Monday, December 17, 2012

Swedish Pepparkakor (Don't giggle when you say it)

When I started my blog I swore that I would share the kitchen failures as well as the successes. So far I've had successes for the holiday season. But yet again I have suffered from my worst habit and probably the main cause of a lot of my kitchen flubs; being in a hurry.

I would love to have nothing else to do but play in the kitchen. As it is, I work full time, care for a couple fur-kids, a part time human kid and a full time cohabitating partner (Mr. M.). Plus I have a dinky little kitchen that doesn't inspire me to spend a lot of time in it. Usually its a battle for space with me cussing at the microwave and coffee maker for hogging up so much room. I see the lavishly decorated cookies on Pinterest that are just way too pretty to simply eat and wonder about the time spent on something that is intended to be chewed up and swallowed like any regular food. That said, I do appreciate some visual esthetics with food.

So, what I'm saying is that since these spice cookies were my last baking project of the holiday season and it was 7pm at night, I had worked the whole day and my giveashit-o-meter was way down, this was not my proudest achievement. They weren't rolled out thin enough and so they spread out all over the too-crowded baking sheets, making trees, hearts and little men look like shapeless blobs. The decorating was just some colored sugars thrown on.

Honestly, if you give yourself a little more time these can be a lovely Christmas cookie reminiscent of old world holiday spices. Even my deformed treats tasted good! A nice change from traditional gingerbread, these cookies have a nice orange flavor and are addictively crunchy. Mr. M. said they are best dunked in a cold glass of milk for a few seconds.

Swedish Pepparkakor (Pepper cake)

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 egg beaten
2 T corn syrup
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
rind of 1 orange

Cream sugar and butter. Add egg and corn syrup. Sift together dry ingredients, add to creamed mixture. Wrap in plastic and refrigerator for a few days.

Take out of fridge and let come to room temperature or a bit cooler. Roll out thin, cut into shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and decorate with sugar. Bake 350 for 10 min or until edges turn brown.

Other hints: Watch that cook time!! I found 10 minutes was too much. 8 minutes was a little better for my oven. As you can see from the picture I didn't have an orange but a bunch of clementines, which I figured would work. They did.

Since this was my last offical baking item for the holidays, I am done! D-O-N-E. Presents bought and wrapped, cards sent out, decorations up. It is time to just sit back and relax (and watch all the last minute types run around like caffeinated ants at a picnic. So, in case I am heard from no more this season I'll take this time to wish everyone a Very Happy, Merry, Festive Holiday, Christmas, Hanukah, Festivus!!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Support of Egg Nog: Egg Nog Tea Bread

I mentioned before about a common punching bag of the holiday season, Fruitcake. As promised, I will move on to the next innocent butt of a lot of holiday sneering, Egg nog.

I adore Egg nog! I think a lot of people who claim to hate egg nog have not actually tried it. They keep imagining how straight egg in a glass of milk would taste. That isn't the flavor of egg nog at all (though I know that if you make egg nog yourself you will indeed use a bunch of raw eggs). But disliking egg nog because it has raw egg in it makes no more sense then not eating raw cookie dough (and we all do that!!) because it has raw egg in it. Essentially, you can't taste the egg. The taste is rich, sweet, creamy and nutmeg-y. How can that be bad?

I like it cold served with some nice holiday cookies. A bit of whiskey or rum thrown in is A-OK to me too! And because I'm a hypocrite who will inhale a pound of peanut butter fudge but only drink skim milk, I usually buy 'lite' egg nog. It's a more refreshing consistency (same thing I think about skim vs. 2% milk). Also when it comes to baking, I don't miss the extra fat, but I hope my ass does. I have also cut regular egg nog with some skim milk. Again, it's just a nicer drink, I think.

This sweet bread is a super easy recipe perfect for the holiday season that I found in this amazing little cook booklet my Mom got in a stack of cookbooks one year. This is such an amazing little book!

Each recipe starts with a cake mix. Every one is easy. And I've made many in this book and each one is really good! So this Egg Nog Tea Bread became a staple for holiday baking. It makes great small loaves perfect for giving or pairing up with a cup of coffee. It's not too sweet or too heavy.

Eggnog Tea Bread

1 pkg pound cake
3/4 cup egg nog
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup powdered sugar
2 T eggnog

Combine mix, eggnog, nutmeg and eggs in a large bowl and mix with electric mixer for 3 min. Pour into greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 30 min. Combine powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons eggnog and drizzle over bread when cool.

