Thursday, July 30, 2009

C is for Cookie

Better late than never? Or better never late? I'd like to think the former... As you may have noticed, we've been having a bit of The Blog Blahs over here where I'm having trouble even bossing myself to get posting! It's a combination of busy times with a bit of challenging times thrown in to boot. We'll all be fine, never fear - just a hump to climb over and then I predict life will be back to normal; as will the blogging.

With a dab 'o salted caramel and a layer of raspberry jam

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

I REALLY wanted to make those marshmallow cookies but didn't find myself with any free time this last month until the days just after our required posting date (7/27). So Tuesday and Wednesday evenings were filled with cookie baking, marshmallow making, caramel cooking and chocolate glazing. I thought about doing the Milans also, but the overall review from my fellow DB's didn't really kick me in the pants.

Chocolate covered marshmallow cookie with salted caramel.
(sorta reminds me of a cloud in the sky...)

I love marshmallows. If they're fresh, I can seriously eat them out of a bag (hey, who just said "sick!"?) I have a trusted and favorite marshmallow recipe I've made quite a few times before so I used that one since it's one with which I'm quite familiar. In years past, before getting my stand mixer, lemme tell you how tricky it is to pour scalding hot sugar syrup into stiff egg whites while beating with a hand mixer. um, it's tricky. So it was nice to finally make marshmallows with my stand mixer!
Soft ball stage, aka: 240° F

It really takes a couple hands to do this. Kisses to my stand mixer!

I have a slight confession to make today: I ♥ cookie dough. I don't mean I like to lick the bowl. I mean I could eat spoonfuls of it out of the bowl. Remember at slumber parties when we were little, where the moms would buy those rolls of cookie dough and the girls would just eat it like a burrito? (you don't?) I never really outgrew that. I know - SHAMEFUL!! But it's the plain ole truth. There are a lot of "cookie situations" out there in which I'd prefer to eat the dough over the baked cookies. So, err, this was one of those cookies. The dough was fantastic! But the cookie on its own was not. I also didn't realize they would rise so much: they were thicker than I'd have liked. But that's okay since once topped with a dab of salted caramel, some fluffy marshmallow and semi-sweet chocolate, they were yummy.

It wasn't difficult, but it was still a LOT of steps

The salted caramel is a recipe I use often. The original calls for fleur de sel, but it of course works just fine with Kosher or sea salt. I'll put it on ice cream or spread it between macarons. That slightly salty accent gives it such a sophisticated flavor. FAB!!

Messy work and no play makes for yummy cookies!

I have to admit that the raspberry jam is not homemade **GASP** #@&$%*#@!!!!! WHAT??!!!! BLASPHEME!!! &^*&*@*%^$)!!! I'm having a hard time looking myself in the mirror, but with 4 other components being cooked or baked in my kitchen - I thought a little "break" would be acceptable. I'll get through this; with some therapy...

The only way to make marshmallow better?
Combine it with caramel or chocolate. Or both!

Instead of the recipe's 2 T of oil to the 12 oz of chocolate chips, I used 1. I think the result was a lot less runny and set up rather well after an evening in the fridge. I sprinkled little white sprinkles on the salted caramel cookies and red sprinkles on the raspberry jam ones - to tell them apart later. They were just adorable!! As messy and as many hours it took me to make these simple little cookies - I really was pleased with them. I was meeting Angela for lunch yesterday and brought her a little box. Certainly can't eat all of these myself!!
Very sweet and cute when finished and wrapped

I certainly hope this little lull will pass quickly and we'll be happily on our way soon enough. But until then, at least there are cookies!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Go Fish...

I know, you probably came here looking for my Daring Cooks challenge for July...? I have none for you this month, even though Sketchy had a beautifully planned out challenge for us taken from the Alinea cookbook: Skate with traditional flavor powders. I don't know what's going on but my kitchen hasn't been producing much lately. Actually I take that back - my kitchen has not been producing anything NEW lately. In the last week I've done this twice and this and actually have this in the oven as I type. Do you really want to see them again when you could just visit my first posts?

But folks, I'm feeling a bit unmotivated here. Does anyone else go through The Blog Blahs? You sorta feel like you're doing the same things all the time and it's starting to get all routine? My method, my plating, my writing... it's all boring me. Do you get like this with your own blogs? Am I losing my mind? Is it those summer doldrums? (yes - summer and heat depress me)

Since every time I think of my blog, I feel a bit like I did in that picture there to the right, I'll just fill this post with a bit of exciting news that's happened to my good friends lately. I shot the occasions, so I'll share the goods and end up telling you what I've been up to simultaneously!

