Baking My Way Through Baked – The Sixth Recipe

So, I was browsing through Baked trying to find the next recipe for me to conquer.  However, I was also looking for the next easy easy recipe for me to conquer.  I hadn’t attacked any of the breakfast recipes yet so I decided to try to make the Easy Homemade Granola.

When I was younger, I loved (!!!) granola.  When I got older and wanted to find a yummy granola that wasn’t covered in preservatives and weird additives, I realized that that might be asking too much.  As a result, I haven’t had granola in years.  I was pretty excited to be able to have a big bowl of granola and pretty excited to be able to have a supply on hand to munch on.

The recipe is pretty simple.  First you have to combine the oats with the honey/brown sugar/oil mixture.  And when the cookbook says that you need to use your hands, you really do.  And when the cookbook says that you have to squeeze the oats and the honey/brown sugar/oil mixture in order to combine it, well, you really do need to do that or else you won’t accomplish anything.

Then this goes in the oven.

Then, you add almonds and throw it back in the oven.

Then, you add hazelnuts and throw it back in the oven.

Then, you wait for it to cool before adding dried cherries and raisins.

All in all, I will definitely be trying this one again.  Especially since you can mix and match your ingredients to suit your taste and since it makes a fairly large batch.

I’ve been snacking on it but can’t wait to try some on some yogurt for breakfast.  Yum. Yum. Yum.

Baking My Way Through Baked – The Fifth Recipe

For the first time since we have been a couple, Ryan and I were both going to be at our own home for Christmas. Usually, we are on the road on the way to somewhere. This year was going to be different.

We planned to have a nice dinner at home on Christmas Eve. We ordered a couple nice pieces of meat from our CSA. Ryan browsed through cook books for a new recipe to use all of the squash that had been sitting on our kitchen table. I gave him the task of picking our dessert as well.

His choice? Ryan wanted something chocolatey to drink for dessert. Luckily, Baked has a perfect recipe for that.

Our Christmas Eve dessert was going to be the Adult Hot Chocolate.  Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, milk, cream, maple syrup, and amaretto liqueur.  How can that not be delicious?

Time For Some Hot Chocolate

I made a couple adjustments to the recipe.  Instead of 2 ounces of milk chocolate and 5 ounces of dark chocolate, I added 3 ounces of milk chocolate and 4 ounces of dark.  Once the chocolate is chopped, you are supposed to add 1/2 cup of boiling water.  I added closer to 3/4 cup of boiling water.  I added a little bit more simply because the recipe also asked that most of the chocolate be submerged.  In order to do that, I needed a tiny bit more water.

Chocolate and Water. I could drink this the way it is.

The recipe also calls for 3/4 cup of whole milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream.  I made another substitution here as I added skim milk instead of whole milk.  The note to the side of the recipe says that the recipe makes a very rich and thick hot chocolate and that you can lighten it up by simply changing the whole milk to a lighter milk.  After a dinner of shrimp, steak, squash and sauteed mushrooms, we really didn’t need a glass of whole milk.

I’ve got to say, this is probably my favorite hot chocolate recipe that I’ve tried.  It’s rich but not too rich.  It’s chocolatey but not too chocolatey.  It is kind of the perfect hot chocolate.

Last winter, Ryan worked on perfecting his own hot chocolate mix.  His mix was pretty good but I think that this recipe is better.  It’s not as convenient as having a hot chocolate mix ready to go but it is super super easy.  As long as you have chocolate on hand, and I always have chocolate on hand, this is an easy recipe to throw together.  And if you are missing some components of it, it would be pretty simple to make a substitution.

Delicious Chocolate. Hot Chocolate.

Holiday Desserts – Round Three – White Chocolate and Peppermint Bark

So, on this Christmas Eve Eve, I wanted to spend the evening watching Christmas movies, trying to catch up on my reading, and perhaps making a Christmas treat. This all depended on how soon I would get my errands all run so that I could get back home. I had no idea that the one thing holding this all up would be my attempts to find candy canes. Seriously. I have discovered that candy canes are nearly impossible to find on Christmas Eve Eve.

When I get an idea in my head, I stick with it. I’m stubborn. I’m especially stubborn when it comes to baking or cooking. This morning, I decided that I was going to make a chocolate bark. I haven’t made it before but each recipe that I’ve found makes it sound like you can basically put anything into a bark. Since this was going to be my first attempt at making a chocolate bark, I decided to go with the classic white-chocolate-and-crushed-candy-cane bark. I was certain that although I had neither white chocolate nor candy canes in the apartment, this would not be difficult to accomplish.

