Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blog party!

I'm still trying to figure out what was going on in December 2007 that prompted so many people to start food blogs.  It seems like I keep finding other bloggers that I feel like have been around forever that started their blogs right around the same time I did.  Today, I'm excited to wish Shelby of The Life & Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch a very happy 4th anniversary for her blog!  A while back, Shelby sent me an invitation to a virtual party to celebrate her blogiversary.  We're all bringing one of my favorite types of party food--appetizers and small plates.  What better way to get to sample lots of yummy dishes without getting full too quickly. =)

I decided to share a recipe that I've made a bunch of times, but somehow never blogged--Cheddar Cheese and Pecan Crisps.  They're flaky, buttery, nutty cheese crackers that are excellent with a glass of celebratory beverage. =)  You can cut out round cookies, but I like to do other shapes, like these stars. (Snowflakes are fun too, this time of year.) I've confused people a few times, when they thought they were picking up a sweet cookie and instead ended up with a savory mouthful.  Not a bad thing, of course, just unexpected.  The recipe suggests using a mix of cheddar and parmesan, but you can use other sharp cheeses as well.  I usually make mine with just cheddar.  I'm not a big fan of spicy things, but the bit of cayenne in these gives them a little kick that's very tasty.  One last note--the recipe calls for 7 ounces of butter--that's 14 tablespoons.  The first time I made these, I misread the amount, and used only 7 tablespoons.  The crackers actually turned out okay.  I'm not sure they really need the full amount (feel free to try it and see what you think), but I have increased the amount I use from 7 to 10 tablespoons, which I think works well.  

The verdict?  These crackers are always a hit whenever I serve them.  The recipe makes lots, so I usually even have a few left over to snack on for a couple of days.  I pretty much only make them for parties, otherwise I'd be tempted to eat the entire batch myself. =)  

You can find the recipe here on the Fine Cooking website.  For lots more great appetizers & snacks, be sure to check out all the other links to Shelby's blogiversary party.  Also, to celebrate her blog anniversary, Shelby is sponsoring a giveaway on her blog.  Here are the details:
  • Receive one entry by leaving a comment on this blog post telling me about your favorite appetizer.
  • For additional entries, visit the blog links that will take you to the blogs of others who have joined in the celebration party and leave a comment on each of their posts.
  • The winner will be chosen via a random drawing (drawing to be done by Grumpy). The prize will be a $50 gift card which can be for ONE of the choices listed here: Sears; Kohls; Amazon; Target; Wal-mart; Chili's; Uno's; Marshalls/TJMax; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Macaroni Grill; Olive Garden; Starbucks; Barnes & Noble
  • The giveaway is limited to US and Canadian residents only.

Until we meet again (soon!)

I posted at the end of last week that I've been blogging for four years now.  I wasn't entirely sure how to begin.  I started by just posting some of our favorites, and assorted things that I decided to make.  So not that much different from what I do now. =)  That got me through the first month or so.  Then I decided to be brave.  After reading this post from Peabody, I decided to join a fairly new baking group called Tuesdays with Dorie.  At the time I thought I was crazy, but it's one of the best things I ever did. I've learned to bake lots of amazing things, and made some fantastic friends.  

In the beginning, I participated almost every week.  Over time, other things (work & family being two of the biggest) claimed more of my time than they used to, though I still tried to keep up.  For the past couple months, I've still been baking a lot of the time, but haven't always had the time or felt the inspiration to write.  And now, after four years, we've come to the end of the book.  Don't worry, you'll continue to see Dorie recipes here on my blog, since there are some that I haven't posted that I want to.  Not to mention the fact that Dorie has written other books.  But more about that in a bit.  

