Sunday, January 31, 2010

Slacker

Oh dear.  It has really been way too long since I last posted.  It's not for lack of wanting.  I've even been whipping up some yummy new stuff in my kitchen - like burnt almond fudge ice cream and the best chocolate brownies I've ever had.  Problem is, I started a new job and that job is kicking my butt. 

Have you ever wanted something - really bad - and worked and sacrificed to get it and then once you had it thought, "now why did I want this in the first place?"  That's how I have felt lately.  See, I spent 11 years in school getting my degrees.  I was in the top of my class in an already unbelievably competitive grad program.  And that landed me a great job.  And now ... perhaps not surprisingly, all I want to do is quit and open a bakery. 

So I've been feeling awfully conflicted lately.  And I've been neglecting my blog and all my lovely friends that I have made through WWC.  Thanks for caring enough to check in though.  I'm going to make a resolution to try to be better in February though.  Maybe I can set a goal to post once a week - that's not so hard, right?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Long lost friend - Ranger Cookies


Do you ever have a recipe that you remember from childhood but that has been lost for more than a decade?  I did until just this past week when lo and behold I stumbled upon the recipe for Ranger Cookies in an old family cookbook nestled in the back of one of my mother's cupboards.  She would make these for me when I would get home from school from about 4th grade to 6th grade and then she just stopped making them for some reason.  I've tried googling ranger cookie recipes a few times and trying them, but none of them have ever compared to the real deal.

These little babies are homey and delicious - a drop cookie that makes me think of cinnamon and toffee and butterscotch, even though there is none of any of those things in the recipe.  Although I bet if you added toffee bits or butterscotch chips or even M & M's to the batter it would be delicious.  But I like 'em straight-up old fashioned with a tall glass of cold milk and a sliced apple.  Its the perfect snackin' cookie and I can say that with experience because I threw a few of these in a picnic lunch I made for me and He-Man to take with us on our hike last Saturday and they were fantabulous.   

He-Man asked me why these were called ranger cookies and my only answer was "I don't know."  So I came home and did some searching and the real answer is - nobody knows.  Some say they were originally called "Texas Ranger Cookies" others say they were called "Lone Ranger Cookies", but it looks like they have been around since about the 1920's. 


Please forgive my ugly old cookie sheet.  It bakes great - way better than my newer one.

Anyway, lots of other recipes call for granulated sugar and say that you can use Rice Krispies or Wheaties or something, but I'm gonna' pompously say that the recipe I am going to share with you is the one you should stick with because using only brown sugar really sets the flavor apart and makes ranger cookies different from every other drop cookie out there. 

Ranger Cookies

2/3 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup oatmeal
1 1/4 cup cornflakes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream shortening, sugar, egg, and vanilla.  Add flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Mix well.  Add oatmeal, cornflakes, and walnuts.  And just so you know, I will never, ever omit nuts.  In fact, I almost always double the amount of nuts in my recipes.  That might be a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one. 

Drop by rounded teasponfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown but not overcooked.  I've seen other recipes add coconut to the mix, which I love, you know I do, but my mother's recipe didn't include it so I didn't either.  I wanted the experience I remembered from my childhood, ya' know?

I had to bag some of these up and stick them in the freezer to keep myself from eating all of them at once.  Seriously. 

And at risk of exposing my secret identity with an image of myself, check out my cute apron from Anthropologie.  I love that store but this is the only thing I own from there because everything is so expensive.  I got this apron on clearance last year. 


But I'm thinking about making some more aprons for myself, because that's what I did for all my sisters-in-law for Christmas this year and they turned out so much better than I expected.  What do you think?



Gotta dash now.  Ciao!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Checking it Twice

Naughty:



In this installment of Wonder Woman Confessions, we learn that WW is obsessed with lists.  Not that I have to make a list for everything, but that I, in fact, LOVE lists.  It is not a compulsion.  It is a relationship of love.  Lists make me feel in control.  They make me feel like I am doing something.  They make me feel like I am going places in my life.  Which I am.  Absolutely. 

And the grand daddy of all lists is a list of New Year's resolutions.  Mine isn't done yet, but oh how I enjoy working on it.  The actual creation of THE list is more important to me than achieving all of the goals.  Which may be a revelation for some, but only seems normal to me.  Because I already know that not all of the goals will be achieved.  But the practice of sitting down and thinking back over the past year and looking forward to the next one to evaluate where I want to go and what I want to do is a healthy one, dontcha think? 

