Wednesday, February 29, 2012

We're Running Out of Thyme!

Happy Leap Day everyone! And what a joyous Leap Day it has been. To celebrate Leap Day, I decided to make something a little crazier than usual (because anything can happen on Leap Day) and finally make the Martha Stewart Cornmeal Thyme cookies. In anticipation of making these cookies, I had previously picked up some thyme and some Zante currants. The recipe specified dried currants. I combed every aisle of two supermarkets and didn't find a single thing labeled "dried currants" so I picked up the next best thing, Zante currants. Which, as it turns out, are the exact same thing as dried currants. Or at least that's what Wikipedia is telling me. Whatever, I didn't even know what currants were before now. Apparently they're like raisins.

Anyway, slightly stressful shopping aside, I was anxious to try a cookie that had such a seemingly weird mix of ingredients and moreover, was specified to be a tea cookie. This makes it perfect for colloquium where everyone is already having coffee or tea. So, this morning, I had to get my act together and make these cookies in time for colloquium. I was all ready to go and was pulling out the ingredients when I noticed one small detail that I had overlooked. The recipe calls for yellow cornmeal. I had cornstarch. A Google search told me in no uncertain terms that these are not the same thing. I suppose I should have guessed that. I have before seen homemade cornmeal. But, lacking corn to grind (and knowing that it makes a huge mess. Long story. It involves my college kitchen covered in some terrifying yellow paste. Don't ask.), I headed out to the store dressed in my blue and yellow Leap Day best.

Now though, I was really under the gun. I had only about an hour and a half to make the cookies and during part of that time, I had to be on a conference call. Rushing around my kitchen, I started creaming the butter and sugar and gathering the dry ingredients. The butter was not working well for me because one of the sticks of butter had come from the freezer. Whoops. Eventually it more or less got to the right consistency though. For once, I even combined the dry ingredients in a separate bowl instead of dumping them all in separately. I figured that it would be wise to really combine the cornmeal and the flour to ensure an even distribution in the dough. From there, the rest of making the dough was easy.

The last things to add were the currants and the thyme. At this point, I was already on the conference call and let me tell you, thyme was of the essence! Don't you groan at that pun, I've got a million of these. Anyway, the currants were easy to measure out, despite being all stuck together and sticky. It was the thyme that got kind of annoying. I was supposed to finely chop the thyme. But, I mean, it's thyme. It's already super duper tiny. So I didn't chop it. It was really a big thyme saver. Hehe.

Ok, ok, I'm done with those puns now. I popped the cookies in the oven and baked them without any incident. The recipe specified that I should use parchment paper but I think all of Martha's recipes do and I don't mind washing my pans so I didn't bother with the paper. I baked them all up, put them in a container to bring to colloquium, and checked my email one last time before walking out the door. Lo and behold, I discovered an email informing me of a snow day! It's a Leap Day miracle! So, no school for me and no colloquium so what do I do? Well, I grab a cookie, make myself a cup of tea, and snuggle in for a several hour marathon of Big Bang Theory, of course!

Oh, by the way, the cookies are quite good. Not very sweet but a nice, chewy texture and a lovely flavor. And I'm patting myself on the back because they look exactly like the picture. The only problem is that now I have a whole tin full of cookies and no colloquium to bring them to!

A Disney Moment: Black Cauldron
To further quote 30 Rock in this blog post, "Oh good God, Lemon Black Cauldron!" It very well might be worse than Sword in the Stone. And that's really saying something. My sister and I actually took a break halfway through this movie! We never do that! But let me bring you back to the beginning...

The beginning confused us. Why? Because we were slightly distracted and then all of a sudden, we're into the actual movie and we had missed all of the credits! We love reading the credits! So we rewound the movie. Watching carefully, we discovered that no, we had not missed the credits. The credits are just at the end for the first time. So we got off on the wrong foot with this movie to begin with.

But it didn't get much better from there. The plot reeked of Lord of the Rings, I couldn't remember any of the character names, and the sidekick creature, Gurgi, was entirely distracting because we couldn't figure out what the hell he was supposed to be. Is he a dog? Is he a mythical creature? Is he Gollum? Regardless of what he was, he was super annoying. Oddly enough, after watching this movie, we met a dog that looked pretty much exactly like Gurgi. The whole movie just felt like torture to watch.

I will say that all of the evil stuff is pretty freakin terrifying. It was like all the worst parts of Fantasia in several really terrifying sequences. I can see why this movie was rated PG. In fact, while I was watching, I even questioned that rating because the whole movie was pretty dark. Ok, rant over. 5/5 and we're done with this block of films. Ugh. Black Cauldron.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Hate the Smell of Anise in the Morning

Welcome back! This morning, in an effort to make quick and easy colloquium cookies, I decided to head back to Martha and make Anise Drops. I partially picked these because they're on the page opposite the Cornmeal Thyme cookies (coming soon to a blog near you) and partially because I have no idea what anise is and it sounded intriguing.

