Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry Christmas from the Great White North

Santa in the rain

Hello! Gosh, only a few more days left in the year, can you believe it? It feels like the year just flew by, doesn't it? Anyway, I'm still here in Vancouver and thought I'd do a quick update on our Christmas, starting with a trip to the Christmas market (I arrived on Christmas eve which was the last day this market was open, and I was determined to make it there, rain be damned!) And of course, it was raining! But not too badly, and I think it helped keep the crowds down (or maybe people were at home, cooking Christmas dinner!)


There were lots of stands selling things like ornaments, clothes, lebkuchen, toys, and so on (most of which I believe was actually imported from Germany) but I was there for the food, and more specifically, the raclette. I haven't had raclette since Py was in Switzerland, so there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to eat it again. If you haven't had it, it's basically cheese, toasted under a grill, and then scraped off and served with potatoes, pickled onions, and cornichons. This version came with bread instead of potatoes and added some ham and was pretty good!


Py had the roast chicken, which was also pretty good. It's hard to go wrong with roast chicken, if you ask me.


And then, because I am greedy, we got a waffle-on-a-stick. (I say we, but I really mean me.) This was yummy, and I ended up totally covered in powdered sugar, which is not necessarily a bad thing! Oh, and we also had mugs of mulled wine, which was significantly more delicious than that horrible jaegertee we had at the Basel Christmas market years ago.

Christmas Eve

We were invited to Christmas eve dinner at our friends' place; check out their lovely tree! So pretty. We brought them a box of cookies and a couple of little gifts, and received a copy of Bakerella's cake pops book (thanks!) Dinner was turkey, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, short, pretty close to what I would have eaten if I were celebrating Christmas in the states! Followed by an insanely delicious cranberry cake that was drowned in a butter-brown sugar sauce. Mmm, butter.


I neglected to take any photos of dinner, so instead, here's a picture of a handpainted ornament from their tree. I like the beady eyes of the snowmen.

Christmas dinner

Christmas Day itself was nice and quiet; we opened gifts and then went for a nice long walk. Actually we were hoping to find an open pub somewhere for a drink, but everything was shut down, so we went to T&T (that supermarket wonderland), bought some vegetables and then went home and made Christmas dinner--sauteed steaks, salad, and potato-leek soup. As Monokuro Boo would say, Simple is best! For those celebrating, I hope you had a merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!!

Last one!

It has been super mega busy these last couple of weeks, which is why I haven't been blogging or reading blogs much! And I won't get caught up for a few days at least, because I'm off to the Great White North for the holidays! I am greatly looking forward to checking out the Christmas market and doing lots of other fun stuff. This photo here is my last box of Christmas cookies for the season (I went through a looooot of cookies), and it's coming with me on the plane. Hope they're still yummy by the time they get to their recipient. (No danger of me eating them, either--I have had my fill of cookies this year!)

Well, I may not be timely with reading blogs or responding to comments, but I want to wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year! Can't wait to see how everyone is celebrating (and what you're eating, naturally!)! Cheers!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!


Man, I love food bloggers. I mentioned earlier that I was participating in a couple of cookie swaps, some in person, some virtual, and then this one, by mail! Yes, actual cookies being sent by mail! This was organized by Lindsay from Love and Olive Oil (and that link will take you to the cookie swap page) and Julie of The Little Kitchen (ditto for that link) and I have to say, this was a BRILLIANT idea, and I hope everyone was as happy with their cookies as I was with the ones I got! In the end over 600 bloggers participated--600!! That is a lot of cookies winging their way around the world (someone did some calculating, and estimated that over 22,000 cookies were baked and sent--holy smokes!) Not to mention a whole hell of a lot of organizing, so thanks Lindsay and Julie! Amazing job!


