Hiatus

July 24, 2008

So, a couple weeks ago, my internet went out.  Sadness.  It was still out when I left for a vacation a few days later.  But the vacation?  Fun!  I came back last week, and we had a new modem with restored internet!  Joy!  Then I my desktop got sick and was subsequently mind-wiped.  HORROR.

I managed to salvage a bit of my files from an outdated backup, and a good chunk of music from my iPod.  Unfortunately, I lost a HUGE batch of photos and reviews for the blog.  *sigh*  I guess I’ll just have to eat all that candy again…

But alas, these things happen.  In good news, I’m going to visit a friend for a couple of weeks and that promises a lot of fun.  In bad news, I don’t expect to have a place to take pictures, nor time to post or taste.

So I’m taking a couple more weeks away.  Don’t have too much sugar without me!  I’ll be back mid-August, though I don’t have an exact date.

Cheers!


Hi-Chew Pineapple and Grape

June 30, 2008

When we were kids, my brother and I were allowed to pick out a candy whenever we went to the grocery store. I always chose something chocolate — M&Ms, a Milky Way, or maybe a Hershey Bar. I never quite understood my brother, who always went for something sour or fruit-flavored, like Starburst. Who in their right mind would choose Starburst over chocolate? I just chalked it up to further evidence that he was an alien.

I do appreciate some fruit-flavored candy. I like hard candy and gummies. It’s just not something I eat a lot of, as I vastly prefer chocolate. I’ve never liked fruit chews though. I’ll always pass on Starburst.

However, when I ordered some things from Ichiban Kan, I thought I’d get a few Japanese candies too, as I was already paying for shipping. So I bought a bunch of Hi-Chew flavors, figuring that if I didn’t like them I could always pass them off to the alien my brother.

Get to the point… did you like the Hi-Chews or not? I did like the Hi-Chews. A lot, in fact. They have a nice, springy texture and weren’t at all sticky or grainy, two things I associate with fruit chews. Instead, they just sort of melted away as the chew went along, like a nice caramel would.

Now, for the flavors..

Golden Pineapple: This started out tart and tangy, which threw me off a little because I’m used to very sweet pineapple. It became sweeter through the chew, and I was surprised at the complexity. It was very juicy and refreshing. I really enjoyed these, though I should probably mention that pineapple is my favorite fruit. Rating: 9/10

HI-CHEW Grape

(Red) Grape: This is the most realistic grape flavor that I’ve ever had. Most grape things remind me of Dimetapp, but these tasted more like juicy concord grapes. Again, the flavor was surprisingly complex and develops as you chew along. Rating: 8/10

For those of you that are bored, you may want to compare the Japanese and English language websites. Personally, I’m fond of Japanese Hi-Chew mascot. The English site seems boring in comparison.

Nutrition Breakdown: Um, sorry, but I don’t read Japanese. The best I can figure is that they average about 230 calories per package.

Name: HI-CHEW Golden Pineapple and Grape
Brand: Morinaga
Store: Ichiban Kan
Price: $1.00 each


Peanut Butter Blondies (Small Batch)

June 27, 2008

When it comes to bar cookies, I’ve rarely ventured outside the realm of the brownie. It’s just that brownies are my favorite baked good — they’re so easy to make and the payoff is great. It doesn’t get much better than the warm, gooey chocolate goodness of a brownie.

Funnily enough, I don’t have a brownie recipe posted here. (I’ll tend to that soon.) In fact, the only bar recipe I’ve posted is French Toast Blondies. I’ve wandered into blondie territory again, only this time chocolate has been replaced by it’s best friend peanut butter. The result is an extra small batch of peanut butter blondies baked in a loaf pan.

What, exactly, constitutes a blondie? No idea. Labels are always fuzzy. To me, a blondie is a bar cookie with the texture of a brownie, but no chocolate. Cakespy’s recent blondie article might shed a little more light, if your still curious.

Um, a loaf pan? Yep. If you look at my other recipes, you’ll notice that most are small (or smallish) batches. A loaf pan is perfect for a small batch of bar cookies. (The only problem is that you don’t get any middles, if you’re a crust-loather.) If you don’t have a loaf pan, or just want a larger batch, double this recipe and bake in a 9×9 inch dish for about 30 minutes.

