Thursday, May 27, 2010

Looking for a 'Do Over'

Nah .. not with the cookies - I managed to get a big batch of Light Toffee Biscotti and some old fashioned Peanut Butter cookies (from my Mom's own original 'Joy of Cooking') out to Gilda's Club and Ronald McDonald House this week before I had to head out of town for a few days for a work conference (so I get a pass on the late Blog update too) and hoping I didn't upset anyone's routine by dropping them off on a Tuesday!

So yes, the cookies were fine, but what was more distressing to me this week was all the bad press focused on Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.  Well, not just bad press, but embarrassing video and cold hard facts.  She's had some issues in the past, but you always got the impression that she was being unfairly portrayed and hounded by the British Press.  My impression of her was that she was feisty and did what she had to to protect and provide for her daughters and stand up to the Queen.  In person she was normal, and genuine and funny and gracious - and I know this because I've met her.  Yup, live and in person, actually, I believe she's the only real celebrity I've ever met without having had to stalk them first (which means Bruce Springsteen doesn't count! :)

In 2007 I got an award from Weight Watchers when the Duchess was their spokesperson. As a result, Weight Watchers flew me and a friend, my BFF Cindy pictured with us, to DC for a little award luncheon and we all got to meet her and have 'photo ops.'  It was fun, and sure I was a bit star struck, but also very inspired and impressed by Sarah's speech and her Weight Watchers story.  She was entertaining and sincere and I was happy to have met her and proud to have her as 'my' Weight Watchers spokesperson. Weight Watchers even sent me a set of the professional photographs and a nice framed shot of Sarah and I.  It was a legitimate 'celebrity' meeting - unlike some of the other encounters I've had, like seeing Ethan Hawk across the room in a New York City diner or the NY Giants coach (at the time), Bill Parcells (whose name I couldn't remember) in a Dallas restaurant, or following Bobby Flay around Wegmans not even sure if it was him or not.

No, this was real, and based on that alone I was bound to like her - to a point where I'd want to defend her.  But you've got admit, this time it's a little tough to do - but I'm SURE she's got a good explanation ... even Dave seems thinks so:

See what can happen when you stop going to Weight Watchers meetings!? This should be a lesson to us all! I'm telling you this is not looking good - and I'm not even sure Oprah will be able to save her soul now.  Frankly I'm pissed, my only brush with fame, my only good celebrity photograph is now just an embarrassment.  And I don't think Weight Watchers is gonna be giving me any awards these days or let me have a do over with their new spokesperson, Jennifer Hudson (too many cookies, perhaps? :)  So I had no choice but to take it upon myself to remedy the situation - and I'm SURE no one will be the wiser!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Worth the wait?

I'm referring to the cookies, not this blog entry! But let me tell you, if it says 'Non-Drowsy' on the box, I'd read the fine print to see exactly what they mean by that, because I now believe that it's just letting you know you'll skip that drowsy feeling altogether and go straight into a Claritin induced coma! As my chin was hitting my chest I was entirely oblivious to my hands resting on the keyboard.  Gulliver's stare and dog breath couldn't even wake me as I slept semi-upright slumped over my laptop last night. But he's not one to give up all that easily when he's looking for his evening treats and a few swipes of his tongue in my ear and up my nose brought me back to a semi-conscious state and computer screen full of  "aa;dklladkla;jklfaaaaaaaaa" ... you get the picture, so I apologize, but I knew I couldn't do it justice knowing I had to write about the best chocolate cookie I've ever tasted!

Honestly.  I would think there would be a lot of disappointed people knowing the high expectations that come with something called 'World Peace Cookies.'  I'm going to look up why she chose this name, but I can attest that it's not all that far off.  From what I've read from various pastry chefs and other blogs, the secret is the salt.  I know, huh?  And yes, just about every baked good has salt, but this cookie has 'Fluer de Sel.' Which according to Wikipedia, Fleur de sel is a type of sea salt obtained by hand harvesting the "young" crystals that form on the surface of salt evaporation ponds, which must be why it's also so damn expensive - but SO worth it.  I think this recipe called for only a half teaspoon, but you can taste a hint of it in every bite, and that along with the bittersweet chocolate, do I need to go on?

