Thursday, 31 January 2013

2005 - The Oxfordshire Hillbillies

On Sunday (Dec. 4), I was all set to make Moravian Spice Cookies (or at least the dough). I started measuring out the ingredients when I realized I didn't have enough ginger — the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon. So, even though I had vowed not to go out that day (because we've had such a busy week), Charlie and I got bundled up and ventured out to Waitrose for the ginger. I must've used it up making all those batches of Pumpkin Bread. Which reminds me, I thought I had only one loaf left, but I found the other four in another freezer drawer! Yummy!

Hedgehog Cookies are actually Choc-
Oat-Chip Cookies in a Mrs. Tiggy Winkle
cookie jar.
We get to Waitrose, and Charlie and I are looking at all the spices. He's excited to help and he's clutching a jar of nutmeg in one hand and a jar of ginger in the other. Then he says loudly in his Kentucky accent, "I need these to make Hedgehog Cookies!" (That's what I get for encouraging him to call them that!) Upon hearing this strange proclamation, a man shopping nearby, turned to look questioningly at us. Without skipping a beat, I said just as loudly and just as twangy, "And Granny's bringin' the Possum Soup!" I laughed all the way out the door!

When we got back home, I added the ginger to the dry ingredients. Then I measured out the brown sugar and added my one and only jar of mole-asses (more hillbilly food!), then added the shortening and butter that I had melted before we left for the store. As soon as I did it, I knew I'd messed up! I added 1 cup of each but it was supposed to be only 1/2 cup each! Ruined just like that. And I couldn't just double it because you can't get molasses easily over here (not to mention, it would yield about 1 million cookies). So, I covered and saved the dry ingredients, pitched out the mess in the mixing bowl, and gave up for the day. Sigh! I think it's time for a cup of tea and one of Charlie's Hedgehog Cookies (which are actually Choc-Oat-Chip Cookies!).

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

2005 - ONE Batch at a Time

"Naughty Hotel Keeper"
I need to catch up! I made Chocolate Chip Cookies on Nov. 30 because I was craving them. I made one batch and wound up with 5 dozen. Since I'm not going home to Kentucky this year, I decided not to make any double batches. There might be a few repeat performances though! Especially since I plan to give some away to teachers, mailmen, neighbors, shop people, etc. And I'd like to send some to Joan, Neil's mum.

Lisa called that day too, to say that her Dunkable Brownies had arrived and that they were deelish! As of yesterday, Michelle still hasn't received her Lime Meltaways. Maybe today ... Yesterday, the last of my Chex cereals finally arrived! Whoo-hoo! I couldn't make it right away, though, because I was going to Charlie's school, where he was playing the "naughty hotel keeper" in the Nativity play at school. Charlie reckoned the innkeeper was naughty because he wouldn't let Mary and Joseph stay at first, and then they had to stay in the stables.

When we returned home, I made a batch of Chex Party Mix. Again, I made only one batch. But it's delicious and going fast! The recipe calls for 1 cup of mixed nuts, which I've never liked, so in the past, I have always added 1 cup of cashews. Mom had a yummy idea — add pecans. She was so right! The pecans were a fantastic addition and made a tasty change.

Raw Cookie Dough/Calvin & Hobbes

2005 - Tube o' Cookies

Lisa called yesterday (Nov. 29) to say her tube o' cookies had arrived! She said that some of the Dunkable Brownies had broken (that's the way the cookie crumbles?), but it hadn't affected their yummy, chocolate taste. I'm so glad she got them.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting on a care package from Mom so I can make Chex Party Mix. She sent it a week ago and paid for express delivery. I can't believe it's taking so long, considering it's not even December.

If it gets here tomorrow, I'll have Party Mix before December starts, like always. Neil left this morning for two weeks of horse racing in Hong Kong. I hope to get some baking and decorating done today.

Monday, 28 January 2013

2005 - Lime Meltaways Away!

I finally got a chance to slice and bake my Lime Meltaways today (Nov. 22). I had four lime-flecked logs and they yielded 12 1/3 dozen. While I was baking, I kept track like this:



DOZENS: IIII IIII IIII (except there were slanted strokes, to signify 5s)

Lime Meltaways are always so fragrant — first, when you're zesting the limes; again, when they're baking. I couldn't resist indulging in a few with a cuppa tea. And they're so light, it's nothing to eat four at a time!

I packed up two dozen to send to Misha (my niece, Michelle). I tucked in a loaf of Pumpkin Bread in her care package too. Hope they reach her OK in Florida. 

