Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Operation Baking GALS

This weekend my girls and I are going to be baking cookies and then on Monday - on my way to the office - I'll be dropping off a package at the post office -- those cookies are going to Iraq as part of Operation Baking GALS (Give a Little Support....Bake!)  You can read more about it and sign-up to participate here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Buttermilk Cookies

Over the past week I've made homemade strawberry ice cream and coffee granita - both of which I meant to blog about but the busy-ness of life as the mother of four children, a wife, a full-time employee, a friend and a freelance mommy blogger caught up with me and the food blogging never happened.

However, the buttermilk cookies I made tonight are wonderful and must be blogged!  Here I sit at 12:30a.m., tired as all get-out, but I've got to talk about these cookies!  I bought buttermilk to make Dorie Greenspan's Devil's Food White Out Cake for my husband's birthday and so I was left with almost a quart of buttermilk.  What in the world am I going to make besides pancakes?  (By the way, can someone tell me the difference in Belgian Buttermilk and Cultured Buttermilk?  Is it fat content alone?  I googled it and didn't come up with anything, even after excluding anything that included the word "waffle" since I'm not looking for Buttermilk Belgian Waffles.) Anyway, I was wondering what I was going to make with all this leftover buttermilk when I saw this picture of Buttermilk Cookies on Foodgawker.

I visited Mandy's blog, and after looking at all her photos and reading her post about the cookies, I decided that I would give them a try.  I finally got to it tonight.  Oh. My. These aren't cookies, they're more like lemon cupcake tops! Delicious.

The dough for this is more like a quick bread than like any cookie dough I've ever worked with (thanks to the buttermilk and baking soda).  It was springy and stretchy looking and it was good (yes, I eat cookie dough...I know I'm taking a salmonella risk).  The recipe called for level tablespoons of dough to make the cookies; however, I love my medium scoop from Pampered Chef which is approximately 2 tablespoons.  I decided to use it anyway and just watch the cookies closely.  My oven really needs to be calibrated. No, wait, what my oven really needs is to be shot and put out of its misery.  Anyway, I decided to risk it and make the cookies bigger.  This decision made them seem all the more like lemon cupcake tops since they're about the circumference of a cupcake.

My two-year-old was awake and in the kitchen as I was pulling these out of the oven tonight (at 11:00 - she had a nap late this afternoon). I caught her once standing on the step-stool staring at the cookies..."Annie, don't eat one of those cookies, you've already brushed your teeth. Don't even touch them, okay?"  So, she didn't eat one and she didn't touch it. At least not with her hand. She licked the edge of it.  {sigh}  I had to laugh - and made note of which cookie was hers so I could set it aside.

When I made the glaze for the cookies, I decided to put just a teeny bit of lemon zest in it.  Not much, mind you, but just a smidge (as in 1/8th teaspoon kind of "smidge"). I'll be making these again.  If you know a lemon dessert lover, these are excellent.  I am going to make them again this weekend for Care Group; however, I'm going to do lime instead of lemon just because I'm a lime lover. I can't wait to make them again!

The recipe is from the January 2008 issue of Gourmet and is posted on their website - here. Since I followed the recipe exactly - other than the wee bit o'lemon zest in the glaze - I'll just link you to their site.  Well, okay, I didn't follow it exactly...I didn't beat anything on "low speed" since I didn't use an electric mixer of any sort, I used my hand and a spatula.  :) I didn't want to risk waking anyone with the hand mixer. 

I have some freshly-caught salmon (filleted into steaks) in my freezer - anyone have suggestions on a great marinade before grilling them?  Our neighbor went on a fishing excursion to Alaska and she gave us a couple of the steaks they filleted from some of the salmon she caught.

Edited post to add: My husband called from the office this morning and said, "Those cookies are good!" He rarely says things like that so I know they must be really, really good  for Brad to say something about them tasting good.  The girls each had one with breakfast.  I figured it I'd thrown poppy seeds in them they'd have basically been lemon-poppy-seed muffin tops - so why not?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Homemade Marshmallows, a Family Affair

One of my girls' favorite snacks is marshmallows. They love those things. Well, the ones from the store are practically nothing but chemicals! I've seen homemade marshmallows several times in Martha Stewart Living and I've always thought, "someday I'd like to try doing that."

Well...someday finally arrived...
Saturday night after dinner, we made marshmallows. I say "we" because the entire family was involved in some way. Elizabeth sprinkled the gelatin on the water. Annie stuck her fingers in it to check it out. Katherine poured the salt and vanilla in while Brad was mixing. Brad was mixing because Harrison was screaming and only Mommy would do. On Sunday, after I'd cut the marshmallows, Elizabeth and Katherine rolled them in powdered sugar and piled them on the plate. It was a lot of fun! And...they taste great!

