Saturday, October 31, 2009

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies

After my big failure with the macarons (see this post), I decided that I needed to make something fail-proof. Being that Halloween is here, I thought I'd get into the spirit of things and make peanut butter cookies shaped like pumpkins!

The recipe is a classic Pillsbury recipe, so I can't take ANY credit for it. I'm sure that you could attempt these with your own peanut butter cookie dough, but I wanted surefire success. I started by gathering all of the ingredients.

Once I had everything ready, I mixed and then started to roll and sugar. The messy part was sugaring the balls and then marking them to look like pumpkins without squishing them. The hard part was getting pretzel wheels to look like stems. I'd suggest using regular pretzels if you attempt these yourself.

I was a bit worried that they would spread and be flat, deformed pumpkins, but they didn't. Overall, I think they turned out pretty cute. They certainly didn't last long in my house...I love me some peanut butter cookies.... :-)


The Recipe: Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies
From: Pillsbury


1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated peanut butter cookies
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup orange decorator sugar crystals
14 twisted butter-flavor pretzel sticks, broken in half

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray cookie sheets with cooking spray. In medium bowl, stir cookie dough, egg yolk and flour until well mixed.

2. Pour sugar crystals into small bowl. Shape dough into 28 (1-inch) balls; roll in sugar crystals. Insert 1 pretzel piece into each ball for pumpkin stem. Using toothpick or tip of teaspoon, make lines around sides for pumpkin ridges. Place balls 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.

3. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or just until set in center when touched with fingertip. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.

Enjoy with Love,

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers – Macarons (October 2009)

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I was excited to learn that these cookies did NOT have coconut in them. I also was excited because I had never made these before but have seen them many times on the other blogs that I have wandered through. They looked so pretty. Also, the excitement grew when the ingredients did not include any "eye of newt" ingredients (or easy alternatives at least). I was up for the challenge and ready for success! Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the end and greeted with failure...but...let us start at the beginning.

First, in case you are not familiar with this french pastry should quickly head over to here to read a bit about them and see what they are supposed to look like.

The recipe starts by letting the egg whites come to room temperature. There was much discussion on the Daring Bakers forums about letting the egg white sit out for several days. I did this...they sat for 5 days. I was then concerned about them going bad, but read that as long as the end product is cooked that it should be fine. (So far, I think all the tasters are safe.)

SO...we started with whipping the egg whites to soft peaks.

Since the mixer does all the work, these were turning out to be quite easy. Mom was also assisting so I had her measuring out the almond flour and confectioners sugar.

Speaking of mom...she's a great help in the kitchen. She always protests that she cannot cook and is a disaster in the kitchen, but I dare say that this is simply not true. She has come up with some great dishes and well, fed me (and my family) well for many years with few complaints (other than some veggies, but I don't like them no matter WHO cooks them!).

Back to the challenge...once the soft peaked egg whites and sugar were whipped to what I thought was stiff peaks we started to fold in the almond/sugar mixture.

As I think I have mentioned before, I am a terrible folder. I think it has something to do with my lack of patience to get it all mixed together. This may have been the reason for my impending failure, or it could have been my lack of experience with getting the egg whites to a solid stiff peak. Either way, once the almond flour/sugar were incorporated we were ready to pipe. I had a sneaking suspicion at this point that the batter was not stiff enough, it was too runny. But, I pressed on.

After piping, we let the oven do the work of baking, raising the temp and then baking again. We crossed our fingers that a miracle would happen and the "feet" would form. Sadly, they did not.

The lowly cookies were spongey and soft. Most stuck to the baking sheet. The bottoms that did make it off the sheet looked like they'd be crunchy...if they had just risen. They reminded me a lot like angel food cake. Sticky and soft like that.

But, wanting to complete the challenge, even with a failed cookie, I pressed on. We had leftover cream cheese frosting from a wonderful banana cake (without the topping) that I had made from this recipe at Smitten Kitchen (ahh, one of my food idols!). I tinted the frosting orange with some food dye that I always have on hand and piped it between two cookies. The glamor shot...

So, as macaroons, these cookies were a major crunchy feet at all. They tasted ok, but since they were so difficult to get off the pan all but the three used in the glamor shot found their way to the trash. My tasters (mom and dad) said that the finished product tasted ok, but I think that is more a testament to the super yummy cream cheese frosting.

