Halloween

I guess you can call this post long over-due, but I have had my boyfriend over from Norway this week so I didn’t really want to spend my time blogging. But here goes the story of my first Halloween in USA.

My first Halloween in the US is over, and what a day it was! I was looking forward to this day for a long time and I was really enjoying planning out my costume and what treats to make. All the food blogs I follow have been filled with Halloween-inspired recipes, mostly involving pumpkin and candy corn. It was really hard to decide on what to make, but I think what I settled on turned out pretty good. Despite the rain in New York on Halloween night, we had a really fun celebration. We had good food, good drinks and good friends…everything you need for a memorable night. It was so much fun just walking around our neighbourhood, seeing all the little kids dressed up to go trick or treating.

Here we are all dressed up and ready to go out. We each represent one drink you would often find in a liquor cabinet. From top left: Myself as Jameson Irish Whisky, Grey Goose Vodka, Johnnie Walker, Southern Comfort, Sake, and Jose Cuervo. I don’t really like whisky, but it was fun to dress up like a leprechaun and walk around with a pot of gold!

Halloween was a good excuse for me to really go all out in the kitchen, as I knew I would have a lot of friends to share everything with. I settled on making caramel apples, sugar cookies and of course a batch of cupcakes. For the cupcakes I used this recipe with the chocolate frosting and half a batch of the vanilla frosting from this post. Since I have tried that recipe before I knew the cupcakes would turn out great, but I wanted to do something more fun so I decided to try and make a two-tone frosting. I filled one side of the pastry bag with chocolate and the other side with vanilla. This being my first try I was pretty happy with the result, but I know it will look better after a few more tries.

I have never made caramel apples before so I decided to “cheat” a little. Instead of spending money on a candy thermometer and going to the trouble of making my own caramel, I bought a couple of bags of Werther’s Original Chewy Caramel and melted them in a pan with a little heavy cream. This really worked wonderfully and the apples were so good! I really like how shiny and nice they turned out, this is definitely something I will make again.

Caramel Apple Recipe

6 apples of your choice (I used McIntosh)

3 150 g (5.5 oz) bags of chewy caramels

3 tbsp heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Remove the stem from the apples and press a craft stick or chop stick into the top, about half way into the apples.
  2. Find a tray that will fit all the apples and line it with wax paper or parchment paper sprayed with oil.
  3. Heat the caramels slowly in a pan over low heat. As the caramels start to melt, add the cream.
  4. Continue to stir until the caramels are melted and allow to cool briefly.
  5. Roll each apple in the caramel and place on the tray. Put in the fridge immediately so the caramel sets.

Source: Cooking Dunkin style

The sugar cookies were my biggest project for this Halloween. I have never tried sugar cookies, let alone made them. Many blogs, including some of my favourites have featured these types of cookies, all decorated beautifully. Since this was my first attempt I didn’t expect them to be perfect, but I was really surprised by how well they turned out. I’m actually pretty pleased with the result. I think I will try to make these cookies again before Christmas, using different shapes and colours. For Halloween, I settled on ghosts, pumpkins, and spider web cookies. Decorating with royal icing was so much fun, but it does require a lot of time and patience.

Sugar Cookie Recipe

1 cup (2 sticks/ 230 g) butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup (225 g) sugar

1 egg

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract (or 3 tsp vanilla sugar)

3 cups (375 g) all purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add in the egg and the vanilla extract, and beat to incorporate.
  3. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt (and vanilla sugar, if using).
  4. Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture and beat until combined.
  5. Divide the dough into 2-4 portions (depending on the size of your baking sheet), and roll to just under 1 cm (3/8 inch) thickness.
  6. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours. Before you remove the dough from the fridge, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
  7. Remove dough from fridge and cut your desired shapes. Remove the scraps and place sheet back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. Repeat steps 5 through 7 with the scraps.
  8. Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes depending on the thickness of your cookies (mine were a little thin, so 8 minutes was enough).
  9. Cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Source: Adapted from The Hungry Housewife

Royal Icing Recipe

4 cups (500 g) powdered sugar

2 tbsp meringue powder

5 tbsp water

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a hand mixer. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes).
  2. Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container. This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating. Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. Portion out the icing in different containers and add the colourings you are using.
  3. Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie. Let stand so the icing will set. Make sure to keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden.
  4. Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate air-tight container. Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smoothes in with that still in the bowl. If you go too far and the icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it again.
  5. Once the icing has reached the desired consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie. If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to help it along.
  6. Allow the cookies to dry and set overnight before putting them in containers.

