Monthly Archives: December 2011

Good Things Come in Threes: Triple-Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies, Triple Ginger Cookies, and Trios

So, as I mentioned previously, I was striving to make five different types of Christmas cookies this year.  The other night I revised this goal.

“I think four types of cookies might be my limit,” I told Nick as I was carefully spooning (approximately) 1/88 teaspoon of apricot preserves into the indentation of a teaspoon-sized ball of dough.

“Gee, so you were only able to make four super-fancy cookie recipes while you’re also studying for final exams in graduate school?”

They are fancy cookies. They also just happen to comprise a theme of number-oriented cookies.  Two recipes that are returning from last year’s cookie repertoire have to do with the number three: Trios and Triple Ginger Cookies. (Conveniently going along with the Seven Layer Cookies… I guess I really am a math person.) So it seemed appropriate to have the newcomer be Triple-Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies. I even branched out from my comfort zone- I usually refuse to acknowledge the existence of white chocolate (I mean, it’s not really chocolate, now is it??).  But I figure if Ghirardelli makes white chocolate chips, they must not be all evil.

I’m maintaining my December laziness, and I’m just going to refer you to the links to the recipes rather than reprinting them here. Because the cookie baking might finally be done (until Nick eats all of the Trios and wants more), but I still have more gift bows to make and presents to wrap.

Triple-Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies (from Bon Appetit, December 2004 via Epicurious)

These are yummy. A little sweeter than I usually like, but hey, it’s Christmas.

Drizzling chocolate is going on my list of things that do not come naturally to me. Rather than painstakingly drizzling each individual cookie in a zig-zag pattern, I adopted a Pollack-like approach.  There were a few casualties, but mostly, they turned out well.

Also, these cookies were thinner and more delicate than I expected. This may be the less-than-amazing cookie sheets I have- I think they cause things to spread too much. But they still tasted great… just be aware that they might be a little crumbly and are probably better stored in a tin or hard container, rather than ziplock bags. And worst-case scenario, you end up with some broken cookies to sprinkle on top of ice cream.

Triple Ginger Cookies (from Bon Appetit, December 2009 via Epicurious)


These are delicious and, according to the dietary considerations guide on Epicurous, low-calorie.  (At least as far as cookies go, I guess.) A few notes- don’t freak out if you can’t find light molasses.  I could only find blackstrap molasses, and they’re fine- just a shade darker.  Also, rolling them in raw sugar (aka turbinado sugar) instead of regular sugar gives them a sparkly, festive look.

Trios (from Gourmet, December 2007 via Epicurious)

Every time I make these I am surprised by how good they are.  The dough isn’t much beyond sugar, flour, and butter, but they’re wonderfully buttery and the fruit adds a bit of tang and chewiness. It’s a shame they’re so tedious to make, because they are Nick’s favorite and go quickly. If your kitchen is like mine, and your wooden (ahem, bamboo) spoons don’t have rounded handles, and you don’t happen to have a 1/2-inch wide wooden dowel hanging around, a round lipstick tube covered in plastic wrap works perfectly.

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Cookie Fail (and Some Success): Seven-Layer Cookies

Maybe it’s because I’m tired.  Maybe it’s because I’m preoccupied with the final paper I’m working on. Maybe it’s because the graduate school gods frowned upon my decision to take a break from paper-writing to bake cookies and they decided to punish me.  Maybe subconsciously I frowned upon my decision to take a break from paper-writing and sabotaged myself. I’m not sure what other explanation there could be for messing up a cookie recipe that I have successfully made in the past.

So, the Seven-Layer Cookies from featured in the December 2005 issue of Gourmet are supposed to look like  this:

Photo from Epicurious

Mine looked like this:

Fail.

Lesson learned: there is a fine line between undercooked and raw.  (Note: the wax paper is crumbled because I actually had already thrown this in the trashcan.  Then I decided it was worth documenting.)

Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration.  Only about half of the cookies looked like that.  The rest looked like this:

That’s better.

I hope I haven’t scared you away from making these cookies.  They are time-consuming, but they really are not difficult (and the majority of the time is inactive).  And, they are delicious.  The almond-flavored cookies, with chocolate, apricot, and raspberry, are a wonderful blend of flavors. And assuming that you don’t mess up and have to throw away half of them, it yields a ton, so the time investment is completely worth it.

