Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Happy Birthday Happy Birthday!

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It's a birthday for twins! What fun...I was thrilled to make birthday take home favors for the Grand-Twins (also known as the Twinkies) of my favorite boss.
She is the proud Gramma of the twins, and their little sister. It makes me tired just thinking about all that energy! Sara loved the colors of the Lily inspired shower I did awhile back and wanted the same bright happy colors for her cookies. It was my pleasure. I sort of did his and her colors for the twins, and hopefully they matched the little girl twin's Lily party dress. Hopefully there were a few leftovers for those exhausted parents!

Friday, July 22, 2011

M and M Monster Cookies

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So yes, I have a few new cookbooks hanging about. Covers that beckoned me from afar. And then the mood or necessity arises for me to bake, and there I am back in my family file of recipes. Back to the tried and true. Most people have a recipe box. I have a recipe tub file. Whatever works, right!? I've settled on M&M Monster Cookies. A recipe given to me by a gal I worked with one summer in my dad's offices, about 25 years ago, Tina Coyne. (Wonder where she is?) The cookies are full of stuff, have a peanut butter base, and are pretty dense. I remember the recipe making a large amount, so everyone is happy!

It has a pretty extensive list of ingredients, but no flour. But the recipe does take enormous amonts of oatmeal, peanut butter and eggs. It calls for a one-pound bag of M&Ms which I'm certain they sold 22 years ago. Now, however, I could only find a 14 ounce bag. So buy 2 or add in some chips! The recipe makes 90+ cookies that are scooped with an ice cream scoop, so they are pretty big. I do have a few of these flourless cookies, see peanut butter cookies from my very first post. It was rather nostalgic for me to look back. My first post was after sending Nic off to college, 18 years old. A lot happens in 3 years. Everything went as planned to a point. But 2 dislocated shoulders later, Nic is heading to U of Oklahoma this fall. And Christina is heading off to college. A new phase for everyone.

I used my Kitchen-Aid mixer, and the dough was teetering on the top of the bowl, mind you it's a 6qt. bowl. So you'll need a big bowl, heavy mixer, (or strong arms) and time. I baked 9 cookies to a sheet, 12 minutes baking time at 350 Convection Bake. They don't really spread much, but because of their size I doubt you could fit a dozen on a sheet. I know a batch this size is overwhelming to many, so stay organized, and do it in steps.

I used a medium size scoop from you know where. These cookies aren't great made small. Size matters! Remember to move the sheets from front to back and upper shelf to middle shelf halfway through the baking time.
They are a perennial favorite around here. They travel well, taste delicious and are truly satisfying. So, what are you waiting for? Ge in there and bake!

M & M Monster Cookies
6 large eggs
1 pound light brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons white corn syrup
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 pound butter, unsalted, softened
1 1/2 pounds peanut butter, smooth or chunky
9 cups quick cooking oatmeal
1 pound M & Ms
Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and mix well. Add everthing else and scoop with ice cream scoop. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes or until golden. Do not overbake!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Mason Dixon Barbecue

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This post is about Barbecue, but first a little history lesson.
For those of you unfamiliar, the Mason Dixon was a line of demarcation set up in the late 1700's to divide the British Colonies during colonization. In the 1820's it became a border of the North and the South. The funny thing is people refer to it today, but I don't think anyone knows where it really is. I was thinking here, in the deep South, or maybe Atlanta area, but it actually divides Pennsylvania and Delaware from W. Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. Who knew? Thanks Wikipedia.

One of my Southern friends and I like to have Mason Dixon meals. She brings the deviled eggs, the cheese grits, pecan tassies, the typical Southern fare. I bring the eclectic dishes that have been morphed from the melting pot of industrialization. Ceasar salad, spanikopita, lasagna. But no where is that imaginary line more prevalent than in Barbecue. So here is my little list of differences.
Southern Smoked Ribs

Beer Can Chicken on the Grill

North-Barbecue is a verb-"We are going to barbecue this weekend."
South- Barbecue is a noun- "We are going to eat barbecue this weekend."

