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??