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10.31.2011

DONE!

I have been looking forward to (and, in a sense, putting off) this post for a long time.  Yes, it's been a while since I updated.  Two months is ridiculous.  However, I am proud to report that as of today I have finally completed this Martha Stewart cook book.

Many things have happened in the past several weeks.  Perhaps the most important event was my decision to change research groups.  Those of you who know me may be asking yourselves, "What, again?" Yes, again.  In case you didn't hear, I spent a year in a Quantum Information research group, and then switched to an Acoustics group in the Electrical Engineering department.  After nearly a year and a half in that group, I realized it wasn't working and decided to make the jump to Physics Education.  Already I am being much more productive and happy, so I think this was a really good decision.  And it probably won't actually set me behind any more than staying in the previous group would have.  Hurray for possibly someday graduating!

But I will do a proper recap post later.  I need to tell you about cookies first!

164. Biscochitos
These cookies are a Mexican recipe that involves anise seed, orange zest, and cinnamon.  The recipe as written calls for lard, but I wasn't interested in purchasing 5lbs and chose to use vegetable shortening instead.  With sufficient flour on the rolling surface, this dough was very easy to cut and transfer, and I had fun dumping cinnamon sugar on the cookies prior to putting them in the oven.
I really enjoyed these cookies - the anise flavor was strong but not overwhelming, and the texture was something between a regular sugar cookie and shortbread... it's hard to describe, but that's the result of using so much shortening.

165. Date Triangles
These cookies look pretty fancy, but I promise they weren't actually too much work.  In fact, almost all the mixing is done in a food processor, and can even be managed in a dinky 3C Cuisinart like I own.  The dough is made much like a pie crust, with butter and flour pulsed together with some orange zest and cold water; the filling is more like a larabar (if you haven't had them and you're into natural/vegan/gluten-free stuff, give them a try) with blended up dates, almonds, and orange zest.  Notice the theme here?  There was orange in everything.
So as I said, these were actually not a big deal to make, and the flavor was quite good!  The dough was hardly sweetened, so the natural sweetness of the dates came through nicely.

166. Bratseli
These cookies were also very easy to make, but they're a great example of the random expenditures I've had to make for this project.  To actually make these I had to purchase a pizzelle iron for about $30, otherwise they wouldn't be thin like that.  I had considered trying my belgian waffle maker, but I knew the effect would be all wrong.
The recipe calls for huge amounts of flour (up to 9C!), lots of butter, and an entire pint of heavy cream.  When eating these, it is easy to tell that they have a lot of fat in their composition, but this makes the texture really nice.  The experience of these cookies is something along the lines of eating slightly lemon-flavored waffle cones.  And now that I have the specialty iron, I will have to make cannolis or something to make it worth my money.

167. Classic Shortbread
Although I didn't manage to leave a chocolate chip cookie recipe for the end of this project, I still had a few simple things left over.  I've already made a few variations of shortbread, including cranberry, hazelnut orange, mocha, and maple, and this was the most basic variety: butter, flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt (not even any vanilla!).  I purchased a fluted tart pan for this recipe, and so it took nearly an hour for the 10" round of dough to cook all the way through.  The result was an addictive, buttery, crisp pan full of cookies that disappeared within minutes when I brought them to small group.  Oh, and the fluted edges looked super classy.

168. Italian Polenta Cookies
This was another lots of butter, why-am-I-making-crazy-shapes recipe.  These cookies are full of cornmeal, which gives them a crunchier texture.  Polenta is, for a basic explanation, an Italian cornmeal.  I wish I had known that the recipe actually wanted dried Polenta, because when I bought the real stuff at the store I got the pre-cooked stuff.  Oops.  When it came time to bake and I realized my mistake, I just used regular yellow cornmeal instead.
Overall, I found these cookies to be kind of bland.  They got some extra flavor from added lemon zest, but I just didn't find them to be very interesting.  This may also be due to the fact that the only shape I could get my cookie gun to make was this zig-zaggy thing you see in the picture, all the other shapes wouldn't detach properly, and with my busted pastry bag there was no way I was going to be able to pipe the fancy S shapes shown in my cookbook.  Oh well.  I'll stick to cornmeal thyme cookies if I want to do cornmeal stuff again.

169. Springerle
Springerle are a traditional European cookie that are made using some special mold to make them look pretty.  They are chock-full of confectioners' sugar, cake flour, and eggs.  So many eggs (half a dozen).  And so much flour.  I think I ended up putting more than 2lbs of flour into these.  And a little bit of anise extract for flavoring.  Since I lacked the special molds and didn't feel like ordering them off the internet, I used a neat idea I found on Pinterest and chose to make an imprint with a clean stamp I picked up on clearance from the craft store.  This technique worked really nicely, since I only had to cut the cookies into rectangles and then stamp them.
These cookies were, well, a little dry.  I guess they're supposed to be springy or something but they just seemed floury to me.  Actually, I felt like I was trying to eat those cookies that are baked to be Christmas ornaments.  According to a friend of mine, these cookies are used as decorations sometimes, so I feel like I wasn't too far off with that feeling.

170. Sesame Seed Cookies
I was skeptical of this recipe when I first looked at it.  My experience with ground up sesame seeds is tahini, and while I have a vegan cookie recipe that calls for tahini, I couldn't imagine it tasting any good with the other ingredients in this specific recipe.
There was no need for me to worry: as I worked through the recipe I realized this was basically a peanut butter cookie recipe with ground up sesame seeds instead!  Indeed, the final cookies were crunchy and tasted much like peanut butter cookies, except they tasted a little bit more like toasted sesame seeds.  My final verdict: this was a fun experimental recipe, and the main ingredient certainly got people's attention.

171. Langues-de-Chat
Okay, so these cookies were really bland.  This is another recipe with flour and sugar and butter and eggs, etc as usual.  In this recipe the proportions were such that the dough was pretty thick when mixed up, melted down in the oven, and became firm and crunchy when baked and cooled.  In a super-classy way, I used a plastic bag with the corner cut out to pipe the cookie shapes, and since I was in a hurry I chose to use regular sugar instead of superfine sugar, and didn't find any kind of detriment to the result.  Side note: if you want your sugar to dissolve into the dough, you want to use superfine sugar.  This can be made by running regular sugar through a food processor for 30 seconds, then letting it settle for maybe a minute or two.  Like I said above, I found these cookies to be really boring.  The solution to this was to dip them in Nutella.  They make great Nutella carriers.

172. Tuile Leaves
You can see from the picture that I could not figure out how to make these turn out well.  These light almond-flavored cookies are made from a very runny dough which is spread as thinly as possible over a leaf-shaped stencil, which the cookbook claims should be available in any craft store.  Well, I couldn't find any leaves, or anything of the appropriate size that was a solid shape, so I bought a blank stencil (read: piece of thin plastic) and cut my own leaf stencil.  I am not a very good artist, and it was difficult to get the batter not to run under the edges, so the picture on the left is about the best I could do.  These cookies dried to be thin and crisp, but I honestly was too embarrassed by their ugliness to share them with anybody.


