Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sugar Today, Honey Tomorrow

Here I am, deciding to experiment with my most prized chocolate chip cookie recipe by replacing the sugar with honey, and this is what I have going through my head: "Sugar, Sugar", by The Archies.  If you haven't heard it, it begins a little something like this: 

Sugar, oh, honey, honey
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you
Honey, oh, sugar, sugar
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you

The original music video from 1969 can be found here, if you want to hear it for yourself.  As for the video itself, it's taken from an animated show from the 60's. Enough said. 

With a song in my head and honey, honey in my measuring cup, I put my trusty Kitchen-Aid mixer to work churning up everything, but the sugar, sugar.  To be more specific, I omitted the granulated white sugar, not the brown sugar.  The brown sugar is no less refined, but I figured I would keep it in the recipe this time around.  It just may be that I will need to remove both types of sugar in an experiment for another day.  This recipe historically yields a cookie that looks very much like what can be seen in the picture above.  The cookie is lightly crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle, which is exactly why I love this recipe.

Much to my chagrin, however, the cookies that emerged from the oven were very flat. This, for me, ruins the aesthetics of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  And, because of the honey, the cookie is prone to browning much darker in the same amount of time than if it had it's granulated counterpart. As for taste, I would say they are enjoyable.  The honey doesn't overpower the cookie; the presence of it is very inconspicuous.  Of course, being thinner means that once cooled, they turned out very crispy.

On the off chance that anyone is wondering why I would choose to try and reinvent a perfectly good cookie recipe, I can explain.  I have been reading more and more about "clean" eating.  In a nutshell, this means that eating processed foods are out, and if eating/using anything packaged, it should have five ingredients or less.  White granulated sugar, as I use in all of my baked goods, really does go through the wringer to become the product we use on such a daily basis.  Honey, on the other hand, isn't refined from hive to table.  It really is a "clean" product.

In any case, my experiment wasn't a complete bust.   After about 4 dozen cookies were made, I put the rest of the cookie dough in a 13"x 9" pan and tried making them into bars instead.  I was slightly happier with this outcome due to the fact that the bars stayed soft and chewy.

The quest continues, though, for more ways to bake with honey. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tea, for me, goes like this...

Please humor me as I acknowledge the simple discovery of a winning combination. A trifecta of ingredients that makes for the perfect cup of tea.  Traditionally, I enjoy tea with honey.  Leaning towards the chai teas and other "spicier" blends, I generally enjoy a cup now and then throughout the winter.  In most cases, I start brewing the tea when I feel a cold coming on, as I know the honey has certain antiseptic properties. 

However, a fateful moment during a recent trip to the grocery store has changed my entire outlook on tea consumption.  In the moment that I reached for the box of Bigelow Chocolate Chai, a woman passed me by.  I, returning to my flat-footed position from standing on tip-toe to reach the top shelf, stood there in the middle of the aisle attempting to discover if Chocolate Chai smelled as delicious as I felt the name implied.  The aforementioned woman, with four simple words: "That tea is excellent", has since brought comfort to my soul.

It didn't happen all at once, I tried the tea with honey as I normally prepare my tea, and I enjoyed it. The chocolate is certainly not a dominant flavor, I'm not sure I can really pinpoint its inclusion exactly. In general, it is simply a very smooth, sweet tasting chai that is not overpowered by cinnamon.  Although, I never drink tea with milk, I did decide to try adding some coconut milk only yesterday.  And just like that, a spoonful of honey, a tablespoon of coconut milk and I have a "perfecto" cup of tea. A spot of tea in a mug, that I hold with two hands in order to embrace the warmth, while absorbing the aromatic steam in through my nose. 

The only thing missing, really, is a plate of yummy tea sandwiches.  I would be quite satisfied with butter sandwiched between graham crackers, but I will exercise self control and avoid that, this time.  I will, however, have a second cup of tea...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Good use of an illusion...

Oops, I did it again.  I played with their hearts...or rather their palates.  On this rainy summer Saturday, I thought some "apple"-berry crisp would be an appropriate after-dinner dessert.  Looking at the image pictured below, one might say they were looking at a bowl of cut apples and raspberries.  Go ahead, really look at it.  I'll wait....  

Fortunately, I did just buy some Granny Smith apples.  But, my garden is producing an abundance of zucchini...and, with a recipe for Zucchini "Apple" Crisp, I couldn't resist the opportunity to be a master of illusion. Now, here is how I play the game. Feed first, tell later...although, my husband had full disclosure before trying the dessert, my children did not.  

I mean, why mention the "Z" word if it isn't necessary?  With that, I served up the "apple"-berry crisp just as I normally would; with ice cream and a little caramel sauce.

