Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cookie Butter Brown Sugar Cookies

Cookie Butter Brown Sugar Cookies - made dough April 11, 2014 from Averie Cooks
Have you tried cookie butter yet? Do you know there's something ironic about making a spread from (biscoff) cookies then making that spread back into cookies? It's almost like dehydrating fruit for one texture then plumping them back up with water for another texture. But, if all's right with the world, the taste remains the same or perhaps better. Such is the case with Biscoff and Biscoff spread. Or more generically known as cookie butter. You can find the knockoff version at Trader Joe's, labeled Speculoos, next to the peanut butter and almond butter. I found this jar of Biscoff spread at Costco. It practically jumped into my cart, shoving aside the Nutella to cozy up next to the 10-lb bag of granulated sugar and 72-ounce package of chocolate chips. Funny how inanimate objects will do that when I need want them for baking.
I first drooled over these cookies on Averie's blog. I've raved before how her cookies make me want to lick my screen as a visceral reaction whenever I see them. So I was excited to try out this recipe. Except....mine didn't come out the way hers did. Mine wasn't as chubby and they formed a crust on top, almost like when you bake packaged brownies and they have that thin film on top after baking. I followed her directions to the letter and I think the problem was beating the dough after the eggs were added for the 4 minutes she mentions in her original directions. Usually I don't beat cookie dough that long after the eggs are in it because that's what causes that meringue-like crusty film. I also didn't add the extra two tablespoons of flour because I didn't think I needed to (the dough wasn't oily). After freezing them overnight, I baked them as long as she said to in her directions but they still seemed a little raw even after they had cooled. They didn't have the scrumptious-looking texture hers did. Click on the link to see her original post and you'll see what I mean.
However, they still tasted good. Cookie butter rules. As with nutella and peanut butter, I don't eat it straight out of the jar but I love it in baked goods. I'm going to try this recipe again, beat it for less time, add the two extra tablespoons of flour, and bake it a trifle longer to see if I can get something closer to what hers looks like. This is the first time mine didn't turn out the way hers did so now I feel the pressure to "fix" what I did. And that has almost nothing to do with wanting this cookie again.
1 large egg
1 cup creamy Cookie Butter or Biscoff Spread
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the egg, cookie butter, brown sugar and vanilla on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. 
  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add flour, cornstarch, cinnamon, baking soda and salt; mix on low speed just until incorporated, about 1 minute; don't overmix. If dough is too oily, add up to 2 tablespoons of flour.
  3. Using a medium 2-inch cookie scoop, form heaping two-tablespoon mounds. Flatten slightly, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 5 days before baking.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just begining t o set, even if slightly undercooked, pale and glossy in the center. Do not bake longer than 9 minutes for soft cookies; they will firm up as they cool. Cool completely on wire racks.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Banana Cake #13

Banana Cake - made April 6, 2014 from Evil Shenanigans
I've decided I'm going to start numbering my banana cake experiments. It's much easier to track them by number than to call them all sorts of variations of "banana cake with cream cheese frosting". Let's see how many banana cake recipes I'm going to try in my quest to get close to the fluffy texture of the banana cake from Icing on the Cake.
This is number 13 and while it was good, it's looking like I'll be making a 14th attempt because the texture of this was typical of most banana cakes: moist and cakey but not fluffy enough. I made it in a 9 x 13 pan instead of as two round cake layers, both for ease of cutting and serving at work but also because it was easier and less time consuming to bake in one large pan than two smaller ones that I would then have to fill and frost. The taste was fine but the texture still wasn't right. Back to the drawing board.
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla

Frosting (I only made a half recipe for the 9 x 13 pan)
8 ounces cream cheese, cool but not cold
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar (or less depending on your preferences to taste and consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 8 or 9" cake pans with parchment rounds or 1 9 x 13" pan lined with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Mash ripe bananas with a fork until mostly mush.
  3. Pour buttermilk into the bananas and whisk together. Set aside.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until well mixed and lighter in color. Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla. Mix well.
  6. Add the dry ingredients and the banana mixture in three additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
  7. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pan(s). Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and pulls away from the sides of the pan and the toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
  8. Allow the cake(s) to cool for 10 minutes in the pan(s) then turn out to cool completely on racks.
  9. While the cake(s) cool, prepare the frosting: cream the cream cheese with the butter then add the powdered sugar and vanilla. When frosting is desired consistency, frost the cooled cake(s).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Pasta Market