I was looking through some of my earliest blog posts and was amazed to see how much my girls have grown.  When I started all this, Brianna was about the age that Gillian is now.  Wow.  After getting a new baking book for Christmas, Brianna made us breakfast (mini corn muffins) on Monday pretty much all by herself.  I have to say, it's quite a change to be just a coach when you're used to being the baker.  I promised Gillian that she could help me with the TWD recipe, fittingly the Kids' Thumbprints.  She helped me measure things on the scale and add them to the mixing bowl.  When the dough was done, she helped me shape it into balls and did most of the thumbprints.  Her only complaint was that she doesn't really like peanut butter. =)

We mostly followed the recipe as written.  I did chill the dough for a bit after it was made, since it seemed kind of soft.  To make sure the dough balls were all the same size, I used my #70 disher to portion the dough, which we then rolled between our hands to form smooth balls.  We filled most of the cookies with a couple big chocolate chips, but left a few empty to be filled with raspberry jam after baking.  A handful of cookies ended up with both when I discovered that I had a little jam left over.  The size of cookies we made took 14 minutes to bake.  We did skip the chopped nuts on the outside of the cookies; I knew there was no way the girls would even consider eating them that way.

The verdict?  Well like I said, G doesn't like peanut butter, so she isn't a huge fan of the cookies.  B thought that they were okay, but nothing great.  Fortunately, Jamie liked them a lot.  And I'm sure I'll be able to find a home for any extra cookies.  I was surprised to find that I preferred the jam ones.  I think it's because the chips didn't melt to fill the thumbprints (which makes sense, in retrospect).  If I make these again, I'll used chopped chocolate instead of chips, or just fill the holes with ganache after baking.

If you'd like to try the recipe, you can find it in Baking From My Home to Yours, of course.  For this final week of this incarnation of TWD, Dorie herself is our host and will have the recipe up as well.  If you're not currently a member of Tuesdays with Dorie, membership in the group will be opening up again very soon.  The next book will be Baking with Julia.  I've had a copy of the book for a long time, but haven't really baked from it.  I'm hoping that this will be the push I need to pull it off the shelf.  

I'm sure there will be lots of participants this week, so be sure to check out all the Links!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday!

Friday, December 23, 2011


Happy blogiversary to me!  It's amazing what a difference 4 years can make.  I've been having a hard time deciding what I wanted to write about my blogging adventure so far, and it occurred to me that I just had to include this picture from yesterday morning.  One huge thing that has changed is my girls--when I started blogging, Gillian was just over a year old and Brianna was not quite 5.  Now, they're both very capable of assisting me in the kitchen.  Yes, that's ravioli that Brianna is making.  She asked me for advice on how to shape them, but that was it.  Well, I did also let her borrow my pastry wheel, on the condition that it got thoroughly cleaned afterwards.  I couldn't resist her sad face because she couldn't figure out how to make the edges look right with the tools she had. =)

I love the fact that both my girls want to spend time in the kitchen, probably way more than I actually let them (still working on that patience thing, even after 4 years).  They just assume that I can make anything, or can figure it out pretty quickly.  They don't know it yet, but they're both getting baking cookbooks and some kitchen tools of their own for Christmas (color coded--blue for B, purple for G).  I love the fact that they won't think it's odd that I didn't get them measuring cups--they're used to using a scale to measure ingredients.  I've made so many things in the past four years--puff pastry, croissants, bagels, sourdough bread, amazing cakes, scores of scones, caramel, ice cream... I could go on and on.  But the best thing to come out of my kitchen is showing my girls it can be done.  I set out to write a blog about baking, but many of my favorite posts are also about my life and family.  I look forward to filling many more notebook pages with notes and share many more stories (in words and pictures) with all of you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


As I was making my 4th batch of fudge in about as many days, Brianna asked me why I only make fudge at Christmas.  She's right--I don't really make it any other time of year.  It's not a conscious decision to reserve it for the holidays; it just doesn't really occur to me to make it during the rest of the year.  I'm like that with certain cookies, too.  Chocolate chip cookies are not Christmas cookies (though my husband would probably disagree with me there, since his grandmother made them during the holidays).  Spritz cookies are Christmas cookies.  My cookie press came with about a dozen different plates for various shapes, but the only one I've ever used is the Christmas tree.  What sort of treats do you only make during the holidays?

