Blunka Kucha cookies

Blunka Kucha cookies

Not long ago I was talking to my grandmother about an attempt to make German lebkuchen for a potluck.  I told her how it was a more complicated recipe than I usually make, one requiring multiple steps, including rolling it out.  Truth is, I’m more of a drop or bar cookie fan, and while the lebkuchen were a hit, they’re a bit too involved for me to make regularly.

She told me about a recipe she used to make that required no rolling, no dropping – just pouring the dough into the pan and letting it spread on its own.  I was intrigued, as it sounded like the ultimate for a lazy baker.

When she sent it to me, I immediately went to Google to see if I could find more information on this recipe.  Outside of a link to an old Lebanon, PA newspaper article circa 1977, there is nothing, which leads me to believe this is an uber-regional Pennsylvania Dutch cookie recipe.

I’ve made it a few times now, once without the second 2 tablespoons of butter (which in the original was vegetable shortening), and once with.  The added butter does help it spread easier.  I also decided to add some of the lebkuchen cookie spices to this, as the final product resembles a soft biscotti.  There’s plenty of room for customization here – think a handful of nuts, maybe some chocolate chips, a few raisins or dried cherries.

Blunka Kucha recipe (adapted from my grandmother)

½ cup + 2 Tbsp butter
1 1/8 cup buttermilk
1 ¾ cup granulated sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a cookie sheet with sides.

Mix butter, sugar and buttermilk.  Mix dry ingredients separately. Add dry to wet in two batches, mix until just combined.

Pour dough into middle of sheet, but do not spread.  It will spread itself.  Bake for 45 minutes. Remove and let cool at least 10 minutes before removing from pan.  Cut into bars (or whatever shapes are desired).  Makes many.

Homemade Treats for Good Dogs

Homemade dog cookies

While I have no human children, I have a dog child.  One who appears to be more like Benjamin Button than I’d care to admit, but that’s a story for another day (one word – diapers).

I also like to bake.  So you might see where this is going.

A number of years ago I found a dog biscuit recipe on the Interwebz, one that was super easy, and according to certain family members whose previously non-food-motivated dogs became very interested in these biscuits, pretty tasty. It’s been one of the few annual holiday traditions I can manage, and while some years it’s only the family dogs that see these, other years it requires a few batches to cover all the good dogs (or dogs who put up with my mutt).

The original recipe called for water, but I’ve found that chicken broth – especially the stuff with a lot of salt – really makes my dog happy.   A recent iteration with homemade broth didn’t leave her licking the floor with the same vim as the sodium laced stuff.  So take that as you may.

All Natural Dog Treats (adapted from somewhere on the Internet – sadly, I’m unable to remember where after many years)

Makes a whole lot of cookies. Numbers vary depending on the size of cookies (and the size of your dog).

3 and ½ cups flour (I prefer whole wheat)
2 and ½ cups oatmeal (quick cooking is fine if you don’t have whole oats)
3 tablespoons canola/vegetable oil
2 cups warm chicken or vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 300F.  Mix flour and oatmeal together in a mixing bowl. Stir in oil and broth until well blended. The dough should be pliable, not sticky, so if needed, add a bit of flour or water. On a floured surface, pat or roll the dough until about 1/8 inch thick. Using your favorite cookie cutter (that is appropriately sized for your pup – or the pups you plan to gift to!), cut out cookies and transfer to greased baking sheet. Bake for one hour or until crisp.

Chocolate Malt Ball Tart

Because all healthy vegetables and no dessert is pretty dull, I wanted to try something different for a picnic I brought to Music on the Beach concert last week. I came across a recipe for a Malted Milk Cookie Tart on my epi iPhone app, and since I happened to have malted milk in the cupboard for another recipe, I thought I’d give it a try.

It was very well received, even by my ‘I’m not really into super-sweet desserts’ boyfriend. Super easy to make, and I’m thinking the next time I make it I might use something else (peanut butter cups?) in place of the malt balls.

Spontaneous banana bread

When one is faced with a bunch of overripe bananas, it’s only natural to think about making banana bread.  As I did yesterday in the hour I had between work & derby practice. It was either that or clean bathrooms, and baking is that much more fun.

However, when one has no eggs in the house, creative thinking is required.  Luckily, I remembered that I have a vegan cookbook, and sure enough, it has an egg-free banana bread recipe.  Quelle chance!

Not only did it not require eggs, but it had about 1/2 the sugar that most recipes require, and as a result, it’s more banana-y and less overpoweringly sweet than other banana bread recipes.  Nils loves it too – so much so that about a 1/4 of the loaf was polished off this morning alone.  But he can rest easy, as apparently the calorie count is a bit lower than your typical banana bread.

Between this and the ridiculously easy chile crusted tofu from the same cookbook, I’m realizing that vegan cooking and baking isn’t necessarily any harder or more time consuming.

Chocolate Caramel Tart

I have been eyeing this recipe in Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook for the past year, but a decided lack of creme fraiche (a key ingredient, one that I had no desire to make on my own) and trepidation about making the pate sable discouraged me from attempting it.

So when I finally located creme fraiche at the local Grocery Outlet, it became clear that I had to step it up and stop with the excuses. Luckily I had some friends ready to serve as willing and able guinea pigs, and after a full day of skiing powder, both Nils and I had ample appetite for a sinfully rich dessert.

The pastry part was probably the easiest part of the process, as it can be made in a food processor and requires no rolling (a similar recipe for said crust can be found here).  Having made chocolate ganache before, it was less daunting than the caramel layer, which involved a host of ingredients, including brown sugar, honey, creme fraiche and butter.  (Did I mention that this was NOT a low-calorie dessert?)