The Pasta Market - takeout on April 4, 2014 and April 8, 2014, 3.5 stars on yelp, 170 reviews
The Pasta Market is the place my cousin Christine recommended for takeout pasta. The one I was looking for when I ended up at Bon Chon Chicken the first time around. Turns out I needed to go just a little farther to the next strip mall over. Their menu is posted outside on the glass wall so you can take your time perusing their selections before going inside and placing your order. Although they also have menus inside if you missed it outside, both mounted and as paper copies at the counter.
It was fairly empty the first time I went but I was a bit on the early side, just before 6 pm. They offer the standard selections of different pastas (spaghetti, angel hair, linguine, fettuccine, gnocchi) in various sauces (marinara, bolognese, pesto, alfredo, carbonara) as well as filled pastas like tortellini, cannelloni, ravioli and lasagna. You can also opt to add more vegetables or proteins like chicken, shrimp, etc to your pasta dishes for an extra charge. To further carbo load, there are also pizza and calzone options as well as specialty entrees like veal parmigiana, linguine vongole, and sandwiches. So basically, the Italian version of a Chinese menu.
Most, if not all, of the orders come with your choice of breadsticks or garlic bread. The first time I went, I chose the breadsticks as the guy behind the counter said that's what they were known for. They were good but ironically I preferred the garlic bread that I tried on my second visit.
Breadsticks with cheese spread for dipping
The first time I went, I ordered the spaghetti and meatballs in meat sauce - my comfort food. They give a pretty decent-sized portion for something less than $10 so I more than got my money's worth. Moreover, they give a lot of sauce proportionate to the noodles (at least to me) so I ended up boiling my own angel hair pasta and adding it to the original dish. So I got 3 meals out of the 1 order. That's one way to make my takeout dollars stretch.
I don't know that I would call it gourmet Italian cuisine. It's okay. I don't have a very high bar for pasta so it suited me just fine. Moreover, it was convenient and at the right price point for a takeout meal. You can order at the counter when you arrive and they have your order ready within 5 minutes or you can call ahead to place your order and pick it up when you're ready. A boon for busy working families or overworked non-cooks who want a different option than Lean Cuisine at the end of a work day. Ahem.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
The staff was very nice both times I've gone. They're friendly and courteous, they ask if you want plastic utensils when you pick up your order and they provide extra packets of Parmesan for sprinkling over the pasta. They also accommodated my request both times for different noodles (angel hair for the spaghetti & meatballs and spaghetti noodles instead of linguine for the carbonara). I know it's just as easy for them to boil one type of noodle than another but I appreciated the flexibility and customer service.
The only thing I would caution is they do have a tendency to overcook their pasta; at least both of the orders I tried on 2 separate visits were over done. So if you like your pasta al dente, you may want to specify that or else lower your expectations.
Chicken Carbonara
The carbonara was good too and I appreciated the generous amounts of chicken and prosciutto in it as most places tend to skimp on the protein. As with the spaghetti, there was more than enough carbonara sauce for me to add my own noodles and once again, I got three servings out of one order from this one as well. If you're like me and don't cook, having 1 takeout meal feed you for 3 days (okay, yes, that did strike me as sounding just a little bit pathetic) means 2 days you don't have to worry about "what's for dinner?" Pathetic or not, I'll take it.
Garlic Bread
On my second visit, I finally noticed that to the right of the counter where you place your order, they had a refrigerated display case of desserts. How I missed that the first time around I can't explain. I made up for the oversight by choosing a slice of chocolate cake, "just to see" what it was like.
Normally, I'm very cynical about these things and didn't have high expectations of something sold out of a display case that isn't in a bakery. Color me wrong because I thought the chocolate cake was excellent. The cake layers were moist and whatever mousse/filling they used between the layers was delicious. It was heavier than a mousse but not sickly sweet like a frosting. It had the consistency of a creamy cheesecake but not the flavor or tang of a cheesecake. So I don't know what it was other than a dense, yummy mousse. Don't forget the part where I don't usually like frosting or creamy desserts. So for me to like this when it was mostly creamy, frosting-like confection is something.
Chocolate Cake - $3.95
It was pretty rich and normally I'd have a few bites of something like this then leave the rest for the next day just to exercise portion control. This time around, I told myself to put a sock in it and enjoyed it all on the same day. Granted, I had to spread the bites out over a 2-hour period but I still ate it all. And licked my fork.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter Jewel Cookies