I'll have to get mine packed away in the freezer now. It's midnight. It took from 9-11:10 to bake and shake the cookies (in confectioner's sugar). I had to turn down the oven and cut the baking time — this new convection oven of mine cranks out the heat.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Cookies & Milk

2005 - Your Cookies Are in the Mail

I wanted to begin baking first thing this morning (Nov. 21) but there was still too much housework to finish first. I got my laundry started, cleaned half of Charlie's room, made breakfast, then started on Dunkable Brownies by 11 a.m.

I decided to use a 1/2-tablespoon measuring spoon to drop them onto the baking sheets, which made them a nice, small size — perfect for slipping into mailing tubes and sending to Lisa! I managed to get 1 1/2 dozen inside, wrapped in red cellophane. I hope they keep and I hope they get there quickly. I know it's silly, sending her Christmas cookies, especially considering how much it will cost to mail them. But it's my way of being with her. I'm going to mail them to her later today.

I only made one batch because I didn't have enough eggs to do the double (you need three per batch!). By making them small, I yielded seven petite dozen. However, tinier cookies resulted in a shorter baking time. I went from the recommended 12 minutes to 9. Also, my oven, that we bought when we moved into 51A, is a convection oven, so it bakes faster.

I found the recipe for Snickerdoodle Pinwheels, which I want to bake again this year. I thought it was Martha Stewart's recipe, but it's from a holiday issue of Better Homes & Gardens. Yummy!
It's time to finish cleaning his room now. More baking planned for tomorrow.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Speaking of Cookies/Calvin & Hobbes

Short and Sweet

Robert Burns

My husband is having two mates from the pub over tonight for a Burns Supper. While these Burns Night celebrations can be steeped in tradition and have a fairly rigid format, I'm sure Neil's will be informal and less structured (and involve plenty of malt whiskey).

Robert Burns is a Scottish poet (1759-1796) whose birthday is celebrated worldwide on Jan. 25. The holiday can be observed with much pomp and circumstance or very little ballyhoo. No matter how you celebrate though, three things are usually involved: haggis, poetry and whiskey.

The format for these celebrations begins with a general welcome, which is followed by the Selkirk Grace:

"Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit."

I don't think either of Neil's guests play the bagpipes, so the haggis will enter our dining room with little fanfare. A haggis is a savory pudding made of oats, offal, onion and various spices. Burns' famous "Address to a Haggis" is read and the haggis is sliced open with a grand flourish when a particular line is reached ("An' cut you up wi' ready slicht"). The haggis is usually served with tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips), which will be the case at Chez Morrice tonight. (However, I am having a Domino's pizza delivered.)

An overview of Burns' life and work can be given at this point — most people read their favorite of "Rabby's" poems, and much toasting and whiskey-drinking ensues. It can be difficult to read and understand his poetry (as illustrated with the verse above) but nearly everyone is familiar with his most famous work, "Auld Lang Syne." This song, which most of us associate with New Year's Eve (or Hogmanay), is sung at the conclusion of the supper.

Cranachan (a boozy concoction made with oats, whipped cream, honey, whiskey and raspberries) or Tipsy Laird (whiskey trifle) can be served for dessert. Since I prefer to bake cookies, they're getting shortbread here tonight.
Shortbread will be served.

I followed Delia Smith's recipe for Scottish Butter Shortbread because I've never made it before (I find it dry). Delia is Britain's answer to Martha Stewart, so I used her version. She uses semolina, which gives the cookie a crunchier texture (and I always have semolina because I use it to make pizza dough). Anyway, most recipes rely on three main ingredients — flour, sugar and butter — so it's practically foolproof.

"I can remember my father making it," recalled my Scottish neighbor, Bob. "I mean, you never saw him in the kitchen. But he made shortbread. And now I know why — it's dead easy!"

I used a round baking tin; the shortbread is cut into wedges, like a pizza. Mine didn't have fluted edges, though, which produces shortbread "petticoat tails." Another option is a square pan; the shortbread is then cut into fingers. Or cut shortbread rounds from the dough with a biscuit cutter. Regardless of your choice, here's the one place where it could go wrong: don't work the dough too much or your shortbread could be tough.

The whole house was bathing in the golden smell of butter, even after the oven was off and the shortbread was cooling. I don't know if it was because it was Delia's recipe or because it was homemade, but my shortbread was delicious! Seriously, it tasted so buttery and crumbly. And so not dry.

Now let's "hae" the Glenfiddich!

Delia Smith's Scottish Butter Shortbread 

6 oz butter, room temperature
3 oz caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
3 oz fine semolina (or flour, if you don't have semolina on hand)
6 oz flour

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The dough should be crumbly until you pull it
together with your hands.

Beat the butter in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Beat in the sugar, followed by the semolina and flour, just until it's blended. Turn mixture onto a lightly floured surface and pull together with your hands, careful not to overwork the dough.

