Monday, February 27, 2012

Potato Leek Soup and the Last Weekend in February

Our winter-that-never-was is almost over.  With just two more days to February (thanks to a "29th" added this leap year), and a record for low snowfall amounts, March is almost here! March's arrival always seems (to me, anyway) as a welcome to spring, even though we've been known to have some pretty big snowstorms just before or after the season's official start.  I remember March of 1993 when Mother Nature dumped 27 inches of snow right around St. Patrick's Day.  Skidmore College (where I work)  had to close because the parking lots were too full of snow!  And eleven  years before that, in April of 1982, we had a huge storm which I remember very well because I was in the hospital with my newborn daughter Tricia.  It was very quiet on the floor because  no one could come visit due to the massive storm.  As I write this, I can hear the meteorologist on my TV predicting a storm for this coming weekend.  Should we take it seriously?  It's almost like the boy who cried "wolf"...we've had warnings this winter and then, nothing.  If we do get a big storm, no one will be ready for it!

IF we do get that storm, and IF we are snowed in (unlikely) there's a soup I recommend for just such a situation.  This past weekend, Katie made Potato Leek Soup.  She used a recipe from one of her America's Test Kitchen cookbooks,  reliable and often used resources for many of her creations.  Katie's a very good cook.  We differ in that she is faithful to a recipe, and I use a recipe for inspiration and then take it from there!  The difference is that her efforts are always worth it, and some of mine are, shall we say, learning experiences!  Oh well, most of the time I am pleasantly surprised, and end up posting the successes here on my blog!

Here's the recipe for the delicious soup that Katie made this weekend.  It's comfort in a bowl, mild, mellow, and beautiful in its simplicity.  Storm or no, it's a great bowl of soup to warm up to.

from America's Test Kitchen  (with minimal adaptations)

Serves 10
4 -5 lbs. Leeks
6 TB. unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
1 TB all-purpose flour
5 1/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 3/4 lbs red potatoes (about 5 medium)
salt and pepper to taste

Cutoff the roots and tough dark-green pats of the leeks, leaving about 3" of the light green part.
Chop the leeks, you'll have about 11 cups.  Once the leeks are cut, it's a good time to clean them.  Submerge them in a bowl of cold water and swish around, allowing any dirt/sand to settle to the bottom of the bowl.

Heat the butter in a stockpot over medium low. (Katie has a massive, cobalt blue, Le Creuset Dutch Oven that I covet.)  Add the leeks and increase the heat to medium. Cook until tender, not mushy. Sprinkle with flour and stir, cooking for about 2 min.  Gradually add the stock, bay leaf and potatoes. Cover.

Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 min. Discard the bay leaf.  At this point, Katie used her Kitchen Aid immersion blender (also coveted) and blended most of the soup into a nice, smooth consistency, leaving a few solid chunks of potato for texture.

Serving Size: 1 cup

Number of Servings: 10

Odie patiently waiting for Pete to drop some food on the floor!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Spaghetti Sauce with Vegetables

Sunday is a good day to put on a pot of sauce and let it simmer all afternoon.  I had an abundance of mushrooms so the sauce that's bubbling on my stove is loaded with them.  I decided to go all out and make it a real veggie sauce, though  not vegetarian since I used chicken stock to simmer the vegetables before adding the tomatoes.  In addition to the mushrooms, there's onion and garlic (of course) as well as celery, and a grated carrot which adds just the right touch of sweetness (along with a little bit of brown sugar).  Add to that basil and oregano, and all the flavors are there to make this a real Sunday spaghetti sauce.  I might make some meatballs later (90% ground beef) and let them hang out in the sauce for the last hour or so, and I think I'll borrow a cup of red wine from Katie to give it that extra special richness that my beloved (former) mother-in-law, Mary Lou, always adds to her sauce!  Even though her son and I are no longer married, I am happy to still be a part of her life. (Besides, she's my kids' grandmother, and that is forever.)

