Friday, December 31, 2010

Holiday Rugelach

I've always seen these little crescent shaped cookies, but have never actually ate one, nor have I had any desire to make them. I've been nearly obsessed with Dorie Greenspan's cookbook lately and came across this recipe, and since it was right in the middle of the holiday season, I figured, why not!?

Rugelach, pronounced ru-ga-la, is a crescent shaped cookie that can be custom made according to your taste bud's preferences. The cream cheese dough can be wrapped around raisins, currants, chocolate, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cinnamon sugar, and apricot or raspberry jam - omit or add ingredients as you desire!

The recipe in Dorie's book included currants, mini chocolate chips, jam, cinnamon sugar, and walnuts so that's what these have in them. I was skeptical at first; how was I supposed to roll this little piece of dough around all these ingredients, but it works! These cookies have so many different tastes, but all together, they're perfect for the holidays :)


Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan


For the dough
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces (See Note below)
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces (See Note below)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling
2/3 cup raspberry jam, apricot jam or marmalade (I used apricot jam)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts or almonds) (I used walnuts)
1/4 cup plump, moist dried currants
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

For the glaze
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cold water
2 tablespoons sugar, preferably coarse sugar


For the dough
1) Let the cream cheese and butter rest on counter for 10 minutes. It should be slightly softened but cool.
2) Put the flour and salt in a food processor, scatter over the chunks of cream cheese and butter and pulse the machine for 6 to 10 times. Then process, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, just until the dough forms large curds. Do not work the dough too long that it forms a ball on the blade.
3) Remove the dough from the food processor, divide into half, shape each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to a day. (Wrap airtight, the dough can be frozen for up to 2 months.)

To make the filling
1) Heat the jam in a saucepan over low heat, or microwave until it liquefies. Mix sugar and cinnamon together.
2) Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. (Silicone baking mats are great for rugelach.)

To shape the cookies
1) Pull one packet of dough from the refrigerator. If it is too firm to roll easily, leave it on the counter for about 10 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin.
2) On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 11- to 12-inch circle. Spoon (or brush) a thin gloss of jam over the dough, and sprinkle over half of the cinnamon sugar.
3) Scatter over half of the nuts, half of the chopped chocolate and half of the currants. Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough, then remove the paper and save it for the next batch.
4) Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 wedges, or trigangles. (The easiest way to do this is to cut into quarters, then cut each quarters into 4 pieces.)
5) Starting at the base of each triangle, roll the dough up so that each triangle becomes a little crescent.
6) Arrange the roll-ups on one baking sheet, making sure the points are tucked under the cookies, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (The cookies can be refrigerate overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; don't defrost before baking, just add a couple of minutes to the baking time.)

Getting ready to bake
1) Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degree F.

To glaze
1) Stir the egg and water together. Brush a bit of the glaze over each rugelach. Sprinkle the cookies with sugar.
2) Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until they are puffed and golden.
3) Transfer the cookies to racks to cool to just warm or to room temperature.

Andddd this would be the aftermath... my mom wasn't too thrilled when she saw her kitchen haha!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Snowball Cookies

Every year my family makes the same Christmas cookies. And every year, we put them in the same Christmas containers. The same cookies, in the same containers. Every year. It's a tradition and we love our tradition!

These are (I think) my favorite cookie. They're melt in your mouth good, packed with chocolate, walnuts, and buttery goodness, and I'm positive they wouldn't taste nearly as good if it weren't the holiday season! They're great too because they yield so many, so they're perfect for giving away - which is by far the best reason to make holiday cookies :) I highly suggest making these, but before you get started, check your fridge and make sure you have 3 sticks of butter.

Mini Chip Snowball Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts
  • Powdered sugar

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

BEAT butter, sugar, vanilla extract and salt in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in flour; stir in morsels and nuts. Shape level tablespoons of dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are set and lightly browned. Remove from oven. Sift powdered sugar over hot cookies on baking sheets. Cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar, if desired. Store in airtight containers (preferably your favorite holiday container).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Macadamia Triangles aka Triangle Squares

The first time I had this cookie was when Chris's mom made them. She announced them as "triangle squares."

"Triangle squares?" Chris asked. He was the only one who noticed what she had said was completely wrong. Instead, the rest of us were only concerned with consuming the gooey, delicious treat in front of our eyes.

Still to this day, we joke about the "triangle squares" and still to this day, I call them triangle squares. They are in fact called Macadamia Triangles, a recipe borrowed from Good Housekeeping and they are glorious.

I've never had macadamia nuts before having this treat, and I'm not quite sure I'd eat them by themselves, but mixed with brown sugar and a sweet pastry dough, they're amazing. Seriously. Want to try something different? Try this.