173. Fortune Cookies
Yes, I made fortune cookies.  And they actually turned out pretty well!  These are made with almost exactly the same batter as the tuile leaves, including the almond flavoring.  These cookies were pretty easy to make - the batter had to be spread into circles on the cookie sheet, and then the cookies were folded up while still hot and pliable.  I had a few disasters with burnt cookies (the recipe called for a 400F oven, which killed them.  I recommend baking at 350F) and waiting too long to fold the cookies.  The biggest difficulty with these cookies is that they just take a lot of time to make: since they have to be folded quickly, I could only bake two at a time.  Now it's time for math.  Each batch of cookies spent 7 minutes in the oven, and let's (under)estimate a total of 10 minutes from putting the batter on the cookie sheets to folding the cookies and setting them aside.  With a yield of 40 cookies, this amounts to about 3.5 hours of active time.  I ended up making a dozen of these one weekend, saving the dough, and finally baking the rest today.
These cookies are tasty and fun, especially since I got the opportunity to write my own fortunes in them, but I would say don't make them unless (1) you have a big enough oven to have two cookies sheets in at a time or (2) you have a lot of time to waste.


Well, that's it.  I will probably post again soon-ish to do some kind of recap of life over the past three years or what I've learned about baking or something, but for now I am going to call it a night.  This has been a fun project, but I have no plans to start anything of this magnitude again for quite some time.

I'm expecting this fortune to be accurate.

8.26.2011

Deep breath... and go!

This is yet another entry that's been a long time coming.  At first I had a reasonable excuse: the USB interface for my digital camera stopped working, and my hipster MacBook doesn't have anything so mainstream as a built-in SD card reader.  Then I ordered (and eventually received) an SD-to-USB adapter, and my only excuse now has been a back-to-back alternation of overwhelming busyness and lazyness.

This afternoon I find myself in the midst of one of the last lazy spells I can get away with before the fall semester really takes off.  Yes, classes began last Monday.  However, the stars have aligned for me such that my advisor is out of town, I don't teach until next Monday, and Bible studies haven't started yet.  Oh, right, and since I'm such a dinosaur graduate student (introducing myself as a fourth year makes me feel really old), taking classes is a thing of the past.

With everything set up to explode next week, now is the time to get caught up here.  So without further ado, here are several cookies summarized:

158. Almond Horns
These cookies were something like an almond shortbread, complete with the required large amounts of butter and confectioners' sugar sweetening.  Since they contain both toasted almonds and almond extract, the almond flavor is clear and bright, and fits in nicely with the crisp and crumbly shortbread texture.  The hefty 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt in this recipe counters the sweetness nicely.

Overall, these cookies were terrifically easy to prepare and very quickly eaten by my friends.  I've finally cleaned up my sugar sifting technique, too: I don't own a proper sifter, so to make these look pretty I put confectioners' sugar in a fine-mesh strainer and shook it above the cookies.


159. Pecan Logs
Without really meaning to, I ended up in a multiple-week series of recipes involving ground-up nuts.  Thank goodness for my food processor, which saves me so much time!  In this second week of nutty cookies, I switched to pecans, and made almost the exact same recipe as the first week.  Actually, looking back and comparing the recipes, one of the few differences is that this recipe called for twice the nuts, except that half of them went on the outside, so really it is not much of a change.

These cookies were, like their almond counterparts, crisp and sweet, with a good balance of salt and nut flavors.  I prefer pecans to almonds, perhaps because pecans always make me think of maple syrup, so I enjoyed this recipe more than the previous one.


160. Wholemeal-Almond Biscuits
After two weeks of nutty shortbread, I moved on to something a little more hearty, and possibly even healthy.  These flat cookies are made with ground toasted almonds and a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flours.  The dough for these cookies was put together much like a pie crust - meaning there was cold butter and a food processor involved - although the result was not anything quite so flaky, probably because the brown sugar added some extra moisture.

When I started working on this recipe, I was really afraid these cookies would be bland and, well, taste like health food.  Fortunately, the recipe also calls for just enough cinnamon to make the whole wheat taste good.  Yes, I confess that even as an adult I do not like the taste of whole wheat by itself.  But I didn't have to deal with that in these cookies.  That said, they are still a little boring to eat by themselves.

161. Cherry Tuiles
In general, I have been reluctant to make the cookies that sit in the first section of my cookbook.  This first section is where most of the fancy-pants stuff sits: this mostly consists of meringues and things that have to be rolled up while they're hot.  The recipes usually have inconvenient yields - sometimes one dozen (not enough) or six dozen (too much!) - and take a long time to make.  This recipe had the special difficulty of calling for dried cherries, which tend to be a little pricey.  This was a problem until one day when I wandered into Aldi and found a bag of dried cherries for a reasonable price.  Yay!

These cookies are a bit crazy.  They are made with lots of melted butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup, as well as a little bit of cake flour, which has no leavening agents in it.  This means that the dough really spread out when I baked it!  I measured single teaspoons onto the cookie sheet and ended up only being able to bake six cookies at a time (as a funny side note: in my first batch I tried to bake eight at once, they all melted together to form a super mega cookie that I rolled up and fed to my boyfriend).  When these cookies baked, all the sugar bubbled and boiled and became nice and caramelized, and I shaped them by rolling them around the handle of a whisk while they were still hot.

I really enjoyed the taste and texture of these cherry cookies.  For once I remembered to put them in an airtight container right away, so they remained perfectly crisp - it was like eating incredibly thin ribbon candy.  I may have underbaked some of the dough, which made it difficult to remove from the cookie sheets to shape, but most of the cookies turned out fine.  My only comment to anyone who want to try this themselves: don't be impatient about chopping the cherries.  If you make them too large (like I did), your cookies will have some weird lumps.


162. Spiced Almond Wafers
...And you thought I was done with nut cookies for now.

Actually, I feel like Almond Wafers is a bit of a misnomer.  The only almonds involved are the slices sprinkled on top of the cookies.  These are really another spice cookie, much like a combination of ginger snaps and molasses cookies.  Indeed, looking at the recipe, you'll see the typical combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and dark brown sugar, which is basically white sugar and molasses.  These cookies made with lots of butter, which makes them nice and crisp.

In order to make thin, uniform cookies, the recipe requires preparing the dough and pressing it into mini loaf pans.  The dough is then frozen and sliced as thinly as possible before being baked.  I liked this method, although my mini loaf pans weren't exactly rectangular, so I ended up with trapezoidal cookies instead.  Nevertheless, these were good, simple cookies, and I really liked how they stayed crunchy all week.


163. Umbrella Sugar Cookies
One of the complaints I have about this cookbook is that some of the recipes are too specialized.  The cookie-cutter recipes are especially so, with recipes calling specifically for umbrellas, or acorns, or shapes of card suits, or a Fleur-de-lis, and so on.  Since I don't own an umbrella cookie cutter (or any of those other ones), I use what I have, but I don't like when the name hinges on the shape.  So instead I present for you: Lemon Sugar Cookies!

These are a good basic cookie, quick to make and easy to make pretty.  I chose to make hearts (and some stars) because hearts are cute.  This recipe is pretty much a standard sugar cookie recipe with lemon zest added to give some extra flavor.  I really like the lemon flavor in these, it is a good summery taste.  The icing is a simple mix of confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, and water.  It dries really solidly and is easy to work with.  In fact, I spooned it into a sandwich bag and cut off the end to make the decorations.

