Monday, 29 November 2010

Magic Peanut Butter Middles

Some friends of mine are moving to a new apartment (in the same building but it still counts) so I thought I would make some cookies to bring as a housewarming snack. I wanted to try something new and I found a recipe for Magic Peanut Butter Middles on Chocolate cookies with a surprise peanut butter center? I had to try it.

I figured it would be easier to work with the middles if I chilled them so after mixing together the peanut butter and confectioner's sugar for the centers I popped them in the freezer to harden a bit while I made the dough for the outside.

One of the reasons I really like websites like and is because often on recipes there will comments from other people who have already cooked it. I try to read through a couple before I make something to see what other people suggest. Some people suggested adding mini-chocolate chips to make the outside dough more chocolate-y, as well as some sour cream to make it a bit richer, so I did both. I had to add a lot of extra flour until it got to the right consistency, but it worked.

In order to work with the dough even though it was still a bit sticky, I just floured my hands. That way the dough could stay moist. I patted out a flat circle of the chocolate dough and put a cool peanut butter center in the middle and then rolled it up into a ball. I actually forgot to flatten the first batch before putting it into the oven, but I took them out before they were done and flattened them with no harm done.
I love that you can't see the peanut butter center at all from the outside, but there is a significant amount on the inside. When my mom first bit into one her reaction was "How did you do that??"

There is a good balance between the peanut butter center and the chocolate dough. The mini-chocolate chips melted so they are smooth chewy cookies with no crunch. I just wish they were a tiny bit more chocolately. If I were to make them again I think I might melt some chocolate chips and drizzle them on top of each cookie just to give it a tiny bit of something extra.

I brought a plate to my friends' new apartment and they were eaten quickly and with kind compliments. Relatively easy and delicious cookies with a big reaction. A+!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Paintbox Update

Just a little picture update of the Log-cabin Paintbox blanket I am making for my parents' anniversary. The squares are all knitted together into strips and you can see the final layout here. Right now I am in the process of knitting together the strips. It is VERY MONOTONOUS, as it takes roughly 20-30 minutes to do each row and casting off takes about twice as long, but it does keep my legs warm while I am knitting. The anniversary is December 11th so I gotta get working.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Five Bean Soup

There is something beautiful about soup. It involves a lot of my favorite things about cooking. I love that you can take a whole bunch of different ingredients and bring them together and have them blend into something new and wonderful. I love that soup can be easy or complicated, thick like stew or a simple broth. This five bean soup was certainly on the easy end of the scale.

All I had to do was saute onions, carrots, celery and garlic in a pan. Then I added that with all the ingredients you see pictured to the right in chicken broth with some barley. Season with a couple bay leaves and some dried basil.

It came out thick and delicious and very filling. If you used a different broth it would be vegetarian in a snap. I'm not one for tomatoes and my mom doesn't like carrots, but with so many other things in this soup it's easy to forget what you don't like and just focus on the tastiness of the whole.

That reminds me of something else I like about soup...I can use it to hide healthy things that I don't normally like under a tasty tasty disguise.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Adventures in Handspun Yarn

I am very new to spinning my own yarn and I was probably pretty stupid and skipped right over getting batting or roving and decided to start with raw fiber (aka, hair/fur/angora/mohair) fresh from an alpaca. True, it was what was available to me, since my parents and I are friends with some wonderfully generous people who own alpacas. However, that meant I had to learn 100 new skills at once before even getting the raw fiber ready to spin, instead of just learning the 100 skills needed to spin.

In my post on Monday I talked about going to Fiber Fest this weekend and the wonderful goodies I brought home. One of them was a bag of 100% wool batting in six rainbow-tastic colors. I had a desire to spin but didn't want to go through all the steps needed to process what I have left of the alpaca or the new fiber I had just bought. I really couldn't help myself from getting started as soon as Bonnie and I got back home. I had to process the batting a bit to get it ready to spin.

At left above you can see the batting exactly as it looked when I brought it home. I pulled the batting into long pieces and rolled and pulled the fibers apart in a process called "drafting" until I had the long pieces that were ready to spin, called "roving". At the right you can see the long pieces of roving draped over the couch and the spindle I used with some already spun on it.