**A food processor is required (I only mention this because I'm not sure if everyone owns a food processor. I bet a blender would work though!)

Macadamia Triangles by Good Housekeeping

Sweet Pastry Crust

· 1 cup(s) all-purpose flour

· 1/4 cup(s) granulated sugar

· 1/8 teaspoon(s) salt

· 6 tablespoon(s) cold butter or margarine

· 3 tablespoon(s) cold water

Macadamia Filling

· 1 jar(s) (7-ounce) macadamia nuts

· 2/3 cup(s) packed light brown sugar

· 1 large egg

· 2 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease 9" by 9" metal baking pan. Line pan with foil; grease foil.

Prepare Sweet Pastry Crust: In medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. With pastry blender or 2 knives used scissor-fashion, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle water, about 1 tablespoon at a time, into flour mixture, mixing lightly with fork after each addition until dough is just moist enough to hold together. With lightly floured hand, press dough evenly into bottom of prepared pan. With fork, prick dough in 1-inch intervals to prevent puffing and shrinking during baking.

Bake crust 15 to 20 minutes, until golden (crust may crack slightly during baking). Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Reset oven temperature to 375 degrees F.

Prepare Macadamia Filling: Coarsely chop 1/2 cup macadamia nuts; reserve for topping. In food processor with knife blade attached, process remaining macadamia nuts with brown sugar until nuts are finely ground. Add egg and vanilla. Pulse until just combined.

With small spatula, spread macadamia filling evenly over cooled crust. Sprinkle reserved chopped macadamia nuts on top. Bake 20 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

When cool, lift foil with pastry out of pan and place on cutting board; peel foil away from sides. Cut into 4 strips, then cut each strip crosswise into 4 squares. Cut each square diagonally in half. Store at room temperature, well-wrapped, up to 3 days.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Came Early!

I guess I just have to share how very excited I am about my early Christmas present from Chris. A 14 piece cake decorating set from Ateco. Twelve stainless steel tips, a 12" flex decorating bag, and a coupler attachment. I swear I didn't beg him to give them to me early so I could make a certain cupcake for Christmas (stay tuned for my creation!).

I don't make cupcakes or cakes very often, but trust me, I will now!

Oh, and that personalized apron straight from Venice, Italy... no words, just adorable :) I can thank Chris for that one too!

Any cupcake suggestions?! I'm all for using my new tips!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sushi X

Last night my boyfriend took me to a new sushi place in Ridgewood, NJ called Sushi X (they don't have their own website but you can find other reviews on the web). We don't eat in Ridgewood often, but since we both love sushi - and we both love all-you-can-eat sushi - we decided to give it a go!

Yup, you heard me right: all-you-can-eat sushi. Chris and I usually go to Mr. Sushi in Wayne to stuff our faces until we're in a satisfied food coma, but since this place offered the same deal we couldn't resist. Actually, Sushi X offers the all-you-can-eat sushi at a price of $19.99 on weekdays, $21.99 on weekends, and half price for children (compared to Mr. Sushi which is $21.99 flat). Sushi X also offers all-you-can-eat on the regular menu, so you're not restricted to only sushi. My boyfriend and I are no doubt fatties-at-heart, so $19.99 all-you-can-eat everything seemed like a good enough deal for us!

Sushi X opened in July 2010 and his located in the heart of Ridgewood at 23 Chestnut Street, Ridgewood, NJ (right next to Blend). Since it was a Wednesday night, it wasn't crowded on the streets, so we got a parking spot right outside the restaurant, but other nights parking may be a bit tricky - just something to be aware of.

If you do the all-you-can-eat, they give you two pieces of paper with items to chose from. All of their rolls, special rolls, hand rolls, appetizers, and meals are listed and you just get to check off whatever you want. Everything is made to order, not buffet style. As with any all-you-can-eat restaurant, they have rules: no sharing, you must eat everything on your plate before ordering more, and anything you don't eat will be charged at full price.

Chris started off with a miso soup and I started with salad with ginger dressing. Unfortunately, we both weren't starving, else we would have ordered an appetizer from the menu section. Chris said the soup was average, a bit on the salty side. My salad was average as well, however, the dressing was a bit watery. I always do like the ginger dressing to be more creamy, but that's just me being picky.

We both ordered three rolls for dinner. Unfortunately, we can't remember what exactly was in each roll though. Chris order the pink lady which was wrapped in salmon and tuna, another roll we can't remember the name of that had mango, crab meat, and tempura flakes inside and was topped with crab meat and a mango sauce, and a classic spicy salmon roll. The only roll that really stuck out was the mango roll. It was "refreshing" in Chris's opinion and had a unique taste to it.

