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16 Candles.

Today is my 32nd half birthday and I don’t feel any different.

J’ai seize ans.

I’m sixteen years of age.

Since my birthday also happens to be during the week, my family chose to celebrate early at this “petit” French restaurant called Coquette. I was directed to ditch my daily do-dads for something more sophisticated and well…pretty. Some closet searching was in order for a dress, heels that haven’t seen the light of day since attending weekly b’nai mitzvahs, and what I consider the vacuum-cleaner-lawn-mower-hybrid of the beauty world or what others call a hair dryer.

Go ahead, order what you want…after all it is your birthday.

Wait…what?! We never order a three course meal when we go out. Knowing I had one vegetarian option, I scanned the hors d’œuvre section and the side section in case I wanted to build an entree out of sides(a common vegetarian trick). Just the options on the menu excited me and let me tell you, the food itself didn’t disappoint.

“Je m’appelle croquettes aux pomme de terre et gruyere.”, whispered the croquettes in all their fried glory as I broke one in half, dipped it in the aoli, and popped it in my mouth before I could even respond enchante. Heaven. The potato on the inside was creamy and delicious with a crunchy exterior and I wanted to swim in the aoli. So much garlic…so much goodness…so worth having to use a hair dryer.

Out of excitement, I ate the inside of my leek tart so quickly I couldn’t really taste it—bad idea? Not really as the shell made an excellent serving device for my side of ratatouille(a fancier way of tricking people above the age of five to eat things they don’t like; finely dice and roast). By drizzling some garlic aoli on my layered feast, my thousand watt smiled continued to stay lit as my stomach became less ravenous.

And then came the desert menu.

I know you’re not supposed to eat when you’re full but…

THERE WAS CREME BRULEE! YOU DON’T PASS UP CREME BRULEE! You tap your spoon on the burnt sugar layer, heart the knocking noise, and dig in.

I couldn’t stop swooning.

When I woke up the next day, I thought it was all a dream until I checked the fridge. Ratatouille and garlic aoli were nestled amiss my family’s condiment collection. Holy french crepe! Cracked two eggs in a bowl, whisked them with a little water, and poured them into a hot skillet to hear the satisfying sizzle. Flipped them once they were cooked, added the ratatouille with some cheese to seal the deal, then fried until warm. Garlic aoli and salt were added once plated.

Nope…no dream. Just some heavenly food to mark my Sweet Sixteen.

Update

First and foremost, happy 2012 to all.

I apologize for lack of posts and updates these past two weeks but I’ve been busy. This doesn’t mean I don’t bake or cook, it just means I haven’t really had the time to do a formal post nor the mindset for one. Trust me; I have about three recipes as of now lined up and baking for this week already planned ;)

And it also happens to be finals time, almost-turn-16-time, a couple close friends’ birthdays, science related club competitions are coming up, and I’ve been realizing that the things that felt forever into the future are now lurking on the horizon. I’m scared senseless but it’s just a result of realizing how quickly I’m growing up—I have five semesters plus three finals of first semester to go and then, I’m practically an adult.

I consider myself lucky though; I go to a high school that’s extremely competitive academically so I’m not alone with grade/class stress, everyone around me is extremely supportive of whatever I put my mind to(other than attending out of state colleges…thanks Dad), and I always have food blogs online to forward to.

There’s going to be some changes in the way I run this blog through my posts. Lately, one of my major future concerns has been trying to switch from an elective class to a much more academically rigorous course. If the class gets changed to my first choice, my free time will decrease tremendously so the posts will be less formal and a lot more condensed—the writing itself will stay about the same if not, more organized. If the class either gets changed to my second choice or stays the same, only slight changes will occur until the summer/this fall.  Just to skip the circumlocution and reading between the lines on future posts, I’m going to be using a lot less adjectives. Simply, I’m going to be blunt. As great as it is to describe how a recipe turns out in full out detail, it’s just not me. My direction with this blog is to give family/friends the recipes I create and readers outside of my community a blog that shows not every recipe turns out perfect, not every picture is the best, but it’s reality. I do respect people who spend hours food styling and making everything perfect to entice their audiences. For me; it’s about staying real with simple editing and natural lighting to show you, the reader exactly how the food turns out.

