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31-recipe challenge Day 22 (the final day!): Beef Pho and Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshake

This is it, the LAST day of my 31-recipe challenge! It officially took me 22 days to cook 31 30 recipes. And I’m exhausted. Later this week I’ll put together a recap post that looks over everything I made last month and what I took away from it, much like I did at the halfway point.

And, to go out with a bang (well, a shake), I FINALLY nailed a dessert!

It seems as long as a stove isn’t involved, I can make a dessert. (Ironic, really, since I can cook but can’t really bake…Cookies! I can make cookies.)

But I want to go out on a high note, so I’m going to save the shake for last and start with my last-night-of-the-challenge dinner: Beef Pho from Zen Can Cook. The broth was easy enough to make, if not pricey–star anise, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds don’t come cheap, and I couldn’t even find a black cardamom pod–but they impart a really exotic, interesting flavor. It did make my place smell preeetty weird the first night, though.

beef pho

The only slightly “off” thing about this dish was the beef itself–I used a top round to make the broth, and despite the fact that it literally sat in liquid all night, it was pretty dry when I took it out and sliced it up. It came back to life a bit once the slices were re-added to the heated broth, but it wasn’t the tender, juicy meat I was expecting. It was actually the low point of the dish.

Otherwise, though, the pho was quite tasty–lots of fresh herbs, peppers and rice noodles in the warm, beefy broth. Much like the soba, this was a total comfort food. I wish I had this around when I was sick.

I had to make a couple of slight substitutions based on what was available. I couldn’t find any Thai basil, so I subbed in regular basil even though there’s a flavor difference. It was better than nothing. I also used a regular green long hot (seeds scraped out) in place of a Thai bird chili, which my local grocery store also didn’t sell.

Nonetheless, the flavor was still bright and vibrant, and I highly recommend this. It seems so much more complicated than it really is. Once the broth’s made, it’s really just cooking the noodles and slicing up some veggies, herbs and beef. Done and done. My only recommendation? I used only one cut of meat in my broth, because it was available and exactly the amount I needed. I would recommend mixing it up, and next time, I’d use oxtail. I almost went with it this time but opted not to. I think it would add even more depth and meatiness to the broth.

But now, for what we’ve all been waiting for…dessert!

Let’s just put this out there: Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshakes. You can screw this up nine ways to Sunday, and it would still taste fantastic. Because you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, Bailey’s and coffee ice cream.

milkshake

And, it’s a cinch! Add ice cream, Bailey’s, cookies and ice to a blender, blend, drink. If you actually do screw that up nine ways to Sunday, I might worry.

But in all seriousness, this tastes as fantastic (and fantastically bad for you!) as it sounds. (It was hard to even get a decent picture…Kevin was way too excited and impatient to drink this to wait for a photo.)

Now, I could’ve gone ahead and really pulled out all the stops and baked my own cookies to put in the milkshake (and that had been my original plan), but time became an issue, so I bought a few chewy, yummy cookies from the Wegman’s bakery department. And, frankly, they were probably more delicious than whatever I would have baked. So win-win.

And there you have it. Thirty recipes in 22 days, all capped off with the ultimate of nightcaps. It was a whirlwind month, and now, because I’m me, I’m jumping into another whirlwind month, but this time because of rehearsals. (What can I say? I thrive when I’m busy.)

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll regain the strength to lift a pot or light a stove. Until then, I’m reveling in the beauty that is takeout (sushi!) and leftovers.

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Gluten-free cookies that actually taste like…cookies! — The Butterfly Bakery review

Anyone who reads my blog on semi-regular basis knows that my mom is gluten-free by way of Celiac disease. We don’t keep an entirely gluten-free household, but she keeps plenty of gluten-free alternatives for herself, and she’s always looking for new ones to try. (Because, believe it or not, many gluten-free baked goods aren’t so, well, good.) I also often make sure if I’m cooking or preparing food that it’s either entirely gluten-free or easily adaptable for her.

So, needless to say, we were both totally excited when the Butterfly Bakery in Clifton, NJ, contacted me about sampling and reviewing some of their gluten-free baked goods.

Funnily enough, the Butterfly Bakery started out of owner Brenda Isaac’s desire to create tasty baked goods for her dietary-restricted mother. Isaac’s mother was a diabetic, so she started experimenting with sugar-free baked goods in 1998. Fourteen years later, the Butterfly Bakery now has multiple lines that include gluten-free, no sugar added and 100% whole grain.

Naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is…gluten free baked goods? So how do they taste? Well, not half bad! The Butterfly Bakery sent me a package of chocolate chip cookies and a package of blueberry mini muffins to taste. When they arrived, it was clear they did not hold up to shipping well–some of the cookies had started to crumble and a couple of the muffin tops had separated from the base. Otherwise, though, they were in decent shape (as in, not a package of crumbs.)

See? Only the top couple of cookies took the brunt of the damage. (This is how they arrived.)