North-chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, pork chops, steak
South- Pork in most states, beef in Texas

North-Direct heat over charcoal
South-Indirect heat with lots of smoke

North-Ketchup, mustard, relish
South-Barbecue sauce, vinegary in the Carolinas, sweet and smoky in the South, mesquite to the West.

North-lettuce, tomato, pickle
South-slaw, yep, the slaw goes on top of the meat on the bun for pulled pork

So, as you can see, my tongue in cheek list demonstrates the big difference. Semantics. Years ago, when I sent an invite to the baseball team for a " Barbecue", people were surprised when we grilled burgers and brats. And one of the first years in Memphis, my cousin and her husband (a Louisiana native) came to visit and we grilled ribs. Rookies. You don't grill ribs on a grill. You can, but trust me, after 20 years in the South and much experimenting, you smoke ribs. Slow, for 5 hours or so, with a little smoke, pecan, apple, hickory, whatever you like, and some home made sauce.

I've learned a lot living here. We still invite friends over to grill out. Steaks or chops on the grill. But we also invite friends for barbecue, ribs or brisket, smoked for hours and basted with sauce. Either way it's dinner and it's delicious. So, what are you waiting for? Fire it up!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

As Seen On TV

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I like to watch TV. There I said it. I really thought my career would be based in television. I have my regular programs. Usually the Today show in the mornings. CBS Sunday Mornings on Sunday. The reality shows, Bachelorette, Survivor, Big Brother, Pawn Stars, Whale Wars. I know, pretty pathetic right. Let's not forget Finding Bigfoot. I also TiVo Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef. I'm not a huge fan of the Food Network shows, but always enjoyed Michael Chiarello and the irreverent Anthony Bourdain.

I don't usually go back and hunt down recipes I've seen made on the shows. I think of a cooking demo on TV like a recipe in a cookbook. Read it through, understand what the idea is, and then improvise. I have gone back to a Top Chef Just Desserts recipe because it was Rice Crispies and Nutella, and then there was the 4th of July and the Today show s'mores.

I am normally not a cookie bar kind of person, but I really love a s'more. Toasted marshmallows are one of my favorites. This pastry chef, Anne Thornton made her s'mores with a graham crust, melted chocolate and toasted marshmallows. Not exactly earth shattering, certainly not original, but I was happy someone figured out all the proportions in the crust for me! She also added some smoked chipotle chili powder to give hers a kick. I opted not to. The verdict. Um...yum. I cut them very small and we all ate a lot of them. I mean they were good. The best part was I whipped them up in no time. A great standby recipe for sure! So what are ya waiting for? Watch a little TV and get in there and bake!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Obsessed With Bigfoot

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Okay, I know it may make you chuckle. But tonight is the finale of Finding Bigfoot on the Animal Planet. I have always had this crazy thing about Bigfoot. As a kid, I remember the mysteries of Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle and Loch Ness Monster. I was intrigued. I looked (look) for Bigfoot any time we are driving through a woodsy area. I have never had a Bigfoot encounter, and frankly I would rather I didn't. But I sure wish someone would bag one.
Pikes Peak National Park

My dad spent most of his middle age hunting all over North America. He spent the night in many remote areas, and he says he is sure he would have seen or heard a Bigfoot or an alien if any existed. I know he would have loved such an encounter. Frankly, if he had a Bigfoot encounter, he would be standing next to this guy in his game room.
Alaska Brown Bear

So one night this summer as we watched Whale Wars (a show I refuse to discuss on my blog), a commercial came on for a show called Finding Bigfoot. We were beside ourselves. In the Memphis heat, after a day on the bike trail, or by the pool or at work, we love to gather for some great mindless summer TV. Sometimes we even watch on the porch, but most of the time it is too hot, even at night! So we decided to watch. It is hilarious. I have learned a lot however. There are many people who have had Squatch encounters. They have baited him with Zagnut bars (who knew?). He howls, high or low pitched, there are hunters on the show that are proficient at each call. And one hunter is rather Squatch-like and he is always the one they use to recreate the photos. These are no kill Squatch hunters, so even if they find him, there will be no stuffed Squatch at the Smithsonian. Just photos and video that we will all doubt.
Of course I was compelled to make cookies. Nothing extravagant. I just had some cookies in the freezer and some left over icing and I did a quickie cookie job for Squatch. Don't judge.

