Monday, December 31, 2007

Cookie-Thon 2007

by Erin and Xani

In addition to our holiday dinner with the Smiths, another one of our holiday traditions dating back to when we were little girls is our annual Cookie-Thon, where we make a ton of holiday cookies to give away as gifts and bring to holiday parties. This year we made all of our cookies on Christmas Day, because hey, what the hell else are we gonna do when everything is closed? (Don't worry, we went for Chinese food after all the cookies were done!)

This year we decided to make four kinds of cookies, and we actually only made one recipe of each! Back in the day, we would make dozens upon dozens of rugelach, black-bottoms, and pecan puffs (sometimes known as Mexican wedding cookies) with our family friend Ellen, but this year we thought one recipe would suffice for our party schedules. As usual, we made a shopping list from the recipes, and the wonderful BCD Mom did the grocery shopping.

The first cookies we made weren't cookies at all, rather they were Toasted Coconut Marshmallows, a recipe by Ina Garten. This is a favorite recipe of ours, and they are always a hit since (a) they are delicious, and (b) they are pretty unique. "You made your own marshmallows??" they say.

This recipe isn't that difficult, but it involves candy-making, which we explored when we made our spooky caramel lady apples for Halloween (near disaster!). Our cousins are much more adept at this since their mom, our Aunt Gloria, made candy for them (and us!) back in the day and she's passed on the knack. But, we did okay this time - no burns, spills, or disasters! And they turned out totally delicious as usual!

For this recipe, you begin by making a syrup by boiling together granulated sugar, light corn syrup, water, and a bit of salt until it reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (we ended up using both a candy thermometer and our trusty instant-read thermometer just to be sure we were at the right temperature).

Meanwhile, you dissolve several packages of gelatin in water in an electric mixer. In addition, we toasted up some coconut in a pan until it was golden brown. Once the syrup is ready, it is carefully added to the dissolved gelatin, and then the whole thing is mixed on high speed for 15 minutes - yes, FIFTEEN MINUTES! It goes from a clear bubbling mixture to a beautifully fluffy white blob! Vanilla is added to the blob, and then it is spooned into a pan lined with half of the toasted coconut. Then the other half of the coconut is added on top, and it is supposed to sit for a day to dry out before cutting it into cubes. They are sweet and better than any Stay-Puft product you've ever had. The coconut adds a great contrast in texture and flavor. YUMMM!

The next recipe we made were (Mint) Double Chocolate Brownie Cookies from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. We wanted to make a chocolate-mint cookie, so we chose this recipe, omitted the walnuts, and replaced half of the vanilla extract with peppermint extract.

Made in Maryland!

The recipe begins with melting bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, and butter together over a double-boiler. The chocolate mixture is placed into the electric mixer (which we washed NUMEROUS times during this cookie-thon!) and flour, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and the peppermint extract are added and everything is beaten until combined. Then semi-sweet chocolate chips are folded in, and the cookies are dropped onto baking sheets. These cookies are described in the recipe as moist and chewy like brownies, and that is pretty much accurate! They are chocolatey and chewy, and they have a lovely, subtle hint of peppermint.

For the next two cookies, we turned once again to the Smitten Kitchen, who presented many delicious cookie recipes in a row in honor of the holidays, and we picked two which looked irresistible. The first recipe from her site that we made was Austrian Raspberry Shortbread, a recipe adapted from Gale Gand's book (remember her? She had that show on Food Network called Sweet Dreams...whatever happened to her?).

We chose this recipe because we love shortbread and jam cookies, and we usually make Ina Garten's Jam Thumbprint Cookies, but the Austrian Raspberry Shortbread cookies had an unusual technique that actually seemed much easier. First you make shortbread dough, which begins with four (yes, FOUR) sticks of softened butter (no wonder they're so good!), and then flour, egg yolks, baking powder, salt, and a bit of lemon zest are added to the mixer. This dough is then put in the freezer for 2 hours. Then, the dough is shredded using the shredding disk of the food processor! Half of the shreds are placed on the bottom of a baking dish, then raspberry jam is drizzled all over the shreds, and then the second half of the shreds of dough are placed on top. It's baked for about an hour, then cooled, and then cut into small bars.

The verdict? Oh. my. goodness. These are like tiny squares of buttery heaven! They are sweet and intense, and much more tender and delicate than traditional shortbread cookies, which are usually harder and more crumbly. The brightness of the jam cuts through the richness of the buttery shortbread, and they are absolutely delicious.

