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Archive for October, 2009

Subject #7: Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

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I feel almost ashamed posting about these. This is serious oh-no-she-didn’t territory. For one thing, I’m not even sure if this mix is still available in Estonia, as I bought it during a theme month at the Stockmann department store a while ago. I bought it so long ago, as a matter of fact, that the mix was expired. Seriously, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess I still wanted to make them because I hate throwing food away, I was feeling rather lazy, and I wanted to see whether cookies from a mix were still as good as I thought they were when I was a kid.

I figured the powdered mix itself would still be fine since it’s filled with preservatives, but guessed that the chocolate chips might be a little bloomed. I was right. The chips looked a bit gray. The main ingredients in the chips were sugar, chocolate liquor, and cocoa butter– I’m not sure if that makes them real chocolate or not. The mix itself smelled almost like powdery peanut butter. I added some softened butter and one egg. I toyed with the idea of sprinkling sea salt on top of the cookies, like I do with my favorite cookies, but the dough already tasted quite salty, so I decided to skip it.

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They didn’t look too bad when they came out. Golden brown edges, a little bit of height, bumpy tops. The chocolate chips no longer looked gray.

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The taste? Flat. Despite the dough tasting salty, the cookies themselves were very sweet– the sea salt topping actually would’ve paid off. The chocolate chips had a nice texture but are nothing exceptional. The brown edges had a nice crispy texture, but once again kind of flat– almost like toast. And the centers, soft but not chewy, and also sort of bread-like.

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So… yeah. The cookies aren’t terrible, but I understand that I’ve come to expect more from chocolate chip cookies. Big chocolate chunks, a satisfying chew, the deep taste of slightly caramelized brown sugar, the contrast from a healthy dose of salt. And of course, I like knowing what goes into my food, too. Now that I am 100% sure that I can make cookies that are way better than this, I think my cookie mix-buying days are definitely over.

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I have thoughts?

I was just looking over my blog info and realized that starting in July, I’ve only been writing three or four posts per month. Wow. That’s… not terribly productive of me. It makes me think of the line from “Julie & Julia”– I believe it was even in the trailer– where Julie declares, “I could write a blog! I have thoughts!” So… am I perhaps lacking in thoughts?  Not really sure about that. It’s a distinct possibility. ;-) At any rate, I will try harder, and I’m also already coming up with ideas to keep me going through all of NaBloPoMo November this year…

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Julie & Julia

We finally made it to see “Julie & Julia” last week. Of course I had been reading about it for months and was so excited to see it; J knew nothing about the film and therefore had no expectations whatsoever. I did, however, show him a few brief clips of the real Julia Child on YouTube so that he’d know what the real woman was like.

I liked it, but overall I have to agree with what I’ve read in countless reviews– the Julia parts were much stronger than the Julie parts. Julia was accompanied by a lovely, romantic French backdrop, and was herself very compelling– a woman with a strong personality trying to find herself. The Julie parts sort of made me feel… uncomfortable. It was clear that she didn’t like her job or her friends, and I wasn’t sure whether she even liked herself. And I didn’t like her apparent motivation for starting a blog– she seemed to be jealous of the attention her friend’s blog was getting, and she wanted some attention too. She didn’t seem to do it because she thought it would be fun or somehow fulfilling for her, regardless of whether people read it or not. (I haven’t read her blog or her book, so there probably were other motivating factors. I’m just going off what I got from the film). I found the character of her husband much more likable that Julie herself, and in the scene where they argue and she yells at him, “Stop looking on the bright side all the time!” I thought seriously, who says that? Maybe it’s because I myself tend to be an optimist, but I thought she was being quite unfair. And bratty. Also, I thought the movie could have used a more realistic representation of the amount of weight she and her husband must have put on after eating that way for a year ;-).

But Julia was fun. I need to learn to be more like her in the kitchen. Maybe not to use quite so much butter, but to follow her advice to NEVER apologize for your cooking. I like that. One Julia scene that particularly struck me (that has nothing to do with food) was right after her sister arrived and the three of them were sitting in the cafe together. Julia and her sister were talking loudly, laughing at nothing in particular, being decidedly un-French but not caring at all, and Julia’s husband sat across the table, regarding them fondly, not a party to their sisterly jokes but still engaged in the conversation, rather than trying to quiet them down. Julia’s husband Paul was portrayed as a good guy throughout the whole film, but that moment in particular made me think, “What a good man.” It reminded me of  how lucky I am to have a man who is the same way– he allows me and my sister to be sisters, no matter how loud and ridiculous we might be. ;-) I felt it was a scene that clearly yet subtly portrayed the relationships between the characters, and it left me feeling warm and fuzzy about the characters in the Julia half of the film– too bad the same can’t be said for the Julie contingent.

