Monthly Archives: June 2009

SMS: Double Dark Chocolate Cherry Cookies

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This week’s recipe was chosen by Megan of My Baking Adventures.  In addition to being a wonderful baker, blogger, and a mom, she’s going to Disneyland this week!  I know I’m jealous!  Thanks for a fantastic pick, Megan.

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These cookies came together very easily.  I used regular cocoa in place of the dutch process and added an extra 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per the instructions on Joy of Baking, which Nina pointed out to me (thanks Nina!), and the cookies came out wonderfully.  I really like Melissa’s log method of making cookies, especially because it makes it easier to avoid eating two dozen cookies in a week if you freeze some of the dough.  I just chilled the dough in the log form from the get-go, which worked well.  Unfortunately, despite these being called “double dark chocolate CHERRY cookies”, I somehow forgot to add the cherries, which I didn’t realize until the dough was already firmed up.  Yeah, I’m lame, I know.  I thought these cookies might have been a tiny bit on the sweet side, but I think if I’d remembered to add the tart cherries, that would have fixed that problem really quickly.  Since I definitely plan to make these again, I’ll remember next time.

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I baked the first log of these on Thursday for about 13 minutes, and they turned out perfectly- crisp on the edges, but nice and soft in the middle.  On Saturday, my lovely friend Britni and I made a batch of lemon cookies (which I’ll try to post later this week), and I baked the last log of this dough.  I took some super fast pictures, then threw everything in a zipper bag and we (me, Britni, and my roommates for next year, Erik and Christian) got in Christian’s truck and drove to Arcola for one of the biggest fireworks shows in Illinois!  It was an absolutely amazing show, and everyone seemed to like the cookies.  Actually, I was wondering if we should bring them with us, and Erik looked at me funny and said “If you don’t bring the chocolate cookies, we won’t be friends anymore”.  I think that sounds like a pretty strong recommendation for these cookies!

Thanks again to Megan for this week’s pick, and to Lorelai for organizing this wonderful group!  To see what everyone else thought of these cookies, check out the SMS blogroll.  I won’t be doing the recipe for next week, as I don’t own an ice cream maker, so next week’s post is a surprise!



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Beef and Pork Picadillo

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I was planning to start this post partying after a good week.  I don’t have class tomorrow, my great-grandpa turned 92 on Tuesday, I saw “The Hangover” (which was hysterical), for the first time I did the SMS recipe before the weekend it was posted, and it was only a balmy 88 degrees out today!  But then I saw that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett passed away today, so somehow it didn’t exactly seem appropriate.  Mind you, that apparently hasn’t stopped me…

Anyway, with as hot out as it’s been, I don’t want to turn on the oven, the stove, anything.  I made a quick stir-fry earlier this week and ordered pizza last night, and tonight I made picadillo.  It’s a really yummy Cuban dish of ground meat, peppers, onions, garlic, and spices.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the recipe I’ve used before, so I looked at several recipes online to get some ideas, and then just tried to do what I remembered.  I thought it needed more spices, maybe a bit more kick.  Next time I think I’d add some red pepper flakes.  The whole thing came together in about half an hour, which was perfect for me, and would be great for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen in this weather.  Best of all, it uses ingredients you probably already have sitting around!

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Your ingredients.  Before I’ve used all ground beef, but I had half a pound of ground pork sitting around, so I decided to use that with half a pound of ground beef.  Also, pretend there’s an onion in this picture.  Thanks.

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Brown your meat, and drain off the fat.

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While the meat is browning, chop half the onion, half the pepper, your tomato, and your garlic.  If you’re using fresh herbs, chop them now as well.

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Add your veggies to the pot and let them cook for a few minutes.  At this point, start your rice.  After the veggies have been in the pot a couple minutes, add your spices.

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Add your tomato paste, mix well, and then add the beef broth.  If you don’t have tomato paste or don’t want to use it, you can use tomato sauce in place of the paste and broth.

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Turn the heat down a bit, cover your pot, and simmer the picadillo for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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When your rice is done, spoon it into a bowl and put the picadillo on top.  Garnish it with whatever you want.  I just spritz it with a squeeze from a lime and mixed it together.

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Mike adds cheese, mixes it all together, and eats it with tortilla chips.  Really, anything goes!

