Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Crazy Canuck Challenge: Nanaimo Bars

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It is all about Canada this month with the Olympics and the Daring Baker's Challenge.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and So call up your favorite Canuck and make them a little something from the homeland!

Interestingly enough, I had my first Nanaimo Bar this Christmas at a friend's house and have to admit I was intrigued. They are unlike anything I have ever baked or eaten. They are named for Nanaimo, British Columbia, gateway to Vancouver Island, a pretty town for sure. And the Olympics are about to get underway in Canada as well, so how appropriate.

They are requiring us to bake the graham cracker base first, although I chose not do the gluten free recipe they published only because I already have so many different flours on hand, the thought of buying tapioca flour and sorghum flour was a little over the top. So I used only King Arthur's White Whole Wheat and the rice flour I had on hand for rolling. I loved the way the graham cracker dough came together and rolled out. It was sturdy and delicious. They puffed a little while baking, but really kept their shape and look, amazingly enough, like graham crackers! I am skipping the graham cracker recipe, as there are a million graham cracker recipes online, and the Nanaimo Bars can be made with Nabisco Honey Maid. However, as the wife of a graham cracker lover (Honey Maid only!) no one was more surprised than I, when Scott declared these homemade grahams the best, better than little ol' Nabisco.
I doubt I will make them on a regular basis, but after doing the s'more's test, I will bake them again. They really are delicious.

The Nanaimo Bars are three layers. The base is delicious, butter, cocoa, sugar, nuts, coconut and graham crumbs. Yes, I painstakingly made perfect graham rectangles only to have to toss them in the Cuisinart and pulverize them. Truth be told, when you add the Pernigotti cocoa and coconut, plus an entire stick of butter and some almonds, you could use generic grahams and not tell the difference. The egg in the crust needs to be cooked over the simmering water of the double boiler, but having made numerous crusts in my life, I think you could skip the egg entirely. The cocoa crumb crust on its own is very yummy!

The middle layer is what stumped me when I tried these in December. My arteries clogged right up when I discovered it is a butter-heavy buttercream. An entire stick of butter, icing sugar (I love Canadian lingo, yes it is confectioner's sugar) heavy cream and dry pudding. It could easily be cut down in fat with half as much butter, maybe fat free half and half, and sugar free fat free pudding mix (which is what I used). The way the recipe stands, rich is an understatement. It makes enough buttercream for a 9x13 cake!

The top layer is chocolate and hey, more butter, and it ends up like a ganache. Delicious? Absolutely.

I actually wrote this blog in steps, as I am at the moment of publishing, sitting on the beach. I knew there would be no wireless internet, and I had to do the challenge and write the blog before I hit the airport. I was very ho-hum about this challenge as it went on. Then I chilled the bars and cut my pieces for their photograph (which I totally suck at by the way). Of course I had a little bite. OMG. They are amazing. Totally addictive. I quick cut them up, and sliced a sliver here and there to nibble, and here and there again. Then I froze them so I wouldn't be tempted. I doubt I would have ever gone through the graham cracker step and the bar recipe as written were it not for the Daring Baker's. I am so glad I did, they are such an interesting treat, but you must eat them cold for the full effect! It is, after all, what these challenges are all about. So, get in there....and bake!

Nanaimo Bars

For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.
2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.
3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Supper Club a'la Stitts

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January is the month I dread. Not because I have to strip the boughs of holly and the house is suddenly empty and quiet, but because it is my month to come up with a supper club menu. That, is pressure. We have 20 regular members in the club, and we rotate monthly so you eat dinner with a different group every month. The steering committee each takes a month to plan the menu. I pour over cookbooks, I spend hours on, I envision my neighbors reading my directions and serving my meal and wonder what they will think.

Of course I also have to consider what we have already had in the fall. But seriously, would it be a tragedy if we ate beef at supper club again? Did we have green beans or beets in November? Was dessert fruit based or cake? Really? Does anyone care but me? I doubt it. Everyone in the group loves to cook, but the real draw is the night of good wine, good food and most importantly good neighbors. The bonus this month is that I think the menu is darn good, we did a trial run with friends from outside the neighborhood last weekend, and loved it. It was a good opportunity to get into a cookbook that needed using, Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitts, the Italian theme was easy to round out, and it is a rare person who doesn't like the comfort of an Italian meal.

