Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Classic Madeleine

What a strange week it has been. Snow had her first visit with her new vet earlier this week and got a clean bill of health. I had my doctor's appointment as well and got a new prescription and a chance for more tests thanks to my deteriorating bones. I also learned that my friend Karin who feeds over a hundred homeless people each week with great home cooked meals is embroiled in a bureaucratic Catch-22.

It appears that Pima County has hired a chief "Food Sanitarian" for their staff. Her job is supposed to be to keep area restaurants in line with cleanliness standards (a much needed thing with some of the places that haven't received good grades in years but somehow remain open). However, this lady has decided that she doesn't have enough to do trying to clean up the habitual commercial offenders and has decided to go after charities and private citizens.

She recently sent letters to Karin and several charitable groups which provide such horrific things as home cooked meals, soup, or hot cocoa for the homeless telling them they had to stop giving them any food or, and this is the kicker, rent a commercial kitchen, pay her to inspect it, obtain a license to serve and sell food provided by her, buy a "food service truck" valued at over $50,000 also inspected by her, then obtain licenses from the city, county and state to serve food in public places, plus obtain a city permit each time they go out for an "event" as well as "event" insurance coverage. (Amazingly, it appears that bake sales, church suppers for parishioners, club functions and other such things are somehow exempt from these rules.)

In short, this bureaucrat has decided that the homeless eating out of trash cans is just fine on her watch but having caring and kind people making sure they get a balanced meal just like they would if they had a home is not. Her reply to inquiries is that she is "just looking out for the homeless."  It appears to me she's looking out for expanding her department and trying to create work for herself at a time of massive budget cuts by the government. Interestingly, just before the budget crisis this woman increased her staff significantly (almost by 100%) to deal with the commercial trade backlog.

Anyway, there has been quite a bit of outrage at the hypocrisy of a "Food Sanitarian" who wants to send people back to dumpster diving in the guise of "keeping them safe from contaminated food." It'll be interesting to see what happens. Karin is not backing down, nor are the other groups who are citing a humanitarian crisis.

So, that's been my week thus far. Yesterday, after such success with the Coconut Madeleine, I decided to try some classic Madeleine. These beautiful and buttery little shell shaped cakes turned out wonderfully (even if I let them go about a minute too long while chatting with a friend at the door). This remains my all time favorite French pastry treat and I was hard put to get the photo done before I devoured them! Michael even likes these despite his decided lack of sweet tooth - he polished off two after supper!

I used lemon peel instead of the classic orange peel as a flavoring in my Madeleine simply because I had more lemons on hand and love lemon flavor. Either will work just fine.

So, here are some classic Madeleines full of buttery sponge cake goodness!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Checkerboard Cookies

There are all sorts of recipes out there for Checkerboard Cookies. You can find them using straight sugar cookie dough and classic pate sablee dough. You can find them with chocolate and mint or other flavors. But what they all have in common is the checkerboard design within the cookie.

As I was casting about for some cookies to take to Karin this week for the homeless, I came across this recipe in a very old cookbook from the 1950's. I decided to give it a try using some Lindt chocolate that I had on hand. These little cookies were very good, with the subtle flavor often found in a sablee dough. They are the sort of "melt in your mouth" cookies so often associated with cookies served with tea in those long gone days of gentility and neighbors visiting in the afternoon to swap gossip. Somehow, status updates on Facebook just aren't the same!

The book I found these in is called The General Foods Kitchen Cookbook and was published in 1959 by Random House and dedicated "to women everywhere...from the women of General Foods Kitchens." I suppose in 1959 a guy baking in the kitchen would have seemed very, very foreign. Oh well, how times change.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Coconut Madeleine

Many years ago, more than I care to recall, my older brother lived in San Diego. Growing up all of the kids in my neighborhood dreamed of moving to Southern California. After all, it was the setting of nearly every TV show in the 70's. We all figured we would move out there, buy Trans-Ams and become private detectives.

