Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cocoa Cookies with Apricot Brandy in Place of Vanilla

I don't generally like leaving my home in winter. Granted, we are experiencing an incredible mid-winter thaw after the thundersnowstorm on Thursday, but I still don't like driving places when I don't have to. (I really miss living within easy walking distance of a grocery store.) Thus, when I discovered our kitchen mysteriously lacks vanilla extract for some cookies I wanted to make for a friend's party on Saturday, I decided to substitute with what I had on hand: apricot brandy. A cooking substitutions book suggested liqueur as a substitute for vanilla extract, and this was as close as I could get. Apricots go well with chocolate, right?

Step 1:
I softened 1 cup of butter in the microwave to make it easier to beat with 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar. Once that was blended, I added 2 teaspoons of apricot brandy and 1 egg. This was all blended using my hand mixer.

Step 2:
I mixed 1 cup of whole wheat flour in with the sugar/butter/egg/brandy. I then mixed in 1 cup of Jiffy Mix because I ran out of flour. (I was going to substitute with cornmeal, like when I made cornmeal raisin cookies, but it was infested with bugs.) I also put in 1/2 cup of hot cocoa mix. 

Step 3:
This is about when I started to preheat my oven to 350F. For a normal oven, I'd say 375F. My oven runs hot, so I automatically lower temperature by about 25 degrees.

Step 4:
I took half a bag of leftover milk chocolate chips and blended them via a wooden spoon with the batter. A taste test proved this to be a very delicious mix! 

Step 5:
I sprayed a cookie sheet with Pam and plopped little balls of dough onto it. The oven preheated. (You may want to move preheating the oven to step 1 from step 3 if you have a slower oven. Mine heats up pretty quickly in addition to being off in temperature.) I wasn't sure how much the cookies would spread, so I only did 9 my first batch. I baked them for 12 minutes.
It turned out the batter was too thin, and the cookies spread out far too much. I added more Jiffy mix to my remaining batter to thicken it up, maybe 1/2 cup more. I didn't actually measure it. I did another sheet of 9 blobs and cut my cook time to 10 minutes. That did the trick! I ended up with a total of 19 cookies that looked like cookies and not melted pancakes. 

Because there were so few cookies (for a party, anyway), I have resolved not to eat one. I ate the melted first batch instead, and though the texture was a bit crispy, the flavor was pretty good! I can't tell if they taste like apricot. I don't think so. I will have to ask everyone at the party who tries them. 

This makes me wonder what else I can use to substitute for vanilla extract. A chocolate extract might be tasty with cookies. I could make raisin cookies with rum extract, and almond cookies with almond extract. Most extracts are expensive, though, so I doubt I will ever be able to try them. Never say never, though!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ode to a Matcha Latte

I was so busy working on researching and writing a column for the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal that updating my blog didn't even enter my head on Saturday. *facepalm* Since Greg was gaming at a friend's place, I stopped by the Songbird Cafe on Ann Arbor's north side for dinner on my way home from work. I cannot describe how excited I was to see "matcha latte" on their menu, but that I was moved to write this poem is probably an indication. I think since I was eating in-house rather than getting it to-go, I had to wait quite a bit longer than I had anticipated I would (I was seated by the counter, so I witnessed all the people who piled in after me and ordered lattes to-go). It was so worth it. That was seriously the best matcha latte I have ever had. (Though they are hard to find, so I really haven't had too many.) They even did a simple little latte art for me. Without further ado...

Ode to a Matcha Latte

Two chalk words on a black board
Bring to mind former days.
A string is pulled from my memory hoard
And round about my tongue plays.
Five dollars is a pittance
For a rich, creamy green brew
That brings delight to each sense.
I sit and wait with impatience,
Unaware there was such a queue.
The reward - so sweet! - is worth all expense.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I Finally Went to a Five Guys

Five Guys is one of those places people at my old job would make runs to. You know, when someone goes around the store or office just before lunch time and says to everyone, "Hey, I'm going to X. Want anything?" And then people write down their orders and give hand over some money, then, because he or she is getting lunch for multiple people, he or she doesn't have to clock out until after returning with the food? I'm poor for one, and the person usually rounding up those orders was not one I liked so much, so I never partook of the Five Guys run.

