Family Recipe Rum Balls

Every year it’s the same. November begins and I think that maybe it’s time to start my Christmas shopping, but I don’t. Suddenly I am celebrating Thanksgiving, then December arrives with its daylight quickly dimming and the days ticking away like seconds on a stopwatch. Now here we are: one week until Christmas and I’ve barely started my Christmas shopping. Hello, my name is Erin and I am a procrastinator.

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Let’s forget the Christmas presents and stressful shopping that goes along with it. You know what I want for Christmas? I want to cozy up on a couch with my sisters and cousins and watch the old movies we used to make when we were too young to be embarrassed by ourselves. I want to bake gingerbread men and women with my mom and make funny scenes using them as the characters. I want to bite into homemade checkerboard cookies, eating each square separately, letting the buttery shards melt on my tongue. I want to sing Christmas songs around the piano, with my Dad playing the keys as we all belt out the songs. I want to wear fleece pants and slippers and curl up with a good book and a good cat (preferably one that doesn’t vomit regularly or wake me up in the middle of the night by pulling threads out of the nice curtains with her claws.) I want to watch White Christmas and have my sisters do a reprise performance of the “Sister, Sister” song from my wedding.

I am very lucky and grateful for the many wonderful people and comforts in my life. I would much rather have the simple gifts of time with people I love and time for the things that I love doing than any tangible presents that could be bought. If you haven’t bought me anything yet, don’t. Next year (maybe starting in October) I’m going to plan to do Christmas a little differently.

While I won’t be spending Christmas with my sisters and parents, I will still do many things on the aforementioned list. I will bake cookies, I will read books (good cat or not!), and I will leap around my living room while listening to Christmas songs. And since all of this list involves doing good for myself, I am also going to do good for others, including some volunteering and finding a way to help in Syria by donating to a reputable charity, as I am horrified by the news I see coming out of there.

I am also planning on taking some of my freshly baked cookies to the neighbors (checkerboards on the list!) I have our family’s favorite rum balls ready to add to the cookie platter. My mom always made these rum balls by the dozens for our family when I was growing up. I remember we ate them happily as kids, despite their strong rum-y taste (or perhaps because of it!). I am surely giving this recipe too late as the balls are best made ahead of time so that they can cure and really absorb the flavor of the rum, but perhaps you can make them now and save them for a New Year’s party. Mine have been ripening for about two weeks now, but I just haven’t gotten the chance to write about them yet!

Admittedly I have altered the recipe a little bit. I wavered between making the vanilla wafers from scratch and just buying them, but in the end, I decided that it was highly unnecessary to make them, and it would ruin the authenticity of the family recipe. I did, however, substitute honey for the corn syrup as I simply don’t use the stuff enough to really want to buy it. I figure that good family recipes are like a game of telephone, anyway. With each person you pass it along to the message changes just a little bit.

May your Christmas be full of comfort, joy, love, and all the things intangible and tangible that your heart desires. And may it also contain some rum balls!

 

Rum Balls

adapted from our family recipe collection

1 cup vanilla wafer crumbs

1 cup powdered sugar + more for rolling

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 1/2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon light corn syrup or honey

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

1/4 cup rum (pick one you would like to drink)*

Start by crushing vanilla wafers in a plastic bag using a rolling pin or pulse in the food processor until they are crumbly but not too fine of crumbs. Measure out a cup of the crumbs. Combine all remaining ingredients with the wafer crumbs in a medium sized bowl and mix together. Add more honey or powdered sugar depending on the consistency. You want it to be a dough that will hold together when rolled into a ball, but not too dry as the wafer crumbs will soak up some of the rum as they sit. Scoop into even golf-ball sized (or smaller) balls and roll in more powdered sugar to coat. Let sit in a well sealed container for at least a few days and up to several weeks before serving.

 

*They wouldn’t be rum balls of course, but if you really don’t like rum, I imagine these would be splendid with any other alcohol you like. I would think a Grand Marnier, Bailey’s, or Kahlua would be especially good, or even a whiskey of your choice.

 

 

Catching up on life and cooking…

Seattle summer happened a few months ago and it was beautiful – green, sunny, not too hot. Little humidity! I guess I got so caught up in it that I forgot to post on my blog! We also spent the summer house-hunting and now we are home owners! I guess I can blame that search for taking up a lot of our time. As usual though, I have done plenty of cooking and eating since the last time. Here’s a quick taste of just some of the things I’ve been cooking. (If you follow me on Instagram, however, you can keep up with my cooking and life a little more regularly – @erinthecooker)

Summer Berry Buckle (NYT), Blueberry and Peach Crisp, Black Bean Salad, and homemade Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Jam filling for a former co-worker.

