Monday, May 29, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Neapolitans

Page 134 in the old book / page 170 in the new book

"Busy" is the word that comes to mind for these cookies. "Busy" as in cluttered and "busy" as in you're going to be busy for a while making these cookies ;) Unlike some other two-tone cookies, the two doughs for these cookies do not share a common base dough.

Not only are the two doughs made of entirely different recipes, they have different consistencies. This difference is slight after they are baked, but I noticed it and liked the contrast. The different consistencies of the raw doughs created a little problem in assembling the cookies. The light dough is softer than the dark dough, so it squished around a bit when I pressed the top layer of dark dough into the loaf pan that served as a mold. I considered chilling the partially filled loaf pan before adding that final layer of dark dough, but didn't. If you'd prefer cleaner lines in your cookies, sticking the pan in the freezer for a half hour or so might help.

So what is in these cookies? You name it - chocolate, pistachios, brown sugar and spices, currants, lemon, and candied cherries. They have a nice texture, but for all the additions and flavorings, the taste is only average. I kind of wonder if one or the other of these doughs might be more memorable on its own.

The cookie panel was divided on these...

Suzanne: I feel terrible that Cathy put so much work into this cookie and I have to say that this was not my favorite cookie. I could barely taste the brown sugar and chocolate chips. I did enjoy the spices and pistachio and the cookie was crunchy on the edges and soft in the middle. I don’t care for candied fruit in cookies or cakes. Rating - 3.0"

Denny: "Very good. Look fancy and hard to make. Definitely a 4.5. Rating - 4.5"

Herman: "I rate these cookies as 2.5 out of 5 only because I’m not a big fan of pistachios, cherries, and currants in cookies. Rating - 2.5"

Terri: "These cookies are not only delicious, but a work of art! The mixture of the two doughs and spices makes this a wonderful combination. This would be one of my "top 10" picks! Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.8

Next week - Fruitcake Icebox Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, May 28, 2006

First Local Strawberries

Bigger is not always better. I suppose those gigantic Driscoll strawberries are beautiful in their way, and might even be welcomed off-season if one were in urgent need of strawberries, but these little jewels can't be beat when it comes to flavor.

They were on offer at the first stand I came to today at the market and the aroma hit me even before the sight of them glistening in the sunlight did. As is my practice, I made quick rounds of the place to see who had what and what looked good before making any decisions, but no other berries looked or, more importantly, smelled nearly as tempting as these.

Long weekend. Gorgeous weather. Amazing strawberries. I am one happy camper!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Cobblestones

Page 132 in the old book / page 168 in the new book

These are not cookies that stand up and say, "look at me!", yet they are everything I look for in a cookie - delicious, easy-to-make, chewy and satisfying. Though not unusual in any way, they are arguably my favorite cookie in the book.

Cobblestones are the kind of cookie I'd fill my cookie jar with - if I kept one filled (and but for those nasty worries of calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol, I would!) They hold up well over several days and are enjoyed by just about everyone.

These brown sugar and spice cookies are loaded with raisins and walnuts and enriched with butter and sour cream. They are not what you generally think of as an icebox cookie. The dough is pressed into a jelly-roll pan, chilled, and then cut into bars. This technique results in wonderfully thick cookies with a rectangular, "cobblestone" shape.

The cookie panel liked these very much, though perhaps they were not so enamored of them as I...

Suzanne: Even though the cookie had raisins, I actually liked this cookie. It had an interesting rectangle shape. The cookie was soft and therefore the texture fit in with the soft raisins. I loved the spices and found the cookie filling. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "Very good. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Chewy, nutty-crunchy, and delicious! Rating - 3.5"

Terri: "A delicious mix of nuts and spices make this shapely cookie a real treat. The raisins could be fewer, but this combination is great. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.9

Next week - Neapolitans

Nutrition Facts

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Maxines

Page 130 in the old book / page 167 in the new book

These cookies, a brown sugar cookie surrounding a chocolate almond center, are stunning to look at, but in my opinion don't live up to their looks. I was disappointed by the chocolate center. I have never been one to complain that a cookie (or chocolate, for that matter) isn't sweet enough, but I was surprised to find myself thinking that about these cookies. The middles are made only of semisweet chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, almond, and almond and vanilla extracts. Sounds sweet, doesn't it? I suppose my choice of chocolate might have made a difference - the Ghirardelli "Double Chocolate" chips I used claim to be bittersweet chocolate, so they may be a little less sweet then semisweet chocolate chips called for.

Even though I wasn't bowled over by their taste, I really was impressed with their looks and how easy they were to make. The cookie dough is a crumbly mixture when you pull it out of the mixer, but pulls together without much trouble and rolling it out between sheets of wax paper isn't hard at all. Unlike most icebox cookies, these required very little chilling time. The middle sets up in the freezer while you prepare the cookie dough. Because the cookies are sliced so thick (1/2 inch), they really don't need much more than half an hour in the freezer after the cookie dough is wrapped around the middle.

These were so well-received and are so nice looking that I'll probably be tempted to make them again, perhaps as part of a selection of cookies. Poor Suzanne had sort of a cookie identity crisis...