Another great thing about these cookies is that they are incredibly easy to make.  The dough is very uncomplicated - it does get rolled into a log an refrigerated before you slice and bake them, but I LOVE that, it means I can do part of the work ahead of time. Oh, and one more thing, there's no eggs in the dough, not as if that would ever stop me, but if you wanted to lop off a chunk and forgo that whole 'baking' part you could do it without a worry - and it would be delicious - I can also attest to that! So yes, I'd been eyeing these cookies and had wanted to make them for some time, but was sure they wouldn't follow through on the hype - and I'm very happy to announce I was wrong, what can I say, there's a first time for everything! :) 

With what I felt was one 'home run' in the oven I wasn't sure what to bake to go along with it (for those crazy fools that don't care for chocolate). To be honest I really wanted to do a peanut butter cookie to compliment it, but didn't have the right ingredients on hand (like peanut butter, for instance!). So, I decided to go ahead with another cookie I've been wanting to bake for some time.  Well, technically it's not a 'cookie' at all, but homemade graham crackers.  And they sure didn't disappoint, but they also didn't look like the  'beautiful crackers' on the Smitten Kitchen site.  I can't tell you how hard I tried to have the 'cracker holes' in mine, I think my dough was a bit too moist, next time I'm going to weigh, rather than measure, the flour and see if there's difference since I noticed the later crackers held their shape better after being floured and rolled a few times, but either way, the taste was definitely there. So yes, they were a bit labor intensive, but another one that can be done in stages and obviously stores and keeps well.  I did have a few issues with having to
bake 'crackers' and occasionally crossing those fine lines between being under done (and therefor not totally 'crisp' but still had awesome graham cracker flavor), perfectly crisp and then burnt, or shall we say 'overdone' since as far as I'm concerned none were inedible.  I know, not a surprise coming from me - but the ones that were slightly singed on the bottom didn't taste burnt at all and of course were very crispy and delicious. These were definitely a time commitment but I assure you the end result is a great payoff.

After all this, I was still in a bit of a dilemma about cookies for the Ronald McDonald house.  I always tend to do something a bit heartier and less delicate, and the quantities for the other cookies would've had me rolling and baking graham crackers for days.  But I didn't want to short change them either so out comes one of the finalist recipes for the Pillsbury Bake Off that I'd saved for just such an occasion.  Caramel Filled Chocolate cookies.  I was thinking they might be a bit easier, since it's technically a drop cookie but I was wrong about that too.  It's not a cutout, so that was good, but you roll the cookie dough into balls and then wrap it around a Rolo candy!! Cool, right?  Forget the Hershey's Kisses and peanut blossoms, I thought this was simply genius!  And I'll give myself credit for buying the rolls of non-individually wrapped Rolo's instead of a bag of them or from bulk where I'd have to unwrap each one - looks like there's room for more than one genius with this cookie! :)  I've gotta tell you these were really delicious too - chocolate cookies with a chewy caramel center and then rolled in pecans - seriously, what's not to love?  And fear not RMH folk, I'm sensing there's a batch of World Peace Cookies in your future so you won't miss out on that one.

Phew, there was a lot of baking going on in my house this past week - all of this along with a few 'side jobs' for well deserving people left my house smelling great for days - and before long I'll have to clear the deck and rack 'em up and do it all again .... I love this project!

(I do have some of my own pictures to add, but can't seem to locate my camera at the moment - I'll edit for photos as soon as I find it.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dangerous Blogging ...

I not would recommend one attempts to write after you allergy medicine take - today's cookie post will have to tomorrow till wait zzzzzzzzzz

(Post Script:  to the few folks who've emailed me, and to anyone reading this, I know! :) ... the grammar, although not far from my average ability, is more reflective of my trying to write in the middle of a major 'head bob' incident.  I haven't been bothered by outdoor allergies in years, but it hit me like a brick this Wednesday morning - I thought taking something was a good idea - it did help with my clogged head and watery eyes, but not so much with my ability to blog! :) 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tea Time

I'm more of coffee drinker myself, which is probably why I enjoy making all those biscotti so much.  But this weeks cookies have 'Tea' written all over 'em. Especially the 'Pain d'amande' from one of my "cookie project's previously unknown to me but very famous" pastry chef's Flo Braker.

I will concur with other online bakers that they are not only seriously delicious (one food blogger even referred to them as "the best tea cookies on the planet"), but they are also very easy to make.  Since I made the dough a day ahead, I can imagine that they're also a pretty convenient cookie to have on hand in the refrigerated or frozen form and can be ready to bake at any moment.  But since I'm not June Cleaver, spending the entire day doing household choirs and standing at the ready waiting to whip up a batch of Wally & the Beav's favorite cookies and timing it just right so they're hot out of the oven when they get home from school, but then, I'm guessing you kind of knew that already. And while I have done 'High Tea' at the Savoy while on vacation in London (but mercifully didn't have to pay for it, thanks to my sister's generosity and her American Express card - thanks Ann! :),  I can't say I've ever done the 'ladies luncheon' thing either - as much as I LOVE the idea of planning and cooking for one, but making and stocking frozen cookie dough isn't something I typically do. No, I'm better off baking 'em fresh, and then getting them the hell out of my house, since my commitment to Weight Watchers can only be expected to go just so far! Twenty four hours is probably about the limit of my 'cookie resistance' so just as well that I'm not stocking frozen dough, since I'm pretty sure I'd be in danger of cracking a tooth when I would inevitably be compelled to "check" on it in the freezer. And nope, eating raw eggs - even if they're frozen - doesn't seem to deter me either, especially when they're disguised in butter and sugar and nuts and deliciousness. But if you're a baker, then these are definitely worth a try, they are light and crispy-crunchy and have a great delicate flavor - they'd even be worthy of a momentary switch from coffee to tea!