Use a large pot or big dutch oven

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, grated
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
16 ounces stock, your preference (chicken, vegetable, beef)
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
28 ounce can tomato sauce
4 ounce can tomato paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
crushed black pepper, about 10 grinds or 1/2 teaspoon from your pepper shaker
salt, to taste (I only used 1/2 teaspoon - you may want a little more but be careful, you can't take it out!)
basil (dried, use about a teaspoon)
oregano (dried, use about a teaspoon)

Over medium heat, saute onions, garlic, celery, and carrot until onion is translucent, about five or six minutes.   Stir often so garlic doesn't burn.  Add mushrooms and chicken stock.   Cook, uncovered, for about five minutes, stirring often.  Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and brown sugar.  Stir in black pepper, basil and oregano.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat.  Simmer all afternoon!

Closer to serving time, you can stir in 1/2 cup red wine, and if you want a meaty flavor, add cooked meatballs for the last hour.

Oh, soooo good!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cheddar Beer Scones for Beer Week in Saratoga Springs!

It's Beer Week in Saratoga Springs, and that has me inspired to make a savory scone to compliment the heady beverage. Usually I cut scones in wedges, but since I'm doing a complete one-eighty from my typical sweet scones, I'm changing up the shape as well.  These scones are rolled out and cut with a round biscuit cutter.  They're just out of the oven and of course I had to sample the little "runt" that didn't quite measure up, and it was delicious!  The beer makes them light as air.  I can imagine having these scones with breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  They'd go beautifully with scrambled eggs, or a bowl of tomato soup, or a baked ham.  For something so simple, they pack a  lot of flavor!

CHEDDAR BEER SCONES - makes about 13 3" round scones
Oven - 425 degrees F
Line cookie sheet with parchment paper, spray with cooking spray

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
6-8 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded (I only had 6 ounces, but I would have used 8!)
half an onion, minced fine and sauteed until lightly browned in 2 tsps. butter
2 teaspoons spicy brown or Dijon mustard
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cups cold beer (I used Yuengling Traditional Lager)
egg wash
2 tablespoons raw, finely minced onion
sesame seeds

Stir together flour, sugar, and baking powder, and shredded cheese.  All at once, stir in browned onion, mustard, egg, and oil.  When that is all mixed in, slowly add the beer, a little at a time, until you have a nice lump of scone dough that's moist but not wet.  On lightly floured surface, knead the dough 6 or 8 times to create layers.  Roll out to about 1/2-inch thick and cut with round biscuit cutter.  Reroll scraps (they won't be quite so pretty).  Brush with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little bit of water) and sprinkle with raw minced onion and sesame seeds.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.

A new favorite - Cheddar Beer Scones (click to enlarge)

Photos:  by Adirondack Baker

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wedding Chicken

Russ is here tonight and therefore I made dinner.  Usually our visits are pretty short and I'm lucky enough to go out to dinner most times he's here, like we did last night when we went to Winslow's.  Russ was under the impression that I have President's Day off (I don't) but I am happy to have him here even though I'll be waving good-bye to him on my way to work.  Because he's always taking me to dinner and the only meal I get to make for him is breakfast, tonight I made dinner.  I had a few pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast thawed and ready to be transformed.  I was down to two choices, sweet-and-sour chicken (my personal favorite) or "Wedding Chicken" - my take on a Thanksgiving-style stuffed chicken breast, served with mashed potatoes, gravy, veggies and cranberry sauce.  It requires a few short-cuts (which I'm fine with) but the end result is a really delicious dinner. 


4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded thin
Stuffing, made with enough for 4 half-cup servings (I used Stove Top), and cooled enough to form into 4 balls
1 jar homestyle chicken or turkey gravy

Coat baking dish with cooking spray.  Divide stuffing into four sections and form each into a ball.  Place balls of stuffing in baking dish.  For each ball, wrap one pounded chicken breast half around each, tucking ends under the bottom.  Brush tops of stuffed chicken portions with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake at 400 degrees farenheit for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees, cover with foil, and bake another 30 minutes.  Remove foil and broil for just a minute or two to gently brown the top.

