Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

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I love a party! I would have loved an all out Halloween party, but it's gonna be on the small side, and most of the guests will be under 16! Christina was excited that Halloween was a)on a Friday, b)on an off football weekend and c)a 65 degree night on tap!
She wanted it simple, no messy food, nothing too childish. Okay, so I didn't make ghost lollipops, sloppy joes or a bloody jello brain, (red food coloring comes out of no fabric!). She approved of sliders because everyone loves a little burger, chips and salsa and dip, s'mores (because there will be a bonfire), popcorn balls and although she doesn't know it, deviled eggs. The eggs are pretty cute, I ripped off the idea from my sister Lori who did them for her pumpkin carving party. I made the mistake of buying jumbo olives, so I had to do alot of trimming. I make a very basic deviled egg with dijon mustard, mayo, salt and pepper and dill relish. Christina saw a picture of Lori's and said NO WAY! How embarrassing, no one would eat them and they smell. Well I'm here to tell you, they are cute, yummy and everyone loves a good egg!
The popcorn balls were originally a recipe called Circus Cake. I totally morphed it. I popped a cup of popcorn, and this took 2 batches in my Whirly Pop. I tossed any unpopped kernels, of which there are very few in a Whirly Pop. After the popcorn cooled I dumped in 2 bags of 14 oz. Halloween M&Ms. Great colors! You could use only 1 bag for sure, there are a lot of them. The original recipe called for one bag of plain, one bag of peanut and a cup of peanuts. Way too much stuff for me, plus we have a peanut allergy guest. You melt a 10oz. bag of marshmallows and 4 T of butter and mix in with the popcorn and M&Ms and mix it up good. My original plan was to lay it in a 9X13 and cut into squares. I filled that pan and an 8X8. I let them harden for a few hours, and they were still too soft, so I cut them into squares as best I could and formed them into small popcorn balls. Much easier, and a throwback for me. I loved them as a kid.
I'm sure I will whip up a few more treats after I quick get the last coat of paint up in the hallway, carve 2 pumpkins and go to Costco! Gotta run, Happy Halloween! Maybe we'll get some party pics up on the next post!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You've been Booed!

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Boo! It's a simple phrase that has turned into a game this time of year. After dark the doorbell rings, and there on your doorstep is a note that says "You've been Booed". Simple fun, candy and a note. It's nice to know someone is thinking of you, (and thinks you need chocolate)!

Christina wanted to "Boo" her friends, so we decided to dip pretzels. We went the easy route, and bought the chocolate candy from the cake decorating store. Dark chocolate for the base coat, milk chocolate to drizzle and white chocolate that we tinted orange to drizzle again.

The "class" we took explained to never heat these chocolates. You simple melt over warm water. Yea, right. I melted them over a double boiler on medium heat and it worked fine. We melted a pound of dark and dunked about 80 pretzel rods and lined them up on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and popped them in the fridge while we melted the milk chocolate. After melting it, we poured it in a small drizzle bottle and drizzled the pretzels. We popped the bottle in the freezer and the pretzels back in the fridge while we melted the white chocolate. Be sure to use powdered food coloring, and stir it well to dissolve. While it melted, we took the plastic bottle out of the freezer, gave a little squeeze and the chocolate on the inside just cracked away. The miracle of hydrogenated palm kernel oil......We drizzled the orange lastly, and then gave them the old taste test. And, they were really good.

Christina bagged them up, and embellished these cute canvas treat bags and snuck them in her friends' lockers. It has been decided her spy career is not likely to take off, her friends figured her out instantly. But they still loved the treats!