So, bright and early this morning, I started with the baking. First I had to whisk up 3 eggs until they were fluffy. I had some trouble cracking the eggs. They split the wrong way when I cracked them. It was odd. No shell though, I was very careful. Fluffed those, added some sugar, added some anise extract. I knew the second that I opened the bottle of anise extract that I wouldn't like these cookies. Anise extract smells like licorice and I hate licorice. Not good. But I powered through and added in the baking powder, salt, and flour and that was all the ingredients.

For the next step, I had to pipe the cookies onto the baking pans. Stupid piping. I was instructed to use either a really large tip for the pastry bag or just use the coupling to pipe. So I didn't put a tip in at all. The piping didn't exactly go poorly this time but, as usual, I made a mess. I'm always good with the first filling of the bag but when the time comes to refill it, I always make a mess. Oh well.

Also, once again, I made the cookies too big. I was supposed to get 4 dozen cookies and instead got 3 dozen. Whoops. I can't judge what a 1 1/4 inch circle looks like at all. Regardless, I baked them up and let them cool and the whole thing was uneventful.

I will say this: I dreaded tasting these cookies. I knew I wouldn't like them. But for your sake, dear readers, I suffered through a taste of anise cookie. It tasted as I expected. Like licorice. Gross. On the bright side, the consistency of the cookie was spot on. Martha said they would have a crisp shell and a soft middle and that was accurate. So, success on the baking front, failure on the tasting front. I brought all of the cookies to colloquium so that I could get that awful smell out of my house. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating about the smell. A little. Here's a picture of the cookies:

I was all set to post this one this afternoon but held off until this evening. So as a result, you get bonus baking! Sometimes, when life gets you down (like when you spend time making cookies you don't like), you just want a chocolate chip cookie. So I made chocolate chip cookies. Nothing fancy. Just some good ol' fashioned Nestle Toll House. I've made these so many times that I've practically memorized the recipe by now so there's nothing to tell about baking them. But let me just say, a chocolate chip cookie can really make your day. I will now go continue watching Sleepless in Seattle.

A Disney Moment: The Fox and the Hound
I don't even know how to properly rant about this movie. The fox and hound (I don't even remember their names) are cute when they're little. I like the "Best of Friends" song. But the whole movie is just a mess. The end especially doesn't really make sense. There are no real consequences for the evil hunter man and the fox and hound just sort of reach an agreement that fox gets to live but hound gets to keep hunting foxes? It was a straight up mess. But still less of a mess than the Rescuers. 3/5. That is all. No, wait, not quite all. For a more interesting story, see the plot synopsis of Daniel P. Mannix's Fox and the Hound that the movie was based on. It sounds like Disney should have stuck to the original novel.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Piece of [Cheese]Cake

I finally had a good excuse to make a cheesecake! Yay! Last weekend, in celebration of my aunt's birthday, I decided to make a recipe from Death By Chocolate that I've been dying to make: White Chocolate Cheesecake. This is actually a fairly simple recipe but it takes quite a long time to make. So, for the party on Saturday evening, I started making this cheesecake on Thursday.

Once again, we have a tale of substitutions. I was supposed to make Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge cookies to use for the crust. I didn't feel like making those cookies for the fourth time. Maybe some other time, but not now. So I decided to substitute a plain old graham cracker crust instead. There ended up being two problems with that. The first was that I needed 2.5 cups of graham cracker crumbs. I ended up only having slightly less than 2 cups. Hmm. I refused to go back out to the store but I found chocolate graham crackers in the cabinet. So, I figured, mixing them couldn't be bad, right? Right. So that's what I did. Not an insurmountable problem but a hurdle nonetheless.

The second, and slightly more significant, problem was that I was following the recipe in the book for the graham cracker to butter ratio. I suppose that crushed cookies have a very different quality compared to graham crackers because the recipe called for 3 tablespoons of butter. After melting the butter and mixing it in, the crumbs should have been able to be molded. Not a chance. I ended up using a whole stick of butter for my crust. Ultimately, I really should have looked for a different recipe for a crust instead of just guessing but it worked out fine in the end and I was too lazy to look up a recipe.

So, the crust goes into the freezer to chill while I make the filling. The filling is basically a ton of cream cheese, white chocolate, and eggs. After measuring out 1 3/4 lbs of cream cheese (and mixing it a little to soften it up better), I set up the chocolate in the double boiler to melt. A bit of heavy cream and EIGHTEEN ounces of white chocolate. That's a lot of chocolate. And, I learned my lesson about using good white chocolate instead of crappy white chocolate so I got some nice Ghirardelli's for the occasion. While that melted, I mixed up the cream cheese, sugar, and salt, followed by a half dozen eggs. Literally. I should point out that during all of this, I was trying to work as quickly as possible because it was already about 4 pm and the cheesecake takes about 7 hours to bake and cool. As it was, by my calculations, I'd still be dealing with this cheesecake at midnight. My calculations were correct.