Anyway, before I get to the goodies I received, here is what I made--cinnamon bun pinwheels. One of the rules of the swap was that you had to make a recipe you hadn't made before, which was not necessarily difficult (I do tend to stick to a few "trademark" recipes) but man, picking a new one to try did turn out to be quite a dilemma. I think I originally had a list of over 2 dozen new recipes to try, but in the end, this recipe from the King Arthur Flour website won out. They're supposed to taste like mini cinnamon rolls in cookie form, and I have to say, I was quite pleased with how they turned out, flavor wise (and texture wise--it's basically a shortbread).


Shaping these was a bit more challenging than I expected. I've never made pinwheel or spiral cookies before, and I thought that it would be simple to just make the two different doughs, slap then on top of each other, and roll up. Oh man. So not simple. Apparently I am incapable of rolling things into a rectangle, even a rough rectangle. So I kept trying to cut the dough down to a rectangular shape, which resulted in all these scraps that I tried to attach back to the rectangle (in a rectangular way) and it just was not working out! In the end, I divided the dough into quarters and only worked with one quarter a time, which made it much more manageable.

not quite round

See? These are respectable pinwheels, right? Even if there are some gaps and they're not quite round? (Maybe I'm pinwheel challenged. I don't know if anyone else has these problems with this kind of cookie!)

The Ugly Duckling

Consistency is not my forte. The one on the top right is probably from the best roll I managed to make. The one on the bottom right....well, let's just say that one disappeared in the name of Quality Control. Of course, I picked out the nicer looking ones to send off.... (And even then, I managed to be an idiot and didn't package them securely enough. I was terrified after I sent them that they would arrive in crumbs, but they seem to have made it. Phew!)

So, I hope that Susan from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen, Jill from Angells in Tokyo, and Michelle from La Vida de Michelle all enjoyed their pinwheels as much as I enjoyed snacking on the ugly ones. ;)


And now, the cookies I received! This was my first package, from Chris and Rachel of The Keenan Cookbook. First of all, how cute is this drawing? This was when I first started thinking, "Oh man, why didn't I package my cookies more nicely?"

Rainbow cookies

And this is what was inside! MMmmmm, rainbow cookies. Chris and Rachel are clearly more on top of things than I am, and have already posted their recipe and let me tell you, it is well worth trying because these are probably the best rainbow cookies I've had.


My next package (also gorgeously wrapped! I was really feeling inadequate now!) came from Chelsea C. from Jacksonville, FL. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a blog or email address for Chelsea so I hope I can find her on the roundup and say thank you properly!


This is what was inside--chocolate peanut butter cookies. Who doesn't love chocolate and peanut butter? Crazy people, that's who. Oh, and I guess people with peanut allergies. That's okay, just pass them over to me.

Peanut butter-toffee chip-chocolate cookies

And finally today, I got my last box--oh, and I don't mean to imply that they just arrived. No, they have been held hostage at the post office since last Thursday, and I was finally able to go get them today. Do you know how long I stood in line? 48 minutes, people! I timed it. They had one (just one!) window where you could retrieve packages, even though the other windows had no lines. Fortunately, it was well worth it, because Kate from Fleur-de-Licious had sent along Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies (another blogger that's more timely than I am with the recipe posting!). I inhaled two right away as soon as I got home. Holy crap do I love toffee. The rest are waiting patiently for tomorrow morning when there's enough light for me to take a yup. I'll update this post with a photo of these wonder-cookies tomorrow! Photo now included! Mm, cookies.

What an awesome event. Cookies in the mail and a bunch of new blogger friends to boot. If you want to get in on the action next year (and you know you do!) then head on over and sign up to get notifications about next year's swap!

Oh right--and here's the recipe!