So, I wrote this blog ahead of time so I could toss in photos after the dinner and hit publish and I'd be done. Not so fast. My memory gets foggy after a glass or 2 of wine, and I forgot to take photos...except this one. And truthfully it isn't very appetizing. Something about peas. But trust me. It really was delicious. And the company stayed past midnight, so you know it was fun! I also shot a pic of Grandma's china before dinner, because it makes a beautiful table.

The other important factor of the menu is what needs to be done last minute. The menu is divided so the hostess makes the main dish and the guests do appetizer, dessert and side. The items need to have a minimal amount of last minute prep so everyone can enjoy themselves.

Our appetizer is Roasted Pepper Artichoke Puffs. It is a recipe from the WIndward Women's Club Cookbook in Alpharetta, GA. I lived there for about 5 years and loved it and I was the chairperson for this cookbook The recipes are tried and true favorites from many old friends. The appetizer is easy to make ahead, the peppers are pre-roasted and the filling is mixed and chilled and can be broiled as your guests arrive.

Roasted Pepper Atichoke Puffs

6 peppers, red and yellow, cleaned and sectioned to about 5 or 6 pieces each pepper
2T olive oil
2T balsamic vinegar

Put cut pepper pieces on shallow pan drizzle with oil and vinegar. Roast at 400° for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. They should no longer be crunchy, but have a little shape to them. Remove from oven and cool thoroughly. Set Aside.

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and diced to ¼”
5 slices prosciutto, minced
3 T basil leaves, finely shredded
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan
½ cup shredded Jarlsburg or Gruyere cheese
1 T lemon juice
Black pepper to taste
½ cup mayonnaise

In a small saute pan heat 2 T oil, saute scallions and garlic until soft. Remove from heat and place in small mixing bowl. Add other ingredients except peppers, and mix well. Place in fridge for at least an hour and up to 2 days.
When ready to serve. Preheat broiler. Place peppers on shallow baking sheet and top with a few teaspoons of the cheese mixture. Broil close to the heat source until bubbly. Cool slightly before serving.

Dinner is chicken. I know, not very fancy, but trust me on this, it really is delicious. The chicken can be stuffed ahead, then browned as the guests arrive and have wine and artichoke puffs. This way as it bakes to finish, everyone is socializing and getting the table ready. The peas are made ahead and the sauce is made as the cappellini rests, and everything is ready to roll.

Chicken Saltimbocca
adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, nice size, rinsed and patted dry
salt and pepper
8 large fresh sage leaves or 16 small leaves
8 thin slices of fresh mozzarella
8 thin slices prosciutto (I use four and cut them in half)

Slip a finger under the skin of the breast, careful not to tear it, and fold it back. Season meat with s&p. Place a sage leaf on the meat and cover with mozzarella slice and a slice of prosciutto. It is easier to stack the leaves, the cheese and prosciutto and slip it in as one piece. Carefully stretch the skin back over the stuffing. Chicken can be prepared to this point ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 425°. Heat a large or two large oven proof skillets over medium heat. A heavy roasting pan would also work over 2 burners. Add 2-4T olive oil to hot pans and place chicken breasts skin side down into hot pan. Cook for 15-20 minutes. The skin should brown nicely, do not turn the breasts over.

Transfer pan or pans into hot oven and continue to roast chicken for 30-45 minutes or until the thickest part of the breast is cooked. Internal temp should be 165°.

2 Shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
½ cup dry vermouth
2 T fresh lemon juice
8T unsalted butter
1 bag frozen sweet peas, cooked in boiling salted water, drained and chilled

Remove chicken from pan and tent on platter to keep warm. Pour off any excess fat from pan or pans and place on medium heat. Saute shallot and garlic until translucent. Remove pan from heat and add vermouth, scraping up crusty bits on the bottom. Place back on heat simmer to reduce liquid by half. Add lemon juice and whisk in the butter a chunk at a time. Add peas and serve with chicken. Spoon sauce on chicken.

The Cappellini Gratin is a different twist on pasta. Having it baked in a shallow pan gives you a crunchy top and a little creamier inside. As a person who always eats the outside of a baked pasta where the crunchy noodles are, this pasta is right up my alley.

