Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Resolve...

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Here it comes, the one day a year we all aim to be better, thinner, fitter and wiser. Since I resolve the fit thing about every third day, I'm not wasting breath on it tonight. But I do have a few resolutions.

I will blog NEW things only. I am not making anything from a previously tried recipe all year, with the exception of my apple pie, my family will lynch me if I change that. Maybe a Christmas cookie or two in December will be an old recipe, but for this blog and all practical baking experiences, it is a clean slate.

I also resolve to be less vocal about my food snobbishness. I will try very hard to not say things like, "Oh my Gosh, is that iodized table salt on that salad?" or "You know these cookies would be way better with Madagascar Vanilla?" or the most recent faux pas, "Taking wine as a hostess gift is a cop out". And let me elaborate on that is a cop out FOR ME. I work at Williams Sonoma for Pete's sake. I bake hundreds of cookies, eat in for the most part, write about food, teach people to cook food, wouldn't you feel like I was copping out if I came to your party with a bottle of wine, especially if I knew you drank martinis? Okay. I drink a lot of wine, bring me a bottle, I'll love it, it won't go to waste, honest. And if my child told you bringing me one was a cop out, I apologize, I was talking about me..not you!

And finally, I am going to ask you to join me in "Dining In". I love to cook, I love to share, so don't be surprised if you get a dinner invite from me for no good reason. Sharing good food and a bottle of wine (yes, you can bring one!) is reason enough. But be prepared for photos since it will most likely get blogged!

So Happy New Year Foodies Everywhere. And as Lori said, the future is so bright I gotta wear shades. Be careful tonight, and make good choices!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

As 2008 fades away...

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Well, it's winding down, and honestly I am ready. I love the satisfaction of eating the fridge clean, of condensing cookies from multiple tins into fewer, and the delightful feeling of buttoning my jeans even after feeling revoltingly full, (must have been gas!). I know now why I don't cater full-time. I throw myself in, and work it like it was my own, then collapse. My family must fend for themselves and it depletes my energy, especially this time of year. Luckily, I had my marathon baking session before the event, so I had plenty to give away and enjoy, and I included a few plates of my family favorites into the party menu.
I really scaled back on the chocolate selections for myself, I made truffles and peanut butter cups. Pretty basic. I made killer espresso brownies for the party, but sold it as a batch, so I didn't get to taste! And also a Butterfinger Bar which mimics a butterfinger.

My truffles used to be famous. Trees of them dipped in white and bittersweet with candied violets and sweetheart roses, truffles wrapped in 24k gold leaf, and truffles laced with any number of delicious liquors. But this year it was simply chocolate, heavy cream, butter vanilla. My kids totally object to the cocoa dusting, so I went for the real chocolate jimmies from Baker's Catalogue. They are delicious, and the truffles were seriously wonderful. Sometimes simple is the way to go. The PB cups were a breeze as well. I mixed the peanut butter, butter and confectioner's sugar together, lined the cups with melted chocolate, put in a blob of PB mixture, topped with chocolate. Again, simple. I also put a small tray of these at the dessert party. Next year, less cookies for us, and more chocolate confections. I really enjoy the whole chocolate process, and hope around the 14th of February I can devote a blog entirely to this food of the gods.
The real find this year for me was the Guittard chocolate bar at Williams Sonoma. 10 pounds of the smoothest chocolate. At $39 for the bar, you're looking at $3.90 a pound. I dare you to find any chocolate of this quality at that price. Of course I have the famous Williams Sonoma discount so it was way better than that!
A few years back I invested in some chocolate tools. The largest, and most dangerous is used to chip off hunks from the big bar. A word of caution, a 9oz bar of chocolate doesn't need this big chipping tool. I actually went through the palm of my hand with it a few years back. But for this 10 pound bar, there really isn't another way to attack it. The smaller tools are designed for dipping and dunking and are pretty inexpensive and do a great job. I use a basic All Clad double boiler and an instant read digital thermometer to melt and temper. It is a process like everything else in the kitchen, and in February I'll lay out the whole thing. For now, I'm too busy to write and write, and my loyal readers are skiing, eating out and not even chatting up on Facebook, so I know there isn't anyone hankering to make truffles today. If so, shoot me a line, I'm happy to help! For now, I am desperately trying to ignore my delicious sugar cookies, plan a rockin New Year's dinner/birthday party, and look forward to the New Year. I have lots of blogger resolutions and big things happening. My producer tells me "This is the year"....I hope she's right! Come along for the ride, it'll be delicious!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Buried in butter

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I am alive, and baking! I catered a dessert party last night for a friend (and reader of the blog!). Thanks Mary, I hope everyone enjoyed the food, I dreamed of bread pudding with bourbon sauce. I swear I have photos, recipes and news, I just have to get out and buy a present or two before Thursday. I will also be helping FedEx and their sagging sales so I can send those presents. I think next year we'll celebrate Epiphany instead of exchanging on Christmas. I'll be back....

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Baking Day!

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So when we last parted, I had a fridge full of cookie dough. Again, organization is the key to cranking out 400 cookies. I started with the sugar cookies because they are the most time consuming. I use a pastry board to roll out my dough, I keep a bin of flour close by to dust the dough and board when they get sticky, and I have some good tools. A bench scraper is a great tool to use to scrape up the stuck on bits of dough left on the board between rolling batches, it also chops hunks of chilled dough off. I also have these nifty things called dough bands which are chunky rubber bands that go on each end of the rolling pin. They are different widths so you can roll your dough perfectly even. It is a great idea for sugar cookies because you naturally roll your dough thinner at the edges and these bands virtually eliminate that problem.

