have no idea why I can't make meringues.  This recipe starts with whipping egg whites until they form soft peaks, adding sugar, and whipping the mixture to stiff peaks.  But every time I've tried this, the egg whites fall the instant I add the sugar, and I'm left with Elmer's glue in my bowl.  It still makes tasty cookies, but I think I'm mixing out on some amazing melt-in-your-mouth experience.

So after I made glue (okay, it's not glue, but that's what it looks like), I added ground toasted hazelnuts, flour, and vanilla, then chilled the dough, and then took it out and formed it into little pyramids for baking.  The result was kind of sloppy looking, but delicious.. until a bitter aftertaste showed up.  When I was at the grocery store, I was unable to find whole hazelnuts, and so I had a really hard time getting the skins off of the chopped ones I had to buy.  Those skins, I believe, are the source of this aftertaste.  Thankfully, that flavor faded after a day or two, and they were easy to share last Tuesday.

115. Whole-Wheat Date Bars
Do not be fooled by the appearance of these cookies.  They are not Fig Newtons.  They are not filled with figs, but rather with a puree of Medjool dates which were softened in boiling apple cider.  The cookie wrapped around them features whole wheat flour (the regular stuff this time), wheat bran, lemon zest, and applesauce.  All these put together give a soft, delicious cookie.  The apple flavors don't show up very strongly, although supposedly the applesauce is there to make these bars soft, which they are.  The lemon zest, however, has a very strong flavor, and adds an unexpected light contrast to the heartiness of the dates and whole wheat which otherwise dominate the cookies.

I have to say, I think these cookies are amazing.  They were very easy to make, not particularly expensive, healthy for cookies, they look good, and (most importantly) they taste good.  It may be hard for me to actually share these....


the early bird and the night owl

There is never enough time to get everything done.  Pick any day of the week, and there are several things I can list that didn't happen, that I either needed to put off for another day or indefinitely.  In the past, the attempt to accomplish things with my day has led to extremely late nights - for example, when I was sewing my halloween costume I stayed up until 4am a few nights in a row to finish it - and consequent late mornings.  Homework tends to be a more worthy reason to forget to go to bed, but that has left me waking up in the afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays (and, unfortunately, on weekdays too).

Over the past several months, I have started to shift to waking up early to get things done, something that even a year ago I would never have expected.  It's pretty awesome to get up on a Saturday have all my errands run before noon, so that I can bake and, well, do more stuff in the afternoon.

Last Saturday, I slept in, which meant I had to bake on Sunday.  Oh well.

112. Apricot Windows
These cookie bars have SO MUCH butter in them.  I was shocked when I first read the recipe and saw it call for 4-1/2 sticks of butter. Yes, that is 1.12 pounds of butter.  This mass of butter is mixed with sugar, flour, a few eggs, and yellow cornmeal (plus some other ingredients I'm probably forgetting), then spread all over a cookie sheet to make a base for these cookies.  After the base is baked, apricot jam is spread on it and more of the buttery batter is piped on the top to make a lovely lattice pattern.

It's immediately apparent, upon tasting these, that they are full of butter.  The cornmeal flavor comes out very nicely, and pairs well with the apricot, which isn't overwhelming.  My results had a kind of thick crust, because the recipe calls for a larger cookie sheet than will fit in my tiny oven, so I did the best I could with what was available.  However, in the future I will consider scaling down the recipe a little, so that these bars can be a little thinner and can have more apricot on them.  Otherwise, these were very easy to make, which was good because I had about a million things to do last weekend.


Meringue fail, again

Before I start talking about school or cookies or anything, I have to say the following:

To those of you who ride bikes:  Please wear your helmets!  One of my closest friends was hit by a car yesterday while riding his bike, and if it weren't for his helmet, his skull probably would have been just as smashed up as his shoulder and hands (which are broken).  I know protective headgear looks stupid and can be a hassle, but your brains are totally worth it!

That said, much of my energy this week has gone into caring for those close to me, and, honestly, it has been exhausting.  Phil and I spent last weekend constructing his new bed frame, friends have been traveling, other friends have been injured, yet other friends are in Qual panic... and as a result I am way behind on my own work, and on posting (which should come second, but I'm trying really hard to avoid backlogs this year).  I really hope next week will be more sane.

