Monday, October 29, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Palm Island Brandy Snaps

Palm Island Brandy Snaps
Page 264 in the old book / recipe is not in the new book

There are still a couple more recipes in the book, but this is the last cookie! At first I was feeling a little let down with this recipe, but the next day my impression changed somewhat. These cookies are not satisfying in the way a crunchy/chewy cookie with raisins or chocolate chips would be, but they do have a pleasing, fragile texture and lots of flavor.

These are actually drop cookies that spread out to an ultra-thin layer. After cooling for a bit, they are rolled around the handle of a wooden spoon to form tubes. I didn't try Maida's serving suggestion - rolling them around something wider like cannoli tubes and filling them with whipped cream - but they could easily be turned into a very elegant dessert. I think the whipped cream would be a really nice contrast to the strong molasses and ginger flavor of the cookies. Maida explains that the recipe is an old one from England and that the filled tubes would be served with satin ribbons tied around them(!)

Maida also goes on that they are "fun to make". Welllllll.... if your idea of fun is handling molten sugar with your bare hands, then yes, these are most definitely fun! They may not make the cut as "fun", but they are easy, though I did end up with some sore fingers. They are also time-consuming, since you bake just five cookies at a time.

What surprised me was that despite the difficulties of handling something so hot, the hot cookies were relatively sturdy, so rolling them wasn't the problem I envisioned. When properly cooled, they resemble (hot) fruit leather, so there is little risk of them tearing. The trick is giving them just enough time to cool. With my first batch I waited the prescribed one and a half to two minutes, but found the cookie was impossible to pick up. I assumed they were undercooked and put them back in the oven. Later, though, I realized that the problem was that they need more cooling (rather than cooking) time. I found the 8 minutes for baking was perfect, but that 2 minutes cooling wasn't enough - 3 minutes worked well for me. I suppose the cooling time may vary depending on how much heat your cookie sheets retain, so try them at 2 minutes, but then wait another minute if you can't easily lift the edge of the cookie with a knife or thin spatula. If the edges of the cookie become brittle before you've rolled them, you've cooled them a little too long.

Here's the panel (don't worry, the panel WILL be back for the last two recipes despite what appear to be parting comments from Suzanne and Denny)...

Suzanne: "I was really looking forward to the last cookie being extra special. Unfortunately, I don’t care for anything with ginger in it. The cookie was very attractive, tubular in shape and shiny. I took two bites of the cookie but wasn’t able to finish it since it has such a strong ginger taste. I know Cathy put a lot of time and effort into making the cookie and felt bad that my last comment couldn’t be favorable. I do think it’s fitting that the end of the book falls during the same week that I am retiring. Otherwise, I would need to come back weekly from California to taste the cookies and write my comments. This has been great fun, Cathy and I will keep reading your blog in my retirement. Rating - 1.0"

Denny: "Very good. Light and fancy with an almost chocolate flavor. Great "show" cookies. Since they taste almost chocolate, I only gave them a minus .5, so my rating in 4.5. A great ending to a long arduous journey. Yuk Yuk. Thanks very much. Rating - 4.5"

Laura: "These are yummy! They are light and crunchy and candy-like. They almost melt in your mouth. The flavors remind me of the Christmas holidays. Rating - 4.5"

Terri: "These are delicious and I didn't detect the taste of brandy. These are more like crystallized ginger snaps. The crunchiness and texture are great and the flavor has a bit of molasses. I really liked that these were rolled and thought they would be delicious with ice cream - any flavor. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.5

Next week - Marshmallows

Nutrition Facts

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Black-and-White Rusks

Black-and-White Rusks
Page 262 in the old book / page 279 in the new book

These two biscotti-like cookies - last week's Hazelnut Rusks and this week's Black-and-White Rusks - have left me wishing there were more like them in the book. I've had little prior experience with this type of cookie, but have especially enjoyed these two. Fortunately, there's a whole chapter of biscotti to be explored in Maida Heatter's Brand-New Book of Great Cookies!

