Thursday, June 28, 2012

Orange Chocolate Chip Sugar Biscuits (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)

I'm not ashamed to admit it.  I love when I find out people have been reading my blog.  

I mean that's why I spend my valuable time documenting all this, right?  

For a second, it makes me feel like the shiz.  But then I realize, I'm just a chick who eats a lot of cookies and 8 fantastic people care to hear about it.  There may or may not have been a slight amount of coercion involved. :)

Not that I'm complaining....not at all.  Like I said, I LOVE it when someone takes the time to weed through my yammerings.  Plus, no one should feel like the shiz for long.  That's when things start to get messy.  And the next thing you know you're at an awards show stealing the limelight from a giant doe-eyed country girl or even better--Beyonce herself.  

Definitely a situation I hope to avoid.  Fingers crossed. 

I must say though, I feel pretty bonded to my readers.  In a way that is at the same time ridiculous and wonderful.

I like to call this phenomeona the "Instant Best Friend Syndrome"...or IBFS, if you will.

Like when you find out that guy at the Honda Dealer is also a lefty.  Hello!  Besties.
Or when your friend's sister-in-law sends you a request on Facebook just so she can drool over your Twilight Tour photos.  Best Friends 4EVR!!

It doesn't matter whether we've met before or not.  A connection has been made...and not your normal day-to-day kind either.  

It's the kind that makes you want to find a way to send cookies of appreciation across the country.  
...using the mason jars you still have from your failed Cake in a Jar experiment. 

That is literally how this post came about.  

I needed a delicious, yet sturdy recipe to make it all the way to Pennsylvania.  
That's when I found these: Orange Poppyseed Sugar Biscuits.

Ironically, I was drawn in by the poppy seeds, but having none at my disposal I substituted with the best thing I could find: mini chocolate chips.  

The chocolate and orange zest complimented each other quite well.  

The batter must be rolled and chilled for at least two hours before slicing and baking.

Slices should be cut as evenly as possible.  It helps with the baking consistency.

These cookies don't expand much in the oven. For larger cookies you must make the rolls thicker.

These cookies were good!  I would definitely make them again.

Slightly tangy.  Chocolatey.
Buttery, yet sweet.
And hardy enough to survive an airplane flight.


To my dedicated readers, these were for you.  Maybe a glass jar full of cookies didn't arrive at your doorstep, but know I appreciate each minute you spend browsing my pictures and reading my stories.

Feel free to comment, suggest, or just swap war stories with me.  Cause, you know, I like hearing from my blog BFFs.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Face Off: Chocolate Frosting

I'm not sure what possesses me to do things like this.  Things like deciding to fix stew and a homemade apple pie in the same night...all by myself.  Inevitably, my family doesn't eat until 10pm.

We're Italian.  Eating can't wait for 10pm!   

But I do these things all the time.  

Lofty ideas take root and germinate in my head till I can think of nothing else.  And by the time I've gathered all of the needed supplies, clear visions of the utter joy and praises my baking escapades will surely bring to all those around me further fuel the fire--my crazy.

I always forget about "the last time."  

The last time I told myself to "remember this feeling"...the fat-man-sitting-on-my-chest one.  
The last time I ended up crying on a ladder in the shower breathing in chemical fumes because the entire bathroom - even the ceiling - needed to be cleaned.  
Or the last time I felt like punching people in the face because I was working my butt off in the kitchen while everyone else was watching TV...Wha? Why do I need to "ask" for help?   

The ability to suppress.  To forget.  It's a little gift life gives you.  A chance to move on, to do other stressful, stupid stuff.

Like I did for this post.


Finding the best chocolate frosting is a noble goal...Whipping up six different recipes at the same time is an insane goal.  

Ice baths.  Endless dishes.  And sore arms for days.  

But I did it for you.

To settle this nonsense once and for all.  

Here are the contestants.  My raking, remarks, and recipes follow:
Raking: 6 of 6

Remarks: This is an interesting frosting.  It is reminiscent of a marshmallow.  Super sweet and has the texture of sticky meringue.  I actually am a HUGE fan of this frosting, but not in chocolate form.  Normally, it is a nice and interesting complement to the cupcake, but something just doesn't translate here.  


Ranking: 5 of 6

Remarks: This frosting was a ton of work...requiring three separate mixtures and waiting for things to cool. Not feeling the love here. This was definitely the most spreadable of the bunch, but it had a very strong butter flavor, which if you've read my Best Frosting Ever entry, you'll already know I'm not a fan of.  

