Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Coconut Macaroons

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the most polarizing sweet out there is coconut. Think about it, is anyone ever lukewarm about coconut? They usually either love it or they hate it. In my family, everyone loves it except my oldest brother, Mike. Whenever my mom made magic cookie bars, she had to leave one section of the pan a "coconut free zone" so that he'd get to enjoy them, too.

I love coconut. I love coconut cake, german chocolate cake, coconut candies, almond joys, mounds, etc... It's all good as far as I'm concerned.

About a month ago, I was invited to a friends Bunco party. One of the other ladies brought a delicious raspberry chocolate cheesecake. Sounds good, right? Well, it was! But, the best part was the crust! It was made from coconut macaroons!

Now, I'd never had coconut macaroons before, but hey... it's got coconut, it must be good, right? So, that piqued my interest in coconut macaroons and I found this recipe and decided to whip up a batch. They came together very easily, but... I have to say... I'm not a big fan. I mean, sure its coconutty and crispy and chewy both at the same time, but it's also pretty bland. I was very disappointed, even more so because I actually made a whole batch instead of trying to halve the recipe like I usually do (its too much of a nightmare to try to halve 3 egg whites). So, I threw about 5 of these away before I remembered the cheesecake crust and decided to save the rest and put in the freezer for the next time I'm making a cheesecake. Hopefully they'll keep in the freezer.

I dont know, maybe you're supposed to eat these with tea or coffee or something? Also, how adorable is my teacup and saucer???? They were a housewarming gift from my friend April!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Caramel Oatmeal Chewies

I've had this recipe for a long time. But it called for an ingredient that I never have and never remember to buy: Caramel ice cream topping. Fortunately, I had some leftover from the caramel cake caramel cake I made the weekend before, so I was in business.

Now, you read this recipe and you think... what's not to love? Caramel, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chips? I mean, that's like the holy trinity of baking goodness, right? (Actually, I could probably think of about 15 other triple combinations that could vy for the holy trinity, but we won't get into that now). They came together pretty easily and I was excited to taste them. But, honestly, they weren't that spectacular. I didn't really think that they had much of a flavor at all. Bland and almost generic. They kind of taste like a cookie you'd get from the bakery of a big chain grocery store. You know what I'm talking about?

I have a feeling that maybe I used the wrong caramel. I used the squirtable caramel, not the kind that comes in a jar. Maybe there is a difference there. I'm sure that real caramel would have worked better, but, I honestly probably won't try this again to find out.

On a side note, my mom really liked them. So, I don't know... maybe I'm just too picky.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Beacon Hill Cookies

I like to think of myself as fairly creative. Which is one of the reasons I started this blog. I wanted an outlet to bake and take cool pictures and have cool posts like all the other food/baking blogs that I read. I was inspired and I thought... yeah, i can do that.

The problem is. I can't. I mean, yes, I physically can. But, my pictures suck. I've tried everything. I've tried the lightbox, I've tried the no flash, I've tried the natural light, nothing seems to work. And it's not just the lighting, it's the presentation as well. I know it's a work in progress, but sometimes I get discouraged by the lengthy amount of time that it takes to make any progress. Uggh. Sometimes I wonder if I need a new camera, but i like my camera and it takes good pictures. Except of baked goods.

Alright, well anyway, enough whining. I was just basically wanting to apologize to the few of you who actually read my blog. I'm sorry my pictures suck. But I appreciate you sticking with me. At some point, maybe it will just click and the pictures will magically become amazing!

Until then...

I am obsessed with Meringues. Like, literally obsessed. How can a cookie without flour or egg yolks be so incredibly chewy and tasty? I have no idea, but I love it! And not only are they delicious, they are so easy to make, too!

My mom brought me the book, 500 Cookies this weekend as a hostess gift. It's a cool book with a lot of pictures. I love cookbooks with pictures. Immediately, one cookie stuck out to me as I flipped through it. The Beacon Hill Cookie. It looked chocolatey and homey and bumpy. It looked awesome.

So, last night I decided to see what the ingredients were and see if I had them. Turns out, it's a meringue cookie! Which meant that I had to bake them right there on the spot. They came with a variation to put white chocolate chips in them, which I happened to have, so I did that.

Yum. Have I mentioned I'm in love with meringues? Okay, overkill... I know. I made a half a batch and came out with about 10 cookies.