Tonight in the finale, I'm sure if there is any great scientific proof it'll be on the Today show in the morning. For now...keep your eyes peeled. There is a site devoted to Bigfoot sightings and he has been spotted right here in Western Tennessee. How cool is that. I have no Zagnut bars, but I do have some killer cookies! Happy Baking!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I Scream For Ice Cream

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Chocolate Gelato

I always loved that ice cream ditty as a kid. But the truth is, I make ice cream about one time in the summer, I guess I am not exactly screaming for it. But it is sooo easy to make, and people just can't believe you made ice cream. As one of my friends always asks, "Did you know they sell that at the grocers in multiple flavors, already made?" Yea, but that's no fun.

On a recent trip to Michaels, I found these cute ice cream accessories. I need hobby retail therapy, I cannot help myself... I bought them. Now I had to make ice cream! Cute cardboard sugar cone covers and the little swirly colored cups with lids and little wooden spoons. Oh, I covet those little wooden spoons. I decided with a house full of hungry fireworks watchers it seemed the perfect dessert for a hot 4th of July.

Both types I made are custard based. Basically they are cooked dairy and eggs. I did run into a few issues, and found a solution. I made both Peppermint Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Gelato. My first problems came when I was cooking the custard. The first one separated into a thick gloppy mess. I knew the eggs didn't scramble when I added the cream, so they crossed the line back in the pot. A quick whir in the blender smoothed it out perfectly.

I use something called Peppermint Snow for this ice cream. It is crushed peppermint in a jar, and is sold at yes, WS during the holidays. When it hits the clearance table in January, I buy up 3 jars for a cool summer treat. Check out these bon bons from last summer. I think the ice cream would be tasty with some chocolate chunks instead of chips too. I used what I had.

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
3 cups half and half
¼ cup light corn syrup
6 egg yolks
⅓ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla paste
½ cup peppermint snow
½ cup chocolate chips or chunks

Bring 2 cups of half and half and corn syrup to a simmer in a saucepan. Remove from heat. In a metal bowl, whisk yolks and sugar and carefully add the hot cream into the egg/sugar mixture while constantly whisking. You do not want to scramble the eggs. When the hot cream is all blended in, pour back into the pan and cook for about 5 minutes until the custard is thick. You want to be able to trace a path across the back of a spoon with your finger. DO NOT BOIL. If you do, note the above instructions, all is not lost.

Pour the custard through a sieve set over a bowl. Add half of the peppermint snow and stir until they are melted. It will turn the ice cream a dirty pink. This is the time to add a little pink food coloring if you like to make it prettier. Add the vanilla paste and the last cup of half and half and mix well. Cover and chill thoroughly for a good couple of hours.

Transfer to an ice cream maker and process according to the directions. Add the last of the peppermint and chocolate chips and stir in before freezing. It is best within a few hours. If it freezes longer, let it sit out for 10 minutes before scooping.

Then I went to Chocolate Gelato. Gelato is made with milk vs. cream, so it is a little lower in fat, but the curdling issue is still there. I ran into custard problems again, it seemed to curdle a little, but did not thicken. So I blended it and then put it back on the stove and it thickened rather quickly. This gelato is made with both bittersweet chocolate and Pernigotti Cocoa. To say it is rich would be an understatement. The gelato is best served right after it is made so it is smooth and creamy.

Chocolate Gelato
3 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
½ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 Tablespoon vanilla paste
¼ cup Pernigotti Cocoa

In a saucepan bring milk to a simmer. Remove from heat and in another bowl whisk eggs, sugar and corn syrup together . Slowly add hot milk while whisking to be careful to not scramble eggs. Return it all back to saucepan and cook on low stirring until custard thickens and you can draw a path across the back of a spoon. DO NOT BOIL. But if you do, see above, it is salvageable.

Pour custard through sieve into a clean bowl. Add chocolate and stir until it is melted. Then add vanilla and cocoa. Mix well and chill a few hours before processing. Put into ice cream maker about 30 minutes before you wish to serve it. It tastes best when smooth and creamy.