Here's a couple quick notes on cookie cutters for anyone who is thinking about changing shapes:
  • It's a good idea to use something that is similar to the recommended size in a recipe.  If you don't have anything similar (or want to use something else), you'll need to reduce your baking time for smaller cookie cutters and increase your baking time for larger ones.
  • For best results, choose a cookie cutter design that doesn't involve small side details.  If you have any small pieces of dough sticking out of the side of a cookie, they are more likely to burn.  Once again, if your heart is set on one of these cookie cutters, you'll want to be careful about the time the cookies spend in the oven, or you may want to lower the temperature.
I had to watch the trunks and mouths pretty carefully so they didn't become crispy!
  • Finally (and this is something that holds for any cookie baking), keep a close eye on your first batch.  Recipes give a range of times to bake because every oven is different.  For example, my oven is small and always heats up too much on the bottom when I put a cookie sheet in it, and so I have to turn the temperature down by as much as 25˚F and often also end up shortening the baking time.  It may be that your oven does something else, so use your first batch of cookies to figure out the timing and any temperature adjustments, and after that you can just set a timer and go do something else until it dings.

7.14.2011

It's about time

...For me to do a cookie update!  While there are plenty of excuses I could make about why I haven't updated, it all boils down to one thing: this has been a busy summer.  This comes as a combination of teaching, research, meeting with friends once a week for dinner, leading a bible study, and going to the gym 5-6 days each week.  Oh, right, and spending time with Phil.  Let me tell you, finding shared free time for two graduate students can be pretty nearly impossible some days.

But now I have a "free" night, and it's about time I post my cookies before I forget what they were..

 152. Cream Cheese-Lemon Bows
A few months ago,  I broke my frosting bag, and I haven't yet bothered with replacing it.  Sometimes there are workarounds for this - I have a cookie gun too - but sometimes they don't work.  I tried to use my cookie gun, and the dough wouldn't come off properly, so these "bows" ended up being rounds instead.

These cookies are full of butter with a bit of cream cheese, along with lemon zest and juice.  After baking, they were pretty delicious, but a bit dry for my taste.  Maybe it had something to do with changing the shape, but I wasn't too impressed.

 153. Lemon-Apricot Sandwiches
Oh, these were good.  The cookies are crisp and lemony, given some extra nice texture with the addition of almond flour and corn starch, and apricot is a fantastic pairing.  The cookies themselves weren't very sweet, which meant that the jam completed the taste rather than making the cookies too rich.

 154. Bourbon Currant Cookies
Here's another winner.  These flaky cookies made with bourbon and currants (as indicated by the title) can be cut out into any shape, but I thought elephants were appropriately whimsical, and everyone I shared this with seemed to agree.  Before being baked, the cookies were brushed with heavy cream, and somehow that flavor came through spectacularly.  I will absolutely be making these again!



 155. Biscuit Sandwich Cookies
There's something about chocolate filling that makes everything better, and these cookies are no exception.  These cookies were pretty flaky, probably due to the combination of butter and heavy cream in them.  Although usually cookie fillings are some kind of ganache (that is, heavy cream mixed with melted chocolate), these are filled with melted milk chocolate.  A note on cooking with milk chocolate: you should always opt for the more expensive stuff.  Cheap milk chocolate is not the same at all.


 156. Homemade Graham Crackers (definitely a best cookie)
I'm always skeptical of the glowing comments that go along with the recipes in this book, but the ones for this recipe were entirely deserved.  Indeed, these cookies were not difficult to make, and they're full of whole wheat flour and wheat germ, which makes them pretty healthy!  Oh, right, and they taste really really good.  I'll be making these again and trying them with s'mores.

157. Meringue Porcupines
I have a confession to make.  I went home over the 4th of July weekend and completely ran out of time to make cookies.  Yes, that's right, I skipped a weekend.  This was not okay with me, so last weekend I doubled up and made two batches of cookies.  This was the first batch, prepared for a pizza-making and Munchkin-playing party at my friend's condo.  And so, in the midst of a busy Saturday, I had yet another meringue fail.  I don't know why, but I just can't seem to get meringues to work when I use the whisk attachment on my electric mixer.  It's very frustrating, and every time it happens it make me feel like a total kitchen failure.

So I beat and beat these egg whites, waiting for them to form stiff, glossy peaks, and I guess I added the vanilla too early, because they went from soft peaks to no peaks at all.  Nevertheless, I cooked what I had made, and the meringues turned out decently.  In the middle of the baking (drying?) process, I took them out of the oven and pushed their bottoms in a little bit.  When it was time to serve them, I put apricot jam in the divot of one and whipped cream with almond extra in the divot of the other, and sandwiched them together.  Everyone enjoyed these very much, but I think the meringues were a little too sweet.  If I ever try making these again, I will add less sugar to them.

Vegetable Adventures, Week 4

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in over a month.  Oops!  Here's a second post that I had half written and then never loaded any images.  Between gym time and actual cooking and GCF stuff and so on, I hadn't found the time to upload images and post them until now.  This means that the week-by-week farmshare idea is dead, but I'll post some of the more interesting vegetables and/or recipes.  And maybe a few invented recipes too!

Swiss chard, cooked and ready to eat


Asparagus: see recipe below
Salad mix
Strawberries: Some eaten plain, the rest on my Cheerios
Swiss chard: Chopped and cooked with last week's oregano and a garlic scape according to a recipe about halfway down the page on this website.
Cilantro
Radishes: Added to home-made miso soup.  Note to self: red miso is salty, use less of it.
Sugar snap peas: tasty raw nom-noms
Garlic Scapes: used like garlic.  See an example below





Having spent the last three years taking huge amounts of time cooking for myself, it's about time that I start actively inventing recipes.  This week, wanting carbs and to use up my asparagus, the following quick dish came to life:


"Thai" Asparagus, Tofu, and Noodles (Serves 1)(413 calories)

1/2 C asparagus
2 oz rice noodles
1/4 C firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1" cubes
garlic scape, chopped (or use a clove of garlic)
2t olive oil
pinch salt
1T hoisin sauce
3C water

1.  Rinse the asparagus and cut into pieces approx 2" long.  Place in a small pan lined with foil and toss with 1 t olive oil.  Sprinkle some salt on, to taste.  Bake in a toaster oven at 350˚F for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, boil water.  Place the rice noodles in a medium bowl.  When the water boils, pour it on the rice noodles, making sure the noodles end up submerged completely.  Let sit 10 minutes, or until the noodles are tender.

3. Pour 1 t olive oil into a small frying pan and heat on medium.  When the oil is hot, add garlic (scapes) and sautee for a minute.  Add tofu, and allow one side to cook for about 5 minutes.  Turn tofu over to cook other side for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.

4. Place rice noodles in your serving bowl.  Add tofu and asparagus, top with hoisin sauce, mix it all together, and enjoy!

Vegetable Adventures, Week 3

In week 3, all my vegetables were a repeat of week 1 and 2 offerings, so I decided not to take a photo of my produce as given.  Fear not, however, I have been taking pictures of the results - that is, the cooked or otherwise prepared dishes - and I'll still be telling you what it is I actually made.


Asparagus - tofu stir fry
Salad mix - salad with radishes, topping for smoky miso tofu sandwiches (amazing recipe here)
Radishes - salad (pictured to the right)
Kale - half made into low-calorie chips (recipe here), half sauteed
Dry peas - half cooked and made into a yellow pea hummus, the other half waiting to become something.
Oregano - see week 4.

5.29.2011

Vegetable Adventures, Week 2

Not pictured: radishes

Salad Greens: Some used on my "egg" salad sandwiches, the rest became a salad with carrots and onions and a soy/rice vinegar/sesame oil dressing.

Asparagus: Balsamic pasta again.  I was going to make something new, but that recipe is just so good!

Turnip Greens: Steamed for 5 minutes with garlic, added sesame seeds and hoisin sauce.  Om nom nom nom....