I’m not going to take the time to write out the whole recipe here. It’s rather lengthy, since there are a lot of steps, and I trust that my readers are bright enough to understand clicking on this link, which will take you to the original recipe. Plus, I don’t want to take more time away from my term paper and risk further angering the graduate school gods.

Before I go write about plans for data analyses, I will leave you with these suggestions, based on my own experience:

  • The recipe calls for an 8 oz can of almond paste.  Every time I have made this, I have only been able to find 7 oz tubes.  This works just fine.  If you’re concerned it won’t be almond-y enough, you could always add a tiny splash of extra almond extract, but I don’t think that’s necessary.
  • Instead of using apricot preserves for both fruit layers, I used apricot for one layer and raspberry jam (seedless) for the other.  Just cut back to a half of a 12 oz jar for each. I like to use the raspberry between the red and white layers and the apricot between the white and green, but that’s just my weird thing with matching colors.
  • If you have three, or even two, 9 x 13 baking pans, you can cut down on the time, since you don’t have to wait for the pan to cool between baking the layers.
  • Undercooked means it should be set (as in, if you touch it, batter should not come off on your finger), but not firm.  This was the mistake I made this time.  I thought the red layer maybe could have stayed in for another minute or two, and it became evident that was true when I inverted it onto the white and the underside was totally raw.  I tried sticking the assembled cake and fruit layers in the oven to bake the red more, but it didn’t seem to work.  After letting it sit in the fridge overnight and applying the chocolate layers, I cut into the middle and it was a gloopy, gooey mess.  Disappointing. Fortunately the outside was fine, so it wasn’t a total waste.
  • Wait to trim the edges until after you’ve added the chocolate layers.  That way you don’t need to worry about chocolate dripping over the edge.
  • I know they say to use a serrated knife, but that makes it difficult to clean the knife between cuts (towel fibers getting caught in the teeth). I’ve found that running a Santoku knife under hot water and wiping it off between every cut gives me clean lines and minimizes the chocolate cracking.

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Happy Birthday to Me

Originally, I intended to write some deep, witty reflections about turning 30. But then the first two weeks of December happened, and life and responsibilities got in the way. (Because that’s what happens when you’re a grownup, right?) And then I wanted to write 30 things I’ve learned in 30 years.  But again, life is getting in the way of me sitting down and thinking of 30 things.  Or maybe I just haven’t learned that much…

21 Things I’ve Learned In My Thirty Years

1. It’s fine to have a life plan, or a time line for how you want your life to go.  Just don’t be surprised or distressed if you don’t adhere to it.

2. Look down before you sit on wooden playground equipment. If you need further proof of this, see the two-inch splinter that my mom has in my baby book.

3. Don’t dangle beloved stuffed animals out the car window.

4. Give people a chance, but listen to your instincts when it’s time to let someone go.

5. Life is too short to watch other people’s “must-see” movies, especially when you have hundreds in your own Netflix queue.

6. Any experience can be relevant experience if you put the right spin on it.

7. Exercise really does make you feel better.  So does sunshine.  And kittens.

8. Grades are only grades.  Money is only money.  Neither is worth too much stress.

9. Don’t eat raw scallops.

10. Ask for help when you need it.

11. If you can afford it, hire a moving company. You will thank yourself.  And your friends will thank you, too.  Save offers of beer and pizza for more fun occasions.

12. When it comes to relationships, education doesn’t matter. Intelligence does.

13. Fresh herbs are far superior to dried herbs.

14. Drink lots of water.

15. As an adult, revisit vegetables you hated as a child.

16. There is absolutely no reason, as a peripubescent girl, to be so eager about getting your first period.

17. Do not underestimate the wonders of a high-fiber breakfast.

18. The best friends are the ones with whom you can do absolutely nothing and still have a great time.

19. Allowing yourself to trust and feel secure does wonders for your relationship.  So does having alone time.

20. Sneaking a peek at your birthday or Christmas presents really does ruin the surprise.*

21. Everything you think you know is subject to change.

*Mom, before you ask: No, I did not peek at my gifts this year.

And 5 Things I’m Still Learning:

1. Never trim your own bangs when your blood sugar is low and your hands are shaky.  Actually, never trim your own bangs.

