Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays (I miss you all!)

Wow - I was completely bowled over by all the warm, supportive, and thoughtful responses you all left to my last post. Happily I can report to you that Mom and I talked things over and are getting along much better now. Sadly, work has now gone berserk as I prepare for a trial less than a month away. I hate to vanish on you like this and will miss writing here and dropping by your blogs, but hope you'll understand. Stay tuned, though, for the wrap-up of my vegan cookie month (and a half O=p) including book winners. Then I'm on hiatus, but I'll be back before you know it and am already planning all sorts of baking escapades for the spring.

On this special day made for sharing with our families and loved ones, I also want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and to thank you for being so wonderful! Plus I simply had to share with you the adorable photo above as a nod to all this darn snow and sleet we've been getting in the DC area. (You may notice I'm pretty enamored of the imgfave site.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Month of Vegan Cookies: Pignoli Almond Cookies (Ongoing Giveaway)

Vegan Pignoli Cookies

I'll be frank with you. This latest foray into the kitchen didn't go as well as I'd hoped. Call this an excuse if you will, but things went downhill after my mom lectured me at the outset. After 20-some years I should be immune to her nagging and unintentional insults, but she really struck a nerve last night. In short, she accused me of sabotaging the health of my coworkers by bringing them my sweets.

Many I know would've brushed this off and kept going on their merry. And perhaps I could've if I weren't in fact passionate about improving the eating habits of Americans. The thing is, my eventual goal is to become a dietitian. Mom's accusation dug deep because I'd secretly feared as much. And while I don't have all the answers yet, I have figured out at least 3 things I believe:
  1. ...that indulgences can be part of a healthy diet. While I try to cut fat and sugar where I can do so without sacrificing taste, a small portion of something rich often more effectively satisfies a craving than a "lightened" ghost of the original.
  2. ...that mindless overeating of low quality food is a source of many diet problems in the US. By exposing others to freshly-made, preservative-free treats made with high quality ingredients, I hope I'm helping to cultivate an attentiveness to and appreciation of real good food (I know, this may be a bit too optimistic ^_^).
  3. ...that the joy of tasting something wonderful is best when shared. Food is so much more than calorie or antioxidant counts. It's an integral part of our cultures, our communities, our memories, ourselves.
What Mom doesn't realize when she bashes my baking is that she's cutting into a labor of love, into the pieces of myself that I put into everything I make. If you're reading this, you're probably passionate about food some way or another. I'd love to hear your take on these issues. If you need more incentive, leaving a comment (including your e-mail) will enter you to win one of 3 copies of the vegan cookie book I'm baking from. I'll pick the winners at random and let you know in my round-up/review post.

2009.12.06 Pignoli Cookies

Thanks for hearing me out. Now let's finally talk cookies! Unfortunately the fight left me frazzled and apparently unable to follow instructions. The margarine got too warm, my cookies spread too much, and were slightly greasy (what they're supposed to look like). But please don't let this discourage you from trying the recipe. The flavor of these cookies is excellent. Benefiting from a classic combination of fragrant almond paste and sweet and buttery pine nuts (or pignoli) (another of the great sample goodies I received from Sam at Oh! Nuts). Even with my mistakes, these were a hit with my coworkers and my spirits were lifted from seeing their smiles.

TEXTURE: 3/5 (probably due to my error not the recipe)
OVERALL: 3.5/5 (same as above)

Pignoli Almond Cookies [Printable Recipe]
Reproduced with permission from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar
via the authors' blog with my comments/changes in brackets
Makes 2 dozen cookies

XIAOLU'S NOTE: Be careful not to let the margarine get too warm (including not handling the dough too much!

7 ounces almond paste, sliced into 1 inch cubes (not marzipan)
A pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, softened [I used Earth Balance]
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 to 3 tablespoons almond milk for dipping [I used soymilk]

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a medium sized baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pulse almond paste, salt, baking powder and 1/3 cup sugar in a food processor until mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute.