111. Baci di Dama
I have something to confess - I am terrible at making meringues.  This is my second attempt, and they fell just as flat as the ones I tried making last year.  Previously I hypothesized that they were underwhipped, but I'm pretty sure in both cases the meringues where overwhipped, as this batch suddenly lost all its thickness as I attacked it with my hand mixer.  Well, I guess now I know what it looks like, and have two more recipes to try and get it right.

Although they didn't look quite right, these little chocolate cookies weren't a complete failure.  The main part of these is meringue with dutched cocoa and ground up blanched almonds, and the filling is semisweet chocolate with a tiny bit of vegetable shortening.  The result was a very chocolatey, light cookie, with a bit of extra texture provided by the almonds.  I thought they were really good, and was also thrilled with each batch only needing 15 minutes in the oven, rather than the 2h required for regular meringues.


Last-minute vacationing

The transition from college to a full-time job comes with very clear expectations and limits, as far as I have been led to believe.  The long, carefree vacations most of us experience from childhood to the age of 22 or so give way to overtime and budgeting those paid vacation days to be used for maximum fun (or necessary rest).

The guidelines are not so clear in graduate school.  In the presence of the university schedule, it is tempting to stick to the oscillating pace of the undergrad life - ramping up and down between burn-out inducing work levels and no motion at all - but we are not given two to four months of the year to recover from such behavior.  Instead, we keep working.  Under successful brainwashing by our departments and advisors, we begin to feel like we cannot take time off or go anywhere to just have fun and relax.  After all, any time spent not working is time wasted on the path to a PhD, right?  Maybe a little, but it's all a question of figuring out an appropriate balance.

In the spirit of the balancing act of life (and under invitation by Phil's parents), I traveled out East for a week to have a little fun and some actual vacation before school started.  It would be boring for me to go into the details, but I enjoyed the trip, spent time at the beach in Stone Harbor, NJ, and returned last Tuesday night to a world of getting-ready-for-classes insanity.

Although I let myself go on a vacation from work, I couldn't take a break from cookie baking, and so I picked one of the simplest recipes in my book and ran with it.

These are basically Pecan Sandies by a different name.  The recipe only calls for six ingredients, and doesn't require any extra chilling time, so it was a good choice for out-of-town baking.

In this recipe, finely chopped toasted pecans are added to a mixture of flour, salt, butter, brown sugar, and egg yolk to make a crisp, melt-in-your-mouth cookie with a flavor reminiscent of pecan pie.  In the interest of not storing random extra ingredients, I omitted the pecan halves that were supposed to be placed in the center of each cookie, which left them somewhat lacking aesthetically.  However, I found the toasted pecans made these taste really good, and I enjoyed the texture as well.


Variations on a theme

The summer semester has finally ended here at the U of I, which means this area is going to be more of a ghost town than usual for another week or two until the new graduate students move in, followed shortly after by hordes of new, confused freshmen and their equally-confused parents, and then by all the other returning students.  College towns are strange: they have a transient population of some 30,000 students who leave in May and return in August.  In between, on-campus restaurants struggle to draw in customers, and the graduate students who live here year-round take the time to enjoy the quiet.

Those same graduate students are moving into new apartments at this time of year.  I've already helped a couple friends move this summer, and am hopefully done with that, so the next interesting thing for me will be helping my boyfriend furnish his new apartment.  I've been keeping an eye on a do-it-yourself furniture blog, Knock Off Wood (where a woman in Alaska provides plans and detailed instructions for how to build nice furniture, which ends up being significantly less expensive than buying it), and hopefully that will be a good resource for putting together a bedframe or some bookshelves or something.  I shared this website with Phil a while ago, so it's actually his idea to build furniture for his apartment, but I'm excited to get to help, since I love building stuff.

I also (obviously) enjoy baking, which brings me to this week's cookie.

109. Coconut Macadamia Shortbread
It may seem surprising that I've made two coconut cookies in a row, but I did this on purpose: both this recipe and last week's recipe call for cream of coconut, which goes bad after a while, so I figured it would be a good idea to use it while it's guaranteed to be good (the rest will be going into piña coladas).

These cookies are not completely your basic shortbread.  The expected quantities of butter and flour are present, but this recipe calls for granulated sugar rather than confectioners' sugar.  The cookies are flavored with ground toasted macadamia nuts, finely shredded coconuts, coconut extract, and cream of coconut.  There's quite a lot of the first two flavoring ingredients in the cookies, and so I find that these do not quite have the usual shortbread texture, although they certainly have the usual shortbread richness.  And they taste very strongly of coconut.

