Monday, April 24, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Black-and-White Coconut Slices

Page 126 in the old book / page 164 in the new book

Zarah is here! Zarah is here! Actually, I should say, Zarah and Martin are here! And I'm enjoying their company way too much to sit here writing about cookies, so this will be short but sweet...

These attractive little cookies are much easier to make than they may at first appear. The square shape is relatively easy to form and very easy to slice. The moist and chewy pecan/coconut center is almost candy-like and a little reminiscent of the icing you find on German chocolate cake. It is surrounded by a sandy chocolate cookie. The entire package was a little like a filled chocolate, but with a cookie shell.

I thought they were very good, as did most of the cookie panel...

Suzanne: "The cookie was square shaped with chocolate on the outside and a coconut pecan center. The black and white cookie was aesthetically pleasing. The taste reminded me of an “Almond Joy” candy bar, even though the nut was a pecan and not an almond. The cookie had just the right amount of crunch to it and of course the coconut pecan center was scrumptious. Rating - 5.0"

Denny: "I rated these a 3.0. Couldn't really taste the cream cheese or pecans, but the coconut came through. I love cream cheese and pecans so I would've liked them better with a little more of each. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Almost too yummy for words - chocolate is wonderfully delicate in flavor and coconut/cream cheese centers are moist and chewy. Delicious - 4.75... nah, make that 5! Rating - 5.0"

Terri: "A delicious mix of chocolate (more like cocoa) with a chewy coconut center. These are a very decorative cookie with the coconut center bordered by the chocolate. Delicious. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.3

Next week - Wienerstube Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mondays with Maida - New Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies

Page 125 in the old book / page 163 in the new book

Rather uncharacteristically, Maida provides no background on this cookie or its origin at the start of the recipe, but I believe these New Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies are so named because of the pine nuts in them. None of the other ingredients, or the cookies themselves for that matter, brings to mind New Mexico or the southwest. I might have felt otherwise if I had actually used pine nuts, but at the last minute I realized I was out and had to fall back on one of Maida's suggested substitutions - pecans.

I should mention that there is some nutmeg in these cookies, which gives them a slightly more exotic flavor than your run-of-the-mill chocolate chip cookies. The other thing that is a little different is that the chocolate is ground (or finely chopped) before being added to the dough. I liked the taste, but it was the texture of the cookie that I found most satisfying - crunchy outside and chewy inside.

The dough for these cookies is frozen in a loaf pan. The "loaf" is cut in two lengthwise and then the cookies are sliced and baked. I ended up with 60 cookies - slightly less than yield stated in the recipe (66) - due in part to the size of my loaf pan. I was aiming for slicing the cookies 1/4" thick, but worried that I was slicing them too thickly and wound up with some too-thin cookies (which had no chewy middle). Next time I would shoot for 3/8" slices.

Terri, who has graciously pinch-hit in for absent cookie panelists on many occasions, joins the cookie panel full-time starting this week...

Suzanne: "I expected the cookie to taste like a chocolate chip cookie except the cookie is square, but it had a slightly different taste. The cookie has a small amount of nutmeg which I could definitely taste. I’m not a big fan of nutmeg even though I know from all the cooking shows on TV that everyone loves nutmeg. I did like the texture of the cookie. The cookie was crunchy on the edges and softer in the middle. I also enjoyed the chocolate chips and nuts. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "Crunchy and chocolatey are my two favorites in a cookie but something in them detracts a bit from the overall cookie. Ginger or some other spice? I'd give them a 3. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Crunchy chocolatey goodness. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "Since I don't consider myself a 'chocolate lover' these cookies had just the right amount of chocolate. These are very similar to a chocolate chip cookie except the slivers of chocolate make them less chunky. The pecans add a flavorful touch - crunchy and chewy. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.8

Next week - Black-and-White Coconut Slices

Nutrition Facts

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My Favorite Bar Cookies

Aspen Date-Nut Fingers aren't on my short list, but from now on, powdered-sugar-dusted cookies will always make me think of Suzanne!

I'm nearing the halfway point in this little venture and already I'm starting to think about what I will do when I've finished this book. It's not so much that I'll have difficulty finding something different to do on the weekends, it's that I think everyone (myself included) has gotten used to that little cookie fix at the beginning of the week. 70 cookies down and 78 to go - guess I've got lots of time to figure it out!