Luckily, they tasted better than they looked. Of course, as soon as the package arrived, Mom and I dug right in. It was like Celiac Christmas. The cookies actually had a really nice nutty, almondy flavor, though they were nut-free. (Most likely, the flavor came from the brown sugar or the Teff flour in the recipe–more on that in a minute.) I was, admittedly, surprised by how addictive these cookies were! The downside, though, was the texture.  The crumbling in the package was not a one-time fluke. They had a really nice flavor, but they were too messy to eat. We literally stood over the sink as we nibbled on them to catch the crumbs. Perhaps the recipe could benefit from some kind of extra binder, like honey or molasses. Then again, maybe it’s a trade-off for the freshness. (Many packaged gluten-free cookies are more processed; these are pretty much oven-to-door.) And if that’s the case, I can handle that.

Some of the tops were dented, while a couple (like the one down in front) were totally separated. But really, the top’s the best part of the muffin anyway, so it’s kind of like they were doing the dirty work for us!

Fun discovery: the cookies actually benefit from refrigeration. Instead of leaving them out on the counter, we refrigerated them (also instead of just eating the whole batch.) When I ate another one after it had been in the fridge overnight, it held together much better and was much easier (and even tastier!) to eat. So fridge=happy gluten-free cookies. The flavors were more pronounced, and the overall cookie had a better, chewier bite.

I wasn’t quite as enamored with the muffins. They looked just like any other packaged blueberry mini muffins you’d buy at the store (minus the shifting tops), but the texture was a bit more…off. The muffins were grainier and grittier than a regular wheat-based muffin and, like the cookies, fell apart easily. These were more obviously gluten-free. That being said, they were still chewy and sweet and tasted like a blueberry muffin. I wouldn’t buy them over regular muffins, but they’re still a solid option for those who maintain a gluten-free diet. My mom liked them enough to finish off the package while I was on vacation. I have a feeling they became more than a couple breakfasts.

So…their secret to gluten-free baking? They use teff flour, a flour ground from an Ethiopian grain similar to quinoa or millet.  Both the light and dark varieties of teff have a nutty flavor: the white teff has a chestnut-like flavor while the darker teff can have an almost hazelnut-like flavor. (And there we may have some of the nutty flavor in the cookies!)

Teff has 14% more protein than normal wheat flour and is full of other nutrients like potassium, vitamin B, iron, thiamin and calcium. It is also high in fiber and naturally gluten-free.

Both the tub of 13 chocolate chip cookies and the package of 12 mini muffins retail for $5.99 at the Butterfly Bakery web site. You can also buy Butterfly Bakery products in grocery and specialty stores nationwide or on Amazon.com. The coolest part? The Butterfly Bakery has a request form on their site than you can print and fill out to take to your local grocery store’s bakery department to request they carry Butterfly Bakery products!

Now I’m not going to say these are health foods. They are still cookies and muffins (which have an undeserved false “health halo” for what is really an icing-less cupcake.) That being said, for someone with dietary (gluten) restrictions, they’re a great alternative and a way to indulge without having to go for processed or unappetizing substitutes.

I’ll tell you this–they got my mom’s stamp of approval, though she admits it’s been so long since she’s had “real” baked goods that she may not be the best judge. But what’s even better? I couldn’t stop eating those cookies, either! (The muffins? I could take or leave them.) But the cookies definitely get the gluten-free AND the gluten-full (not a word, but now it is!) stamp of approval!

WIAW: Memorial Day Picnic!

I’ve neglected What I Ate Wednesdays for the past couple of weeks, but now I’m back–with a recipe! Once again, thanks to Jen from Peas & Crayons for hosting!

So, obviously Monday was Memorial Day. And originally, I was hoping to have a party or a small cookout or something. But my lack of planning coupled with my friends’ work schedules meant that wasn’t going to happen this year. But I still wanted to do something fun and summery to end the long weekend. Kevin got off work at six on Monday night, so I decided to throw together a fun, light, healthy Memorial Day picnic!

I know, I’m freaking adorable. This meal was a mix of home-cooked and store-bought, which is my kind of combo. We started with homemade bruschetta and crostinis (check out my recipe for that here). Still on my pesto kick from the day before, I also whipped up a big batch of pesto pasta salad! (Recipe to follow.) It’s a great way to use fresh pesto and it lightens up an otherwise mayo-laden picnic staple. Personally, I prefer the basil-y freshness to gloppy mayonnaise.

I bought some prepared chicken leg quarters from the supermarket for an entrée, though we barely even made a dent in the chicken after all the bruschetta and pasta salad! For dessert, I bought some fresh mangoes, apricots and blueberries–so glad summer fruit is finally in season! I chopped up the mango and apricot and mixed all the fruit together with some sweetened lime juice to make a citrusy-sweet fruit salad. (Oops, was that a recipe?)

I still wanted something really dessert-y, so I baked cookies. But I cheated. I’m not much of a baker, and I don’t have a working mixer, so I was taking the easy route out on this one–I wanted a cookie mix. Well, who knew that it is shockingly hard to find a cookie (or brownie) mix without trans fats? (Be careful–the package can say 0g trans fats as long as it’s less than 1g. Check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils, which equal trans fats.)