The dough here was chilled, rolled out (with some extra unnecessary instructions involving more time in the refrigerator), and cut using whatever I had with a scalloped edge, which ended up being my Linzer Cookie Cutter.  These were brushed with egg white and sprinkled with more coconut before being baked.  The coconut on top gets toasted nicely in the oven and looks pretty, too.

Overall, I have to say I like these cookies, although I don't see myself going out of my way to buy cream of coconut for them.  I also have to confess that the dough for these tastes REALLY GOOD, and for once I don't have to worry about salmonella, as shortbread doesn't have any egg in it.


Cicadas and humidity

Few things evoke old summer memories like the crescendo of the cicadas' drone in the dizzying heat of the late afternoon.  When I was young, I attributed the noise to electricity: I thought that was the noise transformers made when it was very hot outside.  After all, what else could explain that unceasing, unvarying buzz? (Keep in mind, this is before vuvuzelas became internationally known).  It still baffles me that an insect only an inch or so long can make such a loud noise.

I missed that sound when I lived in Florida, where we had the heat and humidity of a Midwestern summer for a good 3/4 of the year.  With my assortment of experiences, I suddenly find myself associating summer with a tropical location, and it becomes entirely appropriate for me to bake and eat cookies that are largely made with coconut.

108. Coconut Cream-Filled Macaroons
This strikes me as a somewhat redundant recipe, as I made coconut macaroons nearly two years ago, and was impressed by their simplicity and tastiness.  This recipe went and kicked up the coconut several notches, first through the addition of coconut extract to the macaroons, and second through calling for a cream filling.

The cream filling is both appalling and kind of good at the same time.  It's made with butter, vegetable shortening, confectioners' sugar, cream of coconut (usually used for making piña coladas), and more coconut extract.  This fatty and sweet concoction goes between two macaroons to give a nice texture contrast (after all, the macaroons are basically coconut held together by egg whites), but the flavor is exactly the same in all parts of the cookie.  I found this a little bit disappointing, as I could have enjoyed the taste of coconut without setting myself up for diabetes and a heart attack.  Plus, I'm always of the opinion that each separate part of a cookie needs to add both flavor and texture contrast to be successful.

That said, I think I'll be sticking with the macaroon recipe sans filling (although I may try them with mini chocolate chips sometime...)

Oh, and a quick side note:  this recipe called for unsweetened shredded coconut, which is not available in most grocery stores.  To get around this, I used sweetened coconut and omitted all the sugar.


fruit -> fruit flies

This month I've put myself on a mostly vegan diet, which has meant giving up some things I really like to eat, like, um, meat and dairy.  Although it's a bit drastic, it's the best way I know to cut high-fat and in general junk food out of my diet.  What this has meant, however, is that I've been eating a hefty quantity of fruits and vegetables.

I love this time of year because I can go to the farmers' market and to the grocery store and find peaches, berries, cherries, asparagus, zucchini, and so on for low prices.  What I don't love about this time of year is the hitchhikers that come along with the produce I purchase.  Yes, this is the time of year when fruit flies buzz all around my kitchen.  Well, not just my kitchen, but the kitchens of all produce-buying people in the area.  When I first moved here, I was shocked by the number of flies that hovered around even a very clean kitchen, so I did some research and came up with the following solution, which I will share in case anyone is interested.

1. Put your produce in the refrigerator.  I know this is not ideal, but as long as it's sitting out, flies will be attracted to it, and will lay eggs in it too.
2. Make a trap.  I use a shallow plastic cup with some cider vinegar in it (shown to the right).  The cup is covered with plastic wrap with a few holes in it.  The flies, attracted to the vinegar, climb into the cup and are too dumb to find their way out.

Keep in mind, for this to work, your kitchen has to be clean.  That means no fruit peels in an open garbage can, or other things the flies will be more attracted to.

Among other things, this also meant that I had to quickly put away the cookies I made this week, although the recipe recommends freezing them to keep them fresh, so I don't have a problem with it.

107. Blueberry Bonanza Bars
I'm not so sure about the bonanza part, but I like these bar cookies.  In this recipe, a pre-cooked crust filled with ground up toasted almonds is topped with blueberry jam and almond-coconut granola.  My cookbook instructed me to mix the crust exclusively in my food processor.  For me, this was impossible, as I only have a 3-cup KitchenAid, so I did all the necessary food processing in smaller batches.  I also had to make my own granola, which was a successful first for me.  The recipe I followed (on the same page as the cookie recipe) yielded about 2C too much granola, so I've been enjoying it for breakfast.