I suppose I should try this again, maybe using the recipe that many on the Daring Bakers site suggested from another food blogger Tartlette (find her recipes here). If you try this or another macaron recipe and are successful, please let me know!

Recipe: Mararons
From Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern

Preparation time: Not taking into account the amount of time it takes for you to bring your egg whites to room temperature, the whole baking process, including making the batter, piping and baking will probably take you about an hour to an hour and a half. How long it takes to make your filling is dependent on what you choose to make.

Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Sifter or sieve
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.

2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

5. Pipe one-inch-sized mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F. Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.

7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Theoretically, this yields 10 dozen macarons.

Ami S gave us several websites to help us. Feel free to check them out...who knows, you may have better success! 
David Lebovitz breaks it down
More macaroon 411 from Serious Eats
Go behind the scenes of Paulette
Watch a pro pipe macaroons
Beating egg whites
Enjoy With Love,

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

This time of year my thoughts turn to apples, pumpkin and cinnamon. Fall is such a great time to bake! A few years ago I came across this recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies and instantly fell in love with them. They have all the pumpkiny goodness of fall, yet are easy to make like a regular chocolate chip cookie. It doesn't hurt that they are delicious.

As I mentioned, they are made much like a chocolate chip cookie. Combine all the dry ingredients, Cream the butter and sugars, add the egg and vanilla, then incorporate the dry ingredients and pumpkin. Don't forget to add the chocolate chips (and nuts if you'd like...toasted pecans would be divine!!) What you get is a dough that is slightly more moist than your traditional chocolate chip cookie dough. 

The next step is to put the dough on the cookies sheet and bake them off. As I've suggested before, use a small ice cream scoop, or in my case, a melon baller. This allows the cookies to be even in size and shape for the best cooking experience (for the cookies of course!). The recipe calls for a lightly greased cookie sheet, but I've never had any problem just popping them onto my silpat without any greasing.

These cookies will come out 7-10 minute later all ooey and gooey and delicious! I would warn you to get your fill before sharing! HA! These always go quickly when I make them and get rave reviews. The combo of pumpkin, oats and chocolate is just too good!

Happy Fall everyone! May your kitchens be full of seasonal goodness, love, joy and laughter!

Recipe: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups flour

1 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup solid pack pumpkin (from the can)
2 cups chocolate chips (this can vary, depending on how much you like chocolate chips)

In one bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and mix well. Add dry ingredients and pumpkin, alternating between the two, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets. Cook 7 to10 minutes in 350 degree oven. Keep checking bottoms, as they cook quickly.

Enjoy with Love,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Quick Vietnamese Chicken Pho (October 2009)

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. Our challenge focused on Chicken Pho, or “Pho Ga” in Vietnamese and chocolate dessert wontons. (By the way, the correct pronunciation of Pho is “fuh?” Yes, you say the word like it’s a question! ) As someone that had never tried Pho of any kind before, I was a bit nervous going into this challenge. ..yet was hopeful.

The first step, before any of the cooking, was to shop for the ingredients. While for the most part this was an easy step, my regular grocery store did not carry the rice noodles nor some of the optional items used for topping. This was solved by finding a local Asian market, but it certainly was a bit frustrating because I like to shop all in one spot and not have to go all over town to find my ingredients. Once I did find all of the ingredients, I was off and running though.

Toasting spices in a dry pan releases their essential oils and adds more fragrance to the finished dish. This is a bit tricky because you do not want to burn the spices. I normally know that the spices are done when you can smell them. It does not take long.

Spices Toasting (Sorry for the blur)

Once the spices were toasted, I added them to the broth and other ingredients, including the chicken. I brought this to a boil and then reduced to a simmer. The broth smelled WONDERFUL!

Once the chicken was cooked, I retrieved it from the pot and shredded it. Actually, my mom who was visiting and helping me with this new recipe shredded the chicken for me. I think she did a great job!
Shredding the Chicken

This is also the point where you skim out all of the "stuff" from the broth.

Broth - Skimmed

The next step was to cook the rice noodles. This step proved to be the most frustrating for me because I put too much water in the pot and it took FOREVER to bring to a boil (live and learn!). Once in the pot the noodles cooked quickly and easily. After straining the noodles, they were VERY sticky! I’d say get them back into the broth ASAP if you can. I had not planned ahead in this regard so I had a bunch of sticky noodles hanging around.