These lovely two-toned cookies have two flavors as well. The outer layer has grated orange zest in it and the middle has some melted chocolate added to it. Forming the roll isn't difficult and the dough is generally easy to handle, though I did find the chocolate dough became somewhat brittle with time. This is another cookie for you former Play-Doh lovers :-) Both the middle and outer layers are rolled on a board into long ropes. The outer layer is flattened and then pulled up around the middle chocolate rope. The long oval shape of the individual slices is achieved by cutting on a very sharp angle after baking.

Black-and-White Rusks

These cookies are a little easier on the teeth than last week's, thanks to half a cup of oil in the recipe, but they are still quite crunchy. The combination of chocolate and orange is wonderful and their looks and durability would make them ideal for holiday gift giving and even mailing.

Here's the panel (don't listen to Denny)...

Suzanne: "Delicious! I love everything about this cookie. I love the smell of the orange and the crunchiness of the cookie. The cookie was so attractive with its thin, angular shape and chocolate in the center. I’m sure I will be eating more then one of these cookies. Rating - 5.0"

Denny: "OK, but not much flavor. Maybe they should be thrice-baked with a real good cookie on top and another on the bottom. Even with the chocolate I could only give them a 2.0. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "Zesty orange flavor with a hint of chocolate. Yum! A little more crunchy than I usually like, but it works for this cookie. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "These are very much like biscotti and very tasty with the touch of chocolate in the middle. These are quite crunchy but would be perfect with tea or coffee. The slight orange taste adds a nice touch of flavor! Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.6

Next week - Palm Island Brandy Snaps

Nutrition Facts

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day 2007

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day - a day for bloggers to help get people thinking and talking about the environment. These days the environment is on everyone's mind as things like global warming become reality and not just a future worry. If you're not already convinced that you personally need to take steps to try to minimize your impact on the environment, I will leave the convincing to other, more eloquent writers (thousands of which you should be hearing from today). But if you like me have come to the realization that you must make an effort, however small, to minimize your impact on the environment, then let me toss out a few ideas. The basic goal is to use less. Most of these aren't terribly original, but it's a start...

You've heard it before - eat local. Eating local reduces the resources required to transport your food. My produce purchases got a little more local this year... I used to make regular trips to the farmers market at Dupont Circle which took me about an hour each way by car and subway. I expect I'll still make occasional visits, but I've now started frequenting a nearby (3 miles from my house) farmers market and have signed up with one of the three farmers there for her CSA next year. I obviously do much better with this in the growing season than in the winter, but I'm trying at least to be conscious of where my food originates and choosing the closer location when possible. I weigh in other factors, including cost and whether or not it's organic, so I don't always go with the most local product, but at least it now figures into my purchasing decisions (which was not the case a year ago).

Use a pressure cooker. Fond as I've become of Indian cooking, I guess it was inevitable that I would purchase a pressure cooker. The vegetarian cuisines of India make good use of beans and lentils in whole and split form (dal) and a pressure cooker makes preparing them so much easier. So what's the benefit for the environment? Pressure cooking reduces the cooking time (and therefore the energy required) by half to two thirds. I think many people my age regard pressure cookers with a little trepidation - my mother used hers (a gift from my dad) once or twice to make my dad happy, but feared it for its reputation of being prone to violent explosions of hot liquid. You can put those fears aside if you buy a modern pressure cooker - there are so many safety devices incorporated into the design these days that you'd have to work pretty hard to get the thing to explode.

Don't pay for water in your food. No, I'm not talking about bottled water (but if you're buying bottled water, you really should reconsider), I'm talking about water in processed products. I remember talking with Nupur about coconut milk - she was using some in that marvelous pasta dish she'd whipped up and I brought up the subject of "lite" coconut milk. She dismissed the product saying that it was just watered down coconut milk and she wasn't going to pay for water. The more I think about that statement, the more I see the wisdom in it. When there's water added to a product in manufacturing, you end up paying to transport that water and maybe even for extra packaging to contain the water. For example, If you eat lots of beans, you can save a small fortune cooking dried beans (with your new pressure cooker! ) rather than buying canned beans. By purchasing a pound of dried beans you're purchasing a product that weighs (and costs) less than one can of beans and getting something that provides over three times the quantity of cooked beans.

