Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Toffee Dip
from the internet, filed into my Ugly Binder

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
¾ cup of light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla
approximately half a bag of Heath toffee bits

Mix cream cheese, brown sugar and vanilla together well.  Mix in toffee bits.  Keep refrigerated (it will not stiffen up).  Serve with apples or other fruit. You could also put out some graham crackers or vanilla wafers – use your imagination! I’ll assume that you could use a lower or no-fat cream cheese in this but I used full-fat.

I first made this dip in the fall, after the boys and I went apple picking with some friends.  For some reason, I chose to fill the larger sized bag they offered, which filled properly was already too many apples for just the three of us, I’m not sure what I was thinking.  Then the boys got a little overzealous towards the finish, and continued to pick apples after the bag was technically full, and I found myself trying to maneuver an extremely overflowing bag of apples to the car while people gave me dirty looks.  Hey, the alternative was tossing the extra apples the boys had picked on the ground, which was already littered with thousands of apples that fell from the trees on their own – why send a few more to their death needlessly?  I really wasn’t trying to be greedy.  Really.

We were invited to a Halloween party that evening so I needed a quick way to turn our surplus of apples into a potluck contribution and this recipe was it. I found it on the internet, where exactly I don’t remember (I just jotted down the ingredients from one of the many sites you can find this recipe on), and I left out cinnamon and nutmeg from the original recipe.  They just didn’t appeal to me here.

I decided to mix this up for my son's birthday party this past weekend since I wanted to serve fruit and I still had half a bag of the toffee chips in my cupboard. I like this with a tart apple since the dip is very sweet, and also, as a bonus, the tart apples don’t tend to brown as fast as other apples, if you're cutting your own apples and they'll be sitting out a while, you probably don’t have to worry about putting lemon juice or anything on the apples.  For Nick's party I used the bagged, pre-sliced apples which have a preservative on them to keep them from browning, so that wasn’t an issue.

It went over well both times – not ‘OMG!  What is this?!  I must have this recipe!’ well but well enough for something that takes so very little effort.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Getting better at this

Nick only had birthday pie last year, and no party so this year I decided to have him invite a few friends over to the house. It was probably his best party yet. It was 50+ degrees outside and all the guests were truly his friends, mostly kids who live in the neighborhood plus his best friend from preschool that he still keeps in touch with. He chose an army theme and I was pretty proud of how the cake turned out. I had planned a fancier design but I had a few interruptions in party preparation this week so it ended up pretty simple but the camo came out just as I hoped it would. I was running out of frosting when it came time for the finishing touches so the border was minimal but it did the job.

I researched putting camo on a cake rather thoroughly - it's not as easy as it looks, not for someone with very limited artistic talent. I saw a lot of poor examples of it. I ended up doing a buttercream transfer (my go-to cake trick), using a pattern I copied off of Nick's coat, and I smoothed it out with Viva paper towel. I used the Chocolate Fudge Cake recipe, 1 1/2 times the recipe for a half sheet cake. I used the Easy Buttercream recipe for the frosting (a few batches). If you follow that link to the buttercream recipe, you'll see that my cake decorating skills are improving.

I also made camo cupcakes, basically following these instructions, using Duncan Hines cake mix.  I used the small boxes that make 12 cupcakes, one of yellow, one of devil's food.

I'm hoping to do a little more blogging this year but I'm not making any promises.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Baking 2012

I didn't even get any pictures of my Christmas cookies this year.  I did think of it, but I'm so out of the habit of taking pictures of food, that it was just a passing thought. 

What did I make this year?  I made a few oldies:

Gingerbread Men
Welsh Cookies
South Seas Cookies
Chocolate Chip Brownies
Chocolate and caramel covered Lorna Doones (like Twix), chocolate and caramel covered pretzels, roasted salted almonds topped with caramel and dipped in chocolate, marshmallows and caramel dipped in chocolate, all from this caramel recipe, which has a horrible picture (the caramel looks so dark and hard) but I love this caramel recipe.  It was too firm that first time I made it.  Another year I had to toss everything (after dipping!) and start over, it came out so hard.  Once I ditched the candy thermometer and used ice water to figure out when it was done just right (I like it soft), I've never had a problem with this recipe.

