Guest Blogger -- Li'l Sis' Unsweetened Chocolate Chip Cookies

My little sister, Alex, made some delectable chocolate chip cookies for my baby shower last Sunday. I'm going to let her take over from here.

Hey there. This is my first post ever, and I'm honored to make my first step on my big sister's blog.  Now let me talk about cookies. Much like Tasha, I prefer cooking to baking, but chocolate chip cookies has always been an exception. During the winter,  I would make cookies nearly on a weekly basis with my best friend who lived down the street. As a result, I have the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe memorized. The point is, I love chocolate chip cookies. Have I made that clear?

Last summer,  I found a cafe in my neighborhood in San Francisco. It served the best chocolate cookies I've ever tasted. I couldn't identify what particular element in them made them so remarkable. Then, after my third cookie (I only got one cookie per visit, I do have some self control), I figured out that the bakers used unsweetened baking chocolate. The sweet cookie dough contrasted with the sharpness of unsweetened cocoa makes for a pretty profound cookie experience. Since then, I've only made chocolate chip cookies à la SF cafe.  Here's what I did for Tasha's shower.

Makes about 36 cookies

2 1/4 c. all purpose white flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c white sugar
3/4 brown sugar
2 sticks of butter (substitute coconut oil if you feel adventurous.  Tastes yummy)
2 eggs
1tsp. vanilla
2 c chopped up unsweetened baking chocolate
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In one bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, mix the softened butter with the brown sugar, eggs, white sugar, and vanilla in that order (to avoid a clumpy mess). Slowly add in the flour/salt mixture until you have a soft, gooey, golden mixture. Finally, mix in your chocolate. I chop up the chocolate into small pieces. You'll inevitably end up with some chocolate powder, which is totally awesome. When you mix the in chocolate, you'll see that your cookies look speckled rather than just "chipped."

With a spoon, scoop out your cookie dough and place on lightly greased cookie sheets.  Let bake for 10 minutes.

Eat more than you expected.

Roasted Red Pepper Veggie Dip

I've been sort of obsessing over Fage Greek yogurt lately. It's so affordable at Costco. It's been heavenly with blueberries, honey and granola in the mornings, but the tart, creamy yogurt is also a great ingredient for salads and dips.

My sister and I catered my baby shower Sunday and we purchased the ubiquitous veggie platter with a bland cream dip in the middle. I chucked the plastic container for something homemade and it was a big hit.

The secret ingredient is a Bulgarian puree of roasted red peppers and garlic. I found it in the exotic grocery section of Wal-mart, believe it or not, and I use this stuff for pasta dishes, salads and pretty much anything I want to add a little zing to. Most grocery stores I've been to have some sort of version of this stuff.

Otherwise, this recipe is pretty simple. Fresh herbs are best, but I'm sure you could toss in some dried basil or oregano and it would still be outstanding.

Roasted Red Pepper Veggie Dip

Ingredients (all measurements are approximations. I eyeball it):
1.5 cups Fage fat-free Greek yogurt
1/2 cup light mayo
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
3 Tbs. Zergut red pepper/garlic puree
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together all of the ingredients. Taste your dip and add more red pepper puree if you'd like.
Refrigerate for at least an hour for flavors to meld.


The Best Baby Shower

My little sister is in town just for a week and she won't be back till our baby is three months old, so she and I put together the shindig of all shindigs -- a Price style baby shower.

I'm pretty much against baby showers. Most of my friends growing up were guys and being surrounded by a ton of women oohing and aaahing at little clothes, stuffing myself with cupcakes and playing games involving bottle sucking and diapers just isn't appealing to me.

I wanted to spend my baby shower with family and friends no matter what the gender. I wanted it to be a party I'd want to be invited to.

And that's what came together.

We had good food, cocktails, a craft station, one optional silly game and my husband hosted beer pong in the garage for those girls and guys who wanted to play.

Watching me open presents was optional, as was oohing and ahhing.

We served a cheese platter, hummus and pita chip platter, veggie platter, homemade smoked salmon and cream cheese platter, mini caprese salads, lemon cookies, cantaloupe, homemade unsweetened chocolate chip cookies, homemade Italian and Spanish sausage on the grill, terrific macaroni salad and unbeatable baby back ribs.

We also had a bellini bar where people could mix sparkling white wine with either mango, strawberry or peach purees with fresh raspberry garnish (I had ginger ale mixed in mine, don't worry).

Didn't get many photos, but here's a bit of a montage. Recipes will follow.

Most photos by my friend Priscilla.

Caprese skewers

Bagels and lox spread
Cookies with unsweetened chocolate chips

Veggies with roasted red pepper yogurt dip

Lots of goodies!

Ok, I had to have one photo of me in here

The bellini bar was a total succes, as was the design-a-Onesie craft station. My friends Kelly and Rosey set up paints, stencils, stamps, brushes and I provided the blank shirts. I had acquired about 25 of them over the past month from thrift stores. This might have been the biggest hit of the party. There were girls and guys both making creative designs. Here's a collage of some of my favorites.

We had people stay till 11 p.m. Truly a wonderful, successful baby shower.


Paper crane mobile

I was a crafty kid, believe it or not, and one of my favorite kid hobbies in addition to lanyard making, collages and friendship bracelets was origami. I could make a paper crane in about a minute. I thought a mobile of paper cranes would be a colorful and simple addition to the baby room.

I have to admit, my origami skills were a tad rusty and when I first attempted a crane I somehow inadvertently made a balloon, so I found a link on Google to use as a refresher course. Reading and understanding origami instructions can be a challenge as it requires you to think outside the box once in a while, but paper cranes aren't too tricky once you figure it all out.