Ranking: 4 of 6 (My Dad's Fav)

Remarks: Probably the fastest of all the recipes to complete.  It was sweet and the powder sugar flavor was very evident.  It had a nice, thick, and smooth texture.  I found I had to add more milk than was called for.  It could've been because I made only 1/3 of the recipe, but it was almost like fudge and difficult to spread.  My dad mentioned that he thought this frosting was more on the milk chocolate side of the spectrum.  He loves a good buttercream. 

Ranking: 3 of 6 (Brother-in-Law's Fav)

Remarks: This frosting is muy delicioso!  It's extremely similar to the Old Fashioned Chocolate Frosting (My fav, below).  Essentially, the only difference between the two is that this recipe uses powdered sugar instead of dissolved granulated sugar.  Powder sugar isn't my favorite flavor in a frosting, but in this recipe it is pretty subdued.  This one also held up much better after being refrigerated than the Old Fashioned one.  I'm sure it had to do with the sugars.  It hurt me to make this #3 on the list because it is just SO good, but someone has to make the final call and my ruling is that granulated sugar wins.  The queen has spoken!

Recipe: Anne's Perfect Chocolate Frosting

1 pkg (6oz) semisweet chocolate pieces
1/2 cup light cream
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups unsifted confectioners' sugar

In medium-sized saucepan, combine chocolate pieces, cream and butter; stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat. With whisk, blend in 2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar. In bowl set over ice, beat until frosting holds its shape.

Ranking: 2 of 6 (My Fav)

Ranking: Oh my gracious.  This frosting is heaven.  It's not too sweet and a perfect mix of whipped cream and fudge.  How it achieves the balance of light and chocolatey goodness is beyond me.  The reason this baby couldn't take the prize for first?  It is time CONSUMING.  It took me 40 minutes to complete.  Ice bath, cooling, whipping, clean name it.  Not sure the exorbitant amount of time is worth it--especially when the Chocolate Ganache (coming next) is almost as good.  As a side note, if you don't intend to use this frosting right away, it gets a little grainy because of the granulated sugar.  My dad told me he preferred Anne's Perfect Chocolate Frosting because of this.  It's really a preference thing when it comes down to choosing which of these two recipes to use.

Recipe: Old Fashioned Chocolate Frosting

Ranking:  1 of 6  (Bestie's Fav, My Mom's Fav)

Remarks:  This is fantastically fluffy and had the purest chocolate flavor out of all the frostings I made.  It's not too sweet, but it's oh so rich.  My dad commented on the nice semi sweet/bitterness flavor.   And what puts it over the edge for top billing is that it is SUPER easy to make.  Only two ingredients.  After you finish cooking the frosting on the stove, you must actually get it cold for it to get fluffy/whipped.  The recipe says room temp, but I didn't find that to be the case.  And the cherry on top:  it says you can store at room temp!  Absolutely, awesome because frostings are never the same once they've been refrigerated.   


Chocolate Seven Minute Frosting: Skip.
Our Best Bites: Chocolate Frosting: Way too much work, not enough love.
Rich Chocolate Buttercream: Basically your typical buttercream.
Anne's Perfect Chocolate Cake Frosting: Powder Sugar.  So good.  Lots of work.
Old Fashioned Chocolate Frosting: Granulated Sugar.  So good.  Lots of work.
Chocolate Ganache: Two Ingredients.  Rich chocolate taste.  Winner, winner chicken dinner.

This probably isn't the most definitive list out there, but I like to tell myself it is.  Because then all this hard work actually meant something.  

And I can't afford to have any more "ideas" for awhile.   

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fastest Easiest Ever: Citrus Cupcakes (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)

So just for arguments sake, say you were taking a night course.  Every Wednesday for twelve weeks you attended said class.  And in return for giving up your valuable evening hours, you got to know your classmates pretty well -- mostly in part, because night classes are unpopular.  

I mean, who wants to spend their confection baking, gym fat-busting, dog fight hummingbird watching, [insert preferred activity here] spare time sitting on their tush in a darkened room for hours on end?, I guess.  

And a select few others.  The cream of the my most humble opinion.  

Moving on...

If after spending the equivalent amount of time with these new found friends as you did in fifth grade at that crazy youth camp where you were forced to strap yourself to a rope and repel down a rock even though you didn't want to and were sure you were going to die...and after actually making it safely to the ground your counselor offered the most comforting words of "I told you so," would agree that some sort of celebration involving food would be in order, right?  Right!?  

Then why, pray tell, did I find myself dumb-faced and gaped-jawed when no one wanted to shake things up for our final class.  Are people this lazy?  Or worse, have Californians become so healthy that they no longer eat for pleasure?  

No.  I refuse to make eating a job.

So even though I was out-voted, my baking/need-to-feed-people gene compelled me to bring something.  Someone in that room needed a cupcake.  And this could not go unrectified. 