Easter Jewel Cookies - made dough April 11, 2014, baked April 12, 2014 from Saving You Dinero
For the past few years, for Easter, I've made some kind of "nest" or basket dessert recipe. I've done Nutella Rice Krispie Easter Baskets, Chocolate Easter Baskets made out of chocolate and pretzels, and Almond Joy Brownie Easter Nests. Traditional Easter desserts can also include carrot cake or anything with lemon to capture the springtime essence. You'll notice that my Easter creations tend to center around using Cadbury mini eggs. Meaning the only reason I make something is to serve as an excuse to buy my annual bag of mini eggs and put them on top of something. This year I was out of nest/basket ideas and a search for "Easter cookies" came up with a horrifyingly beautiful assortment of iced and decorated cookies. The kind that's out of the reach of my decorating skills. But I did find this recipe from Saving You Dinero and loved it for its simplicity (links in post title).
It's essentially a little butter cookie you bake and then you push a mini egg into the center (the original recipe called for peanut M&Ms but I took liberties) as soon as you take the cookies out of the oven. The pastel colors represent springtime and you remain loyal to the Easter icon of the eggs. I also like it because if you have kids, they can easily help you with this recipe. Even if they're too young for the actual making of the dough, at least they can have the fun of pushing the mini egg into the cookie. They can "help" and it's a fun family activity - always a good way to celebrate Easter.
I really liked these cookies. Not only do they have the springtime Easter cuteness factor, but they're also quick and easy to make, you make the dough ahead of time and freeze so you can bake them on your schedule, and most importantly, they taste good. Use fresh butter (of course) to get that butter goodness taste shining through. The cookies don't spread if you bake from frozen dough, something I highly recommend. Make the dough balls small to keep them proportional to the size of the Cadbury mini eggs. These are especially good if you eat them lukewarm as the chocolate inside the candy shell, while not melt-y, will be soft. As always, do not overbake these. The cookies won't turn brown except on the bottom so time them and don't leave them in for too long or they'll easily become dry. Baked just right, they're a little bite of buttery goodness. Just like peanut butter blossoms seem to be a traditional cookie at Christmas, I think these just became my go-to Easter cookie.
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
pastel M&Ms or Cadbury mini eggs
  1. Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Mix in egg and vanilla until well incorporated then add flour, salt and baking powder slowly.
  2. Split dough in half and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Alternatively, you can form into dough balls and freeze 12 minutes prior to baking.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. If you haven't already, shape dough into small balls about the size of a walnut and place 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom edges. Do not overbake.
  6. Remove from the oven and immediately press one pastel M&M or Cadbury mini egg into the center of each cookie. Remove from baking sheet and allow to cool completely.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Almond Joy Twix Bar Cookies

Almond Joy Twix Bar Cookies - made April 4, 2014 from Just a Pinch
This is a half-fail/half-success experiment. But I can't tell you which half is which. When I saw the picture on pinterest, I was "me-likey" because it had a crust, it had coconut, it had chocolate. You could also add almonds to make it more Almond-Joy-like. I didn't need as much as the original recipe dictated so I only made a half recipe and baked it in an 8 x 8 inch pan.
I went further off the beaten path because instead of melting bittersweet chocolate for an even chocolate layer on top, I decided to be oh-so-clever and instead sprinkle the top with chopped almonds and chocolate chips and, in the last few minutes of baking, chopped up Twix bars. Why? Well, a couple of weeks ago I took it into my head to clean out and organize my pantry. I discovered I had ingredients past their expiration date (those went regretfully into the trash), a leftover bag of Twix from Halloween (it should probably bother me that it's been that long yet according to the Twix people, it wasn't at the "use by" date yet), and a hoard of C&H light brown, dark brown and powdered sugar. I also had 3 large bags of coconut in my freezer. So it was time to use those up, especially the Twix.
I think this bar cookie was a good concept but I don't know that I loved it in my execution. Baking a half recipe in a smaller pan made it just a tad too thick, especially when it's mostly made up of coconut. I love coconut but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. If you decide to make a half recipe, I'd bake it in a 9 x 9 pan instead. I also thought the chopped up Twix was a little jarring and didn't add anything to the cookie. I would've been better off making it more like a magic cookie bar with the almonds and chocolate chips sprinkled on top and omitting the Twix. Or melting the chocolate and pouring it on as the top layer like the original recipe did.
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
28 ounces shredded coconut (I used sweetened flake coconut)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups bittersweet chocolate chunks
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. For thinner bars, you can use a jelly roll pan.
  2. In a small bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until combined. Add the flour and salt. Mix to combine until it resembles chunky bread crumbs. (Note: it will not form a dough.) Transfer into the prepared pan and evenly press into an even layer. Bake for 8 minutes.
  3. Prepare coconut topping: In a large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, coconut and vanilla. Spread over the crust and bake for another 20-25 minutes, until it begins to brown. If you're not going to make the chocolate layer, you can sprinkle chopped toasted almonds and chocolate chips on top of the coconut before baking.
  4. Chocolate topping: melt the chocolate over a double boiler set over hot water. Stir until melted and smooth. Pour over cooled coconut bars and spread into an even layer. Allow to cool then refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Cut into squares.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Restaurant Review: Bon Chon Chicken