I probably have 100 cookie cutters, I choose about 6 every holiday to use. It makes it easier to decorate when you narrow the selections. I start with one chunk of dough and roll and cut, re roll and cut and so on until I have done 2 sheets of a particular cookie cutter. I usually pick a small cutter to fit in the scraps and therefore have very little waste. I use cookie sheets with Silpats and start one in the oven. I set the timer for half the time and when it buzzes, I move that pan to the lower shelf and put in another, set the timer for the other half of time, and when it buzzes, remove the first, move the second and put in the third. It is a great method. You have a little time to roll out cookies, when one pan has cooled you can slide them onto the racks, and then stack them when they are completely cooled. I toss my used cookie cutter into the hot soapy water in the sink and move on through all the cutters. I follow the same method for the gingerbread men. There is more waste with this dough, it doesn't seem to re roll as well time after time. So now 2 batches, sugar and gingerbread are done, don't wash those silpats or cookie sheets, just the cutters, rolling pin, wipe down the workspace and start on the others.

The Mexican wedding cakes are pretty simple, adjust the temp, and start chopping off sections of dough,(I weigh mine to cook evenly), roll into balls and bake the same as the sugar, rotating your sheets halfway through the time. These cookies along with the pecan crescents need to cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes before you roll them in their respective sugars. I keep the leftover sugars to toss over them when I store the cookies. The Mexican wedding cakes will need to be tossed in powdered sugar before presenting, they seem to absorb it.

The pecan crescents are easiest rolled first into balls and then small cresents. Be careful to not taper the ends to a point, they look best plump.

The chocolate gingerbread cookies are another drop cookie that simply gets rolled in hand. Prior to baking they should be rolled in granulated sugar, non pareils or coarse sugar like I use. They are then baked and cooled and they are fabulous!

And the last to bake were the cardamom slices. The log is chilled firm, I use the bench scraper to slice uniform slices, about 1/4" and bake with a good 2" between them. These incredible cookies spread quite thin, but the flavor is great, and they are better dipped in chocolate. But that will happen on chocolate day! All these cookies should be stored in an airtight tin or Tupperware, alone, with crumpled wax paper and at room temp. The sugar cookies and gingerbread are OK in the fridge, but the cookies rolled in sugar with get gooey.
Whew! It is really just a cycle of sheets in and out of the oven, you have to get in a rhythm. But in one day, it's done! I came across a few new recipes I may try this week and I do see truffles in my future. I'm helping a friend with a dessert party on Friday so I have a home for all this stuff I'm baking!

Friday, December 12, 2008

400 Cookies, and miles to go!

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I love to bake. 400 cookies may seem overwhelming, but I'd like to share my method.

First, I am terribly organized. I know ahead I have all the baking staples on hand. I have one drawer with nothing but measuring cups (normal and odd size), spoons(normal and odd size), pastry brushes, silicone spatulas, bench scraper, anything I would need for baking.

My spices are alphabetized, my flour and sugar in large bins. I went through recipes weeks ago so I knew what I was making. It's a 3 day process, but you don't have to do it in a row.
As soon as I got up I took out all the butter and let it sit on the counter. It is crucial it is at room temp so it creams easily. It's pretty chilly here, so there is no worries about it getting too soft. But in warmer climates, if the butter gets slimy, your cookies will be greasy.
I use a heavy duty Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Many of my recipes can be made with a food processor or a hand mixer but I like to have my hands free. And finally the most important step, a clean kitchen. No leftover dishes, no meat thawing on the counter. Fill your sink with the hottest sudsiest water, a clean sponge and you are ready to go.
I do one recipe at a time. If I use a measuring cup or spoon for a dry ingredient, I don't wash it until the last batch is made. I have one spoon only for vanilla. I use a scale for chocolate and nuts, too many and your cookies are dry, too few and you look cheap!
All of my recipes start with creamed unsalted butter. Cream for only about 3-5 minutes. You want it fluffy and pale. The sugar usually comes next. Then vanilla and maybe eggs. Usually the flour folds in after that. Once the eggs are added, mixing should be monitored. You only want things incorporated, do not over mix or your cookies will get tough.
After the dough is complete, I spread it out on a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Drop the dough on the wrap and cover with another piece of wrap and shape it into a disc. Wrap it well, and chill it with the recipe. Wash the dishes and start the next batch. I made 6 batches in no time at all. I doubled 2 batches, and I have no trouble with that, but I don't recommend tripling a recipe. Chances are your mixer will grumble, and thorough mixing is a little harder with larger amounts. Your chilled dough can sit in the fridge for a week, you can even make this dough weeks in advance and freeze it in labeled, heavy duty Ziploc bags, thaw in fridge and continue.
Day 2 is baking day. This day requires a little more time, a lot more space. The next blog will detail all the steps to get these cookies in and out of the oven successfully. Here are the recipes for the drop cookies. The cutouts will be a separate blog.
Remember to chill dough until it is firm, usually 1-2 hours minimum. The dough may be hard to manipulate, but cold dough spreads less in the oven. I always bake on Silpat lined cookie sheets (no rims), and cool on racks until they set and finish cooling directly on the rack itself. When you roll with your hands, keep the extra dough in fridge to keep it firm, and bake the sheets as soon as the dough is rolled. Be careful that dough balls do not roll off the cookie sheet into the oven!

