Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cranberry Bread Pudding

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I'm on a personal quest to reduce the number of foods that I dislike. On the list of conquered food items we have avocados, tomatoes, and most recently, bread pudding. And of course now that I actually crave bread pudding, Dad made one just in time for a New Year's dessert to ship me off.


1 Panettone (We used Trader Joes with cranberries because I haven't conquered my dislike of raisins yet. You could use any type of Panettone or any type of bread you have lying around).
4 eggs
4 cups of milk
10 tablespoons Splenda
Fresh orange zest
Freshly ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon almond extract
Favorite type of nuts (Dad used pecans. I later tried this with pecans with much success)
Cinnamon/sugar for sprinkling on top

Note: You can really get creative with the ingredients here. I added chocolate chips to the Raisin one I made back here in SF. Later, I'll be trying a chocolate orange and then a dulce de leche.

1. Cut up the Panettone into bite size pieces, about a half inch by half inch by half inch.
2. Prepare mixture by combining the eggs, milk, Splenda, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, extracts, and nuts. Mix well.
3. Add the Panettone/bread pieces to the mixture. Soak for 15 minutes. Mix. Soak for an additional 15 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350. You should have two oven racks spaced in the middle - one for the bread pudding and the other below for a water bath.
5. Spray baking pan for bread pudding with a non-stick spray. Fill another baking dish with some water.
6. Pour Panettone mixture into the baking pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle walnuts, cinnamon and sugar on top. Place bread pudding and water bath in oven.
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before cutting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

If Only Raindrops Were Cookies...

It rained all day here in Northern Virgina. Typically, I like the rain. I find the pitter patter of the rain drops to be rather comforting, especially when curled up with a good book or fixing up a big pot of warm soup. But that's in San Francisco. Where the temperature has about a 20 degree range and rarely falls below 50. Where I don't mind a couple of drops of rain on my head as I sprint out to the car. Here though, it's cold and it should be snowing. Snow that is light fluffy flakes that you try and catch with your tongue. That are too light to really feel. But it's raining. Those rain drops are freakin' COLD!

I must have been baking too much recently because on the way to the post office to ship out MORE cookies, the little raindrops that were balling up on my windshield (thanks to lots of Rainx from Dad) reminded me of little balls of cookie dough. No, I swear, this is not something I came up with just because its 2am in the morning and I needed an segue into my cookie pictures. Honestly!

No, it's just that I baked 7 types of cookies, on my own over the course of the past couple of days. And for a girl who previously detested baking (what? you want me to actually follow directions?), that's a lot. So why bake so many cookies? Well, due to my lovely food magazine and blog obsession, I had a large handful of "I'll make that when I'm on vacation" and here I find myself on a two week "vacation" at home with the parents (they really aren't that bad). That + desire to take pictures + requests from Dad's office + need for Christmas gifts = 7 batches of cookies and a subsequent photo shoot.

Thus, without being even more of a tease, I present the 2007 Holiday Cookie Roster:

- Chocolate Walnut Toffee (aka Brownie Cookie)
- Peanut Butter Kisses (aka PB Blossom)
- Thumbprint

- Raspberry Gelees

- Peppermint Patties (homemade!)
- Peanut Butter Munchies (aka Reeses in cookie form)

- Salted Langues de Chat

I knew immediately after viewing the Salted Langues de Chat that I would love them. Caramel + Salt + Butter = Me Drooling. Not a surprise given my recent salt on sweets kick. But the parents liking them? Ok, Dad maybe because he likes crunchy things. But Mom? Mom even declared that they were "pretty good"(a big feat in her book. She eats to live. Not lives to eat, like me. Are you sure there wasn't a mix up, doc?) and her favorite of the year.

Langues de chat are otherwise known as cat's tongues. Thank goodness I don't speak French! Enough with the animal body parts people. I don't care if it actually looks like that, name it something else. (I'll have to post more later on the so called "flies' heads that I've been eating recently. Sorry if that makes you lose your appetite; it's just minced pork and chives.) Langues de chat are a classic French cookie that is essentially a long, thin butter cookie. Gourmet played with the concept and tweaked it to add a caramel, salty flavor. We liked them so much, I think I'll be adding these to my regular list. In French, of course.