Beef and Pork Picadillo

1 pound total ground beef and pork (or all ground beef)

1/2 green pepper, chopped

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 tomato (I used 1/3 can petite diced tomatoes), chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 c. beef broth

2-3 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. oregano

3/4 tsp. cilantro

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooked white rice

1. Brown the ground meat, crumbling as it cooks.  Drain.  While the meat is browning, chop the pepper, onion, tomato, and garlic.

2. Add the chopped veggies to the drained meat for a few minutes, then add the spices and salt and pepper to taste.  Add the tomato paste and broth, or half a cup of tomato sauce, and mix well.

3. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer the picadillo for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.  Remember to stir occasionally.

4. Serve the picadillo in a bowl over cooked rice.  Garnish with whatever you want (we used lime and cheese- although not together).

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Sweet Melissa Sundays: Butterscotch Cashew Bars

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This week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe was chosen by Pamela of Cookies with Boys.  She’s in several different cooking groups, and does such a wonderful job introducing me to new recipes through them, plus her pictures just make me hungry!  Check her out!

I started summer school this week, so the first few days were chaotic as I set my schedule and learned all about Hinduism, a 4000 year old religion, in four hours!  I decided to quarter this recipe and make it on Friday, but as I was driving home from the grocery store and looking at the green-ish sky, tornado sirens started going off, the skies opened up and it started pouring, and I got a text message from the University that a tornado was about to hit campus!  So instead, I spent Friday night hiding in the basement of Mike’s frat house (even though he’s, um, in California).  Fortunately, the tornado missed us, so we kept power and the only damage has been a bunch of fallen tree limbs.  Up by my parents, people are still without power, and one building lost its roof!

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Later Friday night, my good friend (and future roommate) Christian invited me to an annual fishing derby his family had on Saturday.  I didn’t have to bring anything, but offered to make this anyway.  I was really happy with how quickly it came together, and despite forgetting to prick the shortbread with a fork, it didn’t puff up on me.  The only problem was that the butterscotch wouldn’t firm up!  I even put it on the floor as I was driving and pointed the AC towards the foot vents, but no luck.  Add to that the 85 degree weather, and we had runny butterscotch the whole time.  No one minded, though, and I really liked these.  I was really glad for the salty cashews, or I think it might have been too sweet.  Everyone liked them, though, and I even won the award for “Best Dessert” with these!  Good thing, too, because I certainly didn’t win the fishing derby!  The three-year-old caught more fish than I did!  I did catch some serious UV rays, though, I’m burnt to a crisp!

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My certificate!  Apparently when you combine senior-citizen-hearing and my “Northurn ak-sint”, my name becomes “Jan” 🙂

Check out what the other SMS’ers thought of this week’s recipe by checking the blogroll.

Butterscotch Cashew Bars 010Oh, and Mom, the corn’s doing fine.  Apparently some farmer’s claiming that he’s going to have sweet corn by July 10th.  And for people not familiar with U of I, the town really is in the middle of nowhere corn and soybean fields.  This was about half an hour from campus, but once you get about 5 miles from campus it starts to look like this.


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Sweet Melissa Sundays: Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds

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What’s that, you say?  Wednesday is actually the furthest away from Sunday you can possibly get?  Hmm…  I pinkie promise I’ll do better next time!

Thanks so much to everyone who wished me luck on the LSAT, by the way!  It went pretty well, I think.  For those of you familiar with the exam, the logic games section kind of kicked my butt a little bit, but I heard that it kind of kicked everyone’s butt, so I feel a little bit better.  And everything else went great, I thought.

Right after I took the exam, I flew out to San Francisco with my mom, which was a ton of fun.  Of course, after a month sitting on my butt studying for finals and the LSAT, I wasn’t exactly in what we would call “good shape”, so walking all those hills was a chore!  I understand why everyone I met who lives there was in such good shape!  We did all of the typical stuff, Alcatraz, Chinatown, the crookedest street in the world, Fisherman’s Wharf (which was really close to our hotel), the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, the Ferry Building, I don’t really remember now.  Anyway, it was a great way to take our mind off things.  Our flight home, however, was delayed three and a half hours (it was only a four hour flight) because the engine was broken.  We were pretty happy they decided not to fly on it, though, we didn’t want to end up on the news!  We ended up having to switch to a different plane, anyway.  So we didn’t get in until 2:30 Sunday morning, and then I didn’t get to school until 10:00 Sunday night, and then I started summer school, and…  Now it’s Wednesday.

