Monday, December 29, 2008

Amy and I made Rainbow Cookies AND Peanut Butter Kisses

Last Wednesday Amy came over. We had the need to bake. She consulted the internet and pulled up a very delicious looking recipe for rainbow cookies (or "seven layer cookies", as they are called in the recipe.) "Those are my favorite cookies!!"*** I proclaimed. Then we skimmed the recipe, and one note stood out: "THESE COOKIES MUST BE CHILLED FOR AT LEAST 8 HOURS!!!!" it said. Well, we did not have 8 hours. So we determined that the only way to make these cookies together would be to plan a sleepover. So we planned one.

With that dilemma solved, we decided to look for a recipe more suited to the short length of time we had together that afternoon, and settled on these:

Peanut Butter Kisses!

We followed the recipe pretty much as is.


1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar, for rolling
24-48 chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped (number depends on the size of the cookies)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter and peanut butter in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and salt; continue beating until well mixed. Add flour and baking soda. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.

Shape dough into 1 or 2-inch balls. (If dough is too soft, refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes.) Roll balls in 1/4 cup sugar. (Note: We didn't "roll" ours. I find that the sugar on the bottom of the cookie can sometimes burn in the oven. Instead, we just pressed the tops of the cookies into the sugar.) Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until very lightly golden brown. Immediately press 1 chocolate kiss in center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheets; cool completely on wire racks.

They were very sweet, slightly chewy, and very comforting. They were also the kind of cookies that you find yourself eating way too many of without realizing it.

Rolling those cookies - see the motion!

Pressing the tops of the cookies into sugar.

Amy is dancing with the cookies before they go in the oven.

We couldn't decide on which kind of kisses to buy, so we got both traditional Hershey kisses and "hugs" with white chocolate. Here they are just waiting to be pressed into the centers of those cookies.

Look at those guys:

WARNING: If you don't let the cookies cool enough before moving them, this may happen:

...and it may make you sad.

A few days later, the rainbow cookie sleepover went down. It was crazy.

This was the recipe that inspired us.

Seven-Layer Cookies
Perfect as printed in Gourmet, December 2005

Time: These take at least 11 hours from beginning to end, most of it inactive, but make sure you have a good 2 to 3 hour window to bake in

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

Special equipment: a small offset spatula, a heavy-duty stand mixer if you have one; a hand-mixer should work as well (GUESS WHAT. I do not have ANY of these things and it worked out fine. Don't sweat it.)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper. (GUESS WHAT #2: We bought three of those disposable pans so that we could bake each layer simulaneously. I recommend it. SO we lined the 3 pans with wax paper and greased them all at once.)

Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl. (GUESS WHAT #3: Just use a whisk.)

Switch to paddle attachment (WHISK), then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined. (GUESS WHAT #4: WE had a BAKING EMERGENCY when we realized that we forgot to add the flour/salt!!!! BUT it was ok. We discovered in time to add them just before they went in the oven.)

Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick). (FORGET this, just bake em all at once like I said.)

Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook. They’ll look like they’re not done, but a tester does come out clean.)

Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with parchment or wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.

When all layers are cool, invert green onto a parchment or wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax or parchment paper.

Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours. (NOW the sleepover truly begins!!! IF you are like Amy and I, this means that now is the time to make baked tofu and watch Blondie videos on Youtube. But feel free to do any sleepover activity that you enjoy.)


Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water. (Alternately, you can do what I did: melt the chocolate 3.5 ounces at a time just to make sure it doesn’t seize up between steps, though that shouldn’t be a problem if you only let it set for 15.)

Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Cut lengthwise into 4 strips (I cut them into more, because I wanted them 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide, as I remember them). Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.

Do ahead: Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks. They’ll keep even longer in the freezer.

THE original baker (DEB) added these three "important notes":

I struggled with three things in this recipe (the first two were mistakes, and both came back to bite me in the tuchus) so you won’t have to:

1. Don’t stack cooled cakes: Once my first two cake layers were cool (and still on their parchment liners) and I needed to make room on the cooling rack for the third one, I went ahead and stacked them, their liners between them. DON’T DO THIS. Not because they crush each other (they won’t) or because they’ll stick (they don’t) but because that paper liner is greased on both sides from baking and the chocolate shell never quite stuck right to the pink cake because of the grease accidentally left on it. I can’t tell you how many cookies were rejected because their chocolate fell off. It is too sad to discuss.