I'm not a big marshmallow fan, but these were good! And they were really good on s'mores. With the melted chocolate - yum! Elizabeth and I have decided that we're going to try making our own graham crackers and if we find a recipe for those that we like, then friends on our Christmas list will be getting S'more Marshmallows -- homemade marshmallows dipped in chocolate and then rolled in homemade graham cracker crumbs (friends and mommies of little girlfriends, pretend you didn't read that).

I took these to Care Group last night and everyone was very complimentary. One of the guys did tell me "Marshmallows are round and come in a bag - not square on a plate." So, just for Jon I may cut them with my round biscuit cutter next time and put some in a bag for him. ;) My husband agreed that they should be round and also thinks they need to be a little thinner - perhaps using a 9x13 pan next time. We're going to play around with them a few more times before we need to make them in earnest come December (at the very least, friends will be getting homemade marshmallows)

I used this recipe from Slashfoodwith a couple of minor modifications - we used an 8x8 square pan, we didn't have any corn starch to mix with the powdered sugar for dusting at the end and, we didn't "dust" our marshmallows we rolled 'em! I found that putting powdered sugar on the knife made the marshmallows easier to cut.

Homemade Marshmallows

.75-oz unflavored gelatin (3 envelopes of Knox gelatin)
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Line 9 x 9-inch pan with plastic wrap and lightly oil it. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Soak for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil and boil hard for 1 minute.
Pour the boiling syrup into soaked gelatin and turn on the mixer, using the whisk attachment, to high speed. Add the salt and beat for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, add in the vanilla extract beat to incorporate.
Scrape marshmallow into the prepared pan and spread evenly (Lightly greasing your hands and the spatula helps a lot here). Take another piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap and press lightly on top of the marshmallow, creating a seal. Let mixture sit for a few hours, or overnight, until cooled and firmly set.
In a shallow dish, combine equal parts cornstarch and confectioners' sugar. Remove marshmallow from pan and cut into equal pieces with scissors (the best tool for the job) or a chef's knife. Dredge each piece of marshmallow in confectioners' sugar mixture.
Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 40 large marshmallows, depending on the size you choose to cut them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Vere Chocolate

About a month ago, Steph at Cupcake Project posted an interview with Vere Chocolate's owner, Kathy Moskal. She broke it up throughout the week and each day a lucky commenter won one of these...

Yes, that's a bag of Vere Chocolate Bars. My initial shipment got lost in the mail and I didn't want Stef to think I was a slacker since, as a winner, I had promised to blog about what I thought of the chocolate. I let her know I had not received them and Kathy was kind enough to ship another set of the bars to me.

The bars arrived on Tuesday and were packaged to help protect them from the horrible Arkansas heat (it was in the upper 80s at 10:00 yesterday morning when they were delivered to my east-facing front porch). I saw the package as I was backing out of the driveway - thanks for knocking, DHL delivery man (she says, sarcastically). Hoping it was the chocolate, I parked the van in the middle of the street and I dashed to the porch to get the package. I was thrilled to see the return address label confirm that, yes, this was the Vere Chocolate. Ah, good chocolate - just the pick-me-up I needed as my four-year-old daughter had cut her own hair earlier that morning. I made myself wait until we got home from our errand to dive into the goodies.

I have to admit I did a double-take when I unwrapped the bag. My first thought was "Oh no! All that packaging to help protect it from the heat and there's melted chocolate on the bag!!" Then I felt the "melted chocolate" and thought, "Well, that feels weird." Um, that would be because it's not real chocolate. You got me, Kathy! Cute!

The first bar I tasted was the Cayenne + Cacao Nibs. I've heard many times of the combination of chocolate and peppers; having never tasted it, I was most curious. Also, another reason I was anxious to try this one, Kathy had mentioned in the interview that it was her favorite. Now I see what the draw is. Wow! The smoothness of the chocolate and then *pow!* the heat of the pepper - delicious. I gave my husband a small square (yes, I shared...some). He's not really a chocolate fan but even he was impressed. Ah, suddenly the DIY haircut wasn't so pressing on my mind. ;)

After dinner, I decided to try the Espresso + Anise bar. I love chocolate. I love coffee. I do not like licorice at all. However, this was a great chocolate bar. The licorice flavor was very slight and not at all overpowering. I like this one but it's not my favorite.

Of course I needed a "before bed snack" and the Raspberry + Lemon bar seemed like it would hit the spot. I broke off a few squares. I love raspberry. I like lemon. I thought the lemon overpowered the raspberry in this bar; however, I loved the raspberry seeds in the bar. Don't give me seedless raspberry anything, why bother? So I was glad to have the seeds. Loved it!