The second Smitten Kitchen recipe we used, and the last cookie we made, were Rugelach Pinwheels. Our Grandma used to make rugelach and we would watch her painstakingly roll out the dough, cut it into small slices, and roll each one into a crescent-shaped cookie. We have made rugelach in the past and have done the same process, but this recipe seemed to take some of the labor out of it, so we gave it a try.

The dough is made with cream cheese, butter, sugar, and flour, which is combined in a food processor and chilled in the fridge for two hours. For the filling, the recipe called for sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, raisons, walnuts, and apricot preserves, but we omited the raisins and the cinnamon to accommodate some family flavor preferences. Once the dough was chilled, it was rolled out to about 1/8 of an inch, covered with the apricot jam, and then the sugars and nuts were sprinkled over top. It was then rolled into log and chilled for another hour, then sliced into 1/4 inch slices. The cookies were tossed in a cinnamon-sugar mixture, and then baked for 20 minutes or so. The only problems we ran into were rolling out and rolling up the dough, since it got very soft very quickly.

These cookies were absolutely delicious! Like traditional rugelach, they had a harder outer layer and a soft, chewy center. The nuts added yet another texture, and the sugars and cream cheese dough were sweet and delightful. Although they are in a different shape than traditional rugelach, they taste the same and therefore remind us of Grandma - a sweet memory indeed!

At the end of the night, after we had our traditional Christmas Day Chinese food, we divided up the cookies (ironically in chinese food containers that Dad has ordered IN BULK for use as storage containers) for each of us to take to parties and friends.

It was a great day of baking and family time! This holiday season has been a fun and relaxing one for both of us as we hope it has been for all of you. As we count down to the new year we are looking forward to many more delicious experiences and sharing them with all our readers! We wish you all a very sweet new year!

Happy 2008!

E & X

Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

by Erin and Xani

Every year, our family gets together with some of our oldest and dearest family friends, the Smiths, to celebrate the holidays. The Smiths and the Podolnys go way back - BCD Dad and Bob went to law school together back in the day, and since then our families have been very close.

For our holiday/Christmas dinner this year (which happened on the 23rd - the night before the night before Christmas), instead of doing a traditional three-course meal (appetizer, main, dessert), we wanted to do something a little more complicated (shocking, we know), and instead chose to do a tasting-style menu. Here was the menu:

  • Hors d'oeuvres
  • Roasted Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup
  • Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Mint Vinaigrette
  • Potato-Turnip Latkes with an Apricot-Fig Compote
  • Beef Tenderloin with Shallots
  • Green Beans with Pancetta
  • Dessert (which included a Pear Crisp with Vanilla Brown Butter and a Bouche de Noel)

We split up the dishes and the BCD family was tasked with the soup, the salad, the latkes, and the pear dessert. The first thing we did was make a shopping list, and then BCD Mom and Dad were kind enough to do the shopping.

Let's start with the soup. The recipe was from The Joy of Cooking (a classic), and the soup started with cubing some butternut squash and roasting it in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper for about an hour, until it was caramelized. Meanwhile, we began sauteing up some leeks and ginger in butter. We chose to use larger pieces of ginger that we could remove later, since we didn't want anyone biting into a big chunk of ginger while enjoying the soup.

Before roasting...

After! All caramelized and yummy...

While the squash was roasting and the leeks and ginger were going on the stove, Xani made some homemade croutons to go on top of the soup. She cubed some baguette, and then took butter and oil, and some thyme, and toasted them up in the oven. Delicious!

When the squash was done, it was added to the leeks and ginger, along with some homemade chicken stock. That cooked for a while, and then we removed the ginger pieces, and busted out the immersion blender to break everything down.

We brought the soup to the Smiths and reheated it there, and had to add some extra chicken stock since it had thickened quite a bit. We served it with a few croutons on top and it was FANTASTIC! This dish was a favorite for almost everyone - it was creamy and rich, with lots of different flavors going on from the squash, the ginger, the stock, and the crunchy croutons.

Next we made the Beet and Goat Cheese salad with Mint Vinaigrette that we had for EP's belated birthday dinner, and it was just as good this time around. We roasted and peeled the beets (using gloves to prevent red stains all over all our hands, or what we came to call "Beet Hand"), and then sliced them up. Instead of slicing the beets super-thin to emulate carpaccio, we sliced them into wedges, which are easier to eat. Like before, we modified the recipe to incorporate the shallots into the mint vinaigrette, instead of putting them on the plate with the beets and the goat cheese.

No pink hands here!