Suzanne: To my surprise, I did not care for this cookie. How could it be? The cookie was so attractive with its square shape and the center filled with chocolate and nuts. I love chocolate and nuts. It’s my favorite type of cookie. I might have to rethink my place in this universe. Am I really a chocoholic? What’s happening to my taste buds? Are they changing and if so, what are they changing into? Well maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and my teeth are getting soft, but I found the cookie hard to bite into. Even the chocolate and nut center was difficult to bite. I would have preferred a soft, creamy, yet nutty center. I guess time will tell whether I’m still a chocoholic or not. Rating - 2.5"

Denny: "Excellent. Looked terrific! Crunchy on the outside and chewy with nuts in the middle. A little bit of coconut would make them a 5.0. Rating - 4.9"

Laura: "One word: De-lish! With cookies like this, you could quit your job and go into cookie making full time! (a la CakeLove!) Rating - 5.0"

Terri: "These are outstanding! A wonderful combination of chocolate, crunchiness, and a delicious flavor from the almonds. And I'm not a great chocolate lover. The cookie dough crust surrounding the chocolate and almonds make this a really attractive cookie. This hit the spot with my morning coffee! Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.4

Next week - Cobblestones

Nutrition Facts

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Meeting Zarah

Where shall I begin? For me, this was possibly the most anticipated meeting ever... Zarah had first mentioned that she and Martin planned a road trip across the USA last July. I held my breath and kept my fingers crossed that it would actually happen. Finally in February Zarah told me that the trip was on and that they would be arriving in the states on March 21st. Yahoo! Martin and Zarah arrived in the US with laptops in tow, so we exchanged emails occasionally as they worked their way up the east coast and I pestered her with Gmail chat whenever I saw that little green light... "Hi Zarah, are you there??"

The big day was April 21st. I didn't know when they would arrive. My anticipation mounted when I received a phone call from them mid-day - they were stuck in traffic, but expected to arrive in another hour or so. As the appointed time neared, I kept vigil by the window and when I saw an SUV slow near my house I ran out with arms waving. Zarah jumped out of the car and we hugged. Even now I cannot believe we finally were able to meet face to face, to eat together, cook together, and just spend time together.

The days flew by and we weren't able to fit in all I'd hoped we could. We did fit in a day trip to Winterthur and between the glorious weather and the gorgeous spring landscape, it was an absolutely perfect day. There was also a day for sightseeing in DC, and of course some time for hitting several cooking stores.

The most interesting of these was probably the Little Bitts Shop in Wheaton (sorry, no website!). They have everything you might need (and plenty of items I'm sure you never dreamed you needed!) for cake making and decorating. We both made a number of small purchases, but what I was most excited about were the beautiful papers for muffins or cupcakes. We also made stops at Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table.

Sunday I was treated to dinner prepared by Zarah and Martin - a spontaneous risotto made with asparagus and bacon purchased at the farmer's market that morning and sugar snap peas that I had purchased earlier. I was so impressed! When I make risotto, I follow a recipe slavishly. Z & M's risotto was out of this world and they never even cracked a book! Wednesday Phil and S. came over for a real, live "Dining with the Bloggers (and Phil)". Unfortunately, I overcooked the roast, but the gnocchi Zarah and I made were delicious.

Friday we all took the train to New York City for a weekend with Bob and Chuck, a fantastic dinner at Blue Hill, and a Sunday food-blogger meet-up with Julie, Luisa and Jen. It was so great to be able to meet the talented women behind the blogs. Our meeting was sadly cut short when Zarah realized her purse had been stolen (be sure to read Jen's eloquent letter to the jerk responsible). After a trip to Luisa's office so Zarah could call her bank, Zarah and I paid a visit to New York's finest so she could file a police report. We had been warned by the others not to expect a warm reception, but the lady who took the report was actually very nice. She was funny too... when she saw Zarah's bag on the floor she advised her not to leave it there saying, "this isn't Law and Order - everything's not sparkly clean", and handed Zarah some toilet paper to wipe off the bottom of her bag!

We parted Monday afternoon when Zarah and Martin headed over to Julie's for a few days. But that wasn't good-bye quite yet. We had a brief reunion in Maryland later in the week before they packed up the car and headed west. Saying good-bye was hard, but I hope someday I'll be able to visit with them again. I continue to marvel at the wonderful people food blogging has brought into my life. This opportunity to meet and get to know Zarah and Martin will be something I'll look back on fondly forever.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Wienerstube Cookies

Page 128 in the old book / page 166 in the new book

Zarah and Martin left Friday morning and are now somewhere between here and San Francisco. We had a really wonderful visit capped by a meet-up with several illustrious food bloggers in NYC: Julie, Jen and Luisa. More about all that later - I promise - but first I have a very belated Mondays with Maida post to see to...

These rather plain looking cookies are quite good. They are made with cocoa, lots of butter, and a number of spices: cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. With all that spice, I expected them to be spicy hot, but instead found they had a pleasant warmth which complemented the chocolate nicely.

I sliced them slightly too thick - reducing the number of cookies in the batch, but also affecting their texture. I think they should have been crunchy through and through, but instead they were crunchy on the edges only. Even so, I had no complaints about the texture, nor did anyone else.

As Terri suggests, these would be very good with ice cream... in fact I was thinking they would make nice little ice cream sandwiches (maybe strawberry?) Herman is filling in for Suzanne this week in his cookie review debut...

Herman: ", chocolaty... 4/5 only because I like nuts!! Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "Very nice. Chocolaty and not too much spice. I heard the spice before I tasted them and I thought they might be strange, but they are very good. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Moist and chocolaty, with just a hint of spice. Very nice! Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "These chocolate "spice" cookies are delicious and light. Not too chocolaty and not too spicy! These would be delicious with vanilla ice cream. (That's OK Cathy, we don't expect that too!) Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.9

Next week - Maxines

Nutrition Facts