I order the Yankee roll, another roll I can't remember the name of for the life of me, and a classic shrimp tempura roll. To be quite honest, they were all just mediocre. Nothing really stood out to me quite like the Randy roll from Mr. Sushi. Mmmm Randy roll how I love you.

In all, I'd have to say I probably wouldn't go back to this place. Although the selection of food was definitely a bang-for-your-buck, the rolls were just average.

Monday, December 6, 2010

6 Tips for Staying Fit During the Holidays

Brrrrrr! Today was frigid. Right down to the bone cold.

After a weekend of no physical activity and lots of food, I was ready to get back to the gym. But as much as I tried, I couldn't bring myself to walk to the campus gym. That meant about 10 minutes walking in the freezing cold. Not going to happen today. P90X to the rescue!!

I’ve come to realize that going to the gym is half dedication and half willpower. I want the workout and I want the endorphins, enough that I fit a workout into my daily routine as much as humanly possible. However, I understand that it’s really difficult to get back into routine after the holidays and weekends of overeating.

We all know that Thanksgiving is a yearly excuse to overindulge and splurge on that second or third piece of pie, but this one day holiday – not to mention all the holiday parties that come after that - can easily be turned into weeks of lost gym time and unhealthy eating habits. No need to beat yourself up over your fourth helping of mashed potatoes, there are plenty of ways to get yourself back on track to keep those holiday pounds off.

1. Get back to your daily routine All the prep, clean up, and shopping that comes along with the holiday season can interrupt your daily routine, but it only takes a few days to get back into the swing of things. Having a daily routine and setting out times dedicated to working out makes it easier to get motivated. Working out and staying active is essential to keeping holiday pounds off. For those of you who don’t exactly have a daily routine already, now is the time to make the commitment. Set some goals for yourself – even if they're to just get in shape – and work toward those goals by exercising on a daily basis.

2. Go hard Putting off your workouts for a few days won’t necessarily make your pant size go up, but it might make your stamina go down. Rev up your work out so you burn more calories per hour, or add 10-15 minutes onto your cardio. Increasing the intensity of your workout will help burn more calories and fat, and adding a few extra minutes will help shed the pounds.

3. Incorporate weights into your workout Although most people lift weights solely for appearance, “pumping iron” also increases metabolism. The reason for this is simply because more muscle burns more fat. This increased metabolism not only helps burn off calories, but makes it easier for your body to burn off food quicker as you consume it. Stronger muscles can also help make aerobic activities more intense, ultimately burning more calories then too!

4. Nutrition It’s okay to splurge once in a while, aka holidays, but there’s no reason to continue eating leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast. Keep the sweets to a minimum, and try to focus on whole grains, vegetable, fruits, and protein. Use this time between now and New Years to control what you eat. Also, remember that your stomach may have expanded just a tad over Thanksgiving break, so it thinks it needs more food to be full. Try eating smaller meals throughout the day to just satisfy your hunger and help get your stomach back its normal size.

5. Drink water Drinking the recommended amount of water, or more, everyday has so many benefits. It improves your immune system, skin, cell reproduction, organs, reduces fatigue, and much more. It’s especially good for cleansing out toxins and wastes, such as sugars, alcohols, and food chemicals you might have overindulged in over the past week. Be sure to have several glasses of water throughout the day mainly between meals and after a good workout to cleanse your system and keep it running smooth.

6. Too cold to go outside? Stay in and do an in-home workout. Even if it’s a few sets of crunches, weights, pushups, jumping jacks, and jogging in place, every little bit helps. My favorite is Tae Bo, P90X, or yoga in the comfort of my very own home.

More holidays are right around the corner, and now is the best time to re-start (or kick-start) your fitness routine. Don’t wait until after the holidays to burn off the extra winter pounds; starting now will make it easier to keep off any unwanted weight. It might be difficult to get a regime started, but trust me, you'll be happy you did!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart

And again, Dorie Greenspan's book makes an appearance...

I sifted through the pages of Greenspan's book searching for the perfect dessert for Thanksgiving this year. I did made an apple pie (with a pretty green new dish I recently purchased), and brought along some ginger spice cookies, but I also wanted something chocolaty that I've never made before.

It was like love at first sight. The Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart. The picture in the book looked like I should take a fork to the page and eat the entire thing. So it was settled. I was going to make this tart, with my new pan, from the crust up.

Making the crust isn't easy. It takes patience, and is worth it. I dedicated an entire post to making the crust alone for first timers like myself. If you're an experienced crust-maker, you can skip over this post :)

I wasn't around when the tart was first cut into, but my family says the caramel layer was very hard, almost too hard to eat. It's supposed to be eaten at room temperature, which it was, so I found it odd that it was so tough.

