Wednesday, December 31, 2008

CEiMB - Triple Chocolate Cookies

I am such a slacker! These cookies have been on my to do list for ages, and I just got around to making them this morning. After tasting them, I'm kicking myself for waiting so long!

The Triple Chocolate Cookies were chosen by Gabi of The Feast Within. This was actually last week's recipe. The recipe calls for dark and milk chocolate in addition to cocoa. I'm not a milk chocolate lover so I subbed Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips (and I used bittersweet chips since I was feeling lazy). I have a lot of walnuts on hand so I used them instead of pecans. Otherwise, I went with the recipe as written.

I got a few more than the 24 cookies Ellie says it yields. I used my smallest scoop and a knife to level it off, so maybe I was scooping smaller cookies. They baked in exactly 12 minutes on convection bake at 325 degrees (I froze a dozen for later baking). I let them sit a few minutes on a rack, and then sampled one. There is nothing better than a warm chocolate cookie! These were luscious with the melty chocolate chips and the crunch of the walnuts. The flavor was rich and balanced, and the salt was a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the chocolate. 

While I was munching on another cookie (and another, and another...), it occurred to me why I like Ellie's recipes so much. She leaves in the components that add the big flavor punch, and scales down on or replaces the ones that don't affect flavor or texture. If you hadn't told me, I never would have known this was a "lighter" recipe.

If you want to cook along with us, we're cooking (and baking) from The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger. Everything I have made from this cookbook has been great, even brussels sprouts, which I hadn't eaten since I left home several decades ago. They, and rutabaga, were my childhood revulsion foods. While I won't claim to be a brussels sprouts fan now, I was able to eat, and even enjoy, them without retching. If Ellie can do that, making a delicious cookie that's lower in fat and sugar is easy!

Check out what the other CEiMB cooks did here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TWD - Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Tall and Creamy Cheesecake, was chosen by Anne at Anne Strawberry. I was already a huge fan of Anne's blog so I was very excited to see what she would chose when it was her turn. Normally, cheesecake is not my favorite dessert. I usually find it too heavy and high cholesterol is an issue for both M and I. If I'm going to rocket my LDL up a notch, I prefer to do it with decadent cookies like these or these. But Anne chose this one and, on top of that, I missed so many weeks of TWD while the kitchen was being renovated that I wanted to do this one.

I opted to make it plain (the "basic" option Dorie offers). The recipe gives the baker the flexibility to use sour cream, heavy cream or a combination. Many of the other bakers opted for sour cream or a combination as they wanted the tanginess. I figured the cream cheese would give me a nice tang and opted for all heavy cream. The recipe was the easiest I've ever made. The crust (graham cracker) was a cinch, and the filling (which Dorie instructs should be beaten a long time) was a snap. My cheesecake lightly browned on top but did not crack. I cooled completely before putting it in the refrigerator overnight.

The verdict? We LOVED this cheesecake! It was creamy and rich, but without the clumps of fat sticking to the roof of your mouth like denser cheesecake recipes (sorry to be gross!) It was a huge hit at work, with many people saying it was better than Cheesecake Factory, and others saying comparing this cheesecake to CF was an insult to my cheesecake! I plan to make this one again, like, soon. I'm thinking about making it espresso flavored with a chocolate cookie crust.

Thanks to Anne for choosing this recipe and opening my eyes to how great cheesecake can be. If you'd like the recipe, I'd encourage you to pick up the book we're all baking from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan, or you can get the recipe on Anne's website here. Check out what the other TWD bakers did here. Even though TWD was closed to new bakers on 10/31/08, Laurie has generously opened it up to new bakers until 1/1/09 in honor of TWD's one year anniversary. If you'd like to join us, here's how you do it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Dreams really can come true

The kitchen is finished.

Incredible but true. Yes, there are minor touch-ups needed, but compared to where it came from, this kitchen is ready for its close up. Recall that it started here:


So many of you have offered kind words of support and encouragement while this project was going on. Your messages and emails have lifted and supported me and I am so grateful.

I'm big on analyzing what I learn. My short list of advice for kitchen dreamers or remodelers is (in no particular order):

1.  Double your budget. No, really. You're going to be shocked at how much things like drawer pulls cost, not to mention lighting, appliances, sinks, etc. We had to replace our electrical panel before doing anything else. Double your budget and then be ready to exceed it.