Source: Annie’s Eats

For the ghosts I edged the cookies with white icing and used the thick black icing to pipe the eyes and the mouth. I then flooded the ghosts with thin white icing. For the pumpkins I used the thick black icing to make the “stems”, and edged the pumpkin with the thick white and then flooded with the thin white. I then immediately sprinkled on a thick layer of orange sprinkles. For the spider web cookies, I did the edges in thick black, and then flooded with thin black. I then used the thin white and piped three concentric circles over the black. Using a tooth pick, I made a line going from the centre of the cookie and out to the edge. Be sure to wipe off the tooth pick between each line you make.

Before you make sugar cookies I would recommend checking out these posts by Annie, Leslie, and Bridget

Good luck with these cookies, and thanks for stopping by!

Daring Bakers Challenge Macaroons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macaroons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

So, what does this mean? It means I have joined the Daring Bakers. Once a month we get a challenge which is secret to the public, we all bake something using the recipe from the challenge and then publish our posts on the same day (today). Hence, you can now expect me to blog about something truly wonderful and slightly advanced once a month. I was glad that this was my first challenge, I have made macaroons twice before (once successfully and once not so successfully…ok it was actually a disaster). The type of macaroons I’m talking about is of course not the chewy coconut kind, but the French kind – the amazingly cute and tasty kind. I have been to Ladurée in London, a very small pastry shop with a good selection of macaroons. When I was in Paris for my birthday this year my boyfriend bought me a cake and macaroons from their big store on the Champs-Élysées. Their macaroons are world famous and I can definitely understand why, they look too good to eat and they have a great selection of flavours. If anyone is ever in Paris, Ladurée is THE place to go for a treat.

I can say without hesitation that my macaroons did not turn out like they should have. My oven is very unreliable and it is impossible to know what the temperature is, so I think that is where it went wrong. At least, that’s what I like to think, for all I know it might have been a mistake I made that caused these macaroons to turn out the way they did. First of all, they did not look like proper macaroons should. I didn’t manage to get the trademark “feet” on my macaroons, instead they looked like plain old flat cookies. Secondly, they did not feel like macaroons. They were really chewy (which I actually liked), but they should have had a slightly hard outer shell and be soft in the middle. BUT, they did taste like macaroons! Yay! I filled mine with a simple chocolate ganache which I made by heating one part heavy cream to a simmer, and then adding that to one part 70% chocolate to melt the chocolate. I let it cool until the consistency was thick enough to pipe a nice thick layer on the macaroons, and then sandwiched them together. I really enjoyed the taste of these macaroons and I brought them with me to the dinner party I mentioned in my previous post. The girls all seemed to enjoy my failed macaroons, I don’t think they cared too much that they weren’t exactly perfect!

I think macaroons are really fun to make, so I will probably try them again some time. Next time, I will use a different recipe that I have had success with in the past. I think this recipe was a little too complicated, but you can find it on the Daring Bakers website if you feel like trying. I will recommend that if you decide to make macaroons you should find some other recipe, take a look on other websites and choose one that you think would work best for you. Good Luck!

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to choose between a brownie and a cheesecake? I have, many times, and I always end up with the brownie. Well, now you don’t have to make that choice as I bring you the Cheesecake Brownie! Seriously, this must be one of the top ten creations ever invented (at least in the cake world). What’s not to like? Brownie – mmm, Cheesecake – mmm, Raspberry whipped cream – mmm… This cake even looks as good as it tastes, with one brown layer, one white, and one pink. As usual, this recipe is from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I’m getting worried that if I reproduce any more of their recipes they might sue me, so I have decided not to print the recipe this time. What you do is make your favourite brownie recipe and pour it into a 33 x 23 x 5-cm baking tray. Top that layer with your favourite cheesecake filling (American style, not fridge-set style, a half batch is probably enough), and bake in the oven at 170°C (325°F) for 30-40 minutes. The cheesecake should be light golden around the edges. Leave cake to cool completely, then refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight. I over-baked the brownie a little so be sure you check the cake after 30 minutes.

I made this cake for a dinner party last week, but unfortunately the party was cancelled so Brittany and I were stuck with all this deliciousness all to ourselves. We gave some away, but we still had this for dessert basically every day for a week. The dinner party was actually back on this week so I made a new dessert, will post it in a couple of weeks. While we are on the subject of this dinner party I want to say thank you to all of Brittany’s amazing friends (you know who you are) who have welcomed me into their group. It has been so nice to get to know you all and I am looking forward to many more dinner parties and other events to come. It makes me really happy when you say that you enjoy my baking so you can expect more where that is coming from!

I will definitely make this cake again and again. It looks really fancy and the taste is unbeatable, but it is also simple to make.

What else is new? Well, I haven’t done much out of the ordinary lately. Studying, eating, sleeping, exercising, relaxing, drinking etc. We are getting ready for Halloween now and I am so exited for my first Halloween over here. I think we have decided on a pretty fantastic theme for our costumes; we’re going as different drinks you would find in a liquor cabinet! I will try to post some pictures some time in the near future. Until then, enjoy the fall colours and make yourself a treat! Thanks for stopping by my blog today.