However, the next day when I went to have myself a piece, it was fine! It was kept in the fridge and I actually enjoyed it cold. The caramel layer was chewy, but not too hard to eat. The flavors of the chocolate, caramel, and peanuts came together so well, almost like a candy bar. I will definitely make this again.

And after all my blabbering, here's the recipe!

Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart
Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the caramel :

scant 1/2 c heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar, sifted

1 T light corn syrup

2 T salted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

Pinch of salt if you are not using salted butter

For the ganache:

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 cup plus 2 T heavy cream

1/2 stick (4 T) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

3/4 c honey-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1 9-inch tart shell, fully baked and cooled

Getting ready: Because you have to work quickly once the sugar caramelizes, you should have all the ingredients for the caramel measured out and at hand before you start. Also have a medium heatproof bowl at hand to hold the hot caramel.

To make the caramel: Bring the heavy cream to a boil.

Meanwhile, put a medium skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat and sprinkle in about 3 T of the sugar. When it melts, stir it with a wooden spatula or a fork and sprinkle over another 3 T. When that sugar is melted, add the remaining 2 T sugar — the sugar in the pan may already have started to color, and that’s fine. Stir in the corn syrup and boil the syrup until it reaches a deep caramel color — it will probably begin to smoke, and that’s normal.

Stand back from the skillet and stir in the butter and salt, if you’re using it. The caramel will bubble furiously and may spatter, so make sure you’re away from the action. When the butter is in, add the warm cream — the caramel will bubble furiously again. Lower the temperature just a tad and let the caramel boil for just 2 minutes. (If you want to check on a thermometer, the caramel should be at 226 degrees F.).

Pour the seething caramel into the heatproof bowl and set it aside while you make the ganache.

To make the ganache: Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and have a whisk or a rubber spatula at hand.

Bring the cream to a boil, then pour half of it over the chocolate and let it sit for 30 seconds. Working with the whisk or spatula, very gently stir the chocolate and cream together in small circles, starting at the center of the bowl and working your way out in increasingly larger concentric circles. Pour in the remainder of the cream and blend it into the chocolate, using the same circular motion. When the ganache is smooth and shiny, stir in the butter piece by piece. Don’t stir the ganache any more than you must to blend the ingredients — the less you work it, the darker, smoother and shinier it will be.

Cover the ganache with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the surface of the chocolate to create an airtight seal. Set aside at room temperature for the moment. (If it’s more convenient, the ganache can be refrigerated or even frozen for future use.)

To assemble the tart: Using a small rubber spatula, stir the peanuts into the caramel. If the caramel has cooled and is too thick to spread easily, gently warm it in a microwave oven using 3-second heat spurts. (Or you can just hold the heatproof bowl about 10 inches above the burner on your range — keep it over the heat for a couple of seconds, then check the caramel’s consistency and repeat if necessary.)

Spread the caramel over the bottom of the tart shell; you’ll have a thin layer. refrigerate the tart for 15 minutes to set the caramel.

Check the ganache. If it has thickened and is no longer pourable, warm it in 3-second spurts in a microwave oven or over direct heat (see the hints for warming caramel, above). Rap the bowl to break any surface bubbles, pour the ganache over the caramel and jiggle the tart pan to even it.

Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes — no longer — then keep it at room temperature until serving time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Time For Everything

Third Time's a Charm

As a new member of the food blogging society, there are certain things I notice and look for when reading other blogs. I like to search the web for new recipes to try and tend to lean more toward recipes from personal blogs. I like these because the blogger usually gives more description about the recipe than a big-name website would. One thing I would like to see more of though -admitting mistakes or mess-ups. I know, from experience, not everything comes out the way you plan - in baking and in life. No one is perfect.

So let me start off by saying that it took me 3 tries to get this tart crust right. Three times! The first time, the dough seemed way too dry with only one large egg yolk, so I added another. And then when it still seemed too dry, I added another. Bad idea. It was too yolky and yellow and I knew it was going to lose it's flaky texture. Basura!

So I started fresh. Pulsed all the ingredients together in the food processor with only 1 egg yolk this time. But again, it was too dry for me to form into a dough! So I added a few tablespoons of water. Awful idea. The dough was too wet and sticky, and again, I knew it was going to lose it's flaky texture.

For the third and last time, all ingredients went into the food processor, no more, no less. I didn't care how dry it was, I was going to make it into a dough. So I poured it onto a lightly floured counter top and kneaded it so that all the dry ingredients were incorporated. I gently pressed it into the pan and baked it with no problems.

The trick with this crust is, that when you knead it on the counter, you are supposed to use your hands to incorporate all the dry ingredients in so they combine with the wet ingredients. It works. Don't panic. Your patience is well worth it because this crust really is delicious.