Capellini Gratin
Adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt

½ T unsalted butter
1 pound capellini
½ cup heavy cream
1½ cups fresh grated parmesan, divided
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425° (same as the chicken). Grease a 12x17 baking sheet with the butter.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, generously salt water before adding pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain pasta, but reserve about ½cup of the pasta cooking water.
Place cream and ¾cup of parmesan in large bowl. Add the pasta and season pasta with salt and pepper. Combine well. Add pasta water as needed to loosen the consistency. Spread pasta out on baking sheet and top with remaining parmesan. Can be made ahead to this point. If making ahead, use most all of the pasta water in the mix as the pasta will absorb a fair amount while sitting.

Bake pasta uncovered until golden and crisp around the edges, about 14-20 minutes. Convection bake works great and making it crispy. Let gratin cool for about 5-10 minutes and then cut into serving pieces.

As an Italian myself, I felt the dinner needed a simple salad. Dessert used to be my favorite part of the meal. Not so much anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love it all, but I feel after a great meal that dessert is sometimes too much. I chose a Pistachio Semifreddo for dessert because it is a little lighter. It gives you that sweet finale without making you miserable. The recipe is here is a great site to get recipes. As a member you can make a recipe box and stash all the ones you like in one place. Also, members review recipes so you can read the reviews, hints and variations that home cooks have made.

So, dinner is served. Go on, get in there and cook!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gingered White Chocolate Biscotti

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I have been on a cookie hiatus this month, but I broke down, I needed a little something sweet, dang it. I scoured the pantry and found leftover white chocolate chips, not my favorite, and crystallized ginger, and it reminded me of a biscotti Lori passed on to me a number of years ago. Something intriguing happens when you bake those white chips with ginger, sort of a flavor explosion, and a delicious explosion at that. I was thinking she got the recipe from Cooking Light, but there were no results from my search. I found similar recipes on the web, but didn't see it attributed to anyone in particular, and many were biscotti coated in white chocolate. Blech! . It's a really crumbly dough, so I usually moisten it a little so it doesn't crumble all over and makes it easier to manipulate. They bake up very crunchy on the second baking which makes for great dunkers!

Ginger White Chocolate Biscotti

2 cups flour
⅔ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 oz white chocolate chips or chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 egg white

Combine flour, sugar, ginger, soda and salt in a large bowl. Add chocolate chips. Combine next three ingredients with a whisk and add to flour mixture. I sometimes add a Tablespoon of milk to help it bind together. Shape into log and bake on parchment or Silpat at 350° for 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 325°. Slice logs into ½" slices and bake to dry out, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Delicious and easy! So...get in there and bake!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Brother Boniface Rocks!

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Volleyball season kicks off which means lots of travel, packing healthy, yummy, convenient food and endless hours in the gym. I am so excited! After 6 years of this, I am a bit of a pro, and there are a few things I always bring. Popcorn, popped in my Whirly Pop, plain or kettle, it is the best snack for on the road. Good for the digestive system! Banana Bread, I have blogged many times about my banana bread. The recipe is here and it never fails to please. It is low fat, or at least it was until I added the chocolate chips, and it stays very moist. I like to bake it and freeze it well wrapped in foil and then cut down the middle and then slices, so the pieces are a little smaller and more manageable.

So I poked around my freezer for bananas and was disappointed to only find three black ones. That's just one loaf, so what else am I going to bake? The oat bran bread was already in the oven, but I didn't think that would go over well with 16 yr old girls. And, by the way, I added a cup of freshly grated carrots to the oat bran bread, what a great addition! A little more crunch, and it got me thinking about all the other possibilities.

Then I rummaged around the pantry and found a can of pumpkin leftover from the fall. Hmmm, I perused my tub file for a pumpkin bread recipe, because I usually make pumpkin muffins and I was out of chocolate chips, so I needed something different. I found one that was cut from Southern Living, no idea what year, but the little blurb next to a picture that is cut off reads Brother Boniface bakes daily at Mepkin Abbey in Charleston, South Carolina. It is common for persons in religious orders to take the name of a Saint. Sadly I cut the picture off and when I went to the website of Mepkin Abbey I didn't see a Brother Boniface in the photo, nor any mention of a bakery. However, these entrepreneurial monks are mushroom farmers, and sell them at local stores and even have a few recipes on their website. Isn't the internet amazing!?