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Anyway, enough of my life story!  This week’s challenge was chosen by none other than Melissa Murphy.  Name sound familiar?  Probably because she wrote the book we’re baking out of, the Sweet Melissa Baking Book.  How cool is that?  Anyway, she chose the Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds.  I was glad she chose an easy recipe, because this week I just didn’t have much time.  She mentioned that she makes them without almonds at the bakery, because so many people have nut allergies, but she prefers them with the nuts.

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So, since I made this late, I had the other bakers’ knowledge that the dough gets very firm, and some people mentioned that they had a hard time getting the chilled dough out of the bowl to make logs.  I just made the logs with the room temperature dough, and it worked out wonderfully.  Also, since I was making these so quickly, when I only had 1/4 cup of almonds (the recipe calls for 1/2 cup), I just made half of the cookies with nuts and half without.  I’m really happy with it that way, because I can eat based on what I’m feeling like at the time.  I was also happy to learn that the dough freezes well- since Mike’s in Los Angeles right now with the Formula team (race car competition), and I’m starting my working out/eating slightly healthier thing now that I don’t have any stress eating excuses, I really didn’t need two dozen cookies sitting around.  But they’re only a slice and bake away, if I do need them!

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Having learned my lesson from the Granola Breakfast Cookies, I made sure the dough looked decent before I put them in the oven, and they looked so pretty coming out!  They were a tiny bit too crisp around the edges, but that one’s definitely my fault.  I forgot to turn the oven down a touch since I was using dark, non-stick pans (my first time using my new Wilton pans!), and when I took them out, they ended up on the pan for a while while I tracked down a spatula (leading to the decision that Friday will be spent cleaning intensively).  I really loved the flavor, though.  They were slightly caramel-y and loaded with chocolate and nuts.  To be perfectly honest, I think I would have liked the nut ones a little bit better if the almonds hadn’t been toasted beforehand.  However, I generally prefer my chocolate chip cookies without nuts, so that wasn’t much of a surprise.  These were still delicious, though, both with and without the nuts!

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Check out the blogroll to see what the other SMS’ers thought of these cookies- there seems to be overwhelmingly positive reactions.  Then again, who ever says that they can’t stand chocolate chip cookies?  Also, if you check the SMS home page, you can seem Melissa’s post on these!  Thanks so much, Melissa, for baking with us this week!  It’s pretty much the coolest thing to do, and I really appreciate taking time out of your hectic schedule for us!

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Sweet Melissa Sundays: Bear’s Peach Cobbler

This week, Andrea over at Nummy Kitchen chose Bear’s Peach Cobbler for our SMS bake (we’re baking our way through the Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy, remember?).  You should drop over and check out Andrea’s site, she has some wonderful pictures and her cobbler looks beautiful!

Unfortunately, I was unable to do this week’s bake.  I mean, seriously, I skipped last week, and now I’m not doing this week?  I feel super lame.  But the cobbler slipped my mind during the week, and by the time I remembered it on Friday, it wasn’t really worth doing it.  See, Tuesday morning my mom and I are flying out to San Francisco, and there was no way the whole thing was going to be eaten by tomorrow morning, and I didn’t want to just end up throwing out.  So I decided to skip it.  I pinkie promise I’ll do next week’s bake, which is being chosen by Melissa Murphy herself (!).  And if anyone has recommendations on where in San Francisco we should go, especially farmer’s markets or restaurants or anything, pretty please let me know?  My mom and I are pretty much going to be planning the week on our flight out, I think, so we’re very open to suggestions!

So, that’s that.  I’m lame.  Check out the rest of the SMS bakers on the blogroll and see what they thought of the cobbler- so far, the concensus seems to be “Yummy!”.  The limit of 50 bakers has also been reached, so signing up has been cut off, but welcome to the new people!

