snickerdoodle dandy

Hello, my poppets.  I promised baking in the mental upkeep department, so here you go. Today’s output: snickerdoodles.  Which I have to say I am fond of even more especially for their name.  It’s fun to say and I am easily amused.

I’ve tried a few recipes and not been won over.  Then I discovered in my very own cookbook library TWO recipes, both from Rosie’s Delicious and Decadent Dessert Book.  I have two of her books, and not had a bad thing baked from either of them.  Thoroughly recommend.  I must admit that when I went to start mixing today, I could not for the LIFE of me remember which of the two recipes I’d made before!  They are next to each in the book so I opted for the one with more stuff splattered on the page.  It does differ slightly from the other, more traditional recipe because that one calls for cream of tartar and this one uses baking powder.  I guess now I’ll have to try that next to make sure which is better.

It’s a pretty straight-forward recipe, handy for when the cookie urge strikes since odds are you probably already have what you need on hand.  Now, my brilliant flash of inspiration for these did not turn out as expected.  As you may recall, snickerdoodles are coated in cinnamon-sugary goodness. My grand plan was to use my good Penzey’s Vietnamese Cinnamon in place of the Costco kind.  Penzey’s sells all manner of spectacular spices and herbs, and just recently opened a STORE in downtown Seattle!  Used to be I had to mail order this stuff.

good stuff

Anyhoo.  I mixed the good cinnamon in the sugar, rolled the cookies, baked and…well, I think it was just too intense.  It ended up being kinda burned.  Sad face.  Grand plan fail.  So  for the next batch, back to the garden variety cinnamon and sugar.  Probably coulda used a higher cinnamon to sugar ratio,  but not burned at least.  Guessing you can tell which is which.

dinner

As for tinkering, I’d like to try a version where the cinnamon is mixed in and the balls are coated in sanding sugar.  I’d also like to make some bigger, flatter versions for filling with lemon or blackberry ice cream.  But these will do just fine for now.

Baker’s Best Snickerdoodles

From Rosie’s Delicious and Decadent Dessert Book, where she credits Michael Baker from Baker’s Best with the recipe

(I’ve condensed the instructions, assuming you people have made a cookie or two, because I’m lazy and it’s not rocket science)

3 cups all purpose flour

1 T plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/2 cup sugar plus 2 t sugar

1 cup butter at room temp

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 375.  Line baking sheets with parchment or grease baking sheets.  Sift the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Combine cinnamon and 2 teaspsoons sugar in small bowl.

Cream butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar and vanilla til light and fluffy, stopping to scrape bowl.  Add eggs and beat til blended.

Add half flour mixture and beat on low for 10 seconds.  Scrape bowl and add remaining flour, beat 25 seconds.

Measure rounded scoops of dough (I used a small scoop), roll in cinnamon sugar.  (I flattened mine slightly).  Bake til risen and slightly cracked.  Recipe says 16 -18 minutes, which was WAY too long for mine.  9-10 was just fine.

Eat.  Enjoy.  Maybe with an oatmeal cookie shot.  Or milk.

curry in a hurry

First of all, it is a damn crying shame that the interweb isn’t scratch and sniff.  Seriously. It smells like freaking curry heaven in here.  Tonight in the continuing-pressure-cooker experiment, we had Cauliflower-Potato Curry from Lorna Sass’ “Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure”.  NO, I have not gone meat-free, but sometimes meatless is nice.  Plus this was the first book to come in to the library from my hold list.

I did a little research after the maiden voyage of the Fagor, since I had a little problem with water dripping from the handle.  The most common solution was to oil the gasket, so I did that, and made extra sure the lid was locked.  No dripping this time.  The other issue I had the first time was the pressure dropping when I moved to the cooler burner once it reached pressure, which is what they recommend people with electric stoves do.  This time, I left it on the same burner but just lowered the heat.  It retained pressure but was slightly scorched on the bottom, and near the end of time started emitting an alarming amount of steam.  Since there was only 22 seconds left, I erred on the side of caution and did a quick release.  And then we got…

Brace yourselves for the best part, people.  After the pot reached pressure, this curry goodness took TWO MINUTES AND 38 SECONDS TO COOK! My hand to God.  The prepping of the vegetables took longer.  Once that was done,  it took MAYBE another 3 minutes to put it all in the pot, bring to a boil and reach pressure.  The Girl Child and I liked it, but we think next time we might add some chicken, or currants, or apples. Or all of the above.

