Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Making decisions and Chocolate Covered Cookie Balls

Are you good at making decisions?  If you are, can I pay you to tell me your secret?
I am certifiably terrible at making decisions.  Especially when it comes to purchasing expensive items, or making life decisions.  When it comes to buying anything over $100 I panic.  I freak out and spend months weighing out my options.  I literally feel like it is such a waste of money.  When I go to things that cost a lot of money, say the Rodeo, I feel like it is such a waste of money!  $20 for a crappy meal in a super crowded thanks!  I would rather take that money and invite a few people over for dinner and board games...really I would.

Then when it comes to making big life decisions like moving, going to school, jobs...yeah I pretty much make those decisions very quickly and without much thought.  Either it works for me or it doesn't.  Of course I still panic, but I am much quicker at those decisions....usually because I am up against some kind of time crunch.  If I ever get married it will probably be someone I have know for a brief amount of time, and it will be a very quick engagement...just saying, when you know you know. : )  Of course I don't know, so I don't know how I can say that : )

I also recently made another good decision and started watching the John Grisham series on NBC, The Firm.  Highly recommend it!  It is an interesting plot, good acting, and based upon a strong family working together to pursue justice....and no, they do not wear capes. : )  I recently heard they might cancel it because of poor ratings, but I think they just had really bad marketing for it.  I had never even heard about it until 12 episodes had already aired.  So here I am campaigning for it to stay on the air!  Go watch the Firm!
(update ...they cancelled the show...NOOO!)

When it comes to baking that is an easy and painless decision.  It is always a good idea.

Every child that enters and leaves out home knows what a cookie ball is.  My 8 year old niece makes it her mission to promptly shows little guests where we keep the stash of cookie balls in the freezer.  "If you are good  Aunt Dagny might let you have one."  Our freezer is full of random cookie dough or two peanut butter, chocolate chip, gluten free, experiment cookies, and lots of unidentified ones...never sure what flavor they are until we bake them off. : )  Keeping a nice little stock pile of cookie dough balls in the freezer always makes it easy to have dessert for unexpected guests or occasions...or lets face it, midnight sugar cravings.

Now the cookie ball I am writing about is actually not of the frozen unbaked kind.  These are baked cookies that are smashed, mixed with a little bit of milk, and then covered in chocolate...yes, you heard me right...covered in chocolate : )  Basically the same concept as a cake ball, but made with cookies.  I saw this idea as I was perusing the many food blogs that I follow, and was instantly compelled to try it out.

Was I disappointed?  No.  Was I inspired?  Yes.  Do I recommend you try this technique out in the near future?  Heck yes.

I used Alice Medrich's gluten free oatmeal raisin cookie recipe.  I baked the cookies, let them cool, then put them in a the mixer and mixed them with 1-3 TBS of milk until they clumped together.  Then I scooped them with a mini ice cream scoop onto parchment paper.  Put them in the freezer for about an hour.  Then covered them in chocolate.  The first 1/2 I covered in white chocolate, but the second 1/2 I covered in dark chocolate...way better...soooo delicious!  Once you cover them in chocolate allow them to cool and for the chocolate to harden.

For those of you who have never melted chocolate for coating, be sure to melt the chocolate at 50% power in the microwave, in 30 second increments, stirring well after each time.  Heat the chocolate just until melted, if you over heat the chocolate it will not set properly.  Having the cookie dough balls be partially frozen helps the chocolate harden correctly.  You can also melt the chocolate in a double boiler...again, do not overheat the chocolate.  If you do, add more chocolate to help bring the temperature down.

You can use this technique for many of your favorite basic cookie recipes.  When your cooked dough is staying in a ball form you have added enough milk.  Try this technique out, you won't be disappointed!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Every time my littlest sister and I go to the movies we witness some random incident.  Usually it involves teenage girls being really obnoxious, and then sometimes it doesn't.  A few weeks ago we were exiting the movie theater via a long stair case.  In front of us was a group of three teenage girls, and directly in front of them were three elderly women.  The three teenage girls were giggling and rushing the old ladies, getting really close to them, and getting really annoyed with the fact that they were walking so slowly.  Then they decided to rush past them and almost knock them down.  Oh how I wanted the old lady to stick her cane out and trip those young girls.  I wanted to call the kids out on their bad behavior, and I also wanted to congratulate the old women on their patience.  Of course I did neither, and we just left with a bad taste in my mouth.

A few weeks later we went to the movies again...and yes, going to the movies is the thing to do here in Houston. This time we were able to witness a complete 360 in how people treat their elders.  An elderly couple arrived late to the movie and entered on the opposite side of where we were sitting.  The theater was packed and they were trying to find a seat, but really there weren't any.  They were standing there trying to figure out what to do when a young couple, probably in their 20's, offered up their seats for them.  It was pretty much awesome, and I smiled as my faith in humanity grew.  Way to go awesome people!

Not too sure why I wanted to share those two stories with you, but I did. : )

Now look at these lovely ingredients that go into this scrumptious salad, and tell me it doesn't look amazing!