Anyway, I poured in the melted chocolate and some vanilla extract and voila! That was all the ingredients. I poured the mixture into the springform pan and was ready to bake. Now check out these baking instructions: "Place a baking sheet with sides partially filled with 4 cups of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven. Place the springform pan on the center rack of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 250° and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 225° and bake for 15 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 200°, and bake the cheesecake until the internal temperature of the cheesecake filling reaches 170°, about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to remain in the oven undisturbed for an additional 2 hours. Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature for 1 hour. Refrigerate the cheesecake for 12 hours (do not remove the cake from the pan)." Do you understand now why I was in such a hurry? I wanted this cheesecake to be perfect and it had to be pretty constantly monitored.

Sometime around midnight, I moved the cheesecake into the fridge to chill. My boyfriend and I both worriedly noted that the cake still seemed well, not liquidy, but definitely not as solid as one would expect from a cheesecake. I figured that maybe it would firm up in the fridge (since it would be hanging out in there for at least twelve hours).

It chilled longer than twelve hours because on Friday I went to the 2012 USA Curling National Tournament in Pennsylvania. Yes, that's right. I went to watch curling for a full day. And it was awesome. Don't judge.

On Saturday morning, there was one final step to complete. I had to coat the cake with some ganache. I had a ton of Ultimate Ganache in my freezer so I figured that I would substitute the Ultimate for the plain old Chocolate Ganache that the recipe called for. Plus, my crust was a lot less chocolatey than the recipe had specified so it couldn't hurt, right? So, I just have to re-melt my ultimate ganache and...oh yeah, crap, I left it in Connecticut. And I'm in New Jersey. Score. So what does the baker do? She makes more, of course! That process went smoothly so there wasn't much to tell.

Finally, it was time to cut and eat the cake. Sadly, I forgot to bring candles so we had to make do with a tealight placed on top of the cake. Nevertheless, we cut into it and...horror. You could see the fear in everyone's eyes. It did not, in fact, firm up as it chilled. The cheesecake ended up being more like a pudding in the middle than a cake. We passed slices around anyway and I dove right in for a taste. And it was delicious. I mean, really heavenly good. I ate two slices. And you all know that I don't really have a sweet tooth. So pudding or not, the cake was a hit because the taste was so good. My theories on the consistency include a) the huge amount of melted white chocolate just makes it that way and b) my mom's oven temperatures aren't correct. But here's a couple pictures:

A couple of notes: First, I could have used some more graham cracker crust because (as you can see) it didn't make it all the way up the sides of the whole cake. Second, I was supposed to top the cake with white chocolate curls. That didn't happen because I'm lazy and because I didn't have a block of white chocolate with which to make the white chocolate curls. Lastly, on some of my more recent projects: my mom and great aunt adored the pignoli cookies and said they were perfect. That's good because I hated them. There was consensus that the Martha snickerdoodles were better, though the JoC ones weren't bad. And, the highlight of my week: after eating a couple of snickerdoodles at pre-colloquium tea, one of the professors exclaimed that the cookies were not i.i.d. and discussed with another professor whether they were mixture normal or stratified cookies. If you get that, you're a nerd, and you have my pity.

A Disney Moment: The Rescuers
Here we go with a couple of awful movies. The Rescuers had a couple of fundamental flaws and generally was just sort of...there. Nothing exceptional. Nothing to make you remember it. Certainly nothing to warrant a sequel (unless the purpose of the sequel is to give the protagonists a second chance to get it right). The premise isn't bad: a UN of mice rescuing kids. The main problem though, is that you don't even really see the girl they're rescuing until over halfway through the movie. So you can never develop an emotional attachment to her. And then, when you do see her, she comes up with her own plan for her rescue. She doesn't even need the mice! She did everything herself and she was occasionally just really dumb.

Also, why are all the animals the same size??? The mouse, rabbit, owl, turtle, and mole are all exactly the same size! That doesn't make any sense! That fact annoyed me quite a bit so this movie ranks a 4/5.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Last Snickerdoodle Standing

And the blitz of baking blog posts continues! For a while now I've had Snickerdoodles bookmarked to be baked at some point. There are three reasons for this. First, they're quick and easy to make. I could tell that just by looking at the recipe (which doesn't include any weird ingredients). Second, I don't think I've ever had a snickerdoodle in my life. I didn't even quite know what they were even though I had heard of them with popular enthusiasm. And third, snickerdoodle is just a funny word. A word that this blog doesn't recognize as even being a word. Highly inconvenient.

Smooth baking plan for colloquium cookies, right? If you think so, you must be forgetting a key quality of the author/baker. Namely, that I'm crazy and things can never be easy for me. Here's the issue with the snickerdoodles: I have two recipes for them. I have the classic Joy of Cooking recipe and I have the Martha Stewart recipe. Knowing that I had both recipes, I consulted the books to see if they're basically the same. They're not. I mean, they're not even close to being the same. Not only do they have different proportions of butter, sugar, and flour (which really are the main components of the snickerdoodle), but they also have completely different ingredients! Seriously, JoC calls for baking soda and cream of tartar (by the way, who even knows what that is?) and Martha calls for baking powder! Baking powder is what causes cookies to grow and get fluffy so I automatically knew that these would be two different cookies. So what is the baker to do? Which should I choose?

