A Major Baking Mishap…

23 12 2009

I love to try new recipes, particularly at the holidays, and over the past few years the cookie recipes that I’ve tried have come out pretty well.  So when I saw this recipe in Real Simple, I really wanted to try it – mostly for a silly reason though, really.  I had seen the same jars in Michaels a few weeks’ before, and thought I could package up these beautiful cookies in a fancy way and be all Martha-Stewart-like (though I don’t particularly like her).

See, aren't these lovely?

I got all the ingredients and settled down yesterday to bake the cookies…and they were a total disaster! The first batch weren’t even salvagable, and the second batch were only a little better.  I’ll recreate the recipe here, and maybe someone can help me figure out where I went wrong! (Though I’m totally mortified by how terrible these look)

First, I got out the ingredients:

I thought anything with butter, cream cheese and vanilla would be good!

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 8-ounce bar cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1/2 cup seedless jam
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar or coarse sanding sugar

First, I put the room temperature butter in my mixer

Then I added the cream cheese

Then, the sugar

This was to be beaten until fluffy, so that's what I did, scraping down the bowl a couple of times

Then I beat in the vanilla

Next I was supposed to reduce the mixer speed to low (which I did) and gradually add the flour, mixing until just incorporated - did that, even scraping down the bowl a couple of times again

This is what it looked like

And here's how the dough appeared right out of the mixer

Then, the recipe said to gently knead the dough on a floured surface two to three times, just to bring it together (okay) and form the dough into two 1-inch thick squares.

Here's a square. Then I was supposed to wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for one hour. Did that.

After an hour, I got one of the two squares out and on a lightly floured piece of parchment, I rolled it into a 9x12-inch rectangle - I even measured it.

I spread the jam over the dough - now here's where I may have run into trouble - I just eyeballed jam amounts, and this may have been more than 1/4 of a cup - but it appears to be a thin layer!

Then, I was supposed to cut the dough into three pieces (which I did), making three 9×4 inch rectangles.  And…oh no, I just realized my error – it says to start from the LONG side of each rectangle and roll it into logs.  Yup, you got it, I started with the shorter edge of each rectangle.  Darn!  Okay that explains the whole issue….

But anyway.  Once you roll each of those three pieces into a log, wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

Then, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the logs into 1-inch pieces and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 inches apart.

Brush with the egg and sprikle with turbinado sugar (I couldn't find it, so I had to use regular sugar)

Bake them until golden, about 20-25 minutes. If you've messed up the recipe like me, lie down on the floor in despair and take pictures of the ceiling.

Cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely - store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. (Sorry this picture is blurry, I think it was my tears of disappointment clouding the lens...)

Okay, now that I’ve figured out what went wrong, I may or may not try to see if I have the ingredients to do it again tonight…we’ll see!

**Update: I did go ahead and remake half a batch of the cookies to see how they would come out, and it was SO much better than yesterday’s batch!

Mmm, fully cooked, kept their original shape, not too much leaking jelly!

And I finally got my pretty jar of cookies! If I weren't so tired, I'd add pretty ribbon to it too, like in the photo. For the other three jars I had, I put the pasta fagioli that I made for dinner tonight - yum!





Away for the Holidays?

23 12 2009

’tis the season for everyone to be traveling and leaving their homes unattended for periods of time, while celebrating with loved ones.  So I thought I’d share what I do around the house to get it ready for my absence. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have a garage that would keep it a secret as to whether my car was here or not.  So it’s pretty clear to anyone wandering by when I’m not at home.  That (and my own sense of security) is why I installed an alarm system a few months ago.  I’ve read one too many articles about single women being accosted/attacked in their homes, so I thought it made sense to spend the extra money and put one in and it’s been great.  I think the alarm signs in my yard and on my front and back windows alone have given me peace of mind, let alone the window and door alarms, and motion sensors.  I can finally sleep peacefully at night and feel confident when coming home that as long as the alarm is still activated, there’s no one in my house.  So that’s my main security.

Keeping me safe!

Even though it’s kind of obvious that I’m not there, I do like to give the illusion that someone’s home (maybe my car’s in the shop, right?).  So shortly after moving in, my dad helped me install a light switch that has a built-in timer – I can set it for a certain time, or make it random. I always choose the random setting, so that it appears as if someone real is home and turning on the lights, instead of just a timer.  I also have a timer set for my bedside lamp in my room, so that it looks like at night, I’m in there reading when I’m not.  Some people also leave an upstairs shade open, to make it look as though someone might be home, but I have yet to do that – I generally close all the shades in the house, so that no one can see in. 

