Friday, December 29, 2006

You must read this...

Dallas Food has a fascinating and unbelievably thorough report that answers the question, What's Noka Worth? Noka, if you like me are not in the know when it comes to chocolates that are in the $309 to $2080 per pound range, is the Plano, Texas manufacturer of some very expensive molded chocolates and truffles. Not surprisingly, the answer is "quite a bit less than the asking price", but getting to the answer is a fantastic journey. That guy knows his chocolate.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Arrowroot Wafers from Bermuda

Page 184 in the old book / page 215 in the new book

Today we have a very special Tuesday edition of Mondays with Maida... well, very special only in that it is Tuesday. The cookies... not so much. In fact, I'd planned to slip in a late evening post yesterday when no one was looking, but collapsed on the couch instead.

These cookies are made with both arrowroot and regular wheat flour, so though arrowroot can serve as a flour substitute for those that are gluten intolerant, these cookies are not gluten-free. But if you are unable to eat these cookies, you're not missing a thing. These cracker-like wafers are barely sweet and so dry they made me cough. What little flavor they have really isn't bad, but there are many more interesting cookies to be made and I see no reason to make these again.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "This didn’t taste like the name brand Arrowroot cookies that I gave to my children way back when. The cookie was very plain, wafer thin and the taste was in between a cracker and cookie. The cookie tasted like it had very little ingredients in it except the flour. There was a slight taste of sugar and almost no taste of butter. Rating - 1.0"

Laura: "These were very crisp cookies. They had a nice enough flavor, but were pretty boring. Rating - 3.0"

Terri: "Not to be ungrateful for Cathy's efforts, but these are the least favorite of all the cookies I have tasted. I've tasted the store-bought arrowroot cookies, but this recipe seems dryer then those. Sorry Cathy, just being honest. These don't hold a candle to the Christmas cookies you brought to the office last week. Rating - 0.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 1.5

Next Week - Uppakra Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Knitting and Felting - A Christmas Bunny for Cassidy

Every few Christmases there's one gift that I get totally psyched about and can't wait to give. This year this is the one.

I had my doubts about this little guy as I was knitting him. At one point there were at least ten stitch holders hanging off his body and innumerable loose ends. The knitting, which involves increasing, decreasing and picking up stitches, was actually not that difficult and for the most part went quickly. Where I got bogged down were the places where I had to graft stitches (I'm still not sure I do that right), sewing the ears (I FINALLY figured out how to do an invisible vertical seam - yay!), and weaving in those dozens of ends. When I was done with the knitting and sewing he was looking kind of sad...

and kind of big...

But a wash cycle later he emerged completely transformed. I didn't take a photo at this stage, but all the little bumps and holes disappeared, he was a cute bunny size, and best of all he had perfect curves everywhere. It took a couple days for him to dry out, then I added the eyes and nose, stuffed him, sewed up the remaining opening, and tied on a bow.

And in a few days I'll be introducing him to my dear niece Cassidy...

I should add that the pattern is by Mary Martin and is available on her site or Patternworks.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My Christmas Cookies - 2006

This year's Christmas cookies are all out of the house now, but here's my little round-up of what I made and what I thought of them. Usually there are three or more cookies that I repeat from year to year, but this year I decided to try all new recipes.

Maamoul from the Food Network - these were very good, but didn't quite live up to my expectations. The recipe includes three different fillings. I made both the date-orange filling and the apricot-golden raisin-nut filling. My complaint with both is that they needed to be a little tarter - perhaps more orange in the first and a little lemon in the second would have helped. Also, both called for a pinch of salt, and I think I'd eliminate that another time. I remembered having seen a recipe for maamoul on a food blog, but didn't remember which one. Now I do - it was Indira's. Next time, I think I'll try her recipe. I'll have to find one of those gorgeous molds first though!

Spice Balls from Sara Moulton - I thought these were great, but maybe not the sort of thing I'd normally make for Christmas. They're chewy and taste of molasses and spices - delicious! They start as a ball rolled in sugar (hence the name), but they spread in cooking and flatten once removed from the oven. They're very easy and very good.

Chocolate-Filled Stars from Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited - I always have trouble piping cookies, whether I use a bag and tip or a cookie press. Half the time it seems like the dough just doesn't want to "let go". Even so, I love making spritz cookies. This particular cookie is a brown sugar cookie and is topped with a dollop of chocolate filling, which makes it even more appealing. They were very good, but hard rather than tender and sandy as you might normally expect a spritz cookie to be. My only gripe with the recipe is that the filling (you're given the option of using either a sugar-based chocolate glaze, which I used, or ganache) makes a far more than you need for these cookies. If I'd planned better, I could have made the ganache and used it for both these cookies and the turtles (see below).

Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes from the December, 2006 issue of Bon Appetit - my absolute favorite this year. These are delicious - so buttery and sweet and the addition of dried cherries and pistachios to this classic is just perfect. They're also easy to make and the recipe makes a big batch. I will definitely make these again - hopefully I can hold out until next Christmas!