Don't pay for water in your cleaning products. Go with powdered or concentrated products when possible to reduce packaging and transportation costs. For reasons completely unrelated to environmental concerns (I thought I was having trouble with the liquid one, but it turned out to be something I was doing wrong), I recently started using powdered dishwasher detergent. It works just as well, costs less and weighs less - win-win! I haven't reverted back to powdered laundry detergent yet since I still have a little stockpile of liquid detergent to work through, but I'm not sure if the benefits there would be the same. I'll have to compare weight and recommended amount to use per load to figure out if would be worthwhile to switch. For years I've been using a floor cleaner (Sh-Clean) and general household cleaner (called Red Juice - it's similar to Product 409) put out by the Clean Team. I'm not a very good customer though - I'm still working through my original purchase! Red Juice is concentrated 10 to 1 and Sh-Clean is concentrated 20 to 1, so each makes many bottles of product once diluted.

Limit use of disposable products. You don't know how automatic it had become for me to stick leftovers into a sandwich bag or package my lunch (on those rare occasions that I packed one) using umpty-ump little bags. Now I try very hard not to use them at all. For lunch I use plastic containers (glass with a plastic snap-on lid if it will be reheated in the microwave), at home I use plastic or glass storage containers or bowls with plates set on top. In addition to purchased containers, I've accumulated quite a collection of yogurt containers (another great idea from Nupur - they're the perfect size for storing dals and beans) and glass jars (nice for spices and spice mixes). I also try to limit my use of paper towels - I use cloth rags and sponges for cleaning. I stick a half-size towel in packed lunches as a napkin and still use paper towels for food-related things (like putting into a container with leafy vegetables and herbs to absorb excess moisture). I haven't started using cloth napkins... but I'm thinking about it! I recently realized that one of my most wasteful purchases (in so many ways) - was my near daily trip to Starbucks for lunch. The sandwich or salad comes packed in a plastic container, then there's the big paper cup, napkins, etc. I've started bringing my lunch to work at least twice a week, but was stumped on what to do about the coffee cup problem because I'm just not ready to give up my daily cuppa! I mentioned this to Bob and he said "don't they sell commuter cups?" Of course - brilliant! (Why didn't I think of that?)

Use reusable shopping bags. I'm good about this at the grocery store and farmers market, but need to think about this for other shopping trips as well. I also keep a few clean (reused) plastic bags in each shopping bag for holding small or wet produce items.

Take short showers. I got this idea from Kelli. It's perfect for me in so many ways - I was queen of the 20-minute shower. I'd stay in until the hot water ran out or I was late for work - whichever came first! Kelly suggested using a timer and aiming for a 5-minute shower. I think I've only finished in under five once, but six minutes is definitely doable! I still have an occasional set-back here and it's going to be even harder when cold weather arrives, but even if I only do it every other time, it's a huge water and energy savings.

Cut back on book purchases. Books are my most frequent impulse purchase. I really don't buy much in the way of clothing or household items, but books? Amazon is way too convenient. I've been doing some research on-line for my post-Mondays with Maida project and have found Google Books to be an invaluable tool. If you get lucky, all or part of the book you're interested in will be available on-line as a preview. If not, there are links to Amazon and other booksellers, but first try searching for it in your library. Click the link the says Find this book in a library, provide your zip-code, and you'll get a list of links to nearby libraries with the book thanks to Worldcat. I've yet to make use of my library's inter-library loan, but very often the book I want is available right in my local library. If it's not, then I check to see if a used copy of the book is available through Amazon. You can get some amazing deals buying used books, though you're always going to pay at least $3.99 for shipping and handling. When choosing which copy of the book to buy, consider the location of the dealer in addition to quality and price. Shortening the distance the book has to travel is good for the environment, yes, but it also will get the book to you more quickly :) One other interesting option for books is BookMooch - a book-swapping site. This may not be the most desirable option for the environment, but if you choose not to participate in swaps outside your country and reuse mailing materials, maybe it's not so bad!