Remove from heat and place chicken portions on warm platter.  Add the drippings to your ready made gravy and season/thicken as desired. 

Serve with mashed potatoes and vegetable (and cranberry sauce, of course)!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blueberry Crepes for Breakfast (or dessert)

This is what I had for breakfast this morning.  This is what I brought downstairs to Bill and Katie for breakfast this morning.  THIS is incredible:  a whole wheat crepe filled with blueberries in a sweet sauce, dusted with confectioners sugar, and a spritz of whipped cream on the side.  If I weren't already awake, I'd think I was dreaming.  I have never made a crepe before.  The thought of crepes seemed too intimidating, too froo-froo, too complicated, too delicate.  Until this morning.  These are not delicate crepes.  These are sturdy yet tender slivers of pancake that are open to anything you are inspired to fill them with (sorry for the preposition at the end of a sentence -- it just sounds right).

This recipe is inspired by one I found on Weight Watchers Web site, and the beautiful thing about these crepes, other than being so delicious, is that they are only 5 points a crepe.  Seriously...I could spend 5 points "like that" on something much less elegant.  I can think of so many versions of this.  Katie suggested Nutella and strawberries for another sweet rendition, or for a main course, they could be filled with sauteed veggies and low-fat cheese, or even become enchiladas with a little imagination.  These little roll-ups have me very inspired, especially as I look for new, interesting, and healthy options as I lose weight.  I have two uber-important weddings coming  up, first my nephew Jack and his fiance Kristin are getting married in July (Boca Raton!) and then my daughter Tricia is marrying her love Jeff in the Adirondacks in the middle of October!  Talk about incentive, not so much about fitting into a dress, but about feeling GREAT and healthy and celebrating these amazing couples as they start their lives together.  Oops, I'm getting a little off-track!

Back to crepes...  Here's the recipe, inspired by the one linked here.  You'll LOVE them!

makes 2+ servings  (5 WW points plus per serving)
10" non-stick sautee pan, spritzed with cooking spray is a must

1 cup frozen blueberries (since it's winter here)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1.5 teaspoons conrstarch disolved in a little water

1 egg
2 egg whites
pinch salt
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/2 tsp. almond extract (my addition, would only use for sweet crepes)

In small saucepan, bring blueberries, water, and sugar to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Stir in cornstarch mixture.  Bring back to boil over medium-low heat and cook until thick and bubbly.  Turn off heat.

Make crepes:

In bowl of electric mixer or with whisk, beat egg, egg whites, and salt until light and frothy.  Whisk in flour and combine thoroughly, making sure any lumps are broken up and batter is smooth.  Add milk and blend thoroughly.

Pour 1/2 cup of batter into hot sautee pan, and immediately reduce heat to low.  Tilt pan  to cover inside with a nice circle of batter.  Cook about 2 minutes or until golden brown on bottom.  Using a wide spatula, flip crepe over and cook an additional 2 minutes or until it is nicely golden as well.  Remove from pan to a plate and repeat with remaining batter.  You may have enough for 3 crepes (I did) but you'll get at least 2.  (Double the recipe if you want 4+ crepes.)

In the center of each crepe, spread two generous tablespoons of blueberries and sauce.  Roll up.  Cut in half. Dust with confectioners sugar.

The view from my kitchen window this morning...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mac Daddy Salad

Bic Mac (TM) Photo:   
Without making a huge deal about it and announcing it to all my facebook friends and the world (just you), I have recently re-joined Weight Watchers on-line.  WW and I have a long, off-again-on-again relationship, and as long as I am committed, all goes well.  Typically, I start off with a boat-load of motivation and enthusiasm, and after a week or two, old habits creep their way back in and it's a down-hill slide from there.  However, THIS time is different.  This time, I am looking at WW strictly as a budgetary tool.  I get "X" number of points per day, and I can spend them any way I choose.  Do I want a cupcake when it takes up almost a third of a day's points?  I don't think so.   A banana (no points) and a yogurt (2 points) at the ready were all that were needed (this week!) to keep that co-workers red velvet birthday cupcake at bay!