Now onto the recipe...Southwest Quinoa Salad.  This is a great summer recipe!  Perfect for all those BBQ's you get invited to, or perfect for eating by yourself because you didn't get invited to any BBQ's. It also makes a great week day lunch.  I made this salad last summer, and have been thinking about it for some time now since the weather has turned into summer all of a sudden.  Since I have resorted to talking about the weather I think that is a good sign that I should stop writing since that is all I can comment on at this point in the day. : ) 

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend, be thankful for those who give their lives defending ours, and make this salad to bring to your holiday festivities!

Eat your heart out,


Southwest Quinoa Salad

Mix together in medium bowl:

2 cups dry quinoa cooked (this ends up being 4.5-5 cups cooked)*
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, defrosted, or fresh cooked corn
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1/8 cup diced red onion
2 cloves diced garlic
1/2 jalapeno diced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro chopped

Mix dressing ingredients below in small bowl and pour over the above ingredients:

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp oregano
juice of one lime

 Mix together and serve room temperature or cold.  Store in fridge.  Should last about a week in the fridge...and yes, a "fridge" is a "refrigerator" for all those people who make fun of us for calling it that.

* If you don't have quinoa you can also use a variety of cooked grains instead : rice, farro, millet, Bulgar, amaranth, etc...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Italian Cream Cake Whoopie Pies and the power of music

 What does this picture have to do with this post?  It is a coconut tree, isn't it lovely?

Here is a pecan grove, can you see Scarlet O'Hara in the way off yonder?

Thankful for my Louisiana roots, and for instilling in me a love of pecans at a wee age.

Do you listen to music?  What is your poison of choice? Radio, cd, pandora, grooveshark, live performances?

What is your genre of choice?  Pop, rock, country, classical, Christian, rap, opera?  I used to think that if I drove around blaring classical music people would think I was smart, intelligent, classy, and sophisticated.  Then I got sick of not having words to sing along with, and that idea fizzled out like pop rocks on my tongue. 

I was filling my car up with gas the other day and an old man drove up to the pump next to me with some kind of sweet old smooth car (pardon my complete ignorance of all things car related)...all I can say is it looked like a car a member of the rat pack would be driving.  He was blaring old school jazz music with the windows down, and was dressed like a swing kid, hat and all.  I was very compelled to cross over the window wiper box and give this man a high five.  If only I could be that cool when I am his age...heck, if only I could be that cool right now!  I realized in that moment what a pivotal role music played in making this man appear as authentic as he seemed.  The music literally transported me pack to the streets in a scene from "Guys and Dolls". 

Music is such a powerful tool!  When I listen to country music I instantly pick up an accent, and start to 2 step in my head.  When I listen to Christian music I am comforted and at peace.  When I listen to the YMCA I am instantly at a wedding attempting to remember the alphabet.  When I listen to dance music I instantly imagine I have really good rhythm and have the best moves ever.  Really, have you ever stopped and thought about the power music has over a person?  If you sing a child to sleep you are really hypnotizing them into restful sleep...sneaky Moms.

Many of you have heard me say this, but really everything is better when sung!  Imagine if your life was a musical?  Have you ever tried fighting with someone while singing all the words you want to get across to them?  Try it.  Say "What you did really hurts my feelings and I seek an apology." try singing it!  So much better right?  I feel as if your true emotions are better communicated through song.  Next time I find myself in a fight I am singing my way out of it.  Let me know how that goes for you if you try this technique as well.  If it works I am going to conduct a field study and write a book about it.

Now this recipe might look familiar, and it is.  It is just my vanilla bean cupcake recipe that I recently posted made into whoopie pies sandwiched with cream cheese icing and rolled in toasted pecans and coconut.  Man, I wish I hadn't given them all away yesterday, I really want one right now!

Listen to this lovely peaceful song, make these whoopie pies for your friends, and reexamine the power the music you listen to has over you.

Jon Foreman - In the House of God forever
Only picture I was able to get before sending them off, I was in a hurry and made these in under 30 minutes!

Italian Cream Cake Whoopie Pies

1½ cups all-purpose flour PLUS 2 TBS

1 cup granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon table salt

1 Stick unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sour cream, room temperature

1 large egg , room temperature

2 large egg yolks , room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste (optional...if you don't have this just swap it with extra vanilla extract)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie trays with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add butter, sour cream, egg and egg yolks, and vanilla; beat at medium speed until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and mix by hand until smooth and no flour pockets remain.

Using a 1oz ice cream scoop or a TBS scoop onto pan a few space apart from each other, because they will spread.  Bake until tops are pale golden 10-15 minutes.  Cool on parchment before taking off pan.  I had to use a spatula to get them off without breaking.

1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1 cup toasted coconut

Cream Cheese filling

8 ounces cream cheese , at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter , at room temperature
1 pound confectioners' sugar (about 4 1/2 cups sifted)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese for a few seconds until smooth.  Then add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat just until smooth.  If you over mix cream cheese frosting it will become runny and you can't fix it.

Pipe about 1 1/2 TBS of filling onto half of the cookies.  Sandwich in between an uniced cookie.  Roll edges in coconut and pecans.

Eat your heart out,