Thursday, August 22, 2019

Snickerdoodles for Shyla's Wedding

Snickerdoodles for Shyla's Wedding - made July 27, 2019
I've mentioned earlier that one of my nieces is getting married. I offered to make a cookie dessert bar for the reception and Shyla chose which cookies she wanted me to make: chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chocolate chip cookies, white chocolate macadamia cookies, oatmeal raisin (favorite cookie of Zack, the groom), walnut butter shortbread (although I substitute almonds for the walnuts) and snickerdoodles.
When I visited Shyla and Zack in Denver a few months ago, I tested out a couple of the recipes at the mile-high elevation, in the hotel kitchenette I was going to bake them in. This snickerdoodle recipe held up to the test, although I did end up making my own modifications to the original recipe from The Pinning Mama. I'm a little nervous about making 6 kinds of cookies for over 100 guests, not because of the volume I'm planning on making but because I'm not going to be in my own kitchen with my own equipment or my own ovens. I'm not daunted by making hundreds of cookies or baking them off the day before and day of the wedding. Even if I'm going to do it with only one oven and 2-3 days beforehand to make all the cookie dough and shop for ingredients.

However, I'm also not stupid and one of the reasons I chose this particular snickerdoodle recipe is for its simplicity and because it didn't need cream of tartar. That might sound weird but when you're going to make dozens of cookies and won't be pulling stuff out of your own pantry, the fewer specialized ingredients you need (which, frankly, the non-baking bride and groom aren't going to use after the wedding, haha), the better. Plus, hey, it's still a good snickerdoodle recipe.
When I did the taste test bake in Denver, we learned a couple of important things. First, don't buy the generic, no-name granulated sugar. While it worked fine in the dough itself, using it as the cinnamon-sugar coating for the cookies didn't work at all. The granules were too large to adhere well to the cookies, especially chilled or frozen dough balls. We're sticking with C&H for the real day. Second, 3 cups of flour is simply too much for the dough at this elevation. I cut it back by 1/4 cup and it worked well. The dough was still easy to work with, the cookies stayed thick and the taste and texture were just fine. I also added 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the dough itself for extra flavor.

I've been making this particular recipe a few times before the wedding as I want to make sure I get the practice in and unearth any potential pitfalls with the recipe now, not right before the wedding. Plus, as I'm used to making behemoth cookies, I had to make "normal-size" cookies with these to figure out how many cookies each recipe will yield. Much as I want to make big-as-your-head cookies for the wedding, I knew that would only lead to waste. People will be eating other things and when given the choice of 6 cookies, you know some guests will take 1 of each kind (those are my tribe) but not be able to finish them all (not my tribe). So cookies the size that normal people who aren't me are what it's going to be. This recipe yields 15 such normal-sized cookies. You could possibly make them smaller but I wanted to make them thick enough to still have the texture I like in these cookies. So 15 it is.

1 cup butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 egg
2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon (or more or less if you prefer)
  1. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste and mix to combine briefly. Add egg and mix until just combined. Do not overbeat.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Add to butter-sugar mixture in two additions, mixing on low speed until just combined. Do not overbeat.
  3. Portion dough into thick discs, golf-ball-size or smaller, whichever your preference.
  4. Cover dough balls and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Combine 1/4 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Coat each dough ball completely in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and evenly space on prepared baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until edges are set and middles no longer look doughy or raw. Let rest on baking sheets for 2-3 minutes then remove to wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Beef Tapa (Filipino dish)

Beef Tapa - made August 16, 2019 from Foxy Folksy
I haven't really been baking lately because of the weight loss challenge at work and trying to eat healthier and/or count calories, whatever gets me through the day. I'm having doubts I'll actually win this challenge as some of my coworkers are kicking my ass so far. I'm placing in the top 5 each week (so far) but only the top 3 get any prize so being #4 or #5 isn't going to do me much good, challenge-wise.

