Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

It's only been a week since I baked something and already I wanted to bake again... despite the "but you're making me faaaaaat!" laments.

I wanted to bake something as a thank-you to a friend who did something SUPER nice for me recently and since these would be put through the mail, I figured what travels better than bar cookies?

And what's better than classic chocolate chip cookies? But... in BAR FORM!

With nuts!

BTW, all you plain chocolate chip cookie lovers are crazy. Chocolate chip cookies WITH NUTS is where it's at.

And if it couldn't get better...

With m&ms!!!

What can I say - I get excited about baking...

My only change was to use less chocolate chips (probably about 5 oz and handfuls of m&ms mixed in).  I also used toasted pecans for the nuts.

I baked for exactly 30 minutes and they are right, the cake tester isn't clean. They are DELICIOUS. Gooey, chocolate-y, and perfect. They are reminiscent of a chewy brownie in texture.

They are safely packed away for travel tomorrow morning and thankfully, I only saved some of the ugly edges for myself ... because they will be gone by tonight!

I hope she likes them!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sweet and Chunky Plum Jam

My first time ever making homemade jam... I tried the easier, 30 minute, no boil, freezer jam.

1) Wash and rinse nine 1 cup jars and lids
2) Wash 3 lbs of sweet plums. Discard pits (do not peel) and chop plums with food processor. If you like chunky jam like me, pulse with the food processor not puree.
3) Mix in the juice of 4 lemons. I used 1/2 cup lemon juice instead of fresh lemons.
4) Gradually stir in 1 packet of pectin, mixing thoroughly. Set aside for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to dissolve pectin thoroughly.
5) Pour 1 cup of light corn syrup into fruit mixture. I only had 1/2 cup of corn syrup left so hopefully it still comes out okay.
6) Stir in 4.5 cups of sugar until all the sugar is dissolved. I wanted to lessen the sugar because I always find homemade jam too sweet. But the directions specifically said not to reduce sugar or substitute it.
7) Pour mixture into containers, leaving 1/2 inch space at the top for expansion in the freezer.
8) Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours until set. The jam can keep for 3 weeks in the refrigerator or 1 year in the freezer.
Can't wait to taste tomorrow... I'll share my finished product with you...

Gilroy Garlic Makes Roasted Garlic Compound Butter with Rosemary

With 8 cloves of Gilroy garlic, I was searching for any kind of delicious garlic recipe. I got suggestions for roasted garlic, pickled garlic and garlic ice cream.

Garlic #1 and #2: I started my venture off with a basic Garlic and Herb Cheese Bread with my trusty bread maker. No recipe, just winging it... a packet of yeast, ~2 cups of flour, ~1 cup of warm water, ~1-2 cups of mixed shredded cheese, salt to taste, dried oregano from the garden, and 2 garlic bulbs sliced, diced, and cloved. Put it in the bread maker to mix, knead and rise. Then transferred it to a bread pan and baked at 350 until done. It smelled like a ton of garlic and I was worried it would be too much garlic. But it tasted good. It could have used a little more cheese but I didn't have any more.

Garlic #3 - #7: In my search for garlic recipes, I came across this website. It had 3 different types of garlic recipes with roasted garlic. So I roasted 5 whole garlics in my toaster oven and used the butter compound recipe with my newly roasted Gilroy garlic. I'm not a fan of butter unless it's baked into cookies or a dessert. But the hubby likes butter and if this turned out well, I might spread it on a french bread for a snack. I used maybe 6 tbsp of butter instead of 8. And smashed all 5 roasted garlic into the butter. To add a little more flavor, I added a small handful of rosemary from Jen's garden. We'll see how it turns out... (pictures to come)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Grand Prize Coconut-Caramel Bars

I missed the Girl Scout cookie sales window and was craving my favorite cookie, the mighty Samoa. Chocolate, caramel, coconut -- the entire tiny box is typically devoured in very little time. I have tried a couple of Samoa-type of cookies in the past: Baking Bite's Homemade Samoas and King Arthur Flour's Ginger's Coconut Caramel Candy Bars. Both were okay, with the Baking Bites recipe being closer to the real thing, but also too time-consuming for me.

While looking through recipes, I had noticed another one on the King Arthur Flour's website advertising Samoa-like flavors. The reviews were stellar, with one "gourmet" cook saying it would be too dangerous for her to make them again. With a review like that, I had to give this one a try.

The verdict? Definite Samoa-like flavors, but I wouldn't ever confuse this with an actual Samoa cookie. It doesn't have the shortbread cookie bottom. The cookie itself is caramel-like and chewy. Though the recipe says not to line the pan and that it shouldn't stick, it did stick quite a bit to my pan! I used a glass Pyrex 9x13" pan. Maybe a metal pan would have been better?