Sweet Tart Dough
Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg yolk

To make the dough: Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely - you'll have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that's just fine. Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.

Very lightly and sparingly - make that very, very lightly and sparingly - knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

If you want to press the dough into a tart pan, now is the time to do it.

[If you want to chill the dough and roll it out later (doable, but fussier than pressing), gather the dough into a ball (you might have to use a little more pressure than you used to mix in dry bits, because you do want the ball to be just this side of cohesive), flatten it into a disk, wrap it well and chill it for at least 2 hours or for up to 1 day.]

To make a press-in crust: Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don't be stingy - you want a crust with a little heft because you want to be able to both taste and feel it. Also, don't be too heavy-handed - you want to press the crust in so that the pieces cling to one another and knit together when baked, but you don't want to press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly shortbreadish texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust. Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

I've been trying to make as many desserts from this cookbook I borrowed from my boss before I have to give it back - but hopefully Santa will return it to me for future baking :)

This past week I made the sugar-topped molasses spice cookies, mainly because they looked delicious, seemed easy, and I had extra molasses in the cabinet from the Bohemian wedding cake I made a few weeks ago.

I highly recommend these cookies for anyone who likes a cookie with a kick. I was intrigued by the use of pepper in them, which I've never used in a cookie before, but an a big fan of now! These cookies are almost like a gingerbread cookie, only more crunchy and spicy. They're great for dunking in milk or with a giant mug of hot cocoa. Ohhhh winter....

Before I give the recipe though, I want to give all you wonderful bakers out there that might actually make these cookies a few tips.

1) Last minute, I realized I didn't have allspice, so handy-dandy Google allowed me to look up a substitute (which I use a lot when I don't have a certain ingredient on hand). Instead of allspice, I used a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice.

2) Freeze the dough for as long as possible, and work quickly when you take it out. I found that the warmer the dough and my hands got, the more easily the dough stuck to the palms of my hands.

3) Don't flatten them too thin; they spread while baking. My cookies came out a bit too crunchy (but keeping them in an air-tight container keeps them soft, so if this happens to you, stick them in a container and keep a lid on it).

4) The recipe says to use the bottom of a glass to flatten them. This works if you have a glass with a big enough bottom, but unfortunately the bottom of my drinking glasses were tiny. So I used the bottom of my plastic measuring cup. I recommend glass because it sticks less, but if you have to use plastic, make sure you have enough sugar on the bottom to keep from sticking.

There you have it, a few minor problems I ran into, but hopefully none of you will! These cookies are reallly easy to make and so yummy. Enjoy!!

Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and pepper.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat for 2 minutes or so to blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until the flour and spices disappear. If some flour remains in the bottom of the bowl, to avoid over-beating the dough, mix in the last of the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula. You'll have a smooth, very soft dough.

Divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Freeze for 30 minutes, or refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The dough can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.Put the sugar in a small bowl.

Working with one packet of dough at a time, divide it into 12 pieces, and roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palms. One by one, roll the balls around in the bowl of sugar , then place them on one of the baking sheets. Dip the bottom of a glass into the sugar and use it to press down on the cookies until they are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the tops feel set to the touch. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, if the cookies have spread and are touching, use the edge of a metal spatula to separate them while they are still hot.

Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second batch of dough.Yield: about 24 fairly large cookies (I got a few more)

Storage: The cookies will keep for at least 1 week in the cookie jar. Wrapped airtight, they can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Half Marathon Aftermath

As I debated whether or not I should take a nap or go to the gym today, I thought to myself, "Self, did you ever blog about how you're half marathon went? And how sore you were? And how your legs felt like they were going to collapse from underneath you?" No, no I did not blog about how my first ever half marathon went!! Why not!?

I have no answer to why I didn't blog about it... sheer laziness? Perhaps, but now, more than two months later, I want to share with you just how worth the hours of training were for this 13.1 mile run.

This was actually a commentary I wrote for one my my journalism classes (you can find more of my articles at my class's wordpress website). I've tweaked it a bit for my personal blog:

I Ran Like a Diva

Tiaras, pink feather boas, champagne, and roses are exactly what a girl needs to feel like the diva she really is.

More than 3,000 women gathered at Eisenhower Park, Long Island, N.Y. on Oct. 3 for the first ever Divas Half Marathon. The Divas Half Marathon is the first event in the Divas series of runs sponsored by the Continental Event and Sports Management Group LLC. These half marathons were developed to encourage women to celebrate their womanhood by dousing them with items such as tiaras, boas, and champagne.

The half marathon was a 13.1 mile run around Nassau County, Long Island. Women of all ages participated, and were encouraged to “run like a diva” as they raced to the finish line where their glass of champagne awaited them.

