Friday, October 19, 2018

Transporting Baked Goods

Not everything I make is cookies. Honestly, not everything I make is a sweet, either, but what follows won't really help to prove that point.

This week, when I meant to be writing a completely different blog post, I instead found myself baking for a post-memorial reception. Having no idea how many people would be bringing food - or how many people would be in attendance - I channelled a whole lot of emotions and baked a lot.

How much is a lot?

Well, I started with two Bundt cakes (though I decided I actually wanted three, so I made another the next night).
I'd swear I've blogged about these Apple Spice Bundt cakes before, right? 
From there, I moved on to about 11 dozen chocolate cookies. 
Have we talked about these before? Let me know if you want details.
And - because not everyone wants fall foods just yet, I topped it off with two pans of lemon bars.
I'm sure we've talked about these.
Of course, then I had to get them to the church. 

Luckily, I had just the way to do that, thanks to my recent savvy car buying. Let me explain (and wrap this all up): 

So, there you have it. The perfect excuse to buy a new car. (Not to mention that my last car was 18 years old, the dashboard lights only worked about 1/4 - which is better than when they were completely out, and the roof leaked when it rained.) 

I promise that next week there will be food - and it's not even a baked good!


We're getting into the fall baking/cooking season. What says fall to you in the kitchen? Is it apples and spice? Is it chili? Is it some kind of football fare? Let me know!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Shipping Cookies - because you asked

Before I begin, I feel I should give a follow up to the Potato Chip Bars from last time: A little time did them a world of good. It seems that, after they were baked, the chips softened a bit more. So, when I took them to Book Club the following Monday (about 2.5 days after making them), they were actually well received. (And this is a group who can be trusted for their honesty.) I still don't plan to add them to my standard repertoire, but I'll give tasty credit where it's due. 

But, anyway... This week I decided to address something you've asked about.

Well, not all of you asked, but some of you did. So we're going to look into how I ship all of the cookies that I ship without people simply getting bags of crumbs in the mail.

Since the topic is a bit different than usual, this week we're going to do something a little different with this post, too. I'm going to give you a video that kind of goes start-to-finish, and then I'll follow that with some step-by-step photos. Sound good?

Two things about this video: it was filmed in the fairly early morning, and I'm wearing what I had just worn outside to walk the dog.

For this demo, we're using chocolate chip cookies - the ones from the 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook that I've featured on here in the past. (You can find a link here - or here, actually, too.)

An approximately 8.5-inch basic paper plate is our starting point for this package. I think most brands (whether name brand or house brand at a grocery store) have something about this size - which fits into a regular flat-rate envelope from the Post Office really well.

For a non-frosted cookie of a relatively consistent size, I find that stacking them around the plate in a circle works really well. 
I typically get about two dozen cookies on a plate this way, in case you're counting.

They aren't straight up and down, perpendicular to the plate, because that would make them too tall when you try to put them into the envelope.

Oh - for the record - if you use one of the smaller plates - which can also hold almost two dozen cookies, they tend to get too "tall" for a flat rate envelope. Why? Because you have to stand the cookies up straighter to get as many to fit.

Okay. Now that the cookies on our larger plate are ready, it's time to start wrapping.

First, we have a double layer of plastic wrap. This helps keep them soft, as well as doing the bulk of the work to keep them in place during shipping.

Next up: the primary way to keep them from getting broken - I typically use bubble wrap. (Though I have used newspaper or other heavyweight tissue paper with decent results.)

I like to use enough bubble wrap to get a double layer of protection on the top. I don't know that it really makes that much difference, but it makes me feel better.

At this point, you can add a card - possibly a postcard - slide the whole bundle into a Ziploc bag, and then into the shipping envelope.
For the record, I actually suck the excess air out of the bag before sealing it. This makes it more compact and easier to get into the envelope.
If the plate is just a little too wide for the envelope, you can roll the edge just a bit (this is one of the perks of using lightweight paper plates).