2.  Embrace camping. I camped when I was a kid and a teenager, but not in the last 30-odd years. Being without a kitchen is a lot like camping, except you don't go down to the stream to rinse your dishes, you run into the bathroom (or to your laundry sink, if you have one). Thinking about this as an adventure will help you stay in a good mood while you're living with the refrigerator in the dining room and the microwave on the foyer table. 

3.  This is not the time to be green. At least it wasn't for me. I drive a Prius, turn the thermostat way down and recycle everything I can. I gave away the appliances but I bought a big stack of paper plates and paper cups and a box of plastic forks, knives and spoons, and used them without guilt. You're living in a construction zone and washing the few dishes you have to wash is a pain. Give yourself a break.

4.  Research. I obsessively research big ticket and technology items I purchase. I did the same with many components that I considered for the kitchen. I read books, magazines, searched websites, talked to others who had renovated, etc. One regret was not getting my contractor involved sooner. He would have steered me away from buying my granite at Home Depot, and that would have been a good thing.

5.  Your grill is your friend. We grilled at least half of our meals (the remainder was about 30% takeout and 20% stuff from Trader Joe's that could be reheated in the microwave). You can use your grill as an oven (I toyed with baking brownies in there but came to my senses). I would grill a bunch of chicken breasts, shrimp, fish, vegetables, etc. and we'd eat it for several days with various tricks to make it seem like we were eating something different. 

6.  Watch tons of kitchen remodeling shows on TV. I Tivo'd every episode of Spice Up My Kitchen on HGTV. Visit open houses in your area to see other kitchens. You may not find anything you like, but you may see things you DON'T want to do in your kitchen.

7.  Think about the future. How long do you plan to live in the house? If you're planning on selling it in the near future, you'll make different decisions (i.e., less expensive) than if you plan to stay in the house for many years. I chose a 6 burner pro-style cooktop, not because it will add value to the house but because I sometimes need more than 4 burners. The cooktop I chose has extra-low simmer on every burner, something that my old stove only had on one burner.

8.  Ask for samples. You won't get a sample cabinet door for more than a couple of days, but you can request samples of your countertop material, tile, paint, and cabinet hardware. I traveled with the granite sample in my purse for weeks, "visiting" other components to see if they got along with each other.

9.  Create a project binder. I put together a binder with pocket dividers and used it to take notes, store photos taken from magazines, receipts, plans, etc. It was invaluable. You won't believe how much stuff you'll end up with.

10.  Download appliance information from the Internet. Once you've picked your appliances, go to the manufacturer's website. You can find owner's manuals and, more importantly for your contractor, schematics.  Your contractor needs to know the EXACT measurements of each appliance. I printed off the schematics for all of the appliances and gave them to him and the designer. They were both very grateful. 

11.  Work with a real designer. I used Possibility Kitchens in San Jose. Kate came to my house numerous times while she was working on the design. Home Depot doesn't come to the house to design. Possibility Kitchens charges the same for the cabinets as Home Depot (and their design service is free with the order of the cabinets), but they give more personal service. We made a lot of discoveries working through the plans while standing in the kitchen. I know I wouldn't have gotten everything I wanted if we designed it on the computer in Home Depot.

12.  Be prepared. I carried a retractable cloth measuring tape in my purse for months. Ditto the digital camera and a small notepad. I wanted to capture images of the appliances, surfaces, sinks, etc. that I was seeing. Measurements were very important...we designed a 12" x 24" space for the microwave, and I had to buy a microwave not for its features but its size. 

13.  Think Frank. M says that the theme song of the new kitchen is "I Did it My Way" by Frank Sinatra. While I ran things by him, we had a silent understanding that I was going to pick what I wanted. I deliberately didn't shop with friends because their taste may have influenced my choices. I wanted M to see the cabinets (which we chose together from a catalog) before I ordered them because it was such a big ticket item that I wanted to be 110% sure.

14.  Think outside the box. I used the kitchen project as an opportunity to rework the family room. It's adjacent to the kitchen, and I put in a cabinet for the electronics. We put it on a furniture base and gave it a furniture top, so it doesn't look like a kitchen cabinet. We also replaced the window in the family room, making it bigger and more energy efficient. Now we have a better view of the garden and a whole lot more light in what used to be a dark room.

