Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The gift of years




When I started this blog a little over three years ago, I was an enthusiastic baker (and cook), but not a very experienced one. I wanted to broaden my horizons, but was nervous to try new recipes, reluctant to stray from recipes as written, and quick to panic when anything didn't go as planned. I eagerly joined challenges (the BBA followed by the Modern Bakers and the Mellow Bakers), hoping to learn more.



This Christmas, I really felt the difference the past few years have made. For one thing, I made everything - Christmas Eve dinner (chicken wild rice soup in bread bowls, salad with poppyseed dressing, doughnuts), Christmas morning breakfast (BBA cinnamon rolls), and Christmas dinner (glazed ham, mashed potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, sugared cranberries, rustic apple pie, and vanilla bean ice cream) completely from scratch, and without asking our guests to bring anything.



Recipes that just a couple of years ago gave me fits - Maida's big apple pie, which I swore I would never make again - came together without a hitch.

Mishaps were easily dealt with: when the roll dough I was working with (a new recipe that I'd altered slightly - still not sure what went wrong) just would not behave normally, even after an hour of doctoring/waiting, I tossed it and was still able to have fresh rolls on the table at 6:00.



I was able to add two new recipes: these sugared cranberries which looked beautiful and were a good way to use up part of a leftover bag of berries, and this from-scratch green bean casserole which I absolutely loved (but I'm glad I didn't try it for Thanksgiving because I don't think it would've gone over well with the traditionalists).

When I realized in the midst of getting ready to put the ham in the oven that I'd forgotten to buy apple cider, I confidently subbed in chicken broth, and wasn't upset when it meant that the final product wasn't quite as good as last year's.

I'm so happy that even though everything in my kitchen doesn't turn out perfectly every time, I now have the experience and confidence not to panic, or get frustrated and give up, or even worse, let it ruin the celebration. Because a happy, healthy family, gathered together around the table, laughing and eating, is of course what the holidays are really about.



Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday wishes

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it....


And wishes for sweet family time, love, peace, and joy to you all.







Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mint chocolate brownie cookies (Virtual cookie exchange)



Winter appeared with a bang last weekend, dumping about 14 inches of snow on us by bedtime on Sunday. Great fun for the kids; not so fun for us, especially living in the frozen tundra where they don't cancel school for a measly foot of snow.
School may not have been canceled, but the weather took its toll on the roads. It took my husband 90 minutes to travel home from work, a drive that usually takes 30. As for me, I was standing on the corner, waiting for my kindergartener's bus, in 19 degree weather, with a little girl who suddenly had to go potty. We stood freezing and waiting and worrying (and her, after a while, crying and dripping wet) for 45 minutes.
By the time we got home with our tired boy in tow, Mama needed a glass of wine. Or a brownie. Or a massage. Or all of the above, times 10.
I'm not actually a drinker, so instead I started browsing for a quick chocolate pick-me-up treat. I stumbled on these brownie cookies from KAF, and they looked like just the thing. The little girl washed up, and we got to work.

I had picked up some Andes mint chips the other day, and since chocolate and mint is one of the best combinations ever, I decided to doctor the recipe just a tad.
I'm not sure I'd describe these as brownies, but they definitely aren't like a regular cookie, either. They've got the most marvelous fudgy texture with a crackly top, and the family and I found them completely irresistible.
My friend Di is hosting her annual virtual cookie exchange today, and I'm happy to bring these along to the party. They come together quickly, and will improve your mood, whatever Mother Nature throws at you.

Mint chocolate brownie cookies
barely adapted from King Arthur Flour
8 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used a quality 70% 4 oz bar and 4 oz of semisweet chocolate chips)
1 1/2 oz unsalted butter
7 1/4 oz sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla
4 1/4 oz all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 oz mint chips
3 oz chocolate chips
1. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring after each, until the butter is melted and the chocolate is almost melted. Stir until the chocolate melts completely.
2. Beat the eggs and sugar in a mixer until combined. Add the butter/chocolate and beat until thoroughly mixed.
3. Use a spatula to gently mix in the rest of the ingredients.
4. Put the batter in the fridge for 30 minutes. (I actually left some in for a couple of days so we could bake a tray whenever we wanted.)
5. Preheat the oven to 325.
6. Drop the cookies in tablespoon-sized balls onto a pan covered with parchment or a baking mat. Bake for about 13 minutes, until the tops have some cracks or look set. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack (or your mouth).