I don't usually make four batches of fudge, though.  The first one I made didn't turn out.  It was a recipe I hadn't tried before.  It's frustrating when something doesn't work--I always want to know why.  In this case, I think I didn't cook it quite long enough; it never got all the way firm.  I didn't like the flavor very much, either.  The second batch was one I've made before, a great recipe from Fine Cooking.  The third was this interesting cookie dough fudge that my friend Tracey posted recently.  It doesn't have quite the usual fudge texture, but it definitely tastes like cookie dough.  Batch number four was a repeat of the Fine Cooking recipe--I gave away most of the first batch and needed more.  It was one of the key components in my treat bags this year.  

I first made this fudge a couple years ago, when it showed up in the magazine.  It was the first fudge that I'd made that didn't use marshmallow cream or other shortcuts.  It starts off as sugar, unsweetened chocolate, corn syrup (helps keep the sugar from crystallizing the wrong way), cream, and salt.  Everything gets brought to a boil, and cooked until it reaches about 238ºF.  Then you remove it from the heat, add some butter (without stirring it in any way), and let the mixture cool until it's 110ºF.  This takes a while, so it's a good thing to make when you have other things going on in the kitchen to keep you occupied for a while.  Once the mixture gets to the right temperature, you beat the heck out of it.  I did try once to do it by hand, but my arm got too tired before I could get it to the right texture.  What the recipe recommends is using a hand mixer, and that works quite well, though I do usually worry that I'm going to overheat my mixer.  Once the fudge starts loses its shine and starts to thicken, you put it in a pan and let it finish setting up overnight (or at least for a few hours).  

The verdict?  I just love this fudge, both the recipe and the final product.  I've made it several times, and it always turns out great.  The texture of the fudge is very smooth.  I think the bit of salt in the recipe makes all the difference in the flavor--the new recipe this year tasted flat and just sweet without the salt.  I shared this fudge with lots of people, and while I'm not sure yet how they all liked it, but my girls seem to be big fans.

If you'd like to try the recipe for yourself, you can find it over at Fine Cooking.  If you're looking for ideas for goodie bags, I found my supplies at a variety of places.  The treat bags are from Target, the snowflake stickers are address labels that I got at Office Depot, and I find that Michael's is a great place to buy ribbon.  The papers are just standard mini muffin cups.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rolling into the holiday season

Yay!  I'm finally on vacation and getting caught up on some of the things I haven't done for the past few weeks.  Blogging is high on that list.  So are Christmas shopping and baking.  I should actually be baking right now, since tomorrow is the last day of school before break, and there are teacher treats to be made.  However, when I thought that I would have lots of time in the kitchen while the plumber was here this morning, I didn't consider the fact that he'd have to turn off the water for some of the repairs.  (Nothing serious, just little things that we don't want to turn into bigger things, and that J didn't want to tackle.)  I'm too messy to even thing about doing anything in the kitchen without being able to wash stuff (including my hands).

So this is the perfect time for me to tell you about a fabulous dessert that I made for a holiday potluck a couple weeks ago.  Right when I was trying to decide what to make for the party, I picked up a magazine full of Chocolate Desserts (one of the newsstand-only issues from Cook's Country).  It had lots of yummy ideas in it, but the one that really caught my eye was the Chocolate Roulade.

A roulade is something rolled up, which in this case is a cake.  You often see them this time of year--pumpkin versions for Thanksgiving, and chocolate versions as Yule Logs.  Crazy as it may sound, I'd never actually made one before!  You bake a large, thin layer of sponge cake, turn it out onto a cocoa-dusted towel while still pretty warm, and roll it up (towel and all).  Once the cake has cooled some, you unroll it, add a layer of filling, then roll it back up (which is easier because it was already rolled up once).  You can finish the cake with a simple dusting of powdered sugar or go all-out with a rich coating of chocolate ganache.  