Almond Crescents
2/3 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter, unsalted, room temp, (2 sticks)
1 2/3 cup flour
1/ teaspoon salt

2/3 cups bakers sugar (superfine)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Boil the almonds for 2 minutes in water, rinse and slip the skins off. Dry the almonds thoroughly, I gently toast them to get them dry. (You can use slivered almonds for ease.) Grind almonds and sugar in food processor until fine. In mixer bowl, cream butter for 3-5 minutes, add sugar mixture and mix well. Add flour and salt until just incorporated. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. To bake, remove from fridge and cut dough into sections. Break off small pieces and roll into balls and then gently into crescents. Bake at 325 for 14 minutes. Cool on rack until they can be handled, and roll in sugar mixture. Cool thoroughly and store airtight at room temp. Makes about 75

Mexican Wedding Cakes/Pecan Balls/Snowballs
1 cup pecans, halves or pieces
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups butter, unsalted, room temp,(4 sticks)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour

Confectioners sugar to roll finished cookies in.

Grind pecans and sugar in a food processor until fine. Cream butter in mixer bowl for 3-5 minutes. Add nut/sugar mixture. Mix well and add vanilla and flour. When all dry ingredients are incorporated. Remove and wrap in plastic wrap and chill with recipe. This is a double batch, and makes about 100 balls. Remove the dough from fridge and cut off small strips and make into evenly sized balls. I weigh mine to a 1/2 ounce section and roll it into a ball. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Cool on rack until you can handle them. Toss in confectioners sugar and cool thoroughly. Roll in powdered sugar again after they are cool. Store airtight at room temp.

Cardamom Slices
10 Tablespoons butter, unsalted, room temp
3/4 cup plus 2T sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg yolk
2 T milk
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 cup flour

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate for dipping

Cream butter and sugar. Add extracts, egg, milk, and spices. Add flour until incorporated. Form into a loaf on plastic wrap, almost like a rectangle, about 3"X2", wrap well. Lay on cookie sheet and chill. When ready to bake, slice into 1/4" slices and give them plenty of room, they spread. Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes. Cool on racks. Melt chocolate and dip cookies in chocolate on the diagonal. Cool until chocolate is firm. Store airtight in fridge. Makes 56 cookies.

Chocolate Gingerbread Drop Cookies
8 Tablespoons unsalted, room temp butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (unsulphered)
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water
2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tablespoon flour
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

1/2 cup granulated sugar, coarse sugar or non pareils

Cream butter and brown sugar 3-5 minutes. Add molasses. Add baking soda mixture and spices and flour and mix thoroughly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. Break dough off in small balls and roll in sugar. I like the coarse decorating sugar and bake at 325 for 15 minutes. Cool completely on racks and store airtight in fridge.

Tomorrow we bake! And we'll tackle those cut out sugar cookies and gingerbread men!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Flammable Christmas Cookie

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Tuesday brought rain, rain and more rain. So I pulled out the cookie recipes, laid out the butter to soften and made almost 400 Christmas cookies. All the dough needed to chill after it was made, so I made one batch after another and chilled it with the recipe so today I could begin baking. Then mid way through the day came the small meteor fire, and I knew I would have to blog the flammable Christmas cookie before I could go into full detail on all the others.
Mexican Wedding Cakes are one of my favorites. Pecans are a Southern favorite, and who doesn't like a cookie rolled in powdered sugar that looks like a Christmas snowball? So I made a huge batch of dough from my favorite recipe and I tossed it in the fridge to chill. Today I baked them, among a few hundred others.

I know evenly matched cookies bake more evenly, so I meticulously weigh every hunk of dough, and think a half ounce is the perfect size. I chop the dough off with my bench scraper, weigh it, and then form it into balls. I bake them on a Silpat lined cookie sheet and I always move the sheets from top to bottom and turn them around halfway through the cooking time.
The problem arose when I slid a sheet in the oven a little too quick. One of those balls of dough fell off the back end. About half way through baking I THOUGHT I smelled something burning, and brushed it off. After another 7 minutes, I knew I had a problem. I peeked way back in the oven, and beneath those 3 racks of cookies was a fire ball. Who knew butter and pecans were that flammable?This is the real world folks. I make mistakes too. Sometimes they are funnier than yours, and I always snap photo evidence.

So I snapped a quick picture and grabbed a wooden spoon, but I couldn't quite reach it. I had no choice but to remove all the cookies, all the racks and reach in. I found a pair of tongs that had a good reach and moved the little fireball forward for another, clearer photo. Then I tossed it in my dish washing water to a great sizzle! Of course I had to put it with the finished cookies for the final photo, I'm fairly certain you can pick it out! Safe baking to you all. Tomorrow I will blog about all the other delicacies that I made.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1 cup pecan pieces or halves
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 sticks (2 cups) butter, unsalted, softened
1 teaspoon good vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour, sifted

Confectioners Sugar for covering finished cookies.

Grind the nuts until they are quite fine in a food processor. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract to butter mixture, and add flour and nuts on low speed until incorporated. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill.
Cut dough into equal size pieces, I like 1/2 ounce, and roll into balls. (Flatten slightly on cookie sheets so they don't roll away)
Bake on Silpat lined sheets at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Remember to move the sheets around halfway through baking time. Cool on racks until just warm and toss in confectioners sugar until covered. Re roll cookies when cool and before storing in an airtight container at room temp for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Deck the Halls and the Kitchen

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I admit my weaknesses. Goat cheese, Pinot Noir, 71% Dark Chocolate, (preferably all on the same night), and Christmas decorations. I have 3 trees in full regalia. The family tree choc full of all those ornaments I pick up on trips, given to us at parties and those made in grade school. The second tree is in the dining room and is white and covered in snowmen. Note: Never tell people if you intend to collect something. I have more damn snowmen than I know what to do with! And the last tree is my favorite. It's only about 5', fills a corner of my kitchen and is covered in kitchen stuff. Cooking chefs and santas, copper pots and pans, whisks, silverware, petite fours and glass cheese. I love it!