Kale: along with an avocado, made into pesto from this recipe.

Parsley: An accompaniment to my Grandma Carol's Zucchini Bars (recipe below)

Radishes: This batch was destined to become baked radish chips (recipe here).  However, I sliced them too thinly and they burned.  Oh well.




Zucchini Bars
These are an old family recipe - well, that means my grandma has been making these for as long as I can remember.  I think she once told me that they were an invention of hers, and I can believe it.  I aspire to someday attain kitchen skills like hers.

Ingredients:
3 C thinly sliced zucchini, cut into quarters
1 C flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1/4 C finely chopped onion
1/2 C grated Parmesan
2 T snipped parsley
1/2 t seasoning salt
1/2 t dried oregano
dash of pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 C vegetable oil
4 eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Grease a 9x13 pan.  Mix all ingredients and spread in pan.  Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.  Cut into 1" squares.  Serve while warm, or freeze for later.  Frozen bars can be reheated in a 350˚F oven for 6-7 minutes.

5.25.2011

double dream hands!

There's something about brightly colored sprinkles that makes me think of saccharine children's shows, and with the internet being as it is, this means I've had silly choreography stuck in my head all day.  Yes, indeed, watching a grown man explaining the choreography for some modern version of Kids Incorporated (or whatever the preschoolers are watching these days), is really awkward.  Which is why I'm putting it here for you to see.


 
 ..Aw man, Kids Incorporated was pretty much my favorite show in the world when I was four years old.  A quick internet search reveals that cast members included Fergie, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Mario Lopez.  Yeah, that's right, the children's shows I was watching were totally legit.
But enough about the late '80s.  I should talk about cookies!  You may have also noticed I've started making vegetable posts, but I'll keep the cookies and the veggies separate to avoid confusion.


150. Pistachio Tuiles
Now that I'm nearing the end of this project, I have to spend more time in the sections of my cookbook that I don't like as much.  I've sorely neglected the first section, which consists of light and crunchy cookies - in general, this means cookies that either take a lot of time or are just tricky to make work.
This recipe was actually not too bad compared to its neighbors.  The ingredients were simple and few, and once I had removed the shells from 1/2C pistachios, the batter came together quickly.  I refer to it as batter because it was so thin that 1tsp spread out to give a 3" diameter flat cookie.  These were baked six at a time, then removed from the oven and draped over the handle of a wooden spoon while still hot to shape them.

I was not hugely impressed by these cookies, although some of that is my own fault.  I've never really liked pistachios, and I made the mistake of not putting these away for a few hours after I finished baking them.  When they first came out of the oven and cooled, the cookies were melt-in-your-mouth crisp.  Unfortunately, the high humidity quickly turned them into melt-in-your-mouth sticky.



151. Chocolate cookie cutouts
The sprinkles on these cookies are the reason for the title of this post.  They are just so colorful that I got a little carried away. 
This recipe is something like a chocolate shortbread recipe: the cookie dough is made with copious quantities of butter, as well as some flour and confectioners' sugar, dutch cocoa, and cinnamon (there's a couple other ingredients, but they aren't key to the flavor).  The high butter content made this dough a huge hassle to work with, as I found I needed to use large amounts of flour when rolling and cutting the cookies, and ended up skipping a rolling/freezing step altogether when the dough I was trying to roll out started to stick to everything.  In order to work with this dough, it had to be kept chilled, so I could only use small quantities and returned all scraps to the freezer promptly.

The result of all this work was a decent cookie, with flavor equally divided between the chocolate and cinnamon, and with a fall-apart shortbread texture.  These weren't bad, but I think for all the annoyance they caused, they aren't worth it.  In fact, I only ended up using half of the dough.  The other half is still in the limbo of my freezer, waiting to become something baked.



5.18.2011

Vegetable Adventures, Week 1

In the interest of eating more produce, supporting local farms, and forcing myself to be even more creative in the summer, I signed up for a farmshare this summer.  Yesterday was the first pickup day, and because I like to post my culinary adventures, I've decided to share what I get and what I do with it.  So here goes:

This week's takings.  Labels start from top left and continue clockwise. Not pictured: asparagus

Mustard Greens: lightly sauteed with browned onion and garlic, seasoned with sesame oil and salt, following the instructions here.  So good.  But I'm a little afraid I was mostly tasting the onions and sesame.

Radishes: eaten raw with a little salt.  These being spring radishes, their flavor is a lot milder than the kind you find at the grocery store.

Lettuce: part of a couple (fake) egg salad sandwiches.

Mint: 1 spring eaten as-is (it was so tasty), 2 sprigs in a jar to hopefully take root (it does not look good), 2 sprigs used with other leftover mint to make raspberry mint lemonade (recipe here).

Swiss Chard: Chopped and steamed for about 10 minutes, following the instructions from this blog.  The result tastes a lot like steamed spinach.  The stems taste really good, though the leaves are a little bland when cooked...

Asparagus: Chopped, roasted in the oven for 10 minutes, and then added to spaghetti and a sweetened balsamic reduction following this amazing recipe (minus the parmesan).  Seriously, if you have asparagus, make this.  I have never tasted pasta so delicious.

5.11.2011

reclaiming campus

The past couple weeks have been a whirlwind of graduation visits, students' final projects, exam proctoring, and giving people space so that they can get their last insane push of work done before not having that kind of work at all for a while.  Final exams here are over at the end of the week, and I am looking forward not only to seeing my friends more, but also (especially?) to the fact that most of the undergraduates will leave campus and not come back until August.

It's not that I think undergrads are awful - it's just that in the summer when many of them are gone, graduate students get the opportunity to take ownership of campus.  We can go to Green Street (the C-U equivalent of South U for my Ann Arbor friends) for lunch at noon without encountering long lines and equally long waiting times.  We can have picnics on the Quad, be it Engineering or the regular one.  It's possible to ride one's bicycle to the gym without encountering straggler pedestrians in every bike lane.  With such a drastic reduction in the university's 40,000-odd crowd, those who stay are granted the chance relax and breathe a little.  Oh, right, and the outdoor pool is open all summer, which has nothing to do with undergrads at all but makes me immeasurably happy.

At the Big House for Tony's graduation.
It seems my family doesn't understand the grad student summer very well: when I was home a couple weekends ago to see my little brother graduate, I had to field various questions along the lines of "So what do you think you'll do for summer break?"  For me, there is no summer break.  Yes, I might get a break from teaching, but I have already completed my required classes and spend my working time doing research.  The end of the semester changes nothing.  However, I'm hoping that the extra time I'll have from not teaching will allow me to complete this start-up project I've been working on for so long.  With that out of the way, I will be able to focus on the weighty task of finding a prelim topic (more on that in another post).

Throughout all this, I have continued with my baking endeavors.  I confess that I've started looking forward to the completion of this project, as the various ingredients have increased my grocery bills, sometimes significantly, and the time commitment has begun to feel just a bit onerous.  Do not fear that I will cut this off abruptly, I am committed to completing my cookie project on time.  I have learned so much about baking in the past 34 months and although I tire of this project, I still look forward to what I will learn in the next seven.


147. Coconut Cookies with Passion Fruit Curd
Living in Illinois, it can be kind of difficult to find something so tropical as passion fruit puree.  In general, I look for ingredients first at Meijer, second at Strawberry Fields, and then I start going to specialty stores.  I ended up finding passion fruit pulp at what should be my default third store to check, World Harvest.  This is a little Pakistani-owned shop (the owner is a great guy) close to campus that stocks ingredients from around the world.  And so, frozen fruit in hand, I rejoiced in the fact that I would finally be able to try this recipe.

