Archive for the ‘baking / cooking’ Category

Wintertime always throws me into a baking kind of mood.  I love how the oven makes the house extra-warm, I love the smells of browning butter and sugar, and I really love having a little treat with my morning cup of coffee.  However, I’m trying to keep my goodies on the healthier side these days (and I use the word “healthy” very liberally), so I’ve tucked away my recipes for butter toffee and chocolate espresso bombs and have tried a few new things in the kitchen this month.  Such as:

caveman cookies (original recipe by George Bryant found here)

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This is about as guilt-free as a cookie can get.  Which I why I was compelled to dip them in chocolate.  Let’s not go overboard with this health thing.

2 eggs
1 cup roasted almonds
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Roast almonds for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Place your roasted almonds, blueberries, apricots, and shredded coconut in a food processor and continually pulse until all of it is minced.  Turn your food processor on low and let it run while you slowly drizzle in your EVOO.  Transfer this mixture to a mixing bowl and mix well with the 2 eggs.  Using your hands, form thin patties about 1/4 inch thick.  Place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.  Dip in melted semi-sweet chocolate if desired.


coconut macaroons (original recipe by David Lebovitz found here)

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I’m on a coconut kick as of late, and daaaaang, these are good.  Perfectly crispy on the outside, soft and chewy in the middle, packed with good coconut flavor.  I dipped some of them in chocolate, but found I liked the plain ones better.  You know a cookie is extra-good when I actually prefer it without chocolate.

4 large egg whites
1¼ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
2½ cups unsweetened coconut
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large skillet, mix together the egg whites, sugar, salt, honey, coconut and flour.  Heat over low-to-moderate heat on the stovetop, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom as you stir.  When the mixture just begins to scorch at the bottom, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature.  When ready to bake, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Form the dough into 1 1/2-inch mounds with your fingers. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until deep golden brown. Cool completely.


thumbprint cookies (original recipe by Ina Garten found here)

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Ok, so I’m not even going to pretend this one is good for you, but I’ve got a soft spot for butter-packed shortbread, plus these are really pretty, so I’m breaking the rules.

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
raspberry and/or apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla.  Separately, sift together the flour and salt.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar.  Mix until the dough starts to come together.  Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls.  Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut.  Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger.  Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown.


banana nut muffins (original recipe found here)

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Since I can’t shouldn’t eat cookies for breakfast every morning, I’ve been looking for a healthy bread or muffin recipe.  I’ve had a few fails, in the form of a coconut banana bread that even chocolate couldn’t save and a batch of spongey apple muffins, but these grain-free banana muffins are pretty good.  I pulled them from the oven a couple minutes too soon and the tops sunk in, but hey, they’re extra-moist!

1½ cup almond flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 bananas
1 tbs raw honey
1 egg, beaten
5 tbs butter, melted
â…“ cup raw pecans, chopped
several dashes of cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Mix the almond flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mash the bananas and mix in the honey, egg and melted butter.  Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Fold in chopped pecans.  Spoon the batter into paper lined muffin pan cups.  Sprinkle tops with cinnamon.  Bake for 20 minutes or until tops turn golden brown.
Happy baking, folks!

There aren’t many aspects of the pregnancy “diet” that I begrudge – I’m not a huge sushi eater, good pasteurized cheeses are easy to come by, and the switch to decaf hasn’t bothered me at all.  I definitely miss my runny egg yolks, but Shane’s doing his best to perfect his breakfast scramble.  And then there’s that whole “no alcohol” thing…  My pre-pregnant self wasn’t a big drinker, but dang, there have been a lot of evenings lately when my mouth waters at the thought of a perfect margarita or a glass of crisp white wine – summer is a tough time of year to go dry.  So I’ve been consoling myself with an assortment of homemade fruity beverages, served in fancy glasses with citrus garnishes.  These are the chart-toppers:

Watermelon lime frosty:  Recipe found here, I skipped the agave/syrup, since the fruit is plenty sweet.  This is the best beverage I’ve made all summer – so good!  And apparently, per Shane, excellent with a shot of tequila (the whole “mocktail” concept is lost on him).

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Ginger beer:  I made a super-potent ginger-lemon concentrate by running lemons and fresh ginger through the juicer, then added 3-4 tablespoons of the concentrate to a glass of sparkling water.  Spicy and tart – add a little agave nectar or Stevia for sweetness.