One friend brought me Christmas okra, a huge okra, like 6" and it's painted like Santa. How funny is that?! I also have a huge assortment of Williams Sonoma ornaments from years past. No big surprise there. The most beautiful is a glass Waterford chef Santa.

Years ago when we lived in Atlanta we started the killer dessert party tradition, Lance and Sue brought us a German Baker Nutcracker ornament. I love the ones that stir great memories!

And, instead of a star on top, there's a chef's hat!
The great thing about the diversity of the trees is that I can poke around for fun ornaments all year long.
So, now that I am decked, it's time to cook and bake. Today we are going to whip up a couple of batches of cheater fudge. I have made it the old fashioned way and was disappointed. So, I decided to try the marshmallow fluff way. I figure it will make a nice easy gift for people I need to pass a sweet treat to. Next up will be an assortment of cookies, a day of make ahead appetizers, and a few other candies. A customer yesterday was taling about peanut butter cups, it's been awhile since I've made them, but are they good. Who knows, So many ideas, so little time. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 5, 2008

A yard of Fabric, a Spool of Thread...

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I gave my spin on the economy yesterday. Late in the day I got an email from my sister in So. California. She has this awesome little sewing store in Santa Monica called Sewing Arts Center. It's been there since the 50's or something. The guy who currently owns it is wickedly creative, has a fabulous inventory of beautiful fabrics for quilts and crafts. He has these classes I wish I could attend and a staff that are equally as creative. But he has competition. Mass retailers who employ cashiers and fabric cutters. Go into one of those huge stores and ask a sewing question. Your answer will be garbled by the tongue stud as the 18 year old girl who is saving to buy a new tattoo explains she doesn't know how to sew. But I digress....
His email was heartfelt. He loves his business, employs passionate people but cannot survive. If his customers came in and bought a yard of fabric, a spool of thread and a package of buttons, he could make a go of it. It's our duty to do so. Anyone who is gainfully employed needs to support grass roots America. Don't put your money in the stock market, put it in your neighbor. Put it in your home town businesses. Put it where your heart is. If you have a choice between saving 15% or saving some one's business I know what I would choose every time. There must be thousands of businesses in his same predicament. Go forth and shop. This is how it was done 100 years ago when my Grandpa got to this country. You shopped with your neighbors. We need to go back to that.
Tomorrow we shall cook....

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Retail Therapy

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Recession. It's an ugly word. The news stations have recession logos they paste at the bottom of the screen when they run their doom and gloom stories on the economy. Everyday, it's the economic update, more casualties, more downturn, no relief in sight. Geez, it's like the weeks following 9-11, you know its happening, you know it's bad, but somewhere on this huge earth there is good news. There are companies thriving and consumers spending their hard earned money.
I work retail. I've been at the same high end store for 11 years. I may as well say it, I've said it before, Williams Sonoma. OOHHHH, I can hear you, "that place is expensive", "you must be in a world of hurt", "your sales must be in the dumps". Let me start by saying I am not any sort of spokesperson for Williams Sonoma. I am on the lowest rung of the employees of this great company. I work in the trenches. I greet the people who walk in, offer samples, sell them what they need, thank them graciously, and on occasion work behind the scenes unloading the daily truck. I have a degree in film, not economics. But here is my take. There isn't a recession. There's a slowdown. There's a scare. People want to spend their money. They want to give gifts and have parties, they want to cook up a storm. They are shopping. They're buying $100 knives and peppermint bark. They want Christmas towels and gingerbread bundt. They are hunting out that perfect gadget for their favorite cook. Granted, they are worried, and pensive, but they are shopping. Thoughtfully shopping.
Is it so bad that people are planning purchases, thinking about what Grandma would really like instead of just picking up some stuff? Could the benefit of all this be that for the first time in a long time people are thinking before they spend?
Do you remember how many gifts you got for Christmas? I don't, but I remember that they were well thought out. Gifts any kid would love (at least in 1974). Now it seems more about quantity. Crap. We are inundated by the bargains. Is there a bargain at the dollar store? What can you possibly buy for a dollar that isn't disposable or that someone would want? I recently went and bought a huge aluminum roaster to use as a litter box for Grandma's visiting kitty and a nail file. I wouldn't bother with anything else there. It's a question of quality more than anything else. I saw wax paper there, I use a lot this time of year. But at the grocery it was only .89 cents. Candy, same price or cheaper at Walgreen's, and probably a better turnover. But we are wowed by that one dollar price. Forget that you'll have to buy another and another and another. Like the pan for a litter box. I probably could have bought a litter box at Target for $5. Line it, pitch the poo, stash the box until kitty's next visit. It's a mindset.
So away with the recession and in with thoughtful spending. Out with huge retailers whose products are low priced and lower quality and in with retailers who support products made in the US. Have you seen or felt the difference between a maple spoon from Vermont and a wooden spoon from China? There is a price difference, but a bigger quality difference. Your kids will fight over that maple spoon in 20 years. How about a set of 4 dish towels at $16 vs. a set of dish towels for $6. Wash 'em, dry dishes with them, bleach them if you must. Next year you'll have to buy 4 more if you chose the cheaper version.
So get out there and shop! If you have a job and are not one of those crazy people with an enormous amount of credit card debt then go forth and spend. But spend thoughtfully. Buy right the first time. Buy things you enjoy, that stimulate the American economy. Shop where people are friendly, helpful and attentive. If a sales clerk treats you like your money is no good, move on. It's time for retailers to be more gracious to the customer. It's time for the customer to be more thoughtful when they choose where to spend their money. Turn off the news and stimulate the economy yourself!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Hangover