Caramel Turtle Bars from the December, 2006 issue of Fine Cooking - this would probably be my first runner-up to the Mexican Wedding Cakes above. These cookies have a brown sugar shortbread base and are topped with caramel, pecans and chocolate ganache. I should have waited for the ganache to cool a little more so that I could drizzle it in a pretty pattern as shown in the magazine. Instead, mine ran into a nearly solid layer, but that's OK - they still look pretty and no one ever complains that there's too much chocolate! These are a little bit of work, but well worth it. A couple comments on the recipe - it took much longer than the 6 minutes stated for the caramel mixture to reach 240 F, but it finally did. Also, the ganache took longer to set than indicated in the recipe.

Swedish Christmas Cookies from the Food Network - these were probably the least interesting of the bunch, but still quite good. They're buttery icebox cookies that are flavored with cardamom and rolled in either colored sugar or chopped pecans.

That's all. Did you notice what's missing? I took a week off from rolled cookies!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Caraway Hardtack

Page 182 in the old book / page 214 in the new book

These cookies are very similar to last week's Hot Butter Wafers, the only differences being that they have considerably more sugar and are sprinkled with caraway seeds. They are sweet, hard and crunchy and are pleasantly perfumed with caraway. I liked them, but wasn't surprised to find that most of my coworkers were less enthused than I.

This dough was not as tough as the dough for the Hot Butter Wafers, so I didn't have trouble rerolling the scraps. The dough is simple to mix and is only chilled slightly before rolling. I enjoyed these, but I doubt I'd make them again. If I were in the mood for a caraway-flavored cookie, I think I'd choose to make Swedish Rye Wafers, with their delicate texture, interesting flavor, and charming shape.

These cookies had at least one fan, though. A guy that works in another office stopped by the following day to tell me how much he liked the cookies. Normally all the cookies are consumed the day I put them out, but this week there were ten or so leftover cookies which I had put in a plastic bag and tucked away in my desk drawer. I pulled them out and offered them to him - made his day and mine!

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "This was definitely a dunking cookie. It needed to be dunked in hot coffee or tea to soften it up. The cookie was so hard that I had a hard time biting into it. Matter of fact, I had to break the cookie with my hands into smaller pieces before I could take a bit of the cookie. If you are getting older, like me and have soft teeth, forget this cookie. There wasn’t much of a taste except it was very sweet and had a few caraway seeds on the top. This one definitely wasn’t worth the calories. Rating - 1.0"

Denny: "Well, I'd give them a 4 minus 2 on general principle, then a minus 1 for no chocolate. These are the first ones even a good baker and caraway seeds couldn't save. Rating - 1.0"

Laura: "These were very hard cookies (hence the name). They smelled wonderful and tasted nice (once I scraped off the caraway seeds), but they were too hard for my liking. Rating - 3.0"

Terri: "I would like these better without the caraway seeds. The basic cookie is delicious with a buttery flavor. Also, I prefer a chewy chookie and this one is definitely harder and crunchier. Not one of my favorites, but I'm not a great fan of caraway seeds. Rating - 2.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 1.75

Next Week - Mondays with Maida will take a short break, but there'll still be lots of cookies - stop by and see this year's Christmas cookies!
In Two Weeks - Mondays with Maida will be back with Arrowroot Wafers from Bermuda

Nutrition Facts

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Hot Butter Wafers

Page 181 in the old book / page 213 in the new book

According to Maida, the recipe for these cookies is an early colonial recipe that was used by Dolley Madison and served at the White House. They are the plainest of cookies with only flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. They are thin, firm and crisp and only slightly sweet.

The dough is rolled after being chilled only briefly, so they weren't too difficult to roll. Well, let me qualify that: they're not too difficult to roll the first time. The problem is the dough is quite tough (the cut cookies shrink before your eyes), so rerolling the scraps was near impossible. I gave up after a half-hearted attempt since I was pretty sure these cookies were going to be a tough sell anyway.

Thinking that the cookies might be a little like pastry, I thawed out some cherries from my stash and made sort of a stove-top cherry pie filling. I cooked a little butter and flour together for a minute or two and then gradually added the juice from the thawed cherries, then added the cherries and some sugar and cooked it for another couple of minutes. Then I topped some of the cherry mixture with a "pie crust" - one of the cookies. It was delicious, but the cookie was difficult to break up with a spoon, so it's not something I'd do again. (But I am so making that stove-top cherry pie filling again!)

I brought strawberry jam in to the office in the hopes that it would make the cookies more appealing. As it turns out, nearly all the cookies were eaten and most apparently without strawberry jam. Here's the panel...

Suzanne: Suzanne was still out of the office but will be back next week.

Denny: "Very plain but my expectations were low so I'd give them a 2 (minus 1 for no chocolate). Maybe the plainness explains why there were so many great men then per capita as compared to so few today. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "I first tried one plain and then tried one with the strawberry jam. The jam helped, but not that much. The cookies themselves were okay, though somewhat boring. They are lovely with tea, however. Rating - 2.5"

Terri: "These are very tasty but are almost like a flat "vanilla wafer". I thought it would be a good basic cookie recipe for holiday cookies, but standing alone with no decorations, makes it sort of boring. If there's such a thing as a "boring" cookie! Rating - 2.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.3

Next Week - Caraway Hardtack

Nutrition Facts