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Fruit-infused water:  Good for those times when I want to gulp down a big glass of water after a long walk.  Add chunks of fruit and herbs to a carafe of water, muddle it a bit, and leave it in the fridge for a day or so to let the flavors sink in.  Watermelon lime is excellent; lemon mint a close second.

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Fruit juice coconut creamsicles:  Not a beverage, but too good a summer treat not to mention.  Recipe found here, and I’ve been trying my own variations of juice and sliced berries.  Latest fave is cranberry-cherry juice with lime zest and blackberries.

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Not going to lie, though – still very much looking forward to toasting to baby Schnell’s homecoming with a (small) glass of champagne!

Confession:  I’ve been a little lax on my sweets resolution as of late.  While it’s been over two months since I’ve had a Skittle or a Red Vine or even one precious gummy bear, I’ve been a little fast and loose with the desserts.  But whatever – I’m still huffin’ through those evening jogs, and I ate a cucumber for dinner the other night (I had a big lunch), so I’m giving myself a pass and indulging in a few home-baked goodies.

First, after a whoa-there piece of biscotti from Cafe Fiore in Ballard on Friday, I came home and tried out this recipe from David Lebovitz.  I love the crunch of the cornmeal and have been wolfing down these things with my morning (and evening) cup of tea.  Note:  I added a couple handfuls of dried cranberries to my batch and was glad for the extra tang.  Also, don’t feel bad if your pieces aren’t as crisply sliced as Lebovitz’s.  There’s charm in the little bulges and cracks and smooshed edges, right?  Right?

I’ve been on a citrus kick lately and tried out a new lemon bar recipe on Sunday – sweet, tart, and Buttery with a capitol B.  Also perfect with a cup of tea.

I am fully on-board with the fro-yo fad and would visit Red Mango daily if I could for a small plain yogurt topped with berries.  Alas, this isn’t really convenient (or cheap), so on Monday I tried making my own tart frozen yogurt at home.  We don’t have an ice cream machine, so bear with me on this poor man’s version of my favorite treat:  I stirred about two tablespoons of honey into a cup of Greek yogurt (must be plain flavor for optimum tartness!) and popped it in the freezer.  I gave it a stir after an hour hour to break up the icy chunks, put it in for about one more hour, gave it another stir, topped it with fresh raspberries, and chowed down on the easiest dessert ever!  This certainly isn’t soft-serve, but if you’re craving something refreshing and simple, this will hit the spot.  I’m adding an ice cream maker to my Summer 2013 wish list – I can only imagine how good this would be if made properly.

And with that, it’s looking like maybe it should be another cucumber kind of night…

Summer has settled upon Seattle with a vengeance, and O – M – G.  The days are gloriously warm, the evenings long and full of leisure.  Shane played basketball and volleyball with the boys on Tuesday night and came home with a sweat-soaked shirt, a twisted ankle, and mile-wide grin on his face.  I met with my book club gals on the lawn of Seward Park last night and watched the last of the sun’s rays glint off Lake Washington.  I finally got around to planting my little herb garden tonight, and then we sat on the back patio until 9:00 and ate grilled nectarines over ice cream.  In shorts!  Until 9 pm!  This weather makes me want to end all my sentences in exclamation points!  And then I want to crank up Sublime on the stereo and let it rip until the neighbors come over to tell me to turn it down, at which point I’ll hand them a Corona with a lime in it and they’ll shrug their shoulders and join the party.  Anyone who says Disneyland is the happiest place on earth clearly hasn’t enjoyed a string of 80-degree days in Seattle…

Clearly, I love summer. I love basking in the sun, wearing tank tops and flip-flops, watching our garden grow. I really love ice cream, bratwursts hot of the grill,  and generous pours of white wine…  Fresh berries, crisp salads, and tall glasses of ice water are on the list, too, but my ice cream to lettuce ratio has been on the high side lately, leaving me feeling slow, tired, and a little…soft.  Most days, I tend to eat whatever I want, figuring that any not-so-healthy cravings are generally balanced by my healthy cravings and my regimen of regular exercise.  But somewhere along the way (probably right around my second ice cream bar and third glass of wine as I sat on the patio last weekend), I got off-balance, and have been feeling the need for a healthy reset.  I’m not one to diet, since self-denial is not one of my strong suits, but I am on board with new ways to increase my vita-intake, so I decided on Monday night to bust out the juicer I borrowed from La Verne last week and give it a whirl.  I got home from my run and tossed a few stalks of kale, a lemon, an apple, and a handful of grapes into the juicer, and wow!  Holy Green Juice, Batman!

