Jessielah!

adventures in awesomeness…

Baking by Fire!

I knew I was supposed to make spaghetti and meatballs AND cookies for the boys’ Pre-K Holiday/Cultural pot luck, so I don’t know why I waited until the day before to make EVERYTHING.

I also thought this would be a good day to go on a 7 mile bike ride and fast. (I have no idea what is wrong with my brain sometimes.)

So after laying on the couch, panting like a dying dog, I force myself to get up and start baking. I manage to whip up 2 cookie batters before I have to go back to preschool. Then we rush home and I make 3 more different types of cookie dough (yeah, something is definitely going wrong inside my brain) before realizing that we have to go to the store to get EVERYTHING for spaghetti & meatballs.

I start out making these, Chocolate Peppermint Cookies from Martha Stewart’s Living Magazine:

Martha Stewart RecipesDon’t they look just delightful!!

I follow the recipe to a T and the resulting cookies… delicious! They taste exactly like a thin mint!

Amped up about making a tasty and attractive cookie, I move on to a chocolate thumbprint cookie filled with ganache (also Martha Stewart, from the same issue). I didn’t have enough softened butter so I decide to cut the recipe in half. Again, the cookies come out looking great (thank you Martha!) but when I go to eat one… whoa, I can really taste the salt in there.

GODDAMNIT! Who forgot to cut the salt in half and added TWO teaspoons instead of one?

DOH!Me. I ruined the cookies.

But, I thought, perhaps they could be saved with the ganache filling. Wrong! The salt overpowered everything. I was starting to feel like Jamie in Top Chef when she over salted her celery and went spiralling out of control. They were the first, but not the last, cookie to go in the trash.

I take a break from cookies to get the meatballs made, as the boys are starving and I won’t let them eat cookies for dinner. After a horrible trip to Target, I get the spaghetti and meatballs going and return to my next cookie, the Key Lime thumbprint cookies.

They turn out okay, but I don’t like shortbread that is too thick, so everything kind of sticks to the roof of my mouth. I leave out the key lime filling for the second batch and add strawberry jam straight from the jar. Much better! And more festive. Yay.

Spirits up I decide it’s time to coat these peppermint cookies with white chocolate. But as my stove is filled with spaghetti noodles and sauce and meatballs, I have to use the microwave, which is always tricky, even for reheating coffee. The chips don’t look like they are melting so I add butter. And my chocolate turns into a grainy clump.

Seized White ChocolateWHAT. THE. HELL??

Apparently, you are not supposed to put even like a speck of water in chocolate or it will seize up. Even a moist wooden spoon can cause your delicious Ghiradelli chocolate to turn into junk. Luckily I had two bags.

I use a water bath/double boiler this time and things are going along well. And then…. JUNK! Fuck, fuck, fucking fucker fuckaholic! I am pretty pissed. I am also tired and hungry. Plus the damned dog is scavenging around, ducking in and out of the shadows looking for the moment when my back is turned to climb up the step stool and eat everything off the counter. (Yes, the dog have evolved and can now use tools, like an ape.)

We eat, I put the boys down, I almost fall asleep on the floor, and then I slowly, sadly, trudge back to the kitchen. It’s almost nine pm. Where did my day go?

So Chocolate Peppermint cookies have no coating. I try to “frost them with the white chocolate but it looks ugly and makes the cookies soft. I try making sandwiches out of them with the ganache. I decorate them with stencils and powdered sugar. But none of them really taste that great or look that great and it’s a ton of work I don’t want to do now that it’s ten pm.

And then I realize I have two more cookies in the fridge that need to be cooked. I decide that it’s time to get drunk.

It makes making my ammonia cookies a bit easier. I decide, after burning the first batch, not to make the Meyer Lemon Lace Tuiles.

It’s 12:10am. I’ve been awake for 17 hours, baking for 14 of those hours. My feet ache. My back aches. But… But. I have a fabulous tray of cookies that look good (enough) and taste yummy yummy.

Seacrest out!

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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me…

Twelve failed experimental “cookies”, Eleven Pecan Shortbreads, Ten Snowy Tree-tops, Nine Linzer Cookies, Eight Brazil-Nut Crescents, Seven Squirming Snapshots, Six Super Strikes, FIVE MOMENTS OF PEACE!!!!! Four Yummy Chocolate Crinkles, Three Rock-hard Sugar Cookies, Two Chocolate Melting Moments and some fabulously delicious Checkerboard Coook-kiiiees!

Christmas Cookies — FAIL

Um, so yeeeaahh…. this is what happens when you are overstretched with raising two fighting children, cleaning the house, pushing the small swimming pool of water off your balcony so you can do your laundry without having to wear Matt’s  “date boots”, shopping for last minute Christmas gifts, and then in your 5 minutes of spare time, try to “invent” new and improved cookie recipes.