Prick it. 

Lightly press the dough evenly into a fluted flan tin (or 8-inch round or square cake-tin). To make sure it's even, you can give it a final roll with a small glass tumbler. Prick the shorbread all over with a fork, or it will rise up in the center while it's baking.

Bake for 60-70 minutes on the middle rack of the oven; it should have turned pale gold and feel firm in the center.

Using a sharp knife, mark out the surface into wedges or fingers. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack. When completely cool, cut into wedges and dredge with caster sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

This post has been shared with Frugal Food Thursdays at Frugal Follies.

2005 - My Cookie Baking Has Gone to Seed

I made two batches of Spicy Pumpkin Seeds today — one for us and one for my next-door neighbors Linda and Neil. Their heating was off. These babies should warm them up! 

Meanwhile, I made two batches (four logs) of Lime Meltaways. They're in the fridge and I'll slice and bake tomorrow. I used paper towel tubes to keep them nice and round. I hope to be able to mail some to my niece Michelle in Florida.

Since I had only one loaf of Pumpkin Bread left, Charlie and I cranked out another batch of seven loaves today. I wanted to finish the Meltaways but I had too much housework to do. I'm trying to get everything nice for Thanksgiving.

Neil's "Aunt" Joy and her husband, Alan, are coming from New York to stay one night on Saturday (a week from today). Hopefully, my Skyco order will come tomorrow or Tuesday, so I can get some Chex Party Mix made before then.

I need a cookie plan too. I should read over Our Cookie Journal and my recipes and decide what I'm going to bake so I can be more efficient and get it all done. And I want to mail some home too. I know I'm making Sugar Cookies. But what else? 

Spicy Pumpkin Seeds — a great snack!
Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup raw green pumpkin seeds, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, and 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice; toss to coat. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until puffed and browned, about 10 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool.

This recipe was shared with the Appetizers edition of the Gallery of Favorites, sponsored by the great gals at Premeditated Leftovers and The 21st Century Housewife.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

2005 - Do You Have the Recipe for Pumpkin Bread?

We ran out of Hedgehog Cookies this week, so it's time to make more. And since it's that time of year, we made a double batch. I filled up the Pumpkin cookie jar (it's Nov. 18), then put the rest in a freezer bag. Neil and Charlie have already eaten a few each too. I'm sure we'll wind up making more - we always do. I saved an oatmeal box too, so I can send some to Lisa again. I didn't count the Hedgies because we make them so often. They're our go-to cookies.

Lisa's battered recipe for Pumpkin Bread.
I have to laugh because Lisa asks me for the Pumpkin Bread recipe around this time every year. I always tease her about losing it too. Then, last week, when I was making Pumpkin Bread, I found her recipe in my recipe box! Along with three other copies! I had no idea.

Another one of the copies was so old, it just said, "Pumpkin Bread," and didn't have Mom's tweaks. Another was my copy, which I call Mom & Dad's Pumpkin Bread, complete with Mom's adjustments in the spices. That's the one to use, so I got rid of the other one.

The last one was on a piece of paper in Mom's handwriting — with an ingredient missing! She has done this — unwittingly — in the past, and I've jokingly accused her of leaving out information so that mine will never be quite as good as hers.  But she would never do that — she shares all her secrets and techniques. In fact, she's made things just so I can watch and write down amounts as she goes. I mean, what is it with these moms who have no idea how much of something they use in a recipe? "I don't know," she'll say, "I just keep adding it till it looks right." OK, Mom, but there's no marking for that on my measuring jug!
My card to Lisa, confessing I had her recipe.
So I sent Lisa her copy in a get-well card (she's pulled a muscle in her tummy and she's not well). But I didn't realize till we talked later, that her copy is the old version too, without Mom's tweaks. So, I'm just as bad as I accuse Mom of being, keeping the "secret" recipe to myself!  Now she has both. The important thing is not to leave out the pumpkin.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

It's National Blondie Day — Grab a Cup!

Meg's Coffee-Cup Blondies.
Worried if you make a whole batch of blondies you'll eat the whole batch? Then make Meg Dickinson's coffee-cup version that bakes in the microwave.

Go Blonde for the Day!

Blonde Brownies make an excellent lunch treat.

I have never made a blonde brownie before today — National Blonde Brownie Day

I mean, what is the point of taking the chocolate out of a brownie? Or at least, that's what I figured the thought process would have been. In fact, several sources on the Internet mistakenly claim that the blonde brownie is the confectionary offering for those people who are allergic to chocolate but would like to have a brownie. Not so.