So maybe this isn't such a short list, but hopefully it will help others who are considering the exciting and scary world of kitchen remodels. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

CEiMB - Curried Butternut Squash Soup

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was Curried Butternut Squash Soup. It was chosen by Meet Me in the Kitchen. I love butternut squash soup so I was eager to try Ellie's spin on it. I made it tonight, not intentionally for dinner but wound up making it dinner. It was so easy to make, and all I had to buy for it was the squash and an extra can of chicken broth!

How did it turn out? Good! Fortunately I love spicy food, so the level of curry wasn't too much for me. If I make it again, I think I'll cut back on the curry powder, or maybe use a sweet curry instead. The other thing I would do differently is not use the emulsion blender to puree it. It would have been less trouble, and faster, to do it in batches in the food processor.

In order to turn it into dinner, I added some leftover roasted vegetables and a small dollop of fat free sour cream. Even with those additions, it was still very spicy. That's the photo I'm posting, because on its own, this soup was brown in a bowl. 

If you're interested in what the other bloggers did this week, check out Craving Ellie in My Belly. We're cooking one recipe a week from The Foods You Crave by Ellie Krieger.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TWD - Buttery Jam "Cakies"

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Buttery Jam Cookies, chosen by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl. You know how you can look at a recipe and imagine how the result will taste? I didn't get that from this recipe.

The recipe calls for jam, which is mixed in before the dry ingredients. The TWD bakers reported that dark colored jams (like blackberry) turned the cookies an odd grayish-purple. I considered using the recommended apricot jam, but was drawn to a jar of Trader Joe's Apple Cranberry Chutney I keep in the refrigerator. It's a tad spicy and not very sweet. 

I was pleased with the result, even if it wasn't exactly what I expected. My cookies turned out not flakey as Dorie said they would, but cakey. They don't spread at all when baked, so you really need to squish them down before baking. But the flavor with the chutney was great-delicate but noticeable. 

Would I make them again? Probably not. Maybe it was because they came at the end of a chocolate-free baking binge. Maybe we're cookied-out in TWD land. Maybe I'm dreaming of the brown sugar brown butter shorties I made during the same baking binge...

Check out what the other TWD bakers did here. And if you're interested in the recipe, you can find it on Heather's website here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brown sugar brown butter shorties and other stories

The kitchen is coming along nicely. The tile is finished and looks spectacular, and with it done, I really can start cooking in the kitchen. I mean, I think I can but I didn't ask. Because, you know, I want to cook!

I saw these brown sugar brown butter shorties on Smitten Kitchen and drooled over them the whole week while the kitchen was closed to cooking. This morning, I woke up early and was browning butter by 6:30 AM. I planned to bake cookies and make a couple of other things, and I didn't change out of my pajamas until about 7 PM (and only then because I had to take the trash out to the curb). It was a high energy baking/cooking/unpacking kitchen boxes day. It is so me to do all things at the same time, mess up some of them, and finish nothing. After baking, cooking and putting things away in the kitchen, I only need to wash the rest of the dishes. My back was killing me after going for 14 hours so I decided to take a break and tell you about these spectacular cookies!

These brown sugar brown butter shorties are to die for. Save yourself and don't make them. Because if you do, you'll taste the dough and be unable to stop eating it. Then you'll get curious about how the cookies taste BAKED, so you'll stop and bake off a dozen or so. Then you'll eat more than your share of those. They'll call your name all day long. You'll have a couple for lunch (great), test them out with a cup of tea (great) and as dessert after dinner (great). You'll wish you had more left to share with others. If you double the recipe like I did, you'll have a fat roll of dough in the refrigerator, waiting for the right person to share them with (M is out of town but I plan to make him some when he gets home). You'll marvel that a cookie can taste this good without any chocolate.

 I also made Manchamantel, a nice chicken dish, for dinner. I found the recipe in Clean Eating magazine (you can find it here), and it was deeply flavorful and surprisingly healthy (good thing since I ate my weight in cookies earlier in the day). I oven roasted vegetables for the week. I made a big mess doing all of this but it was fun. 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

CEiMB - I'm so behind!