Now a little aside about St. Boniface. It is the name of my childhood church in Clinton, Iowa and is very dear to my heart. I made my first communion there and spent many Holy Days of Obligation there. It is a gem in a very unassuming place. St. Boniface was the Patron Saint of Germans and is recognized as bringing Christianity to the German's when he cut down the Oak Tree of Thor and dared the mighty Thor to stop him. A big wind came and blew the tree down and the people were drawn to the power of God. He died in 754, so the legend was passed. Clinton, Iowa was a very German community, and the church of St. Boniface is thankfully well preserved.

So it was decided I would make Brother Boniface's Pumpkin Bread. I liked the looks of the recipe, lots of spices, a whole can of pumpkin (because what can you really do with a ⅓ of a can of pumpkin in the fridge?). I altered it with walnuts instead of pecans, I used King Arthur's White Whole Wheat Flour and I used buttermilk instead of water. The bonus, it makes 2 big loaves and it's delicious! Now it isn't lowfat, low in sugar or anything like that, but dang, it is moist and satisfying!
So, get in there and Bake!

Brother Boniface's Pumpkin Bread
4 cups flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon ginger
4 eggs
1 cup oil
1 can pumpkin (15oz)
⅔ cup water (I used buttermilk)
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts for me!)

Beat first 14 ingredients at medium speed with a mixer until moistened. Fold in nuts and pour into greased loaf pans.
Bake at 350° for an hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans and turn onto a rack to finish cooling.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Throwback to Oat Bran

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The year is 1988. I probably have a perm, a fair share of mauve in my very contemporary Michigan home, a snappy bow tied at the neck of my white blouse with my navy blue suit and a cabinet full of oat bran products. Some trends really needed to go away, and my hair is most thankful. But as I worked on the 100th blog story, I came across a recipe for Oat Bran Bread, and decided this one is a keeper. A loaf has a stunning 36+ grams of fiber not including the nuts or fruit. There is no added fat like butter or oil and no sugar or honey, and nothing artificial. The recipe was featured in the Grand Rapids Press that fine year, and I remember really enjoying that food section. They profiled local cooks every week and I have other recipes from the food section. I always wanted to be a good enough cook to be featured one day. It was my favorite place to live, full of great memories and friends I still keep in touch with.

The recipe reads Walter Braunohler's Oat Bran Bread. I had to Google him to remember who he is. He is an orthopedic, and I probably called on his practice detailing pharmaceuticals back then. It couldn't be easier to make, and with a side of plain yogurt, it makes a delicious breakfast.

I made a few changes, no surprise there. I used Craisins instead of raisins because they were left over from Christmas. But the boiling in juice is a great way to use dried up, hard raisins you forgot you had. They'll plump right up! I used 100% apple juice and I used all oat products. I only buy old fashioned or steel cut oats, as they have more fiber in them. The oat flour is easier to come by than it was in 1988 because of the gluten free diets. Bob's Red Mill makes a great assortment of flours and grains, the packages are relatively small, and I store the leftovers in the freezer. And I chose walnut over pecans because of the monounsaturated fat content. Prevention seems to think they are better for you, and personally I like the taste better than pecans. Be careful not to over bake this, it takes a little guess work, but I like it a little moister. My first loaf in 20+ years was a little dry, but I resisted the urge to slather butter on it! Delicious still. Hmm, I wonder how my hair would look curly?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My 100th Blog!

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Wow! Sixteen months ago when I began blogging, I wasn't sure how much I had to say. Considering I have at least a dozen half-written blogs as well as the 99 I have published, writer's block is not a problem for me. But what to write for the 100th blog? After some thought I decided to do my "must have" list in the kitchen. I have been cooking and entertaining forever. I remember as a teenager in high school trying to make cookie dough for one cookie, successfully. I made cut out sugar cookies in college for a far away friend and I made pheasant for my roommates. After we got married, I loved the idea of feeding and entertaining our friends, and still do.

But all this cooking, baking and entertaining takes organization, passion and the right tools. I am lucky to have worked the last 12 years at WIlliams Sonoma. I am not any sort of spokesperson, believe me, I am a customer when it comes right down to it. I have bought many kitchen things over the last 25 years, some were flops, some show the wear of a gadget I can't live without. I have morphed too, into technology, the blog, and obviously the one item I can't live without is my Macbook. This the the greatest laptop, my second, and it has my life within it's little processor. But let's get down to the more basic items no kitchen should be without.

