Ninjas and Gingahs

Christmas was quite good to me this year. My parents’ gifts to me and my husband were a Ninja Mega Complete Kitchen System and a set of embarrassingly nice steak knives. I’m not lying to you when I say I almost cried when my husband unwrapped the Ninja set. As soon as we returned home, we packed our old blender and its components into a box and threw it in the big trash can in the garage.   Good riddance.

I haven’t yet cooked anything that requires the use of the new steak knives, but my Ninja is almost the coolest thing I’ve ever owned. All of this is to say, you might expect it to make some appearances on the blog in the near future. I mean, the things that system can do!

For Christmas, I was tasked with preparing dessert. My father is a diabetic and a dialysis patient, so his diet is extremely limited. Since gingersnaps are among his favorite cookies, I chose a recipe from the DaVita dialysis website for some soft ginger cookies. Remember my recent post about my peppermint cheesecake cookies that tasted delicious but fell horribly flat? Well, I’m happy to report that I actually learned something from the experience. Here’s what I did differently with the ginger cookies:

  • Used butter softened at room temperature—not butter melted in the microwave.
  • Was ridiculously careful not to overmix the dough.
  • Chilled the dough in the fridge for several hours before baking it.

The cookies were so, so soft and didn’t fall flat at all! YAY!

Fresh out of the oven...

Fresh out of the oven…

Cooled, but not flat!

Cooled, but not flat!

Once they cooled, I transferred 28 cookies into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. After Christmas dinner, the five of us—my husband, my stepson, my parents, and myself—busted into the cookies as we played Aggravation. By the time the game was over, only four cookies remained. Five people, 24 cookies…you do the math.

Now, I will leave you with the Barf of the Week, courtesy of the above cookies:  Diarrhea Dough!

If only real diarrhea smelled this good.

If only real diarrhea smelled this good.

Amateur Candy Cane Pounder: or, Peppermint Cheesecake Cookies

Although I love to bake, I don’t do it very often. One reason is that it’s usually time consuming, and the other is that it would soil my plan of maintaining a healthy body weight. I typically channel my inner baker only for birthdays and holidays. And—oh my—Christmas is just around the corner!

I hadn’t thought much about baking any Christmas goodies yet this year. But I’ve been watching the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, and…well, try watching that show without getting a deadly craving for baked goods. Yesterday I finally made a date with Google to find a yummy recipe.

In an ideal world, I would have baked a cake. I LOVE CAKE. But the husband doesn’t care for cake, and for some reason I decided to be a nice wife and bake something we’d both enjoy. (Santa, are you taking notes?)

I settled on some Peppermint Cheesecake Cookies. My husband has been buying enough candy canes to warrant purchasing stock in Ferrara Candy Company, and everyone in my house just loves cheesecake. Win!

After a trip to the store to pick up some missing ingredients, my stepson asked if he could help bake the cookies. Ten years old and still wants to help me bake cookies—heart, please don’t melt! Of course I took him up on the offer.

The recipe calls for peppermint baking chips, which—of course—I couldn’t find at the grocery store. Why is there always ONE stupid ingredient you can’t find? Well, I’m an improviser if nothing else, so I purchased a ginormous peppermint candy cane for making my own peppermint chips.

The kiddo and I prepped the ingredients and while he mixed the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and pudding mix, I readied the candy cane for smashing.

Shit just got real.

Shit just got real.

I’m here to tell you, the way to a ten-year-old boy’s heart is to give him a candy cane and a mallet.

Before I tasked my stepson with the smashing of the candy cane, I took the first whack to make sure it would work. I hit it far too hard and sent shards of peppermint flying in every direction. Oops.

I think I broke it.

I think I broke it.

I gave the mallet to my stepson and instructed him not to hit too hard, and he gladly went to work breaking up the candy cane into little shards. While he created our impromptu peppermint chips, I mixed the flour into the batter until it made a nice, buttery cookie dough.

Boys and their tools...even in the kitchen.