A few weeks ago my good friend Jenne (sounds like "Jenny") married Jeff. The two are a perfect match and I couldn't be happier for her, finding a man like Jeff with whom to share her life. The very best part of their wedding? It fell on a 95°+ day (my living hell!) but was held entirely inside an air conditioned events hall (I think Jenne is actually my new best friend, sorry Deb). We were not required to step outside once between 4:30pm and 11pm. It was almost as if I heard angels singing when I stepped into the hall... oh, but back to the wedding.

Remember Alex? ~~ The place was gorgeous ~~ Apple martinis and vodka crans

Jenne threw in some incredibly creative details -- my absolute favorite?... asking guests to hold sparklers as the newly married couple took to the dance floor for the first time. How unbelievable is that? We had a wonderful time and as happy as I am that Jenne and Jeff got married - I'm happier that she finally has some free time back for very important things like BBQs!!
Woohoo MARRIED!!

Next on my "great things that have been happening to my closest friends" list: Angela got engaged!!! Angela and I have been very good friends since college - so that means like $&%^@ years ago! I can't even believe it's been that long... Angela and I have been through a lot together - including weird guys and awkward and bizarre "relationships". I won't go all the way there but suffice to say I am BEYOND THRILLED for her and Geoff and can't wait to see this fabulous wedding I know she'll pull together. (May I secretly hope for destination?...)

To celebrate with Ang I ran home from work last week and slapped together this little red velvet cake (I told you I was re-making stuff I've already blogged!). I loved how small and simple it was and along with a bottle of my favorite sparkling wine (champagne is just too dry pour moi) we had ourselves a FAB girls-celebrating-an-engagement night!

I'm becoming a little bit of a red velvet whore - yes I wrote "whore" on my blog

Last, but not least is the new house one of my closest friends, Ali bought with her husband last week. To top off Ali and Dennis' exciting year is the upcoming appearance of their baby boy in November; but they weren't satisfied with merely growing a human being and had to go buy a beautiful new home. And only 6 miles away from me too!!

To me, this kitchen is HUGE!

No pictures of the growing mommy, but definitely pictures of a kitchen in which I soon hope to teach "how to make the perfect pie crust". Some of you who DO NOT reside in the San Francisco Bay Area might think "that's a big beautiful new kitchen?" but YES IT IS. A kitchen like this could easily be found in a $million(s) home depending on the Bay Area city in which one resides. So to me - this kitchen is HUUUUGE. And I couldn't help but throw in a shot of the soon-to-be baby's room. Already perfect for him! (once they take that pink thing off the wall.)

Who doesn't love wainscoting with a chair rail to polish up a room nursery?

Now my blog friends... I've shared with you some of the things going on around here - perhaps keeping me too busy to cook at home and post to the world. I ask of you a big favor... what would you like to see me post about next? I'd LOVE to hear from you in the comments section. Do you want me to keep doing what I'm doing? Mostly baking goodies and throwing it down on blogger? More travel? More doggie? Less doggie? More crafts? More family? Something totally new? I'll take anything... 'cuz like I said - I'm a bit unmotivated. Help me out! 'Cuz really, I'm doing this all for you to read. You may as well enjoy it!

Monday, July 6, 2009

A year ago tonight...

...we were arriving home after a long drive from Ventura County in Southern California. We'd gotten massages, stayed with some old college friends, went to breakfast, ran through the Ronald Reagan Museum and then stopped by a small house on a big piece of land. We bought some strawberries at the dusty stand set up in front of the home. We also handed over a check to this woman, but the check was a bit larger than what one would expect for a basket of berries. We had actually purchased - a basket of fur. A little 7 pound ball of yellow fur. And she screamed like a banshee as we put her in her traveling crate and started our trip to bring her home. A year ago tonight, we brought little Lucca home.

Look at that BELLY!!!

Can I PLEASE come out of my travel crate?

I really can't believe she was ever this small.

That pudgy little belly just kills me!

We tried to exercise her a little since the drive was so long.
I love hearing her little puppy panting!!

I won't write a long post here but wanted to share a couple pictures and videos from that night that well, ... changed our lives! I know... she's not a human. But she's my baby. And she still makes me smile and squeal at how adorable she is. She's invaluable on a rough day and even so on a good one.