The cookies themselves were amazingly easy to make.  I had most of the ingredients on hand, including unsweetened coconut flakes, which I found at the grocery store some time ago on the same shelf as carob chips.  The dough was kind of sticky, so I found it was important to pay attention to the chilling instructions in the recipe, and to use large quantities of flour to roll them out and cut them into circles.  Funny story: all my round cookie cutters were too big, so I ended up using a shot glass - well, a measuring shot glass, for tablespoon measurements and the like - to cut the cookies.  After baking, the result was a strongly coconut, already tasty cookie.  I guess these were supposed to turn out kind of crispy but maybe I undercooked them a little, as they turned out a little soft.  Honestly, though, I think I prefer the chewier texture.

As the cookie name indicates, passion fruit curd serves as the filling here.  The curd is made with passion fruit pulp (the recipe called for puree, but I'm not sure with this fruit that there's much of a difference), lemon juice, sugar, butter, and egg yolks, as well as a couple other non-flavoring ingredients.  The result was both sweet and sour, with a custard (curd?) texture to it.  If it weren't so rich, I probably would have just attacked the curd with a spoon and not bothered with the cookies.

I managed to behave myself and constructed these sandwich cookies as directed by the recipe.  Together, the passion fruit and coconut were AMAZING.  There are some tropical flavors I really don't like - papaya, for instance - but these flavors made a fantastic mix.  Given that I have half a bag of passion fruit pulp left in my freezer, these cookies will definitely be making a return appearance this summer.

148. Cakey Chocolate Chip Cookies
I mentioned above that I recently traveled to see my brother graduate.  Well, that weekend was an insane 67 hours of driving, visiting, celebrating, and not getting much sleep.  I left Champaign at 6:30am on Friday and returned at 1:30am on Monday, with no time in between for baking cookies.  I toyed with the idea of skipping the week's baking entirely, but I've been very strictly following the one recipe per week rule I set when I started, and decided that I could give an hour to make a recipe I was saving.  It was a little disappointing to have to use this now, as I kind of hoped to save it for the very end, but as I flipped through my cookbook before bible study, I realized that no other available recipe would allow me to have cookies ready to share with my small group.

These cookies have slightly less butter in them than standard chocolate chip cookies, and have more white sugar than brown sugar.  This makes them more dense and a little more dry, but not dry in a bad way.  I'm not sure if I would describe these specifically as being like cake, but it's probably the closest comparison.  I was very impressed by these cookies, and I think they might actually be my favorite iteration of chocolate chip cookies from this book (there are 3 total).  It's possible that I may have to compare them side by side, but I liked these, and so did my friends.  As a side note, since I've been making very fancy stuff lately, I brought these into my office and one of my labmates scoffed at their simplicity.  I told him if he had a problem with it, he didn't have to have any cookies.  So there.

149. Prune Rugelach
Some recipes take a long time from start to finish.  The best ones typically don't call for much active time.  This specific recipe falls somewhere in between.  It was necessary to prepare the dough the night before and chill it, and to soak the prunes in brandy overnight.  The next afternoon, I rolled the dough out into very large circles, spread the pureed prunes on them, followed by white bread crumbs and sugar, and then rolled the wedges up.  These had to chill for two hours in the fridge before being baked for 40 minutes.  From start to finish, this meant about 24 hours with approximately 2 hours active time.

I realize that you're probably thinking that prunes are old people food.  Indeed, they are high in fiber, but they also taste pretty good.  The brandy soak really perked up their flavor, although most of the alcohol evaporated away during the baking process.  It was important that this filling was very sweet, as the dough involved is a simple cream cheese and butter dough with no sugar in it.  Once baked, this dough was delightfully flaky and lent a fantastic richness to the whole recipe.  Overall, I found these cookies to be better than expected, and had a difficult time keeping myself from consuming several of them.

You may also notice that there is some mysterious jello in the picture above.  This was a recent experiment, where I made French Lemonade jello shots.  As a result of wasting time on Pinterest, I stumbled on a blog whose writers make cocktails into jello shots, and so I had to try making some.  You can check the blog out here: Jelly Shot Test Kitchen.

Alright guys, that's all I've got tonight.  I hope those of you in the Midwest are staying cool with this latest heat wave, and that you all stay safe with the subsequent possibly severe weather.

4.20.2011

scatterbrained

The past several days have been a mess of distractions, mistakes, and things forgotten that should have been remembered.  This means dirty dishes have accumulated (they are clean now), gym shoes have been left at home, and - perhaps the worst thing to happen - it completely slipped my mind to take a picture of the cookies I made this week.

I am so embarrassed.

It's not like I didn't plan to take that picture.  I mean, I have three or four days between baking cookies and them being completely gone, but this week... well... I'll blame it on the wicked awesome thunderstorm we had last night.

For now, I guess I'll put in some placeholder picture, and hopefully (considering I have various specialty ingredients left over) I will make a batch again soon and actually take a picture.

146. Chocolate Chip Cookies for Passover
When I first looked through this cookbook, and even when I first started this project, I figured I would end up skipping this recipe.  After all, what would I do with matzo meal and matzo farfel (matzo farfel is broken up bits of matzo crackers)?  After spending so much time (and money) hunting down special ingredients and baking tools, I realized that it would actually be no big deal to make these, and since I should be done in November, this was my last Passover to give the recipe a shot.

Now, what's so special about Passover cookies? Well, during Passover the Jewish people remember the tenth plague of Egypt, the plague on the firstborn, where the plague passed over the Jewish families that had lamb's blood on their doorways, and subsequently led to their being freed by Pharaoh.  In part of the instructions about the Passover meal,
"Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it as on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.  In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day.  For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses.  And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born.  Eat nothing made with yeast.  Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread."
(Exodus 12:17-20)
 Basically, in order for these cookies to be acceptable for Passover, they need to have no leavening agent in them, nor any dairy.  All-purpose flour typically has some leavening in it, and so matzo meal and matzo farfel were used instead.  Furthermore, vegetable oil was used in place of butter, and the recipe asks for non-dairy chocolate chips.  Add in your usual vanilla, eggs, and brown sugar, and some walnuts, and you've pretty much got the whole recipe.

The results of this recipe were surprisingly delicious!  The cookies had a nice soft texture, and although you could tell that they were made with matzo instead of flour, all the people who tasted them had no complaints.

4.19.2011

unflappable as a giraffe

It's nice to not be taking any classes this semester. While my younger friends, little brother, and students are stressed out with exams and final projects (and some older friends with quals and prelims!), I just float along at my regular level of sustainable chaos, fretting over research that won't quite turn out and unfortunate substitute kickboxing instructors.

With longer-lasting worries, I find that I am more likely to find joy in small things, almost as if they are a break from my concerns. Thus, riding my bike to and from campus yesterday was the most amazing twenty minutes ever. And my dinner - well, you make yourself some black beans, broccoli, and quinoa with a raspberry chipotle sauce and see if you are not the happiest camper on the block.

The cookies I've made have also made me happy, some for how they look, and some for how they taste.  Unfortunately, you only get to experience the former.

143. Mexican Wedding Cookies
I guess crunchy almond-butter cookies are not only made for Mexican weddings, but I am not responsible for their name.  As the previous sentence indicates, these cookies are made with lots of butter, and have ground toasted blanched almonds in the dough.  These cookies resemble a dry almond shortbread, and the confectioners' sugar coating makes them more pretty and just sweet enough.  Needless to say, these did not last long around my friends.