Grow my own. Aside from my blueberry bush, my garden has lain fallow for a couple of years now. One of my goals for next year is to revive my herb garden. It's not really feasible for me to grow anything else, since our community is overrun with deer, but herbs (and, oddly, blueberries) are apparently not to their liking. Herbs are perfect for home gardening in so many ways. Unusual varieties are easily grown from seed; being conveniently located just outside allows you to pick as little or as much as you need; and they are mostly happy without much watering.

Reduce food waste. I struggle with this one and though I have it as a goal for next year, I worry that having the CSA may actually aggravate the problem. I think the answer will involve making better use of my freezer, sharing food more often, and cooking more creatively.

Compost. I once had a compost pile and another goal for next year is to resuscitate the compost pile. I'm not cooking meat at home any more, so nearly all my food scraps should be compostable.

Well enough about me - what are your ideas? I'm very interested in any other suggestions you may have. Feel free to mention them in comments below or if the spirit moves you, write your own Blog Action Day post - there's still time!

Mondays with Maida - Hazelnut Rusks

Hazelnut Rusks
Page 260 in the old book / page 277 in the new book

I guess Maida's cookie book was written before biscotti were all the rage. Maida describes this recipe as an old German recipe and there's nary a mention of those other twice-baked cookies we've come to know and love as biscotti. To head off any complaints that the cookies were too hard or lawsuits related to chipped teeth, I warned everyone that they were indeed like biscotti and advised they might want to dunk the cookies in their favorite hot beverage to soften them up. Some dunked, others braved dental disaster and ate them dry, but everyone (including me) enjoyed these tasty cookies.

I had toasted the nuts very lightly beforehand because I was worried that they were bland. I had purchased them blanched rather then attempting to remove the skins myself (a task that I find particularly onerous). I'm not sure what process is used commercially to remove hazelnut skins, but my guess is that it is not toasting followed by rubbing the nuts in a dishtowel - the nuts I'd purchased appeared to have been mechanically abraded and sure didn't taste toasted. Anyway, five minutes in the oven perked them right up and perfumed my kitchen as well. Is there any nut with a more heavenly scent than the hazelnut?

The cookies were very easy to make. The one step I worried about just a little was neatly slicing the baked cookie strips. I remember the first time I ever made biscotti I had a terrible time cutting through the nuts. That was thankfully not the case this time around, thanks to my bread-knife. The only trouble I did have was getting those half-inch slices to stand upright for the second baking - they were acting more like dominoes then cookies!

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The Hazelnut Rusks were delicious. They reminded me of the mandel bread cookies that my aunt used to make. They were definitely hard and yes, I did need to dunk them to soften them up, but the dunking was part of the fun. This was a great morning breakfast cookie. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "Excellent. Just a tad too crunchy. I considered suspending my No Chocolate penalty because they were so good, but I've got to be consistent. I'd give them a 4.0 with the -1 no chocolate penalty. I could even taste the hazelnuts. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Very tasty, once dunked! (Without dunking, they are indeed very hard.) Rating - 3.5"

Terri: "These are definitely like biscotti and were delicious dipped in my coffee! Since they're twice baked, they're crunchier than usual, but very tasty. The hazelnuts are delicious. Very good, but maybe not for anyone worried about losing fillings or chipping a tooth! Only kidding - they're not that hard! Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.8

Next week - Black-and-White Rusks

Nutrition Facts

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Basler Brunsli

Basler Brunsli
Page 258 in the old book / page 276 in the new book

At times like this, I find myself wishing there were a few photos in the book. These cookies are supposed to be bars, but between my messy cutting and a dough that probably could have (and should have) been stiffer, they were more like squarish blobs. But I'm not going to complain much, because aside from appearance they turned out as advertised. They were indeed "light colored and crisp on the outside -- dark, moist, and chewy on the inside".