Other Hints: Every time I make this bread I forget how sticky and gloopy the batter is when you mix it up. I always fear I've messed something up until I remember its always that way. I think it's just the egg nog that makes it that way. Remember if you make one or two bigger loaves to watch the cooking time. My 8 small loaves took more like 25 min.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Support of Fruit Cake: Cherry Almond Bars

The world is divided into two types of people that become very evident this time of year: People who love fruit cake and people who hate fruit cake. I am of the first group. I do not understand what ISN'T to love about a rich, dense cake with nuts and chewy candied fruit!! Do people hate nuts? Do they hate candied fruit (which is the best form of fruit)? You hear people whining about "mysterious colored chunks of things" in fruit cake and you wonder if people are that paranoid about eating something that they can't immediately identify. Like these folks are giving their Chicken McNuggets a critical once over. Now, before everyone decides to foist off their unwanted fruit cakes to me, let me say that the reason I don't buy or make one for myself is that the only other person I know who likes fruit cake is my Mom and neither of us need to consume an 8,000 calorie cake by ourselves.

Following the "only make it once a year" theme of my Christmas baking is a festive 'almost-like-a-fruit-cake-but-not' bar called Cherry Almond Bars. What I like are the pretty red and green colors and how sweet and chewy it is without being as time consuming or as expensive as a fruit cake. BTW, picky people, the "unidentified parts" of a fruit cake are what usually make it so expensive and heavy; candied cherries (red and green), candied pineapple, dates, raisins, possibly apples and currents, and nuts. This bar uses just the candied cherries and raisins and almonds and the ease of a Magic Seven Layer Bar. And I've even had people who said they didn't care for fruit cake say this was a darn tasty bar!

Cherry Almond Bars

2 cups flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cold butter
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup chopped red and green candied cherries
1 cup slivered almonds
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Combine flower and brown sugar, cut in butter until crumbly. Press into an ungreased 15"X10" pan. Bake at 325 for 12-14 min or lightly brown. Sprinkle with raisins, cherries and almonds, drizzle with milk. Bake 25-30 min longer.

Save some of the cherries for decorating other treats. I'm using those I've set aside to make hollies for a Christmas cake.

Other hints: I used a standard cake pan. I have no idea what a 15"X10" pan is. My cake pan nor my cookie sheet/jelly roll pans measured that, so I just used what I had. It was probably a little thicker cookie than intended so adjust the baking time. I happened to have just a bit of fresh orange juice left over from another recipe so I added a few table spoons to the condensed milk. Also, after I made this I realized a wonderful change (especially if you don't like raisins) is to swap them out for white chocolate chips! Imagine, a Chocolate Cherry Almond Bar!! Next year.....

Even if people can't manage to choke down something even remotely related to fruit cake they will surely appreciate the festive, jolly appearance of such a holiday-appropriate dessert. Frankly, I'd happily eat most of them myself with a cool glass of egg nog (and more on that abused and besmirched Christmas time drink in another post!)

Monday, December 10, 2012

No Fail (Really) Peanut Butter Fudge

This last weekend was a rush of holiday baking! Since the weekend before had been too warm to spend in a hot little kitchen, I put it off. This weekend was a blessing of cool, rainy, dreary days perfect for baking.

As promised, I have documented my holiday baking to let you all in on my super secret lucky successful ways to give cheap yummy gifts to your friends and family. Most of these items I bake year after year and my friends and family are probably tired of them. But I'm not...probably because I only make them once a year.

The first treat is one I adore any time I can get my sticky little hands on it. But I myself will only bake once a year (because otherwise I'd hoard it all and devour it in one day and have a terrible stomach ache). No Fail Peanut Butter Fudge. And when I say "no fail," I mean it. I cannot do candy. I can't even do anything that requires a candy thermometer. I've tried! The White Fruit & Nut Fudge Fiasco of 2010 is still vivid in my memory. Even the Rice Crispy Treats made with Karo and peanut butter NEVER turn out of me. I can make homemade soup and gravy and even homemade sugar free pudding! But I can't do candy!!! Except for this.

My Mom, who is cursed with a similar candy-cooking affliction, found this recipe and we both can attest, it always works. Even when I'm standing there cooking the milk and sugar on the stove and thinking "This isn't going to work. It's going to be grainy and runny then hard as a rock." But it always has. It's really THAT idiot proof! And, perhaps I failed to mention, it's yummy as hell!

Peanut Butter Fudge

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 1/3 cup peanut butter
1 jar marshmallow cream
1 tsp vanilla

In sauce pan bring milk and sugar to a boil for 3 minutes. Take off heat and add peanut butter, vanilla and marshmallow cream. Pour into a greased or lined pan. Let cool then cut.

Other helpful hints: I didn't used to believe in the power of lining your pans with foil, but it has really saved me this year. No more prying cookie bars and fudge off the sides of the pan, no more messy clean up. I highly recommend it. Also, for this recipe you could use chunky peanut butter if you like. I don't see why it wouldn't work. I have nothing against chunky peanut butter but I just like the smooth texture of fudge.

Yes, it's okay to sneak a few pieces for yourself. But the people you give it too will be the most pleased. And honestly, it's just best to get it out of the house before you make yourself sick.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Let it begin!

Merry-Happy-Joyous Whatever, folks! I'm an equal opportunity celebrator as long as cookies, drinks and good food are involved. If presents factor in, I'm doubly on board!