In May, Lucca "graduated" from her Hounds on the Town class. A class
that teaches
good behavior for visiting dog-friendly restaurants and shops.

And after just this 1 year, she is SO well behaved. She's the friendliest little thing: loving on people and kids and other doggies who like to play (and even those who don't). She's mellow and tolerant and gentle. I think we picked a good one folks... I'd highly recommend it!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cruella de Vil

I recently wrote a cookbook review for the Daring Kitchen. I have to admit that while I wanted to write an honest and accurate review of the book, I'm afraid my review ended up being rather, um... cruel now that I reread it. (In my defense, I was finishing it while on a layover in the Frankfurt airport; equivalent to about 3am my time.) But I simply didn't think it was appropriate for our group. The point of the book was to avoid using the oven or stove, but a group called the Daring Bakers & Cooks would seem to be in direct conflict with that. So it is from this fundamental idea that my "bad" review stems.

I felt awful writing a poor review since I know the author put a lot of love and a lot of heart into her book, but I remained honest...
This was the one "recipe" I made from the cookbook - assembling a sandwich

The sandwich WAS rather delicious - slathered with herbed mayo and apricot jam

As is always the case - there can be different audiences for different movies, shows, programs and books. I just was not the right audience for this one. You can read my review here, on the Daring Kitchen. And thanks be to Ivonne for spending her personal time not only maintaining order on the Daring Kitchen, but running the operations behind these cookbook reviews. I have nothing but fantastical reviews for her and I hope she knows how thankful we Daring Cooks and Bakers are to her (and Lis) for founding this group with which we have OH so very much fun!!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Red, white and blue all over

I must apologize. I feel as though my posting hasn't been very frequent over the past month. I suppose I have a few excuses for that... 1) I was traveling through Europe for over two weeks, 2) there was prep for that trip which felt like it took me a MONTH to complete and 3) depressingly enough I gained ~3 pounds on vacation and have therefore been trying to curtail the whipping cream, butter and egg yolks in my fridge! Eeeps!! You feel my pain, yes? This may not even be a very exciting post for any of you since it perhaps looks a bit familiar? But Happy 4th of July all the same!

Red, white and... turquoise?

4th of July is such a happy holiday. It's full of warm sunshine and parades and bright colors and fireworks. But let's not forget about the MOST important aspect of 4th of July, our independence BBQs! I love and hate that I had to turn down 4 different BBQs today for a 5th my family does annually. BBQ usually means potluck which means I can make a yummy goodie to share with friends and family. BBQ also usually means doggies are invited!

Better put on my shades before we hit the 'Q...

We went to a 3rd of July BBQ yesterday. What a fantastic idea!! A way to get together with friends on a day most everyone I knew was off work but wouldn't conflict with anyone's 4th of July plans. I wanted to make a dessert that was definitely "July 4th" but other than raspberries and blueberries over vanilla ice cream, it wasn't coming to me. A friend at work is doing a favor for me, and in return I asked her to pick a "yummy goodie" for me to make her. Red Velvet cake was the seemingly quick reply. And it suddenly hit me... red, white and BLUE velvet cake?

This sorta reminds me of Macy's...

But would the blue be blue if I mixed it with cocoa? How much blue would I need? You can't buy whole bottles of blue food coloring like you can of red... I didn't have time to experiment with multiple cakes - this was a 1 time shot.

That's one thick, blue, cocoa paste

So instead of buying 4 boxes of the assorted food colorings (and end up with way more green and yellow than I needed.... wait... St. Patrick's Day velvet cake??) I used my little tub of blue gel coloring and a few drops of the blue liquid coloring already had. I used about half as much cocoa (didn't want a muddy blue color and wasn't sure how it'd all work out) and there you go. Quite the vibrant blue cake if you ask me. Almost more of a turquoise! I can do turquoise...

My dirty dishes cracked me up ~~~ Turquoise and red velvet ready to bake!

I've started doing a different frosting than either a cooked flour or a thick cream cheese. The frosting I'm doing on fill-in-the-color velvet cakes lately is a very light cream cheese. Not too thick or sweet or goopy. Not the kind you'd wanna find on a carrot cake, cuz it's too light. It's something I made up - with just a bit of sour twang but mostly light sweet cream. It fits perfectly!
It was scrumptious if you ask me...

I'm off to spend the day BBQing with family and (if we're lucky) fireworks-ing with longtime friends. I hope you aren't at home reading this right now. 'Cuz it'll be here waiting for you when you get back from your own fabulous 4th of July. And a very happy one to you!