Thursday, December 29, 2011

End of holiday baking: Eggnog fudge, buttered rum cookies and marshmallows

Christmas may be gone for the year, but looking back, I realize how much better it was than last year's. This year, I got to spend Christmas with family members absent of some pretty tough times. Last year, on the same day, my maternal grandmother died after living with Alzheimer's for years, and my paternal grandmother went to the hospital the same day. This year, I got to spend the holiday at my parents' house, not the hospital, with my stepsiblings in from Canada and my mom just visiting, not here for a funeral. And you know what? That makes Christmas pretty darn good.

I'm pretty much a holiday eggnog fanatic (see: eggnog cupcakes), so when it hits the shelves, I immediately buy some. This year has been a little different, though. I'm eating a lot healthier right now, and frankly, eggnog is terrible for you. So my compromise was this: make an eggnog dessert that tastes so much like the drink that I kill two birds with one stone. Enter eggnog fudge by Brown Eyed Baker. This will 100% become a new holiday tradition for me, because it tastes exactly how it should. It is so decadent, and as an added bonus, they made my apartment smell like yummy eggnog for hours.

My dad loves buttered rum, so I decided to try these buttered rum meltaways from Martha Stewart's Cookies book for his and my stepmom's holiday party a few days before Christmas. I made them far ahead of time and froze them into a roll of dough until just a few days before heading to Salina, so they were convenient in that sense. The jury's still out, though, on whether or not I'll make these again. They didn't taste too rummy or buttery, which I think they should considering their name. Hmm. Can't win them all, I guess.

Pretty sure I've inadvertently started a new holiday tradition for myself. Last year I gave my grandma's signature hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows to a few coworkers at my paper. This year, I did the same, only upping the ante to two flavors of marshmallows — vanilla (the green ones) and peppermint (the red ones) — and giving it to everyone at my office. So far, it seems to be a hit. That old Joy of Cooking marshmallow recipe sure is good. We'll see if I give the same gift next year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday cake pops, chocolate mint roll cake and madeleines

I pack up and head west today for my holidays with family. This year, both of my step-siblings will be in town from Canada, which makes our holiday feel a little more full. Actually, my family is fairly small on my dad's side. Usually it's just me, Dad, Cathie and Grandma. So it will be nice to have a few more family members around Christmas morning. Naturally, I'll be carting some baked goods home, along with a boatload of presents and a certain black cat. Can't wait to have him in the car...or not.

The last time Aunt Betty and I made madeleines together, it didn't go. As in, they tasted like lotion or something because of how much rose water the recipe called for. Martha, you failed me on that one. But these were ultimately supposed to be decorated as Santas, and we ran out of time and energy, so we ended up with very lightly flavored orange madeleines. And my opinion of that cookie is redeemed!

Chocolate Andes mint roll cake. Enough said? A goofy Christmas tradition I have is that my mom gives me a box of Andes mints ever year for the holidays no matter what. Roll cakes have kind of eluded me thus far (they seem to crack on me all the time) so Aunt Betty and I decided to try this Andes chocolate roll cake. And boy, was it heavenly. The frosting inside had Andes mints in it as well as the cake having them on top, and it was super rich. And super wonderful.

I feel like Christmas cake pops are going to become a tradition for me (last year's were sparkly!). That, and my friends, Nick and Eric, and their roommates adore these things (I made a batch for Nick's brother for his birthday). So for our viewing of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" this year, I made two flavors of cake pops: the green were chocolate and the white were yellow cake. I hear tell they were gone rather quickly!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Nutcracker cupcakes

It's less than a week till Christmas, but it still feels forever away; probably because it was in the 50s today. But this weekend, I got to do my perennial Christmas tradition: go to the Kansas City Ballet's production of the Nutcracker.

I've been going to this ballet since I was a kid and go every year. I've seen it so many times, when I hear the music, I can see the ballet's choreography in my head. Yup, that many times.

This year was the first time the production was at the new Kauffman Center downtown, and my friends Brianne and Lauren came to town to go to the ballet with me.

So to celebrate this tradition, I made Nutcracker cupcakes! Because honestly, when I saw these wrappers and toppers, who could pass them up? Well, I couldn't. I took these into work for our holiday dessert bar.

