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Because it’s fun to say “balls.”

20 Dec

Thank you everyone for your incredible comments on my Festive with Whine post.  I don’t know how you do it but you continue to surprise me.  I was in the midst of so many projects at work and all of that needed to get out of my head so I could focus better.  I wrote it in five minutes and just expected a release, never did I expect a discussion to come out of it.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I recommend it just so you can read the comments.  You guys are awesome in so many ways.

The end of my craziness is in sight.  I actually never thought I’d want Christmas to be over with already, but this year I’ve never been more ready for the day to actually get here so I can just stop for a moment.  I’m exhausted.

The thing is, I’m not one of those people who can just go out and buy a gift.  No, I have to make it difficult for myself and everyone around me by turning my surroundings into my own personal Santa’s Workshop.  I’m crazy.  But I like to think it’s all worth it.

I thought I’d share with you some of the treats I’ve been making.  I wish I could send each and every one of you your own personal treat box filled with the goods you see here.  But since I can’t at this time (I wouldn’t put it past me to do actually do that at some point), you’ll have to settle for a virtual treat box.  Someone really needs to work on making scratch n’ taste digital photos.

In return for making you drool, I’ll even give you a recipe. But first, the sweets:

whipped egg whites

marshmallows

marshmallows 2

Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

(K thought they looked like tofu…but I can assure you, they taste nothing like bean curd and everything like pillowy bits of heaven in your mouth.)

french macarons
french macarons 3

french macarons 2

Chocolate French Macarons with an Orange-Chocolate Ganache

(K thought these looked like mini hamburgers, and I really can’t argue with that.  But these?  These are bite-size chocolatey pieces of goodness.  And as soon as I realized they had a 2-day shelf-life, I made sure they didn’t go to waste.  And by that I mean I ate them.  Almost all of them.)

bark

Salty-Sweet Bark

bourbon balls

Black Cherry Chocolate Bourbon Balls

And now to make up for teasing you like that, here’s the recipe for the Black Cherry Chocolate Bourbon Balls.  They may not look like much, but they are fudgey and delicious, with quite a big kick of bourbon.  I think you can get drunk just from the fumes that are released when opening the container you keep them in.  Just how a bourbon ball should be.

This is adapted from a super-top-secret recipe given to me by a professor at the university I worked at before moving to California, one that was coveted by every employee in our building.  Good thing I charmed him into giving it to me, because it really is the best bourbon ball you will ever have (too bad I’m not giving you that recipe).  I feel comfortable posting my version of it here because I really changed it dramatically, and the main ingredient below is not at all what he has in his, so I think I’m safe.  And a funny little tidbit before you get to the recipe – I had a new bottle of Maker’s Mark (my bourbon of choice) open and ready to be used here, but I just couldn’t waste it like this.  Not that it would have been a complete waste, but Maker’s is meant to be sipped, not mixed with chocolate in my opinion.  I’m glad I’m a bourbon snob, because the Black Cherry bourbon I’ve had on my shelf for almost a year really made the recipe a hit.

Now go forth and make ye’ some balls!  (hehehe)

Black Cherry Chocolate Bourbon Balls
makes 40-50 balls

1 – 10 oz. pkg. Chocolate Teddy Grahams, crushed

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

 1/2 cup of Jim Beam’s Red Stag Black Cherry bourbon (if you can’t find this, any ole’ bourbon will do…but this really takes it up a notch from your everyday bourbon ball, so I recommend trying to find it)

3 tbsp light corn syrup

1 cup chopped pecans (or any type nut)

granulated sugar

In the top of a double-boiler, melt chocolate.  Once smooth, remove from heat and stir in corn syrup and bourbon.  In a large mixing bowl, combine crushed Teddy Grahams, confectioners’ sugar and chopped nuts.  Add chocolate mixture and let stand for 30 minutes.  Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar.

Enjoy with a highball of Maker’s Mark, spiked hot chocolate or hot-buttered rum (stay tuned for the recipe).

Let me know what you think if any of you make them.  I’ll just be on the couch, drunk from the remaining ones I have at home.

Happy Christmas week, everyone!

(If you’re so inclined, check out the treats I made last year)

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Attempting to bake away my sadness.

6 Sep

I had a hard weekend.  It started out with a party on Friday night for  the neighbor’s 5-year old that was full of pregnant bellies and babies, not to mention uncomfortable interactions with “friends” that have chosen to back out of my life while I go through what I am.  I try my hardest to be strong at these things, but I always end up having to step aside to let some tears fall before I can join back into the crowd.  I’m not sure I ever joined back in on Friday night, though.  The emotions lingered throughout the next day, even spilling into the remaining days of my three-day weekend.

fougasse

When I went home after my D&C in June, I spent time with my best friend who was going through a major life transition of her own, and we talked a lot about passions and life lists.  It helped energize us amidst our struggles and focus us at a time when we were seemingly grasping for air.  I’ve spent a good majority of my life trying to find a passion to call my own, often times feeling like I may always be left searching.  But in the last few years, my love of cooking – and now baking – have flourished.  I didn’t hesitate when I answered that as my passion, it’s the one thing I absolutely love doing.  When I returned home from that trip, I checked out every baking cookbook (shouldn’t it be called a bakebook?) I could out of the library and decided I wanted to hone my craft of making pastries and desserts and so I started creating.

