Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Playing Catch Up ...

OK, I'm optimistically thinking the worst of my summer 'crunch' is over and I can get back to my blogging duties as I'm sure everyone is just upset to no end that I haven't been giving the detailed reports on my cookie baking ventures!  I said I was being optimistic, right?!

So no time to go back and document all of my trials and tribulations with the cookies the past few weeks but I'll do my best in the re-cap that follows. Just a few words to the wise - dipping things in chocolate to cover mistakes and add flavor is a GREAT plan, doing so in 90 degree heat with 80% humidity?... not so much.  Also, those "pinwheel" type cookies may look cool, but they are no easy task - not to mention the fact that mine were more like 'pin-ovals' as they only looked somewhat round if you used your imagination.  Which by the way, you'll need to do with most the past few weeks cookies since any recent attempt at 'food photography' has been, similar to my blogging, non-existent, but I'll see if I can't pirate a few pics here and there to liven things up a bit. But, considering the aforementioned 'pin-blobs,' it's probably just as well that the 'evidence' has all been eaten!

So let's see - I'd say the Molasses Crinkles were the last real 'home run' cookies, after that came the Ginger Lemon Pinwheels.  Nice flavor, a bit labor intensive but was helpful in that I could make the dough and refrigerate it ahead of time and then in theory just needed to 'slice and bake' them.  Didn't plan on having to re-roll and re-shape most of them.  These were a light cookie, and I think a great flavor combination, but if you make these know that they are not 'crisp' or buttery at all - since there's hardly any butter in them, but were more dense and chewy than you would expect from looking at them.

Along with the pinwheels that week there were cookies from some guy named John who must know Martha Stewart - he made a cookie and threw all kinds of stuff in it - hence 'John's Kitchen Sink Cookies'  anything with chocolate and pecans in it can not be bad, these also had raisins and oats for good measure.

Ok, now I'm only a week behind ... let's see last week was when I had the misguided enlightened moment of thinking 'these orange cookies are too plain and a little bland, I know I'll dip them in chocolate.'  Even after trying to refrigerate and/or freeze them (it didn't work), and then waiting a good 8 hours for them to set (still didn't work), I think I would've been better off squeezing some chocolate coating into each cookie bag and then just tossing the cookie in on top of it - kind of like a dipper.  I dropped them off with fingers crossed that they wouldn't all be a gloppy, gooey, stuck in the bag, chocolatey mess for those who ate them.

The cookie I'd actually planned for this week was my tried and true Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti with espresso powder from an old Williams Sonoma cookie cookbook.  Now these were always intended to be dipped in chocolate and I can tell you that there is nothing I'd rather have with a cup of coffee than one (or several) of these biscotti.  If you've never made biscotti and want to give it a try - this is the one to do - another slam dunk - uh, sorry for all the sports analogies!  I actually found the recipe online, lucky for you, as I'd likely never get around to typing it up.  Just a footnote on this - the recipe calls for forming the (very sticky) dough into two logs - which you can do, but will end up with VERY big and long biscotti's ... making four logs and baking them two to a pan on parchment all at the same time works perfectly as long as you rotate the pans once or twice.

Hey that's it!  Now I'm current - and this week was supposed to be reminiscent of my favorite summer treat: a Root Beer Float!  I honestly can't remember the last time I had one - maybe many years ago up in Michigan with family when a required part of the vacation was going to the A&W Drive-In joint and getting served by the car hops! Mmmm Frosty Mugs!

Well, my intentions on this one were good - I'd found a few different recipes and because I'd never made them before I decided to try two different versions.  As a disclaimer I'll give my personal opinion that both cookies were good - but neither tasted anything like a root beer float!  Too bad... both versions are posted - one was made with Root Beer extract - which isn't so easy to find in these parts - I actually used something called 'Root Beer Flavoring' which is the extract without the alcohol.  Those cookies, Version #1, tasted nothing like Root Beer but rather resembled a really good Brown Sugar cookie with more of a cakey texture.

