Cooking with Friends

I wrote earlier about the peacefulness that accompanies cooking alone. While solitary cooking provides time for meditative thought and for some much de-stressing, let’s not throw cooking with others out the window yet. Although cooking with other people does not allow for as much alone time, I find that cooking itself is therapeutic. So, cooking with family or friends still allows me to de-stress. Some people are strictly one-person cooks, maintaining a “my kitchen, my rules, stay out” type attitude. Trust me, I’ve seen it. This makes sense, though, because sometimes cooking can become a personal and private thing. However, there are some people who don’t mind the occasional intrusion into their cooking space — I’m one of them.  There are no “in my kitchen we do things like this” phrases begin tossed around — well, not a lot of them. In fact, cooking with my friends is amazing — there’s the smell of baking sweets, the joking and the hard work.

This weekend, I embarked on a large cooking feat — making dessert for The Burrow’s Great Feast event held this past Sunday. Because no one wants a shortage of food, least of all the cook, my friends and I made approximately 150 sweets. Doubling and in one case tripling the ingredients, trays of Deathly Hallows Short Bread Cookies, Rock Cakes, and super chocolatey Cauldron Cakes were sent to the party. The initial baking alone took four and half hours and the icing of the Cauldron Cakes took four hours as well. It took a long time. If my friends and suite mates hadn’t helped me, I don’t think the sweets would have been done in time.

But before I become preachy or just gushy, let me stress one thing: If you can cook with other people, do it. Let cooking become a social event, the activity that brings you and your friends together. This past Saturday was a blast for me, all other cooking-related stress aside. For four hours I got to smell vanilla, chocolate and orange zest — for four hours I got to listen to Pandora Online Radio and sing annoyingly to the songs — for four hours I got to unite my friends with a common goal (let’s get this done) — within four hours I actually used my time well.

However, before you decide to embark on a cooking adventure with your friends, make sure to do the following things:

  • Print out the recipes.
  • Make adjustments beforehand or just have a friend who is good at fractional math.
  • Secure a large cooking space and working oven — preferably not a kitchen within a laundry room.
  • Bring all supplies with you so you and your friends don’t have to run back and forth.
  • Taste test food with friends.

Also, for those interested in what these recipes might look like, here you go:

Deathly Hallows Cookies

Adapted from http://bit.ly/o7RFzM

We doubled this recipe to make about 44 cookies.

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • A clean bottle cap or other small circular cut-out device
  • Cookie cutter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 (or 325 so cookies brown) degrees.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or just use a hand mixer and a large bowl of your choice), whip together your butter and brown sugar. Very slowly add the flour until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
  3. Place the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth (should not take more than a minute). Roll the dough to about 1/3″ thick. Cut out triangle shapes using the cookie cutter or a knife.
  4. Press the bottle cap or other circular object into the dough in the style of the Deathly Hallows symbol. Carve a line down the middle with a knife to create the wand part of the symbol.
  5. Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or wax paper). These cookies don’t spread out in the oven so feel free to put them quite close together. Bake these for about 20 minutes, until slightly golden. Allow to cool slightly and then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Hagrid’s Rock Cakes

Adapted from http://bit.ly/mOJUd8

Preparation Time

27 minutes

Servings

36 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups self-rising flour (or plain flour sifted with 2 tsp baking powder)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup fine granulated sugar
  • 1 cup mixed dried fruit (such as a mixture of moist packs of dried apricots, raisins and cranberries)
  • Finely grated rind of small orange
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • Juice of 1/2 small orange

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease baking tray.
  3. Sift flour and salt.
  4. Using pastry blender, cut margarine or butter into the flour.
  5. Add sugar, dried fruit and orange rind. Stir in egg.
  6. Add milk and just enough juice to make a stiff, sticky consistency that will stand in peaks when stirred with a knife.
  7. Put walnut-sized heaps of mixture on baking tray.
  8. Allow them to keep a rough, rocky shape.
  9. Do not flatten or smooth them.
  10. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or until golden and firm. Cool on rack. Cool completely for flavor to develop.

Double Double Chocolate Cauldron Cakes

Adapted from http://bit.ly/oLkOY3

Makes about 18 cakes
Ingredients

CAKES

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

FILLING

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons powdered chocolate milk mix
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

FROSTING

  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips, for dipping and decor (We found this extra chocolate to be unnecessary. There is already a ton of chocolate in this recipe at this point.)