Since I was also going to pick up some things for our Christmas Eve dinner, I made a list and then set out to get everything done. The first stop was going to be Target until I saw the line of cars to get into the parking lot. I turned right around thinking that I would be able to get everything at the grocery store. At the grocery store, I was able to get everything except for candy canes. All that they had left were the cherry flavored ones! So, on to the drug store down the street. There were no candy canes in their holiday candy aisle! Thankfully, there were some packages of candy canes hidden near the cash registers.

Finally, I was ready to begin.

White chocolate and candy canes

Before melting the chocolate, you need to smash the candy canes into small pieces.  I started by using a rolling pin but then I switched to a hammer.  The hammer worked a lot better.

Candy cane pieces are ready for some chocolate

Melting the chocolate was super easy. Usually, I melt chocolate by using the microwave in 30 second increments. This time, since I was using a lot of chocolate, I decided to make a double boiler out of a large bowl and a pot of boiling water. (Be careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. I’m not sure entirely why this is but every thing that I’ve read about double boilers says that this is vital.)

The double boiler is slowly working.....

When the white chocolate is melting, be sure to stir is the entire time.  Melting chocolate in a double boiler is really easy but if you don’t continuously stir the chocolate it gets lumpy. When the chocolate is melted, add in the candy canes and mix it completely.

Yum. Yum.

After it is mixed together, quickly spread it out on some parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  This needs to be done quickly because the chocolate starts to cool and get hard fairly soon after you remove it from the heat.

Ready to go into the refrigerator to cool completely

After it has cooled completely, simply break the bark into smaller pieces.  The results?  For being my first attempt at making bark, I am pretty impressed.  This is super super super easy.  I’m kind of excited about the different combinations that I might try.  Perhaps dried fruit and dark chocolate.  Or pretzel pieces and milk chocolate.

Do you make a chocolate bark for the holidays?  What is your favorite chocolate bark combination?

Finished white chocolate and peppermint bark

Baking My Way Through Baked – The Fourth Recipe – OR Holiday Baking Round Two

December is traditionally a month filled with baking for me.  This year, I’ve decided to tone it down…..just a little.  Instead of baking dozens and dozens of cookies, I’ve decided to bake one item to bring to the Christmas gatherings this December.  So, for the Christmas gathering this past weekend, I decided to bake a recipe from Baked.

I’ve never made a flourless chocolate cake before but when I’ve had them I’ve either really really really liked them or really really really didn’t like them.  There is a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake in Baked and I decided to give that one a try.  The description sounded so delicious that I really couldn’t pass this one up.

Chocolate and more chocolate

So, if you’ve made a flourless chocolate cake you already know that this cake is basically just eggs and chocolate.   A lot of chocolate.  Seriously.  The entire kitchen smelled like chocolate.  Yum.  Yum.  Yum.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

This batter will never be referred to as a beautiful batter.  It is soooo lumpy.  Trying to fold the egg whites into the batter was like folding egg whites into day old fudge.  The consistency was really weird.  I’m guessing that this is how a flourless cake is supposed to be but it was really strange.  But it smelled delicious.

Looks weird. Smells great.

When I pulled it out of the oven, it was huge!  It had puffed up beautifully.  However, soon after I put it on the wire rack to cool, it deflated.  Every time that I have had a flourless chocolate cake, it’s been a flat and brownie-like cake so I wasn’t too worried.  However, I have absolutely  no idea what it was supposed to look like so I just hoped that it would be ok.  Maybe it is supposed to be taller and lighter.  This is the downside of Baked.  There just aren’t enough pictures.  I love a cookbook that has a picture for each recipe.  Not only is it fun to look at, but it is helpful when you are pondering whether or not your recipe has turned out properly.

Flat cake

The great thing about ganache is that is covers everything.  This ganache was really more like a frosting than the ganache that I’ve seen on cooking shows, but it covered the ridges on the cake and made it look pretty great.  I was pretty excited to taste the finished product.

Pretty

The verdict:  This is really really really rich.  It’s very dense and very very very chocolatey.  I recommend making sure that you have a tall glass of something to drink if you are going to eat this cake.  I also highly recommend trying this recipe when you pick up your own copy of Baked. This one is definitely a keeper.  And, I feel like it tastes even better the next day.

Chocolate. Chocolate. And more chocolate.

Christmas Baking – Round One

I  have always loved Christmas baked goods.  Cookies, cake, pie, etc., etc., etc.  This year, I have decided to be a bit less ambitious with my baking, though.  Last year, I made several different types of cookies and was baking nonstop for several days.  This year, I decided to do just a couple different types.  Christmas is a great time to be ambitious with baking and perhaps next year I’ll try to get a little more crazy with my baking.  The gingerbread house below was baked when I was very little and since then I have longed to be the kind of baker that could make holiday desserts that cause such awe as can be seen in the photo below.

Yum. Cake.