The bar cookie flops were not quite on the same order as the drop cookie flops. There were certainly a handful of disappointing bar cookies, but in my mind there was only one flop and it was a huge success in comparison to those awful Poppy-seed Wafers from the drop cookie chapter.

I found it a little harder to come up with a short list of my favorites this time around and near impossible to pick just one as my very favorite. I can't decide if it's a tie or if one just barely nudged out the other. But before I worry about that, here are the three runners-up in no particular order...

Chocolate Mint Sticks - who knew that an unsweetened chocolate glaze would work so well atop that minty icing and fudgy brownie?

Cinnamon Almond Cookies - I have always had a soft spot for these buttery cookies loaded with cinnamon and topped with a sweet lemon glaze. Another surprising combination from Maida that works really well.

Polish Wedding Cakes - I love the contrast between the sweet cookie and the tangy apricot filling. Walnuts, oatmeal, and coconut are three more reasons to love these crunchy, gooey wonders.

Which brings me to my two favorites - one old, one new. The new favorite has the advantage of having been made fairly recently, but then again the old favorite has been prepared time and again. I think I might have to declare the new favorite the winner by a nose, but on a day when I am in need of chocolate, the new guy couldn't possibly beat out the tried and true...

Viennese Chocolate-Walnut Bars - A crunchy shortbread base, with a little raspberry jam, a chocolate-walnut middle, and gobs of chocolate and walnuts on top... mmmmm! Such a delicious (and attractive) combination of flavors and textures. You really can't lose with this one.

Texas Cowboy Bars - That unforgetable lemon-scented date filling puts this one on the top of the list... at least for today. Buttery, meal-sized cookies with oatmeal and walnuts and a generous amount of that heavenly, lemony date filling. Outstanding!

Next week begins the chapter on icebox cookies. This chapter includes what may be my favorite cookie in the book and has a number of cookies which look very promising. If you want to follow along, I can't recommend this book highly enough - it is Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies. Though out of print, it is still available as a remainder. There is also a more recent compilation of Maida's cookie recipes, Maida Heatter's Cookies, which includes all but one of the recipes in the old book.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Viennese Marzipan Bars

Page 120 in the old book / page 157 in the new book

These cookies would have been more colorful if I had followed Maida's directions, but I just couldn't bring myself to add green food coloring to the marzipan filling. I opted instead to throw a little colorful paper on the plate (green food coloring ?!?!?)

Much like the Viennese Chocolate-Walnut Bars, these cookies are constructed of four layers, but to a completely different effect. The bottom layer is a buttery cookie layer that is soft and tender - verging on cake-like. That is topped with a little apricot jam, then a wonderful ground almond filling, and finally a sweet chocolate glaze.

These cookies were good and the marzipan filling was particularly good, but the layers were uniformly sweet and the complexity you might expect from a layered cookie was lacking. But I think this one shows lots of promise and is worth a second chance. Perhaps the apricot filling from last week's Polish Wedding Cakes in place of the apricot jam, and a bitter chocolate glaze on top as in those Chocolate Mint Sticks would perk them up.

This cookie is the final cookie in the Bar Cookie chapter - look for my round-up and personal favorites tomorrow. Viennese Marzipan Bars are also the last to be reviewed by Phil, who has entertained us all and made an art form out of the cookie review in the process. Thank you Phil - we'll miss you terribly! Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The last of the bar cookies was the best. The cookie tasted like a fine French pastry. I loved the combination of finely chopped nuts, smooth apricot filling and a thin layer of chocolate on the top. It was a fitting dessert for Phil’s last week at work. Phil is truly a Renaissance man with broad intellectual interests. He is also a great story teller. Even though I have never been able to write an artful description of the cookies (and I have tried) as Phil does, I enjoyed reading his comments. We’ll miss you Phil. Enjoy your retirement! Rating - 5.0"

Denny: "Good - liked the chocolate, but kinda non-descript. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Tasty and good. With chocolate you can't go wrong. Rating - 4.0"