These cookies are better than I expected.  The toasted almonds have a pretty strong flavor, and they keep the blueberry jam from being too overwhelming - this was a big concern of mine, because I'm not a big fan of blueberry jam, and think that I might use apricot preserves instead if I repeat this recipe.  The granola on top provides a nice texture, because no fruit bar is complete without a crumbly topping.

Ok, that's it for tonight.  I've got to clean my kitchen so that more fruit flies can die.


Wishing for beach time

It has been so ridiculously hot this summer, and I guess I can't complain too much because most of the US (and several places in the Northern Hemisphere, or so I've heard) has been just as hot.  It's very expensive to run the air conditioner, but too humid to leave it off, so I just sit here and think about my weekend on Lake Huron, and the wonderful way the lake cools down the surrounding area....  When I was home I could sail all day, when on shore it was 95˚F, and never be too warm (the water was a nice 65˚F).

All those thoughts about the beach and Lake Huron in general got me thinking about the Port Huron to Mackinac Race, which is the biggest thing to happen in Port Huron, and probably the biggest thing to happen every year on my mom's side of the family.  The race started last Saturday, and my uncle's sailboat made it to the island this morning, winning first place in its class.  Hooray and congratulations!

106. Sand Tarts
In honor of the race, and because it's about time I got around to this recipe, I made what my cookbook calls Sand Tarts.  These are dense sugar cookies flavored with lemon zest, then topped with cinnamon sugar and sliced almonds.

When I first tried one of these, I was unimpressed by its lack of texture, but after they had the chance to cool down, the cookies became a little more crisp, which I think suits the sandy appearance nicely.  The lemon zest is also great - it isn't overwhelming, and is definitely the kind of flavor that refreshes on a hot day (in contrast to nuts or chocolate which seem to be more fall/winter flavors).  The almonds are just there for show, so that the cookies can resemble sand dollars.

All things said, this was an easy recipe, with the added bonus of a nice presentation.  The one thing I did note in my cookbook, however, is that it calls for altogether too much cinnamon sugar (I found I had 1/3C left over after dumping as much as I could on the cookies).  I guess I'll be eating cinnamon oatmeal once all the heat breaks.


Eating the elephant one bite at a time...

I always thought that it would be very easy to keep a beautifully clean apartment once I started living by myself.  Perhaps if I were still on an undergraduate schedule (that is, one with longer vacations), I could set aside a whole day every month to thoroughly clean everything.  Such a day is impossible on my current schedule, so I think I may need to give myself a piece-by-piece cleaning schedule and just do some 30 minutes of work every day.  While I don't like the thought of this, I like the dirt and dust less, so we'll have to see if I can have my apartment nice and clean by the weekend.

A part of this problem that doesn't allow me large blocks of time to clean is that I've been spending a lot of time at the gym this summer, particularly in the outdoor pool.  My summer goal is to swim 3 miles every week.  I haven't kept to this perfectly, partly because it took me a couple weeks to get back to my usual pace and distance, and partly due to traveling a little, but I hope I can fit in another 17 miles before the fall semester begins.  Or, of course, I could try to push a little harder and swim more than one mile each time I go to the pool...

In the meantime, I keep chipping away at my cookie project:

105. Vanilla Malted Cookies
Here is another simple but impressive cookie.  Basically, malted milk powder and vanilla seeds are added to a very buttery dough, which is shot out of a cookie gun to result in a product that my advisor thought were store-bought.

Vanilla seeds are altogether too expensive, so I added 1.5t vanilla extract instead.  I suppose that, for a particularly discerning palate, there is a difference in taste, but I don't really expect that kind of refined taste in the non-bakers with whom I share these cookies.

Nevertheless, the vanilla flavor is strong, and the malted milk gives the cookies a rich caramel flavor, and they disappeared so quickly that I can only suppose that my coworkers liked them very much.  I'm also a big fan of using the cookie gun - oh, okay, so it's actually a cookie press - because it's so much easier than using cookie cutters.  It's kind of a shame that only a couple recipes in my book call for such a device.


Baking by the Lake

I went home last weekend, and so spent at least half of my Fourth of July weekend on Lake Huron.  That meant swimming and sailing and trying very hard not to get a sunburn (I succeeded! But I got a dozen mosquito bites instead).