Both, of course.

I wanted the opportunity to really compare the two cookies. I don't think I could have done that if I made one cookie one week and the other a few weeks later. My memory is definitely not that good. So I decided to cook both for a good old-fashioned taste test. And on top of that, it was a race against the clock because I only had about 3 hours before I had to leave for class/colloquium. Sounds like a challenge to me! May the best cookie win!

I started out with Martha's recipe. Let me tell you, I was like a baking machine. Everything was moving like clockwork. Like I said, snickerdoodles are easy. The really fun part came in when I had to roll the dough into balls and roll the balls in a cinnamon-sugar mixture. It was fun because it reminded me of making monkey bread. I haven't had monkey bread in ages and it is so so so good. I should make myself some monkey bread. Anyway, back on topic, Martha warned me to leave a lot of space for the cookies because they really grow as they bake. As a result, I only put 6 cookies on each baking pan. They did in fact grow but they didn't run into each other and they puffed up rather dramatically. Definitely a thick cookie. I'd say on average, they're about two inches high.

While those were baking, I rolled out all of the Martha snickerdoodle dough and put them on a plate before baking so that I could clean the bowl and get started on the JoC snickerdoodle dough. I told you, I'm a baking machine! By the time Martha's snickerdoodles were done and cooling, I was already done with the JoC dough. I decided to cut the JoC recipe in half because the yield was 36 cookies and I didn't have that much time to bake them. The recipe was easy to cut in half though so no harm there. The only harm came in baking them. They really really spread out on the pan. Martha warned me, JoC didn't. Hmmm. I'm having some trust issues with JoC.

Pretty much (as I expected) we got fluffy, soft cookies from Martha and thin, crispy cookies from JoC. Here's a couple of pictures so you can see the difference. I tried to angle the camera so you could see the different heights but let's face it, I'm no photographer:

In case you couldn't tell, the one on the left is Martha's. Now, on to the taste test! I tasted Martha's first. I even took notes on the taste! I was very scientific about this. I think I need a hobby from my hobby. Anyway, Martha's cookies had a very smooth taste. I can't think of a better way to describe it. It's buttery and feels like it melts in your mouth. It has a tiny bit of crisp on the outside but then it gives way to a nice, cakey center. Sweet, but not overpoweringly sweet with just the slightest whisper of cinnamon ("cinnamon!").

Next up was the JoC cookie. Definitely crispy and crunchy. Less sweet than Martha's but also less flavor. It mostly tastes like the doneness of the bottom. By that I mean, the cookies weren't burned by any stretch of the imagination, but it's that almost caramelized sugar taste on the bottom. They're not bad. But they're just not as good as Martha's.


Martha Stewart Snickerdoodles.

Excited by the results of my experiment, I cleaned up my kitchen and put my cookbooks away. While I was doing that, I glanced at the Pillsbury Best Cookies cookbook. They have yet another recipe for snickerdoodles! Again, completely different! How can there be so many recipes for one cookie? So, in the end, Martha wins for now but may be challenged another day.

A Disney Moment: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Ok, I'm about to make a very unpopular statement: I'm not crazy about Winnie the Pooh. And especially not this movie. I thought it was sort of boring. And overly childish. And mildly terrifying with the winking stuffed Pooh at the end. Throughout the movie, I found myself trying to read the words in the book instead of watching the animation. I really can't explain why it didn't grab me. The music is pleasant enough. The animation is fine. I actually love how well the storybook is integrated into the story (as well as the narration). Eeyore is probably the most unconventional character in a kids' movie and I always liked Tigger and Piglet as a kid. But I just couldn't get into it.

That all said, it's still ranking a 2/5. Think about that. That must mean that we have three real duds coming up. And we do. We actually have a movie that rivals Sword in the Stone for my least favorite film coming up. So, something to look forward to.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Half the Cost, Twice the Thinking

And with barely enough time for my mixing bowl to dry, we're back! In fact, we're back to the Cake Boss cookbook. The reason I ended up baking practically back-to-back is because these cookies needed to rest overnight. And what are these cookies, you ask? Why, Pignoli cookies, of course! For those of you who are significantly less Italian, pignoli cookies are pine nut cookies. I honestly don't think I've ever had one before so I've been looking forward to these for a while now.

To start with, I decided to halve the recipe. Here's why: the recipe calls for 1 pound and 9 ounces of almond paste and 1 1/2 POUNDS of pine nuts. Now, almond paste isn't really easy to find and it's not cheap. And pine nuts are really not cheap. And remember, I'm a broke grad student. As it was, making 24 cookies instead of 48 was stretching my wallet. I don't say this to complain. It's just a caution to those who want to follow in my footsteps and make these cookies. The ingredient cost is high.