An odd thing  happens to me when a diet commences -- a sudden and irrepressible need to read cookbooks.  I think about food all the time, and what I might do to make a "less expensive" (points-wise) version of a favorite food.  With that in mind, as I was driving home from work today, the craving for a Big Mac came over me.  Now, do I want to use half a day's points on a Big Mac?  No, I won't do it.  Then I thought about reincarnating that old favorite into something I can enjoy, where I can have the beef, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and sesame seeds without the bun.  Why not?  I've been at restaurants (Olde Bryan Inn) where a friend ordered a salad with a grilled burger on top rather than have the burger on a bun.  It wasn't on the menu but she asked for it and got it.  Love that idea!  With that in mind, I offer up to you the very salad we'll be enjoying for dinner tomorrow night.  Without infringing on corporate TMs or copyrighted  material, I'm calling my salad the Mac Daddy Salad.  Photos of the process will be posted tomorrow, but in the meantime, the salad's inspiration is pictured above, and here's how it's going to come together:

serves 4 very generously at 9 WW points-plus per portion.

Get a large salad bowl ready


1 lb. 90% lean ground beef or ground turkey breast
1/4 cup sweet white onion (like vidalia), diced into small 1/4 inch dice
One head iceberg lettuce, shredded
4 ounces (4 slices) yellow american cheese, shredded (or cut into shreds)
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons French dressing (the orangey one; not Catalina-style)
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon dill pickle juice
1/4 cup dill hamburger chips/slices, chopped

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Brown and crumble meat in large skillet sprayed with cooking spray.  For the last few minutes of cooking, add the chopped onion and let it soften but not brown.  Season with salt and pepper.  When meat is thoroughly cooked, drain well and set aside to cool a little bit.  You still want it warm.

Shred lettuce and place in large salad bowl.  
Add shredded cheese.
Add chopped dill pickles.
Add beef/onion mixture.

Make "special sauce" by mixing together mayonnaise, ketchup, French dressing, sweet pickle relish, and dill pickle juice.  Pour over ingredients in bowl and toss well, or serve on the side.  

Sprinkle with sesame seeds.  

Serve while it's still warm.

Weight Watchers Points Plus:  1/4th of this entire salad is 9 points.  A little expensive, points-wise, but well worth fitting in to your weekly budget! Want fewer points?  Divide it up into smaller portions.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day and Iced Coffee in the Middle of February

Recently, I've taken up the habit of drinking iced coffee, probably an odd thing to do in the dead of a cold and snowless winter.  Despite my almost six decades on earth (two years short - yikes!),  I'm still not a hot coffee drinker, but I've always loved coffee flavor in cold form -- ice cream, milk shakes, ice cream sodas, (most likely a residual effect from my years working at Stewart's) -- so when I gave up drinking Diet Coke as my morning wake-up elixir, I had to turn to something else to wake me up!  I had remembered visiting my friend Liz (pea pod partner!) one summer day and she offered ice coffee.  I thought it would be an ordeal for her to have to brew the coffee, pour it over ice, etc., etc., but it was much simpler than that.  She opened the door to her fridge and pulled out a pitcher full of icy cold coffee, ready and waiting to be served up.  I thought it was a great idea, almost more instant than instant, and sooooo much better!  Liz is a great host, no matter if I just show up, or give her warning! (xox)...

Anyway, one day at TJ Maxx (max for the minimum!), I bought myself one of those clear thermal tall cups that looks like a fast-food disposable cup, but it's sturdy and not a throw-away, just for the day when I, too, might make my own pitcher of coffee ala Liz.  The cup has a screw-on cap with a  hole for a straw.  I brew a pot of coffee (so far, French Vanilla and Hazlenut), pour it over a pile of ice in my pitcher, and put it in the fridge.  In the morning, I pour the coffee over ice in my thermal cup, add fat-free half and half, sweeten it up a bit, and walk out the door with a jolt of java that accompanies me to work and sits very nicely in the Jeep's cupholder.  It's gone when my 20-minute ride to work is over, and I've noticed a real difference in energy.  It's a little late in life to become a coffee junkie, since I'm almost 58, but I'm really liking it!  The only problem is, some nights I find myself wide awake at 3 am with my eyes bugging out of my head, but there's always a price to pay!  Apparently, I have to learn my limits...