At this time of year, I was also happy to find an outside timer for my Christmas lights – it works really well now that we’ve had all that snow and I can’t get to my outside GFI plug easily, but basically, at dusk, my lights come on, and then six hours later, they go off.  So that will help with the appearance of someone being home too.

Love my light-sensing timer!

Before going away for more than a couple of days, I also let my next door neighbors know where I’ll be and for how long.  They help me out by picking up my mail and the paper, so it doesn’t pile up for too long, and they keep an extra eye on my home for anything out of the ordinary.  Sometimes, they’ve been known to put my garbage cans out, which really makes it look like I’m still here!  I never broadcast that I’m going to be away, but I think it’s helpful to let one trusted neighbor know where you’ll be. 

In addition to security, I’ve got to prepare the house.  I leave myself a long list of things to do in the days leading up to my departure (mostly because if I didn’t have a list, I’d forget something).  I unplug anything unnecessary (like, I definitely plan to unplug my space heater, even though it’s off, just in case).  I like to come home to a clean house, so I spend a little time each day straightening up and cleaning.  On the day I’m leaving, I take out my garbage and recycling, so that it’s not smelling up the house while I’m gone.  I make sure to run the dishwasher the night before and then handwash any dishes I use before leaving.  I water all my plants and clean out my refrigerator of any perishables that won’t last until my return.  And just before leaving (in the winter), I set my heat at 45 – that way I’m not using too much energy in an empty house, but it’s just enough that my pipes won’t freeze.  You can never predict how cold it might get in the winter, so it’s always a good idea to leave the heat on low, rather than shutting it off completely.  Finally, I double check that all the locks are bolted before turning on the alarm system and heading out.

So that’s my routine for leaving home for a week or so – how do you close up your house while you’re away?





Projects for Next Year

22 12 2009

For me, winter is a great time to work on some home projects.  Once the holiday season is over, and we’re dug in for those cold, grey days, it’s a good time for some home improvements.  I don’t have too many things on my immediate list – long term, I’d like to replace some shades, paint all the trim in my house, paint the closet and bedroom doors upstairs, and a few other things.  But on my immediate radar screen, I’d like to paint an accent wall in my living room.

I plan to paint this wall a darker blue in the same color family

And I just hate the light fixture in my downstairs bathroom. Hate it.

Blech

My parents are getting rid of a decent fixture from their bathroom, so I plan to use that, and replace one of the glass covers that’s cracked.  I’m all about recycling, because light fixture can be expensive.  The one I really like, I saw at Lowes:

Right in the middle

I may also get around to replacing the ceiling fan in my bedroom as well, which has seen better days, and often makes a grinding noise when I’m running it.  It’s awesome. 

The thing I’m most excited about though isn’t a project, but a furniture addition – I think I’ll finally be able to get the dining room sideboard I’ve been eyeing at Pier 1 for the better part of a year:

The Alston Chest!

It says they have limited availability though, so I’m hoping to get it just after the holidays – we’ll see!

What projects are you planning for the new year?





Chocolate/Orange Truffles

22 12 2009

These truffles were by far my favorite – they taste the most decadent and fancy, though they were the hardest to manage (due to mushiness).  But so worth it!  This recipe is from the Food Network’s Ina Garten.

I started with the ingredients:

1/2 pound good bittersweet chocolate (recommended: Lindt – didn’t have any at my grocery store, so I went with Ghirardelli)
1/2 pound good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Ghirardelli)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons of orange flavored liqueur, optional (I substituted 2 tsp of orange extract)
1 tablespoon of prepared coffee
1/2 teaspoon good vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar
Cocoa powder

First I chopped the chocolates finely with a sharp knife and put them in this heat proof mixing bowl:

Ah, lovely chopped chocolates!

Then, heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils - small bubbles will form at the edges when this happens.

Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds.  Pour the cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl with the chocolate.

If you don't have a fine-meshed sieve, attempt to use a coffee filter and fail miserably.

With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. If this doesn't melt the chocolate completely, you can microwave it in 15 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted

Add in the orange extract or liqueur, depending on your preference

Then add the coffee

And the vanilla. Whisk all together and set aside at room temperature for an hour

Once you’re ready, the messy/hard part begins.  Since I needed two hands for this, I wasn’t able to photograph this part – with two teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment (or waxed) paper.  Roll each ball of chocolate in your hands roughly to make it round – be prepared, it’s very sticky and messy at this stage.   Roll in confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder or both – I chose cocoa powder.  These will keep refrigerated for weeks, but serve them at room temperature.