Directions 

CAKES

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin pan with cooking spray that contains flour or line muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In another large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the oil and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until thoroughly combined.
  3. Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture over the ingredients in the bowl and beat until just combined. Add have the milk and stir until combined, then scrape the bowl. Sprinkle another 1/3 of the flour int he bowl, and again mix until just combined before adding the remaining milk. Beat until just mixed, then add the remaining flour and beat the mixture until thoroughly combined, scraping the bowl, as needed.
  4. Stir int he chocolate chips. Place 2 tablespoons of the batter in each cup. Bake the muffins for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean of cake batter. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

FILLING

  1. Combine the milk, flour, and chocolate drink mix in a small saucepan set over medium high heat.
  2. Whisk together until the mixture thickens, then remove from heat and allow to cool completely before continuing (I place mine in a small bowl in the freezer for 15-20 minutes).
  3. In a medium bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  4. Stir in the vanilla, then beat in the milk mixture until combined.
  5. Whip the mixture until light and fluffy (if it looks separated, continue beating until it comes together).

FROSTING

  1. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer.
  2. Stir in the vanilla and cocoa, and beat until combined.
  3. Add the milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the mixture reaches a smooth, fluffy consistency.

DECORATING

  1. Use a paring knife or other sharp small knife and make holes in the middle of the cakes.
  2. Put the filling into a plastic bag, seal it and then cut off the tip. Squeeze the filling into the holes.
  3. Use another plastic bag and follow the same technique to pipe in the chocolate butter cream frosting over the filling.
  4. At this point add colored sprinkles to the frosting so it looks like a a potion. Cut Twizzlers in half and use them as the handles of the cauldron. The original recipe calls for chocolate handles, but think do you want more chocolate?

Musings about Chocolate

Chocolate: Why do people like it? Is it the act of saying the name, eating the chocolate or the taste?  Saying the name evokes pictures of creamy brown squares and rich decadence. The name itself is a good one: three musical syllables. Chocolate, the word that can excite taste, imagination and ultimately cause you to buy some. Maybe it’s the process of eating the chocolate, slowly nibbling the square — making it last as long as possible, then pausing to lick your fingers before greedily reaching for that second square. Maybe it’s the feeling of bliss and euphoria you experience when eating the chocolate — a sort of blasé attitude that says, “It’s OK as long as I have chocolate.” Or perhaps it’s the taste — the sensory experience as the sweet or bitter flavor bursts upon your tongue. The brief accompaniment of fruit or salt or caramel. Sweet, creamy or dark and serious — chocolate is a food that can be enjoyed any time or all the time.

For me, chocolate is so good because of the three aforementioned traits. I like saying the word, chewing the chocolate and savoring the taste. In particular, I enjoy eating chocolate and drinking a hot cup of Earl Grey while watching my favorite TV show, “Downton Abby.” I like the sense of elegance and refinement that comes with slowly nibbling a piece of chocolate and sipping tea. Another good way to enjoy chocolate is when reading your favorite book such as “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” or “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” Or perhaps, you just want to devour a bar of chocolate while perusing your neuroscience textbook. Either way, chocolate is a universal treat. However, I am somewhat of a chocolate snob. While I might eat a ton of chocolate, I have my favorites and the “bad” chocolate I only eat if there’s an emergency.

Like I was taught in Neuro 240, not all signals are good signals and similarly not all chocolate is good chocolate. Let’s face it. Some brands are what you pay for. But to simplify things, here’s a list of some chocolate including my least favorite and my favorites. There’s no dissemblance here; European chocolate is definitely my favorite.

Hersheys

Gaining fame from the numerous s’mores commercials littering our TV screens, Hershey’s is an example of OK chocolate. It is great on s’mores and in cookies, but plain? To expand on the idea of OK chocolate, the texture of the chocolate is sometimes rubbery. There is no firmness when you bite into it. But as Halloween candy, it passes the muster.

Lindt

It’s a Swiss chocolate found in many grocery stores and probably most recognized for its Lindor truffles. These truffles, though commercially packed, are delightfully round and smooth. The interior is filled with a melt-in-your-mouth filling of dark chocolate, milk chocolate, raspberry chocolate, white chocolate, etc. The truffles are particularly delightful when eaten late at night with a mug of coffee or cocoa. Yum.