Apparently no matter how long you freeze it, brownie mix from the store just won’t form a neat little ball that looks like a Chocolate Crinkle stuffed with a hazelnut to taste like a Ferrero Rocher. And I want to say “Well, they’re ugly but they taste good.” Nope. They are bad. Bad all around…. sigh. Time to hit the wrapping paper and Bud Light.

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On the Eleventh Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me…

Eleven Pecan Shortbreads, Ten Snowy Tree-tops, Nine Linzer Cookies, Eight Brazil-Nut Crescents, Seven Squirming Snapshots, Six Super Strikes, FIVE MOMENTS OF PEACE!!!!! Four Yummy Chocolate Crinkles, Three Rock-hard Sugar Cookies, Two Chocolate Melting Moments and some fabulously delicious Checkerboard Coook-kiiiees!

These cookies are good.

They’re even better when I don’t try to “improve” the recipe by browning the butter. Hah!

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On the Ninth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me…

… Nine Linzer Cookies, Eight Brazil-Nut Crescents, Seven Squirming Snapshots, Six Super Strikes, FIVE MOMENTS OF PEACE!!!!! Four Yummy Chocolate Crinkles, Three Rock-hard Sugar Cookies, Two Chocolate Melting Moments and some fabulously delicious Checkerboard Coook-kiiiees!

Linzer Cookies are good for you to eat.

Happy WLS Anniversary!!  For those of you who knew me in a past life, it has been five years today that I had my surgery and transformed my life. Five years and I’ve kept it off! Five years and two babies later and I’ve kept it off! Five years and nine days of Christmas cookies and I’ve kept it off!!  Here is to annual hugs from Dr. Tanaka and five more years (and then another five, and another….!)

Now down to some cookie business (ironic, I know). Today I put the final touches on my Linzer cookies (which were a bitch because I bought possibly the seediest jar of jam available which I had to strain with the world’s smallest strainer.) But I didn’t realize how artistically fulfilling it is to decorate cookies. I could dust powdered sugar and arrange cookies all afternoon. I followed the recipe for these straight from Joy of Baking.com. They tend to lose their crispness after a day or two, but they are still a favorite. I am also planning on making these with shortbread and raspberry jam and see how they do texturally. Today was a big cookie day. In addition to the Linzers, I made Checkerboard cookies using a sugar cookie recipe (which I am proud to say that I didn’t burn to a crisp!) Only problem with those is that I forgot to omit the baking soda, which causes them to rise and distort the checkerboard pattern. But they still look delightful and taste yummy!! I also put the finishing touches on some Pecan Shortbread cookies. These are also to die for, probably because I substituted browned butter for the butter in the recipe. And then I scrubbed all of the marker and yogurt off my couch cushions…. thank goodness for washable markers!!

(A box of Checkerboards, Pecan Shortbreads, Chocolate Shortbread Balls, Crescents, and Linzers!)

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On the Eighth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me…

… Eight Brazil-Nut Crescents, Seven Squirming Snapshots, Six Super Strikes, FIVE MOMENTS OF PEACE!!!!! Four Yummy Chocolate Crinkles, Three Rock-hard Sugar Cookies, Two Chocolate Melting Moments and some fabulously delicious Checkerboard Coook-kiiiees!

On my cookie-quest, I found a recipe for Brazil Nut Crescents in The Gourmet Cookie Book. I had seen recipes for Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents) but they involved making your own vanilla sugar which involved buying a real vanilla bean which I once saw in the store selling for $12. Ouch! This seemingly simplistic recipe intrigued me, mostly because all I knew about Brazil nuts were that they were always left behind in the mixed nut bowl (along with peanuts… because there are always too many peanuts.) I wanted to write down the recipe but it kind of felt like stealing. I figured I could find it online. WRONG. I could not find it anywhere and anything close was written in grams instead of the Standard System of measurement. But I had bought Brazil nuts and I really wanted to make these cookies! So I pulled up a bunch of Vanillekipferl recipes and found what they had in common and then worked some Jessielah magic.

YUM! These cookies made my mouth super happy. I would probably eat these instead of breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I didn’t have to send them all away to start parties in the mouths of friends and family. If I have time, I would like to tweak the recipe a bit, maybe see what happens when they are dunked in chocolate or infused with lemon zest. Regardless, expect to see these in your cookie tin!!

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On the Fourth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me…

… four Yummy Chocolate Crinkles, three Rock-hard Sugar cookies, two Chocolate Melting Moments and some fabulously delicious Checkerboard Coook-kiiiees!

Delicate, yet surprisingly durable.