The finished product was very pretty (in my opinion) and very tasty! I skipped the bean sprouts because I do not like them…at all! The red Sriracha chili sauce was VERY spicy, but added a great flavor. The lime did its best to cut through the spiciness and cool things off. The cilantro and red onion added a nice flavor, as did the extra pepper. The hoisin sauce topped things off and added a touch of sweetness.

The true test was whether or not my parents enjoyed it! My dad loved it, though he only had the noodles, chicken and some lime in his bowl. My mom liked it though half was through, and after complaining that the hoisin sauce was spicy (which it is not), discovered she had picked up a stray pepper in her bowl along with her red onion. She squirted some lime juice into her bowl and that helped a bit with the spiciness. All and all it was enjoyed by all.

Pho Ga

Once we were finished with the Pho Ga, we moved onto our chocolate dessert wontons. I had fried wontons before so the challenge part of this was figuring out the fillings. I originally decided on doing Snicker bars. This proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought. I had kept them in the refrigerator so they were hard and kept tearing the wontons. I microwaved a few pieces and that seemed to work to get them in the wrapper a bit easier. Mom and I also tried to cut them into smaller pieces which also worked. I also remembered that I had a rich, fudgy, mint sauce by Tastefully Simple in the refrigerator. I spooned that into a few which was quite easy.

Wontons Filled and Ready for Frying

The wontons filled with the various chocolates were easy to pop into my preheated fryer. I left them in there for a few minutes, turning them so they got brown and crispy on both sides. This is an easy process, but it does take time and patience….neither of which I prefer to have at dessert time!

Frying the Wonton

We did not sprinkle with the confectioners sugar as we thought the fillings would be sweet enough. The verdict was that the Snicker-filled wonton was much tastier, but that the fudgy-mint ones were prettier and fuller. The Snicker-filled ones seemed to have a big hole without much filling in them. The minty ones oozed out once bitten into…yummy mess!

Chocolate Dessert Wontons
Overall this challenge was fairly easy and I am glad I stuck in there to find the noodles. I was introduced to a new dish (the Pho Ga) and experimented with the chocolate dessert wontons. I will likely make this Pho Ga again if I am ever out by that Asian market again to get the noodles, but the dessert wontons left something to be desired. Thank you to our lovely hostess…if you love this recipe, pick up her book…it will be out later this month!

PS…I love your comments, so leave me one at the end of this post!

Recipe: Quick Vietnamese Chicken Pho
Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

• Frying pan • Large stockpot • Tongs • Strainer, sieve or colander • Bowls for serving

Preparation Time: 45 cooking time + 15 minutes to cook noodles based on package directions
Servings: Makes 4 servings

For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds

4 whole cloves2 whole star anise

2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock

1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)

½ onion1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife

1 to 2 tbsps. sugar1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce

1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off

Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)

½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions

½ lime, cut into 4 wedges

Sriracha chili sauce

Hoisin sauce

Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice

1. To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
2. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
4. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
5. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
6. Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
7. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
8. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

Recipe: Chocolate Wontons
Recipe Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.


• Small bowl • Pastry brush • Plastic wrap and/or damp paper towels • Wok or medium-sized pot • Frying thermometer (if you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the oil temperature by dropping in a cube of bread … if it browns quickly, the oil is ready)

Preparation time: 15 minutes + 15 minutes cooking time (for 12 wontons)
Servings: Makes 12 wontons.

1 large egg

1 tbsp. water

12 wonton wrappers, defrosted (keep wrappers covered with damp towel)

12 pieces or nuggets of chocolate (use any type of chocolate you like)

High-heat oil for frying (i.e., vegetable oil, corn oil)

Confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash.
2. On a clean, dry surface lay 1 wonton wrapper down with a point toward you, like a diamond.
3. Place 1 piece of chocolate near the top end of the wrapper.
4. Brush a very thin layer of the egg wash on the edges of the wrapper.
5. Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up to create a triangle and gently press to remove all air from the middle. Press the edges to adhere the sides. Make sure the wrapper is sealed completely.
6. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and chocolate pieces.
7. Keep the folded chocolate wontons covered under plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying.
8. In a wok or medium pot, pour in 2 inches (5 cm.) of high-heat oil.
9. Heat the oil to 350º F (180º C) and gently slide a few of the chocolate wontons into the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the chocolate wontons.
10. Fry the wontons for 1 ½ minutes, then flip over and fry another minute until both sides are golden brown and crisp.

Enjoy with Love,