Recipe Box- Back when I got married, many of my female relatives wrote their favorite recipe on a 3x5 index card for me. My mom gave me her original recipe box in 1985. As you can see, I have moved up in capacity. Being organized is the main thing. Besides the usual file headings: Hot Appetizers, Cold Appetizers, Beef, Fish, Poultry, etc., one file is devoted to Family Recipes. An oil stained paper with Aunt Molly's handwritten Ravioli recipe, my Grandmother's handwritten jello salad, Squarkie's Czechoslovakian Cookies (with a note to put on coffee and call her when they were done), Aunt Florence's Chocolate Cake, Darlene's Baklava, my Mom's Steak in a Bag. That file is a blog in itself! But you must get all your loose recipes in one place. You also need to clean them out periodically because that Oat Bran Bread from 1988 may not be something you want for breakfast in 2010. Although I will blog my 1988 Oat Bran Bread right here, soon. My Family Recipe file includes things I will never make like Jelojdija (start with a four pig's feet) and things I make for my own family on a regular basis like Sloppy Joes. It is the one thing I will grab in a fire.

Cook Ware- Buy good pans, period. Buy one non stick fry pan, not made in China, that you swear to never use a metal utensil on or put in the dishwasher. Use it for eggs and grilled cheese.
When it peels, pitch it.
The rest of your pots and pans should be heavy, the right size for the job, and should never go in the dishwasher unless it is 18/10 stainless steel. Why? Dishwasher detergent is mostly bleach, there are abrasives and chemicals that are hard on most substances. There are dozens of cookware brands, I have many including Calphalon, All Clad, Mauviel and Le Creuset. Different pans for different jobs. Again, its own blog, maybe later. The new thing is cookare you can put in the dishwaher. Why? I don't get it, I wouldn't waste the space in there, but that's my take. Follow the manufacturer's directions. Your skillet has burned chicken on it? Well, turn down the heat to cook. It is the most common mistake. Most people are in a hurry and crank up the heat, be patient and warm up your pan slowly, it makes a world of difference. If you get burned on chicken or stuck pieces of whatever, what to do? Keep the pan on the heat and slowly add water to it and gently scrape up the burnt pieces. It is called deglazing, and you can do it with wine, herbs and butter and make amazing sauces (providing it isn't burnt to a crisp). Don't do this with a non stick pan and a metal utensil.

Santoku Knife- For a long time we all referred to it as Rachel Ray's knife. She really brought this timeless knife front and center to the American home cook. It has a flat blade and chops beautifully, even for an unskilled cook. However, there are knife rules. Ready? DO NOT, under any circumstance, put any knife in the dishwasher. Did you hear me? I am not kidding. Besides the chemicals I mentioned earlier, the force of that water is amazing, and one little bump against another metal, and your knife has a little blip. Many blips make a very dull knife. And FYI, do not sharpen a Santoku knife with a basic knife sharpener. Most knives in our homes are German or Western knives, and they are sharpened at a different angle than a Japanese or other Asian knife. So when you buy the Santoku, make sure you get the proper sharpener for it.

Baking Tools-
Roll Bands, a great set of rubber bands with different widths to put on your rolling pin. Every batch of cookies is the same thickness and your doughs will never be thin and shaggy on the edges.
Tart Tamper, pushes delicate dough into the crevices of a tart pan.
Bench Scraper, it scrapes up dough, cuts lots of things, cleans off stubborn stuff from counters, baking sheets, cutting boards.
Instant Read Digital Thermometer- You need to know if the chicken is cooked or if the water is too hot for the yeast. This is how you know that.

Tapered Rolling Pin, Marble Rolling Pin, Straight Rolling Pin, basically pie crust, short pastry and cookies. Again, the right tool for the job makes a difference. Chocolate Tools, I discussed these a while ago here . And I love my Pastry Board, one side is marked with pie crust measurements, and the other is plain wood, and it has these lips on it so I can roll and roll and the board never moves. A good thing for sure. I always bake on a Silpat. I bit the bullet and bought 4 of them, it makes baking cookies a breeze. Naturally non stick so no sprays (they are bad...), the cookies bake evenly, get nicely browned, even burnt sugar pops right off them, they are really so convenient. Because they are silicone they don't trap odors like anise or peppermint and they can be used over and over. I have had mine for at least 7 years. Don't slice biscotti on them, I learned that lesson the hard way. Of course it is because I have super sharp, non-dishwashered knives.