144. Chocolate Ginger Leaves and Acorns
Leaves and acorns are boring, so I decided these needed to be chocolate ginger stegosauruses instead.  These cookies have ginger (both dried and grated), molasses, and a hefty dose of cocoa in them.  They were supposed to be crunchy cookies, but I chose to underbake them a little, and they turned out to be really soft and awesome.
I know I've complained about the balance between chocolate and ginger in other cookies, but I found that the two flavors complimented each other nicely, with neither being overwhelmed by the other.  Between the flavor and the cuteness of the dinosaurs, these cookies were a big hit.

145. Orange-Cardamom Madeleines
Having already purchased a madeleine pan and needing something to make quickly, I jumped at the opportunity to make these cookies.  If you've read any previous entries, you'll know that I'm a big fan of cookies that look good without taking much effort, and madeleines fit the bill.
These madeleines are made with lots of cardamom in them, and not much else flavor-wise.  After being baked, they were covered with an orange glaze made with zest and juice.  I think I didn't make the glaze thick enough because it soaked into the cookies a little bit, but they were still really good.  These cookies were not as cake-y delightful as the lemon madeleines I made before, but I enjoyed the cardamom flavor.

3.21.2011

A taste of summer

Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox, which means that winter is finally over!  It is now spring, at least on paper, and we know what spring in the Midwest means, right?  Magic 8-ball forecasting.  The next several weeks will be a roller coaster of temperatures and humidity, mixed with some rain and maybe even a decent thunderstorm.

Spring is a bit of a tease.  On the first couple warm days, like today, it is so tempting to pack away all my sweaters, get my bike out for the season, and go buy ice cream.  Of course, I'll need those sweaters this weekend, but for now I revel in the promise of beautiful weather that sticks around.

In this spirit, I chose to make something light and lemony for my weekend cookies:

These cookies have been looming on the baking horizon for a while.  I put them off because I wasn't sure where to go to purchase the appropriate pan, but after shopping around a little I realized I was going to end up spending $15 anyway, so I bit the bullet and bought one last Saturday.  Madeleine pans are basically molds: they're flat except for the shaped indentations where you pour the batter.  With such a pan, it turns out to be trivially easy to make very pretty and classy-looking cookies!

These specific cookies are made with lots and lots of lemon - both freshly squeezed juice and zest - which creates a wonderfully bright taste.  Otherwise, these have the normal set of ingredients, with the exception of cake flour, which is more fine than all-purpose and doesn't have a leavening agent, and lots of eggs.  Between the flour and the abundance of eggs, the final product of this recipe was very much like a cake - moist and a little spongy.  Although they don't actually need improvement, I suspect these might be pretty good with a lemon glaze on top.

As far as fancy cookies go, I think these look really good for minimal effort.  Even when I turned them out of the mold (shown in the picture above) the visual effect was impressive.  I plan on experimenting more with this pan, especially considering the fact that madeleines from a bakery (or from Starbuck's) are way more expensive than they need to be.

3.16.2011

Pre-St. Patty's Update

I was going to wait to talk about these, but oh my goodness these are the most amazing cupcakes I've ever had!  AND they are vegan.

Let me start from the beginning.

Being mostly (well, probably summing up to half) Irish, I approach St. Patrick's day with a strange hodgepodge of food traditions gathered from both sides of my family.  It's funny to realize that my cooking has been largely influenced by my mostly German grandmothers, but some of my family's traditions come from Americanized cuisine, and some are the result of catering one of my grandfathers, who is mostly Irish.

It's perhaps silly for me to talk about family members being "mostly this" and "mostly that," but this is how we identify ourselves.  Yes, from the outside we're American.  From the inside, well, let me put it this way: As far as I know, my entire lineage can be traced to people who immigrated to the United States from - you got it - mostly Ireland and Germany in the mid to late 19th century.  The most recent immigrant in my family is one of my great-grandfathers, who came to America from Germany as a little boy.  What ethnic traditions that have trickled down through the generations are miscellaneous and diluted, but still a part of how I identify myself as a member of my family.

All that said, I like to cook something Irish when St. Patrick's day rolls around.  In the past, this has meant corned beef and cabbage, and maybe some Guinness with dinner.  This year, since I'm eating mostly vegan (yes, the 'mostly' qualifier is ubiquitous today), I've had to be more creative with my food choices.  Also, this year, since I'm busy and Thursday is not a day to cook for 3 hours, I've been doing a lot of prep work this week.

Tonight, I decided to go ahead and prepare a vegan Chocolate Stout cupcake recipe I found last weekend.  The recipe doesn't require any unusual vegan ingredients, but it does call for about half a bottle of chocolate stout.  That's right, there's beer in these cupcakes.  And oh, are they delicious.  I tasted one while it was still warm, and ended up eating two.

As of when they were still a little warm, these are fluffy, moist cupcakes, with a rich chocolate flavor.  That flavor is due, of course, to a hefty helping of unsweetened cocoa powder both in the cupcakes and in the crumbs topping them.  The bitterness of the stout really enhances the chocolate, adding a depth of flavor I never would have expected.

I am posting this now so that if you want to make some of these for Thursday, you can have a little bit of time to go ahead and try them.  Seriously, you will not regret it.  Unless you end up eating them all, and then you might.

3.13.2011

Aw, nuts!

I don't really have too much to say as an introduction or a life update today, except to say that it's Lent now, and in the spirit of following the Liturgical calendar, I've decided to quit watching TV as a means of filling quiet and/or bored times.  I'm hoping to cultivate a better appreciation of quiet and solitude, as well as to spend more time reading, journaling, praying, and so on.

This also means that whatever bad movie is being shown on TBS is not distracting me from taking care of the things at hand, including cookie posts!  The title of this post pretty much gives you the theme of these cookies, but I'm sure you didn't need me to tell you that to figure it out.

140. Hazelnut Jam Thumbprints
I'm sure by now I sound pretty lazy, but there are some Saturdays when I just don't want to spend 5 hours in the kitchen, and I guess that's fair considering the hundreds of hours I've already put into this project.  I try to alternate between simple and complicated recipes, and for some reason I imagined that this one would be kind of labor-intensive.

Well, I was wrong.  These cookies were fantastically simple to make.  The dough consists of very typical ingredients: egg, flour, sugar, etc, which were mixed together, chilled, and then separated into balls which were rolled in toasted hazelnuts.  After putting thumb-sized holes in these balls they were baked and filled with apricot jam.  Tada!  A cute and colorful cookie!  The hazelnuts really make the flavor here since, well, there's not much else to do that job.  I chose apricot jam because that's what I had open, but I think it was a good decision as it wasn't overly sweet.

Now, I know I've talked about hazelnuts before, since I bought them chopped from Meijer and the skins on them ended up making that recipe kind of bitter tasting.  This time, I went to Strawberry Fields and bought whole hazelnuts (minus the shells), which worked so much better.  After toasting the nuts, I steamed them in a towel for five minutes and the skins came right off.

141. Pine Nut Cookies
Warning: Do not make these cookies unless you are willing to spend $20 or more on ingredients.
Oh my goodness, pine nuts are so expensive.  This recipe calls for 2C of them - about half are ground up in the dough and the rest end up on the outside, and so following this recipe cost me probably $18 in pine nuts alone.