Oh, and another little tasty tidbit to share – I made perfect rice!  In a pot!  Double the amount of water to rice, boil the water, dump in the rice, cover, reduce heat to lowest setting.  And don’t touch it!  My rice was brown basmati – it probably sat there about 50 minutes, maybe 10 minutes longer than it needed to.  White rice would be done in about 20, but won’t suffer if it has to wait.

Tomorrow: black bean chili!

under pressure

Hum David Bowie in your head.  Tonight was the maiden voyage of my Fagor Duo pressure cooker, acquired with my long-lost-but-newly-found Sur la Table gift  card.  This is the smaller pot.

A couple friends were intrigued by the idea of risotto in 7 minutes WITHOUT the tedious stirring and broth adding, so that’s what I made tonight.  Most of the recipes I found included things like meat or veggies, but for this trial run, I opted for basics.  It was just arborio rice, butter, oil, garlic, onions and broth.  I was too lazy to open a big bottle of white wine just for this; otherwise I would have added a bit of that.  For those in Seattle, you can get this here GIANT (and by that I mean two foot) bag of arborio rice at Cash and Carry for $14.  Seriously!

The first steps are the same as regular risotto – sweating the onions and garlic in butter/olive oil, then add the rice (I used 1 1/2 cups) and coat each grain, stirring til well-coated in fat.

Now comes the fun part!  Normally, you would start adding ladlefuls of hot broth a little at a time, stirring til each addition was absorbed by the rice. But with this handy little gadget, I just dumped in 3 1/2 cups of broth!  Put the lid on, locked it down, and waited til it came up to pressure (you know it’s at pressure because it starts to steam and the little orange button pops up).  Here is the only tricky part.  Once it reaches pressure, you need to reduce the heat WHILE still maintaining pressure.  On electric stoves, they suggest you have another burner set on low so you can move to the pot off the high heat and avoid overcooking.  I turned my second burner down TOO low – it lost pressure.  I read that if that happens, you should increase the heat til it returns to pressure and add a few minutes to your cooking time.  The cooking time, by the way, starts once it reaches pressure.  So I turned up the heat and added a few minutes, but the button never popped back up.  It did start steaming again, so I waited with one eye on the exit in case all hell broke loose.  When the timer went off, I used the quick-release method to reduce the pressure (even though it technically never regained pressure, I wasn’t taking any chances), which is basically just running some cold water over the lid.  Mine also has a knob for releasing steam so I did that too, just in case.  I took off the lid and voila!  It was a miracle!  That rice was cooked!  And it had been maybe 10 minutes!  It was a smidge loose, so I left on the heat a couple minutes, grated in some Parmesan, and….

would you look at that!?  It was fabulous! Can’t wait to try some with sausage and peppers, mushrooms, shrimp…god know I have enough arborio.

So go forth, you fraidy cats!  Get thee a pressure cooker!

the chewy

For years my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe has come from Fine Cooking.  It kicks ass, and I have had no reason to look for another.  Until.  Until I discovered an intriguing recipe from Alton Brown called The Chewy.  My standard recipe varies from the one on the Toll House package because it uses cold butter, not room temp.  This makes for a nice, thick and chewy cookie.  It also makes an unholy mess when you try to cream the sugar into the cold butter.  (You’ll want to cover your mixing bowl if you try it. Just saying.)  But Alton’s uses melted butter!  And BREAD FLOUR!  And a little milk!  And it has a cult-like following.  Clearly, I needed to see what all the fuss was about.  (And if successful, try to make the ultimate oatmeal cookie, long searched for.)