The verdict?  They liked it.   However, both of my boys said that they could tell there was something different about the "apples".  My oldest thought I used peaches.  My youngest actually wasn't a fan of the raspberries.  As a rule, he normally finds raspberries too "tart" in baked goods.  In any case, they were good sports...

I even have permission to make it again.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A pie in the hand is worth....eating.

In my yard, the raspberries are ripe and ready for enjoyment in all manner of happy creations.  Eaten naturally right off of the bush is my favorite way to savor their sweetness.  While I do find their seeds tolerable on the fresh fruit, I am less inclined to enjoy them after the fruit has been baked down to a jellied consistency. Raspberry jams and/or jellies, for instance, should always be seedless in my book.  But when I found this recipe for raspberry hand pies, I was willing to put my distaste for the seeds aside in hopes of discovering another yummy way to use an abundance of these jewel toned fruits .  

On a side note, while perusing the shelves of a familiar chain store several months ago, I found these "pop tart" molds on clearance.  Not to be one to miss out on a deal *laughing out loud*, I threw them in my cart without a second thought as to when I would eventually make use of them.  It only took a year, but tonight, with my oldest cutting the dough and placing it in the mold, we had a nice operation in place.

As you can see in the image pictured above, these are chocolate raspberry hand pies.  I used some dark chocolate almond bars that I had leftover from a school fundraiser.  As the Art Club adviser at my high school, I can say without hesitation, that I fully supported this candy bar selling incentive with the purchase of several candy bars; to share of course. When the school year finally came to a close, I found that we had nine remaining candy bars, all dark chocolate almond.  I will not admit to how many bars I purchased in total.  I can honestly say, though, that they weren't all consumed by me.  These last few however, have already been used in s'mores and now chopped up and put into hand pies.  With six bars left, however, you can bet I'll be drumming up some other recipes in which to use them.

Fresh out of the oven, I left them to cool as seen above.  A two-mile walk with the dog later, they were sufficiently cool and ready for consumption.  Maybe it was the chocolate; maybe it was the crust and how it wrapped ALL the way around the filling; or, maybe it was the ice cream, but I for one did not find that there was the annoying presence of too many seeds floating around in the ruby red..JOY (for lack of a better word) that made up the contents of these hand pies.

Served up with some ice cream and drizzled with chocolate, kind of takes away from the term "hand pie"; thereby requiring the use of forks or spoons, instead. By using store bought pie dough, however, this little gem of a recipe was quick to make, while my pie molds (remember, bought on clearance), kept the dessert compact and even...personal.  

The filling for this recipe is as follows:

2 cups of raspberries
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon Flour
1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice (I had lime juice, so that's what I used)
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate (I used dark chocolate with almonds)

Mix the first 4 ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.  
Next, unroll ready made pie crust and cut out 8 rectangles that are approximately 4.5 inches by 3 inches in size.  Place about a 1/2 cup of filling on one rectangle; keeping the filling away from the very outer edge. Sprinkle pieces of chopped chocolate over the filling before covering with another rectangle of dough. Crimp the edges together with a fork.  Repeat with the remaining pairs of rectangles.  Brush milk or watered down egg whites over the sealed pies and pierce the top crust with the tines of a fork.  This made four hand pies.

Naturally, if you've got a great pie crust recipe and you have time to make it your self, I would probably do that. Tonight got a little hectic, so I opted to make life easier and use the store bought crust already present in my refrigerator.  In addition, the original recipe I referenced can be found here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Emotional Gardener

Anticipation.  Disappointment.  Excitement.  Patience.  All of these emotions, plus a few more, characterize my experience in the garden.  I have several flower gardens surrounding my house along with a vegetable garden and "berry patch". It's the berry patch that has me feeling DISAPPOINTED.  This year, four years into having planted strawberries, the plants have multiplied enough that there is finally a decent amount of plants to supply at least a pint or more of strawberries. In any case, enough for any pie, cobbler or crisp recipe of my choice.  Earlier in May, the flowers, like the one pictured below, crowded each plant with at least six to seven cheery faces.  With ANTICIPATION I imagined the plants later weighed down by the heavier fruit and my mind wandered; thinking about which recipe of mine would be made better by homegrown strawberries.    

After a month or so of PATIENCE; waiting for the weather conditions to provide for beautifully red, ripened fruit, I now find that I am not the only one who has been awaiting the taste of these berries.  With the first strawberry that I saw so close to being pick-worthy, I decided to give it another day.  Apparently, in my haste...something else decided to make quick waste of that first berry. Unfortunately, that has been the pattern we have followed for the last week or so. As the berries ripen, and I give them just one more day; something else: bunny, squirrel or mouse? takes advantage of my hesitation.  Not wanting to pick only partially ripened fruit has kept me from claiming what is rightfully mine, while the less choosy mammal is rewarded on a nightly basis.

