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2nd Annual Cookie Swap for a Cause and After-Party

20 Dec

View over Fort Point from Space with a Soul

On Sunday I attended the 2nd Annual Cookie Swap for a Cause event at Space with a Soul in Fort Point, Boston. Boston Food Swap organized the event to raise money for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer through the Glad to Give Campaign. Glad donated one dollar for every cookie swapped and attendees were asked to bring at least 4 dozen cookies. I made 53 cookies, which means I donated $53. In total the event raised over $4,000. A huge success!

This was my first time visiting Space with a Soul. The image above is the view from their event space. Nice even on a rainy Sunday.

I made ginger snap cookies in the shape of snails (I know, they look like whales, too – whatever you want to call them is fine by me).  The recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen, which I’ll post soon.

My ginger snap cookies in the shape of snails

The atmosphere was fun and I had a great time catching up with Shannon and Adri from Google+ Local (sponsoring the event), along with my friend Krystal who joined me for the swap and after-party.

As guests arrived, we placed our cookies on tables throughout the room and then enjoyed some drinks and activities while we waited about an hour until swapping began.

Mint Chocolate Seltzer from Polar

So I didn’t think I would ever try these crazy Polar seltzer flavors like mint chocolate and eggnog, but I did at the swap. I the mint chocolate was good – refreshing with a hint of sweet. I wasn’t sure how thick and creamy eggnog could translate to fresh and bubbly…I learned not too well. It was fun to try, though.

Deep Eddy Vodka was also there mixing drinks with their regular vodka and sweet tea vodka. I had a sweet tea lemonade and then a pear vodka (using Polar’s spiced pear seasonal flavor) – both were delicious. Deep Eddy is based in Austin, Texas and their products can be found in larger liquor stores throughout the Northeast.

My decorated Google + Local Cookie

Then I ventured over to the Google+ Local table and decorated a cookie! Note to self: marshmallows are delicious on frosted cookies. I also tried a yummy mint M&M (not pictured above) for the first time.

I learned about the Neiman Marcus Urban Legend Cookie – I’m not sure who made them, but they were delicious. I’m going to make them sometime. Although I didn’t get to try Hiroshi’s Green Tea Cookies (below), I did get the recipe and I can’t wait to try those out because 1. I love using matcha and 2. they’re pretty!

Green Tea Cookies from the Cookie Swap

Some other bakers gave me great ideas for my own projects, including maple snickerdoodles, chocolate-dipped cookies, and beautiful Italian rainbow cookies (the ones with pink, yellow, and green layers covered in chocolate).

As the swap came to an end, a group of Google+ Local reviewers and I headed over to Lucky’s Lounge with Adri and Shannon to enjoy cookie-themed cocktails and post-swap snacks. I had a ‘thin mint’ style martini (maybe I was still craving those mint M&Ms?), burger slider with a tiny fried egg, mac & cheese, a deviled egg, and veggies and cheese. Everyone at Luckys was helpful and friendly to our group – I was glad to finally check them out.

Have a favorite cookie you’ve swapped or shared for the holidays? Let me know in the comments and feel free to leave a link to a recipe!

Soft Salted Pretzels & Cinnamon Sugared Pretzels

30 Oct

Sunday afternoon we braced for potential damage and power outages from Hurricane Sandy. We stocked up on water and checked the flashlights. I surveyed the kitchen and realized we were good on non-perishable food for at least a few days – a benefit of having a well-stocked kitchen and a mom who gives me jars of homemade pickles, dilly beans, applesauce, and more. Knowing the storm wouldn’t arrive until the next day, I thought it would be nice to bake something we could snack on if we lost power. Our power stayed on through the storm (thank goodness and it’s hard to comprehend the destruction in NYC, Jersey, and other coastal areas), but I was glad for the excuse to make pretzels for the first time.

I haven’t had much luck with yeast in the past (failed miserably with sourdough, other yeast bread attempts have fallen flat – literally), but I find comfort in flipping through the pages of my fantastic Baking Illustrated cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen and the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. And that’s exactly where I found this simple recipe for soft pretzels.

The whole idea behind America’s Test Kitchen is to test recipes until they are perfect – sometimes hundreds of versions are made before a final recipe is determined. So there is no need to change the recipes in Baking Illustrated – the one in this post is replicated nearly verbatim from the book. That said, I didn’t have all of the suggested equipment and ingredients, so here are the changes I made:

The recipe says to use a standing mixer with a dough hook (best option) or a food processor (also good). I have neither. So I mixed the ingredients with a wooden spoon, kneaded the dough by hand, and hoped for the best. I also only had regular all-purpose flour, instead of bread flour as the recipe lists. The recipe worked! But I’m sure it would be even better if you follow the recipe exactly. After all, they did test it a few times.