My husband and I went on a walk the other day and found a nice birch tree branch as the mobile base. I used silver thread and with a long needle, poked up from the bottom of each crane, through the top of the back and then just played it by ear in terms of crane placement.

It wasn't hard to balance the branch. I tied two pieces of string on either end of the branch and brought them to the center so it balanced just right and tied a knot. Then my 6-foot-2 husband used a lightweight hook to affix it to the ceiling.

I hope my baby finds it enjoyable!

How to Crochet a Simple Flower

Ok, I did a less-than-adequate job of explaining how I crocheted a flower for the baby hat I knitted yesterday, so I decided to take some photos in the hopes that it's a bit more clear.

I used two different colors so the steps are easier to follow. Please keep in mind that although I crochet lefty, the steps are still the same, just reversed.

Worsted weight yarn
size G or H crochet hook

SC = single chain
HDC = half double chain
DC = double chain

Click on photos to enlarge.

Step 1:
Make a magic circle and make 10 SC stitches into it. Draw the circle in tight and slip last stitch to the first SC.

Step 2: *Chain 5, skip a stitch, slip into the next stitch. Repeat * to end of round and slip in first ch of the round. You should have a sort of mini flower right about now.

Step 3: In the first loopy area, *SC, 2HDC, DC, 2HDC, SC. Repeat * in the remaining four loopy areas.

Step 4: This is where I changed colors, but you could keep it the same color if you wish. Heck, it's your flower! You'll be working behind the petals you just created, making slip stitches into the SC stitches you made in step 1. First, slip stitch in first stitch so it stays in the back of the flower. Next, slip into the next stitch. *Chain 8, skip a stitch, slip into next stitch. Repeat * till end of round. Slip next stitch to the first SC. You should now have five more loops behind the first set of petals.

Step 5: In the first loopy area, *2SC, 2HDC, 3DC, 2HDC, 2SC. Repeat * for the next four loopy areas, thus making five more petals that are offset from the first layer of petals. Slip next stitch to the first SC.

Step 6: Cut yarn leaving a 10-inch tail and draw through the remaining loop. Weave in all ends with a darning needle.

I hope this makes more sense for you!


Jazz Baby Hat

My friend Blaze is about two weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy. She had a boy last year she named Lyric and she's getting ready to have a girl whom she is calling Jazz. Can you guess she's a singer? 

With a name like Jazz I thought I should knit her a baby hat with some real flair. None of this pale pink stuff -- I've got to go purple and red!

And I've finally learned to crochet a flower. This was the original reason I taught myself to crochet and that was almost two years ago. I now have the skills to make one without referring to a pattern. I will try to write out how I made it.

Worsted weight yarn (I used Vanna White yarn)
Size 8 double point needles (or a really long circular if you know the Magic Loop method)
Size H crochet hook (it could be smaller, but I only have two sizes)
Darning needle

Directions for hat:
Cast on 64 stitches. K1, p1 ribbing for 5 rounds
Knit in stockinette stitch for 25 more rounds, or till piece is about 4 inches tall.
Decrease as follows: *K2tog, k6*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round
*K2tog, k5*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round
*K2tog, k4*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round 
*K2tog, k3*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round
*K2tog, k2*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round
*K2tog, k1*, repeat till end of round.
*K2tog*, repeat till end of round.

Cut yarn leaving a 12-inch tail. Weave ends through remaining eight loops using a darning needle. Weave in end yarn.

Crochet flower: 
I apologize for my poor pattern writing skills. I hope you are able to figure it out! Maybe tomorrow when I have daylight again I'll take step-by-step photos.

SC = single crochet
HDC = half double crochet
DC = double crochet
Round 1: Make a magic ring and SC 10 stitches into ring. Join with slip stitch to first SC. 
Round 2: Chain 5, skip a stitch, slip into next stitch. Repeat four more times and join to first SC again. You should have five loopy things.
Round 3: SC once into first loopy area, then 2HDC, 1DC, 2HDC and 1 SC into same loopy area. Repeat with four remaining loops. Join to original SC.
Round 4: Skip one stitch from the first round and slip stitch into the stitches between the ones you single chained in round 2. Chain 8, skip stitch, slip into next stitch, chain 8, skip stitch, continue around till you have five new loopy things. Join with first slip stitch you made in this round.
Round 5: 2SC into first loopy, 2HDC, 3DC, 2HDC, 2SC into same loopy thing. Repeat with the remaining four loopy things. Cut yarn leaving a ten-inch tail and draw through the last loop. Weave in ends to back of flower. 
Using a darning needle sew the flower in place.


Healthy Pumpkin Muffins

I'm not much of a baker, but when I saw a recipe on my BabyCenter.com app for pumpkin muffins, I thought I should try it out. Pumpkin is high in vitamin A and I tweaked the recipe to make it even a little bit healthier.

My muffins turned out moist and flavorful. I decided against the orange cream cheese frosting, but it was mainly that I lacked the ingredients and I was too lazy to go to the store.

Pumpkin muffins

Makes about 14 muffins

1 TBS butter (I might try cooking oil next time)
1 egg
3/4 cup + 2 TBS canned pumpkin
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking power
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the butter, egg, milk, sugar and pumpkin. In another bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Slowly mix the dry ingredients in with the wet till everything is combined. Add the raisins if you desire.

Spray a muffin tin with Pam. Pour batter into the pan, almost to the top of each.

Bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool on a rack.

Muffiny goodness!


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