Here’s a photo of our beautiful living room in our new house! (Don’t mind the Zappos box that I forgot to remove when taking the photo.) Don’t you love the orange front door?!

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I also made a Snickers pie (no Snickers actually in it, but rather a pie trying to imitate a giant Snickers!) It was rich, but it was a hit! I improvised the recipe off a Pinterest one I had saved months ago. The cake below is a chocolate stout cake.

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Having a house also means we now have a backyard and our very our own grill! We got to work right away grilling zucchini, chicken, and sausage. The photo on the right was a delicious Vietnamese-style noodle salad with grilled chicken. In the end, the recipe tasted very similar to one of our favorite Boston food trucks, Bon Me! Thanks again NYT Cooking!

Now that fall is upon us I’m looking forward to making some apple pie, pumpkin bread, and other cozy treats. Hopefully the next time you hear from me will be sooner rather than later!

Happy cooking!

Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

IMG_1597These are not oreos.

These are buttery chocolate shortbreads smashed together with a sweetened thick icing.

IMG_1582The ingredient list is short (and sweet!) You probably already have everything at home to make them. Well, except the cake flour, but I didn’t let that stop me!

IMG_1585Sticky chocolate dough. Don’t add more flour to make it better. Stick it in the fridge. Let that softened butter firm up again.

IMG_1586I used a wedding gift champagne glass as my cookie cutter. That’s because I’m creative. Also I do not own a round cookie cutter. Doesn’t a round cookie cutter just seem unnecessary and boring?

IMG_1589Freshly baked below! (No rising involved so they don’t look that different from the unbaked above)IMG_1591Sandwich them together. Eat a few. Dip in milk if desired.

IMG_1598Wrap up for a friend.

IMG_1599Stamp it with your seal. Let them know: I made these, people!

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Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

adapted from the Totally Chocolate Cookbook

Chocolate Shortbread

2 sticks butter, softened (I used one salted, one unsalted and it was perfect)

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. vanilla

1+1/2 cups cake flour OR 1 cup + 2 T. all purpose flour AND 2 T. cornstarch (I used the cornstarch)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1/4 tsp. salt

Filling

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1+2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 T. milk or heavy cream

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the cookies, beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and mix in. In a separate bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until there are no streaks of white. Do not over mix. If it is sticky (which it should be) wrap in plastic wrap in a flattened disc and refrigerate until somewhat firm – 30 minutes to an hour.

Divide the dough in half and keep one half in the fridge while you roll out the other. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and roll until 1/4 inch thick. Be sure to check the dough as you are rolling it out to make sure it isn’t sticking. Flip over and re-flour as necessary. Cut out rounds of dough (about 2 inches) using a cookie cutter, drinking glass, or champagne glass (if you’re feeling fancy). It is very helpful to flour your cookie cutter every few cookies so the dough doesn’t get stuck. Space the cookies apart about a 1/2 inch on an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet. Be careful transferring them as the dough is fragile. I used a thin metal spatula to keep from crushing the edges. Refrigerate the cookies on the sheet until firm again, while you finish rolling out the rest of the dough (10 minutes should be about right). Re-roll scraps and use as much as possible without overworking the dough.

With the cookie sheets of cookie rounds still in the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When preheated, remove the cookie sheets from the fridge and bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, switching racks and rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Cookies should be slightly firm to the touch. Be careful not to over cook them. Since they are already dark, it can be hard to see if they’re done by their color. Let cool and prepare the filling.

For the filling beat the shortening with an electric mixer to loosen it up. Add sugar and half the milk, beating to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.

To frost, dab a spoonful of the filling on the bottom of a cooled cookie. Top with another cookie and gently wiggle and smoosh it to distribute the frosting evenly or just spread it on one cookie evenly before putting the second cookie on top. Repeat with remaining cookies. Enjoy with milk. I found this made just the right amount of filling for my cookies, but it depends how much you put on and how many cookies you end up with. You can always measure out the filling and divide it exactly between the cookies.

Makes about 36 sandwichesIMG_1595

As a side note: I decided to get rid of the post numbering. Does anyone really care how many “posts” I’ve written? Probably not. If you do, let me know 🙂 Thanks for reading as always.

Post 121 – Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Remember that ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream at Blue Dragon?