Full disclosure:  Some people are anal bakers.  They cannot veer from the recipe AT ALL. Everything is precisely measured. I am precise about NOTHING, except maybe butter and eggs, but that’s because they are conveniently pre-measured.  I know that I did not put an exact two cups of flour in, or a teaspoon of baking soda or salt.  The sugar was also probably off. So there you go.

I’ll tell you one thing – using melted butter was MUCH easier than 2 1/2 sticks of cold butter.  I was a little confused about the creaming instruction – it mostly just kind of melted into the butter.  I creamed til it seemed thickened and well mixed.  The result was more like caramel, rather than the fluffy stuff I usually get.

You then add the eggs, vanilla and milk, and finally the flour and chocolate.  It tells you to chill the dough, which is necessary because this is a VERY loose batter.  It doesn’t specify how LONG to chill it though. I gave it a couple hours.  He specifies a #20 scoop – mine was #40 which i THINK is half the size he used.  The first batch I left in balls, and they were done in 10 minutes.  Edges were a little too crispy so next time I flattened them slightly.  Same result, too brown.  Then I turned the oven down to 350, since my scoops were smaller, and upped the baking time to 12 minutes.  That helped a little, preserving the chewiness.  Can you tell the difference?  The one on the right was baked at 350, versus 375 on the left.

And the verdict?  I’ll keep on cleaning up the unholy mess of my tried and true recipe.  Texturally, these seemed much lighter than my usual ones, less dense and chewy.  Sure, they might be easier to make (but more time-consuming since you need to chill them), but what’s the point if they aren’t the best you can make?  I may still tinker with the base of this to see what I can do about that perfect oatmeal cookie.

The Chewy by Alton Brown (my notes are in red)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • Ice cream scooper (#20 disher, to be exact)
  • Parchment paper (I didn’t use any – I was out)
  • Baking sheets
  • Mixer

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. (Why?  I did it in the microwave). Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside. ( I rarely sift. Unless it’s powdered sugar. Just stirred with a fork a bit.)

Pour the melted butter in the mixer’s work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Chill the dough (I did for two hours), then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. My scoops were smaller – I baked for  10-12 minutes, after I turned the oven down to 350.  You want the edges to be golden, but the middle should still be soft and pale – they will set as they cool. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

cherry jubilee

Finally I can check an item off my to-do list!  Since last winter when reading David Lebowitz’s blog, I’ve been wanting to make brandied cherries.  Alas, fresh cherries are hard to come by in winter.  But Saturday at the U District Farmers’ Market I picked up 3 pounds of Bing beauties.  Luckily the cherry guy said that they keep for a few days in the frig because I didn’t get around to them on Saturday.

There are several methods for making this cherry madness.  One blog I read swears by using dried cherries even!  I wanted to try the french method from the Joy of Cooking “All About Canning and Preserving”, which is slightly suspect to me because it involves no processing to seal the jars – you are basically just steeping the cherries in booze and sugar.  They claim no processing is needed because the alcohol will kill any contaminants. I also want to try a regular hot water bath processing recipe to compare final products.  That’s more time-consuming and labor intensive, and not what I had time for yesterday.

First things first: pretty jars.  I got these at Storables, gift-sized Anchor Hocking jars. The recipe says you don’t have to sterilize them, but I did wash them in hot soapy water.  IF I did sterilize them (and for us dishwasher-unenabled, that means in boiling water) I would remove the rubber gaskets first.

The Joy of Cooking recipe does not specify pitting, but since it says to trim the stems to 1/2″, that would make pitting a little tricky. It also doesn’t say to wash them, but I did. A note here:  there is a recipe for brandied apricots in the book also, which uses water AND alcohol, and it says you have to process those jars because of the water.  Since I washed the cherries, I was nervous about introducing water into the mix and tried to dry them off as best I could.