Overall, the three step process (crust, caramel layer and chocolate) were not difficult – just time consuming.   I didn’t plan far enough in advance and ended up making this mere hours before it was needed, so it didn’t set quite as well as it should have.

But it still tasted divine.

Making Whoopie….

Making Whoopie....

pies, that is (this is a family friendly blog after all!).

With the overabundance of zucchini at the farmer’s market, I decided to experiment with a Gourmet recipe for whoopie pies that had caught my eye.  Since I still had a small vat of chocolate powdered sugar frosting left over from a friend’s birthday cake, I used that instead of cream cheese frosting. Call it the whoopie pie equivalent of zucchini chocolate chip cake.

Despite accidentally overlooking the baking soda, they were really tasty.  The zucchini was noticeable in a good way, as I used the food processor to grate them, thus resulting in larger pieces than I think the recipe originally called for.  I omitted the nuts this time, but would definitely include them in the future, as I think that’ll add to the texture.

Excessive Decadence

When a friend asked me to bring dessert to a July 4th BBQ this weekend, I immediately thought of brownies.  They’re a great match for grilled food, and are eminently portable, which was key since we were planning on riding our bikes over.  Pies and fancy cakes couldn’t handle the Tahoe bike paths (and my penchant for hitting potholes).

I have an enormous collection of brownie recipes, but there was one that I’d been wanting to try for awhile, a recipe from Dorie Greenspan for her chipster brownies.  Essentially these are cookie-topped brownies, because chocolate brownies aren’t enough on their own.

I stayed pretty true to the recipe, though I did have to use butterscotch chips in the cookie batter as I ran out of chocolate chips, and omitted the cup of walnuts in deference to a friend’s allergies.  That and there was a smidgen of whole wheat flour in the brownies in lieu of white flour. They still turned out pretty damn well though, if I say so myself

My friends were sufficiently awed by the dessert.  I was too.  They’re definitely a make-again recipe, though I’ll likely cut them into smaller pieces, as they are very rich.

Feting Cinco De Mayo

I’m not one to normally celebrate Cinco de Mayo, as I’ve always seen it as another drinking in the U.S. (a la St. Patrick’s Day).  However, as part of the conversational Spanish class I’m taking at the local community college, we had a mini-celebration last week, and everyone had to bring a relevant dish.  I figured that there would be many bags of chips & jars of salsa, so I wanted to come up with something a bit more original.

Since I had given a presentation on Mexican chocolate the week before, I had two near full containers of Ibarra and Abuelita chocolate.  While the latter, a Nestle product, has a long list of non-organic sounding ingredients, the Ibarra is made of things you can pronounce (and actually tastes a bit nicer on its own).  With all this chocolate, I figured I could make brownies.  Most recipes I have call for cocoa, so I did some online research and found a scaled down version of the Barefoot Contessa’s brownies that didn’t require an enormous sheet pan.

Despite trying to account for baking at elevation and the differences in using Mexican chocolate instead of unsweetened, the brownies came out more fudgelike than brownielike.  The altitude, crappy oven, copious amounts of butter, lack of flour & baking times might have affected the outcome.  So I quickly renamed them ‘Mexican chocolate bites’ and my classmates, none the wiser, devoured them.

Mexican Chocolate Bites (adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)
2 sticks butter
6 ounces Ibarra chocolate
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used Lindts 85% cocoa version, as I had no bakers chocolate)
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Place rack in center of oven, grease & flour a 9×13 inch pan.

Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Let cool slightly.  In a large bowl whisk eggs, vanilla & sugar.  Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture.

In medium bowl blend flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to chocolate mixture.  Pour into pan and smooth to the edges.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until inserted toothpick comes out clear – do not overbake.  Allow to cool before cutting into squares.


Yogurt Cake

The past few weeks I’ve been on a bit of a yogurt cake kick.  It was a cake recipe I used to rely upon during my chalet days, though back then I used a small french yogurt container as the measuring cup.  Back in the U.S. where yogurt containers are a bit larger, I found another version in the Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook (and a version of it is on Clotilde’s blog).   N likes it because it’s less sweet and dense than a typical cake, almost more like a very moist snack bread.

While I’ve stuck to the basic recipe for the most part (which, by the way, is fabulous topped with fresh raspberries and a bit of plain yogurt), my penchant for tinkering has resulted in a few new variations, including the cocoa cake with chocolate chips and fresh pomegranate seeds pictured above.  Antioxidant cake, as I called it, was an enormous hit, and as soon as I see fresh pomegranates again, I’ll be making it.

After all, it could very well be the cure for my various ailments.

When Living at Elevation Sucks

So the Joy of Cooking is not an infallible resource for me, as I learned this weekend.  The chocolate souffle’s did not turn out, which I am blaming entirely on every one of those 6,200 feet above sea level.  While they were very chocolaty (thanks to my decadent use of a Lindt 85% bar since I had no baking chocolate), the Joy of Cooking recipe ended up being more akin to a well-cooked molten lava cake than anything else.  Tasty, but definitely not the fluffy souffle I was aiming for.

Caramelized onion blue cheese pizza

The meal was not all lost, however, as my attempt at a caramelized onion and Gorgonzola pizza turned out pretty tasty.  Very rich, even with a sparing use of Gorgonzola (Parmesan was also used to keep it cheesy).  That plus chocolate made for a very gourmand type of Hallmark holiday this weekend.