Along related lines, I have been surfing all the cooking blogs lately in amazement at all of the fantastic looking treats that everyone has been making.  And to tell you the truth, it is a little overwhelming!  How do you decide what to make?  So I have been keeping a list of recipes and links that I am copying and pasting into my "Must Make Soon" document that just keeps growing and growing. 

And just because I love lists and feel like sharing, here are the top 10 recipes I have to try pronto (in no particular order):

Milk Chocolate Chunk Peanut Butter Cookies (I'm not a huge fan of peanut butter, but these sound scrumptious)
Graham Crackers with Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows (what?  Graham crackers can be made at home?)
Double Vanilla Marshmallows (am I on a marshmallow kick or what?)
S'mores Cookies (yep, more marshmallow)
Roasted Artichoke and Spinach Dip (ooh, savory instead of sweet, my heart is doing flip-flops)
Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream (an ice-cream making attachment to my KitchenAid is on my Christmas list)
Moroccan Lentil Stew (a healthy option - check!)
Old Fashioned Caramel Layer Cake
S'mores Cookie Bars (back to the friggin' marshmallows - my bad)
Cranberry Filled Candy Cane Pastry (because it looks challenging)

Sometimes I even accomplish things that are on my lists.  On such occasions, I may just blog about it.  Like now.

Mississippi Mud Brownies



These turned out awesome and oh so rich and gooey.  Everyone in my family raved about them.  And they have MARSHMALLOWS.  I am a sick woman, I know. The original recipe says to bake for 18-23 minutes, but it took mine about 30 minutes before the toothpick came out clean. I double checked the temperature and everything, and there were no problems with the oven, so I'm not sure what was going on with the original recipe. The brownies were perfectly cooked too when I took them out, so just watch them carefully and test them often. They fell a lot when I removed the pan from the oven, but they didn't look bad because the toppings fill up the lost space, so no worries.
Ingredients:

1 cup butter, melted
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut
1 1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped and divided
1/2 bag miniature mashmallows

Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the vanilla and eggs. Add cocoa, flour, baking powder, salt, coconut, and 1 cup chopped pecans and mix well. Turn into a greased 9" x 13" baking pan and bake for 20-24 minutes at 350 degrees or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Immediately top with 1/2 bag of miniature marshmallows upon removing brownies from the oven. Let cool 5 minutes. Spread marshmallows gently over the top of the brownies. Top with remaining 1/2 cup chopped pecans and fudge frosting.

Fudge Frosting:

1/4 cup butter, melted
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp milk
2 cups powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients for fudge frosting together and beat until smooth.  Gently spread over the marshmallows and pecans.  Allow brownies to cool completely.  (yeah, right - who ever does that?)



Adapted from Abby Sweets which was originally a cake.  Mine are definitely more brownie-ish.  Gotta dash now.  Ciao.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reading List

Are you a reader?  Like, as in, books, not just blogs?  Because I am a sucker for a good young adult novel.  Its my favorite genre, even though I am definitely not a young adult anymore.  Its what I write and what I fill my bookshelves with.  I read other genres too, of course.  I mean, what self respecting Wonder Woman and Reader Girl wouldn't?  But YA is definitely my favorite.  Plus, I am lucky enough to be friends with two authors (Aprilynn Pike and Becca Fitzpatrick) whose novels (Wings and Hush, Hush) each went to the New York Times Bestsellers list this year and it is really exciting to hear about their experiences. 

I just saw the list of nominees for the Best YA (Young Adult) Paranormal/Fantasy Novel of 2009 and learned that one of the above named friends made the list with her first book "Wings".  The other nominees are The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong, Tempted by P.C. and Kristen Cast, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, and Shadowland by Alyson Noel. 

I am adding these books to my reading list now, because I am always up for a good book recommendation, and although award winners don't always strike a chord with me the way they do with other people, they are usually pretty good bets for a fun read.

Also, not that this is news, but if you haven't read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins yet, you are missing out in a huge, HUGE way.  Its definitely my favorite book in quite a while.

Do you have any good recommendations for me?  Something that just cannot be put down?  Because I'm still compiling my Christmas Wish List.  And almost every year the big theme on that list is literary.