Now, that is as far as I had ever gotten before in terms of making yarn. But this time I decided to try plying the yarn, which involves taking two sections of yarn that has been spun (example on the top left) and spinning them together (example on the right). Of course I still had to make things more complicated for myself and decided that I wanted some overlap of the colors so that meant that I needed some red to ply with red and some to ply with orange and some orange to ply with orange and some orange to ply with yellow and so on.
I gave it a quick dunk in some hot water to set the twist and hung it up to dry. Overall I am pretty excited by how it looks. Its certainly not the most perfect yarn, but it looks like yarn and that is pretty awesome. A beginning knitter is super aware of the tension they are using when knitting something and eventually it becomes habit. I am hoping that if I keep up with spinning eventually it will just become a habit and I won't be so focused on every part of it.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dangerous Muffins

I love good butter rum muffins. I get them from Price Chopper and Shop Rite and both are delicious. I wanted to try and make my own. After some searching online I found a recipe.

The muffin you see at the left may seem harmless, but ended up being pretty dangerous. I was making the glaze, which involved heating up the rum on the stove and dissolving some sugar into it. I had the burner on low and was carefully keeping an eye on it when the whole thing went FWOOMPH and suddenly I had a flaming pot of sugary rum. And as I was stirring at the time, I suddenly had no hair left on my right hand. I quickly turned off the stove and blew out the firey rum of destruction and there was no real harm done.

Except for the tasteless muffins.

To add insult to injury, I finished making the muffins and they were terribly bland. I had even jazzed up the recipe a bit. I added eggnog instead of milk because I thought it would add an interesting dynamic to the flavor. I also added more seasoning than it called for. Blaaaaaand. Oh well, I can still buy good ones at the grocery store with a greatly diminished chance of setting myself on fire.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Fiber Fest - 2010

About a month ago, I went to the Big E with my mother. As we were walking from where we had parked to the event, I saw a huge billboard with "Fiber Fest" on it. I immediately got VERY EXCITED and called my friend Bonnie (who taught me how to knit and shares my love of crafts). I left her a message saying that on the weekend of November 6-7th, we were going to go to Fiber Fest. No questions asked.

There were a bunch of animals there, including sheep, angora rabbits, alpacas and angora goats (pictured left). The first thing Bonnie and I did upon entering was head right to the fiber section. Fiber is better known to non-knitters as animal hair. Wool, mohair, angora, etc. We walked through the rows filled with bags of different kinds of fiber, completely raw and often still with bits of dirt and straw mixed in, brushing our fingers on each kind and dreaming what lovely yarns it could be turned into. I couldn't really help myself and got a bag of beautifully curly Lincoln sheep fiber.

Right after, there was going to be a sheepdog demonstration, which we didn't want to miss. The area was a little small so instead of herding sheep, the dog was herding ducks. It was a very cool demonstration. You could see the intelligence and focus in the dog, and she moved very fluidly. The kid in me was excited because the woman who was working with the dog said "Away to me", which made me think of the movie "Babe". Apparently in sheepdog lingo it means to go to the right of the herd. "Come by" means to go to the left.

After that we walked around the whole event twice. Some areas about three times. It wasn't a small event, we just wanted to make sure we saw everything! There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie. Everyone there was a craft nut. There were spinning wheels everywhere, people using drop spindles while they perused the vendors, and everyone was decked out in lovely hand knits. Everything was so unbelievably beautiful, especially because you knew that everything there was handmade with great care and love. I probably said "SO PRETTY!" about a thousand times.

Bonnie was interested in learning how to spin yarn with a drop spindle (which I will talk more about in another entry soon), and really she picked the perfect place to start. A man was stopping random people and teaching them how to spin and ply yarn. Another vendor gave her some advice on how to get started and keep up the spinning habit. Shortly afterward a few women gave her advice on what kind of spindle to start with. Then she found a gorgeous spindle, and some lovely alpaca roving.

Everyone there was wonderful. Friendly, helpful and just as excited about yarn and fiber as Bonnie and I. I was in awe of some of the stuff that people were making, like this man working on a giant loom and this woman's lacework (which gave me a headache just looking at it).

