Monday, November 3, 2008

In Which I Leave My Comfort Zone And Become Less Anal

If you remember from my last post, I have been in the habit of taking pics on my front porch to get better light than I have in my cave of a kitchen.

As a bonus, you also can enjoy the beautiful Michigan autumn leaves in the background.

I may be the only one around here that thinks they're beautiful, but then, I'm not the designated leaf-raker-upper. I'm pretty sure that if you ask my sons, (who are the designees appointed to get that gold carpet out to the curb before Leaf Pick Up Day) I'm pretty sure they would be hard-pressed to find beauty out there. Not even the grass shows through these pesky things, the leaves are that thick on the ground.

Here in the midst of The Mitten State, we're enjoying a very freakish Indian summer. We're back to temps in the upper 60's and 70's, which is certainly atypical for this time of year. This makes those of us born and raised here predict an unusually tough winter, to make up for such a balmy autumn.
The unofficial state motto is:
If you don't like the weather today, wait ten minutes; it'll change.
It may be the Lake Effect, but our weather is very changeable. (We blame everything unusual on being surrounded by The Great Lakes--saves time.
But enough of this. Back to food-related stuff.

Let me begin by saying that I am not what you or anyone else would deem an adventurous cook. The first time I make something, I religiously follow the recipe to the letter.

After I've made something once and seen the results, I feel freer to dink around with ingredients, amounts, substitutions.

But not very often.

Call me hide-bound, call me a stick in the mud, but I feel more secure knowing that I followed a recipe precisely; that way, if it crashes and burns, it's not my fault.

For this recipe, which I found at, and duly credit the Joy of, I went wild.

For me, that is.

I turned a deaf ear to the cr-a-a-ack of the branch as I inched my way out on that limb to actually--wait for it--

substituted some stuff for other stuff, which is how Cranberry and White Chocolate Shortbread Cookies became--

Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbreads


1/2 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp.
1/4 C. granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla
3/4 C. all-purpose flour
1/4 C. fine yellow cornmeal
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 C. dried cherries
1/4 C. peanut butter chips


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Have ready a 6 inch tart pan.

In the bowl of your mixer, cream the butter and sugar until smooth (about 2 min.)
Beat in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch and salt. Add this mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and beat just until incorporated.*

Fold in the dried cherries and peanut butter chips.

Press the shortbread dough evenly into the tart pan. Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork to prevent the shortbread from puffing up. Using a sharp knife, score the top of the shortbread shallowly (is that a word?) into 8 even pieces. Sprinkle a little white sugar on the top of the shortbread.

Place in the preheated oven and bake until the shortbread has nicely browned (biscuit color), about 60-70 minutes. Transfer shortbread to a wire rack to cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from tart pan. Place the shortbread on a cutting board and cut along previously scored lines. Cool completely on wire rack.

*The dough will be coarse and crumbly (not exactly my definition of 'incorporated') and seem quite dry until you press
it into the pan.

I liked the texture of this cookie: grainy but not dry. The peanut butter flavor really comes through, and the cherries are a nice touch, too.
You could also use dried blueberries or cranberries if you wanted.
The original recipe calls for white chocolate chunks, which you may want to try.
If you do, let me know how the cookies turn out.

Of course, I advocate using Michigan-grown cherries, the best in the country!

Autumn Leaves, Bare Feet, and Chocolate Cream Cheese Muffins

Okay, so I'm out on my porch taking pictures of my feet. Not really, but the explanation makes almost as much sense as that.

I read in a fellow blogger's post that natural light is best if you can time your shots to take advantage of it. By the time I get home from work, especially at this time of year, it's already too dark in the kitchen to take pics that look even remotely recognizable. I mean, these shots are not exactly high-tech, high quality anyway---so I've been taking the plated food out to my front porch where there's still enough indirect light to take pics.

And my feet got in the way.

Or maybe it was the maple leaves.

So here it is---
Chocolate Cream Cheese Muffins
(adapted from Bunny's Warm Oven, who adapted it from Recipezaar)


8 oz. cream cheese
1 egg
1/2 Cup sugar
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips*

1 1/2 C. flour
1 C. sugar
1/4 C. baking cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 C. water **
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil***
1 tsp. vinegar ****
1 Tbsp. vanilla


Beat together cream cheese, egg and sugar until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour muffin pan.
Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add remaining ingredients. Mix until batter is of smooth consistency.

Spoon 1/4 C. batter into each muffin cup. Dab on rounded teaspoons of filling close to the edges of each muffin.

Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before removing from muffin pan.

*I've gotten inordinately fond of Nestle's chocolate chunks so that's what I used; also added somewhat more than the suggested 6 oz, I'm afraid.

**I used milk

*** I used canola oil.

****omitted the vinegar and didn't notice any lack of it in the taste of these little gems.

I found these to be delightful: moist and chewy, with those tasty little chocolate hunks mingling with the cream cheese flavor--a double dose of 'mmmmm'.
I will admit that despite my best attempts, they don't photograph well. There's a certain lack of aesthetic whateveryoucallit that doesn't translate well onto paper, er, monitor. That said, be assured that they taste way better than they look!

This recipe is a keeper.