Friday, July 31, 2015

Coconut Oreos

Coconut Oreos - made dough June 20, 2015 from Crazy for Crust
These were supposed to be modeled after the Golden Oreos you could buy at the grocery store. I’ve tried those Oreos once and will never do it again – the original is always the best. So I don’t think I should call these homemade cookies anything remotely like those Golden Oreos because these are delicious.

They’re soft, moist and chewy with a really nice brown sugar undertone. The cookies themselves aren’t too sweet (although it’s all relative) and pair nicely with a cream cheese filling mixed with coconut. Because that’s what I did. I skipped the original filling in the recipe and just went with 2 tablespoons of butter, 4 ounces of cream cheese, a teaspoon of vanilla and enough powdered sugar to make the consistency and taste I wanted. Throw in a handful of coconut and you’re ready to fill and sandwich the cookies.
As always with sandwich cookies, err on the side of making them small since you’ll be eating two cookies (and a filling) with each one. Make them as identical in size as possible and match the closest size ones with each other. Technically you should wait until they’re completely cool before adding the filling but I like to wait until they’re barely cooled just past lukewarm, sandwich one and eat it. The cookies are still a bit warm but not warm enough to melt the filling and there’s a nice contrast between the slightly warm, chewy cookie and the cool, sweet filling.
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1-2 tablespoons milk (use coconut milk for even more coconut flavor)
1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
  1. Whisk baking soda, salt, and flour in a medium bowl. Set aside. 
  2. Cream butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer). Cream until fluffy, about 1 minute. 
  3. Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Slowly mix in dry ingredients, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. 
  4. Scoop 1 tablespoon cookie balls and flatten slightly into thick discs. Wrap or cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight. 
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. Space discs evenly on cookie sheets.
  6. Bake for 7-8 minutes, until the edges are golden. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before frosting. 
  7. To make the frosting: mix butter with a hand mixer until creamy and smooth. Mix in powdered sugar slowly until crumbly. Add coconut extract and 1 tablespoon milk and mix until smooth. Add up to 1 more tablespoon of milk to get the right spreading consistency for your frosting, but only add 1 teaspoon or less at a time so you don't make it too runny. Stir in coconut. Frost the bottoms of half the cookies, then sandwich with another cookie. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Restaurant Review: Hong Kong Restaurant

Hong Kong Restaurant - lunch on July 11, 2015
I left my camera at the cabin we stayed at a couple of weeks ago when I went away for the weekend. The good news is my sister and my nieces found it and took custody of it for me. The bad news is I don't have my camera which has pictures of the last few things I baked. No pictures, no blog posts.
So I'm going with this restaurant review for Hong Kong Restaurant since I had taken those pictures with my phone and everyone knows my phone is grafted to my hand so I'll never forget that wherever I go. Yes, I am one of those people. I don''t text and drive though, just so we're clear. And I rarely use my phone for actually calling anyone. I take pictures with it, check my email, surf the web, use it for directions when I'm traveling, keep a running shopping list for whenever I'm at Target or Trader Joe's, consult the Goodreads app when I'm at the library to see what books I've been meaning to check out, log my workouts and eating onto myfitnesspal, log my steps into the fitbit app and check how I'm doing against my friends in our fitbit challenges and so on. With all that, who has time to actually use the phone to call people?
Won Ton soup
Anyway, on to the review. Hong Kong Restaurant is your standard Chinese restaurant. It's less greasy than most so it puts it slightly a cut above the average but it is pretty standard. It offers typical Chinese menu fare with soups, noodles, rice, pork, beef, poultry and seafood entrees. Prices typically vary in the $8-$12 for most entrees.