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Well, it's finally over...the first of the holiday feasts. Now we recover and prepare for the onset of holiday parties. But let's first recap turkey day.
We noshed before the feast on home made pimento cheese and a pumpkin dip. My personal pimento cheese recipe follows as does the pumpkin. At Williams Sonoma every fall, we sell pecan pumpkin butter. It is delicious spread on a piece of toast or bagel. We also offer recipes for pumpkin bars and cake. But this crazy dip is the most popular. It's Nic's favorite, so I obliged.
The turkey was fresh and organic. I opted to not brine it as I have done for years, but instead I slathered it with the brining mixture like a dry rub, sealed it and let it sit for 2 days in the fridge. I rinsed it well and stuffed it with fresh herbs and apples. My 17 pound bird cooked in about 3 and a half hours. It could have used another 30 minutes. It was cooked, but the dark meat wasn't falling off the bones. I made NO stock from the carcass this year. Not a drop. My freezer doesn't have a single freezer container of leftovers.
Of course we had stuffing, a sweet potato casserole with sugared pecans, creamed pearl onions and popovers.
Dessert was pie, of course. We did a pumpkin made with Williams Sonoma pumpkin butter in a graham crust, and pecan in my own crust. I used Lyle's golden syrup instead of Karo for pecan pie. My theory was that not so many years ago Karo was nothing but pure cane syrup. Now, it's light corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, salt and vanilla. Lyle's is pure cane syrup. Why are the Europeans the only ones keeping food pure? Google high fructose corn syrup and you'll avoid it too. But it is everywhere. Soda, ketchup, syrup, pretty much anything liquid and sweet. The pecan pie was fabulous, although the crust wasn't great. For some reason I bought self-rising flour. I used that and it made an ultra-flaky but not great crust. But if you add enough whipped cream, a store bought tastes okay too.

Pumpkin Butter Spread
1 block cream cheese
1/2 jar pumpkin butter
8 pieces bacon cooked crisp
4 green scallions chopped
Soften cream cheese and spread in dish. Top with pumpkin butter and crumbled bacon and scallions. Pretty easy.

Susie's Pimento Cheese
2 lbs sharp cheddar
1 lb extra sharp white cheddar
1 block cream cheese
2 T grated onion
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Grate cheese, I use my Cuisinart, then toss in stand mixer bowl. Add all ingredients and mix well. Pack in jars and chill. It's best after a day or so, and needs to come to room temp to serve. This isn't creamy cheese, it can be made more creamy with the addition of mayo.
So on to baking cookies, making hors'd oeuvres and decking the halls. 'Tis the season...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

La Nouveau Tollhouse

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Christina jumps in the car last week after school and announced that tomorrow would be a movie in French class, which means they bring in snacks. No problem. I have cupcakes and muffins in my freezer (no turkey broth though!). I have ingredients to bake just about anything, and even a few mixes for a real quickie. Nope, she wanted to go to the grocery and get a giant cookie. You know the kind. Chocolate chip baked in a pizza pan, decorated with frosting. Yuk. I told her she had to pay for it.
She came out of the grocery store empty handed. It seems you have to pre order the $15 cookies. They must not fly off the shelf. So I suggested (again) that she make her own.
Following the basic Tollhouse recipe, she whipped it up in no time, and took all the dough and spread it in a jelly roll pan. Remember that's the smaller of the pans. Not a half sheet. She baked it until it was perfectly golden and not too crunchy on the edges. We let it cool on a rack for half an hour or so, or until it was cool top and bottom.

I made a quick butter cream. 6 T butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and enough milk to bind it together. Then we added gel coloring until it was hot pink. I did a basic shell border around the cookie and then wrote on it. En Francais s'il vous plait! Which means, in French, if you please. It is the class slogan, no English when you enter. Needless to say it was eaten up and enjoyed by all!

Au revoir!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Going, Going, Gone!