By the way, I have the BEST coworkers. My cupcake carrier has been broken for a long time, and my newsroom came together to buy me a new one because I bring them sweets all the time. Yeah, I love my job.

These are chai tea cupcakes with honey cinnamon buttercream. I have to admit, I didn't quite follow the frosting recipe. I made my favorite swiss meringue buttercream recipe and then just put honey and cinnamon in till it tasted good, which ended up being one of my favorite icings ever. And combined with the cupcakes, they really did taste like a chai latte. Definitely recommend them!

(Posting to Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Pizzelles

I've never taken part in a cookie swap before. I'm thinking maybe I should put one together next year between me and my friends, because this one was so much fun. This month, with hundreds of other bloggers, I participated in:

Basically, a bunch of bloggers baked three dozen cookies and sent a dozen each to three different bloggers, none of whom knew who was sending to them. A Secret Santa of cookies, I suppose. Lindsay at Love and Olive Oil and Julie at The Little Kitchen put the swap together and are doing next year's as well, which I will gladly take part in.

It's hard for me to pick out a favorite cookie. But these cookies, pizzelles, are quintessential holiday cookies for me. My pseudo-grandma (she's the mother of my aunt through marriage who has been a grandmother to me) Mildred makes these every Christmas, and it was always super exciting when my uncle showed up with the old ice cream tub filled with these thin cookies. We don't get to see Mildred and that side of the family as often as I'd like anymore, and when I came across a pizzelle iron, I knew it would need to become my own cookie tradition.

As for the cookies I received, they were scrumptious. I got peanut butter cup cookie bars from Raenell at Raevyn's Nest; coconut chocolate chip cookies from Aaron at the Hungry Hutch; and cream cheese walnut cookies from Liz in Colorado (whose blog I have yet to find). All were amazing, and I'm trying my hardest not to eat them all at once!

I sent my cookies to three lovely ladies: Amanda over at MarocMama; Rebecca over at Peace, Love and Bagels; and Nadia at Cooking My Way to Healthy. I could tell when they received my cookies, because I got notifications they were suddenly following me on Twitter, and then we talked about cookies. Not too shabby! 

And you know what else is great? I instantly connected with these people. Amanda also has a family tradition of pizzelles, which I can best describe as waffle cone cookies, only SO much better. Mildred used to make them with anise, which is licorice flavoring. I hate licorice but always liked her cookies. Somehow, though, when I tried making them with anise once, they weren't as good. So I make mine vanilla or lemon. These were classic vanilla, and they're one of my favorites.

Mildred's Pizzelles

1 cup margerine (2 sticks) Use Fleishman's or any "no water added" brand (I actually used unsalted butter and they turned out fine)
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. extract (Lemon or Anise work well) OR 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1. Melt margerine and let cool
2. Beat eggs thououghly until frothy
3. Add sugar gradually to eggs-beat well
4. SLOWLY add cooled margerine, beat well as you do so
5. Add extract or vanilla
6. Add flour---a little at a time and mix well after each addition
7. Chill dough---minimum of 2 hours, overnight or as much as several days to enrich flavors
8. Using a small cookie scoop bake cookies following Pizzelle maker directions--dough will be sticky. Cookies will be soft and flexible right off the baker.
9. Use cooling racks and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container. These are best crispy, in my opinion, so it's not the end of the world if you leave them out for a while.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cherry cola cupcakes, coconut macaroons and ginger snaps

I know everyone talks about the weather, but seriously, it was 18 degrees when I woke up yesterday. Sometimes I forget how bipolar Kansas/Missouri can be. A few days ago it was in the 40s and a light jacket was enough. Yesterday I was forced to tear apart my apartment to find my winter hat(s) that had been stashed away in some dark corner after I moved in temperatures in the 90s. Sigh. I guess having no seasons would be boring, right? And cold temperatures mean holiday activities, too! I saw the Messiah for the first time ever this weekend and it was fantastic. Next up? The Nutcracker ballet. I LOVE it. You know what else is good about the cold?

Husky puppies. They like the cold, right? Meet Lois, my friends Joe and Brianne's new puppy. Isn't she SO DAMN CUTE?! Yeah, I got to look at that cute little face last weekend. I felt lucky.