According to old cookbooks and other resources, blonde brownies (also known as "blondies") predated chocolate brownies, though under different names. The so-called blondie actually came first, probably before the turn of the 19th century. Whereas chocolate brownies didn't become widely popular until the 1920s, when chocolate and cocoa powder became more readily available. By the 1950s, butterscotch or vanilla brownies were described as "blonde brownies," underscoring the primacy of chocolate.

Most people have the ingredients for the most basic of blondies in their cupboards. Brown sugar, butter and vanilla, combine to give blondies their caramel-esque, butterscotch-y flavor. It is said that the secret to great blondies is mixing them with a wooden spoon. Blondies have the same crackly tops and delightfully chewy, rich and dense bodies as their chocolate counterparts, but they boast a warm, golden hue. Blondies are simple but satisfying, and make the perfect treat to tuck into lunch bags or serve as an after-school treat. 

Blondies can be embellished with a variety
of ingredients, such as dark chocolate.
Although they are delicious in their most basic form, blondies can take on a certain sophistication too, depending on what you add to the batter. Variations include cinnamon, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, toffee bits, walnuts, pecans, coconut, cherry-almond, white chocolate chips and, for a very grown-up treat, even bourbon (for Drunk Blondies). 

Recipes for blondies abound in cookbooks and on the Internet. I chose to follow the recipe developed at Cook's Illustrated, where they are known for testing and tweaking recipes for optimal results. The recipe called for a 13x9-inch pan, but I decided to make three variations in disposable, aluminum 6.5x4-inch pans. I made plain, chocolate chunk and blueberry (since I had some dried blueberries on hand, I figured, why not?). I sampled each one — for research purposes! — and they are each delicious in their own right. 

So, go blonde for the day by baking this buttery, golden confection that has been overshadowed by the brownie for more than 50 years. You won't be disappointed (and you can always toss in a handful or two of chocolate chips!).

If you missed National Brownie Day, click here.

Cook's Illustrated Blondies
12 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 c light brown sugar
1 1/2 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 c chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 13x9-inch pan with a parchment or foil sling and coat with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Blondies three ways: chocolate chunk, plain & blueberry.
In a medium bowl, whisk melted butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined; do not over-mix. Fold in any additions and turn batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula. 

Bake until top is shiny, cracked and light golden brown, about 22 to 25 minutes; do not over-bake. Cool on wire rack to room temperature. Remove bars from pan by lifting foil overhang and transfer to cutting board. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

Blondies can be stored, well-wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.

One Cookie? One Cookie?!

A bit crazy to want only ONE cookie! I mean, ONE cookie?!
But it's so cuuuuuute!

One Chocolate Chip Cookie 

1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. brown sugar
3 drops of vanilla
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1/4 c. flour 2
tbsp. chocolate chips

Microwave 40-60 seconds in a cup or bowl.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Happy Birthday Martin Luther King Jr. #MLK

Yes, it's traditional to bake a cake to celebrate a birthday, but I think a more fitting confection would be these World Peace Cookies. Enjoy!

2005 - An Irresistible Aroma

Hurry up and cool! Your aroma is so tempting!

This must be the earliest entry yet! I've taken my own advice by starting my Christmas baking in November and, to be honest, I couldn't help myself. I had to have some Pumpkin Bread! And since I had all the ingredients on hand, it was a snap to whip up seven mini loaves with my able assistant, Charlie. 
He said he didn't want any until he smelled it baking (what a truly irresistible aroma!), then he changed his mind. Then he was so impatient to have it, he kept asking for it while it was cooling. And when it was finally ready, he polished off four slices! I had mine with cream cheese, as usual. Yummy!
Then Neil had to run to the store to get some aluminum foil so I could wrap up the remaining loaves while they were still warm. I think they keep nicer that way. We gave each of his teachers and Mrs. Parks, the headmistress, one loaf each. They were very appreciative! Now we'll have to make more!

Have You Met Your Quota?

I'm sure I have some catching up to do!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Cookie Offering

"Dear Lord: The gods have been good to me. For the first time in my life, everything is absolutely perfect just the way it is. So here's the deal: You freeze everything the way it is, and I won't ask for anything more. If that is OK, please give me absolutely no sign. OK, deal. In gratitude, I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. Thy will be done.”

- Homer Simpson

Inauguration Day Splurge

Hail to the Chip!

To commemorate the official presidential inauguration, why not try Michelle Obama's Triple Chip Cookies?

2004 - Epic Cookie Fails & Resolutions

Where the heck did December go?! It's Jan. 3 and I'm finishing up a video that featured several cookie shows from the Food Network. That's a perfect example of how far behind I got this year!