Boys and their tools…even in the kitchen.

After several minutes, the candy cane was completely smashed but most of the shards were still pretty large. When we tried to smash them into tinier bits, they flew outward and landed on the floor, which excited my puppy to no end. Finally, I told my stepson to stop because I was tired of intercepting the dog’s consumption of the peppermint. Only then did the little light bulb come on. AHA!

I scooped up the peppermint shards and tossed them into my mini food processor. Within seconds, we had perfectly tiny peppermint bits to fold into the dough. What did I ever do without my food processors?

Eat my dust.  No really, it's delicious.

Eat my dust. No really, it’s delicious.

The dough made 24 beautiful cookies. After an agonizingly long cool-down, I split one cookie into thirds and we all taste-tested it. Delicious!

Yum times infinity.

Yum times infinity.

The only thing that disappoints me is that in the pictures in the recipe, the cookies are nice and puffy and look perfect—yet my cookies fell very, VERY flat. They still taste glorious, but damn it, I want my cookies to stay puffy!

I found this thread on Chow about preventing cookies from falling flat and it looks like there are several reasons mine turned into pancakes. For instance, I softened my butter a bit in the microwave and the bottom of it (but not the whole stick) straight-up melted. Since I had the kiddo do most of the mixing while I was measuring ingredients, the batter might have been over-mixed. Lastly, in hindsight I realize I probably should have chilled the dough a bit longer before sticking it in the oven.

Still, the cookies taste amazing. I guess I’ll just have to make another batch next weekend and see if I can make them stay puffy.  😀

 

 

Last Tree Standing

This was our Christmas tree two years ago:

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We had put it up a couple of days prior and we were rightfully nervous about it from the start. Reasons included:

  • Our cat Winston had tried his damnedest to conquer the tree the previous year. Anti-chew spray, tin foil around the base, and citrus scent—all touted to keep cats away from Christmas trees—did nothing. Zilch. Nada.
  • Our other cat, Orville, was still a kitten, and quite the playful one at that.
  • It was our first Christmas with two cats. ‘Nuff said.

The third night or so after we put up the tree, I awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. From the hallway, I saw a giant shadow in the middle of the living room floor and immediately had a bad feeling. I took a detour to check it out and sure enough, the tree was lying on its side with ornaments scattered in every direction.

F*%#ing cats.

But I love them to death.

We learned the next morning that the artificial tree was actually busted. In two places. Sadly, it was broken enough that we had to trash it. Last year we moved into a new house just before Christmas and without an existing tree, we decided not to even bother. It was the Bah-Humbuggiest Christmas we’ve ever had.

This year, we’re back in the full swing of Christmas decorating. The lights are up outside, faux pine garlands are strewn about, and our gorgeous new tree has been up for FIVE days!

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Five days might not seem like much and it’s still too early to assume it’ll still be standing on Christmas morning. Although our kitten is now a mature adult cat with little interest in the tree, we do have a puppy this time around.

When we purchased the tree, the nice cashier at Home Depot asked if we wanted the two-year replacement warranty for $18. She explained that if something were to happen to the tree over the next two years, if Home Depot can’t fix it, they’ll replace it. My husband and I shot each other a sly glance and asked her, “Does it cover dogs?” She guessed it doesn’t, so we passed. But so far (I repeat, so far) Samantha has left it alone.

Winston, on the other hand, thinks it’s a salad bar.

Other than awaking to a few ornaments (shatterproof, I might add) that have been knocked off during the night, the tree has been safe and sound. I’m not ready to let my guard down quite yet, but I’m not horribly pessimistic.

Samantha was quite baffled by the Christmas decorating process. But she does make quite the fashion statement with bubble wrap.

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IMG_0539

I'm watching you two...

I’m watching you two…

 

 

Dad’s Day

Yesterday I succeeded in helping my fiance’s son make some Father’s Day cheesecake brownies.  Today, I once again wore my baker’s hat so I could make my dad some of his own yummy treats.  My dad loves Heath candy bars and as luck would have it, my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (damn it, there I am plugging it again!) contains a recipe for chocolate toffee bars.