Since Phil is allergic to cats, and my dad's house is full of cats, we stayed at my grandparents' house.  I love their house, it's beautiful, and my Grandma Carol is probably the best cook I know.  She's very good about feeding many people for every meal, and now that my grandfather has to avoid gluten she has expanded her repertoire to include more interesting foods (which tend to be the same kinds of foods I eat but no one else in my family has ever heard of).  I would be willing to blame my propensity for kitchen adventures almost entirely on her influence.  She was very happy to facilitate my out-of-town baking, and thus the following blondies were made (in her convection oven.  I am so jealous).

104. Raspberry Almond Blondies
I have been looking forward to these for a long time.  Raspberries are, by far, my favorite fruit, and they've finally become a little bit less expensive.  This recipe was particularly ideal for this past weekend as the only extra ingredients (i.e. things you wouldn't find in most pantries) were the berries, which were strewn on top of the batter, and the sliced almonds, which were both mixed into and scattered on top of the batter.
Although the raspberries made me very happy, I'm not sure that I was entirely impressed with this recipe.  It seemed like the almonds weren't a very good fit with the raspberries, and there wasn't significant flavor aside from those same berries.  I think I probably would have liked these with a little bit of white chocolate mixed in to make the blondie batter a little more rich.  I suspect that might give a nicer contrast, rather than just an excuse to eat raspberries (which I will do with no excuse at all).


Possibly Health Food

Life is very busy right now, and so this one is going to be a short post without (most of) the usual small talk.

103. Fruit and Nut Cookies
Over the summer I am trying to balance out my recipes between the availability of ingredients and time, but this specific recipe didn't really follow either specification.  Instead, I selected these cookies to send along as a hearty snack for a couple conference-going friends.  In this cookie, hefty quantities of pistachios, macadamia nuts, shredded coconut, chopped dates, and chopped dried apricots are just barely held together by the standard chocolate chip cookie dough base (that is, minus the chocolate chips).  The result was a good, chewy cookie that had a nice mix of subtle sweetness from the fruit and intermittent saltiness from the pistachios.

With all the healthy stuff in these cookies, I think the standard dough base was not the most appropriate choice.  I would have preferred (and in the future may change it to have) some whole wheat flour or wheat germ in the recipe to give the dough a richer flavor, and to perhaps make these cookies a little healthier.  A typical way to do this without messing up the recipe is to substitute wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour.  A friend of mine suggested adding oats to these cookies, but I'm not sure if that would be a good idea, as that would give the dough one more thing to hold together...

That's it for this cookie.  Considering my desire to mix wheat with fruit, I'm excited for whenever I make the whole-wheat date bars in my book.


false positive drug test? let's go!

It should be immediately obvious from the title of this post that I have been baking with poppy seeds (and not taking/failing drug tests, I promise).  I picked up a very small jar of these seeds when I made a buttermilk seed bread two weeks ago, and since I have them on hand, it only made sense to choose a cookie recipe that would let me use them.

102. Lemon-Poppy Seed Crisps
Saturdays are always one of my busiest days, and a recent knee injury made the day just a little more ridiculous.  It's difficult to rest while trying to get everything done around my apartment, but the cookies I planned to make before getting injured were, thankfully, one of the simpler parts of my day.

The name of these cookies tells pretty much all there is to know: butter, sugar, flour, and so on were mixed together with lemon zest, reduced lemon juice (boiled for about ten minutes), and poppy seeds to make a dough similar in consistency to peanut butter cookie dough - well, the way it should turn out, not the way my cookbook told me to make them - which was then rolled into a ball, rolled in a mix of sugar and more lemon zest, flattened, and baked.  The resulting cookies are, for the lack of an original adjective, crisp, which was to be expected, considering the large amount of butter in the recipe.  The lemon flavor is strong, and the poppy seeds... well, to be honest, I'm not really sure what the poppy seeds are for, aside from garnish and perhaps to add a little bit of different texture.  Oh, right, and tradition.  I won't whine too much about what seems like an unnecessary addition, since I need to use up what I have, but I think these cookies would be equally delicious without the poppy seeds, and wouldn't give people the risk of failing their drug tests, or, perhaps in a more realistic danger, embarrassing themselves with tiny black seeds stuck between their teeth in public.


Small town woes

Today my boyfriend and I went to Taste of Champaign-Urbana, a local food festival intended to showcase local restaurants, to see what there was to see (and eat).   The food was priced far too high for its mediocre quality, but I suppose the festival did give an accurate depiction of local fare.  After all, the quality of restaurants here is always qualified by the fact that, despite the presence of a large university, this is a middle-of-nowhere set of cities.  We describe restaurants as having "good (insert type here) food... for Champaign."  So I suppose, in that spirit, the food festival was a good festival... for Champaign.

