Comfort Foods and Indulgences

bakingtips2It's cookie season! Oh, sure, cookies are eaten 365 a year, but is there a better time to celebrate cookies than during the Christmas season? Even the most baking-averse among us can't help but bake cookies in December (though they may just be sugar cookies cut out from a can).

Anyone can make cookies and everyone loves to eat cookies. They're the ideal thoughtful holiday gift, they're perfect for children's little hands, and they're a wonderful way to spend time with family and friends creating memories that will last a lifetime. (I don't remember many Christmas gifts I received when I was a kid, but I do remember marathon Christmas cookie baking sessions with my mom every year.)

So during this Christmas cookie season, I'm sharing 10 tips for baking, storing, and freezing cookies.

1. Before you begin baking, make sure you have all requisite ingredients as well as baking utensils, pans and parchment paper (lots of parchment paper). Baking requires precision, so it's a good idea to use the exact ingredients specified in a recipe rather than make substitutions that can adversely affect both texture and flavor.

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gumbo-hand-pies-matt-armendariz.jpgSo we wanted to create something in the spirit of Mardi Gras for Cooking Channel’s Devour The Blog.

The result is something so delicious that I just had to point you in that direction. And since I just got back from Louisiana yesterday I might just have to make another batch. With beer. Plenty of beer.

And just for kicks, we also decided to make a quick video comprised of still images. Sumthin’ like 220 or so.

And there are focus issues. And the music doesn’t line up exactly. And it’s very DIY. But it’s fun! And Adam let me film his famous hands. Enjoy it and happy celebratin’!

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ImageI knew I would regret the Wall Street Journal’s expanded leisure section! Before, I was free to read the home sections of any newspaper knowing my darling husband, Bill, would never notice if there was an article on how to be or do a better anything (even dominatrix sex), but the Wall Street Journal - that’s different. He habitually reads it cover to cover. This Saturday’s paper had a recipe for POT OF GOLD (“serves 16!”), and that is when he said– in a moment of early morning intimacy – “You never made me Pot au Feu!”

A little research shows that a classic Pot au Feu is “comfort food”. Cool! I like comfort. And, that it takes the better part of an afternoon to prepare. That is not comforting! Decidedly un-cool!

Hmmm. I think this WSJ Saturday home page is going to be in our family for quite some time. I have two choices: 1) I could throw a hissy fit, or 2) I could rise into a state of Zen adventure! I do love adventure!

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This Sunday night is the Oscars, the night when millions of Americans will tune in to see which actress is wearing the ugliest gown. Since this event will drag on for hours, you'll need lots of snack foods, like my Maple Walnut Popcorn. This New England inspired popcorn is everything a snack food should be: sweet, salty, sticky, and crunchy. Since the Oscars are at least three hours long, you might want to make a double batch.

Maple Walnut Popcorn
Yields 10-12 cups

3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1. Preheat oven to 325°F.  Coat two large rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray.

2. Pour oil in a large saucepan over high heat and cover. After 1-2 minutes, toss a couple of kernels inside. Listen for the shimmering oil as it heats up, then drop a couple of kernels in the pan. When they start sizzling and spinning, the oil is ready. Add remaining kernels. Cover the pan, and give it a couple of shakes so the kernels get coated with oil. Now listen for the popping. Once it really starts popping quickly, listen carefully. Remove the pan from the heat once the popping slows down to every few seconds, or it could burn quickly. Pour popcorn into a big bowl coated with cooking spray, and add nuts.

3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring maple syrup, butter, and salt to a boil. Cook 1 minute. Lower to a simmer for 2 minutes. Pour syrup over popcorn and nuts, stirring to coat. Transfer popcorn mixture to prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Break into small clusters.

– Recipe courtesy of Food Blogga

spicymuffinsI have been craving my favorite spicy hot chocolate, but instead I turned on the oven and made these.

I have been on a late night baking kick. It seems like the perfect time to get into the kitchen and make some magic. Oh who am I kidding, I have no other time to do it. But I still like it!!

And these muffins. I love them. I mean really love them. I wanted spicy and chocolate-like, not to mention I was slightly motivated by the very ripe bananas sitting on my counter. They needed to be made into something or into the freezer they would go.

Now, let's get back to the spicy. Have you had chile and chocolate? You're missing out if you haven't. I used chile powder and cayenne to create the heat and flavor I wanted. The spicy taste lingers and heats up. It's perfect...PERFECT. You could even add a cream cheese frosting if you wanted to be fancy, but it doesn't really need it.   

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