I was more worried about Version #2, since this used actual Root Beer that was boiled down to a reduction and I just didn't think the Root Beer flavor would come through, and I was right.  This cookie was a little darker, a little denser and chewier maybe, and didn't rise as much - this one had more of a unique flavor.  Again, I would never have guessed Root Beer Float, but I think the fact that the butter was 'sort of' browned first and then along with the dark brown sugar together it gave it a very different flavor, I don't know how to describe it, so hopefully if you swing by Gilda's club you can judge for yourself.  I guess if you use your imagination and you eat it WHILE you're having a Root Beer Float, then I think you'd be justified in calling it a 'Root Beer Float Cookie' ... you know, kind of like how 'Coffee Cake' doesn't really have anything to do with coffee flavor.

Unfortunately neither of these recipes quite made the volume I needed, so a long about 11:00 p.m. and in a pinch for a few dozen more cookies for Gilda's Club I went browsing through my cookie magazines and happened upon another favorite - mainly because it's simple and only has about 5 ingredients ... Lemon Coconut Meringues.  Whip up some egg whites, add some sugar, a little lemon juice and zest and coconut and that's it.  They take a little longer to bake, but I was able to do them all at once while I was packaging up the Root Beer Float Cookies.  I've made these quite often, but they're not for every occasion, they are extremely fragile - if you ever tried to ship these, they'd get so pulverized en-route that the person on the receiving end would think you were sending them powdered sugar.  It's not an exaggeration - a much younger, dumber version of my present self may know this for a fact. (fyi, the recipe link is not the one I used, someday I'll get around to posting the real one.)

Whew .. glad that's done - now I can get back to training and racing and LUNA runs and long bike rides and even some 'cookies on the side' .. you know for family and friends and weddings and showers and such .... does the fun EVER end!?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another Door Opens

A red door is often seen as a great big 'Welcome" sign to those who consider walking through. At Gilda's Club we’ve been very fortunate to have Program Director Susan Lichtblau as an integral part of our team well before, and ever since, our own "Red Door" on the corner of Delaware and Ferry Street officially opened here at Gilda’s Club Western New York back in November of 2004.
Susan, as of June 30th, is now officially the “Newly Retired Program Director” and it was fitting that on her last day of work she spent time with staff, club members, and friends -- telling stories, eating cookies, reminiscing and celebrating her myriad contributions to Gilda’s Club.  Susan’s ability to passionately share the “Gilda” message is second only to her ability to laugh at just about anything; a quality that I’m sure Gilda would have considered a prerequisite for any staff member! 
So as another door opens for Susan, and she goes forward in her next new adventure, we could not ask for a better friend and advocate … this red door is always open, and we all look forward to sharing many more good times, wine, and of course ... cookies.
(A "Guest Blog" with Heidi from Gilda's Club)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just Press 'Play'

Or Fast Forward if you want skip all this gibberish and get caught up in a hurry.  I do believe the blog has been on Pause, while life was sitting on the Fast Forward button - funny how the Rewind never quite takes you to where you want to be and if you try it you only get further and further behind. Enough of the electronic recording analogies, I'm just going to do my best to get caught up here and back on track.

Let's see, I'm thinking I should start with the cookies.  It would be easier to just brush by them and say you didn't miss much, but I can not tell a lie.  While the blogging has gone by the wayside, the cookies had some character, and were at the very least, 'interesting' which isn't always a good thing, I'll try to explain.

After the ice cream sandwich week, the cookies that next week were pretty much repeats:  Peanut Butter cookies that were new to Ronald McDonald house (but a repeat for me since I'd already done them for Gilda's club) and some special occasion cutouts that you'll have to read about in their own entry (if you didn't already).

I'd like to say on this one that practice makes perfect, but no matter how good of a baker you are there's always that moment when you slip on the details; "Was that 3 or 4 cups of flour?"  "Did I already add the salt?" "I thought for sure it said 'Baking Powder' not 'Baking Soda.'"  I think that last one may have been the culprit for the less than stellar PB Cookies - but the good news is that it wasn't a cookie where you expected a lot of rise and it was flavorful enough to survive the powder/soda mishap.  In then end I'd hope no one was the wiser, it was still a peanut butter cookie after all, but definitely not the best one they ever ate!

Now last weeks cookies?  That's a different story.  Back in early March I made a ginger/molasses cookie from the world renowned Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse restaurant - I know, I can hear my dad now 'well, la de da!'  Now they were definitely good, and meant to be more of a crisp or crunchy ginger cookie but when it comes to Molasses Cookies, you just can not beat Betty!