The problem with this is that I am often disappointed when I go out places here, which means I find myself less inclined to want to go out places, and end up watching Quantum Leap on Hulu instead.  Oh, right, and looking around for new recipes so that I can cook fun stuff for myself, since I clearly can't rely on the restaurants around here for new and interesting foods (and because it's so much less expensive to cook even fancy foods at home).

Thus I continue on with my kitchen projects, and present for you this weekend's cookie endeavor, with its usual set of quirks.

101. Chocolate Malt Sandwiches
These rich chocolate cookies are so good, and aside from one special ingredient, were pretty easy and quick to make:

The main cookie part in this recipe has mostly typical ingredients, including Dutch cocoa to give it a strong chocolate flavor.  It also has a good helping of malted milk powder and a specialty ingredient called crème fraîche.  The malted milk is responsible for the nice chewy texture of these cookies, and I suppose the crème fraîche helps to make the cookie flavor just a little bit richer.

Before I go on, I suppose I should talk about this funny ingredient with all the accents.  Crème fraîche, or "krem fresh" for those who, like me, don't do French, is a nutty sour cream traditional in, you guessed it, France.  In the United States, it can be purchased for something like $5 for 8 oz, or you can make the equivalent amount for about $1 (and a couple days of waiting) by following the instructions in the above link.  I chose the cheap option, and whipped the rest with sugar to put on my nectarine slices.  Another inexpensive option, as suggested by a friend, is to use regular sour cream as a substitute.

The cookies on their own were delicious, and I didn't think they lacked anything, but my cookbook demanded filling.  In the spirit of completing the cookbook, I proceeded to make a decadent mix of nearly a whole bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, butter, a cup of malted milk, cream cheese, half and half, and vanilla.  This was chilled, whipped, and put on the previously baked cookies.  It turns out they taste even better with the filling: both parts are very chocolate-y, but nothing is too rich all together, and the chewy texture of the cookies keep the filling from smooshing out of the center, which is always a plus.

I have one other comment before I stop talking about this recipe: there are some strange quantities various recipes in this book call for (such as 2C plus 2T of flour), and some quantity errors (particularly between tablespoons and teaspoons) that lead me to believe that much of this cookbook was made from rescaled recipes and lots of cut-and-paste.  My best proof for the latter is the final sentence in this recipe, which gives the storage instructions.  In my opinion, it is the best sentence in the entire book.
Cookies can be refrigerated between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.
This is why I don't worry about following instructions exactly.  I will be storing these in the refrigerator, which is definitely not at room temperature.

Correcting my cookbook...

Here I am with a late update, but this time it's not entirely my fault: my cookbook steered me wrong with a recipe that I didn't correct until mid-week.

Last Saturday was a multi-tasking disaster, as I worked to make bread, a specialty ingredient for today's cookies (I'll discuss these in my next post), egg salad for my lunches, and my usual cookies, while trying to get all my laundry washed and dried in time to watch a crazy bread anime with my friends.  I found myself working nonstop from about 2pm to 8pm, with everything turning out alright except for my cookies.

100. Lacy Nut Cookies
The first section of my cookbook pretty much consists of cookies with butter as their dominant ingredient.  This is especially apparent with any cookie that ends up with a lacy pattern, which gives away the fact that when it was baked the butter melted and then started to boil on the cookie sheet.  Since the dough melts, these cookies tend to become very large and thin, so they require a lot of space for baking and careful watching so they don't burn.

That is exactly where the original recipe steered me wrong.  The instructions called for chilling the dough in a log, and then cutting it into 1/4" pieces for baking at 350˚F for 15 to 20 minutes.  I followed these instructions, but after fifteen minutes the eight cookies I tried to make had turned into a single burnt mess.  This was too much for me to deal with on Saturday, so I turned off the oven after a couple botched batches and threw the dough in the refrigerator, in the hope that I would be able to rescue the project later.  The cookies that I had already made turned soggy overnight, as I left them out and the humidity basically ruined whatever good was left in them.

And so, later, I heated the oven to 300˚F (according to the dial - I need to get an oven thermometer to determine just how inaccurate this is, but I know the oven runs high), sliced the dough as thinly as I could possibly get it, and baked batches of 5 cookies each for only 11 minutes.  With these modifications, the cookies turned out very nicely, and I sealed them up in a bag quickly, so they remained crisp.  I wrote every change in my cookbook, but I think it's important to mention them here too, so that perhaps someone someday won't have to repeat this ordeal.