In a large bowl cream together margarine and remaining 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add almond paste mixture and almond extract and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Sift in flour and beat until a slightly crumbly yet soft dough forms. Dough should form a soft mass when pressed together.

Pour pine nuts into a shallow bowl and pour 2 Tablespoons of almond milk into a small saucer. For each cookie, roll 1 tablespoon of dough in palms to form into a ball, dip one end in almond milk and press moistened end into pine nuts. If necessary press pine nuts into surface of ball. Place dough balls, pine nut side up, on baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 14 minutes until cookies have puffed and spread a little, and nuts are are just slightly toasted. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes to firm up before carefully transferring to cooling rack. Store in a tightly covered container.

MORSELS: These cookies are super-soft right out of the oven, so be sure to allow them a full 5 minutes to firm up on the cookie sheet before transferring to racks to complete cooling.

PREVIOUSLY: Sweet Potato Blondies and Espresso Chip Oatmeal Cookies
NEXT UP IN THIS SERIES: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Two (and Too) Cutes

While I'm trying to carve out the time to make the next batch of vegan cookies, I just thought I'd share these 2 dashes of adorable that I've come across recently.

Awesome Santa cupcake from Bakerella (I should've known!) via imgfave
(is anyone else addicted to this site?)

Adorable strawberry baby hat from Artology on Etsy I'm thinking of buying my sister.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dreamy Apricot Ginger Scones

2009.11.30 Apricot Ginger Scones

Were it not for Smitten Kitchen, I might be before you today recounting the epic journey it took to find the perfect recipe for light, tender scones. Luckily for us all, Deb already completed this "scone quest" and returned with a jewel of a recipe, generously shared on her blog. So let me simply tell you how I switched up the add-ins to suit my fancy and (hopefully) send you off to do the same.

This soon after Thanksgiving, I was predictably cranberried out (fruits are verbs too, didn't ya know?). What I was in the mood for was ginger. But this spicy sister wanted some company for these long cold nights... The sunny hues of dried apricots caught my eye at the store not long after. It had to be a sign...

2009.11.30 Apricot Ginger Scones

And what a lovely pair these two made. Each bite of these scones contained wonderful little bursts of flavor, from the modest sweetness of the apricots to the bolder heat of the crystallized ginger. I actually craved even more fruit, so I've upped the amount in the recipe below. Despite using a little less butter than the original recipe, the texture remained so tender (must be all that cream...). These scones aren't very sweet, so they'd be lovely with a dollop of your favorite jam. Now I'd really love for you to share your favorite scone flavors with me. Won't you please?

2009.11.30 Apricot Ginger Scones

Apricot Ginger Scones [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 8 to 12 scones

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, preferably a low-protein brand such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury and not King Arthur
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2/3 cup moist dried apricots, chopped into about 8 pieces per apricot
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, roughly chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place flour, baking powder, sugar, ground ginger, and salt in large bowl or work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Whisk together or pulse six times.

If making by hand: use two knives, a pastry blender or your fingertips and quickly cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter lumps. Stir in apricots and crystallized ginger.

If using food processor: remove cover and distribute butter evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times, each pulse lasting 1 second. Add apricots and crystallized ginger and pulse one more time. Transfer dough to large bowl.

I used a cake ring to get the dough into a circle.
2009.11.30 Apricot Ginger Scones [Collage]

Stir in heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Form scones by either a) pressing the dough into an 8-inch cake pan, then turning the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, cutting the dough into 8 wedges with either a knife or bench scraper (the book’s suggestion) or b) patting the dough onto a lightly floured work surface into a 3/4-inch thick circle, cutting pieces with a biscuit cutter, and pressing remaining scraps back into another piece (what Deb did) and cutting until dough has been used up. (Be warned if you use this latter method, the scones that are made from the remaining scraps will be much lumpier and less pretty, but taste fine.)

Place rounds or wedges on ungreased baking sheet. This step is optional, but freeze the cut-out scone dough in their baking pan for 8 to 12 minutes to help them hold their shape better AND to help them rise higher. Now bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.