I’m sure the boost I felt was psycholgical as much as it was biological, but I felt great.  So great, in fact, that I decided to embark on a little produce-intensive ‘detox’ for the rest of the week.  I’ve been replacing my morning breakfast (usually an Americano and a granola bar or muffin) with a tall glass of fresh-made green juice, and have replaced my lunch (usually a sandwich and chips from home, or calorie-rich Thai or Mexican take-out) with a heaping plate of fresh fruits and veggies.  I thought about trying a raw dinner as well, but I’ve really wanted a hearty, hot meal at the end of the past couple of days, so I’ve been making veggie stir-frys with brown rice after work, followed by a handful of berries for something sweet.  This is only a three-day trial, as a life without coffee or dessert sounds incredibly tragic, but I’ll carry a few of this week’s habits with me as I move forward.  I’ve got my eye on a juicer of our very own, and hope to make use of it at least four or five times a week.  I’ll (try) to limit my evening rummagings in our well-stocked chocolate bowl.  And I might let my friend Donna convince me to embark on a hard-core juice fast someday.  But I’ll also eat ice cream on hot days, order a latte when I want an afternoon boost, and visit our favorite pizza place when the mood strikes me, ’cause giving up that stuff?  That’s just crazy talk.

I have always dreamed of being one of those people that has time every morning to brew a pot of coffee and enjoy a half-grapefruit and slice of cinnamon toast while reading the paper in my plush terry bathrobe.  Instead, I am the person that flies out the door on my way to work with my tube of mascara in my pocket (to be applied while on the train) and a tangle of earrings and necklaces in hand (I have a talent for accessorizing on-the-go).  On the days when I really have things together, I remember to grab a yogurt out of the fridge and shove it in my bag before I head out.  And so I when I emerge from the lightrail tunnel and see that green and white Starbucks sign, I feel beckoned by the promise of sweet blueberry muffins or banana bread.  For both budgetary and caloric reasons, I usually resist the urge to carbo-load on these not-so-good goodies, but still, the urge is there.  So I came home yesterday and decided to one-up Starbucks with my own home-made muffins.  My own moist, flavorful, low-fat, banana-pumpkin-raisin-pecan muffins, complete with some stuff that’s actually good for you, like flax seed and wheat germ. And oh-my-gosh – these are good.  Now Shane and I have something tasty to bring to work with us for the next few mornings - I hardly even noticed the Starbucks sign on my way into the office today, knowing these little gems were tucked inside my purse.

Recipe from here, with my variations below:

2 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/3 cup canola oil
1 can pumpkin
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup white flour
1 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Mix bananas, pumpkin, and eggs in a food processor.  Mix those wet ingredients with honey and oil.  Mix all dry ingredients.  Stir dry ingredients slowly into the wet.  Fold in raisins and pecans.  Insert paper liners into muffin pan. Fill each muffin tin 2/3 full.  Bake for 20 to 24 minutes (your house will smell like heaven on earth), or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean. Enjoy with a cup of coffee and the morning paper (set your alarm 20 minutes earlier if necessary).

One of my goals for 2011 was to stop considering cereal as typical and acceptable dinner fare.  Sure, in a pinch, a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats is better than say…a wedge of cheese with a side of potato chips (not that I’ve done that), but still, I’m a believer that dinner should be hearty, flavorful, and nutritious.  Shane and I have made great strides in our meal preparation this month, since it is indeed frugal month for us, and we cannot trade in our Cheerios for a yellow curry from our local Thai place, or burritos from our favorite taco stand.  The crock pot we bought the day after Christmas has proved invaluable in helping us prepare simple, delicious, multiple-serving meals.  Today I threw a whole mess of stuff into the crock pot, flipped it on, took care of a bunch of Sunday to-do’s, and come dinner-time, voila!  Vegetable beef stew.  Fabulous.

A couple of crock-pot tips and tricks, based on our limited experience:

–  If you are crock-potting on a weekday and plan on your dinner cooking while you are at work, make sure the crock pot is actually on when you leave the house.  Otherwise, you are due to come home to a pot of raw, devastatingly wasted pork loin.  Lesson learned the hard way.