That's it.  Gotta dash.  Ciao.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hidden Talent

Last night I couldn't fall asleep.  You know those nights?  When you are tired because it is midnight and it is raining outside and cool in your room but warm under the covers, but for some reason your mind just won't shut down?  My reason was that I had a song stuck in my head, which I finally announced out loud to He-man.  Because I'm not very considerate.  But I was also pretty sure he wasn't asleep yet either, which he wasn't.  He-man responded quicker than lightning with a "me too!" exclamation of surprise.  Turns out Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a ring on it)" had been running through his head at the same time that "Rainbow Connection" by Kermit the Frog had been running through mine.  Yes, weird song selection, I know.

Neither of us said anything more for a couple minutes until I heard He-man clear his throat, and then in a perfect Kermit voice, proceeded to perform "Rainbow Connection" as we lay there staring at the ceiling in the darkness.  In the almost six years that we have been married, I don't know that I have ever heard He-man do an impression.  But it was both hilarious and awesome.  I joined him in song on the last line, giggling through the lyrics, then we both drifted off to slumberland.

One of my hidden talents is bread-making.  Not that it is hidden from you of course.  But most people who only know my mostly-mild-mannered self would be surprised to learn that I make bread.  Or bake cookies or sew aprons or try to write young adult novels.  See, Wonder Woman is my domestic goddess, creative diva secret identity.  But by day, I am the very type-A, corporate powerhouse, business suit type.  I have friends who scorn the idea of wearing a ruffled apron and baking as the "costumification of the 50's housewife". This is because I have a Career - the kind that took long, hard hours through grad school to achieve.  The kind of career where He-man sometimes says that he should be a stay-at-home-dad, and nobody I work with would blink an eye.  It causes me to feel very conflicted sometimes.  Which is one of the reasons why I started this blog, I guess - so that I could have an outlet for my creative, old-fashioned, dreamer personality to break through.   

Anyway, I found this recipe for Mama's Challah Bread on Good Things Catered.  And since I having been trying new things and I had never before done a braided bread, I decided to try it.  Again, it didn't look perfect - one side ended up a lot bigger than the other - but the texture and flavor was really fantastic.  And next time I'm betting I can get the braiding technique down pat.



Mama's Challah Bread

2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 3/4 Tbsp active yeast
2 1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs (2 for dough and 1 for egg wash)
7 cups all-purpose flour

Mix 3 Tbsp flour, 2 Tbsp sugar and yeast in a medium bowl, then add 3/4 cup warm water, and stir for just a few seconds, then set aside to rise and foam (about 10 minutes). In another bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, and 2 eggs. Add proofed yeast and another 1 1/2 cups warm water, then stir to combine. Add salt and 3 cups of flour, stirring to combine. Add 3-4 more cups flour and mix everything with wooden spoon until it is too thick to mix with spoon.

At this point, transfer dough to floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Keeping hands floured, add small amounts of flour by hand when dough gets sticky. Knead until dough is smooth. It should not be too firm or sticky. Form into a round and place in a very large, lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover bowl with a tea towel and place in warm, draft-free place to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Dip fist into flour, very gently punch 10-12 times to punch out air. Knead again on floured board about 5 minutes, add a bit of oil to bowl again, form dough into a round, then return to bowl, cover, and let rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Punch down again, and knead into a round.

Gently divide round into 2 loaves by pinching the round in half and squeezing. Preheat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment. Place 1 loaf aside in bowl. With remaining loaf, divide into 3 pieces and roll each into a rope. Braid on lightly floured board and roll out, fatter in middle, skinny on ends of the braid. For me, at least, this was easier said than done and it took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it. Pinch ends together and tuck under. Repeat with other loaf. Place loaves on prepared baking sheets. Make egg wash by combining remaining egg & a bit of water, and quickly beating with a fork. Brush egg wash over loaves. Bake 30 minutes. Remove and let cool completely before serving.



This bread made spectacular French Toast the next day. It was also a good stand-in for garlic bread that night.  I just cut the loaf in half length-wise, spread both halves with butter and sprinkled them with garlic bread sprinkle.  Then I put them back together, wrapped the loaf in aluminum foil and placed it in a hot oven until the butter had melted and the bread was hot throughout.