Beacon Hill Cookies
from 500 Cookies by Phillippa Vanstone and Susannah Blake

5 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used semi-sweet)
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 superfine sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans (I used walnuts)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate, set aside to cool. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add one third of the sugar, beat for a further minute, then add one third more of the sugar. Beat until the whites are stiff, and fold in the remaining sugar.

Fold in the nuts, chocolate, vanilla, and white chocolate chips into the mixture.

Drop level teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto parchment lined baking sheets 1 1/2 inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the cookies are cracked and firm to the touch. Life the parchment sheets onto wire racks and allow cookies to cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Yield: 2 1/2 dozen.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

White Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Sandwiches

White Chocolate and Peanut Butter aren't two flavors I'd ever think of putting together. I happen to love white chocolate and I love peanut butter, but sometimes love for two separate things doesn't translate to love for combining them into one thing. Take for example... Chocolate and Blueberries. I love chocolate. I love blueberries. Chocolate covered blueberries?? Yuck. That sounds disgusting.

My aunt Loretta brought a mess load of these little suckers to our family christmas dinner. I think it was her, it was either her or her daughter Susan, either way... it came from their family. I picked one up and bit into it, expecting it to be a white chocolate covered oreo.

Much to my delight, it wasn't. It was actually two crackers with peanut butter on the inside. Brilliant! I ate wayyy too many of these at Christmas, but decided to give them a whirl at home.

Super easy. I actually only made 3 last night. I melted just one square of the White Almond Bark and it was enough to cover 3 really well (with just a little left over). A nice mini snack. Delicious.

White Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Sandwiches

White Almond Bark

Peanut Butter

Ritz Crackers

Assemble Peanut Butter Sandwiches with the crackers. Microwave the almond bark as directed on package. Dip and coat the sandwiches with the white chocolate. Lay out on a piece of parchment paper or wax paper to dry.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

Meet my parents. They just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary a couple weekends ago and since they were out of town for the actual date, I decided to host a dinner party in their honor this past weekend to celebrate.

They have quite possibly the cutest love story I've ever heard. You wanna hear it? Okay, I'll give you the short version.

Basically, My mom was 16 and my dad was 23 and just gotten home from his stint in the army. They had a mutual friend who introduced them at the county fair. That was probably in August/September. At the time, my mom had a boyfriend, so even though the mutual friend had given my dad my mom's phone number, he didn't call her. Fast Forward a few weeks, and they're all hanging out at the town square, cruising around and whatnot. Now, my mom is riding in the car with her boyfriend, sees my dad in his car and she gives him a little wave. That wave is why my brothers and I are even here, folks. That one little wave sparked a relationship that is 40 years long and still going. He took that wave as a sign and finally called her. They were married a couple months later in January. Talk about a whirlwind romance. They probably only really dated for 3-4 months and got married. Not engaged. Married.

It's a great story. And ever since I've been little and dreamed of my future husband, I always kind of think that it's going to happen like that. That there is just going to be this immediate connection with someone, where you know it's right. I don't think it happens that way for everyone... but, I have a feeling it's going to happen that way for me. It's in my blood ;)

So, yeah, back to the dinner party. I wanted to make a cake to celebrate and I saw this cake on Jennifer's awesome blog a few weeks ago and when I saw it, I immediately bookmarked it for this occasion.
I did alter it a bit, though. Instead of making the caramel filling, I cheated and used caramel in a squeeze bottle. I squirted it over the bottom layer, put it in the freezer for a bit to harden up and then I put some of the frosting over it. I doubled the frosting to make sure I'd have enough and I still have a ton of the frosting left that I need to figure out something to do with. But, oh my god, y'all. This frosting is amazing! Honestly, the cake part sucked. It was really dry and flavorless (maybe I overbaked it?), but the frosting.... ohhhhh the frosting. It made up for the tasteless cake part. And I mean, honestly.. isn't the cake just a vehicle for the frosting?

Happy Anniversary mom and dad! Before you know it, you'll be celebrating your 50th!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

My 5th birthday was a big one. I can classify it by saying that it was both my best and worst birthday all rolled into one. It's one of the few birthdays that I have a vivid recollection of. I can remember having cake and ice cream in our dark kitchen and I remember my dad sent me a bouquet to school had a little cabbage patch doll head mixed in with the flowers. (Yeah, that totally sounds weird, but it was freaking awesome). It was 1985, the year of the cabbage patch dolls and not only did I get a cabbage patch doll for my birthday, I got to go to toys r us and pick my own out! That was all the good stuff. Now, for the bad. I woke up in the middle of the night, that night of my birthday and I threw up. Multiple times.