But, my competitive nature aside, I can't lose sight of the fact that I am losing weight. I plateau'd for almost the past 2 weeks, no matter how on track my eating was or how much I worked out. You can imagine my utter annoyance with that, especially since I actually was doing well with calorie counting and exercise. That annoyance drove me to switch to low carbing. Low carbing doesn't work for me in the long run but I wasn't talking until death to the scale but just enough to get off this plateau.
Three days in and the plateau broke so I can't be sorry. I don't know how long I'll keep it up but now that I'm down 8 lbs (7.8 more to go), I want to see how far I can last on it. I'm not talking Atkins Phase 1 low carbing as that's too drastic for me and you know I'll gain that weight back the minute I look at a piece of fruit or a noodle. But few enough carbs that I get more full on fat and protein and my calorie count naturally comes in lower. You actually can't overeat a Costco rotisserie chicken. Trust me, I might've tried.
But, since I was trying not to bake sweets and wanted more protein choices, I went searching for some of my favorite Filipino dishes to make. I don't often cook Filipino food. Or at all. But I was in the mood to try and I found this easy recipe for Tapa or beef. It's meant to be part of tapsilog, which is a common Filipino breakfast and is comprised of stir-fried beef (tapa or the "tap" part), garlic fried rice (siningag or the "si" part) and fried egg (itlog is the Tagalog word for egg or the "log" part) - hence tap-si-log. I love tapsilog. I love tocilog even more but that's the next post.
This isn't quite an authentic tapsilog since I left off the garlic fried rice for obvious reasons but I adhered to the tapa and the fried egg. You do have to plan ahead for this recipe but mostly because the meat needs to be marinated overnight. But the marinade itself is really simple to put together. I followed the author's suggestion to whack the beef slices with a meat mallet to tenderize them as I don't trust my beef choosing abilities to get a tender cut of meat or beef frying capabilities to keep it tender. So meat mallet whacking was extra insurance.
I used lemon juice in this recipe but if you have access to calamansi (think of calamansi as small, sweet Filipino lemons), using that instead of the lemon juice probably makes it a little more authentic. This was delicious, btw. Very flavorful with the garlic and the lemon. Don't overcook it or the meat will get tough. Just sear on high heat. It won't be fork tender (at least mine wasn't) but it isn't tough either; rather, it had a good chew like beef should have without overworking your jaws. And the flavor really can't be beat. The only thing that could make this better is to actually eat it like a true tapsilog, with garlic fried rice. Maybe in another 7.8 pounds. But OMG, I can actually cook a Filipino dish.
1/2 pound beef sirloin, sliced thinly
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda, optional
  1. With a meat mallet, pound each slice of meat until flattened to about 1/4" thick.
  2. Place the beef into a bowl and sprinkle with baking soda. Mix until well blended.
  3. Add lemon juice and mix. Add remaining ingredients and stir to coat evenly.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate beef in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan or skillet. Fry each side of the meat for 3-5 minutes or until browned and the liquid is absorbed. Add more oil as needed. Do not overcook.
  6. Serve hot with fried eggs and garlic fried rice.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

It's National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

Yes, that's right - August 4 is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know I have a plethora of chocolate chip cookie recipes on here and a number of variations on the classic chocolate chip cookie.

There's the brownie-stuffed chocolate chip cookie (it's what it sounds like - a brownie inside a chocolate chip cookie) that I made for one of my holiday dessert parties which, to this day, I still have my guests telling me it was their favorite from that party.

Then there's its polar opposite of a chocolate chip cookie stuffed inside a brownie: Chocolate Chip Cookie Brownies.

However, for today, let's stick with the classics. I'm often asked, "what's your favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies?" I don't have ONE favorite. Why limit yourself? But I understand the need for the question. Unlike me, many people don't have the time or inclination to try out dozens of different recipes for chocolate chip cookies. Their loss.

So let me curate my top 5. I have more than 5 but we can keep it simple so as not to overwhelm a normal person who just wants to make a good cookie. My top favorite recipes also fluctuate over time, partly due to the recency bias where I tend to favor what I've made most recently and partly due to changing tastes.

Basic, Great Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Seven Spoons - I like this one so much, it's the chocolate chip cookie recipe I'm making for the cookie dessert bar at my niece's wedding. Plus it has the advantage of being tested at high altitude. It passed.

Levain Bakery Copycat Chocolate Chip Cookies from Smells Like Home - you knew I had to include 1 or 2 Levain Bakery copycats in the top 5, right? Yes, I'm still obsessed with Levain Bakery. And I'm okay with that.

Levain Bakery Copycat Chocolate Chip Cookies from Bustle - slightly different texture, still amazingly good. It's the texture and thickness that wins me over on this one.

Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies from Center Cut Cook - go big or go home is all I've got to say. Even at room temperature, this cookie was amazing.

Copycat Panera Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Pinning Mama - this is a (somewhat) oldie but still a goodie. This is the cookie that helped me realize using mini chocolate chips can actually provide more chocolate in a cookie than the regular-sized chips or big chunks of chocolate.

So there you have it. In today's world, with the news being so relentlessly depressing, a National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day might seem frivolous. But I choose to see it as an opportunity to do something kind for your fellow man. Make up a batch of cookies and share with those around you. Cookies may not solve anything but the gesture of sharing them might brighten someone's day. I took a few over next door to meet my new neighbors the other day and also dropped off some at the sales office of the builder I bought my house from. I like to think the gestures were appreciated as much as the cookies. And that's what matters.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Norman Love Chocolates

Norman Love Chocolates - received July 17, 2019
My old college roommate, Caroline, always gets credit every year for introducing me to some kind of confectioner or bakery or cupcakery I'd never heard of but will always enjoy when she sends me a birthday gift from said place.
This year's gift was a box of chocolates from Norman Love Chocolates. I'd never heard of Norman Love but I'm always willing to find out about new confectioners or chocolatiers, especially artisan chocolate makers, which Norman Love is. From his website, it says he's based out of Florida, has been making chocolates since 2001 and, since 2006, has been voted 6 times as the best premium chocolate company in the United States. Wow.

Upon opening the box, it reminded me of Christopher Elbow Chocolates, also another artisanal chocolatier who makes equally beautiful chocolates.
As expected, the packaging was classy and came beautifully preserved in a FedEx box lined with gel cold packs so that the chocolates nicely survived being shipped in the hot temps of summer. Seriously, opening the package showed the chocolates arrived as well as if I'd picked them up from an air-conditioned retail shop.

The flavors are also amazing and varied, as one would expect from an artisanal chocolatier. I've included the names and descriptions to match the pictures in case that tempts anyone to get their own box from Norman Love Chocolates:
From top row, left to right
  • New York Cheesecake: white chocolate and fresh-baked cheesecake
  • Tahitian Caramel: (milk chocolate) buttery golden caramel and lots of vanilla
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly: (milk chocolate) tart strawberry jam and creamy peanut butter
Bottom row, left to right:
  • Hot Dark Chocolate: Silky dark ganache with jalapeno pepper
  • Passion Panna Cotta: (white chocolate) buttermilk ganache with passion fruit jam
  • Dark Chocolate Cream Truffle: Venezuelan Criollo beans mixed with cream
Top, left to right
  • Shot in the Dark Coffee Truffle: espresso, coffee-infused cream and dark chocolate
  • Dulce de Leche: (milk chocolate) dulce de leche and caramelized white chocolate
  • Sicilian Pistachio: (milk chocolate) pistachios blended with white chocolate
Bottom, left to right
  • Strawberry (white chocolate): ripe strawberries in white chocolate
  • 80% Coeur de Guanaja: intense dark chocolate ganache
  • Yuzu Mango: Yuzu jam, mango and white chocolate
Left to right
  • Key Lime Shell (white chocolate): tart and sweet Key Lime pie ganache
  • Raspberry: tart raspberry and dark chocolate
  • Hazelnut Praline Truffle: (milk chocolate) crunchy caramelized hazelnut praline
It's times like these where I wish I had a more sophisticated palate. I don't think mine has evolved enough to fully appreciate all of these delicate and creative flavors. Which is what artisanal chocolate is all about! But I can tell you the ones I did eat were amazing. Case in point, the Hazelnut Praline Truffle pictured below. Delicious. Thank goodness it was small and there was only one in the box.

What about the weight loss challenge, you ask? Not to worry, I worked them into my daily calories and still stayed within my goal. It helps to also go running that morning and burn those calories in advance. And it's kinda hilarious that according to the My Fitness Pal app, if I had eaten 3 in a day (I didn't), I would've finally hit the fat % goal on my macros.

In the interests of self-preservation, I also shared with family and friends so I could spread the calories love around.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Greek Yogurt with Blueberries

Greek Yogurt with Blueberries - part of my weight loss challenge
No, this isn't a recipe. I laugh at the idea of me making yogurt from scratch, Greek or any other nationality. Why? Because I don't actually like yogurt. Too sour/bitter, not sweet enough, don't care for the texture.

So it might astound you (or maybe it just astounded me) that I've been eating a serving of Greek yogurt with half a cup of blueberries every day for the last few weeks. I give full credit to the Hungry Girl Diet Book because I got the idea there. It's listed as one of the low-calorie snacks to keep you full but also within range of your supposed calorie intake.
I'm posting this as a snack idea for anyone else trying to lose weight or just eat healthier. Here's the thing. Diets don't work for me. I've tried them all, beginning with the Beverly Hills Diet when I was 16, to moving to mindful eating a la the Beck Diet, to time-restricted eating to low carbing, Atkins, South Beach, paleo, Whole30 and more recently, keto. I lasted 2 days on keto but could never manage to eat enough fat for the diet.

Throughout it all, the only thing that's ever worked for me longer than a few weeks is to count calories. And even then, calorie counting simply sucked. It made me obsessive about weighing all my portions, fretting about logging every morsel I ate, thinking about food all the time, dodging invitations to lunch or dinner because I simply didn't know how many calories I was eating in a restaurant. I'm a numbers person so I was also overly focused on how many calories I had left to go to satisfy the ever-present vortex that was my stomach. Quite frankly, I hate being hungry. In my non-dieting times, I also eat like an adolescent. As in, I love fried foods, salty chips, sweets. Is the last any kind of surprise? Then you haven't read the last 10 years of blog posts.
Anyway, back to the yogurt. I had a vanity goal to lose 10-15 pounds for my niece's wedding this fall. Plus our upcoming family reunion taking place two weeks before that. I've been half-assing trying to lose weight all year. As I run out of time and with the weight loss challenge at work coming up at just the right time, it was time to go full ass.

I mentioned I don't like yogurt. I decided to try Greek yogurt in an eat-your-vegetables (I don't like veggies either) martyrdom mindset. Took the first spoonful. Yep, didn't like it for the aforementioned reasons. But the Hungry Girl Diet Book as well as web searches extolled the benefits of Greek yogurt. So I got the brilliant idea of freezing it or at least partially freezing it. So my inner adolescent could pretend it would be like ice cream.

Astonishingly, this kinda worked. It diminished the texture issue of Greek yogurt being too thick and creamy if it was partially frozen. I say partially frozen because fully frozen makes it too hard to eat. Because let's not kid ourselves, this really isn't ice cream, no matter how much I like to pretend. It's more like ice milk than ice cream when frozen. It's still bitter and sour for my sweets-loving taste buds but adding the fresh blueberries helps. A lot. You can substitute another fruit or berry of your choice but blueberries are also pretty good for you.
Even bigger benefit is because I only partially freeze it, eat the parts that are frozen and put it back to freeze the rest, it takes me awhile to eat a whole serving. 80 calories for the yogurt, 45 calories for the blueberries. Voila, a 125-calorie snack that lasts the afternoon in terms of eating it and keeping me from being hungry.

I'm back to counting calories to lose weight but it hasn't been as onerous as in the past because of foods like these that keep me full and don't have a lot of calories. It still isn't Ben & Jerry's but for my health and my weight loss goals, it'll do. Partly thanks to this snack idea and to the Growing Oatmeal Breakfast I've been eating each morning, as of this writing, I'm now down 3.8 pounds. 11.2 more to go.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Glazed Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

Glazed Pumpkin Sugar Cookies - made dough July 8, 2019 from Together as a Family
Although I'm posting this recipe after my weight loss challenge at work started, I didn't actually cheat with this as I baked the taste test cookies the day before the challenge started.
This is very much like the Lofthouse or Swig Sugar Cookies in terms of taste and texture but with the added (mild) flavor of pumpkin. The cookies themselves weren't really sweet; instead, the sweetness comes from the glaze.
I love big, soft (but not cakey), chewy cookies like these. Don't underbake them too much though or they will just be mush. These are pretty dense and although the original recipe called for baking them for only 7-8 minutes, I baked mine for 12-15 and even then, they could've used an extra minute in my oven. You want to bake them until the edges are set and show some cracks while the middles literally don't look raw. Then take them out.