As fate would have it, I was the one in the neighborhood who made it to Southern California thanks to my brother. Starting in the late 70's I began spending my Summers out there. While there was no Trans-Am or private detective school, I had a great time and it really opened up my eyes to a much larger world.

Some years later, I moved out to San Diego to attend college briefly. During that time, one of my favorite activities was taking the brand new trolley from our house in Chula Vista to the Gaslamp Quarter and the harbor. One of those favorite stops was Seaport Village. Modeled on a 19th Century fishing village the place was a combination of shops and restaurants with a "Disney-esque" feel to the romanticized architecture. It was a charming place full of interesting book stores, gift shops, and artists galleries. They also had a great little French p√Ętisserie (alas long gone). That is where I discovered the world of French pastry!

I loved the Tuile, those lacy and delicate cookies and the various types of eclairs were to die for. Longue de Chat was a delight but my all time favorite pastry was the Madeleine. Yes, this buttery little sponge cake shaped like a shell could send me into shivers of delight. Each time I would make my trip to Seaport Village I would come away with at least a couple Madeleine and then sit by the water to watch the ships and boats while I indulged.

I've always wanted to make my favorite little treats, but never could bring myself to buy a Madeleine pan. After all, spend money on a pan for just ONE treat? Finally, I accrued enough reward points on a website to get a Williams-Sonoma gift card. I decided to splurge and finally get my Madeleine pan.

My first try with it was an updated version of the classic pastry. This version uses coconut and features a wonderful sponge cake base. It's very tasty and I found that brushing my little cakes with a bit of Coconut Rum (like Malibu) made them even tastier!

This recipe made a bit more than my pan would hold. I didn't want to wait to let the pan cool then wash it and re-butter and flour it again for another batch, so I took the leftover batter and simply buttered and floured two small ramekins. I then baked those for about 20 minutes at 375° and ended up with two lovely mini-cakes. I then brushed them with sugar syrup flavored with rum for a great little rum cake!

So, here is Coconut Madeleine adapted from Ina Garten's recipe. In the next few weeks I'll also post a classic Madeleine recipe as well. So stay tuned!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jam Kisses

Finally, I have gotten some baking done this week. We've been getting used to Snow and she's been getting used to us. That's thrown me off somewhat from my regular routine. Of course, we've also had to make arrangements for a vet check-up and other routine things when you have a new dog. That's taken up a lot of my time this past week.

But, I did have a chance to play with a recipe I ran across in Cook's Country recently. The original of this recipe is a hazelnut and lemon combination. I didn't have any hazelnuts handy so adapted it using an almond meal that I have in the pantry. I then decided to experiment with both lemon flavors and strawberry. The result was great and I really enjoyed these. I did learn a lesson a little later in the process, let the jam or preserves come to room temperature before baking the cookies. My first batch was made with lemon curd right out of the refrigerator and it didn't really spread that well into the center of the cookies. By the second batch, my jam had come up to room temperature and when placed in the oven, spread nicely and bubbled up.

These are delicious little cookies and a snap to make.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Snow's Favorite Chicken Flavored Dog Treats

What a whirlwind few days it has been! On Thursday we welcomed a new addition to the family. Snow is a 5-year-old Cockapoo that needed a home. She'd been a guest at the Animal Inn where Michael works part time and he'd fallen in love with her during her visits. When her family needed to find a new home for her we decided to adopt her.

She's an incredibly sweet and well-mannered girl and as we found out yesterday at the dog park, fearless. She thought nothing of trying to rough house with a pair of Rottweilers that dwarfed her tiny stature! She's very quiet too. I have yet to hear her bark and everyone she meets is a new friend.

To welcome her to her new home, I decided to make some homemade treats for her. I decided to try out a recipe I've had for some time for chicken flavored treats. These are made much like a very crisp bread and include yeast. They get their flavor from chicken stock (homemade is best). I also include a little garlic for added flavor and because I've found it is good as a natural flea repellent.