Microplane Grater- Originally a rasp grater for wood working, it morphed into the best zester for lemon and lime, wonderful for grating fluffy piles of parmesan and perfect for a grate of chocolate on whipped cream. Like every other company, they couldn't leave well enough alone and made a million variations and colors. The basic is the one you cannot live without. The best part? They are made in Russlleville, AR by Americans. How cool is that? I have even heard you can microplane your heels in the shower. I would recommend a separate one for that.

The SideSwipe Blade- This is an after market add on to a Kitchen Aid Mixer. I use the 6 qt Professional model, and at the time, the Side Swipe was the only silicone blade available for my mixer. We carry a version from another company at WS, but only for the Artisan. I suspect Kitchen Aid will come out with its own version soon. I love that I don't have to stop and scrape down the bowl, it does a great job. Google it.
Kitchen Aid Mixer- I am a baker, life would be pretty impossible without this. You don't need the biggest model on the market, but you need the right size for the job. They come with different attachments, dough hook, flat beater and whisk, and they all have a purpose. Plus you can add on items like a grinder attachment, juicer, pasta roller, even an ice cream maker. I invested in a small whip bowl for my mixer. It is only a couple of quarts and has its own whip attachment, because sometimes 6 quarts is too big even for me. Kitchen Aid was a great company to work with when I had an issue with my mixer. Customer Service is a biggie for me.

As usual I could go on and on and on. I covered the majority of my baking must haves. I think I'll save my other tools and must have ingredients for another day. I have plenty to talk about as we have seen here. Thanks for coming to check out the blog, all the nice comments and all the generous offers from potential tasters. I have a large project in the works, many care packages to make, events to bake cookies for and at least 100 more blogs to go. Stay tuned, and get in there and cook!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Peppermint Fudgie Cookie Deliciousness

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Over a year ago I wrote about these unbelievable chocolate cookies. I happened to be in a bad mood, and miraculously the cookies flavonoids must have improved it! Truthfully, I am not a chocoholic, my daughter is, and she loved these cookies as they emerged from the oven, all gooey. I, on the other hand liked the dough with its pieces of unsweetened chocolate, or the cooled cookies where I could still distinguish the unsweetened chocolate. Neither of us is a big white chocolate fan, but I knew these little peppermint chips would work out and make a delicious holiday cookie.

I first stumbled upon the Guittard Smooth and Melty chips in a holiday peppermint brownie mix we sold at Williams Sonoma. It was spectacular, and spectacularly expensive. I am not opposed to people paying for the convenience of such things, it's just that I don't as a rule. I love the process of baking from beginning to end, yes, even the dishes! I sampled the brownies at the store, and as soon as they hit the sale I bought a jar. The jar itself was worth keeping, a latch top jar I still use since I have an aversion to plastic storage ware and plastic cups, oh yea, and paper plates and napkins. I digress.
At the end of the holiday season I found the Guittard chips at Fresh Market, half a sale! I bought 10 bags and tucked them in the back of my pantry. The next Christmas there were no Peppermint Brownies at Williams Sonoma, but there were in my kitchen. I found a recipe for a layered brownie mix in a large canning jar and put the Guittard Chips on top with directions and the teachers had their gifts. Google it, there are many versions. They were delicious.

So, I never repeat a gift, so the peppermint chips went wayside until this year. Those chocolate cookies were on my mind, and as soon as the Guittard chips went half off, I bought a few bags to see how it would work. The original recipe is found on the old post here. This is how I changed it. Now let me tell you, do not, under any circumstance try to double this recipe. My poor little Cuisinart was groaning. I had to dump the dough and mix by hand, and therefore my cookies weren't as good as the original in appearance. But taste? Yep, they were good.

Peppermint Fudgie Deliciousness

5 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons Instant Espresso
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
1 Cup flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips
1 cup Smooth and Melty Guittard Peppermint Chips
1/4 teaspoon salt

Process chocolate and sugar with steel blade for 2 minutes or until fine. Add butter, eggs, coffee, vanilla and peppermint. Blend until fluffy. Scrape down sides.
Add flour, chocolate chunks and salt. Process using on/off pulse until just combined. Do not over process.

Mound dough onto sheets in 2-3 Tablespoon clumps about 2" apart in a 350° oven. Bake 12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Cookies should be slightly firm to touch, but careful not to over bake. Cool on rack. It only takes one to find a more peaceful place.
Makes about 2 dozen

So Happy Baking and Happy New Year.