Aside from the pine nuts, these cookies are much like almond macaroons, with typical ingredients, including almond paste, which is another (slightly less) expensive ingredient.  Fortunately, I had half a can left over from a previous recipe, so that was one thing I didn't have to buy.  Because of the recipe's simplicity, everything came together quickly, and I was able to bake them over the span of about an hour on Saturday morning and share them with a few friends last night as we gathered to watch Beverly Hills Cop and drink home brewed beer.

These were actually really good cookies.  They're not very sweet, and the flavors are subtle - I mean, of course the pine nuts are dominant, but the almond paste adds an unexpected but pleasant twist.  If it weren't for the expense, I would definitely make these again for some kind of summer party thing, as pine nuts seem like a warm weather food.

2.28.2011

the lazy graduate student

Yes, I know, the title of this post sounds like a paradox.  Indeed, looking from the outside, graduate students are hardworking to the point that it is a fault.  Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that spending any waking hour not working is a waste of time.  I am not talking about this false laziness, but a real problem that comes out of burn-out, depression, lack of deadlines, or reaching a point where one can no longer coast.

Indeed, this state does exist, and I have fallen in and out of it for various reasons over the past couple years.  I can usually judge how bad this is by how messy my apartment is, and by how backlogged I get on my posting.  This gets into a weird feedback loops where cleaning my apartment makes my life better, and my life being better makes me want my apartment to be clean.  The activation energy is sometimes very high, but it's helpful for me to take care of the little things that have piled up.  And so, in my current recovery phase, I am posting what is not actually too bad of a cookie backlog:

137. Lemon Tassies
As you can probably guess from the picture, these are essentially tiny lemon cheesecakes.  The crust is a butter mixture kind of like regular pie crust, but it also has lemon zest in it.  This is baked before the filling, which is primarily made of cream cheese and flavored with lemon juice and more lemon zest, is spooned into it.  The whole thing is baked again to give the final result, which is a pretty and tasty treat!

I made a small mistake when I made these - when I read the recipe, I didn't realize that it called for so much lemon zest, and only bought one lemon when I definitely needed two.  I then tried to get as much zest as possible out of the single lemon and ended up including some of the bitter pith in the recipe.  This is always a bad idea.  Although this didn't completely ruin the recipe, these cookies (the definition is a little loose here I guess) ended up with a slightly bitter taste which shouldn't have been there.  When I shared these with my friends, they said it wasn't a problem, but I was not very happy knowing that they could have tasted better.

138. Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies
Continuing with the cream cheese trend, I went ahead and made these icebox cookies.  Now, the title here is a little misleading, because these cookies are made mostly of butter.  When I say mostly, I mean that there is an entire pound of butter in this recipe!  Yes, that's four sticks of butter, which is totally gross.  The cookies are a mix of all that butter, plus cream cheese, copious amount of vanilla, and finely chopped toasted walnuts (which I confess I burned a little).  The dough was rolled up and stuck in the freezer overnight, then I rolled it in more walnuts, sliced it, and baked it.

Fortunately, the yield of this recipe was something like 5 dozen cookies, so they ended up not being an instant heart attack for my peers.  The over-toasted walnuts weren't any kind of problem, and their flavor mixed with the sugar and vanilla left me thinking of maple syrup, which is never a bad thing.  I had a hard time peddling all of these off, so there are a dozen left in my freezer saved for another day.

139. Cocoa Shortbread Diamonds
Finally we have my rescued recipe, cocoa shortbread..um.. stars!  Faced with the prospect of cutting shapes in shortbread, I became reminiscent of the month I spent in Singapore in 2008 and the shortbread-decorating adventures I had there with my dear friend Bonita.  With that in mind, I couldn't bear just cutting these into diamonds, and went looking for a cute, small cookie cutter, which turned out to be a star.

Back to the topic at hand, however, these are shortbread cookies flavored with cocoa, so they have the typical shortbread ingredients - flour, confectioners' sugar, butter, and vanilla - plus cocoa powder.  This specific recipe calls for pulsing the ingredients in a food processor  until the dough starts to come together.  Unfortunately, with the quantities as dictated in the recipe, this never happened.  Even when I tried squeezing the dough together, it wouldn't stick.

Recognizing that this recipe was seriously flawed, I went online to the Martha Stewart website to see what the comments were on this recipe, and some people suggested adding an egg white to make the dough stick together.  I didn't like this idea: eggs have no place in shortbread, and I try to be very consistent about food definitions, so I added more butter instead.

I ended up adding nearly an extra stick of butter to the recipe, which made the dough stick together and made the cookies fantastically rich.  I think this ended up being a little too much butter, since the cookies basically fell apart when I tried them (and a few fell apart when I picked them up), but it was a good rescue.  So in the end, what I recommend is adding an extra 1/2 stick (1/4C) of butter to the recipe to make it work, and then it is a great success!

2.11.2011

the roving researcher

I do a lot of theory and simulation work in my research, and so I find that I can sit down anywhere with a power cord and an internet connection to get work done.  Of course, the challenge of this is that there are many places where I sit down and get no work done whatsoever.  Working at home is perhaps the worst, because I tend to oversleep, and then do kitchen things or crochet or watch TV while I'm "working."  It's shameful, I know, and the only solution I've come up with so far is to just go to my office.  The only problem with my office, however, is that it's a solid 15 minute walk from any other places on campus I have to be, and so there are days when it's just not worth the time (this includes days like last week when the temperature was -5˚F).

Maybe some of the issue here is that I haven't yet gotten used to the paradigm of not having a physical lab space.  I did experimental Physics research before, so I had to be in the lab to get work done.  There were no gray lines between work time and personal time.  Changes of venue, and their subsequent disruption of pace, were not an option.  Now they are, and I need to learn to stay put or else to lose less time in transition.  We'll see how that goes.

Or I could just work in my office and deal with the walking time.  It's especially useful to work there when other people are there and working (yay peer pressure!), plus it gives me a great opportunity to share my latest cookie adventure with people...

136. Cream-Filled Chocolate Sandwiches
If these look like Oreos to you, that's because that is basically what these cookies are.  As the title indicates, these are chocolate cookies sandwiched with vanilla cream.  The cookies get their chocolate flavor from a hefty dose of dutched cocoa, and are otherwise a little soft and kind of generic.  The filling is made with too much fat (1/2C butter and 1/2C vegetable shortening) and sugar (3+C confectioners' sugar!), which makes it taste even more sinful than your typical Oreo filling.

Basically, these cookies were pretty (as you can see), and very decadent.  Although the cookies themselves are pretty generic, they pair nicely with the filling to give a rich flavor and texture experience, and leave you with the lingering feeling that you're going to get both heart failure and type 2 diabetes.


I realize I promised two cookies this week, and I did make another vegan cookie - Peanut Apple Pretzel Drops - to share at a Superbowl party, but I neglected to take pictures.  You can find the recipe here, if you're interested.  These cookies have pretzels, peanuts, dried apples, and cinnamon (plus lots of brown sugar and such) in them, and made a tasty and even a little bit healthy snack.  I'm a fan (although I liked the green tea biscotti better).

2.02.2011

snowverrated...

Okay, I admit it's cheap of me to go for a snow pun, since they are overabundant this week.  And, to be fair, the roads were pretty awful here today.  Thankfully, Champaign has a magical weather protection bubble which, although my meteorology friend complains makes things boring, means that the really bad weather skirts around us.