–  I pulled ingredients from a few different stew recipes today, and threw in a couple of strips of orange zest on a whim.  The subtle tang was a nice addition.

–  Serve stews with a slice a crusty bread, and follow up with a piece of home-made carrot cake.  Your spouse will adore you.

Wowsers, what a week.  Some good (got back into my exercise groove with back-to-back evening runs with Shane), some bad (rough day at the office and I think I officially became ‘the girl that cries at work’ this afternoon…), and all of it very, very tiring.  T.G.I.F…  I need a recharge.  Looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow, maybe going for a morning jog down by the lake, taking in a movie with Shane, pulling my sketchbook out after a month-long art-making hiatus, hangin’ with some girlfriends tomorrow night – Saturdays are bliss.

You know what else is bliss?  The beets coming from our garden (how’s that for a segue?!).  They are finally ripe for the pickin’ and I am in root vegetable heaven.  Tonight I sliced a couple up, sauteed them in a little olive oil, then topped them with goat cheese crumbles and toasted walnuts.  Yep, it was every bit as delicious as it sounds.  Paired with a glass of Riesling and the Giants vs. Dodgers game on TV, and I was ready to leave this week behind me and embrace the chance to take a breather and relax.  T.G.I.F. (did I already say that?).

As I mentioned earlier, Shane and I are in the midst of our frugal January, trying to stick to a grocery budget of three dollars per person per day.  I’ve embraced the challenge, but have been unwilling to give up certain ‘necessities’, such as dessert.  As I perused my most economical options for sweets on Friday night, I decided that carrot cake seemed to fit the bill as 1) cheap, and 2) still slightly decadent, when topped with fatty cream cheese frosting.  I pulled from couple of different recipes to come up with a cake that contained mostly ingredients that we already had on-hand, and it turned out quite well:

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (makes 8 servings):

2 eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup softened butter
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1 2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
extra pecans, to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 11×7 or 8×8 baking dish.  In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmet and cinnamon. Stir in carrots. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Set the cake aside to cool.

To Make Frosting: In a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled cake and sprinkle with pecan pieces.

Cut a slice and serve with hot chamomile tea.  Consume while watching football on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

I was happy with how this one turned out, considering it was my first attempt at a carrot cake – moist, cinnamon-y, and dang, I love a good creamy frosting.  I have already made two cakes in three days to share with friends and neighbors and will be adding this to my go-to dessert list.  The best part?  The only ingredients I had to buy were a couple of carrots, costing 60 cents, and a small package of cream cheese, which I got on sale for an even dollar.  Now that is a sweet deal (pardon corny pun)…

I spent this afternoon baking up a storm, preparing all kinds of goodies to take with us when we head down to Portland later this week to spend Christmas with my family.  I love using the holidays as an excuse to try out new cookie recipes, and so I scoured the internet to find a couple of sophisticated-but-simple treats. This is what I came up with:

Cranberry Noels (recipe here, courtesy of Martha):

This one seemed simple enough, and once I had my dough all rolled out and packed away in the fridge, I figured slicing the rolls into perfect little circles and dropping them on a cookie sheet would be a piece of cake.  Not so much…  My dough was really crumbly, so when I tried to slice it, it fell apart.  But I’ll be danged if I’m going to let two whole sticks of butter go to waste, so I had to just hand-form the dough into little patties and for-go any hopes of matching Martha’s perfectly round biscuits.  Ah, well.  They still taste good…

Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps (recipe here, also from Martha):

Espresso and chocolate, coming together in one perfect cookie?  Yes, please!  Between the sifted ingredients, the melted chocolate, the goopy mixing bowl, and the sugar-dipping bowl, this one made a disaster of my kitchen, but it was worth it.  Freezing the dough before rolling it into balls was key, as it was far too sticky to work with right out of the bowl.  I used Starbucks Via instead of instant espresso, and the cookies have a distinct-but-not-overpowering coffee flavor.  Yummy.

And finally, because it’s tradition, one more batch of butter toffee.  Not sure what happened to the batch I made last weekend – we must have an infestation of toffee-gnomes in our kitchen…

Our bundle of goodies is now safely packed away, ready to be broken into on Christmas Eve with the family.  Dude, I love Christmas…