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Don't you love an auction? The thrill of competing with other bidders to buy something. What a concept. I've been to many, all fundraisers; for the neighborhood, the school, diabetes, whatever. The one factor that is always a constant is alcohol. It seems, curiously enough, that the more you drink, the more you bid! I have awoken in a foggy haze and walked into the kitchen to find artwork I so gallantly fought for, school sweatshirts I paid a dandy mark up on, and even high end tequila that I was sure was a real bargain! But it is all in the name of charity, tax write off and all that stuff.
A very popular item right now in these auctions are parties. Margarita parties, white trash parties, wine tasting parties,dinner parties, you name it. It seems there are a number of people who are willing to pay big bucks to have someone throw them a party. I personally have been in groups that auctioned off a Mexican Dinner for 8. It raised over $1000. We did a redneck party at my house that was one for the textbooks. I could hardly look at the cantor the next day at church because he had a mullet wig on shooting whiskey on my deck not even 12 hours earlier. But it raised big bucks for my daughter's school. And it was a blast.
Then there are the dinners that I didn't actually buy, but was invited to. The first was dinner at a plantation back in the Mississippi woods. The setting was spectacular. The home was full of antiques, ghosts and original details of the 1800's. Dinner was in an old dining room with 15 foot ceilings and great company. I only remember the gumbo which was terrific. They even provided transportation to and from so we wouldn't have to worry about driving. The second was the most lavish. It was a 7 course meal, one course from each continent. The food was spectacular. Russian caviar, the most incredible jerk lamb chops, French truffles, and the wine flowed. We were so stuffed that night we could hardly move. It was a 5 hour food fest. Thankfully they live close, looking back I should have walked home! The last dinner we went to was bought by friends of ours, to be cooked in their home. It was donated by a family that is a restaurant legacy in Memphis. There were obviously issues right up front. The hostess was having problems getting commitment for a date. One family member left the business, and he was very likely the one who put it in the auction. But the night was finally set and we went.
Appetizers were enormous shrimp wrapped in prosciutto and pan fried. They were terrific. The other platter was celery stuffed with some sort of blue cheese dip. Now I have said over and over and over that I am a food snob. I work at the best food snob store, I shop at a great high end grocer for the best stuff and I read the blogs, magazines and books. I missed the memo on the crudite tray coming back into fashion. I was seriously disappointed. If the blue cheese had been put on crostini with a little sun dried tomato it would have been great. Blue cheese dip in a bowl with garnish, olives and great crackers, fine. But celery? Okay move on.
We were seated for dinner, and the wine was flowing. Now we are all friends, and we could have had Dominoes and had a great time. That isn't the point. The point is, someone made a hefty donation to a school we already pay tuition to, in exchange for a dinner. They got that, but it was so lackluster. I personally would have been pretty ticked off.
The first course was penne with sausage ragu and fresh basil. Okay, sausage ragu is basically sausage cooked down in a tomato sauce until it's thick. The basil was a chiffonade on top. It was very good. A huge bowl, and most of the women didn't eat it all because we didn't want to fill up on pasta. The next course was a piece of salmon. I will detail the recipe at the end. It was basically a piece of salmon topped with goat cheese and sauteed spinach. It was served by itself on a big ol' plate. It was delicious, but lonely. Okay, so I'm thinking salad. It's an Italian family, I'm Italian. We always eat salad last. But sadly, no salad. Nothing but dessert. A scoop of vanilla ice cream, 2 sliced strawberries and a balsamic reduction. Delicious and light. I'm sure it was unusual for many of the diners. That was it. Dinner was over. Within an hour one husband was pillaging the fridge for something to nibble on!
Like I said we have a great time regardless. But someone shelled out money for this event. I could have done the dinner for about $50 plus the wine. And we did drink a lot of wine. Now putting out a couple hundred dollars for these dinners is nothing, and if you own a handful of restaurants, recession or no, the ingredients are cheaper than going to Fresh Market or Kroger. I estimate the dinner of the continents was close to $800.
We had a great time, the food was good, not exceptional. But I have totally duplicated the salmon and am here to share it with you. Unfortunately I don't have a picture. I made it in California and forgot to shoot it, (the wine thing).

Great Salmon
Take your salmon fillets and season generously with salt and pepper and sear them in hot olive oil. The oil should shimmer before you put them in so they sizzle. You want a great caramelization on both sides. Remove from pan before they are totally cooked through. Place them on a rimmed cookie sheet lightly greased with olive oil.
Saute fresh spinach in a clean pan with a little fresh garlic and olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss it often so it cooks evenly. Remember that it shrinks considerably so plan portions accordingly. Remove from heat.
Take a little brown sugar and lightly cover the top of each fillet with it. Place a little goat cheese on top of each fillet and cover with a mound of the cooked spinach. Place into a hot oven, about 375. You want the sugar to melt, the cheese to soften and the salmon to finish off.
That's it. It is fabulous! We had ours in California with roasted sweet potatoes from the farmer's market. The most gorgeous potatoes I've seen. Peel and cut into wedges. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes and a tablespoon of fresh thyme. Roast until they are caramelized and cooked through. They are very addictive!
So we are getting prepared for Thanksgiving, lots of potential blogs. Pie, Pita (not like you're thinking, this is a family recipe), pimento cheese, and who knows what else! Enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Leftovers and La La Land Day 1

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I have just returned from a whirlwind, 4 day trip to California, Los Angeles area. I affectionately call it LA LA land because it is chock full of loony people. They appeared on Sunday, so stay tuned.
I arrived late on Thursday evening. So Friday we got up early to fit as much in as possible. A quick coffee, the LA Times (love that paper) and my sister Lori and I hiked Temescal Canyon. The hike was about 1 1/2 hours to Skull Rock and back. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I would have loved some photos for the blog, but you don't want to carry an extra ounce up that mountain!
We returned to Santa Monica and cleaned up for the book signing at Williams Sonoma. Ina Garten!
We thought we were planning ahead, and arrived an hour early. The line was already 3 blocks long so we jumped in with our books. The guy ahead of us had a bouquet of orange roses for Ina, her favorite. Sort of creepy that he knew that! Behind us to start were 2 young moms and their babies. They didn't plan the day well, no strollers and they didn't pre-buy the book. About 45 minutes into the queue, Williams Sonoma ran out of books so they left, even though these very nice sisters in line were willing to sell them each one of theirs. Which brings me to the real blog of the day.
Dominique and Yvette, (I sure hope I spelled those right) were the sisters in line behind us after the the babies left. We chatted for the next 45 minutes. We talked about recipes, families, Ina of course, and Thanksgiving. One of them told a funny story I can't get over. It was a dinner party she was invited to by a friend who really doesn't cook. The assortment of food was odd to her (a good cook labors over what food goes with what!), and she said the hostess was so happy when it was over because her freezer was now empty! It was a leftover party!
Leftovers! Seriously, we decided everyone hates their own leftovers, and frozen leftovers are the worst! So what would compel anyone to think that their friends wanted to eat theirs?
The first thing I did when we returned to Lori's was open the freezer to determine what would be served at her leftover party. Pretty slim pickings. Soup. About 2 bowls total. A pretty boring affair and it wouldn't really open up much space. That IS the real reason behind this sort of party right?
Now I'm home, and I have 3 freezers. So I had a "comin'-to-Jesus" with my own leftovers. First let me explain I feel guilty throwing food away. But throwing away ice covered broth I made last Thanksgiving from the turkey carcass isn't that hard. And yes, I have 4 enormous Ziplocs of 12 month old turkey broth, yum, (now there's a party waiting to happen). Trash.