The only problem was I had literally two hours to make something happen.

That's when I came up with these - Fastest Easiest Ever "Citrus Cupcakes."

What you need:
1 - Box Lemon Cake Mix
1 - Small Box Instant Lemon Pudding
1 - Can Cream Cheese Frosting
1 - Lime (for zest and slicing)
1-2 Tbsp Lime Juice (from a bottle or pick up an extra lime)

Step One:
Preheat oven.  Prepare cake mix, adding one package of lemon pudding (the "dry cake" savior).  Bake according to directions on box.

Step Two:
While cupcakes are baking, zest lime then slice into thin halves or quarters.  Add 1-2 Tbsp of lime juice to cream cheese frosting.  Do this to taste, adding a tbsp at a time.  I ended up adding about four tbsp and regretted it later...the flavor will sneak up on you!

Step Three:
Wait.  Rest.  Relax.  Sneak in a chapter or two of "Catching Fire" while you mull over the intricacies of the whole Gale/Peeta debate.  Gale for Katniss, Peeta for me.  At least...that's what I did.

Step Four:
After cupcakes have cooled, frost and top with lime slice and a sprinkle of zest.  Voila!

Literally took me an hour and a half from the first picture shot to lemony/lime goodness in my mouth. Can't beat that!

Eat your heart out California!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Food Review: Fair Trade 72% Dark Chocolate (★ ★ ★ ★ ☆)

This week things are going to be a little different.  

I'm featuring my first food review.  :)

Don't get all huffy and puffy.  I'm a recreational baker.  Not a machine!

Plus, this 72% Belgian Dark Chocolate from Trader Joe's is so good--it really deserves all the praise that is forthcoming:

I love chocolate.  Love it.  I once gave up sugar...lasted all of four months...but even then I still allowed myself to indulge in the "dark" varieties.  Because living an unhealthy, chubby existence is better than living a life with no chocolate at all.  

I'm proud to say that I've worked my tolerance level up to 85%.  Anything higher really does taste like dirt (Ya you, 90%) and...up until a few weeks ago...I believed that anything lower tasted too sweet.  

Trader Joe's carries a pretty good 85% Dark Chocolate bar.  It's actually two bars packaged in one box for under $2.  (That. is. a. steal!)  I keep a stash of these on hand for all my chocolate emergencies.  

My mom likes to buy me little gifts every now and then.  So when she found out my hoard was running low a couple weeks back, she called me and told me to "check" the table when I got home.  This Fair Trade 72% bar is what I found.  

I wasn't disappointed exactly...turning up my nose to chocolate just isn't in my nature, but it definitely wasn't what I expected.  

"72% huh?" 

"Welp, this should hold me know, for now."

What I didn't expect was to be swept off my feet.  Full on twitterpation happenin' here.

This bar is excellent.  

Its got just the right amount of sweetness.  Even those who haven't been able to join the ranks of the Dark Chocolate Elite can enjoy this bar (Don't worry guys, it's okay if you like your chocolate weak sauce style.  "70% Plus" isn't for the faint of heart.) 

It's smooth.  Incredibly creamy.  And has a distinct berry essence.  Honestly, this is one of the best chocolate bars I've had - ever.  I mean there was that one "Novi" chocolate bar in Italy - but we won't talk about what could've been, alright?

And to top it off, it was organic and fair trade.  

Quick disclaimer.  I've never cared enough about organic or fair trade to go out of my way to purchase such goods.  Now, don't label me completely cold hearted...these items haven't been all that impressive either. 

But when something is this good AND attempting to impact the world in some way, praises should be sung.  Dancers should be jubilating.  Church bells should be rung at hourly intervals. (Too much?  ...Ya, too much.)  

This is what Fair Trade should be.  

Not, "Hey, here is some tolerable chocolate, but clap for us because we didn't use slave labor." 

But, "Here is some dang good chocolate. We challenge you to find something better.  Oh, and guess what?  It's organic and fair trade.  Schooled."

If you are interested in justice and fair trade, I found this really cool site devoted to raising awareness and ending slavery in the chocolate industry: Slave Free Chocolate.  There is even a cool grid that lists fair trade and organic chocolate options and where to buy them.  

On a broader scale, my best friend runs Justice Is A Verb, which is a slave free lifestyle blog.  The focus is on fashion, do-it-yourself projects, and just plain, good ol' practical advice.  Plus, she has a love for all things, brownie points.

So, to wrap up this very wordy review:

1) Find a Trader Joe's. ASAP.   
2) Dear Fair Traders, please school me.  I beg you.  

Next week, back to your regularly scheduled baking win/fail.  It really is a toss up with me, isn't it?