Cook & Run


I haven't been cooking too much lately. I've found a few go to dishes, and seem to lean on them quite heavily - eggs in purgatory being the prime example. I really can't get enough of that.

I've been baking an awful lot though. I find baking extremely enjoyable, and a great use of a Sunday. The problem with my new found love of baking is that I couldn't possibly eat a few dozen cookies, or biscotti, or caramels (I guess that's not baking, but still sweets), or cupcakes. Fortunately, I have fifteen people working for me, and they're happy to gobble up whatever I bring in. I've also sent some out to my wife - mostly biscotti as it holds up so well - and some to my brother in Nova Scotia.

I've mostly focused on chocolate based recipes (like chocolate salted caramels or chocolate cupcakes); I gave up chocolate over three years ago as a New Year's resolution, and it has stuck. I eat chocolate once a year - January 1st - but abstain the other 364 days. So baking with chocolate works out perfectly; I get to bake without any temptation or calories. Occasionally I make something without chocolate and treat myself. This recipe is not one of those occasions.

Triple Chocolate Cherry Cookies:

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 oz. bittersweet baking chocolate, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/3 cups white vanilla baking chips (I could not find these and used white chocolate chips - I'm not sure they would have been 'triple chocolate' otherwise)
3/4 cups maraschino cherries, coarsely chopped (forgot to buy these and replaced with Rice Krispies)
1 tsp. oil
24 maraschino cherries, halved (whoops!)

Pre heat oven to 350° and lightly grease cookie sheets. Beat butter and sugars with a mixer on medium until light and fluffy. Beat in melted chocolate, vanilla, and eggs. On low speed, beat in flour, cocoa, and baking soda until mixed. Fold in 1 cup of the chips and the chopped cherries (or Rice Krispies!). Drop rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.

Bake 9-11 minutes or until set. Cool 2 minutes and then move to cooling racks to cool completely. While the cookies are cooling, place oil and remaining chips in a small bowl and microwave until melted (recipe says high power, but I used low-medium power). Mix together until melted and smooth. Spoon a drop of the glaze in the center of each cookie and top with a cherry half; drizzle the rest of the mixture over the cookies. My batch made five dozen.

Nobody really noticed the Rice Krispies. Oh well. These were a hit, and certainly looked delicious. Without white chocolate chips, I don't know how these would be triple chocolate - there's the melted chocolate and the cocoa.... that's only two chocolates.

By the way - the cupcakes I linked to above were described several times as 'the best cupcake I've ever had'. They smelled amazing. I found out while frosting these that frosting is tough work. It's really hard on the forearms. There's a very good chance I was doing it wrong, though.

Baked beans.

When I was growing up, baked beans were a staple on my mom's side of the family. I don't really remember my dad's family making baked beans, but they may have. They were inescapable on my maternal side though. Aside from bread and butter, beans were surely the most common meal served at my grandparents' place. My mom made them frequently, using the recipe handed down from her mother.

I didn't really go for the beans and always turned up my nose at them. I was a picky kid. Off the top of my head I "didn't like" beans, vegetables, onions, mushrooms, pork chops (at times), marmalade, gravy, yorkshire pudding, fish (still don't), coconut, pumpkin pie, or steak. I liked bread, with butter, peanut butter, cinnamon spread, or especially homemade jam. My grandfather nicknamed me 'Jamie Jam Can'. Now that I think of it, 'Jam Can' would have made a good old-timey baseball name, like Oil Can Boyd.

But I digress. With all the talk about the recession/depression, I was thinking about all the things my grandmother did to feed eight kids. She baked bread, cakes, cookies, made homemade jam, and I'm pretty sure there was a butter churn kicking around, though it may only have been for decoration. I'm not in any rush to churn butter or make jam, so I got thinking about beans. My mom was the third youngest of eight, so I can imagine a cheap meal of baked beans and homemade brown bread was rather appealing. My mom called from Australia last week, and I asked her for the recipe, despite never having liked it. I had a feeling that my tastes had matured; since going vegetarian I'm more adventurous and willing to try things again. On Sunday I whipped up a batch. 'Whipped up' may not be the best description - they took about eight hours. As with nearly everything else I've been eating, I served them up with a big chunk of bread, which helped to soak up the delicious sauce. I'm not sure how I could ever have claimed to not like beans. They smell wonderful, they're sweet and savory, and bread tastes even better after sopping up the sauce.

Nan's Baked Beans

1 lb. dried red kidney beans
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 C. ketchup
1 tsp. salt
1 whole onion, peeled with ends cut off
1 tbsp. shortening or butter

Rinse the beans, and dump them in a large pot filled about 2/3 full with water. Bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat for a medium boil for about 3 hours. Do not stir, but pick up the pot and shake occasionally. Take off heat, and add all ingredients. Don't stir, but give the pot a good shake. Place in oven at 350° for about 4 hours. Serve.

I still say it's not the best looking meal, but it sure is tasty.

Epic failure.

Recently I read a post about the failures we experience in cooking and baking. This reminded me that when I started cooking I expected to fail at least occasionally, and I expected some of those failures to be spectacular. So far, there have been two outright failures, and one was pretty hilarious. This week I'm away on business, though I was lucky or resourceful enough to steer the trip towards my wife so that I could spend the weekend with her. Three or four weeks ago I made some biscotti and sent it out to her. For this visit, I wanted to make some cookies for her to snack on and share with her friends. I decided on 'Brown Sugar & Sea Salt Cookies' from Mark Bittman. They looked interesting and different enough without being too challenging - this was a weeknight project and my time was limited.