But lo and behold, in the refrigerated section, was my savior: Nestle Tollhouse Break and Bake cookies. Both the chocolate chip and the chocolate chunk are trans fat-free! Naturally, given those options, I went with the chocolate chunk. And so, we had a semi-homemade, chocolatey end to our meal.

And what’s a good picnic without some wine? So if you’re keeping track, yes, we drank wine out of sippy cups. Yes, I still own sippy cups. Note to self: buy disposable plastic cups.

A nice dry, Spanish rosé seemed like a good picnic wine. It was sufficient.

So, once everything was cooked and ready to go, we packed up our picnic and took it down to a park the next town over, overlooking the lake. Not gonna lie, it was pretty romantic. When I want to bring it, I can bring it.

But really, how can you beat a delicious (mostly) homemade dinner with views like this?

A lovely, relaxing conclusion to a lovely weekend. Then we went home and Kevin, my sister and I proceeded to finish off all two dozen cookies. Yeah, that happened.

Oh, and that recipe I promised:

As often happens with me, I didn’t measure, because I created a huge batch of this. It can obviously be adjusted to make a single portion or enough to serve a whole party. Use as much as you want to create as much as you want. Also, veggie-to-pasta ratios can be purely subjective. Do what you like.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Spiral, shell or other strong, sauce-holding pasta
Chopped red bell pepper
Chopped orange bell pepper
Chopped fresh green beans
Chopped celery
Diced tomato, seeded
1 chopped scallion, white and light green parts only
1 batch of homemade or store-bought pesto (see pesto recipe here)
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Cook pasta according to package directions in lightly salted water.
-While the pasta cooks, chop and prep all veggies and make pesto sauce.
-Once cooked, drain pasta but do not rinse. Let cool in colander or large bowl until room temperature.
-When the pasta is cooled, mix all vegetables, including the scallion, into the pasta
-Dice or tear the mozzarella into the pasta salad.
-Add enough pesto to generously coat all ingredients and give a good basil flavor. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

This healthy alternative to traditional pasta salad may just become my go-to party dish! The chopping takes some time, but the actual assembly takes no time at all–a great, quick crowd-pleaser. Even Kevin, who doesn’t like pasta salad, couldn’t stop eating this!

Well, there you have it. Happy Memorial Day and Happy What I Ate Wednesday!

My very first “What I Ate Wednesday” (Bridal Shower edition!)

Yesterday was a sick day for me, and I worked from home. So I expected to hit you with a double-whammy of recipe posts. But instead, I ended up sleeping most of the time I wasn’t working or feeling like I was dying, so, alas, no recipe posts. I’ll get them to you later this week. In the meantime, I’m jumping on the train of something I first saw on the Lean Green Bean blog: “What I Ate Wednesdays.” It’s just what it sounds like–every Wednesday, you chronicle what you ate for one day, one week, one trip, whatever. And today, I’m joining the WIAW club.

While I first saw this on the Lean Green Bean, it’s actually hosted by Jen over at Peas and Crayons, so a big thank you to her for hosting! (Check out lots of great WIAW posts here, too!) And so, on with my first What I Ate Wednesday. For my first post, I’m not just following any old day of eating–this is a WIAW Bridal Shower edition!

I attended a friend’s bridal shower on Sunday, and there was no lack of yummy homemade food and drinks. So, naturally, I had some of everything! But before I could get to that, I had to start of the day with a good breakfast. I really wanted cereal, but I was almost out of everything, so I ended up with a mixed bowl of Kashi Autumn Wheat, Kashi GoLean Crunch (Honey Almond) and some muesli from the Wegman’s bulk bins. I topped that all off with some chopped strawberries and finished up with a glass of Simply Orange-Mango juice. (Even better than regular orange juice!)Then, the bridal shower! We had lots of little snacks and hors d’oeuvres, like pita chips and hummus, bruschetta, chips and such. There was also a little bar set up with both regular and grown-up (ahem, spiked) lemonade, wine and fun Italian sodas. Then, for lunch, a great spread of finger sandwiches (ham and cheese and cucumber and cream cheese), curry chicken salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad and a big Italian salad with grape tomatoes and mozzarella.Of course, some seconds were had. (And a few cocktails!)

Then there were the desserts! A tray of assorted Italian cookies (my favorite!), along with homemade funfetti-dipped strawberries (yes, you heard that right–funfetti strawberries! They were dipped in white chocolate with the funfetti sprinkles in it), colorful cupcakes with hearts and fruit. Unfortunately, the desserts were snatched up too quickly for me to get a picture! Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chocolate-covered strawberries, so I had to try one of the funfetti variety (even though I’m not a big funfetti fan.) I also had a cupcake–chocolate, how could I not??–and WAY too many cookies. (Lesson learned: don’t sit down right next to the cookie tray. Ever.)

All that eating really did me in, and I ended up having half a cup of coffee for dinner. No joke. I was pretty much full for the rest of the night.

Well, there you have it–my first foray into WIAW! Hopefully I’ll remember to keep this up! And keep your eyes peeled for that double-whammy of recipes coming sometime this week!

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