Friday, April 30, 2010

It's not about the cookies

So I started a blog entry Wednesday night talking about the cookies I baked this week - and it was, as you can imagine how a few paragraphs about Pastry Pinwheel Cookies would be, well, it was pretty damn boring.  I was tired when I was writing it and I didn't have much to say, I figured there were a good dozen or more grammatical and typographical errors in it and in reality it was just 'filler.'  It was fulfilling the deal I made with myself to bake cookies and write about them; week 17, check.  But basically, it was crap.  Even though I try pretty hard to update my blog a few times a week and always by the end of the day every Wednesday - those few hundred words just weren't gonna cut it I slept on it - then started this, then slept on it some more.

I spent a lot of time, at very odd, and perhaps even inappropriate moments, over the past couple of days thinking about this blog and this little project of mine.  I hope it's obvious that I love being able to bake, and I'll confess that, when I have the time, I really do enjoy being able to write about it too.  And, yeah, sure I do hope someone other than myself may read it now and then, and knowing that that's a possibility kind of forces me to put more thought and effort into it than I may otherwise.  The baking and giving of cookies part of it as a project or a charitable act or good deed or whatever you want to call it, well, that's where it gets a little muddy.  You see, I really enjoy it, doing it for and working with the people at Gilda's Club certainly help to make it feel very fulfilling at times, it's nice when people comment or compliment, and of course that makes 'me' feel good...and then?  well, and then I feel bad. Because, well maybe it's my guilty conscious or Catholic upbringing, because then I get to thinking 'is that why you do this? to make yourself feel good?'  And I tell myself 'no' - and I hope I'm being honest with myself, and convince myself it's just a nice side effect of it all - but still, I can't help but thinking it's all a bit of a catch 22.

So then I thought about writing that, and decided that was being just a bit too open about everything, so I opted not to include it here - then, uh, I guess I must have thought otherwise.  Then I went back to thinking about what it is that I write about - and you know, it's an awful lot about cookies, in case you haven't noticed.  I try to make it interesting or maybe apropos of what's going on in the world - and I have no problem going into detail about baking: how I may have varied the recipe; why I chose one cookie over another; how I think they turned out, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.  I'm a detail oriented person (again, in case you haven't noticed) so the more detail the better - if there needs some explanation about the different types of flours or the merits of bittersweet chocolate over semi-sweet, then I'm your girl.  But, for whatever reason, this week, well, it just feels a little different.  Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's my mood, or maybe it's the conversations I've had or the people I've met - I know I can't quite put my finger on it, but it just doesn't feel right making small talk about salted vs unsalted butter this week.

I think more than anything I need to, or rather want to acknowledge this:  the fact that this is for people affected by, recovering from or living with cancer is definitely not, and never will be, lost on me.

Fortunately, my own experiences with cancer taught me that just because we may find ourselves in a tough, or for some, even an impossible situation, it doesn't mean there can't be hope and life and certainly some fun and enjoyment, fulfillment and clarity along the way - actually, I'm thinking 'the more, the better.'  So maybe it's alright to take all the good we can get, keep those that matter to us in our hearts, and for my part, I'll keep a cookie in the jar.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How do you say 'Dulce De Leche?'

 dool-say day lay-chay
 dull-chey dey leh-chey
 dool-seh they leh-cheh
 dool-theh deh leh-cheh

Or how does this sound? 

Any of the above will do, but if you like caramel or if you like sugar, the most basic pronunciation is simply 'delicious.'  The literal Spanish translation is "candy of milk." If you had a cookie this week, then you know what I'm talking about - if you don't like sweet, you're not gonna like this cookie  It's from my new cookbook - uh, I didn't write it, I just bought it.  Dorie Greenspan's "Baking. From my home to yours."  She's a renowned baker and food writer and authored one of my other favorite cookbooks 'Baking with Julia."   This book also recently topped the James Beard Foundation "The Baker's Dozen," a list of the thirteen best baking cookbooks of all time. As I get further into this little project, it seems as if all searches for the best "fill in the blank with your favorite type of cookie here" always leads to a Dorie Greenspan recipe.  So about a month ago when I ducked into a Barnes & Noble to use the restroom, I ended up walking out with "Baking. From my home to yours" (and NO, I did not HAVE to buy it because I took in the restroom with me, ala Seinfeld's George Costanza! :)