That all said, halving the recipe was not without its hurdles. The almond paste part went fine (think of it as a substitute for butter in cookies). The powdered sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon halved just fine. But the recipe called for 1 1/4 cups sugar. I don't have a 1/8 cup measure. So I eyeballed it. What else was I supposed to do? Convert 1/8 cup to tablespoons? Not happening. Similarly, the recipe called for 1 tablespoon of honey and I don't have a 1/2 tablespoon measure. Do they even make those? In any case, I eyeballed that too. Don't look at me like that! I'm lazy, remember?

After adding all of that (in one single step), I had to "paddle until smooth with no lumps remaining". No lumps, you say? How is that even possible? There's nothing wet except 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tbsp honey! I paddled much longer than specified (in fact, I probably over-mixed the ingredients) and eventually, there were very small, equal-sized lumps. It was basically a crumbly dough so I don't know how else it should have looked. Anyway, the last thing to add was the egg whites. The recipe called for 5 extra-large egg whites. So halve that. Hmm. Half an egg white? Really? That one you actually do have to eyeball and there's definitely nothing I could have done about that. Dividing by two is stressful.

Now comes my favorite part: a pastry bag. Who here remembers the last time I had to deal with a pastry bag and how stressful it was? I do! As a result, I took this whole step as slowly and as carefully as possible. First, I cut two pieces of parchment paper on which I had to pipe the cookies. They kept rolling up in an obnoxious manner so I had to weigh the corners down with various kitchen knickknacks (including, but not limited to, a steak knife). Then, I had to fit my pastry bag with a #6 plain tip. Fun story about my pastry bag. It's a lovely canvas bag and it came in a little kit with a bunch of decorating tips and for the first 3 months that I had it, I couldn't figure out how to properly affix the tips. I tried a lot and the directions didn't make any sense to me. My mommy had to show me how and then I felt stupid. Dark times.

Aside over, back to the #6 plain tip. Looking for the #6, looking for the #6, why, oh why, don't I have a #6? I have a dozen decorating tips. I have #2 and #4 plain tips. I have fancy flower tips. I have no #6 plain tips. Perfect. Deducing that the hole for the #6 was probably larger than that of the #4, I picked a shaped tip that had what I considered to be a large enough hole to squeeze the dough out of. I ended up going with the #96 tip. Who knew that a person could ramble for a whole paragraph about decorating tips?

After stressing out over decorating tips, I filled the pastry bag (which was surprisingly not the worst) and was instructed to pipe the dough into circles 2 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches high. I had some trouble making circles at first. They turned out kind of squiggly. Then I realized that I had to a) take it slow and b) not hold the pastry bag so high. But the 1 1/2 inch height made me nervous. My cookies definitely looked too thin. So I ended up piping a second layer on top of my cookies. Piping is a pain. It hurts my hands. In the end though, it didn't end up being so bad. I was one cookie short of my intended goal of 24 cookies but that's still much closer than usual for me.

Wow, long blog post, so many steps. For those of you paying attention, you'll realize that we still need to add some pine nuts! I was instructed to spread the pine nuts out on a baking sheet and then pick up the cookie-covered parchment paper and invert it over the nuts. Press down into the nuts and lift up and put aside. I really wish I had another pair of hands helping me. I was very afraid that the cookies would fall off the parchment paper and it was hard to control where the cookies went on the pan. And, in fact, I should have spread out the pine nuts better because on the second flip, some of the cookies landed on the pan instead of on the pine nuts. As a result, I made a mess (as usual) and ended up pressing several pine nuts into cookies by hand.

Let rest overnight. Whew.

I baked the cookies and they had a really interesting aroma. Not as good as the oatmeal applesauce cookies but definitely interesting. It was probably the cinnamon and pine nuts. They looked nice, they smelled nice but sadly, I don't like them. I tried one and I practically spat it out. Maybe it's just me though. So the jury's still out on the Pignoli cookies. Here's a picture:

Oh, and by the way, I'm not the only one who can't divide by two. At the end of the recipe, there's a note that says that since you won't use all the pine nuts, you could use half as much and press the nuts in by hand. So, instead of using the 5 cups (about 1 1/2 lbs), you could use 2.5 cups (about 1 1/4 lbs). Yup. 1 1/4 is obviously half of 1 1/2. If the baker and an editor can't divide by two, I shouldn't be expected to either. So there.

A Disney Moment: Robin Hood
I LOVE Robin Hood! 1/5! Possibly first out of all so far! Well, more like it's a three-way tie between Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, and Robin Hood at this point. Still, what an awesome movie! I suppose I should at least explain why I love this movie so much. First off, the opening credits. It's hamster dance, people! The song is great, seeing all of the characters during the credits is great, and the whole thing is just a fun way to set the tone. I especially love the minstrel rooster as the narrator.

The whole movie has good pace. We establish the characters early and quickly. The driving conflict is obvious and we even get a love story that doesn't completely halt the progress of the plot and instead incorporates the love story as part of the conflict (i.e. using Maid Marian as bait to catch Robin Hood).