It wasn't my best year for cookies either. I made two more batches of Nestle's Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies and got about 6 dozen each time. And I made another 7-loaf batch of Pumpkin Bread. I put a loaf or a dozen cookies into a Christmas-print cello bag and they made wonderful presents for mailmen, neighbors and shop people. Charlie helped me present them and wished them all a Merry Christmas.

The day before Christmas Eve, I made a batch of Vanilla-Bean Butter Cookies (which I'd  never made before and Moravian Spice Cookies. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to bake them! I don't know when I thought I'd have time for rolling and baking. I just put the doughs in the freezer to haul out one boring, January day.

So, next year, start — and finish — in November! I thought I'd have plenty of time since I didn't go home to Louisville this December, but that was a poor prediction. And it's much nicer to be able to relax — cookie-wise — in December and just pull out what you need from the freezer all month long.

On Christmas Eve, I made homemade white cupcakes (no mix) and a seven-minute frosting, so I could make coconut cupcakes. They were so beautiful but the frosting hardened so badly that we didn't get to finish them all! 

I also made another batch of Chex Party Mix, thanks to Mom sending me another box of Wheat Chex (I've expressed my disdain about the different box sizes of these cereals before). Actually, I made two more batches. So, the thing to do next time is to just buy two boxes of Wheat Chex from the start.

My Buttermilk Brownies didn't
look anything like these.
Another disaster was a batch of Buttermilk Brownies that I made. The recipe was from a 2002 cookie issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. They looked so good in the 'zine, and anything made with buttermilk sounds great to me. But they were intense to make. Then, after I frosted and cut them, I discovered a common disappointment with brownies — they weren't done in the middle. They were disgusting and wound up in the garbage can. Even the edge ones weren't really salvageable. If it weren't for the Nestle's Chocolate Chip Cookies, this year's results would have been a total disaster! Better luck next NOVEMBER!

I found the Better Homes link to the Buttermilk Brownies recipe and, as you can see from their photo, they look SO darned good! I'm tempted to forget everything I've said here and try them again. Let me know if you've been successful.

Friday, 18 January 2013

2004 - The Sweet Smell of Nostalgia

I was going to make another batch of Christmas cupcakes for Charlie's little classmates, but the lady who runs the Montessori school said I shouldn't because they would have enough to carry home from their Christmas party. I do that every time: I ask! If I don't ask, they can't say "no," right? Next time, I'll just show up with my Tupperware carrier tray of baked goods and who's going to resist? But for now, we'll just make another batch for ourselves!

Meanwhile, I made a batch of Nestle's Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies. In fact, I'm eating one (or three) right now! Charlie was gobbling them up too, which is funny because he prefers Choc-Oat-Chip Cookies. He must not be able to taste the pecans. They are irresistibly good, though. I got 6 1/2 dozen — I hope that will be enough.

As the kitchen filled with the aroma of chocolate chip cookies, my head filled with memories. Naturally, I thought of Lisa because we've cranked out so many ensemble. I miss having her help and her company. The work is definitely lighter and the cookies twice as tasty, I'm sure!

And I thought of Dad and how he could scarf down a half dozen easily with one cup of coffee. Of course, we had to make his Chocolate Chip Cookies without nuts. I almost want to make Whoopie Pies because of him. I could almost hear him say from the living room, "Bring me a coupla Whoops, Knutie!" 

Grandma Baker in her groovy kitchen of the
1950s. My memories are from the '60s.
And the first bite of one of those moreish sandwich cookies takes me right back to Grandma Baker's kitchen at the old farm house. I'm sure all the grandkids loved that kitchen as much as I did! There was a revolving Lazy Susan in a corner cabinet and a drawer that was actually a flour bin. There was a big chest freezer in the garage, right off the kitchen, where all the cookies were stashed. I made many a trip out there for another bag of cookies to fill a tray. Grandma served those cookies when we arrived, with sandwiches for lunch, after supper, during a card game — all the time!

No doubt she has played a huge role in our love for cookies! And Mom, too, of course. One of my earliest memories is of her casually drawing a smiley-faced cookie on a yellow canister with a green marker pen. Bing Crosby was singing "White Christmas" on the radio as she filled that canister with Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Back to the present: Mom sent us a Christmas care package, including presents and grocery goodies about 10 days ago and it's still not here on Dec. 10. She paid extra to send it express mail too. Lisa is sending me more Wheat Chex so I can make another batch of Chex Party Mix.

Lisa got her care package of cookies from me today! I was on the phone with her when she opened them. What fun! And Danielle told me that she liked the "Hedgehogs" when I talked to her later on the phone. I gave Charlie's teachers a loaf of Pumpkin Bread each, so I'll have to whip up another batch. I have to get busy and bake more cookies too!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

2004 - What? No Cookies?