banana cream pie

Through the pain of the last loss, all of my emotions have been put into baking.  I’ve made tarts, breads, cakes, pies, caramels, custards and finally last night, my first galette.  Up until last weekend when I made Tim the banana cream pie for his birthday, I had never made my own pie crust.  I had heard horror stories of how hard it was and that it just wasn’t worth all the trouble when you could so easily just buy one at the store.  But that wasn’t good enough for me.  I’m a bit of perfectionist with a whole lot of competitiveness mixed in (I’m even competitive with myself), so I knew I had to learn how to make my own crust.  And although it wasn’t aesthetically the best looking pie crust ever made, I am proud to say I rocked it.  I then knew I needed more of a challenge so I decided I wanted to attempt a galette, which is essentially a free-form pie sans pan.  After the allotted wait time of 2-hours once it came out of the oven, I bit into a flaky, buttery, heavenly pie crust and had to stop myself from running a victory lap around the house I was so damn proud of myself.

baked peach galette

It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, if I step into that kitchen and lose myself for a few hours (or days) in a recipe book and some flour, I come out feeling a bit more ready to face the world.  I guess you could say the kitchen is my “happy place.”  Yesterday not only did I make a peach galette, I made cinnamon brown sugar ice cream to go on top of it.  And since you shouldn’t really eat pie for dinner, I cooked black beans from my parent’s garden all day in order to make a spicy spread for chicken tacos topped with a chipotle-lime sauce.  I can’t just saute some chicken and put it on a tortilla…no, I have to make my own taco seasoning and spicy sauce and black beans.  Because just throwing some chicken on a plate just wouldn’t be satisfying enough for me – give me a challenge in the kitchen and I’ll gladly tackle it.

pie and ice cream

Cooking and baking is one of the few things I absolutely love doing and can even say I’m pretty good at.  From very early on I was in the kitchen learning from my mom, holding the hand mixer and blasting powdered sugar or egg whites all over the kitchen table as I learned to keep it in the batter.  I’ve come a long way and I’m anxious to get even better.  I’ve needed something like this for a long time, something to put all of my energy into when things aren’t going the way I’d prefer them to be going.  Or something that I can put my love into for someone I love, giving them my version of art as appreciation for them being in my life.  Something to take my mind off of all those things I’m tired of thinking of.

raspberry tart

Of course, it never escapes me that I’d give anything for a little boy to be at my feet while I attempt to bake and watch him at the same time, or to catch the expression of my daughter as she bites into a cupcake made specifically for her.  Those desires I can’t escape.  Those dreams don’t bake away.

But at least I have pie, right?

1.  Roasted Garlic and Jack fougasse (recipe based on Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America)

2.  Tim’s Banana Cream Pie (recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

3.  Drunken Peach galette (recipe courtesy of Not Without Salt)

4.  Peach galette and Cinnamon Brown Sugar Ice Cream (I made this one up)

5.  Raspberry Tart (recipe courtesy of Bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking by Nick Malgieri)

Thai Iced Tea

4 Aug

courtney

Do I want to know what makes it orange?

Making Whoopie.

5 Apr

Jjraffe over at  Too Many Fish to Fry started a Cooking with Capote project for the month of April to encourage bloggers to write about food, but specifically: their emotional attachments, stories and family lore around certain culinary traditions. Here’s my first contribution.


There was one positive to the BBQ Inferno and that was my dessert.  I had every intention of making cupcakes until the day before when I realized I wanted to make something a little different, something no one has heard of around these parts and that’s when I decided I’d make…Whoopie Pies!

Image courtesy of abakedcreation*

No, they’re not Moon Pies.  Don’t you even dare try and call them that to my face, and don’t you go try and compare them to Devil Dogs, either.  A Whoopie Pie is neither.  The former are sugary, over-processed, cakey pastries.  Whoopie Pies are traditional, homemade, two not-cakes-and-not-quite-cookies pressed together with creamy vanilla (and sometimes peanut butter).

Growing up in Maine, you’ll find Whoopies Pies every where from family gatherings to the gas station down the street;  the real ones always homemade and never from a factory.  They’re a Maine state tradition.

Unfortunately, it seems Pennsylvania claims they invented the Whoopie Pie as well so now there’s a battle going on between the two states.  Yet Maine is finally ready to stake it’s claim on this delicious treat and make it the official state dessert.  I have a few generations of family behind me ready to prove those folks from PA wrong and I’m pretty sure if you stopped a random Mainer on the street, they’d say the same thing.  And you don’t want to mess with Mainers and their traditions.  Especially when it comes to chocolatey-creamy-goodness like the Whoopie Pie.

Image courtesy of Martha Stewart*

What’s next?  Are you going to try and take our lobster, too, PA?

Sorry…where was I?  Right.  My Whoopie Pies.  BBQ Inferno.  Saturday.

I started out early since I had never actually made them before and I wasn’t sure consuming copious amounts of them in my childhood meant I’d be any good at making them.  An hour or so later, I had 32 perfect little chocolate discs and a creamy filling the best one has tasted this side of the Mississippi.  So in other words, that’s all I needed because they came out PERFECT!  Straight out of my childhood.

Of course, my camera was out of batteries and I didn’t have my phone on me, so there’s no actual evidence of said perfection, so you’ll have to just take my word for it.  They were perfect.

I brought my cake stand along with me and piled them high exactly like this:

Picture courtesy of Just a Taste*

I put candles in two, one for each of the birthday girls and the few that ate them (men mostly), seemed to love them.

Sadly, I felt like the work and love I put into them went unnoticed.  But it didn’t matter.  For me, in the middle of my hell on Saturday, they gave me a few moments of heaven.  Maybe that’s why I made them after all.  They provided me a little comfort going into that awful situation; a little piece of me and my family to act as an armor for my fear.

I’m failing you though, Jjraffe, and I’m not including my recipe.  Because if I did, I’d have to kill you.  And you’re just too sweet not to have around here.

But maybe, if ya’ll are lucky, I’ll make some for you someday.  Maybe you’ll find a little piece of comfort in my tradition, too.

* Just a note: none of the recipes attached to these photos are the traditional recipe, which is why they’re not linked.