As far as the Midwest "Snowpocalyse" goes, this means we had a lot of sleet yesterday, but not the foot of snow that was originally predicted.  Classes were cancelled today, and even though this didn't really disrupt anything for me (I'm not taking any classes and I don't teach on Wednesdays), I am still happy to call this my first snow day since the fourth grade.  Of course, this just meant that I worked from home, until it was time to dig my car out and make Phil take a break from running experiments in the wind tunnel to have dinner with me.  He's been super busy, which has meant I've been wasting (too much) time with my newfound craft, crocheting.  I am making a blanket, perhaps I will post a picture when I am finished.


The green color depends on your matcha.
Clearly, mine isn't very green.
I've also found myself tempted to pick up another project, and this one is totally my mom's fault: she gave me a vegan cookie recipe book for my birthday, and nearly everything looks amazing.  I'm not sure if I'm ready to commit to tacking another 100 weeks onto this cookie project, but I've already flipped through and noted a few of the recipes I'd like to try, including Grapefruit Icebox Cookies and Tahini Lime Cookies.  There was one recipe, however, that caught my attention so strongly I had to try it right away, and thus I ended up making Green Tea Walnut Biscotti last weekend (recipe can be found here).  Yes, these are vegan, and even though they have no animal product in them, they taste AMAZING.  That said, I am a huge fan of matcha, or green tea powder, so if you don't like green tea you might not be so excited about these.  But if you do, I strongly recommend trying this.  Biscotti are very easy to make, although they take upwards of an hour to bake.  Also, if you're not interested in buying ground flax seeds (i.e. you don't want a vegan recipe), you can omit the flax and a couple tablespoons of water and add an egg instead.

135. Amaretti Crisps
Saturday was kind of a weird and lazy day for me, starting with a malfunction in CRCE's sound system that badly disrupted my kickboxing class, and ending with a surprise birthday cake.  And so when I picked out cookies, I picked out something that matched my level of laziness, and which only called for four ingredients.  That's right, there's almonds, almond extract, confectioners' sugar, and egg whites in these cookies, and nothing more.

These cookies are made by whipping egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then folding them into a mixture of sugar and ground almonds, then adding the extract to give more flavor.  They were supposed to be put into a pastry bag and squeezed into cute little wreath shapes, but my pastry bag is broken, so I decided to go with the tablespoon option instead.  This may have made the cookies look a little less pretty, but I don't think it was really a problem.

The result of this recipe was a light, crisp (hence the name), and strongly almond-flavored cookie.  They are super easy to make, assuming you have an electric mixer, and everyone in my research group really liked them.  I recommend this recipe as a simple, low-risk way to try sharing a new kind of cookie with people.


Alright, that's it for now.  I've got to get back to simulating pressure pulses in tubes of random shapes.  Yay Matlab!  More cookies next week, with another vegan recipe as well.

1.28.2011

January Frenzy

Since my last post, everything has gotten started up again, which means that I have to convince myself that I do, indeed, have sufficient energy to work hard all day, work out in the evening, and then go to bible study or some other activity after (or before, depending on the day) that.  I'm back on the kind of schedule where I spend my whole weekend in the kitchen preparing food to eat during the upcoming week.  In fact, I'm so busy that yesterday, on my birthday, I didn't even have the time to do anything out of the ordinary.

Yes, I'm 25 now.  All comments about how scary being a quarter of a century old is supposed to be aside, I'm actually really content with where I am in life, and am excited to see where things will go in my future. I'll only start sulking about my age if I hit 30 and still don't have my PhD... but if I can stay focused on my research that will not happen.

I started teaching (reminder: I'm teaching elementary science education) this week, and I have to say that this is, by far, the most fun teaching gig I've ever had.  In class on Tuesday I had to discuss very philosophical things like how to ask good questions and uncertainty, and so - no joke - I had my students count noodles.  The point of this exercise was that I didn't specify what "full" meant for the cups they were filling, plus there is a natural variation in the settling of the noodles, so students got several different counts, and we talked about why that occurred.  It's very simple stuff, but the idea of this course is to highlight the points that are important to bring up when teaching science to K-4 students.  But yes, teaching is awesome.

The cookies I've made over the past couple weeks have also been pretty awesome, despite misgivings I had about both recipes:

133. Chrusciki Leaves
Chrusciki are Polish sour cream cookies that are fried instead of baked.  As a rule, I am not a fan of fried anything, and so the idea of these cookies was just disgusting to me.  The recipe claims a yield of 9-10 dozen, and, even knowing how the yields change completely with unspecified cookie cutters, I knew I would never be able to peddle off a full recipe's worth of these cookies.  Thus, I made a half batch, which still called for half a dozen eggs and yielded about 5 dozen cookies with a standard-sized cookie cutter.

These cookies are flavored with sour cream, vanilla, lemon and orange zest (but I only had orange), and Cognac.  The mix of these is very light, and the cookies themselves have hardly any sugar in them.  Actually, starting out, these cookies have a relatively healthy set of ingredients.

...And then I had to deep-fry them.  Ugh.  Gross.  My apartment smelled like hot oil for days.  But the cookies - oh, the cookies - turned out light and delightful, with a faint flavor that was brought out fantastically by the confectioners' sugar sprinkled on them.  Since they'd been rolled out and cut into leaf shapes, they had a pastry-like texture which I and my friends really enjoyed.  The funny thing is, there's probably the same amount of fat in these as there is in shortbread cookies.  Maybe I shouldn't be so grossed out after all (or maybe I'm going to have to start avoiding shortbread).


134. Raisin Bars
I mentioned that I had misgivings with both of the recipes I'm posting this week, and I guess the potential problem here comes from one of the few ways I am picky - I don't really like raisins very much.  That said, the recipe suggest substituting figs or dates, which are quite similar in flavor and texture, but when I can I try to do things as written.

The crust of these bars is made with vegetable shortening, brown sugar, lots of rolled oats, and the usual mixture of flour, baking soda, egg, vanilla, and salt.  Using vegetable shortening instead of butter made the crust more crisp, and the brown sugar gives it a nice rich flavor.  The filling is chopped raisins, lots of white sugar, apple cider, and water, boiled together with some cornstarch to thicken it.

The filling sandwiched with the oatmeal crumble dough (and baked, of course) was pretty amazing - I'm surprised that both elements were so sweet, but still weren't overwhelming.  I think it helped that there was a decent amount of salt in the crust.  I also, upon tasting these, was reminded of my great weakness: I have no ability to resist food nostalgia.  These raisin bars tasted so much like my Grandma Carol's date bars that I ate like five of them as soon as they were cool.  To be fair, my office-mates couldn't resist either, so maybe it's just the fault of these cookies tasting REALLY good.  Seriously, try making them.  They're simple, and if you're lazy/cheap like me and forgot/don't want to go out and buy apple cider, you can throw in some of a packed of instant cider mix and everything still turns out great.





That's about it for cookies, until tomorrow.  I did want to share one more brief thing, though.  Last weekend I tried a new vegan chili recipe (although it wasn't touted as such), for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili.  This is mostly a standard chili, but it has chunks of sweet potato in it, plus ground chipotle (or cut up dried chipotle since I couldn't find the original ingredient at the store) to give it a nice spicy, smoky flavor.  I am running out of gushing adjectives, but I was very impressed by the result of this recipe, and was thrilled to eat the leftovers during the week.  It was even better when I stole some of my boyfriend's spicy chipotle sauce to give the chili more kick (I thought it was a little too mellow).

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