These taste gourmet!

I also made two other kinds of truffles this weekend, but since I made them on Sunday, I was too tired from shoveling to remember to take many pictures!  I did get this one when I was mixing peanut butter and chocolate for my peanut butter truffles…

Mmmm, I could have just licked the spoon!

And I ended up with these cookie dough truffles - delicious!

And these chocolate peanut butter truffles!





Marshmallow Truffles

22 12 2009

In the midst of my Cookies & Cream Truffles, I started to make another delicious recipe – these marshmallow truffles.  I tweaked this recipe a little too to suit what I like, but I’ll mention what the recipe actually calls for, in case you want to make it the same way.  I got this from Better Homes & Gardens.

First I made sure I had all the ingredients:

1 7-oz jar marshmallow creme
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla*
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups powdered sugar
Toasted whole almonds, toasted pecan halves, toasted macadamia nuts, toasted hazelnuts (filberts), quartered pitted dates, and/or dried cherries (I treated this as optional and didn’t use any – I don’t like centers in my truffles)
Powdered sugar
8 oz semisweet chocolates squares, chopped
1 tablespoon shortening
Finely chopped toasted nuts, toasted coconut, or candy sprinkles
White baking chocolate, melted

*Their test kitchen tip was to omit the extract and use 1 tablespoon of desired flavoured liqueur, such as raspberry or orange to the marshmallow mixture and increse the powdered sugar to 3 1/4 cups.  I prefer almond extract, so that’s what I used.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and butter the paper – I’m lazy, so I just sprayed it with Pam.  For the next step, I had to use my favorite kitchen appliance:

Ah, my lovely red Kitchen Aid mixer

In  the large mixer bowl….

...combine the marshmallow (yes, it's more than 7oz. That took some figuring),

butter, almond extract, and

salt.

Beat with the electric mixer until smooth

Get out your powdered sugar...

And gradually add the three cups to the marshmallow mixture

Beat until well mixed - it looks strange when it's mixed, so don't be alarmed

Cover it lightly and freeze for 20 minutes.  I just put this in the fridge too, and it worked out great.

Once the mixture is chilled sufficiently, they suggest you lightly dust your hands with powdered sugar (which I found wasn’t necessary).

It looks strange, but you can work with it no problem

Shape the marshmallow mixture into 1-inch balls, forming the mixture around the almonds, pecan halves, etc mentioned earlier unless you're omitting them. Place the balls on a covered baking sheet and freeze for 20 minutes

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, put your semisweet chocolate and shortening:

This just makes me happy

Heat and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat

Line another large baking sheet with waxed paper.  If you are running out of baking sheets (like I was), use a wire rack with waxed paper.  Remove the marshmallow balls, a few at a time, from the freezer, and dip them into the chocolate.  Like the process I described in the Cookies & Cream recipe, roll them around with the wooden spoon, and then use a fork to lift them out of the chocolate, drawing the fork across the rim of the saucepan to remove excess chocolate.  Place the balls on the waxed-paper-lined baking sheet.

Immediately sprinkle tops with finely chopped nuts, toasted coconut or candy sprinkles (you can see what I used)

Let them stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes or until completely set.  If desired, drizzle truffles with melted white chocolate.  They recommend storing them between piece of waxed paper in an airtight container.  They can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or freezer for up to 3 months. 

Another lovely truffle!





Cookies & Cream Truffles

21 12 2009

Originally, my plan for this weekend involved a friend visiting, watching Love Actually and drinking hot chocolate while catching up, and maybe making some Christmas cookies.  Since the snow canceled out the friend’s visit, I decided to stick with some holiday baking to pass the time in between shoveling.  Picture this, by late afternoon on Saturday, I was wearing a black spandex base layer with a long sleeved eggplant-colored shirt, my Ms. Santa skirt apron, teal ski knee socks, and a black zip up fleece.  I was really a sight.  Fortunately, my candy making was much more effective. 

I’ve never made truffles before, so I was really being ambitious trying five new recipes in one weekend.  It turns out that they’re fairly easy, as long as you go with your gut when you’re making them.  But be prepared for a big mess in your kitchen, because that’s what I was left with after a whirlwind of candy making all weekend. 

I started with these cookies & cream truffles, a recipe from Katie Lee Joel (soon to be the ex Mrs. Billy Joel), published in Cosmo in April.  She says that if you store them in an airtight container in the freezer, they’ll last for two weeks.