There is a ragu I made from some rib eyes. Trash.
There was some chicken pesto pasta...what the heck, reheated and served that for dinner last night, I was tired from flying.
And yes, there are things I can't identify. Soups, pastas, some sort of enchiladas, maybe pulled pork....all in the trash.
I have come to the conclusion that I simply make too much. I wouldn't think of just throwing out the leftovers after dinner, but I feel no guilt throwing out the frozen remains months later. And what about those bread ends? You know the heels of a loaf? I have a bag FULL of them. I'm the only person in my house who will eat them. Sometimes I'll pack Christina a sandwich and flip it over so she doesn't know...until she bites it. So how many bread heels can I possibly eat? Why do I save this stuff? Croutons? Great idea, but I seem to just buy bread and make croutons. And one cooked bratwurst. It's pathetic and couldn't taste good at all. But I saved it! I have got to get a little freezer therapy!

Now remember, when you open the freezer and look for yourself, the Lean Cuisines and that bag of frozen shrimp don't count. We're talking leftovers. "Already been served" kind of food. I am over it. I am no longer going to store up. I am making what we will eat, I am not buying freezer bags. I think I may actually be able to unplug a fridge after this. There's an extra $10 a month of electricity to put toward that fresh food! Thanks girls for the great story and the nudge to clean up my act!
You can see it is clean! Vodka and glasses, ice cream freezers, and some baked goods I made for Thanksgiving week. But no leftover dinner from April!

Next I will blog the killer salmon I made for dinner that night, and how I came upon the recipe. For now, I need to peruse my new Ina book and make a grocery list for Italian Wedding Soup, just enough for one meal! And here's Lori and I with Ina. She was very charming, engaged everyone, and she can cook! Bet her freezer is void of leftovers!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

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Ahhhh, there are certain rituals of the seasons. The winter is all about hot chocolate, red wine, slow cooking, chili on a snowy day. Spring is asparagus, strawberry pie, and lemon poppy seed quick bread. Summer is lemonade (with a little Absolut Citron), watermelon, anything grilled. And fall is mulling spices, cider, butternut squash and pumpkin anything. But at my house, it is pumpkin muffins. Dense, fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, yummy pumpkin and studded with chocolate. They are especially good cold. Straight from the fridge or a few minutes out of the freezer. A cup of coffee or a glass of milk. I prefer them over pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pretty much pumpkin anything. You'll agree. It is a great combination and tastes just like fall....
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 2/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin (half a can, although I have dumped the whole thing in before)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Mix flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
Break eggs in another bowl and whisk in pumpkin and butter. Fold into dry ingredients, don't over mix. Add chocolate chips.
Scoop batter into muffin tin lined with papers. 12 regular sized or 24 mini muffins. Bake until puffed and springy but no longer gooey. About 20 minutes. Cool completely before storing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rainy Day Baking

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I have a headache. Not a dull achy one, but one that sneaks up on you every few minutes in the base of your head. So, after another glamorous day of work in the stockroom, I took a handful of Excedrin and hit the couch. I was aroused by the most fabulous smell....
It's cold and rainy and Christina decided baking was a better idea than getting a head start on homework. I raised her right, don't you agree? She was in the mood for oatmeal and chocolate chips, a favorite combination around here. So she whipped up a batch of some PDG cookies. (That's pretty dang good, in case you didn't know).
Here's the recipe, and a few amateur pictures, I need to teach her a little about lighting!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups flour (I use King Arthur white-whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3 Tablespoons corn syrup (light or dark)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/3 cup oatmeal (not instant)
2 cups chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a mixer cream butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg, corn syrup and vanilla and mix until blended. Add dry ingredients and when incorporated add chocolate chips.
Drop dough onto Silpat covered cookie sheets and bake about 12 minutes, or until crispy along the edges.
Cool on rack.
Makes about 60 cookies

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Good Things at Goodwill

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I drive by a Goodwill drop off a few times a week. Every time I pass, I think, "Dang, I have 7 bags of clothes in the garage". It took me months to summon up the strength to clean out all of Nic's stuff, and I can't seem to move them out of the garage. One of these days I'll remember to bring them and accept the fact that he is in uniform pretty much from here on. Last week as I passed, I noticed Goodwill had opened a bookstore. Wow! What a find!

It's a small store, clean and very organized. The clerk knew everything she had. Because of our proximity to Oxford, MS, there was a huge selection of Grisham books in hardcover, some rare books behind glass, and a section devoted solely to my favorite past

Most were give away books from food manufacturers, and a lot of collections from Time Life, Bon Apettit, and Southern Living to name a few. Tucked on one of the shelves was a Biscotti cookbook. It is by Lou Seibert Pappas, and having been at Williams Sonoma for 11 years, I can tell you she writes a lot of books. They are very specific cookbooks, Fondue, Crockery Cooking, Ice Cream, Pumpkins, to name just a few, but I had never seen this book. It was published in 1992, and has the most adorable hand drawings by Piet Halberstadt.