I think we've probably established how much I HATE coconut. Can't really explain it, just don't like the stuff. So the only time it appears on this blog is when it's for someone besides me who will be eating it (see Kelly's birthday or special requests). These basic coconut macaroons were neither. You see, my computer at work almost crashed last week. As in, left for a few more days, I think it would have been totally gone rather than freezing every couple of hours. And my friend, Brad, happens to be the guy who sets up the computers at work. And my new computer happened to take a really, really long time to set up. And he happens to like coconut. And I happened to have a lot of coconut in my cabinet. So I made coconut macaroons. I did not sample them, so I cannot tell you if they were good or bad. They look pretty though!

Currently playing on my TV is a DVRed episode of "Good Eats." I can honestly say I'd never really watched it before seeing Alton Brown in person recently, but I'm pretty fascinated by what he's already taught me (i.e. don't put avocados you're wanting to ripen in the fridge because it will stop the process). Part of seeing him live was getting his latest cookbook, "Good Eats 3: The Later Years."Aunt Betty loves ginger, so we decided to make his candied ginger recipe (which will definitely clear out your sinuses) and then put some in these ginger snaps. The candied ginger came out perfectly. These cookies, not so much. Lesson learned: when weights are given, use an accurate kitchen scale to get the right amount. I'm putting one on my Christmas list. This picture is the edited recipe. Our first batch was....rather flat and thin. But the edited versions were incredibly good and packed a triple ginger punch: ground, candied and fresh.

And really, these cupcakes have no holiday theme whatsoever. I just had an itch to make cherry cola cupcakes again after making them in May. It's a recipe from Cupcake Project and is kind of baffling because it's super runny. It also takes cola extract, which isn't around at regular grocery stores (I got mine at Sweet! Baking and Candy-Making Supply). They're cola-flavored cakes with maraschino cherries in them, a cola-flavored cream cheese icing and the nice little cherry on top. They were a hit at work. I just love recipes that go well! (Posting these to Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' challenge: Filipino dessert Sans Rival

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

Now, I wasn't quite daring enough to try the second recipe, Bibingka, which included things like salted eggs and glutinous rice flour. Not quite up my alley. But sans rival? Which apparently means "without rival?" Oh yeah. That's definitely true.

It's no secret that I love me some meringue. This is like a giant meringue cake that Aunt Betty and I made. We piped giant meringue discs, then layered them with French buttercream and layers of cashews. Seriously, it's as good as it sounds. The meringue melts into the buttercream and it's one of the tastiest desserts I've ever had. I am 100% making this again. Possibly very, very soon.

I don't often repost these recipes, but I'm definitely sharing this one, with the modifications we made (which are quite a few).

Sans Rival (12 servings)


10 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups chopped, toasted cashews

French buttercream
5 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ teaspoon almond extract

1. For meringues: Preheat oven to moderate 325°F.
2. Trace bottom of cake pan on parchment paper to get four circles. Lay parchment on flat baking sheets (will likely take at least two sheets).
3. In a large clean, dry glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites on medium until foamy. Sprinkle with cream of tartar. Gradually add sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time, continuing to beat now at high speed until stiff shiny peaks form.
4. Move meringue to piping bag with large open tip. Pipe meringue into the circles until completely used.
5. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, checking after 30 minutes. (At this point, we actually shut off the oven and left the door closed, letting the meringues dry out. Your meringues should be as dry as possible without breaking.) Peel off parchment paper before completely cooling.
6. For French buttercream: Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Beat at high speed until the yolks have doubled in volume and are a lemon yellow.
7. Put the sugar and water in a heavy pan and cook over medium heat, stirring the sides down only until all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup reaches 235° F.
8. With the mixer on high, very slowly pour the syrup down the sides of the bowl, until all has been added. Be careful as the very hot syrup could burn you if it splashes from the beaters. Continue beating on high until the mixture is room temperature, about 15 mins.
9. Still on high, beat in the soft, room temperature butter a tablespoon at a time. Add flavoring after you beat in the butter. Refrigerate the buttercream for at least an hour, and whip it smooth just before you use it.
10. Assembly: Set bottom meringue on cake board with a dab of butter cream to hold it in place. Spread a thin layer of buttercream, then spread a layer of the crushed cashews. Then place another meringue on top. Repeat with a thin layer of buttercream, cashews, meringue, thin layer of buttercream, cashews, meringue, and finally buttercream the top and cover with a layer of cashews.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sweet potato cupcakes, cinnamon roll cupcakes and double chocolate cookies