Last week I made one of the very first cookies I ever baked on my own - I was probably nine or ten and hanging out in the kitchen with my mom and told her I wanted to bake some cookies by myself.  Previously I'd been relegated to 'helper' with doing some of our 'Merry Christmas Cutouts' or assigned as the official 'froster' since obviously in a house of 10, with the majority of them being boys, NO ONE cared how they looked.  But I was ready to step up - I knew my math and was good with the mixer, so give me a shot.

My mom flipped open the torn, tattered and more than a little stained 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, checked the cupboard for molasses & brown sugar, and directed me to make 'Molasses Crinkles.'  I think she figured I'd find them "fun" to make since they have to be rolled into balls, dipped in sugar and sprinkled with water.  Yup, the cookies she rarely made because there were too many steps and were basically a big pain in the butt, would be just perfect to occupy the afternoon of an antsy 10 year old ... totally fun!

I remember not being a fan of molasses, probably because one of my older siblings gave me a spoon full of it and told me it was chocolate syrup - yeah, I wasn't always this bright!  Straight molasses, like unsweetened chocolate or vanilla extract are tastes you really need to experience to appreciate their awefulness!  So you can imagine my shock at the absolute deliciousness of these cookies!  I mean WOW - to take something you almost didn't even want to put in your mouth and then just have it explode with flavor and texture and everything that a cookie is meant to be, well you just don't forget that.  And when I baked them last week (using the organic, trans fat free shortening) they tasted EXACTLY as I had remembered: chewy and sweet and simply the best!  Forget Texas, don't mess with Betty.

I couldn't skip the story of the Molasses Crinkles that ended up at both Gilda's and RMH last week, but I gotta tell you the other 'light' cookie for Gilda's is total story worthy too.  Problem is I don't have one yet because it's the first time I baked it, but it definitely won't be the last.  I needed a simple drop cookie - given my lack of time lately and all - and had picked out a well reviewed one from the Cooking Light recipe site:  White Chocolate, Strawberry & Oatmeal cookies.  I really liked the idea of them having strawberries in them - in an attempt to make them kind of 'seasonal.'  But there was just one problem, I didn't have any dried strawberries, but what I did have were blue berries.  I'm not sure what everyone thought of these cookies - but to me they were a total home run!

If you follow this blog - well, first of all - god bless you! and a huge thank you!  But probably like yourself, I think there's a fair number who read it, or at least check in to see what I've made, but very few who actually comment or post - present company included as of late! :)  But early on, I decided to not let that deter me or give me an excuse to slack off - and summer aside, I'm happy to have stuck with it - this has been fun and really rewarding in so many ways.  I know the cookies are well received, mainly because I've never picked up anything other than an empty basket at the end of the week!  So it definitely has been, as they say, 'all good.' But when I dropped off the cookies last week one of the members at Gilda's club told me she looks forward to the cookies every week and then gave me a big hug - well that sure didn't hurt either. Indeed, all is well in cookieville.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blog Holiday?

To anyone who may be hanging in there with the cookie project, I assure you that all is still well and I have survived the first 6 months of this endeavor with cookies intact and on time; 27 weeks down, 25 to go.  Although, I obviously can't say the same for my blogging.   It's summer and it's a short season here in Buffalo regardless of what the calendar tells you. So there's a lot to cram in to just a few months time - and between the baking, the writing, the biking, the running and the occasional mandatory swim I've been forced to let a few things slide.  My time crunch and the consequences of my lack of proper training will no doubt be revealed at this weekends half ironman race. And when it comes to the cookie project and baking vs writing, unlike swimming vs cycling where the bike will win hands down every time, I really do enjoy them both, but something had to give and figured it better not be the cookies!

So contrary to what my blog may lead you to believe, the past two weeks did have cookies, lots of them, and some that were even worth writing about - well, if not the cookies themselves, then certainly the circumstances surrounding them! Yes, I've got some catching up to do - because some things really need do to be shared and celebrated, even if it comes a little late.  So you can rest assured, I'm taking time and making plans and will get all of my 'homework' done before I head out for my weekend race!