2. Drinking coffee when you’re already feeling anxious is not a good idea.

3. You probably know more than you think you do.  And you are probably more capable than you think are.

4. There is such a thing as having too much gift wrap.

5. Cats don’t always want to snuggle at the same times you do. Forcing them doesn’t help.

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“Let the Great Experiment Begin!”

That title is misleading.  And rather irrelevant.  It just popped in my head and made me laugh, so I went with it.  The first person to tell me where that quote is from gets a prize.  And by prize, I mean my admiration and the warm feeling of knowing you’re an awesome person. Come on, you know you want it….

Anyway, I was looking for a title more along the lines of “And the Overly Ambitious Christmas Cookie Baking Begins!”  But that sounded stupid.  It would be accurate though.  Two years ago I made three types of cookies for Christmas, and then last year I added a fourth.  So it seemed only logical that I should aim to make five types of cookies this year.  I know if I keep following this pattern it’s going to get out of hand, but I’m hoping that eventually some favorites will rise to the top and I can stick with those.  The problem is that so far they are all favorites.

It occurred to me that I could streamline the process a bit by making several types of cookie dough one day, and refrigerating/freezing them, and then getting around to the baking part sometime in the next week.  So, that’s what I’m doing today.  I’ll be sharing recipes with you in the next week or two as I actually bake them.  But in the mean time, here are my steps for preparing to make three batches of different types of cookie dough in one sitting.  (And by one sitting I mean taking breaks in between writing and reading and studying.)

A Dozen Things You Should Do Before You Start Baking Cookies (oh… maybe I should have used that as the title….)

1. Prepare an Excel spreadsheet with columns for Recipe, Ingredient, Quantity, and Category (e.g., baking needs, dairy), and rows for each ingredient you need for each recipe.  Explain to your husband that then you can sort by ingredient to see how much flour you’ll need for all five recipes AND sort by category to organize a shopping list.  Have him accuse you of pleasuring yourself with a data software program.

2. Go shopping for ingredients and expect to make at least two stops because inevitably the first store will be sold out of almond paste or crystallized ginger.

3. Wash pile of dishes in the sink so you can create a new pile from scratch.

4. Change into a t-shirt to avoid sweater sleeves covered in flour.

5. Attack t-shirt with a lint roller to avoid cookies covered in cat fur.

6. Go to turn on iPod. Realize you told your husband he could take it with him today. Locate Christmas station on Slacker radio.  Wonder why there is a Blue Oyster Cult station under the seasonal category. (Because nothing says Merry Christmas like “Don’t Fear the Reaper”.)

7. Rinse dust out of stand mixer.

8. Print out recipes.

9. Pull out butter to reach room temperature.

10. Eat an apple to prevent snacking on cookie dough.  Correction: to reduce snacking on cookie dough.

11. Check email while you’re still waiting for butter to soften.

12. Finally, assemble ingredients and get going!

Stay tuned for lots of yummy cookie recipes!

 

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This Is Still Bothering Me

A while back I mentioned that I have a tiny problem with needing to correct people.  What I think I failed to mention is how distressing it is to me when I am unable to do so.  This might run in the family since I found out the other day that I have a cousin who corrects typos and grammatical errors in library books.  I hope he doesn’t read my blog.

So, I hope you will understand my need to vent about this experience I had yesterday.  Nick and I somehow ended up watching Math Homework Helpers on the local public school system’s television channel.  This is pretty much exactly what you would think it is:  kids call up with problems from their math homework and receive assistance from a teacher, a student, and a puppet.

We were lucky enough to catch a live broadcast.  A few minutes in, I was already fired up about a 5th grader who was completely stumped by how many times 6 goes into 54.  I was pretty much yelling at the television.  “Seriously?  How does she not know that?  We had to memorize all the multiplication tables in third grade!” (It’s probably a good thing I’m not on Homework Helpers.)

But then it got worse.  A kid called up asking how to divide 14 into 4569.  It started well enough.

How many times does 14 go into 45?  Three.  Right…. So then you multiply 14 by three, that gives you 42… 45 minus 42 equals three….

… Bring down the six…  14 goes into 36 two times….

… Two times 14 is 28…. 36 minus 28 is six….