I can’t promise a periodic post at the moment, but I can promise this; I’ll be sharing all my kitchen adventures no matter how terrible they turn out, taste, and look as we learn from experiencing—and I hope my experiences can help your own.

There’s very few things in this world that are more glorious than a pan of fresh baked brownies other than a pan of fresh baked brownies covered in dark chocolate frosting. Don’t believe me? Ask my sister who dug in even before I could frost the brownies.

Proof is in the picture.

I can’t believe that it’s practically 2012. It felt like yesterday that I was overly excited to start my food blog for Creative Writing in which I was considered an overachiever bubbling with information, pride, and photographs. Just in those sixteen(the teacher required roughly ten posts for full credits) posts I learned so much involving food photography, baking and cooking, post formatting(exact same layout as on WordPress!), and even some information about vegetarian nutrition. The blog continued to ignite my love for food as sparking me to branch out onto a more formal blog setting.

Now if you’re one who enjoys symbolism, then you’re going to love this: for me, these brownies symbolize 2011 in all it’s shining glory. I mean, just look at the pan full of them even before frosting. There’s so many faults in the photo such as the lighting exposure that makes certain areas look white, or the center that fell inwards as if a crater hit it(my mistake), or brownie batter that smeared on the glass pan, or the bubbles on the brownie. But despite the things that went wrong, there’s still so much left that makes the brownies outstanding such as how easy these brownies are to make or how the stolen slice adds character or how the inwards-crater-smashed-center gives a perfect excuse to make frosting. 2011 proved to me that no matter how dark your tunnel is, there’s always going to be some form of light greeting you towards the end.

This brownie recipe is the only brownie recipe I’ve ever made from scratch simply because it’s almost like baking a box mix but with better results. Anyone could make these as all you really do is throw the ingredients in the bowl and mix easily by hand. The frosting is also very simple and basic, but yields a taste worthy enough to call a family favorite. Due to a surplus of candy-canes and the holiday seasons coming to a rapid close, the brownies got an extra sprinkling. I recommend cutting them in a food processor after my experience with a candy-cane and a sharp large knife resulting in slight spazzing out in between chops. Once added to the brownies, they give a nice crunch to a relatively moist bite.

Enjoy!

Basic Brownies

From Cooking For Justice: North Carolina Association of Assistant and Deputy Clerks; submitted by Phyllis Faulkner- Joes County-Assistant Clerk

2 cups sugar

1 cup margarine/butter

½ cup cocoa(I prefer Hershey’s Special Dark)

3 eggs

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*1/4 cup nuts, if desired

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Bake at 325ºF for approximately 20 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean (took about 40 minutes for mine using a 8x8x2.5 inch glass pan).

The Best Chocolate Frosting Ever

Taken from the back of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

½ cup(1 stick) margarine/butter

2/3 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa(recommended; if not on hand, use regular cocoa powder)

3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in coca. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating until spreading consistency . Add small amount of additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups of frosting.

Assembling

Allow brownies to cool then spread The Best Chocolate Frosting Ever until equally covering brownie surface. Crush five candy canes and sprinkle on top of frosted brownies.

 

Sometimes I don’t understand why things as simple as a post can be difficult to write when there’s so much inspiration to write about. For me personally, I always feel like I fear disappointing my audience so I set standards that may feel too high to be accomplished. I’m told that this stress is from taking things too personally as I often write directly from the heart making me stubborn in style, but pure in tone.  I think we all feel this way when we have an idea to say, just not the words to say it with. We rely on others to teach us how express what matters in our world, as without community; what are we?

I consider myself fortunate to be surrounded by people that have constantly supported me and have made life well… more awesome in their own ways.  Whether it’s through a short ten minute chat or a ninety-minute class, I always know I can turn to them to turn my day around.