As much as I loved the idea of baking the almond tea cookies, I wanted to provide something a bit less fragile and with a bit more substance (and nut free) to go along with them.  For awhile I've been wanting to make an old fashioned cottage cheese cookie.  I can remember my mom baking batches of cakey cottage cheese cookies when I was growing up.  At first, I thought they were 'gross' and refused to taste them because it seemed so weird to be putting cottage cheese in cookies. But duh! not much different from my absolute favorite, sour cream cookies, plus of course they also had butter and sugar and were absolutely sensational! I laugh when think of things like that these days - for similar reasons I would NEVER eat cheesecake.  My mom made it once or twice a year for special occasions, and I just could never understand why everyone in my family loved it so much - I'd help her make it with all those eggs and cream cheese (which I wasn't a fan of at the time either, stupid me) and her recipe had cottage cheese in it also. I think I must've been about 16 years old before I finally actually tried cheesecake. Not unlike my nephew vacationing with his parents all those years in Maine and opting for chicken fingers when he could've had lobster - we figured it out eventually.  And what did I think when I finally tasted cheesecake?  Well, of course, I was furious!  All those years and all those cheesecakes I had missed out on!  Life didn't seem fair! There should've been a memo! Why hadn't anyone told me how freaking delicious it was?! Well actually on that one, if you've ever seen my brother Mike guarding his 'birthday cheesecake' then you know exactly why, if one less person ate from his prized birthday cake, then it meant there'd be more of it left for him!  He's expert at doling out the 'skinny slice' and don't even think about asking for seconds.

Mmm Cheesecake .... wait, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, cookies .. in my quest for a great cottage cheese cookie I stumbled upon a well reviewed recipe from Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network site and figured her recipe for Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze would definitely fit the bill.  I also thought the cakey texture and the fresh, rich lemon flavor would be a great contrast to pair with the almond cookies.  The cookies definitely did not disappoint on flavor and texture, though they were a bit more labor intensive and time consuming than a standard drop cookie.  I'm hoping they held up ok after packaging since the moist cookie and thin glaze can tend to condensate a bit when packaged - but with any luck they'll get eaten up before all the glaze starts to liquefy and sticks to the wrapper - but if it does I don't think anyone would fault you for trying to scrape and lick it out of there.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Holiday Baking

So it's back to the cookies and the first week of May is a busy one.  I'd already missed my shot at baking 'Kentucky Derby' cookies - though I don't quite know what those would've been, I've never run across a 'Mint Julep' cookie, though I'm sure I could've come up with something appropriate, but I opted for the spring like pinwheels last week instead.

Happy Cinco De Mayo.  I wracked my brain all weekend trying to come up with a cookie appropriate for the holiday.  And then I realized that a perfect Cinco De Mayo cookie would've been the Dulce De Leche Duos, but "D'oh" I just made those a few weeks ago.  I won't pretend to know much about Mexican or Spanish cuisine or baking, but ruling out the caramel cookies didn't leave a whole lot of viable options.  I preferred to avoid the obvious 'Mexican Wedding Cake' cookies because they are just too heavy on the butter and fat, which really only left me with a chocolate/cinnamon/spice geared cookie - a very traditional Mexican dessert flavor combination.  The spices really enhance the chocolate flavor and you typically don't really notice the cayenne pepper in the final product. I found a great recipe from Bon Appetit and hoped it would be a winner: Mexican Chocolate Cherry Rounds - which are topped with cherries (the version that went to Gilda's) but it can be varied too - nuts, cinnamon red hot (the version that went to Ronald McDonald House) or just left plain - which I wish I'd done - more on this later.

And then, you take Cinco De Mayo out of the picture, and we're only a few days out from Mother's Day.  I kind of wanted to do something 'mother's dayish' but again, not quite sure what that would be.  All of my ideas began and ended with me having to do some form of frosted cut-out sugar cookie and I just knew I didn't have enough time for that one this week.  Then I, once again, realized a great mother's day cookie would've been a flower like pinwheel cookie .. hmm ... foiled again.  No worries, I happened upon a Pilsbury Bakeoff contender that would fit the bill, a light, lemony, butter cookie that's shaped into a daisy like flower. Perfect, well, except for my 'shaping' abilities, but 'close enough' on these mother's day bouquets!

Ok, enough of the cookies - I need your opinion on this.  All the cookies this week were kind of small, so I had planned on packaging them in two's.  Not a big deal, other than the fact that I had to make twice as many cookies!  But as I was packing them up, I realized my Cinco De Mayo cookie easily could've done double duty as a Mother's Day cookie too, no?  C'mon, it is a little obvious right? and it gave me some second thoughts about using those cherries and cinnamon red hots! :)