My 5 year old mind couldn't grasp the concept of a stomach virus. So, I immediately chalked it up as the icing on the cake's fault. And from that moment on, I swore off icings and frostings of any kind. This lasted for a good 7-8 years or so. I'd always scrape the frosting off of all birthday cakes, cupcakes, brownies, etc. I was convinced that I was somehow "allergic" to frosting.

Ahhhh... the good ole days, when throwing something up would scare me off of ever having it again. By the time I was 12 or so, I was back to trying frosting and have been devouring it ever since. I love frosting, it's the best part of the cake, right?

My favorite frosting is definitely cream cheese frosting. Yum. After I accepted frosting back into my life, my favorite cake became dark chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. Yum.

That was until last night.
Last night, I decided to try out another frosting to put on the Amy Sedaris Cupcakes and I whipped up a mini batch of this frosting from the Hershey Website.

I was never really sure what exactly a buttercream frosting was, so I was anxious to try this. Well, you know what buttercream frosting is? Perfection. Absolute perfection.

This was one of the most delicious things I've ever had in my mouth. I scraped the bowl completely clean with my fingers and then licked my fingers completely clean. And don't think that I didn't lick that empty cupcake wrapper completely after I took that picture either.

So, my experimentation with frostings is officially done. This one wins. No need for competition.

Hershey's One Bowl Buttercream Frosting

6 tbsps of butter, softened
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup Hershey's Cocoa (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat butter in medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and cocoa alternately with milk; beat to spreading consistency (additional milk may be needed). Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

By the way, I must have celebrities on the brain, because the whole time I was photographing this cupcake, I kept thinking... "wow, if cupcakes could look like people, this one would totally be Suri Cruise."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

m&m Cookies

You're smiling right now, aren't you? How can you not look at a plate full of m&m cookies and not smile? I mean, I think it's literally impossible, unless you're a serial killer type or one of those weird people that don't like sweets or something. Instead of those posters with kittens playing with a ball of string or unicorns flying through the air, people should have posters of m&m cookies on their walls. The world would be a happier place.

Ahhh... nostalgia. I hadn't had homemade m&m cookies in 20 years probably. Why? I guess because I very rarely have a huge ass bag of m&ms just lying around. Luckily, a few weeks ago, I bought a bag of m&ms with the intention of making some m&m cookies. I searched around for a recipe for awhile. You would think that you'd just substitute m&ms in place of chocolate chips in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, right? Well, maybe, but I seemed to remember the cookie part of an m&m cookie tasting a little different than the cookie part of a chocolate chip cookie. And I'm a stickler for the cookie part, folks.

So, I found this recipe and decided to swap the butter for butter flavored shortening. Next time, I think I'll use half butter, half shortening. These cookies turned out just how I remembered, chewy and a little crispy and buttery and sweet. These cookies could quite possibly be the happiest cookies around.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

I love cake. I know I've mentioned that a few times before, but seriously... cake is the ultimate tongue pleaser. It's moist (if you're lucky), it's sweet, and it's topped off with an even sweeter, creamy topping.
Now, as much as I love cake, I'm not a huge cupcake fan. For a couple of reasons... mainly, I find cupcakes hard to eat. I could probably fix this problem, by breaking out a plate and a fork, but it's cupcake... it's supposed to be portable, right?? I'm supposed to be able to pick it up and chow into it. And that's exactly what I do. And I wind up with frosting all over my face, chin, and down the front of my shirt. Brilliant. I also find cupcakes to usually be duller than their big cake counterparts. They are usually drier and there isn't that nice center layer of icing that permeates into the cake layers... thats my favorite part of the cake, the parts around the center layer of icing. Yum.
But, since I don't have a cavalry of kids (yet) or co-workers to dole out slices of cake to, the cupcake is a good option for me to test out cake recipes and icing recipes. So, in the coming weeks, I plan to teach myself about the different types of frostings out there.
Friday night was my first venture. I decided to go for a very basic cupcake recipe and then try multiple types of frosting to go with it. The recipe I chose was Amy Sedaris' Vanilla Cupcakes. I love Amy Sedaris, too, so it was fun to test one of her recipes!
When the cupcakes first came out of the oven, they were terrible! Seriously, they tasted like crap (I snuck some crumbs off one of the cupcakes) and I was so disappointed. But, after they completely cooled (till the next day) they turned out to be really delicious. A really excellent vanilla cupcake.
I went ahead and first tried the icing with the cupcake recipe. It's basically a vanilla icing made of powdered sugar, half and half and vanilla and I was not a fan. Too sweet, too grainy, not creamy enough. Luckily, I only made enough for 2 cupcakes, so the rest of my cupcakes sit in my kitchen awaiting further frosting experimentation. Yay!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Puppy Chow