I debated whether to mention this, but is it just me or does braided bread sometimes remind of you of a rattlesnake tail?  Maybe its because I only took photos after I had already eaten half the loaf.  I just can't resist a piping hot slice of bread with melting butter.  Oh well.

Gotta dash.  Ciao.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Censorship

Its been a couple weeks since Thanksgiving now.  So are you ready for pie again yet?  Because I am always up for pie and this post, while mostly about a story I wanted to share, has a pie recipe attached.  And it is way too long of a post.  My bad.  Storytime now:

As a kid, I had less than discerning taste in fashion. But at the same time I have always been disturbingly opinionated about, well, everything. So it was a bold move on my dad’s part one year at Christmastime to purchase tennis shoes for his eleven year old daughter on his own. Now, you have to understand that my dad (probably like most dads) loathes shopping for anything other than gadgets and tools. And the fact that he personally selected shoes for me is unbelievably touching. He even wrapped them himself (a first) and placed them under the tree, daring me to guess what was in the box. Why shoes? I’m really not sure.

Now, this story breaks my heart a little at this point, because just a few days before Christmas I went along with my mother and brother to the very same store where my dad had picked out a pair of Keds with multi-colored paintbrush strokes splashed across white canvas. My brother, having been with our dad the day my Christmas gift was so carefully chosen, decided it would be a great idea to show me those shoes without divulging that they were the gift already waiting, wrapped and ready under the tree, just to get a preview of my reaction. Except I reacted badly - I proceeded to proclaim them the ugliest shoes ever. See, I was super partial to solid white Keds and no other footwear, and probably owned thirty pair of them growing up. And I just could not handle paintbrush strokes and COLOR on my white kickers.

Well, my brother quietly sidled away and upon returning home, pulled our dad aside and explained that something had to be done. So they covertly removed the wrapped gift from under the tree, returned the offending shoes for plain white Keds, and rewrapped them in the same paper as before so I would never know. Except eventually all was revealed. And I have never been the same since. Oh how I wish I had those paintbrush sneakers now.

So starting around October every year, I censor myself and try to be judicious with the opinions I am so cavalier about expressing the rest of the year round. Because I just never know if I am breaking someone’s heart a little with insensitive comments about a gift they are planning on giving.

This may seems trivial, but I had the same thing happen to me in reverse just the other day. Over dessert at my in-law’s house, my sister-in-law proceeded to rail against apple pie filling of all things and how she doesn’t like it. Which is a problem because I had just finished bottling homemade apple pie filling a few days before and had planned on giving her a jar along with a really cute (if I do say so myself) apron that I made for her (and a matching one for her five year old daughter – I know, too cute, WAY too cute).



But I think that I am going to give her the bottled filling anyway, because really, in my heart I am convinced that she will love it. Because I am also giving her this Dutch Apple Pie recipe to use it with, and I know that it will blow her socks off. And she will discover that she actually loves apple pie filling. Just the way today I wear crazy colored shoes almost every day in silent homage to the love of my father so many Christmases ago.



Dutch Apple Crumb Pie
my own recipe
 
1 uncooked pie crust (butter or shortening crust? - the eternal question)
1 jar Bottled Apple Pie Filling (oh heck, I'll post it below too)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Dash of salt
1/2 cup cold butter

Mix sugars, flour, cinnamon and salt. Cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter until there are pea-sized chunks. Filling the uncooked pie crust with apple pie filling, then generously sprinkle the top with the crumb topping. You may not need all of the crumb topping, but you will probably want to use it.  I'm just being honest. Put foil around the edges of the crust to keep from browning too quickly. Bake pie at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, removing foil for the last ten minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve warm with a generous scoop of French Vanilla ice-cream.



Apple Pie Filling
also my recipe after being unable to find one I really loved online - and this was also my first ever attempt at bottling fruit of any kind, although I've watched my mother do it for years.

5 1/2 - 6 lbs. peeled, cored, and sliced apples
6 cups water
4 cups apple juice
4 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1 cup cornstarch
3 Tbsp lemon juice

The best apples for this filling are a mix of firm, sweet, and tart ones like Fuji, Jonagold, Cameo, Rome, or Honeycrisp. Galas and Golden Delicious are too soft and probably won't hold up well in the jars.  One box of apples that you get from an orchard makes about 9 jars of apple pie filling.