2. Be careful dividing your jam: I mindlessly divided the jam wrong/unevenly and ended up with too much between one layer and too little between another. Too little was no biggie, but where there was too much it oozed out and was particularly difficult to keep stacked when sawing through with a serrated knife. So, if you’re using a scale to make two six-ounce divisions of jam, remember that you’ve probably strained out a good ounce or so of jam solids, or in other words DUH. Your divided amounts will be less than six ounces each.

3. They’re easier to cut when frozen: Nevertheless, they tasted amazingly and I was all ready to do a victory lap around my wee kitchen counter, however, when I got to cutting them up and then it all went south. People, these were trying to cut. The problem lies within the differing textures of the layers — the top hard chocolate shell more benefits from a sharp serrated knife (a regular, even very sharp knife will crack the edges when you press down on it), the same serrated knife that gets gummed with jam and tries to pull the soft cake layers in between apart. It was exasperating. It didn’t go well. I packed up some for a party and stuffed the rest in the freezer, only to discover the next day that these cut fantastically when frozen. Seriously. Trust me. I have the gummy floor and gray hairs to prove it

THESE cookies are seriously so fun to look at. I can't stop eating and looking at them.

When you don't have fancy equipment, and a whisk isn't cutting it, just mush the batter together like Amy is doing here. Check out her awesome nails.

Three layers getting ready to bake.

Apricot jamming it.

All the layers together! This was before they went in the fridge to chill.

Applying the melted chocolate:

After the chocolate cooled:

Close up:

So many.

Amy was good at cutting these.

***Besides Thin Mints.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I made stuffed peppers

Last night I was on a quest to find something new and different but not too labor intensive to make for dinner. I knew I wanted something that was healthy and light (especially after a few days of rich holiday food) but still delicious and comforting. I finally settled on stuffed peppers. I had never made them before but had the idea to incorporate my latest obsession: quinoa. I searched all over the internet for the perfect recipe and finally settled on adapting this recipe from epicurious, which I will now copy and paste in order to show my adjustments (in bold).

Roasted Bell Pepper Halves Stuffed with
Quinoa and Spinach

(The recipe originally called for bulgur. But seriously, why would anyone stuff a pepper with bulgur when they can use quinoa? Especially since the latter is much easier to prepare. And more delicious. And prettier.)

  • 3 red bell peppers (2 large and 1 small)
  • 2 large yellow bell peppers (I also used orange... this recipe is for 4 peppers, but I had enough stuffing for 5.)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided. (I'm sure I used more.)
  • 2 cups no-chicken broth (I always cook quinoa in broth for flavor, but water is ok too... maybe just add some more salt.)
  • 1 cup red quinoa (the regular kind is fine too, but red is prettier)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 4-5 shallots, coarsely chopped (my addition...added a nice sweetness to the flavor I think.)
  • 2 cloves garlic (also my addition because it just seemed wrong to leave it out.)
  • 1 6-ounce bag fresh baby spinach leaves (I used a big bushel on unpackaged spinach...had to be more than 6 0z...)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1-2 cups crumbled feta (The recipe called for 1 cup/4 oz. F that. Why be stingy with your feta? The rest of this meal is so healthy and besides, feta is not a very fattening cheese. I think I used about two cups.)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut large red and yellow (and orange!) bell peppers in half through stem end. Remove seeds and cut out ribs, leaving stems intact. Finely chop small red bell pepper; set aside. Spread 1 tablespoon oil over rimmed baking sheet. Place pepper halves, cut side down, on prepared sheet. Roast 15 minutes. Turn over; roast until slightly softened, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven.

Meanwhile, combine quinoa and broth in medium sauce pan. (Some quinoa needs to be rinsed first, but now there are several "no rinse" brands. Check instructions on the package.) Bring to boil, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. It's ready when the texture is soft and fluffy and the grains have little yellow strands on them.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, let cook for about a minute, then add shallots and chopped red pepper; sauté until beginning to brown. Add currants and pine nuts; sauté 2 minutes. Add cumin; stir 20 seconds. Mix in spinach; stir until beginning to wilt, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in quinoa, mint, and dill. Stir in half of cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Divide quinoa mixture among pepper halves. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Bake stuffed peppers until heated through, about 25 minutes (or 30 minutes if chilled); serve.