Charlie dons my Christmas apron.

Charlie and I made Christmas cupcakes over the Dec. 8 weekend. We made the mini ones, complete with Christmas-striped liners. We wound up with 3 dozen. He adds all the pre-measured ingredients, puts the liners in the baking tins, and decorates them with Christmas-colored sprinkles after I frost them.

He's such a good little helper. He pulls his chair up to the counter as soon as he sees my measuring spoons. And he always takes a big whiff of the vanilla extract (or the spices, if we're making Pumpkin Bread).

We had yellow cake mix and white frosting from a can, and we sprinkled them with red sugar, green sugar, and red-and-green nonpareils. He would accidentally dip the sprinkle jars in the frosting, shaking them up and down, and I had to keep unclogging the little holes on the tops.

I was going to take some of the treats into his Montessori class but we couldn't stop eating them! They were so very tiny, it was nothing to eat two or three at a time! In fact, three days later and they're all gone! Oh, well! We can make more.

Snoopy and Cookies/Charles Schulz

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A Stirring Tribute to My KitchenAid

YAY! A KitchenAid for Christmas!

I love my KitchenAid stand mixer and its 325-watt motor. I know some people who relegate their KitchenAid to a cabinet or out-of-the-way shelf until Christmastime, but mine stays out on the counter all year  — the urge to bake could (and does!) strike at any time, after all.

Considering that I moved out of my parents' home in my early 20s and I've been baking even before that, I really haven't had a KitchenAid for that long. My husband gave me one for Christmas in 2003 and I've been making up for lost time ever since.

My sister, Lisa, and I used to take turns stirring doughs that we had to make by hand because the hand mixer would get really hot if we gave it too big a job to do. We would get the dough started with the hand mixer — easily creaming butter and sugar or blending in eggs. But once the flour went in, forget it. Sometimes the hand mixer would smoke; sometimes the beaters would get stuck; and sometimes the dough would snake up the beaters and try to smother the moaning motor! As I say, it was useless after a point and we would then have to stir by hand. We took turns. We called the girls. We took breaks! 

"Remember how sore we used to get from all that mixing?" my sister asked, when she got a KitchenAid in 2002. "We would take turns, passing it back and forth as our arms and shoulders started aching." And since we nearly always doubled recipes (so we can share), it could be rather wearying.

I can imagine how delightful it must've been for those women of 1918 who received the the 5-quart KitchenAid prototype. They were the wives of factory execs at Hobart Corp., in Greenville, Ohio. After using the first home model of the stand mixer, one of the recipients said: "I don't care what you call it, but I know it's the best kitchen aid I've ever had." 

Before that, the stand mixer was an 80-quart, industrial behemoth that was standard equipment in large bakeries and all U.S. Navy ships. Engineer Herbert Johnson formulated the idea and designed the model H in 1914. Four years later, the home model was available in hardware stores for $189.50. That's nearly $3,000 in today's money, so I'll never complain about their current price tag again.

The KitchenAid comes with three standard mixing attachments: paddle, whisk and dough hook. So, even though I'm cuckoo for cookies, I have used this countertop workhorse for making pizza dough, cake batter, bread, frosting and even mashed potatoes on a family-gathering scale, among other things.

But I must admit, I have never removed the chrome mixer cap to use any of the specialty attachments. I knew there was a grinder and that appealed to me, because I like to make my own American-style breakfast sausage. But I had no idea the choice was so great: pasta cutter, ice-cream maker, citrus juicer, slicer, shredder, sausage stuffer, grain mill, ravioli maker, pasta shape press, and fruit and veg strainer.

These attachments could turn my humble but hard-working stand mixer into a food prep tool. And that was the selling point in 1936, when Egmont Arens designed the trimmed-down and lightweight K model, with its trademark bullet-shaped silhouette. It was available from door-to-door saleswomen and cost a more reasonable $55 (still more than $700 today). The KitchenAid stand mixer has changed very little since then. That means that attachments from that model onward are compatible with modern machines. Even the pea shucker connection from 1919 is said to work on today's model.

The cobalt-blue model.
Despite this continuity, in 1955, the white mixer with its 5-quart stainless steel bowl with ergonomic handle was offered in chrome, yellow, pink, green and copper at the Atlantic City Housewares Show. Now, you can get the iconic mixer in a palate of 25 colors that reads like a Crayola box of 64, including: blue willow, candy apple, anthracite grey, raspberry ice, liquid graphite and buttercup. There is also a pink version for breast cancer awareness. The White House pastry kitchen has three (one red, one white and one blue). And Julia Child's cobalt-blue model (same as mine!) resides at the Smithsonian.