Salted Praline Langues De Chat
adapted from Gourmet magazine


For praline
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds (preferably with skin), toasted - one small bag in the baking aisle

For cookies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds (preferably with skin)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
5 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

Equipment: a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain tip or a big ziplock bag with the corner snipped

Make praline:
Put a large sheet of foil on a heatproof work surface.

Heat sugar in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is golden. Add toasted almonds, stirring until coated well, then carefully pour onto foil (mixture will spread) and cool completely, about 15 minutes. Peel praline off foil and chop with a large heavy knife. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Make cookies:
Preheat oven to 325°F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour and table salt. Pulse almonds with sugar in a food processor until finely ground.

Beat butter and sugar mixture with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in egg whites and extracts. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches until just combined well.

Transfer batter to pastry bag, then dab some batter under corners of parchment to secure to baking sheets. Pipe 6-inch-long strips (about 1/3 inch wide) 1 1/2 inches apart in 2 slanted rows (so they will fit) on each baking sheet.

Bake until slightly puffed but still pale, 7 to 9 minutes, then sprinkle generously with praline and lightly with sea salt. Continue baking until cookies are baked through and golden-brown on edges, 7 to 11 minutes more. (Turn baking sheets if cookies are browning unevenly.) Slide parchment with cookies onto racks to cool completely (cookies will crisp as they cool).

Form and bake more cookies on cooled baking sheets lined with fresh parchment.

Cook's notes:
• We used an Ateco 804 plain tip for our cookies.
• To avoid stickiness, try to bake these cookies on a dry day.
• Praline can be made 1 week ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
• cookies keep, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

On the way out of Longwood Gardens this Christmas Eve where we were dazzled by the meticulous light display, I remarked to my mom, "That's the most Christmas we've had in years."

And indeed it was. Since the accident, we've been celebrating Christmas in a more simplistic way. Before the accident, I remember Christmas being the big fancy dinner in the formal dining room (only outdone by Thanksgiving dinner each year), opening up one gift before heading off to the 11:00pm candlelight service. I always hoped that by going to the late service, we'd return late enough that the sleepiness would overtake any anticipation of presents the next morning. Before, Christmas encompassed stringing up lights, breaking out the countdown calendar and trying to guess which token ornament would be in the calendar box, picking out a tree (and picking up the fallen pine needles scattered around the house afterwards), rediscovering favorite ornaments and creating drafts and drafts of Christmas lists. Don't get me wrong, though. I think we always understood the true meaning of Christmas and we embraced being around friends and family. These memories don't stand alone; rather, they are little seasonal reminders of how much I love my friends and family.

Which is why, after the accident, the family has avoided having a "normal" Christmas because those seasonal reminders were just too much with one empty chair at the table. We stopped putting up decorations and avoided the candlelight service and Christmas carols because it just left us in tears thinking about how he used to sing at the top of his lungs, yet shyly (yes, that's possible). We tried to go somewhere (Paris one year, Barcelona the next) because breaking the routine helped distract us. But this year, we decided to venture back. And I'm glad.

This year, Mom put tiny little presents as ornaments on a "tree" for me to open on each of the last days leading up to Christmas. Granted, it wasn't a Christmas tree, but it looked festive and Christmasy. This year, we went to church. Not the candlelight service, but there were Christmas carols and they made us smile. This year, we went to Longwood Gardens with the grandparents. Not the same as driving around the neighborhood to look at lights, but hey, this was actually quite cool. This year, we had a baking marathon with seven types of cookies. This year, we tasted a little of the Christmas festivities. Not an entire meal, but enough to leave us warm and fuzzy inside and looking forward to next year.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
There is hope. And cookies and lights and Christmas carols, as frivilous as they may seem, can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

And with that, Merry Christmas all!