Firefighter “hunks,” as the Divas Half Marathon described these gentlemen, greeted each runner at the finish line with champagne, a medal and a rose. This was my first half marathon, and what attracted me most were the fun perks, as you can probably see why!

About five weeks ago, a friend of mine from work asked me if I was interested in running in this event with her. I did a bit of research and, not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into, said yes. Training began the very next day.

I’ve never been an avid runner. An exercise enthusiast, yes, but the thought of running 13 miles in one shot felt nearly impossible. However, I soon learned it is possible, and I was ready to put my body to the test. I found a training schedule online that detailed day-by-day distances to run in order to be fully prepared for this race. I hung the schedule on my wall, and started my training with an easy three mile run.

The training schedule was that for 10 week period, however, because I started late, I cut out a few weeks in between. Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday were rest days. Monday always started out with a light run; between three to four miles. Throughout the week, the distances gradually increased, to prepare you for Saturday, which was always the longest.

I started training during the last few weeks of summer, so finding time to run during the day wasn't difficult, being that my summer workload wasn't horrendous. There's also a lake nearby my home that is a flat three mile course, so I used that frequently to run around. However, at the start of school, my workload tripled and finding time to do an hour long run didn't exactly fit smoothly into my schedule. I'd hit up the gym when I could, or used to map out a run around Mahwah.

Although I was running more frequently than usual, my diet didn't change drastically. I ate just as much as I used to, but didn't feel as bad when I had that extra piece of pizza or bread, because I knew I'd be burning it off soon anyway. The week before the race, however, runners are advised to carb-load. No need to tell me twice! I ate bagels and pasta and sandwiches throughout the week to ensure that I would have enough energy for the run.

I will admit I strayed from the schedule a few times, not running full mileage on some days. However, as the two-week mark snuck up on me, I stepped up my A-game. Two weeks before the half marathon, I pushed myself to run 10 miles, and the week before I ran seven. A fellow student who runs full marathons said I should be fine with that amount of training, so I eased up on the distances and before I knew it, race day was here.

My ultimate goal was to finish. I wanted to prove to myself and my body that I could run the full 13.1 miles. The night before the race, the two girls I was running with and I spent the night at a nearby hotel in Long Island. We prepared ourselves physically and emotionally by eating pasta and bread and getting to bed early.

We set our alarms for 5:30 a.m. in order to pack, eat, and get to the race on time. By 7:45 a.m., women were swarming around the starting line. As I made my way to the crowd, surrounded by thousands of other girls, my heart raced inside of me and my adrenalin pumped. The horn sounded and we were off!

The feeling of being among these thousands of women, and knowing that we’re all here to accomplish the same goal was tremendously exciting. By the time I looked up at a mile-marker along the way, I was at mile three. Then, before I knew it, mile 11 was just up ahead.

At mile 12, my hips were sore, ankles weak, and legs tired, but to boost our spirits, the divas were given a hot pink feather boa and a sparkly tiara, to make us feel like true divas! The last 1.1 miles were left, so with the boa wrapped around my neck and the tiara nearly falling off my head, I ran full force to the finish line.

I finished the race in one hour, 54 minutes, averaging an eight minute and 42 second mile. This half marathon was a great experience and proved to myself that if I put my mind to something, I can accomplish it.

The race was fun, the aftermath, not so much

Aside from the actually running, let me explain a bit about the aftermath, the part most of you are dying to hear. After crossing that finish line, I literally thought I was going to collapse. My ankles could barely bend, my knee caps were ready to pop off, my thighs were pounding, and my hips needed oil.

I recovered in stages: The day after, my entire lower body felt sore - knees the most. Stairs were a definite no and getting up from chairs made me look like an 85-year-old woman. The second day my thighs and ankles were the most sore. Even walking was painful. The third day, my legs felt a lot better, but my back was killing me. Fourth day, I actually ran again (terrible idea, I do not recommend doing this). My entire body felt like I ran another half marathon.

I'd say by the fifth or sixth day I was 95% recovered. I was actually kind of disappointed when the soreness wore off though. It made me remember how hard I worked to get past that finish line.

Running this half marathon was truly amazing (and I'm not trying to sound corny). It proved a lot about myself I never knew. Someone at the bar I work at told me the other day told me, "Runners are special people. They are extremely self disciplined." He couldn't have been more spot-on.

Someone needs to send me to the Honolulu Diva's Half next!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Think I Found a Winner: Chocolate Chip Cookies

"My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies"

While babysitting my boss's kids last weekend, I came across a book shelf of cookbooks, so naturally I opened pretty much every one of them. I have a bit of ADD when it comes to looking through cookbooks, because really, if you're not looking for something specific, who wants to look through every recipe.