That Greenville, Ohio, factory has manufactured tens of millions of KitchenAid mixers since 1919. I'm just glad they are available worldwide and that I got one for Christmas 10 years ago. I've had to replace the paddle attachment (which was easy and affordable) because my new dishwasher warped it. Otherwise, it's still going strong and I couldn't imagine baking without it. Maybe I'll mark this auspicious anniversary with the grain mill attachment so I can make my own flour for cookies ...

And the sausage grinder!

2004 - Christmas Crackers!

Crackers play an important role in English Christmas
celebrations. They contain a prize, a joke and a crown.

Lisa and I still fill each other's Christmas stockings and I managed to finish the shopping for that yesterday. I had the stuffers packed perfectly inside a box when I realized that I forgot to pack the Christmas crackers! Christmas crackers aren't part of American celebrations, so I'd never really heard of them until I moved here. They're fun and corny, so I knew she'd appreciate them. They're festively wrapped cylinders that you pull with a friend or family member until someone wins by yanking and keeping the bulk of the cracker, which contains the prize. Prizes are usually small, inexpensive tokens; a joke and paper crown are also inside, adding to the fun.

So, I got out a bigger box, then there was extra room! So, I baked Grandma Baker's Criss-Cross Cookies. I wound up with 4 1/3 dozen and I put two dozen in a plastic zip-lock bag (complete with Christmas design), which I wrapped in bubble wrap. I put the other two dozen in the freezer and ate one while it was still warm — ah, the privileges of being the cook!

I finished squeezing in the last of the presents and the box is ready to be mailed Monday morning. I'm sweating the international postage. Lots more baking yet to do — 21 days till Christmas. I can't help missing being in Louisville this December. I won't get to see Lisa's tree, or Mom's. And I won't be able to give the kiddos their gifts myself. And most of all, Charlie won't be there to share Christmas with his extended family. I'll be sure and get back there next December! And I'll probably take a few cookies with me.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

2004 - Hedgehog Cookies

Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle usually contains
Choc-Oat-Chip Cookies, Charlie's faves.

Last night (Nov. 30), Charlie insisted on "Hedgehog Cookies"! It's so funny! That's what he calls his favorite cookies — Choc-Oat-Chip Cookies — because I keep them in a Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle cookie jar throughout the year. She's a lovely hedgehog character from Beatrix Potter's "Tales of Peter Rabbit" series.

He helped, as usual, to pour the ingredients into the mixer bowl. I always use a scoop for these, making them nice and big for him (even though I favor small cookies — especially at Christmas). Naturally, I'll make an exception for my boy! I yielded a hearty 6 1/3 dozen "Hedgehogs." 

Then I had an inspiration. I always think of LIsa (and the girls) whenever I bake Christmas cookies. So, I covered an empty oatmeal box with holly-and-ivy wrapping paper, then inserted a holly-patterned glassine bag — it fit perfectly. And so did those jumbo cookies! I placed a circle of parchment paper between each cookie. I managed a baker's dozen. I stashed the rest of them in the snowman cookie jar (does that make these Snowman Cookies?) and those that wouldn't fit went into the freezer.

When I found a box to mail the cookies, it was obvious that i would need to fill it with more cookies (when it comes to international packages with space to spare — waste not, want not). So I packed about 15 Dunkable Brownies into a Hershey's Almond Kisses tin. I also enclosed two drawings that Charlie made on the computer — a boy with a smile, and another drawing that said f.h.e. (the Family Home Entertainment logo you see on videos of such shows as "Frosty," "Rudolph" and "The Little Drummer Boy.") I can't wait till she gets it. Christmas, cookies, Lisa — I can't have it without her, so I'll bring us together this way!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

2004 - Chocolate Therapy

The aroma alone makes me feel better.

I made a batch of Dunkable Brownies that yielded 4 1/2 dozen. It's a scrumptious start to the baking season and I'm ready for more! Naturally, I wondered if there would be enough — especially if I decide to share. I'd love to mail some to Lisa. We discovered these together, so I always think of her when I bake them. We both love how satisfying they are.

I'm definitely going to send my niece, Michelle, some Lime Meltaways. She helped me the first time I ever made them and we both thought they were nice. And she was pleased we had leftover juice, so she could make limeade. Now she's in Florida with her boyfriend. Lisa misses her like crazy.

Well the Dunkables were scent-sational, so I couldn't resist sampling one that was cooling on a rack. They are chocolate therapy. As much as I miss home, I feel closer whenever I bake. The rest are tucked away in the freezer awaiting their turn on various cookie trays throughout the season. And a few will find their way to my sister to share her Christmas with her.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

2004 - I'm in the Mood for Cookies

It's the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 26) and I'm exhausted! 