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Well it was heavenly. Divine. I was tempted to come home and make one myself. Nonetheless I don’t have a personal cookie sized cast iron pan (and I know I would eat way too much of a 10″ pan myself!) so I made regular chocolate chip cookies instead. Well, not entirely regular I’ll admit, but nothing crazy. As part of the continuation of my Cookbook Challenge I decided to try a new technique in making chocolate chip cookies. My godmother gifted me Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Dessert cookbook long ago and I have made some recipes out of there – such as these beautiful checkerboard cookies – though I still hadn’t ticked it off my list for my Cookbook Challenge. Continue reading

Post 75 – Homemade Almond Milk

Fact: I have always loved to experiment with new recipes. I started out trying basic recipes when I was younger and as I’ve become a more proficient chef and baker I have graduated to slightly more unusual recipes. I’m not talking crazy-out-there-no-one-has-ever-done-this recipes, just ones that your average home cook wouldn’t make. Some of my experiments have been motivated by my desire to feed those with special dietary requirements such as vegans and gluten-free folks, and some simply by my desire to see a new process actually work. This almond milk recipe meets both of those needs – vegan, gluten free, and a new process for me.

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The past several months have been filled with on and off frustration for me when it comes to food, thanks to my GERD. I have mostly looked at this “disease” as an inconvenience that keeps me from eating the way I want to eat. Until recently…

After talking with someone who knows a lot about food, nutrition, and digestive health, I saw a different perspective. She said something along the lines of: You may be frustrated now, but think of this as an opportunity. Your body is telling you something is wrong and you have the opportunity to fix it. Though it took a few days for her words to really sink in, I realized she was right. I have the opportunity to improve my health immensely while I am still young, and hopefully I can prevent anything too serious from happening in the future.

I like to think of this homemade almond milk as part of my opportunity for better health. When I went through a test period of eating dairy free, I made this almond milk to go with my favorite homemade granola. I have generally disliked the store-bought kinds as they taste too strongly of toasted almonds, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to make mine how I wanted it. And the recipe was easy. It only requires some preparation and a little bit of time. Keep in mind that without the preservatives it will only keep a few days, but if you make small batches this shouldn’t be a problem. Whether you’re dairy free or not, I hope you try this recipe and discover something new. And I hope it doesn’t take something like GERD for you to realize your opportunity to achieve your best level of health.

Homemade Almond Milk

Below is a photo recipe. For details, check out this recipe that I used.

First soak your almonds overnight in water. Drain, rinse, and add fresh water and blend in a blender or food processor. If you are meticulous you can remove the skins from all of the almonds (they slide off easily after being soaked). Just pinch them lightly between your fingers and be ready to catch the almond that might go flying out!

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photo 4(11)The almonds will get broken up and make a creamy milk and almond meal.

photo 2(19)Place a thin kitchen towel or cheesecloth over a container and pour in your blended almond milk and almond mixture. Squeeze all of the liquid from the almond solids.

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photo 5(5)Once you have squeezed out all the liquid you will be left with slightly moist almond solids and almond milk! Refrigerate your milk and almond solids and save for a tasty recipe.

I enjoyed my fresh almond milk with strawberries!

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And the almond meal went to work as gluten-free almond meal chocolate chunk cookies later in the week! We ate a few on our road trip and put the rest in the freezer for later.

Recipe for cookies here – note: I used butter in place of coconut oil

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Cheers to better health!

Post 72 – Catching up

March! Thank goodness. This is the month where I start to believe spring is coming soon (until I remember that last year on my birthday – the end of May – it was forty degrees and rainy!) Eh, I guess spring and warm weather may be a long way off, but here’s hoping. Why do I look forward to the spring? Sunshine, warmth, no ice to slip on, fresh fruit and vegetables in abundance! I will miss the snow days, but there’s always spring and summer break to look forward to.

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from my blog, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking (of course). I haven’t been bloggin because I haven’t been cooking anything crazy interesting lately, due to my continuing issues with GERD. I’ve resorted to fairly simple (boring) recipes as the list of foods that I can’t eat seems to grow longer and longer and so I haven’t taken many pictures of them. I am back to eating wheat and gluten (for now), but still experimenting with other foods that might upset my system. It’s frustrating for someone whose job and life revolve around food, but I’m figuring it out.

Here are a few photos of what I’ve made since my last post (all carbs and sugar since those seem to be the most photogenic recipes I make):

photo 1(20)Homemade chocolate peanut butter cups for my valentine

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The simplest, freshest, crustiest, homemade, hot-from-the-oven oat flour bread (from this book!)