To chip, or not to chip? For comparison, I spread half the batter on one side of the pan, added chocolate chips to the remaining batter, and spread that into the other half of the pan. If you’re in it for the peanut butter, leave out the chocolate chips… or better yet, use peanut butter chips. The bars with the chocolate chips were ooey, gooey, and delicious, but void of the peanut butter flavor I was looking for.

Peanut Butter Blondies
adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

Oven Temp.: 350°
Approx. Bake Time: 20-22 minutes
Yields: 9×5 inch loaf pan (8 bars)

Ingredients
3 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. peanut butter or chocolate chips (optional)

Instructions
- Cream the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt, just until blended. Stir in the chips.
– Spread the batter into a loaf pan and bake in a preheated oven until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool before cutting into bars.

Notes
- This recipe can be doubled for a 9×9 inch dish.


Emily’s Chocolate Covered Berries and Cherries

June 25, 2008

I don’t often seek fruit flavors with my chocolate, but I do love chocolate-covered fruit. Give me a pot of melted chocolate and an assortment of fresh fruit, and I’m one happy blogger.

I received these samples of Emily’s dark-chocolate-covered fruit, and I was intrigued. The only dried fruit I’ve had covered in chocolate are raisins. It’s the only thing (that I know of) that’s widely available. The addition of chocolate covered strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, and cherries is certainly a welcome one, especially for the summer.

I like Emily’s packaging. It’s simple and clean, but still attractive and practical. The bags are resealable, which I really appreciate.

The berries themselves are lovely, shiny little things, thanks in part to a coating of confectioner’s glaze. They’re all covered in the same rich dark chocolate, which is quite good, if a tad sweet.

Strawberry, Cherry, Blueberry, Cranberry

Strawberries: You may expect the strawberry to be lost in that thick coat of chocolate, but trust me, that berry packs a lot of flavor. The strawberry is a perfect compliment to the dark chocolate, and the balance is great. Even though it’s a dried strawberry, it still tastes fresh and juicy to me. What can I say? I really loved these. Rating: 9/10

Blueberries: These are good, but inconsistent. The larger berries are great, right up there with the strawberries. They pack a great blueberry flavor that balances nicely with the chocolate. This balance is lost with the smaller berries, which are overwhelmed by the thick chocolate coating. The result is more like a mild blueberry-flavored chocolate. It’s still tasty, but they aren’t reaching their potential. Rating: 7/10

Cranberries: Like some of the blueberries, all of the cranberries were overwhelmed by their chocolate coating. These reminded me a lot of Raisinets, just with more (and better) chocolate. Again, they were tasty, I just wanted more cranberry out of these. Rating: 6/10

Chocolate Covered CherriesCherries: While the berries are sweet, the cherries are very tart, making for an excellent contrast with the chocolate. If you like sour cherries, these are a real treat. They’re a little overwhelming if you eat too many at once, but two or three after dinner makes for a nice dessert. Rating: 8/10

Bottom Line: I liked all of these, but I thought the Strawberries and Cherries were the standouts — I would buy those again.

Name: Dark Chocolate Covered Berries
Brand: Emily’s
Price: Samples, but they retail for 3.99 each.
Store: Samples, but retail partners are listed here.
Weight: 6-7 oz each.


Ben & Jerry’s Cake Batter

June 20, 2008

I like cake. I like ice cream. I like cake and ice cream together. In the unholy event that I had to choose between the two, I would pick…

…well, that depends.

I would probably pick ice cream. I like ice cream more than I like cake. The thing is, I’m pickier about ice cream than I am about cake. I’d rather eat substandard cake than substandard ice cream. So maybe I would choose cake to avoid possible disappointment.

What does this hypothetical situation have to do with this post? Well, Ben & Jerry have given us an out — we can choose ice cream and have our cake too with their Cake Batter ice cream. It’s “yellow cake batter ice cream with a chocolate frosting swirl,” and wow, they really nailed this one.

I’ve baked my fair share of cakes, but the flavor I’ve baked most happens to be yellow cake with chocolate icing. While I’ve graduated to cakes-from-scratch, I used to use cake mix, and let me tell you — this ice cream tastes just like Betty Crocker’s Butter Recipe Yellow topped with Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge icing. I’ve used that combination enough times to know.

It’s tasty. It’s rich. It’s creamy. It’s freakishly accurate. Heck, I think it’s great. It’s also a bit different from other cake batter ice creams that I’ve tried. I think it’s the use of chocolate icing rather than vanilla buttercream that sets it apart.

