Sunday, May 17, 2009

Milkshake redux.

There are a couple of telltale signs that summer is coming--being invited to barbecues, blockbuster movie releases (e.g. Star Trek!), TV show season finales, and this sudden urge to buy clothes to keep (and look, of course) cool. I went to a barbecue yesterday to celebrate a birthday, I watched Star Trek last weekend when it opened, I'm wondering if Holly will return next season on The Office, and I just bought a summer dress on Friday (omitting a few prior recent purchases). I think summer is well under way and it's not even Memorial Day yet.

The temperature high for today was probably well above 90 degrees, and just thinking of firing up the oven was enough for me to feel sweat beads forming on my forehead and nose. Baking was not going to be in the cards for today.

Growing up, one of my favorite after school treats was a banana milkshake. I would walk home from the bus stop (being bused to school), and that walk which included going over hills (it probably wasn't even really hilly, though, as a kid, I sure remember thinking it was hilly) on sweltering days felt never-ending. The prospect of the sweet, refreshing milkshake often helped make the oh-so-long one mile trek just a little bearable. Being outside today felt pretty close to unbearable. I thought of those banana milkshakes that I used to have in my youth and thought today would be a good day to revive them.

There's nothing fancy to them, it doesn't even require ice cream. And I made some modifications to it such as using honey instead of sugar and adding blueberries, now that I'm an adult, but it still brings me back to those after-school afternoons.

Banana-Blueberry Milkshake
Serves one

- 1 cup milk
- 1 medium banana
- 1/3 cup blueberries
- 1/4 cup honey

Add all ingredients in a blender, give it a whirl, pour into a tall glass, and drink with a straw.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A new believer?

I think I am back on my oatmeal kick. Yes, again. I can't seem to help it. Every time I make cookies, I just want to add oatmeal to it. There's something about the texture I can't get enough of. And lately, I've been in a sort of cookie mood which gets me back into the oatmeal mood. For a while I was eating brownies and a lot of chocolate anything, but maybe I needed a little break from the decadence. I know, impossible, right? Who ever needs a break from chocolate?

My coworkers organized a potluck for today, which meant an opportunity to try another cookie recipe. This is how much I needed a break from chocolate--I made oatmeal cookies with white chocolate. I have never really understood the appeal of white chocolate. White chocolate is real chocolate stripped of everything that makes it irresistible, the lesser distant relative to the granddaddy of all confection, the wannabe in the cocoa butter get the picture. In my past experience with white chocolate desserts (and by that, I just mean eating desserts with white chocolate), I always thought its sweetness outweighed and overshadowed any real flavor--there was no real flavor to white chocolate except sweet.

I adapted a recipe from that called for dried peaches. Dried apricots are easier to find, and with this new element to the oatmeal cookie repertoire, I thought white chocolate really could be the better complement in something like this combination. After trying out one of the cookies, it was the right creamy texture and sweetness to bring out the oatmeal, walnuts and dried apricots. I may be a new believer in white chocolate just yet, and there really can be a use for white chocolate--at least when it comes to cookies. I think I may even elevate it to first cousin or something like that to real chocolate.

Apricots and Cream Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Sunny Anderson's recipe on
Makes about 1-1/2 dozen 3" cookies

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

1. Whisk together in a bowl with a wire whisk:
- 3/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1/4 t. salt

2. Cream together in another bowl with an electric mixer:
- 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white sugar

3. Gradually mix in to the the butter mixture from #2, each of the following in order:
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 t. vanilla
- flour mixture from #1
- 1-1/2 cups rolled oats
- 3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 3/4 cup white chocolate chips

4. Form the cookie dough into approximately 18 balls, spacing each one about 3 inches apart on the baking sheet. Press each ball down with your fingers or palm to about 1/2 inch thick disks.

5. Bake for about 12 minutes or until the tops turn golden. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Good company.

About two weeks ago I hosted my first dinner at my not-so-new apartment for a group of friends. It was the first time I formally had people over, so this was pretty exciting! I saw something in the New York Times about making your own pizza dough from scratch, which inspired me to make this dinner get-together more interactive than just sitting around a table. It was a pizza-making party--I would prepare the dough ahead of time, provide basic toppings, and everyone else would bring their favorite toppings to create their own pizzas.

I don't know why I do this, but I tend to get inspired to make something I've never done before and invite people over to eat an untested recipe because I always think it'll turn out the way it's supposed to. This time, using a recipe from The New Best Recipe and never having made pizza dough ever before, I prepared the pizza dough, and I must have messed up something along the way because the dough did not rise the way it was supposed to. Actually, I don't think it rose at all. The recipe requires mixing the yeast with water of a certain temperature, and since I couldn't tell what temperature the water was, there was probably a good chance I killed the yeast altogether (can you kill yeast?). Regardless, even though the crust baked up flat, and it was certainly no New York-style pizza crust, the taste was good, and all our creations with the different toppings my friends brought were delicious.

Perhaps a take-away from that meal was that sometimes, regardless of how the food turns out, with good company, any meal can be memorable. In all the activity of making the pizzas with my friends, I forgot to take pictures so I could show you! But I did manage to remember to take pictures before dinner of the chocolate zucchini bundt cake I served for dessert, so I'll share that recipe today instead. Maybe when I perfect my pizza dough and get it to rise another time, I'll post that recipe.

(I did want to mention that I know I've been slow in posting and visiting some of your sites lately. My internet has been spotty for most of last week (again!) and has not been working continuously long enough for me to finish a post until tonight--very frustrating. Thank you for still following along!)

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Adapted from Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking
Serves about 12

This is a lower guilt (but not guilt-free) recipe because it has zucchini! Marcy's original recipe includes orange zest, which I omitted only because I didn't have any oranges, but if you have some, adding it would make for a nice touch, I think.

Preheat the oven to 350F, and grease a 12 cup bundt pan.

1. Cream together the following in a bowl using a mixer:
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups of sugar

2. Add each of the following ingredients, mixing on low to medium:
- 4 large eggs, one at a time
- 3 ounces of semisweet chocolate, melted
- 2 t. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup milk

3. Stir in:
- 2 cups shredded zucchini

4. Mix on low (or fold in) the following, until completely combined (but don't over mix):
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 t. baking powder
- 1 t. baking soda
- 1/4 t. salt
- 1 t. cinnamon

5. Pour into the bundt pan and bake for about an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes then invert it onto a serving platter or dish.

6. For the glaze, heat over low heat:
- 3 oz. semisweet chocolate
- 1 T. unsalted butter
Once combined and smooth, spoon glaze over the cooled cake.