So far, this isn't a very "Valentine'y" post, but I've covered that with the last few, baking-wise.  I am ready for the big day.  I baked more little heart cookies for "my boys" Hank and Pete (big boy Russ already has his), and their cards are ready with a couple of DVDs Katie tells me they'll enjoy.  She and I went to Target over the weekend (aka "The Circle Store" in Henry's world) and had fun shopping for the big day.   Katie's cereal heart pops were a huge hit in Henry's preschool classroom this afternoon, and when I visited Katie, Bill, and the boys tonight after work, his artwork was proudly hanging on the walls - construction paper hearts with red doilies, shredded paper, and apparently lots and lots of glue!  Very cute.

I hope you all have a lovely Valentine's day, whether your Valentine is all grown up, or a tiny little person, or a best friend. Have a great one...

Ready for my Valentines...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cereal Heart Pops for Valentine's Day

Continuing the discussion of home-made Valentine's treats, today I helped my daughter Katie prepare goodies for Henry's school party tomorrow.  She told Henry's teacher she'd bring in treats to share with the class, and because there are nut allergies, she was eager to find something that all the children in the class can enjoy.  She decided to make cereal heart pops using the traditional recipe for Rice Krispie Treats, but substituted Fruity Pebbles just to make it a little more colorful. She purchased lollipop sticks at the local crafts store, as well as treat bags to cover the pops, and heart stickers as a final touch.

I think the pops came out great.  They're really cute, and a very affordable way to make a fun contribution to a Valentine's Day party.


Butter or spray 9x13 pan (Katie used a 10x14 pan, and it was fine)
Heart-shaped cookie cutter, 2" or so
lollipop sticks, found in candy/craft stores

3 tablespoons butter
10 oz. bag marshmallows (or 7 oz. container Marshmallow Fluff)
6 cups Rice Krispies (or similar cereal)

2 ounces good chocolate, melted to use later to keep sticks in place

In large pot, melt butter.  Add marshmallows and stir constantly until completely melted.  Turn off heat.  Add cereal and thoroughly combine with marshmallow mixture.

Dump all of cereal/marshmallow mixture into pan.  With buttered spatula, press down evenly and compactly so that you have an even, level surface.

Let sit for a few minutes.  Turn out onto wax paper (or parchment paper) or cutting board.  Dip bottom of cookie cutter in melted butter and cut out as many hearts as you can.  Move to another sheet of waxed paper.  With lollipop stick, create hole for stick.  Dip end of stick in melted chocolate and insert in hole in bottom of heart.  Let sit until chocolate sets up and stick is firmly in place.

Fruity Pebbles Pops for Valentine's Day

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A little Valentine Love comin' from my oven

Unlike most couples, and because we have long-term and a not-so-long distance relationship (he lives in central New York), Russ and I won't be seeing each other on Valentine's Day.  We're celebrating tonight, three days early, and I am, as usual, at a loss about what to give the man who has everything.  If  he wants something, he buys it for himself.  It's very challenging shopping for someone like that!  Russ has more ties than I can count.  He doesn't eat candy.  He has a million books.  So I'm baking sugar cookies and banana bread, both of which he just loves! These are my gifts to him this year.  I hope they bring him a little bit of tasty happiness!

Keeping me company as I baked this afternoon is Odie (Oden) my grand-dog.  He's a beauty!

Grand-dog Odie!  Always good company...

Mini-banana bread

Here's a photo of all the goodies I'm baking today.  It's a busy afternoon in the Adirondack Baker's kitchen!


