Tree Hunting And Cookie Baking

>> Tuesday, November 27, 2007

So it is that time of year again where everything goes at warp speed. First its Thanksgiving and planning the perfect meal. Then its time to gear up for Christmas, shopping, decorating, cooking, finding the perfect tree. Cyndee thought I was nuts wanting to go to the tree farm the day after Thanksgiving, but at least its one more thing I can now cross off my list. And I must say our tree looks magical! It really gets me into the Christmas spirit. But it all happens so fast and it all seems to happen at once.

This time of year also brings another particular challenge for me. But this is a challenge I truly enjoy, even if it is a bit stressful! Every year in December I bake and sell beautifully decorated and packaged cookies for the Cheswick Companies Christmas open house. Its a good way for me to make a little extra Christmas money and, more importantly, its a great way for me to be creative and truly enjoy my passion for baking! I love coming up with new ideas, even if they don't always work out. Last year I made cookies in the shapes of buttons and then threaded them onto beautiful paper using licorice. Unfortunately the cookies crumbled as I was threading them, but they didn't go to waste, I just put them on the half price table! I still think its a good idea, I just need to find a cookie dough that can hold up to licorice string!

I have been waiting for my box to arrive from King Arthur Flour so I can start my baking and get the show on the road! If anybody out there does not know about King Arthur Flour, they not only make great flour (the only kind I use) but they also sell quality baking ingredients that make all the difference between a good cookie and a great cookie (or whatever you happen to be baking). So my box finally arrived and I thought I would point out a few of my key ingredients that you really can't go wrong with.

The first thing is Espresso Powder. Espresso Powder turns anything chocolatey into decadence. I use it to make my very popular Double chocolate Espresso cookies. These seem to sell out every year, and with good reason, they are amazing!

This brings me to my next ingredient, Cocoa powder. The quality of the cocoa you use , or any kind of chocolate for that matter, makes a huge difference in the end result of your baked goods. Some recipes call for Dutch process cocoa and some recipes call for Natural cocoa powder, there is a difference so make sure you pay attention to what the recipe calls for. If the recipe does not specify I usually go with Natural cocoa powder, like in the Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies.

Snow White topping is like a confectioners sugar but won't disappear. This is really great for me because I package most of my things in cellophane and it holds up nicely.

Meringue Powder replaces the egg whites in the icing I use to decorate my cookies.

Vietnamese Cinnamon replaces regular cinnamon. Has AMAZING flavor. Also melts much nicer on cinnamon-sugar toast!

Sparkling White Sugar coarser than regular sugar and adds a beautiful sparkle to any decorative cookie.

Real White Chocolate A lot of the white chocolate (chips) you find in the grocery store is not chocolate at all! It really does make a difference using real white chocolate.

And last but not least, Flour. This really is good flour and it makes a big difference in the end result. I can get it at my local grocery store and it really is worth the extra cost.

So those are some of the tricks I have up my sleeve to make beautifully delicious Christmas cookies. In the coming weeks I will be posting some of my favorite cookie recipes. So if your looking for something to bake for the holiday season be sure to check back! And if you live in the area and would like to sample some of my creations or purchase some of the Cheswick Companies beautiful Christmas creations be sure to come to the open house! Details on the Cheswick companies web site. Happy Baking and Tree Hunting!


Made For Each Other

>> Tuesday, November 20, 2007

If your tired of the same old butter cream or chocolate frosting then give this one a try. Its really great on chocolate cupcakes! Come on, who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter?

Peanut Butter Frosting
adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1 Cup confectioners sugar
1 Cup creamy peanut butter
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room Temp.
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Cream together the sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt until really creamy. Add the cream and continue to beat until light and smooth.


Its nice to have friends who bake!

What a treat we had this weekend! Our good friend Anita brought over this amazing Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie. It was scrumptious! You can find the recipe here, its from Fine Cooking magazine. It is kind of a cross between a really rich fudgy brownie and a pecan pie. What can be better than that? Well maybe a little vanilla ice cream to go with it!

It not only tastes good but it looks good too! The pecans around the perimeter are left whole and make an impressive design.

So if you want to try something different this Thanksgiving, I highly recommend it!

Nice job Anita, and to think it was your first pie crust, could have fooled me!


Just Wanted To Share

>> Thursday, November 15, 2007

I have run across a few things that I thought were pretty neat and just wanted to share them. I think these would make amazing, thoughtful gifts.

The first one is something called TasteBook. TasteBook is a site that lets you create your very own cookbook. You can use recipes from epicurious and from your very own kitchen. I have always dreamed of getting my recipes in some sort of order, wouldn't this be a great way to do it?
The second is a site called Blurb. This site lets you turn your photos or your blog into a hard bound book. Now wouldn't that make a thoughtful gift for someone?
Cyn, are you reading this???



