Sunday, April 27, 2008

Here Figgy, Figgy!

While at the grocery store last week I was slowly pushing my unmanageable cart down the produce department. I felt like I was a drunk driver who couldn't keep control of their car...only problem was I wasn't drunk, and it was my grocery cart, not my car! Getting more and more frustrated I began to think about how much I hated grocery shopping. I'm one of those people who plan out their meals for the week and only take on trip to the store, only to spend upwards of one hundred dollars a week and being faced with the miserable challenging of carrying all my groceries in by myself. Needless to say that with a misbehaving cart I was on the brink of foregoing grocery shopping for the week and living on pizza delivery.

It was at that very moment that I had, unknowingly, made my way all the way to the back of the produce department only to find myself in front of a big wooden shelf full of dried fruits and a variety of nuts. My interest was peaked. Dried pears, Bourbon candied pecans, dried mango, trail mix...and a big bag of mission figs! I have been craving figs for a while and could not believe that I had almost missed this opportunity all thanks to a stupid grocery cart.

I excitedly put the figs in the cart, scurried through the other aisle picking up the rest of my items on the list and making my way over to the check out. While standing in the check out line my brain was running wild thinking of what I was going to create with my treasure find. I had an immediate attraction to the idea of a cookie. I started thinking that something salty might also be a really good compliment to the sweet figs. Knowing that I wanted to add chocolate to my salty, fig creation, I was slowly starting to form one of the best cookie recipes I have EVER had! Little did I know how big a hit this cookie was about to become.

Stumbling through my front door with five bags of groceries on each arm, I dumped them all on the kitchen floor and immediately got to work. Yes, that's right I left my grocery out while I concocted my cookie recipe...I mean what's more important here people?

I used a basic chocolate chip cookie dough to start. I then delicately opened my bag of figs, as if they were a precious package that was fragile even to the touch of soft hands. Reaching in I gently scooped out a handful of the deep purple figs, laying them out on the cutting board, ready and willing to dice them up into little pieces. I think my initial delicacy with them was my way of saying sorry for what I was about to do. Once I had the figs prepared and added to the chocolate chip cookie dough I opened up my pantry door and found my secret ingredient. PRETZELS! I grabbed two big handfuls of the salty, crunchy pretzels and crushed them with my hands over my mixing bowl. Carefully mixing the pretzels into the dough I couldn't resist anymore I had to take a bite.

I dipped my small silver spoon into the saltfully sweet dough and scooped out a huge chunk, making sure to have a little bit of everything in my first bite. Opening my mouth with fingers crossed I was met with an explosion of flavor and textures. The dough was somewhat sweet, thanks to the chocolate chips, but the figs added a chewy texture that was meet perfectly with the salty crunch of the pretzels. As the dough melted away in my mouth I found myself quickly reaching for another spoonful, and another, and maybe one more. Forcing myself to stop eating the dough, I dropped them by the spoonful on to my cookie sheet and sent them off to the oven.

Even as baked cookies they still held onto their texture variety and were even more amazing with the meltiness of the chocolate chips. My friends and family could not stop raving about how light the cookies were, but still had a delicate sweetness to them, and were totally shocked with the pretzels bites. I invite all of you to give these awesome cookies a try, your taste buds will love you forever, and you'll actually be thankful that you made that dreadful trip down the grocery store aisle!

Figgy Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) chocolate chips

1 cup chopped mission figs
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pretzels

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips, figs and pretzels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Who Wants a Cupcake...or is it Cheesecake?

I've been thinking that I want to start getting more creative with my baking. With people like Peabody of Culinary Concoctions and Helen of Tartelette (two of my most favorite bloggers) whipping up fabulous creations, I've been feeling a bit inspired. These two ladies have some of the most creative minds I've seen when it comes to decadent, show stopping desserts. My mouth salivates when I visit their blogs. They take very basic simple recipes and add their own special touch to them to make each and every dessert their own. And I totally wanna be like them when I grow up!

So I started thinking in general about flavors that I like and then I started figuring out ways that I could put them together. To start my mind immediately jumped to a white cupcake. I love the simpleness of the plain white cupcake, but I wanted to give it a little pizazz. Think, think, think...many ideas popped into my head like adding chunks of candy bars or stirring in nutella, but that was killing the whole reason I like the white cupcake, it's simple and light. After my mind drifting through ideas for a few minutes I finally stopped on something that I really thought could work and stay true to the air, soft feel of the white cupcake. Cheesecake!

Yes I did! I said cheesecake, and while I wish it could've been homemade I don't yet have a food processor at my new apartment, so I couldn't make my own cheesecake. I decided to go with Sarah Lee's frozen strawberry topped cheesecake. I cut the creamy, still frozen, cheesecake up into bite size chunks, slipping a few into my mouth when Baxter (my Terrier sous chef) wasn't looking. After whipping up my cupcake batter and pour it into the cupcake pan I excitedly dropped the cheesecake morsels into the center of the cups and sent them off to the oven, fingers crossed.