For the most part, the food is pretty decent. I've had bad Chinese food and I've had great Chinese food. This is almost squarely in the middle in that I've had better but I've also had worse.
Orange Chicken
Steamed Rice
Of the entrees we ordered, my only cautionary tale is the sweet and sour shrimp, while tasty, also comes with the shrimp pretty heavily breaded. I would've preferred a much lighter coating and more shrimp than batter. Still tasty though,
Sweet and Sour Shrimp
It wasn't very crowded when we went early Sunday afternoon so we got pretty good service. I suspect that, like most restaurants, they do most of their business doing catering and with takeout orders. When we've eaten here before, they did a far more brisk takeout business than an in-room dining business.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Caramel Candy Brownies

Caramel Candy Brownies - made June 20, 2015 from, recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
This is one of those recipes I felt compelled to make because I’d pinned it so long ago that it’s taken up permanent residence on my pinboard and I felt guilty every time I passed it over to try out a different recipe I’d pinned. I know, dumb, right? Because I could also just as easily delete the pin and not have it mock me that I haven’t done anything with it since the beginning of time. 
It was originally supposed to be made with Twix bars but I didn’t have any on hand. I did have Kit Kats left over from the Kitty KatKrunch Brownies plus some Milky Way caramels and, serendipitously, a bit of salted caramel just crying to be used. So that seemed reason enough to give this recipe a try.
To be honest, one of the reasons I’d procrastinated on trying this one is the chocolate comes all from cocoa powder. Nothing (really) wrong with that except in my experience, all-cocoa powder brownies tend to be more cakey than fudgy. It just makes for a lighter texture, even with underbaking. And you know me, I want my brownies to be dense. Fudgy. If fudge and cake were fighting to blend together, I’d knock out cake so fudge could win.
Turns out I was right. This was fudgy enough because I did underbake it but it still had more of a cakey texture than a super-fudgy one, kind of like box-mix brownies. Plus, swirling in the caramel without parbaking the brownie always results in the caramel sinking to the bottom then it’s always a battle to cut cleanly and separate the brownie from the foil lining because of the caramel goo. And I can’t say I liked the crackly crust either. As brownies go, these were okay but you know I’m a brownie snob so while my taste testers (i.e. friends and coworkers) loved these, I thought they were just okay.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
3/4 cup cocoa
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chopped Twix candy bars (can also substitute Kit Kats and Milky Way Caramels)
1/3 cup caramel ice cream topping (I used salted caramel sauce from Trader Joe's)
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Place butter in medium saucepan on the stove. Heat over medium heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and vanilla extract. 
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well with spoon after each addition. Add cocoa; stir until well blended. 
  4. Add flour, baking powder and salt; stir until combined. Stir in candy bar chunks. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Drizzle caramel evenly over the brownies. Using a toothpick, swirl caramel into brownies. 
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool brownies completely in pan on a wire rack. Once cool, cut into squares and serve.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Restaurant Review: BJ's Brewhouse

BJ's Brewhouse - lunch on June 7, 2015
BJ’s is one of those All-American restaurants we go to regularly so these pictures aren’t from one meal but multiple visits. Although they have a fairly diverse menu from sandwiches and salads to pastas and fish tacos to pizzas and burgers, in my mind, they’re mostly known for their deep dish pizzas and their pizzookies (more to follow on the pizzookies).
Their pizzas are my favorite kind: deep dish. The crust is amazing, particularly the whole wheat; you can order any of their specials with its predetermined set of toppings or build your own. As with most pizza parlors, they’re obliging enough to grant half and half orders on toppings, for an additional charge. My favorite is the Canadian Bacon and Pineapple Pizza but their BBQ Chicken is good as well. I don’t think I’ve had a bad pizza at BJ’s.
Avocado Egg Rolls
If you opt out of the pizza and prefer a burger or sandwich which comes with an option for steak fries or crispy thin-cut fries, go with the thin-cut fries. They’re nice and crunchy on the outside and mealy on the inside as all good French fries should be. It almost doesn’t matter what sandwich or burger you get as long as you get the fries. My only bad experience at BJ’s was with a turkey burger. They cooked it to within an inch of its life so it had the taste and texture of cardboard that no self-respecting turkey would endorse. Fortunately I had a plate of fries to help me get over it.
Sirloin and Fries

Now let’s talk about the pizzookies. I think BJ’s offers other desserts besides the pizzookie but I can’t tell you what they are or how they taste because I only ever get a pizzookie for dessert. In fact, most of the time when I opt to go to BJ’s, it’s because I want a pizzookie. The ironic part is they’re so easy to make and I can make them on my own but that doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of them when I’m at BJ’s. All you need to make a pizzookie is a small baking dish, your favorite cookie dough and, the most important part, vanilla ice cream. This is the one and only time you want a cookie dough that spreads. After years and years of baking experiments to get a cookie that doesn’t spread and stays thick and chubby, all that goes out the window when I make pizzookies.

You want the dough to spread so that it fills the pan. You don’t want the cookie or pizzookie to be too thick (or too thin). You want just the right amount so when you top it with ice cream, you get the right proportion of warm cookie and cold ice cream together. I know some people don’t like blending textures and temperatures together. If you’re that person, the pizzookie is not for you. If you’re like me and not only do you enjoy the warm and the cold together but you’re also a fast eater (so the ice cream doesn’t have time to melt too much over the warm cookie), you need to have a pizzookie. 
Chocolate Chip Pizzookie
BJ’s offers a variety of flavors for the pizzookie: there’s the traditional semisweet chocolate chip, there’s white chocolate macadamia, chocolate chocolate with Oreos, red velvet (not sure if that’s still on the menu but I think so) and their most recent addition is a new favorite: salted caramel chocolate chip pizzookie with pretzels baked inside the cookie for some additional crunch and a little salt to offset the sweet. All topped with ice cream. There’s no point in having a pizzookie without the ice cream.
White Chocolate Chunk Pizzookie
It’s also worth mentioning that although I’ve gone to several different BJ’s restaurants at different times in different locations, I’ve never had bad service there. Sometimes the wait is a little long to be seated and served, especially if you come during popular game day times since it’s basically a chain sports bar with good food, but the wait staff has been universally very pleasant and efficient. 
Salted Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Pizzookie

Monday, July 20, 2015

Super Duper Snickerdoodles

Super Duper Snickerdoodles - made dough June 6, 2015 from Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies by Jill Van Cleave
You’ll laugh but I took so many pictures of these snickerdoodles, it was like I was in the dressing room at Banana Republic snapping selfies of each new outfit I was trying on. As an aside, you should always take selfies when trying on new clothes to see what you really look like, especially at places that have slimming mirrors – note to self: that’s not what you look like after you buy the outfit and try it on at home! But I digress.

Back to the cookies: it isn’t like I was particularly enamored of these cookies and had to document every crumb and speck of cinnamon sugar. More like I wanted to make sure I could capture the thickness of the cookies to do them justice and because the light wasn’t cooperating with me so I kept taking picture after picture. I think I finally managed a few that captured them correctly.

These turned out pretty well and they stayed obligingly thick without spreading too much. As usual, employ all the usual tricks: freeze or chill the dough thoroughly before baking, make golf-ball sized cookie dough balls, bake on the convection setting of your oven if it has it, and don’t overbake.  If the cookies puff up in the middle, that’s fine but you should be looking to take them out shortly after the puffy stage. You want them to sink in the middle after you take them out and as they cool. 
These didn’t topple my favorite recipe for Snickerdoodles but they’re still a good one to try. 
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  1. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and ¾ cup granulated sugar until smooth. Add egg, milk and vanilla extract until just combined.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed mixture.
  3. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls and chill or freeze until firm.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove cookie dough balls to thaw slightly while oven is preheating.
  5. Combine cinnamon and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough balls into mixture and space evenly on cookie sheets.
  6. Bake until edges of the cookies are golden brown and middles no longer look raw, about 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake. Let cool for 2-3 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Restaurant Review: C&O Cucina