Ferrero Rocher

Small balls of nut-studded chocolate encasing a crispy wafer center and encapsulating a thin layer of chocolate and an actual hazelnut. Wow. Take a moment to consider the words there. Chocolate, hazelnut, more chocolate. This is definitely one of my favorites and I can consume vast quantities. It’s hard not to. They also are beautifully packaged, wrapped in crinkly gold paper and nested into a small box. The taste and the packing make this chocolate hard to beat.

Godiva

This Belgium chocolate is best enjoyed when found in a box labeled assorted because the shapes and flavors are at their best. Small mouthfuls of this creamy, rich chocolate contain raspberry filling, sticky caramel or nuts. The outside is a smooth dark, milk or white chocolate and is shaped into squares, shells and ovals all quite beautiful to look at.

Cadbury’s

This brand of English chocolate is my ultimate favorite. It’s creamy, light, sweet and excellent plain or filled with sweet caramel, nuts and raisins or with a sticky pink jelly called “Turkish delight.” Also, if you’re interested in Easter sweets, Cadbury’s chocolate crème eggs or caramel eggs are divine. My love for this particular brand might stem from the associations I have with this chocolate. As a child, my mother used to buy us Cadbury’s when we were waiting in Heathrow airport or when we entered into a Zambian grocery store. Thus, a square of fruit and nut chocolate evokes the images of international travel, excitement and bliss.

A way to de-stress

Maybe you’re nervous about the upcoming Knox year—the classes, the social events, events planning, making the grades. You need a way to de-stress, relax and take a break. You could try listening to music, watching a Netflix show, or you could bake. Baking can be methodical and slow or topsy-turvy as you scramble to gather ingredients. I prefer the first option because of the memories and calming process it evokes.

As a child, I used to bake cookies, pies and even soda bread at my family friend’s house. She showed me how to scrape the top of the flour in the measuring cup with a knife to even it out and how to pack brown sugar. Since then, I was hooked. Cooking for me has always been calming because it allows my perfectionist side to flair. I’ve tried simple no-bake recipes such as haystacks and experimented with candy making and fancy pastry. Complicated and elegant recipes catch my eye, but the simple, quick ones are the ones my stomach appreciates.

If you’ve chosen baking, your next question is probably “What should I make?” Take it easy and try something simple yet yummy. Try these two recipes: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal cranberry from www.foodnetwork.com. Both take about 30 minutes of combined prep and baking time. Virtually no time, in the cooking world.

In a fit of back to Knox nerves, I baked 64 pumpkin cookies and 24 oatmeal cookies. Can you say tons of cookies? The process of measuring, mixing and tasting went a long way in doctoring my frazzled brain, and taking me back to a state of relaxed summer happiness. Though I won’t deny the smell of the cookies baking may have had a helping hand in my Zen-like state.

And what’s not to like about these two recipes? Chocolate is always good (one of my favorites) and pumpkin is an essential fall ingredient (pies, bread, muffins). Even Starbucks is pulling out the pumpkin spice latte, so why can’t you get into the season?  If you’re looking for a healthier option the cranberry oatmeal is the one for you. With just one stick of butter (a minimum in most baking), tart, nutritious cranberries and oats, it’s a winner!

 

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookiescookies 1

From http://bit.ly/3rMhJT

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves- can use allspice as well
  • 2 cups (12-ounce bag) milk chocolate chips, not semisweet
  • Nonstick cooking spray or parchment paper

 Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray or line them with parchment paper.

Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the white and brown sugars, a little at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, then mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.

Slowly beat the flour mixture into the batter in thirds. Stir in the chips.

Scoop the cookie dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are browned around the edges.

Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let them rest for 2 minutes. Take the cookies off with a spatula and cool them on wire racks.

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookiescookies 2

Adapted from http://bit.ly/hYSgro

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

 Directions

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 2 cookie sheets with non-stick spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.

Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Gradually add the flour mixture.

Add the oats and cranberries Mix until just incorporated (dough will be stiff).

Use a small spoon to scoop out dough (you will get 24 small dough balls).

Using the back of a spoon, flatten the tops slightly and bake until the cookies are slightly golden on the edges, about 13 to 15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes before serving.