I made a batch of Five-Minute Fudge with mini marshmallows too but I didn't like the way it came out this year, maybe it was the brand of chocolate chips. I usually love this.

Fortunately all of the new recipes I tried were recipes I found online so even though I didn't get pictures, I can still tell you about them and direct you to the recipes.  I was happy with all of them but noted any changed I might make next time.

Hershey Kiss Macaroons  - I used lemon juice instead of orange which was fine but I would use less or leave it out next time.  I would use less almond extract or use vanilla next time.  I used the extra creamy Hershey Kisses that I've only found at Hersheypark.  I think they taste better than regular Hershey Kisses but they melt so easily I almost had puddles of chocolate instead of Kisses!

Chocolate Chip - I've made chocolate chip cookie with vanilla pudding before, maybe the same recipe, but I found this recipe online when I was in a hurry, bookmarked it on my phone and I've used it several times since.  I don't think I'll ever settle for one chocolate chip cookie recipe but this is one I will keep in rotation.

Double Chocolate Chip - I used this recipe from Nosh With Me - she used peanut butter chips, I used milk chocolate chips.

I added Hershey-ets to the tops of the chocolate chip and double chocolate chip.  These seem to be safe for my peanut-allergic son - I don't know why I am just discovering these this year.

Frosted Sugar Cookies - This is a Lofthouse copycat recipe I found online.  I haven't had the real ones in so long I don't know if it's a good copycat but I liked that the cookie wasn't very sweet on it's own since the frosting and sprinkles are so sweet. I also like the texture.  I used Easy Buttercream to frost them.

Schnecken - I once had a roommate who worked at a bakery that made Schnecken, a simple Rugelach-type cookie with cinnamon and sugar.  We loved those cookies!  This is their recipe for chocolate chip Schnecken, I just left out the chocolate chips.  I think I would make the dough just a tad bit sweeter next time.  Just an itty bitty bit.  It's been a long, long time since I had a bakery Schnecken, but as much as I liked these, I am sure the ones from the bakery were better. I've made something similar, Butter Horns, but I like the cream cheese dough better.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

This blog is not dead. It's just in a coma.

I missed my seven year blogiversary last month. Seven years of trying new recipes and I still can't cook! I knew I was not a 'natural' when it comes to cooking but I thought that with a lot of practice that I would see more successes than failures. And I was, when I was cooking regularly, but it seems that it didn't take long for me to lose whatever skills I had picked up these past seven years. Lately I feel like I'm a worse cook than when I started!

I have left ingredients behind, I have made the wrong call and added the 'wrong' ingredient (a few white chocolate chips were all it took to turn my son's nose away from one batch of chocolate chip brownies), I've overcooked and undercooked things. Even recipes I've made several times before are not turning out right (Dan's disaster of a birthday cake!) I can't even make a salad for myself that hits the mark. I can't make anything that doesn't come out of a box or package that my kids will eat, and sometimes I can't even get the packaged stuff right.

So it's been hard to revive my desire to blog. Blogging certainly hasn't been replaced with anything - I still have the time to do it (I have more time than ever to do it). I was still buying cookbooks until recently when I decided that madness has to stop, at least until I start using them again. Will that happen? I honestly don't know.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ah, finally! Chorizo Carbonara

Chorizo Carbonara
River Cottage Every Day Copyright 2009 

5 ounces spaghetti, linguine, or other long pasta
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 cup Tupperware Mexican Chorizo, crumbled (or Spanish chorizo, diced quite small)
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Add the pasta to a large saucepan of well-salted boiling water and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the chorizo and fry briskly for about 10 minutes, until crisp and cooked through. If you’re using the soft Tupperware chorizo, you can start with a bit of a lump and break it up with a spatula as it fries, so it forms lots of succulent little nuggets and crumbs, thereby maximizing the surface area available for crisping.