Upon opening the oven door everything looked ok, my biggest fear was that the cheesecake pieces were going to make huge sink holes in the cupcake, but thanks to my crossed fingers, my cupcake creations were spared :) After the cupcakes had cooled I took a tub of cream cheese icing that I had on hand on shmeared it on top of my fluffy white cupcakes. And to give the cupcakes that extra special attention to detail I rolled them in graham cracker crumbs, just to hit home that cheesecake flavor.

The second I finished rolling the last cupcake in the crumbs i quickly grabbed my knife and picked my sacrificial cupcake, cutting straight into his heart. Which revealed a white cupcake exterior gently cradling a gooey, creamy red and white cheesecake center. I had succeeded! My cupcake creation was a hit, and was just the start of more fabulous creations to come!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Sandwich that Became a Dessert!

Hands down PB & J is my most favoritest sandwich ever! I don't know if it's the American childhood nostalgia that makes my heart thump for PB & J or if it's the gooey jelly layered on top of crunchy, chunky peanut butter. I remember back to my elementary school days when PB & J was a frequent visitor to my light pink Carebears lunch box. When the bell would ring for lunch I would get so excited because I knew what was waiting for me. PB & J is like a sweet lunch treat that could brighten up any horrible day at school. And while yes, there were times when my jelly was pile on a little too thick and would bleed through the bread, but who the heck cares! That just proves the bond that PB & J and I share, the poor sandwich's heart would bleed, crying out for my to let it free of the joyous Carebears and sink deep into the comfort of my tummy!

And what about all the variations of PB & J that can be made! It's as simple as switching up the flavor of the jelly from Strawberry to Grape to Apricot...or the PB from crunchy or creamy. Sometimes a few bananas or raspberries would find their way in or maybe a shmear of Nutella. I've even stuck my PB & J in a skillet, and we played "grilled cheese" dress up, this being one of my most favoritest ways to have PB & J because everything gets melty and you take a bite of that gooey heaven and your head just falls in contempt.

Well since I love this little sandwich so much I decided to try out a new recipe I had seen which actually turns the infamous PB & J into a scrumptious cookie bar! I know I jumped for joy too! This recipe is courtesy of Martha Stewart and was actually one of her best so far. The base has a great solid cookie texture to it, but the jelly keeps it's sticky consistency (unless you're bad and you eat it straight out of the oven, and then it's a gooey bit of WOW!...but I wouldn't know that from experience). And the crunchy nuts on the top just add to the outrageous nutty flavor! I actually didn't have peanuts, but I did have mixed nuts, so I used those and the bars were amazing.

So here's to the love of my sandwich life, one of my best food friends...The PB & J!

Makes about 3 dozen
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups strawberry jam, or other flavor
2/3 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with butter, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the parchment, and coat inside of pan with flour; set aside. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. On medium speed, add eggs and peanut butter; beat until combined, about 2 minutes.
2. Whisk together salt, baking powder, and flour. Add to bowl of mixer on low speed; combine. Add vanilla. Transfer two-thirds of mixture to prepared pan; spread evenly with offset spatula. Using offset spatula, spread jam on top of peanut-butter mixture. Dollop remaining third of peanut-butter mixture on top of jam. Sprinkle with peanuts.
3. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool; cut into about thirty-six 1 1/2-by-2-inch pieces.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Doctor's Order

Never fails, as soon as spring rolls around and it's time to play outside I get hit with a whammie of a cold, better known as bronchitis! Yeah, totally sucks! So as I'm lying on my death couch (couch is so much more comfortable than a bed when you have drainage) I'm obsessing over the Food Network. My two favorite girls, Giada and Ina, are whipping up some glorious desserts and I start to hear my tummy rumble.

But the doctor said to stay in bed and rest, "That's the only way to get rid of this Stephanie!" Tick tock, tick tock, I wait another half and hour and decide to rebel against doctors orders, I've gotta make me a snack!

I'm immediately hit with a gooey craving, but know that I want gooey + fruit + crunchy, honestly if I ever find out where cravings come from maybe they'll make more sense. As I'm flipping through recipes I'm not finding anything that is jumping out...I take a break...blow my nose...and dive back in. Then it happens, my epiphany! Some type of upside down cake is what my heart (and tummy) desire.

With no pineapple in the house I know I'm gonna need to get creative. Low and behold in my frozen fruit and veggie packed freezer I find a bag of blueberries and some pecans. Ding-Ding-Ding, we have a winner. The thought of warm blueberries, coated in a nutty caramel sauce, bursting in my mouth almost had me feeling better...almost. And let me just say if I weren't sick I could've scarffed the whole cake down!

Blueberry Upside Down Cake
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries
1 cup chopped pecans

Put all ingredients in a 9 inch cake pan.
Cook ingredients over medium flame until butter and sugar are melted, turning a caramel brown color.
Set aside

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 325°F.
Sift cake flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into medium bowl.
Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another medium bowl until well blended.
Add eggs 1 at a time and beat until well blended after each addition.
Mix in vanilla extract.
Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with whole milk in 2 additions.
Spoon batter into blueberry-pecan prepared cake pan.
Bake 35 minutes or until top of cake is golden brown.
Let cool for 10 minutes and invert on to cake platter.