A note on ice cream makers. I use an old Krups machine. Basically it has a bowl that you put in the freezer for about 8 hours. You then put the chilled ice cream mixture in it and there is a paddle like attachment that goes around the inside of the bowl and scrapes off the frozen mixture. It's a pretty easy machine. I know people who swear by the White Mountain ice cream makers with the rock salt and the crank or motor. I have never had the pleasure of using one, so I can't judge. I just got my free Kitchen Aid attachment ice cream maker that came with my new mixer, but I see no reason to use it. I will probably regift it. So go get your cones and your wooden spoons and cool off with a home made ice cream.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

There Will Be Cakes

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My favorite holiday has come and gone. The 4th of July brings back terrific childhood memories. Summer days floating in black innertubes on Lake Delavan. Fireworks at the school "in town". Sparklers by the box and the parents with the familiar warnings, and the black snakes that we would light and watch shrivel over the pavement. I don't remember any specific food, but we had "lake food" all summer that we were there. Boiled hot dogs, home made bratwurst on the beach, ice cream sandwiches and drumsticks dripping all over our swimsuits. And then 2 days birthday!

What I remember NOT having was coolers of water, soda and Gatorades, boxes of packaged snacks, bowls of candy laying around. How is it that we didn't die of thirst without cases of water on ice? And soda was never in the fridge. We would sometimes beg to go into the Log Cabin (a bar) and get a Coke on tap in the frosted plastic cup with the pastel striped straw. The straws would adorn our sand castles. If we were hungry throughout the day, we never complained about it. Frankly, my mom and Aunts couldn't get us out of the water.

The local grocery store was called Sentry. After a little Google, I found it is still there. New owners, and I couldn't find the Lake Delavan cake on the site. It is the cake my mom and aunts would buy, chocolate, white icing and the sides were covered in chocolate jimmies. I don't remember loving this cake, I remember it as a fixture of my summer at the lake. So, as the birthdays approached, mine and Christina's, I thought I might reproduce this cake.

Christina requests chocolate cake every year. No exception. I prefer and angel food cake, as you may know if you read about my birthday last year. So it was two cakes this year. Hers and mine. Devil and Angel. I went to my favorite website, and perused recipes. Why would I bother with the 500 cookbooks I own? Jeez. I am far too dependent on my Mac. So here are the results.
Chocolate Lake Delavan Cake

Angel Food

I opted for a seven minute icing on the angel food, tinted purple (Christina's request). The cakes were a hit! Delicious! Another year passed...Happy Baking!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sharing Your Birthday

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Yes, I share my birthday. Eighteen years ago (on July 3), I went and saw my OB on a Friday morning. I had been on bed rest, swelling to kingdom come in the Atlanta heat and I was sure he would say," let's get this baby out." But he apparently had to get to the lake to enjoy his 4th of July, and he sent me home. I was allowed one outing to see the fireworks, and I had a scheduled C-Section on Monday. "But that's my birthday!" I protested. He was pretty sure I would go into labor over the weekend, so no big deal. Of course, that was not to be. We headed to the hospital bright and early on July 6. I spent the day with a pitossin drip and my very overdue baby was born. Christina looked like she was 2 months old. And I was given the most special birthday gift a mom could ever have.

So sharing a birthday over the years has been interesting. When she was young, I could throw her party on whatever day was most convenient, close to the real day. On the actual birthday, we would decide where to go eat and I would make a joint cake. Growing up, my sister and dad had birthdays next to each other so my mom always made 2 heart cakes and they said Happy Dad on one, and Birthday Lori on the other. For a number of years, Christina and I had the same tradition. The cakes were usually made last minute, "gotta get that picture!".

Because the birthday is so close to the 4th, you never know where we'll be. Or where the friends will be. You can't always get all those friends together that close to a holiday. We have spent a few on the road as well. The header picture is one of my favorites. That is our birthday in 2002. We are having breakfast in an old time family diner in Albany, NY on our way to Cooperstown for a baseball tournament. Needless to say we had a store bought cake that year!