Berry by berry, the pie in my mind, gets smaller and smaller.  The EXCITEMENT that once guided my visions of home-baked goodness has waned.  At this point, I feel I can only plan ahead for next year.  The word STRATEGY comes to mind.  I will need it as I wage a berry-sized war against the little varmints that choose to squash my strawberry dreams.  

In the meantime, I will look to the farmer's markets and Sweet Berry Farm, to supply me with locally grown strawberries. And as for MY berry patch....the raspberry bushes look promising!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Garden Fever

Back in January, I received this lovely package of Garden Bon Bons from my brother and sister in-law.  At the time, I was excited by the prospect of planting them, but I was patient for spring; enjoying our snowy winter.  Fast forward to the eve of April and I am no longer patient for spring and all of it's gardening adventures.  I am anxious to free the yard of the decaying leaves, fallen twigs and branches to expose all the new growth underneath.  I may have started seeds in my kitchen a tad too early, also.  The sunflowers I planted have to make it at least another month before I can even consider planting them outside. 

Seeing how leggy my sunflowers are getting, I made sure to wait a little longer before I placed these little bon bons in their peat pots.  Although they look good enough to eat, they are "candy for planting - not eating!" The bon bons pictured here are seeds rolled in rich compost and clay; then dusted in natural pesticides, like coffee, cinnamon and pepper.  The eight pictured here are part of the culinary basil collection.  Thanks to the thoughtfulness of family, the four types of basil I will be adding to my garden this year are: Italian Leaf, Cinnamon, Thai and Mrs. Burns' Lemon Basil.  As I write this, I am imagining the plates of fresh basil, tomato and mozzarella layered joyously with balsamic vinaigrette or the pesto made possible because of four varieties of basil!  I can smell the the aroma now....

So, is it any wonder that I have garden fever?

Sure, I could go to the grocery store and buy some basil, but I think it tastes better because my hand will have nurtured these plants from start to...well, dinner.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

With Love and Muffins,

Procrastination runs deep this morning.  I have a pile of work glaring at me, and so I avert my eyes to somewhere else.  Naturally, if I can’t see it, it doesn’t actually exist, right?  With my youngest battling a cold, complete with fever and a cough, I’ve determined that this fine 19 degree day would best be spent minding the needs of my youngest, infusing the house with the sweet smells of baked goods and O.K., perhaps tending the pile of work that I can feel staring at me from the other room.

And with this our morning begins, with muffins made from my tried and true all-things-muffin cookbook.  There are very few cookbooks that I use as religiously as this one but, Mad About the Muffins, is for me, the one to beat.   

My love for muffins goes way back to my childhood.  They were a treat on Saturday mornings when my Mom would make them.  She had many great recipes, too.  There is a zucchini muffin recipe that I remember her making that is sort of MIA and every once in a while I am reminded that we need to send out a search party for this recipe. 

Fast forward 20 years or so, I am now married.   We don’t have any children yet, and my husband and I have just purchased our first home.  As a teacher, I have my summers for my own volition, and some of those summer days I was greeted at the back door by my Dad, coming for a visit and a coffee.  Sometimes he’d bring muffins and coffee from a favorite local bakery, New Boston Bakery, and sometimes we would drive to the bakery to sit on their patio, among their expansive flower beds, and talk. 

Even after having my two boys, New Boston Bakery continued to be a destination to enjoy, first with their chubby toddler fingers pointing at the muffin they wanted and then as school boys asking for two muffins instead of one because they were just that hungry. 

Now, although I enjoy frequenting my favorite bakeries, I can’t deny that my own kitchen is on that list.  And, thanks to my favorite muffin cookbook, I can compete with the best of them (in my opinion, anyway).  If there is any way to get my boys to drop what they’re doing, whether it is playing with Legos or creating in Minecraft, it is by asking them to come and help me make some muffins. 


Today’s choice, based on ingredients on hand, were some particularly yummy Four Chip Muffins.   As always, I couldn’t just follow the recipe without tweaking it.  I didn’t have all four types of chips on hand, but I did have three.  I also didn’t have walnuts so I decided to add some cereal into the batter; a lovely limited edition brand of Special K, pictured above.  I'm not sure I would do this again.   The texture that the flakes assumed was somewhat unusual, to me, but no one else found it strange. 

And so, I feel, it is the humble muffin that deserves some thanks here today.  In all the ways a person can enjoy a muffin and for all the ingredients that can be added to a basic muffin recipe I am supremely thankful.  Because it is this food staple, that has shown me the way to countless moments of affection.