Homemade pretzels with salt and cinnamon sugar

Soft Pretzels (from Baking Illustrated)

makes 12 small pretzels

Ingredients

1 teaspoon instant yeast
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups (16 ½ ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
3 tablespoons baking soda
 
For salted/seeded pretzels
2 tablespoons coarse salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds
 
For cinnamon sugared pretzels
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons melted butter

Directions

  1. Mix yeast, honey, salt, flour, and water in the standing mixer bowl. With a dough hook, knead at a low speed until a smooth ball of dough forms (5 to 7 minutes).
  2. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size (1 to 1 ½ hours). Deflate dough, cover, and let rise again until doubled in size (30 to 40 minutes).
  3. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat oven to 450 (F) degrees. Pour 6 cups of water into a 12-inch skillet, add baking soda, stir, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil. Set aside.
  4. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 20-inch-long, ½ inch-wide rope. Shape each rope into a pretzel (overlap ends to make a loop, twist ends around each other, and secure at the bottom of the loop). Place on prepared baking sheet.
  5. Gently place pretzels into the boiling water, top-side down, and cook for 30 seconds. Using tongs, flip pretzels over and boil for another 30 seconds. Remove pretzels with the slotted spoon, drain off water, and place back onto prepared baking sheet (all 12 pretzels should fit on sheet).
  6. If making salted or seeded pretzels: sprinkle topping onto pretzels before placing in oven. If making cinnamon sugared pretzels, bake without topping. Bake for 12-16 minutes or until pretzels are browned on top, turning the sheet halfway through baking. Remove pretzels from baking sheet to wire rack.
  7. If making cinnamon sugared pretzels: mix sugar and cinnamon in a shallow plate. Once pretzels are baked (and still warm), brush tops of pretzels with butter (or just press pretzels, top-first, into the melted butter), and then press into the cinnamon sugar.
  8. Serve pretzels warm or room temperature.

These pretzels are amazing. As much as you think 12 pretzels will be more than enough…we couldn’t stop eating them and they were gone before we knew it! Cinnamon sugared pretzels are my favorite when I grab a snack at the mall, but these are at a whole different level. What’s most interesting to me is that the salted pretzels really have more of a ‘pretzel-y taste’ than the sugared ones, even though the bread is the same. I made 6 sugared, 4 salted, and 2 sesame – it was easy to mix them up and the variety was great. Next time I’m going to try a batch of cinnamon sugared pretzel bites (yes, like at the mall!).

My Galeux d’Eysines Pumpkin & Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

31 Oct

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

It’s the end of October and I’ve been enjoying everything seasonally pumpkin lately: beer, baked goods, grain and veggie dishes, and seeds!

Galeux d'Eysines Pumpkin

Last week there was a beautiful (and somewhat intimidating) Galeux d’Eysines Pumpkin on my kitchen counter. I researched Galeux d’Eysines, a French heirloom variety meaning ’embroidered with warts’, because I thought it was safe to eat, but had to know why it looks so strange. There’s actually a simple explanation for the squash’s exterior: as the pumpkin matures, the sugar from inside slightly seeps out, forming “peanut shell-looking” growths. This happens when the outside transforms from green to light-orange. During the change in color, I’ve heard you can make small scrapes on the outside and guide where the growths develop. Maybe I can convince my parents to plant some and I’ll let you know next year if it works.

Small section of Galeux d'Eysines pumpkin skin

So they look strange, but the Galeux d’Eysines smells so sweet when you open it that you’ll want to find them every autumn.

The giant pumpkin was surprisingly easy to cut, but after processing the entire 15 pounds, all I wanted was to watch Jeopardy and have a glass of wine, so I separated out the seeds and tossed all of the stringy-covered seeds into a glass bowl in the fridge.

Feeling refreshed and more creative the next day, I soaked the seeds in warm water, cleaned them, and put together this tasty recipe. Roasting seeds is an easy way to use as much of a pumpkin as you can. They’re easy to make, great as a quick snack, and are nutritious: they contain manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. I’ve also heard they may be anti-inflammatory, which is helpful for people who have arthritis.

Sweet & Salty Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • Cleaned pumpkin seeds (can be from any squash)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 t sugar
  • ½ t fresh grated nutmeg
  • ½ t cinnamon
  • ¼ t cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 300F (or if you’re baking something, just use that temperature & adjust cooking time).

Spread out seeds on a lightly greased baking sheet. The seasoning will stick best if they’re still wet from when you cleaned them.

Mix together salt, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Evenly sprinkle over seeds.

Put baking sheet in oven for 15 minutes. Remove, use a spatula to mix up the seeds, unsticking as necessary, and spread out seeds again. Put back in oven for 10 minutes or until they begin to brown. Remove seeds from pan and enjoy hot, or cool them and store in a sealed container.

Weekend Appetizers: Ham-Wrapped Mozzarella

29 Jan


Do you have a cheese, protein, and condiment in your fridge? Then you can make a version of this easy appetizer!

Appetizers in Four Steps

  1. Cut cheese into two-bite pieces.
  2. Cut thin protein into long strips to wrap or thicker protein in small chunks to place on top.
  3. Wrap/stack.
  4. Top with spicy or sweet condiment (mustard, horseradish, wasabi, jam, honey…) and cracked pepper (I used pepper with lemon and orange). Serve!
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