Being there renewed my craft mojo quite a bit. I wanted to learn about 12 new things after being there for five minutes. My second and third most used phrases at the event after "SO PRETTY" were "I WANT A SPINNING WHEEL" and "I WANT A LOOM." Ah well. Someday.

I am excited about what I did come home with, and it took considerable effort to tone it down to just this. At left you can see my bag of fiber, in the middle is some wool batting that is processed and dyed and ready for spinning, and finally a skein of stunning hand-painted yarn. I joked that I got the three stages of yarn: raw fiber, processed materials and finished yarn.

Judging from the website about the event, and also from talking to some of the volunteers, it sounds like this will hopefully be the first of a new yearly event. Parking was $5 and the event itself was $5 so it certainly didn't break the bank to get in. I thought it was well organized and I had fun just looking at everything without even going to any of the workshops they offered (including intarsia, felting and rug making). I sincerely hope that they do decide to make this a yearly event. If so, I know for sure that they will have at least two visitors!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Lemon Coffee Cake

A while ago my mother got a lemon coffee cake from the Shop Rite that was AWESOME. When she realized that we had some lemon curd in the fridge, she asked me to try and recreate the delicious breakfast treat.

This recipe from Martha Stewart seemed to me the best choice, although I did make some small changes. I followed the streusel recipe, glaze, and basic cake mix almost exactly. The only real difference was that instead of the layer of Meyer's lemons, I spread a layer of the lemon curd. I also supplemented the lemon rind with some fresh lemon juice in the cake batter because I only had one lemon, and used whole wheat flour instead of white.

The cake ended up giving me quite a bit of trouble when it actually came to baking. It refused to cook all the way through. I think it might have been because of the layer of lemon curd I put in. Perhaps it seeped into the batter and kept it moist and uncooked. I ended up taking it out of the oven before it was done and putting the glaze on top before I realized it needed to be cooked more.

The cake ended up extremely dense. Additionally, I thought the lemon flavor was overpowering. The cake from Shop Rite had a perfect hint of lemon, but with this it was too strong for my tastes. My dad ended up eating most of it and seemed to enjoy it, but I was rather disappointed. I think this is definitely a cake that needs to be thinner, at the very least.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Oktoberfest Treats Part 2 - Pretzels and Black Forest Cake

Continuing my recap of what I made for Oktoberfest, which I started in my last entry, I shall continue today starting with soft pretzels. These were probably the most successful thing I made for the party, and not terribly difficult to make either.

I mixed together all the wet ingredients first and added the flour bit by bit until it got to the consistency I wanted. I ended up using FAR FAR less flour than the recipe called for. After a bit of kneading, I put the dough in a big slightly oiled bowl covered with saran wrap, a dry towel and then a hot slightly damp towel. I left it alone for an hour after giving it by best "RIIIIIIISE my child! RIIIIIIIIIIIIIISE" inspirational speech.

The dough was huge and had a delightfully "airy" quality to it when I came back. It was fun to work with. I can't remember the last time I worked with bread dough like that. I set to work making it into little pretzel bow-ties.

While looking at the recipe, I noticed that it called for each pretzel to be dunked in a bath of hot water and baking soda before being cooked. A commenter explained that this caused a chemical reaction which gives soft pretzels their crusty brown exteriors, but leaves the inside soft and chewy. I thought that was pretty cool and wanted to share. Also, apparently in the "olden days" they would use lye to get the same reaction. Yowzers. Learning is fun!

I ended up putting each pretzel on top of a slotted spatula to give them their baking soda dunk. so they would keep their shape. I put them all on a lightly greased baking pan and sprinkled a generous amount of kosher salt on top.

As soon as they came out of the oven, I brushed melted butter on top. They were certainly a hit! There was some arguing in jest at the end of the party who would get to bring the leftover pretzels home. I served them with honey mustard, a cheese sauce and an odd fruity mustard mix I put together as dip choices. I'm not the biggest fan of pretzels myself and I loved them too. Being a perfectionist my only complaint would be about the shape. I wanted them to look like the giant pretzels you get at the mall, but they ended up looking more like puffy knots. I am guessing that rolling them out longer and leaving bigger holes will get me the shape I want.