Yes, it is still November. And yes, we haven't (quite) hit Thanksgiving yet. And yes, I put up my Christmas tree the other night. I know it seems too early, but I couldn't resist. After all, it was my last free time before getting busy with work and the Thanksgiving holiday, and I didn't know if I'd have time to put it up before work next week. That, and I just wanted to! I have a tradition with putting up the tree: unpack all the decorations, put the movie "White Christmas" on and watch my cat get into whatever mischief he can. This year, it was just getting into the box the Christmas tree was in and supervising my progress. Now my tree is up with all my childhood ornaments, and some new ones, with multicolored lights, multicolored garlands and sparkly snowflakes. Yes, my Christmas tree definitely fits my personality. 

Last weekend I had dinner with some girlfriends, and two of them requested cupcake flavors. First was Brianne, who is a big fan of cinnamon rolls, so I made her these cinnamon roll cupcakes. They're a weird combination of what you think of as a cinnamon roll, and a much cakier, lighter crumb. It's a cake batter mixed with a cinnamon syrup. I topped it with Martha's cream cheese frosting

The second request was from my friend Lauren, who wanted sweet potato cupcakes. I'm not a huge fan of sweet potato, to be honest, which was a good reason to give them all to her! She said they turned out sort of like a spice cake, and I used Martha's recipe. What really intrigued me was the frosting, which was marshmallow-flavored. I used a recipe from Annie's Eats and then toasted it with my kitchen torch. It turned out very pretty, I think (and I'm posting them to Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday).

And finally, I made some cookies just for the heck of it Sunday. I saw this recipe on Bakerella's site: double chocolate cookies. The trick, though, is they have a little bit of peanut butter in them, which elevates them to another level. They're super tasty and very easy. I will make them again soon!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Candy galore: Maple cashew fudge, buckeyes and candy Thanksgiving pilgrim hats

I think we've talked about how I'm a Food Network junkie before. I'm sure I have. And I've been lucky enough to meet a few of my favorites in the last couple months. I told you I saw Bobby Flay a while ago, but a few weeks ago, I got to see Alton Brown speak as well. And he is way funnier and more personable than I thought he would be. Plus, besides being super informative, he dropped a few sci-fi restaurants, working Yoda into the presentation, and the Matrix as well. So naturally, when I got up to him to have him sign my book, I asked what his favorite sci-fi movie was. "2001: A Space Odyssey." Whodathunk?

My third Food Network star? Aarón Sánchez. He just opened a restaurant in, of all places, Leawood. First place outside of NYC and he picks KC. And I got an exclusive interview with him! He was super friendly and down-to-earth. My stories (I wrote two: one for web and one for print) about him are online at the Kansas City Business Journal.

I seem to have a thing for making these little bites once a year, but they're SO good. They're buckeyes, and it's Smitten Kitchen's recipe. Imagine the wonderfulness of the inside of a peanut butter cup, rolled in a ball, then with just a thin layer of chocolate. I tell you, they're to die for.

So these don't technically count as baking as much as creating, I suppose. But they're Thanksgiving hats! I found them just browsing around Thanksgiving recipes, and they're so easy: fudge cookies, miniature peanut butter cups, some frosting and a sprinkle. Cute little desserts for not much work. Not a bad change of pace!

And what is the fall/moving into winter without some maple? Remember my love affair with the flavor? Well, this maple fudge from Joy of Cooking just reinforces it. Aunt Betty actually made most of this while I put together the hat treats, but this is better than the batch we made last year. This batch has cashews mixed in...and I may hoard it for myself!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day! Plus a chocolate pistachio tart, blueberry yogurt granola pie and homemade Oreos

I know I start every post with a food picture, and I suppose that's fitting since it's a food blog. But even more important is that today's Veterans Day. In honor of that, some very special photos:

To my Grandpa Hawley, who was in the Army Air Corps during World War II and based in Utah. I got to visit his base just a month ago. He was the next in line to be shipped out to Europe, but luckily wasn't. He mostly flew B-24s and A-25s but also flew some other planes, like the Memphis Belle.