These cookies are, in general, pretty good, although the butter makes them kind of oily.  Aside from the butter, these cookies are made with confectioners' sugar, corn syrup, chopped pecans (hence the 'nut' in the title), and a small amount of bread flour.  Supposedly, the higher gluten of the bread flour makes the cookies a little more sturdy.  The result, when done properly, was a very thin, crunchy cookie with a strong sweet taste mixed with the flavor of toasted pecans.  I really like the texture of these cookies, eating them is much like eating a very thin piece of toffee (which is basically butter and sugar anyway).  My research group seemed to enjoy them too.


Another project concluded.

With the normal passage of time (and my normal obliviousness to its passage), June has come, and today makes it 80 days since I started my limoncello steeping.

You may recall I discussed this project about 40 days ago, but if you don't, here's a recap: I peeled 16 lemons, and threw the peels, a sprig of rosemary, and a fifth of 100-proof vodka in a jar, sealed it, and left it in my closet.  Eventually I added sugar syrup and more vodka, and put it back in my closet to sit again.  Today I took that jar out, and have strained this sweet and potent beverage into clear swing-top bottles.  The vodka picked up a nice yellow color that makes it look nice and summery.  In that spirit, I'm looking forward to enjoying this home-made limoncello with my friends.

As it has continued to be warm, I've been doing what I can to go outside, eat fresh produce, and all the other somewhat healthy things associated with nice weather.  Last Saturday I combined these activities in a trip to Urbana's Market at the Square, the local farmer's market.  There I saw plenty of strawberries, zucchini, and green beans, as well as baked goods and stalls for local butchers.  I wasn't feeling too adventurous (and I have pride about doing my own baking), so I just picked up some strawberries, which I proceeded to use in this weekend's cookie recipe.

99. Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprints
I'm getting to the point in this cookie project where I am deliberately trying to prepare recipes I've been putting off for some reason or another.  This recipe had been delayed for two reasons.
1) Berries are expensive when they're not in season.
2) These cookies cannot be pre-assembled.
The nice thing about living in the Midwest, though, is that berries are now in season, and there is always at least one picnic or cookout to attend on Memorial Day.  So with berries in hand and a get-together in mind, I made these cookies.

There are three layers involved in this recipe.  The first is the chocolate cookie on the bottom, which is made with both dutch cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate.  For these cookies to be useful, I had to use my thumb to press a hole in the center before baking, and then use the end of a wooden spoon to deepen the hole halfway through the baking process.  Thus, the cookies themselves have a strong chocolate taste, with a nice open space in the center to hold the other two layers.  I was able to make these cookies a couple days ahead of time, as it's just the assembly that's time-sensitive.

The toppings for the cookie are simply cream cheese mixed with confectioners sugar, and diced fresh strawberries tossed with a little bit of granulated sugar.  The sugar made the strawberries more juicy, so if the toppings were left on the cookie for too long, the whole ensemble would get a little soggy.  This wasn't a big problem, though, because my friends ate them up in good time.

Overall, I would say this is a good recipe, although I found that the cream cheese doesn't really stand out when juxtaposed with the strawberries and all that chocolate.  It provides a nice texture and visual contrast, but I'm never totally happy with a recipe unless I can taste all the key ingredients.


We mustn't forget that it's actually spring...

The scientists at Fermilab (I would say the LHC but Batavia is closer) have, in their zeal for the pursuit of science at all costs, collided too many particles and sent Illinois into a premature August.  Nothing else can explain the sweltering heat that has been boiling the plains and leading everyone left in town to seek refuge (and skin cancer) at the ARC outdoor pool for the past two days.

Perhaps I exaggerate a bit.  First, I don't really mean that about Fermilab, if only because a good friend of mine is up there getting data from a beam line as I type this, and he's definitely not that kind of scientist.  It has been unseasonably warm, with temperatures reaching 93˚F today, and thus I find myself a little dazed - due in part to the difficulties of staying adequately hydrated - and wont to believe that summer is, indeed, upon us.

With this misplaced belief my yearnings for the beach and sailing are strong, but I know there is no time for these right now, and the water is still too cold.  In the meanwhile, I do the best to remind myself that it is still spring, so that I may enjoy this season fully instead of pushing it out of the way for summer.  Fortunately, the cookies I baked this weekend help to serve as a nice reminder.