I grew up in the 1980s and the 1990s. It was a time of microwaves and convenient health foods. And Bartle & James. Remember those commercials? Whatever happened to those guys? Hmm.
It was also a time of American Gladiators and with all the talk of the new series this week, it got me thinking about those days of growing up. Now, when I was growing up, my mom was a bit of a health food junkie. We didn't eat a lot of processed foods (except the occasional bag of wedding cookies), if we wanted something sweet... she'd make us some Grandma Cookies. We also didn't have any types of sugary cereal. Only cornflakes or regular cheerios for us. She always added brown sugar to it for us, but no fruit loops or cocoa puffs. To this day, I've never had captain crunch or lucky charms.

Anyway, I think I seem to remember having chex cereal a few times, but we never made puppy chow or muddy buddies or whatever you want to call it with it. No, I only had puppy chow when I went to slumber parties. I never really even knew what it was or how to make it. I just knew that it was covered in powdered sugar (my favorite) and that it was crunchy and chocolatey. In other words, Heaven in a Bag.

Recently, I bought some chex cereal after seeing a recipe on tv for making faux fried chicken with chex cereal. You can read about the chicken here. So, since I have a huge box of chex lying around and with the nostalgia that American Gladiators brought back... I decided to finally give these a try.

I didn't make a full batch. I actually just kind of eyeballed everything. I melted some hershey chocolate bars with a spoonful of peanut butter and some butter in the microwave, poured it over some chex cereal and then shook it in a bag with the powdered sugar. I let it harden on a piece of parchment paper and then this morning, I decided to shake it with some more powdered sugar (have I mentioned how much I love powdered sugar?). It is just how I remembered. So sweet and crunchy. The perfect pop in your mouth snack.

Chex Puppy Chow

Before the second coating of powdered sugar.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Banana Muffins

So, apparently, having very ripe bananas is a huge factor when making banana muffins.

I bought bananas that were fairly green at the grocery and then tried to make muffins out of them that night. I even tried microwaving them (something I saw Rachael Ray do on tv once). But, these muffins just aren't sweet enough. And I know it's because my bananas weren't anywhere near overripe.

The banana slices on top were pretty gross, too. Not sure if that had something to do with the bananas not being ripe enough, or what.

Anyway, I will try this recipe again with bananas that I've had lying around for awhile. I do love muffins and will hopefully be making more in the near future.

Banana Muffins

Friday, January 4, 2008

Meringues with Chocolate Chips & Nuts

I don’t like meringue. I love coconut cream pie, chocolate pie, etc… but I always, always remove the meringue. It’s gross. My Aunt Peggy always calls it “calf slobber” and I think that's the perfect way to describe it. I always leave the calf slobber lying in my plate.

So, since I don’t like meringue as a topping, I never ever tried meringue cookies. I mean… egg whites and sugar? Baked? How can that be tasty, right??

Well… I was wrong.. egg whites and sugar are tasty! Very tasty in fact.

On a whim, I decided to try this recipe … (another Smitten Kitchen recipe, yes… I know, I have a very small repertoire of blogs from which I pull recipes from). The reason I was drawn to trying meringues, is that I recently saw someone eating one… and I thought to myself.. hmmm.. that texture seems crunchy and chewy all at the same time…. I like that idea.

So, I baked these. And they were freaking delicious! Chewy and crunchy and the chocolate chips in them are so sweet and kind of like grouped together in a wonderful little explosion when you bite into the cookie! I added a little coconut to mine, too. I love me some coconut.