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Classic Chocolate Chip cookies (my future mother-in-law’s recipe, with a twist)

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I hope to have more interesting recipes to share with you soon, but until the next time I hope these pictures will get you by. I only wish I had equally tantalizing pictures of beautiful fruits and vegetables! If that’s what you’re looking for check this out.

 

Cheers and here’s hoping spring comes soon!

 

 

Post 70 – Reverse Hot Chocolate

I can picture the hills that we rode down on our sleds, my sisters and I. There was the one across the street in the neighbor’s yard that was short and sweet and easy to climb back up over and over, and the hill in Miamisburg whose descent landed you near a frozen pond and patch of trees.

photo 1(18)On snow days Mom would get the call around 5:00 am that school was closed and she’d call her chain of other teachers to share the news. We three girls were thrilled at the idea of a snow day not only for the sake of missing school, but for the joy of playing in the snow. We built snow couches and igloos and rolled around outside, our cold cheeks turning the color of blush as we rolled in the soft white powder.photo 2(15)

As part of any good snow day, we would come inside to warm up with a good cup of hot chocolate. Mom stirred the milk, sugar, and cocoa on the stove and ladled it into our cherry and raspberry-painted mugs. My mom doesn’t like marshmallows – I guess it’s the texture – so we rarely had them in our hot chocolate. I told myself I didn’t miss them. They always melted anyway.

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Aside from hot chocolate, my mom would often fix us another comforting, warm drink when we were little: vanilla milk. We would drink it at night to help us sleep, slurping from our green and blue plastic cups that once had sippy lids. For this simple treat, she warmed milk with a drizzle of honey, a dash of cinnamon, and splash of vanilla extract. Simple, sweet, and pure.

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I have been dying to make this recipe for Chocolate Marshmallows ever since I read The Sweet Life in Paris because who has ever had a chocolate marshmallow (?!). Since today was a snow day it seemed the perfect occasion to tackle this recipe. Inspired by my mom’s warm vanilla milk and these already chocolate-flavored marshmallows, I made a Reverse Hot Chocolate to comfort me on this snowy day. As the marshmallow melts into your warm vanilla milk, it becomes its own form of hot chocolate and the cinnamon gives it a wonderful upgrade. So I give you the Reverse Hot Chocolate. Now go earn it first by taking a long walk in the snowy wonderland. You’ll feel all the better for it!

photo(59)Cinnamon-dusted Vanilla Milk

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Chocolate Marshmallows

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris

3 egg whites

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup + 6 T. cool water, divided

2 packets unflavored gelatin – 15 grams each (such as Knox)

6 T. cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy

pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla

powdered sugar, cornstarch or 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Now’s the time to put your mise en place to work. Measure out all of the ingredients. In a small bowl, measure out 6 tablespoons of water and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let sit. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan melt corn syrup, sugar, and 1/3 cup of water over low to moderate heat. If you have a candy thermometer, attach that to your pan. If not, get a digital thermometer on hand.

In an electric mixer put your egg whites and a pinch of salt. Begin to beat the egg whites on low as you let you sugar mixture come up to temperature. You want the syrup to reach 250 degrees before removing it from the heat while the egg whites beat enough to begin to hold their shape. Once the syrup has reached 250 degrees, remove it from the heat and stir in the gelatin and water mixture until completely dissolved. Carefully whisk in the cocoa powder.

With your electric mixer on high, carefully pour your chocolate syrup mixture into the egg whites as it beats. Make sure to pour it closer to the side to avoid hitting the beater and whipping the mixture around. Continue to beat on high as your prepare your pan.

Dust an 8-inch square pan with a mixture of half cornstarch, half powdered sugar OR unsweetened shredded coconut (David Lebovitz’s recipe). Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl, adding your vanilla. Continue to beat until the mixture thickens slightly and the outside of the bowl no longer feels warm. (Do it longer than you think, because if you don’t your marshmallows will be wet on the bottom, like mine!) Carefully pour your chocolate mixture into your pan and dust with another layer of powdered sugar or coconut. Allow to dry uncovered at room temperature for at least 4 hours.

When dried, remove from the pan on to a cutting board and cut with a knife or scissors into squares, dusting with more powdered sugar or coconut as you go to dry out the sticky edges. Serve in your favorite form of vanilla or dark hot chocolate! Store in an airtight container.

For the Vanilla Milk, heat a mug of milk in the microwave or on low on the stove with vanilla, and honey. For about 1 cup of milk I would start with a teaspoon of honey and a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add more honey if you like it sweeter. Top with a dash of cinnamon and a few chocolate marshmallows.

Happy Snowing!

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