Once you seal it, the envelope is really no thicker than most packs.
Did you know that USPS Flat Rate envelopes are priced with an "if it fits, it ships" methodology? There are some weight restrictions depending on where you're shipping, but within the US, it's currently literally flat rate. 
 And there you have it: One mailing envelope full of happiness!

Even better - at least for us - this is an envelope of two-fold happiness. I tend to bake for stress relief, but don't want to have all of the cookies in the house. So we're happy to see the cookies leave - and (I assume) people are happy to have them arrive, as well.


Would you like to receive cookies in the mail? If so, watch this space in the next couple of weeks. As soon as I can get the logistics figured out, maybe we can make that wish come true for a reader or two...

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Reader Challenge - Potato Chip Bars

First, let me say that - yes - you read that right.

After all the times that I've asked whether any of you had a recipe that you'd found that you wanted someone else to try out, first, someone actually took me up on it. So this week, we're working with Potato Chip Bars from "Company's Coming: 150 Delicious Squares" by Jean Paré. (The recipe was sent in by someone we'll call CindyfromIdaho.)

Let me explain a bit more before we go into the recipe:

So... Yeah... Not kidding about the potato chips. Here's the recipe:

And here are the ingredients:
Note: The chocolate chips are for a variation that I decided to try, based on the theory that chocolate-covered potato chips can be tasty.
Honestly, considering there are only 7 ingredients, it's a really quick-and-easy snack to make if you're so inclined.

You start with the basic creaming of shortening and sugar and vanilla:
Really not sure why it needs both butter and margarine.
So far, so good. I mean... it's creamed butter, margarine, sugar, and vanilla. You can't go wrong with that.
Oh. The vanilla was apparently supposed to go in with the flour, but I figure it works well either way. So then the flour went in by itself.
Exciting, right? 
After a good stirring, it came out like a cross between a shortbread crust dough and a thick cookie dough.
It also smelled and tasted like a basic cookie dough.
The next step started with a question for me: How many cups of potato chips does it take to make one cup of crushed potato chips? And does it matter what kind of chips you're using? (This explains why I bought two large bags of chips - I had no idea how far down they'd crush.)

First answer: 3. It took three cups of "original" potato chips... equal one cup of crushed chips.
I probably ought to have a photo showing how the 2 cups only filled the cup measure 2/3 of the way, shouldn't I? 

Which also resulted in multiple hand-washings, because potato chips, in general, are really greasy.

In went the potato chips...

...and the chopped walnuts.
I pretty much always have a bag of walnuts and a bag of pecans in my freezer. I never use a whole bag at once, and the small bags are WAY more expensive per ounce than the large ones. So I just freeze the big bag (I drop it - bag and all - into a Ziploc bag, typically), and take out what I need.
I probably shouldn't have been surprised that the dough got "softer" when this all got mixed in. After all, I wasn't just adding a bunch of dry ingredients - I was also adding a bunch of fat.
Tasting it at this point was strange. It kind of tasted a bit like some cookie doughs that I work with - but with a distinct textural difference.

I pressed the mix into my 9" x 9" pan, and tried to even it out, then it was ready for the oven.

Although the recipe refers to a photo on another page, I didn't have the photo to go off of, so I had to rely on the recipe: 15 minutes at 350 degrees. So, while that was going on, I prepped batch number two.

In the second batch, I used the rippled chips, and instead of walnuts I went for chocolate chips.
For those who are wondering, it only took two cups of ripple chips to make one cup of crushed chips. 
When the first batch came out of the oven,
I know that it looks pretty much the same as when it went in, but I know this is the right photo because the pan is on a cooling rack. 
the second batch was ready to go in.
This one is in a lighter weight 8" x 8" pan, so the dough layer is thicker.
I opted to put it in for about 20 minutes, due to the thickness of the dough, and it did get just slightly brown around the edges before I took it out.
The browning makes it easier to tell this is an "after" photo.
At which point I was faced with two pans of Potato Chip Bars staring at me from the counter top.
It's amazing how small the 8" x 8" pan looks next to the 9" x 9" pan.
I let them cool a bit, but didn't want them to cool "too much" (see the recipe), and then it was the moment of truth. (It became a kind of longer-than-usual moment of truth, so please bear with me.)

