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.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Shortbread Cookies with Cookie Butter

Shortbread Cookies with Cookie Butter - made July 5, 2019, adapted from My Cookie Journey
I had pinned this recipe awhile ago but couldn’t make it when I was in my temporary digs with two thirds of my stuff packed in boxes in the garage because in those boxes were my star tip and plastic piping bags. But now that I’m (mostly) unpacked and found all my baking stuff again, it seemed like a good time to finally try this recipe. The original recipe called for filling these with jam in the center. You know my feelings about jam. So I used cookie butter.

First, let me say these were delicious. Not too sweet, not too buttery like those (damn delicious) Danish butter cookies in the blue tin, and the cookie butter was the perfect complement to the cookie.

Second, I will also say these were a pain in my flat butt to make. The dough wasn’t hard to mix together and it had the perfect malleable texture. But these were a pain because that perfect malleable texture also meant the dough was too stiff to pipe out of that star tip. I foolishly ignored the suggestion in the original recipe to warm up the dough slightly if it was too stiff before I put it in the plastic piping bag fitted out with the star tip. Once I realized the dough was too stiff to pipe, I couldn’t pop the whole thing into the microwave to warm since the star tip was metal.

So I had to empty the dough into a bowl, warm it up slightly in the microwave, put it back into another piping bag with the star tip, and try again. It was better on the second try except the dough was still a bit stiff. I gamely kept piping rosettes but halfway through, the pressure was too much for the opening of the bag and the star tip burst through. Sigh. Scrape back into the bowl, warm it up for another few seconds, put into a third piping bag.

I eventually got them all piped and I have to say, they actually looked like honest to goodness rosettes. Apparently, a stiff-ish dough can make it look good in the end. They browned easily so don’t bake them too long. I loved the texture and the rosettes make the perfect vehicle for the cookie butter.

Warm the cookie butter slightly to make piping them into the center wells a little easier. The cookie butter will set once it cools in the cookie. Despite my torturous experience, I will make these again.

200 g unsalted butter, softened
80 g powdered sugar
2 egg whites (I used 1/4 cup of liquid egg whites)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
320 g all-purpose flour
cookie butter
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cream together butter and powdered sugar until well combined. Add egg whites, vanilla extract and salt; mix until combined.
  3. Add the flour in three additions and beat each addition on low speed until just combined; do not overmix.
  4. Transfer dough into piping bag fitted with large star tip. Pipe rosettes of cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets. Make a small indent in the center of each cookie with the back of a teaspoon and fill with cookie butter. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Chocolate Chip Cookies (Baker by Nature)

Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough July 4, 2019 from Baker by Nature
Another chocolate chip cookie recipe. Yes, I know, I make them a lot. But my sister is a realtor and was holding an Open House last weekend and asked if I could bake cookies for it. I was happy to, as it let me test out another recipe. Since I started working remotely, I didn't have my coworkers anymore to eat my baking experiments. Fine, I'll use random strangers looking to buy a new home instead.
However, since these were for the consuming public, I couldn't default to my usual, let's-make-cookies-as-big-as-my-head size of cookies. These were meant to be dainty samples to be welcoming at an Open House. So I made these a "normal" size. Meaning small dough balls baking into small cookies.
This recipe’s approach to chocolate chip cookies combines the flavor of brown butter with the consistency of solidified butter. Most browned butter recipes have you using the browned butter in melted form as the base of the batter. This one has you brown the butter then chill it until it’s solidified but at “room temperature” or softened. So you will need to plan ahead for a little extra chilling time.

Since I have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, I didn’t worry too much about chilling only until the butter was in the softened state since the paddle attachment could beat the butter into submission if I chilled it too much. 

The cookies were pretty good. The deck was slightly stacked against them though since my usual preference was for behemoth-sized cookies made with milk chocolate chunks or chips. Since these were going to feed strangers at an Open House, I made them smaller and used semisweet chocolate chips. But once I got past that, the cookie itself was moist, had a chewy texture and that caramelized brown sugar caramel flavor of a good chocolate chip cookie.

1 cup (2 sticks or 16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and browned then chilled until room temperature
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
  1. Brown the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, cooking for 3-4 minutes until butter has browned. Pour into a heatproof bowl (I used the mixing bowl of my stand mixer), scraping all the browned bits into the bowl. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the butter has solidified.
  2. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt;set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream browned butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla until combined, light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 15 seconds after each addition. 
  4. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon until the flour has been incorporated. Add chocolate chips. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill for several hours.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space dough balls onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 9 - 10 minutes or until edges are golden and middles are no longer raw or shiny. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.