These are best cooled completely, not just so you can glaze them without the glaze melting but so they'll have the best, moist texture without being gummy.  While I'm a little early for fall baking, these would be good year round but especially if you want an autumn cookie to show off.
Pumpkin Sugar Cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup pure pumpkin
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon instead)

Pumpkin Spice Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon instead)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add softened butter, oil, pumpkin, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla and eggs. Cream together until smooth and combined.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Add to wet ingredients in 3 additions, mixing on low speed until just combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls and press down on each dough ball with the bottom of a glass to flatten. Dip the glass bottom in granulated sugar to prevent sticking.
  5. Evenly space on prepared baking sheets and bake for 8-9 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
  6. Make the glaze: combine all glaze ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Use more or less milk, depending on how thick you want the glaze. Spread onto each cooled cookie and let sit for several minutes to set.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Growing Oatmeal Breakfast

Growing Oatmeal Breakfast - made July 2-7, 2019, modified from The Hungry Girl Diet Book
I joined this weight loss challenge at work. It started this past Monday and runs for 10 weeks until the end of September. Person with the highest percentage of weight loss wins. The end of the challenge nicely coincides with my dad’s upcoming birthday party which we’ve turned into a family reunion in late September and my niece’s wedding in October. Both events where it’d be nice to shed a few or 15 pounds for the pictures. So game on.

In serendipitous timing, I’d bought the Hungry Girl Diet Cookbook a couple of weeks prior. At first I thought I was going on the Hungry Girl Diet, lured by the testimonials of people losing 10 pounds in 4 weeks. But past experience has taught me that diets don’t work for me. They work for a couple of weeks and I drop the pounds then I stop and they come back on. Instead, I decided I would incorporate what I liked from the cookbook into my long-term way of eating and substitute or supplement the dishes that worked with my less-healthy choices.
Plus, the work challenge at the office. My vain and petty soul wants to win. I’m undecided whether I’m going to go dark on my baking blog during this challenge or post occasionally with the “diet” recipes that I like. Either way, if you see me posting a full-fat, full-on sugar baking recipe, you know I cheated am taking a foodie break.
As for this recipe, I am normally not a big fan of oatmeal. I don’t mind it, especially in an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie (ha) but it’s not my normal breakfast fare. Still, perhaps it was time to start eating like a grown up. Fortunately, even if I’m not an oatmeal fan, I can at least eat it and find it tolerably okay. 
I didn’t have any canned pumpkin or no-calorie sweetener when I first made this recipe so my first couple of morning breakfasts did without those things. The oatmeal was pretty bland and I kept upping the cinnamon. I didn’t mind the blandness that much because my taste buds themselves are pretty bland but the oatmeal is immeasurably helped by the chopped Fuji apple I added to it each morning. I did eventually end up making a Target run to get the ingredients I needed and made it the proper Hungry Girl way by the third morning. That way turned out a bit more creamy than the incomplete way I’d started with but I adjusted. It’s still bland but that was okay. I do recommend topping with apple chunks or your favorite fruit to provide a little texture and sweetness.
The great thing about this dish? It’s genuinely so filling that it takes me upwards of half an hour to consume the whole serving. I’m normally a fast eater and breakfast can easily be a memory within 5 minutes so this helps slow me down. I've now been having this breakfast every day for the past couple of weeks and have actually grown fond of it enough to keep on with it. It helps that it's only 300-ish calories and keeps me from becoming hungry again until an hour or so before lunch, at which time I eat the rest of the Fuji apple to tide me over until lunch.
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1 no-calorie sweetener packet
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup fat-free milk
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 to 1/2 cup apple, cut into chunks
  1. In a nonstick pot, combine all ingredients except canned pumpkin and apples. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. 
  2. Add pumpkin and cook until thick and creamy, 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool and thicken. Top with chopped apple.