The animation throughout is pretty solid. Not quite the works of art that say, Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty were but definitely solid. I especially love the effect of the waterfall during the love song. And speaking of songs, I loved all of them. From the humorous "Phony King of England" to the lazy but jaunty "Oo-de-lally" to the sweet but thankfully brief "Love" to the absolutely heartbreaking "Not in Nottingham" it's just perfection. Honestly, as a kid, I remember getting restless during Not in Nottingham but as an adult, it almost made me cry Pixar-style. It was just a really heart wrenching scene that I hadn't paid much attention to before.

Aside from all that, there are small things that really put the movie over the top like Richard the Lionheart being a lion. The snide remarks by Hiss, the snake. Archery! (I love archery.) I honestly loved every second of the movie and really want to watch it again right now. A+ to Robin Hood.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Holy Applesauce, Batman!

Sometimes I love weekends in Connecticut. It's a chance for me to get a ton of baking done and to plan for baking during the week. Not only did I make cookies this weekend, but I also made the dough for cookies that will be baked today (they had to rest overnight), bought all the ingredients for my next five or so recipes, and planned what dessert to bring to my aunt's birthday dinner this weekend. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a rockin' good weekend to me! So, I started off this weekend's baking with another Martha recipe that intrigued me when I saw it. Several of Martha's recipes are very intriguing and somewhat weird. For example, Cornmeal Thyme cookies. That's not what I made this time but I will at some point because that's just too intriguing to let slide. No, this time, I made Oatmeal Applesauce cookies. I've never seen applesauce used in a recipe for a cookie but I figured that it couldn't possibly be bad. And in fact, it wasn't bad at all.

The first step was, of course, to buy the ingredients. The recipe didn't specify sweetened vs. unsweetened applesauce so I went for the unsweetened. Which means I now have a bunch of applesauce in my house that I won't eat. Oh well. I also had to buy some golden raisins. I was a bit surprised that I didn't already have raisins in my house for baking. Go figure. Oh, I should probably point out that this recipe is technically for Iced Oatmeal Applesauce cookies but I was too cheap to buy maple syrup and too lazy to ice the cookies. So I slacked off a little and eliminated the icing. Sorry people.

By the time I got to the actual baking, it was really easy. Honestly, just a very straightforward recipe that had me adding half the ingredients in one step and half the ingredients in the second step. However, one thing that I did notice was that the dough was, well, gloopy. It was very liquidy which was odd because the only liquid parts were one egg, melted butter, and half a cup of applesauce. I also quadruple checked that I had gotten all of the proportions correct. But I had and alas, gloop.

I had a feeling that the gloopiness of the dough was meant to be because the next direction was to use an ice cream scoop to scoop out cookies to put on the parchment paper. Martha specified a 1 1/2 inch ice cream scoop. I have no idea how big mine was but if I were to guess, I'd say it's about 3 inches across. So I only half filled the ice cream scoop. Logical, right? There will be no problems at all with that, right?


I stuck them in the oven for 13 minutes and continued watching an old episode of Grey's Anatomy (lest some of you think that my watching of bad tv has lapsed lately). When the timer buzzed, I walked down the stairs to my kitchen and (I kid you not) exclaimed, "Holy crap, they smell good!" Yes, out loud. To myself, because I live alone. It was like an involuntary response to the most delicious smell ever. I mean, it smelled pretty good as dough, but once it was cooked it was other-worldly. You're reading this and you think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. However, delicious smell aside, I pulled the cookies out of the oven and they looked like this:

The fiends grew to enormous proportions! Each of these cookies is about the size of my hand span! I'm half surprised that they didn't expand to cover the entire pan and then come oozing out of my oven. They were also very soft cookies (because of the applesauce, of course) so they were challenging to lift off the pan and transfer to the drying rack. Disconcerting, because I never have had a problem transferring cookies before.

But here's the good news: they're delicious. I mean, they're soft and chewy and sweet (but not too sweet!) and just fantastic. Martha knows how to make a damn good cookie. My boyfriend suggested that I should have added cinnamon to the cookies to make them even better and I'm going to actually agree with that. If I ever make them again, I think that a dash of cinnamon will really put these cookies over the top in flavor. By the way, in case you were wondering, my subsequent batches of cookies still turned out about as large as the first batch. Clearly, I don't learn from my mistakes.

A Disney Moment: The Aristocats
Now, you would think that with my sudden love of cartoon animals, I would go crazy for Aristocats. I might have, if not for a few fatal flaws. But first, the good news: the opening credit sequence is darling. I really do love the style that Disney adopts for the opening credits in this time period. Plus, my sister and I still search for our favorite animators. Sadly, we've had to adopt some new favorites because our old favorites, well, died. But that's besides the point. The point is that the opening credits are fun. I also enjoy the scene with the aristocats acting like aristocrats. That is, the scene with the painting and the piano and voice lessons. I really do enjoy the paint on the piano. It makes me giggle.

Also, "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" is a fun song. If you look closely, you can spot some recycled animation from other movies when the cats are dancing. There's a fun video illustrating this fact here. My sister and I love pointing out recycled animation as well as recycled voice actors during this time period.