I started by getting out all the ingredients:

8 Oreo cookies
4oz. cream cheese
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 t. powdered sugar, for dusting

I’ll add in an extra ingredient here too – 1 tablespoon of shortening.  Katie doesn’t seem to think it’s necessary, but if you add it into the chocolate when you melt it, it will make it shiny, and keep it melted for longer, which makes it easier to work with when dipping the truffles – more on that later.

Ingredients galore! I got out all of the ingredients for all of the recipes at once

First, line a baking sheet with parchment paper – I didn’t have any, so I used waxed paper, which worked just fine. 

For the next part, I used a food processor – it seemed to work easiest. 

Take your Oreos, all eight of them, and put them in the food processor and pulse into fine crumbs

If you don’t have a food processor, you can put the cookies in a zip-top plastic bag and crush them.

Mmm, they look good already! But I've always been a sucker for Oreos

Then add your cream cheese...

...and pulse until just mixed

Use a teaspoon to scoop the cookie mixture into small balls (I also rolled them in my hands to get them to look the way I wanted)

Place the cookie balls on the baking sheet, cover with plastic, and freeze until firm, about one hour (I put mine in the fridge for about 90 minutes, and they came out fine also)

While you’re waiting, you can either start your next truffle recipe, which is what I did, or pop in a Christmas movie, like Love Actually or Ziggy’s Gift to get yourself in the holiday spirit!

Then, after the requisite time has passed, Katie Lee Joel suggests you put the chocolate chips in the microwave, first for one minute and then stir, then for 30 more seconds and stir again. 

It comes out looking like this.

I used this method to then dip the truffles using toothpicks or two forks, like Katie Lee suggested, but it was a MESS.  The easier way to do this is to go ahead and use the chocolate chips if you want, or pick up a bar of semisweet chocolate (8 oz) and chop it up into little pieces.

It already looks prettier

Put that in a small saucepan, and add the shortening to it.

Melt this on low heat, stirring occasionally, but always watching it, until it's smooth and shiny

Once it’s smooth and shiny, take it off the heat, and start dipping – the easiest method seemed to be to put one truffle in the chocolate at a time, roll it around with the wooden spoon I had used to stir the chocolate until it was completely covered.  Then, pick it up underneath the truffle, using a fork, and scrape the bottom of the fork on the side of the pot to remove any excess chocolate – it will still drip all over the place, so just be prepared.  Place it back on the wax paper-covered baking sheet and repeat.

To finish them up, put some powdered sugar in a sieve and dust it over them. I didn't have a sieve (or the ability to get to one), so I just sprinkled with my hands

Once they’re at this stage, cover them with plastic wrap and stick them back in the fridge until you’re ready to package them up, at least an hour.  Katie Lee again suggests freezing them, but they firmed up great in the fridge for me (and that’s where I have the most room!).  They should be served cold.

Once I was ready to package them, I put them in mini cupcake papers:

Don't they look delicious?

This recipe doesn’t make a lot of truffles (and mine were all about an inch/inch and a half in diameter), so if you want to make a lot of them, I’d recommend doubling it.  They are delicious and easy, and make a great Christmas gift!





It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

21 12 2009

Besides snow and lights and family and friends, one of the other things there is a lot of at this time of year is holiday parties.  Most people I know go to a lot of them, but this year, I went to just one, my sister’s annual Christmas party.  She’s held it every year for the past several years, with the exception of last year, because it fell a couple of weeks after my niece was born. 

This was the first time she and her husband were having their party in their house – when they lived in a condo, they would still host about 15-20 people, which was VERY cozy!  So this year, there was plenty of room for decorating, eating and enjoying each other’s company.

She decorated the table with the food with this cute little tree

There was TONS of food, but I snapped only a few pictures:

Her famous bruschetta

Pigs in a blanket

And this yummy spinach dip!

The party was a big hit, and the food was great – too bad I didn’t snap any pictures of all the desserts she had for us too! 

Continuing with the food theme (I’m hungry today!) – the following day, we celebrated my baby sister’s birthday (she’s 24, so not really a baby, but always to me!).  My dad put together a delicious tea brunch, complete with mini sandwiches and scones (he’s English, so you know they’re official).

We had cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches

 

Ham sandwiches with butter (my favorite, just like my granddad!)

Egg salad sandwiches (not for me, I'm not a big egg eater)

And scones - we added clotted cream and either strawberry or raspberry jam to them - mmm!

Lots of good cooks in my family!  Are any of you hosting holiday parties this year?