The last Oktoberfest treat I want to talk about is the Black Forest Cake. The recipe for the cake part was simple enough. I split it up as evenly as I could into two tins lined with wax paper, which made popping the finished cakes out SUPER EASY. I left them to cool and moved on.

I couldn't find any canned cherries that weren't in heavy syrup, so I bought pre-made cherry pie filling, figuring that it would be pretty much the same thing as the finished cherry mixture. I did make the whipped cream frosting from scratch though, which according to my German neighbor is the only REAL way to make Black Forest Cake. At left you can see my whole set up with the cake split into three layers and some crumbs, whipped frosting and mashed cherry filling.

I am going to let the next four pictures speak for themselves as a sort of picture essay of my cake building, just because I think they look cool.

I am pretty sure this was the first layer cake I ever made. I think I did an good job of putting it together. I even went the whole nine yards and patted cake crumbs onto the sides, pipped more frosting along the edges and spread some of the cherry mix on top. Visually, I think it's the best cake I've ever made. I am unashamedly proud of how it looks.
Personally, though, I wasn't too pleased with how it tasted. It was good, but seemed a little bland to me. The cake itself also was a little dry. I saw a commenter who said on the recipe that they sprinkled some cherry liquor on the cakes before assembling the whole shebang. I bet that would give the dessert an extra kick and solve the dryness issue all at once.

All it all it was a fun party and the food all came out well. I can't wait for the next excuse to go overboard and create another party menu. Maybe friends of mine aren't joking when they say I should look into catering....

Until next time!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Oktoberfest Treats Part 1- Kielbasa in Beer and Onion Pie

So this past Saturday my parents hosted an Oktoberfest/beer tasting party. The idea came about during a wine tasting party they held a month prior, at which I had gone a bit overboard in terms of the food I prepared (including a layered goat cheese spread, mini-artichoke tarts and lava cakes). So of course I had to make some more themed food. I ended up making four dishes, which I'll cover in two entries.

First up is the first dish I made and by far the easiest. What you see below are literally all of the ingredients I used. I chopped up three pounds of kielbasa and put it in the Crock-pot with three pounds of sauerkraut and two bottles of Sam Adam's 'Oktoberfest" (seemed fitting). Done and done!
If you want to make it, just keep in mind how much sauerkraut you want. If you just want it as a bit of flavoring, I would cut it down to half or even less the total amount of kielbasa. Then again, I don't like sauerkraut at all, so I'm biased. The kielbasa came out wonderfully moist and flavorful. The taste of beer was certainly present but not overpowering.

Next up was "traditional" German Onion Pie. I put traditional in quotes only because our neighbor is from Germany and she had never heard of it before. Regardless, the dish was a tasty success. The first order of business was to chop up roughly 5-6 pounds of onions. Even though it was a bit chilly out, I decided to do the chopping outside. Didn't really feel like destroying the kitchen with the noxious fumes from a zillion onions. I had to cook them up in two different batches because I couldn't fit them all in the pan at the same time.

I chopped up and fried some bacon to start the cooking. I used a bit more than the recipe calls for cuz I like bacon, then cooked the first batch of onions in the bacon grease for added flavor. The second batch I cooked up in butter and added some chopped garlic (not in the recipe, but everything is better with garlic!). All the bacon and onions were mixed together with some sour cream, eggs and cheddar cheese (also not in the recipe, but how could I make something like this without at least a little cheese in it??). The whole delicious mixture fit almost perfectly into two frozen pastry crusts.

Allrecipes said to add some caraway seeds on top. I ended up grinding up some caraway seeds with a bit of pepper and some various onion/garlic seasonings in the motor and lightly sprinkling the whole mix on top.

I think The temperature and/or time on the recipe is off quite a bit. I ended up turning down the heat and also cooking the pies for less time than the directions called for and I was still sad to see they came out darker than I wanted. Ah well.

The pies/quiches were very good. It was literally like a big pile of caramelized onions with just enough "stuff" to hold it all together served on top of a crust...with bacon in it. Delicious! I will probably go have a big slice of the leftovers as brunch when I am done with this entry.

Stay tuned for part two where I talk about the pretzels and my black forest cake!