Story Time!!! It was 2001 and I was working at Torrey Pines in a Chemistry lab. I wasn’t a chemist (and thought that chemistry would have nothing to do with me after I mistook photons for protons freshman year, which I’m sure still gives Ruby and Chris & Ritesh a chuckle), but because I could cook and could handle “cooking” several items at once, I was hired on to make dye for contact lenses. The husband and wife owners were from the Czech republic and around Christmas time I ended up at their house (I have no idea how or why) where the wife was making Christmas cookies. It was delightful! Delicate cookies, jam-filled cookies, rolled and dropped cookies, red cookies and green cookies and cookies with sparkles and sugar.  Ever since then, I wanted to make cookies like that. Last year I started up my Christmas cookie tradition and was pretty impressed with my rum balls and Linzer Cookies. This year I wanted to go even further. I wanted a table filled with delightful cookies like I had seen so many years ago.

Now that I have started to pack the cookies to be shipped off, I am reminded of why I told myself last year that I wasn’t going to go out of control and make 10 different types of cookies. Sigh.

However, these Chocolate Crinkles were not only super easy to make (Jaxon helped me roll them in powdered sugar to make “sno-balls”!) but they taste really yummy and they are like the easiest thing to pack in my cookie tins. Definitely expect to find these in your hands or in your mail box next week!

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On the Third Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me…

… three Rock-hard Sugar cookies, two Chocolate Melting Moments and some fabulously delicious Checkerboard Coook-kiiiees!

Some cookies just aren’t meant to have the “Snookie-Tan”.

First off. I just finished The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. Sara gave it to me and at first I wasn’t particularly interested in reading it. But I had gotten back into writing and heard that the best writers are reading all the time. It’s a “sci-fi” award winner and that’s close to the make-believe world I’ve created so I make up my mind to read the book. It didn’t make it with me to the gym on Friday or Monday, but Tuesday at the park I found it in my bag after being dragged to the park (don’t get me started on my hatred of playgrounds) without anything to occupy my time when the boys weren’t fighting or falling. The first line hooks me. It’s set in a very realistic future (you almost forget that it’s a sci-fi book) and the story revolves around a guy with functional autism – he has a job, a car, he goes to church and fences. It’s a great character driven story — I like all of them, even the ones you are not supposed to like, because they exist in my world as well. The book gives fascinating insight on what is “normal” versus what isn’t, as well as shining a light on problems we face as a society and how we humans function within a society. It was interesting how I could relate what was happening in the book to the documentary following soldiers in Afghanistan that Matt was watching. It was a quick read too. I finished it in about 6 hours between my time at the park, all of last night and this morning. I really couldn’t put it down. Great book!

Now onto some cookie-ness. Matt’s mom sent me a ton of cookie cutters last Christmas and this year I thought it would be fun if the boys and I cut out cookies together. Since the sugar cookies I made last year went over well, I followed the same recipe at Joy of Baking.com.

Jaxon knows that only the top chefs cut cookies sans pants.

The boys had a great time selecting cookie cutters and pressing it into the dough. I did have to put aside my burning desire to have the cookies look picture perfect and let the boys do their thing. Mylo went a little crazy and would just keep mashing his cutter into the dough, ruining his cookie and the ones around him, but he was really into it. Jaxon had fun with the shapes and the train (of course) but I think he was most excited about eating them.

Mylo cuts a star cookie. At least he’s got a diaper on.

Unfortunately, I over-baked the cookies. I expected a semi-soft cookie. Nope. Rock. Hard. (That’s what she said.) Poor Jaxon. He kept going back to look at them, but they were pretty much inedible. At least we had fun making them!!!

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On the Second Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me…

… two Chocolate Melting Moments and some fabulously delicious Checkerboard Coook-kiiiees!

Everything is better when draped in dark chocolate.

So I was doing the mindless task of wrapping balls of cookie dough in cellophane when my mind began to wander. I am going to enjoy being an old lady. Then if you’re being a know-it-all I can tell you so without having to worry too much because, well I’m old. It’s going to be great, especially since Matt has promised that when I turn 62 he will start carrying me around on his back like the old North Korean couple we saw in the Lisa Ling documentary. Of course by the time I’m 62, 60 will be the new 18 and we’ll have to wait until we’re 74 to retire. But at least I won’t have to worry about wearing out the soles of my shoes.

Now down to some cookie business. I started off with joyofbaking.com‘s Melting Moments recipe. I wanted to have bite sized cookies so I used a tablespoon to measure the balls. However, they grew more than I expected in the oven so next time I will use a 1/2 tablespoon or less. The original recipe calls for the slightly cooled cookies to be rolled in powdered sugar, but I rolled them in melted chocolate (Lindt 70% dark). After they cooled in  the fridge (about 10 minutes) I dusted the tops with powdered sugar. They feel and look like a professional cookie! They are almost too rich, however, and I could only eat half of one without being overwhelmed. It takes a while for all of the flavors to hit you and there is something strange that happens when both the chocolate and the cookie melt in your mouth at the same time, but I can’t keep Jaxon out of the fridge so they must not be that bad!

Kid tested, Jaxon approved.

I’ll post an update when I make the second batch next week.

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