Snow loves these treats and now looks for one every time one of us goes into the kitchen! These are actually very easy to make and since you control the ingredients are far superior to many of the cheap biscuits found in the grocery store. So, if you can't afford the super expensive all organic things, give these a try. Besides, it's nice to bake with your best friend and companion sometimes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spritz Cookies & Equipment Review

First of all, our condolences here at Sugar Pies to the families of the victims of the tragic shooting here in Tucson on Saturday morning at our local Safeway. The events transpired just a short distance from our home in Northwest Tucson and Gabrielle Giffords is our Congresswoman. We wish her and all those wounded a speedy recovery and our thoughts are with those families who lost a loved one.

Since we upgraded our TV, I decided to take our rather small TV and turn it into a computer monitor. It's astounding we used it as a TV for almost three years because sitting on my desk it's not too much bigger than my old monitor! No wonder my eyesight seemed to be going so quickly! When I ordered a new cable to hook up the TV as a monitor I also decided to get a Wilton Cookie Press. I'd been wanting to do some pressed cookies and the price of the Wilton version was very good.

I ordered one at and it arrived on Saturday. My first foray with it was to use some of my leftover apple spice cookie dough. It did a magnificent job, turning out dainty and beautiful little circular cookies.

I decided to move on to a classic Spritz Cookie recipe. Spritz Cookies are those wonderful butter cookies with a hint of almond that most of us enjoy around the holiday season. I sprinkle them with some coarse Turbinado sugar for a little sparkle and crunch.

This recipe turns out delicious little butter cookies that are a joy to eat. In fact, I've polished off a couple dozen in the last 24 hours and keep having to put my container of them in the cabinet lest I just sit and eat them all!

The Wilton Cookie Press has proved a very good investment. It's very easy to use and breaks down for easy cleaning with warm soap and water. The cookies turn out beautifully and it features a fluted bottom that rests directly on the cookie sheet so that each cookies turns out well proportioned and you can fit a large number on a sheet. Usually, the first cookie is a little misshapen and requires two "clicks" on the trigger. But, the baker must always have a cookie to test so it works out perfectly. I'd certainly recommend this press for a budget alternative to the more expensive varieties. The kit includes 12 shape disks for a variety of cookies. In fact, I can't wait to try out the square version on my English Coconut Biscuits.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Apple Spice Cookies

Happy New Year! Hope you had a great holiday season. It's nice to be back with new recipes for 2011.

Last weekend we took a trip up to Prescott Valley, AZ to visit family. It's still strange for me to see so much snow since I'm from South Carolina. This weekend turned out to be quite cold - it didn't get above freezing until we were leaving on Sunday and even then there was another snow storm moving into the area. Although it didn't snow while we were there, several inches had fallen the night before we arrived and it was quite snowy and icy. Still, the scenery was beautiful despite the cold wreaking havoc with my various bone problems.

Our last day in Prescott Valley we took the nieces and nephews shopping and out to lunch. We decided to let them choose the place to eat. That proved to be quite an ordeal and I have to relate part of the conversation that turned out to be hilarious...

Michael: Max, have you ever eaten at an Indian restaurant?
Max: No, what kind of food do they have?
Peter: Indian Food.
Max: Like what? Cowboy?

The rest of the outing continued in a similar vein and it's been a long time since I laughed so much. We finally ended up at a family style restaurant called Zeke's Eatin' Place which turned out to be fairly good. By the way, if you are in Prescott Valley and need a great place to stay, check out the Hampton Inn. We were so pleased with our accommodations there and really enjoyed the hot and cold continental breakfast buffet each morning (our niece Katie is in charge of it).

It's nice to be home though and back to some baking. This week I decided to try my own original recipe for Apple Spice Cookies.

These turned out very nicely. The cookies are soft and flavorful with hits of apple flavor alongside cinnamon and allspice. I topped them with just a bit of royal icing, but you could use nearly anything as an icing or glaze (I also found they're superb plain.) This dough does need to be chilled before you scoop it out. For the apple cider it is best to use a dark opaque cider (often found at organic/natural food grocers) rather than the light, golden colored cider. The darker cider gives a much better flavor to the cookie.

So, Happy New Year and best wishes for a flavorful and fun 2011!

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