So, now, I’m wondering.. does everyone love meringues? Or are they as exotic and strange sounding to everyone else as they are to me?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Blueberry Muffins

It’s funny how your tastes change as you get older. When I was growing up, I always thought I hated blueberries. I never liked blueberry flavored candy, blueberry muffins, blueberry pie. Nothing. I wouldn’t even try anything with blueberries in it. And, we never had blueberries around the house, either, so, the unknown factor was definitely in play there.

About 3-4 years ago, my mom started buying fresh blueberries to eat with my parent’s breakfast. And for some reason one day, I opened the carton, popped a couple in my mouth and was in love. They were sweet, but also tart and a perfectly semi-firm texture. They were delicious! Where had they been all my life?

Now, I love blueberries and try to eat them as much as possible (they apparently have all kinds of healthy antioxidants in them).

Last night, I went on a bit of a baking spree. I am sick of making regular cookies and my palate was sick of cookies, as well. I wanted something rich and different. So, I looked around for some good muffin recipes. I found a few and even a cookie recipe that sounded good and I headed off to the grocery store list in hand.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before… but the grocery store I go to is prime guy territory. There are always lots of attractive single guys milling around in the grocery store. Last night was no exception… in fact, I actually had a fairly embarrassing encounter with a crush of mine. There is a guy that comes into my work sometimes (maybe once a month) and I’ve always had a huge crush on him.. he’s really nice, cute, has an incredibly sexy deep voice and striking blue eyes. Definitely drool-worthy. I’ve even gone so far as asking my brother (who I work with) to give me the scoop on this Adonis (ok, Adonis might be a stretch, but he is hot), but he didn’t really cooperate, he just told me he was too young for me. Hmph. Well, anyway.. who did I bump into in the baking aisle last night??? Yes, him. There was no ducking out of the situation, as we basically met each other head on. So, we exchanged pleasantries (I wasn’t sure if he really recognized me or not) and there was a girl on the other side of the aisle, that I was afraid might be his girlfriend, so I totally stiffed up and kind of skirted by him after a few moments. Come to find out, they weren’t together. Arrrg.. I’m always screwing up situations like that. I am so not a slick flirter.

Anyway, I got home and whipped up these blueberry muffins. They turned out really pretty! And very tasty! And I used half white whole wheat flour and half all purpose flour. They could actually be a little sweeter for me, but still a good muffin. Good texture and flavor. I’ll make these again!

On a side note… I got a kitchen scale for Christmas:
And I absolutely love it! I’ve been using it some and I’m realizing that I’ve been using too much flour and not enough brown sugar, etc… so fun to measure things out precisely! I highly recommend a kitchen scale if you are kind of anal about measurements!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Peanut Butter Cookies

I run. Not just for exercise or for the stress relief, but just because I really enjoy it. I haven’t always been a runner though. I’ve only been running for about 2 years It’s gone from being something that I just wanted to see if I could do… to something that I have to do.

Ever since I started kicking my mileage up to train for marathons, I notice that I crave salt so much. I contribute that to the fact that I always sweat buckets when I run, and I’m depleting my electrolytes and salt reserves when I run (who know if the salt part is really true, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?).

Previous to these random and serious salt cravings, I never really thought much about peanut butter cookies. They were never sweet enough for me. I preferred sweeter, chocolatey desserts. Not anymore. Now, I'll get these urgent and random salty, sweet cravings. I rummage around in my kitchen, I eat some popcorn (with extra salt added to it), then I immediately eat some hershey kisses. Salty and then sweet. In that order.

A couple of months ago, I made flourless peanut butter cookies Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies . I don’t even really like peanut butter cookies that much. But those cookies were so deliciously sweet and salty, that I have been craving them ever since. I keep opening my freezer hoping to see one that I forgot about, but alas, they’re all gone and have been for awhile now.

Since I started this blog, I hate baking the same recipe twice. Mainly because I feel like I can’t really blog about something more than once. It’s too boring. So, even though I’ve been wanting to make those cookies again, I’ve refrained.

So, this weekend, I really wanted those salty-sweet cookies, and I decided to make these cookies instead. Smitten Kitchen Peanut Butter Cookies

I chose to use half shortening instead of butter (and actually now that I type this, I think I actually forgot to add the water that you are supposed to add when you substitute shortening for butter in a recipe, ooops) and I didn’t use chopped peanuts. I used chocolate chips and m&ms.

These were really good cookies. But, honestly…. I still prefer the flourless ones. They did satisfy my salty sweet craving, though. At least for a time.