So that was the good stuff. My real beef with the film is that the animation is just plain lazy. Honestly, there's a real lack of detail. But more importantly, in a couple of the shots, you can see disappearing and reappearing pencil lines! Come on, Disney, that's just lazy. There's also some continuity problems with the paint colors when the cat is painting. Again, lazy. So that was my real problem. The more minor problem was that Edgar is an idiot. Why didn't he just kill the cats outright? Or wait until the woman died? Or just spend the inheritance money as he saw fit after the woman died since he was basically the executor of the cats' estate anyway? I know, I know, then we wouldn't have had a movie. It was still annoying. Therefore, I condemn Aristocats to a 4/5 to round out this group of five films.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Aaaaaand we're back! Back to the Cake Boss cookbook. I'm just powering through this thing. Next on the list was Chocolate Brownie Clusters. I was pretty excited about these because I wanted to try something that was less cookie and more brownie for a change. And, even more fun, this recipe only has five ingredients! Exciting, right?

The other exciting thing about this recipe is that I actually get to use some real techniques other than creaming or stirring. In fact, I had the opportunity to use the whisk attachment on my brand new, totally awesome KitchenAid Mixer. The reason for that is because the bulk of the body of this "dough" is whipped egg whites. That was step one. Whip egg whites and a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice (yes, I did buy a lemon and yes, I did get lemon juice in a cut on my finger) until the egg whites form stiff peaks. I actually have some experience in this area. Fun fact: don't try whipping refrigerated egg whites from a carton if trying to form stiff peaks. I didn't do that this time but I've tried before and it just doesn't work. Just a note for anyone out there who reads this and feels inspired to bake. Anyone? Anyone?

While the egg whites were being whipped into a frenzy, I was instructed to sift powdered sugar and cocoa into a bowl together. For once, I actually did this. Let me explain why. At this point, I realized that these were going to be more meringue than brownie so I decided that everything had to be rather delicately done so as to not ruin my lovely whipped egg whites. So I sifted. And that went fine, although I'm not sure I know how to properly clean my sifter. After that, I had to fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites. My mommy taught me how to fold ingredients many, many years ago and has reinforced the idea many times since so I was a pro at folding the ingredients. Then I just had to fold in a bunch of walnuts and voila! Done! I was actually supposed to use walnut halves but all I had were chopped walnuts so hopefully that won't make too big a difference.

At this point, the batter looked...well, for lack of a better term, weird. It was all combined but it was kind of loose and thin and I started to worry that I did something wrong. After consulting the book, I found this passage "The batter looks like an unholy, goopy-gooey mess." Hmm. Well, I guess that means I'm on the right track? I continued reading to find "When you make these, you might even think you did something wrong." It's like Buddy knows me! However, then he goes on to talk about these cookies turning from ugly ducklings to perfect swans and he lost me a little bit there by sounding slightly crazy.

Sorry this is so uneventful and boring. Maybe I'm actually getting good at this sort of stuff! (Don't worry, some crazy looking recipes are coming up soon in this book.) Anyway, I had to drop "heaping tablespoons" of batter onto the pan, making sure to include about the same number of walnuts in each one. I didn't check the number of walnuts in each cookie at all. I am just not that meticulous. From there, I just had to bake until the outside had crisped and the bottom started to pull away from the parchment paper. Straightforward. And for once, the cooking time seemed right. Maybe it's because this time I just baked one pan at a time instead of two. Perhaps that makes a difference.

Anyway, when the cookies came out, they were in fact crispy on the top. One of the ones that I poked to test actually sort of collapsed in on itself. But the description is correct; these cookies really are more meringue than brownie but they still have the distinct taste of brownie. It's a very odd cookie. Good though. I would probably use fewer walnuts in the future but without the walnuts, I'm not sure if the cookies would have much flavor. Overall, success! Take a look:


A Disney Moment: Jungle Book
Ah, Jungle Book. A classic for sure. I was really looking forward to watching this one because I remember loving it as a kid. I mean, you've got "Bare Necessities", Baloo, the quartet of vultures! But sadly, it didn't hold up to my expectations. I find myself talking a lot about flow when it comes to these movies (and that is honestly unplanned but apparently is crucial to a good film) and Jungle Book had bad flow. Nothing really dragged you into the plot or the characters and the whole movie seemed to meander a bit. Considering the movie is based on a collection of short stories, I suppose this shouldn't surprise me but I would have liked more of a driving force in the film.

There are some scenes I love. The aforementioned "Bare Necessities", for one. I also love the idea of King Louie and his scat-inspired song "I Wanna Be Like You". I adore Phil Harris's voice as Baloo (and then later as Thomas O'Malley and as Little John). But overall, the film didn't hold my attention well. I thought Sher Khan (the tiger) was a really interesting character that I wanted to see develop more but alas, it was not to be. As a result, a 3/5. Which, by the way, should probably tell you something about this group of five that this one was good enough for a three.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Peanuuuuuts...(I'm Quoting Duck Soup Here)

Ok, well, not really peanuts. Peanut butter. I was just thinking about the scene with the peanut vendor in Duck Soup (that's the Marx Brothers for anyone who has not yet experienced the glory of that film). That's right, I've returned to the Cake Boss cookbook and resumed baking with Peanut Butter cookies. Recall, I have made peanut butter cookies in the past. They were good. They even had chocolate drizzle on them. These cookies, however, do not have a million tiny Reese's cups that I have to unwrap and chop up. These have milk chocolate chips and peanut butter chips. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's backtrack.