With the kitchen shut down all week for tiling the backsplash, I not only didn't get caught up with Craving Ellie in My Belly, I got even more behind! I was going to make the Jewel Roasted Vegetables and then tackle the Cornmeal Crusted Roasted Ratatouille Tart, but there was no way. All week long, the only part of the kitchen I could use was one refrigerator door. I plan to get back on track next week with the Curried Butternut Squash Soup (it looks YUMMY!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie - Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookies

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was chosen by Ulrike of Kuchenlatein. I was initially not terribly excited about a sugar cookie recipe, and to be honest, I considered using my kitchen renovation as a justification for not baking this week. But I did have use of the kitchen this weekend, and I decided to play with the recipe as Dorie suggested and see what I could come up with. I considered rolling the cookie dough in chopped hazelnuts or almonds, or even in chopped flake coconut or cocoa nibs (which I rejected after tasting them-too bitter), but I kept coming back to this wonderful Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey's. It's very spicy and aromatic, so I probably only added 1/4 teaspoon to the dry ingredients. The recipe is super quick to make. Some of the TWD bakers had trouble with the dough being sticky, so I tried to handle it as little as possible. I finished adding the dry ingredients with a spatula so I wouldn't over mix it. Since I was going to do slice and bake cookies, I plopped the dough on to two pieces of plastic wrap and tried to form it into two perfectly round logs. Well, I tried. My logs were more elliptical. The dough was then refrigerated for two hours before baking.

Before slicing the logs, I rolled them in turbinado sugar. I sliced them about 1/4" thick and got three dozen (the recipe said it yields 50 cookies, so maybe my logs were a little chubby). I pressed one side of some of the cookies in chopped almonds before baking. They baked for 9 minutes at 325 degrees in a convection oven (the recipe called for 350).

I loved these cookies! I was so surprised by the hint of cinnamon and the crunch of the turbinado sugar. The sweetness of the cookie was nicely balanced by the salt the recipe called for. I thought it was a terrific cookie, and friends I shared them with agreed. I will definitely use this recipe in the future, and I do plan to make a coconut variation. The next time I use nuts, I will toast them in the oven before using them as the 9 minute baking time wasn't enough to punch up their flavor. If you want the recipe, check out Ulrike's blog. And visit some of the other TWD bakers here. They are a creative and inspiring group of people.

FOLLOW UP 12/14/08:
I baked a batch of these with coconut extract and rolled them in toasted coconut before baking. The coconut flavor was understated, except in the ones I also pressed the tops in the toasted coconut. I prefer the cinnamon version I made, but am glad I tried these in coconut.

You call this progress??

Well, yes.

Even though I won't have any use of the kitchen this week, starting on the tile backsplash is a big step forward. In my (simple) mind, this was a one day process. I mean, that's what they show on home improvement shows so it must be real! 

Yesterday was the prep day, which rendered the kitchen all but unusable. I hope it will all be done by Thursday, and maybe we can get the electrician back on Friday. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Are we there yet?

I think I have been extra patient during this kitchen adventure. I haven't asked (much) when we would be done. I've tried to take microwaving and washing dishes in the bathroom sink in stride. I've taken up dusting as a hobby. After all, it hasn't even been two months we've been under construction, and with all the problems we found (and had to correct), it's not a long time in the realm of kitchen renovations.

As every new element is introduced, I have to readjust my impressions of the suitability of that choice. I loved the cabinets, adjusted quickly to (i.e., quickly loved) the granite, loved the ovens and cooktop (and am adjusting to the refrigerator), was uncertain about (but now love) the cabinet hardware. This week the tile backsplash will be installed. It's the single most anticipated element and it should tie everything together. If it doesn't, it will be a huge disappointment for me. 

I actually toyed with ditching it and just having the backsplash painted. The other elements look great together (I think), and I really am scared it won't "work" together. But I realized these doubts are my fears that my "vision" isn't good. That could be true, but I don't think it is. So we'll forge on with backsplash tile and I'll either love it immediately or I'll learn to. We'll also finish the electrical this week, and that should complete all but the punch list items (like the leak under the sink). I've started moving some things into the cabinets, and tonight I baked cookies. It feels glaring defects, no regrets, nothing missing. As long as you overlook the wires coming out of the wall, the bare dry wall, the empty hole that will house the microwave, the missing crown molding....

Almost there!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No TWD again this week

I'm so bummed! I went to the mall on Sunday looking for a cookie cutter to make this week'sTuesdays with Dorie recipe (Linzer Sables), but they didn't have an appropriate cutter at Williams-Sonoma (I know, I was shocked, too!) So I ordered mine from Amazon. They arrived today, but the kitchen is totally off limits while they refinish the floor. I was so primed to make them with the chocolate option Dorie gave. I've been checking out what the other bakers did, and I urge you to do the same. I hope to be back with the other TWD bakers in the next two weeks.