I whipped up the dough easily enough. Then things went a little funny. The recipe says to beat until barely holding together and that it may take several minutes but, when I was mixing the dough, it held together immediately. Now, being a baking neophyte, maybe I read this wrong. Did the recipe mean to beat it until it started to hold together, or that it would hold together easily and to beat it until it was falling apart? I'm not sure. The recipe said to shape the dough into a one inch wide log and then wrap it in plastic to chill in the fridge. Of course, I didn't think to shape the dough on the plastic wrap, so I had to do it twice. I chilled the log for the suggested thirty minutes, but it hadn't hardened up enough, so I left it another half hour. When I took the dough out, it was still quite soft and difficult to work with. Nevertheless, I sliced them into quarter inch thick pieces and plopped them down on the baking sheet, sprinkled on the salt, and slid them into the oven. I set the oven for fifteen minutes and left them to bake. Frankly, at this point, the cookies looked nothing like I had expected. When I read 'Brown Sugar & Sea Salt Cookies' I was expecting a sturdy molasses type cookie, and these looked like soft little blobs of cake batter. When the timer went off, I opened the oven and found this:

One giant, fragrant, delicious failure. I considered cutting it into smaller pieces, but it pretty much crumbled when touched. So, regretfully, I scraped it up with a fork and dumped it in the garbage. I guess I had put two many cookies on the sheet and they just ran together. I sliced the remaining dough into cookies, but spaced them out much wider on the baking sheet and popped those in the oven, only realizing about eight minutes in that I had forgotten the salt. I pulled them out, salted them, and stuck them back in. This batch turned out much better than the first. The third and final round turned out perfectly.

Second batch.

The cookies were not the thick, chewy, sink-your-teeth-into variety I was expecting (there was no reason for me to expect this type of cookie, it's just the image I had in my head); they were fragile, and broke when I picked them up. Even the ones that turned out well couldn't be taken to my wife - they wouldn't have survived a suitcase. In fact, they hardly survived my lunch bag when I took them into work the next day. But they tasted great. They were buttery, had the perfect sweet/salty mix and melted a bit in your mouth. Someone else may have great success with these but, despite how wonderful they tasted, they're just not for me.

Cake & curry.

Not at the same time, natch.

On Thursday I baked a cake. Prior to this, I don't think I'd ever made a cake that didn't come out of a box. It turned out quite well but, being chocolate, I wasn't able to taste it. I did take it into work where it went over quite well. I won't bother posting the recipe, as it can be found here, along with a great story from Isabelle. She used icing sugar to decorate, whereas I was a tad less subtle and just covered the thing in real whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Mine started, but did not end, vegan.

I also made some curry today. Is it 'some curry' or 'a curry'? I'm not sure. 'Some' seems right, but in every Irvine Welsh book I've ever read, it's always 'stop to get a curry'. Regardless, Suz posted a recipe for spinach and chickpea curry, and I decided to try it. It was incredibly quick, easy, and flavourful. I'll definitely be making this one again. It tastes like something that took time to make, rather than 30 minutes.


I decided to do a little baking this past weekend. I had a few reasons:
  1. I wanted to thank one of my staff for covering off a shift (on very short notice) for a coworker.
  2. I wanted to make some biscotti so that I could stop eating 2 bowls of cereal every night before bed. I really need carbs.
  3. I had nothing else to do.
So I made two recipes from Baked - Cinnamon Hazelnut (Chocolate) Chip Biscotti and Peanut Butter Bars. I had made the biscotti once already, but - as I don't eat chocolate - this time I altered the recipe. I took out the vanilla, hazelnuts and cinnamon. Rum butter and rum raisin are two of my all time favourite flavours, so I replaced those ingredients with rum (not extract), pecans, and raisins. They turned out well, but I think I should have maybe used some rum extract as I can't really taste any rum.

Rum Raisin Pecan Biscotti
- adapted from Baked

1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 large eggs
2 tsp. rum
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup pecans
2 cups raisins
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350°. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together sugar, baking powder, salt. Mix the flours together in another bowl.

Use a stand mixer with the paddle attachement to beat eeggs and sugar mixture together until uniform and thick. Add the rum and beat for 5 more seconds. Add the flour in two batches and beat until just combined. Scrape down the bowl and mix for 5 seconds more. Add the nuts and raisins and beat until just combined.

Here's where the recipe loses me. It says to turn the dough out onto the baking sheet and shape it into a 16 x 3.5" log, 3/4 inch thick, and then to use a spatula to smooth it out. My log does not resemble that size, and there is no way a spatula is smoothing it out. Mine looked like this:

So, shape it however you think works, I guess. Bake 20-25 minutes until firm, but not browned. Remove from the oven, and let cool for 10 minutes or so. While it cools, mix the egg white with a little water and brush onto the dough.

Cut into strips - I cut my log in half lengthwise first - and place cut sides up and down on the baking sheet. The recipe is unclear whether to continue to use the parchment paper or not, but I had hacked it up while cutting the dough, so I just placed them straight on the sheet. Cook for 25-30 minutes, let cool, and then move to a wire rack.

So, they taste pretty good. I'm quite pleased that I modified a recipe and it actually worked. I will definitely make these again. I probably won't use pecans, but I'll try to increase the rum flavour.

The Peanut Butter Bars didn't turn out exactly right. They taste wonderful, apparently, but I didn't have a candy thermometer and thought I could get away without using one. A more experienced baker probably could. I think I'll buy one this weekend.

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