We start the baking with some peanut butter and Crisco. Last time that I worked with sticky stuff, I lined the measuring cup with wax paper. Now, while this was effective, I was too lazy to do that this time. Instead, I just used two spoons: one to scoop and one to scrape. This worked pretty well, with one exception. I almost ran out of peanut butter! Who runs out of peanut butter? It's a staple in every household! And I certainly was not going to go out to the store and buy more. Ludicrous. So, it took a good deal of scraping the sides of the jar but I ended up getting juuuuuuust enough peanut butter. Next, I had to scoop in some Crisco using the same method. Not a problem. Here we run into another small problem though. I had been using the 1/4 cup measure for the peanut butter and the Crisco. The third ingredient to be mixed in was 1/4 cup of brown sugar. I didn't want to clean the 1/4 cup. I know, I know, I'm super lazy. You're right. So what did I do? Why, I filled a 1/2 cup halfway, of course! Specific measurements be damned, I was not cleaning that 1/4 cup.

After that, I had to add in one [extra large] egg. Easy. The book recommends periodically scraping the sides of the bowl during mixing and even specifies when scraping should be performed. And it's good advice. Scraping the bowl revealed all sorts of non-combined stuff. Good call, Cake Boss. My praise of the Cake Boss ends there though. You'll see why in a minute.

But first, a story about opening a can of sweetened, condensed milk. I got out my church key can opener and poked two holes into the can. This caused the condensed milk to ooze aggressively out of those two holes in the process. Ok, not the end of the world. But then I tried pouring. It's like trying to pour honey. It's slow and I'm impatient. So, I got out the real can opener. After carving off the top of the can (and of course, making a mess), I poured the contents into the bowl and scraped it with my spatula. And made a mess. Why am I always making messes out of simple tasks?

After adding the rest of the ingredients (flour, baking powder, chocolate chips and peanut butter chips), I had to divide the dough into cookies. Hmm, I just noticed that there wasn't any salt in this recipe. How unusual. Anyway, I was instructed to flour a work surface (which is never a good sign), divide the dough in half, and roll half the dough into a 20 inch long cylinder with a 1 inch diameter. Sure. Because I'm so good at that. Oh, and did I mention that the dough is sticky? Because, you know, it's peanut butter? Good stuff. To make things even more complicated, these cookies have a very high chip to dough ratio. Meaning, once I started to roll the dough, it would break apart and chocolate or peanut butter chips would come tumbling out of the middle of the cylinder. I legitimately don't know how I could have avoided this. There were just too many chips. I shudder to think what would have happened if I added the optional 1/2 cup of peanuts!

Anyway, eventually, I got a cylinder-like shape that may or may not have been the dimensions specified. As we know, I am not a good judge of lengths. From there, I had to slice the cylinder into 1 inch slices (like slice and bake cookies). Then I had to roll the slices in my hands to make a ball, press down to flatten to half inch thickness and put on the baking pans that had been previously prepared with parchment paper. Wow, tongue twister. Say it three times fast: previously prepared with parchment paper. I wonder if any of you just tried.

Bake cookies for approximately 8 minutes until edges are a light golden brown. I'm sorry but I think the cooktimes in this cookbook are way off. I ended up baking the cookies for 12 minutes and not only did the edges never brown but the bottoms were only slightly brown. Recall, I ran into this same problem with the double chocolate chip cookies. I know that the Cake Boss is used to baking in bulk but I'm starting to suspect that the conversions are not quite working out for home baking. I'll stick with it a little while longer but be it known: I'm wary of these recipes.

On the bright side of life, the cookies ended up tasting pretty good (for peanut butter cookies, which I'm not overly fond of) but they weren't as good as the other peanut butter cookies I made. Also, for once, the recipe made cookies that were not gigantic! Admittedly, I made them a little smaller than the recipe suggested but they're very cute bite-size cookies. See for yourself:

A Disney Moment: Sword in the Stone
Ugh. 5/5, 5/5, 5/5. I wish I could rate it lower. It was awful. I honestly can't find any redeeming qualities. People talk about the battle being a triumph in animation and maybe it was, but by then I felt like I was trapped in some sort of animation torture chamber. Every time the kid turned into another animal, my sister and I audibly groaned. We started inventing new directions the story could have gone in. I think it would've been better if he pulled the sword out of the stone about halfway through the movie and we got to see his attempt to rule a kingdom as a child with Merlin's help. But he didn't. Instead we got an hour of "education is important! You should be educated!" which was a lesson that had sunk in for the kid after the first iteration. This movie is actually in the running for my least favorite Disney film of all time (though, I'm sure that title will be challenged when we get to the more recent stuff). Awful.