So I've been itching to make one of the dozens of cookie recipes from this book.  It was a toss up for the first one - her most famous recipe is a chocolate cookie she calls 'World Peace Cookies'  (and I thought I had lofty goals for a cookie?!) and the Dulce De Leche Duos.  I opted for the later simply because last weeks cookies were chocolate based ( thanks again to Heidi and Paul for doing the baking at Gilda's Club).  I loved how this batter came together, but to be honest as I was baking these cookies, I was thinking, 'this is my first disaster.'  The cookies were spreading and flattening and running together and they'd go from under-baked to nearly burnt in about 30 seconds.  I was less than thrilled.  I'd seen pictures of these cookies on the web and other blogs and they didn't look like mine - and there there were no photos in the cookbook.  In desperation, I went back and re-read the recipe to see where things had gone wrong, then I read this:
"These cookies, flavored with ready made  filling, are round and flatish (whew - but maybe just plain 'flat' is a better description!), crisp on the outside and soft, almost cakey (if there was 'almost a cookie') and just a little chewy in the their skinny centers ('skinny centers' check! yay!)."
So I guess I'm not so far off.  These cookies are definitely dangerous 'for whom with sweet-tooth' so I had to steer clear - but the one I did have?  Yeah, it was like 'candy of milk'... buttery, creamy, and visuals aside, it was delicious!

I don't really understand it, but I hear all that 'sweet' really isn't for everyone, plus these were a bit heavier on sugar and butter than what I would typically put out, so I wanted to offer a lighter alternative.  And seeing how I really love the ease of making biscotti (I'll save that explanation for another time, but it really is SO much easier than baking individual cookies), and since there's so many light & low fat recipes out there, I chose a light, non-chocolate, non-sweet, Orange-Infused Cherry Almond Biscotti.  As I'm writing this I'm realizing that last week's light cookies had dried cherries also, so I hope no one minds, and if they do?  Well, then go for the Dulce De Leche Duos, they're totally worth it!
(Due to copyright laws and out of respect for the author, I'm not posting the recipe for Dulce De Leche Duos {you probably don't really want to know what's in them anyway!}  But that's not to say a properly phrased internet search won't lead you them posted elsewhere.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pinch Hitters

So it's Wednesday, otherwise known as 'Cookie Day' at Gilda's Club.  And that's a bit of a problem this week, because, well, for starters I'm writing this Wednesday afternoon from San Francisco. Which means there's no way I could've delivered cookies earlier today. Time difference aside, I was shopping and eating and hanging out drinking wine and beer all afternoon - I know, no big surprise to those of you who know me!  But a bit of planning before I left last week, and a whole lot of help means the cookie project will not disappoint this week.

Before I took off for California I managed to bake and freeze a batch of light cookies, Chocolate Cherry Heart Smart Oatmeal cookies.  Those I had no concerns with, anyone can pop 'em out of the freezer.  However, the other cookies, Triple Chocolate Espresso Bean Cookies, which hopefully taste as delicious as they sound, wouldn't quite make the cut if they were served as big gobs of frozen dough.  But no worries here either, because thankfully I was able to sign up some pinch hitters, volunteer extraordinaire, Paul, and Gilda's club Volunteer Coordinator Heidi.  They sent along the visual proof that they baked the cookies to perfection and packaged and presented them perfectly as well!  Thanks so much to you both - I knew this weeks cookies (and very apropos back up LUNA Bars!) were in capable hands.
(The finished product! Produced, packaged & presented by Paul & Heidi! Clutch Cookie Project Pinch Hitters!!)
(This entry has been updated for all of my typos and poor grammar - if it's still wrong, then I need to go back to 6th grade!)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Welcoming Team LUNA Chix to Buffalo!

Starting now, there's a new gang of 'Chix' in town! I'm so excited to announce that Buffalo is fortunate enough to have been selected to host a new Team LUNA Chix Running Team!

So what does that mean? Well, for starters, you should know that Buffalo gets to have the backing and resources of a great national organization with a conscious, Clif Bar Company. The Team LUNA Chix program was started in 2002, by LUNA, the makers of the ‘Whole Nutrition Bar for Women’. Their goal is to simultaneously provide quality experiences that draw women onto the roads and trails, share stories and tips to help build confidence and motivate women to connect in sports and their communities, all while supporting the Breast Cancer Fund which educates women to look at their surrounding environment as a source for healthier living.
(at the LUNA Summit with Buffalo Chix Laura & Kate)

As a new run team, we'll be working hard to recruit and encourage women to get outside and come run with us and join in the fun. Part of the Team LUNA Chix goals are to inspire, support and motivate women through sport without an overly competitive environment. So whether you're looking to run your first mile or your first marathon, check us out and come run with the new Buffalo Team LUNA Chix.

