Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Mondays with Maida - Chocolate Raisin Cookies

Page 30 in the old book / page 46 in the new book

Baking cookies is not the first thing that comes to mind when deciding how to spend the day after Christmas. And in fact, I had trouble mustering up some enthusiasm for the project. Fortunately, this week’s recipe, Chocolate Raisin Cookies, is not difficult and didn’t require too much effort. Unfortunately, I had some trouble with these cookies – I made a minor substitution which might have affected the outcome, I made a mistake in mixing the dough, and I had trouble getting the timing right.

This recipe calls for sour cream in addition to quite a bit of butter. Since I had some leftover lowfat sour cream, I decided to use it rather than purchase more. I also goofed when mixing the dough. I should have added the melted chocolate to the butter/sugar/egg mixture before the sour cream. Instead, I accidentally added the sour cream first. I realized my mistake before I mixed in the sour cream, but thought the order couldn’t be that important. Wrong. When I added the chocolate, it seized. The dough appeared to have grated chocolate in it rather than melted chocolate. Lesson learned – next time I would scoop out the sour cream rather than mixing it in.

I had trouble again with timing. The recipe says the cookies should bake for 18 to 20 minutes but cautions that they shouldn’t be overbaked since the centers are supposed to be soft and chewy. I baked the first batch for 18 minutes. The cookies were very dark around the edges and appeared overdone. I kept reducing the time (the last batch was 13 minutes), but I don’t think any of the cookies remained chewy in the middle after cooling. These cookies are described as “both soft-chewy and crispy-crunchy”, which sounded really good to me. I didn’t achieve that result and was rather disappointed in the cookies. I can’t help but wonder, though, if I hadn’t made the substitution and hadn’t made that mistake, how they would have turned out.

Next time – Chocolate Banana Cookies.

Nutrition Facts

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Holidays!

After all the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, may you now find some quiet moments to enjoy the company of family and friends. Best wishes to all of you for a joyful holiday season!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Mondays with Maida - Coconut Grove Cookies

Page 28 in the old book / page 44 in the new book

Another chocolate drop cookie this week, but this one is very interesting. The base is chocolate with chunks of chocolate – quite similar to a couple of the cookies from past weeks – but they are topped with a chewy coconut and meringue mixture. Think Mounds bar inside out. They are not the most attractive cookies and those coconut topknots have minds of their own (about half wound up on the side after the cookies baked), but with nuggets of bittersweet chocolate within and that chewy coconut on top they taste great. The recipes in the old and new books are the same, though the new book calls for semisweet chocolate and lacks a note which is found in the old book. The old book lists sweet, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate as options and specifically mentions Lindt Excellence, Tobler Tradition, Lindt or Tobler extra-bittersweet, and Baker’s German Sweet as good choices. Since I needed 8 ounces of chocolate for this recipe, I decided to use Callebaut bittersweet which is sold by the pound in Whole Foods.

Except for the aforementioned problem with the coconut topping sliding off in baking, I had no trouble mixing or baking these cookies. I got lucky and managed to portion out the chocolate base and coconut topping so that I didn’t wind up running short on either one.

I liked these – they were fun to make and tasted very good. I am so ready to try some of the non-chocolate cookie recipes though! Speaking of which, Viv at Seattle Bon Vivant recently posted about an article on cookie baking that appeared in the Seattle Times. The article includes a recipe from Maida Heatter for Sour-Cream Ginger Cookies. If I keep on schedule, I’ll be posting about those cookies on February 14th. If they sound good to you, you may want to grab the recipe while you can.

Next time – Chocolate Raisin Cookies.

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Cookie Weekend 2004

Every year I take a couple of days off and have myself a very long weekend of Christmas cookie baking. Inevitably other things come up, so it’s not like I’m baking cookies day and night, but it is definitely the focus of those three or four days. I usually bake six kinds of cookies. This year I baked seven – six plus my “Mondays with Maida” cookies. The other thing that was different (and fun) this year was that three of the recipes I tried came from other food bloggers.

Here’s what I made:

Chocolate pecan bars – I make these every year and they are always everyone’s favorite. They’re from a 1989 Karo corn syrup magazine ad and taste like a chocolate pecan pie.

Sugar cookies – page 193 in Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies. I make these every year as well. This is a wonderful recipe – the cookies have great flavor and the dough handles beautifully.

Cardamom butter squares – page 120 in the December, 2004 Gourmet. (Gourmet's recipe was based on this recipe from McCormick. The recipe in Gourmet uses a little more cardamom and adds the icings.) These are tasty little cookies drizzled with chocolate and an espresso icing. They are easy, beautiful, and delicious!

Soetkoekies (spice wine cookies) – from Jeanne at Cook Sister!. This is a South African cookie loaded with spices, almonds and red wine too. You don’t even need a mixer for these and they taste great!

Chez Panisse Gingersnaps – from Renee at feeding dexygus seconds. Such a great story – I had to make them. I had a little trouble slicing them neatly, but they are still delicious.

Marzipan pine nut cookies – page 44 in the Spring 2004 Eating Well. Sam at Becks & Posh made these for IMBB10 and fortunately I just happened to have this issue of Eating Well. I’ve only eaten one of these (so far) – but I think this is my favorite new cookie this year. I plan to make a second batch so I can enjoy a few more!