Oh, and my final bit of news, I’m taking the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) tomorrow!  Thank you so much to everyone who’s wished me luck, I really appreciate it!  My family has taken a slightly different approach to being supportive and are placing bets on my final score (the over-and-under is set at 167- aren’t they sweet?).  They’re being nice, I promise, that’s just how my family is- my dad even bet “over”!  Now, to look at some more logic games, and then relax for the day!


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The Happiest Place on Earth- For Cake Decorators!

Warning: There is no baking in this post.  I’m sorry, I just don’t have the time right now.  If you don’t want to read, my feelings wont be hurt too much.  Also, I apologize in advance for the odd lighting, it’s an odd sort of place.  I also apologize if you have slower internet and now hate me.

What a terrible thing for me to do!  On Monday I posted that I was going to the happiest place on Earth, and then never got back to you on it!  I did have a sort of good excuse- see, Monday night I drove to my parents’ house, which is usually a two hour drive.  Due to some terrible storms, it took more like three hours.  Then my mom and I went out on Tuesday morning, I drove back to school Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve been studying since then.  So, since I’ve decided to be nice (and I’m starting to burn out on logic games), I give you…

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The Wilton Tent Sale!  Ok, so chances are if you do any baking or cake decorating, you’ve at least heard of Wilton Industries.  They make lots of baking pans, cute muffin liners, etc.  But they’re really well known for their cake decorating tools and classes.  What you probably don’t know is that Wilton is also based out of my hometown (in fact, I think I’d be kind of creeped out if anyone actually did know that).  Their corporate headquarters is actually across the street from my junior high school.  And every other summer (although it used to be every summer), they set up a huge tent in their parking lot and sell pretty much all of their products- for about 50% less than the retail price!

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So there were five aisles this year, and each side of them was jam-packed with boxes of stuff.  The papers hanging from the ceiling list the prices for everything.

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See, it’s huge!  I was probably already about a quarter of the way down this aisle, so this is roughly 3/4 of the length of the tent.

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One of the big things they used to have there was picture frames.  It seems strange, in a way, to think of Wilton doing frames, but they always have.  My mom got frames for my brother and I’s senior portraits here, and was able to get nice frames for all of our relatives too.

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This year, though, they have a lot fewer frames because they added scrapbooking materials.  Most people we talked to didn’t really like that, though.  It was actually the emptiest aisle.

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I would have preferred more frames, I think, but I still thought this was pretty cute.  The pirate costume is actually fabric with tiny little brass buttons!  How adorable!

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Anyway, back to the cooking.  Did you know Wilton produces Mario Batali’s line of cookware, as well as a lot of the lines for Food Network?  I didn’t.  But if you want some of their stuff at a really steep discount, check it out.  They didn’t have any of Rachel Ray’s things, though, probably because they’re actually produced by a different company.

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I got a kick out of this- but it definitely wasn’t something I needed.

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Need any spatulas, whisks, or veggie peelers?  At least, I think that’s what they are- the plastic makes it a bit harder to tell.

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It seems like people were going wild over these cupcake caddies a while ago.  They’re only $10 at the tent sale…

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How about a kitty cookie cutter?  Actually, if you scroll back up to the picture where you can see the length of the tent, all of those boxes are full of cookie cutters.

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I think these are really cute, but I like the ones with the big feet even better.  They’re so goofy!

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Would you like some cupcake liners?  I’m pretty sure that at least down to the woman in blue is all liners.

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My mom got some of these yellow flower liners, and I remember having the baseball ones when we were little.

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If you’re getting ready for a wedding, this is THE place to go.  They have tons of wedding favors, and plenty of trays for layered cakes.  The pillars are right behind me in this picture.

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They had about half a dozen cake toppers when I was there, but this was the only one my camera didn’t get a bad glare off of.

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Now, as far as baking supplies go, how about some vanilla?

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Or gel icing color?  They had about 25 or 30 colors, I would guess.

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And goodness knows you’ll need something with which to pipe all that icing you’ve just colored.

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Fortunately, this is only about half of the boxes of cake tips they had!

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For a little girl, I thought this was a dream come true.  However, then I looked closer, and you just bake two layer cakes and stick a bunch of plastic on.  It kind of ruined it for me.

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Fortunately, this purse cake pan fixed my disappointment really quickly.  I think this was one of my favorite things at the whole tent sale!