I looked it up on Amazon to see if it was available, and found one used copy for $20. I guess that makes my $2 book a great bargain! The original retail price was $10. I have to wonder, did paper prices explode over the last 15 years? Why are cookbooks so expensive? I wouldn't think twice about picking up books on a whim if they ran $10-$15 each. Almost every cookbook I have looked at recently is at least $35.

The book includes baking tips and about 28 recipes. Virtually every one calls for almonds which happens to be the nut I don't have on hand. So today we improvised the Double Chocolate Decadence recipe and used walnuts. The result is fabulous. I changed a few things and it is my revised recipe that follows. I can hardly wait to try another!

Double Chocolate Decadence
2/3 cup walnuts
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons strong brewed coffee
1 teaspoon good vanilla
2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons flour (I used King Arthur's white whole wheat)
1/3 cup Pernigotti cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

Toast the walnuts in a small fry pan over medium heat moving constantly to prevent burning. When the walnuts are fragrant and toasted set aside to cool.
Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add eggs, coffee and vanilla. Mix well. Add all dry ingredients and mix until they are incorporated. Fold in the chocolate and walnuts and distribute evenly.
Form 2 logs on a Silpat covered cookie sheet. The logs should be a few inches apart and extend the length of cookie sheet.
Bake at 325 for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and slide Silpat onto cooling rack. Allow logs to cool for 5 minutes or so. Slice the logs on a cutting board at a 45 degree angle and place back on cookie sheet. Bake again for about 5-10 minutes or until they are nicely toasted.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Grandma's Brownies

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Doesn't that sound fabulous? The brownie you remember your Grandma making? The problem here is twofold: One, I really don't remember my Grandma making them, my mom did and called them Grandma's, does that make them my great-gramdma's? And two, they aren't brownies at all. It's Texas sheet cake. Sadly, like many of my childhood favorites, it wasn't exclusive to the Petitti/Rohlik family. But that's okay, it is a very popular dessert and I have garnered many fans with this recipe.

The recipe is pretty easy, and other than buttermilk, most of the ingredients are on hand for the casual baker. And, I promise you'll find that buttermilk is a great ingredient to have on hand as well. Use it in pancake mix, marinate chicken in it, make real Ranch dressing...just to name a few.

The cake is a light, cocoa cake, very thin in a jelly roll pan. The star is the frosting! Soooo good! I made the recipe without nuts, but a cup of chopped pecans in the frosting or dropped on the moist frosting is a great addition. Paula Deen makes a version of this with a little more butter (surprise, surprise!) and she bakes it in a 9X13. It is delicious any way, but I love the sheet cake. It's a small, thin dessert with the richest frosting! Chill them and it turns into a small, thin dessert with fudge on top! And of course a sheet pan or jelly roll, makes a lot of servings. And yes, there is a difference in the sizes. A jelly roll pan is smaller at 15X10X1 a sheet pan is 18X13X1. Either pan will do, just keep an eye on your baking time.

Grandma's Brownies
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup strong coffee or water + 1 T instant coffee
1/4 cup dark cocoa (I like Pernigotti from Williams Sonoma)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons dark cocoa
1/4 cup milk
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine flour and sugar in bowl. In a saucepan, combine butter, shortening, coffee and cocoa. Stir and heat to boiling. Pour cocoa mixture over the sugar and flour and mix well. Add eggs, buttermilk, baking soda and vanilla. Mix well until smooth. I use a hand mixer.
Pour into greased pan, (no Pam, use Baker's Joy). Bake at 400. It will take anywhere from 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness. You will see the cake set.

During the last few minutes of baking, prepare frosting. In a saucepan heat butter, cocoa and milk to boiling. Stir often. Turn off heat. Mix in powdered sugar and vanilla with electric mixer until frosting is smooth. Add nuts now or later if desired. Pour warm frosting over hot cake.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

THE Cookie Recipe

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I know nothing about copyrights. I was afraid little old me would get in trouble if I published my yummy molasses cookie recipe on my blog. You know, the thousands of you who are nabbing it without buying the $35 book. I have since decided I'm not likely to land in jail, although I could really use a rest, and here is the recipe.
I have visions of hot chocolate, hot cider, molasses cookies. Problem is, fall has moved out of Memphis this week and we are looking at 70 something degree days. Looks like iced tea weather still. Happy Baking!

Farmer's Favorite Molasses Cookies
2 Cups Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons Sugar
1/2 Cup Shortening
1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter, slightly softened
1/4 Cup Dark Molasses
1 Large Egg

Mix first 6 ingredients together in small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat sugar, shortening, butter and molasses until well blended and fluffy. Beat in the egg until smooth. Beat in dry ingredients one half at a time until everything is incorporated. Cover and chill the dough for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350. Grease your cookie sheets. Shape dough into balls, and then I roll them in sugar. Place about 2" apart on sheet. If you prefer a flatter cookie gently press it down, if you like them a little thicker, leave it in a ball. Try it both ways!
Bake 10-14 minutes, until lightly browned on the edges. Cool completely on a wire cooling rack.
The original recipe calls for an icing instead of rolling in sugar. If you want to ice them, flatten slightly before baking, do not roll them in sugar.When the cookies are cool, spread the icing over the cookies.
Icing Recipe
2 Cups Powdered Sugar
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 teaspoons light cream or milk. More or less as needed for spreading consistency.


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!