Plain peps:

About to go in the oven:

Fresh out the oven:

It was sooo tasty and so aesthetically pleasing! The peppers were nice and blackened... and the red quinoa, spinach, feta, etc is so colorful. At first I was a little skeptical of the flavor combination. Combining cumin, mint and dill seemed strange to me. And the currants seemed out of place. But I decided to trust the recipe and it worked! The best thing I've made in weeks. Now I am going to see how many other varieties of stuffed peppers I can come up with...

AK says:

Also there was this salad. It was so good! It had chickpeas, pepperoncini, black olives, red onion, romaine lettuce, carrot...and probably some other things. I ate a lot of it.

ALSO: Alice was there and seemed excited about our dinner too.

This is what it all looked like on the plate. I ate every bite of that food.

Thanks for cooking that delicious dinner.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I attempted Tortilla Soup

...and it was pretty good. It was a last minute decision on Tuesday. It was very cold outside, and I had just done a whole lot of laundry, and I was starving. I was in the mood for something spicy and hot and delicious. I also knew I had a good amount of the ingredients necessary for tortilla soup in my kitchen, including a whole lot of cilantro that was on its way to going bad. I searched around on Epicurious and settled on adapting

this recipe.

I adjusted the proportions slightly because I was only making soup for one (I still ended up making enough for two huge bowls, which I ate almost all of). I decided to use three cups of stock (I actually used chicken stock instead of vegetable stock, because that is what I had). I did not use "non-stick vegetable oil spray" as the recipe suggests - I used olive oil. I also cut out the zucchini and I added a LOT of lemon juice, which I think is vital to the recipe - the soup needs the zesty-ness. I also chopped up some tomatos and threw them in there.

I liked the fact that the recipe suggests cutting up tortillas and putting them in the soup as it cooks - it gives it a really good corn flavor and thickness. I also crisped up two additional small corn tortillas in the toaster oven and crumbled them on top for extra texture, along with cubed avocado and some grated sharp white cheddar. A more traditional mexican cheese would probably have been better, but you gotta use what you got in the fridge.

I am looking forward to making this soup again with a bit more preparation and some more authentic ingredients. BUT at least now I know I can make a very tasty tortilla soup with basic ingredients that are usually on hand in my kitchen.

This is what it looked like !

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We made risotto

Lately I am obsessed with the recipes from NY Times "Recipes for Health" series. It highlights a certain food each week, often one that is commonly overlooked but has surprising nutritional value, and offers several recipes that feature it. I like it because when I am bored of cooking the same things all the time, it reminds me of something I've forgotten about. Or it just offers more creative ways of cooking seemingly boring staples (it has featured foods like potatoes, cabbage, etc.) Last week the focus was winter squash. Joey, Alena and I decided that the Risotto with Roasted Winter Squash would be the perfect antidote for a bitterly cold Saturday evening.

Here is the recipe:

It was DELICIOUS. You cook the rice with a portion of the squash, so it melts into the risotto and makes the whole thing butternut-flavored. Some risottos use butter, but this just uses olive oil, vegetable broth, white wine and some Parmesan. Still tasted very rich and creamy. This was my first time making risotto--I'd always been intimidated. It's not difficult, but it does require a lot of attention (adding a little liquid, stirring, more liquid, stirring), so it's good for when you're not in a rush and feel like doing something a little more involved.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I baked cookies.

I was invited to a "Solstice Party" yesterday, and I felt like baking. I decided to make oatmeal cookies, and looked through my kitchen to discover some walnuts and chocolate chips that I added to the mix. I decided to use the recipe from "Joy of Baking". Their cookie recipes are usually pretty great.

Here it is!! (With my comments.)

1 cup (110 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped (optional)

1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup (215 grams) light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup (105 grams) all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (next time I might even add a 1/4 teaspoon, I love cinnamon.)

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (I used the "quick cooking" rolled oats which were fine too.)

Preheat oven to 350.

Toast nuts for a few minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool and then chop into pieces. Set aside.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. (I used aluminum foil.)

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until creamy and smooth (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat until incorporated. Stir in the nuts, oats, and dried cranberries or chocolate chips.

For large cookies, use 1/4 cup of batter and space the cookies about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Then wet your hand and flatten the cookies slightly with your fingers so they are about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. Bake the cookies for about 12 - 15 minutes at 350 degrees, or until light golden brown around the edges but still soft and a little wet in the centers. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

These were a hit at the party. They go well with spiked apple cider.