We had a great holiday, in the end, but Charlie had a 24-hour-virus Tuesday. He was sick as a dog and had to stay home from school Wednesday too just to be on the safe side. But  he was feeling better Wednesday, and I was able to bake a  pumpkin pie, a peach pie (both with homemade crusts), and a pan of brownies. I also made My Corn Chowder later that night because I didn't want the ingredients to go bad. Anyway, it freezes well and I love it anytime.

Last Sunday I made a batch of Pumpkin Bread that yielded seven heavenly mini loaves! Lisa made a batch this week too and even used all the ingredients required! (See Unpumpkin Bread) Mom made a batch that she confessed was dry — she blames the flour she used. I also made a batch of Chex Party Mix last week but it has already somehow vanished. I'll have to make more  — fast! I brought home the cereals and Bugles in my suitcase when we visited America for Halloween. I'm so glad Charlie got to go trick-or-treating with his cousins! He went dressed as Peter Pan, of course. He dresses as Peter Pan most days anyway!

Our last visit home was in May and now that we've come for Halloween, we won't be able to return for Christmastime and it's going to make a HUGE difference in my merriment ...

I think I'll get the season off to a start with a batch of cookies today. And if I can't go home in December, I'm going to mail some cookies to Lisa! What should it be? Dunkable Brownies, I think.

Friday, 11 January 2013

2003 - Christmas Comes Early

Normally, I make Choc-Oat Chip cookies
from "Joy" for Charlie.

Mom and I teamed together this morning to whip up a quick batch of cookies for Charlie. I didn't have my usual recipe for Choc-Oat-Chip Cookies (his favorite) from "Joy of Cooking" though, so we improvised with the recipe on the back of the Quaker Oats box (Yummy Oatmeal Cookies). I'm not going to keep the recipe, though, because I didn't think they were as good as our old standby.

We just made one batch, so they will be gone in no time. Still, we saved a dozen to take on the plane back to England with us. We leave in just three days (on Dec. 15). The rest of the family came around today for our faux Christmas in Louisville. It was great because I've been living in England for two years now and I miss seeing everyone for the holidays. This year, Thanksgiving fell late in November, so we were able to share that holiday with Mom, and then the Christmas-like get-together today with my brothers and sister and their families.

Needless to say, there was a giant cookie tray filled with goodies baked on both sides of the pond. We ate, drank and made merry, then exchanged gifts (which I will happily squeeze into our luggage). I'm so glad we got to share cookies and some "holiday" time with my family this year.
My niece, Jordan, enjoying
one of my "imported"
tree-shaped Sugar Cookies.

This will probably be my last baking session, here or in England. There will be too many other things to do once we get back (like getting a tree and decorating it!). I really enjoyed Mom's spacious, modern oven and her KitchenAid - they made all the difference in my baking experience this year. But the best part was baking cookies with her. I was supposed to bake Chocolate Chip Cookies with Lisa but unfortunately we never found the time. Maybe next year, if I get back in December ...

We didn't get to bake together but
my sister and I spent some quality time together.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

It's Bittersweet Chocolate Day!

Bittersweet chocolate boasts health benefits.
I almost forgot! Today is Bittersweet Chocolate Day! YAY! (Like I need an excuse!)

Bittersweet chocolate, otherwise known as semisweet or dark chocolate, has recently found favor for its heart-health benefits because it is rich in flavonols. In addition to containing antioxidants, which allow your body's cells to resist damage caused by free radicals, flavonols have other potential influence on vascular health. These include lowering cholesterol, improving blood flow to the heart and brain, and assisting blood platelets to clot.

What's more, as you probably already know, bittersweet chocolate is good for your mental health too. Its smooth, intense flavor melting on your tongue is enough to perk you up on its own, but dark chocolate also causes the release of neurotransmitters, which speak directly to the brain. The confection helps to improve the flow of endorphins (known to improve mood, lessen pain and relieve stress) and serotonin (the brain's feel-good chemical).

Of course, it's best to eat bittersweet chocolate by the square, a few days throughout the week. But bittersweet chocolate is also very popular in cooking and baking. And what if you need more of a pick-up than what a simple square can provide? May I suggest one of my favorite recipes using bittersweet chocolate?

Dunkable Brownies are certain to put a smile on your face.
Dunkable Brownies (Baker's One-Bowl Brownie Cookies) are rich, mouth-watering dark-chocolate brownie cookies that you will want to make again and again. Not only are they memorably delicious, they are ridiculously simple to make.

Brownie Thins are indulgent and satisfying.

Brownie Thins take a little bit more effort but they are just as delectable. The recipe calls for pistachios, but you can use whatever you like (or omit nuts altogether and savor the dark chocolate flavor on its own).