For holiday gifts this year, I knew I wanted to create them something that brought them as much joy as they’ve brought me. My inner, slightly jealous child of people that grew up with Christmas cookies was nagging me to create my own variety this winter. And so, I decided to bestow the gift of cookies. I knew shape sugar cookies were the usual for most, so I decided to add own my own twist by making all cookies have a chocolate base with some form of treat nestled in the dough. I also figured I should make three separate recipes/batches just to have back-up or in other words, I had a feeling a certain recipe would fail. The recipe did fail, but it was still edible enough to distribute among it’s counterpart peanut butter cookie…success!

To save some time, I decided to make two of the three batches of dough beforehand then just have one massive baking session. I highly suggest doing so as I ended up spending close to five hours both baking, making the final batch of dough, and packaging all the cookies like so:

For my friends, I chose a caramel centered cookie that I knew would be easy to make and even easier for them to recreate. If wasn’t for their support, I probably would’ve stopped baking a while ago; thus making the recreation ease even more important to me. All you really have to do is whip up a very stand mixer friendly dough, cover caramels with the chocolaty goodness, bake on a silicone mat, then wait a few minutes for the caramel to stick to the inside of the cookie and not stick to the mat.

A handy tip I learned was to allow the fresh baked cookies to cool on the rack flipped over so any dripped out caramel could cool completely without attacking wire cooling racks. These suckers don’t really spread out while baking, so I managed to bake about twelve per sheet at a time.

A few hours after handing the gifts out, I received a text about these cookies that made every second of those five hours baking worth. I swear, these were the exact words: “WHAT WAS IN THAT COOKIE THAT MADE IT TASTE LIKE HEAVEN?”

Chewy Caramel Chocolate Cookies

From My Cooking Adventures; yield is about forty.

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flour
Caramels (I just used the Kraft brand ones)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream together butter and both types of sugar in a stand mixer. Once it is light and fluffy add in the eggs one at a time. Then mix in the vanilla extract. Add in cocoa powder, baking soda and salt, mix until well combined. Mix in the flour and mix until smooth-ish. Some lumps are ok, they will bake out.

Take a tablespoon or so of dough and wrap it around the caramel. Place it on a cookie sheet (I lined mine with silicone mats – it helped when some of the caramel oozed out!)  Bake for 11-13 minutes. Let cool and enjoy :)

The second of the three cookies was supposed to turn out into a cloud-like marshmellow filled cookie of joy simply called Jessica’s Marshmellow Clouds from a Mrs. Field’s cookbook. Don’t get me wrong, they were 100% edible and even tasty, just not high enough to my baking standards to give out the recipe.

Before baking

After baking; you can tell I burned the marshmellows so the cookie would be fully cooked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last but not but least; the final batch of cookies(peanut butter) AKA the Saving Grace to my teachers’ gifts. These were the first leg of my five hours baking, so I was extremely vivacious and hopeful while baking them.

If you also really want to bake these peanut butter cookies but lacking enough peanut butter like I did, you can create your own peanut butter dough substitute. Simply melt about a cup or so of chips in the microwave then stir in about two tablespoons of butter and about a third of a cup of powdered sugar.  Problem solved.

Like the Caramel Cookies from above, all you really have to do to bake these is to cover something already tasty with something even more tasty then wait. The peanut butter dough I had made easily molded into chips similar to those chocolate melting chips you can buy at craft stores for things such as cake pops. I found it easier to layer the peanut butter between two dough patties instead of inserting it into a ball of cookie dough.

And if you watch the occasional South Park episode like me, it’s perfectly acceptable to sing the Salty Balls about…now. 

By far, out of all the cookies I gave out, these were my favorite. The crisp outside gives away to a decadent center of peanut butter encased by melt in your mouth chocolate—what’s not to love?! If you think they’re fantastic alone, try them while drinking tea…I promise you, it’s a fantastic way to start the day.