Cinnamon Bun Pinwheels, reproduced from King Arthur Flour

Vanilla Dough
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt, extra-fine preferred
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Cinnamon Dough
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt, extra-fine preferred
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon oil, optional, for stronger flavor (I did not use this)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1) To make the vanilla dough: In a medium-sized mixing bowl cream together the sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla.
2) Add the flour, stirring to make a cohesive dough. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate until ready to use — at least 1 hour.
3) To make the cinnamon dough: In a saucepan combine the sugar, honey, salt, cinnamon oil, vanilla, butter, and cinnamon. Heat over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
4) Remove from the heat and allow to cool briefly.
5) Transfer the cinnamon mixture and the toasted pecans to a food processor, and process until smooth.
6) In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the pecan mixture and flour to make a cohesive dough. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate until ready to use — at least 1 hour. (I found that the dough was very greasy and that some of the butter actually started to separate out. If this happens to you, add an additional tablespoon of flour, and that should take care of it.)
7) To shape the cookies: Place parchment or waxed paper on your work surface and dust it lightly with flour. Lay the vanilla dough on the parchment and roll it into an 18" x 12" rectangle. Set it aside. (I recommend dividing the dough into smaller portions; if you are not pinwheel challenged like I apparently am, then go for it in one shot!)
8) Using more parchment paper or waxed paper, roll the cinnamon dough slightly smaller than the first, into a 17 ½" x 11 ½" rectangle.
9) Place the smaller piece of dough on top of the larger piece of dough, using the parchment to transport.
10) Starting with a long edge, use the parchment to help you gently roll the stacked dough into a tight log, with no gaps. Press the edge to seal, then wrap the log in plastic wrap or parchment, and freeze for 1 hour.
11) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
12) Remove the dough from the freezer, unwrap it, and place it on a clean work surface. Let it thaw for 15 minutes, or until it's soft enough to cut.
13) Use a sharp knife to gently cut the log into ¼" slices. If the dough becomes too soft to handle, place it back in the freezer briefly. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets.
14) Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they feel firm. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool.
15) When cool, store airtight, at room temperature; freeze for longer storage.

Yield: 4 dozen cookies.

Friday, December 9, 2011

International holiday blogger cookie exchange

Oatmeal currant cookies

It's been non-stop cookie time over here at Casa de Tofugirl lately; some of you might be thinking that it's about time since even my blog title has the word cookie in it, and yet, I hardly ever write about them. What can I say--I'm not great at sticking to the point. But nevermind! Here comes another post about cookies!

Oatmeal cookies

It's been all about cookie swaps lately, in person, by mail, or how about this, the virtual cookie exchange! The 2nd Annual International Holiday Cookie Exchange was hosted by Lori of Fake Food Free and Andrea of Food Embrace. Rather than sending each other actual cookies, we were partnered up in a round-robin to exchange cookie recipes; we were then to make our cookies and post about them, so here's mine! (I just want to say too, that this is brilliant, because you get to keep your cookies. Does that make me sound greedy??)


My recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Drop Cookies came from Pam over at the Rauber House. I have to admit; when I first read the recipe, I was a bit surprised because her recipe only uses cinnamon as a flavoring, and doesn't call for vanilla or nutmeg, or any other flavorings that I usually associate with an oatmeal cookie. I only made one substitution, and that was to use currants in place of raisins (mostly because I had no raisins but did have currants. Funny, that!) but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. It seemed like a fairly ordinary oatmeal cookie while I was mixing and shaping them...but then I tasted a bit of the raw dough and thought "Hm, tastes like cinnamon toast crunch..." Then I put them in the oven and my GOSH. They are, without a doubt, the most amazing smelling oatmeal cookies I've baked (and I have baked a LOT). I can't explain how such a simple recipe produces such amazing cookies, but these are divine. Pam had this to say in an email to me: "My husband loves them exactly like this, especially after a tomato based meal and always with red wine." I can totally see why! Next time I make these, I'll use raisins for sure, and I think maybe dried cranberries would also be delicious. You should all go make these. I've reproduced Pam's recipe below. Thanks, Pam!! (And of course, thanks to Lori and Andrea for organizing this!)


Oatmeal Raisin Drop Cookies © Pam Rauber, Decatur, Georgia

Makes one dozen two-inch size cookies
1- 1/3 cups Old Fashioned Oatmeal, not quick cooking oatmeal
¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup packed light brown sugar
One large egg
One stick or ½ cup cold unsalted butter
One handful of raisins

Preheat oven to 400° F

Combine flour, baking soda and cinnamon. Measure out and pack brown sugar.