Russ and me in 2003 (yikes!)... Time for a new photo!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Raspberry and Cream Crumb Cake

I've been thinking about this recipe for a while.  A few posts back I wrote about crumb cake muffins, and the topping has had me fascinated ever since.  After Christmas, my co-worker Tom (we call him "Tommy T!") came back from Long Island and brought in a crumb cake his mom  had made over the holidays.  It was amazing, with a crumb topping so thick and buttery that I was in awe of her skill!  It had been a very long time since I'd had crumb cake (Entenmann's maybe?), and suddenly it was very apparent what I'd been missing and didn't even know it!

In thinking about baking a true crumb cake, I wanted something unique, something my own.  I found highly-rated recipes on-line for a plain crumb cake, or a blueberry version, but I kept thinking about raspberry.  I love, love, love a raspberry cheese danish, and this recipe is my crumb cake version of that favorite.  I made a basic coffee cake base, then a cheesecake batter to dollop on top, and then melted red raspberry preserves to spoon over the top of that.  Then I took a big spoon and turned the batters over in wide sweeps to keep each part identifiable while creating a swirl of all three luscious components.  Once the swirling was complete, I sprinkled a crumb topping over the whole thing.  It sounds like a lot more work than it really is.  It didn't take long to put it together.  It's baking now as I write this post.  It is an experiment, but I hope it is a successful one.   My co-workers will be the judges tomorrow morning (surprise!).  First, photos, and then the recipe:

All that's left is the taste-testing at work tomorrow!

Here's the recipe:

inspired by Ina Garten's Blueberry Crumb Cake
takes about an hour to bake

Oven 350 degrees F
Grease or spray 9-10" springform pan

Coffee Cake Base:

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or 1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla extract.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add sour cream and mix well.

Stir together dry ingredients in small bowl.  Add to butter/sugar mixture and beat will until thoroughly combined, scraping bowl as necessary.

Spread batter in prepared pan.

Make cheesecake filling:

1 bar (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
2 tbsp. all purpose flour

Beat cream cheese and sugar until well combined.  Add egg and beat well.  Add sour cream, vanilla, and lemon extract.  Beat well.  Add flour and beat until completely incorporated.

Drop cheesecake batter in dollops over top of coffee cake batter.

In microwave, melt 1/4 cup red raspberry preserves, about 45 seconds.  Stir to smooth out lumps.  Spoon over dollops of cheesecake batter.

With soup spoon, turn batter over, turning pan as you go.  To do this, drop the spoon in the center of the pan and pull it under to the outside edge, and then up and back to the center, about six or eight times in wide sweeps, rotating the pan until you've gone all the way around.  You'll have a nice swirl of batters.

Make streusel topping:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
8 tsp. butter, melted

Mix dry ingredients in medium bowl.  Pour melted butter over top, and with pastry blender or a fork, work the butter into the dry mixture until you have a loose crumb topping.

Sprinkle the crumb topping over the batters in the pan, completely covering the surface.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 minutes to one hour or until cake tests done.  NOTE:  ovens vary - you may have to bake this for a shorter or longer period of time.  Make sure you test with a toothpick or knife and that it comes out clean.  Start testing around 50 minutes.  Mine had to go for over an hour...

Once out of the oven, cool completely.  Once cooled, run knife around edge of pan to make sure it doesn't stick and when it moves freely all the way around, release the spring and remove the side of the pan.

Dust top with confectioners sugar.

Still warm - couldn't wait!
You can see the cheesecake and raspberry...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Home-made Oreos

Today was the day.  I'd been keeping this recipe on hold for the past week until I had the time and opportunity to make them.  Russ was here this weekend and after he left this morning, I immediately went to work on my version of home-made OREOs!!!!  Too late for Russ, who, when he arrived, asked if I had any cookies.  For someone 6' 4" with no discernible body fat, he's quite the cookie monster! So, nope, no cookies last night...(sorry, handsome).  Anyway, I'd been researching recipes and found some that used cake mixes as their base.  I didn't want that, no.  What I was looking for was a great cookie that I could create, one that could be sandwiched together with a good butter cream filling  Who better to point me in the right direction than Deb from Smitten Kitchen.  She had already tried her hand at home-made Oreos, based on a recipe she credits to Retro Desserts and Wayne Brachman.