A chocolate note: I have to admit, I am a chocolate snob. Okay, I'm a snob about alot things (toilet paper, vinegar, salt and pepper, water and steak to mention a few). I was so opposed to these chocolate candy discs. But boy are they ever easy. With the small exception of some fine items at Williams Sonoma, I suspect most dipped things are made with a variation of these discs. It totally eliminates the tempering process, which I have perfected, but rarely have time other than Christmas to execute. The ingredients are what you would expect, and finally, they are very inexpensive when compared to a 60% bittersweet chocolate. I would NEVER EVER use them to make my famous truffles, but dipping pretzels? Yea baby! Chocolate, salt, starch....really, they are soooo good!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sweet Cinnamon

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Ahhhhh, it's been a while since I fired up the ovens! I baked Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies and Banana-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies.
The Banana recipe is from Martha. It received great reviews and really is delicious. The batter is rich, I love the walnuts, oatmeal and chocolate together with the bananas. If it was ice cream it'd be Chunky Monkey, my all time fave from Ben & Jerry. It made about 5 dozen cookies. I read the reviews, all good, and also used chocolate chunks from Hershey's instead of chopping my own. I am a big fan of King Arthur Flour and love the whole wheat, I use it in just about everything, and it is especially good here. I transfer it out of it's bag, so I can't remember the exact name, but it is a whole wheat flour that is better for all around baking than their really grainy version which is better for bread. I am also a banana freezer. When they get ripe on the counter and you just can't get rid of them, throw them in the freezer, skin and all. They are perfect for recipes. I run them under warm water, strip the skins with a paring knife and cut into slices while frozen. It will be perfectly mushy in minutes. The cookies brown on the edges quickly because of the natural sugars, so keep an eye on them. It's a little humid here, so they are a bit sticky. I will separate my layers with wax paper when I store them.

The pumpkin cookies, are OK. The recipe is jotted on the back of an envelope, so there is no telling where it came from. There are a zillion recipes just like it. It called for 1 cup of pumpkin. Come on people, there are about 2 cups in a can. What the devil do I do with the rest? I used more like 1 1/2 cups, because I dumped the leftovers. The very best part of these spongy cookies is the cinnamon.
Not just any cinnamon. Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon, from Penzey's Spices. Think all cinnamons are the same? Boy are you wrong! If you're like most bakers, you add extra cinnamon to every recipe. This cinnamon actually recommends you lighten up on the measurement. Of course I didn't. The fragrance is fabulous. And despite the spongy texture, very flavorful. I misplaced my favorite Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin recipe, so I opted for the cookies. The recipe make about 6 dozen cookies. I think I like them better made with pumpkin butter, which is darker and cooked down pumpkin. But it runs around $10 a jar at Williams Sonoma and I can't justify it in a batch of cookies. Give the recipes a try and enjoy the wonderful smell of fall baking!

Banana-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Adapted from

1 1/2 cup King Arthur whole wheat flour
1 tea. salt
1/2 tea. baking soda
1 1/2 sticks butter at room temp
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large bananas, mashed
1 cup oatmeal
1 bag Hershey's chocolate chunks
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 375. Cream butter and sugars in mixer, add egg, vanilla and banana. Add dry ingredients and mix until blended, Fold in chocolate and walnuts. Bake on Silpat covered sheet 12 minutes, switching around racks after 6 minutes. Cool silpat on rack and transfer cookies to rack when set, about 8 minutes. Watch edges carefully, they brown quicker than the rest of the cookie. Next time I'll add some Vietnamese Cinnamon!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter at room temp
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tea. vanilla
1 1/2 cup pumpkin
3 cups flour
2 tea. baking soda
1/2 tea. salt
1 teaspoon Vietnamese Cinnamon
1/2 tea. ground ginger
1/4 tea. nutmeg
1/4 tea. cloves
1 bag mini chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars. Add pumpkin, eggs and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients just until blended. Add chocolate chips. Bake on silpat lined baking sheets for 12 minutes. After 6, move top to bottom. Cool silpat on racks, and transfer cookies to rack when firm, about 8 minutes. Cool completely before storing.

Where's the pics? Let's just say teenage girls take pictures of EVERYTHING, so it is in Christina's purse. I need to get my big one out. I was really loving the teeny tiny one!