To make the raspberry frosting you need:

300 ml whipping cream

100 g icing sugar

150 g raspberries

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk with an electric mixer until firm but not stiff.

Spread over the cake and decorate with extra raspberries. Enjoy!

Spinach Dip

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here in the Big Apple. Last week a friend of mine from back home visited New York for her sister’s wedding, and I was really happy to spend some time with fellow Norwegians. We had some great dinners in Brooklyn and spent the days shopping and sightseeing. I was invited to join her family on a sightseeing bus that they had rented, and it was so much fun to see more of Manhattan even though it was freezing sitting on top of the bus.

What else is new? I’ve tried yoga for the first time! I did not expect to like it at all, I thought it was all about breathing and finding your inner peace or whatever (those of you who know me, know that I’m not really into all that), but I was so surprised by how good exercise is actually was! I really got my heart rate going and I could definitely feel it all over my body the next day. Of course, it is also about breathing and being peaceful and all that, but I don’t think you have to be into that to enjoy yoga. I went three times last week and will try to keep it up.

Here’s a picture of Times Square that I took from the sightseeing bus.

I have also been doing a lot of studying lately, even on Friday and Saturday nights… Brittany and I have been thinking about how we can make doing homework on a Friday night more fun, the answer is: with dips and wine of course! Brittany made a very tasty guacamole and I decided to make this spinach dip. I first tried this dip at a party in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago and it was so good I just had to ask for the recipe! Turns out the recipe can be found on the back of packs of Lipton vegetable soup mix. When I saw the recipe I realized I had to make some major adjustments to make it healthier. The original recipe calls for a cup of real mayonnaise and eight ounces of sour cream. As a future dietician I couldn’t really justify making a dip with so much fat, so I substituted 2% Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise and I used half fat sour cream. I don’t think the taste was compromised at all, it was still delicious. I really like spinach a lot, and it’s so healthy too. Spinach is a very good source of folate, which is scientifically proven to lower the incidence of neural tube defects, and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. In addition to folate, spinach is also a good source of other micronutrients such as vitamins K, A, C, and also iron and magnesium. So make my healthier version of this dip and feel good about getting all these essential nutrients.

Recipe (makes 3 cups)

1 sachet (51 g) Lipton vegetable soup mix

230 g (8 oz) low-fat sour cream

240 ml (1 cup) 2% fat Greek yogurt

280 g (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

230 g (8 oz) water chestnuts, drained and chopped

3 spring onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients; chill 2 hours.
  2. Serve with your favourite dippers. I served my dip with spelt pretzels, but I think it will be really good with carrot and celery sticks and some pita bread.

Source: Adapted from Lipton

Snickerdoodles

I knew I was going to like these cookies when I saw them on The Brown Eyed Baker. I love, love, love cinnamon! The smell, the colour, the taste… all perfect. I think this cookie must be something very American, I have never heard of them in Norway or in the UK. There used to be a little bakery in the seaside town of Brevik, near my family’s summer house in Norway. They had these amazing things that we called cinnamon sticks which we used to get every time we were down there. They were based on a yeast dough which was rolled out very thin and spread with a mixture of butter, cinnamon and sugar. How great does that sound? Unfortunately the bakery is now closed down, so no more cinnamon sticks for me 😦 The snickerdoodles are a very good replacement, but sometime in the future I definitely want to try to recreate the cinnamon sticks that I have loved for so long (watch this space).

The original recipe yields about 4 dozen cookies. I don’t know what I would ever do with that many cookies (probably eat them) but I halved the recipe and I still have a lot left in the freezer. I followed the recipe exactly as it was laid out, and the cookies turned out perfect. It’s a very simple recipe, but it requires some space in the fridge for chilling the dough and the cookie sheets. The recipe calls for cream of tartar which is something we don’t normally use in Norway, so I decided to use baking powder instead. I have adjusted the recipe below, but the original recipe with cream of tartar can be found here. For Norwegians who use vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract, use 2 tsp and add them with the flour. Just writing about them these cookies me want one so now I am eating one right out the freezer (they’re actually very good frozen)… I think this is my new favourite cookie, and it could be yours too! So get cooking and let the scent of cinnamon fill your kitchen.

Recipe (makes about 4 dozen cookies)

6.5 dl (2¾ cups) flour

4 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

230 g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3.5 dl (1½ cups) sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat and put in refrigerator to chill.
  2. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
  4. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, beating on low speed just until the flour is blended.
  5. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.
  6. In the meantime, mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  7. Scoop 1-inch balls of dough and roll in the cinnamon and sugar mixture to coat.
  8. Place on chilled cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and bake for 10 minutes.
  9. Chill the dough and cookie sheets between batches.
  10. Let cookies set on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack. Store cookies in an airtight container.