As with almost everything I've made from the folks at America's Test Kitchen, the roulade turned out great.  The recipe recommends making the ganache (chocolate, cream, butter, and a bit of cognac) first, since it needs time to firm up.  The filling can be mixed up next (mascarpone cheese, cream, instant espresso powder and some powdered sugar) and stashed in the fridge until you need it.  The cake bakes quickly, so it's good to have everything else done first.  I learned a couple things while making this recipe.  One is that you really need to make sure that your towel has a lot of cocoa powder rubbed into it, or the cake will stick.  Thankfully, the ganache will cover any imperfections, and the towel was easier to wash out than I expected. =)  Also, be prepared to dirty almost every bowl and whisk you own.  This was one time when I really wished that I had an extra bowl for my stand mixer.  But it worked out okay in the end.

The verdict?  I think it's safe to say that this one was a hit.  After sampling the scraps from the ends I cut off, Brianna's first question was, "So are you going to save some of it for us?"  When I told her that the whole thing would be going to the party, her response was, "But you can make another one for us, right?"  I think Jamie won't mind at all if I do. =)  Gillian wasn't a huge fan of the espresso flavor in the filling, so I'll have to see what I can come up with for next time.  Everyone at the party really seemed to enjoy it as well.  One warning--the recipe says that it serves 8 to 10, but those would have to be pretty big slices, and this is a very rich dessert.  We fed a lot more than that.  

If you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, you can find it here if you have a web membership for Cook's Illustrated.  If have a copy of Baking Illustrated, it's also in there.  And of course you can find the recipe in the same place where it caught my eye--the recent Cook's Country Chocolate Desserts issue.  (If you're wondering about the stars on top, they're from King Arthur.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

2nd Annual Virtual Cookie Exchange - The Round-up!

Well, it's safe to say that I didn't realize just how crazy life was going to be the past couple weeks.  I figured it might take me a week to get the round-up done for our Virtual Cookie Exchange, but instead it's closer to two.  The good thing about the delay is that it allowed others (whose lives are also crazy, so I feel a little better) to get their posts done, even if it wasn't for the 4th.  So without further ado, here are all the tasty contributions.  I'm excited to be on vacation now until the 27th, so I'll actually have time to try some of these!

I think Phyl's Scottish Shortbread may have been the last cookies I read about, but they're one of the first on my list to try.  I love shortbread--mmm, buttery. =)  I often make shortbread into round cookies, but I think I need to invest in some pretty scalloped cutters. 

Jessica was also a bit delayed--hopefully her technical difficulties have finally been resolved.  She recently renamed her blog to What Happens After Singleton, since she got married a couple months ago.  She's having fun figuring out how to blend holiday traditions to come up with something that works for her new family.  Personally, I think her husband is crazy not to like these English Gingersnaps. =)

Julie is a new member of our merry band of seasonal bakers.  I hope she brings lots of yummy things like these Nutella No-Bake Cookies!  No-bake cookies are a favorite of mine, but I never would have thought to make them with Nutella instead of peanut butter.  Considering how much my girls love chocolate hazelnut spread, I will definitely be making these soon.

Chaya made cookies with one of my favorite things, butterscotch chips.  I ate them by the handful when I was pregnant with Brianna.  I don't eat them quite so often these days, but I always have a bag or two stashed away in my pantry.  So I'll be able to make these yummy Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies.  

Nancy got to break out her German cookie molds for these gorgeous Soft Gingerbread Cookies from Tartine.  I don't have the book, but I think it's going on my wishlist.  And these cookies will be a perfect way to use some of the blackstrap molasses that I bought by accident...

Kayte brought us these adorable Orange Creme Roll cookies.  I admit, my first thought was that they look like cannoli. =)  I need to get my hands on some of her clothespins first, though.  I have some, but not the right kind.  I suspect I can improvise something, though.

Once again, I think Marthe is the participant from farthest away.  (She lives in The Netherlands.)  That's one of the things I love about our virtual exchange--we don't have to worry that distance will keep people away.  I definitely wouldn't want to miss out on these Chocolate Munchies that Marthe made!

I'm pretty sure that Mike has the same cookie press that my mom had.  I love his addition of salt on top of his Caramel Spritz Cookies.  I still prefer the butter ones, but I'll have to try substituting some brown sugar in my recipe, or putting butter in Mike's. Either way, I have to try these.

I have a copy of Alice Medrich's recent cookie book, but haven't baked nearly enough from it.  Fortunately, Leslie brought these fantastic Chocolate Espresso Cookies to my attention.  I'm sure B&G will be thrilled when I make them--they think I don't make nearly enough chocolate cookies. 

You can't go wrong with a classic combination like chocolate and peanut butter.  That probably explains why these Peanut Butter Blossoms are always so popular.  I'm really glad that Kayte convinced Katie to join us this year so she could share these.

At first glance, you might think that Jessica brought us more chocolate cookies.  And she did, sort of.  But she went one better, and combined chocolate with ginger for these yummy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies.  Don't ask me why, but even though I don't care for cinnamon with chocolate, ginger with chocolate is just fine.

Dorie is always suggesting that we play around with her recipes, and Spike did just that.  She took the already awesome World Peace Cookies and added candy canes to make them World Peace & Peppermint Cookies.  Maybe if I have some of these in the house, I won't be as tempted by the Starbucks Peppermint Hot Chocolate. Right? 

Another great pairing with chocolate is caramel.  These Heartland Turtle Bars that Mary brought look like a great way to combine the two.  I have to admit, sometimes I really love making bar cookies so I don't have to mess with baking multiple pans of cookies.

Next up is our over-achiever, Margaret. =)  When I sent out the email about this year's cookie exchange, I was teasing Margaret about making two cookies last year instead of just one.  Well, this year, she made three!  All look wonderful--Angel Wings, Double Drizzle Pecan Cookies, and Eggnog Thumbprints.

If you need a whole bunch of cookies but don't want to make several kinds, then Abby's Peppernuts (from her mother-in-law) might be the cookies for you.  She mentions that the yield from the recipe is about 560 cookies.  No, that's not a typo.  Fortunately, she also mentions that they keep well and you can freeze them. =)

Next up is a good example of why I love these cookie exchanges.  My other friend Margaret shared a very special cookie with us.  She received the recipe for these Candy Cane Cookies from her sister-in-law shortly after she married into the family.  I bet they would be lots of fun to make with my girls.  And she gives a handy tip for crushing the candy canes, too!

Elaine was worried about running late, but I think I've got her beat. =)  Besides, if you show up with cookies, who cares if you're late?  These Pecan Crunch Cookies have an unusual ingredient, but you'll have to head over to Elaine's blog to see what it is.

I was really excited to see Tracey's contribution to the cookie exchange.  Every year I make goodie bags for the girls' teachers.  This year, I really wanted to make biscotti for some of them, but I also wanted something without nuts.  These Candy Cane Biscotti are perfect!  They'll be the first cookie exchange recipe that I make, but I'm sure they won't be the last.

Last but not least, we have my Spritz Cookies.  This is another recipe that makes a lot of cookies--they're small, so you can eat several without feeling too guilty.

I really hope that you've enjoyed this year's Virtual Cookie Exchange.  If this isn't enough cookie recipes for you, you can always go back and look at last year's roundup, too.  If you'd like to join us for future blog events, email me at diskitchennotebook at gmail dot com, and I'll add you to my list.  Look for the Winter event sometime in February!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Virtual Cookie Exchange - Not my mother's Spritz Cookies

I mentioned in my post earlier today that I had a holiday party last night.  It was for a bunch of people from work, most of whom have eaten lots of the baked goods that I take to work.  One person walked into the house, commented on how pretty our Christmas tree looked, then walked over to the kitchen (we have a pretty open floor plan) and said, "So this is Di's kitchen, where the magic happens!" =)

There's definitely something magical about Christmas cookies.  I have fond memories of helping my mom make cookies during the holiday season.  There were certain types that we always made every year.  I don't have quite the same line-up now, but there are still some varieties that have to make an appearance.  One of my mom's favorites was Spritz Cookies.  They were usually in the shape of trees, and the dough was tinted green.  My mom had an old school cookie press that required you to turn the handle on top to make the dough come out--definitely a workout with a stiff cookie dough.  One of my sisters has the cookie press, but I do have the recipe.  I don't make it much, though, since it uses all shortening, no butter.  I just love the flavor of butter cookies, so I use a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that first appeared in the magazine in 2004.  

The dough for these cookies is easy to mix up.  First you whisk together an egg yolk, a bit of cream and some vanilla in a small bowl and set it aside.  Next up is creaming the butter, sugar and salt.  Once that mixture is light and fluffy, you mix in the liquid mixture.  Finally, you stir in the flour.  The fun part is playing with the cookie press.  I have one much like this.  It holds just enough dough for a pan of cookies, about 2 dozen of the small trees.  I spooned a little bit of colored sugar on top of each cookie before baking.  

I almost always bake cookies on parchment lined baking sheets, but that doesn't work for these--the dough from the cookie press won't stick to the parchment.  So use an unlined, ungreased pan.  For the best flavor, be sure to bake the cookies until they are just starting to brown around the edges--if they're still completely pale, they won't have that great browned butter flavor.  I baked mine for 12 minutes at 375ºF.

The verdict?  I love these.  The butter and vanilla flavors are immediately apparent, and they have a lovely crisp texture.  The only thing that you might not like about these cookies is how easy they are to pop in your mouth, since they're bite-sized.  The good news is that the recipe makes at least 6 dozen, so you'll probably still have enough to share even after you eat a bunch yourself.  Brianna paid me a high compliment indeed, making a point to say how much she liked these cookies. =)  

Spritz Cookies - ingredients

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
225 grams (two sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
140 grams (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
285 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour

You can find the full recipe online at Cook's Illustrated, or in the current Holiday Baking newsstand issue.  

Check back next weekend for a full round-up of delicious holiday cookies from our cookie exchange!

Logo courtesy of Allifer Designs

2nd Annual Virtual Cookie Exchange!

Happy December, everyone!  I'm not sure how it got here already, but I can't change the fact that it's started, so I might as well embrace it!  In contrast to last year, we're actually doing quite well getting into the holiday spirit.  Our Christmas tree is up and decorated, without any drama at all (unlike last year).  We had a holiday party last night, which gave me lots of incentive to get my house cleaned up (at least downstairs; upstairs still needs some work).  I've spent the past two days in one of my favorite places--my kitchen--doing one of my favorite things--making lots of yummy food to share with friends.

Last night's party was definitely a success, and now I'm here for another one.  The nice thing about this one is that no one will get to see that my house is still a mess from the last one. =)  (I even broke my own rule about not going to bed until all the dishes are washed.)  Some of you may remember that last year I hosted a Virtual Cookie Exchange here at Di's Kitchen.  It was lots of fun, and we all came away with some great cookie recipes to try.  I'm excited that we're doing it again this year!  I made it a little earlier--this way I can get the round-up done by next weekend and everyone will still have some baking time before most of the major holidays that are celebrated this time of year.

Many thanks to my friend Nancy's daughter Allison, who was kind enough to paint us a cookie badge again this year.  Check out her website for more custom artwork!  Hopefully you'll see lots of posts with it out there today, but if you miss a few, check back next weekend for the full round-up!