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This is what it’s like being me

So. I did two incredibly spazzy things tonight, both of them involving food. First of all I was organizing my closet, clearing out the summer clothes (sob) to make room for the sweaters. I found a box of chocolates I had forgotten about, and some of the individually wrapped squares were left. I ate one– the wrapper said “Vigor” and it was dark chocolate and with coffee. It was good. Only after I had eaten it did I check out the description on the box, which read “Vigor: 1 bar = 3 cups of coffee.” Umm. Oops. I generally avoid coffee after 5 pm because caffeine can sometimes keep me awake, so the equivalent of 3 cups at 8 pm could mean this is going to be a long night. Damn.

The second thing occurred when I was grabbing stuff from the fridge to make my lunch for tomorrow. As I grabbed something from the top shelf, I managed to knock over a half-filled container of tomato sauce left over from making pizzas yesterday, which bounced down to the floor, leaving disturbing splatters in its wake. Fantastic. And believe me, this stuff happens to me all the time– sometimes I think I have spatial perception problems because I accidentally knock against things so often. Luckily J had a sense of humor about it and even asked to stage a photo with me holding his giant Finnish army knife.

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But anyway, that’s a little taste of the story of my life: oblivious and clumsy since 1983. ;-)

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Happy belated birthday to J!

J’s (aka the Cooking Poro’s) birthday was last weekend, and as it was a rather important birthday, we had a little party to celebrate. I don’t have pictures of most of the food, as it wasn’t anything exceptional– veggies with dip, cheese platter with crackers. I did bake two things, though, and was thrilled with how well they were received. One was this blondie recipe, with about a cup of semisweet and white chocolate chunks and a few spoonfuls of toasted walnut bits thrown in. I was a little worried they’d be too rich, since like I’ve mentioned before, Estonians don’t usually have very dense, rich desserts. For my part, I knew these blondies were awesome– I tried this recipe in August and could barely keep myself away from them, even after I cut most of the pan into squares and stashed them in the freezer. And I needn’t have worried what others would think– people were OBSESSED with them. Pretty much nobody in our multi-cultural party (not just Estonians– we had Finns, a German, a Briton, etc.) had ever even heard of blondies, and some people thought I was joking when I said that’s what they’re called. People would ask “Is this some kind of brownie or something?” And then, after that, they’d ask for the recipe ;-). I think a highlight of my night was when I was slowly starting to put the food away and I said aloud, “Look at that, only one piece of cake and one blondie left.” And my German friend said, “One blondie? I’m sorry, I cannot let that happen. These are just too good,” and proceeded to eat the last one.

And yes, my other successful creation was the birthday cake. I thought for a while about what kind of cake to make. I didn’t want anything too complicated, and neither did J. I’m not any kind of cake master, so I wanted something easy. Then I decided that a chocolate stout cake would be perfect for a man’s birthday (another recipe from Smitten Kitchen– I love her stuff so much!). My man likes beer and he likes chocolate, so it was a perfect choice. I made a two-layer cake, and we had a minor crisis when one layer essentially broke in half (horizontally) when we removed it from the pan (the recipe had warned of sticking, so I buttered the pan really well, but as it was silicone I guess that just wasn’t good enough). The other layer came our nicely because I was smart enough to put a buttered round of parchment on the bottom of the pan and let the cake cool completely before removing it. Since the broken layer was a bit lopsided, so was the completed cake (with chocolate ganache between the layers and on top), but I don’t think anyone noticed. It was delicious.

P9261613Those are my ever-so-delicate hands cutting the cake (not the birthday boy’s)

This is seriously a great chocolate cake recipe, and of course it’s a lot of fun to inform people that there’s beer in it. You can’t really taste the beer, but it does give a bit of deepness and almost bitterness to the cake. The ganache, or some other kind of sweet frosting, is a must to tie it together. As mentioned before, there was only one small piece left, which I was happy to finish off the next day as a reward for a job well done.

But anyway… while I was happy that my baking endeavors were successful, the most important thing about the night was that we had an awesome time celebrating J’s birthday among friends (… and a vodka watermelon :-)). Happy belated birthday, honey!

P.S. When I logged onto WordPress today, I laughed when I saw that a search engine term that led somebody to the blog today was “old man poro”!! How terrible! :-D

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