98. Lime Flowers
These was a very simple recipe that I had been putting off, mostly because I don't like to be bothered with cookie cutters, but also because I don't like to be told what shape to make my cookies.  It seemed a little silly to make cookies with the word 'flower' in the title without making them flower-shaped, so I gave in.  The result: cute sugar cookies with a strong, but not overwhelming, lime flavor.  The flavor is due to the addition of the zest of an entire lime, and a decent quantity of lime juice.  Otherwise, this is a typical sugar cookie recipe, with the additional instructions of dusting the cookies with confectioners' sugar before serving.  I ignored that step, as it would be messy to transport.

I think these cookies, although simple, are very delicious.  Lime is a good flavor for hot weather, and these light cookies are much more appetizing, given the circumstances, than any rich type of cookie (for example, the pistachio cookies I made last week, or anything with a lot of chocolate).  The only downside of these is that I left them out overnight, and the humidity made them kind of soft.  Even though it's not actually summer yet, I may need to start thinking about the effects of this kind of weather a little early so as to not lower the quality of whatever I bake next week...


Imaginary Free Time

The Spring semester has ended, which means I'm a day or two short of being completely done in the old research group, and ready to start work in this new acoustics group.  With the end of teaching duties and typical GCF scheduling, I like to think that I'll now have more time available to do other things... which include but are not limited to swimming, sailing, dinner groups, sewing, reading, traveling, and continued kitchen adventures.

Hey, look at that, I've managed to give myself plenty to do this summer.  I guess there's no such thing as "free time" in my life.  At least this summer I won't be committing to any musicals or similar huge endeavors.

Since this weekend marks a good in-between point before I construct a new hectic schedule for myself, I've taken some time to make a more complicated cookie from my recipe book.

97. Chocolate Pistachio Cookies
I said above that these are complicated cookies.  The reason for this is not that the recipe calls for many ingredients, but rather that several steps are involved.  First, a chocolate filling is made with egg yolks (yes, they're raw), melted semisweet chocolate, and a simple syrup, and then must cool in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.  The cookies themselves are pistachio paste with some sugar and an egg white to hold the mix together.  These cookies were baked, allowed to cool, sandwiched with the filling, and then frozen for an hour before being covered in bittersweet chocolate.

The result of this 2+ hour project is a moderately crunchy cookie that tastes just like pistachios, a kind of mushy filling, and a strong taste of chocolate.  Considering the few ingredients involved, these two tastes are really the only ones I expected, although (as I've mentioned previously) I am not particularly fond of pistachios.  My boyfriend assures me the cookies are very delicious, though, so that's good.

As far as personal preference goes, I think I prefer the Sarah Bernhardt cookies I made last year, since they had a very similar texture, and I most definitely like almond better than pistachios.


Happy (carda)Mom's Day!

This week I finally gave in and bought a new spice, one I've never used before, and which was more expensive than I expected (I probably would have done better if I went to an Asian market), so that I could continue with my cookie project and also work on this pear and ginger muffin business.  That spice is cardamom, which supposedly comes from the ginger family.  As for how it tastes/smells...

According to Wikipedia:
Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more astringent aroma, though not bitter, with a coolness similar to mint, though with a different aroma.
..Yeah that's not helpful at all.  I find the experience to be akin to a combination of allspice and black pepper, both toned down a little so that you don't feel totally overwhelmed upon tasting or smelling it.  The container suggests putting it in apple pie or using it as seasoning for pork.  I used it as the showcase ingredient for this week's cookie.

96. Sweet Cardamom Crackers
These cookies are of the light and crunchy variety, although their crunchiness is a result of large amounts of butter added to the dough (that means they're a little oily).  For this recipe, ground cardamom was added to a standard dough, which was rolled out thinly, scored with a pizza cutter, and sprinkled with a mixture of shredded coconut, chopped pistachios, and sugar, and then baked for a little while.

The cardamom in the recipe really takes the flavor spotlight in this otherwise very sweet cookie, as the ingredients sprinkled on top are milder and provide more aesthetic appeal.  Honestly, I think the chopped pistachios make these cookies look so much more appetizing, as well as providing a little bit of texture contrast when eating them.

I think this recipe may be worth revisiting soon... it was very easy to prepare, difficult to mess up (I typically burn my first batch of cookies because my oven is always too hot), and it's uncommon enough to seem like it took a lot of work.  Plus, I spent all that money on ground cardamom, I've got to find some way to use it.


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