Wash your jars beforehand in the dishwasher so that they will be sterilized when you are ready to use them. Leaves the jars in the dishwasher on heated dry until it is time to fill them.

Peel, core, and slice the apples. An apple peeler and an apple corer (and a friend, sister, or He-man) will come in handy here because this is the longest part of the bottling process.  Don't slice the apples too thin - you actually want them to be kinda chunky for this recipe. 

Blanch the peeled apples by placing one batch at a time in a large pot of boiling water. Boil each batch for one minute after the water returns to a boil, then drain and keep the hot fruit in a separate, covered bowl or pot. This is not cooking the apples, it is just stopping the enzymes that can cause flavors to degrade during storage.

To make the syrup for the filling, combine the sugar, spices, apple juice, and water in a large pot and stir almost constantly while cooking over medium heat until the syrup begins to bubble. Mix the cornstarch with the lemon juice and possibly a little water to thin, and add this to the boiling juice. Stir constantly until mixture begins to thicken, then remove from heat. The syrup should be thick but still able to drip.

Heat lids in hot, but not quite boiling water and keep hot.

Using a jar funnel, fill sterilized jars with blanched apple slices and syrup. You may need to alternate adding syrup and apples in order to fill the jar all the way. Use a knife to press down apples and fill any air spaces with syrup. Keep pressing the apples to help them settle in the jar and reduce the amount of air space. Pack the jars tightly with apples or else the apples will float and the bottom of the jar will be nothing but syrup.

Fill the jars to within 1 or 1/2 an inch of the top. Wipe any spilled apple pie filling off the top, set the lid, and tighten the ring around them. Process the filled jars in a water bath by covering them with at least 1 inch of water and boiling for 25 minutes (at sea level).

Lift the jars out of the water and let them cool without touching or bumping in a draft free place (usually takes overnight). Once the jars are cool, check that they are sealed by pressing the lid in the center. If it pops up and down, it is not sealed. If you put the jar in the refrigerator right away, you can still use it.

This takes me pretty much an entire afternoon to accomplish, but I have usually done double batches so that I end up with almost 20 jars.  I was really, really, really intimidated at first, but afterwards felt super satisfied with what I had accomplished seeing those beautiful apple slices studded with spices.
Keeps for about 2 years. Use the apple pie filling to make a Dutch Apple Pie.



So maybe things are really busy this year for making apple pie filling, but next year if you have a bunch of apples, this is really my favorite way of using them.  I actually got all of my apples for free from someone who had apple trees but didn't bother picking any of the fruist.  All I had to do was climb up and pick for myself. 

Gotta dash.  Ciao.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Spreading Christmas Cheer

Well I think it is about time that I posted a seasonally appropriate recipe, don'tcha think?  Over the weekend He-man and I went to visit his cousins.  Since I try to bring something whenever I am invited to somebody's house, I decided to try out a recipe that I have had my eye on for a couple of weeks.  These soft and spicy gingerbread cookies were absolutely scrumptious!  I haven't piped frosting onto cookies before so it was fun and exciting to make a batch of royal icing and try this.  I didn't have a piping tip or anything - just filled a ziploc bag full of icing and snipped the tip - and it turns out that I have a really shaky hand.  And the bag kept bursting open and dripping royal icing down my hand.  Soooo, my cookies didn't turn out as pretty as the ones I was trying to imitate, but judging by the reactions of all my cousins-in-law, the difference probably wasn't very noticeable. 


This batch would have been way too big for just me and He-man, so I recommend freezing half the dough to use throughout the month unless you have more than a couple of people in your household.  Or making a double batch and freezing half of it so that you can have fresh gingerbread all December long without too much notice.

Soft and Spicy Gingerbread Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 egg
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg (*note - I was too timid to do a full 2 tsp of both ginger and cloves so I only did 1 tsp of each, but having made the recipe now I think it would be great with the original amounts, albeit with more spice - its up to you); blend into the molasses mixture until smooth. Cover, and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line with parchment. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. Let cool for 10 minutes on pan. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. Frost or decorate when cool with Royal Icing and sugar.

Royal Icing

2 large egg whites
2 tsp lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted


I found the original recipe at Good Things Catered.  Gotta dash.

Ciao.