Magic In The Middle Cookies

Adapted from The Patterned Plate

Chocolate dough: 1.5 cups flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup(1 stick) butter

1/4 cup peanut butter(use what you have on hand; I used crunchy)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 large egg+ 1 large egg yolk

Peanut butter dough:

~1 cup Reese’s peanut butter chips

powdered sugar(to taste)

2 tbs butter

Preheat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

For chocolate dough: beat sugars, butter, and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and egg. Stir in dry ingredients until well blended. Dough should be soft and thick. Set aside.

For peanut butter dough: melt chips in microwave and stir in remaining ingredients until butter is melted and paste like consistency is achieved.

Sandwich a teaspoon of peanut butter dough between two tablespoons of chocolate dough. Roll into granulated sugar. Repeat until all dough is used.

Flatten balls using either your hands or a glass to a 2.5 cm thickness. Bake for 7-9 minutes. Allow five minutes for cooling and hardening before transferring to a cooling rack.

As I sat down later that night, my legs were sore and I was exhausted but excited. And let these two cookie recipes prove to anyone that homemade gifts may be the most work, but they truly are the best.

May whatever holiday you celebrate be as sweet as the sugar you bake with.

Happy holidays!

Coffee Sables

In the crossroad of long summer days and cool autumn afternoons, I stumbled upon a                     magical chocolate coffee cookie recipe. I remember baking these cookies out of stress and anxiety as I shuffled through the kitchen, and the fear of destroying a simple recipe just made it worse. But as I bit into one fresh from the oven, I closed my eyes and forgot everything to focus on the cookies perfection. Since this is Calamity in the Kitchen, I did lose the recipe but began seeking a recreation of the lost treasure.

When the president of French Club announced her plan to have a holiday potluck, I jumped on the opportunity to recreate my

beloved recipe. I instantly thought of sables with their crumbly, sandy texture and melt in your mouth quality to give the taste of coffee a boost.

I managed to find a recipe that was basic enough to follow with creative liberties as my guide. Armed with a mustache shaped cookie cutter and high hopes, I began the baking process. But luck wasn’t working in my favor. The dough was too sticky from the start which made it difficult to follow through with the remainder of the directions. After baking, they were firm and stiff and didn’t express the sable characteristics I had hoped for.

With the meeting in mind, I pushed myself to make another batch of dough. It was simple as the previous one, but butter/sugar to flour ratio was higher, making it a more delicate and light dough that could carry an extra flavor or two.  After shaping the dough into a few a logs, I threw them in the freezer so I could bake them during the week.

Since sugar tends to crystallize into a marvelous crunchy coating after a day or two, I knew that baking prior to the night before was both convenient on my schedule and the cookies. The logs looked simple and nothing special as I sliced them into cookies that kept their shape. Perfect. Fresh from the oven, they were crunchy but soft with the coffee present but not overwhelming.

They didn’t stand out among what everyone brought, but that’s what made them special–they go against what you expect from them. I ended up walking around with the leftovers giving them away to friends that knew of my baking. And even got chased by a few friends while walking to my next class where food was forbidden—until offering the teacher a cookie.

Some people enjoy listening to other’s “Ah ha!” moments; but as for myself, hearing the snap of a cookie turn into someone sighing “yum” makes everything worth it—and this cookie is worth it. Enjoy!

Coffee Sables adapted from Smoky Wok

Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup plus 3 tbsps packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar for rolling

1 tsp coca powder(I used Hershey’s Special Dark)

1/4 cup stale coffee

Directions:

Reheat stale coffee in a microwavable bowl until warm and stir in coca powder. Let dissolve and sit.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and light-brown sugar; beat on high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, and mix to combine. Add flour and salt, and mix on low speed until flour is incorporated – don’t overmix. Add coca/coffee mixture and mix until incorporated.

Roll dough into three 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap in plastic wrap or baking paper, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll cookie log in sugar, coating it evenly, and slice into 1/4-inch rounds.  If you find your batter going too soft, place the entire tray with the cut-out cookies in the fridge for about 15 minutes before baking to make sure the cookies don’t ‘collapse’ in the oven.   Place cookies on baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool completely on wire racks. Store in air-tight container.