And to my Grandpa Hofmeister, who was already in his 30s when he went to Germany and France under Gen. Patton in World War II. I always remember him as a quiet man, but he saw some crazy stuff when he was overseas. I'm so grateful to have a few records of it. This is my post from last year, that has more photos of both of them.

And finally, to my cousin Jon, who went to Iraq very soon after the U.S. went in there. Sometimes it doesn't cross my mind, but I'm lucky to be able to see him fairly easily now, especially when Aunt Betty, Uncle David and I drop sweets by at his and his fiance's house. For the longest time, we couldn't see him. So happy Veterans Day to all of them.

All right, back to the food. This is one of my most favorite desserts I've ever made. Seriously. Salty+sweet is one of my favorite things, and this chocolate pistachio tart fit the bill. Thank Martha, yet again. The crust is chocolate with chopped pistachios, and then you make the pistachio paste layer (I made a lot more than the recipe called for because it made it a lot easier to spread). Then the top layer is a basic chocolate custard. I think this might be my birthday cake (tart?) next year!

I made that tart at Aunt Betty's, and this second pie we made at her house as well. This one is a yogurt blueberry pie with granola crust. Yet another Martha recipe. The granola we used was from the Merc and it was a maple pecan one, which I think I might use in a future crust. It made for a nice crunch and some good flavor. I think this looks like breakfast, no?

And for my only non-pie-style dessert this week, homemade Oreos. I made these once but was a little too impatient with the dough, I think, and didn't roll it out as well. But I'd forgotten how good these are, and so much better than the commercial versions. The cookies themselves are almost salty, but with the filling, it works out perfectly. I don't have the patience to follow the recipe and let the filling sit for six hours (!) so I let it go for a while and then add in sifted powdered sugar, which makes a more frosting-y texture rather than the ganache, which the recipe wants. I prefer it that way. And so does everyone at work, because I'm at three requests for the recipe. Always good to know people are satisfied.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Paul Simon in Kansas City

I know this isn't about food (at all), but I couldn't pass on writing about what I did last night. Paul Simon might be 70 years old, but the man knows how to perform in a concert! I went to see him last night, and he played for two hours without ever really stopping. Plus, we got two encores! The ticket was more than I usually pay, but I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to see him again. He played a lot of new songs, a lot of classics, and even through in a cover of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."

I took a few videos. The visuals aren't the greatest, but really I took them for the audio. Actually, some of them might make you seasick. And a couple cut in after the song started...but hey, I'm not doing these professionally or anything, so excuse the camera phone :) Enjoy!


"50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"

"Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Boulevard Brewery tour

To anyone not in the Midwest, it may be hard to come by Boulevard beer. And to you I say, I'm sorry. 

Boulevard is the 10th largest craft brewer in the U.S. and happens to be approximately 10 minutes away from me. Darn.

I've actually been lucky enough to tour Boulevard three times now, most recently this weekend with Dad and Cathie. To anyone in the area or even visiting, I highly recommend it (and recommend planning far ahead because it tends to be booked months in advance).

It's pretty fascinating to see what it takes to make this beer. The barrels a few pictures above are for their specialty smokestack beers. This bottling line is fun to watch and bottles something like eight beers per second.

The whole tour is filled with lots of metal, lots of pipes, and obviously huge tanks of beer. One of my tours I went on was for work, when I interviewed the brewery's brewmaster, who's from Belgium. He gave an interesting insight into how to stay relevant as a craft brewery when they're popping up all over the country, and now breweries here differ from his home country's.

The brewery opened a new addition in 2006 that was way bigger than the old portion of the brewery, which they still use. This awesome floor is in the new building.

Naturally, at the end of the tour is a tasting. Meet my stepmom and nutty father.

And now a normal photo. It's definitely a fun trip and a good way to spend an hour. The beer ain't bad either :)
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