Phil: "These elegant stratified layers of apricot preserves and almonds coated with a chocolate glaze seemed a delightful ending to a year of great cookie tasting. As I pass the Tupperware tub to more cultivated palates it feels a little like giving up your seat on the NY Stock exchange. I'm not sure I ever would have appreciated Maida's cookies (with recipes crafted with drill instructor like precision) without the gentle touch and boundless enthusiasm Cathy brings to this adventure. Rating - 4.7"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.2

Next week - New Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Crafts & Stuff: Miss Monkey hits the road

Well, dressing a monkey is harder than I thought. But I'm happy - Miss Monkey is going home with Cassidy tomorrow and my taxes are done. Yippee!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Crafts & Stuff: Sock Monkey for Cassidy

This little miss monkey is for my little miss Cassidy (my not quite two year old neice). Her mom and dad gave me two pairs of those socks with red heels and white cuffs that are traditionally used for sock monkeys. The deal was: one pair for me and the other for a sock monkey for Cassidy. Well, I found myself home from work early yesterday (a 4:00 appointment at my house lasted all of 10 minutes). It was one of those beautiful sunny days that lifts the spirits and it put me in the mood to make something. I had originally planned to weave (I'm on towel #2 now) but when I saw the socks laying there I started cutting and before I knew it I had myself a monkey.

Now I just have to figure out what she's going to wear...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Polish Wedding Cakes

Page 118 in the old book / page 155 in the new book

Polish Wedding Cakes, which apparently also go by the name Mazurka, are sweet, crunchy cookies with a tangy apricot filling. The cookie alone has lots going for it - it is crumbly, buttery, loaded with brown sugar, and studded with walnuts, coconut and oats. The apricot filling is the icing on the cake (or in the cake, as the case may be), providing a moist middle and balancing the sweetness of the cookie. I thought they were delicious.

I decided to make do with the coconut I happened to have on hand - frozen fresh grated coconut. I used more by weight than called for in the recipe and than squeezed out most of the moisture after it thawed. I was very happy with the end result. I expect this coconut was not as sweet as the shredded coconut called for, but that was not a problem in these cookies, which are very sweet on their own. The coconut flavor was quite noticeable, but not at all overpowering.

I knew Denny would be out until Thursday, so I stuck one cookie in the freezer for him. I was pleased to learn that these freeze well. Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I had this bar with my morning coffee and really enjoyed it. This was a great combination of oats, coconut, walnuts and the distinct apricot filling taste. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "First off, there ain't no coconut trees in Poland and I've never seen one of these at a Polish wedding. However I would suggest growing some coconut trees in Poland as these were a 5. Flavorful and crunchy. I almost deducted a point for no chocolate, but I'm Polish and they're fantastic! Rating - 5.0"

Terri: "If these are served at Polish weddings, I'm going to find one to attend! These are absolutely delicious, but I really like desserts with apricots. In fact, these have all the ingredients that are my favorites - coconut, walnuts, and oats too. Rating - 5.0"

Laura: "Tasty and crunchy goodness. The apricot filling made certain there was the perfect amount of sweetness. Rating - 4.0"

Phil: "A chewy, tangy concoction with great texture but not quite sweet enough for this sweet tooth. Rating - 3.6"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.3

Next week - Viennese Marzipan Bars

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Spring, Springing.... Sprung!

A week or so ago, when spring had officially begun, it didn't feel much like spring around here and it was hard to imagine that it was just around the corner. But this weekend the sunny warm weather, blooming trees, and twittering birds leave no room for doubt - spring is here. Makes me wish there was a spring break for grown-ups!

I am normally immune to that spring cleaning bug, but with Zarah's arrival imminent, this year I have succumbed. I took a break to run out for a couple of ingredients for this week's cookies and was struck by how much was in bloom. When I got back I went for a walk so I could soak up the sights, the sounds and the scents of spring...

These cat-nine-tails aren't exactly harbingers of spring, but they were so strange and beautiful, like ghostly cotton candy. I was snapping away when I heard some commotion...

I had startled some deer. This picture isn't very good - but you can see the white tail. When they were running away from me I was amazed at how long their tails were. After a bit, they decided I wasn't as scary as they first thought and returned to resume their grazing... at a safe distance.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Dinner in a Jiffy

Haven't felt much like cooking lately, but it doesn't get any easier than this!