I got this chocolate chip cookie recipe from a book called Baking: From my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan, and which actually kept me flipping through every page - I found some yummy "must-try" desserts in here!

Moving on, here's the chocolate chip recipe I used for these cookies. I usually use the recipe right from the back of the Toll House chocolate chip bag, but I think I might actually like this recipe better :)

My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar (the recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, and 2/3 cup of brown sugar, but I like to use more brown sugar than regular sugar)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 2 cups store-bought chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Put aside.

With a mixer, beat the butter on medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes or so, until well blended. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing only until each addition is incorporated.

Hand mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Spoon the dough by slightly rounded tablespoons onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between spoonfuls.

Bake for (the recipe calls for 10-12 minutes, but I needed less time) about 7-8 minutes, or until they are brown at the edges and golden at the center.

Let cool for about a minute and transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Bon appetit!

ps: There's no way to really shape drop cookies like the heart-shaped one in the picture... I just added a little extra love :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bohemian Wedding Cake from EatLiveRun

I've been on a bit of a pumpkin kick lately and after coming across a pumpkin spice walnut cake on EatLiveRun's blog, I knew I had to try it. The cake, actually called a Bohemian Wedding Cake, mixes the flavors and textures of pumpkin, walnut, molasses, and spices that come together to form an incredibly moist, rich cake.

The pictures of this dessert just don't do it justice. This might be one of my favorite pumpkin desserts (even above the muffins!), however, one thing I would switch up is the frosting. I used the frosting that EatLiveRun uses, but to be honest, I don't think I let the cake cool enough before applying the frosting (there's me being impatient for ya!). Next time I make it, I might try making two cakes and spreading the a cream cheese frosting in the middle... mmm.

One thing I do love about this dessert is that you don't need a mixer! Just two bowls, some measuring utensils, a wisk, and a giant spoon.

First, mix together your dry ingredients:

Then your wet ingredients:

Then combine them both, mix in those walnuts, and plop it all into a baking pan. You can use whatever kind of pan you want... I used a bunt cake pan, but the blog I got the recipe from used a standard 9-inch cake pan.

I think I would vote this recipe #1 for easiest way to 'wow' family and friends on Thanksgiving. Don't think you can bake? Make this. If you can measure ingredients and mix a batter, you'll have yourself a delicious little dessert for the holidays.

Bohemian Wedding Cake

Dry Ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1.5 tsp baking soda

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients:

1 15-ounce can pumpkin

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

1 cup canola oil

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 cup (big handful) roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 350 and butter/flour a nine inch cake pan. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flours, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda). Mix well.

In another bowl, whisk together the canola oil, eggs, pumpkin, molasses, brown sugar and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Fold in the walnuts and then pour batter into prepared cake pan. Bake for about fifty minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from sides of pan. Let cool for ten minutes and then invert on a plate and let cool all the way.

Frost as desired.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NYC Foot on Foot Tour

His name is Corey Taylor, and his most recent occupation: giving NYC visitors - and locals - a food experience to remember. After being laid off of his job 2 years ago, this NY native decided to do something he really enjoyed. Corey now leads the Food on Foot Tours - tours in which he prides as being different than other food tours available in the city. The major differences are that you can eat as much, or as little as you want, there's no fixed food price, and there's no set food samples; this is not a "canned tour," as they say. Corey invites you to experience the best NYC food joints with unbelievable flavor and prices.

My sister and I came across this food tour on Yipit when they were offering a 50% discount. Being that both Jackie and I love food, we bought the coupon for the 7-hour tour on Nov. 6. I say a 7-hour tour because this particular tour was a Foot on Footathon and all proceeds were being donated to a charity. Normal tours are typically 3 hours.

The tour started at 10:30 a.m. We all met at a designated spot in Penn Station and began from there. TIP: Because Corey, and I quote, "Is the only tour guide crazy enough to have my groups travel via subways," I highly recommend buying a fun-day subway pass for $8.25. It saves money and the hassle of getting a metro card every time the group travels.

We started off at a pizza place in Hell's Kitchen, appropriate I guess because it is NYC, home of the best pizza! This place was called NY Pizza Supreme. I didn't take any pizza pictures because there was nothing really special about the way it looked, but it was some pretty darn good pizza.

Corey then brought us to a place called Go Sushi. He said this was one places he would bring us specifically for one food: the fried shrimp dumplings. They were typical Asian cuisine. Thick crunchy outside and a warm shrimp inside. The dipping sauce that was served with it was a warm, sweet duck sauce-like sauce, if that makes sense. The combination was delicious.