In a mixing bowl, cut up butter in pieces and mix on high until butter is at a whipping/airy phase. Reduce the speed and add the brown sugar and allow to completely incorporate into the butter. Add the egg, then flour mixture.

Slow the mixer down to lowest speed and add the oatmeal and then raisins.

On a greased cookie sheet (using the paper wrapper from the butter) or one lined with parchment paper, spoon out a chunk of dough and drop onto pan. I use a soup spoon. This recipe will make 12 two-inch size cookies. You may have to rob dough from one cookie to place on another. The cookies should be approximately the same chunk size but not to sweat…this is the beauty of homemade…irregular.

If you have a refrigerator large enough to hold the sheet pan, I place my cookie dough in the fridge for about 10 minutes just to cool them down. If not, preheat the oven just before prepping cookie recipe.

Bake in a confirmed (thermometer reading) 400° F oven for nine minutes.

While Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are a generic cookie, this particular recipe has been developed by me (Pam!) after many, many tests. Please extend credit to me (Pam!) when copying.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Knitting around, knit knit knit knit

Quatchi models the hat

I know it seems like all I do is eat and complain about work (which, actually...I guess is mostly accurate). But occasionally, I do other things too, like knit! So since I'm going to be posting about nothing but cookies for the next few posts, I thought I'd shake things up a little and talk about something non-edible for a change.

Brambles beret, after blocking

This is my Brambles beret that I finished over that ridiculous Snowtober weekend. Of course, since then I don't think we've had a single day when it's been cold enough to wear this. Er, not that I'm complaining. I don't mind this unseasonably mild weather!

Gentleman's socks finished!

Another recently finished project, Kristi Schueler's Gentleman's Socks. These are for me, though, so these are Gentlewoman's Socks. I looooooove this pattern. I may knit Py a pair in a more man-friendly color. Also, do you know what I learned? It is really hard to take a picture of your own feet. Or maybe that's just me...(also hard to take a picture of myself wearing a hat, hence the er, hat model.)

Anyway, that's probably going to be all the FOs for a while, since my current projects are a tunic knit in fingering gauge yarn on size 3 needles (Cascade Heritage Silk, oh god do I love this yarn) and a cardigan knit in sock yarn on size 4 needles. There is a whole lot of stockinette in my foreseeable future...which is cool because I still have a lot of episodes of True Blood to catch up on. But this will all have to wait until after I finish baking cookies for Christmas...see you on Dec. 23rd, yarn!

NYC Blogger Holiday Cookie Swap


So can I just start this off by saying that I have been on a sugar jag-then-crash cycle since yesterday? So if any of this devolves into incoherent mutterings, IT'S NOT ME, IT'S THE SUGAR!!!

Ahem. I'm getting ahead of myself. On Sunday, I (and approximately a zillion other food fanatics and bloggers) spent the afternoon at the NYC Holiday Cookie Swap (held at Hill Country BBQ), a fundraiser to benefit Cookies for Kids' Cancer (and you can read more about this inspirational charity here). $40 and a dozen cookies got you entrance to this fabulous event, a delicious bbq lunch (oh man, that brisket is so good), and the chance to sample and bring home cookies made by the other bakers.

Salted Caramel Cookie Bites

Here's what I brought--salted caramel cookie bites, from a recipe printed in one of the King Arthur Flour catalogs. (Recipe with my changes is at the end of the post if you're interested!) From my perspective, you really can't go wrong with caramel, chocolate, and almonds--hey, if you ended up with one of my cookies, tell me how it was! I can't rely on the one I taste-tested, because I forgot that the caramel was the temperature of the sun and now I have no taste buds left. Sniffle.

Salted Caramel Cookie Bites Packed

Whee, packaging! The caramel was a little sticky so I put the cookies into little bags from Daiso. I love Daiso.


Isn't this cookie tree amazing? So beautiful. I naively thought that since we were each to bring a dozen cookies that I would probably leave with about a dozen. Oh boy was I wrong. There were 3 entire tables absolutely full of cookies! If you want a comprehensive view of how very many cookies there were, then just hop on over to the Diva that Ate NY's video of the spread. It's really something else!


There were even gluten free options, like these pretty Mallomars. I cannot figure out how I didn't grab one.


Love these cute gingerbread men, too. I was all nervous about attending because (and you probably can't tell because I can babble on for ages on this blog) I am terribly shy and awkward when I'm meeting new people and was worried that I would be standing around talking to myself. But I met some lovely folks right away who put me at ease, and it was as I was taking a photo of the menu that I realized 'Hey! No one is looking at me funny! And....they're taking photos of the menu too! OMG! These are my people!' Which is just a roundabout way of saying that I met some super awesome people. And even Dorie Greenspan didn't run away when I rehashed my story about how I'm an idiot and forgot my memory card that one time I met her before. Whoa, and now I really am starting to babble, so I will shut up and show you the cookies I brought home.


WHEW! That is a lot of cookies, eh? (The top picture is the whole lot all on one cake stand.) I have not tasted everything yet, but all the cookies I've tried so far have been good to excellent, with my favorites being the caramel macadamia square, the little green tea choux puff, the macaron, and the rosemary butter cookies. My big regret is not having tried to write down (or at least take pictures of) all the cookie names, so now I have no idea what the majority of these cookies are, or who made them! So! If you were there, and your cookie is one of these pictures above, will you please pretty please leave me a comment and tell me? And if you tried one of mine, let me know how it was :)

Well this is getting long enough, so I'll just stop and say thanks to the hosts for putting on such a fun event: The Diva that Ate NY, Maggy from Three Many Cooks, One Tough Cookie, and Hungry Rabbit. And of course, Hill Country for the yum bbq and gingerbread cookie! And definitely all the fun people I met--hopefully we'll all meet up again soon! And now I'm going to go nibble on a cookie...which one will it be...the possibilities are almost endless.

Salted Caramel Cookie Bites, adapted from King Arthur Flour

Cookie base
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or unbleached all purpose)

1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, or about 15 chocolate discs (about an inch in diameter)
1/2 cup block caramel, cut into 1/4" pieces (or caramel sauce or about 15 store-bought caramels, unwrapped)
1/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted and cooled
sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a standard muffin pan or line with cupcake liners. This recipe makes about 15 so I made 12 in my muffin pan and then baked the rest of the dough in free-standing paper baking cases.

Combine the sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add the baking powder and egg and continue to beat until fluffy. Stir in the flour. The batter will be pretty soft. Fill your muffin pan, using about a heaped tablespoon per case. Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until browned around the edges and just set. They will still feel fairly soft, but should not be at all batter-y.

While that's baking, toast your almonds if you haven't already and set aside! Have your chocolate and caramel ready to go as well.

Once the cookies are baked, pull the pan out of the oven. Press a chocolate disc into the center of each cookie (you'll create sort of an indentation or cup); if you're using chocolate chips, use the handle of a wooden spoon or maybe the end of a thin rolling pin to make a little indentation then sprinkle in your chips. Sprinkle caramel bits over the chocolate (if you are using the storebought square caramels, just perch them on top of the chocolate). Return to the oven for a minute or two until the caramel has melted into oozy goodness. Remove from the oven, and immediately sprinkle each with a pinch of salt, and some of the flaked almonds. You can press down on the almonds lightly to get them to stick better, but remember--that caramel is REALLY hot, so watch out (I know this from experience!). Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack and let sit until completely cool.

So just a quick note--I made these with caramel that I had made a few days ago and I think that the next time I make this recipe (which should be this weekend, actually!) I will just go ahead and melt the caramel in a double boiler and then drizzle it on. It'll be a lot simpler I think than having to dice caramel. Oh yeah--and you can also make these in a mini muffin pan, which is what I will do next time; these are going into my Christmas cookie gift boxes!