C&O Cucina - lunch on June 13, 2015
My niece graduated from college last month and we held her graduation lunch celebration at C&O Cucina, an Italian restaurant she and her friends had discovered when they were scoping out restaurants in the area. On yelp, C&O is rated 4 stars and almost all of the reviews rave about their garlic knot rolls. So does C&O because said rolls are prominently advertised via a banner at the front of the restaurant.
Garlic Knot Rolls
The restaurant itself, aside from the banner, doesn’t exactly scream “we’re a restaurant!” and it’s set on a busy street with no obvious street parking. There is a small lot for valet service next to the restaurant but it’s easy to miss if you’re driving by it too quickly *cough*. Still, if you do happen to turn in time, valet parking is only $5.50.
When we first walked in, a waiter was walking by with a huge platter piled high with fresh, warm, buttery garlic knot rolls. I almost followed him without bothering to check in and find our table but realized in time that that might be both tacky and gauche. But don’t think I didn’t consider it.
OMG, one bite and I understood why yelp mentioned these so prominently. They’re delicious. And that’s an understatement. Warm, soft but slightly crisp on the outside, perfect chewy bread texture, just the right amount of garlic. Bread lover’s paradise. Delicious, I tell you. I made myself stop after consuming two but I’m not sure that was a good move since I don’t live in the area and when am I going to be able to have these again? My niece advised that you’re not supposed to even consider stopping until you’ve had at least 3. She’s smart; she just graduated with honors from college. I should’ve listened to her.
Shrimp Ravioli
I feel like I can just stop the review there and let the pictures speak for themselves. I didn’t know what everyone else ordered (there were 13 of us) but I snapped pics of most of them. I do know everyone raved about the antipasti platters we ordered as appetizers. I ended up getting the Gnocchi Bolognese. I normally don’t order gnocchi dishes because they can be pretty heavy and most gnocchi entrees are pure carbs. But this came in a Bolognese sauce that was pretty meaty so I felt like I got some protein in. The gnocchi was fine but it was really the Bolognese sauce that made the dish. Also pretty freaking delicious.
Gnocchi Bolognese
Afterward, a few of us, including me (of course) ordered dessert. All of us got the molten chocolate cake with ice cream. If you’ve read a sample of my previous restaurant reviews, you’ll see the pattern emerge that this is the dessert I get most often. You’d think I’d go for a bit more variety but whenever I’m confronted with a new dessert menu, it’s honestly the most appealing choice on there 9 times out of 10. Although it is a pretty standard dessert and comes with the ubiquitous sprig of mint that I promptly take off as soon as I’ve taken the picture for posterity.
Seafood Salad

Lamb Osso Bucco
The dessert was good because it was served warm, the middle was appropriately molten and it came topped with ice cream. I tried, unsuccessfully, to put aside my dessert snobbery of thinking “I could make this” and just stayed in the moment, savoring my warm molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. I mean, yeah, I really could make and have made this but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it. Or from thinking about those warm, buttery garlic rolls. Props to C&O Cucina for the perfect place for a graduation lunch with great food and great service.
Chocolate Lava Cake

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Parmesan Garlic Noodles with Shrimp

Parmesan Garlic Noodles with Shrimp - made June 27, 2015, recipe adapted from Happily Unprocessed
I recently hit my 1-year anniversary at work and because we’re fed breakfast, lunch and dinner (and yes, I’m pretty much at work the entire time those meals are served so it’s really nice to be able to get good food without having to take the time to plan, grocery shop and actually cook), I’ve very rarely cooked in the past 12 months. I’ve done it a couple of times for church potlucks but in terms of actually feeding myself, those incidences are rare.

And when I do cook, a simple, easy-to-make recipe is critical. Bonus if it tastes good and I don’t give myself food poisoning. Clearly, I have a low bar. I’m happy to say this is one such recipe that meets my criteria. Double bonus that it freezes well so I just made a batch, ate a serving and portioned out the rest for future meals, housed in my freezer for the upcoming weekends.

This was really easy to make and the ingredients were simple to pick up, meaning I knew what they all were and could get them without any difficulty. I think the longest part of the recipe was just peeling the garlic and mincing it so it wasn’t hard at all nor did it take up much time. The sauce wasn’t too cheesy or overpowering with the garlic. Instead, it was a nice “light” flavor. I added some shrimp for a bit of protein and voila, easy dinner. That’s my kind of meal.

3 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
5-6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 box angel hair pasta
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup shrimp, cooked
1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine (I used basil and it worked just fine)
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the chicken stock
  3. Turn the heat up to high and let it come to a boil.
  4. Add the pasta and cook according to directions.
  5. Take the saucepan off the heat and add the parmesan cheese and stir until completely melted.
  6. Add the milk, shrimp and parsley (or basil).
  7. Serve immediately