So I haven't been blogging much, sometimes life gets in the way. Its that time of year again, can you believe it? I went to the mall the other day- it was packed with people, get me out of here I thought to myself. And can you believe Santa was already there all set up for this years picture. Life moves to fast sometimes. Cant we just enjoy Thanksgiving without having to think about Christmas for a change?
Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. Maybe its because we don't have to go insane finding the perfect presents and spending money we don't have. But I think its more about the traditions for me, and of course the food! In our family the food is pretty much the tradition!
From the creamed onions to the scalloped oysters. And then there's the dates stuffed with peanut butter and rolled in sugar, it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without these.
While staying with the tried and true recipes I am also always trying to find ways to simplify. It can be quite a challenge to get everything to the table at the same time. The past few years I have been making day ahead Mashed Potatoes, given to me by my good friend Jen. They are Delicious. A little more flavor than your typical mashed potato, but much easier to just heat up in the oven than have to worry about mashing them while your trying to carve the turkey! And besides, there's nothing wrong with a little more flavor!

Day ahead mashed potatoes

5lbs. Russet potatoes
1 stick butter
8oz. cream cheese
16oz. sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes and mash. Add other ingredients and mix together. Put in casserole dish and bake the next day (covered) at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until heated through.
For even more flavor I was thinking some grated horseradish would be a Delicious addition to this dish!
And to end this post I would like to share with you a poem Caleb wrote and is planning to read as we are all so fortunate to sit down to this years feast.

I Like Thanksgiving Day
By Caleb
Thanksgiving is good
Thanksgiving is great
Thank you for the turkey
Thank you for the cranberry sauce
Thank you for for the apple and pumpkin pie
Thank you for all the people at our table
After we eat we will play
oh it is such a nice day
I'm glad to have a lot of my family on this special Thanksgiving Day!


Is Pop Coming Over?

>> Monday, November 05, 2007

There's just something about a popover!
Baking popovers takes me back to a time when things were much simpler, much slower paced. A time when baking and feeding our loved ones was much more a part of our everyday lives. I guess that's why every time I make popovers I feel comforted, I feel like I am baking up a big warm hug for me and my family.
Every time I make them it amazes me how such a simple batter can turn into such magnificence. So impressive to bring to the table these huge puffed up muffins of eggy bread.
I have tried a few different recipes. Some tell you the trick is to start them in a cold oven, some say a warm oven. Well the best recipe I have found says to start them in a hot oven and to heat the popover pan before you put the batter in. There are a few other tricks I have learned along the way.
~ In order to get a good size popover it is best to use a popover pan which is much deeper than a muffin pan. But if you don't want to invest in a popover pan, a muffin pan will work.
~Always make sure you grease your popover pan.
~Make sure the batter is at room temp.
~And no matter what you do DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN! This can result in collapsed popovers! Not to pretty when you are bringing them to the table.
~You can add a few tablespoons of sugar for sweeter popovers. You can also add cinnamon or other spices depending on what you serve them with.
~Its best to serve them right away, hot form the oven. They do tend to deflate after a while.

This recipe is adapted from Bonnie Wolfs book, Talking With My Mouth Full. It is a fun book to read about food stories and also has really great recipes.

Magnificent Popovers

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs at room temp.
1 1/4 cups milk at room temp.

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Whisk together the flour and salt. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and the milk. Add the eggs and milk to the dry ingredients, until it is the consistency of heavy cream. Pour into a liquid measuring cup and let sit on counter for 1/2- 1 hour.
Grease your popover pan and preheat it in the oven for around three minutes, until its very hot. Pour the batter into popover cups until half full. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven to 350F. and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer. Remember, do not open the oven until they are completely done. They should be beautifully browned and crispy.
The last time I made these for the kids I was trying to get Abraham to try one. You know how two year olds can be about food. And in Abe's case unless it looks like a waffle he wants nothing to do with it.

So I said "Abe, Do you want a popover?"
He just looked at me with this blank stare on his face. "Is Pop coming over?"
"No, Pop came over for breakfast, he was already here today.
A while later, "Abe I really wish you would just try a popover."
Abe's reply, again with a blank look on his face, "When is Pop coming over?"
It literally went like this for a good five minutes until Cyndee and I realized every time we asked him if he wanted a popover he thought we were saying Pop was coming over (Pop is what he calls my dad!) We got a good chuckle out of it and also felt very stupid for not catching on sooner!

Popovers are delicious served with roasted chicken or roast beef. You can use the drippings from the roast beef to grease your popover pans and you have Yorkshire Pudding. They would be wonderful to go with chicken a la king or creamed eggs or tuna (a few of Cyndee's favorites). And like I said in my previous post, popovers are sooo goood served with homemade raspberry jam.


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