The salad was delicious and refreshing, and the sweetness of the beets played off of the tart, savory flavor of the goat cheese. The minty vinaigrette was light and brought the whole salad together. The only bad thing about this salad is that the moment you place the goat cheese on the beets, everything turns hot pink! So if you ever want to serve this salad, put the cheese on the plate at the last second!

Next we made Potato-Turnip Latkes for the starch of the meal (hey, we had to get a little Hanukah shout-out in there!). For these latkes (potato pancakes), we shredded potatoes, turnips, and yellow onions, drained them, and then added a mixture of eggs, flour, thyme, and salt and pepper. Xani found this recipe on Chow and it required that the latkes be cooked in duck fat (!!) but we were all out, so we cooked them instead in chicken fat (normal!). The only issue we had with cooking them is that they were falling apart in the pan when we would try to flip them - we attribute this problem to not enough binder (the egg mixture). We should have added more, but of course hindsight is 20/20!

Instead of serving the latkes with the traditional applesauce (or sour cream, or BOTH), Xani had the idea to make a compote of dried fruits, to sort of class it up a bit. We found a recipe for a dried apricot and fig compote in The Joy of Cooking cookbook. We started by soaking the apricots and figs in red wine to plump them. Then we chopped them up and put them over a flame with some red wine and sugar, which we cooked down until it was almost like a jam consistency.

The latkes with the compote were awesome! However, this dish had to be transported to the Smith's, and as is true with all fried foods, the latkes would have been much more delicious right out of the frying pan, instead of having been reheated in the oven. Despite that, the flavor was great and it was a nice upscale version of traditional latkes and applesauce.

The last dish we made was a Pear Crisp with Vanilla Brown Butter, a dish featured on one of our most favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. The recipe is originally from Gourmet Magazine and says to do individual ramekins of the dish, but we decided to make one big pear crisp for the group instead of messing with individual ones.

The first thing you make for the crisps was the crumb topping, which was made of flour, whole skin-on almonds, brown sugar, salt, and of course butter. Then we made the filling, which began with lots of butter and the seeds from a vanilla bean, which was browned together. Let us just mention that the smell of vanilla brown butter is out of this world, and we almost lost focus just standing over the pot and breathing deeply! Anyway, the vanilla brown butter was added to cut up pears, some flour, brown sugar, white sugar, and pear brandy (!), and placed in a baking dish. The pears were then covered with the almond crumble topping, and the whole thing was baked until bubbly and delicious.

Crumb topping

Gellie at the ready

Real vanilla beans!

The dessert was a big hit! It was sweet but not too sweet, and there was lots of crumble to go around, so every bite had a bit of pear and a bit of topping. We served it with whipped cream (or ice cream if you were smart enough to request it!).

The rest of the meal prepared by the Smiths was also great. It was a delicious meal with good friends, lots of good wine, and of course, PRESENTS! Also, how adorable is this Bouche de Noel from Touche Touchet Bakery in Columbia??

Look at that mouse!

We hope everyone had a great holiday, and is gearing up for 2008! Don't forget: more holiday-related posts coming soon!

Happy holidays,

E & X

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Excuses, Excuses... and NEWS!

by Xani and Erin

Another day, another post by the BCD girls explaining why they haven't posted anything in SO LONG. Oops! We do apologize for the lack of posts, but we promise there is lots of great content to come. We have been cooking elaborate holiday dinners, and baking up a storm; our cameras are literally bursting with our trademark mediocre photographs! We know you just can't wait, and we guarantee there's lots of content on the way...

In the meantime, we've got a couple of pieces of exciting(?) news to share with all of you.

Piece the First:

For those of you who are into the Facebook thing, we have started a Black Coffee and a Donut group! If you search for "Black Coffee and a Donut" in the search bar on the left-hand side of the screen, the group will come up. Please join us!

Piece the Second:

It's looking pretty likely that we will be participating in a very exciting event in Baltimore called the The 2008 Great Taste Food and Wine Show which takes place on February 23, 2008 at the Grand Tremont Hotel. The lovely Dara of Dining Dish is organizing a panel discussion of Baltimore food bloggers, and graciously asked us to participate!!! This event has all kinds of cool exhibits, demonstrations, celebrity chefs, etc., etc. and we are THRILLED to be a part of it! We would certainly love to see many of your smiling faces there so check out the website for ticket info, etc. We'll definitely share any additional information we have here on the blog, and on the I Need My Black Coffee and a Donut group on Facebook!

Happy Holidays!

X & E

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