Then you basically just pack these babies into the jars, add some sugar and brandy to cover!  Holy crap, it smelled good.  Then you let them sit in a dark, cool room for 2 months so the flavors meld.  It also recommends that you swirl the jars a few times the first month to dissolve the sugar.  3 pounds of cherries (minus maybe 1/2 pound of rejects) and two bottles of brandy filled my 8 small jars…

And drat, wouldn’t you know, I had some leftovers. So those went into this jar.

THIS jar has THANKSGIVING written all over it.  And by that I mean SIDECARS/MANHATTANS.  In case you were wondering what one does with brandied cherries.

sweetness

Today was jam day.  The strawberries have been insanely good so far, so today the Boy Child and I went to the U District Farmers Market and scored these beauties.

It’s funny how many people are scared to can/preserve things.  It’s really not that hard.  I’ve done pickled green green beans, spiked apple butter and pepper jelly the old-fashioned way, where you have to sterilize the jars and process the filled jars in a boiling water bath.  But TODAY I am doing freezer jam, which could not be any easier.  Seriously, if you can make instant pudding, you can make freezer jam.  Now they even make special pectin so that you don’t even need to cook the jam!  I picked up some of that,and some plastic freezer jars as well as the regular glass ones to give away.

I picked up a full flat of berries (hate to run out!).  You need about 4 pints of berries, depending on how full they are, for a batch, plus 1 1/2 cups sugar (bonus of this pectin – uses a lot less sugar).  You wash them and cut the green bits and any mushy bits off, and mash them til they are chunky as you like.  Do not be tempted to double the recipe!  You will be sorry when your lovely jam does not set up.  This is so quick you can do two batches back to back like I did.

Then you add the sugar and pectin and stir for 3 minutes!  That’s it!  Now you fill your already-cleaned jars, leaving 1/2 inch headroom for expansion in the freezer, and let it set up for 30 minutes.  It keeps for a year in the freezer and a month in the frig. I wish these photos came with scratch -n -sniff!

tasty

Until I get a new camera (hopefully soon!), photos are hard to come by, so instead I offer you this lovely recipe, dear readers.  From Gourmet, March 1997, and The Sundried Tomato Café and Catering Company in Whittier, California.  Prepare yourselves on Sunday for dispatches from ANOTHER PLANT SALE, and the first meeting of the North Seattle Garden Alliance!

Chocolate Espresso Cookies (like little pockets of heaven)

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons finely ground dark-roast coffee beans, such as Italian-roast
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F and grease 2 large heavy baking sheets.

In a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup chocolate chips, and butter, stirring until smooth, and remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs, sugar, and ground coffee on high speed until very thick and pale and mixture forms a ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 3 minutes, and beat in chocolate mixture. Into mixture sift in flour, baking powder, and salt and stir until just combined. Stir in remaining chocolate chips and walnuts.

Drop batter by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto baking sheets and bake in batched in middle of oven 8 to 10 minutes, or until puffed and cracked on top. Cool cookies in baking sheets 1 minute and transfer to racks to cool completely.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Enjoy!!

easter feaster

The last few Easters we’ve done up right, despite the fact that I don’t really consider it a holiday.  I do, however, like me some ham and any excuse to have a party.  When I was introduced to Ramos Gin Fizzes, well, all bets were off.  Even boys like these!  Sadly we have opted out of Easter Feaster this year – don’t feel like cleaning the house and parties are expensive!

Instead, my poppets, I offer you this recipe for leftover hammy bits.  Not sure where I got it originally.  Tasty, and you can alter it to your heart’s content.  Mushrooms, broccoli, etc., even chicken instead of ham.  For spring I think asparagus and ham would be extra delish.

Baked Rigatoni with Ham, Tomatoes and Feta

12 ounces rigatoni
1 1/2 cups diced ham (about 8 ounces)
4 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup (packed) grated mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Place in prepared baking dish. Mix in ham, tomatoes, feta cheese, mozzarella cheese and thyme. Pour cream over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to blend. Cover with foil.

Bake pasta 15 minutes. Uncover and stir to coat pasta evenly with melted cheeses. Cover again. Bake until heated through, about 30 minutes longer.

Enjoy!