I actually waited a bit to write this up, so it's now Saturday (I baked them on Friday evening), and I've had a chance to try them fully cooled.
A paper plate seemed appropriate, since these feel like something that might show up at a family picnic.
Three things this has taught me:

1) It was a good thing I cut them before they completely cooled, because now they really crumble when you try to cut them.
2) They did firm up a bit, and they feel less greasy now that they're cool.
3) Crushed potato chips are a weird texture - whether the bars are warm or cool. But - if you must have them - the "regular" chips do better in this than the "ripple" ones.

Now, I fully admit that I have a whole lot of strange recipes in my repertoire - things that I'm sure other people wouldn't like, but I love because I grew up with them. And there are newer recipes that I've tried that I've kind of been won over by because of their weirdness.

Will Potato Chip Bars be the next thing added to that list?

Short answer: No.


Will some strange recipe that you've come across be added to my list? We'll never know unless you send it to me!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Oh... Sugar... Shortage

Yeah... no... "sugar" was not the "sh" sounding word that came to mind last night, when pretty much all of my mise en place was mis-un-placed. 

Unfortunately, because that set me back a bit, this is going to be another week without a recipe. 

There is, however, an explanatory video: 

And now we have sugar. But I have no time. (Sorry.)

So, what's the worst kitchen supply miss you've had in the recent past? Did it delay you a night - or longer? Or did you get creative and substitute (like I did with this post)?

Friday, August 31, 2018

When GMO goes too far...? (aka "When proofreaders go to the store...)

(Fair warning: No recipe this week. Also no video.)

I'm sure you've all seen the test where you're shown a color word that is actually colored differently than the word's name. It's apparently a test to see whether or not your brain can deal with cognitive dissonance or something like that. (I don't actually know if that's the right term. But it has to do with being able to hold two competing thoughts in your mind at the same time.) Anyway... it's like this:

There's another part of that test where you're asked to say the color of the word, and not simply the word. Which is more difficult to me than trying to hold two competing thoughts at the same time.

I'm not sure what that says about me. (I also don't know that I want to know what that says about me.)

At the same time, however, there's a part of me - the editor/proofreader side - that simply wants to correct these and make them match up. I want the Blue to be blue, and the Yellow to be yellow.

(I'm suddenly wondering what those would be like if you were colorblind - or on a black-and-white screen, for that matter.)

So, that cognitive dissonance is something that I've always found interesting - and it sometimes follows me into the grocery store.

You see foods that are "the wrong color" all the time. Purple potatoes. Yellow tomatoes. Purple carrots. Yellow beets. (Why is it that so many foods alternate between other colors and purple or yellow?)

You also see mini-foods, like personal-sized melons, or overgrown things like giant squash. They've all been modified along the way, and we've gradually accepted them - even if part of our brain thinks "That's not what they were like when I was a kid!"

Well, last week I found something that even I couldn't wrap my head around. I fully admit that it shocked the editor in me - while part of my brain was also thinking "Wait. Is that something new that I don't know about?"

What do you think?

Personally, I think that that is taking genetically modified food just a little too far.

For now, I'll see you in a week!


Do you ever have a point where your job carries over into your life and it makes you wonder what the heck is going on? Does it impact your food choices - or your shopping sanity? Let me know what you've found that has made you go "Hmm...?"

Friday, August 24, 2018

Focaccia - Plus

Sorry I missed the past couple of weeks. Frankly, the response was so good to my last post that it really threw me for a loop. I wasn’t sure how to follow it up.

I finally decided that the best way forward was just to keep moving. So I hope you’re all okay with me going back to food, because that’s where I am this week.