I understand that in blogging world we all borrow from each other.  None of us has a truly original idea -we gain inspiration and motivation from others in our cyber world, as well as in actual-world restaurants, bakeries, and in old cookbooks, magazines, and even word-of-mouth.  We may think of new takes and twists on old standards, but really, something outside ourselves usually triggers the creative process to try something new (to us) and different (from what we've done before).  It is with that mindset that I bring you a home-made yet simpler version of a processed food, a little bit 180-degrees from the way things usually work. Like my friend Jody posted on facebook when I mentioned that I'd be making homemade Oreos soon..."Why?  Did they run out of the real thing?"  I might have thought the same way before I became an obsessed "how do they do that?" kind of baker, eager to try my hand at making something good at home, with a little less process, a lot fewer ingredients, and a whole lotta freshness.

So, here, along with my photos, is the recipe for homemade Oreos!

inspired by, and adapted from, Smitten Kitchen who was inspired by Retro Desserts, who was inspired by Nabisco, I'm guessing!

Oven - 375 degrees F
line cookie sheets with parchment paper

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey's is fine)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature butter or margarine
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Filling: 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter (not margarine)
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1. Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.

2. In large bowl of electric mixer, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. On low speed, add the butter, and then the egg and vanilla. Mix well until dough comes together in an almost-solid ball.

3. Take rounded half-teaspoons of batter and roll into dime-sized balls.  Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened fingers, slightly flatten the dough.

4.     Bake for 9 minutes.  Remove from oven.   Set baking sheet on a rack to cool.

5. To make the filling, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.

6. To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip (I used a pastry tip with a "toothy" edge), pipe filling cream onto the center of one cookie (see photo in collage). Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream.  Pour some icy-cold milk and share!

Click to almost taste enlarge

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Cupcake Kind of Day

First of all,  Happy Birthday to my brother Danny (still Danny to me, even at 55!) who lives on the west coast and won't be enjoying any of my cupcakes, though I did send him a photo of a cake I'd baked and digitally imposed "Happy Birthday Danny" on it!). Hope it's been a great day for him, and that he and his wife Suzette celebrate with a terrific dinner tonight.  If I were closer, Danny, you'd be having at least a cupcake!

It's been a very busy couple of baking days, and last night I made cupcakes for friends at work.  I brought in chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting for our student assistant, Nikki, who is twenty-one today (happy birthday Nikki!). For Helen's husband Jimmy, an ardent Giants fan whose birthday today is being celebrated on Superbowl Sunday, I made devils food cupcakes with ROYAL BLUE buttercream frosting!

The cupcakes were all baked last night (with Henry's assistance) and I got up at 6:00 a.m. to take a quick shower before making the frosting.  There was a lot to do before leaving my house for the day, taking the cupcakes with me.  First I made the white buttercream for Nikki's cupcakes, and then moved on to a batch of frosting made very, very blue by Wilton's Royal Blue paste food coloring.  It seemed too light, and by the time it was just right, I'd used half the bottle of food coloring!  I decorated the cupcakes, packed them in boxes, loaded them into my Jeep and made it in to work right at the wire. I was in such a rush that I threw a couple of hot rollers into my now shorter hair and drove to work that way, ripping them out of my head about a mile from the office (a first, and hopefully a last, for me!).   I got to work exactly at 8:30 a.m., feeling as though I'd put in a full day already (with a very long day, still to go)!

I don't know what it is about cupcakes that people love so much, but I'm guessing that the little serving of sweetness in a fluted paper cup delivers quite a bit of happiness for its small size.  You look at a cupcake, and you have to think it's going to make someone's day.  It's going to say "I'm thinking about you," or "I wish you well," or "Hope you have a great birthday!"  They are like edible greeting cards. And cupcakes are usually eaten with two or more people sharing a moment, their individual desserts bringing them together in appreciation of food and friendship.

Cupcakes are great.

Cupcake Trio