Another little tip: SHARE. There's no way I would be able to (or want to for that matter) eat an entire helping of food from each place we stopped, so having my sister there to share each dish with definitely helped not get too full too fast. This particular dish we shared with two extremely sweet girls from Europe.

Another great thing about this tour was that Corey really made it personable. He encouraged mingling and getting to know others in the group, which was a great way to learn about different cultures as well. In our group of about 15 people, about half of them were from Australia and Europe, and they really made the tour interesting. We ended up sharing food, advice, and some great laughs with these visitors.

It was then time to satisfy our sweet-tooth! We made our way to Amy's Bread on 9th Avenue where Corey raved about the chocolate sourdough twist, so of course we had to try it. The sour of the dough and the sweet from the chocolate went so well together and made this "sweet" treat, a bit savory. Consensus: wish there were more chocolate chunks, but overall delicious.

Just a ways down 9th Avenue was the Poseido Greek bakery. Apparently, this small, authentic Greek bakery is one of the only bakeries in the city that still hand makes their paper-thin phyllo dough. Jackie and I split a galaktoboureko (I think that's what it was). Whatever it was, it was magical! This little Greek pastry was filled with a sweet egg, milk, and cream custard and wrapped every so gently in layers upon layers of crispy phyllo dough. Oooooh phyllo dough how I love you.

Our next stop, still in Hell's Kitchen, was Lazzara's Pizza. This place had phenomenal thin crust pizza... only problem with thin crust pizza is that it's so easy to eat! I could have easily gobbled up an entire pie myself of this crispy thin dough topped with sweet tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. My mouth is watering now. As if you couldn't tell, this place is definitely a go-to for thin crust pizza. Even Zagat put it in it's top 10!

Our next stop was a zeppole shop, ironically named Led Zeppole. This place obviously sold more than just zeppoles (as you can from the pictures below), but Jackie and I stuck to the traditional food. Not much to say about this zeppole... it was like any other piece of fried dough with powdered sugar I've gotten in my life.

Next door to Led Zeppole, was a pizza place called Artichoke's, and being that none of us wanted another slice of pizza just yet, we all passed. Corey, however, was kind enough to buy a few slices to share among the group. In all honesty, I wish I had a picture to show just how thick and cheesy this pizza was. We all tried the artichoke pizza which was out of this world! It was layered with (what tasted like) pesto sauce, goat cheese (or some kind of similar cheese), and artichokes. If anyone knows of a place in NJ I can get pizza like this, PLEASE inform me :)

Moving on... we stopped at a the Build A Green Bakery. Corey bought the group a maple bacon scone to taste and share. It was so yummy that Jackie brought one back for her husband AND made a home-made version the next day. The bakery was tiny and lined with fresh pumpkin pies which gave the little shop an amazing aroma. They even had samples of the pumpkin pie, and, no joke, it was the best darn pumpkin pie I've ever had!

Just to give everyone a time-frame, we're now looking at about 4 hours into this tour. When Corey did his introductions, he said he had allotted 7 hours for this tour, but didn't think anyone would make it that long. We keep going....

This next place that Corey brought us to was called This Little Piggy, a place where he staked his reputation! Corey brought us there specifically for the pastrami on rye sandwich. Now, I'm not sure I've ever had a pastrami on rye sandwich with all the works (slaw and mustard), let alone a plain pastrami sandwich, but all I can say is that this was the best pastrami sandwich I've ever had - and probably will have. For all you pastrami lovers out there, this place is a hidden gem. The meat was so tender, and no exaggeration, melted in your mouth. The combination of cole slaw, mustard and this tender juicy meat was amazing. Jackie even went as far as saying this was her favorite food on the entire tour!

Corey was surprised we all still wanted to continue after all this eating! (I guess no one told him Jackie and I are fatties at heart hehe).

He then brought us to Crif Dogs, a #1 hot dog joint in NYC. Unfortunately, Jackie and I weren't exactly up for eating a fried hot dog at that time, but we weren't going to skip out on the next stop...

Butter Lane! This adorable little cupcake shop is snuggled right into E. 7th St. and could easily be passed by. Their concept of picking a cake flavor and then a frosting to suite your very own fancy was great for those who love their choices. Jackie and I shared a vanilla cupcake with hazelnut chocolate frosting. The frosting wasn't too sweet and the cake was perfectly moist. This place was good but I'd have to say any cupcake shop would be a perfect ending to a food tour!

Jackie and I were absolutely stuffed at the end of this nearly 5 hour walking tour, but it was worth every calorie! I highly recommend this tour for any visitors wanting a taste of what NYC has to offer, and even locals (like ourselves!) who just don't know what's out there.

If you were to go on a food tour, what kind of foods would you want to taste??