Once again, I’m going to refer you to the Smitten Kitchen website for the finer points of this recipe - including the actual recipe.

I swear this is not going to become a “Julie and Julia”-style blog. I just keep stumbling across great recipes from Smitten Kitchen right when I need them. That’s what happened for this. I was looking for something to use as part of an appetizer for dinner with friends, and came across this focaccia recipe.

I’ve never made much bread – and this recipe is pretty quick, as far as breads go – so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Let’s dive in…

So, the ingredient list is really short. Gotta love that.
Yes, I consider the parchment paper in the background to be part of my mise en place - otherwise, you know I'd have forgotten it until I had dough and oil on my hands. 
Of course, we’ve got the amazing white-on-white-on-off-white photos at the start…

I’ve had issues with yeast not reacting due to water temps in the past, so I did verify that I was within the range listed on the side of the jar.
We typically keep the jar in the freezer, to keep it for as long as possible, so the temp is pretty important.
It looked a little more interesting once the water went in. After all – with flour and water you’re either going to get dough or glue. (Sometimes both.)

After some quick stirring, I was pretty sure we’d dodged the glue bullet and landed in the realm of dough.

A perk of doing this recipe in the summer is that the house is relatively warm, which helps the dough to rise.

No surprise for any of you who have been reading me for a while: I set it on top of the fridge, where the temp is even warmer than other areas.

After 90 minutes, it had pretty much doubled in size, so I opted to go from there. If you let it rise too long, you kind of “use up” the power that the yeast has, and later on it might not rise when it bakes.

As you've no doubt guessed by now, I opted to go with the recommendation of parchment paper on the bottom of my pan.

Which I poured some olive oil onto.
Quick! Rohrschach test: What’s it look like to you?
The next step felt a little odd, and I don’t know why I wasn’t supposed to just do it with my fingers, but I followed the recipe instructions and used two forks to pull the dough from the sides of the bowl, and kind of mound it all up into a ball.
It’s still spreading at this point, so it’s a little like trying to keep pudding in a pile.
Instead of lifting the ball gently with my forks, I eventually just picked up the bowl and dumped the dough into the pan with the oil.

There was something kind of glee-filled about the process of rolling it around in the oil. It was messy as all heck – and felt… weirdly squishy… – but it was also really kind of oddly fun.

This resting period felt a bit like someone hit the pause button just when the movie was getting interesting. But I dutifully set the timer and walked away.

If you look closely at the photos, you’ll see that it did grow a bit during that time, but I have to admit that it might just have ooshed out to the sides a bit due to gravity, not yeast.

I pushed and pressed and prodded to stretch it out to the size of the pan. Or at least the size of the parchment paper…
I’ve always kind of wondered why focaccia had a dimpled top. Now I know.
I decided to skip the traditional rosemary for this one, and sprinkled the top with sea salt and garlic powder.

I did NOT peek at it while it was baking. (Believe it or not) and when I pulled it out of the oven it had some light browning on top, as well as a golden edge and golden bottom.
It’s a little odd that you can’t see the salt and garlic on top. But that could be my opinion simply because I’m used to seeing the rosemary there.

So, how was it?

Oh, as was foretold in the video, I did use this for Book Club with some “bruschetta topping.” (Or, as I referred to it in the video, “Italian salsa.”) The mix is: one red tomato and one yellow tomato, some basil, salt, black pepper, and parmesan cheese.

It was very tasty.

One caveat: Depending on how you wrap this up (and whether or not it’s completely cool and dry before you do), the salt you sprinkle on it before you bake it might “bloom.” This happened to me. The next day it looked like I had little mounds of soft dough on the top of the bread under the loose plastic wrap. It looked a little odd, but no one seemed to mind that when I served it.

Speaking of my Book Club - is there a book you've read where the food was really enticing? Was it fiction, non-fiction, or a cookbook? I'd love to hear what you like to read - and why.