So far for this year I'm mostly ahead of the game. Shopping is 95% done. The tree is up and all the decorations (that are getting out) are out. The Christmas cards are started. The baking is starting to happen. On one hand I don't want to do it too soon and have it get all stale and moldy before I get it sent out or delivered. On the other, I don't like to be running like (any more of a) mad woman that last week before the holiday.

Most of my holiday baking is standard year after year. And it's easy stuff. I also throw in one or two new things each year also. My baked goods get given as gifts mostly. In fact I often have very little if anything left for my own consumption, which is stupid because I make stuff I like and probably the people I give it to don't like! But, oh well, it's how I celebrate. And I'mma gonna share it wit y'all here!

Any other tid bits of help I can come up with I will also add. But honestly, I don't have any nuggets of knowledge or efficiency that no one else possesses. Mostly its, "Don't wait until the last minute, people!!" And "Do only what you enjoy and enjoy what you do." If you hate doing Christmas cards, don't do them! Simple. If you enjoy decorating a tree but don't have or want one of your own, ask to be invited to a friend or family's place to participate in the event. Mostly I believe in creating your own holiday to enjoy. Don't think you have to do everything perfect the way everyone else does so we all have the same cookie-cutter, 1950s style traditional Christmas. That causes stress and resentment. If a fun holiday to you means eating a pizza while you watch old Godzilla movies----have fun! If it means traditional egg nog and carols around the family piano---go crazy!

I'm kind of a traditional gal who likes things low key. So my traditional baking has to be easy ....but LOOK fancy! I'll share all I know here. If anyone has any special tips or tricks they use to make the holidays easier, I encourage the participation.

Now, go enjoy yourself before it gets too hectic...

Friday, November 30, 2012

The (Drunk) Naughty Monkey

(Originally posted April 2012 on LiveJournal)

Doesn't that sound wonderfully kink? Or at least curiously embarrassing?? Or how about tasty and delicious?? Well, it can!

I've been in the kitchen "experimenting" again. This time I had two bananas so old they had their AARP cards delivered and a hankering for a really good cookie, something with peanut butter and maybe oatmeal!

So I created a little yummy Frankenstein I like to call the Naughty Monkey. If you like banana bread and peanut butter cookies combined, this is your thing. It has banana, oatmeal, peanut butter, walnuts and chocolate chips in it. What else could you want? How about a cocktail? I knwo I do! How about this wonderful Cosmopolitan Cake Martini? *hic* I've had two. They're fhamsashkitcal. *hic*

Naughty Monkeys
1 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 ripe bananas (mashed)
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 2/3-2 cups oatmeal
1 tsp bakiong powder
1 tsp baking soda
chopped walnuts
semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 deg. Beat the first 7 ingredients until fluffy. Add the next 5 ingredients. Finally add nuts and chips. Chill in the fridge for a few minutes before baking. Drop by spoonfulls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake 12-14 min. Let cool before you shove them into your mouth. Makes a huge amount but dough freezes well. ENJOY!

I got baaaaad news. They are even better the second day.

Cosmopolitcan Cake Martini
Calorie Free Cosmopolitan Martini mix (World Market)
Cake flavored vodka

Shake it all up and go bake something!!

Pumpkin Ginger Blossoms

This is a little late in the season (since you can't even FIND Pumpkin Spice Kisses anymore) but I thought I'd give a try to this blogging thing.

My first offer to the internet baking gods is a super easy creation I developed from my love of the Peanut Butter Blossom cookies and all the inspiration Pinterest gives me. I realized that the Blossom cookie is just a templet for ANY cookie with a Hershey Kiss on it. I mean you can take ANY Kiss, pair it with ANY cookie and you get a _____ Blossom.

I love new things, different things. Don't give me plain old regular anything! Throw in everything but the kitchen sink! New flavors of old standards are great! Pumpkin Spice Kisses??? GENIUS! They taste smooth, creamy and cinnamon-y as pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.

For this cookie I took regular store bought Gingerbread Cookie mix, fixed as directed for Gingersnaps. I formed the dough into little balls but did NOT mash them down before cooking. As soon as they were out of the oven I pressed an unwrapped Pumpkin Kiss on top.

They were even better than I imagined (and I had a pretty explicit imagination on this). Chewy and creamy. We crammed several into our mouths that very night and had few left over.

But this proved my very scientific theory; any Kiss + any cookie = YUM.

Keep this in mind this Christmas when you can buy Cherry Cordial and Mint Kisses and plop those babies on top of some chocoalte cookies or any combination you can dream up!

Greetings possible readers!

I have decided to start this blog to exercise a bit of creativity in some of my hobbies; reading and eating/cooking. I really enjoy reading other cooking and baking blogs and since half of my attempts are (entertaining) disasters, I thought I'd start to document some of my adventures. Some are really successful. Some are just examples of what not to do in a kitchen. But hopefully we ALL learn from it.

I'm also hoping to expand upon my writing skills and leave some room for promotion of any future writing endeavors I develop. I hope someone decides to give me a read and that I'm not just posting to a cyber-cricket filled blogosphere.