I remember my grandma and my mom both attempting and executing lovely gingerbread houses.  The last time that I attempted a gingerbread house, the walls had to be held up with cans of soup on the inside of the house.  I’m thinking that that kind of baking will be a long long long term goal.  Sometimes, it’s best to start small……

First up for this year’s baking: baklava.

I had a holiday party to go to and told the host that I would bring something baked.  My choice this year was baklava because I wanted to bring something that I was fairly certain that no one else would bring.

Last year, when baking baklava, I found my recipe on Foodnetwork.com.  This year was no different.  I used this recipe for the baklava.

The baklava baking started with some drama.  First off, I started way later in the evening than I had planned on but Ryan and I had a ton of errands that we needed to run and were out of the apartment almost all day.  Secondly, it was once I started chopping nuts that I realized that the recipe called for walnuts and not pecans.  Ugh.  Luckily, I had some walnuts in the freezer and some almonds so I did a quick substitution.

I make a couple alterations to the recipe.  First, I added two long pieces of lemon peel instead of just one.  Secondly, I chopped the nuts but not too finely.  I like to have that texture difference that you get from different sizes of nuts.

If I do say so myself, this was my best batch of baklava to date.  The honey was not too sweet and has a nice amount of spice in it.  The pieces held their shape fairly well.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Yummy! Yummy! Yummy!

Deliciousness from 2010

In this week’s issue of Time Out Chicago, they have their annual list of “100 Best Things We Ate (And Drank) This Year.”  It got me thinking about all of the yummy stuff that I’ve eaten this year.  And that made me ponder my own list.  Could I think of 100 things?  Probably if I worked on this for several weeks I could actually remember each item that I ate that is worth mentioning.  As I don’t really feel like working on the same post for weeks I give you:

10 of the Best  Things That I Ate This Year

(in no particular order)

Donuts & Mocha at The Depot American Diner.  Light.  Fluffy.  Freshly fried.  The first time that Ryan and I went to The Depot, they were already out of turkey, pot roast and donuts!  Needless to say, we left and ordered a pizza.  The next time that we went, I got the turkey sandwich (yummy!) and the donuts (yummy yummy!).  These donuts are ridiculous but the mocha dipping sauce really puts this dish over the edge into a new reality that regular donuts aspire to.

Mackenzie Phillips cookie at Cookie Bar.  Oh my goodness!  This cookie has everything that you might want!  Oatmeal.  Chocolate.  Peanut butter.  Caramel.  Potato chips.  I just checked out their website and I didn’t see the cookie offered anymore.  Perhaps this wasn’t a big hit, but I really liked it.  The potato chips didn’t really jump out but they gave a nice salty bite to the cookie.  If this one is off of the menu, I guess I’ll have to try the potato chip chocolate chip cookie.

Lemonade at Mario’s Italian Lemonade.  There are some foods that you will travel for.  The distance doesn’t matter.  Mario’s is not close to where we live.  It’s not close at all.  But there are many days during the summer when I’ll look at Ryan and he knows that that look means we need to take a drive.  You can get different flavors and combos of flavors at Mario’s but I have found that the standard lemon lemonade is the best.  Stick with the classic and it will never disappoint.

Lemon-Lavender Pound Cake at Table Fifty-Two. I was a bit nervous when I ordered this.  The entire meal had been simply delicious and I was pretty certain that Chef Art Smith would be able to make a darn good pound cake.  However, each time that I have had lavender cooked or baked into something, it tasted like a fancy soap.  This cake was so incredibly light.  It was as light as a pound cake could possibly could be.  The lavender taste was so soft that I barely noticed it.  The citrus was a fantastic balance for the lavender.  And it tasted nothing like soap.

Charcuterie Plate at The Publican.  I’ve found that when you have absolutely  no idea what to order, either because it all sounds delicious or it all sounds kind of weird, the best option is to do a chef’s choice or a sampler platter of some sort.  With the charcuterie plate, you get a great variety of meats done by people who know what they are doing.  I never would’ve ordered head cheese, but it is truly delicious.  Now, would I order head cheese at just any ol’ restaurant?  Probably not.  I’m going to save that one for a place where I know it’s going to be done right.

Lair of the Minotaur at Kuma’s Corner.  I’ve never had a bad burger at Kuma’s.  Never.  It’s always delicious.  And they have Jack Daniels on tap.  Seriously.  There’s a tap for whiskey.  This particular burger is covered in brie, caramelized onions, pancetta, and bourbon soaked pears.    All of those foods are delicious on their own but when you throw them on top of a perfectly cooked burger you get something incredibly scrumptious.

Noodles  – any noodles – at Urbanbelly.  OK.  So on this one I am kind of cheating.  I can’t choose just one type of noodle at Urbanbelly.  The specials are delicious.  The Urbanbelly Ramen is delicious.  The “whatever-Ryan-got-last-time” is delicious.  When you want a big bowl of something warm and comforting some might want a big bowl of mac ‘n cheese.  Me, I want a big bowl of ramen from Urbanbelly.