I’d like to say things went off without a hitch, but I did have a knock-down, drag-out fight with the crust.  I had originally lined the pan with aluminum foil, but when I scraped the batter dough into the pan, the foil slid and turned every time I tried to spread any of the dough.  I ended up taking out the foil and chiseling away the dough that was clinging on for dear life.  Once I had all of the dough in the unlined pan, things went a little more smoothly.  I let it bake for 15 minutes and then sprinkled it with chocolate chips.

The recipe advised leaving the chocolate chips for two minutes and then spreading the chocolate over the entirety of the crust.  At two minutes, they looked like they’d hardly softened at all.  But as soon as the spatula touched the chips, they magically transformed into chocolate frosting that spread beautifully over the crust.

All that was left was the pièce de résistance:  the chocolate-covered toffee pieces.  My dad’s lucky these survived the 20-minute drive to his house!

When we cut into them for dessert after the AMAZING ribs my mom cooked, something miraculous happened:  they didn’t stick to the pan…AT ALL!  For me, this is huge.  Also, slightly off topic, but–tonight I learned how to turn on a grill!  (Making fun of me is not allowed.)  I also learned why and how wood chips are used in grilling.  Now I just need to actually cook something on a grill.  That will be a squealing moment for sure.

To wrap up this post, I’ll share with you my other feat of the day.  I made some spicy red bean and corn soup that calls for a cup of chopped carrots.  Following the advice of the video I watched after my last carrot-chopping attempt, I managed to chop a carrot somewhat decently.  I still need practice, as chopping three small carrots took me at least a good five minutes–but things are looking up!

Pinterest-free week, day seven: To the moon and back

Well, it’s the final day of my “Pinterest-free week” and I have to say, though not all of my cooking was “successful,” per se, I feel like I learned a lot more this week than I have in the past months of my fumbling through recipes I’d found on Pinterest.

I spent a preposterous amount of time in my kitchen today.  It started around noon, when my fiance’s 8-year-old son and I teamed up to make some Father’s Day cheesecake brownies.  Last time (which was the first time) he helped me cook, I was a nervous wreck.  I thought:  I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m going to screw this up, and he’ll never again want a thing to do with cooking.  But this time, I was comfortable.  I did know what I was doing, I felt like there was only a slim chance I’d screw up, and I was relaxed enough that I knew I was making it enjoyable for him.  I taught him how to use a hand mixer and I learned that he’s better than I am at cracking eggs (okay, let’s be honest; this was a blow to my ego).

Now, before you see the picture, you need a bit of an explanation.  My fiance has a strange obsession with the moon.  Ask him anything:

Q:  Where do you want to go to dinner?
A:  The moon.

Q:  What do you want for your birthday?
A:  The moon.

Q:  What do you want to do this weekend?
A:  Go to the moon.

Q:  Where have you been?
A:  The moon.

So, while we prepared the batter, I laughed out loud when my fiance’s son said, “We should write ‘MOON’ on the top of this when it’s done!”  Good plan, little man.  Good plan.

And of course, when an 8-year-old is involved, there must be sprinkles.  I’m proud to report that these puppies were pretty darn delectable.

After an afternoon break that entailed purchasing wedding rings (yay!), I was right back in the kitchen making whole grain corn muffins and baked buffalo-style chicken nuggets.  The corn muffins had me a little nervous because the recipe involved a couple of things I haven’t dealt with much in my cooking adventures thus far.  First, I needed to make a “well” in the dry ingredients in which I would pour the wet ingredients.  Now, to me, a “well” is a vague term.  Are we talking a pot-hole sized well or a crater-sized well?  Or a well-sized well?  But it turned out the size of the well didn’t matter much.  I could only dig so much of a hole inside the dry ingredients before they all began to landslide back into the center of the bowl.  Here’s the kicker:  I’m still not sure why I had to go to all that trouble in the first place.  Once you pour the wet ingredients into the well you’ve made, you simply stir everything together until the dry stuff is moist.  Honestly, did the well play that big of a role?