What could be a better thing for breakfast than banana? So, Banana + Macadamia Nut was my breakfast treat (before coffee so that I could really taste the chocolate). I shared some of it with my 2 year-old because she smiled so very sweetly and said 'please.' I'm not that mean of a mom - she's a cute kid! She wanted more. Okay, maybe I am that mean of a mom even if she is a cute kid. I couldn't really taste the banana until I had quite a bit of chocolate in my mouth. I liked the bits of macadamia nuts rather than big nuts - I thought that worked better in the chocolate bar. I don't really like big hunks of stuff in my chocolate bars, anyway.

The Ultimo bar is just that - the ultimate. Plain, dark chocolate. And I don't mean plain as an insult. Plain and simple are *good* things sometimes and they're great things in the case of this chocolate. Smooth, delicious, bittersweet chocolate. And even better because it is organic.

Thanks to Stef for drawing my name out of the hat and a special thanks to Kathy for reshipping chocolate to me. I really enjoyed this!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Devil's Food White Out Cake

I've been following many of the Tuesdays with Dorie bloggers and have been mesmerized by many of the goodies they've made. I decided to request the book they're using (Baking: From My Home to Yours) from my local library to see if it was something I wanted needed to add to my cookbook collection. Based on the Post-It(tm) tabs I have throughout the book, I'm thinking the answer is a resounding YES!

Of course, I was immediately attracted to the cake on the cover of the book:

I decided I would attempt my hand at it for Brad's birthday since we'd be celebrating on the 4th with my extended family. The recipe calls for 8-inch round cake pans and I only have 9-inch rounds, so I had to double the recipe in order to get the four layers. My filling layers aren't nearly as thick as hers either. Basically my entire cake isn't as pretty as hers. :) But hey, it certainly tasted good! This was my first experience in making a simple syrup and whipping egg whites. I think it turned out pretty well, considering!

It tasted wonderful, the cake was dense and fudgey (I refrigerated it). The frosting was sweet and almost like a marshmallow cream. My husband, kids, and the extended family seemed to love it. Because the recipe is online so many different places, I'm not going to post it here. Instead, I'll link to where it's posted at NPR online. Because I have a child who hates dark chocolate, I skipped the chocolate chips in my version of the cake. Still, it was yummilicious!

The only thing it was missing was the candles...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Dollar Store Dining

I know that we're all looking for ways to decrease our food budget - but do you think buying food at the "dollar store" is the way to go? You know, the stores like Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Everything's a Buck, etc (whatever the ones in your area are called).

Our local paper did a story about a month ago about buying food stuffs at the dollar store - and the reporter seems to have done a lot of comparison shopping. She said on a recent trip to a specific store here in the city not one item was past or even near its expiration date, no dents and very few "off brands." And it wasn't all Top Ramen or potted meat. Now, she did provide the warning that you shouldn't assume that just because "it's only a dollar" and it's a name-brand then it must be a better deal than the same brand sold at the grocery store, Target or Wal-Mart.

Bad deals: Morton's kosher salt (1-pound box at the dollar store, $1; 3-pound box at Kroger, $2.49 and the store brand at Kroger is $1.49...for three pounds). Duncan Hines brownie and cookie mixes are smaller at the dollar stores (5 1/2 ounces rather than 16 1/2 ounce boxes sold at the grocery store). Other "skip its" she says are canned fruit as the cans are smaller and they are "off brands." And the tortillas are better suited to using as sandbags or weapons because they were so hard.

If you hate mincing your own garlic then the jars of the stuff at the dollar store are a good buy (8-ounce jar for $1; 4 1/2-ounce jar for $1.50 at the grocer). However, if you don't mind mincing your own, then buy the stuff in the produce section at Kroger where it's around $2/pound. Buying the heads of garlic at the grocery store also gives you cloves of garlic for other recipes. Minced stuff in the jar can only be used in recipes that call for...well...minced garlic. ;) (we use too much garlic for that to be a good buy for us)

She says the good buys are jars of red bell peppers (as a matter of fact, she bought almost all the stuff for an antipasto tray at the dollar store - olives, mushrooms, marinated vegetables, crackers), 24-ounce bottles of Hunt's ketchup, bread crumbs, chicken broth (I'm guessing that's if you don't buy low-sodium like I do); and 28-ounce cans of tomatoes; dried herbs and spices; seasoning mixes for the grill. Brad uses canned tomatoes when making his salsa (we really need to get some tomato plants!) so I'll send him to the dollar store the next time he gets a hankering to make some.

Things that are worth it if they're not on sale at the grocery store: the minced garlic previously mentioned, pasta, cooking oil, jam, jelly and preserves, long-grain white rice, soft drinks (3 cans for $1) and snack foods like chips and pretzels. My mom buys the bags of Tootsie Roll Midgies (that she stashes in her desk drawer) from the dollar store

What do you think about this "dollar store dining"?