Parfait at Scooter’s Frozen Custard.  Although I had been to Scooter’s many times before, I only discovered the parfait this summer.  It reminds me of the gelati at Rita’s.  When I lived in Florida for an internship, a couple of my friends and I would take almost weekly trips to Rita’s to get a gelati.  I had not been able to find anything that had that same taste until this summer when I finally actually read the entire menu at Scooter’s instead of just grabbing the monthly concrete.  From now on, I think that I will rarely get anything but the parfait.

Lardo Crostini at The Purple PigLardo.  Lardo on bread.  Do I really need to write anything else?  When it comes to your table, the lardo is melted right on to the crostini.  The lardo melts in your mouth.  I know that it sometimes sounds cliche or silly when people say that a food melts in your mouth.  But it does.  I promise you.  Go to The Purple Pig.  Order the lardo.  Write me a thank you note.

Salt-Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese & Pistachio Vinaigrette at The Purple Pig.  When I find something that I really love, I will order it each time that I go to that restaurant.  Yes, the rest of the menu might be outstanding but I get dedicated to that one item.  My dedication at The Purple Pig is for the beets.  When you look at the menu at The Purple Pig, you may just see the many meat filled foods.  However, please please please do not overlook the veggies!  The salt-roasted beets are insane and goat cheese on a beet is soooooooo yummy.

So, that’s my list.  I’m sure that I’m missing something else that was truly outstanding that I ate this year.  Don’t worry.  There’s always 2011.

Baking My Way Through Baked – The Third Recipe. (Or, Stressful Nights of Baking)

For work, I need to bring three dozen cookies in for a bake sale.  We are moving quickly toward the end of the semester and Christmas is fast approaching so I wanted to do some baking that would be fairly stress free.  I saw that Baked had a recipe for chocolate chip cookies so I decided that that would be the next item that I did as I bake my way through Baked.

All in all, this was a simple recipe.  The dough was very light.  I’m not entirely sure why that was (perhaps the sugar amount was different from others that I’ve done) but with sugar and butter mixture stayed nice and light and easy to work with.  And the dough tasted delicious.

Delicious.

I made an adjustment with the chocolate in the recipe.  I had a full bag of semisweet and a partial bag of bittersweet chocolate so I used that combo.

Mmmmmmmmm. Chocolate.

I realized after I had already started putting the dough on the parchment paper that the recipe asks you to refrigerate the dough for six hours before baking.  Ooops.  I assumed that that wouldn’t have too much of an effect on the finished product.  I have tested recipes that require you to refrigerate for 24 hours before baking and have tested recipes in which you can go right from mixing to baking and I really haven’t noticed that much of a difference with the doughs.  If anyone knows exactly what refrigerating cookie dough does to the dough, please let me know.  I’d love to hear some different opinions in regards to the time it should take to make cookies.

Now, this had the potential to be a great evening of baking.  And it would’ve been if the timer on the microwave had gone off.  Why didn’t it go off?  Did I actually forget to press the “start” button?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that the apartment smells like burnt cookies.  (Ryan has assured me that it just smells like cookies not burnt cookies.)  Three dozen burnt cookies.  Three dozen very very burnt cookies.

Dry. Overdone. Terrible. But not as terrible as.....

Chocolate Chip Charcoal

So, after a stressful moment, I calmly picked up the parchment paper and threw away the charcoal cookies.

I went to bed with the knowledge that I still had two nights available to get the baking done before I would actually have to turn the three dozen in for the bake sale.  Monday night, I decided to try again.  This time around, I also played around with the chocolate.  I didn’t have enough chocolate chips so I did three bars of semisweet and one bar of bittersweet.

Chocolate. Delicious chocolate.

Since I was going to put forth the effort to try these again, I decided to follow the directions a little closer this time as well.  As I wasn’t likely to stay up until midnight to bake these cookies, I decided that three hours in the refrigerator would probably be just fine.  I might be a tiny bit sleepy tomorrow but after the cookie charcoal briquettes of last night, I decided to put in a little more effort with this round of cookies.

So, after sitting in the fridge for a couple of hours, they were ready to go in the oven.  And then…..

Two dozen = fine. One dozen = burnt.

I don’t really understand what is going on.  Is there something in the recipe that I am missing?  Is there a huge heat pocket in our oven?  Am I just not meant to bake these cookies?  I had enough dough left over so that I was able to throw in another dozen.  I have my three dozen cookies but I am not sure if I will be attempting these cookies any time soon.  Two nights in a row of some stressful baking is about enough for me for a while.

At least until this weekend when I need to do some more baking…….