Coconut Grove Cookies – page 28 in Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies. More about these tomorrow!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Mondays with Maida - Chocolate Applesaucers

Page 26 in the old book / page 43 in the new book

I know what you’re saying, “OK, now this is starting to get a little old…” I promise, this is the last iced chocolate drop cookie for a little while. There’s one more, but it’s a few weeks off. Actually, it is rather interesting to make and compare a number of similar cookies. Since the changes from week to week are slight, I can start to get a feel for the effect that each small change has on the final product. Anyway, the cookies this week are called Chocolate Applesaucers and, as you might have guessed, they are made with applesauce. They also have walnuts, raisins and spices. Both the cookies and the icing are made with cocoa. The old book doesn’t specify which type of cocoa to use, but the new book calls for Dutch process cocoa, so that’s what I used.

These cookies are mixed in the mixer and go together quite easily. They are very large. The recipe instructs you to use a ¼ cup measuring cup to measure out the dough for each cookie and to only put 5 cookies on each sheet. The recipe is supposed to make 22 cookies, but I ended up with just 20. To get 22, you should probably use a scant ¼ cup for each. Because the cookies are so large, the recipe recommends that you prop up your cooling racks on something to increase the air circulation under the racks, hence my floating cookie racks…

The icing is very easy, but I found it thickened up pretty quickly – probably because the house is so cool. After I had iced half the cookies I added a little more water and the icing returned to a workable consistency. After a few more, I found it necessary to do this again but it was less effective. It probably would have helped if I had reheated the water (boiling water is called for in the recipe).

I was good all day in anticipation of eating one of these cookies. I was out Christmas shopping all afternoon (I’m done – yeah!!) and didn’t get started on them until after dinner. I ate my “sample” almost immediately after it was iced – I couldn’t hold out any longer! It had a nice crisp edge with a moist but not chewy interior, and of course all those walnuts and raisins. Both the cookie and icing have a rich, dark chocolate flavor. Very, very good – a solid B+.

Next time – Coconut Grove Cookies.

Nutrition Facts

Friday, December 10, 2004

SHF3 – Auntie Bee’s Cardamom Apricot Muffins

Sugar High Friday has rolled around again. Hosted by Zarah Maria of Food & Thoughts, the theme is “Spice Up Your Winter!” Participants were asked to include cardamom, nutmeg and/or allspice in their sweet creations.

I didn’t have to think about this very long before deciding that I would focus on cardamom. My great aunt, Auntie Bee, who passed away many years ago but still is very fondly remembered by my entire family, once told me that cardamom was her favorite spice. I don’t remember that she told me why, but I believe that she had a fascination with all things Swedish (probably because Uncle Ted’s family was Swedish) . This fascination apparently included Swedish cooking, because one of the cookbooks I inherited from her is titled “Good Food from Sweden”. Cardamom is commonly used in Scandanavian baked goods.

I looked through Auntie Bee's Swedish cookbook for recipes using cardamom. I found a couple that were possibilities, but the instructions all started with “Wash and dry butter.” I had no idea what that meant, although I’ve since found some instructions on-line for washing butter , and I suspect it is not necessary with the butter we purchase today.

Having ruled out the recipes from the Swedish cookbook, I was briefly at a loss as to where to turn next but then remembered that I have Auntie Bee’s recipe boxes! I looked through her recipes for cookies, cakes and breads and came up with several recipes using cardamom. There were recipes for a Coffee Braid, Holiday Cardamom Bread, Margo’s Danish Pastry, and Cardamom Fruit Muffins. I’d eventually like to try the other recipes, but for this occasion I went with the easy one – Cardamom Fruit Muffins. It is actually a variation of a recipe called “Rich & Sweet Muffins” that calls for the addition of ground cardamom and candied fruit. I swapped dried apricots for the candied fruit, cut the recipe in half, and added a cinnamon icing (an idea I got from the coffee braid recipe). The muffins were really wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever made muffins with butter before. My usual recipe for blueberry muffins calls for melted butter, but I’ve always substituted vegetable oil. What a difference the butter makes! The crust is tender and crunchy-crumbly and the muffins live up to their name – they are rich and sweet!

Auntie Bee’s Cardamom Apricot Muffins

makes 6 – can be doubled

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
¼ cup softened butter
¼ cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup milk
¼ cup chopped, dried apricots

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a 6 cup muffin tin. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom and set aside. Cream the butter with the sugar and then beat in the egg. On low speed add half the flour mixture, then the milk, and then the rest of the flour mixture. Add the apricots. Spoon batter into muffin tin and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool a little, then drizzle with cinnamon icing (strained confectioner’s sugar and a bit of cinnamon mixed with a little milk or cream). I used a sandwich bag with a corner clipped off to drizzle the icing.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Mondays with Maida - Key West Chocolate Treasures

Page 24 in the old book / page 41 in the new book

No need to adjust your set. Yes, these cookies do look very much like last week’s cookies. In fact, if you compare the list of ingredients they are very similar. Both recipes have the same amounts of flour, butter, dark brown sugar, egg and vanilla. However, this week’s cookies - Key West Chocolate Treasures – have more chocolate, sour cream rather than milk, coffee and coconut. The icing is slightly different as well, using sour cream rather than heavy cream. They are smaller than last week’s cookies and, to my taste, have a little more character.