Because of the problems I had removing the bars, the resulting cookies weren't quite pretty either. We ended up consuming quite a few "uglies." :)

I like this one the best of the 3 Samoa recipes I've tried so far because it's easy enough and the flavors are there. I'd still be willing to test a few more though...

Red Velvet Cake and Purple Velvet Cupcakes

Around Valentine's Day it seems that every place offers Red Velvet Cake. Its rich and creamy flavor and red coloring make it perfect for the romantic occasion...

So when Kameran's Bridal Shower was planned to be on Valentine's Day, I thought, "I had to buy her a red velvet cake." It turns out that Nothing Bundt Cake (where Jon and Kameran plan to purchase their wedding cake) have a store in Poway and offer a red velvet bundt cake. Perfect! It's not one of their wedding cake flavors but it would be a nice touch to have a Nothing Bundt Cake for her Valentine's Day Bridal shower. So welcome to the family, Kameran!

I'd have to say that Nothing Bundt Cake's red velvet cake with chocolate chips was delicious. It was very dense and moist, which of course means lots of butter and buttermilk. It was a gorgeous bright red meaning they must have used a ton of food coloring to get such a vibrant color. I loved it! For me, it is right up at the top next to Costco's red velvet cake. Here's a look on the inside:

In the spirit of red velvet cakes, my mother-in-law's birthday was celebrated yesterday. I thought it would be a great chance to make a red velvet cake from scratch. But since my mother in law's favorite color is purple, I would take my chances and try to die the cake purple.

My sister-in-law gave me a cupcake cookbook for Christmas. My first attempt at making cupcakes from the cookbook was for Ryan's birthday. I attempted to make Rocky Road cupcakes. And although they looked great, they were quite dry and mostly ended up in the garbage (hence the reason I didn't share the recipe). The red velvet cupcakes where better but not quite as good as Nothing Bundt Cake or Costco. They weren't as dense or moist, but they weren't dry either. They just didn't taste "velvety". And the "purple" velvet cupcakes didn't turn out so purple. They looked purple before baking and turned brown from the cocoa powder after baking. So if you have any suggestions on making this recipe better, send them my way.

Red / Purple Velvet Cupcakes

Makes about 18 regular cupcakes or 9 jumbo cupcakes.
(I made half the recipe and baked them into 4 large cupcakes.)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
1 tbsp red food coloring
1 cup buttermilk

1) Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in bowl and set aside.
2) Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in vanilla, vinegar, and food coloring. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk and beat until batter is smooth. (Next time, I would add some chocolate chips.)
3) Spoon into cupcake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until done. Remove from oven and cool.

4 oz shortening (I always use butter instead.)
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar

1) Cream shortening with milk until creamy. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar to shortening. Beat until icing is pale, light and fluffy.
2) Ice cooled cupcakes and decorate as desired.

So for my final product, I attempted to make some cute designs with purple sugar sprinkles. But that didn't turn out so well... (I really need to take a cake decorating class so I have better presentation skills.) I ended up sprinkling on the purple sugar and topped each cupcake with a chocolate covered oreo cookie. Viola!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Big Pleaser Lasagna

I love lasagna but never seem to be able to make it because it's meant for larger groups of people. So when my Darlinanna and her boyfriend were coming to visit, I decided it was time to make lasagna. One of my girlfriends once told me she makes an awesome lasagna. Her recipe came from All Recipes. From the 4.5 stars out of 1435 reviews, I knew it would be good. But of course, I still made some adjustments based on my own tastes. The instructions are the same, but the ingredients differ so here's my slightly different version.

1/2 pound of ground turkey
3/4 pound of mild italian sausage (about 4 links)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh basil (from my garden)
1 tsp dried oregano (from my garden)
2 tbsp of brown sugar (this cuts the acidity in the tomatoes if you ever wanted to know)
1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste
1 (16 oz) jar of any tomato sauce or pasta sauce
12 dry lasagna noodles
2 eggs, beaten
1 pint part-skim ricotta cheese
4-6 cups of spinach
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound of mozzarella cheese, shredded

Follow the recipe from the link. The extra tomato sauce goes into Step 1. The spinach is mixed in with the ricotta in Step 3.

The lasagna was a hit! Former cook of 10 years finished his huge serving with a smile on his face. My BFF and 95 lb girlfriend both finished their plate. Hubby devoured the lasagna without a crumb to spare. And my plate looked like there was nothing at on it after I was through.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chocolate Caramel Paisley Blondies

On a rainy day, sometimes all I want to do is bake some goodies and warm food and watch a movie by the fireplace. Well, we had some friends come over last night so nix on the movie and fire. But I did happen to get a little adventurous and make some Chocolate Caramel Paisley Blondies. Considering all the butter in them, I was surprised that they were a little drier and cakier than I expected. Although, I'd have to admit, they are pretty darn good and great for sharing with friends.