Beat the egg yolks and cream together and season lightly (since the chorizo is already highly seasoned). When the pasta is done, drain thoroughly and immediately return it to the hot pan. Tip in the crisp chorizo, followed by the egg mixture. Use 2 forks to mix the eggy cream into the hot pasta. It will cook in the heat of the pasta, coating each strand in a light, creamy sauce. Serve right away, with a final grinding of black pepper on top.

Tupperware Mexican Chorizo

1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, coarsely minced
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp hot smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp fine sea salt
1½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup red wine
Freshly ground black pepper
A little rapeseed or olive oil for frying

Put all the ingredients except the oil into a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands, squishing the mix through your fingers to distribute the seasonings evenly.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan, break off a small piece of the mixture, shape into a tiny patty and fry for a few minutes on each side, until cooked through. Taste to check the seasoning, remembering that the flavours will develop further as the mixture matures. If you're a heat fiend, you can add more cayenne and black pepper.

Cover the mixture and store in the fridge for at least 24 hours before using; this will allow the flavours time to develop. It will keep for about a week.

While I obviously often come across recipes that I want to make, less often I come across a recipe that I really want to make, one that won't leave my brain.  I may not jump up and make the recipe immediately.  In fact, sometimes it may take me years to get to it, but I won't forget about it.

It didn't take me years to make this recipe, just months, but I would have made it sooner if not for one thing - finding hot smoked paprika proved to be a bit of a challenge.  I tried my usual hard-to-find-ingredient go-to place - Wegman's. I checked every grocery store I stepped in.  I couldn't even find it on Penzey's site although I have to believe it was there somewhere.  I did find another online source but it seemed ridiculous to pay shipping to buy a spice for one untested recipe.  I gave up.  I took this book back to the library. 

Then, lo and behold, I was in a TJ Maxx (or Marshall's or one of those stores that are basically all the same store) and there was a can of hot smoked paprika for $3 or $4 in the gourmet food section.  Jackpot!  I checked out this cookbook the next time I went to the library and made this recipe.

Now, one thing about these recipes that I can't get out of my mind - sometimes they are a big disappointment.  This one was not, I'm glad to say.  The sausage was a tad too salty, my fault probably since I used regular table salt, not 'fine sea salt' (I have since picked up some fine sea salt) and I used cooking wine which I usually don't have a problem with but I should have known better than to not adjust the salt.  Keeping raw meat in the fridge for a week seems like a long time - maybe all that salt helps it last longer. (I did eat some of this at a week old and lived to write this blog post.)

It wasn't terribly hot. It could have been a touch hotter. I was too lazy to cook up a little and check the seasonings.  I might add more cayenne or some chili flakes next time.  This is definitely something I want to make again.

I made the carbonara 2 or 3 times (a half recipe at a time, a very healthy portion for one person).  I loved it.  I made chorizo and scrambled eggs, with a touch of havarti cheese.  It was delicious.  I wanted to make little meatballs (the suggested preparation of the sausage in the cookbook) but I didn't get to them. Oh, I also fried up a patty of this and made a little sandwich for a quick dinner one night.  It was very good on it's own.  I froze what was left of the sausage mixture.

As you can see, I'm still here.  I'm still cooking but when I look at my backlog of recipes, it all looks quite boring. I'm starting to believe I will never be a regular blogger again but at the same time, I'm not ready to say my final farewell either. I think when the heat subsides I will start getting a bit more aggressive about finding new recipes the boys might like. This blog has fallen towards the bottom of my to-do list right now.

Oh, here's Dan's 4th birthday cake.

It was made under-the-gun and I thought it was cute but it went straight in the trash. I made the cake layers ahead of time and froze it since I had time constraints to deal with.  Something went wrong - maybe the baking powder had lost it's spark.  The layers looked okay on the top half but the bottoms were dense and looked uncooked.  They passed the toothpick test. Thank God this cake was only for the three of us.  WTH?  I've never messed up a cake like that before.  Oh well, the cupcakes were good (they were from a box !)