These cookies are mixed in a mixer and are a little more bother than last week’s cookies – but not much. The only difficulty I had was in melting the chocolate for both the dough and the icing. I’ve heard of chocolate “seizing”, but I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it before. I think I have now. The chocolate for the dough is melted together with ½ cup of coffee. The chocolate was nearly melted and all was well, when suddenly it started separating and looking a little clumpy. I wasn’t too concerned since this was going into the dough, and indeed it turned out fine. Once mixed into the butter, sugar and eggs, the chocolate was perfectly smooth. I was slightly more concerned about the chocolate for the icing, since the problem appeared to have been caused by a mistake I had made. I melted the chocolate and butter together, but should have included the sour cream as well. When I realized my mistake, I rather hastily threw in the sour cream. I put it back on the heat and stirred, but before long it was looking pretty awful. Some sort of liquid was separating out from the chocolate and the chocolate was very clumpy. I tried using a whisk and kept it on the heat, but nothing was helping. Miraculously, as soon as I stirred in some of the sugar, the chocolate became silken smooth.

These cookies are quite good. They are not as cakey as the Big Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cookies from last week, and are slightly chewy from the added coconut. The icing is delicious – I had a little leftover and kept going back and licking a little more off the spatula. Of the four cookies I’ve made so far, this is #2. My favorite so far is the first recipe I made – Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies.

Next time – Chocolate Applesaucers.

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Delicata Squash Soup with Arugula Pesto

When I started thinking about what to have for dinner last night I was thinking light and simple. It being December and pretty chilly outside, soup naturally came to mind. I had a Delicata squash in the fridge that had been there for a couple of weeks, so I decided to make use of it. I wanted to include some greens in the soup and thought that the slight bitterness of arugula might contrast nicely with the sweetness of the squash. It was then that my train of thought veered off track – what was to have been a simple supper became considerably more complicated.

Somewhere in one or more of the many food magazines I have browsed over the years, I know I’ve seen pesto used as a garnish for soup, though I had never tried it myself. The idea of an arugula pesto on top of squash soup sounded really good to me. Then I got a really crazy idea – instead of using Parmesan cheese in the pesto, what if I used aged Gouda? And… instead of using pine nuts, why not use pecans? I think the only reasons I thought of using the aged Gouda were that I happened to have some on hand and I really like it. I didn’t have a clue as to whether it would “go with” arugula. In fact I started worrying about the combination enough that I decided to validate it by doing a search in Google. My search turned up several salads that included arugula, aged Gouda and pecans, so I decided it must be an acceptable combination.

I envy people that can confidently work out a recipe in their head. I suppose much of that ability must come from experience eating and preparing many different foods, but to me it’s like being able to read a sheet of music and hear the music in your head – another skill that eludes me. Anyway, I have to rely on luck as much as anything. Occasionally it works.

The pesto worked. However, my angst over the choice of nuts and cheese was unnecessary. The arugula overpowers them. I think pine nuts and Parmesan would work equally well and would taste just about the same.

I was much more laid back about the soup (probably because this was more familiar territory). I roasted the Delicata squash to accentuate its sweetness, added a sautéed onion and some roasted garlic, pureed them together in the food processor and then added chicken stock.

I topped the soup with salty crisped bits of pancetta. The mix of contrasting flavors and textures was delicious. I had a heap of dishes to do, but it was worth it! Tonight I had the leftover pesto in a pasta dish, but it’s late and that will have to be another post…

Delicata Squash Soup with Arugula Pesto

3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and cooled
About half a bunch of arugula (I weighed mine after it was cleaned and I had 90 grams or about 3 packed cups)
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup grated aged Gouda (mine weighed 15 grams or about ½ ounce)

2 Delicata squash (a little under 3 pounds total)
1 onion
1 head roasted garlic
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
¼ tsp salt
1 thick slice pancetta or bacon

Make the pesto: Place the garlic cloves in the food processor and pulse a few times. Add the pecans and process until finely chopped. Add the arugula, olive oil, and salt, and process until smooth. Place the pesto in a small bowl and then stir in the cheese. (Note: I went heavy on the arugula and light on the oil and cheese, but you could easily change the amounts to suit your preferences.)

Make the soup: Cut each squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub a little olive oil over the cut side of each half and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut side down in a baking dish (I had to use 2 to fit all four pieces) and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, cut the pancetta into fine dice and cook in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat until crisp. Remove the bits from the pan and place on paper towel to drain. Pour off the accumulated fat. Dice an onion and sauté it in the same pan. Place the onions and roasted garlic in the food processor. When the squash is done, scoop the flesh from each shell and place in food processor. Process until smooth. Pour the pureed vegetables into a 3-quart pot and add the chicken stock and salt. Cook just until heated through. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each bowl with a generous tablespoonful of pesto and a sprinkle of pancetta bits.