(You too, up there)

Note: And I'm not entirely sure why I'm writing this on a supposed food blog. Partly because I'm sharing my version of Christmas and this is what the holidays have been for me and the family. Partly because I want to document it (and Blogger doesn't come with a private post option, plus nobody reads this...yet).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Say it with a Kiss

In continuation of my previous post about the perfect peanut butter cookie, this is the cookie that started it all. Simple, yet oh-so-popular, these cookies have won the hearts of all of Boy's coworkers (if they had it their way, I'd be living my dream cooking all day long). I've used these to say sorry (and surprise, my apology was accepted). These cookies have been notorious to show up at parties such as the 2007 Super Bowl party, 2007 Fourth of July and most recently, the 2007 Blue Angels party. World famous for their simpliciy and bite size happiness from the made-in-heaven pairing of peanut butter and chocolate, these cookies certainly have their way with people.

I've always been keen on pointing out the difference between baking and cooking. "Yes, I love sweets, but I'm really into COOKING not BAKING, and yes there is a big difference." I swore up and down that I'd keep to my cooking and leave baking to the cafe down the street. However, since baked goods lend themselves to office treats much better than, say, crabcakes or lamb chops, I've found myself pseudo-baking recently. My efforts were validated the day I brought in the Chocolate Decadence Cake (see banner at top). Needing some code from one of the developers quickly, I offered to send over a piece of cake in exchange for the code. I think the code was in my inbox before I could even finish the sentence. So, yes, baking does pay off.

With my recent mini-adventures into baking, I've quickly discovered and read a few tips of the trade, which I offer here:


Make sure the ingredients are at the proper temperature. I wouldn't have known this one (why can't I just microwave the butter to make it easy to mix quicker?). I delight in finishing things quicker than expected, so I'm always looking for a shortcut, and perhaps this is one of my qualms with baking - shortcuts are generally bad. This usually applies to eggs and butter. The butter is suppose to be between 65 and 70 degrees - if Goldilocks claims the butter is too soft, it won't become fluffy when you beat it with the eggs, which leads to greasy cookies. If Golidocks says the butter is too firm, you also won't be able to cream the butter properly since the sugar can't work its way into the butter to aerate it. Also bad. For eggs, they incorporate better into the batter when they are room temperature.


Cream butter and sugar properly - When you cream the butter and sugar together, you cut the sugar into the butter, creating little pockets of air in the fat - aerating it. This air determines if you will get a tender, light cookie or a dense, leaden one, thus the butter at the right temperature bit. But how do I know when it's creamed properly? As you're beating, watch for the butter and sugar to start increasing in volume as well as becoming lighter in color. Watch carefully so you don't overbeat (mixture becomes shiny).


Keep 'em uniform - The cookie scoop my dad gave me was a godsend. This will make sure that the cookies bake the same, hopefully eliminating those random "extra crispy" cookies.


Be aware of the cookie sheet - I bought some heavy duty Cuisinart sheets recently that won't warp like my other ones have in the past. These have rims though, which can change the baking time of the cookies as the heat doesn't get to the cookies evenly. The ideal cookie sheets are sturdy (won't warp in the oven to make for uneven baking) and rimless (rims won't block the heat) and light colored (dark colors may cook the bottoms of the cookies before the tops are done).

Parchment paper (not for chicken) - My roommate somehow got the idea to use my parchment paper (which I think is expensive) to cover chicken as he pounded the chicken. And he used the LAST BIT, leaving me without parchment paper three days later when I baked cookies. Having to go sans parchment paper, I can't emphasize what a difference the parchment paper makes. Suck it up and buy some.

Don't blame the oven - No two ovens are the same. You should learn your oven (I'm still learning mine). To help combat uneveness, rotate the cookie sheets halfway through and also switch racks. After rotating (if it takes a bit of time), be aware that you may need to bake for a little longer.

Check-in early - I always set the timer for a couple of minutes before the estimated time. Don't check too often or you'll lower the temperature too much. Still, you want to make sure that you...

Remove cookies before they are done - Cookies usually don't LOOK done when they are perfect and those that look perfect usually turn to rock after cooling. You can always put them back in the oven.

Don't reuse hot sheets - I'm a hypocrite on this one, but I've read it time and time again. Cool off the sheets with cold water before reusing - otherwise, the hot sheet can melt the dough before it's allowed to bake properly.

Back to the cookies - Since the Boy and myself aren't huge fans of chocolate, I'm thinking about trying just the dough and making them in the shape of the typical peanut butter cookie. Another thought was adding the ground, roasted and salted peanuts from the previous recipe to add another peanut kick to these cookies. You can also substitute the milk chocolate Hershey Kiss for one of the many varieties of Kisses available, or even go for a Reese's Peanut Butter cup minature if you're a peanut butter fanatic.

One last note - apparently they sell unwrapped Hershey Kisses, but I've yet to find them in the store. If you do, let me know where! Otherwise, be sure that you have the Kisses unwrapped before the cookies come out of the oven so you can place them on the cookies while the cookies are hot.

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. peanut butter
1 egg
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Extra sugar in a small bowl to coat cookie dough

1. Pre-heat oven to 350.
2. Unwrap hershey kisses.

3. Combine and mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt).
4. Add butter, peanut butter, egg, milk and vanilla. Mix until thoroughly combined. The dough should be soft, but easily made into dough balls.

5. In a small bowl (or plate), pour about a 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. As you shape the dough balls, give them a small toss in the sugar bowl to evenly coat the cookie dough. I've found that using a bowl to toss/swirl the dough makes this much quicker and more even than rolling the dough around a plate.
6. Place the dough balls about an inch apart on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. These cookies don't expand too much during baking, but when you add the Hershey Kiss, the dough flattens and expands a bit.

7. Bake for 8-10 minutes. These will turn slightly brown when done.
8. Remove from oven immediately. Place one Hershey's Kiss on each cookie and press down gently. Leave the cookies in safe place to cook all the way. The chocolate melts as it sits on the cookie and I've had plenty of mishaps trying to mess with the cookies before completely cool.

ISO perfect peanut butter cookie recipe

Wannabe cook ISO the perfect peanut butter cookie recipe to woo the heart of a boy.

Short of stealing the Specialty's peanut butter cookie recipe, I believe this recipe may be the way to a peanut butter boy's heart. It's roommate approved (he stole one from the plate in the kitchen, and then took the time to peek in my room to announce "those cookies are pretty damn good" with that guilty look on his face). It's Boy approved. Make that Boy X 2 appproved, Lauren :)

A couple of notes regarding this recipe - watch the cookies in the oven closely. Ideally, you'd want the cookies to have golden brown, crispy edges with a chewy center, slightly sweet and tons of peanut buttery goodness flavor. My oven cooks a bit uneven, so we ended up with a range of golden brown/chewiness. To combat the uneveness a bit, be sure you use a cookie scoop to even out the size of your cookies. I use one similar to this. It's quite sturdy and seems that it will stand up to my many many batches of cookies.

Cooks Illustrated suggests commercial peanut butter instead of the natural peanut butter, which based on my previous peanut butter cookies experiments, I completely agree. This recipe also adds roasted, salted peanuts ground in a food processor, which added a level of peanut flavor that other cookies lacked.

Peanut Butter Cookies (to win a boy's heart)

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), salted
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup extra-crunchy peanut butter , preferably Jif
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup roasted salted peanuts , ground in food processor to resemble bread crumbs, about 14 pulses (about 1 cup, packed)

1. Bring butter and eggs to room temperature.
2. Pre-heat oven to 350.
3. Grind roasted salted peanuts in a food processor. Set aside.

4. In a small bowl, sift or mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
5. In a separate medium to large bowl (this is the bowl that all your batter will end up in), beat the butter until creamy.
6. Add sugars and beat until fluffy. You may need to scrape down the bowl.
7. Beat in peanut butter, then eggs, and then vanilla.
8. Slowly incoporate the dry ingredients while beating.
9. Add ground peanuts and stir gently just until incoporated.

10. On a parchment paper covered cookie sheet, use 2 tablespoons of dough (two of my scoops = 1 cookie) to roll into a ball. Place approximately two inches apart.
11. Using the back of a fork dipped in cold water (to prevent sticking), make a criss-cross pattern on the cookie.

12. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Rotating the sheet after about 5-6 minutes helps the cookies bake more evenly. If you do this, you might tack on a little extra time in the oven, since opening the oven causes the temperature to drop.
13. The cookies are done when they are slightly golden brown on the top. Cool the cookies completely before eating - they'll taste much better.

Coming up next: Hershey Kisses Peanut Butter Cookies

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Addicted to Crack

berry. As in Pinkberry.

Pinkberry received $27.5M from Starbucks founder's VC firm.

If you aren't familiar with Pinkberry, it's a frozen yogurt cult phenomenon - a refreshing tangy/sour and a little sweet frozen yogurt in original or green tea topped with fresh fruit, a variety of cereal, or even mochi served in a contemporary minimalist environment. They have 32 stores, mainly in LA and NY, with plans for expansion. Why SF is not on the list is beyond me.

A loyal customer of 21 Choices in Pasadena, (we made daily trips from USC, 30 miles roundtrip, after compulsively checking the website) and known gelato/ice cream/frozen yogurt fanatic, everyone kept telling me I had to check out the "new 21 choices." I walked in with lofty expectations, waiting to be blown away by this new fangled concept. The line was out the door, a good start. I anxiously waited for my little cup of heaven, continuously peeking around the line to see "are we there yet?" Finally, a cup of the famed Pinkberry sat in front of me. I took a scoop, inhaled with anticipation, and took a bite.

I hated it.

I've been waiting like a kid on Christmas Eve for THIS? This plain, chalky, lackluster so-called frozen yogurt that leaves an after taste in my mouth? Is it too late to run to 21 Choices to get some REAL frozen yogurt to get this horrendous taste out of my mouth? Did people have that low of an opinion of 21 Choices if they thought this was better? I didn't even finish my (very expensive, more than a Starbucks latte that I don't even allow myself anymore) cup, sighing to myself and thinking, "Thank goodness I have my 21 choices."

2 days later, I craved Pinkberry. Badly.

For some reason, this second go-around, I loved it. Maybe it was the lack of expectations - or the expectations of it being horrible. Maybe it was because it was hotter outside. Maybe it was because I was extra hungry. Whatever it was, I loved the Pinkberry.

2 years later, without a location in San Francisco, I look forward to LA trips as much for Pinkberry as for 21 Choices and all my other foodie hangouts.

I don't know what it is, but they are doing something right. Maybe they just add crack. And the imitators aren't even close. Even David Lebovitz, an ice cream guru, author of my favorite ice cream book The Perfect Scoop and among my favorite bloggers, is addicted to the Pinkberry. And that's despite the fact he has a frozen yogurt recipe of his own that Heidi at 101 Cookbooks (another favorite blog) says Pinkberry has nothing on.

Anybody up for a trip to LA?

I'm a chicken.

A big, fat chicken. Bwaaaak! And as important food is to me as a self proclaimed foodie, if you are what you eat, I don't even really LIKE chicken - I tolerate it. So being chicken is unacceptable on so many levels.

I've been (almost obsessively) reading blogs for a little over two years. Without my daily blog dose, I feel incomplete. I've sent links to blogs to friends the moment they sign on-line, insisting they check out this latest post. I've spammed other friends with restaurant reviews from my favorite and trusted blogs, often unrealistically (but very typically me) insisting we try out the restaurant immediately. I've read about how people's lifelong friends were made through blogging. More recently through a friend's unbelievable ordeal , I've seen the incredible support network a blog can cultivate.

So I have every reason to blog. There are LISTS upon lists upon lists of reasons to blog. I WANT to blog. Except I'm scared. And with so many reasons why some people's blogs suck, maybe my fear isn't unwarranted.

What if my life, I mean I, am just not interesting enough? What subject do I have enough credibility in to even write a blog each day? Will my blog even make it to people's Google Reader? Will I be able to write eloquently enough to give people that jumpy excitement feeling when they see that I've updated that I get myself when one of my feeds is updated?

Recently, I'm working on me. So I'm doing this for me. I'm getting out of a rut, which also means pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I'm not longer settling for being something that I just tolerate eating (can I be a French Laundry dinner now?). Time to dive headfirst (or getting pushed). Here goes nothing; we'll see where this goes.