However, I have no right to question anything.  I followed the directions like a good girl, and the corn muffins were so STINKING perfect.

I paired these babies with some baked buffalo-style chicken nuggets, which were also divine–even if they did make all three of us guzzle water and juice like it was going out of style.

(Random note to self:  you eat too many peas.)

It feels good to end Pinterest-free week on a good note.  My mom made the comment the other night that I no longer qualify for Worst Cooks in America, and I’m starting to think she’s right.  I’ve stumbled through some idiotic moments in the past four months, and while I’m sure I haven’t seen the end of them, I know I’m capable of doing this!  Bring it on, kitchen!

The Great Cheesecake War of 2012

At 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night, I declared myself certifiably insane.  I went from being nervous about making meatballs one night to taking a stab at making a chocolate-vanilla swirl cheesecake the next.  Up until five minutes into the first step of the cheesecake recipe, I didn’t realize that this was comparable to not being able to run half a mile one day and trying to run a marathon the next.

The first step was to finely crush 20 Oreo cookies to lay down as the crust of the cheesecake.  I counted out 20 cookies, tossed them in a mixing bowl, and stared at them for a few minutes before asking my fiance, “How should I go about crushing up these Oreos?”  I opened up every drawer in the kitchen in an attempt to find something good and heavy before he suggested I use the blender.  Oh, duh.  The blender.

I don’t use my blender often and when I do, it’s usually to make sauces for pasta dishes.  Being the expert chef that I am (not), I tossed six or seven whole cookies into the blender and pushed the CHOP button.  The blades of the blender were spinning but the cookies weren’t being chopped, let alone moving at all.  I tried various buttons, which all failed at putting even a chip in one of the cookies, and in the end I dumped them back into the mixing bowl and got out a big, heavy spoon.  I lift weights; I have strong arms.  Screw the blender, I can do this on my own!  Ha.  Hahahahahahahaha.

For five minutes, I tried crushing 20 Oreo cookies with a spoon.  Had I continued down that path, I might have grown gray hair by the time they were crushed finely enough to make a crust.  It was by far the most disorganized way of doing things, but this is how I finally accomplished crust-worthy crushed Oreos:  First, I smashed them enough with the spoon that they were small enough to move around in the blender.  However, the crumbs would all pile up under the blades, so I had to stop every few seconds and shake the jar to get all the bigger chunks to gather by the blades.  I discovered my blender has a CRUMB button (I’ve had the thing for two years, never knew that), so after another five minutes of CRUMB, stop, shake, CRUMB, stop, shake, I had a jar of soon-to-be Oreo crust.

I do things the hard way.

The crust took roughly half an hour.  I was overwhelmed and flustered.  I studied my kitchen counter, cluttered with ingredients, bowls, pans, and cookware, and knew I’d bitten off more than I could chew.  But I had promised my mother I was bringing dessert for Easter dinner and I refuse to be the kind of girl who lies to her mom.  I took a deep breath and started the next step of the recipe.

Aside from the intense, throbbing pain I felt in my triceps from stirring 32 ounces of cream cheese using a hand mixer, the rest of the cheesecake-makin’ went rather smoothly.  I learned that waiting for baking chocolate to melt is like watching paint dry, but that licking cheesecake batter off the beaters is even better than cookie dough or brownie batter.  If the crust had failed and all I had was this big bowl of deliciousness, I still would have been a happy girl:

When the cheesecake came out of the oven, I was really nervous about its texture and whether or not it was truly done.  But when I poked it the following morning, it felt just like a cheesecake should and I knew then that I had miraculously pulled it off.  This was confirmed after Easter dinner when all eight of us had a piece and all agreed I had, indeed, baked a great cheesecake.