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So my mom didn’t understand why I took this picture, but I’m just keepin’ it real!  Remember how I mentioned that they set the tent up in the parking lot?  I wasn’t kidding.  And since it was raining the day we went, there was a lot of water running through the tent trying to find these drains.  Honestly, though, I preferred the cold over the years we’ve gone and it was sweltering and people were almost fainting.  I also preferred it over the year I had a sprained ankle and didn’t use crutches…

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An hour and 45 minutes later, we had this!  My mom determined that all of my rediculous cooking/baking stuff can be my birthday present, which I’m definitely ok with (no, that’s not all mine, though)!

If you’re in the Chicago/suburbs area, the tent sale will be running until June 16th.  Heck, if you’re not in the area but want to make a trip, there’s usually people from all over the Midwest there!  Wilton’s website has a section with tent sale information.  And if you know anyone getting married or who just really enjoys cake decorating, I would really recommend they check it out.  If you go on a weekend, though, be prepared to wait an hour or two to check out!

Note: I don’t work for Wilton (although I almost did one summer).  No one in my family works for Wilton.  Wilton has no idea who I am.  This isn’t some strange Wilton-sponsored post.  I just love the tent sale.


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Sweet Melissa Sundays: Throwback to the Honey Beescotti

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This week, Jaime from Good Eats ‘n Sweet Treats chose the famous Bee Stings for our bake.  They’re similar to miniature Boston Cream donuts, I think, but baked and with a slivered almond topping.  Unfortunately, from the looks of the recipe and the comments of the other bakers, it seemed that if you don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you were going to be hosed with this recipe.  The dough is super sticky, and a lot of people who added extra flour to make it more workable ended up with “hockey pucks” (their words, not mine).  Since I don’t have a stand mixer down at school, I opted to sit this one out.  Instead, I decided to go back to the beginning of SMS, since I missed the first few challenges, and make the Honey Beescotti, which is probably one of the cutest names I’ve seen in a while.  It was originally chosen by our “fearless leader”, Lorelai at Mermaid Sweets.

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The first step of this, for me, was to make candied orange peel.  I decided to just bite the bullet and do it myself, using Giada’s recipe from the Food Network website.  It only uses one orange, so it made almost the perfect amount of peel for this recipe.  I only had two little strips left over.  Unfortunately, I had to make the orange peel twice, because it burnt really badly the first time.  I kept thinking “This seems like it could go south really quickly, this boiling sugar water thing”, and then I left the kitchen for a couple minutes and it did.  And I started swearing.  I hate cleaning burnt sugar.  The second time, I kept the heat lower and didn’t leave the kitchen the whole time, and it turned out just fine.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the second time, because I was a tiny bit terrified that I was going to have to deal with burnt sugar yet again.

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The dough for this came together really well.  And, lucky me, since I was doing this bake after the fact, I had the comments of everyone who’s already baked it, so I knew the dough was going to be super sticky and would need to be chilled really well.  I also added an extra (roughly) 1/4 cup of flour to counteract some of the stickiness.  To be honest, I don’t really know how much it helped, since the dough still stuck to every possible surface like mad!  Several bakers had also commented that the “beescotti” spread a lot when baked, so I made sure to keep them as cold as possible until I got them into the oven.  They turned out very well, if I do say so myself.

My only complaint about this recipe was that the caraway seeds were overpowering.  The only time I can think of that I’ve had caraway seeds recently is in Irish Soda Bread, where the flavor didn’t seem quite as strong.  I felt like it was the dominant flavor in the biscotti, and I had really been looking forward to the orange/almond flavors.  I’m a freakish fan of almond extract, so I was hoping that flavor would shine through.  I would definitely be willing to make this again, but I would seriously reduce, or maybe even alltogether omit, the caraway seeds.  To my surprise, Mike really liked these- go figure, boys always surprise you!

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Anyway, pretty please check out the SMS blogroll to see what everyone thought of the Bee Stings- I’m really jealous I couldn’t participate this week!  And I’ll be posting later this week about my mini-trip I’m taking tomorrow to the happiest place on Earth- no, not Disney World.  Ok, the happiest place on Earth if you like Wilton products 😀


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