And sweet. Oh my gosh are they sweet. They have a lovely complex flavor, that tempers the sweetness slightly, but these cookies are still achingly sweet. Several ingredients contribute to their unique taste - chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, and kirschwasser. No one dominates, instead they meld together into something that is dark and delicious.

The dough, which is basically a meringue with ground almonds and the above mentioned chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and kirsch, is formed into a rectangle and left for an hour to firm up before being cut into bars. My dough was still pretty soft and gooey, so even though I managed to cut the bars using a wet knife as Maida suggested, I found they had generally healed up by the time I got around to transferring them to the cookie sheets. Next time I would cut a row at a time and move them before cutting more. Once on the cookie sheets the bars must sit for another four hours before baking, so this is a recipe you plan your day around :)

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The spices really threw me off. They taste like they should be in a pumpkin pie, but here they are in a meringue cookie with almonds and chocolate. This is a very interesting and different taste. Meringue cookies are not my favorite since they tend to be so sweet, but because they were so different I’ll rate them as a 4. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "OK, minus one for not tasting like chocolate with all the spices. Unusual taste - not bad, just unusual. Couldn't taste the almonds either. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "Crunchy exterior with melt-in-your-mouth chew gooey nutty insides. Yum! Rating - 4.5"

Terri: "These are outstanding! These meringue type cookies are very tasty with a wonderful assortment of spices. Just the right amount of chocolate and almonds too. As with meringue cookies, these are on the sweeter side. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.9

Next week - Hazelnut Rusks

Nutrition Facts

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Swedish Fried Twists

Swedish Fried Twists
Page 256 in the old book / page 274 in the new book

In spite of my dislike of deep fat frying, these cookies were actually fun to make. Rolling the dough was a little difficult (perhaps I kneaded it a little too long or vigorously), but other than that the dough was easily handled. Cutting the cookies is very simple - they are just rectangles with a slot cut in them. That little twist is easy enough - just pull one end of the rectangle through the slot. Best of all, though, is watching them cook. You drop that funny looking little bit of dough into the hot oil and up rises a puffy, beautifully shaped cookie.

Now if only they tasted half so good. In spite of some mighty exotic ingredients (cognac and cardamom), these cookies are exceedingly bland. In fact in the header note Maida herself even calls them "extremely plain". Why then? Why does practically every country have a variation of this cookie to call its own? I don't get it and I'm a little bummed that I bought a bottle of cognac in order to put two tablespoons into a cookie where it wouldn't even be noticed. You know me though, I'll probably keep that bottle until the day I die (as well as that old bottle of savory), so it's bound to come in handy for something between now and then. If you don't have cognac, and are intent on making these, I'm sure you could swap in something else (orange juice, rum...) or even replace the cognac with a little extra cream.

The fact that the whole world loves these cookies makes me wonder if I did something wrong. Maybe they were cooked too long or maybe something went wrong in the frying. I monitored the temperature of the oil closely, but used a fairly small pan, which meant that I could only cook two or three at a time and so had the oil heated for a quite a while. A dusting of confectioner's sugar perks these cookies up slightly, but not enough to make a repeat appearance in my kitchen likely.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "As I discussed with Cathy, the taste didn’t remind me of a cookie. Actually, the taste reminded me of Chinese food. I couldn’t taste the cognac or cardamom. They were very attractive with a twist and powdered sugar on top. The cookie tasted very plain and you could definitely taste the oil from frying the cookie. Sorry, Cathy, I know you put a lot of work into this cookie, but my rating is .5. Rating - 0.5"

Denny: "OK. They looked a little like pizelle dough, so I was prepared for the anise which I don't like. I was pleasantly surprised when the anise wasn't there so that makes them better than pizelles. -1 for chocolate give them a 2.0 by my tastebuds. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "Okay flavor, but a little too oily for my liking. Perhaps if eaten just after being made (i.e. still hot) would have been better (though I know logistically that would be impossible). Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 1.8

Next week - Basler Brunsli

Nutrition Facts