NO.  This is so, so wrong.  36 minus 28 is most definitely not six.

If I wasn’t yelling at the TV before, I most certainly was at this point.

And this was live.  Happening right before my eyes, but there was no way to intervene.  If you have ever been inside a building and watched through the window as someone backs into your car, you know how I felt.*

And no one corrected this.  Not even the puppet.  They just sent this poor kid along with the wrong answer and a pair of plastic sunglasses from 1987.  I kept expecting someone to step in, or for them to offer a correction, but it never happened.  Nick tried his best to console me.

“How can they do that?  That kid is going to turn in his homework with the wrong answer.”

“Yeah.  It’s okay.  The teacher will mark it wrong, if she even notices it.  And that’s it.  Then it’s done.”

“But it’s wrong.”

“I don’t understand why they need to do this anyway.  Why don’t they just use a calculator?”

“But it’s wrong.”

Nick eventually managed to distract me and I forgot about it for the rest of the night.  But today it’s still haunting me.  So….

There.  That’s better.

*This also reminds me of this weird enclosed space next to where I used to work.  It was outside, but surrounded by buildings on three sides and a glass wall on the fourth, so you had to go through one of two doors to get in or out.  Except one of the doors only lets you in; it doesn’t open from the inside.  I was fortunate enough to have a window overlooking this space, and never tired of watching someone stroll around in there and then panic when they couldn’t get out the one door.  I guess I don’t always need to correct people.  Because sometimes it’s more fun to watch them discover their own errors.

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Not-So-Guilty Pleasures: Parks & Recreation and Fancy Hot Chocolate

Do you ever find yourself internalizing the voice of a character from a movie or television show so that when you’re thinking to yourself it’s in a voice completely distinct from your own?  (Please say yes, because otherwise I am concerned that I might have just confessed to hearing voices.)  For example, after I was watching Coupling regularly on Netflix Instant Viewing my thoughts were voiced in a British accent for days.  (This also occurred after any of the 20 times I’ve seen Love Actually.)  Even weirder?  Thinking in the voice of Riley after Nick and I had a marathon screening of The Boondocks.   The funny thing is that I am terrible when it comes to speaking out loud in different voices.  In my head I can hear them perfectly but when they come out of my mouth, it’s no good.  Imagine Joey Tribbiani’s Southern drawl that sounded more like a Jamaican accent.   It’s kind of like how I can picture myself doing a handstand, and I can even feel it, but when I attempt it, it doesn’t work out so well.  (So far, at least….)

Anyway, the reason I bring that up is that I seem to be thinking in Chris Traeger’s voice right now.  For those of you who don’t watch Parks & Rec (although you should), Chris Traeger is Rob Lowe’s excessively optimistic character who speaks very precisely and loves to use the word “literally.”

And the reason I bring that up is so you understand where I’m coming from when I say that Dagoba Xocolatl Drinking Chocolate is “literally THE best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.”  Seriously.  And it should be, since a 12-ounce can costs about $10.  (But that is 17 servings, so it’s still way cheaper than anything you’d get at Starbucks.)  It has cinnamon and chili in it, so it’s wonderfully rich and spicy.  Almost sexy, really.  If you rated hot chocolates in terms of sexiness, this would be the Johnny Depp of hot chocolate.*  With the weather finally getting chilly and hearing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” on the radio for the first time this season, it felt like hot chocolate weather yesterday afternoon.

Do not even think of putting marshmallows in here.  If I find out that you bastardized this with marshmallows I will steal the rest of your can of drinking chocolate to protect it from further insult.  Kahlua or Bailey’s would be perfectly acceptable, however.  If it hadn’t been 2pm, and I wasn’t trying to work on a paper, I totally would have spiked it.

Back to Parks & Rec for a moment….  I cannot tell you how excited I am about Leslie and Ben getting back together.   I can tell you that it is way more excited than I should be about fictional characters.  One of the best lines from last week’s The Trial of Leslie Knope: when asked if she received benefits from dating her supervisor, Leslie’s response was that she received “adorable nicknames and amazing backrubs.”

*Feel free to insert whoever you want here.  The obvious universal ones that jumped out were Johnny Depp and George Clooney.  My personal favorites like Colin Firth and Alan Rickman just didn’t seem to fit….  Maybe if I was discussing tea….

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