After much time passed and I left that job, I still hadn't been to a Five Guys until one day when Greg and I were out running errands on Ford Road, we decided to stop there for lunch because Greg had never been to one either. We agreed that it was a good choice.

I like restaurants with simple menus that are easy to glance through and allow me to decide quickly what I want to eat while people are yelling at each other behind the counter. Five Guys reminded me of In 'N Out in that regard; Greg said Johnny Rockets. I was surprised to discover that a burger with everything on it was actually edible to me. Usually I have to order "everything but olives" or "everything but peppers," which somehow seems to trip up the person behind the register. This time the word "everything" confused her. Apparently I was supposed to say the word that comes after "everything" on the menu which I can't even remember.

Anyway, while we were waiting for our food, we got to play with the crazy Coca-Cola drink station thing where I was OVERJOYED to find PEACH FANTA. I HAVE NOT SEEN PEACH FANTA SINCE I WAS IN JAPAN IN 2003. OMFG. Seriously, words do not exist in the English language to express my feelings when I found Peach Fanta on the screen. 

I settled at a table while Greg went to get our order. He came back with a small paper grocery bag of fries. Bwah? I knew Five Guys had a reputation for giving you a bunch of fries, which is why ordered one instead of two, but that many?? Of course, our burgers were under all of the fries, which we discovered by rooting around in the bag.

Turned out the burger I ordered was so big that I couldn't squish it flat enough to fit in my mouth. But it was damn tasty. So were the fries. The burger was so big, though, that I was only able to eat a few of them because my stomach protested too much. And I drank a lot of Peach Fanta. Followed by Cherry Fanta because, what? Cherry Fanta? It was also delicious. I'm not a big pop drinker, but I would absolutely love one of those drink machines in my kitchen. I would even go to Five Guys just for the 100+ drink choices. 

Oh, man. I'm totally jonesing that Fanta now. The next time we're over that way and want to stop for lunch, though, I think we need to head to the new branch of Moo Cluck Moo that recently opened. They also have good burgers and fries, and really terrific shakes! Their pop options are unconventional, so I enjoy them, too.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Crispy Cheesy Chicken Cutlets

Sometimes re-creating recipes I see online is difficult, so I end up combining various things together with my own previous culinary experience. Thus, my crispy cheesy chicken cutlets were born. I originally found the inspiration on Facebook, then tracked it down on Pinterest. (Good ol' Pinterest.)

I had originally intended to use chicken breast, but when I pulled the Tupperware of chicken I had left in the fridge to thaw out, I discovered they were more like cutlets. So I pulled another container out of the freezer and thawed it about halfway using the microwave before cutting it in half and sending it to join its already thawed brethren.

First, I spread some Italian bread crumbs onto a plate. Next, I coated the chicken in the bread crumbs, counting on the chicken's own juices to make the crumbs stick. After placing them in a glass baking dish that had been sprayed with Pam, I thoroughly covered each cutlet with shredded Colby jack cheese, a sprinkling of sea salt, and a generous shaking of dried parsley flakes. This went into the oven for 35 minutes at 400F.

Meanwhile, on the stove top, I emptied one can of cream of celery soup into a small sauce pan followed by about 4 tablespoons of sour cream, which I allowed to slowly heat up under the low setting, stirring occasionally. I also found some leftover cooked white rice in the fridge, which I revived in the microwave, and a frozen bag of broccoli and cauliflower that I also steamed in the microwave.

When I pulled the chicken out of the oven, I was surprised by how much it had shrunk! Had I overcooked it? Should I have lowered the temperature? Feeling trepidatious about how dinner had turned out, I put the cutlets onto plates alongside a scoop of rice and ladled the celery soup and sour cream sauce over both.

The original recipe for the sauce had called for butter. I am glad that I left it out as the sauce turned out to be quite rich enough with just the two ingredients. I thought it was fantastic on the rice! Pretty tasty on the chicken, too, which turned out to not be dry at all, it had just shrunk. Greg and I both really enjoyed it.

And that's what matters in the end, right? Food is meant to taste good above all else. If the presentation is also pleasing, that's just icing on the cake.