Chocolate Chip Paisley Blondies
Makes 32 bars, 142 Calories each

3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup caramel syrup

1) Beat butter, sugar and brown sugar until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
2) Mix flour, baking powder and salt in separate bowl. Beat into the butter mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

3) Spread half the batter in a greased 13x9" baking pan. Drizzle caramel over the top. (I don't really know how much I used but it was maybe 1/3-1/2 cup of caramel.) Spoon over the remaining batter. It's important to use a spoon because you want the caramel to stay in the middle so that the syrup showing in the spaces between the batter will form a paisley effect.

4) Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool completely in pan and cut into bars.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


On the last night of our Tahoe stay, we decided to treat Daddy Wong to a nice dinner. We didn't want to drive the scary rental in the snow too far, so we braved an entire two miles away from the hotel and ended up at Ciera, a steakhouse. Ciera resides within the Montebleu casino, just over the Nevada stateline in South Lake Tahoe. The atmosphere is elegant and classy: white tablecloths, dim lighting, dressed-up waiters, a hostess in a red cocktail dress... However, I noticed almost everyone who walked in was wearing ski jackets and jeans.

We were seated in a pillow-lined booth along the side of the wall. There are several booths against the wall and although quite big, they are cozy and intimate. The intimate feeling might have had something to do with the red velvet curtains that framed the booth. I imagine we could have closed them for complete privacy.

Fresh bread came out first. The waiter offered three kinds: cheese, cranberry, and wheat. Of course, I tried them all. :) All had soft insides contained by a hearty crust that was perfect. My favorite was the cranberry, which was sweet and had some kind of seed/oat mixture on the crust that complimented the chewy softness. The bread was accompanied by a trio of three flavored butters: sweet cream, cranberry, and pesto.

We ordered:

the ahi tuna appetizer

The appetizer was brought out and placed in front of us. Each of us received Asian-like square serving plates, a set of chopsticks, and a unique angled dish specific to mix wasabi and soy sauce with.

The tuna was crusted with some kind of pepper spice mix which I didn't care for but my dining companions enjoyed. There was also a small mound of seasame-flavored seaweed salad on the plate.

The boys ordered the 10 oz filet mignon ($38). Ciera is not cheap. This is the price for the filet and it comes with nothing else.

Oh sorry, it comes with small garnishes of a quarter of an onion, a sprig of rocket, and a baby carrot.  They both ordered it medium rare and said it was good, but I get the impression at least one of them thought he had tasted better.

the hazelnut-crusted sea bass ($28)

I ordered the sea bass. It wasn't under or overcooked, and had a nice buttery flavor/texture, but seemed just the slightest bit bland. It came perched over a creamy sauce that did make up for the blandness however.

We also ordered two sides to share (they are "family style"):

asparagus ($6)

Sprinkled with parmesan and accompanied by hollandaise (I requested it on the side).

mushrooms ($6)

I loved this... a delicious mix of brown and shiitake mushrooms with garlic drenched in a wine sauce.

We were too full by the time dessert was mentioned, but surprise! The waiter brought by complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries over dry ice. The display was quite impressive and it was a nice touch.

Pricey? Yes. Good? Yes. Great? No. A nice ending to a week-long snow week? Definitely.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chocolate Chunk and Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

I was a little frustrated yesterday after the second week in a row I wasn't able to dance. Last week, the door was locked and I couldn't get into the classroom. No one cared that I knocked for 10 minutes... And then yesterday, the class was canceled or moved to a different classroom. I still don't know and there was no note on the door. I even went with another student to check out the other dance studios on campus and the class was no where to be found. Needless to say, I was a little irked. So what better than to come home and bake cookies...

I was looking for a healthier cookie since I didn't exactly workout and burn the 500 or so calories I expected to in the 90 minute dance class. This recipe came from my health magazine and is supposedly good for women. It has dark chocolate, walnuts and oats... yum, yum, and yum... But after calculating the calories on my trusty iPhone, it turns out that each cookie is 120 calories each. Wow! They taste good so here's the recipe...

1) Melt 6 tbsp unsalted butter. Remove from heat and add 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar; stirring until smooth.

2) Combine 1/3 cup all purpose flour, 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour (I just doubled the all purpose flour since I don't keep whole wheat flour on hand.), 3/4 tsp baking soda, 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats, and 1/2 tsp salt in a medium bowl.

3) Combine butter misture with the dry ingredients. Add 1 egg, lightly beaten, and 1 tsp vanilla.

4) Fold in 1/2 cup walnuts and 3 oz of bittersweet, dark, or unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped.

5) Bake for 11 min at 350 degrees. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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