Bon Chon Chicken - dinner on April 2, 2014, 4 stars on yelp
If my coworker is the Queen of Cheap Eats, I am the Empress of Takeout. If you've been tracking my posts lately, you'll notice I haven't made a "real food" recipe in awhile. And my restaurant reviews have been as steady as ever. So I'll sum up the obvious and say I haven't been cooking. When I'm not meeting friends for lunch or dinner, I've been stopping at various places on my way home and getting takeout. I don't do fast food so it's never McDonald's but luckily for me, there are a lot of small restaurants that offer takeout orders.
I stumbled upon Bon Chon Chicken, mostly because I was searching for a place my cousin Christine recommended called The Pasta Market and I turned into the wrong strip mall. Rather than trying to find the right place, I decided I might as well scope out Bon Chon since I was already in the parking lot. The easiest way to describe it is it's like Korean KFC. You can buy various size meals with different amounts of chicken pieces: drumsticks, wings and "white meat" which turned out to be breast pieces breaded and fried. Their breading isn't as heavy as KFC and you can choose between regular garlic and spicy garlic. Side orders include fries, sweet potato fries, rice, kimchi rice and biscuits. See? Korean KFC.
Bul Go Gi Rice plate
They also offer more traditional Korean entrees like Bul Go Gi. I only intended to buy dinner for that night but I was tired and didn't want to go trolling for lunch or dinner the next day so I upped my order to a medium chicken white meat with sweet potato fries and an order of the Bul Go Gi rice plate. It came to almost $30 which I thought at first was a bit expensive. Bon Chon offers dine-in options as well as takeout orders. I ordered at the counter then sat down to wait for my order. In the 5-10 minutes I waited, a fairly steady stream of people came in. There was never really a line but as soon as one person left, another one came in, most of whom seemed to be picking up orders they'd called in. The dining area wasn't quite full while I was there but they seemed to do a pretty good takeout business.
Medium Chicken order - White Meat only
I thought the white meat chicken and the sweet potato fries were pretty good. I couldn't finish it all and ended up eating half the sweet potato fries and 3 pieces of chicken. And none of the Bul Go Gi so I reserved that for the next day. The Bul Go Gi was good too although I wasn't thrilled that it came with a salad that they had already put dressing on (I hate dressing) and the beef pieces were mixed in with onions, greens and other roughage I don't like. I ended up separating out the meat and the rice and it was enough for 2 servings. My $30 Bon Chon order actually saw me through 5 meals so it didn't out to be that expensive after all. And I have a new source for sweet potato fries - bonus.
Sweet Potato Fries

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Brown Sugar Butterscotch Cookies

Brown Sugar Butterscotch Cookies - made dough March 29, 2014 from Two Peas and Their Pod
I don't bake with butterscotch very often as it can sometimes be too sweet for me, depending on what I bake it in. But every once in awhile, I'll try something with it. It pairs especially well with banana and with brown sugar so this cookie recipe caught my eye as a viable candidate. I've also been busy enough lately that my time to bake has been more limited than usual. When that's the case, cookies are my fallback position. It takes me 10-15 minutes to make the cookie dough and portion them into dough balls to put in the freezer then when I have another 15 minutes on a different day, it's easy to bake off a sheet.
Plus, truthfully, I almost always freeze cookie dough before baking it, no matter what the directions say. Something I often forget to mention when I'm blogging a new cookie recipe. Oftentimes, I'll copy and paste the original recipe as is from wherever I got it and 95% of the time, the standard cookie recipe has you preheating the oven, mixing the cookie dough and baking the cookies right away. 95% of the time, I actually don't do that. I make the dough, portion it, freeze it and bake the cookies from frozen dough. It keeps them thicker and there's nothing more convenient than baking pre-homemade dough whenever you have time and need fresh cookies. So I did modify the directions for these to incorporate the freeze-before-you-bake part.
Mine didn't come out as thick as the ones pictured from Two Peas and Their Pod, probably because I underbaked them and they sank as they cooled. That's a good thing because these came out chewy and moist. I only used a scant cup of butterscotch chips because I really didn't want these to be too sweet with too many butterscotch chips. But they were just fine. The brown sugar flavor went very well with the butterscotch and this was a nice little cookie.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup butterscotch chips
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. Place the butter and dark brown sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until combined.
  3. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Stir in the butterscotch chips.
  4. Form dough into tablespoon or golf-size balls. Place in refrigerator or freezer until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour or more.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and place cookie dough balls evenly on sheet. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Do not overbake. Cool on the pan for 2 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.