Three of us just spent the weekend in Mill Valley California at the LUNA Summit, a kickoff to the season with some guidance from LUNA along with information and training on how to best launch and run our team. A BIG thank you goes out to the organizers and main contacts at LUNA, Tina & Lavonne - along with all the other great people we met from Clif Bar Company. And how very cool is it that we were able to mix and mingle with members of the LUNA Pro Teams?  We even had training 'runs' with them - I use that 'run' term very loosely on my part! But their new Run Team Pro, Jane Kibii, has got to be the tiniest, smoothest runner I've ever seen.  To see her move from the waist up, you'd swear she was on roller skates! And the Saturday run clinic and easy Sunday run were really fun as well.  Jane just edged me out on Saturday at our 6 minute track run time trial (after she lapped me a few times!) and I had a chance to chat with Triathlon Team Pro, Terra Castro.  It was so nice to meet such a poised and positive endurance athlete; in the short chat we had I was very impressed with her level head and balanced approach to life and sport - it really is a rarity.  And, uh, I 'think' she's kind of 'fit' too ... as she trotted along beside me as I struggled at the end of my 3 mile run while she was putting the wraps on 22 miles!  She's tapering for her Kona bid at the upcoming Ironman St George in a few weeks, so be sure to root on our fellow LUNA Chick! 

When you have a chance check out the Team LUNA Chix website, I've been assured our Buffalo Team 'dot' and links to our local team page will be added soon to the main page. The beginnings of our local webpage and team information is here and we'll be posting our run schedule soon, I promise!

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with the cookie project?  Well, yeah, you're right, other than the fact that I'm not home to bake cookies this week, not a whole hell of lot at the moment.  But those LUNA bars, well they're worth writing home about, so just you wait, 'cause I have a feeling it's all going to come together eventually!

Now get outside and play! That's what I'm going to do!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Got Oreos?

(so, is a picture worth 1000 words? Maybe a few hundred anyway, sorry for the late post.)

Got Milk? 'Cause if you've got Oreos, then you most definitely need milk.  Some things are just better together, 'like peas & carrots' as Forest Gump would say - although I prefer the chocolate and peanut butter combination myself. 

I guess when you've been around the kitchen awhile, you acquire things. Some very useful things - things like a KitchenAide mixer and Silpat baking sheets; some very 'gadget-y' things - like the 'hand carved' wooden rack puller from the Maine State Prison store (don't ask); some very valuable things - like antique McCoy Cookie Jars; some very apropos things - like cookie & milk emblazoned cups and plates; some very sentimental things - like Milk Bottles from Lockport's original Castles Dairy and some far off namesake 'Hoffman's' Dairy; and some very thoughtful things - like a Milk Truck Oreo Cookie Jar.  So when you've been baking cookies for awhile, it's only a matter of time before you find the perfect occasion to pull them all together and put all those 'things' to good use.

When I ran across the recipe for Homemade Oreos on one of my favorite food blogs, the Smitten Kitchen, I knew immediately that I'd be baking them. It was obvious given their iconic value, not to mention all the great 'props' I have to go along with them - it was inevitable.

And there you have it, the 'proclamation' that MILK is 'Nature's Most Nearly Perfect Food,' which is as good as you can get because the Oreo Cookie (in a photo finish with Chocolate Chip) IS Nature's Perfect Food!

Just a few notes on the cookies: I also made a light biscotti this week, Orange Chocolate, a variation of the Lemon and White Chocolate in Week 7, for the non-Oreo lover, as I'm sure there are one or two of those in the world! As for the Oreos, I thought the taste of the wafers was dead on. If you review the recipe,(with pictures FAR superior to mine) the only changes I made was using regular Hershey's Cocoa because that's what I had enough of.  For the filling, I did two things to improve the nutritional value (if there is such a thing for an Oreo! :) . First I reduced the fat in the filling by nearly half, by simply cutting back on both the butter and shortening and replacing it with a little milk until I got the right consistancy.  Which was the biggest change in the cookie, all that fat is intended to make the filling very firm, with the milk swap it was much softer, but still tasted good.  And the other big improvement is that I invested in the Organic, Non Hydrogenated, No Transfat Shortening.  Some of the recipes I've run across still use shortening, and while I know cookies by nature are indulgent, this wasn't something I wanted to continue to use, so from here on out, it's No Trans Fat for the Cookie Project ... But being true to Julia Child, there will always be butter!