But both of my kids want a commercially decorated cake with colored frosting and some cool design. So it has been a balancing act for 18 years. Scott likes to be in control of the cakes, so that means he calls the cake lady. One year our cake looked like a hamburger...hilarious. Admittedly, we often have a couple of cakes. Sometimes I am not baking and the store bought deal is the only cake. Other years, I whip up those hearts at the last minute so I don't have to eat that store bought cake. I don't mind baking a cake. I am not a fan of decorating cakes. Crazy right? Lay out a few hundred sugar cookies, and hours later I am still decorating. Give me a cake, and I will slop on the icing and quick write if I have to. Just not my thing.

Last year Christina was away, so I got my very favorite (I made it of course). This year, it is 2 cakes. Hers and Mine. Devil's Food and Angel Food. I'm okay with that, the fact I make both. It is a banner summer, probably the last where both kids are home all summer, I am enjoying the many parties, the abundance of teenagers in the pool, the wet towels all over, the half empty cups left upstairs. In a short month, it is going to be very quiet here. So bring on the cake, the candles, the friends. Happy Birthday to us! Stay tuned for the cakes and Happy Baking!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It Must Be Wedding Season!

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There are certain things I really hate to do. Making beds is one. I don't know why I detest this job so much, but I would really rather just close the door. However....I do make it. At least on days that I am the last one out, that is sort of the rule around here. Last one out has to make the bed, seems fair, right?

For Christina's graduation party, we were working on the menu for a few days, adding and taking away items, and my friend Rosalie was having a party the day after ours. We compared notes, and she offered to make deviled eggs for me. Hmmm, there's another job I really hate. I'll make egg salad every day, but deviled eggs, no way. She made me dozens of the little buggers with a tiny slice of a home made pickle on top. I just love Southerners. So of course, I had to think of a little reciprocation.

Back in April when I was making the cookies for the Something Borrowed premiers, Rosalie came over and saw the cookies and loved them. And why not, they were pretty cool! She said she had a friend recently engaged and was hoping I would have a few extras. As things go, I make a few extras, but since I was driving hundreds of miles to drop off the cookies, I hated to not have a few extras along, and I left her empty handed. So this week she is throwing a shower for the happy couple and I am naturally, making cookies. Engagement rings and little cakes with some heart accents. Just for her!

And as fate would have it, I got a phone call from a woman who was at Rosalie's party. She was getting together with her kids for the holiday and they all have July anniversaries. She was hoping I could whip up a dozen cookies in 2 days. Normally it wouldn't happen, but when the cookies are spread out and there is dough in the fridge, why not! So here are her wedding cakes, which I really love to decorate! Happy Baking!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The 4th of July!

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My favorite holiday is upon us. The 4th of July brings back terrific childhood memories. Summer days floating in black innertubes on Lake Delavan. Fireworks shows that we oohed and ahhed at, laying on our backs on top of worn quilts. My own children have vastly different memories. No cousins to be found, many baseball fields, the country club, the beach, or our own little hamlet's fireworks. But no matter where we are, there is something magical about the birthday of our country. So naturally, we bake.

I am the first to admit that I am inspired by many cookie bakers. Cookie mavens like LilaLoa, Sweet Sugar Belle and Sweetopia. These are the blogs I read all the time. Accomplished women like these offer tutorials, tips, hints and great inspiration for bakers like me. I am small time (for now!) and appreciate that they are so willing to share their wealth of knowledge. LilaLoa says on her blog, she is terrible at keeping secrets and will tell you everything. I love that! She is a very humorous writer , kinda like someone else I know. But truly that is why many of us blog, it is sharing information, accomplishments, and ideas. I always try and give credit where credit is due. SweetSugarBelle inspired me to do the black outline on the stars and stripes, and I think it made a huge difference. LilaLoa makes a lot of her cookies chocolate and that dark background gives it great effect.

The black outlines remind me of my sister Patti. She is about 8 years older than me, so when I was just learning to color in the lines, she would come along and outline those pictures in darker colors or black and then gently color them in. I was so taken with the effect, I copied it and did it with my own kids. So why I didn't think of doing it on cookies, I don't know. But I love it. So here is the Patriotic Roundup.