Why don’t you just eat yellow cake with chocolate icing, then? Well, because… because… okay, I’ll give you that one. I really liked this flavor, but I doubt I’ll buy it again. If I’m going to have ice cream, I do prefer a more traditional flavor. Plus, there are too many other flavors to try. Cake Batter, I think, is a flavor more for the kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Nutrition Breakdown: Serving size is 1/2 cup. There are 280 calories, 17g of fat (11g saturated), 24g of sugar, and 4g of protein per serving.

Rating: 8/10

Name: Cake Batter
Brand: Ben & Jerry’s
Store: Walmart
Price: about $3.00
Weight: 16 oz.


Whoopie Pie vs. Oreo Cakester

June 17, 2008

This is an addendum to yesterday’s Whoopie Pie post.

A while back I posted a recipe for chocolate sandwich cookies, which were basically homemade Oreos. Katie asked if they were like the Oreo Cakesters, which I thought were more like Whoopie Pies at the time. So when I made the Whoopie Pies, I bought a box of the Cakesters for comparison.

They taste nothing alike, and the texture’s not very similar either. The Cakesters taste just like an Oreo, but are softer. They’re still a little chewy though, and not nearly as tender as the Whoopie Pies. They’re somewhere in between the cookies and the pies, I think. (Katie, you were right!)

The Cakesters are a lot smaller than I expected too. The picture above is comparing it to the smallest Whoopie Pies that I made. They come two cakes to a package for a total of 250 calories.

I wasn’t too crazy about them. I ate one cake and gave the rest of the box to my brother. But really, they taste just like Oreos. If you like those, you’ll like these.

Nabisco also sells Oreo Chocolate Creme and ‘Nilla Cakesters.


Chocolate Whoopie Pies

June 16, 2008

Two discs of chocolate cake sandwiched around a cloud of frosting. Is it a cakewich? A frosting burger? No! It’s a Whoopie Pie. I seem to be on a pattern of baking things with goofy names.

Whoopie Pie

Soo… is it a pie or a cake? Actually, this recipe is from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. So I’m classifying it as a cookie. Though, really, I consider it a cookie-shaped cake. On the other hand, cookie supposedly means little cake, soo… I guess that’s the problem with labels, eh? Let’s not think too hard about it.

When I got the King Arthur Flour book for Christmas, this was one of the recipes that leaped out at me. I’d heard of Whoopie Pies, but I didn’t know what they were. Actually, I thought they were the same as Moon Pies, which I’ve never liked. (Though that could be because my grandma always had the banana flavor.)

It seems that Whoopie Pies are a New England tradition, which explains my ignorance, being a Gulf Coast dweller myself. I haven’t been able to dig up too much history on the treat, but according to What’s Cooking America, they originated with the Pennsylvania Amish. Not wanting anything to waste, they used leftover batter to make these pies. Appreciative children cried “Whoopie!” and thus, the Whoopie Pie was born.

Traditionally, Whoopie Pies are humongous things, but I made mine in three different sizes. See the notes for more details.

Chocolate Whoopie Pies
adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

Oven Temp.: 350°
Approx. Bake Time: 13-15 minutes
Yields: 4 large (4 inch) pies

Ingredients

Cake:
4 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. beaten egg
1 c. flour
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Filling:
6 tbsp. butter
2/3 c. powdered sugar
3/4 c. marshmallow fluff
3/4 tsp. vanilla

Instructions

Cake:
– In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, mix together the milk and vanilla.
– In a separate bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and egg. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and milk mixture, adding the dry ingredients in three installments and the milk mixture in two. (It should go dry-wet-dry-wet-dry.)
– Drop the batter by the 1/4-cupful onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Filling:
– Beat all four ingredients together until light and fluffy.

Assembly:
– Spread half of the cookies with about 1/4 cup of filling, then top with the remaining cookies.

Notes
- When portioning out the cake batter, you may want to spritz your measuring cup or other scooper with a little non-stick spray to get the batter out more easily.
– To make about 8 medium sized pies, spoon two tablespoons of batter per cake layer and bake 11-13 minutes.
– To make about 16 small pies, spoon one tablespoon of batter per cake layer and bake for about 10-12 minutes.
– These are best stored individually wrapped.


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