Source: Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, originally from RecipeZaar.

Asparagus, Mushroom and Chicken Risotto

I just love risottos, they’re so easy to make and always turn out great. I made risotto for the first time about a year ago and was really surprised that something so simple could be so good. I’ve tried many different flavour combinations since then, but I always start out with the same basic recipe. I think you could use whatever kind of meat and vegetables you like, and you would still end up with something really good. Although I’m not sure how well it would work with fish, I want to try but it just sounds a little fishy to me (ha-ha). I would like to try making a risotto with shellfish some time, maybe scallops or shrimp.

So, what is new in New York? Well, today Brittany and I went to the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, which is just two blocks down from our apartment. I got an amazing wool jacket from World War 2, used by the US Marine Corps from 1941-1942. I have a feeling it might end up being the kind of jacket that I buy and never wear, but it is really cool and it reminds me of the uniforms they wore in the HBO show “Band of Brothers”. On the way to the flea market we saw the funniest cat relaxing in the window of our local hydroponic plant shop, just take a look at the picture below. I know this has got nothing to do with risotto or food for that matter, but I thought you might like it.

Back to the food. The basic recipe for a plain risotto can be found on most packs of Arborio rice, you can also use some other types of rice but I have always used this type.

Recipe (serves 3)

1 cup (250 ml) uncooked rice

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

1 chopped onion

2 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock

½ cup dry white wine

1 chicken breast or thigh

6 spears of asparagus

A good handful of mushrooms (I used chanterelles)

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or other similar type of cheese

Directions:

  1. Sauté onion in oil and butter over medium heat for 3 minutes.
  2. Add rice, stirring for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine and stir until all the wine is absorbed by the rice.
  4. Stir in 1 cup of the stock and continue cooking on a medium heat. Keep stirring until all the liquid is absorbed.
  5. In the mean time, sauté the mushrooms and asparagus and cook the chicken. (I oven-roasted a chicken leg, I usually think that makes juicier chicken than frying a chicken breast)
  6. Continue adding the stock, about half a cup at a time, and cook until the rice is al dente.
  7. Turn off the heat. Add the cheese, the vegetables and chicken and season to taste. Let the risotto rest under a lid for about 2-3 minutes.
  8. Serve with a simple salad and enjoy.

Source: Myself and the back of some box of rice.

Spinach and Cheese Muffins

I have never made savoury muffins before, whenever I think of muffins I picture something sweet with chocolate or blueberries. Now that I am a poor student I thought I would try to make some healthy lunches to have on hand, instead of having to buy lunch during the day. I am keeping these in the freezer and then I just take one out the night before so it’s good and ready for lunch next day. It’s saving me money and making them is fun, so it’s a win-win for me. Also, when you make food yourself, you have complete control over what goes into your food. So much food you buy in the shops today is packed full of salt, preservatives and artificial colourings and flavourings. Too much salt in our diets is linked with high blood pressure, and most of the salt we consume comes from processed foods. Making your own food from scratch is an easy way to lower your salt intake, so I encourage everyone to cook more! I’m not saying these muffins are necessarily low in salt, there’s quite a bit of cheese in them, I’m just saying it for future reference. I based my muffins on a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and made some simple changes to make them a little bit healthier. I think one of the easiest ways to make baked goods healthier is to use whole wheat flour instead of white. In addition to doing that, I added a little less cheese and butter than the recipe called for. Spinach is a green leafy vegetable, which means it’s high in folate and several other minerals and vitamins. I used full fat cheddar cheese, which has a really strong flavour. That way, it was easy to lower the cheese content, without sacrificing the taste. Also, studies have shown that if you use so-called low fat or light products, you just end up eating more of them anyway.

These muffins were really good and they make a welcome change from a slice of bread with cheese. The only thing I will do differently next time is to add a bit more red onion. Stay tuned for more recipes on simple and healthy foods to have on hand.

Recipe (makes 12 muffins)

10 g butter

½ red onion, finely chopped

160 g white flour

200 g whole wheat flour

2 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp cayenne pepper

200 g cheddar cheese, grated

250 ml 1% milk

1 egg

130 g baby spinach leaves

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F)
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and fry the onion over medium heat until cooked. Set aside.
  3. Put the flour, baking powder, cayenne and cheese in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Mix the egg and milk together, then pour into the flour and beat with a handheld electric whisk until all the ingredients are well mixed.
  5. Stir in the onion and spinach with a wooden spoon until evenly dispersed. (My batter more resembled a dough, so I had to use my hands to be able to mix well)
  6. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. Leave the muffins to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Source: adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook